Friday, April 29, 2005

Old Money: Part Deux

So, remember those Massachusetts guys who unearthed several grand in old currency the other day? I knew there was a story there somewhere! Just . . . not this one.

Anyway, happy Friday, all!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A brave new frontier, or the coming of the end?

Cruising the AAR boards today, I ran across a link to an article in the NYT about the supermarketing of book sales. Supermarketing as in, grocery stores getting into the book business in a Very Serious way. To wit: "Supermarkets, long the domain of paperback romances, pulp thrillers and astrology guides, are the new frontier of book selling."

The article talks about how supermarkets are moving past the old paperback spinner racks and cash register dumps in favor of expanded book sections (excuse me, "literary centers") within the store. I think it's pretty widely agreed that book sales are impulse purchases for the most part, so what's the harm in creating yet another outlet for selling books--especially one as convenient as this? I've certainly shopped for books at grocery stores. After all, it's a lot easier to bury the cost of a few paperbacks in the monthly food budget than it is to explain to the hub all those $50 trips to Barnes & Noble.

Personally, I'm rather torn on this issue. As a reader, I'm happy for the prospect of a more plentiful fiction selection at the local Shaw's. I like convenience, and I like discounted prices. As a published author, I hope like hell my books will actually end up in some of those supermarket "literary centers" because if the concept of Shaw's-as-bookstore takes off, I know that a lot of my new reader sales are going to occur there (similar to Walmart, Target, or any of the other discount chains that make or break a midlist author).

As an observer of the publishing industry, however, I am nursing a feeling of rising dread for both the independent bookseller and the midlist author (hello) if this "new frontier" expands. Indies are already bruised from trying to compete with chains and online booksellers (to say nothing of the competition from UBSes). If grocery stores muscle in hard, and it seems reasonable that they will, then I don't hold out much hope that the indy bookstores will ever regain ground. When we lose them--the handsellers and true book lovers who work at indy stores--we're going to lose a lot of our choices in terms of authors and the depth of material available to buy. Slowly, or maybe not so slowly, our reading selection will be pared down to just the big sellers, the sure things. The "literary centers" will tell us what we can buy: Would you like Grisham, Roberts, Steel, or Rowling today?

Like I said, I'm torn. I want to be excited that maybe more Americans are reading (wouldn't that be great?), and that maybe a few of them will slip one of my books in with the cat food and PB&J, but in my heart I feel like this is just another form of outsourcing. Sure, it looks fairly useful today, but where will it leave us a few years down the road?

ADDENDUM: On the heels of the NYT article, Publishers Lunch offered a link to this story on the closing of Bound To Be Read, a large indy bookseller with two locations in MN.

Mind Maps and Old Money

Now that HEART OF THE DOVE revisions are outta here, I'm playing around with plotting the next (and final) installment in the Dragon Chalice series, HEART OF THE DRAGON. In the past, after much thinking and navel-gazing, I generally would sit down and write a stream-of-consciousness synopsis that will become the basis of my story. The basis, I say, because very often the story will veer away from the submitted synopsis to one extent or another, once I begin plotting and writing in earnest.

This time around, on a whim I will likely regret later, I'm tempted to try mindmapping my story before I pressure myself to produce a working synopsis. There's a Scottish thriller writer who makes it seem pretty easy ("you write your 'Big Thing' in the middle of a large sheet of paper, then start adding branches coming out of it . . . In the end you're left with a massive, sprawling mess that gives you pretty much everything you need to know"). Sounds good to me! Of course, a few minutes of Googling for examples and I start getting a brain cramp, looking at stuff like this and this. Hmm, I feel inadequate already.

Totally O.T., but the other day on CNN.com I read about these Methuen, Mass. guys digging up $100k worth of old money in their backyard (a local Boston news source puts the figure at $50k value). The bills date from 1891 to 1928, and were buried in tin cans inside a wooden box. What do you think? Mob money? Pre-depression "rainy day" stash? At any rate, I'm sure there's a story behind it . . .

