Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Mighty Mast

In honor of May Day and the Everlovin’ Maypole


Wink, wink…nudge, nudge…


*tra la la la la, la la la la, tra la la la la la!


“What is that annoying bit of singing?” Hellion looked up from her morning paper, glaring at the deck.


“Chance is singing something ‘bout the month of May,” Terrio replied. “She’s got our pilot up against the mast, too.”


“That makes sense, the tra la la-ing don’t.” Hellion focused on Chance, ten feet up the main mast, fastening long strands of bright colored ribbons so that they fell to the deck, pooling about the form of Deuce, naked and tied to the mast. “She’s got a naked man at the mast and she’s fussing with ribbon?”


“Said something about a maypole?” Sin loitered in the ratlines. “And dancing, something about dancing.”


The rest of the crew was drawn toward the main deck, wondering what the mad bartender was about…



Time to talk about the mighty mast, fellow crew members and guests. Today be Beltane and the prime holiday ta celebrate the male member. As a writer, I’m always lookin’ fer the right words, the right descriptions, the divine way to speak of a man’s…ahem…mast.


I shocked me mate, Lady Jane, a few weeks back when I revealed the truth. The maypole is a stand in for the prick. And the ladies dancing about the maypole be all ‘bout celebrating that appendage. She were in denial. Jane-o, yer writin’ erotica, face the facts.


When I first snuck aboard the Revenge, we was debating the Glittery Hooha. What be the secret of creating such a magnetic attraction when we write? Why do some disco queens win the glittery ball and some don’t… And is that bit… ah, woman somethin’ ta admire or not? Well, today, we got the partner ta the Hooha. Crew, I present the Maypole!


Deuce understands the importance of a compass when navigatin’ the waters a’ romance, suspense, comedy… He be a pilot, and a fine one at that.


*pant, pant


No matter what ya call it, the compass… I like that, the compass rose and the needle that dances about it. Hmmmm.


Sorry, got distracted there. I also likes the Mighty Mast, the Maypole. I be free wit’ the words I use when writin’ me pirate opus. I be fond a’ prick. And got no argument with cock…


Celebrate Beltane, crew. I be bringin’ out all the special bottles and plan on mixing a counterpart ta the Glittery Hooha. I picked me up a lovely bit a pirate swag over the years and I want ta share. I’m gonna draw a winner from the comments and send a prize yer way. I gots enough swag, I may send off several bits a’ swag.


I know it ain’t about the appendage itself, but the man behind the staff. Jus’ as it ain’t the Glittery Hooha but that woman…I hope it be ‘bout the woman. How does an author create a Mighty Mast and not make the man nothin’ more than a mighty jerk? Any favorites out there? Be fearless, it be Friday, May Day, Beltane. Celebrate the day, dance about the Maypole, figuratively or…


*Glancing at the mast, where the crew be admirin’ Deuce, teasing ‘im with the ribbon. A spell be cast, the dancin’ begins… Merry May, all!






Buying New Furniture


The Gunner household invested in a new sofa and loveseat this past weekend.  It arrives today and I’m really excited.  Our old set was ripping (a lot) and I knew it was time to replace it when a good friend’s one-year-old was pulling stuffing out of a pillow and attempting to eat it.  (Never fear, we did the finger sweep and he’s fine.  Has a bit of an oral fixation that one.  Was chewing on my flip flop yesterday.  Blech.)

But while I’m excited about our new furniture, I was a little nostalgic about the old furniture.  I get like that.  I’m that person who cries over sappy movies and commercials, who saves every manner of memento commemorating any number of things.  The ticket for my husband’s and my first date (a hockey game).  The entrance pass for my son’s first trip to the Philadelphia zoo.  My nametag from the NJ RWA conference, my first one.  I’m the person the family passes sentimental family items to because they know I’ll keep them safe.  I have my grandmother’s engagement ring and my mom’s class ring.  I hang on to stuff and I smile and reminisce. 

So, of course new furniture would make me think about the past, the good times on the couches now littering our front curb like the trash they’ve become.  They were the first sofa/loveseat my husband and I bought together.  They adorned the living room in our first place, a little bitty condo we bought six years ago.  Friends have crashed on them.  Family.  My father who’s now passed on. 

I’m a sap, I know.

But sometimes it’s good to mix things up, to force ourselves to move forward, even for the sentimentalists among us.  It’s good to try something new, to make new memories and forge new paths in our life.  Because sometimes the old has become ratty, worn, and well, food for an orally fixated one-year-old.

I think it’s that way with writing too.  If we aren’t getting the results we need by doing what we’ve always done, sometimes we’ve got to mix it up.  Try something new.  Send the stale to the curb.

Whether that’s a writing habit that isn’t working, a manuscript that hasn’t fulfilled our expectations, or finding new or additional critique partners or readers, sometimes we’ve got to stretch out.  Maybe try a new genre or theme.  Sometimes it’s good to spice up our writing nests a bit. 

I by no means suggest throwing out the old comfy stuff.  Trust this sentimentalist; I am a firm believer in holding on to the things that work, that we care about.  But there’s always room for exploration, for trying something new, to adding new weapons to our arsenal.

What things have you done or are planning to do to spice up your writing life?  Have you found any things in your writing that don’t work, that you have changed?  Any things you couldn’t live without?  Anyone else get sentimental over stuff like me?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Summer On Blossom Street: Or Why You Should Take Up Knitting

I have a confession to make: I cannot knit. If you give me a pair of sticks, I’ll probably try to grill meat with them.

But I admire those who can wield those sharp, pokey sticks with any sort of flair that leads to something remotely wearable. Things non-meat related. However, the fact I cannot knit does not mean that Debbie Macomber’s new book, SUMMER ON BLOSSOM STREET, excludes me in any way. After all, not everyone in the book can knit. The foster teenager, Casey, tries knitting and fails spectacularly, leading her to be uber-grumpy about the whole lesson. I was totally with her on it: knitting is stupid. (Long live grilling.)

