Posts Tagged ‘literature’


Tara Lain was named Best Author of 2011 in the LRC Awards and her Genetic Attraction Series was runner-up for Best Series of 2011. Additionally, her novel Genetic Attraction was nominated for a CAPA (Cupid and Psyche Award ~ given by the Romance Studio) as best contemporary romance, and she was nominated for a CAPA as favorite author of 2011. Her novel Golden Dancer won The Romance Reviews Best Book of 2011 in the LGBT Ménage category.

What prompted me to ask Tara Lain for an interview was my intrigue and respect for the subject matter of her novels, which is very often (but not always) gay erotica/romance. My interest was piqued a few years ago, when I had an account on Goodreads.com. Browsing through the readers’ reviews, I couldn’t help noticing a major trend: women who love books written by women about men who love men. The inescapable, mass popularity of this genre surprised me as much as it intrigued me… and naturally, I had no choice but to check it out. The first book I ever read of this kind was a book by Tara Lain.

I think Tara Lain is not only a great author but I also think she is a brave person. It takes courage to write about such socially sensitive topics… and it takes grace to do it well. I think Tara has what it takes to keep doing what she’s been doing for a very long time to come. She was as enthusiastic to be a part of my author interviews as I was to have her, and I’m grateful to her for taking the time to answer some of my questions.

Q: You originally began writing non-fiction. What kind of non-fiction did you write?

A: I still write non-fiction every day. I own an ad/PR agency and write magazine articles, blogs, websites, white papers, email blasts and much more for my clients in technology and medical markets.

Q: In terms of process, what are some of the main differences between writing fiction and writing non-fiction?

A: There are surprising similarities. Some of my employees say my fiction writing has made me a better and faster non-fiction writer. In non-fiction, it’s all about the thesis. What is the article or paper going to prove or show? In fiction it’s about what is the hero’s problem? What stands in the way of him achieving his dreams? (I say hero because I write mostly M/M, but it’s also true for heroines) The big difference, of course, is dialogue. It’s a very different method of expression from prose. I adore dialogue and love writing it. And, I don’t get to write sex scenes when I’m writing for Waste Water Digest!  LOL

Q: Of your own characters, do you have a favorite, and why is he or she your favorite?

A: Oh, I can’t play favorites. They’re all my kids. I do have a special affection for the yummy Roan Black in The Scientist and the Supermodel and Genetic Attraction. He was my first love! He comes back in my new book, Genetic Celebrity, being released on July 24th. I also adore my feisty little Rodney Mansfield in Fire Balls. He is such a mass of contradictions — a real alpha hero in a five foot eight inch body with pink hair.

Q: Erotic fiction is very hot right now. What do you attribute that to?

A: I think erotic fiction is always hot. It’s just that digital publishing now provides a much wider selection to appeal to people’s individual tastes. The books are inexpensive, high quality and easy to acquire. What’s not to like?

Q: What originally got you interested in writing male/male (M/M) erotic romance?

A: I had decided to write an erotic romance — a M/F, older woman/younger man story. Then I ordered a book from an author I had been enjoying. All the books I had read of hers up to that point were M/F, so I simply ordered this book called Heaven without much investigation. The book was M/M and I was surprised. I started reading, kind of looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching, and immediately fell in love with the dynamic of M/M romance. The unintentional mentor was my friend Jet Mykles. I added another man to my M/F story and immediately became both a M/M writer and a ménage writer neither of which I had ever intended. I have been reading and writing M/M romance ever since.

Q: Do you prefer to write male/male erotica/romance, or male/female, and why?

A: I prefer writing M/M (or M/M/F) romance for many reasons. Two men together have no assigned societal gender roles. They both have the same physical capabilities and limitations so the writer can mix them up in lots of fun new ways. Like in my LGBT [lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender] romance, Fire Balls, my hero is a flamboyant artist who is only 5’8” tall but he is a black belt in karate and a top in bed. His lover is a big, hunky firefighter who by nature is more submissive although he’s very heroic at work. The roles are fluid. I love that. As a woman, I enjoy crawling inside the skin and emotional framework of my men and showing that men have deep feelings. I write few traditional alpha males who are silent and stoic. My guys cry as much if not more than my heroines. Also, gay men bear such a burden of discrimination that it adds a complex dimension to even a simple story. Plus, I love giving them a happy ever after!

