Thursday, February 26, 2009

When the Fog Lifts

A thousand random thoughts travel through my mind at the speed of light.  I tap the keys of my laptop, hoping to capture the one that inspires me. A scenario is waiting behind the next fog bank, a teasing potential for a new WIP.  I see the shadow of a figure step toward me. It stalks me in the mist, whispering the snippets of their existence in my mind…


Characters are as real as you wish to make them. They want, they dream, and they disappoint. As writers we form a shell of existence on the page. We breathe emotion, physical features, and actions into the outer and inter shell of their being. The shell becomes a person with flaws, conflicts, and the desire to love and be loved. Sometimes our characters never expect what we have in store for them, and most of the time they fight us tooth and nail with their own agenda. In each character, male or female, we leave a little part of ourselves behind. We grow, we cry, and we conquer the world with them. And in the end we are better writers for having created them.


We can never dream too high, or work too hard to make a character more real.  We give them lives that possibly parallel with our own, or take us on a path we may desire in another life.  We make them catapult unforeseen circumstances, and emotional hurdles. We place someone in their path that converges on their world, and changes them forever.  We take them through the darkness and back into the light. We give them our best, and hope others see them as we do.


The characters that I remember from favorite authors are memorable for a reason. They spoke the right dialogue, they made me laugh, or they were good even when they were bad. But most of all, they made me want to be a better writer. They made me want to put a pen to paper.


…Finally the fog lifts, and the perfect vision of a man stands before me. His thoughts evade my mind, translating his deepest secrets. He is muscular, dark, and sinfully handsome.  He has the physical strike of a rattler, and the stealth of a ninja warrior. He’s a modern day rake, who thinks women are for one use only.  He could use his physical abilities and business contacts to make a dire situation better, but he doesn’t see it that way. He lives by his own rules, but even they are about to change.


His name is Mitch Black, and he has a story to tell.  

How do your characters present themselves? Do you leave a part of yourself with each of your characters? Who is your favorite literary character, and why? 



Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Nutball Characters, Eccentricity, And The Like

Bo'sun here and I'm ever so excited to introduce the newest member of the Crew.  She's J Perry Stone, aka Scuttlebutt Stone (I just made that up...could change) and we're damn lucky to have her.  She'll be with us the last Thursday of the month.  Scuttlebutt writes Historical Romance and is well known for flashing her ass.  I give you, the Scuttle.


This past weekend, my husband and I spent some “sans kids” time in Key West, Florida.  We ate carpaccio drizzled with truffle oil, drank mojitos stuffed with limes and fresh mint leaves, and watched the sunset in the most southernmost part of these United States. 


We also toured the Hemingway House on Whitehead Street.


Now I’m not much for Hemingway (please don’t yell at me if you are) because I tend to think he writes insipid female characters.  But there was something about touring his home/life in Key West that endeared him to me in a way I’ve never allowed before.  Or maybe it was just Key West in Hemingway’s time?  Either way, what a collection of nutball characters.


Hemingway himself collected six-toed cats because he thought they brought him good luck.  Personally, I think all they did was make him laugh with their furry little hitchhiking thumbs but whatever.  


Tennessee Williams lived there during this time as well and had a lover who bicycled around town towing a bourbon-drinking goat.  Cool.


Joe Russell, a la Sloppy Joe’s fame, once littered the sidewalk with all the urinals in his establishment just because.  Well okay (Hemingway later took one home and made a water fountain out of it for his cats).


Such a wealth of originality is just the sort of stuff I love sinking my teeth into.  My dad is an eccentric, after all.  He’s a choral conductor, has an entirely twisted sense of humor, is a curmudgeon, can fix anything in the world, and laughs at fart jokes.  I ask you, who do you know who reads the score of the St. Matthew Passion for fun then will look up to tell you a fart joke?   By the way, he was also the one who picked out my wedding dress—a gorgeous thing if I do say so—then came home and crawled under my car to fix some greasy part. 


But all this has got me thinking about eccentrics and the writing of them.   What, exactly, is it that truly makes a person/character eccentric?


I’ve come up with a few things.


First, I think one thing all eccentrics have in common is contrasts.  Here’s Hemingway, Mr. Economy of Words… and his 50 six-toed cats.  Here’s Tennessee Williams’ lover towing his goat, which is a rather humane practice it seems, but feeding his goat bourbon.   Here’s my dad, who, the first time he ever went skiing, headed down the hill in a straight line, bat outta hell-fashion.  He was considered the bad boy of his day.  My mom said the girls sighed when they saw ice on his eyebrows at the bottom of the hill.  This is also the same man who spent hours saving baby chicks trapped in the dam near my school when I was little.  Tore his arm up to a bloody stump.  Did all this while my sister and I stood on the banks of the pond, bawling our heads off and praying the chicks wouldn’t die.


See?  Contrasts. 


I think the other thing eccentrics have in common is that they aren’t actually aware they are eccentrics.  A person who sets out to act weird is just self-conscious and annoying—like the ding dong girl at the rockin' party who sits in the middle of it pretending to meditate.  Oy and true story (ask my sister).  But an eccentric is just deliciously nutball. They don’t know they are eccentric because they don’t particularly care what you think of them in the first place.   You gotta love a person who doesn’t give a damn what others think of him.  That leaves out politicians and movie stars.  Notice I didn’t say actors, just movie stars.   To call Orson Welles a movie star is to deny his eccentricity, I think.  Matthew McConaughey is a movie star.  Orson Welles wrote, directed and acted in Citizen Kane, for God's sake, and was a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.


Some other eccentric characteristics are creativity, genius, and sometimes instability (not my dad).  Think Howard Hughes.  Albert Einstein even.   


So how about you? What’s your definition of eccentric? Do you have any in your family? Do you write them?  Have you read any good ones lately?  Please, regale us with weirdness. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Miranda Neville Hijacks the Ship!

First and foremost I must wish the Captain a wondermous and happiest birthday today. Happy birthday Hellion. May the hotties be hot and the rum be plentiful.


