Saturday, August 21, 2010

Not the Usual Jitters

So I have a new book coming out on September 1st and usually at this point, I’m jittery, a wee bit nervous, starting to chew my fingernails down to nubs. The writer’s insecurity comes through and I start to stress that this time, I’ve let my readers down. They won’t like it. It has too much sex (strangely, yes, that is one of my most frequent concerns). There isn’t enough plot. Something will be wrong with it.

With this release, I’m feeling little of that. I love this story. I think it’s the best thing I’ve written in years. My editor loved it as well giving me another boost of confidence.

Now the concern is…what if I’m wrong? What if readers don’t love my baby as much as I do?

Usually when a reviewer or reader comments negatively about some aspect of my book, I shrug it off. When a reviewer commented that Marvin and the Three Bears was mostly sex and no story, I couldn’t help but agree (that was kind of the point of that story after all).

But with Shadow’s Embrace, because I love it so much, what will I do? Crash and burn? Wail? Okay, I know myself, I’ll whimper, have a glass of wine, declare the reviewer an illiterate hack (it’s just something I do to relieve the stress) and move on.

It’s strange to have the confidence in a book and still feel the release jitters. After more than 25 stories, you’d think I’d get used to it. I guess it doesn’t go away. I guess the only choice is to make it part of the adventure!

Shadow’s Embrace comes out from Ellora’s Cave, Wednesday, September 1st.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nothing's Wasted

Writers are ghouls. We pretty up our nasty habits with labels like “literary” or “commercial” fiction. We call using our life experiences “enhancing” our stories, but we are cannibals. We take our experiences, good, bad, or the confused in-between visceral things we can’t name, and craft with every piece of them like Native Americans use a slain buffalo. Hide, guts, meat, bone, teeth…nothing’s wasted.

I once gave CPR to a young man who committed suicide by throwing himself head first off the balcony of a restaurant in downtown Anchorage. The second story balcony from which he’d fallen didn’t seem to be high enough to kill anyone, but he’d thrown himself over the railing head-first.

I’ll use that experience in my writing someday. Make good use of the image of everyone standing around, not offering to help. I just stood there too, gawking at the young man who seemed dead, not redeemable for a come-back-to-life coupon, with the dark blood thick under his head within a few blinks.

A twenty-something woman in a white dress leaped from the crowd, got down on her knees on the asphalt parking lot next to the spreading blood and began resuscitation attempts. Breath, breath—compress, compress, compress…

Shame rolled over me. I had CPR training too, but I hadn’t even thought to help until she threw herself into battle. I found myself kneeling on the other side, not sure how I’d gotten there. “How can I help?”

“You breathe for him, and I’ll do the chest compressions,” she said.

I tilted his chin, pushed on his forehead, pressed my mouth over that youthful, clean-shaven skin. I blew, heard gurgles in his chest, tasted blood and cigarettes in my mouth. I thought of stopping, it’s a good excuse to stop. But The Samaritan in White kept compressing the young man’s chest. Not a man…a boy, really, he didn’t look old enough to buy beer.

Pulled in the wake of the Samaritan’s courage and determination, I continued to blow into the young man’s mouth when it was my turn. The world narrowed to only us and our hard labor to nurture whatever life might remain in the boy after he’d done his best to be dead.

I searched for a spark of life in that slack face every time I raised my head, and knew he was surely dead from the blood that spread like sand from an hourglass until red flowed under the knees of the little Samaritan In White.

My breath started to crackle in my lungs. My allergies were reacting to the cigarette residue on his lips. I coughed, blew, coughed.

“Trade me places,” I said. “I can’t keep breathing for him. He’s been smoking, and I’m terribly allergic.”

We traded. It was hard to keep the rhythm going smoothly. She was so much better at it than I was. “One, two, three…” The Samaritan helped me keep count of the compressions, it was easy to lose track when my own breathing lagged far behind.

The ambulance arrived, and we ignored it. We kept up the rhythm we’d worked out like two parts of a CPR machine, until two EMTs ran up to us, saying in stereo, “We’ll take it from here. You can stop now.”

Feeling dizzy, my lips burning and swelling, I stood on trembling legs. My husband took my arm, urged and supported me away from the center of my temporary world.

“Are you okay?” my husband asked.

