Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What I learned about pacing from Dora the Explorer

I've been watching a lot of Nick Jr lately. My kid is still young enough to adore the shows that address the audience and ask questions. We'll sit there together, and he'll yell out answers to every shape and color that kids are asked to identify (at least, I'm pretty sure he's correctly identifying them -- I can still only understand about half of what comes out of his mouth :).

But there's a pacing problem with these shows. A big pacing problem, that sort of drives me nuts -- even though I fully understand it's designed for toddlers -- and is similar to a pacing problem I had pointed out to me in my WIP.

Here's a classic example (I was going to try to find a video, but I thought I would spare you all):

Dora and Boots (the cute little monkey) are in a car, traveling down the road at a steady speed, and in front of them they see a big rock in the road.

Dora: "Oh no! We have to turn the wheel to go around the rock!"

They're getting steadily closer to the rock, still traveling at the same speed.

Then Dora turns to the audience and says, "Come on, we have to turn the wheel. Put your hands out and turn the wheel."

Dora pauses to let all the kids watching get in position to turn the wheel -- but they're still moving at the same speed.
This is where the problem comes in -- Dora and Boots are still moving at the same speed. They should have hit the rock about 10 seconds ago. And yet, they're still driving, and still talking about turning the wheel. Finally, Dora turns back to the road to turn the wheel, and they avoid it.

The pacing is all wrong. The tension rises as they're approaching the rock. And with the rising tension, we get a good sense of how long they have until the crash. We can see the sequence of events laid out in front of us, and the tension goes up as we wait to see if they can avoid it.

But when it takes longer to get to the crisis (in this example, the big rock they're about to crash into) then the reader/watcher is expecting, the tension falls apart.

Something similar had happened in my WIP. I had a section where the tension was climbing and climbing . . . and then nothing. I got the same response from readers. The "What the hell? I was all prepared to crash into the rock, and then the rock never came!" reaction that I have to Dora the Explorer.

What about you? Do you take writing lessons what your kids are involved in or loving? Do you notice pacing problems in shows or books that can inform your own writing? Do you struggle with pacing and tension?
Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Another Side to the Dark-Hunters: Chronicles of Nick

The Dark-Hunters and Sherrilyn Kenyon's world has been around for about fifteen years (published)--and I adore the series. Intensely hot heroes, dark broken men who need great redemption and end up finding the love of a woman is just the thing to heal their past--and then there is all the mythology, pantheons, and things that go bump in the night all over the place. I've always been a romance reader, but one of my best friends just wasn't. It wasn't until I found out she was reading LaVyrle Spencer behind my back that she had even crossed to the dark side.

And because my friend is gothy in nature--and is not entirely opposed to vampires (though she is against gruesome gore), I passed her my Dark-Hunter books for a whirl. Then she really went to the dark side. She loved these books almost more than I did.

The Dark-Hunters can't go out in the daytime, so they have Squires. One of those squires is a kid named Nick Gautier, who is a mouthy little Cajun with a hot-tempered mama. And you don't talk bad about his mama, period. So it was a major plot-turn in one of the books when Nick's mama died. And then Nick killed himself...and incidentally became a Dark-Hunter himself. Which was a bit complicated because he's a few other things besides.

I don't know how Sherrilyn Kenyon keeps her world-building straight, but kudos to that woman. Holy cow.

As if writing about 2-3 of these books a year doesn't consume enough of her time, Sherrilyn decided to write the YA version of Nick Gautier's life, before he becomes a dark-hunter. I wasn't sure I'd dig this series, frankly because I didn't want to get sucked into another of her series, but this one has a more finite life-span of Nick so I figured it was probably relatively safe.

Totally loved them. Reading them has reminded me how much I love the Dark-Hunter series and now I want to go back and reread the series again.

The first one is called INFINITY, the second is INVINCIBLE, and the third is INFAMOUS.

INFERNO comes out in April, and I can't wait to read it.

This series has explained so much in the story world, the other side of the coin if you will. And it really really makes you hope that we can change our destiny...somehow. Everyone has their own side to the story.

Anyway, if you're snowed in like I am today...and are looking for some books to keep you warm, definitely put these on your list to give a whirl. Meanwhile, I've already bought three new books for my big snow day--and I'm set. Whoot-whoot!

What are you reading this week? Anyone else read the Dark-Hunters?
Monday, February 25, 2013

Another Morning After--Who Would You Thank?

The Oscars. Everyone has been buzzing about them for weeks, months. For the first time since I remember I had actually seen half of the movies they had nominated for best picture and agreed they were actually good. The other half, I still actually wanted to see but hadn't had a chance yet. Everyone agreed who the best picture would go to. Or they had the bets hedged at the very least. I remember seeing the TODAY show going, "Half the votes will go here, half will go there, and I bet Amore will get it instead! Wouldn't that be wonderful?" But that was a wildcard wish--we all knew who would actually win. We knew. And then....

Yep. The one they kept dismissing was the one that won. Argo. Mind you, I believe most everyone agreed it was a great movie: great pacing, great dialogue, great story in general--something you could get behind, but it was surrounded by movies with more meat to them. And seriously who wouldn't be voting for Lincoln? Wouldn't that be sacrilegious if you didn't? How can you not vote for our best president? Daniel Day-Lewis is his doppelganger for crying out loud.

