Monday, March 31, 2008

My Day and I'm Blank


I knew today was my blog day. I thought about it all weekend and still I'm having a problem coming up with a topic. I guess I'll talk about what Rod Morris of Harvest House Publishing said about dialogue at the Central Oregon Writers Guild even though I'd rather discuss book trailers and book titles, but those are both selfish topics because I want to make a book trailer for the next release, and I'm trying to come up with catchy titles for the western series I'm working on.

But- the dialogue topic may be useful or insightful for you all, so that's what I'll discuss.

The first thing Mr. Morris said that stuck with me and I hadn't thought about is: "If someone came upon your characters speaking would the conversation be interesting enough for them to eavesdrop?" Think about it. How many times have we (as writers) listened into an interesting conversation? That's how he said your dialogue in a story should be. Interesting enough a passerby would want to eavesdrop.

Let dialogue SHOW emotions. He said if you use the right words you don't need to add tags such as - he said with anger. The words and the way you use them should covey the anger. He said he uses the abbreviation RUE for this. RUE- Resist the Urge to Explain.

He also said make sure your characters talk to each other and not the reader. Like the long pragraphs of dialogue where the character is telling about something that happened in the past more to get the reader up to speed than to be having a meaningful conversation with the other character.

And I learned a new term. "Beats". I'd never heard of it before. A beat is the sentence you put after a line of dialgue when you don't use a tag. "What do you mean I can't go?" Mary Ann stomped across the floor. Beats can either enable a reader to see the action of the scene, define a character, or can vary the rhythm of dialogue.

The part that fascinated me of the whole dialogue topic was when he discussed using diction in dialogue. The story I'm cleaning up right now has a Scotch character. I've sprinkled in Scots words to make her speech authentic and had thought about sprinkling in a few in her internals to make her internals sound more like her. Mr. Morris showed us two different versions of dialogue that was used indifferent books. One was written word for word like it would be heard. Once I got past the first couple of sentences and caught the cadence and authenticity of the words, I liked it, but he said it was too hard for the average reader. Then he showed us another piece of dialogue- set within the same culture but having placed the words differently and left out all the diction. It read smoother, but didn't have the same flavor for me. But of course it was the one he said was the better of the two. So that leaves me wondering if I need to back off on the Scots words I'm using and sprinkle in fewer. Tough decision for me to make.

And that last bit was the only real eye opener for me on dialogue, but it is always good to hear things over and over to keep me on track.

What are some of your favorite dialogue do's and don'ts? Do you like a story laced with a characters true diction or do you find it a tough read?

(Eli- I have no clue when this book will be out, so please don't put the cover up anywhere!! It happens to be the book with the Scots dialect in it)


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Saturday Challenge Checkin






I jumped the gun so I could get this up since I volunteered to be the moderator for this round of challenges.

The pictures are the reason why I didn't make my goal this week. These two mischeif-makers spent the week. I managed to get through three chapters with some editing and stayed up to date on e-mails and blogs, but that's it. Now I know why I didn't start seriously working toward a writing career until my last child was in high school.


I'm also gone again this weekend.


So antey up- who accomplished what this week?


My CP, who has been working on a project for what seems like forever, finished the first draft yesterday. I am so excited and happy for her! And I can't wait for her to send it to me to critique!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rats!

Howdy from Central Oregon!!

Technically, I'm on vacation. The DH and I are in Black Butte with the Gremlins enjoying a few days away. In reality, I'm working - complete with laptop - as I try to finish up this book of mine. (Last night I actually listed out the rest of the scenes I have to write...I think I'm down to ten! Wahoo!) While on vacation, we've been watching movies (something I rarely do), and last night's choice was I Am Legend with Will Smith.

Okay, pretty good premise. I even enjoyed it - freaky mutant people aside. Normally these kind of movies give me nightmares, but this one? Not so much.

*Ahem*

Wait. Let me rephrase that.

The freaky, virus-infested, screaming fang people didn't give me nightmares. The rats did.

In case you haven't seen this movie, let me sum it up for you quickly. Will Smith is the last man on the planet. Researchers found a cure for cancer - a virus they altered which killed cancer cells. However, this virus mutated and became airborn and infected the entire human population, creating rabies-like results in the hosts, turning people into said freaky, virus-infested, screaming fang creatures. (Who need to eat - obviously - and guess who they feed on?). Will Smith (and a handful of other people you meet near the end of the movie) are immune to the virus.

Okay. So now that you're caught up, let me tell you about the rats. Will's trying to find the vaccine. He's a researcher, catching weird fang people and testing his vaccine on them. But first he tries his vaccines on rats, and there's one scene where the virus-infected rats (with HUGE fangs) are stuck in Plexiglas cages trying to get to him. They're rabid. And evil. And completely N-A-S-T-Y.

Am I normally wigged out by rats? Not any more than the average person. Then why did this scene strike me so bad? Oh, let me tell you...

Over Easter, my family got together. My younger brother and his wife live in Corvallis (she's a professor at OSU). They're renting a house in a nice neighborhood. While we were eating, my brother (so nice of him) told us that one night a few days ago he heard a strange splashing noise in the bathroom. He got up, walked down the hall, looked into the dimly lit room and saw something climbing out of the toilet. Thinking he was imagining things, he inched into the bathroom for a closer look, narrowed his eyes and realized it was a RAT! Coming up through the sewage pipes!

He immediately slammed the toilet seat down, grabbed a full hamper and set it on the lid so the rat couldn't get out, then proceeded to freak out. After running down the hall to wake my sister-in-law, they both went back only to discover the rat was gone. It had slithered back out through the sewage pipes, the way it had come in.

In the morning when they called the city, they were told, "Yeah. That happens in cities."

(This is where I scream, "I DON'T WANT TO KNOW THAT!!!")

Supposedly, the city was going to send someone to set traps in the manholes on their streets, but at the time my brother told this story, it had yet to happen. In the meantime they were told to "keep an eye out." (This is me screaming again!) Later, they learned their neighbor had a rat come into their house the same way. Except (sorry to gross you out here), the wife discovered the rat when she went to use the facilities.

*shudder*

The rat scene in I Am Legend normally wouldn't have affected me so greatly, but after this story, it's all I can think about. Something coming up through my toilet is a great fear of mine. Aside from not watching that movie again, I've told my brother I'm not visiting his house either.

Are there any scenes - from books or movies - that you can't handle because of a personal fear or experience? Any scenes you can't write for that very reason? Maybe something that - to the average person - seems completely harmless?

(This is where I admit to having a large fowl fear as well...turkeys, geese, swans....scccccaaaaarrrry....You definitely won't find Big Bird in any of my books.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

ADD YOUR OWN SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION!




Woof!*
*Translation: The first time I saw you, you were pointing a gun at me.

So begins the interview with Jasper, the dog in my first release, SONGS OF THE HEART.

Since I won't be blogging again between now and my release date, I'm taking this opportunity for shameless self promotion. (I sure miss Wavy's Tuesday blogs that listed chapter members' accomplishments and upcoming events!)

Starting at midnight on April 4 I'm celebrating the release of my first book with a cyber release party. Every 4 hours, I'll post a new interview with characters from SONGS OF THE HEART and draw another name for a basket of goodies relating to that character. No, you won't get half-chewed shoes for Jasper's basket!

