Friday, August 13, 2010

Win A "Come To The Dark Side, We Have Cookies" T-shirt!

You've signed up for my newsletter, right?

Because if you have, you're already eligible to win one of these cool t-shirts, the first of which I'm giving away on Sunday, August 15th (winner's choice of M or L).

What? You say you're not signed up for my newsletter, which I only send out 3 or 4 times a year, merely to keep readers informed of new releases, signings and appearances (with subscriber drawings for signed Advance Reader Copies, some Halloween madness, and other cool stuff thrown in)? 

Geez. Have you been living under a rock or something?

Anyway, if you want this cool t-shirt (and why wouldn't you?), or any of the fascinating, scintillating information listed above, or just want a chance to win stuff related to my books year round, go ahead and

I'll be giving away FOUR of these shirts over the next 6 months, the details which you can read about on my Contest Page (if you're so inclined), or just click the green button above and be done with it (if you're not).

Resistance is futile.  You will be assimilated.  The dark side awaits...

Good luck, and have a ghoulishly great Friday the 13th!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

From "Writer" to "Author": the FAQ's of My Writing Career

While I was in Orlando for the recent RWA conference, I did an interview with a reporter from local newspaper, the West Orange County Times.  It reinforced what I already knew, which is that people are often more interested in the story BEHIND how a writer becomes an author, and how we, as individuals, go about our process. So, just in case you're totally bored and have nothing to do this afternoon :), here's a list of the questions I get asked most frequently, and how I answer them:

How did you get started in the publishing business?

I decided back in 2001 that if I was truly going to succeed as a novelist, I needed to educate myself about the industry. I got on the Internet and discovered Romance Writers of America—they were having a conference in New Orleans that year, and it seemed like the perfect place to start. (The Garden District, the Cajun cuisine, Jackson Square… all of it dear to this Southern girl’s heart.) So, not knowing a soul, not knowing a query from a question mark, a synopsis from a synonym or “category” from cat food :), I registered, got on a plane and went to every workshop I possibly could, soaking it all up like a sponge.

I’ll be honest with you—it was baffling. It was overwhelming. It was more scary than the tour I took one afternoon of the local cemeteries and voodoo shops! :) So much to learn, so much to sift through. But it was also inspiring – I met so many women who were excited and enthused and interested in what they were doing. I remember seeing all the women in their beautiful dresses heading toward the RITA and Golden Heart Awards ceremony, and thinking how very special it must feel to be nominated for an award like that. It was truly a dream come true to be one of those women seven years later!

Lest you think I stopped there, forget it - that was just where the journey began.  I spent the next five years honing my craft, learning the hard way all the things I didn't know by sweating my way through four (as still unpublished) manuscripts, entering writing contests and learning from the feedback, submitting proposals to agents and editors and getting rejected, and in short, immersing myself in the CRAFT of writing bigger and better books.  Publishing isn't for the faint of heart, but if you're a writer, you write, you take your lumps and your disappointments, and then you write some more.

Any surprises? Biggest challenge so far?

I’d have to say that the biggest surprise for me was learning how little control an author has over the actual “marketing” of their book once it’s been sold. The cover, the title, the release date, the back cover copy—all the things that you envision as you’re writing it become subject to the decisions made by your publisher and their team of experts. My publisher, Avon HarperCollins, has been absolutely wonderful about allowing me input in all those areas, but the ultimate decisions are always up to them.

The biggest challenge? I’d say coming to the realization that once you’ve finished that book, you really need to get busy on the next one! We focus so hard on getting published—I think in order to truly succeed, you have to realize that as an author, your job is never really done. The book may be done, but your job as a storyteller isn’t. There are people out there who are clamoring for more stories!

What is the best part of being a novelist?

You mean besides hanging out with Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp? Fielding movie offers? Dodging the paparazzi? :-D The best part of being a novelist (besides making my own schedule and making up stories like the fairy tale above), is knowing that there are people out there who are reading and enjoying my work. The emails I get from readers, the fun I have knowing I’ve made people laugh and taken them out of their daily routine, if only for a little while, is by far the best part for me.

What’s the average day in the writer’s life look like for you? Are you scheduled and organized or are you more the “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” type?

I’m an “early-to-bed-early-to-rise” type who finds herself much more creative and productive in the morning than in the afternoon. I don’t have a set schedule, but after breakfast with my husband, I take a power walk with the dog and then sit down to work at my desk. I take a short break for lunch (usually reading while I eat), and then I’m back to work. I’m still there at 5:00, but I have a harder time focusing in the late afternoon, so lots of times I find myself blog surfing, answering emails or shopping online by then. (Don’t tell my editor!)

What are your inspirations for your stories? Any tips and tricks for someone who is stuck?

I get inspired by great settings or quirky things and/or people. I’m a big believer in the “real life is stranger than fiction” example. I find music is a great way to get my mind going, but I absolutely can’t have music playing while I write—I need quiet for that. Sometimes, to get the creative juices flowing, I do a very small collage at the start of each book, with pictures and phrases that represent what I’m “going for” in that particular story. I keep it by my monitor until the manuscript is finished.

