Friday, October 30, 2009
It's October and my next release I Can Make You Love Me hit the shelves on the first. I Can Make You Love Me is the second installment in the Gautier's series. The Way You Aren't is the first and the third installment Where Love Begins will be release October 2010.
I focused the book on Detroit automotive industry and my characters continue from one book to the next. The story involves an older woman/younger man relationship. The heroine was the hero's babysitter before she went off to college and met her husband.
Recently, I was discussing the story idea and concept to the nursing staff at my doctor's office. I mentioned the idea of the heroine being thirteen years older than the hero and that the heroine at one point was the hero's babysitter. One of the nurse's stopped and pointed a finger at me. She immediately responded, "My uncle did that." Surprised, I stared at her shocked to find out that this situation was not uncommon.
This is where you come in. Go to my website and read the excerpt and then email me. Let me know your thoughts on the concept. I'd love to hear from you.
Remember, don't be a stranger.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
My debut publication morphed from, "Once upon a Wedding day" to "A Marriage of Convenience" with a whole list of abandoned titles in between. Two years ago I entered it into a first chapters competition hosted by gather.com. It was an American Idol style competition where a book publication contract with a nice signing bonus was the prize. Of course hoping for anonymity where my friends and family were kept in the dark did not help my cause and needless to say, I didn't even make it to the second round.
One person reading my first chapter in that competition made this comment (and I am paraphrasing) "Interesting story, but the title lacks originality." I can tell you, I was more than a little upset. Two years and a publication later, as I did a search on Amazon.com for "A Marriage of Convenience" I understood what the reviewer was saying. There were so many other books and videos entitled "A Marriage of Convenience" that I had to use the author's name to search for it.
"From SKB with love" in the Holiday Brides Anthology was a little more original. But that went from "Love on the shores" to "A Caribbean Christmas" to "Sugar City love" before finally becoming "From SKB with Love" based on the title of a song mentioned in the book and the nickname for St. Kitts, where the story unfolds.
Right now I have a WIP and for the life of me I cannot think of a name for it. I wonder if it is good idea to have a naming competition. You know, post a synopsis on the web and have people email me the possible titles and then choose from there. The prize could be a signed copy of one of my published novels. It should certainly give a pre-publication, pre-acceptance, pre-submission publicity boost.
What do you think? Is that a good idea for selecting a title for a book or am I just being naive?
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I went on to a short, but illustrious, unpaid career, doing the readings during Easter, Christmas and assorted other Holy Days of Obligation, speaking out to a congregation, mostly without the benefit of a microphone.
Later on, people would comment on my voice and I'd do some impersonations, just to get a laugh. A fellow I worked with told me I had the perfect voice for phone sex, but I didn't pursue that line :: rimshot :: any further.
Then, it came up again. (No, not that; my voice.) While in a chat with m/m author, Carol Lynne, and my UK publisher, Claire from Total-E-Bound, Claire commented that I had a great voice. In fact, she added, it was just the kind of voice they were after for their new line of audio books. They had been through quite a few voice actors and couldn't quite find what they were looking for, but I sounded perfect and would I mind terribly much forwarding them an audition tape?
* GULP * Uh. Okay. It's not often that I'm struck speechless, as anyone who knows me will attest, but I was that night. I put together a few minutes of narration, forwarded it on and got the gig. That was months ago, with the intervening time spent at various microphones, reading various books on voice work, taking courses on voice work, and generally ordering my DH around so he could construct a small studio in my office. Eventually, after many many many weeks, the payoff finally came, with Total-E-Bound launching their audiobook line this past weekend. I'm proud to say that I narrated the first six launched stories.
I mentioned in my official blog that I think it important for writers to have a few strings to our collective bows, especially when we're making the kind of money from our writing that makes the poverty line look darned attractive. For myself, a few contracts in technical writing are still not out of the question and, while narrating is not something that would've occurred to me in the first instance, I'm very happy to be doing something related to writing, but not directly involving it. It's always nice to have a different perspective on things, and this is what narrating gives me.
Just remember, authors, to pity your potential voice over talent. I've learnt not to make my character names too tongue-twisting, and not make my chapters too long! Amen, and thank you Sister Declan.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Envy is nowhere on my list of sinful indulgences (so many more interesting ones out there!) but I freely admit to the shed version. Apparently the 'shed at the bottom of the garden' is a ubiquitous British phenomenon and several of my online friends have turned theirs into writing sheds. One of them, Debs Carr, even won a shed prize this year. Take a look at her paragon of shedly beauty...
Yes, I've got it bad. I want one. I want to walk out of the house, down a garden path, and enter a shed that's all mine. A writing shed. A cozy niche that I don't have to dress up to go to, and where my muse is always eager to greet me as he reclines on an old daybed, wine glass in hand, toga slipping off his bronzed, muscular torso...
This week, after yet another debilitating bout of shed envy, it dawned on me that we DO have a shed. Maybe, just maybe... I went outside and looked at it with new eyes. Well, I tried anyway.
