Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Roxanne St. Claire Guest Blog
Contest: One lucky Friend of the Playground wins an autographed copy of Roxanne's latest romantic suspense, Thrill Me to Death. Make comments and ask questions in the comments tail to be eligible.
I e-met Rocki via the Writing Round Robin at eHarlequin in 2004, which was timed to coincide with her first release from Silhouette Desire. Rocki was a frequent participant in the feedback thread on the eHQ message boards. She was fun and she was supportive of struggling writers. And she sent me two of her books to review. One was that first Desire and the other was one of her single title releases called French Twist. I read the Desire posthaste because I am a total Desire-aholic. The single title sat on my shelf for five months until I decided to take it on the plane with me to RWA in Dallas. I got halfway through on the trip out, attended Rocki's workshop, stalked... er... met her and spent a little one-on-one time with her, fell in love with her and read the remainder of French Twist on the plane ride home, literally turning the last page as the plane landed. Then I scrambled to find a copy of her first release, Tropical Getaway, and... My name is Marilyn and I'm a Rock-aholic.
She's an awesome romance writer who always delivers a good story whether it's category romance, chick lit or a single title romantic suspense. And she's a terrific friend, too.
Welcome Rocki! We're so excited to have you here...
The Toughest Question I’ve Ever Been Asked ….
Move over, players, Rocki’s here…and she loves this playground!!
Hi everybody! Thank you for letting me climb onto your swingset for the day. I am delighted to be here at the Writer’s Playground. My dear friend Marilyn invited me over and I truly hope that I can give you all a little push from behind and maybe some balance on the teeter-totter that is our business.
Marilyn asked me to write about anything of interest to aspiring authors, be it craft, writer’s life, industry or the secret handshake that will guarantee a short path to publication. All right, let’s do them all. Quickly. Craft: read and write. Writer’s life: spring for a massage whenever possible. Industry: constant state of flux. Secret handshake: yeah, right.
In truth, I decided that today I would take a shot and try to answer the toughest question I’ve ever been asked.
About six months ago, my local RWA chapter hosted an “Ask The Author” night, putting four of us in the hot seat to answer anything. I settled into my spot on the panel, looked out a sea of my dear friends and loving faces, certain that no one in this group could hit me with a question that could stump, embarrass or confuse me. One of my chaptermates, a woman I’ve watched work diligently into the PRO ranks – even after she suffered the sudden, unexpected loss of her husband and life transformed her into a single mother with no warning – looked directly at me and asked, “Rocki, have you lost the joy?”
Naturally, I handled that with a great deal of dignity and complete professionalism. I burst into tears.
I had lost the joy. And, worse, everyone could see it. How can this be, they asked. You’re published! You’re multi-published by multi-publishers, contracted for the foreseeable future, writing for a living, basking in the glow of a name that is bigger than a title on the cover of award nominated books. WHY AREN’T YOU HAPPY?
Because in every writer’s world, be they pubbed, unpubbed, epubbed, prepubbed, postpubbed or überpubbed, there are dark days. I’m not talking about museless afternoons where the words don’t come, or a week where life interrupts the flow of writing, or even the two week write-strike brought on by some nitwit judge who denied you a contest final because you used the word “eyes” instead of “gaze” and your margins were off a quarter inch . No, I’m talking about months (or worse) when the joy of writing is suddenly, inexplicably and totally sucked right out of you. It happens to all of us, no matter where we are on the publication path.
The hardest part about my winter of discontent was that I am not, in any way, shape or form, an unhappy person. Optimist is an understatement on my list of character traits. My glass isn’t half-full; it’s overflowing with the good stuff, bubbling with delight and must be shared with the entire table. I’ve been accused of being phony and I remember that indictment hurt: I’m not a phony. I really am a happy, enthusiastic, optimistic person. But happiness and enthusiasm and optimism suddenly disappeared from my work and it was scary.
