Monday, June 26, 2006

Extreme Diet Coke

In 1943, which is in the ballpark of the birth years of my parents, Naval engineer Richard James was working with tension springs in an attempt to develop something that would monitor horsepower on battleships. How exactly a spring would help in this matter is far beyond me and my extreme Fear of Physics, but perhaps the Geek in the Basement could figure that one out.

Anyway, according to a military PSA I saw on AFN television while living in Korea, Richard dropped one of the springs, and it started climbing down the stairs. (What walks downstairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkety sound?)

As Richard and his wife Betty watched the spring do its thing, they realized they could make a toy out of it, and the Slinky as we know it was born. Two years later, the Slinky made its debut in department stores just in time for the Christmas season. Today, all Slinkys are made in Pennsylvania using the original equipment designed and engineered by Richard James, according to's "guide to inventors.". (Imagine working there: "What do you do?" "I'm a manager at the Slinky factory." How adorable is that?)

Today, more than a quarter billion Slinkys have been sold around the world, and I'm sure I'll add one more to that as soon as I'm sure that Maggie won't use the family Slinky to strangle her sister.

Apparently the Slinky empire almost came to a crashing halt when Richard left Betty and their six children, joined a Bolivian religious cult, and gave a good portion of the Slinky empire liquid assets to said cult. (For some reason, the AFN public service announcement fails to mention this in its tribute to military ingenuity.) Betty, however, took over as CEO and rescued the company from debt. It was under Betty's watch that the classic Slinky jingle came to be (A spring! A spring! A marvelous thing! Everyone knows it's Sliiiin--kyyyy.), and she added several variations on the Slinky theme to the company's lineup of products, including Slinky Jr., Plastic Slinky, Slinky Dog, Slinky Pets, Crazy Eyes (those glasses with eyeballs on small Slinkys coming out of the lenses), and Neon Slinky, again according to

Betty was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2001. Richard will just go down in history as an ass.

What does this have to do with "extreme Diet Coke?" Jose sent me the following video, and my mind immediately made a random association to the AFN Korea commercial about the Slinky. ("The Slinky! Brought to you by Naval ingenuity!") It's a rather clever demonstration of what two guys can do with a few liters of my favorite, potentially carcinogenic beverage (according to my herbal medicine MD guy) and a TON of Mentos candies. Like the James's original tension spring, this just goes to show how a happy accident can yield hours of mirth. Eat your heart out, Bellagio....

I tried to embed the video in here, but it was too much of a nuisance, so to see the Diet Coke and Mentos experiment, click here.

(And yes, just in case you're wondering, I have been going, "Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap" all freaking day....)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Excuse for Not Blogging

I've been foregoing blogging lately to concentrate on trying to finish the partial for my single title non-suspense that has been lurking in my head since the beginning of time. Yesterday, I finished chapter three, hated it, and was convinced that the book blew and its life and mine as a writer were over. Today I moved most of chapter three into chapter two, fleshed it out a bit, and now I've realized that it's Not Bad.

I'm officially an idiot.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Pop Culture Personality Test

Entertainment Weekly often randomly picks a celebrity to answer their "Pop Culture Personality Test" in the magazine. I'm not a celebrity, but I thought I'd rip them off anyway by modifying their questions for writers on the blogosphere. So here it is, with apologies to EW:

1. My American Idol audition song would be: Dido's "White Flag"

2. If my life were a drinking game, everyone would do a shot when ... someone called me "Stacy."

3. The Rat Packer I most identify with is: a) Frank Sinatra b) Sammy Davis Jr. c) Dean Martin d) Peter Lawford
Probably b--I just wanna DANCE!

4. The first famous person I befriended: Hmmm. I guess that would be the first successful writer I met who didn't care that I was just a peon and not in her league--the wonderfully talented, USA-Today-bestselling Patti Berg.

5a. Choose one: A) Demi Moore in Ghost B) Demi Moore in StripteaseI choose C--Demi Moore in neither. I'm not a fan--anyone who needs an entire house for her doll collection is merely the person I'm going to blame when the Earth runs out of resources and can't yield any more doll plastic, thereby denying my daughters One. Measly. Doll. to play with. That woman is a walking environmental disaster.

5b) Choose one: A) Transformers B) G.I. Joe
I choose A) Transformers are way better. It's a robot! Now it's a car! Now it's a robot! Now it's a car! How cool is that?

6) What was your first concert? Billy Idol on the Rebel Yell tour. I had such a crush. (Hmmm. Forgot Billy Idol's Greatest Hits when I was discussing embarrassing CDs....)

7) Pick a Jessica: A) Alba B) Simpson C) Biel D) Tandy
ARGH! Tandy! Tandy! It's an insult to the memory of the great Jessica Tandy to put her in the same sentence with those Barbie bots.