But then a few minutes later, under the tutelage of the heroine’s sister Margaret, Casey was crocheting like a pirate takes to rum. And I laughed because I can crochet like no one’s business. It does seem people can do one trick or the other, but not both. It’s almost like being right or left handed.

In any case, there is something about that scene that is so Debbie Macomber. She will never exclude you; and she knows with just the right guidance, you’ll find the right place to thrive. I would hazard a guess that in most of her novels, this is the theme that presides. No one is excluded; and everyone, with the right nurturing, can thrive. After all, if there is anyone who knows about thriving in a business that seems to be exclusive, it’d be Debbie.

I met Debbie Macomber at a writing conference in Chicago, where she was giving a lecture about harvesting for new story ideas. With as many books as she’s produced over the years, she certainly is speaking about something she knows.

However, Debbie is a sly one. She is always looking for ways to expand her audience; and her cleverest way yet is in the series of books she has now, about knitting. At the conference class, she called this strategy “looking for trends.” I call it “being insanely genius in that Law & Order sort of way.” Now when you read Debbie Macomber’s new book, not only do you get a story, weaved (or knitted, if you will) of several characters who interact with each other, but you also get the knitting pattern so you can make the knitting project yourself.

Now, in her newest book, she’s taken this up a notch. This novel hinges around the concept of “Knit to Quit”, which knitters meet together as a support group to work on a project and also work on quitting a bad habit. Mostly this concept was created for smokers, but clever Debbie expanded the idea to all bad habits.

Upon reading this idea in the book, I went “cool idea!” and bought yarn to crochet. After all, it’s difficult to crochet and eat Cheetos at the same time. In fact, it’s impossible unless I tie the bag to my face as a feedbag and crochet at the same time—and frankly, even I have limits. Debbie is onto something with the Knit to Quit thing. It’s not working as effortlessly as I’d like, but it does keep me out of the Cheetos. And Peanut Butter Cups, most of the time.

Not all the characters are as prosaic as me. Here I want to moderate my intake of junk food; but one of the main characters, Phoebe, wants to quit men altogether. (I find this to be even more extreme than the Cheetos feedbag, personally, and would never try it with any real sincerity.) Another wants to quit stress (another thing I could identify with, right down to the doctor’s visit who said, “You need to relax already.”)

If the trendy “Knit to Quit” strategy wasn’t enough, Debbie proves to be ahead of the curve with the “chocolate issue.” One of the knitters, Hutch, is the CEO of a chocolate company, a company that is being sued by a woman who said the chocolate made her fat and it was all their fault. You know, for making it taste so good. I snorted at this, thinking it was only a matter of time before Hershey’s finds itself in litigation for making someone fat. I mean, look at that crazy lawsuit the old lady won from McDonald’s. Of course the coffee is hot! Duh.

And then I saw this article. A chocolate TAX. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. Debbie wasn’t just making up random lawsuits. She was predicting the future! (And God forbid they start fat-taxing our chocolate!)

I’m impressed. Debbie definitely practices what she preaches about writing. Look for trends—and twist them. Write about things you have a passion for, that you know. And while you should always stretch your writer’s pen, you shouldn’t be someone you’re not. Readers will always find you out. In these things, Debbie always delivers—and she always gives a little more as well.

Definitely go check out Debbie’s new book, SUMMER ON BLOSSOM STREET. You don’t have to be a knitter—hell, you don’t even have to be a crocheter. Within a few pages, you’ll find yourself included and engrossed in real problems you’d find on any street in America, and comfortable in the knowledge that Debbie will make it all work out in the end.

What trends (with twists) have you found in books lately? Anything that’s really stood out for you that you thought was clever?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Angie Fox: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Demon Slaying

Hellion: Welcome back to the ship; and I want to take this opportunity to thank you for returning! (You’re hardier than most of our visitors—we admire that about you. Then again, you do write about demons, so probably little scares you. Certainly not a bunch of drunken pirates with the attention span of toddlers. Good!) Okay, okay, first question. How have you been and what have you been up to lately?


Angie: Other than chasing around the towel-holding hunk from Terri’s post yesterday? He’s a fast one. Darn the luck.


Hellion: With as much as the entire crew has been chasing that guy with the towel, you’d think he’d be a bit winded and easier to catch. But no dice. Nothing but prime beefcake on this vessel!


Angie: I'd expect nothing less. Right now, I’m writing book 3 in the Accidental Demon Slayer series, tentatively titled A Tale of Two Demon Slayers. In it, Lizzie and the gang travel to Greece where they learn more about Dimitri’s past and a threat that could destroy them all. I’m having a ball with it because it’s so much fun to explore Dimitri’s home, his family - and who knew he had such a juicy past?


Hellion: Greece is definitely the place to have a juicy past. And we here on the ship do adore men with juicy pasts. And juicy lips. And juicy backsides…well, not really so much juicy as…never mind. Please carry on.


Angie: I also have a story in The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance 2, which comes out on Halloween. And then I’m working on a voodoo novella for this amazing anthology that I’m not allowed to announce yet.


Hellion: Excellent! Great authors should always have something available for us to devour! Speaking of things to devour: you have a new book out today: The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers. What’s it about? And what were your sources for constructing a handbook for Lizzie? Any ancient grimoires you’ve stumbled on in your research?


Angie: *LOL* My research led me to some pretty interesting places, but no grimoires. Guess that’s why poor Lizzie had to write a demon slaying guide of her own.


In this latest book, Lizzie is determined, once and for all, to master her powers. In fact, she’s going to write the book on demon slaying. So she begins a journal, The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers, where she records what she’s learning, starting with newfound discoveries about demons, gargoyles and a particularly mischievous live spell named Beanie who likes to fill Lizzie’s boots with pumpkin spice latte.


Things get dangerous when the demons get their hooks in Dimitri. He’s much darker and sexier in this book. And we introduce a new character, Max, who is half demon and 100% yummy.


Hellion: Not just one, but two? That's ambitious! Writing yummy demon heroes is hard work. (Translation: writing is hard work, but writing about yummy men doing romantic, wonderful, SEXY things: even harder.) What are your tips for creating yummy alpha heroes and also keeping your writing fresh as you continue the series?


