The Worst Thing About Being a Novelist

As I opened my e-mail this morning and read through the new mystery list-serv postings, the theme was “July Reads.” At first I thought, I could post about this. Then I realized it wouldn’t be much of an offering. I didn’t actually finish a single book last month. I started several but lost interest and put them down. (More about that phenomenon tomorrow.) But I don’t lack for novels to read. I have a huge TBR pile.

For me, the worst thing about being a novelist is the lack of time to read novels! Before I started writing novels, I read at least one or two books a week. Now I feel lucky if I can read 10 novels a year. And it kills me. Especially when I meet other mystery/crime authors. I’d love to be able to say, “I read your new novel and I loved it.” But most of the time, I haven’t read any of their work.

I don’t know how to get around this. I’ve given up what little TV that I used to watch and that has helped some. But still, working as an editor, writing new novels, promoting my published novel, online networking, and spending time with family uses up almost every minute of every day. And the only one of those activities that I’d give up voluntarily is my editing job. (But then I’d end up homeless.) So not having enough fiction reading time is a painful sacrifice I have to make, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

As a novelist, I read fiction differently now too. The author’s choices (POV, pacing, foreshadowing, syntax) are always present. It’s much harder to simply be absorbed into a story and transported away for hours the way I used to. Sometimes I think that being an avid reader (back in the day) was more fun than being a novelist. But there’s no going back. I am a storyteller now; it defines me.

Being Faithful

As I drank my coffee and checked my list of things to do this morning, I vacillated about how to structure my day. A six-hour freelance editing project was sitting in my “in progress” file, waiting to be started. I was raised with the “work first, play latter” mantra, so my left brain kept telling me to do the freelance work and get it over, then work on my novel. But my novel beckoned me too. Secrets to Die For is so close to being a finished rough draft that it’s like being near the end of an exciting book and not wanting to put it down.

Then I remembered the August blogging challenge and opened my blog. And there were my words, “Write First, Clean Later.” Of course, I get paid to freelance edit, so it’s not exactly in the same category as cleaning, but still, “Write First.” And so I decided to be faithful to myself, my mantra, and my novel. Writing this blog is the only thing I doing before getting to work on my novel. But it’s writing, so it counts.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About The Sex Club

This morning I participated in my first discussion with a mystery book club, the Rocky Mountain Readers of Colorado Springs. It was great fun, and would only have been better if I could have met these delightful women in person. I’ll recap our discussion of THE SEX CLUB here:

How did you come to write this story?
My stories always reflect issues, events, or cultural changes that are currently on my mind. In this case, there were several. First, years ago there was the news of a large group of middle school students spreading syphilis among themselves and engaging in orgies. This rather shocked me, and I’m not easily shocked. Then our own government starting spending taxpayers’ money to teach abstinence-only sex education. Which seemed like such a bad idea. Then there’s my own personal belief that trying to suppress sex among teenagers (or any group) will almost always backfire. And, in general, I had noticed a rise in violence among teenage girls. I kept thinking about these events/issues and wondering if they were connected or how I could connect them to create a compelling story.

Why did you pick THE SEX CLUB as a title?
This subject has generated more discussion than anything else about the book. As I was writing the story, which I had yet to name, Kera at one point referred to the group of sexually active girls as “the sex club.” And I had one of those moments and thought “That’s it. That the right name.” My husband had doubts, but I didn’t listen to him. (Rarely do.) I admit, the marketer in me thought the name would grab readers’ attention. But as it turns out, some mystery readers are not crazy about the name, and the women in this group said they were embarrassed about asking for the book in the library and bookstore. But they all loved it, anyway.

Who did the orange panties belong to?
I love it when readers pay attention to all the little details and want to know how every piece of the evidence plays into the story. So I’m careful not to leave loose ends. But in reality, that sometimes happens in police work, and some questions are never answered. But I won’t provide an explanation here, because some of you (actually, millions of you) haven’t read the book yet.