Miranda Neville   'ello wenches and pirates. It's me (in case you've started to miss the sound of my voice or something) here with the wonderful debut author Miranda Neville. Her book Never Resist Temptation, set in Regency England, released yesterday, February 24, 2009 from Avon books. Run out to your nearest bookstore and pick it up today, if you haven't already got a copy. And if so, get another and give it to someone.

So without further ado, give a warm welcome to Miranda.


Aagh, me ‘earties, thanks for inviting me on board. My gal Jacobin's just who you cutthroats need in your galley. She'll toss your scurvy seacook out of the porthole, grab Cap'n Hellion's bottle of rum, and turn it into a Run Baba sooner than you can say "couteau." And if you're really good she'll bring her hottie, aka Anthony, Earl of Storrington (unless he's all tied up.)

Can I drop the pirate lingo now? I like pirates as much as the next girl but NEVER RESIST TEMPTATION Never Resist Temptationplants us squarely in Regency England with not so much as a cutlass in sight. In fact we start out in Regency Ground Zero, the Prince Regent's seaside palace at Brighton (so maybe there's a pirate or two offshore) where Jacobin de Chastelux, daughter of a French aristocrat and niece of an English baron, is working as a pastry cook. Because, despite her background, Jacobin has what we nowadays call a marketable skill. She learned to cook from her uncle's incredibly handsome chef (who isn't the hero).

Just as well, because Jacobin is on her own. First her horrible uncle lost her in a card game to the evil Earl of Storrington, then she's suspected of trying to poison Uncle Candover. The good news is she's been offered another job. The bad news: her new employer is none other than the dastardly Earl.

Turns out the Earl (Anthony) isn't the disgusting old rake she'd envisioned. When he visits her in the kitchen the heat gets turned up to high and it isn't just in the oven. But Anthony has issues and his own motives for using her. Plus there's that little matter of a murder charge hanging over her. You'll have to read the book to discover how Jacobin and Anthony resolve their differences, track down the real murderer and learn to appreciate whipped cream.

I had a lot of fun with the food in the book and I use authentic recipes from the cookbooks of Antonin Carême, history's first "celebrity chef." He worked for French monarchs, the Tzar of Russia and, for a short time, the Prince Regent. Reading about him was the catalyst that made me decide to write a romance with a culinary background.

I know one of you villains is writing about a contemporary chef. Let's face it, there's something very sexy about food. How do you use food in your writing? Can you think of any romances with good eating scenes? The best answer wins a prize. (Hint: it involves chocolate)
Monday, February 23, 2009

Birthday Girl Goes People Watching

My birthday is tomorrow; and as with birthdays, everyone uses these things as a reason to eat and celebrate. It’s not a landmark birthday (still got a few years before the next landmark), but being I’ve managed to make it another year without deleting myself from the Darwinian gene pool with any massive feats of stupidity, I guess that’s as good a reason to celebrate as any.


Today though is Mardi Gras, which is all about the stupidity. Well, not really, but being some of the most incriminating and stupid photos of me feature this holiday, I could make a good argument. It’s apparently the one time of year I like to imitate a drunk sorority girl. However, this year I have no intention of showing my naked boobs to complete strangers. Not that the ta-tas aren’t looking good. I’ve been doing the chest track during BodyPump religiously. They’re perky for their age, thank you. No, it’s just I plan to have a low-key night of crawfish and raw oysters, beer and laughs. Nothing crazy; and definitely no, “Hey driver, drive these” re-enactments. Not even for purposes of quoting Talladega Nights in public for the hilarity of it. Just a birthday’s eve of non-nude festivities to ring in the New Year of Hellion, and then a whole day to myself.


My writing assignment for my birthday is to do that “Live your life” rule where you can’t write anything if you’re not doing stuff that can be written about. And you can find a lot of freaky stuff to write about on Mardi Gras. I mean, I’m not the only person going around, imitating Talladega Nights. And though I loathe crowded places, I don’t mind it if I’m with Holly because she won’t let the rude, crazy people spill too much beer on me. She’s a good mentor for a reluctant hero. She loves to point out crazy people for us to mock. I’m going to observe; I’m going to have fun; and I’m going to play the “What if” game as I drink—because the answers get a lot funnier after about three beers. Like, “What if you didn’t shoot Ben? What if you cut his brake lines and drove his car off a cliff?” Though I have to say, none of us were drunk when this suggestion was made.


I had to reiterate that I have no desire to be the next Nicholas Sparks.


So, what are you favorite “live your life” things to do? Have you recently written anything that was directly from a conversation or situation in real life? Anyone else going to party it up tonight and eat raw oysters? Sin, you gotta come by and do the Talladega Nights bit….

Sunday, February 22, 2009


If you checked out the Hottie blog yesterday, you may have noticed I said we have several reasons to celebrate this week and then only named two.  I left one major reason out in order to keep today a surprise.  Today we are celebrating THE CAPTAIN’S BIRTHDAY!!!


Her official birthday is Wednesday, but as things often go around here, we kind of forgot (*cough*Sin forgot*cough*) and scheduled a guest blogger.  Not that we aren’t uber-excited to welcome new author Miranda Neville to the ship, but we couldn’t let the Captain’s birthday go without a party.  Come on, she’s the freaking Captain.  We have to celebrate.


So today is all about the Captain.  The Hellish one, herself.  We have rivers of rum, a plethora of pirates, and hammocks full of Hotties.  Of course, we couldn’t throw this party without Hellion’s inspiration and partner in crime, Jack Sparrow.  I had to keep him loaded up on extra rations of rum just so he wouldn’t spoil the surprise.  She has this way of making him talk.  Right after she makes it so he can’t talk.


I also invited Ms. Rowling, but she couldn’t fit us into her schedule.  So she sent Harry instead.  If anyone wants to whine about the movie release date being pushed back or beg for some tidbit about how much of the last book will make it onscreen, see Daniel in the corner.  


Throw in some roaming eye candy, tie a bungee cord to the Crow’s Nest (who’s first?!), and spin some AC/DC and Def Leppard music and this party is under way.  What is your favorite Hellion blog?  Is there one bit of brilliance that stands out from the rest for you?  Or is it too hard to pin down only one?  Today is Captain Hellie Day.  Bring on the HooHas!!!

