Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guest author Lynn Emery: Never Say Never

Lynn Emery sold her first novel in 1995 to Kensington publishing for their groundbreaking Arabesque line. Night Magic went on to be recognized for Excellence in Romance Fiction for 1995 by Romantic Times Magazine. Her third novel, After All, became a movie produced by BET and aired on December 3, 1999. In 2004 Lynn won three coveted Emma Awards. She was chosen Author of the Year and her novel Kiss Lonely Goodbye won Best Novel and Favorite Hero. Good Woman Blues (August 2005, HarperCollins) was nominated by Romantic Times Magazine for Best Multicultural Mainstream novel of 2005. A Darker Shade of Midnight is Lynn’s latest novel of magic and murder.

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away this reader and writer vowed she would never do two things.
  1. Self-publish fiction
  2. Read e-books
You see, my crystal ball was in the shop. I couldn’t imagine that those quaint e-readers or e-books would catch on; too many barriers like pricing, formats and accessibility. Or that self-publishing would ever be more than a money and energy drain on writers.

My, my, my. The world has changed. Readers are having a ball. I said, “Read a book on my phone? You kidding me? No way!” Ahem, enter my IPhone. I’ve read five books on this thing. I love the ease of getting a book in minutes, seconds in most cases. Instant reader gratification. Score! I will be buying more. Believe it. I might even finally buy an e-reader. I just can’t decide which one. No prob. While I ponder the choices, prices keep dropping and the features get better. Score again!

As an author I’ve learned to format my own original titles and publish them. Easy, inexpensive, and doesn’t take long. No piles of books stacked up in my extra bedroom. No huge amounts of time or money spent getting them published. Score! What’s more, in this new indie publishing world, promotion is seen as a time suck that doesn’t lead to sales. Writing more books leads to sales. Writers can get back to writing sooner rather than later. Score again!

Indie publishing has a long list of advantages that the old self-publishing model never had. If you’re a traditionally published author I suggest you read articles about this new long tail of publishing. Even more important, beware of some new clauses being added to traditional publishing contracts. I could write so much more on what I’ve learned about “net sales”, promotion, the old “conventional” wisdom about agents and publishers, etc. But I don’t want to test the patience of my hosts here at Novel Spaces.
Now if you’re ready to enter this new world, I’ll take you there (cue old school song from The Staple Singers).

A Darker Shade of Midnight and Best Enemies are available at the Kindle Store, Nook Books and Smashwords.com.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The EBook Juggernaut

Seems like every day I am hearing about yet another eBook success story as eBook sales continue to rise while print book sales decline.

I, like many longtime authors, am caught between two worlds. One is the traditional way of doing business with print publishers at the controls on most fronts with your primary job being to write books. In many respects, this has been a comfort zone for writers, who can focus on what they do best and leave it to someone else to take care of the rest. But all that glitters is not necessarily gold here as publishers best interests are not always your own.

The other world of writing is the new eBook marketplace where you can turn out of print books and brand new titles into a financial windfall, or at least make more than you would have had your out of print titles continued to be that way or were unable to find a publisher for books that you knew were worthy of publication. Moreover, for such titles that you self publish, you are at the helm instead of publishers and editors, bringing with it the frustrations and rewards that come with handling all the promo, choosing book covers, being your own editor, uploading and formatting, etc.

The former world is still the place to be if you are fortunate enough to get with a big publisher, receive a nice advance, and can maintain steady sales and a working relationship with your publisher and editor. This happens to be the case for me with two publishers, for which I am grateful.

However, the latter world is increasingly becoming a place to be as well, even if with a stable commercial publisher. Self published eBooks are here to stay and readers have caught onto this market in a hurry, scooping up any titles that suit their fancy with most being cheaper than buying print titles. With more and more people buying or being given eReaders and finding appeal in this reading format, it has evened the playing field for many self published writers with commercially published writers to one degree or another. This can only mean good news for such writers and not so good for traditional publishers that must share the writing wealth they once monopolized.

I am happy to be writing on both sides of the fence and reaping the benefits as a result.

How about you--are you with a print publisher and self publishing eBooks? Which do you prefer?

What do you think the market will look like in twenty years?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

With a little help from my friends

I'm writing, I'm writing, woo hoo!

I've been on an unplanned hiatus. Yes, I have been writing this blog and a couple others and working on getting book 3 of the Caribbean Adventure Series off of my desk and on to book shelves. But my ideas for new stories have been sitting on a shelf for longer than I would like to mention.

Now I'm writing again, with the help of some "friends". I took a writing class as a part of an editing course that I am pursuing. I had to submit a story and I decided, instead of starting something new, to dust off the first chapter of a novel that I had started and adapt it to become a short story. The response from my teacher and my classmates was very useful and encouraging and looking at the story through their eyes, I realised that I also wanted to know what would happen next.

