Springing, Flinging

The plan was that I’d take the train up to Chicago on Thursday night, be picked up by Robyn, stay the night with her, and then we’d drive up to the hotel Friday morning in time for her to make the Tea at 9:30.

That was the plan. One train/farm equipment collision later, I found myself spending several hours in the station waiting as trains were shuffled back and forth and buses were ordered as replacements. Those weren’t immediately forthcoming, however, and I eventually opted to ensure I got some sleep, and an extra night with the kittehs, and instead drove myself up Friday.

For our first workshop, we went to “Honing a Voice that Sells,” from Nicole Resciniti, Julie Ann Walker, and Kate Meader. Many instructive (and hilarious) examples, and some handouts I’ll be hanging on to for revision time. That was followed by Sarah Wendell’s presentation on obtaining and reacting (or not!) to reviews, during which Robyn and I stared at her adoringly…I mean, absorbed lots of useful information.

After, we lingered to say hi, because we do not learn our lesson ever about appropriate public behavior, and the following things happened:

  • We told Sarah that, due to the review on her site (and Carla Cassidy’s response to it), Pregnesia is now in the University of Illinois library.
  • I told Sarah that the first romance novel I ever bought was due to a review on her site, and it just so happened that Carrie Lofty was also standing right there, so she hid behind Lorelie Brown (the two of them, of course, combine to make Katie Porter, the Voltron of erotic romance) while I burbled about Meg’s blindness and her reaction to touch and my anxiety issues and general oversharing.

Keynote #1! Lauren Dane! I am going to now read all her books!

And then dinner, agent and editor panels, and sleeping. We were too fried even for Hannibal, which is very fried indeed. Because we love Hannibal ever so much.

We also slept in a bit Saturday morning and missed the first workshop block in favor of wandering about and chatting with Sasha Devlin and Cora Cade in the hallways. As you do.

I helped Robyn carry things down for the book signing, then lurked in the lobby until her parents showed up. Pretty much the first thing she had me do was take our copies of EIKAL over to Sarah Wendell to be signed, and introduce her parents. I not at all smoothly passed Sarah promo for Poison in the Blood (she petted the cover image, because Kanaxa is amazing) and mentioned that Robyn also has a f/f/m space opera menage out. Sarah was a little taken aback that we were discussing menages in front of Robyn’s parents, but they assured her that they had read everything and were still very proud.

After reporting back, Robyn gave me chocolate and Nightfall promo to pass to Sarah, which she tweeted. Success! I also picked up a print copy of The Governess Affair, because Courtney Milan is one of those writers who I don’t mind buying twice. And some Katie Porter for Robyn, and some for me. We’ll swap at some point, because we do that.

I got a bit of writing done while Robyn pitched, and then there was lunch and Mary Balogh. I’ve read a few of her books, all of which I’ve enjoyed, and could listen to her talk all day.

Post-lunch, we had a session on building a hybrid career, followed by Katie Porter’s session, which was informative and involved lots of props. We also went to Lauren Dane’s session on sex scenes which, if I didn’t want to read all her books after her address, I would have after that.

And then we napped.

I wore a piece that I commissioned from Antika Nueva to dinner, and we accosted Sarah Wendell again, because we are chronically incapable of accosting her, and she tweeted the shiny and I passed out business cards.

Dinner. I’m not really sure what to say about dinner. There was, you see, a comedian this year. Now, I am not devoid of humor, and I’m certainly not perfect when it comes to overcoming societal conditioning. And people can find funny whatever it is that they find funny. These things, however, I don’t find funny:

  • Women: they’re emotional and irrational!
  • Men: they’re emotionally stunted and stupid!
  • Couples: they’re all heterosexual binaries!

I especially don’t find them funny when they’re directed at a roomful of women whose careers are devoted to producing in a genre that still faces a huge number of misconceptions and animus. The whole interlude was a sour note of “Oh yes, there’s the patriarchy” in an otherwise enjoyable weekend.

Fortunately, we then had Kristan Higgins, who had visual aids for her keynote address and also made me cry. Followed by some excellent bar time with Robyn and Sasha, which always makes everything better.

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(Just Like) Starting Over

The last time I updated, it was Spring Fling. As Spring Fling comes every two years, and the next Spring Fling is this weekend…it’s been a while.

