Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WORST Month Ever!

I try to live by the old adage my mother taught me about saying nothing if I can't say something nice, especially here in the blog-o-sphere.

I try to keep it light and positive, but this past month has had so many negative things that I just can't come up with any upbeat posts.

I started out the month getting mugged and my purse snatched while we were in Mexico. I'm still dealing with the aftermath of replacing all the things I lost with that purse. Of course, some of the things in there were not replacable (like the pictures inside the camera and other momentoes). This is only the second time in my life I was the victim of a physical crime against me (I was held up at gun point on my very first job at age 17) and I truly hope it will be the last! I know I was lucky that I was not badly injured, but I still don't feel particularly lucky.

Then last Friday, I had a near-tragic event. My little pug-wa-wa was attacked by a German Shepherd and almost killed. My dog was on a leash taking a walk two blocks from my house. The shepherd was running loose and attacked with absolutely no provocation. The teenaged boy who must have owned the other dog, rushed up, snapped on a leash and promptly disappeared.

Almost a thousand dollars and major surgery later, my poor little baby is recovering from her wounds. How or if she will recover from the psychological trauma is anyone's guess. I have a feeling I WON'T!

It was also not a good month to some of my close friends.

One of my Critique Partners lost her sister-in-law to liver cancer.

Another CP's mother had a stroke from which she is not expected to recover.

Sorry to be such a whiner, but I think you can understand why I'm glad to see this month end. And I hope to NEVER have another like it!

Please share your POSITIVE news and thoughts with Aunty! She is in sore need.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Never Tell Me the Odds!"

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the 'luck factor' in publishing, and how very difficult it is to keep going, much less break into this crazy biz! Back in April, 2009 on Romance Bandits, I did a little 'fictional statistical analysis' about the odds of getting your first romance novel published.

I'm reprinting it below for your amusement and/or amazement...

I'm sure you recognize the title of this post. It is one of my favorite movie quotes and is from the original Star Wars (now called Episode 4). C3PO has just told Han Solo the statistical probability of successfully navigating through an asteroid belt (a truly astronomical number) and Han snarls in reply, "Never tell me the odds!"

In my previous career, I toiled as an analyst for the State of California. I played with numbers and statistics every day and got to do fun things like budget change proposals and cost benefit analyses. Ah yes, Aunty loved to 'run those numbers' and make them yield answers!

Then I entered the crazy world of writing for publication, and numbers ceased to be my friends or even my friendly tools. The numbers I discovered in my pursuit of publication were not the answers I wanted to hear. "Never tell me the odds!" became my rallying cry!

If I had stopped to think about the odds, I probably would have never entered the Golden Heart. Only 70 entries were selected as finalists out of 1000. My manuscript had to be judged in the top 7%. YIKES! And yet all 20 of us Banditas beat those odds and went on to final in the Golden Heart in 2006!

The many other successes we Banditas have had since 2006 led me to start thinking about the odds. I found some very interesting "food for thought" and I'd like to share a little hypothetical situation and the resultant numbers:

Let's pretend that there are 1 million people who decide they are going to write a romance novel for the very first time. (Yes, the number is probably much higher but play along with me for now.) Based on what Aunty has seen and read over the years, out of those 1,000,000 only 10% (or probably much less) will ever finish writing that novel. (It's a lot more work than most people think!)

So in our imaginary sample, we now have 100,000 finished (at least in the first draft) romance novels. Probably only 25% of those will ever be submitted anywhere. I'm not talking queries or partials here, but full manuscripts. And out of those 25,000 only half or 50% will be submitted to someone who even publishes romances (sad but true, I've read this on many editors' blogs)! Or if they do publish romance, they don't accept the sub-genre of romance the writer has written.

We are now left with 12,500 novels that have even a glimmer of a chance of being published out of our original 1 million hopefuls. Or slightly over 1%! Only 1 out of 100. So now you know, if you have ever finished writing a manuscript and submitted it somewhere, you are very special indeed!

But if you think those numbers are depressing, consider this. There were slightly over 8,000 romance novels published in 2007 (according to the ROMStat report in the Sept. 08 RWR). Now before you tell Aunty that 12,500 books vying for 8,000 slots doesn't sound that bad... REMEMBER: these are first time novelists. The vast majority of the 8,000 romances publishers will buy are written by existing authors. Someone with a 'track record.' Someone with a 'readership base.'

Aunty's best guess is that only about 5% of those 8,000 books published will actually be by first time authors. Those 12,500 hopefuls are vying for 400 slots. Yes, dear readers, only about 1/3 of 1% of those 12,500 writers will ever see their book published! But in the spirit of Han Solo, some new writers will fill those 400 slots. Someone will beat those odds!

Writing is definitely not for the 'faint of heart!' Nor is it for those who are intimidated by long odds. After all, 1/3 of 1% might be an abysmally small number, but it is still better than the probability of successfully negotiating an asteroid belt!

Have you ever defied the odds? Please share your story with Aunty!

Friday, November 12, 2010

No, Not THAT Cruise Ship

I've received several calls in the past few days from friends checking to make sure I was not on the Carnival Splendor.

You know, THAT cruise ship! The one that floated off the Pacific Coast of Mexico this week with no power, no hot water, and very little food. Everyone seemed to be talking about Splendor and her predicament which started with an engine fire -- late night talk show hosts, local and national news reporters, Facebook and Twitter. Apparently some folks from my neck o' the woods were on board, and local reporters rushed to interview them as soon as communication was restored.

