Friday, April 29, 2011

Skin Game is out now!

Forgive me as I channel my evil conjoined erotica-writing twin Cara McKenna yet again, but her honking big weird-ass magnum opus is out today! Skin Game is now available direct from Ellora's Cave, and in the coming days it will also come to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance eBooks, Fictionwise, and many other vendors. And in a few months it will also be available as a paperback! For interested parties, here's the blurb:

Seven days, seven challenges. Twelve strangers. Eight thousand cameras. Only one winner.

Welcome to The Ant Farm, a social study in the wilds of interior Alaska, documenting the dynamics between a dozen competitors as they take part in a series of physical and psychological face-offs. With five hundred grand up for grabs at the end of the battle royal, the stakes are high and the tension blazing.

Could the seemingly mild-mannered nice guy win it all? The cutthroat alpha female? The strongest or the smartest, the idealist or the cynic? It’s anyone’s guess as teams are undercut by alliances, loyalties tendered and tested, and passions enflamed by both affection and animosity.

In this contest where even knives and guns are fair game, sex may prove the most dangerous weapon of all.

Reader Advisory: This book features the recreational use of illicit substances, and non-explicit references to childhood abuse and trauma. It also features an unlikely mix of romance, lust and hate-sex, plus a ton of way crazier crap that the author delights in not preparing you for.

I hope you'll check it out! I'm not sure I've ever been this excited on a release day…or at least this unafraid. The book's a bit odd, but I wrote exactly the story I wanted to, so if people don't like it, I can only shrug. I have no regrets. Plus luckily I'm busy at a conference this weekend, so even if I were tempted to, I can't sit in front of the interwebs, nervously refreshing and awaiting reader ratings and reviews. However, I am looking forward to snooping around on the book's Goodreads page in the next week or two, to see if readers comment about which characters they hope or think will win, as they're reading…

Again, here's the buy link. Enjoy your weekends!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thrusty Thursday: Eric Bana

So last weekend I went to see Hanna with the manfriend. It's easily the best movie I've seen in the theater in the last couple of years. Love love loved it, can't recommend it enough. I was pulled in from the first scene, in no small part because it featured a bearded, wild-haired survivalist father, an archetype which could never fail to explode my lady-parts.

Taking in the actor's nose and eyes and cheekbones, I thought to myself, "Wow, Christian Bale is even foxier than usual in this movie!" I thought this repeatedly throughout the first half of the film. Then during a fight scene I thought, "Wow, Christian Bale looks a lot like Eric Bana in this movie." Then, ultimately, two-thirds of the way through the film, "Oh wait, that is Eric Bana. That explains why Christian Bale looks so foxy—he's Eric Bana! Why on earth haven't I featured this glorious bastard on Thrusty Thursday already?"

Sorry for the delay, Eric. I should have featured you last year, when I first watched your documentary, Love the Beast. But better late than never, right? I'm even half-watching the "Fame" episode of Kath and Kim, the one with your cameo, as I'm curating this post, if that's any consolation.

One thing that made Bana even foxier than normal in Hanna is that he does a lot of running…something about a man running flat-out to exact vengeance or escape peril just gets my motor purring. Run, Eric, run! Breathe heavily and let me sniff your shirt when you finally come to a halt.

For everyone's enjoyment, the Hanna trailer—featuring Eric Bana with a beard, briefly. Nom.

And for those who haven't seen Love the Beast—the documentary about Eric Bana's relationship with his car—here's the trailer for that one:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Working on Proposal

When we last saw our heroine, she was gnawing her nails off, waiting to hear back about her latest proposal…

Once you've sold to a publisher and have been assigned an editor, you're often free to submit new stories "on proposal". This usually means a detailed synopsis plus the first three chapters. If your editor loves it, they buy it and you then move on to finish writing it. Or it's a bad fit, and you're rejected…but at least you only lost time writing three chapters instead of the whole book! Or in my current situation, your very patient editor reads your proposal, tells you there's potential if you address certain issues, and you go back into the writing trenches. Then you resubmit the synopsis, and she makes more suggestions. And back in the ditch you go. I'm in the ditch as I type this! Come on in, the standing water's fine!

Not a complaint, by the way, being in the ditch. It's next to the road, after all. I can see what direction I'm meant to be headed in. After a couple of mark-missers, I'm relieved to finally be on the right track with a proposed book. Plus I understand and appreciate my editor's concerns, so I don't feel I'm being made to change things against my own better judgment.

Into the murky plot forest…could seriously use a fog light
and some binoculars if you want me to map this thing.
But dude, this is hard.