Anyway, whether you agree or disagree with how the awards were passed out last night, it just goes to show, you just never know. If you're in the listing, you could very well win, even if the competition is Nora Roberts, Kristan Higgins, Barbara O'Neal, and Jennifer Crusie. That RITA, my friends, could very well be yours as anyone else's.

Of course, it's honor to be nominated, don't get me wrong, but how exactly would your acceptance speech go--and for what would you win it? Who were your competitors? Who helped you achieve this remarkable award, and what are you going to do now?

I'll go first. (Black strapless gown with one of those Angelina Jolie slits in it...and a little train because I like having a parade in my wake.)

"OMG! I can't believe I actually won. Wow. Just wow., for a writer I sound very articulate, don't I? First I'd like to thank my editor, who I'm sure wishes she could have seen my speech before this moment, and my agent, who is probably wishing the same. I couldn't have done this without the unwavering support of my family and friends--but most especially my Deerhunter, who not only thinks I'm adorable in a bikini and body paint, but that I'm actually good enough at writing to make a living at it. Bless his heart. You were right, baby. I hope you taped this because that's the only time you're hearing those words.When I look at the other writers in this category--all previous RITA winners and brilliant--I'm just happy my check to the judges cleared." Pause for laughter. "I'm totally kidding. They only take cash. I also need to give a shout out to my mates and crew on the Romance Writer's Revenge--without your support, stashes of rum, and constant kicks in the backside, I wouldn't be here now. Thank you, everyone."

What I'd probably really say.

"OMG!" Ugly crying and shaking like a chihuahua. "I'm can't believe...I...I...OMG...thank you. Thank you so much. I'm so glad you loved my characters' journeys as much as I did. Thank you for believing in second chances and redemption...and OMGOMGOMG, um, I've forgotten everyone's names. Thank you, everyone! You know who you are...and if I don't know you, thank you too! I love you! I love everyone!"

Fortunately I heard Ben Affleck's speech was a bit more practiced than either of mine. Thank. God. Which is why he's winning the awards, I imagine.

So...if you were given an award: for what would you be receiving the award, whom would you thank, and what would your dress look like? (Let's be honest, that's the reason we're watching. Q, I assume you'll be there in a James Bond-esque tux, so no need to spill the beans about dresses for us, we'll be happy to hear about your great science peace-prize award you'll be getting....)
Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Joining In

Until now, I’ve mostly belonged to RWA’s online chapters. They’ve fit my lifestyle. Right from my computer conversation about specialized topics. At one point or the other, I've belonged to four different chapters and they've all been beneficial and supportive in their own way. But recently I've considered joining a local chapter.

The drive to either of the RWA chapters in my area (Valley Forge or NJ RWA) has been an obstacle, though. Both chapters are about an hour away and they’re not just an hour on straight, deserted roads.  This is an hour either through Philly or up the NJ Turnpike (ie, where the folks drive fierce and scare the bejeezus out of me). 

I’ve gone to NJ RWA’s conference in the past—wonderful—but I've shied away from joining. But, it would be cool to have a little face time with other writers. 

I’ve begun to wonder if it isn’t the difference between doing Weight Watchers online and attending the meetings.  I mean, you can do it online.  There are forums, plenty of other folks out there walking the walk with you.  But, I wonder if having the support of a group of people you see face to face, register their smiles, might help even more.

I’d probably join NJ RWA, because driving through Philly scares me more than driving up the turnpike (not by a lot).  But it is an hour there and back.  That’s a long day.

So, I wanted to ask you girls.  Those of you who belong to a local chapter, what have you found are the greatest benefits?  Any drawbacks you’d care to mention? If you haven't joined a local chapter, why? 
Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Top 10 Reasons You Should Read THE AUTUMN BRIDE by Anne Gracie

Short version here if your Tuesday is busy: go buy THE AUTUMN BRIDE. Do not pass "Go", do not collect $200. (Monopoly should really adjust for inflation, shouldn't it?) In summary, I was waiting eagerly for MONTHS for this book to be in my hot little hands and it did not disappoint in a single scene. Best of all, if you're the type who doesn't like to read in the middle of series, this one is the beginning of the series. You have missed nothing.

Longer version if you're stubborn and not as easily convinced by my natural ability to be right about everything. (Your loss.)

1. A Regency set novel of a heroine stuck in hard times with an original twist: how many other books can you name in which the heroine tries to burgle a house, discovers a sick old lady, then decides to move in to help her instead? That's right. You can't think of any either.

2. You need a book for Book Club, and you're tired of reading about people who drop dead of cancer or a hit-and-run ten pages from the end of the book. I can't blame you. This is the book. Lots of angst and what will happen to these poor characters, but with none of that "Oh, dear, draw a straw--which one is biting it in the end?" I always hate that. (I'm looking at you, Julian Fellowes.)

