Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Finding the Story I Want to Tell

Personally, I've skipped around within the genre.  I've tried my hand with paranormal elements and I've tried both contemporary and historical time periods.  I've written both lighter and darker tones.  Some of these things have worked for me and some I'm still working on.  Some things I've really liked, some I feel haven't fit me very well at all.

As I begin something new, I always stop and step back, try to evaluate where I am in my growth as a writer.  I TRY to be unemotional and rational about how things have gone so far. I try to decide what I've learned.

Some of these lessons have been painful.  I think I'll keep those topics to myself, filed away for later blog posts.

Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised.  Recently, readers have been commenting on my voice. I have a strong narrative voice, they've been saying.  And I've felt more comfortable in my voice lately.  It's a bit gritty, a bit wry, and sometimes even amusing.  (I hope.)

Readers have liked my characters.  That's good news too.  One of my biggest writing challenges has been digging deep into myself to bring truth to characters.  Working on it still, but I know I've come a long way.

But I've tried to figure out what stories I'm trying to tell.  What exactly am I trying to accomplish when I sit down to write?  I usually put external conflicts in my stories.  I like life or death conflicts.  I like it when my characters come close to losing everything and then they figure out what's important, what they can't live without.  I've started to wonder if that's my ulterior motive.  I don't know.

What about you guys?  What is it that you're trying to accomplish when you put pen to paper?  And how does that affect your choices in stories to tell?

Cue Hold Music

Marn is running a little behind but she'll post something marvelously BRILLIANT just as soon as she can. In the meantime, enjoy this amazing proposal video. What woman wouldn't love this??? Dude scores major bonus points for the rest of the decade.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bosun Talks Just Down the Road from Jodi Thomas

I haven't been reading much in the last year or so and finally realized if I don't fill the well I'll never get anything truly inspiring on the page. So I ventured to the bookstore with the express purpose of finding a book I could analyze for good writing. I strolled B&N pulling one book after another off the shelf only to slide them back again. Nothing sounded good to me. But then I spotted a book I've seen online more than once and always thought, "That sounds really interesting."

This time I didn't slide it back.

Just Down the Road is the 4th in Jodi Thomas' Harmony Series. Set in Harmony, Texas, the town is just as charming as the name makes it sound. But still real, with all the gossip, hard times, good times, and history you'd recognize in your own, be it large or small. I'd never read Ms. Thomas and worried a bit about jumping into a series this far in, but I was soon so enthralled, coming in late didn't make a difference.

Since I bought this book looking for something to analyze, some of this review will be from a writer's point-of-view and some from a readers. Anyway you address it, this book is wonderful. This should come as no surprise as Ms. Thomas is a writer-in-residence at West Texas A&M University. If you want to see how it's done, pick up a book from Jodi Thomas. Wish I'd figured this out sooner.

Tinch Turner has lived in Harmony his entire life and still lives in the house in which he grew up. A virtual horse whisperer, he has a soft spot for injured and skittish creatures, but suffers scars of his own from losing his one true love three years before to cancer.

Addison Spencer is new to Harmony, having taken a temporary spot as an ER doctor in the local hospital. The child of an overbearing and emotionally manipulative father and the ex of a man who beat her, Addison is more than a little skittish around men.

When her first encounter with Tinch Turner is stitching him up after he'd taken on five men in a bar brawl, she jumps to some very wrong conclusions about the large cowboy, and as cowboys are contrary and prideful creatures themselves, he refuses to clear up her misconceptions.

Until a boy comes along. A four year old boy in need of his Uncle Tinch, whom he's never met, and who clings to his angel, the doctor who found him scared and asleep in her little rental house. Their shared concern for the boy turns to love of the child and eventually love for each other. Though the road to the HEA isn't easy, filled with desperate drug dealers, flying bullets, and long standing emotional walls, the end to this story is all the more satisfying for the struggle.

From what I can tell, the over-arching story of this series belongs to Reagan Truman. Her parts of this book are heartbreaking, heartfelt, and hilarious in turns. Harmony comes alive not because of the wide open pastures, the winding back roads, or the bustling hospital, but through the connections of the characters.

This is where the writer stuff kicks in.

Ms. Thomas includes a large cast of characters throughout this book, from the once raucous female sheriff to a stuttering teen with a gift for music, to a funeral director with a heart of gold waiting for his love to return.

The people of Harmony are what make this book come to life. They're real and troubled and funny and kind and ready to help in any way they can. This is not some fictional Utopia, but a living, breathing, vibrant setting that served as a master class on writing the small town contemporary novel. Or any novel. The writing is superb without being flowery. The stories complex without being unrealistic. The characters damaged, insecure, brave, and generous.

If you don't like jumping into a series at book 4, I suggest finding Welcome To Harmony first, but it isn't necessary to enjoy this book. If you like a good, solid story, with amazing characters, and strong sexual tension without the extended and detailed love scenes, this is a book not to be missed.

Have you tried a new-to-you author lately? How did that turn out? What authors do you study for the craft of the work? Anyone out there already a Jodi Thomas fan and if so, why didn't you clue me into to this woman sooner?? (Don't answer this, Janga. I'm sure you've tried.)