Was the mayor telling the truth?
This would be a major spoiler for the uninitiated, and I purposely left this ambiguous in the story so readers could decide for themselves. Cleary, it made no difference in terms of his punitive consequences, and this is often how our judicial system works.

In the next story, do Kera and Jackson get to have sex?
You will simply have to read the next Detective Jackson story, SECRETS TO DIE FOR, to find out. (But keep in mind the name of my last novel.)

Ping and Twitter

SEO has been on my list of things to do for months. I get so little traffic to my novel’s website, I can’t even give away books there. So I read everything I can about search engine optimization and work at it when I have time. Some of the terms and technology were intimidating me. I’m so over that now. The latest buzz words in SEO are ping and twitter. When I first heard them, I groaned, thinking I’d have to learn new HTML or dig around in my website set up.

Nope. They are websites. And so easy to use. Ping-O-matic is a simple form. You fill in the name and url of your blog, check where you want to send the update, and then click “send pings.” The idea is to do this every time you post a new entry on your blog and let blogworld know there’s new content. SEO for Dummies.

Twitter is new social networking site, similar to MySpace and Facebook. If you have the time for yet another networking site, Twitter is a little different. It is all about the personal update: What are you doing now? If you want to keep your friends updated all day—I’m clipping my toenails, I just ate a bowl of bran flakes, I’m thinking mean thoughts about my husband again—then this is the site. It offers a little Twitter box that you can paste on your other sites to make your update available everywhere you are. I’m not sure yet how this will increase traffic to my website, but I’m game.

The other SEO term I’d been hearing and finally checked out is “Technorati.” It too is a website. But its name and tagline—what’s percolating in blogs now—are misleading. There’s no information about the technical things you need to know to be a successful blogger. It’s just breaking news through the eyes of bloggers.

So take heart, writers. SEO is not complicated. But like everything else you do online to market yourself and your books—it takes time.

Shaking It Up (aka: cliff diving)

At the end of last year, I decided that 2008 would be different. I had several goals:
1) start a new novel
2) write my own stuff first thing every day, even if I had to get up at 5 a.m. to do it
3) find or create work that I enjoyed more than what I was currently doing
4) sell my detective series to another publisher

By March 1, I had accomplished the three things I had control over. January first, I began to outline my new Detective Wade novel, working title, SECRETS TO DIE FOR. I began getting up at 5 a.m. to write for an hour or so before I went to work. At the time, I worked as an editor for an educational publisher, a demanding job that left me too mentally exhausted at the end of the day to feel creative enough to fill blank page after blank page (which is how a novel comes into existence).

Next, I started sending out letters to agents, publishers, and writers, announcing my services as a fiction editor. And I contacted some corporate clients and magazines about nonfiction editing as well. Then I took the biggest step: I asked my employer to let me cut back on my hours at work, thinking it would be long slow transition to self-employment. They promptly laid me off.

Thank you very much.

Terrified, but joyously liberated, I plunged into a new routine: Write for three hours exclusively on my novel first thing every morning, break for an hour of cardio, then freelance edit for others. After dinner I switch to networking and marketing my novel that’s currently in print, THE SEX CLUB. Most days I work from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

I love my new life! My bathroom is perpetually untidy, dinner is often an unimaginative freezer-to-oven meal, and there’s laundry backed up everywhere. But I passed page 100 yesterday on my novel, so who cares? My husband says he’s never seen me so happy. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve put my personal writing first. Making a living, raising kids, taking care of extended family, and keeping the house clean were always a priority. These things are still important, they are just not most important. (Don’t call child services; my kids are adults now.)

My goal now is make it all work for as long as possible. My husband was laid off one week after I was—an unexpected event—so we’re sweating the health insurance a little. But he doesn’t want me to change anything about my new life. I had already quit spending money (except on books) and guess what? I don’t miss any of the things I don’t buy. It’s amazing how simple life can be.

Now if I could just land a publisher . . .

Georgia Sex Laws, or What the Hell is Wrong with Georgia?

