A MORALITY TALE

Once upon a time, there were three authors who sold their first books to the same publisher at the same time.  So, they were showcased as Debut Authors and had their books published, one a month in April, May, and June.  The first author published several more books with the publisher, but after a few years, decided that something else was more important to her than writing.  Willingly, she changed careers and went her way.

The second author’s book sold well enough to make a bestselling list, but it was the first book she ever wrote and in the time it took her to write another book, her editor left the company and the author was orphaned.  This didn’t discourage the writer because just selling the first one told her she could write well enough to make money.  Besides, she already had a career that she loved and never intended the writing to be more than a second career when she retired.  So, she continued to write and sell, content to stay with her original plan.

The third writer stayed the course.  She wrote and sold more books to the company and when her time came, she moved into single titles with her own universe.  She wrote fast and she wrote hard.  She honed her craft, letting nothing block her way.  Oh, she took care of her house and her family, but when it came to her writing, she trusted her talent and drive and became a successful, consistent seller.  And this year she was honored by the RWA by being nominated for a RITA.

What does this tale have to do with success?  All three authors achieved what they wanted…they wrote a book that someone actually paid money to published.  No one can ever take that from them.  But there was no magic seeds.  None of them were handed the prize.  They all worked for their success.  One of them decided she wanted something else and, no doubt, she will succeed at her new endeavor.  But the other two continued working towards their goals.

And they will prevail…because they want to!

The Road

I have this painting in my living room. It was one of my mother’s favorites–my sister got the 5′ x 6′ painting that was Mother’s ultimate favorite! So why is this making my post?

Because it tells so much with a glance. I know the details aren’t clear enough but can you tell what time of year it is? What part of the country? What year is it?

What intrigues me the most is what awaits down the road? I envision myself on Gambler (my Paint gelding) as we ride down that road. Will we see deer? A wild hog? Other critters? Is there a huge stone ranch house somewhere? Or is there just miles and miles of beautiful country? The possibilities are endless as is the road.

Do you have a favorite piece of art that inspires you?

(Answers: Spring–late March-early April because the flowers are bluebonnets. Area–the Hill Country of Texas with the light soil on the road. There is no answer to the year. The painting was purchased in the 70s.)

The Changing Seasons

A couple of days after my daffodils bloomed, Tulsa was hit with a “10 inch” snow fall.  When I looked at my flowers, they were bent over in defeat, the stems a muted green.  Two days of sun, and they bounced right back…bright green with smiling yellow faces.  That’s when I knew for sure…spring is really here.

You ever noticed how writing a book is like the changing seasons?  In the “spring”, our ideas grow and blossom like flowers.  Brand new characters cluster around our brain like the early robins.  As those words go to the page, every part is new and shiny and awesome.  But slowly and inevitably, “spring” flows into “summer”.

That’s the season of growth.  We watch our story grow tall and rich.  We “weed” out the bad word choices, the weak dialogue, and the character actions without motive.  We water and prune and fertilize.  It’s hard work, but we rejoice in coming reward.

Then comes the harvest, or “fall”.  That’s when our characters reach full maturity and our plots come to fruition.  With our harvesters, we gather up all our work and edited it into a bundle (book).  We edited and polish it like Grandma used to put up jars of jam or bottles of pickles.  Some of us store our work to use later; others send their “crop” out immediately to market. 

“Winter” is a time of relection.  If we have sold our “crop”, we’re involved with copy edits and cover art.  If we haven’t sold yet, we take our story to the fair (contests) to be judged, learning tricks and tips for the next spring’s story.  Winter is the time we either give up writing or renew our determination to succeed.  And when that first crocus (story idea/character) peeks its head through the snow, the stirrings of a new “spring” push at our souls.

So hail to Spring!  Cheer to the new book started.  Huzzah for the re-dedication to the book not finished.  Hip, hip, hurrah for surviving another year (book) and heading for another busy, productive writing season.  Let the flowers bloom!

Role Reversal

It is nothing new that I write stories that feature a strong heroine. In my own life, I am a strong woman–very strong. Since my husband’s accident, I’ve also taken over many of “his” jobs.  That he realizes this is strange and good–not that he’s necessarily happy about all of it.

Protector. I first think of my husband as the one who defeats the intruder, but now it is my turn. There are some perks. He bought me two awesomely sweet pistols (I’ve wanted them since I first saw a picture!), and a scary good shotgun. I’ll never pretend to be Dirty Harry or a maniac leaping out with guns in both hands. More like a mama bear. With this responsibility of new firearms also comes learning about them, stopping capabilities, safety issues, and refining my shooting techniques.  Please, good weather, I want to do some target practice on our range. 