Angie: Well, I was just down at the Romantic Times Conference, hanging out with cover models, so that certainly didn’t hurt. Seriously, though, for me it is about channeling what I think is sexy and giving that kind of guy to my heroine. I also gave Dimitri an adversary in this new book, which spices things up. Lizzie, of course, is true to her man. But she does need the help of a smoking hot demon hunter and let’s just say jealous griffins are even more sexy than the ones who have it all under control. Plus, having two glorious men in one book is never a bad thing.


Hellion: Nice. See, I knew there was a reason I loved you. You also know there is so no such thing as too much of a good thing. I see the book is set in Las Vegas. There are writers’ articles galore about not skimping on setting (definitely my weakest link)…and as you know, not skimping usually involves lots and lots of careful, thoughtful research. So how did you research for Las Vegas? Elvis movies or weekend-binge trips or a combination of both? (I insisted on this question because I want to set a book there and need to know the best way to go about this…since I’ve neither watched Elvis movies nor gone to Vegas.)


Angie: Well, it was a tough job, but somebody had to go to Las Vegas. I sacrificed for my craft and decided to take a long weekend with one of my girlfriends. I admit it. I had these images of cool hotels and shows in my head. Then reality hit. I write about biker witches and a preschool teacher turned demon slayer. These folks don’t have a lot of spare cash lying around. This wasn’t my trip – it was theirs. Good thing I like odd adventures.


Aileen and I decided see and experience the biker witch version of Sin City. We stayed in the cheesiest hotels we could find. We ate at Bob’s Big Boy. We even visited a dude ranch with armadillos, a boar and several very old chickens.


We were able to talk our way into some behind-the-scenes places as well. The climax of The Accidental Demon Slayer takes place inside the Hoover Dam, and we were lucky enough to be invited to see first-hand what I’d be writing about. A guide took us far down into the inspection tunnels they used in the 1930’s and 40’s, when the cement was still curing. It was amazing to see the notes these inspectors made on the walls, to hear the stories of those that didn’t quite make it out and to walk the same old metal steps that they did. All of that made it into The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers, along with lots of things I had a blast making up (this is fiction after all).


Hellion: Okay, that’s just way cool about the tour of Hoover Dam. (Spooky place too!) And good work on going authentic and eating at Bob’s Big Boy. Regarding the “biker experience”, I took your biker name quiz and ended up named: Two Date Tessa No Brakes (which incidentally is what a lot of people were calling me anyway—have you seen me drive?). What’s your biker name and do you think it fits?


Angie: I’m Looney Libby No Brakes, which I suppose means we’re related. Does that mean I can borrow your car?


Hellion: Sure, cuz, but remember it has no brakes. Corners nicely though. What is up next for Lizzie? Any exciting details to share about what will be next for our intrepid demon slayer and her protector?


Angie: Lizzie is finally coming into her own in this book. She’s chosen this life and she’s ready to take on her first big challenge as a demon slayer. This is a darker book than the first one, but it needed to be. It still has the humor (and the talking dog), but here Lizzie is really learning about her new powers and she’d dealing with the fallout of some choices she’s made.


One thing I do want to say, though, is that I’m writing each of these books as a stand-alone novel. There’s an entire story and a happily ever after in each, so it’s easy to jump into any of the books without reading the whole series.


Hellion: I’m glad each of the books can be read as a stand-alone, even though they are part of a series. I know many readers are leery of “reading out of order”, but I find that you can read them out of sequence and not feel you’re missing major backstory.


This is your sophomore published novel. Was this one harder to write than the first, easier, or about the same? And to be all Keith Anderson, did you feel more pressure with this book or the first one? (Or were you not feeling one way or the other until I brought it up as a suggestion you should be. *LOL*)


Angie: It was harder to write this book because I had to get over the idea that people were actually going to read it. When I wrote The Accidental Demon Slayer, I wanted to have it published, but I didn’t know if anyone would buy it. Then suddenly, less than a year later, that book was a New York Times bestseller.


It was a complete shift for me to think that not only would some people read that next book, a lot of people might. I had to force myself to get over it by telling myself that I could toss any draft at the end of the day. No guilt. Just toss. Knowing that, I was able to relax, have fun and tell the story.


Hellion: Okay, that’s a little humorous that your writing block (if you had any) was the knowledge someone was actually reading your books. *LOL* Is there anyone in particular you like to read? Has there been a book you’ve read lately or one on your TBR pile you’re dying to get to?


Angie: Oh my first love will always be books. Being a writer hasn’t changed that a bit. Favorites lately have included Katie MacAlister’s Ghost of a Chance, Blue Diablo by Ann Aguirre, Stakes & Stilettos by Michelle Rowen (her entire Immortality Bites series is amazing), Accidentally Dead by Dakota Cassidy, No Rest for the Wiccan by Madelyn Alt, La Vida Vampire by Nancy Haddock, Midnight Sins by Cynthia Eden. And I can’t wait to get my hands on Dead and Gone, Charlaine Harris’s new one that’s coming out soon. And on Beyond the Rain, a debut by Jess Granger that has been getting lots of great buzz. So many books, so little time!


Hellion: Man, I’ve never heard a crew scribble so fast. Great list! Lastly, you do these blog Q & As quite a bit—and I’m sure you get asked the same sort of questions all the time. Are there any questions you wish you were asked? Like what’s your favorite cheese, or your favorite color pen to write with?


Angie: Hmm…my favorite cheese is Laughing Cow on crackers (that’s usually my snack when I write), I can never find any pens around the house (thank goodness for computers). As far as something nobody has asked – my middle name is Marie. Now aren’t you glad you know all of that?


Hellion: I am! My middle name is Marie, so now I know we’re definitely kin! *LOL*

Angie: I didn’t doubt it. Oh and to celebrate today’s release, I’m giving one lucky pirate a free copy of The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers. Just take the quiz Are You Part Demon Slayer? and post your score in the comments section. The winner will be picked at random. Oh and if you post that same score to my author blog, you’ll be entered to win a walk-on role in the next Accidental Demon Slayer book.

