Friday, March 30, 2012

Bethany, Befuddled

Pick up lines so totally befuddle me.

I remember once, in my confused twenties, heading out to a concert where I knew my crush was going to be. I took special care with my appearance that day; I spent all of 10 minutes applying some colored muck to my face, and adding a fancily-folded bandana to my head (yes, this was when fancy dress meant rockabilly to me). Then it was on to Thee Parkside, where I stood out like two-dollar hooker among the t-shirts and ripped jeans.

"Hey," the guy next to me at the bar (not my crush, he was off at the front of the crowd with a cute little girl in a Ramones t-shirt and a pixie haircut) said. "You look really good tonight. So, like, how long did that" - a muddled hand gesture in front of his face - "take you to do?"

Maybe it's just that the guys who try to pick me up don't have the best lines. I was also once complimented on my eyebrows.

"Really, they look great, all... natural. I admire a girl who doesn't mind letting things like that go."

Sometimes they are so bad that I actually wonder if the dude is trying to offend me. Which never works. It mostly just cracks me up.

"So I know your standards are usually higher, but, you know, it's been a while since (ex-boyfriend) left town, you must be, you know, and I just wanted to see if you wanted to hook up."

But these are depressing. So instead, I'll just share my favorite pick-up-line story, one that is not my own. This is borrowed from the husband of one of my best friends. When he was 10 or 11, his older brother took him out to the City to teach him how to pick up women. And you know what? When an adorable little kid yells at you from across the street, "Baby! Baby, you stepped on something! My HEART!" it sure as heck works.

(okay, works in that you're flattered and go, "awww," not works in that he actually succeeds in picking you up. I don't think pick-up linesever work that way.)

Bethany Herron is an urban fantasy writer, freight-train conductor, and RWA Board Member living in the Bay Area. She has the blessed fortune to be connected to the Pens by blood, and blogs at

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Gigi's Inadvertent Sociological Experiment

Since I had the same long, curly hair for 20 years, from 16 to 36, I took for granted the responses I'd get about my hair. Compliments and pick-up lines, sure, but also nicknames like "Poof" because of how frizzy my curls could get.

In the past eight months I've tried out many different hairstyles, and it's been fascinating to see how people respond differently to me when I have different hair.

The biggest eye opener? There's a big difference between the hairstyles men and women respond to.

The Pens picked out this wig with red highlights for me (shown on the left), and it quickly became my favorite wig during chemo. When I was up for leaving the house, I'd don this wig, and on most trips at least woman would make a comment about cool it was. I'm used to people commenting on my hair, but not quite that frequently.

When I was healthy enough to go back to working out of my office in San Francisco, I got myself a real hair wig (shown on the right). I picked out one that's pretty close to what my hair would look like if it wasn't curly, since I thought it would be fun to try out straight near-black hair. On my way home from the beauty store that day, I stopped at the market, and a guy hit on me.

The pattern has continued. Women love the streaks of color and often comment on it. Men don't approach me as often in that cool wig, but with the more natural hair, I get hit on at least as often as I used to. What's the deal?

I never selected any of my wigs for their potential for being hit on, but it was nevertheless interesting to see how it played out.

When I wanted more variety, I got myself an even shorter wig with purple streaks cut at a cute angle (shown on the left). The response was very similar to the wig with red highlights. Women agree with me that it's very cool. But guys? I have no idea.

It's been a few months since I finished chemotherapy, so pretty soon I'll be sporting a short cut of my own hair. It'll be interesting to see what happens then.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Martha's Pickup Plea

There's this guy. He's called The Pickup-Artist. Or something similarly cheesy. He had a show for a while where he showcased his business technique of teaching men how to pick up on ladies.

He had copycats, and alas, some of them operated out of San Francisco. Specifically - Medjool Restaurant/Lounge/Nightclub/Whatever in San Francisco's Mission District.

The Pickup Artist teaches simple principles. Which start with -

1. Only approach women in pairs.

Why? Because one woman is desperate and a group of women isn't interested. Women in pairs are either on the prowl or waiting for a third member and amenable for conversation.

The pickup pupils are easy to spot. For one, because they have the look of a racer at the start of a line, body tense, ready to pounce. For two, because they religiously operate on the next principles.

2. Only approach women as a pair.

Why? Because one guy is creepy but a group of guys is creepier.

Now the key to this approach attention....

3. Engage the women with an open-ended question.

Often the two guys will feign an argument. One will say, "You've got to be kidding me! No no! I disagree." They will then pretend to notice you for the first time with raised eyebrows and all, and say, "Oh, you, what do you think? Is Star Wars or Star Trek better?"

This is the part where the women respond. The answer doesn't really matter. Because the two guys will let you have, max, 3 minutes of conversation. Because the next principle is really important.

4. Be congenial, thank them, and walk away.

This is key. No one likes an overstayed welcome. The men are careful not to ask for personal details like your name. Besides, the guys really don't want to have a conversation with you about which franchise is better (incidentally, I feel its an unfair comparison given the mediums serve different purposes). What they want to do is bump and grind on you. Giving us the final principle.

