Saturday, July 30, 2011

Guest screenwriter Arlene Gibbs: Write. Every. Day.

Arlene Gibbs is a screenwriter (Jumping the Broom) based in Rome, Italy. Prior to moving to the Eternal City, she worked in Hollywood as a film production company executive for ten years. She was born in New York City to parents from St. Martin and raised in the small town of Verona, New Jersey. Her blog is where she writes about life in Italy and her sad attempt to become fluent in Italian.

There's a very good reason talented writers strongly suggest writing everyday. Or at least, Monday - Friday.

The two weeks I spent in Los Angeles completely threw me off my writing groove. I said I was going to write while I was there. What was I thinking?

My schedule was so packed, I had to ask my manager's assistant to cancel two meetings. I was running all over town. One crazy day I had meetings in Santa Monica, Studio City and Beverly Hills. Anyone who has
spent time in Los Angeles understands what a clusterf**k that day was.

Last week was not a good writing week. Part of it was jet lag, but a bigger part was my complete lack of motivation. I would open my laptop and just stare at a blank page. After a while, I would go online instead of writing (or unpacking) and next thing I knew, hours had gone by.

I started to get worried. What if I never get "it" back?

This week I forced myself to sit down and write. I wouldn't get online until after I had spent some time working on my novel. It was slow going at first.

After a few days of this, suddenly on Thursday I hit 1500 words without realizing it.

My goal is 2000 words a day. There will be days I exceed that, and others when I fall short. However, I finally feel like I'm back on track.

I'm also working on a new spec script. I'm writing with another screenwriter who is in the middle of staffing season (for American TV) so we have to budget our time wisely.

The next time I go to L.A., I don't think my schedule will be as insane. The October trip was my first trip to the States after moving to Rome 2 1/2 years earlier and this last trip was for the Jumping the Broom release. I get why my manager wanted to squeeze in as many meetings as possible.

If I had some money, I would go to a hotel somewhere nice and just write. It would have to be a place with a view and quiet like Ravello on the Amalfi Coast. Any place where there's a ton of sightseeing to do wouldn't work.

Or I would even check myself into a place in Rome. Several writer friends in L.A. do it all the time, especially for big deadlines. I completely understand why so many writers love working in hotels... no distractions.

In the meantime, I will be in my apartment trying my best to finish this novel...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Vamps Romancing Humans and Vice Versa

I admit that I am not a big reader of paranormal romance involving humans and vampires (or werewolves for that matter).

However, since childhood, I have long been big on vampire-human romances on television and in the movies. My guess is that the popularity of this coupling in Hollywood productions mirrors that of fiction.

I believe that humans are drawn to romances that stray outside the lines, but are still within reason. Romance between a man and sheep would be bestiality or a perversion few would be attracted to. However, vampires and humans are close enough in appearance, desires, habits, histories, and such, that the attraction is an acceptable one for fans of paranormal romances. After all, vampires were once human, which could never be said about sheep or other mammals (unless a shapeshifter; but even then the attraction would not be there while the human was in sheep's wool, so to speak).

The male vampire, in particular, is a natural attraction in romance fiction. He is, in effect, a substitute for the dark and handsome, sexy and mysterious, human male in series and contemporary romance fiction. Think Dracula and any woman, before and after being sired. Or Barnabas Collins, the vampire of Dark Shadows gothic soap opera, who charmed and romanced a number of women such as Maggie Collins who bore a striking resemblance to his first love, Josette

Of course, in modern paranormal romances, there are just as many female vamps who are able to charm human males the same way as human women would--by being beautiful, shapely, sexy, charming, and desirable--only with the perhaps even more alluring vampire's edge.

Moreover, many paranormal romances involve vamp-vamp romances. Or some other non human pairing.

The main point is that so long as the romance involves characters in human form with all the strengths and weaknesses of humans as we know it, the alter egos such as vampires in disguise is merely giving readers the true and tried with an added element to keep things lively and interesting.

Are you a big fan of vampire fiction?

What are you favorite vampire books, movies, or TV series?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

To "e" or not to "e"

(Photo - High school student in Ghana holds up an e-Reader donated by

I have been reading a book called Aiming at Amazon in which author Aaron Shepherd advises authors, mainly self-publishers, on steps to take to increase the sales of their books on Amazon. He suggests that authors choose to publish their books either in an electronic or a printed format. I can paraphrase his reasoning into a few simple truths:

1. The more sales that you have, the higher your book will be ranked on Amazon.
2. The higher your book is ranked, the higher it will be on the list when people type in keywords that match your book.
3. Most people only look at the first two pages of search results, they assume the rest are not relevant or not interesting.
4. If you have both an e-Book and a physical book on Amazon, they will be ranked individually and so your total sales will be split and your title as a whole will not be ranked as high as it should be based on the total number of sales.

It is a very convincing argument, and it would seem that if one was going to follow this advice, the natural step would be to publish only in electronic format. However, this is a piece of advice that has presented a significant dilemma for me as I prepare to release the third book in the Caribbean Adventure Series.

Both of my children have e-readers, but this was just more practical for us because we live in a place where it is difficult to get a steady supply of books for children in their age group. I also note an increasing number of children's books in electronic format, but I wonder if the e-book rage has reached to the point where I can risk releasing a children's book only in that format. On the other hand, I don't want to only do a traditional format as I think that the electronic version will be important in some of my target markets in the Caribbean where purchasing the book online and having it shipped is a barrier to purchase.

