Friday, November 30, 2012

2nd books are like 2nd children... incorrigible.



Why is this taking so long?
Why does this draft feel so unpolished?
What is another synonym for "darkly"?
How many times can you idiots smile, smirk, and nod?
What if my readers hate it and come after me with pitchforks?
WHEN WILL THE LINE EDITS EVER END?

I've asked myself these questions every day this week. I carry the red binder under my arm, a purple pen holding my place and a mini comic of Axe Cop marking my husband's place. He's not done yet. And neither am I.

Your first book is like your first child: it's your world, the sun around which you orbit. You pamper it, watch it sleep, joyfully clean up after it again and again, pass it around proudly to everyone you know. If you're lucky enough to get an agent, it goes back and forth for cuts, revisions, more cuts, further polishing. In short, until your first book sells, it's the only thing that matters.

But once you're under contract, the process changes.

Your second book? It's like your second child.

The deadline sneaks up faster than anticipated. You go into labor early, wishing for one more week as you expel it forcefully. And then you stare at it. Was the first one prettier? Mine was.

The second book is important, but it's not the sun. It's just another moon you tug around with you. You still have to take care of the first book, plus all those other responsibilities that have developed. Marketing, social media, blog posts, interviews, spreadsheets, conferences, possibly some e-novellas, which are basically the new puppies of your family. Not as important as the children, of course, but if you neglect them, they'll destroy everything you love.

My first book was written in three months and polished for a year before selling. It went through two major revisions with my agent-- the kind where you cry, fight it, throw the manuscript, slash things with your red pen, and murder characters you thought were imperative. And then we did two rounds of line edits. And that's before it went out on sub and sold and landed in the editor's capable hands for further fussing.

My second book... did not get to learn baby sign language and go to music classes. It's lucky if I'm carrying it right side up. I wrote it in a month and a half. Didn't have time to send it to betas. The agent gave it a quick read and said, "It'll get fixed in edits." The editor asked for one big revision with no major changes and one secondary revision.

And now I'm carrying it around like a frachetty toddler, trying desperately to dab all the applesauce out of its neck folds before anyone can see it and judge me. The first book made me proud; the second book is still a bit of a hot mess, and it's taking longer to clean it up.

Second Book Slump is a thing. A real thing. A thing authors fear.

If people liked your first book, you want them to like your second book. It needs to have enough in common with the first book to inspire the same love, but is has to be different enough to give them a new experience, one they'll keep coming back to for your third book. So the same, but different, and preferably of a higher caliber, stylistically, because you've grown as a writer since then.

Easy right?

Uh, hopefully. I'll tell you next April.

So my advice to you is this: Enjoy the first book. Give yourself more time than you need on the second book. Start early. Love it, no matter how it looks and acts compared to your first book, because it'll be with you forever. And take a risk, because there's nothing worse than a boring second book that's clearly intimidated by its big sister.

And be kind to yourself. It's easy to forget those tearful moments with your first book, when you cradled it close and thought, "I'm not up to this. Who handed me this gift, and why did they think I was capable of helping it reach its potential? I should probably have gotten a hamster. Or, um, written a haiku."

You did it once. You'll do it again. It's going to take time and hard work, but it's going to be worth it.

Because if you think the second one is tough, just wait for the third. Books, like children, don't get any easier. But we love them, even if they're impossible.

Because they're impossible.

* * *


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

a day in the life of a writer


So, yes, I write.

It's who I am and what I do. But I persist in being fascinated by how other writers work. Do they plot or just hang on for dear life? Do they write in the morning or late at night? Do they lean heavily on stimulants and depressants and chocolates? Are they constantly the deadline's bitch?

In case you're also nosy, here's what I did today:

6:14am - Wake up and realize I forgot to set the alarm for 5:18. Cuss.

6:50am - Arrive to my workout an hour late. Struggle. Sweat. Kick ass.

8:10am - Arrive home. Check email. Shower. Get dressed. Coffee. Skip breakfast. BAD GIRL.

