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Harlequin: Surely, you jest

Harlequin Enterprises, one of the most well-known and respected names in romance publishing, caused quite a furor a few days ago with its announcement of a self-publishing venture, Harlequin Horizons.

This has authors and agents ranting about predatory practices toward uninformed wannabes, and tarnishing the Harlequin brand for its paid authors. For great level-headed coverage and an explanation of the whole ordeal, check out the pubrants blog.

My inbox has been overflowing with emails from the author loops I’m on, with every reaction from mild disappointment to downright fear. Especially since RWA and the Mystery Writers of America both revoked Harlequin’s status as a legitimate publisher.

Right now, the situation is still fluid, and I’m guessing that in a few weeks–when the emotions aren’t running so high–everyone’s questions will be answered, and some sort of compromise will be reached that satisfies both sides.

In the latest round, Harlequin has decided to remove its name from the venture, but the conflict of interest still exists, so the controversy isn’t over yet.

I’m not in the Chicken Little camp, but I’m not ready to let Harlequin off the hook, either.

The Daily Squirrel: Arizona

It was hot. The scorched, dry air stole her breath as she stepped out of the air-conditioned building onto the soft asphalt of the parking lot. Immediately, sweat trickled down her back and beaded on her nose. Her legs felt baked as if she were standing next to an open oven door. It might be a dry heat, but it didn’t matter. Dry or not, it was stinkin’ hot.

Writing Pageantry

My baby, Counting on You, is finally on its way to Texas to be judged against everyone else’s baby in the most prestigious pageant for unpublished romance authors, The Golden Heart. (Insert huge sigh of relief here.)

Frankly, my chances of making it to the finals are slim. Almost 1000 writers entered last year, and no more than eight from each category will make it to the finals. But, the attempt is worth it. While there’s no guarantee a finalist will garner a publisher’s attention, chances are very good.

A writer who makes it to the final round (or wins!) can feel confident that her work is competitive among some of the best unpublished romance authors out there. Granted, the judging is subjective. Preliminary judges are other authors, both published and unpublished. But, the whole industry is subjective.

Writing contests are like the current spate of talent shows on TV…um, except not on TV. Most people won’t make it to the top 20. Some will confirm they royally suck, others will learn that they’re good but need more work, and a few will realize their dream.

Of course–like everyone else–I’m hoping to realize my dream, but until then, I’ll just keep pounding the keys.

The Daily Squirrel: green (one of my favorite colors)

The color green screamed so loud from the walls and furnishings of the tiny room that her eyes hurt. She could almost feel the weight of it on her shoulders. Green had always been her favorite. The color of the forest, the jungle, a field of grass. But this…this was too much, even for her.

One No closer to Yes

I got my first rejection letter–well, email–today. The worst kind: a form letter with no personalization at all. Well, now I’ve lived through that. As the positive thinking experts would say, “I’m one ‘no’ closer to ‘yes’.”

I actually thought I’d be more upset, but I think my many months of conditioning through reading RWA articles and listening to my chapter mates helped me go into this with realistic expectations. The odds of getting a request from an agent aren’t very good. I’ve read enough agent blogs to know that it depends on my query letter, timing, luck, the agent’s mood, what’s on the agent’s desk right now, whether Scorpio is rising…

All I can do is hope for some personal feedback at some point, and keep honing and sending that letter. And most important of all, keep writing! I’m almost halfway through my current project, so if I don’t get requests for Counting on You, maybe Floater will fare better.

I’m not a big believer in fate, or superstition, but I’ve had enough experience to believe that things happen when you’re ready for them. Maybe I need to write a few more books before I’m ready. But, I’m also not giving up. I sent out more than one letter.

Maybe the next agent will read my query during a full moon and be struck with the urgent need to see a complete manuscript. Could happen.

The Daily Squirrel: rejection? 😉

She spread the thick, rough paper flat on the table, smoothing the creases with her warm palms. Everything she’d ever done had led to this moment, and she squeezed her eyes shut, afraid to look, knowing that one paragraph, one sentence…one word, would change her life forever.

So You Think You Can Dan…er, Write

This post is also available at romancemagicians.blogspot.com today…

I was watching So You Think You Can Dance last night (yes, I can’t live without my DVR–I never watch live TV anymore), and something the judges kept saying caught my attention.

The gist was that if the dancers got “into character” and put the appropriate emotion in the performance, they could get away with a few technical errors. But, the opposite was not true. A flawless technical performance lacking emotion or story was not enough to cut it.

I think the same could be applied to writing. Grammatical problems or minor plot issues can be overcome with a great voice and style. It’s more about the execution of the story, than its mechanics.

As I was flipping through The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman at BAM today, I was happy to see that he agreed. He basically said that execution was more important than plot for catching an editor’s or agent’s eye. If they don’t get past the execution, they’ll never read enough to get the plot anyway.