It's hard for me because although I consider myself both a plotter and a pantser, I've never before had to flesh out an entire story from the get-go before. I've always written my synopses last—once I know what happens. I'm about fifty-fifty plotter and pantser, and I don't mind a bit of plotting first…until I get to the middle of the story. I NEVER know exactly where a book's going when I start out. I try to know my characters as deeply as I can, but I'll be honest—they're still forming as I write their story, and until I'm several chapters in, recording in a Word doc their movie as it plays in my head, I don't totally understand what makes them tick. But by the time I'm halfway through a book, something always hits me—the next thing that needs to happen. Plus for each book I managed to type "The End" on, there were about a hundred daily walks spent mulling over problems as they arose. I can't simply take one hundred-hour-long walk before I sit down to write and know it all, either—it's a daily, cumulative process.

So the trouble clearly is, I can't wait for the organic answer to my plotting questions when I'm writing on proposal. I need to be able to assure my editor from the start that I know what's happening, and that feels like a shot in the dark, given the way I'm used to working. How can I possibly know what'll happen in the middle, when I'm used to my characters leading me through each chapter as I write it? They're always getting up to stuff I'd never have thought to plot ahead of time, and I rely on those surprises to drive the actions, and even determine the ending.

So this is a learning curve. Just this morning, my editor's latest set of notes shared a worry that the book needs a subplot to give the story a boost in the middle and up the stakes. I found myself dusting off my how-to writing books and rereading the chapters on subplots, and soliciting tips from my Twitter cohorts on the subject. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to fixing it, right? Well right now I can use all the help I can get!

Luckily I do have that one proven plotting trick up my sleeve—the good old long walk. The rain's stopped, so I'm off for a brainstorming session in the park. Hopefully I'll return with a few seedlings of decent ideas, if not the perfect, full-grown solution. And hopefully as I learn to add this more premeditated style of plotting pre-first-draft to my skillset, I'll become a more well-rounded and pragmatic writer. Hopefully.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Puzzle

It's Sunday again, and you know what that means—time for me to rip off the puzzle segment from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday!

Mustachioed enigmatologist
extraordinaire, Will Shortz
If you're a newcomer, each week on Weekend Edition Sunday, Will Shortz (the hardcore crossword puzzlers' almighty God) comes on the radio to do three things: share the solution to the previous week's puzzle, invite a winner who entered the correct answer to play another puzzle (usually word-related) on the air for word-nerdy prizes, and present everyone with the next week's puzzle (answers due in by Thursday afternoon via the WES website if you want a chance to play on the air).

Note: I never post the solutions on this blog…at least not before the submission deadline. I see lots of keyword traffic coming from people looking for the answers, which is at best impatient, and at worst, cheating. For shame.

Now without further ado, here's this week's new puzzle:

Think of a familiar three-word phrase in the form "___ and ___". If you remove the "and" and put the second word in front of the first word, you get a compound word naming a place of power. Hint: The compound word has nine letters. What is the three-word phrase, and what place of power is this?

Click here to see the original puzzle posting, check the answer to last week's challenge, listen to the segment, or find the link to enter your answer.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Skin Game


Just wanted to share the new ad for my evil conjoined erotica-writing twin Cara McKenna's upcoming release, Skin Game. It's sort of a weird mix of Lost and Survivor and the Stanford Prison Experiment, plus a bunch of nasty outdoor sex crammed into a hefty, extra-long ebook package. It's out next Friday, but I'll be busy at the RWA New England Chapter's annual conference (go NEC!) all weekend, so forgive the advance BSP. Click on the ad if you want more info!

And why not, how about a giveaway? Leave a comment before noon EST on Thursday, April 28, and I'll pick a random winner to receive the book the day it comes out! Go ahead, go nuts.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thrusty Thursday: Jamie Dornan

I was remarking (read: whining) the other day about how I've gotten to a certain age (thirty-one) where younger actors simply don't do it for me anymore. My new cut-off for certifiable foxiness has risen sharply, and I pretty much only trust guys in their mid-thirties or older to be able to cultivate proper facial hair or know their way around a lady's complex folds (of both the brain and nether varieties). Actually…I find the attractiveness of any man born after the seventies suspect. This new crop of supposedly hot celebrity dudes are too dag pretty, and I don't think it's just me being a curmudgeon. I think pretty is simply in right now for men. I'm calling it the Pattinson Effect.

But that's just me prematurely sniffing and buttoning my judgmental cardigan up to the neck, because of course I stumbled upon an exception. At not-quite-twenty-nine, Northern Ireland native model and actor Jamie Dornan is already some seasoned-looking kind of sexy. He's got cheekbones you could slice cheese with, but he's still a bit rough around the edges. He's pretty, but not feminine. I bet he's given a woman an orgasm. I wish Calvin Klein had let him keep the chest hair you see peeking in that lower right photo, though. Petulant sigh. Oh but speaking of Calvin Klein, if you're pervy and want to see Dornan in his undies, away to Google with you.

Random fact: Dornan dated Keira Knightley for a time but they ultimately broke up, choosing cruelly to deny the world what surely would have been the Most Attractive Child Ever Conceived.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cara wants to know…

Forgive me if you came upon this blog wishing to know nothing about my evil conjoined erotica-writing twin Cara McKenna, but my wise (yet youthful) erotica editor suggested I run a survey about a story conundrum we're both scratching our chins over.