I hate to sell myself short, but my suspicion is that my place in the rankings won't be affected much if my sales volume is cut in half, so perhaps I can table this problem for my next best seller.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dedications: Something New

I once had a book dedicated to me as a member of a writing group. This was Haiku Guy, a wonderfully witty book by my good friend David Lanoue. I felt pleased and honored. As my books have been published, I too have written dedications: to family members for love and support, to fellow writers I admire, to editors whose work and acumen I appreciated, and to members of groups who have helped shape my writing. The first Talera book was dedicated to my mom, the second to my father and my son, the third to my wife. I’ve dedicated works to my fellow Robert E. Howard fans, to my graduate school mentor, to my longest running writing group, and, yes, to David Lanoue.

Recently I had a new experience in the dedication realm. It made me think about dedications in a different light because the experience was a shocking and unpleasant one. I had never imagined a dedication could be taken negatively, but now I’ll never consider one without a dark edge to my thoughts. My world is a little bleaker for that. I’m certainly not devastated, just a little saddened.

Here’s what happened. I completed a novella called “Under the Ember Star.” When it came time for the dedication, I decided on a critique group I’d shared a number of chapters with. This group had been around a while and there’d been turnover. Some members who’d left remained friends and I’d even stayed in contact with them. Although these folks had not seen “Ember Star,” they had reviewed previous stuff from me and had impacted my writing. I decided I wanted to include them in the dedication. They deserved it.

Because I didn’t want to hurt any one’s feelings, however, I actually decided to include all the ex-members of the group who had attended more than a meeting or two. To make sure I didn’t miss anyone, I sent the potential dedication around to the current group and asked for help double checking the names. As I hoped, and expected, most members were pleased to be acknowledged. That made me happy, reminding me of how I felt when I first saw David Lanoue’s dedication for Haiku Guy.

Then a bombshell exploded. One current member of the group emailed the entire membership saying that my dedication “disgraced, not honored” the group. She insisted I remove her name from the dedication and that I had been “presumptive” to include it in the first place “without asking permission.” What floored me the most came next. She accused me of including the names of no longer active members as a way to: “inflate the number in ‘his’ writing group for his benefit; not ‘our’ writing group.” The email even suggested that I: “Check around the grave yards, maybe some more names can be found there.” I still can’t imagine what possible benefit I’d get in the publishing world from inflating the numbers in my writing group.

I knew this individual didn’t particularly like my writing, but had no idea she loathed it so much. Most of what I’ve shared has been SF adventure stuff. There’s action and what is often called “gritty realism.” That means blood and occasional gore, curse words, and sometimes things like characters spitting. The scene this individual objected to the most was a single sentence describing a disgusting toilet: “The fetor was bad enough, but to be able to see the spattered sources of the stench made her glad her stomach was empty.” Our hero had to escape an ambush through that bathroom.

No other members of the group write SF/Fantasy and most do not read it, but I think most have come to appreciate the effort I put into writing it. In the “email’s” aftermath, I’ve received an outpouring of support from most members of the group, although one other individual asked for her name to be removed from the dedication as well. I immediately did so.

In a bit of irony, on the same day that this situation exploded, over a week after I first sent the “potential” dedication around to the group, I got the word that “Under the Ember Star” had been accepted by the publisher. There will be a dedication in that book, and the names you’ll see there will be those who didn’t feel “disgraced” to be associated with my writing. The two who did feel that way won’t get a mention.

And wow, did I get schooled!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The interracial romance

We have been discussing as a theme “Vampires and human” love stories. The thread that seems to be recurring in the discussion is the issue of the forbidden love. I want to deviate and write a little about romance in a more realistic sense: The interracial romance. In this context I am talking about love between two human beings of different races or ethnicities appearing in books and on TV.

I was recently working on a manuscript where a white female of a deeply religious sect living a 19th century lifestyle in distinct colonies, falls in love with a black man. Of course it is a forbidden love, much like the Vampire human love stories. As I began looking at publishers and their submission guidelines, I realized for African American romance, several publishers place a stipulation that both the hero and heroine had to be African American. In fact Genesis press had this as a guideline: “The heroine in romance and the protagonist in fiction must be black (African-American, African, Caribbean etc). The hero in romance must also be black....”

Are we saying love between a white woman and a black man cannot be considered “African American Romance, even if the man and just about every other character in the book are African American? Mainstream romance is not much different either. Even if the guidelines don’t specifically say it, in most mainstream romance both Hero and Heroine are of the same race. Therefore interracial romance, especially if it involves a white woman and a black man, neither fits into African American Romance or Mainstream romance.

That prompted me to look around on television for interracial romances in the primetime series. I examined the last two seasons of primetime shows on ABC, simply because it’s the television station I watch the most. I found while many of their primetime shows had at least one gay couple, only one show, “Modern Family” seemed to have a stable interracial couple. It was the marriage between an older white male and a young (really sexy) Hispanic female. Consequently, that couple also embodied the May/December relationship and the multicultural relationship. And though I am not much of a movie buff, I’ve seen very few recent movies with interracial romances.

Apparently while Vampire/human romances are gaining popularity today, the interracial romance, especially between black and white are becoming a relic of the past, at least on television. It is not a true reflection of today’s society where there is an increase in interracial marriages. According to the PEW report, 20 years ago only 6.8% of marriages involved couples of different races. Today, that number has more than doubled to 14.6%.

