How to Fight Through Distractions

I joke that I have the attention span of a gerbil. I rarely finish one thought before another one jumps in. No, I take that back. I rarely finish one thought before I grab my cell phone for another game of Solitaire.

Huh. Actually, the little dude in the gif above might have the right idea.

HIDE MY CELL PHONE!!

I’m surrounded by blank white pages. I finished my Creepy Doll story – or at least have it well enough along for beta readers to have a crack at it – and I’m supposed to have a holiday story ready to go for an Advent Calendar promotion in just over a month.

Not to mention this here blog post…

Not getting much written, but my Solitaire winning percentage is awesome.

Now, the title of this post suggests I’m actually going to present well-reasoned strategies for coping with the danger presented by the cell phone and other electronic distractions. Hello, Facebook!

In fact, I…do not.

I mean, I did a search for, literally, “how to fight through distractions”, and picked up hits like “Ten Ways to Cut Internet Distractions So You Can Focus On What Really Matters“*.  Which had such helpful suggestions as figure out what you need to accomplish, along with several variations on turn off your damned cell phone.

Actually, I’m exaggerating. The authors do suggest turning off the email notifications on your cell phone, so those little pings don’t pull your attention away from what you’re working on. They also advise putting your more troublesome apps in a separate folder, to make them harder to get to.

I’m not sure that’d slow me down all that much, tbh, though I do kinda love their term “timebox”, as in limit your distracting activities to specific periods of time.

Yeah, that’ll work.

Some people find it useful to install one of the “internet blocker” apps, so they can’t kill a spare minute (or, you know, hours) by taking a “quick peek” at Twitter. There are also time-management apps, calendar apps, and focus apps with cute little “gamified” timers that add a layer of structure for those of us who are gerbils at heart.

There’s no telling how much time I could waste trying all these gizmos out!

The only thing that’s ever worked for me is the sprint timer on the MSWL webpage. The sprints are short – 10 – 20 minutes – which gives me time to check back in on Facebook in-between. I used it last year when I won NaNo. (Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Here’s a link to some resources that might help!)

When it comes down to it, what I really need to do is get over myself and get the words on the page. It’s possible I’m working through a teeny case of writer’s block – which I’ve always maintained isn’t a *thing* but here I am faffing about spinning my wheels and not actually writing.

On the other hand, an hour or so ago – and some dozen games of Solitaire – I didn’t have a blog post written, either, yet here we are. I’ve had some fifty-ish years to practice time-management skills, and from my advanced perspective, I can say that the best way to get something done is to do it.

And if that means hiding my cell phone in a box of cereal, so be it.

*I’m teasing about this article. It’s a useful piece, both thoughtful and well-written.

 

 

What happens next?

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I was going to title this post “The Whiteness of Romance”, but that seemed a little on-the-nose. Instead, I figure what happens next is just as appropriate, because there’s a lot of stuff going on…

The post I wrote last month – Where is the line, exactly? – was deliberately vague, but now that the issue has resolved, more or less, I want to fill in some of the blanks. I wrote the post about the situation in the world of M/M romance, where Santino Hassell was revealed to be something other than the character in his author bio.

Instead of being a bi dude single father with health and money problems, he/she/they is a husband & wife team with a talent for manipulation and, it seems, very little conscience. In the weeks after my post, the testimonials describing their abusive behavior – in addition to questionable crowd-sourcing support for unlikely health problems – has been really appalling.

I don’t know for sure how many of the accusations are true, but the entity known as Santino Hassell has been dropped by their agent and most of (all of?) their publishers. That’s enough for me.

On the heels of that – like, literally the next week – author Xen Sanders came forward, and in painful detail accused Riptide Publishing of racist practices and sexual abuse. (You can read his full statement here.) His editor has been fired, and a substantial number of Riptide authors have asked for and had the rights to their work returned.

Riptide is (was?) one of the bigger LGBT romance publishers. Their principal editors put out a statement (read it here),vowing to do better, and they’re currently closed to unsolicited submissions.

All in all, it was quite a 1-2 punch for M/M romance.

And then RWA announced the RITA nominees.

The RITAs are the annual awards for published novels, organized by the Romance Writers of America (RWA). Think Academy Awards but for romance. As usual, and to the surprise of no one, the nominees are predominantly white. I did find numbers that suggest there’s a small increase in diversity; Alexis Hall’s blog post on the RITAs historical category goes into some statistics. But still.

But still, no black author has ever won a RITA.

And people are speaking up. Loud.

