Friday, April 20, 2012

How I picked my pen name.

When I decided that I wanted to try my hand at erotic romance, I recognized the need for a pen name. One reason was that I have a lot of teen fans. I'm uncomfortable with them reading the books I write as Jennifer Armintrout, most of the time. I certainly did not want to have those same teens coming up to me at events and telling me how much they like my erotic romances, I would feel like a molester. The other reason was more of a practical, business reason. I write in the Urban Fantasy genre, which kind of straddles the line between horror and science fiction, sometimes a little romance is thrown in there. I end up getting readers from all sorts of reading preferences. But there is a belief in the industry, and I think it's fairly true, that a romance reader will go outside of their genre to read, but readers of other genres tend to thumb their noses at romance. I don't know why this is, and certain it's unfair, but it happens. I didn't want my readers from those other genres picking up an erotic romance by Jennifer Armintrout, expecting vampires and gore and violence and feeling like they'd been sold something dishonestly.

So, I had arrived at the decision to pick a pen name. What to chose? It's kind of intoxicating, the freedom to rename yourself. Names are an inherent part of our personality and how others perceive us. Right off the bat, I decided I was going to follow some rules:

  1. No initials. Some of the best, and saddest, advice I've ever heard given to female writers is, "If you want to be taken seriously, use a pseudonym with initials. People will think you're a man, and you'll sell better." Yay, feminism! Using initials, though, is a really good idea if you're writing in the traditionally male dominated fields of literary fiction, mystery/crime, or horror. It's not fair, but there you have it. I wasn't going to be writing in those fields, though. I wanted to write erotic romance, and more to the point, I knew I was going to be writing some of my stories about gay men. I didn't want to seem like I was a pretending to be a gay dude, writing stories from a place of experience. So, initials were right out.
  2. No puns. When I was in high school, I read a book about fairies, written by Hugh Mynn. Say that out loud. At the time, I thought it was super clever. This was when I was in high school. Recently, I learned that there is an author out there named Paige Turner. Say it out loud. If people were going to groan at my pen name, they probably wouldn't get further than the cover. No puns.
  3. Nothing impossibly exotic. When people meet me at an event, I didn't want them to be saying, "You're Anastasia Von Sexington?" with incredulity. I can't live up to that name. A lot of authors can't live up to the extremely unique pen names they set for themselves. I know, because I've met them. Confronted with a woman in a too-tight t-shirt with her own book's cover stretched out of shape over her bosom, unkempt, graying hair sticking out in all directions above horn-rimmed (and not ironically) glasses, I would be the one saying, "Are you sure you're Sinsual Divine?" I'd save names like Elisabetta Sable and Nissy Vixen for drunken fanfic writing. I am no Sinsual Divine.
  4. Nothing someone had already taken. I googled my pen name, to make sure there wasn't another person out there with the same one, or one that's very, very similar. Point of fact, I did the same thing when I started out with my own name. It's just polite.
  5. No smooshing together celebrity names. Cameron Cruise, we all know what you did.
So, with those in mind, I came up with Abigail Barnette. I like Abigail Barnette, because she sounds like she could run for city council. B-sounds inspire confidence in me. So does the hard consonant at the end of her last name. Abigail Barnette seems successful and self-assured. Perhaps too self-assured. When people meet me, they probably think, "Are you sure you're Abigail Barnette."

And then I admit it's just a pen name, and I tell them I'm Jennifer Armintrout, and they ask me if that's a Native American name. True story.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Open Mind

I just returned from a week long vacation in Florida that was very much needed. It made me acutely aware of how frazzled and stressed my mind has been. As I expected, it took me a day or two to allow my mind to relax. I slept A LOT that first day. I had no idea how exhausted I was. The second and third day I tried to write, but I couldn’t. My mind was tight and restless. No room for creativity to ebb and flow. I became aware of how fatigued and unhealthy my mind was, not just my body. I was frustrated. This is my chance to write and relax, I thought. Why can’t I do it?

My mind needed rest and relaxation. Healing. Space.

This was a new concept to me.

So I gave myself permission to not make any demands of my mind. To slowly unwind. To nourish it by absorbing nature. To sit in silence. And slowly that tape recorder voice of incessant thoughts, to-do lists, worries, and demands slowed down. Stop completely? No. But I didn’t expect that of myself.

I don’t know why, but whenever I go on vacation, I get a wider view lens of my life. I’m the big tree by the ant hill rather than the ant frantically building its sandy home. I get a quiver of excitement, suddenly seeing the changes I need (and want!) to make. Everything is so clear! There's something about that physical distance which seems to create an objectivity that I don’t normally have.

When I return home, sometimes I’m the ant who loses the vision, and gets sucked into the daily grind. Sometimes I make small changes in my life. Sometimes it takes several vacations before I make a change.