Oh, where to start with this issue? Georgia outlaws sodomy, which it defines as any oral or anal sex — with no exception even for married people! Its own superior court ruled that part of the law was unconstitutional, yet it remains on the books. Why, oh why, does the state care? And the state government is made up of human beings. Have these poor repressed people never had good oral sex?

But Georgia’s worst offense is its laws for teen sex and its prosecution of teenagers. Genarlow Wilson (age 17) served almost three years in prison for having consenting oral sex with a teenage girl (age 15). He was originally sentenced to 10 years! But a court ruled that his punishment was cruel and unusual. No shit! What happened to this young man is tragic!

I can’t believe we allow young people to be treated this way. Especially when you consider that in many states, people can marry at the age of 15 or 16 (with parental consent). In Georgia, if a 16-year-old girl is pregnant, she can marry without parental consent. So in Georgia, if you’re a teenager who has already had unprotected sex and created a life (that you may not be able to take of), it’s okay to marry and have more sex and more babies. Yet as a teenager, if you have oral sex, which can’t result in a pregnancy, you can be sent to prison. As I said, what the hell is wrong with Georgia?

As a country, and a culture, we need to let go of the idea that sex is for married people only and/or procreation only. We need to stop focusing on the “morality” of teenage sex (ie, abstinence-only sex education) and spend more time and money educating teenagers about the potential consequences and how to protect themselves.

Back From Bizarro World

Two recent policy reversals on the issue of abortion give me hope that the pendulum is starting to swing back— from Bush/fundamentalist extremism to a more rational approach for making decisions about other people’s bodies.
First, the Catholic church agreed to let Catholic hospitals give emergency contraception to rape victims. Such compassion! Before, the church’s position was that rape victims should be tested (while in the hospital being subjected to a rape examine) to see if they were ovulating. If they were, then they would not be given Plan B because that would prevent a pregnancy. Rape victims who were not ovulating could be given the contraception because they were not likely to get pregnant. Only in the bizarro world of the Catholic church did that ever make any sense. Oh, and by the way, the bishops’ reversal came two days before state law would have required compliance anyway. You thought they had developed some heart? Hah!
And in other strange news, Verizon had turned down a request from NARAL for a code that would allow the organization to send pro-choice information to people who had requested the text message. Whatever the company was thinking, apparently Verizon quickly came to realize that most of its customers are young, liberal, and not used to being told no. So Verizon changed its position. I guess we’re still a free country after all.

Another Billion Wasted!

Bush has recently requested $242 million for abstinence-only sex education in his proposed 2008 budget. If Congress approves this budget, the total amount of tax dollars spent on abstinence-only programs during the Bush administration will exceed $1.45 billion. Why are we spending a billion and a half dollars on programs that don’t work?

Why should government spend any money at all telling people not to have sex? Whether you’re 15 or 75, the choice to have sex, or not, is personal.

That’s not the worst of it. Abstinence-only programs don’t limit themselves to telling teenagers to just say no. They also misinform people in an attempt to manipulate their behavior. A government investigation recently found that millions of teens in abstinence-only programs were taught:
1. That abortion can lead to sterility and suicide
2. That condoms fail to prevent pregnancy 31% of the time (real failure rate: 1-3%)
3. That touching a person’s genitals “can result in pregnancy”
4. That a 43-day old fetus is a “thinking person”

Lying to teenagers is always a bad idea. How can they learn to trust adults, or the government, if we don’t tell them the truth?

Write your congressional representative. Tell him or her to stop supporting this irresponsible waste of money.

We Are the Majority

If you’re tired of this administration meddling in your personal reproductive decisions, then read this blog.
Vent your frustrations, or tell your story.
Bush still has time to appoint another conservative Supreme Court justice before he leaves office. And all the Republican candidates are waving their anti-abortion flags. This will continue to be a red-hot issue.
Be proactive. Sixty percent of Americans support everyone’s right to make reproductive decisions without government interference. We are the majority. Speak out!