Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My Political Rant of the Year

Congress seemed surprised that so many Americans are vehemently against this government bailout plan for the financial sector. Since they seem clueless, I'll put it in simple terms they might be able to understand. Feel free to send this to your Representative.

We, the People of the United States of America are sick of providing welfare for the wealthy. This time, we want it written in stone that the people who caused this crises will be the first to pay to repair it. We want the top executives of AIG, Freddie Mac, WaMu, etc. to pay back every damn dime they were given over the past three years, and for those funds to be used to bailout the financial sector. When they're reduced to sleeping in doorways, then the government can come to me for the remainder. Oh - and Congress, don't forget to hit up every single member of the boards of these companies who approved these huge payouts. We want them to be held personally responsible for signing off on huge bonuses to guys who ran these companies into the ground. Cut the cords on the Golden Parachutes. No severance packages for failures! You politicians are so great about talking up personal responsibility. Let's see you actually follow through. For once, please prove that you mean what you say. Make reparations the cornerstone of the bailout - you broke it, you bought it. Then, just maybe, you'll get my consent as a taxpayer to approve the bailout plan.

Monday, September 29, 2008

You Gotta Have Gimmick

Once upon a time, supposedly, a writer could hide away in a remote cabin, produce a magnum opus, mail it to a literary agent, get it published, and enjoy incredible sales without ever promoting it. That was the publishers job. If that ever was the case, it isn't any more. Even if you're published by a major New York house, the burden of promotion is on the writer.

I was at dinner with friends of a friend several weeks ago and one of the psychologists there mentioned that many writers suffer from depression and tend to be introverts. I can't disagree with either of those generalizations.

How do you reconcile the two? If you're like a lot of writers, you don't. You
stay hidden. Maybe you have a website. Maybe you belong to writer's lists. Maybe you seek reviews. Maybe you have friends who "hand sell" copies for you. Or maybe you come out of your cabin and trudge back to civilization for a book festival.

A long time ago, I worked in a boutique in a mall. Observation of the stores around us taught me something - people were more likely to come into the store if there
were other customers inside. It also helped if we looked busy. So instead of parking my ass behind the counter, on very slow days I'd go fuss with the displays up front. If people walked by, I'd make sure to catch their eye and smile, and then get back to whatever project I was doing. That didn't always work, but it did often enough that someone would come in. Maybe they didn't buy, but if they came in, we'd often
get other shoppers.

At the American Book Expo and the West Hollywood Book Festival, the same thing happened. People wandered past the many rows of booths but weren't really shopping. Neither were big book selling events. The idea was to get the name out there so that
people were aware of the product. At both events, I walked around and saw booth after booth manned by obviously bored workers. No one stopped to look at their stuff. That didn't happen at the booths I worked at. I was blessed both at Book Expo and the WeHo Book Festival to have booth buddies who stayed on their feet the entire time and tried to engage almost every person walking by. By the end of the day, we'd talked
ourselves hoarse and we'd given away tons of promotional merchandise. Motion catches the eye even more than color does, so we kept moving. Between smiles, sassy come hither lines, and the energy we put out, we almost always had people visiting our booth. Once people started coming over, we didn't have to work as hard to get others to wander over. Success and positive energy attracts like nothing else. (Free shot glasses and colored condoms don't hurt, either) Sure, we got trapped talking to
lonely people who just wanted to chat forever about nothing, but hey, that's amitzvah. Besides, it looks as if someone is deeply interested in your products. Win-win.

Maybe a better title for this entry would have been "You Gotta Get Out There
And Hustle Your Ass Off." For one day of your life, you can pretend to be one of those bold, perky people who likes strangers and loves giving the same pitch a hundred times. Pretend you're someone else. If you have a pen name, slip into that persona and sell it, baby. Because if you don't, no one will.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

West Hollywood Book Fesitval

I'll be at the href="http://www.westhollywoodbookfair.org/">West Hollywood Book
Festival this Sunday. Look for me at the MLR booth, or hanging out next door at sister booth Southern California Erotica Writers or at my publisher's booth Torquere Publishing. If you're there, stop by and say hi.