Long enough that I finally finished the book that I’m now calling Unraveling the Dark, started to send it out, and then decided that the entire book was wrong and needed to be ripped to pieces and rewritten. In particular, I scrapped the original setting, going from urban fantasy-ish to secondary world. This meant worldbuilding from scratch, which is one of my favorite things to do, and also reworking logistics, relationships, and cutting out a number of my favorite lines. (Godspeed, hex map jokes. I’ll never forget you.)

The rewrite was rather terrifying to even contemplate, as it involved throwing out some pieces that I’d been working on for over a decade. Early on in the process, however, I was able to discuss it with Tiffany Reisz at the 2013 RAGT. She was of the opinion that setting fire to tens of thousands of words was a fine and proper thing for any writer to do, and who am I to argue with her?

This entire process was slowed somewhat by a large increase in workload at the (now-former) day job, as well as a minor diversion over the summer when I wrote 20,000 words in a new joint project with Robyn.

But I now have a world, I have a full outline, and I’m almost through a review of the 30,000 words that I’ve already completed. Onward!

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Spring Fling 2012

So no shit, there we were…

(Robyn tells me I have to begin a post with a hook, but I managed to pick up a cold somewhere along the way and I’m vaguely delirious, so that’s the best you get.)

Robyn, Victoria, and I drove up Thursday night. We stayed with Robyn’s parents (who are most awesome) and drove to the hotel late in the morning. Sadly, we missed Carrie Lofty’s pitch workshop, but we were all a bit wiped. Which is not the ideal way to start a convention.

It also wasn’t ideal that the first workshop I went to was Tiffany Reisz discussing the basics of erotica, simply because it threatened to overshadow the rest of the conference. The laughter was loud enough to disturb workshops in other rooms, and I have a page of notes filled with exclamations, all caps, and swearing. Useful stuff, too, though you’ll forgive me if I don’t go into too much detail. Robyn really missed out, which I made sure she knew. In great detail. (There may have been a flurry of tweets.)

The other workshops were also excellent, which shouldn’t be shocking as the next one we went to was Courtney Milan’s presentation on self-publishing. This involved less filth, but even more in the way of frantic note-taking. I’m not sure that self-publishing is a route that I’ll want to take, but I feel like I have a much firmer grasp on how to begin thinking about it.

The welcome keynote, by Simone Elkeles, was amazingly funny. I haven’t read any of her work—yet—but Victoria assured us that her writing voice is very close to her speaking voice, which bodes well. The agent and editor panels following dinner were interesting and illuminating, not only for the actual content, but also for the differences in tone. To me, at least, the agents as a whole seemed a little more pessimistic and eager to assure the audience that they (the agents) are still an important part of publishing. Which I don’t doubt, but important is not necessarily the same as vital. As a group, the editors were more optimistic about the future for all genres and the changing facets of the industry.

The second day, we started out with Dianna Love, who had many fascinating things to say, but Robyn and I were most interested in her thoughts on collaborating with Sherrilyn Kenyon. In fact, we were so inspired by them that we skipped out on the next session entirely to sit in the atrium and work on notes for our impending joint project. (This got us scolded by Sasha Devlin, who informed us that no work is to take place during conferences. She threatened dire punishment if we attempted to work or sleep during the Lori Foster RAGT.)

We tore ourselves away from the WriteWay file long enough to go to Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s workshop on growing plot from character, and I’m very glad we did, first because she is hilarious, and second because she had tons of good material and advice, and third because did I mention the hilarity?

Dianna Love was the speaker at lunch, and I’m sure it’s boring to read that each keynote speaker was inspiring, funny, and awesome in different ways that I’m not coherent enough to articulate, but you’ll just have to deal because it’s true.

I went to the booksigning after, wading through Robyn’s hordes of fans (many of the family and friends variety, but hey, fans are fans) and managed to not embarrass myself too badly while in close proximity to Carrie Lofty, Courtney Milan (“I READ YOUR SERIES IN A WEEK SO MUCH WIN” is not exactly what I said but fairly close), and Tiffany Reisz. The last lady mentioned did not help me to quash my well-documented tendencies to lose my mind in the presence of awesome. There may have been bouncing involved. I mean, really:

OMGOMGOMG

The final session we went to was Sheri Lewis Wolh’s presentation on using lessons from true crime to inform and enrich one’s fiction. Her stories—and some of those from the audience—were somewhat terrifying, in a potentially useful way.