Keeping Close Quarters

It’s a fact that in life and in romance fiction of any kind, for two people to fall in love they must be thrown into circumstances that require them to spend a great deal of time together. Usually forcing some sort of intimacy which results in the H/H sharing a small space for personal activities. Hot alpha male in a towel with wet hair anyone?


If you haven’t learned this in life, you are more than likely single. I remember hearing a statistic years ago that a majority of married couples meet in college. It’s no wonder when most college campuses are small remote communities where young people live in very close quarters.


In many writing discussions, the conflict is the focus. Finding the conflict that is going to keep your H/H from being together. But I think an author also must find a way to keep the H/H together. Will they work together, live next door, attend the same country house-party, or go on the run from a serial killer who wants the heroine dead for reasons that she and the hunky, buff FBI agent with the over-riding urge to protect her cannot figure out? Come on, you know we’ve all read that one. And we live for that moment when he gives into the chemistry and sexual tension that has been building for ten chapters to get up off that couch and climb into her bed.


Suspense novels are very good at doing this. Something about a situation being a matter of life or death causes people to bond and bond quick.  (Yes, Captain, the movie Speed comes to mind here.)  The couple always fights the attraction, the all important inner conflict, but the author forces them to come to terms with what they are feeling.  Not many characters can hold onto their stubbornness in the face of seeing the person they love bleeding to death.


So what device or circumstance will you throw your H/H into? How will you get them together and then make sure they stay in each other’s faces (and personal space) until they eliminate that pesky little conflict and find love?  For the readers out there, what situations like these do you most enjoy and which turn you off?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Back to the Basics

You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft, where amid the anxiety, and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just Dance.

-Anne Lamott                  

    As most of you know, I started writing by way of fan fiction. I borrowed characters and placed them in my own unique environment. A sort of “practice” drill for writing my own story. What I didn’t understand during the start of my writing life is the crutch that I formed by writing in a world that was already present and familiar to me. I found a great deal of insecurity in the transition from writing fan fiction to writing an original story of my own. Therefore, my solution was to go back to the basics of writing, and practice, practice, practice.

In my journey, I discovered a book that has helped me tremendously. A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life by Judy Reeves. This book may be very elementary for some seasoned writers, but I find it a refreshing companion, and helpful tool. The book has twelve chapters, one for every month of the year. Each chapter contains counseling and words of advice, words of inspiration, and literary lore and legend. Each month begins with one of twelve “Guidelines for Writing Practice” that are used to help you along the writing practice road. Incorporated in the exercises is everything from auditioning words to using your dreams in writing. You’ll learn how to build a writing community if you don’t have one, and how to say yes to the muse. Easy to use checklists give you the telltale signs that let you know when the critic, the censor, or the editor are having their way with your writing. Subjects are cross-referenced so you can easily find related information.

Throughout the book, the experience, wisdom and opinions, and even a few quirks of a number of well-known writers are presented in “The Writing Life.”

Closing out each month is “Beyond Practice”- special invitations for writers to treat themselves. Consider these a reward, or bonus for a job well done. With titles such as Cafe Writing On the Road; Hot Nights/Wild Women; and A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread-a Notebook, these twelve self-directed miniworkshops encourage writers to set aside a once-a-month special session to honor themselves as a writer and nourish the writing-self.

The book contains many elements and facts that never fail to bring a smile to my face. Like the list of famous writers and their day jobs. Did you know that  T.S. Elliot was a banker? Or that  William Faulkner served as a postmaster for the University of Mississippi post office. Charles Dickens pasted labels on bottles of shoe polish, and Zane Grey was a dentist. I felt myself being a lot more inspired by these revelations than I probably should have.

Each month fresh and new exercises are given as challenges. Writing prompts are given to enforce each aspect of the chapter. It is always reinforced that time and practice are of the essence. Much importance is given to setting aside time each day for writing, and creating a calm work environment, that facilitates the muse. The book stresses to always listen to your heart about what direction you want to take your story, and never force an idea just to facilitate the portion of the story you enjoy writing.

The most valued lesson I learned was recognizing my ability to undermine my best writing intentions. I put a damper on my writing spirit by making excuses not to write, and holding unrealistic expectations. Most of all, through this book’s exercises, I learned to believe in myself as a writer, no matter how much I lack in education or experience. I’ve accepted that writing a novel is a slow process. My daily exercise is taking a deep breath and focusing on the journey.

The present key to my writing life is practice.

Do you ever use writing prompts to tickle your muse? Do you take time to pamper your writing spirit? Do you find you excel in your writing life, with the more you write?




Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Industry Professional's Perspective (Marnee's Favorite Craft Book)

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

Noah Lukeman is a literary agent in NYC who represents all kinds of award-winning authors.  This book claims, “If you’re tired of rejection, this is the book for you.”  But I’d suggest this book even if you just want to be prepared and spruce up your writing the best you can.

We’ve all heard that the first words and pages of our books are vital.   Mr. Lukeman’s argument is that an agent/publisher has technically made up their mind by the end of the fifth page about whether they like or dislike a MS.  Talk about your important first impressions.  He focuses on ways to help us get the reader past those first five pages. 

The book is split into three parts:  preliminary problems, dialogue, and the bigger picture.   The first part, the preliminary problems, deals with manuscript presentation, style, and adjective/adverb usage.   The second part claims that if the preliminary problems aren’t present, an agent/publisher will look to dialogue for a foundation to reject.  And finally, if you get past the preliminary stuff and dialogue issues, he goes into more intricate craft details – showing not telling, narrative viewpoints, tone, focus, etc. 

What is interesting about this book is that it’s written from an industry professional’s perspective.  Lukeman’s voice is very much, “this is the checklist I follow on the way to rejection.”   This was a huge ah-ha moment for me because it reminded me that an agent/publisher, while hoping to find the next “big thing,” also don’t want to waste their time on the long line of “definitely-not-the-next-big-things.”   Ultimately, they read with an eye for the errors they need to reject so they don’t waste their time.  

So this book is sort of a roundabout craft book.  The focus is more on who will buy the book than on us as the writer.  But I find that very useful.