Monday, April 25, 2005

Idiot in Lane 2 (that would be me)

Yesterday I woke up thinking about a story idea. It was unlike anything I've written before, and it was so exciting and different, it grabbed me by the throat. While I showered and got dressed, The Big Idea teased me with movie-like snippets of scene and character and dialogue. Everything was right there--so real and vivid, I could practically touch it. If you're a writer, you've no doubt had these flashes of inspiration as well. You know what I'm talking about. The details come at you fast and furious, and if you don't jot them down immediately, they are liable to float away on the ether of your subconscious.

I grabbed a scratchpad and scribbled hasty notes. I really wanted to sit down and knock out a quick synopsis, or maybe sketch out the scenes that were coming at me rapid-fire. But I had been promising the hub (and the cats) that I would not let them starve a day longer than I already had. Grocery shopping, a duty I loathe almost as much as swabbing bathrooms, awaited. So, I dragged myself out of my office and headed out to Shaw's.

While I shopped, The Big Idea stayed with me. I put my mind on auto-pilot and loaded up with necessary supplies. Too many carbs and sugar, but who had time to look at labels? I headed for the checkout lanes, and, seeing the mile-long lines at the human cashiers, I opted for the nearly empty do-it-yourself scanners. Nobody ever uses them. Me, I prefer them. It's like the choice between sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway, or taking a side road to avoid the tangles. I'd rather be moving, even if I have to do so at a slower pace. So I begin scanning my cart full of groceries, still mentally working on TBI.

A small line begins to form behind me. One of my produce items confuses the scanner and I need store assistance. It only takes a second to clear it, yet I am beginning to sense some agitation behind me--animosity, even. Whatever, I think, and forge on, wondering if my agent will think I'm crazy to want to write this other book that I'm not even sure fits a specific genre.

Finally, as I'm nearing the bottom of the cart, a man comes up beside me with his small bag of self-scanned groceries. He doesn't look friendly. "You do realize you're in the express lane, don't you?" he snarls at me. I feel my face flame as I look up and see the 15 Items or Less sign taped above the scanner. Mortified, I murmur apologies and wonder aloud if the store has recently converted the scanners to express lanes. He doesn't care; he's already storming off with his beer and chips. I finished scanning my $130 worth of groceries and wheel out of the store feeling like an utter idiot. At least the hub and kitties were happy to see me. :-/

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Bloggus Interruptus

Just when I thought I was doing so well with my regular blog entries . . .

A long weekend visit from John's daughter and son-in-law kept me away from my computer (not to mention my ms revisions) from Friday to yesterday. It should have been a lovely visit. The weather was fantastic, John had taken the time off from work, and his daughter, who's been dealing with prolonged health issues following a bone marrow transplant two years ago, was feeling well enough to travel north from NYC to enjoy a "country" weekend. The first evening she was here, she developed a low grade fever and chills. It worsened, and that next morning her doctor advised her to check into the ER here in Portsmouth. Four days later, they let her out. Long story short, they suspect she ate an iffy clam where we had lunch and as a result she came down with gastroenteritis. Stomach bugs are no big thing, unless, like her, you have zero immune system. Then they can be deadly. But she's better now, and safe and sound back home. (((Hugs))) Leslie!

I'm not quite finished with revisions on HEART OF THE DOVE, so I've readjusted my wrap-up date to be this weekend since I missed the goal of last weekend by a mile. I am eager to clear my desk of this ms and move on to the next one!

Signed a few books around town the past couple of weeks, so if you're in New Hampshire (or if you want to phone in an order and have a book shipped to you), you can snag an autographed copy of HEART OF THE FLAME and in some cases HEART OF THE HUNTER as well, at the following stores: Barnes & Noble in Portsmouth; BDalton at Fox Run Mall in Portsmouth; Barnes & Noble in Manchester; Barnes & Noble in Nashua; Waldenbooks at Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua.

