A Year in Review

It’s hard to believe 2010 is winding down already!  It’s gone so fast, I almost missed it.  I thought it would be fun to look back at the highlights — good and bad — of this year.

January started out great!  My writers’ support group, which had downsized last year, grew again with the addition of two great friends who moved from out of state.  It’s been a fabulous year for all of us as we got to know each other better and shared the ups and downs of publishing.   All Hail the Writergirls describes us perfectly!  I love you guys!

Also for the new year, my daughter and I decided to start for the first time ever eating more healthfully.  We read up on processed foods and chemicals and evil stuff like that, and by the time we were done we couldn’t eat the crap anymore.  We became addicted to healthier fare, started cooking more, and haven’t touched a Lean Cuisine or fast food now in 11 months.  Yay us!  We feel healthier and, as of a couple months ago, when we both hit a plateau, we had each lost 50 pounds. High five for us!

On the publishing side of life, February saw the publication of VENUS GUY TRAP.  Finally.  It was a long time coming, don’t ask me why.  I was so happy to finally see it…but publishing is changing so much these days.  Without the momentum of coming out closer to VENUS ENVY, I’m afraid Venus and her Jimmy Choos were feeling the anticlimactic reception.  By July, I’d heard from my agent that Tor wouldn’t be buying the next Venus book.  Sigh.  Maybe someday, Venus will live again when I have time to write a novella.  She needs her own happy ending.

During March, on the other hand, things took an upswing!  I guest blogged on 1st Turning Point, a great site for writers, with What’s Your Blog POV?  Even better, Harlequin’s Carina Press bought THE KISS TEST, which is my favorite of all the books I’ve written over the years!   And, being an e-book, it wouldn’t take 2-1/2 years to publish — it would be gracing Kindles and Sony Readers everywhere in just a matter of 7 months!

The next few months were spent revisiting and revising THE KISS TEST with my wonderful new editor, Gina Bernal.   It was great working with her, and I had so much fun working again on Margo and Chris’s story.  My reservations about it being an e-book disappeared as I became a fan of the medium.

When Carina Press Launched in July, I indulged in all kinds of new books by authors new and new to me!  On the writing front, I was in a bit of a funk…unsure of what direction to go in.  I *heart* chick lit, but it’s just not that popular these days, and I was having trouble finding my place.  I kept plugging along, talking it out with my friends, and knowing that somewhere down the road, I’d find where I belonged.

September brought some fun news!  VENUS GUY TRAP was a book club pick!  How cool is that?!  Renewed my hope that there were still readers out there who loved chick lit (and Venus!).

October was release month for THE KISS TEST!  I’ll share in another post some of the fantastic reviews it’s gotten, including a mention in Kirkus Reviews by Smart Bitch Sarah, which nearly had me scaling Mt. Everest on sheer joy alone.

October also brought the Emerald City Conference, my favorite writers’ conference, conveniently close to home.  This year it was different, as the conference helped me discover a new direction for my writing career, not so much in terms of what books I want to write, but how I want to give back.  My Super Secret project was born, which I’ll be sharing with everyone in January!  I can’t wait!

As the year winds down, I’m so thankful for a wonderful family, the best of friends, readers who get me and who enjoy my books.  But most of all, I’m grateful for another year ahead just waiting to be better than the last.

Here’s to creating the best year ever for all of us in 2011!

 

Why The Kiss Test?

“McKelden’s knack for creating complex yet colorful characters and zingy dialogue shines brightly in her latest offering to fans.  I loved this book.  A complete delight to read!” – Jane Porter – award-winning author of She’s Gone Country

So my friend Cathy asked me one day, “Why The Kiss Test?”  I figured she can’t be the only one who wondered about that title.

My heroine, Margo, has a best guy friend, Chris. They’ve been pals forever, since they were kids. They have stuck together through thick and thin, coupledom and singlehood, through every one of Margo’s mother’s many marriages, and every other imaginable trial.  Chris is the first person Margo calls, even when she’s in a relationship, because he gets her.

Chris has only one fault…he likes to kiss. A lot. As a matter of fact, before he’ll waste his time dating a woman, she has to pass his Kiss Test.  Kind of like test driving a car…if she’s no good at kissing, what’s the point of asking her out? (His thoughts, not mine!)