Before I lose my widened view, I want to share my personal insight. Nothing spectacular. It honestly is common sense, but like I’ve found with many logical ideas, it’s hard to implement in every day life.

If I want creativity to unleash, to write anything with beauty and awe, I need a rested open mind. It needs nourishment, not fast food. It needs sun and quiet and less technology. Less distractions. I can’t speak for all, but this is a sampling of the nourishment my mind needs. How do you nourish your mind? Could your mind be starved and stressed without your awareness?

I easily fall in the rut of a junk-filled cluttered mind of thoughts about work, worries, things that need to be done, text messages, constant advertising, Facebook, and mindless TV. It’s been so brimming full of garbage that the ground is barren. My mind needs fertile soil if any creativity is going to flourish.

If all I gain from my vacation is awareness, so be it. As much of a lover of fantasy, philosophy, and daydreams, I am a realist. Old habits are hard to break. But if I am more aware, then I am not a zombie lost in its own destruction.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Two Chicks and a Bottle of Mead

GRRWG, I love you, but I had to unattend your last meeting.  Twice a year or so, Mary and I spend a day or a weekend writing, and Saturday, your meeting overlapped our “Two Chicks and a Bottle of Mead” writing retreat.  To show you we didn’t blow you off, my 48 hour word count was 9300.

9300!  That’ astoundingly crazy because of two reasons:
     a.  I’d hit a brick wall in my two WIPs.  They were D.O.A.  The Oompa Loompa Zombies and the Star Princess and Star Reporter were on the way to that great manuscript graveyard in the sky.
     b.  I’ve never, ever smoked on a keyboard so hot, even during NaNo.  My all time high is around 6K (thank you Gerber House).

“So, how did you do it?” you ask.  Was it no housework (you must not know my super-charged husband) or no T.V. (we COULD NOT get in the Redwings game) or no internet (which did help).

No, curious GRRWGers (GRRWGians?), we decided we would write for FUN.  Remember what that’s like?  A long time ago, I wrote for fun.  Over the top.  Outrageous, unique and ballsy.  Lately, I’ve placed too much emphasis on structure and word count and (horrors!) plot and all the boring stuff that sucks at creativity.  I realized after thirteen years or writing, over a dozen manuscripts and untold conferences, workshops, and reference books, that I KNOW THIS STUFF.  It’s instinctive now, but I was getting in the way of my own talent.

Friday, we left the classroom behind and ran outside to the playground.  We gave our characters a bubble wand, water balloons and a cardboard box and let them laugh and play and put on a show. 

I wrote 9300 freaking words!  In the process, I discovered Archer’s sense of humor, Cåe’s curiosity, David’s reticence and Zealand’s sensuality.  I wrote a fast paced, breezy story and found my groove again.

Sorry again, GRRWG (and Patty).  No insult intended.  It was all in good fun.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Character's Sibling Rivalry

Ever since Easter one of my main characters has been arguing with her older half brother. Normally, this wouldn't be funny, but in the case of Jesus and Merie it is.  That's because Jesus, is Jesus as in "The Saviour" and Merie is one of God's "Chosen".

It all started because she called him a "metrosexual, attention seeking, drama queen", to which he replied (amid a sputtering hissy fit) with "You are such a brat!". It continues on into a growing argument about his second coming plans, her time crunch on a special assignment from God, and the fact that she cannot (and will not) help him with his big re-appearance.

All of this makes me laugh, and wonder what will come next from these two siblings. Merie is one of my favorite characters to work on, she's funny, totally in love with her creator, and has an amazingly understanding son-in-law. Having Jesus as a half-brother is just icing on the cake.

I love my irreverant and sometimes bossy characters. They always surprise me, sometimes to the point of tears, sometimes to laughter, and keep my writing flowing. This recent bout of sibling rivarly has all of my other characters sniping from the sidelines, laughing and encouraging the argument, all while feeding me additional story lines for their books.

The only problem with this sibling rivalry is I have so much to write and far too little time.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Learning about Werewolves with Tess Grant

Thursday night I attended a great program with the author of Trajectories, Tess Grant. In it, she talked about werewolves, the origin of the legend, much-too-local sightings of 'werewolves' (the Dogman), how to identify a werewolf kill, and most importantly, how to kill a werewolf. (I will be investing in punji sticks at some point and scouring garage sales for silver to tip them with. They are said to be very effective against werewolves, vampires and even zombies. Woohoo!)

I finally remembered to take pictures at the end of the presentation. (It was that good.)

Yes, those are bones on the table. (Not human, thankfully.) She brought them to demonstrate the markings made by a werewolf. 

