Friday, July 31, 2009

My Friend . . . Julie Lessman

It was my first morning at the ACFW conference (after that first night where I met my now-best-friend), and I stood in line for breakfast. I'd left my room early so that I could be gone by the time my 23-month-old daughter woke up (hey, we avoid those "Don't leave, Mommy!" scenes whenever we can!), but already there was a line outside the banquet hall where we ate.

In front of me stood a lovely woman who turned around and struck up a conversation with another nearby attendee. In typical me-fashion, I more or less twiddled my thumbs and pretended I wasn't eavesdropping--like I could help it, lol. Then the woman drew out bookmarks for her upcoming release, handed one off to the woman she'd been chatting with, and passed one to me, too, along with a grin. "I'm Julie Lessman," she said.

I introduced myself and looked at the thick plastic bookmark in my hands. "Nice," I said in reference to the giveaway. "One my daughter won't be able to destroy in three seconds."

Julie laughed and confessed that the printer had messed up, and she'd been concerned about them. We started talking about the book featured on the mark, her debut novel A Passion Most Pure. As the breakfast-line started moving, she asked to pray for me and the other lady beside me. We told her what we were pitching, and she took our hands and prayed then and there for us and our projects.

As we moseyed in to breakfast, I offered to review her novel for her when it came out. I'd been praying that morning that the Lord show me a way to give back at conference, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. Especially when Julie gave me a blank look. "I know reviews are important," she said, "but I'm not sure why."

Since I'd started the Christian Review of Books a few years before, I was well able to expound on that topic. She further endeared herself by saying, "Don't take this the wrong way, but you look really young to be so well versed in the industry." Is there any quicker way to make a woman your friend? LOL. We chatted all the way into breakfast, I gave her a card . . . and then conference went on. I didn't see Julie again.

But soon after I got home, I sent an email to her publicist asking for A Passion Most Pure when it was available. Not long after that, I received an email from Julie asking for my book, A Stray Drop of Blood. We emailed back and forth a few times, and when I confessed that I read both CBA and ABA romances, Julie got very excited for my opinion on her novel, since it was a little more risque than CBA usually published. Which made me all the more eager to read it. =)

Since then, Julie and I have formed a unique kind of friendship born of mutual respect and appreciation. As each of her books have come out, I've written reviews and raved to everyone I know (I can't help it--they're sooooooo good! My sister always threatens to fight me for them when she sees me with Julie's latest release). She was kind enough to write a review of Stray Drop for me too. We email now and then for updates on each other's projects, and she assures me she's praying that my manuscripts find favor with the publishers.

Remembering that lovely woman who prayed for two strangers during the first full day of conference, I don't doubt it. I have found in Julie an author of amazing talent, yes, but more importantly, a woman of deep faith and such a beautiful, giving spirit.

The third book in Julie's Daughters of Boston Series hit shelves this summer, and it's a fantastic "ending" to the saga. (The quotes are earned because her next series will pick up with the remaining O'Connor siblings--I can't wait!) Check out more information about her books at her website, and click on the pictures of them for my reviews.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thoughtful . . . About What to Write

As I near the end of a manuscript (which I'm doing now), my mind starts moving ahead to the next project. With me, there are always other projects waiting. If someone were to look in my My Docs folder, they may just shake their head. In addition to the three dozen or so "loose" documents, I have folders. One for ABA (containing another few dozen ideas I've worked on to some extent or another), and then a folder for each CBA idea I've carefully hewn out. Once an idea earns more than one document, i.e. notes as well as a few pages of text, they get a folder. (There are six, at the moment.)

The real challenge? Figuring out what to dedicate my time to. There are the sequels to books currently under consideration. These will obviously have to be written at some point (see, optimism!), but I need to wait to see what sells first. There are the off-the-wall ideas that often form in a flurry of "what if"s throughout a single day, spurred by who-knows-what. (Like, what's something my friend Stephanie [YA writer] and I could work on together that we could pitch to Andy Meisenheimer of Zondervan [who's looking for weird stuff and is hilarious about it]? Oh, I know! . . .) There are the ideas that I am totally in love with, but which may be a hard sell.

Part of me says, "Who cares what's selling now? Don't write for the trends. Write for the heart." And part of me says, "Yeah, but Janet (my agent) specifically requested I keep to American-set historicals or else contemporaries. And I trust Janet."