PS: 2nd Chance wanted to offer up a present of her own, so here she is presenting a lovely little passel of Hotties all ready to go.  Isn't she the cutest thing?!  Who wants to unwrap the presents?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dastardly Deeds Done with Deliberation

 * - Captain Hellion surveys the main deck of the Revenge. Off to one side stands the ramshackle bar 2nd Chance mans when she’s aboard. At one side stands Sin, the monkey lounging at her shoulder. Chance and Sin are huddled together, as if contemplating some deep dark plan. Terrio wanders near, fills up her tankard, listens in a moment, then shudders and moves away. Hel waves her to wheel.


* - “What they up to, Ter?” The Captain asks the gunner. “Looks ominous…”


* - “Oh, it’s wicked! They are comparing dastardly deeds done to main characters.” Terrio shakes her head.


* - “Ones they wrote or read?” Hel takes Terrio’s tankard and empties it. Terrio is too shaken to object.


* - “Both!” Terrio sniffs, wanting more drink but not wanting to approach the bar again.


* - A moment later shouting begins on the deck as Sin yells, “That’s nothing! I done worse!”


* - Chance bellows a reply, “Ya lily livered ninja lover, yer a flat faced liar, ya are! I done the most despicable thing…”


* - The two begin to circle, Sin reaching for her throwing stars. Chance draws her cutlass, preparing to block the nasty little throwers.


* - “Stow them weapons!” Hellion shouts out, jumping to the main deck. Marnee and Lisa come running at the commotion. “I just had the Sunday hottie swab the deck, and we be low on shamwows!” She turns to Terrio – “Remind me to order more shamows…”


* - The pirates separate the two combatants. At hearing of the controversy, a contest begins. Who can name the darkest dastardly deed, done deliberately.


Ahem. Yes I’ve done the dastardly deed again and again in my writing. I’ve taken worlds and shattered them with merciless deliberation. I may not have the finesse to do all this with emotions and subtle weapons, but I yield my big hammer with deadliness.


Not sure what it is about the fascination a good disaster. (Good disaster?) Well, a bad disaster holds for me. From a rough capture and…dare I say it…yes, I will. A rape…yes. Well…ahem…it challenges my characters to show more character (sorry) than they have before. The potential to prove themselves, to rise above the deed, whether they did it or had it done to them, is pure drama.


After they spend some time twisting in the wind with self doubt and inner turmoil, of course.


I am an action oriented author. I like it in my movies, I like it in the books I read. (Though with television, I like witty dialogue. Go figure!) But watching the world crumble under merciless meteors, rising waters, evil minions…I dig it all. Armageddon? Bring it on!


The opportunities for growth are endless. Least that is my take on the situation. But it has to serve a purpose, done deliberately to move the story along, to give rise to heroic deeds… Hard as it is to subject my characters to it all…


Though, after destroying California in my pirate saga, the rest came easy…


So, me maties…what made ya shiver as ya read, as ya wrote? Did ya chuckle as ya took yer stalwart hero and tortured ‘im? Murdered his children? Scolded his dog? Were it dark in the night when ya rubbed yer palms tagether ta plan the destruction of everyt’ing the heroine ‘olds dear? Why did ya do these terrible things? Did they serve a purpose? What scenes ‘ave ya read that made ya wince in sympathy, shake yer ‘ead, figurin’ this was something they’d never surmount? Any dastardy deed fill ya with anger, no purpose ta it? Let’s ‘ear all the grisly details now!




Wednesday, February 18, 2009


My husband got a Borders’ gift card for Christmas and it sat unused in our kitchen junk drawer for over a month. I can only imagine the collective gasp at that statement. I KNOW! I would dig through there now and again, as I think everyone only digs through their junk drawer when they have to, and I would give it the googly eyes of a teenage girl to her crush across the lunchroom.

Finally, this weekend, I cornered him about it. “Are you planning on using this Borders’ card or not?” And my tone was the same one I use about leftovers in the fridge, full of it’s-going-to-go-bad and don’t-let-it-go-to-waste.

Without even looking up from Sportscenter or whatever was on TV he says, “I just thought you were going to use it.” As if book-related things in our house were mine by default.

I’ve told you he was a smart man.

So, Monday I skipped off to Borders like I won the lottery, not just inherited a 25 dollar gift card from my husband.

I spent two hours at Borders (not only did this man give me the Borders’ card but he also offered to watch the kiddo all day so I could go use it. I KNOW! He’s up for sainthood, I swear.) I bought two books (Witch Fire by Anya Bast and The Nightkeepers by Jessica Andersen, in case you’re interested) and I bought Elizabeth Lyon’s Manuscript Makeover.

I’ve already started reading Elizabeth Lyon’s book and I’m impressed. I’ve read a lot of writing craft books, but I like her approach. I thought I’d share a few tips with you.

Not all at once, people. Relax. I’m just going to hit on things a little at a time as I go. You won’t need to take notes and there won’t be a test. Have some rum.

The first tidbit I got was called riff-writing. According to Elizabeth Lyon, “Riff-writing differs from (‘free’ writing) by being expressly applied to revising a portion of your writing…. It’s very directed. You already have your “art”, your novel or short story. Riff-writing helps you expand your imagination around a particular problem or need – to lengthen a section, to add images, or to develop more characterization.”

The idea is to find a passage in your story that feels like it could use some additional description and then just let yourself go further. Even if you delete a big chunk of it later, maybe you’ll be able to use parts of it too. It’s supposed to help turn off the inner censor, the one that tells us not to “overwrite.”

I thought I’d offer up some of mine and how I expanded…. Disclaimer: I just wrote this yesterday so
it’s rough.

The original version:

The rasp of a key forced her to scurry back, crab-style, to avoid being hit by the opening door.
The sexy Hulk from last night – Nik – stepped inside. His hair was in disarray and he looked like he’d just left his bed. Her mouth went dry and she swallowed as images of him sprawled out horizontal filled her mind. She dropped her gaze from his body and tucked her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them.
“I need to leave,” she told him without preamble, staring at her kneecaps.