My mother used to store supplies in there when she was building her house and she keeps planning to tear it down, but first she'll have to decide what to do with all the junk inside: a huge aquarium with a broken panel; about five computer cadavers, courtesy my son, and an old dot matrix printer, courtesy same; entrails of said son's first car; lengths of PVC pipe, ends of wood, a wheelbarrow, paint cans, shovels, forks... You can barely get beyond the door and finding something in there is such a frightful prospect that we usually back away slowly and run off to the hardware store instead. The last time my sister braved the shed she moved a bucket out of the way and a young mapepire (deadly fer-de-lance viper) scrambled from underneath it and disappeared from sight.
I stood there looking at the shed and my little flicker of hope spluttered - and died. The thing leaks in about twenty places and it doesn't take much of a wind to get the roof flapping. There are gaps in the floorboards, and tidemarks from the time it got flooded out. I'd need a truck to cart away all the junk - and where would I put the tools, the bags of fertilizer and potting soil, the seedling trays? More pertinently, where did that snake go? Is it still there, all grown up now? Has it settled down and started a family?
So much for that brilliant idea. I'll just have to get by without a writing shed after all.
Friday, October 23, 2009
It’s not that I don’t want fame and fortune. Like any writer, I want to reach a large audience and have my achievements recognized.
But after living the life of a professional writer for more than twenty years, my daily fantasies soar less high. In my dream writing world, here is what my life is like:
✥ I have several office cats who purr soothingly and keep me company, but never eat, shed, throw up, chew the edges of book covers, use the litter box, or attempt to jump to the highest shelf of bookcases.
✥ People don’t assume I'm available for time-consuming projects because I don’t have a “real job.”
✥ The yoga studio holds classes at 7 or 7:30 am instead of during the workday, when they knock out several hours of work.
✥ My Facebook friends post only the things I want to know about. What are those things? Like an editor, I can’t define what I want, but I’ll know it when it see it.
✥ I don’t work weekends, but instead sew, hike, garden, sightsee, read for pleasure, call friends and family members, and do whatever else it is that nonwriters do on Saturdays and Sundays.
✥ When someone asks me what my book (which I wrote months or years earlier) is about, I remember.
✥ Someone else goes to the post office for me, as well as fuels my car, picks up my prescriptions, keeps my account book up to date, and goes to my doctor and labwork appointments. Especially that last one.
✥ After I create a marketing plan, the bookmarks, flyers, review requests, and guest blog posts magically appear and distribute themselves appropriately.
✥ Best of all, I eat delicious chocolates all day long but gain no weight.
I’m glad you stopped by my post today. I’ll be blogging again at Novel Spaces on November 7, when I’ll talk about World Fantasy Convention, which is being held over Halloween weekend.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Earlier I thought I'd write an entry on a more generic novel-type subject. But by the evening, I started feeling a little sexy-energetic. That's because I went to dinner and had oysters and a glass of wine with my meal, and then . . . I found that I'd slid right into the Pynk zone. Low and behold - I think it's time to talk about sex again.
Like my steamed oysters and chilled Merlot, as you know, there are foods that feed sex drives, boost energy, sharpen memory, and actually help fight the flab. So I thought this would be the perfect time to mention the foods I know will work when it comes to feeling frisky - which at times, can also serve as a stimulating benefit to a writer.
Hot chilies - stimulate nerve endings and get the blood plumping
Asparagus and avocados - the vitamin-E churns hormones that stimulate sexual responses
Bananas - deliver a key nutrient to muscle strength which helps with orgasms
Dark Chocolate - contains a neuro-hormone, the same hormone released during sex = excitement
Oysters - linked to high sex drive due to the zinc content (here-here)
Pomegranates - contain antioxidants that lead to greater sensitivity
Red wine - also contain antioxidants that help boost blood flow
Watermelon - the oxides can speed arousal
Walnuts - the Omega-3 revs the engine
Strawberries - contains vitamin-C that boosts libido
If we choose to fuel our sex drive with these foods, I believe it could also improve our lust for writing. As much fun as a boost in sex drive can be in literal terms, imagine what it might possibly do to boost energy levels in general. We just might work that computer over and never want to get off of it! And we can all use more energy when it comes to knocking out that next book. Also, feeding our sex drive certain foods can sharpen memory. It's good to be able to remember what's on our minds and backtrack, project forward, find all of those many missing Post-it- notes, etc., so we can be sure to cover all the writer's bases. And lastly, I say mission accomplished if it can help fight the flab. We all sit for hours at a time, taking very few steps, and our midsections bare the brunt of it all. Every little bit helps. Grab some fresh fruit or some walnuts instead of those cookies and potatoes chips.
The act of sex itself can be pleasing, erotic, freeing, and aerobic, and we can all use more energy for that. But why not try the aphrodisiacs, and then head to our home office for a sexier purpose; the purpose of energetic writing? And maybe, just maybe, we'll get in a little frisky-business later on. After that hot chapter is written, that is. How about you?
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Well, I thought I’d hidden them before I snapped the photo, but no. Sitting in plain view next to my laptop were my – ugly drugstore granny glasses!.
Fellow Novel Spaces author, Marissa Monteilh, picked up on them right away, but was too kind to call them what they are – booty.
With the truth in plain sight <- pun intended, it was time for this of a certain age writer to dump the unfashionable discount specs and up my reading (and writing!) eyeglass game.
Fortunately, I remembered a post from Wear It Well style guru, Karen Karlsen’s blog about Eyebobs.
Long story short, I now have readers I’m proud to wear while I peck away on my WIP, whether I'm at home, the library or Starbucks.
