What makes you pick up a book?

I’ve been thinking about the books I read, and why I pick them up.

I’ll admit: I’m a review reader. But I usually go back and read the reviews after I’ve read a book.

If I see a lot of people mentioning a book on Twitter, I’ll download the sample to my Kindle. Same goes for a blog review that piques my interest. (I found Beastly through a blog review, and it’s one of my favorite books.)

Even still, this is only sometimes. Like if I have my Kindle handy, or if I’m not in the middle of reading something else.

We all talk about word of mouth. That’s what sells books. You could have a hundred good reviews on Goodreads, but if people aren’t actually telling someone else to read your book, it doesn’t have as much weight. If I’d looked up Boy Toy on Goodreads and read the mixed reviews, I might not have read the book. But I asked my buddy Sarah Fine for a recommendation, and she said to read it.

I read it. I loved it. You should too. I actually read it twice.

But see? Even that doesn’t carry as much weight unless you know me. Even if you know me, it doesn’t carry as much weight unless I say, “YOU. You must read this book.”

I don’t read a whole lot of contemporary YA, unless it’s on the heavier side. I enjoy Simone Elkeles, Gail Giles, things like that.

But last year, every time I turned around, people were saying, “You have to read Anna and the French Kiss.” So I knew I had to read it.

I read it. I loved it. (It’s by Stephanie Perkins. You should read it, too.)

When both Sarah Maas and Bobbie Goettler told me I needed to read Unearthly, by Cynthia Hand, and these are two people who live on opposite sides of the country and could not be more different, I knew I had to pick it up.

I read it. I loved it. (Are you sensing a theme?)

I might not have picked up any of these books if people hadn’t practically shoved them into my hands and said, “HERE. YOU. Read this.”

Everyone reads books they can’t put down. What, in a book, makes you not just review it well, but press it into the hands of someone else? What makes you sit up and say, “HERE. YOU. Read this.”

For me, it’s the understanding of human nature, mixed with an element of surprise. Not the jump-out-and-say-boo kind of surprise. Just something unexpected happening to people I genuinely care about. It’s about a book I can’t put down, not for a minute, not even when I’m feeding the baby. It’s a book that I’ll stay up late to read.

I’m not saying it’s easy to write books like that. I’m just saying that’s what makes me recommend a book.

What about you? What works? What doesn’t?

Muscle Memory

It’s been years since I rode horses, but I still remember how to sit the transition from a walk to a canter. I remember the slide of your outside leg to trigger the movement, the way you’d sit into the saddle just so, allowing the horse to lift up its front end and change pace. I remember it so well that if I sat on a trained dressage horse, I have no doubt I could accomplish that movement right this instant. I might not be in shape to ride for any great length of time, but my body would know what to do.

I think writing is like that. While I haven’t been on a break since my son was born (don’t ask how fast or at what time of night I wrote most of the Elemental novella), I haven’t been writing with solid regularity like I used to.

But the muscle memory is still there. It’s going to be weak at first, but I’ll hit my stride and the words will come pouring out.

During my school visit, one of the most popular questions was, “What inspires you?” (Right after “If your book gets made into a movie, can I be in it?”)

It was a hard question to answer. Harder than it should be. I told the kids that inspiration can come from anywhere. When I wrote the adult paranormal romance A Wicked Little Rhythm, I came up with Jack, the son of Apollo, and I made him own a music store in downtown Baltimore. I also made him a drummer.

I know nothing about drumming. But my husband had bought Rock Band that Christmas, and we played it a lot. I started thinking, “Hey, a drummer would be a cool character. Now how can I make it paranormal…”

Another student asked how I battle writers block. I think that’s just a matter of planting your ass in the chair and writing something. Anything. If I’m fighting with a scene, I’ll go work on a different one. I’ll write a blog post. I’ll write an email to a friend about something going on in my personal life. I’ll write something.

When I sit down to write, if I’m not feeling it, I’ll go watch dance videos on YouTube. I’m not kidding. Right now, I love the song Without You by David Guetta and Usher, and I’ll go look for people who’ve put up dance videos using that song. Sometimes the dance videos suck. That’s okay; sometimes my writing sucks. Sometimes the dance videos take my breath away. Those are inspiring. It’s art, it’s talent, it’s something completely different from writing, and sometimes that gets me going.

What works for you guys? What doesn’t work?

