Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “If I could go back to my Debut Year…” You can tell I didn’t suggest this one because I don’t believe in the “Debut Year.”
See, the “Debut Year” is a bit of magical, sparkle-pony mythology of Author Land. Come on over to find out more.
This is my attempt to get a photo of the fairy ring of cholla the pack rat deposits around my table in the grape arbor. You might have to zoom in.
My editor at Kensington, Peter Senftleben, asked me to draw a map of my world in the Twelve Kingdoms trilogy. This is what I plan to mail him tomorrow. In a poster tube, because it’s big! Though I hadn’t drawn anything in a really long time (20 years? More?), I enjoyed doing this more than I thought I would.
However, I also plan to tell him that, if they want to have a real illustrator redo it, my feelings won’t be at all hurt.
So, this week’s topic in the Word Whores bordello is – *rummages around in the purple pimp hat we store topics in* – Basing Characters on real-life people: the dangers and advantages. Hie on over yonder, to read more.
So, yesterday was Ruby‘s release day. Whee! People asked me if I had a good day and I did. But it’s also kind of like spending a day at the amusement park – by the end of it you’re worn out, your cheeks hurt from overused smile muscles and if you have to face one more review – even a merry one with five stars and painted horses – you think you might just bury yourself in the cotton candy cart.
Yes, it’s fun, but also comforting to get back to normal life, with no clowns or roller-coasters.
So a few late-breaking fun things happened. One, I found out that the Library Journal reviewed Ruby!
Verdict The third book in Kennedy’s “Facets of Passion” series (after Sapphire) is a hot and sensual read. Dani and Bobby lead each other on a sexy chase through nights of kinky sex, dominance, and submission, and the New Orleans setting lends a steady heat to the story.—Kristi Chadwick, Emily Williston Memorial Lib., Easthampton, MA.
I haven’t had a Library Journal review since Wyoming Trucks, so I was quite giddy about this. As a longtime lover of all things libraryish, this felt especially gratifying. I’m also excited to be reaching a new audience.
Late in the day, I saw a tweet that the Audible version of Ruby was available. It’s narrated by Sasha Dunbrooke, who did such a great job with Rogue’s Pawn and appears to be now the Official Voice of Jeffe. I loved the work she did on Rogue’s Pawn so much that I even tried to contact her through Audible. They implied that she uses a pseudonym and that she would reply to me if she wished to, which she apparently didn’t. So I feel quite sure that she is a Famous Actress who is recording audio books on the side while she recovers from that horrific Botox accident.
The funny thing is, nobody told me that Audible was producing an audiobook of Ruby. They’d told me they were doing Platinum, which never happened. I suspect that Sasha was unavailable – probably filming a sequel to The Hobbit while wearing an Orc mask.
So, the carnival continues today. The lovely and ever-enthusiastic Amy Remus is hosting a giveaway for Ruby if you want to comment and win!
If you need me, check the cotton candy cart.
To clarify right off the bat: a blurb is absolutely not objective. It’s advertising, pure and simple. I mention this because I sometimes see blurbs referred to as reviews. An example of this would be Jessica Andersen’s first book in her Final Prophecy series, which carries a blurb from J.R.Ward. If you can read that, it says: “An astounding paranormal world…I swear ancient Mayan gods and demons walk the modern earth!”
I mention this particular example because I bought this book back in 2008 when it came out, entirely because of the blurb. At the time I was completely addicted to J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series and I was willing to read anything connected to her. Turns out the two of them are good friends and critique partners, so of course J.R. did this favor for her writing friend and for a book she wanted to support.
But this is how a blurb is not a review. Blurbs are absolutely biased support and people argue all the time about whether they’re effective.
See, the other way people get blurbs is through their agents or publishers. An agent might ask one client to blurb for another. The publishers ask star authors to blurb debut authors. Theoretically the authors always read the book first. They’re allowed to decline also. There are some famous stories out there of authors who not only declined to positively blurb a book, but tried to dissuade the publisher from going ahead with publication. Neil Gaiman has a story like this. It also happened to a friend of mine recently with her debut book. Seriously, the publisher asked this big, famous author whose name you would totally recognize to blurb this book and the author wrote back this awful letter on how much she hated the book and that the publisher should cancel it.
Don’t try this at home people.
