Monday, April 30, 2012

Let's Do the Twist

I think we can all agree that the only rule writers must follow is never bore your readers or encourage them to put down your book. In other words, keep it compelling.

The advice how to make sure this happens skews from there. Some say it’s character; some say it’s plot; some say it’s tension—name a writing glossary word and that’s the key to keeping it compelling.

Plot, character, tension—these are basics, but not exactly the story itself. You need them all; we all have our expertise of them that we do better than others, but the thing that keeps readers from putting down the book is the story. (I heard the “duh”—let me finish.) And the story is about people, doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way. They’re like us, but better. They’re familiar, but special.

I think this is why publisher and agent advice can be so confusing. They seem to want a writer to produce something that’s like everything else on the market, but it has to be different. But not too different. But definitely fresh, yes, yes, but perhaps like that book that came out last month—you know, the one with the kidnapping?

So we learn how to twist the convention. How do we make our familiar, beloved story of beauty and the beast fresh and compelling? Or our story of Romeo and Juliet different—other than by not killing them off in the end? We know that there are no new stories, only new voices and our abilities to twist the knot a little differently.

When I wanted to write a story about redemption, I wanted to redeem the most impossible person possible? So I chose Lucifer. (Theologically I’m aware I’m not able to redeem Lucifer, but I did want to debate the possibility it could happen.) When I wanted to write about infidelity, I wonder if it was ever understandable—or forgivable? What about marriage? How do you save even the most perfect marriage? And now, I’m pursuing the idea of heroes. Is it possible to have a hero who is more ordinary? Is it ever preferable for the heroine to pick the man who isn’t perfect on paper?

I tend to pick extremes in my twists. I’m a dramatic and extreme kind of hellion. I think it comes from my black-and-white past. I want the biggest, most thematic and dramatic outcome to make my readers think as well as escape and laugh.

But not everyone is as much of an attention hog as I can be. Some writers want to push the convention of the perfect, virginal young heroine; some writers want heroines who aren’t Lara Croft or some kick-ass zombie killer. Can ordinary women find an extraordinary kind of love? That can be a powerful twist to convention that has fallen to having strong, fierce heroines be almost commonplace. Some want to push the convention of the bluestocking Regency heroine who is compromised and instead have a heroine who doesn’t fit the proper virginal Georgette Heyer mode. These can all be dramatic and thematic in their own ways, pushing the envelope of who can be a true heroine and how black of a black moment can one rise again?

Where do you find or come up with your twists on convention? Do they come from your core story themes or from playing “what if”? What books have you read lately that have had a twist on convention you noticed and admired? Have you read any advice lately about how to make convention twists more unique or interesting?
Friday, April 27, 2012

Welcome...Our Guest, Pat Kirby!

(Disclaimer. I give rotten interviews, so I’m gonna do my best to let Pat carry through on this…)

Hey! Welcome to Pat Kirby, who recently saw the release of The Canvas Thief from Carina Press! This is a novel of art come to life. I think…

Tell us a little bit about the set up for this book, Pat.

PAT: The Canvas Thief is a romantic contemporary fantasy. I see it as a romance, but since I don't always abide by genre requirements, mileage may vary.

Maya Stephenson is a talented artist who has a gift for depicting people and other living beings with a lifelike sense of gesture and movement. Instead of pursuing a career in fine art, however, she works as a graphic artist for a consulting company, putting together dry technical drawing and illustrations.

Why? Well, Maya has a secret. She sees demons, fairies and the other magical creatures who visit our world. Even though no one else sees them, Maya knows she isn't crazy. But she also knows that normal people--people who don't want to be locked up in padded rooms or hauled off by a mysterious government agency--don't see imaginary beings and if they do, they don't draw the things they see. So Maya's spent most of her 27 years being as mundane as possible.

But a bird's gotta fly; a bear's gotta poo in the woods; and artists have to make art.  Maya's primary means of creative expression is her unpublished graphic novel series that follows the exploits of Benjamin Black, a thief, and his nemesis, Adam Sayres, a cop.  Both are human and "safe" subjects to illustrate. Though she started drawing both characters as a child, it isn't until she is seventeen that she finally gets them just right, the perfect drawings, exactly as she sees them in her head, on paper.

Now, ten years later, two men who bear an uncanny resemblance to her graphic novel characters appear in her life. One, Benjamin, rather in keeping with his backstory, breaks into her house. The other, Adam, is an ATF agent who seems to be on Benjamin's trail. Each has an agenda; each wants something from Maya. With one man, she'll find an unexpected love; with the other, a face-to-face introduction to evil.

I’m reading at present and intrigued by the idea of the main character, Maya’s talent. Am I correct in reading that her sketch subjects become real from her talent or that what she paints is already real…just from another world?

PAT: Never underestimate the power of children's imaginations. In fact, childhood is the only time when ordinary humans have any magical ability. The collective power of children's imagination is so strong that it has literally created an alternate universe where favorite story characters, imaginary friends, and other fictional beings live--NeoVerse.

Most humans outgrow their magic at puberty, but a rare few don't. Maya is one such human, although she doesn't know it. A gifted artist, her magic gives her the ability to literally bring a being from NeoVerse into our world with the perfect drawing or painting. Maya, however, doesn't have a clue what she's doing: on the day she draws the perfect illustration of Benjamin Black, so exact she feels like she can see his soul in the work, she thinks, "Yay, me!" and goes on with her life.  Lather, rinse, repeat a few months later with Benjamin's nemesis, Adam. Ten years later....

Oh, I do love the idea of kids seeing things that are actually there, but told aren’t. So they eventually agree. So, granted, I’m just getting into TCT, but it mildly reminds of Charles de Lint’s Memory and Dream. Have you ever read any deLint?

PAT: Oh, yeah. I'm a big fan (although I don't have any de Lint on my keeper shelf; must remedy that.) I particularly like his Medford stories.  For those who haven't read any de Lint, Newford is a fictional Canadian city where a recurring set of characters, artist and musicians mostly, struggle with the usual creative angst--writer's/artist block, making enough to pay the rent, critics--all while their lives make unexpected intersections with the unseen magical side of life.  In Memory and Dream, an artist finds that some of the fantastic creatures from her paintings have somehow stepped into the real world.

