Thursday, June 25, 2015

#TBT - Once a groupie, always a groupie. #teamvanni

When I wrote a fanciful tale about an ordinary groupie getting her shot with a hot rock star, I had no idea how my life was about to change. I thought hey, it might be fun to have crazy wild sex with a hot rocker, and figured other readers might agree. I've been around fandoms for a long time, I know the kind of fantasies that are understandably entertained.

Oddly, though, the book morphed into something else entirely for me. The internal conversation when something like this:

"What happens when you finally get the guy everyone wants?"

"It ain't good, girl."

Truth be told, I ended up writing it mostly as therapy. I was going through some challenging times between 2009-2012, where my life was full of people that didn't always honestly represent who they were or what they wanted. This was tough for me because I kind of take people at face value. If you call yourself a friend, I'll treat you like one until you show me otherwise.

Between 2009-2012, there was nothin' but otherwise. And it sucked. BIG time.

Needless to say, I had a bitter taste in my mouth by the time I wrote GROUPIE, book 1, in 2011. After the lead-up and the conquest between the two primary characters, I was no longer enamored of the idea of sleeping with an idol. Where the plot went after that could only be blamed on how fed up to the eyeballs I was by people who "friended" me just because they wanted something they thought I had. (And I didn't, which makes the whole thing even more pathetic.)

Honestly it made me a little pathetic too. Everyone had a different story and I didn't know who to believe. Andy's wide-eyed, undying optimism from the story is pulled almost directly from real life. Yes, she was often an idiot. Write what you know and all that.

Like I always do, I work shit out when I write. Some people read to escape. I write to make realism bearable. I take my pain and make it work for me. And that's what GROUPIE was. It was inspired by the good, and not so pretty, parts of being involved in any fandom, or getting too close to any idol. There's the unattainable object of your attraction, yes, but there is also many folks who would smile to your face while stabbing you right in the back, for no particular reason really. You are just often in the way. It took me a long time to dissect my feelings and make sense of it all. Andy's and Vanni's world was a safe place to do that because it, unlike my own, was within my control.

When I put the GROUPIE TRILOGY to rest, I thought I had exorcised every single demon that had chased me to tell the tale. There didn't seem more to add because, thankfully, I had ended all the toxic relationships that had inspired a lot of the trouble found within the books. In that way, the story was very liberating. Even if I hadn't made a dime on it, I would have gotten something significant from it. It helped me cope and it helped me heal. I really can't put a price on what that meant for me.

Remarkably, the story I wrote to make sense of real life BS ended up being the one book out of all of my books to draw an audience. People loved the angst of it, which was as real as dared to make it. If you felt like tossing your Kindle across the room or shaking me senseless, rest assured - I had already had every single one of those feelings and then some.

Every character, every twist... and of course, Vanni himself... pulled readers every which way, just like the real life events that inspired the story.

Not bad for a story where I shamelessly and thoroughly explored the darker side of a long-standing fantasy of mine. That it could actually see a modicum of success was just the Universe's way of saying, "Yeah, I saw all that crap you had to go through. My bad. Here. Buy yourself something pretty."

In a very odd way, GROUPIE kept me grounded. It made me stronger. It made me wiser. It was not only a masterclass in becoming a professional writer (and all that entails,) but it was an eye-opening experience as I got to live in the skin of the people I hated or resented the most. At the end of the day, I felt empathy for the people had hurt me. (I was given advice by a principle player in this drama to always try to understand the other person's point of view and motivation, even if they're a "bad guy." Instead of torturing this character like any vindictive writer worth her salt, I began to understand why the character did the heinous things she did.)

It made it easier to put all the crap in the past at last.

I loved my GROUPIE family so much that I couldn't resist bringing them back again and again whenever I could, though. Vanni, especially, is a fan favorite every bit as much as he is mine. It always gives me a thrill when I can bring him back to tell new stories, usually as a supporting character or cameo. There never seemed much point in adding to his story, as the trilogy ended exactly the way I wanted (needed) it to end.

It began to dawn on me not too long ago that I might have been thinking much too small. There is more to explore than I originally thought, or so Vanni kept whispering in my ear. (And y'all know I can't deny that man.)

So I am BEYOND excited to announce that one of your favorite book boyfriends is BACK this July!!

Book 4 of the GROUPIE SAGA is not a rehash of what you've read before. It's a prequel, rather than an alternate POV. Instead, I get to dig deep in Vanni's history, and what made him the womanizing manwhore that kept us all in knots for three books straight.

As it turns out, he still has a lot to say.

So prepare your TBR list for July 24, 2015, when VANNI returns to your bookshelf with a brand new sexy tale of how he rose from a lowly waiter to a rock star poised to take over the music industry. There will be sex. There will be drugs. There will be rock and roll.

There will be Vanni.

And he can't wait to sing naughty things in your ear once more.

For those who have not yet met Vanni, you don't have to read the first three books to read #4. If you want to, however, GROUPIE, Book 1 in the saga, is now FREE on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo.

It's not too late to board this train. But hold on tight... cuz it's going to get crazy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

#WriterWednesday Episode 2: I think it's time we have The Talk About Reviews.

I'm trying to structure these #WriterWednesday posts in order, so that I can properly prepare even the newest newbie to the life of a working writer. I was going to save The Talk we're going to have today for the upcoming weeks, past all the stuff about the craft, etc. You gotta crawl before you can walk, as it were. In my opinion reader reviews happen so far down the line after you publish, it's like putting the cart before the horse to talk about them while we're getting the whole writery thing ironed out.

This is Episode 2, where we're still in the "enlistment" part of process. This life isn't cut out for everyone. In Episode 1, we talked about what it takes to "make it," which encompasses a lo-ho-hot of work. This is not a career for the fainthearted, and you need to know that from the jump. I'm sure I'll bleed more and more people every week, but that's kind of the point. If you're going to succeed, and I really do want you to succeed, then you need to know what you're getting into so you can make the best decisions you can. I've been in the trenches a few years now, so I can tell you where the pitfalls are, so you can avoid them if at all possible.

(Hell, I'm still learning these ever-changing rules myself, which means a lot of these won't just be information for you, but reminders for me.)

The more I see some of today's writers virtually shoot themselves in the foot regarding reviews, the more I realized that we have to move The Talk up ahead of schedule. Apparently this is something writers need to know going in and somehow don't, putting their entire careers in jeopardy as a result. So we're going to chat about this a bit today, and it's going to cover quite a bit of ground. I suggest you grab a drink and get comfortable. We're going to be here a while.

Ready? Okay.


