Paperback Cover Reveal for Romance Is My Day Job!

blogWhile writing Romance Is My Day Job, I didn’t think about the cover until the last minute. How could a cover possibly reflect my life? Maybe it would be a cartoon redhead sipping martinis while reading a romance. I’ve never had a martini but it seems like a cool drink. Or there could be an all-white background with a blue wedding dress. An explosion of hearts and lingerie–or a glitzy shoe all by itself! Beyond this, I hadn’t a clue, so I loved what Dutton’s art department came up with for the hardcover version. It captures the spirit of me and my story.

Now I’m blown away by how much I also love the paperback version with its colors and vintage romance art. This stack of books is what my apartment looks like, i.e. all books, not a whole lot of shelf space, some tomes floating in perfect piles like this. The black background resembles the blackness of our view (though if I use periscope I might be able to spot alleged neighbor Cameron Diaz, who is like the sun).

I love it, I love it, I love it.

Ps. Paperback is out January 27, 2015.

Working That Sagging Middle — Body and Scroll

trainingThe “sagging middle” is a grim reality once you hit George* territory. Diet, stress and sedentary habits can settle in the gut. In a novel, the sagging middle can cripple your story, as well. Editors encounter it so often that you can almost hear us putting down the e-reader around chapter three. The sagging middle is more than just a dopey comment after too many donuts, so I’m going to tackle abs and a flabby manuscript all in one blog post. Disclaimer: Don’t take my exercise suggestions too seriously since I injure myself regularly. And for the sake of laziness, let’s call the sagging middle “SM.”

To understand SM, I delved into why it happens in a manuscript. A writer works so hard on the beginning–because that’s what the editor sees first, unless the editor is crazy and skips to the middle (guilty). It’s hard to keep up that intensity for 250+ pages. Why not just work on the beginning–since that’s most important–and not worry about the middle until you get an editor interested? The reader can’t be hooked every second, can she? This kind of thinking is all wrong, by the way. It’s right around the third chapter that I need a boost because I’m getting deeper into the story. Every page is important. If sagging weighs down chapter three, I know what’s about to happen later: not a whole lot. The sagging gets saggier. For the editor, life is too short and the pile of reading too high. For the writer, it’s time to work out the SM.

You hear similar things about strengthening your “core.” Since my husband took up Pilates (he says it was invented to rehabilitate injured soldiers, thus is manly exercise) and I am trying it, I sense how important it is to build up the stomach area, which holds so many emotions, stressors, and for me at least, croissants. My SM troubles began circa 1973. Newly Parisian, I fell in love with food and stuffed as much French candy into my mouth as possible. Because I was five, I ignored my health and went for new and flashier pastries. Whatever I could find, I ate–often regretting my gorging. Confection looks great on the outside, though doesn’t always feel so delicious an hour later. Regardless, my belly grew into a giant balloon (please bear in mind, I was still cute). Since I didn’t care about boys or modeling, I kept up my eating marathon for a few more years. Then kids really started making fun of me. That’s when I started doing sit-ups, the old-fashioned ones where you lie down and sit all the way up and back down again. I began with 10, then 50, then 100. They were a pain in my gut, but I could tell they worked. The balloon deflated.

So how do you fix the sagging, out-of-control middle in a manuscript? As with your core, there are steps to fix the problem. You just have to follow them, be relentless, and keep going until your manuscript shimmers with excitement and health.

1. Ask yourself if you’ve started the story in the wrong place. Several years ago, an author told me that her beginning wound up being chapter 9. This explained why I gasped in the middle of her story. No sagging there. You may not have this problem–the wrong beginning–but the path to solution opens with a question, a tough one. Be brave enough to consider re-arranging your book.

2. When I was toiling over a story, finding myself on the sagging middle to nowhere, a friend explained that the protagonist should have a main problem with an even bigger problem working against him/her. Plotting is like physics to me, i.e. I don’t get it, but this simple advice made sense to me. Reading up on story structure can help beef up a novel. As with an ab workout or plot revitalization, consult experts. Check out those books, watch exercise videos, talk to trainers. You will eventually get what you need to succeed.