One lucky commenter will win a copy of this book in the format of your choice. (Contest limited to US residents only please.)
Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Memorial Day

Hug your babies, BBQ your burgers, and don't forget to thank any solider you see for your freedoms. Regular Pirate Babblings will resume Tuesday when Bo'sun reviews Jodi Thomas' new book. Me, I'm going to take around my soldier (Daddy Pirate) who is hanging out today with me and we'll take flowers to our family cemeteries and eat good food and visit. It's a day of family and remembrance. I hope this is a great day for all of you!
Friday, May 25, 2012

A Week in the Life...

The Trophy You Helped Me Get!!!

I don't have it yet - but they sent me a photo!  Isn't it cute?  Thank you my friends - I'd be your pirate zombie slave any day!

It's been an eventful week.  The kids and I went to visit Mr. Assassin in Wisconsin this weekend.

And I realized that the crew should go on a land-based road trip.  We'd need an RV to serve as The Revenge.  I wonder if we could put a fully stocked bar in place of the bed.  At night we could just pass out on the grass wherever we park.  Think of the damage we could do/adventures we could have/things we could drink!  Who's with me?

AND as most of you know (and have helped me with - thank you!) - I've put my first book, 'SCUSE ME WHILE I KILL THIS GUY up for free at Amazon.  Why would I do something like that - asked a friend who's been pubbed for 30 years (looking at me as if I'd lost my mind)?  

Because I've lost my mind.

Actually, I'm trying to find new readers (and spread the Bombay love).  And to my surprise, I have.  In just under two weeks, 14,000 people have downloaded the book!  It's starting to develop into sales of my other books - which is happening faster than I thought it would.  I've even made a splash in the UK - where it's also free.  

Now Jason Isaacs and Daniel Craig just have to read it and fall madly in love with me (I WILL share with the crew).  I'm going to keep it free for just a little while longer.  I promise to let you know how it all works out.

In the end, school is out.  And my children have been home for one day.  They've become pantry pirates.  All the food we had when I left this morning was GONE when I got home from work.  And there's only TWO of them!  At this rate - I'll be hitting the grocery store every day.  

I'd better sell more books...

How was your week?
The Assassin

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The April Round-Up

Listening to: My favorite type of Pirate music- “Alone With the Sea” Hurt (Vol II, 2007)

I realize it's nearly June, but we, the pirates of the RWR, never sorted out the booty from our plunderings in April. So I'm going to keep this short and sweet.

Did you participate in April Writing Month?

If you participated, what was your goal?

During April Writing Month did you manage to hit your goal or exceed it?

Did you offer up any prizes for those who hit or exceeded their goal in April? And if you did, what was that prize?

I know Scapey had a detailed list of everyone's goal and the prizes that were offered. Is anyone have any news they want to share in regards to their goal? Once we figure out who all hit or exceeded their goals we can start handing out the loot! Don't be shy. Step right up. I promise not to shove you off the gangplank... yet.

April was a good month for me writing wise. I got about 60k written in April. It was all pieces and long epic scenes of angst and drama. I'm still experiencing some creative writing block in regards to sexy time but it's getting easier to manage. Right now, I'm currently rewriting my prequel story I wrote during AWM. I wrote it in third person and it's atrocious. So I'm back to first person and it's coming along together nicely. I got a very lovely surprise Friday morning (May 18) when I got an email that one of my fan fiction writings was being featured as read of the day on Fictionators. But that's about all the news I've got.

How was your April Writing Month?
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday Review: A Night Like This

I know it's extremely sacrilegious to say, but Julia Quinn can be a bit of a hit or miss with me. I know. I'm going to hell.

The woman has twenty plus novels to her name; they're not all going to be a grand slam, right? Even Nora writes a lemon occasionally, right? And as with any book, I doubt Ms. Quinn has had a unanimous "LIKE" because you can't please everybody, though I imagine there are books that have come really close to total popular approval. (Romancing Mr. Bridgerton comes to mind for me. I adore that book!) In fact, she couldn't go wrong with a Bridgerton novel--and then she finally ran out of Bridgertons.

So really if you think about it, this was a bit like J.K. Rowling trying to write something after Harry Potter. Too much griping about the book not being enough like Harry Potter. Or perversely, too much so.

I enjoyed the experiment of dueling books of Mr. Cavendish and the Duke of Wyndham; and I recognized some of the old-time charm in Ten Things I Love About You--but what really put Julia Quinn back on my must-have-and-must-read-this-now Book List was the reintroduction of some very special and beloved characters from the Bridgerton era: The Smythe-Smiths, the eminently unmusical yet clad with instruments recital playing family of female cousins.

I loved them.

And I still do. If you were remotely a fan of the Bridgertons, this is your series. Best of all, you don't have to have had read a single Bridgerton novel to enjoy the books. The poor Bridgertons have been allowed to live in peace and Happily Ever Afters. This is a series all unto itself. Best of all, whereas it occasionally felt to me that the Bridgertons were a bit too happy to be real--even the one who was horribly widowed--these characters suffer. If you enjoyed the torture that Julia Quinn put her Wyndhams through, the darker, edgier side of Ms. Quinn, you'll enjoy this book. TORTURE! TORMENT! BLACK MOMENTS GALORE!