Q: How do people respond to you when you tell them you write gay erotica/romance?

A: My husband loves it and tells everyone. So does the rest of my family and most of my friends. One or two are disapproving and prefer to ignore that whole side of my life. One of my friends who is a gay man was pretty amazed when I told him but he loves my books and tells all his friends. They keep saying, “But she’s a straight woman, right?” That makes me smile a lot!

Q: It has long been more socially acceptable for two women to have a sexual/romantic relationship than two men. Why do you think people are suddenly so interested in male/male relationships? What do you think has changed that has made male/male relationships so much more widely accepted, especially in literature?

A: I like to think that we writers of M/M romance have had something to do with it. Let’s face it, women develop the standards and mores of a society. Women love romance and they love men. Tons of women have found they love reading about two men together and suddenly the idea isn’t icky any more–it’s HOT! Those women raise children. Certainly a woman who reads M/M romance on her Kindle is going to make more of an effort to understand when her son says, “Mom, I’m gay.” On a grander scale, the world has grappled with its discrimination on many fronts. It’s time we dealt with this one.

Q: What inspires you more than anything?

A: The first two words that came to mind are justice and authenticity. For astrology buffs, I have six planets in Libra. I have an over-developed sense of justice and hate to see anyone or anything treated unfairly. And all of my books end up being about people living an authentic life –finding the way that is right for them and being willing to sacrifice to have that life. I never intend for the books to have that theme. It just happens.

Q: Of your own novels, which is your favorite and why?

A: Oh my. I can’t choose. I love Genetic Attraction because it was my first novel (and still one of my best). I really like Golden Dancer. I had never written romantic suspense before and it has three super complex heroes (it’s a M/M/M ménage). Spell Cat is my first paranormal M/M romance and I love my cat, Aloysius. Fire Balls was one of those books that just wrote itself and has been my all-time bestseller so far. And Sinders and Ash is such a total fairy tale romance it’s hard not to love it. Oh dear, I love my enemies to lovers in Beach Balls. I love them all. I can’t choose.

Q: Who do you base your characters off of?

A: I make them up. No specific inspirations (except for the male fashion model in my upcoming book, Genetic Celebrity, who is based physically somewhat on Andrej Pejic). My characters walk into my head and tell me who they are.

Q: What are some of the strongest marketing strategies you’ve found for your novels?

A: I am what is affectionately referred to as a promo whore! Since my day job is in PR all my instincts point in that direction. I know from professional experience that promotion is a cumulative effect. People often say “I’ve seen your book so many places. I think I have to get it.” I do everything– Facebook, Twitter, two blogs plus a group blog, blog tours, blog hops, online chats and parties. I just consider promotion a part of my job as an author.

Q: Do you prefer hardcopy, or e-books?

A: E-books. Though I have hundreds of paper books in my house, I took to the ereader like the proverbial duck to water. I love the idea of carrying hundreds of books in a tiny package. I enjoy the process of reading digitally.

Q: What does your writing space look like?

A: I write in the same place I work. I am lucky enough to get to work from home, so I have a nice wrap around desk with two big screens and a powerful computer.

Q: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

A: I love to walk and I adore movies. I also do some mixed media collage which I don’t have much time for now but I pull out occasionally. And, of course, I love to read.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m writing the next book in the Aloysius Tales, my paranormal series. The first book was Spell Cat and this will be book two. It’s about a young witch who has the gift of prophetic painting. When this book is complete, I’ll start another story in my contemporary fantasy series to follow Sinders and Ash.

Q: In your opinion, what is the absolute best part of writing?