3. Don’t let the reader rest for too long. There’s that moment where a writer may think, Ah, the excitement’s over for now. Let’s just have the characters picnic in the grass and wax poetic about the breath-taking landscape.  Show off ability to describe beautiful scenery! Isn’t it fun to just sit and behold? In a romance, those scenes should be short and incredibly meaningful or else they sag. Too much of a good thing (relaxation and picnic fried chicken/potato salad) can bring on the ZZZZZZs, much like the dreaded food coma. The second I started sitting and reading (with snacking) for a living, I noticed certain physical changes and energy drainage. After enjoying 10 years of an “eat anything” metabolism, I suddenly gained weight just looking at cupcakes–even more when I ate them. Exercising less had been my mantra until I became an editor and had to buy new clothes. And since entering George and Demi territory, I must exert myself even more to keep from doing what I hate so much: shopping for new clothes in an actual store. Don’t rest too long is my new mantra–true in life, true in romance.

4. You want the story to escalate, not reach a plateau. With romantic suspense, a writer must juggle two difficult elements. There is ebb and flow in romance and suspense. How do you make them work together? I would start with how best to torture your characters further. For me in real life, that torture is a push-up. I can’t do one. Because I’ve mastered my situps and run/walk so that I can still eat a cupcake, I neglected upper body strength, putting it off until my bones crack in half later in life. But when I couldn’t open a jar of peanut butter (for evil midnight dining purposes, of course), I realized I had to torture myself a little more by adding weights and pushups to the mix (I did rewatch Rocky for that inspirational training montage). Putting your characters through more pain than they expect will up the ante as you race through that middle part.

5. Maybe your character isn’t with the right person. Gasp! A few months ago, I was reading a story where the heroine fell in love with the hero. The entire time, I thought she was with the wrong man. And–gasp again–I encountered a SM and put down the book.  As with nutrition and exercise, it’s a matter of exploring what will test you the most and, in the end, be the most beneficial. Boy do I love sugar, but it turns me into a jerk, goes straight to the gut and was my original Achilles heel in France. It’s the reason I do situps, so it can’t be my hero. Now, I have a shaky but growing relationship with brown rice.

6. Prolong the romance even more. Though I don’t recommend waiting until the very end for the kiss, Sixteen Candles has this remarkable way of sustaining conflict for two hours. Sure, it’s an ensemble cast, but even a simple love story can create those goosebumps. Think of your favorite stories and how the writer/movie kept the conflict building to an exciting end. I can think of no clever nutrition/exercise parallel except to wait five minutes before getting that bag of Fritos (my lunch weakness). 70% of the time, I still indulge, but I like to believe I’m building willpower.

7. Resist the temptation to keep working on the beginning. Carve out time to work on the middle–a lot of time. Since SM is such a problem area, why not focus the most on this area? If you pull a muscle in your calf from running (as I do), do you then nurture your arm? Usually it’s the area you want to ignore most that requires the most attention…or else the problem will keep growing, like my love for French pastries circa 1973.

I wish I had more answers to the mystery of how you bring a romance or body to its most perfect form. With those pesky abs, I just want to feel good and, sometimes, that involves a corner piece of vanilla cake or 100 situps. With a manuscript, it’s that feeling that I’ve done everything I could with no niggling thought saying, Well, you kinda phoned in the middle. If that happens, I just go back to these steps and repeat. The torture is worth it.

*Usually, one might write Demi since she somehow became the poster girl for over 40. I’m changing it to George Clooney since he’s way over 40, and even over 50!

