As year’s end is upon us, I turn to the great Henry Miller for some writerly resolutions. Though they were written long ago and for the man himself, it’s surprising how maintain pertain to me personally. Take a look. A few might jump out for you as well. Happy 2014! May it be even better than 2013 in every way. ~Cat
Think I sit around in my jammies all day and spin spicy sexy tales? Think again. Today I bring you random things romance writers are good at, in no particular order…
Should my writing career bottom out, I could probably get a job at the UPS Store because one side effect of being an author in today’s day and age is shipping stuff. Lots of stuff. Prizes to contest winners. Baskets for charity auctions. Swag to readers. Promo for giveaways. And on a side-errand, shipping things to the deployed troops (using the dreaded customs forms. UGH). I’m at the post office a lot. At least one or two times a week. So I got that skill going for me.
I travel to conventions with a 40 pound carry-on bag filled with giveaways. A ten pound laptop case filled with technology and pens/sharpies. And, last but not least, a 50 pound checked bag filled with clothes, costumes, toiletries, and the overflow promo, banners, banner stands, scissors, tape, swag, etc. That’s 100 pounds, carried by me who, when I’m at my best, weighs in at 115 lbs. It takes a lot of time and skill to get it all where it’s going, and at a minimum expense. I managed to get a case of 120 glass shotglasses to New Orleans for a comvention unscathed and for free. That’s talent. At left is the other case I ordered of the same shotglass, tucked neat and safe in my carry-on, this time headed to the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in Kansas City, MO in two weeks.
Related to packing but also a bit different, I have become an expert solo traveler. I know to wear no belt, and no shoes with laces. I’ve got my photo ID and boarding pass out, my shoes off, my laptop out, my jacket off and my 3-0z liquids in a clear quart sized ziplock long before I reach the TSA scanners. The agents recognize my vast travel talent and bump me to the expert traveler lane at Laguardia Airport. Expertise has its privileges. I’ve figured out how to send my bags through the scanner in the fewest number of bins and so my most valuable items (wallet, electronics) go through as I walk through so they’re not hanging out unprotected at the end of the conveyor belt while I’m still back on the other side of the scanner. Any jobs out there for professional flyer? I’m your girl!
Promo Ho-ing –
Though on a resume I’d probably have to write Promotions and Marketing or something equally boring. I am an expert at what vendors are best for which promo. Who has free shipping. Who has no set up charges. Whose customer service is the best, and whose sucks. The dirty little secret of being an author today is that writing the book is only step one, promoting it is what they don’t tell you you’ll be spending considerable time and money on. If you’re not a natural ho, this can be challenging.
I was going to list Professional Bum but didn’t because I’m not sure that’s a thing, but I have crafted daytime outfits to write in during the day that are as comfortable as PJs but still look presentable should a deliveryman come to the door.
So there you go. My random skill set that will hopefully keep me off the streets should the world stop loving romance. Let’s all hope that never happens, shall we?
Last I left you, I was sitting in a holey chair with no support and little time or energy for finding a replacement. Well here is a happy ending update for you. We have this building on our property, probably from the late 1800’s, and when we first moved in over 10 years ago, I got it in my head to furnish it and turn it into a ‘playhouse’–bar, bar stools, antique collectibles, big screen TV, chess, cards, books, stereo, and–wait for it–a chaise lounge. So I started thinking, would that fit in my writing room? Would it be comfortable? I made the mistake of thinking out loud and the next thing I know I hear a strange noise outside, and go downstairs to find the husband dragging the chaise from the playhouse, up the stone path to the back door of the house, because, you know, why ask for help.
Anyway, since it was here I thought I might as well try it in the room. Between the two of us we got it up the stairs and lo and behold, I love it. It’s big enough I can fit on it with a few cats (always a consideration in this house). I can sit upright, or lay down. I can work or I can nap or I can watch TV when I’m supposed to be working. And it is finally a chair befitting a romance author. Everyone thinks we lie around on chaise lounges eating bon bons and drinking champagne in our negligees anyway, at least now I’ve got one thing right–a leopard chaise! And I didn’t even have to leave the house and go to a store to find it! Let’s see if it inspires any good stories, shall we?
Deadlines wait for no man. Neither do holidays. So yes, I am one stressed writer as both loom before me, which inspired me to blog. Well, the stress did, as well as a blog post by the brilliantly irreverent Chuck Wendig “25 Gifts For Writers“.
Do you have a stressed writer in your life? Or hell, anyone who works from home. Here is my quick and dirty list of what my personal experience in this area has taught me they would love to receive.