It was kind of a fun concept to play with, though I don’t remember how I came up with it.  It was probably one of those organic things that just kinds of happens when writers write books.  But it grew and grew and, by the midpoint of the book, it became a Really Big Thing, more so for Margo than for Chris.

Eventually, in the process of picking a final title for the book before submitting it, my agent pointed out that The Kiss Test would be the perfect title.  I agreed.  Apparently so did Carina Press, as they didn’t ask me to change it. 

So, my question is this…have any of you ever applied a “kiss test” before you dated someone?  

I Heart Digital

So we talked here about what digital books are not.  Now I want to tell you about how I fell in love with e-books (and it wasn’t just because I sold an e-book to Carina Press).

While I would never presume to call eReaders superior to printed books…because really, there’s nothing like the feel of the paper, the smell of the ink, and the pure tactile joy of holding a real book in your hands…there are some advantages to reading digital books on an e-reader.

Here are my top 3 reasons for giving my Sony eReader a big chunk of my reading love:

1) E-readers are perfect for avid readers. As my friend Manon Clarke pointed out in her comment on my last post, e-readers are perfect for the avid reader.  Read a book a day? Setting off for what you know will likely be an endless wait at the DMV with only 20 pages left of your current book-in-progress? Trying to pack a suitcase for a trip that isn’t going to put you over the ever-shrinking airline weight limit?  All of these are really great reasons to have an e-reader!  Instead of filling your purse, carry-on bag, or backpack with a mini-library, an e-reader allows you to carry a practically limitless bookshelf with you everywhere you go for just about the size/weight of one book.

2) E-book publishers take more chances, giving readers a better selection of books to read. Without going into a huge amount of detail about how the publishing industry works, suffice it to say that the cost of printing books can be so prohibitive that publishers have to be super-selective about what they buy.  This means that editors often fall completely in love with books that cross their desks…and still can’t buy them. The marketing department might not know what to do with a historical romance set among Hohokam Indians in the 1500’s, so they turn down an otherwise fabulous book in favor of a maybe not as fabulous book that they know how to market and sell.

But e-books are less expensive to publish, thus publishers can take more chances, publishing books that would probably never have found their audience otherwise. The “motto” of Carina Press, my publisher for The Kiss Test, is “Where No Great Story Goes Untold.”  This works to the advantage of readers everywhere!  With an e-reader (or your computer or iPhone, etc.), you have access to books you won’t find on the shelf at Borders or B&N…books that may very well become your favorites, that you will read over and over again (and which will NEVER wear out or fall apart at the spine, because they are digital!).

3) There’s something so ec0-friendly about an e-book. I’m not what you’d call fanatical about recycling or preventing global warming.  But I once drove past the back of a bookstore that actually had behind it an enormous dumpster full of discarded books.  A DUMPSTER! I was nearly sick. This is probably far more common than what is visible to the public. Did you know that bookstores regularly pull books that aren’t selling from their shelves to make room for more that might sell better? They return these books to the publishers for credit…or rather, they return the covers.  That’s right. They strip the covers off, returning just those to the publisher for credit, discarding the rest of a perfectly good, brand new book. (Granted, they may be recycling said books, but still…the waste is enormous!)

I read a lot and I can’t keep every book I ever read…I just don’t have the shelf space.  Sometimes I pass the books along to friends or relatives (an advantage to printed books), but often what I read isn’t on the preferred reading list of anyone else I know.  And then I’m stuck.  I can donate the books…but truthfully I’ve been turned down by libraries even, who don’t have shelf space for every book anyone might want to donate to them.

[Oh, and that’s another thing!  My Sony eReader? Allows me to borrow library books on it! That is such a sweet deal, it turned me firmly away from the Kindle, Nook, etc., which don’t have that advantage. How eco-friendly is THAT?]

With e-books, I don’t have to worry about what to do with the books I read and can’t keep!  I can keep on my “virtual” keeper shelf far more books than I ever could at home and have my favorites available at the touch of a button anytime I wish.  It may not seem like a big deal, but by reading e-books I’m doing just a little bit to support the environment.  So, read an e-book, save a tree!

