Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Another Hiatus?!

I'd hoped to post today. But I ended up spent all day doing the copy edits for SCHEMES, going to class, and prepping for a presentation due on Thursday and my last midterm tomorrow morning. I can't believe it. The last day of classes is Dec 7, and there is a midterm tomorrow.

Hope everyone had a good thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

R.I.P.

I’ve been killing my darlings in the past week. And not just any darlings.

The summer of 2005 marked a turning point. My big martial-arts action-adventure epic bombed at literary agencies across the country. I had no idea what was wrong with my writing other than it wasn’t good enough. I was never less sure of my ability to sell a work of fiction in this century.

So I went on writing.

And one day, I wrote the following opening to a historical romance:

It was a truth almost universally acknowledged that Madame Durant’s cooking killed Bertie Somerset. The proponents of this conjecture intended it to be a moral lesson—Mr. Somerset, having paid for his gluttony with an early demise, would dine for the remainder of eternity where steaks were perpetually charred and souffl├ęs everlastingly flat.

But the fortunate few who had actually been invited to Bertie Somerset’s fabled twenty-course spreads pondered that same theory with awed envy. Lucky chap, to have feasted upon Madame Durant’s delectable food for more than a decade, and then to have departed this earth with his face buried in a bowl of the silkiest, densest mousse au chocolat known to man. Lucky chap indeed.

While England’s dozen or so gastronomes reminisced fondly over tarte au citron and escargot en croute, the rest of Society, master and servant alike, regurgitated old rumors concerning the special relationship between Mr. Somerset and Mme. Durant—namely, whether she slept with him and how often, though more intrepid souls went so far as to speculate on depravities involving pastry cream and rolling pins.

I remember being astonished. That writing had a voice. Where had that come from? I’d never had a discernible voice before. And suddenly there I was, writing as if I’d always had this voice that perfectly reflected my cynical, sly take on life.

I’d finally hit my stride. Six weeks later, I would rediscover the old manuscript of SCHEMES OF LOVE in a cardboard box, flip through it, and be inspired to re-tell the story, with this brand new, slightly arch, self-assured voice of mine.

When my editor approved the proposal for DELICIOUS, I tossed most of what I’d written in 2005 to start afresh, but there was never any question that this opening would firmly remain in its place of honor. Because it instantly establishes the book as a Sherry Thomas book. Because it is fun and slightly naughty. Because I am ever so fond of it, my darling, my own, my precious.

I chucked that whole opening this past week. I tried to save it. I tried long and hard. But my darling has become like that favorite blouse from fifteen years ago. It looked wonderful then. There are so many good memories. But it doesn’t go with anything else in my closet and I just can’t wear it anymore.

Taking out the old beginning has opened up the story to go where it needed to go (I hope). It has uncorked my thinking, sharpened my editing pencil, and given me renewed zest. After all, if I can handle taking a knife to my most beloved darling, I can scare this story into shape (I hope).

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

When You Can't Go Forward, Go Back

I’ve been away from my manuscript for a while. Partly because of all the demands of school—tests and cases being their own unalterable deadlines—and more because I was stuck.

The forward momentum on Delicious had been decelerating for a few weeks before it halted altogether. And where it finally ran aground was an unexpected place, a mere reaction scene, or a sequel, if you’ve heard of scene-and-sequel. (If you haven’t, imagine the scene is a big fight that ends with everyone banging the door storming out, the sequel would be one or more of them trying to sort out what happened, what it all meant, and where to go from there.)

The heroine, Verity, is a cook. The hero, Remus, is her new employer—and half-brother to her late employer who had, at one time, been her lover. There is a strong attraction between Verity and Remus, but neither of them wants it to go any further: he, being a rising politician, does not want the complication; she, because she’d long ago stopped believing in Cinderella stories. Finally, one night, Verity gets a little tipsy and almost manages to land Remus in the sack.

