HWSWAnswers: Everything Else

And we’re back with more answers to questions you asked earlier in the week.

Cate M asked:
Any tips for getting the most out of an MFA creative writing program as a genre writer (in this case romance)? This is definitely putting the cart before the horse, since I may not even get in. But in the event I do, and you wanted to give me some tips any time between February – September, that would be lovely.
Alternately, what are some ways to grow/ and learn as a writer if I don’t get into that MFA program?

Bob:
I don’t know anything about MFA Programs. There are some good ones. A bunch seem more designed to produce teachers of MFA programs based on my experience one year applying to every one as an instructor since I had nothing better to do. They preferred people with MFAs rather than publishing credentials. I’d take a look at who is teaching and what the graduates do. If you don’t join one? Read a lot. Write. Get some people you trust as a small critique group. I’m not a fan of large groups. Two, at more three people.

Jenny:
MFA programs work the same way any college program works: Find the best profs and follow them. My mentor, Lee K. Abbott, had done his MFA work with a genre writer, so he was very open-minded and practical. Lotta bad CW teachers out there, especially since MFA programs tend to focus on literary fiction and sneer at other genres.

Best way to grow as a writer: Read a lot, not just the kind of fiction that you write but all genres, all forms (screenplays, short stories, graphic novels, cereal boxes, etc.) and books by writers about their theories of writing. (It’s all theories, there are no rules.). My MFA was very valuable because of Lee and a few others there who were very good. In the hands of some other professors, not so much.

And I agree with Bob. Well, it’s a revolutionary time.

Bob:
Nothing but good times ahead.

Jenny:
Actually, I’m not sure publishing credentials are good criteria for writing teachers. For teachers about publishing, yes. Writing? Lotta bad writers out there.

Bob:
Oh yeah– I’ve seen some big name writers who were terrible teachers.

Cate M asked:
Any recommendations for promoting your first book? (It’s digital only, if that changes the tips). I’ve got a book coming out in April (yay!) and a background in marketing other people’s art, but this is my first time trying to talk something up that has my name on it. How do you find the balance between helping people find your art, and not driving away all your friends and family? (Annoying them is fine. Driving them to avoid you, not fine).

Jenny:
I say, “Mollie, market this book.”

Bob:
The infamous question that always gets asked. Short version, regardless of how you publish: you have to market, but you can’t. But you must. But you can’t. But you must. But you can’t. Is that helpful?

Jenny:
No.

Bob:
Bottom line– too many people think there is a magic bullet or some gimmick. The best is write a really good book.

Jenny:
I have absolutely no idea how to answer this question in a helpful manner. Hmmm. Possibly it’s time to get Mollie in here.

Bob:
The best marketing for your first book? Write the next one.

Jenny:
Uh, the best selling tool for your next book is to write a great first one. Not sure that’s marketing.

Bob:
Two key factors to consider for ROI– return on investment. Time and money. Too many people waste both.

Jenny:
That’s because nobody has any idea what really works because each book and each reader is different. And that’s in professional marketing, too.

Bob:
Exactly. Each book is a unique product. Every author is a unique product.

Jenny:
Producer.
I am not a product. Probably.

Bob:
We are just cogs in the machine.

Jenny:
All we are is dust in the wind.

Bob:
More accurate for writers.
Bottom line. Focus on writing. Even finishing your second mss will put you ahead of everyone else.

Cate M asked:
Ever tried to write a screenplay? Why or why not?

Jenny:
I have a shelf full of books on screenwriting because it’s a completely different language that I want to learn. I also have a big shelf of books on writing graphic novels because it’s a different writing language I want to learn. I will get to those when I start re-learning Spanish, for which I also have a shelf of books.

Bob:
Yes. Richard Curtis who did Dark Shadows and Winds of War optioned my first books. I met him for a little while out in LA and he told me how he translates a novel to screenplay. So I wrote a screenplay of Cut Out, my fourth book. Not even sure where that is now. I do recommend studying screenwriting a little; take a class, because it’s the same art, story-telling, but a different medium.

Jenny:
Plus movies are collaborative–you write it, then the director gets hold of it, then the actors interpret their characters, then the studio says, “We love Bet Me, but can the heroine be thin?” and I figure I have enough problems and go back to writing novels.

Bob:
Most people I’ve talked to about breaking into writing screenplays start with: First, move to LA. So, that’s a big no for me.