For instance, I have this awesome idea for a Victorian-era story that must be set in England. I could contort certain aspects of it and make it New England instead, but then I'd lose the identity of my characters. So what do I do? Write it anyway, and hope that my Victorian novel already out there sells by the time I finish it? Wait until I have a relationship with an editor and then say, "Look, I have this idea. What do you think?"

Because the research for this one is going to be daunting. But I not only believe in the story, it occasionally haunts me. (Now being one of those times.) I'll occasionally pull out the prologue I wrote and read through it, sigh a little, try to feel the characters. Until now they hadn't been real enough for me to really dive into now. Now though . . . well, yesterday I took that 9 page prologue, ditched it, and wrote a new 5 page one. So I'm kinda in the groove.

I've heard non-writers ask writers, "Where do all your ideas come from?" For me, the answer is EVERYTHING. Seriously. I get ideas constantly--just ask my crit partners, who are occasionally treated to rambling emails on my various unpersued projects. The harder question is, "How do you know what to focus on?"

The answer? Prayer. And then I keep an eye open for the pointing of the Lord. A year ago, He showed me pretty clearly it wasn't time to write this new Victorian (even though I'd just spent $75 on research books). But now it's time to break out that prayer again. Maybe He'll say, "It's time for this one." Or maybe He'll show me something else. Maybe another contemporary. Maybe an American historical. Maybe that weird "What if" idea. Who knows?

Either way, it's an exciting time, this point where one project will be finished and another picked up. A time when you get to see the flower of one project bloomed full and another bud right beside it, still perfect with its closed petals, no blight or flaw upon it.

"What," you get to wonder, "might you be in a few months?"

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Remember When . . . Bobs were the Bees' Knees?

The 1920s. Hemlines went up, waists went down, curls waved goodbye, and everyone shimmied their way into the Jazz Age. Prohibition was the law of the land . . . and gangsters made millions flaunting it.

Is there anyone who thinks this doesn't sound like a fun time write about? LOL

A little over a year ago, I was struck by inspiration. "What if," I thought, "a law enforcement officer used a girl to get an in with her family? And what if we're on the girl's side, even though her father's, oh, I don't know . . . a mob boss? And what if she knows what he does and has no problem with it--at the beginning?"

This is how Mafia Princess was born.

I threw myself wholeheartedly into research. After reading a book about the Mafia (not yet called the Mob), I decided that I wanted to set my book in pre-Capone Chicago, which meant around 1922. (Capone was there, of course--just not ruling the city.) I made this decision because I much preferred the Mafia of those days. In spite of some really nasty illegal goings-on, they had an honor that was lost after Capone took over. A respect for the "old ways" that they brought with them from Sicily.

Unfortunately, that also meant that a lot of the styles that came to define the era weren't around yet. Yes, hair was bobbed--but not yet shingled. Yes, dress silhouettes were simplified and elongated--but waists hadn't dropped to the hip quite yet. Yes, cloche hats were coming into style--but brims still reigned the day.

And of course, there was the super-fun slang like in the title of the post. I had to use it sparingly, but I really enjoyed writing one character who peppered her conversation with every faddish phrase I could find. She habitually said things like, "Take off this ball and chain, put on your glad rags, and let's hit the town. I know of this party that's going to be the elephant's instep."

Now, selling a Mafia story to the CBA (even one that is decidedly Christian) may prove a challenge, but I just received word that the first editor we submitted to has requested the full, and I'm pretty excited. So for the next few weeks, our Remember When Wednesdays are going to share some more interesting FYI about 1922 Chicago. We'll learn a little about the Mafia of the day, the styles and fashions, and some of the misconceptions that have arisen about the era over the years.

Come on, Twenties, give us a roar!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Story Time . . . ZORA & NICKY by Claudia Mair Burney

When Claudia Mair Burney's new book out from Cook arrived on my in-pile, I thought something along the lines of "Sigh." I'd only read one book by this author before, and while I enjoyed most of it, I didn't care for the ending. I was kinda afraid this would have the same kick-me-while-I'm-down thing going, but I dutifully picked it up anyway. And fell in love.

