Changing genres and getting THAT call

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything on the blog. So long, in fact, that my husband saw fit to complain about the lack of blog posts (he needs something to keep him entertained at work on a Friday). However as the main reason for this was emailed off last Friday, it seems an appropriate time to give a little update about what I’ve been working on over the past few months.

This all starts in autumn last year, when I had several partials out on submission, was suffering through extremely long response times, and had hit a bit of a wall, writing wise. I wasn’t blocked, I didn’t want to not write, but I needed to write something different, something that would present a different challenge. It was around this time that You Magazine and Black Lace books announced that they were running an erotic short story competition, open to everyone and free to enter, with publication of the story as a prize. I decided that I’d have a go. I’d had editorial feedback on a partial which featured a sex scene that the editor hadn’t liked, and that had stung. No-one wants to be told they write bad sex. So to prove to myself that I could in fact write sex that wasn’t awful, I wrote a short story about a shy temp who has sex with her boss in a train station waiting room (actually, it’s a bit more filthy than that, because there are other people in the waiting room at the time). It was extremely rude. There was blushing and hiding behind hands. I sent it off.

A few weeks later, I had a letter from Gillian Green saying I’d been shortlisted, together with a free book (can’t beat a free book).

Following on from this, I began to wonder if i should have a go at writing something with the aim of having it published. Being shortlisted had shown me that clearly there was something in my erotic writing that worked, and I wanted to test myself and see what I could come up with. I wrote a novella this time, about a photographer who takes erotic shots on the sly and who is caught out by her accountant. She has a massive crush on him. There’s lots of sex and nude photography. It was a huge amount of fun to write, and yes there was more blushing and hiding behind hands. I then took a scene from this novella with me to a writing sex workshop run by Julie Cohen, where it was read out loud and critiqued (if I was going to die from embarrassment, it would have been then). But beyond the dying of shame, it was apparent that something else was going on. As the scene was being read out, no-one was breathing. No-one was fiddling with their pen or scratching their ear. There was a moment, a really magical moment, where everyone stopped and the words caught them, and I began to think that maybe, just maybe I had something in amongst the first draft mess.

I went home, reworked the novella, adding another 10K to the length, and then I started to look for somewhere to submit it. I’d sold several of my contemporary stories to Escape at this point, but as this was different, I felt that a different publisher might be a good idea. I knew Carina UK were looking for Brit writers, and I’d heard whispers of multi book contracts, and I wanted one of those. I wanted one quite badly. So I submitted the partial through their website, and a few days later I had a request for the full. I submitted that after a frantic weekend of reading and polishing and reading again and hiding the laptop screen every time anyone came near it.

And then came the wait.

6 weeks of it.

Which by publishing standards is about 5 seconds, although it feels like 10 years of your life when you’re sitting it out. Towards the end of the 6 weeks, I decided I’d waited long enough and chased the submission, expecting an email reply. I didn’t get one. What I did get, a few days later, was a phone call. Now no-one rings my phone apart from my husband and occasionally the school, so when I checked the screen and saw it wasn’t either of them, I knew something was up. And there is a moment, when you see the number come up and it’s a London dialing code that you know. You just know. A short conversation with Lucy Gilmour later and I had sold that novella and I had a contract for 2 more. All three novellas are now complete and should be available in the spring 🙂

And all because an editor said I wrote bad sex.

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Taboos in Romance.

The sticky issue of taboos in romance novels popped up in a facebook writers group that I am a member of this morning, and it got me thinking about romance novels, and issues that affect women, issues that are often shameful and private and secret (and I’m not talking about a secret desire to be ravaged by a dinosaur, or the fact that your significant other uses a penis beaker). It was suggested that some areas are a complete no-go. Readers might not like them, might find them upsetting, might abandon a book because those issues are in it.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t write about these things?

In Blue Eyed Devil (Lisa Kleypas) the heroine is raped by her abusive husband. In Rachel’s Holiday (Marian Keyes) Rachel has problems with drugs and alcohol. Once a Ferrara Wife by Sarah Morgan is about the aftermath of miscarriage, Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay saga tells the tale of 3 men dealing with the fallout from childhood sexual abuse. All the books show the importance of love and it’s role in helping us journey past traumatic events. There are books about adoption, anorexia, physical abuse, poverty, bullying, incest.

When it is done well, with care and integrity, fiction can provide a wonderful, private place to explore difficult events. It can provide a place of solace, a sense that the hurt is shared, and a way to find understanding. Fictional characters can discuss feelings that we can’t discuss with our friends in real life, because shame and embarrassment and fear won’t let us. It is one of the reasons why fiction is so important, and why writers must not be afraid to tackle the dark secrets that we all try to hide. But it has to be done well.

