Thursday, September 30, 2010

Staying Disciplined

In the past, I've had a lot of trouble with staying focused and being disciplined when it came to writing. I had thought writing was something people do when they’re feeling creative and inspired. New York Times Bestsellers probably wrote every day, but they made a living writing. I wrote when I thought about it, and I loved it when I did. But I'll admit it. It wasn’t something I did on a regular basis. I loved my characters and thought about them a lot, and I thought about new ideas constantly. I'd even start writing out the stories connected to those ideas. Needless to say, I now have about five or more partials for novel-length works. Most of those are around twenty thousand words so far.

My answer to writer's block is I don’t believe in it. Most time when I’m “blocked,” I just need to focus that much more to break through it. For example, last year during National Novel Writing Month, I found myself very behind in my word count, making it very hard to think about trying to finish. I ended up flying through after a few thousand words because I put so much focus into the story that I lived it for a few days (aka I didn't practice being disciplined at the front end, so I had to make up for it at the back end. 30k words in 3 days... I learned my lesson). That doesn’t mean there can’t be actual problems going on when a writer is stuck. I've experienced where I have to stop and think about what's going on, and really figure out where the story needs to go. But then continue on.

Some well-known bestselling authors write their first draft quickly, and then go back and make sense of the manuscript (Nora Roberts, for example). Stephen King in his book, On Writing, suggests three months for this process of writing your book. Harlequin recently had a Book in 3 Month Challenge, which also says that three months is "an average professional speed--two months to write, one month to edit and submit." I now try to stick by the three month goal.

Before completing my first manuscript with the help of National Novel Writing Month, I didn’t understand. Why would I want to hurry through such an important step? During NaNoWriMo, you have to turn off your internal editor and lock her in the closet. If you don’t, you simply won’t be able to write fifty thousand words in one month.

Sometimes writers get bogged down with trying to make everything perfect on the first time through, but if the first draft doesn’t get done, you won’t make it to the second draft. And you can't edit a blank page. Sitting down and writing every day is important. Not only does it give you a finished product, but with the continuous practice of your craft you're honing skills to make your work the best it can be. Discipline when writing, or pursuing anything else they desire in life, is so necessary.

What are your thoughts on writer's block? Do you sit down and write through it? How long do you take to write a novel?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Guest blogger Sapphire Phelan

Can Myths and Legends Be Translated to Paranormal/Urban Fantasy Fiction?

With paranormals and urban fantasy so popular these days, the question is, can a writer take any myth or legend and revision it for a modern urban fantasy or paranormal storyline? Yes, it can be done. It has been said that there are only seven or eight storylines out there. So it’s up to the author to make their story different enough to take notice.

As one who has read countless myths, legends and urban legends over the years, I find my best heroes, heroines, and villains from these. A good example is the Finmen myths from the Orkney Island. There were drowning deaths of local women in the sea and I think the people chose these stories to explain the reasons why. I twisted the drowning women angle and took it from Orkney Island to a beachfront in America, and the story became an erotic and dark male/male urban fantasy with romance at one point in my career. Yes, it did get published.

There are lots of weird and bizarre tales, all which had been told around campfires and hearths. Stories of ancient people’s gods and goddesses were mankind’s first fantasies and horror stories. Years later, writers took what they heard at their mother’s or father’s knee, and turned it into many great works of fiction that we still read today. Think of Dracula, Frankenstein, Edgar Allan Poe’s works, and H. P. Lovecraft’s stories, just to name a few.

But how does a writer of today take something that has already been told over and over and rebirth it for an urban fantasy? By twisting and tweaking the storyline here and there, new characters, updating it to a modern cityscape and you have the story. What better backdrop for fantastical beings and situations than mundane landscape we know every day of our lives? After all, how would a dragon or a unicorn or a vampire react if suddenly dropped into the middle of gang warfare, or a busy shopping day at Wal-Mart’s? What if some man standing in the checkout line at the supermarket has his body rip apart just before closing and some terrifying thing out of Lovecraftian mythos emerges. What would the ordinary cashier of that checkout do to save the customers and his fellow workers? See what I mean? Add romance to it, and a paranormal or fantasy romance is born. Or don’t use romance, it’s all up to the writer and what she/he feels is right for what they’re writing.

