Friday, March 20, 2009

Petit Fours and Hot Tamales Welcomes the Insightful Author, Tanya Michaels


Please welcome our guest today, Tanya Michaels who also writes as Tanya Michna.

At age 9, Tanya Michna--who writes for Harlequin as Tanya Michaels--began surreptitiously "borrowing" her mother's Harlequins. By high school, Tanya was openly reading three romance novels a week and knew exactly what she wanted to do "when she grew up." A three-time RITA finalist,Tanya has now been published in a bunch of languages, been lucky enough to win a bunch of awards, and has sold more than forty books, short stories and essays under both her real name and pseudonym. Her spring 2009 releases include Mother To Be (Harlequin Superromance, Mar 09) and the romantic comedy Mistletoe Cinderella (Harlequin American Romance, Apr 09); as Tanya Michna, she also has the NAL Accent women's fiction novel Baggage Claim coming out this May.
Some debate continues on whether Tanya ever actually grew up. Visit her blog and decide for yourself...

The Biggest of Baddies

Since villains are the March topic, here’s what I personally think is the Big Bad: Insecurity. It’s rampant in the writing community; heck, it runs rampant in me. You know how we hear that over half the human body is water? That’s clearly not true in my case, because I’m made up of at least 20% doubt and 60% neurosis. In fact, I didn’t realize how bad it was until I did a mental inventory of my spring books.


In my Harlequin Super Romance Mother To Be (currently in stores), forty-three year old Delia Carlisle has a bold, speaks-her-mind personality but such a damaged relationship with her mother that she’s vastly insecure about her own maternal skills (problematic, since she discovers on page one that she’s pregnant.) In April, I have a romantic comedy from Harlequin American (Mistletoe Cinderella—which earned my first ever Top Pick from RT!) The heroine was very ill as a child and has never fully outgrown her early social awkwardness. Her insecurity with men is at the heart of the mistaken identity plot and eventual character growth. My May women’s fiction novel (Baggage Claim, NAL Accent) is about two women: one second-guessing her marriage, the other plagued with professional anxiety.


I suppose if I’m going to be an insecure mess, it’s better that I found a way to make it work for my career! Because I’ve seen too many people let insecurity stall or sabotage them. In my opinion, writers’ insecurity manifests itself in two main ways, different but equally detrimental.

The first is self-doubt. Why did I think I could do this. I’m a fraud. I’m going to chuck this manuscript and get a job as a Wal-Mart greeter (they get better benefits anyway). Any of that sound familiar? I have good news and bad news: it never goes away.

I still have this inner dialogue with every single manuscript. Maybe while I struggle with the opening. Or perhaps the beginning flowed as smoothly as really good wine yet, despite the synopsis that should have spared me any roadblocks, I’ve ground to a halt on page 186 and realize I can’t do this. Or maybe I write a book I actually like but the instant I hit “send” to the editor who (God bless her) accepts emailed manuscripts, I second-guess myself. Or, perhaps, I make it through all that but hold my breath when reviews come out, lest the reviewer proclaim TANYA CANNOT WRITE. But here’s the thing: I’ve sold more than forty writing projects (mostly books, but also short stories and nonfiction assignments). Even after my very worst review, neither editor called to tell me I was a no-talent hack and she was washing her hands of me. In fact, the vast majority of my reviews and reader mail are positive. My inner saboteur is wrong.

So is yours.

Do we have areas where we need improvement? Of course! But improvement comes with practice, not quitting. If you’re lucky, you get emotional support at home, but seek it out other places, too. Go to meetings and participate in writing blogs/forums and find good critique partners who can assure you that they’ve been there (I’ve been rejected many times at many points in my career. I’m just too stubborn to take the hint.) Also, be responsible for your own validation. Put together a scrapbook or even just a computer file of positivity. Did a critique partner email that she was envious of how well you incorporate the five senses? Cut and paste that! Did a contest judge say you cracked her up? Keep that score sheet! Make yourself something, no matter how small, so that when your doubt demons whisper, “You suck,” you have something physical and tangible to ward them off. Think of it as your writers’ Holy water.

