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Finding Mr. Right NowWell, I have a lovely new cover (at left), but the MS is still being edited. Editing with fiction means several things since there are several rounds of edit for most novels.

The first edits come from your editor at the publishing house, and those are usually the most grueling. The editor isn’t particularly concerned with grammar (although she may point out a few obvious errors). She’s more interested in the book itself. Does the plot make sense? Do the characters seem well developed? Are things like motivation clearly explained?

In other words, the editor serves as a kind of highly skilled professional reader. She’ll point out problems that a reader would probably have with the first draft of the MS. Occasionally, a writer may disagree, but in my experience you’re wise to pay attention. If the editor says, “I don’t understand why he’s doing this now,” chances are good that a reader would say the same thing. The suggested changes that come from the editor usually take the most time to deal with. Early on, I had a couple of books with problematic endings. Cleaning those endings up took days of work and long discussions with my critique partners and my hubs.

After the MS meets the editor’s standards, it goes to the copyeditor. This is actually a different level of edit, one that concentrates almost entirely on issues of grammar, punctuation, and adherence to the publisher’s style book. I used to be a freelance copyeditor myself, and I actually taught a class in copyediting for several years. All of which should mean my MS is spotless, but of course it isn’t. One thing all authors would be wise to discover: copyediting your own work is almost impossible. To put it simply, you’ll read what should be there rather than what actually is there. You’ll probably miss incorrect words, unconsciously untangle garbled sentences, and overlook missing punctuation. You’re not stupid. You’re just supplying what you think is already there. This doesn’t include the inevitable problem words that all of us have. For me, it’s the distinction between farther and further, which disappears from my brain as soon as I start writing.

Run-ins with copyeditors are more frequent than run-ins with editors, however. One of the things I told students in my copyediting classes bears repeating: “The book belongs to the author.” Occasionally, you come across a copyeditor who’s a frustrated writer. Edits from these people sometimes have an edge of malice: “If I were writing this, I’d do it so much better than you.” These are the copyeditors who want to do extensive re-writes or who make changes with barely concealed contempt. When writers talk about how much they hate editors, it’s usually this kind of editing they’re talking about. In all honesty, however, I’ve rarely encountered editors like this, and fortunately for all concerned, my copyeditor on Finding Mr. Right Now was an absolute pro.

So that’s where I am at the moment. I have a release date—June 2, 2015. And I have a lovely cover. Now I wait for the next go round in the editing cycle.

Billion Dollar Babies

billionaireBillionaires are in. If you go to Amazon and search for “billionaire” and “romance,” you’ll find a hundred pages of titles. Fifty Shades of Grey is probably the most prominent of these books, but there are lots of others, and the trend has been around for years. I remember reading Christina Dodd’s Just the Way You Are in 2003, and it was far from the first. It goes without saying that these billionaires are all young, handsome, and darkly attractive—although they usually require the transformative power of love to become decent people.

And it also goes without saying that this whole trend is based on extremely shaky foundations. Even a cursory reading of the news turns up billionaires who mistreat their employees to enrich themselves farther, who engage in fraud to enrich themselves farther, and who are just generally jerks. And the idea of the physically attractive billionaire is easily exploded (see: Trump, Donald—or rather, don’t).

Moreover, romance is the only pop fiction genre that seems to have this love affair with the very rich. In thrillers and mysteries, the mysterious billionaire is more likely to be the villain than the hero. And the vicious global conglomerate is a long-standing tradition in science fiction.

So why do we hang onto this convention when it’s so obviously a serious distortion of reality? One answer, of course, is that we’re in the fantasy business here. Most of us probably know that the very rich aren’t famed for the charm and grace, but we really wish they were. In the more ideal romantic society, money would only be found with the honorable. Moreover, we also cling to another fantasy: that wealth doesn’t buy love. The billionaire hero in most of these books has to be schooled by the poor but honest heroine. And once he’s found this noncommercial love, he becomes that ideal super-rich guy who uses his money for good. Sometimes you really wish a man like Richard DeVos or Rupert Murdoch would read a few romances. Then again, they’d probably find them comic.

Still, I’ve managed to avoid the whole billionaire hero business in my own writing. A couple of my heroines, Docia Kent Toleffson and Deirdre Brandenburg, were wealthy (and a fat lot of good it did them). But like other writers, I usually reserve rich guys for villains. Then again, I write contemporary romance, where middle class heroes and heroines are a long-standing tradition. If I were writing regencies, for example, I’d probably be churning out honorable dukes with the best of them.