Remembering

466DA44A-332F-49CB-994F-247CF47FB7A3_w640_r1_sI was nervous about going to work today since it’s two blocks from Ground Zero and the President just announced airstrikes overseas. It’s understandable that New Yorkers would be nervous nellies operating so close to where we witnessed unimaginable horror. Thirteen years ago, I was walking to work, thinking about my future. Should I stay in publishing or do something else? The night before, I’d done a tarot reading for myself and pulled “The Tower” card, thinking it would mean a whopper of a change for myself. It turned out to be a massive change for the world.

At work that day, somewhere around 8:40ish, I was photocopying a manuscript, and someone told me about the first plane flying into the World Trade Center–and then the falling towers. How could that be? We were just there for our holiday party. My colleagues and I saw the atrocities from a window about three miles up from hell. We all went home and stayed home for a while.

Thirteen years is a long time. Many are still hyper-vigilant and living in fear, including myself. I was afraid this morning. Then I remembered all those who died on 9/11 and that, likely, there’d be plenty of nervous people like me at work and on the subways, remembering, not wanting to remember, reminiscing about how life has changed. Maybe others want to pretend the heartbreak isn’t there. Whatever the case is for those who found themselves in our dear city, the anxious and heart-broken helped this fidgety girl get through the day.

You are never alone.

 

My Solo Week or Good Times with Puzzles and Pizza

936645_1460868874172570_7362638582314441128_nI pride myself on being a loner, but I can’t fool myself any longer. I am a loner + 1. “Co-dependence gets a bad rap,” Sam says when I point out that we’re always in the same 1/4 of the apartment. I didn’t think I’d be able to tolerate living with another person. Now, I don’t relish extended periods by myself. So when he planned a trip overseas (one I didn’t want to take at all), I braced myself for the inevitable worrying, bad sleep, and television marathons. For the first twelve hours after his departure, I celebrated madly and relapsed into old habits. Here’s a sampling of my week:

1.The second he left for the airport, I turned on Bachelor in Paradise and stuffed my face full of takeout food–two things I can’t share very much with Sam. He feels both are unhealthy. I feel they’re deliciously toxic–and a nice break from being so perfect! The next morning, though, in my sugar and bikini coma, I began to realize he was on a plane to a place that is not having peaceful times. When I got home from work, I started looking at his Facebook photos and pictures of us. What if he didn’t come back?

2. I noticed the silence after a day. It made me somber, but no worries. This time I didn’t want to cry and play FreeCell all day. Please, I’m sophisticated and instead played Candy Crush for hours. I kept reminding myself that I’d lived alone like this for twenty years, with my own schedule, my own responsibilities. I wondered how I’d react if he didn’t come home. My imagination filled with worst case scenarios. I did not watch the news, but made progress on The Goldfinch.

3. With marriage comes bargaining. Yes, he could go overseas for a week if I could get a kitten. If I used my time wisely, I could get little Cliff or Dolly immediately. But I soon learned that you can’t just drive to a farm and pick up a kitten. In NYC, you have to investigate shelters/pet stores/ASPCA, fill out forms, and get a house visit (all completely understandable). Having lost two cats, I was reluctant to begin the process even though I desperately want a kitten (not an older cat since we just finished caring for one). With my mother’s help, I went to my first “cat truck” and saw several I could have adopted. The truck was too crowded so I left after a few minutes. I’ll try again this Sunday.

4. Sam and I talked via FaceTime, the way we did during our courtship, before we reunited in person (as described in Romance Is My Day Job). It’s heartening to be able to see a loved one who’s so far away.

5. It would have been a good opportunity to catch up with friends, but I went even further underground than usual. There was also some denial that I was alone for the week. Ten years ago, I went out with my friends every Friday. How life has changed. It made me sad. Then I played more Candy Crush.

6. On the weekend, I spent seven hours working on this wild puzzle and watching One Tree Hill (seasons 5-7) and Sex & the City (seasons 1-3). Then I spent seven hours doing the same thing the next day. Needless to say, I felt dizzy afterwards. I was scared that my mother would catch me red-handed (she has a key), though I think she’s aware of my hibernation habits…and where I get the cupcakes.

