Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tag You're It!


It’s Friday, and I thought it would be fun to do something a little different. We had a great discussion about books with Terrio's blog earlier in the week, so I decided to open the discussion today with a book meme. I hope you play along, because I always love new perspectives on books.


One Book that changed your life?



The Bible- I view it as the book of life. It gives me direction, salvation, hope, and grace.


One book you have read more than once.


The Black Swan by Day Taylor. An epic romance that forever changed my view on historical romance.  Wonderfully written, what is not to love about a hero who is a pirate, and a protagonist who is just as hot and complex? Other added bonuses- a strong heroine and a deep south setting in Civil War time.


One book you would want on a desert island.


I picked 2, both important to my sanity.


The Bible- for obvious reasons. To keep the faith.


The Book of Survival by Anthony Greenback Which hopefully contains some easy coconut recipesJ


One book that made you laugh.


To the Nines  by Janet Evanovich. This is the funniest Stephanie Plum book for me. Favorite scenes- Lula hanging upside down like a piñata, and refusing to give up her bacon in the dog chase scene.


One book that made you cry.


The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. The love in this book is palpable.


One Book you consistently recommend.


I can never narrow it down to one.


Sugar Daddy and Blue Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas


Blue Willow by Deborah Smith- a contemporary romance author I just discovered and absolutely love. This woman does angst to perfection.


One book you wish had never been written.


Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich- a rehashed visit of earlier books in the Stephanie Plum series.


One book you are currently reading.


The Wicked Ways of a Duke by Laura Lee Guhrke. A very predictable plot, but interesting characters.


One book you have been meaning to read.


Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. This book has been recommended to me more than once, but I always pass it up for more romance.


Tag you’re it! If you don’t have time to answer them all choose a couple you wish to share.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

No, I’m NOT Schizophrenic! I’m an ARTIST!


Scenes from yesterday, with some liberties taken with actual times and actual conversation.  Ok, some liberties taken with all of it.  This is, however, based on a true story.



Marnee – the slightly frazzled stay-at-home mother of one attempting to make headway in her latest manuscript.

Sarah – the heroine of said latest manuscript, a prophet who reads the future by staring in other’s eyes.

Nik – Sarah’s hunka, hunka burning love.


9:02 AM

*Marnee sits down with a cup of coffee to check email, comment on blogs, and reread what she wrote on her WIP yesterday.  She places fingers to keyboard.*


Marnee:  Ok, Sarah, you are going to have to try to keep Nik from kidnapping you.

Sarah:  *sighs* I’m tired.  I told you these premonitions take a lot out of me and I really don’t have the strength to fight with him right now.

M:  Tough it out, missie.  I got you this far.

S:  *heavier sigh* Fine….


9:43 AM

*Marnee sits in the same spot with her hair all askew from tugging at it in frustration.  Three cups of caffeine are coursing through her veins and making her fidget like she has to pee.*


Sarah, whining:  I told you that I just want to see into his future so I can see if going with him is the best way.  If it isn’t, I’ll fight him.

Marnee, screeching:  And I told you that you shouldn’t see his future for another chapter or two!  Why aren’t you listening to me!?

S:  Because your way is difficult.  I’m wussing out here.  I’m tired.  This is the easiest way.

M, whining now:  But that isn’t how I saw the story going.

S:  And I’m telling you that it IS how the story goes.


*Marnee closes her computer in frustration and goes off to color with her son*


Sarah and I battled it out for the rest of the day yesterday.  I’d try to force her into submission but she ended up being more stubborn than me.  By last night, I gave up.  She’s going to see whatever is in their future whether I wanted it to be like that or not.  I’m going to have to find out what happens and rearrange my story accordingly.


I’m a plotter.  These character rebellions drive me bonkers.  I spend a lot of time in the beginning of my writing process asking my characters what they think is going to happen between them. Inevitably something comes up that they hadn’t made clear to me on the onset and I end up rearranging to accommodate them.


People who don’t write don’t understand this entire phenomenon.  I told my husband last night at dinner that Sarah was giving me a hard time and that she wouldn’t do what she was told.  He smiled, chewed his chicken thoughtfully and said nothing.  But the rise in his eyebrow said clearly that he was once again questioning my sanity and the prudence of leaving our impressionable young son alone with me all day.


But I mentioned the same occurrence to our lovely Coxswain late last night and she said, “Don’t you hate it when that happens?”  I sighed in relief and smiled in communion.  We both know that it’s the kind of hate that we love.


Because even though we say we hate it when that happens, we also know that it’s a great sign and bodes well for my story.  It means that the characters are so strong in my head and that they’re characterized so clearly for me that I’ll intuitively know if something “works” with them or not.   And that I’m on the right track.


And that I’m not, in fact, losing my mind.


