Friday, August 31, 2012

The Dead Body In My Family Room...

First of all, just let me say, I'm sure no one is surprised to hear this.  And yes, it's kinda, sorta, technically true.  There is a dead body in my family room - in the form of my late father's ashes.

See, my mom moved a week ago - and we helped her.  She downsized from her adorable, too large house to a smaller, one story house on my side of the river.  This means she had to downsize a lot of stuff.

My mom's a bit of a hoarder - of cuteness.  She hoards beanie babies (who knew they'd go bust?), cirque de soliel weirdness and two-foot tall German nutcrackers.  She spent most of the day giving me stuff, like a creepy doll from the WPA era, a giant brass pig with wings, and yes, my father's cremains.

I've already pawned the flying pig off on my boss as a sort of travelling trophy.  The doll is behind the couch in a child's chair where no one can see her.  My father, is in a white marble urn by the fireplace. 

I was happy to take him.  The urn was way to heavy for mom and I was really close to my father.  So, I buckled him up in the front seat of my little, orange Kia Soul and away we went.

A week later, I'm out at girl scout camp running the zip line for a troop, and my daughter and her friends are at home.  Her friend...we'll call her 'Betty,' opens the urn, thinking it's a vase.  She sticks her hand in (cuz that's what you do when you come across a weird object with ashes in it, right?) and pulls it out, asking if I kept the fireplace ashes there.  Margaret didn't know, because I hadn't yet told her that Grandpa had moved in with us.

We get home and Margaret asks about the big white vase filled with ashes.  We tell her.  She calls 'Betty' to tell her she had my deceased father all over her hand.  Betty (which is, in fact, her real name) screams.  Then texts everyone to say that Margaret has a dead body in her house.

It's a bit morbid and gross.  And stretches the truth a bit.  But I have to say, if my father was still alive, he'd get a huge kick out of the whole thing.

(And no, Margaret, we aren't going to get rid of him anytime soon.)

The Assassin
Wednesday, August 29, 2012

When Something Needs To Give...

So Hellie wrote an awesome post on Commitment on Monday and here I am about to lay it all out there and be honest that my commitment has disappeared the past 2 weeks. 

I haven't written a single word in a little over a week. 

Sigh. My life is always crazy, but recently I knew something had to give. If it didn't, then my brain was seriously going to short circuit. I was putting too much pressure on myself. There's a difference between challenging yourself and pushing yourself to the next level and just plan out expecting the impossible. 

So, I found myself taking a break from writing. Everyday I was berating myself for not sitting down to write and in turn, was making myself feel miserable. Like I was a horrible person who would never, ever reach my goals. 

A week later, and I feel recharged. Refreshed. And those ideas for the new book I was struggling with? They've suddenly started falling into place without me even thinking about them specifically. 

So I ask you, do you take complete mental breaks from your WIP and writing every now and then? Do you feel guilty when you do, or do you discover as I did that it renews your fire and passion for your story? 

I'm hoping to use this holiday weekend to kick-start myself back into the groove and I'm honestly  proud of myself for the time I gave my mind off. I needed that time to give my self-confidence both a break and some much needed relief from putting too much pressure on myself. 

Would it scare you to totally step away for a week? To not even spend time thinking of your writing?

I literally gave myself a pass to completely forget about it and man, it's been one of the best exercises for me. I feel full of a new energy for writing. Like it's proven to me that I'll be okay if I don't write everyday. That it doesn't make me a failure, that there is always another day to write. The idea is to recharge and then charge forward. Just don't let one week turn into two and then three. :) 

Anyone out there had any experience with this? Ever felt better after a REAL break from writing? Or did the guilt become too much to bear. Are you holding yourself to too high of a standard everyday or is it the writing everyday that gives you that high? I'm learning there's no right or wrong way! 
Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday Review: A Trio of Summer Reads

Susan Mallery's books set in Fool's Gold is one of my favorite (and typically automatic) reads. This summer's selection includes: SUMMER DAYS, SUMMER NIGHTS, and ALL SUMMER LONG.

SUMMER DAYS is the one I read earlier this summer and I wasn't "in love" with the story enough to recommend it. The story itself wasn't bad; and the characters weren't "annoying" or one of the other colorful descriptions I normally have about characters I don't like. I think, looking back, my disappointment with this book is that the hero is basically a CEO (and I'm not a fan of CEOs, period) and the heroine is a girl who raises goats...and her name is Heidi. Which admittedly I was not a fan of that little literary joke. Again, I think this was a personal choice on my part. If Susan had managed to tie her characters to a Harry Potter reference, I would probably praise it for days. So in and of itself, not a bad story, but due to my personal prejudices, not one with my glowing recommendation.

SUMMER NIGHTS is the next in the series, which features a flirty librarian and a handsome cowboy with horses. This went much better for me. I mean, there's a gorgeous stallion (and I'm not talking about the hero) and I fell in love with the hero's horse. There was also a lovely substory where a little girl who had been burned in a previous book is taking riding therapy lessons--I love this sort of stuff in Susan's books. I love the town she has built. This book totally restored my faith in this series--and I was happily looking forward to the third in the series....

ALL SUMMER LONG is the final in the trilogy featuring these heroine friends and brother heroes. The firefighter heroine ends up falling for the ex-underwear model brother. The firefighter has an interesting backstory; she'd been raped in college (her virginity) and no one believed her because the guy was popular and good-looking and she was neither of those. Her sexual experience is extremely limited; and due to the assault, she is clearly loathe to get close to another man. Her transformation in the book is wonderful--I really loved how it was handled. The ex-underwear model is SO good. I think he's officially my favorite hero of Fool's Gold now. I'm tempted to re-read this one--and I've definitely dogearred some of the "special scenes" for later. Because they were really exceptional.