To anyone who's read the Shivaree series (Backwoods, Shivaree, Getaway) I ask:

Would you like a fourth story in the series, an m/m/f menage (not with Natalie) that revisits Shane and Gabriel a year or so into their post-angst, out-in-the-open-ish relationship? The female character would not jeopardize either man's primacy. The story would center around both the female character's sexual adventure as well as a revisitation of Shane and Gabriel, now a "real" couple. No clue how permanent the female character might end up being—I never know that until I'm writing the book—but she's not being brought in to "fix" anything lacking in the men's relationship. Just a good old-fashioned m/m/f menage.

Please vote! And thanks for reading, everyone! If you want to qualify your vote or ask for clarification, go nuts in the comments.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Angry Birds Easter is out!

That is all. Go forth and update your Angry Birds Seasons app for the most aptly themed special holiday installment yet!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Puzzle

It's Sunday again, and you know what that means—time for me to rip off the puzzle segment from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday!

Mustachioed enigmatologist
extraordinaire, Will Shortz
If you're a newcomer, each week on Weekend Edition Sunday, Will Shortz (the hardcore crossword puzzlers' almighty God) comes on the radio to do three things: share the solution to the previous week's puzzle, invite a winner who entered the correct answer to play another puzzle (usually word-related) on the air for word-nerdy prizes, and present everyone with the next week's puzzle (answers due in by Thursday afternoon via the WES website if you want a chance to play on the air).

Note: I never post the solutions on this blog…at least not before the submission deadline. I see lots of keyword traffic coming from people looking for the answers, which is at best impatient, and at worst, cheating. For shame.

Now without further ado, here's this week's new puzzle:

From listener Steve Baggish of Littleton, Mass.: Think of a nine-letter word naming a venue for certain sports. Three letters in the word are repeated. Remove all the repetitions, and the remaining six letters can be rearranged to name a piece of sports equipment. What are these two words?

Hint-ish: I actually solved this puzzle, but kind of by mistake. I misunderstood the clue to mean that there is one letter that's repeated three times, and if you remove all of its instances, there will be six letters remaining. I.e., if the venue was "ball field," you'd remove all instances of the repeated letter, "L", and the remaining six letters would be "B A F I E D". But no! They mean that there are three different letters that each appear twice in the venue, and you have to remove the second instance of each of those letters.

Click here to see the original puzzle posting, check the answer to last week's challenge, listen to the segment, or find the link to enter your answer.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thrusty Thursday: Kayvan Novak

The several faces of Kayvan Novak.
Quick thrust from me this busy week—Thursday crept right up me! But do please take a moment to thrusticate upon Kayvan Novak, foxy British actor (of Iranian descent, also appeared in Syriana) who I just had the pleasure of seeing last night in the movie Four Lions, an absurd dark comedy from one of the true masters of absurd dark comedy, satirist Chris Morris. Novak plays Waj, a comic sidekick character who could easily have gone two-dimensional. Yet Novak's performance is subtle but hilarious, Waj's character outrageously stupid but also utterly sympathetic and lovable. I can't say enough about how deftly Novak snuck in and stole some of movie's funniest scenes—his timing is really something else. Really tough to describe, but very effective. Idiocy with depth. I recommend the movie if you dig pitch-black, uncomfortable comedies and can follow heavy British accents.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dear Reader

I'm always a bit of a basketcase the week following a release. I'm one of the least literate people I know when it comes to recreational drug use (despite having gone to art school), but I imagine it's the emotional equivalent of mixing substances. Take an upper—the excitement of sharing your work with the world—and a downer—the first lousy review—then another upper—a high-profile write-up—and another downer, and so on until you're reduced to a sweaty, shaking heap. It cycles you through a weird circuit of joyous, slapped, vindicated, paranoid, heartbroken, then after a couple of weeks, a healthy baseline of "Well, I did my best and a lot of people enjoyed it," and you cease to actively worry what people think of you once more, focus firmly locked on the next book.

Monday morning I woke in a particular deep rut in the downer end of the cycle. A long training run cleaned me out of much of my chemical funk, but over the last few days, I got a boost from another source, one which warmed my heart instead of merely flushing out my brain.

You can has!

It's lovely getting kind reviews from strangers, but when one actually takes the time to write directly to me, not an audience of their friends and online acquaintances…? For swoon! Yesterday I received three kindly reader e-mails—not bragging, it just felt really cool, like people out there could sense I needed an injection of a happy-making drug. I even got an e-mail from a frustrated reader who couldn't get their review to appear on the B&N website, and wondered if I'd heard of this issue before. Wow. So not only were you nice enough to take the time to write up your thoughts about my work, you're actually willing to troubleshoot a vendor website to see it posted? Dag! You can has OSSUMEST READR EVAH badge.