If you haven't read Trajectories,  you have to check it out. Buy it at Amazon.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

So many conferences, so little time

by Suzanne Graham

This is the week of the big Romantic Times Conference, and I must say that I've been fighting the green-eyed monster when I think of all the fabulous writers from GRRWG who will be attending. I'd love to be driving down to Chicago with them, rubbing elbows with my favorite bestselling authors, wining and dining with editors and publishers.

But alas, money and time are not infinite, and earlier in the year, I had to make the decision about which conferences I would attend. So, I picked something old and something new.

I'm pleased to be going back to Chicago North's Spring Fling at the end of April for my third time, where I'll renew friendships from the conferences of 2008 and 2010. Then, I'll be attending the new-to-me Authors After Dark Conference in August in New Orleans. I've heard this one is a big blowout reader/author party, and I'm plenty excited.

What about you? Where are you going this year to recharge your writing battery and renew your enthusiasm for all things related to books?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Happy Easter

It was Easter Weekend. Hopefully you were able to enjoy spending time with your family and enjoying celebrating Jesus. It was a beautiful day. There is much to be thankful for, and many blessings for everyone. Happy Holiday.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Releasing Early!

by Andrea Dickinson

I've just been informed by my publisher that Baltimore Heat will be releasing a week early!

It will be available Wednesday, April 18, from Resplendence Publishing. I wish I had some pretty cover art to show you, but I haven't got any yet. Waiting on the edge of my seat to see how the cover artist interprets my story visually.


At the end of a busy workweek, young businesswoman Raquel Walsh merely wants to shorten the distance between her and the train station while she searches for a taxi. She never expects to find herself lost in a rough Baltimore neighborhood, the victim of a mugging and the unexpected houseguest of the grandmother of a retired, professional basketball player.

Marcus Jones isn't in the market for a new woman as he nears the end of his self-imposed year of celibacy after his vicious breakup with last gold-digging girlfriend. Having to play host to a homeless woman for the weekend is messing with his plans, as Raquel distracts him with her curvy, womanly figure and her tendency to land on her face.

Update - I have cover art!!!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Taking a Break

Writing is a joy most of the time, when everything is going well, our characters are well defined and can speak for themselves, when the plot just falls into place and each scene is clearly defined in your mind. Then writing is a joy. But there are the other times, when just booting up the computer is hard work, knowing that you have to produce 1,000 or 2,000 or more words, when the characters stand aloof and unhelpful and the plot mocks you. Then panic reigns. You've got a deadline to get your work finished and in to the editor and you have to bring your story to a satisfying end. So what do you do?

Some resort to chocolate.(guilty) Some turn to alcohol, wine spritzers and the like or just go straight for the hard stuff. I'm not even mentioning marijuana,(it might be a boon!) There are some other things you can try. I sit down and outline, outline, and outline, the overall plot, each chapter as I get ready to write and even every scene. I rethink my characters. In short, I change from a seat of the pants writer to planning every detail. If that doesn't work, then I'm writing the wrong book.

But there is one other thing I've found works. Take a vacation!! When you've been pushing yourself day after day and the words don't flow anymore, get away from the computer for a day or two. Allow yourself to think about something else. Yeah, I know our story is still there in the back of the mind, but our minds are funny things. They solve problems while we're busy eating a quart of our favorite ice cream or making brownies when the only one around to eat them is you, or binging on grilled asparagus (my favorite)! Most times, there's no ahah moment when the light bulb goes on, there's just a quiet time in your mind, when you belch from the ice cream, brownies and asparagus when you think, that could work. Be calm! Stay calm!

You've found your groove again and you can go back to the computer and meet your deadline and feel satisfied with what you've produced, or at least, be grateful that you have something to send out. Hey, I didn't say it was a perfect world. I didn't promise you golden prose, just that if you take a break from the pressure that we as writers exert over ourselves, you get the mojo going again. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Connect With Writers

April is a very busy month for writers! Two major conferences will take place, both in nearby Chicago. GRRWG will be well represented at both!
Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention will take place from April 11 – 15 at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare. This is an even for both readers and writers, so it's a wonderful place for readers to meet their favorite writers, and for writers to connect with their fans. The convention's website even describes "pre-convention activities" which include intensive programs for writers as well as tours of Chicago.
Two weeks later the Chicago North Chapter of RWA will host its bi-annual Spring Fling conference. This is a great networking opportunity for authors, as well as a chance to fine tune our skills by attending workshops. Kind of like our conference last fall, but on a much bigger scale!
If you're attending one of these events this month, remember to soak in all you can. Smile and introduce yourself. You may make a new friend, who might turn into a fan, who might be a great resource for your next project…you get the idea. These are great opportunities to grow as authors, and in the process we will grow as a group.