Posted in Books, Publishing, Reading, Writing

Pitching my tent at Muse Camp

I was interviewed for Muse Camp recently and allowed to natter on and on about my journey from “trad” publishing to “indie.” For those of you who are interested, you can listen to the interview for free through November 22nd: http://musecamp.com/spe_dianefarr/

Muse Camp is a great site, with inspiring stories, tips, interviews, and support for writers of every stripe. Anyone who has been to summer camp will understand the concept! There’s something about getting away with a group and focusing intently on something for a few days that refreshes the spirit.

Enjoy!

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Posted in Other Stuff

Back in the Saddle

I hated to leave my blog showing, for such a long time, that I was considering taking up the “How Not to Write” mantle. For the record, I’m writing! I’m also doing other writerly things, like recording my work for Audible and iTunes, being interviewed for Muse Camp (more on that after it happens — unless, of course, my interview sucks), and writing an essay about self-publishing for publication in a free e-book filled with similar essays. 

So I’m back in the saddle. Several saddles. Which sounds more painful than it actually is.

Posted in Not Writing, Writing

The Bother of Writing is Totally Worth It | Jamie Grove

The Bother of Writing is Totally Worth It | Jamie Grove.

This is a lovely post with a lovely (and very funny) excerpt of a story by A. A. Milne. I am sad to bid farewell to “How Not to Write.” Perhaps I shall take up the mantle myself, and begin blogging on How Not to Write. Lord knows I have expertise in the subject.

Step One: Get a full-time job.

Step Two: Join Facebook.

Step Three: Well, there is no Step Three. If you have done those two things, you are there. Voila! You are not writing!

:sigh:

Posted in Other Stuff

Life is Full of Stuff

My family is experiencing a strange juxtaposition of momentous events. One Saturday, we celebrated the wedding of one of my great-nieces. The next Saturday, another of my great-nieces was killed in a car crash.

One event was a long-anticipated day filled with joy, beauty and laughter. Then, exactly one week later, an utterly-unanticipated day of shock, horror and grief. As has often been said, by people much wiser than I, “life is full of stuff.”

Happiness and pain are equally inescapable — a truth that is wonderful or terrible, depending which side of the line you happen to be walking at the moment. We will experience both, as surely as the sun rises and the rain falls. Perhaps it’s best not to know which we will experience more often, or how deeply.

While we are here, we think of young death as tragic. Most of us hope to live a long life. But in the grand scheme of things, whether we live a single day or a hundred years, it’s a flash of time so tiny that the difference between the two is hardly worth noting. All death is tragic. Or no death is tragic. All we can do is live the span we are given, and ride the waves of love and loss as they roll by.

From the instant sperm meets egg, we are hurtling toward death. Nothing is as certain to kill you as life. So if you’d rather not die, please refrain from being born. In fact, C.S. Lewis has theorized that death, not life, may be the Big Thing. Perhaps life’s true importance is that it is a prerequisite for death. You can’t get there through any other door; you have to live in order to die.

I suppose we shall see, one way or the other. Meanwhile, if there’s joy in Ojai and grief in Temecula, it’s best to remember that the distance between the two isn’t really very far.

Posted in Books, Reading, rwa, Writing

Confessions of a RITA Judge

Did you watch the Oscars last night? So did I. And since I am simultaneously wrestling with an awards-judging process of my own, I found myself feeling unexpected sympathy for the much-maligned Academy.

Every year, there’s a certain amount of fist-shaking and eye rolling over Oscar nominations. Every year, someone is overlooked who totally should have been included. Every year, someone is nominated based on having been overlooked in the past. (“So-and-so should have been nominated last year, so let’s nominate them now even though their work this year was pretty mediocre.”)

Actually, of course, I have no idea how the nomination process works. But that’s how it seems.

And if you think people get passionate about the Oscars, you should see the brouhaha that goes on over Romance Writers of America’s annual RITA awards.

The RWA Board struggles mightily to be responsive to its large and fractious membership. So each year, the judging rules change, in an attempt to fix whatever people complained about the year before.

Which leads to a chaotic process — and even lousier, less fair nominations than the Oscars deliver.

Romance fiction is the 800-pound gorilla in the publishing world, much the way Hollywood is the 800-pound gorilla in the movie world. Of course there are other books being written and sold, just as there are movies being made elsewhere on Planet Earth. And romance novels, like Hollywood movies, receive their share of sneers — sneers from those who are jealous and sneers from those who are genuinely concerned about artistic quality. And actually, for many of the same reasons. Whenever an art form is really, really popular, commercial success is likely to occur. Once that happens, those who are making money seek to continue making money. And presto, the dreaded “cookie cutter” effect kicks in.

Nevertheless, the RITA is the most prestigious, most coveted award in genre fiction. Like the Oscars, the RITA represents the consensus of one’s peers. It bestows upon its recipient a heady illusion: you, gentle author, have written the best book of its kind among a huge field of contenders.

