Thursday, January 31, 2008

Writing Mystery Plots (Alternative Title, “Does This Sound Too Much Like Clue?”)

I love a good mystery. In fact, I love a good mystery almost as much as I love a good romance. (*gasp*). Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Dick Tracy… Nancy Drew. I confess to having seen practically every episode of Law and Order, some multiple times. I admit to adoring The Usual Suspects and The Fugitive. The whodunit aspect keeps me thinking, wondering, and engaged.

There is something about sitting down to watch or read a good mystery that gets all the brain cells working. It’s as if the story is challenging me to figure it out before it gives me the right answer. I get the same thrill when I watch Jeopardy, trying to answer the questions before the contestants. No one can hear me (at least I hope no one can hear me talking to myself), but I know if I got it correct faster than the other guy. And when I do, I feel a sense of elation. I won, at least in principle.

Reading mysteries is a little trickier because I have the answer to the whodunit right there in my hand. If I REALLY wanted to know whodunit, I could simply skip to the last couple chapters and piece it together. Yet, even when I do give in and read the end first – yes, I admit it, I have done that before – invariably I feel cheated. But, really, who cheated me? I did, and that’s the worst kinda cheating.

So, I try really hard to tough it out and figure it out on my own, fair and square. Sometimes you just have to be firm with yourself.

In the current overhaul of my WIP, I see a space for a mystery plot. In fact, I think it would be a great addition and something fun to write.

However, as I sat down to puzzle it out, I realized that writing a mystery is even harder than solving a mystery. In my case, I’m hoping to include a murder mystery. So, this isn’t just a “where did my heroine leave her glasses” kind of problem. Someone dies and I need to figure out who, what, when, where, and why as well as the how. Add that to all of the motivations in the romance portion of the plot and I’m going to need a map and GPS to get out of this story.

While puzzling over all these logistic details, I have the additional concerns of a mystery reader. I hate mysteries I solve too fast. I want a challenge. In fact, I don’t mind being outsmarted if the end result makes sense upon reflection. I’m trying to figure out a plot that isn’t obvious, that makes sense, but that feels fresh to both me and my reader. This seems to center around finding an unlikely, but believable, villain.

Having to defer to the mystery plot is a little frustrating as well. The romance is supposed to be number one, but I’m finding, when it comes to plotting, the murder trumps the love. I guess I have to smooth in the love around the murder.

So, it’s your turn, lovely wenches. If you’re writing a mystery plot, how are you doing it? What characters make unlikely, but good villains? What are some good motivations for murder? Anyone else yell out the answers to Jeopardy?

By the way, I know I said I was going to blog about babies and puppies this week, but alas, it wasn’t to be. Here’s something to tide you over, though.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tuning in Channel 007- My Heroine-

I got out of work late. Stupid traffic was holding me up. After all day of listening to my heroine and her sister fight, I was in the mood to get home. But the weather had been bad since 2 o’clock, dropping 40 degrees and leaving people in a rush to get home. Unfortunately, no one in Missouri remembered what a little snow looked like and were driving like they just stepped off the Caribbean Cruise Ship.

I looked at the stoplight. It was green and I still wasn’t moving. In the car in front of me, the driver was talking on their cell phone. I bit my lower lip. I was tempted to honk my horn. But no need. The jackass behind me wasn’t holding back and had been laying on his horn for the past five minutes. The nice lady flipped me off repeatedly. Just freakin' lovely.

I watched as her brake lights went off, the line moved; and we crept along at 5 mph until we hit the next light, idling by while I watch the cars in the opposite lane move along steadily. I sighed.

“I thought I told you I wanted to shoot someone.” The voice in my head said and I could hear the pout in her voice. “You made me a computer nerd.”

“Hm.” I thought, accelerating through the light. “I made you a computer nerd because you’re brilliant, you twit.”

“I don’t like it.”

“I don’t really care. Suffer. I have to suffer from you yapping at me at 3 am. And Ash too. And now Ruiz. I swear, don’t you people sleep?”

She laughed at me. Laughed! “Did you expect me to sleep with a roommate like that?”

Actually no. But I kept that to myself. “But don’t you like the ending? You’re rather kick ass in the ending. In fact, you’re rather kick ass throughout the whole thing.”

“I know,” she huffed. “But I wanted to be a bad ass agent. And you cut me off at the knees.”

I stopped at the last light before hitting the county road to my house. “Dude. Chill. You can do things that I could never possibly do. I can’t hack into someone’s computer and not worry about not getting caught. I can't pack around a 9mm at my lower back and walk through areas deemed not fit for convicts let alone white girls looking for trouble. I mean seriously,” I paused, checking over my shoulder so I could pass the slow poke old man in front of me. “You have a hot roomie. A hot agent to work with. A hot detective sniffing at your heels. And you have a kick ass job. How can you not be happy?”

“Can’t you just change a few things? You’re screwing with my flow.”

“That’s my job.” I mentally rolled my eyes. “Like what exactly do you want me to change?” I pulled into my parking space. “I’ve changed so much crap in the past year that I’ve had to scrap over 100k because of you. You’re fickle and sometimes you’re bitchy to me.” I sniffed. “That kind of hurts my feelings, you know?”

She stomped on a brain cell and there was a pulsing headache behind my right eye now. “Shut up you cry baby. I swear I don’t know how we got paired together.”

I laughed. “Because sometimes I can plot my way out of a wet paper bag.”

She snorted. “Well you better prove it because this story you got me wrapped up in is some twisted shit. I can’t believe you.”

“If you can just hang on a second I’ll show you.”

I run inside and drop my things. The house is in utter chaos. Dinner still needs to be done. Things before bedtime need to be finished. But I have to get on the computer fast because she’s talking to me. Which means, she’s going to cooperate for the five seconds she’s still around.

I grabbed the laptop like a woman possessed, turning it on, chanting to myself “hurry, hurry, hurry,” and finally it comes up. I shove my flash drive in, pull up the document, and call out.

“Hey? You there?”


There was screaming in the background. Blaring of the TV. Running of water. Dishes being flopped around. The neighbors are making a bunch of noise. And still there’s nothing.

“S, you there?”

Still nothing. I sighed. And yet another moment gone with a chance to write because I was stuck in traffic. Another moment gone because I was sleeping. Another moment gone because I was in a meeting, teleconference, running on the treadmill, cooking dinner, washing dishes… you name it.

The only way to get through to my heroine is to channel lock her. I sit down. I pull up Word. And I just write anything that comes to mind. The best way to get her to come out and play nicely, is to force her to play along. Even if you write scenes that you’ll never use in your WIP, what better way to understand them thoroughly than to write and work with them? What better way to learn your character than channeling them even when they aren't ready.

And when all else fails, grab some rum.


Now, there was really no point to this. I needed something happy (yes, this is about as happy as I get), even though Capt’n’s blog was quite fabulous and thought provoking yesterday, I figured the only way I could improve was by kicking blind puppies. (And no, Hellion, contrary to popular belief, I don’t kick blind puppies.)

PS. In case you didn't know, that was my day yesterday. :)

So today’s thought provoking moment is pretty simple. How do you capture those moments when your characters strike without warning and you're without your favorite method of capturing it? And when does it happen to you the most?
Monday, January 28, 2008

Tapping into the Universal: (subtitled: No, You're Not Subconsciously a Serial Killer)

What's the scariest thing you've ever done? Skydiving? Pish-posh. Giving birth? Thousands of women do that every day and live to tell the tale. No. What's truly frightening?

Yeah, that.

Pulling your deepest, most inner demons to the light of day and slapping them in the middle of your story.

Okay, Boatswain is already shaking her head because her characters tend to talk more amongst themselves and she writes it down like an Imperial Secretary; however, I'm a Pisces, and therefore, odd, and tend to empathize with just about anything I meet: movies, television series, Hallmark commercials. Doesn't matter, and obviously it also doesn't matter that none of the people affiliated with the things I mentioned actually exist. Trifles.

When I write, it's the same. I have to know my characters enough to empathize with them, to sort of step in their skin and channel them onto the page. When I'm writing from one POV to the other, I am that person. Which is a little frightening, especially if you're playing a character either not at all like you (the villain) or someone really like you. In both cases, you're pulling feelings from within you, feelings that therefore exist.