A: I love walking into new worlds and meeting new people!  : )

 

For more information, or to contact Tara, go to:

 

E-mail:                   tara@taralain.com

Website:              http://www.taralain.com

Author blog:       http://taralain.blogspot.com

Book blog:           http://beautifulboysbooks.blogspot.com

Goodreads:        http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4541791.Tara_Lain

Twitter:               http://twitter.com/taralain

Facebook:           http://www.facebook.com/people/Tara-Lain/100001514105686

FB Page:         http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tara-Lain/205042046209804

Amazon:          http://www.amazon.com/Tara-Lain/e/B004U1W5QC/

B&N               http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Tara-Lain?keyword=Tara+Lain&store=book

ARe     http://www.allromanceebooks.com/storeSearch.html?searchBy=author&qString=Tara+Lain

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You’d think that after spending the countless hours, days, weeks and months required to write a novel, you’d get to relax. You did your research, developed your story, and invested almost all of your free time into writing it. Now 80 to 120 thousand words later, it would be nice to be able to call it finished. Unfortunately, the hard part is just beginning. Now it’s time to reread, revise and rehash.

Although this is not my favorite part of the writing process, it certainly isn’t the worst. Revisions are a good opportunity to strengthen story, add necessary detail, and perhaps most important of all, cut the fat.

I’ve learned that there are a few key things to look for in the editing process. One of them is character consistency. Are the characters solid? Do they remain true to their base nature throughout the story, and if the character goes through personal changes, are they believable? In Gallery of Dolls (the project formerly known as ‘An Evil Heart’), this wasn’t too big of a problem. My main character was very clear to me from the beginning and I was happy to see that he remained pretty true to himself throughout. There were a few lines of dialogue though, that when reread, didn’t sound like him. These, luckily, are easy fixes.

Plot consistency and holes in the plot are another, and probably the worst, potential good-story-destroyers that are commonly found in the revision process. Rereading Gallery of Dolls, Kim (my co-author) and I discovered some interesting issues. Hearing the story front to back, we think we may have to move the meeting of our two characters up a couple of chapters. This means some very serious rewriting and I am hoping that once we have a few outsiders read the story, it won’t be as big of an issue as I am afraid of. Beyond that, we found minor inconsistencies. I will need to go in and add a couple new scenes to smooth some transition but that’s about the worst of it.

Another thing to look for in revisions are wasted words. I tend to reiterate. And reiterate. This is a very bad habit that needs to stop. But that’s what revisions are for. It never ceases to amaze me how much stronger a sentence can become by taking away from it rather than adding to it. Adverbs are a fine example of this… but I’ll get into that later.

Also, a lot of what you find in revisions are total surprises. When we reread Gallery of Dolls, we found an unusual likeness in the names of our characters: almost all of them started with a C. We had Courtney, Cassidy, Claire, Connie, Claudia, Cassandra, and Carlisle the cop. We don’t know how or why this happened, but there it is. Again, this is an easy fix. We have since changed several of the names.

The last thing I like to do in revisions is assassinate the adverbs. Not all adverbs are bad, of course, but when it comes to these cute little verb modifiers, a little goes a long way. In my first drafts, I never worry too much about them. Personally, I love adverbs, but it really is true that there is usually (<—-see? adverbs!) a finer way of saying what you meant without them, so the last thing I do is an “ly” search in my document. I go through each adverb and see if there isn’t an opportunity for more powerful phrasing.

Like it or not, revisions are a necessary part of (good) writing. Many people are intimidated by the process. Others believe they are golden enough that their work requires no revision. Personally, I try to write clean first drafts in order to keep editing to a minimum, but the fact remains that in order to get the book written, you need to sit down and actually write it. In order for me to do this, I have to try my best to minimize or eliminate the need to edit as I go. If I am editing as I go… I am usually not going at all. It’s a slippery slope.

The worst part about revisions in my opinion, is that after reading your story over and over, it loses its shine and numbs you out until it’s impossible to even tell if the story is any good. I think this is a good time to put the story down for a while and pick it up when you can view it with semi-fresh eyes again. That’s where I’m at right now. I need to not look at it for a couple of weeks. Our goal is to have it presentable by October, so if I take one or two more weeks away from it, we should easily be able to attain it. Till then… I’ll be thinking of the next story…

Write (and revise) on! And remember….

 


    

     In writing fiction, few things are as discombobulating as a surprise character.  You spend all this time and energy mapping out your story, putting the characters in their proper places, and then, at some point during the writing process, an unfamiliar personality appears and demands a role.  You are then faced with a dilemma.  Do you let the character take the stage, or do you simply bypass him or her and continue writing the story as you originally planned?  The answer:  it depends.

