The best sort of losers

Another Whitney Awards has come and gone and I know you’re all wondering if I managed to retain my title of: Author with the Most Books Nominated Who Has Never Actually Won a Whitney.

Yes, yes I have.

On the plus side, I’ve got some awesome Loser Cheesecake photos to share.  I love that Julie Wright is wiping her tears with Dan Wells’s tie.

Here are Heather Moore, Dan Wells, and I. All of us were nominated for three Whitneys this year and none of us won. But on the plus side: three desserts. So yeah…there’s always that.

Fitting or not, I feel that my most lasting legacy to the writing world will be the annual Loser Cheesecake photos.

This tradition was born the second year of the Whitney Awards when Julie Wright and I began a photo shoot depicting the effects of losing a Whitney. Mostly, the effects involve eating large amounts of chocolate.

We quickly dragged James Dashner and Jessica Day George into the photo shoot.

I admit that this picture makes me laugh every time I see it.

This year, Tamara Heiner came up to me after the awards and told me she thought I was very gracious and handled losing well. I should have told her that practice makes perfect but I’m not nearly as witty as my characters. Maybe I’ll use that line in a book someday, though.

On the bright side, I did win the James Dashner Shrine that they give away at conference. This consists of a paper James Dashner mask, a framed picture of him and Jeff Savage, and plastic cup and notebook with his movie title misspelled. I proudly posted the picture on Facebook and had about twenty people congratulated me as though it was an actual accomplishment. In actuality, James pulled my name out of a bowl. Still, I’ll take my congratulations where I can.

 

 

Why people wonder about authors

As I’ve been getting the book The Girl Who Heard Demons ready for paperback format, I read over a few of the comments the editor made and the comments I made back to her. During a scene where the main character has been kidnapped and duct tape placed over her mouth, I had her say several lines of dialogue to the villain.

The editor asked how she was talking and how she managed to break the seal of the duct tape. This was my reply to her:

Despite what all of the TV shows portray, duct tape’s seal breaks as soon as you open your mouth. I know this because I duct taped my own mouth to research the scene and see how hard it would be to talk with duct tape. Yes, this is the sort of thing that makes people wonder about writers. I also duct taped my daughter’s hands to see if Levi could get the tape off of Adelle’s hands without scissors. Turns out if you pull up the end of the tape, it’s really easy to unwind it. I’m sure CPS would understand . . . (Hey, one of my mystery writer friends had her husband drive her around in the trunk of her car so she could give accurate details for her book.) If you think it’s a weird visual to have a piece of tape half sticking to her lips, I can take out that piece of tape altogether. It just seemed like a kidnapper would tape someone’s mouth, and unless you’ve done it before, you might not realize it doesn’t work.
Yep, writers are an interesting bunch. Perhaps odd, yes, but interesting.
So anyway, The Girl Who Heard Demons will be available in paperback within a few days.

The unintended consequences of studying WWII

I have a WWII romance in the writing queue. After finishing Slayers 4, an Echo Ridge romance novella, and an upcoming project that I haven’t seen the contract for so I won’t announce yet, I will finish it. And because I know it’s there I’ve been watching WWII documentaries and reading books set in WWII for about a year. Here are some things that will happen to you if you study the subject as well.