3. Speaking of book clubs, this book has a book club in it. How many Regency set novels do you know had a book club in them? None of them, I tell you. I've been reading since I was in the womb and none of mother's books had heroines in the Regency period going to book clubs. Anyway, you can totally use that scene to sell this book to Book Club. When fiction mirrors real life, crap like that. Pretentious book club members eat that stuff up and won't realize they're actually having fun until its too late.

4. If enough people buy this book, the publishers will notice and Hollywood will notice--and someone (okay, Mr. Fellowes, I suppose you can come back) will have to write the screenplay. AND since we already know the ending, we know there will be no tragic car accidents. Mostly because this is the Regency period and there are no cars, but the outcome is still the same. A happy ending. Anyway, the point, once Hollywood comes, Maggie Smith can play the dowager that's in this book as well--i.e. the sick old lady. The part was quite written for her, I believe. Those lines! So witty! "I thought books were supposed to improve the mind, but this wasn't that kind of book. But I did notice my mood was improved!" Oh, truer words! I should send dear Maggie a copy. *makes note*

5. For the English majors out there in the pirating world--honestly you should get a life--but if you enjoy that sort of "reading a book to look at structure and admire how its done", this is also a fine book for that as well. Anne Gracie is an organic writer--doesn't really plot the thing out exactly, but goes along with her characters and stays true to them and their behaviors. (Don't bother, Julian, no one cares for your excuses!) Anyway, one of the many things you can notice--without it being obvious and heavy-handed--is how the hero and the heroine both have similar strengths that are their greatest weakness as well. For instance, the heroine is extremely loyal--to the point of not being remotely selfish if it hurts anyone in her circle she's loyal to. She'd never betray someone she loves. Of course, not everyone in her circle has this problem and this is a huge conflict for her. The hero is extremely honorable--goes with being a Regency gentleman, does it not? But his honor and her loyalty get into several head-butting situations. Who's right? Who's wrong? Why is there are all this gray around?

6. You won't be able to wait for the other books of the Chance sisters. (I think this is self-explanatory.)

7. The hero is really quite broody, handsome, and steps in it a lot a la Mr. Darcy. Which coincidentally the Mr. Darcy book makes it to the Book Club.

8. Book within a book--see above. Who doesn't enjoy seeing books we love featured in other books we're loving?

9. I'm sure you won't even notice what I'm typing here because you've already run off to the link and are buying your copy. Right? Right. As you should.

10. Because I said so, that's why. It's almost midnight and I need to get some shut eye. Listen to me, damnit.

Has anyone else read Anne Gracie? What's your favorite book by her? And if you haven't read her (shame on you) what Regency set novel really impressed you for making an original twist to something that can be so easy to make the same? (The question can apply to any genre, really--what original twist have you seen in something near and dear to you that really impressed you?)
Monday, February 18, 2013

Excuse Me Mr. Fellowes, You’re Standing In The Shot

I will give no spoilers in this blog as I’m sure there’s someone who hasn’t watched last night’s finale yet and I certainly don’t want to spoil it for anyone. This blog is actually inspired by the entire third season in the way that it made me remember why I don’t like soap operas.

That is essentially what Downton Abbey is. A soap opera set in the early 20th century. Grant it, the show is more beautiful and dazzling than most, but soap opera it is. My problem with this season is what I can only describe as contrived drama.

In any kind of storytelling, there are character driven stories and plot driven stories. I’ll admit up front that I prefer my stories character driven, meaning the action is dictated by the choices and responses of the characters. A plot driven story would deal more with the characters dealing with circumstances out of their control. Think of a Romantic Suspense in which the H/H are on the run from the bad guys. Or trying to catch a serial killer before he kills again.

In this case, things happen and the H/H must react. I do not mean to imply there are no character driven Romantic Suspense novels, but for the sake of example, I think this one works.

In this third season of Downton, it felt more as if things just kept happening to the characters and often for no good reason. Yes, life is random, but fiction is different from real life in that everything must happen for a reason. In fiction, your story has to make sense. I admire Mr. Julian Fellowes (creator and writer of Downton Abbey) but in several episodes this season, there was almost an author intrusion.

Life is good so I’m going to pull the rug out from under them all because I need enough drama to carry two more episodes. I find this annoying. In season one, Lady Mary created a great deal of trouble, almost all of it brought on by her own actions and choices. That was drama I enjoyed. Season two remained mostly written in this way, but started to veer into the contrived drama. The entire Bates in prison storyline never made any sense. Even now it’s left somewhat open-ended.

I understand that actors may choose to leave the show and in the case of Downton, cannot simply be replaced by a new one, but there was just too much muck thrown about that felt forced. As if Mr. Fellowes walked in and said, “Watch what I can come up with now.”

Regardless of whether you’re a Downton fan, how do you like your stories? Character or plot driven? Do you ever read a book and feel like the author is getting in the way of her own story? And if you are a fan of the show, will you be back for another season? I admit, there were times during the current season I was tempted to give up on the show all together.
Friday, February 15, 2013

Hang it All


Casual Friday be damned, we need a Fabulously Pretend-It’s-Summer Friday.