I think with this series Julia Quinn has taken the best elements of her Bridgertons and the best elements of her darker, more tormented novels--and given us a balance of romance that builds from the solid foundation of friendship, the realistic constrictions of the time period, and conflict that rings true for the characters that would have lived then. It still has the delicious sigh of romance and fantasy--wouldn't we all love a Daniel?--but makes him feel like a real man of his period. And by God, when someone gets ill in her books, they're really ill! Thank you, Julia Quinn! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

If none of these things sold you, the three kids should. (No dogs this time. Only children. I love authors--it's always a dog or a kid who wins the hearts of the readers, isn't it?) But the kids are hilarious, especially Frances, who I adore and not for the obvious reasons.

When Avon shipped me the latest set of books for review, I snatched this one up first. It was the one I had been most waiting for (and hoping for)--and I think a lot of other people are too. No worries. It's every bit as delightful, entertaining, and well-played as you would hope. This book is going on my keeper shelf--and all I can say is, "I highly recommend this book. You won't regret it." 

Summer is almost here and it's time for another Smythe-Smith musical. Brace yourself--you're in for a ride!

Have you read Julia Quinn before? What's your favorite Julia Quinn novel and why? What book are you most looking forward to reading this summer?
Monday, May 21, 2012

An Industry In Flux

If you pay any attention to the publishing industry, you probably know that everything involved is currently in flux. What is getting published. Who is getting published. What publishers are paying. What readers are paying. What publishers are providing for their authors. What the authors are having to do for themselves. How the reading public is buying and reading the work.

It's all changing by the minute and that means those of us stuck on the outside trying to get in have to pay even more attention. When I started this journey back in 2006, the only game in town was going through a publisher, be it the traditional or digital route. There were self-published books, but they were rarely spoken about in a positive light. Few who wanted a real career as an author saw self-publishing as a valid route.

How times have changed.

I've been hearing the word "gatekeepers" thrown around quite a bit. Mostly, I ignore the article or blog for two reasons. I often assume (likely incorrectly) that the person declaring the agents or the publishers as gatekeepers is likely spreading some sour grapes. But in all honestly, I figured I wasn't to the point where this should matter to me, as publishing was still off in the future and I'd deal with it then.

And then I received that miracle call in March and that "far off in the future" thing didn't feel so far off. Now I found myself with a full manuscript that had just finaled in a major contest. A final that awarded me the benefit of moving to the top of the slush pile in many cases. (Sadly, not all. But that's the business.) Now I'm trying to determine what kind of future I want in publishing, and I can honestly say, I'm overwhelmed just thinking about it.

There are so many camps waving banners these days. There are those who rail against ever again dealing with a publisher. (One example here.) There are those who have done the publisher route and come out with a not so pretty experience. (For instance, read here.) Still others who went the traditional route and decided to (or were forced to) take more control and publish their own work. With great success. (See this author here.) Still others who jumped right into self-publishing and are seeing tremendous success in their first years. Even in their first few months. (See here.)

Just as the industry is in flux, so are my plans. I'm not ready to give up on the traditional route. Not yet. But I'm realistic and excited that there are so many options. So many roads to Oz, as one might say. Used to be, if you couldn't find an agent or publisher who loved your work, you were done. Not anymore.

So I have some questions. An unscientific survey, if you will. This is both from a reader standpoint, and from an author standpoint.

For readers (and that's really all of us):
1.) Are you open to a good book no matter if it's traditionally published (through NYC or an established digital publisher) or if the author skipped the publisher and put the work out herself?

2.) Is there a kind of story you're dying to read but you just can't find it on the shelves. In any genre. For that matter, is there a genre you're not finding that you want? Or not finding enough of?

3.) Do you still chose books the way you always have, or has the advent of the e-reader changed your reading habits? Do you prefer paper books, digital books, or does it matter?

For writers:
1.) Are you staying abreast of the giant shifts in the industry? Are your goals still the same, changing, or are you clueless as to what your goal is now?

2.) Would you consider self-publishing your own work? At what point would you make that decision? Is it a timeframe? A certain number of rejections received? Is the success of other writers enough to make self-publishing look more attractive to you?

3.) Are you meeting obstacles you didn't expect? Feeling like there is a "gatekeeper" standing in your way? Do you see any changes that are making you question your future as a writer? (Industry-wise, not the dreaded internal editor rearing her ugly head.)

4.) The recent silver bullet for more success seems to be turning books out quicker. Are you prepared for this? Or (like me) does this idea of turning out several books a year scare your socks off?
Friday, May 18, 2012

Romance VS Romantic

So, I think I’ll get a little controversial today and address something that has been on my mind a lot the last few weeks.

I’ve been making some big changes in my professional life and assessing how to approach the next step in my plan to conquer the publishing world. (Or at least slice off a sweet little tidbit to enjoy…)

My journey here on the Revenge has taught me to importance of romance to a story. Whether it be a personal romance or the overriding theme of romance. I’ve dallied with the first and enjoyed it, but recently came to the conclusion that at heart, I’m more in love with the second aspect.

I can survive a book without a passionate romance between characters…as long as there is a romantic story being told.

For example… The Indiana Jones movies were romantic. Without being romances. Yeah, we had the H/H dynamic, but the real story was more about saving the world, saving the children…on and on…

Some of the most impressive books I have ever read were incredibly romantic…without a romance involved.