While The Canvas Thief has a similar premise as Memory and Dream, the seed that became a plotline  originated from another DeLint novel--The Onion Girl. (No, I'm not one of those writers who claims she's never-ever influenced by other writer's ideas. I don't steal, but I'm frequently inspired by.) At one point in The Onion Girl, it's mentioned that fictional characters are kept alive by our belief, existing in a world all their own, fading away once we forget about them. The idea was also planted in the barren wasteland of my imagination by Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and fertilized by Bill Willingham's Fables series. At any rate, I soon started wondering how I could take this tidbit and make it my own.

(embraces Pat) I knew you were really my long-lost soul sister. Another deLint fan! I think most of the pirates here thought I was making him up…

I have to say, I remember the post on FB about how the females on both covers of your books both are looking over their shoulder. Do you think your publishers are seeing a common thread in your stories?

PAT: Erm, no. Wait, that sounded so negative. What I meant I think it's more a matter of what readers expect from book covers, how we've been trained by marketing to see a type of cover and automatically think, "urban fantasy" or "romance." With The Canvas Thief, the cover designer had the unenviable task of putting together a cover for a book that's a hybrid of urban fantasy with a dash of suspense, and a heap of romance. With The Music of Chaos, an urban fantasy, the designer went with the standard sexy girl against an urban backdrop shtick.

In both cases, the designer needed to include a female character on cover; it would seem that both had a fondness for stock photos showing women doing the "ovah the shouldah" thing.

No, conspiracy. Damn.

Now, I know this doesn’t have a whole lot to do with your book, but honestly, your movie reviews on your blog are hilarious and very pointy. Do you take notes while you and Critter Husband watch for these reviews?

PAT: Usually, no. I have a snarky dialogue running through my head (with wee track shoes) as I watch any movie. For the sake of my husband, I keep my thoughts in my head. But, the worse the movie, the more snark escapes into real space; if it's a real stinker, Husband Critter joins me in the merciless flaying of the movie. Later, if any of those observations survive my mental editor's enthusiastic culling of the previous day's events, I write the review.  Interestingly, I find it hard to review a movie I like, while I usually pare at least a few hundred words off a review for a stinker. There are sooo many ways to say, "This movie sucks like the vacuum of outer space."  Cranking out a few hundred contemptuous words for The Three Musketeers was effortless, while I've never gotten around to reviewing Midnight in Paris. My feelings for the former being summed up as "...really cute, but, uh, coulda used more Tom Hiddleston."

 We see a lot of you here on the Revenge…most who visit this regularly get a pirate name…one we usually pick. But! If you were allowed to pick your own pirate name, what would it be?

PAT: Erm, I dunno. I'm all about dragons...Draco the Mauve.

Thanks Maureen, and gracias to all the lurvely pirates here at The Revenge for letting me stop by for the day. Given that ya'll read way more romance than I do, I've got a question. Lately, I'm on an artists-as-protagonists kick (hero in current WIP is an artist). My question is, have you read any romances where one of the protagonists is an artist? If so, any you'd recommend? Leave your answer in the comments, and I'll give away a free copy of The Canvas Thief to one commenter.

The Canvas Thief is available from Carina Press and from Amazon. Also available as an audio book from Audible. Chapter One, deleted chapters and my snarky movie reviews can be found on my website.
(Pat has her animals ta animals ta settle this fine morn, but will be alone soonest. Be patient crew!)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Apriwrimo - The Home Stretch

Time to check in for the month. Only four days left. Are you on track? Is the goal in sight?

Also, it's time to pull out the streamers and pour the bubbly. Scape had written THE END on her first full MS!!! This is a major accomplishment. She'll forever be able to say, "I wrote a book". This calls for a party.

To Scape, may revisions be sweet and the story pour out like the smoothest splash of rum. (I'm expecting Q to come up with a better toast.)

Raise your glass. Let's give a group HUZZAH!!!
Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mackenzie Crowne Shows Jack How to Break a Curse

*Jack slips away from the RWR and rows to shore, going up river a ways, under dangling jungle and mossy trees to a little shack on the river’s edge. Fortunately the woman who emerges from this house is less alarming than the famous Tia Dalma. She’s beautiful with flowing auburn hair and sparkling eyes*

MACKENZIE: Jack! I’m so glad you were able to make it. I was wondering about you.

JACK: Me, luv? You need never worry. *glancing around suspiciously* I am quite honorable…and punctual.

MACKENZIE: Indeed. Only 45 minutes late this time. You’re lucky I had some Dancing with the Stars to watch.

JACK: I’m eagerly awaiting the day they ask me to join a season. I have a little crush on Chelsie Hightower.

MACKENZIE: *grins* I’ve seen you run, Jack. Very um…graceful. You’ll be a natural. *leading Jack to her center room table and pouring a glass of rum* Have a seat, Jack—

JACK: *sitting and smiling up at her* You always did know how to make a pirate feel at home, luv. Now as I said in my letter, I was hoping you could help me with a little problem. I have been cursed—

MACKENZIE: Again? Oh, Jack. You’re a curse magnet!

JACK: What can I say? I’m popular, and there’s not exactly penicillin for this kind of thing, or otherwise, there wouldn’t be an issue at all, if you know what I mean.

MACKENZIE: I’m alarmed to say I do.

JACK: I had heard you were coming out with a new book, GIFTOF THE REALM, and it’s a story about a 300-year-old curse, and I’ve only had this one a few years tops, and if you were able to break your curse, I thought you could help with mine.

MACKENZIE: You’ve come to the right girl. I have some experience in breaking curses. You see, in GIFT OF THE REALM the curse is… Hmmm, let me give you some background about the book and the curse you speak of. 

Beneath the fairie mound of Dunhaven's Door, two dreamers meet their destiny. After a decade of trying to outrun her debilitating dreams, Keely O’Brian returns to Ireland to face the ancient ring of stones and the man haunting them. Within the stones, she embraces her fairie heritage and her mystical gifts, but to break a three hundred year-old curse and end the dreams, she must trust the handsome Halfling who shares her dreams and holds her heart.

When Keely reappears in his life, Colin Quinn’s fairie blood threatens to gain the upper hand. Compelled to assist the lovely Halfling, he agrees to help her break the curse on their families, but he'll do it on his terms—as the black wolf.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but everyone knows that together, two Halflings can stand against any power. Since GIFT OF THE REALM is a romance, you might enjoy reading it with one of your wenches. Your ladylove will surely wonder if Keely will be doomed for eternity, or if love is enough to break the curse. While you *winks* will no doubt relate to Colin’s arrogant plan to outwit the King of the Fairies.