Check 'em out below:
Co-conspirator (tortoise/green) and Merry Me (orange) both by Eyebobs
I would have modeled the specs. Unfortunately, I’m on deadline, which can be hell on a hairdo.
Monday, October 19, 2009
My mother used to paint in oils. She would begin with a few lines of charcoal sketched on the canvas -- lightly drawn lines and spare geometric shapes that meant nothing to anyone who could not see the image in her head. She would blend paints as she worked. She had what I remember as hundreds of tubes of paint, each different, yet almost no paint went from tube to canvas -- the colors were blended, melded on her pallet into something different. Nor was every color applied uniformly -- delicate brush strokes shared the canvas with thick smears and layered tones to create still lifes, landscapes, portraits and abstracts. The colors chosen and how they were applied were driven by the needs of the painting.
As a writer, I often see a connection between my mother's art and mine. I'm a storyteller and what I write about whom -- and whose voice I use in telling -- is dictated by the story itself.
The main characters in my short story "Commitment" are a lesbian couple facing a crisis of loyalty between military duty and their relationship. I did not set out to write a story about lesbians, but as I wrote it became clear the story itself required the two main characters process their emotions the way women traditionally process their emotions. They needed to talk. Let's face it, men usually either build something or smash something. (After thirty years of marriage Valerie has learned to infer what I'm feeling from what I'm doing -- and I've learned to let her talk without trying to supply a solution to every problem she presents.) In my Chaos Irregulars series -- which follows a band of third-rate mercenaries as they mature into a band of second-rate mercenaries -- two male characters are married to each other. No one makes a big deal about it and the marriage is not important to the action, but the fact of their relationship is an important element to the texture, the culture of the Irregulars.
One of my most well received series characters is Leftenant Alexandra "Lex" Atreus. She is an uncommonly tall and dark complexioned Afro-Terran of exceptional martial ability but very poor people and social skills; very class conscious, she is a kibbutznik -- a working-class farm girl -- whose skills have placed her in a branch of the military dominated by lesser sons and daughters of noble houses Physically, as anyone who knows us knows, Lex is modeled on my wife Valerie in her early twenties, when I first met her. But the kibbutznik? It's no secret I've been an space program groupie since the sixties, and have always been fascinated by extraterrestrial colonization. I think the kibbutz model offers the best structure for a self-reliant colony on a distant world, though mine would a bit more liberal and secular than the Israeli kibbutzim of the 1960s. Her faith is not a central issue to her character, but in a culturally Christian society it adds to Lex's own sense of being apart -- and that self-identification as "other" is central to her choices and actions.
There is a subset of the folks who believe the ethnicity or gender of writers dictates what they can write about whom. A white guy can write about black characters only if he depicts them positively. I don't do that. If the character needs to be bad, the character's bad. My novel To Ride the Chimera wrapped up story arcs that wound through six previous novels. In Pandora's Gambit, an assassin stabbed two major characters, killing one and putting another in a coma. All we knew about the assassin was her physical description and one line of dialog that implied she was motivated by religious extremism. I decided to bring her back (some more major characters needed killing) and created a belief system to explain her actions. To do so I first created a mainstream religion by blending elements of Vodoun and Santeria -- two faith systems that can be found throughout Florida and the islands along America's southern coast -- then created an outlawed, radical fundamentalist sect. I didn't do what Dan Brown did to Catholicism, but I left no doubt about their fundamental (pun intended) evil.
A writer, to be true to his or her craft, must bring everything to bear in the creative process. Telling the story in the most effective and authentic way possible -- not the prejudices of readers or critics -- dictates what goes on the paper.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
I’m an award winning author, actress and playwright. I write the Strangely Beautiful series of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels for Dorchester Publishing, which began with The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and continues in April and October 2010. My futuristic novella Dark Nest won the 2009 Prism Award for excellence in Fantasy / Futuristic / Paranormal Romance. I grew up in rural Ohio, received a degree in theatre and a focus in the Victorian Era, love ghost stories and Goth clubs, live in New York City with my real-life hero and rescued lab-rabbit Persebunny.
Today’s thought: Can’t possibly say goodbye.
So I want to know how the single title, stand alone people do it. I want to know how people can build a world, characters, tension, plot, resolve conflict and when the storyline is complete – let them go after one book. I can’t do it. If I’m ever called to do it, I wonder how.
I was told that I’d suffer a bit of “post-pardem” let down after my debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker hit the shelves. And while it’s true I’m blessedly exhausted from a whirlwind tour of promotion, book signings, events, etc. I’m falling right back into working on the next “Strangely Beautiful” baby as if no time has passed.
I’m a serial-serialist I suppose. I can’t build a world and leave it well enough alone. That likely comes from the fact that the books that have historically engaged me the most have been fantasy novels that usually run the series model. The more time I spend in the Strangely Beautiful world, the more it grows. (I’ve cut myself off though, this could get out of hand and I don’t want to take a series past its natural end). The world of Dark Nest is the same, it’s a futuristic setting in which the action of the novella is swift and immediate for a partial resolution, but a follow up-novella is certainly in my head and in the works. Attachment to characters and world-building is a trait every writer shares, but the tendency for the characters and that world to keep growing and unfolding through several books is an author-specific choice.