All this leads up to the grand prize drawing at 8:00 p.m. in a final interview with the hero and heroine. More details are available on my Web site at www.genenevalleau.com.

I have to admit I'm fairly new to e-books. However, since my first book won't be available in print version until May, I'm learning! The instructions say obtaining an e-book is as easy as (1) choose a format, (2) download, and (3) double-click to read. OK, I know I have to pay for the book somewhere in there, but I like the idea of buying a book without having to change out of my sweats and making myself presentable in public.

Am I going to give up my paper books? Naw -- I'll order some of those also when they are released in May. In the meantime, I'm broadening my horizons with e-books, and I'll also be able to get my book on CDs.

How about you? What writing accomplishments do you want to share and what upcoming events do you have planned? Please share so I don't feel totally selfish. :)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Gunga Din


Flo is going to be a hard act to follow, not only because of her insightful blog, but also because of her thoughtful responses.

My blog today is about …. Signature. And audience. What do the two have in common?

Let me explain. Recently, there was a blog about the value of not repeating yourself and how disenchanted a reader might become with a writer who tends to do the same things in book after book. In theory, I wholeheartedly agree with that opinion.

And yet… I also know that I, like many writers, tend to tell a certain kind of story in a certain kind of way. This was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago when I watched the first half hour of Gunga Din, the 1939 movie which is a loose adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's poem of the same name.

I read somewhere that this was one of Cary Grant's first movies. I'm a big fan of Cary Grant though I had never seen this film. I'd seen many of the later ones, though, and I knew about his charming ways. Debonair, handsome, sophisticated and yet vulnerable, he was a certain era's ideal of a lovable playboy. But this, remember, was, if not his first film, one of the first, perhaps the one that launched him into stardom.

And you know what? That twenty something year old Cary Grant was every inch the same guy who made Arsenic and Old Lace in 1944 and Charade in 1963, almost twenty-five years later, both movies which I adored in the past and still watch whenever I can. Many of the same mannerisms, the same charm, the same man. I loved this guy when I was a kid and his movies were shown on television, and I still enjoy him. And no one else did what he did in the way in which he did it.

His acting was a signature of sorts. Plus, he knew his audience.

I think this is something to balance the fear that can grip you when you find yourself writing a book that seems reminiscent of another book you have already written. I'm not talking about exact events or predictable situations, I'm talking about format, perhaps, or maybe just an overall feeling the book has and the way in which you approach different parts of the writing. Maybe you have to write umpteen books for this fear to kick in, I don't know, but it's bound to occur to you at some point. And while I always strive to find a new road and not do the same thing repeatedly, I also have to admit, that there is a method, an unconscious one for sure, to the way I think of and construct a story. It's a method that comes from somewhere deep within as we all know I'm not all that analytical, but it's there.

And hopefully I also know my audience. I think it's wonderful my husband enjoys my stories, but the truth is, he is not my buying audience. And while he might enjoy a bloodier gunfight now and again, that's not always on my -- or my audience's agenda. I don't think in genres, I think in stories and my stories reflect me. If I were an actor, I imagine there would be scripts I would reject, if I were a movie director, there would be material I was drawn to bring to life.

I am not suggesting that writers, actors and directors do the same thing over and over again. I am simply stating -- in a general way that is not a universal statement -- that there is within most writers and perhaps most creative souls, a certain viewpoint and voice and a methodology and that it's okay. If it's enjoyable to readers -- to the artist's target audience -- it will keep them looking for their work. It will make their work distinctive, and it might be as hard to change as a fingerprint.

I cannot speak for everyone, nor would I presume to do so. But when I read a favorite author's work spanning twenty years -- say it's twenty books -- all in a row, say within twenty weeks -- I see the patterns, I hear the voice and if now and then I glimpse the same thing in myself -- well, it's okay.

Signature

Flo is going to be a hard act to follow, not only because of her insightful blog, but also because of her thoughtful responses.

My blog today is about …. Signature. And audience. What do the two have in common?

Let me explain. Recently, there was a blog about the value of not repeating yourself and how disenchanted a reader might become with a writer who tends to do the same things in book after book. In theory, I wholeheartedly agree with that opinion.

And yet… I also know that I, like many writers, tend to tell a certain kind of story in a certain kind of way. This was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago when I watched the first half hour of Gunga Din, the 1939 movie which is a loose adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's poem of the same name.

I read somewhere that this was one of Cary Grant's first movies. I'm a big fan of Cary Grant though I had never seen this film. I'd seen many of the later ones, though, and I knew about his charming ways. Debonair, handsome, sophisticated and yet vulnerable, he was a certain era's ideal of a lovable playboy. But this, remember, was, if not his first film, one of the first, perhaps the one that launched him into stardom.

And you know what? That twenty something year old Cary Grant was every inch the same guy who made Arsenic and Old Lace in 1944 and Charade in 1963, almost twenty-five years later, both movies which I adored in the past and still watch whenever I can. Many of the same mannerisms, the same charm, the same man. I loved this guy when I was a kid and his movies were shown on television, and I still enjoy him. And no one else did what he did in the way in which he did it.

His acting was a signature of sorts. Plus, he knew his audience.

I think this is something to balance the fear that can grip you when you find yourself writing a book that seems reminiscent of another book you have already written. I'm not talking about exact events or predictable situations, I'm talking about format, perhaps, or maybe just an overall feeling the book has and the way in which you approach different parts of the writing. Maybe you have to write umpteen books for this fear to kick in, I don't know, but it's bound to occur to you at some point. And while I always strive to find a new road and not do the same thing repeatedly, I also have to admit, that there is a method, an unconscious one for sure, to the way I think of and construct a story. It's a method that comes from somewhere deep within as we all know I'm not all that analytical, but it's there.

And hopefully I also know my audience. I think it's wonderful my husband enjoys my stories, but the truth is, he is not my buying audience. And while he might enjoy a bloodier gunfight now and again, that's not always on my -- or my audience's agenda. I don't think in genres, I think in stories and my stories reflect me. If I were an actor, I imagine there would be scripts I would reject, if I were a movie director, there would be material I was drawn to bring to life.

I am not suggesting that writers, actors and directors do the same thing over and over again. I am simply stating -- in a general way that is not a universal statement -- that there is within most writers and perhaps most creative souls, a certain viewpoint and voice and a methodology and that it's okay. If it's enjoyable to readers -- to the artist's target audience -- it will keep them looking for their work. It will make their work distinctive, and it might be as hard to change as a fingerprint.

I cannot speak for everyone, nor would I presume to do so. But when I read a favorite author's work spanning twenty years -- say it's twenty books -- all in a row, say within twenty weeks -- I see the patterns, I hear the voice and if now and then I glimpse the same thing in myself -- well, it's okay.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Trust Your Writer's Instincts

I'm posting this for our newest member, Flo. You go, Flo!

Way back in the 1990's, after the publisher of my first two historical romances was shut down, I had some rejections. I then started getting this strong urge (writer's instinct) to research and write a proposal set in England. My agent then thought I should stick to American-based settings, which were hot at the time, not English. My gut instinct told me to send that proposal out on my own, but I failed to follow it. Instead, I turned my focus to reading and writing category romance. Historical romances dropped off my personal radar until ten months later, when I visited a book store and suddenly noticed that almost every single release was English, Scottish, or Medieval based.

Yowsa.