Anyway, now I'm all keyed up for the next trilogy for Fool's Gold. And the Christmas in Fool's Gold that's coming out this Fall.

What series do you most enjoy keeping up with? Do you keep going in a series even if one or two books isn't as great as the rest? What author do you enjoy reading that handles "real life" situations admirably in their writing?
Monday, August 27, 2012

Commitment: The Scariest Word in the Dictionary

Writing takes all kinds of traits, and none of them are particularly talent. Talent helps in that if you think you have a knack for writing, you’ll keep going. It’s like a built in ego boost, and writing is one of those life’s endeavors where you need a lot of ego boosts because most of the time you feel like a hack.

But there are several things that are more important than talent. Persistence being the biggest one, I believe, but commitment is something that can be overlooked or at least relegated to being in the Persistence camp. But commitment is its own entity; and there are varying forms of commitment within writing. The commitment to write so many words a week; or the commitment to read so many craft books or attend so many conferences to improve your writing.

But then there is the most important kind of commitment—the commitment to story. The art of the follow through, like a batter who commits to swinging with all his might and connecting with the ball, never hesitating but hitting all the way through. When the bat and ball do connect and it is hit through with the kind of wallop that rings up your arms and felt through your legs, you know you’ve got a homerun. We all swing in the hope of a homerun.

However, we’ve all watched games and seen the big hitters and they don’t hit a homerun every time they come to bat. More often it seems they strike out, but they always commit to the swing. Their heart is always in the game. They always do their best and show up.

My commitment isn’t as great as a baseball game. I’m no Pujols, but I know it’s just as important if not more so for a writer to commit to their game as a baseball player does. If your heart belongs to this story, then swing big. Commit and follow through. Don’t decide mid-pitch you need to do a few more practice swings and redo your prologue or first three chapters. You’ll be struck out without you ever swinging the bat; you’ll demoralize yourself and spend your energy doing something that does not need to be done right now.

That’s my commitment problem anyway. I’ll get the first few chapters down, laugh at my own wit, and then start to fall apart at the wheels because not every paragraph or page I’m writing is full of clever, witty, perfect writing that enchants me. And if it doesn’t enchant me, it couldn’t possibly enchant anyone else. And then I hate my characters who aren’t being witty anymore; and I don’t know if I like this story even. And I take myself out of the game.

Hell, even Deerhunter is aware of it and the man lives in another state and I usually keep my writing life pretty quiet from him. I had texted him this week with my progress with the pirates’ writing month and how I had written 16 pages (actually it was 18 total) and I had written 10 the week before (26 pages total). He called to say how proud he was of me and then he made a comment that, “I’m so glad you have that many pages. I know how you like to delete seven for every eight you write.” I just stopped on the phone and was like, Yup, that’s me, terrified of commitment. Yet another thing Deerhunter would know so well since it took him fifteen years to get me to agree to date him.

So I’m doing myself a favor this time—at least as much as I am able—and I’m not deleting. I’m writing; I’m pressing on. If I don’t love it, I’ll sort it out later when the book is all done. If the story isn’t quite progressing where I think it should, but the words are flowing, I’ll flow with them, even if they aren’t where I thought the story was going. It could turn out for the best. That’s the thing about commitment. It’s about hanging on and rolling with it, not stifling something into what you thought it should be without compromise. And with my new commitment plan, I have finally topped over the 100 page mark. Now I just need to keep going until I hit the 200 page mark. And the 300 page mark. Ah, I hear the Rawhide theme song in my head now—just keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’….

How do you keep your commitment to writing? What do you do when you’re slammed with the pressing need to redo the first three chapters…or six chapters…or whatever? How do you keep from massive revising before you’ve gotten it complete? (I leave out tiny revising—word corrections, addition or deletion of a few sentences as relatively harmless.)
Friday, August 24, 2012

The Art of the Introduction

I'm about 10K into the latest WIP, which means I'm still plotting and meeting the new characters. This story carries over from the one before it so many of the characters are the same. I know them. They have a history. We've settled in together.

But I so love meeting the new ones, both human and animal. The latest two to arrive are older gentleman, each serving a different purpose. They're opposites in nature but each fun in his own way. One is a cranky old guy who appears to enjoy making peoples' lives as miserable as his own. Remember that old guy in the neighborhood who would yell "Get off my lawn!"? That's Old Man Fisher.

And then there's Artie. A retired lawyer settled into his golden years with his faithful companion Rufus the Basset Hound. Artie strolls Anchor Island looking harmless, dropping tidbits of wisdom when you least expect them. A brilliant mind with a kind heart. And Rufus is always there, moving slow and looking depressed.

Though he might grow a tad more animated when he meets Drillbit the kitten.

None of these characters have appeared on the page yet. I need to flesh them out a little more. Make sure I give them the best introduction to the reader. I want my readers to fall in love with every character on the island so that first impression is important.

This makes me think of great introductions either in books or movies. When Rhett Butler pops up from the settee. When Edward Cullen strolls into the cafeteria. When the Wicked Witch rides in on her bicycle.

Who are your favorite characters from books or movies? Do you remember the first time they appeared on page or screen? Did you like them immediately of did they have to grow on you? And what is it about that character that makes them stick with you?
Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Throughlines; or, “How in God’s Name Do I Fit This All In There?”

I took Carol Hughes’s Deep Story class last year.  It might not come as a surprise to any of you that I’d forgotten that fact until Bo’sun mentioned that she’d begun classes a couple weeks ago.

I said, “Oh, hey! Right! I took that class. It was awesome!  So much great information.”