8) If I had to gain 30 pounds for a role, I would eat:
Hmmmm. I might just forego the role. I mean, I have these giant pores near my nose that would probably look like the Sea of Tranquility on camera, and if I gained 30 pounds, I'm not sure I could get rid of it. It's all about maintenance, baby.

But let's say someone was holding a gun to my head and making me gain 30 pounds. Then, I would move into a Mulate's in New Orleans and alternate between the creamy crawfish pastas and the bread pudding. Mmmmm.

9) The first R-rated movie I saw: Poltergeist. At least, I think it was R-rated. I could have said The Blue Lagoon, but I don't think the "edited for TV" version counts.

10) You're stranded with your four favorite authors and you've run out of food. Who do you eat first?
Hmmm. Not Jane Austen, because I've always wondered what she could have accomplished had she lived longer. Not Willa Cather, because I admire her too much. Not Elinor Lipman, because I suspect she'd be a lot of fun in person, and someone has to entertain us so we don't eat each other too quickly. Not Katherine Neville, because I keep hearing rumors that a sequel to The Eight is in the works, and I'd want her to finish it. Not Karen Rose, because I've already made my way through most of her backlist. Maybe Jeffrey Deaver, because he's got quite an extensive backlist, and it would take me awhile to regret my actions, should the rest of us be rescued after Jeffrey's untimely demise.

11) My porn name (childhood pet name + street you grew up on) is: Bonita Walker

Feel free to steal--just let me know when your answers are up!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Back in My Happy Place

I just found out that House of Secrets won the Beacon award for Best Romantic Suspense.

I am officially done whining.

Come On Over to the Dark Side

Mary is such an excellent blogger, and oh, how I love to steal things from her. Over at the Bandwagon, Mary just posted a terrific bit about writing dark suspense. You know, the kind where you really get in the villain's head and swim around to show the reader just how sick and twisted he is, where you give blow-by-blows of the gritty forensic detail for verisimilitude, where you kill off or at least harm characters you've gotten your reader to care about, just to show how serious the threat really is.

Mary says, "...some writers are just too dark for me these days. It is probably just my perception--I hardly watch sad movies or police procedurals anymore, and the other night when I was watching Serenity, well, I had my face turned from the screen most of the time. I swear, if I didn’t know I wasn’t pregnant, I would think I’m pregnant (Pregnancy cured me of my love for scary movies.)"

First of all, I had the same experience with pregnancy that Mary did. I can't deal with nasty, violent scenes in movies anymore. Just the preview for Saw II was enough to send me over the edge, and hearing my brother Troy's two-minute synopsis of Hostel gave me the heebies for days.

But I still like dark, psychological suspense, especially in books. (Although I can't deal with anything involving Bigfoot. See, there were alleged Bigfoot sightings near my hometown when I was in the third grade and regularly WALKING HOME ALONE from school, and ever since, I've had a deep, irrational fear of Bigfoot that rivals my arachnophobia. One of my friends in college found, to his great amusement, that all he had to do was slouch a little and swing his arms in that swooping, knuckle-scraping motion made famous on the Bigfoot episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, and I'd immediately bury my face in the nearest pillow and start whimpering. Fortunately for me, he also had an irrational fear of Bigfoot, and if he did this too often, he scared himself.)

Anyhoo, back to the subject at hand. Some of my favorite authors--the oft-mentioned Karen Rose, Jeffrey Deaver, Lisa Gardner, T. Jefferson Parker--write some gritty, dark stuff. What I love about them is that there isn't a lot of yuck--no blow-by-blow descriptions of some ingeniously torturous way that someone died. They give you just enough detail to get their points across, and then move on, letting your imagination take over. If you choose, your imagination can gloss over the details and run away to the investigative part of the story.

As I told Mary in her comments section, some days it's hard for me to write scary or dark, even though it's what I generally love doing. My first Intrigue, Maximum Security, was pretty dark--I actually managed to scare myself in a couple of places, because I wrote a few scenes that tapped into some of my deepest fears. Interestingly when I did the "Mission: Family" series, I just couldn't go there again. Consequently, that series is quite a bit lighter than Max. Security (although I got a little creepy in Next of Kin with Polly Singh the medical examiner). And I think that's a big source of my unhappiness with parts of it.

In her post, Mary says: "I wonder if that’s part of why writers write dark, to look into their own darkness. Maybe that’s why I can’t write a villain’s POV--maybe I don’t want to see that side of myself. Maybe that’s why I can’t even read it."

It's such an interesting question. Why do we as writers even go there? Why do I go there? I actually don't like the idea that it's to explore my dark side, although I expect that no one consciously says, "I'm going to write a gritty suspense today to explore my inner Ted Bundy! Whoo-hoo!" Maybe on a subconscious level, I am a little fascinated that I have it in me to write such ugliness.