Was I psychic? Was this a coincidence? Nope. I think what happened was that my writer's instinct, well honed by years of following and studying the market, had kicked in.

A while after the above event, when a different, equally talented agent I had didn't want to represent one of my category romance proposals, I submitted it on my own. Even later, when a third agent in a contest didn't care for my pitch on a different book, I wrote it anyway and submitted it. These were ideas that my instincts told me were different enough and that kept me excited through the writing. Both books sold.

So if your intuition tells you to write something for a long enough time, there might be a good reason. Possibly, the emotion in that idea is holding you captive, and it could well do the same to an editor. Or the idea is innovative, or fresh enough to sell, even if the trend is almost washed away.

How do you hone these instincts?
Studying your genre or targeted publisher with an intense focus is one way. I don't mean just reading, I mean intensely reading and studying. For the three months before I started writing a category romance, I read fifty-two of them. That gave me an instinctive feel, I believe, for the rhythms of category writing and for how each of my targeted lines differed, as well as what plot lines were fresh, underdone, or not used yet. Ditto on the Inspirational romance market.

Not only read, though. When I finished a book, I would jot down the title, release date and author, and what I strongly liked about it, and what I really didn't like in it. If I had only a lukewarm reaction to some part of the book, I did not note it. The idea with these notes is to see what elicits strong reactions, good and bad, to help hone your instincts about what makes an appealing book so it will sell.

Another way of getting an instinct for possible market changes is reading writers' emails in loops to see what plot lines they are working on. When I was a writing instructor for a correspondence course in the 1990's, I critiqued many, many proposals from all across the country. I received a lot of the following plot line: a woman, hurt by her husband or long time boyfriend, starts all over again. I spent a lot of time telling students these were not category romance and back when this was going on, there wasn't a huge market for these books. But then, not too long afterwards, the chick-lit and women's fiction waves hit. The market for my students' proposals opened wide. I've heard about this "idea plain" in the sky that drops ideas, but I think what people write might more reflect current news and trends in society (at least in contemporary fiction.) The eighties and nineties were a time of marriages falling apart in greater numbers, and these stories were begging to be told.

So watch news and documentaries to see if some subject makes your mouth drop open or arouses your emotions--if it grabs you, it might grab an editor. If watching true crime shows on lost children makes you understand or see a pattern in kidnapings , that revelation could become a hook. My February book started after I saw a brutal murderer who was set free from lack of evidence. Later, they found the unarguable evidence that he was guilty--and could not arrest him for it again. That whole episode just wouldn't let go of me.

So how about you? Have you ever just felt with all your heart that your proposal is something you just have to get out there? Is there an idea niggling at you that won't let go, but it seems crazy to try it, based on what you know about today's market or on your own abilities? (Try it anyway.)

Or does the whole idea of writers' instincts make your head explode? Maybe you call it something else? Do you have other suggestions for honing your writer's instincts when it comes to creativity?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sources of inspiration...

I know I've blogged about this before, but it's very timely for me, and possibly enjoyable for you. A couple of years ago, I learned of this annual calendar put out by the French Rugby Team. It's a near-nude calendar of actual rugby players, in their natural form. No airbrushing, shaving, etc. Personally, I find it lovely to look at. For those of you itching to Google (ya, I know who you are) it's called Dieux du Stade (2005 was a good year).

Well, as I'm working toward finishing my current WIP, of course I'm getting inklings of ideas for my next book. And guess what it's about? RUGBY! Hehe. So I found that in 2005 (yup, like I said, a good year) they put out a book in addition to the calendar. And there are these two Italian brothers on the team...Anyway...fanning self. I just found out that my book arrived off Ebay today (I'll avoid the details on all the problems I had) and I'm about to open it. Real time folks...

Opening box... (he shipped it in a priority mail box turned inside out, then sent it via media mail so I got stuck paying an extra $12.36 upon pickup. Ooops, did I say I wouldn't go into the story? Sorry, I'm still P.O.'d).

Nice job bubble wrapping. These men must be protected. All those muscles...

Removing from bubble wrap...

Oooh Italian brother on the cover. Book is much larger than I thought. Difficult to hide under bed...

Ummm...okay...I lied...it's not always near-nude...hmm circumcision isn't an international thing I take it...

The Italian brothers! Yaaaaay! Man they look good. Ok, so the reason I bought this book, in addition to the obvious fact that they are gorgeous men, is to get an idea of the 'rugby body.' Do you buy that? Good, I hope so. I thought it would help me write the rugby book. I was also thinking that a photo shoot might be involved, and what better way to write about a photo shoot than look at a book of rugby photos? Hmmm?

Back to the point of this blog (yes, there was kind of a point) - I need visual inspiration many times when I write. I can't think of a person as a character, I need to find photos of real people. I like to find photos of rooms or cities to describe. And, I like to find photos of naked rugby players.

Have you every bought a book of inspiration? Made a collage? Keep a word document with character info and pictures? Have a bulletin board of hotties? Or is this level of character pre-planning giving you hives?

And a treat for your Monday and beacuse I'm in a beyond fantastic mood - some pictures of the book as I was looking through it (gotta love cell cameras)...

Oh, and in the words of my dear friend and co-worker: "Look at the shading and the tonality. Amazing production on the work (about a minute later); well, I can see why you paid that much in shipping." ;)

The cover












Mud wrestling takes on a whole new light...











My rugby hero is SO having this tattoo

The Italian brothers (and no Eli, they aren't gay.)






Sunday, March 23, 2008

Paty's EPPIE


Check-In!

Hoppy Easter!!!

*Quack, Quack*

(Do you know how hard it is for me to put a duck picture up on the blog?????)

Kendra emailed me and pointed out no one posted a challenge check-in yesterday (Paty? Paty? Are you out there?), so I'm taking over. It's 9:51 am, my kids have been up since six, I've had coffee and my fair share of hard boiled eggs. Now I'm sitting down to *try* to write before we head over to G'ma's house for Easter dinner. (Good luck...the Gremlins are on a sugar high already.)

So how did you do this week? I admit my week was not as productive as I would have liked. The kids were off school due to conferences, my girlfriend and I took them to Black Butte for a few days to chill, but they proceeded to argue and make noise and I ended up entertaining them more than I did writing. Total word count was only 8553 for the week. This week they're home for spring break and the forecast is calling for rain, so we'll see how much I get done, cooped up in the house with them. (Aye ya ya...) Gotta make sure I hit that 10 pages per day so I can get this thing done and move on to my revisions.

How did you do this week?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Just the Facts, or Not so Much

FICTION VS. NON FICTION

I've thought about the differences between fiction and non fiction a lot this past week. And since so many of us started our writing careers doing non fiction stuff -- Genene and Karen with text writing to go with their design work, Wavy, Lisa and Eli with school papers, maybe trade journal-type stuff, Lori with her magazine work, and Paty, Piper, Wavy and I with our journalism experience, (am I leaving anyone out?)it seemed a relevant subject to post about.

Some things are always the same, whether fact or fiction. Like using ACTIVE VERBS & STRONG, DESCRIPTIVE NOUNS. Even "dry" non fiction reading material can be jazzed up with a thoughtful choice of nouns and verbs.

But what about LET'S STICK TO THE FACTS, MA'AM? Fact checking is important to both fiction and non fiction. Of course we have greater leeway with our fictional stories -- we get to come up with fictional towns, fantasy worlds and islands (thinking of you here, Alice) pretend names and quirks for our characters, and fake situations -- but still, we need to make sure our facts, such as historic dates, or information about specific occupations is dead on.