Like I said, we’re in the fantasy business. Just as long as we don’t let fantasy shade into our view of the real.

woman writingOne of my many New Year’s resolutions is to blog more often (or at least more regularly). I’d also like to keep my readers more up-to-date on what’s going on with my books. So I’ve decided to follow the publication journey of my latest book, Finding Mr. Right Now, through all the steps until it finally hits the deck in June.

The publication process prior to this post hasn’t been entirely easy. The manuscript was contracted by Samhain last year—it’s the first book in a projected trilogy about a resort town in Colorado, Salt Box. Unfortunately, by the time Finding Mr. Right Now was contracted, the 2014 calendar was full, so the publication date was pushed forward into 2015. In addition, the manuscript went through several hands until it finally settled. I’m now on my third editor at Samhain, the first two having bowed out for reasons that had nothing to do with my book (honest).

At the moment, we’re working on the cover. At Samhain, authors fill out a detailed cover form, including a short synopsis and descriptions of both hero and heroine (so you don’t end up with one of those generic covers that looks nothing like any of your characters), as well as any pictures that might give the artist some idea of what you’re looking for. Sometimes cover artists have their own ideas about a book without benefit of having read it. I remember the first version of the cover for Venus In Blue Jeans featured a faceless, semi-nude woman clutching her breasts. That one had me in tears, but my editor and I finally worked our way to a cover that was perfect, although the shirtless guy in the background still seems a little incongruous.

Fortunately, the first version of the Finding Mr. Right Now cover looked very good. It features a kissing couple who look a lot like my hero and heroine and some Colorado-style scenery in the background. However, the title had a film strip behind it (the characters are involved in a reality show being shot in Salt Box) that partially obscured the type. My editor asked to have the film strip removed, which helped. But now some of the letters seemed hard to read, so work is ongoing. I’ll have a cover to post for a cover reveal later this year.

Next up? Probably the first edit, which is always fun.

Happy 2015, y’all!

Death and Ratings

True DetectiveA famous author (whose name I can’t remember, darn it, but it may have been Larry McMurtry) once said that it’s easy to make readers cry. You write about a beautiful child and give it a beautiful dog, and then you kill the dog. Instant tears. But he went on to point out that, in this instance, the author hadn’t really earned those tears. She’d just used a kneejerk response rather than really moving her readers.

I thought of that point while I was watching the fall premiere of Bones, a show I used to like a lot. If you haven’t seen the show yet, I’ll make this a SPOILER ALERT. A very popular character dies quite unexpectedly and the cast is, of course, devastated.

I wasn’t devastated—I was pissed.

Let me be very plain here: I’m thoroughly sick of TV shows killing off characters just to rouse or upset the audience. If characters die because of a necessity of the plot, that’s one thing (and I’d argue that a lot of the deaths in Game of Thrones probably fall into this category, as well as the death of Will Gardner on The Good Wife). But to kill off a popular character because it’s the end or beginning of the season and you need something to get people talking is both lousy storytelling and cheap exploitation. Of course we’ll cry when a character we like dies. But the creators of the show haven’t earned those tears—they’re using us.

I stopped watching Torchwood a couple of years ago for just that reason, although I’m a huge John Barrowman fan. The director/creator of the show had started killing off cast members for no particular reason other than that he could. He claimed that the deaths all had dramatic merit, but the only reasoning I could see was that the constant deaths seemed to underline the fairly bleak point of view of the series. After the first few deaths, I got tired of it and stopped watching.

But now the whole “kill-a-character-for-the-season-climax” thing seems to have become a rule. And so often, the result is just cheap thrills. Just a way to get viewers to have a reaction without actually earning that reaction through careful story-telling. Now it’s almost more unusual to have a story end without killing somebody off. And right now the level of carnage on television series frequently seems to be a result of laziness. You can almost hear the writers saying, “Aw hell, let’s just kill somebody. That’ll wrap things up.”

