Thursday, December 30, 2010

On Competition and Writers

At the end of last year, I'd spent a lot of time pondering Criticism and Writers. This week, having reread those reflections, I realized I didn't have much to add to them after another year amidst the thrill, the chaos and the frequent insanity of being a part of the publishing industry. What was true for me 12 months ago is still true for me now. Although I have to admit, my determination to pull away from the gossiping maelstrom wasn't without consequences...

Two friendships I'd valued came to an end in 2010, both due in part to our having different approaches to dealing with life stressors and criticism. Letting go is rarely easy and that was certainly true in these cases. However, there are times when the path on which we're traveling splits and we have to make a choice if we hope to move forward and live a healthier life. This year was, for me, a reevaluation year, and while there were a couple of losses, there were quite a few more gains. I met some awe-inspiring people and had the pleasure of getting to know better or reconnect with some wonderful friends -- online and off. This year made me even more appreciative of the insightful, compassionate, secure and genuine travel companions who are sharing the journey with me...and I thank you all for that.

Now, as 2011 approaches, my thoughts have turned to a different but marginally related theme: Competition. I had an interesting, somewhat unexpected experience with it in recent months. I was taking part in a multi-author booksigning event and a reader came up to all of us to ask about our novels. Since the reader questioned me specifically about one of my books, I was in the midst of explaining the story's premise to her when the writer to my left jumped in and launched into a description of her own novel. It was a noticable interruption, but I liked the writer and attributed her behavior to a combination of over-eagerness and the simple desire to make a sale.

The reader, however, raised her eyebrows, took a step back and laughed uneasily. "What? Are you guys in competition or something?" she asked. I started to shake my head, but the writer jumped in again and immediately said, "Yes!" Before I could respond, another writer near us said emphatically, "Oh, no! Reading one of our books makes readers want to find others that are similar. It's not a competition." I nodded mutely in gratitude, but found I couldn't put into words all that I was feeling at the time. The issue is complex. It has logical and emotional components, real-world battles pitted against internal, intensely personal ones -- and rarely are all of these addressed. As a result, I haven't been able to get the incident out of my head.

Looking back, I probably should have been offended by the first writer trying to horn in on a potential sale, but I wasn't. I just thought it was ineffective, if it was a strategy (in the end, the reader chose to buy my book anyway), and merely strange, if it wasn't. I'm aware it's a mindset some people can get trapped by -- that whole zero-sum game where all the world is classified into winners and losers. In the realm of the arts, it tends to perplex me more often than not because, IMO, it may be an unavoidable business reality on one level, but it's a fallacy on a dozen others. Yes, there are Amazon rankings and, if someone else's book earns the #1 spot, that means mine will inevitably be lower. If someone else sells the most copies that means mine will sell fewer. If someone else's novel wins the fill-in-the-blank award that means mine won't.

Okay. That's true -- literally. But that's not the only game that happens to be in progress. And in the game that's most often in the forefront of my mind, the win-lose construction is almost...laughable.

Because I already won. I won years ago.

And so did many of you.

I won when I decided to pursue a passion rather than do something I hated. I won when I chose to write stories as honestly as I could whether or not anyone else on the entire planet liked them, understood them or cared about them. I won when the side of me that is grounded in self-belief chose to stand up to the side of me that isn't...or, rather, I've triumphed in a handful of battles against Lack of Confidence but the war is far from over. This much I can tell you about it, though: The end result won't be determined by a royalty statement. Or by the number of GoodReads raves or bashes. Those are irrelevant in the heat of such combat. Tell me, how many "wildly successful" (in the eyes of the society) actors, musicians, writers, athletes, etc., do you know who've crashed and burned when forced to face themselves? That have lost their fortunes, their families, their sobriety or their sanity? Yeah. A lot. So, a focus on comparing sales figures as a measure of success -- while not a wholly worthless endeavor -- is limited in scope when placed alongside all of the truly significant conflicts fought within.

I physically cringe when I see someone setting him- or herself up as some kind of opponent against me. I want to tell them to chill out ("Here, have a cookie!") and to please use their energy more productively. Out of fairness, they should know there's no external competitor in the universe more powerful than somebody's internal demons. The notion of a mere human rival being strong enough to turn my attention away from Fear...well, that's absurd. I wish the real battles were so simplistic.