Although PASSIVE LANGUAGE is heavily frowned upon in novel-writing -- and one of my personal pet peeves -- it seems it's hardly noticed in journalism and other non fiction areas. Why is this? Two reasons, I believe. Lazy or hurried writing by journalists. To quote Richard Gere's column-writing character in 'Runaway Bride': "Journalism is literature in a hurry". With daily deadlines always looming, reporters have very limited time for proof-reading and story tweaking. Reporters hope the editors will catch the flub ups, but they are as harried as the the writers. The other reason I believe passive language isn't such a big deal in the journalism world is, as with mystery writing, journalists don't always have a subject to pin the sentence to. Like writing mysteries, the facts are not always revealed in the beginning. For mystery, passive language is, of course, used to prolong the suspense. In a breaking news story, the facts are never all available in the beginning. Sometimes there is only a crime to write about, but no suspect. Where the heck is the subject to attach the sentence action to?

This and THAT. That is sort of a no-no, raise-the-red-flag word in fiction writing. As novelists, we use it, then we go back and take out every one (that) we can. In writing non fiction, I find myself not using the work that in the first place, then going back and adding several thats back in. In journalism, the story must always be simple to understand, or you lose your readers. That is a little word that often clears that up.


FORMULA WRITING. In fiction we can break all the rules. But there are still rules: Turning points, black moments, resolution; goal, motivation, conflict: Don't use too much flashback, too many dream sequences (unless you're writing Alice in Wonderland) or ramble on with go-nowhere scenes. In hard news writing -- murder, mayhem and car wrecks, say -- there is an even stricter formula: Open with a nut graff, which translates to give them the pared down story in the first paragraph. Also, the first quote should be an eye-cather. The last quote should be interesting. End with a conclusive paragraph. The reason behind this rather dull-to-write formula is simple. People are in a hurry. They skim the news and often don't get any further into a story than the first paragraph or two. (How depressing is that for the writer? And we thought rejections were bad!) The formulaic style of writing doesn't leave a ton of leeway for creativity, but that's the challenge, I suppose. Now with feature writing, my favorite, there is more opportunities to lope into a story, instead of entering at a breakneck gallop -- as long as the writer doesn't dawdle long -- and the author can embellish, use a clever turn of prose here and there, and make the piece fun (hopefully)to read.

So, what do you think? Does non fiction writing help or hinder your fiction work? How? Please feel free to use some examples.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Writing outside the box


Good grief, I started this blog three different times, writing about three different subjects, and I just couldn't get into any of them. Aargh! I'm uninspired today. Then I started thinking about genres and how they're progressively changing, and I have strong opinions about this. Well, there you go. That's my topic for today's blog.

My name is Karen and I'm a genre bender. That's right, I admit it. I braid genres like a sailor braids knots in a rope. I twist adventure with mythology and thread romance through it while coloring the strands with paranormal elements ranging from the traditional to the totally made-up. I'm a crooked storyteller and proud of it.

I can't write a straight anything. I've tried. I get bored. I like to mix it up and I love reading other books that mix it up. I'm very excited to see more and more genre benders on the shelves and I feel this trend of multiple genre bending is on the rise, but it's a tough sell to agents and publishers who are afraid to take risks.

I think it's funny how so many of the small presses have taken on genre-benders when the big mass market publishers turned them away. If it's new, the big guys look at it askance, then wait and watch to see how the little guys do with it. When the new genre blend becomes popular, the big guys swoop in and make a killing. I just wish the smaller publishers could reap more reward than they do for taking the risk in the first place.

I'm thinking about all this genre stuff as I go through the sloooow and laborious process of finding an agent to champion my genre-bending book. Who will dare to take on something different? I mean, if any agent was to ask me what my book was similar to, all I could do is blink. My novel's not similar to anything else I've read. So does that mean it's the red-headed bastard step child of fiction? Or is it the proverbial diamond in the rough. For my sake, I hope it's the latter.

It's good to be fresh and original, and to write outside the box as long as you can still tell what the box is. I'm not exactly sure I've accomplished this, but I've sure tried. And I love the result. Question is, will an agent love it, too? How about you? What is it about your writing that makes your story unique?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

THIS Is Why I Write Romance

I feel the need to vent. And I'm sorry to do it here, but I've had about enough.

Am I the only woman in America who is fed up with the constant press coverage of the Elliot Spitzer scandal?

The hubby and I have a morning routine - coffee and The Today Show while we go about getting up and ready for the day. This is literally the only time I watch TV during the day, the only time I pay a bit of attention to the news. And generally just the first half hour with the headlines and "most important" interviews. The last two weeks though, all the rage on the Today Show is this big sex scandal. First it was the NY governor who was caught in a prostitution ring. Then it was the fact he used tax payer dollars and had his tryst with the prostitute the day before Valentine's Day (and the focus was way more on the Valentine's thing rather than the tax payer dollar thing, but...whatever). Then Monday it was the Lieutenant Governor (now the new Governor) admitting he had several extramarital affairs ten years ago when he found out his wife was cheating on him (though they're still married now and are *supposedly* happy). Then TODAY I hear former NJ Governor John Corzine (who, you remember, stepped down a bit ago because his gay affair came out) has leaked to the press that he and his wife had another man in their bed with them while they were dating and into their marriage, thereby stating she's a hypocrite for rising to the aid of Spitzer's wife in the last week.

Am I the only one who's ready to say, who the hell cares?????

*sigh*

The sad fact is, I do care. Not about what idiots these people are (and let's face it, they are idiots. One for thinking they wouldn't get caught, two for GETTING caught, and three, for airing their dirty laundry in public), but about the constant focus on infidelity and where marriage seems to be going in this country. About the "experts" who are all over the tv and radio spouting off statistics saying humans are not meant to be monogamous and that it goes against our biological instincts, how men like Spitzer have an over-abundance of testosterone and therefore have a built-in excuse for being cheaters. About how the US Culture is "against the norm" in their view of monogomous relationships and how other cultures view sex and marriage as two different species.

This morning my running partner and I were talking about The Color Sex Test Jenna Bayley-Burke told us about at the meeting last night (which is just for fun), and in our discussion (before I even brough up any of the Spitzer stuff above), she started telling me about a massage she got a few years ago after she ran the Chicago Marathon. She'd gone in for a relaxation massage the next day and had a masseuse named Helga from Eastern Europe. Helga proceeded to explain to her that her "tension" wasn't from normal muscle aches and pains from running 26 miles, but from repressed sexual tension in her body due to the fact the American culture has strict limitations on monogamy. Of course, my running partner (happily married for over 15 yrs) told Helga to take a flying leap, then proceeded to laugh her ass off...but seriously? Is this what people think?

I'm reminded of the book sale Karen posted on the loop the other day - the one about the woman telling her husband he can have as many sexual trysts as he wants just so long as he tells her about them and submits to her "punishments". Is it no wonder fifty percent of marriages end in divorce these days and that fidelity *appears* to be the exception, not the norm?