Back in the old days, rejection and critique were built into the old model of publishing. You wrote a first draft? Congratulations. Now try to sell that puppy to an agent who has to get excited about your work. That process took time and effort, with a lot of failure along the way. Even books that turned out to be bestsellers were rejected many times before they finally saw the light of day. It took Agathe Christie five years to land her publishing deal. Dr. Seuss, Louis L'Amour, J.K. Rowling, J.D. Salinger, Stephenie Meyer... all these writers who went on to astonishing financial or critical successes originally had their work rejected by scores of editors and agents. Kathryn Stockett received 60, count 'em, 60 rejections on The Help, which not only went on to be a bestseller BUT an Oscar-winning film. Even the Master (and one of my personal writing heroes,) was well acquainted with rejection, from the time he was a teenager.

By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” - Stephen King

Only the battle-scarred few who persevered through this grueling process made the cut, something Stephen talked about in regards to his father. Pick up on this biography at 8:00 minutes in:

As you can see, rejection worked a little bit like the warped wall on American Ninja Warrior.

You usually don't scale a curved, 14-foot wall on the first go, no matter how physically fit you are. You have to train yourself. For writing, this means you have to brave criticism about your work. You'll still fall on your face from time to time, especially at the beginning. This will bruise your ego instead of your body, but it hurts just the same.

The fear of rejection, and the reality of rejection, facilitated the need for honest, often brutal, critiques. Each rejection was a stepping stone, and every critique was a hand up to get you to the next step. They worked together to help make your book, and you, the best you can possibly be so that you would eventually get that "yes," but also be better prepared for the next step beyond it.

That's what made the pursuit of excellence more important than the sale itself. There was (is) no guarantee of money when you sat down to write a book. Back then, you knew that you had to first convince an agent or publisher to get behind you, which was (is) hard to do for untested writers. Some really good books never saw the light of day because the people who needed to make a living wouldn't risk the gamble. The only way you could get anywhere was with a spectacular book that the right person found at the right time. (Another topic we'll eventually get to: Nobody Knows Anything.)

We all understood that was part of the process. More importantly, we understood it was a good thing overall, even if rejections and critiques suck the big one. And let's be real here... they do suck. Readers and critics will tell you to take it on the chin. Don't publish if you can't handle it. But that shit can hurt, I don't care who you are. Writers spend a lot of time and energy, pouring our little hearts into our books. No one wants to hear anyone speak ill of our babies, which we love unconditionally. Everyone wants that gold star or that A+.

And when you're a writer, you've spent those weeks or months inside your own head, with only your voice to guide you. It's easy to lose perspective along the way. There's a lot of euphoria in the creation process. You finish a particularly grueling chapter or write The End after sleepless nights hopped up on nothing more than caffeine and a dream, you want to celebrate... not decimate.

But you need guidance. We all need guidance. If you're writing for yourself, then you can write the story however you want to. But when you're creating a product for millions of consumers, you need perspective. That will only happen when you have someone who can honestly evaluate your work. (And no, your mom generally doesn't count.)

I'll give you an example of perspective. I started writing when I was 11 years old, after a school writing assignment got me some extra attention. After my dad died just the December before, I ceased feeling special. Writing gave that back to me. I latched onto it with both hands. Over the next ten years, I wrote poetry and short stories and even a novella, most of which was received really well. My novella was critiqued in 1985 by my sweet English teacher, who offered a gentle evaluation of where I was weak and where I could be stronger, but generally, overall, I was praised for my efforts. (I believe that English teacher even wrote something about my writing in my yearbook that year.)

So when I wrote my first book, I wasn't at all intimidated about sending my work out to an agent almost the very instant it was written. I maybe tinkered with it a little bit before I sent it in to a local agency in the town where I lived. When I got the response back, the agent said thanks but no thanks, though she gave me a fully edited version of my manuscript.

I don't think there was one page that didn't have at least five red marks on it. It was *dripping* with blood-red ink. My beautiful baby had been figuratively massacred.

I. Was. Devastated. Here I was thinking that I had something special because everyone in my life had always said as much, yet it failed to stand up to scrutiny from an industry professional. It was a rejection and a critique all in one dream-crushing package. And because I was so new to the harsh realities of this business, it wrecked me. I shelved that book and went back to "real life." It took years for me to understand what kind of gift that agent gave me. She edited an entire manuscript - for free - so that I, a clearly brand-new writer, could improve. She wouldn't have done that had she not seen the potential. By the time I returned to writing, because quitting was never really an option, I had a different outlook on the critiquing process. The truth was that I learned more from that brutally honest critique than I had ever learned from years and years of praise. Her words stuck with me, even to this day. That lesson was priceless. It made me a better, stronger writer.

It was part of the process.

By the time I dipped my tippy-toe in the shark-infested waters of screenwriting in 2002, I was ready to show my work and take my licks. I joined a community called Done Deal, which had a forum where you could post your work and get feedback. It became instantly clear that these guys weren't messing around. They'd tell you what they thought and they didn't really bother assuaging your feelings in the process. Buck up, buttercup. This is a business. If you want to be a pro, you are expected to act like one, especially in a collaborative field where content (and sometimes the writers themselves) can change all the way up to the film's completion. (Sometimes even afterwards. Case in point Pretty in Pink, which changed the entire ending based on the feedback of a test audience. We'll talk about this more next week, when I tackle Trusting Your Gut.)

One notorious DD reviewer took particular joy out of ripping these kinds of pages to shreds. He was a bit of an asshole, but most of the time he was right. So I decided to wade out into the deep water and ask him to read my script. Like the manuscript I sent to the agent, this was my first screenplay. I knew he'd tell me the truth and that was vitally important to me. I can stand a few tender feelings as long as I didn't embarrass myself in front of another agent or producer. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and I wanted mine to sparkle.

And yes, he did pick it apart. One of notes said, "This AGAIN? I may need to take a cyanide pill," when I kept repeating the same scene over and over again. When he was done, however, he told me that I had promise AND talent and to keep going. Like the agent... he invested in the potential, showing me how I could reach it. There are things from his critiques (and yes, I asked him to do more than one,) that I still hear in my head today when I write. Why? Because Critques. Are. How. You. Learn. This is why it's imperative that you find someone who is stages ahead of you in your career to help you. That kind of feedback is the finest education you'll ever get.

One of my husband's favorite sayings is if you don't tell someone what they're doing wrong, how are they going to know? (Which is why he's usually reader #1 for everything I write.) Even if it sucks big, blue donkey balls, you have to make peace with the idea that your work will always, always, need improvement. Art is never completed, merely abandoned. I can't read anything I've written in the past without cringing and tinkering and toying and editing - even those books that have already been published. By the time a digital proof of CHASING THUNDER was sent back to me from the publisher to approve nothing more than the formatting, I was still fiddling with content. This was after it had gone through several passes between the publisher and the editor. With each new book, you learn something new. It's impossible not to implement these lessons with everything new you write or everything old you've written.