To which Bo’sun agreed and said, “I had great ideas about how I would give them their own storylines within the story.”

I promptly thought, Huh. I don’t remember that part.  Maybe I should read back over that stuff.

After an intensive evening of rereading my lessons, my notes, and the class questions, I emailed Terri and said, “WHY DIDN’T I RE-READ THIS TWO MONTHS AGO!?”

She didn’t roll her eyes.  At least she didn’t in the email.  She’s a few states away, so maybe she did and I didn’t see it.

(Aside: If you haven’t taken this class yet, please do.  It’s awesome.  Carol Hughes is brilliant.)

Anyway, what was I talking about?

Oh, right. Storylines for each character.

You see, according to this class, there isn’t just one plot to your book.  It’s broken into Throughlines.  These are the different stories that weave through your book to help you achieve your Main Story. 

The Main Story Throughline (ie, how they achieve the main story goal) is pretty much the main artery of your story.  It’s the main problem and what has to be solved to hit the end.

Then, in romance, there are separate stories for your hero and heroine (the protagonist and the contagonist).  These throughlines are their own personal struggles through the book and they weave into and feed the Main Story Throughline.  The characters’ throughlines map out their journey towards becoming changed (for the better) characters at the end of the story and how they overcome their big fears/major flaw through the course of the Main Story.

Finally, there’s their shared storyline.  How they interact together and how they overcome their differences/obstacles to accomplish their major goal.

There could be more throughlines, of course.  If you have a subplot, for instance.  But, those four are the big ones.

I was trying to plot them all together and I was worrying I wasn’t linking it all properly, that I would leave holes or miss major character growth.  I realized this was putting the cart before the horse. After I wrote it, I’d have to make sure I did all the things I wanted to do.  Destined for rewrites, I say.  As I was reading my notes, I realized I could plot out what each of my characters went through separately FIRST and then weave it all together before writing. 


Mostly, this reminded me that my hero and heroine are separate people outside the scoop of their love story.  They need their own road to walk.

So, I thought I’d share with you all and hoped it would help you too.

Have you had any plot structure epiphanies lately?  Do you think about your characters’ journeys before you start writing or do you just go and see what happens?

And again, go take Carol Hughes’s class.  This is just a tiny tidbit of the wisdom in it.  It’s worth the money and time.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tuesday Review: Daughter of Smoke & Bone

So if you're tired of reading yet another review about a YA novel, DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE, (by Laini Taylor) the short version is this: Go buy this book. Don't pass GO, do collect your library card and check out this book immediately. I don't care how you read this book--you can steal it for all I care (okay I would care, borrow or buy, but NO stealing)--and READ IT. Read it immediately.

The slightly longer version is that Karou is an 17 year old art student in Prague (a unique setting!). She has blue hair, a snarky mouth, and lives with a chimeara. Actually a bunch of them. And if you're not familiar with what chimearas are, they're like part beast and part man. The one she interacts with most, Brimstone, has a ram's head, a man's torso, and a lion's bottom half, complete with tuffed tail that swishes angrily much of the time. Brimstone collects teeth--but he never tells Karou why. He just say it's important. (Hey, at least it's not vampires--am I right or am I right?)

So we spend some time in Karou's ordinary world, which is only ordinary to her (I mean, seriously, a ram's head? The girl chimeara is worse, she's half cobra), and as good stories go, everything literally goes to hell in a handbasket. Because of course, this is a matter of life and death, a matter of Heaven and Hell. And Karou spends her time trying to right things back to their norm.

It's a beautiful book--many beautiful lyrical lines. One of the characters says, "Love is a luxury" and another contradicts, "No, love is an element." (I really should have used more post its to mark lines, but I was too busy reading at lightning speed.) And it's a funny book--we learn in the beginning that Karou has slept with a boy-man-asshat she knows and thoroughly regrets it. When Brimstone learns of it, all he says is, "I don't know of many rules to live by...But here's one. It's simple. Don't put anything unnecessary into yourself. No poisons or chemicals, no fumes or smoke or alcohol, no sharp objects, no inessential needles--drug or inessential penises, either."

I mean the book is worth owning with that line alone.

It's a bit of a dark book--as most YA novels seem to be nowadays--but it's hopeful. Which I'm sure it was meant to be since Karou means "Hope" in the chimeara language. I can't tell you much more for fear of giving too much away, but it's a book about love at its core. Love and sacrifice.

I've got the second book pre-ordered at Amazon. It comes out on November 6th, so you can expect another review then.

So...what is your favorite dark and angsty book that was also hopeful?
Monday, August 20, 2012

Mixed Messages

I subscribe to The Passive Voice and on Saturday, they sent their newsletter summation including a bit on how creativity is stifled by a clean desk.

Great, here I am, working hard to clean clutter out of my life and I see this.

And I think, “Well, f*ck.”

I’ve hired someone to help out! I’m paying out cash for help! And in two days, Mr. Clutter and I are tackling my office, and looking to clean it. And actually get me a desk. Because I truly do need some routine and order in my life, not just with writing but also with my home and yard.

And I do see the correlation.

In the beginning I wrote from chaos and I flourished. As the house grew more cluttered and the yard overgrown…I escaped into writing. And Starbucks. And I’d fantasize about how someday I’d get an espresso machine, pay someone to clean my house, reclaim my yard from the jungle rapidly overcoming…well, everything…and be the writer with the office, full of light and dust-free.

I do have an ambitious imagination.

Years passed…and it really was time to forget the fantasy and get with reality. Writing got tougher, the chaos inside my head growing more difficult to wade through to find the gems. The out-of-control berry vines from my yard pushed through the floorboards into the office and strangled my creativity. (Metaphorically. I don’t really have a thorny berry vine in my office. Really.)