Domestic violence is a difficult topic for me to read about, my biggest problem being that I often feel the writer hasn’t really understood it and has merely used it to create emotional tension in the book. Blue Eyed Devil is an exception, and if you haven’t read it, you should.

My book She Who Dares features a heroine who has self-harmed, and is scarred both inside and out as a result. The Holiday Survival Guide, which will be published in January, deals with abortion.

And this is before we even start on the topic of sexual taboos (though anyone wishing to see a whole load of sexual taboos blown out of the water should read Control by Charlotte Stein). Slut shaming, anyone? I shall blog more about that next week, as I have recently sold a novella in which the heroine breaks up with the hero and has sex with someone else, and nothing seems to have more boundaries around it than women’s sexual behaviour.

So what taboos do you shy away from, and which books do you think deal with them well?

Juliet Madison and her five favourite things

Today on my blog I have Juliet Madison, a fellow Escape Artist who is at the centre of a whole new genre, Romagic comedy. Take it away Juliet!

1. Candles

I love them. I have tons of them. More than I will probably ever use. There’s just something about the sweet scent they have and the soft glow of the flame, it’s relaxing and inspiring. I wish I could use them more often, but my cat likes to knock things over, so candle time has to wait till he’s tucked up at night in his ‘room’ – AKA – the garage.

2. Sitcoms & movies

These go well with candles. Relaxing on the couch with a movie or fab TV show with candles flickering nearby and a nice hot chocolate. Mmmm. Obviously, as a writer, I love fiction, and this includes the kind you can watch. In our house we watch a movie or two every week, and I always have a TV show on DVD that I’m going through. At the moment I’m on season four of Brothers and Sisters which I missed when it was on TV. I also love Friends, and have the whole ten season boxed set.

3. Writing

I can’t talk about my favourite things and not mention writing now can I? Yes there are times when it’s hard work, but 99% of the time, writing brings me joy. I love starting with a blank page and turning it into something new, creating characters that didn’t exist before, and making up stories that I would want to read. It’s almost like playing God. 😉

4. My son

As with writing, I couldn’t talk about my favourite things and not mention my darling son now could I? 😉 Okay, he may not bring me joy 99% of the time (sorry son, but I’m sure it’s the same from your side!), but I couldn’t imagine my life without him. He is an inspiration to me, the way he follows his passion and teaches himself things, and we have the best conversations. We also like many of the same movies and TV shows (excluding Brothers and Sisters – eww, too girly!), so this is often how we like to spend time together.

5. Books

I love that there is an unlimited amount of journeys you can take in life through reading fiction. I love creating books, but I also love escaping into another person’s story and imagination too. It’s hard to pick a favourite book, but I’ll pick a significant one… When I finished reading Sophie Kinsella’s book Remember Me a few years ago, that was the moment I decided once and for all to get serious about writing a novel of my own. I wanted to be able to make people laugh, and maybe even cry, but most of all, leave them with a smile on their face when they closed the book. Four years and multiple books later, I haven’t looked back.

SIScover

STARSTRUCK IN SEATTLE

A sparkling story from the Queen of Ro-magic comedy! Aspiring actress Anna Hilford might only have a small role in a leading television drama, but she longs to be dreamboat Karl Drake’s leading lady. Sick of being loveless and overlooked, Anna seeks the help of intuitive love coach, Lulu, from LuluTheLoveAngel.com to give her the courage and determination to follow her destiny. But fate has different ideas, Lulu has undisclosed power, and Anna is about to realise that life happens while you’re busy making plans…

 ~ Buy STARSTRUCK IN SEATTLE from the following ebook retailers:

Amazon / Amazon UK / iTunes iBookstore / B&N Nook / Kobo / Booktopia / JB Hi-Fi / Google Play / ebooks.com / All Romance ebooks

~ You can also add it to Goodreads here, and visit Juliet online at her website, blog, facebook, and twitter.

~ GIVEAWAY>> Juliet is giving away four prize packs of ebooks from Escape Publishing until 10th October (20 ebooks in total). See the prizes on offer and enter here:

http://julietmadison.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/release-day-starstruck-in-seattle-plus-bumper-giveaway/

Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.

I came across this particular saying on twitter yesterday. I’ve heard it before. It’s not a new one. But it is something that strikes me as particularly applicable to writing.

Also, knitting. Here is a picture of my current project, a lace scarf knitted up in Rowan Fine Art sock wool. scarf

So that’s a 2 ply yarn, on 2mm needles that are matchstick thin. I knew when I started this project that it would take longer than I anticipated. But after 2 weeks of hand killing work, I haven’t even managed to knit out the first hank. It is the hank that will not end. Or the hank that keeps on giving, depending on your point of view. I love the colour, and it will be beautiful when finished, and I really really want to knit a jumper instead.

