Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Public Service: Offload Mental Clutter Now

I was folding the socks this weekend and I realized that I have memorized the sock preferences for three people who aren't me. My husband and my sons all wear similar socks, but with key differences. If I don't remember the differences, I can't get the correct socks into the correct drawers.

Evidence:

  • My husband is the only one who does not wear his socks outside without shoes. Therefore, his socks are relatively clean and he likes to keep them that way.
  • #2 son wears only AND1 brand socks and only the style that doesn't show above the sneaker and only in his exact size—no bigger socks need apply.
  • #1 son wears all the other permanently dirty, too tall, too big socks. Except if they're scratchy.

That's a lot of information, right? Does any of it have anything to do with writing? Absolutely not.

Which is my point.

I'm carrying all this useless knowledge around in my head which means I can instantly categorize and sort other people's socks and in the meantime I'm losing the plot threads and character motivations I've worked so hard to develop for my books.

Counter Productive Memory Stuffing (CPMS) is harming my writing. So I'm reversing it. Right here, right now. I've typed up this sock trivia, entered it in my blog, and, therefore, removed it from my brain. Poof. It's gone.

Feels great.

Want to try? You don't have to be a writer—this offer is open to anyone with extra mind clutter! Do you know the names of all the Thomas trains? All the lyrics to Jessie's Girl? Still harboring the astrological signs of every boy you ever crushed on in junior high? Now's your chance to clear these items out for good.

Simply type your extraneous facts in a comment and this blog will retain that information so you can make room in your mind for the important things. Like character details. Or the date of the next Nordstrom's sale. Or the pitching rotation for the Red Sox Rays.

Go ahead and give it a try. You know you wanna. Come drop some facts on my blog, baby!

Ellen

P.S. For anyone who wonders how I will sort the socks this week now that I no longer remember whose are whose, "Good question." I won't. Because I can't. But guess what? I bet the boys (big and small) will work it out. They might be picky about their socks but they're resourceful.

P.P.S. For anyone who didn't have the lyrics to Jessie's Girl memorized but now as the chorus on an unending loop, sorry. You know I wish that I had Jessie's girl. da na na na na na Jessie's girl. Where can I find a woman like that? Like Jessie's girl...

Monday, June 2, 2008

Mommy, where do books come from?

"Mommy, where do books come from?"

"Well, dear, if they're Harlequin books, it's likely they come from the warehouse in Buffalo, New York."

"A book warehouse? What's that?"

Glad you asked...

A few weeks ago I had the enormous pleasure of participating in the Harlequin Customer Service Representative Appreciation day. It was a fascinating day, meeting the customer service representatives and touring the Harlequin distribution center.

First thing I saw when I pulled in? Geese. Okay, that wasn't interesting. But the very next thing I saw was an eighteen-wheeler with the Harlequin logo on the side. That was totally cool. Too bad I forgot to take a picture. Next time.

When I met with the customer service representatives I was delighted to bring them gifts. Thanks to the generosity of the other Superromance authors, I had piles of signed books, bookmarks, pens, and other small presents. I'd also collected signed book covers and made them into a collage thank you card.

Sorry about the flash on the glass.



Meeting the representatives was fascinating. They deal with a lot of interesting questions. I was intrigued by how much really personal service these folks provide. It made me want to call them up after I got home just to chat about books. ;-)

After the luncheon, I had a tour of the distribution center.

Warning: The rest of this post includes extreme book geekery. If your idea of heaven on earth is a bookstore, read on. The rest of you are going to be bored.

Harlequin has a short-run press in the facility that they use for *wait for it* printing short runs of books. Sometimes reprints, sometimes advance reader copies. Lots of different applications.

Here's some paper waiting to go on the press. (I did warn you about the book geek thing, right?)



My book geek soul was on fire when I took this photo. It's an actual book being printed. Sweet! You wouldn't believe how fast and intricate the process is--these long rolls get printed, folded, cut, and turned into a book in a few seconds.



Serendipity! I actually know the author whose book was being printed. Hello Maggie Shayne's book on the press!



After the books are printed and bound, the covers are glued on, and then they go up this conveyor belt to the machine that chops the edges off clean. (I'm sensing a Mr. Rogers vibe here.)



Want to know what's inside the book warehouse? Books! See?

Well, actually those are mostly boxes that the books are going to go into.

Here are books.