I’m pretty sure if I wanted to write a book here about the advantages of e-readers, I could find plenty more reasons they’re a fantastic way to read…but I’ll leave it here.

Have I convinced anyone to give them a try yet?  I hope so!

 

Diving Into Digital

“What’s with the e-book? I don’t read my books on the computer!”  I’ve been hearing this a lot lately when I try to tell people my newest book will be coming out in digital format only (for the time being at least).

Before I try to talk you into it, let me tell you that I completely sympathize.  Before May of this year, I had never read an e-book.   I say this somewhat shamefacedly because, really, how could I presume to be an e-book author having never read an e-book? I preferred my books in paper, the feel, the smell, everything about them.

I’ll tell you, though, since I remedied that with my own Sony Touch eReader (just like the pretty red one to the left), I’ve become a convert!

First, let me tell you all the things e-books aren’t:

1) They aren’t (if they are put out by reputable publishers) hastily written, poorly edited, crap. I wrote THE KISS TEST prior to writing VENUS ENVY and VENUS GUY TRAP, and it took just as much time, love, and attention that my two print-published books took to produce.

Once Carina Press purchased the book for publication, it was edited with the same loving care as my other books by Gina Bernal, a former editor with a major print publisher.  Never once did I feel my book didn’t get as much (if not more) care and attention that my print books got.

Many print publishers simultaneously publish their printed books in digital format…same book, alternative way to read it.  The publisher for THE KISS TEST is Carina Press, an imprint of Harlequin, the largest romance publisher in the industry. Every book they publish, print or digital, potentially affects their reputation.  They don’t accept every book submitted to them for publication.

2)  They don’t have to be hard on the eyes. This was my main concern when contemplating reading digital books.  I work at a computer for the day job, then I write at a computer.  My eyes are often protesting mightily by the end of the day.  I thought the last thing I would want to do is read books on a computer.

But when I tried out the Sony eReader, which utilizes eInk for its display (as does Amazon’s Kindle reader), which is very much like a printed page…no backlighting. Plus, you can zoom in and set the font size for whatever is most comfortable for your eyes. I’ve found I nearly always enlarge the font, and I have read for hours and hours with no discomfort at all.

3) They aren’t only able to be read on a dedicated e-reader like the Kindle or Kobo or Nook. There are other ways to read e-books without buying an e-reader. Though e-reader prices are coming down quickly and noticeably (the Sony eReader I bought is available now for somewhere around $80-100 less than the price it was when I bought it!), they still might seem a little pricey. Rest assured, there’s no reason to buy an e-reader just to read e-books.

Susanna Fraser, my RWA chaptermate and fellow Carina Press author, has a great  explanation on her blog about how to read an e-book without buying an e-reader.

Hopefully, I’ve allayed some of your fears. If not, what are some of your worries about e-books? I’ll try to address them in another blog entry. I’ll also come back another day and and tell you some of the advantages of e-books over print.  Because, while I won’t ever completely give up printed books, I am now definitely a fan of digital format!

 

Winner!

What a month November has been!  With all the other things I have to do in my life (full-time day job, kid job, husband job, leisure time), I still managed to “win” National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNo). 

I originally signed up on a whim.  I figured I’d kind of cheat and finish a book I’ve been having a rough time with.  At the last minute, I changed my mind and decided to start something new.  A book with a lot more emotional depth than I’d written before.  Just to see if I could do it. 

I’m really glad I did.  I’ve learned so much by thinking of this book on a daily basis.  And I’ve learned that by writing with more regularity and setting a goal to write the first draft faster, I’m more in tune with the book and can probably write anything I set my mind to. 

For me, NaNo isn’t the end.  I have a lot of work to do. First of all, I plan to spend the next week or so taking stock, figuring out where I am in the plot and untangling the threads to see what I’m missing and what still needs to be written.  Then, I’ll finish out the first draft.  I’ll be dragging my daughter off to the coffee shop as many nights  a week as we can swing it until I’m done.  (You’ve been warned, Darling Daughter!). 