Now, I'm ecstatic; putting out a few hundred words a day. Ideas are pouring out faster than I can write. I'm making notes in the car, in the dark, in the bathroom ... okay, too much information. Nothing is sacred anymore. Snippets of conversations, facial expressions, everything that happens around me can influence my writing, make a character a little more real. I feel a sense of freedom and I am once again assured this is what I am supposed to do!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Space Opera

Space Opera sure has changed since I was young. And not for the good. I’m thinking about this genre lately because my work in progress, “Under the Ember Star,” is definitely a Space Opera. What is Space Opera, you ask? Primarily, it’s adventure fiction set in an SF universe with faster-than-light ships, exotic aliens both friendly and not, and star-spanning planetary alliances and empires. Characters are typically larger-than-life and freely express themselves with blasters and other SF hardware.

Star Trek, especially the original series, is Space Opera. Star Wars is Space Opera. Han Solo may be the quintessential Space Opera hero, with his bravado and his low-slung blaster. Space Opera is fun. Or at least it used to be.

I recently read a big thick book of so called “Military SF,” which is a form of Space Opera. The story was so weighed down with multiples on multiples of characters and political intrigue that I ended up scanning the last half and vowing never to read this author again. Then I started a collection of short stories called “The New Space Opera.” The “new” should have been a warning. The first story, while very well written and relatively entertaining, was a socio-cultural examination of two alien tribes in conflict. Ninety percent of it was essentially a narrator’s internal monologue. Say what?

I suppose if you read the story carefully you might be introduced to some deep thoughts about what it means to be human. Screw that, I say! Blow some shit up! Give us some smoking blasters. Give us some colorful exotic action. Let the characters move and breathe in an unfettered imaginary universe. I don’t want my SF to ape literary fiction.

Now, let me make one thing clear about my meaning here. Just because there is action and a plot that moves does not mean there can’t be character development and important insights into the human condition. But, at least for me, authors need to imbed that development and those insights in a matrix of adventure. Star Wars developed characters. Star Trek developed them. I just love reading about Kirk and Spock and McCoy. They are more real to me than any so called “literary” character ever. I’ve learned more from them about what it means to be human, and to strive to be a better human, than I’ve learned from all the literary fiction I’ve read in a lifetime. And I learned it because it was so damn much fun.

I can tell you one thing, “Under the Ember Star” ain’t going to be no “new” Space Opera. There’s even a chapter entitled “Smoking Blasters.” Things are gonna blow up in my story. Blood is gonna spill. There’ll be larger-than-life characters and cool items like hovercycles and plasma cannon. Cause if I can’t find it in the stuff being published today, I’m gonna have to write it myself.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Adventures in Book Signing

Last Month marked two firsts for me. I attended my first writer’s conference, Romance Slam Jam. I also had my first book signing. My books have been out for two years now so you must be wondering why I’ve waited so long to do a book signing. The simple answer: fear. I had always been afraid I would be that person surrounded by piles of my books, fidgeting and twiddling my thumbs while readers passed me by afraid to make eye contact.

But the book signing at the Romance Slam Jam conference was different. It was a mega book signing with scores of authors of African American Romance signing books at the same time. I was comforted in the thought that I would not be alone.

The authors were all arranged in alphabetical order so I just happened to share a table with the legend of AA romance, Rochelle Alers. She had been writing for over 25 years with scores of titles under her belt and a huge fan base, so you know I was intimidated. Here I was with my table piled with my books, sign in sheet for contact info and a beautiful smile to greet my readers. Ms Alers had herself and a pen only. But the line to Ms Alers’ tables stretched as far as the eyes could see. And mines? Well I was fortunate to have one or two saunter to my side of the table occasionally.

So I fidgeted with my pen. I made eye contact with Ms Alers’s fans hoping my charming smile would draw someone to my side of the table. I chatted on the cell phone. Then one by one, several of Ms Alers’s fans came over to my side of the table, the book cover having enticed them. Quite a few purchased my books for me to sign. Turns out, being next to a veteran was a good thing after all. People who had never heard of Jewel Amethyst were now interested in my books. I got new readers. Several have since contacted me via Facebook telling me how much they enjoyed my book.

And as an added bonus, I made a new acquaintance: a legend of black romance. She paid me the best compliment a veteran could pay a novice. She asked me to sign her copy of my book. I was in writer’s heaven!
So what’s your book signing adventure?

Monday, May 23, 2011


As a writer I've discovered that my life experience feeds into my writing. Writers by nature are keen observers of life. We observe. We ponder. We write. As we grow in the craft everything becomes grist for the mill and a subtle transformation takes place. Whereas the observation/living used to come first and our writing tapped into the well of our experience, the balance begins to shift as we actively seek out experiences that enhance our writing. Eventually, for some, all of living becomes subservient to the demands of the pen.