This was not depression. This was not a moment of malcontent. I simply hated what I was doing for a living and couldn’t figure out why. There were lots of factors that started it: disenchantment with certain business partnerships, an inability to agree on a story with one of my publishers as the deadline grew closer, disappointing royalty statements, and, of course, a couple of characters who just couldn’t leap off the page like they were supposed to. I wrote a book that nearly killed me. Actually, “rewrote a book” is more accurate – for every page forward I produced, I had to go back and revise the six that came before. When I managed to finish and send that one in, I instantly started another. This one had an entirely different set of problems – ones that stemmed from the line, the publisher, and a third party who placed limitations and constraints that chafed. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t particularly profitable and it sure as hell wasn’t anyone’s dream job during those months.
My face must have shown the strain, my shoulders slumped, my frown lines deepened. Maybe I made one too many sarcastic comments in the chapter meeting, maybe I rolled my eyes when someone waxed poetically about the thrill of a good rejection. God, I hope not. But, my joylessness was obvious to all.
I couldn’t answer the question, except to acknowledge that it was a wake-up call. I realized that the loss of “enjoyment” in my career scared the life out of me. Being who I am – a woman of action, not reaction – I decided that I had to figure out where the joy was hiding, and how I might get it back where it belonged: in my heart.
First, I asked myself the hardest question of all: Do I still want to write? No matter how I cut it, no matter how I stacked the “cons” (the pile was high), the answer was YES. Then I looked at what was bothering me and how I could change it. I made some major changes in my career, none of which was easy, and all were a little scary. Then, I made some demands – created whitewater where there had never been any, asked for some things I’d never thought I could get. And finally, I dug to my deepest creative center and challenged myself to come up with my biggest and best idea for the next book.
Then some magic happened. I clicked with a new agent. The proposed idea was approved in 35 minutes. The story began to pour out of me. The publisher sent a cover so perfect it left me speechless (no mean feat, I assure you). In the meantime, the book that almost killed me was published to some lovely, strong reviews. (It’s Thrill Me To Death.) The other one that almost killed me sailed through with no revisions and ended up being one I love (Thunderstruck - not out yet). And best of all, I began to turn on my computer with anticipation and excitement each morning, not dread. With joy, not fear or boredom or discontentment.
I wrote and wrote, falling more deeply in love every day with my hero, my story, and my job. And I sent an email to my chaptermate and I thanked her for asking me the most difficult of personal questions, and forcing me to make some tough decisions.
Make no mistake – the dark days of a writing career will come. They will arrive with thunder and clouds and they are going to drench you with doubt and dismay. They may take the shape of a difficult book, a contentious relationship, a sickeningly bad cover, a shocking rejection, an inexplicable contest score, a lousy paycheck, a poorly motivated hero, a boring manuscript. They all might happen at the same time. No might about it: they WILL happen at the same time.
Your job is to go back to the basics: Ask yourself why you write. Conjure up that fresh, high-concept idea. Force yourself to finish the hard books. Change the things you can – even if it means ending a relationship, walking away from a critique partner, or saying no to a volunteer project that cuts into your writing time. Take control and take action and recognize that this happens to everyone. Chocolate, wine and friends are invaluable at this time, too. And, of course, a good book!
I believe that knowing how to coax a little bliss back into your work is far more valuable in the long run than craft tips, industry info or a even the secret handshake. I believe that the strong survive, but the joyous thrive.
I’m playing here all day, or longer, if you like. Shoot me questions, comments, vents, complaints, fashion tips and gossip. And THANK YOU so much for inviting me to the playground!
P.S. from the Playground Monitor
Thrill Me to Death was released in July of this year and is available at bookstores. The Intern Affair from Silhouette Desire is being released today. Rocki also has two upcoming holiday anthologies. I'll Be Home for Christmas from Pocket Books will be released on October 1 and A NASCAR Holiday will be available from HQN a month later.
P.P.S. Someone asked about Rocki's latest Bullet Catcher hero. Well, here's Johnny! Johnny Christiano, that is, the hero of TAKE ME TONIGHT. According to Rocki, he cooks. I agree. He makes my blood boil. *g*