But they are out there…in that mass of greenery. View thru the screen of my future office. There used to be a path…and there is gated garden out there, with a bench and an arch and a greenhouse… Really! (I keep the curtain closed a lot.

Plants don’t like to be ignored. They will grow and thrust themselves into notice. Much like how cats and dogs will climb into laps or start knocking over precious items. Kids will do what kids do to get attention. My house can’t climb into my lap, but it can just get smaller and smaller.

My therapist asked me a few weeks ago what the clutter in my life would say if it had a voice. I thought a moment and answered her. “Why don’t you love us anymore? Why don’t you use us? Dust us? If you don’t want us anymore, let us go!”

Which is what I’m working on.

I wonder how much of this is tangled in my current writer’s snarl. It was inevitable that the clutter and its many voices would intrude. One can only wear blinders for so long before the feeling of claustrophobia intrudes into the creative territory. The house grew smaller, the paths where I once indulged my writer child grew overgrown.

It’s been my experience that the more cluttered my life has become, the more challenged I am to pull the many storylines I have tangled in my head into some sort of…order. So that I can write and not just think about writing.

So, Mr. Clutter was hired.

I am hoping that as the clutter is removed from my home…and then my yard, my head will clear. If I can keep the house and yard clear.

Which is questionable.

I know that writing styles are subject to change. Plotters try pantsing and discover it can work for them. Pantsers start puzzling, finding that writing out of order has its rewards for combating being stuck. Puzzlers suddenly create scenes in order from beginning to end.

Then we shift again and try something different. And some writers never change, find the one way that works for them and it never stops working for them.

We hate those writers.

Even when we wish we were like that. I feel the same way about the effortless house cleaners and perennially organized.

So, the question is this, when I have that desk, that office that isn’t full of assorted boxes and bins of segregated, but not organized, promotional materials, when I can find a clear surface to perch my laptop and see my research materials on a shelf behind me instead of scattered haphazardly around my home…can I keep it that way? Will I need some semblance of chaos about me? What level of mess is acceptable?

I’m a little scared that I’ll get things fixed…and in less than a year, I’ll be whining that it’s back where it was… Sigh. My faith is weak.

Tell me, how much chaos/clear do you need to get your writing done? Is there a correlation between pantsing/puzzling/plotting and the desk/writing area in your home?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ghosting Through Life

Music Influence: “Seconds to Save Her” Our Waking Hour (Seconds to Save Her, 2011)

I have an aversion to attention. I don't think this is a secret. I shy away from people. Shy away from conversations. Shy away from public contact. I just don't care to socialize. I don't really find it beneficial to me as a person. Other than cultivating my experiences and translating it to paper. Or observing others and translating that into characteristics of my characters.

So it's no secret that I don't crave notoriety like being published would give you. And since I'm not allowed to say I'm never going to publish, (seriously, GPS sent me into the bright light and had my life flashing before my eyes), I've devised myself a plan. Of course, this plan will never have to go into effect but GPS doesn't need to know this. She just needs to be in the dark while I continue my world domination via fiction.

I love to write. I've had that love since I learned how to string sentences together. I enjoying sharing my head space with my characters. (Most of the time.) I enjoy making up stories. What I don't enjoy is interaction. Don't get me wrong, it's amazing to get feedback- good and bad (just not the absolute ridiculous). It's so wonderful to know there are people who read what you write. Enjoy what you spent your hard worked hours on producing. But it feels so awkward to respond to readers. I feel like I can't express to them how much I really appreciate them taking the time to read what I've written. Or what I do say expressing my gratitude sounds contrite and condescending. This must be because I'm socially awkward. I'm the type of person if you talk to me in public, I will put my head down and walk away.


So how does one get out of the conundrum of attention? One solution is ghost writing. Ghost writing- by the Wiki definition- is the act of writing for another person it is officially credited. Lots of big named authors employ ghost writers to help them produce numerous novels in a year. There is even an association of Ghost Writers.

I find this to be an attractive opportunity. One can still write (though through guidelines of another's outline and another's world) and stay out of the popularity race. This might be a better option than my own plan, which consist of GPS turning herself into a version of me and pretending to be me so that I can stand on the sidelines and do what I want to do. Which is write without distractions or interruptions. We're going to do a whole secret identity where I can be the one standing on the sidelines and feeding her the answers to question via a secret communication wire device.

Well, we thought it was brilliant. Correction, GPS thought it was brilliant and I nodded to make her stop harassing me about my “never going to publish” mantra.

Ghost writing, or ghosting, has a multitude of opportunities. They can do anything from non-fiction to blogging. Music writing. Even art. (The last two are beyond my capabilities since I don't have an artistic bone in my body and I'm too long winded for song writing.) Even authors who have been blacklisted and unable to publish in some countries can employ a ghost writer to host their story.

Does anyone else find ghost writing to be fascinating? Would you ever consider this option as a career? Readers- do you shy away from book that are co-authored or are widely known to be ghosting books?
Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Get Out of the Way!

I love words. And I love a well put together bit of prose as much as the next woman. Maybe more. Remember my collection of phrases that I find inspirational? From assorted genres and even from books that weren’t all that great…just that certain phrase…

Sometimes they are funny, a wicked picture painted that makes me grin. Like this one, from Jade Lee in The Dragon Earl.

A dispossessed English earl in saffron monk’s robes sitting on top of a harpsichord trying to hide an erection! This was not the homecoming he had imagined.

Sometimes they are just lovely, evocative. Like this from Connie Brockway, Skinny Dipping.

Inside, the electricity had been shut off, but the same moonlight that illuminated the outdoors had seeped in here, too.