JACK: *firmly* I don’t care about the rumor mill. I am no fairy. I’m not even a half-fairy. Not that there is anything wrong, mind you. Your fairies sound very…er…virile.

MACKENZIE: Oh, he is—Six foot-two with raven black hair, cobalt blue eyes, and a sexy, dimpled smile, the mantel of authority and influence rides easily on Colin Quinn’s wide shoulders. The power behind the Quinn Empire, Colin is everything a man should be. Strong, confident, and…beautiful. *sigh*

JACK: Yes, yes, he sounds great, but as I explained, I’m more interested in the heroine, who is she and what is she like?

MACKENZIE: *grins* I think you’d like her, Jack. A tall, curvy blonde, her exotic green eyes and pixie-like features tell of her fairie heritage. Haunted by the dreams, her life hasn’t been easy, but she’s no coward. If Colin can’t, or won’t, accept her love and join his destiny to hers, she’ll find some other way to break the curse—even if she has to enter fairie realm on her own.

JACK: Exactly. Just my kind of wench. *takes another drink of rum and refills his glass, pouring generously* It seems as if this curse is easily solved—what with love breaking the curse and what with HEAs being the norm—though I don’t ascribe that love is ever easy or that HEAs don’t come without sacrifice. I mean, I’m in love with a red-haired hellion and she is enough to make me long to bury her at sea at least once a day. It’s a sacrifice to my sanity, it is.

MACKENZIE: I’m sure the feeling is mutual, Jack.

JACK: I’m su—wot?  Nevermind, tell me about your Call. How did you get into this curse-breaking business anyway? I heard a rumor you had a curse of your own?

MACKENZIE: Ah, yes. That I did. Several years ago, I faced the nasty, evil curse, of breast cancer. I’m proud to report, with the help of family and friends, and some very talented medical professionals, I’ve claimed the key to survival. And there is nothing like coming face to face with mortality to give a girl a good kick in the ars…um, butt. You see, I’ve dabbled with my writing for as long as I can remember, but never gave it the respect it deserved. I dealt with mastectomies, chemo and radiation, certainly I could go the distance with something I loved. The moment I was well enough to think clearly again, I began writing in earnest. GIFT OF THE REALM is one of the results of my efforts.  

JACK: You and the Bartender would have a lot to share with each other, luv. Just don’t let her serve you the flaming Twinkies. She sets fire to perfectly good rum. Burns all the alcohol out. What’s the point, I ask.

MACKENZIE: I’m with you. That sounds like alcohol abuse to me.

JACK: What is next for you? What wrongs will you be righting next…and will there be rum?

MACKENZIE: There is always rum, Jack. Or vodka…or wine. As for what’s next for me, I’m writing, of course and my second title, a contemporary romance, is set to be released this fall. THAT DATING THING is a fun filled look at how the daughter of Wall Street’s most notorious stock swindler juggles her need for anonymity with an attraction for a charming, assistant district attorney with political ambitions. 

JACK: Mackenzie, it was a pleasure visiting today, and well worth sneaking out of a harridan’s bedroom, let me just say. I believe you’ve given me hope to break my own curse. I hope you don’t mind if I take the rum with me. But before I go, just tell me one thing, what is your favorite pirate fantasy about me? Don’t be afraid to share. Use explicit details…

MACKENZIE: *laughs* Hmmm. I have so many fantasies about you, Jack. I just don’t know where to begin. Let’s see. There would have to be a deserted tropical island, and plenty of rum—that I would never think of tossing on the bonfire—warm sand… pounding surf…

JACK: We’ll come back to this later. Okay, despite my best efforts to be secretive, I believe we’ve been found by the crew. Crew, what questions and comments do you have for the beautiful Mackenzie Crowne and her new book, GIFT OF THE REALM?
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday Review: Lynsay Sands Charms Under a Vampire Moon

[I’m giving away my review copy for today’s blog. Please comment for a chance to win.]

I admit it: I had some doubts.

I opened the Avon review book package and went: “Really? A vampire hero?” and wondered if I should email the Headmistress and say, “I’m slightly prejudiced against vampires. I’m Team Jacob.” But I thought, “No, be mature. This is Avon. They’re not going to send you a bad book.” I mean, that’s like their code or something. Besides I think I told her about my un-love of dukes, so if I kept issuing complaints about heroes, they might start issuing me books with CEOs or Republicans, and then my soul would die a little and I might have to give up reading. Yes, best I never mention the problem with vampires. Keep sending the dukes and vampires, Avon!

On top of that, I had just finished reading Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and no offense to my Deerhunter, but I really wanted to read something good. I mean, DAT was good, of course, obviously, it just took so looonnnnng to read and I wanted something fun and fluffy and sexy and funny in a girl way. Girl humorous. Not boy “hit someone with a stick during an important battle” humorous. The real deal. And while I knew Lynsay Sands was well known for being funny and fun, I just didn’t believe it. Because I believe all vampires are inherently humorless and androgynous, like Edward Cullen.

Boy, was I wrong.

I started UNDER A VAMPIRE MOON on Sunday morning and ended up reading the whole thing practically in one sitting. Much to the determent of my apartment that looked like a bomb exploded in it. But I didn’t care. I only cared what happened next with Carolyn, our intrepid heroine. She’s forty, bouncing hard out of a bad marriage, and skeptical and wary to say the least. This trip to the tropics isn’t exactly her idea, but we all have friends that drag us to places that are good for us whether we’re willing to admit it or not.

Then we meet Christian, a twenty-something looking vampire, who meets Carolyn and realizes he’s met his Life Mate. Only Carolyn thinks he’s a fetus because he’s young enough to be her son. She guesses he’s about 24 or 26. (In the technical sense, if she’d wanted to be a teenage mom. Who does?) But of course, he keeps hitting on her, and she keeps trying to keep him away. Christian, meanwhile, is here in the tropics with his entire family—so there is nothing like trying to do Extreme Courtship: Vampire Life Mate edition with everyone watching. “Fortunately” his cousins agree to pitch in and help him woo said girl.