Do you hear your characters in your head?  How do you deal with character rebellions?  Are you happy or annoyed when they take things over?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dark Moments Ahead

DefeatedIt wasn’t easy. The shadows did little to hide me from curious eyes as I made my way down the sidewalk without shoes, my skin black and blue and what little was left of my clothes hanging on me by a thread. The rain beat down on me and each drop felt like nails being driven into my skin. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt this bad.


It was all because I couldn’t let go of him.


I turned onto the darkened street, and looked up. My eyes lit up the sidewalk in front of me and I kept putting one foot in front of the other by sheer force of will. My head throbbed with each step and I slowed my pace and closed my eyes. I felt Caed watching me, laughing at my weakness, enjoying my pain. The longer I pushed forward, the faster his power grew. He leached every bit of my strength and waited for me to squirm like a worm in a mud puddle, slowly drowning but unable to help myself. I wasn’t that weak. Yet.


Thunder clapped and I weaved unsteady on my feet and tripped onto the concrete steps. I brought my hand up to my forehead, the throbbing intensified until bile rushed up my throat. Electricity charged the sky, and goosebumps raced along my naked flesh. I didn’t have to do this. I could ignite my flame and stick my hand in the water. It wouldn’t be a painless death, but merciful compared with what I was about to do.


Instead I was selfish and stuck my finger in the doorbell.


I wrapped my hand around the wrought iron rail and hauled myself to my feet. My fingers clenched around the metal, pain radiated down my spine. I could feel my power welling up inside of me, threatening to overflow and I clenched my jaw until my teeth started to giveaway.


I never heard him come to the door. He opened it enough for me to see the firelight behind him, haloed around his dark head. Water dripped from my hair into my eyes and made my sight blurry. The rain kept coming down, soaking into me but as his eyes swept over me, I did not feel chilled.


He raised his black eyes until they met mine and I took a step into him. His hand brushed my cheekbone, thumb traced my lower lip. I trembled at the thought of what was to come next. He pressed the gun into my temple and his lips brushed against my ear.


“There is another way.”


I choked on the words I wanted to say to him- my savior, my killer. Instead the only words I could push past my lips were, “Maybe next time.”


I closed my eyes as I pressed my hand into his chest. Blue fire flickered to my fingertips and skittered along his chest just as he pulled the trigger.






I love the rain. There is something very pure and cynical about the rain. You might be wondering what I mean, and I’m not sure I can explain it. The rain is a way to cleanse, to purify, yet, the rain inspires me to do many things that go against this very nature. Many of the blackest moments I’ve ever thought of have to do with rain. It’s almost as if you’re being violated twice with the black moment, not only by the very thing that causes the black moment but also by power behind nature.


One of my favorite romance novel moments involves the rain. Sixteen years ago, I read my first rain scene in aMoB- AK- 1993 novel, Masque of Betrayal (Andrea Kane, 1993) and I fell in love. I wore the pages out of that library book. It was a very awe-inspiring moment for a girl who’d not noticed black moments or really ever thought about particular scenes in a book. There’s something about the way the heroine, Jacquie Holt, finds her way to the hero’s doorstep in the middle of the night in the down pouring rain. She’s soaked to the very marrow of her being, afraid, yet not afraid- I just can’t explain the feeling and emotion behind this scene.


I still remember it sixteen years later. Not to mention I’ve had to rubber cement my pages back to the spine of that book. That scene inspires me to write the right dark moment (not black moment, mind you, because there was nothing black about it, only that Dane, the hero, thinks Jacquie is a spy for the French.). Their relationship was so full of ups and downs but that moment was the perfect fit.   


For me, there are three parts of dark moments in a novel. There is the dark moment in the first third of the book that brings the hero and heroine together. There is the dark moment that seals our hero and heroine’s fate together and then there is the ultimate dark/black moment that resolves the whole plot. Now, I like to refer to them as dark moments, because I’m still under the impression that black moments should involved death of the hero/heroine, or another main character.


Dark moments are my favorite kind of scenes in a book and I love writing them. There’s always enough room for a little angst in the plot.


How many dark/black moments do you like to work into your writing? Readers, what are your favorite dark/black moments and which ones do you think are overdone? And can you remember any books that you’ve read where dark/black moments have stuck with you?


Under The Flood AlbumInfluence this week-

The Bottom (Under The Flood, The Witness, 2006)


Monday, January 26, 2009

The Usefulness of What Is Not

Hi, I’m Hells, and I over write.  Fortunately I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here. I think there are a lot of over writers out there. We fear empty space. We fear not explaining our characters enough, making them lovable enough to our readers. We all want our characters to be loved as much as we love them; and sometimes I think we over compensate trying to “sell” them to the reader by over writing. It’s not the worse writing sin in The 10 Commandments, but it probably ranks as one of the top ten. (The Golden Rule Commandment being, of course, don’t bore your reader.)


