Squawk Radio

Monday, May 01, 2006

Kitty Announces a New Blog (Yeah, Like That's News)

There's nothing I hate more than somebody waking me up before noon on Monday morning. Unless it's Sean Connery in a towel holding a Bourbon straight up. For me, I mean. The Bourbon, too. The Squawkers know that, but STILL the phone rings this morning before the dew is even reeking on the roses, and it's Brockway telling me not to forget to announce that the Squawkers will be checking in later to post the WORST PIECE OF WRITING ADVICE I EVER RECEIVED.

Yeah, I got your worst piece right here. And it ain't on Sean. Or me, either.

So check back in a while to be regaled by some Squawker gems that are sure to sparkle like dew reeking on roses. Or be like Kitty and go back to bed and wait for Sean--or Pierce or Harrison or whoever floats your cocktail--to wake you up properly. You know, just in time for happy hour. Hell, at this point, I'd rather be woken up by Neil Sedaka than one of the Squawkers again.


This is your intrepid reporter, Kitty Kuttlestone, rolling over.


The worst writing advice I ever received had to do with following rules. I distinctly remember during the first year of my first publication, when I was a new hatched chick (so to speak), being on an RWA-sponsored writers' link. I was roundly dressed down by a multi-published author for my "incorrect" writing (in this case, it had to do with head-hopping). She said that it was just wrong to switch POV as frequently as I did, and that any editor in New York City could tell me that.

It wasn't that the particular advice was so bad, although in fact, I've sometimes remembered it when my books went up for auction and NY-based editors were frantically bidding on those head-hopping little babies. I did stop hopping POV within a given paragraph. But the bad part was that I actually believed, for a while, that there was a "correct" way to write. That there were rules laid out for "good" creative writing—whether those have to do with head-hopping, or building every scene to a crescendo, or making every moment significant.

There are no rules. There's only the story, and your voice, and what you can do with it. Shakespeare broke every "rule" that existed in the 1600's – he drove his fellow writer Ben Johnson mad by not keeping to the rules of classical literature (that all the action happened in a day). He drove Dr. Johnson mad because he put way too many dirty jokes into his tragedies. He drove all the other dramatists in London mad because he plagiarized their plots right and left – and sometimes their verse.

I guess I'm going to take Shakespeare as my model. Although I draw the line at plagiarism!


"The worst advice I received wasn’t so much one specific thing as much as a general attitude held by writers as well as publishers . . . and that was to follow the conventional wisdom about what romance readers want. Now, I’m saying this within reason . . . obviously I haven’t written any romances set in ancient Egypt lately! . . . but there is definitely room for some risk-taking, and if you want to distinguish yourself from the pack, you shouldn’t limit yourself or your characters.

In historical romanceland, conventional wisdom says the heroine must be young, virginal, slender but busty, of medium height, stunningly beautiful . . . and her nature must be self-sacrificing, long-suffering, and she must always be unaware of her own gorgeousness. She’s usually well-born and innately talented at . . . well, everything. She never has to go to the bathroom, and she never has a bad hair day. And she will be rescued by the hero.

Conventional wisdom also says the hero must be insanely wealthy, aristocratic, always the tallest one in the room, and arrogant with extremely mobile eyebrows. He must have a sexually prolific past, and a talent for always having the last word over the heroine. If he starts out as a commoner, he is eventually revealed as a long-lost duke. He’s always literate, educated, the best fighter, gambler and lover in the entire known universe. But he never works for a living, except for dabbling in affairs related to estate management. He always has perfectly straight white teeth, and 99 percent of the time, his hair is dark. And he is always the rescuer.

Naturally the virginal heroine will always have an orgasm the first time she and the hero make love. (Initial pain, perhaps, but it will fade quickly once the action gets going. Ha.)

I could keep going, but you get the idea.

The point is, I’ve broken every single one of these rules (not all at once, however!) and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. I realized a while back that in spite of what the conventional wisdom said, every time I inched out on a limb, the response from readers was great and my sales went up. So I hope unpublished writers don’t feel they have to make their stories and characters homogenous to get a book sold. "


You must write everyday.

I heard that command so often from so many people early in my writing career. And that was when I actually had TIME to sit down and write everyday, because I was child-free, and living a thousand miles away from my family and closest friends, and my husband was working hours almost opposite my own. Even though I was working full time in retail back then, I could have made time to write four or six hours a day, no problemo.