And sometimes, they make me think of people I love, like this one, from Jim and Joyce Lavene, in Wicked Weaves.

In my vision of the world, there’s rarely a time I shouldn’t be talking.

Eh, Bosun?

So, what is the point of this blog? Well, all of these things are wonderful and they are lines I adore. But a conversation with Terri got me thinking about language and I actually made a statement to her that is probably blasphemous to the writing community. But I believe it, strongly.

Every word choice and bit of prose shouldn’t be too impressive. That if you do that, you leave no room for contrast. I think what I said specifically was don’t let the language get in the way of the story. First and foremost we are storytellers and not poets. If you want to write poetry, if you want a reader to pause at the end of each line and marvel at word choice, the lyrical picture you just painted, catch their breath at this astounding garment you just stitched together from mere words…then they aren’t going to see the story for the words. Take up poetry.

What I like about the lines I find is how they don’t interrupt the story. They add to it. The author didn’t stop the story to impress me with prose. A pause to appreciate is wonderful, a story that staggers from one bit of perfect glittery prose to another…stutters.

No, don’t stone me! I read the author I was told to read last week. And…wow, she’s great with dialogue, and her words sparkled with wit. The story? Wellllllllll….not so much for me. I could totally appreciate the words, but the story was on the ‘eh’ side. Her hero was a jerk, but I had no difficulty understanding where he was coming from and she made me understand to such a point that I didn’t buy the turn around. At all.

But wow, she can write!

It’s like with Deep POV. A book that is constant DPOV is exhausting to read. You need the light points, you need the calmer, less introspective valleys to appreciate the peaks.

With singing, the bridge is usually the most dramatic part of a song. What if the song were all bridge? No chorus, no verses, just that wonderful, intense, heart wrenching bridge…

It wouldn’t work.

So, really. My words of wisdom, which may see me tied to a stake and set on fire…don’t obsess on each and every phrase. First, tell a good story and leave room for the impressive stuff…but don’t bury your reader in glitter. Second, don’t forget to toss in the magic of a perfect phrase…when it’s part of the story you tell, when it’s important that the reader blink and pause. Third, it’s good to really dazzle the reader, at the perfect point, with a 2x4 across the back of the head and blow them away with words that vibrant with a meaning that fits what is going on with the characters and opens a window to the soul of the writer.

Craig Johnson did this in one of his Longmire books. I stopped and read this line several times, just savoring the glimpse of a  master wordsmith and adoring what this said about Walt, the character. And about Johnson, the author.

Somewhere in the distance, the synchronic circles of our pasts had tripped a domino, and the steady whirr had grown till it now drowned with the roar of contingency.

It’s a mixed metaphor and as far as I know, dominos don’t whirr…but wow. This fit the drama of the scene so perfectly… But, sisters, if you do it all the time…if you strive for every phrase to be an absolute A+ from the Sisters of Perpetual Perfect Prose…you’re gonna bury the story in diamonds.

For me, I tell stories. First. The words are for telling the story, for moving it forward, for not getting in the way of the reader’s momentum to keep reading.

Yes, get it right, but first, start with the foundation of telling the story. Then you can figure out where you need that tiara. Sometimes, less is more.

Can you think of an example of something you read that dazzled you with word skill, but left you flat with storytelling? Can you separate the two, like I do, or does it not matter to you as you read? Writers, what do you think? Am I dissing the writer’s bible when I state flat out…sometimes you need to let the words tell the story, and get your egotistical poet out of the way?
Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday Review: Strong Women

To spare you from yet another YA novel--I'll save that for next week--I read something a little different, just to reassure you all that I'm capable of reviewing books that don't feature teenagers and some paranormal creatures. (Again, I'm saving that for next week.)

Another type of book I'm fascinated with are books about other cultures, mostly Asian or Muslim settings. All that family and duty and rules.

THE BUDDHA IN THE ATTIC by Julie Otsuka is a book about the Japanese immigrants in America in the 1920s to 1940s. It's broken into eight sections, talking about the women immigrating to America to become wives to men here. It talks about their lives in America, the children they bear, and the terrible hardscrabble lives they lead in the land of opportunity and how they are treated by their husbands as well as Americans who treat them like vermin. The final section is about the Japanese being moved to confinement camps during World War II.

So it's a cheerful book.

Well, yes, it's painful in parts, but yet, it's interesting how these women make the best of their lives, the friendships they make, their strength and their survival. Maybe that's why I read these books about other cultures, to read about the strength of women and how they prevail in strict circumstances.

What books do you like read when you don't read romances? Do you still seek out books about strong women? What's your favorite "strong woman" book?
Monday, August 13, 2012

Old Advice, New Inspiration

Between writing and spurts of fiction novels, I’ve been immersed in a lovely new craft book called: THE STORY WITHIN by Laura Oliver. When I read Chapter 4: The Science of Inspiration, I immediately thought of Q. Mostly that he’d say, “See! Isn’t that what I’ve been saying all along?”

Laura talks about the difference between your right and left brain. Your right brain is the creative side, the one who sees princes and maidens in cloud shapes. Your left brain is the one that looks at a cloud and sees rain and bugs you into go and get your umbrella. The right brain is your muse half—your muse never really goes anywhere, but it can easily get drowned out by the Greek chorus of your left brain, constantly bombarding you with unnecessary information, linear information like your kitchen is dirty, your bills are unpaid, and the current solution you’ve come up for your plot problem couldn’t possibly work. Who would ever believe such a load of rubbish? And furthermore, who would read such a load of rubbish?

Incidentally this is around the time your right brain (and muse) check out and go hang out with more positive entities. Or sticks her fingers in her ears and goes “Lalalalalalalalalaa” and refuse to listen anymore, or even behave.