  1. You will be hungry. Seriously. I don’t think you can learn about Leningrad or rationing without getting hungry–or looking at your pantry and wondering how long you’d last if war broke our. Or stockpiling food because of the aforementioned question.
  2. You sources won’t always be clear. I watched one documentary yesterday that said Britain had 40 million people living there during the war. One today said 50 million. Ten million is quite a difference when it comes to a place the size of Idaho. Germany and England have different dates for how long they think the Battle of Britain lasted. How can I be accurate when my sources (in this case both documentaries put out by the government during the war) contradicts itself?
  3. You will be dumbfounded. I can’t wrap my mind around the magnitude of this war or the depths to which humanity will sink. I understand madmen exist. It’s so much harder to understand that nations will follow them. And it wasn’t just Hitler. The atrocities from Japan were just as bad. And Stalin was in some ways worst because he committed atrocities against his own people. (And Russia was helping Germany up until the day Germany betrayed Russia and attacked them. I haven’t learned much about Italy but I’m assuming it wasn’t much better. ) How could that many people be so brutal?
  4. For every one question you find an answer for, it will raise two other questions. I finally decided on a bomber for my German character and in doing so learned that they didn’t just take off from Germany and France. They also had air bases in Norway and Belgium. Now I’ve got to figure out which base his squadron  came from on the day of the attack in Chapter one. At the rate I’m going, I will never finish researching.
  5. You will see death. It’s odd to look at the footage of crashing planes or dead soldiers and realize this isn’t Hollywood’s fakery. It’s real death. I’ve seen the moments before someone died captured on film. Over and over again. I’ve seen countless dead bodies that used to be someone’s son, brother, father, husband. These people had plans, goals, and personalities before war came and cut them all short. And it’s horrible to see and know that it’s real. Yet at the same time, I think every person alive should learn about WW2. It’s not just history, it’s the ultimate cautionary tale.

 

To kill or not to kill off a character

I admit I wasn’t planning on killing off any of the slayers in the last book of the series. I  made this decision for two reasons. One, I don’t like books or movies where characters I like die. I still haven’t forgiven George Lucas for killing off Qui-gon Jinn. We will not even discuss Han Solo. As far as I’m concerned, that death never happened. So I’m not one to just randomly kill off a character because death seems like an interesting plot twist. And number two, I want the book to end with mostly happy scenes. I have a scene where all of the slayers are together the day after the climax talking and laughing and feeling like normal teenagers again. That scene wouldn’t really work if they were simultaneously mourning the death of one of their own.

That said, one of my author friends (Randy Lindsey) reminded me that if no one dies during the journey, the journey doesn’t seem like it was that hard or that dangerous. Authors have to kill off someone to show that the struggle was hard. It’s kind of an author rule. (If you don’t like books where characters die, this is your notice that Randy’s books might not be your cup of tea. Just saying.)

Randy has a point. Even though I don’t like this point. I’m considering killing off Tori’s horse. Although people don’t really like books where animals die, and it’s not like she had that close of a relationship with her horse. True, they spent time together in the first book. But since the next books takes place during the school year and not at camp we don’t see Tori with her horse very much after book one.

Of course, this isn’t to say that I didn’t plan on killing anyone. One of the bad guys meets an unfortunate end in the last book. In the Team Jesse version of the book, *spoiler alert* I planned on killing Overdrake. Then in the Team Dirk version of the book, I had to unkill him because I didn’t think that Dirk would care about romance with Tori if he’d just seen his father killed.

So what do you guys think,? Do I need to kill off a good character to make the journey feel like the struggle was hard enough? I could kill off one of the minor slayers but then does that really count? And even though he/she was a minor character, again the slayers would seem heartless if they were laughing and joking around the day afterward.

Several cities in the nation get trashed in the last book is that enough?

Slayers 4 update

I usually try to blog once a week, but as you may have noticed it’s been ten days since I actually posted anything. This is because I am valiantly trying to finish Slayers 4 (111,000 words right now) and I’m also listening to audio files for Erasing Time.

Slayers 4, by the way, feels like it will never end. Nope. Yesterday, I had three scenes until I finished. I wrote most of one scene and then this morning realized I needed to add another scene. So now I have 3 1/2 scenes left to write. See, I’m actually losing ground.

My Fair Lacey is released!

This sounds like she’s been held captive somewhere, doesn’t it? Not so. Well, unless you count my computer as a place of captivity. Although if we’re speaking metaphorically, I’m the only one that my computer really holds captive because I will not be truly free until I finish Slayers 4. But we’re not talking about that right now. (Janette looks around for chocolate.) Because we’re celebrating a charming romance novella (It’s 125 pages, so it’s half a book.) that’s part of a romance anthology with romance veterans Rachel J Christensen, Cami Checketts, Heather Tullis, and Lucy McConnell.

If you’ve ever sung one of the My Fair Lady songs or wished Professor Higgens was younger, hotter, and nicer, you’ll love this story.

