Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Guest Post by KD James

Hi, my name is KD James and I signed up to guest post so I could get frisked by Joe and Barry. Apparently, I misunderstood. Damn it. So instead, I decided to inject a wee bit of levity and some much needed brevity over here.

I'm going to tell you a story. No, not fiction, this is a true story. Mostly. Relax, I've got this. It's what I do.

When I first started reading fiction for pleasure, voraciously, I was hooked on spy novels. Before that, the fiction I'd read was mostly for school. So my experience was that most writers were either dead or men. Usually both. Not that I'd really thought about it, but I wouldn't have said "writer" was something a person could be, or that writing fiction was an actual career choice. I was . . . so young.

Then I discovered romance novels. Oh, all that delicious emotion. I couldn't get enough of those either -- what can I say, I love to read -- and eventually decided to try to write one. A historical romance novel. With pirates! I mentioned this to a journalist friend and, being a professional writer, instead of laughing she gave me a list of resources that included Romance Writers of America (RWA). She'd penciled in a note, "I don't know much about them."

I was busy with typical demands: job, husband, two kids, relocation, new job. Dog, cat, laundry, hamsters. An iguana. And I sort of abandoned the novel when I realized I was going to have to do some actual research. Pirate research, but still.

Years passed. I started a different novel (no pirates!), a contemporary novel (no history!), but suspected I needed . . . guidance. So I dug out my old notes and looked up RWA and discovered there was a chapter in my city, called Heart of Carolina Romance Writers (HCRW). I decided to attend a meeting.

I've never told anyone this, but I sort of expected it would be a handful of women who liked to read novels and got together once a month to talk about maybe writing one, someday. You know, women like me. I had very low expectations. Of them and of myself.

I was surprised there were so many people at the meeting, maybe 25 or 30. They were wearing nametags, which I thought was very organized of them. I'm horrible with names, but I read them anyway. One of them said: Sabrina Jeffries. I about passed out from shock.

Maybe some of you don't know who Sabrina Jeffries is. And that's okay, because maybe you don't read romance. She's a NYT bestselling author of historical romance and has been, consistently, for years. I'd read all of her books. I was awestruck.

Apparently there were a few other first time attendees because, as we sat down in chairs arranged in a big circle, the person in charge suggested we take turns introducing ourselves, telling what we were writing.

One after the other, these women (they were all women that day, although there are men in the chapter) told us what subgenre of romance they wrote and, if applicable, for which publisher. Roughly half of them were published and every single one of them was serious about writing as a career.

When it was my turn, I stammered something about being so new at it that I had no idea what genre I was writing. They all smiled and someone said, "Don't worry, we'll help you figure it out." Clearly, they didn't realize what a chore that would turn out to be.

It's a vast understatement to say my preconceptions about RWA in general, and HCRW in particular, went through a bit of a transformation that day. Attending that meeting changed everything for me as a writer. Everything.

Now, I'm a long time reader over here so I know Joe is a proponent of just doing it, of putting your work out there, no hesitation, and taking a chance. And I agree. To a point. Because I'm also a proponent of learning a few basics about how to write before you inflict your stories on others. The writer I was then? Oh dear god.

I was so clueless, I knew nothing about plot or story structure or character arcs. Certainly knew nothing about goal, motivation and conflict. I'd never heard those terms used in the context of writing. I didn't even know that a manuscript should be double-spaced.

But I learned. I continued to write, thousands and thousands of words in various formats, and I paid attention.

I learned about point-of-view and the evils of head hopping from Virginia Kantra. I got tips from Emilie Rose about how to evoke emotion in a scene. I learned more about language and its usage from Sarah Winn than I ever learned in any classroom.

I first heard about character charts and enneagrams from Sabrina Jeffries (even though I don't use them), and when I carpooled with her to RWA National in Atlanta several years ago, during the drive I got what amounted to a master class on the ins-and-outs of traditional publishing.

I also learned how to kidnap a RITA statuette on that trip, but that's a whole other story.

