Thursday, January 29, 2009

January Letter - SFA-RWA

It occured to me that someone out there - okay, probably just my brother :) - might be interested in my column for my RWA chapter newsletter, which is one of my (la-la-la!!!) presidential duties. I was just re-reading it and dang, I managed to cheer myself up a bit, which is always nice. Oh and remember, I wrote that with my romance writer hat on...and you know I have a whole closet full of hats!

Happy new year!

As I take the reins from Karin as SF-RWA’s new president, my enthusiasm and gratitude vastly outweighs my lingering nervousness about the job. Karin was right – last year’s board is an extremely supportive and competent bunch of women. We appreciate your patience in these early days, but don’t hold back on the ideas and suggestions and high expectations. We’ve got a big job to do, but among us we also have all the tools and resources we need to do it well.

Our nation’s new president set the tone for us in November when he gave us these words of inspiration: “Yes, we can.” His optimism is on my mind as we navigate these uncertain times. This economic climate is not without precedent, and our industry has endured downturns before. These last few months have been marked by dramatic and rapid change, but remember that we operate from a position of strength. We write the books that readers cherish and buy in numbers far exceeding any other genre. Keep that in mind as you consider the challenges ahead:

• Can a new author get noticed by nervous publishers?
• Can we shoulder the burden of promoting as publicity dollars shrink?
• Can we adapt and grow as electronic media change the publishing landscape?
• Can we create and maintain a culture of tolerance and support as our sisters push the boundaries of romance writing into uncharted and exciting directions?
• Can we be effective stewards of our own careers while extending a hand to our peers?

My answer to all of these questions: Yes – we most certainly can. And our chapter goes a long way toward making it happen. When we come together, we share our resources: our knowledge, our encouragement, our determination, and our love of our craft.

I hope to see a lot of you in the coming year. The fellowship of the meetings sustains us in the early stages of our writing careers and at every stage that follows. I’ll also be looking for you on the links, in the newsletter, at conference, and everywhere else that writers gather, because we’re stronger together.

As I type this, my vase of roses – one white and five red – stands next to my computer as a daily reminder of what SFRWA has helped me achieve in the ten years I’ve been a member. I’m looking forward to seeing what we all accomplish in the year ahead.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Three In A Row

How often is it that you pick up three newly-released books in a row and love all of them?

I don't mean that you liked them enough to keep you going until the end. I don't mean that you don't consider the time you spent with the book ill-spent. I mean these are books you flat-out LOVED, that you hated to put down, that you carried into the bathroom so you could read them while brushing your teeth, and held them upside-down while you were doing your crunches at the gym because you were at a really good place when your 45 minutes on the stepper were up. I mean you loved these books so much that you pressed them into your beloved son's hands before you realized that 1) he's still not old enough for themes that adult and 2) he might lose them, like he loses everything, and these are books you plan to keep forever just so you can look at them and remember how much you enjoyed every word.

I ask again - how often does that happen?

In my experience, never. And it's such an incredible gift that it changed the tenor of my entire week. It renewed my own dedication (more on that in a sec) and charged the whole atmosphere with sparkly potential, because people out there are stringing words together prettily in defiance of all the sky-is-falling negativity.

The only downside of this experience is that one of the books is a debut novel. (One is, I believe, an eighth novel and "breakout"; the other is a second novel). Fellow writers, surely you've had the disquieting experience of closing a book and thinking "dang, i'll never pull off something like that"...and when it's a writer's first effort, it's particularly likely to mess with your mind. **

I have my brother to thank for the proper response to such a setback. I was wallowing in self-pity earlier when he sent this email:

Yes, I too had a long moment after finishing [TITLE DELETED] when I thought, I will never ever ever write a book as good as that.

But, I can write a different book, in my style, that is good in its own way.

And so can you.

Thanks Mike :)

** yes, of course, there's no telling how many other manuscripts the writer wrote and never published. This footnote, incidentally, is a clue to the identity of the book.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Laud This Act Of Courage

There's been a discouraging deluge of bad news for independent bookstores lately. In San Francisco we are losing Stacey's on Market Street. When my kids were little, I'd occasionally sneak away while they were in school and take BART to see authors speak there. I'd always secretly hoped I would speak there too some day.