I'm still reading Catherine Mulvany's RUN NO MORE and enjoying it very much. Next up is Lynn Viehl's IF ANGELS BURN, which debuted at #148 on the USA Today list! Wowza!! Not entirely surprising; I've seen the book in great numbers and prominently displayed at nearly all of the stores I've been to lately. (Total distribution and cover envy, lemme tell ya.)

Now I hear rumblings online that the vampire trend is going cold with publishers. Seems to me it was just getting really hot in the market . . . ? Ah, well. No doubt there's been a glut of vamp mss hitting editorial desks these days as everyone dreams of becoming the next Feehan, Kenyon, or Hamilton. I must admit, I've entertained a book idea or two with a vampiric bite myself. Vampires were my monster of choice as a kid, the only ghoul that truly scared me . . . until I got a little older and realized (thanks mostly to Anne Rice) that the shiver of fear they inspired also carried an immensely seductive edge. Then I was lost to the fantasy, and remain so today. I've been loving the fact that there are so many new vamp romances to choose from! Hopefully this purported slow-down in the trend will merely eliminate the weaker entries to make more room for the new trailblazers of the subgenre. Time will tell!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Argh!

I have a feeling it's going to be One Of Those Days . . .

I discovered last night, after preparing what would have been a lovely baked chicken dinner, that my 5-year old oven is not working. Fifteen minutes of preheat time on 350, yet when I opened it to put the lovely baked chicken dinner inside, the blasted thing remained stone cold. Naturally, this prompted a sudden panic that I'd just unwittingly gassed myself in the kitchen for 15 minutes, but everyone survived the night, so apparently no harm done. Now, instead of spending the day with a writer friend across town, I get to call around and wait for an appliance repairman. Oh, goody.

Yesterday I got my advance check for D&A of the complete ms on HEART OF THE DOVE. Yippee! I think, until hubby informs me that the IRS will be hoovering up every penny of it--and then some--on Friday, 4/15. Grumble. Sigh.

Bookmarks for HEART OF THE FLAME, my March release, arrived yesterday as well. (I know, I know, why the hell did I wait until *after* the book was out to get bookmarks?! All I can say is, there's a reason the word "procrasTINAtion" is spelled like it is.) The good news is, the bookmarks are here. The bad news is, the background color is not quite what it appeared in the PDF proof I okayed from the printer. I asked for deep, blood red at the top of the bookmark and the finished color is a sort of burnt orange. It's not awful, but it doesn't make the cover image pop like I had hoped. John saw it and said, "Why didn't you use that purply/blue color from the cover's inset picture instead of red?" Argh. He's right, I should have. I hate it when he's right.

If anyone wants a bookmark (or a dozen), just give a shout!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Blog Links & Current Reading

Another day of revision work on HEART OF THE DOVE . . . and some errands that cannot be put off any longer. Meanwhile, I've dressed up my blog with a couple of images and a few more links. Ahn-jzoy! :)

In other news, I'm reading a romantic suspense novel--one of the little treasures that arrived from B&N the other day. Currently enjoying RUN NO MORE by Catherine Mulvany. It's somewhere between "To Catch a Thief" and "Entrapment." Heavy emphasis on Entrapment, since the hero is a silver-haired, dark-browed, 60-something Scotsman--a la Sean Connery--and the heroine is a much younger, spunky kid type who is being groomed by the master to undertake The Big Heist--think Catherine Zeta Jones of the same movie, only blond.

I already know the big secret of the book (spoiler alert: you'll have to highlight this next portion to read it). At some point the story is going to become a time-travel, where the heroine goes back a couple of decades to try to spare the hero from a fall that will leave him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Cool twist, but it's practically spelled out on the front sales page! When I first read it, I wondered why the publisher would want to spill the beans before the reader even cracked open the book, but I think I know. I believe they wanted to assure everyone that it was okay for the paraplegic, graybeard Sean--I mean Ian--to lust after the young heroine because he's actually going to be around her age and fully mobile once we reach Happily Ever After. (That's a guess on my part, so maybe I'll be surprised?)