Some of the best stories I’ve written involved characters learning to love themselves, not necessarily loving anyone else. Yes, I generally have a H/H and they end up with a HEA. And I understand that is what defines a romance…


As I venture into the greater publishing world sans agent and consider venturing into self-publishing and who I still want to pitch to and what I want my pitch to consist of… I don’t think I fit the definition of a romance writer.

But I do write books with romantic themes. I dove into the dictionary in an attempt to address my feelings regarding the aesthetic of romance. Merriam Webster says

1): A medieval tale based on legend, chivalric love and adventure, or the supernatural 2): a prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous or mysterious 3): a love story especially in the form of a novel.

Nothing in there about HEA save the 3rd definition. I know the RWA has a preference when it comes to what defines romance. I know the everyday man/woman has an idea of what romance involves. (Squishy stuff…)

I believe my thoughts on this matter harken back to all those literature classes I took in college, and even further back when I was reading Robin Hood stories, Treasure Island, even Sherlock Holmes. They were romantic themes…even without the romance. (Let’s face it, the movies made much more out of Maid Marion than the original stories did!)

So, I open the floor to a discussion regarding how a writer such as myself presents herself to potential readers/editors/agents… I’m tempted to return to my original, long ago idea of how to talk about what I write. I write romantic adventure. Sometimes set in alternate universes, sometimes in outer space, sometimes in contemporary…

Will this open doors to me? Or close them? Anyone have a better way to define what I'm talking about? Anyone see the difference? ;-)
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The perfect black moment

I'm a sucker for angst. Black moments are my favorite part of a book, flat out. A half-assed black moment can ruin a book faster than head-hopping can.

So it's no surprise that my favorite books contain a great black moment. But they're difficult (read: almost impossible) to pull off on TV. Take two of my favorite TV shows for example: Castle and Bones. Both star a couple with massive amounts of sexual tension. Both ended last season with hints that the two would finally get together (Ter wrote a great blog about this back in July, at the end of the last season.)

Last season of Bones ended with an "I'm pregnant" cliff hanger. The two of them got together in a moment of grief, and then bam - they're pregnant, living together, perfectly happy in their relationship, have a baby, etc. No more tension, no explanation, nothing. It's not the fact that they're together that bothers me. It's the fact that we missed the good part. After years of growing tension, it was just . . . done.

Imagine a book with four hundred pages of growing tension and intimacy, conflict and fights, suspense an agonies. And just when you're getting near the climax, they're perfectly happy together.

Something vital was skipped, and as a lover of romance, it killed the story for me.

By contrast, Castle ended with an "I love you" cliffhanger as Kate lay dying after being shot through the heart. Very tragic and all that. And just as Terri predicted last year, Kate pretended she hadn't heard up straight up to the last episode. A full year of denial, denial, denial. And we got to watch as both Castle and Kate had to deal with their feelings and figure out what they wanted.

It started to come together.  In this year's season finale, they were finally set up for their first date. It was sweet. I thought it was sweet enough. And then BAM - without warning came one of the best black moments I've ever seen on television. 

Here's a few things that made it work so well:
  • it was organic to the story - it played on a weakness the heroine has had the whole show. She's obsessed with the unsolved murder of her mother (she was a teen, I think). The black moment is a final culmination of that weakness.
  • it was legitimate - nothing about it felt over dramatic or like they'd gone to far (to me, at least. levels of melodrama are super-subjective).  Castle walked away - and there was no other choice he could have made. Our hearts could break for him, without being pissed he was missing an obvious solution
  • there was a surprise twist - as the black moment was building, I thought I knew where it was going. I was wrong. In the four years the show has been on, every time Kate got into trouble, Castle came and rescued her. Again, Kate got into trouble (hanging off the ledge of a building 20 stories in the air, in this particular episode) and I thought Castle would save her. She thought he would save her. For the first time in the show's history, he didn't come and rescue her
What do you think makes a good black moment? What ruins them? Any great examples, from either TV or books? 
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday Review: The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri

It's almost summer and I know you need to some summer reading. Publishers have been gearing up just for this moment--God forbid we be without delightful, enthralling drama to soak up as we soak up sun.

THE COTTAGE AT GLASS BEACH is the classic women's fiction: its arc follows the story of a middle-aged married woman who takes her two girls to a family beach cottage for the summer when she finds out her husband has been cheating on her (he's a politician) and the scandal has been splashed in all the newspapers. While there, she reconnects with her aunt and slowly unravels the mystery of her mother's disappearance when she was a child.

What saves this from being like about fifty other women's fiction novels with similar premises is that this has a lovely layer of Irish folklore, which weaves a sort of compelling charm among the passages. Nora, the heroine, is clearly in need of something a little otherworldly to buffer her realities of a husband who is just too imperfect (and still doesn't know what he wants) and children who blame her for not being able to fix what was broken.

My favorite character was Aunt Maire, and the other island inhabitants who were quirky and generous to strangers. They seriously make you want to find the nearest island and take roost for a summer. And I have a real soft spot for Annie, the youngest daughter (7), who is optimistic and wise beyond her years, especially in comparison to her older, cynical, and angry sister, Ella (12).

