Notes from a Drama Queen

Breaking the Rules

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I once broke the cardinal rule of romance writing. It wasn’t my fault. Back in the day, it seemed impossible to carry a believable, interesting romance over a number of books. If you followed up a love story you usually had stupid misunderstandings. When I finished a book I wanted my characters to have gone through hell and back, and not let stupid shit push them apart.
So long ago, when I was writing category, Lydia Paglio at Dell asked if I’d be interested in writing three connected action/adventure romances. And I said of course, even though I took a 25% cut in advance, because it sounded like so much fun. I was going to write about three sisters and their cold war adventures (this was mid-1980s). I wrote the first book, a kick-ass book with a literally kick-ass heroine named Maggie Bennett, called ESCAPE OUT OF DARKNESS, and all was well.
Except they liked Maggie so much they decided they wanted her to star in all three books. And her love story was complete – I could see no way to sustain any reasonable tension between Maggie and Mack for two more books.
So at the beginning of book two I did the unthinkable. You know what I’m talking about, though I won’t put it into words in case someone hates spoilers. It happened off the page, and I cried when I did it, but I had to give Maggie motivation for going out and kicking butt. And I needed to bring the devious, bewitching Randall in.
So I did it. In DARKNESS AT DAWN Mack … er … well, you can guess what happened. Maggie went on to save her sisters (they got to be subplots) and discover the truth about the most devastating occurrence in her life. And I always felt guilty but justified. Hey, it wasn’t my fault.
And the happy ending in Book Three justified it all. I really loved Randall — he was such a deliciously wicked character, and he deserved Maggie. I was happy in the end, even if I broke the cardinal rule.
And all was well, until we come to the new renaissance in paranormal/urban fantasy. And lo and behold writers like Jeaniene Frost, Kelley Armstrong, Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs, among others, manage to spin a totally convincing, intense love story through five or six or even more books. And I’m covered with shame.
I took a dive, took the easy way out instead of figuring out a way to make it happen. You gotta understand there were lots and lots of rules back then, most of which I broke on a regular basis (now why does that sound familiar)? Most of them were good rules to break. Wouldn’t you know I’d go and break the one rule I shouldn’t have?
So therein lies my apology in advance. A bunch of my romantic suspense backlist books are available for the Kindle (for the first year) and for everyone the following year, and they’ve put the Maggie Bennetts back out again, if you’re interested. They really are divine.
But be prepared to forgive me my sins. If I had to do it all over again I could make it work. In fact, I think I need to write a series about the same characters that go through three or more books, just to see if I can do it.
I always did love a challenge.

Mrs. Grouchy Pants

Monday, November 07, 2011

In honor of the late, exceedingly grumpy Andy Rooney, I'm going to give in to my inner bitch. She's well-hidden, is Bad Krissie, partly because I had a raging virago of a mother (when she was in her prime) and I hate hate hate anger, in general but in particular directed at me. Nice matters. Kindness matters. I'm gonna really regret doing this.

But fuck it.

Usually when I'm attacked (and trust me, I have been, mostly without reason) I go into mega-polite mode. A NYT author, in fact, possibly my favorite living writer, once lit into me with no provocation in a three screen email. My reply was brief and courteous - her accusations came from her own paranoia and nothing I had done, so I couldn't very well defend myself. Another writer I'd known quite intimately suddenly flipped and sent a public, screaming email to me. My response was just a shocked, "Jesus," and not a "what the fuck is wrong with you, woman?" which is what she deserved. I got publicly skewered by an anonymous agent blogger three weeks in a row, setting off a firestorm (which is clearly why she milked it for three weeks) and instead of responding I let Crusie go after her.

The few times I've let go and actually snapped at someone they've come back with both barrels blazing, and I'm down like a stone. I don't know how to fight, my skin is too thin, I don't want to hurt people.

But in honor of Andy Rooney, here's a one-time foray into bitchiness, and I'm going to flatly ignore any counter-attacks (or treat them with exquisite, brief politeness).

1. I am so fucking sick of the word "trope" that I'm ready to vomit. It got pulled out of the stinking reservoir of academe-speech, and everyone who wants to sound intelligent talking about romance novels uses it, and if I read it one more time I will scream. (Mind you, I come from an academic family so I've got some baggage there). Stop using that word! You can dredge up something more egregious, like enthuse. Misuse all the words you want. Just give a trope a break.

2. I'm tired of male writers swaggering around on the internet praising each other over their perspicacity in publishing via the internet, their condescension in referring to "legacy" publishers, their constant whipping it out and measuring it attitude. It has nothing to do with their talent, only their own delusions of importance. Mind you, I have my own delusions of grandeur, but at least I don't shove it down everyone's throat in my efforts to become poster-boys of the electronic revolution.

