New Christmas Short Romance Available Now!

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‘Tis the season: I’ve written a short, sweet ‘n’ fluffy Christmas romance, and it’s now available on Amazon here – for 99 cents, even!

A Winter Reverie is a lighthearted, PG short story that should appeal to both the irreverent and the reverent this holiday season.  If a broken baby Jesus, a nonprofit fundraiser gone horribly wrong, a grumpy mountain hermit, and a big-hearted pagan with a fear of heights interests you, grab a copy and use it as a self-indulgent excuse to hide away from family and holiday demands for a while.

To all of you I’ve come to know this year: stay well and stay warm, and keep your eyes peeled for my novel Prodigal in the new year!

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The muse comes cheap, but the marketing doesn’t.

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I watch House Hunters International.

Don’t judge me.  I mostly watch it because my partner and I daydream about living overseas and we like to travel.  But if you watch House Hunters long enough, eventually you’ll find That Person.  That Person who has decided to go overseas without a penny to his or her name, with no job prospects, nothing on the horizon, nothing but a smile and a dream.

They beam at the camera.  “Life is so short,” they say.  “You have to follow your dreams and just forget the details.”  Then they go and dance in the surf, future poverty and lack of a retirement account be damned.

I am emphatically not That Person, which might explain why I am at home watching House Hunters.  But seeing those people gets at the heart of my own dilemma and the dilemma that I think most writers – not the elitist, NYT-reviewed folks, but the rest of us genre-writing and freelance writers – face:

Writing for a living is a terrifying proposition.  And though I’m not sure about how the risk to reward ratio is going to work out for me in the long run, I’d like to be able to do that. Still, writing can be expensive.  The muse comes cheap, but the marketing doesn’t.

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All I Want For Christmas Is You. No, Really, I Mean It.

The holidays are upon us.

Before you start having flashbacks to Black Friday sales and that time your third cousin twice removed got you a Christmas sweater that was five sizes too small, let me first say: thanks for hanging around these parts.  My baby blog is less than a year old, but several of you have popped by to read or comment or like my posts (or to buy my books!) and I am genuinely grateful to you.

But now to the matter of presents.  And what I want for Christmas is to get to know you.  Seriously!  In the comments to this post, stop by and say hi if you feel so inclined.  Tell me who you are, what you do, why you’re here.  Tell me what you want for Christmas or how you celebrate Hanukkah or some good book recommendations for Christmas presents.  Promote your own blogs or books!  ‘Tis the season.

And thanks, again, for being awesome.

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How To Accept Compliments On Your Writing

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I am bad with praise.

Compliment my writing and I will peer at you, trying to parse whether or not you’re joking, then blurt out something self-deprecating.  I was conditioned to be this way by parents who placed a high value on humility, and it’s a hard habit to shake as I enter the “promote thyself at all costs” world of writing.

That said, if I don’t believe in myself then no one will.  It’s high time for a change.  So, for those like me, a guide:

1. If the compliment is from a family member, dear friend, or anyone who has a vested interest in pleasing you, take it with a grain of salt.  Twenty grains.  Ninety grains.  My best friends love my writing.  They will tell you it is bar none the best romance writing they have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.  And they haven’t read a word of it.  As a general rule, enjoy compliments from people with a vested interest in seeing you happy – but don’t take them too seriously.  There is, however, an exception to this rule: if you have a particularly blunt relative or friend –  the sort who calls out your embarrassing haircut or loudly asks if you’ve gained weight this year – and they like it, thank your lucky stars.  No salt required.

2. Do not over-analyze the compliment.  Take it for what it is.  Yes, they said they liked your novel.  They didn’t say they loved it.  The nuance is still needling you.  Or, worse yet, they called your work “interesting” or “different.”  Recognize that very few people mean badly, and few have the cojones to insult your work to your face.  Most people are trying to be kind.  Let it go.

3. Do not respond with self-deprecation. Simply say “thanks.” I have a hard time accepting compliments generally, and a hard time accepting them on my writing in particular.  In my head I’m constantly comparing myself to other, better writers, and so it follows to me that other people are doing the same thing.  So it’s tempting, when someone says, “God, I loved that,” to go, “Really?  Well, it’s not as good as I hoped it would be, but…”

I sometimes think half of being a writer is a fake-it-till-you-make-it-attitude, the ability to go, “My work is awesome and so am I.”  Even if you don’t feel it, keeping yourself in that positive mindset can do wonders when you go to promote your work.  So don’t brush off the compliments or turn them down!