Least favorite? Ella. Not only is this book an engrossing bit of women's fiction, but it's practically a how-to book in regards to wayward, obnoxious, hateful daughters. I must have spent half the book going, "Slap her!" or "Send her to boarding school!" In fact, I still hope Nora does. Brat. Of course, the father runs a close second, but he's not in the story enough to get a real read on him. He doesn't actually want to change his ways or give up his girlfriend to salvage his marriage (assuming Nora wanted to, and it's clear Nora doesn't); and he doesn't actually have honesty to just call it final. If anything, his behavior is a reflection of the reasons their marriage fell apart.

In the end though, you realize this isn't a book that is supposed to delve into the relationship of husband and wife, the long and short of marriage, or any of those normal topics you find in books about women's fiction with cheating husbands. No. This is a story about sisters; and this is a story about mothers--and the complicated relationships that accompany each. Those are the stories within that offer real drama and interest for your summer reading and was as compelling as the Irish folklore.(Seriously the folklore stuff had me going, "I want to go to Ireland!" repeatedly. And isn't that what summer reading is about? Make us long for far off enchantments?)

It was good. And for those of you who read the ending first, nothing to fear. (Though I was extremely tempted a half-dozen times and made myself not do it, so you can say the suspense was really good in this book. *LOL* But no worries. No bad endings to ruin your summer.)

If you have room on your summer reading list for some women's lit with a taste of Irish creme at the edges, do give this one a try. I believe you'll enjoy it.

I'm giving away my review copy of THE COTTAGE AT GLASS BEACH to one random commenter. Where would you like to spend  your summer and who would you like to spend it with? What is your favorite Irish folklore? And what are you reading this summer?
Monday, May 14, 2012

And The Hero of The Best Story of the Year Is a...GIRL?

It's May...and it's time to get out our planning schedules to determine which movies we'll be clamoring to see in the theaters. Of course, The Avengers has already set the bar high--all those heroes, all that wit, all that action. But I'm not worried. I know the movie that's going to kick every other summer blockbuster's ass. And it's only got one hero.

Or heroine, as it were.

What? The best movie of the summer has a GIRL as its hero?

In a word: YES.

It's called BRAVE, and it's Pixar's newest edition, and of course, everyone is worried how having a GIRL hero is going to translate into dollars, since, well, boys don't like girls and won't watch them in their movies, but girls aren't as narrow-minded about their entertainment.

But there's bows and arrows and some crude humor...and a great adventure--I think the boys will be surprised at how heroic a girl can be. I cannot wait!

In the meantime though, I'm going to work on making my heroine the star of her own book. She should be anyway, but being the boy-crazy author I've always been, I've always been much more interested in the hero--his eyes, his hair, his deep-gravelly voice. And never forget his dark and shadowy past that only the heroine can heal. Bah humbug.

My heroine has a tortured past too! Here she is, just trying to star in her own life and her own father wishes she'd been born a boy--and because she wasn't, wants to marry her off to the man he's always thought of as a son. What's a girl got to do to get some recognition for her skills? And my heroine, Nellie, has some major skills; it's just they not ladylike. Most importantly, she doesn't need a man to give her importance in her life!

I'm sure the heroine of BRAVE will save the day, but still find a guy who wants to play equals with her and not overshadow her; and that's the kind of hero I'm trying to evolve for my dear Nellie, but it's still going to be some work. Broderick is a product of his time.

What movies are you looking forward to this summer? And are your favorite blockbusters finding their ways into your writing? How so?
Friday, May 11, 2012

Music as Plot

My current WIP includes a method of psychoanalysis I created, which I call “Music Therapy.” I don’t go into the technical aspects or attempt to dive into any of the academics behind this controversial method (for the year 2035). I just go with it.

Even in my WIP, it’s a border science.( I’m aware that there is a legitimate theory of music therapy. I believe it involves working with autistic children and those suffering from some forms of dementia.)

In Almost Human, it is a form of emotional therapy. Where the playlist of an individual is used to diagnose and help them discover, through what it evoked from their playlist, the heart of what troubles them. And through music, they find the path toward healing.

Now, I often listen to music, as do most of us, when I write. I don’t actually put together a playlist, but music plays a big part in pushing me to the emotional limits I want to reach with my characters. Music is an energy I love to play with.

I also love creating some new pseudo-science when I write. It isn’t tachyon emissions, (thank you, Star Trek) or the immensely useful sonic screwdriver (thank you, Dr. Who) but it is a lot of fun to create something that sounds scientific and legit. In The Chameleon Goggles, I invented solar thread. The best passive solar system out there, woven into every flag, banner, line and sail on Tortuga!

In Almost Human, I have Music Therapy and solar skin. (Solar skin powers an electric high performance motorcycle…charging its battery. It’s part of the paint job, the motorcycle gear, the helmets…one of those things I hope someone invents eventually.)

At the present scenes I’m working on, my lead character is undergoing musical therapy and part of the challenge I’m facing is putting together an emotional landscape for her that involves a playlist. She’s from the current era and it’s easy to find the angst ridden songs…harder to remember the more subtle things…the song she associates with meeting her husband. The song playing when she discovered he’d cheated on her…

Music is so subjective and what one person picks up on isn’t what another person picks up on. Happens with everything. A favorite John Nichols quote of mine fills me with intense hope, but a person I shared it with found it endlessly depressing… You just can’t tell!