For all of you out there who NaNo’d this year and wrote ANYTHING more than you normally do in a month…congratulations!  You deserve a huge pat on the back. It’s not about 50,000 words (or 50,005, in my case), it’s about writing.  It’s about pouring your heart out on the page and starting a new habit.  Experts say it only takes 21 days to start a new habit.  So, after a month of NaNo, we should all be writing every day or at least more frequently than before.  Always a good thing!

~Shannon

Why Do I Feel Like I’m Cheating?

Have you ever noticed that sometimes, when you don’t expect much from yourself, and then you do better than you expected, you suddenly feel like maybe you’re doing it wrong?

Take NaNoWriMo (or NaNo, for the even lazier of us) for instance.  We are now on day 4.  Day 3 technically, for me, since I haven’t written anything new today.  I’m still working through the day job, hoping the flow of work picks up (nothing to do right now, that’s why I’m blogging).  So, for me, we’re only 3 days into a 50,000-word month, which I fully intended to fail at.  Heck, I barely find time to write my grocery list once a week, how in the world would I find time to write 50,000 words–half a novel– in one month?

Again, it is day 3.  I have 11,286 words. 

Why do I feel like I MUST be cheating?

Because I am 10% through the month, but 23% through my word count goal!  How can this be? I don’t have time to write.  Just ask me, I’ll tell you!  I’ll tell you every day if you want to know.  I. Do. Not. Have. Time. To. Write. 

So, how am I doing this, you ask?  What have I given up in the past three days to accomplish this feat?  Let’s see, this is what I haven’t given up:

  • Watching TV…saw How I Met Your Mother on Monday night, then Big Bang Theory and Castle last night.  Sunday night I watched an episode of True Blood and Eastwick.
  • Work…I had Sunday off, granted, but worked 7 hours on Monday, and 5 hours yesterday.  Same as every week. 
  • Family obligations…spent last night shuttling son and nephew to taekwondo, will do so again on Friday.
  • Socializing…I have spoken at length on the phone to 2 different people 3 times yesterday and once on Monday.  About my norm. My daughter hasn’t been suffering from withdrawals, so she must be getting her fair share of mom’s attention.  Hubby is content and not putting up a sign proclaiming his NaNo Widower status.
  • Bathing…okay,so I’m still in my PJ’s at noon today, but that’s pretty normal, too.  I work at home after all.  Who would Ipretty up for?  But I’m clean. 

If I’m not giving all that up, what the heck am I doing?  Thinking about writing.  And then actually writing. 

Sunday, Darling Daughter and I spent about 2-1/2 hours at our favorite coffee shop.  We repeated this on Monday night, but only for 2 hours.  We wrote the entire time, racing each other, putting noses to grindstones and concentrating on our stories.  I also wrote a few hundred words at taekwondo last night before I spent the rest of the time chatting Serena.  Then, I came home, made dinner, and wrote until TV time. 

I think the biggest eye-opener about NaNo (aside from the fact that I actually DO have time to write) is that when I am this immersed in a book, my mind works on it all the time.  When I write in my normal typical, fiddle-farting along way, I tend not to think about the book unless I’m actually at the computer, which can be postponed, put off, and procrastinated into being only once or twice a week for a few minutes!  So, essentially, I never think about the book. 

Now though, my characters are flowing through my head, kicking back in my brain and letting my unconsciousness meld with theirs.  I’m discovering their stories as my vision of the story unfolds. 

Why does it feel like cheating?  Because I don’t feel like it’s a struggle? (Yet. It’s a long month, there’s still plenty of time to struggle.)  I’m adding new words, I’m following the rules, I’m not typing “this sucks this sucks this sucks” over and over just to fill up space.  I’m writing. Really writing.

Maybe it’s not that I feel like I’m cheating on NaNo.  Maybe it’s that I feel like I’ve been cheating myself, and my career, all along.  By not living up to my potential. 

Have you ever really suprised yourself at what you could do if you left the excuses at the door?

~ Shannon

 

Time Flies

I can’t believe 2 months has gone by since I last blogged!  How awful of me!  Probably no one is reading this anymore but spammers (who have thoughtfully commented at least 19 times in the last month since I cleaned out the spam filter — way to show dedictation, dudes!). 