Urban fantasy is all about the odds. Mundane human beings becoming heroes or heroines, or maybe some unicorn must become the savior to save the virgin in distress. Especially if the unicorn is female and a shapeshifter and the virgin is a man. It’s all about how you play the urban legend and retool it for the urban fantasy.

So, any author searching for that new story they want to do, should run and not walk to their local library or bookstore and check out the nonfiction section where books on ghost stories, myths, legends and urban legends are shelved. After all, there is no new tale, just how you update it for modern fiction.

Sapphire Phelan

http://www.SapphirePhelan.com/

Go beyond the usual, instead take the unusual that stretches the boundaries and find romance with Sapphire Phelan's aliens, werewolves, vampires, fairies, and other supernatural/otherworldly heroes and heroines.

Buy Being Familiar With a Witch: http://www.king-cart.com/Phaze/product=Being+Familiar+With+a+Witch/exact_match=exact
Buy Just Another Paranormal Monday Halloween Anthology (His Girl by Sapphire Phelan included): http://www.mojocastle.com/
Unwitting Sacrifice (print): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1934153621

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fantasyland and Tim Burton



I just spent a few days wandering around Disneyland with my husband and thought to myself, “I should be able to use all of this for several blogs!”

So, here goes!

What does Disneyland have to do with urban fantasy and or paranormal? Well, for one, Tim Burton. Right now, Disneyland is all dressed up for Halloween and The Nightmare Before Christmas has taken over The Haunted Mansion.

Goddess bless Tim Burton! I have loved all his movies and watching him put Johnny Depp through the wringer is such a delight...but Jack Skellington is really a masterpiece. How many times have those of us who read/write urban fantasy/paranormal wished to see something truly twisted take over the genre…just for a little while? Or to see the genre take over something sweet…something innocent. Something like Christmas. (Which, to be honest, can be quite frightening all by itself. Scares me and I don’t even have kids!)

How many kids are going to discover a love of the twisted and macabre from a visit to Disneyland? Well, maybe not as many as I imagine, but really! Tim Burton, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Indiana Jones Adventure, Stitch…all these wonderful opportunities to open up the mind to alternate ways of imagining the usual. And making it unusual.

Amusements parks lend themselves well as elements of the supernatural. I live near the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk, movie location for “The Lost Boys” and several other low budget horror movies. Over the hill, just outside of San Jose, stands the Winchester Mystery House. I once read a book, post apocalyptic setting, with a group of misfit young people who had taken up residence there. And the house became a portal to an alternate reality, a place to escape the mess the world was in.

Amusement parks, Disney…boardwalks…they all lend themselves to a sense of ‘what’s over there?’ As the Bonedaddy says, “What’s this?” They spark the imagination. Especially the abandoned ones! After dark…

*shiver

This trip, I rode the Haunted Mansion, where tombstones are wrapped as gifts and it made me smile, considering the preponderance of zombie fiction!

Somewhere, between the shiver and the smile, the writers of today find rich ground. I can imagine vampires haunting the Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, selkies hiding amongst the submarine ride, ghosts watching the rafts slip through the pirates cave…alien eyes peering down from Tarzan’s Treehouse…

What would you populate an amusement park with? What ride offers your characters the best chance to show their stuff?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kinder, Gentler Vampires? Or Not. Writing What You Want To Read.

Should I be worried that the market has been saturated by vampire novels when vampires are my writing topic of choice?

I don’t think so.

While it’s true that vampire novels stuff bookseller’s shelves, I believe there will continue to be room for novels where vampires are a little tougher, a little more aggressive, and a little more true to type. Not that I don’t love the vampires populating paranormal romance shelves. Far from it. My bookcases are filled with these books. There’s nothing wrong with a story about a hot vampire who wants to find the perfect lady to spend the rest of his long or immortal life with.

But there’s also room for the writers who want to go beyond paranormal romance. That’s why I write urban fantasy, there’s more leeway for darker characters. Every so often, someone will ask how I decide what to write. It’s simple. I write stories I want to read but can’t find. That’s it. I admit it. I’m writing to please myself. I’m gifting myself with the stories I want to read. I doubt I’m alone in this endeavor.

Like a lot of people fascinated with vampire lore, the first vampire book I read was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I was smitten. The next book that made an impression was Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. Salem’s Lot scared the hell out of me. The vampires found in these books are very different from the vampires in paranormal romance where they are portrayed as sexy and mostly just decent guys and gals. In other words, not very scary. Sometimes one will go head to head with another vampire or some nasty human who is usually sent packing instead of being terminated. And that’s great for a fun read.