Maybe the shitstorm in M/M and the takedown of Riptide primed the pump, and maybe the #metoo movement laid some of the groundwork. For sure and for certain, the diversity report put out by The Ripped Bodice, a romance-only bookstore, added fuel to the furror.

This is the second year The Ripped Bodice has put out a diversity report that can be summarized pretty simply. Six of their top ten best sellers are written by authors of color, yet overall, only 6.2 out of every 100 romances published in 2017 were written by an author of color.  That’s down from 7.8/100 in 2016.

Here’s one of their other statistics: “80% of publishers had fewer than 10% of their books written by people of color.” Read the whole report. It’s food for thought. They debunk the most common excuses used to justify the disparity, and give credit to Crimson Romance, who at 29% had the highest percentage of authors of color.

Crimson closed the day the report came out. Not joking.

A few paragraphs ago, I said people – authors – were speaking out, but the thing is, I don’t want to put words in their mouths. Go to twitter and listen to the stories they tell, stories about the shit way they’ve been treated by publishers, editors, and the RWA and its members. Follow Courtney Milan, Rebekah Weatherspoon, or Alyssa Cole, and listen to what they have to say. Follow Xen Sanders. Follow EE Ottoman.

And while you’re listening, buy their books!

Because the best way to prove to a publisher that a book will sell it to buy it. To be honest, I think Ripper says it better than I ever could:

All books.

ETA….so what does happen next? I’d like to think we all wake up and start treating each other like Mr. Rogers thought we should. But…

Meanwhile, take small steps. Read outside your comfort zone. Listen to what the authors of color you know have to say. Systemic change will only happen when a critical mass of individuals push for it. Be part of that critical mass.

ETA2..here’s a link to RWAs statement, “Board Commitment to RITAs and Inclusivity”. And for more ideas on what you can do, check out this statement by the POC Queer Romance Authors Community.

Resolution: The Act of Resolving

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Happy New Year!

That gif is a pretty accurate expression of my feelings for 2017. Get thee gone, year from hell! Although to be honest, mostly I sat inside my comfortable home, in my comfortable blue state, and watched my friends and fellow-citizens dodge the fall-out of this current administration.

I don’t personally have much to complain about, but because of that, I feel it’s even more important to keep my senators on speed dial.

But it’s January 1st, 2018! That annual clean slate where we all vow to be our better selves, at least for today. Do you make resolutions? I usually try to, and I figure if I write them down in a blog post, I’ll be more likely to keep them.

You’ll hold me accountable, amirite?

I looked it up, and the root of “resolution” is the Latin is “resolutio”, from “resolvere”. And according to the Latin Dictionary, resolvere is a verb that means to loosen| release| disperse| melt; relax; pay; enervate| pay back; break up; fin. I find the contrast interesting; the word’s root has to do with letting go, but we now apply it to a set of goals we clutch with grim determination.

But maybe there’s a seed of wisdom there. Maybe instead of adding to the list of things I want to accomplish, I should think in terms of what I no longer need.

For example, last year one of my resolutions had to do with diet. Starting January 2nd, I adopted the 5/2 eating plan. (That’s 2000 calories a day for 5 days a week, then 500 calories a day for the other two.) I’ve managed to stick with it, and in addition to losing 45 pounds, I’ve dispersed a whole lot of baggage around my body and my weight.

My commitment may have added to my to-do list, but as a result, I’ve let go of a serious source of stress.

Another of last year’s resolutions had to do with the current political climate. When 45 took office, I promised myself I’d do something every day to #resist. From the Women’s March, to calling my electeds, to putting my money where my values are, I’ve done my best to live up to that vow.

My most recent activity has been writing postcards to support Democratic candidates in contested states. I joined PostcardsToVoters.org, and now whenever I see a headline that makes me angry, I request another batch of addresses. It’s a small task, but it’s a way of paying back, of dispensing with helplessness and replacing it with hope.

Last year’s resolutions have become a way of life, but other than recommitting to them, I haven’t come up with anything new for this year. Well, other than that my basement could appear on an episode of Horders, and I pretty regularly beat myself up about that…

Bingo.

I hereby resolve to reduce or eliminate the self-flagellation that comes from having a basement I’m ashamed for strangers to see.

Now it’s your turn….

If you’ve got a resolution, either a commitment or a letting go, leave it in the comments! Either way, I hope 2018 brings you hope and peace and joy.