But I think what attracts me to writing and reading gritty suspense--romantic or not--is that it can take you to the very depths of the evil that does exist in this world and then show how that can be overcome. To me, it's a message of hope. I worry about my daughters so much and so often, so when I write a horrible villain that would be a threat to them, it's comforting to create that villain's inverse--someone with the intelligence, the determination, and the goodness to bring that evil down. I watch a show like Bones, which can be really gross, but I love watching Temperance Brennan taking down a mafia don, an evil voodoo priest, a sociopathic killer husband--with nothing but a bone chip and her mind. I recently read Karen Rose's You Can't Hide, and for the entire first half of the book, I had NO CLUE how such a mysterious, ingenious, utterly singleminded villain was going to ever be brought to justice. But Tess Ciccotelli and Aidan Reagan do it, cleverly, painstakingly, and convincingly--and therefore I loved the whole ride. (Mary, don't read this book.)

Despite my foray into suspense-semi-light with the Mission series, I've gone back to the dark side with my writing lately. Judging by the comments on Mary's blog so far, not everyone likes the dark side. But for me, if I'm going to write or read suspense, I want to do it all the way. However, especially because of my intolerance for horror films like Saw or Hostel (or even their previews. So nasty.), I sympathize completely with people who want to stay in the light.

What do you think? Do you like dark, scary suspense, or does it make you want to hide? Would you rather avoid gritty stories--whether on paper or on a screen--and keep your reading choices positive and life-affirming and not-so-icky? Be sure to read Mary's post, too!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Wherein Tracy Indulges in a Decidedly Unfunny WhineFest

What makes a book a keeper? If there were some magic formula for writing one every time, I would, of course, take it in a heartbeat. As long as I didn't have to sell one of my kids or give up a kidney or be nice to Ann Coulter. Or jump into the spider tank on Fear Factor, because ... eeeeeeuw.

Lately, however, I've been wondering where I'm going as a writer. When I wrote Maximum Security, I knew it was the best I could do at the time. I obsessed about the partial for MONTHS, took about a year to write the book in my head, sold said partial to Harlequin, and spewed what was in my head on paper in six months.

Because I had the luxury of time to do that pre-writing that I find so necessary, I ended up feeling good about the first draft. I revised it, and then felt really good about it. Sure, I went through that period of sheer and utter hatred, where I told my friend Sue that this was it, I was done as a writer, the book was sewer sludge, and Intrigue was going to demand their advance back. But a few months later, I went back and reread the revised manuscript after letting it sit for awhile, and I decided it was officially Not Bad. (My appreciation of my own work goes on a scale from Looking for a Bus to Throw Myself Under to a very pleased Not Bad, so this is a great thing.)

The book won a few awards, and a handful of people told me it was up on their keeper shelves. THAT was the best praise I've ever, ever gotten. Ever.

However, I never got to the Not Bad stage with the three books in the "Mission:Family" series, and it has been nagging at me lately. Sure, I've got excuses. I wrote those books with a new baby underfoot, in a foreign country with an impending move back to the US breathing down my neck, and child care only two days a week so I could concentrate on both work and writing for a few hours. But do readers know that or care? No. All they know is that I put out three more books, and they have to decide whether those three books were good enough to warrant spending more money on future books of mine. Excuses are useless. All that matters is the work.

My friend Dana Marton is working on the coolest three-book series for Intrigue right now. Although I thought her opening was awesome, she's ripped it apart three times now, at least, and I've loved it more every time. Every time I glance at a book from the Mission series, I wish I'd followed Dana's example more. And when I get a nice compliment from someone about the books, my first impulse is to apologize. Because while the Mission series was the best I could do at the time, it wasn't the best I could do, period. (I probably shouldn't be admitting that in public, but let it never be said that I don't suck at self-promotion!)

The hardest thing right now is that while I'm working on Renegade Ridge, I'm worried that I can't do it again. (I know, cry me a river--you're published. But just go with me here--the neurotic behavior doesn't stop with the magic contract.) I want to churn out another Maximum Security, a book that represents the very best I can do, ever. A book that earns a coveted spot on a few readers' keeper shelves. But I'm worried that I won't have time, that life and writing are just tooooo haaaaaarrrrrrrrrd with two kids and a husband who has to be hit over the head with the vacuum hose multiple times to start cleaning anything, that I've lost my mojo, ad nauseum, ad infinitum. I hate everything I'm writing, I feel stressed out, whine, whine, whine. And I could get ready for Renegade Ridge's release by churning out more excuses, but in the end, they just don't matter. All that matters to a reader is the work.

Sorry, you all. I think I'm in suffering from a lack of peanut butter M&Ms or something. I'm even driving myself nuts today.