I first learned about blogs from Sonja Foust, who mentioned the Crusie/Mayer "He Wrote, She Wrote" blog, which led to . . . all sorts of nonsense, but also learning. As well as some lasting friendships. When Alex Sokoloff lived here and was a chapter member, she told me about Murderati -- damn, I miss Murderati -- and from there I discovered Konrath's blog. Where I learned even more.

I'm still learning.

In fact, I recently took a fantastic online class from Sarra Cannon (HCRW offers online classes every month, everyone is welcome) and learned things about self-publishing I hadn't even realized I didn't know. And I've done it twice now. No, not that. Geez. Self-published a book. Twice.

And then there's Bob Mayer, who was a chapter member when he lived in NC, briefly. But I've been paying attention to his writing and publishing advice for . . . well, seems like forever. I think the most important thing I've learned from Bob is that, no matter what the disaster, whether natural or man-made, I will undoubtedly be the first to die. Preparation is key. I've updated my Will.

I could list many more examples, but I promised brevity--- wait, you all didn't actually believe that, did you? Over here?

Mostly what I learned is that HCRW is comprised of the most supportive, intelligent, funny, wise and unstintingly generous group of professionals I've ever known. They're remarkably talented teachers, as well as gifted writers. Of course, what I've done with all that knowledge is totally not their fault. But they have influenced, directly or indirectly, every single aspect of my writing career. They taught me that not only was writing something one could do as a career, but that I could do it.

So when the chapter asked for contributions to an anthology of writing advice, to be published with all proceeds benefiting the chapter, I didn't hesitate. Okay fine, that's not true. I not only hesitated, I deleted the email. Who am I to give anyone writing advice?

But Mari Freeman was in charge and, even though she's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, that woman is persistent as hell. She said they wanted perspective from writers at all stages of the process. There might have been threats of torture. Maybe even actual torture. We might need a clearer definition.

So I scrounged up a couple posts from my blog that I thought wouldn't do too much damage if anyone took them seriously and asked whether she wanted to use one of them. She said, "We'll use both. But could you make the second one longer?"

Mari has the distinction of being the only person, ever, to ask me to add words. To anything.

So, fair warning. I have two pieces of writing "advice" in the anthology. But, you know, that's the great thing about advice--- if it doesn't work for you, you can just ignore it.

Perhaps you, too, want to learn something from the writers I mentioned. They're among the many who contributed to this anthology. There are 40 articles altogether, all generously donated, by people who know a lot more about writing and have far more experience than I do. Mari did a great job compiling and organizing and not killing anyone, and the anthology is titled Heart of the Matter. Which, as Barry might attest, is a great title. Ahem.

It took me a while to get around to it, but I have now read the entire thing and can recommend it without hesitation. It begins with some pretty basic stuff and gets more advanced as it goes along. Promoting this anthology is a pleasure as there really is sound advice for every stage of a writing career, regardless of publishing preference, whether that career is writing romance or some other genre.

Good writing is good writing, and good advice is invaluable. Or, in this case, it's $2.99. You can buy it here:

AMZ | BN | Smashwords

I wasn't going to tout my own work, because it just feels weird. Plus, I'm not sure the people who like Joe's books and read this blog are the right audience for a short contemporary trapped-in-a-mountain-cabin-during-a-snowstorm type of romance novella. But then I figured, what the hell, I read this blog and I like that kind of story.

Maybe some of you will too:

AMZ | BN | Smashwords

By the way, if you haven't donated to Alzheimer's research, contributions of any amount will continue to make a difference until they find a cure. Sadly, for too many people, they haven't. Yet. Please help if you are able to do so.

Thanks for sharing your blog-space, Joe. You owe me a fisking.

KD James


KD James said...

*snort* You changed the last word from frisking to fisking. Joe, you're too funny. Okay, you can fisk me instead. I'll have to think up something controversial to say some other time. I'm on my best behaviour here today. ;-)

David L. Shutter said...

Ms. James

This was a wonderful story of how an aspiring writer, with the help of a supportive and caring community, was able to achieve her goals and is now giving back.

Normally, to get "fisked", you have to make a wholly self-serving statement that grossly clouds facts and logic, often though circumstantial evidence, distraction or deflection of truth and though emotional string pulling, to support a larger agenda which, often, is also clouded by the focus of the statement.

