Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Rejection

Rejection. Is there a word that writers hate more? It seems to be the part of the writing life that we all dread, and yet we all have to face it.

If you want to be successful as a writer, you have to submit your work to editors and agents. These are people who get far more material than they can possibly use. Yet they have to weed through it all to find what they need or want.

Intellectually we understand this concept. Yet it is truly painful when we get rejected. We know that they are rejecting our work, and not us, but in many ways our work is us. Our stories and characters are our offspring, born of our hearts and souls. So how do we learn to accept the negatives without losing our way?

There are lots of types of rejections, of course. There are the form letters, sometimes not even well copied, that get stuck in the package and sent back almost immediately. This usually means that the story didn't grab them by the end of the first page and didn't read any further.

Then, you have the jotted notes on the manuscript itself, which means someone at least saw the item, if not read it all. And sometimes these can be constructive criticism, ideas that can help with future submissions.

The best rejections are those which request changes or another manuscript to be considered. When you get those, you know that you are getting close, and that publication may be near.

We have to look beyond the rejection at why it was rejected and focus on that. It could be that it just landed on an editor's desk on the wrong day, but it could be that there just wasn't enough of an opening hook. So we just continue to work out the bugs in our manuscripts and submit somewhere else. Or we may have another story to tell. If you can view each rejection as a learning experience, you are that much closer to seeing your name on the cover.

As writers, most of us go through all of these types of rejections. We just have to keep writing, keep submitting, and keep improving. In time, we can all succeed in attaining our dreams. Those who allow these rejections to stop them will never make it. But those of us who keep going have a potential for success beyond our dreams. Well, maybe not beyond our dreams. After all, we are writers. Who can dream better than us?

Monday, March 27, 2006

YA-YA Sisterhood

Some of you may be curious about making the jump from adult to YA romance (YA = young adult = teen). I have been writing both for quite a few years. I was writing YA when YA wasn’t cool, when the market was severely depressed. But to say it has picked up in the past few years would be an understatement. So, even though my agent signed me on the basis of an adult romantic comedy, it didn’t really surprise me that my YA romantic comedy sold first. My friend Marley Gibson, a native of Troy, AL, also has been writing adult and YA, and her first sale 10 days ago was a series of four YA novels. Even some who have already made it in the adult genre are giving YA a spin.

So you think YA might be your ticket into publication too? Here are some things you need and don’t need, imho, to make it as a YA author.

You need to like YA books. If you haven’t read YA ever, or since you were 15, give it a try. You might start with an author who also writes adult books you enjoy, like Alesia Holliday/Jax Abbott or Nicole/Niki Burnham. Or you might try the YA version of the adult genre you like best, like romantic comedy, chick lit, or paranormal.

You need to like teenagers. You don’t necessarily need a close relationship with a teenager currently. They think you are old and weird, and unless you can withhold their allowance, they probably are not going to tell you what you want to know anyway. But you need to *wish* they would tell you about their lives, because you think they are so cool. You should find their relationships interesting, their contributions valuable, and their problems heartbreaking, even though you think you could solve their problems in a second if they would only listen to you, which they won’t, because they are teenagers, and you are old and weird. In short, you should be able to empathize with them.

You need to remember being a teenager. Strangely, the people who tell me they don’t remember this part of their lives are all twenty-six. I am not twenty-six, but I remember in excruciating detail how I felt sitting next to Jeremy Ledbetter† in band in the oboe section (all two of us). Me, a little ninth grader, pining away the entire year for this super-cool, cute, smart guy who played Satan in the senior play. Every day Holly Pemberton, the last-chair flute who sat next to us, hid a new Harlequin romance behind her music stand. Every day, Jeremy stole it and read me the sex scene. *fans self* I probably will never write a YA novel about an oboe player, because I would put myself and everyone else to sleep. But I have already written a YA novel about having a crush, and believe me, I drew from experience.

You do not need an up-to-the-minute understanding of teen culture. Yes, it would help if you turned on MTV once in a while, but I have found that fashion and slang are largely regional. Besides, your up-to-the-minute understanding is going to be old news by the time your book gets published.

