Thursday, February 26, 2009

Funny Friday Bunny Style

My pet rabbit, Buttercup, has her own bedroom complete with a cardboard cottage. In the photo at the right, you can admire her remodeling efforts. Lovely picture window, isn't it?

She's also remodeled my carpet, but that's a sore subject at Chez Dreiling.

How I came to be a proud bunny slave is a bizarre tale (like most of my life). Five years ago, my daughter's high school boyfriend decided she needed a pet. When Amber kept begging me to let her have a rabbit, I made the classic parental mistake and said, "I'll think about it." Which Amber translated into "Yes!"

I had no idea what I was getting into when Buttercup came into our lives at 8 weeks of age. Suffice it to say, she got sick within two weeks. Very sick. So I found a vet. Not just any vet. An exotic vet. Yes, rabbits require specialized care. In addition to getting her well, I had to have her spayed, even though she had no boyfriends living with her. Why? Because female rabbits who are not spayed stand an 80% chance of developing cancer.

When I told my work colleagues what I'd spent at the vet, they concluded I was nuts. Buttercup became known as the $1000 rabbit.

Meanwhile, my daughter and the boyfriend had a parting of ways - and a custody battle over Buttercup. Needless to say, we, er, won.

About the time I thought I had Buttercup's care down to a science, she developed the rabbit equivalent of anorexia. Her wonderful vet tried to prepare me for the worst. I left the office, fearing she would die. Later that afternoon when I returned to the veterinary hospital, the gentle vet walked out with his thumb up. I broke down and cried.

I love our little fur kid even though she doesn't like to be held. That's because rabbits are prey animals and get scared easily. She's very fragile. We have to be careful when we do pick her up, so she doesn't jump suddenly and break her back. Every year, I have to take her in for dental work to file down sharp edges on her teeth - to prevent her from cutting her tongue. She uses a litter box just like a cat, but I have to use dust-free, pine-free litter to keep from damaging her lungs. Did I mention the 25 pound bags of hay? I'm a very good customer of the Oxbow Hay Company.

But every morning when it's time for her breakfast, she scampers around my feet for that one tablespoon of pellets and fresh hay. And every morning, I melt.

Because of the specialized care required for bunnies, they're not recommended for small children. If you'd like more information on house rabbit care, go to the House Rabbit Society:

Here's a link to a great You Tube Video of Super Bunnies!


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Write What You Know

Writers are often told, write what you know. There is a lot of misconception about what this means. Granted, there are writers out there who use their professions to advantage in their novels. But the resulting story often involves suspense situations the writer never experienced. In other cases, authors write about professions, situations, and time periods they only know about from extensive research. I can't possibly know first-hand what it was like to be an aristocrat in Regency England. What I have done is research the period thoroughly with books and visits to period mansions and to museums. This, however, is not the most critical aspect of writing what you know.

In my opinion, writing what you know means writing about what matters to you. I don't mean in a biographical sense, but rather writing what you've learned as a result of life experience. For example, when I first conceived the idea of How to Court a Duke, I started with a question. What happens to a woman who makes a life-changing mistake at a very young age? Why did this matter to me? Because I made a huge mistake when I married at age nineteen. The repercussions from that decision had a big impact on my life. The novel, however, is not representative of the events in my life. Instead, the themes that emerged resulted from my own life experiences and what I learned as a result. The major themes of the book deal with betrayal and forgiveness. Did I knowingly include them? No. The process was entirely subconscious.

I've heard several published authors talk about recurring themes in their novels, themes they only recognize when the novel is finished. Theme is about what characters learn. Theme is connected to the character's internal conflicts, conflicts that must be resolved in order for the protagonist to find peace, happiness, or in the case of a romance novel, lasting love. In some novels such as literary fiction, the character may never resolve his/her issues, which in itself suggests theme. It's realistic if you consider people who make the same mistakes over and over again. You shake your head and think: They never learn.

In romance, there is a fairy tale quality in the happily ever after aspect, which is suggested at the book's end. This doesn't mean the novels are not complex. I think readers are smart enough to deduce that the characters they fall in love with would likely argue and have issues as life continues. The point is that the hero and heroine have conquered their past demons, which allow them to form a lasting relationship in a healthy manner.