If you're pretending to be a serial killer, you try to convey the rationalization of why you kill; and if you capture it and put it on the page, you suddenly realize: Dude, I just justified cold-blooded murder. You wonder about yourself…and you definitely stop willy-nilly saying throwaway lines like, "I'm going to kill you" when someone does something to irritate you. Because now you're thinking, well, obviously I could, how sick am I?

But pretend you write fluffy stories. You're still going to have a villain. But say it's a cold-hearted mother-type or the manipulative hussy who's wreaking havoc at large. You step inside that role, write out this magnificent scene, and waltz off stage left. You look at the scene again, and you think, "I need a shower. Am I that much of a manipulative bitch?" You ask your husband, which is always a bad idea. Oh, sure, he answers it correctly if he has any sense whatsoever ("Of course not, honey"), but deep down, you knew there was not really a right answer here; there was only a wrong one.

So you move onto your heroine, someone in which you can identify, someone who fears rejection—and you pull out all the stops, pull up every bit of drama from your high school prom, crank up the Def Leppard ballads—and write the Blackest Moment where all your heroine's neuroses bite her in the ass. Then you re-read it, and you realize if anyone from high school reads your book, they will immediately know your heroine is you. Your critique partner reads it—and though she was never in high school with you and therefore is unaware what a complete loser you were—and says: "Wow, this sounds just like you." It will not matter that your scene does not take place anywhere near a senior prom.

But here's the thing. Emotion is universal. Communication is about relating to another individual, to be understood, to be accepted, and writing is one of the most basic ways to do that. Love and conflict (i.e. rejection, bias, hate, misunderstandings)—that is universal. Every story ever written can be distilled to one or both of these themes. Emotion is universal, like song; but your voice, like lyrics, is what makes the story yours to tell. Don't worry that everyone who's reading your book is thinking "this sounds like her reaction at her high school prom" because it's much more likely they're thinking, "God, I've so been there." And that's what you were shooting for, right?

You as a person are separate from the writing you put on the page. Just because you write about serial killers and nymphomaniacs and God forbid, the woman-superior position, you’re not a killer or a slut—and no one is going to think you are. Okay, some crazy interviewer someday might say, “Where do you get your inspiration for your sex scenes?”—but those are people who don’t understand; and they are certainly not people who should be taken into consideration when you’re putting your words on the public page. Don’t be scared; don’t avoid it because people might think you’re bad or wrong; and don’t judge yourself for writing it. You’re not doing yourself or your characters any favors by holding back. You are not your characters, no matter how much of yourself you might find within them.

Just thought I'd send out a little reassurance in case anyone thought they were turning into a serial killer. Unlikely. Though you might want to take some time to decompress, play with some puppies or try channeling a character whose idea of a dark side is much like Sally Albright.

What's the scariest thing you've ever written and why did it bother you? What author do you think can tap into that Universal Factor, that "I've so been there"? Any book or scene that comes to mind? Anyone else wish Santa was blogging about men again? How many just caught on that the Johnny Depp picture has absolutely nothing to do with my blog?

Santa Burns on Just What Men Are Really Thinking

For as long as I can remember, I’ve found people, men in particular, to be fascinating. While the love of the written word has been in my blood for as long as I can remember, the very nature of human nature never ceases to amaze me. And as a writer, I find my male characters, both hero and secondary, enthralling. And I wonder to myself – Just what are they thinking?

The men of our stories, our heroes, are on a journey of self-discovery. In meeting and falling in love with our heroines, they must break one of the cardinal rules of manhood - open up to themselves and their ladies. They must fall in love and actually have the capacity to do so.

There are numerous resources out there to facilitate the research into exactly what men are thinking. We do, after all, want to paint an accurate picture. So what are these resources? Libraries and online sites are filled with books that help spell out for the 21st Century woman exactly what men are thinking. Classic among these is ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus’.

Another gold mine is the internet. I stumbled upon this resource on my way to check in on my writing group VaNo. It’s a Yahoo group and, as such, Yahoo comes up and lists clips on interesting bits of information. On that particular day, they featured an article on four reasons men marry. And I thought to myself, they were able to come up with four? Off the top of my head I could only come up with one. He married because he met the love of his life and could not fathom life without her. Yes, that’s the romance writer in me speaking. So I clicked on it and found my way to ‘Men’s Health’, a men’s magazine in its internet incarnation.

What an eye opener! It’s geared toward men in their twenties and thirties and focuses on men’s health (duh), getting and staying fit and staying at the top of your game. It is also full of helpful hints on how to get and keep your woman – in a very PC, "this is the 21st century" kind of way. It seems, ladies, that what men are thinking is how to please us – in every way. Who knew?! All this time they’ve been concerned about keeping our goals a priority and to keep the lines of communication open.

And then it hit me! Men think just like we do and want the same things we do! And this is exactly how the men in romance behave – once they’ve come to their senses and realized that they are in love and want the whole world to know it. Whether it’s at a ball with the heroine’s favorite urchins surrounding them or while filming a cooking show that everyone from their hometown has come to watch.

So, friends, in your own reading or writing, what are your heroes thinking? Are they listening to what other people are saying to them or do they prefer to drive on through without stopping for directions?

Terrio here - I want to thank Santa (pictured above left with Eloisa James center and myself at the 2007 New Jersey Romance Writer's Conference) for joining us today. This is her first blog ever and what a topic to tackle. To celebrate and in honor of our Foodie guest, one lucky commenter is going to win the Little Cheese & Wine Book by Gregor Schaefer as well as What Men Think About by Patrick Wahl. Now get commenting and good luck!
Friday, January 25, 2008

"Putting My Muse to Bed"

I wonder how many hours a night Jack Sparrow sleeps. Pirates do some of their best pillaging at night, but since a pirate doesn’t punch a time clock I assume they have the next day to sleep off the excess from the night before. I may be a pirate, but I don’t share the same luxuries. I have a real life that demands me to serve many roles. It’s impossible to be a mother, a nurse, a wife, and a writer and indulge in too much of the pillage.

I am proud to say that I have started my WIP. With some brainstorming, and creative process I’ve finally developed a story that I feel can fly. It took me a long time to reach this point. In order to embrace a storyline, I have to believe in the conflict as well as the resolution. I have never attempted to write a story that I’ve felt in my gut that it’s the one-not until now.

I’ve reached one of the pinnacles of a writer’s journey. I should be happy, and I am, until its 3 a.m. and I can’t turn off the dialog and character scenes drifting through my mind. My muse is spending her nights as a pillaging pirate, and she’s not demonstrating a desire to stop anytime soon. I require at least four to five hours of sleep a night in order to function. I haven’t slept five hours since the weekend.

Don’t get me wrong- I love my hero whispering what he wants to do to my heroine in my ear, but can’t he tell me before I go to bed?

I’m not complaining, because I know at some point I’m going to hit a brick wall and my muse is going to be some where in the West Indies with Jack. I ’m glad that I’m so ate up with this WIP. It’s exciting; I brainstorm in the shower, on the way to work, and at work. I carry a notebook and I’m continually writing down my thoughts, and listening to the flight of ideas in my head. In the past week, I’ve written the opening scene, and somewhere along the way, I’ve managed to fall in love with one of my heroes.

It’s just a shame that I have a real job that requires me to be up at 5:30 a.m. bright- eyed and bushy- tailed. This week it hasn’t happened. I’ve been functioning at near zombie status, and I wake up when it’s time to go home and start writing again. When bedtime rolls around, I’m still having conversations with my hero. I finally say enough is enough; I save my WIP, and shut down my computer. I turn on the electric blanket, kick off my Hello Kitty slippers, and crawl into bed. It sounds like a cocoon of happiness, but when I roll over my hero is smiling at me in the dark. If he wasn’t a fictional character this wouldn’t be a bad thing- can you say eye candy? My heroine is a lucky woman, and the things he wants to do to her is enough to set the sheets on fire.

Tonight when he starts whispering sweet nothings about her in my ear, I’m using the line on him that always works with my DH. “Not tonight honey, I have a date with a pillow.” I just hope he takes no for an answer…zzzzzzzzz.