     The rule of thumb is that if a character (or a scene) helps to move the story forward, adds necessary depth to it, or contributes an unexpected twist (as long as the twist serves to further and/or add texture to the story) he or she can stay.  However, if the character doesn’t have any place except to show off his or her talents as a fictional being, you will probably need to cut them out.  The question then, is how do you know whether or not the character belongs in the story.  This is where writer’s intuition, a good sense of story, and a little sound judgment come into play.  

     I don’t believe any character should ever be dismissed entirely.  Sometimes, characters are speaking to you from the future (as in a book that has yet to be written) and will fit perfectly into a different story. These characters are jumping the gun, overly excited by their own existence, and don’t yet realize that their time hasn’t come yet.  Other times, a character is speaking to you from the past (as in a former character, probably in disguise, who doesn’t feel he or she got a fair shake the first time around.)  These guys often need to either be dismissed, or altered enough that they are unrecognizable from one book to the next.  Good characters, like good actors, should be dexterous enough that they can adapt to and blend into different storylines while still retaining their believability.  Resurrecting old characters under different names is a custom that, although common enough, can only go so far. After a while, your characters will become stale and predictable.

     When I was writing The White Room, my first surprise character was Aunt Mimi (this was before I started calling my mentor “Mimi”, by the way).  Aunt Mimi just appeared and in true diva style, demanded the floor.  I was terribly unseasoned then and never even questioned her existence.  As it turned out, Aunt Mimi went on to lend the story some much needed comic relief in those earlier scenes.  Later, in the same book, when Kendra Howell appeared, my mentor told me to stop and consider her place in my story before writing her out.  I was torn because while I didn’t feel Kendra had a very large part, my instinct told me that what little role she was going to play would be an important one.  I didn’t feel attached to Kendra like I did some of the other players but I couldn’t escape the sense that she had something of value to contribute.  After some deliberation, I decided to follow through with my instinct and let this surprise character play her part.  As it turned out, I was right.  Although Kendra’s role was a miniscule one in terms of presence and dialogue, she ended up being the answer to a serious hitch in my storyline.  As was Sir Purrcival (another unexpected presence in The White Room), my main characters irritating and ever-present pet cat.

    The same thing has happened in An Evil Heart, the book I am currently working on (and close to being finished with!) with my friend and mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen.  As Aunt Mimi did in The White Room, a character simply known as The Thinning Man appeared in the first scene of An Evil Heart.  I wrote him and then dismissed him as nothing more than a passing face that would populate and add a little color to the book. But all along, I was unable to ignore the haunting suspicion that he had a more important role than giving my main character someone to talk to in that first scene.  As the story has developed, The Thinning Man has become crucial to the story as my main characters greatest enemy and ultimate downfall.

     Also, in An Evil Heart, there have been characters that showed up, been written, and finally, been decided against and deleted.  Such was the case with Julia, a girl who felt important but ultimately contributed nothing to the story.  Maybe one day, Julia will reappear somewhere else, but as for An Evil Heart, she will not be found in the final draft at all. 

     Often times, surprise characters like to show up right before or shortly after the leave of another more important character.  In An Evil Heart, a guy named Damien showed up right before my main characters best friend Brytt exited the story.  Damien felt very important but in truth is no more than an extension of Brytt; Damien is the materialized result of my reluctance to say goodbye to Brytt.  Damien had to be stopped. Now he only occupies a negligible slice in the overall life of the story.  But Damien is significant to me, because his appearance was the first one I recognized for what it was before I wrote him out, and that is a step in the right direction.  One day, I will give Damien his just dues and allow him his own story, so long as, of course, he isn’t so much like his predecessor Brytt that he smudges my style :).