A new mug. It must be big. Giant. Huge. Because I am too lazy to keep going to the coffee pot, or the tea kettle, to refill it. I will however, walk down to the microwave to reheat the contents–hey, I need some exercise, right? One year I saw a mug that said “What deadline?” on it. I didn’t buy it. I have regretted that decision every day since then. Just saying…
A fun new wine glass, perhaps holiday themed, because when it’s too late in the day for caffeine, this particular writer switches to alcohol. Of course, it goes without saying, that a nice accompaniment for the wine glass would be a fabulous bottle of wine to go with it. Possibly with a very fun name. My friend once bought a bottle of Writer’s Block wine. Brilliant gift, if you can find a bottle of that send it on over.
Daytime PJs. You know I’m not getting dressed just to sit in the house alone with the cats and write. Who has the energy or time for that? I will however change from my nighttime PJs to what I call my daytime PJs–some sort of comfy pull-on lounging pants with a big warm cozy sweater. That way I can be comfortable to sit and write all day, but if the man in brown comes a’knocking at the back door bearing gifts in his UPS truck, I can answer the door without feeling embarrassed. Oh, and an update for those who were following the saga of my writing sweater–I bit the bullet and threw out my very favorite holey black writing sweater. But, lo and behold, and thanks to a Black Friday miracle, the store where I’d bought it years ago had a sale and free shipping, and I replaced the sweater with one the same style but in a lovely soft grey. That’s the good news. The bad news is that since getting it, I have spent far too much time and money online buying new lounging pants and a tank top to match it. But hey, it is my work uniform, right?
A throw. While in my chair trying to write, I get hot, and then I get cold. Then I fall asleep. In any event, the perfect thing is a nice BIG soft throw that I can wrap around me when I need, use just to cover my feet if they’re cold, or toss it completely off me if need be–you’d be surprised how much heat 2 cats and a laptop can generate.
And finally (I’m almost embarrassed to write this but I will anyway)–a fake fireplace. Now, if you have a natural gas hookup in the house and a few thousand dollars to hire a plumber to run a gas line, you can install a lovely gas one. If you are cheap, as I am, you can buy this gorgeous electric one at Walmart for $129 with 97 cent shipping. I have to say, my writing lair is so lovely since I bought this thing that I never want to leave it! Yes, we have a perfectly nice real fireplace in the house. It’s downstairs and requires wood like every hour, and cleaning every week, and I’m too lazy for that, hence my totally portable fireplace that turns on with a flip of a switch. It makes me happy. Don’t judge.
So there you go–my suggestions for the writer or any other type of shut-in you may know. Have a wonderful holiday!
Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos
I guess writers view the world a little differently. Little things that I would have in past overlooked, now can reach out and grab me. This morning, out of a twitter feed filled with tweets from the some 2000 accounts I follow, one message jumped out at me and I clicked on it. It was posted by a USMC account and the article was about Marines in Afghanistan.
So many things about the article struck me, to the point I saved it so I could refer back later–yes, for research, because it seems everything in my life relates somehow to writing. But the larger point is, I didn’t have to read the article. My current military romance books are all written right now and I haven’t planned or contracted new ones yet. This is the kind of thing I would have groaned about reading back in high school for class, but now, I’m IMing a Marine friend to discuss interesting tidbits I found in the article, because I was excited about it!
For instance, I’m excited there was a bad poppy harvest, the bad guys’ largest source of income. I noticed that tidbit, a single sentence, buried on page 2 of the article because I wrote a scene in an Afghan poppy field in an upcoming military romance novel of mine.
Six years ago I would have looked at a picture of the poppy field and thought of Van Gogh. Or perhaps thought, “how pretty”. Or maybe even decided I was craving a lemon-poppyseed muffin. Today, I see a poppy field and, for better or worse, I immediately see it as a source of illegal drugs, the income from the sale of which buys weapons to kill American soldiers. Am I sorry for this loss of naiveté? Not at all. In fact, I’m grateful, because for us to truly appreciate the beauty in the world, there has to be an awareness that there exists ugliness as well.
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, a blog which was founded to prove that smart women do read romance, did an excellent wrap up of the RT Booklovers Convention. It was right on target, from the misperceptions about the genre in general, as well as this specific convention in particular, to the unprecedented media coverage of the RT event last week in Chicago thanks to that book which shall not be named. The continued top seller status of “Voldabook”, as we have begun calling it in my circles, meant there were TV crews there from CNBC and NBC Dateline perpetuating the long standing myths of the romance industry and even creating new ones. I.E., no Voldabook did not reignite the erotica industry and the eReader did not save it. What did happen is that technology finally caught up with consumer demand. eReader devices got better and cheaper and made it economically feasible for shorter works to be published, for publishers to take a chance on unknown authors or new and different cutting edge sub-genres, and for authors to self-publish. That all means that a romance reader has more choices, for less money, than ever before in history. It’s not that they can “hide” what embarrassing materials they’re reading, because there have always been decorative book covers that did that very effectively for paperbacks for years, if that was the goal.