And since it’s Friday, and since I haven’t done this in forever, I’ll put up a Friday Favorite. Since we just talked about A Wicked Little Rhythm, here’s one of my favorite scenes.

~~~

The store was cool and dark, a welcome escape from the humidity that still hung over the city. Sarah knew she had talked to Jack on their walk back, but she could hardly hear her thoughts over the screaming in her head: He almost KISSED me! And he BELIEVES me! And… he almost KISSED me!
The giddiness was nearly enough to make her pass out.
“You want another soda?” Jack asked.
She started to shake her head, but then she wondered if he was going to lock up and walk her to her car if she refused. Or what if he invited her up to his apartment? Would she say yes? What would that mean? Would saying yes give him the wrong impression? The right one?
She wished she could call Kate.
“Hey.” He snapped his fingers in front of her face. “Come back to earth. You want another soda?”
“Um, yes,” she said, hoping she was making the right choice. “Please.”
He led her through the curtain into the back room and turned on a few lights, then moved to the little kitchen area. She watched him pull out a can for her and a bottle for himself, studying his silhouette in the light from the refrigerator.
When he straightened, she looked away, not wanting to be caught staring. Her eyes found his drum set, similar to the one on display at the front of the store, but more worn, more used. It made the instruments look comfortable, less intimidating than the ones out front.
“Pick up the sticks and bang on them if you want.”
She jumped, feeling heat on her cheeks. He was right beside her, holding out a soda.
She took the can. “No way.”
He smiled. “Why not? Everybody likes whacking on drums. Believe me. I listen to it all day long.”
“I think I humiliate myself enough when you’re around.” She found she couldn’t meet his eyes. “I’d…ah….listen to you play, though.”
He put the bottle to his lips and took a long drink. He was watching her again, and she couldn’t figure out his expression. “Why?”
She took a sip of her soda, and for the first time in her life, she wished it were something stronger. “Because I want to see if you’re all talk.”
She meant her words to be challenging, something she imagined Kate would say, but she heard them come out too soft, almost coy.
Jack laughed gently, a good sound that made Sarah look up at him again. For an instant, she caught a glimpse of how he must have been before life caught up with him.
“All right.” He pulled a chair away from the table and spun it to face the drums. “Sit.”
She sat.
He took another drink and sat on the stool. “Any requests?”
“Well…” She blushed and shook her head.
His gaze sharpened. “Yes. What?”
She wished she hadn’t said anything. “I just—maybe you could show me what you meant last week? You said you were doing something to that classical song.”
He grinned wickedly and twirled a drum stick through his fingers. “‘Doing something.’ You make it sound obscene. Poor Johann Pachelbel.” His voice turned mockingly aghast. “Some guy’s raping his music, and he’s doing it with a drum stick—”
“Okay, okay!” She was starting to wonder if her cheeks would ever cool. “I’m sorry I said anything at all.”
“Don’t be sorry, Sarah.” He leaned toward a small folding table that was set up on the other side of his drum set. He had to stretch to reach it, and she watched the hem of his tee shirt ride up to expose an inch of skin.
She swallowed, warm again.
“Here. Catch.”
She blinked, and some sense of self preservation helped her snatch the object he’d tossed out of the air. She looked down to find herself holding a remote.
“Turn the stereo on,” he said. “The canon’s not … ah, ready, but find a song you like. I’ll show you what I mean.”
She struggled with the foreign remote, aware again of his eyes on her. She was able to turn the stereo on, but she didn’t recognize the song. Her mouth felt dry as she used the seek button, trying to find something familiar.
“I…I don’t know what I should be looking for,” she said weakly.
“Anything.” She heard him take another sip from his bottle, just as she found a melody she’d at least heard before.
“This,” she said.
He choked on his beer. “Britney Spears? Are you kidding me?”
Flustered, she reached for the remote again. “I’ll find something else—”
“No, leave it.” She heard him mutter something under his breath, and she thought she caught the words boy band. He shook his head and picked up the drum sticks. “At least it’s something different. Turn it up. Drums are loud.”
She held down the volume button until she felt like she was at the club with Kate again. The room had great acoustics—or the stereo was just top-of-the-line—because the sound was excellent. She felt tense that she’d picked the wrong song, that he was somehow making fun of her, that some other shoe would drop and she’d find out this crazy attraction was one big punch line.
Then he started to play.
The music trapped her in her seat. Sarah stared, transfixed, watching the drumsticks blur and slow in time with the music, like they played and all he did was hang on. The song was the same—she’d heard it on the radio a million times. But he added another level somehow, made the song richer, fuller, adding impossible beats and rhythm until she could almost feel the sound pulse against her skin. Gooseflesh raced along her arms, and she shivered.
When the song ended and he struck the last beat, it was like the slam of a door behind a leaving lover.
He sat silent, watching her, the sticks at rest in his hands.
She was breathing too quickly, and she licked her lips. “Do it again.” She pushed a button on the remote.
R & B this time. She barely knew the song, but it wouldn’t have mattered. His talent was powerful—he could have played with no accompaniment and she’d have been mooning after him like a lovesick puppy.
“Again.” She pushed the button, found something older, from the eighties, with a lot of electronic sound.
He tackled it head on, making the song modern somehow, adding a layer of sound she’d never thought the melody was lacking. The beat whispered along her skin, seeming to pulse inside her body. She watched his arms, the way his muscles flexed and pulled with his playing, how his tattoos flashed and danced with the movement.
When he finished, she felt breathless, frozen. His eyes were intense, fueled by silver fire, but he stayed silent. Waiting for her.