     Yet another irritating way in which characters can annoy the ever-loving bejeesus out of a writer is to deviate from the plan.  These characters already exist and are a part of the story, but they are rebels and will absolutely refuse to play the role you’ve cast them in.  As it is with surprise characters, handling rebellious characters requires intuition and storyline management.  When I was writing The White Room, a character I’d created named Winter went a completely different route than I’d intended.  He was supposed to be a bad guy.  He refused.  I threatened to delete him.  He said, “Go ahead.  See what happens…”  I tried forcing him to be deceptive and nasty.  He laughed at me.  (I realize how crazy this all sounds by the way, but personifying these characters here is the best way I can illustrate the strange nature of this process; bear with me.)  When I finally accepted that Winter would not be swayed, the story began to take a new shape.  A better shape.  “Look,” Winter said to me (after I’d agreed to have a cup of coffee with him), “if you’ll let me do this instead of that, I promise you won’t be sorry.”  I’m just kidding,of course.  That never really happened.  Winter hates coffee.  He prefers fresh blood. 🙂

     By letting Winter have his way though, a few different things happened.  First, the story got tighter and more compelling.  And second, Winter became one of my favorite characters of all time, despite his refusal to follow the rules.  So, personally, I am all for letting the characters have their own voices… for the most part. 

     The key then, is to recognize what can stay and what must go, and that key can only be found in the use of sound judgment and the observance of intuition.  Either way, it’s entirely up to the writer.  Some will tell you that must listen to your characters without question.  Others will say you must never, under any circumstances, let a character control the story. Myself, I’m somewhere in the middle. Personally, I look forward to meeting more surprise characters and seeing what they have to say… as long as it’s something I need to hear.


     In the beginning, I think most writing starts out as a hobby.  Some folks are content to stay there, while others become interested in pursuing writing on a more professional level.  While both hobbyists and professionals have their places – and both are perfectly respectable, I’ve found that many writers reside somewhere in the middle.  That middle part is where I think one wants to avoid getting caught.  

     When a writer first submerges him or herself into the world of writing, the hobbyists are the first people he or she will most likely meet.  While many established writers look down on the hobbyists, it isn’t fair to dismiss them entirely.  “Laymen” and hobbyists often offer the best advice, as they represent the general audience and offer insights that editors, agents and publishers sometimes can not. 

     There is one potential danger though.  Many hobbyists are very quick to offer advice, which is fine, so long as a new writer realizes that this is coming from someone who doesn’t write professionally.  Many of these people have never dealt with agents, publishers, editors and the like.  Many of them have not acquired the education to offer sound advice.  Also, the rules of writing and the writing business itself is in a constant state of evolution, so someone who dealt with a publisher or acquired an education ten or even five years ago, isn’t really in the loop anymore.    

    If you treat your own writing like a hobby, so will everyone else.  If writing is something you want to do professionally, then you have to be a professional long before you ever make your first dollar.  For me, I have the best of both worlds.  As a hobby, I write poetry, which I post on Facebook and very much enjoy sharing.  Then there are my books, which I agonized over and am far more possessive with.  I don’t want unprofessional advice on my novels.  Of course, I have my select group of trusted readers (some writers, some not) whose advice I ask for and welcome, but I don’t share this work with just anyone.  

    Don’t get me wrong:  I love my poetry as well, and am quite serious about it.  I have written it my entire life and imagine I always will.  But the truth is, there is very little space in the writing business for poetry, so I have never treated it the same as my stories.  I’m not interested in being a professional poet, but for me, it’s wonderful to have the best of both worlds.  I need to keep writing poetry as a hobby because I tend to get very serious about my other writing, and if I get too intense about it, it just stops being fun. 

     There is an entire sea of people out there who write.  This is wonderful, but it’s important to know what kind of writer you are.   If you want to be a professional, you need to act like one.  You must do your homework and keep up on the ever-changing business of writing.  You must always present yourself as a professional, treat agents and publishers as the professionals they are, and follow each agents’ submission guidelines without deviation.  And above all, know whose footsteps you want to follow and be very careful whose advice you take.

     Write on.


     So, after four long months of feeling much like I was being frisked by a police officer, I finally heard back from the New York agent yesterday.  Of course, after that amount of time, I was certain she wasn’t going to choose to take me, so it wasn’t as hard of a blow as it could have been when she told me she was sorry that she wasn’t going to offer to represent me.  Her greatest concern was that The White Room was caught somewhere between commercial and literary fiction.  I assume this means that she felt marketing the book would be difficult.  Otherwise, she said very kind things about the manuscript, and admitting she could be wrong about it, encouraged me to continue seeking other agents.