So trust me when I tell you that there's no greater asset in your life than to have a long list of honest folks who will keep it real when they read your work. They can shine you up like a new penny if you let them.

People who like you will be a little gentler with you, granted. But in a professional forum, you need to know what the problem is so you can fix it. Shortly after finding Done Deal, I joined Zoetrope, another screenwriting community. I had to review several scripts from other writers in order for my work to be read, which taught me how to be an honest, helpful reviewer. This is another imperative skill to learn before you publish, which is probably why that site operated that way. How can you tell what's wrong in your own work if you can't objectively assess the work of another? If you can't figure out what's wrong, or why it fell flat, or didn't connect with you, how are you ever going to know what's wrong in your own work, where it falls flat, and why it doesn't connect? Taking things apart is one of the ways you figure out how to put something together.

Through this process of giving and accepting these critiques, and a lot of them, you gain that valuable perspective I mentioned earlier. You'll find that not all critiques are created equal, and you don't have to make all the changes suggested to you. The plain truth is that sometimes you can do everything right and the material just won't connect with the reader. That's nobody's fault, really. Different strokes for different folks and all that. The more critiques you get, the more you learn which critiques to keep and which to dismiss, which is why it's so damn critical to put your book through these paces. My general rule of thumb is that your gut already knows where you missed the mark. A good critique will force you to deal with it before you blow it with the fickle reading audience that has far too many books to choose from to indulge second chances. An ineffective critique (meaning, one that you don't necessarily agree with or heed,) will teach you how to shrug your shoulders and declare, "You can't please everybody." Not everyone is going to like what you do or agree with how you do it. *And that's okay.* Part of the growth process is filtering all this information to your benefit.

So what does all this have to do with the review process?

I'm so glad you asked.


Since the beginning of the self-publishing age, many writers got to skip that brutal obstacle course full of rejections and critiques at the very dawn of their writing careers. They went from newbie to professional in the click of the button, without all the steps that used to get you from point A to point B, and in doing so, prepared you for point Z. Those steps were necessary so that amateur writers had all that glorious perspective by the time the reviews from the public came. Like I said, not all critiques are created equal. Every single writer in the world has had that one review that was so outrageous, you almost had to laugh. In fact, an entire Tumblr was created to highlight the one-star reviews for classic literature. These are some of the greatest novels of our time and even they cannot escape the vitriol of a frustrated reader, who simply wanted to love a book but didn't.

A review simply captures a reader's feelings, whether good or bad. Here's an example of a 1-star review that I wrote for an author who was a long-standing favorite of mine when I was a young adult, but wrote a bestselling book that both disappointed and offended me entirely. As you can see, I minced no words expressing how I felt about it. It wasn't to correct her work, but to simply state what I got out of it as a reader, which wuddn't good.

Unfortunately, that's something that many newly professional writers are missing. They are so ill-equipped for criticism that they see every review as such a life-or-death thing. They abhor low-rated reviews and the readers who post them, because that low-rated review could put off potential new readers, blocking the writer from inching further up the wall. This has led to the whole Authors Behaving Badly phenomenon, where authors and reviewers clash over negative reviews, and the ease and temptation of cyber-bullying rears its ugly head in some ridiculous "them" vs. "us" scenario.

You have to understand something. For readers, nothing has changed. How we get our books to them has undergone a complete revolution, but how they get the books they read hasn't. How they treat the books they read hasn't. What they expect from a book, an author and the reading experience itself, hasn't. When they plunk down hard-earned cash for a book, they expect to enjoy it. If they don't, they have no problem telling all of their friends, same as before. Good word of mouth will make an unknown book soar right up the bestseller charts, while bad word of mouth will push the book further down the slush pile we all must navigate now that anyone can publish a book, whether it's been put through the paces or not. Those first drafts that delusional newbie writers used to send to publishers are now online, right along with a price tag. It's a product now, and consumers are going to state their opinions accordingly, even if they're "wrong," even if they're mean, and even if they're unfair.

A reader review is nothing more than an editorial piece where they can and should write what they think about it. And we, as writers, should encourage them to be honest, even if it's not glowing. In the end, the passion that they demonstrate to even *write* a review is a good thing for you. My whole career started with a timely review from someone who had a lot of influence. And you know what happened? Some of the things that people loved about the book, others hated. It's a numbers game eventually, particularly the better you sell and the more of a splash your book makes, and yes... that attention will draw those who get off on crapping all over something popular just because they can. For some folks, going against the grain is a way to get some attention. You see this more and more if the author becomes a celebrity of sorts, because the fight for their attention is even harder. If ten people tell you your book is wonderful and they love it, and one person says it sucks, who is going to stand out?

It still boils down to preferences and perspective. What leads one to post a 5-star rating would force another to leave a 1-star rating. There are nearly 2300 ratings over on Goodreads for GROUPIE, and 76 of them are 1-stars. Does it hurt? Of course it does. I'm human, made of flesh and bone. But I don't fight them or challenge them... hell, most times I don't even read them. Eventually I came to realize that even a negative review isn't always negative for the book. If someone writes something ridiculous, such as bullying reviews that do little else but attack a writer, savvy buyers will recognize this. Many readers I've seen read the bad reviews first and skip the glowing, 5-star reviews entirely. (Thanks to yet another industry, 5-star reviews are easy to buy and fake without a reader ever even touching a book, which makes current readers distrustful of very highly rated books with no balance.)

They know that not everyone can love the same book, or even rate/review fairly and objectively. But somewhere along the line, we authors have seemed to forgotten it.

Thanks to today's market, we writers put way too much emphasis on the reader review. It's only one small part of what sells a book. What does your cover look like? How does your blurb read? Are your first five or ten pages as killer as they can be? Are there other reviews on the book, to help balance the dialogue? All of those factor into a reader's choice to buy your book. A 1-star rating/review is not the end-all, be-all. It just feels like it, because like I said... everyone wants the gold star. Everyone is looking for the A+.

You're not always going to get it, just refer to the Tumblr I referenced above.

You need to keep it all in perspective. Some writers can't or won't do this. When they see a negative review, they feel the need to engage the reviewer, particularly if the review was nasty. I understand where they are coming from. It hurts to get a bad review. It's scary to get a bad review. We all worry about our ratings. It's impossible not to, considering negative ratings and rankings hurt our overall brand and jeopardize every new sale that we need in order to survive. And by survive, I mean money-in-your-pocket, food-on-your-table, paying-your-electric-bill, keeping-a-roof-over-your-head survival. Our brand is sacred to us. It has to be.