Sure, I work a booth, but I really go there to be a fan girl. I'll finally get to meet Donna George Story. Friend Trebor Healy has a reading. The comics section is amazing. Lots of manga publishers. Tom of Finland always has a booth.

My other favorite part is the old Russian ladies. They act as if they can't comprehend the word gay, even though they live in West Hollywood, but they sure do scoop up lots of cover art postcards that feature nude men.

I never did figure out what they were all about, but last year a bunch of twinks in pink bellhop hats and tight, brief, white shorts were running around the place.

Monday, September 22, 2008


My day job involves a lot of research into disparate information. One week it's the spot market price of Central Appalachian coal, the next it's Medicare/Medical reimbursement rates of Alzheimer's care facilities. Search, process, present, repeat.

That translates well to writing. For one story, I'm looking into the duties of a deck hand on a tow barge on the Mississippi River. For another, vanilla production in Papua New Guinea. I can spend hours doing this. Do I need to know about the tectonic plates that converge under Papua New Guinea? Not for my story, but it's fascinating stuff. I even know the name of the major daily newspaper in Papua New Guinea and what language (they have over 800 to choose from!) it's printed in.

The hardest part about research is knowing when to say when. And I'm not talking about the obvious procrastination going on here. I'm talking about how much of that research should go into the story. The problem is much worse for people who write historicals (god, I love reading them, but I just don't want to go there writing one.) than it is for those of us who write contemporary (any genre), fantasy, or science fiction. But it's still a problem. You learn all this cool stuff and want to get it into a story, but at some point you have a character soliloquizing about the spot market rate for vanilla beans and hand pollination - and you've just killed your story. So where do you draw the line? Where does the unique jargon of a job stop flavoring a story and become an impediment to smooth reading? Where do tiny details mark you as a crashing bore versus someone who knows of whence you speak? (someone asked about a policeman chasing a thief through the London sewer in the 1750s on one site I belong to. Problem is - there was no organized police force in London until about the 1820s, and no sewers for years after that.)

This is where my experience doing executive briefings comes in handy. Try to offer only three major metrics (facts) that are big picture items. Jargon should fit into the flow of the conversation and be as self-explanatory as possible within the context of what the characters are talking about. (And it should be pertinent to the plot.) Action should clarify (You don't have to have a character stand up and give a speech about the duties of a deck hand on a barge if the characters are doing it.) Ignore cool stuff that doesn't directly affect the characters during the story, but try to use unique events and props of that setting as plot points. The story is about the characters, not the facts, not the setting, not the props, not the jargon. Keep your focus on them and you'll be fine.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Finally, A New Question For Writers

I know it's been a long time since I've posted one of my writer's questions, but it's been a busy summer.

The question: How do you use props to evoke atmosphere? Are props just part of the setting, or are they important touchstones or emotional shorthand?

Beginning writers confuse the props in a scene with creating an atmosphere. A four-poster bed with red velvet curtains can be erotic, posh, period, tacky as hell, sinister, trying too hard, or romantic, but not because of the piece of furniture. What makes it any of those things is the emotion it evokes in the main character and the tone of the piece. A bare mattress on the floor is a place to sleep too, after all. And a bare mattress on the floor can evoke any of the same feelings if the flow leading up to seeing that prop channels the reader and the main character into the right frame of mind. That's my opinion. What's yours?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Novel, Novella, or Short Story?

How do you know if your story should be a short (my definition is around 4,000 words. More on that later), a novella(20, 000 to 60,000 words, approximately), or a novel? (For those of you who don't write, a mass market paperback is usually 80,000 to 100,00 words. )

This question comes up a lot on my writer's lists. Once you've written a number of stories, I think you get a feel for the word count you're going to end up with, but it isn't always clear. Some seasoned writers intend to write a short and get so caught up in the characters that they realize there's a novel in there somewhere. But where experience helps is when a seasoned writer can keep that story short and then go on (maybe quite a while later) and extend those characters into a novel.