But no one reader e-mail is superior to any other. I get the same thrill and egomaniacal glow whether it's a sentence or an opus (or indeed a tweet), whether you gush profusely or politely enumerate your criticisms. Well, as long as you butter me up first before laying down the complaints. I'm not that well-adjusted.

Readers nearly freak me out with their kindness. I'm always surprised when they thank me for the book. The book is no biggie—I write those for myself. But readers…they're the ones who pay for my work and invest a few hours of their lives with my odd and prickly characters. I want to reach through the digital ether and shake them and scream, "NO, THANK YOU!" but thankfully I'm not clever enough to mastermind the technology to make that possible. Instead I respond with an e-mail of my own (always straightaway because I'm so outrageously touched), with whatever's on my mind in the moment.

I keep a folder in my mail system called "Fan / Hate Mail." I've yet to get a single piece of the latter—not even for any of my erotica alter ego's spuriously moraled tales. In it I have every kindly message I've yet received (for either of my authorly identities). And so I say to Pamela, Michelle, Danielle, Cat, Erica, Marianne, Cindy, Lanae, Judith, Tricia, Tiffany, Clicia, Carol, Anne, Kate, Tammy, Andrea, Jeff, Victoria, Arlene, Kathy, Jessica, Christine, Tara, Abigail, Dana, Petro, Bobbie, Elaine, Hailey, Amy, Joyce, and KK (to date):

Thank you so, so much. You really have no clue how much it means to us lowly writers. It's a big part of what gets us to peel away the covers and scuttle to our keyboards each day.

My very best,

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Intuition and Commercial Fiction

No clue where this post is going, so don't expect any profound hypotheses.

After wrapping some major edits and other responsibilities, it's time to tackle the task of revising my latest Blaze proposal. I've had a couple of weeks to ruminate on it since talking to my editor, which is good. Those weeks dampened the blow of hearing the submission wasn't quite hitting the mark as is, so that fact is no longer stinging, disappointing news, but merely a large item on my to-do list. What I really took away from both this proposal and the previous one (which was simply rejected) is that I'm trying a bit too hard.

Conversely, another supposed Blaze I wrote before I'd sold Caught on Camera didn't feel that way at all. I wrote it quite quickly and pleasurably, thinking it was a Blaze, and really loving it. Then I was told it's not a Blaze and the multiple reasons why were spelled out, making that fact rather obvious in hindsight (mainly, it was too dark). But happily I did sell it to Samhain (it's called Trespass, out in late July), and thank goodness, as I really like that book, even though it's not a Blaze as I'd intended. Bonus, I got to add in all the swear words I'd softened per category romance etiquette.

So I can try too hard and miss the mark, and end up with a proposal that feels so forced and not-me-ish that I don't even care to finish it in the hopes another publisher will want it. Or I can write intuitively (as with Trespass) with not enough objective thought given to the tone and conventions of my targeted line, and end up with a book I love but that doesn't wind up where I'd initially intended. I need to find some middle ground.

Caught on Camera may have been that middle ground. I was pretty naive about everything when I wrote it, plus when the opportunity presented itself I wrote so fast I didn't give myself much time to overthink anything. I flung myself at the dart board and managed to hit close enough to the bulls eye to get invited to revise. With these other proposals I'm way over-aiming, psyching myself out, body clenched tight from the pressure, breath held, and my darts are hitting the wall and floor as a result.

But it's hard to will one's self to be calm when approaching a book. I want to write intuitively, but my 100% natural writing style is not very marketable. But when I work very hard to make a book commercially viable, I don't sound like myself quite as much. I'm determined to be a professional writer, though, so I need to figure out a way to make my own voice soar within the conventions and constraints of an established line. I need to accept that I simply don't enjoy or excel at writing plot-driven books, but also stop assuming that precludes me from being marketable. Character-driven stories can be as dynamic as plot-driven ones, right? I just need enough external plot to hold the story together while my characters live out the drama I much prefer to explore—the intimate human-to-human kind. I need to quit trying to cram my characters into what I think the "right" sort of plot should be.

For example, I do not enjoy writing stories with villains, and avoid it whenever possible. I like the animosity to come from the protagonists, especially since I enjoy writing lead characters who are themselves a bit despicable, if only in the odd moment or situation. I mean, we're all a bit despicable now and then. And that's so much more interesting to me than an external bad guy getting in the way. In fact I rather like it when the two leads view one another as the villain, at least to start.

Well, I have to go do some actual plotting now instead of just yammering about it, so I better leave this here. If I stumble upon any insights into the trying-really-hard versus flying-by-the-seat-of-my-intuitive-pants balance I'll be sure to share them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

10K Training, Day One

This morning was my first structured training workout toward my new goal of running a 10K (6.2 miles). Since I wasn't starting directly from the sofa, I picked Week Seven, Day One of the Couch to 10K iPod app's regimen. Five-minute warm-up walk, then alternate four minutes of running with two minutes of walking for fifty-eight minutes, then five minutes' cool-down.