Alternately, how can anybody put a price tag on having done what one set out to do? On reaching one's intended audience -- no matter the size? What author could possibly "lose" by overhearing a reader tell another author that his/her novel touched them? That a character the other author created was one the reader closely identified with? That the author expressed something for that particular reader that this person couldn't express for him- or herself? How do you quantify meaning and slap a win-or-lose label onto it?

No one will convince me that what's meaningful to 5 people is worth less than what's meaningful to 50. I don't believe that the thoughts and emotions of those 5 can be dismissed just because more people happen to agree on something else. I think of all the times I saw a film or read a book and LOVED it and, yet, my positive opinion was in the extreme minority. Is the fact that it changed my life of less significance than the fact that another film or book changed someone else's? I know more than one book and more than one film have influenced me, but I fail to see where the competition is between them. They were each a gift to my mind and my soul. Each brought me something I needed. Each shared with me a message of value -- even if it only illuminated a tiny corner of some concept. There is no ranking that can be stamped on illumination. Am I the only person that finds such attempts futile?!

Sigh. (Yeah, I'll get off my soapbox now... ;)

Of course, on the materialistic, tangible plane of existence, competition abounds and it's often hard to ignore. Writers can't afford to go on writing if our books don't sell enough copies. Publishers won't take a chance on a debut author without a P&L statement that's in the writer's favor, and they won't pick up our option books if the financial pros don't outweigh the cons. But just because I can't completely close my eyes to the reality of competition in the literary world, it doesn't mean I have wrap my heart around it. I know what I'll remember in old age about being a writer in 2010 will have far less to do with my novels' placement on one list or another than the thrill of knowing I fought off Fear or Lack of Confidence long enough to write something a few people told me they loved...

Wishing you all a 2011 filled with important battles won, meaningful memories created and peace throughout the process. And joy. May the New Year bring you much of that, too!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Writer's 12 Days of Christmas

Wishing ALL aspiring and published writers out there these Christmas gifts:

12 5-Star Reviews on Amazon
11 Positive GoodReads Comments
10 Likes on Facebook
9 #FF Tweets from Tweeps
8 New Book Sales Per Minute
7 Compliments from Agent
6 New Facebook Friends
5 Kind Fan Emails
4 Manuscripts in Progress
3 Film Agents Showing Interest
2 New Novels Contracted
and An Editor Who Loves Your Voice.

And a very Happy Winter Solstice to you all as well!! :)
**Yes, that Santa is life-sized, solid milk chocolate!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

WGN Radio Book Giveaway--Only Today!

Hi, Everyone ~ Just a quick post to share the details of the WGN Radio giveaway that's going on today on WGN's Facebook page! We're giving away 10 copies of Friday Mornings at Nine -- all commenters who share a holiday memory they had with a friend (and post it on WGN Radio's Facebook site) will be in the running to win an autographed copy of the book for him/herself and one copy for their friend. The winning names will be drawn at 5pm tonight (Central Standard Time) by the WGN staff in Chicago. Hope the winners will enjoy the story!! And I hope everyone who's feeling as overwhelmed as I am at the start of this hectic holiday week is hanging in there ;-).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Free Austen-related E-books!

It's Jane's birthday and, in celebration, Sourcebooks is giving away FREE downloads of a lot of great Austen-related fiction and some of Jane's own writing TODAY ONLY! Laurel Ann at Austenprose listed these giveaways with links to them for the nook -- so check them out. Also, there's a blog party afoot around the web and throughout the world in honor of our favorite Regency author. Prizes can be won! Take a peek at the participating authors/blogs on Jane Austen Today.

Have a fabulous day!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Enid Wilson's Fire and Cross

Today, I have a guest visitor on Brant Flakes, a writer of Austeneque fiction -- Enid Wilson! Enid lives in sunny Sydney, Australia (and, boy, am I ever envying her city's weather right about now :). Her latest novel is called Fire and Cross. Take a peek at the blurb:

The combination of a lethal blaze and a garnet cross have ensured that ever since he was a boy, Fitzwilliam Darcy's future is promised to an unknown lady.

