Jenna Black's Blog Experiment

Wherein romance author Jenna Black plunges into the terrifying new territory of blogging . . .


Friday, April 28, 2006

The Long Haul

Back in the days when I got nothing but rejections for all the blood, sweat, and tears I put into my writing, I kept all my rejection letters like a good little business-person, but I refused to count them. I could tell they were mounting up by the thickness of the stack, but I knew the last thing I needed was more discouragement. I made an agreement with myself--when I sold my first novel to a commercial press, I would go back and count up those rejections.

Well, I made my first sale about a year ago, and I'd kind of forgotten about that promise to myself. Also, we moved about a year ago, so I had no idea where that stack of rejections was. Today, I found them. And I counted.
  • Rejections from publishers for novels: 59
  • Rejections from agents for novels: 41
  • Rejections for short fiction: 180.
Actually, considering how long I wrote before I sold, these numbers are lower than they should have been. I let myself get discouraged too easily and didn't submit as often as I should have. Still, part of the problem was many of those rejections on my novels took over a year to arrive at my doorstep, and I was being a law-abiding writer, not submitting the same book to more than one publisher at a time.

I'm sure these numbers aren't 100% accurate. I know there are some rejections missing from the pile, just due to disorganization on my part. Still, that's 280 rejections before I sold my first novel. Is it any wonder I had to fight so hard against discouragement along the way? And I was so close for so long! The first of these rejections, for my very first novel, came in March of 1991, and it started with "Sorry for holding on to your manuscript so long; it was hard to reach a decision." Even my very first novel came close, but I had to write 17 more before I'd actually make that sale. Here are some other snippets of these rejections that both gave me hope and drove me insane over the years:
  • I wish I could make an offer on The Coming of Shadow, but unfortunately the recession in the market has forced me to cut back on first novels. (This one was from March 1992, on my second novel.)
  • I really felt your manuscript was strong and the writing was very commercial.
  • A strong narrative style and a lively story to tell.
  • Charming . . . compelling . . . red hot. I'm heartbroken to let it go. (This is for Embraced in Darkness, the free read on my website.)
  • There was much I liked about your manuscript--your royal intrigue was gripping, your characters were convincing, and the magic worked.
  • You are obviously a writer of talent.
  • The voice is highly readable, the characters are three dimensional with a delightful dose of quirkiness, and I appreciated the subtle wit. It breaks my heart to see this go!
  • The idea was fun and fresh, and you can certainly pen a steamy love scene!
  • The voice is charming and the characters just leap off the page.
  • The humorous and fast-paced story immediately pulled me in.
  • The setup really grabbed me.

I'm really glad I soldiered on. Now, I can look at those rejection letters and smile.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Missed a Book!

Writing about the keeper shelf the other day made me finally realize I had a book missing from that shelf--Briar Rose, by Jane Yolen. I have so many books that they're in double rows on my bookshelves, but the moment I realized this one was missing, I hunted it down and plopped it on the keeper shelf where it belongs. I put together this keeper shelf of mine so I wouldn't have to go hunting every time I wanted to reread something! And this is one I've read many, many times.

Briar Rose is a fantastic version of the story of Sleeping Beauty, set against the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. Because of the subject matter, it is of course grim at times, but the story is fascinating. The heroine, Becca, is looking into the life of her grandmother, who recently died. Her grandmother claimed to be Sleeping Beauty, and turns out to have mysterious origins--no one's sure what her name really was, and no one knows who Becca's grandfather was. The story she uncovers is moving, sad, romantic, and inspiring all in one. It's classified as a young adult book, but when I originally bought it it was shelved as fantasy, and there's really nothing young adult about the subject matter. I highly recommend it.

Friday, April 21, 2006

My Keeper Shelf

When people talk about their books, they often talk about their "keeper shelf." I do it too. Except, I'm a book pack-rat. If I like a book enough to read the whole thing, then it's a keeper. Even if I know I'm never going to read it again. So, for me, the "keeper shelf" is the shelf where I keep books I reread. Over and over and over . . .

