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New Orleans

Karin Kallmaker Craft of Writing, Tunnel of Light

writing-gold-pensThis afternoon I was thinking of all the characters we know and love who will never walk the same streets of New Orleans again.

As assessments of “months, years, decades” begin to flow in I have to ask myself where Mickey Knight will go to live? And what will JM Redmann do, not just about her own home but about something probably nearly as dear – her creative wellspring? What will all the writers do who have used the mystique of New Orleans for creative fodder? And what about the musicians for whom those streets were like no other?

And coming in on the party barge on the land of Denial, it was only this afternoon that there is no “present day New Orleans” any longer, and even when the city resurrects itself again, as it has several times in 300 years, it will not be the same Bourbon Street, the same bayous.

The effect on my outline for Forge of Virgins is profound. One of two Ursaline Convents in the U.S. is under about fifteen feet of water. Granted, it’s one of the better built structures in the Quarter, but the Quarter isn’t there anymore. Looking at the aerial shots of the city and knowing how precarious its hold on structural integrity already was, I can’t believe most of the structures in the Quarter (let alone the rest of the city) won’t be condemned and eventually demolished.

Perhaps I am being pessimistic. At a minimum, when things are rebuilt they will not be rebuilt the same way. They’re be structurally more sound, artistically less interesting, and vacant of that undeniable mystique of a haunted place. Even the new ghosts will lose ground when steel and glass replace wood and brick.

After taking in the enormous loss of life and property, it just occurred to me this afternoon that there are yet more layers of loss because New Orleans was not just any city. Any work of fiction featuring the city as it was 3 days ago is instantly dated, and I can’t fathom yet how a novel not yet written could feel undated to a reader who knows the place where the novel is set no longer exists. New Orleans has no parallel for music, sin, magic, counter culture and historical pastiche.

Maybe, as the water finally recedes in a couple of months, things won’t look so bleak – maybe we haven’t lost a major American city for decades. At a minimum we’ve lost the character of the old New Orleans and one of the richest sources of creative inspiration on the planet. This afternoon, as I thought about it all, the pen suddenly seemed very hard to pick up.

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Point of View: What’s the Point?

Karin Kallmaker Craft of Writing

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Question: Why do you use third person limited so much? Why don’t you vary the point of view more within scenes?

Obviously there are lots of opinions about point-of-view (POV) and its uses. General rule: if the reader stops even for a nanosecond to figure out who is speaking or thinking at that moment, something is wrong with your POV and that is always a bad thing. Clarity and smoothness are absolutely essential whenever you switch them.

Since I feel that reader connection to the character is the crucial element in the pleasure a reader gets from a romance novel, anything that snaps the connection is bad. I stay in a single POV in a scene for several reasons. First is that I’m comfortable with it. Second is that I feel it bonds the reader to that single character as tightly as possible. I’ve written entire novels from a single POV and often that feels comfortable as well, especially if the novel is concerned primarily with that woman’s transitions. But I’ve also found over the years it makes me work a little harder on the connection between the two characters in the scene, especially during a love scene.

If I’m using Jane’s POV and Nancy’s having a, um, really good time, how does Jane know? How can Jane (and the reader) get inside of Nancy’s head? It has to be through Jane’s emotions and reactions. So I work harder to bring the reader into Jane’s head and stretch her also to glimpses of Nancy’s thoughts and feelings as well. For example,

Jane ran her thumb over Nancy’s lower lip, feeling a responsive quiver at her touch. As she continued to gaze into Nancy’s dark eyes, she was amazed to see Nancy’s pupils dilate slightly as they leaned closer. Astonishment that this moment was leading to a kiss made Jane’s heart pound.

There’s a little bit of extra name/pronoun verbiage in there I’d edit out eventually, but you get the drift. So I would hope that Nancy’s reactions are vivid enough through Jane’s observations not to need to flip to Nancy’s point of view – Nancy wants to be kissed and Jane (with reader) are all for that.