She fought to lower the volume, trying to think of something to say that wouldn’t make her sound like an idiot.
She failed. “That was … amazing.”
He put his sticks in one hand and stepped out and away from the drum set, and she watched him move toward her. He stopped in front of her chair as she gazed up at him. She wanted to make him play a hundred songs while she just sat and listened.
He touched her chin. “I’m glad you liked it.”
His hand was warm, and she sighed.
Then he held up the sticks. “Your turn.”
She jerked back and shook her head, sudden nerves breaking his spell. “I can’t—do that—”
“Shh.” He reached down and took her hand, pulling her out of the chair. “Come on, you little coward.”
Sarah wanted to balk, but the feel of his hand on hers was compelling, like he was some kind of pied piper with drum sticks. She sat on his stool, the wooden sticks clutched in her sweaty palms, and looked at the array of instruments.
She had to clear her throat twice before she could speak, and even then it was barely more than a strangled whisper. “How do you keep them all straight?”
He pulled a chair over and sat to her right. “You know how you can shut your eyes and touch your nose? You don’t miss and hit your shoulder?” At her nod, he shrugged. “It’s like that. Give me your hand.”
She pulled the sticks in close to her lap. “What if I break something?”
“I’ll kill you.” He scooted closer and picked up her hand, wrapping his fingers around hers.
Her heart rate accelerated immediately.
“Relax,” he said, and he was close enough that his breath brushed her cheek, and she could smell the sweetness of his strawberry milkshake mixing with the scent of his beer. Her face started to drift toward his when she heard bells in her head.
She blinked. Not in her head. He was using her hand to make the stick tap the center of one of the large cymbals on the right, and she realized he’d said something about eighth notes and the number four.
Relax. Was he kidding?
“You do it.” His hand dropped away from hers.
Focus took more effort than it should have, but she found herself wanting to succeed, to impress him like he’d impressed her. She discovered she could tap out an even rhythm on the cymbal without feeling too ridiculous.
Then he said, “Now add your foot.”
His voice was soft, his breath warm against her neck. She almost dropped the stick.
“Relax,” he said again. He touched her knee, his hand lingering for just a moment. “This leg. On every one and every three.”
She swallowed and followed his direction, reveling in the tone of his voice as he softly counted the beat, and distantly realized that she was somehow making it all work.
He shifted his chair so he was still behind her, but now more to her left. She couldn’t imagine him being closer, but he was. She could feel the warmth of his body, achingly close to hers.
“Now your left hand,” he said, picking up her wrist. The ink on his skin made a striking contrast where it ran alongside her pale forearm. “Every two and four.”
He helped, but she got it. The rhythm was strong and clear, and even with his closeness, she felt a bit of elation at her own ability. “I’m playing drums!”
Jack laughed, a little. “See? You don’t need me.” He let go of her left hand, but she was able to hold the beat for a moment.
But his nearness was too intoxicating. Sarah let the sticks come off the drums and pulled them into her lap. She turned to face him, her cheeks warm, feeling giddy and foolish. “Show me something else.”
So he took her face in his hands and brought his lips to hers.
The kiss was insistent, his fingers strong yet gentle against her face, along her neck, in her hair. The sweetness of ice cream lingered on his lips, soft and warm against her own. She wanted to lean into him, to feel the press of his body, but uncertainty held her back.
Then his hand was around her waist, making the decision for her, pulling her against him. She was certain he could feel her heart beating against his chest, especially when his hand slid under the hem of her shirt to find the bare skin of her back. She shivered and gasped against his mouth, and his tongue brushed her lips.
She jerked back, suddenly breathless.
They were on the floor, kneeling, her body still pressed against his. She didn’t remember coming off the stool. Jack’s eyes were very close, alert and piercing silver. His breathing was nearly as rapid as her own.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Don’t apologize.” He used his free hand to smooth her hair back from her face. The hand along the bare skin of her back pulled free, moving to safer territory at her waist. “Sarah.”
The way he said her name made her want to melt against him.  Her face felt hot. “I’m not—I don’t—”
“Shh.” He kissed the edge of her jaw, then her neck. Then her lips again, but slower now, less a demand, more a question. She relaxed into his touch, enjoying the warm sweetness of his mouth against hers.
She couldn’t get enough of touching him. She clutched at his arms and made a low sound against his mouth.
He broke free this time, looking almost as panicked as she’d felt a moment ago. His voice was very rough. “I—I shouldn’t do this.”
She felt her chest cave in until it hurt to breathe. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t!” He took her by the arms. “Don’t apologize to me. You don’t know—You just—” He shut his eyes and his hands softened against her skin.
She tried to draw herself up, but her voice and the crushing weight in her stomach didn’t help. “It’s all right.”
“No—it’s not. Damn it, Sarah—” He pulled her forward and kissed her, his hand somehow finding the skin at her back again, sending her pulse racing.
Jack broke free a second time, and her head spun. She knew he was going to tell her she had to leave, that his issues were too much, that this couldn’t continue.
“Sarah.” He whispered her name against her lips.
She shut her eyes and sighed. Her mother was right. This road only led to pain.
He stroked her hair again. “Will you come upstairs and stay awhile?”
Her eyes shot wide. She choked on the change in extremes.
“Just for a while,” he said, and for the first time she heard him sound uncertain, like he worried she’d refuse. His eyes held hers. “Just to talk.”
She wondered if he could feel her trembling. “Yes. I will.”
Relief bloomed in his eyes. He leaned in and pressed his mouth to hers once more, his hand tight against her back. When he raised his head, she felt him smile against her lips. “All right, maybe a little more than talk.”