3. Everyone loves Janet Reid, an agent who is entertaining on panels and writes a snarky, witty blog. At least this time she's brave enough to sign her fucking name. Enough said. Let's hope she doesn't meet me in a dark alley with my posse of roving android assassins.

4. Social networking. I keep trying to understand tweeting but it's like trigonometry -- it just doesn't compute in my poor little brain. I adore technology, love the internet, enjoy FB and even like blogging when I'm not feeling pressured. But almost all the time I'd rather write. If I didn't feel like I had to do all these things then maybe I'd enjoy them more. But in the end, I'd rather be writing.

5. I'm tired of failure. Of publishers promising one thing and delivering another, or sometimes, nothing at all. I'm sick of going to conferences and meeting so many people who tell me they'd never read my books but they'll have to try (after 37 years of being published). I'm sick of hearing that my books are too dark and full of angst. Grow a pair. I'm sick of thinking each new opportunity is going to make everything all right and then discover I was wrong. Happiness is lowered expectations. I think I need to wipe mine out completely.

On the other hand, 6. I'm tired of whining about how publishers have mis-published me and let me down and screwed me over and blah blah blah. Enough, already. Time for me to grow a pair.

7. I hate hate hate the IRS. They're nice, polite, my own person agent, Chris, is unfailingly helpful. I hate them.

8. I am so sick of being fat. And not pretty. At 63 I should be over it. But American women always wanted to be fairy princesses, and I guess when I'm in my 90's, like my mother, I'll still be feeling sorry for myself over it. There, I said it.

9. I'm secretly pissed that I had to change my name after 35 years as a published writer. The subtext of that is that Anne Stuart's work has been for naught, I'm a failure, time to reinvent myself because all that work didn't matter. And I haven't had a contract as Anne Stuart for more than a year. Mind you, I haven't tried, so I shouldn't complain. But it's as if all the work that I poured my heart and soul into over the years doesn't matter.

10. I'm tired of being what I think everyone wants me to be. I'm tired of trying. Damn, I'm tired.

Tomorrow I'll be in a much better mood. After all, my books have touched many people. I'm in a business with writers like Laura Kinsale, Judith Ivory, Jennifer Crusie, Lani Diane Rich. I come from the tradition of Jane Austen, Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. And there are fabulous writers writing today, like Joanna Bourne (BLACK HAWK is wonderful!), Elizabeth Hoyt (SCANDALOUS DESIRES might be the best book of the year), Eloisa James, Jeaniene Frost, Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Kelley Armstrong, Lisa Kleypas, Teresa Medeiros, Meredith Duran, and so many others ). I belong in that fellowship, and it's a wonderful thing.

But today I'll feel grouchy and weepy until I actually start writing. And then, assuming the words come, everything will brighten, and I won't give a damn. I'll be a fairy princess, and a goddess.

At least, until someone uses the word trope.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

It’s NANO time again. No, not time to play your iPod, though that’s certainly the case as well. It’s National Novel Writing Month, the brainchild of Chris Baty, wherein forty-three gazillion people attempt to write a novel in one month (or at least 50,000 words of it). The rules are simple — sit down and write, averaging about 1800 words a day, every day. You don’t plan, don’t revise, don’t listen to your inner critic, certainly don’t listen to outer critics. I’m not going to even attempt to throw out estimates of how many people want to write a novel someday. Someday is tomorrow.

I managed it last year (and god, I don’t even remember which book I wrote — probably SHAMELESS.) This year Kristina Douglas will jump in my recliner and write the fourth Fallen Angel book, which means I have 24 hours to come up with a semblance of a plot before I jump in. It’s all a huge amount of fun, with write-ins sponsored by bookstores and local libraries and competitive word counts and the like. I’ll be a guest on the Storywonk blog this week when they concentrate on NANO and I’ll be pedal to the metal and nose to the grindstone and body parts applied anywhere useful. Full steam ahead!

In honor of NANO I have begun hauling out the Augean Stables that is my office (I’m the granddaughter of a Classics scholar so I tend to go with the labors of Hercules ). Tossed bag after bag of crap, packed away boxes and boxes of books, found my missing external hard drive. I got it about half done before I collapsed in a weary stupor (Hercules R Not Us) but I’ll work on it today before I pick up my grandson.

Somehow I have to juggle the NANO time, swimming, grandson time, elderly mother time, quilting, and all the other things I either must do or want to do. I need extra energy and a dozen fewer things I want to do. One thing I’ve decided to drop from my daily chores is obsessing on how ON THIN ICE is doing at Amazon. People will find it, sooner or later, and worrying about it is a waste of time. Worrying about when I’m getting my snow tires on is more useful. (Making an appointment, even better).

So, who’s for NANO?