Sunday, September 30, 2007

Moonlight & Magnolias

Crazed person that I am, I decided to attend a conference the weekend before I zip off to England. It proved the perfect anecdote to the "have I packed the connector cable for "X"?" Moonlight & Magnolias is hosted by Georgia Romance Writers and this is their 25th year. They've obviously been perfecting things over those years.

I really enjoyed myself. Between swapping tales with my writing buddy Michelle Roper (who writes with Berta Platas as Gillian Summers) about their newest Young Adult book The Tree Shepherd's Daughter, to pitching a couple of new books at Monique Patterson (St. Martin's), it was a grand weekend. Even the hotel's luncheon was good. Usually hotel food, especially when served to large crowds, isn't that tasty. This was!

I passed on attending the Maggie Awards as I'm still frantically getting projects completed before hopping the plane. Today we had a Koffee Klatch with librarians and booksellers. Wow! This was fun. I got to talk to all sorts of wonderful folks, including Barbara Vey, a blogger for Publishers Weekly (and a force of nature -- trust me on this!) I also b.s.'d with Sherrilyn Kenyon (she's on my "This Lady Rocks!" list) who pointed out that we see each other more often than she sees her family. How true. I also spoke with Sarah Trowbridge from Fayette Co Library. I'm doing a talk at the library on November 3rd (ya'll come down!) so it was so great to talk to Sarah ahead of that date. Very nice lady.

I had a few minor moments of sincere panic when it appeared that my contest box (complete with entries), bookmarks and a box of 100 Sojourn samplers had been tossed out after the book signing the night before. Whilst trying to track this stuff down, the front desk informed me that if it was thrown out, "We put everything through a compactor". My heart sank. Diana Love Snell, who was conference honcho and who has now ascended to my "This Woman Rocks!" alongside Ms. Kenyon, said she'd make things right for me. Okay, I admit it, I got a bit drama queen about it all. I was frankly quite worried about the personal info that was on the contest entries. But lo, the stuff was found and I gave Diana two hugs. She took responsibility for the problem even though she was not directly involved. Gee, why can't she run for public office instead of some of the bozos we have to deal with? On my side of the fence: DO PAY ATTENTION WHEN THEY MAKE ANNOUNCEMENTS OVER THE P.A. SYSTEM, MS .OLIVER. Especially the ones that say "TAKE YOUR PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS WITH YOU." Lesson learned.

Tonight I finished up my packing because I'm One of Those and tomorrow I'll be finishing up my Ripper talk, buying some No Jet Lag herbal medication and tidying up the house. And desperately trying to remember what else I need to get done before Tuesday. Of course, I'll remember the really important stuff the moment the plane achieves altitude. Such is life.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Let There Be Questions (Part 1)

I recently did my spiel at the Entertainment Marketing Class at Kennesaw State University. The students' professor gave them an assignment -- ask this author questions. So here goes:

P. Patel inquires, "What do you enjoy about writing?"

Not everything. Some of it is pure penance. What is fun is the ability to create worlds, populate those worlds with intriguing people and then make their lives a living Hell. I can take my imagination in any direction I choose and I let it have free rein. The "brake" I install is the "don't make this sound like every other story, okay?" I want something new, something unexpected. I like having readers say they didn't see something coming. That's cool. The other thing I enjoy about writing is when its done and I hold the most current book in my hand. It's a feeling that's hard to explain. It's what keeps me putting little letters on the page.

K. Edwards - "Did growing up in Iowa have any affect on your writing style and topics that you write about?"

I'd like to believe my Iowa origins are in my stories, though I'm not particularly sure that I can point to one particular thing to substantiate that claim. Iowans, for the most part, are solid, sensible folks. They do have their moments of insanity (the annual bike ride across Iowa, for example) but they're pretty grounded. I hope my stories show that sense of purpose and their drive to care for family and friends. We're all a product of our experiences, writers even more so.

N. Orr -- "Do you mentor young authors who do not know where to start?"

I try. I'm certainly not at the top of the author food chain, but I have experience and I like to share that. Publishing is a very confusing (sometimes ugly) business and I figure the newbies need all the help they can get. Sure, I'm probably helping someone who might someday far exceed my career, but positive Karma is good. I had folks help me get where I am. It's time to repay the debt.

Also, "Do you wait for an inspiration to hit you to write a book or can you just decide that now is a good time?"