My family and friends have not yet realized that having a writer in their midst can be perilous. Not only does my life nourish my writing; theirs do too. My niece is a sailor; a teenage girl in one of my WIPs is also a sailor, and during the coming summer vacation my niece will be my research assistant: she'll be teaching me to sail. I'm looking forward to our sessions in the gulf so that I can write knowledgeably about this character in the novel, but I'll have to remind myself to be in the moment out there on the ocean instead of distractedly trying to figure out exactly how my character manages to get wrecked on a reef, and how the jibsheet and mast might be used as survival tools.

My niece, far right, with her teammates

The problem with my nearest and dearest is that they do interesting things. They don't stare at keyboards all day and night or daydream their lives away plotting stories. My son is a surfer and traceur; if you don't know what that is, you soon will as parkour is well on its way to becoming a mainstream sport. My sister is an equestrienne; my mom's an ace gardener and horticulturist; my brother's a motor boat enthusiast, scuba diver and sport fisherman. One of my friends is a racing enthusiast; I can thank him for whatever knowledge of cars and performance driving I've managed to garner.

My son, airborne on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale

If my people were all nebbishy accountants who spent their spare time watching television I might not be so tempted to mine the ores of their lives for material for my stories. As it is, their passions inspire me and feed into my passion: writing. Right now they think it's fun to serve as inspiration for the writer in their midst, never suspecting that the coin might be two-sided.

I've seen one writer buddy's friendship with a colleague implode because he based a character on her and the portrayal was unflattering in the extreme. An acquaintance of mine accused me a few years ago of plotting to put him in a book. (He flatters himself.) On I go, like a good miner, collecting precious chunks of the lives around me and incorporating them into my work, forging them into new metal. My family and friends are happy to assist; as far as they're concerned it's all good. I suspect the clock is ticking on their naivety.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Garbage In, Garbage Out?

If you were to eat often at fast food joints, you would likely become overweight and develop high cholesterol or high blood pressure. If you are sloppy in following a recipe for a souffle, chances are high your souffle will be low. If you do little research before writing your novel, it will probably be full of factual errors.

Software engineers have a term for this phenomenon: Garbage in, garbage out. You can't expect good results from bad inputs.

When I was young, I read everything—cereal boxes, all the magazines my parents got, all sorts of books, good, bad, and indifferent from the library. I also watched plenty of after-school and Saturday morning TV and saw the "Winston takes good like a cigarette should" advertisement often.

Every time I see a published book that uses "like" as a conjunction instead of "as," I wonder whether it's the fault of that Winston commercial. How could a copyeditor overlook such an error unless she has heard incorrect language so often that her brain no longer notes it as wrong?

Similarly, Every Day Fiction recently ran a short story in which the writer broke every rule of good writing, to laugh-out-loud effect. (See "The Most Epicly Awesomest Story! Ever!!" by Randy Henderson.) It was epically, awesomely awful....yet the comments suggest that a few readers didn't notice it was horribly written. Again, I wondered whether the amount of bad writing people are exposed to constantly on television, in ads, in books rushed too quickly to print, and in books put out by publishers who no longer use copyeditors has dulled people's ability to tell good writing from bad.

Since I've been a writer, I'm much more careful about what I expose my brain to. Garbage in, garbage out: I don't want to subconsciously adopt grammar errors, word use errors, logic errors, structure errors, or any other writing error and then reproduce them in my own stories and books. I don't read things that are badly written or badly argued or badly structured unless I want to analyze how they went wrong. If the description of a self-published book is poorly organized or contains two or more grammar or spelling mistakes, I don't buy it, assuming the text will be just as grating to read. I watch few TV shows or movies and generally limit myself to high-quality ones.

The result, I hope, will be that my writing will be in the mode of the best writing being done, unpolluted by bad habits picked up from bad writing.

What's your take? Am I overcautious, or am I on the right track? How do you avoid being influenced by bad writers?

Thanks for coming by. I'll be blogging again at NovelSpaces on June 5.

—Shauna Roberts

Friday, May 20, 2011

Oprah and James Frey

Earlier this week I watched the James Frey interview on The Oprah Show and found myself listening intently to Mr. Frey as he answered questions as a follow-up to his previous interview when Oprah got on him for "lying" to her and to the public years ago on her show. As we know, the fallout was from his memoir A Million Little Pieces, in which investigators discovered that pivotal elements of the book were untrue. Oprah said that her previous position when she interviewed him was how dare you, as opposed to let me hear your side, and that people saw it as a lashing, which she later agreed. She admitted to coming from her ego, and said that defending her ego was wrong. I must say I felt some compassion for Oprah, and for James Frey, as he appeared to be humble and accountable, now moving on with his life as a writer and publisher.

I'm curious as to your thoughts about the follow up show. I'm not so sure it needed to be two parts, and I wondered if Oprah needed to make the apology as a way of resting her soul, also perhaps why she didn't just do this privately with Mr. Frey, but I can absolutely appreciate her overall admittance in stating that she felt she showed a lack of compassion and was sorry for the way she expressed her feelings vs. her thoughts. And I must say that as a fellow author, I was more interested in this interview than I would've been if I didn't write for a living. It was an example of what can happen when an individual's life changes and he/she gets caught up, and neglects their own level of integrity for stardom. Mr. Frey deceived his readers big time!