Zora & Nicky is a look into the lives of the title characters that will redefine your entire way of thinking. Zora is a young, wealthy black woman whose father is an influential minister in the Prosperity movement. Nicky is the down-on-his-luck son of a white Southern Baptist preacher who'd run for the senate not long ago. To the world, these two couldn't look more different. But after they both walk out of their respective churches one Sunday, fed up with the rhetorics of their fathers, they meet at an informal Bible study--and are never the same again.

This is such a timely, relevant book right now. It's unafraid to look deep into some popular denominations, it's unafraid to deal with race issues head one. And Burney arrives at a place where the reader, no matter his/her color, is touched by the honesty of the character's hearts.

I was raised in a community with next to no minorities, and with the belief that everyone was made equal. When a minority did come into our area, I can honestly say I barely even noted the difference in their skin color. Growing up like that, at once sheltered and well-taught, watching the news could be weird. First of all, what was with all the prejudice? And why did the black community always assume prejudice?

Those two questions are at the heart of this book--Zora sees everything Nicky does as racist, and Nicky has to figure out how to get around that by looking at things through her eyes. He isn't racist, not in his heart. But before he can convince her of that, he has to understand that she was indeed raised to think that everything's different for a black person.

This is a story of profound sensitivity and yet hard-hitting facts. It pulls no punches, whether they be concerning the lustful thoughts of the hero or the sad reality of the world as we know it. But it leaves you not only with hope, but with understanding. I couldn't put this book down, and long after I turned the last page, it's still with me.

As I watch the latest "race issue" debacle on the news, I shake my head and think, "EVERYONE ought to read Zora & Nicky!" The world might just get a little brighter if they did.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Modern . . . Health Nuts

I am not a health nut. I'll confess that up front. Sure, I'll eat healthy things--if they taste good. ;-) I'll exercise . . . when I start to get unhappy with how I look. But I don't do any of those things for the sake of themselves.

Now, my parents have decided virtuously to be healthy. My aunt is a nutritionist, personal trainer, and nurse practitioner. My mother-in-law went through this phase before David was born when she was all about keeping everything that entered her body "pure." (She describes herself as a step removed from crazy with it at the time.)

So naturally, I decided that in my WIP I need to have a character who torments the heroine with this sort thing. =)

The heroine in my work-in-progress is the third of five children, and the rest are all boys. (Fun, huh?) Her oldest brother is my Health Nut, and he moves back from California at the beginning of the story and invites himself to stay at her house. Throughout the story, he drives her nuts by interfering with her diet and "forcing" her to exercise (no, my family would never do this, lol).

But he also makes her realize something--that foods are good for you not because of what they DON'T have, like fat and calories and preservatives. But because of what they DO, like vitamins and minerals and nutrients.

I came to this realization one day when I thought, "Well, I'm ruining my salad by putting a full-fat dressing on it." Then I thought, "No I'm not. I need the salad because of what it has. Not just because it's a better alternative than pizza."

My heroine then takes it a step further and applies it to people. So often we judge ourselves on what we're not--on our failings. But wouldn't we rather define ourselves by what we are? Maybe I'm not in good enough shape, maybe I'm not patient enough, maybe I'm not . . . all number of things. But you know what? There are a lot of things I am too. And they're a whole lot more important.

Friday, July 24, 2009

My Friend . . . Stephanie Morrill

Back at the '07 ACFW conference, I walked into my very first session, sat down, and thought, "Wow. I know nobody." It was an agent panel, one where we turned in one-sheets on our projects and had them dissected, so I was already a little nervous. Plus, I got there really early, so there was lots of time to twiddle my thumbs. Then, after a minute or two of "Now what?" thoughts, I heard "Hey, nice bag" from behind me.

I had a nice bag (about which I was very excited), so I turned around to find a grinning-twentysomething sitting with an identical red leather bag. A, might I add, pregnant twentysomething (I was also a pregnant twentysomething, so this was instant bonding material). We started talking, and I ended up moving back to sit beside her.

Thank the Lord for red leather bags! The young woman I was chatting with is Stephanie Morrill, who has since joined my critique group and become one of my all-time best friends. Stephanie writes Young Adult fiction and is awesome at it. And since she's the first member of our critique group to get published, it seemed fitting to dedicate my first My Friend Friday to her.

Stephanie's first book from Revell just hit the stores July 1st. Me, Just Different is about a girl who had it all--and wasn't so sure she wanted any of it anymore. With a light, engaging tone and an honest look into the heart of a teen whose world is shifting, Stephanie pulls the reader into Skylar's life and never lets go.