You know, I have this feeling that at this moment, I'm not a gajillion-books-a-year kind of writer. Ideally, at this moment, I'd be like Jeffrey Deaver and would take a year to research and really get into my book, then crank it out once it's fully realized in my head and send it to the publisher with the awesome feeling that it's Not Bad. Can I ever get that kind of time luxury with Intrigue? Probably not--the editors want three books a year, at least, and I agree with them--when your book is only out for a month, you need to do something to keep your name out there.

My hope is that if I keep pushing myself and writing books at a faster pace than I'm comfortable with--especially once I send Marin to day care this fall--my abilities will catch up, and it won't take me so long to complete a manuscript that's Not Bad. I'm contracted to do three books for 2007, and since the deadlines are spread apart and not back-to-back as they were for the Mission series, my goal is to get all three to Not Bad status. I WILL do it. I will, I will, I will.

To all of you sweet people who comment on here from time to time, PLEASE NOTE that I am NOT fishing for compliments. I'm not searching for a bus at the moment, so let's just pretend that the Mission series doesn't exist right now. But whether you're under a deadline or not, I'd love to know if you've ever experienced this kind of feeling (I'm guessing yes), and what you do to snap out of it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Short and Sweet

I've noticed that my posts are getting entirely too long lately. (Here's who I actually envy--people who craft perfectly witty little blog posts on a daily basis that are funny, relevant, and free of awkward transitions like "anyway" or "sooooo." But I digress. As usual.) Here's my best attempt at a short one:

Paula is celebrating the release of her first Intrigue today, Forbidden Territory. Go to her blog for a chance to win a free copy! (Or just buy one--it's worth it.)

And here's a quick update on Books by Friends month: I finished Ann Voss Peterson's Serial Bride, which was quintessential Ann--dark, creepy, and most excellent. Note that I am not saying that Ann herself is dark and creepy. She is not, though her books definitely are....) Dryden Kane, the serial killer from her 2002 book Accessory to Marriage, reappears in this book as well as the other two upcoming entries in her "Wedding Mission" series, and he still manages to be both charming and wholly evil.

Also finished Dorien Kelly's Off the Map, which centers on Tessa and Kate, two friends-with-baggage who, after being let go from their jobs at the same bank, go to a rich friend's house in Costa Rica to heal and find their respective blisses. Tessa, meanwhile, is also recovering from her husband's infidelity and the dissolution of their marriage, and Kate carries a secret that causes her resentment of Tessa to build to a blow-up confrontation. How these two deal with their life crises, tiptoe around the issues eating away at their friendship, and, yes, find their bliss sounds like it would be a heartwarming tale. And it is. But it wouldn't be a book by Dorien without multiple laugh-out-loud moments (Seriously! My husband kept telling me to put the book down and go to sleep because I was loud.), a dash of hilarious snark, and several fascinatingly drawn characters. Love it!

Monday, June 12, 2006

What Lurks in My CD Collection

I was just browsing through some of the celebrity playlists on iTunes. Anderson Cooper apparently enjoys nineties alternative (Smashing Pumpkins, the Pogues, old-school REM) with a dash of hipster eighties (the Clash, New Order) and just enough out-there stuff to look charmingly eclectic.

Bo Bice's list is, unsurprisingly, filled with no-nonsense rock and Seattle grunge from the likes of Pantera, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Black Sabbath.

Pink's includes exactly what you'd expect from her--Indigo Girls, Mazzy Star, Liz Phair, 4 Non Blondes, Ani DiFranco, Janis Joplin. All cutting edge, angry (or at least, opinionated) female rock/folk stars--interspersed with the funky yet tasteful likes of Donny Hathaway and Bob Marley.

Assuming that these celebrities actually make their own playlists, rather than having some lackey with a Blackberry do it for them, how much thought goes into them? Do they (or their Blackberry-toting lackeys) carefully craft these lists to project a desired image, rather than reflecting their actual tastes? Do most people do that when asked to make a list of their favorite music?

I know that whenever I've talked about my musical tastes in public, I tend to mention only the hip, the esoteric, and the critically lauded from my collection, so I'm not pointing fingers, here.

But what about those embarrassingly awful music choices we all hate to love, the ones that lurk underneath the seats of our cars or hide in a file marked "utilities" on our hard drive? When is someone going to publicly own up to loving Ratt's "Round and Round," or regularly grooving out to Andy Gibb's "Shadow Dancing?" When will it be OK to wear one's love for Hanson's "MmmmBop" on one's sleeve, or even champion the genius of Weird Al Yankovic's "I Think I'm a Clone Now?"

Probably never, but in the spirit of no musical shame, I'm revealing the top five most embarrassing elements of my music collection. Enjoy....