Caretaker. Instead of sharing the ranch and household chores, I’m pretty much it. If it breaks, I fix it (or hire someone). If it eats, I feed it. If it is dirty, I clean it.  This role has been shifted to me not so much from his accident but his work. His limited physical ability makes him tire faster and by the time he gets home, he’s spent. I do give him credit for trying so hard, and cooking some meals.

What I’m doing is nothing new to many women–they do it 24/7 with no relief. I’m in total awe of them. I accept what I’m given, knowing I’m getting stronger physically and emotionally. I’m loving what I can now bring to my heroines, and a hero who depends on his woman to rescue him.

HOW Many Words?

A few months ago I was offered a novella in a collection to be published by Silhouette Romantic Suspense this fall. My editor ran through the requirements: had to take place at Christmas, had to be a reunion romance (people who’d been together in the past), had to have a suspense thread — and, oh, yeah, had to be 20,000 words. I was nodding, going “Uh-huh,” on the phone after each requirement until the last one. I would have laughed hysterically if I hadn’t stopped breathing.

I don’t “do” short. Never have. I have turned in four manuscripts in my career that were in the 140-150,000 word range. If they ask me for 90K, I give ’em 100K. Right now I’m supposed to be doing 60K books, but darned if I don’t have to struggle to get them down to 62,000.

This book came in, with my best efforts, at 22,384. So I spent the last day before shipping it reading through and cutting, cutting some more, cutting even more. I emailed my editor and asked if there was any wiggle room, and she said she could let me have an extra thousand words. So I cut more.

I love cutting other people’s words when they need it. My friends have a standing offer when they just can’t find any more to cut. But when it comes to my own . . . I lovingly wrote those words . . . or pulled them out of my uncooperative brain one at a time. It’s really hard to see what’s not necessary. A brief exchange may be funny or clever or telling about the characters, but when you’re in a word crunch, it’s got to go. And it’s hard sometimes.

Granted, by my second-go through the manuscript, when I still needed to ditch 600 words, I’d pretty much lost all attachment to the words. Hero telling heroine “I love you”? Heck, that saves me three words. Heroine’s little warning speech to the bad guys that saves the hero’s life? Can’t she just say, “Run, Josh”? That cuts another thirty words.

What about y’all? Do you tend to write short or long? (If it’s short, I hate you.) Can you set a specific word count and arrive dead-on or nearby, or do you not know how many words your book will be until you’ve written the last one? And how do you feel cutting? Love it, hate, a necessary evil of the job?

Interview with Christie Craig

The Writing Sluts are proud to have award-winning, multi-published author, uber-talented photojournalist, motivational speaker and writing teacher, Christie Craig! With over 3000 national magazine sales, a GH and RWA sponsored contest finalists, she writes romance, non-fiction, and now young adult paranormal.

M: Your credentials are so impressive. How do you do it all?

CC:  I keep large amounts of Super Glue and apply generously to my backside before sitting in my computer chair. J Honestly, I don’t do it all . . . anymore. Or, I guess I should say, I don’t do as much of “all.” I’ve cut back tremendously on the freelance. The largest portion of my freelance now is writing articles that will help promote my books. And while I still do workshops, I don’t offer regular classes. My latest non-fiction book is due out in June—and I can’t wait for it to come out—but I don’t have plans to start another non-fiction book anytime soon. Most of my time is spent in the novel business:  writing books, blogs, and doing PR.

I’ve always been a bit of an obsessive-compulsive person. When I set my mind to doing something, I throw myself in head first. My hubby will tell you that you don’t want to be between me and my goal. While I’m told my bark is worse than my bite, I have been known to bite. J  I think one reason I get as much accomplished as I do is because my father was a self-employed contractor and plumber and I watched him build and keep a successful business to keep the lights on and to put food on the table. Basically, watching him, I learned how to be my own boss. And let me tell you, my boss can be a B with an itch. She doesn’t’ allow me to fiddle-faddle around. I know what has to be done, and she slaps my wrist when she finds me spending too much time playing Spider Solitaire. And yes, my wrist had a permanent mark on it from getting slapped so darn much.

I’m very single-minded. When I start something I don’t want to have jump over and do something else. So, I try to focus on one project at a time, but there are times I have to set the book I’m working on to the side, to do revisions or copy edits, so I’ve had to train myself to juggle.

M: What does your normal writing week look like?