Yes, I'm slightly biased, given that I had the honor and pleasure of working with Stephanie through every step of this--but as I remind her from time to time, I read the book before we were super-good friends and loved it then too. =)

Since September of '07, I've been there praying as Stephanie submitted to agents and eventually signed with Kelly Mortimer. I've been there praying as Kelly submitted to every publisher under the sun. I was on Stephanie's To Call list when she heard back from Revell and did a happy dance with her when they said, "Yes!"

When the book finally arrived in my mailbox, I jumped for joy and said, "My niece is here!" I can't quite call it my baby, but since Stephanie is a sister of my heart, "niece" is totally appropriate.

I'll probably post more about Stephanie on later Fridays (when I don't have other people begging to be highlighted, lol) and as her other books come out. But for now, check out my review of Me, Just Different and all the fun bonus matieral up at the bottom of it, including an interview with Stephanie, an article I wrote about her book and Young Adult fiction in general, and character sketches. Also be sure to check out Stephanie's website and blog.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thoughtful . . . About Optimism

I confess. I'm an optimist. Not just a fleeting optimist, mind you, an eternal one. As the hero in my Work In Progress just said to the heroine, "You go way beyond optimist. You don’t just see the glass half full–even when it’s empty, you say, ‘Yay! Now I get to fill it up with something even better!’” That, as my husband and critique partners will tell you, is the perfect description of me.

It's gotten to the point where it's a joke. If someone else is called an optimist, they'll reply, "Oh, I've got nothing. You should meet Roseanna." Seriously. When the Lord was writing genetic code, he gave all the worry genes to my sister and left me with this attitude of "all's well until you prove me otherwise. And even then I won't be convinced for long!"

Amid my critique group, the joke has led to a new name. I said something about optimism being my middle name. Carole Brown replied with "Are you sure it's not your first?" LOL. We all decided that maybe it was hyphenated–Roseanna-Optimist.

I now sign all critique emails with RO, the agreed-upon abbreviation. And it suits me so well that I almost always start to sign ACFW emails that way, too. And HisWriter emails. And every other email.

Sometimes I wish I weren't always so hopeful, since things rarely go as well as I think they will. But in general, this is a really handy attitude to have in the publishing industry. Whenever I get a rejection (not that I ever get rejections, ha ha ha), I usually reply with, "Oh well. There must be a better contract out there for me!" Of course, my wonderful agent then has to try to find it, LOL. She said a few months back, "You're always so cheerful! I hate giving you bad news. I want to sell something for you!"

Me too. And it's coming soon. Says RO. =)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Remember When . . . Monaco had no casino?

Back in the day, I decided to write a book about a British noblewoman raised as a princess in some other country. When I was 13, this country was Bratinburg, a figment of my imagination. Then when I was 15 I learned more about Monaco and fell in love. So I rewrote said story to have my darling Brook raised as a Monagasque princess.

In typical me-fashion, I just made it all up;-) Made up the royal family, made up the circumstances . . . the only thing that was accurate was the name of the principality and the fact that they spoke French. A few years later I decided that didn't cut it so did some more intense research. And then a few years after that decided it still didn't cut it so did some really intense research.

What I learned was that I picked a heck of a time to set a story in Monaco. If I plopped my fictitious character into the Grimaldi family, her father would have been Prince Charles--the one that Monte Carlo is named after. Her little brother would have been Prince Albert, arguably one of the most influential rulers of the tiny nation, who did a lot to lead it into modernity. During those years, they lost 90% of their land when two towns rebelled and joined Italy. It was just before the 1861 war for Italian unification, Sardinia was still their protector instead of France . . . and this was just supposed to be backstory!

I had a lot of fun subtly incorporating these domestic troubles into the story, even as my character quickly left Monaco for England. Through letters and a trip back to Monaco-ville, she got to see the struggles the Grimaldis went through as they tried to find a way to stay afloat financially with so many resources lost.

The Grimaldis' answer was the famous casino. Think what you will about gambling, but there's one thing I really admire about this--no Monagasque citizen is allowed to gamble. Hilarious, right? They can work there, but that's it. Otherwise, it's purely a means of stripping foreigners of their wealth, lol.

My heroine is torn about her family's decision to open the casino . . . how about you?