I unknowingly began How to Court a Duke with the kernal of a theme. The question popped into my head, and in the writing of the book, I subconsciously uncovered themes that meant something to me personally. These themes have a universal resonance. Who has not suffered some form of betrayal? Who has not sought forgiveness or had to bestow it?

Tell me, what themes do you find in your novels?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Are We Too Connected?

First there was email. Then came IM, text messages, blogs, My Space, Facebook, and now the newest gadget - Twitter. All of a sudden, I kept seeing bloggers mention they found info on Twitter. I didn't want to be left behind, so I paid a visit. There I found messages such as: 10:30 AM - I'm at the pool.

OK, so I still don't get it, but I'm sure Twitter provides lots of value. After all, tons of people are tweeting. So I asked myself: Should I jump on this cyber bandwagon? Can I send messages such as: I'm at the computer - or - I'm eating Kashi Granola with Activia Yogurt.

Wow! I, too, could be a Twit.

Nevertheless, I have some reservations. That's because I'm cyber overloaded. The number of Yahoo Group loops, websites, and blogs I visit is increasing exponentially. Admittedly, I've learned a lot about the writing business from the Internet. Agent and editor blogs are filled with important info, not to mention entertaining Query Letters. And I certainly enjoy communicating with fellow writers. But today I realized I'd hit the all time rock-bottom when I started getting emails with birthday wishes and offers of friendship from the likes of Snickers, Elizabun Tailor, and Floppy.

No, it is not my birthday.

My pet rabbit has a profile on ... BunSpace. Today, Buttercup got dozens of 5th birthday wishes from all of her furkid cyber friends.

My name is Vicky, and I am a cyber addict.

I need a 12-step program for my internet addiction. Or at least a diet. Is there such a thing as Cyber Watchers? Do I need to log in my daily visits to blogs, websites, and yahoo group loops?

Tell me, how addicted are you?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Funny Friday Brit Style

Many thanks to my colleague Andrew in Bristol for this (supposedly?) real British sign!


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Funny Friday the 13th!

In honor of Friday the 13th, I found this image of a scaredy black cat. Scaredy Cat reminds me of Phoebe on the show Friends and her hilarious song, Smelly Cat. If you missed it or would like to tramp back in time to the episode, here's the YouTube link:

Here's something unusual. There is a hospital devoted solely to cats in Phoenix, AZ. It's called The Scaredy Cat Hospital. I'm not making this up! The hospital even features "luxury boarding suites." Here's the link:



Thumbs Down

I never dreamed I would write rejection emails.

In my day job, I hire contractors, specifically market research firms. Often, I send requests for proposals (RFPs) to multiple vendors. I spend quite a bit of time on the phone with them answering questions about the project and listening to their ideas about methodology. Then I review the proposals and make a choice. This means I have to send rejection emails to the others. Ironic, isn't it?

Having rejected a number of proposals in the last eight years, I've gotten a taste of what it must be like for editors and agents. Fortunately, I don't have to cull through hundreds of query letters, but I can understand why publishing professionals send form rejections. What is interesting is that market researchers, like writers, want to know why I rejected their proposals.

When I first started this job, my colleague told me to write what amounts to a form rejection. Our decision was based on price, methodology, etc. This didn't work very well as the vendors tended to call and ask for details. They wanted to know what they could do differently next time. The problem is that my decisions are based on a project by project basis. I imagine this is quite similar to what agents and editors experience. In some instances, the proposal and the firm simply do not reflect the high standards I require. After all, my reputation is at stake with these projects. For those firms that do not show promise, I wish them well. For the ones that submitted strong proposals, I tell them I will keep them in mind for future projects. Does any of this sound faintly familiar?

The most important issue at stake is that once I've made a decision, it's a done deal. Taking time out to explain my reasons to the rejected vendors eats up valuable time. I understand how the research vendors feel. They expended enormous amounts of resources and energy on their proposals. But, they know there is no guarantee. As far as I'm concerned, the decision is made, and I have to focus on working with the selected vendor. My overwhelming workload simply doesn't permit me to spend time trying to reassure vendors, particularly if I have no intention of working with them in the future.

