~~ "She has so many aliases, you'd think she was a spy!" ~~

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Novels I Have Writ

So, I wasn’t going to participate in this meme because I really didn’t have the time, but I kept thinking about it, and finally decided it would be an interesting retrospective. I didn’t expect to have a major revelation about my writing when I finished….

Completed novels are regularly numbered; unfinished novels are in roman numerals. All are listed in a rough chronological order.

i. Although I’d “started” novels before junior high, they never went farther than 3 or 4 pages, so I count my first novel as the one I wrote in 7th grade (1978-1979). I got about 100 handwritten pages, so even though I didn’t finish it, that was a pretty damn good attempt. It was an appalling pastiche of Narnia (the heroes went through a magic mirror to another land) and LOTR with a sprinkling of Deryni, and thankfully it no longer exists. (I don’t even remember the title.) But it was fun, and it made me want to be a writer.

ii. and iii. Partial novels set in the Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica universes (anywhere from 1979 through 1982). Blatant Mary Sue fanfic (the BG one included myself and two of my best friends as pretty much us; the SW character was loosely disguised), but both had some interesting elements. Neither survives (also thankfully).

1. Sorcerer’s Successor, completed the summer between 11th and 12th grade (1983), involving a girl with the worst sense of direction ever, a prince stuck in the shape of a panther, and a very, very pale villain. During the writing, I had my first “I had no idea that was going to happen” epiphany while writing; plus I remember being so totally in each scene as I worked. I miss that. Anyway, a best-selling romance writer was my mentor at the time, and she wrote a letter for me to include when I submitted the novel, basically vouching for me (although I don’t think I admitted my age in my own cover letter). I sent it to three publishers and received three very nice rejection letters saying they liked my writing but the book needed too much work for them to commit to it. See, I was getting nice rejection letters even then. Beats the form letters any day. I believe I do have a hard copy (it was written on my first computer, an Apple IIe), and I occasionally wonder if it could be reworked as a YA, but probably not.

2. Fantasy. Probably begun my senior year of high school (1983–1984), it became my college project because I was in the Honors Program they’d just created. It was mostly abandoned when I went to law school (1988–1989), then left law school and got married and became a reporter. But while I was a reporter, I convinced the newspaper to send me to a writer’s conference in Vermont (1990), where I met my first agent. Let’s call her B, because that initial has nothing to do with her. I told B about Fantasy and sent her the first chapters or whatnot, telling her I was in the process of rewriting the entire thing from scratch. She asked for the full ms. I spent over a year writing it. (How did I not know it shouldn’t take that long?) She loved it and offered representation. Unfortunately, her boss didn’t think it was strong enough to stand on its own (which I’m sure it wasn’t) and told her to market it as a paranormal romance (as this was in the first wave of paranormals, late 80s/early 90s). Problem was, despite a male and female protagonist, there wasn’t a whiff of romance in the book (and, indeed, my planned sequel involved them hooking up with other people). According to B, everyone who read it liked my writing, but didn’t think the book fit their romance line. Well, duh.

iv. Somewhere in there (1991–1993), my husband at the time came up with a nifty idea for a ST:TNG novel. (We were big ST buffs and were already reading the novels.) He helped with plotting; I started writing See No Evil, Hear No Evil. I went to the same conference again, and again closed down the bar each night with a couple of friends, including another agent, L. L had sold ST stuff before, whereas B wasn’t at all interested in seeing it—not to mention B hadn’t really helped my career. I sent the partial of the ST:TNG book to L and she loved my writing, so I switched agents. Then a ST:TNG novel was published that had an almost identical theme, killing my project. I did revise the idea and submit it, along with another one, to the ST editor a couple of years ago after the Work-for-Hire Workshop, but now the entire publishing program is gone. Oh well!