1) Half-Breed, by Cher. I have this scar on my forehead from a tragic accident that occurred when I was four years old: One of my favorite songs at the time--my parents had it on a 45--was "Half-Breed," a melancholy little piece that talks about how difficult life was for Cher because she was only half Cherokee--"the Indians said I was white by law/ the white man always called me Indian squaw." Being half Honduran, half white, I could relate. Oh, how I could relate.

So one day, feeling rather out of sorts and misunderstood by all, I climbed up on the kitchen table and belted out "Half-Breed" at the top of my little, four-year-old lungs. I actually don't remember the incident all that well, but apparently I got a bit overzealous on a high note, fell over, and hit my head on one of those coil radiators that are common in old Victorian homes, of which we lived in at the time. It was the one and only time I've ever had to have stitches. Such is my love for Cher.

I now have the Half-Breed album on CD, which includes my other old-school Cher favorite, "Dark Lady," which tells the story of a conniving fortune teller. You may not laugh. Cher is treated with the utmost seriousness and respect in my household.

2) A mix of Neil Diamond. I think there is possibly nothing more square on this Earth than admitting a love for Neil Diamond. Those hand claps! The trombone fanfares! That chest hair! But there it is. I love Neil Diamond.

Actually, I love SOME Neil Diamond. "Cherry, Cherry"; "Sweet Caroline"; "Brother Love Travelin' Salvation Show"; "Holly Holy"; "Cracklin' Rosie".... Even "Forever in Blue Jeans" isn't bad as far as guilty pleasures go.

And there's nothing better for healing a broken heart than getting together with your best girlfriends, getting stupidly drunk, and shrieking "Love on the Rocks" in it's entirety into your hairbrush as you expunge all traces of the offending ex from your apartment.


But then there's bizarro Neil, who turned his back on his so-dorky-it's-cool roots and inflicted such aural travesties on us as "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" (there's no way to say that and not sound like a condescending putz) and the totally craptacular "Heartlight." (Why, Neil, WHY?)

God bless iTunes, because I have a most excellent Neil Diamond mix I made myself, completely free of any and all opuses "inspired by ET."

3) The Living Sea, soundtrack from the IMAX movie, by Sting. Though I sometimes fear that Sting is going to be my daughters' generation's Barry Manilow, I personally think he's a bloody genius and am not ashamed to admit that I own every one of his CDs. (Nor that I'll never stop wishing for a Police reunification, because really, was there ever a better band?) I'm not at all embarrassed of my love for Sting, with the possible exception of this CD--a remix of several Sting classics with aquarium-type music and sound effects, oboe interludes, and even some whale language, if I'm not mistaken. Interspersed throughout are a few original Sting arrangements, written to complement the 3-D underwater adventure The Living Sea was. Yeah, this CD is completely uncool, but I love it all the same. It's most excellent music to write by. Although I will warn you, the soothing, dulcet synthesizer stylings of many of the arrangements might induce a narcoleptic fit if you're not careful, so make sure you're working on or near a soft surface.

I'm listening to it right now, as a matter of fact. "Fragile" is up now, reworked for the oboe and a stirring group of violins.

4) Beyond Imagination, by the OperaBabes. I'm sure there is nothing more heinous to a true classical music aficionado than a collection of popular classical selections re-arranged with New Age instrumentals. Enter the OperaBabes, a pair of women who sing everything from "O Fortuna" (from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana and also, I believe, the film version of Conan the Barbarian and Jackass: the Movie) to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" to Schubert's "Ave Maria." Most selections are accompanied by a electronic drum track, more soaring violins, and just about every setting available on the modern synthesizer. Go ahead. Throw things at me and call me a philistine. It's ok.

What can I say? I thought it was kind of pretty.

5) The Titanic soundtrack. WHAT THE HELL? I didn't even know this was in my collection until I started looking through it. I mean, WHO would want to inflict that Celine Dion song on themselves MORE than the radio stations did back in the day.

My brother Tommy probably left this at my house. Because I sure didn't buy it. Now that's one I'd actually be embarrassed by.

What about you? What's lurking in your music collection?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Random Thoughts on Fame

Have you ever wished you were grossly famous, a la Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, or even Paris Hilton? While on the surface, being that famous, that rich, and that good at sustaining your public approval and money-earning capabilities seems like a dream come true, it's definitively occurred to me in my thirties that I'm happy as a proverbial clam being relatively anonymous, thank you very much. Here's why I would not want to be instantly recognizable:

(Yes, I know, I'm 35--over the hill by Hollywood standards, I'm neither stunningly talented at acting nor ridiculously beautiful, and Aaron Spelling is not my rich and generous uncle. But just go with me here....)

