Posts Tagged ‘back away now before someone gets hurt’


Out of Order

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Writers know that there are two kinds of writers.  People who plot.  And people who make the plot up on the seat of their pants.  I’m some kind of Frankenstein amalgam of the two; I like to say I plot by writing.  The truth of the matter is, I usually have a pretty good idea of the larger events in my book when I start writing: the black moment, the mid-book crisis, and maybe a few intervening events.  But the small stuff, the engine that drives the book from point A to point B, is usually made up on the fly.  In fact, it’s so made up on the fly that I usually make it up after I need it, and that is because I write with absolutely no semblance of order.

I’m at the frightening place in my manuscript where I have a good smattering of scenes written, but no more than a few thousand contiguous words…. anywhere.  My manuscript is like a pile of confetti, with random pieces from beginning, middle, and end all piled together.  I jump ahead to scenes I know are coming, rather than beat my head against scenes I’m not sure about, and then jump back to fill in blanks.  That means that there’s some point–erm, that would be now–when I don’t really have a work in progress so much as a series of disconnected flashes, punctuated mostly by question marks.

Filling in those question marks is actually the most fun.  For instance, last week I figured out how the hero is going to solve a problem that crops up near the end of the book.  I wrote that scene, and realized that in order for the solution to be effective, the hero was going to have to rely on the availability of, some item.  Let us call it Dingbat A.  Now, you never want to have your hero reach into his bag of tools at the crucial moment and say, “Aha!  Dingbat A!”  Not unless you want your readers to complain that Dingbat A comes out of nowhere and is a complete deus ex machina.  You cannot do this unless you are writing episodes of Inspector Gadget.  So that means that I had to have a scene earlier on where Dingbat A is introduced.

Of course, you also never want to have an earlier scene where you say, “Oh, Dingbat A.  How I love thee.  I foresee that you might be useful, in the event I am set upon by ravening were-hedgehogs.” Because then your reader will get to the were hedgehogs and say, “Oh, for crying out loud, just use Dingbat A already.”  Ideally, you want to introduce your reader to the solution to Big Problem sideways–that is, you want to make Dingbat A present, or even better, problematic, rather than showing it as a potential solution.  (A side benefit:  This makes your characters appear smarter than they are.  Nobody needs to know you thought of the solution first and then figured out how to hide it in plain sight.)

I realize that all this sounds horribly circuitous.  Welcome to writing a book with Courtney.

In any event, I had this great idea for a scene that introduced Dingbat A.  It was sexy.  It wasn’t about Dingbat A, although you can see Dingbat A in use–and that’s always a good thing, because that means it’s a scene that’s a nice piece of misdirection.  Plus, it was funny, which is always a bonus.  It made me realize why I write my books out of order.  Because, you see, the scene starts at the point when my hero and heroine have Colonel Draven tied up on the floor and covered with petticoats.

You probably don’t think there’s anything odd about that (or at least anything odder than what I have said so far) and I suppose there isn’t.  But what I really really want to know is–Who is Colonel Draven?  How have they tied him up?  And why the hell are they covering him with petticoats?

Thus arises the minutiae of plot.

Squee! Amazon knows I exist!

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

I realize that this is the sort of blog post that will make everyone realize exactly how obsessive one (and by “one” I am slyly referring to “me”) can be about all things authorial.

So, I do not have a book on Amazon, in case you were wondering.  No.  I do not even have an author page on Amazon.

What I have is a slice of an inkling of an existence on Amazon.  Try this.  Go to amazon.com.  Go ahead–open it up in another window.  I’ll still be here.  I’m waiting.

Okay.  Now in that big search box, start typing “Courtney Milan.”  Start typing it–don’t finish!  Wait for Amazon to give you search suggestions.  It will start out thinking you are searching for calendars or cell phones.  Then, as you type in more letters, it’ll suggest coldplay and coupon codes.  By the time you hit the “R”, Amazon will have figured out that maybe you mean courtney love.  Yes, yes–you love Courtney–but not that Courtney, or at least not that Courtney at this moment.

It isn’t until you get into the last name that I appear.  courtney milan, right below courtney martin.  I know, I know.  It is the least exciting thing in the whole wide world.  You can’t even believe I made you go to Amazon to see it.  In fact, you are probably thinking I might be crazy.

Because what I am announcing is something like this:  Squee!  I am now a figment of Amazon’s imagination!

Oh, we takes our joys as we can find them, we soon-to-be-published-authors.

So, does Amazon know that you exist?  Are you a figment of Amazon’s imagination?  And if so, how many letters does it take Amazon to imagine you?