Jenny:
Oh, yeah. Definitely a company town. And the meetings I’ve had in LA have never made me want to have another.

Cate M asked:
Have you ever had delicious food in a book be a key plot point in a book you loved, but you were scared to try the food in real life in case it turned into a Turkish delight situation? (I put off trying chicken marsala for the longest time because I didn’t want to ruin Bet Me, so I’m just curious).

Jenny:
No. I rarely fear food. Blowfish, maybe. Isn’t that the one that can kill you? And broccoli.

Bob:
Food? What’s food? Unless someone is killed as one of the courses, it doesn’t really factor in. I just had Lisa Livia get a bunch of dishes knocked out of her hand while going into the kitchen at Two Rivers but I’ve got no clue what was on them.

Jenny:
Bob eats whatever is put in front of him, rarely noticing what it is. I blame years in the military.

Bob:
I did mention Joey’s Shrimp Gumbo.
But the meal was interrupted by assassins.

Jenny:
I, however, am fascinated by food. I never know the caliber or make of the gun somebody is using, though.
You write about the things you care about. Wait, that wasn’t the question. Never mind.

Bob:
Shane currently has a .45. Xavier has a .357 and a .38 revolver in an ankle holster.

Jenny:
There, see? I gave Anna a specific gun that I now cannot remember, but it was robin’s egg blue. And it’s real (RESEARCH!).

Cate M asked:
Are there any types of stories you love reading/watching, but that you’d never want to write yourself? Why?

Jenny:
I love the Rivers of London series, the Murderbots, having a good time with the Temeraire books, would never write any of those. I don’t do techie stuff, don’t know anything about big cities, have never been in the military. I’d be lousy at those.

Bob:
There are stories I read and watch that I’m in awe of. There are stories I wouldn’t want to attempt for whatever reasons, including knowing its beyond my skill level or outside of it. There are things I can do and things I don’t think I can. That doesn’t mean I can’t try. I’ve written in most genres, except for horror which I’ve been thinking about lately, since I seem to write bad people really well and do action well. And my mind is a dark, dangerous place you don’t want to get lost in.

Jenny:
So true.
To do some types of stories really well, I’d have to learn so much, do so much research, that the fun of writing would disappear. Of course, sometimes I contract out: when I wanted to write more violent books, I started writing with Bob. When he wanted to learn how to write romance, he asked me to collaborate. I think we both did learn some things, but mostly it was, “Bob, this person needs to be dead; kill him,” and “Jenny, they’re talking about YEC (yucky emotional crap), over to you.”

Bob:
Yeah. I’ve got scenes I need to run by Jenny from Lisa Livia’s POV because I’m not sure her reaction is correct.

Jenny:
And I talked to Bob about guns and Toni about the FBI in Arresting Anna; they both caught big mistakes for me. But I don’t want to LEARN that stuff. That’s why I make friends with people. First question when I meet somebody: “Do you have any areas of expertise that would be useful for me? Also, my name is Jenny. So do you?”

Bob:
I also advise on brain surgery in my spare time.

Jenny:
While practicing on himself.

Jinx wrote:
I would love answers from both Bob and Jenny as well as debate between them on WHY for goodness’ sake there are two genres (romance & thriller) that are practically 100% gender-segregated. Do you think it’s all about biological differences expressed in reading & writing preferences? Social norms? Inability to understand what the other genre is talking about? Boredom with the other gender’s obsessions? (Since I gather that each of you has moved a bit in the other writer’s direction since you last collaborated, I figure you both have Insights & stuff.)

Jenny:
Hmm. Lotta great female writers in thrillers. Not so many male writers in romance, but that’s changing a lot. I think publishing used to be a lot more rigid about gender and just gradually wised up.

It may also be that women are more oriented to relationships and men are more oriented to power struggles, and that’s both nature and nurture.

Bob:
Tess Gerritsen immediately came to my mind. She writers thrillers. There are lots of women writing thrillers and suspense. The difference between thriller and suspense to me is minor, but important: in a thriller the stakes are really high and involve the reader. In suspense the stakes involve only the characters.

Jenny:
Tess is a great example.

Bob:
As far as men writing romance, there are some. What’s interesting is romance used to be, no idea if it still is, a place where one can actually build a career step by step. The thriller market pretty much looks for a home run or close to it first time at bat.

Kate asked:
How do you know when to get a writing partner? When is it a good idea to write with someone else? I know you two met in an elevator or some such thing, but how do the rest of us find a person who is willing to co-write fiction?