I’d like to pose a few questions for you series writers and you single title, stand-alone novelists. Do you write what you write because it’s the structure that calls to you? Do you tell the world how many books it has in it or does the story tell you? Have you dealt with the “post-pardem” period yourself? Do you write series because it’s what you like to read? Single titles / stand-alone authors, what about you? Are you done with your characters after a certain time and that’s that? Have you ever started something you think is surely stand alone and then been shocked when a series has been birthed unwittingly? Who’s written both and can speak to a preference or the pros and cons of each? Readers? What’s your preference and thoughts about series versus stand alone? Go on, chime in!
For those of you interested in The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, it’s been recommended by True-Blood.net, the official Fansite for HBO’s True Blood (Based on Charlaine Harris’ fabulous Sookie series!). There’s a limited-time 30% discount from Barnes & Noble, just follow the link stated within at http://tinyurl.com/yl5om43. Thanks again Novel Spaces for the opportunity to be here!
Let me know your thoughts on those above questions. Leave a comment and I’ll give away one selected winner’s choice of either Dark Nest or The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, the beginnings of my series worlds. Blessings!
Leanna Renee Hieber
Friday, October 16, 2009
HEAs aren’t as easy to come up with as one might think, especially for me. I’m much more a pragmatist and have to reach deep into my thinking hat to undue the situations I get my characters into. That’s probably why I write stories with a supernatural twist. Sometimes there’s just no way reality will let people out of the dilemmas they land themselves in. But I possess the power to offer my characters a second chance.
If I could use my magic in real life, I’d offer it to a couple of cast members in Detroit’s mayoral text messaging drama (which, after a year, has finally quieted down.) Not being an eyewitness to the situation, what I read of the affair between former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his Chief of Staff, Christine Beatty, makes great fiction fodder.
I used to live in the city of Detroit. I’m in the suburbs now, but I keep saying that once I (a) have enough money to send my kids to private schools or (b) they’re old enough to attend Cass Tech or Renaissance High then I’d love to return. I miss the vibrancy, the struggle for legitimacy, the potential greatness enmeshed in every concrete fiber. But when I first heard about the Mayor’s dalliances and their ramifications on the city, my inner half full/half empty glass fell over and emptied itself out.
Aside from gasping, "Geez, He’s sunk," I had a few simple thoughts when I heard the stories: Carlita, Lou, Kwame, Christine. Those are the four players in this contemporary romance and I actually feel sorry for all of them – yes, even the two in the wrong – Kwame and Christine.
I can’t imagine being Lou (Christine’s now ex) and perhaps suspecting that your wife is "involved" with your boyhood acquaintance who also happens to be her boss. It’s also tough putting myself in Carlita, the former First Lady’s, shoes. She’s already had her downs with this hubby (Kwame), but (at least publicly) remains by his side – only to have everybody now know what has been rampantly rumored for years.
The text messages obtained and published by the Detroit Free Press (and those they chose to withhold) would probably rate several flames on a Romantic Erotica scale. So Kwame issued a statement saying he was embarrassed. Carlita had to be as well, and a wee bit ticked off, too, don’t you think? Lou, who declined comment on the matter, would be justifiable in citing the trysts as the basis for their divorce. I can’t fathom the depth and sting of Christine’s shame over the revelations either.
However, I’m not looking at this from a political or legal perspective. No, I, the romance novelist, look at these people in the public eye (whom I do not know) as characters in a fictional tragedy. Stay with me here.
Imagine a pair of star-crossed lovers, Kwame and Christine, who because of fate’s merciless hand can be together only at a distance. Write in the secondary characters, the scorned wife, Carlita, and the jilted husband, Lou.
Our main plot features the heroine Christine, a (married) career woman who works for the (married) Alpha Male hero she’s always loved, Kwame. She’s beautiful and smart. He’s charming and powerful. The romance revolves around the long-term unrequited relationship between the ill-fated duo. Lastly, there’s a strong subplot encompassing a lawsuit lost by their employer and the fact that they lied under oath to protect their love.
Wow, great story, isn’t it? Except that. . .hmmm. . .there’s no HEA in sight here.
In real life, both the hero and heroine of this story went to jail. However, short their sentences, the ordeal has certainly created deep scars in their personal and professional lives. Sex, love, lies? Definitely not a romance.
So, here comes the magic: The heroine discovers her strength early in the story and re-writes her tale by accepting dinner with a quiet young man who’s been waiting in the wings. Red herron cast aside, the true hero emerges and forges a new ending to the heroine’s journey. No courtrooms, no time served, no scandal or shame.
Where’s that wand when you need it?
Thursday, October 15, 2009
I've been a published author for approximately seven years. Since I started to write, I've enjoyed writing about subjects that intrigued, puzzled, or upset me. Circles of Love is an example of my exploration of a painful topic. For years I pondered the idea of having no clue to where you came from. The heroine in Circles of Love went in search of her parents after realizing she couldn't marry the hero until she knew who she was. The story earned me topic honors from Romantic Times Book Club.
For example, while negotiating my latest contract my editor suggested that I write connected books. I didn't want to write about another large or extended family so I opted for stories connected by a large company. Living in the Detroit area, my ideas swirled around the automotive companies since Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler are all located in metro Detroit.