Which brings me on to Veruca Salt.

veruca_salt

Good old Veruca, throwing a tantrum because she wants it, and she wants it now. And we all know how that ended up. (and yes, this is the Veruca from the creaky old film with Gene Wilder in it, not the weird new film with Johnny Depp and those creepy teeth).

Writing isn’t an occupation for anyone who wants it and wants it now. It is, as the title of the blog says, a marathon and not a sprint. You have to be prepared for it to be a long haul. And that applies to everything from writing a book in the first place, to selling it later on. A book could be several years old by the time it finally goes up on Amazon. But there are water stops along the way. Some of them are writing conferences, some of them are brilliant books about writing craft, and some of them are writing competitions.

Before I was published, I entered lots of competitions. Writing competitions are fantastic. If you are unpublished, and want to make progress in your career, enter competitions. Some of them are free, some of them are not. A big one, for anyone with romance writing aspirations, is the So You Think You Can Write (otherwise known as SYTYCW) run by the Mills and Boon arm of Harlequin. I entered this twice. I also entered it back when it was called New Voices. I didn’t place, but entering most definitely helped my career.

More contests are run by Romance Writers of America. You have to pay to enter these, but for your entry fee (which is somewhere between £10-20) you get feedback on your opener from several trained judges, one of whom is a published writer. I love these contests. I won two of them. If you’d like to know what it takes to win a RWA chapter contest, you can find a winning opener here, and another one here.

I entered pitch contests. Contests run by national newspapers (was shortlisted in one of those too). If it was an opportunity to get work in front of an editor, I did it. If it offered feedback, I most definitely did it.

So here are my top tips for getting the most out of a writing contest, and the reasons why you should do them:

1. They make you work to a deadline. It’s great practice for submitting.

2. You can get feedback from someone who doesn’t know you and isn’t worried that you’ll kill their bunny rabbit if you don’t like what they say.

3. If you place, it gives you something concrete to put on your writerly CV.

4. If you’re a newbie writer, contests are a great way to connect with other writers, published and unpublished. I did. I found people who would read my work. Some of them were useless, some of them were not. Some of them are now published too. I discovered organisations like the RWA and RNA who offer all sorts of practical help and advice. I learned how to write better.

And because I learned how to write better, I sold.

Ros Baxter and her five favourite things

Today on my blog I have fellow Escape Artist Ros Baxter sharing her five favourite things.

Okay so this is tricky because my five favourite things are definitely the one I picked and the four I made with my long-suffering body.  No matter how much the little buggers whinge, vomit, demand and generally be, you know, kid-ish, I still love the living daylights out of those four interesting little souls.

But, I feel like nominating my family is kind of predictable.  Sooo…if it’s okay, I’m going with my next five favourite things.

          Sleep.  My most salacious fantasy involves a dark hotel room, a big bed, noise-cancelling earplugs and twelve hours UNINTERRUPTED sleep. But it’s never going to happen. So the next four are  more, y’know, attainable.

The fantasy:

1

The reality:

[Nope, too awful to show.

           My sister.  My sister is Harlequin author Amy Andrews (Alison to me) and as well as being a VERY COOL author, to me she is a cheerleader, confidante, on-call-medihelp, beta-reader, partner-in-family-whinging and overall top chick. This is my current favourite picture of us (we’d just sold a book we wrote together and we were CELEBRATING).

2

Just seeing my sister walk in the door makes me want to crack open a bottle of wine, which brings me to my third favourite-thing-after-my-family…

1.      Wine.  Actually, I’m not sure I met an alcoholic beverage I don’t like, but let’s stick with wine so I sound like a nice girl.  I like to say that, after a long day running everyone in the whole world to where they need to go, squeezing in three hours of paid work on my blackberry, providing social-skills-advice (“just tell him you can’t change the rules of AFL during the game”), baking three batches of pikelets for three different end-of-term parties, and squeezing in 40 minutes of writing, I COULD do an hour of yoga and have a long hot bath to unwind OR I could have a glass of wine and be human again in 20 minutes.  You do the math.

2.     The problem is, everything else is such a loooonnnng way down after wine.  Oops, no it’s not.  Women friends! Need ‘em, love ‘em, where would I be without ‘em? Whether it’s nit-alert texts, urgent phone calls when sanity is slipping or JUST KNOWING THEY EXIST, it’s all good.  Thanks, good women of my life.  You know who you are.

Here’s some women I prepared earlier (with some wine):

3

1     Dark-circle concealer (see 1.)

       Thanks Ros! I’ll leave you with the cover for Fish out of Water, which features a female sheriff who is also a mermaid, as if her life wasn’t already complicated enough!

Dirtwater’s straight-talking Deputy Sheriff has a lot on her plate: a nicotine addiction that’s a serious liability for a mermaid, a solider-of-fortune ex who’s hooked on her Mom’s brownies, a gorgeous, naked stranger in her shower, and a mysterious dead blonde with a fish tattoo on Main Street.