If you caught the show, did you think Oprah was sincere and that James Frey was being honest? Should this issue have been put to rest privately in your opinion?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Alas, poor Yorick.

My Dell 600m died this week. It was nearly a decade old, which made it about four hundred thirty-two in laptop years. Something you might see being appraised on Antiques Roadshow. The 600m was my first laptop, purchased after months of research into what it was I needed in a computer dedicated to writing, and represented a watershed in my professional career. Or at least in the way I wrote.

Prior to that I had written my stories longhand in thick spiral-bound notebooks – the kind with the wire binding at the top, like a steno book. I'd typed my handwritten words in the predawn hours on our family's one desktop at a computer desk in the corner of the kitchen. All of my research materials – which in those days were exclusively Star Trek – fit in a couple of milk crates that resided in the hall closet when not in use.

My laptop changed all that. Okay, not much at first. Beyond moving my typing space from the kitchen computer desk to the dining room table the Dell didn't impact the way I wrote until I broke myself of the habit of writing my first drafts by hand. What the purchase of that computer did for me as a writer, what it symbolized, was far more fundamental than altering my mode of composition. That computer was paid for entirely with writing income and – at a time when I was working two part-time jobs in addition to teaching just to make ends meet – my wife approved the significant expenditure of our limited funds as an investment in my future.

One of the first things I did was use a label maker to print an admonition that I taped below the bottom edge of the monitor: "Write. Do not post about writing. Do not chat about writing. Do not read about writing. Write." I figured if my family was going to take my writing seriously, I'd better be sure I was always doing something to earn that respect.

That 600m accompanied me everywhere and I did my best to train myself to use it as I had the spiral-bound notebooks. Ten free minutes became writing time no matter where I was. The laptop was on the job with me, traveled on vacation with me, and accompanied me to the Oregon Coast Professional Writers' Workshops. I wrote both my novels, a contest-winning short story, and my Star Trek ebook "Honor" on that silver notebook. (In those days Dell's "serious" notebooks were sheathed in grey plastic that did a not very convincing job of impersonating brushed aluminum.) Somewhere along the way my favorite writing spot shifted from the dining room to the Port City Java near the shipyard to the public library when my doctor recommended I cut back on the caffeine.

I hadn't used the 600 in a long time. In fact I'd last turned it on almost exactly a year ago to search its hard drive for a half-remembered original story I'd never completed (and didn't find). I have another laptop, a hand-me-down from our daughter's college days, and up until last July I'd worked for a company that issued me a corporate laptop to do with as I would, so there was no need. (I now work for a company that gives me a desktop in my own office. A windowless, thinly disguised former storage closet of an office, but not a cubicle, thank you very much.) Can't really say what made me pull the machine out of retirement, except maybe finding it in one of my boxes of books while looking for something else.

At any rate, I fired the thing up and spent half an hour looking through old idea files and exercises from writing workshops (finding nothing new since I'd backed the whole thing up to flash drive long ago). I found the familiar feel of the worn keyboard – and I do mean worn; you have to remember what some of the faceless keys are – comforting and decided to resurrect beast, make it my writing tool of choice again. One problem with that plan was how painfully slow the aged machine seemed to be. Like 1980s Apple Macintosh slow. What had been fast by Y2K standards can't keep up with today's software. So I dropped in a utilities disk, intending to do what I could to optimize performance before replacing the Word 1997 with something a bit more current and making any other updates I might think of. The program was ten minutes into analyzing my system when everything suddenly went black. Not blue screen of doom; black. Nothing abruptly happened, and nothing steadfastly continued to happen no matter what I tried. Eventually I gave up trying to trick the machine into working by turning it on and off and left it with my computer go-to guy Nathan for an assessment. It took him thirty-seven seconds to determine the hard drive was dead. Mechanical failure. Old age. In his words the only thing it can run is paperweight 1-point-0.

Is it odd I feel a sense of personal loss at the demise of what is after all simply a worn out bit of electronic gear? I don't think so. My ancient laptop is a symbol – a mile marker, if you will – denoting the point in my writing career where my craft became self-supporting. I was a little happier with the symbolism when the machine worked, but for the time being the machine sits – screen open like it's ready to get on with it – atop the bookcase in the home office I share with Valerie. A reminder of points I've traveled through. A reminder the journey's not over.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Do You Believe in Signs?

As writers we’ve all been there. You send off a proposal and the waiting begins.

When I’m playing the waiting game, I tend to look for signs my manuscript will hopefully sell.

This time I saw my ‘sign’ on the shelves of Sephora – a bath set with the same name as my book.

Honestly, it was probably just a coincidence, but I bought the set – and my proposal for ‘Sweet On You’ sold!

Anybody else? Come on, I can’t be the only desperately wacky writer out there.