This is incidentally why your inspiration strikes when you’re washing dishes, vacuuming, driving, walking, or doing anything that doesn’t require a lot of attention but keeps your left brain properly distracted and your right brain to go, “Oh, thank God, he shut up. As I was saying, I think you should do X, Y, Z in your story.”

The muse is always with you.

In Chapter 2: Point of Origin, Laura talks about quantum mechanics. She talks about how everything in the universe is composed of teeny tiny atoms—and then she compares this to writing. We’ve all got to start somewhere; and your story is composed of many things, many scenes, that may or may not seem related, but when you get the whole, you see how it all works together. (Reminded me a bit about that blog I did about Jason.)

This book also talks specifics in craft like plot, character, setting, and backstory. She also talks about taking care of yourself as a writer, finding time to write if you have children, to not punish yourself if you’re not writing as much as you think you should if you do have children (or other family matters) in your life. There’s not a time limit on this stuff is basically what she’s saying, and beating yourself up for taking time away from your family isn’t exactly helping your writing or your muse. Still, if writing does make you happier, it does seem family is more than happy to let you have a bit of time of your own to do it. And who knows? Eventually it may just be the sort of thing that pays for Disney World—and you can bet your sweet ass those kids aren’t going to mind about a few hours of self-entertainment now if they know Disney World is in the offing.

Reading this book was a lot like sitting with a life coach who was telling me all the things I knew, but presenting old things in new ways with refreshing anecdotes and re-inspiring me to keep writing and plowing along.

What’s your favorite writing advice you’ve ever read? Any favorite writing books or articles, or just a quote? What re-inspires you and keeps you plugging along?
Friday, August 10, 2012



How I hate thee.
How I need thee.

How I suck at establishing thee.
But I have a goal. (That isn’t the same as a routine, so shut up, blathering child inside my head! Quit threatening to haul out the paper and make picket signs! Stop it!)

Yes, after numerous debates with Terrio, listening to author after author after author at conferences, even sitting across from my idle, Jennifer Ashley, and asking for her advice…I’m ready to establish a routine.
I don’t know what it is about that word that just, I don’t know…brings out the tantrum throwing aspect of my inner child, but it’s tough. I want to not need a routine! In the beginning, when I wrote like Niagara Falls flows, I didn’t need a routine! (Of course, I got up early every morning and went to Starbucks and wrote for an hour before I went to work…but that wasn’t a routine!)

(Yes, it was!)

No, it wasn’t! It was a choice. A routine is a forced regime! It’s marching lockstep with the infantry, it’s…
As you can see, I have some issues with this word.

And I know I will continue to have issues with the entire concept, because it just goes contrary to how I want life to be. So, now and then, it’s gonna be war between me and my as-yet-established routine. So, I’m trying to ease into it.

The thing is, we finally hired an official come-to-the-house-and-work-next-to-us-clutter-helper. Mr. Clutter. I like him, I think this is going to work!

And on the list of projects is my office/sewing room/study. I want a real desk to write from. A standing desk, with a big monitor and a keyboard in the correct ergonomic position so that my back and neck quit protesting. (I just can’t sit on the couch bent over the laptop anymore, it’s killing me.) I want shelves for my research books…you know, all those pirate books and sex books. I want a floor heater in this room and I want to paint the walls something energizing. Maybe watermelon…

Yup, it’s also going to be a sewing room and the place I keep all my promotional stuff and … but first, must clear the stuff I need cleared and buy a good standing desk.
But once I do, it’s game on! And I figure it will be October before I have it together…the plan is to start the day with an e-mail check, blog stuff…than an hour of writing before walking the dog and leaving for Starbucks. Might even consider getting one of those espresso machines at home so I can make my own Americano. Plan on writing some in the evening and literally taking one day off a week. Maybe, two. One with the husband, one on my own.

So, what does the word routine mean to you? Is it liberating? Slavery? Any tips on how to work into this routine without setting my tantrum alarm off? I mean, this is the four year old who doesn’t want to nap, so she can’t really be reasoned with… What is your routine? Do you have one?
Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Paint by numbers: suspense!

I'm working on beefing up the suspense in my WIP. As many of you know, I've been revising this thing for years. YEARS. I've concentrated on the characters and the relationships and the angst . . . but this is a romantic thriller, and so far all my focus as been on the romance side, rather than the thriller side.

So I need to add more thrill. Or more specifically, I need to add some false trails. The thriller plot is good, it's just obvious. There are no clues to lead them the wrong way, paths with dead ends, or red herrings.

Think about some good mystery plots (either mystery/thriller novels, TV shows, or the mystery plot inside a good romantic suspense). They all have red herrings: those clues that pop out and scream "I"m important! Follow me!," but then don't actually lead to the truth.

For  instance, it's pretty obvious, early on in my WIP, that the bad guy is a middle-aged white guy. The problem? There's only one of those in the book. Obvious, right?  It's clear early on that a military general with a lot of power is pulling the strings. My villain is called "the General." Obvious, right?

So now I'm going back through and adding red herrings. Another middle-aged white guy, this time a gun-runner from South Africa, who is charming and funny . . . but could be the bad guy.

Another army dude, this time from the Spanish military instead of British. Easy to confuse the uniforms if you're not familiar with them. He could be the bad guy.

A thug named Neil who is also middle-aged and white, a driver who people talk in front of without thinking, who fixes problems for his bosses and is loyal no matter what he's ordered to do. He could be the bad guy.

It's all very fun to add in these characters, to weave their stories through the narrative, and mix them in with the more primary characters. And seeing how I was about 15,000 words short anyway, this is good. On the whole, I'm very pleased with these decisions.

