Monday, January 28, 2008

Sunshine and Smartness

Last week, my sweetie and I left Oregon for what we hoped would be sunny Florida. Let me tell you, Orlando in January is one hell of a weather crapshoot. One day it was 72—the next, 52. The day after that, 65 and raining. Did we mind? We did not. Because no matter what Orlando decided to throw at us—including righteous thunder and lightning—IT WAS WARMER THAN PORTLAND.

I wish I could say we spent five days lounging on beaches, but alas. #1, Orlando has no beaches. Anywhere. I looked. #2, we weren’t on vacation. Nope, we were headed for the North American Veterinary Conference, on a quest for continuing education.

Knowledge expands so fast in this profession, it feels like a full-time race just to keep up. A lot has changed since veterinary school (all the stuff we crammed into our heads, back in the day, that has since fallen by the is to weep, to weep). And it’s not slowing down, either. Veterinary medicine gallops along, and we have to gallop with it.

Which is why, every day for five days, we staggered our jet-lagged selves out of bed and into hotel meeting rooms, clutching coffees and nifty tote bags, ready to learn, re-learn, get updated, briefed, and brought up to speed. ABCs of Acid-Base Disorders. Common Canine Ocular Emergencies. Managing the Head Trauma Patient. Four hours of lecture in the mornings, three in the afternoons, and for the real diehards, another hour in the evening. (For the rest of us, there was the hotel bar.) Every hour of every day had at least three talks to choose from. How to pick between Canine Chronic Bronchitis: Confounding Issues, vs. Interstitial Lung Disease: What Does It Mean? Or, Soft Tissue Sarcomas: Your Questions Answered, vs. Let Your Fingers Do The Walking: How to Restrain and Examine Snakes? (OK, that one was easy; I don’t treat snakes.)

Five days of this, and I came away feeling quite smartified. And ready to seriously hurt the next person unwise enough to cut in front of me in line. Was I wearing an invisibility cloak, or what? I’m telling you, buddy—I’ve just spent the last two hours listening to Atopic Dermatitis: Developing a Management Plan, and you’ve put yourself between me and my SmartFood cheese popcorn. Woe betide.

One line I didn’t have to stand in? Believe it or not, the ladies’ room. When you’ve got a conference with six thousand veterinarians and seventeen hundred veterinary technicians—more than half of them women—you need serious restrooms. And the Gaylord Palms Hotel has ‘em. Not only enormous, but spotless too. I don’t normally wax poetic about ladies’ rooms, but I gotta hand it to the Gaylord—those folks GET IT.

Thirty-two hours of lectures later, we flew home, our brains resembling the best kind of sofa: comfortably overstuffed. The day after we got back, Portland received another sprinkling of snow, a dash of freezing rain. Sigh. But while we were gone, the crocuses buried in my outside pots started nudging up. They’re the first crack in winter’s grip…better for a winter-weary spirit (almost) than Florida sunshine.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

We Gots Us Some Geeky Fun

Naming characters is always fun. For Tallulah Falls, I knew Tallulah’s name from the very beginning. Maeve's, too. I don’t know how; that’s just who they were, and I ran with it.

For the characters in Ten Cents a Dance (which I’m already thinking of as my “last book,” even though it isn’t published yet, to distinguish it in my head from the “new book,” the one I’m currently whamming at with a sledgehammer trying to get it off the ground—and if that sounds like a frustrating way to get something airborne, believe me, it is), Ruby’s name came to me fast. It’s colorful and sparkly, which fits her, plus it has that lovely 1940s feel to it.

That’s the thing about names. They have to fit the characters, and they also have to be true to the time period of the book. Which gets me to the main event of this post:

The Baby Name Wizard’s Name Voyager!

Now, I realize I am a geek. I find many things fascinating which put other people to sleep. Which I don’t understand, because they're fascinating, don't you understand? But OK, whatever. This, though—I showed this to a couple of co-workers, and the next thing I knew, ten people were crowded around the computer, yelling, “Put in ‘Leslie!" "Put in ‘Sam’!" "Put in ‘Ashley’!

