Friday, December 30, 2011

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Student

I dropped out of my writers' critique group; last week's holiday party was my last meeting with them.

I'm reflecting on this as 2011 closes because it's symbolic of what I suspect will be a number of changes, some exciting and some just sad, that come with the new year.

In the case of the writers' critique group, it seemed pretty obvious to me that it wasn't going to go well if I continued to attend meetings while I was working on my MFA program. And I can see already that my instincts were right. Even doing my homework, reading books about writing, makes me want to rave about what I'm learning to the other writers.

For so many reasons, that would be highly annoying. I'd be lecturing them--which they neither need nor asked for--and I'd be suggesting that I now know something they need to know--which is almost certainly not true.

Of course, I considered the alternative, namely to attend the meetings but not say anything. Ugh. I love these people, but not enough that I could glue my lips together, sit on my hands, and smile like a Sock Monkey for two hours.

So starting next week, working with a critique group will be confined to ten days in January and ten days in July. I'll have a mentor/instructor for the months in-between, someone I'll email pages of my WIP(s) and wait for comments and suggestions.

In other words, I'll be home, working on my own to learn everything I can learn so that my writing improves. Writing is already a solitary occupation; I'm about to make my education as a writer solitary for 11 months of the year.

It's worth it, and I'm seeing that already, even before the course has officially begun. One of my assigned texts is Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. It's about screenwriting, which I don't do, but it's really about what makes stories work. And sure enough, it showed me something that's (possibly) missing from Blackjack & Moonlight. Luckily, I'd submitted an excerpt from B & M for one of my Stonecoast workshops, and luckily that workshop is being run by the instructor who'd assigned Save the Cat! for a presentation she's doing on story structure. So I have hope that she and my fellow students can tell me what I need to do to add the missing element.

It's just that I want to natter on about this now. It's a bit like that boor in The Graduate: "Just one word...Plastics," only in my case the word is "Primal." But I'll spare you the details.

It's going to be a new year, that's for sure. I'll still post here as I think about romances and romance fiction. I'll just try hard not to post hectoring screeds about writing technique.

Because you don't need that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

TBR Challenge - It's Not Wallpaper But It's Still Not to My Taste

Over at AAR, Lynn Spencer posted a great piece on what a shame it is that so many Regency romances don't bother to take place in the Regency period.

Chatsworth House

Coincidentally, my TBR Challenge read for December is A Regency Christmas, a holiday anthology from Signet. It was published in 1989, theoretically the heyday of more historically appropriate regency romance. Apart from the issue of the value of money, which no one seems to get right,* there's enough of the flavor of the Regency period. For example, The Kissing Bough by Patricia Rice has two gentlemen soldiers returning from the Peninsular Wars. Gayle Buck's Old Acquaintances turns on a misunderstanding between the hero and heroine that resulted in her ending their engagement (four years before the story starts) without much discussion. That seems consistent with the lack of contact even engaged couples had back then; at one point Judith tells her erstwhile fiancé that there's been no opportunity to discuss anything: "Whenever we were private, we either fought or you kissed me."

Mistletoe in the wild
[It was at this point in my reading this post aloud to Brit Hub 2.1 that he pointed out how most of our ideas of what Christmas looks like come from the Victorian time. There's a wreath on the door in the cover illustration--a classic Allan Katt scene--and of course that's Victorian. But, to all five authors' credit, none of the Victorian traditions, such as ornaments and trees, show up in this collection.]

Alas, for all their sense of time and place, four of the five stories aren't romantic enough. Hell, one of them--Edith Layton's The Duke's Progress--literally doesn't identify the heroine (!) until the last two pages (!!). Drawn-out misunderstandings, the inconvenience of far too many extra characters (lecherous in one story and larcenous in another), and downright dawdling all add up to slow pacing and a distinct feeling that historical accuracy isn't enough on its own.

Mind you, I didn't need blatant sex. I needed romance. I needed the hero and heroine to meet each other quickly and have a relationship. Admittedly a troubled relationship, but one of interest or intrigue that leads to love. You'd think in a novella, this wouldn't have been hard, but it isn't until the very last story that the reader gets all the angsty goodness and charm of love rekindled.

Mary Balogh's The Star of Bethlehem makes up for the other four stories. It's got its own problems--we're asked to believe that a husband and wife can have marital relations for TWO YEARS and never discover that they love each other (well, maybe that's historically accurate, who knows)--but it's charming and sweet. And very romantic. I can't say much about the plot because I liked its surprising elements for just that reason: they surprised me. Period detail, a lovely romance, and even some surprises? Skip the other five stories, but don't miss this one.