That scene is done and in the can. The scene that followed, during which Remus directs Verity to return to his country seat, ostensibly to prepare for the Christmas feasts, is also finished and usable. Then I thought, hmm, we never got to know what was in his head during his near-seduction, better put in a few paragraphs.

The few paragraphs refused all cooperation. I wrote and deleted and wrote and deleted, baffled by my inability to make progress. What was the matter? Why didn’t the words flow? Why couldn’t I accomplish something as simple as describing a man’s reaction to almost sleeping with the woman with whom he was in deep lust?

Then it hit me: I’ve lost all touch with him.

From the moment my proposal for Delicious met with approval from my editor, I’d been racing against the clock, pushing hard to move the story along. I’ve written many scenes but almost no sequels: no introspection, no reflection, no layering of character and very little revealing of backstory.

And that is no way to go for a character-driven story. The estate Remus inherits should have been a character in its own right, full of scents and sounds and textures that trigger long-forgotten memories at every turn. Remus himself, born illegitimate, and not legitimized until just before his mother’s death when he was in his late teens, should have been a much more interesting and multidimensional character than just this handsome gentleman who arrives once in a while to speak a few lines to startle Verity.

I knew, of course, that the beginning of the story needed much reworking. But I kept putting it off in the name of progress. Now I’m totally pumped to go back and flesh out the skeletal frame, to give weight that would anchor the story much more firmly, and to make my characters real people, as opposed to obedient pawns in my drive for victory against the deadline.

Midterms went swimmingly. Thank you so much for all the good wishes.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Short Hiatus

I know what I want to write for the post, but I had a midterm last night, so studied for it all day yesterday. And coming up tomorrow is the killer midterm that's got everyone quaking in their interview shoes. Will definitely post next week.

XOXO

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Best Job Around--with the Following Caveats

Last week I wrote a bit about simultaneously being in school and being on deadline. A couple of curious readers wondered why I am in school at all, given that I already have a publishing contract in hand and can devote myself fulltime to the best job in the world, right now, without the daily struggle to do both at the same time?

The big reason? Publishing is a freakishly uncertain business.

I am a beneficiary of the swing of the pendulum, having a good historical romance ready to shop just as editors are looking for historicals again. Some years back historical westerns went as dead as peace in the Middle East. An author like Lorraine Heath, who made her name writing western historicals, had to switch to European historicals. Then the whole historicals subgenre went down the toilet, and a number of historical authors had to switch to writing contemporary romances if they wanted to stay published.

The same is happening to contemporary single-title romances now. An author from my local group told me that things are just dreadful for straight contemporaries, that the market is glutted and that USA Today best-selling authors couldn’t get their contracts renewed.

Now I, like everyone else, plan to be so big that these market fluctuations wouldn’t affect me. People still bought Lisa Kleypas when historicals were in the dumps. People would still buy Susan Elizabeth Phillips even if they skipped over every other contemporary title out there.

But even big authors with loyal fan bases aren’t immune to the vagaries of fate. Take two of my favorite authors, Laura Kinsale and Judith Ivory. Laura Kinsale went seven years between the publications of her last two books, because she simply had to take time off to recharge her muse. Judith Ivory hasn’t come out with a new book in three years. I waylaid her agent at RWA nationals in Atlanta. He had no more information to give than that she’s been having severe back problems.

When my agent says, “I think you’ll have a long career in publishing,” that is her opinion and my fondest hope. But as predictions go, it is writ on water. Anything, absolutely anything, could happen. I might never be a practicing CPA, but you bet I’ll still sit through the CPA exams because I want to have something other than good old housewifery to fall back upon should the fecal matter hit that oscillating mechanical device on the ceiling.

Sorry for the late post. Had a test yesterday afternoon so was studying all day for it. Started this post on the bus ride back home and then, wouldn’t you know it, got sidetracked by my tax textbook. Bet you never knew corporate taxation was so un-put-downable. Nerds write the hottest romances, yeah!