But those aren’t the vampires I most enjoy reading about. There are authors, J.R. Ward and Sherrilyn Kenyon, for example, who create the bad boy vampires who kick ass and look grand doing it. Those are the books I most enjoy.

In my own work, I tend to write characters who are a little darker, who kick ass and don’t bother taking names. Yet, don’t be surprised to find romance with a sexy heroine. No matter how tough the bad boys are, I like to see them have a HEA. I guess that’s why I like the paranormal romance vampires, too.

How about you? What kind of bad boy vampire does it for you? What are your favorite vamp books?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

'Show vs Tell' in Fantasy-- Not Always the Best Advice

Writing books, workshops, tips from pubbed authors will always include one bit of advice: Show, Don't Tell.

It's great advice--for the most part. But in writing fantasy (urban or epic), it creates some challenges for both the author and the reader in the opening chapters of a book.

Have you ever picked up a new fantasy, begun reading it with great anticipation, gotten to about page ten, and realized your eyes have glazed over? But you soldier on, and by page fifteen, your glazed eyes have crossed and are at half-mast. Because--now you're willing to admit it--you don't know what the hell is going on in the story and, what's worse, you don't care.

That's the byproduct of too much "show" and not enough "tell" in the beginning of a novel.

I've spent the last couple of days judging contest entries for an RWA chapter in the paranormal category. All but one suffered from this problem. They did a great job of starting the story in the middle of a scene. They grabbed my interest. The characters had potential. And then the scene went on...and on....and on...ad nauseum, and after fifteen pages, I had no idea what the characters were gnashing their teeth over, or whether we were going to be dealing with vampires or goblins, or why I should care.

They didn't need tons of backstory--heaven forbid. But, c'mon guys, give me one freaking SENTENCE of context. Ten words of narrative to make all that showing mean something.

I think this is particularly problematic in fantasy and science fiction because unlike regular fiction, there are not necessarily rules of physics and social structures that apply. As readers, we begin each fantasy world with a blank slate. The author has to simultaneously hook us in with a scene that shows, but also must give us enough tell to help us understand and care about the scene. The only way around it is to give us a character so compelling in the first two pages that we can suspend our cluelessness and keep going.

As I went through these entries, I began thinking about some of my favorite urban fantasies and how the authors pulled me in. In Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series, for example, he begins the first book with the mailman delivering Harry's mail. Not earth-shattering action, but it is showing. It also has told me a lot by the end of the scene--Harry's a wizard. He's broke. He's an investigator. He helps the Chicago PD out with some of their weird cases. He's really broke. If Jim Butcher had only shown the snarky exchange between Harry and the mailman, I wouldn't have known all of that. All the showing was broken up by just a tad of telling.

One series that I really love but that I almost didn't read because of too much initial "show" was Kim Harrison's Hallows series. In the first book, we encounter Rachel Morgan in a bar exchanging barbs with a tinkerbell-sized fairy who's sitting on her earring and trying to catch a leprechaun. I started that book at least twice and put it down because it did a lot of showing but after a chapter I still had no idea what was going on in any big-picture kind of way. Finally, I started it a third time on a friend's insistence and eventually plowed through to the point where it grabbed me. It took a while, though.

So, weigh in--how much "tell" do you want in your opening pages of "show"?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Too Many Subplots, Oh Yeah

I picked this topic because the other day one of my critique partners, Marcella Burnard, received a request from her publisher, Berkley Sensations, to delete one of the subplots in Enemy Games, the second book in her series of kick-ass heroines. And this isn't the first time I've heard of a publisher asking a writer to take something out of their story. It got me to thinking . . .

I've noticed stories I like best have one to three subplots. More than that and the story becomes muddy. I can't juggle all the threads in my little pea-brain. Then why do so many writers make the mistake of adding too many subplots. Because we like 'em. It's fun to add another complication to story that we're positive the reader will find thrilling to read. Which is where we go wrong. From beginning to best-seller, we erroneously believe more makes our story better, so we keep adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Dare I say, with subplots, the motto should be less is more.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with having subplots. They have their uses. They flesh out a story in several ways. They keep the reader motivated to continue reading. In a plot-driven story, it's best to make your subplot about characterization. Take Peter in Spider-man--while saving the city is also in love with Mary Jane. The romance is a subplot. In a character-driven story, give the subplot an outside source. In Thelma and Louise, two women try to find themselves--while having the greatest adventure of their lives eluding the authorities.