3. What Beck’ning Ghost (1991–1994) was an actual paranormal romance with a ghost for a hero, a psychometric heroine, a scarred and somewhat crazy villain, a big ol’ gothicky castle in the Adirondacks…in short, a book of my heart. I love it. Everyone who’s read it loves it. (Seriously. People who critiqued it in 1994 wistfully ask after it, even now.) I sent to L, she pitched it heavily, and everyone said, “We love this author. We love her writing. We love this book. The paranormal romance market is dead and we can’t buy it.” Sigh. The only problem is that the book is kind of time sensitive, in that the mystery hinges on something that happened 40 years before the present day. I keep having to re-tweak the past dates and details, and the farther forward I pull the past events, the less they make sense. My plan right now is to wait ‘til I have another agent, and toss this in the pile with the “completed and future projects” list for an opinion as to whether it’s worth tweaking and submitted again. Or something.

4. House of Passion (1992-1993). Egads, I almost forgot about this one! I’d been copy editing for a swinger’s magazine publisher who’d branched out into erotic novels, and the manuscripts were so appallingly bad that I figured I’d knock out one of my own. By the time I did, though, the publisher’s sales were so bad that they’d dropped the project. In hindsight, I should’ve tossed it over to my Black Lace editor when I had the chance. It’s about 20K too short, but it had its moments. It may get hauled out someday if the right market comes along.

v. Jewel Tones. Since the paranormal romance market was gone, I turned my attentions back to my first love, traditional fantasy. Jewel Tones was written in response to two fantasy tropes that I could no longer abide. (a) The Lackey/McCaffrey “young downtrodden girl discovers she has powers and is swept off to learn to be the greatest [princess/sorceress/dragon rider/insert fabby job here] ev-ar.” (Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with this—stories like these are largely responsible for getting me through my own adolescence—but as an adult, I wanted to read about what happened after that. And ya gotta write what ya wanna read.) (b) Bad history research. Most fantasy at that time seemed to be written by people who read only other fantasy, not any history. I’d joined the SCA by this time, so I had a better handle on clothing, history, etc. I was sorely sick of generic taverns serving generic ale and generic stew, of men wearing “tunics and trewes” and women wearing “gowns”. So I started a novel in a world similar to Renaissance Italy about a master jeweler who’d been a young protégé and was now at the top of her talent and she was bored and didn’t care and wanted to hang out and party all the time. When her world is turned completely upside down, she has to regroup, figure out what’s really important, and take on greater responsibility than she’d ever imagined. During the writing of this book, I got heavily involved with the SCA, fell in love with someone other than my husband, got divorced, moved in with other person (now my husband—10 years in June!), had my job go crazy so I was working 50+ hours/week, and then finally moved to Wales (1998). I then returned my attention to the novel, but made the mistake of reading the latest Guy Gavriel Kay at the same time, so I fell into a pit of despair at not being able to write like him. My writing style was also undergoing a dramatic change (actually in conjunction with what was selling), so what I was writing sounded little like the beginning of the book. It’s been tabled for now; I finally tossed everything I’d written but kept the notes, and when I start from scratch, it will be a vastly superior book. When I get it on the list of Books to Write remains to be seen.

5. Waking the Witch (2000–2001). Started as something of a novel dare when we lived in Wales. Elevator pitch: “Four teenage boys confess to the rape and murder of a woman who died 100 years ago.” A paranormal romance (hey, they’re back!) involving another psychometric heroine who’s got some serious anger/trust issues towards men, a sweet and patient sheriff hero, a vengeful ghost, and all sorts of redemption and healing. Also around this time, it became clear that L was no longer working in my best interests as my agent, and indeed she had decided to get out of the business, so we mutually agreed to part ways. WtW is making the rounds of publishers and agents, and has garnered some lovely negative responses.

6. Blackwood House (2003). Another gothicky paranormal, involving a gorgeous Scottish restorer of historic homes, a heroine betrayed too many times by men, the heroine’s pregnant and slightly loopy younger sister, a crumbling Victorian on the cliffs near Santa Barbara, and the ghost of a woman betrayed by love. I wrote it for Silhouette, when their sweet line had a subline called Shadows. I pitched the idea, they loved it, and then it took me forever to write it because I am sooo not a sweet writer. I kept having to delete all sorts of cool subplots for length, plus I struggled with reasons why the hero and heroine shouldn’t just keep kissing…all the way to the bedroom (or the sofa, or the bathroom counter…) Ultimately it was rejected, which didn’t surprise me one whit. It’s also on the “someday maybe I’ll start this one over” list, although one fabulous and detailed rejection for Waking the Witch essentially said “vengeful ghosts are so yesterday,” so Blackwood House may never fly.