The word count is influenced by many things, but I'd say time frame of the plot and size of the idea are most important. Many good short stories show a span of time, but the strongest ones seem to center on a specific moment in time. They also focus on a central idea and explore it in brief depth. The bigger the idea, the more words you need to explore it. The more complicated the plot, the more words you need. The more shifts in time you have, generally the higher the word count.

If you read a call for submissions to an anthology, check the word count. If it's literary erotica, you're going to see an upper limit of around 5,000 words. That means you have to cut to the chase, hit the ground running... whatever term you use for getting down to business quickly. Within the first paragraph, you should have broached the topic of your literary thesis (the main idea) and made some statement about who your main character is. Keep this mantra in mind - "What is this story about?" Answer that question, and only that question. Do it succinctly.

If you're writing genre erotica (romantic erotica) and you're dealing with an e-publisher, the definition of a short story ranges by publisher from an average of 4,000 words to a minimum of 10,000. Read the call for submissions carefully. A longer word count gives you more room to play with time, theme, and characters. You can (although I wouldn't advise it) take much longer to define your central character and pose your problem.

Literary erotica publishers rarely take novellas. If you can't trim your story under 7,000 words, and the upper limit on the call is 5,000, write a respectful letter to the editor asking for permission to submit it anyway. The worst that will happen is that you'll be told no. Trust me - editors do not come to your house and make you write "I will only try to submit stories that fall within the word count guidance in the call for submissions" five hundred times in an essay book.

Many E-publishers of romantic erotica will accept novellas. But do me a favor. At the end, don't do the wrap up paragraph. Resist the temptation to write "Mary Ann went on to become a successful fashion designer, and married Jack, while her archenemy from design school - the scheming bitch who tried to steal Jack away from her - became the night shift fry cook at a skid row diner. " I should be able to imagine that continuation from what you wrote in your story. Even though it's a novella, it is a self-contained story that ends with the last period. Anythiing that happens after the story you're telling has ended belongs in a different book.

Novels, as with this blog entry, can start as a simple enough idea, but there are so many complications that it takes a while to work through to the end. You'll know if you don't have a big enough idea to sustain a novel if you get bored and run out of steam at about the seventh chapter. The fun of creating your world is past. Your characters are defined. Your problem is stated and you've set about resolving it. And then... it seems as if you have to throw in ridiculous complications to keep it going. If you're tempted to take the shortcut and zoom on to the end when you're only 20,000 words in, do it. Then find a publisher who takes novellas.

But what if you're 200,000 words into what was once a short and you're still going strong? Trilogy, honey. Start thinking trilogy.

(Cross Post) I Guess It Had To Happen Eventually

Almost every well-known writer at my publisher has had their books "shared" at a pirate site, so I guess it was inevitable that one of mine would show up on a list.
For those of you unclear on the concept - sharing files of e-books is illegal. It's theft. Don't get all huffy and self-righteous, because you know you're doing wrong. When you bought the e-book, you agreed that it was for your use only. Not for you and some of your friends, and not for you and whoever has access to your file sharing account. Putting a copy out on the internet for other people to download is just morally wrong. And before you make some snide remark about publishers, or it not really hurting, please understand that there are some writers who make their sole living this way, and some of them have kids with medical problems, or have medical problems themselves. Some live close to poverty. Would you feel it's right to go into their house and take a dollar out of their wallet? No. After taking that dollar, would you then hold the door open so a bunch of strangers could also help themselves to a dollar from the writer's wallet? No. But guess what - sharing files is the same thing. So please, be your better self and stop stealing. Okay?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Partitioning Out My TIme

I keep thinking that I'll reach some magical point where the work of being a writer is over and I can just go off somewhere and be creative. Hah! That's something no one ever warns new writers about.

I suppose if you're a certain type of writer, you don't have to do any promotion, but we mere mortals work our butts off at it. Was it Macy of Macy's Department Store who said, "Half of all advertising is wasted. I just which I knew which half?" At least half of all time spent on promotions is wasted, but which half? I have no clue. So I do it all - chats, blog entries, writer's and reader's lists, social lists, readings, working book fairs, literary festivals, private correspondence, publisher promotions and writer's collective promotions. It takes a lot of time.

