Monday, February 23, 2009

Sex Sells

Before I get down to the part that actually made you stop and read this, let me update you all on the agent quest.

The first agent I sent a sampling of my manuscript to has declined. Her exact words were, "I didn't connect enough with the material to feel the passion I would need to go out and sell this book in this difficult market."

Am I disappointed? Yes, but this is what I've dealt with for the last eight years, and it's nothing new.

So now I await the second agent who seemed to say all the right things to me on the phone. Keeping a sense of humor, this should be a fun career, and ah, yes, "I don't know if I contain myself waiting for your book to arrive." Music to my ears!

With that said, on to the nitty gritty...


All one has to to is place that three-letter word in any media and people will flock to it. A bit like the traffic accident you can't help but look at as you drive past.

But does it make for better reading?

All right, I'll admit to enjoying the romance genre very much. And there are some writers whose sex scenes make you want a cigarette afterwards. Even if you don't smoke!

It's the inappropriate, gratuitous sex that goes into graphic detail that I don't care for.

It's porn, plain and simple. And women do it better than men because we prefer our imagination to actually seeing it, the way men need to do. When a man writes a sex scene, it's not as intense emotionally. It's more about the act. Women writers go for the heart, the feelings, details. The whole package.

When Eyes of Garnet came out, I would tell people there was no sex in it. That was welcomed by many, but I noticed older women were disappointed. "But you said it was similar to Diana Gabaldon's books," they'd whine. I was amused. When I began writing Sightless and Catrìona was actually old enough to have sex, I still couldn't write about it.

During an interview with the newspaper I work for, the gentleman who was conducting the interview was himself a writer. When I told him there was no blatant sex, just lots of innuendo, he said, "Yeah, I can't write about it either. I'd feel like everyone would be saying, 'Oh, he likes that kind of stuff, huh?'" It's just too personal.

Aside from that, I also have to ask myself if it actually adds to the story. In some instances, just a hint will convey my message. There are other times when I've actually written a sweaty scene, giggled, then pressed the delete button. I just can't do it. The imagination should have all the details it needs, and probably be better than what I could write anyway.

As for the steamy covers of some of the books of that nature, well, who doesn't want to look at the broad bare chest of a fine physique, (I talking man's, here). It certainly catches your eyes while you're in line at the grocery store. Impulse buy! Book marketers know it'll fly off the shelf. But then, when you actually read the story, most of the time there's nothing in it to warrant the picture on the cover. It's just to sell books. And it works, sadly.

Does this mean I'm going to start putting hunky, bare-chested kilted men on my covers so I, too, can sell more books? Hmmmm. Doubt it. Although....

Just teasing. But what if I wasn't...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Calm Before the Storm

I tend to make analogies based on the weather. I think New Englanders do that as a rule. It's the one true constant in our lives, especially this time of year. Last Thursday, we were supposed to get an inch of snow, with possible snow/rain showers for the rest of the day. 8 inches of flurries later, they decided to plow the roads. Yesterday, it was such a beautiful, clear-blue day. We call such days weather breeders here. The calm before the storm. Now, the weather people are calling for 8-12 inches overnight and through tomorrow. Do we believe them? Not a chance. This time, we'll probably end up with 4 inches because at 41 degrees, it's too freakin' warm to snow!

Anyway, my reference to the calm before the storm doesn't really have anything to do with the weather, but with my agent quest. The first agent, who asked to have a 2 week exclusive read, should be getting back to me by tomorrow. The second agent, who I asked to wait, received Eyes of Garnet yesterday, and again, she requested a 2 week exclusive read. Perhaps the word calm isn't the best choice, as I've been anything but. Antsy, anxious, impatient is more like it.

Have you ever wondered why a deadline comes up too quickly, yet a goal takes forever to arrive? How is it possible, and how do we get around it? If I had a choice of superpowers, bending time would top my list, next to invisibility. Imagine being able to have your goals met within hours and your deadlines stretched out for months!

So I wait.