Inspiration is good. Contract deadlines trump that. If in "X" months you have a book due, you get fired up whether the Muse is in town or not. There are days where the story flows like water. Other days it doesn't. You work hard during the former and wince a lot during the latter. In the end, if you put your butt in the chair enough times, a book happens.

E. Witt asks, "In a recent interview, you comment that your characters 'talk' to you. Can you please elaborate?"

Voices. In. My. Head. That's what they are. Luckily they don't rule my life (at least not directly) but they do insist on telling me their stories. A few authors say their characters don't talk to them. Mine do. Regularly. They often feel they own me. For example: Jacynda (my heroine) will wander into my mind and clarify a conversation she had with another character, letting me know what she likes/dislikes about that person, how she felt at the moment and what her intentions are regarding the new information she learned. I hear full dialog which is rather freakin' brilliant. Unfortunately, I can't seem to transcribe those conversations onto the page and so have to construct them bit by bit as I write the story. It's rare a character that doesn't talk to me. It's not a good thing. That means I can't "get inside his/her head" and understand what motivates them. And if I can't learn that, the character is going to be very flat.

Also, "Which (if any) authors have influenced your writing style?"

A lot of them. Probably about everyone I've ever read. However, certain ones stand out. Terry Pratchett's amazing imagination and ability to describe things in unique ways has always fascinated me. I'll "do" description in my books, but no where near as cool as this gent. I did channel Terry when I was recently writing The Word of Zed (a short story) for an anthology. I joke it's like Terry Pratchett on bad drugs.

Thriller authors like Lee Child, Barry Eisler, etc. remind me that one of the key elements to the story is that it moves forward and keeps the reader turning pages. My editor is very good at finding paragraphs/scenes that slow the pace. I either rewrite them or delete them. You want a compelling story or the reader will find other things to do. It's the author's joke to deliver.

I'll be back this weekend (after my conference) with more questions. There's a lot waiting in the queue.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Letting the Man Have His Say

I know there are quite a few Americans who were not pleased that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad set foot on our soil, let alone his spiel at Columbia University. There were calls for retaliation against that institution, which is idiotic. Americans should support free speech, even when it comes from the mouths of tyrants.

Yeah, Mr. A is a nut. A clever one. But what better way to judge the nut than by having him spout his rhetoric, unfiltered by his "handlers" so we can analyze (or laugh) at it. What did we learn? He can lie like a politician and has a world view that is a number of bubbles off plumb. So he ranks right up there amongst a growing cadre of leaders we should keep an eye on, our own included.

Hopefully, the clamor to sanction Columbia will die down. It's depressing that it was even suggested. It's a clear indication that we might spout off about freedom of speech, but don't have the stones to deal with the concept in reality.

It's only a small step from threatening a university to arresting students for daring to speak their minds. Mr. A understands that perfectly. The question is -- do we?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Because They Have Nothing Better To Do

Today the Senate voted to condemn for their scathing ad against General Petraeus that was printed in last week's NY Times. No matter your opinion on the ad, wouldn't you think our elected officials had bigger things to worry about? Like the war, the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market, increasing bankruptcies, 40 million of us who don't have health care?

I just don't get these people. Do they ever poke their heads out of the foxhole and say "Whoa. Will you look at that!"?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Oh My Ears & Whiskers!

I do feel like the White Rabbit at this moment. I have two classes to teach at Kennesaw State University this next week (their Entertainment Marketing class). I always enjoy those even though the students look so (sigh) young. And you never know what kinds of questions they're going to ask. I put together a PowerPoint presentation for both classes after massaging my computer for nearly six hours to get the new software loaded. For a time I thought I'd killed it, but it survived. I consider that a miracle.

I'm also putting the finishes touches on my talk for the Whitechapel Society. Its official title is: Once Upon a Dark Alley: A Tale of Ripper Fiction. Of course, I didn't just want to do a thumbs up or down on the books I'd read over the previous year. These folks deserve a lot more than that. I wanted to dig for the deeper themes present in [Jack the] Ripper fiction since 1889. And I've found them. It's hasn't been easy, but it's been informative, while kicking my butt in the process. One thing I've learned, if whatever I'm doing is a struggle, I'm learning something. Can you name a book in which Jack was the hero?*

Between now and our departure to England is Moonlight & Magnolias, the local Atlanta romance writers' convention. This one will be fun. It's within driving distance and that's a plus. In the meanwhile we're slowly putting together all the stuff needed for the trip: housesitter who has no idea how much a pain-in-the ass the Kat can be, one new piece of luggage (the old one was falling apart) and a complex itinerary so I can do as much research as possible in just under two weeks. As the US Dollar is at an all-time low against the pound sterling ($2.03 per pound the last time I checked) we damned well better get a lot of work done while we're there. We do intend on having some fun in between those riveting trips to the former asylum and the Fire Brigade Museum. Yeah, this author knows how to really have a good time.