In a later scene, I’ll likely switch the points of view (if the book has both points of view established), and probably validate that Jane was exactly right in her observations of Nancy’s reactions, knitting the two lovers’ bond even more tightly with something like,

It was like that first kiss all over again, Nancy thought. She would have never guessed that the gentle touch of another woman’s thumb on her mouth could bring such an avalanche of response inside her. Had her eyes been filled with as much amazement as she now saw in Jane’s? Damn her own incoherence — why was it so hard to find words? Her mouth was too dry to speak but not so dry that this second kiss, all these weeks later, wasn’t just as wonderful.

I also like a single point of view in a scene so that my characters can make flawed observations that more perceptive readers will get. For example,

Jane whispered, “Don’t you feel the way I do?” She focused on the drumming of Nancy’s fingers on the table top, then finally risked a glance at Nancy’s expression. Nancy wouldn’t meet her gaze. After all they’d shared, Nancy didn’t say a word. “I guess I was wrong.” She was out of the coffee shop in under three seconds, calling herself ten shades of a fool.

If I’ve done my work right along the way, most readers will know perfectly well that Nancy, very shy, is still trying to find words while impetuous Jane has jumped to the conclusion that silence means apathy or embarrassment. That can take a couple of chapters to work out as Nancy learns to speak and Jane learns to listen. The readers who don’t see that Jane jumped to a conclusion will get it later when Nancy says, “Sometimes it takes me a while to find words. You were gone before I could get I love you out of my mouth!”

Anyway, those are generally my reasons for staying in a single point of view for the length of a scene. It’s comfortable, I like how it ties the reader to a single character at a time, and I think it makes me work harder to express my character’s perceptions of the other woman in the scene, illuminating both characters.

 

Copyrighted material.

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Interview: Golden Crown Newsletter

Karin Kallmaker Business of Books, Craft of Writing, Fish Out of Water, Just Like That, Sisters of the Pen, Sugar, Unbeliever

golden seal with GCLSTell us a little about yourself.

Let’s see, just looking at me, especially if my children are near, most people would assume I’m a 40-something matron whose chosen field is accounting. The accounting part used to be true. That was my career before my partner and I decided I’d work from home to provide the best possible environment for our children when they were born. I think I’m rather ordinary, all in all, if you don’t include that whole lesbian romance and erotica writing thing I do. Which I love, by the way. I think I have one of the best gigs on the planet. Thank goodness my partner works for a Very Big Bank, though, or we’d never be able to afford the Bay Area. I’ve been writing since forever, and my first book, In Every Port, was published in 1989.

Why did you choose romance as a genre?

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Lesbians Hate Women

Karin Kallmaker LIFE + STYLE

It was an odd thing when a new member of a club I belonged to suddenly announced that the club’s members and founders were women-hating because the club goal was the support of not women, but “just” lesbians. This restriction in focus was unsisterly; who did we think we were, failing to realize that women needed our support? The new member then proposed a boycott of the club. And so, I wrote…

If I prefer to spend my time and money reading lesbian lit am I boycotting John Grisham? If I’d rather roll on the floor laughing at Kate Clinton am I boycotting Chris Rock? When did matters of positive personal choice get transformed into negative actions?

I’m uncomfortable at having anyone suggest our preferences, orientations and dispositions must fall into “if you’re not for it, you must be against it” categories. The only time – and I can’t believe I’m admitting to this – I ever felt sympathy for Bush Senior was when he got crud from the broccoli growers because he admitted he doesn’t eat broccoli. Oh the outrage. If I have the power to live a swiss chard-free life then surely he can be free of broccoli. He never told anyone else not to eat it, nor did he deny its fine nutritional qualities. He just doesn’t like the stuff. It is a Free Country (something I wish he’d remind his offspring about, but that’s another rant).

I do understand that there is a difference between positive personal choices and a refusal to engage outside those choices based on prejudice and ignorance — and to encourage others to live in ignorance as well. I believe people should occasionally step outside their box. The further we travel from home the less likely we are to be fill-in-the-blank-phobic. At some point, though, we all are entitled to set our own boundaries.

I have, after attempts to broaden my horizon, forever given up on finding anything satisfying in the works of Ernest Hemingway and the I Heart Hemingway Society can come after me with pitchforks, but I’m not reading another word. It’s my choice for me. Such a choice, after due consideration of my options, is, to my mind, what being a thinking person is about.