5. Wait until you spot the women on the dance floor and dance near them, thus giving you the opportunity for recognition and scoring.

I've debated the merit of the pickup artist with my friends. Especially given that for every douchebag who joins, there is a guy just looking for a way to connect with someone else but is shackled by shyness.

But I constantly come back to the same problem:

This isn't a sincere exchange.

I've heard the argument that sincerity doesn't matter at the beginning of a relationship. That the start is just negotiation and navigation of societally accepted norms until you can reveal the "real" you.

But if we all know we are hiding the "real" person, if dating is just killing time until someone tolerates you enough to *really* tolerate you, then can we shed the tapdance?


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pick Up Lines for the Under Thirteen Set

I looked at this week's topic and was at a total loss as to what to write about.

It's been an eternity since I've been the recipient of a pick up line. To be exact: One husband and three babies, then toddlers, now teenagers ago.

I considered reminiscing about my summer in France.

"Avez-vous un feu?" (Because everyone had a Gauloise in hand.)

But that wouldn't get me very far.

I considered asking the College Boy what kind of lines he and his friends use but then decided I really, really don't want to know.

So I've been wracking my brain for some clever, funny, insightful wisdom to impart about Pick Up lines and coming up empty. Until last Saturday.

Princess and her friends went downtown to the local candy shop. She is still in the sweet stage of teenage-dom where there's a fifty/fifty chance her money will be spent on Laffy Taffy rather than Cover Girl Lash Blast.

They were acting appropriately goofy, as only fourteen year old girls can act, when into the store walk two not-quite-teenage boys. (Princess was pretty sure they were sixth graders.) And these smooth gentlemen attempted to try out their lines. So here you have it. Pick Up lines for the under-thirteen set.

"Wanna know why it's your lucky day? Because you met me."

 Image from
One boy said, "Did it hurt?"

To which Princess replied, "When I fell from heaven?"

Boy responded, "Oh, I was hoping you didn't know that one."

And finally, my personal favorite:
"Did you just fart? Because you're blowin' me away." 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pick up This Book Now

L.G.C. Smith

If anyone has ever spoken a pick-up line to me, I missed it. I came into the world with a filter feature than renders all spoken and eye contact flirtation null. I think it’s genetic.

Once during a three-week sojourn in Paris, I trailed through the streets, museums and gardens behind my tall, athletic brother and my lithe, Nordic-looking sister. I was stunned at how many women checked out my brother and how many men’s eyes followed my sister. Neither of them noticed any of it, and my brother, dubbed ‘Thor’ by one of my friends, frequently bemoaned the sad and sorry fact that women did not seem interested in him at all.

Pathetic. All of us.

Books, on the other hand, whisper the most seductive pick-up lines imaginable, and I am a sucker for more of them than can be good for a body. They don't have to be grammatical or clever. Sometimes all it takes is a single word, and I’m lost—dragon, druid, artifact, disguise—or a well-used phrase—marriage of convenience, time-travel, history and romance.

Publishers work hard on crafting pick-up lines for readers via covers, titles, blurbs and back cover copy. I will admit that all too often romance covers don’t cut it for me, even though romance in its myriad iterations remains my favorite type of fiction. But I pulled a dozen books (by non-Pens because there is no book written by any of the Pens that doesn’t tempt me—even Sophie’s scary ones) I’ve read or re-read recently to analyze what it is about them that makes me want to pick them up.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. Ancestral memory. Scotland. Past and present mystery and romance.

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley. Cornwall. Time-travel. Smuggling.

Always a Temptress by Eileen Dreyer. Regency-era military hero who’s not a duke. Kidnap. Eileen Dreyer!

Dangerous in Diamonds by Madeline Hunter. It’s Madeline Hunter, people. That all I need to know . . . even if there is a duke.

The Smoke Thief by Shana AbĂ©. Dragons—from Cumbria.

Spirit Dances by C.E. Murphy. A shaman in the Seattle PD. Joanne shapeshifts. Coyote. Morrison.

Tender Graces
by Kathryn Magendie. A West Virginia holler. Childhood memories. Growing up takes forever sometimes.

Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning. Fae. Dark. Dangerous. Kick-ass characters. Great cover.

The Landscape of Anglo-Saxon England by Della Hooke. The title says it all. Pure bliss.

The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society by John Blair. Seventh century monasteries!

Place-Names in the Landscape: The geographical roots of Britain’s place-names by Margaret Gelling. British place names = Magic.

Place-names, Language and the Anglo-Saxon Landscape edited by Nicholas J. Higham and Martin J. Ryan. Three of my favorite things in one book. Whisper the title again. Come on. Right in my ear. Shiver.

