Category Archives: writing

I Think I’m Breaking Up With NaNo

In a recent blog tour post for the re-release of her book Double Blind, Heidi Cullinan talked about how she’d originally written the book, the sequel to Special Delivery, during National Novel Writing Month. (And oh, by the way, if you haven’t read them? GO. Get caught up on the series now, because Tough Love is out next month.) Anyway, Heidi talked about how writing Double Blind was low pressure because Special Delivery had been sold but not released yet, so there was no one champing at the bit for her to finish.

My first novel, Sand & Water, was written during NaNo, too. (A year after Heidi’s, in fact.) I had a pretty solid story summary and the first 200 words written when I woke up on November 1 and dove in. I wrote 63,000 words in November and the other 23,000 or so in December. (I also realized about 30,000 words in that the original summary wasn’t going to be enough story, so I added on the remaining story that I’d thought might fit into a sequel. First lesson: you’re probably going to need more story than you think. LOL) And then I revised for a couple of months, submitted, and got published later that year.

I haven’t finished another novel since.

Oh, I’ve tried NaNo again. Sand & Water was my second NaNo project, actually. I wrote a fanfic project the first time around. But in the three years since my last success, I haven’t come close to finishing anything. I’ve tried several different methods, including some of the ones that helped with Sand & Water, but nothing has worked.

It’s a bit too early in the year for me to decide if I’ll give NaNo another shot in 2014. But even if I do decide against it, the experience has taught me that one size doesn’t fit all applies to everything, not just to differences between authors. Every story stands alone. Even when you’re writing a series, each book needs its own space and its own special handling.

Sand & Water is a fairly light, sweet romance, low on angst and conflict. I still like it. It’s the kind of book I like to read, and I’m proud to have my name on it. But writing it was akin to someone with a lot of debt paying off an account with a low balance. I got a great sense of accomplishment and pride, but that was just the first step.

Almost two years ago, I started on a new novel centered around a main character who’s loosely based on a friend of mine. I’ve written on it sporadically throughout that time. I’ve set it aside to work on shorter projects and then come back to it. It’s been my NaNo project. I’ve summarized it, used various plotting methods, brainstormed, and put into practice every other idea I can think of to get the damn thing written.

It’s still not done.

So. My goal for the rest of March is to finally finish this book. I’m pulling out all the stops. Call it National Novel FINISHING Month, maybe. But by April 1, I am determined to have a draft, no matter how rough it might be.

No foolin’. And no excuses.

Maybe Heidi will send Randy Jansen over to ride herd until I’m done.

What’s in a Name?

namegameHere’s a question I keep seeing crop up with some regularity: when should authors look into switching to a different penname?

Some things seem clear. If you’re writing adult fiction with graphic sex scenes, then you’re probably going to want to use a different name if you write something that’s for YA (or younger) audience. Or, say, if you’re hit by a plotbunny for an inspirational. If you write romance and cross over into an entirely different area—maybe crime fiction, or even nonfiction—a name change might be in order.

But what if you’re just switching subgenres within romance? If you write gay romance as A.B. Cee, do you need to switch to C.B. Ayy for “mainstream” (M/F) romance? Do you need an erotica penname separate from your romance handle? How about if you usually write light, fluffy romance but your new book is dark and disturbing? Is it worth the additional time, effort, and expense to promote two (or more) identities? What’s more dangerous: dividing your potential audience and possibly confusing readers, or taking a risk that readers will buy something they don’t want to read (and complain loudly about it)?

I’m not about to say that there’s a single answer here. Some authors have done well with two (or more) pennames, even within the romance genre. Adult versus YA seems to be a fairly clear-cut decision, as does romance/erotica versus non-romance genres. But some authors have dividing lines between M/F and M/M, between erotica and romance, between contemporary and paranormal/suspense/historical, and so on.

Two fellow authors who’ve posted about this very question recently are Marie Sexton and Sarah Madison. Marie has a new story in the works that’s a huge shift in tone from the usual for her, so she’s chosen to use a slightly different penname. She talked about her reasons here. And Sarah has been struggling with the penname decision, mainly for M/F vs. M/M stories, and she’s decided to take a survey to see what readers think. The survey is here if you’d like to share your thoughts. It’ll be open through Saturday. 🙂

Personally, I already have enough trouble juggling two identities, real-life and penname—and mine are fairly similar, so even that’s not a huge issue. I would definitely use a penname if I were to write for the under-18 crowd, simply because of the content of my published adult work, and I most likely would if I branched out beyond romance. But for romance, without some concrete numbers proving that it makes a substantial difference, I’m likely to stick with this name no matter what type I write. And even with that proof, I might stick with it anyway.