At any rate, being the requestor is a funny place to be, because you’re essentially begging your friends and acquaintances for the favor of not only reading your book, but saying something nice about it. Or at least compelling. It’s kind of a fun game to read blurbs and discern when the blurber was just trying to think of something positive and interesting to say when “I loved this book!” is simply not a possibility.
Back when Wyoming Trucks, True Love and the Weather Channel came out, I was much bolder about asking. I asked writing teachers and famous authors both. Barbara Kingsolver’s agent wrote me a really lovely message in reply. Mary Karr didn’t bother to answer.
For some reason, I’ve lost some of that brashness now. Maybe I understand better what the big authors’ lives are really like. Marcella was egging me on last night to ask Robin McKinley and I was abashed at even the thought of asking her. I’d feel like a puppy peeing on her shoes.
Actually, given how much attention she lavishes on her Hellhounds, that might be an effective approach.
So, for now I’m hitting up my friends – especially the ones who’ve already read the thing and made nice noises about it. As I screw up the chutzpah, I might see if some others want to read, with an eye towards blurbing.
Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be good enough to ask someone like Robin.
Yesterday I went to this costume shop to get a few things to supplement the RT wardrobe. I went in Saturday and the gal said most of her stuff was at home and she’d bring in possible pieces and meet me with them on Sunday. When I got there yesterday, she had a friend there waiting to meet me. I’d explained I’m a writer, about the RT Booklovers Convention and the costume balls. In the course of introducing me, the shop owner said “And you write real books, too, not those ebooks, right?”
I said I write both. Technically true.
It amuses me, though, that I’ve now sold more copies of my unreal ebook, Petals and Thorns, than were ever printed of my real book, Wyoming Trucks, True Love and the Weather Channel. I know it will still take time for the concept of ebooks to permeate through the population. The shop owner also asked me to bring in photos of the convention and, since she already had my card, I told her that I’ll be posting photos all week, if she wants to look at my blog. She said she’d have to get someone to show her how to do that.
Meanwhile I flipped through my alumni magazines for my sorority and my alma mater last night. I might be a few months behind. Both magazines are glossy, full of rah-rah articles and hopelessly boring. They seemed to focus on things that I simply don’t think about much. Such different worlds we can live in now.
I know that people will adjust their ideas about what a “real” book consists of. They already are. Over and over I see people comment online that they received an ereader for a gift, weren’t sure about it at first and now love it.
I haven’t shared stats on Petals & Thorns in a little while. The numbers keep going up, which continues to astonish me. Each month I open my royalty statement expecting a crash like back in October or January. But no.
As you can see from the percentages, Fictionwise has sold the most copies. It looks like All Romance eBooks and Loose Id are neck and neck, but that’s a bit of artifact – most of those Loose Id sales were back before October. In fact, all sales through October were Loose Id’s. The All Romance sales were after that. It will be interesting to see what happens from here!
Posting will be sporadic this week, but I’ll try to throw up photos, at least, from the convention.
There’s a moral in that somewhere.
At any rate: today is our 20th Anniversary!
(cue screaming crowds)
In honor of this special milestone, I thought I’d share the title essay with you from my book, Wyoming Trucks, True Love and the Weather Channel. It’s about our first date, the one that took place 20 years ago today.
I wrote this some time ago and a lot has changed since then. Still, it’s a fun read.
Wyoming Trucks, True Love, and the Weather Channel
David warned me about the truck when he called for our first date. “I’ll have to pick you up in the race-beast, you know,” and he hesitated. I wondered what response he expected from me as I sifted through his deep, slow telephone voice for clues. Unaccustomed to being phoned up and asked to the movies in the first place, I felt on very uncertain ground reassuring him that the (“race-beast” did he say?) would be fine. The implication seemed clear that I knew about his car well enough to make an informed decision about riding in it and that any refined female might have reservations on the subject. The previous summer David had played on our co-ed softball team, “The Science Nerds,” and so I supposed that I had seen him come and go on wheels, but I hadn’t tucked away the sort of mental image he seemed to expect. I did suspect him of womanizing ways, a new divorcé out preying on tender young grad students, and so in my mind the race-beast took the shape of a sleek and sexy sports car, screaming seduction in every line and curve. Well, he had warned me and I would be ready.