Now we all have our own specialties in writing. I know when you write, you have strengths. Maybe you’re great with description or setting (like Teresa Medeiros) or sexual tension (like Lisa Kleypas) or bad sex that leads to great sex (like Eloisa James—doesn’t that fried chicken scene in Your Wicked Ways crack you up?) Me, I like dialogue. Banter and wit is my idea of foreplay in real life as well as the written word. If I’m writing a scene and completely blowing character, plot, and description and setting, I try to get a conversation going just so I rebuild my writer’s self-esteem before it shreds entirely.


However, dialogue is not exactly the meat and potatoes of the story. It’s more like the frosting. It’s fun; it’s flavorful; and for many, it’s their favorite part, but it’s probably the nutritional equivalent of ho-ho’s. Possibly it’s most important value is how it paces a novel. Dialogue is quick and feels like action even when the characters are sitting in a coffee shop. Because talking is an action; and action is good.


However, consider the other part of dialogue: what isn’t said.


We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;

But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.

We turn clay to make a vessel;

But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.

We pierce doors and windows to make a house;

And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.

Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.


--Tao Te Ching, Chap 11, tr. Waley.


So if witty banter is not your forte, remember that’s not necessarily the important part of dialogue. Think about every Black Moment you’ve ever read. It’s all the things your hero didn’t tell the heroine until it was too late that is revealed in the Black Moment. Like he loved her. Or oops, it was her he wanted to marry all along, not that hussy he’d been engaged to for the last 300 pages. Or he was a jerk, but he didn’t know how to apologize for it because who is good at apologizing? No one, exactly. We hold our cards to our chest just as closely as we play them. It’s human nature not to reveal too much because, frankly, there are things we just won’t even admit to ourselves. That empty dialogue reveals just as much character as anything spoken aloud.


What about you? Do you think dialogue is a meat-and-potatoes sort of aspect of writing, or do you too think it’s more frosting? Who are your go-to authors for the best banter and dialogue? Does anyone else watch TV shows for dialogue tips? (I get some of my best dialogue and “plotting” (braiding) tips from watching re-runs of Friends.)  If so, which shows do you enjoy watching for this?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Accidental Collection

I've never considered myself an addictive personality.  I'm a creature of habit, but I have no problem with change and don't have much trouble giving things up.  I've even managed to give up chocolate before.  Not permanently as I have no desire to bring about the end of the world, but still, I've been on the Hershey wagon once or twice.  I'd still be on there if my co-worker hadn't given me that bag of Dove chocolates for Christmas.


Some people collect things.  John Wayne plates (my sister needs an intervention), figurines (who in the hell wants to dust that much?), or maybe Harry Potter memorabilia (not naming names here).  To me, collections are just stuff that take up space.  They usually have to be moved or cleaned or stored, all of which requires time and energy.  Two things I have very little of.


But if you ever see the inside of my house…errr…cabin, you'll probably notice that I do have a collection.  Books.  I remember when my collection consisted of five Judith McNaught books only took up one corner of my little nightstand.  That was six bookshelves (and more years than I care to mention) ago and I'm seriously considering buying another shelf.  Mostly because of the trip I made to the used book store (UBS) this weekend. 


I never meant to actually buy more books.  At least not regular Romances.  I had a large bag of books to trade and after buying some YA for the daughter of a (former…long story) friend of mine, I was just going to carry the credit.  I started with $20 credit and ended up paying the credit plus $30 for the very large bag of books now sitting on my dining room floor.  Because, uhm, there's no place to put them on the current bookshelves.


There's something about a book that I can't resist.  The chance to be somewhere else.  To be someone else.  To say things I'd never have the nerve to say or take a risk I'd never have the courage to take.  But most of all, the chance to fall in love over and over again.  That's why I read them and that's why I want to write them.  And that's why Romances will never go out of style.


Why do you read them?  Why do you write them?  Where are some of the favorite places books have taken you?  And if you're a writer, how do you decide where you're going to take your readers?
Thursday, January 22, 2009

Code? Where's My Decoder Ring?


* 2nd Chance hauls self out of the watery deep onto the deck, water dripping liberally from her clothes. She shivers and glares at the gathering crew “You have any idea of the water temp of Monterey Bay right now? 51 degrees!”

 - Marnee - “Why is she wet?”

- Terri - “It’s a bit early for swimming…”

- Lisa, - “Chance, you want a towel?”

- 2nd stares at the rest of them - “Wait! I thought I had to go through the initiation swim afore I could start me blog!”

- Cap’n Hellion snorts - “That would be a first!”

- 2nd turns her ire on Sin - “You sneaky, nasty, ninja loving offspring of a sea slug!”

- Sin snickers - “I love ‘em when they’re so gullible…”

* 2nd excuses self, goes below and rings out wet clothing on Sin’s hammock, then returns, rolls out her rum barrel, climbs to the top and begins…

 Appropriate beginning to my topic of the day…the newbie experience. I may look all weather-beaten and experienced. I may sound a learned veteran of the writer’s life. But I’m not. Despite the library of books I’ve read (most forgotten in my life-change memory sinkhole) I am new to writing. I began three years ago and only after my daring dance with death did I step up to the challenge of looking for publishers…or take myself seriously as a writer.