Why? Well, for multiple reasons, but in part it’s because I feel pretty strongly that one of the best ways to help move LGBT+ romance into the mainstream is to treat it as if it’s already there.

I completely understand why others have made, or will make, a different choice. In particular, for those who’ve been writing in both M/F and LGBT+ for a while, setting up different names was probably necessary when they started publishing, and it makes no sense to change that. For others, publishers or agents may have suggested (or insisted on) a different name, or authors might have needed to separate things for personal reasons. Some feel that readers won’t pick up an M/F book written by someone who also writes M/M, and that could have a big effect on sales. There are many valid reasons to use more than one penname for different types of romantic pairings.

Thing is, none of those reasons really apply to me. I use a penname because I have extended family who might cause drama over what I write, but my main purpose there was to shield my grandmother, and she’s been gone for almost year. I’m not reliant on my writing to pay the bills, and I don’t expect to move in that direction, so sales aren’t as much of a concern for me. And because I write part-time, I don’t have the time (or energy) to maintain an additional persona if it’s not truly necessary.

At the moment, the next few projects on my writing slate are gay romance, but coming up after that is at least one M/F pairing. More may well follow, but I have no plans to leave gay romance behind. I’ll write whatever kind of romance tickles my fancy. And as of right now, I plan to stick with Shae Connor for all of those stories. I hope people who like my writing will come straddle the fence with me. 🙂

Image courtesy of naypong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Worst Valentine’s Day…

Harlequin and CBC Books had a Twitter contest yesterday to come up with the worst Valentine’s Day stories ever (real or imagined). They were giving out books written by Canadian HQ authors, and I couldn’t resist chiming in. I won a copy of Vicki Essex’s In Her Corner, about mixed-martial arts fighters, with this one:

He’d made plans already, so she decided to wait until after the 14th to break up with him. Then at dinner, he proposed.

Er… whoops!

Here are the rest of the ones I posted, just for the fun of it. I hope you had a better Valentine’s Day than any of these folks. 🙂

She packed her things and got on her flight back home. He didn’t come after her.

He was sure he’d cooked the chicken thoroughly. Their romantic evening ending with food poisoning told a different story.

He’d finally found the man of his dreams! He planned the perfect Valentine’s Day dinner to celebrate. Then he got stood up.

She spent the night with her two favorite men: Jack and Jim.

She bit happily into one of the chocolates he’d sent, not thinking to check for nuts first. Good thing her EpiPen was nearby.

She went to his office to surprise him with a sexy lunch. He was surprised all right: he had his mistress bent over his desk.

Making a Few Changes

changeI’ve been a bit adrift, writing-wise, in recent months. I finished writing my story for the Butt Ninjas from Hell anthology on time, and I submitted an out-of-print story for re-publication in another anthology. But my WIPs are languishing, with only dribs and drabs being added here and there, and I can’t seem to focus on much of anything.

So, it’s time to make a few changes.

First, I’m dropping word count meters. I deleted the one that used to appear on this site, I’m filing away the spreadsheet I was using to track word counts, and I’m taking those numbers off the top of any story file I update from now on. Word counts aren’t the point. Finishing the story is the point. If that’s the 8,500 words it took to write my ninja story, the 81,000 words in my first novel, or some number higher, lower, or in between, then that’s how long the story will be. I’ve been getting bogged down in watching those numbers and forgetting about what’s really important.

Second, I’m cutting way back on my travel this year. I have two trips planned: Tampa for RainbowCon and Portland for the Dreamspinner author’s workshop in April (one long trip, since they’re back to back), and Chicago for GayRomLit in October. I’ll also be at the usual two local events, Outlantacon and Dragon Con, and there’s another local event I’m considering. Mainly, what this means is no RT and no RWA. The costs are just too high for the return at this point. I need to get more books out before those meetings will be worth the time and money.

Last, I’m going to start setting my own deadlines and rewarding myself when I meet them. When I have external deadlines (all three of my most recently completed stories had publisher-imposed deadlines), I meet them. It might be on the very DAY it’s due, but it gets done. I need to work on developing the discipline to set and meet deadlines of my own. As the first step, I have a self-imposed deadline to finish one of my WIPs by March 31. I don’t care which story; I have three strong contenders, though one is more likely than the others. My reward if I meet the deadline? Well, I might actually get a new story out in time for GRL, for one thing, but the real reward is more direct: a trip. (I have a specific place and date for that, but I’m keeping the details to myself for now.)