And then we had dinner, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips gave her keynote, and really now I’m getting bored with the gushing over the keynote speakers. She was fabulous and I couldn’t do her justice.

We stayed up way too late and there may have been drinking involved. All in all, a most excellent conference that has left me feeling inspired and determined to move forward with my writing. As soon as I recover.

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NaNo wrapup

My temptation is to say that I failed NaNoWriMo, but really, what I did was not win. November was filled with a rather interesting combination of day-job overtime and personal-life wackiness, so I am pleased with the 29k or so that I did write. Considering how long it usually takes me to get anything done, this is a decent number.

I wrote within WriteWayPro, and I think I will continue to do so. I enjoy having all of my notes in one place, and it was fairly easy to shuffle scenes around as needed. The only thing that made doing NaNo within it a little tricky is that there’s not an easy way to get a full book word count (or if there is and I simply missed it, feel free to tell me!). I wound up making a spreadsheet to track my number of words in each scene and running total, along with the daily goals. This made for a bit of excessive alt-tabbing when I started doing things like tracking every hundred words.

That 29k got me through two acts. They’re fairly rough, and I definitely know things to fix in revisions, but I managed to stick to my outline and learned a lot about my characters in the meantime. They’ve been a bit difficult to get to know completely, but we’re getting there, and I look forward to finishing this project…hopefully sooner rather than later.

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Looking forward

Summer was hard, both in my writing life and day job. But I as noted before I fell off the blogging wagon, change is inevitable. While the day job situation is not quite resolved, I finished out the season with finally, actually, really and truly finishing a novel. Well, I got it into shape enough to send it out to beta readers, which is further than I’ve taken anything else. The plan for December is to polish based on their comments, and start sending it out late this year and early next.

Which leaves, of course, November free to start on a new project. How convenient!

So I am doing NaNoWriMo this year. This will be my third attempt in five years, and the first time I think I have a fair shot of winning. I’ve been playing around in WriteWayPro, and I have a plot–with acts and chapters and scenes, no less. This project will be a direct sequel to the one that’s in beta, and while it will still be in the same urban mythology setting, it will involve many more explosions and fight scenes.

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Sekhmet

With the spring and warmer temperatures comes the annual invasion of scouting ants and confused moths. Unlike years past, this spring I have an ally against the horde: my overgrown housekitten, Dexter. Dext hasn’t had to fend for himself since last fall, but he’s kept his pouncing instincts honed on shoelaces and hair ties. He’s attempted to rain down furious vengeance upon the ants, though his version involves tentative batting, concerted batting, and running away in confusion. Still, the instincts are there—the shared impulses that allow his cousins to bring down gazelles.

The solstice is this week, so it made sense to look at another solar deity. Though after the solstice, those of us in the northern hemisphere will have decreasing amounts of light, we’re heading into the height of summer. Here in the Midwest, we have it relatively easy, though there are still deaths from people who are incautious or don’t
have access to precious a/c. Just a few minutes on Masada in August is enough to make you a bit wary of the sun, forever—it wants to break you down, burn you can crack you until you run red with blood. Like a hunter, tireless.

I have a weakness for deities who don’t fit into the “standard” dualities, with the masculine types relegated to the sun and warfare, and the feminine to the moon and nurturing pursuits. And this lady—for I wouldn’t dream of calling her anything but—is glorious in her leonine fury, delighting in the simplicity of vengeance and slaughter.

But she’s a healer, too, and I think that’s important to remember. Healing can be more painful than the wounds it knits together, nasty and brutal. If there was a goddess of ripping off band-aids, she might look something like this: she will kill you and heal you, or heal you and kill you, whether you ask her to or not. Best to accept it, and thank her nicely, remembering that the sun will always set, eventually.

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Dionysus

My introduction to him came not through mythological sources, but in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. (Fantasia doesn’t count; that’s totally Silenus on the donkey-unicorn, as anyone who read Lewis would know.) It’s a very benign version of him, as is fitting for a children’s book, and he is presented as the bringer of rampaging nature and picnics. I do love a good picnic, but as one would imagine, my view of Dionysus got a bit more nuanced as I read further.

