Monday, April 25, 2005

"I was passing someone a cat..."

My life is mostly boring.

But it's in the 'mostly' part that the adventures begin....

On Sunday I was having a pretty mundane day, giving the tiny front garden the first real overhaul of the spring. Weeding, planting out, mulching. As an almost un-noticed comma to the day's paragraph, I hit my head on the arbour seat part way through the afternoon.

It hurt.

A bit.

So I kept on gardening.

That evening, I was trying to show the almost invisible lump to Husband, when he pointed out that I had a graze, too.

Cool, I thought. I drew blood!

(Yes, I have never grown up.)

This morning I wake up with a headache. Well, I get a lot of headaches. Usually I take a tablet and they disappear. With what was probably my last sensible, logical decision of the day, I decided not to take a tablet in case the headache was in some way related to the bump on the head.

Please note, I managed to make the connection between the headache and the bump, but not the connection between, say, a possible concussion and not driving, or, I don't know - not going to work and seeing a doctor instead?

I told you it was my last sensible decision.

So I drove to work. The thirty miles to work. I sat through meeting #1 and meeting #2. Somewhere about half an hour into meeting #3 (all of which, thank heaven, were with friends and colleagues, some of whom I'd told about my 'headache') it was pointed out that I really wasn't well and should probably go home.

(The following dialogue is a dramatisation of the conversation that followed)

Me: Yeah, I'm really not coping now
Boss: I want you to go to hospital
Me: I'll pop in on my doctor when I get home
Boss: Are you okay to drive
Me: Yeah, I'll--
Colleague: No.
Me: Oh I'm sure--
Colleague: No
Me: I could call Husband?
Boss: And go to a hospital
Me (getting to my feet): Okay. I just need to make a couple of phone calls and get some work for tomorro--
Boss & Colleague: NO

To cut a long and embarassing story short, Colleague (thankyouthankyouthankyou) drives me to a local hospital, and we call Husband from there to fetch me.

And I'm fine. Slight concussion and delayed shock, rest today and I'm allowed to drive tomorrow if the headache's gone.

*shaking head gently* Honestly. What a palaver.

I'll leave you with the wonderfully 'Anna' conversation with the doctor at the hospital:-

Dr: And what do you do at work?
Me: I'm a Rural.... thing. It'll come to me. Development Officer.
Dr: And how did you hit your head?
Me: I was passing someone a cat.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Dream No Small Dreams

I've had an eventful week (more later!) but the most influencial part of it was having the chance to hear the Rt Hon Jenny Shipley, ex-Prime Minister of New Zealand, speak at a conference for rural women.

Her words were aimed at women who are, or want to be, influencial and entrepreneurial in rural communities, but they spoke to the writing heart of me. So much that she had to say could be applied so directly to the female-dominated (sorry, guys!) romance writing world that I wanted to precis her talk here, and add my own romance-spin to it.

Get comfy. This is a long 'un.

Change is inevitable. What matters is how we manage it.

It's a time of change in the romance publishing world. Markets are in a state of flux. There is argument about whether readers' attitudes are changing, or if publishers are putting their energies into seeking after new readers, with different tastes. We can't - and shouldn't want to - 'keep things as they are' so we've got to manage the change that affects us, right?

Timeframes are condensing, complexity is increasing

Okay, so if you're waiting on an MS, it doesn't feel like timeframes are condensing. But the huge rise of e-books has certainly changed some publishing from a slow business to a fast one. And in that 'the more I learn, the less I know' tradition, I certainly feel like the publishing world is getting more complex. Alison Kent's TMI post at RTB touched on this - there's a sea of information out there.

Work out how you can grab the knowledge that enables you to deal with this

That sea of information includes blogs, newsletters, magazines and publisher's guidelines. Hang out on loops or in eHarlequin's Submission Care Group and find out why MSs are being rejected. (I know, that sounds really callous, but it's honestly a great source of information for those submitting to the Harlequin group). Take time to read. Make time to write.

But you have to be discerning. Find what you need. Discard what doesn't work for you. And be ruthless in that discarding.

...seriously engage in these respectful conversations.

Here, Jenny was talking about the importance of consultation. Which I think brings us to readers' blogs, a wonderful way to engage with readers and find out what they like or don't. BUT - and, like mine, it's a big but - when gathering reader opinions, there's a danger of generalisation. One reader rant does not a market trend make. Beware the silent voices with big book budgets.

She also made the point that you can't make change by railing at people. She emphasised that respectful conversations.

Plan to take on new challenges

This one I noted down as 'don't just manage change, be willing to change.' Scary thought....

think about the who-ness, not the what-ness

Jenny is a wife and mother, and a farmer. She was that when she started to run for office, and she's still that, now. She spoke of her need to be a person in her own right, standing in her own space, and of her fantastic husband who told her he wanted her to be herself in all things. She made the point that we should think not about WHAT we bring to a situation, what we can do - but WHO we are. Who we are is part and parcel of what we offer our readers, our stories, ourselves.