First of all, I regularly have Greta Garbo moments, where I not only "vant" to be alone, I HAVE to be alone. I love to go take a walk, browse in a bookstore, or sit in a cafe with a good book or my iPod (or a notebook and pen when I want to look deep and misunderstood) and blend in with the scenery. You can't blend when you have a posse of paparazzi and handlers dogging your every step.

That was the one thing I found slightly uncomfortable about living in Korea--as a non-Korean, I was an obvious minority and was about as inconspicuous as a hippopotamus in a birdbath. Children approached me wanting to practice their English (Which was awfully cute, actually. I tried to stick to the script: "Hello." Hello. "How are you?" I am fine. How are you? "I am fine, also. Thank you." Thank you. Have a nice day.) But every once in awhile, I'd toss in a "So, what do you think President Roh's chances are of brokering peace between North and South Korea when the US won't agree to the bilateral discussions that Pyongyang is demanding?" That was always fun.). Older women wanted to touch and play with the cute little Miguk baby (Maggie) attached to my chest in a front carrier. Eyes followed me everywhere--I'm not sure if it was just because seeing an American wasn't all THAT common outside of Seoul's Itaewon district, or because, being from the US, I was expected to spontaneously start shouting demands and insults, emoting loudly, or belting out that blasted Lee Greenwood song about how proud I am to be an American at any moment. (Perhaps everyone should have the opportunity to live as an obvious minority somewhere, just to see what it's like to stand out even when you don't want to.)

Second, while I don't mind occasionally being the center of attention (I have a theater minor, after all--not that I was that great of an actress, but I had fun), I would really hate having to be just that ALL of the time. When you're the center of attention all of the time, you have to be "on," all of the time. Strangely enough, whenever someone expects me to be amusing, some perverse impulse inside of me kicks in, and I become stiff and boring. Take, for example, improvisational acting. If I'm in a small studio space with a couple of friends, I can improv like nobody's business--not great, but a servicable flow that's entertaining and occasionally amusing. But put me in a class with a critical artist presiding, or an audition space filled with strangers, and I turn into an uninteresting lump. Kind of like Michigan J. Frog in the old Looney Toons cartoons--he'd talk, sing, and dance for his owner, but the minute someone else came along, all he'd do is ribbit.

I once tried to get over it by auditioning for a community theater improv group--I knew I wouldn't make it, but I wanted to see if I could at least overcome some of my panic and turn out a halfway decent performance. People went on stage and off, and every time the director called out an idea, I immediately knew just how I would have pulled it off. Then, it was my turn--I walked out on stage, feeling fairly confident, and then the director called out a scenario. Blank. Complete, utter, terrifying blank. Not only did I choke and ribbit, I made such a complete idiot of myself that by the time I was finished, all twenty-some people in the room could only stare at me in a horrified, uncomfortable silence, obviously hoping I'd slink out of the room and never inflict my hideous lack of talent on their schoolroom-turned-theater-studio again. Which is exactly what I did. A few weeks later, I was in the local grocery store when I nearly bumped into the poor guy who'd nearly had his audition spoiled because he was my skit partner during the Spaz Attack That Wouldn't Die. (Fortunately, he volunteered to do another skit as I was trying to become one with the chalkboard behind me and showed what he was really capable of.) I immediately dropped the bag of puffed wheat I was holding, abandoned my nearly full cart, and charged out of the store like a mad buffalo to avoid seeing the "Oh, it's YOU" look on his face when we passed each other. To this day, I feel guilty about leaving all of those groceries for the already overworked stock people to replace. So if you ever found an abandoned shopping cart in the cereal aisle of the Falls Church, VA, Safeway and had to put its contents back for the thoughtless person who left it behind, I apologize profusely. It will never happen again.

And finally, I wouldn't want to be famous because I can't take a decent-looking photo to save my life, and famous people get surprise candid shots taken of them all the time. Therefore, instead of Derek Zoolander's trademark "Blue Steel" pose for the camera, any tabloid photo of yours truly would feature one of my three trademark on-camera looks: Upset Stomach; Arrrgh, You're Stealing My Soul!; or Help, My Chins Are Eating My Face!

Five more reasons I would not want to be a famous Hollywood It-Girl:

1) Paparazzi inevitably show up when one's hair has expanded to three times its normal size due to summertime humidity.

2) I'm not good that the "I'll just have a glass of water and a toothpick for lunch" diet.

3) Not sure I could get over the self-doubt and humiliation of losing a role to Jessica Alba, aka Nearly Naked Girl.

4) The Big Conundrum: If you wear the same outfit twice, the tabloids document it and make fun of you. But wearing a new outfit once and tossing it makes you an ecological disaster. Career? Planet? Career? Planet?

5) Other It-Girls always trying to pick fights with you. (Could I really just ignore it if Lindsay Lohan got all up in my face because I blinked at her ex-boyfriend? Who knows?)