My hubby and I have been married for 16 yrs. Every marriage has its rough patches. Some work, some don't, but no marriage is always easy. I got lucky, and I'd marry my guy again in a heartbeat. (After all, I finally have him trained...I'm not starting fresh with someone new! LOL) We've been discussing this whole thing a lot lately, especially this idea that men, especially, have this ingrained need to "spread their seed", and all I have to say is, that's bull*&#! It's easy to get bored and look to someone else - that whole 'the grass is greener on the other side thing' - but we all know it never makes the cheater happy. All it ever does is make everyone involved miserable. And that's why I have such an issue with the media putting this big emphasis on the whole NY sex scandal thing. Get over it. Move on. Stop giving these people the press they obviously want and focus on something positive.

Why do I write romance? To prove these people wrong. Happily ever after DOES exist, monogomy IS real, and contrary to what some people think...it's not just fiction.

*end of rant*

Anyone else had it with this whole thing?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

SAY IT YOUR WAY

Creating and adding your own personal cliches and sayings spells another unique way to showcase your voice and writing style. Of course you have to get them right, otherwise, you’ll leave your reader up a tree without a paddle. What? That doesn’t make any sense. Exactly my point. Writers need to make sure their sayings and cliches fit the character or setting and brings things into focus rather than confuses or loses your readers.

In the right dialog context ‘up a tree without a paddle’ will make perfect sense if you have a character who is forever mixing, twisting and murdering cliches and sayings. Don’t forget to take advantage of opportunities to showcase your characters unique personalities and your own unique writing style. In one of my books I have a character who says, “pickled feathers.” Though there’s no such thing, it fits my young character when she’s frustrated.

Now, I couldn’t see a stern judge sitting behind the bench frustrated over the slow process of a trial making the same comment. It just wouldn’t work. If he’s a fisherman in his spare time he would be more apt to say, “Gut the fish and pull out the details.”

Here are a few sayings I’ve come across:
Hotter than Satan's armpit.
A winks as good as a nod to a blind mule.
He's as subtle as a pig squealing for his supper.
His mind is quickly turning duller than a butter knife.
She would make a train take a dirt road.
If he were any more stupid, he'd have to be watered twice a week.

And my favorite:
The two of you could both put your heads in a thimble and still have room for the finger.

Don’t be afraid to spin a few sayings and cliches of your own into your books. Please share some of your favorites.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ageless Characters



Since connecting books (well in my case) series books has been brought up here on the blog, I'm going to throw out my latest quandry.

The connecting books you are all talking about won't have the problem I'm facing, but I thought all your brillant minds put together might help me make the decision. I'm in the planning stages of a series (15-20) books if all goes well. They will be along the lines of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series and Sue Grafton's alpahbet series. Over the years thier two characters haven't aged much and being as they are set in the present or what was present at the time of the stories they don't seem to worry to much about a timeline.

But, I'm planning a historical series set in the 1880's and, if all goes well, could go into the 1890's. My goal was to use factual events in the books- ie; train and bank hold ups, assassinations, that sort of thing. Which means, I would have to research and find enough events in chronological order so the books didn't bounce from 1888 back to 1884. My best guessimate is to have three books fit one year. So three consecutive books would come out written in the year 1885 and so on. My problem with this is by the time I get to 1889-90 my characters will have had to have aged ten years and that's a long time for the heroine to keep the hero interested and not marry him.

Or do you believe a reader could extend the belief and if written right they wouldn't mind the notion if after ten years of cat and mouse the couple finally marry? Or do readers even think about the time frame if the stories have taken them on a journey? My plan is to have a HEA for secondary characters in every book, but the two main characters relationship will be stretched out until she finally gives in.

I'm interested in all your takes on this.

BTW- the picture is of my newest grand'kids'!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

CHALLENGE CHECK-IN


Everyone needs a friend, right?

Usually, after finishing a book, I take a long hiatus during which I am sure I will never write again. This time, I have found I miss having a book to work on and so am busily plotting three interconnected books. I don't know for sure how you guys do it, but for me there's a lot of hit and miss and what-ifs, etc.

So, I am working, though not with the daily grind of a deadline. Being a self starter (which has turned out to be a good thing as a writer) I'm plugging along, trying on ideas and scenarios like a debutante in search of the perfect dress for a cotillion.
Maybe the lace one, maybe the satin, which color?

How about you?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Write What You DON'T Know

(I'm posting for Eli today, and she's posting for me on Tuesday. I'll be taking Tavy home to St. Louis for Easter. Think good traveling thoughts for us!)

Write what you know. It's sage advice that's become a cliche. I've been teaching basic writing for several semesters, and I've certainly found that students have an easier time writing about themselves. When you're struggling for ideas or AN idea, ANY idea, writing about the familiar can be comforting.

It's no surprise that memoir is so hot (to the point that people are trying to pass fiction off as memoir, but I digress)--people enjoy writing about their own lives. Why are so many fictional characters aspiring authors? Because WE'RE aspiring writers who once had boring day jobs. So we populate our books with book editors, publicists, magazine writers and editors, columnists, writers, professors, food writers, critics and others of the literary ilk. A lot times our characters even LOOK like us--or what we'd LIKE to look like.

My first three books were definitely of the write-what-you-know variety. Heroine #1 is a public defender in the Midwest (where I was born and raised). Heroine #2 is a curvy, smart girl who loves sweets. Heroine #3 is an insurance agent working in a small Oregon town. I haven't really had to do research for any of my books. But write-what-you-know hasn't exactly saved me from serious writer's block. Still, my purple idea book is littered with write-what-you-know ideas.

Why then am I currently gripped by a plot and characters that are VERY out of my element? I can't seem to NOT write this story. However, I'm worried that I can't pull it off. Hero is Hispanic, and I don't have a lot of personal connection to this culture. Heroine is a doctor, and I'm clearly not a doctor, although my hypochondria has given me a Google M.D. They live in Chicago, and while I've visited, I've never lived there. Oh, and there's a serial killer--this isn't exactly my usual romantic comedy fare.

Do you need to have a personal connection to write characters of other races? Is it possible to write authentic out-of-your-element stories? I know it is--many NYT bestsellers to back that idea up, but I think I'm worried that I personally can't pull it off and would be better off pursuing a different story.

What do you do? Can you tell when an author is writing outside her scope of experience? What gives it away? Do you write about what you know? When did you make the leap to writing out-of-your-element stories? What do you do to ensure their success? Research? Interviews? Anyone have good resources for a bilingual character?

LET'S MAKE WRITING FUN!

Wow, Alice! You provided another tough blog act to follow. But I'll give it a whirl.

I mentioned in my comment that I recently discovered something about myself. I prefer to do fun, easy things that show immediate results. How can someone with that personality trait write a 300-or-so page book? Good question, and that may be why it's previously taken me a long time to produce a book.

So I've decided to come up with ways to make each part of the writing process fun and easy.

Being an office supply junkie, my first step in writing a book is to stop by an office supply store to buy an easel pad, several dozen packages of sticky notes in a variety of colors, highlighters -- in at least a dozen different colors, and clear pushpins (unless, of course, I can find pushpins in the same color as the sticky notes so they don't distract from the color scheme I will use for plotting).

On the way home, I stop by the mall to leave breath prints on the display cases at the candy store -- no drooling allowed and I can't actually purchase any chocolate because I gave up sugar years ago. However, I do encourage others to eat twice as much chocolate so my share doesn't go to waist -- I mean waste. As consolation for no chocolate, I stop by the book store before leaving the mall to buy an extra book (or two or half dozen) for "research."