 My first challenge came at the Romantic Times Convention, Pittsburgh. I signed up for the beginning writer’s workshop; I joined the corresponding yahoo group and chatted. I read the RT bulletin board. I flew to Pittsburgh. I made friends, I learned a lot. I came home completely overwhelmed and half-way convinced this wasn’t something I was going to be able to accomplish… (Got over that, but there were some dark days 'fore I shook meself free of the gloominess.)

 I surfaced, scoured the magazines, lurked online…and found the language everyone spoke was about as foreign to me as the heavily laden name badges I found so intimidating at RT! (What does all that jewelry signify? Do they know if they fell of the ship, they’d sink like a rock?) The shorthand, the acronyms… PAN? PRO? H/H? HEA?

 Got worse when I went to the big RWA conference in San Francisco. Talk about intimidation and feeling like an imposter! What the hell was I doing here?

 My head spun. I e-mailed Judi McCoy, who led the beginning workshop in Pittsburgh… “I missed the initiation somewhere, didn’t I? When they handed out the code book…the secret decoder ring? What does it all mean?” She cackled. Re-e-e-al helpful.

 I’m still floundering. But I’m planning…building my own code book of all these secret, enigmatic phrases I hear. I’m sneakin’ a camera to RT, Orlando, and takin’ pics of all those bits of glitter on the badges. I want to know! I got me a cohort. We be determined! (Yes, I could ask. But that is scarier than hell when you’re a fragile newbie…though maybe at Orlando I be braver…)

 So the question/topic of the day… Share your newbie stories and maybe, somewhere, we can figure this all out. And expose the sacred rites of the romance grand-poobahs… Where do they meet? What do they wear during their arcane midnight rituals? What are they drinking? Anyone else find themselves feeling like an imposter? Is there a book of guidelines? If so, share!


Meet the Loader: subtitled, Please don't frighten the newbie!

Congratulate our brilliance! We have added to our crew (and not just half-clothed hotties who fetch us drinks...though, well, perhaps they too ARE half-clothed hotties now that I look at them...)--and we would love you to welcome our two newest bloggers: Loader 2nd Chance and Coxswain Haleigh!

Get it, because 2nd Chance makes all our frou-frou drinks and gets us "loaded"...she's...never mind. We might tweak her title if we find something else that fits more perfectly.

Hal is our new Cox. Yes, you got it. We gave her that title just so we could say that. But you have to admit it's perfect.

2nd Chance will doing her debut blog Friday, January 23--please make her feel welcome. She and Lisa will be alternating Fridays. And this February and March, Hal will be alternating blogs with the Bosun on Mondays.

Unfortunately there is no one to alternate Tuesdays with me yet so you're stuck with updates about how soon the next Harry Potter movie is coming to theaters. 175 days, folks. 175 DAYS.

Happy Friday and thanks for being such a great readership!
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Plot Ain’t Everything

I’ve spent the last month plotting.  I plotted a contemporary about a girl whose husband left her pregnant to go off with one of his band’s groupies.   I paired her up with the guy who grew up with a single mom and who gets it on with anything that moves – except women who have kids.  After that, I’ve been plotting a paranormal.   

But now that my plotting (plodding?) has wound down, I’m starting to think about writing these stories.  And after all this prep work, I’m struck again with the realization that no matter how great my plot is, that’s not everything when it comes to storytelling.

It’s the difference between listening to the teacher taking roll call in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (“Bueller?  Bueller?”) and the teacher in the Dead Poet’s Society (“O Captain my Captain!”).  It’s Professor Binns versus Professor Lupin.   Or the difference between watching the old version of Romeo and Juliet and the one with Leonardo and Claire Danes in it (I love that version).

It’s the reason I could sit and listen to my father tell the same story over and over.   It’s because he was a consummate storyteller.   He knew how to milk his audience, how to keep people listening.

All the details of storytelling are hard.  Painting those characters in a readers mind, pacing the story to keep things interesting, and writing dialogue that sounds convincing is more difficult than setting up a plot.  A plot is decided once, maybe tweaked or adjusted occasionally, but it remains fairly static.  But characterization, pacing, conflict, motivation?  Those things have to be dealt with every single time you’re at the keyboard.  That’s why plotting is helpful, but it doesn’t guarantee a bestseller.   Because a plot can’t guarantee that the story will come alive in every line.

I think it’s still easier than not having one, but I have no desire to open the pantser/plotter debate up today.

Instead, tell me what storytelling element (characterization, setting, pacing, conflict, motivation) etc you think is the hardest to master in writing?  Which do you think you do the best?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Marabou and Glitter

*Sin rummages through a wooden chest and starts throwing things out over her head*


-Ter- “What the hell is she doing?”


-Marn- “I think she’s looking for the glitter.”


-Lis- *puts her hand over her eyes and grimaces* "Or she's looking for the missing part of her skirt. Full moon alert."


