What is wrong with Valentine’s Day

Roses in the shape of a heart. Just because.

Bet that got your attention, huh?

I know, I know.  I can hear you all now: “There’s nothing WRONG with the most romantic day of the year, Paula!  You’re a romance writer – isn’t that, like, sacrilegious or something?”

So let me quantify that by saying I have nothing against Valentine’s Day, rather, what retailers have done to it and the massive guilt trip people take because of it.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

First, Valentine’s Day was set up by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD to commemorate Christian martyrs named Valentine.  Apparently, there is no correlation between it and the modern interpretation, which was widely thought to be introduced by Chaucer.  Fascinating stuff, history.  Here’s some more on Saint Valentine and Valentine’s Day.

So, back to the commercial horrors.  Roses are the most expensive leading up to February 14th.  I have seen the prices triple – no joke.  This, for a flower you can give at any other time of the year, when your love is least expecting it and will probably appreciate it more.

Then we’re bombarded on TV, magazines and internet with aggressive advertising, where you’re guilted into buying your love overpriced flowers, chocolates or jewelry.  Or soft plush toys which, quite frankly, have no place in a grown woman’s bedroom (unless you’re a collector, in which case, put that shit in a display case).  I despise the way guilt is used to encourage a display of  love.

And, if you’re the giver, then the implication is that you’re a terrible, terrible person if you don’t give something.

Andrew Lincoln expressing his love. Not on Valentine's Day. He rocks.

No, I am not cynical, nor do I hate romance (I do write it, after all).  Nothing warms my heart more than two people in love (well, actually a few things warm my heart more… small fluffy kittens, carrot cake and finding money in my jeans pocket.  But that’s not what my post is about.)  I think love is pretty darn awesome and two people in love, in that special little bubble of happy-joy bliss, always brings a smile to my face.

And you know what’s more awesome?  Not having to be told that you HAVE to give your partner something special on one day of the year.  I don’t know about you, but I deliberately do the opposite if I’m being told what to do.  “Paula, clean up your room.”  “Paula, wash the car.”  “Paula, wear something a little less revealing.”  “Paula, you should buy (insert item) because we in Advertising Land told you to.”  See, sounds like my mother, right?  If it had an English accent and short dark hair, and cleaned like the Queen was coming to visit, it’d DEFINITELY be her.

Here’s my thing.  I believe retailers and advertisers have hijacked all the cool holidays, like Easter and Christmas, and people spend way too much, getting a little crazy and losing the real message of the day, which is pretty much about love, faith and sharing and family celebration (only for Easter/Christmas mind you – if family got in on the act with Valentine’s,  THAT would be a little weird.  Not to mention possibly illegal).

So, you love someone.  They love you.  You should feel free to express that love however way you want, at whatever time of the year you want.  You should get (or give) flowers “just because.”  You should buy your love a special gift, or have a romantic dinner or  have wild, crazy sex in a hotel bed strewn with rose petals because you damn-well feel like it, because you love them.  Because you love them all year ’round and not just for one day.  And especially NOT because some advertising people tell you to.  I tell you, I’d be much happier with a bunch of flowers, knowing the giver didn’t have to sell their kidney to do it.

Or maybe that’s just me…

By Paula Posted in rant

how to project a professional website

Watching: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Reading: It’s Here… Somewhere by Alice Fulton-Osborne & Pauline Hatch
Listening to: Call Me by Sylvester

As well as doing a bit of website design on the side, I spend a lot of time visiting blogs and checking out sites, waxing lyrical over the fabulous ones and bitching and moaning about the not-so-professional ones.  If you have a site or are thinking of getting one, here are my experiences and thoughts, as well as some painfully awful don’ts that will hopefully help you in avoiding the (sadly common) pitfalls of web design. (BTW these pointers also apply to group or professional association sites and blogs too – check out the Australian Romance Readers site for a clean, professional look).