     I expected to be shattered, but strangely, I’m okay.  I am lucky, I suppose, to have the luxury of understanding how this business works a little.  I didn’t expect to write one book, meet one agent and become a an all-time famous novelist.  In fact, if I follow along the same statistical lines as the majority, I can expect an average of six or seven more years of rejections before one of them chooses to represent me.  The sad fact is, unpublished authors are a high risk.  It’s similar to a college graduate who has a hard time getting a job because they lack experience.  But how can you get experience if no one hires you?  The writing business is much the same way.  This goes to show that in any field, competition is stiff and one must always begin at the beginning, which unfortunately, is at the bottom.

     Needless to say, about a month ago, it was clear to me that this wasn’t going to happen with the New York agent, so I began querying other representatives.  This week alone, I’ve gotten three rejections and have more coming to be sure.  Thankfully, I have yet to receive any of the scathing reviews I’ve heard so many horror stories about.  The agents who have replied to me have been kind, supportive, and encouraging.  In one case, I was simply told, “I’m not the right agent for this.”  In another, I was asked to send the first five pages so the agent could get a feel for my voice.  After a day or two, she wrote back saying thanks but no thanks.  And,of course, the New York agent.

     So, what is the next step?  From conferences, my mentor, and listening to other writers, I’ve learned that it’s too early on to start thinking about revamping the story.  If I receive twelve or fifteen rejections, all pointing out the same troubles, then it’s time to revisit and revise.  But until then, a writer must keep in mind that one, or even a few agents’ opinions are not law.  They’re generally looking for a book that speaks powerfully to them and leaves them with little doubt about it’s possibilities in the market.  Some agents will read your manuscript and get a strong vision for it… and other will not.  So for now… I will keep writing, because that is my only weapon against the rejection.

     From what I have learned, one of the biggest (and most common) mistakes a writer can make is to write one book and place all of their hope into it, not realizing that it may never be published.  After having one book rejected a few times, they throw their hands in the air, call this an impossible business, and bow out of it.  I’m not going to do that.  If it takes me ten years to get published, then the way I see it is, I will have ten to fifteen novels written by then, which will create a great back log of material when my agent asks, “what else have you got?”  This is an incredibly tough, rigid business and, as I’ve been repeatedly and earnestly warned, it is not for the weak.   Times like these, writers must simply remind themselves that all the great writers have taken some pretty tough punches to  the gut in this business.  Laurell K. Hamilton was told she didn’t fit into a genre tightly enough to ever be published.  “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, by Robert M. Pirsig was rejected one hundred and sixteen times before it caught the right person’s eye… and poor Stephen King was rejected several times a month for almost fifteen years before he published “Carrie.”  So you can’t quit because someone says you’re not good enough.  This is simply that part of the process which separates the hobbyists from the lifers and, on the bright side, weeds out your competition. 

     I am lucky.  I have a vast network of supporters; people who have read my work and love my work.  These people keep me in perspective and remind me of the realities of this world that I, for some masochistic reason, insist so vehemently on one day penetrating.  So, I will let myself feel this.  I will feel bad for myself for an hour or two and then I will sit down and keep working on the next story while The White Room makes it rounds among the agents I have sent it to and the agents I will continue to send it to. The truth is, I believe in The White Room- as it is right now.  If I need to make some changes later on in order to find it a home, I will, but for now… I still believe in it and will continue believing in it until the time comes that I no longer can.  But… in the meantime, I have about a hundred more books to write…  so that’s what I’ll be doing.


     No matter how many times I hear writers state that they don’t know where their ideas come from (“they just kind of come to me…”) I don’t buy it.  Maybe they don’t want to give their secrets away, or maybe they are trying to convince their audience that their minds are so enigmatic that they defy logical explanation, or maybe they’re just incredibly unaware of themselves; I don’t know, but any way I look at it, I think the answer to that question is simple.  Ideas come from people.  And more more specifically, (fictional) people come from (real-life) people.  At least, that’s the way it’s always been in my case.  To a point.

