Be Careful What You Wish For ...

... Especially if what you ask for is snarky reviews of your own book. There's one up already, from the marvelous Sarah at Knitting the Wind. Visiting her blog is often the most peaceful moment of my day—her photographs are beyond lovely—and it was with no small trepidation that I sent her my erotic Regency romance set in Hell.

And then Sarah did precisely what I'd hoped for in asking for bad reviews.

She put her finger on one of my biggest problems as a writer. She says,

Damned If You Do will stick around in my memory for a long time. But it only took half an hour to read, and I felt frustrated afterwards for lost potential.

Here is my big, dark secret: I am terrible at long plots. At least, the ones I've done so far have been terrible. And by "terrible" I mostly mean "unfinished." My stories live and die by their outlines, and I like to know scene by scene what's going to happen before I go and write the thing. Otherwise I get stuck, I write paragraphs only to erase them later in self-disgust, and I generally waste a lot of time not-writing and making myself feel miserable with nothing to show for it.

For instance, there's a book I've been trying to write for the past year. It's a long one, and it keeps getting better, but it's had more incarnations than the Doctor.

David Tennant in Doctor Who: a tall, lanky, and handsome brunet man with pale skin and a dapper brown suit stands facing the viewer with his head turned to his right. One hand is raised to his face, in preparation for removing his sexy dark-framed spectacles.

I wrote the first 20,000 words at one point. Then I wrote them again. Then I did a bunch of research on cephalopods (which was totally fun, by the way), then I completely redid the story, then I made it a menage instead of a m/f romance, then I wrote those first 20,000 words a third time, then I suddenly decided Raymond Chandler was important to this book somehow ... And I was doing all of this without a Tardis or sonic screwdriver, which is highly inconvenient.

But the story! The world! The people in it! There is a beating heart in there, somewhere, and eventually I will have uncovered enough of its mechanisms to move forward. Even after a year I find I can't give up on the idea, as I have with some other shining plot ideas that turned out to be merely candles.

This story is a bonfire. I just haven't managed to light the match yet.

A wise author would not be putting such things in a blog post. A wise author presents books as finished products, because we all like to think the books we read are strong and steely things that can grapple with us and potentially win. (Reading as Greco-Roman wrestling, I guess? Or Jacob's Ladder?) But a wise author would also not have asked for people to point out the negative aspects of her books, either—so I guess I might as well go all out and lay these anxieties out there for everyone to see.

And so, while I'm impossibly flattered that Sarah put me in the same company as Julia Quinn—the author who got me back into romance, who taught me that historical romance can be hilarious and smart at the same time—the thing I am going to take away from Sarah's review is this: I really need to roll up the sleeves and write some longer things.

Because as much as I love novellas, they leave me wanting, too—I want to have complicated people I don't have to explain all at once, and to whom I can add sexual tension in torturous inches. I want to build a vast and filigreed world, piece by piece—and then I want to destroy it, and show how my characters might begin to rebuild. I want to take the few longer manuscripts that I have done and polish them until they sparkle like the eyes of a mischievous god.

And then I want to do it again.

I'd better get started.