9:30am - Drop youngest child off at preschool; husband got oldest child on bus at 6:45. Do you still call it THE CHEESE? I do.

9:45am - Arrive at fav French cafe. Indulge in a chai latte with almond milk in my favorite travel cup. Stare longingly at cupcakes and pastries but resist their siren call. Promise myself that if I reach my goal of 20 pages in a very intense first pass line edit, I can have the barbecue I'm craving for lunch. Answer emails. Get fun news from editor. Occasionally entertain myself on Twitter so that I don't go mad.

11:35am - Hit page 102 and pack up. Head to fav BBQ place, where I've been eating since I was a little kid and they got shut down for putting squirrel in the Q. Again. Eat 1/2 a sandwich and 2 slices of fried green tomato while reading BLOOD AND SILVER by my friend James R. Tuck.

12:25pm - Pick up youngest child from preschool and kiss my sanity goodbye for a while. Go home, feed the lad. Do dishes and laundry. Take 100 pounds of books off 2 downstairs bookshelves, drag them upstairs (with help), and secure them to the walls of each child's room. Vacuum and clean the empty places. Move couch, chair, and side table. Move coffee table, TV, and various gaming systems. The downstairs is now prepared for the Christmas tree. My back hurts.

2:45pm - Pick oldest child up from the bus stop. Pick up husband's dry cleaning. Go select the perfect Christmas tree. Banter with Home Depot boys as they tie it on top of my Cube. Drive very carefully. Take it inside, set it up, fluff that puppy. Discover that all but one string of lights are dead. Put those on. Add tinsely things, ornaments. Oldest child breaks a glass keepsake, commences crying. I cut myself cleaning it up and bleed all over Christmas. Things are tragical and magical, and we rejoice around the Charlie Brown tree, promising that we'll buy more lights, etc., tomorrow.

6pm - Feed children and clean up the unholy mess. Declare that I am out of blinking red bars, tag out, and close the doors of my art studio/office. Sneak upstairs for goodnight hugs and kisses.

6:30pm - Begin work on The Big Post for Cool Mom Picks. Totally rock that thang.

8:32pm - Finish Big Post and realize I haven't eaten since lunch and should probably do something about that. Fix up some fancy cheeses, the last Harry & David honeycrisp apple, a square of sea salt dark chocolate, and the next to last bit of my favorite Roussanne. Write this blog post. Put up the grown-up books I found hidden among the children's books this afternoon, including my cephalopod books, some Neil Gaiman, and the fairy tales of Herman Hess.

9:36pm - Concoct great plans about convincing every writer I know to make a post like this so I can go all voyeur on their days. Realize how much work that would be and compare it to the three deadlines currently on my plate. Quietly sigh. Finish this post. Pick up the line edits, promising myself I can sleep after 20 more pages. Do the math and realize that I have 260 more pages to do by next Wednesday, before I head out of town on a work trip. Bid farewell, again, to sanity.

12pm - Probably when I'll head upstairs for nightly ablutions, a quiet episode of Arrested Development, and sleep.

* * *

So, what's your day like?




Monday, November 26, 2012

this is how I study history


That's a pic of me straddling a huge cannon.

It's my gift to you.

Will you use it for good... or evil?

* * *

welcome to the future


So that's a picture of me with my new MacBook Air, taken with my new smartphone.

Someone on Facebook thought it was a weird new pregnancy test, and... yeah, no.

If you're thinking that me + smartphone + Mac is probably a sign of the apocalypse, all I can do is shrug and urge you to start saving canned food.

I've never been a first adopter. Not even a second wave grabbyhands. I've always waited until the last possible moment to let go of my betamax Tarzan vine and grab onto the shiny new vine and swing into the unknown. But there comes a time in a girl's life when she simply has to step into the future, where everyone else is waiting. And pointing and laughing at her flip phone.

Ahem.