Most of all, you need a great story, well-told. My YA novels run about 55,000 words, and my adult novels are about 100,000. The YA hero and heroine obviously are younger, and I trade in sex scenes for make-out scenes. Other than these differences, I treat my YA and adult novels exactly the same. I plot them using the same methods (1. write; 2. freak out; 3. whine to critique partner; 4. write), and I craft them with the same care. YA novels may be a good bet for publication nowadays, but they are not a shortcut.

†Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Those Misunderstood Heroines

We’ve talked about men inspiring us and what it takes to be a hero. All good subjects. Actually my favorite. Now let’s talk about the women. Though we all dislike the too-stupid-to-live heroine – you know, the one that hears the strange noise outside and decides she MUST open the front/side/back door to investigate – I have to say at times she can be useful if written the right way.

For example, you can’t imagine a female police officer hiding in the corner. She’ll definitely be the one opening the door. Only she’ll have a gun and would know how to use it. That same type of heroine – the TSTL, not the officer – can be used as quirky heroines. Though they don’t appear to have the sense the Good Lord has given them, they are so much fun when they are constantly finding trouble. But I must mention again – the writing has to be handled just right.

Another heroine many of us dislike is the opposite of the TSTL one. She’s the wimpy heroine. This much maligned heroine is okay in the first couple chapters or so of a book, but I have to see growth soon. By a quarter or so in, she must have the beginning of a backbone. She can be shaking inside, but by God, she better get it together and find some conhones (figuratively, unless they belong to the hero…well, we won’t go there for now) or I won’t read another page.

What do you like or dislike seeing in an heroine?

Friday, March 24, 2006

GH/Rita Day

Just a quick reminder that today's the day the Golden Heart and Rita calls go out. Best of luck to everyone who entered, and if you want to keep up with a running tally, Melynda Beth Skinner has a page up for just that purpose. If you get a call, be sure to let her know.

Good luck, everyone!

UPDATE:

The GH and Rita finalists are up on the RWA website! Congratulations to our own Dianna Love Snell for a TWO Rita nominations, best first book and best long contemporary.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Holding Out for a Hero

I wasn't familiar with this song until I saw Shrek 2, but gotta love it. Click here to hear a snippet of the song on Amazon sung by Bonnie Tyler.

My favorite literary hero is Mr. Darcy of Pride & Prejudice, especially as played by Colin Firth though Matthew Macfadyen is pretty darn close. Yes, he's dark and brooding, but what truly makes him a hero is he loves Lizzy even though she's beneath him in social status. In the Regency era such inferiority was a great chasm. Try as he might, he can't suppress his feelings. By the end of the book/movie, he's not quite the cold, proud man we believed. The heroes of our books are always larger than life, but what truly makes a hero? I'm sure it differs with all of us.

There are the heroes we haven't personally met. The policemen and firemen who put their lives on the line every day. The nurses and teachers who put people above money.

I'm always irked by women who have to ask their husband's permission to do something or go somewhere. They're not children. My husband doesn't bat an eye when I tell him I'm going to a conference or workshop.

DH is good with his hands. Get your mind out of the gutter! I'm not going to talk about THAT on the internet. He's a mechanical genius and can fix anything--car, plumbing, electrical, woodworking, painting. Of course, with the good comes the bad. He can be slow about doing those things that aren't completely broken.

One thing that makes my DH a hero is his support. When I first said I wanted to write a novel, he didn't laugh or snicker or tell me it was impossible. He went shopping with me to buy a word processor. He doesn't complain about a lack of housekeeping or home cooking. Heck, if I'm busy with writing or anything else, he'll cook dinner. He's never read a word I've written, yet he's quick to proudly tell relatives, friends, and strangers that I'm an author. It doesn't bother me that he doesn't read my work. It's not his "thing" and that's all right. He couldn't be more supportive.

If I set to go to a meeting or book signing that's too far to drive because of my back, he'll hop in the car and drive. He can always find something to do while I'm busy, then be back to pick me up and drive us home.

I personally would rather have a trusting, supportive man like my husband then one who showers me with flowers. And I do get the flowers occasionally. Do you prefer a alpha or beta hero? A man who brings flowers or is there for you? So, tell us what makes a hero in your eyes.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Not in the mood

What do you do when you reach that big, pivotal scene where your characters are supposed to finally explode with all that passion you've been building between them...and they don't want to cooperate?