7. I’v10154130_1420895221503269_7061014535412761438_ne lived in a couple scary places, but NYC hasn’t been one of them. Despite this, I set up booby traps and a chair up against the heavily locked door. Just in case. Getting to sleep was a problem the entire time.

8. The hideous nightwear came out of hiding, especially if if I stayed in the entire day. One time, I did leave the apartment in my nightgown to get a slice of pizza (also something Sam wouldn’t do, unless it’s whole wheat, which I find completely nasty). I was a little embarrassed halfway down the block, but no one noticed. It’s New York.

9. The giant and urgent pile of work I needed to do got done–including three books to edit, one short story, three revision letters, and two proposals.

10. I cleaned 1/2 of the living room with the Swiffer, but then I ran out of Swiffer strips. Since it’s only going to get dirty again, why bother replenishing? Will clean again when he starts sneezing.

11. Every morning, once more in denial, I made enough coffee for two people. It was wasteful, but I think I will do this for the rest of my life–well, except for the fact that he usually makes the coffee.

12. On the seventh day, I realized that it had been a good week overall–even with the agita, obsessive puzzling and insomnia. Sometimes, you need a week. As I went through my routine, I got excited that there would soon be that vivacious presence I’ve gotten so used to these past five years.

He’s home, I’m relieved and happy. And now it’s time to get serious about that kitten.

Today’s Romance Writing Pet Peeves

imagesHappy Monday! To start off the week, I’m disclosing a few more things that drive me crazy in manuscripts. I judge harshly but with the knowledge that writing can be refined–always.

1. Using a foreign language when you don’t really know it. Your sweet heroine is sitting at a café in Paris. Sipping her café au lait, she waits impatiently for Monsieur Ooh-la-la to come along. Just when she feels all hope is perdu, a  gorgeous artiste wearing a horizonally-striped shirt and black beret approaches her. He says the equivalent of “How you doin?” à la Joey from Friends. Except in the manuscript this delicious pick-up line is written as “Comment vous faire?” which is the kind of trash you get when you use those straight translation programs. This slip-up might land on e-reader of an editor who is fluent in French. Make sure you consult someone who speaks the language.

2. Announcing intention before showing it. I’m nitpicky about this and I’m going to tell you what I mean. Oh wait. I just did what I hate. Let me explain in a more practical way:

Hannah was shocked that Trevor complained about the overcooked carrots. She was going to tell him so. “I’m shocked you’re complaining, Trevor.” Did you catch that she’s telling us three times? I don’t blame her. I’d be really upset if Trevor didn’t like my cooking. This repetition is an easy crime to commit. It might be part of one’s speedy train of thought, but it reads as lazy filler and I cut, cut, cut. Editing these ineffective sentences will make an editor happy. Go back over what you’ve written a few times, put in a more interesting sentence. Hannah could secretly decide to put the carrots in Trevor’s breakfast smoothie the next day.

3. Predictability. With so many stories being told, my pet peeve is a cliché. Being new and different is not new and different anymore. As an editor of romantic suspense, I can smell the hero-arriving-at-the-right-time-to-defeat-the-villain-who’s-holding-her-hostage at around p. 10. Readers may like this kind of ending, but for some, it doesn’t make the story worth reading after the 20th version. Recently, I was editing a tale that was proceeding at a nice pace, good romance, lots of bells and whistles. Then the author really shocked me in a way that left me gasping. The story became more precious to me, with a happily ever after I wasn’t quite expecting. This is pure gold–happens but rarely for me. It’s difficult to write an unpredictable plot, but still I challenge writers to find a way to surprise the reader.

That is all…

Am Watching Bachelor in Paradise for Research…

bachelor-pad-spinoff-Paradise…on what to wear for my fantasy beach vacation! I should scold myself for supporting the show’s heartless dating Russian roulette, but given global chaos and my romance addiction, all Chris Harrison shows are mandatory for me. Don’t worry (esp. Mom), to reinvigorate brain cells, I’m reading The Goldfinch.