Do you think it’s fair that agents/editors do such snap judgments of MS?  Do you stop reading a book if you don’t like it somewhere in the middle?  How do you decide if a new author is worth buying in the bookstore?  What are some things that writers do that drive you crazy as a reader?
Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bo’sun Breaks Out the Scenes (with a little help from Donald Maass)

As was mentioned yesterday, this theme week was my suggestion.  And since I haven’t had the time to actually dive into craft books, I lined up a ringer in my place (thanks again, Debra!) and got myself off the hook…until last week.  I know most of you are wondering where your deep POV, heart-stopping, temperature rising prose is that you’ve come to expect on Wednesdays.   Well, it’s not here.  Unfortunately, you’re stuck with me today.


Now, to the task at hand.  One of the first craft books I ever bought was Writing the Breakout Novel: Insider advice for taking your fiction to the next level by Donald Maass.  You may recognize Mr. Maass as one of the most respected and in-demand agents in publishing, but he’s also a master of the craft.  I highly recommend this book.


I obviously couldn’t discuss the entire book in one blog, so I found the topic where I need the most help – setting.  In just five paragraphs, I learned an entirely new way to create setting, a new approach.  When I write my first draft, I skim over setting details in order to get the story down, with the plan to add the details in the next pass.  I’ve always thought of it as mentioning the color of the walls or the smell of the flowers.  Maybe the sound of the birds.  But that won’t make my setting *feel* like another character in my book and that’s what I’m after.


This is where psychology comes in.  In chapter four, Maass explains that instead of sticking in a sentence of detail here or a bit of description there, reveal the setting through the character’s POV.  Use the character’s perceptions and how the setting affects her to make that setting affect the reader. 


For example, say your story opens with your heroine standing on the deck of a cruise ship.  You could describe the colors of the sunset or the sound of the wind through the rails.  But better yet, you can let your heroine describe the scene. 


The waves rolled one after the other in an endless dance away from the lumbering vessel.  There was no way to know where one ended and the other began, just as Laura could no longer determine where her anger ebbed and her sorrow rose.  This cumbersome yet graceful, floating paradise was to be the setting for her honeymoon.  Instead, it served as the elegantly decorated, gold-plated, luxury liner of her worst nightmare.


The setting is obviously a cruise ship, and in another character’s perception, it could be described as exciting, crowded, or relaxing.  But seen through Laura’s eyes, it’s just large and empty.  The endless waves represent how she feels, that her pain will never end.  All of her emotions are rolling over and under each other and at times crashing together.  Described in this way, the setting comes to life.  It has a distinct and specific affect on the character, and hopefully, a distinct impact on the reader.


Further into chapter four, Maass reveals the secret ingredient to setting. The key element all breakout novels need to take the setting to the next level – details.  The best settings that evoke real emotions and reactions from readers are those with unique and specific details.  You could describe the moon as “shining brightly enough to make a flashlight unnecessary.”  Or you could let your character describe the moon for you.


The moon reminded Laura of the power pole spotlight planted at the end of the cattle guard back home on the farm.  The light that could have guided 747s down the front pasture or served as a beacon for passing ships hundreds

of miles away.  Laura always hated that damn light.


It’s a good bet that most readers can relate to that bright streetlight that glared through their bedroom window at 2am, angled perfectly so as to shed light across the pillows in such a way so as to make it impossible to get away from it.  This description invokes the feeling of irritation, annoyance, and the futility of knowing there’s nothing she can do to get away from the light, and yet I didn’t use any adjectives or adverbs.  The reader can see how bright the moon is through the verbs and nouns.  And the reader understands how Laura feels about the moon. This description gives specific details and is unique to this character, her perceptions and her current emotional state.


Now it’s your turn.  How do you create your setting?  How would you describe something from your stories without using adjectives or adverbs?  Have you ever described a scene from one character’s POV only to reveal the same setting again through another character’s eyes and have it be totally different?  For the readers, what authors have the best settings in your opinion?  And what is your favorite setting for a book?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hellie's Favorite Craft Book (Not Involving Food): Getting in Touch with Her "Non-Existent" Emotions

Emotional Structure: Creating Story Beneath the Plot (A Guide for Screenwriters), Peter Dunne



My first writing conference was a daylong workshop of Ms. Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, which I thoroughly enjoyed and which was thoroughly brilliant. If you ever get a chance to go, do so. You will not regret it. I remember how easy she made conflict—and the subsequent book writing—look. A + B = C. Logical, practical, and so straightforward, a child could have done it. I must have talked about that conference for a year after I went. I know I flipped through her book repeatedly as I tried to apply the A + B = C techniques to my own stories. But in the end, it was a lot like knitting. Anyone can cast on some stitches and do the careful rows, but when you’re a neophyte, your stitches always look like some shaky, lumpy mass and you flip through the pictures of the Handbook, marveling at how you knit one and purl two, but your scarf doesn’t look a thing like any of the examples in the book. Finally you end up burning the yarn because you’ve unraveled it so many times and recast, you can’t even recognize it came from a sheep anymore.


This is my fault though, and not at all Ms. Dixon’s. As I said, when I went to the workshop, it all made perfect sense. As the saying goes around the farm, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. I was—and still do—trying to fit my characters to molds that don’t really belong to them. Square pegs and round holes.


But what I identified most with Ms Dixon’s GMC is that the internal conflict was just as important—if not more important—than the external conflict. In fact, the external conflict derived from the internal conflict. She was more concerned about story than plot. It was that more than anything I took away from her workshop. If I figured out who my characters were and what their backstory was, the rest of the story would come about naturally, organically even. When talking about characters and plots, which came first—which should come first—the answer was definitely characters. People are more memorable than the events that surround them. (Not that you couldn’t start with plot, but having your characters first usually worked out better. Sort of like finding the corner and edge pieces of a puzzle. You can assemble a puzzle without doing that first, but it’s usually easier if you do.)