Tell me about your last writing sign.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Guest Author Sue Guiney: My Amazing Journey

Though born and raised in New York, Sue Guiney has lived in London for twenty years where she writes and teaches fiction, poetry and plays. Her work has appeared in important literary journals on both sides of the Atlantic and her first book, published by Bluechrome Publishing in 2006, is the text of her poetry play, Dreams of May. Her first novel, Tangled Roots, was published in May 2008, also by Bluechrome. Her second novel, A Clash of Innocents (Sept. 2010) was chosen to be the first publication of the new imprint Ward Wood Publishing. Her first full-length poetry collection, Her Life Collected, was also published by Ward Wood. Sue’s writing and teaching have led her to Cambodia where she has developed a Creative Writing/Literacy Program for local street children. Her next novel, also set in present-day Cambodia, is due for publication in 2013. Sue is artistic director of CurvingRoad, a theatre arts charity which she founded in 2005.

My Amazing Journey

Thanks so much for giving me this chance to talk about an amazing literary journey which I have recently completed. Let me start at the beginning…..

Five years ago, my family and I took a working holiday to Cambodia. We spent two weeks travelling throughout the country, building houses in one of the poorest communities and working with children in an orphanage. I had never been to that part of the world before, nor had I ever seen that kind of poverty before, and it isn’t an exaggeration to say that the experience changed my life.

At the time I was knee-deep in writing my first novel, Tangled Roots. I had no idea that I would ever write about Cambodia, although I knew I would someday need to return there. But after Tangled Roots was published, a story popped into my head, a story that grew out of my experience of the people and the culture of Cambodia. That story turned into the novel, A Clash of Innocents, which was published this past September by Ward Wood Publishing.

Against the backdrop of Cambodia’s violent past and the beginnings of its new Tribunal for ‘justice,’ a story of displaced souls unfolded in my mind. I was able to create a world of orphans and expats all living their lives in modern day Cambodia, a country struggling to wrench itself out of its violent past. It’s been called a page-turner and, I’m pleased to say, reviews have been great.

That would have been enough for any writer. But I have been lucky enough to take all of this one step further. If we’re lucky, some of us are able to travel and become inspired to create something based on our new experiences. But to be able to take the fruit of that inspiration back to the people who first inspired it is something special, and this past March I was able to travel back to SE Asia, bringing the book back to the region where it was born. I did a month-long series of charity book signings and workshops, talking about the book and my experience of Cambodia and its people, and use the proceeds of the book sales to support several Cambodian charities. I was also able to spend a week working with an educational shelter for the street kids of Siem Reap, and set up a new on-going program aimed at raising self-esteem through creative writing. After a week, the teenagers of the shelter Anjali House published the first issue of their own literary magazine, and then went on to read segments of it aloud to two different audiences of donors and well wishers. Plus, the program continues as the kids are now uploading new work via a website for me and a group of other writers to edit and comment on. It is a wonderful experience for them, but even more, it is a life-changing experience for me.

So what have I learned from this? Yes, I’ve learned about how my own artistic ventures can connect with people all over the world in unimagined ways. But even more, I have learned how to take the creativity that I usually reserve for the page and apply it to my life. Perhaps there, more than anywhere, is where the magic really takes place. Words are powerful gifts. I am lucky enough to have a way to publish my words in works that can reach people across the globe. But it is the writing process that connects me to them, even more than the end product itself. And that’s the best lesson of all.

Thanks again, Novel Spaces, for letting me share this with you. And for those of you who may read A Clash of Innocents and enjoy it, please know that I am now in the middle of writing my next novel, also set in present day Cambodia. And I hope that I can do a bit of good with that novel, as I’ve been able to do with the other.

Sue Guiney

Friday, May 13, 2011

Writing on Friday the 13th

I have always been intrigued by the Friday the 13th mystique. I have never considered myself particularly superstitious or unlucky, whatever day of the week. But then again, I probably wouldn't want to tempt fate by crossing path of a black cat, walking under a ladder, dining with a group of thirteen, or other no-nos on Friday the 13th.

However, what I am perfectly at ease doing on this day that comes our way every so often is stick with my writing schedule. That means getting up at the crack of dawn today, eating and exercising before heading to my desk, where I am editing my next romance novel, PRIVATE LUAU, slated to be released on December 1st.

By lunchtime, I will have a light meal and catch the latest news and funny stories about Friday the 13th. Then it is back to the grind, where I will spend a couple of hours doing online promotion on my blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., believing that this really does make a difference in building my brand and singing the praises of my titles, including my June release romance, PLEASURE IN HAWAII, and my eBook bestsellers, MURDER IN MAU, THE SEX SLAVE MURDERS, and appropriately for the day, my young adult haunted house mystery, GHOST GIRL IN SHADOW BAY.

Once dinnertime rolls around, I will gobble up whatever my wife sets before me and catch more news about Friday the 13th and more anecdotes about its history and future.

Then there is more exercise to get the heart pumping before heading back to my desk for further writing, editing, promotion, and catching online tales on Friday the 13th.

