Finding the Formula Machine

Sunrise 10_16_2014 Santa FeI had a Twitter conversation yesterday that went like this. Because these gals crack me up, I’m sharing a bunch of it. It, of course, started because I was being a smart ass. Though you can see that Maisey Yates was snarky first.

Then Lexi Ryan chimed in.


We riffed for a while, with various gripes on this theme, then dwindled off. Lexi came back a few hours later.

The thing is, if you know these authors – or follow the links I thoughtfully provided 🙂 – you’ll recognize them as highly regarded, very prolific and bestselling authors. I know these gals and they work amazingly hard and produce wonderful books that, not incidentally, sell very well. And that saw about Harlequin providing its authors with the Magic Formula that Maisey references has been making the rounds for-fucking-ever. I remember my mom saying something to me along those lines when I was much younger and she thought romance were trashy literature that I shouldn’t be reading. No, Harlequin does not tell us the characters should kiss on X page and have sex on Y page. Yes, editors do give direction on story structure. However, the guideline that the first act climax should occur somewhere around the first 25% of the story and all the stakes should be set at that point applies to pretty much every entertainment genre. Maybe books in the Literary Genre don’t do that, but they’re arguably going for something other than storytelling and entertainment.

There’s a pervasive idea that writing a book takes a REALLY long time. And, in truth, writing a first novel CAN take years. Because of the learning curve. I wrote a post the other day about trying to be creative on deadline and a big piece of that is building the craft and skills to do it. However, the belief persists that quality writing should be a long, slow process. With the reverse assumption being that quickly produced work is shallow, low-quality and – yes – written to a formula. I saw a blog post by a writer the other day who championed the many virtues of writing his novels by hand, with pen and paper. He proudly stated that he could draft an entire novel this way in “only” 14 months. I also saw a tweet yesterday from a writer advising that everyone has their own process and you don’t HAVE to “churn out” 2 books a year.

While I respect both of their perspectives, I’m bothered by the implicit lack of respect for my process. It took me 84 days to write the 91,000 word first draft of The Tears of the Rose, which just received a Top Pick GOLD review from RT Magazine. I take that to mean it’s a pretty decently written book. I worked really hard on it. Yes, I structured the story about major plot points, with major events occurring at the act climaxes. Nobody gave me a formula.

It surprises me still when people call me a prolific or fast writer. It doesn’t feel that way. At the same time, taking 14 months to write out a novel long hand sounds excruciatingly slow to me. I had (or will have) five books come out in 2014 and I don’t feel like I’ve “churned out” anything. Every one has taken long hours of concentrated work, extensive crafting and pieces of my soul. I realize this is an enviable place to be and I count my blessings that I’m able to write fast.

That said, I’ve also put in a lot of effort to make sure I can. I keep my brain as uncluttered as possible. I remove all distractions, rather ruthlessly. I put in long hours. So do these other gals. They also manage to take care of small children at the same time, which I can’t even fathom.

This turned into more of a rant than I intended. I think my point is that I’d really love to see the end of this concept of the anguished author who spends years writing his magnum opus. It feels fueled to me by the sort of person who wants to be seen as someone artsy and glamorous – the Writer – rather than putting in the time to get the work done. I don’t see anything admirable about not getting the book written. We like to fetishize artists, but other kinds of work don’t get this shiny gloss on what is, ultimately, not doing the job. The grocery store checker who never quite manages to get all the groceries in the bag loses his job. The stockbrocker who just can’t overcome her personal agony to sell those stocks won’t be a stockbroker for long.

I blame the artist for this, really. We’re incredibly good at spinning convincing stories from our pain. That symphony we never delivered? IT WAS THE VOICES OF DEMONS! That studio full of blank canvases? THE BLEAK DESERT OF MY SOUL! That novel I spent ten years writing while I hung out in coffee shops and debated the shivering joy of the sound of a fountain pen on good paper? STILL NOT WRITTEN BUT LOOK HOW PROFOUND I AM.

Eh. Okay. I guess what I’m getting at is, don’t buy the song and dance, people. A creator creates. Buckle down and do the work. Don’t throw stones at people who do it faster. Don’t succumb to the temptation to glamorize what’s bogging you down. Solve the problem, take the stone out of your shoe, get to work.