While I’m sorry that someone seemed to misunderstand our purpose here, I refuse to be goaded into setting aside my positive choice and agenda about my lesbian identity and community in order to support hers.

 

Copyrighted material.

Dishing on the L-Word

Karin Kallmaker Craft of Writing

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Can I tell the truth? I didn’t get past the second hour of the pilot and the whole reason was an utterly flawed presentation of character in order to churn the plot.

Let’s see. Two women who have been compulsively arranging their life around The Baby, to the point of going to therapy to discuss the impact of The Baby on their relationship AND one of them leaving her lucrative career to prepare mind and body for conception of TheBaby…who have the money, means and knowledge to get tested, safe sperm anonymously and undergo just about any fertility treatment out there and avoid a raft of legal issues they clearly have the savvy to have researched……but then have unprotected anonymous sex with a guy who says he doesn’t have a disease and they tell the guy he’s basically a donor so he can know to come back in season 3 and claim rights for the drama value…

*click*

Because I do not know a single lesbian who planned ahead of time to get pregnant who would make that choice and risk getting an STD their baby will be born with. She quit her job to cleanse mind and body and then used untested sperm? It made no sense. And then opened The Baby to parental claim from the donor? It made no sense. Most of the lesbians I know make sense. Surely there are other things I can do with my time besides watch lesbians portrayed as … stupid.

If they wanted a reason for a couple trying to get pregnant to come under relationship stress to explore some issues, put one on Clomid and make 15 trips to the fertility clinic without success. That, I promise you, is real dyke drama.

And so…I haven’t been back. I’d rather spend an hour with a good book where the lesbians do things that make sense.

Many people have told me the writing improved dramatically and maybe at some point I’ll pick up the DVDs and have a marathon, if only to watch Pam Grier.

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Attracting a Publisher

Karin Kallmaker Business of Books, Craft of Writing

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What is one thing I can do to make my book more marketable to publishers?

I am not kidding about this: mechanics, mechanics, mechanics! If you’re not sure how to do something format or grammar-wise, pull out a book by the author you some day want to outsell and do it the way s/he does it.

Flawed grammar and sloppy formatting are the two biggest turnoffs for me when I read fanfic. For example, take a good look at every single book in English published since almost the dawn of time: the comma goes inside the quotation marks.

If you would like your book treated professionally, then you need to present it professionally. That doesn’t guarantee that you’ll receive professionalism in return, but don’t give anyone an excuse to set your manuscript aside.

Should I pay a potential publisher a reading fee?

No, absolutely not! I do not know of a reputable publisher who will charge you to read your book. Investing the time to read it is their risk in the process. Your job with your cover letter and synopsis is to make them want to read it. If you are looking for a professional evaluation of your manuscript before you send it to a publisher, then find a professional and pay for it.

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Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Karin Kallmaker Business of Books

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My first novel is being read by a publisher and they said some good things. When will I see a check from them, at acceptance or at publication?

It depends on the publisher, but in a small niche market, generally, neither. You’ll be paid after the publisher is paid by booksellers and distributors. Once that happens, the publisher can send you your percentage of the resulting sales. In some cases, it can be a year from publication until you see any returns.

It’s a frustrating process, and in the interim, your only reward will be reader response. Small market publishers just can’t afford advances—they don’t have the cash flow for it.

What are my chances of getting traditionally published?

Well, they’re not great though they’ve improved over the past few years. I know that’s not very encouraging. Anyone who tells you “Gosh, if it’s good enough of course it’ll get accepted” is just being kind. Unrealistic, but kind. The marketplace for first time novelists is very small and publishers can be quixotic, to say the least. I’m going to paraphrase something that Katherine Forrest told a workshop I went to many moons ago:

  • Of all the people who want to write a book, only 1% will actually begin.
  • Of the 1% that begins, only 1% will finish.
  • Of the 1% that finish, only 1% will be published.