So how do you earn those feelings instead of getting them by exploitation? The old fashioned way: plot, character, the slow development of a relationship between audience and story. And it’s possible to do this without killing off someone just because it’s easy. Consider True Detective, for example. Now I’m fairly sure most people have already heard about the ending of the show, but in case you haven’t: SPOILER ALERT. Neither of the heroes dies. They easily could have—both were badly injured in the final battle, one of them critically. But not only do they live, the writers gave Matthew McConaughey’s character a terrific, life-affirming closing speech. Would the ending of True Detective have been more devastating if the writer and director had chosen to kill off one of the leads? That possibility hangs over the entire series, but the choice to let both men live in the end didn’t result in a “feel good” conclusion. Instead, it left me feeling both wrung out and satisfied. Rust’s final monologue was far more moving—and yes, devastating—than his death would have been.

True Detective earned the audience’s respect, and they did it without resorting to character murder. I’d like to think that was an example others will follow, but I’m not exactly optimistic. Unfortunately.

Yeah, It’s Legal Here

RockiesSo I live in Colorado. I’ll now pause for the obligatory pot joke. It’ll probably be some variation on “Rocky Mountain High.” At this point, trust me, Coloradoans have heard every possible variation on the “Rocky Mountain High” joke. If we laugh, it’s because we’re basically polite people.

Two years ago, in 2012, Colorado voted decisively to legalize marijuana. It took a year for a legislative committee to work out the regulations that would govern pot sales, and not all cities allow it to be sold. However, in Denver and Boulder (the two cities I’m closest to), pot sales are legal. Out of state people are always asking me how pot has impacted our way of life, and if Colorado has changed now that pot is legal. My answer is the same to both questions: “It hasn’t.”

I should qualify that by admitting that the state has received a fair amount of revenue from marijuana taxes (around six million dollars for June 2014 alone) and that money should produce some results eventually. But immediate effects have been nil.

And the inevitable follow-up questions. But don’t people smoke pot at public events like festivals? Probably, but it’s not obvious and not a problem from my point of view. Aren’t you afraid of being hit by a driver who’s smoked pot? I’m a lot more afraid of being hit by somebody who’s texting his girlfriend, since the statistical chances of that are a lot higher.

We Coloradoans are sort of tired of this topic, to tell you the truth. We understand the novelty of it all, but the jokes are no longer funny and going over the same topics again and again is monotonous. So here are some things we can talk about instead.

  1. The scenery. The Rockies are just as majestic as ever, and most of us are willing, even eager, to talk about them and give you some ideas for places to visit.
  2. The weather. It’s gorgeous at this time of year. And even in the winter we have more sunshine than clouds. Even our snow is pretty.
  3. Sports. Denver is the most sports mad city I’ve ever lived near. There are pro teams for everything from football to lacrosse. Not everybody can talk about sports with equal enthusiasm (I’d run out of things to say pretty quickly, for example), but we can usually sustain at least a short conversation.
  4. Fitness. Colorado is legendarily one of the fittest states in the union. Ask many of us for advice on running, riding bikes, skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, etc., etc.,etc., and we’ll happily babble on for several minutes.
  5. Food. The Front Range is foodie heaven. Farmer’s markets everywhere. Great restaurants. Just ask. We’ll tell you all about it.

So you see there are lots of things we can talk about that don’t involve marijuana. It just takes a little thought. And please, I beg you, spare me any jokes about how pot makes thought difficult. We’ve heard all of those too.

The “Authentic” Voice

Pieces of My HeartI enjoy showbiz biographies, the good, the bad, and even the ugly. If you’re an old-time movie fan like me, it’s fun to read anecdotes from people who were involved in making pictures you enjoy—or even pictures you didn’t like much. My most recent read was Robert Wagner’s autobiography Pieces Of My Heart, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Wagner, of course, started out as a juvenile lead, one of a group of young leading men that included Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson. But unlike some of the others in that group, Wagner has managed to keep working for the past sixty years or so, moving from leading man to character actor and from movies to television when the opportunity presented itself. Sadly, he’s also well-known for his marriage to Natalie Wood, which ended in her accidental death aboard their boat, the Splendor.

I said I enjoyed Wagner’s book immensely, and I did. It was written with style and verve and a nice balance between personal stories and views of the industry as it changed from old Hollywood to new. After I finished reading, I checked the reviews on Amazon out of curiosity to see if others enjoyed the book as much as I did. For the most part they did, but one negative review struck me particularly. The reader was outraged that Wagner had written the book with a collaborator, Scott Eyman. From the reader’s point of view, the presence of a collaborator meant that the voice in the book couldn’t be Wagner’s. The book was, therefore, a cheat, an inauthentic voice.