 

Click here to buy the book

Lacey Johnson has dreamed of opening a restaurant for years. All she needs is one little loan to make it happen. But with the way Lacey talks and dresses, she looks more like someone who would hold up a bank than someone who’d ever get a loan from one. When Garrett Halifax, her roommate’s Harvard-educated brother, volunteers to change her image and teach her to speak correctly, she jumps at the chance. But she quickly finds she’s in over her head. Pretending to fit in with the town’s elite is harder than she thought, and despite her best efforts, she’s falling for Garrett. Could someone who is handsome, rich, and educated ever consider her as more than just a project?

Romantic happiness is waiting for you when you click here to buy the book!

When I met Richard Hatch

When I was thirteen I was a huge fan of Battlestar Gallactica. I didn’t just dream of growing up to marry Richard Hatch, I dreamed of marrying Apollo. In my mind there wasn’t a difference between the two.

A reader once mentioned that she knew Tori would end up with Jesse because all of my heroes had dark hair. (In my defense, the tally in books at the time was something like ten brunet guys to three blond ones. After that, I purposely wrote the next two heroes with blond hair, but yeah, I’m still way behind.) Richard Hatch–or rather, Apollo, is the reason why so many of my heroes have dark hair. Now, before you get defensive in my husband’s behalf, (he’s blond) I tried to put my husband in a romance novel once. I had to fire him after the first day. My husband is such a laid-back peacemaker that he just wouldn’t fight with the heroine. (Which is great in real life but not good in novels which need conflict.)

When I found out that Richard Hatch passed away yesterday, well, it’s been a sad day for me.

Jesse in the Slayers series is based on a younger version of Richard. What teenage girl wouldn’t fall for this guy? Or here’s another picture. Today, I kept thinking How can I imagine Jesse doing things in the Slayers series when Richard Hatch died? It seems like his likeness should have vanished from my mind or something. Which of course is ridiculous. Imagination doesn’t work that way.  But still, everything has felt a little off and wrong today. My own mortality has been standing on my porch, looking in through the windows.

I’ve also been thinking about the time I met Richard sixteen years ago. He was doing a day-long seminar on embracing your fear, and this was taking place in Sedona not far from where I lived. I couldn’t pass up a chance to meet my childhood idol.

It was a memorable meeting, to say the least. I was so nervous. I was afraid he would look at me and then look over me like I wasn’t enough. I mean, isn’t that what celebrities do?

Instead, he was so kind to everyone. (And he told me I looked like one of his old girlfriends, so you know, validation…) He asked to see pictures of my kids and told me they were beautiful. He said my husband was lucky to have me. He hugged everyone in the group (and made us hug everyone in the group) and kissed me on the cheek. I don’t remember what I paid for that seminar. But it was worth every dollar and then some in self-esteem points.

I had brought a copy of Masquerade to the seminar because he was in the dedication, and I wanted to give him the book. (I’ll quote my journal from that time here)

Towards the end of breakfast, Richard looked over at me and said, “I recognize you. You’ve been to my seminars before.”

“No, we’ve never met,” I said.

“Really?” he asked. “You look so familiar. I could’ve sworn I’d seen you before.”

“It must’ve been that poster I had of you in junior high. I knew you could really hear me when I was talking to you.”

So much for portraying an air of sophistication. Oh well, I suppose he was bound to discover the truth about me sooner or later. I mean, how do you remain sophisticated while telling a stranger you put them in the dedication of your romance novel?

I was a little worried about how I was going to work that detail into casual conversation. He was there to give a seminar. How was I going to give him my book? (“I’m not sure if you like reading romance novels, Mr. Hatch. But I thought I’d give you this one…”)

As it turned out, I couldn’t have scripted the conversation better if I’d written it myself. At lunch (yes, he sat next to me then too,) I asked him about how he wrote his books and mentioned that I was a writer too.

“Have you ever sent anything out?” he asked. Why do people always assume I’m unpublished?

“Yes, my fifth book is coming out next July.”

“Really? Did you bring any with you?” (An odd question. I mean, how many authors travel with copies of their books?)