The more I heard about the ship and how the passengers were suffering with no air conditioning, no elevators, and for awhile, no flushing toilets, the more I thought about how it used to be to travel by ship. On one of our many trips to the east coast, the DH and I visited Plymouth Rock (definitely unimpressive) and saw the replica of the Mayflower. This was back in our pre-cruising days, but even then I remember being aghast at how small that ship was! I shuddered as I pictured dozens of people crowded into the small areas below deck, and enduring a voyage that lasted several weeks instead of days.

Imagine being in close proximity all that time with screaming babies, whiny adults and sea-sickness? How in the world did they cook on those little wooden tubs? And I really don't want to think about the lack of sanitary facilities! UGH!

Like most Americans, somewhere down the line, my ancestors sailed to this country on a ship very much like the Mayflower. All I can say is, "Better THEM than ME!" Much as I like to think of myself as adventurous, I know that deep down I am not. If my ancestors had been more like me, they'd have probably stayed in Ireland and starved to death, so thank goodness they were brave (or perhaps foolhardy) enough to make that voyage.

As for me, happily I was not on THAT cruise ship, at least not this week. However, I am scheduled to cruise to Mexico on the Splendor in January. Let's hope they have all the issues resolved in the next two months!

Did your ancestors have to make a long sea voyage? Do you think you could make the same voyage? Or are you a wimp like Aunty?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Where Do Characters Come From?

(Thought I'd start November out with a blog that I used in my "tour" for The Wild Irish Sea this past summer.)

Today I'm going to tell you where my characters come from.

Relax, this isn’t going to be a blog about the birds and the bees or one of “those talks” your mother had with you shortly before you hit puberty. I’m going to talk about how I create my fictional characters.

Other than “Where do you get your ideas?” (short answer: Everywhere!), the questions I’m most often asked are about my characters. Are they based on real people? (short answer: sort of) How do you name them? Do you do charts, interviews and all that other writerly stuff? I’ll answer this last question first: No, I’m afraid I’m not nearly that organized.

The truth is that for me, most of my main characters arrive in my imagination fully formed with their first, middle, and last names intact. Please don’t call the men in the white coats, but before I begin a new work in progress (WIP), I hear my characters talking inside my head. Usually, my heroes arrive first. At least this was the case for my first two published books, The Wild Sight and The Treasures of Venice. But for my current release, The Wild Irish Sea, my heroine Amber Elizabeth O’Neill and her twin brother Parker Anthony O’Neill popped into my mind first.

Ten years ago, my niece gave birth to the first set of twins in our immediate family, and the momentous event sparked my interest in twins. So it really didn’t surprise me at all when a set of twins arrived in that creative portion of my brain where my characters reside and demanded that I write about them. And while my niece’s fraternal twins were boys (and only nine) and I couldn’t very well base my fraternal twins on them, they were certainly the inspiration behind Amber and Parker.

Now, back to that place in my brain where my characters talk to me… Actually, they do more than talk. Somewhere along the line, as they are revealing their backstories and other deep dark secrets to me, I start forming an image of what they look like. Usually at this point, I go in search of photos of people who match the image inside my head. Most of the time, the photos I select are celebrities since there are far more pictures of them available. But while I may use a celebrity in a certain photo as a physical model, my characters’ personalities are definitely all their own, just like each has their own distinctive voice. For example, Hugh Jackman was the physical model for my hero of The Wild Sight, Donovan O’Shea. However, when I saw Hugh on a late night talk show, I found it very jarring that his voice didn’t sound like Donovan!

For The Wild Irish Sea, I had the easiest time finding a model for Parker. This is probably because I had such a clear image of him in the opening prologue out on the ocean in a rowboat. With Parker’s voice firmly in my ear, I went searching for a picture of a lanky, brown haired man and almost immediately found the perfect one… of Luke Wilson. Since then, Luke has been in a ton of phone commercials and it bugs me no end, because he neither looks nor sounds like Parker, who was actually inspired by my two wise-cracking brothers.

I had a much harder time finding a model for Amber, and in the meantime, my hero Kevin Hennessey showed up. Unlike my previous heroes, he was tortured and very close-mouthed about his past, but I knew exactly what he looked like. I put my search for Amber temporarily on hold and began the quest for Kevin. Finding just the right tortured but hunky guy proved a challenge, but eventually I found a picture of Christian Bale (I know, I know, he’d not Irish) that fulfilled my requirements quite nicely.

But I still had no Amber… None of the American actress I saw seemed quite right. Then I remembered seeing Gemma Arterton in Quantum of Solace. I looked up pictures of the red-headed Bond girl called Strawberry Fields and – Happy Day! – I’d found my Amber O’Neill at last! Of course Gemma is British and actually a brunette so my heroine really isn’t much like the prototype, but she’s close enough to the image of Amber in my imagination.

Well there you have it, a little insight into where my characters come from. They are sort of based on real people in that I do pick out physical models to match the images in my head. The main characters usually arrive with their names already decided, though I will admit that for some of my minor characters I do use one of those lists of baby names that you can sort by ethnicity and Irish census records broken down by county. And while I don’t do formal character charts and interviews, I know far more about each of my characters’ backgrounds, aspirations, and secrets than ever makes it onto the pages of my novels.

Do you like to know who the author pictures for a character or do you prefer to develop your own image?