Now I obviously have no way of knowing how “authentic” the voice here is, just as I have no way of knowing what the working relationship was between Eyman and Wagner. Clearly, some collaborators do more than others. At least the collaboration in Pieces Of My Heart is acknowledged—not all celebrities are willing to admit they had help. And the experiences described are obviously Wagner’s. The book’s style is tremendously appealing and tremendously readable. Is that style Eyman’s or Wagner’s? I have no idea.

However, I’ve read or tried to read a few showbiz biographies that were written with little editorial help. I remember one recent one by a comedienne I particularly admired—I gave up before the end of the first chapter. It was close to unreadable.

The reader/reviewer who trashed Wagner would probably find that book more “honest,” but he would also find it a lot less easy to read. I’d argue that Wagner’s decision to work with a professional writer was a good one. He has a story worth telling, and one that deserved to be told well.

And I have a secret for the reader/reviewer: none of us does it alone, or at least we don’t if we’re smart. Even self-published authors hire editors if they know what they’re doing. Facility with language is a gift, and not everyone has it in equal amounts. Moreover, it’s very difficult to read your own prose objectively. At the very least critique partners and beta readers can give you a quick jolt of reality.

So Wagner had a collaborator, and together they wrote an absorbing book. The voice in this book may or may not be Wagner’s, but it’s an interesting voice that serves the story well. Given my choice, I’d far rather read a well-written collaboration than the alternative. More power to them both.

Letting It Go

50 Shades of GreySo William Giraldi wrote this article in the New Republic a couple of months ago about Fifty Shades of Grey. You’ll notice I’m not providing a link to said article—feel free to look it up if you want, but I’m not giving Giraldi any more clicks than he’s already gotten. The article is another in a long series of articles by various authors meant to demonstrate the author’s cleverness by trashing the book. None of them has seemed to slow down EL James.

I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, and I can’t really comment on it beyond being mildly annoyed by those who insist on using the term “mommy porn” to describe it. Had Giraldi confined himself to trashing the book, I’d have no more to say about it than about Dave Barry’s trashing of the book (which is considerably funnier).

But Giraldi used Fifty Shades of Grey as a jumping off point to trash romance and romance readers in general. In many ways the reaction among romance writers to this aspect of his article was far more interesting than the original article (but then just about anything would be). The response in Smart Bitches, Trashy Books is a good summary. But my question here is maybe more fundamental: Why bother?

Articles trashing romance are a regular feature of high brow discourse. And every time one is published, we trot out the same responses. Romance is the most popular form of genre fiction. Romance is dominated by women and sometimes gets trashed because of it. Romance is a huge genre with a large set of subgenres, as well as a dizzying variety of writing styles and registers. It can’t be lumped together into one basket and dismissed. And the response to these counter arguments is always a massive shrug. The literary fiction establishment and male critics in particular are hostile to romance, and probably always will be.

Romance has three characteristics that these guys (and I use that word advisedly) object to: it’s written by women, it invariably has a happy ending, and since it concerns romantic relationships, it usually (but not always) includes fairly explicit sexual activity. None of these characteristics is likely to change, and thus neither is the reaction to romance in general.

So why bother to respond at all? Yes, Giraldi is tremendously annoying, as well as flat out wrong about several things. For example, he seems to believe that women who read romance read nothing else and thus have no acquaintance with Great Literature. As someone who has probably read at least as much of that Great Literature as Giraldi (including Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon), I call bullshit.

But here’s the point: you won’t convince him. And there’s no reason to try. Giraldi can read what he likes and so can we. Neither of us is likely to have any impact on the other. The Romance Writers of America have expended a great deal of effort to improve romance’s reputation, but they can’t stop guys like Giraldi. Meanwhile, those of us who read and write romance go about our business, occasionally grinding our teeth at the William Giraldis of the world.

Yeah, those guys are snots. So what? As long as publishers go on publishing the books we like to read, who cares? And frankly, given the profits to be found in publishing romance, I’m fairly certain that nobody’s going to shut romance down. So let’s let Giraldi go off and read his Thomas Pynchon in peace. Maybe if we don’t jab at him, he’ll forget about us. And maybe if we don’t click on his article, the rest of the world will also forget about him. And that, my friends, would be a satisfying conclusion.

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