I am a pack rat by nature so I save stuff—my RWA membership card, which proves that I was serious about pursuing this professionally, the contest ranking sheet where I came in second to last (but, hey, wasn’t dead last!), the form letter rejection that got my name wrong and was printed crooked (which proves that I actually finished a manuscript AND HAD THE GUTS TO SUBMIT. I may be neurotic, but I’m not a coward). Later that year, I upgraded to a personalized rejection. Next came one that said even though they couldn’t buy the enclosed manuscript, they’d love to see something else. Progress! Savor every tiny victory and learn to let the negative go (avoid groups or forums that dwell on the negative). Hoard your triumphs for rainy days when your self-esteem desperately needs to bask in the sun.

The other way insecurity rears its head is professional jealousy (an oxymoron, because it’s completely unprofessional.) And here’s my advice: cut that shit out.

Have you ever lashed out at or badmouthed someone more successful than you? Even if you think you were in the right, there may have been more underlying resentment than you realize. It’s completely natural, the day Golden Heart and RITA calls go out, to feel a twinge of disappointment when your phone rings—but it’s not Your Call, it’s an acquaintance celebrating her call. Smile anyway and wish her sincere congrats (and if you’re a truly lovely person, drop her a card or bring her some chocolates) because, trust me, you’re going to want the same friendly cheering when your call does come. In the smallest, pettiest corner of our minds, we start to worry that if someone else sells, that’s one slot we can’t have (never mind that we’re writing paranormal YAs, not inspirational suspenses). We start to fume that someone hit the Times list and her books aren’t that good. That’s poison. It generates negativity (and negativity often results in, if you’ll excuse the term, creative constipation). And then there’s the whole karma issue. Or, if you don’t believe in something as abstract as karma, let me make it more concrete—if you get in an elevator after the RWA booksigning, fuming about so-and-so’s undeserved success, how many people (editors or potential colleagues) in that elevator do you think will want to work with you later? Try to give your fellow writers the benefit of the doubt instead of instantly assuming evil intentions, and try to remember that we all have different reading tastes—just because you personally didn’t like someone’s last book doesn’t mean eight million other people are wrong.

Some food for thought: 1) Maybe you didn’t win THIS contest, but aren’t there like four thousand others you can enter? Contest wins aren’t even your End Goal. I sold my first book by getting second place (and an editor request) through a relatively small chapter contest. 2) It doesn’t matter that you may never write as well as Susan Elizabeth Phillips (and I so won’t) because we already have a SEP! I love dozens of authors, but I’m greedy—always on the lookout for MORE. Whether she/he writes hot paranormals or thoughtful women’s fiction or funny contemporaries, or… I just want someone with good stories and a strong individual voice. So stop obsessing over others and cultivate the best YOU possible. 3) You haven’t walked in her pumps. Someone sold her first book on her first try? Dandy. By the way, her husband is threatened by her success, her agent is embezzling, and her copy editor from hell is doing psychological damage. Writing success doesn’t mean a perfect life; people have medical problems, marital problems, health problems, career problems that you don’t have the first clue about. Don’t waste your energy coveting a surface image. Pour your energy into writing!

Remember, it’s normal to have dark emotions—doubt, jealousy, depression, anger. But channel them productively! Make them the basis for a deliciously tortured hero. Or warp them into motive for (fictional!) murder in a soon-to-be bestselling homicide series. And then you, too, will have copies of your own books to hold in your hands when doubt strikes, grinning sheepishly while you’re forced to admit, What do you know? I can do it!


Attn: Readers
Tanya is giving away two of her fabulous books to two lucky commenters who leave their thoughts before midnight tonight. The first winner receives a copy of Motherhood Without Parole and the second,a copy of Mistletoe Baby. Winners to be announced Saturday.

36 comments:

Debbie Kaufman said...

Welcome Tanya:
Great article! You have so hit the nail on the head with this one. As an unpublished author, I was surprised, at first, to see the insecurity in multi-published authors. Then it dawned on me, it's only our experience level that is different. Underneath our "book covers," we all have a lot in common.