Which I’m going to do now.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Fact-Checking Those Resolutions

1_7_14I’m over in the Darkest Cravings Author Cage today answering their Only the Brave questions. Also, Allison Pang blogged today about finding an easter egg I left for her in Rogue’s Possession. Pretty funny! (Okay – WE think it’s hysterical anyway.)

Last year, I did a post on Word Whores on a new way for me to set goals in the new year. I borrowed someone else’s idea and put my resolutions in sealed envelopes and did not reveal them until the end of the year. So here’s how they looked: 2013 goalsI sealed them up and didn’t open them until December 31. This is what they look like now.


Very interesting experience to do it this way.

Most significant is that I didn’t remember what I put in them. This was part of the point of the exercise, to test how much I internalized my goals.  That is, would I stick to them without having them stare me in the face?

The answer: yes and no.

Also, REALLY depended on the category, which is illustrative right there. Of my three categories – weight/health, writing and financial – guess which I did the best on? (“Best” qualified as coming closest to achieving – I wasn’t 100% on any of them.)


This doesn’t surprise me because it’s really my top priority. Interestingly, it was also the goal with the most points. Eight of them. They were (updated for what titles became, not what I thought they were then):

  1. Write Negotiation to submit to Tuck’s anthology
  2. Write Master of the Opera
  3. Write Five Golden Rings to submit to Carina anthology
  4. Turn in revision of Mark of the Tala
  5. Turn in revision of Rogue’s Possession
  6. Write Blood Currency #3
  7. Write Tears of the Rose
  8. Write Rogue’s Paradise

It’s notable that I kept these writing goals all within my direct control – something I’ve learned over time! So I didn’t include getting #1 & #2 accepted to those anthologies. They were, which was awesome, but my responsibility was to write the stories. Of all of these, I did not do #6. That was a conscious decision to pare that away for at least the time-being. Also, #8 got shifted at my publisher’s request because they wanted a different book first. Fair enough. I call this one a WIN.


Okay, I didn’t make my goals, but I did pretty decently. Enough to pat myself on the back. I’d set a goal that required a 16-pound weight loss, including a 15% reduction in body fat. While I only went down by 11 pounds (damn those nearly-impossible-to-lose last five pounds!!), I did make a 14.8% reduction in body fat. Thank you new treadmill desk!

Of course, post-holidays, I’m a bit up from that but nowhere near where I was last year. I still want to hit that goal weight. PARTIAL WIN on that one.



Okay, so this one really wasn’t within my direct control and it shows. I had an ambitious goal for my writing income and fell significantly short. As in, I hit 38% of what I wanted to.


I set that apart because I think it’s a big “however.

However, my writing income was over five times more than the previous year. I set a stretch goal – one that would let me at least reduce time at the day job – and, while I’m disappointed I didn’t reach it, I’m not sorry I set it. I suppose there’s a lesson in that. Reaching is part of it.

So, my overall assessment?

I liked this. It helped me focus myself on goals for the year, particularly for writing, and seeing where my head was this time last year gave me particularly good insights. Many of those writing goals were stretches and I’m really pleased with myself for hitting almost all – with excellent results. It’s also good to see how much I really did accomplish, where otherwise I might think I hadn’t. Like with the weight and money stuff. I tend to dwell on not being where I want to be yet, but now I see how far I came.

Which is important.

Art, Barbeque Sauce and Titties

JK-300x168Hee hee hee.

I actually used this as analogy in a guest post for Victoria’s Gossip today, where I’m talking about my inspiration for Five Golden Rings. Seriously.

Also, Season of Seduction, the erotic holiday anthology that Five Golden Rings is in, is a Fresh Pick over at Fresh Fiction today!

In a strange, yet serendipitous coincidence, I’m also over at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog, talking about my  time as a Ucross Foundation Fellow and Resident, and about writing as an art.

Hey, I’m an eclectic kind of gal…

What Happens When You Talk About Writing Instead of Doing It

This was smoke from the Gila fire drifting our way Friday evening. Fortunately the cooler air over the weekend subdued the fire quite a bit.

When I was in college, I imagined sometimes that a TV or movie camera was following me around. For a long time I thought this was a weird thing about me, weird enough that I never told anyone. Later I discovered it has a lot to do with my personality type and a tendency to view my actions from a certain remove. I’d especially do this when I was trying to learn something new.

For example: studying.