With danger looming from a suspected spy, and with murder close at hand, will Mr. Darcy cross paths with Elizabeth Bennet and win her affections? Mr. Darcy's journey to overcome his pride and find eternal love in Pride and Prejudice takes on a mysterious twist.

This sexy what-if story, told from Darcy's viewpoint, explores the demands of family members and other involved parties. Fire and Cross takes this perennial favorite in another direction, bursting with overpowering emotion and surprising plot twists.

Sounds intriguing! Enid warns us that the novel contains “explicit adult content” -- but I always love a story with a little heat. Welcome!


Thank you, Marilyn, for hosting me today. I first knew about Marilyn when she was launching her book According to Jane. What a wonderful idea and book, to have Ellie following Austen’s wise and witty advice when she’s dating! (Aww, thanks, Enid!)

Jane Austen is my favourite author. I think she was such a marvelous student of people’s characters that her books are full of excellent advice, about all kinds of relationships, even for today’s men and women.

I had dabbled into Jane Austen’s fan fiction three years ago and have published four Pride and Prejudice-inspired stories since. In my latest novel Fire and Cross, Pride and Prejudice with a mysterious twist, I’ve created a somewhat “father and son” relationship between Mr. Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Below is an adapted excerpt where Mr. Bennet was giving the younger gentleman help on how to court Miss Elizabeth:

“I am worried that Miss Elizabeth entered into the engagement without due consideration.” Mr. Darcy frowned.

“You need not be worried about that,” Mr. Bennet said. “Lizzy is not the kind of girl who rushes into things, even under provocation.”

Darcy thought for a moment and had to agree with Mr. Bennet’s assessment. Could he hope that she had begun to have feelings for him? “She wanted a long engagement, saying that she wishes to make sure she is in love with me before we marry.”

Mr. Bennet raised his eyebrow and asked, “And you do not?”

Darcy felt flustered by such a direct question. He replied honestly, “Sir, your daughter has enchanted me. I do not want to part with her from now onwards.”

“Ah, the romance of youthful devotion. Perhaps it is good that Lizzy asks for a long engagement. It can test your fortitude and constancy. Now, should we have your wedding in three years’ time?” the older gentleman jested.

Darcy swallowed and then shook his head in disagreement. “I hope to persuade her to marry me before Christmas. I am not a young man of one and twenty, Sir. And I have resisted the temptation of sirens and maidens for many years. I know my heart.”

“But Lizzy is not yet one and twenty. Perhaps when you present her to your society, she will run off with a more charming man,” Mr. Bennet said with a sly smile.

Darcy stood up and paced around the room. He had not thought about this before. His Elizabeth had not seen much of the world. She might not put another suitor’s wealth before his character, but could she resist the charms of a gentleman who was ten times more amiable than he?

“Now stop worrying, young man! You simply need to learn how to charm her. For someone as unsuccessful as I in marital bliss, I do have advice for you.” Mr. Bennet raised his cup for a toast. “Learn and observe from other happily married couples. I dearly wish Lizzy and you will be forever happy!”

Darcy stopped pacing and raised his cup. Yes, his late parents would be a good example. He needed to treat Elizabeth with respect and tender loving care as his father had done with his mother. He was looking forward to charming Elizabeth, commencing as soon as possible the next morning.

What do you think of Mr. Bennet’s advice to Mr. Darcy? Who do you turn to when you need guidance about relationships? Please leave your comments here.

I’m delighted to offer a pdf version of Fire and Cross and a lovely Australian souvenir to one lucky reader. Head over to my website and register for news to have a chance to win. Entry is open to Marilyn’s worldwide readers and closes on 31 December.

Many thanks again, Marilyn, for having me here today.

So glad you could join us, Enid!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wishing Jane a Happy 235th

It's Monday, it's morning...and I'm barely awake. Must have coffee soon!