Finally, a close up of the very best kind of books. Superromance! This picture shows some of the June Supers. This is just one small portion of the copies of these particular books. These pallets were destined for K-Mart, I think.



That's it. Tour is over, folks. Now if anybody asks you where books come from, you know where to send them!

Cheers,
Ellen

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Questions No One Ever Asked

I’m a technical writer. That means I write FAQs. Did you know that FAQ stands for Frequently Asked Questions? I bet you did.

Did you also know that most FAQs are made up by technical writers and have nothing to do with actual questions anyone has ever asked? Yep. It’s like writing fiction, except about bytes and bandwidth and passwords. And also the FAQs are nonfiction. Usually.

Anyway, I’ve decided to do an FAQ for His Secret Past.
  1. The lead character’s name is Mason Star and he’s a rock star. Weren’t you trying too hard with the name?

    Excellent question. Yes. Of course, I was trying too hard. My sister told me it was cheap. My editor told me it was cheap. My critique group told me it was cheap. But I am a sucker for a cheap name. So pulling from my bag of tricks, I wrote fictional backstory for the name, blaming it all on the parents. (Because in fiction, as in real life, it’s the parents’ fault.) Mason’s mom was a stripper who changed her name legally to Sierra Star. So he can’t help it that his name is cheesy.

  2. Did you ever play that game where you make a stripper name for yourself out of the name of your first pet and the name of the street you lived on when you were a kid?

    No.
    Signed,
    Dusty Monastery

  3. I have the same problems with my golf game that Mason has. If I follow Anna’s advice will my swing improve?

    Umm. No. And also you’ll probably get kicked off the course. Even your more reputable miniature golf courses aren’t going to stand for that kind of carrying on. I recommend instead, that you do what I did when I realized my golf game stinks. Retire. You get to spend more time in the clubhouse that way, and the clubhouse is where they keep the gin and the pretzels.

  4. On the cover of His Secret Past, Mason is wearing a tuxedo but he’s at the beach. Who wears a tuxedo to the beach?

    Sigh. He’s at a wedding. Those are tables behind him, not sand dunes.

  5. On the cover of His Secret Past, Mason is wearing a tuxedo and there is sand all over the tables behind him. Was there a dust storm or did the bride actually have “sand” as her wedding color?

    Next!

  6. Did you have to pay Rob Lowe a lot of money to pose for the cover?

    Okay, you know what? I thought this was going to be a serious discussion. Who’s asking these questions anyway?


Any questions?

Ellen

Monday, April 14, 2008

Book Trailer

My friend, Diana Holquist, makes funny book trailers.

A book trailer is like a movie trailer, except with a really, really, really low budget and no actors. The exception to this is the trailer for a book written by Dennis Hopper's daughter. Watching it I learned that industry connections go a long way toward improving the look and feel of the trailer. Where are my movie star relatives when I need them?

Note: Because I'm petty that way I'm not posting the title of that book or the author's name because who wants to advertise the competition? But if you did happen to go to Amazon and search for "celebutantes" you might find it.

Anyway. If you'd like to see MY no budget, cheesy music, cut and paste 'cause we can't afford actors trailer, click here. What we lack in funding, we make up for in wit. Or in hot, hot men. Take your pick.





P.S. Okay. Fine. Whatever. I'm not that petty. Here's the link to the other trailer. It's not that great, right? So it has real actors. Pffft. I don't see a towel or a tux. But is that Taylor Townsend??!!?

Ellen

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Why I Write

I write because it’s tidy.

No, not the process. The process sucks.

The writing process is a horrendous disaster involving way too many stimulants (all unhealthy although not, in my case, illegal), way too little sleep, and way too much self-doubt and bad temper. (Plus a little euphoria but I’m on a woe-is-me kick here so I won’t be admitting to that.)

The tidiness comes in when I take life--big scrambles of human emotion and chaos--and sort it out on paper. I write romances, so my books have happy endings. The villains get theirs, the hero and heroine get some, and my psyche is at peace knowing that these people, the fictional ones, will do what I tell them when I tell them to do it.

Non-fictional people do not respond to me in this way. They persist in leading their own messy lives, making bad decisions, living with ambiguity, and even, at times, settling for settling instead of striving for their Happily Ever After. Blech. Who wants to spend their time with people like that?

(Note: I’m not, of course, speaking of any of the actual real people in my life. These are just, you know, hypothetical real people. The people in my life are so healthily well-adjusted and serene it’s freakish. Hi, Anne!)