But nothing, NOTHING, torpedoes your brand more than how unprofessionally you act in the face of these reviews. Remember nothing has changed for the reader. They expect you to take it on the chin just like those other writers who have been through the ringer and back simply to get their book published. If you're not used to harsh or brutally honest critiques, it can come as quite the shock to the system to read something harshly written about your work. Like I said before, used to be that you became accustomed to that PRIOR to publication in the olden days. Today, you take it as it comes. And some people are ill-prepared to handle it.


The most egregious example of this occurred last year, when a well-connected new writer wrote an essay for the Guardian on stalking one of her online critics. And when I say stalked, I mean she physically drove to this lady's house and went up to her door. She had the burning need to confront this person face-to-face over what she felt was an unfair review from a cyber-bully. The problem apparently started prior to her book's publication. She had a traditional publisher, (which should have prepared her for what she was about to face, but apparently there were more issues at play with this particular individual.) Said publisher sent preview copies to bloggers and such, a common practice to generate buzz on an upcoming novel. This aspiring novelist decided to go to Goodreads and check out what people were saying, even while, admittedly, she was still in that "post-partum" phase of writing.

If you're unfamiliar, this is when the euphoria from creating your book subsides and crippling doubts and insecurity creep in, whispering the five scariest words any writer can hear, "What if nobody likes it?" You start to second-guess everything, even those things that got you so excited to write the damn book in the first place. Like I said, without a litany of honest feedback, your perspective is skewed. All you hear is your own voice. Well, she decided to add reader voices to the din, which is where it all started to go horribly, horribly wrong.

She claims that most of these reviewers were giving either one-star or five-star reviews, with no real gray area in between. It's kind of hard to keep perspective when you volley between such extremes, especially when you, yourself, have questionable confidence about the material. And then... Blythe happened.

Fuck this.... I think this book is awfully written and offensive; its execution in regards to all aspects is horrible and honestly, nonexistent... I can say with utmost certainty that this is one of the worst books I’ve read this year, maybe my life.


That review is lifted right from Hale's own account from the Guardian. If you check Goodreads, Blythe's review now reads simply, "Fuck this." Not sure if she's talking specifically about the book or the troubling events that followed, but it's apt either way. (I haven't read the book in question, but no matter if it was a great book or a sucky book, this reviewer is entitled to her opinion on the matter either way. She's allowed to word it the way she wants and post it for others to read. It's simply an opinion, it doesn't need to be right or wrong.)

Hale was told, repeatedly, not to respond. “DO NOT ENGAGE,” another writer told her. “You’ll make yourself look bad, and she’ll ruin you.” But Hale found that she couldn't let it go. Her curiosity turned into a quest. She began to research (i.e. stalk) Blythe online, finding more and more information on her behavior, which allegedly been called into question before. The whole demented story ends with an admittedly obsessive Hale essentially catfishing what she believed to be a catfisher - a blogger who posted negative book reviews under an assumed identity.

You know how you never hear Stephen King physically tracking down his detractors? He's too busy writing his next book to worry about it. Which is why he has a career spanning more than four decades, with more nearly 60 titles to his credit in books alone. He has perspective.

If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.” - Stephen King

The whole thing was just crazysauce. If Hale's career is "ruined," it wasn't the reviewer's fault. We got to witness someone in their professional infancy, shooting themselves in the foot and wrecking their own brand in the dawn of their own career. Even if Blythe wasn't really who she said she was online, her biggest crime was that she snarked about books she was believed were bad on a website that was created for readers to share their thoughts about books. The fact that Ms. Hale decided to make it an epic holy grail resulting in sketchy, nay criminal, behavior says way more about her character than it does any legion of "bullies" online.

Granted, you can get shaded as an author behaving badly for a variety of reasons, not all of them fair. There are some who expect you to put aside being an individual as part of your brand, so you end up bound and gagged behind your keyboard, chained to your own limitations as a public figure. This can impact participating in social media, where you become an extension of your brand, rather than a person with thoughts, opinions and the permission to miss the mark every once and a while. You'll fuck up sometimes. You're human. It happens. Things are going to hurt, and you're entitled to feel the pain. You just have to be very, very careful how you handle it.

It sucks to get a bad review. It sucks even more if that reviewer has any kind of influence. The only thing that sucks worse is when an author makes a fool of him-or-herself trying to take a stand against something that is as subjective as personal opinion. Over the course of your career, if you're lucky, you'll write several books. Some readers will read them all, some will only read the ones that interest them. But your brand is the umbrella over all of it - and the best way to alienate people who don't even know your name is to stomp your foot and act like a five-year-old, crying about how unfair it is when you get a bad review.

Tell me where in the world it was written that only the people who love your book are the ones who get to review it?

Oh, that's right. New writers have now implemented that rule when they send out their books to promote them. I belong to several reader groups and they have shared this troubling new trend. New writers, or PR reps for new writers, will send out their work with a caveat that if anyone feels the need to write a lower-rated review, to wait until after the book has launched so it won't affect its initial sales.

Usually that opening week or two is the highest sales period for your book, so negative reviews, they feel, will jeopardize those critical sales.

In an industry where only a scant percent make any kind of money doing this, that's a legitimate concern. By the time it reaches the public, however, you're no longer in control of it, and that's the part that so many new writers just don't seem to get. The genie is out of the bottle. Just learn what you can from it and take it to your next book as part of your ongoing pursuit of personal excellence.


Keep it all in perspective.

Not everyone is going to love every single book, any more than you love every single book you read. Your odds go up the more polished and perfected a book you produce, which is why honest critique prior to publication is so crucial.

You'll note by this point that I do not use the terms "critique" and "review" synonymously. They are NOT the same things. The critique is for you, usually done before anyone else sees the work. It breaks down the essential workings of the story, from character development to dialogue to structure and pacing. It's written for you to read and to implement, to help you improve and help the book improve. The other is for your potential reading audience, an opinion of a product that is already for sale and available to the public, written for anyone who may be interested in buying it. Though some will say they write these negative reviews to help the writer, most don't think about the author (or their feelings) at all. It's not written for you, but rather written and posted in a safe space to share one's own opinion. One is your business, the other isn't. Once you realize this, you won't have to put such ridiculous (and unrealistic) restrictions on your readers, many of whom will shy away anyway because their voice is being curtailed. What is a review except for another person's opportunity to be heard?

No one owes you a damn thing, even if you offer the book for free. They don't owe you a review at all, that's a courtesy. As a courtesy, how they decide to rank it is completely up to them. How they word it, what they say, all of it is up to them. They're doing you a favor reading your book. Don't be a douche and demand they like it or stay silent. Instead of asking the readers to read down, write UP. Do the hard work to make it the best damn book you can write, and let the chips fall where they may.