What books whisper “Pick me up now” to you?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Alpha Heroic Lines

Hey folks. This topic made me think about alpha heroes in urban fantasy and paranormal romance, and how easily they get chicks. That said, I think they're cheating. After all, they usually only get the chick because of the fact that they're the only one who can save the heroine from certain destruction at the hands of (insert villain here). In fact, when you think about it, most of our beloved alpha heroes are actually pretty lazy, passive love interests. They don't have to exert much effort to find or get the attention of their ladies. Mostly because a true alpha's love interest is literally hurled at him by evil henchmen, or she careens into the hero while running away from evil henchmen, or she swoons into his strong arms after he saves her from evil henchmen.....

In other words, except for the part where he has to kick some henchmen ass, our alpha heroes don't have to do a lot besides play "catch the panicking lady."

So let's make it a little more difficult for our alpha. Let's take him out of the dark alley and put him in the dark night club. Let's make him work for his, er, romantic dinner . . .

Here's some examples of pick-up lines I think an alpha hero in a UF or para-rom might say to a woman in a bar:

1) See this gun? That's not the only thing I've got that's hard like steel and ready to fire at your command.

2) I can kill a man in seven seconds, and make you come in five.

3) Wait till I show you my love karate.

4) Since I'm already covered in (insert whatever weird tribal tattoo-looking thing that is actually a mark of him being a demon/vampire/werewolf/etc.), I'll just have to ink your name on my heart.

5) These shitkickers were made for stomping . . . all over your bedside rug.

6) Is it hot in here or did you make my ________ powers ignite with passion?

7) You're so beautiful that if you were a super villain, I'd think twice before impaling you on my sword.

8) You could stake me any day, baby.

9) I no longer care that I'm condemned to walk in darkness, 'cuz you're my sunshine.

10) Thank the gods I'm immortal, or my heart would have stopped when I first saw you.

Now add your own! What would your favorite alpha hero say to his lady love?

(ps: Today you can also find me blogging about some books/movies I've liked recently, over at my site.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

No Game

--Adrienne Miller

Pick up lines have never been my thing. Pick up anything has never been my thing. Truth be told, I’m lousy at the whole flirting thing.

Oh sure, I can talk a good game. I write books filled with the cutest meets you’ve ever read.  In private, surrounded by nothing but friends I can talk about hot guys like they were personal trophies. But out in public, it’s a different story.

Most of the Pens already know this, but I can’t even look attractive men in the eye. Nope, can’t do it. And the more attractive I find them, the worse it gets.

I don’t mean that the only people I talk to all day are hideous troll creatures hiding under bridges. There’s lots of handsome men I talk to all day long. Hotness, that undefinable quality that makes you feel pulled toward another person, seems to be the thing that makes me stare at my toes.

It’s because I show everything on my face. The second I feel that little flip in my tummy my face starts to burn as bright as a lantern. I grin. I giggle, for crying out loud. I do all the things that a reasonable adult woman shouldn’t do when faced with a hottie.

I’ve always been this way. Even when I met my husband. I don’t think I spoke to him for a good three months beyond a few mumbled good mornings and the like. I figured if I couldn’t muster up the resolve to tell him I was interested with my face, I would have to find another way to let him know. So every day that we worked together I wore my shirt with one extra button undone. Years later, I asked him if he noticed. Hells yeah, he did, he said. So I guess I have just a little game after all.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Have I died and gone to heaven? 'cause I think I see an author

by Juliet

Come on, admit it: you really, really want to date a writer, right?

I mean really, who wouldn’t? Unless, of course, you trust the likes of Chuck Wendig to tell you exactly why and how we are absolutely insane.

Or, you could check in with Charles Warnke, a young man with an incredible take on the romantic lives of those who read. (
btw, this man is young enough to be my son and yet I have *such* a fangirl crush on him. I might to have to start stalking him soon. Someone might want to warn him. Apparently, he lives in the next town over.)

But seriously, if you can look past the unwashed hair, the deadline funk, the desperate gleam in our eyes when we’ve been spending waaaay too much time with the imaginary voices in our heads...we’re awfully interesting. And how cool would it be to bring an author home and say no, he has no means of support but he’s in the Library of Congress! Or to bring an author to a crowded cocktail party and ask her, loudly, what's the best way to kill someone with a shrimp cocktail?

So I asked around, and came up with a short list of good lines to try if you’re trying to pick up an author...or at least to get the conversational ball rolling:

Personally, I don’t think genre fiction gets the respect it deserves.

2) I’m going to assign your books as required reading in my class of 500 students.

I may be old fashioned, but good spelling and grammar turns me on.

4) What’s your opinion of the semi colon versus the dash? (insert ellipses, etc.)

5) You need a new plot for your next book. Let me introduce you to it, right here.

6) I think reading glasses are sexy.

7) Did you hear about that mummified body in the locked room? How d'ya suppose it got there? (substitute any appropriately gruesome crime here)

8) How many synonyms can you think of for “walked”?

9) Want me to bring you food and drink and take care of all the housework and not let anyone talk to you for a week while you’re on deadline?