*Pirates are snorting with laughter*


-Hellion- *eye roll at the mess* “Maybe she lost Ranger in that mess.”


*Sin shoots Hellion the death stare from over her shoulder* “Don’t go there.”


The pile of junk grew higher and higher until it started to sway in the wind. Lightening cracked over the sky and Sin’s triumphant battle cry echoed over the sea. “Ah-ha! I found it.”


She held it in the air, almost like a scene right out of Lion King. It was solid black. Marabou feathers adorned the edges of wood, silver glitter puff paint on the top spelled out “Sin”. Sin brushed it off and blew on it until all traces of dust were gone.


“This,” Sin said, strutting away from the pile of junk in the middle of the top deck. “I’ve been looking for this everywhere. I can’t have a proper soapbox rant without my soapbox.”


I don’t need a microphone for what I’m about to say. In fact, if you’re past the point of listening to soapboxes, you might want to skip to the bold print below. It’s about to get ugly ‘round here.


I am a faithful reader. I have been since I was old enough to learn what I liked and disliked about books. The first time I realized I loved romance novels, it was an accident. Purely accidently. The historical was mixed in with the pre-teen books. I fell in love with the cover art of a castle on the cliff, a girl with black hair and gorgeous blue eyes being swept away into the sea. I picked it up and snuck it home. I poured over the pages of that book. The second time I got my hands on a romance novel, it was a contemporary (I didn’t know it at the time) and it bored the living socks off me. The difference between the two books was the writing. The author. The amount of feeling and passion and emotion put into the words behind every sentence.


I’m drawn to books that pull me in and make me feel like I’m there. Does that make me crazy? Maybe, but the jury’s been out on that a long time now.


Lately I find myself falling off the bandwagon of faithful readership. Why you might ask? Well, I love authors. I realize the more I meet regardless if it’s in person or through email or interaction online that they are people too. They are just like you, the reader, even though they are the author. They know how to appreciate their readers because they treat them HOW they’d want to be treated if the role was reversed. But it only takes one author to ruin the whole apple cart. One author to act like an ass and pretend like it’s okay to offend her readers because her readership is so vast, who cares if it upsets someone or a group of people who read her books.


I am NOT crazy. I’m offended that you, the author of the series about a character you created and the readers who happen to love this character you’ve created, deems them crazy. That seems a little redundant to me. Shouldn’t you be thrilled that you have readers who love anything you create?


Maybe that’s the problem. Yup, I’ve hit the nail on the head.


Now, I’m not going to name names. Trust me, I want to in the worst way. This author has been on my $*#T list for the past two years now. It’s okay to flaunt that you think you’re readers will pick up and read anything you put out. It’s okay to not give a flying @u*k about story integrity.  Where is the loyalty to your readers! The people who put money in your pocket and keep you an author! That’s right! An author !! That’s why you started writing in the first place, wasn’t it?! Have you forgotten already that it takes readers to keep you being an author? And if you don’t want it anymore- STOP writing.


I know I’ve stopped buying.


At this point, there is nothing this author can do to make me want to buy or read another one of her books. She has pushed me so far past my tolerance line that all I do now is hope and pray that other readers will eventually come to the conclusion she just doesn’t give a $*#T anymore.


And I don’t either. I’m done.


*Sin saunters over to her wooden chest and places the soapbox neatly at the bottom. Then quietly closes the top, leaving the rest of the crap out*


We’re not going to name names today. In fact, I’ve probably manage to offend tons of people with this blog. I can’t say I’m sorry.  I want to know what you think about authors. Have you ever met an author (online or in person) who seemed very dismissive and it killed your desire to read their books?  Any really great author/reader stories to share today?


Remember NO NAMES!

Influenced by this week:  I don't give a f**k, Lil Jon and the Eastside Boys- Kings of Crunk





Yes, We Can!

Boy, oh, boy, am I glad Obama is being sworn in today. I’m so ready to have another bleeding-heart, liberal democrat leading the free world and pissing the Republicans off. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I think W was the worst president we ever had. I really don’t. I’m just tired of him; as I think most of us are, especially the bleeding heart democrats. I’m ready—and forgive if you’ve heard this one—for some change.


Anyway, a few weeks ago, with the start of the New Year and the rush for resolutions, I wasn’t ready. I was gearing up for my move and my job title reclassification; recommitting to the gym and trying not to eat entire bags of mini-Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. With the New Year, resolutions are so absolute. Black and white. You do them, or you don’t. And you usually don’t, which is why people hate making resolutions. People want to see the results of their newfound commitment right away. Thirty years of eating cake, and you want to drop fifty pounds in one week. Yeah, that happens.


This is why I like Obama’s change, whatever it’s going to be, because he’s already assured us it’s probably going to be at least two years down the road before he can untangle the Gordian knot W has left him. He’s in this for the long haul. There will be days he does his job and there will be absolutely nothing that shows for it, except for some headlines that probably link him with some more corrupt governors or something similar. But he’ll keep at it. He has motive; he has a dream. He does believe the world can be a better place.