The expanded version:
The rasp of a key forced her to scurry back, crab-style, to avoid being hit by the opening door.
The sexy Hulk from last night – Nik – stepped inside. Her eyes followed the line of him, up muscular calves and thighs, past lean hips and waist, and over his flat stomach and wide shoulders.
His hair was in disarray and he looked like he’d just left his bed. Her mouth went dry and she swallowed as images of him sprawled out horizontal filled her mind. Suddenly, the visions she’d seen in his eyes last night replayed for her and her body buzzed with the memory.
His gaze swept the room before it lowered to where she sat on the floor. Heat crept up her throat and washed over her face. She dropped her gaze from his body and tucked her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. She swallowed again.
“I need to leave,” she told him without preamble, staring at her kneecaps.

So, I’m offering this to you. Feel free to riff some of your own stuff here. If you don’t wanna share, what do you think about these kinds of exercises? Do you think this strengthens writing or do you think that a more concise version is best? Do you have a problem with overwriting or do you go the opposite way? How do you get around these problems?
Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Yo Ho, and a Local Book Signing.

Because of my super ninja awesomeness, we're having a special guest today. I'm not one to brag (why is it that I can hear my mother's voice inside my head laughing while saying, "You are a rooster, watch you strut.") but I have the bestest person joining the crew today. I can say this because I've met her in person and she's super fab and really encouraging and a great CP.


Joining me today on the ship is Anne Krist (author of Burning Bridges, and "sister" to Dee S. Knight whose The Fireman and the Ice Queen releases this June). Today's blog is an article Anne wrote as  an ode to local book signings. (I like to call it, "I feel pretty" because she got it stuck in my head.) I'll turn it over to so you can now realize how a real writer keeps you enthralled on a Wednesday.


Take it away, Anne.


Book signings are the joy and the bane of writers. They can be full of fun where readers, friends and family stop and chat whether they buy a book or not, and they can be long-line joyous successes where you sell so many books you go home singing I Feel Pretty.


Then there is the other kind of signing event, the lonely kind, sometimes more familiar to authors who aren't really well-known. You can imagine what I mean if you haven't experienced it yourself. You sit at a little table not large enough for your signs and goodies and books, smiling at everyone who walks past. Their eyes flash questioning looks; you try to look reassuring, friendly. You say, "Have you read my latest romance?" They move their children to their far side, away from the crazy woman holding up the trade paperback, and hurry them along. Or they hasten by not making eye contact. Or they stand in front of the table, blocking it from everyone else, picking up a book, putting it down. Picking it up, putting it down. Picking it... Until they walk away buying nothing. Grrrr.


I had a signing this past Saturday in the adorable little bookstore in my adorable little town here in Illinois. My day was marginally successful but I do have a few tips and one or two things I'm changing for next time.


Don't bring chocolates. Really. I was surprised but here's the lesson I learned. Women in my adopted hometown do not appreciate one of God's greatest creations. Even their children walked past the basket of Kisses and Dove hearts without a backward glance. Is there something in the water here?? I mean, isn't it un-American to pass up chocolates? It was Valentine's Day, and what else should I have brought as an enticing treat to lure people to the table? After all, flowers are a moment's fleeting pleasure while chocolate is forever. On the hips, at least. Anyway, next book signing, I'm bringing a crudités tray.


Speak to everyone. I think I said something to every child who passed my way and every harried mother, as well as the two elderly gentlemen who looked more like they read Civil War histories than romance. But you never know, right?


Stand and address people. The aisles in my bookstore were too narrow for me to stand in them, but if you can, stand-don't sit-by your table, book poised and at the ready. Greet store patrons when they get close enough and jam your book in their grubby, little hands. Hard. Keep contact until they get the idea they can't just drop it on the table again. Some potential buyers are deviously stubborn in their resistance to buying your book.


Make sure you've met your support team. The manager in my store is a lovely person, but she was tied up almost the whole time I was there. My support system were two wonderful high school students. Before things got busy, we chatted. Afterward, they greeted people with, "Please stop and meet our local author." They also helped with anything I needed.


Invite every single person you know. Everyone. We have a very small family and I don't push my books on them, believe me. But I definitely guilted them into coming to the book signing. Why? Because no one knows if your family buys your books or not, but everyone knows if you sit two hours and not a single person shows up at a book signing. You at least have to have family. Besides, it's times like these when you really see the up side of having relatives close by. Make the most of it.


Have fun. I didn't sell all the books I took and displayed so artfully, but I did have a good time meeting other people in town. And I had my choice of chocolates.  J


Most publishers will tell you that book signings aren't worth the time if you're going for the big sales. That's possibly true. I was part of a book signing a few years ago where a my only customer, a man, hemmed and hawed over Your Desire for so long I finally gave him the book. How humiliating. However, greed and desire to be famous aside, other aspects of book signings make them fun and worthwhile. So much so, I might schedule another one for next Saturday. Or not.


Do you have book signing stories to share? Or questions? Please send them in, or I'll feel all alone, and I had enough of that on Saturday.
Monday, February 16, 2009

Play All Up in Your Box: Yes, Mattycakes, This Title's For You

The day I was brought home from the hospital, much to the surprise and chagrin of my older-generation parents, they belatedly realized they’d neglected to prepare for my immenient arrival and thus did not have a crib. (In their defense, I was supposedly two months early, even though I weighed eight pounds.) I spent my first week in a cardboard box.


But even after I outgrew the box and was given a crib, I never outgrew my fascination for boxes. I’d sit in the smaller ones and “drive”, usually some fast sporty car. I loved to put clothespins on the edges and zoom-zoom. I would play in my box-car all day long. I’m telling you, the X-box generation does not know what it’s missing.


I also loved big refrigerator boxes. And the ones that stoves came in. I would turn these monster cardboard dreams into playhouses and castles. I’d cut out windows—or I’d get mom or dad to do so—and I’d color them. I’d hang my blankets off them for privacy and hide in them. Yes, I learned early there is a lot of stuff you can do with a box if you just look at it for a while and figure out the possibilities inside it.


