Do the Thing! Out of order

Do the thingLately, getting things done has been hard.  It’s not that we’re not getting things done. It’s just that there is a lot going on and being linear is challenging. Marketing materials have been ordered, Starling‘s final edits are being completed, reviews are being secured, blog tours are being booked — and meanwhile we’re signing contracts and getting schedules on new things, tuning other new things up for submission, looking ahead to the Doves edit process, and are about 15K into another novel. In fact, this not very coherent list probably leaves out at least half a dozen things.

The What should I do now? question is never a matter of not having anything to do, but of having a lot to do.  A real, real lot.

It’s easy to say that the answer is multitasking. Or prioritizing.  Obviously.  Modern technology forces us to do the first, and meeting deadlines obligates us to do the second, but sometimes neither of those pressures is enough to get you focused on just getting something, anything, done.

When that’s the case, sometimes the answer is just to do what turns you on.  I don’t mean sexually (although in this business that’s a possibility), so much as I mean what excites you.  Got a deadline three days away that you can meet with an hour of work?  Well,you can actually put that off one more day if your energy is low for that task, and do the thing that’s further out but more exciting.  Doing the work you love can at times be the fuel for doing the part of the work you don’t love.

Starting at the beginning and getting to the end is great — and necessary — advice. So much about Do the Thing! is just getting people on board with the reality that we can all plod our way to success with the right combination of diligence and daring.

But sometimes diligence is hard, and it’s more important to do something than the exact thing it would be most appropriate for your schedule to do that second — again, as long as you don’t blow any deadlines.  

So this is your permission to work out of order, to write that scene that lives at the 75% mark of the novel you’re only 15% into, or to work on your marketing plan, because doing line edits feels just a little too painful today.  If you can make the parts of the work you love your reward for the parts of the work that you enjoy quite a bit less you can both satisfy your need to procrastinate and get crap done.

You are the way you are.  You don’t need to change who you are to get what you want.  You just need to figure out how to navigate it.  Sometimes, that means telling your stories out of order.  It’s generally preferable to not telling them at all.

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The Awesome Women of Love in Los Angeles, Part 5: Laura Cook

starling2And the last in this series — at least for book 1! We’ll be back with more of the fabulous women in this world as we get closer to the release of Doves in January.

Alex didn’t come out to his mom until three weeks after high school graduation, when he hugged her right before he got in his car to drive to L.A. and leave Paragon, Indiana forever.

They’ve never really talked about that moment since, but Laura was not particularly shocked. And as far as she was concerned, it was just one more reason for Alex to get the hell out of there.

Laura’s a single mom, and she raised Alex and his half-sister, Delilah, on wages from a job that she could never get enough hours at. For a lot of years, they were on welfare. The economy was tanking everywhere, and Paragon, Indiana had never been a good place.

Alex never really understands why his mom doesn’t want to leave Indiana too. To him, after all, it’s the worst place in the world. But to Laura, Indiana is the land she loves, endless corn fields, and sunsets over the hill. It’s hard work, always, but it’s the only kind of hard work she’s ever known.

When Alex was in high school, on the evenings neither of them had work, they’d sit on the porch and have a beer together while another day ended. In another family, it might have been the time when she told stories about their family and her own history. But she never did, and it’s been up to Alex to go elsewhere and make his own story.

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Do the Thing! – “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!”

Do the thing“I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!”

Those of you who are younger than me may not remember the ridiculous Stuart Smalley performed by Al Franken on Saturday Night Live in the ’90s.  That’s probably a good thing, because it was humor that was tied to its moment and included awkward jokes about ambiguous sexuality in the midst of its constant send-up of the self-help book craze of the time.

Stuart Smalley, however, kind of had a point.  Actually, he had several.  You have to believe in yourself.  Even if it seems absurd to other people. You have to assume other people’s intentions are good (i.e., that they like you) — even if they aren’t.  And you can’t do either of those things without work.

Now, look, I’m pretty cynical (I am the most cynical optimist you will ever meet), and the last thing I’m going to tell you to do is stare in the mirror and tell yourself you’re awesome. Because really, who even has time or stomach for that?