Have you had a mentor, critique group or teacher that has helped you get where you are today? Have you been a mentor to someone else?

I’ve never had a mentor, but I’ve had a couple of really wonderful authors who encouraged me along the way, particularly NYT best-selling romantic suspense author Mariah Stewart. We were total strangers when we met at a conference in NJ, but she’d read my work in a contest. She took the time to sit down and give me some excellent career advice, which led (by a bit of a roundabout route) to me signing with my agent. I strongly believe that having a great literary agent is a necessity in this business.

The amazingly intelligent Madeline Hunter also took the time to do an in-depth written critique of one of my manuscripts, followed by a one-on-one career planning session when we happened to meet in person at a conference.  Her encouragement that I actually had the ability to succeed as a writer was key to me pushing forward until it became a reality.

As for critique partners, I've had some wonderful people who read my earlier work, and helped me make it better.  Since my editor is now the ultimate “critiquer” of my work, I don't have a "partner" per se, but I do have a dear friend I consider my "beta reader".  No scene by scene critiques - she'll read the finished novel and tell me if she sees any areas of weakness in the overall product. I’ve tried to “pay it forward” by acting as judge in writing contests, and try to be as encouraging and informative as possible to anyone who’s interested in writing.

What did it mean to you to be nominated for two different RITA awards? How did you feel when you got the call? And what do you think the RITA means for the romance novel genre?

Getting that phone call was one of the most exciting moments of my life—getting a second call fifteen minutes later was indescribable! I actually thought there’d been a mistake, and they’d notified me twice in error! It wasn’t until the very nice lady from RWA explained to me calmly that I’d finaled in two different categories (Best First Book and Best Paranormal Romance), that it sunk in. (Well, actually, it took another few minutes after I’d hung up to sink in… I think I was numb at that point!)

The RITA is the romance writing equivalent of the Oscar for actors, mainly because your work is judged and nominated by an anonymous jury of your peers.  Winning the RITA for Best First Book was incredibly humbling - a lot of good books come out every year, but somehow a book with a slightly scary cover and the odd title of DEAD GIRLS ARE EASY managed to bring home the romance gold.  I'm grateful every day for the experience, and for the chance to share my stories with readers.

Bottom line, I love being a writer.  It's the greatest job on earth.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The 2010 Romance Writers of America Conference, or ..... "Why Are All These Women Smiling?"

This time last week I was packing for the biggest annual event in the romance writing industry, the 30th Romance Writers of America conference. Over 2000 women in attendance, members of a thriving organization of over 11,000 strong, talented women who write, or aspire to write, novels about true love and other disasters. :)

This year, the conference was held at the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, FL. People complained about hot, painful reality of Florida in July, but the heat didn't bother me a bit; I never set foot outside until after dark! 

I really enjoyed laughing with old friends (the picture above is of some of my oldest and dearest pals from Writers At Play) and making new ones, like the uber-cool Juliana Stone (far left) and the amazingly awesome and energetic Joss Ware (far right).  Jules, Joss, Pam Palmer, Jocelynn Drake and I have joined collective paranormal/urban fantasy forces with like-minded authors from Avon, HarperTeen, William Morris and Eos, and formed a group blog and Facebook page called "The Supernatural Underground: Books That Go Bump In the Night".  If you like romantic reading material that includes vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, dragons, faeries, or the occasional post-apocalyptic hook-up, you should totally check us out.  :-) I'll be giving away a variety of hot and steamy paranormal reads autographed personally by these cool chicks in the week ahead!

At 5:30, we headed for the RWA Literacy booksigning, which was HUGE.  (Imagine a big, noisy room full of a thousand booklovers--readers, booksellers, fans, tourists--and over 500 authors, all talking at once.)  The proceeds from the book sales during that event are donated to literacy programs all over the country, designed to introduce others to the joy of reading. Over $55,000 was raised over the next two hours: a lot of books were signed, a lot of pictures were taken and a lot of friends were made!

The next day few days went by in a blur: a meeting with my agent, the lovely Christina Hogrebe; co-presenting a panel on the writing and cross-genre marketing of Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy/Science Fiction Fantasy novels; discussing career plans and market trends with my writing friends; a publisher Open House signing where I literally signed and gave away 200 books; a publisher cocktail party at Epcot's Living Seas (which was awesome!); attended workshops on Bookseller Buying Habits with head buyers from Borders, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, as well as a Career Planning workshop headed by three of the industry's top literary agents.

To wrap it all up, I got to enjoy the incredible achievement of dear friend Beth Andrews, who walked away from the RITA award ceremony with her very own golden lady in the Series Contemporary category for her novel, A NOT-SO-PERFECT PAST, and the stellar achievements of Angi Morgan, who won a Golden Heart award for her soon to be published, SEE JANE RUN.  My friends and I celebrated into the night, taking pictures of us all glammed up, and knowing that as soon as we went to bed, our jam-packed fun would all be over.  We made sure to get our annual "leg shot", which pretty much guarantees writing success in the year to come (Hey, don't knock the tradition - it really seems to be paying off for me and my friends!).

I miss them already, and after a few good, solid nights worth of sleep, I'd be ready to do it all again!