Maybe not entirely ready for a brown ‘79 Ford pickup. Opening the front door to David, freshly shaven and handsome in his button-fly Levi’s and leather bomber jacket, I smiled, said hello and craned to look over his shoulder for the sports car I was to be wooed in. In the chill post-Super-Bowl party evening, the truck idled with the quiet and grace of an irritated water buffalo–ah, now I understood the “beast” part. David must have seen me eyeing the putative racing vehicle as he escorted me out to my sporadically choking and roaring chariot. Or he anticipated my reaction. “I did warn you,” he grinned down at me.
That grin proved to be my eventual undoing. My friends refer to David as “that man with the intense blue eyes and gorgeous smile.” Behind my back, I believe they discuss him as the reason I’ve never left Wyoming. He’s certainly the reason I now find myself occasionally navigating the race-beast around town.
In my early days in Wyoming, someone told me that there are more trucks registered in Wyoming than there are people living here. Taking into account that dozens of people around don’t own pickups, this implies that some people own dozens of trucks. Granted we do have the smallest population in the Union — as of the 1990 census we beat even Alaska — so we’re not talking millions of trucks. You do have to factor in the ranch concept — lots of ranches with many trucks. But it’s still an awful lot of trucks. When I called the Albany County Library to check this out, the reference librarian gently suggested that my pet statistic might be a popular myth. And she is correct. There were only 175,000 trucks registered as of July 1, 1996, which leaves 300,000 of us truckless.
* * *
“I would never move to Wyoming!” my college roommate yelled out her proclamation as she sat on the ratty couch in our St. Louis apartment, watching a tourism commercial for the state.
“And why would that be, Rachel?” I called back from my desk. I knew she had no personal experience farther west of the Mississippi than the city outskirts and she knew that I was considering graduate work in Wyoming. More than considering — I had pretty much decided upon it.
“Because once you move to Wyoming, you’re stuck. You never get out.” After ten years and a Master’s Degree, I have yet to escape.
* * *
David is not a cowboy, as many of my East Coast friends refer to him; actually he’s a fish pathologist. But his truck means as much to him as any trusty steed. The first vehicle he bought himself, the only real material good he salvaged from his divorce (except his traps and his stereo), this eyesore remains a source of pride and affection. He claims the annual elk hunt would be impossible without it — although he now uses my ‘82 Honda, Flash, to scout through the Snowies, as it consumes much less gas. Certain the truck becomes indispensable when the winter blizzards snow us in sufficiently David always happily turns the hubs in for four-wheel drive and barrels through the drifted streets, cackling manfully. He enjoys acting the part of the macho womanizer ever since I foolishly confessed my first-date thoughts. No one would guess the man fills his spare time reading Taoist philosophy and physics texts when he hollers out, “This shur is a fahn truck, w-man!”
Without the truck, our border collie, Cayenne, wouldn’t have her primary obsession. Riding in the pickup supersedes all other temptations for her, even food. She waits, almost patiently, by the front door, carefully not looking at the truck, unable to stand the anticipation. When the “OK” command releases her, she barrels at top speed, a black and white weasel shape burning through the two cottonwoods, arcing to the right (I won’t let David park the truck directly in front of the house we share) and flying in a single leap over the side, ready for the slower humans necessary to make it go. A dog in a truck — sometimes a gun too, but always bullets or empty shells rolling around — links a man to his heritage. It’s what his dad had up in Cody. Oh, and your girlfriend riding in the middle, so you can pat her on the thigh as you shift gears. That part is kind of nice.
* * *
For the true Wyomingite trucks (and other lesser autos) are an extension of the individual. David can recognize anybody by their vehicle. “Joe’s down at the Ranger again,” he’ll inform me. When I ask how he knows, he looks at me funny and replies, “Well, I saw his truck.” And woe to me if I happen to drive past the Red Buttes Environmental Station without noting who’s working. After all, it’s only a quarter-mile from the highway, and you can see the small dirt parking lot plain as day. As we drive down the street, David waves to passing cars. “Who was that?” I ask, spending more time looking back than forward. He always knows.