Okay. That’s enough navel-gazing for one day. I have things to do, and some of them might even involve writing. Hope you’re all having a good weekend!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Best Laid Plans and You-Never-Knows

So, I’d been planning to try to finish the novel I’m currently working on before Dragon Con, which is Labor Day weekend. Since I’m over halfway through, that should be doable, right? It’s a month away, after all.

Well, Dragon Con came calling early this year. Starting this weekend, I’m helping the publications director with the bazillion things she has to do to get the program book, pocket program, and other con publications out to the printer in time to make it to the con. I’ll still be doing my regular on-site job (or my boss, Eugie Foster, would kill someone and/or die on the spot), but the pre-con editing and such will be filling up a lot of my time before then.

This isn’t a bad thing, you understand. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do. But it does cut into my time, which means the writing needs to take a backseat temporarily. I have edits for two stories that are still in production, so those will get done, but the WIPs will just have to wait their turn.

OTOH, I’ll probably get some writing time during Dragon Con, so that’s always a bonus. 🙂

Life and Other Complications

As those of you who follow me on social media may have noticed, I’ve been off my feet for the past few days after dropping a flute case on my foot from a height of about six feet. (Protip: put on shoes before you start a whirlwind cleaning effort.) Nothing is broken, but I didn’t stay off it for the first few days after it happened, so now I’m on day three of doctor’s orders to do so. Thankfully, it’s much better now, which is good, since I have three days in the office at the EDJ starting tomorrow, and that entails a walk of about a quarter mile from parking deck to cubicle.

rainbowheartsparkleAfter that, though, I have a long weekend for Independence Day, so I’ll be able to rest up more. I can even watch fireworks right from the comfort of my sofa! LOL

I’ll also be able to spend the long weekend writing. I’m working on two main projects right now. One is a best-friends-to-lovers story about high school football players. It would be the first in a trilogy to take them through their senior year of college. All three books are generally planned out, so now all I have to do is write them. The easy part, right? HA. In an attempt to focus, though, I’ve set an initial deadline of July 15 to have a rough draft of book one, so I’ll have something to talk about (if not actually pitch) at RWA. It will probably be VERY rough, but at least it’s something!

The other story is an erotic novella based around fetish play. So since the trilogy is a sweet romance, this is pretty much a 180-degree shift. It’s based on some observations from my trip to IML in Chicago last month, but since it’s not my kink, I’ll definitely be running it by some friends who are involved in that kind of play. (I wrote the first sex scene yesterday, and boy, that thousand words went by FAST.)

Unlike a lot of authors, I always have two (occasionally more) projects going at a time. I just get too bogged down trying to work on one at a time. I try to mix things up, though—in theme, length, style, content, etc.—so they work like palate cleansers for each other. My last two submissions were a sweet contemporary romance novella and an erotic scifi short story, written mostly at the same time.

Speaking of which, those stories are both in the editing/production pipeline. The short is due out later this summer from Wilde City Press, as part of their Charlie Harding Presents line. The novella will be part of a baseball-themed anthology with Kate McMurray, Marguerite Labbe, and Kerry Freeman, coming in the fall from Dreamspinner.

As far as longer-term planning, in addition to RWA, I’ll be in attendance at Dragon*Con (of course) and GayRomLit here in Atlanta, and I plan to be at both North Georgia/Marietta Pride (last weekend in July) and Atlanta Pride (second weekend in October). I’m also on the case for 2014 already, signed up as an author for RainbowCon in Tampa and with a hotel reservation for the RT Booklovers Convention in New Orleans next May. I haven’t decided for sure about RT, but it looks very likely at this point. The dates for Outlantacon aren’t final yet, so I’m hoping for no conflicts!

(Speaking of which, I had planned to go to the Folsom Street Fair against this year, because I had an amazing time in 2012. However, a family event may fall on that weekend, so it looks like I might have to miss it.)

Otherwise, well, life goes on. The EDJ is still there (and really, not particularly evil, except as jobs generally are). Family is doing well. Friends visited last weekend and we had a wonderful time. The weather is hot. Our apartment still needs work. My to-read list is extensive, and my book spending too high (not that that’s going to stop me). And it’s the last day of the quarter, so go out and buy stuff from your favorite authors so their royalty checks will be nice and fat, and they’ll keep on writing. 🙂

Rationalization Expert

I tell myself adding WIP word counts and upcoming appearances to the sidebar here is a way to keep myself more accountable.