I didn't want to use any of these companies so I created my own. French-owned and operated Gautier's International Motors was born. I had no idea that the auto industry would stall, fail, or file for bankruptcy protection to stay in business and start new. Chrysler would offer the hand of partnership to Fiat and my little story, I Can Make You Love Me would follow some of the events that marked the news in the Detroit area regarding the auto industry. Again, art imitated real life.
There are many topics to explore and try to make sense of. Two are in my latest release.
Here's where you get into the act. E-mail me with some of the incidents that you feel would transcript to a novel. Let me know your thoughts on the subject. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from you and remember don't be a stranger.
To find out more about me check out my website at karenwhiteowens.com. I'm on Facebook and Myspace.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
The truth is, I write by inspiration. I have a lot’s of stories in my head and partially written from various genres (not sci-fi though). But nine out of ten times the stories that come to me are romance stories. Which leaves me to revisit the question: are writers known for specific genres because of choice or because we a pigeon holed into a particular genre?
There are some authors like James Patterson, who break the mold. He writes across genres: crime, drama, sci-fi, even romance. Others, like John Grisham, stick mostly to legal drama. But to tell the truth, I as a reader have certain expectations of authors. When I pick up a Danielle Steele or Nora Roberts, I expect romance. Maybe that’s the driving force behind the genres we write: the readers’ expectation.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Well, firstly, I'll be looking for more work from Singh. There's such a delightful aura of sly playfulness about her prose that it had me smiling through the entire tale. And the description of the marriage between Kamala and her husband, Ramnath, was portrayed so well and so succinctly, I could almost smell and see their living room in my mind.
But, here's the thing. Is the tale of a middle-aged, Establishment mother and woman who actually believes herself to be a planet, speculative fiction? I ask the same question of Iain Banks' work from time to time as well. Is using a metaphysical or otherworldly element in a work of literature enough to catapult it to the realm of sf? After all, we know nothing of the aliens that infest Kamala to the extent that she believes herself to be a planet. We don't know their purpose or motivations, and Kamala's own motivations, beyond a sense of cheerful wonder, are as filmy as the layers of her sari. And the ending is decidedly mythic, if anything.
I sit and wonder if Singh could have used another strategy to say what she wanted to say in the story. (Probably not, I decide.) I sit and wonder what exactly Singh is trying to say in her story? Is it an exposition of a (hopefully) disappearing, chauvinistic way of life in middle-class India? A masterfully illustrated battle between face and feeling? An examination of the gulf between a man and woman, with the roles of their respective lives laid out with such rigidity that, for Ramnath at least, even the bending of his role is quite beyond him? Am I to glean the fact that, perhaps, where the personality has less power, there is actually greater freedom to break free of societal bonds?
It's clear that Singh considers herself a speculative fiction writer (there's a wonderful interview with her at Bookslut, but to what end? I'm quite open to the suggestion that my questions are a reflection of my own upbringing, and it could well be that I'm taking a much too mechano-centric view of the speculative fiction field. Singh references Ursula K le Guin, so I'm willing to cop to an accusation of having too narrow a view of a vast and wonderfully diverse vista.
And that is why speculative fiction is such a wonderful area to get lost in. I've been reading sf for decades now, and it still never loses its ability to shake me up, to show me another facet of itself, and demand that I attempt to understand. I may not always succeed in seeing through to the core truth, but the tangents themselves are more than worth the journey. Thank you, Ms Singh.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Other writers are dog people. Now dogs I can live with. Compared to most other species they're brilliant, fun-loving creatures that just keep on giving. I don't own one any more, but even if I did it wouldn't qualify as a writing dog because much as I love 'em, I love 'em outdoors. Maybe it's a temperate zone thing that many of us in the tropics can't possibly comprehend, but I shudder when I read about writers sharing their houses, offices, and even their bedrooms with their
I've got writing lizards. They're not exactly pets but they're always around when I'm writing late at night, crawling around the walls and rafters, pursuing moths and other insects attracted by the lights. When insects are plentiful, as in the rainy season when rain flies descend on the house and mob the lights, the lizards go crazy, stuffing themselves to the point where their abdomens are so extended that the skin is transparent and I fully expect them to pop and leave a nasty mess for me to clean.
They're remarkably resilient. I've often sat hunched over the keyboard, deep into my story, only to be startled by a loud 'plop' as one of them catapults off a rafter on to the floor where it sits for a moment looking slightly dazed and more than a little stupid, then crawls off none the worse for wear. Now if I dropped from a rafter many times my height... Nasty mess doesn't begin to describe it.
Their mating ritual is, um, interesting. The male (I assume) stalks the female around the wall for awhile, then there's some brusque tail grabbing and scrambling and it's done. Often the pair fall off the wall in the throes of their passion and dart away in different directions so I'm hard put to tell whether the marriage has been consummated or not.
My lizards are no-nonsense creatures, busy feeding and mating and going about the business of life, and I find this motivational as I sit there going about the business of writing. They don't loaf around waiting for inspiration to catch spiders. They don't wait for some lizard muse to drop tidbits into their mouths. They're unsentimental, lying there in the glow of the sconces and gulping inanely, then transforming into predatory stealth-machines as they stalk their prey on padded feet, followed by a swift dart, a gulp, and then the self-satisfied march behind the picture frame, a wing or wriggling feet protruding from their jaws. They break the monotony of concentration for me and provide a bit of comic relief as I observe their antics for a while, then I return to my story and am lost to the world once more - until a sudden movement or a 'plop' brings me back to earth.