~~~

In which I stand up for myself.

I’m not a confrontational person. You will never see me get in someone’s face and start a throwdown. I just don’t have that kind of personality.

While I have a keen BS-meter, it’s rare that I’ll call someone on it. I’ll smile and nod and let them think they’ve pulled one over on me — and then I’ll go on my merry way.

When I drive, I’m an assertive driver. Not aggressive, just assertive. When I used to teach horseback riding lessons, especially when teaching kids to jump, I’d always tell them to “commit to the fence.” If you’re going over a jump, you’re going over a jump. Once you’ve made the decision, there’s no time for wavering. The same holds true for driving: if I’m going to change lanes, I do it, I don’t dilly-dally about it. If I miss my turn, I go to the next one and turn around. When people are aggressive around me, I get the hell out of their way. Life’s too short to police the highway if you’re not an actual, ya’know, policeman.

On my drive to work, I exit the highway, go approximately half a mile to a U-turn area, and proceed to make a U-turn. This U-turn area is one lane, meaning only one person is supposed to make a U-turn at a time. Now, this U-turn area can also be used to turn left, so many times people will pull up next to me on my right, intending to go across the intersection, while I’m waiting to turn left into oncoming traffic.

Today, a man in a sedan cut inside me to my left. There was no road there — only grass and gravel. Clearly I wasn’t making the turn quickly enough for him. I drive a minivan, he was in a sedan. There was no way for him to see around me. When the traffic cleared and I started to pull out, he did the same.

I had no idea he was there.

I didn’t hit his vehicle, but it was really close. I had to swerve into the other lane. Oncoming traffic on this road is going approximately 50mph, so it’s not like I was turning left onto some tiny side street. His action could have caused a massive accident.

He was obviously furious that I chose to make the turn at the same time he did. I know this because he then hit his accelerator, swerved around my car, swerved in front of me, and crossed two lanes of traffic to make a left at the next intersection–which was also my turn.

This left me rather shaken. And I’m a pretty secure, solid driver. 

I then proceeded to watch him run a stop sign to beat me through the intersection, then swerve around another driver who had the gall to make a signaled turn into an office complex.

He kept going up the hill, and at that point I knew, I knew he was going to my building. (We’re at the top of the hill.) Sure enough, he turned into the same parking lot where I park.

Through sheer irony, we pulled into the parking lot at the exact same time. I wasn’t even rushing, and I made it into the lobby before he did — despite the maniacal driving.

When I got into the lobby, there was a man and a woman waiting for the elevators. I saw my driver friend approaching the building, so I decided to wait. When the elevator came, the woman held the door for me, but I said, “Go ahead, I’m going to wait for this guy.”

She must have heard something in my voice, because she held the elevator anyway. (Honestly, I would have done the same thing. Show time!)

When the man entered the building, he was a big guy. He was wearing a polo shirt and khakis, but still a big guy. I’m not a small woman, and I’m also seven-and-a-half months pregnant, and he had at least 100 pounds on me, and a good foot in height.

He was on the phone. He tried to walk around me. He was very deliberately avoiding eye contact with me.

I stepped right in his path and said, “Why would you drive like that? I’m seven-and-a-half months pregnant. Why?”

He hesitated, just for a moment, like he couldn’t decide what to do.

So I asked him again, a little more forcefully. “Why would you drive like that? Why? Tell me?”

He gave me a rude gesture — not quite the finger — then turned around, ducked into the stairwell (which is open — no doorway), and sprinted up the stairs. 

I was upset about this all morning. I worried that I should move my car. I worried that he’d be waiting in the stairwell with a knife this afternoon or something. I worried that he’d come after me.

But then, this afternoon, I realized something. He ran. From a big pregnant lady. He ran.

And I realized that this is how bullies have so much power. They’re used to people being afraid of them. They’re used to the impression of size and sheer badassness carrying them a long way. This guy probably drives like a dick every day, and no one gets in his face because he obviously has the size and demeanor to back it up.

Until you call him on it.

Now, looking back, I realized that my brain read the signals as soon as he came in the building. He could have made it into the lobby before I did, but he walked more slowly, probably hoping I’d be up the elevator before he came in. When he wouldn’t make eye contact with me, he didn’t want to have a confrontation. When he was in his car, he had a steel shield and the power of anonymity. In person, he was a scared little boy who’d been caught with his hand in the neighbor’s candy jar.

I didn’t scream at him. I didn’t get in his face. I didn’t even report him to building security, though I thought about it. I can guarantee you he’ll still drive like a moron.

But maybe he’ll think about it for half a second if he’s anywhere near a white minivan.

~

Look, it’s been a week since I’ve blogged

Here’s what’s going on:

I received my editorial notes from my editor. They are awesome, but I wanted to get the revisions done quickly, so I’ve been relying on my husband’s good nature to get them done in time.