The made-up people follow the three-act structure. They’re not only familiar with the hero’s journey, they live it, in perfect structural order, every time. When I provide the fictional people with a brilliant insight into their motivations, for example, “You can’t commit because your mom screwed you up when she left home in 1979,” they not only get what I’m saying, they change accordingly. Their fictional black moments end after a reasonable amount of time, instead of stretching on for years or decades or entire lifetimes.

Maybe if I were able to get myself a job as the dictator of a mid-sized nation I would give up writing. Dictators no doubt get a lot of opportunities to tidy the lives of real people—for example, they can dictate that today is National Confront Your Insecurities Day and next Wednesday is National Stop Dating The Wrong Guy Day.

But until that happy time when I manage to seize power, and as long as real life remains sticky, ambiguous, and full of people who don’t do as I tell them to do, I’ll write.

And I’ll be happy while I’m doing it.

(Had to get that happily ever after in there.)

The End.

If you write, why do you do it?

Ellen

(This post was inspired by the blog, "Why We Write."

Friday, March 21, 2008

I'm Banning Words Today!

In romance circles there are periodic kerfuffles about offensive language, themes, descriptions, and situations. I have always believed that it’s a big world out there and we should all just find something we do enjoy and ignore the other stuff. Who am I to tell you what words to write or read?

So open-minded, right?

Except…I decided I do care. And I also decided that I’m in charge. There are words that are offensive to me and I want them banned right now.

Except...(another exception already? I suck at fanaticism)...I’m too lazy to figure out how to get things banned through official channels and I don’t really like petitions, besides, would I have to walk to all your houses to gather signatures? I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

So this is a list of words I will forthwith cease and desist from employing in speech or written expression both professional and personal. (That’s a little petition language in case I do decide to come around your neighborhoods with a clipboard.) Please do feel free to join me in the bannage, though, ‘cause a protest is always more fun with a group.

You're Outta Here!

Ping: When used to mean you’ve contacted or attempted to contact another human being. Example: Did you ping Roy about the meeting on Friday?
Acceptable exceptions: Ping pong, ping pong table, and when discussing Ping the Duck.

Euphemisms for erection: Sorry. There’s just no way to describe that little (or not) piece of physical business without using the proper name. Euphemisms including arousal, length, and heat all make me laugh. Not the desired response, especially not in that important moment.
Acceptable exceptions: Anything goes if you’re writing on the walls of a public restroom. Also, if you’re under the age of twelve and can’t say erection without giggling, I’ll give you a pass; everyone else, let’s grow up!

Hopefully: We’ve had enough chances and we keep getting it wrong. This morning I used it incorrectly for possibly the first time since Sister Raymond explained it to me back in sixth grade. Therefore…BANNED!
Acceptable exceptions: None. Hopefully (insidious, isn’t it?), this one can be released in a few hundred years once the improper use has died out completely. I guess if you're one of those people who aren't bothered by this one, you can use it. I can't because then I hear Sister Raymond bellowing about slouching and sloth and other bad habits of poor grammarians. (I am such a bad fanatic.)

Podcast: This goes in the banned-on-account-of-being-unnecessarily-complicated category. You know what a podcast is? It’s a recorded audio file you listen to online. Why was a new word invented when we already had interview and audio and sound and about a million straightforward ways to describe this thing without the techno-babble?
Acceptable exceptions: Allowable only in the inverted form, as when discussing shelled peas thus, “I cast the pod in the compost bin.”

All right. That’s enough for today. I need to start googling Government+banned+Words+ellen+hates+Language+reformation+Starts+Now. Anybody want to toss a few more words on the scrap heap while I’m doing my homework?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Excerpt: His Secret Past

One Night Changed His Life Forever
Mason Star spent his teens living the fast life on the road with his band. Tragedy struck one rainy night when his tour bus crashed and a young fan was killed. Fifteen years later, Mason is struggling with his own teenage son who wants to quit high school and with the local zoning board that wants to take his home.
Anna Walsh may be able to save his bacon but she just might ruin his life in the process.

Mason went back toward where he’d parked his black Pontiac Firebird. It was the last thing remaining of his rough living Jersey boy days—he’d never been able to trade it in for a Subaru. He rested the poster display on the hood while he leaned on the car, patting the pockets of the suit jacket he’d worn in the hopes it would make him seem trustworthy. He might as well have worn camo.