DO

  • visit sites you like and find out who designed them, then get quotes.  There are many, many designers out there and the prices can vary dramatically.
  • be aware it can take a little skill to build a website from scratch if you chose not to pay a designer.  You will need a design program (I use the full version of Webpage Maker),  knowledge of color and layout, and basic html.  And not everyone has the ability to design a nice-looking site, in which case, there are templates.
  • make a list of all the pages you want to include on your site.  For authors, you should at the very minimum have a bio page, a books page, links,  an email address (or how to contact you) and a home button.  Other options that will draw in your readers are a ‘behind the book’, excerpts, a contest and any articles you’ve written.  A blog, Twitter account and Facebook are all totally optional, depending on how much time and effort you want to spend.
  • have an idea of what your product is.  Do you write sweet rural romance?  Hot sexy paranormals?  Your writing, personal style and tone of your books  should reflect in your website –  from the colors and pictures to the layout and font.  For example, CC Coburn (Harlequin American) wanted a site that reflected the kind of books she writes, something airy, down-home and American.  Kerri Lane  (children’s author) wanted something fun and open for her blog.  Marianna Jameson writes bio-thrillers, hence the ominous dark cloud.  And Cathryn Hein (Allen & Unwin) writes Aussie rural romance so her up-coming site will reflect earthy tones.  If you hate pink, roses and anything to do with hearts, then don’t include them on your site!
  • keep uniformity in the pages.  Your banner and links should be the same throughout –  don’t have a multitude of changing images just because you love 20 different photos of couples in a clinch.   The exception is Anna Campbell‘s website, but you’ll notice only the photos are different and the banner itself remains exactly the same on every page.

Now, some unpublished writers may not want to go the website route just yet, which is where a blog comes in handy.  I use WordPress.com which is free and has a stack of different standard templates and designs, which I then design different banners to personalize each blog.  A few I’ve done are Diamonds Down Under, Outback Billionaires and Babies, Kaz Delaney, Shannon Curtis and of course, mine.

And now we come to the most important bit – marks of an amateur site (aka stuff that makes me want to rip my hair out in frustration):

  • a multitude of different fonts and sizes.  I love fonts but they have their place.  For ease of reading, the body of your website should be a standard Arial 10 point, not that fancy Bickley Script – because the fonts on my computer may not necessarily be on Jane’s computer in Texas.  So Jane’s computer will substitute it for a default (and often clunky!) font.
  • basic comical flash objects such as dancing pigs, popup email envelopes and fluttering butterflies.  This kind of stuff went out in the early 90s and doesn’t have a place on a professional site
  • a bunch of frames and boxes and /or pictures that are just dumped on a page.  This just looks too busy and amateurish
  • misaligned pictures, fonts – again, smacks of ‘I don’t care about my website’.  So why should a reader?
  • ads.  OMG, please, pay the small amount and invest in your own domain name and webmaking software!  Ads from third parties make everything look cheap and nasty.  Why should you, as an author, provide free advertising for someone else?
  • a dark background with white text / multicolored headings in fancy fonts.  You don’t want to give your readers eye strain.
  • links to pages or sites that don’t work
  • overloading your home page with text, pictures, award logos and other stuff.  The purpose of this page is to provide a little info about you, a news update, and advert of your wares, and encouragement to browsers to keep looking.  Being bombarded with a bunch of “5 hearts at Romance Review Site!” logos isn’t relevant here – save it for your Awards or Book page.
  • text that runs off the page so that you miss half of what’s being said.
  • and one of my pet peeves – a site that’s so wide you have to scroll with the bottom navigation bar to get to the other side.  Bad, bad, bad.  If it involves more than a few clicks, you will lose readers.

the one where I take the high road

Reading: Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost
Watching: Private Practice
Listening to: The Kill by 30 Seconds to Mars

Odds on, if you’ve published a book (be it traditionally, e or self-),  someone will read it.  Hopefully, many someones.  And hopefully, those many someones will like it – even love it.

But there’s also a chance a reader will not feel the same way about your creation that you do.  And that is equally fine.  Every reader is entitled to their own opinion as much as I am entitled to write whatever I want.  I’m not so precious and sensitive about my work that I expect total and utter worship for the way I arrange words on the page :grin:.