“As a matter of fact, I did. I brought one to give to you because you’re in the dedication.”

He didn’t even seem surprised. Maybe movie stars are used to frequenting book dedications.

Anyway, after lunch, I gave him a copy of my book. He read the entire dedication out loud and said, “That’s beautiful. You’re a poet.”

My best review ever.

He was not Apollo, and yet he was deeper than I expect most Hollywood stars are. The things he said about overcoming obstacles were profound. The theme of his seminar was embracing your fear instead of avoiding it. This was a new thought for me, but I understood the philosophy behind it. If you avoid doing things that make you afraid, you’ll never leave your comfort zone. You’ll never accomplish all the things you’re capable of. If we fear failure or we give up once we’ve failed, we stop living.

He talked about this for awhile and told us that we needed to let ourselves feel fear, embrace it for what it does for us (gives us energy.) We should take that energy and use it instead of trying to push fear away.

As part of the seminar, we were to climb a thirty-five-foot pole, do a rope course, and then jump off a platform and zipline to the ground.(More quoting from my journal here.)

While we went to the course, Richard asked us to talk about our fears. I said, “If I told you  my biggest fear was that I was going to break off all of my fingernails, would you think I’m shallow?”

He didn’t answer. One of the other women laughed and said, “That’s not shallow; that’s protecting your investment.”

Richard told us the story of the first time he did a ropes course. He went up as fast as he could then immediately did the macho thing. He did a kamikaze dive off the top. He said when he got to the ground he felt pumped up and exhilarated until his instructor started asking him about the experience. Things like “Why didn’t you look around while you were up there? Why didn’t you take your time to enjoy the experience?”

Richard realized he hadn’t been exhilarated; he’d been scared to death and so he’d done what he’d always done in life. He clenched his fists, shut his eyes, and dove in. He suddenly saw the ropes course as a metaphor for his own life, for how he dealt with problems. He’d been scared, so he done a dive instead of completing the exercise. He’d covered his emotions up with machismo. He said the experience haunted him for three years until he did the ropes course again at another seminar. This time he did it the right way. He embraced his fear.

As I watched everybody else do the ropes course, I began to get a little nervous. I knew the harness would keep me from splattering to the ground, but I worried that I might fall and swing into one of the poles and thus break all of my teeth out. I really didn’t want to look foolish. Perhaps it was pride. Perhaps pride can conjure up worse fears than walking on a shaking log high above the ground.

As I was waiting for my turn, Richard came up and stood beside me. “Are you afraid?”

“Well, I wasn’t until I saw Lorraine screaming up there.”

He smiled at me in a teasing way. “You just came to the seminar to say hello to me and now I’m making you do stuff.”

“Yeah. I had to hug people and now this.”

He gave me his glasses to hold while he went up. He did the course quickly, confidently.

I wasn’t going to do less on my turn. I went up without hesitation and walked pretty smoothly across the swaying log. The only problem came when the rope on the harness got stuck and I couldn’t move forward for the last foot. I was supposed to reach over and touch the far pole with my hand but the rope wouldn’t let me move forward. I figured if I lunged forward I might get the rope unstuck but in all probability I’d also lose my balance and perhaps some of my teeth too. So instead of touching the pole with my hand, I lifted my foot and touched it that way.

Now that I think about it, that’s kind of scary thing to do–stand on one leg on a suspended log, but at the time I didn’t even think about it. Then I walked to the middle of the log and as we were required, put my arms up, my head back, and leaned backwards. Next, I walked to the end of the log and climbed up on the platform. I sat and looked around while I waited for the staff guy to change ropes on my harness so I could jump off the platform and slide down the wire. I was the most nervous then because I’d seen the group before me sort of fall and then jerk back up as they slid. I don’t like falling and I was afraid the jerk would hurt my back. I called down, “I can’t believe I paid for this.”

Richard called up to me, “How do you feel?”

“I want something to embrace besides my fear,” I yelled back and then I jumped. The surprising part was that it was fun. It felt just like sliding through the air. If I could have done it again, I would have. As I returned to the ground, Richard walked up to me.  

