Archive for January, 2013

Venus Winner

Congrats to Sherry Cammer, who wins a print copy of Venus In Blue Jeans!

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Venus In Blue JeansMy first novel for Samhain Publishing, Venus in Blue Jeans, was released four years ago, January 27, 2009. It’s been quite a ride, but Venus started it all.

The whole Venus saga is kind of an illustration of the way romance publishing works. I started writing Venus because, frankly, a contest judge had pissed me off. I had another book that I was sending around the contest circuit. These days I can admit it wasn’t very good, but at that time I really thought it was. One contest judge told me flatly that my book wasn’t a romance because my hero and heroine didn’t meet within the first ten pages, and everyone knew that all romantic heroes and heroines had to meet within the first ten pages (preferably the first five). Now since I could immediately think of at least three very good romance novels where that didn’t happen, I was, shall we say, annoyed by this pronouncement.

So, I thought, what about a book where I spent the entire first chapter not having the characters meet? In fact, what about a book where that was the whole point of the first chapter? Thus was Venus born. Part of the first chapter is available at Samhain, and I’ve posted the whole thing here on my Web site.

Having had my revenge on the contest judge, I now had a collection of characters I really liked and sort of a plot. I say “sort of” because I knew in general terms where I wanted it to go, but I wasn’t sure about the specifics. And from this point on, I had a lot of help from a lot of different people. The folks in my critique group at my local RWA chapter, for example. They not only told me when I was going wrong, they also applauded me when I was going right. Contests were a huge help. A lot of judges liked that first chapter, but they also told me things I could do to make it better, and the things they told me helped me whip the rest of the book into shape, too. And I also had a wonderful editor at Samhain, Lindsey Faber, who always managed to pick out just the part of the book that wasn’t working (and the part I really hoped she wouldn’t notice!).

But that isn’t all of the saga. When I got the call (or rather the email) telling me Samhain was buying my book, I had a couple of hours of elation before my husband arrived home to tell me he hadn’t gotten a promotion at work he’d been promised for two years. It was probably the most rollercoaster day I’ve ever been through. When Venus came out on January 27, we went out to dinner that night to celebrate, and he left the next day for a new job in Colorado. I faced three months on my own, packing up the house and saying goodbye to friends and family as I prepared to move to the foothills. It was sort of hard to be as chipper as I wanted to be at the Samhain Café that day.

But now, four years later, I’m a happy Colorado resident with six more Konigsburg books to be proud of and four new non-Konigsburg books all coming out this year—Bolted from Samhain on April 2 and Medium Well (February 19), Medium Rare (August 20) and Happy Medium (December 17) from Berkley InterMix.

So to celebrate the start of it all, I’m giving away a copy of Venus In Blue Jeans, ebook or print, your choice. Just leave me a comment on this blog and you’ll be entered into a drawing next week.

Happy birthday Docia and Cal and Janie and Pete and Lars and Jess and Erik and Morgan and Tom and Deirdre and Nando and Kit and Joe and MG. And most of all, happy birthday Venus In Blue Jeans. I couldn’t have done it without you.

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chef's hatI love the Eat This, Not That books, although there’s a lot of overlap between them. Once you’ve identified the worst food in American, it keeps showing up from one book to another. Still, it’s always sort of stunning to discover just how much fat can be packed into something that should be innocuous, like chicken salad. The books do a valuable service in pointing out all the hidden landmines in American fast food.

But one thing bothers me about these books, as with many other books by nutritionists and diet experts. The authors seem to have no concept of the way foods taste, or why taste matters at all—why people actually eat the kind of food the authors abhor. Take French fries, for example. All the Eat This books point out how terrible fries are for your health and girth. They’re particularly concerned with kids and the tendency of kiddie meals to include an order of fries as a side. And, of course, they’re not wrong about this. Most French fries are like little fat bombs. The solution? Give the kids an order of apple slices instead.

Now I understand the impulse here: apples are supremely healthy, even the ghastly Delicious apples that most fast food restaurants use for their slices. However, for a kid whose taste buds are set for salty, savory fries, a bag of sliced apples just ain’t gonna do it! It isn’t the fat that they’re clamoring for, or it isn’t just the fat. It’s the taste—sweet simply doesn’t substitute for savory. The authors make this mistake repeatedly in their substitutions. Want something savory? Here, have a fruit cup. But taste just doesn’t work that way.