Do you experience muse overload? Have you ever fell in love with one of your heroes?
Thursday, January 24, 2008

“What Am I Talking About?” or Writing Through Your Black Moments

So, you’re shuffling along in your story, plowing through scene upon scene like Captain Jack Sparrow cutting the crowd at a party on his way to the rum punch. When I say you, I am, of course, referencing the ubiquitous you, the you that would be all of us if we were sitting at our keyboard writing this instance. Hey, it’s easier on me psychologically if it’s you and not me. Stay with me here. So, you’re plugging along in your story and suddenly, blam, you start questioning yourself. How am I doing? You worry. Will anyone want to read this? You fret. Who cares what I have to say anyway?! You panic. These conversations can occur late at night while you’re wired up on caffeine or feeling a little loopy from an extra glass of wine. But, they can definitely occur when you’re in the middle of your WIP and you’re starting to question what in the name of Peter, Paul, and Mary got you moving along this particular writing path in the first place.

Not pointing any fingers here, but that’s definitely happened to someone on this boat. Ok, I give up. It’s me. In fact, my moments of vulnerability have been aired out on my own blog and my critique group here on the boat are certainly privy to them.

Now, what keeps you, er... me, ok us, going through this? What stops us from closing up that file and burying it under our beds (or at least in the back of the Word.doc files)? What gives us the strength to keep writing through the black moments in our work?

Our point, that’s what. That bit of truth at the core of the story.

And don’t tell me that you don’t have a point because I’m sure you do.

I’ve been reading romance a long time and the books that stay with me stay because they said something. Their message or core idea didn’t have to end poverty, promote world peace, or cure cancer but it had to resonate inside of me. At the end, I would put the book down and feel uplifted, like I understood the world just little better.

This past week, I realized that I had something to say. Who knew, huh?

In my WIP, my heroine, Cory, watched her father’s unrequited love of her mother and vows to avoid love’s complications in her own marriage. My hero, Will, has been burned by love in the past and isn’t sure that it’s worth trying again. Through the course of their story, they realize that love is worth any risk.

Sounds like an ok story, right? My characters learn something, the end. But, in fact, this story means more to me than that. This story gets at what I personally have to say to the world; that really, there isn’t anything as important as love.

This message is what keeps me pushing. I know that others have tackled this theme. I have no delusions that I am the first, or last, writer to express this thought. But, like those great stories I’ve read, I’m hoping that I tell the story in such a way that my reader, after turning that last page, feels like they understand the world a little bit better too.

So, dearest wenches, what is it that you are trying to say (ie, what’s your Core Idea)? What keeps you writing your story through your black moments? How do you shore up that sagging middle? And when do you feel the weakest in your writing, morning, night, beginning of story vs the end, sex scenes vs black moments? Do tell.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Breaking the Rules

It’s not often you’ll find me conforming to a set of rules that everyone follows. I don’t follow specific patterns. I normally don’t allow someone to lead me (though I will admit to the occasional moment where I’m passive). There is a South Park episode, “I’m so much of a non-conformist that I’ll non-conform to you non-conforming.”

That would be me.

So typically when I write, I disregard any rules that I find ridiculous. You can tell sometimes, but I don’t care. I write for fun. I write for enjoyment. I write to edit later. And since Hellion blogged about rules yesterday (which I found funny because I was already set to write this one about not obeying the rules) I figured it would be fun to get a take on rules you can live without when writing a novel.

But that will come later.

So a few weeks ago our lovely Capt’n Hellion and I had our monthly writing meeting. Just to give you an idea of how our meetings normally start off:

“Hi. My name is Sin.”
*Hi, Sin*
“I have a problem.”
*What kind of problem?*
“A procrastination/daydreaming problem.”
*hush comes over the crowd* “You need the room on the left just down the hall.”

Confused look. “Well what meeting is this?”
*murmur* “This is the Sexaholics Anonymous.”
Pulling up a chair. “Well in that case I’m staying.”

See what I mean?

Or maybe you don’t.

Anyway, Hellion says to me, “You need this character interview.” And she says it in that voice that shouts to me, “And you damn well better use it!” But she would never say this to me.

At least I don’t think.

And I say to that. “Alright.” Which in Sin-Speak is, “But I’m not going to use it.”
(Sorry Hellion but you already knew that. LOL)

Okay, so I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say *sigh* that I pulled this little character interviewer thingy out after a good brainstorming session with our Powder Monkey Lisa and felt like I needed to make sure I knew who my heroine was. What I got was ten pages of her rambling on about computers. I liked it better when we didn’t know each other. She never rambled to me. She’s a quiet woman, reserved, knows how to hide her feelings. But there’s something about her coming home to face her past that has her rattling off like a nervous ninny.

So you might wonder what this has to do with rules.

First off, most people follow the writing rules (I don’t know if they are writing rules per se) and make an outline of their story. Write out detailed character sketches. Work hours on story boards, plot details, character arcs. I don’t do any of this so doing the character interview was like breaking my own rule.

Numero Uno in Sin’s House of Writing: Thou shall not outline.
Numero Dos in Sin’s House of Writing: Thou shall not conform to any particular writing style but do your own thing.
Numero Tres in Sin’s House of Writing: Thou shall always write the ending first.
Numero Cuatro in Sin’s House of Writing: Thou shall not question the character of your characters.
Numero Cinco in Sin’s House of Writing: Thou shall procrastinate all hours of the day when you could be writing.

And see, I’m breaking my own rules.

Hellion has rubbed off on me. Bah.

So getting back to what I said earlier. I want to hear from you my wonderful, faithful little reader of the ship. When you’re writing, what rule do you love to break? And if you don’t write (Bless your heart, you’re still sane) what rules do you like to break when you’re reading. (And if you say you flip to the ending to read…*Shaking head*)
Monday, January 21, 2008

The Golden Rule of All Writing

Once upon a time, long before calendars were kept but not before things were recorded, God gave Moses a list of Ten Commandments, commandments we’ve spent the better part of several thousand years since breaking at every opportunity. (Some of us more than others.) Mostly, if you think about the commandments, they are rules for getting along with everyone else. They’re more rules of how to live a happy, full life. For instance, if you commit adultery with a woman whose husband is bigger than you and also owns a gun, odds are you will not live a long and happy life. It just makes good sense.

Many rules for writing are there to help the writer have a full, happy writing life. There are a number of writing commandments. Thou shalt not commit the sin of atrocious grammar and spelling. Thou shall be most engaging in your story opening and maintain a breakneck pace throughout the story’s arc. If you’re writing a romance, thou shalt have the hero make love only with the heroine; if he has a mistress at the beginning of the tale and she is not the heroine, he will give her her farewell necklace soon after he meets the heroine. Thou shalt show and not tell. Thou shalt not commit the sin of passive voice.

On and on until we’re certain that there are more rules to writing than we could possibly ever learn or implement. We become paralyzed before the computer screen, wondering what grievous writing sin we’ll be committing today! It’s a wonder we ever reach the end of a single tale we craft.

Well, if you recall, once upon a time, long after Moses brought down those stone tablets, but again, before anyone kept any decent calendars, Jesus came and gave us the Golden Rule, which was, in essence, a rule that seemed to contain all the other commandments before it. If you kept this rule, you couldn’t help but keep the rest. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. (I.e. if you don’t want anyone cuckolding to you, don’t be going out and committing adultery, right? Makes sense to me.)

Writing also has a Golden Rule, one in which I believe if you abide by, all the other commandments are followed naturally. Ted Kooser, our national Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner—expressed it best. He said, “But in writing there are no rules other than to remember that somebody’s going to try to read what you’ve written and you don’t want to discourage that person.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Just write…and keep in mind someone else is going to read this. Try not to discourage them from getting to The End.

What’s your writing golden rule? What do you think is the best way to keep people reading to the end? Characters? Nail-biting pacing? The unforeseeable twist at the end?

SWP (Single Writing Pirate) looking for...

I'll admit it, I've done the online dating thing before. And because technology is so wonderful, the internet knows this about me. So, the internet wants to help me out by showing me internet dating site advertisements ALL THE FREAKING TIME. Not that this gets bothersome or anything. I love all the false hope, empty promises and unrealistic portrayals. Love 'em.

What I've noticed lately about all these ads is these couples look freakishly alike. Have you noticed this? And don't pretend you haven't seen these ads. I can't be the only one who has ever reached this level of desperation. And if I am, humor me and pretend you've been that desperate.