I wouldn't trade my lizards for your writing cats, not even if you added a nice cash incentive. Now a significant cash incentive is another matter. Have your people call my people. A major incentive? Here's my cell number...
Saturday, October 10, 2009
It’s 3:24 AM.
I’ve just finished writing a tough chapter for my latest novel, one I’ve been dancing around for weeks, because it’s the start of the heart of the book, a love story that ends in death. Having lost my own great love that way, I knew going in there would be days like this.
But the chapter is finally done, everything I wanted it to be, and I’ll get feedback on how well I did from my writing workshop this weekend. As I save and put the file away for the night, I remember words I hear again and again from would be writers, and hope never to hear again...
“I wish I could find more time to write.”
You’ve heard it from greater minds than mine -- you don’t find time to write, you make it. You carve it out of the seemingly immutable rock of responsibilities you have to a world of others in your life, from work or school, to family. Yeah, writing is hard, or everyone would be a novelist. But come on. Is it really that hard?
Getting laid is hard, too, but except for the parents of young children, I’ve never heard anyone tell me with a plaintive sigh, “I wish I could find more time for sex.” They make the time if they want it and the opportunity is there.
Why is that? Why do people have no trouble making time for dinners out, dating, parties, movies, TV and a thousand other things we “find” time for, but expect writing time to magically appear? Is it that hard to make time to write, or is it your level of commitment? The simplest way is give up an hour of sleep - get up an hour earlier or got to bed an hour later. In a year, you have a body of work.
Too many people say they want to write when what they mean is they want to have written. They want the praise or congratulations on completion that they see you getting. What they don’t want is the long hours alone at a computer or pad, working out characters, plots, stories, immersed in a fictional world until you can explain it to someone else in a coherent form that holds their interest. Yeah, sometimes that involves sacrifice, but when it works, when you’re there completely, it’s one of the best things in the world to be doing.
It’s only a few hours a day.
Magically there’s still plenty of time to see people, explore the real world, do laundry, pay bills, clean house, live life. Maybe it’s by a third, maybe a half, but there’s room to write and room to live once you get up to speed.
I’m trying not to say the obvious.
If you’re really a writer, you have to write. If that’s true of you, you know what I mean. It’s in your head all the time: while you watch people, observe interactions between strangers, catch odd occurrences that aren’t the usual exchange. Things that interest you and send you off into explanation -- it must have been -- that leads you to conjecture -- it could have been -- which leads to story -- it should have been...
If you don’t find yourself pulled to the page every day, even when you say no, maybe you aren’t a writer, but only someone who can write. There’s a difference between being adept and being driven. Or maybe you need to let yourself be a writer, give yourself permission to live in your own head most of the time.
Maybe you just need to work harder to make it easier, to do enough writing that you aren’t starting from scratch each time you sit down. If you love it, really love to produce as much as much as most people love to reproduce, do it, over and over, see what works and what doesn’t, do it again and again until you get it right and people come to you because you do it so well.
Just like sex.
So all you would-be-writers, the next time you’re in bed or on the couch with someone locking lips, or at a movie, or a party with friends, just remember...
You can stop an hour sooner and have time to write, too.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Mayflies was inspired by the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” so the first place I started was with a translation of the epic, as well as the footnotes and commentary, which were more useful than the epic itself.
One of my first purchases was Mesopotamia from Eyewitness Books. The Eyewitness series consists of brief books for kids with several high-quality photos or drawings on every page. They’re invaluable for writers because they cover hundreds of topics from NASCAR to Judaism to epidemics. If your novel requires you to learn about something, Eyewitness Books probably has a book about it.
I also consulted several “everyday life in ancient Mesopotamia” books aimed at adults. There are “everyday life” books for many historical periods. They can be more useful for a writer than history books, because they focus on subjects such as food, types of jobs, housing, religion, clothing and other details you will certainly need in your book, whereas histories tend to focus primarily on political change and warfare.
A vast literature is available on ancient Mesopotamia. If I had had two years to research and a $100,000 advance, I would have read as much of the literature, particularly scholarly papers, as I could. But with a short time frame and no six-figure advance, I depended heavily on books that summarized various aspects of ancient Mesopotamia. I did read a history to get the overall picture of major events in Sumer and a historical atlas of Mesopotamia to understand the shifting geography and physical layout of Sumer. Otherwise, I focused on specific areas: cooking, works of literature, art, language.
If you do have the time and money to delve deeply into the scholarly literature, there are several ways to find useful articles. Google will bring up pertinent articles—along with 8,103,339 irrelevant ones. More useful is to start with bibliographies in the books you read and the live links to articles at the end of Wikipedia articles and then “leapfrog”—use the bibliographies of each round of articles you find to hop to another round of articles. You can also search Google for academic articles by starting at this page: http://scholar.google.com.
To read the articles you locate, visit a nearby university library or look for them on the Web. Some journals will charge you to view an article; other journals will allow you to access articles for free. Some professors provide links in their online C.V. (academic résumé) to copies of the articles. As a last resort to get an important report, contact the professor who wrote the article and politely inquire whether you could get a PDF of it.
