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On E-reading

Last night, unable to sleep, I went looking for books at the library and then, when I failed to find anything of interest, bought a few from a bookstore. That I did this at two in the morning only struck me as wondrous about an hour into reading the book that finally grabbed my interest (Flapper, by Joshua Zeitz, and it’s awesome, if you too have been bitten by the 1920s bug).

Insomnia leads to rumination, so as I lay on the couch, my pondering of the thrill of instant gratification yielded to memories of other kinds of gratification. more »

Thanksgiving De-hiatus

The content of the dedication and acknowledgment pages from PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, a good substitution for a thanksgiving post. I’m a lucky gal and I’m infinitely grateful for all the wonderful people in my life and the interesting roads I’ve traveled.

Dedication

For my mother. There are few joys in life greater than that of having you as my mother

To the memory of my grandfather. I will always miss you. And to the memory of my grandmother, for loving books as much as I did.

Acknowledgment

Because I’m sure to forget someone, if you are reading this now, let me say thank you. Thank you for everything.

Now onto specifics.

Miss Snark, for her unqualified recommendation of Kristin Nelson via her snarkalicious—and much lamented—blog. Kristin Nelson, for living up to every last one of those recommendations and then some. Sara Megibow, for being the first person besides myself to read this book, and e-mailing Kristin late at night telling her she’d better get reading too.

Caitlin Alexander, my editor and Fairy Godmother—for making me feel like Cinderella. Everyone at Bantam, for treating me so well and publishing me so beautifully.

All my friends, classmates, and professors at the UT MPA program. It was a great year and I think of you with such fondness—in particular, Professor Fabio, who should have graced my cover.

Everyone at the Harrington Fellowship program, for everything. And putting my picture in the New York Times on top of it.

All my friends and sisters from Austin RWA. You guys are the best.

Janine, Jane, and Sybil. Bloggers rock.

Sue Yuen—for her excellent advice on Schemes of Love and for all the good times.

Mary Balogh, Jane Feather, and Eloisa James—for their generous praises. I hope to have the pleasure of meeting you and the honor of cleaning your houses.

My husband and sons, three of the cutest and kindest men in the world under one roof. The wonderful family I married into, everyone unfailingly supportive of my dreams, especially my grandfather-in-law, who backed up his prayers for my eventual publication with donations to that effect. You see, Appachen, it has come true.

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Quick Update

I e-mailed my editor and my agent the manuscript for DELICIOUS at 4 a.m. on Tuesday morning. I said I’d give it to them on the second of April (first was a Sunday) before I went to sleep. Guess I kept my word.

The writing of DELICIOUS, as you probably already know, was a slog. The story didn’t quite come together for me until early January, when I finally understood the sort of relationship the hero and the heroine had with each other and with their lightning-rod of a brief history. Once the core of the story gelled, I absolutely fell in love with it. But then I hardly had any time left.

I think I submitted something decent. I also think it could be stunning instead of just decent. (Here’s my whole philosophy on writing. It’s hard and chances are I will make less money as a novelist than as a partner in an accounting firm. So there is no point producing only a decent product. In the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth tells Jane that nothing less than the deepest love would induce her to marry. For me, nothing less than the most devastatingly beautiful stories would induce me to keep writing–I hope.)

But I chose to give DELICIOUS as-is because I needed some time away from it to let ideas and thoughts percolate through my subconscious, because I could benefit from hearing from my editor and agent–both are wonderful at spotting shortcomings and do it ever so nicely–and because I’ve got some fires to put out at school. Ugh.

Anyway, here are some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that SCHEMES (or whatever it would be called by then) would not be released until spring 2008. Darn. The good news is that we made the first foreign rights sale on it. To Russia. Which was very, very cool. Look for me to post the Russian cover in about 2 years. :-)

On the personal front, I would like to say to members of my family who might be reading this: thank you and I can’t thank you enough. SCHEMES I wrote largely on my own time. DELICIOUS I wrote on everyone’s time. Three generations of family pitched in to help me out during this very hectic year. I really, really couldn’t have done it without all of you.

I’m blessed beyond measure.

The Mother of All Hiatuses–Coming to an End Soon!