Truth is, it’s just another way to procrastinate.

Sigh.

Dirty Little Secret

A couple of discussions recently have centered around fanfiction writers who’ve moved into the original publishing world. That in itself isn’t frowned upon—unless they bring any stories along with them. Taking a story that was originally written as fanfiction and converting it into a story that stands on its own is… cheating, I guess?

I say “I guess” because I don’t get it. I understand it if the resulting story doesn’t stand alone. When copyrighted source material is reused, that’s not okay. The vast majority of fanfiction, assuming it’s well done at all, is much too closely tied to the source material for the author to have any prayer of prying it loose completely. It’s a bad idea to even try. And if you do, you piss people off, and you make other fanfiction authors look bad. And that’s also not okay.

But if the source material is completely left behind, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with converting a fanfiction story into original fiction. If you take only the original parts of the story, parts that did not come from the source material, and rebuild the rest of it from scratch, then you can end up with something that’s totally original and completely yours. (And if the original source isn’t copyrighted, you’ve got even more latitude. Derivative fiction is a time-honored literary tradition. How many different variations on Romeo and Juliet are floating around out there by now?)

The disclaimer here, of course, is that I’ve converted fanfiction into original fiction. The fanfiction stories in question were “alternate universe,” so they had little in common with the source material to start with. I stripped out the parts that came from the original source and used the remaining shell to rebuild a completely original story. And trust me: that involved a hell of a lot more than just changing names. Imagine those house-flipping shows where they tear a house down to the bare frame and rebuild it from there. That’s what it’s like.

To be perfectly clear: everything I’ve published is my original work, and I stand by it. If admitting that I’ve reused parts of a few of my fanfiction stories loses me readers, well, so be it. You can’t please everyone.

Help an Editor Out

My day job is editing. A totally different type of editing from fiction, but editing nonetheless. So when I read Theresa Stevens’ post at Romance University, it was all I could do to keep from standing up and cheering. (If I didn’t have a lapdesk and laptop in my, well, lap, I might have done it anyway.)

In particular, this passage:

Here’s a sad truth. When I evaluated a submission, the first question in my mind was not, Is this story good enough to publish? My first question was, How many hours of my life will it take to get this manuscript ready? If every other paragraph contains a grammar or usage error, that translates into time that I could be spending on other tasks.

This is why it’s easy for an editor to equate bad grammar with other flaws: arrogance, lack of self-respect, lack of respect for us, disdain for the product you’re creating. If you don’t care enough to distinguish possessives from plurals, then we’re not going to care enough to give you anything more than a form rejection.

In other words, if you don’t worry about your grammar, neither will I.

I have never understood the lack of regard many professional authors appear to have for proper grammar and usage. I’m not talking about off-the-cuff tweets and such (although I still cringe sometimes). I’m not even talking about errors and typos; everyone makes those (me included). I’m talking about failure to take the time to make actual manuscripts as clean and error-free as you can possibly make it, before you submit.

Sure, there are many great storytellers who are terrible spellers or can never remember when to use its vs. it’s. Everyone has foibles. But authors need to recognize their weak spots and do what they can to overcome them, whether it’s studying up on grammar or finding a personal editor who’s a whiz at it to fix things before submission. (Relying on spellcheck and grammar check won’t cut it.) Heck, I’m the one people I know come to for grammar questions, and I almost never submit anything without having at least two other people read it first.

Editors can’t fix everything. Give them a hand, and everyone (including your readers!) will be much happier for it.

Pen image via http://www.sxc.hu

Editing Lockdown

I know I’ve been quieter than usual lately. I had two writing goals for January: finishing a set of commissioned short stories, and getting an older story revised and off to beta.

Goal #1 is complete, and goal #2 is nearly there. I put myself on editing lockdown over the weekend (no reading! no writing! just editing!) and ended up slashing and burning huge swaths of the story, from around 64k to 50k. The machete work is done, so now I have to fix a few spots and give it one last good edit before shipping it to beta. With a week left in the month, I should hit the deadline just fine. 🙂

After that? Well, I’m still still deciding. I have several WIPs to choose from:

  • The high school story that started as my 2011 NaNo project
  • The ghost story that was my other possible NaNo project
  • A trilogy based around the owners/employees of a GLBT bookstore
  • A disaster story (earthquakes and volcanoes! Wheee!)

And some others that I’ve got in the pipeline in various stages of completion.

Decisions, decisions…