I myself have always been more concerned about story than plot. I loved history classes in college, much more than my literature classes, and I loved history because of the story. It was never the events, really, themselves that intrigued me. It was the people and why they were doing the things they were doing. Thousands and thousands of years we’ve been around; and nothing ever changes. We’re always doing something for love or power or both. Literature, like history, is similar in this regard. The themes of all literature ever written can be boiled down two themes: love and conflict. And isn’t that the best thing about romance novels? They have both. In fact, the most beloved stories of all time have both these themes.


Gwenivere and Lancelot…and well, King Arthur. (History loves a good love triangle.) Antony and Cleopatra. Helen and Paris. Romeo and Juliet. Tristam and Isolde. And in a bid to find a fictional couple who doesn’t die at the end, Mr. Darcy and Eliza Bennett.


Not only do I think these two themes make up all of literature, but I also think writers are writers because they’re trying to divine some truth about themselves. For some, it might be varied truths; and for others, we write the same theme over and over again, trying to make it stick in our own lives. Our characters are redeemed as we hope we can be someday; and our characters are loved just as they are, knowing they are enough—and we write it so that one day the Universe will make it true for us. Or for lucky ones, as homage that the Universe has made it true for us.


This is good, I think, because even if we’re writing the same truths over and over to expose ourselves, in truth we’re writing the emotional truths of everyone. You can’t have a great story worth reading without raw emotion.


When I poured over my bookcase to find THE book I wanted to blog about, I had a hard time narrowing it down. I had like five books. Go to books. Must haves. I wasn’t sure how I was going to pick only one, but after opening Dunne’s book, I knew his would be the book I picked. He’s all about story. And he’s all emotional truth.


He’s both your writing coach and your therapist—and let’s be honest, if you’re a writer, you’re probably in need of a good therapist as much as the writing coach. Like Ms. Dixon does in her book, Dunne pulls examples from well-known movies.


Dunne’s book is for screenwriters, but I don’t think that makes it less viable for a novelist to use. After all, movies are simply shorter versions of the best novels we’ve ever read: thrilling openings, tearful yet emotionally satisfying endings, middles full of revealing scenes of characters we’re rooting for, and brilliant dialogue. Nothing in movies is wasted. If something is shown in a fragment of celluloid, it reveals character or plot or backstory.


What I dig most out of this book is that basically to get over the roadblocks you run into defining your characters and creating sufficient conflict and background is that, well, you have to come to terms with the roadblocks in your own character. Writing books with such compelling and authentic emotion comes from having an understanding of yourself and your emotions. Now those of you who cry at Lifetime movies and weep at Hallmark commercials might not believe you need this book. You’re more than in touch with your emotions. Perhaps, but take a moment to unravel the theme of your novel, really pinpoint into one theme or phrase. It’s your core belief, isn’t it?


Of course, it is. And even though your character is as far removed from you as a fictional person can get, at their emotional core, they are you. They want the same thing as you; and until you have come to terms with that in your own life—or at least made aware you and your characters are after the same thing—you’re going to continue to struggle. So crack open Dunne’s book and start to figure out who you are. I find that the successful writers are the ones who know who they are and aren’t trying to be anyone else.


What do you think? Do you like your craft books more touchy-feely or more how-to practical? Has anyone used screenwriting books before for their writing? Do you find them useful or not? And has anyone attended a magnificent workshop, knowing that they’d be able to apply everything they learned, and gotten home to realize, “OMG, how do I make this applicable to my own novel?”

Sunday, April 19, 2009

TOP FIVE BROKEN RECORDS by Guest Pirate Debra Dixon

We are proud and excited to have one of the most respected voices in fiction on the ship today.  Award winning author of both fiction and non-fiction, the power-house behind Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, and a driving force behind Belle Bridge Books (click the covers at the bottom to check them out), Debra Dixon.

I'm not talking about the box of Beatles albums you find in a cardboard box at an estate sale.  I'm talking about those bits of advice I give to contest entrants.  Sometimes I feel like a broken record.  So, tonight I stacked up a set of contest entries I finished while on a business trip and took a stroll through them.  I thought I'd pick out the "Top Five" items I offer most often to contest entrants.

1.  Master POV.

Too often writers haven't taken enough time to understand and experiment with POV so that they have control of this wonderful bit of craft.  POV, when used properly, pulls the reader into the story world, produces MEANINGFUL characterization and provides clarity for the story.

2.  Dial it back.

Over the top reaction and melodrama isn't necessary.  Newer writers mistake reaction strength for strong emotion.  Some of the strongest emotion is created in the quiet moments.

3.  Characters don't have to have pointy ears to be logical.

Landing a character in hot water is great fun, but not if the character said, "Gee, there's a fire under that pot and the water is boiling.  Let me jump in because that will show everyone in the room how much I don't care."  Character stupidity happens far too often because a writer thinks the resulting situation will be hilarious or dramatic.  Nope.  Not so much.  The simple question "Would a reasonable adult behave this way?" is a great question to add to any writer's arsenal.

4. Characters must be present to win.

Characters need to drive the action.  They have to wake up, make decisions, and create their plot rather than allow others to push them from circumstance to circumstance. (Come on.  You know these characters.   Nothing is ever their fault.  They aren't active.  They aren't present in their own stories.)

5.  Your character must be identifiable in a line up.

I'm not talking physical attributes.  I'm talking about fresh, unique characters who beat the stereotype label even when they are redheads with anger management issues.  Unique and identifiable are achieved with strong POV which individualizes the character and lets the reader see the beyond the familiar to the unique and interesting.

And finally the biggest broken record of them all: You have to be willing to fail miserably.  You have to commit to the story.  You have to commit to your voice and find yourself.  Writers write about more than stories.  Our novels have something to say about the human condition.  What do you have to say?  How do your novels and characters shed light on this thing we call life?
Thursday, April 16, 2009

Stick The Pitch!



- The deck of the Revenge was oddly deserted. Captain Hellion stood at the wheel, a bit bemused at the lack of crew to direct. A golden head rose from behind a crate, looking about furtively. One of the Sunday hotties, she observed, wondering why he was lurking about. He stood up, heading for the ratlines with sudden alacrity.


- Abruptly, Chance came dashing over from the bow. “Hey! Wait! Listen to this one, please! No, hey! Come back here!”