More below the cut!

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Why You Should Ignore 90% Of Expert Writing Tips

Writers (romance writers especially) are almost always on the end of a barrage of advice about what not to do:

Don’t write scenes where lovers kiss in the rain.  It’s so trite.

Don’t write ‘confessional’ scenes where characters pour out their feelings to each other.

Don’t write sappy ‘I love you’s.’

Don’t write “nice” characters.  Write edgy ones.

Do some of these tips ring true in some circumstances?  Sure.  We’ve all been burdened by really, really bad writing overwhelmed by Shakespearean monologues about feelings where two characters stand in Some Evocative Setting and yell their feelings and realizations at each other.   We want good, intriguing writing that draws us in.

Yet there is also an inherent belief, in these aforementioned writing tips, that good and intriguing writing never ever adheres to formula or to rules or expectations of genre.  That writers should never ever write anything traditional or expected or that has been done before or that might, in any of 43 parallel worlds, be considered “trite” or “predictable” or that has somehow in some way already been “done.”

And this is a poisonous load of BS.  First, because one need not depart from formula so much as reinterpret  it to create fresh, engaging writing.  Second, because sometimes readers like the comfort and predictability inherent within certain genres: they want or expect a happy-ever-after, a love confession, or a certain set of tropes.  If I may head to the kitchen for a metaphor: there’s no reason to stop making macaroni and cheese just because it’s a questionably-healthy comfort food that a lot of people like.  The trick is, instead, to make kickass macaroni and cheese.

In other words, you can work within the confines of formula and with traditional, predictable elements and still create great writing.

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Five Reasons Winter Is The Best Season For Writing

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1.Because going anywhere else is a pain.

I timed it, last year.

I timed how long it took for me to leave my house during winter.  The minimum was fifteen minutes and only required the donning of a coat and hat and gloves and boots on what was otherwise a normal-but-frigid day.  The maximum was fifty minutes, which also happened to be the day that ice crusted over the five inches of snow on my car.  It took two scrapers and a lot of cursing and sweating for me to dig myself out – all to go to the store and buy toilet paper, which is a necessary but not appealing reason to leave your cozy nest.

Compared to that, the prospect of curling up in a warm house and writing – yes, even the same sentence nine-hundred different ways – sounds divine.

2. Because you can live the myth and feel like a Real Live Author.

Yes, yes, you’re a writer because you write.  I know.  But I am a writer and I hardly ever feel like one, even when I am smack dab in the middle of finishing a manuscript.  Something about the process is so unglamorous that it sucks all the indulgent joy out of the experience.

Winter can fix that.  Here is what you do: go make a steaming mug of something hot.  It has to be in a big mug.  Extra points for a pottery mug like these.  Find a sweater.  It’s okay and even preferable if the sweater of dubious provenance.  Wear it. Start a fire in the fireplace or, failing that, light a seasonal candle.  Sit down, cradle the big steaming mug in your hands, inhale the scents in the room, and look out the window at the snow.  Take a deep breath.  Relax.  Think to yourself, “I’m a writer.”

Whatever you do, though, don’t start writing.  It’ll shatter the illusion.

Read the other three below the cut!

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Catbird Song: Part One

I’m thinking of James tonight.

James worked with my father, but they all called him a baby: he was the youngest of all the men and the newest machinist at the machine shop where they worked.  Only ten years older than me, he had shaggy brown hair and an easy smile.

I liked James.  The first time I met him he was wearing his grease-smudged blue uniform with his name stitched onto a pocket patch.  He grinned.  “What a little catbird,” he said, and that became my nickname.  “You’re lucky you ain’t as ugly as your Daddy.”

I laughed. Dad laughed, too.

After that, I started to collect facts about James.  He was fresh out of a brief stint in the coal mines.  He’d graduated high school and said his biggest regret was not going to college.  He didn’t have a wife or any children, which was unusual in the shop, but I didn’t understand at the time why my mother shook her head with grim disgust every time that particular truth surfaced.

Only once did I glean that James was different.  His name came up once, at my uncle’s house, and my uncle bristled.  “James is funny, ain’t he?” He dropped into a mincing, limp-wristed posture and sashayed across the living room.

My dad was preoccupied dipping snuff, so he just nodded. My uncle barked a sharp, short laugh.  “As long as he knows better than to act funny ’round here,” he announced.  He made a twisting motion with his hands, violent and quick.  And he wasn’t laughing when he spoke again.  “‘Cause I’d wring his neck.”