Just when he pulled out a pack of Marlboros and his silver lighter, a breeze kicked up and he turned his shoulder as he put a cigarette in his mouth and flicked the lighter. He dragged the smoke deep into his lungs and held it there, eyes closed, feeling the burn and savoring the scent.

“Smoking’s not good for you.”

Mason startled, releasing the smoke before he was ready. A woman was standing in front of him. He’d been so absorbed that he hadn’t heard her come up. She was about Stephanie’s height, a little less than shoulder high, but that was the only thing the two had in common.

Where Stephanie was all neatly contained planes, this woman curved and swerved. Her light brown, gently curling hair was streaked liberally with dark gold and tumbled down her neck with smaller curls springing around her face. Her eyes, golden brown with a dark circle around the iris, tilted at the corners, contrasting exotically with her small, slightly upturned nose. He thought he’d recognize her if she was from the neighborhood—the way she filled her jeans was hard to overlook—but he’d better be civil on the chance she was one of them.

“I only take the one drag a day.”

“What?” The woman’s eyes widened in surprise and her expression was almost studious, like she was taking notes. She shoved quickly at the soft curls the wind had blown into her face, twisting and pushing them behind her ear. Mason caught the flash of chunky silver rings on slender fingers as her deft hands quickly and decisively tamed the curls. Woman 1, Wind 0.

“One drag,” Mason said. “I kicked the habit but I miss it. The smell of it, the taste, the fire.” He flipped the top of the lighter back and flicked the wheel, smiling at her through the flame. “If the day really sucks, I take two drags.”

He took a second long drag and then carefully ground the cigarette out on the edge of the trashcan next to the Firebird before tossing it in. “Haven’t had to take three yet, though.”

The woman studied him intently, seemingly unconcerned that he had no idea who the hell she was. He thought he’d have remembered her if they’d met before. And okay, she was round and sexy with her curvy hips and the black v-neck T-shirt shaping itself to her, but he didn’t pick up strangers on the street. He grabbed the display, intending to cut this encounter. She could be an old fan—that still happened, someone recognized him and approached. But this woman with her sharp, studying gaze didn’t seem awestruck like a fan.

“One drag,” she said. “That’s a fascinating detail. Weird and oddly masochistic, but fascinating.” She stuck her hand out. “Anna Walsh. Good to finally meet you, Mr. Star.”

Ambush number three. Suddenly that third drag wasn’t so far out of the question.



Copyright © 2000-2007 Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Meet Cute--What's Your Story?

How'd you meet your honey?

I'm in the mood for some romantic stories. (Or funny ones. Or weird ones. Or sad ones with a happy ending. Or just, you know, whatever you have. Your story.)

Here's mine: New Year's Eve, early 1990s... I'd be more specific but I suck at dates. I honestly can't remember what year I met my husband. I'm sooo not a satisfactory spouse....

My best friend was dating a guy who was friends with a guy on whom I'd had a massive crush in high school. (My hometown is like that.) We'll call my crush FBIL. (This acronym makes sense. I promise.) So my friend told me she'd set me up with FBIL (pronounced Fibill) as my date to this fancy party we were going to.

I got dollied up. I had a new dress I'd bought for my company holiday party. A new hair cut I'd gotten for the same occasion. I was also newly free of my most recent odious boyfriend and ready to celebrate with a no strings New Year's Eve good time.

I went to the party with my friend who swore FBIL was meeting us there. I waited. Had a gin and tonic. Danced with some people I knew from high school. Waited some more. Eventually even someone as optimistic as me could tell FBIL had decided to blow me off.

Then my friend came screeching up to deliver the bad news/good news. Bad news? FBIL was, indeed, a no show. Good news? His younger brother had come instead. She pointed. I looked. That, my friends, was that.

Of course, it wasn't exactly that. He took some convincing. I employed wiles. I had to work the dress and ply him with strong drink and invoke the "you must kiss the person next to you at midnight" rule. But in the end I won.

We dated cross-country (Seattle to Hoboken) for a year or so. I proposed. He was startled into a yes. We got married and he's still not quite sure what hit him.

I know exactly what hit me. It was love at first sight. He is my New Year's prince and always will be. Sweetest guy in the world. Charming and poised. A very hot dancer. Deeply, subversively funny. Kind, kind, kind, and always thoughtful. Generous. Stylish. Patient. I definitely lucked out that night.

So that's my "meet cute." What's yours?

