A NaNoWriMo no-no

The novel I’d planned to write during National Novel Writing Month turned out to be farther along than I’d remembered. I thought I’d only written a few chapters of Learning Curves. I’d planned to abandon what I’d written and start over, writing from distant memory, but I’d actually done about 30,000 words, and that’s too much to ditch. Using previously written text is against the rules.

So instead, I’m working on an idea for which I have a few characters, a vague idea of how it starts and a couple of scenes along the way. In The Accidental Love Song, Broadway star Sara Summers finds herself blacklisted after she breaks off a romance with a powerful producer. In desperation, she flees to Los Angeles to start over. Rock guitarist Jesse Quick must rebuild his band after the lead singer quits. The band barely survived the death of Jesse’s older brother, whom he’d always considered a better guitarist. Sara shows up at a dance audition, only to discover it’s Jesse’s for a rock singer. Jesse goads her into singing and she nails it. The attraction is immediate, but she’d vowed to never mix business with pleasure again. He thinks she’s hot, but his emotions are still bottled up since his brother’s death a decade ago.

My inspiration comes from All That Jazz and A Star is Born (the Kris Kristofferson version). I’d hoped the recently departed Smash might be the TV version of All That Jazz, but I think most of the characters were too nice. Of course, this was network TV, and it has many restraints. Books have much more freedom, especially e-books.

So come November 1, I’ll be starting with a fresh Word template, a fully charged laptop and leftover Halloween candy. Only a few more days to wait.

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I’m joining the party

I have decided to join the National Novel Writing Month this November.

To “win,” a writer must complete at least 50,000 words between November 1 and 30. I’ve had a book I’ve wanted to write for years but never had the time. Now I’m going to MAKE the time.

For this event, I need to turn off the inner editor — difficult, since bad grammar and spelling are like fingernails on a chalkboard. I need to tell myself that the writing doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to get done. As many author friends have pointed out, you can’t revise what you haven’t written.

So I plan to blog more frequently to keep the momentum going. I’m shocked that my last post on this blog was in September 2011!

My NaNoWriMo title is Learning Curves. Gaby Milano is a laid-off newspaper writer who now does computer research and office work for a Newport Beach private eye. The PI specializes in sending women undercover to see if a suspected cheating husband will, in fact, cheat. Michael Petersen is a young, successful bank vice president whose handsome face hides a troubled past. When he discovers insider crimes at the bank, he’s forced to flee from security agents and Gaby gets caught in the chase. She’s curvy in a size-0 world, and he has to learn the proper way to treat a lady.

The idea for this story came from an advice-column letter I read several years ago.  I’ll blog about that in the future.

It’s NaNoWriMo minus six days. My fingers are getting itchy.

Try, try again

I have some writing muscles I’m aching to flex. I’m revising my manuscript Tagg, You’re It to enter RWA’s Golden Heart contest. I think I entered the manuscript a few years ago, but the version I enter this year will be much different.

Entering contests is a great way to get a manuscript critiqued. I’ve gotten great advice from published authors. If you make it to the finals of the Golden Heart competition, the judges are New York editors, and many will buy what they read.

I’ve been rewriting the beginning, my weakest part—which as we all know should be the strongest. You’ve got a very short time to snag a reader. My first opening was way too long. The action didn’t really start until page 4, after lots of exposition, and lost the reader. Judge after judge in various contests told me to start the story on page 4. Then I rewrote it to have the action start in the first paragraph. But other judges thought that made my heroine too bitchy and unprofessional. So now I’m changing the premise of the opening. I hope to post it here soon, as my site has been promising for months.

I judge the Golden Heart myself, but in a category far removed from the one I’ll enter. I’ve read some really dreadful manuscripts the past few years, so I’m getting a good idea of what not to do.

The winners of the Golden Heart and the Rita, for published authors, will be announced next summer at RWA’s national convention. The convention will be in Anaheim, so it would be really sweet to win before a hometown crowd.

I can dream.

Coming out of the fat closet

I intended to blog about writing. But there’s another part of my life that needs nurturing, too.