“No,” I said, and leaned into his side. He slung a heavy arm around me and we watched the EMTs put an oxygen mask on the boy’s face. They loaded him up in the back of the ambulance so fast I was envious of their speed. I’d done my best, but I couldn’t match their professional skills. I chided myself, You and the Samaritan in White did the best you could. I stared over at my teammate, the better half of our CPR machine, but could only see her back. Her group of pretty friends, twenty-something boys and girls bent around her like groupies, charming and solicitous of her wellbeing. She led her group away across the parking lot without a word or a glance in my direction. My chest was too tight to call out and ask her name. Tell her mine. I’d disappeared, already forgotten, my usefulness ended.

Eric helped me get to the pickup where it was parked on the street, and I climbed inside with his assistance. My lungs were gummed up and I could barely breathe—snap, crackle, pop--like Rice Krispies. I scrambled around in my purse which I hadn’t taken into the restaurant with me, found my inhaler and took three hits like a junkie, breathing as deep as the band around my chest would allow. My lips were on fire, and when I rolled the window open, the chill autumn air couldn’t cool them.

Yeah, I’ll use that someday. I’ll be in anguish. I will taste the blood of a hero or an enemy in my mouth. I’ll have a partner who’ll leave me bereft. My lips will catch fire, and my chest will go tight again, as though it’s filling with lead a teaspoon at a time. That moment will be cannibalized in dripping red bits. Perhaps I’ll throw whole chunks and severed fingers curled like question marks into the pot to stew. What are those floaty things? Push them back in. Taste for flavor--not enough blood. Give it another stir with my big writing spoon. Let the stew simmer until done.

--VA Worthington

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cinderella Stew

This is a sorta-kinda-almost Cinderella story. Mine. Only it’s a stew-like mishmash because there’s no evil stepmother, or ugly stepsisters, or a King and Queen trying to marry off their Prince (hmmm, yummy plot, though). In the story I am rescued from scrubbing floors and doing laundry—but since I’m not actually forced to do those things normally, it’s not a big plot point. No pumpkins turn into carriages (although I turn into a pumpkin at midnight with enough Sex on the Beach. Hey now, clean up those minds—it’s just a drink), and no mice turn into horses, but Nashville does turn into the home of The Mouse.

My story does have a grand ball, but there are eight fairy godmothers (five writing peers and three editors who will forever be faceless and nameless). There’s no glass slipper—but there is a pretty golden necklace.

There’s also a shameless back story—forgive me for not weaving it in, but this isn’t a saleable manuscript anyway. In November I entered a contest—a fairly big one called the Golden Heart. In March I got a call telling me I was a finalist. I hadn’t been planning to go to the fancy ball where they celebrate the GH even though everyone else in town was going. But after March I knew I had to join them.

The ball began with a week of amazing preparations and events. If you’ve never been to an RWA convention (the official name of The Ball) it is an occasion of amazing energy and excitement. Over the course of several days, two thousand writers converge and start to mingle, network and meet new friends. It sounds cliché but—it’s dead easy to make friends at an RWA convention. All you need to do is lift your eyes and say ‘hello,’ in the elevator, at the registration desk, at a bar, or around a fountain. I walked up to one woman out of the blue and said, “I love your name, it’s perfect for a book.” We struck up a great conversation, exchanged cards and I hope to contact her when I get to contacting people (which is a completely different subject).

Aside from random writers, there are also celebrities. I saw, to name drop a few: Cherry Adair, Susan Anderson, Christina Dodd, Eloisa James, Kristan Higgins, Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber, Jayne Ann Krentz … Mind you, these were mostly fangirl moments—Susan, Christina and Eloisa aren’t my new BFFs—but they are our Michael Jordans and seeing them, especially to say ‘hi,’ is awfully cool.

Workshops abound at the RWA conference, as do parties. If you want to know about a certain publishing house—there’s a spotlight for that. If you want to know about women of faith writing in the secular market—there’s a workshop for that. If you want to know how to make your urban fantasy more attractive to agents—there’s a speaker for that. And, if you belong to any group – there’s probably a party for that. The Beau Monde ball for regency writers; the Steam Punk ball for fantasy, futuristic & paranormal writers; the Harlequin pajama party for category lovers; Death by Chocolate for Kiss of Death members. Join a group—have a party!