To my ten devoted readers,

I swear, I didn’t mean to drop off the face of the Earth. When I said I’d return in the new year in my last post, I’d meant the first week of January.

And then I started my internship. Believe me when I say I was composing my mind-boggling post “Theory of Accelerated Karma” on my way to work in the first few days. But it didn’t take long for the true meaning of “60-hour work week” to sink in (life’s like that during busy season for accountants).

Finally that got done on March 2. Now I have until March 19th before school starts again. I plan to write 21K words between now and then. And then edit, edit, edit.

So if everything goes well, hopefully Theory of Accelerated Karma, the best thing since Theory of Relativity, of course, would see the light of the day in early April. If not–no, think positive, think positive. This is no time to panic.

Much love and gratitude,

Sherry

Everything I Know About Writing I Learned from Rejections, the Sequel

I have never understood why people remain in unproductive relationships. Not just the obviously abusive kind, but relationships that seem to generate no particular emotional benefit, that coast on through sheer force of habit—because breaking up is hard to do.

It wasn’t until recently, however, that I realized that I myself had been in such a relationship for a rather extended period of time. With one twist. In that relationship, I’d been the no-good sorry-ass that I kept telling my friends to ditch.

That’s right; I’m talking about me and my former agent.

Like all once-promising relationships, ours had a romantic beginning. She was one of the agents I queried for my very first finished manuscript (a prior incarnation of SCHEMES OF LOVE, which, torn down and rebuilt many years later, was sold this summer to Bantam). We did the usual song and dance. I queried. She requested a partial. Then she requested a full. Then I didn’t hear from her for nearly two trimesters.

Then one day, out of the blue, she called. She didn’t offer representation, but we talked for two hours, on my book, on writing, on everything else under the sun too, probably. When I finished my next manuscript, I sent it to her and she called right after I brought my newborn second son home from the hospital. She loved it. We became a team that day. And what a lovely time it was in my life, with a beautiful, sweet baby in the house and a limitless future in publishing stretched before me.

The manuscript didn’t sell, but we continued to have fun. When my husband gave me a surprise registration to RWA’s national conference in NYC, she changed her vacation plans and flew back from New England especially to meet me.

That was, however, the last run of good times for us. My new manuscript she did not like. I revised and sent it back. When she finally called me, she was livid. I’d changed the story around, but did absolutely nothing to improve it. “It’s not that you don’t have conflict,” she thundered. “You don’t have a story!”

Oblivious to the precarious position I was in, I sent her a few chapters from my new WIP, a slow-moving few chapters where absolutely nothing of importance happened and—I cannot believe it today—the whole thing was written from the view point of an unimportant, observing character. I never heard back from her.

She tried to tell me where I needed improvement. She really did. But I simply never heard her. I’d written one manuscript that she loved and I thought I’d learned everything there was to know about writing novels, not realizing that that particular manuscript was more of a fluke than anything else. I’d sat down and done more or less the same thing as I’d done on my first ms. It just came out a lot better. Then I pretty much went on doing the same things, and predictably enough, there was only so much story luck going around in the universe, or encoded in my karma. And my subsequent efforts sucked like the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

A lot of times, when I see women stuck in relationships with men who don’t deserve their love, I get as angry at the women as I do at those men. Why do you tolerate that no-good sorry-ass? How is he gonna learn that what he’s doing is unacceptable unless you refuse to accept it anymore?

Well, my former agent wasn’t one to stay stuck in such a relationship. When she finally saw how clueless I was, she did the smart thing. She dumped my no-good sorry ass. And, proving that my theory on relationships and sorry-asses was exactly correct, getting dumped by someone who used to love me was one hell of a wake-up call.

I stopped assuming that everything I scribbled was readable. I became a lot more suspicious of my affectionate indulgence toward my own output. I finally got a critique partner. And tried, at least tried, to do things right.

I didn’t get things right immediately. I floundered for another whole manuscript—sixteen months, that one—showing flashes of improvement in certain chapters, and a great deal of laziness and lack of understanding on what makes anything a good read in other chapters.

