Thursday, April 25, 2013

My life in the slush pile.


Back in the twentieth century when I started out in publishing, publishers did not insist that all submissions be agented, and direct submissions, aka the slush pile, served as training wheels (more like hamster wheels as it turned out) for young editors. In my beginner's job at Bantam, I was assigned a desk in the secretarial bullpen where a monster stack of manuscripts waited for me. My job was to read them to see if any might be worth passing on to one of the older, more experienced editors. Conscientious and wanting to impress the senior editor who was my boss, I began to read, at first assiduously finishing one manuscript after another. Here is what I confronted:
  • The quasi-literate who loved "big" words but used them incorrectly.
  • The sub-literate and illiterate sandwiched at random between the religious visionaries, the sexually shall-we-say peculiar, and the politically febrile.
  • The demented, the deranged, the delusional and the dangerous—the last represented by submissions from jails and penitentiaries.
  • The would-be writers who had no idea how to shape a scene or introduce a character much less write a line of dialogue that any human being might actually have uttered.
  • The wannabes (that word didn’t exist then) to whom punctuation seemed a galactic mystery as did sentences containing both a subject and a verb.
 I was no literary snob and my reading choices embraced everything from Willa Cather to Mickey Spillane—but the slush pile almost did me in.

No matter how fast I plowed through, attaching Bantam’s form rejection letter to the top and placing them in the required SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope), the pile never diminished. Every morning and every afternoon (two mail deliveries a day back then) the mail room guy dumped another stack on my desk. They were typewritten, smeary, often single-spaced, sans margins, punctuation or paragraphing; some were hand written, scrawled in pencil in old-fashioned school notebooks, the kind with the marbelized black-and-white cover. They were held together by rubber bands, string, yarn and, once in a while, ribbon.

 The pages were occasionally pristine but more predictably smudged, dog eared, defaced by icky, unidentifiable substances, or dotted with coffee stains and cookie crumbs left by previous editors who had read—or made a valiant effort to read—the submission in question and, as they say in the trade, “passed.” 

I soon learned to read the first one or two pages, maybe scan a few more, then flip to somewhere around the middle to see if anything had improved and, if any shred of hope remained, look at the last page to see if a more careful reading might be called for. (Dream on.)

The only response from these would-be authors was an occasional complaint that they’d left a piece of white thread on page 125 and, when the ms came bouncing back, the piece of white thread remained in place. Why, they wanted to know, hadn’t the entire ms been read? How could we (the nameless editors because no one ever signed a name to a form rejection) reject their masterpiece without reading it in its entirety?

Let me count the ways. :-(

As the years passed, I moved on and so did the slush pile: to agents who weren’t about to pay a young assistant to slog through the slush—in a short while, it was their unpaid interns. This new, "improved" system provided a double benefit: neither publishers nor agents had to hire salaried employees to sift through the slush pile and submissions had now been vetted before appearing on an editor’s desk.

As time passed, we arrived somewhere in first decade of the twenty-first century and reading the slush pile had gone from paid labor to unpaid labor. A sort of progress, I guess, but one last glimmer of progress beckoned: the internet. The quick and easy upload that earned Amazon a 70% cut every time a 99c book was purchased. The magic of the internet had managed what had long seemed impossible: it  turned a huge time and money sink into a profit center.

Lest you think me excessively bitter and cynical, I will add that the SP was not 1000% hopeless. There are writers who have made it out. Stephanie Meyers (Twilight) was rescued from an agent’s SP. Philip Roth back in 1958 from a Paris Review SP (you can look it up on Google). And Kathleen Woodiwiss, one of the queens of the Bodice Rippers, was originally pulled out of the SP as was Rosemary Rogers.

SPECIAL WEEKEND SALE (Through Sunday, April 28 only)!

I've reduced ZURI, a love story with all 5-star reviews, to $.99. ZURI will go back to its usual price on Monday, April 29.

Kindle  |  Nook


Thursday, April 18, 2013

The news and the olds.


Diane Sawyer and me.

I’m getting older. So are my friends. We tell each other how good we look and we mean it. We look healthy, alive, interested, interesting.

What we don’t tell each other is how young we look. Because we don’t. We look—more or less—our age. We know it and, while we visit our dermatologist and perhaps even a plastic surgeon; while we wear flattering makeup, patronize talented hair stylists and care about clothes, we don’t make excessive efforts to fool anyone about how many years we've been gracing the planet.