Same with music…where you were when you heard something, what was going on around you. I generally don’t really even hear lyrics the first dozen times I listen to a song. Or I pick up bits and pieces and only later will I begin to really HEAR the words. I pick up on the dynamic from the initial music.

Putting together Ria’s suicide music is easy. Music that articulates her struggle to rediscover her humanity wasn’t terribly hard (lots of music out there that deals with feeling isolated from everyone else.) Finding her songs of hope is proving difficult. Searching out the right ones to evoke her rage regarding her late husband? I need something with words that evoke the betrayal and loss... Hmmmmm!

Anyone else ever put any thought into what a character’s playlist would look like? Any suggestions to fill in my missing pieces?
Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Scapegoat's ABC's for Writers: B Stands For Balance

Last time I blogged about the A in my ABC's of writing I've discovered as I've gotten further along in my writing. Today we're going to talk about B - BALANCE.

There are three areas I think it's important for a writer to think about BALANCE, but let's start with the big one most people think of when they think of Balance: making sure you don't neglect your non-writing life and loved ones while still producing great words on the page.

I'm going to share a secret with you - my writing soars - really comes flowing out of me - when I've remembered to make time for my husband and things that I enjoy. For a romance writer trying to capture that essential feeling of falling in love and HEA, doing something that makes you smile or laugh can really trigger an emotional leap on the page. Now, that works for me even when I'm writing dark scenes. I don't need to be in a dark place in life, just in touch with any emotional high that I can relate either directly or conversely to the scene.

A happy writer is a good writer. Screw all those old men writers who lived angst filled lives - we're writing romance and that means a HAPPILY EVER AFTER. At least for now. And I find that happiness in my daily life helps me find that on the page. Besides, those old goats were writing "literary fiction." Well, it was damn good but let's not go there.

I make sure to fit in at least 1 thing a week that is purely for my emotional happiness. Hikes with the hubby, reading a book, watching a movie. Anything that gives me an hour to balance my real emotions with those I'm trying to put on the page. I cannot say enough about how helpful this really can be for your writing. Give yourself a little balance and you'll find your writing goes better and quicker.

The second kind of BALANCE I think a writer should have is between actual writing and the "other" side of writing - learning the craft and social media/promotion. We've all probably heard "You need a platform" until we could puke. I mean how are you supposed to build a following, have an online writer identify and package your marketability to an agent or editor if you haven't been pubbed yet?

Well you can and it really is important that you do. I'm planning another blog post on this soon so don't worry! But again, with some balance. I've been guilty of spending too much time on Twitter talking with other writers instead of actually you know, doing the writing. Big no-no. But social media is important as a writer and you need to find a way to balance.Use tools to make tracking and posting to multiple social sites easier, consider blog posts part of your word count goals and most of all make sure you communicate when your followers and friends are most active - it will give you the most bang for your buck. Again, I'm planning a post soon with some new tips and tricks I've learned recently.

Lastly, and possibly the one most overlooked, you should think about the BALANCE in your writing. No one wants to read a one note book or characters who don't come alive. We've all heard the idea that even your big bad villain can't be all bad - the most interesting ones are those who are their own hero but for a twist in their character. The biggest laughs almost always come after some highly emotional reveal or scene. Take your reader on that roller coaster ride - the ups and down and twists and turns. Balance. Almost every part of your book benefits from it, from plot to characters to actual technical writing choices.

Where do you have the hardest time finding balance? Do you think the 3 things I've mentioned here are important to keep in mind or would you have included some others? How do you balance your writing life and the real world when it gets hectic? What about balance in your writing?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Winners of the Tuesday Review...and a Look Forward

Yeah, I got to work today, opened my email and realized: "Damn, I forgot to post a Tuesday Review." In my defense, last night I was busy with my Monday Night Creativity Hour(s) with my friend Pam, who works on art while I work on writing. Secondly, I'm also working with Terri on the new class that opened this week--very exciting. And thirdly, well, I didn't exactly have a book lined up that needed to be reviewed.

I have read Kristan Higgins' newest Somebody to Love, which I adored; and I'm reading Tessa Dare's A Week to be Wicked, which I adore even more. So if that counts as a Tuesday review, I think you should run out and buy them both to read, if you haven't already.

In the meantime, we need to catch up to the winners of previous Tuesday Review blogs!

The winner of UNDER A VAMPIRE MOON is DI R! Congratulations, Di!

And the winner of LYON'S LADY is SABRINA! Congratulations, Scapey!

Ladies, please email me with your mailing addresses so I can mail you the books...sometimes before the next decade. :)

What has everyone been reading lately? Does anyone have anything they highly recommend?
Monday, May 7, 2012

Stamina Schmamina - Energy SOS

If my experience this weekend at the Virginia Romance Writers For the Love of Writing Conference is any indication, I am in serious trouble.

I've been attending conferences, both big and small, since 2007. As a natural extrovert who enjoys crowds, I always have a good time. But until now, I've always attended as a nobody.

That's not an insult to myself, it's just an observation. I've always been a face in the crowd, blending in and able to sit back and observe. Until 2010, I never even had to pitch. Mostly because I didn't have a manuscript TO pitch.

In other words, I was a person to whom no one paid attention. But this year is different. This year I'm a Golden Heart® finalist and I keep hearing over and over how we're going to be treated like rock stars. Agents and editors will want to chat. A packed schedule with dinners, a reception and the big awards night.