Anyway, it's starting to freak me out how much these people look alike. Because if I'm supposed to find the man that looks exactly like me, I'm in trouble. That is going to be one very unattractive dude. These people could be brother and sister they're so similar. And I'm not about to go there. ICK!!!

But this made me think about our heroes and heroines. How do we know when these characters pop up that they are right for each other? How do we pair them up? Many authors write a series of connected books in which they take one character from a current book – say the hero's best friend – and make him the hero of the next book. Usually, that means the author then has to *find* him a heroine.

If he's Alpha, he'll need someone to stand up to him and perhaps smooth out his rough edges. But the last thing he needs is a woman who won't challenge him at all. If he's Beta, he'll need someone to give just the right kind and amount of encouragement to find his Alpha moment. A woman to balance out his sensitivity and love him just the way he is. This works in the opposite direction as well.

If a heroine is timid, she needs a man to bring her out of her shell. But a man who will see the woman hiding inside. If the heroine is bold and outspoken, she'll need a man who can appreciate her, not try to hush her up and most certainly, not let her walk all over him. Now, this all sounds perfectly logical, but then you have to create them – height, hair, eyes, laugh, wit, intelligence, attitude and overall personality. Here's where I'm thinking it gets tricky.

What if you've created these two you think are perfect together and at the 2/3 point of writing the book, they tell you they are absolutely wrong for each other? What then? So far, my characters have gelled together quite well. No complaints, no tantrums, no "I can't work with this person!" moments. But it could happen. *cue duuuuummmmm dad um dum music* I think the Captain's paranoia is rubbing off on me.

Is it just kismet that these characters show up together or the right one shows up at the right time? Or do we make them fit together? Is there a character fairy who comes to us writers in the night, sprinkles character fairy dust on our heads, and gives us these wonderfully compatible people? Or is it a crap shoot?

If you're a writer, how did you create your characters and how did you know they were meant for each other? If you're a reader, have there been couples that you've thought didn't work together? Any that you think are perfect and you couldn’t picture them with anyone else? And if you have a significant other, do people tell you you look alike or are they usually amazed that you two are a couple?

PS: I obviously stole the above picture from eHarmony but I've given them a great deal of money in the past and got not one date in return. I think we're even...

Writing Mystery Plots (Alternative Title, “Does This Sound Too Much Like Clue?”)

I love a good mystery. In fact, I love a good mystery almost as much as I love a good romance. (*gasp*). Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Dick Tracy… Nancy Drew. I confess to having seen practically every episode of Law and Order, some multiple times. I admit to adoring The Usual Suspects and The Fugitive. The whodunit aspect keeps me thinking, wondering, and engaged.

There is something about sitting down to watch or read a good mystery that gets all the brain cells working. It’s as if the story is challenging me to figure it out before it gives me the right answer. I get the same thrill when I watch Jeopardy, trying to answer the questions before the contestants. No one can hear me (at least I hope no one can hear me talking to myself), but I know if I got it correct faster than the other guy. And when I do, I feel a sense of elation. I won, at least in principle.

Reading mysteries is a little trickier because I have the answer to the whodunit right there in my hand. If I REALLY wanted to know whodunit, I could simply skip to the last couple chapters and piece it together. Yet, even when I do give in and read the end first – yes, I admit it, I have done that before – invariably I feel cheated. But, really, who cheated me? I did, and that’s the worst kinda cheating.

So, I try really hard to tough it out and figure it out on my own, fair and square. Sometimes you just have to be firm with yourself.

In the current overhaul of my WIP, I see a space for a mystery plot. In fact, I think it would be a great addition and something fun to write.

However, as I sat down to puzzle it out, I realized that writing a mystery is even harder than solving a mystery. In my case, I’m hoping to include a murder mystery. So, this isn’t just a “where did my heroine leave her glasses” kind of problem. Someone dies and I need to figure out who, what, when, where, and why as well as the how. Add that to all of the motivations in the romance portion of the plot and I’m going to need a map and GPS to get out of this story.

While puzzling over all these logistic details, I have the additional concerns of a mystery reader. I hate mysteries I solve too fast. I want a challenge. In fact, I don’t mind being outsmarted if the end result makes sense upon reflection. I’m trying to figure out a plot that isn’t obvious, that makes sense, but that feels fresh to both me and my reader. This seems to center around finding an unlikely, but believable, villain.

Having to defer to the mystery plot is a little frustrating as well. The romance is supposed to be number one, but I’m finding, when it comes to plotting, the murder trumps the love. I guess I have to smooth in the love around the murder.

So, it’s your turn, lovely wenches. If you’re writing a mystery plot, how are you doing it? What characters make unlikely, but good villains? What are some good motivations for murder? Anyone else yell out the answers to Jeopardy?

By the way, I know I said I was going to blog about babies and puppies this week, but alas, it wasn’t to be. Here’s something to tide you over, though.
Friday, January 18, 2008

My Third Grade Theory

All of my life I have written stories to cope with insecurities and disappointments. In school, I was never the most popular, the most athletic, or the girl who always got the guy. However, in my mind, or on paper I could be. In the third grade, I stood in front of the class and told a story that included all of my classmates. I remember it well, because in the story, I was pretty, athletic, and I got the guy in the end. When I was done with my dissertation, my teacher, with a Cheshire grin on her face said, “You have some imagination.”

Imagination is a writer’s best friend. With a vivid imagination and the ability to put ideas into words a WIP can become a dream fulfilled. In the past week, I’ve doubted my ability to write a soup can label, let alone an original story. I’m chalking it up to a bad week, and mimicking the Scarlett O’Hara attitude- "I’ll think about that tomorrow."

When I started writing fan fiction, it was a lot like my experience in the third grade. I didn’t like how the Janet Evanovich series was progressing so I wrote it my way. When reading Evanovich or other authors I admire, I challenge myself to plot an even better story. More often times than not, I create characters who overcome something that I’ve always struggled with emotionally or physically.

I’ve been overweight the majority of my life; you would think that when I envision my heroine in my WIP she would be thin with curves in all the right places.


My heroine is at least 20 pounds overweight. I figure if I have to struggle with this so should she. It’s what I know, and believe me, I can write it realistically. Over 50% of America’s population is obese; I surmise that my readers can relate to an overweight heroine. You might ask how realistic is it to believe a dead sexy hero would choose an overweight counterpart? Maybe not often, but back to my third grade theory-I can make my hero fall in love with anyone I choose. Besides, my real life hero loves me for who I am, and I believe that all true heroes should feel the same way.

I can also build a plot around any scenario I want as long as it’s believable. This brings me to my current demise. I’ve been struggling the past week to begin my first WIP. I had my mind set on writing an inspirational romance. I researched the guidelines put forth by some popular Christian publishers. They set many restrictive limits, some I agree with and some I don’t. It was difficult for me to edit scenes and dialog that I’ve had in my mind for so long, to fit a certain set of standards. In light of this revelation, I have decided I need to write what I know, and that is romantic suspense or contemporary romance. Maybe I’ll struggle like a fish out of water for a while, but eventually I’ll find my stride. For the first time in my life, I don’t want to use my third grade theory. I don’t want to write a book about a girl who is published. I want to write a book that gets the girl published.

Do you have a third grade theory? How did you decide what type of romance you wanted to write, or are you not limiting yourself to one specific genre? Did you struggle when you started your first WIP?
Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Laughing Me Right Off the Boat

I grew up in a loud, rowdy Irish Catholic family characterized by equal parts healthy debate (read: scream until you’re red in the face arguing) and side-splitting hysteria. My father had to be the funniest person I knew and my mother was his constant straight (wo)man.

Therefore, I love to laugh. In fact, I would say that my life is defined by laughter. I laugh at crazy times. For example, after breaking a nail which in turn runs my hose which in turn causes me to change my outfit while running incredibly late only to find that the baby needs a diaper after he’s already in his coat and now we’ll never make it on time to church (again), I laugh. When I make a long list to go to the grocery store, only to leave it on the counter, but at least I remembered to put on my lipstick, I laugh. In fact, I laugh while sitting in traffic when people behind me honk as if that is just the catalyst to get the rush hour traffic in NJ jumpstarted. Oh, and I still laugh every time I tell my husband that my nose is running only too hear him say, “you better go catch it, ha ha ha.” (Yeah, it’s just as stupid sounding in person, trust me, but that’s why it’s funny). I just enjoy the amalgam of irony, sarcasm, and slapstick ever present in the world around me.