People love fat and salt and sugar and carbs, even though we know all of them are bad for us, because they taste good. If you want us to stop eating fat, salt, sugar, and carbs, you’ll need to come up with substitutes that are at least in the same categories as the originals. Don’t suggest something sweet when I’m looking for savory, and don’t ignore the fact that, while baby back ribs may be the worst thing I can put in my mouth, they still taste pretty damn good! It’s one thing to imply that people are weak for eating high-calorie food. It’s another to imply that these foods aren’t yummy in the first place.

I thank nutritionists for all the work they’re doing in undermining Bad Food, but I’d thank them a lot more if they could stop ignoring the fact that tasty stuff sometimes comes in bad packages! Show me that you understand the problem. And then help find ways around it.

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The January Bitch

calendarJanuary is a bitch. Trust me on this.

November and December have holidays to cushion them. You’ve got the excitement and/or exasperation of seeing your family and friends, planning menus, finding and opening gifts. It’s all likely to carry you through both months without a great deal of reflection about your lot. I’ll think about it after the holidays becomes a mantra, a way to avoid anything that might bring you down from your temporary, somewhat delicious high.

But that’s what January is. After the holidays. Taking down the holiday decorations on January 1 always seems symbolic to me. Good times are over. Austerity reigns. The bring-down begins.

These days, I usually avoid making resolutions. To me, they’re a little like Oscar Wilde’s definition of second marriages: “The triumph of hope over experience.” But if you’ve fallen into the resolution trap, January is when the bill comes due. Time to climb up onto that treadmill. Time to actually try to file those receipts in those cute folders you got at Office Depot. Time to crank out those three thousand words you promised you’d accomplish each and every day.

The month just got a lot more bleak, didn’t it?

I think the overarching problem with January, aside from the cold temperatures and occasional ghastly weather, is that it’s supposed to be the beginning of things. As long as the beginning is in the future, you can put off the actual execution of your plans. But once that beginning is truly knocking on your door, everything gets a lot more serious. Now you have those long twelve months staring you in the face. Are you up to it? Is the pain actually worth it? Will you have anything to show for it on the other side?

Of course, by February I’m usually over all of this angst. It’s no longer the beginning, and I’ve managed to moderate both my expectations and my recriminations. Life goes on and fifteen hundred words per day is nothing to sneeze at, after all.

But for now I’m stuck with January. And January, as I believe I mentioned above, is a bitch.

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Woman WritingI know several romance writers who are compulsive about keeping their pen names secret. They work in sensitive jobs or they go to conservative churches or they have snobby friends or they have uptight relatives. Whatever the reason, they figure it’s best if nobody knows exactly what they write.

I can sympathize with this feeling—back when I was still teaching, I was pretty careful who I told about my books. I actually didn’t want the people I worked with to read my stuff since I figured they wouldn’t like it and might make disparaging comments. That fear turned out to be groundless, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Still, I think a lot of the angst that romance writers go through comes because of a popular misconception: some people are convinced that romance writers write from life. Therefore it follows that romance writers must be sluts. One erotic romance writer who taught high school English was outed by one of her students a couple of years ago and almost lost her job as a result. She never talked about her writing in class, she never suggested that her students read her books, she never even told them what name she was published under. But teenagers being teenagers, some of them found out and gleefully shared that information with the rest of the class. And some of the more prudish parents immediately assumed that the teacher was morally unfit to teach their children. After all, if she wrote about this stuff, she must practice it herself, right?

Wrong, of course, but romance writers get this kind of reaction all the time. Rose’s Colored Glasses even sells a T-shirt that reads “Yes, I’m a romance writer. No, you cannot help me with my research.” Pause for a moment, however, and consider the fact that nobody thinks mystery writers spend time committing murder so they know what it feels like. While many science fiction writers do a great deal of research on scientific theory, no writer that I know of has actually been in space or traveled in time. It’s taken as a given that these writers use their imagination to experience what they haven’t actually experienced in real life. So why don’t romance writers get the same break?

I’ll go out on a limb here and say I think it’s at least partly because most romance writers are women. And our culture still has some problems with women and sex. Women who write about sex are particularly suspect. Although few people would be willing to state that they think women shouldn’t know about things like that, they may actually believe that to be true on some unconscious level.

So let’s get this clear, once and for all. Just because we write about sex, that doesn’t mean we’re sluts. Nor is there anything particularly disgraceful about what we do. And for people who feel that there is, I recommend you steer clear of our section of the bookstore. I’m sure the staff can send you somewhere you’ll feel more comfortable—power tools, say, or possibly bass fishing. For those who still feel uncomfortable about women writing sex scenes, I propose that they picture a chorus of several hundred romance writers, all yelling “Just get over it, already!”

Because, trust me, we’re not going to stop doing it, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel.

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