Another thing no one ever warns new writers about is how much time submissions, editing, etc. can suck up. Getting work accepted is only the beginning of the process of publishing.

There's a never-ending cycle of reading calls for submission, thinking up stories, first draft, second draft, polish, polish, polish, submit, acceptance, edit, promote, that leaves little time to cherish each word and set it like a jewel on the page next to the prior jewel so that you end up with this exquisite string of words like beads on a necklace. In my fantasies, at some point I'll be able to slip away to a cabin in the woods and devote myself to ars gratia artis. But I suspect that the reason it hasn't happened yet is that existing in such a vacuum would cause writer's block. That and I'm afraid that left to my own devices, I might turn into an art diva. (Fringe, velvet, paisley, and a turban - kind of like Lord Byron.) So maybe being busy all the time is a good thing. At least it stops me from committing crimes against poetry.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

My contribution to the Torquere Anniversay Bash

In case you missed it, I posted an excerpt from my short story Georgie Cracks the Case for the Torquere Press 5th Anniversary bash. Don't forget to join the scavenger hunt.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Ironic Gelatin

Later this month I'm going to an erotica writers pot luck. I volunteered (yes volunteered) to make a gelatin dessert, as long as everyone understood it was ironic gelatin. (I'm sure the host meant it as ironic. We're being stereotypical Americans for the amusement of a European guest.)

Of course, my first thought was lime green gelatin with mandarin orange slice and tiny marshmallows, because it reminds me of church pot lucks of my youth, but then I remembered that I once duped some poor foreigner into believing the dish was deeply symbolic* and decided I couldn't go there again.

So, this being erotica writers, my first thought was rude molds, but I don't have time to hunt them down. Since most of us write GLBT, this might be a good idea, but it's a lot of work and involves poking my finger into the gelatin (seriously. I read the instructions).

Then I thought maybe something over the top American like this: Gelatin and fake whipped topping in one fell swoop.

But this lovely idea caught my eye. I thought, hey, erotica writers! I'll bring this and set the dish on top of a vibrator! It'll be just like those old football games that vibrated to move the players down the field! (This is dating me terribly, and the joke would be too obscure for someone who didn't know about those toys.)

So what do you think? Remember, ironic is the key word here. Don't be afraid of tacky. Tacky on purpose is kitsch.

* This was at a Thanksgiving dinner. The guest in question pointed at the quaking lime green mold and asked with no small amount of trepidation in her voice what it was. Thinking swiftly, I told her that it was symbolic of the long, hard winter the first Pilgrims endured. I told her that many of the Pilgrims starved to death, so in desperation, they sent out fishing boats, but since it was winter, all they caught was jellyfish. But lucky for them, the jellyfish all had these small fish in their tentacles, and the Indians taught the Pilgrims how to get the fish out of the jellyfish without being stung, and that's how the Pilgrims survived their first winter. I said that the marshmallows symbolized the corks on the floating nets, the gelatin represented the jellyfish, and of course, the mandarin slices represented the fish. Then I had the gall to say in my extra-perky voice, "See? Now it all makes sense."

I will surely burn in hell.

Monday, September 01, 2008

September Reviews up at Erotica Revealed.

Read them here.

It's Torquere's 5th Anniversary

The celebration will last all month.

Every day, a new story or sip or fun stuff donated by an author is on the site. href="http://www.torquerepress.com/anniversary/">Go Here to read. But that's not all by a long shot! You can collect clues for the href="http://www.torquerepress.com/contest/scavengerhunt.html">scavenger
hunt. Winner wins an Amazon Kindle loaded with Torquere books from the authors who donated to the prize (I'm one of them).

And mid-month the Wedding Sip Blitz comes out. Proceeds from this will be
donated to Lambda Legal to help fund the fight to keep same sex marriage legal in California.

So join the celebration!