What does this have to do with writing, you ask? So far it just sounds like I’ve flipped my suburban housewife mind, you say. Not at all. Well, maybe, but that’s a different blog.
Today I want talk about how humor affects my writing. And, because we wenches here on the boat tend to drag the rest of you down with us, by default I’d like to know how humor affects your writing as well.

So many authors do comedy in romance well. Julie Garwood, Julia Quinn, and Sherrilyn Kenyon, to name a few of my favorites.

I think some of my WIP is funny, but I am not sure that I’ve set out to make it funny on purpose. This frightens me a little because humor is such a subjective thing. What I think is funny might leave others cold. I worry about putting humor in on purpose because then I feel like it sounds forced. On the other hand, if the story is playing out in my mind as I am writing it down, removing stuff that I think is funny because I’m worried it really ISN’T funny leaves my voice sounding stilted and forced too. *sigh*

Ultimately, I think “funny” is just something that is. It isn’t something you can force to be in your voice if it isn’t there naturally and it isn’t something you can take out of your voice if it’s there of its own accord.

What do you think about humor in novels? What makes it work, what doesn’t work? Who do you think does it well or not? I think we’re a funny bunch of aspiring pirates. Does that humor show up in your novel(s)? Finally, does anyone else laugh in traffic? Oh, it’s just me huh? Whatever people….
Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Winging it Despite Total Chaos

Really, what better way is there?

Last night, right before midnight, my contest deadline hit. And I’ve gotta say, I’ve written better. I’ve written a helluva lot cleaner. And I’ve done a better job with characters. But I tried something new. I blazed a path I hadn’t taken before and wrote in third person. I can’t say that it was fun. But I pushed through it. I learned that I’m a first person writer. That’s for sure. I learned that I can write 20,000 words in 12 hours if it’s after midnight. Most of it was crap and had to be revised, but I put an END on it and went about my merry way rewriting and revising to the point I was cross-eyed.

I’ve spoke about winging it before. Winging it is more like controlled chaos (okay no such thing). I’m a pantser. I wing my blogs. I wing my way through writing. And I wing my way through life (most of the time). I suppose that just shows you that I like to break the rules. So if I have to learn something, well, I just do it. I had no idea how to write in third person. I had no idea how I was going to write a story in 18,000 words or less. I really didn’t know what I was going to write about. I wrote the end, then wrote another ending. Changed the beginning- oh I dunno- six times. Took scenes out. Added them back in. Jumped POV (really, the ability to jump POV is not a good thing for me. I’m seriously ADHD with POV’s) and decided that maybe an erotica in first person would’ve been a better choice.

*sigh* Then I figured that might get kinda pervy and ditched that idea.

All the while, I was working my buns off mentally to get this story right. I had my characters right. I could see them in my mind’s eye. I could hear their voice. Interacted with them while I was sleeping. Spent countless nights being up until way past my bedtime with the laptop on and the Word document up. Discovered a new love for heavy metal cellist. And Borders’ clearance sales. All the while, I was thinking about my story. How was I going to make it work? How was I going pull it together when I couldn’t fight my way out of a paper sack at this point?

I wanted to give up. I even thought about it a few times. More than a few times. It would’ve been easy to pretend the file went “poof” and not be able to write another one. But all things good in life are hard to come by. A story is the same way. You never know when it might come to you on how to make it click. In my case, it was 3am on Monday night last week. I had to write it down on my notebook on my nightstand and I woke up the next morning looking at it like it was written in code.

So I guess the point to this most irrelevant blog today is if you don’t succeed the first time, you better not pretend like you lost the file and walk away. No matter if there is chaos going on inside of that little pantser mind of yours. Keep thinking. Keep going. Don’t give up. Believe in yourself.

My question of the day is: Which POV do you prefer to write in, first or third? Why? And have you ever tried the other just to see what you could do?
Monday, January 14, 2008

Don't Forget About the Twinkies!

I'm not a fan of oatmeal. Never have been: gluey, paste-colored stuff that could double as much for mortar as the breakfast of champions, but unfortunately, it's healthy. Loads of fiber, long lasting qualities, and less likely to cause jean shrinkage. Twinkies were more my gig as a kid. Light, fluffy, full of preservatives and sugar. No nutritional value whatsoever. Unfortunately, much more likely to cause jean shrinkage since it takes loads more Twinkies to equate to the fiber quality of a bowl of oatmeal. (But you can't say I didn't try.)

This is the parable of Oatmeal versus Twinkies.

Oatmeal is...what you should do; and Twinkies are...what you want to do but really doesn't show any obvious benefit in any way. But in the world of diets, there is room for both; and though the Twinkies must be moderated much more than oatmeal, there is something to be said for them.

So everyday, you're committed to your oatmeal, what must be done. Everything that must be done, and that includes prescribing to the best of all Nora Commandments: sit and write, regardless of Muse 'inspiration'. In this, the oatmeal is what we need. We need to sit and write, no matter what; God knows not everything you'll write will be brilliant. Or even remotely readable. But every day, you get up and eat your oatmeal. It's good for you and will contribute to an overall healthy life.

But don't forget about the Twinkies.

In moderation, a Twinkie now and again will contribute to your overall morale (God knows my morale is improved if I have a Twinkie to look forward to), and will make the oatmeal a bit easier to choke down in the morning. And what is it we want to do when faced with a story that won't write itself? What's our Twinkie? Yes--getting away from the computer.

Obviously getting away from your computer sounds counterproductive to writing your book--but that's where you're wrong. This is about inspiration. This is about FINDING your muse rather than waiting for it to return. Please note: getting away from the computer is different than just ignoring your laptop at home and watching North & South for the 100th time. Richard is not going to say anything new. Neither are your nearest and dearest--they're likely to just grunt, dirty up the dishes and throw underwear on the floor. Hardly conducive to writing about love and romance.

You're writing about the human experience, so you need to go out among other humans and experience it. Pretend it's an anthropology project and you're studying a new culture. Just exactly what sort of breed frequents Barnes & Noble and lurks at the Starbucks. Besides you, obviously. Or better, go somewhere outside your comfort zone and lurk and observe. Find that perfect bit of dialogue in someone else's conversation. Take a hike if your hero is a naturalist. Go to a bar and order a drink only your heroine would drink. If your heroine is organic and bit granola, go to the local farmer's market or natural whole-foods store--and buy something she'd eat. Take a walk in your character's shoes. Buy something that would be important to your character. Listen.

What I'm saying is: GET A LIFE. Or in the case of eavesdropping, pretend you're getting someone else's life.

The daily 8-5 is a drag. The pre-scheduled gym visits; the gripe sessions with the girls on Tuesday; the bedding down of Junior who insists on THREE bedtime stories *and* a drink of water--it's so routine. It's so easy, so tiring to be lost in the everyday and have nothing to write about. Even if you're just making it up. Even if this is the part of the day just for you. It's hard to be imaginative when the walls of your world are oatmeal colored day after day.

I'm not saying make some other commitment of time. Don't join the PTA or the Gardeners' Society, where you're made to suck out another 2-3 hours of your week to pacifying them. I'm saying take an hour to be invisible somewhere else, where the walls aren't oatmeal, where you might find some color to put on your blank page. Go out and enjoy your Twinkie.

How apparent is it to everyone Capt'n Hellion had nothing to write about? Who agrees CH needs to get a life? Who would like to send her more Twinkies? Who actually likes oatmeal? Who wishes I had used the Chocolate Cupcakes rather than the Twinkies?

Riding the Waves....and Crashing

Well, it's nearly midnight Sunday night and I'm just sitting down to create a blog. I know, poor planning and procrastinating and all that bloody business, but I've been ruminating about this blog for days and can't seem to pin it down. Here's my problem – or what I think is my problem - I'm coming off a high.

That's right, the adrenaline rush of working like a mad woman to get a short story submitted before deadline. This was an open submission call so I in no way want to imply that *my editor* wanted my MS by a deadline. This just put me in the running with who knows how many other aspiring (and probably published) authors for a summer anthology. So, what does this have to do with the price of tea in Tortuga? I'll tell you. Nothing really.