       Oh, and one other thing.

       She’s scheduled to die on her thirtieth birthday – in three weeks – unless she can ‘change the course of destiny and save the world entire’. Throw in a Mom who’s the local Mayor and a Dad who’s been locked in the county jail for twelve years, and that’s all the trouble she needs without her mermaid roots coming back to haunt her.

      http://www.escapepublishing.com.au/product/9780857990440

You can email Ros at rosbaxterink@gmail.com or find her at www.facebook.com/RosBaxterInk, on twitter @RosBaxter, or www.rosbaxterink.com.

Why writing is not for chickens.

And it’s not just because those scabby feet would make it really hard to type. Or because their brains are so small.

orpington2

This one reminds me a little of Barbara Cartland. Don’t ask me why.

Anyway, I digress. Writing isn’t for chickens, because not only does writing require fingers (unless you’re Christy Brown) and a brain bigger than a walnut (unless you’re *insert name of your least favourite author here*), it requires Nerves of Steel.

At the moment, I have 2 different manuscripts out on submission. Both have been out for over a month. For the uninitiated, in the publishing world this is a heartbeat. My longest submission time so far has been 9 months, and it’s not uncommon to wait over a year for a response from a publishing house. Having a book out on submission is extremely stressful – it’s not as if you get regular updates from the publisher. You get nothing. Until the day you get a yes, or a no, or a maybe. There are no guidelines as to how long the process is going to take, no finishing date. It ends when it ends. You don’t know why it’s taking so long (is it a good thing? Is it bad? Did hotmail send it to an alternate universe?’) and there is nothing you can do to hurry the process along.

And while you’re waiting, you have to write another book. Writing a book is a long, arduous process. Hundreds of hours spent on the same long, unwieldy document, trying to bend it until it makes sense. Reading book after book after book in order to feed the word hungry parts of your brain and then hoping that you’re not simply rewriting those without realising it. And as you work those hundreds of hours, you have no idea if the book will sell at the end of it (unless you’re J.K or Nora).

It takes Nerves of Steel to see that document through to the end, and not to give in to the million other (better) ideas that bombard you as you’re writing it. Nerves of Steel to check your Amazon ranking, and Nerves of Steel not to (FWIW, Amazon ranking tells you squat about how many books you’ve sold). Nerves of Steel to endure the unique form of torture that is having a book out on submission.

That’s probably why writers spend a lot of time feeling like this.

index

Squawk.

A blog about shopping (or not)

I’d like to confess, publicly, that I don’t like shopping (I haven’t read 50 shades either. I’m failing as a modern woman). I’ve never been very good at it, but every so often, I like to pretend otherwise, so I go to a shop, hate it, then don’t go again for another 6 months. (Obviously this excludes food shopping. I’m not starving my children or anything).

Last week was a prime example of this. I went to London with the husband, primarily to go to some of the museums. We planned to go to a couple of shops in the morning, then spend the rest of the day being all cultured and pretending we know something about art. First stop, John Lewis on Oxford Street, resulted in a shop assistant being so shockingly rude that the management gave us free coffee and cake. I only asked for help with the sizing on brownie trousers.

Then I went into another shop, where the music was so loud that we couldn’t hear each other talk. Cue instant stress headache. I asked one of the beaming staff to turn it down, causing the beam to instantly crease into shocked horror and a shout of ‘but normally it’s much louder than this!’ to be emitted in my direction. We left then. They could possibly have tempted me to stay longer had they offered me free cake. But they didn’t, so we’ll never know.

But it does beg the question – why are shops so rubbish? Why is the music so loud, and the mirrors so unflattering, and the choice so poor? Why do they never have any shoes in stock in a size 7 (though shoes are a whole other matter. I personally can’t decide if a pair of shoes are comfortable with an assistant gawping at my feet. Selling doesn’t get more high pressure than a shoe shop) and why do they employ assistants who seem to have no other purpose than to stand around telepathically projecting ‘this shop is not for you’ thoughts in to my head?

And why don’t more shops have cake?

Fortunately for me (and the rest of the world) the internet has been invented and we have been blessed with the wonder that is internet shopping which means that I don’t have to go around wearing rags (or worse).

And if you’re in the mood for some internet shopping, you might like to know that the nice people at Amazon have discounted my new book, She Who Dares, and it’s 99p. If enough of you buy it I’ll be able to employ a minion to go and do all my shopping for me, and I’ll be eternally grateful (as will all the shop assistants).

http://www.amazon.co.uk/She-Who-Dares-ebook/dp/B00EAEDY1E/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378495293&sr=8-1&keywords=she+who+dares

So shopping – is anyone else as bad at it as me?