So why does just about every anchor or news personality on tv—most of whom are in their 50s, 60s or beyond—so faux-young?  Look up Diane Sawyer or Nancy Grace, Leslie Stahl, Greta Van Susteren or Katie Couric on the internet and, odds are, one of Google’s first guesses as you type in their names includes the term “plastic surgery.”  Barbara Walters is pushing eighty but, counting in TV years, eighty isn’t pushing back.  And it’s not just the women.  Al Roker, Sam Donaldson and Sam Champion all rank high on the plastic surgery websites.
I’m a true believer in the power of lighting, hair and makeup and I’m certainly not proposing that these knowledgable and experienced people look as if they’d just rolled out of bed to tell us about the most recent global disasters, political crises and economic trends.   In fact, I want them to look their best.  Still, how much Botox, plastic surgery, teeth whitening and fake bake are we supposed to be fooled by?
We grew up with them;  we know approximately how old they are.  We know what we look like and we can probably even guess what they look like.
As we grow older, looking in the mirror isn’t always great but it’s not always terrible, either. Like everyone else, we have our good days and our not-so-good days.  Diane and Katie, Barbara and Al are all very smart and very good at what they do.  Their age and experience are a large part of the reason they’re so respected.  How about letting at least a little bit of it show?  After all, what’s more powerful than authenticity?
We women—and men—“of a certain age” grew up with TV and still have the TV habit. We’re the ones to whom TV wants to sell their relentlessly advertised arthritis-relievers and erection-enhancers.  Do the executives who hire on-air journalists think we forgot we knew their star anchors and reporters back in the day?
Doesn’t occur to them that in their twisted zeal for youthification they risk insulting the very audience they most want to woo? The grown-up audience that hasn’t—at least not yet—deserted them in droves for the internet?

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Kindle  |  Nook  |  Kobo
Coming soon from iBooks


Thursday, April 11, 2013

5 sex thrills (almost) no one talks about.

OOOOOH! HERE'S ANOTHER THRILL: My new Romantic Comedy/Thriller, THE CHANEL CAPER, is #1 in Comedy!
Kindle  |  Nook  |  Kobo
Coming soon on iBooks


Freud asked what women want. Well, Dr. F, here are a few clues:

The vaunted 6-pack? Meh.
The big shoulders and small waist? Big effing deal.
The biceps and triceps? The quads and hammies? Oh, yawn.
Lifts weights like an Olympic champ but won’t lift a finger around the house? Surely you jest.
Bodybuilder Wallpapers Free Download HD - Gym1Bulked-up cover boys remind me of Arnold Schwartzenegger and we all know about him. Or else they bring to mind  narcissistic movie stars who flit from woman to woman and pro athletes—baseball, football, basketball, you name it—with a different baby mama in every city his team blesses with its presence.
I have zero interest in a man who devotes hours to himself and “sculpting” his body. He’s the kind of man I’m going to have to fight for mirror time in the AM, who uses more—and more expensive—“beauty” products than I do, and the kind of man whose self-involvement turns me off, not on.
What turns me on in a man is:
1: Competence—Can he change a tire, fix a leaky faucet? Big plus for sure if he can, but, no, I’m not looking for a handyman. Sometimes I just want the man who knows who to call to get the job done.
2: Humor—Give me a man who can make me laugh—over spilled milk, a bad haircut, a new recipe even the dog won’t eat. He’s the kind of man who can make me smile all the way into the bed room
3: Integrity—Introduce me to the man I can trust. The guy who won’t cheat on me, steal my money or turn into a vampire sucking my energy, ambition, goals, dreams is the man who turns me on and keeps me turned on.
4: Savvy—Set me up with the man who knows how to wangle/charm his way into an airline upgrade, can order in a french/spanish/chinese/dominican restaurant, is knowledgable about finance, art and architecture, movies, tv and world affairs. He’s the man you can live with for a life time and never be one of those couples who sit through dinner without a word to say to each other.
5: Smile—Who can resist a guy with the kind of smile that would melt a glacier or even contribute to global warming? Does his smile start with a glint in the eyes, go to the mouth and light up the whole face? Please. Give him my number and twitter handle.
Oh, and a few more essentials, kindness and, as old fashioned as it sounds, good manners. A man who treats others well—who respects his parents and siblings, his colleagues and co-workers—will treat me well. And nice but not necessary, a guy who can cook dinner and clean up afterwards without acting like turning on the stove or washing a dish will make his man root shrivel up and fall off. But if he's a klutz in the kitchen, he knows how to pick up the phone and order take-out when I'm too tired, too hungry and too cranky to cook.
Spare me the studs. Keep your hunks. You can have those “irresistible” bad boys all the girls seem to love. Just give me a man who appreciates everyday life and knows how to live it.

