Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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RWA 2018

I want to bend your ear for a minute or two about RWA, the National Conference, and the RWA writing awards.

Each finalist for the Golden Heart® and the RITA® awards got a certificate of appreciation from the RWA board. This happened the night before the ceremonies where the winners were announced (spoiler alert: I didn’t win my category, at least not as far as RWA was concerned). The certificate event was a really nice way for everyone to feel special, appreciated, and worthwhile.

The day did not start out that way. At the Annual General Meeting, the board announced that they were doing away with the Golden Heart award for unpublished writers. Due to prior obligations I wasn’t at the meeting, but people who attended said that more than a few people spoke out against the board’s decision. I’ve written in other places about the Golden Heart, what it means, and why it shouldn’t be discontinued. Most of my reasons have to do with RWA’s commitment to unpublished authors. They reasoned that with so many people seeking alternate routes beyond traditional, the Golden Heart no longer applies. However, it’s an award for unpublished authors. That means they haven’t decided to go either hybrid or self-published or traditional. Unpublished. I believe that RWA owes as much support to unpublished authors as they do to the published ones. So if they’re going to use different paths to publication as a reason for cutting out the Golden Heart, they need to take a long look at the RITA awards too. Most of the RITA winners this year were self-published.

So let’s don’t be hypocritical. You can’t fault an unpublished author for thinking about self-publishing when the top dog awards are going to self-published authors, can you?

That aside, there have been a lot of rumblings this year about RWA not being inclusive enough of writers who are not your standard CIS white writers. I mean, a lot of rumbling, and rightly so. Not a single African-American author won a RITA, although the video interviews interspersed between awards featured primarily women of color. The Golden Heart did marginally better in this category.

This has been a year for RWA being called out.

It’s a good time to show you the badge I wore at this year’s national convention.

If you look beyond the name and the bling at the ribbons I put on in rainbow-hued order, you can probably make out the words on the light blue one. In case you can’t, it reads LBGTQ+ ROMANCE. As I listened to lifetime achievement award winner Suzanne Brockmann’s RITA speech, my heart swelled about six sizes. You see, my Golden Heart novel, Duet, features an openly bisexual male main character. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined it stood a snowball’s chance in hell of making it into the Golden Heart finals. Once I found out it had, I kept expecting to get a phone call or email saying sorry, we made a mistake. That never happened, despite a general reaction of “oh, how interesting” from a great many people when I told them about Duet’s male lead.

My novel made the finals, but I knew its chances of winning were even slimmer. Winning in my category would have been lovely. It wasn’t my top priority, however, and I’ll tell you why:

A few months ago, I got a call from a dear friend. She was delighted to tell me that she had a new girlfriend. Of course, I was so happy for her, congratulated her. Then she told me that it was Duet’s bisexual male main character—someone openly out, someone who owns what he is and what he does, someone perfectly confident in his own skin and with his own sexuality—that enabled her to realize she was bisexual, and that it was okay.

Representation matters. That’s not just an idle phrase.

As writers, we aim to touch the lives and hearts of our readers. As romance writers, we aim to show them there is always the possibility of a happily ever after. In this case, I was lucky enough to hear that the life of someone I love dearly was positively influenced by my book and characters.

After that, who needs a necklace? I’m already a winner.

———-

RWA National is exhausting, exhilarating, mind-numbingly busy. It can be fantastic; it can be a crushing experience. Now that you all know I wasn’t remotely crushed at not winning in my category, I’ll tell you that I came away from this conference more determined than ever to keep writing my own stories my own way. To never underplay or hide the queer characters who are part of the population of my books, and have been for as long as I’ve been writing.

I met a lot of people this year. I made a lot of new writing friends. I have so many ideas for things I can do personally to pay it forward to new writers, established writers, and to readers. Watch this space.

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Meet Me in Denver

Will any of you be in Denver in July for the RWA National Conference? If so, please find me and say hello! I’ll be the one with the short hair [subtext: look for my badge] staying at the hotel.

Seriously, though, I would love to meet up with people. Those of us from All The Kissing are having an event (that makes it sound so formal! It’s a drop-in-and-say-hello thing) on Friday, July 20 at 8pm at 16Mix inside the downtown Denver Sheraton. There…um…might be some swag to give away too, if that’s a motivating factor for you. Here, have some details.

If you can’t be there, stop by and say hello at the Golden Heart® Ceremony luncheon on Thursday afternoon! The vegan option last year was very tasty, but I might be too filled with nerves to eat my lunch this time.

One thing is certain: I will be so delighted to put names with faces, faces with names, faces with voices and Twitter handles, share a few laughs, and enjoy every last moment.


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Good News!

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m now represented by Michelle Richter at Fuse Literary.

As with most every writer I know, getting here has been an uphill climb. I’m nowhere near the top of the mountain yet, but at least I’ve reached the first way station. Thank you, Pitch Wars, for teaching me how to rewrite yet again and thank you, years of querying, for teaching me not to quit and thank you, Romance Writers of America®, for propelling me into the finals for the 2018 Golden Heart® award. Without those three things I might have given up long ago.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program. In my case, that means revising and editing. Onward!