I needed to request blurbs from people I don’t know. It felt like asking complete strangers to watch my kids for an afternoon. Luckily, everyone I asked was incredibly awesome. Honestly, I always think writers couldn’t possibly be nicer, and then you all ARE.

I’ve been working on the sequel to ELEMENTAL. My goal is to be done by the end of August.

I’ve interviewed two policemen for the aforementioned sequel. Policemen, I’ve found, are just as nice as firemen, and they love to talk about their work. My favorite part of last night’s conversation was when I was asking detailed arson questions, and the officer interrupted me to say something like, “Now, this is for a book scenario, right? Not real life?”

HA. God help me if anything in my general vicinity catches on fire.

Oh yeah, and I’m growing a human being inside my body. I keep forgetting about that. Nine weeks to go! Or is it eight? Totally having second baby syndrome here.

What have you all been up to? Does any of the above sound interesting? Want to hear about editorial notes, or blurb requests, or interviewing professionals for your work? Want to hear some cool fireman/policeman stories? Want to tell gross pregnancy stories?

Here’s a non-gross pregnancy story for you. On Sunday, I went to Target. While I was there, I saw a changing table (in a box) on a clearance shelf. Because it was half off, I picked up the box and put it on the cart. Please DO NOT TELL MY HUSBAND THAT I DID THIS. (Watch, this will be the one blog he reads.) The box weighed about eighty pounds.

So anyway, at the register, the girl asked if I wanted help getting it into my car, and I said yes. I was worried I’d pulled something lifting the box in the first place. Then the girl at the next register asked how far along I was, and I said, “Thirty-one weeks.”

Her eyes bugged out of her head and she said, “Wow! You’re huge for thirty-one weeks!”

Huh. Thanks.

I almost said, “You’re huge for not being pregnant.”

But I’m a writer, not a stand-up comedian, and honestly, Glen Burnie, Maryland is the last place you want to start a catfight. Or any fight, really. (A few years ago, I went to Wal-Mart at 4am on the day after Thanksgiving, and stood in a mile long line to get a coupon for a cheap television. The girl in front of me had two huge burly guys with her, and I was alone. She looked me up and down and said, “Girl, you crazy. You ain’t got no man with you?”)

I’m rambling.

Any good news to share? Bueller…? Bueller…?

Demonstrating Strength

On my desk at work, I have this little list printed out. I got it from Seth Godin’s blog, but I can’t seem to find the entry again, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The list is titled “Demonstrating strength.”

The first thing on the list is, “Apologize.”

I love that.

The funny thing about apologies is that they seem to represent weakness. You’re admitting a failure, not only to yourself, but to someone else.

But they don’t really represent weakness. It takes a lot of guts to apologize. To genuinely apologize. How much gumption does it take to BS about something? To throw someone else under the bus? To make up a little white lie about why something wasn’t done, or why you acted the way you did?

I’ve been thinking about apologies a lot lately, especially since we’ve had this roofing problem in my house for YEARS. We’ve paid one roofing company $4,000 to replace our roof, then another $4,000 to repair our roof, and we’re still having a leaking issue. The insurance company sent out a new guy who gave us a quote to rebuild the back section of our roof for a third time — for another $2,000.

I called the original roofing company. What did I have to lose, right?

I wasn’t a bitch. I didn’t go in screaming at the owner. I just said, “Hey, we’ve paid you guys $8,000, and our roof is still leaking. Can you do anything?”

She came out yesterday to figure out the problem. She agrees that we need a flat roof system instead of the shingles they originally installed. It would have cost more money for them to originally install a flat roof system, but you know what she told me yesterday?

She apologized.

And then said they’re going to rebuild the back roof. For free.

That took strength. And money. It cost her something.

But you know what? It’s going to earn them a customer for life. And a considerable amount of word-of-mouth.

A heck of a lot better than a little white lie, huh?

~~

Kid Rock taught me something about writing. No, seriously.

So, last night, Mike and I were watching The Daily Show. You know, the one with Jon Stewart. This was my husband’s selection. I was just watching until it got to the end so we could watch an old episode of Medium on NetFlix.

Remember, Mike = love of politics. Brigid = trying to keep up with politics for her husband’s sake.

Then the featured guest on The Daily Show was Kid Rock, and I rolled my eyes at my husband and said, “I’m really not a fan of Kid Rock.” I mean, I like that song with Cheryl Crow, and I guess I like that one about summertime, but I’m really not a fan of grungy screaming music, like Badwitdaba. And I’m definitely not a fan of grungy dirty men. It’s just not my thing.

But we watched anyway, because my husband loves Jon Stewart, and you know what was interesting? Jon Stewart started talking about how much he respected Kid Rock, because Kid Rock knew his business. He knew what went on in music production, he know how to handle himself on tour, and he took good care of his kids and was a good father.

After watching that clip, I have new respect for Kid Rock.

But I keep thinking about the part where Jon Stewart was amazed at how much Kid Rock knew about the business. When he asked about it, Kid Rock said that he’d started out sweeping up in a record company. He learned all the terms and grew from there.

But I think it’s more than that. I think there’s a tendency, once you start getting somewhere, to forget that there’s one person in control of your destiny: YOU.