Covers, Part II: Movie Actors

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

HQN gave me a big huge form to fill out for my cover art.  (Suzanne McMinn has posted about the system, so if you want to get an idea what it’s like visit her site.)  I actually found the form really fun, in part because I’m not a hugely concretely visual person.

They asked me if there were any actors who looked like my characters.  My initial answer, which I figured would not start my relationship with the Art Department off on the right footing, was, “Probably, but I don’t know who they are.”

Some people pick actors to represent their characters.  My problem is that I don’t remember actor names.  In fact, I am awful with names and face-recognition.  When watching movies I can barely remember the guy’s name in the movie, and if he changes his clothes drastically, I’ll turn to Mr. Milan and prod him and say, “who is that dude that just showed up onscreen?”  And Mr. Milan will be like, uh, the main character, the guy we’ve been watching for two hours?

So my first strategy was to sit down with Mr. Milan and have him list names of movie actors.  “Ben Affleck,” says he.  “Ben Affleck,” I dutifully repeat, typing it into Google Images search.  Images come up.  Ugly images.  My nose wrinkles.  “Okay,” I finally say, “That dude is not Gareth.  He’s ugly.”  No really.  Ben Affleck is ugly.  Seriously ugly.  I can’t believe it.  I know I’ve heard of him; I just did not realize that he was ugly.

“Fine.  Orlando Bloom,” he says, knowing that I actually think Bloom is cute.  But the answer is already no–Orlando Bloom always looks like he’s sharing a private joke with the world and Gareth is not so much into smiling.  So that is a no go.

We go through about twenty more names.  For some reason, Mr. Milan keeps feeding me extremely awkward looking dudes.  He explains that he thought I wanted someone that looked different.  Different?  Possibly.  Ugly?  No.  Finally he mentions John Cusack, I look up John Cusack, who is all wrong but at least cute, and I say, fine, John Cusack.

I e-mail my critique partners with the good news–which I ought to have done immediately, without bothering with Mr. Milan, who I now know has terrible taste in men–and Tessa says immediately, no, no, he’s Viggo Mortenson!  I look up Viggo when he is not being Aragorn and lo and behold.  He is, in fact, Gareth.

The moral of the story is that my critique partners have better taste in men than my husband.

So here are my main characters.  Hi, guys.  Nice to meet you.

Gareth (Viggo Mortenson)

Jenny (Laura Fraser)

Jenny (Laura Fraser)

Website Redesign

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

I’m officially announcing that I’ve redone my website!

As 2009 approached, and I realized I was going to have published material out this year, I realized I wanted a newsletter (shameless plug:  sign up for my newsletter!).  This lead to a site redesign.  Among other things, my site now changes colors every month, and it takes a page from Google–on some major holidays, and on a few very minor ones that you wouldn’t think of as holidays as well, it changes in less subtle ways.

For a limited time, go see my website in the future–as it will look on October 31, 2009.  Spooky!

Beyond the fold, I talk about what I was smoking when I redid my website.

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Query Letter Outtakes

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Over on Kristin Nelson‘s blog, she is analyzing the query letter that I sent her.  Admittedly, at the time she had already requested the full, so it wasn’t a query query letter, but she does say she would have requested based on those pages.

This might give you the impression that I am actually capable of writing a good query letter.  That impression would be . . . insanely offbase.  If you’ve been following me, you know that Sherry Thomas wrote my query letter.

My own query letters for the book…. they sucked.  So I’m posting the outtakes on this blog.

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Unrealistic Goal Number One

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

One of my goals–and I don’t know how realistic it is as I’m in the writing phase that is best known as “despair” right now–is to make my second book better than my first one.

But this is a year when I’m going to see words that I have written first hit print.  And that means that not only do I need to write, I need to think about promotion.  I need to think about updates to my website, guest blogging, bookmarks, giveaways, newsletters, and book trailers.  In some small part, I look at these things–and some of the associated expenses and I cringe.  One question I ask myself is, is all this really worth it?  Everyone is making book trailers, and yet even the most-played trailers have youtube hit counts in the low hundreds.  Nothing that I can do stands out.  Funny book trailers have been done.  Live-action book trailers have been done.  Rap book trailers have been done, and besides, my book is set in the early Victorian era and I’d hate to get everyone’s panties in an anachronistic twirl before my book comes out.

Then there’s the website.  If you build it, they will come.  If you want them to come more than once, you have to update it.  Not just once, but regularly.  Of course, every author now knows you have to update your website monthly, and so we’re all fighting amongst ourselves for that rare spot, where we are the ones that readers choose to visit.