Jenny:
I met Susan Elizabeth Phillips in an elevator in Dallas. I met Bob on an airport bus in Maui.

Bob:
I’m not sure I would recommend finding a co-writer unless there is a specific need.

Jenny:
Exactly. Bob wanted to learn more about writing romance (as I remember) and I wanted to learn more about writing male POV. We had concrete reasons for collaborating, skills we needed to learn.

Bob:
I do recommend having one or two people you can run stuff by. Not even necessarily another writer. A good reader can be gold.

Jenny:
But collaborating is hard. Bob was great to work with, very open-minded, very frank (but polite) in (most of) his disagreements, very flexible. You have to be to co-write, you’re yoked together. But I’ve seen collaborations crash and burn more often than I’ve seen them work.
And usually the work is divided in a way that just spells trouble. For example, one does the research and the other writes. And that leads to problems right there, since the writer is almost always doing more work.
So Bob is absolutely right: Unless you have an expressed and pressing need to collaborate, don’t do it.

Bob:
There are some great symbiotic teams out there. But they took time and effort to develop.

Jenny:
Most of the successful writing teams I’ve seen have been people in a relationship. Like John Saul. Ellery Queen was two cousins who fought all the time. I think the Emma Lathen writers lived together. Lots of married teams.

I really think the bottom line is, collaborate if you have a specific need, something you’re weak at, that a collaborator could fill while still doing half the work. Look for somebody who can fill that need, not just for a general collaborator, and figure out a way to equally share the work. Our collaboration was fairly smooth in splitting the work because Bob wrote the male PoV and I wrote the female. Then we rewrote together.

Maybe don’t look at it as a collaboration, look at it as a partnership. Do you really want to be yoked into a writing partnership with somebody? If what you gain—say accurate male PoV—outweighs the hassles—somebody who writes you daily e-mails that say “Book done yet?”—then that’s a good bet for collaboration.

Also, get one that won’t shoot the damn cat.

Bob:
Could be a bad cat. A whatever they called the cat in Cpt Marvel. See how I looped that?

Jenny:
That wasn’t a cat, that was an alien disguised as a cat.

Bob:
But how do you know all cats aren’t aliens?

ellyG asked:
Is it the publisher or ebook provider who decides if your collaboration books are available in a specific ebook format? And how can I best influence the relevant body to do so (other than repeatedly searching for the books on the relevant site)? I can’t buy your jointly published books DLD and A&TH on Kobo Australia but I can buy your individually written books from that site. Many many thanks to you both for your books & blog commentaries. They have been & still are a source of joy & comfort.

Jenny:
Thank you, Elly.

I don’t do self-publishing much, Bob’s the expert there, and I have nothing to do with what gets published where, in what format. So I’m of no use at all on this question.

Bob:
Authors have very little (none?) control over where a publishers releases a book. It is on Amazon Kindle and you can always download the app.

Jenny:
I’m not sure they can in other countries.
Didn’t you do some e-publishing on your own?

Bob:
But not our books.

Jenny:
So we’re both worthless on this one.

Bob:
I control where my self-published books go.

Jenny:
Oh, right, she did ask specifically about Crusie-Mayers. Nope, we have no control. Or knowledge, evidently.

MJ asked:
How do you balance including diverse characters with the “own voices” movement?

Jenny:
I don’t do protagonists of color because that’s an experience I can’t begin to get right. I try to leave the descriptions of my main characters really loose so people can project their own assumptions, but the default character race if none is stipulated is white, so that doesn’t help much. I think it’s a bad idea to say that only writers of color can write characters of color–see Ben Aaronovitch and Mhairi McFarlane–but I think it’s a bad idea for me to try. Making supporting characters more diverse is easier, but I’m fairly sure I’m still not getting it right.

Bob:
Dangerous question, but I’ll be honest. I write all sorts of characters from all types of background. To say someone must have that background or be of that group to write fiction about such characters is really limiting. I know in YA books go through a certain type of reader, the name escapes me right now, to make sure the story accurately reflects and doesn’t offend, but even that bothers me a little bit. I feel like readers should be the determining factor. My protagonists all have a semblance of my background and ethnicity. I don’t think I could write one who didn’t. I wouldn’t even attempt to write a protag person of color. But i have written female protagonists. So is that violating a rule? I don’t know. Some readers have told me that my depiction of aliens are off, by my experience on the mothership is mine to share.