Have you? Have you really? Maybe. In the final analysis, who cares? You certainly wrote a good book. And now you have a wicked cool golden statuette to prove it.

But I would like to say, to the authors I am not allowed to contact — the ones whose books I am judging this year — you will probably not receive a nomination. At least two of you wrote fantastic books. I loved them. But I disqualified them.

And here is where the RITAs and the Oscars painfully diverge. The RITAs are intended to recognize romance novels. That’s the whole purpose of their existence. But they have become such coveted objects that lately — for the past two years, maybe longer — they attract authors who are not writing romance. I envy the Academy judges, who know, at a minimum, that they are judging a movie. We RITA judges are wrestling with the very definition of the art form.

The heroine of Book A has a boyfriend. This does not make Book A a romance.

The couple at the center of Book B face terrible dangers together. They seem quite devoted to each other, but the book is about facing terrible dangers, not the growth of a relationship. Book B is not a romance.

You’re killing me, people. Either stop writing great books that are not romances, or stop entering them in the RITA contest, I beg of you. Out there, somewhere, are romance authors whose books failed to get through the door because yours arrived first.

But thanks for the terrific reads.

Posted in Other Stuff

Happy New Year!

It’s still January, right? I’m not too late? :whew: Squeaked that one under the wire.

I love this time of year. The daffodils are ready to pop, the sun is lighting up all the fresh-rinsed green of winter, and even the trees are stretching, yawning, and getting to work on flower buds and leaves. It’s a good time to be mapping out a book. Like the world outside my sun room, I’m bursting with secrets about to unfurl. Even I don’t know what they are yet. I just know they’re gathering, swelling, and jostling for position … the same process I imagine happening in the plum tree in my front yard.

Meanwhile, I received a package of books to judge for the RITA contest. So while my next book is pushing itself to the surface of my brain, I get to nibble the fruit of other author brains.

Which is a lot less icky than I just made it sound.

Posted in Books, Other Stuff, Publishing, Reading, Writing

The Next Big Thing

I’ve been “tagged” in something called (I believe) a “blog hop.” I’m supposed to answer a few questions about the book I am currently working on, then “tag” the next author — who will post her answers to the same questions next Wednesday and tag someone else. And so on. It’s rather like the white elephant game many of you are playing at your office Christmas party, only without the gifts. Or the option to swap your white elephant with someone else’s if you get something you don’t want. Or the ability to sneak out and go home, or at least check your Facebook page, while everyone else is preoccupied. Or —

Okay, it’s nothing like the white elephant game. Forget it.

Anyway, these are the questions … and my answers.

What is the working title of your book?

It will be a two-word title and the last word will be “Cool.” The first book in the series is WICKED COOL. The second book is SCARY COOL. So this book, the third one, will be, um, “[something] Cool.” The “cools” I am toying with at the moment are WAY COOL, TOO COOL, and WAY PAST COOL. Oh, wait, that’s three words. But it fits better than the others. On the other hand, it’s kind of lame. What about HALF-PAST COOL? Nah, that stinks. Maybe I’ll just call the book BITE ME. Ha, ha! No, I’m not serious. For one thing, somebody’s probably already snagged that title for a vampire book. Hmm. So what is the working title of my book? Let’s go with TOO COOL. For now.   

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Actually, I don’t have “an” idea for the book at this stage. I have a bunch of ideas, and am choosing which to use and which to toss. Then I have to comb through the ideas I’m keeping and decide which are central and which are secondary. Then I must place them in order of what happens when. Right now, I don’t know what happens in the book. I can’t hazard even a guess as to what the book is about. Frankly, I have no business answering any questions about this book yet and I can’t believe I agreed to do this blog hop.

What genre does your book fall under?

Finally, an easy question! Thank you. Young adult paranormal romance.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I shall urge the director to cast whichever actors do the best job at the auditions.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“A young man obsessed with death falls for an old woman obsessed with life.” Oh, sorry, that’s Harold & Maude. Crap. Guess I don’t have a synopsis yet.

Will your book be published, self-published or represented by an agency?

Yes.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I haven’t written a single word of it yet. But so far? Two months. And I only wish I were kidding.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It reminds me a lot of WICKED COOL and SCARY COOL.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

The reviewers of SCARY COOL. So far, every reviewer has given it five stars. And every last one of ‘em seems to expect a “next book in the series.” It’s hard to withstand that sort of pressure, folks.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

If I knew the answer to that, believe me, I would tell you. You and everyone else in the English-speaking world.

Now for the good part: the tag for next week’s edition of  “The Next Big Thing!” I proudly refer you to Kate Rothwell, who also writes as Summer Devon. Her blog is here, and it’s great fun to read. So are some of her books. I can’t say ALL of her books, because I haven’t read them all — yet. She’s awfully prolific. And by “awfully” I mean I am in awe of her. So “awfully” in the nicest possible sense of the word.