I think that I must not look at cars and trucks the way David does. I grew up in Denver, a place Wyoming people dread to motor through, and I know city traffic. In fact, I pride myself on being an excellent driver. My mother taught me, and she’s an excellent driver, too. We like to drive fast, decisively and efficiently. I have contempt for the hesitant motorist and no patience with the oblivious. Instead of looking at cars, I see spaces. Opportunities. I watch the gaps open and close, widen and lengthen. The people in the objects around me become less relevant than their speed and vector. I think this ability to focus is part of what makes me alert and confident behind the wheel. And it’s important to me to feel that way. At least, up until recently.
* * *
There’s an old saying that in our strengths lay the seeds of our downfall. Always reliable and with a spotless motor vehicles record, in high school I worked for a law firm as a runner. Zipping around the city in my little ‘76 hatchback — Folly, the Accord that preceded Flash — I could go to any address in the metropolitan area, usually by the fastest route. When I drove from college in St. Louis to New York for a wedding, my friend said not to worry about the city traffic because I would fit right in. This may not have been a compliment. I have navigated Chicago, Atlanta, LA, San Francisco, Boston. Black ice for 50 miles through northern Colorado couldn’t keep me back; and I’ve driven over Vail and Rabbit Ears Passes through blinding snowstorms. But I can’t drive that damned truck.
Occasionally I have no choice. Between us, we have three vehicles. But Flash’s battery died of neglect last winter and I put off buying another, afraid that a more severe problem would emerge. And the new Accord, Allan, that David and I bought together from the Allens who could no longer afford him, has to take David down to Greeley for class on Mondays. His truck guzzles too much for distances, and doesn’t handle all those curves fast enough through icy Telephone Canyon.
So one stormy evening last March, I had to drive the monster. Even though it was brutally cold out, I would have walked to workshop and wouldn’t have minded walking back through the snow at 10 pm. One of the things I like best about my town is that I can walk anywhere, even by myself, and at night, too. But I had errands to run; I grabbed the rented videos, my notebooks and critiqued stories, shouldered my purse and strode purposefully out to the beast.
* * *
A certain amount of bravado seems to help. Like a horse, this sort of truck senses fear. Carefully inserting the worn key in the eye-level door lock, I slowly turned it against the cold metal. David has warned me that the slightly twisted key could break off in the lock, especially in the -20 weather. Closing my eyes, I sent a brief supplication to the truck spirits, who I knew were awaiting the smallest error. It worked; the key emerged with only slight protest. After wrenching the door ajar, I tried to keep it propped open with my shoulder while levering my things up, pushing them as far as my arms could reach, to clear enough space to climb in. Usually the door closes over me, hopefully not too hard, and holds me up against the frame as I scrabble about. Fortunately I was wearing my black wool slacks, so I didn’t have to hike my skirts up to my crotch to make that first big step up. But as I stretched my right foot up to hip height, grabbing the steering wheel like the monkey bars at my grade school, I could feel the seam split down the back of my pants. Fine. My leather duster is long, I would just wear it for the next three hours.
If I sit on the very edge of the seat and stretch my left leg fully, I can just get the clutch down far enough to shift. The seat, of course, doesn’t come forward. No worries about seat-belts; they don’t work either. I gently revved the engine, tenderly attending to its every snort and growl. Apparently I tend to “wrap it up” too much, and so I have to work to balance letting the idle die or bringing the drive shaft through the floor. David assured me that this is not only possible, but very likely if I don’t lose my attachment to driving a working machine like it was a Honda. Perching forward, my chin practically on the steering wheel, I realized I looked like a little old lady. “There goes Ma Kettle, out for her Sunday drive,” my mother would exclaim impatiently as she passed the Impala hovering in the left lane. She never liked driving to my grandmother’s retirement community, because the traffic would slow so measurably as we approached, with “Little grey heads everywhere!” I felt for those little heads now, as I slowed for the stop sign half a block ahead because the brakes are so soft.
Shall I reveal the further banal details? How the gutter below the video return box sloped with ice, so I could maneuver my peevish tank only within two feet — too far to reach through the window, too close to open the door fully enough to get out. How the engine died as I crossed Third Street, forcing oncoming cars to wait as I nursed the brute back to life. That truck brought me to tears as I wobbled and hesitated down the icy street, and for the first time in my life I felt like a fragile female.
I broke my nails to the quick scratching a mugger in St. Louis and never thought to be afraid. I’ve traveled alone through a blizzard in eastern Colorado when they closed the interstate around us, stopping only to help a gal who had pulled over, too afraid to continue. I followed her into Limon and got us both hotel rooms. I am strong, capable and confident, but that unnameable truck brought me to my knees.