10) Good Lord. Joe Konrath. There are no words.

How about you all? Think of any good pick up lines for the next time you're in a bar crowded with authors? (read: just about any genre lit conference.) I'd love to hear them!

Maybe I'll collect them all and write a book.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Worst Pick-up Line Ever

I have a favorite hotel in Venice, a tiny place which bought the old Danieli furnishings when they renovated. It's hard to find, tucked into a corner of Cannaregio that you have to be really looking for, and opposite its front door is a little osteria. Mario runs it. He's a big guy--imagine Mario Batali meets James Gandolfini. If you become a semi-regular, he'll pour you shots of his homemade grappa which would melt the rubber off a steel-belted radial. His waiter-cum-busboy Franco only knows three words of English, and wanders around the five tiny tables singing "I luff you" to everyone as Mario puts things on your plate that you won't recognize as food and he won't tell you till you're done eating that it was a calf's hoof.

One Monday night, I was relaxing over a half-litre of red wine with a friend I'd made at the bookshop when Mario called me over to the bar and poured me another shot.

"Wednesday night," he said. "You come back. You can meet my wife. Private party here, family only. My wife is cooking."

"Me?" I said, delighted to my toes. "You want me to come to your family's party?"

"My wife cooks good. Better than me."

I thought of the calf's hoof and decided that yes, this would be wonderful. A true Venetian experience.

All day Wednesday, I could only think about the evening to come--what I'd wear, what I'd say. I brushed up on my Idiot's Guide to Italian.

I put on makeup and a pretty dress, pulled on my high boots. I walked through the lobby, chatting with Santina at the desk as if I wasn't nervous, but my heart was racing. I crossed the narrow alley (so narrow if I turned sideways, I could touch both walls) and pushed open the door of the darkened restaurant.

Mario was behind the bar. Instead of his kitchen whites, he wore a dark, well-fitting suit.

There was no one else in the room.

"Where's the party?" I asked, confused, thinking perhaps I'd gotten the time wrong.

"Here," he said, holding out his arms.

"But your family?"

"Is just me."

I couldn't quite wrap my brain around it. "But your wife?"

"Just me."

"I wanted to meet your wife! I wanted to taste her cooking!" I'd been duped, and I hadn't seen it coming.

"Andiamo," he said, offering me his arm.

I went. He bought spritz and polpette at another osteria, and we chatted, awkwardly. He tried to kiss me, and I didn't let him, pleading tiredness. I practically sprinted back to the hotel.

It wasn't that he'd tricked me. It wasn't even really that he was married. It was that I'd been so excited to meet his wife, to taste her cooking, to sit in a room with a Venetian family and be welcomed as a guest, not a tourist.

Also, it has to be the worst pick-up line that's ever been used on me. You can meet my wife. Please.

(When you read this, I'll be in Venice again, staying in an apartment on the Zattere. I'm not really that eager to see Mario, but I'll pop by to see if Franco still luffs me.)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

How to be Irresistible, Gents

by Sophie


Let's skip the lines and go straight to the pick-up, shall we?

Juliet and I have an ongoing conversation about how a man can make himself irresistible. It's not really all that complicated, and we've even shared it with a few gents, but it must be the sort of thing that you can't fake because we haven't exactly noticed a huge uptick in the number of men using these foolproof methods.

I should note that this may not work with beginners...these are power tools for grown-up men, *not* boys. And they're guaranteed to attract grown-up women...not girls still figuring out who they are and how things work.

1. Notice babies and children. This one trumps every other trick, I swear it. Go to an airport sometime and find the gate for a nonstop to JFK. There will be lots of interesting men sitting around, waiting. Now find the gal flying solo with a baby and a toddler. Take note of all the men casting her irritated looks and making comments to strangers about if that was his kid, he'd damn well shut it the hell up. I WOULD NOT DATE THAT MAN IN A THOUSAND YEARS. Now find the man - it may take a few minutes - who can't help grinning 'cause the kid reminds him of his own or a nephew or even himself at that age, or because, aw, hell, they just don't stay little long enough. If he compliments the little tyke or picks up his dropped binky or helps untangle a blanky from a stroller wheel, well, I'm a goner.

2. Tip extravagantly. Seriously, guy, how much is [fill in your favorite amorous activity] worth to you? More than ten bucks, surely? Drop a ten for the coffee shop waitress or the guy who brings your car around...see what it buys you. The right woman will notice.

3. Compliment someone who could use one. Not your date (although I suppose that can't hurt) - but tell an elderly woman that her blouse brings the blue out in her eyes, or an awkward teen that you like his tattoo.

4. Give up your seat, your place in line, your table, your cab...anything at all, to someone who needs it.

I probably don't need to go get the gist. A generous man stirs passions in the right woman. A man who seeks to impress by intimidating, bullying, bribing, or powerbrokering gets exactly the woman he deserves.