You're a professional. Act like one.

You are going to hear no way more than you hear yes in this business, even if it's with a customer's hard-won dollar. If they don't buy your book, guess what? That's a rejection. Sometimes they'll leave scathing critiques of your books thrown in for good measure. Unless you've toughed your hide prior to hitting that publish button, it's a harsh wake-up call.

No writer anywhere, no matter how beloved or successful, avoids this. So your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make peace with the idea that reviews are none of your business. Emulate the writers who have long-standing careers: put your head down and write your next book.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Memories, Meghan, #MeatlessMonday and Me.

In all of my books, I insert little "Easter Eggs." These are the things that are lifted right from my life, either my experiences or preferences, things that you'd recognize are totally me if you know me. I create dozens and dozens of characters, but each, at some point or another, will embody me in some form or fashion. It's a bit like immortality, really. Even decades after I'm gone, a piece of my life experience remains.

I guess I'm not unlike Bender from Futurama, when he was copying himself ad infinitum. Eventually his creations took over the world. But *cough* you know... that's not what I'm trying to do... *cough*.

The most blatant example of this is THE LEFTOVER CLUB, which has my fingerprints all over it. It was a pet project, granted, inspired by READY PLAYER ONE, a sci-fi book heavily influenced by 80s pop culture. I decided I wanted to play around in the past a little bit, so I crafted a sexy romantic romp through the decades where I'd get to stroll down my own memory lane.

Roni, the lead character, channeled me in so many ways it was like she became a Mini-Me. She met her first crush when she was six years old, like me. He would later give her her first kiss on a dare, like me. Her best friend was a gay boy who became her saving grace through the perils of high school and young adulthood, like me. She and her mother moved in with another single mom, which is exactly what happened to me. I got an instant brother who wasn't a brother, a good looking kid that all the girls at our school wanted to claim, and usually befriended me to do it.

From the music she liked to the movies she watched to her thoughts, mannerisms and a few key scenes lifted right from my life or the lives of my friends, this book is a virtual time capsule, for good or bad.

Present-day Roni has a contentious relationship with her teenage daughter, who resents her for the breakup of the family. The funny thing about Meghan is that she usually served as a walking, talking Chatterbox - that's the annoying voice in our head that makes us second-guess everything and doubt or degrade ourselves. I have a loud, obnoxious one that constantly tries to undermine my worth and make me feel like I don't deserve to be happy - and Meghan was that *in spades.*

Imagine my surprise when even she began to take on some of my traits, like passionately following a movement that she thinks can positively impact the world. In that way, she really is my kid. Our kids are reflections of ourselves, only tweaked with the best qualities, to be better than we are. An upgraded version, if you will.

So even if she was a snot on a regular occasion, this was the first scene where she showed me how much promise she had, where she peaked out around the pain and resentment and gave us a hint of who she going to be. She was fearless and passionate for a cause, which anyone can tell you is *totally* me.

Meet Meghan, as she explains why #MeatlessMonday is important.


I stopped at the store on my way home. Whole wheat pasta, check. Garden fresh pasta sauce, check. Parmesan cheese and the makings for a light salad, check-check. I stopped short of the wine, simply because the last thing I needed around Dylan was an intoxicant that suppressed any inhibitions.

Inhibitions were good. They were my friends. I was the sexless, dateless, saintly Madonna, after all. And we all knew I could go to Whore in two seconds flat if alcohol or weed was involved. If Meghan was a no-show for the evening, this could prove problematic.

The problem with the Madonna/Whore scenario? The whore part sounded way more fun.

I was flushed with excitement that a man was coming to my home. And not just any man, the man I had dreamed of and lusted after for three-quarters of my life. My tummy jumped with anticipation every time I thought about it. If I closed my eyes, I saw his face, which only got more handsome every damn year.

And maybe it was all because of the trips down memory lane I had taken recently that made everything that had happened between us years and years ago felt as recent to me as yesterday. The temptation loomed large in front of me, like giant red signs proclaiming DANGER! HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS AHEAD! TURN BACK NOW!

This only fueled the devilish excitement even more.

It was six-thirty by the time I got to the house. I dumped everything in the kitchen and raced to my room to change and freshen up my makeup, which is to say I actually put some on.

Thankfully Meghan wasn’t at home or she would have likely looked for an alien pod to explain this new and puzzling behavior.

I was chopping vegetables for my salad when the doorbell rang. I opened the door and Dylan stood on the doorstep, holding yellow roses in one arm and a brown bag with fresh garlic bread and wine(!) in the other.

I smiled shyly at him as I took his generous offerings. “This is sweet, thank you.”

“At last!” he exclaimed dramatically. “She learns how to simply accept a gift. There’s hope for you yet, Ms. Lawless,” he winked.

I laughed and led him toward the kitchen. “I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

The sauce bubbled away while the rigatoni boiled. I preheated the oven for the bread before I pulled some glasses from the cupboard to pour the wine(!). He dipped a wooden spoon in the sauce for a taste. “It’s meatless,” I warned. “I hope that’s okay.”

“I’m the guest,” he grinned. “I’m in your hands.”

His eyes sparkled into mine and I had to look away. “Yeah, do me a favor and don’t say things like that around the kid, okay?”

He chuckled. “Scout’s honor. Will I need my wine before or after the introduction?”

“Both,” I quipped. “In fact, I recommend an I.V. drip.”

“Next time,” he shrugged, as if it was a possibility.

My stomach leapt with stupid excitement, as if I wanted it to be. “Well, you’re in luck tonight. She’s not home yet. Maybe if you’re lucky, she’ll stay out till curfew.”

He leaned against the counter. “You make parenthood seem like a true joy, you know that?”

I laughed. “Parenthood is wonderful. Parenting, that’s a different story. That’s where the hard work comes in. Thankless, grueling work where you really don’t see the fruits of your labor until years later. It’s like waiting for a tree to grow.”

He followed me as I set the table. I put out a place for Meghan, even though I had no guarantee she’d even show up. I could have texted her, but I decided not to. If she showed, she showed. We’d deal with it then.

“Wonder how our moms got through it.”

“They had each other,” I said. “Now I understand why.”

“Who do you have?” he asked softly.

“Me, myself and I,” I answered. He wore a compassionate smile, so I expounded. “It sounds like a pity party but it’s not. This is my life. These were my choices. It’s kind of easier this way, you know? No one to answer to. No one to depend on.”

“No one to control you,” he filled in and I nodded.

“It’s just me. For better or worse.”

“Sounds lonely,” he said.

“No lonelier than a string of one-night-stands that never go anywhere,” I shot back.

“Touché,” he conceded. “I guess we’re more alike than I knew.”