Just because you have an agent or a book deal doesn’t mean you should forget about the publishing industry. I still read industry blogs every single day. I read Publisher’s Marketplace to see what’s selling. I read agent blogs to see what they’re looking for. I read editor blogs because they’re jaded and funny. NO! I’m totally kidding. I read editor blogs because I’m curious what they’re looking for, and they have a different insight from the agent blogs.

I read links about new e-Book advances. About new e-Readers. About self-publishing phenoms. About teens having books banned in their schools. About what people are reading. I read the local news, and not just for my locality. (I love going to CNN and reading all the US links. And I mean all of them.) I want to know what’s going on in the world. You want to know where you can really get some good ideas to jumpstart a story? Read some local news articles. In Incendiary, the sequel to Elemental, I wanted to write a scene at a party where some kids would be goofing off with fire, using aerosol cans and a stick to make a homemade blowtorch. I thought to myself, “Would kids really be that stupid?”

And then the next day, there was an article on CNN about teenagers messing around with aerosol cans and a bonfire, and getting injured.

So yes. Kids would really be that stupid.

But I digress.

There’s a natural tendency to get to a point and let the experts handle what they handle. And that’s okay. There’s a reason you want an agent and an editor. They are your experts, and their opinion matters a whole lot. (I’m so lucky to have such great ones.) I don’t keep up on industry news so I can nitpick and second guess. I keep up on industry news because I want to be as informed as I can. I want to be a professional artist, not someone who has to be dragged out of a ladies room at 3am, coked up with hair a mess, with a handler hissing, “You have to be on Regis and Kelly in three hours!”

I want responsibility. 

I want to be in control of my destiny.

In short, when I grow up, I want to be just like Kid Rock.

 (Here’s a link to the clip of the show, if you’re curious: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-july-12-2011/kid-rock)

On being cool.

First, the title of this post is kind of a joke. I don’t know anything about being cool. Seriously, I was the girl in high school who wore glasses, came in early, and spent her free time in the library.

I’m the same person as an adult. I just have a healthy dose of cynicism and apathy.

So I’m not talking about the type of “cool” that people associate with James Dean or Colin Farrell. Or, for you kids out there, I’m not talking about the type of “cool” associated with Justin Bieber. (Though that right there will get me a little bit of flack from my husband.)

I’m talking about the type of “cool” that means treating other people with respect, no matter who you are.

I asked my husband a very basic question about politics the other day. I’m not even going to tell you what the question was, but most people would know the answer. I’ve never followed politics, but because my husband is fascinated by politics, I’ve spent the last year trying to understand it, follow it, and speak intelligently about it. (I’m still working up my nerve on that last one.)

My husband could have pulled the A-hole move and talked down to me. He could have patted me on the head and told me to go back to my little YA books. He also could have done the thing where you answer the question, then keep expanding on it to show how much you know about something. My husband didn’t do any of those things. He just answered the question and we moved on with the discussion.

This sounds like a little thing. It’s not.

I even remarked on it to him. It’s one of my favorite things about him, that he’ll never be arrogant or nasty about anything.

He said it’s a matter of respect.

I remember once I went out with this guy when I was around 22. My mom set us up, and that should have been a warning sign right there. I mean, the guy drove a Buick. Now look: there is nothing wrong with driving a Buick.

Unless you’re 22.

It was a new Buick, with leather seats and all the bells and whistles. I remember he had a button on the middle dash, something about traction control.

Now, I’m a bit of a dork, and I love knowing how cars work. I’ve been known to read the manual. (Yes, really.) I said to him, “Hey, I’ve never seen a car with a button for traction control. How does that work?”

He said, really snootily, “It controls the car’s traction.”

Well, gee.

Not one to be put off, I said, “But how? What does it do?”

I needed an answer. I mean, does it slow the wheels down? Change something about the pull from the engine? I was fascinated by the fact that something like traction could be controlled by pushing a button.

He kept trying to make things up, and I kept asking more questions, and finally he got really flustered and snapped, “Just stop asking questions about the car, okay?”

I think you can all deduce that the first date was also the last.

I mean, he could have just said he didn’t know.

We totally could have looked it up in the manual.

But really, I didn’t start this post to talk about old boyfriends. I actually started it to talk about writers.

A few years ago, I read a post on a very popular agent’s blog about one of that agent’s authors coming out with a book. I loved, loved, LOVED the concept of the book, and I was really excited about it. Here’s the kicker: the book was coming out eighteen months later.

Every now and again, the agent would mention the book on the blog. Around the time I thought the book was due to be released, I couldn’t remember the title. I actually emailed the agent and said, “I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time, but I can’t remember the title.”

The agent wrote back. The book was coming out soon. I followed the author on Twitter.

On the day I ordered the book, I sent a tweet to the author (a debut author), that essentially said, “Just ordered your book! Been looking forward to it since I first heard about it on [agent’s] blog! Can’t wait.”

I didn’t expect a response. She didn’t know me from anyone. Really, no response would have been fine.

Here’s what I got back:

yeah thanks

That’s it.