So, girlfriends, do you agree? Do you have anything to add to my turn-on list?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Romancing The Wild: From the "bodice rippers" of the 1980's to 50 Shades of you-know-what.


Romance and an accidental collision.

Romance as a category has shown its strength over the decades as it evolved from the early days of the nurse romance—pretty nurse Patricia wins handsome Dr. Phillips—through the “bodice rippers” of the Eighties to the many sub-genres that exist today including, of course, the steamy erotic romances descending from 50 Shades.

No matter the sub-genre, there always seems to be room for further expansion and an eager audience willing to follow writers wherever our imaginations take us. To pirates and pirate ships, to the Middle Ages, Regency England, and the settling of the American West. Wherever there are people, people can—and will—fall in love.  We want to write about them and readers love to read about them.

ZURI—the word means "beautiful" in Swahili—is a romance with an unusual setting: an animal orphanage named Kihali located in Africa. The initial idea for the book was the product of an accidental collision.

Out Of Africa, set in Kenya in the early 1920’s and starring Meryl Streep as the Danish writer Isaak Dinesen, and the young, golden Robert Redford as a white hunter, is a grand romance—and one of my favorite movies. I watch it every now and then and had just seen it again when, while casually flipping thru TV channels one evening, I happened to see a clip of a baby rhino. I was blown away by the little rhino’s appeal and gracefulness.

Baby animals never fail but a rhino? Could a baby rhino actually be adorable? Yes, indeed. Very much so.

Pinned Image
Baby rhino enjoying a handout.

I was also aware via newspaper and internet articles that poaching had become an extremely lucrative international crime. The slaughter of rhinos and elephants was decimating the wildlife populations of Africa to the point where they are now endangered species. Between the glamor of Africa, the vulnerability and appeal of helpless animals and the sweeping Streep-Redford romance, the germ for the book was firmly planted.

The need for research was obvious. I had to find out about the people involved in the dangerous work of animal rescue and protection, the newest scientific discoveries in animal communication as more and more is learned about their high intelligence, the gory reality of poaching and the ruthless criminal gangs who profit from its bloody endeavors.

Then there were the details of rhino husbandry and veterinary, the amazing work being done by African animal orphanages, the risks involved in wildlife care, the details of rhino and elephant behavior—Zuri, the orphaned baby rhino who is the story’s heroine, meets elephant and other animal friends at Kihali. I also needed to find out about the local language, Swahili, Kenyan cuisine & wedding rituals—and I needed to use my research in a way that fit in naturally with the narrative flow of the book.

The research was fascinating. Did you know that the illicit trade in wild animals is third only to the illegal trades in drugs & weapons? Or that rhino horn—it’s actually keratin, the same material found in feathers and nails—is thought to cure cancer, maintain sexual vigor and is considered a miracle medicine in Asia, although it is, in fact, of zero medical value? The price of rhino horn, driven by demand in booming Asian economies, is now more expensive than gold as is the ivory from elephant tusks, used not for “medicinal” purposes but to make carved trinkets.

Of course, in a romance, a love story is crucial. Therefore: Renny Kudrow, the sexy scientist and expert in animal communication, who is the moody Alpha hero. Renny is the Director of Kihali and Starlite Higgins is his newly-hired vet, a talented doctor who hides a horrifying secret. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start when Starlite panics and almost causes Zuri's rescue to fail. The two who must work together to save Zuri and the other animals in their care must also work their way through their initial very rough beginning to a much-deserved Happily Ever After ending.

 By the time I finished writing ZURI, I thought of the book as romance in its broadest sense, meaning love of beauty, love of nature, love of animals, and, of course, the romantic and transformative power of human love.

Readers, do you enjoy romances with off-beat backgrounds and unusual settings? Or do you prefer your romance with backgrounds that seem familiar?