While I've been waiting, I've been getting a lot of writing done, and since my new book about Gregor Macgregor isn't research-heavy, so it's just pure writing. Fun. And where I'm writing as a man and in the first person, it's challenging, as well. I feel a bit like an actor. Before I begin writing, I have to get into Gregor's head: become him so I'm not writing like I was Catrìona Robertson.

I tend to giggle alot when I'm writing as him. He's funny, sarcastic, and exudes confidence, even though inside he's sometimes unsure. In that man's world, where warriors are strong and courageous, he exists as big as the times he lived in. Hard times, violent times. No wonder so many authors like to write about time travel. It makes a writer wonder and speculate about what it would be like if such a man were to jump into our future. Would he find it easier or more difficult? It is pure speculation though, and I think that's why I still prefer historical fiction. It's grounded. And while I may speculate how my characters lived during that time, it's based in truth.

So when I tell about the violence and injustice my characters face, it was how it was during that time period. Not everyone lived. I've been criticized for killing off too many of my characters, but times really were that hard. We have no idea what it would be like to have a war on our own soil, or to be hunted just because we had a specific last name.

Wait, I take that last part back. Some people do know what that's like. Those with Islamic names are looked at through wary, prejudiced eyes by many. Have we really not changed so much after all? But wait, again. We do have a black president now. If asked if that were possible even ten years ago, the answer would have been no way. I'll still never understand why there is a culture/color segregation, or why there ever was one. Who made the decision that one culture/color was better than the other? When did it happen?

Scientists speculate that the human race emanated from five woman. Five African women. I can hear the skinheads cringing now. But what if it's true? We would all be related. If we were all related, would we suddenly all get along better? Doubtful, isn't it. Hell, immediate families have a hard time getting along. I prefer to think that life is a play. We come here with a part. Some good, some bad, some creative, some analytical. How we mesh with the other characters is part of the play. The question is, do you want your play to be a flop, or are you out to gain a long running, multi-national phenom? It's up to each of us in the choices we make each and every day.

So go out and make your best decisions based on how they will affect those around you. Perhaps then when we use the phrase, the calm before the storm, it will really be weather related.

Friday, February 13, 2009

When it rains, it pours!

One of the agents from the Speed-Dating session requested to see the first three chapters of Double Vision last Sunday, and a 2-week exclusive read. I granted her the 2-week read and sent the requested work to her as an email attachment. Many agencies are paperless these days, and I, for one, am happy about it. Saves time and money … oh, and trees. Now, I wait for the longest 2-weeks in history to hear whether or not she wants to see more or wants to jump ahead and actually represent me.

Then, when I participated in the multi-author signing last Friday evening, Janet Chapman told me to send her agent a query letter mentioning her name because her agent loves all things "Highlander." I put a letter and color flyer of all three of my books with their respective jacket descriptions in the mail with good thoughts the very next day. Then, while I was home writing on Wednesday, I received a call from Janet's agent!

I was ecstatic, and we talked for a little while getting to know each other. It was a great conversation because, if you read my blog from last week, I wrote the following: Well, if an agent doesn't have a sense of humor, I can't work with them either. This should be a fun, thrilling, creative and rewarding career path. If it's not, why should we do it? Towards the end of our conversation, I swear she said those very words, nearly verbatim. Did she read my blog? Nope. She hates technology; no email, no internet. She just told me everything I'd hoped to hear uttered from a agent's lips.

She wanted a 2-week exclusive read, just like the other agent did, and I told her I already had an agent reading my work. She told me to wait, then send my first book to her. And get this, she said, "I just hope I can contain myself for that long!" It was like music to my ears!

Part of me wants to just send it out, but I want to keep my promise to the first agent, too.

Now what's going through my mind is, what if they BOTH want to represent me? Who should I sign with? They are from different ends of the agent spectrum, but both qualified to represent my cross-genre stories. I hadn't thought of such a situation. Hell, just getting one to look at my work with any seriousness was all I'd hoped for. Now there are two! I love it!

I'll keep you posted on the continuing saga next week.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Things I Learned at a Multi-Author Book Signing

Last night, 5 Maine authors congregated in Belfast at the Fertile Mind Bookshop for their annual Valentine's Day Gala, and I was one of them.