Now, look. I’m not going to judge anyone’s Twitter style. Like I said, she didn’t need to write back. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions of the interaction right there.

I will tell you that I was kind of turned off.

Her Ladyship's Companion (Berkley Sensation)A few years ago, I read the debut novel of Evangeline Collins, Her Ladyship’s Companion, and it was frigging awesome. It also has a stunning cover. (It’s totally a romance novel, so if that’s not your thing, it won’t be for you.) 

I wrote an email to Evangeline Collins, telling her how much I loved her book. Again, no  response would have been fine. I know people have lives, and some people get boatloads of emails from readers. Besides, the purpose of my email was to say, “YAY! I loved your work so much that I wanted you to know!” Not to say, “Please engage me in conversation.”

But Ms. Collins wrote back. To thank me. That’s class.   And when her next book came out, I immediately pre-ordered it. And loved it.

I had another one of these today. A friend asked for some book recommendations on Twitter. Here’s  the conversation:

@BrigidKemmerer oh any book recommendations? im running low. and we need to finally pick a date for a playdate for the boys

BrigidKemmerer:
@
LesRhodes
Yes, we do!! I just read Boy Toy by @barrylyga and LOVED it. Also The Iron King by @Jkagawa. Good stuff.

If I know they’re on Twitter, I always mention the author when I recommend their books. Not only do they know I liked their stuff, but it usually links back to their website in case people want to find their stuff easily.
Boy Toy
I didn’t expect either of those authors to respond.

Barry Lyga did, to say thanks. I almost went all fangirl, because seriously Boy Toy is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s tough to make a book moving and gripping and un-put-down-able while still making it funny enough to make me laugh out loud in places. Incredible book. I almost want to stop writing this post to go read it again.

And the author, the author, took time out of his day and thanked ME.

I mean, come on.

That’s pretty cool.

Maybe I’m missing something…

First, some housekeeping: Go congratulate Becky Wallace on signing with Jennifer Laughran! I’ve been meaning to post this for about two weeks, but since the baby is eating my brain cells, I keep forgetting until after a post goes live. Congratulations, Becky! I had the privilege of reading the first few chapters of Becky’s MS back in January, and I knew she was going to get snatched up quickly.

Second, some results: The poll on the right is still live, and it looks like people either hate cliffhangers, or they don’t really give a crap. In my opinion, that means we should eliminate them entirely. That’s some solid science right there. I mean, fourteen people responded. Clearly a global majority.

Third, the Facebook drama:

Basically (I’m trying to save you from clicking on links), Facebook is rolling out some new software where, if you post a picture, Facebook will try to recognize your friends and suggest tagging them.

People are flipping out about this.

Now, from what I understand, Facebook does not automatically tag you in photos, it just suggests the tag, and you have to accept it. Aside from that, everything is exactly the same. The person being tagged will get an alert that they’ve been tagged, and they can remove the tag if they want. There is nothing now to prevent you from being tagged in a photo. The only difference is that before, you had to tag your friends manually (using those baby-consumable brain cells), and now Facebook will make suggestions.

Am I missing something? Why are people so up-in-arms? Is it just the knee-jerk reaction to change? Is it like when Facebook rolls out some minor change every six months, and there are a billion “Like” pages about how people want Facebook to go back to the way it was? I understand privacy concerns, but I’m not sure how this is really any big deal. I honestly don’t understand how this is all that different from how Facebook operates now.

What do you think?

YA Cliffhanger Trend: Friend or Foe?

So I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately. (Hello, my name is Brigid, and I’m a bookaholic.)

I’ve been reading so much YA that I’m waiting for my husband to bring the hammer down and tell me to stop buying books on the Kindle. (I’m sure he regrets the day he bought me that thing. You mean I don’t need to leave the couch to buy a book instantly?)

But there’s a clear trend in YA for ending on a cliffhanger. Not just a cliffhanger, almost to the point where the entire first book is almost completely setup, and when you finally get to the climax, the book ends right there. You have to wait for part two.

Elemental is the first book in a series, and while there are open threads at the end, the story arc of book one is complete. The second book (tentatively titled Incendiary) follows the path of a different brother, and it, too, will have a complete story arc with open threads.

I’m not sure I’m a fan of this latest trend. When the first story arc is wholly complete but there’s a driving need for a second book, I love it. (Like The Hunger Games or Hex Hall, both of which I enjoyed greatly.) When the book obviously can’t stand alone, I hate it.

What about you guys? Do you like this new trend? Do you hate it? If you’re a writer, do you feel the need to end on a cliffhanger just to keep your readers reading?

I put a poll in the sidebar if that’s easier than commenting: ——>

Plagiarism and theft, and why I don’t worry about either

After my last post on critique partners, I received a great email, with a great question. With her permission, I wanted to respond on the blog:

I’ve been considering publishing since last year, and I think I’m going to quit [my critique site] soon. It was pretty fun and helped me learn a lot, but it’s gotten to the point where posting online is no longer a good idea. I’m not really afraid of the little girls plagiarizing my stuff (which often is the case) as I am of the James Freys of this world.