And, yes. You guys were right. I adore that stupid, dainty phone that only stays charged for 24 hours. I love taking pictures of seagulls and fried crab claws and my eyes in the hotel mirror and splattering Twitter with them instantaneously. I love knowing when emails arrive. I love the buzz I get when someone says something on Facebook-- especially when the phone is in my pocket. And now, in the past twelve hours, I've already learned to love this stupid laptop.

Going from a supacheap MSI laptop that weighs 7 pounds to a MacBook Air that weighs less than 3 pounds is a lot like the time I drove home from college and fell out of my max 55mph, manual Isuzu Amigo and slid into my mom's shiny red Firebird. Suddenly, I sat up straighter. I leaned forward. I smiled. Everything changed. And soon I was ignoring things like rules and speed limits and just enjoying the black leather gently cupping my butt as the car purred effortlessly around me.

Much like the smooth glide of a slithery touchpad under my fingertips.

I was enjoying myself so much that I forgot to cook dinner. My husband walked in, did a double take, and declared that I looked younger, thinner, and hotter, just because I was using a new laptop. That's a diet I can believe in.

The point is... change is good. I like change. And I really like Lando, my new Mac.

Here's to new adventures. With Lando.



* * *

Thursday, November 22, 2012

a T-day message

From me to y'all.


In other news, I found the Edit/Doodle part of my phone today.

Hope you had a marvelous Thanksgiving!

* * *

Monday, November 19, 2012

achtung!


You can now pre-order BLUTLAND in Germany via Amazon.de. Release date is May 17. It's really just WICKED AS THEY COME but, you know. In German.

And here, thanks to Google Translate, is the description:
As Letitia aufwacht in a strange place, the middle of nowhere and completely naked, she is sure to dream about. Even the attractive stranger, whom she met there, she can not convince them otherwise. Finally, he claims to have brought it by magic in his world, a world that is ruled by blood and magic, and in the things themselves, as it may deem harmless, can be fatal. Letitia is caught in a dream or a nightmare? Find them here in love? Or death?

In my dearest, most narcissistic dreams, I get big in Germany and get to go on a book tour, because I really, really dug Germany. The people. The views. The food. THE FOOD.

Ahem.

But I mainly put up the cover because I like it. So there.

* * *


Saturday, November 17, 2012

There Will Be More Blud...

...in April.

Here's proof:


I'm working on line edits for Blud book 2.

I just love seeing the pages lined up with my little cog at every chapter heading.

One day, I'll be signing Wicked as She Wants, drawing the next bludcritter right here, 
next to Gertrude the Pocket kangaroo.

If you thought the bludbunnies were dangerous...

Well, no spoilers.

It's almost April, right?

* * *

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Help name the 3rd Blud e-novella!

Help me, blogosphere. You're my only hope!

Blud novella #3 needs a title.

Photo of The White Stripes by Annie Liebovitz.

It's set in Criminy's Clockwork Caravan.

He's a bad boy knife thrower with a dark secret. 

She's a hard-nosed lady journalist in a leather pith helmet who'll stop at nothing for her story.


The first two e-novellas are 
THE MYSTERIOUS MADAM MORPHO 
and THE PECULIAR PETS OF MISS PLEASANCE.

So we're looking for alliteration. We're partial to the letter D.

I'm digging on THE DANGEROUS DAGGERS OF DESIRE.

Do you like that, or is it too obviously euphemistic?

Because, you know, WICKED AS THEY COME isn't coy at all. :)

Heh.

If anyone can come up with something better, you'll make the Acknowledgments of WICKED AFTER MIDNIGHT, also known as Blud book 3.

Please weigh in in the comments! 

* * *


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

on the topic of virgins

Currently on the table: the third e-novella in the Blud series.

Dreaming up a new story is one of my very favorite things to do. For a novella, I get to cram all the swoon, spark, smut, adventure, and excitement into 30,000+ words as possible. It's a challenge-- and a joy.