Gia contributes by telling Carolyn that she has nothing to worry about with Christian because he’s gay. Things tend to explode in a literary conflagration from there on out—if it can go wrong, of course it does. As good fiction is supposed to. Ms. Sands certainly had me flipping pages at light speed to see how Christian was going to win over his fair bride—especially the part of “Oh, by the way, I’m a vampire. I hope this is not a problem. And I’m not gay and I know you preferred me when I was.”

Another thing I enjoyed about this book is the world building of this particular group of vampires. They don’t turn into crispy critters in the sun (though it wears them out and they need to drink blood); they have a blood bank and don’t usually take from others unless it’s an emergency; the blood works with the nanos in their body to keep them youthful and well, not dead. It was more of an evolution quirk than rising from the dead sort of thing. They can also eat food…and drink. They have to have blood to rebuild, but eating food is normal for them too. I liked this world. This was a world of vampires I wouldn’t mind living in. Food, hot sex, and a gorgeous husband? Oh, yes!

I finished the book that night. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that fast. It held my attention and was the perfect combination of well-paced action, sexy humorous characters, fun but not intrusive secondary characters (Captain Jack was my personal favorite), and sexual tension. My one quibble was a subplot that seemed introduced in the final third of the book and didn’t feel like it had been hinted at properly—so it felt rather thrown in rather than organic to the story. However, that one quibble did not take away from the story; and I was interested by some of the other characters and wanted to look up their books since I know Ms. Sands has a whole series with this family.

 So read UNDER A VAMPIRE MOON if you love vampires…or even if you don’t. It’s just that fun and readable and will put you in a good mood. And then go after her backlist. I know I’m going to!

So…question to answer to qualify for prize consideration: What book have you read that you normally wouldn’t have that surprised you in a good way?

Winner will be announced next Monday, April 30, 2012.
Monday, April 23, 2012

Heading West – Time To Head For The Sunset

In Romance, there is always a happy ending. The lovers make it through all the trials and tribulations to come out together on the other side. Because this is always the case, one might say, "So all the books are the same."

Oh no, my friend. They are not.

Everyday ends with a sunset, but rarely do two sunsets look the same. And I can't think of anyone who would ever say, "Gosh, another sunset? How boring."

If you know someone who might say this sort of thing, give them a good poke in the ribs for me. Okay. You probably shouldn't poke anyone. I take it back. But maybe look at them really funny. That's fair.

So you're sitting around the 2/3s mark on your WIP and find yourself stumped about where to go next. Look west. Look toward that HEA. Where do you want these characters to be at the end? Do they run off together? Do they settle down right where they are? Does she sacrifice what she thought she wanted? Does he embrace something he never thought he wanted?

And most importantly, who does the groveling? (There must be groveling. Never forget the groveling.)
Once you've answered these questions, the next one is simple. HOW DO I GET THEM THERE?

Sure, it doesn't sound simple when you're staring at what appears to be a no-win situation.

He would never give up A, B, and C, even for love!
She would never put him through D, E, and F just for her.

This can never work out!! [insert much gnashing of teeth] But it can and it will. After all, these characters are meant for each other. Now keep breathing and stay focused.

Keep your eye on that HEA and the answers will come to you. The ending you wind up with might not look exactly as you pictured when you wrote page one, but that's okay. Don't forget, too much commitment to the story in your head can be as much of a road block as anything.

For those pantsers in the group who are thinking, "But I never have any idea how the book is going to end until I get there." You're writing Romance. You know there's a happy ending. Whatever other details you're lacking, you know that much. By the time you're this far into the story, you should know the characters well enough to know what would make each of them happy.

Even if it's one tiny thread. One commonality. Find that and figure out how to make that happen. You don't have to know everything or even a lot, but you always know that HEA is out there. Out west. Now go find it.

How about you? Pantsers and plotters, I want to hear from you both. How far out do you know how your book will end? Have you written an ending that was completely different from what you intended.

For readers (which is everyone, really), is there an ending to a book that stayed with you long after closing that cover? Years later? Is there an ending that took you by surprise? Disappointed you?
Friday, April 20, 2012

RT Hangover

I’ve been back five days from the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention and…I’m still beat. Already looking forward to next year.

I’m insane.

But conventions are fabulous and I want to talk about why every writer, unpubbed or pubbed, needs to attend them. Why?

1) For the connections. Not just professional, but the friendships, the support, the chance to talk about everything! Submission, pitching, query, marketing, critiques, rejection, request.

2) For the fun. No kidding. It was…a blast! I invited a pirate to show up on Saturday and he was such a hit…even Susan Elizabeth Phillips took a pic with him and posted it on her FB page… Bluebeard, what a lovely man. At the end of the time I paid him for, he said it was such a blast! Where was the event next year? (Oh, love, if I had the money, I’d bring you to Kansas City!)
Writers are just like everyone else, we live a life very isolated and the need to burn off steam is very present. I went to…three…no, four…parties. My roommate went to five or six. I don’t remember.

3) For the inspiration. Nothing like talking to writer after writer, after editor after agent about what is going on. Who is looking for what, what is selling, what might sell, what you write, what they write. Bouncing ideas off each other. I don’t know how many people ended up in their rooms, at night, late…and wrote.

(I didn’t. I slept. Or put together swag or stayed in the bar or drank with new friends in their room – who ordered deep dish Chicago style pizza and handed me a drink called a Dirty Girlscount. Which tasted like a thin mint cookie. Christine Merrill and Corrina Lawson are…awesome!)

I made notes on a few stories. For me, the inspiration came in getting home and waking three mornings in a row with dreams. One of which…no, two of which, have been recorded and made note of for future stories. A new steampunk pirate that is set in the world I created with my two scifi erotic shorts and a new little short story.

What a writer shouldn’t do?

Do not put off going to conventions because you don’t have a MS finished. Do not decide you can’t go because you:

A) Don’t have anything to pitch. Trust me, you have things to pitch. Maybe not to an agent or an editor, but pitching isn’t always about getting the deal. Sometimes it’s about learning how to talk about your story by sharing it with other writers.

B) Don’t know anyone. Yes, you do. Through FB, through Twitter, through blogs. Authors you read want to meet you and talk to you. (Okay, this may not be true at the RWA Nationals, because a lot of them are there to do a lot of professional meet ups with editors or agents.) But it is so true at other conventions.