His sentiment was punctuated with a slamming door. I groaned inwardly. Now the fun was truly about to begin. I held up my hand to keep him silent as we listened to Meghan stomp down the hall and slam into her bedroom. I motioned for Dylan to wait in the living room while I went to prepare my daughter for this unprecedented turn of events.

From all the slamming, I could already tell she wasn’t in a particularly receptive mood. I knocked gently on her door.

“What?” I heard her holler from the other side.

“Meghan, we have company,” I said, ripping the bandage right off.

She swung the door open to face me. “Who?”

“An old friend,” I said. “He’s here for dinner.”

“He?” she scoffed. “You invited a man for dinner?”

I shrugged helplessly. There was no way to explain it. “Dinner’s in ten,” I said before I returned to the kitchen to put the finishing touches on the meal.

Surprisingly, Meghan followed. She spotted the wine glasses on the counter and the roses I was putting into a vase for the table. I could almost smell the smoke as her brain struggled to compute all this new data. She followed me into the dining room and then finally into the living room. Dylan stood to face my daughter, who was looking him up and down like he was some foreign contaminant.

“Meghan, this is Dylan Fenn. He’s an old childhood friend.”

“I know who he is,” she snapped. She glanced down at the hand he offered in greeting. She tipped her chin defiantly as she crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Dad told me all about you.”

“We met once,” he reminded her. “When you were little. You probably don’t remember.”

“It mustn’t have been very memorable,” she sneered. “You’re not as good looking as I might have thought.”

“Meghan!” I hissed under my breath.

Dylan just laughed. “Don’t believe everything you hear,” he added with that charming wink and cockeyed grin.

Meghan seemed perplexed by his reaction. She had landed that barb to wound, but he shrugged it off. Meghan was clearly unsettled by this new development. The teenager shields went up with a roll of her eyes and a bored, “Whatever.”

But rather than squirrel away in her room, she plopped down on the recliner. She wasn’t looking at us directly, but I knew she was keeping track of everything in her peripheral vision.

He turned to me. “I forgot. I also brought something for after dinner.” He reached into his jacket for yet another gift. It was a DVD of Grease, which he handed to me with yet another wink and a knowing smile. “It’s the sing-along version.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Perfect,” I said.

Meghan glanced our direction and I held up the case. “We were in the high school production a gazillion years ago,” he explained. “Your mom would have made one hell of a Rizzo.”

There was yet another roll of her eyes as she glanced away, seemingly bored and annoyed with us, but surprisingly not going anywhere.

Dylan followed me into the kitchen once the timer went off on the oven for the bread. He carried our wine glasses to the table, where Meghan had already made herself at home in the seat in the middle of the other two place settings. He sat at one, I sat at the other.

I passed him the bowl with the pasta, which was now smothered in a sauce rich with vegetables. “So are you a vegetarian?” he asked Meghan. He already knew I wasn’t the herbivore in the family.

“It’s Meatless Monday,” she said, as if he should have been aware.

“Oh,” he said. “What’s that?”

She sighed dramatically. “It’s only, like, a major global movement.”

He raised his eyebrows and waited for her to explain.

“A lot of people won’t commit to a full vegetarian lifestyle. This helps everyone go veggie for a day, which helps the planet and their own personal health.”

“Ah,” he said. It was clear he didn’t buy into the propaganda, so Meghan forged ahead.

“A plant-based diet wards off diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. It’s one of the easiest ways for you to improve your health and live longer.”

He suppressed a smile. “I see.”

His attitude only made her argument more vehement. “Did you know that it takes approximately two thousand gallons of water to produce one pound of meat? If everyone gave up meat for one day a week, we could not only lower our water usage, but reduce our carbon footprint and cut the demand for fossil fuels.”

“So why Monday?” he asked. I knew he was goading her now.

She glared at him. “Why not?”

He toasted me with his glass and that trademark smirk. “Why not?”

I watched as Meghan visibly stewed. He shoveled a spoonful of pasta into his mouth before he gave her a wink and said, “Yummy,” with his mouth full. Again, though her contempt was palpable, she didn’t go anywhere. It was as if she herself wanted to see how it would all play out.

I wondered why I hadn’t invited him over sooner.


Meghan's passion for #MeatlessMonday, the global movement to reduce our carnivorous ways by just one day to improve our health and our planet, comes from my own research on dietary health. I've actually gone Vegan for a bit in the past, although with my family, that is impossible to for long periods of time. Which is a shame, because I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I got to experiment with foods in ways I hadn't before. It stretched my creativity and I had a blast. The rest of my family, aside from my younger son, Jeremiah, isn't quite as adventurous. Everyone has their "thing" they don't eat, but most of them live by their meat. My oldest son recently started dating a girl that he took out for movie and dinner. Not knowing if she was a California girl who preferred to go meatless, he asked if she wanted a veggie burger. She looked at him like he'd grown a second head. In her culture, eating meat is a given. Everyone in my family, except maybe for me or possibly Jer, would find it unthinkable to give up meat entirely. For Mondays, though, it's totally doable, even if the fam isn't all that crazy about it. Dylan, in this scene, channels my meat-loving husband, Steven, who hates most vegetables and all fruits. (Yeah, I know. I don't get it either.) Dylan couches his skepticism of #MeatlessMonday with snark and humor, which is absolutely, positively, totally Steven.

To find out more about #MeatlessMonday, click on the official website. Also check out the documentary, FORKS OVER KNIVES, available now on Netflix. (I'll probably be showing this to one of my son's girlfriends tonight. She's a southern girl who loves her food, and she's also the unofficial cook of the family. I figure that we'd get on the same foodie page for health reasons, me for being overweight and her for being underweight.) Also check out my brand-spanking-new #MeatlessMonday Pinterest board, where I've bookmarked several yummy veggie dishes you can consider for #MeatlessMondays of your own.

It's one small change... but sometimes those small changes are all you need.

Happy Monday, everybody. :)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The single most important piece of advice I can give to a new writer... #WriterWednesday:

What many new writers want to know from seasoned, professional writers is simple: "What do I need to do to make it?" There are many paths up the hill, which others have famously traversed with varying degrees of success. So what is going to work for you?

Sadly, that's a question no one can answer but you. Because there are so many paths, there is no one-size-fits-all advice that applies to each and every writer. Some will find their success self-publishing. Some will find their success through more traditional routes. Some will take courses, classes or get a degree, while others will toil tirelessly, pursuing their "hobby" as if was a job, all the while juggling "real" life on the side. They can, and do, cut their path to superstardom while sitting in a trailer, or waiting for the bank to foreclose on their house, turning their unhappy circumstances into the kind of happily ever afters you'd normally find in fiction. These exceptions to the rules have literally changed the rules. So what can you expect?