For yet another reason why it's good not to be ridiculously famous, check out this article from the Sydney Morning Herald, "I Was Russell Crowe's Stooge." It's an interesting glimpse into what happens when fame causes your ego to get so big, it eats the rest of your personality, leaving behind only a mass of insecurities and peevishness. I don't believe that would ever happen to me, but then again, I assume being surrounded by sycophants and handlers all day--in addition to the nice fans offering constant praise--could do weird things to you.

P.S. That said, I just want the Universe to know that I could totally deal with being a ridiculously famous writer--you get fame and fortune without sacrificing your anonymity; you don't have to have an entourage to protect yourself from photographers, autograph-seekers, or Lindsay Lohan; and you're only as good as your last book, which means you need to keep striving to improve. Plus, your covers get foil on them. Pretty, sparkly foil.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Zen and the Art of Avoiding the Green Monster

While battling blog block the other day, I stumbled upon the Imagination Prompt Generator, which spits out ideas for blogging, journaling, or whatever writing endeavor your heart desires at the click of a mouse. My question for today was, “Who do you envy, and why?”

Well, OK, that was after I rejected “If you could become invisible for life, would you?” (No. 'Nuff said.), “God is_________” (Too personal.), “Write about an unhealed hurt” (This is an author blog, not a chronicle of my journey to mental health. At least, most days.), and “Depression ...” (Urgh.).

So, who do I envy and why? Bombshell author Sharron McClellan and I were discussing just the other day how we don’t envy anyone--particularly other writers. Both of us know people who semi-regularly react to the news of another person’s sale as if the world just fell on their heads. (“If SHE can sell, why can’t I? What’s the matter with me?” :::insert existential crisis here:::: ) And frankly, we don’t get it. Trying to improve our own writing is enough work without feeling like we have to best the whole free world while we’re at it.

OK, sometimes I wish Aaron Spelling were my rich and generous uncle, but other than that, I’m quite happy with my life, and so is Sharron. Our writing abilities are what they are--we may or may not be the next Lisa Gardner or Audrey Niffenegger or Nora Roberts, but whatever. We do our best, work on getting better, and don’t worry about what anyone else is or is not selling, writing, or winning.

So, thanks to the Imagination Prompt Generator, today’s blog is going to be a public service announcement on maintaining Zen-like calm in a competitive business like writing by avoiding jealousy. (Not that I think anyone out there needs this PSA, but it gives me something to write about….) Here’s how:

1) Read something in your genre/sub-genre that you consider vastly better than what you can now do. (I’m mentally staring at Karen Rose right now.) Instead of feeling jealous, learn from it. Take it apart and figure out just what that author does that you think is beyond you. Try to imitate those elements in your own work--without ripping said author off, of course.

I think Karen Rose does the best villains in not just the romantic suspense market, but the suspense market in general. They’re real people, with fleshed out personalities, complex psychological profiles that explain why they do the evil they do, and even flashes of goodness every now and then. My villains, on the other hand, have been a weakness. So I carefully examine Rose’s villains when I read her and try to bring some of that dimension to my own when I write. It’s a win-win--I get to read a kickass book AND learn something, so I can’t be jealous of Karen Rose.

2) Read something in your genre/subgenre you consider complete crap. No, this is not the time to go all Church Lady and feel a little bit superrrriooorrrr to another author. It’s a time to remind yourself that the tastes of editors and readers vary WIDELY. One person’s sewage sludge is another person’s keeper. There are people who are going to like that book you hate infinitely better than they would like yours. That is an absolute truth, and it’s good for your ego to remember that. Be happy for the author who inflicted the sludge on you and move on.

3) Long ago, a writer who’d just sold to a major romance publisher joined a now-defunct e-mail list I was on. She introduced herself and announced her sale, to which the majority of us sent her welcomes and virtual applause, and there was much festivity all around. Then, some obviously unhappy author who wrote for the same publisher had to climb off her broomstick and spoil our fun by announcing that she JUST didn’t know what was going to happen to her career, because her line was buying ALL of these new authors, and they were TAKING all the spots from the veterans who had proven sales records, and aren’t those editors just UNGRATEFUL for all the work said veterans put in to growing their readerships, not to mention MISGUIDED about how to best handle the line in general. No welcome, no congrats--just a jealous rant that while not technically directed at the newbie might as well have been addressed specifically to her, starting with "Dear NAME, a.k.a. 'the Usurper'."

