I’m Writing About That?

A vague and random series of thoughts, for which I apologize in advance.

I was emailing with someone this morning about the final book in my series about political staffers, The Easy Part, and I realized that the series is about me. It’s not about me in the sense that any of the heroines is based on me; nothing that happens in the books happened to me. But it is about my experience as an older Millennial coming to political consciousness in the late 90s.

I’ve written before about how many of my early memories are political, but I think I’ve also been working through the later stuff. What does it mean to come to political consciousness during the age of Clinton? To vote for the first time in the election of 2000? (Which is both why I always vote and why I’m deeply cynical about the process.) To fall for a candidate–either George Bush or Barack Obama–and then to watch him either fail to implement the vision he articulated during the campaign at all or to seriously compromise his values?

I don’t think Millennials are unique in this regard. Surely younger Baby Boomers who voted for the first time in the late 1960s, witnessed Vietnam and then Watergate followed by the cynical 1970s had a parallel development among other generations. But the blend of hope and cynicism in all of The Easy Part novels and the looking for personal and professional compromise that occurs in all of those books feels of this moment to me in a way that I didn’t realize until now.

I don’t mean to be pretentious about my work at all. But now that I’ve finished a series and am starting to plan another one, I can see what I’m writing about in a way I couldn’t before.

My Writing Process

Thank you so much to Margaret Locke for inviting me to participate in the My Writing Process blog tour!

1)     What am I working on?

At present, I’m finishing a contemporary novella, a romance between a good girl staffer and a bad boy rocker. It grows out of my series, The Easy Part, but it’s uncontracted so I need to get back to my other work in progress: the third, untitled book for that series. I don’t want to say too much about that project, other than it’s set on the campaign trail, the hero is a Democrat, and the heroine is a Republican. It should be out next year.

Oh, and I have a book coming out in April (Special Interests) and I cannot wait  for you all to read it. (Cannot wait! But also feel a little sick about it going out into the world. Now I need some chocolate.) And I’m on the cusp of edits for my second Easy Part novel, Private Politics, which will be out in September.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Most of what I’m writing now is explicitly political. The characters fight about policy and their pillow talk is about fundraising. Other romance writers have considered ambitious, professional women in love (see James, Julie) and there certainly have been political romances (Unfinished Business, The American President, Strange Bedpersons, Fatal Affair)–but in general romance writers have been told to avoid such potentially controversial matters.

Beyond my sort-of-kind-of-different subject matter, what I have to offer is voice: fresh, smart, and witty.

I mean I hope. Jeez, I’m bad at self-promotion.

Continue reading “My Writing Process”

The Special Interests Playlist

There are times–entire weeks of my life actually–when I forget that I have books releasing next year. Two of them. And then I remember and minor panic attacks ensue.

What if no one reads my book? What if no one likes my book? How am I going to get people to read and like my book?

The book in question is the one formerly known as The Easy Part, now known as Special Interests. It will appear in an ebook store near you on April 4, 2014. And while the back cover copy, excerpts, etc. are forthcoming, this morning, in a fit of panic, I created a playlist for the book. Because that’s how you sell books: with an enticing playlist.

Regardless, if you use Spotify and want to listen to the most-played tracks from when I was writing the first draft a year ago, you can check it out here.

In the meantime, I’ll be over here having a panic attack.

True Favorite Words

The EndSo I lied when I listed my favorite words. You’re shocked, I know. But I left two off. My two favorite words are “the end.” Only when used together of course. They don’t much for me separately. But as a pair they are magic.

I spent NaNoWriMo last year writing a book that I’ve been calling The Easy Part (the title is going to change; stay tuned). Then I sold that book to Carina. I realize you’re probably not supposed to say this but it was a fairly straightforward book to write. I understood Millie and Parker so well. I understood the conflict between them. I understood so many of the major scenes. The book feels like a movie in my head, one that I needed to figure out how to pour onto the page.

That isn’t to say I always achieved what I wanted to in terms of the writing. Oh no. It fails in ways too various and sundry to list here. And revising that book was difficult and circular and I’m not half-certain I did it well. But my main concern in writing the first draft was always, “Am I achieving my vision?” Not “what happens next?” or “is that what he would do?” The problem, in other words, was one of translation.