CC:  I get up with hubby every morning, and I’m in my office before he leaves. So I work from around 7 AM until 5 PM, stop to cook dinner—yeah, I’m southern and cooking dinner is in my DNA—after dinner I’m very likely to return to my office to finish up anything I didn’t complete: a scene, a few emails. And depending on where I am on a deadline, and if my favorite TV shows are reruns, and if my hubby doesn’t give me his sad spend-time-with-me puppy dog eyes, I may even work several more hours.

My kids are both out of the house. My daughter is married and my son is away at school, so other than hubby, friends, and my four cats, the rabbit and my son’s pet rat (yeah, he left it behind) my time is my own. Though I admit, I didn’t give the rat very much time. Because I seriously love writing, working overtime isn’t hard. Writing was so much harder when I had kids around who wanted Mama to put a Band Aid on their boo-boos and cut the crust off their sandwiches.  I do miss those days. But I made sure my twenty-year-old son had his Band Aids when he went off to school and I gave him instructions of cutting the crust off his sandwiches.

I generally work some during the weekends. But unless, I’m down to the wire on a deadline, I only work half a day. I try to do things, like PR things, blogs, and such over the weekends and save the “writing” for Mon.-Fri.

While I’m a bit of a workaholic, I also know that I have to take care of “me” too. So, I generally will take half a day off on one weekday and do something besides writing. I may go shopping, have lunch with friends, or go to a bookstore and just browse. I also try to work in exercise, walking and stretching at least three times a week. This afternoon, I’m getting a massage. I can’t wait.

M: How do you balance writing and home life?

CC:   Balance. I think this is the key to all happiness. And yes, sometimes I’m guilty of letting the balance get out of whack—especially when I have a deadline pressing. I hate having to ask for more time, so I will often work sixteen-hour days for a few weeks instead of having to ask. But I’m trying to get better at scheduling so I won’t get myself in those situations.

In all seriousness, writing is my passion, but it’s not the number one thing in my life.  It’s easy to push away those we love when we also love our careers. But life is short and we shouldn’t forget that our families and our friends should have a big place in our lives. Think about it, we write about life about love, and we can’t stop living or loving those around us or we’ll dry up as humans and as writers. My son still calls me at least twice a day and wants to chat or just ask advice on how to cut the crust off his sandwich and tell me about his boo-boos. J   I try to never rush the call. My daughter who is a new momma, (Yes, that makes me a grandma, and I love it!) is always calling me with questions or to tell me wonderful tidbits like she did yesterday to inform me that Lily Dale took her first steps.  They live about an hour and a half away so every other week I’ll spend time day marveling over this little miracle.

Now, home life as in house cleaning. Yeah, I know I’m southern but somehow I didn’t get that gene in my DNA. I got kicked out of the clean-house club years ago. The first thing I did when I could eek out enough money from my writing was to hire someone to come clean so the health department wouldn’t close down my house. Hubby and I even have a deal, I cook, he cleans. So it helps to have a man around who isn’t too macho to help around the house some.

M: Who/ what has influenced your writing the most?

CC:  This is a hard one. So many people have in some way helped me. RWA in a whole has played a big part in my achievements. I was totally green when I joined. It was through RWA that I found critique groups, writing friends, and mentors.  I belong to five RWA chapters. Three of them are in Houston, and I attend monthly meetings for the closest two. Then I’m a long distance member to another RWA chapter and I belong to an online published RWA group. Writing can be a lonely business, it really helps to have those writing and online buddies present in your life. My critique buddies are like my soul mates.

Another big influence has been the published authors whom I read and love. Janet Evanovich, Jennifer Cruise, Susan Andersen, Rachael Gibson, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips are some of my favorites.

During the hard times, when rejections came in like flies on a bad banana, it was hubby who had a front seat to my ups and downs. His reassuring words always kept me going. He would give me a big hug and then say, “Why don’t you give up and see if you can get your old job back at Pizza Hut.”  Now, for those who’ve read my blog, you know that I used to work at Pizza Hut and nearly got arrested and robbed (yep, in that order) at Pizza Hut. So, when hubby made that suggestion, well, just like that, I was back working on the next book. You gotta love a man who knows just what to say to inspire you.

And I have to say my dad was a big influence for passing me his work ethic. I contribute my ability to ward off writer’s block to him. The man, a plumber, got up everyday and went to work. Not once do I recall him saying, “I can’t plumb today because I have plumber’s block. I know there were days he didn’t want to show up, days that everything he did went down the toilet—or in his case didn’t go down the toilet. I have writing days that I feel my work stinks like something that jumped out of the toilet, days that I don’t feel very inspired, but like my dad, I get up and go to work. Most of the time, I find myself working through the bad mood and the next day when I relook at what I had written, it’s not all crap.

M: When promoting your books, what have you found that works well?

