Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Thursday, February 21, 2008

News Flash!

My lovely and talented editor gave me a release date for my upcoming book, I Bid One American! I'm so pleased. The e-book version comes out on May 9, 2008 and the print version will be available on Nov 7, 2008. What a thrill!

Although, my joy is somewhat tempered by fear on a number of fronts. I have a couple of manuscripts that I'll be submitting shortly to several places, but it's always scary not to have another actual contract in my hot little hand. And I would really like to have more books coming out in 2008, but we will have to see what happens.

My more immediate and overwhelming terror has nothing to do with my writing career, except that it eats up time that would be better spent writing. I'm trying to prepare to take the two Microsoft exams (70-292 and 70-296) to upgrade my Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certification from Windows 2000 to Windows 2003. I was going to let it lapse because I never seemed to need my MCSE for anything. And the two exams to upgrade are going to be retired March 31. And I started to think…oh, no. Maybe I should reconsider.

Of course, then we had a major reorganization. And now they are saying that people who are the senior Enterprise Admins (that would be me & two others) will need to be certified. Grrh. And the only smooth path to get certified for Windows 2008 and the new Enterprise Admin path is to first get your Windows 2003 certification. And for me, the easiest path to that is to upgrade my 2000 MCSE to 2003.

This will be the first time I've tried to take any of the Microsoft exams without first going to a class. I'm trying to do it on my own, since I work at this junk every single day and as an Enterprise Admin, I also get to work on all the problems in our enterprise. So you'd think it would be a piece of cake.

We've got ~600 domain controllers, 300 sites, 30 domains and close to 300,000 users. So I keep thinking all this experience has to be good for something.

But I'm pretty sure it isn't going to be easy and I'll probably fail the first time. But I can retake it, thankfully.

Unfortunately, all this studying and fretting is taking time away from writing…grrh again. But I do have a few queries out-and-about. After I finish the Microsoft exams, I intend to finish my "final touches" on a Regency mystery called: The Vital Principle and send that toddler out to walk or fall on its face. And I still have The Bricklayer's Helper staggering around the circuit to see if I can find a home for it.

And I'd really like to write a few more short stories. They're fun.

Anyway—those are my meandering thoughts and worries for the moment.

Wishing you a happy and healthy weekend!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tips for Writers

Writing is not an easy, armchair diversion—it's more of a blood sport, really. And there's really only one piece of advice that is worth anything: write the best book you can and then write the next, better one.

Not exactly what most writers want to hear. They are all looking for the ruby slippers, the magic key, the holy grail, the answer to life, the universe and everything. (Which, by the way, is 42.) But there is no single answer that will get you published except that first one.

That being said, I have learned a few things the hard way. They might help you, or they might not. Shrug. It's all a crap shoot, anyway. It's more like winning the lottery than anything else, except you don't have to pour your blood and sweat into a lottery ticket.

For serious writers, however, there is at least one fairly critical decision you need to make:

Are you going to submit your book, or get an agent?

'Cause…you don't want to do both for the same manuscript.

Submitting your own book to Publishers

If you decide to submit your own book to publishers, you need to face reality: most sales of new authors involve an agent. There are, however, exceptions.

  • E-Publishers and Small Press: Authors are better off selling their manuscripts directly to these publishers. Typically, there is no advance. Authors of erotica and highly sensual material do very well with these publishers, so it is definitely something to think about.
  • Category: Authors who write category romances or other types of shorter works targeted toward category publishers (e.g. Harlequin, Mills & Boon, or Avalon) then again, you can sell directly to the publisher and generally don't need an agent. There are advances offered.

If you want to sell to a large publisher, however, you will probably need an agent. Most large publishers will not even accept a query from an author, although a few will glance over a query letter.

Don't think you can send your book around to all the publishers, get a bunch of rejections, and then try agents as a last resort. This is called: shopping your book. It's deadly. If you do this, then if you miraculously found an agent, you will have placed him (or her) in the position of having no place to send your manuscript.

That manuscript is basically dead.


If your book is fabulous and you want to sell it to a big publisher: get an agent. Send your queries, partials, and manuscripts only to agents until you sign with one. It's really the only way.

Do not send the book to any publishers, first. Or simultaneously. Do not shop your book and then expect the agent to find a home for it after you've already sent your manuscript to everyone and their brother.


You've written a brilliant historical romance. You try a few agents but it's so slow and you just know that it is perfect for Avon, so you go ahead and try Avon while waiting for Agent B to respond. Avon rejects you.

By some miracle, Agent B signs you. Agent B knows the Senior Editor at Avon, personally, and could convince her to buy your brilliant book...except you already submitted to them, so that's out! Agent B can't submit there because you've already poisoned the well with your submission, just because you got impatient.