Hope you all had a good weekend. Ours was very snowy. However, before the flakes began to fall, I made a trek up to Wisconsin to attend the annual JASNA-WI luncheon and Jane Austen birthday celebration. It's always such fun! I'm blogging about the event today at Austen Authors (the writers in the picture are all fellow members of that loop: Jack Caldwell, Kathryn L. Nelson, Abigail Reynolds, me, C. Allyn Pierson), so please stop by and say hello if you have a chance.

And, in honor of our dear Jane's 235th -- which will be this Thursday, December 16th -- here is a reprisal of my super-easy English trifle recipe:

Marilyn's Easy English Trifle

1 angel food cake, divided into halves
1 large package fresh strawberries, washed and sliced
1 container Cool Whip, refrigerated (not frozen)
8 individual vanilla pudding cups
Sherry to taste

Layer 1/3 of the strawberries on the bottom of a large, clear serving bowl, put half of the angel food cake on top of that (pull it into chunks so the strawberries are covered with cake), douse it with a little sherry. Then spread 4 of the puddings onto the cake layer and put half of the Cool Whip on top of that. Repeat with the next 1/3 of strawberries, the second half of the angel food cake, more sherry (!!), the last 4 puddings and the remainder of the Cool Whip. Use the final 1/3 of the strawberries to decorate the top.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

John, Jane, a Giveaway Winner & a Top 100 List

Who's your favorite Beatle? I was always one of those people who admired John for "Imagine," thought Ringo was...odd, didn't really know anything about George, and focused most of my attention on Paul the cutie. Fine, call me shallow.

Of course, although I remember where I was 30 years ago today (yikes) when I heard Lennon was shot and even own a Beatles songbook that I'd entertain myself with in college (strumming the simpler songs on my guitar and pretending -- privately -- that I was a '60s-era hippy-teen), I've always been aware that their songs, much as I loved them, weren't my generation. I traipse around a lot musically, but I am, and will always be, an '80s girl. In fact, the closest I ever came to a peace march was spontaneously joining a "Hands Across America" group in May 1986 and taking a bus from Madison, WI to Paxton, IL to be part of the human chain... I remember some guy playing "American Pie" and "Blowin' in the Wind" on his guitar that day, in between rounds of "We Are the World." I sang along, but I'm not sure I can ever wear tie-dyed shirts or put flowers in my hair without feeling like a fraud ;-).

I also love the Regency period, although I have not a drop of English blood in me and would most certainly be opposed to corset wearing. This weekend, I'll be in Wisconsin at a Jane Austen Society of North America luncheon to celebrate Jane's birthday (Dec. 16th) and to sign books, too. A friend of mine from college, Andrew Hill, sent me a link to this video below, which he found on Roger Ebert's blog. Delightfully, it's even more anachronistic than an '80s girl singing '60s songs. Take a peek:

LOL! Thanks, Andy ;).

In other fun news, after a drawing early this morning, NovelWhore is the winner of Maria Geraci's The Boyfriend of the Month Club!! Congrats, Lydia! I'll email you for address info.

And, finally, I got an exciting surprise last night when I discovered that According to Jane had made an appearance on a VERY cool list: The Best Romance Novels of All Time. I am SO honored!! Many thanks to author Tulika Nair and Buzzle.com for including my debut book amongst such great novels. Made my week!!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Conversations Over Coffee...and a Little Elvis Love

Happy Friday!

I'm blogging today over at Sia McKye's Thoughts Over Coffee, which is -- of course -- extra fun because Sia is such a sweetheart and because it's a Friday morning and I get to have virtual coffee there as I chat about Friday Mornings at Nine and having real-life coffee dates with friends. So much life imitating art and vice versa going on that I can barely keep it straight -- LOL! (There's a book/coffee giveaway there, too, btw. ;)

If you're looking for gifts for people on your holiday shopping list, I'm enthusiastically joining in with RWA and lots of writers to suggest BOOKS!!! Hardcover, softcover, e-book...all formats are good!

And, finally, because I was watching "Clambake" again recently (yes, it was for research purposes...and, okay, also because 1967-Elvis was very cute :), I wanted to share this video of "You Don't Know Me." Sigh. Love that song and the way he sings it with such feeling. Hope you enjoy!

p.s. Any of you have a favorite Elvis movie or song??