But I also know that I have, at times, been at my most powerful when things have been screwed up, when I’ve had to retreat to a bathroom at my office, at an event, at a bar, and when I’ve leaned my hands on the sink and stared into the mirror and told myself I will fucking beat whatever bullshit was coming my way.

So you know, Stuart Smalley has a point.  He just curses less than me and has really dubious fashion sense.

Every week, I email Erin going “what are we going to post for Do the Thing!” and every week, we try to come up with something we haven’t talked about before.

But the reality is that all these posts are always about the same thing.  You have to choose yourself.  You cannot wait for someone else to do something that you feel makes you worthy, because that is a crapshoot and you deserve better.

Give yourself that.  Even if it feels ridiculous.

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Starling: 30 Days

starling30days Don’t worry, there’s not going to be a daily countdown. We’ll be puttering along at this blog more or less per usual — with posts about the book, about our other projects, about friends’ books, and about the creative life. But we did want to acknowledge the milestone and note some of the things that are coming up as we get closer to release day.

1. We’re going to be on the radio. We’ll be on Hummingbird Place, the live romance radio talk show, on August 18.

2. We’ll be creating and posting more promo cards that will give you a look at Starling‘s locations and key moments.

3. We’re doiStarling_NYC_promong a blog tour that will include new excerpts from the book, new behind the scenes details, and chances to win free stuff, including Alex’s iconic beanie (knitted by Erin), that serves a major function in the plot.

These things will get individual posts with all the details as they approach.

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New Novelette Coming: Room 1024

Remember that snippet we posted that had the working title of Conference? Where the guy awkwardly runs into his ex while at a BDSM leather conference? And then Erin’s mother sent her a weird email about whether she was in BDSM the way she used to be into elves?

Well, we’re happy to announce that we’ve signed a contract for that story with Torquere. It’s an M/M HEA with a M/M/M/M HFN possible future HEA. (Hi, Erin’s mom!).

For added hilarity, the story contains a fisting scene, which is relevant right now because of the recent drama in the romance writing community over a Vice article that claims romance writers don’t know what fisting is.

Really?

Really.

More concerning than that false assertion, honestly, is the Vice author who doesn’t grok that words have multiple meanings and that fists can be used for multiple purposes.

Anyway, thanks for your enthusiasm when we first posted about this story. We’ll announce the release date when we have it, and do a cover reveal when the time comes.

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Some real talk about signing the contract, releasing the book, and taking over the world

While waiting for the go to tell you some new, exciting news, I’m currently staring down the invitation to my 20th college reunion. It’s less than a week after Starling‘s release date, and, since my co-author lives in the D.C. metro area and I went to GWU, it’s convenient.

But I probably won’t go.  I’ve never gone to any of my college reunions.  Because college was a hot mess for me — I was pretty crazy and my school at the time was deeply homophobic (among other things).  My friends and I experienced violence and threats, the administration at the time was unresponsive, and I have no idea how the hell I managed to graduate in four years.

So going would be kind of weird.

The reason I am telling you this, is because Starling comes out in a little over 30 days, and while it’s my first novel release, it is not my first time at the book rodeo.  Having done this before, there’s some stuff I’ve learned from it, and if Erin and I are always telling you to Do the Thing! it is also only fair if I tell you some hard truths about your (and my) upcoming book release.

It will not fix your brain.  Have depression?  Guess what?  You’ll still have depression after your book comes out.  Anxiety?  Maybe you’ll have even more!  An external achievement, no matter how much work, talent, and passion you’ve put into it, cannot rewrite your brain chemistry.  That’s okay!  It would be kind of weird if it did.

Your Amazon ranking will make you crazy. It’s fun for the first 48 hours. Then it’s a time sink.  Eventually it will make you nuts. Stop looking at it. If something amazing happens with it, someone will let you know (three random friends emailed me when my first book hit the top 1,000 (that’s three digits, y’all) in the overall Amazon rankings), and it will all happen whether you’re there to see it or not.

People who have wronged you will not suddenly realize the error of their ways. Parents that said no one would ever care about your stories?  High school teacher who failed you when you started sentences with and? That person in your critique group who just loathed your narrative themes and was really petty about it?  They’re probably not going to come around.  If they do, they’re probably not going to tell you about it. And, if somehow I’m wrong, you’ll be satisfied for all of five minutes, because you’ve been sitting on that wound for years while they’ve been worried about their own crap. I know the fantasy is satisfying, but trust me when I tell you that reality is just not going to measure up.