So why don’t the romance in books and on primetime television reflect the trends of today’s society in terms of interracial romances? I can postulate a few reasons:
 Interracial relationships are still uncomfortable to many viewer/readers?
 Too many complicated societal issues?
 Writers/producers fear offending particular races by having stereotypes?
 Or is it because fiction simply lags behind reality?
What’s your take on it?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

All Men Are Vampires

Vampire romance is, to me, an oxymoron. I don't have issues with human-other love in fiction - I've even written a story in which a slightly mutant human consorts with alien beings. I do, however, draw the line at human-vampire hanky-panky.
  • Vampires are not hot guys who just happen to be a little, well, different. However handsome, sophisticated or dangerously alluring they might seem, they are blood-sucking demons. Demons have their place in horror, not romance. Sexy romantic heroes kill all the time, but for noble reasons. They don't kill because they are dark, undead creatures who must prey upon people to maintain their own un-life. Adding teen angst and glitter doesn't change that.
  • The combination of death, sex and lust is bizarre. Sex with dead (or 'undead') people reeks of necrophilia. Blood-drinking rituals are creepy and disturbing, not erotic.
  • Centuries old creatures seeking the love of teenage girls? Isn't that taking pedophilia to new extremes?
So why are vampire incubi the new rock stars, evidenced by the hordes of squealing teen girls (and their mothers!) buying the books and packing the theatres to drool over pale fanged guys with an insatiable thirst for human blood? I've seen many rationales for the popularity of the genre, including:
  • The stories are entertaining and provide pure escapism in grim economic times when readers find reality depressing. Fantasies about vampires, werewolves and such are simply fairy tales for adults, and cool guys with issues is a standard of the romance genre.
  • People have an enduring fascination with death. Vampire romances explore this realm and provide an intriguing look into the 'other side' of the life-death equation. According to some, these stories aren't really about vampires; they're about death, immortality, and transformation.
  • In our youth-obsessed culture, the fantasy of unending pleasures, unending life and unending youth is irresistible. The hero of the Stephanie Meyer novels is 400 years old yet he has the appearance of an attractive young man - and there's no botox or plastic surgery involved.
  • Forbidden love has always been a huge romantic trope. Think Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, Lady Chatterley's Lover, Lolita, The Thornbirds, The Scarlet Letter, Helen of Troy and Paris, Tristan and Isolde... Vampires are as forbidden as you can get.
  • "All men are vampires." (Michael De Groote, writing in The Mormon Times) They are all capable of hurting women very, very badly, far more so than women are capable of hurting men, both in romantic and physical contexts. They inflict scars, literal and psychological, that take a long time to heal, or never heal at all. The greatest threat to women comes not from strangers in dark alleys, but from the men they are intimate with; examine the crime statistics if you doubt this. Women are fascinated - and aroused - by the element of danger in men, a fascination they learn to curb in real life (if they're wise). A vampire is the ultimate dangerous male, and by consorting with him between the covers of a book women get all the excitement and none of the dire consequences - such as ending up in the emergency room or, yanno, dead.
I'm not swayed by any of the above, though. I prefer vampires, those terrifying creatures of the night, in their rightful place in the horror genre. Pretty them up all you like but let them mince along the corridors of nightmare where they belong. They have no place in my romantic fantasies.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fangs for the Memories

KeVin Killiany suggested the following as a shared blog topic at Novel Spaces in July: "No one would be charmed by a romance between a man and a sheep—so why are vampire/human romances popular?"

(Note: I have not looked at other Novel Spaces posts on this topic. I wanted to approach it uninfluenced by what others have already posted or will be posting. So my comments may overlap with other posts.)

Which is better, sheep or vampire? Depending on the author, modern vampires often look much like humans and sometimes can pass for them easily. The hero or heroine of a romance novel could easily be sexually attracted to a vampire for the same reasons she or he is attracted to another human: hair color, style of dress, charming conversation, sense of humor, body shape, or any of the many traits vampires and humans share in common. The reader could like the vampire for the same reasons.

A sheep, being a living mammal, in many ways has more in common with the human protagonist than a vampire does. A beating heart, for example, and not eating live prey. But the sheep lacks the features that normal humans find sexually attractive. A romance between a man and a sheep would be a sad, pathetic thing, with little communication and no mutual interests. I would assume a man in such a romance would be physically or mentally so repulsive that no human woman would have him.

Which is better, human or vampire? I suggest five reasons that writers, their characters, and readers may find a vampire attractive.

1. Glamor. A vampire can charm a human into feeling attraction and going along with the vampire's desires. In real life, glamor would be terrifying. As a fantasy, though, it can be extremely compelling. Most people have desires they don't give into because reason or morality or the thought of social disapproval stops them. Under glamor, they can give in to these desires and feel no guilt because they were glamored.

2. The ultimate protector. In a society that doesn't regulate male violence well and whose popular culture glorifies it (such as our own), women may consider the ability to protect her an important quality in a mate. For such women, a vampire is an almost-perfect mate. She has nothing to fear from human men because her mate is stronger, faster, and more experienced; can't die; and won't run away when she's in trouble.

3. The ultimate object of pity. Heroes in romances often have a tragic past that has scarred them emotionally or physically and/or turned them into men who hate themselves and so behave hatefully to others. The heroine's role in such romances is to discover the pain, understand the pain, and heal the hero. The vampire, for all his powers, has lost most of what matters in life. Some fictional vampires are on a quest to find a way to be human again. The heroine with a soft heart finds the perfect man in the vampire who allows her to see his pain.