Well, things have changed, that much is clear. Things are changing. What worked ten years ago, five years ago, or even last year may not work for you in the same way now. So if you want a fast-track to success, no one, and I mean no one, can guarantee you one.

BUT, there is one universal piece of advice that is rock-solid, no matter which path you choose. It applied then, it applies now and it will apply to anything worth doing that you want to accomplish:

Don't be afraid of the work.

"Well, duh, Ginger. Real ground-breaking stuff there. Thanks for nothing."

I know it sounds a little simplistic, but one thing that stymies new writers more than anything is unrealistic expectation, set up mostly by those notable exceptions to the rules. It demonstrates what success might look like, and we all want to jump from where we are to where that is. This is not because of laziness or lack of character, it's because our very identities depend on it. I'm sure you know more than one writer who has told you, "I'm not a writer yet," because they are waiting till they publish/sell/"make it" to claim the title. We're not waiting on a thing to happen. We're waiting to become.

This is not exclusive to writing, by the way. No one wants to be a newbie anything. There's not a lot of glamor in sitting alone in a room, playing basic notes and learning chord progressions to learn the guitar. These are grueling, repetitive tasks that tick painfully by when all you really want to do is get out in front of a legion of screaming fans and shred like a master.

But the bigger the dream, the harder the work, no matter how naturally gifted you may already be.

A good book will sell. A great book will sell more.

So how do you write a great book? Usually you have to write a few stinkers along the way.

I was a new writer once, so I know how tempting it is to believe that we are the exception to the rule. If I tell you that the first book that you write will be the worst book you write, there's a part of you, just like there was a part of me, that screamed, "NO, IT'S NOT." And it's not ego that makes you feel that way, believe it or not. You just want the dream so freaking badly that you need to be the exception to the rule, otherwise it may not happen at all. Nothing is scarier than that.

And sadly, there are enough bottom-dwelling opportunists out there who've created an entire industry promising they can get you there with their top-secret methodology. One of the things that drives me bonkers is to see all those ads that crop up on Facebook from time to time, with all these "sure-fire" tips to make you the next best-selling sensation. You buy their product (usually some form of advice telling you there IS one correct way, one sure way, to get you up the mountain,) and soon you'll be sipping Mai Tais on a beach somewhere, living the glamorous life of published author.

Thing is... that's not what the life of an author looks like.

The books you need to read, the advice you need to take, is from working writers - not those who wouldn't have a best-selling book if they weren't telling you how to write one.

Yes, you can write a book in as little as a month. Yes, you can publish this novel to the masses with a mere click of the button, without having to burst through the gates once fiercely guarded by the big publishing industry. And yes, you may end up being very successful. And that all sounds really easy, certainly easier than it's ever been.

But you can't accomplish any of that if you're not prepared to do the work.

It takes time and energy to write a book. It takes even more time and even more energy to edit that book into something that you can sell. And it takes hustle like you wouldn't believe to get your name out there and fight for that hard-won one-click dollar.

You may share your dreams with a lot of other writers, but what you're willing to do to make that dream happen is all on you. That's why the one-size-all advice just doesn't work. That's why there are so many ways up the mountain. There are so many different writers, who approach their craft and their career in many different ways. The only universal thing binding us all together?

The work. The work to produce a book. The work to sell it. We all do it. There's no way around it. There is no shortcut.

This is not some tropical vacation. If you want to make your career as a writer, you have to go into it knowing that it's still going to be your job, one that will demand far more from you than a normal 9-5.

There's no fast track and no one owes you anything, even a positive, glowing, 5-star review validating all your hard work. (We'll get to THAT topic eventually.)

If you can't find time, passion and tenacity to write, to research, to edit and to market... then no book anywhere, no advice anywhere, is going to make up the difference and turn you into some overnight success. There's a reason for this. It's a simple matter of conditioning. If you have to work hard to become successful, then you are prepared to work hard to keep the success. When you get to the top of that mountain, guess what? There's another freaking mountain, with higher peaks and vistas - and steeper terrain. The life of a working writer IS work. It means writing when you don't feel particularly inspired, having constant deadlines looming over you and barely making them with minutes to spare. It's about being tired and sleep-deprived, while pressing through to keep up with the demand once you edge into the business and make any kind of name for yourself. It's about releasing your book the same week as other writers, and having to do something, anything, to make sure your book doesn't get buried, forgotten or overlooked.

It is a job.

A demanding, crazy, rewarding job... but a job nonetheless, one that naturally weeds out those who aren't cut out for it through its grueling initiation process. And it's a job that guarantees no set wage, so that passion better sustain you where hard, cold cash cannot. You could be making a hundred thousand a year, or you could be making way less than minimum wage. Sales, ultimately, are out of your control no matter what you do. Just because you've written a book doesn't mean someone else is going to buy it. You have to write a book worth reading and then fight, claw, climb your way out of the slush pile to make sure someone knows it exists.

Honestly that second part is way more time-consuming and taxing than the writing part. Most of us didn't start writing a book just so we could be some pesky salesman at the end. (I know I didn't.) The reason I want to make enough money off of selling my books? So I can write more books. In order to do that, I have to train myself to sell my material in a market that is always changing.

Don't be afraid of the work.

One of the downsides about today's publishing environment is that many people haven't really been put through the paces by the time they publish, so there is no realistic basis on which to build your expectations. We've all heard the success stories. Someone publishes a book, next thing you know they are a superstar. And if THEY can do it, why can't we? Because it is as easy as hitting publish after you finally write "The End," or get paid because you have a book on the market, far too many people take for granted that a LOT of work goes into publishing a book that will pay the bills, much less afford you the "luxurious" life of a best-selling author. If you're going into this for a get-rich quick scheme, where you can "play" for a living, you've got the wrong gig.

Back when I got into screenwriting in the early 2000s, one of the unwritten "rules" was that it would take nine screenplays to make a sale. If you were on your first screenplay, that was pretty depressing news. But there was a reason why that "rule" existed. It takes time for a newbie to produce something that can fight for its place among the big boys. You have a lot of learning to do. There's significant trial and error. You need to learn the market. You need to learn the tricks of the trade, to hone your skills, to develop your voice.

Many first books are a collection of other voices/writing styles that the author has funneled into their own story. It's nothing done on purpose, mind you. Our first (and best) education as writers is to read the works of others, so where else are you going to pick up things like voice and style? In our first few books, voice is simply undefined. If you want an example of this, UNDER TEXAS SKIES was the fourth book I wrote, way back in the 1990s. Unlike its predecessors, it wasn't extensively rewritten or changed much from its original content by the time I published. It was my story 100%, but my style was regurgitated from all the books I had read beforehand, heavily influenced by the traditional romances I grew up reading, with all the stumbling, bumbling efforts I made to carve out a style of my own.