Carol Burnside said...

Excellent advice. Congratulations on all THREE new releases. That's awesome!

In your opinion, what is the most effective way for us to deal with (un)professional jealosy when it's directed at us? Avoid that person? Act like you don't notice anything and kill them with kindness? Remind them of their successes? ? ?

J Perry Stone said...

Hell yes!

"Savor every tiny victory and learn to let the negative go." Exactly. It's the difference between achieving and failing. It's that important.

"The other way insecurity rears its head is professional jealousy ... cut that shit out." What you've said about Karma and wasting time on surface images is right on, because negativity does result in "creative constipation" (a phrase now fixed permanently in my personal dictionary, btw).

I also think jealousy starts with the misconception that success is a fixed pie. "Her success means less for me," but that's just wrong and self-centered besides. It damages no one but yourself. And if you acknowledge someone else right to success, I think it brings you that much closer to your own.

Rita said...

Hi, Tanya,
Great article and advice. I so agree with you about everything. The self doubt never goes away, and using your own insecurities to create lovable sympathetic real characters is a great way to put your heart in any book you write.
Also, about professional jealousy -when I see someone else succeed, I try to look at it as inspiration, that it could happen for me!
Loved your idea of keeping a scrapbook. And I'd also say rid yourself of the downers - people who just want to complain and moan -- surround yourself with upbeat positive people - it's contagious!

Rita

CiCi Barnes said...

Thanks for such great advice, Tanya. We all have our little insecurities and jealousies. We just have to learn to channel them to more positive attitudes.

This article goes in my keeper file. Loved it.

CiCi

Molly Evans said...

Great stuff. Thanks for saying it out loud. I've sent the link on to my chapter loop.
I just got off the phone with my editor. We haven't spoken directly in 2 years, but email frequently. She really gave me a boost of good vibes about my writing and my place in the line I write for. That's a success I'm going to put in my NEW FILE of good vibes (or something)to go back to when I realize I'm a complete hack and was only published because they were desperate to fill the slot! ;)
Molly Evans

Tanya Michaels said...

>>>As an unpublished author, I was surprised, at first, to see the insecurity in multi-published authors. Then it dawned on me, it's only our experience level that is different<<

Debbie, back when I joined GRW bestselling historical author Karen Hawkins lived here and she said something to me once that I've never forgotten. "You know what the difference between a published and unpublished author is? One editor's opinion."

So hang in there and find that right market, that right editor for you--it can totally happen! As long as you keep trying. Of course, me being a crazypants, I always worried that maybe that one editor was wrong. Now that I've sold to multiple editors, that worry has lessened a little--but not as much as you might think.

It's possible that a *little* fear helps keep us sharp. I don't take my job for granted (I am currently out of contract with all publishers, just because of when my books were due, and trying not to sweat blood over being unemployed.) And I'm stubborn enough to want to prove the doubt demons wrong. So little stabs of fear are kind of like a pitchfork in the butt--when it gets to me more than that, though, we need to turn to friends and whatever validation works best so that we don't end up paralyzed. BTW, there was a short-lived sitcom on ABC ages ago about two sports journalists who wrote their own telecasts (the show appropriately enough was called SportsNight). My favorite episode is Dear Louise and deals, hilariously, with writer's block and the fear that the guy will never find his talent again.

Tanya

Tanya Michaels said...

Thank you guys so much for having me (and hugs for giving me such positive feedback on the article)! Sorry I'm late to the party--I had some elementary school volunteer duties and have a whacked out schedule today, but I'll be in and out as much as possible.

Tanya

Tanya Michaels said...

>>>In your opinion, what is the most effective way for us to deal with (un)professional jealosy when it's directed at us? Avoid that person? Act like you don't notice anything and kill them with kindness? Remind them of their successes?

Good question--and unforunately, I've been there! I think too many writers have. While reminding someone of their successes sounds so logical, my personal experience is that it's difficult to combat jealousy with reason. (If they're determined to be hateful, they just take it as you condescending to them anyway).