4. A link to a more mannered and cultured past. The past century as been a strange one for women. They have won rights, become educated in high numbers, and established themselves as capable beings allowed to make their own choices. During those same years, society in most ways has become cruder, ruder, more selfish, and less cultured. A vampire born during a more formal and cultured time is likely to come courting well dressed, to be on his best manners including not cussing, and to able to talk knowledgeably about art, politics, history, food, foreign countries, and other such topics. The vampire thus makes a better date than someone who shows up in torn jeans and teeshirt, takes you to a violent action movie in which hundreds of innocent people get blown up/killed in a car crash/eaten by zombies, and can't converse about anything but lowest-common-denominator popular culture.

5. Cultural evolution. If you've read early vampire novels such as Bram Stoker's Dracula, you've seen that the earliest vampire characters in fiction were disgusting and evil in every way. They were unsatisfying characters because they were one-dimensional. Since then, authors have gradually rounded out vampire characters. Now vampires have personalities that differ from each other. They have good traits and bad traits. Some have retained their emotions or their love of knowledge or in other ways have traits that appeal to the opposite sex. Some even feed on animal blood or drink "True Blood" because their morals don't allow them to harm people. As vampire characters become more rounded and humanlike, it's only natural they become more appealing, both to other characters and to readers. Also, the introduction of TV and the Internet has made the world smaller. Readers have grown up knowing about societies with, for example, different customs or different eating habits. People who aren't "just like us" are no longer automatically frightening.

What do you think? Have I left anything out? Or put too much in? And what about male characters? What do you think attracts them to vampire women?

I'll be blogging again on August 6.

—Shauna Roberts

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guest Author: S. B. Redd - That Creative Time of Day

S.B. Redd is an award-winning journalist and author of two novels being released in 2011: Warped Intentions and He is also the publisher at MavLit Publishing, which is based in Irmo, S.C.

My house is usually at it quietest between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. More than likely, my daughter has fallen asleep by default after talking for countless hours on the phone or spending time on some social network, and my wife, despite her tendency of being a light sleeper, has entered into a deep sleep pattern.

As for me, it's my most productive time of day. It's been that way for decades. I'll go as far as to say that it's probably a productive time of day for you if you're a writer or creative arts is your passion.

Think about it. Unless you're working a job that requires your productivity at that time of night, what person in his or her right mind will be up with a pen or notepad, or pecking away on a computer keyboard? But there is something universally magical about that time of day. All of a sudden, thoughts and ideas begin to make better sense. The words seem to flow better. That creative concept all of a sudden seems clearer.

For years, I merely made light of one of my most notable achievements in my former profession as a newspaper reporter coming from a burst of creative energy that I experienced about 2:30 a.m. The story that I turned in later that day was a rough draft. It went over so well that there were virtually no revisions. That same rough draft actually earned me top national honors for best news story in my newspaper circulation category.

The first time I really shared this experience among other book authors was while I hosted my former talk show, Maverick Media (on Blog Talk Radio), in 2009. My featured guest that night was singer/songwriter Brenda Russell, whose work has been covered by other artists: Get Here by Oleta Adams, Please Pardon Me (You're A Friend of Mine) by Rufus featuring Chaka Kahn, and If Only for One Night by Luther Vandross are just a few that went on to become mega hits.

Ms. Russell understood exactly where I was coming from once I mentioned the inexplicable magic that seems to occur during that timeframe.

A good time to write, she said. Often, it's the first thing that we write is a strong idea.

Since then, I've come in contact with other authors who seem to thrive during those early morning hours. They also attribute it to being a time of the day when they're best able to concentrate on their craft and summon much of their creative energy.

I suppose only time will allow me to conclude if any of the work I've now done as an editor, author, or publisher might result in some major critical acclaim or a noted best-seller. Meanwhile, I continue to peck away on my keyboard in the relative solitude in my house: it's also the only time that my wife and daughter aren't interrupting me.

--S.B. Redd

Monday, July 18, 2011

Vampires and the Other in Romance Fiction

I have to take responsibility for the recent columns here on Novel Spaces about love with animals and human/vampire romances. I triggered this month's theme when, in a conversation with my fellow Novelnauts about romances, I said "No one would be charmed by a love story between a man and a sheep, why is a romance between a vampire and a human acceptable?"

I mean, come on, a scorpion is more likely to be compassionate than a vampire. At least scorpions are living things while vampires are demons that consume humans and cloud human minds so folks think they look like people. The trick doesn't work if the human isn't looking directly at the demon, which is why vampires are invisible when … Wait. Vampires aren't real, right? Right. The point is, fictional as they are, vampires prey on humans. If they were capable of any form of love at all, they might love us the way we might love a perfectly grilled porterhouse steak. So why are they the subject of so many romances?

The question has vexed me for a while, and I've given it a lot of thought; thought that's led me to Omar Sharif, bodice-rippers, and Anne Rice, among other things. At their core, romance novels are fantasies. While everything that takes place in even the most solidly grounded contemporary seems straightforward, a lot of the story is metaphorical. Symbolic, if you will. More's going on than just the perfect, inevitable HAE. Through romances readers are free to explore things – relationships – outside their experience or comfort zone.

It's difficult to believe that the era of the bodice-ripper romance is less than forty years behind us. At one time all romances were sweet, sex-free tales of finding the perfect husband who would protect and care for the heroine. I'm sure someone in that bygone era knew sex would sell, but at a time when a woman's virtue was her greatest asset, working sex into the relationship was difficult. Unless, I imagine some bright junior sales exec posited, the woman had no choice. But premarital sex without choice couldn't be rape – it had to be something the woman wanted (but was maybe ashamed of wanting) – with the result that for a decade secretaries and nannies and au pairs had to stumble through convoluted plots to reach a level of physical satisfaction that would in this age qualify as a sweet romance. Embarrassing as they are by today's standards, bodice-rippers paved the way for modern contemporary romance and erotic romance.