C) Can’t afford to go. Uh huh. There are cons everywhere and for most every price range. And it’s amazing how cheap a hotel can be if you put enough people in a hotel room. Food? Hey, I had cereal three times instead of eating in the pricey hotel restaurant.

RT, where I heard Renee Bernard present a loving tribute to Judi McCoy at the opening ceremonies. (Cried and laughed.) I sat in Club RT with Joanne Fluke and chatted about cinnamon rolls. At a party that evening, I scored two wine coolers.

The next day, I played Mad Libs with a bunch of panel attendees, tossing pirate rubber duckies, and made Katharine Ashe wear a tam-o-shanter perched on a headband. I announced my awesome costume shopping kharma at the Gaslight Social, on stage, introducing myself as 2nd Chance, the bartender on the Romance Writers Revenge blog! I harassed an erotic author sitting next to me at the E-Book and Indy Published Book Fair. (She took it well.) I convinced Jane to compete in the costume contest at the Faery Ball and she won two awards! One of which was the big one!

I played hooky on Friday and went to Chicago. And posed with THE BEAN!
That night I ate pasta prior to attending the Gangster Café Talent Quest.

Saturday? Bluebeard and the RT Bookfair. Where I harassed Renee Bernard and sold/signed books. (I spent a lot of time harassing people. Ah, the freedom of a pirate hat! Turns me into…someone who feels free to harass!) I gave away pirate rubber duckies at the Fan-Tastic Day Party, then pitched to Angela James that night at the Carina Press Cocktail Party. What’s not to love about conventions!?

So, what is your excuse for not going to cons? If you’ve gone to cons, what was your favorite part? If money and time were yours to spend freely, what con would you go to? Is it your dream to be a Guest of Honor? To speak? To present a panel? (Anyone know a good source for pirate rubber krakens? I’d like to try something new…)
Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thursday April Writing Month Check-In Status

Just a quick post to see how everyone is doing this month on their writing goals. Even if you've fallen behind don't stress out about it. The goal of April is to get yourself writing. Yeah, the pages and words are a good way to measure how far we've come in the month but that's not the point. The point is to do something we all love to do and that's write.

I'm not usually a pat yourself on the back kind of person but you probably need it. So take a deep breath, de-stress yourself from the ball of anxiety you've become after realizing you're not doing as well as you wanted to do and reward yourself. Writing shouldn't be punishment.Writing is supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be an extension of our imagination onto page.

One of the exercises of NaNoWriMo is to just write. It doesn't matter if it has nothing to do with the story you're writing, the point is that you're writing. Your brain is thinking creatively. So if you're stalled on your story don't sweat it. We all go through these spells. Stressing about it will make it worse and then we start to stress that we're stressing over our writing. It's a vicious cycle.

So the goal for the rest of the month is to just enjoy it. Enjoy the time you do get to sit down in front of your computer or the time you get to pull out your notebook and jot down your thoughts and snippets. Remember how much you love to write scenery or dialogue and just write for the hell of it. I want you to succeed. You want to succeed. And you can do this. I have faith in your ability to create. Just have fun.

Go out enjoy the sun. Enjoy the wind buffering against your face. Smell the sweet flowers blooming. Go for a walk. Take a nap. Read a book. Do anything else but sit there and stare at your computer screen for hours.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Magic of Words

Music Influence- a band called Hurt. If you don't know them, find them, love them, stalk them to a concert near you. Seriously. You won't regret it.

Cold on the inside. In phases my lights die. Staring through ardent eyes. I love you, but I lied. Cold on the inside. In faces a smile dies. Staring through ardent eyes. I loathe you, but I lied.”

Cold Inside- Hurt (Vol. 1, 2006)

The first time I knew I wanted to write, it wasn't a story. I didn't have a story to tell. Or at least I didn't think I had a story to tell. I felt all this pressure inside me welling up. My brain was a jumbled mess of nothing and everything. My fingers itched to do something but I wasn't sure what. I didn't know it was the urge to create. To write.

I was a child who spent my energy running outside from dawn to dusk. If I was inside, I poured over books. I lived in my imaginary world. I lived inside others imagination, showing me things in the world I didn't know existed, or possible.

I ran through fields of overgrown grass and weeds, Black-Eyed Susans, dandelions and clover sweetened the breeze even on the hottest days. I lived in my makeshift world where I had a stable of unicorns and a winged unicorn was my personal best friend. The clouds always held shape and was easy for my eyes to make out the obvious faces staring down at me. The first summer after my eyes no longer had innocence and couldn't find the simple wonders in the world, my fingers learned a new world. My words painted what my eyes no longer saw. Short strokes on a blank notebook page. The only sound was the pencil scratching furiously. The sentences held no format. Punctuation was nowhere to be found, but I found something I had been missing. All that had pent up inside me in those years of pretending and wandering manifested into... something. I wasn't sure what it was. What I'd carved out of my heart sat roughly on this page. My handwriting wasn't neat. Nor my sentences witty and clever. But for a brief second I felt that little piece of happiness I'd been missing and hadn't known it was truly gone.

I saw a way on that page to truly live again.

But this had to remain my secret. No one could know of this. Read this. Discover this. This- manifestation of what was in me. No one could know but me. I just wanted my life back. The life of running carefree through the fields and staring up at the clouds. Of wishing on stars and believing the magic in the stories I read. If I could only exercise out what stopped me from believing, I could have it all back.

So I wrote. And I kept writing. I had pages filled with thoughts and fears burned into my mind. The loss and the pain and uncertainty poured out until I knew there was nothing left. My tears smeared the pen and wrinkled the paper and yet I woke up the next day filled with the same feelings. I'd never have it back- the innocence I lost. I'd never be the little girl running through the field and chasing butterflies, believing they were faeries guiding me into the faerie kingdom. I'd never be the little girl wishing on stars and believing the one that fell was the unicorn I'd dreamed for. The writing showed me I wasn't a little girl. I was never going to be that girl again. If I wanted to dream, I had to find a way to bring it to life.

And that is how I learned to write.

Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote that meant something to you? What does writing (or reading) mean to you?

Just a side note: The song above I reference was written by the lead singer of Hurt, J. Loren Wince, when he was just 13 years old. Reading lyrics, to me, is a lot like reading poetry. My first words were manifested into free form poetry. I think this is why I've always loved music and lyrics.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Winners: Tuesday Reviews

Okay, I'm a bit behind on Tuesday Review books.