Personally, I wish I hadn't known all of this going into the story. The premise was edgy and intriguing as presented, but the front sales excerpt took a lot of the surprise factor away before I even read page one. (shrug) I'm still enjoying the book, however. Great writing, and the story is reading at a good, suspenseful clip.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Pardon the dust . . .

Still revising. Lately I've been getting a flurry of very nice reader emails on HEART OF THE FLAME and HEART OF THE HUNTER, which is really helping to keep me motivated and enthused as I put the polish on HEART OF THE DOVE. I'm hoping to have the revised ms back in the mail to my editor by week's end.

Something amusing I found on Amazon yesterday: For books with the "Search Inside" feature, they are now posting various information such as the 100 most frequently used words in the text and general readability indices. When I first saw the blue box of frequently used words on nearly all of my books, I felt this sudden ping of dread.

Oh, God. Please tell me I didn't abuse words like manhood, bosom, or the dreaded throbbing loins!

Whew. Thankfully not. Although I am, evidently, fond of want, need, mouth, body, and (ahem) hard. ;-P

(Small advert here. I could have discovered the occurrence of all my pet words on my own, using WriteWay's Word Usage report--and I've since made a mental note to run a check on HEART OF THE DOVE as part of my current revisions!)

Saturday, April 09, 2005

(De)construction Zone

The revising hath begun.

Despite a week of houseguests, assorted interruptions, and two dental appointments (no root canal, fwiw, just a filling gone rogue at this point) I am now ripping into HEART OF THE DOVE in earnest. Armed with a revision report I created and printed out of WriteWay, I am currently going through the ms chapter by chapter and cleaning things up.

Even though I've revised to varying degrees with each book I've written, it still takes a measure of courage to crack open a chapter and make that first big change to the ms. That initial cut or addition to the prose, the effects of which reverberate throughout the rest of the story, is the hardest one to make. Am I mucking it up? Was the ms actually better before I began "fixing" it? How many plot and character threads am I severing (or creating) with these changes? Will I make it to the end with the ms intact, or will it crumble like a house of cards?

These fears are just part of the process, I've found. I expect them. I almost welcome them, because I know the good stuff awaits once I blast through the anxiety of actually beginning. Once I'm in the thick of things, revision is--dare I say it?--a joy. The story begins to really take shape, the characters move through their scenes like real people, and themes that might not have been apparent to me as I was writing the draft suddenly gain clearer focus.

I know some writers live for the initial telling of a story--the heady rush of a first draft. For me, that stage is a great deal more pain than pleasure. Oh, sure, initially it's all fun and games, but sooner or later it's a mess of blood and tears and all I want to do is hang on and try to survive to The End. Give me 400 rough pages on crisp white paper and a juicy red marker--that's my bliss.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

A revisions and root canal kind of day

So, I read my draft of HEART OF THE DOVE and it's not bad. Not exactly "amazing," but not bad either. Some parts of the ms I really liked, while others inspired little more than a "meh" sort of reaction. Obviously the latter parts are the ones I mean to address, along with some further character development work, stronger description/sensory detail, and more attention to my ending scene, which feels pretty rushed. No big surprise; as I recall I wrote the last few chapters of the ms in a final-day-of-deadline panicked haze. Today I will write up my general revision thoughts, then begin a second read with red pen and sticky notes in hand.

Unless my dentist appointment later this morning knocks me flat for the rest of the day.

I'm thinking I need a crown to replace one of my old fillings, but I live in fear that I'm going to hear the words "root canal." I've never had one--never had more than a few fillings, actually--but I loathe the idea of drills and needles and whatever other instruments of torture might be laid out in the dentist's tray while I'm sitting there at his mercy. Sigh.