Not that we can afford to discount grammar or other technical issues–after all, we need to put our best foot forward–but we shouldn’t forget that in the end, the story and how we tell it is what will grab the reader.

I guess I’d say, “Always improve your craft, but don’t forget your voice.”

The Daily Squirrel: soap

The scent of gardenias filled the steamy shower as she worked up a lather on the bar of soap. A familiar peace settled over her as her slick hands washed away the sweat and the lingering odor of cigarettes. Some day soon, she’d finish her degree, and she’d never have to work in a smoky bar again.

Dog Days

Zoe

Zoe

After I quit working full-time, we bought an adorable golden retriever puppy that we named Zoe. I envisioned the sweet bond forming between boys and dog, sitting at my desk with her curled up at my feet while the boys were at school, and a furry running partner.

The reality has been a little less ideal. Even though the kids love her, walking the dog, or playing in the yard with her quickly became a chore for them. And that dream of a lazy dog curled up at my feet hasn’t quite materialized (although she will occasionally submit).

When I take her running, she drags along behind me showing little inclination to keep up (and I’m by no means speedy). This earned her the nickname “furry boat anchor” from my husband who recently took her jogging while I was away for the day.

Zoe has become an adorable distraction from writing who requires a daily walk, several trips outside, a watchful eye around paper products and trash cans, and who must be monitored carefully lest she dig a hole through to the neighbor’s yard.

But, when she’s not around the house feels empty. She makes me smile, she soothes my stress (when she’s not digging!), and she never talks back.

Oh, I guess we’ll keep her for now.

The Daily Squirrel: guitar

She rested the guitar on her thigh, running her hands over the smooth surface. Hesitantly, she plucked a few strings and listened to the rich tones as they reverberated through the instrument. She smiled as she tuned it the way her dad had shown her so many years ago. Satisfied, she closed her eyes and began to play.

Veteran’s Day reading list

To celebrate Veteran’s Day, I thought I’d mention some of my favorite authors who honor the men and women who serve–or have honorably served–in the armed forces by writing about them.

Suzanne Brockmann‘s Troubleshooters series is devoted mainly to Navy Seals, as well as heroes and heroines from military, law enforcement, or clandestine services. Her characters are complex, brave, imperfect, and irresistible. If you wish Flynn and Baldacci put more romance in their stories, Brockmann is for you. High passion and high stakes.

The High Risk series by JoAnn Ross features heroes from special forces (Navy SEALS, Air Force CCT), as well as some military heroines. While she has a similar style to Brockmann, her books are more focused on one main story at a time. Hot and fast-paced.

For a more light-hearted approach to Navy SEAL heroes (yes, they are popular right now), try any of Christina Skye‘s contemporary books. Still hot, with a dash of humor and spunky heroines. Fun reads.

I suppose the Special Ops types are more fun to write about, but I salute everyone who has served in our armed forces in any capacity. From Mission Support and Finance to Medical and Maintenance, no matter what your role, you are important and appreciated. Thanks!

The Daily Squirrel: a blade of grass

She plucked the blade of grass from the carpet of green along the soccer field, and ran her finger over the rough leaf. She remembered a time when she and Eddie lay in the grass, plucking dandelions and laughing at how silly teenagers were. Then one day, Eddie became a teenager himself, and left his little sister behind. It was as if he’d stepped through a doorway that she couldn’t enter, and closed the door.

The Daily Squirrel

squirrelYears ago, when I was in Toastmasters, we had a member, Ken, who was truly a remarkable speaker. Anytime we had an unfilled speaking slot, he would give an impromptu speech using a random topic from the audience. His most memorable speech was about gray squirrels. He gave a humorous, completely off-the-cuff, 7-minute speech about hunting squirrels as a kid. True? Who knows? Impressive? Absolutely.

In honor of Ken’s “squirrel speech”, I’ve started a (mostly) daily exercise that I call “The Daily Squirrel”. I think of a random topic (my squirrel), and then try to write a short scene around it. You can do this while brushing your teeth or waiting in line at the grocery store.

As an example, I chose a water bottle as my squirrel, and here’s what I came up with…

He reached for the water bottle tucked into the truck’s console, but it slipped from his grip as he lost the feeling in his fingers. The bottle fell to the floor with a thud, water pulsing out onto the dirty carpet. Every lost drop made him more desperate to quench the fire in his throat as his heart stopped beating and he gasped for his last breath.

Okay, morbid, but you get the idea… To force myself to practice, I’m planning to add a daily squirrel to the end of my (almost) daily blog posts.

Wanna try it? Share your own daily squirrel.

UPDATE 1/14/2010: The Squirrel has gone weekly as it became too time consuming. Look for it on Sundays. Click here to see all of the Sunday Squirrel installments.