See, the Name Voyager is a Java interactive thingy whereby you type in a name, specify “boy” or “girl” or both, and its magical presto-chango graph illustrates, in lovely color, how popular that name has been in every decade since the 1880s. You heard that right. Eighteen-eighties.

Type in “Bella.” Middling popular until the 1910s, then it tanks and disappears by the mid-‘30s. Gone for decades, then…boom, 2003, folks start naming their baby girls “Bella” again. It’s shot up the charts and is still climbing. Why is that? No idea.

And then there’s “Lisa.” I know a million Lisas. It’s a name as old as the hills, right? One of those perennial favorites that’ll never disapp— Hey, wait a minute! Where’d it go?

Gone with the wind, my friend. The Lisa, she is gone with the wind.

I could spend hours on this thing, it’s so much geeky fun. No, wait—I have spent hours on this thing. Naming characters was always entertaining…but with the Name Voyager to play with, now it’s a wonder I get anything else done at all.*

*Shhh! Don't tell my agent. She thinks I'm working.


Cassie Edwards plagiarism update:
(here's the original post)

Signet Books, which originally said this, is now saying this. (I can just hear their lawyers: "All riiiiight, everyone, backpedal! And a-one-two-three-four...")

One of the plagiarized parties, Paul Tolme, whose article on mating habits of the black-footed ferret—I swear to God I’m not making this up—was copied and pasted into Edwards’s novel, Shadow Bear, writes about his reaction in Newsweek magazine.

To top all off—because the whole thing isn't bizarre enough already, you know—an exceptionally dedicated searcher found this in Edwards’s novel Savage Obsession:


The odors of the forest, the dew and damp meadow, and the curling smoke from the wigwams were left behind as Lorinda [...]

HIAWATHA by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Lines 3-5 of the Introduction

With the odors of the forest,
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams

Holy freaking moly. Hiawatha?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Rose By Any Other Name...Still Stinks

There’s a brouhaha a-brewin’ in romance publishing this week.

I'm not a romance novel reader, although I did go through a brief period in college during which I scarfed them down like Pringles (sour cream and chives flavor, yum!) I am, however, a huge fan of the Smart Bitches, and thereupon hangs this blog post.

The Smart Bitches, Sarah and Candy, run the romance novel review website Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books. I adore them because, first, second, and third, they are profanely funny. (Their style of humor isn’t for everyone, but hey, I like it.) Fourth, they take reviewing seriously. A lot of book review websites hand out five-star write-ups like prizes at a beauty pageant for toddlers (make sure everyone has a shiny crown to take home!), which renders them pretty much useless. The SBs, though, call it like they read it, and if what they read is crapola, they’ll not only tell you so, but their snarky analysis will have you snorting coffee out your nose. Fifth, one of their regular features is offering up romance cover art for unabashed critique. Straight shooters? These gals could plug a squirrel’s eye at fifty yards, and make the squirrel think it’s funny, to boot.

So when the Smart Bitches discovered that Cassie Edwards, a romance author with over 100 published books, has apparently lifted lengthy passages from other books verbatim and used them in her own novels, they did what any honest, sharp-shootin’ gals who run a book review site would do.

They documented their findings. And then they called Cassie Edwards and her publishers on it.

Inevitably, this being the Internet, the SBs received angry comments from Cassie Edwards fans. The gist of these screeds was 1) verbatim copying isn't wrong, and 2) the SBs are evil for creating such skeezy drama.

Well OK, you think, those are fangirls. Sure they're going to defend a beloved author (although I'd like to see their reaction if some other writer had ripped off Cassie Edwards, instead of the other way around).

Today came the official response from Signet Books. You can read it here, but in short, it tells the SBs to take a hike. An excerpt:

"The copyright fair-use doctrine permits reasonable borrowing and paraphrasing another author’s words, especially for the purpose of creating something new and original. "

Hmm. My Oxford English dictionary defines “plagiarize” as to:

“take and use the thoughts, writings, inventions, etc. of another person as one’s own.”