Hopefully, though, I’ve not lost you all forever.  I don’t have a lot of news to update you with on the book front, at least not good news.  VENUS GUY TRAP may be delayed a bit.  Sad, right?  Me, too, but it will be worth it in the end.  There have been some cover issues, and believe me, I’m willing to wait some extra time to get a fab cover.  Venus deserves it, and frankly so do I!  I promise I will further update you as soon as I have a final cover and a new publication date!

In the meantime, I have some shiny new Advanced Reader Copies of VENUS GUY TRAP!  Anyone want one??     If you do, keep checking back over the next week or so, because I’m going to come up with a great contest to give one or more of them away.  Because I’m generous like that. 

So, what’s new in Shannon McKelden writing you ask?  Well, on November 1st, I’m going to participate in my very first National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo for short).  What is this you ask?  Well, think 30 days, 50,000 words, lots of coffee, and very little sleep.  I think this qualifies me for Crazyhood. 

On the other hand, I’m really excited to take part. A few really great books have come out of NaNo, such as Lani Diane Rich‘s— Time Off for Good Behavior (Warner Books, 2004) and Wish You Were Here (Warner Books, 2008), two of my favorites.  Even some NYT Bestsellers were written under the frantic deadline of NaNo, like Sara Gruen‘s Water for Elephants: A Novel (Algonquin, 2007). There are dozens of published novels that have come from NaNo.  I’d love to add my own book to that list of accomplished authors.

So, that’s what I’ll be doing for the month of November.  How about you?  If you’re participating in NaNo this year, send me your user name and I’ll buddy you!

~Shannon

 

Vacation turns Daycation

I apologize for disappearing again. Like I said in my last post, summer, even without big plans, is turning out to be busier than the school year!  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve:

  • Plotted and wrote a synopsis for a possible third Venus book.
  • Done all my page proofs for VENUS GUY TRAP.
  • Interviewed, planned, and wrote 4 articles.
  • Wrote about 40 pages for the YA I’m working on (though I’d wanted to write much more!)
  • Participated in all the usual busy stuff around the house.

We did attempt to take a vacation this year though.  This weekend, in fact.  (Note that I’m writing this on Sunday morning, so you can see where this is going and how little of the weekend this vacation actually took up.)

Every year, my kids take a 5 day trip with my parents and my sister and her family and my brother’s kids.  My husband and I, and my brother and his wife, join when we can.  This year, Water Guy and I planned on going up to Fort Worden, where they were camping, on Saturday morning early and would come home Sunday afternoon. 

It’s “only” a two hour drive to Fort Worden, a 19th century military fort with bunkers built into the bluffs overlooking Puget Sound, a couple of miles of sandy and rocky beaches to explore, camping, hiking, etc. 

Fort Worden is kind of special to my family, in that my dad and his family were stationed there when he was a kid.  He lived in one of the officer’s quarters houses, like those at the left, and I believe his youngest brother was born here (and ended up with the middle name Worden). 

We love it there.  There’s lots to do and explore. As long as Mother Nature cooperates.

Which she wasn’t this weekend.  I think she was PMSing, seriously.

I’m betting most of my fellow Seattle-ites will wonder what the heck I’ve been smoking, because the Greater Seattle area is going into a nasty heat wave. It was 85 and muggy here yesterday. 

It was probably 80 and gorgeous at Fort Worden (two hours away).  Water Guy and I drove my Jeep up early, arriving around 9 a.m. to blue skies and sunshine.  We spent the morning on the beach before my parents had to head home with my niece and nephew and so that they could attend a wedding.   Water Guy and I were taking over their trailer for the night, while my kids slept in one tent and my sister’s family in the other. 

In theory. 

After a great day at the marina, feeding starfish and anemones, petting sea cucumbers and feather worms, we played on the beach some more, visited a couple of bunkers (and a way-too-long hike for my mostly sedentary body), we headed back to camp for dinner. By this time, it was 6 p.m., and the wind was kicking up.  Because it was suddenly really chilly, all 8 of us piled into my parents’ trailer (very tightly) and scrounged leftovers for dinner. 