If it's a one time thing (or has happened two or three times over the years), I'd probably just ignore it. But if it's more frequent than that, I have in the past severed personal relationships with people. Now, these are people who move in the same publishing circles as me, so cutting off professional relationships wasn't entirely possible. I still see them from time to time and am personally cordial. But I don't spend any extra time with them. I do NOT call them when I have good news to share because I learned the hard way that I'd end up feeling crappy again very quickly. And I certainly wouldn't critique with people like that. Over the years, I've had probably ten different critique partners--whether it was one on one or in groups--and the vast majority of them were wonderful. Those relationships have dissolved for various reasons (moving away, conflicting work schedules, me having a baby and unable to committ to much for a year, etc). But there were a couple of instances where I felt like the relationship had just gotten toxic--I lost sleep and cried over my husband's shoulder deliberating whether I should gently back out. Yet no matter how gently I did so, it was not well received. (Then the subtle jealousy became "you think you're too big for us, but the joke will be on you when you fail") The good news is that my life (and emotional state) became immediately healthier once I'd removed myself from the situation.

I'd grin it and ignore it when possible but quietly back away whenever you realize it's doing damage to your psyche and your writing.

Tanya

Susan May said...

Tanya,
You always give great food for thought. What is the old saying? "You have to be kind going up the ladder because you may need help when you come down." I'm sorry that some people are so jealous, but I've found writers to be the most gracious and giving group of business people I've ever known. The one that are jealous don't understand that writing in work, hard work sometimes, and time comsuming. I read one time that when you don't agree with someone just smile and say, "You know you might just be right about that." That leaves them with little response.

Sandy Elzie said...

Hi Tanya,

Wow, I agree with all you've said, and I want to thank you for being so blunt and to the point. It's okay to be pleasant and encourage group hugs, but sometimes we all need a swift kick in the _____ and you have just graciously given us one. (g)

We love you and applaud all your success now and in the future. We also appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to be our guest and to pass along what we all needed to hear today.

Do you have an agent and if so, did you find this person through personal contact (like at M&M) or cold contacts from a list or book?

Sandy

Marilyn Baron said...

Tanya,

Thank you so much for blogging with us. You are so talented. I can't wait to read Baggage Claim. Everything you said today was so true.

Also, thank you for being so generous with your time. You are always willing to answer questions and provide help to new writers. You give back to the profession in so many ways. You are one of a kind, both personally and professionally. (And you can put that in your scrapbook).

I had a question, unrelated to the post, but I recently got a rejection from an editor who said my premise could be a good one for a cozy mystery. I'm not sure I know exactly what a cozy mystery is? Do you know?

Marilyn Baron

terrio said...

If I smoked I would have held up my lighter while I read this. Preach it, sister. This is one of the best blogs on this topic I've seen in a long while. And it's all spot on.

Thanks for the great blog and I love the scrapbook idea. Never heard that before, but I know I try to remind myself that actual people have read things I've written, even if just a few paragraphs, and been impressed. It's amazing how motivating that stuff can be.

Tanya Michaels said...

>>> I'm not sure I know exactly what a cozy mystery is? Do you know?

Marilyn, I could see you writing these! They're mysteries (often a series of them, revolving around an amateur sleuth--think Murder she Wrote, where she had a tendency to discover murders) and some even have a romantic subplot, but there's not real graphic sex or violence. I mean, there are dead bodies, but they're a lot lighter (some are even funny) than say a James patterson thriller. A lot of them involve different hobbies. Diane Mott Davidson has done some food related ones athat all have the same caterer (I haven't read her in years but I think she still qualifies as "cozy"); then there were some way back when about a Siamese cat owner whose cats always seemed to help inspire the whodunit. A dear friend of mine is about to launch her own series starting with Stuck On You (A Decoupage Mystery) by Lucy Lawrence (out Sept 1). Others have featured knitting groups that solve crime; they sometimes have quirky smaller town settings, but not always. I know several houses, including Penguin/NAL, publish these in hardcover.

Did that help at all?

Tanya Michaels said...

Hm, I wrote a rather lengthy response (perhaps TOO lengthy?) to Sandy's agent question and don't see that it ever showed up. Am I the only one missing it?