Google, despite casting such a broad net, still was a great resource for me. I often used http://images.google.com/ to answer questions such as "What does an oasis in Iraq look like?" "What does early cuneiform look like?" and "What do Iraqi reed houses look like?"
Although sometimes I forget that search engines other than Google exist, there are plenty of others, including scholarly ones. A list of scholarly search engines can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_academic_databases_and_search_engines.
I hope my experiences help you research historical details for your own stories. Thanks for dropping by. I’ll be blogging again at Novel Spaces on October 23.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
One afternoon during my lunch hour I sat at a table editing a few pages from one of my manuscripts. Karen Edie, one of the library staff, glanced over my shoulder and said, "Wow! There's alot of red ink on those pages."
I went on to explain to her that I was revamping one of my love scenes. She laughed and replied, "Love scenes take a lot of red ink."
When I looked at my pages, I realized that I had pretty much covered the pages in red. So the next time you read a love scene, I want you to consider all the time, red ink, and sometimes practice that goes into writing a hot, sizzling, and satisfying love scene.
Email me at email@example.com. Let me know what you think.
Remember, don't be a stranger.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
First Scenes First
I want you to walk to your bookshelf. At random, pick out a novel, any novel, that you've already read. Reread the first scene of this novel before continuing this discussion. [Waiting for you to select and read first scene ? tick tock, tick tock ?] After you've read this first scene, I want you to ask yourself the following questions:
What did you learn about the character in this scene?
What hints of complications or future tensions are found in this scene?
What do you know about the plot so far?
What is the significance of starting at this exact point in time?
As a reader, did you feel you immediately knew enough about the character to be drawn in?
The opening scene of your novel carries a lot of weight. It needs to simultaneously introduce you to your protagonist and to a significant situation. First impressions aren't just important for meeting people. They may determine whether the shopper in the bookstore goes on to become your reader.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Today's guest blogger is Jade Lee, author of exotic fiction. Thanks for joining us, Jade!
Hello all! I am at the Moonlight and Magnolias conference, put on by Georgia RWA. It’s a great regional conference and hopefully tonight, I’ll win the Maggie for Dragonborn. If not, I’m still having a great time! I originally wrote long drunken ramblings of what I was doing here, but that has thankfully been deleted. But, I did want to hit a couple highlights as to why you should or should not attend conferences.
First off, let me emphasize that you do NOT need to conference to further your career. Your time might be better spent sitting home and writing your nextbest seller. Mine too, for that matter, but I’m an extrovert who loves meeting people. I can talk sex like only a tipsy can. I’m also a popular speaker because I can speak very well about craft and business. I tell myself that I go to conferences because I sell a ton of books. Sadly, this is a big, fat lie. If everyone at this conference bought my mo
st recent book, it wouldn’t even be a blip on the publisher’s radar. Nationwide, my print run measures in the tens of thousands. Selling even 200 at a conference would mean nothing.
So why do I spend the time and, more importantly, the expense? Travel and hotel are not cheap! Well, partly because I like a good party with people who can talk books, love, and sex with ease. Networking is fun! I even like giving workshops where people actually listen to me blather about my craft. How cool is that? But mostly because something cool always happens to me at a conference. Maybe it’s because I become open to a different set of energies or maybe that many drinking women naturally create something weird. Or maybe because nice things happen when I’m not looking. It doesn’t matter. So here’s a list of why one might or might not go to a conference.
1. LEARN...unless you’re solid in your writing
At the beginning of my career, I went to a ton of workshops and listened. I am always stunned by the people who attend workshops to platform their pet problem, not to listen. I usually had at least one ah-ha! moment per conference. BUT, if you feel solid in the craft and comfortable in your business contacts, then don’t bother. Seriously. There is a point where reading a book on writing is a ton more helpful than sitting in workshops that you could teach by yourself.
2. NETWORK...unless you’re not-so-good with people
I met both of my agents and all of my editors first at conferences. It was really helpful to talk to them face to face before the business relationship began. BUT if you’ve already got an agent and editor, if you clam up in a tight angsty ball when talking to people, then face to face can be a bad idea. Don’t hurt yourself! Do it through email and phone conversations. You don’t have to meet people to work with them. Honest.
3. PROMOTE...unless you’re a bad promoter
As I said earlier, I’m fun! I’m personable! I make people laugh! That helps sell my books. Eventually that pays off...some. Hopefully more and more over time. BUT the book is the thing. If you don’t enjoy meeting people, if you don’t enjoy being on display or gabbing with anyone, then your time is better spent writing your next best seller. Mine probably is as well, but I LIKE parties! A lot! So I go to conferences to meet EVERYONE!
4. WOO WOO...unless you don’t woo woo
Then there is that undefinable something. It may not be how you work, so feel free to ignore it. But just about every conference I go to, I have a moment. It could simply be reconnecting with an old friend, but this time...I got the perfect story idea. I completely tossed out the last three weeks of work on something else, but it doesn’t matter. The idea is RIGHT, and I wouldn’t have gotten it if I hadn’t started chatting with a woman in the bathroom.
I know this blog is getting long, so let me say that conferences are fun, but writing is a business. If you don’t shine in a group, if you don’t need to learn/re-learn the basics, then you can absolutely have a fabulous career without ever going out into the writing public. Honest. But if you like a party and can afford to spend a weekend having fun with like-minded fans, then come on down! I’ll save you a seat at the bar!