The first task is to settle on a heroine and hero who are uniquely suited for each other. I've known the hero in this one for a while, and I'm excited to bring Marco Tarasque to the page. But the heroine is just beginning to solidify. When I'm cogitating, I consider a wide range of characters, switching them out of that empty spot like paper dolls, seeing who fits best with the character that first leaped into my mind. And while considering likely partners for Marco and considering the world of Sang, I noticed something interesting about my Blud heroines: out of all 6 stories, only one lead character is a virgin-- and that one is far from a swooning flower.

In the romance biz, virgins are common currency. There's a certain delicious push and pull to a powerful, older alpha male and a wide-eyed girl waiting to be awakened to her power, beautiful and ripe for the picking. And of course there's a precedent for the lure of purity in nature and in history, where males instinctually know that a virgin will bear their young exclusively. Even if a virgin is plucky or rebellious when clothed, she's still going to be pliable and innocent in the bedroom, which is considered desirable. As the stand-in for the romance reader, a virgin provides an opportunity to hearken back to that first thrill of sexual knowledge, but always after submitting completely to a hero who has complete mastery of her pleasure.

But you know what?

I think virgins in romance books are overrated.

While there's something to be said for purity, for waiting, for making sure that it's the right time and the right guy and the right circumstances, I'll tell you a secret: I lost my virginity early, and I'm damn glad I did. My first was a thoughtful, gentle boy who cared deeply for my feelings and comfort, and even if I knew at the time that he wasn't "the one", I knew that it was a safe place, a safe time for me to give up that vulnerability and gain the confidence and knowledge of a woman. I wasn't waiting for perfection, and I wasn't expecting halos of light and angels singing and little birds with flowery garlands. I didn't expect to feel different afterwards, to be fundamentally changed. But I was, and I learned it the next year when I was stalked, cornered, and raped.

If I had waited longer, as society tells me to, then my first experience would have been one of pain, fear, and cruelty. I might have been damaged beyond repair. As it was, I survived, and I healed, and I was grateful that my first time was gentle and slow and well within my power, my choosing, that there was a precedent for love and tenderness.

And while romances featuring virgins almost always have a hero who is gentle and kind with his lady love, I like to write a female lead with a little life under her belt. I find women with power, with a past, far more interesting. And the kind of heroes I write would rather tempt and woo an experienced woman into opening up than court and overpower a sweet young thing who is easily controlled or characterized by her naivete. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with virgins, because obviously we've all been there. And I'm not saying that virgins can't be fierce, powerful, and passionate. And I'm not saying I'll never write a virgin heroine, because I have and surely will again.

I've simply realized that I would rather focus on passion and mutual joy than awkwardness and pain when writing that first, thrilling meeting of bodies. My heroines don't need a dominating father figure to open their eyes to sexuality; they need an equal partner who gives them a reason to let someone in.

And so, as I prepare to write about Marco and Ginger in the caravan, I look forward to crafting a heroine with a past, with a spine of steel, with a sense of adventure and a control of her own sexuality. She won't choose to fall in love because he's an ideal man, a rich vampire, an earl, or some other unattainably perfect deflowering machine that she's unable, in her naivete, to resist. She's going to fall because something in him speaks to something in her, creature to creature. She's going to fall because she wants an adventure. In short, she's going to fall because she damn well wants to.

Some women don't need to be awakened; they need an equal to dream alongside them.

***

NOTE!
If you disagree or would like to contest a point, PLEASE DO. Just because I admitted vulnerability doesn't mean you have to say something nice or hold your tongue. This is my opinion only, and I understand that much of it comes from my experience. Polite, thoughtful dialog is *always* welcome.

***

Friday, November 9, 2012

a study in opposites

This week I:


Did Archer Rows at the gym and was asked to show off my bow.

&

Am now at a literary festival, swooning over swoopy couches.


And tomorrow, I get to be on panels with really cool people!

And eat Mexican food!

And look at beautiful purple mountains!

The world is my oyster, and I shall be the irritating bit of gravel that forms a pearl.

* * *

Thursday, November 8, 2012

ave, storyteller

Back in 1998, I was mostly an idiot.