I didn’t understand then that James was gay, or even what gay meant; my strict religious upbringing meant no one ever told me or so much as alluded to it. Nor did I understand why the last time I saw James – right before he left the shop to go work elsewhere for reasons that to this day remain foggy – he gripped my shoulder and looked into my eyes and didn’t smile at all.  “You go on to college and get yourself an education, catbird,” he told me.  His hand tightened.  “Understand? You go on and you get the hell out of here.”

This is the confession of an Appalachian woman: I grew up steeped in hatred without understanding that’s what it was.  I grew up in ignorance and with a very narrow view of the world, without the initial ability to question assumptions and flawed ideas presented to me as truth.  But reading saved me and writing saved me and kind people saved me.  I’m a different person, now.

I wish I could find James to tell him that.  I wish I could give him a hug.  But since I can’t, I’ll write about it, about what it means to make a journey from ignorance to awareness, and why words matter in that journey.  Why they mean everything.

This is The Catbird Song.

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Writers should create a community. But the community needn’t be exclusive to writers.

“Co-myuuuuu-ni-tee,” my creative writing teacher sang, and spread her arms wide as if to embrace us all to her bosom.  She divided us, college students in our first semester of creative writing coursework, into small groups of three and four.  “Co-myuuuuu-ni-tee helps writers create their best writing.”

My “community” that semester was composed of three people: a very friendly and well-meaning stoner who raved about everything that everyone wrote, a girl who liked to argue with people over their diction without knowing the dictionary definition of the words, and a guy whose poems about his “lovely pale and dark-haired muse” were so obviously directed at me that his unwanted affections became a class-wide joke.

Is it any wonder I ran like hell from writing groups after that?

Too often I found the groups staid and my presence awkward.  And then when I enjoyed the groups, I found the feedback lacking.  Over time I gave up on writing groups entirely and retreated into a cozy hermit-hole of my own making.  I felt, and still feel at times, that I am better off writing when I am writing alone.

And yet writing communities matter.  They do.  As time has passed I realize that the myth of what the “writing group” could or should be often subverts what a good group can do.  My community includes both writers and non-writers, and I want to talk about what makes it work when all the “professional” writing groups in the world left me cold.

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Poor Benedict Cumberbatch – or, Why Books Are The Best

Benedict Cumberbatch is engaged.

Whether you care or not, whether you know who Benedict Cumberbatch is or not, know this: the outcry has been intense.  The star of the BBC’s Sherlock  and a very good actor in a slew of other films, Cumberbatch is now experiencing the full wrath and ecstasy of a fandom in shock.

Reactions vary, depending on where you look.  Some fans gleefully offer congratulations and announce their hopes for future “Cumberbabies” like aunts and uncles personally invited to the wedding party.  Others wonder aloud if this engagement might not be an Oscar-bait conspiracy.  Some are disparaging his fiance; others speculate about whether or not this is a sham marriage and why; still others are predicting how long the not-yet-legalized union will or will not last.

I got an eyeful of the reactions and responses today on some of the gossip blogs I read and, despite having virtually no interest in Cumberbatch – sorry, he just doesn’t blip on my radar – I came to two conclusions:

1) I feel so sorry for that poor bastard and the sheer amount of speculation and response his life choices invite, and

2) I am more grateful than ever for romance novels, which invite and reward that sort of speculation and cheerful obsession – and render it harmless.

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Yes, I am a writer. Yes, it is a “real” job.

I am a writer.

I have another job too.  It is a job that people consider a “real” job because, I suppose, I have to drive to it and stay there, in a space that is not home, and do work-related things until I leave.  No one bothers me at that job.  They do not call and say, “Hey, since you’re not busy, can you do x, y, and z?”  They do not get irritated when I don’t immediately answer texts, because they know I am working.  No one asks if I can pop out and do them a favor.

Of course not.  Because they respect my working time.  And yet very few people aside from my partner respect my writing time.  Which is also working time.

I often wonder why that is, why people treat writing as a hobby or an indulgence rather than as work.  Is it because of the pernicious and fuzzy geography of “home”: the fact that my writing workplace is also the same one where I eat cold pizza and dance to bad 80s music in my free time?  Is it because I do not have to get in a car and go to an Important Place?  Is it because I am writing sweet and sexy romances and not the next great American novel?  Is it because people think writing is a “a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” like Wordsworth said, and therefore requires no actual effort?

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