- The golden haired Adonis pled a need to work on the sails, even while climbing away from Chance, whose right hand held a pile of index cards. She wailed, “Nooooo!”  Turning away from the escapee, she spied Sin, lurking near the bar.


- “Oh, good tactic.” Hel chuckled. “That’s the right bait!”


- Chance snatched the bottle from Sin. “Not until you listen to this one…”


- Sin groaned then reached for the ninja stars at her side, murder plain in her eye. Hel shouted out, “Won’t hurt you to listen, Sin!”


- “You ain’t been badgered by her for the last two weeks! You listen to her!” Sin dove over the side of the ship.


- Chance leaned over the railing. “How am I to figure out what to pitch if you won’t help, coward!” She ducked away from the splash. Terri ran out from the side and threw Sin a floatation device…


- Hellion sighed, it had been a rough few weeks. She’d be glad when Chance left for the conference and this nightmare was over. The crew was talking about trussing her up, throwing her on a cutter and letting her drift away…



Yes, I have a pitch coming up…with luck, several pitches. I like face-to-face pitches much more than sending off blind queries. Granted, I’ve only done one. But it went well, even if they didn’t take the requested book. Nevertheless, I am nervous about how to do this right. I’ll be attending the Romantic Times Booklovers Conference in Orlando next week and have appointments to pitch.


I’m prolific and have MS from several genres I hope to interest publishers/agents in. From my pirate book, to an urban fantasy featuring dark fairies; from a librarian on another planet to a man born of a fox. I even have an apocalyptic story of life struggling after most humans disappear. Yup, I run the gamut. And I’m confident about the pirate pitch, it’s my heart’s child and I can sell it through pure enthusiasm. But I’m nervous about the others. Not sure which to pitch to who, how to sum them up in that magical phrase that will make my prey smile and hand me a business card.


It’s a struggle. You write, you edit, you sweat bullets, cry, don’t sleep. And it all comes down to those pithy phrases, those few minutes. You dress nicely, you brush your teeth, you sit up straight.


But…does the pitch stick? Let’s have it! Clues, stories, ideas…how did you do it? How do you imagine doing it? What do you think will work? What is the secret? Is this another one from the secret code book? Help me and you help yourself. We’re all gonna be doin’ this eventually! Ya non-readers, hear any good stories a’ how it’s done right? Or wrong?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


For some writers, going through a creative slump can mean the difference between hanging up your keyboard forever … and buying a llama.   Impulse shop therapy anyone?  Is that even right?


Anyway, consider me slumped.  Well and truly.  And though I can’t go into every detail that got me in this downward spiral, the consequences to my writing haven’t been so much fun.  So I was polishing the first 100 pages of my book in preparation for submitting it to an agent, and suddenly I became struck with how much it all read like the back of a cereal box.  All light and sugary, snap and crackle … and not in the tingly way either.  


Now I could easily go into fetal position, but I’ve learned some methods through my other slumps to keep me upright, things that will help protect me until I’m able to come up for air.


1) Your perceptions of your ability sway according to your mood

Actually, this is a Buddhist thought:  “Everything that appears to your mind is the nature of your mind.”   In a bad mood?   You read your pages in that mood and then imagine them rolled up like toity paper, perfectly suited for someone’s ass.    But here’s another Buddhist thought:  “You can only trust a happy mind.”   Don’t pick the day you feel your life is careening out of control to analyze your artistic skill.  Pick the day you’re pleased and content.  If you do, I promise you’ll have a more realistic picture of what you’ve done well, in addition to what you can improve upon. A happy mind is one that does not distort.  It sees things as they truly are.  And when I get in that happy mood, I’ll go back to my pages and let you know.   Right now, I’m waiting.


2) Do not show your pages to the resident pit viper

Don’t do it.  She may seem like she knows every in and out of publishing, every literary device that makes a romance work, as well as every hot name in the biz, but she also has an ASP TONGUE and is cold-blooded to boot.  She could potentially poison your fragile efforts.  It’s been said before, but writing is a deeply personal endeavor.  Every imagined scenario, every conversation, your choice of characters’ apparel even (not to mention your literary skill) is a personal reflection of you.  She wears yellow because I like yellow.  He backs her up against the wall because I want to be backed up against the wall.  When you write, you’re not just creating something and then letting it go. You are imprinting yourself on the page.  As such, you will feel every strike upon your writing as though your nerves run through the paper fibers.   That isn’t to say don’t get a critique partner, but do be careful in the choosing of one.  Pick someone who loves you, who sees your potential, but can express your shortcomings in such a way as to encourage you rather than cause you to develop writing necrosis. Only you know what you can and cannot take, but don’t go waving your bared skin in front of a snake and expect not to get bit. 


3) Acknowledge that some things are more important than writing:

Shocking, I know.  Writing is your life.   Your passion.   Your destiny … but guess what?  People are more important.  Relationships with your loved ones are more important. Period.  That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t respect your writing dreams and established writing schedule, but you should know when to turn the monitor off.   Family crisis?  Off.  For weeks at a time maybe.  People need to know they come first.  They have to because just like your characters in search of love, you need to recognize when real love is asking for your time, be they kids, spouse or friend.  What’s more, as a romance writer, you are like an ambassador of love.  If you don’t respect it in your own life, how the hell can you depict it well in a book?   


So how about you?  What are your tricks for padding the sharp edges in your writing slumps?  I’m all ears, believe me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Take One... Take Two... Take Three... cut, cut, CUT!

Happy tax day pirates. (And good day to you if you're across the pond.)


Influence this week: Quote- Evans Blue - The Melody and the Energetic Nature of Volume 


"You're quiet you never make a sound. But here inside my mind you are the loudest one I know."
Quote- Evans Blue



Hellie's got me all wound up over the music and lyrics. The Melody and the Energetic Nature of Volume is one of the best CD's in my collection. Of course, "Eclipsed" is by far the best song on the CD; but "Quote" is a close runner up. "Eclipsed" is another day, another dollar short for today's blog.