I thought I could handle all the fuss and attention until I attended the local conference for ONE day this weekend and was worn out by lunch. Plus, I had three pitches and was HORRIBLE during the first one. Bless that agent for her extreme patience and kindness. It was like an out-of-body experience. I was a wreck going in, freaking about my pitch as always, and rambled all over that poor woman before she could even sit down and get situated.

My brain was screaming, "Shut up and calm down. Let the woman put her purse on the floor!!!" but the mouth was off and running. I don't even know what I was saying!! She still asked for pages, but with little enthusiasm and I don't blame her one bit. She likely thinks I'm nuts and rightly so.

Thankfully, my two afternoon pitches went much better. I decided to forget about the pre-written pitch stuff and just wing it. Worked beautifully. Still not sure exactly what I said, but at least I came across as sane, clear, and calm. The agent requested pages and the editor made me feel great even though she said there wasn't much she could do for me. Oh but she was wrong.

What she did was boost my confidence and let me know my instincts about something were spot on. If I ever find a way to work with that woman, I'll jump at the chance.

But here's the thing. I was there for ONE day. Seven hours. And only had to drive three miles to get there. Yet, within minutes of walking into my house, I was sound asleep. I'm going to be in Anaheim for six days with maybe four times this level of activity. Not to mention jumping three time zones to get there then losing three hours (or more) on the way home.

Chances of survival are not looking good.

So this is what I want to know. How do you keep yourself up for an event of this kind? Be it a large family reunion, a work function, or even a long trip. Natural remedies to boost energy? Or maybe something to calm the nerves. (I'm REALLY going to need that.) I don't meditate but maybe I should try it? Too bad I don't drink anymore. (Which I'm sure puts a dent in my pirate reputation.)

PS: The conference was wonderful and I have to give a big thank you and kudos to all who volunteered to make this event happen. As an event planner, I know how stressful these things are. Amazing job was done by all and Cathy Maxwell gave the best speech I've ever heard. And I've heard a lot of them. Barbara Samuel's Voice workshop was the icing on my conference cake!
Friday, May 4, 2012


Yup, I impressed myself this week.

Started with a definite bad impression. I didn’t complete the April pirate challenge. Just. Didn’t. Happen.

Lots of reasons, most of them with the initials R.T. But it wasn’t the only reason. Lots of reasons, nothing to really relate.

I did hit a breakthrough with the current WIP and think it will be finished by mid-month…maybe sooner.

In the meantime, May hit and I got a bee in my bonnet about looking at an older MS, already in the hand of my agent. I hadn’t opened it in more than a year, and maybe…no, no maybe about it… I had learned a ton of stuff in that last year. It was time to tackle it and see what I could do.

So, Wednesday night, I cracked it open and fiddled my way through four chapters…replacing pronouns, untwisting sentences, correcting misspellings, a bit of polish here, a bit there… The next day, yesterday, I sat in Starbucks just past noon and opened it again. Four hours later, I was done. 80k MS polished.

I am impressed with myself!

All in all, it went fairly easy. Why?

Well, I hadn’t fiddled with this story in more than a year, it was fresh and new to my eyes. I’d always liked the story and as I moved through it, I was such a pleasure to see it rise from my computer in better shape.

I’m generally not a very good self-editor. Too close to the story, too aware of what I want to say to see the problems with how I said it. That’s me. Generally, if it’s pointed out to me, I can focus on the errors. Like a bright light hits the mistakes and suddenly I can SEE! A fresh set of eyes makes all the difference. Or distance.

But I’m working on it. A few things are falling into place that is helping. I’m taking a class on self-editing, starting next week. I’m also looking into that program that reads a book aloud, to help me hear the things that need fixing.

I’m currently listening to a book, Chill Factor, by Sandra Brown, as read by the delicious Stephen Lang. And I’m hearing all sorts of things that bother me… Leaving me to believe that this could be a valuable tool to self-editing.

So, two new tools for me. Distance and hearing my MS. I did read The Kraken’s Mirror aloud, but it made me hoarse. ;-)

I know that track changes is a valuable tool, but I cannot figure out how to make the thing work for me. How do I get it to highlight every instance of ‘she’ or ‘he’ or ‘was’ …? I need a real primer on how to use track changes… I also picked up two readers this week and I look forward to hearing what they ‘see.’

What are your favorite self-editing/polishing methods? Do I have a right to be impressed by 80k in approximately 7 hours?
Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Birth of a New Story

(PS, that pic is my youngest when he was only a day old. Awwwhh. I stare at this when he throws a big almost-two-year-old fit. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes.) :)

I started a new story this week. At this beginning, I realized again how much birthing a book and raising it up is like parenting. (Please, bear with me. I spend a lot of time with small humans. I need to draw my connections where I can.)  Also, disclaimer:  I'm generalizing and simplifying for my purposes.

 I started researching it earlier in the month. This time is like the pregnancy of the book, the incubation, the preparation. Because by research I mean the general messy way in which I begin a story. Much staring off into space. Some actual “look stuff up” research. A bunch of muttering in front of my storyboard. That all took about a month this time and now I’ve physically opened a new file in Word and proceeded to type things in it.