 

 

Social Media: One Perk of Being an Author…or Being Human

Yesterday I was faffing about on Facebook – as you do – and stumbled over this…

One household staple sums up why Americans and Brits will never see the world the same way.

The article makes a couple of basic assumptions, primarily that London flats with in-home laundry are likely to have combination washer/dryers. More importantly, those dryers don’t work, and people end up draping soggy clothing all over their flats to get things dry.

They author argues that it’s in the British national character to accept an appliance with less-then-optimal functioning, while Americans would treat it as a challenge to find a way to make the things work better.

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Which is interesting, but not really the point of this blog post. What I did with the article is.

I posted the link on a group Facebook page, mainly because many of my friends there are from the UK, NZ, Canada, and Oz (Australia). As I expected, the link got lots of conversation. (It helped that I started off with a comment about microwaving water for tea, which never fails to stir things up. Apparently some consider this American convenience a travesty.)

Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Some people – especially Americans who are living/have lived in London – hate drying their undercrackers on the radiator.
  • Others who live there think having a separate dryer would be a waste of space and electricity. Also:
    • An “airing cupboard” works just as well.
    • “Panties” are for children.
    • “Knickers” are for adults.
    • Radiators are for drying socks.
    • Microwaving water for tea is a travesty.
  • One British friend who lives north of London does have a “real” dryer.
  • A friend from New Zealand said the cure for line-dried, sandpaper towels is a fabric softener you put in the wash rather than the dryer sheets.
  • Another friend from Oz would never use a dryer because of economic and environmental concerns.
    • Electricity is too expensive and too hard to generate to waste.
    • The sun dries things perfectly well, and is a natural stain remover.
  • Microwaving water for tea is a travesty.

All of that from one random article!

Maybe this post says as much about me as it does about the state of household maintenance. I don’t travel much. It’s just…never been a priority. Part of the reason is that when I travel, I’m always conscious of being a visitor, an outsider, not part of the fabric of life. In the space of five or seven or ten days, I never get deep enough. I always leave wanting more.

My fantasy European vacation would take at least six months, and would involve a castle in the south of France and a cottage near Brighton.

While I’m plotting and scheming for the perfect vacation, meeting people on-line helps me learn about life in other places without ever leaving my living room. And not just the picture-postcard-tourist stuff. I’m learning about airing cupboards and fabric softener and tea. The details! The things only locals know!

The good stuff!

So what does all that have to do with being an author? Well, my progression as a writer evolved in tandem with the world wide web. I published my first book in 2012 and took a blogging class to learn how to promote it.

The class’s teacher – Kristen Lamb – required us to start Twitter accounts and created a class Facebook page. This was my first experience with making internet friends, and I still keep in touch with some of them. It might sound a little over-dramatic, but that class changed my life.

No joke. It lead to me becoming part of the Spellbound Scribes!

As an author, I need to be savvy about social media, because the various outlets can be very effective tools for promotion. But really, I hang out on Facebook and Twitter because that’s where my friends are, and because it’s fun.

And because I very much believe that every connection I make shrinks the size of this big blue world, and realizing how much we have in common is the only thing that’ll keep us from riding our divisions into catastrophe.

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My Muse: New Orleans

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Last week we had an adventure. (“We” meaning me and the family.) We spent the week in New Orleans, and I’ll tell you what, I love that city. I love the history. I love the people. I love that there are so many layers and nooks and crannies and things to play with – especially when it comes to writing.

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Urn at Lafayette No. 1

Plot bunnies are easy, you know? I pretty regularly stumble over ideas that could make a decent story. Some you’ll get to read, but most never get off the dream list. The tricky part is figuring out the right setting, the one place that’ll make the story pop.

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Paddle wheeler on the Mighty Mississippi

I have to really know a place before I can write about it. (Ask me how much fun I had writing the swamp scenes in Bonfire since I’ve never spent any time in a swamp. Or maybe ask Irene how much fun she had *correcting* my misapprehensions in those scenes. There are no hills, or rocks, apparently.) I have to be able to capture the truth of a place, or some facet of that truth, to make the story believable. To do that, I tend to set my stories in one of three cities: Seattle, Los Angeles, or New Orleans.

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This house in the Garden District inspired Thaddeus Dupont’s First St. house.

Seattle’s a no-brainer because I’ve lived here for most of my life. Maybe because of that, I take the romance of the place for granted. That said, I have an upcoming super-secret project that’s set here. (More about that later!)

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Ready for a parade on St. Charles Avenue last week!