But, it does have to do with why I can't seem to pin down a topic for this blog. I'm spent. I've come down off my incredible adrenaline rush of the last week and crashed onto the shifting sands of nada. Yep, that's what I've got – nada.

But this is a topic in and of itself. When – notice I do not say "if" – when we get published, the pressure shifts from trying to get published to then trying to remain published. And to remain published, you have to write something else. And something else after that and something else after…oh, you get the idea. You have to WRITE MORE. But that's hard – said in my best whiney voice. Well, if my blog had a voice.

But there is a plus to this as well. I've never wanted to write so badly in my life. Last night I went to see a particularly angsty movie (and took the most emotionally unstable friend I have which was NOT a good idea) and on the drive home I heard a conversation in my head between the characters of my main WIP. When I got home, I had to get it down. It can't be but 50 words but by the end of those 50 words, I was crying. It's basically the scene that leads to and builds up to the black moment and it's really good. Oh, I can't wait to get there!

I've even dreamed about writing. If the dream is not about my WIP then it's about me writing the WIP. It's damn near an affliction at this point. So, I believe what I'm saying is finishing something is a double-edged sword. It's done, it feels great and the high lasts for days. But then the voices start again, you have to write more and the pressure builds and the doubts start all over again. And even with all the pressure and doubts, you can't wait to get to the keyboard.

Am I alone on this dingy or has anyone else felt this way? Have you finished a work and felt on top of the world only to crash when reality returns? Or do you coast right along, finishing, starting and finishing again as if it's naught but a lovely dance? And can anyone tell me why the hell we would ever drink tea in Tortuga?
Thursday, January 10, 2008

Every Girl Loves a Bad Boy

‘Tis true.

I grew up loving bad boys. I have this thing for tall, dark and handsome. Just ask my DH. He’ll agree. Because he’s like that. He’s not modest at all. lol.

The ultimate bad boy just makes me tingle all over. The swagger. The way he doesn’t care about what people think. The ability to throw caution to the wind and just do it. (And not just that “do it”. But still they do it well.) There hasn’t been a time in my life when I hadn’t thought about the bad boy and how I was gonna get my hands on him. It’s that initial rush when you’re in a bad boy’s arms, the way he makes you feel about yourself. The way everything is new and exciting. And it stays that way because he’s mysterious. He’d dark and edgy. And he knows how to light you on fire with one single look.

The bad boy is my favorite part of writing a novel. Creating the man who’s gonna make my heroine want to pull her hair out with his sarcasm. The man who is gonna knock her socks off with his looks and make the room feel two sizes too small when they are together. He’s the man, who at the end of the day, when she’s trying to sleep, all she can hear is his smart ass comments. And remember the way his eyes raked over her when she stepped into the room. The way he makes her temperature sky rocket when he brushes up against her. The man who invades her dreams, kisses her lips, touches her bare skin, makes her cry out his name.

He is her bad boy. He is her crutch. He’s everything she could want and more. If she was looking for someone.

When I started fleshing out my Romantic-Suspense WIP, I had this vision of a man. I could hear his voice in my head as I was driving to work one hot summer day. I was sitting in traffic, minding my own business (okay, so I was flipping off the person who had cut me off) and I could hear him laughing. It was this deep, gruff laugh, the kind that belongs to a man with dark intentions and even darker abilities. Then I heard this woman, very girly voice, yelling about him not sneaking up on her. They got into a very heated argument. And then I knew. I had my leads for my first original.

I wasn’t looking for them at the time. At the time I was in the middle of a very intense and detailed fic about a Colombian drug lord who had almost killed my heroine in the first fic and she was trying to stay alive long enough to solve the mystery. I was thoroughly involved with the story line. I wanted to give it life, watch it soar and remember it always. After all it was a part of the first time I’d ever written for pleasure. Writing 20 page papers on music theory and computer programming are not really up my alley. No matter how much I like to talk about computers. lol

But there are some times no one listens to you, the writer. Sometimes your characters dictate what you’re going to do and what you’re going to write. And so Double Vision was born. A novel created from the insanity that is my mind. A plot that I’ve consistently changed every three months for the past year and a half. My hero/heroine are very hard to please and every time I think it’s right it’s not.

But it is this time.

So this man keeps coming to me. He talks to me in the shower. He talks to me while I’m putting on my makeup. He scolds me when I let people in front of me while being stopped in traffic. And he laughs when I swear at the person I just let in front of me. He tells me I need to get a new job because I can't shoot anyone who pisses me off. And he follows me to the gym while I run on the treadmill, bitching that I don’t stay longer ( I think an hour is long enough, thankyouverymuch! ) and he follows me into my dreams. He shows me what he wants to do, how he wants to do it. Ash is a doer. He doesn’t follow. He blazes the way and he won’t rest until he gets his way from me. And Sadie. However he can get it.

So I guess the question of the day is: Do you have a bad boy in your life? A favorite bad boy from a series or book? And if you have one in mind, does he play a major part in writing your own WIP bad boy?

My Love Affair with Plotting Methods

In the writing realm, you generally run into three groups of writers: plotters, pantsers, and plantsers. If you’re a plotting newbie, let me give you my take on plotting methods.

Plotters meticulously map out the details and nuances of their novels in order to make sure their characters stay on the straight and narrow thereby alleviating the possibility that their story will derail and of their characters run amok. Pantsers laugh in the face of planning as they sit at their computers and allow their story to spring from their fingers, thrilling in the unknown. And, plantsers are somewhere in the middle. This hybrid group recognizes they need some sort of planning as to avoid wandering willy-nilly about their novel with no real goal in mind.

My first attempts at writing were straight up pantsing. I sat gleefully churning out page after page of creativity, allowing myself the liberty to run wild and free through the story, like Julie Andrews running across the mountaintops in Sound of Music. Ah, the elation! Ah, the wild, blissful abandon! Until I bothered to read what I wrote and realized I had no clue where I was going, how I got where I was, or if I even cared what happened next. Inevitably, I would stare at my computer screen like a child in Walmart who’d lost her mother.

After a few attempts at writing in this fashion, I decided I was sick of my gypsy-like writing tactics and swung completely full-circle. Before I started my next book, I vowed, I would plot the entire thing out, leaving nothing to chance. I would know where I was going, by god, before I started. So, I sat at my computer. I made spreadsheets and outlines. I did character analyses and I did a storyboard. I plotted and plotted until I strangled the very breath out of it. By the time I sat down to write that book, I hated everything about it. The characters felt stiff, the plot felt stiff, and I felt stiff from all that time slaving over it.

My most recent efforts fall in the plantsing category. I began with a tentative outline and some scenes sketched out, but now that I’m in the fearsome middle, I’m afraid my characters aren’t motivated enough and that I haven’t set up enough conflicts along their way. So, again I’m questioning my recent strategy, wondering if there is some other plotting technique that would help me.

I have read a couple of books I’ve found helpful with moving along plot. One is You Can Write a Romance Novel by Rita Clay Estrada. (Yes, that Rita. The Rita that THE Rita for RWA is named after). This book mentions setting up each scene with a goal so that it’s driven by an action and has a reaction to that action. Many writing sites online speak of the multiple plot twist/black moment theory I mentioned on another post. Basically, you set up your book into a few “acts” with each culminating in a mini-black moment before the final BIG black moment.

So, help a fellow wench out. What plotting techniques (if any) do you use/find most effective? Help Help Help, I'm in the dreaded middle! Also, are you a plotter, pantser, or plantser? And what aspects of each method do you like/hate?
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Ready or Not Here I Go…

I am about to embark on one of the scariest journeys of my life. For the first time I’m going to write an original story of my own. I’m not breaking into the writing world like most traditional writers. My writing experience started in the world of Janet Evanovich fan fiction. *gasp* Yes I am aware of the stigma that surrounds the idea of a writer taking another author‘s characters and creating their own stories. I could argue that Janet Evanovich gives her permission for writers to create fan fiction using her characters. At one point in time, she even had a fan fiction section on her website. That doesn’t stop some critics from believing that fan fiction is a rip off of a published author’s work. But we’ll leave that subject for another day.

