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If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve been where Brian is:

Today, a step-by-step guide:

  1. Get up at the crack of dawn. Make strong coffee. Stay in your jammies–who’s gonna know? Set a lofty goal for your page count. Ten pages of your novel, at least.

    big plans for the day

    big plans for the day

  2. Innocently check e-mail queue to make sure the world didn’t come to an end overnight.
  3. Discover that, yes, the world did come to an end overnight. Your professional world, anyway. Your book, which is a finalist for a big-ass prestigious award–the Queen of all Knicknacks–has not been received for judging at the Central Judging Office of the Universe.
  4. Remember the unbending strictness of this rule. If books are not received by the cut-off deadline, you will be immediately disqualified. This has happened, people. It’s happened to the best romance writer on the planet. Her contest entry books were held up by trolls at the US/Canada border one year and arrived a bit late and she was DQ-ed and sucked forever into the Tubes of Obscurity. Shudder to imagine the same fate for yourself.
  5. Suffer deep executive assistant envy of your friends who have them. If you had an executive assistant, you would simply push a button on the intercom and say, “Mr. Matsura, would you please send Five Copies of my Finalist Book to the Central Judging Office of the Universe to arrive before 5pm Central?” And he would adjust his loin cloth and say, “Yes, ma’am, right away ma’am” and you would start scribbling madly, knocking out those pages.
  6. Shake off fantasy, track the shipment you expedited twelve days ago and discover it has been labeled “Exception” which is their way of saying, “My bad. Your books are lost, honey.”
  7. Let coffee get cold, decide to go to Proper Office to get more Author Copies to re-send, overnight, at Enormous Financial Expense. Slog up the driveway to Proper Office in your jammies and gardening clogs, praying the neighbors don’t see.
  8. Cheerily greet Mr. Dow who gives you a wave on the way to get his paper. Tell yourself he already thinks you’re an unemployed alcoholic anyway, so this won’t change anything.
  9. Discover that there is not a single author copy left of the book in question, except the versions in Chinese, Latvian, Urdu and Manga.
  10. See if you can figure out a way to pin this fiasco on a man, because somehow it has to be the husband’s fault. Oh! I know! He raided your supply of author copies to give out at a charity golf tournament. It’s too perfect. Better than a smoking gun.
  11. Call local bookstore which has good news! They have completely sold out of that title! 100% sell-through, baby!
  12. Call adorable daughter. Learn that she is suffering from the plague and consigned to bed and besides, her local bookstore only has three copies anyway. Call indulgent mother. Learn that she is gone to a Red Hat Meeting and besides, her bookstore is fresh out of copies, too.
  13. Sheepishly e-mail publisher and ask if they can send books. Remember publisher is in Canada and fear that Border Trolls will hold up the shipment. Listen to Adam Lambert’s “Mad World” with new appreciation for the lyrics.
  14. As a back-up plan, log into Big Giant Online Lollapolloza Bookstore and order 5 copies to be sent overnight, at Enormous Personal Expense. Feel nervous about the Fine Print.
  15. Consider calling girlfriends in Houston to ask them to round up books and take them to the HQ of the Biggest Writers’ Organization in the Universe (BWOU). Realize girlfriends have better things to do with their time.
  16. Discover that the BWOU employs a compassionate person who wants to help. Accept her offer to pick up books at a local bookstore. Dub her your NBF (New Best Friend). Call local bookstore and be told they don’t accept payment over the phone. Overnight check + chocolate to NBF.
  17. Realize the Hq of the BWOU will soon receive 20 or 25 copies of Finalist Book.
  18. Dare to look at clock. Remember company is coming for dinner. You are still in your jammies and there is no food. Regard blank pages in horror.
  19. Clonk head on desk.
  20. Repeat as necessary.

From the Deborah Bouziden interview:

DB: In October, there was an incident involving a pair of hiking shoes. Writers know that everything that happens to them is fodder for the written page some day. Please relate the story and do you see it showing up in a book later down the road? Do you suggest writers keep a notebook/journal to record incidents like this? Why?

fair game for fiction

fair game for fiction


I won’t relate the story because it’s routine (I am routinely klutzy). It’s “dog bites man” rather than “man bites dog.” Digest version–slippery shoes+wet grass+dog tugging at lead=dislocated elbow. Now, the part that might be of use are the details a writer absorbs from incidents like this–the expression on a stranger’s face when he saw the grotesque angle of the arm. Pain so intense I thought the top of my head would come off. The stranger’s kindness and swiftness as he dialed 911, crated the dog, secured the house, found my purse and mobile phone…all the time keeping his eyes averted from the arm. My feeling of dismay as the EMT cut off my brand new, expensive Patagonia hoodie. The interesting apparatus filled with styrofoam beads, which they used to immobilize the arm. A busload of school kids on the ferry (had to take the ferry to the ER in Seattle), lining up to peer into the ambulance to see if there was any blood and guts. Little details, like the meth addict screaming obscenities. Oh, wait, that was me! The doc’s name: Milkman. A nurse rushing in, saying, “I have your diagnosis! #1, you have a severely dislocated elbow. #2, you’re famous, I love your books!”

A writer should pay attention when strange things happen. I wasn’t taking notes because it was my left arm and I’m left handed. Generally, if they’re dramatic enough, you remember the important bits. Some things, you don’t need a journal for.

