Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Goals

I don't often make New Year's resolutions, for the same reason that lots of people don't make them - can't keep them. But in 2009, I do resolve to have certain goals when it comes to life and writing. I also intend to keep them.

Goal #1 - Be more attentive, in every way.

Life has a habit of getting in the way of my writing, whether it's work, family or personal concerns. If I don't pay attention, I can be easily blindsided and thrown off course to the detriment of everything else. Unfortunately, my writing seems to always be the first victim of life's interruptions. My first goal is to pay more attention to my physical health, and spirtual and mental well-being. Then I need to extend that attention to my loved ones, my job and my passion for writing.

Goal #2 - Sell one, if not three, manuscripts.

I've spent many years working on Sultana, my first "real" story. A medieval set in Moorish Spain about the last Muslim dynasty to rule Granada. Two manuscripts heavily researched and detailed, tirelessly put through critique groups with more comments and suggestions than I thought possible. Then I completely revised the story from first to third person this year. Both manuscripts. Each in excess of 80,000 words. My first publishing contract was signed for Bound by Blood, also a medieval centered on the Norman conquest of England. When it seemed as if I'd finally see my work in print, it all fell spectacularly apart. Now I've three manuscripts and no contract to show for all that work. My second goal is to change this.

Goal #3 - Grow as a person and a writer.

I'm the stereotypical writer, who retreats into herself for weeks, focused on a story or new ideas. Unfortunately, other things tend to pass to me by in doing so. I finally caught up with best friends this past weekend and went to see a movie, which we haven't done in ages. Also, my writing interests have remained relatively the same and it's time to broaden them. So my third goal will be to expand my horizons, break out of the shell to enjoy life and writing even more.

Sounds pretty lofty, but I've never been one to avoid a challenge. Let's see how I do with these goals in 2009. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tis The Season...

...To be writing and editing!

At the end of another writing year, it seems worthwhile to take stock of how the past twelve months have gone. This has not been a prolific year for me, at least not in the first half, but I feel like I've hit my stride and can count the highlights of the year.

Number of agents lost: 1
Number of agents solicited: 20
Number of agents gained: 1

Number of story ideas flitting around in my head: at least 10
Number of story ideas committed to paper in draft or outline form: 4
Number of stories that I'm realistically able to focus on given timing, prior knowledge and research: 3

Number of manuscripts started: 3
Number of manuscripts languishing unfinished (but will be finished in 2009 so help me God I swear): 1
Number of manuscripts still actively working on: 2

Number of publishing contracts signed: 1
Number of manuscripts edited for publication: 1
Number of publishing contracts rescinded: 1
OK, so this was not really a highlight in my year, but it was a learning experience and anything that you can learn from is good for the writing soul, so, Yeah!

All in all, I'm happy with the direction I'm headed in at the end of the year and grateful to have the creative energy flowing once more. 2009 can only be better.

So, to all my writing friends and for anyone who loves the written word, Happy Holidays and a prosperous, creative and productive New Year!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"Watch the Market"

Excuse me as I go off on a little rant here. Actually, isn't that part of what a blog is commonly used for? And last I checked, this is my blog. Hmm. OK, ranting away.

A dear friend of mine sent me an agent's musings the other day on how publishing trends are moving, in this particular agent's POV. Of course, I saw the words that make my eyeballs pop out of my head every time I see them: Watch The Market. What? Yes, watch the market; be attuned to what's hot and selling right now, so that you too can jump on the bandwagon with your homage to the style of whatever hot author is doing the aforementioned selling. Since I'm entirely too opinionated for my own good, my reply to my dear friend went something like this:

"You know what ticks me off? The agents who say as this one did "watch the market". It seems such impractical advice for those currently writing something and a disservice to everyone else. So you watch the market and see Gothic romances will be hot in the coming month. You go off and you write one. If you know the genre you get a head start but God help you if you don't. Six months minimum to write if you want something more than fluff, then edit the first draft because you're an ass wasting an agent's time if you don't try to polish it. Maybe you get requests for partials or maybe not. By that time historical mysteries are the next big thing coming down the pike. So now you've written this darn thing that no one can sell because you "watched the market". Whatever happened to writing what you love, pouring your heart and soul into your passion?"

Now I have seen variations of the advice the agent offered about watching the market - my favorite is "write what you love but make sure it's what hot and happening now". But I still have to ask; what's wrong with just writing what you love? Maybe I've got it wrong but for me writing is my passion, my love. If I couldn't do it for some physical or mental reason, I don't know what I would do but I'm sure it would involve going insane. There are so many stories sometimes bursting from my overworked brain that it takes true discipline to sit down and write a schedule of projects so I'm not dashing from here to there, and writing gibberish along the way. And it's safe to say in the years I've been doing this that I've discovered where one agent may hate a story, another adores it. Something along the lines of "one man's trash, another's treasure."

So my mantra and advice is: write what you love and then go out and find the agent or editor who loves it too.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Perspective - The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Over time, I've heard the same thing from writing friends, mentors, editors and agents: keep at it, hone your craft, write the next novel. But I've never realized until now one of the most important lessons to be taken from that suggestion; perspective is a really good thing, especially for a writer.