Dark and mysterious men have been a staple of romance for centuries; preferably dark and mysterious men of noble heritage. However, when the romance marketplace was overwhelmingly white; "dark" meant Omar Sharif. There was a whole sub-genre devoted to OSLAs (Omar Sharif look-alikes); stories that seem quaint to us now, but were daring in their day. Though interracial romances may never be a big part of the romance market, multicultural romances of all types, and I think the AA romance market, were in many ways made possible by these dark and mysterious pioneers.

These days there are few boundaries people are willing to admit frighten them. You can't say the thought of a relationship with someone of another race or culture triggers a frisson of fear without sounding like a racist. So vampires (and werewolves and selkies and fallen angels) have become the universal "other." A metaphor for whomever the reader might find both frightening and forbidden-fruit sexy.

Bram Stoker's Dracula was shocking in its day, and banned in many places. Not because it was scary or violent, but because it was considered erotic. "Erotic?" you query. "There's no sex." Reading Dracula with 21st century sensibilities, the eroticism is easy to miss. A modern tale with a similar sexless erotica is Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire. Some of the most intense tales of domination and submission you'll ever read.

So while I find the idea of romance between a woman and a timberwolf to be more likely that a woman/vampire romance (because mammal/mammal makes more sense to me than mammal/undead-corpse-animated-by-a-possessing-demon) I can respect the role the vampire (or shape shifter or alien) plays in both romance fiction and the imaginations of romance readers. The intriguing other.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Guest author June Shaw: Romantic Mysteries

June Shaw lives along a lazy bayou in south Louisiana. She became a young widow with five children, completed a college degree, and started teaching junior high students, then her deferred dream of becoming a writer took hold. Her first novel, Relative Danger, was nominated by Deadly Ink for their new David award for Best Mystery of the Year. Harlequin reprinted it, and Books in Motion bought audio rights. Killer Cousins is her second book. June represents Louisiana on the board of the southwest chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

Every year romance seems to be the most popular fiction genre. Mysteries come next. What about combining both in the same books?

That is what I like to read, thus what I like to write. Oh, and be sure to add some humor because I love to laugh. And that’s the type of book I like to read most and write. That’s why the third book in my series of humorous romantic mysteries can be ordered now. Most readers say they’re fun. Women want to be my main character. (So do I; she’s my idol; she’ll say or do anything she pleases. Love that!)

And most women want me to make sure to keep my main character’s hunky lover, Gil Thurman. (Oh, yeah, I want him, too!) He is the man the widowed heroine keeps trying to avoid while she tries to rediscover herself, but he opens Cajun restaurants wherever she travels—and she is so bad at avoiding tempting dishes and men.

In this book she joins high school classmates she hasn’t seen in decades for a class reunion aboard a cruise ship in Alaska. People she thought she knew well in school seem to hide secrets and lies—and some must die. Of course her hunky dude has to show up and cause her more strife and temptation—and there’s humor and laughter. All in all, it’s a fun sexy read placed in a whodunit.

What about you? What do you enjoy reading most? Do you like romance? Mystery? Humor?

You can find them all in my books Relative Danger and Killer Cousins (now available as e-books) and Deadly Reunion. I hope you will and that you’ll let me know how you like them and about other humorous romantic mysteries you enjoy!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Time Travel Writing

As an avid reader of time travel fiction, movies, and TV series, not too surprisingly, I also enjoy writing time travel novels.

My young adult novel, DANGER IN TIME, involves a teenager who goes back in time ten years to save sister's life--only putting both teens in danger.

I have always been fascinated by the concept of time travel, black holes, and such. It is fun speculating on the theoretical twists, turns, and implications of time travel.

For instance, would I be dead or never born today, were I killed during a trip to the past? Or does the chicken or the egg come first when it concerns the time bending of traveling from the present?

Could a single change in time disrupt the entire future?

These are all intriguing questions, giving novelists and screenwriters ample possibilities to play with, leading to varying outcomes.

Some of my favorite time travel novels are:

1. THE MAP OF TIME by Félix J Palma
2. THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger
4. A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L'Engle
5. BOTH SIDES OF TIME by Caroline Cooney

Amongst my favorite time travel series are:


Favorite time travel movies include:


What do you think about time travel? Where would you like to go if you could travel to the past or future?

What are you favorite time travel novels, movies, or television series?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Half Alien, With Family

In my current WIP, “Under the Ember Star,” I have a character who is a hybrid, a genetic cross between a human and an alien race known as the Kelmerians. His name is Duash and I’ve enjoyed writing him. The ‘human’ part of him allows me to make the connection I need to fully imagine the character, and the ‘non-human’ part gives me free range to create any weirdness I might want. That’s where the most fun comes in for me.

Strangely enough, though, it wasn’t until after the book was largely done that I considered the influences that led me to Duash. First up would be “Spock,” of course, from the TV series. Spock was such a great character. He was enough of an ‘us’ so that we could identify with him, but enough of an ‘other’ to make him “fascinating,” and to allow the show’s writers to say a lot about the nature of humanity, both good and bad. Spock allowed us to examine the painful experience of prejudice with just enough of a remove from the real world to make it less threatening. We saw the wounding of Spock, despite his vaunted logic, and we also saw his dignity and quiet competence, which make the most powerful weapons anyone has against such prejudice.