It’s summer, it’s oh-so-pleasantly hot. The ocean is sparkling, the breeze is just enough to stir the hair on the head, the cabana boys are buff and the bartender is a miracle worker. The Revenge came into port and was greeted by paparazzi who only took flattering pictures…

Where are you?

What are you drinking?

Who is sprawled next to you?

What will you do tomorrow?
Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You A Stronger Writer

Sorry I'm late!  I was hung over from whatever the bartender served last night on the ship...what was that Chance?

This morning I was reading Agent Rachelle Gardner's blog post 8 Ways to Be a Happy Writer and I loved how it reminded me to just love the process. (Go read the really short post here, and then come back.)

What it made me start thinking about those are those things that get us down about our writing to begin with. Recently we talked about the day to day stress we are all under and how we can best deal with it, but what about those things particular to writing that seem to bring us down?

Is there a part in the process that kills your mojo?

For instance I KNOW that anytime I have to concentrate on writing about the surroundings or really making the place they are in come alive makes me want to bang my head against the wall. It really takes a lot to pull that out of me. The more I'm having to add that to a scene the grumpier I get and I find myself drifting away from the writing and finding other things I need to do around the house.

Is it dialogue for you? Personally I love writing dialogue, but I've heard some authors wail about putting that off until editing. Really? I can't imagine.

But today what I'm trying to get to is identifying the actual part of the writing process - not the editing process - that takes you out of your happy place.

Let's find it and then discuss some ways we can manipulate those little stinkers into submission. Let's find a way to learn to love even those parts of the process we normally want to hide from. \

So, where do you get stuck? What takes you from a writer cruising along, racking up the word count, to almost wishing you could do anything else at that moment in time? Once you identify it, how can we make it work for you - make you a better, stronger author for learning to embrace it? 

(Oh - and that pic is a lovely castle in Germany I saw this past year and it has nothing to do with this post, but it's it awesome!)
Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nothing Typical about A Hometown Boy

Two months ago, our country endured a horrifying tragedy. The unthinkable occurred. A troubled human being aimed a high-powered weapon at innocent children (and adults), killing them in cold blood, then turned a gun on himself. Two realities became instantly clear. Life is random, and the human brain is capable of unspeakable deeds.

Why am I bringing up Sandy Hook today? Because I could not review of A Hometown Boy and not bring it up. Janice Kay Johnson wrote a powerful, painful story about a very similar situation, only I imagine when she created the fictitious events that open her book, she never imagined the real life events yet to come.

The small town of Tucannon, Washington seems like a nice place to live. Everyone knows everyone else. People take care of each other. But that all changes the day a mentally ill member of the community snaps and turns a loaded weapon on the town and eventually on himself.

The horrible event brings two people back to town. The killer’s brother, David Owen, and a victim’s daughter, Acadia Henderson. Both grew up in the town and were friends and neighbors once up on a time. As a young girl, Acadia loved David, and in his own way, David cared for Acadia. The attraction rekindles when they meet again, but the circumstances—David’s brother having killed Acadia’s father—make any kind of relationship between them difficult.

The first thing I want to point out is that there is nothing political about this book. No judgments are made nor sides taken by the author. This is not a manifesto or even a cautionary tale. It’s a love story that just happens to start with a horrifying tragedy. An honest and interesting look is taken at the debilitating disease that plagued the killer for most of his life. Characters are forced to examine their own actions and beliefs, and recognize their own failings and lack of understanding.

But the focus is squarely on the love story, which is a lovely reunion story revealing a second chance is always possible, and compassion may be the greatest trait we have. There is nothing black and white about this story, and there are slow spots here and there, but I have to applaud Ms. Johnson for crafting a difficult story with a deft hand and balanced touch.

The characters are real. They hurt, they struggle, and they love. You feel for them and with them and some parts of this book are tough. Ms. Johnson did not shy away from the realities of the situation. Tucannon will never be the same and likely neither will the rest of us after Sandy Hook. But there is healing, hope, compassion, and love. It’s all around us and in us, if we’re willing to embrace it. Acadia makes that choice, and gains her happily ever after in the process.

Admittedly, if you’re looking for a light read, this is not it. But it’s not all doom and gloom either. It’s uplifting in many places, with a very positive ending, not just for Acadia and David, but for the rest of the town as well. I highly recommend you give this one a try. 

What do you think of romances that offer something unusual like this? Have you read any out-of-the-ordinary romances lately? Do you like when a book doesn’t fit the mold or prefer the tried and true?

PS: I bought this book on my Kindle thanks to Janga’s recommendation. I was not given this book for the purpose of doing a review.
Monday, February 11, 2013

When Dealing With Non-Garden Variety Stress

It's that time of year again when I daydream about leaving my job (the one that pays the bills) and running off to a Caribbean for real. Not just in my daily fictional reality on this ship. I know why. January starts off languid but immediately picks up in acceleration as the start of the Spring semester begins, students crop up at the last minute waiting to enroll, files are hastily scrambled together for an early semester meeting, and lucky students are nominated for awards that I'm in charge of getting the packets to the appropriate people.

Most of the problem is a lack of communication. I'm sure you can identify this in your daily lives with people. People are all absorbed in their own dramas and journeys; many are keeping secrets that are none of your business; and there is a lot of last minute action and urgency that suddenly becomes your problem even though it is not your problem. Honestly you're in the middle of a working novel all the time and don't even appreciate it.