So what can a writer learn from Obama?


Well, first, the bleeding heart stuff is not completely without merit. Having empathy for your fellow man makes you a better writer. You can draw more convincing characters, richer, fuller, and clearly motivated characters. Compelling characters are why we read books and watch movies/shows.


Second, you’re going to work hard, but nothing is going to happen overnight. This is the era of technology and microwaves. I can have a hot burrito in less than a minute, but writing and publishing a book—and forgive me if you’ve heard this one—takes a bit longer. I mean, it takes like 5 million burritos. We need to harken back to an era before…well…just before. Think pencils. Think Laura Ingalls Wilder. Instead of thinking your book is like a microwaveable burrito, think of it as a field of wheat. There is a lot of work that goes into a field of wheat; and even once you get the field of wheat, there is a lot more work to getting that wheat to market (separating the wheat from the chaff, the whole bit). And guess what, then you get to do it all again when you’re done! Have you seen what farmers make for all their acres and acres of wheat, all that time they put into it? About the same as writers makes pounding out those pages, editing, critiquing, and ferrying out to editors and agents. We can just do it in air-conditioned surroundings, while eating bags of mini peanut butter cups.


Third, being calm and having a plan is probably going to get you further than just shooting from the hip all the time. I don’t mean a plan for your book. Sin, sit back down; I’m not going to make you storyboard again. Although having a plot and an outline for your book probably will get you further than not having one, many writers get by with just a one-line premise and a couple of unruly characters who won’t leave them the hell alone. But even more important than story outlines, I think, is having a plan to finish your book, to polish and promote it. I don’t know about you, but time is flying by so fast, I am waiting for the sonic boom. Obama only gets to do his gig for sure, for four years. He’s probably already got those four years mapped out. He’s finally got the opportunity to do the job he’s always wanted to do and he’s going to make the most of it in the time allotted him. We should do the same. Not everybody gets to be a writer; make the most of it. Deadlines aren’t always evil things. Sometimes they’re the necessary evil.


There are other things, but I don’t want to come off as Obama’s biggest fan. I mean, we’ve also got: be the change you want to see; be your own biggest supporter; surround yourself with other like-minded professionals; exercise your body and mind so you can work hard at your job; and remember as much as you may love your job, family always comes first. But you know all those things as well. I don’t need to spell them out for you. Besides I need to wind this up so I can start working on my own change. That’s right, I’m gonna become Laura Ingalls Wilder. I still have that dress somewhere, from when I was kid and tried to dress like her. (Gawd, that picture was hideous.)


Happy Inauguration, guys. What are you most looking forward to with this new administration? Anyone else a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan (of the books, TV show, or both)? What else do you think we could learn from Obama…or farmers? How’s the JaNaNo going for everyone? Anyone broken their New Year’s resolutions yet?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Politics of Plotting by Anna Campbell



I’m plotting.


And you know how the captain hates the idea of his crew plotting. In fact, it might be considered mutiny and I could end up having to walk the plank. And I haven’t got a thing to wear for the occasion!


Ahoy, Pirates!!! Great to be back here. I always have a great time with you girls. Rum, mayhem, plundering, Captain Jack, swabbing the decks… Uh, maybe not swabbing the decks! I’ll leave that for someone who draws the short straw after the party is over and I’ve stumbled home to the Bandits lair.


I’d like to know how you come up with plots. This topic is endlessly fascinating (well, at least I find it so!). Are you a plotter or a pantser (awful word and I’m about to suggest an alternative, so hang onto your rum toddies!)? How does an idea arrive in the first place?


I’m often asked where I get my ideas. I say, perfectly honestly, EVERYWHERE! It’s true. Finding possible ideas for stories isn’t the problem – something takes your interest and you say, “What if?”


Sometimes the inspiration for a story is something that’s lain dormant in my brain for years and years (sadly, lots of stuff lies dormant in my brain – there’s a whole school of thought that says my brain is completely dormant but those people are just NASTY!). Sometimes it’s something I’ve read while I’ve been researching another story. Definitely elements of Olivia’s character in TEMPT THE DEVIL came together from all the reading I did about Regency courtesans for CLAIMING THE COURTESAN.


As you’d know, not all the ideas you come up with are viable for a book. Or perhaps they’re viable for a book but they’re not viable for a Regency noir, my current dish of choice. But I’ve learnt that the good stuff sits at the back of my head and attracts other good stuff (although it’s not always obvious how the links will be forged, but they WILL be forged).


Eventually (and the timetable on this seems to be completely in the lap of the writing gods, like so much of the writing process, I find), all of this stews away and I’ll have an opening scene, two characters with a problem, sometimes a villain, and a very, VERY vague idea of where the story might lead me.


Then I start to write.