Fan fiction has had a tremendous impact on my life from a personal as well as a writer’s perspective. If I had not discovered fan fiction a little over three years ago, I wouldn’t be a writer. I also would not have found some of the best friends I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. (Sin)

When I discovered fan fiction, I consumed story after story trying to feed the obsession I felt for Janet Evanovich’s characters. As you all know I fell in love with her bad boy character named Ranger. For those of you not familiar with Ranger he has enough sex appeal to charm a nun out of her habit. He emanates from the page, and never strays far from your mind once the book is closed. Ranger is the main reason I am a writer. He fueled a desire in me to write a story where he gets the girl in the end, something that I seriously doubt will happen when Evanovich writes the last book in the series. Over 200,000 words later, I’ve given Ranger the girl several times over. I’ve also sexed him up with the girl, had him walk away from the girl, had him shot, had the girl walk away from him and had him die with the girl in a plane crash. In the process I learned how to write, and I gained the confidence to write something to call my own.

Those are the positive points of using fan fiction to break into the writing world, but now I’m struggling on a daily basis from the negatives. Fan fiction has always provided me with some of the most difficult things a writer has to create. I have to create my own canvas now. It’s all about me creating a story from the ground up. I admit in the last several weeks I have been cursing fan fiction, because no longer do I have Ranger as my crutch. I know Ranger inside and out. I know where he lives. I know of his habits, his occupation, and his flaws. I have been told no one gets inside Ranger’s head the way I do. Well good for me right? Now I have to create my own hero and hope I don’t fall flat on my face in the process. For me attempting to write an original story is like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. I’m experiencing the fear of the unknown.

Fortunately, my desire to create my own story out weighs my fear. At least now when I sit down at the computer and attempt to write about my characters I don’t feel faint, or like running from the room, screaming like a little girl.

This brings us to the present, where I’m preparing to embark on my journey. I’ll describe the scene in detail.

The news helicopters are circling above me. The co- pilot is shouting the details of the scene before him in his headset for the story at 11. He reports that another fan fiction writer has decided to take “The Plunge”

So I’m standing on a ledge fifty stories above the city looking down. I can barely see the outline of the net, beyond the black moment, where I will find my HEA. If I close my eyes, I can visualize my computer key board, while character descriptions, plot devices, and the dreaded beginning are dancing through my mind. Ranger is sitting next to me on the ledge whispering “Proud of you Babe.” I look at him; wipe a tear from my eye and whisper, “Thanks for everything.” Then I smile and step into thin air.
Was it intimadating for you to start a WIP? What are your biggest fears now as a writer? How do you over come those fears?
Monday, January 7, 2008

A New Start

As you've undoubtedly read on every blog between here and the moon, it's the beginning of January (in case you were calendar-less) and it's time to start anew. Polish off old resolutions or implement new anti-resolutions--whatever. Resolve to do something. Start it. Take action.

Incidentally, I decided to get cracking more seriously about my new WIP, the "paranormal lite" contemporary where Adam & Eve, upon failing marriage counseling, find new spouses. With the Boatswain, I hammered out a relatively credible "plot" (I have to put it in quotations because it scares me so much. Much like "bogeyman") and she asked questions and by God, I was actually able to answer the questions. I had conflict. I had motivation. I had characters and goals. I had secondary characters who were funny. This has the makings of a funny book. I was excited on Friday with my strides I had made. After all, I had "finished" GOGU back in June--and it's been so long since I've written anything really good. Now I had a list. I had an outline, some structure, some direction. I had a plan, Stan.

Then Saturday, the Quartermaster and I met, had a very productive writing meeting with only about half the tangents of usual and only one bowl of cheese, and I skipped home with a new book about Las Vegas and a new lease on, my WIP.

Then I had to open Word and actually start writing. Now the problem is I'd already written about 4 or 5 chapters. I had liked them at the time, but now I can see this is not the beginning I need. I need something else. So technically what I should probably do is scrap it and just start again. 20,000 words--plip, gone.

Strangely, I've forgotten how much I hate writing beginnings. It's been so long since I've written one. I love new ideas and playing with new ideas, but actually sitting down and committing them to paper and trying to make them sound as brilliant as they do in my head: I hate it.

So I got to thinking about it. I also hate writing the middle of the book. Getting from point A to point Z is a problem and I have to think of some very clever points of B-Y in order to keep my readers reading. It's exhausting. I'm just not that engaging. Besides, this is why I wrote my plot--so I wouldn't have to spend so much time figuring out these points. They'd write themselves. I just don't know when they're going to write themselves.

And then, I realized I also hate writing the ending. Winding up all my strings, tying them into a neat bow, leaving my readers satisfied--I mean I've only managed to write THE END for two WIPs and one had to be scrapped entirely; and the other, well, I'm still editing that mess. Apparently I'm shit with endings too. But I remembered how I hate writing the ending to stuff, because it's not been all that long since I wrote the ending to the WIP, but being I had written the beginning two years ago, I'd forgotten how painful it was.

Now I'm back at the beginning and I'm realizing just because I've finished two WIPs, it doesn't mean it's any easier to write the beginning or the middle or the end. I mean, does it truly get any easier to give birth to a squalling infant just because you've done it a couple times now? I would imagine not. It might not *take* as long to accomplish the same ends, but you can't tell me it didn't hurt any less.

So if you find you're in the beginning stages of labor and that it's painful, I have to tell you it doesn't get any easier. You might get a knack for it, sort of like the woman who has 12 kids, but it's still going to be painful and you're still going to have to clean it up and polish it when it arrives. You might even get accomplished *grins* at creating the little buggers, but it's still going to take nine months and it's still going to be some painful labor involved in the end. But on the upside, like childbirth, there's nothing to do (once you're committed) but to press on and deliver. It'll be worthwhile in the 18 years or so.

Okay, so all you people who've given birth, am I right or wrong? Does it get easier--or do you not dread it so much simply because you know what's coming and you've dealt with it before? Do you like writing--or do you like having written? Do you like writing beginnings or middles or ends?

Here We Go Again

I sort of had a very busy year in 2007. You might have read me whining about it somewhere. I don't mean to whine, it just happens. And I know that I'm my own worst enemy but I'm starting this year fresh with a positive attitude and lofty goals. Both in writing and for life in general.

But one week in and I'm already worried. This weekend, I was elected conference chair for my local RWA chapter. That means I am the top-dog, chick-in-charge of putting together our writing conference in November. The good news is, I have a co-chair and we are teaming with another chapter about 90 minutes away so I'm not completely alone in this. Delegate, delegate, delegate is my new motto. *g*

But I'm a planner and my instinct is to look ahead and see how things can fall into place. In my juggling act, I have these little balls I have to keep in the air and they all have something written on them. Work (so we can have a home and eat), college (so we can have a better home and eat better), single-momhood (because my life would be meaningless without her), writing (because these voices would drive me crazy if I tried to shut them up), planning my company's year end holiday party (because I have to) and now planning a large annual writers conference (because I'm an idiot and glutton for punishment). Let's not forget my blogging duties upon this ship. But that's a true labor of love so we'll let it slide.

Here's the thing – I'm looking forward to all of this. Ok, not so much the school stuff but it's a means to an end and I'm not about to quit now. But everything else, I'm ready to dive right in. I know, I'm crazy.

What I've learned about myself is if I'm not doing at least two or three things at one time, I'm not happy. Other than writing, sleeping and driving, there are very few times I do only one thing exclusively. Even when I'm driving, I'm usually making calls or listening to an audio book. I seem to plot while I'm trying to sleep so even then I'm multi-tasking. Writing is my only escape and without the pressure of everything else, I might not find the enjoyment in it that I do.

I used to think all this multi-tasking might be doing more harm than good but now I've changed my mind. I'm a born procrastinator and having to get so much done is the only way I would get anything done. And I still manage to slack. Seriously, you should see my house. On second thought, no you shouldn't.

I was talking on the phone this weekend with a writer friend and the subject of Nora Roberts came up. My friend said, "Wouldn't it be great to get up everyday and have nothing to do but write?" Let me note here I KNOW Nora does much more than write but hang with me. At first I thought, sure. But the more I think about it, the more I think I would hate it. And I don't mean I'd hate just writing, I'd hate doing anything if it was all I did. I guess I need the chaos to feel in control. Does that make sense?

How about you? Do you thrive on chaos or do you need calm? Do you have my problem of taking on more than you probably should or are you to the point where saying no comes as naturally as breathing? And if you've mastered the word "no", can you let me know how you did it?