After retiring, my wife and I just may get out and watch the Friday the 13th DVD that we bought years ago to pay tribute to the first movie of the series.

All in all, I am feeling pretty lucky on this day and already looking forward to the next Friday the 13th.

What are your thoughts on Friday the 13th?

Do you take any of the back luck superstitions seriously?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Refilling the Well

I hear writers and other artists talk at times about needing to “refill the well.” I’ve said it myself. Every creative person sometimes feels drained, as if the well-spring of imagination inside them has run dry. I think there are two primary reasons why this happens. I call them “Brain Burn” and “Trench Warfare.”

Simple physical fatigue will certainly drain the well. When I’m really tired, every action is an effort I don’t want to make, and writing is definitely an effort. And, fatigue can be mental as well as physical. My work as a teacher isn’t physically taxing but requires a lot of mental activity, and there are plenty of times I describe myself as “brain burned.” It doesn’t last long. As soon as I get a break from the semester grind, my mind almost always fills immediately with ideas. Or, I might need just a day or two of vegging and sleeping before the “well” starts to spill over.

But sometimes refilling the well seems to take longer. Sometimes, even when I have a break, and I have rest, the ideas and the language won’t come. At those times I know it’s because I’m in a rut, caught up in the mental equivalent of “trench warfare.” My mind has become static rather than active. My thoughts are traveling familiar paths, and I’m a little bored because I know exactly what’s around every corner. Sleep won’t fill this well. But experience will.

Whenever my well is blocked because I’m locked in trench warfare with myself, I try to shake things up a little. Not in my life necessarily, but in my head. I read stuff I don’t normally read, or something in a genre I haven’t revisited in a long time. I watch movies I would not normally choose. I listen to new music, as long as it’s loud and energizing. I try to feel new things and think new thoughts.

If I do need a change in life, it means going to places I haven’t been too before, seeing alternate landscapes, hearing different people talk. There are occasions when I have to physically walk unfamiliar paths, to wonder again what is around the next corner.

Engaging in trench warfare is a lot more insidious than being brain burned. You can sleep the latter away; the former you have to attack. The only way to break such a stalemate is to charge against it. Fortunately, unlike with real trench warfare, you’re not likely to get blown to bits in such a charge. About the worst that can happen is some discomfort at losing the familiar straightjacket you’ve been wearing. That discomfort will pass. Believe me. And you will be the better for having experienced it.

And if you’re wondering why I haven’t been around the blogs for a while, my trench war has turned into a charge. I’m out in no man’s land right now, and I’m not looking to hide. I can feel the tide at my back, the well filling. As a famous general once said, “I shall return.”

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mothers of Romance

It was Mothers’ Day yesterday. So to all Mothers, that include people who nurture others whether or not they gave birth to them, I wish you a belated Happy Mothers’ Day.

Mothers play a huge role in our lives in reality. The same goes to the world of imagination that connects us as writers. Mothers play a big role in our stories, especially in romance. So today I want to examine some of the different kinds of mothers we find in romance stories.

1. The control freak
These are the maternal characters who try to hold on to their sons and daughters, and schedule every aspect of their lives. They become the mothers-in-law from hell, criticizing everything the love interest does. For them, there is never a man good enough for their daughter; never a woman good enough for their son. They are usually the conflict the couple has to overcome to get their happily ever after (HEA).

2. The abusive/neglecter
This is most often present as back story. It mars the hero’s childhood and leaves him untrusting toward his love interests. Or he becomes a serial dater, never trusting in the good of woman. In many instances, the mother is absent, jet setting behind a new love interest or husband number X and not very involved in the life of her child.

3. The match maker
That could be good or bad. Sometimes the matchmaker mother hand picks a woman for the man and his love interest fights an uphill battle to win her over. Eventually she comes around. Other times, the matchmaking mother is trying to match the hero and heroine, who have no interest in each other until some circumstance brings them together. This of course makes the mother very happy.

4. The big heart
This woman is trusting and welcomes every one into her life. This mother is usually a good cook (or tries to be) and her kitchen becomes the cornerstone of their lives.

5. The big presence
In this instance, the mother has probably died. It could be when the hero/heroine was young or grown. But her presence is still felt. That person keeps her with him/her and looks for things in the love interest that’s reminiscent of the mother. That mother shapes everything from their achievement in life, to the qualities they look for in a spouse. While this can be good, sometimes the love interest has to compete with a larger than life memory in order to gain that HEA.

I know I have barely scratched the surface of character types of mothers that exist in romance novels. So I welcome you to add to the list. Tell me of the different character types you encounter in novels of any genre and how they compare to your own.

As for my own mother, she is a complex hybrid, but falls best into the category of "the big heart."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Movie or book?

I love books, and I love movies, but when the two collide something terrible happens. If I read the book first, the movie is always a major letdown. If I see the movie first, the book is tainted by the Hollywood version of characters, settings and plot which seldom stay true to the source material. What is a lover of stories to do?