* Here's the Parliamentary white paper on the subject, now updated to 2002. Yes, £1 in 2002 was the equivalent in absolute terms of £8 in 1812, but £1 in 1812 had the same purchasing power as £50 pounds in 2002.

So when the innkeeper decides to charge £2 for each member of a party of 8 stranded in a snowstorm--because, you know, there was a blizzard every single Christmas during the Regency--that would be the equivalent of £800 in 2002 terms. And they didn't all get separate rooms, either. For a night's lodging in a 3-star hotel, maybe, but that seemed a bit extreme for the coaching inn equivalent of a Red Roof Inn, even allowing for the market forces at work with insufficient choice and ultimate demand.

Me? I'd have had the innkeeper charge them two crowns per head--a crown for lodging and another for their meals. That's half as much and it strikes me as exorbitant but not nonsensical.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I, Publisher

This week, Ross and I become publishers.

Thursday, December 8, is the release date for Tara Buckley's first erotic novella, The Realm of You. In it, Tara looks at the ways communication in a marriage can get derailed by assumptions. Oh, and there's lots of kinky sex.

I am not Tara Buckley. To explain how I've come to be Tara's publisher, I have to back up and explain about getting rejected a lot.

In 2010, when my writing actually sucked, I minded the rejections. This year, my writing is pretty good and getting better. More importantly, I'm writing the sort of books I want to read. They just happen not to be the sort of books agents want to flog to editors, or that editors want to publish.

None of that means that there aren't a lot of other people who'd enjoy my books. At least two of my rejections started, "I love [the characters, the set-up, the dialogue, etc.]" and ended with "I just don't think [there's enough conflict, it can succeed in the market, etc.]." I take that to mean that even the odd agent or editor enjoyed my work, but didn't think it could succeed in a tight, competitive industry.

These rejections don't bother me any more. Last summer, I made a deal with Ross: I'd query everyone I could think of. By the end of the year, if I hadn't gotten an agent, we'd self-publish in 2012. I've sent out about 50 queries and, counting the no replies as "no, thank you," I've gotten about 50 rejections. Time to self-publish.

The more we talked about it, the more Ross and I realized this was a good fit. I could do the social media and some of the marketing (as well as write the books--or as we like to call it, "create content") and Ross could do all the formatting necessary for the three platforms: PRC (for Amazon's Kindle), EPUB (for B&N's Nook) and a modified DOC file (for Smashwords, which serves most other devices). Plus, as a former lawyer, I could handle the quasi-legal aspects of starting a business in Pennsylvania while Ross, who has had his own business(es) for decades, knows more about the corporate side of things.

That left two of the traditional roles of publishing to outsource: editing and graphic design. We're probably going to use a freelance editor who used to work for Silhouette for my novels, and we've used Heather C. Paye for our website banner and some cover art.

Which brings me to Tara. Tara Buckley is the pseudonym of a talented writer who wrote a BDSM erotic novella in her "spare" time. I offered to read it, and loved it. Tara was going to self-publish but hesitated because, you know, the whole business with Judy Mays getting slammed by some parents in the school district where Judy teaches English rather demonstrated that outing oneself as an author of erotica isn't always wise.

Harmony Road Press to the rescue. Ross and I offered to publish Tara's novella. That led to another writer thinking this sounded like a good idea, so Christina Thacher's BDSM novella, The Locked Heart, about a young woman whose sex life will never be the same after a chance encounter in an airport hotel bar is due to be released on December 15.

Meanwhile, for various reasons my own writing isn't likely to be ready until late spring 2012. So for a few months, Harmony Road Press is publishing erotica--really well-written erotica. If this takes off, it could be we have to start a different company to publish my legal romances. I mean, they have sex in them, but they could seem like flat beer next to the heady concoctions Tara and Christina have served up.

Just like that, I've gone from worrying about story structure and character development to learning about metadata, frontmatter, and the delicate minuet one performs to market a book without seeming to be shoving it down people's throats. I knew I'd have to learn this stuff when it was my work I was flogging enthusing about, but while it's easier to rave about someone else's stories, it's scarier to feel responsible as the publisher for a book's release.

I'm incredibly lucky to be working with Tara and Christina, who are both busy professional women with full lives and a sense of perspective. (Also a sense of the absurd, a very useful perspective when dealing with a neophyte like me.) Most of all, I'm floored by how gifted my husband is. He's figured out all sorts of tricks and shortcuts to making Harmony Road's books look right. If you like the table of contents or the progress bar at the bottom of a Harmony Road book for the Kindle, for example, that's all Ross.

If you like the books themselves, credit Tara's and Christina's hard work and deft touch with the kink.

And if you find any errors, let me know. We've all worked hard to put out great stories in a professional fashion, but mistakes can still happen.