My partying centered around that Golden Heart contest final. Sixty-six talented writers finaled in ten categories and we all joined an online chapter called The Golden Network exclusively for GH finalists. The group holds its annual meeting and “boot out” ceremony, where they kick out all members who’ve published and make them alumni. They also held a workshop featuring an exclusive editor/agent panel. RWA held an official Rita/Golden Heart reception full of great desserts and a chance to really meet all the finalists and mingle with roving editors and agents.

On that note, I think the most important skill I honed this year was how to schmooze an editor or agent. There are funny stories (my best being the agent who approached me, asked for my pitch, excused herself in the middle of it with an apology, promised to come back, came back but didn’t ask for any more of the pitch. Either the Mickey ears I forgot I was wearing were a REALLY bad idea—or she was friends with an ugly stepsister I don’t know about). Anyway, let me share my personal list of opening lines. (Look at this as a really bad bar scene):

  • I loved what you said in your panel discussion
  • I love your agency’s website
  • I love your philosophy of the publishing industry
  • We have a mutual friend
  • How do you do this all day? I’m very impressed
  • How is your own writing coming?
  • It’s a pleasure to meet you
  • I put a big star by your name in my notebook after the panel discussion
  • May I look up your guidelines on your website?
  • Thanks for the rejection

I honestly used every one of those lines. And, BTW, the ‘thanks for the rejection’ actually got me a request for my Alaska series. You have to be shameless I guess.

Finally, the week culminated with The Actual Ball, aka the Rita/Golden Heart Award Ceremony. It’s not a secret that I won my category, and I’m still in shock. But just for the record, this event is a must-do if you go to conference, whether you’re up for an award or not. Wanna see RWA’s version of Oscar night? This is it.

To end my Cinderella Stew story, I’d like to share what it was like to actually win the Golden Heart. All kidding and silliness aside, this is one of the biggest honors of my life so far and, darn it, it was fun. I remember most of it—but it’s kind of like a slideshow in my brain that goes like this:

*People asking all day if I’m getting nervous and me saying unequivocally ‘no.’ *Sitting at the banquet table with a note card, writing a list of people I should thank should the unbelievable happen. *Deciding writing any kind of note is a jinx. *Tucking the half-finished list away in my purse. *Not caring at all if I won because it’s an honor to be a finalist. *Deciding, after seven winners are announced that, no, I really, really want one of those necklaces. *Sitting stock still except for my ping-ponging heart and my knuckles bracing white against my teeth while they announce my category’s finalists. *A crazy, far-away voice saying, “And the Golden Heart goes to --- “Songbird” by Lizbluth blub blulb mumble mumble …..” *Finding the unfinished list in my purse. *My mouth hanging open as I stand up and walk to the stage. *A very cute cameraman grinning at me as he points the lens at my face. *Holding up my dress hem and not tripping on the stage steps. *Catching a glimpse of myself on the Jumbotron—totally surreal. *Realizing they were right at the rehearsal when they said we wouldn’t be able to see the audience. *Saying “Wow.” *Seeing exactly one face in the middle of the front row: Vicki Lewis Thompson—her gorgeous white-blonde hair glowing like a guardian angel’s. *Realizing that with her beaming at me, I had nothing to be nervous about.

Applause and a huge hug from my presenter, Roxanne St. Clair surrounded me—it felt like a hug from a big sister! A small but mighty ‘whoop’ from Jenny, Boone and Lizzie when I said, “Alaskan sisters” carried all across the ballroom. And then I had the necklace in my hand and was floating back to my table. A constantly streaming prayer in my head went, “ThankyouThankyouThankyouThankyou…” In fact, that’s still going on.

Okay—enough already. Cinderella ended up with a way-better equivalent to the glass slipper. She got home well after midnight without the gown turning into rags, and Prince Charming was waiting at home—but he was waiting. And when he hugged her a day later he said, “Well, I guess going to THAT party was worth it.”

Oh yeah, it was. And while my experience this year happened to be golden—don’t wait for something like that to send you to the RWA Ball. Friendships, schmoozing, classes and parties can turn anyone’s trip into Cinderella stew. And that’s a mighty fine-tasting treat!!

Happy Fairy Tales Everyone!