Time for you to confess! Share a conference woo-woo moment (or lack thereof) and someone will get a free Jade Lee book of their choice!
Monday, October 5, 2009
She'd carved out a neat, well-organized home writing space that quite frankly made me ashamed of the hellhole I call an office.
While her dictionary was at her fingertips, mine was on the floor underneath a Sephora box crammed with new make-up. Her computer was front and center on the desk. I had to push aside stacks of fashion magazines and romance novels to even sit my laptop on mine.
After revisiting Stefanie’s post a few times, I got busy decluttering (as moving everything out that wasn’t writing related) and organizing my own space.
Voila! My new and improved office.
And yes, it has remained in the same pristine condition you see here.
How, you wonder? Because I stay the heck out of it. Below is my kitchen table, which I haven’t eaten on in weeks:
Hey, at least my office is clean!
How do you keep your writing space organized????
Sunday, October 4, 2009
You don't want to write right now because…
… you're angry with your child; or partner; or both.
… you're worried sick about your bills.
… there's a Criminal Minds marathon on A&E.
… you've had a bad day.
… you had a political argument with your boss.
… there's an NCIS marathon on USA.
…. you are emotionally exhausted; mentally exhausted; physically exhausted; exhaustedly exhausted.
… you're TBR pile will fall over an hurt someone if you don't do something immediately.
… it's been too long since you took the time to just relax and take care of yourself.
When I'm writing for hire my motivation is the deadline. The one rule for surviving as a writer for hire is hit the deadline. Delivering very good words on time fulfills your contract. Delivering perfect words a week late does not. Because your words are not just a commodity, they are a component in a larger package -- and very often nothing else can go forward until you've delivered. When an editor or book packager is considering whether to offer you more work, how well you hit your last deadline is as important as how well you write.
When I get an assignment, I lay out a calendar, dividing the number of words contracted by the number of days until the deadline to come up with a daily goal. Then I adjust the goals slightly to reflect the reality of my life -- very few words written on Sunday or Monday; Wednesday and Friday are more productive than Tuesday or Thursday; and my biggest day is Saturday. I then put these numbers in my planner, with a line next to them for entering the number of words I actually wrote on that day.
Then I ignore the damn thing until it's too late and write like a man possessed in the final week.
Useful as this method is, however, it does me no good when I'm writing original fiction. Because while a deadline is an excellent motivator, it's a motivator imposed from the outside. (And no, self-imposed deadlines don't work for me. I know an editor will not pay me if I do not hit her deadline. But I also know I will continue to feed me if I miss my own deadline.)
How then to keep things going, to keep writing, when there is no deadline and no guaranteed paycheque at the end?
Some use the obligation method. These are people motivated by a sense of duty or of pride or of something else I don't understand. For whatever reason, they park themselves in front of their keyboard for whatever amount of time they've committed to and type out the next four or six or twenty pages of their manuscript. I have no idea how they manage it, but I know several who produce saleable manuscripts every year this way. (My uncle, Allen Drury, wrote this way -- six hours a day, seven days a week.)
Others use the reward method. In a way this reflects back to the "reasonable goals" system I mentioned a few columns ago. The writer promises themselves some small reward for completing each phase of the project. A chapter might be worth a slice of cake, for example; completing a revision might warrant an evening out with friends. This method does not work for me because I cheat. (You do not get this overweight through self-discipline, y'know.) But again, I know several writers, few of whom are obese, who use this method.
When it comes to keeping myself writing in original fiction, the method that works best for me is probably the most dangerous: Have several projects going at once. Work on whichever project excites you the most. When interest in that one wanes or you hit a wall, switch to another project. The danger of course is in the acceptance of unfinished manuscripts. Get too comfortable with those and you end up with a trunk -- or hard drive -- full of two-thirds-complete novels. But if you're writing about something that excites you, the writing itself stops being work. Instead of being one more chore you have to complete at the end of an exhausting day, your writing becomes your refuge -- what you do to relax and rejuvenate after a hard day in the classroom or office or sales floor.
How do you write original fiction, sans deadline, when you don't want to write?
I don't. The trick, for me, is to want to write before I sit down at the keyboard -- even if it's not the project I was working on last time. Then I just open a vein and let the words out.
What's your method?
Friday, October 2, 2009
I hope that’s true. I would hate to give up the book buying experience. It’s as calming to me as an hour-long bubble bath. But the explosion of e-publishing isn’t the only threat to the brick and mortar publishing houses dotted along Manhattan’s Madison Avenue. Self- and small-press publishing is also changing the face of the industry.
We've all heard the stories of previously self-published authors hitting it big. Heavy hitters like E. Lynn Harris and Zane got their feet wet by self-publishing their first novels. But those are special cases, right? They're not the norm, are they?
Maybe not, but with better distribution through the Internet, it's much easier for non-traditionally published authors to get their books in the hands of readers. A savvy marketing plan and strong network of friends willing to spread the word can do more good for a self-published author than a two-person PR department with a hundred authors on their list can do for a "traditionally" published author.
It's time to face the facts. Being published in the "traditional" way isn't the only way anymore.
What do you think? Is traditional publishing becoming a thing of the past?