And as an author, you are also in control of how you chose to react to those negative reviews.  It never ceases to amaze me how some, faced with this choice, will pick the ‘OMG, no!  CAR CRASH!!!!’ option over a dignified silence.  Witness the recent Twitter flurry of BigAl’s review of “The Greek Seaman” and the author’s resulting comebacks (sorry, but how is telling everyone to publicly “f*&^ off” anything but bad for an author?).

Yes, thanks to the internet, reviews and critiques can be instantly published, searched and commented on in a matter of days.  And just like there’s two sides to every story, there are two sides to every review.  Some are insightful, constructive and well-written.  Some are variations of ‘not to my taste’.  Some have nothing whatsoever to do with your story (like giving it a 1 star Amazon review and commenting “the postage was too high”.  Or hating the title).  And some are vitriolic rants specifically designed to insult and/or push the reviewer’s agenda.

So what to do with a negative review?

It may be cathartic to compose a strongly worded email, post or comment, publicly refuting and defending your work if you feel the reviewer has missed the point/got it wrong/didn’t seem to even read the book.  But unless you’re Carla Cassidy, this can easily backfire, and you’ll be forever known in Google searches as ‘what not to do as an author’.

My advice?  For those reviewers who are genuinely interested in and reviewing your genre, a polite thank you for reading your work  and a “I hope my next release is more to your taste” would be okay.  For those reviewers whose sole purpose is to provide outdated stereotypical ‘stupid dumb romance genre’ comments to make them feel intellectually superior, then take the high road and just ignore them.  Tempting as it is to come out with guns blazing, it’s important to realize that they are not your target market and nothing you say will ever make an impact on their prejudices.

Then go and re-read those little shining comments from your satisfied readers.  I guarantee those are the ones that matter 🙂

Why do they do these things? Why???

It’s not about RT Book Reviews giving me the mediocre rating of my June book, The Billionaire Baby Bombshell (coming in at a 3).  No, sirree.  RT, you’re gonna have to go a loooong way before you can even make a dint in my critique-proof armor.  I was a contest entering champion.  I laugh in the face of cutting remarks.  No way can anyone come close to Judge CO when she critiqued (and by “critiqued” I mean, “eviscerated and shredded”) my contest entry as an unpublished writer many, many years ago.  (As an aside, that same partial got a full request from Harlequin and eventually came 2nd place in that contest AND included blush-worthy praise from Valerie Parv herself).

No.  I’m talking about the terrible, terrible oversight RT made by REVEALING AN IMPORTANT STORY TWIST in that review that the reader would not discover until… oh, nearly 20 pages to the end of the book.  (No, I’m not going to tell you which twist they blabbed about.. and of course,  now you’ll want to read the review, right?  :sigh:  Okay, go right ahead, I can’t stop you.  But I’ve warned you, so don’t say I didn’t tell you so…)

RT, how would you feel if, never having seen The Sixth Sense, I suddenly blurted out, “Bruce Willis was dead the whole time!” hmmm?  Or, “Darth Vader is Luke’s father!”  Or even “Kevin Spacey is Kaiser Soze!”  Totally wrecked your potential enjoyment of the movie, did it?  Not sporting, is it?  Bit of a downer?  So RT, please stop this nasty habit you have before it becomes a full-blown addiction.  Please.

USB drive, I hate you

last show watched: The Good Wife
on the iPod: Midnight Blue by Lou Gramm

I bought you years ago, excited by your compactness and memory capacity.  You were black, with a little flip button, which was a glorious change to all my other clunky drives.  And yes, I admit you initially served me well, saving all those high res. photos and clearing space on my ornery hard drive.  You saw me through two PCs, giving me a little buzz when you saved with no problems, no Blue Screen of Death and no inexplicable power outs.  I began to put my faith in you, little did I know you’d commit the worst betrayal of all.