I'll do an update right before I sling the bags out the door and then while I'm on the road in the UK, Internet connection permitting. It's been five years since I was in the UK. Lord, I miss the place (and their beer).

*A Night in Lonesome October -- Roger Zelazny

Friday, September 07, 2007

Dragon*Con #10

And lo, it was my tenth Dragon*Con. I remember when it was small(er). LOTS smaller. Like 20K people instead of nearly 50K. I grew up next door to a town that had 40K people when the Univ of Iowa was in session. 50K is unreal.

My publisher (Dragon Moon Press) had a booth at Dragon (first time) and since I knew the mysterious ways of a dealer's room, I volunteered to play Booth Nazi. My past experience with the Wyerd Systers at Dragon paid off handsomely. Other than our usually trusty Volvo station wagon dying the day before "load in" as it's called, everything went well. Hubby and I schlepped the boxes to downtown Thursday afternoon. It did require two trips. I could have gotten it all in the Honda Hybrid but it would have killed the tires. So while I unpacked and set up the booth, hubby went for Load #2. We were done in 3 hours, including the second trip. We would have been done in half that if we could have brought it all in at once. Setting up a publishing booth is SO much easier than unpacking ten thousand little stones and trinkets and bits of jewelry. It is, however, harder on the back.

Friday through Monday involved hours in the booth with such crazies as Tee Morris, Tony Ruggiero, Scott Sigler and Phillipa "Pip" Ballantine (she of the cool NZ accent and the stuffed Kiwis). We schmoozed, sold books and had a good time. I also did some paneling with folks like my friend Jean Marie Ward and the very gracious Terry Brooks. It's always a pleasure to meet one of the masters in the industry and find out they're nice folks. There are way too many of the other kind out there.

In between all this I dined with friends, caught up with those I haven't seen in years and wore my knees to a pulp walking all over hell and creation. Dragon is so big now it's easier to get where you need to be by walking outside the hotels. Which means you do the hills. Great exercise, that's for sure. Unfortunately, my schedule did not allow me to have a drink or two with Chris Jackson. I regret that. I did get to dinner with Scott Humphries (aka Scott the Editor).

Highlight of the con? Watching the incredible Mur Lafferty arrive for her autograph signing. Mur is the Queen of Podcasting and she came with an entourage, four guys to be precise. The guys usually refer to themselves as Mur's Bitches(TM). Mur's a great lady and I suspect, deep down, this is rather embarrassing, but she takes it well. One of them, a Mr. J.C. Hutchins (another famous podcaster with a dry sense of humor) offered to provide the same level of security for me should I find the need. He sounded so official I swore I was talking to someone from the Secret Service. Podcasters, on the whole, are incredibly creative people with a tenuous grasp of reality. My kind of people. Mur's always a kick. I was tickled to be able to sign next to her. (Yeah, she had a line and I didn't.)

A friend of mine is totally fan girl about this actor. Since she's such a good friend, I stood in line and bought an autographed photo (he wasn't there). Which is just as well as it would have been a very long line, he's that "famous". I didn't begrudge the gift in the least.

So here's my rant. I remember when the photos were $10. Now they're $20. For. A. Photo. $20 or $30 more if you want a personal photograph with that star. I know that Dragon doesn't pay for most of the stars' appearance and you gotta make money any way you can to pay for the hotel/airfare, etc.. But $40 or $50 just to meet an actor, get a signed photo and then have him/her pose with you? Yes, I hold a lot of them in awe, but come on. At least with an author you'd get a book, a free autograph, and a free photo, all for $20. I wouldn't pay that even if it was George Clooney or the late Sir Ian Richardson who I adored. Somehow I suspect neither of those gents would resort such tactics. As one con attendee put it, "They're treating their fans like an ATM." Couldn't have said it better. Clunk.... off my soapbox.

And now back to unpacking all the Dragon*Con boxes. England calls in less than a month and there's a lot to be done.