What is it about some books that makes it so we reread them? They aren't necessarily the most brilliant books we've ever read. I've read absolutely fantastic books that I totally loved--but know I won't read again. Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm leaps to mind as an example. Ask me what my favorite all-time romance novels are, and I'd mention it. But it doesn't have whatever magical thing it is that makes me want to read it again.

No, the ones I want to read over and over must be ones that somehow hit just the right buttons, even if those books have nothing to do with one another. Here's what's on my shelf (in the order pictured above):

  • Those Who Hunt the Night, by Barbara Hambley (vampire mystery/thriller)
  • The Gold Coast, by Nelson Demille (Mainstream)
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving (Mainstream)
  • The Devil You Know, by Liz Carlyle (Historical Romance)
  • The Gandalara Cycle 1, by Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron (Fantasy)
  • Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Shadows, and Queen of the Darkness, (the Dark Jewels trilogy) by Anne Bishop (Dark Fantasy)
  • The Mirror of her Dreams, by Stephen R. Donaldson (Fantasy)
  • Passion Play, Nobody's Son, and Resurrection Man by Sean Stewart (Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • War for the Oaks and Bone Dance, by Emma Bull (Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger (Science Fiction)
  • A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Young Adult)
  • The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken (Young Adult)
  • Skull Session, by Daniel Hecht (Thriller)
  • Velvet Glove, Menage, and Strange Attractions, by Emma Holly (Erotic Romance)
  • Archangel, by Sharon Shinn (Fantasy)
  • Crazy for You, by Jennifer Crusie (Romance)

Also on my list, though not on the shelf because there are too many of them: Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Laural K Hamilton's Anita Blake series, and Roger Zelazny's Amber series.

What a wild selection, eh? I've got a couple of really dog-eared books from my childhood, some fantasy, some science fiction, some mainstream, some romance, some erotic romance. What do all these books have in common? What magic thing drew me to them so completely? I don't know. And in some ways, I don't want to know. That might spoil the magic.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Insecurities 'R' Us

Once upon a time, before I knew any published authors who could disabuse me of the notion, I thought that once I sold a book, I would suddenly transform from this quivering bundle of insecurity into a self-confident, self-assured Author. I'm really glad I had people around me who were able to break the truth to me gently before I sold, so that I'm not completely stunned now to find out it isn't true.

So, back a couple weeks ago, when I got my fabulous cover for Watchers in the Night, my editor said she was putting together an offer for my sequel to Watchers, tentatively titled Secrets in the Shadows. I'd written the whole book already, and was just waiting to hear whether she was going to buy it or not.

Time tick, tick, ticked away, and I didn't hear anything. And so, I went into neurotic writer mode. I worried that she'd finally come to her senses and discovered I couldn't write my way out of a paper bag. I worried that she'd had to pitch the book to the high muckity-mucks and they'd laughed in her face. If I could think of something else to worry about, you can bet I worried about it. Now, I knew the reality was there was probably nothing to worry about. Editors are insanely busy, and from her point of view, there was no rush.

On Thursday (more than two weeks after I first got the hint that I might get another contract), I wrote to my agent, figuring she could probably calm me down if I just admitted to her that I was going nuts over here with these pointless worries. She came through like a champ--I figure that since my behavior and worries aren't that unusual for a writer, she spends plenty of time doing impromptu therapy for her authors. She dashed off a quick email telling me I had nothing to worry about, and it made me feel better.

I think it was only about a half hour or forty-five minutes later when she called me and said, "Oh ye of little faith." The upshot of this is, not only does Tor want Secrets in the Shadows, they want two more books that I haven't even written yet!! This is a dream come true to me, to sell a book before I've written it. I'm still floating.

There are still contract negotiations under way, but barring some unimagined disaster (which I sincerely hope my overactive imagination won't start imagining!),this should mean I'll be employed as a writer for at least a few more years.

Now, if only that meant I would be secure and self-confident from now on . . .

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I Bet You Think This Blog is About You

Insert the tune to "You're so Vain" here.