Recently, I read writers' comments on an agent's blog concerning form rejections. The writers' frustrations with multiple form rejections made me realize how incredibly lucky I was to get three offers of representation. And oddly enough, I had to send rejection emails to the two I didn't select. I told them it was a tough decision and wished them well. I kept it short and sweet, no explanations, because I felt it would be inappropriate. I chose the agent who was the best fit for me. She is fantastic. :-)

My final point about rejections is that unless you get specific feedback and an offer to revise, move on. A form rejection means they weren't sufficiently interested. No simply means no. Of course it's frustrating not to know what you could do to improve the manuscript, but chances are the agent/editor doesn't have time to write a detailed response. Based on my experiences in my marketing career, I can identify. It's a done deal. Something we writers need to accept, even if it means putting the book under the proverbial bed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I've no idea what prompted me to pick up Jodi Picoult's thought-provoking novel Nineteen Minutes this morning. Many of Picoult's books sit on my keeper shelf. The brilliance of her writing lies in her ability to simultaneously entertain and make us think.

While re-reading the first few pages of Nineteen Minutes, I noticed the use of time as a motif. Time made me think of writers who are overnight successes versus those who struggle for years. Jodi is apparently thought of as an overnight success.

Tonight I went to her website. I did not go there looking for inspiration. In truth, I have no explanation for why I visited her site and decided to click over to her podcast page. But once there, I found what I needed in her podcast If at First you Don't Succeed. As I listened, I heard words of honesty. Words of loyalty. Words that reminded me that behind seemingly overnight success there often lies a paper trail of rejections. Words that reminded me the only thing writers can control is the writing itself.

Jodi is so eloquent, I urge writers to visit her website and listen to her experiences and her words of wisdom. Click on the link and go to Podcasts:

Monday, February 9, 2009

The High Concept Pitch

The most basic element of the pitch is the premise of the book. You answer the question: What is your book about? In the pitch, you identify who the hero and heroine are and what conflict keeps them apart.

So, let's say you pitch your book to an agent. You tell her it is a historical romance about a couple who pretend to be engaged because each want to avoid marriages arranged by their families. Only they never expect to fall in love. Certainly it's easy to understand the premise - a little too easy because it's been done to death. The agent peers at you and asks, "What makes your book different?" Suddenly you've got sweaty palms.

To avoid sweaty palm syndrome, you need a high concept premise. A high concept premise is unique, original, and easy to envision. Agents and editors not only immediately get it, they realize it is fresh. The high concept premise is short, averaging about 2 to 3 sentences. The point isn't the length, but rather to describe your original premise in a succinct manner.

Of course it helps if you come up with the high concept premise before you write the book, but you can always revise. Here are easy steps to turn a humdrum plot into a high concept plot.

  1. First, identify the basic plot of your book. The following are some standard romance plots: Secret Baby, Reunion, Two Different Worlds, Marriage of Convenience, The Guardian, Beauty and the Beast, Reforming the Bad Boy, Secret Identity, Captivity, and The Matchmaker. Some books may have a combination of two basic plots.

  2. Next, ask yourself how you can turn a tired old plot into something so original, so different that editors and agents will notice. What makes a plot so high concept, it grabs interest immediately? An unexpected or novel change in a standard plot.

  3. Here is an example of an unexpected change in a standard romance plot. Consider the Secret Baby plot, the one many writers claim to hate. How many of those haters read and loved Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Nobody's Baby But Mine? SEP made this book unique. Here's my version of a high concept pitch for the book. A brainy physicist wants an ordinary baby. All she needs is a stupid guy to counteract her genious genes. But when the dopey jock she seduces and abandons demands his rights as a father, she soon realizes he's far smarter and more loveable than she ever dreamed. Note that SEP incorporates a marriage of convenience into the plot as well. Isn't that brilliant?