About two years ago, I got lap-band surgery. I had reached the point where I was at the maximum dose of my medications to control diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol and the conditions were worsening. My office is on the second floor of a walk-up and I had to stop in the middle to catch my breath. We live in a hilly condo complex and more than once when I huffed up the hill, people would stop to ask if I was OK. I was almost ready to see make the call when cleaning up in the bathroom became challenging. But the alarm went off when I woke up in a wet bed and realized that all that body bulk was too much for my bladder.

I was fortunate in that my insurance paid for almost everything. I had to go on a six-month pre-op diet that consisted of two protein shakes and a small meal daily, plus lots of vitamins. Just about the time I was supposed to get my surgery date, I came down with pneumonia and spent eight days in the hospital. That set me back briefly, but a few months later, I got my date.

The surgery took about an hour and I spent the next night in the hospital. The surgeon installed a silicone band around the top part of my stomach, forming a pouch. When this pouch fills with food, you stop eating. There’s a small opening between the pouch and the rest of your stomach, and occasionally food gets stuck there. Most often, when I eat too much too fast, the food stays stuck and has to make a return trip. Yes, it’s as unpleasant as it sounds. As you lose weight, the opening grows larger, so the surgeon injects saline into the band to tighten it. I have a titanium and silicone port just under the skin. You can feel it, but it’s not big enough to set off alarms at the airport.

I started this process at just under 280 pounds, and that’s a lot on a 5-foot-2 woman. I’ve lost almost 80 pounds. It’s been slower than I’d like, and it’s been harder than I expected. There are certain foods that I can’t eat anymore because they won’t stay down, but that’s OK. Diet soda is out because the bubbles hurt like hell in my tiny stomach. Bread, chips, tough meat, mushrooms, even popcorn get stuck more often than not. I can still drink coffee and have the occasional red wine, so balances out. I will say that it’s a strange feeling to NOT want to consume everything in sight. I’m no longer a bottomless pit of hunger. A restaurant dinner will last me for three meals.

So why am I writing about this? I’m putting myself out there. By nature I hide emotions, so this will force me to confront it. I’m reconnecting with a support system of other weight-loss surgery patients and this time I’m becoming part of the conversation.

I don’t want to wake up in a wet bed again.

Rejection is a bitch

I don’t take rejection well, but you’d think I’d be used to it by now.

I am pissed off that my manuscript didn’t win the contest I entered. I’ve been moping for the week I’ve known. Seems like I’ve been working on this manuscript forever, and entering it in contests almost as long. As in most contests I enter, I scored really high, but the numbers were just under the cut-off point for finals. It’s not a bad manuscript, just not good enough.

I originally wrote the manuscript for a romance series that seemed to buy everything other members of my RWA chapter submitted. Authors reported getting acceptance in just a couple of weeks. I read a few of these books – not ones written by our authors – and proclaimed like countless would-be authors before me that I could write better. I wrote, submitted to the publisher and sat back and waited for my call a few weeks later. And waited. More than four months after the editor agreed to read my manuscript, she sent me a rejection letter with her typos corrected with blue pencil.

Meanwhile, I entered more contests, and each rejection gave me suggestions for improvement. One judge advised me on a plot point that made the ending stronger. A few judges thought the beginning was too long, so I cut it. Then others thought it was too abrupt, so I reworked it. After all this polishing, I was ready to send it off again. I scored an editor’s appointment that I’d forgotten I’d applied for at a convention and she asked to see the full manuscript. I was on my way.

I sent the manuscript to the editor, who passed it to an editorial assistant, which is normal. However, the line changed its focus and my manuscript was no longer right for that one, so the EA sent it to another one. Then the EA left, that line changed and it was submitted to yet another line. This occurred over the course of two years, which is a couple of epochs in publishing. Finally, after all that time and several letters to my EA du jour, I received a personal rejection letter.

With this manuscript, I feel like the guy who only meets women who want to be his friends.

So now what?

With this final contest rejection, I think I’ll focus on another manuscript. I’ve got tons of ’em, just waiting to be finished. I’m not ready to self-publish yet, so I’ll set this one aside for a while. But the judges did have some really helpful suggestions. Maybe I’ll try one more time …

Agents hate me

I have the worst luck with agents.