Blame It On Bath--TERRI

The Tattooed Duke--MARN

Next week, up for grabs will be: UNDER A VAMPIRE MOON, by Lyndsay Sands (which I read over the weekend and can't wait to blog about it! Funny, sexy, charming! A must-read!)

And the week after, THE LYON'S BRIDE (CHATTAN CURSE) by Cathy Maxwell, which I'm reading now and am loving. There will also be a copy of this up for tell your friends to come back and comment. If you really want a copy, comment twice!

Tuesday Review: A Half-Elven, a Knight, a Mage, and a Dwarf Walk Into a Bar....

I agreed to read a Dragonlance book for Deerhunter.

Apparently this series--aside from Tolkien's--was his favorite when he was a kid. (At least this time, I didn't say, "You read?"--I learn my lessons. This time I said, "God, you're such a geek. I never would have guessed.") He's lucky I don't make him read the books I found formative in my teens, like Sylvie Somerfield's Autumn Dove (and probably yet another reason why I wanted to have red hair). Or that Janelle Taylor "First Love Wild Love" with the blond Texas Ranger. *faraway look*


So I read this book, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I found it infinitely more readable than Tolkien. INFINITELY.

I also have to thank all my fantasy-paranormal reading I've done in the last ten years or so, because that is the only reason why I've become halfway tolerant of names that are not pronounceable...and town names that are even less so. I also want to thank the ladies who wrote the book for having approximately 1/3 of the long, boring songs that Fellowship of the Rings had. I also was relieved that the women featured in the books were not only good when they were dead (i.e. a la Conan and the Tree of Woe). Though the good woman in the story DID have a death scene of sacrifice. There's no escaping that in the Hero's Journey, I guess.

Overall, though, a decent read. Can't say I'm going to run out and start reading fantasy novels hand over fist. I spent a lot of my time reading this book, identifying the things that didn't work for me as a reader. This is good practice for writing, I believe. I may not always know what I want to say, but I can tell you what I don't want to. Like--I don't like the Point of View writing they use. It's almost like an author omniscient. It makes the story about the plot and not about the story of the characters (i.e. emotional journey, structure.) In fact, the scenes I liked most about the book were the emotional scenes. There was a character I could not stand--the mage, Raistlin (pretty sure none of us should like him)--but there was a scene between him and a gully dwarf, where he's genuinely kind, where you almost understand his behavior. The rest of the time, I wanted to beat him with a baseball bat.

The thing is--fantasy are all about that author omniscient stuff. Are there any books (fantasy) that are 1st person? I would like to read one of those. But I don't believe it's the norm and it's not the expected. It's not the comfort read fantasy novel. I think the reason these books probably stand out is that--it's still primarily plot and action, but there's enough emotional stuff there to really make the story a stand out for readers. It's just different enough for fantasy fans to be a standout.

The male characters are interesting. I think perhaps they are probably some very real male characters. You have the one who can't accept himself and doesn't know where he belongs (I call him the Hamlet character; he's the leader and noble of sorts, but he irks the shit out of me with his indecision and pantywaist crap.) There is the knight who lives, breathes, and dies honor. Honor has been stripped away from his life, but he wants to pay penance and restore it--honor is life. (And God knows men can be batshit crazy about honor--the war, brotherhood kind.) The mage who has been weak and repressed all his life who wants to be the most powerful wizard in the Universe, like some sort of medieval Pinky from Pinky and the Brain. He literally wants to be like god. (This character I understand least of all. Anyone who wants to be God is an idiot, imo. But I've been on plenty of dates with these kinds of guys.)

I do find the Knight possibly my favorite of the characters--I like the consistency; and if you're going to have a flaw, I think I may prefer you to be too honorable rather than a god-hungry egotist or a indecisive whiner who can't decide which woman he wants. That was very impressive about this story. The men were definitely men (even if they were dwarves.) They were flawed men with no apologies--not fantasy romance novel men who are so sensitive they ask how you're feeling. None of that crap. These men are confused. They have real issues on their minds--like honor. Or in Kender's case, Adventure.

Okay--so what's the book about? It's a trilogy--because it's illegal for a fantasy writer to write only one book of a fantasy world. I think it's in their contract or something. A trilogy is the minimum you can commit to. In the story, the end of the world is nigh--isn't it always?--and the half-elf, mage, knight, warrior, kender, wizard, and dwarf meet up in a bar to pool their notes from their travels to see just how imminent the end of the world really is. It's so imminent, there's a fight and they end up taking on two more companions--strangers, of course--and are sent on a journey. They need to take a staff to a city...and find out how to save the world...or something to that effect. (It's a fantasy novel--it's always a ring/staff/necklace/sword/child--that has to be taken to the worst city possible where Death is so likely they fill out your death certificates before you leave and you have to restore peace and prosperity in the lands. On the journey, you'll meet someone nice in some woods, you'll go through some elven woods (though the elves are fleeing like rats off the Titanic), and you'll fight some weird looking evil creatures (Dragonians, Orcs, Deatheaters, et al).) Oh, don't get disgruntled. You know it's true. It's the same sort of same-old-same-old romances provide: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy screws girl...blah, blah, blah. Fantasy novels follow their own beats, and we all know what they are.

The point is: if you like the hero's journey of this nature, you'll love this book. It's a nice comfortable read. Me, it took two weeks to read. It was readable; and I was able to discuss it with Deerhunter throughout, but I'm no convert. The fact is if I can read it and enjoy it--which I did--it means that this book must be pretty phenomenal to actual Fantasy Fans.

Apparently there is a fourth book of the trilogy (proving another theory that fantasy writers can't actually add) called the Dragons of Summer--basically it covers the last season--this one was the Dragons of Autumn Twilight--and basically it destroys all the HEAs that occur at the end of the trilogy (the Spring one) originally. This also proves theory that fantasy novelists can't stand HEAs and must destroy them as soon as possible. I am convinced Nicholas Sparks suckled at the breasts of many a fantasy trilogy.

So...fantasy readers, I have questions 1.) do you know any first person fantasy novels that are really good? 2.) what is it you like about fantasy novels? 3.) what made you cross over to romances and what was the hardest thing to get used to in reading romance novels?
Monday, April 16, 2012

Looking for Balance in "Pure Fiction"

This month is not going to defeat me.