Basically, you need a giant pile of bullshit aimed somewhere else which somehow benefits you.

Sorry, but there's not a whole lot to fisk here. :)

Christine said...

I loved your post, KD, and am still laughing over this line: "Before that, the fiction I'd read was mostly for school. So my experience was that most writers were either dead or men." :)

Thanks for an inspiring post this morning--I look forward to reading your advice in the anthology.

Keziah Fenton said...

Your best behaviour? How boring and so unlike you.

The more I learn about writing, the more I realize I need to learn. But one thing that cannot be taught is Voice - and yours is strong, honest and clear.

John Ellsworth said...

All right, KD, I bought the book. Rationale is that, while I write so-called legal thrillers, you romance people sell so many books that your how-to can only help me. Thanks for the post!

Hannah Meredith said...

Great post, KD. I’m also a member of HCRW and cannot say enough about the excellent help and advice that’s available there. I’d recommend checking out the local RWA chapter to anyone who is serious about learning his craft—and this is regardless of genre. Good writing is good writing, and it’s smart to take advantage of any forum that can help you improve.

The Merry said...

Fine. Just fine. Now I'll have to buy both books. I enjoy your writing.

McB said...

It's just sad that I have to visit somebody else's blog to read something new from you, KDJ, just saying.

"which led to . . . all sorts of nonsense"

heh heh heh. But, seriously, the He Wrote/She Wrote blog was chock full of great writing advice, and even useful for us readers.

KD James said...

Thanks for the kind words, David (and I was kidding about the fisking-- sometimes my sense of humour is too dry).

Glad you got a laugh out of it, Christine. That was the intention.

John, hope you find it helpful! Believe me, I've also learned a lot from thriller writers. We're not so different when it comes to basics.

Hi, Meredith! *waves*

Keziah and Merry and McB, I love you guys. Thanks.

Bardic said...

KD - We REALLY need to hear the story of stealing a Rita statuette. :) I had the pleasure of meeting the real Rita in Houston at a restaurant. We started off talking business over a glass of wine, and it turned to writing. Wonderful lady.

KD James said...

Ooops, sorry Hannah. Every time I see your name, I want to call you Meredith. My bad.

Nonono, Bardic. We didn't *steal* her. We just took her on a little, um, adventure. And held her for ransom. All perfectly innocent. I think, instead, you should tell the story of meeting the real Rita. Lucky you!

Jill James said...

KD, I always love to hear how people discovered RWA. It opened a whole new world to me. To meet other people who hear voices in their heads who think that is okay. To learn so much from so many for so little is amazing all on its own.

Alexander Mori said...

Love the post, KD! It's so easy for newbies (like myself) to focus so much on how to be published, how to have our stories read that we skip the most important step, which is how to effectively tell a story with good writing. Glad to see that you got support from RWA, and even more glad you shared it with me!

I will be picking up the anthology, and will be looking for your historical, pirate romance when it is finished!

KD James said...

Thanks, Alexander, I hope the anthology contains some advice you can use in your writing. I suspect the pirate book is best left in dusty obscurity on the old hard drive. But my latest, A Place to Start, features a guy with a charming Scottish accent, if that's a fair substitute-- *I* like him better than the pirate, anyway.

Jill, knowing and learning from other writers really has made such a huge difference. It's funny though, I have so many books on my shelves that were written by people I actually know, my kids now think it's no big deal to write a book.

Bardic said...

KD - I was actually at the bar of an Outback Steakhouse eating dinner. (Being a bachelor, I much prefer chatting up people at the bar over dinner, rather than sitting alone at a table. You get to meet interesting characters that way.) If I recall correctly, Rita was drinking La Crema Pinot next to me, and I commented that it was a rather good wine for the price. She agreed, and offered me a glass, which I politely refused at first, but she insisted, so we ended up drinking wine together. I asked what she did for a living, and she told me about contract work that she does from time to time. After giving me all kinds on interesting insight into her day job (which I won't reveal, as I don't know if it's private), I asked what she did in her spare time, and that was when she told me about being a Romance writer, and former head of the RWA. Of course, I told her about working on my own novel, and proceeded to ask about her experiences. She was very friendly and open, and gave me her business card. If you ever have the opportunity to meet her, definitely try to have dinner or a glass of wine with her, she's a fascinating and lovely lady.