I have a bad habit of splitting myself up. There's writer-Anna, dayjob-Anna. Anna-the-Wife. Emotional Anna. They're all me.

Do you write erotica? Are you a mother, too? Do you split those 'personas' up in your head? Nuh-uh. The sooner we learn to reconcile all those parts of ourselves, the sooner we can apply all of ourselves to a thing, and make it magical.

There are three ways to influnce decisions

Activist - Is this RTB? Readers' blogs?
Lobbyist - Reviews, perhaps?
Decision Maker - To an extent, I think this is all of us, although the temptation is to slap this title on editors, or marketing departments, or even higher...

Set your Agenda

This is where it got even more interesting. I got so much out of this! I'm only hoping I can do it justice.

1) Identify the issues - that's part of that finding the right information bit, right?
2) Plan every move - self-explanatory.
3) Goals - Set goals with the expectation of achieving them

Yeah, that's right. I'm going to say that again. Set goals with the expectation of achieving them

I'm blushing. I'm sitting here, blushing, as I was sitting in that conference on Wednesday with my mouth open. Because I realised something fundamental about my writing process that I HAVE to change.

I realised that most of my goals are set with a fatalist, defeatist attitude. I set goals with the expecation of failure.

I used to expect to sell (still blushing). Now I expect rejection (blushing and squirming with embarassment).

Now that's all about managing hurt. I still haven't figured out how to be positive, and not be more devastated when the worst happens.

Ugh. Look! LOOK AT THAT! I just said WHEN the worst happens. IF the worst happens. IF.

Now, it's my fault I got into that habit, but in my defence, part of it was a result of continuing to write for submission when I was physically and mentally unfit for it.

In future, I'm going to set my goals with the expectation of success. It's going to be hard, but I'm going to, do it. Yes.

Where were we?

4) Co-ordinate your actions - Plan your time, people. And think about those other activities that are a part of writing, too.
5) Leadership matters - For us, this probably means not letting our characters bully us.....
6) Manage your people - okay, so first we need to become multi-published bestsellers with a team of publicists, right? Wrong. Your family is part of your team. Your friends. CPs. Chapter-friends. Communicating your needs for writing time to your family and making concessions in turn is a part of managing your team. If your writing time depends on you sneaking off somewhere and hoping no one notices you're gone, you're NOT managing your team. And since you're thinking about the Who-ness, your writing is a part and parcel of YOU, so they're going to have to accept that, right? Right.
7) Celebrate success - however small. Set a goal for a page this week? Met that goal? Celebrate.
8) Dream No Small Dreams.

Dream No Small Dreams

There's no need to interpret that for writing romance. I'm just going to write it in big letters and stick it up above my monitor.

Happy Dreaming.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Words I don't want to read in romances - # 1


Friday, April 15, 2005

The Laundry Gods Were Listening

Husband enters the room.

H:- I'm going to Hwash the hand towels, can you think of Hanything Helse to go in the load?

Me:- *trying for cool* You could do the bath mat and the bath towels.

H:- Yers. I hwas halready going to do theeeem.

Me:- Why the funny voice?

H:- This His my Laundraay Voice

Me:- We have a Laundry Voice?

H:- Yers.

Me:- Oh, cool.


We went to a nice Italian restaurant for my birthday lunch, and when we got there, I realised that it was a vegetarian restaurant, when I'd never noticed before.

That's okay, he said. I'll manage as long as I have the BUFFALO mozzarella and the BEEF tomatoes

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

What counts as writing?

Here's something I've been mulling over recently - what activity counts as writing?

In the past week I've done the following (in no particular order):-

Written a synosis
Written a cover letter
Written a marketing strategy
Read a magazine article about writer-me and thought how best to use it
Supported writing friends
Critiqued for writing friends
Worked on a budget for a writing workshop
Continued to plan with a friend for a writing workshop
Assembled and posted a submission packet
Mentally plotted a historical novel I will never write
Mentally planned when I will get on to my next WIP
Printed a 315 page MS (#@!@~&!! printer!)

All of those things are part and parcel of writer-me. They may not be essential to getting words on the page, but they are critical to my development as a writer - it's career development.

Do they count? I feel they're important.

But I suspect that sometimes only words on the page will do.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Yes, this IS designed to make you jealous...

Places I have been today:-

Larch Cottage Nursery Gardens

Brougham Hall

Brough Castle

Brougham Castle


Sunday, April 10, 2005

Thank you!

I wanted to pop in to say thank you for all the birthday wishes! I feel slightly ill from too much chocolate, so I think that sets the seal on a successful day...

So thank you Bronwyn, Julie, Mel, Kathy, Jorie, Michelle, Jaye and Nell!

Birthday Bitch

Ten essential things to create the perfect birthday.

1) Tea in bed. (Well, in a cup, but served to you while YOU are in bed...)