Remember, NO ONE is stealing your spot--there is always a spot for a great book. Unless that article I read recently is true and book sales altogether are doomed to take a nose dive because NOBODY IS READING ANYMORE (Who ARE these people? You might as well tell me that there’s an incurable virus infecting the free world that will slowly eat all our brain cells until we’re a bunch of zombies. I mean, honestly, no one’s reading?), publishers are always going to want a steady supply of good books to please their customers who are in search of good books. That means that if your friend Hortense writes a really good book, she will probably sell it (unless she’s breaking new ground and scares some editor to death who really, really, really likes it and can’t put it down, but marketing just doesn’t know what to do with it, so we’ll have to pass, but it just kills the editor, because the book was just so good.). Say it with me now: Hortense did not steal my spot. If you write a terrific book (that won’t cause the marketing department’s heads to collectively explode), you are also likely to sell it--in time, and with a little luck. We are not all jostling for one coveted publishing slot like a freaking lottery ticket. Thousands of books sell each year, and if you do your work right, yours has every chance of selling whether Hortense sells or not. And if Hortense happens to get a seven-figure contract, tons of marketing support, and a cool cover with FOIL her first time out, maybe she did get the lottery ticket with that particular publisher. Rather than feeling jealous, take comfort in the fact that such a deal is even possible, because she has now given you something to shoot for.

4) Be happy for your friends. Nothing kills a friendship faster than jealousy. I’ve seen it happen, but happily, I haven’t had it touch my relationships. (In part because my friends are excellent, and also because I don't have a seven-figure contract at the moment. Or a six-figure contract. Or foil.) If your first kneejerk reaction to a friend’s success is not completely and utter joy, practice in the mirror until you can fake it.

On the other hand, if her sale makes you want to sell that much more so you and your friend can be back on equal celebratory/commiserating ground, that’s perfectly normal. Use that feeling as the kick in the pants you need to finish that proposal, finish the whole manuscript, give your book a really good edit, or get the guts to submit to some editors or agents.

5) If it hurts you too much, don’t compare yourself at all to other writers.
Practice tunnel vision and focus solely on your work and how you can make it better. When you read a really great book, don’t compare yourself to that author--if you can’t use the good book as a learning experience, just enjoy it and forget about it. Don’t compare. If you read a truly awful book, toss it in your driveway, run it over a few times, and forget about it. Don’t compare. Unsubscribe from "Publisher’s Lunch." Give your RT BookReviews issues to your neighbor. Get off listservs where someone is selling all the time. Stick your fingers in your ears and start shrieking “Bohemian Rhapsody” whenever someone tries to tell you about so-and-so’s sale. (Note: Make sure it isn’t the speaker’s sale, though, because then this is rude.) Throw off all your friends and become a hermit or hang out solely with uncreative types and math geeks. Because really, if all that matters is your career, it all boils down to simply churning out the best books you can and continuing to grow as a writer.

6) If someone in your life is seeping poison all the time--putting down your talent, trying to one-up you whenever something good happens, sulking in a corner whenever you have a writing-related victory to celebrate--gently ask her to stop. If she doesn’t, you can try a not-so-gentle ask, or you may want to rethink the pros and cons of maintaining that friendship. We all have enough to deal with with the little voices in our heads. We don’t need some real-life harpy coming down on us, too.

End of PSA. Has your writing life been touched by jealousy--either yours or that of someone you know? How do you deal with it?

Friday, June 02, 2006

About That Mt. Everest Post....

Anyone who was interested in the Mt. Everest thing I posted a few days ago should go back and check out Brenda Coulter's recent comment. Her son is a climber, and he pointed out to her that conditions in Everest's "low-oxygen death zone" are so horrid, most people can only manage to put one foot in front of the other, and carrying someone down just isn't in the realm of possibility for most.

So perhaps my blanket rant (and those in many media outlets) about the 40 who passed the dying David Sharp was unfair, because several of them were likely incapable of rendering any meaningful assistance. However, seeing as experienced climbers like Sir Edmund Hilary and Dr. Phil Ainslie believe that helping Sharp was possible, and seeing that Sherpa Dawa did reportedly try, I do still wonder about all 40 walking past Sharp--especially when he was still on his feet but in need of help.

All in all, it's probably a good lesson for me not to pass judgment and let God/Goddess/Allah/the Universe handle this one.... I'm so snarky when I'm horrified.


So I'd just started Ann Voss Peterson's June Intrigue Serial Bride when my July issue of the oft-renamed RT BookReviews magazine arrived. Seeing as magazines are much more conducive to multi-tasking, I immediately opened RT, set it on the floor, and started reading it while I was feeding Marin. (Background: Serial Bride is the first of a three-book miniseries, coming out in consecutive months like my Mission: Family books did.)

I did my usual fast flip through most of it (intending to go back and read more carefully later), pausing near the end to read the Intrigue reviews. And there, in the first sentence of the review for Ann's second book in the series, Evidence of Marriage, the reviewer oh-so-helpfully reveals the name of the heretofore surprise villain from the first book.


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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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