Back in the car, I drive as close as possible to the nearest Starbucks to smell the coffee. I don't drink coffee, but love the smell! I also make a mental note to stop by the used book store in case they have some gotta-have-em research books in the $2 bin or in the freebie box out front.

Once at home, I greet and feed the herd of dogs. After eating, it's nap time or, for a nice change, a soak in a bubble bath. This is prime time for percolating ideas -- I am plotting a book, after all. If the grandkids have left soap crayons in bathroom, ideas can be written on the tile walls. Drawing lines on the grout between tiles counts as cleaning if I turn on the shower when I'm finished and rinse the tiles. Note to self: don't forget to copy ideas down on paper before rinsing the walls! By the time I am soaked to prune-wrinkled consistency, the major plot points should have bubbled into my mind and can be written down on the easel pages which now line the wall of my office.

Whew! I probably should celebrate all I've accomplished by calling a friend and going out to dinner. After all, I'll need to keep up my strength to start playing What-If with the sticky notes tomorrow.

The morning dawns bright and sunny. However, I remember that some authors dream fully realized plots, so I retrieve the blankets from the dogs who have stolen them in the night and go back to sleep. I wake up two hours later to the excited barking of my youngest dogs, who are chasing the squirrels from window to window around the house, but no memories of a dream.

However, that's OK. I've decided to make a game of seeing how many pads of sticky notes I can fill with ideas in one day. A different color for each character and each plot point. Fun and easy, right?

Since my e-book publisher responds very quickly and wants to see a full manuscript with submissions, my plotting goes beyond the first three chapters and slides into the Three Weird Sisters (to borrow Alice's term for beginning, middle and end). To plot the entire book, forms are fun! So I print out forms onto which I can transfer all the ideas from my sticky notes. A form for each character, a form for each scene. Gosh, I may have to go back to the office supply store to buy colored paper to coordinate with the colors of my sticky notes. And maybe I should do storyboards for each major character and each setting in my story...

OK, much of the above was written in jest. However, I do have fun with plotting. Then at some point in all this fun, I realize I haven't actually written much of the story yet. So I "get serious" and sit down at the keyboard to write. But does switching to "serious" really help the writing go faster and smoother? Or does it just add tension to the shoulders?

What do you think? Have you ever written a book that you enjoyed ALL the way through? Do you celebrate smaller victories, such as writing 1000 words in a day? Is the challenge check-in a celebration for you? Do you treat yourself to something special when you reach the half-way point of the book or when you finish a scene that was particularly difficult? If you do something special, what is it? If you decided to celebrate smaller accomplishments before you actually write "the end," what would your reward be?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

STAGES

I want to talk about writing today, but first let's be clear on our definition. Encarta English Dictionary gives us the following:

Writing writ·ing n
1. words or other symbols, for example, hieroglyphics, written down as a means of communication
2. written material, especially considered as the product of a writer’s skill
3. the activity of creating written works, especially as a job
4. the letters and words formed on a page by somebody using a pen or pencil, or the style in which somebody writes

I'll take #3 for two hundred, Alex.

For me, the creation of a book tends to fall into definite stages. These are arguable, of course, and are composed of different factors for different writers, but the following are mine:

1. Plotting. This is a big one. This encompasses all the what-ifs that meld together to create a cohesive journey. For Danita, it might include a dream. For me, it's a lot of thought centered around a core idea from which massive extrapolation takes place, layer upon layer, building a viable backstory from which a current story springs. Add a precipitating event, light a match to the end of the fuse, and stand back as the clock starts ticking toward the culminating explosion. It starts here, and again, arguably, forms the most intensely creative act of all.
2. The submission package.
• Synopsis
• First paragraph
• First three chapters
• Query letter (for some)
3. Contract. This is the checkered flag that begins the race. As I believe Sherlock would say, "The game's afoot." Of course, the game can start without this step, and the quality of the game is not challenged by its absence. I'm just relating my take on things.
4. The three weird sisters:
• Beginning (and here I am referring to chapter four. The first three were part of the submission package and in their own way, contained an arc of their own. Chapter four is a struggle most of the time as it's been awhile since I looked at the book or maybe even thought about it, and I need to get back in the mode.)
• Middle. I know writers who love these chapters the most. The initial event and tension is taking a deep breath, there's time for a little character growth and revelation. To me and a lot of other writers, these middle pages can sometimes seem like a stretch of never ending desert, rife with wavering mirages, the distant cool mountains never seeming to grow closer until one day you wake up and see it's time to begin thinking about the…
• End. The final chapters. Complicated, challenging, exhilarating. Did I tie up all the pieces? I've spent months with the first page of this book and on a tight deadline, I can spend, literally, a couple of days with the last. Doesn't seem fair.
5. Revisions, rewriting. As has been mentioned many times on this blog by many of us, this tends to be a love it or hate it chore. I like it, but I think that's because I rewrite as I go along so the end rewrite USUALLY isn't too horrible. Some people write the book, go back and rewrite the book, go back and rewrite the rewrite… Of course, there is no right or wrong, just personal preference.
6. Send the book. It's all over but the waiting. Will it work? Will this be the one that your editor calls and says, "um, about that book, um…"
7. Art pages, final title, dedication sheet … all the little stuff.
8. Copyedits. Last chance for major rewrites, time to weed in and consider editorial comments and your own second thoughts.
9. Galleys. Little tiny changes for this read through. A misspelling here, a wrong date there… and all the time wondering how you can possibly read this book ONE MORE TIME (but you do.)
10. Now it's really gone and your mind begins the endless what if all over again. For those of you who promote, that part of the challenge is just beginning….
11. The cover shows up on Amazon long before the book is printed. Then a box of books arrives. Reviews drift in, maybe a few nice letters from happy readers, members of your family and your friends read the book and say nice things -- if they're smart….

My question to you is this -- For you is there a favorite part to creating a book or one you loathe? Have I missed something major here? If writing a book was an assembly line job like making a car and you go to choose only one job to do, what would it be?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Jabbering

Since it's free Tuesday, you get the wanderings I've been thinking. ;)

I have decided to seriously try for an agent. But how do I go about this- I want to broach the topic of multiple books. I want to only have partials to those said books in hand when I query/visit with them. So, do I, in my query, announce my accomplishments; i.e. published books, awards and then say I have these projects in the works and am looking for an agent?

Or do I have to query one project and then if they are interested tell them about the rest I have up my sleeve?

These have been my ponderings as I work on the synopsis for the first proposal.

Any thoughts and suggestions on this would be greatly appreciated or even blogs to read or maybe one where I could ask this question to an agent.

Hope you are all having a productive day. I've got nearly two pages of synopsis written. Now rather it's good or not is anybody's guess!

Monday, March 10, 2008

What's your comfort level?

First of all, congratulations Paty!!!!! That is wonderful news!!!!!

When I'm referring to comfort level, I mean romantic comfort level. When you read a romance, how much "action" do you like? How much talk of sex is fine, how much is too much? I've been thinking about this for a couple reasons. First, I'm struggling to determine how much nookie my hero and heroine will get in my manuscript.

But mostly I've been thinking about this because the last two books I've read have either been highly sexual or had a highly sexed character. The former was the third installment of an increasingly popular paranormal series. All three of these books are, um, very sexual. They aren't erotic romance necessarily. She just has a knack to write VERY sexual situations, but they always seem to advance the plot or reveal some characterization. Without all of the sex, or near-sex, it would still be a great book. But personally, the steaminess makes it even better.