...and just 'cause I feel like it, a few men we know in the biz who have all the right moves!

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Mystery Novel: A Strategy for Living?

Welcome guest blogger Betty Webb. As a journalist, Betty interviewed U.S. presidents, astronauts who walked on the moon, and Nobel Prize-winners, as well as the homeless, the dying, and polygamy runaways. The dark Lena Jones mysteries, based on stories she covered as a reporter, include this year's Desert Wind, given a starred review by Publishers Weekly; Desert Lost ("One of the Top Five Mysteries of 2009," Library Journal); Desert Noir ("A mystery with a social conscience," Publishers Weekly); and Desert Wives, ("Eye-popping," New York Times). Betty’s humorous Gunn Zoo series debuted with the prize-winning The Anteater of Death, followed by the just-as-silly The Koala of Death. A long-time book reviewer at Mystery Scene Magazine, Betty is a member of National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, Women Writing the West, and the National Organization of Zoo Keepers.

When I learned that today’s topic was “strategy,” I worried that it was both too specific and too vague. But when I looked the word up in my Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, one of several definitions caught my eye: “A careful plan or method for achieving an end.”

In mystery writing, that end is usually – after the commission of a murder – to restore truth and justice to a threatened community. Yes, someone’s life has been unfairly cut short, but because of the due diligence of our hero sleuth, the guilty person has been apprehended and order has been restored to the world. The sun rises over a peaceful land and birds sing sweet songs as rosy-cheeked children skip hand-in-hand down picturesque country lanes.

If only.

I give a popular writer’s workshop titled “Five Ideas A Day, Every Day,” in which I teach my students how to read a daily newspaper for story ideas. This idea-getting strategy never fails because newspapers are filled with mayhem, from the front page (“Severed head found on popular hiking trail”) to the comics (the anteater in “B.C.” slurps down a peaceful ant farm), to the advice column (“Dear Abby, my husband is having an affair with my mother”). In newsprint, the carnage is never-ending.

But that’s because they reflect real life, a chaotic place where as soon as we solve one problem, another rears its thorny head. We feel like Sisyphus, forever rolling a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down every time.

Compared to real life, a traditional mystery novel is a tidy place. Someone does a Bad Thing, and people get hurt. But unlike in real life, in mysteries the perpetrator of the Bad Thing is always caught and duly punished. Light chases away darkness. Serenity replaces chaos. And it is the strategy of the sleuth that has brought about this magical transformation. Whether a grizzled police detective, a suburban housewife, or even the octogenarian resident of an assisted living home, successful sleuths all have one thing in common: an orderly mind.

In the sleuth’s orderly mind, one and one always make two. Effect the murder always follows cause the motive. Confronted with a dead body, the sleuth mentally backtracks from the scene of the crime to the commission of the crime. Throughout this process, clues are studied, red herrings explored and ignored. Consciously or not, the sleuth firmly believes the Universe is an orderly place, that all he/she needs to do is pinpoint the one disorderly element, and lo presto, the perpetrator is revealed. The innocents are saved, the guilty are punished. The sleuth’s strategy guarantees salvation.

Sounds almost religious, doesn’t it?

Maybe that’s because in a way, a traditional mystery novel is a religious pilgrimage. We begin in Eden, where all is peace and light. Enter the snake. Daylight darkens. Eden vanishes. Someone gets killed. Chaos reigns until one day, someone with an orderly mind shows up with a list of rules that promise peace and light a strategy for living, if you will. Exhausted by the chaos, most people eagerly adopt the rule book, hoping that by adopting this new strategy, they will win back Eden.

This is exactly what a mystery novel gives us: a formerly happy place marred by an ugly crime, returned to salvation by our mentally-formidable sleuth.

Maybe it bears repeating strategy guarantees salvation.

At least in traditional mystery novels, it does.

To read the first chapter of Betty Webb’s new mystery, DESERT WIND, log onto

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Strategy: Finding a Balance

by Gigi Pandian

I'm swaying in the wind right now, somewhere in between the extremes of being strategic about publishing decisions and simply having fun with writing mystery stories.

There's a good balance somewhere in there, but finding the perfect personal balance is a bit like standing on the head of a needle. It's far too easy to fall to one side or the other.

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to keep writing fun. My goal of publishing at the present time isn't to strategically optimize sales. Otherwise I probably would have continued on my traditional publishing trajectory that I was on before I received my breast cancer diagnosis, or have come up with a super-strategic self-publishing plan. Instead, one of my biggest 2012 goals was to celebrate the end of my cancer treatments in August with holding my first mystery novel, Artifact, in my hands, and celebrating with good friends.

But...Somewhere along the way of following the steps to publish a good quality end product, I began to think more strategically.

I knew after working with an editor that I should produce Advance Reader Copies four months before the book's release date if I wanted any chance of garnering advance reviews. And I knew that meant also creating ARCs in a specific industry-standard way. Then there's the endless amount of possible publicity....