Anonymous said...

KD - I enjoyed "A Place to Start" as well as this blog post. Thanks for sharing. I've found lots of great books and stories to read from links and blog snippets

I'm not a fiction writer, but I know someone that is dabbling (her word, not mine) and I'll recommend the anthology to her.


KD James said...

Hi, MinO, good to see you over here! I hope your friend enjoys the anthology, even if she does think she's just "dabbling." (Tell her, from me, the best thing she can do is to tell herself and others that she's writing!)

Thanks for that, Bardic. Sounds like both she and you are lovely and interesting people. I'd be happy for the opportunity to share a meal with either of you.

JA Konrath said...

*snort* You changed the last word from frisking to fisking. Joe, you're too funny.

Mrs. Konrath prefers I fisk.

KD James said...

Mrs. Konrath is a wise woman.

Seriously, since I'm pretty much a hermit these days and almost never leave the house, and given that I never, ever say anything even the least bit controversial [ahem], it's highly unlikely there will be any frisking or fisking going on in my life.

I'll just have to add it to my fiction.

Theresa said...

Nonsense?!? I'm sure I know not of what you speak!

Oh, and next book done yet? Well? We're waiting!

KD James said...

Yes, Theresa, I know exactly how quietly and patiently you all are waiting. It occurs to me that probably I should password-protect my laptop before you get here next week...

me said...

I, too, am continually learning. For instance, I just now had to look up the meaning of "fisking." I must say, I am both relieved and somewhat disappointed.

Looking forward to reading this and learning even more.

Unknown said...

You had me at "pirates" ...

w.adam mandelbaum said...

It's a balance of Fisk vs. reward. In olden times it was referred to as physque. Better to light a kindle than curse the darkness. Or as Marcel Marceau once said if you got the mime I got the place. It is a constitutional right to free associate. And there it is. In other words, the above would not be.

KD James said...

Stephan, I confess that I'm a bit surprised by this purported interest in pirate stories. I was expecting more of a "good choice, abandoning that novel" reaction. Maybe I should re-think that decision...

ME, I'm always learning too. Unfortunately, some of my biggest lightbulb moments come immediately after I hit that "publish" button. *sigh*

Adam, your comment cracked me up. Thank you. Very clever wordplay.

Paul Zante said...

Hi, thank you for this post. The only problem I find with the book on Amazon (when looking inside) is that it states it's a Smashwords edition.

JAClement said...

Pirates! Do the pirate one! ;D

Great blog, KD. I'm more a fan of pirates than romance for the most part(once persuaded 300 strangers to dress up as pirates for a comedy night) but you have a great writing style so I'm open to being persuaded otherwise.

The anthology also sounds really useful. I've been self-pubbing for a while and am a firm believer in honing the skills wherever possible, so will be interested to read it. Off to purchase now!

(And KD, I misread "fisking" every time, but not sure if that's English slang or just my dirty mind...heheheheh.)
Nice to meet you!

adan said...

KD, very much enjoyed the post and thoughts and humor ;-)

Appreciate the links, and am getting Heart of the Matter, sounds like fun & useful to read.


Linda Watson said...

KD, terrific post! I too was surprised and delighted when I started coming to HCRW. I was used to going to meetings with food writers, who talk a lot about food and writing recipes but very little about the business of being a successful writer. How marvelous to find a group so willing to share ideas for researching Regency bodices and for making a living as a professional writer. Thanks for contributing to the anthology and to the community!

Carol A. Strickland said...

When midlife hit me (and it hit HARD), I started writing after a 30-year lapse. I wrote a book that must have been 500,000 words, and when I got done, I groaned. "Oh my god, it's a romance."

