Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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The night was hazy. Too hazy.

Here in the Pacific northwest, the skies have been filled with smoke from the fires raging up and down the west coast. The worst of it where I live near Seattle has been coming down from British Columbia. Many of the people I know have been affected by the pollutants in the air. If you’re wondering what it looks like…

(You should be able to see the Seattle skyline, clear as day across the water.)

That aside, I have a little bit of news! I’m officially a part of the Pitch Wars blog team. Will you see a ton of posts by me? No, I’m primarily working behind the scenes to make sure everything looks right before the posts go live. I’m working with this fabulous group: Brenda Drake, Lisa Leoni, and Jaime Dill.

This is in addition to the work I’m doing with All The Kissing. Hey, the busier we are, the more productive we get, right?

As far as writing goes, I’ve sent off edits and am taking a tiny breather to read a bit before delving into finishing not one but two books. Where is my clone? Of course I can only physically work on one at a time, but I love them both and have been like a ping pong ball, going back and forth. Spoiler: one of them is not a romance! But it is a novel I love and am passionately eager to finish. So we’ll see what happens, and which one gets done first.

If you haven’t yet joined us on Twitter for #FridayKiss, please do! These Twitter hashtag games displaying lines from a work in progress serve more purposes than just showing off in front of thousands of your best friends. When I work with the weekly theme, I’ve found it helps me notice trends and over-use in my own writing, first and foremost. If I use the theme word the same way more than twice, I’ll go back and do some editing. Then, when I read the feed, I can see what the most common uses are for the theme word. It’s both fascinating and insightful. Maybe I’m looking at it from the perspective of someone who did technical editing for a lot of years, but I know it’s made me keenly aware of the way I use words and terms in my fiction. Of course, your mileage may vary, and no analysis is required.

The second benefit is really the one I was flippant about above. If you’re writing and want to be published, you need to get used to sharing your words. Is it scary? Absolutely. Does it get easier with time? Absolutely. But look at this as a proving ground for yourself. If you don’t put yourself out there now, will you be able to do it later? Will you gather the courage to submit to contests? Will you be brave enough to query agents, editors, or publishers if you’re too shy about your writing? So come along and practice with us. You can find the prompt posted every Thursday evening at 7pm Pacific time at @yourfridaykiss. And to make it a little bit more entertaining, there are quotes. About each prompt. Each week. And no spoiler here: I have a lot of fun finding those.


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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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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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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.


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Striving for Positivity

I’ll never get published, I hate my writing!

Oh, yeah, I love what I wrote.

I’m a fraud, people will find me out!

Damn, I’m incredibly competent.

I’m going to drop out of all social media!

Wow, look at this great conversation.

Nobody likes me.

I love you all!

 

This is what the inside of my brain looks like today. Which brings me to an important point about exclamation marks (seriously). Look at the list above. All the negative sentiments are emphasized with them, and none of the positive ones…until the last. Because that’s where I’ve ultimately ended up today.

Look, writing is a tough business. There’s precious little praise and entire dung heaps of rejection. It’s hurry up and wait. It’s biting our nails. It’s looking for validation anywhere we can find it. It’s the inevitable feelings of worthlessness, followed by the inevitable (but generally short-lived) feelings of competence. Like a good game of table tennis, we go back and forth, back and forth.

Last night I had to fill out a form detailing my occupation for the past ten years, and I left off writer. Why? Because in my brain–in that space I was in at the time–I decided I had no viable proof that I could call myself a writer. My published stories have gone out of print. I don’t write regularly on this blog any more. I’m not agented. I’m not even sure which of my works I’m going to pitch in the face-to-face sessions I have lined up. That old enemy of mine, self-doubt, made a roaring comeback.

It’s so easy to harp on all the bad things and forget the good ones.

But really, I am a writer and self-doubt will slink away like it always does, tail between its legs. Back into the darkness. Still, at times like this I am so appreciative of my friends and my writing community. Without you guys, I might fill with too much self-loathing and be one of those people who announces they’re quitting the writing world forever, see you on the other side. When I’m smart I remind myself it doesn’t matter what stage of our career we’re in–just starting, manuscript complete, querying, agented, on sub, published–we all have the same nagging doubts and fears.

So let me ward that off for you. When you sit there and ask yourself am I good enough? the answer is yes. When you wonder if you’ll ever be successful, the answer is yes. When you think you can’t possibly do this for one more day, the answer is you can. 

Now all I have to do is remember that myself.


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I said that last time. It became a pastime.

Bonus points! I got you here using Hamilton lyrics!

Seriously, though: we’re moving again. Last time I told myself it was our last move for a long time, but it hasn’t really been all that long. So it goes. Onward and upward, and hopefully this time will be the last time for a great many years.

I’m excited for it, but it’s put a cramp in my writing style. Today was a good day, though. For the first time in many weeks, I had a few uninterrupted hours to write so I took advantage of it. Getting back in the swing of this story felt so good.

Honestly, I’ve tried not writing and I just get cranky and depressed. It’s better for me (and for the world around me) if I take the time I need to be creative.