The second book I mentioned, with the oversexed person, isn't as endearing. It's not the hero or heroine who is over sexed, rather it's a sex therapist for couples. She's extremely agressive and has zero shame. It's very easy to dislike her in this book, which seems to be the author's intention. I'm enjoying the book because I really like the hero and heroine, but that oversexed character is getting under my skin. I just keep yelling at the book, begging the heroine to tell this chick off (she's going after the hero, but doesn't realize the heroine is with him for real). Anyway, this much sex and sex talk, when it's not the hero or heroine, isn't as appealing to me.

What are your boundaries on sexuality in a book? Do you prefer books with behind closed door sex, or do you like scenes that further the story? Have you read books with oversexed secondary characters?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Paty the Big Weiner

Woo-hooo and big congratulations to our own Paty Jager, who scored a win at the EPPIE awards at the conference this weekend.

She has finaled in several contests, but now she can proudly call herself a big weiner.

Woooooot!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

CHALLENGE CHECK-IN

I think Paty is at the EPPIE awards today (fingers crossed, Paty) so I am going to be cheeky and sneak in. You didn't think you were rid of me, did you? To quote Danita, "Ha!"

Besides, it's Saturday, it just seems we should have somewhere to check in.

As I announced last week, I met my goal, the book is gone and I hear the editor is half way through it (I wasn't the only one with a tight deadline.) That's good news. I imagince the book with be back for copy edits within the week. That's scary...

So, what are your plans? Where do stand with your goal? Time to make a new one?

Mine is to plot three connected books for Intrigue, one pretty clearly, the other two more loosey-goosey. I hope to have them done by the end of March. Actually, I hope to have them done a lot sooner than that, but I'm trying to realistic and oh yeah, have a life.

Your turn.

CHALLENGE CHECK-IN


That's an actual photograph of me, plotting...

I think Paty is at the EPPIE awards today (fingers crossed, Paty) so I am going to be cheeky and sneak in. You didn't think you were rid of me, did you? To quote Danita, "Ha!"

Besides, it's Saturday, it just seems we should have somewhere to check in.

As I announced last week, I met my goal, the book is gone and I hear the editor is half way through it (I wasn't the only one with a tight deadline.) That's good news. I imagince the book with be back for copy edits within the week. That's scary...

So, what are your plans? Where do stand with your goal? Time to make a new one?

Mine is to plot three connected books for Intrigue, one pretty clearly, the other two more loosey-goosey. I hope to have them done by the end of March. Actually, I hope to have them done a lot sooner than that, but I'm trying to realistic and oh yeah, have a life.

Your turn.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Seeking Advice

I am at the shopping around period with my latest book. I'm doing so without an agent. Even agentless, I still want to get it in front of the most editors who may be interested in my work. Of course.

So, here's my dilemma: Should I send out queries or partial packages?

That's simple, you say. Send whichever the submission page for that publishing house suggests.

Ah, but it's not that simple and I'll tell you why. Often what the web submission page states and what other resources (RWA magazine or editor websites) suggest are two different things. Query vs. a partial, for example, as well as a preference for snail mail over email, or the other way around.

I posed this question to some writer friends the other day. Here are some of their suggestions:

Always send a partial. Queries are a crap shoot.

Send queries, but attach or enclose a few sample pages so the editor can see a sample of your writing style.

Send a query letter first. If that editor doesn't respond, send a partial to another editor at the same house.

As for my personal thoughts on this -- I dunno. I've had requests and gotten rejections in the past with both queries and partials, although I've gotten more form rejections when I've only sent a query.

So, what is your take? What do you tend to do? What has worked best for you in the past? ie: Gotten the most full requests? Thanks ahead of time for your help, and of course, please don't use specific editors' or house names.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Visceral Experience


Viscera are the soft internal organs of the body, especially those contained within the abdominal and thoracic cavities. The meaning of the word visceral couldn't be better at describing the core of good fiction. According to my handy Word dictionary, it describes visceral as:
1. Proceeding from instinct rather than from reasoned thinking
2. Characterized by or showing basic emotions
3. Relating to or affecting one or more internal organs of the body

The first definition, of course, is dependent on a character's situation and the scene being played out. Is it instinct that drives him? Or did he reason it out with his trusty gray matter to help him decide what to do.

Definition two is that all important display of emotion we go for as writers, but hopefully its tempered from making a character act melodramatic or from being so angsty that readers have to pause to retch every few pages. I can't stand overly emo characters who have more going on inside their head than outside. However, lots of readers love the angsty character, so to each his or her own.

Number three is my favorite. As a reader, I need me some visceral story telling to make my heart pound, my mouth go dry, my tears flow, and my stomach tighten. It's rare, though. It's the difference between a good story and a fantastic one. I've read some stories that are over the top in a visceral sense, though I've witnessed this more in literary fiction than genre fiction. It stays with me, that's for sure. Usually it's the shock factor that leaves such an impression I feel branded by it.

There was a comment over at the Absolute Write Water Cooler recently from a member who struggled with the visceral aftermath of a powerful book he'd read. He was asking for advice on how he could come away from reading a powerful story and not be zombified by it for days afterward. I envy such an experience! That's phenomenal story telling.

I try to achieve that visceral level to my own writing, and when I feel it as I'm writing, I'm reasonably sure readers will feel it, too. But I've learned it can't be forced. It has to manifest naturally from the story and the characters.

How about you? Are you aware when something you've written has that visceral edge? Do you make a conscious effort to reach that heightened level of emotion? Can you name books you've read that accomplished this successfully?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Morality and the Romance Writer

Do we owe a certain code of morality to our readers? Okay. I know what you're all thinking: "Bethany, you don't usually READ, let alone WRITE inspirational romances. But, that's not what I'm getting at here. The CBA has its own set of standards for what is and is not acceptable in a romance, what the characters can't do and say. However, for the mainstream market, there is no such code of conduct. Which, admittedly, is a wonderful thing, bursting with the promise guaranteed by the First Amendment and delivered with only the censure of the free market.

So, why then, do I, a card carrying ACLU member, have morality on the brain? I recently finished a book that had the pregnant heroine drinking. Not just once, but several times, after she had a positive test, and more than one glass at a sitting. I liked the book, I liked the characters, but this just rankled me. It underscored for me that perhaps the author is out of touch with her modern readers (this book has a 2006 copyright).

Another recent read seemed less novel and more vehicle for the author's anti-organ donation stance. I just couldn't make it past the first two chapters because it became apparent that her own bias was driving the book, not that of her characters.

A favorite of author of mine has a penchant for unprotected sex. No mention of condoms, no excuses, no slips, just no condoms. Period. I get the whole danger-appeal of slips and playing Russian roulette between characters with an ongoing relationship, but to omit even a mention of safe sex leaves an icky taste in my mouth. Pun intended.

I'm also having more and more of a problem with smoking heroes--and I don't mean the looks too hot to handle. Sure, there's an appeal in heroine's love being enough for him to quit cold turkey. But, I just have a hard time believing that he'll be successful, and love scenes with ashtray mouth just aren't appealing. (For a while, in the 80's certain category books loved to glamorize kissing an ashtray with flowery descriptions of the spicy scent and taste of cigarette breath--ick.). The hardest though is when his smoking isn't addressed or resolved--he's still got his addiction at the end of the book.