I've reached that point in my WIP. My hero and heroine have been through many trials, revealed big secrets about themselves to each other, and they're primed to act on their emotions.

Only nobody seems eager to do anything about it.

I turn to my heroine. "What's the deal?" She buffs her nails and rolls her eyes.

I look at my hero. "You're the guy. Aren't you supposed to be thinking about sex, like, 58 minutes out of every hour?" He cuts his eyes at me and goes back to his case file.

Seriously, any number of things could be getting in the way of your big love scene. And, interestingly, those obstacles are the same things that get in the way of real-life relationships.

1) You haven't properly built the steps of the relationship. There are gaps in the growth of attachment between them. Go back and look at their interactions. Are they standing still? Moving backwards without moving extra steps forward the next time? Are they simply incompatible? Maybe you need to rethink the conflicts between them. Are they strong enough? Are the characters doing enough to face the conflicts and work through them, or is one or the other character not pulling his/her load? Just like a real-life relationship needs nurture, balance and commitment to work, so does the relationship between fictional characters. Make sure you're providing all the necessary building blocks for a lasting relationship.

2) Inhibitions. To some extent, we're all bound by what we're afraid of. Love, commitment, intimacy, sex—all of these elements of a love scene can be frightening to a writer. They're what I call gut-deep issues, elements of all relationships that make us vulnerable to the people we care about. Some people, myself included, are very emotionally self-protective. Breaking through those self-imposed barriers to open a vein and let our fears, hopes and desires bleed out onto the page can be a very stressful thing. (I think at the same time, tapping into our own fears and wishes can help us make characters, relationships and scenes more real).

3) Wrong setting. And I'm not talking about the story setting. I'm talking about your workspace. I don't know about you, but I can't seem to write a love scene on my lunch hour at the office OR when my young nieces are in the room at home. I need to be in the moment with my characters, and I can't do that when I'm thinking my boss or a nosy nine-year-old might be looking over my shoulder. So sometimes, just as busy couples have to set the mood for romance, you have to set the mood for writing your love scene. Maybe even make an event out of it. Some writers like to light candles, play romantic music and surround themselves with sensual textures and visuals. I haven't tried that yet, but I just may have to give it a whirl if my hero and heroine don't start cooperating.

4) Too many distractions. I work a full time job and live in a modestly-sized house with my retired, widowed mother, my disabled sister and her two adopted children. We have dogs and cats and a mortgage, car payments and credit card payments and worries about saving up for the girls' college tuitions. The house is messy, the garden needs watering, I'm addicted to LOST and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, I can't stop watching my new PRIDE AND PREJUDICE DVD, and now that I have a book coming out in June, I have to worry about promoting it and myself on top of trying to write something new. Oh, and there's that multi-book series idea I've been thinking about for a couple of weeks now. I'm lucky if I remember the names of my hero and heroine these days. Just like a real-life couple who can't find time for romance, my characters and I just aren't spending enough quality time together for me to be able to give them the proper romance they deserve. So maybe I need to take a weekend to reacquaint myself with my characters. Find out what they really want and what I can do to give it to them.

Those are just a few reasons why your characters may not be in the mood for love. I'm sure there are more. What are your stumbling blocks when it comes to love scenes, and what do you do about them?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Romance Magicians -- Reawakening that stubborn muse

Romance Magicians

We've talked about what inspires you to write. But, lets talk about what you do when you just can't write. Your muse is happily sleeping away and your sit at your computer, staring at a blank screen, struggling for every word or phrase.

How do you bring her back?

For me, it's a long drive (which with gas prices can be a little too expensive) or window shopping. Something that frees my mind from having to think about writing or not writing. Sometimes it's just forcing the words on the page -- making myself do it. It kind of feels like peanut butter of the brain -- all gumpy and lumpy. But then, suddenly, something lets loose and I'm at it again.

So what do you do to reestablish that creativity and ignite that spark? What gets your motor running again?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Welcome to the Romance Magicians' Blog


I figured we needed to start the blog off right. You may recognize Luke. He helped me entertain some published authors while I did my presentation to a group of unpublished authors. Men do inspire us women. I know I write because I enjoy so many things about men. A man's eyes can tell a woman so much about him. If he's hurting inside or thinking of something naughty. What inspires you to write?