In high school, I never really learned to study. Memorization felt pretty much effortless. If I heard or read something once, I retained it. With the possible exception of calculus, but I had a bad attitude there. In college, however, the sheer volume of information meant I had to work at learning and memorizing – and I had no idea how to go about it.

So, I kind of did it like in the movies. I went to the prettiest libraries on campus. I set out my books and supplies. I did everything I could think of to look like I was studying – perhaps a romanticized version of it, but still – and hoped that would do it.

Of course, this was silly. Creating an external appearance does not create an internal process. That took a different level of effort. One that had nothing to do with how I looked from the outside. It’s akin to the temptation to talk about a thing instead of doing it.

This has been on my mind because I notice writers doing this, especially newer ones. Social media creates the venue for the “look at me!” moments. And the support network is great for staying motivated and not feeling like you’re working in a vacuum. However, writers are especially prone to talking about writing instead of doing it. Ostensibly, waxing on about your plot and characters is giving you a chance to think about the story, but every moment you’re talking about it instead of doing it, you’ve lost time. That includes tweeting about it.

I’m kind of amused by the #amwriting hashtag on twitter. Not that it isn’t a useful way for writers to connect. It’s just that, every time I see it, I want to reply “really, you’re #amtweeting.”

My point is, all of these internal processes – writing, studying, learning – occur where no one else can see, deep inside the locked box of our skulls. What someone else sees when they look at you is totally irrelevant.

Magic occurs in the dark, without witnesses.


Ducking the Spanking

One of the things I love about this house is how the sunset fills every window. I don’t often take photos from inside the house, but I thought I’d try. Can’t get all the windows very well, though.

Hmm. Maybe I need a panorama card for my camera!

Writers tend to have funny conversations. If overheard, they might sound quite alarming. Discussions of how best to kill people, how to dispose of the bodies, argument over what kind of childhood trauma is the most scarring. For writers of the smexy, it can get particularly interesting. Especially when you’ve worked with the same critique partners (CP) long enough to have shorthand references.

The other day, I told one of my CPs that she was ducking the spanking again. No, not like when we were kids and hoped mom and dad would forget about the promised punishment. This referred back to a story she wrote, with BDSM elements, where the prospect of a spanking was held out for most of the story and, when the moment arrived, she glossed it.

Voodoo Bride knows about this. There’s nothing worse (for readers like us, anyway) to be promised a sexually intense situation that never materializes or is glossed over. The whole point of something like a spanking scene is that it’s intense and difficult and puts the characters into an extreme situation. It’s a very human and polite tendency to back away from tremendously fraught situations like that.

However: this is the story gold.

So when I read my CP’s story and felt like she’d created a very tense, difficult scenario and then defused it by making it not so bad after all, I could tell her she was ducking the spanking and she understood right away.

Now, I’m not saying you have to include a spanking scene, metaphorically or literally. If you don’t want to go there, don’t. But, if you include something like that, then follow where it leads, into all the dark, twisty, intense shadows.

If you’re going to have a spanking, make it a good one.

Aaaandd on that note – you all have a great weekend!

Best Writing Retreat Ever

You all know the saw – writing is a lonely gig. And that’s why having friends and critique partners can be so very important.

This last weekend, Laura and Marcella came to Santa Fe to visit me. We had a lovely time. We toured around the countryside – I’m sure they’ll share some of the adventures – soaked in the hot waters at Ten Thousand Waves and did some major shopping. We each managed to buy a few special somethings, to reward ourselves for hard work and to provide inspiration in the next year.

Over our last lunch, Laura made us get down to business and set goals and plans for the coming year. She’s the accountability girl.

We’d been talking writing all weekend, of course. Chewing over plot ideas, sympathizing over business annoyances, coming up with great book ideas and insisting that the others write it. The goal setting was the culmination of all those winding conversations. We probably wouldn’t have come up with the same things that first day. But after all those hours of working things through, everything seemed much more clear for what needs to happen in the coming year.

It wasn’t a writing retreat, because none of us really wrote. (Except for Marcella who was dutifully marking down ideas in her notebook.) I kind of think that if we’d formalized it, the energy wouldn’t have worked so well. No lectures, workshops, official brainstorm sessions. Instead the ideas ebbed and flowed in a natural way.

We’re thinking about doing it every year.

Thanks ladies!