7. I’m not sure if I started An Ever-Turning Wheel before or after Blackwood House. (And I’m too lazy to dig through old journals to find out.) This is a paranormal romance that’s not erotic because I set up a pretty major conflict: a custody battle. Granted, the child—and her father, the hero—are Fae, and the mom was put under a geas to love and care for the child when the child accidentally fell through to modern-day Wales, but… You know what they say about never working with animals or children? Animals are much easier to write about! (For me, that should be obvious!) This novel is “done” and has been through a Novel Workshop, but that proved to me that it needs a big framing story set in Faerie, and I hate editing, so even though queries were sent out, I technically don’t have a “completed manuscript” to submit. I keep putting it on my “do after X novel is written” list, and then another project leaps ahead of it.

8. A Little Night Music (2003–2004). “Hey, Sarah, wouldn’t it be fun to write a novel together?” And thus the first iteration of ALNM was born, an erotic romance in which we could throw all of our fantasies and desires about our favorite rock stars. It’s a tough job, but somebody had to do it. We wrote it with Harlequin Blaze in mind, and they didn’t want it. We set it aside because it was too short for other markets (a big problem when you write a manuscript targeted at a category line.) But, see below…

9. Cat Scratch Fever (2005). You’ve probably already heard the story. Teresa and I submitted a short story to one of Black Lace’s Wicked Words anthology, and the editor said, “I’ve never worked with coauthors before, but you write so well together and this is a great story. Have you ever considered writing a novel? I’ve got a hole in my schedule.” We frantically hammered out the first 10K and a synopsis, got a contract, and wrote the rest of the novel (60K) in two months. While I was working full-time with a 3-hour total commute. (Much of my halfof the book was written in the back seat of the carpool.) CSF is an erotica set at a big-cat sanctuary and has been praised for its “cleverly unfolding mystery” element. Dude. We wrote a mystery novel! Who knew?

8 redux. So now Virgin Books had a new editor and a new erotic line, Cheek. I suggested to Sarah that we send ALNM. The editor asked for some reasonably detailed changes, so we rewrote the beginning and the synopsis, and got the contract. We thought we’d be able to use chunks of the later material, but in the end we rewrote almost the entire manuscript (2006).

vi. I was considering Angelika (2007) for Black Lace, but stalled at about 25K. Teresa and I have since come up with a nifty rewrite, but right now it’s not in the To Do List. The book also involves a Victorian mansion and a ghost, but the ghost isn’t vengeful and the book is definitely erotic.

vii. Designed for Love (2007), a contemporary erotic romance, also stalled, but at about 41K (wow, I hadn’t realized I’d gotten that far!). Sarah and I considered it as our next project, but her heart wasn’t in it (which is fair: it’s not easy to come into someone else’s manuscript project when it’s more than half finished). I’m finding that I don’t enjoy writing contemporary erotic romance on my own—I prefer doing it with a coauthor or writing something with paranormal and/or suspense elements. So we’ll see when this burps back up the chain to be finished. Oh, it’s about a woman who designs erotic rooms and a man who thinks the “trappings” aren’t necessary for good sex, and the next thing you know, they have a bet going to see if she can prove him wrong.