For that matter, while I read your post about finding good CPs (which was a godsend, btw. I’ve been mulling over the need for CPs for a while), I saw you mention two writer forums where you used to hang out and swap critiques in. I don’t know if it’s because of the close encounters of the 3rd type with online plagiarism, but joining those forums is something that gives me the heebiejeebies. I know you persisted in the forums until you scored gold, and it’s not like I’m cutting corners. I’m merely and simply put: a coward. 

 I’m still hovering over that cliff between not starting the publishing process (revise, research, network) and starting it, so that’s also an obstacle I’m putting on myself. If I hauled my ass to finally get started and begun networking with people, the possibility of finding a CP that way would also open up.

 I edited the hell out of her email to lose any identifying details, so if there are any grammatical inconsistencies, they’re all mine. Bear with me, it’s 5am while I’m writing this post.

My boss said something to me the other day that popped into my head when reading this email: Other people rarely think of you as much as you think other people think of you.

In other words, I think there’s more of a tendency to worry about online plagiarism than there is actually evidence of it.

First of all, what’s the point? If you look at plagiarism cases that have hit the press, like James Frey, Cassie Edwards, and Kaavya Viswanatha, they all have one thing in common: they stole from published authors.

Seriously, this is a big distinction. They stole something that had already made it through the rounds of publication. They stole proven words. They didn’t go scouring the message boards looking for unpublished manuscripts. That’s like being an amateur designer and having someone break into your house to steal the half finished clothes you were sewing. Why bother? They’re not done, they can’t really be replicated, and who even knows if they’ll be a success?

Now, I know there are people on message boards who steal story ideas all the time, and then post them as their own. I remember a few years ago when I’d posted parts of my vampire story, and two days later, this other guy posted his vampire story, and said, “This was inspired by another story I read here on the forums.” And then he basically rewrote my scene his own way. I was pissed. I was furious. Seriously, I was ready to spit nails.

But you know what? His story was completely different from mine, despite having the same idea. He couldn’t write in my voice any more than I could write in his. My story didn’t sell. His story didn’t sell. Any harm done? No. As my husband likes to say, you make your own stress.

It’s just too much work to steal an untested manuscript, make it your own, and then submit it for publication. What happens when you’re going to have to write a sequel? What happens when you have to go through and revise, and the revisions aren’t in the right voice? And not just that, there are so many other creative steps along the way. The query letter. Brainstorming with your agent. Writing a synopsis. Writing an outline for the sequel. Chances are, even if someone steals your stuff, it’s not going to look very much like your stuff when they’re done with it.

The natural inclination is to think that our stuff is kinda, maybe, possibly amazing. Yeah, there are self doubts, but you’ve gotta have some confidence, too. I’ve said before, writers have to be a little bit arrogant to make it through this publishing game. You do. There are so many opportunities to get knocked down, if you don’t have a little arrogance to push you through, you’re never going to make it.

So let that confidence start now. Put some stuff out there. See what you get. Don’t be stupid about it: I never sent anyone my entire manuscript without knowing them first. I’m a chapter-at-a-time kinda gal. Even then, I wasn’t worried about plagiarism; I didn’t want an unpolished version of my MS floating around somewhere, so if I did sell it, there wouldn’t be evidence of crappier writing sitting on the internet.

And if you’re worried about your ideas being stolen? Well…isn’t there some saying about there only being seven stories in the world? I’ll admit, when I started writing Elemental, I was a little worried. There aren’t a lot of books out there about controlling the elements. I mean, there are, but they’re not exactly breaking the shelves at your local Barnes & Noble. I was worried about someone picking up my idea and writing their own. I felt fresh and original and new, and I didn’t want someone else snatching up my opportunity.

But then I realized that controlling the elements wasn’t that original. Anyone could write about that. Just like vampires aren’t all that original, or kids in a wizarding school, or writing about the south in the sixties. It’s the execution that makes a good story. It’s the characters, the passion, the moments that drag you along and won’t let you put a book down. People might pick a book up because of the idea, but they’re going to keep reading because of the writing. Just like that guy who was “inspired” by me on that message board years ago: he took my idea, but he didn’t write the same thing.

I’ll finish with Bobbie’s comment from the critique partner post the other day, because as always, she’s chock full of wisdom:

I’d just add to your list here that you have to BE a good critique partner to get a good one. It kind of goes along with your “Don’t be lazy” advice. But if you expect someone to take your writing seriously, you have to take theirs seriously. You have to decide their writing matters as much as yours, that their goals are as important as yours. (This attitude also helps you to be thrilled–rather than envious–as your partner progresses in the business.) When you step it up a notch, so will your more serious beta readers. I likely never would have come to care or think so much about scenes like the one with Gabriel and Michael if you hadn’t cared and thought so much about my characters’ scenes. You have to give at least as much as you want to get.

On a side note, Online Writers Workshop is another great site for finding critique partners. I’ve gotten some great help there as well as some hardcore, ego-crushing feedback, so you have to be prepared for that honesty you’re talking about.

So there you have it. Go out and be confident. (And careful.) And if you see someone steal your stuff and post their own version? Don’t be mad.

Be flattered.

~