Tanya, blog impaired

terrio said...

Nope, I don't see the answer to the agent question either.

Kathy said...

Tanya I enjoyed the blog. That is so true. I often find myself wondering what I think I'm doing trying to write. Then along long comes a validation. I won a contest shocked me to death. I'm not ready to send off my partial yet to the editor, but I'm trying. I got scared it was all a BIG mistake. Good to see others have those same terrors and fears. Thanks for the uplifting words.

Kathy

Kathy Crouch
First Place Winner
Southern Heat Contest- 2008
East Texas Chapter -
Romance Writers of America

Nicki Salcedo said...

Tanya you are so funny and real. I am signing myself up for the "improvement comes with practice team" and might start writing wearing soccer cleats and a jersey. Thanks for the words of encouragement!

Cyrano said...

I'm so glad you were able to post for us today Tanya and thanks so much for the words of wisdom. I'm sure we can all benefit from your comments.
And from now on instead of saying, "I can't," I'll be sure to start saying, "What do you know, I can!!!"
Have a lovely weekend.
Enjoy this weather,
tamara

Marilyn Baron said...

Tanya,

Yes, your description of cozy mysteries helped a lot. And thanks for examples of other books I could review.

Marilyn Baron

Anna Steffl said...

You are the BEST! It is easy to share triumphs -- much harder to share the doubts. Thank you for the heart-felt and sage advice.

Tanya Michaels said...

You guys are so sweet--sheesh, if my head gets any bigger from the praise, I'll have trouble going through doorways!

Sandy, here's a shorter answer on my agent search. I sold my first seven books alone (which is much easier to do in category than ST) but decided that the market is too unpredictable for me to go it alone. I highly reccomend having an agent, but only if she's a good fit for you (a bad fit can damage your self esteem and your career).

When I decided I was ready, I used the RWR and RWA site to look for agents who repped what I wrote and what I wanted to write in the immediate future. Then I did a quick check with RWA to make sure there were no complaints against them and did likewise on the preditors & editors site. Then I tried to meet them at conferences (remember, regional conferences like M&M are often cheaper and less crowded than National) or buy a workshop/panel discussion (they're recorded by Bill Stephens each year at Natl) so that I could get a feel for personalities.

And then I threw all that out the window when a friend of mine and I got to talking and it sounded as if her agent (low key but VERY business savvy) met all my requirements. She emailed the agent to ask if I could call, the agent said of course (but that she was making no promises). She and I talked initially for twenty minutes, then she read my ST proposals, then she read all my categories that I'd had published at that point (four in print), then she offered representation and we spent another hour and a half on the phone discussing our mutual expectations and workstyles before I said yes. I've never once regretted signing with her.

So that's my experience!
Tanya

Tanya Michaels said...

BTW, I didn't mean to sound so flippant about throwing my research out the window before signing with my eventual agent. The first agent who got back to me turned me down for being too similar to clients she already had (which might make taking me on a conflict of interest), then another got back to say that she was going on maternity leave (immediately) but to please call her if I was still unagented in three months (I didn't want to make that long). Of the remaining agents, mine is the one who got back to me the fastest. When I called to withdraw at another agency, the woman is upset saying she'd been planning to call me that week and was disappointed that someone else beat her to it (but agreed that I'd gone with someone really good.) I know that if my agent ever decided to change businesses or retire to the Bahamas or something, I've already done some research and made some contacts and would call that other agent immediately.

Tanya Michaels said...

Kathy, congrats on your contest win!!! Make sure to mention that in query letters.

Tanya

Tammy Schubert said...

Tanya, thank you for blogging with us today. I loved your post.

You mentioned we all experience depression, anxiety, etc. How do you handle those emotions so that it doesn't block up your creativity? Any tricks you can share with us?

Tammy

Tanya Michaels said...

>>>How do you handle those emotions so that it doesn't block up your creativity? Any tricks you can share with us?

Well, I mentioned having strong writing friends (I have a few on speed dial capable of giving me soothing "You're good enough, you're smart enough and doggone it, people like you!" pep talks. Of course they're equally capable of, "quit your whining, you wuss, and get back to work." And the scrapbook.