10. Out of the Frying Pan, Sophie Mouette’s second novel, was completed last year and has garnered some interest from one publisher (they requested a partial) plus a glowing rejection from another. This one’s “Emma Holly meets Jennifer Crusie in Rachel Ray’s kitchen,” with a zany cast of secondary characters. Everyone we’ve told about it wants to hear more about the dog….

viii. Ghosted. My current WIP. An urban fantasy about a former Hollywood party girl who survived a near-death experience to discover she can see ghosts. Only ghosts are for the most part nice, so when someone starts exorcising them, she has to figure out who and stop the person before all of her friends are ripped away from her. Oh, and with the ghosts’ help, she gives ghost tours around Hollywood, culminating in an Art Deco hotel she’s renovating.

ix. After Teresa and I finish various individual projects, we plan to write Caressing the Tiger, a paranormal erotic romance set in Victorian England, featuring a shapeshifting Indian demigodess/tiger and a English animal tamer fighting a dark-arts practitioner who’s using Indian animals in his black rites. We wrote the synopsis and first 2K as a novella submission, but it’s really a novel.

Wow. That…that was unexpected. I’ve completed more novels than I realized. I thought I was at 6 or 7! The number of partials is a little embarrassing until I discount anything written before adulthood; the ST novel, which had no future; and current and future projects. That leaves the unfinished at 3, which isn’t that bad. I’ve been laboring under the belief that I can’t finish a novel on my own any more (that I can write successfully only with coauthors), and that number sort of blows that theory out of the water. My brain is so stupid sometimes. :-)

Of course, my other revelation is that I have an obvious obsession with old houses, ghosts, and psychic/witchy heroines. I mean, I knew I did, but I didn’t realize how many novels contained them!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Yay Ken!

I'm thrilled to report that early this morning, Ken successfully completed his first 50CC—that's coast to coast on the bike in 50 hours or less!

He left Monday morning (along with a fellow LDR [long-distance rider]), and it happened so quickly I didn't even have time to mention he was gone! He should be back sometime Saturday; he's taking a little longer to come back so he can hit some specific sites for another ride on the way.

If you want to send him your congrats, his e-mail is ken.meese @ mac.com (remove the spaces)!


I have the privilege of being part of a delicious anthology called Dirty Girls, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. The anthology guidelines called for “HOT HOT stories, as in, the hottest one you've ever written. … I want stories that blow my mind and take me to new places…”

I cracked my knuckles and dove in. Now there was a challenge.

What I ended up writing was “Party Favor,” one of the kinkiest things I’ve ever written. It’s a loose sequel to “On Tour,” which appeared in Sex on the Move. In “On Tour,” my unnamed narrator is offered a chance to be with the rock god of her dreams…only under his—and his wife’s—kinky terms.

I was already pushing some personal boundaries when I wrote “On Tour.” I’ve made no attempt to hide my fascination and lust for rockers, including one in particular.

And there’s the slippery slope. Erotica writers are the ones who constantly get the question, “Have you done everything you’ve written about?” The unspoken but obvious question is “Have you fantasized about everything you write about?” The belief is that if you write about it, you must want it (if you’re not writing from experience, that is).

I’m pretty sure Stephen King doesn’t want to experience everything he’s written, but I bet he doesn’t get asked the same questions, either.

So even though the rocker in the stories is a guitarist fronting his own band and his wife is an amalgamation of women, writing “On Tour” was hard for me, because I wondered with every word whether I’d be judged. Whether assumptions would be made about my personal desires, my personal fantasies.

Still, I wrote it, I had Ken review it for typos, and I mailed it, and I sold it. And somewhere between that and publication, I stopped caring what people thought. I write fiction; it’s my job to make things up. I make things up. Writing “Party Favor” was easy after that.

The premise of “Party Favor” was one I’d had in my head for years, but I’d never written it as a story until the Dirty Girls guidelines hit my desk. It was a natural progression from “On Tour,” and there’s a part of me that wants to put those story together with others and write a whole novel about the unnamed narrator and her adventures with the kinky rock star of her dreams and his even kinkier wife. (But that’s a subject for another post.)

The question is, do you think “Party Favor” fits the guidelines of “HOT HOT stories, as in, the hottest one you've ever written”? Rachel, the editor, did, but it’s reader response I really crave…

For more about Dirty Girls, check out the book’s blog, and if you go down to the April 8 entry, you’ll be able to follow links to the rest of the Blog Tour.

And hey, can I just say? I only just got my comp copy and haven’t had time to do more than skim the stories, but I think my hair caught on fire at least once. These stories sizzle, baybee!