Note to self, eat bigger breakfast…
but not whatever this is.
I'm not used to running for more than a half-hour at a time, so there were some predictably rude awakenings around the halfway point. The artificial energy from my coffee buzz dissipated. My legs went from feeling like capable springs to sacks of meat by the forty-five-minute mark, and my blood sugar crashed right around that same time. I'm going to have to eat a bigger breakfast on training days. Note to self: buy bananas. I didn't get too thirsty since it was cool and damp outside, and the walking intervals gave me adequate opportunities to recupe from all the panting. And to slow my breathing enough to take those inhalations that "hit bottom," as I think of it. But in a few weeks' time I'll probably need one of those runners' hip-holster things with a water bottle slot. And maybe a banana slot.

I started this morning in a funk, one of those randomly lousy Monday moods we all get. I'm still feeling predictably naked, post release-week, and my usual healthy layer of author-armor was nowhere in sight. But after an hour-plus of sweating, my body's so chock-full of serotonin and endorphins and accomplishment, I don't care who says what about me. If my manfriend's reading this, you know which Reddit meme cartoon archetype to picture me as.

The workout was a challenge, but not torture. Oh and as a bonus, I burned about six hundred calories—looking forward to replacing those at lunchtime. My arsenal of ridiculous pop and hip-hop music helped, as always. I had to bulk up my exercise playlist considerably to fill sixty-eight minutes, so I busted out some of my all-time favorite running tracks—Nelly / Ride Wit Me, Lyrics Born / Callin' Out, Skee-Lo / I Wish, plus a ton of Kylie and Gaga and Usher, Missy Elliot and Ludacris and George Michael. A motley, upbeat line-up. My manfriend, when he runs, does so to his beloved mournful, dirgey, lyric-less rock, which does not compute with me. He runs like he's on a vision quest. I run like I'm in my own music video. Whatever keeps your legs moving, I suppose.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Puzzle

It's Sunday again, and you know what that means—time for me to rip off the puzzle segment from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday!

Mustachioed enigmatologist
extraordinaire, Will Shortz
If you're a newcomer, each week on Weekend Edition Sunday, Will Shortz (the hardcore crossword puzzlers' almighty God) comes on the radio to do three things: share the solution to the previous week's puzzle, invite a winner who entered the correct answer to play another puzzle (usually word-related) on the air for word-nerdy prizes, and present everyone with the next week's puzzle (answers due in by Thursday afternoon via the WES website if you want a chance to play on the air).

Note: I never post the solutions on this blog…at least not before the submission deadline. I see lots of keyword traffic coming from people looking for the answers, which is at best impatient, and at worst, cheating. For shame.

Now without further ado, here's this week's new puzzle:

From listener Dan Pitt of Palo Alto, Calif.: Name a unit of length in the plural form. Rearrange the letters to spell two units of weight, also in the plural form. What units are these?

Click here to see the original puzzle posting, check the answer to last week's challenge, listen to the segment, or find the link to enter your answer.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Leg-Related Whatnots

Went for my first bike ride of the season this morning, twenty miles along Boston's North Shore. Before you start picturing me in spandex, my manfriend and I both have touring bikes, so we're more jeans-and-sneakers type cyclists, not jerseys-and-toe-clips, cruising not racing. Sadly, my bike computer (a little device on my handlebar that talks to sensor on my wheel and tells me my distance, time, calories, speed, etc.) needs a new battery, so I was in the dark on my vitals. I love anything that tracks progress…if I didn't own a scale I'd probably weigh a lot more than I do, as I'm very number-motivated. I have one of those annoying brains that fixates on quantifiable progress.

Couch to 10K app for iPhone/Touch
It was a nice ride, though my legs were a bit wonked from yesterday's run. Though I ran through the winter at the gym, my recent transition to outdoor running feels as rough as always, asphalt much less forgiving than a treadmill. I'd also forgotten how much tougher it is to run with the temp in the mid-forties, how much harsher it feels in my lungs and how streamy my eyes get from the wind. Still, nice to be outdoors, with spring finally feeling imminent. And the little park near my house has a gravel track running around it, which is exactly a half-mile long. Reasonably kind to joints and very handy for goal-setting.

And I have a new goal for this year. I'm not a distance runner. I'm a pretty ace sprinter and I can run a respectable enough 5K, and on a good day I average about a nine-minute mile. Not bad for a hobby runner. One of the reasons I've managed to stick with running in recent years, when in the past I haven't, is my iPod and its lovely apps. I completed the Couch to 5K program last year and really enjoyed it—it assigns you different run-and-walk workouts in increasingly challenging increments until you can run a full 5K (3.1 miles). Then the next time I had to buy new running shoes I gave the Nike+ system a spin. It's largely awesome, but not perfect. The pedometer effect it produces between an in-shoe sensor (sold separately and for specific models of Nikes, naturally) and my iPod is shockingly accurate, better than any actual pedometer I've ever used. It saves your workouts and stats and tells you your speed, whereas programs like Couch to 5K can only track your time…though I believe the latest Couch to 5K version will interact with the Nike+ program, a clunky marriage of a good training app with a good pedometer app.