After awhile, I outgrew boxes and the imagination that comes with having them. I probably discovered boys. That seems most likely. And I never met any really cool ones who wanted to play in my box with me. *droll look* So I moved onto other hobbies. Like watching TV.


Now, I’m not a huge watcher of Sponge Bob Squarepants (though I can sing the words to the theme song and have been known to do this in grocery stores if I walk past the pineapple section. “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Sponge Bob Squarepants!”) Though the few times I’ve caught episodes, it has the sheer stupidity of The Three Stooges with a moral or theme that’s more profound than the Dalai Lama. The absolute best episode I watched featured Sponge Bob receiving his TV by express order. He was so excited—it was a huge TV—and Squidward, the cranky neighbor, wasn’t a bit excited. He never is, but you can’t blame him. If I had a perky neighbor like Sponge Bob, I think I’d have the same look on my face.


Sponge Bob takes out his TV from the box, tosses it aside like so much garbage, and proceeds to crawl into the now-empty box with Patrick. It was the box, you see, that he found to be the most important. Squidward thinks Sponge Bob is a headcase, but since this is not news to anyone, he merely asks Sponge Bob if he can have the TV. Sponge Bob says, “Take it!” Squidward practically skips home with his free dumpster diving prize. He sets it up in his living room; admires the large screen and high-definition; and starts to watch a show. He is interrupted by surround sound noise coming from outside: from Sponge Bob’s empty box. What is going on?


Squidward, being unable to help himself, investigates. He’s hearing gunshots, cowboys, Indians, war whoops. There’s a battle going on. He pulls up the lid to the box, and nothing. Sponge Bob and Patrick blink up at him in innocent confusion, looking exactly like two cartoon characters sitting in a plain cardboard box like a couple of idiots. Squidward even makes himself say, “I thought I heard a fight going on. What are you doing?” And Sponge Bob gladly tells Squidward that he’s using his IMAGINATION. He makes a gesture with his hands like a rainbow. (I only explain that because my friend Holly and I like this episode so much, sometimes we greet each other by quoting this line, complete with gesture and vapid Sponge Bob expression.)


Squidward doesn’t believe in ridiculous things like IMAGINATION. He stomps off in a huff; but the sounds and such continue, and each time he investigates, Sponge Bob gives the IMAGINATION speech. Finally Patrick and Sponge Bob stop playing for the day and go home to go to bed. They leave the box outside; and Squidward, again unable to help himself, crawls in the box to give IMAGINATION a try. He’s very pleased and shocked when he finds out it works. Though unfortunately it’s really a garbage truck carting him off to the city dump—but whatever.


Now I only tell you this story because you’re undoubtedly surrounded by Squidwards. Everyone has a Squidward in their life. Your inner critic is a Squidward; your mother is probably a Squidward; Ms. Yount, my beloved high school teacher, is a Squidward. Most mean well; they’re only trying to keep your dreams lodged in reality, which as you and I know is the last place dreams need or should be. But don’t worry. You’re Sponge Bob. You believe in the cardboard box; and you see all the possibilities in it. You bring the cardboard box to life every day you go and make your mark in it. You have plenty of IMAGINATION.


Squidward will probably point out that cardboard boxes are generic and formulaic…and anybody can make a playhouse out of a cardboard box. Yes, but not everyone sees a playhouse in a cardboard box and therefore creates one. And yes, all playhouses start out with the same structure—that’s not a crime—that’s just structure. Your playhouse is uniquely you, even if it has the same four walls as the playhouse next door, because only you know where the windows go and how many rooms it has. Only you know what color to paint the walls and the curtains to hang. There is a supreme difference between basic structure and formulas even a kindergartener could do. After all, if anyone could truly write one of those formulaic, fill-in-the-blank MadLibs Romance Novels, then anyone would; but the fact remains only a small percentage ever finish writing any novel, formula or literary, because writing is hard. You have to be willing to put your trust in IMAGINATION. You have to be able to see the possibilities inside a cardboard box and turn it into a place somebody else would want to live in.


I bet you guys never thought you could learn anything from Sponge Bob and cardboard boxes, did you?


Okay, question time. Hopefully we all know I meant that although many romance writers use the ‘formula’ of Beauty & the Beast, or Cinderella, or the Ugly Duckling, et al, it’s our creative imprint that makes the structure our own story. What unique imprint do you bring to your cardboard box (i.e. what’s your writing strengths? Your writing voice?)? What cardboard box are you currently playing in? Are you having as much fun as Sponge Bob--or are you being more like Squidward?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Intense Blue Eyes and Crooked Smiles


So as I begin a new manuscript, I am again faced with the task of describing my character's physical appearance, and again, I am finding this to be a daunting task.  I'm stumped.  I have an image in my head for each of them.  I know what their face looks like, their expressions, their mannerisms.  Yet, somehow, this doesn't get transferred to paper.  I end up falling back on clichés I use over and over again, like "intense blue eyes" which really manages to say nothing.  Or smiles that "tilt up a centimeter more on the left than the right."  But how many heroes can I really have with crooked smiles?  Eventually, the smile is going to have to tilt higher on the right just to shake things up a bit.  


A lot of authors handle description of a character's physical appearance extremely well.  Lisa Kleypas, of course, does amazing at this.  But one of my favorite descriptions comes for Toni Morrison, who I usually struggle to read.  In this passage from Beloved, she goes into such great depths about a slave woman's eyes (from the POV of Paul D, as she's telling him about running away):


A face too still for comfort; irises the same color as her skin, which, in that still face, used to make him think of a mask with mercifully punched-out eyes…..Even in that tiny shack, leaning so close to the fire you could smell the heat in her dress, her eyes did not pick up a flicker of light. They were like two wells into which he had trouble gazing. Even punched out they needed to be covered, lidded, marked with some sign to warn folks of what that emptiness held. So he looked instead at the fire while she told him.


The phrase "mercifully punched-out eyes" has stayed with me, literally for years.  Now that is a description of a character, and tells so much more than "intense blue eyes."