Posted in Books, Publishing, Reading, Writing

Back-Burner Books

It’s definitely different to be an “indie” author. When I finish a book I must choose what to work on next. Choose! What a concept.

Perhaps that doesn’t sound momentous to most people, but trust me, it’s momentous. There is no one in New York telling me that I must deliver, say, a 75,000-word romance set in Regency England by such-and-such a date.  It’s liberating, naturally, but it’s also unsettling to find myself drifting, directionless — and having to make decisions that will affect the next couple of years of my life without the input of a team of interested experts.

Like most authors, I have a number of books knocking around in my brain, clamoring to be written. There’s Book 3 of my unfinished “star” trilogy, for example. Also a sweeping historical saga with lots of “sturm & drang” that my agent had me put together years ago— back in the days when we were trying to move me into, well, sweeping historical sagas with lots of sturm & drang. There’s a Christmas Regency that could be lots of fun, featuring two characters I love so much that I want to spread them out over four books and let everybody around them fall in love and marry off, one after the other, until FINALLY Gavin and Felicity get their happy ending in book 4. There’s at least one novella, which I’m drawn to as possibly easier to finish quickly and get out there. And then there’s the third book in my YA paranormal series, The Spellspinners.

So how to choose?

To my (mild) surprise, I find that a lot of my considerations are the same ones that a publisher would have. For example: Which, of all the possible books I could write, is the one most likely to find an audience? The difficulty with putting this consideration at the top of the list, of course, is that the question is unanswerable. Nobody knows what will sell. And the fact that publishers pretend to know, when in fact their guesses are wrong more often than they are right, has driven authors nuts for decades. So it’s ironic, to say the least, that I find this particular question pressing on me so—now that my fate is in my own hands!

I would love to write a Regency again. What’s stopping me? That darn YA series I foolishly started. Because it’s contemporary. Since the Regencies are set in the past (duh), they can be written any time. A book set in the here & now must be written in the here & now. Otherwise you end up with a Sue Grafton problem. She’s the brilliant author of those Kinsey Millhone “alphabet” mysteries, which started out contemporary but have gradually slid into the past … since Sue can’t write as quickly as Kinsey’s adventures happen. Now she’s stuck writing mysteries set in the 1980’s, and it’s not the 1980’s anymore, and it’s more and more difficult to remember exactly how life really was in the 1980’s (what was playing on the radio that year? Did everybody have a microwave oven or not? etc.). Sue Grafton’s writing historicals now, and I don’t think she intended that when she started out.

I had hoped that Scary Cool would be the end of the series, or at least this portion of the series, but alas, all the reviews seem to be expecting another book. Okay, I guess I did leave a few balls in the air at the end of Scary Cool. So Book 3 must be written. And it must be written next. Leaving all my Regencies still simmering away on the back burner. :sigh:

Fortunately, these Spellspinner books are a lot of fun to write.

Posted in Books, Other Stuff, Reading, Writing

The Natural-Born Writer (and other myths)

Saw this via a post on Patrick Ross’s blog: Want to be a writer? Have a literary parent – Science – News – The Independent. Apparently some researchers in Britain have unearthed, through a complicated study, evidence of a “writing gene.” And they support their theory by noting the existence of “writing families” — the Bronte sisters, for example.

I think I agree with Stephen King. Yes, writers have a gift. If you don’t have it to begin with, no amount of training or education can give it to you. In that sense, writers are born, not made. But a gift for writing is not a particularly unusual gift. Lots of people have the knack. So what turns a possible-writer into a writer?

The indispensable trait in a writer is that you begin as a reader — a voracious reader. I have a strong suspicion that “writing families” are, in fact, reading families. Clearly, if there are writers in the family — and especially if the writers happen to be your parents — you are going to grow up in a household where books are revered, reading is taken for granted as a primary source of information and entertainment, and any writing you attempt is both encouraged and intelligently critiqued. The “writing seed” will fall on fertile soil.

I did not discover until several decades into my life that there are people — indeed, entire families — who frown on reading as a waste of time, call magazines and catalogs “books” (evidently discerning no difference between TV Guide and War and Peace), and equate a love of literature with snobbery. These people have a point — although it took me years to see it. I have spent a large portion of my life oblivious to my surroundings, for example. Would my childhood have been better spent in the “real” world – doing chores and riding bicycles, for example, instead of sitting motionless with my nose in the Chronicles of Narnia or Girl of the Limberlost? Because it wasn’t all great literature that kept me from my chores, you know. Sometimes it was Trixie Belden and Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. When you come from a family where reading is sacrosanct, whatever you are reading is, ipso facto, more important than fresh air, exercise or an uncluttered closet.

I’m guessing that Charlotte Bronte was excused from embroidery and piano lessons when she was writing or reading. I bet the Waughs lived in a dusty house and ate a lot of sandwiches. Mark my words, that “creativity gene” theory is going to be debunked. It ain’t nature — at least, not the lion’s share of it. It’s nurture!