I know, depressing. But there is one thing to consider: just starting a book puts you in an elite group of people. And finishing makes you rarer still. Even if your first completed novel is never published (and mine never has been) you will benefit greatly from the experience. If you intend to continue writing, you can always steal from yourself. No good scene will ever truly be wasted.

Copyrighted material.

Extra Frosting: And Now a Word or Two

Karin Kallmaker Car Pool, Embrace in Motion, Frosting on the Cake Volume 1, In Every Port, Making Up for Lost Time, Painted Moon, Paperback Romance, Touchwood, Tunnel of Light, Unforgettable, Watermark, Wild Things

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At the time that Frosting on the Cake was published there was no “blog” concept on the Internet, or the contents of the final portion of this collection of short stories would have likely been a blog. I’m going to reprint it here because it answers a number of frequently asked questions.


For those of you who have little interest in the blatherings of authors, please feel no obligation to read further. My intent is to answer the Frequently Asked Questions I receive from many readers. I also thought this was the perfect opportunity to extend some deserving thanks and appreciation to some special people who have helped me over the years.

In Every Port

IEP wasn’t the first novel I finished, it was just the first decent one, and the first written for myself as a lesbian and for the lesbian reader. I had no expectation that Naiad Press would print it, but one Saturday, just after seven a.m., Barbara Grier herself called to say they wanted to do so. Over the years Barbara and I have had many seven a.m. conversations; I think she realized early on I am generally not alert at that hour. My contribution is usually a half-aware, “That sounds like a good idea.” We have, from that earliest conversation, gotten along famously.

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Why do you use a pen name?

Karin Kallmaker Business of Books, LIFE + STYLE

 

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Though there are great reasons to use a pen name, mostly surrounding marketing and branding, my reason is more pragmatic: my birth name is difficult to pronounce and spell. Complicating matters is that I no longer use my birth name as I’ve taken a name to share with my partner and our children.

I suppose if we had actually had a wedding, I wouldn’t feel a bit like a fraud when I say “maiden” name. But we decided long ago that while we’ve participated in group commitment ceremonies we weren’t going to do a “wedding” until it was legal.

But we also decided that nothing was going to prevent the two of us (which grew to be the four of us) from being a family. And one of the ways a family tells the world to treat them like a family is to share a common surname.

This change all got pretty confusing because I already had two last names: the one I was born with (long and German with silent letters) and a pen name (Kallmaker). All my life I’ve had to explain how to spell and pronounce my last name, and occasionally my first name. Karin with an “I” is a not-so-common variation of Karen, which is a variation of Katherine which means “beloved.” (This appeals to the romantic in me.) That my last name is a product of the patriarchy has never bothered me as a feminist. My father gave me half my chromosomes and my mother chose my first name. My dad’s last name is distinctive–people might forget me, but they always remembered the name.

They remembered it, but no one ever pronounced it quite right. The variations on junk mail were often amusing: everything from Kamelwisher to Koalamaker on mail. There were times when I envied the simplicity of my mom’s British maiden name. According to her mother, our family descended from English Howards and Boleyns who found it prudent to leave Britain after two daughters of their house were executed by Henry VIII. (This of course appeals to the romantic in me.) They moved to the continent, adding some French and Swiss to the English-Scots-Irish blend. There’s some Welsh in there too, but at a far less degree than the 1/64th Wyandotte. Add that to the mostly German blood of my father and I’m truly Heinz-57.

I first considered its problematic aspects as a author’s name when I got the call from Naiad Press asking me what name I wanted to put on the book. At the time I was very closeted and suggested “Kaye.” Barbara Grier at Naiad replied that Karin Kaye sounded like a pseudonym and she wanted Naiad’s readers to feel that the authors were the genuine article. I didn’t want to put my birth name on the book; it was unique and I just knew someone would out me to my family. (As if the rest of the world had nothing better to do. Yes, I was young once.)

So I suggested a practical compromise. How could bookstore clerks suggest me to customers if they couldn’t say my name, I reasoned. So I suggested a phonetic compromise: Kallmaker. Barbara agreed and ever since I’ve been Karin Kallmaker on any project that wasn’t related to my everyday life or my job. Karin Kaj is my real name and I’m “KK” to my friends.

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