I started ApriWriMo with high hopes...or well, hopes. I'm rarely high. I would succeed at the challenge and write my 50 pages, a mere 12 pages a week, plus four pages for those last two days. I could do that. Anyone could do that?

The first few days, I seemed to be doing well, much like I would on a new diet regimen. I had the writing equivalent of a stocked fridge of veggies and fruit, a set time to meet with my personal trainer every day, and daily affirmations posted everywhere to keep me on the path.

Then after day three, I got a little nervous ("Terri! I don't know what I'm going to do! My BFF is in town and I haven't seen her since 2003! I won't be able to write my pages these three days! I'll be SOOOO behind!"), but after Terri talked me off the ledge, I went to bed most nights, scribbling longhand and at least had some pages if they weren't ALL the pages I needed to make my monthly quota. I felt, well, not good about it, but resigned. Some was better than nothing.

My friend went home on Friday, and I had the weekend to myself, which I chose to spend recuperating. This is Hellion Shorthand for "Sleeping", which I honestly wish I could be paid for. I'd make so much money. I was also struggling through a Dragonlance book that I promised my Deerhunter I would read since "it was the best book ever...well, excluding Tolkien, but since you won't read that..." and to which I lovingly replied, "God, you're such a geek." (Said the Harry Potter fan as she hurled the first stone.) But weekends are for recovering from work, and this is the busy time of year for applications, and it's so draining. I frequently fantasize about working somewhere else. Somewhere where I'm paid for sleeping. Also because I was lazing around, visiting with friends I hadn't seen in an eon, and skipping the gym (which has contributed to shoulder pain, more sleeping, and an alarming amount of laziness.)

I'd get it back together come Monday, I thought. I'll have the creativity night with Pam...and I'll go to the gym. I promise! No dillydallying!

At 3 a.m. the phone rang.

I don't know what it is for you in your part of the world, but in mine, a 3 a.m. is never good news. I glanced at the number and saw it was the friend I had just seen last week. I answered--and she sobbed into the phone, "Arthur just died." Arthur is the husband I just met last week, whom she brought home for all of us to meet. She'd married him less than a year ago. He was 36. He'd had a heart attack. There is nothing more helpless than being 1000 miles away from someone you can't hug or hold as she cries on the phone.

Monday was a bit of a loss where sleep was concerned, as you might imagine. But I did have my creativity night with Pam. I penned a couple pages and we called it a night. Tuesday I crashed early from the Monday episode; Wednesday had my normal long night of Weight Watchers meeting and then also a run to the farm to pick up Dad for a doctor's appointment on Thursday. Thursday was a 7 am-8 pm day of running and worry, and when I got home, I pretty much crashed. Then Friday through Sunday turned into a repeat of last week: recovering from the stress of the week before.

It's not like I couldn't make time. I can carve it out. It's not like other writers don't go through family crises of children and aging parents, have other personal crises that may crop up in their own lives or their friends, or even have another day time job that sucks out their energy and drive like some kind of vampire. Writers deal with this crap all the time.

As usual a lot of this inertia is stemming from my PERFECTIONIST gene. Which doesn't exist because you can't have perfection in anything. As a clever little line in a writing book I read recently (I think it was Wabi Sabi for Writers), "Perfection is PURE FICTION." I want to have huge hunks of time; I want to write 10 pages at a sitting; I want the pages to be the best freaking pages ever, so much that Shakespeare would be jealous; I want to feel refreshed as I'm writing pages--not exhausted, brain-dead, stressed, or depressed.

But in the end I arrive at the conclusion I always circle back to. There is no perfect time to write. You just do.

I think the other half of this month is going to be dedicated to finding Hellion's groove back for one. I have a list of remedies, but need to add them back one at a time. Adding them all at once will only doom me to failure. Clearly though I need to figure out out some ways to de-stress first to contribute to my overall well-being.

But I'm really going to have to kick this Perfection Habit. Or Perfection "Need". I'm sure it's a mental ailment, so you can't really get rid of it; you can only live around it. But I need some better ways to live around it. De-stressing is the first cure, though, I'm pretty sure.

So I'm sorry this blog isn't clever or witty...or even deep or revelational. It is what it is. A confession. I'm still mired in my own head and my own problems--and I'm going to have to figure out a way out of the first because problems never go away. :) Knowing my therapist, I'm sure the witch would tell me I should give up writing because I clearly wasn't any good at it and find a new hobby that was less stressful.

Yes, that's exactly what she'd say. And I'd have to write to prove her wrong--because it's what I did the last time she gave me that sort of advice. But while I'm doing it, I'm going to do some meditation and a few yoga stretches first.

How do you find balance in your life? Do you ever stress out from your normal everyday activities and wonder how you'll make writing really work? Does it ever feel to you the moment you begin working on something in earnest, the Universe conspires to throw extra things your way to deal with?
Friday, April 13, 2012

Texts From Our Undead Monkey

SOMEONE (she knows who she is) on this ship sent us all a link this week to a site where a Brit claims his English bulldog texts him while he's at work. It was brilliant. I wish I'd thought of it.

A thought occurred to me. I wondered what would happen if our Undead Monkey started texting us. Here's what I think Jack would say:

Undead Monkey: Where's the shiny stuff?

Sin: You mean the loot? We're kinda low right now. I'll stop at Loot Be Us on my way home.

Undead Monkey: No shiny stuff?

Sin: The hold is empty. Wait till I get back from the sword store.


Sin: Go ahead.

Undead Monkey: Never mind. I found your great grandmother's jewelry. Have shiny stuff.


Undead Monkey: Whatchya doin? SCREEEEEEEEECH!

Bosun: Quit texting me. I'm working.

Undead Monkey: I'm bored. There's nothing to do here.

Bosun: Not my problem.

Undead Monkey: I've killed myself three times already this morning...nothing to DO!!!

Bosun: If you don't knock it off, I'LL kill you.

Undead Monkey: B-O-R-E-D!


Undead Monkey: The rum's gone.

Hellion: The rum's gone?

Undead Monkey: Yesssh, the rum's gone byebye.

Hellion: Why is the rum gone?

Undead Monkey: The room ish schpinninging. I feel mrylsp...


Undead Monkey: nno. chanccccee ddid it. and shhhhe ssshot yur mirror wiithh yur pistoll.