A couple of independent mystery bookstores have changed hands lately. It takes guts and faith to undergo such a venture at a time like this. Sending best wishes to the folks at Murder By The Book in Houston.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Revealed: the SECRET to Authorial Productivity!

There's a reason the laundry is always done at my house...and its name is Fear.

Fear is the force that keeps writers from writing. Fear of not being clever enough, good enough, entertaining enough, compelling enough. Fear of not being able to live up to the brilliant bit we wrote last month or last year, fear of letting down our readers - real or imagined. Fear of never getting an agent, never selling, never seeing a story accepted. Fear of being dumped by an agent once you have one. Fear of rendering an editor speechless with remorse that she ever picked up your book. Gah, I could go on all day, but you get the drift and, if you're a writer, you are either painfully aware of what I'm talking about or in very, very deep denial.

When fear hits, I'll do anything, anything to avoid facing the keyboard. I set out looking for a task, and since I live with people who think that merely passing a hand over the stack of shirts in their drawers renders them soiled, causing them to toss entire bales of clothing into the wash each day, the task closest at hand is generally laundry.

So: clean clothes. Still fearful. No writing.

But wait! I have to do something Saturday that I haven't done before, something I'm very nervous about. I started worrying about it in earnest (as opposed to the low-level dread I've been carrying around since agreeing to this thing several months ago) about a week in advance. Suddenly, I found that I was writing great mounds of words. Paragraphs and scenes were multiplying at an alarming rate. Chapters practically wrote themselves.

I was stunned until I realized what was going on: I found something I fear more than writing.

That's it - the aha moment - and it can work for you, too! Think hard about what you fear the most, and then dive in headlong. It should be something
- outside your skill set
- possessing a high probability of failure
- which will lead to real and significant negative consequences to you.

Math tie you up in knots? Tell your SO that you'll be doing the taxes this year. Socially awkward? Vow to call a dozen acquaintances to make plans to get together. Let yourself go utterly? Join a gym and hire a trainer....

Suddenly, you've got an entirely new prospect to avoid. You'll do anything to escape it, right? - even write. That's correct: in your zeal to put off that onerous task, sitting down and writing some damn thing suddenly sounds appealing. Easy, even. Your fingers will practically dance across the keys.

Give it a try, and good luck. Me, I'm golden through Saturday. I'd be worried about what I'll do after that, except I stupidly - brilliantly? - committed to doing this once a month...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Writers' Tools: Duotrope's Digest

Gah - how to keep track of all those markets????

In the new year I plan to share some of the tools that help me keep the words flowing.

For short story writers, there is no better tracking and research tool than Duotrope's Digest.

This free site allows you to search a database of 2,300 print and electronic magazines, journals and publishers. It reports on 15 different genres, provides links to submission requirements, and diligently tracks and reports details of pay, response times, acceptance rates, and submission themes.

You can create a customized submissions tracker with the details of all your past and current submissions, the markets you prefer, and more.

As a subscriber, you can receive a weekly newsletter reporting new markets, changes in status for existing markets, and upcoming themed anthologies.

There is one catch.

Yes, this site is free, as I mentioned. However, duotrope does rely on donations to keep it going. That it is a labor of love is clear from the meticulous updating and fact-checking and the ongoing efforts to improve the site.

I have this thing about paying one's freight lately. I think it comes from the looming threat of piracy electronic prose. How can I expect people to pay for my work, if they can easily get it for free, unless I set an example by practicing fair trade?

I get far more value out of duotrope than the small annual donation I make. If I become a bazillionaire author, I vow to send bigger contributions, but for now I am cheered to note that the duotrope folks say if everyone gave a tiny amount - a mere few bucks - they'd be more than adequately financed.

I'll shut up now and just pass along their year-end report:

The number of subscribers nearly doubled in 2008 (a 98% increase).

The number of responses reported increased by 49%.

We added just under 700 new market listings and made thousands of updates to existing listings.

11.3% of our subscribers and registered users sent in donations, with an average of $17.69. We humbly thank each of you!

The staff at Duotrope's Digest wishes everyone a year of remarkable writing with plenty of acceptance letters!