     While I have never created a character that was based entirely on anyone I knew, I have relentlessly and unapologetically stolen little pieces of my friends, my family, my neighbors, my childhood friends, the lady at Wal-Mart with the thigh highs and hair rollers, and the most obvious of all, myself.   I have taken their eyes, their wit, their courage, their pride, and in some cases, I have even taken their heinousness.  Often times I have done this unconsciously, and only after having brought the character to full form, read him or her back to myself and said, “Wow.  This guy is just like cousin Bobby!”   Other times, I see some trait or personality quirk in a person and am writing it down right away, already knowing exactly which character to assign that quality to.  No matter which way it’s done, I like to think of this as (politely) kidnapping my friends. 

     To (politely) kidnap your friends, you must first of all be subtle about it.  Remember, you’re a thief in the night, not the paparazzi.  To follow people around, notebook and pen at the ready, will not do.  Nor will photographing complete strangers (unless you’re really smooth about it), feigning a heart attack to test their level of emergency response, showing an overt sexual interest in their spouse to assess their level of temper, or confiding to anyone, friend or not, “I’ve killed a man… but don’t tell anyone,” to gauge their degree of trustworthiness. 

     To (politely) kidnap your friends, you must be respectful.  Sometimes, your rapport with someone is such that you can point at the interesting trait or physical attribute, wave the pointed finger Karen Walker-style and say, “I like that.  I’m going to take it,” and it’s all good.  Other times, depending on the singularity or uniqueness of the trait, you may feel you need to ask permission.  However, more often than not, I think the key to successfully (politely) kidnapping your friends lies in the imagination it takes to tweak the desired quality enough that by the end, it is, if not entirely unrecognizable, at least doctored up enough that it feels unique to the character you’ve assigned it to.

     That being said, I’ve broken all of these rules myself.  The good news is, no one has legal claim to eye color, sense of humor, height, sincerity levels, etc… even names are pretty much up for grabs.  Still, I do think it’s important that, when fashioning a character after someone you know, you do so in a way that when people ask you, “where do you get your ideas?!”, you can smile knowingly, and confidently answer, “I don’t know… they just kind of come to me…” 

     I don’t know why it’s important, but it must be…


     In September of 2010, I met my first literary agent at a writing conference in Salt Lake City.  She’d flown in from New York City to be on the panel and to meet new writers.  At that time, I was just more than half way finished with my first full-length novel, The White Room.

     This agent is maybe five feet tall, weighs perhaps ninety pounds wet, and is probably nearly ten years my junior.  I had no reason to be intimidated by her.  However, as we talked and she asked me more and more questions, I grew very anxious.  For the first time that I can recall, I broke out into a terrible and embarrassing sweat.  I was that nervous.  But she was very polite.  She asked me all about the story, the dynamics between the characters and how the story would end.  After trembling my way through the conversation, she did something every aspiring writer dreams of: she handed me her business card.  Then she said something every aspiring writer hopes to hear.  She said, “When you are finished, and if you are interested, I’d like you to send me the full manuscript.”

     “I’ll be finished by the end of November,” I said, and even as I spoke the words, I mentally kicked myself for having said them.  No way was I going to be finished that soon.

     “Don’t rush,” she said, “I want you to write a good story.  But if you can have it finished within the next six months, just send me the manuscript and your cover letter.  If it takes longer than six months, send a query letter as well, just to remind me who you are.”

     I went downstairs, not really understanding the weight of what had happened.  My mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen (Mimi) was sitting on a sofa in the lobby (we were at a hotel by the airport).  When she asked me how it went, I told her placidly that I guessed it had gone okay.  As I told her the details of my conversation with the agent, she became ecstatic.  “Do you realize what this means?” she said.  I replied that no, I really didn’t.  “It means she asked you to send your entire manuscript!  And you can send it ‘requested material!'”

     I went home that night and plowed into the story with everything I had.  For the next two months, I did nothing but write.  I wrote sometimes for twelve hours straight.  I didn’t eat.  I didn’t go out with friends.  I didn’t do anything outside The White Room.  I even called in sick to work on several occasions to write. 

     I finished the first draft of the manuscript on October 24th, 2010.  With the help of Kim, I’d been revising and polishing quite a bit as I went along, but I still needed to do a full read-through and incorporate more revisions.  That took just over a month, and by the seventh of December, Kim and I were standing in line at the post office, manuscript in hand.

     We got into my car after mailing it off.  I looked at Kim and I remember saying to her, “It’s going to kill me if she doesn’t take it, you know that, don’t you?” 