I'm surrounded by papers. I'm drowning in them. It's a sea of white, black ink, red marks, and multi-colored Post It notes. My glasses have drifted down the bridge of my nose. The crick in my neck burned with the sting of a thousand needles, my fingers were numb. Yet, my fingers sought after the smooth texture of the keyboard. Each fingertip tapped, tapped, tapped, tapped. Backspace, backspace, backspace.


Damn the backspace. It single-handedly is the best and worst invention in technology.


I wrote at the speed of light and then suddenly it turned into a snail's pace. I'm one of those writers who edits while they write. I call it multitasking. Others call it distraction from the goal. The goal is to finish and then edit. It's not like I don't edit when I finish. It would imagine that would be the way for me. When you write fan fiction, you edit as you go because you post chapter by chapter (or if you're really dedicated you write it and finish it before posting the first chapter like Hal.) I've always edited. I find it's a good way for me to get back into the voice I ended with the night before. When I first started "writing" I didn't know there was a method to all the madness. I didn't know voice, and development- I just ran on pure cane adrenaline and what direction the wind blew me.


I mean, I've read for years and never knew "voice" was what drew me back to an author over and over again.


Like all things, in the beginning, I was naïve about writing. I hadn't any expectations of what I was going to do or how I was going to back it up. How I was going to weave plot lines together and mingle stories and all that jazz. I heard this voice in my head and it was showing me what was happening. I wrote this scene once about having a car chase down a busy street and didn't realize it was happening until the car blew up and the hot flames blistered my cheeks.


There's something to be said about being wrapped up in the writing and not about the finer details.


I'm not getting into major details today. I'm just curious about how your method of madness has changed as you've evolved as a writer. Can you remember the first time you finished a chapter and if you decided right then and there how you'd react to the end of a paragraph or page or chapter- I mean, eventually we all get to the end. Tell me some of your favorite things you do to get you through. Readers, even we evolve as we learn more about our reading likes and dislikes. What's changed for you?

And I'm going to try to check in some today. I'll be in and out of the office all day and with the madness of taxes, I'm not sure what will be going on. Hopefully the other pirate faithfuls will keep up the convo in my absense.- Sin
Monday, April 13, 2009

Poetry in Motion: Songs That Romance Us

I was 17 and taking a computer class in high school when I realized there was poetry about stuff other than death or trees. It was a very advanced computer class at the time, involving us opening word documents out of DOS. (Yes, I went to school in the Stone Age. Big shocker.)


Now there was a document on the computer called “So We’ll Go No More A-Roving”, which caught my eye. I glanced ahead on the project and saw that at no point was this file even being used. It was just some extra file they put on the computer. Still, the title was intriguing. I already knew we were opening poetry documents, but we were opening things about trees and death and bugs on leaves. I mean, this title looked far more promising.


I clicked it and the document unfurled before my eyes, as magical as a genie in a lamp.


SO, we'll go no more a-roving


  So late into the night,


Though the heart be still as loving,


  And the moon be still as bright.




For the sword outwears its sheath,


  And the soul wears out the breast,


And the heart must pause to breathe,


  And love itself have rest.




Though the night was made for loving,


  And the day returns too soon,


Yet we'll go no more a-roving


  By the light of the moon.



My eyes burned holes into the second stanza. For the sword outwears its sheath? I’d been reading real bodice-ripping, sex-out-the-wazoo romances for three years. I could recognize a euphemism when I saw it. This was a break up poem. With sex in the middle of it. Poetry about sex? This was a revelation!


I was hooked. No more Thanatopis or Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. No, no. This was interesting poetry. I fell in love with Lord Byron that day and have had a special place for that man ever since.


Despite Ms. Yount’s questionable taste in interesting poetry (she loved Thanathopis), she did introduce a revolutionary concept. Songs are poetry. This was probably pointed out a number of times before middle-school, but listening and comprehending are acquired skills for teenagers, a fact Ms. Yount knew well. She actually played an example this time to make it stick: The Sound of Silence. I suspect this selection had more to do with the fact she missed the sound of silence rather than because she actually liked the song.


I was not impressed by Simon or Garfunkel and insisted Poison could never, ever be topped in their lyric-writing skills.


Cause baby we'll be
At the drive-in
In the old man's Ford
Behind the bushes
Till I'm screamin' for more
Down the basement
Lock the cellar door
And baby
Talk dirty to me


Or they might. Whatever. Ms. Yount had her childhood faves; I had mine.


Still. The idea is sound, even though some people’s tastes in what qualifies as good poetry—or even music—can be called into question. What I enjoy most about poetry (and songs) is how it can encapsulate an entire novel in a mere three verses and a chorus. And there are other songs that tend to bring into focus a particular part of the novel.


This is why I like making soundtracks for my books, using songs that reflect this moment or that, or is a wonderful summation of a particular character. I can’t always sit down and name a character’s quirk, but I can tell you that her favorite song when she was 11 was Vogue. She could sing all the words and do all the dance moves; and to this day, even in business meetings, she’ll sometimes strike a pose. I think your favorite childhood song says much more about you than how you take your coffee.


Now there is always that moment in the romance novel where the “noble sacrifice” is going to be made by one or both of the main characters. *sniff, sniff* Tall-Dark-and-Dreamy would be so much better off with that strumpet with the legs up to her ass instead. I will let him go because it’s best for him. We’re not meant to be. I can see the Kevin Costner flick cueing up with that scene, can’t you? With Whitney belting out: “I Will Always Love You.”


I couldn’t end this blog without paying homage to that other big hair rock band staple of the 80s, Jon Bon Jovi. (He’s aged well, hasn’t he? Much better than Bret.) There are a lot of songs to pick from where he’s concerned. I love books where the hero and heroine fight all odds and have a HEA anyway. (“Living on a Prayer”) Or when the end rolls around and the hero grovels and says he’ll never leave her again. What we’re really hearing is “I’ll Be There For You.” If Jon stops singing, he could always turn his hand at romance writing.


So the cultural question of the day is “What is your favorite Poison song?” and barring that, are there any (big hair band era) songs you like that remind you of moments from novels or any songs you’ve listened to that have inspired a story you’ve written?