But this year I'd like to train myself for a 10K…a solo one, if I don't stumble across a local charity run. The farthest I've ever run without stopping before is 5.1 miles, and every time I say things like, "I wish I was the kind of person who could run a marathon," my manfriend says, "You are, you just don't choose to." So this year I'll choose to be the kind of person who runs a 10K. At 6.2 miles it's within my reach, even if it's still twenty miles short of a marathon. Maybe in the fall I'll sign up for Salem's 6.66-mile Devil's Chase on Halloween morning. And maybe next year I'll find out if I'm fit for a half-marathon. The year after that…who knows.

Because I looove quantifiable progress, of course I just downloaded a new app. It's called Couch to 10K, though oddly enough it's made by a different developer than Couch to 5K…they must have snuck in there and stolen the name. But it got great ratings and I like the interface, and allegedly it works alongside Nike+ if you want it to. I scanned the workouts, and on Monday I'm going to give it a go, starting on Week Seven (since I'm not starting straight off the couch)—a sixty-eight-minute routine, alternating running and walking. It's so much easier (for me) to get jazzed about goals when they're broken into bite-sized chucks. The same goes for writing, actually. It'd be daunting to see only 100,000 shadowy, unwritten words spread out between you and the distant horizon…but break it down to one or two thousand a day, and before you know it you're typing The End. Well, maybe not before you know it…but eventually.

Anyhow, that's just me blathering about my new goal. I love goals—did you notice? According to this app's schedule, if I go at the pace they suggest (three training runs per week) I'll be ready to run a full 10K in about five weeks. If my janky knee doesn't get other ideas, that is. But I won't know if I don't try, and I won't likely try if I can't quantify. So here goes nothing. Well, here goes nothing but me on my wobbly legs, anyhow.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Do you make?

I caught an interesting snatch of On Point this morning while I was steeping a cup of coffee. The topic was farming—more of the hobbyist variety than the industry—and it got me thinking. Several callers expressed a yearning to farm, to grow crops to consume and sell as the show's guest did. To use their minds and bodies in harmony with the land to cultivate something as fundamental as food, eliminating all the steps that stand between so many of us and our dinners—our car, the store, dozens of trucks and boats and planes and thousands of miles, processing and packaging plants, huge agricultural operations, preservatives, cans and boxes and labels and bags, and on and on.

Perhaps not a universal desire, but a common and understandable one, I'm sure. A tangible labor in this world that's so diluted and digitized and data-driven. I mean what would you rather nurture and consume—a tomato or a spreadsheet? I'm sure there are plenty of people out there with a genuine love of formulae and numbers and other less tangible commodities, but I'm in the tomato camp. I bet most of us are, yet so many choose to produce spreadsheets, nonetheless.

But which would I really rather have as my crop—tomatoes or stories?

For nearly five years before I became a professional writer, I was an in-house graphic designer. My company wrote and edited content for a variety of different publications for the health care industry. I really loved that job, and I suspect I might still be there if the economy hadn't imploded, resulting in my office closing and my house to refusing to sell. I really did love that job, but not the way I love writing. I adored my colleagues and the fact that I was using my degree, and that whenever possible my managers would create opportunities for me to grow. I enjoyed how often we found excuses to stop working at four to drink wine and eat cheese in the lobby, to toast someone's birthday or engagement. Or simply because Sandra wanted to drink. And the design part of the job, I liked that. But I didn't know what it was to love a job until I began writing full-time, and becoming [slightly] successful at it.

The difference, I've come to realize, is twofold. Part of it is the number of steps between me and the consumer of my work. When I worked as a designer, I was one person in a large team, all working to produce, say, a newsletter. Now the second part of that fundamental difference is the product being made itself, and how closely it mirrors what I've got in my heart and head that I want to share with people. Those newsletters created by all of our hands were designed to sell a reader on a hospital or health plan or a lifestyle conducive to the bottom line of an insurance company. A noble enough pursuit, but my pleasure wasn't coming from plucking my heart from my chest and handing it to an eager recipient. My pleasure came from challenges and collaborations and from a much bigger paycheck than I boast these days, but I don't know if I could ever go back.

What I do now feels almost freakishly pure. The stories I write are very me. They're revised and finessed with the advice of critique partners and editors, but with very few exceptions, I'm the one changing the words, and never yet in a way that's made me feel I was being asked to compromise my creation, only to strengthen it. Then a line editor reads through for technical problems, and thank goodness because I gots of lousy grammars, and a designer creates a pretty package and who knows how many people format it and distribute it and tell the world about the finished product. But a very high percentage of that finished product is me. My imagination loaded into paint balls and blasted onto your open palms, be they holding an e-reader or a paperback.