Take for instance this scenario. This morning, I'm going through my old Zip disks stack (this was before the revolutionary intro of the flash drive) and I found some of my old stories that I'd toyed with when I was younger and much more clueless about writing and reader expectations of a good story. One was set in Ireland, rousing scene of a Scandinavian raid on an Irish coastal village - or so it was meant to be. In the near twenty years of stories fluttering around in my head, if there's one thing I can do pretty well, it's recognize crap writing when I see it. Especially when I am the writer of the aforementioned crap! And this Irish story was awful - barely any character development, no real plot, riddled with passive voice, and worst of all, I hadn't done my research on the setting and it's history. Otherwise I might have know that the particular little Irish village I chose was never raided by Scandinavians.

Gaining perspective and looking back on your previous work can be so helpful to any writer, especially when you can see what you've gained over the years as you churn out more stories. And the best thing is - the learning never has to stop.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Blogs, Critiques, Chapters - What's A Struggling Writer To Do?

Get back into it - that's what. I rediscovered the truth of the Nike slogan "just do it" today, by jumping full swing into everything. So I'm finishing off my critiques, preparing blog entries, or writing one in this case and working on my chapters. What sparked this sudden burst of creative energy? I have no idea if it's guilt, desparation or both, but I'm loving it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Supply vs. Demand - Why Otherwise Good Writers Struggle To Become Published

I belong to three critique groups, with writers at varying levels of skill. Some have multiple publishing credits while authors (like me) are just waiting for that day when they can act the fool in a bookstore and get hauled off by the cops screaming, "That's my book! That's my book! I'm published. Yeah me!" Okay, well maybe that's just my plan.

Anyway, I'm reading the works of writers in the groups so I can offer my critiques. Which I haven't done in two months. More on why some other time (the blog has nothing to do with it). After all this reading, I have come to the inescapable conclusion: there's too many of us. How else can I explain that there are so many good writers out there and they struggle for so long to reach the goal of publication? Between competing with each other for markets in historical fiction, other writers of fiction, non-fiction authors, the occasional celebrity tell-all tale and let's not forget, Oprah's pick of the month, writers are a dime a dozen. Publishers have too many writers to choose among. It's a common theme among fellow writers; how do I make my work stand out in the crowd? I know some who've made it but for many of us, the supply of authors far exceeds the demand for books. Still we try, because if we weren't writers, what else would we be?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"You're Reading What?"

Commuting to my job each day is usually a three-hours-in-total nightmare. So I like it when I get to spice things up a little.

Like the morning, when I'm minding my own business, eyes glued to my copy of the Kama Sutra. The what?! Well, if you're going to write about the author of the Kama Sutra, as I am in writing Rule of Love, you may as well know what he was talking about in full detail. So I purchased a TEXT-ONLY copy of the Kama Sutra and have delved into it. This particular copy, compiled by Alain Danielou, is wonderful for being a detailed translation and providing information about the life and times of the Kama Sutra's elusive author. While graphic in detail, the Kama Sutra is more than a manual of sexual positions. No, I'm not making that up - all those modern Kama Sutras in the bookstores have very little in common with the goal of the traditional Indian text (though that is a little titillating too). The Kama Sutra contains rules to regulate behavior and morality and teaches about the path to spiritual enlightenment. The theory goes that unless your basic wants are fulfilled -food, money and of course, sex - you can't concentrate on seeking a spiritual path. Makes perfect sense to me.

But of course, to the easily frazzled lady and her teenage daughter sitting next to me, the Kama Sutra is just a dirty book. So when the daughter is trying to peer over my shoulder as discreetly as she can (and failing miserably), I do my best to ignore her (and fail miserably) and read my TEXT. The mother catches her and sharply barks, "That's rude, don't read over other people." This is until she catches a glimpse of the book's title.

The look of horror that overcame this woman was beyond priceless. My response upon catching the look and the hurried gesture she made for her daughter to move closer to her? "Don't worry ma'am; there aren't any pictures."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Just What I Needed: Another Excuse To Avoid Writing

Thanks to my wonderful writing friend Anita Davison, who hosts the Disorganized Author blog, I finally have a personal blog. I'm a little late but as they say, better late than never. Anita, you are a dear. Thanks again for setting me on the path to another excuse to avoid writing my chapters!

So, a bit about me; I'm a writer of historical fiction and historical romances. My favorite time period is medieval, but Roman history and ancient Egypt also interest me. What do I like to write? Historicals mainly. How many projects am I working on? Lots of them, all at varying stages.

Completed: Bound by Blood is set in 11th century Normandy and England. Sultana -The Legacy is a historical fiction novel, set in 13th century Moorish Spain.

Works In Progress: Renegade is a mainstream historical set in the 16th century, about a Dutch privateer turned Barbary pirate, which I have begun. I continue to research and write for the project. Rule of Love is a mainstream historical set in 5th century India, exploring the origins of the Kama Sutra's author - it's been great fun to research and even more to write. The Burning Candle is a mainstream historical set in the 11th century. The enigmatic Isabel de Vermandois is the heroine; she was the wife and mistress of two English earls and is a fun character to research and write about.

Very prolific, huh? Not really, since I've been writing part time while working full time for the past sixteen years. And now that I've got this blog...

Time flies when you're having fun, or writing novels.

It's been a tremendous twelve months. A new job and health issues have impacted my writing time, but I'm still at it, trying to wrap...