CC: Promotion is a hit and miss. I think you have to be careful not to put too much of your writing income into promotion, or even too much time. But at the same time, I do believe promotion can help a great book get noticed a little more. When I first started, and my writing income could be matched by asking if someone wanted fries with that burger, I did the kinds of promotion that wouldn’t cost me more time than an arm and a leg. I joined a blog with four other writers. I can’t imagine blogging every day, once a week is sometimes hard. I said yes to any guest blog appearances. And I did a lot of workshops and public appearances. I, with the help of my non-fiction writing partner, also made my own book trailers.  I found creative and not so expensive ways to promote my name and my brand. When the pennies really count you want to get the biggest bang out of your money, so when I promoted, I made sure I promoted my brand, not just a book. So these same promotional items could be still used six to eight months down the road.

The smartest thing a new writer can do is to take a serious look at what she has to bring to the PR table. And I mean money and talent. My talent involved writing for magazines. So, I wrote articles about being a novelist and sold them to freelance markets. I.E. Writers and their Feline Muses, to Cat’s Magazine. I had taught classes and written lots of how-to write pieces for those classes, so I pitched articles to the RWR, and then used the income to pay for ads in the magazine. I wrote pieces and sent them to Romantic Times Magazine to get my name in front of the readers. Because I’d done a lot of public speaking and teaching, I designed workshops and offered them to conferences.

When my advances increased, as did my workload, I found time harder to give up and I started investing more dollars in promotional items and doing less time-consuming PR. I invested in better bookmarks and started buying some PR items to send to booksellers and book buyers. I no longer had the time to invest in making videos. And you know, not one fan has asked me where the videos are?  Does this mean they didn’t help me?  No, I’ll bet I got some readers who saw the video at Border’s and thought it was cute and decided to try my book. And I think with new authors, getting your name out there is even more important. But hands down, when time got tight, my time was better spent writing than making videos. My fans are readers, not video watchers.

I think the best thing you can do to promote yourself, is to write more books and constantly try to improve your craft. I think a good website is essential. In the beginning, I think my blog really helped me connect with potential readers. I even got emails from editors whom I didn’t write for, telling me how much they enjoyed my blog. If you’re going to blog, make sure you have something to say. A boring blog can hurt you a heck of a lot more than help you. I’m very lucky in that I write romantic comedies, and by making my blogs funny, readers get a feel for my voice. But I also try to make sure my blogs have universal appeal, just as one does when they write an essay or personal experience piece.

Now, that I’ve sang blogging’s praise, let me tell you that I’ll bet a very, very tiny percentage of my readers read my blog. I seriously think I could stop blogging today, and I’d have less than fifty people even miss it. Will there be a time when I stop blogging regularly?  If time gets to be that big of a commodity, and I have to choose to blog or get a book in on time, you bet I’ll give it up. I personally think that to a writer who has a fan base, the only time blogging is really important is when they have a new book coming out. And better than just blogging on your own blog, if you can get guest blogging gigs, it helps get the word out there that you have a new book.   

M: What is your advice for aspiring writers? 

CCI have several pieces of advice I regularly pass out.

1) Don’t keep reworking the same book. It’s okay to go back and rewrite, once, maybe twice, but don’t get caught in rewriteitous. I know people have been working on the same book for over ten years. You learn something more, something different every time you write a new book. Rewriting doesn’t always offer the same lessons or advantages.

2) Never stop growing and learning your craft. Would you want to go to a doctor who hasn’t updated his knowledge in modern medicine? Or have a special outfit made by someone who hasn’t kept up with fashion in ten years?   Writing is an art form and like medicine and fashion it is constantly changing. To stay competitive in this business I think we have to keep learning.

3) Find some great critique partners. People who you can trust to tell you what is and isn’t working in your book. People who celebrate your successes and you do the same for them. Writing can be a lonely profession and a good critique group is invaluable.

4) Never, never ever, give up. After not being able to sell a second novel in 94’, I started freelancing and put the novel writing to the side. In 2000, I started back writing novels. In six years, I wrote eight completes and six proposals. I had rejections by the dozens and a lot of close calls. Every reason in the world to quit was served up on a silver platter and handed to me. It would have been so easy to just toss in the towel and start cross-stitching or collecting dust bunnies. Instead I kicked, scratched, and bit my way back into the publishing world. And while I still have a lot of climbing to do to make it to the top, all that work had paid off. I love, love what I do for a living.

M: What is coming up next for you?

CC:  Oh, goodness, I’ve got so much about to happen. In June, I have two books hitting the shelves. I’m sooo excited about both of them.  