Now, I'm no lawyer, but I've read my publishing contracts. They contain a standard clause that says the work I submit to my publisher must be original. I've sweated blood worrying that somewhere in my new book, I may have inadvertantly used a phrase or sentence from a research source. I've checked and cross-checked obsessively, and still I worry. I listed my most-used sources in the acknowledgements, both to give credit to these outstanding works and to give interested readers leads on more information.

So I'm pretty confident that--no matter what Signet claims--verbatim copying, Cassie Edwards-style, is not “reasonable borrowing and paraphrasing.” Students flunk classes for this. Other authors get called on the carpet, in public. It’s plagiarism, and it’s unethical.

Just sayin’, Signet. Smart Bitches, rock on.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Journey Continues: First Pass Pages

I thought I’d get to blogging about this earlier, but, you know, holidays and whatnot…so here we are, better late than never, talking about first-pass pages.

When last we left our book-in-progress, I was reviewing copyedits and going over the manuscript, looking for errors. Two months later, another big FedEx package lands on my porch. But for the first time, the pages inside aren’t a raw manuscript. They're still loose, not bound; but otherwise, they look exactly how they will in the finished book. They’re designed. The words are typeset, the chapter headings are set off in an amazing bold font. It’s beautiful. But my publisher didn’t send them for me to admire. No, it’s time to—once more—proofread for mistakes. But honestly, at this stage, how many can there be? I sit down with my pencil and Chicago Manual of Style, and not even three pages in, oh, my God. You’ve got to be kidding.

My editor and I ended up going over all the corrections via phone. Me in Oregon with my set of pages, she in New York with hers, both our copies bristling with colored sticky tags. A different shade for every person who’d found stuff to fix. Five readers in all: the two of us, the copyeditor, the proofreader, and my good friend/writing mentor/fresh-pair-of-eyes, Karen Karbo. The scariest thing? Each of us had caught something that the other four missed. That’s how sneaky some of this stuff is. And not just typos, either. I picked up a plot inconsistency that had completely eluded me earlier. D’oh! *smacks forehead with hard object*

And yet my editor somehow made this whole thing fun, rather than nervewracking. For this, she deserves sainthood. And me—when I find an occasional slip-up in a book I’m reading, I’m a lot more forgiving than I used to be. Because I know, somewhere, the poor author (and his poor editor) are smacking their foreheads, saying, But we went over it eighteen-bazillion times! How could we have possibly missed that?

Yeah, dude. I know. But it's still a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

If It's Not a Resolution, Does That Mean I Can Keep It?

I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. I’ve broken too many, I guess (the gym, yeah, I know. And my vitamins. And walking the dogs. And watering the plants. And washing my car. All right, already!) But I have a thought to keep in mind as I slug away at my third novel (currently in the research/deep imagining/taking-stabs-at-the-beginning phase):

Strive to stay outside my comfort zone.

It’s said that big risks mean big rewards. The flip side, of course: big honkin’ failure. Staying outside my comfort zone means working with the constant feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing. Forging ahead on a project that at times seems so out there, I have no clue whether anyone will be interested in reading it. An idea that spins off in so many directions and into such big territory, I don’t think I can do it justice. Or even if I can do it at all.

Then again, if it seemed like a cinch, that would mean my vision is too small.

At least, I’ll keep telling myself that.


Besides wrestling the new project, there’s plenty happening around here in 2008. My second novel, Ten Cents a Dance, will debut on April 1st. (Yippee!) My website designer and I are busy cooking up a brand-spanking-new look for, including a slew of pages devoted to TCAD. (If you haven’t already signed up for the newsletter, you can do so here to get exclusive “sneak peeks” of book excerpts, contests, and events).*

Stay tuned to this space…and Happy New Year to all!

*Never fear that I’ll jam up your inbox with endless updates. I can guarantee no more than four newsletters a year, and frankly it’ll probably only be two. No New Year’s resolution, you see.