2) Husband taking less than 50 minutes to call you Birthday Bitch for the first time. I get warm feelings from the wonderful, inventive insults Husband dishes out. I am NOT being sarcastic. I actually do.

3) Chocolate

4) Wine

5) Cream cakes for breakfast, and knowing your brand-new bread machine is on its way. Let the good doughs roll.

6) A cat to play with the wrapping paper.

7) Music. This year's selection is from Biddy's Big Country radio show and features.... The Kenny.

8) Jewelry from Pilgrim

9) A pashmina which appears to have been made from the shaded golden-greens of an ancient forest, spun into silk and draped like a benediction over your reverent shoulders.

10) A romance book that actually makes your heart race and brings tears to your eyes. This year brought to you by Bronwyn Jameson's "A Tempting Engagement" from Desire. One of those books that provokes equal parts starry eyed joy in the writing and head-beating frustration that you're so far off that high pinnacle yourself.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Finishing the journey


And it's only taken me eleven hours....

But I'm done.

*tired yay*

Charting a journey...

Well, I have a journey in my blessedly finished MS, but now I have to summarise it.

I have a chapter by chapter synopsis to write.

(It's about here that I start doing an impression of a cat hacking up a furrball.)

Tomorrow, it's my birthday. By tomorrow, I want to have the entire submission packet together, in an envelope, so I can forget about it until it hits the post on Monday.

It's amazing how attractive the thought of tasks like... oh, I don't know... scrubbing cat urine off the wallpaper?... becomes at a time like this.

The cleaning can wait. The synopsis cannot.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

In search of the journey

We went to the theatre tonight.

We will draw a veil over the whole 'dragging Husband to something cultural' achievement. It is enough to say, we went to the theatre and pause for a moment to consider the triumph this represents....

The production was good - we enjoyed ourselves. We laughed at the right moments, tut-tutted when we were supposed to and nodded sagely when that was called for, too.

But we left feeling dissatisfied.

In pride, I have to say that it was Husband who pinned down why we felt that way. Speaking of the characters, he said, "They went from A to A."

Even he picked up on it, and he doesn't read romance. Quite simply, the characters didn't grow. They were in a mess at the start, they had some fun along the way, then reverted to the same mess at the end. The same arguments going round in circles.

I crave character growth. I crave a story that gives me a whole alphabet of character-exploration. Sod A to B. I want A to Z with a two-night safari in I and a overnighter in U.

I might have put this down to my being a hopeful romantic, a confirmed fan of romance fiction. But, since Husband wouldn't touch romance with a bargepole, and even he talked of the lack of change in the characters, I'll excuse myself on that count this time.

Give me change! Give me growth, learning, development, a character who blossoms, a character who crawls their way, inch by painstaking inch, back to humanity.

Give me a journey

Monday, April 04, 2005


My talented, witty, gorgeous, isntshecute friend Julie has just sold a second book to Mills and Boon Temptation. Go see!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Fanfare Moment

Every time I read this one line in my MS, I hear trumpets.

Yup. Trumpets. One massive, blaring, unrepentently joyful fanfare.

The line? For Jenny, he wanted not to be Kier McAllister.

Why the trumpets? Because this is probably the most important pivotal moment for the Hero. From this moment towards the end of chaper four, everything for him is a slow journey back to a life where a conscience isn't a weakness, and choosing not to hurt someone isn't a failure.

Of course he has a long way to go to deserve Jenny, who is a freaking miracle of the extraordinary-in-the-ordinary and the strongest heroine I've yet written.

But those trumpets are the start of the journey.

I love my reprehensible, morally ambiguous hero. But I love him more because he can, and does, change.

So, what's your fanfare moment? Where do the trumpets sound for you?

The Same Old Broom

Remember Only Fools and Horses? The episode where Trigger talks about 'his father's broom'. "I've changed the head a couple of times, and the handle's been replaced, but it's still the same broom...." *

It's an old joke, but one we recognise. The thing that seems the same to us, even though every part of it is new.

Which is rather like the MS I'm polishing now. If I start telling you its history, I won't be able to stop and I'll probably start sounding desperate. There have been rejections in its past. And revisions. And requests. Lots of each of them.

More recently, I've rewritten large chunks of it, employing what I've learned since it's baby steps as a first draft.

Which brings us back to the broom. You see, in broom terms, I first replaced the bristles. Then I decided the head didn't support the bristles well enough, so I replaced that with something sleeker and more sturdy. Which is great. It sure sweeps a good floor now.

Only the handle keeps giving me splinters.

But, since a wise person recently told me, "you need to move on" and since I know this to be true, I'm going to hand that old broom onto someone else to look at. And suggest they wear gloves.

In any case, by the time I'd replaced the handle, the bristles would probably be worn out again....

But it's a good book - er, broom - despite its flaws. And someday, in the not too distant future, someone's going to want to buy it. I tell you now - that's going to feel extremely good.

*Probably I paraphrase. You get the gist.