So last night on our way to dinner, my beloved husband informed me he'd read my entire blog. Fool that I am, I asked him, "so, what did you think?" His response: "It was good, but you didn't talk about me."

Well, first I informed him that yes, I had indeed talked about him in one of my earlier posts (he actually didn't read the whole blog, he just read the recent entries). Then I set about trying to figure out if he was serious or not. This isn't as easy as it sounds. He used to be a stand-up comedian, and he has a dry wit with a deadpan delivery. There are many times when I just don't know if he's joking. This was one of them. I honestly still have no idea.

But, just in case he wasn't joking, I figured I'd go ahead and talk about him. (Be careful what you ask for . . .)

I'll tell you about the writer's nightmare I lived through with the man who owns the keys to my heart.

I used to write exclusively science fiction and fantasy, and I wrote a lot of short stories. There's a very well known contest for f/sf stories, called Writers of the Future. They have four quarterly contests per year, and then a grand prize contest for all the quarterly winners. (These are not insignificant prizes--the quarterly winners get $1,000, the grand prize winner gets an additional $4,000. All quarterly winners also have a chance to be published in the yearly anthology, for which they are well-paid. )

As you can imagine, I entered this contest frequently. I hadn't even made the quarterfinals. Enter my dear husband, stage left.

In addition to being a comedian, he's also a writer, though he wrote almost exclusively humor and non-fiction. After editing one of my novels for me, he decided he'd have a try at writing a science fiction story, just for the heck of it. (I bet y'all know where this is headed, don't you?)

Had he ever written a science fiction story before? No. Was he a reader of science fiction, other than mine? No. Hell, he didn't even know if he was going to make it a short story or a novel. He just started writing and continued until he stopped.

He decided he'd go ahead and enter it in the Writers of the Future contest. I read his story, and I had a real sinking feeling. Because, you see, it was really, really good. It was weird, it was outrageous, it was hilarious, and it was like nothing I'd ever read before.

To make a long story short (especially when I know everyone has guessed the ending by now), he won first prize for his quarter. He got the $1,000. He got a 1-week all-expenses paid trip out to LA for a writing workshop and schmooze session. He got a really cool-looking trophy, awarded to him at a ceremony that you might have mistaken for the Oscars if you'd happened upon it. And he got the publication in the anthology. I was positively green with envy, though I tried to be happy for him.

Naturally, during his acceptance speech (I told you this was like the frickin' Oscars, right?), he told this story about how I'd been entering and entering and not winning, and how he'd won on his first try. He got a really good laugh from the crowd when he said, "Fortunately, she let me live."

I'm glad I let him live, because he is kind of nice to have around, what with him being my soulmate and everything. But there were times when I was tempted . . .

So, should I tell him I put up a blog entry about him, or should I wait to see if he finds it on his own? What would you do in my shoes, gentle readers?

P.S. You can read this prize-winning story by going to Click on "Also by Harper Scott," and then click on "A Conversation with Schliegelman." Be prepared to laugh yourself sick.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Mind Games--Part 2

It seems that blogging about my sudden writer's ennui was the right mind game to play with myself this time around. After I posted that entry, I sat down and wrote about 2,000 words (that's about 8 pages, for those of you who aren't writers and don't measure your productivity by word count! ). Since then, I've had two 3,000-word+ days. Apparently, I jump-started my creative brain. I'm really grateful, because it feels so good to get lost in the story and write like a madwoman.

I've got almost 240 pages on my new manuscript, and I'm now hitting another of the phases of my writing process--the phase where I fear the book's going to be too short.

It happens every single book (and believe me, for me, that's a lot of books!). You'd think by now I'd have learned to dismiss this fear, because never yet have I written a book that was too short to be commercially viable. Logic, however, is overrated. One good thing about the fact that this has happened with every book--while I may not be able to convince myself to stop worrying about it, at least I'm very accustomed to worrying about it, so it doesn't quite have the teeth it once had. Still, it would be nice not to worry, for once. *Sigh*

The best way to defeat the worry is to just go finish the damn book, so I guess I'll stop blogging (whining?) and start writing!



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