Let me make it clear, I'm not looking to downplay any of the roles of the other people involved in manifesting my wonky stories—on the contrary, I'm trying to profess how grateful I am that somehow, even with all these dedicated individuals that it takes to produce a book, I still feel very un-tampered with. Just me, smeared all over your hands. I'd be lying if I didn't admit it's obscenely satisfying. Especially if readers seem pleased, though I try not to dwell on it if they're not so pleased. I wrote what I wanted to write, and chances are nil that everyone will like it.

All of this has got me thinking about creation as a kind of farming. Cultivating books or songs or paintings or quilts or stand-up routines and presenting them for the entertainment and enjoyment of an audience. Not necessarily better than harvesting apples or timber or shellfish…unless you're the type of person who has that fire in their gut, that need to create lest you boil over or explode, no vent in your pressure cooker.

And among us types who do feel the need produce some type of art (for lack of a better, less lofty word), lest we develop creative constipation, are we all created equal? As a popular fiction writer (who sometimes teeters on the edge of recommended romance conventions despite knowing better) where do I rank? Am I below a literary novelist, unbound by readers' expectations of a given genre? Am I above a ghost writer, donating their thoughtfully arranged words to another's name? Am I anywhere on par with an essayist, journalist, poet, television writer, fan fiction fanatic? Or is the measure of our worth to be found in bestseller rankings or advances or name recognition or the length of our backlist? But of course you can't gauge it so tidily…and why would you want to? Perhaps the closest you can come to a passable ranking system is to ask yourself if you feel more fulfilled than the next writer? More content? But if you're truly content, I have to wonder, why would you even care how you measure up?

Are you a musician? If so, do you play your own compositions on an acoustic guitar you made yourself, on a bar stool for an audience of twenty? Or are you the face and voice (both likely altered and enhanced for maximum profit) behind a multi-platinum pop identity, performing other people's songs and dance routines, selling millions of singles you didn't compose? Is one better than the other? Is purity of personal vision more noble than lucrative, mass-marketed stardom? Which is more successful?

Depends on your definition of success. If it's money and fame and material comforts and security, you'll likely go the pop star route. If it's something in your marrow wriggling to get out and be shared with another soul, one-on-one, money not a consideration, you'll probably opt for the bar stool.

I know I could never in a million years work on Wall Street. Forget the aggression, even—it's too detached, too theoretical, numbers whizzing by on screens and through servers, nothing you can hold in your hands at the end of the day. I doubt too that I could be a full-time caregiver. I'm affectionate, but only to a certain limit before I shut off, feeling tapped and wrung out by other people's needs. The thing wriggling inside my bones wants to share. It wants to take something from my imagination and explore it and put it into clumps of English words and reexamine it and share it with people who are interested, and I have yet to come to the floor of that well. My drive to write feels bottomless.

Writing is both tangible—a book in your hands, a story you conceived—and intangible—strings of words and ideas seeking to communicate a vision, a vision that can only shift once it's entrusted to another's mind to translate and re-visualize. Somewhere between tomato and spreadsheet, there's my book.

What about you? Do you make? If so, what do you share with the world—stories, meals, jokes, opinions, lyrics, blog posts, beer, clothing? What would it mean to lose your ability to make? Would you boil over, wither, lose your sense of self? If it's a hobby, could you imagine it becoming a profession? Would that be a dream come true, or the ruination of treasured pastime?

What does it mean to you to make?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thrusty Thursday: Manu Bennett

I picked Manu Bennett for this week's thrusting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the manfriend and I are busy watching Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (prequel series to last year's Blood and Sand). It's on Netflix Instant Watcher, blah blah blah, hot dudes fighting and screwing, watch it now if you're not already. I was cagey about the new series because I found Andy Whitfield, who played Spartacus in the original series, to be a massive fox and couldn't imagine the show without him (he's currently busy being treated for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but there are rumors he's doing well and may appear in future episodes—fingers crossed for you, Andy).

Manful, yet sensitiveful.
In both Spartacus series, Manu Bennett plays "the Gaul", Crixus. In the original Blood and Sand series, Crixus is The Shit—the Champion of Capua top-dog gladiator (until Spartacus shows up) and he's very swaggery and manful and relatively clean-cut. Not my type, though he's a good character. But in Gods of the Arena, which takes place before Blood and Sand, he's a newbie know-nothing with long hair and a beard and no street cred. I'm currently on about episode four, where he's just beginning to kick ass. I like him even more as an underdog. Oh and in both series you get to see him in the altogether. Frequently. Bonus.

A proud Kiwi with massive arms. Win.
The other major reason I'm suggesting we all thrust against Manu Bennett is that he's a Kiwi, and New Zealand is the foxiest nation on Earth. Bennett is a mix of Maori and Irish and Spanish and Scottish and probably some other flavors that all swirl together to comprise his nearly excessive foxxitude. Normally his type is a bit too "obvious" for me, as I typically prefer wonkier dudes, but I will make an exception. Plus if you haven't had the pleasure of watching Spartacus, he's got a voice that'll burn your bloomers off.