But I can't help but feel like I'm cheating. Like this is a paint-by-numbers set, and I'm just filling in with the right color. I worry that it won't come together organically, that it will be obvious that these characters were tacked on at the end in order to throw off the reader.

Have you ever tried to add whole threads, plot-lines, and new characters to a finished book? How'd it go? Ever read a book where you could tell that's what had been done? Do you add red herrings to your suspense? Any suspense or thriller plot that particularly stands out in your mind as one where you didn't figure out the bad guy until the very last second?
Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday Review: Heroes I Really Love to Hate

You gotta say this for Susan Elizabeth Phillips. That woman can seriously create characters you love to hate. Remember Sugar Beth from AIN'T SHE SWEET--and she was anything but sweet? Remember the perfect, incomparable Ted Beaudine from CALL ME IRRESISTIBLE who is God's gift to women, but he was such a complete asshat, I wanted to set the book on fire before Susan could show me what a great guy Ted really was?

Well, she's done it again, folks. She's accomplished the miracle of miracles. She has redeemed that heartless groom-jilter Lucy Jorvik and paired her off with the perfect punishment, a complete douche canoe named Panda, who rides a motorcycle, has the table manners of a 3 year old, and whose idea of a charming pick up line is, "Are we going to do it or not?"

Seriously, I thought I was going to light this book, THE GREAT ESCAPE, on fire even quicker than I was going to light Ted's book. Susan just is that masterful at creating characters that seem so real that if they did walk off the page, the first thing you'd do is bitch slap them for being such utter tools.

Fortunately I just managed to keep my fiction and reality separate long enough for Susan to pull this rig around again, and by the end of the book, I was all, "Panda is awesome." Okay, I probably wouldn't go that far. I still wanted to light him on fire a little bit, but at least I understood what was going on with him and he was totally in his right to be a big fat douche. Lucy I adored, even if she did jilt Ted. Then again, I was still remembering what a freaking little tool he'd been in the last book and I wasn't too worried about his broken heart or ego as it were. What I liked most was visiting with the characters from FIRST LADY, a book I adored, even if I think Matt was also a bit of a tool.

A theme perhaps? I'm not sure.

Still all told, this is a skill. The hero you love to hate. Usually if I hate a hero, I don't really care for him even after the story is all wrapped but with Susan's books, we're okay in the end. It's good. And I also felt that way in Lisa Kleypas' SUGAR DADDY, and if anyone had told me Gage was going to be the hero of that book, I would have scoffed in their face. It's a skill...and a talent. Taking a very flawed human being and revealing how he is lovable. I couldn't put the book down and I was satisfied with the ending and how everything turned out.

Has anyone else read SEP's latest? Anyone agree or disagree with me about Ted...and her latest gift to womankind, Panda? What's your favorite SEP book? Any heroes you love to hate you want to talk about?
Monday, August 6, 2012

Nationals Recap Part Deux!

This is part two of my RWA National Conference recap. Part one can be found on my personal site. That one stuck mostly to the basics, but I saved the fun stuff for the Revenge.

Jill Shalvis, me, Kristan Higgins
If you read part one you know I had the privilege of being Kristan Higgins' author attendant. What I didn't mention was the other author on my right. None other than… Jill Shalvis. If you wonder if I was pinching myself, I assure you, I was. The signing was scheduled for three hours but both best sellers sold out in less than ninety minutes. (No shocker there.) That meant I got to head out to meet with friends early.

And that's where the fun comes in. Not that ALL of Nationals isn't fun, but for me, the best part is the opportunity to hang with the people I don't get to see the rest of the year. First would be the young, talented, and gorgeous pair of Stephanie and Mary. From this picture you might be thinking, "How can you not hate them??" Easy. By some crazy twist of fate, these two are as sweet and awesome as they are pretty. It's annoyingly impossible to hate them.

Then there was all my new friends, also known as the Flock. After four months of getting to know my fellow Firebirds (2012 Golden Heart finalists) online, it was wonderful to put faces and voices with the names. Now when I read their emails, I can see and hear the person behind them. And we're already getting hyped to meet up again next year in Atlanta.

Though before then you can get to know them too. We'll be starting our own blog on August 20th with lots of fun features. Keep an eye on our website for more information.

Chance & me!
There were lots of little fun encounters as well. A quick hug from old friends like Cathy Maxwell and Debra Dixon. The chance to thank Vicky Dreiling for her help on my GH manuscript, and a brief chat with Miranda Neville in the lobby. A champagne reception (I had water *sigh*) and inspirational speeches. Pizza in the room and free books. The wifi lounge (best new idea of the conference) and massages by some of the hottest guys I've seen in ages. (I didn't partake but hope they bring those guys back in Atlanta. Would be worth the cost to fly them in.)

We did take an evening away from the festivities to enjoy Disneyland. The weather was perfect, the company stellar. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride is much better in Anaheim than in Orlando. The park might be smaller, but I could spend every evening there. No wonder all the fabulous movie stars live around LA. It's like paradise. I mean, I left a 107 heat index and ended up wearing a jacket all week. Outside of the hotel! If I ever win the lottery, I'm moving over there.

Can't forget the big formal shindig on Saturday night. Being a Golden Heart finalist comes with many perks, and getting to sit front and center was yet another. Everyone looked fabulous. I gave Chance the assignment of wearing something that would pull attention away from me. She more than fulfilled her mission. (She basically made that hat. Is that cool or what??)

I'm just starting to recover from the jet lag, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. And intend to. Only next year we'll have a full Pirate contingency. That hotel bar better stock up on extra rum.
Friday, August 3, 2012

Moving Forward

What a week it’s been upon the Revenge! And last week, with our bosun’s big moment up on the jumbo-trons at the RITA/Golden Heart Awards.