What happens after that is an organic process (which is much nicer than ‘pantser’, don’t you think?). Scenes grow out of the characters and how they interact and also out of the problem deepening and spreading and causing all sorts of mayhem – which is just what you want on a pirate ship.


If my middle sags (the middle of my book, that is. Sadly my REAL middle needs scaffolding to avoid sagging), I go back to that original idea for the problem. Or maybe it’s that I’ve stopped listening to the characters – they almost always know where they want to go next.


A technique I’ve found really useful when I’m stuck in those mid-ocean doldrums is to re-read the whole manuscript. The subconscious is an odd beast. It almost always gives hints in earlier chapters for where the story needs to go.


Needless to say, this is a messy process but I speak from experience when I say you do end up with something you can work with at the end of it.


Anyway, what’s your process? Do you have a single process or does it change with every manuscript? Let’s get together and plot! And one lucky plotter will win a copy of my latest release TEMPT THE DEVIL!

Special note - if you click on Anna's lovely picture up there, it will take you to her website (it's so beautiful!) and if you click on this killer cover right here, it'll take you to Barnes & Noble so you can order the book.
Thursday, January 15, 2009

Book Reviews

There is nothing like the anticipation of reading a long awaited book. The first time you see the book displayed on the shelf you can’t reach for it fast enough. You experience a feeling of satisfaction as you stand in the check out line and hold it in your hand like a treasured prize. Sometimes you even read the first chapter in the store because you can’t wait until you’re home, or maybe you flip to the back and read the last page, because that’s your reading conscience. After you finish the book, you have an overwhelming urge to discuss it with other readers. You call a friend on the phone or find a message board with readers who share your obsession. Maybe you write a review of the book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe I’m not describing your reading methods at all, but somehow you can understand the desire to read a great book, and then discuss or recommend it to a friend.



What I always find amazing about book discussions is the difference of perception between readers.  How one reader can interpret a situation or character in a totally different light than another reader. It is all about personal perception. A reader reviews flaws in a book in the same manner they would in a meal or a movie. It’s all subjective. I admit I have chosen not to read a book from another reader’s perceptions, but it is always someone who shares my same reading tastes.


I follow a couple of book series written by different authors. I follow the perceptions of different fans of both series and find the conflicting interests over different characters interesting. Fans can become very argumentative over heroes and presumed endings in a book series. I’ve watched it play out on message boards and book groups, and even on book review sites. I’ve also seen legitimate complaints concerning flaws in the author’s writing. Many of the complaints are about discrepancies in different characters and storylines from one book to another. In this particular series the author’s mistakes have continued over several books.



 As a writer, wouldn’t reader perception be a guide to what the majority of readers want, or are they too subjective to use as an influence on writing style? A writer is in control of characters and their destinies. The intention of the author may differ entirely from the way the story is perceived by the reader, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t written well or in some instances written with flaws.



I would love to poll a group of published authors and ask how often they read reviews on sites such as Amazon or Powell’s. I would ask how often, if any, do they change something in their writing process based on reader reviews.



When you become a published author, or if you are already published, will you, or have you, been influenced by reader reviews? Do you view changing your writing process, based on reviews, as releasing partial literary control to the reader? Does reader reviews ever influence your book selection when purchasing a new book?


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Drama for the Drama Intolerant

I’m sort of a low drama kind of girl.  I don’t have the time for it and I don’t have the energy for it anymore.

Though I’ve been like that most of my life.  I wasn’t the girl who fought with people in public, I hated girly controversy, and my boyfriends usually broke up with me (with one exception) because I didn’t want the leftover guilt of hurting someone else’s feelings.  So, even if I knew the relationship wasn’t working or was just plain tanking, I’d find myself waiting it out.  Maybe it was optimism (hey it could have gotten better) or maybe it was avoidance, I don’t know. 

In some ways, this is a good thing.  It’s made me the sort of mom who doesn’t tolerate tantrums.  (Scenes from my house:  “I know it’s hard being two and it’s hard being you but you need to get over it in one minute or you’re sitting in time-out until you’re done.”)  I hate fights with my husband so we’ve come a really long way in compromise and learning appropriate fight tactics (“when you do X, I feel Y” rinse, repeat). 

In a bad way, I’ve lost a few friendships when I might have been able to save them if I’d just tackled confronting the other person.  However, I think that if a girl friendship regresses too far into competitiveness or pettiness, sometimes the best thing to do is just step away for a while. 

But the worst way is that I have a hard time getting my characters to fight.  I see it already with my new WIP.  I need them to get mean to each other and my stupid internal diplomat is like, “awh, don’t fight guys.  Surely we can find some common ground.”  It’s like I’ve got Gandhi or Nelson Mandela living in my head.  Gah, annoying.

When I write their fight scenes, I’m always trying to insert understanding for the other’s point of view.  Like if my hero’s using my heroine, I’m hitting delete over passages where she sympathizes with his motives. 