How do you put life into your fiction?

I’ve been grilled by Bill! Listen in on an interview with Author Magazine.

I'm talking and I can't shut up

I'm talking and I can't shut up

Oh, snap: “In America only the successful writer is important, in France all writers are important, in England no writer is important, and in Australia you have to explain what a writer is.” –Geoffrey Cottrell

tools of the trade

tools of the trade

…and here’s the continuation of the Deborah Bouziden interview:

DB: When you speak at conferences, workshops, etc., what one question can you always count on being asked? How do you respond to it?

SW: Q: “How old are you and how much money do you make?”

A: “Very, and a lot.”

Also, many questions relate to pretty much all the stuff in this interview, not that I’m complaining. I’m also asked: “Where do you get your ideas?” And “How long does it take to write a book?”

A: “Ideas come from an emotional place inside me. When I have a powerful reaction to something, I start looking for a story to hang it on. Writing a story helps me sort things out. I take anywhere from six months to a year to write a book. The first draft comes out fast–in a matter of a few months–and then the Great Revision Slog takes the rest of the time.”

Writers are remarkably consistent in what they’re dying to know about each other. And the longtime published authors are no different. Put us together at a cocktail party, and you’ll hear us asking the same things–How long does it take you to write a book? Do you do a lot of revisions? How did you find your publisher/agent/publicist/husband….?

How about you? What do people ask you about your writing? What do you wish they’d ask? What would you like to ask other writers?

You never forget your first time...

You never forget your first time...

…further chitchat with Deborah Bouziden

DB: Who introduced you to Kathleen Woodiwiss’ books or did you stumble across them in the library? What drew you to them and would you recommend them to beginning romance writers today? Why?

SW: When I was in college, I had a summer job at a department store fine jewelry counter. It was horrendously boring, so a coworker lent me Shanna and I was a goner. I devoured the thing. I also felt that inner tuning fork effect–the story resonated with me on a deep level. That was how I found my genre. I recommend that writers practice “conscious reading.” Pay attention to your visceral response to a story and figure out the elements that resonate with you. Then find the techniques that work for your own writing.

How about you? What got you hooked on reading and writing?

must-read for writers

must-read for writers

More of the Deborah Bouziden interview:

DB: What are three or four books writers should have on their shelves? And why these books?

SW: What a great question! I’m totally going to go over the limit here. All of these are books every writer should have, not just romance writers.

• Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain is probably out of print but well worth tracking down. It opened my mind to commercial elements in fiction, particularly pacing.
 Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway is a staple, so big and rich I find myself going back to it again and again. Don’t worry about the cover price. Just hold your nose and pay it.
• The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. (Full disclosure: I’m friends with Chris and his amazing wife Alice.) Chris loves it when I say this: He is a god to me. Seriously, the memo that became this book unlocked stories for me in a way nothing else ever has. I love this book so much I annotated my own.
• Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Al Zuckerman shows us how to take material apart and put it back together and why it’s not insanity to do so, again and again.
• Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass comes with a companion workbook, and both are must-haves. Don is one of the best brainstormers and story analysts I know. He has a unique understanding of what makes fiction work.
• Anything by Michael Hauge. He’s a story analyst, too, but comes at it from the perspective of screenwriting. His books and workshops are invaluable.
• Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle is more spiritual, about inspiration.
• If You Want to Write by Brenda Euland is also spiritual, about aspiration.

shut up and write

shut up and write

Conversation with Deborah Bouziden, continued…

DB: Do you have a set writing schedule? If yes, what is it? If not, please explain how you work. I read that you write your drafts in a spiral notebook with a pen. Why do you think that process works for you?

SW: Since writing is my job (see yesterday’s post), I go to writing the way I would go to any other job–regularly and on a mostly-daily basis. What I love about my job is that it varies. Some days, I sit with my pen and notebook, and dream and make stuff up and write it down. Other days I’m at the computer, dictating pages (reading from the handwritten draft) or working on revisions. Or I might be listening to music and making a collage of images and objects that evoke my book-in-progress. You might even catch me creating a playlist for the book or (it has to be said) taking care of business, like responding to this interview, updating my web site or doing whatever PR my publicist has come up with. The reason this works for me is (surprise) that I love my work.

Just an aside–many emerging writers I meet are looking for a free pass or special formula that will finally kick their asses in gear and get them to finish and publish their novel. Newsflash–and we all knew this on some level–there is no mystique to this process. It’s a craft. A tough one, yes, but a learnable craft. Sure, there is that element of talent that can’t be taught, but that’s the easy part. Craft is the hard part. If it was easy, everyone would do it. It’s not easy. It’s work. We love it but it’s still work, still a challenge, still out of reach of anyone except those who have the passion for it.

Readers might want to take a look at Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, an examination of how real-world people achieve excellence and success. Here, I’ll give away the shocker ending: Work hard.

 Dudes! The Baltimore Symphony has created the Dead Symphony No. 6, a tribute to the music of the Grateful Dead. It like, totally, reminded me of my favorite Dead song ever, China Doll. I miss Jerry Garcia! Here’s the link to the YouTube:

I listen to music while I write, and each book has its own particular sound track. “China Doll” is about to join the playlist for my work-in-progress, Lakeshore Christmas. Anna Nalick’s “Breathe 2AM” inspired a whole book, including the title, Just Breathe.

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July 2020