The solution is simple: enjoy movies of books you don't intend to read, and avoid movies of books you have read. The Bourne movies and I Robot fall into the former category for me; I have no intention of reading the books so I enjoy the movies on their own terms and have a great time doing so without the inevitable comparisons and disappointment.

If I've read the book, though, and especially if I've loved said book, I know enough now to steer clear of the movie. Because the medium of film is so different from that of the page, it's virtually impossible for movies to be perfectly faithful to the novels on which they're based, and we should not expect them to be. There's the huge problem of compression, not to mention the challenge of putting thoughts into words, emotions into gestures, descriptions into actions. We who have read the novels, however, expect complete fidelity.

Readers create perfect movie versions of novels right there in our heads. We have mental images of the characters and settings, our own interpretations of the actions and expressions of the characters; we know the plot, the sub-plots, all the minor characters by name and dysfunction. We expect to find the whole shebang in the movie. We won't.

There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and stories that shine in both movie and book version exist. My own favourites are The English Patient and Oliver, and I've been told on good authority that The Godfather, Ordinary People, Lonesome Dove, LA Confidential, In the Name of My Father and Silence of the Lambs do too.

Do you know of any stories that excel in both the novel and movie forms? If you do, please share them with us!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Osama Bin Laden is dead, shot down in a mansion, his escape money sewn into his clothes. I don’t need to see pictures to believe it; I’ve warped too many realities in Photoshop to believe anything I see in print, TV or on film.

I find it hard to rejoice. Instead of celebrating the end of Al Qaeda, I remember the legend of the Hydra, a many-headed monster who grew back two for every one cut off. Al Qaeda had already been losing ground, believers and support. Bin Laden’s death is only the epilog to that story. There will be others.

The face and nature of whatever we consider to be “the enemy” has already changed in the last ten years and we have to keep up. This isn’t a time to relax and “spike the ball.” The world is changing and what so many see as the Last Days are the growing pains of a new world, one we can only hope is more forgiving and benign than the old. Bin Laden, Hussein, Mubarak, all the dead and deposed bullies of the last century have company, others still in place and growing more desperate to hold onto their embattled borders. There will be more Bin Ladens before it is over, hate-filled men holding onto the last shreds of the old order.

I believe that we are coming to an end time, but not a biblical apocalypse. I see it as more of a spiritual purge; the masses finally connected enough worldwide to see the big picture and how they fit into it. Mankind has left a long hard puberty to enter a rocky adolescence, moody, self-centered, pissed at having to do the work it takes to survive. I would like to think we’re growing up as a species, that we‘ll survive long enough to find ways to spread the wealth of this world to all its inhabitants. Not in a socialist or communist way, systems that fell prey to the same flaw as capitalism -- the greed of those in charge. I’d like to think that one day we’ll care for the sick and aged because it’s right, not for profit. That we’ll feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless out of love for our fellows, not out of a desire to benefit later in an abstract afterlife, or for awards, but because we should.

In the meantime, I will keep writing metaphorical horror stories that try to scare people, in a world capable of creating such monsters as Bin Laden. Monsters that drive us to go to such lengths to stop him that they make us question our very own humanity, that change us until we feel that we can’t trust even our own eyes or leaders anymore.

It isn’t easy.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Setting By Contrast

I've written several posts here at Novel Spaces about setting.Setting is often where my idea for a book or story starts, and it's what I usually enjoy most as a reader. But despite the thought I've given to setting, I realized only Monday that contrast is one way to establish setting in a story or book.

the view from my driveway in California
I arrived in Southern California late Monday afternoon after two weeks in New Orleans, where I had lived for many years. The alien nature of California struck me immediately.

I noticed the dry air first. There's a reason cowboys look so weathered: The desert air sucks the moisture from the skin. In New Orleans, moist air soothes the skin and nose and throat.

Next, I noticed how Californians' clothes rarely gave an indication where they were from, a far cry from New Orleans, where at least half of the people I saw were sporting fleur de lis tattoos, boots, hats, jewelry, or bandanas. Sometimes all at once. People who live in New Orleans tend to love it fiercely and display their affiliation whenever possible. Inland Southern California is a place people live to be near their jobs, not a place most people choose to be.

When we reached our house and got out of the car, I noticed how chilly the air had gotten. It had been nearly 90° when we walked out of the airport terminal; only 45 minutes later it was too cold to eat outside. By contrast, the weather was comfortable for our several outdoors suppers in New Orleans, even though the daytime temperatures were about the same as in California.

Bayou Coquille, Jean Lafitte Park, Louisiana
It also struck me then that the quiet was different. In New Orleans, we had stayed in a century-old neighborhood with little car traffic. There was plenty of activity—birds and squirrels and cats going about their business; people working in their yards or walking their dogs or going somewhere on foot—but the noise was hushed by the heavy vegetation, including many old trees with thick canopies. l could not hear the footsteps or words of people passing by only 15 feet away. In contrast, the silence in California was starker. Our house sits on a cul de sac on a hillside. It has the quiet of an inhospitable landscape where there are few people and animals to break the silence, but coyote song echoes off the rocks and carries across the valley, and wind is a constant.