But hang on a minute! Didn't I decide to do this to have fun? I took this path because I wanted to share the mysterious adventures of treasure-hunting historian Jaya Jones, her magician best friend Sanjay (aka The Hindi Houdini), and all the other characters that won't stop rattling around in my head. I don't want to go online for the purpose of selling books. I want to enjoy interacting with other writers and readers. If I gain some readers, then that's great. But I'm not happy when I'm in the mental space of being overly strategic about my actions. You could probably count the number of times on one hand that I've used a hashtag on Twitter. I don't think like that when I'm chatting on Twitter. Nor do I want to.

But I need to do something, right? Because otherwise I might as well be writing my stories in my little Bay window only for myself. I'm sure I'd still write stories in a journal even if nobody else would ever see them. But that's not what I'm doing. I'm drafting, writing, revising, writing, revising, getting critiqued, attending workshops, writing, revising, getting edited, revising, revising some more, proofreading, laying out the text, proofreading, revising, proofreading....

So yes, I'd like my mysteries to find an audience. And I'd like to make enough money from them to finance my travels to research further books (it's the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series, after all, each story going from San Francisco to some foreign destination to solve a mystery and track down a treasure).

Therefore I've got a binder of research notes where I'm keeping track of ideas about how to do a good job publishing to find an audience. I'll do the leg work, but then I try not to take myself too seriously.

This week I'm proofreading my ARCs before they go to press. I can't quite convince myself to stop fiddling. I need to step back, take a deep breath, and remember this is amazingly fun. Because it is.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Martha's Life Strategy

Age 3 months: Sleep. Drink. Poop. Repeat.

Age 5 years: Take lots of baths. Learn how to hold breath. Optimize that look of your hair underwater so it is super flowy. All in the pursuit of being a "mermaid princess" (direct quote from my Kindergarten yearbook under "When I grow up I want to be ______). Judge if you want, but this was five years before Ariel made the idea popular.

Age 11 years: Be better than boys. Smarter than boys. Faster than boys. Boys suck.

Age 12 years: ditto

Age 13 years: ditto

Age 14 years: ditto

Age 19 years: Stop living life for my parents. Drop honors chemistry lab - who the hell takes honors chem when they don't want to be a doctor? Start taking classes for the enjoyment.(Note: it still never occurred to me to take a single writing class)

Age 22 years: Work is overrated. Write every free second. Join RWA. Query agents.

Age 23 years: Tuck tail between legs. Acknowledge failure. Focus on people, not personal achievements.

Age 31 years: OMG LIFE DREAMS ARE SO IMPORTANT besides now have a million friends so can take a break from that. Take back up writing. Write write write write write. Write some more.

Age 32 years: Yeah...maybe get in some revision.

Age 34 years: Try new venues. Let go of old expectations.

Age 35 years: ??? I dunno - you tell me. :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Writer's Formula

Strategy: A Writer's Formula

by Lisa Hughey

Every writer has a process. A strategy for how to write their book. What's truly fascinating (to me anyway) is that every writer's process is different. I'd bet every single Pen uses a separate and unique method for getting the words down.

For those non-writers in the house, here are the standard writer strategies for drafting a book. For the draft process you've got outliners, seat of the pantsers, and the, ever unable to commit to one way, hybrids.

1. Outliners
This writer will design complicated outlines complete with sub-headings, along with color-coded charts, character interviews, world-building questionnaires. Sometimes their outlines and notes will fill an entire three ring binder before they ever write a word of the book.

2. Pantsers
This writer has a concept or character or theme in mind and just...sits in the chair and starts writing.

3. Hybrids
This writer will have a general outline. Sometimes they will use the story arc of script writing by charting out Acts and Turning Points and the absolutely essential Black Moment. But after they get those key points down, they just sit and write.

So now you're thinking, okay fine, but after the draft is written, all writers use the same revision strategy.

Again, everyone's strategy is unique. Those amazingly right brain writers will graph out where the book goes astray and what needs to be changed in order to get the plot nailed down and coherent. They also tend to revise at the sentence level at the same time, crafting sentences to make their readers weep, or laugh, or sigh.

Other writers will do three or four or ten passes. During each pass through the manuscript, they focus on a separate piece of the whole. They add, delete, and refine the plot, character motiviation, emotion, blocking, and sentence level details until the work is just right.

When they get ready to revise, some writers use spreadsheets, some use post it notes, some hold all those details in their brains.

And yet, at the end of the process, all writers have a finished work. So if you're a writer, embrace your own strategy. And don't worry if that strategy changes from book to book. After all, as people we are a work in process, just like our novels.

Monday, March 12, 2012


L.G.C. Smith

Strategy is a very tricky concept in the life of a writer. Well, this writer. Being good at imagining things, I’m not bad at coming up with good strategies in any number of arenas. I attribute this to my father having had such a love of military history and dragging me across the US and the Western Pacific narrating various battle plans complete with commentary on strategic brilliance and failures. From Custer’s failures at the Little Big Horn to why the US used nukes on Japan, I took it all in.