Star Trek used the ‘hybrid’ theme again and again throughout later entries in the series, although never to such great effect as with Spock. Counselor Deanna Troi, (Human/Betazoid), B’Elanna Torres (Human/Klingon), Whorf’s mate, K’Ehleyr (Human/Klingon), Whorf’s son (by K’Ehleyr) Alexander, Sela, (Human/Romulan), and many others, are examples. Of course, the theme did not begin with Star Trek. “Half-breeds” have long been a staple character in westerns. And far, far before that we had the demi-gods and various hybrids of humans and gods in Greek mythology.

Here’s why hybrid characters can be so compelling and such a gift to the writer. Conflict is key in fiction, whether on the screen or the page. The hybrid character is by nature a source of conflict. Not only do such characters have to deal with the prejudices and expectations of others, but they are often in conflict with themselves. Which world do they live in? Which culture do they express? And then there is the whole backstory conflict as well. How did the hybrid character’s parents get together? Consider the fireworks that must have ensued in those relationships.The potential is enormous.

To close today’s post,let me say that we’re starting a new year here on Novel Spaces. There have been a few changes; the schedules have shifted a bit. This year we’re going to leave some posts up for two days, which I think is a plus for generating reader comments. We’re also considering monthly themes and a few other things. We’ve discussed keeping the focus more on writing themes. For those of you reading this, what kinds of things would ‘you’ like to see here? How could we make the site better?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A different kind of love

During a romance writers’ conference, I attended a panel discussion on writing interracial romance. What I learned was that interracial romance was not limited to love between human of different races. There were the alien/human romances, phantom/human romances even a liger/human romance. It was interesting to say the least and though I have never read one such book I wondered how authors came up with such imaginations.

I met one author who wrote a whole line of other-worldly interspecies romance. She was a petite African American (a size zero dress would be too big for her) with copper tone complexion and shaved head. She appeared rather eccentric, dressed like some of the characters in her books and even had a strange accent though she lived all her life in my neck of the woods.

I asked her how she came up with all those strange characters and she said her “Viking” was the inspiration. Well I did meet her “Viking.” This author’s husband, a Caucasian, was a giant of a man, well over six feet and at least three hundred pounds. He had long blond hair, tattoos all over and rode a Harley. They made quite the odd couple.

Meeting them I understood how she could easily visualize romance between different beings, even different species and how he inspired her work. It takes a certain level of open-mindedness and imagination to conceive of romance between different species.

While vampire/human romances has been around long enough to make it acceptable, even desirable, I personally can’t conceive of a romance between a human and a liger (cross between lion and tiger) no matter how attractive that liger is or whether he comes from a different world or not. That to me borders on bestiality. However, it does have an audience and there are readers who can read past the physical differences and see the love in the hearts of the characters.

What do you think about interspecies romance?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Brangelina Syndrome

If a movie features either Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, I can't watch it. Same for Jennifer Lopez. George Clooney too, for that matter. When actors have been thrust into my face as much as these have, and their private and public lives have been hashed, rehashed, chewed, swallowed and regurgitated in every available medium wherever I turn, those actors lose the ability to disappear into their characters and thus make me believe long enough to disappear into the characters' stories.

I don't see Mr. and Mrs. Smith on the screen. I see Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie acting roles that pale in comparison to the ones they allegedly played in real life at the time of filming. Talk about spoilers...

Something similar happens for me when a novelist becomes an overexposed celebrity. Once the persona of the author takes precedence, her characters and stories become less convincing. I don't see the characters living their roles; I see the author creating these characters and putting them through their paces. That is not a minor distinction; for me, and for many readers, I imagine, this difference in perception is nothing short of disastrous. The suspension of disbelief that's so necessary if the reader is to be absorbed into the world of the story just can't happen.

I'm not talking here about the normal details that make up an author's bio, his occasional observations about writing or living the writer's life, but rather the up-to-the-minute, voyeuristic bombardment with tedious details of his private life, his opinion on subjects unrelated to his work, his daily routine, his children, pets, vacations, shopping sprees, peeves, diet... If it ties in with his work in some way I'm fascinated. Anything more and I'm turned off. I often long for the bad old days when all I knew about my favourite authors was what I read in brief biographies on jacket flaps. I knew them through their work, and that was all I needed.

Sad to say, there are authors out there, probably good ones too, whose work I avoid because of their overexposed-celebrity status. Dan Brown is one. I didn't pick up a Steven King book for many years for the same reason. Don't stone me, but JK Rowling is another.

Suspension of disbelief is critical for my enjoyment of fiction. How does an author's celebrity status affect your appreciation of his or her stories?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When an Author Writes a Review

Posting a book review on Goodreads or feels fraught with moral dilemmas now that I'm a published writer and most of my friends are writers.
  • It's not classy to criticize one's competition. 
  • I'm not sure I can be objective about other people's writing now that I'm a writer myself. Awkward phrasings,  poor grammar, and bad structure spoil my enjoyment, yet most readers don't even notice such things.
  • It's my obligation as a friend to help my writer friends get more exposure and sell more books. Writing a bad review could undermine someone's career.
  • Sometimes when I go to post a review, I see that trolls have  undeservedly insulted a book. I feel an obligation to be extra positive to counter the trolls' bad ratings so that a potential reader gets an honest overall impression.
  • I've seen how much pain that bad—or sometimes even neutral—reviews cause my writer friends, particularly when  the reader had no business reviewing the book (because they clearly had only skimmed it or they state outright that they dislike the genre). I don't enjoy being cruel, and I don't think it's right to hurt a writer with careless or spiteful words.
As a result, although I post a GoodReads review for everything I read and I'm honest in everything I say, I do not give bad reviews. If I can't give a book at least four stars, I usually don't give it stars at all. When mentioning a book's flaws, I word my comments neutrally yet try to give enough information that a potential reader can guess whether the book is right for her or him.