Well, it was. And I still loved it. I'd never read romance (Okay, I'd read "The Flame and the Flower" long ago and hadn't been impressed by all the rapiness), but I'd heard about RWA. I found our local chapter—HCRW, yay!—and joined. And learned about romance, but mostly about writing. Here I thought that since I read so much, I automatically knew how to write. HCRW had workshops out the wazoo, helpful members, access to more workshops...

A publisher offered to buy one of my books. Whoa!

And then self-publishing started to go legit, and Sarra Cannon offered her mind-blowing workshops. (She also offers these online, so you can take them as well.) I can now proudly say that by the end of this year I'll have six novels out that have been professionally produced in all ways, but self-published. They all aren't "proper" romances, but they have romance elements, like any good book. (Well, I think that's a "must-have.") I love to write, I love my books, and I love HCRW.

I'd also love it if people bought that anthology. I'm in it, but I don't get $$ from sales. Proceeds go to support our chapter (and those workshops!).

Walter Knight said...

You have an iguana?

My Aunt Marge was abducted by an iguana hiding in the barn.

I think the iguana is really an alien, but I do not know for sure. It is really a good liar. We thought that Marge was the liar, always cracking those jokes about a talking lizard in her backyard and a spaceship in her barn. It turns out she kept a straight face because she was not joking.

When she disappeared, I flew out to see if I could find anything. I have always been good about finding things, but finding Aunt Marge has been real hard. I have not found her yet, but I figured I would write all this down. Better if I did it all right away. I keep a note pad by my bed.

It could really be aliens who got her, because of the spaceship in the barn and all the oil stains on the grass. I asked the police to test for radiation, but they were too busy. I suspect the police might not have an open mind about aliens. I think either the aliens left in the spaceship, or the iguana ate her.

So, I would like some advice: if I eat the iguana, is it cannibalism?

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Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Thanks for sharing, KD! Years ago I bought an RWA book full of great advice and anecdotes from Romance writers. I've never written romance, but I learned a LOT from that book. Maybe it was the Romance Bible?

In any case, great organization. And at BEA they tend to bring along a couple of cover models. Whom I wouldn't mind *frisking* at all.

Appreciate your post, and Joe, who is still giving back in connection with the Alzheimer's fundraising efforts.

Hairhead said...

Joe: check out Neil Gaiman's reaction to the Amazon/Hachette mess at http://www.salon.com/2014/06/11/neil_gaiman_i%E2%80%99m_obviously_pissed_at_amazon/?source=newsletter

KD James said...

Again with the pirates, JAC? I think I've figured out how to get guys to read romance. And I'm with you on mis-reading the fisking. The first time it was mentioned I was all, "You're going to do what?! Oh, that's a K. Never mind."

Thanks, Adan. I hope it's helpful. Or at least entertaining.

Hi Linda! Hi, Carol! Good to see you over here. We are indeed lucky that HCRW is such a great group of professionals.

Paul, I'm not sure, since I wasn't in charge of it, but it's possible we uploaded the book through Smashwords for distribution to AMZ and BN, rather than directly to each of those sites. Smashwords has a requirement that books contain that phrase. Free advertising, maybe?

Patrice, yes, the organization and volunteer effort that goes into RWA is phenomenal. Such a wealth of information about the craft and the business of writing.

KD James said...

Walter, have you been drinking? If not, maybe you should consider it? Clearly, with that imagination, you're a writer.

We did have an iguana. You know that game at the State Fair where you toss a ball at a bunch of glass jars, only the ball is bigger than the opening of the jars and no one ever wins... my son won. Ball went in on the first try. He could have gotten ride tickets, but no, he wanted one of the little baby iguanas. It was sort of cute when it was little. Then it got big and scaly and it was mean.

One day the kids decided the iguana might like some fresh air (I wasn't home at the time) and carried his aquarium outside and put it in the sun. Where there was no shade. By the time their dad realized what they'd done... well, that was the end of poor Gort.

Gort only ever ate kale, back before it was trendy to do so. Quite the stylish fellow. So if your iguana did indeed eat Aunt Marge, I'd say that's a pretty good indication that it must be an alien. On the other hand, if your iguana is as mean and ugly as Gort was, I suspect your aunt had good cause to run away from home. I certainly considered it. I suggest looking for her in places where there are pirates.