* * *
On my knees, the perspective is different. The small defeats in life take on greater proportions. Little choices, brief moments reverberate with endless sound and color. Feeling helpless and defeated, especially in, let’s face it, an exceedingly ridiculous situation, can be very useful to the efficiently arrogant. I find it interesting that it’s not necessarily the challenges we choose that teach the lasting lessons.
Living in Wyoming was never my intent. As a “greenie” — a local term for Coloradans with their green license plates — I had never given the state a specific thought. In fact, it seems that very few people give Wyoming a specific thought. I amuse and irritate myself now and then by watching the weather channel to see if the forecasters ever say the word “Wyoming.” I don’t have abundant free time for this dubious activity, but I have never once heard it. They say Great Plains, the Rockies, Denver, the Northern Plains. I’m sure I’ve heard the Dakotas discussed, Montana mentioned in passing and always ski reports in Colorado. I have heard Jackson Hole bandied about and sometimes Big Piney or Pinedale wins the national overnight cold spot award; but I remain unconvinced that anyone knows those places are in Wyoming.
It’s odd, and sometimes difficult, to live in a place that does not appear on the cultural map. Our department head once called Chicago to reserve Cubbies tickets for his upcoming visit. When giving his mailing address, the operator asked, “Now, Wyoming — Is that in the United States?” He replied that the sale to Canada had not yet been finalized.
We love to tell each other these stories. We share a mixture of delight at remaining undiscovered and righteous anger at the negligence of our countrymen. I have come to think a lot like a Wyomingite. I relish the difficulties of living here; I savor the beauty that strikes my heart and weakens my legs. I don’t like Senator Al Simpson, but I take a perverse pride in his obdurate methods. I work with people like him. If nothing else, they seem more alive, more rooted in the earth and daily living somehow, than the folk of other places. Some of us fight for the wilderness, some for improving our woeful economy through the energy industry, but to live here is to develop a deep love for the sere land and the challenges it poses, even when the challenges take the form of intractable trucks.
David became the immediate reason for me to stay and it seemed like a small choice at the time. A matter of a few months and a fling. But I’ve come to know this man as I’ve come to know Wyoming over a decade of my life. Yes, and the truck, too. And now I find that I like who I am here. A place that has brought me to my knees in both despair and wonder must have something to teach me. I am profoundly happy here. Growing, too.
I don’t drive the truck unless I have to. But I can do it. Mostly I enjoy insulting it whenever possible, while David sings its praises. When I argue that it is not a “woman-getting machine,” as he fondly calls it, David smiles equably and murmurs, “It got you, didn’t it?”
Yet again I can’t seem to capture in an image what my eye sees. My lack of photography skill or equipment. Perhaps the human eye still trumps all else. The neurophysiologist in me likes that idea.
I’ll keep working at it.
Every morning we take Zip for a walk and every other morning I run the distance. I do the Bill Phillips thing of pulsing my speed so I work up from slow walking to fast walking to slow running to fast running. Sometimes David jogs along with me, but his legs are so much longer than mine that he can pretty much stride along to all but my fastest jog. Which is clearly not very fast.
I try not to let this be a humiliating thing.
Frankly, I’m happy to be running at all, since I am most decidedly NOT athletic girl. Never have been. One of my friends has a son graduating from high school who, despite his startlingly good academic record, might be held back for failing a gym class. I can totally sympathize with this. In fact, all her writing friends chimed in and agreed that we all loathed gym. Why there aren’t more evil gym-teacher villains in books I really don’t know. Maybe we’re all still afraid they’ll make us do push-ups or something.
They even gave me the Greek body/mind ideal lecture in school, about how I should be wanting to build physical abilities as much as my mental ones.
Yeah, that didn’t fly, either.
The thing is, people who love gym simply don’t understand those of us who hate it. I even have an essay in Wyoming Trucks that delves heavily into hiding in the girls’ bathroom during gym. When one of my recently reconnected high school boyfriends read my book, he commented that it really opened his eyes to what school is like for others, especially for his adolescent daughter. It had never occurred to him that not everyone loved bombardment. (A particularly cruel form of dodgeball.)