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Be Brave With Me


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Being brave means to know something is scary, difficult, and dangerous, and doing it anyway, because the possibility of winning the fight is worth the chance of losing it. –Emilie Autumn

Every author knows there are millions of reasons not to share our writing with the world. It’s not polished enough. Some people won’t like it. No one’s reading this kind of thing right now. I’m not sure I’m ready to share it. I might want to change it.

The list goes on and on.

When I first started writing, the very thought of letting other people actually read my words was chilling. In a way, it’s like opening your soul and letting others in. I think it’s the same for most creative pursuits, but since I’m a writer that’s the one I can best speak to. We really do pour our hearts out on the page. With romance in general and steamy scenes in particular, there’s always this moment where I have to disassociate the words on the page from the author doing the writing. I’m sure everyone wonders, especially at first, how much (or little) others will think of them when they read the intimacy between characters. How much does the author draw from their own lives? Where does the line between fiction and reality get drawn?

Just like everything else, we make up the reality of those steamy scenes. Just like everything else, there’s undoubtedly a basis in reality. Or at least a basis in imagination. That’s the key, that last bit: we imagine what it is like for our characters. We’re not transcribing our own lives on the pages any more than JK Rowling transcribed her own school experiences into Harry Potter or Robert Ludlum underwent secret government manipulation to write about Jason Bourne. We’re authors. We make things up.

But making things up still provides a window into our souls, even though it might be shuttered rather than wide open. And that means that one of the hardest things for most writers to do, especially in the early stages of their writing, is to share their work.

Writing is an isolationist sport. We do it alone. We even have the term “writing cave,” as if we need to prove that it’s a solitary pursuit. We spend so much time living in our minds, pouring thoughts out onto the paper or screen. The thought of inviting someone else in to share what we’ve created can be so scary.

As Emilie Autumn says, it’s scary but we do it anyway. We have to: if we want to succeed in the world of publishing, people will be reading our words. The sooner we get used to the idea that others, sometimes countless others, will read our words is a good thing. Does that make it any less frightening?

No. But we have to suck it up and share, because a novel sitting on a hard drive where no one can see it is one less novel out there in the world. It might be the best thing ever written, but if no one reads it, no one will ever know.

Lucille Ball said I’m not funny. What I am is brave. She also said ability is of little account without opportunity.

All I can say is take the opportunities as they come by. If I hadn’t taken the opportunity to enter Pitch Wars back in 2016, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If I hadn’t taken a leap of faith and entered the Golden Heart® contest this year, I wouldn’t be a finalist. Does it get easier? Of course. We writers have to have thick skins. Suits of armor sometime. Still, I hope I never get to the point where I read something I wrote, sit back and rub my hands together, and say yeah, that’s great. I want to always hold onto a modicum of humility, because I’d be nowhere without the people who were kind enough to read for me once I finally got brave enough to start putting my words out there. They’re the ones who encourage me. They’re the ones who give me the confidence to reach for the stars. And they’re the same ones who are there to pick me up and dust me off every time I fall.


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Writing Through the Tough Times

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I’ve never met a career as soul-crushing and disheartening as writing.

I’ve also never met a career that can be as exciting and fulfilling.

So what’s the truth of it? Honestly, my truth will vary from yours and yours will vary from the next person, and so on. I can only speak with authority to what it means for me. As a writer, a human being, someone struggling to get her words out there, I will tell you that there are days when I want to just stop. That’s disheartening. That’s so tough.

Writers need thick skins. We hear that all the time, and it’s a universal truth. People either will or will not like our stories. Agents either will or will not be willing to try to sell them. Editors either will or will not accept them for publication. Small presses either will or will not be accepting that type of story. Critique partners, beta readers, reviewers, random people on the street–you get the picture. As a writer, there is no shortage of people willing to voice an opinion on the quality and marketability of our work.

We have to learn to be incredibly selective about who we listen to, and why we listen to those people. I’m not saying I don’t look for feedback, because I do. I enter judged contests. I’ve got a plethora of critique partners and beta readers. I’m actively querying, which puts my work out for scrutiny by agents and publishers, all of whom have different criteria for what they like and for what they’re looking to represent.

We also hear this all the time: writing is subjective. If that’s not a universal truth, I’m not sure what is. One reader will love the chemistry between characters. Another will hate it, or say it leaves them cold. One reader finds our work full of that elusive thing called voice. Another says they’re not a fan of the author’s voice. There’s an opinion for everything. With the short pieces I’ve had published, the reviews I’ve received have been all over the place. Sometimes I go back and reread them if only to remind myself how subjective this business really is. There is no one work of literature out there that’s universally loved, no one book that finds itself universally despised. That’s simply the way it is.

So why do we keep writing? A lot of people will say they write because they can’t not write. Some people will say it’s simply a learned skill or a job, and they do it every day because it’s what’s expected of them. I’ve always said I write because I have stories to tell. Will everyone want to read them? No. Will someone want to? Yes.