Do not shoot yourself in the foot.

Best of Both Worlds

But wait! There is a way around this conundrum. Remember that first rule I gave you: write the best book you can, and then write a better one? Well, do that. And then look at both of them.

Take the strongest, best manuscript you have and dedicate that one solely to getting an agent. No matter what, do not submit it to any publishers.

Take the other strong, best manuscript you have (and it better be good, too) and send it to publishers—if you're sure you want to take this risk. Remember, if you try all the publishers, then that's the end of the book's life. It will have to go into the drawer when you're done.

And then write a better, stronger, faster, more powerful book.


This all sounds easy, but self-control is the most difficult part. You want to do something. After months and years of submitting to agents, you want to get it to a publisher. You want to get published.

That's why you have to decide on what you can live with. And it's why you have to keep on writing and improving. Each book you write will be better than the last. Each new book will stand a better chance.

The reality is: You need an agent to sell to a large publisher. So you need the self-control to set aside your best manuscript and submit it only to agents.

And you need the discipline to keep on writing.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Final Edits on Galley

Just finished what I hope are the final edits on the last galley for I Bid One American, my newest novel. It will be coming out soon from The Wild Rose Press. As soon as I get a date, I'll let everyone know—the anticipation is killing me. I Bid One American snagged me an agent and I'm extremely proud of it. Not that I'm not just as proud of my other stories, but as any writer will tell you, the book they are working on is almost always their favorite. This story is a mystery set during the Regency period, about an American heiress no one wants and a duke every woman is after. Unfortunately, after a debutante is killed during a soirĂ©e, the Bow Street runners are after the duke as well! So what else can an heiress do but help him out of a tight spot and possibly marry the poor sod.

In I Bid One American, I also introduce Second Sons, Discreet Inquiries—and its founder, Knighton Gaunt. I have several stories planned for Mr. Gaunt's inquiry agents and I'm afraid the murder rate for Regency England is about to go up.

While I Bid One American "brewing" I've also sent another manuscript to my fabulous agent. This manuscript is called The Bricklayer's Helper. It is another romantic mystery set in the Regency—also featuring an inquiry agent from Second Sons, who undertakes the task of discovering who is trying to kill a woman disguised as a bricklayer's helper. I got the core idea from an actual case of an orphaned girl who made the decision to cut her hair, dress in boy's clothing, and get a job as a bricklayer's helper. In the Regency, there were precious few ways for a penniless female child to survive except walking the streets, so her decision meant she could get a decent job and pay her own way. It worked pretty well for her until her mid-twenties when her landlady discovered "he" was a "she." Since about the same time, the landlady's daughter realized she was pregnant, the landlady came up with the scheme to have her daughter marry the disguised woman. The hope was that this would serve the dual purpose of "proving" that the woman in disguise was actually a real man, and making the landlady's grandchild legitimate when it was born. Their plans rather fell apart, but the story was so intriguing I couldn't help playing "what if" with it.

What if the little girl became an orphan because someone had killed her family?

What if the killer subsequently discovered that the girl had survived, and that the girl might have proof that would convict him—or her?

What if the girl realizes someone is trying to kill her and hires an inquiry agent to discover who and why?

And there you have it—the bones of a murder mystery set in the Regency.

A lot of folks have asked why I enjoy writing stories set in the Regency period so much, but really, there isn't just one answer. I like the period and "distance" makes it appear even rosier than it really was. The Regency was a more stratified Society with a great many restrictions, so there is more opportunity for a writer to explore how people find and fit into their place in a society where it isn't just "anything goes" as it is today. It was definitely not an "I'm Okay, You're Okay" situation. I've always been fascinated by the juxtaposition of outsiders versus insiders—who is acceptable and why.

And I like the comedy of manners aspect that Jane Austen does so well.

In addition, the Regency was before the regularization of the police force in London so I can play more with "amateur" detectives/inquiry agents without really stretching credibility too far. There was more leeway for that sort of thing. Now-a-days, no matter what people think, there is little (no) room for amateur detectives because they simply don't have access to the police files, forensic data, and other information that would be necessary to solve a case. The science of the Regency is at a level I can handle.

It does mean I have to do a lot of research, but I enjoy that aspect as well. Over the last few years, I've collected quite a library of original material such as Gentlemen's magazines, Ladies magazines, newspapers, and other source material that is fascinating to read on a rainy day.

Lastly, it's just fun.

So, over the next few months, I Bid One American should come out and I've even got some short stories up my sleeve.

Enjoy and have a fabulous Valentine's day!