You may say I'm not being moral, but being a coward. You may say that readers deserve to know my full opinion of a book and that I'm being deceptive by focusing on a book's positive attributes or by not saying anything that would discourage people from buying a friend's book. You may say that I'm trying to give people a good impression of me. Motives are complex; you may be partly right.

Still, this feels right to me. As the number of my friends who are writers or musicians has grown, I have become more and more aware of how often reviewers have an agenda that they impose on a book or CD,  how often reviewers don't read a book or just skim it (as shown by their making major errors in the plot summary or by getting the protagonist's sex or age wrong), how often reviewers are purposely cruel or make fun of a book or an author, and how often reviewers cheat the potential reader by spending most of the review giving a plot summary or a discussion of the book's genre. I at least commit none of those flaws. I read the books I review and write thoughtful, careful reviews.

What do you think? Are my moral arguments right, or am I practicing self-deceptions to justify boosting my friends' careers and my own? As a writer, what do you think you owe to your fellow writers when you review their books?

Our scheduling here at NovelSpaces has changed. I'll now be blogging on the 6th and the 21st of each month. I'll see you again on the 21st, when I may tackle our NovelSpaces blog question of the month, which was suggested by KeVin Killiany: "No one would be charmed by a romance between a man and a sheep -- so why are vampire/human romances popular?"

—Shauna Roberts

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day - Independent Writer

I suppose it would be appropriate on this Day of Independence to post about the independent and solitary job of a writer. I call it a job because though we don't necessarily have a boss staring down our necks, and we don't work 9 - 5 (sometimes the hours break down to a whole lot more than eight hours per day), we are in this for the love of the craft, and we're also in it to make money. Though unlike most jobs, writing requires a lot of isolation and focus, uninterrupted and yes, independent.

With writers, it's usually a desktop, laptop, pen and pad, iPad, or whatever form we use to plug away at transferring ideas, thoughts, and character journeys into words on a page. Some writers can focus while at a park, in a coffee shop, a restaurant, poolside, at the beach (as in this photo - wouldn't that be heaven?) or in the den of their home with family all around, though most require complete and total isolation, away from it all, just to focus on what the characters are doing, saying, becoming, getting into, getting out of, feeling, screwing up, living through, and/or dying from.

Writing can be a very lonely profession. If you close the door and block out the world, including the phone and those who you love who are on the other side of that door (who chances are know not to knock unless the house is on fire or they're bringing in a glass of wine), or even if you live alone, you run the risk of being reclusive simply from the demands of your work in progress.

Shutting down to write and going into your writer cave takes great discipline. It's not easy to disconnect and shut out your world for the world of your characters, or for the work of your non-fiction mission.

Being independent, writing alone, which means working alone (unless you have a writing partner), unlike a job where you at least have coworkers to chat with and interact with and meet with and lunch with, is not for the faint at heart. I love the freedom of it all, though a lot of people I know say they could never do it. It all comes along with the writing territory though. It's just you and those computer keys, or you and that pen.

Eventually it pays off, and we can run off and hang out and go to the movies and shop and travel and chat on the phone for hours, but at times the rigors of writing do not allow for much socialization. And it's important that those people in your life understand those aspects that spell "I need alone time" and have patience. We come out of our writing cave eventually, though we should also remember that everything should be given the necessary attention in moderation. We need to know when to put writing on the back burner and step away from book nurturing to nurture those who we love, and to nurture self-love!

As reclusive as it can be, it's all part of the balancing act of the independent writer. A job where every day is an opportunity to write, holiday or not, weekend or not, hump day or not. Independence factor - sometimes rough, the results - priceless!

Happy 4th of July - Independence Day!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Six Novels a Year

Going to a revisit to a topic I've hit on before: Productivity.
More specifically the myth that writing well means writing slowly and its corollary: stories written quickly are no good.

Do not confuse typing fast with writing fast. Despite Mavis Beacon's best efforts, I am not a touch typist. I do use nine fingers (left thumb just sort of goes along for the ride) but not in the way the truly keyboard savvy do and I'm as likely to be watching them as the screen or my notebook. Though I have been known when under the gun to produce 1600 words each hour of four to six hour sessions, I normally cruise at about 600 words an hour when writing. Sometimes slower, sometimes faster – but at the end of the week when you divide the words I keep by the hours I spent writing it averages out to about 600. This is actually slower than the industry average. Most pros produce a page of prose every fifteen minutes. If you double space, have proper margins, and use a font large enough for the editor to read comfortably, a manuscript page is about 250 words. So a page every fifteen minutes is 250 words every fifteen minutes is 1000 words an hour.

A standard novel these days is about 90,000 words long. (Paperbacks from 50 years ago look like novellas because the official definition of "novel" is anything over 40,000 words. Publishers took that more seriously in the 60s.) At my cruising speed of 600 words an hour, a 90,000-word novel represents 150 hours of typing. At 1000 words an hour it's 90 hours of typing.