Many books feature heroes with drinking problems of various degrees--too much partying, too much drowning his sorrows, too much fast living. It's almost never the heroine with this issue, and many books walk a fine line between character development and alcoholism. When a book starts to glorify hero's excessive drinking as sexy, I tend to start skimming ahead.

Now, here's the kicker--I have no problem with historical heroes who drink, smoke, visit prostitutes, or have other nasty vices. I love a good unrepentant rogues gets his comeuppance story. But, somehow, I expect more from our modern heroes. I want him to know better. I want the heroine not to settle for a man who seems likely to slip back into bad habits.

I don't want the realities of modern life glossed over. Unsafe sex kills. Alcoholism is a serious illness. Depression isn't always cured by the love of a good (wo)man. Smoking shortens lives. Illegal behavior has consequences. I don't want a morality tale or a health class lesson, but I do want an acknowledgment of the risks of bad behavior.

Does this make me a prude? Considering that I regularly read very spicy stories, I don't think so. And I will march to defend your right to write smoking-alcoholic-prostitute loving-hitmen heroes. But, as a reader I find myself developing certain preferences and certain pet peeves.

Am I simply getting older? Gasp. Will I soon be clucking over "the things those kids today are writing!" Gasp.

What do you think? Do you have a problem with certain scenarios that go against your personal code of ethics? Do you have bad-behavior pet peeves? Do you feel obliged to acknowledge certain things like safe sex in your writing? Thoughts? Comments? Slaps upside the head?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

OPENING LINES

How many times have you written your opening lines? I have written every one of mine several times and still shake my head and wonder if I’ve captured the right moment. Your opening lines are your introduction to your editor. They should convince them you know what you’re talking about. These carefully chosen words should immediately launch your readers into your story.

Since opening lines are the first words the readers see. They should grab the readers attention, tantalize them, set the conflict and tone right away and make them want more. They should make a statement right out of the gate. You want your readers to clutch your book and make a dash to the check out counter.

Where should you begin? Start with something fresh and original. Introduce a theme. Jump into the scene with action. Introduce your personal writing style. Don’t be boring, passive, or wordy. Be honest with your readers in what you’re writing. Don’t lie to them.

Here are a few opening paragraphs.

1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.

2. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
Angel pushed the canvas flap back just enough to look out at the mud street. She shivered in the cold afternoon air, that carried with it the stench of disenchantment.

Pair-a-Dice lay in the Mother Lode of California. It was the worst place she could have imagined, a shanty town of golden dreams built out of rotting sails from abandoned ships, a camp inhabited by outcasts and aristocrats, the displaced and dispossessed, the once-pampered and now-profane. Canvas-roofed bars and gambling houses lined mean streets ruled by unmasked depravity and greed, loneliness and grand illusions. Pair-a-dice was wild jubilation. It wed black despair with fear and the foul taste of failure.

3. The secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
At night I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitch zzzzzz that hummed along my skin.

I watched their wings shining like bits of chrome in the dark and felt the longing build in my chest. The way those bees flew, not even looking for a flower, just flying for the feel of the wind, split my heart down its seam.

4. The Loop by Nicholas Evans
The scent of slaughter, some believe, can linger in a place for years. They say it lodges in the soil and is slowly sucked through coiling roots so that in time all that grows there, from the smallest lichen to the tallest tree, bears testimony.

Perhaps as he moved silently down through the forest on that late afternoon, his summer-sleek back brushing low limbs of pine and fir, the wolf sensed it. And perhaps the vestige of a rumor in his nostrils, that here a hundred years ago so many of his kind were killed, should have make him turn away.

Yet on and down he went.

5. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.

In newspaper photos of missing girls from the seventies, most looked like me: white girls with mousy brown hair. This was before kids of all races and genders started appearing on milk cartons or in the daily mail. It was still back when people believed things like that didn’t happen.

6. Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
My mother did not tell me they were coming. Afterwards she said she did not want me to appear nervous. I was surprised, for I thought she knew me well. Strangers would think I was calm. I did not cry as a baby. Only my mother would note the tightness along my jaw, the widening of my already wide eyes.

I was chopping vegetables in the kitchen when I heard voices outside our front door–a woman’s bright as polished brass and a man’s low and dark like the wood of the table I was working on. They were the kind of voices we heard rarely in our house. I could hear rich carpets in their voices, books and pearls and fur.

What do you believe the opening lines in a book should accomplish? Which opening lines from above grabbed you and immediately pulled you into the story and which ones didn’t? What did you like or dislike about these opening paragraphs? Share the first paragraph of a favorite book if you wish and tell us what you like and/or didn’t like.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Cart Before the Horse


When I’m driving somewhere I’ve never been before, I’ll look at a map or log onto Mapquest. But if I decide to sew something that I don’t have a pattern for, I will find a picture of the item I want to make and just wing it. I like to try new recipes and for the most part I follow the recipe, but not always. When my goals are concrete (as in getting to some place) I plan ahead. But when it’s my creative half embarking on a mission- I just jump in and hope things turn out.


As most of you know, I generally write a book in the same manner as I do all creative things. Start out with an idea and then wing it. So here I am, with my ‘shoot from the hip’ attitude trying to write a synopsis before I write the book.


I’m stoked and I’m petrified. I have gathered together all the handouts I’ve ever picked up at workshops on writing a synopsis. Some make sense and some make me cross-eyed. Before I even think about a synopsis, I need to decide all my major turning points- which is the part that petrifies me. When I write a book BS (before synopsis), I know my opening, the first turning point and the climax. It is usually the outcome of the first turning point that dictates the second and the second the third, and so on. Which I do as I write.


But since I have to plot this before I write it- I've thought this whole process through and decided to get out some colored index cards and write down things I think could happen, and the reaction of each character. Then when I get done, arrange them (or toss them) in hopefully a way that makes sense and then I’ll take that arrangement and write the synopsis. And hope this works for me.


My question for those of you who write synopsis before you write the book and have more in the plot than just emotions, such as a mystery, do you do one outline/storyboard for the romance and then one for the mystery and then combine them? Or do you write it all at once? Also, those who have done a synopsis/plotting before writing the book - do you use index cards, story board, or outline to set up the story before you write the synopsis? Or do you just sit down and write the synopsis building the story as you go?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

CHALLENGE CHECK-IN


The attached picture is from a contest where people had to create art using a single piece of white paper. The entries were wonderful. I chose this one for today for two different reasons. Pick the metaphor you like or offer a new one:

1. We help each other, we offer a hand, an ear, a heart...
2. Sending a book out into the world is like giving a piece of yourself. It could be argued the book is reaching out to save you or that you are letting it go...

I guess this is the last challenge check-in for awhile! Everyone seems to have met or redirected their stated goals and I haven't heard anyone start something new. I will say that I sent my book yesterday, unsure if it's any good, but that's par for the course. Though there is still some work to be done, the Cast of Characters, for instance, and galleys on the previous book staring me in the face, I feel a kind of hollow sense of loss, I guess it's post book blues. I always feel like my writing career is over at this point, and though I have been told (by the Postmistress for crying out loud!) that I ALWAYS feel this way when I send a book, I have no real memory of having done so.

So, maybe someone out there wants to start a new challenge????