And underneath the ivy and fun times is a heck a lot of dismemberment involving both people who displease him and those who are associated with him. Pentheus, Lycurgus, Orpheus, the daughters of Kadmos, random pirates, and Dionysus himself—I’m sure there’s more. Alcohol brings healing and madness, equally. In either case, it brings a transformation, just as a base liquid is changed by happy little yeasts into alcohol.

In any of these transformations, though, there’s a point of in-between: When the honey isn’t quite yet mead, when the blasphemer isn’t quite yet mad, and when the dismembered isn’t quite yet dead. It’s in those moments that I see Dionysus the most. The moments when one state is lost and another is not yet obtained, the moments when everything is held in potential.

And, of course, moments like last night, when I turn on the TV, see people try to make romance novel cakes, and end up wishing I had wine on hand.

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Aphrodite

It can’t be easy to have no parents—no father but an act of violence, no mother but the sea. Gods don’t have much in the way of childhoods, I guess, but I wonder a little about the ones who just appeared, fully formed, like Aphrodite after Uranus was castrated and the remnants tossed into the ocean. What must it be like to just appear, with full powers and awareness, out of nothing, with no guidance beyond the rolling waves?

So love was born out of blood and water—love, not fidelity. And she certainly did spread love wherever she went—love, not happiness. Considering her myriad lovers and infidelities, and the havoc she inspires in others, it might be tempting to think of Aphrodite as the goddess of lust, but I don’t think it’s that simple. To label love as lust is dismissive of the power of both, diminishing bodies, emotions, and the links between the two.

Every week, nearly, it feels like some new person decides to troll for pageviews by equating romance novels with porn (always stating that there’s something inherently wrong with both, of course), saying that romance novels encourage unrealistic expectations (because healthy relationships are a bad thing), or just dismissing romance on general principle (hey, it’s mostly read by women, and anything women like is trivial by definition).

I spent the past weekend at the Lori Foster Reader/Author Get Together, and there is nothing more inspiring than spending time with romance enthusiasts. Heat levels can vary, and stories can end in HEAs or HFNs, but some things are in common: taking conflict and turning it into something beautiful and whole, and dances on the waves.

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Hades

Hades got the bad end of the deal. He was the eldest of the three
brothers, but wound up hanging up with the dead instead of ruling over
the sea (Poseidon) or sky (Zeus). It’s not uncommon for the eldest to
get shafted, of course—when people or events happen in threes, it’s
the third that’s important. And Hades certainly suits the role (or the
role suits him), but isn’t that always the way? Chipper embodiments of
death aren’t exactly traditional.

Whether the role changed his personality or he simply grew into it,
Hades was always a little difficult for me to pin down. He looked
after all the dead, not just the unhappy or punished ones—Elysium and
Tartarus. He chose for his wife a goddess of vegetation and chained
her with fruit. And, while Poseidon and Zeus were champions at it,
Hades also did his share of extra-marital nymph chasing. He even has a
kid or two, which is just wacky for a god of the dead.

Which is why, when I write Hades, he’s not grim and dour—or not only
those, but also kind, protective, and a tiny bit of a goof. It just
feels right for me; we carry our dead with us, after all, the good and
the bad. Why should the god of death be a dead thing, himself?

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Apollo

The year can be divided into eights, using the solstices, equinoxes, and the four holidays (Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and the one I can never spell). Beltane was yesterday, of course, and from now until the summer solstice is the peak of increasing daylight—for the northern hemisphere, at least. I figured it would be appropriate to go with a solar deity this week.

Because I’ve been focused on Greek gods so far, that means it’s time to take a look at Apollo. Unfortunately, like Zeus, Apollo is a deity for whom I never had much affinity. Early on, I resented how he seemed like such a perfect golden boy of a god, but if you read the stories, he’s not any better behaved than the rest of the brawling, promiscuous bunch. How can you take a god of light and truth and healing seriously when half the time he’s off chasing another random nymph who gets turned into a bush rather than endure him?

One of the ways I reconcile the two sides of him is to look at the story of Oedipus. Oedipus, of course, has his life dictated by a truth, his life constrained by it, and his life ruined by it. The truth is rarely nice, it is rarely pretty, and it can hurt if you fight too much against it. It’s not an accident that Oedipus saw too much and put out his eyes.

I made Apollo one of the major antagonists in my WIP, even though he never appears in person. He is simply too much, too inflexible, for me to cast him differently. Though perhaps I should in a future project, just to keep myself flexible.

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