There are many tools one can use to convey a setting. From now on, contrast between two locales will be in my toolbox.

Thanks for visiting. I'll be blogging here again on May 21. Hope you stop by again.

—Shauna Roberts

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The E-book Possibilities!

It still amazes me when I read articles regarding the soaring growth in e-book sales (up 116% in January), and drop in p-book sales. Also, the success stories of my fellow authors are encouraging and jaw dropping. I received my Southern Review email recently (link below) and the posts, particularly #'s 16-19, about $10k per month sales, and sales of 27k books in one month are amazing. I wanted to share the link so you could check them out for yourselves.

In addition there's a post about how men get more attention from reviewers than women - not so inspiring, for me anyway, lol - what's up with that? Enjoy!


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Your dream may not lead where you think

Forty years ago, when my parents were paying for college, I wanted to be an actor. A legitimate actor – on the boards not celluloid. I followed my dream to a college near my home town that had a well respected theatre department (well, they turned out Buddy Ebsen and Tony Perkins) and became a theatre major. Minored in philosophy, too, for reasons I can not now recall. Met both ghosts in the Annie Russell Theatre – neither was much of a talker – and spent all my waking hours building sets and reading Kierkegaard. Pretty much qualified myself for a career of saying "Would you like fries with that?" with panache while reflecting on the existential subtext of the question.

The year Disney invaded Florida, I moved to California, the Bay Area, with my sights on the American Conservatory Theater. As I recall, they were very polite about my audition. Because there was a reason I had spent my college years memorizing plays from the light booth. I am very good at acting like me, but not very good at acting like anyone else. My professional acting career consisted of building sets in community theatres and running lights for summer stock and managing a reparatory company. And auditioning. Always auditioning. You may have seen me in… Well, actually, nothing at all.

I've been thinking about acting recently. Not about trying for the stage again, but about how long I worked at becoming an actor before setting that dream aside to become a photographer. (That transition can wait for another column.) The focus of my rumination was that I really do know how to act. I see actors work and I know what they're doing. (Ever see Tyra Banks on America's Next Top Model showing young models all the messages you can convey with your eyes? Tom Hanks's eyes are half the size of Tyra's and do twenty things hers can't.) But there is a difference between knowing how to act and being able to act. There is a threshold, a step between acting like a character and being the character – the event horizon between craft and art – that I have never been able to cross. No matter how much I wanted to.

However, all of my practice and training in observing the human condition did not go to waste; I rely a lot on Strasberg in my day job. The tools a method actor applies to understand the motivations of a character outside their personal experience are equally useful in discerning the viewpoint of a person who may not perceive the world as you do. (I think I've written elsewhere on how the storytelling values I learned through acting and studying plays -- both as they are written and as they are produced -- shape my writing. If I haven't, I will.)

If you have a passion, something that always holds your attention, follow it. Do not, however, follow it to the exclusion of all else. Because your passion may not be your destination. It may instead become the source that illuminates everything else you do.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Writer Jail

I'm stuck in writer jail, y'all. Here's a photo from my cell (actually a library cubical). Bail has been set at 55,000 words.

It's going to take me a while to raise that bail, so I'd better get back to work!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Writing Conferences: Five reasons to attend

This week I attended the 16th Annual Romance Slam Jam conference in Baltimore, MD. I'm a huge fan of any event that will help me connect with readers, and give me the opportunity to see some of my personal favorite authors. For anyone who has contemplated attending a writing/reader conference, here are a few reasons you most definitely should:

1. You meet people who are just as rabid about books as you are! Only those who are truly devoted will shell out money for a conference fee, airfare, and hotel. These are real fans.

2. Networking opportunities abound! Authors can network with readers and fellow authors. Aspiring writers can connect with agents and editors. And people who share a passion for books can network with each other.
3. You get to see other parts of the country! Since I started attending writing conferences I've visited San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Reno, Denver, Washington, D.C., and many other cities around the U.S. It's a great time to get out and explore other parts of the country. Unfortunately for this trip I only saw the inside of my hotel room when not in workshops, but I vow to return to lovely Baltimore soon.

4. Workshops! Workshops! Workshops! Over the past several days I have attended fabulous workshops that were presented by amazingly talented people. One of the BEST things about writing conferences is that you get valuable information from the pros, and they share it freely.

5. They're fun! Yes, there is much fun to be had at writing conferences. Even though your days may be filled with workshops and other sessions, there is ample opportunity to have tons of fun. From parties, to planned outings, to just hanging in the bar and chatting it up with fellow readers and writers. When in the company of like-minded people, you can't help but enjoy yourself.

Remember, conferences don't have to cost you and arm and a leg. There are bunches of smaller, regional conferences that offer tons of information and valuable networking opportunities. Take the plunge. Attend a writing conference!