And now you’ve gone.  Where, I do not know.  You took my trust and ground it into the dirt without so much as a clue.  Sometimes I hope you’re in a far, far better place, where you get to defrag to your heart’s content and gambol with other like-minded USB drives.  But then I recall how you stole ALL my works-in-progress documents and photos, leaving me with a scummy three-month old backup on the detachable hard drive, with nothing but twin alternating fires of fury and helplessness burning in my belly.  So now I pray you fell into the garbage bin and were crushed into oblivion.

I cannot forgive you.

hoo-ha in Presents Land

Last movie watched: Little Miss Sunshine
Playing right now on the iPod: Boys of Summer by Don Henley

Okay, so I should be doing line edits for my latest book,  but I simply couldn’t not read all about the storm brewing over on IHeartPresents.  Running a writing contest is not easy (done that), nor is judging or entering (yeah, done that a bajillion times too).  But when the winners to their “Harlequin Presents Writing Competition 2009” were announced, what started out as a ‘yay, congratulations!’ thread quickly denigrated into insults, snarkism, sour grapes and/or just down-right nasty name calling.

Now, the rules did state that published authors could enter (including Harlequin authors) as long as they weren’t currently under contract, which has been a big bone of contention with many commenters.  Now, when you talk about ‘being under contract’, it means that you have yet to fulfill your current obligations within a contract.  For e.g. mine read that I need to deliver a proposal, then a full manuscript by a due date.  Once done, I have x amount of days to deliver any revisions and/or line edits.  I will  get paid within this time frame.  So, I have fulfilled my contract when I’ve finished my final edits and my editor has received it in his inbox AND I’ve been paid for my hard work.   End of contract.

I find it disheartening that many commenters chose to attack the published winners, even going so far as to say that because they weren’t sufficiently excited enough, they didn’t deserve to win.  I’m sorry but excitement is personal – and this comes from having a very English stiff-upper lip father who’s idea of enthusiasm is saying, ‘yes, that’s pretty good’.  (I swear, he’d still say that if I discovered world peace tomorrow!)

I’ve been through the massive treadmill of contests.  I’ve been a judge, and entrant, a contest manager.  I’ve made contest policy, critique sheets and had the most horrific of feedback imaginable.  Setbacks make us stronger.  One of my favorite quotes?   The difference between a published author and an unpublished one is that the unpublished one gave up.

Be nice to yourselves these holidays and remember, we are romance writers.  Spread the love!

Time’s a wastin’ (but I’m getting an education!)

Just spent the last 5 days reading various blogs and websites that are covering the Harlequin Horizons furor.  Okay, I’m not going to get into my personal opinion of this, but if you feel the desire to spend a few hundred hours on the internet  to further your knowledge of publishing, vanity presses, self-publishing and human nature when confronted by personal and professional insults (e.g. the “car crash but can’t look away!” stoush involving Ms Nora Roberts) then here’s a few sites covering it:

You can also read the statements by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and Novels Inc.

And now, enough rubber necking.  Back to my edits.

remakes that make me cry (with rage, not joy)

original cast of the ORIGINAL Melrose Place

original cast of the ORIGINAL Melrose Place

While surfing the ‘net today (yes, it was research for a book!) I stumbled across a screaming, flashing ad that declared “Melrose Place – premiers Sept 8”.

All I can say is W. T. F. ??? First, Beverly Hills 90210, now Melrose Place, for Gods’ sakes? Is nothing from the 90s sacred? Will TV people do anything to spin a dollar? People, please think of something ORIGINAL!!  I thought they’d learn their lesson with disembowling perfectly amazing UK shows just for the hell of it (Life on Mars, anyone?) but obviously not.

I can just about accept movie remakes – for every Planet of the Apes and Out of Towners, there will always be a Nutty Professor and The Birdcage to redeem it.  But TV shows?  Come on.  Do TPTB think that just because they were successful hits in their day they will be again?  Just because it works for music and (sometimes) movies, doesn’t mean that success will translate to TV.

aah, Will Smith - how you've grown!

aah, Will Smith - how you've grown!