I've spent the last two weeks treading water--which is why if this blog makes a point of any kind, I will consider it a moral victory. And much of my problem with the last two weeks is the lack of communication--and the unfortunate coincidence that I'm in the middle of this communication drought. It makes me extremely testy when the lack of communication comes about at work because it makes my job very difficult. I just want to be able to do my work and go home. That's the goal, folks. Do my work just good enough to keep the checks coming so I can be a responsible person in society and come home for a few hours to decompress, write perhaps, and enjoy my sweet life. Most days I can do just that.

And then there were the last two weeks. Now I know this will be a chaotic next couple of months for me. It always is. Applications fly through my office as if they were delivered by owl post, phone calls pour in as if individuals think they're the only people who want to go to school, and it wouldn't be a week day if there wasn't a "fire" to put out somewhere. It is what it is. But then we added a committee to my regular work. A committee in which getting 9 people to agree is like getting the Republicans to pass a budget that expands Medicare and Social Security. On top of it, I have to meet with this committee every two weeks for at least an hour--and it pisses me off for a good three days after. It makes my normal work rather unproductive, but it's not slowing down just because I'm stressed out. No. And I'm certainly not the only one stressed--the rest of my coworkers are freaking out about a division merger and at least twice a day, I have a coworker in my office asking my opinion on the latest conspiracy theory with work. Honestly, my coworkers are giving the head honchos way too much credit for having any idea what they're doing. Oh, I agree, they have an outcome in mind, some pipe dream, but an actual plan to implement to make it happen? No. Because they're all too self-absorbed with their daily stresses to worry about fixing any of ours.

But I can leave work at work. No worries. Then I come home...and Fate has to take a dump in my house as well. My best friend from forever discovered she's sick--and there's not a damned thing I can do about it. Other than threaten her doctors they better fix her good, but I doubt that's very productive.

I can point to a lot of things in the last two weeks that have contributed to my lack of words on my WIP. All legitimate things. But as I look at them, I see something in common: most of them have little to do with me, per se. I need to react differently to these stressers rather than allowing them to steal my energy and strength. I'm not doing myself or anyone else any good by being mad, disorganized, sad, and demoralized about all the things I'm facing. I need to S.T.O.P.

Stop. Think. Observe. Prepare.

Stop doing your Chicken Little routine with everyone else. It's not doing anybody any good. Think of the situation, stripping it back to its elements, to the actual problem and not what you think might happen. Observe and see what steps need to be taken right now and do them. Prepare for victory--because those who stop and get it together and do something are always the ones who win.

Now my first order of business is to sit down and communicate with some of my higher ups so I can get something productive done. The committee will sort itself out later. And my friend? She will be just fine. She's a fighter and a winner--and she is in great hands, surrounded by supportive friends and family. I just need to help her keep positive. And in the meantime, I will not freak out that my writing hasn't been flowing like Niagara Falls this week and know everything cycles and it's never as bad as I think.

Meanwhile, let's talk about the crew? Anyone stressed to the max? Anyone got the winter doldrums and cabin fever? What are your best tips for relieving stress?
Friday, February 8, 2013

Brilliant Guests

As some of you may know, I’m the president of my local Romance Writers of America chapter. We’re a very small group, less than two dozen members. But! We are lucky that we are just over the hills – the Santa Cruz Mountains – of the Silicon Valley RWA Chapter. And they’re pretty big. Also Black Diamonds in the Bay Area, etc.

Which means we don’t hold conferences or host big names (can’t pay for them, for one thing), but we are close to chapters that can bring these people to our area. So, I’ve attended a Donald Maas all day workshop, a Deb Dixon workshop and an Angela James workshop.

We also have a fair amount of writers within reach. And those? We tempt them to come and talk to us, plus we have several published writers in our chapter. We try to host someone every other month, though this year, my new VP opted to get speakers the first half of the year and we’ll work on writing the second half. Plus our holiday party and a few months off during the summer, when we’re at big conferences.

So, why am I babbling about this?

Well, we had Tina Folsom late last year and invited members from the other chapters and did pretty well. She’s local to the Bay Area. And a last week, we had Shelley Bates come speak to us. Hal knows Shelley, since she teaches a master class at Seton University. I know her from doing Steampunk workshops with her last year at Clockwork Alchemy, in San Jose.

She lives up on the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Shelley also writes as Adina Senft. Amish romance. And she does well! She self publishes a YA Steampunk series and she does well! And the woman is brilliant. She held all dozen of us mesmerized.

Her topic was “World Building Through Your Characters’ Eyes.”

I have the notes I took. Not many, but I do have the hand out. And she covered character perception and home and how to use setting to work inward and reveal and…and…and… If only my brain could make use of this information!

I sat center, I watched, I listened! I understood! But I couldn’t relate what she was saying to what I do, period. I honestly couldn’t think of examples from what I write, or how I could do this or that…nada.

Her words went in one ear and out the other. Understood and fondled, but they made no connection to my inner writer. I talked with her after and finally found a metaphor I could use to understand her talk with us.