What does a subplot consist of? Like the main theme of your story, it should have a beginning, middle and ending. A good subplot should complicate the main story. If it doesn't all it's doing is weakening the main focus of the plotline. Take it out. Subplots can be complex, red herrings, short or long. Always remember subplots should add dimension to your story, not take away from the main plot.

Has anyone had to cut a subplot? How you feel?

Friday, September 24, 2010

How Bad is Too Bad when it comes to our Heroines? aka Do Bad Girls Need Love Too?

Romance writer Stephanie Draven recently wrote a blog for Romance Junkies entitled Bad Girls In Romance, and posed the question, "Why aren't there more bad girl heroines in romance?"

A very interesting question to be sure. Since Paranormal Romance and its kissing cousin Urban Fantasy could arguably be called the genres that have the most 'bad girls' and are constantly figuring out how far is too far when it comes to developing this type of character, I felt this blog was a suitable place to try to sort my own feelings on the subject.

The first thing, of course, is defining what you consider a 'Bad Girl'. Two different types of characters seemed to be used interchangeably when speaking about this.

The first type is of the Lara Croft from "Tomb Raider" mold. A woman who is strong, independent, feisty, doesn't take crap, lives her life as she pleases *thank you very much* and when all is said and done, could care less about what you think. HOWEVER, this type of character also has a core of honor and decency, and will work to make things right while doing everything possible to make sure only the bad guys get hurt.

The second type I would characterize as being like The Bride from the "Kill Bill" movies. Many of the same traits as the Lara Croft character, but this character is amoral. This character will do anything that they feel like needs done, and to hell with any damage that comes from their actions.

Personally, I don't find Lara Croft a bad girl at all, though I realize some would. She is very different from the more traditional Romance heroine, true, and I'm sure some traditional romance readers would not enjoy her as a protagonist. However, I do believe that is something of a generational gap, and as the younger romance readers begin to form greater numbers and start becoming the core of the Romance Reader market, this type of character will not only be welcomed, but expected.

Now we come to The Bride character... and this is where it starts to get tricky as a Romance heroine.

I liked the "Kill Bill" movies. While watching them, I empathized with The Bride - an assassin who was on a quest to kill other assassins she believed had killed her unborn child - and wanted her to succeed. That being said, "Kill Bill" was in no way, shape, or form a romance of any type. Put that character as a heroine in a romance and there would be no way I would touch that book.

I like strong women. I like dark. I like redemption for my hero and heroine - as long as they are not so far gone on the path of evil that they still deserve to be redeemed, that is.

You see, for me, the Romance genre (and to a lesser extent, but still there, I would include Urban Fantasy with this) are to a degree fairy tales. I want to see myself to somewhat in the heroine's shoes (or at least wish I was as cool as the heroine). I want to have the knowledge that though there may be dark places, in the end the good guys will win and the bad guys will be punished. In other words, I want exactly the opposite of reality.

Can I accomplish those things if the heroine is a truly bad girl? For me, the answer is no. How can I root for someone I truly don't like, and wish that at the end of the story, they were one of the people being punished? I can't, I just can't go along for that ride, especially in a genre that is supposed to make me believe in the power of love.

I SHOULD ADD - lest anyone accuse me of being sexist, I would feel the same for guys too. Example: I could never watch "The Sopranos". I heard all the praise for that show, I'm sure it was deserved as well, but I could never stomach the fact I was watching a murderer and a thug, someone who made me question my opposition to the death penalty.

So what about you? Bad Girl heroines, thumbs up or thumbs down?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Experimenting with Genres

If there's anything I know about, it's experimenting with genres. I've written romantic suspense, sweet contemporary romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and soon historical urban fantasy. I've heard some say that you should latch on to one genre and stick with it, and while I agree, I think writers should be able to experiment with them before setting their sights on one.