The past is called the past for a reason.  RIP Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Friends, Party of Five.   Please, studio execs, do not give Ally McBeal, 3rd Rock From the Sun and Veronica’s Closet a trendy haircut, an unrealistic bod, a tarty new skirt and multiple bed partners.  I beg of you.

the ebook revolution

One Saturday, I read an article in The Australian, our national newspaper, about ebooks, their availability (or lack thereof) and the technology involved in reading them.  Basically, the overall tone of the article was yes, they’re here, but you can only read them in PDF, the ereaders are expensive ($1000+) and there’s nothing much worth reading on them anyway.

My response?  I wrote a letter to the editor (which wasn’t published, surprise!).  Here’s what I wrote:

“Rosemary Sorensen’s article on the rise of ebooks failed to mention what me and my Australian writing colleagues have known for years: ebooks can be bought cheaply, the reading software comes in other easy-to-read formats than just pdf, and ereaders can be had at a decent price.  In less than ten minutes,  I’ve bought ebooks from http://www.deisel-ebooks.com, http://www.eharlequin.com and http://www.fictionwise.com in either MSReader (.lit) and Mobipocket (.mobi) format, then synced them up with my HP Ipaq PDA or BeBook (the latter costs around $359).  The iPod Touch and iPhone also have two free apps allowing you to read ebooks on both devices.  When it comes to ebooks, the issue amongst authors is not about availability or format – it’s piracy, which hurts both authors and readers.”

Since writing that letter, my pre-loved iPod Touch arrived from an eBay seller and I just loooove it!  Wireless technology rocks 😀  It took me less than 10 minutes to select the latest Jennifer Rardin and Megan Hart books on eReader, buy them, then click on my eReader app on the iPod, enter my email and password, then sync them down to the iPod.

What I want to know is… why aren’t journalists actually doing their research before writing an article?

Happy Endings

bryanI was watching a movie last night and I had what you’d call an epiphany moment about what type of movie experience I like to have.  The movie was “Prime” with Uma Thurman (who played a 37-yr old divorcee) and Meryl Streep as her therapist.  When Uma starts a relationship with a gorgeous 23-yr old guy (a very yummy and convincing Bryan Greenberg -right), Meryl suddenly realizes it’s her son.  So, we have some good themes here, right?  Older woman-younger guy, very traditional Jewish mom who wants her son to marry within the faith, plus issues of trust and betrayal.  And it was a good movie… up until the ending.  SPOILER ALERT!!!!   Uma and Bryan break up, then get back together THEN when he wants to give her a baby (an underlying teaser throughout the movie, because Uma is hearing her body clock ticking) she refuses, saying she’d love it but it wouldn’t be right for him.  Good sacrifice, yes?  So then we go one year later and I’m sitting there thinking, ‘oooh, there’ll be a marriage, or at least the promise of one, maybe a baby…something.”  Nup.  Nothing.  Nada.  Bryan realizes his dream of painting, is about to jet off to Spain or somewhere, and he sees Uma in a restaurant with friends.  Their eyes meet, they smile and then… nothing!   Talk about being royally ripped off!   Dammit.  I’m still annoyed by it!

So now, when I pick up a movie billed as ‘romantic’, I’m Little Miss Skeptical.  It was like Spanglish all over again, leading up to a promise, getting you to care about the characters (and dislike the horrid ones) then giving you the finger when you’re committed to an uplifting ending.  Man, it doesn’t even have to be hearts-and-flowers marriage commitment – just give me that “aaaahhhh” feeling, dammit!   I still remember praying for a good ending in The Lakehouse, because that movie had ‘potential sucky ending’ written all over it (which I also call “The English Patient” ending).  And let’s not get started on sequels that ruin a perfectly good romantic relationship in the first movie – Speed, Miss Congeniality, to name two.

One exception – only because it was a beautifully filmed movie – was Titanic.  And Rose did end up with Jack in the end anyway, even if it was bittersweet.  But it was uplifting (even though many of you may disagree!)

Have you seen any movies that promised but didn’t deliver that happy and/or uplifting ending?

By Paula Posted in rant