She was talking about the soundtrack! The motif of characters, the underlying layer that builds, adds but isn’t intrusive. It carries the story forward and helps the reader taste the richness, the spice…experience the magic under the words. Thru words! But not in-your-reader’s -face, let-me-explain-this words.

I can understand a soundtrack, the subtle nature. How it adds without distraction.

I can’t decipher Shelley’s presentation. I’m simply blind that way. I don’t know if it’s my superstitious nature, (I suspect it is), but I have a block when it comes to using the wonderful aspects of teachers like Shelley.

Luckily, she’s very understanding and actually, when we did the panels together, we complement each other’s techniques quite well. She’s a plotter, a planner, a creatively detailed writer. I’m a wild card.

I attend lecture, workshops, conferences…and I listen. I pay attention. With my creative writing mind acting like a four-year-old, fingers in ears, singing la-la-la-la-la. My intuitive mind is very present. I can analyze, discuss the topic in regards to other books, or movies…but not my writing.

Terri has seen this. I am so damned oblivious.

I hope that eventually, the information seeps into what I do…without my having to think too deeply on it.

Because I’m an idiot and fear that if I totally understand what I do, I won’t be able to do it anymore. I need to believe it’s magic.

How about you? Are you able to make the connection between what you write and what you learn in lectures? Does it come together for you all at once? During? After? Ever?
Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Path Not Taken

Musical Influence:
My heart beats still
So tell me is this real?
Tell me is it real?
Or is it all a dream
I made up everything.
Can you tell me is this real?
Please just wake me
Up from this bad dream
Please just wake me
Up from everything.

Love and Tragedy, Digital Summer (cause and effect, 2007)

“The correct quantum mechanical definition of parallel universes is "universes that are separated from each other by a single quantum event." (Wiki)

A single event can alter your course forever.

I've always been fascinated with what if. That magical moment when the road splits and you choose one path. But what about the road not chosen? That alternate universe where you made a different decision and your life went in a complete different direction. That path is what fuels my imagination when I'm reading or even when I'm writing. Almost like a chess match. You have to think of all the different outcomes to each decision before you move. And down the road will you rethink your decision or will you be happy with the choices you've made?

I used to get my fix of the what if scenario by reading choose your own adventure books (though I hear they are referred to as “gamebooks” now). I devoured these books. The adventure is told in second person and you assume the role of the protagonist. When I was a kid, usually these books were more male oriented though the gender was never specifically referred to in the book. You could be an adventurer, a detective, a race car driver, a ninja, explorer, spy, astronaut- the possibilities are endless. This also allowed for your imagination to take over and effectively you felt like you were experiencing the story. My favorite ones were the more fantasy oriented books. Unicorns and magical kingdoms and Princes and Princesses. Mythical creatures trolled through the stories causing a ruckus. Each decision took you deeper into the mystery and if you made a fatal mistake, your outcome wouldn't be good. That was part of the fun. These books taught me how each decision you make matters. That no matter what you always need to think ahead and don't be hasty. I take this approach when I write my heroines. Even with my impetuous hot tempered Cin. Each action causes a reaction. The cause and effect method of writing my hero and heroine (even if they're anti-hero and anti-heroine.) Cin makes choices that not only effect her life, but those residing in her realm, outside her realm. The entire system. All for another person. In a choose your own adventure book- the flip of a few pages would leave her outcome very bleak. But in my adventure, this only makes the story more complicated before it becomes clear.

Kiki's story is tragic. Even to me who loves writing those sorts of stories where nothing good has ever happened, the outcome is bleak, her future non-existent. Kiki is tragic. She doesn't know happiness. Or security. Or warmth. Or trust. Her life balance precariously on the tip of a needle, the thread unraveling at an alarming speed. Yet, she struggles to give stability to her younger siblings by keeping them far away from her, far away from the danger and the law-breaking and scheming. To Kiki, Sadie and Kady must have a normal-ish life. No matter what it costs her in the long run.

But that what if nags me. What if Kiki hadn't been influenced by their father. What if her mother wasn't a drug addicted manic who hid away from her children and shielded her children from being used? What if Dex never disappeared into the military? What if when Tory came around it had only been a girlfriend of Dom and never collateral from one business man to another to guard his daughter? What if Tory turned out to be Kiki's best friend instead of bodyguard, keeper, guardian? Sadie and Kady could've been at home with Kiki even without their parents. Kiki could've had a normal life- a boring uncomplicated existence.

What if Dex and Kiki never used one another and married out of love not out of necessity. What if they lived to be happy and healthy. I know what happens. It changes Sadie's life tremendously. It changes her relationship with Ash and that has a chain reaction on Ash's life.

The fact is the what if is always going to be there. The adventure may change scenery and the outcome may be different; but you always have to make a choice. And you're always going to wonder what if even in the creative world.