The problemo came in that some days, I COULDN’T write. Just like nowadays there are days when I CAN’T write. Not I don’t have TIME to write. Not I don’t know WHAT to write. There’s just nothing in me to come out onto the page some days. I don’t know why. There just isn’t. And sometimes, there will be lots of days in a row like that. If creativity was a spigot I could turn on and off at will, I’d be publishing twelve books a year and living on an estate.

I don’t have to write everyday if I can’t. I don’t have to write everyday if I don’t want to. I don’t care what anyone says.

There are days when I don’t feel well physically, days when I don’t feel well emotionally, days when I’m distracted, days when I have a sick kid/a mom with a doctor’s appointment/a brother having a hissy fit. On those days, I can’t write. I won’t write. I don’t write.

Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah.

And ya know what? There are days when the sun is shining so beautifully after a long rain that I have to get out in the yard. And days when I want to take myself to a matinee. Or finish reading a book. Or paint a cabinet. Or even run the vacuum. And I don’t write on those days, either.

Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah redux.

If I listen to the people who tell me I have to write everyday, then on those days when I have nothing to write, I’ll park my butt in front of the computer and immediately start resenting it. Then I’ll start resenting my book. And then I’ll start resenting my characters. And I’ll think about all the other things I could/should/would be doing if I didn’t have to park my butt in front of the computer ‘cause someone told me I had to. And I’ll feel like a failure TWICE, because not only am I not getting any writing done, I’m not getting anything done around the house either. And if I'm feeling like a failure, then I REALLY won’t be able to write anything.

So I don’t write everyday. And fifty-plus books later, that seems to be working pretty well for me.


Don't get me wrong. I think it's wonderful when this can happen. My book HEATHER AND VELVET (May '92) has a meet-and-greet much like this when Prudence stumbles down the hill shrieking for her cat Sebastian only to end up in the middle of a coach robbery where she causes a very irate (and very gorgeous!) highwayman also named Sebastian to get shot. But not every plot lends itself to such a "cute meet".

I believe that if your hero and heroine are intriguing enough, then the opening scenes (or chapter) can only sharpen the reader's pleasure as they anticipate the moment when hero and heroine finally come face to face. I love doing the larger-than-life set-up and if that set-up is clever enough, then you can afford to prolong that anticipation for a few pages. Think of it as verbal foreplay. In ONE NIGHT OF SCANDAL, Lottie and Hayden don't come face to face until the final sentence of Chapter One. In AFTER MIDNIGHT, Caroline and Adrian don't meet until the end of Chapter Two. To me, this only intensifies the dramatic impact of that first confrontation.

For me, these are the only three tests your first scene has to pass:
1) Does it pose a burning question that can only be answered if the reader keeps turning the pages?
2) Does it give the reader the sense that in a single moment, your character's fate is about to be changed forever? Is Alice getting ready to tumble down the rabbit hole?
3) Can you visualize the opening scene on a movie screen? And if so, would you be willing to plop down $7.50 at the box office to see what happens next?


Whenever I hear that phrase, “Just write the book of your heart,” I grind my teeth and turn an unattractive red color, sort of like Yosemite Sam right before he blows steam out his ears.

The Book Of Your Heart. What does that even mean?

As I understand it, The Book Of Your Heart is the deep, meaningful, sincere story of something Very Important to You.

Which leads us to the next logical question — do you only have one Book Of Your Heart? Unless you’re Margaret Mitchell and the book is GONE WITH THE WIND, one book will not give you a writing career.

Is your heart commercial? Does it team with interesting characters, fast pacing, and memorable dialogue? Because if it doesn’t, there’s a good chance you can’t sell The Book Of Your Heart. Do you want to write a book no one will ever read? Because every writer I’ve ever met who has suffered through the anguish, the anxiety, the pure put-you-butt-in-the-chair-for-hours-and-days-and-months-on-end agony, wants to publish that book. And have it read. To great acclaim. By Dan Brown’s audience. And that will only happen if The Book Of Your Heart is commercially viable.

Does this mean I advocate writing The Book Of Your Wallet? The one book that will be published to great acclaim and read by Dan Brown’s audience? Sure. Go for it — if you know what it is, and if you feel a passion for the story, a passion you can translate to the page. I’ve written thirty-one and a half books, plus six anthologies, and I’ve loved every single story. Each one has been a deep, meaningful, sincere story of something Very Important to Me. I’m able to look at each one with a critical eye and ask, “Which of these do I want passionately to write — and will also further my career?”

I have a job I love — but it is a job, one that supports me and my family, and I intend to make intelligent (as far as possible in publishing), informed (as far as possible in publishing) decisions about the stories I tell. Because (thank you, God), my heart is teeming with books.
Kitty Kuttlestone, 10:03 AM