Simultaneously, there were years of strategic analyses of professional sports games from the spectator position, which at my house was cross-legged on the floor in front of a pile of Legos or Lincoln logs. Dad watched, commented, and helped build things. I ended up with a solid understanding of strategy as it relates to winning games and territory. In other endeavors, I understand the importance of strategies, and can formulate then easily.

I do not, however, possess the will to follow through on the strategic planning I so excel at. One thing about strategy: without a certain degree of ambition and motivation behind it, it remains an academic exercise.

Therefore, I’ve developed a general life strategy that doesn’t require a huge amount of action. This is playing to my strengths. And that strategy is: hunkering.

Hunkerers play a long game. You define goals—conservatively, of course—and you find a position from which you think you can achieve them, and then you dig in. It’s not unlike the tortoise’s path in “The Tortoise and the Hare.” You poke your head up periodically to assess the field, and then you hunker back down. You aren’t static. But there aren’t many sudden moves.

Hunkering is not a sexy strategy, I’m sorry to say. It’s not always nimble enough to take advantage of trends or new opportunities. I wouldn’t say I’d advise others to adopt it, but it’s what I’m able to do, and so I work with it.

Every now and then, however, even a world-class hunkerer needs to blow off steam. This week brings a visit from my brother, the tech geek with crazy ass computer skills and sub-par communication skills, along with his wife and three young children, one of whom is autistic, another of whom is not quite two years old, and all of whom still crap their drawers (don’t ask). Anticipating chaos, which is not the hunkerer’s favorite modus operandi, I’ve given myself a strategy to diffuse stress. I’m going to Tweet the horrors.

This is a good strategy for several reasons, not the least of which is that no one else in my family is on Twitter. Then there’s the fact that I have very few followers. I can speak out with low impact, which is perfect for a hunkering life strategy aficionado. And finally, it gives me some more Twitter practice. That can’t hurt. It’s part of my long game.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Time Strategies

Hi folks! Nicole here. Today I'm going to talk to you about time, and strategizing time management as a writer.

The key to being a writer who actually finishes a book is not genius, or inspiration, or even talent. The key to finishing a book is one simple equation:

Butt + Chair + Writing Time² = Book

The problem with this equation. We all have a butt (some of us more than others) and it's easy to source a chair. But where do we find the time?

Here's my simple tricks to finding time.

1) Stop being an artist and be a working writer.

If you consider your writing a hobby, or something you're trying out, or just a lark, you'll never finish a book. Why wouldn't you do laundry or take the kids shopping when the alternative is something that's not real, just fun times? Instead, start thinking of writing as the same sort of thing as laundry, or cleaning the kitchen, or picking up the kids from school: it's something you schedule in every day because it's an important task. When you start thinking of writing as "something you have to get done" rather than "something you'll get to," it changes your whole perception of your daily routine.

2) Be flexible, but be disciplined.

The fact is that very few of us have the luxury of knowing we'll write every day from, say 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM. Most of us have jobs, families, and other types of responsibilities. And then there's Murphy's Law. You're not going to sit down to write at the usual time if your boyfriend just managed to chop off his finger or your toilet has exploded. In other words, life happens, and some of us have more potential for life happening than others.

So be flexible! Don't tell yourself, "I'm going to write at ten every day today, come hell or high water." Maybe at ten, on Tuesday, you realize you forgot a doctor's appointment, and have to rush out. If you're too focused on a certain time or place, you'll feel you've missed that window and won't re-engage.

Instead of being rigid about when you get what done, think in terms of what you want to accomplish in a given day or week. I might tell myself, "I want to write a chapter a day this week." I know how much writing I have to do for each chapter (about 3,000 words), and I can then divvy it up accordingly. Let's say that Monday I'm going to go look at some houses with my real estate agent in the evening (as I am), which means I'll go to the gym in the AM, instead of when I normally go. So I'll be at the gym when I normally write, which means I have two options: write before I go to the gym, write after the gym, or both (write half before and half after). That Monday, I'll do whichever I feel like. If I wake up early and raring to go, maybe I'll get the whole shebang done then. If I wake up grouchy and late, maybe I'll write after I've zumbaed out my crankiness.

But no matter what, that chapter will get written, that's non-negotiable. It's just the when/where/how I don't bother to schedule, knowing that life rarely allows us to be that forward thinking.

3) Don't be precious

This sort of goes with #2, but I'd highly dissuade anyone from getting into the habit of thinking they "have to have" something to be able to work. "I have to be at my kitchen table in complete silence," or "I have to be in a cafe, in that corner by the plugs." The fact is that we do have optimal work habits--those things that help us work at our best and it's great when we can achieve those. But it's rare we get that opportunity, so learn to write like a soldier learns to sleep: wherever and whenever.