Of course, there's more to writing than typing. I spend a lot of time with a pad of graph paper mapping out plots in boxes and circles and connecting lines. I think visually, and the storyboard approach works best for me. I also research any locations or cultures or technologies I might use in a story (because I'm a luddite who doesn't get around much and ain't got no culture). In addition to preparation, many writers rewrite. I don't, in the classic sense; most people who earn a living writing don't. But some who know me have argued I rewrite constantly. Note the phrase "words I keep" above. I routinely delete half of what I've written as I'm writing – throwing out scenes that don't work and redoing them from the beginning. Though I'm quicker to slash and burn than most, this mid-course adjustment method is common. (Unless you're Harlan Ellison or Robert Heinlein or Isaac Asimov or Fred Faust; then your first draft is your only draft.)

Most of your researching is at the beginning of your project and most of your revising/polishing comes at the end, but for the sake of keeping my math simple I'm going to pretend the time spent is constant. In my experience, even when a lot of research is needed if you track your time you'll discover there's at most fifteen minutes of research for every hour of writing. And from what I've observed of revisers, every hour of writing engenders about half an hour of reviewing and polishing. Let's call it forty-five minutes just to be safe (and have round numbers to work with).

So pretend you're me (only better looking and prone to revision); you get 600 good words per hour on the page and you're determined to devote two hours six days a week to completing your 90,000 word novel. While the number of minutes you spend on each task will vary daily, on average those two hours will break down into 15 minutes of research, 60 minutes of writing, and 45 minutes of polishing. Working only twelve hours a week, you will have your novel ready for the publisher in twenty-five weeks. Just under six months. Take two weeks off before starting your next project and you'll be finishing (and submitting) two novels a year. Devote three hours a day, six days a week to your writing and you will produce a novel every four months; three novels a year. Four hours a day dedicated to writing (not surfing the net and reading blogs like this one) will produce four good novels a year.

This timeline applies only to my writing, of course. Everyone is different. Double the amount of time you spend on revision and research relative to writing, and twenty-four hours a week still renders two 90,000-word novels a year. Write faster and five or six novels a year are likely. In fact, six-novel-a-year writers are not at all unusual.

But. If people believe that novels written quickly are not written well, will they buy what you write if they see six new titles from you a year? Some writers (and publishers) are afraid of the fast books are trash books prejudice. That's why you see pen names like Ellis Peters or Richard Bachman or Kris Nelscott or J. D. Robb or Max Brand.

When war correspondent Fred Faust died in combat in WWII at age fifty-two he had been writing for thirty years and published five hundred novels. No, that is not a typo. 500 novels divided by 30 years renders something in the neighborhood of a novel every three weeks. Now remember, in those days a novel was only about 40,000 words; it would take him six weeks to write a modern 90k novel. Of course, he didn't just write novels. In addition to being a correspondent he was a screenwriter and wrote short stories. He was well aware of the prejudice against writers with work ethics and used dozens of pen names. It's been estimated that he had over 25 million words published in every genre and mainstream literature. And if you don't think fast writing produces good fiction, Google Frederick Schiller Faust.

But what if these numbers are all science fiction to you? What if on your best day you only produce 200 words an hour? It would take you 450 hours to complete a 90,000-word manuscript. That comes out to 90 minutes of writing a day, 6 days a week, for 50 weeks.

A novel a year is not a bad start at all.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mythology - Control

When I was first traditionally published (print pubs in NYC), I learned a lot of "dos and don'ts" for published authors. I have a  monthly forum here at Novel Spaces to ramble on, I mean share my knowledge. The next few posts will deal with some "rules" that I'm happy are getting stomped on by the rise of indie publishing. First up, lack of control.

I was told numerous times to just accept a basic fact, authors only have control over one thing: the quality of their writing. Everything else is in the hands of your publisher. Cover art, distribution, marketing on a national level, even the title of my books would be out of my hands. Not only that, but I couldn't do those things as well as my publisher anyway. Authors could give input on cover art and cover blurbs, but 99.9% of us had no veto power. Distribution and marketing were such that even if an author tried, they couldn't take a hand in those two. Agents told us, editors told us, publishing sales people told us, other established authors told us. Everybody was pushing the Kool-aid. Since I didn't know as much as them, I drank right up.

Six months ago I started on the indie publishing journey, and learned a whole new set of rules. On example: cover art. I was leery of taking a stab at designing covers, because I really believed the old rule. After all I wasn't an artist or graphic designer. Now I didn't do the actually layout and Photoshop, but I designed these covers by selecting the cover art, describing the layout I wanted and writing the cover copy. I think they're fab (bow to Pati Nagle of Mandala Design)

I enjoy having control and breaking the old rules. Or proving that in this new world the old rules are obsolete. Authors can get control of distribution. Enter Create Space, Smashwords, Lightening Source. Oh, and marketing? Most publishers did one or two ads (for romance authors it was typically Romantic Times Magazine back in the day), but that was it. Authors had to do most of the promotion and marketing themselves in reality. So doing my own marketing isn't actually a big change.

I still, of course, control the quality of my writing. But I love writing books I want to write. I'm not writing with someone looking over my shoulder shaking her head. I like the freedom. Ah, control. What a wonderful word.

Next month: Mythology: Writers Walking on Eggshells

Lynn Emery
Writing books with the kind of women we all want to be, and men want to get. Smart is the new sexy!
Buy my books at the Kindle Store, Nook Books, and Smashwords