So here’s one unrealistic goal for the year:  I want to do things that have never been done before–at least as far as romance novel promotion goes.  And I want to do it in a way that leaves me plenty of time to do what’s most important:  writing the best books that I can.

And the good news is, I’m going to be unveiling Part One of Courtney’s evil master plan soon.  Very soon.  Any guesses as to what it might be?  And what would you want to see a romance author doing?

Make Unrealistic Resolutions

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Last year about this time, I posted in a particularly oblique fashion about setting unrealistic goals.  I know, I know–it makes no sense to make a goal over which you have no control.  Goals should be things that are very firmly in the control of the author–things like, write 1500 words everyday, or, lift weights for 30 minutes three times a week, or, send out ten query letters a week.  Anything else, and you’re setting yourself up for failure.

On January 1, 2008, I mentioned that I had three sets of goals–one for July of 2008, one for the end of year, and a ten-year plan.  I mentioned some of the ten-year goals, but left 2008 blank on this blog.  The truth is, the goals were too unrealistic–too high and mighty–for me to even bother saying them.  They were crazy.  They were things over which I had no control.  They were impossible, ridiculous, and completely unattainable.

Except that I attained them.  All of them.

I wanted to sign with one of my top five agents by June.  I wanted to sell my book, at auction, by the end of the year.  Craziness.   It’s nearly impossible to get an agent, and even more impossible to get a publisher.  To have an auction not only means you’d have to get at least two houses interested in your manuscript, you’d have to get them interested enough to say, “Yes, yes, we will bid early and often!”  And that’s just crazy.  It’s like lightning striking, except that is so cliched because lightning strikes all the time.

Some people work well with realistic goals.  I applaud those people.  Those are the kind of people who are extremely conscientious and very good about crossing all the i’s and dotting all the t’s.  They will never make spelling errors in letters to important people, or forget to cross-reference a citation.  They will not buy a present for a friend’s birthday and then leave it on their mantel for two months (sorry, Eve) because they plan to go to the post office never today, and always tomorrow.  They will never spend three months running a program on extremely powerful government computers only to discover that a memory leak on Line 426 invalidates all the results.  NOT THAT I HAVE EVER DONE THAT, ahem.

I’ve never been good at reality.  It was totally unrealistic to think I could sign with one of my top five agents.  And if I’d known that the top of my top five agents, the incredible Kristin Nelson, was only going to sign two clients in 2008, it would have made the whole dream even more unrealistic.

Still, I dreamed.  I knew it was a completely unrealistic dream, but that didn’t stop me from reaching for it.  Through the month of January, I rewrote that first book.  I would spend 12, 14 hours at work some days, and come home at 11 at night and write until 2 in the morning, only to wake up at 6 AM the next day.  I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote.  I didn’t sleep.  When I was done, I revised and revised–and caught up at work, because it turned out that 12 hours a day in January hadn’t been quite enough to keep me on task.

At the point in late March when Kristin Nelson asked me to send her the full, I still had maybe 40 hours of work to do–and a huge project at work in the offing.  Somehow, I managed to get by on a bare hour or two of sleep for five days in a row, just so I could get it to her.

Out of the 88 full manuscripts Kristin requested, she represented 2 of them.  It makes no sense to miss sleep for an extremely busy week on the bare 2.28% chance that you’ll get an offer of representation.  But it didn’t matter to me.  I was certain–absolutely certain–she’d say no, but it didn’t matter, because if you make an unrealistic goal, you can’t let a little thing like reality stop you from your chance at it.

But Kristin said yes.  By the end of July, we had multiple offers on the book and we were going to auction.

Even though it’s been half a year since I met my insane goals, I still can’t believe I did it.  If I stop and look down at where I’m standing, I start to think that the ground is shifting beneath my feet, that it can’t possibly hold me.  That if I stop and look reality in the eye, I’ll realize this has all been a sham.

And I’m not the only one building a house on quicksand.  I’ve heard a lot of doom and gloom in publishing.  I know a lot of aspiring authors who think the world is collapsing and they’ll just have to ride out this economic cycle, unpublished until the bitter end.  Realistically, they’re right.

But don’t look down.  Look up.  Look far, far up, as far as you can see, and then imagine somewhere just beyond that.  That is what you want–that thing, way up there.  It’s unrealistic.  It’s unattainable.  It’s impossible.  It happens to nobody.

Except, maybe, you.

Now I’m off to set unrealistic expectations for 2009.  Who’s with me?


Courtney Milan writes historical romance novels like the ones you see to the right. She still remembers bits and pieces from her old lives, where she was (variously) a scientist and a lawyer.

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