Jenny:
Do not ask Bob about his experiences on the mother ship.

The diversity question is dangerous because it’s so easy to get in trouble answering it.

Bob:
People always ask if the aliens were the grays or the reds. Mine were rainbow.

Jenny:
Of course they were.
With sparkles.

Bob:
No sparkles. But plumes.

Carley asked:
Have you considered writing sequels to the books you two wrote together? Because I cannot let go. Agnes is my favorite book.

Bob:
I’m writing Shane and the Red Wedding, sort of a sequel, but all we see of Agnes is her getting on a plane to go to Paris for a cooking class.
I’m not sure where it’s going at the moment because I’m building up to the climactic scene and choices have to be made.

Jenny:
I don’t do sequels; I like to leave my characters in safe spaces with lots of potential happiness.
Of course, I left Agnes with Bob, so . . .

Bob:
So I put her on a plane. To Paris. That’s as HEA as one could get right? Lisa Livia is very upset about it.

Jenny:
She doesn’t come back to Shane in the end?
You blew up our Happily Ever After?

Bob:
She comes back. I don’t know yet what will happen. That’s the fun part of writing.
Well there’s always the morning after the HEA.

Jenny:
Yes, but the EA part of the HEA means that the morning after is still H.

Bob:
I always thought the ending of Officer and a Gentleman was a bunch of hooey.

Jenny:
I know. That’s haunted you for years.

Bob:
They layered the romance on top of a really good coming of age story.

Jenny:
The point is, that the writers thought it was an HEA.
It’s been so long since I’ve seen that movie, I can’t remember.
The success of the HEA is that the reader/viewer believes it. Unbelievable HEAs are unsatisfying books.

Bob:
Every HEA has a few bumps in the road. Look at Henry VIII. He thought he had lots of HEAs. So did they.

Jenny:
Your idea of an HEA hero is Henry the fucking VIII?
Suddenly so much becomes clear.
“Also a great HEA: Rasputin.”

Bob:
I don’t know what is going to happen. Because Shane is learning he needs to really commit in a way he hadn’t realized.

Jenny:
I mean, hell, Henry only decapitated two wives. Two out of six, that’s not bad.

Bob:
Shane will not decapitate Agnes.

Jenny:
So he runs off with Carpenter.

Bob:
Right now he’s thinking Carpenter might have betrayed him. Part of his arc.

Jenny:
You know, Shane is not a happy guy.
Needs more Agnes.

Bob:
That’s the point. He is a Hitman. There is some baggage with that.

Jenny:
Yes. What’s that got to do with connecting with Agnes? Whom you sent to Paris. Never mind, you know what you’re doing, ignore me.

Bob:
He didn’t send her to Paris.

Jenny:
No, you did.
Bob the Writer.

Bob:
I just write the story. I can’t be blamed for the beheadings.

Jenny:
I think Henry VIII said that, too.

Bob:
That whole era was pretty brutal. Interesting though.

Jenny:
Yep. Three cheers for history, wouldn’t want to live there.

Bob:
Nope. Died young and hard. At least the peasants.

Jenny:
He was 56 when he died.
Probably pretty old for then.

Bob:
So we beat him! Yay us.

Jenny:
Yes, we outlived Henry VIII, which is more than you can say for most of his wives.
How did we get here? Oh, yes, there’s a sequel to Agnes coming from Bob. No I do not do sequels. So far.

Bob:
The sequel might be coming. I’d have to feel good about the book. And Jenny would have to be happy I didn’t behead Agnes.

Jenny:
Thank you for not beheading Agnes. I don’t have to be happy with your book, you have to be happy.

Sure Thing asked:
Since we live closer to the end times, I’m going practical, and morbid to some. What are you planning to do to/ for your incomplete works upon your demise? And what gets donated to literary museums from your belongings?

Bob:
I’m not worried about that because I’m taking the world with me when I go.

Jenny:
I’m not worried about it because Mollie owns everything. She can trash them or get somebody else to finish them. I won’t care, I’ll be dead. Or, god forbid, living in Bob’s afterlife.
As for archives, my first alma mater has a great Pop Culture collection, and Pam Regis at McDaniel might want stuff. But honestly, I don’t have much stuff to archive. I throw a lot away, mainly because Mollie keeps hinting heavily that she is not into death cleaning.

Bob:
I’m getting pushed out to sea in a long ship with my grandsons shooting flaming arrows at it, while my body is surrounded by all my manuscripts, soaked in gasoline. It will be spectacular.