I choose Los Angles for stories because, like New Orleans, it has all kinds of angles I can work with. I don’t think anyone could capture all of L.A. in a single sentence, or even a single book. Because of that, it’s unfortunately possible to set a story there and turn it into Anytown, Anywhere, USA. It’s just so much better if you drop in a few details to bring the place alive.

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Staircase to choir loft at St. Mary’s Church – Ursuline Convent – NOLA. Imagine climbing those steps in a nun’s habit…

My sister lives in L.A., so when I need some nitty gritty factoid to get to the truth of a story, I’ll try and plan a visit. And if I don’t have the time or money for travel, she’s awesome about brainstorming-by-text. She works in The Industry, so she’s very understanding about my creative craziness.

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French Quarter courtyard.

FWIW, I didn’t have the same kind of connection with New Orleans when I started setting stories there. I’d never visited, didn’t know anyone who lived there, and tbh most of my experience with the place came via Ann Rice’s novels. That’s changed now! Last week was our second visit, and “subletting a French Quarter condo for six months” is now on my bucket list.

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You meet all kinds of people during Carnival!

Thank you for exploring NOLA with me. We had a blast last week, and if you’ve never been to New Orleans, you really must visit someday! Or, you know, you could check out my newest release, Change of Heart. It’s a historical romance set in the French Quarter in 1933, a distant prequel to the two Hours of the Night novels I co-wrote with Irene Preston. I’ll put the blurb and buy links below, just in case. Happy travels!!

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Preacher always said New Orleans was a den of sin, but of course Clarabelle had to see for herself…

A body reaps what they sow, and Clarabelle’s planted the seeds of trouble. The year is 1933, and not much else is growing in the Oklahoma dirt. Clarabelle’s gone and fallen in love with her best friend, so she figures it’s time to go out and see the world.

If she’s lucky, she’ll find the kind of girl who’ll kiss her back.

Clarabelle heads for New Orleans, and that’s where she meets Vaughn. Now, Vaughn’s as pretty as can be, but she’s hiding something. When she gets jumped by a pair of hoodlums, Clarabelle comes to her rescue and accidentally discovers her secret. She has to decide whether Vaughn is really the kind of girl for her, and though Clarabelle started out a dirt-farming Okie, Vaughn teaches her just what it means to be a lady.

Change of Heart is an Hours of the Night story, an early prequel to Vespers and Bonfire. It’s not a paranormal, but a certain vampire may have a role…

Find Change of Heart on Goodreads HERE

Available for a special pre-order price of $0.99!!

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AND, make sure you enter the giveaway to celebrate Change of Heart’s release!

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Politics aside…

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Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re about to have an election here in the US. Actually, if you haven’t heard about our election, I want to be where you are, because I’m so ready for it to be over. Maybe not the election itself, but the divisive rhetoric we’ve been drowning in just needs to stop.

I’ve already voted, so no amount of advertising dollars – or November surprises – is/are going to change my mind. And if you haven’t cast a ballot yet, I’m pretty damned sure nothing I say in this blog post will change your mind, either.

Though to listen to some blogging gurus, it might keep you from buying my next book.

And I’m not really sure how I feel about that. See, I write because I have something to say, and to an extent, I believe that anyone who’s going to be interested in reading about Thaddeus the gay, vampire, monk probably won’t come down too hard on my liberal leanings.

Because the stuff in Vespers will likely require a more open mind than the occasional #ImWithHer meme.

There are writers I follow who’ve been very vocal about their support for the Democratic Presidential nominee and a slew of other socially progressive causes. Other writers I know keep their Facebook and twitter feeds full of writing-related posts, cute kid pix, and kittens. Or sometimes puppies.

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PUPPIES!

I believe two things. First, now matter how you’ve approached this extraordinary election, you do you. I know people both from the internet and in real life who are voting differently than I did, and I respect their right to do so.

However, it’s important that whatever public platform I’ve been able to develop expresses my values. To me, that means sharing thoughtful articles or thought-provoking memes, making it clear where I stand on the issues. It doesn’t mean trolling someone else’s discussion threads and blasting everyone who’s opinions are different than mine. It also doesn’t mean un-friending people who share thoughtful or thought-provoking material from opposing points of view.

This election’s going to be over soon (please God) and we’ve all got to live together afterwards.

True confessions: I’m more likely to be aggressively liberal on Twitter, because stuff goes by so fast and as a medium it doesn’t seem as substantial as Facebook. I’m @LivRancourt. You’ve been warned. (lol!)