Now that the RT dust has settled and my fun blog wrap-ups have been posted, I can get down to reality and post what really happens at RT. As Sarah on Smart Bitches mentions, though I can fault the CNBC piece for crediting THAT book with reigniting the industry in one breath while saying how the RT convention has been happening for decades in the next, and for finding and interviewing one of the small handful of (unknown) male erotica authors at a convention where there were easily hundreds of female authors, some making $1 million a year selling erotica, we really can’t fault CNBC for stripping the 4 male cover models that were actually at the convention and putting them on camera, because sex sells.
Want to know the reality? Part of that CNBC piece was filmed in the lobby at 6 a.m. the morning following the Ellora’s Cave party (which want late into the night). That scene was staged. Those authors milling around the hotel lobby with shirtless male models would not have been there at the crack of dawn otherwise. In reality, those models would have been in the hotel gym in tank tops working out before the start of another long day and night. The B-roll of the dancers and party were shot the night before at the EC party.
Yes, there are models (though one tenth of the number there used to be before the death of the Mr. Romance competition), and there are costumes, and fun and games and drinking and hanging in the lobby bar, but much like high dollar deals are so often made by men on the golf course, there’s that at RT too. I came home with a list of 15 items to do, a document with notes regarding ATF agents and bomb-sniffing dogs and another document full of notes I took at the Mark Coker (Smashwords) session with 11 points on how to top the best seller lists. My to do items included following up with the publicist from Kensington I met at the Kensington party, to send her promo materials to start getting some media attention for my book which doesn’t release until April 2013. It including items discussed at lunch with my editor at Kensington that I need to take care of now, again for that new release a year down the road. It included to do items from a discussion I had with the Samhain author liaison in the bar, to email my Samhain editor regarding my next bull rider series book release. On my list is the session I need to pitch to the RT organizers for next years convention in Kansas City in May 2013, and items to follow up with fellow Western authors regarding a reader event we may try to plan for one of the smaller cons happening later this year. On there was how I need to follow up with cover artists for my self-pubbed backlist, and how I needed to send follow up emails to some of the authors I had discussed a possible collaboration with.
So yes, I did post pictures of me in costume with two shirtless cover models holding big swords while wearing kilts, because readers most likely don’t care about my To Do list, or that this RT was the most productive to date for me professionally. But as CNBC and I both know, sex sells.
I am one of those weird people who liked school, and though I’ve been out of college for quite a while now, I’m still a student of the world. I can’t just look at something. I have to look at it and ask why? And my big question right now is why in the world did this one particular erotica book that has taken publishing and suburban women by storm go viral?
There are plenty of erotica and erotic romances out there. The theme is not new–uber rich, powerful and handsome billionaire business mogul. The unknown, average, seemingly inconsequential college girl he’s so attracted to he must have her no matter what. Classic romance novel trope, but with the addition of super hot BDSM sex. BDSM isn’t new either. You can find thousands of books with those elements to a variety of extents.
So why oh why did Fifty Shades of Grey, written by an unknown UK author, published by a small press that I had never heard of, sell hundreds of thousands of copies and hit #1 on both Barnes & Noble and Amazon? Why has it been blog fodder everywhere and featured on all the network national morning talk shows, being touted by Good Morning, America and The Today Show as “mommy porn”, and “suburbia’s dirty little secret”? Some doctors and sex experts are debating if the BDSM theme is freeing to women who just want to turn the reins over to someone else in bed after being in charge of the house all day, while other experts are saying it’s dangerous and sets up women for abusive relationships (an accusation which to anyone who knows how to Google and look up the principals of BDSM knows is absurd). Meanwhile, there are plenty of books where women relinquish control to be ravished by the rogue, so why this one book in particular, which grew in popularity strictly by word of mouth and not through marketing or advertising dollars?
Here’s why it shouldn’t be so popular:
-a few very respected and increasingly famous book bloggers didn’t like it. One marked it a DNF (Did Not Finish) last year, long before it hit the media full force. (Seriously, this story is being covered everywhere in the past week, from the NY Times to the Washington Post.)