Here are my deep thoughts concerning last night’s show–SPOILERS AHEAD:

Not sure Chris’s departure and his new accessory are for real. It seemed so unChris. Did he purposely step on a jellyfish in order to tear his meniscus and get fabulous pain meds so he wouldn’t have to endure a date with The Monologist? Did he want her to come with him to Chicago because he needed help getting around?

Wasn’t Elise’s light aqua dress fantastic? She consistently knows what to wear.

If I’d been single, on that island, unemployed so that I could be on a show, 20 years younger, and an exhibitionist, I would have chosen Marquel as my companion.

Lovely AshLee should realize that the tighter you hold onto a person, the more they want to get away. You can practice this on a cat. By the way, I’m changing the spelling of my name to PaTience.

I was startled by Michelle Money’s hair-necklace but give her props for rocking the smoky eyeshadow and crying without raccoon eyes–which is why I don’t do smoky eyeshadow, except on my one appearance on Rachael Ray*.

The solid couples get old fast, which is why I like that they bring on new, scantily clad game changers to cause more needless suffering. This isn’t reality, so I can be dismissive!

And lastly, I’m waiting for Chris Harrison to be the surprise contestant for someone’s affections.

Okay, I’ll go back to reading about a boy who mourns his mother’s death and takes some famous painting. Maybe he needs his own season in paradise.

*You might note the eyeshadow melted off my face by time of airing.

What I Did This Summer

This is what suSlippers at jettymmer should be. Maybe I could have arranged this, but it’s a little late. Besides, shouldn’t every day be like Danny and Sandy on the beach?

I’ll be honest, I’ve never liked summer that much. It may be ice cream truck time, shorts weather, my birthday season, but in New York, it’s sticky, humid and the streets smell like dog pee or barf. Air conditioning is necessary for maximum comfort — and in our room, that air has the faint odor of mildew (the super explained why this is normal). I spend the three months wheezing slightly, seeking one air-conditioned place after the next. It’s also the season when my husband has a work hiatus so I am seething with envy as he kicks back and takes a third nap. On a positive note, I like the sun. It adds cheer to the sweat. Plus, a gelato place opened right down the street. Sam gets his “gym recovery drink” there. I don’t need recovery–just scoops of pistachio in an overpriced cup.

This summer began with me working on a new writing project, thinking of a vacation, visiting with family, and preparing for the RWA conference. It’s often a busier season because writers turn in their manuscripts over the summer, right before or after the conference. The flood is as powerful as the one that occurs at the end of the year. I totally get it, and it helps take my mind off of sweating and wheezing.

In June, we went to Florida for a special graduation. But just as we were returning home, a serious accident befell a dear relative, the kind of accident that could have ended very badly. Thank goodness, it didn’t. Even though this misfortune didn’t happen to me, it sent me into a deep hibernation of sorts — little desire for Facebook, blogging, picking up the phone–and a lot of spaciness, cancel-itis and worry. I haven’t had a whole lot to say these last few months.

July brought a change of gyms, my birthday, and R10501667_1456525514606906_3763020340338753968_nWA. The conference in San Antonio was a real boost (except for being trapped for 90 minutes underground on the train to JFK), especially dancing to “Blurred Lines” with Christian romance writers at a party. The mood felt especially upbeat this year, kind of surprising given how unpredictable/tumultuous the year has been in publishing. I guess people just need to blow off steam. Whatever the case, I loved it.

August has been a little quieter, gearing up for the academic year and work events. In addition to watching many suspenseful movies, we took a super moon selfie. No real Danny and Sandy vacation for us this summer, but after much psychological warfare with cute cat videos, complaining, and bargaining, my husband agreed to our getting a kitten. Stay tuned for pictures. I have the name all picked out–unless little ____ _____ _____ doesn’t respond to it. Now I just have to find him.

I hope your summers have been relaxing, fun, and exactly what you wanted.