Jenny:
I’m getting cremated and my ashes spread quietly by the lake. If Bob’s pyre floats by, I’ll wave from beyond.

Bob:
Actually it’s a good question because as an indie author, my business can keep on running indefinitely, generating income. That will drop as I won’t be around to produce new work to jump start things, but still, product is product. I’ve got a 14 page documents detailing all accounts and info, but I need to sit down with my son and walk him through some of it so he understands.

Jenny:
That’s what I did with Mollie twenty years ago. I said, “Okay, my income comes from publishing, and publishing is weird. Here’s how it works.” She listened very carefully, and then she said, “You’re doing this wrong,” and took over everything but the writing. It’s been wonderful, and it also means that Argh Ink, the business, won’t even blip when I go because Mollie already knows everything.

And death seems like a good place to end this. We’ll pick up on Friday again (Bob and I meet in Slack on Tuesdays) so if you have any more questions, put them in the comments here, please. Emily and Lakshmi, I already have your questions ready to show Bob tomorrow. And thank you all for playing.

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14 thoughts on “HWSWAnswers: Everything Else

  1. Wow.
    Awesome. I love how well you two bounce ideas back and forth. It’s hilarious.

    Henry VIII as a HEA – snort!

    Thank you both again for your time and energy.

    5+
  2. LOL at the way the sequels discussion derailed.

    Re: writing courses, collaborators, etc; I personally can see the value because I’m writing in a freaking vacuum over here. The only person who has read most of my stuff is my sister, who does not read any other romance or even romance-adjacent fiction as far as I know. Most of my friends don’t read books, and if they do read books, they don’t read romance. I’ve tried recruiting beta readers and reviewers, people say Sure!, and then I get no feedback. (I am not in a position to buy beta reads or editing.) So a group that exists for the sole purpose of seeing and discussing other peoples’ writing could be a good thing.

    On the other hand, if it’s the *wrong* group, it’s the worst thing in the world. I think I’m better off not having had fifteen random classmates dissecting my first forays into fiction. Or my tenth. When my sister had time to do actual beta reads, she was very good about saying ‘the pacing’ or ‘this scene’ or otherwise pointing out places where she got kicked out of the story, without saying ‘you should.’

    I’ve come a long way as a writer simply by being willing to return to my first things, every time I perceive that I’ve leveled up, and see if those things can be improved. One of the massive benefits of self-publishing = infinite freedom to revise.

    3+
    1. Yeah, I have one friend who loves romance, knows publishing, and reads all my stuff. Her feedback has been more helpful over the years than the writing groups I (briefly) tried to join.

      4+
          1. You don’t know that. We didn’t take a poll or anything.

            I firmly believe in the individuality of Argh People.

            3+
  3. Thank you! That was A) Delightful B) Helpful C) Encouraging and D) Good for my self-esteem since after four years in performing arts marketing, I now have the sneaking suspicion I might actually know more about marketing books than you two.

    If Mollie ever starts a marketing blog, let me know.

    7+
  4. I have no idea what your voices sound like, but trust me, they are AWESOME in my end when I read these exchanges.

    Cate M, in regards to marketing your first book, there are all sorts of FB groups that give that sort of advice. If you find me there we can connect and I can point you at some. But Bob’s comment about “write a good book and then right another good book” is a widely accepted opinion. The idea is that Book One is almost a lost leader – it’s the one you price low or free WHEN YOU HAVE OTHER BOOKS AVAILABLE so it pulls the reader from one to the next to the next.

    That being said, I have Book Nine coming out in March (I self-publish) and I haven’t earned out my expenses on any of them yet, so you might not want to listen to a thing I’m saying LOL!

    However, I do recommend you take Jenny up on her Argh Author promo posts when the book is released. This is a great, supportive community and you’ll get lots of encouragement.

    7+
  5. Can you speak to the pros/cons of using the same pen name for different subgenres?

    I wrote a 3 book Sci-fi romance series as K.M. Fawcett. Next fall I will be publishing a contemporary romance series and am toying with using Kathy Moran Fawcett to distinguish between the two subgenres. Let me be clear, I in no way want to hide my identity from my readers (as some authors need/ want to). I received the advice that using two pen names will help to not muddy my Amazon “also boughts” and Amazon ads. Also 2 pen names gives you more chances to get more book bub deals. Do you believe this to be true? Thank you! I love reading your HWSW answers.

    2+

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