Peter Spenser said...

Thanks for the info, K.D. I wish you lived close by so we could “do lunch” and swap advice and stories.

I think that every genre author (and reader, for that matter) has to suffer the condescension of people who do not “get” what the fascination is. It’s not just for Romance books, but also Cozy Mysteries, Science Fiction, Police Procedurals, Spy Thrillers, etc. For all of them, each of which has legions of fans, there are others who go, “What is it? I don’t get what it is with that crap!”

Romances, though, I think are special, because the stories that they tell touch all of us to some degree. The best of the well-written Romances are as good as any writing out there. Two of my all-time favorite books—of any type—are Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen, and Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor, both Historicals. Or how about Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, which won the Pulitzer Prize. If you want something more modern, there is Love Story by Eric Segal, or The Mulberry Tree by Jude Deveraux, or Mark of the Loon by Molly Greene (a self-published novel that rivals anything that BigPub has ever put out).

The millions of readers, including myself, who have enjoyed all of these books have been drawn in by the stories of the people in them, the interpersonal relationships that blossom, flower… and, yes, sometimes die… over the course of the story, just as in real life.

Maybe that’s what Romance stories are: personal stories. Maybe that’s why we love them so much.

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KD James said...

Aww, Peter, what a lovely thing to say. I have no doubt whatsoever that you'd be disappointed if you ever met me. I'm not exactly a sparkling conversationalist. All my words go straight from my brain to my fingers and completely bypass my mouth. I'm very quiet.

And kudos to you for the reading diversity. Something Sol Stein wrote in his book "Stein on Writing" has stuck with me [paraphrasing here, as I'm too lazy to go find the book]: The purpose of non-fiction is to impart information. The purpose of fiction is to evoke emotion.

I think that's true. When someone talks about a novel they LOVED, you don't hear how informative it was or how much they learned. You hear about how it made them feel, how they cried when it broke their heart or how worried they were about the bad guy getting away with it or how it scared the ever-loving crap out of them. And different readers want to experience different emotions/genres.

What has surprised me, since joining HCRW, is what a huge range of diversity there is within the romance genre. When I first started reading it, it was mostly (not exclusively) historical romance and a few westerns. I think the internet helped change that mix and self-publishing is opening up the genre even further. It's pretty exciting to have all that choice, both as a reader and a writer.

It makes me crazy to hear people criticize genre fiction as "escapism." Damn straight, it's escapism. I have enough reality in my life, thank you. We need stories, of all kinds.

Whoa, anyone have a step stool so I can climb down off this soapbox? Not sure how I got up here... oh, there it is. Joe keeps one handy, I see. :-)

Lou said...

Thoroughly enjoyed the guest post, KDJ! But that doesn't surprise me as I have always enjoyed your voice. You have a clever and original writing style!

One of your imaginary friends...

KD James said...

Thanks, Lou! I remember you once told me I have a "wild and wicked imagination." I wrote it down, so I'd always remember. One of these days, I'm going to write a cowboy romance for you. Maybe they'll be cowboy pirates.

Alan Spade said...

Great blog post, KD, I like your humor.

@Joe: for the first time, Hachette has revealed the distribution of its ebook sales. It seems to me the information isn't present in The Passive Voice blog, so enjoy! :)


Alan Spade said...

An additional link: http://www.thebookseller.com/news/hachette-reveals-amazon-digital-sales-share.html

Unknown said...

Great post and really enjoyed your sense of humour.

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KD James said...

Thank you, Alan and Avril, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

And thank you, Joe, for letting me take over your space for a few days. You've got a good group over here, smart and funny people who made me feel welcome. It's been a pleasure.

rssasrb said...

Enjoyed the post and the information. Am going to check out the HCRW book, it sounds good and helpful. Already have and have read the excellent novella mentioned.

KD James said...

Thank you, RSS. The praise is humbling, coming from someone whose writing surpasses mine in every way, except perhaps in terms of availability. Grrrr. But we're going to work on that.