So the question is, how do you take someone's face, and all the nuances of expression and features, and put it on paper.  I have no answer to this.  But I thought it might be fun to do an experiment.  Below are pictures I've picked up as possible ideas for characters.  Each of them, to me, has a very specific expression, one which communicates that they're exactly the sort of person my character is.  But how to describe them on paper?


How would you describe this character?  (we'll call her,  above left, Josephine)  What type of assumptions would you make about her character or personality?   



Or how about this charcter?  (and well call her, below right, Molly) What would say or assume differently about her?


Anyone else struggle with this?  Any descriptions of characters that have stuck with you?   Conversely, have you have had an image in your head of a character, and the author keeps ruining it by describing them differently?

Friday, February 13, 2009

For Our Friends

Is it the face of a child
Is it the thrill of danger
Is it the kindness we see in the eyes of a stranger
Is it more than faith
Is it more than hope
Is it waiting for us at the end of our rope

I say, it's love
I say, it's love

Is it the one you call home
Is it the Holy Land
Is it standing right here holding your hand
Is it just like the movies
Is it rice and white lace
Is it the feeling I get when I wake to your face

I say, it's love
I say, it's love

Is it the first summer storm
Is it the colors of fall
Is it having so little
And yet having it all
Is it one in a million
Is it a chance to belong
Is it standing right here singing this song

I say, it's love
I say, it's love

Is it a veil or a cross
Is it the poet's gift
Is it the face that has launched over thousands of ships

Is it making you laugh
Is it letting you cry
Is it where we believe that we go when we die
Is it how you were made
Is it your mother's ghost
Is it the wish that I'm wishing for your life, for your life, for your life the most?


From the song LOVE performed by Sugarland.  Written by Kristian Bush, Jennifer Nettles, and Tim Owen.


For everyone, whatever it is to you, we wish you Love today.  And everyday.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Quotes of Inspiration

I find writing inspiration from as many sources as possible. I read to inspire my muse. I watch movies to foster ideas in my imagination. I listen to conversations to perfect dialogue. I practice writing from prompt exercises. But one of my favorite past times is reading famous writer’s quotes. It’s a great source of inspiration, and influence to read the thoughts of those who share our passion. Today I’m sharing a few of my favorite quotes.  I hope they spark an understanding and a renewed commitment to your work.



If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.

Isaac Asimov

Practice, practice, practice writing. Writing is a craft that requires both talent and acquired skills. You learn by doing, by making mistakes and then seeing where you went wrong.
Jeffrey A. Carver

Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.
Winston Churchill

If there is a special Hell for writers it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works.
John Dos Passos

In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dull and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused."
Ernest Hemingway


Keep in mind that the person to write for is yourself. Tell the story that you most desperately want to read.
Susan Isaacs

I see the notion of talent as quite irrelevant. I see instead perseverance, application, industry, assiduity, will, will, will, desire, desire, desire.
Gordon Lish

Recollection is the only paradise from which we cannot be turned out.
Jean Paul Richter

But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.
Lord Byron

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
Mark Twain

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
William Wordsworth

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.
Robert Frost

If the sex scene doesn't make you want to do it - whatever it is they're doing – it hasn’t been written well.

 Sloan Wilson

Usually, when people get to the end of a chapter, they close the book and go to sleep. I deliberately write my books so when the reader gets to the end of a chapter, he or she must turn one more page. When people tell me I've kept them up all night, I feel like I've succeeded!
Sidney Sheldon

Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor.
H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Never let inexperience get in the way of ambition.
Terry Josephson

I am a part of all I have read. 

 John Kieran 


Share some of your favorite quotes. Where are some unexpected places you’ve found inspiration?  Write an original quote to inspire your fellow writers.






Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My Favorite Storylines

Like so many diehard readers, I could nerd it up meandering through the bookshelves at a bookstore for hours.   Barnes and Noble feeds my obsession.  I get a cup of coffee (Café Mocha) and I start puttering.  I hit most of the racks, though I admit that I mostly skim over the self-help and textbook sections.  The fiction sections are more my cup of tea (or coffee as it were).

Inevitably I end up in the romance section, picking up book after book and reading the back. 

There are certain plotlines that suck me in every time, that get me reading.

I love to read reunion stories.  A story about a guy and girl, separated by circumstance, then brought back together - it gets me every time.   Either they hate each other for some misunderstanding or something got between them, whatever it is they get another chance.  I love second chances.  Paradise by Judith McNaught is a great example of this because she even gives me their backstory. 

I also adore a story where the plain Jane gets the hot guy.  It’s the Cinderella story without the money.  Though maybe there is money too, whatever.  I just love reading about a normal girl who gets the dream, whose wish comes true.   Perfect by Judith McNaught is a great example.  Lover Eternal by JR Ward is another (I heart Rhage).

What storyline completely sucks you in?  Why is it your favorite?  What’s your favorite example of that storyline?  Conversely, are there any storylines that you think are just played out?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I heart Alphas

This was going to be an ode to all things Mattycakes that I love in honor of v-day. I'd launched into this whole story of how v-day had always been for me, even way back as a kid; but Hellion wrote about that yesterday. *laughing* And hers was much better than mine. So I'm going to give a shout out to my favorite type of characters today and what makes me fall in love.


Influence this week- 

City Sleeps  Sleep With Me- City Sleeps - Not an Angel (2008)

Evanescence Origin  Before the Dawn- Evanescence- Pre-release(2001)

Desperate for CompromiseFor You- Desperate for Compromise- Coalescence (2006)



I was wrapped in a cocoon of warmth. Arms like steel pipes held onto me protectively, a chest rose and fell beneath my head and our legs were entangled. Light streamed through the darkened blinds and cast bright beams into my closed eyes. I moved just enough to adjust my hips and the sheet covering them, but his arms tightened and drew me closer.


I couldn't be here when he woke up. I should've been long gone hours ago; but there was something about him I couldn't let go. I looked up at his face. Imagined the look in his eyes last night while he looked down at me. The way his eyes darkened with each gasp, with each touch. I couldn't get it out of my head.