But now I run. Not by choice so much, but because Mother Nature pulled the nasty trick of swapping the slim little body I could stuff anything into for one that converts muscle to fat if I’m not actively working to prevent it.
(Hit me with a potato famine, though – I’ll be all over it!)
Running, lifting weights, it’s something I hate while I’m doing it. I take no joy in the moment like those naturally athletic people do. All the pleasure comes when I’m done, when I finish that last minute of sprinting, out of breath and blood pumping. That’s when I feel a sense of accomplishment.
Writing can be like that, too. Sometimes the process of it is so grueling that it can feel like you’re out of breath, with half the hill still to go. You long to stop, to walk, to turn back. But if you push through, sometimes you hit the exhilaration. There you are, flying down the hill, the sun on your skin and wind in your hair. You become the vision of the true athlete, the Greek ideal of beauty, fitness and artistry.
I suppose that’s why we pursue visions. Their lure keeps us going, working ourselves so we don’t grow old, fat and complacent.
I’ll keep working at it.
It’s a lovely thing, because it feels like Spring already. If we were in Wyoming, with all the snow that’s fallen, we wouldn’t be looking for it to thaw for months. In Santa Fe, the days warm up with gentle kindness, the birds swoop about singing with excitement and the road gets muddy as hell.
I’m talking deep ruts. That freeze at night.
But, aside from a filthy mailbox, it isn’t really that bad. I’m curious to see if I’ll have to wash the mailbox or if the Spring rains will take care of that. I’ve never washed a mailbox in my life.
I printed out my novel, Obsidian, yesterday. I can’t believe I haven’t used “Obsidian” as a label before, since I’ve prattled about it ceaselessly on this blog. What does it mean? Maybe just that I know the title could change (even though I think it’s a really good one). Now that Allison is hashing out her book deal, they’re discussing how to change her title. She doesn’t seem to mind, since Laurell K. Hamilton already stole the title she really wanted.
At any rate, I printed the whole thing out to send to a sci fi/fantasy author friend who (with incredible generosity) offered to read it and help me bypass the slush piles of a few people she thinks might like it.
It’s a huge stack of paper. Heavy.
It surprised me that I hadn’t printed out the whole thing before. And it put me in mind of the days way back when I first set my writerly goals. I was working with the concepts of visualizing what I wanted, but wasn’t sure what I was going to write. I knew, too, that I needed to be specific. (Be careful what you wish for!) So I visualized a manuscript, a stack of paper full of good writing.
When I printed out the final full manuscript of Wyoming Trucks to send to my editor at UNM Press, I experienced a moment of deja vu to see it looked exactly as I’d envisioned.
But with Obisidian, though I’ve sent out the full manuscript, I’ve always sent it electronically. Where paper, the post office and the mailbox used to be such a major part of my writing life — and least the sending it out into the world part — now it’s really all via email. Which is great in many ways: cheaper, faster, more green, less resource-intensive.
It’s also less weighty.
I saw this article yesterday, via the New York Times Science tweet. There have been a number of similar studies lately verifying this phenomenon of our brains, that what we think does have a physical effect on the world. This one is particularly interesting because they found that subjects assigned greater importance to things that were heavier.
You scoff? Go read the article. I’ll wait.
Isn’t that interesting? And you’re thinking the same thing I am, right: ebooks.
After all of the bruhaha over the Amazon/MacMillan tussle over how much ebooks are worth, I wonder about how our animal brains value something that has no weight. That, in some ways, has no physical existence. The publishers insist that a book shouldn’t be worth less because it’s not printed on paper. But all of us know that creating a document electronically and sending it via the ether is cheaper. No matter how you spin it, all of us who no longer budget for paper, toner and postage can tell you that.
Certainly the publishers add value, through selection and refinement of the work. As do the agents who bring it to the publishers. And the booksellers who bring it to the readers. I noticed that, in all of the opinions flying around, most were from the publishers, agents and booksellers. A couple mentioned the readers. Almost no authors have spoken up. An oppressed people, we.
But, if we’re to look at the core value, what people pay for is the story. Which has always been intangible. Which might be why the author’s contribution to the equation tends to weigh less heavily.
I’m thinking, though, for important submissions I might invest in paper. Thick stuff with a formal feel.
I might have to wash the mailbox.