Friday, January 30, 2009

Write What You ------

I know a very limited number of things. I know what it is like to grow up in China in the 80s in a safe, comfortable, loving home. I know what it is like to move to a different country and feel like I’d been transported to a parallel dimension. (8th graders hugging and kissing in the hall, truly America must be going to hell in a hand basket.) And I know what it is like to be a suburban soccer mom from a very young age. That’s about it.

What I don’t know could float supertankers.

Writers are often told, “Write what you know.” Well, as you can see, that would put me in real trouble. Not only have I never been to any of the places or times I’ve set my stories in, but I’ve never committed a fraud or run away from home or fallen in love with a boss.

Or, as is the case in NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, ended a marriage.

Instead, my own rule has always been, Write What I Understand.

There are things I do not understand. M√©nage-√†-trois is the first thing that comes to mind—or basically any kind of multi-partner arrangement. Not that I don’t understand why people do it, but that I do not get, given my own views and experiences, how that leads to durable contentment for all parties involved. My take on relational happiness is two people focused on and devoted to each other, in faithfulness and equality.

But beyond a few such dead ends, I understand a great many things. Based on what I already know of my own immaturity, impulsiveness, and lack of will power, I can see how people would go beyond where I would pull up to a dead stop. I can see how they would do the unforgivable. I can see how they would make stupid decisions because they either cannot see any other way out or choose to ignore the consequences for the gratifications of the moment.

And then, there is my other rule: Write What I Can Imagine.

Or perhaps, What I Aspire To. My greatest aspiration is to one day achieve true generosity of spirit. It is easier to understand human frailties than to forgive them—all cynics understand human frailties. And it is easier to just understand that I’m a certain way rather than to undertake the effort to be better, to explore my own true potential.

So my books, in a way, are my meditations on this sincere but frequently bumbling aspiration of mine, on true generosity of spirit. Given that I understand how my characters get into such troubles, how do they extricate themselves from it? How do they rise above? How do they deal with their often justifiable hurt and anger? And how do others among them deal with their regret and self-loathing over things that cannot be undone?

I like to believe that my characters find the strength and courage and maturity in themselves to do what they need to do, whether it is to refuse to back down, to sacrifice, or to forgive.

Getting them there is the most difficult and, in the end, most rewarding part of writing. Because it is like getting myself there, however briefly. To bask in the extraordinary grace the human heart is capable of.

What I know is and will always be very limited. But my understand is deeper, and my aspiration has the potential to encompass the whole universe. (Why not dream big, eh? )

That's why I do not confine myself to writing what I know.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Year-End Evaluation

Let's take a look at the 2008 resolutions. Black is my comments from April, when I did a quarterly evaluation. Red is my end-of-year comments.

The Negative Goals


1) Have no tight deadlines

I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. The recent copyedits saw me rushing to Fedex at 7:45 in the evening to make the 8pm deadline for overnighting. And to ship a measly 5 lb of paper cost me $59.95. Why for a few more dollars I could fly myself, along with the copyedits, from Austin to New York City.

Again, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I thought I'd do great with NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, since the book has such a strong central conflict whereas with DELICIOUS we were looking for the conflict with a flashlight and a GPS system. But turned out I couldn't get a good grasp on how my H/H would interact with each other, the research was troublesome, there was an election going on which I followed obsessively, and the book just progressed SLOWLY.

I finally turned it in on Thanksgiving Day. And my editor sent it back. And I more or less rewrote 70% of it over three weeks. Third Christmas in a row my hair was on fire. And this time it was so bad I did not spend the holidays with my family, but stayed home alone to type from morning to night.

His Hawtness totally came through for me. This whole fall semester he'd been getting the kids ready in the morning, taking the junior kidlet to school and picking him up whenever his schedule allowed. And doing the laundry. And lots of the dishes.

I'm beyond grateful and more than a little ashamed. I've been awful at time management. So in 2009, only one resolution: Use my time properly.

2) Not write 1,000,000 words to get a 100,000-word novel

Haven't written any 100,000-word new novel yet. Stay tuned.

With NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, I probably wrote 150,000 words to get to an 80,000 word book. With DELICIOUS, it was 300,000 words for a 100,000 word book. So, an improvement. What can I say, my standards are not very high. :-)

3) Not be constantly behind on laundry, yard, and house cleaning

Gah! At the end of the copyedits, the abode resembled what my suburban, disney-fied imagination thinks of as a crack house. Kidlets were scrunching for socks in the laundry chute. And I just finally mowed the lawn yesterday morning, with some portion of the grass up to my knees.

With His Hawtness shouldering much of the work, and my mom pitching in all the time too, the house has been in not-too-awful shape. Good Housekeeping it ain't, but livable.

4) Not exercise only when I have trouble fitting into my clothes

Haven't had trouble fitting into my clothes. Have been forgetting to eat rather than eating too much. But what awful shape I'm in. Rode bike the other day to kidlet's school because he forgot something at home. Half a mile, and I was about ready to dial 911. Must exercise more.

Have not exercised more, is all I have to say for myself. :-(

5) Not neglect this blog for months at a time

Gah again! If not an F at least a D. True there have been various updates in the past two months, but very little proper content. One reason is that all the contents have gone to other people--I guest-blogged at everybody and their great-aunt's place during March. The experience was excellent, but my sluggish mind can only originate so many blog posts in a given time period. Guess whose blog got the shaft?