Monday, our captain raised the rallying cry to descend upon the city of Atlanta next year with more of the crew in attendance then the bosun and me, the bartender.
And the crew answered, huzzah!

Scape addressed the things we need to be aware of as we move forward on Wednesday and now it’s my turn…to talk about a song I’ve used to help me reach the climax I needed with the newest of my mss, some months back. Dare Youto Move, by Switchfoot. I believe this came to me from an earlier blog, from P. Kirby, a land bound pirate with a horse.

I know that songs often communicate different things to individuals and I’ve even heard this is an ‘inspirational’ song. Which makes me shudder. Yes, I find it inspirational, but not in the ‘come to jesus’ fashion.
Why does it work for my scifi romance? Well, the opening line, when my lead is waking up to the new place she finds herself works quite well…

Welcome to the planet
Welcome to existence
Everyone's here
Everyone's here

Everybody's watching you now
Everybody waits for you now
What happens next?
What happens next?

Now, Ria is the heroine of Almost Human. At the point in this book, she’s on the floor of a therapist’s office, curled into a ball, her entire past with every sad and terribly moment weighing her down.

I dare you to move
I dare you to move
I dare you to lift
Yourself up off by the floor

I dare you to move
I dare you to move
Like today never happened
Today never happened before

I like this line, ‘today never happened before’ because it’s wonderful. The idea that today is brand new, really brand new, is a great one. There is a slight pause before they sing the word before and it so works to add tension to the lyric.

Welcome to the fallout
Welcome to resistance
The tension is here
The tension is here

Between who you are
And who you could be
Between how it is
And how it should be yeah

Doesn’t this say it all? Ria hears this and realizes the past is done with, if she chooses to go that way.

I dare you to move
I dare you to move
I dare you to lift
Yourself up off by the floor

I dare you to move
I dare you to move
Like today never happened
Today never happened

Maybe redemption has stories to tell
Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell
Where can you run to escape from yourself?
Where you gonna go? Where you gonna go?
Salvation is here

Stories to tell!? HA! Can this get any better? Now, Ria threw herself off the stern of a cruise ship, in a suicide attempt and fell on the bow of an underwater alien ship… I love serendipity with music!

I dare you to move
I dare you to move
I dare you to lift yourself
To lift yourself up off by the floor

I dare you to move
I dare you to move
Like today never happened
Today never happened
Today never happened
Today never happened before

And the song goes on and it’s good… I found a way to lift Ria off the floor with this song and though she isn’t ‘cured’ of her depression, this is the beginning of her journey back to sanity. Though at this point in the story, a crisis rises and she comes off the floor to help save the hero…

What about you? Ever found a song at the absolute perfect time that fits the absolute desperate need you felt with your story and plot? Tell me about it…

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The BIG C in Scapegoat's ABC's for Writers - CONFIDENCE

I started my ABC's for writers because after finishing my first manuscript I discovered there were three big areas that really stood out as essential to success as a writer. They just happened to start with A, B and C and a very unimaginative theme idea was born. LOL. 

Just to review, we previously discussed A for Accountability and B for Balance. Today I want to focus on the BIGGIE...C for Confidence. More so than almost any other quality that I found to be essential to getting those words on the page and pushing myself to balance my life and hold myself accountable, confidence really is key. 

Why is it that so many writers can't believe what others tell us about our work? 

Time after time I meet writers so I could wax poetic for hours about loving their voice or how great a story idea is and yet I can tell they just aren't buying into what I'm saying. They aren't buying into themselves. 

Or the writer who feels the weight of the world pressing in on her because she thinks the words should just flow easy if she was a "real writer." Oh, the self-doubt voices are evil little devils aren't they. No matter how many times we hear stories of best-selling authors who struggle with stories, somehow we expect so much more form ourselves or our fragile little thread of confidence is easily snapped. 

Why? Why do we doubt ourselves when so many who have come before us have proven it's not easy, it can take time, effort, tears, etc? Why do torment ourselves by letting doubts creep in, whether from our own demons or from something outside of us we can't control? 

I'm so glad today's my blog day since we Pirates kicked in with some fabulous goal setting on yesterday's blog. If we're going to reach those goals, we have to learn to be confident in ourselves and that WE WILL get those stories where they need to go. The first draft is a first draft - it's not supposed to be perfect. Ease up on yourself. Believe in what you've learned, the vision you have for your stories and your characters, and even your ability to turn that first draft turd into solid gold. 

Today I want to hear what messes with your writing confidence the most. Let’s get it out there, speak it out loud and help each other find a way to build some armor to protect our sometimes fragile confidence in ourselves.

I’ll even put it out there first. Among the many confidence killers I have, one of my biggest is when someone I’m close to finds success. It’s natural to compare ourselves to others, especially those we share this writing journey with, but even though I’m beyond bursting with happiness for them, I say to myself, “You haven’t even finished editing your first book yet. Oh, and it’s a crappy first book no one should ever see. Why bother writing anymore, since the first one sucked.” Or I rationalize, “Oh, I’m way to busy right now to write. Sure, that’s why I’m not writing.”

Insert your own internal voice monologue there, but most of us do get that hit to our confidence when those around us succeed. I know some think of this as jealousy, and yes who wouldn’t be jealous, but what I’m referring to is something different from that. I’m talking about self-doubt and giving up on yourself and your writing because it seems an overwhelming idea that YOU have what it takes.

I just revealed a pretty raw confidence killer for me so now I want to honestly hear yours. Get them out there and release yourself from them hanging over your head. Let’s build up that protection with some great ideas for becoming so confident that the little things and voices can’t get us down!