-it’s based on fan fiction. The author loved the Twilight series so much, she wrote her own little stories using the same characters, published them on fanfic websites, then eventually expanded those ideas, changed the characters’ names from Bella and Edward to Christian and Ana, and published it with a small press overseas.
-the writing style, in my opinion, is annoying. Disclaimer right here I have NOT read the book. I read the beginning of chapter 1 on Amazon.com (they allow samples) and realized I wouldn’t be able to read the entire book because it is written in first person present tense and, though it may be a personal pet peeve of mine, I can’t read books in that POV. I find it distracting, annoying, and amateurish. I fear I would lose my mind and that my internal editor would never be able to get past the POV and see the story beneath.
Yet bookstores can’t keep the print version in stock and I’m sure that is driving sales of the digital formats even higher. Again, the question is why?
Here is why I personally think it is so popular:
-the book has both a title and a cover that is totally tame and mainstream. At first glance, 50 Shades of Grey could easily be a legal thriller or a murder mystery. Had the publisher slapped a picture of some man titty (ala my Cat Johnson novels) on this book, I bet you it would have never sold even a fraction of what it has. Why? Because people don’t WANT to like erotica, or erotic romance, or even the Fabio-esque romances of our mother’s generation. This book slipped under the radar with its innocuous cover.
-inside that boring cover is HOT sex that most likely crept up on the unaware reader (since what I read of Chapter 1 of this book reads almost like a Young Adult novel). Before they could slam the cover shut and say “Oh my God, this is dirty“, the story had captured them and the sex took them by surprise, until suddenly they realized their lady parts were tingling and they were feeling a little bit naughty just for reading it. Who doesn’t want to secretly be naughty? It’s the reader’s dirty little secret. Who would know what she’s reading? It’s just a hardcover book with a boring cover, but inside, their hormones awoke, and these readers couldn’t wait for hubby to get home so they could jump him.
-people like to be the first. The first to know something others don’t. The first to recommend something they discovered to their friends, or even strangers, so they recommended this book to others. “I just read this book. You should see what’s in it! I never knew there were books like this!” the unspoken continuation to that would be…because I am so high brow I would NEVER pick up a romance novel and see that there are thousands of books just like this one and better written too.
-maybe that first person POV I hate so much makes the readers feel what the main character is feeling on a more personal level? Who knows? Maybe I’m wrong and there is no reason that the present tense should make me so crazy. Maybe I’m already crazy. Hell, anything is possible at this point.
And there you are, my personal, unqualified and unsolicited opinion of the trilogy of books (yes, there are 3 in the series) that has taken publishing by storm, the rights to which just sold to the paperback division of Random House Inc., reportedly for an undisclosed 7 figure sum to be rereleased immediately in eBook and in paperback in April with all the fanfare they think it deserves. Coincidentally this is just weeks after PayPal told the owner of Excessica Publishing that stories with BDSM themes amounted to rape for titillation and may have to be restricted…at the same time that other eBook retailers have been told that their PayPal account would be frozen if they didn’t stop selling certain books that they qualified as obscene. Among themes being classified as taboo and being restricted by certain retailers were pseudo incest, bestiality (which can get iffy in the world of shapeshifters) and “barely legal” stories (IE younger of legal age girls, such as college girls, having sex with older men, possibly billionaire playboys even)…but I digress. That is another tale totally.
Today’s lessons– The almighty dollar is king, perception is everything, and it’s very possible that people do judge a book by its cover.
Today I came across two blogs by other authors.
The first was 25 Reasons That Writers are Bug-F*&$ Nuts. It spoke to my soul. Points 4 through 8 were me to a T. As were points 10, 11, 14, 16, and 17. It basically said writers are liars, and loners, messy, insane and misunderstood. And sometimes addicted to caffeine, alcohol or both.
Then there was the second post I read. It was an author writing all about her writing space. She likes to sit in the garden, or on the balcony, and let the birds’ songs make her think of what her characters might be feeling. There’s talk of feng shui and of the importance of an ergonomic chair for proper support in her fixed writing space, I guess for when she wasn’t visiting with the birds in the garden… No judgement here. That’s her and that’s fine.
I can hear the washing machine running, the closest thing to birdsong is the sound of something metal scratching inside the washer drum–I think there’s a screw rolling around in there with the clothes from the husband’s workpants pocket.
I’m in bed leaning against a pillow with a cat on my legs probably giving me blood clots, and two more cats snoring next to me on the husband’s pillow, and a dog at the end of the bed. No ergonomics here.
It’s a good day. I not only got around to showering (which happens less often than I’m willing to admit), I even remembered to brush my teeth and eat something.