The first part of a new story is awesome, when it’s all shiny and new. The characters are so eager to get out of my head and the premise feels so fresh. It’s a great hook! It’s like this tiny, perfect baby—it smells good, has so much potential, and its sheer adorableness is unrivaled.

In short, it is love at first sight.

Then, invaritably, it gets harder. In that middle part, there are all those growing pains. It starts with that first temper tantrum. The whine, the characters who say, “I don’t wanna!” and they push back against my desires and wants. In the middle, I hit that wall where I have no idea what the heck I’m doing. (Please say this isn’t just me, both in parenting and in writing.) At this part, it’s all about just pushing through and hoping I am doing the best for the long haul. At this part, I’m basically just cajoling and browbeating them into acting the way I think they should act. I think this must be the toddler through elementary phase.

And then I get to that point, somewhere about 2/3 of the way in, where I can see how it’s going to play out. I can see it shaping into something that vaguely resembles a cohesive idea. From there, I just guide it to its conclusion. I gentle offer suggestions. I mold instead of manhandle. It’s trickier, though, because there’s so much foundation now, so much to consider.

I taught high school so I’ve seen how adolescents start to pull themselves into what they will become through their teenage years. They become someone that interacts with the world around them, not just someone who is acted upon. That’s how a book usually ends, for me. It shapes itself into something richer in my mind than just words I’ve wrestled into submission. It interacts with what I know of the world and finally it becomes its own world.

So, I’m back at the beginning again, when it’s not hard yet. When it still smells sweet and is full of possibility. And I forgot how exhilarating it is to have a new “baby.” And I’m in love, again. I’m reminded once more why this is the greatest job in the world. Creation. How remarkable and humbling.

Tell me, do you love the first part of a story? Which part do you find the most challenging? Which part do you find the easiest? Any suggestions to hold onto this “start of story magic” throughout the process? (PLEASE, if you have any hints, do share!)
Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tuesday Review: Lyon's Bride

[Please comment for a chance to win a new copy of Lyon’s Bride by Cathy Maxwell. Contest limited to those in the continental united states.]

Curses are in vogue this year, much like purple romance covers were last year. Last week, we interviewed Mackenzie Crowne and her GIFT OF THE REALM—a curse. There is that funny and sweet Sophia Nash book, THE ART OF DUKE HUNTING just out—a curse. And now we have Cathy Maxwell’s first book of her new series, LYON’S BRIDE—a curse. Specifically the Chattan Curse.

I myself am a fan of curses. Nothing like a nice act of revenge and bitterness to start up a good story. (I’m sure it’s my passive-aggressive nature.)

As for the Chattans, you might imagine, they’re not fans. The moment any of them fall in love, they die. Of course, considering the number of arranged and conventional marriages in the ton, these guys wouldn’t die very fast, but unfortunately, this is not the case. Even if you do marry someone you don’t love, there is every chance you eventually begin liking the person—and then end up loving them. Which is basically what happened a number of times to these Chattans.

It’s not that the original Chattan didn’t deserve this—he so totally did. He played a pretty young girl false and totally did a Willoughby. You know, led one girl on and then married a little rich girl without telling anyone? Yeah, not a fan. Not unlike Marianne, the jilted girl did not recover well and in fact, committed suicide in her grief. Her mother, understandably angry that this guy managed to break her daughter’s heart and keep her from being buried on holy ground—cursed him. And it’s been killing the Chattans ever since.

The hero, Lord Lyon, wants to marry (poor sod) because he wants children. He loves children. However, he doesn’t want to fall in his wife (understandably). So he hires a successful matchmaker, Thea Martin, to find him someone he would never, ever love. Thea would like to tell him to go to the devil. She does not believe in setting him up with a woman he would treat so horribly—and purposely picking a woman he neither loved nor respected would clearly fall in this category; however, she is skint broke and without prospects. He is willing to pay three times the normal price, a price that would go a long way to making her family (she has two young sons; she is widowed) more secure.

As you might imagine, this endeavor fails spectacularly—though we get to meet some amusing characters in the meantime—and Lord Lyon and Thea end up getting married. Mainly because it’s clear Lord Lyon doesn’t feel ambivalent about Thea and never has.

The book ends with the couple reuniting and resolving to break the curse, with the help of the younger brother who is to go north to find the Scottish witch (THE Scottish witch, even though this curse is a couple hundred years old).

Again, as I said, I love a good curse story—though Thea, practical woman she is doesn’t believe in such nonsense, so it’s an entertaining transformation when she realizes the curse is real. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy….

What I do hope for is a quick release of the next book because the only thing I didn’t care for is the loose end about the curse. While Maxwell did make it clear that we have no guarantee how long or short we may have with the ones we love, there was no “real resolution” for me. As much as it may be true about life expectancy, I do prefer the fantasy of a long and happy life for my romance couples. And at the end of LYON’S BRIDE, it was more a happy for now rather than a happily ever after. But hey, I have every faith that Maxwell will make that happen—we all know that life is not always neat and tidy, and every plot thread cannot be tied up neatly at the end of a book—especially when that book is the start of a series.

So how do you like curses? And if not curses, what is your favorite “fun” book trope? Kidnappings? Convenient marriages? Have you ever read a series that did not tie up all the story threads but were more “happy for now” rather than “happily ever after”? Did you mind?