By 6:30, Mother Nature decided to put on a show.  Though sunset wasn’t until about 9 p.m., I’m pretty sure it turned in early.  The sky blackened, the rain began, followed closely by it’s bickering siblings Thunder and Lightning. 

Now, I love me a storm…at home, in the bosom of my living room, dry and comfortable.  NOT crammed into a travel trailer with 5 adults and three kids, who got increasingly tired and bored by 9:30 p.m.  Every so often, when we finally couldn’t hold out hope the storm was going to stop, we adults would rush outside and save what we could.  Unfortunately, this did not include the bedding in my sister’s tent, which was soaked. 

By 9:30 p.m., deciding it was inevitable that SOMEONE would have to leave in order for ANYONE to get any sleep that night. Water Guy and I hastily packed up and ventured out into the dark and stormy night. 

Two hours later, we entered our 90-degree hot and muggy house.  But we were dry, unlike the rest of the Fam Damily.  Darling Daugther reported this morning my brother-in-law slept in the truck, while my sister and all the kids took up all the beds in the trailer.  I’m sure they were all comfortable.  Not. 

Apparently it’s a good thing we deserted, though.  The tent leaked like a seive all night long, which would have shortened their trip greatly, I’m sure.  Oh, well. 

And the kicker?  First thing my daughter texts to me this morning isn’t that my parents were upset that they arrived back at camp this morning to find themselves sad we had left.  Or that my dear sweet sister was going to miss the bonding time we’d have had today.  Or that my OWN CHILDREN were sorry we had left. 

No, she texted me that everyone was pissed we left with the cooler of homemade fried chicken I’d brought with us instead of leaving it for them.   Sheesh.  Talk about feeling the love.

 

Drive-by Check-in

Why is the summer so nutso? It’s not like we’re going anywhere or doing anything this summer (other than the kids on a 5-day camping trip with WaterGuy and I joining them for just one night).  Still, I feel busier than when school was in session.

I’m hoping for some good news soon, but that’s all you’re getting at the moment.  I’ll share when I have permission (and something concrete) to share.  

In the meantime, I’m working on my YA, which is fun to think about but kicking my butt in a lot of ways. I’m finally getting to know my main character, Rami (rhymes with Jamie), a bit better.  She’s a runner. I find it highly ironic that I’ve written at least two books where my characters were runners, when I can’t run ten steps without getting shin splints or falling on my face.  I wonder if there’s some psychological thing about giving characters characteristics WE would like to have? 

What do you think, any of you writers out there?  Do we give our characters traits we ALREADY have, or do we tend to give them traits we WISH we had?

 

At the beginning again

Beginning a new book always feels to me like learning to write all over again.  It’s not like I’ve never done it before either.  I’ve recently finished up VENUS GUY TRAP (out February 2010, but you can preorder it on the Canadian Amazon.com right now! LOL ), which was my 7th completed novel.  I’m not a newbie at this process.

Today I started working on a new YA project I’m really excited about!  Code Name: IFDP.  I got my agent’s approval on the synopsis, which was really important to me.  The market’s so tight these days, I didn’t want to write a book only to find out she didn’t think she could sell it.  So we went back and forth a few times until we were both happy with the outcome.  Now it’s time to write.

But I’ve forgotten how. 

I haven’t. I know I haven’t.  I know that every book starts like this.  Maybe it’s because I’m coming off writing the lastest Venus book, where Venus is such a larger than life character in her own right that other characters seem small in comparison.  Maybe it’s just the newness of it.  I don’t know Rami (my protagonist) well enough to hear her voice inside my head.  I’m not sure how she dresses, what she likes to do in her spare time.  I’m unsure who she is.

Or maybe, deep down, I do.  See Rami’s a little lost and unsure of herself, too.  She’s been sent to live with a father she hasn’t seen (and barely heard from) in ten years.  She’s in a strange town, with no friends, and she doesn’t know what to expect. 

I’m in a strange new town with her.  I don’t know what to expect (even though I know how the story goes).  I don’t know how Rami’s going to find her way any more than she does. 

Maybe instead of fighting the anxiety of starting a new book, I should use the anxiety to make Rami’s experience become real on the page.  We can find our way on this new adventure together.