(FYI: FBIL = Future Brother-in-Law. As an in-law, he's just right. As a date, we wouldn't have made it past 9:00.)

Ellen

Monday, January 7, 2008

2008 Reading Challenge--What's on Your List?

My friend, Diana Holquist, posted a reading challenge on her blog. I decided to take her up on it. The idea is that you post 12 books you're planning to read in 2008. She posted all romance, I'm not doing that because my romance choices tend to be based on my mood--I can't plan ahead!

I'm also joining the 100,000 Book Challenge at eHarlequin. If the participants read 100,000 books in 2008, Harlequin will donate 100,000 books to a charity. Sounds pretty nice! The "rules" say you should try to read 100 books, you have to keep a blog about them, and 50% should be published by Harlequin. I was a perennial participant in the summer read-a-thons at my neighborhood library when I was a kid so I hope I'll be able to keep up with this challenge.

Here are the 12 books I've preselected.

1. Choke by Chuck Palahniuk -- I LOVE his books.

2. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman -- My mom gave it to me and she'll keep asking until I read it. Also, it looks great.

3. The first Hightower book by Gwyneth Bolton -- Have you seen the "inspirational" photos she used? Hummina!

4. The Brother Returns by Jeannie Watt -- I loved The Horseman's Secret. Plus! Brothers!!!

5. Independence Day by Richard Ford -- Do I have to say why?

6. Outlander by Diana Gaboldon -- My friend Diana had it on her list, I've always wanted to read it, and we can discuss it while relaxing with a drink at RWA. (Let's hope we've both read it by then.)

7. Whatever people recommend by J.R. Ward -- I have to find out what the buzz is about.

8. Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips -- I read this at least once every six months

9. The March Super Romances -- Baby Month!

10. Something by Kimberly Van Meter -- I'm dying to read one of hers. (Not sure which one I'll get my hands on first...)

11. Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay -- I've loved every book he ever wrote. Just waiting for the paperback.

12. The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle -- I read about this one on the Amazon "Best of 2007" and it sounds up my alley--it's a YA about a motherless girl and a taciturn dad.

What books are you going to read this year?

Peace,
Ellen

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Rock Stars and Romance, Why Not?

When I started writing romance, I memorized the "rules."

1. Do write a happy ending.
2. Don't confuse a misunderstanding with dramatic tension.
3. Do make your characters honorable even when they're doing bad things.
4. Don't, under any circumstances, write about a rock star.

Oops.

[/whiny voice on] I couldn't help myself. [/whiny voice off] This guy showed up in my brain one day and he was a rock star. He just was. And I had to write about him, despite the romance rule that says rock stars don't sell. Because he was hot and funny and really wounded by life. Oh, dear.

So I wrote His Secret Past and I like it and Harlequin said they'll publish it and I'm glad. Because I don't get it, what's not to love about a man with a guitar? Close your eyes for a minute and imagine your favorite rock guy. (If any of you are seeing a member of KISS, please close the blog and back away slowly until you can think of a more appropriate image.) Aren't the rock guys hot?

Faith Hill could pretty much get anybody and she picked Tim, right? Tim's a rock star and I'd read a book about him. Honest. I wouldn't just look at the pictures.

Watch the video for "The Cowboy in Me." I dare you not to approve her choice. (Yes, I'm aware of all the potential dont's involved with Tim McGraw, including the facial hair, the hat/tank top combo, the hat on its own, and the too-tight jeans. It doesn't matter. He's TIM. He's breaking the rules just like me. How very rock and roll of us.)

I'm perplexed about why this is the one profession that's off limits for romance. I mean, if you took a perfectly ordinary looking guy, draped a guitar around his neck, pointed a spotlight at him, and played the opening of "Sweet Child O' Mine" behind him, his attractiveness would sky rocket. I know this because I tried it with my own husband earlier tonight. Except the spotlight part, because that would be weird.) If you have a man and a guitar and some Guns 'n Roses tracks, test it yourself. Do a before and after. See what I mean?

I'm going to rewrite the romance rules. Rock is now in and the following professions are out:
1. […]

Huh. I'll have to get back to you because I'm having trouble thinking of something that wouldn't be sexy under the right circumstances. It's a big world. There's room for a rock star romance. Right?

Questions for you: Why do you think this taboo exists? And, on a completely shallow note, who is the sexiest rock star you know? (Video and/or photographic evidence is always welcome.)