Tell me the alternate universe to your canon characters. What choice did they make that set them on the path to their HEA? And if they'd chosen the other road, where would they be? I know it's hard to imagine because once your characters set their mind to something, you're destined to follow it out. But just have some fun with them. Would your housewife be a CIA operative? (She's pretty good at wielding a knife.) Would your baseball coach hero be a hitman for the mob? (He can really swing a baseball bat.) Just a little personality quirk can change a character from sweet to sour. And if you're not down with that, how about fictional characters you've read or watched? Tell me about your ideal parallel/alternate universe.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Hellie Is Tempted and Why You Will Be Too!

Okay, in regards to Teresa Medeiros' novels, I'm more on the biased side. I've read her for at least twenty years; I practically cut my romantic teeth on her. I wanted to grow up to be a writer that was a cross between her and Julie Garwood...and Jude Deveraux. And Jill Barnett. get the idea. The woman is one of The Greats for me. Probably because she wrote some deliciously seductive Scotsmen I still can't get out of my head. So I admit up front--I've been in Ms. Medeiros' camp for a long, long time. (She obviously started publishing when she was 10. Those prodigies!)

Today, you have the chance to fall in love with her newest hero: Maximillian Burke, the Earl of Dravenwood (THE TEMPTATION OF YOUR TOUCH), who has the unenviable position of being someone in love with someone who is in love with someone else. And always has been. With his younger brother, no less. Basically your original crappy triangle. And because Maximillian is a hero...and of course, loves his brother, and more importantly, loves the woman he's loved all his life, he gives them his blessing. But it's the beginning of his story--and he's miserable as f--hell.

For a change of scenery, he goes to the countryside where one of his more natural-looking estates resides. He is not allowed to wallow in his melancholy because he's stuck dealing with superstitious townspeople who won't even go to his manor; engaging with a ragtag bunch of servants who seem to have been culled from a nearby asylum; and keeping his hands off a delicious smelling housekeeper who seems intent on being anything but helpful even though she's one of the servants. And let's not mention the food. And the Elizabeths. Or Piddles (who lives up to his name.)

Upon arrival, he transfers his affections from one unattainable beauty to another: in the form of a painting of the lady who is supposed to haunt the house, an impetuous young miss who threw herself off the cliffs many years ago. (Just like a guy, isn't it? Always falling for the wrong girl.) Believe me, the housekeeper, Anne, is not impressed with his choice of broads.

What unfolds is your standard story of the put-upon nobleman: expensive boots destroyed by a family dog who has higher social standing in his house than he does; nearly being burned alive in the house; falling off the cliff where the fair maiden disappeared years ago; and...falling insane love with one of the servants. (But that part is totally understandable. She bakes! Bread. The poor bloke had no chance. The food really was awful. The bread was like manna.)

Meanwhile you the reader spends your time unraveling the mystery of the ghost who haunts the house, of the many wrongs done to the family, and just who was the artist of that magnificent portrait. It's a mystery that took me a little while to unravel. (I like to think the answers weren't immediately obvious, but I didn't understand The Sixth Sense until the end and was like "No way!" So I might not be the best judge.) I enjoyed unraveling it at any rate; and the romance and tension were top-notch for me. There was no rushing into bed to prove anything, but a lot of the FORBIDDEN that comes when a servant falls in love with her master.

I quite enjoy the prequel to this one: THE PLEASURE OF YOUR KISS, which deals with the other two parts of the hero's triangle and their love match. It has the nostalgic hero-heroine interactions that I love about Medeiros' characters: a bit like Anna and the King of Siam, evenly matched wills and saucy retorts. And this one does too.

Well-drawn character, heartfelt emotion, lush prose, and a heart-warming love story happy ending. You can't go wrong.

So question of the day is an either-or: what's your favorite romantic triangle in fiction OR what food could the love of your life seduce you with (especially if they cooked it)? And of course, what are you reading this week?

And if anyone asks, I bought my copy--rabidly--last week and devoured it over the weekend. :) So this is a completely unsolicited review.
Monday, February 4, 2013

It's the Super Blog! The Morning After

So, it’s my day to blog. And, of course, I waited until Sunday evening to come up with something. Lucky for me, this isn’t just any Sunday. I’ve been a football fan since childhood, as you can’t have grown up outside Pittsburgh in the 70s and NOT be a football fan. Which means, I can live blog the game.

Or the commercials. Whatever floats my boat. About to have kick off. Let’s see how this goes.

Well, that wasn’t very exciting. This will be especially nice for those of you who didn’t watch the game. This will be like the Reader’s Digest condensed version. (DISCLAIMER: I do not work for Reader’s Digest nor am I implying they approve of this blog.)

There have been some fun commercials already. Interesting version of the National Anthem too. I don’t think there will be any lip-syncing controversy there. Speaking of, whose looking forward to Beyonce at half time? I admit, I’m just happy they’re featuring an artist who has had a hit song in this century.

And we have a touchdown. Ravens up by 7. That Go Daddy commercial is SO WRONG. I couldn’t even watch. And I just realized the best commercials are the ones that tell a story. So far, the Audi prom commercial is going to be  tough to beat. Some writers lament having to tell a story with ten or twenty thousand words. Try telling a complete story that not only gets people to pay attention but moves them by the end, all in sixty seconds.

The Oreo commercial isn’t doing it for me. Too over-the-top.