Because when passionate people in good drama are hurt and mad, they don’t sympathize with the other’s motives.  At least not right away.  They flare up; they say mean things and lash out.  They’re not thinking about playing clean-up crew in the middle of it.  They’re not trying to be understanding and diffuse the drama, they’re thinking about winning or at least about making the other one hurt as bad as they do.

I’ve found the best way for me to shut Gandhi up in my new story is to try to stay out of it, like I would in real life.  I’ve had to physically sit, close my eyes, and watch the scene play out in my head, then just write it down like I’m a spectator.  This way, it feeds on my natural desire to not get involved.   Granted, I try not to do this when others are around because if my hubby didn’t already think I was nuts nattering on all the time about fake people who don't listen to what I say, I’d imagine he would have me committed if I started meditating over them. 

But it’s worked so far in my new story, I think.  And it’s given my writing a new vibrancy because I can mess with the senses a little better after the scene is over instead of letting the scene just come off my fingers onto the page.

Are you the sort who takes on drama head first or do you prefer to watch from the sidelines like me?  How do you write the high drama scenes in your story?  Or at least do you have any suggestions for adding high drama you could give to help a drama intolerant such as myself?


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Take It Back

This is for you.

Influence this week-

Dylate- Etched in Red Band: Etched in Red   CD: Dylate  Song: Infallable


I don’t do resolutions.


In fact, right at this very moment, I can hear Hellion in the background yelling, “Anarchist!”


That isn’t the reason. I don’t do resolutions because they are the norm every New Year. No, I don’t do resolutions because I hate things that are broken with little to no effort. Not many people keep their resolutions. They are made, swept under the rug and forgotten halfway through January and not thought about again until mid-year. Then you give it another go, only to find that it’s summer and too much other stuff is going on to focus solely on the one thing you want to do the most. So you hide in underneath the bed with the killer dust bunnies until you wake up one day before Christmas and say to yourself, “WTF! It’s almost Christmas? Where did the year go!”


I’ll tell you where it went- it sped by without giving you a second glance.


That bastard.


I really worked hard too. He could’ve at least glance at my cleavage.


We’ve talked about setting goals already this year. I hate to even do these. I set a goal and I don’t reach it. I give myself another month to get there and I only fall further behind. It’s as though I slipped off the edge of the cliff and the tree root I’m clinging to is slowly slipping out of my grasp. I keep looking up, rocks hit me in the face, dirt grinding in my eyes and I’m waiting for a shadow to save me.


Sometimes you just have to give up on the shadow and save yourself.


I do three things every year. I do better than the year before. I learn one new thing and apply it in some way to my life. And, I share something of my own with someone else. Usually this doesn’t happen all at once. Last year, I went to the gym more. I learned kickboxing and used it to control my outbursts. But the last one fell out of my grasp.


So I have a new thing this year.


It is no secret that I’m a fan of Biggest Loser. This season of Biggest Loser, two former models were added to the roster. My favorite is Tara. There is energy around Tara. She’s got the willpower to change her life. She knows she can do this; she won't have it any other way. She's got the mindset to pull it all off and I LOVE that about her. One episode in and people are tired and whining and she's smiling as Jillian is kicking her ass. This girl is special.


I'm afriad people will just blow her off just because she's been typed as the "former model".


"Oh well, she had it before, I can't feel sorry for her."


People always believe that models don't really have to work It shows you everyone is human. Everyone makes mistakes and sometimes we lose our way when we try to overcome them and the mistakes seem to snowball.


I want her to do this. I need her to do this to make me believe it can be done. There isn’t another person before her on that show that I’ve wanted to win back her life. It’s so hard to lose something and know what it’s like to have it. When it’s just out of your grasp and you can’t see to find your way back to it. You fall further and further away from it, not only can you not reaffirm your grasp on the root holding you, there is nothing pushing you but old memories.


And old memories only get you into trouble. It’s true in every life.


So, this year my new mantra to share is- “I’m taking my life back.”


There is nothing in this year you can’t accomplish. You might feel overwhelmed at the moment, but it will change. New routines are hard to become good habits. One morning when you wake up before dawn, tired, broken, wanting to give up, just think, “I’m taking my life back.” It may not feel like it right away, but you grow and change and evolve. It’s not a quick fix, it is a lifestyle change.


Being a writer is a lifestyle change. You don’t realize it at first. Writing seeps into your veins and slowly infects you until you can’t remember a day when you didn’t think about writing. When I think about writing, I get overwhelmed at the moment. Writing is at the very bottom of my to-do list, but number one in my wants and need. I need to write in order to stay sane. I want to write to tell my story. But when I go to write, all I can hear is the sing-song voice singing, “You’ve got work to do. Neener, neener, neener.”


Well, to-do list, I’m taking my life back. Prepare yourself for a fight.


What’s on the top of your to-do list and what’s at the top of your wants and needs list? Does anyone else feel like no matter what you do, you can’t just get to solid ground? How do you get back to center?