Compare it to BACK FOR SECONDS, book #28, and you'll see that the writing style is more streamlined. I know who I am now. I know what I can get away with. I know what my readers love and what they don't love. It's kind of like Tony Stark/Iron Man. If you haven't seen the movie, Tony Stark, a tech genius, was captured overseas and held hostage by terrorists, who wanted him to build them a missile. Instead he built a very rudimentary metal suit to escape. And though it got the job done, he took everything he learned from what *didn't* work from that first prototype to make his suit even stronger.

The only way you're going to know what works or what doesn't is to do the work. Try and fail, then try again. Though it's an impossible suggestion in today's market, I personally think that you should have at least three books under your belt before you hit publish. Then, after you write book three, rewrite books one and two... preferably with the assistance of at least one editor who knows what he or she is doing and one mentor who is strides ahead of you on the journey, who has already turned their craft into a trade.

(By the way, no matter who you are or what you do, the editor and mentor thing is a MUST. You can publish book 1 without having written books two and three, but having objective, critical feedback before you do is non-negotiable.)

Nothing... NOTHING... takes the place of practice. Sure, you could get lucky and sink a basket the very first time you walk out onto the professional ball court. But if you want to keep slam-dunking the ball, you need to put the hours in, learning how to perfect your shot.

But no one wants to hear that. No one wants to hear that you can't be a success right out of the gate. We all want to believe in the wine-and-roses HEA, where sitting on the top of lists, or getting paid more money than you've ever been paid in your life, will validate your journey and confirm your identity at last. Ironic, looking back. The trappings of success are only a small part of this experience. Yes, you can make money. Yes, you can live the life of a rock star at times, meeting fans and being interviewed and treated like you're someone really special because you touched someone's life with your words.

Most of the time, though, you're balls-or-ovaries deep into your next book, because this is a treadmill never stops. After the newness of your brilliant debut wears off, readers will want to know what you're doing next. Sales taper off and you know that you have to get back to the grind, otherwise you're going to make pennies a day if anything at all. The odds of you making enough money to coast for very long post-publication are slim to non-existent. Only 20% of self-published writers make more than $1000 a year, and those that do make that kind of money work very, very hard to do it.

So don't be afraid of the work. Your dream job is still a job.

And if that idea doesn't send you screaming for the hills, congratulations. You've got what it takes to make your dream, any dream, happen.

So let's make it happen. Every Wednesday, standing date, you and me. Let's figure out these crazy, changing rules together.

Monday, June 1, 2015

#MCM - The Rocker Edition

Okay, we all know by now I have an unabashed passion for rockers. There's nothing quite as sexy as a hot guy who can sing, especially one who straddles that line between brash bad boy and the sentimental romantic. He's a rebel from top to toe, but can capture your heart with one softly crooned lyric.

Oh, my heart.

It started in the 1970s, courtesy of reruns of the Monkees. Yes, I'm old enough to proclaim, like many a female in my generation, that Davy Jones was my first #ManCrush. I mean, come on. How adorable is he?

When I was nine, he was my ideal. Dark, floppy hair, soulful brown eyes and that accent? Please. I was a puddle of fourth-grade girly goo. Daydream believer, indeed.

My love for him was so much of a part of my childhood that when he passed, my best friend immediately contacted me when he got the news just to see if I was okay. And it was a heartbreaking loss. You never forget your first.

Eventually my tastes evolved when I discovered FM radio, where rockers sang about more mature topics. In 1979, I heard this song, which began my Groupie era in earnest.

I can't tell you what it was exactly about Steve Perry that hooked me. Sure he had all that gorgeous hair, which became a long-standing fascination from the time I was 11. And Lord only knows what those eyes did to me (always, ALWAYS the eyes.)

Maybe it was the fact he was so exotic and different, and I really like different. That voice, tho. Sweet as sugar. Smooth as silk. To. This. Day, if I want to feel better about anything, I can turn on a Steve Perry tune and my mood elevates, my stress dissipates and life is just generally better. My guys have Journey at the ready for those Just-In-Case-of-PMS emergencies.

(3:58 into the above video and I'm buttah. BUTTAH, I tell you. Stay awhile? I'll stay forever. Just ask anyone who has ever wanted to be rid of me.)

Loved him then. Love him now. There ain't no shame in my Groupie game.

In the early 80s, I discovered Prince courtesy of the 1999 album. You want to talk about sex? This guy was walking, talking, *oozing* sex. He sang about naughty things, dirty things... things that piqued the interest of a girl fast-tracked to bypass sweet, innocent puppy love altogether and leap headlong into the fine art of seduction. As anyone who loves them will attest, no one will get you there like a rocker.

There are so many songs I could put here... Little Red Corvette, Head, Jack U Off, International Lover, Kiss, Gett Off (my favorite.) But it's Prince, and YouTube doesn't tell Prince what to do, he tells YouTube what to do.

Prince puts the SWAG in swagger.

Thirty years later and he's still hawt enough to reduce grown women to teenagers, even if he left a lot of his dirty rocker ways in the 80s where they thrived.

Growing up in the 1980s, it was a good time to be a groupie. Before the rise of the Boy Bands, the Rocker Daze of the 80s gave us full-grown men who knew what they were doing when they'd smirk in the camera. Our guys were both pretty and dirty, with a healthy dose of the aforementioned swagger. (And oh, the hair...)

Needless to say, as a wild 80s child, rockers became my kryptonite. It was so bad that even if someone wasn't necessarily known for singing per se, if they could randomly break into song with smirk n' swagger, I was a goner.

Still holds true, actually...

Truth is, I didn't get on board with American Idol until they finally unearthed a long-haired, smirking rocker boy who could, and did, sing actual rock songs.

Yes, I have a problem. The first step is admitting it.

In fact, the older I get, the dirtier I like 'em. In the 90s and 2000s I graduated to heavily tattooed, alternative rockers...

So the question isn't why I wrote a rock star romance, where the average girl gets the dirty, sexy rocker for lots of hot sex and years of angsty back and forth, it's why did it take me so long? (32 years, y'all. 32 years.)

This is my Vanni, who was heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeavily influenced by almost every guy presented in today's #ManCrushMondy #ManCandyMonday blog.

You can meet him, if you haven't already, in GROUPIE, available free at AMAZON, B&N, and iTunes.

If you love Vanni but haven't yet read the FIERCE saga or the SOUTHERN ROCKERS saga, whatcha waiting for? Not only do you get more glimpses of his Italian hotness, you get to meet Jace...

... and Jonah...

FIERCE and SOUTHERN ROCKER BOY are also free everywhere.

So Happy Monday, y'all ... and rock on.