Another Fast & Furious? Really? Sigh. Hello! Calvin Klein. You’ll want to look that one up. And now I’m starting to wonder if some key 49ers aren’t being held hostage in the locker room. WTH, people?! Not enjoying this first half.

Old people partying it up and Fun. singing in Spanish. That one might be a win. This first half is getting so bad, I just yelled, “Was he waiting for the dude to play patty cake?! HIT HIM!!” I need some chocolate.

Okay, time for Beyonce. *sings* ALL THE SINGLE LADIES.... And it’s a Destiny’s Child reunion! Cool! *show ends* That was awesome!

Now, to see if (Jim) Harbaugh was able to talk some sense into his players. (Okay, that 2 Broke Girls promo was cool. *sings* POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME...)

Well, I didn’t see that coming. Power outage during the Super Bowl. Thank goodness I had snarky tweets to drown out the mind-numbing crap spewing from the commentators. Half hour later, we’re back to the action.
And there’s already a Twitter handle for the Super Bowl lights. The internetz so crazy. Finally! San Fran is making a comeback. This begs the question, what author no longer writing would you like to see make a comeback?

Now it’s a 2 point game and the commercials are getting better. Paul Harvey. Montanaland. Babies from space. That’s probably the only time I’ve ever not minded the Wheels On The Bus song.

And the game is over. THAT was painful. In case I didn’t mention it before, I was pulling for the 49ers. Sooooo close. Sucks that it had to come down to the refs not making an obvious call.

So what have we learned tonight? Luck is just as important in football as it is in writing. (The bad calls = constant rejections.) There will always be critics who bitch no matter what you do. (Beyonce haters = unhappy reviewers.) And goats like Doritos. (I’ve got nothing here.)

Did you watch the game? Did your team win? Favorite commercial? How many books will we see by the end of the year with aliens invading during a blackout at the Super Bowl?
Friday, February 1, 2013

Editing Fool

Edits. Ah, my weeks from a very special sort of hell. I actually threatened my editor with the Kraken on Facebook. She laughed and said they were good friends. I cursed her with Cthulhu, she grinned and I saw her green teeth, realized she was one of the chosen.
It wasn’t fair. I warned her, as I addressed the 242 comments on the side of my 15.5k story (that is over 5 comments per page!) “I’m gonna end up adding a ton of words!”
“Add more words. More words are good!”
(Direct contradiction of my first editor who, when I added 5k words to an 80k story, said, “Good! Don’t ever do that again.”)
What did Zee, the new editor, want? Well, she wanted more details. She wanted great depth and sensuality, she wanted more backstory and development of the myth, she wanted me to stop having body parts move and behave independently of the characters. (It is a bit on the horror side but not so much that I could get away with hands wandering like Thing in the Addams Family.) (One day I’m gonna write a book like that, just so I can write all the disembodied body parts I want.) (So, there!)
She wanted, she wanted, she wanted!
I? I didn’t want. She hit me with all these wants at a time when I could barely string together two emotions let alone stir any libido into the mixture. I was silent and unable to muster up any enthusiasm at all.
But I had to. I got an extra week and with no choice before me…I opened the doc and dove in.
And wanted to kill her over and over and over and over and over.
I ended up adding 3.5k to the short story. Torturous, terrible, words of blasphemous belief and a sensuality that only an elder god could appreciate.
Lorelei’s Song is all about the last siren on earth, who knew she’s different but didn’t realize how different. She is into heavy BDSM, rich as Midas, and bored. Terribly bored. (It is really hard to write a bored character as anything but boring. I may never create a bored character again. If I do, shoot me.) (I mean she wasn’t a boring woman, but she was bored. Big difference.) She goes to a Steampunk convention and meets two guys. Who happen to be descendants of the unholiest of all elder gods, the terrible awesome Cthulhu. These guys can shift into tentacle sea monsters.  They are on the edge of desperation. Need to mate, need to let the monster inside get sexy. 
The three meet and it might mean the end of the world…or it might mean…???
Yes, fun stuff. I actually had a lot of fun writing it, but the editing was straight from the gaping maw of the soul sipping Cthulhu himself.
Is the book better at this point? Yeah. I will admit that. And I did prove to myself that even when every nerve and creative synapsis is dead on arrival, I can reach into my deepest pit of hell and find something.
I’m waiting with baited breath for the next round. And preparing my talisman’s of power. I wonder if Zee knows voodoo?
My point? Well, I know it may not sound like it, but this was an empowering exercise and I can now say with confidence? “You think you are out of gas? You think you can’t do it anymore? Creativity has died a long slow death along your spine? Well. MAGGOTS! GET OUT OF THE MUD AND PULL UP YOUR PANTIES AND DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!”
Or I’ll sic Zee on you.

The next round came and I was given three days to cut 175 uses of the name Jerrod by at least ¾ and the same with the 145 times I used Nicholas. Plus about the 32 times I used the word cousin. I did it. My brain is now so torqued it’s hard to walk.
I must have done a great job with Jerrod... Third round of edits she added a few of them back in. ;-)

What was the last thing you didn’t think you could do and you did it anyway? Did it kill you? What’s your nightmare story?