“That was fun,” I said.

He laughed and told me he’d known all along I was spunky. Then as we strolled back to the others he said, “I can tell you have a way with words.”

“Well I am a writer,” I said. “But so are you.”

“Yeah, I know, that’s how I can tell you have a way with words.”

Could I have planned out things for him to tell me to validate me more?

When we watched the video of ourselves on the ropes, someone pointed out that I had a smile on my face during the whole time. I could tell it was a nervous smile while I was crossing the log, but nevertheless, it was a smile.

That got me thinking about the whole ropes-as-a-metaphor-for-life thought. During my time up on the course, I was joking around, shooting off clever one-liners instead of doing something sensible like screaming. Why do I do that? Do I use joking as a defense mechanism? Do I joke around to keep people at a distance, to keep them from knowing what is serious and important to me? Perhaps I just see life differently than other people. I don’t know. Richard wanted us to do soul-searching, and I guess it worked.

It’s been sixteen years since I did that rope course, and I still think about it sometimes. To tell you the truth, I still don’t know the answers to those questions.

Richard, you made me think, you made me dream, and for one short day, you made me feel really good about myself. More than a million people have lived part of my teenage crush on you as they’ve read my books. You will be missed.

 

If you want to read about my version of Richard Hatch (and Dirk Benedict)

see the first book in the series here

Should you publish with a small publisher?

Every once in a while I give writing advice on my blog. Someone asked me if they should publish with a certain publisher. Here are my thoughts on the subject.

Smaller publishers come and go every year, and some stick around for decades (and some go out of business quickly and don’t ever pay their authors royalties.) The questions you need to ask before choosing any publisher are:

1) How much do they pay in advances? Specifically, how much will they pay you? If they don’t pay anything, avoid them. If they pay under 10k, consider them carefully. Generally, if a publisher doesn’t pay much of an advance, they won’t do a lot to market your book. If they don’t market it, it won’t sell well and bookstores might not even carry it.

If you’re unsure about a publisher or agent, you can get a trial subscription to Publishers Weekly and check to see their recent deals.

(The exception to this rule may be Kindle Scout. They pay 1,500 advances but you have Amazon’s expertise helping to sell your book, so the lower advance may be worth it.)

2) What is their marketing plan? Are they well connected to bookstores? Do their reps go to conferences and give out ARCs? How many ARCS will they be distributing?

3) What is their contract like? Make sure you have either an agent or a literary lawyer look over it and see if the publisher is grabbing rights they shouldn’t. Some contracts are so bad that they will literally enslave an author’s career. You want to make sure you can get your rights back after a few years when the print book is no longer selling. (Ebooks and print-on-demand copies shouldn’t constitute the book being in print.) The publisher shouldn’t ask for more than first rights of refusal on your next book in the same genre. You also want to make sure you can self-publish anything you want. There’s a lot more to look for in contracts, which again is why you need a professional to read it over.

4) Look at the list of books they’ve published and contact some of the authors. Ask them about their experience and if they’re happy with the publisher. I published one book with a small publisher and it was a disaster, but that doesn’t mean all small publishers are bad.

Good luck!

Back to work on Slayers 4 (Into the Firestorm)

Perhaps by the time I’m finished with the book, I will remember that firestorm is one word. Although you probably shouldn’t hold your breath. I’ve written multiple books that involve either the Renaissance or renaissance festivals and I still spell the word wrong. Every. Single. Time.

Thank goodness for spellcheck.

Anyway, I am working on Slayers 4 again. I’m having a hard time getting excited about the book because I want to be already done with this series and it still needs so much work, and oh yeah, the climax and ending. It still needs that.

And–this is why I shouldn’t write series–I know at some point soon, I’m going to have to go back and reread all three books to make sure I’m not inadvertently changing facts and details.

I’ve said since book two that I was going to write two endings, one where she ends up with Jesse and one where she ends up with Dirk so that both camps will be happy. Oddly, even though the (super) rough draft is written up until the climax, I’m still not sure which version I’m writing now. I guess we’ll all be surprised…