ALRIGHT - your turn. What does the Undead Monkey text to you?
The Assassin
Thursday, April 12, 2012

How's The Journey?

He is able who thinks he is able. - Buddha

So this is the check-in for week two of our April Challenge. Are you still riding the high on how great last week felt, or did you lose a little steam? Surpass your expectations of yourself or in need of a pep talk?

Let's hear how your challenge is going and see how we can inspire our fellow pirates and offer help to those who might be having a tougher time this week.

I also want to present a challenge to all of you this week (totally optional) - spend 1 writing session in a different place than you normally write. If you normally write in your office area, try taking it outside or to another room. If you're like Chance and hit up Starbucks, maybe try the beach or somewhere there is solitude.

Then, next week tell us what happened. Did it annoy you or inspire you? Maybe consider other ways that shaking up your routine might help your flow and creativity.

For today - how's it going?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Recapping a complex plot

I've been listening to a lot of books on tape recently. I'm in the car a few hours a day, and books on tape make driving almost as fun as reading, which says a lot, because I'd almost always rather be reading than whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing.

But my days in the car aren't back to back, so sometimes I go a few days in between being able to listen. I've been listening to romantic suspense and thrillers, and let me tell you, with a couple days lag, it's easy to get lost in a complex plot when your listening rather than reading.

I listened to a Lee Child book this week (Killing Floor, the first of the Jack Reacher series, which was AWESOME!). He had 10 bad guys that had to be caught. TEN! That's a lot of names and relationships to keep straight, especially when I'm swerving in and out of traffic through downtown Baltimore, chugging on cigarettes to keep my blood pressure down (ha!) and only listening with half an ear.

So invariably, the name of a super-bad villain would be mentioned, and I'd be going, "Who's that? Wait! What?"  What really impressed me with Lee Child's writing is that just about the time I found myself lost, he'd provide a handy 1-2 sentence recap. Just a little reminder to tweak the reader's (or listener's, in this case) memory as what we were supposed to know.

Then a few times throughout the book, he'd provide a full recap of the plot. This particular plot was smashed into a one-week span, so he did it chronologically. Something like:

I'd been arrested on Friday, out of prison by Sunday, got hammered with Joe's death on Tuesday, and by Thursday, we'd taken out four of the ten guys involved. It'd been a hell of a week.

It's simple, it's in the hero's voice and style of speaking, and it's just enough organization to keep readers (or listeners) on track. It's also very short, which lets it fit seamlessly into the narrative.

Anybody else listen to books on tape and find themselves needing quick recaps? Any authors who do a particularly good job of keeping their plot organized for the reader? Do you prefer books on tape or books on paper? Ever thought about how your book might sound if read on tape, and what kind of recaps your readers might need?
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday Review: When Hellion Mistakes One Book For Another Author

Here’s an accident every writer and publisher wants to have happen. I bought a book thinking it was the next in a series written by someone else.

This is humorous really because I’m usually a bit better with names; however, the cover looked right, the premise sounded a bit similar, the first page or so of writing seemed intense, fast, and humorous like the other book. It must be the same person. I bought the book and read it: AN AFFAIR WITH MR. KENNEDY.

About five pages or so into the book, I became a little confuzzled. Why? Because when I looked at the author’s blurb, it said this was her debut novel. I said to myself, “No, it isn’t! She wrote that Smith book! I know she did! It’s why I bought this book!” Still, it niggled and finally I went in pursuit of the original book on my shelves and realized I am a bit of an idiot. Like a total and complete idiot. The author names weren’t even remotely the same. I’m surprised they were both female names honestly.

AN AFFAIR WITH MR. KENNEDY is by Jillian Stone. It is set in 1887, and it put the HISTORICAL in historical romance. The detail is so rich, it’s not something that can be plucked out of its structure and launched elsewhere. No. The story and the structure are indelibly entwined. But this is not to suggest it’s boring (since I am afraid every time I drone on ad nauseum about the importance of historical accuracy and not wallpapering, this is what everyone’s thinking) because Ms. Stone certainly pushes the envelope of accuracy, possibility, and plausibility.

And before I forget: BEST. MOTHER. EVER. Seriously, I’m not kidding. This book should be read for the secondary character of the heroine’s mother alone. That woman is a piece of work. Absolutely hysterical. Not in a prim horrified Victorian way, but in a free-love, don’t-forget-to-protect-yourself-during-sex-dear kind of way. She’s horrifying.

Our heroine takes her mother in stride though, and she’s not a prim-and-proper missish creature either. She’s daring, but she’s reasonable about it. It feels plausible, as if these characters could have existed at some point.

The story keeps up a rather break-neck pace, but easy to follow and loathe to put down. It’s character-driven AND plot-driven AND tension-driven all rolled up at the same time. I honestly want to hunt down this woman and beg her to write a blog for us, but I couldn’t begin to decide what I’d want her to focus on most.

For those of you a bit leery of the “historical” aspect I’m so thrilled with, it has a bit of the shiny, fun, clever Steampunk elements that show up now and again in the Victorian era. I cannot wait to see what Ms. Stone does next with her books of Scotland Yard and what newfangled machine she will put to the test.

So let’s recap:

Is it historical? YES.

Is it romantic? YES, YES.

Is it sexy? Hells, yes.

Is it fun and edgy? Do bears poop in the woods?

Does it have steampunk for Mo? This woman has everything, man.

Will Q like it? He’d be crazy not to!

Emotional. Sexy. Actiony. And hilarious. What more are you wanting? Free? Well, you can’t have everything. Go buy this woman’s book so she’ll write more. Rafe is up next on the docket and I don’t want anything getting in the way of his debut. Yummo!

Read it, thank me, and then figure out how to learn her brilliance so you can implement her tricks into your story and make it better. We all aspire to be this detailed, emotionally structured, and well-paced. Well done debut, Ms. Stone!

And for full disclosure let me add: I bought my copy (as I said above, when I thought she was someone else!) and it's going on my keeper shelf. No one has compensated me for my unbiased opinion. :) I give it away for free.

Divulge: What's the happiest accident you've found in reading a book? Thought you were reading one novel and found out you were reading something else instead? Thought one thing was going to happen but the author surprised you in a good way? And if those questions don't work for you this Tuesday--what's next on your TBR pile. I could use some suggestions for next week!