4) Try everything

If you're someone who is really struggling with time management, and it has always been an issue for you, read books about this subject or google "time management strategies." There are TONS of resources on time-management strategies out there. Don't only look at books or resources for writers, either. Time management is time management, whether it's for business execs or parents. Look to a number of sources and try out their tricks, cobbling together a variety of strategies that work for you.

5) Rough draft means rough

For those of you who are normally great at time management, but find that you're doing everything and anything to avoid sitting down and writing, the issue probably isn't time, it's nerves. So here are the hard facts: your first draft is going to suck. They ALL suck. That's the point of the rough draft. My rough drafts suck; all the Pens' rough drafts suck; every writer in the world's rough drafts suck.

Repeat it with me: rough drafts suck.

The point of a sucky rough draft is that once you get that sucky rough draft on paper, you can fix it. Make it less sucky. You repeat this process till you have a damned good book. But you will never, ever, start at damned good book. The only way to get to damned good book, is to start with the sucky rough draft. So get that draft out, knowing it's going to suck, knowing it's supposed to suck, as that's part of the process.

I'd highly recommend doing Nanowrimo for those of you who really can't get over this hurdle.

6) Be selfish

This ties up with #1, but it's a lot easier to say "my writing is my work" when you're already published and you don't have a family, like me. The biggest complaint I hear from my students is that friends and/or family get in the way of their writing time, partially because they don't "get it." Young kids aren't going to understand why mommy is there, in her home office, but not playing with them. Lovers might not understand that just because they have the weekend off to play, a writer doesn't. Friends might think it's great you have this fun hobby, but do you have to do it all morning?

This is where communication is key. Writing's not your hobby, it's your job, in the way that being a student is a kind of job. Just like a student has to cut up all those cadavers to become a surgeon, you have to hack at all these shitty rough drafts to become a writer. No, you don't have a contract, but yes, you do have an obligation. You owe it to yourself and your future to do this writing, so that you can have that book, and see where your career takes you.

So tell people no, and explain why it's important to you to have some time, every day, to do your job. Your children might miss out on an hour of extra indulgence on your part, but they'll grow up seeing a parent who pursues his or her goals, a far more important message. And your lover can get over it, as can your friends. They will if they deserve you and support you, just make sure to articulate what it is you need and why.

There are my tips for strategizing time management. None of it's rocket science, it's really about adjusting how you think about yourself, your time, and your writing. Let me know if you have any questions, or feel free to comment on any time management strategies that you have, in comments. :-)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Simple Strategy

--Adrienne Miller

Chances are I’m not going down in history as a great strategist. I’m terribly disorganized, both in thought and in action. I have a bad habit of trying to do too many things all at the same time and not finishing any of them. 
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a strategy when it comes to writing. I do. It’s just a simple one. 
Keep Going
Something doesn’t work, change it. Go down the wrong way, turn around. Fall down, get back up again. It’s simple, but it’s far from easy. When the going gets slow or doubt creeps in it can feel like the hardest thing in the world to get over a bad review, or send out another query, or scribble down just one more word. But you have too. Just one more. Then one more after that. Then another. 
Hard Work Makes Its Own Luck
Luck, good luck especially, always seemed to me to be too fickle to rely on, and I’ve never trusted stories about instant success. How many stories about overnight sensations leave out the decade(s) of practice and work they did before making it big? There are so many things about this business we can’t control. Focus your energy on what you can.
That being said...
Dumb Luck Is Pretty Awesome Too
Every now and again you’ll bumble your way into just the right place at just the right time. When that happens, don’t be afraid to seize the hell out that moment. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s awesome.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I Suck at Strategy

I suck at strategic thinking. And when it comes to acting strategically,'s a good think I'm lucky, because I'm a total loss at such things.

Like this one time at a conference when I had to go to my publisher's formal cocktail party. I'm standing around with a glass of red wine in my hand, feeling like an awkward idiot because I *know* cocktail parties like these are all about meeting the right people and schmoozing with folks who might be good for your career and selling oneself.

All of which I HATE.

Then I notice someone leaning up against a column, looking kind of weird and out of place --like me! So I approach him, and he turns out to be fascinating, and funny, and geeky, and we get more drinks and proceed to have a grand old time. Then another fellow joins us, who turns out to be the first guy’s assistant, and we start making inappropriate comments and snide remarks and laughing so loudly that my editor’s boss joins us, at which point we rein it in and behave ourselves.

As soon as the two men walk off, my editor’s boss turns to me and says: "Good for you! That’s an important connection to make."

And I say, "Wha…?"

And in response to my vague look she says, "You realize he’s the national buyer for ****" (fill in incredibly important chain of bookstores)

And I say "Wait, wha…?" ... and only then realize I've been saying inappropriate things to someone Very Important.

And then later in the evening I'm all tongue-tied around the fellow because I now know he could be a Strategic Asset.

That’s the kind of suave, strategic player I am. So if I ever approach you at a party, you can be sure I think you're not important.

Wait. That didn't come out right...