  4. Now let's make up a high concept plot for a subgenre that's relatively saturated right now. Vampire novels are usually about a couple from two different worlds. The conflict is inherent in the plot. Often there is a beauty and the beast element as well. Generally the hero vampire despises his undead status. He is tortured, knowing he will spend eternity as a monster. His attraction to the human heroine reminds him of all the human experiences he will never have again. But what if we take this standard plot and flip it. Let's have a whirl at the high concept pitch. A reform-minded female chemist slips her elixar of life potion into a two hundred year-old viscount vampire's Bloody Harry. Horrified to find himself human, the hunky ex-vampire is determined to get bitten again so he can live undead forever. But his maker is equally determined to teach him that human life holds far greater rewards, and the chemistry is just too hard for him to resist.

Wasn't that easy? And fun?

Whistling like the Snow White Dwarfs. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to High Concept Work we go.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Daughter Has Big Plans for My Book

That gorgeous young lady in the photo to the left is my daughter Amber Rose. She's bubbly, funny, and sweet. I'm one lucky mom. Because Amber has major plans for my book How to Court a Duke.

On Friday night after we got home from the movies, Amber couldn't find anything on TV to watch. She wished for another book like Twilight to read. The romance between Edward and Bella really captivated her. So while I mused over which of the hundreds of romances on my keeper shelf to give her, she said, "Mom, can I read your book?"

I printed out 100 pages of How to Court a Duke, figuring she would stop reading long before she reached the last printed page. After all, she'd told me several times she didn't like historical settings. She's more of a Sophie Kinsella kind of girl. She started reading,and a bit later, she asked me to print out more. I blinked and said, "I'm out of paper."

She demanded I go get more paper.

By now, it was 10 PM, so I told her it was too late. That frustrated her. Finally, she decided to read it on the computer. Once again, I figured she'd abandon my manuscript for the lures of Facebook or texting her friends. Nope, she kept reading. At one point, she gasped. So we had a discussion about the plot point that surprised her. She kept reading and started laughing again. Naturally, I just had to know what she found so funny. At one point, she told me to be quiet because I was interrupting the love scene. I decided this was my cue to go to bed.

Late Saturday morning, she woke up and told me she'd cried while reading. So I explained about the black moment. Then she said she'd cried at the end when the hero, Tristan, proposed to Tessa. To my utter astonishment, I realized she'd read the entire book.

I confess I teared up a little bit.

Then came the Big Plan. Amber concocted the idea of writing to Oprah about my book. Amber is a bit like me. She has lots of ideas and a wild imagination. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: "Honey, Oprah doesn't buy books, and mine is in Submission Land."

Amber: "Yeah, but those editors will buy your book if you end up on Oprah."

Me: "Yes, but ..."

Amber: "I'm writing to her. I'm going to tell her all about how you're a single mom and went back to college and ..."

Me: "That's nice, dear, but remember I have a Great Agent."

Amber: "Can I play Tessa in the movie? Do I look like her?"

Me: "Sure. You could play her in this hypothetical movie."

Amber: "No, I'm serious. Does Tristan look like Rob Pattinson?"

Me: "No, he actually looks quite a bit like Henry Cavill." I find a photo of Henry online.

Amber (frowning): "No, I want Rob Pattinson. He's British, too."

Me: "Henry is British."

Amber: "No, it has to be Rob. He has blue eyes like Tristan."

Me: "Rob it is."

In the comment section, please vote: Henry or Rob ...

Hollywood, here we come. Right after a stop in Chicago.

I love you, Amber!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Funny Fridays

Announcing the First Weekly Funny Friday Blog. For your reading pleasure, I have TWO ticklers today.

The first funny is a photo I took in Bath - not the tub - the merry old city in England . I have developed a special fondness for this Roman hunk of burning love and hereforth present for your swooning pleasure ....

The World's First Male Underwear Model!!!!

I think Roman Dude needs a name ... Any suggestions?

Important News: see the update - Roman Dude has a name!

Roman Dude is now Times New!
Thanks to Pat Rosen!
Next on the agenda is an exciting remake of the classic George Lucas film. Many thanks to Lynette Curtis from the Yahoo Contest Alert loop for this link to an educational video. For a preview of FONT WARS! click on:

May the Fonts be with you ...