Aside: In my defense, they tried to elect me conference chair and publicity coordinator and I told them I could not do both. That's progress right there. LOL!
Friday, January 4, 2008

Mental Blocking

Say it’s Fourth and Goal. (If you don’t know football, you think I’m talking gibberish, but I’m really not. It’s the equivalent of the last page of a novel. All this football on TV is getting to me.) Your offensive line is standing in front of you, you quarterbacking. The ball is set; you’re looking at the formation of the defense. You know they are going to rush you, and you need to do the sneak to make it that last little inch that will help you reach your goal, but the defense is there to stop you. You hike the ball, it’s in your hands, and you freeze.

You freeze. Time stops around you. You’re looking at everyone, frozen in position, waiting to be moved, waiting for their turn to be perfected. And you’re blank. The plan you had is gone, the slate is wiped clean.

So what do you do next? You still have to move forward. You still have to make it that last inch to complete the down; because if you don’t, you just wasted all that time, all that hard work and effort. But you can’t think of your next move. You can’t think past the next second. So you take a step back, reading the lines of defense- you’ve only got one chance to make this right.

Suddenly the defense comes to life, rearing up, looking you in the eye, daring you to come forward. Your offense is covered. The beating of your heart, now pounding with all the thunder of elephants stampeding. Your mind is racing. A plan. You need a plan. It comes to you.

You need a Hail Mary.

The finish line is right in front of you. The defense will try to block you. There will be some part of you that feels like you can’t go any further but you have to just do it. Go for it. Take that chance.

So what does this all translate out to? Well if you know football, then you might understand, and if not. You’re the Quarterback- the writer. The defense is everything that you find wrong in what you’re working on, may it be pacing, characterization, goals, motivations, grammar, spelling.. etc. The offense is the meat of your novel. The plot. The characters. The goal line.. come on! You know that one. The football is your pen, keyboard, whatever you use to write. Each new set of downs is a chapter written. But when you get to Fourth and Goal it’s time to do your thing or get off the pot. It’s time to buck up and get the job done.

Mental blocking is a lot like defense. Mentally we get to a certain point and we don’t have the capacity to go any further. It can just be for the night or it can be the novel. You hope its just you, but sometimes no matter what you do, that mental block just grabs a hold and you can’t shake it.

I have to be honest, since working on my contest entry, I didn’t really think much past it. Our Powder Monkey, Lis, graciously agreed to trade spots with me this week, after a frantic email the night before I would need to post. Only because I’ve been writing like a fiend for the past few days to make this deadline for the Amber Quill- Amber Heat contest. I’m one of those writers that waits until the last minute. I’m a pantser and a procrastinator (equals = total slacker), a deadline to me just means I know how much time I have to slack off. I need a deadline to tell me to get my ass in gear and I knew this deadline was going to be hard to meet because of the holidays, but it came up so soon *laughing* Sometimes I can’t even believe myself.

I had this plan (sort of) of what I was going to write in this erotica, and as always, it took on life of its own and now it’s nothing like what I wanted. So I took a deep breath, pulled the fic back out and looked it over (kinda) and thought about where I need to go back in order to straighten it out. Plan to rewrite about 5k. Very do-able for me. Probably 3 hours, maybe. But I’ve got 11 days! 11 days to get this done! I’ve got plenty of time…

I’ve got a problem though. I’m standing on the one yard line, my goal line in plain sight- I haven’t frozen yet. My fingers are still moving, but I’m so close. The mental block is creeping closer, trying to get me to succumb. Trying to get me to write something else. Tempting me away by episodes of Blood Ties and e-mails and good books and movies.

But I’m the Quarterback, standing on the offensive line, pen in hand, last page ready to be written and I will not be deterred. If you believe, you have to keep the faith. The inspiration will come, and if not, I’ll pull back and let the Hail Mary fly.

Mental blocking, you have no hold on me. Defense, fall back and stop stressing me. My offense is game. My Hail Mary is good. This Quarterback is about to do the end-zone dance (though it might require lots of rum and a good, sturdy looking… mast. Yeah, that’s what I was going to say. For dancing. Just a living, breathing mast. To do the horizontal kind of dancing. *grin*)

Ever got to that point in something you're working on (whether it be writing or not) that you just can’t go any further? So what’s your Hail Mary plan? How do you get back on track?
Thursday, January 3, 2008

Walking on the Moon, Winning the Nobel Prize, and Other Unrealistic Goals

Well, dear wenches, it’s the new year. This is the time of year when people make resolutions; some they keep, some they wish they could keep, and some they abandon like we pirate wenches abandon ship at a port of call for a rum-soaked evening.

A quick Google search tells me that the Babylonians were the first to make resolutions. One site even claims the Babylonians resolutions usually involved returning farm equipment. Whether it’s eating better, working out, or saving money, most people you talk to are in the mood for fresh starts. It’s a new year, a clean slate, and it’s the perfect time to start again. So, I thought I would jump on the bandwagon. (Yep, I don’t have original thoughts. Bear with me.)

However, I have no interest in making resolutions that I will disregard in two weeks. It leaves me feeling like a failure and I have enough failure in my life, thank you. I think the whole idea behind this resolution gig is that we’re supposed to KEEP the resolutions, so that we feel better about ourselves.

Having no unreturned farm equipment handy, my resolution-making mind turned to my writing. While I was thinking about good resolutions for my writing, I decided that making a resolution like, “I will get a publishing contract this year” wouldn’t get me anywhere. It just is not a realistic goal. Such a resolution would require me to have some control over the publishing entities and, sadly, I have none. Therefore, I am going to attempt to make goals that I can control and attempt to reach said goals tenaciously.

The first goal is that I’m resolving to write at least five days a week. Because I am the boss of me, I gave myself the weekends off. (Unless my slacker self doesn’t write during the week and then said slacker will be forced to work on the weekend.) While I will not bore you with the minutiae of my writerly goals for the year, most of them just involve getting words on paper. So, I made a promise I would do that.

The second resolution is to start meaningful critique relationships. I think it’s time in my writing career to let others into my writing circle which, until now, has consisted of, well, me. (Can one person make a circle?) I’ve spent the past year learning a lot about the craft. Had you asked me what GMC was a year ago, I would have responded that it was a brand of car. But, now that I’ve come so far in my knowledge, it’s time to jump out of my comfort zone and start laying it on the line. That means letting people tell me if it’s crap (which, I’m certain, at least part of it is).

My last resolution has to do with continuing my networking and growth as a professional. While I did join RWA this past year, I’m going to join a local chapter as well. Getting serious means hanging out with other serious people.

What writer goals have you set for yourself this year? And, if you aren’t willing to share, or you just want to gloat, how far have you come in the past year?
Wednesday, January 2, 2008

It's Your Life so Use It

My life as a pirate is more beneficial to me than any life I could ever lead. Pirates are of a different mind set. We take instances from our lives that may mean nothing to someone else and make them into so much more. How does a pirate manage to take a scene on a deserted island and make it into something far more worthy than the moment? When she picks up her pen, starts with the island scene, and weaves with words a far bigger tale.

Our everyday lives feed us with fodder for our work. We can look at confrontations with co-workers as just another stressor in our day, but it doesn’t have to be. Make it into that angst-filled scene that you’ve been struggling with night after night. A drink after work with a friend, a teary moment over a commercial on TV, and a lighthearted flirty conversation with a member of the opposite sex can all provide our minds with stimulation that can foster another chapter in our WIP.

When you least expect it life hands you the perfect dialog, or an angst filled situation that you’ve struggled to put on paper. Stories waiting to be told can be found at the end of our fingertips everyday. Americans read a billion tons of paper every year, from newspapers to newsletters, to magazines. We watch movies and TV shows and browse the internet. All of the tasks we complete while not writing, can stimulate ideas for our writing.

Some of the best dialog I’ve ever written were words spoken to me in a conversation when writing was the last thing on my mind. I’ve used emotional scenes in my life to write some of the most emotionally devastating scenes I’ve ever written. Our life is filled with defeats, and joys that don’t have to be lived only once. Defeats, obstacles, and shortcomings don’t have to be blocked memories never to be thought of again. Let your characters overcome them for you, and write the ending that you’ve always wanted.

Does your life foster your writing life?