High school reunions will probably still suck. Or not. I actually have had a pretty good time at my high school reunions, despite, or perhaps because I haven’t stayed in close contact with the people I grew up with. But the fact is, what’s going to make your reunion awesome is trading ancient in-jokes with people you haven’t seen in a decade… or three. People care about your book as much as you care about their baby pictures.  Own it.

It’s never enoughBook releases are a high.  And then they are over.  Like the crash that happens after a conference, play, movie shoot, or other highly intense, ego-driven endeavor where you get to do what you love and people say nice things to you, books are the same way.  It’s okay.  Just know it’s coming and keep working.  Because the only way to get through it is to love the stories you’re creating.  Because the next book? The next contract?  Also not enough.  And if you’re only writing to fill that hole of praise and excitement, you’re going to burn out quickly and badly.  If you’re writing to breathe your imagination into the world, and are in love with what you are doing, the crash is a lot easier to weather. Additionally, the real change in your circumstances and the world often comes from being more than a one hit wonder.

The Internet is still made of dicks. Not the fun kind, if you’re into that.  I mean the random strangers who send you hate mail, that weird ex- of an ex- who has been stalking you on Facebook forever, and the detractors you didn’t know you had until it’s really important to them to tell you you’re not a real writer because you’re not writing in their genre of choice or your story didn’t end the way they wanted it to. Congratulations. Now don’t read the comments.

Basically, this one book won’t really change your life. Really.  Even if you become a best-seller and make scads of cash — and statistically most of us don’t.  Sure, you might have an easier time paying your bills, or get to do some interviews, or have moments where you too get to do celebrity things (sign autographs? make public appearances? have an assistant? bring it on!), but the reality is that the only person who can change your life is you.  If that’s in response to the circumstances or success of your book, that’s fantastic, but the external hand of success isn’t how it happens.  It’s how you respond to it, should it show up.

Believe it or not, this is all more or less good news. Books have a huge amount of power.  Things I’ve read have saved my life, encouraged me to create, and motivated me to make change when I’ve needed to. Writing often helps me salve my wounds and understand the world I navigate better.  But if every time we released a book our wounds vanished entirely, our obstacles receded, and we discovered psychic powers by which to move our Amazon rankings, the universe would be pretty damn chaotic and a lot of us would lose our impetus to write.

I’m not saying suffering is good, or that you need it to be an artist.  That’s crap.  Artists know how much their suffering gets in the way. But we do need our history to be artists and the unique lenses through which we see the world. So we shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed when the books we write don’t change our backstories and neuroses even if they help adjust our perspectives.

If you want to be, you are changing your life. Your book, your publisher, and your readers are helping that happen. But always remember you’re the one driving.

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The Awesome Women of Love in Los Angeles: Part 4, Kathleen Campbell

starling2One Saturday when Liam was sixteen, he came down to breakfast with two girls. Kathleen gave Liam an epic eyebrow, made everybody pancakes, and then once the girls had left, sat down with Liam to have a conversation about safe sex and taking care of people’s hearts, including his own.

It was not by any means the first Talk she’d given Liam, but it was the first following so vivid an encounter with the way Liam actually does sex and relationships.

Afterwards, when Liam had gone out to hang out with his best friend, Charles — who Kathleen knew, because Liam had told her after it first happened, that Liam had also slept with — Kathleen laughed until she nearly cried. Liam was a good kid. He’d be okay. And so would whoever he chose to be with.

Of the many people who make up the various networks and systems in Liam’s life, his mom is right there in the center of it all. She may be in New York City, still happily married to and living with Liam’s father in the Brooklyn brownstone Liam grew up in, while Liam lives on the West Coast, but she’s still safety and security to him, an easy-going and hilarious presence that rolls with pretty much anything Liam and his life can throw at either of them.

There’s not as much of Kathleen in Starling as we wish there could be, but she’s definitely there for the moment that becomes one of what we think is the funniest running jokes in the series — a moment that exists, in large part, because of the way Kathleen nurtured Liam and taught him to respect and adore the people he loves, no matter how unconventional or atypical that love or relationship is.

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