Other people help find that a change of scenery does wonders--just like going on vacation is supposed to lift your mood. If you're at home, you might mope and wander off to do laundry or see what's on TV. If you're sitting at Panera bread company, you might find yourself creatively stimulated by the new sights and sounds (at the very least, it's more difficult to sit and mope with onlookers). Some people swear by aromatherapy--scented candles while you're working--but I prefer audio back up. I put in music with a kick to it, make sure I stay away from any angsty ballads. If I'm too distracted to listen to anything with words (it's fine when I'm in the zone, but when I can't come up with words myself, it's annoying) I often put in something like Pirates of the Carribean, instrumental with gusto.

And, quite frankly, there are some days you won't be able to write. I've had entire days where I've been waiting to hear on a loved one's recovery/medical results and even if I browbeat myself into writing something, there's a better than even chance it would be crap. So as long as it's ocasional (and not an every day pitfall), I find "busy work." Maybe I can swap out the bookcovers on my website or fill out the paperwork to update my chapter membership(s)--anything that doesn't take creative prowess but needs to get done anyway. That way I still get the lift of having accomplished something, rather than staying in my pajamas all day playing Mahjong or reading Television Without Pity recaps.

Finally, try re-reading one of your all-time favorite books. Maybe even one from childhood. (When I was in elementary school, I loved this story called The Girl With the Silver Eyes and, later, The Witch of Blackpird pond.) Sometimes that helps you recapture your love of stories, remind you WHY you wanted to do this in the first place, back when your enthusiasm was the purest, before you learned all about the business and encountered rejection and self-doubt, etc.

Hang in there!

Linsey Lanier said...

Wow, Tanya, what a great post! Chock full of good advice. I needed every bit of it. I love what you said about improvement coming with practice, not quitting. I love the idea of the positivity file.

Thanks so much for joining us at PFHT. Congrats on your new releases. Rest assured, no one will EVER say TANYA CANNOT WRITE!!!

Linsey

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful blog. You are so right about bad karma. We all have our gifts and our time. Thanks for sharing and reminding. Congrats on your success.

Autumn

autumnjordon@yahoo.com

Carol Burnside said...

Tanya,
Thanks for answering my questions. More great advice. You know I love your books.

Write more and often!

Tami Brothers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tami Brothers said...

Awesome post, Tanya. I honestly love to hear you talk (and write). You are very easy to connect with and I am one of many (as you can see from the many comments) who are so thankful that you are willing to share this.

Sometimes we feel very alone in our insecurities. It's nice to know that it isn't just those that are unpublished who go through this.

Thanks for blogging with us today and thanks for giving me another awesome post to copy and save in my file for future use!!!

Tami

Donnell said...

Tanya, boy was this a perfect blog to turn into after a hard day at work. Thank you. I LOVED what you said, I may be Neurotic but I'm not a coward. I'm posting that above my computer. Congratulations, your books sound like my kind of books. I'll make a note to pick some up very soon!

Mary Marvella said...

Tanya, how did you get so smart so young? I felt as though you were talking to me, as I suspect most of us did. Thanks for the kick in the pants I needed.

talia pente said...

I LOVED the Witch of Blackbird Pond! I remember reading that book in 4th grade! Amazing how some stories stick with you!

LOL!

Talia

Santa said...

Sorry to be a day late but this advice is priceless. After a bout of self-doubt and angst yesterday, a friend suggested I pop over and read your post Tanya. MAN, am I glad I did.

You hit every one of my insecurities as a writer on the nail. I am going to print this out and post it by my writing area so I can remind myself to get over it and get on with it.

I'll never know if I have the right stuff unless I move onward in my writing. I also need to rearrange my life and priorities so the writing doesn't fall to the bottom of my life's list to do.

Thanks for posting, Tanya. I'll be looking out for your books in May!

Tammy Schubert said...

Tanya, thank you for providing such an informative response to my question. It was very insightful, and I'll try some of those ideas when a bad day hits.