Thursday, June 28, 2007

Inaugural CONTEST! The Measure of Success

Eleven months ago, I packed up my bags, and my fluffy cat, and moved to China. I vowed I would not come back without a book deal. Well, here I am, with no book deal, but lots of cute shoes and silk scarves. Now, while I never underestimate the power of shoes, I am disappointed that I wasn't as productive as I wanted to be. But the good news is that during a little contest called FanLit I met a group of supremely talented and supportive people who share my passion for romance.

Was my journey a success? You can measure success in many ways. There are the small victories. Rejection letters mean you actually sent something out, so that is a kind of success if you have writer's block. There are larger triumphs, like finaling in contests, or being asked to submit a rewrite. I know many talented writers who are celebrating those successes right now. There is the success of seeing your book in print for the first time, the moment you hit a bestseller list, the RITA nomination.

And then there is the thrill every time you write a passage you know is better than anything you've written before. That's the success I'm celebrating right now.

I have a phobia about posting excerpts on my blog. I think it stems from the fear that I will read them next week and feel horribly ashamed. But I want to post a few excerpts now, to show you how far I've come, and what I have to celebrate.

My first attempt at writing romance featured a squeaky-clean missionary's daughter who was dragged into 1890 Shanghai's seamy underworld by a bad-boy opium trader. Unfortunately, the hero and heroine did not meet until page 50, and when they did, much head-hopping, leaden dialogue, and cliche-ridden situations ensued. I vomited out 400 pages, and then realized it was truly awful.

Here, for your amusement, is an excerpt from The Devil of Shanghai--completely unedited, in all its unbridled glory, rendered in purple, because purple it is:

So many layers of cloth between them, yet Mabel felt naked with longing. She had seen the beauty of this man’s naked chest, had lain beneath him in dreams and in reality. He was the inevitability of the pleasure and delight she could no longer deny herself. He was the reason she breathed. She was swept up in the dazzling passion of a boundless love. She could hear the Queen of the Night's aria ringing in her ears as his hands freed her heaving breasts and his lips teased the aching peaks of her nipples. Even if he lost all respect for her, even if he only wanted her as a mistress, regardless of the consequences, she was his. Even though they were members of two different worlds. Wasn’t it ironic that her mother had found solace and love in the arms of a penniless American doctor and now she, a penniless American herself, was finding passion with an Earl?Mmhm. I said "heaving breasts." Good lord.

I know you're saying to yourself, "But what does this have to do with me winning something?" You're right, I've been awfully slow getting to the contest part of the post.

Here are your choices:

1. You can submit an excerpt that make you terribly ashamed, or one that makes you darn right proud. It can be the thrilling tale you wrote about My Little Pony in the fifth grade, or something from your latest WIP. I don't care. Just make me laugh, or sigh with envy, or both.


2. Tell me how you define success at this point in your writing career.
The winner will be randomly selected by a process that involves my cat and slips of paper soaked in a catnip solution, and announced on Friday, July 6th.

The prize is a silk scarf I bought in Suzhou, China from one of the most famous Chinese silk brands, Xiu Niang.

The scarf is HUGE, you could use it as a table cloth, or wear it to RWA National (if it arrives in time). It's high-quality 100% pure silk that shimmers in the moonlight. The photos don't do the vibrant colors justice.

And so begins my first contest. Thank you for reading, thank you for getting me through the dark times, and thank you for helping me celebrate the small successes in life.

p.s. Guest blogger Carrie Ryan is talking about a similar subject today over at the Manuscript Mavens blog.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Where the Air Is Clear

The first thing that hits you when you step out of the airport after a prolonged sojourn in China, is the blessed blueness of the sky and the sweet, fresh air. I'm still marveling about it two weeks later.

We're grandma-sitting in Palo Alto right now, giving my bf's aunt a vacation. During the day I field the many questions of a wandering mind, dole out reassurances, and think up clever distractions to calm anxiety. But grandma goes to bed at 8:30, and then I take my laptop out under the stars to write. We're here for two more weeks and then it's back to our little 1886 farmhouse in the Pacific Northwest. Our renters say there's a bountiful crop of luscious raspberries and plump blueberries in our yard this year--yum. Cherry trees and fresh rosemary will be so wonderful after six months living in a hotel.

My favorite baby was in the hospital getting a cleft lip operation on my last day at the orphanage, so I couldn't say goodbye. But I knew his life was improving, and I have high hopes for his eventual adoption. I'm staying in contact with the other volunteers, and they will keep me updated. For some obscure reason, the Chinese government makes it impossible to adopt from a facility where you were a volunteer, and they recently tightened their adoption restrictions, so that my bf and I would have to be married for two years before we could adopt. I sobbed and sobbed when I had to leave. I wanted to take pictures of the babies but it was forbidden. I'll never forget their dazzling smiles and pleading eyes.

I'll post reflections about my time in China as they come to me, as well as the long-promised post on men reading romance. I've been a very inconstant blogger lately, and for that I apologize. I've never been good about sticking to routines during times of change. My writing suffered as well, but now I'm back on track and sinking my teeth into a dark and sexy gothic featuring a brilliant, obsessive hero named Rodric. More on that later. And check back next week for information about my very first contest. The prize will be a treasure I bought in China.

Oh, and speaking of contests, I am dying to win a coveted single-maven critique from one of the fabulous Manuscript Mavens. Read all about this priceless prize here. I haven't won a blog contest yet. Maybe this will be my lucky link.

I'll leave you with some photos. Thanks for reading, and sorry for the long dry spell.

No, I do not play the pipa (more's the pity), but the gentleman sitting next to me is a zither master. He was teaching me a traditional pingtan aria for voice.

Scene from the opera we saw in Beijing, The Marriage Between the Dragon and the Phoenix.

Azumeth on top of the Beijing Ancient Observatory.

Shadow puppet play in Wu Zhen.

Rice wine distillery in Wu Zhen.