There were great goodies, wonderful hosts, and of course, super authors. As the 5 of us (from left to right), Kathy Lynn Emerson, Dorothy Cannell, Janet Chapman, LaRue Haynes, (the hostess), me, and Susan Vaughan, sat around the table waiting for the customers to begin pouring in, we chatted book.

What I learned is that agents call the authors they work for a stable. I was distressed by this at first, but upon further examination of the vernacular, I began playing with it. Firstly, if authors are part of a stable, then what does that make agents?

That's right. Book pimps!

Yes, I suppose I could have gone the horse route, where authors are called brood mares, but it didn't have the same ring with me. Hey, as long as we're not called bitches, I guess I can work around it.

I also learned that while one publishing house will give an author some freedom with titles and covers, other have the cover and title already complete before the book is even written. This is based upon what the author gives the agent/editor for their synopsis up front.

I wonder how such an agent would handle my books? What would I tell her (the agent)? "You'll have to wait until I finish channelling my characters to see what they want to do?"

I can see I'm going to need an agent who understands my work mode very clearly. It's my book, so I'm naming it and I'm having final say on what the cover looks like, or I'm not playing! Childish? I don't think so. To me, giving up your vision to someone else is giving up all creativity. If the agent/editor/publisher wants to write a book, let them, but to completely take over someone else's soul … well, it just ain't right.

Will I find such a person in the crowded book pimping arena? Boy, I hope so! But I can see it now. "Did you see what Mary Duncan wrote in her blog about agents?"

Well, if an agent doesn't have a sense of humor, I can't work with them either. This should be a fun, thrilling, creative and rewarding career path. If it's not, why should we do it?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Agent Pitch Quest

Monday was a pretty good day overall. I drove down to Portland (3 hours one way) and got to the hotel where the Agent Pitch was being held just in time for lunch. We ate at the top of the Top of the East Lounge which overlooks all of Portland. It was really hazy for mid-winter's day, but sunny and temps in the mid-30's. Warm for us here in Maine.

My first pitch began at 1:10 so Dan and I headed back downstairs after we ate, and waited for the agents to return from their lunches; hopefully, rejuvenated from the break.

The gong (yup, a real gong!) sounded and I walked in with both of my books and the manuscript for Double Vision. I sat across from the first agent and we chatted for a minute before I let loose my spiel on her. She asked me what I wrote and I told her a paranormal historical adventure.

Perhaps I was mistaken, but I think her eyes may have crossed. Genre-bending is NOT what agents want to hear, and I've taken bending to new heights.

I didn't waste my seven minutes on her because right off the bat she told me she couldn't help me. She had no idea who would publish such a tale. "There's no way to market it," she said helplessly.

It's not like I haven't heard that before. It's the basic reason no agent will talk to me. Marketing is the entire reason an agent will take on an author. A story must be marketable.

It's not to say mine isn't marketable, it's just a bit of narrow-mindedness on publishers balking at creating a new market.

So, anyway, the gong sounds and I move onto the next agent, who tells me—nearly verbatim—the same thing. Only she actually looks at my books and reads a little, tells me I can write, and she loves my covers, but can't help me, either.

To say I was discouraged may have been an understatement, but I had 2 more agents to try and convince, so I moved on.

I took a seat across from a girl who was young enough to be my daughter (all right, there's more and more who fall into that category!), but she grabbed for my books and excitedly began reading the jacket text and browsing the innards. "These are great!" she said. I was instantly hopeful. "I don't have the contacts for such a trilogy, but my partner does." She gave me her partner's email address and told me to say that she recommended me. Yeah! Interest!

The gong rang and I headed for the final agent. She was very much like the young agent, only closer to my age, but just as excited. She told me her partner would love the story and actually asked to take both of my books. She would send them to her agent partner and he'd get back to me. I'll follow up in a few weeks to be sure he received them and has indeed looked at them.

So a 50% acceptance rate wasn't bad. Now, if they'd both express interest in representing me, I'll have spent my money wisely.