I had just finished my freshman year of college and decided to stay for summer school, because I was just that kind of overachiever. I secured a haunted dorm room, made plans with my boyfriend, and registered. Pickings were slim, and the only classes I remember were Cryptography and Classics.

My relationship with studying history has always been conflicted. If the teacher is a good storyteller, I really enjoy it. If the teacher just woodenly outlines the book, I stop caring. Therefore, when I arrived for my first day of Classics, I had my reservations. With two 5s in AP History, I didn't need to take a single History class in college. So when Professor Best, a gentleman with an old-fashioned, patrician Southern accent, explained that only one person in the class would get an A, three people would get Bs, and the rest would fail, I had to stop and think.

Risk my perfect GPA for a class I didn't even need?

I looked around at my fellow classmates. They looked terrified.

"You get one class," I said to myself, eyes narrowed as I watched Professor Best get comfortable. "If this lecture isn't amazing, I'm dropping."

As soon as he started speaking, I was spellbound. It ended up being one of my favorite classes in college. I can still remember sitting, rapt and barefoot, as he described the battle at Thermopylae. I can hear his voice as he raged, "You come back with your shield, or YOU COME BACK ON IT." I can still remember the way every test felt like a personal dare. And I recall the genuine pride I felt when I received high marks. For once, I was actually working my ass off for my As. Not that you knew it, when speaking to Professor Best. He was stern, strict, and proud, and he never, ever had a kind word for anyone. He was downright verbally abusive to the kids who deserved it. But his lectures were so thrilling that I didn't mind.

The final for that class was an unholy beast, and I destroyed it. In order to find out our grades, we had to come by his office to check a list, and it so happens that when I came by, he was in. He stood, chin high, hands clasped.

"Miz Southard," he said, and he pronounced it Suhhh-thuuuud. "Is your mother living?"
"Yes, sir."
"You tell her..."
He leaned back even further, pinned me with his sharp glare.
"You tell her I said she raised you right."
It came out raaaaaat.

Honestly, that's one of my favorite moments from college. I graduated a year early with honors, but that was the first time I accepted a challenge, took a risk, rose to the occasion, and really glowed with accomplishment. Professor Best's good esteem meant the world to me and still does.

But that was supposed to be the last class he taught at UGA. I tried looking him up to see if he is still living, but have you ever tried Googling "Professor Best"? It doesn't work at all. And I don't remember his first name, although I think it might have been Carl. (Note: we found him! His name is Edward!)

I try not to be a person who carries regrets. But when I think back to that class, to that summer, I wish I had spent more time at college doing the unsafe thing. Instead of getting an art degree as fast as possible with a minimum of trouble, I wish I had studied something new, taken more risks, learned more things outside of my comfort zone. I wish I hadn't given up on Italian as soon as my degree requirements were met. I wish I had studied something that wasn't art, because I was already an artist. I could have been something else, too.

I was the only person in that class who earned an A, and of all the As I've ever earned, that one meant the most. But in the end, the grade wasn't what mattered--it was the storytelling that brought history to life and stayed with me. When I stood on the plain of Thermopylae the next summer, I had tears coursing down my cheeks as I heard Professor Best's voice in my head, recounting the battle. And when I saw 300, I hoped that he lived to see it, even if it just made him angry.

Wherever you are, Professor Best, thank you.

* * *

Sunday, November 4, 2012

field trip to the blud farm!


Today, we went to the Yellow River Game Ranch, home of Georgia's official prognosticating groundhog, General Beauregard Lee.

Yes, Beau and I are old friends.

But he was asleep in his plantation house today. What do you expect when he only works one day a year?

But we did see lots of other fun animals.


Like this alpaca.


And this bludbunny. Lots of bludbunnies, actually.

My son saw them and screamed, OH NO DOSE BLUDBUNNIES WILL EAT MY TOES!

And then he warmed up and fed them crackers, after seeing me mobbed by floppy-eared savages who didn't eat a single one of my toes.


Also, I kissed a little ass.

Fine holiday fun was had by all.

* * *