     I’d promised myself I wouldn’t get too excited.  I was fully aware of the odds.  To meet one agent, one time, on your first book, and being taken by that agent… well, that’s a lot of lightning to strike in same place at once.  I knew this.  So I wasn’t going to get my hopes up… but a funny thing happens when you’ve finished a novel and sent it out to an agent that has expressed interest in you:  you get your hopes up.  Despite the odds, despite the plethora of rejection letters every writer is wise to expect, you get your hopes up. 

      “It won’t kill you,” Kim said, “this is just part of the game.  If she says no, you’ll send it to someone else.  And if they say no, you’ll send it out again.  I hate to tell you this, but writing the book is the easy part.”

     For the first month or so after sending the manuscript off, I was fine.  By week seven, I was a mess.  According to the website, it takes four to eight weeks for the agents to respond to manuscripts sent Requested Material.  Despite my efforts, I was obsessed with whether or not the agent had read it and whether she loved it or hated it.  Then I began obsessing over whether or not it even made it to her.

     In the meantime, Kim and I began a joint project we’re currently calling An Evil Heart.  This new book was the only thing that distracted me from the imagined fate of The White Room.  It makes no sense to write a book, send it off and wait.  Most agents require sole viewing rights to your manuscript, which means you can’t print off a hundred copies of your book and send each one to a different agent to further increase your chances of snagging someone’s attention.  Well, you could do this, but it is considered unethical and unprofessional, so I surmised that with me being so new to the game, I would be wise to play by the rules.  Since this agent had personally requested my manuscript, I figured she deserved that much from me.

     But here’s the hard part about that.  As of tomorrow, this agent will have had The White Room for three full months.  If I get an e-mail, a phone call, or a letter in the mail saying, “Thanks, but… well, this sucks,” that’s three months the book could have been circulating among other agents who might be interested in the story as well.  I’d be lying if I said that didn’t bother me just a little bit.

     On the plus side, I did receive an e-mail from the agent on February 8th saying that due to the holidays, she was behind schedule and thanks for understanding.  I guess that’s something.  But again… that was a month ago.

     Truth is, I don’t know if I’m tough enough for this.  I’m not saying I will quit if the agents passes on The White Room, but I am saying that, despite my efforts otherwise, it will not be easy for me to accept.  I went into this business full knowing I was in for a lot of waiting and a lot of rejection.  I thought I could handle it.  But what if I can’t?  The waiting alone just floors me some days and I am continually astounded by the wide range of emotions this whole thing invokes.  It’s exhausting is what it is. 

     There are days I think I’ll be okay if she says no to me.  After all, there are thousands of agents out there, not to mention, I have about a hundred more books to write before I die.  But then there are the other days when I am sure that if she says no, especially after all this time, I will implode on myself and lose faith in my writing… and never dare put myself through this again.

     But this is part of the game.  This is how it works, and I know of only one thing that alleviates the agony: keep writing.  Write your ass off and start dreaming of the next storyline, the next agent… the next novel.  So that’s what I’m going to do.  I’ve decided that I need to understand the difference between the things I can control, and the things I can’t.

     This is what I can control:  I can keep writing and I can write damned good if I want to.  I can continue to search for the next great storyline and I can learn and improve the skills I need to execute it beautifully.  I can present myself accordingly and hopefully garner a reputation as professional if not a marketable writer. I can understand how this business works and continue to send my work to agent after agent after agent if I have to…

   And here’s what I can’t control:  I can’t control who publishes any of my work or when.  I can’t control what anyone thinks of my style, my content or my talent.  I can’t control the market, nor can I accurately predict what’s hot and what will sell.  In short, I can’t control the world or anyone in it.

     But, despite the agent’s silence, I am at peace now.  I’ve decided that I’m not in the results business.  It’s up to me to do the footwork and write the books, and write them well.  But it’s up to the agents, the universe, whoever… to control the results.  I can’t control any of that.  All I can do is write and be good at it, and that’s okay.  The writing of the story is the real joy of this process.  That is a fact I nearly forgot.  So I don’t need to think about my manuscripts once they’re in the mail.  It’s not my business anymore.  All I can do is… keep writing…

     So I’m gonna.