My bedside table, my bedroom being my office 99% of the time when I’m not working standing up at the kitchen counter while something is cooking, contains all the things a working writer needs. Right now mine contains 2 TV clickers, a pad of paper with my To Do list scratched on it and a pen, a napkin from the last meal I ate while on the laptop here in bed, a box of tissues and a box of wine (don’t judge me! It’s a lovely Malbec from Argentina with aromas of chocolate and black cherries and it’s organic!), the house phone, my cell phone, a bottle of water, lip balm, and last but not least a bottle of nighttime cold medicine I’ve been using to put me to sleep at night (I know, that’s bad. I’ve heard it already). The only reason both a coffee mug and a tea cup isn’t there is because I was exhibiting my typical stress behavior and decided to carry them downstairs rather than keep my butt here and keep writing. I also scrubbed the bathtub this morning rather than finish the book I promised an editor would be done last December.
How’s that for feng shui?
I’d say my life is a little closer to the author of blog A than the author of blog B, but hey, if past sales and upcoming book contracts are any indication, it’s working for me so far, so what can I say. To each his own and wouldn’t this be a boring place if we were all exactly the same? Sometimes you need a little crazy.
I’ve been in this business (that being publishing) for a while now and I’ve learned a few things. Here’s what I know for sure.
1- Things change. What was true yesterday is no longer true today, and if history has shown us anything, it won’t be true tomorrow. Which brings me to the next point…
2- Never stop learning and never ever assume you know it all. Because, as I mentioned above, things change, but…
3- As much as things change, there will also be things that remain the same. I’m thinking particularly of legacy publishing as I type this, holding on to the way things used to be by the skin of its teeth. Yes, it may be making small concessions here and there, but basically, still the same. But as I said…for the sake of repetition, please refer to point #1.
4- You have to put your best foot forward at all times. You never know who’s watching. Honestly, you really never know, and what you are doing when you think no one is looking could be the defining moment in your life. It could make or break your career. Did you write a free short story just for fun? Did you put in out there for the public to read? Then that piece of writing better be the best damn thing you can put out there. It had better be as good as what you would send to your editor. It better be as good and as clean as it would be if it went through edits and proofing because, as I said, you really never know who’s out there reading it, now do you? The same goes for web presence. What’s out there on the web, be it your own domain, or blog, or Facebook or Twitter (especially FB & Twitter) it better represent you the way you want to be represented to the world, because, you just never know.
5-Luck is nothing without hard work, persistence and talent. Luck may drop an opportunity into your lap but if you let it sit there and don’t act on that opportunity, it will shrivel up and die as surely as that houseplant you forgot to water. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if there is such a thing as luck at all, because it is more likely the hard work, persistence and talent brought that opportunity to you in the first place.
6-When others talk, listen. You can decide whether to accept their opinions/suggestions later, but at least hear them out, because you never know from where the next gems of wisdom will come and because (see #2) you can never stop learning because (see #1) things never stop changing.
7- Always check your email spam folder. Sounds silly. Sounds strange. But believe me, Microsoft’s “junk” may be the thing that could change your life. And I’ll leave you with that and the promise of an explanation…soon.
Most people think romance writers sit around in ruffly negligees sipping champagne and eating bons bons. Seriously, I’ve even seen a Lifetime TV movie that portrayed a romance author just like that, not that I look to Lifetime TV for my reality check but–horrifying though it is–some people may. So here’s the truth. I do spend a considerable amount of time in my PJs and I know a lot of my fellow authors do to. Why? Because I work from home so I don’t really HAVE to get dressed if I’m not out running errands. And once I turn on the computer in the morning while drinking my coffee I get immersed. And even if I say to myself “I’ll get dressed as soon as I finish this one thing” we all know that in the labyrinth that is the internet, there is never just “one thing”. So PJs, yes, negligee no. Mine are usually flannel and really nothing to write home about, I swear.
And I do sit around sipping, but it’s not the bubbly. It’s coffee at the crack of dawn to wake me up, and then tea later on to warm me up (because I’m cheap and keep the heat so low). Which brings me to today’s favorite thing (see…I got around to the point of this post eventually).
BENGAL SPICE TEA from Celestial Seasonings. I drank this all the time back in the day and then forgot about it. Well I picked up a box recently and now I remember why I love it so. Spicy. Rich. Tasty. Warming. Full of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and vanilla. Soooo good with a spoon of Agave and a dash of half and half or milk. It’s my new favorite fall/winter beverage. Try it yourself –put on PJs, throw a blanket, at least one cat and a laptop onto your lap, grab a cup of this tea and pretend you’re a romance writer too.