This spring, I started the sequel to The Easy Part, which features two minor characters from it. I felt strongly that they should be together. But when I told anyone about it, the response was always, “Really?” Adamant, I strode out…only to get stuck in the mire.

This was not an easy book to write. Writing on a deadline was scary. Writing with a more limited sense of audience was scarier. Writing and revising at the same time was the scariest. But yesterday, I typed “the end.” Today I skimmed through it and finally felt the words. And at some point next year (or whenever it releases), you’ll be able to read through the crazy, scandalous, opposites-attract story. Please come back then and let me know how I did.

Stranger than Fiction

I wrote–am writing–a series of contemporary romances set in and around American politics. The first one plays out against a budget negotiation. In the third act, the clock is running low on a possible a government shutdown when…okay, you’re going to have to read the book when it releases in April (APRIL!) to find out. But it should come as no surprise that as I’ve been working through my edits, I’ve been watching current events with more than my usual level of interest.

I am a very long-standing political junkie. When I was a kid, I embraced the gamesmanship of it, the pageantry. If war is politics by other means, as von Clausewitz tells us, then elections seemed like politics by metaphor. I was obsessed.

One of my earliest memories is watching the 1988 election with my family. They coded the maps differently then. I remember watching the country slowly filling up with Republican blue and imaging a blue tide sweeping the nation. As if elections represented something real and permanent and not a choice between not-all-together different candidates, likely all rich white men okayed by party bosses. The winners, chosen by a small majority of the percentage of the enfranchised who choose to vote, likely going on to careers of no import in a system where the outcomes resolve conflicts ground out in decades prior, like the 2004 election litigating issues from circa 1972.

In college, politics stopped seeming like a game. I became involved with a number of issue-based causes, including sexual and relationship violence response and prevention, which led to the years I spent in Washington <redacted>. Then I left DC for graduate school, for a far more healthy relationship with books and nineteenth-century periodicals. And by far more healthy, I mean not at all healthy.

For me, politics is 90% cynicism and 10% fervent, irrational, glowing hope. While I listen to Americans talk about the government shutdown today, I share all of their frustrations even as I want to scream, “But we have to sleep in the bed we’ve made! We are complicit in this system!”

And if we made it, we can unmake it. We can make it better.

Against history, against empirical evidence to the contrary, I believe that. I believe we are empowered and choose not to act. I believe we can be and do better. Alone and collectively.

So while I watch the news, I’ll be dreaming up plots. Plots about the overworked, largely powerless, aides who are working on too little sleep and too much caffeine to enact dreams conjured about a Washington that doesn’t, and hasn’t ever, existed.

And none of those plots will be stranger or less realistic than what’s happening on the Hill today.

(Edited for clarity.)

The Call 2.0

Unlike the first call story, this one ends with an actual phone call. But it started on Twitter.

At the beginning of April, Carina Press held a pitch event. The promise was that you’d hear within two months and if it was rejection, you’d received personalized feedback. I had just signed a contract with Crimson to publish Brave in Heart, but I was working through a contemporary manuscript with my critique partner, The Easy Part.

It’s a book that I love, but one I was convinced I would never be able to sell because it’s set between staffers in Washington, DC. It’s political, and it’s wonky, and there’s an Alzheimer’s subplot. I had already sent it to one publisher (name redacted), from whom I received the dreaded, “I like your writing, but…” rejection. That editor objected to the partisanship implicit in the premise. I was convinced if I wanted The Easy Part to see the light of day, I would have to self-publish it. So I pitched in #carinapitch mostly because I wanted a second opinion — I wanted to know if the book had a shot with a traditional publisher.

Also, among the epublishers, Carina was my first choice. I have loved all the Carina books I’ve read. Plus, I think Carina is just plain smart and savvy about today’s book market. For a manuscript like The Easy Part, which is very youthful and contemporary, it seemed like a good fit. But even with my hopes, I never anticipated that they’d make an offer.