In the quiet confines of this place, he was totally relaxed. The fine lines hugging the corners of his eyes, around the corner of his lips were smoothed. No hard lines pressed into those lips. No clenched jaw. Nothing but silence between us and I couldn't quite stop the non-stop contradictions going on inside my head.


I wanted to feel indifferent- I told myself I was indifferent- but right now, I was anywhere but at indifferent.


My hand slid between his arms and down to his hip. Emotion was dangerous, I told myself. And stupid. And I'd made enough stupid mistakes to recognize another one in the act.  This had gone on long enough. Cut the tie now and get gone. Fast.


I slid my hand away from his hip and melted away from him as easily as I could. Each time his breathing changed, I held my breath as a thief might do in the middle of the night. My dress was ripped, the halter buttons were MIA, the zipper destroyed. I looked around for his dress shirt and slipped it on. It came to mid-thigh, good enough to keep me covered up enough to get to the car. I scooped up the dress and heels and went in search of car keys.


"If you're looking for your keys, they're on the kitchen counter." His voice was hoarse, sleepy, filled with promises he could keep and my heart pounded harder with each second. Don't turn back, I told myself. Don't turn around.


Even though I paused for a second, I held my head high as I padded softly to the counter and sure enough, they were sitting right on the edge. I expected to hear him behind me. Hands sliding up my arms and pulling me back into him. But I didn't. I didn't know whether to be relieved or a little sad.


"You don't have to go." I felt his eyes on me, on the backs of my bare legs and bare feet. "You'll be safe here."


God, I felt anything but safe. Everything I held onto was in turmoil, including my life. And the way I felt about this man, whom on all accounts I shouldn't even trust enough to turn my back on, had me all tore up inside.

I kept my eyes firmly on the solid wood door. In this part of the apartment, the sun had yet to shine her grace down and the only the soft glow coming from the bedroom helped illuminate the room. I squared my shoulders and turned to face him.


"That's where you're wrong."


And it took everything I had to walk out of his life and not look back.




I'm a fan of alphas. I've spoke loud and proud of my love for the alpha male. There is just something about a man who can just pin you with a look that's full of all sorts of wicked promises. Who's more action than words. Who's so mysterious, so in control that you know as soon as one ounce of that control slips something so powerful and magical happens that you're life is forever changed. It's the forced kiss in the dark alley as the shadows approach you slowly. It's the look in their eyes that tell you so many things you wish you could've said aloud, but can't. It is that constant pull of emotion that keeps you coming back for more.


Alphas are the sort of characters and people who demand attention. They don't tip toe around the situation. They are the situation. They are the answer for every problem. They are the doer. And everyone loves a doer.


Today, my love not only extends to the male alpha, but to the female alpha. The woman who knows what has to be done and does it. No matter what the sacrifice. No matter the cost. She wants what she can't have. She sees everything taken away and still keeps putting one foot in front of her because she's determined to change her fortune. Girl crushes are often formed on the female alpha because she often embodies everything you've ever wanted to represent, everything you've wanted to do.


What happens when a male and female alpha meet? Pure adrenaline. Pure aggression. Pure chemistry.


Alphas won't discuss feelings. In an alphas world, there is no such thing. A woman alpha is very aware of her feelings, but finds some way to squash down to the point it no longer matters if that's what she wants. It only matters the action to get her to the point of having what she wants. Because the end always justifies the means. Sadie knows what has to be done; what she must do and what has to be sacrificed in order to stop everything put into motion but she longs for the one thing she's never let herself ever have. And that is love.


Anyone care to share their best story of new relationship? (I suppose it is almost v-day (thank goodness I don't have to blog on v-day this year *wiping sweat from brow*) and we could share a good story about the significant other).  In regards to writing, how do you tend to your write your heroines? Or have a girl crush on an alpha female? What sort of mate goes good with an alpha girl?
Monday, February 9, 2009

Panties on a Stick and Other Hazards of Valentine's Day Expectations

I've always been burdened with high expectations.


When I was little, they implemented that policy where students were to bring all the students in the class a card, whether they liked them or not. Politically correct Valentine's. Thus I was the recipient of relunctant valentines like, “You’re a good friend” or “You’re a little special I guess” spoken by lame cartoon characters like Tweety Bird. When I was 7, I didn't notice this trend so much; but by 6th grade, I was so aware of my lack of loveability on the valentine scale. I would stare at my heart's crush's valentine and try to read a seething passion beneath the banality of the "You're sweet" written there.


But everyone knows that "You're sweet" is the kiss of death in Valentine speak. I might as well have been told I had a nice personality.


Things did not improve with age. In high school, the height, breadth, and depth of my teenage love and angst, I was madly in love with a player of the basketball team. (The same crush from 6th grade. You couldn't doubt my loyalty.) FFA used to sell Valentine cupcakes for .50 apiece, and you could do it secretly. And what better way to win a guy than through his stomach right? Only I wasn’t the only one with a “secret crush” on Jay-Bird, and by the time Valentine’s had passed, it was a wonder he hadn’t gained twenty pounds. My .50 cupcakes never won him over, as you might have guessed.


My expectations sufficiently dashed in high school—and the 1% left for college, rubbed out in the first year—I have arrived to my thirties with a much lower expectation of the holiday. Actually no expectations. And when I see the decorations rolled out in December, I wear a perpetual sneer until the day passes and I see the candy marked 70% off, which I then buy for myself. I do gain twenty pounds. Now the sneering, negative expectations, and twenty pounds probably contributes to my lack of valentines, I may concede, but honestly, most of my married and dating friends aren’t faring much better.


And quite honestly, I’ve seen men at Christmas shopping, and they’re worse on Valentine’s Day. Women think about Valentine’s Day around December when those damned decorations are rolled out. Men think about it in the gas station line on V-Day, while glancing at the wall calendar and going, “Shit, is it Valentine’s Day today? She’s going to be pissed. Quick, what can I buy her here?” Upon glancing about the store, he arrives at this obvious choice. God help the man I’m dating if he ever hands me one of these nifty little things. Nothing says “Shit, I forgot” like polyester underwear rolled into a ball and stuck on a stick.