Oh lookie, a new peek inside Gladiator Boot Camp!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Release day, wooo!

Feels like I just had one of these a couple of weeks ago…oh wait, I did. But publishing is nothing if not stormy and spastic, so here we are again in the midst of my feast (famine to commence shortly, I'm sure).

So The Reluctant Nude is out today from Samhain! It's a contemporary romance about an unorthodox affair between a no-nonsense ecologist and a hot-blooded French sculptor, sequestered together one autumn in the artist's studio on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I'm very proud of this story. It's very me, as an author…quiet and intimate and a bit wonky. Fallon, the heroine, is waaay out of her element, and as a result she's wary and irritable and defensive. The hero, Max, is somewhat eccentric and occasionally galling, as provocative as Fallon is guarded. A match made in my own twisted idea of heaven.

I was going to make a big to-do, maybe post a recipe from Nova Scotia or Britanny, France, as there is a lot of food and wine consumption in the book…maybe talk about my Cape Breton honeymoon in 2009 which completely inspired the story…well, the setting, not the plot… But on second thought, I'm exhausted from the week already, so I've decided to keep the pimping minimal.

Ah, Cape Breton in autumn! Photo ©Dave MacDonald
But I must spew forth my thanks! Thanks to you future readers, and thanks to the book's very first readers, MB, Amy and Liz. Thanks to the judges who deemed it worthy to final in the 2010 Golden Heart, gigantic thanks to my editor Anne Scott for choosing it and making it stronger, to Kanaxa, who designed the beautiful cover, and to the kind reviewers who've weighed in on it so far.

Actually, I will dwell on the reviews. I've taken to forcing my forthcoming romances on my RWA chaptermate Penny Watson, and so far she's enjoyed them both, despite her repeated claims that she doesn't like contemporaries. She promised if she hated the book she'd diplomatically keep those feelings to herself and not review it on her blog, but as it turns out, she loved it! You can read her review here.

And this morning I woke up to an equally kind and thoughtful review from Smexy Books. Apparently I made both reviewers cry, which is pretty delightful since so often it goes the other way 'round for us authors.

Anyhow, for more information (blurb, excerpt) or to buy direct and save 30%, you can check it out in the Samhain online store. It's also available for Kindle and Nook, and come February of next year it will be available as a paperback.

That's enough for now. Thanks for swinging by on this exciting day!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sunday Puzzle

It's Sunday again, and you know what that means—time for me to rip off the puzzle segment from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday!

Mustachioed enigmatologist
extraordinaire, Will Shortz
If you're a newcomer, each week on Weekend Edition Sunday, Will Shortz (the hardcore crossword puzzlers' almighty God) comes on the radio to do three things: share the solution to the previous week's puzzle, invite a winner who entered the correct answer to play another puzzle (usually word-related) on the air for word-nerdy prizes, and present everyone with the next week's puzzle (answers due in by Thursday afternoon via the WES website if you want a chance to play on the air).

Note: I never post the solutions on this blog…at least not before the submission deadline. I see lots of keyword traffic coming from people looking for the answers, which is at best impatient, and at worst, cheating. For shame.

Now without further ado, here's this week's new puzzle:

Assign every letter of the alphabet a numerical value: A=1, B=2, C=3 and so forth. Think of a classic work of literature that has eight letters in its title. When the letters are given a numerical value, they add up to 35. What's the title? Clue: The title has two words.

Click here to see the original puzzle posting, check the answer to last week's challenge, listen to the segment, or find the link to enter your answer.

Friday, April 1, 2011

No #@$%&! April

Zip it! Zip it good!
My Year of Lents staggers onward, and Meager March (the month of no frivolous purchases) is now over. Truth be told, I did pretty poorly. I didn't buy any clothes or shoes or makeup or other fripperies, but I did go to two movies and had more than one evening out at restaurants and bars. Socializing was my downfall. But still, no coffees while out and about, no snacks, no new albums or TV shows downloaded, no books read that I didn't already have stacked beneath my nightstand, no impulse purchases to speak of. Oh wait, no—Angry Birds Rio. Overall, I give myself a D+ for effort.

Now it's on to No #@$%&! April, the month during which I'm not allowed to swear. And by swear I mean anything from the D-word and the A-word on up the line of profanity, including blasphemy, spoken or tweeted or e-mailed or texted. Though if I'm writing and my characters swear, that's kosher.

I already ruined my snowball's chance at perfection by calling my manfriend's laptop computer a "smug motherf*cker" this morning over breakfast, less than an hour into the waking month, which doesn't bode well. And that's one dollar into the virtual swear jar, the contents of which I'll be donating to a yet-to-be-determined charity at the end of the month. Their cup shall surely runneth over with the spoils of my extravagant failure.