Shut Up and Kiss Me is a humorous romantic suspense. I personally think it’s my funniest book yet. And it was one of those books that the characters just leapt off the page and told me their story. My editor loved the book so much that they’ve made it part of their Guaranteed Read program. (Yup, if you don’t like it, you get your money back.)  As he said in the note to the readers . . . “There is just something about a man wearing a pink bathrobe.”  As I wrote this book, it really just took a life of its own. At one point, I emailed my editor and said, “I think I should warn you, in Shut Up there’s a skunk, a drunk man naked in a bath tub bathing in V-8 juice and pouring women’s douche over his chest while drinking Jack Daniels, as well as sporting fire ant bites on his balls.”  My poor editor never flinched, or at least he never did in front of me or in his emails.

The second June release hitting the bookshelves is co-authored by myself and Faye Hughes:  Wild, Wicked & Wanton:  101 Ways to Love Like You Are in a Romance Novel. This is a humorous, self-help book on what a woman can learn from a romance heroine. The premise came to us when we talking about bad relationships real women get into. (And yes, both Faye and I have had a few of them.)  But we both agreed that if a woman spent as much time plotting their relationships as romance author’s plot their novels, there would be happier relationships. And as romance authors, we have created heroines with enough spunk and backbone to deal with the conflict in their lives and with the relationship with the hero–so real women could really take some lessons from these heroines.

Then another bit of news I’m excited about is my new St. Martin’s Press Young Adult series. It’s a dark, but very funny paranormal romance with a whole cast of different paranormal teens. The first book in the Bone Creek Camp series, which is tentatively titled, BORN AT MIDNIGHT, is set to be released early 2010 under my pseudonym, C.C. Hunter.  I had so much fun writing this book.

M: Do you have an excerpt from your most recent book you can share?   

CC:  Not an excerpt, but here’s the blurb for Shut Up and Kiss Me:

WELCOME TO PRECIOUS, TEXAS
…where fistfights serve as dinner theater and fire ants rain from the sky. The locals are usually very friendly, if a bit eccentric. No pictures please, or you may find yourself a guest of the county morgue.

“Craig keeps the sexual tension as high as the suspense.”
—Publishers Weekly
Photojournalist Shala Winters already had her hands full bringing tourism to this backward, podunk town, but her job just got tougher. Pictures can say a thousand words, and one of Shala’s is screaming bloody murder. Now she has to entrust a macho, infuriating lawman with her life—but she’ll never trust him with her heart.

Trusted or not, Sky Gomez isn’t about to let a killer get his hands on Shala’s Nikon—or any of her more comely assets, for that matter. Her mouth might move faster than a Piney Woods roadrunner, but all he can think about is how good it must taste…and how she’ll never escape true love.

M: I love your tag line: Sexy, Suspenseful & Seriously Funny. This says it all! Thank you for appearing on The Writing Sluts.

CC: Thank you for having me here today.

God, Save The Devil!

I was reading in the paper where the Australians found a group of Tasmanian Devils appeared to be immune to the contagious facial cancer threatening to make the Devils extinct in about 20 years.  As I read, I found myself saying “God save the Devil”.  Then I had to laugh at myself.  If anyone had heard me, they would have thought I was nuts.  Such is the power of words.  My plea only means something if you know that I’m talking about a species of animals for which I have a tenderness.  (Okay, so I’m a Loony Tunes fan.  Sue me!) 

What if someone were to ask me what I do for a living?  If I answer “I get paid to hurt children,” for just a nanosecond, everyone would look at me in horror until their common sense kicks in.  For those of you who don’t know, I’m a pediatric nurse and while I DO cause physical hurt to children, my job requires it for me to help them get well.  But combining the words “hurt” and “children” in the same sentence give the receiver a powerful jolt.

Remember the beginning of the movie JAWS?  Where the girl is clinging to the buoy, praying, babbling, waiting for the shark to take her again, knowing she wouldn’t be saved?  She said one word that impacted me more than the entire scene.  She said “Mama”.  That one word showed me the intense fear this woman had.  When it comes down to the bare bones, isn’t it your mom that was always there to shield you from scary things?

That’s why as writers, having the perfect word or phrase can make or break the emotion or scene you’re trying to relate.  The wrong one can leave your reader flat.  I know you’ve heard this before, but it’s true.  But can we write perfect words all the time?  No!  Most of the time, what we write is good, words that take the reader through the story.  

But each book also has key sentences…sentences that are special.  They don’t describe the room the hero meets the heroine, but they tells us the impact of the meeting on him.  They make us feel the exhilaration of that first kiss, the despair of the black moment, and the bliss of the happily ever after.

Now say it with me.  God, save the devil!