In the end, I think it’s like that rule we learned for taking multiple-choice tests: if the answer has ‘always’ or ‘never’ in it, it’s probably wrong. One of the guiding principles behind social networking is to allow others (like, you know, potential readers) to see the real person behind the novels. And well, this real person votes Democrat.

To say “never post about politics” is unrealistic, at least, and potentially harmful. Social change requires all of us to participate, and to speak up. Although, you know, we might need a time out from now until a couple weeks after the election.

Peace out…

Liv

Hey, in case you’re ready for a holiday read, check out Bonfire…

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Silent night, holy hell.

Thaddeus and Sarasija are spending the holidays on the bayou, and while the vampire’s idea of Christmas cheer doesn’t quite match his assistant’s, they’re working on a compromise. Before they can get the tree trimmed, they’re interrupted by the appearance of the feu follet. The ghostly lights appear in the swamp at random and lead even the locals astray.

When the townsfolk link the phenomenon to the return of their most reclusive neighbor, suspicion falls on Thaddeus. These lights aren’t bringing glad tidings, and if Thad and Sara can’t find their source, the feu follet might herald a holiday tragedy for the whole town.

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Never Say Never…

NEVER SAY NEVERYou know the old phrase “Never say never?” Yeah, I used to ignore it, thinking I knew my heart and wouldn’t change my mind. Now, not so much. As I’m getting older (all of 35) I’m coming to realize that most of the things I said I’d never do are exactly what I end up doing. There are more examples, but here are a few that come to mind:

Exhibits A and B (they are related)
I was born three months premature. I mention that only because I had a lot of health problems when I was young (but thankfully nothing nearly as serious as it could have been) that required me to be in and out of the hospital. Hence, I developed a hatred/phobia of hospitals that lingers to this day. So, naturally, when I was old enough to start thinking about my career path, I swore I’d never work in a hospital or in health care.

Toward the end of high school and early into college I was a big Days of Our Lives fan. During that time, they ran a storyline where Carrie – the idol of most young girls at the time – was a PR representative for the local Salem hospital. I’ve forgotten the particulars of the storyline, but I very vividly remember a scene where she was hounded by reporters asking for a statement. I was so stressed just watching her deal with them that I swore I would never work in public relations, especially for a hospital, because I didn’t want to go through that.

Fast forward about a dozen years. I’m in my second (and current) job. Doing what? Working in the PR department…of a health system (corporate office, not hospital, but still).

Exhibit C
In the past, I’ve made no secret about not being a huge fan of the romance genre. The root of my issue goes back to when I was about 10 or 11 and my great aunt gave me my first romance novel, Navy Brat by Debbie Macomber. Obviously, I was too emotionally and sexually immature to be reading that book because it scarred me for life, even though it was nothing compared  to some of the books out there today. I remember thinking while reading one sex scene, “Why would you do that and how is that even physically possible?” After that, I swore I would never write romance novels.

Cut to December 2014: I’m not only a writer, but a writer of romantic comedies (in addition to historical fiction) who just joined the Romance Writers of America (RWA). What’s more I just entered one of my books their Golden Heart Awards and am considering writing a short story for an upcoming anthology. I still prefer the sweeter/less graphic side of the romance genre, but I’m quickly coming around, despite my previous vow.

Exhibit D
In the ultimate case of irony, when I first started taking my writing seriously, probably back in 2009 or 2010, my best friend Courtney suggested that I start blogging. I was adamantly against it, saying it would take away from my writing time and that I didn’t have anything to say that anyone would want to hear. I was dead set against it and I swore I would never blog.

Now, I’ve been blogging for 3.5 years, on my author blog, here and over at Femina Aequalitas, another group blog. And, I love it!

*facepalm*

I really, really need to learn to never say never. It’s not that any of these things are bad; on the contrary, they have all turned out to be wonderful opportunities. My training in public relations is very valuable to my job as an author. Blogging has helped me meet so many wonderful people (I love all of you readers) and gives me an outlet for my endless research and constant opinions on everything. Joining RWA has already opened some amazing doors for me, not to mention opening my mind to the genre.

Based on this, I’m starting to wonder if I should say, “I’ll never get a book contract” or “I’ll never be a best seller.” If my previous pattern holds, all I’ll need to do is wait a bit and that will be exactly what happens. Nah. On second thought, I’m too much of a believer in manifestation to utter such negative phrases. But I will watch what I say “never” about from now on!

Can you relate? Do you have your own “never say never” story? I’d love to hear it in the comments.