But one thing was for sure. Getting rejected by my own agent taught me, if not a whole lot about writing techniques, at least a lot about myself, about the weaknesses in my character that needed to be addressed before I could sustain any kind of success, in publishing or any other field.

I can’t say that I enjoyed the process. But, just as I enjoyed neither pregnancies nor labors (no drugs, ah the pain, the pain) but am awfully fond of my children, I’m glad that someone had the wherewithal to kick me out of the house and say “I’ve had enough of your sorry ass. Grow the bleep up!”

Next Tuesday, the conclusion to the thrilling trilogy, Everything I know About Writing I learned from Rejections III: When Rejections Go Bad.

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Everything I know about Writing I learned from Rejections, Part I

Alas, the author interview has been devoured by the Crapometer, hungry for some nourishment before its next appearance at Miss Snark’s dig. I have it on good authority that by the time the Crapometer has feasted on the blood and guts of dozens of hopeful writers, it will regurgitate my insignificant little piece. In the meanwhile, nothing to do but wait, and muse about rejections.

I took rejections well. When I tore open a limp, self-address envelope that had hitchhiked all the way back from New York City, and read that “thank you, but no thank you,” I grimaced a little, maybe rolled my eyes, tossed that sucker in the shoebox in my closet, and got on with my day.

No weeping into my porridge bowl, no banging my head against hard, shiny surfaces, no telephoning my fellow scribes, begging them to help me picked up the broken pieces of myself. And boy, was I smug about my robust ego and Teflon-clad, resolute sense of self. I was tough, baby, t-o-u-g-h. I got what it took to make it in this business.

Problem was, I wasn’t making it in this business. I churned out completed projects with some regularity. I had people who liked my work. I even had representation for a while. But I couldn’t scale that final height, cross that last hurdle, and get a publishing house to cough up cash for my work.

Slowly it a rather appalling suspicion began to take shape in my mind. Was it possible, was it at all possible that my toughness was actually a-r-r-o-g-a-n-c-e? I was plowing ahead, damn the torpedoes. But was I learning anything, getting any better at this whole mysterious, inexplicable art of storytelling? Or was I doing the same thing over and over, each time expecting folks to like the results a lot better?

One of the most instrumental rejection letters in my writing life came at the beginning of the query process for my grand martial-arts historical fiction. An early query letter went out via e-mail to Marcy Posner, an established NYC agent. She responded within three days, asking to have three chapters snail mailed to her.

Needless to say, I complied immediately. Three weeks later, her response came.

Dear Sherry,

Thank you for sending HEART OF BLADE. Unfortunately I just did not love it. It needs a lot of editing and is too long for the marketplace. Please do keep in mind that this is only one opinion. It is often the case that material one agent doesn’t respond to is to be met with much enthusiasm by another. You will want and need an agent who will get behind you and your work with full confidence. Given my hesitation, I’m not the one.

Sincerely,

Marcy Posner

I haven’t seen this letter in over a year. I pulled it out of the bowels of my mail folders today and was shocked by how kindly it was worded. Because I remembered it differently. I hated it when it came. It had been a bucket of cold water thrown in my face. I couldn’t care less at that time that the water was Evian and had all kinds of curative properties, I just cared that I was cold and wet and royally peeved.

What made me unhappy were the words “It needs a lot of editing”. That totally conflicted with my view of my writing. I wrote polished prose, damn it. What the bleep was I supposed to edit? At least she had the sense to acknowledge that this was only her opinion, I thought huffily.

But as the rejections trickled in, singly and in pairs, I became less and less sure of myself. Every “not right for us” joined the chorus that backed up Ms. Posner’s professional opinion. Reluctantly, but ineluctably, I began to see that my grand opus wasn’t the masterpiece I’d thought it was, but a great idea trapped in an unwieldy execution.

The other dozen or so rejections were important. They added weight and preponderance to Ms. Posner’s judgment. They made it hard for me to say, “Oh, that’s just one person who doesn’t get it.” But it was Ms. Posner’s words in that personal rejection that really sank in, that went a long way toward turning me into a much harsher judge of my own writing.

And I’m a better writer for it.

Next Tuesday, Everything I Know About Writing I Learned From Rejections, Part Deux.

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