Okay, there was that one year I was dating the gay ex-boyfriend; and he went the whole shebang on Valentine’s. I got dinner; flowers, six boxes of chocolate; a present; and a card. I did not get any sex the whole time we dated, though, so I still didn’t enjoy that Valentine’s quite as much as I thought I would. Which goes to prove that there is no pleasing some women.


Kidding. Actually it made me think: I had every trapping of romance I’d been expecting, but I still didn’t feel loved. (I’m going to get a lot of emails about how sex does not mean you’re loved, aren’t I? You know what I mean. There’s just something about having a guy who acts like he constantly wants to take your clothes off that makes you feel, well, a little bit desirable. And less like this woman. And believe me, opening every box of chocolate that day sorta made me feel, “He so doesn’t want to see you naked.”)


I think that’s what it’s all about in the end, isn’t it? It’s not necessarily the romantic gesture—which doesn’t have to be flowers or diamonds or dinner at an overpriced restaurant—but the fact that I feel loved. Desired. Cared about.


A guy who will come and get me at three in the morning and change my flat tire, without fuss—that’s love. That’s a romantic gesture I’m looking for. Anybody can get candy.


A guy who can’t bear to see me cry who makes me laugh again—or better yet, just lets me cry on his shoulder until I’m done, and doesn’t tell me he thinks I’m a complete lunatic because I’m weeping over Budweiser commercials—that’s love. I can buy my own damned flowers.


A guy that greets me at the door when I come home from the gym and treats me to a round of against the wall lovemaking that would make the lovers from The Notebook envious. That’s what I want. You can keep your panties on a stick, Phillips 66, I have the real deal.


Now that I’ve gotten my 800-word rant about Panties on a Stick out of the way and done my public service announcement for all the men out there (“No panties on sticks!”), what the hell does this have to do with writing? Everything. The hot sex in books is great. I’m glad we’ve pushed boundaries; I’m glad of all the hot sex, I am. (Did you read the part above about the gay ex? Okay.) But I find more and more books are cutting to the sex and forgetting the Romantic Gesture. You know, the flat tire one. (Okay, there are lots of wall-lovemaking, but no other gestures.) And I’ve noticed we’ve been jumping into bed with our heroes a lot sooner. I mean, what happened to the good old days when we used to wait 15 years before we gave in? Sexual tension is an awesome thing.


I think one of my favorite Romantic Gestures or “What I Did For Love” moments in a novel was Whisper of Roses. The heroine is injured in a riding accident and can’t walk. She refuses to be a burden to her husband and has her parents take her home, saying mean and nasty things to her husband so he won’t miss her. (Hers is not the Romantic Gesture.) She doesn’t walk; she doesn’t try—and she grows meaner and more bitter, and also more fragile and sad. Her husband comes back into her life and nags the crap out of her. Dumps her out of her wheelchair. Flashes her legs to half of London at a dance party. Torments and teases her. And she ends up walking again. Of course, those two nearly blow it again with a Black Moment that outdoes the “I won’t be a burden to my husband” moment, but my goodness, what a nailbiter. And how romantic! I mean, he helped her get her spirit back, her ability to walk. When I’m sick, I can’t get a man to nuke me a can of chicken soup. But if I did, I’d brag about it.


And I want the same thing in my books. I haven't thought of anything truly brilliant for Adam and Eve yet. But then I haven't written far enough into the book. I suppose Ben’s big gesture (in Girl on the Grecian Urn) is that he steps in front of the bullet. But I was equally fond of the way he’d show up and bring ice cream for no reason; how he’d come again to the apartment even after they fought (didn’t hold a grudge); how he thought all that costume making was probably a little Martha Stewarty, but she was still sexy as hell. And the boy was a talker. He rarely brought gifts, but he was never without that silver tongue of his.


So. Unload here. What are your expectations for this Valentine’s? What are you hoping you’re not getting this year? What are some of your favorite romantic gestures in literature, or best romantic lines? Anything you’ve written in the romantic gesture category you want to share, or real life stories to share?



Sunday, February 8, 2009

Time For The Next Generation

Prepare yourself, I'm about to present a timely blog.


This morning, we get out first official look at the new Kindle 2, the second generation version of the e-book reader everyone is talking about.  The original Kindle was introduced by Amazon in late 2007 and according to information leaked over the internet during the weekend, the Kindle 2 is rumored to be new and improved without a newer and larger price tag.


I've long been in the camp of "I'll never give up my paper books!"  I've downloaded some e-books to my computer, but I've honestly never read any of them to the end.  Which is a horrible confession, but the truth.  I have many friends who have written e-books and I know there's a ton of fantastic stories I'm missing out on.  But having these books basically trapped in my laptop means I never think to open and read them.


There's just something about holding a book in your hand.  The feel, the smell, the texture.  The truth is, the book is pretty perfect just the way it is.  You can get one in any size, they hold up to all kinds of abuse. They stand the test of time and can make us feel better just being there on the nightstand.


Here's the *but*.  Last November, I got the chance to check out e-book readers in person.  I admit, I was fascinated by the Kindle.  It felt comfortable in my hand, was easy to use, and even easy to read.  I don’t know the details of the technology behind this thing, but it's impressive as hell.  And I'm considering buying one. 


According to Amazon, there are something like 150,000 titles available.  The perks are many.  I don't need a computer to buy and download books, I can store my own files, earmark any page I like, and even highlight or makes notes as I go. And there's the added bonus that if anything happens to my files, my books are backed up on Amazon so I can just go back and get them.  It's small, simple, and completely mobile. 


I don't like the idea that I can't get my books from anyone but Amazon.  I'm not big on monopolies.  But I had the same concerns about the iPod, until I got one.  Now I can't imagine living without it.  I wonder if I'd feel the same if I had a Kindle.


The big question of the day.  What do you think of this new fangled thing called the Kindle?  Do you have one?  If not, are you considering it?  Or are you too old school to even think of crossing over to the e-book side?  If you do have one, tell us what you like and don't like about it.