My pitch was: “Millie — a shy labor organizer – is having a bad year; Parker – an arrogant congressional aide — is having an existential crisis. Together they’ll discover that compared to love, politics is easy.” And a few minutes after putting it on Twitter, I had a request for a full manuscript.

But then, the waiting began.

Continue reading “The Call 2.0”

Beautiful Words

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I realized that I never did a happy dance when I finished The Easy Part. Last week, I rewrote the last 5,000 words, so I’ll go ahead and do that happy dance now. There’s still a smidgen more revision to do but mostly, I’m waiting to hear about queries and working on sequels for Brave in Heart and The Easy Part. I’d like to have opening chapters that I don’t actively hate soon.

A Fine Romance Friday: West Side Story

I miss blogging, but I feel like I don’t have a lot to say these days. My dissertation is consuming most of my writing time, though I did complete a major revision of Brave in Heart — and started querying publishers! — and am currently revising The Easy Part.

So, I’m going to start a new feature: A Fine Romance Friday, featuring clips from my favorite romantic movies. First up, West Side Story! Specifically, the moment were Tony and Maria meet at the dance at the gym.

**happy shivers**

I have seen this movie 500 times. You know, give or take. I’ll admit that I don’t always cry, but the dancing, the music, the noise that Chita Rivera makes in the back of her throat during the scene at Doc’s: they rip me apart and then sew me back together. Also, Tony and Maria’s meeting scene makes a cameo appearance in The Easy Part.

Happy Friday!

A Look Ahead

The other day, I had a conversation with a potential critique partner. She asked, “What kind of books do you want to write?”

I’m embarrassed to admit, I was a little stumped. What I eventually said is that I want to write historical romances that show as much interest and enthusiasm in American history as the best European (read: British) historicals do and that I want to write sexy, youthful contemporaries that capture what I feel like is missing in the market today (e.g., romance between smart, ambitious professionals, etc.). The manuscripts I’ve completed so far are all pretty serious. I’d also like to lighten things up a bit and have a little more fun, while remaining true to myself and my voice.

In the next year, I’d like to finish The Easy Part and revise it. I want to finish the revisions of Brave in Heart and Together is Enough. I want to write a full-length book for the Dauntless Love series plus one other manuscript (either the next book in that series or a sequel to The Easy Part). I want to win NaNoWriMo, either with one of those manuscripts or maybe with a third project. I want to send out query letters for Brave in Heart and The Easy Part. I want to get ready to enter a manuscript in the 2014 Golden Heart. If I haven’t been able to find an agent or a publisher or to final in Golden Heart, I want to prepare to self-publish in mid to late 2014.

Most of all, I want to improve my craft. I’m a better writer now than I was 12 months ago. I want to be a better writer still 12 months from now. This means writing every day, focusing on showing versus telling, keeping my dialogue realistic and light, and becoming a better planner.

What are your 2013 writing goals?

NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up

So I ended NaNoWriMo with 34,685 words. While I didn’t win, I did do better than last year. And I know that’s a lot more words than I would have written on my own without the NaNoWriMo gimmick. Yes, I wanted to have my manuscript finished and it’s not, but I made significant progress and had a lot of fun.

Here’s what I’ve learned from two attempts at NaNoWriMo:

  1. Write every day. Even if it’s only a few hundred words. Even if it’s just a few dozen words. Write something every single day.
  2. Don’t let a bad day get you down. I missed my goals for several days around the election. I pressed on, however, and got myself back on track. If I had done as well the last third of the month as the first two-thirds, I would have won.
  3. Ignore the rules. While the idea is to start a novel from scratch on day 1, if it doesn’t fit with your process/progress, it doesn’t mean that NaNoWriMo is a bad idea. Try to write 50,000 words on an existing manuscript. Or come up with an outline and do some research and start drafting on November 1. Make the concept work for you, however you work and wherever you’re at in your writing.
  4. No matter how you do, it’s probably better than you would have done without it, so celebrate however many words you write and hope to do better next year.

Now here’s to hoping I can finish The Easy Part before the end of the year.