Looking a my list of posts, it doesn't seem that I've neglected the blog terribly. But still there hasn't been any serious content in a while, just miscellaneous updates. Will see if that can be ameliorated in the new year. Posts with themes, what an idea.

The Positive Goals

1) Spend so much time with Hubby that he runs away when he sees me next

He is still walking towards me whenever I see him. So must do better.

Honey if you are reading this, I love you tons! And the sexiest words a man can say to a woman in the English language are "You go write. I'll take care of it."

2) Get my bike repaired and serviced so that I never drive my car again for distances less than three miles, which should cover the grocery stores and the library and the most of the rest of my life when I'm not working my accounting job (which is 10 months out of 12).

Was all set to go Monday past, then it rained. And then the senior kidlet was sent home from school with a nasty bug and he's been recuperating at home ever since. Will do next Monday.

Yep, did get bike fixed and did ride it. And then in the whole of fall I left my house three times. So stopped riding it. But then never drove the car either. :-)

3) Improve my grasp of the languages I already know.

Ummm...

Read French in Action nearly cover-to-cover when I was at my sister-in-law's in Bangalore (she used to take French lessons). That counts.

4) Learn Spanish.

Maybe next year.

Maybe in retirement.

5) Make some money from writing. I made a grand total of $1,450 in 2007, from the Russian sale of Private Arrangements.

Well, what do you know? A goal accomplished! The delivery&acceptance check for Delicious came last month and surprised the heck out of me. I had totally forgotten that I was owed any money for it; I was just so happy that the book turned out right.

Nothing to add. :-)

6) To make 5) happen, I should sell 4 books on contract.

Sold two more historical romances to Bantam. And given the snail's pace at which I write, I'm going to call this a goal accomplished too. Lots of people would lose sleep--not the least of which me--to know that I have more than that many books under contract. If I ever manage to write a book in under six months again, I'll revisit this one.

Still writing at the speed of stoned snails. So again, nothing to add.

7) Have five foreign sales. I had three in 2007--Russia, Germany, Spain. Foreign rights sales are the awesome. Every one is like a little Christmas.

Sold French rights to PA in March. Not bad.

Sold both PA and D to Japan, which had me jumping up and down and sideways. And then a week later, sold both to Slovenia. Well, hello, Slovenia. So yes, that's five foreign sales altogether. Goal accomplished!

8) Become a better person. I'm actually not a bad person at all, but there is always room for improvement. (And I wonder what it says about me that this resolution is way down on the list. Ha!)

Uhhh...no halo around my head yet, so still a work in progress.

Still a work in progress.

Actually, I don't need to become a better person, I need to become a more attentive person. Because I'm pretty decent when I pay attention to what's going on around me. :-)

9) Buy a pair of skinny jeans. By the time this happens no one will be wearing skinny jeans anymore. But I'm patient. I'll hold on to them until they come back into vogue again.

I actually went out and tried on a pair. I looked stupid in them.

Nevermore.

10) Care enough to be upset when my resolutions languish from casual neglect. :-)

Casual neglect, check. Casual indifference, check. Nope, still same old me. Well, I did hate that the house got so messy while I was on deadline. So perhaps there is hope for me yet. :-)

In 2009 I will be royally peeved if I don't follow through on my single resolution to use my time well. Every day during school hours I will write as if my hair is on fire, so that the rest of the time life is less crazy and His Hawtness doesn't have to do so much.

And there will be a first draft of THE IDEAL GENTLEMAN in to my editor by the time NOT QUITE A HUSBAND is released. You heard it here first.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Foreign Covers!

So I checked my email yesterday, and my agent sent me the link to Random House Mondadori's page for the Spanish version of PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS. And it's got a cover! In publishing, nothing's more interesting than covers.


I was totally tickled. Like my friend Michelle said, it's like a Jane Austen book with my name replacing Jane's! :-) Spanish PA goes on sale February 13, 2009.

So then I pestered Kristin about the Russian PA, because that was the first foreign rights sale we ever made, and should have come out already. And it was, and Kristin got a cover from Whitney, her foreign-rights co-agent. And behold:


My first Barbara Cartland cover!

Seriously, I couldn't stop looking at this cover. I mean, what a couch. Now I've got to have one like it. And of all the ladies who've graced PA's cover, this one actually looks most like what Gigi might--and with that attitude too.

If you look closely, you'll see that the front cover and the back cover are actually mirror images. The woman is painted over where the couch would have been on the right side. And if you look even more closely, you'll see that the it's the top curve of the same throw pillow under the plant on the right, they just painted out the buttons on it!

I am enthralled. ENTHRALLED!

P.S. The Russian title Idealnaya Para, means The Ideal Couple. (Or so I gather from googling.) And it is already available. Inform all your Russian friends! :-)

P.P.S. If there are any art history majors out there, I'd love to know what painting they used for the Spanish PA. It looks like a Victorian era artist, but I tried Leighton, Tissot, and a few others and came up empty.

Update 1: Thanks to Seton, now we know that the cover is based on a painting by Tissot, named "Study For."


Update 2: Thanks to Courtney Milan, I now know that the Russian PA is coming out in two different editions.

For 240 rubles, you can have this, same as above.


If you have only 200 rubles to spare, you still can have it, albeit in a slightly more somber package. :-)


Will wonders never cease? :-)