I’m often asked how I came up with Whistling Past the Graveyard for a title. So, now, before all of you, I will confess: I am horrible at coming up with clever titles. My books begin in fabulous sounding files such as Book 11, or Coming of Age Book, Childhood Chaos Book, Resort Book, Barnstormers Book, or simply the main character’s first name.
Well, now that was a question I’d never envisioned anyone asking. And quite honestly, I’d never actually asked myself. I’d always assumed everyone wanted to be outdoors if at all possible. Apparently not so for those who dwell in Manhattan. And to be both honest and fair, if I dwelt there, outdoors would probably slide way down on my list too. (I’d also probably go insane from lack of sunlight on my skin). I’ve been to NYC only in extreme seasons, January and cold enough to freeze a witches’ ta-tas and dead of summer when there’s no way on God’s green earth they can pick up the garbage fast enough. In a nutshell, I am clearly NOT a city dweller.To me, writing outdoors feels natural. I need green. I need to feel the breeze on my skin. And apparently, I’m not the only one. When I’m writing a scene or a chapter and become stuck, I head out to cut the grass or dig in the dirt. When I need to know what it’s like for my character to run through the woods in the dark barefooted, I take a midnight hike. (I tend to choose small town or rural settings when writing my books too.) When I want to lose myself in another soul (as we writers do when we’re firing on all cylinders), I do it outside. I even had a balcony built outside my office. It’s on the south side of the house and stays warm on chilly afternoons. Outdoors I’m away from distractions: the laundry, the phone, the I’ll-just-go-scrub-that-toilet-while-I-think excuse for leaving my computer. And of course, safely away from the call of the refrigerator and pantry filled with snacks.
Outdoors I am free. I can be anyone I want to be. I can be anywhere I want to be. And to be truthful, I don’t feel like I’m working when I’m outdoors. The time flies. The pages amass. I’’m lucky to be able to do what I love for a living. I’m luckier still to be able to do it mostly outdoors.
If I wasn’t writing, I think I’d like to be a farmer—the crop raising kind, because I couldn’t bear the cycle of livestock rearing. Outdoors. Love it.
One of the big decisions for a wedding reception is what tunes to spin for those special dedicated dances. When my son was married a few years ago, I had a back up song in my mind, just in case he couldn’t decide on one. He would have been mortified with my pick, so I’m glad he chose The Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road.” It was fitting in so many ways. For those of you who can’t stand not knowing what I would have inflicted upon him, my pick was Rascal Flatts’ “My Wish.” My son the indie rocker is no country music fan, so it worked out. I’ve thought about his choice on many occasions since that beautiful day and I’ve decided this is a song for life.
Paths not taken. Roads that veer away from due north. The chance meeting that changes a life. We’ve all been there on some level. My entire writing career has been a very winding road. First of all, it wasn’t the path I set out on; it was one that appeared at my feet one day (my little sister laid it there) when I was a mother of two grade-schoolers and not particularly looking for a new life path. Still, without hesitation, I turned and took that path. I followed my gut and my gut alone. I was a science major. What did I know about writing a novel? But a novel it was, nothing else appealed, not essays or short stories—guess I’m far too long winded.
Then came the “chance meeting” that gave me a shove in the direction that would finally lead to publication. I wrote a fan letter laced with a few crucial writing questions to a prominent and popular author, which led to an unexpected phone call… which led to an on-line writing group (which then led to my now longtime friend and critique partner Karen White) and to Romance Writers of America. Now I was learning! And yet, it would still be several more years and four more unpublished novels before my first award winning novel, BACK ROADS, landed on the shelves at bookstores everywhere, as they say.
After I signed a contact with a Warner Books, I visited their offices in the Time Warner Building. When I stepped into their conference room, I was stunned. I was standing in a room I’d seen on 60 Minutes when they did a piece on Nicholas Sparks. I remembered watching it and thinking “wouldn’t it be cool if my book was discussed in a room like that.” And, as that road winds yet again, it turned out that was where the decision to purchase BACK ROADS was made. Gave me shivers!
BACK ROADS was followed by eight more women’s fiction novels. All published by Warner Books, now Grand Central Publishing. I was fortunate enough to work with the same editor for all nine.
And now, another change of path. I’m working on a book that is entirely different from any I’ve done before—and I’m loving it! I recently contracted with Gallery, an imprint of Simon and Schuster for publication of this novel, WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD. It’s slated for July 2013. And guess who my new editor is? I’m thrilled to say, it’s the same editor I’d worked with at Grand Central! Our paths cross unexpectedly yet again on the long and winding road.
Respect for romance novels, and the genre in general is something of a thorn in my side, so bear with me…
Popular Culture LIVES in Romance Novels
Popular culture is filled with romance. It’s everywhere. Advertizing campaigns are centered around sex appeal. TV shows like Gray’s Anatomy, Castle, and many more thrive on the romantic plot elements. We keep watching them, in part, for the sexual tension.
Music is emotion based — and yes, most is centered on the romantic conflict.
Movies, whether billed as romances or not, often include a romantic element. Why? Because we like them. We can relate. And it’s a good way to better understand ourselves.
And I rarely see someone roll their eyes in dismissive generality at music, or movies, or TV for that matter.
Romaqnce on Paper
Why then is it that any book shelved in the romance section of a bookstore gets the social snub? Most often the people who refer to romance novels critically as “those books” haven’t read “those books”. Just as with all genre fiction, there is a wide gamet of material out there. And I admit, there are books that are “all about sex.” But those are pretty clear about that fact in the packaging and the title — so if that’s what you’re looking for you can find it. Maybe, we should view each book for it’s own content and entertainment value.
I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, “I never read a romance until [insert: event, received gift, urging from a friend, here]. I had no idea! Now I’m hooked.”
There are hundreds of fabulous books, deep books, inspiring books, amazingly well-written books sitting on those romance shelves. Be brave and pick one up and give it a try.
But beware, romance novels can be addictive. And if you’re allergic to an upbeat and fulfilling ending, you might just want to keep your nose in the air and walk right on past the romance aisle.
Toni Blake tweeted it, JoAnn Ross blogged it, now I’m repeating it.
At least we can laugh as our livelihood evaporates!
Book piracy only hurts the big corporations… and every single one of us who slaves over the content. Think twice about “free”.
Harlequin Offers Self-Publishing
This week there has been an uproar in the writer’s world following the announcement by Harlequin Enterprises to team up with Author Solutions to form a new entity, Harlequin Horizons. Manuscripts already rejected by Harlequin can now be published in print — via this new self-publishing arm. The key words here are self-publishing. Which means the author pays; footing the entire cost of printing, editing, etc.
I’m certainly not saying that self-publishing is bad. I just feel that, although not exactly misleading aspring writers, this is taking advantage of the vulnerability and desires of those writers. All form rejections coming from Harlequin will now have a short note offering Harlequin Horizons as a self publishing option for the author. The carrot they’re dangling is the line stating that if a Harlequin Horizons self-published title does well, Harlequin might just then pick the manuscript up for mainstream publication.
Self-Publishing and the Aspiring Author
I spent many years as an aspiring author, and I can tell you it’s an emotional roller coaster. There were always those out there who would make promises, allude to possibilities… and on and on until you feel that if you don’t take the opportunity to self-publish, if you don’t outlay the cash, you’ll be missing out on your shot at a major publisher. And it might work that way for a very few. Truly, the publishing business is a lot of being at the right place at the right time. I get that. I also know that if you’ve been rejected by your chosen publishers, there might be a reason. A person simply cannot assume their work is ready for publication. To be a good writer, you have to dedicate yourself to the craft, to always stretching and improving your skills. Having a sub-standard novel out there (believe me all of my first works were sub-standard in one way or another, even though I didn’t know it at the time — I pressed and learned) isn’t going to do a thing to get a major publisher to look at your work. I feel money is better spent on classes, workshops, instructional books … things that will give you better tools to use in your quest for publication.
Another word of caution. That self-publishing carrot, the one that says if your book does well you could be picked up by a major publisher, is more than little misleading. For a print book to sell well, it has to be where readers can find it — this is especially true for first time authors.
Selling a Published Novel
Without the backing of a publisher and distribution system, how are those books going to get out there? Whether put in print by a major publisher, or via self-publishing, books do not fly into reader’s hands by themselves. You need to ask yourself these questions: Are you willing to spend full time marketing your book? Are you going to face even more rejection by knocking on bookstore doors trying to get them to let you in? Are you going to devote every day to selling books out of your garage? It’s tough out there and it really burns my biscuits to see writers’ dreams being manipulated for profit.
Harlequin has been the backbone of the romance industry for years. I understand the markets are changing, the world is changing. I know this is all new and it will be interesting to see how things shake out. All I have to say is the old addage “Buyer Beware.” You CAN make your dreams come true. Just move ahead with your eyes open and your brain (not your heart) engaged.