Thursday, February 5, 2009

Teens and Tweens - The Next Generation of Readers

There are 1000+ comments debating Stephen King's comments in the USA Today article referenced in my blog below. In the comments section, many of the adults dismissed the young readers who defended Stephenie Meyer. I think these adults missed an important phenomenon. These kids are reading!

Reading isn't dead after all. We should rejoice. Because if we can hook them now, they are more likely to become lifetime readers. And the way to hook tweens and teens is to make books available that resonate with them. That's exactly how I got hooked on reading way back in the stone age - a time when academics and parents feared television would be the death of reading.

When I was in the 7th grade, my small town junior high school conjured up an experimental idea. The school decided to mix kids of all reading/writing levels in English classes, thus eliminating advanced English. They reasoned that the on-level kids would catch up to the advanced students by virtue of exposure. In addition, they believed that the smarty pants kids would help the others. They were so confident of the success of this new program that they put two classes together and had two teachers team-teach. This meant about 45 kids in one giant jungle, er, class. Of those 45 kids, about 8 were at an advanced level.

Yes, I was among the smarty pants kids. We were bored, bad, and disruptive. The teachers did not know what to do with us. Finally, they sent us to the library (since parents would complain if they threw us in the parking lot). Of course the librarian objected because we threw spitballs. The teacher realized she'd better find something to entertain us. No dummy, she found books that she thought would interest us. For me, she found Victoria Holt. I fell in love with 19th century England (which probably explains why I write Regency historicals). After I gobbled up all of Holt's books, I found another book set in 19th century England. I didn't know Oliver Twist was a classic. Dickens led to Poe (scary tales are hot stuff when you're 12). The point is that my experience with those first gothic novels led to a lifetime love of books.

Beyond the touchy-feely reasons for getting kids to read, there are dollars and cents involved. Dollars and cents that could boost an ailing publishing industry. In May 2007, CBS Evening News reported that children aged 8 to 12 are spending $30 billion of their own money each year. Little wonder marketers are shelling out $17 billion annually targeting them. That of course means that there are lots of products and services out there competing with books for these dollars.

Ah, but a number of publishers are paying attention. PW reported in September 2007 that Little Brown, Putnam, Scholastic, Random House, and Harper are all targeting the teen market with programs. I've no idea whether the publishers have cut back on these programs due to the recession, but it's an interesting article worth reading. Here's the link:

Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Can't Write Worth a Darn...

Is it wrong for a writer to diss another writer's novel in public? What is the difference between bashing and critical analysis? Where do you draw the line when discussing another writer's books?

On February 2, Stephen King said in an interview with USA Today that Stephenie Meyer "can't write worth a darn." He added, "She's not very good." For a writer of his caliber, he showed an embarrassing inability to articulate his comments. Furthermore, he failed to substantiate his opinions with evidence. Telling the world that a writer is "bad" is so vague it communicates nothing useful.

Interestingly, he acknowledged that the pacing contributed to the appeal of Twilight. However, his assessment of the tame sensuality in the book falls short. Granted, the young readers (and their parents) do find the sexual tension non-threatening, but King failed to recognize that Meyer provided excellent motivation for why the characters used caution when touching. I cannot think of anything more deadly than a man's fear he might inadvertently kill the young woman he loves.

The stakes are life and death. That is what makes Twilight so compelling.

Now I have a confession. After seeing all the publicity for the movie, I decided to read the first page of Twilight at the bookstore. I did not expect to like the novel. After all, I wasn't the target audience. So I turned to the Preface and read five short paragraphs. Chills erupted on my arms. I shut the book, walked straight to the counter, and flipped out my debit card. One week later, I finished the last book in the series. Then I gave the books to my daughter who is in college. She rarely reads for pleasure. One week later, she finished the entire series.

Stephenie Meyer is not a perfect writer. None of us are. And her works do not appeal to everyone. No book does. But prior to Twilight, I cannot recall the last time I could not put a book down.

Tell me what you think of King's interview. Here is the link to the article:

The image is courtesy of: