Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Look Out New York, here I come!

Two posts in one day. I'm as surprised as you are!

I'm leaving for New York and the BEA on Friday.

I can't believe I'm doing a book signing in the New York, but more than that, I can't believe I'm going to get to see my editor's office and the notorious slush pile. I've been dreaming about this moment for years.

Not really, but it sure sounded good, didn't it? Actually, I've been wanting to see the building that Harlequin is housed in. I'm into cool architecture, so this should be a real treat. My train leaves around seven a.m. on Friday even though I'm not signing until Saturday morning. I'll stay Friday and Saturday night. The fact that I could easily have taken the train in on Saturday morning, signed and been home Saturday night is something that I refuse to contemplate. At the moment, I am desperate for a break. Not from my hubby or kids, just from the endless routine of mommy-hood, writer-hood, and every other hood that I wear (as opposed to hats).

My mom and I are going to travel together and do some sightseeing Friday and Saturday afternoon and evening. Friday I'm heading to Harlequin to meet with Melissa, we'll take the tour of the offices and then have lunch. I've been very blessed in that I've clicked with all my editors and have a very easy working relationship with them. I enjoy them as people as much as I enjoy their expertise, so it should be a fun time.

The book I'm signing is coming out next month. VALLEY OF SHADOWS is the fifth book in my Lakeview series and is actually a follow up to EVEN IN THE DARKNESS. That means another visit to Thailand and Mae Hong Son. And another visit with Hawke. Now he was a truly great hero to write!

Of course, I nervous. Book signings always make me that way. What a blessing though, to be invited to do this!

I'm going to take pictures and have my husband post them on my website when I return.

The Health Inspector Cometh and Why You Shouldn't Put Off That Writing Project

In the midst of the end of the school year craziness (and I won't bore you with all that means), the health inspector called to set up an appointment to inspect my house. Yes, it's true. As part of our adoption home study, we had to have the fire inspector and the health inspector out for a visit. I didn't mind the fire inspector so much. We've got smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers. What could he possibly find to criticize?

The health inspector, however, freaked me out.

Don't get me wrong, my house is no pig sty. It's relatively neat and clean (unless you count deadline days...I don't). It's just that the thought of someone coming in, opening closest and cupboards, checking for hidden dirt and clutter and secret ugliness bothers me. In preparation for THE DAY, I frantically cleaned out every cupboard and every closet, I scrubbed tubs and sinks, swept floors and forced my poor husband to install the toilet in our downstairs bathroom (which is currently under construction). In other words, I cleaned more in three days than I generally do in two weeks.

When the inspector arrived I was ready. I don't know what I was expecting (maybe a white glove wearing, clip board carrying member of the clean team). What I got was a very nice twenty-something guy who sauntered into my house, checked my hot water to make sure it was working, measured my daughter's bedroom, measured our bathroom, asked where I kept toxic substances, checked our play fort for sturdiness and left.

Very anticlimactic. See, it seems that the health inspector was looking for reasons to give us a passing inspection rather than searching for reasons to fail us. Go figure.

So, here's the thing...and yes, friends, I can relate this to writing.

There are times when I put off writing related projects because I just know every word is going to be scrutinized and found lacking. I'm sure that editors and agents are searching for problems and looking for a reason to reject me. I'll waffle around, not completing a proposal, or completing it and not sending it in because I'm terrified of having all my dirty little writing secrets revealed and being shown as the fraud I am (Shirlee McCoy - author impersonator). If I allow myself to, I can sit on projects for several months.

Unfortunately, time is not an authors friend.

In the end rationality and practicality win out (why write if I'm not going to let my words be seen?) and I send my projects out, heading to the post office with sweaty palms, churning stomach, and the certainty that I am about to be rejected and eviscerated.

Meanwhile in New York, my editor is busily reading her pile of manuscripts. Though one might picture a curmudgeon, gloomily eying the to-be-read pile with various amounts of cynicism, that couldn't be further from the truth. Let me assure you that she is not wearing thick rimmed glasses and a scowl, she is not a card carrying member of the red pen society, and she does not have a giant "rejected because you stink as a writer so please don't ever submit to me again!" stamp clutched in her hand. Like the health inspector who was looking for reasons to give my house a passing grade, my editor is looking for reasons to give manuscripts space on book shelves. Her job isn't to find bad manuscripts, but to find good ones. Sure she notices when a plot isn't working or characters are weak, but she also notices when writers have promise, talent, and that special spark that makes their stories come to life. She isn't red-lining every mistake, keeping a journal and computer log about who misspelled which words how many times. Of course, she must reject more manuscripts than she buys, but what makes her happy is reading those manuscripts that stand out as just a cut above the rest.

If, like me, you worry and sweat over sending your baby off to be scrutinized, relax. Things aren't nearly as scary as they might seem. In the end, good storytelling wins out every time. So, write your stories, make them sing, then send them off. You may be surprised at how painless it all really is!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

To Network or Not

While I was waiting to hear back on STILL WATERS, I met several pre-pubbed authors and even joined a critique group. Up to that point, I'd been writing in a cocoon, completely oblivious to anything and everything that had to do with the writing world. As I immersed myself into a totally new culture, I heard a lot of talk about the benefits of networking, the importance of attending conferences, and the need to know people. This worried me.

I knew a lot of people. However, it was obvious that those people were not the right people and that somehow my career as a writer was going to be hurt by my inability to connect with the right crowd. I began to feel like a high school freshmen standing on the fringe of the popular clique - never invited in, always just a smile away from being part of them. I didn't have the money for conferences. My kids were seven, five, four, and one. I barely had time to put words on page, let alone chat with groups of writers, rub shoulders with editors, and fly to writing conferences. Was I destined to fail before I'd even begun?

A few years later, I can say with certainty that it isn't conferences or people who help an author toward success. It's hard work, determination, perseverance in the face of rejection. It's trusting in gut instincts and believing in a story enough to carry it through to completion. Writing isn't about rules, it isn't about hobnobbing, it isn't about conferences or contests. It's about the joy of putting words to paper, it's about creating word pictures that come to life in the mind of readers. It's about work, work, work.

If you find time for other things...good. If not, don't sweat it. You're going to be just fine!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why My Cat Drinks From the Toilet (and other things I don't understand)

I have two cats. One of them loves to drink from the toilet. I don't understand this as he always has clean, fresh water available to him. We adopted the older cat when he was one. He drinks from his water bowl. We adopted Cosmo when he was a baby. He drinks from the toilet. Figure that one out, because I can't.

Here's another thing I can't figure out - why is it that it's okay to adopt a child if you're childless, or if you have (let's say) three son and no daughters, or two daughters and no sons, but not so okay when you've got four biological children of various genders? Why is it okay to have two or three kids, maybe even four, but not five or six? Perhaps the more important question is - why do people in our society feel they have the right to comment on personal decisions that have nothing to do with them, but don't feel the need to step in and lend a hand during times of trouble? Just a case in point: a few months ago my car broke down. I was stuck nearly in the middle of an intersection on a very busy road. I managed to back out of the intersection, but was blocking an entire lane of traffic. For fifteen minutes I sat waiting for my husband to arrive, my hazard lights on, cars whizzing by. In that time not one person stopped to ask if I needed help, no one offered assistance, no one even acknowledged my trouble (unless you count angry horn-honking as acknowledgment). Juxtaposed to that, we've decided to adopt and I've already had at least three people ask me why in shocked and horrified voices. Two have even gone so far as to say (this is very near a quote)that my husband and I are being greedy and selfish to want more children. I'm not particularly bothered by these comments, but I do wonder how a culture supports the rise of both the intense "be true to yourself, pursue your passions, live for you" mentality and the "I have the right to stick my nose into a near stranger's business" philosophy. In a time when individuality and isolationism are embraced, it seems strange that so many people are so worried about the decisions of others.

Perhaps this is a good thing. At least people are passionate about their thoughts and beliefs. If only we could harness that, become a culture built on community and neighborhood again; a place where we value the contributions of others and work hard to help those we see every day rather than focusing so intently on ourselves and our achievements. This life is not about what we do for ourselves, but about what we do for others. It's about service not in a wide sense of the word, not in a showy look-what-I-did-to-help sense, but in a quiet sense of selflessness, of seeking to help those that are quietly suffering - an elderly neighbor, a person we barely know who has lost someone near to them. Saving whales and dolphins is great, but let's also save those who are quietly slipping away because they have no sense of community, no sense of belonging, and no feeling that someone cares.

Shirlee's word count for Tuesday- - 5,000. Yes, that's a negative number. I've had to restart my proposal because it stinks. Let's see if I can finish it this week. How about your writing? Feel free to post word counts.