In other news, I have a B&N order coming in a few days--all fiction, some new releases I've been very eager to read, including Lynn Viehl's (aka Paperback Writer) vampire romance, IF ANGELS BURN. I first "discovered" her through a promotional post she made on All About Romance announcing her new website, Darkyn.com. Very cool website, but somewhat out of date. I think the last News item was posted November 2004. Anyway, the website turned me on to the book, which looks wonderful! It doesn't hurt that there's a Clive Owen clone with a come-hither look dominating the front cover. Mrrowwwrh! :->

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Hump Day Check-in

As expected, yesterday was a total hooky day. John took the day off from work and together with his brother and sister-in-law, we toured the NH seacoast, lunched, talked, and generally had a good time. Time out of the house is something of a rarity for me (full-time writing has turned me from natural hermit to outright recluse) and I really enjoyed the hours of sunshine and fresh air. Of course, it helped that it was a glorious 65 degrees most of the day yesterday--Spring is springing in NH!

Today I begin revising HEART OF THE DOVE. This process consists of an uninterrupted read-through of the entire ms, just to get a feel for the overall story, pacing, etc. No notes or fixes today, just reading and thinking. Tomorrow I'll make my general notes on what I read today, then do a second review of the ms with highlighter and red pen in hand. I'm also waiting to hear back from my agent, who is reading the unedited ms this week as well. I hope she can give me some additional ideas on how to make the book really shine.

In other news, I'm taking an online course this month on Author Branding with publicist Theresa Meyers of Blue Moon Communications. Our first assignment was to think of several well-known authors and jot down five things that immediately come to mind when we hear their names. Then we had to come up with a list of ten things we'd like people to think of when they hear our own author names. This was harder than I thought it would be! I've never been any good at defining my own style or voice, but I do understand it's going to be key in helping me define my "brand." I've always been interested in advertising (I actually *watch* commercials and read just about any print ad that lands in front of me) so I'm loving the class already.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Goal, Motivation, Conflict

My plans for the week . . .

Goal #1: Jump into revisions on Heart of The Dove, which my editor says are minimal (actually she said "the ms is in amazing shape" so most of the revising will be my own picayune changes and tweaking). Once that is done, proceed directly into Goal #2, which is the proposal for Heart of The Dragon.

Motivation: I'm eager to get into the new book, which will also be the start of a new contract with Ballantine. Not to mention the fact that this will also be my first deal with my current agent, who took me on right after I had signed a 3-book contract with my first agent. (Thank you, Karen!!) See, first agent decided to scale back on agenting in order to attend Divinity School. My reaction: WTF?! Meet my agent, the minister. I don't think so! But I digress . . . .

Conflict: Oy, yes. Lots of writing obstacles this week, unfortunately. Brother-in-law and wife are in town for the week, which means John and I will be playing tour guide part of the time (this is technically play, but still obligatory and time away from writing, which makes me cranky). I have several family and friend birthdays coming up this week and next, which requires shopping (thank god for the internet!). Yesterday I did something to one of my teeth that feels like it's going to require immediate attention and mucho dinero, since dental insurance is a luxury the hub and I cannot afford. Ah, the joys of the self-employed. Add to that a potential trip to visit his daughter in NYC at the end of the week and, yep, my writing goals are pretty much shot to hell.

But we'll see.

Wish me luck! Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 01, 2005

And so it begins . . .

When a friend first mentioned that I should do this, I thought, "Am I bitter enough to blog?" I've read quite a few by other people, and I have to admit that I take the guiltiest pleasure in the snarky ones. You've probably read them, too--maybe even bookmarked them as I have, and eagerly await your daily armchair view of someone else's career misery or general irritation with the world at large.

For you, not-so-gentle-reader, I post the following warning: This probably won't be one of those blogs.


Aside from my concerns about where our country is heading, I don't have much to complain about. But, hey, things change, so if you stick around here for any length of time, maybe down the road I'll spill some blood in this blog, too. ;-)

As I start this online "diary" I have submitted my seventh novel to my editor at Ballantine Books (now awaiting revisions) and I am about to begin my eighth (as yet uncontracted). I love this part of writing--mapping out my story, sculpting my characters, drafting those first few chapters. From here, everything always looks fresh and exciting, full of possibilities. It doesn't turn to crap until I hit around page 150 in the manuscript. Then the real work begins. But for now, I am energized and itching to dive in. I probably won't begin composing for another week or so, but I'll keep you posted.