That’s why I write through the tough times. Those times when I think my life would be better served if I just gave up on writing and did something “useful” instead. But I’ve noticed something, and I don’t think I’m alone in this: when I don’t write for stretches (I can’t say how long because it varies), I get cranky. Unhappy. Depressed. Distressed. All those things make me want to not write. But if I power through them after a reasonable amount of time and make myself sit down and write, inevitably I feel better. More complete. Creative in new ways. I have more energy, more drive, more enthusiasm for the other things life has to offer.

And yes, I can do something “useful” and be a writer. Thankfully, those aren’t mutually exclusive.


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#KissPitch

If you’re a romance writer with a Twitter account seeking representation, I hereby invite you to #KissPitch.

This is what happens when you’re sitting around with a group of smart and savvy romance writers. We all love #PitMad, but pine for the days when the feed didn’t go by so quickly that there was virtually no chance of your pitch being read. Even with genre sorting, it’s tough. Not all agents and editors surfing the contest are interested in romance only. So, we thought, what if we ran a pitch event strictly for romance writers?

Valentine’s Day was the only logical choice. So I’m happy to invite you to dust off your Twitter pitch-writing skills and join us for the event.

You can find all the rules on All The Kissing. If you’re interested and want to practice your pitching, join the All The Kissing Facebook group, where we’re working together to help with pitches. Even if you don’t want to practice your pitching, you couldn’t ask for a finer group of romance writers.

I’ve written before about Twitter pitch contests. Sometimes I love them. Other times I’ve been dismayed or confused by them. It’s fascinating to work on one from the inside. Actually, I could get to see both sides of it at once, since I’m currently querying a romance manuscript. Now that’s something to write about.

Mark your calendars for February 14. If you have any questions, ask away either here, on our Facebook group, or @ me on Twitter. I’m happy to clarify or seek higher wisdom for you from my contest co-hosts. Feel free to spread the word. This is definitely a case of the more, the merrier.

Cheers!


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What Are You Up To?

Every time I hear that question, I mentally add the words my Juanita and think of Lowell George and Little Feat and their song Fat Man in the Bathtub. It’s off the excellent live album Waiting for Columbus, in case you’re looking for something to listen to.

I haven’t heard it for a while, but I can fix that. Hold please…there. Now I’m listening to it. I do best with music most of the time, but curiously not really when I’m writing a first draft. There, I don’t want anyone else’s words filtering into my subconscious.

I haven’t been writing a first draft. After a fairly epic NaNoWriMo where I churned out some 90,000 words of first draft, I took December off. I don’t like to edit too quickly after drafting–the work needs to sit for a while. In fact, I wrote a blog post over at All the Kissing about keeping on with your NaNo novel, and another one about being kind to yourself during the editing process. Every now and again, it’s good to take a break. Honestly, I’d reread my NaNo draft so many times that I couldn’t see the words on the page any more. I knew the MMC (that’s “male main character” for those of you who don’t write romance) needed a better arc and I decided to reorder a lot of what happened in the book, although overall I was pretty pleased with my first/zero/garbage draft. But I also knew I needed some breathing space.

Instead of working on that book, I went back and re-read my Pitch Wars manuscript and decided that needs work too, although nothing as extensive as a complete rewrite. Having worked on two more books in the series, there are little characterization tidbits I need to go in and firm up. Otherwise, it’s still pretty good.

Thumbs up!

I will say that going back and rereading something I wrote over a year ago leads me to appreciate how much I’ve grown as a writer since then. I suppose no work of fiction is ever really done. There are always things about it that can be finessed and improved. I also suppose that part of learning to be a writer is knowing when to let go and say enough. Time to let it go, send it off, send it to bed, shelve it–whatever the right thing is to do in the moment.

I reached that point with Book 2 in the series at the beginning of November. I’m pleased with it. It’s ready. I’m not saying there isn’t room for improvement, because go up a paragraph. There’s always room for improvement. But at some point we have to let our babies leave the nest, right?

During December, though, I did a few things that weren’t writing. I visited family. I got back into my favorite art and crafts. I read, re-read, but didn’t touch my NaNo novel. I read a few books. I woke up to snow on Christmas morning, just in time to get to the Seattle airport (that was a fun trip; there wasn’t enough de-icing equipment at SeaTac but I made it to Arizona and my mom eventually). Mostly, I lived like a normal person, whatever that is. A normal person who didn’t churn out a 90k book in 30 days.

I’m so proud of myself.

Now I’m reading a manuscript for a critique partner. I’ll be reading a book sent to me for a review next, and finally getting back to my own series (oh, I decided on a SERIES TITLE for it too, which was fun, because it’s a theme common to all the books in it). I told people I wanted to wait to revise Book 3 until the ideas were so overflowing I could no longer contain them. I’m getting to that point. Dreaming about the characters, thinking about their story arcs, creating ways to improve them and make them more multidimensional than they already are.

So that’s what I’ve been up to, my Juanita, my sweet chiquita. Here, have some Little Feat.