Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Have I quit writing yet?

Just got back on Sunday afternoon from a long weekend writers conference. I've attended the San Diego State University Conference four or five times since 2000. It's one of my favorites because it encompasses all genres. I find it invigorating to mix with short story writers, poets, authors of children's books, literary fiction, thrillers, SF, fantasy, and of course romance.

I'd booked this conference back in November and then lost my confidence in my writing abilities. It seemed nothing was going right in my life. I procrastinated about cancelling right up until a couple of days before, then I had to email Jenny Crusie about something else and mentioned my fragile state. She got the pom-poms out and gave me the Crusie blessing. Or did she say, "Quit bitching and get your ass to San Diego," either way it worked? Even though I'd had a bad sinus attack that had lasted ten days (and still lives on, darn it) I ended up having one of the best and most fruitful conferences ever.

One of the highlights was meeting and chatting for an hour or so with Susan Wiggs. It turns out we both have relatives who live in this tiny Northern Territory of Australia town that has a population of about 4,000. Small world, huh? Susan is one of my favorite authors. I love the emotional character arc of her protagonists. In fact I told her I'd nicknamed her novel, A Table For Five, the two hand sweep. I'd have to put the book down and sweep my cheeks with both hands because I was constantly crying. Not that boo-hoo sobbing kind of crying, more the type where you don't even realize you're doing it but your face is constantly wet. Never been there? Never mind. It must have hit an emotional chord with me. It's truly a lovely story and very well written.

I also got to quiz Bob Mayer on a couple of writing questions although I didn't take any of his classes this time as I'd just gone to his retreat. I met up with a lot of lovely ladies, had many memorable conversations and attended an evening critique session that started at 8:30pm and ended at 2:15 am. We each turned in the first three pages of our manuscript, the facilitator read the entry aloud and we all got to comment, then she gave her critique. It was extremely beneficial and pointed out to me that 75% of the problems newbie writers have is in the area of point of view violation and exposition. I remember those days well.

I received several invitations to submit my work and am beyond thrilled. Today I began an indepth polish of the manuscript and I'm liking it more than ever. I asked for three or four weeks before sending because I don't want to rush this. My norm is usually to run home, print up the manuscript and send it immediately. As I told some of my writing buddies, in the past if my work had been steak it would still have been mooing on the plate. By taking my time, this time around, I'm hoping the work won't be undercooked.

So by the looks of things, I'm back. All I needed was a little injection of confidence. My stint away from writing lasted less than a month. Not bad, huh?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Judge or Judge Not?

An issue in the world of romance writing raised it's ugly head this past week and caused many to sit back on their heels. Some chose to scrutinize their own work, some became indignant, others hurled insults, some tried to defend or reserve judgment, others enjoyed playing this out.

What happened? An author was publicly exposed for plagiarism on a blog site titled, Smart Bitches who Love Trashy Novels. Before we go any further, I am against plagiarism. But I am also against murder, rape, child abuse, stealing, lying, road rage, cheating, false accusations, flaming, public ridicule, assumptions, self-righteousness, judging others, and oh, yeah, kicking dead horses.

The thing that made me sick to my stomach this week was not the plagiarism (which I know is wrong, wrong, wrong, and when discovered the blog site owners had every right to disclose it) but the way the author was treated. Her treatment was as criminal as the charge made. The pack mentality ran rampant. I don't believe we have the right to judge anyone or to publicly berate and humiliate another person. We can make a statement of concern. We can raise issues. We can make a complaint. We can discuss and give an informed opinion. But I think that's about as far as any individual can go. Aren't we supposed to give everyone the benefit of doubt? Aren't they considered innocent until proven guilty, no matter how damaging evidence looks on first appraisal, or even second or third appraisal?

The author in question (who by the way, I do not know nor have I ever read her work) was interviewed and she made a public statement, Romance Writers of America made a statement, the publishers who published the novels made a statement. Each one used their right to remain silent, or reserve judgment, until a full examination of the claim of plagiarism is made.

Unfortunately, the commenters on the blog site mentioned continued to berate, and in my opinion, harrass the author to the extent that they would not accept any reference to a "let's wait and see" attitude or any opinion that disagreed with theirs. They gloated and congratulated each other with every new mention in a blog or newspaper article. It was a sad week for women, for romance authors, and for writers everywhere.

Plagiarism is a crime punishable by law. There are fair right usage laws, copyright laws, ways to attribute research. If the author did not follow the law she'll be punished by the law, not by fellow authors or blog owners or readers of romance novels. There is a common decency in treating another human being who is under scrutiny. Innocent until proven guilty is one of them. Compassion is another. We all make mistakes. Allowing a person to present their case, get a fair trial, accept a judgment, pay a penalty, serve time, apologise for any wrong doing, those are their rights as a human being in our society and I don't know about you, but I'm willing to take a non-judgmental attitude and wait and see how the author handles this awful situation.