The first time, I had an agent for about a month. I’d recently taken second in a writing contest, sent that manuscript off Harlequin and figured it was just a matter of time until I got The Call. I needed an agent!  At least five published authors in my RWA chapter recommended their agent and let me use their names. I queried her and she called right away. She took me on, then passed me off to her junior associate who handled category romance. My first hint that things weren’t going well was when I realized I knew more about the industry than the junior agent did. She kept talking about opportunities at publishers who didn’t publish what I wrote. My second hint was when all my colleagues who recommended her suddenly had new agents. When Harlequin rejected the manuscript I forwarded the letter to my agent. Days later, my agent fired me because of “all my rejections” – the one rejection that her office had nothing to do with. A few years later, this agent was banned for financial misappropriation. So I guess getting fired was good for me.

My next brush with an agent was when I won a consultation with a Really Big Name agent. This guy is big. He’s often thanked by big authors in the acknowledgements.  I sent him a thriller manuscript, which I had been developing in a novel-writing workshop. The workshop was run by a multipublished thriller writer and the manuscript received lots of praise. I sent it off to the agent and waited for his praise. Instead, he said he read my prologue and found it so outrageous and implausible that he couldn’t bring himself to read the rest of my manuscript. He offered a suggested reading list of CIA books. Not only had I read them, but the incident in my prologue was based on an incident I read in one of those books.

After this, I gave up on the idea of finding an agent. Then a couple of years ago an RWA chapter meeting featured a really big author. She’s big – no, not Nora Roberts, but this author’s books always hit The New York Times bestseller lists. Her agent showed up, and during our fundraising raffle, she offered a free critique. Yup, I won it. I chatted with her after the meeting to get the submission instructions. I sent off my currently manuscript, thanking her for contributing to our fundraising, and waited for her critique. This agent is huge. She’s had ads in writing magazines featuring authors touting her critiques they won at auction as extremely helpful. Yeah, gimme some of that. My manuscript returns a few weeks later with a form letter from an assistant. It wasn’t signed by the assistant, nor did it even say “Dear TheJuliaNelson”! Just a standard “your manuscript isn’t right for us” message. Thank you, big agent, I can get that for free on my own.

Sing me an e-book

I’ve been a reader all my life. You can see in the little widget down to the right that I have three books going at once. And, of course, I have several novels percolating in my brain and computer I’m hoping to sell.  So I can’t help noticing all the changes in publishing right now – the rise of e-books, the decline of print, blah, blah, blah.

I’ve seen the current publishing situation compared to the changes the music industry underwent in the past decade and called a bad thing. But is it? I used to buy more music than books when I was in college and after. The Wherehouse, Tower and Licorice Pizza owned my ass. But as time went on, my favorite artists got older and produced less of what I liked. Or I loved a song I heard on the radio but the rest of the CD sucked. Meanwhile, you were out 13 bucks for one song. I pretty much quit buying music for several years. Then I won a couple of songs on iTunes. Here was somewhere I could buy a song I liked and ignore the rest of the CD. And every week iTunes gives away a few songs for free. I’ve discovered some artists I really liked through those free songs and I’ve purchased many more. Amazon gives away a song every day; in fact several thousand songs are available there for free every day. I’ve purchased more music in the past few months than I’ve bought in years. I even bought Lady Gaga’s new album on both Amazon and iTunes because they offered different versions. Both albums cost me a total of about $12, for about 25 songs.

 

What does this have to do with publishing? In the music industry, there are thousands of people like me who are buying a few songs at a time instead of not buying whole CDs. Since I got my Kindle less than a month ago, I’ve acquired about 30 books I probably would not have bought in a bookstore. Some of the books were free, several were 99 cents, and others were up to $4.99. These are authors I mostly haven’t read before, but if I like them, you can bet I’ll buy the backlist and future books. (And my family is happy that there aren’t 30 books on the overburdened living room shelves.) In many cases, these books are self-published through Amazon, so the author is getting a good share of the profit. And they’re cheap enough that I’ll give a new author a chance. While the new publishing model puts more of the responsibility onto the author, at least there’s something he or she can do without waiting for New York to make a decision and loosen up some cash. This helps the midlist author, who’s not the hot new thing, nor the ghost-written celebrity being overpaid to share salacious secrets.

I’m sure I’ll find lots of authors I’ll enjoy. I’ve judged unpublished novelist contests, and so often I’ve loved a manuscript that didn’t make the finals, and didn’t like the eventual winner. Now there’s a place that manuscript that didn’t make the cut and make it to the marketplace.