Romantic Suspense (relating to the Russian Mafia) was the first genre that I delved into with the intent of writing a novel (but I never completed it). What would've happened if I had stayed there? For one, I wouldn't be participating in such an awesome blog! But I think that the paranormal genres are much more for me. It goes with my upbringing since I used to watch scary movies with my mom and read Goosebumps and Scary Stories with her as well. How would I know if I hadn't continued on in figuring out what's for me?

So, I also tried out sweet contemporary romance, and I actually got Melody of Love published. It was the first and last sweet contemporary romance I've written. I tried to write the second one of the series I'd thought up, but as hard as I tried, the words wouldn't come.

Perhaps for a reason though since the next book I wrote was urban fantasy. It really felt awesome working on that book, and I knew I'd hit on something. The next year with National Novel Writing Month, I wrote a paranormal romance, and again, it felt so right. I'd written horror and a paranormal romance novella and short stories prior to that point, but writing a novel is different. You have to have an idea that can last for hundreds of pages instead of just a few dozen.

Anyways, my point is I think writers should feel free to experiment with genres. But once you've found the genre that you know just feels right, hone your skills and really pursue it.

Have you experimented with genres? Or have you always known which genre was for you?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Crossing the Line to Becoming a Writer

Anyone who writes knows there’s a line between wanting and doing. It’s easy to fantasize about selling millions of copies, but it’s not as effortless to sit down and write.

I want to hear about what made you cross that line. I’ll start with my own story.

After I graduated college with a degree in Creative Writing, I felt pretty worthless. The last class I took was a publishing class and I felt like the message basically said: “You’ll never see publication.”

For weeks, I couldn’t write anything. I sat around and worked my 9 to 5 job. But then I picked up a book. And I couldn’t stop reading. Then I found paranormal romance and I fell in love. I read so many books on my Kindle. I was obsessed.

Then one day, I read the ending of one of my favorite author’s books and I was like “This isn’t how it’s supposed to end! If I would have written this book, I would have…”

Ah ha! I can write my own stories and then make them end how I want.

This led me to sitting down and completing my first manuscript. The years since then have been filled with learning and continuing to write. Revising and connecting with others.

Personally, the RWA has been a blessing. I had no idea what I was doing before I joined. The chapters have been filled with information and supportive folks who honestly want to see others published.

Everyone must have that one moment where things shifted on them. Suddenly, writing isn’t an interest but a calling. Something you can’t place on the backburner. I can almost pinpoint the moment when I really decided this was what I wanted.

I’d love to hear about your moment.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Big Book

I admit, I seldom read the big, epic fantasy books anymore. I see them on the shelf, pick them up, admire the covers, read the back copy and sigh. Then put them back. I simply cannot see myself taking the time out to read the epic.

Ironic, considering I spent more than a week reading the ten volumes of the Nightside series by Simon R. Green. What is it about a multi volume set that doesn’t intimidate me, while one big massive book…just…exhausts me?

It isn’t the weight. I read almost exclusively on my Sony reader, so it isn’t my lack of muscle or how small my hands are…

Is it just the sheer volume of pages? I mean, I can pick up a single volume of a book and breeze through it in, oh, maybe two days. Usually one if I really get going. I can keep track of the pages and see myself finishing this and…

Hard to do with a six hundred page epic.

Perhaps it’s about the finishing aspect of things. I like the quick finish of a shorter book. Even if it is one of multi volumes. Yet the nature of fantasy is the epic, whether it’s in one volume or more. Perhaps it’s a lack of patience? An awareness of how many other books are out there that I want to read…

Though I must admit, I even have a difficult time starting the series that I know has no particular ending planned. (Another massive bit of irony? I wrote a series with a romantic couple having one adventure after another, with no particular ending planned. I mean, they’re all but immortal, so… Dang, I’m a contrary person!)

What about you? I’m curious, what do you look at, sigh and put back down? Do you have a page limit to the books you’re willing to commit the time to? Or is it just me?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Guest Blogger Jorma Mäkelä

Hello again everyone.

Recently, I blogged here about necromancers and the way they were generally viewed. Today, I picked another subject also quite close to my heart. Consider this a somewhat philosophical topic. By definition mortals, generally meaning you, me, the neighborhood cat and so on, are here only for a moment. In fiction, mortality is sometimes portrayed in a negative light. I beg to differ.

To us, looking at the extensive lifespan of vampires, elves and others might seem a little frightening. Their bodies endure time with little change, some growing stronger and their wisdom deepening for every century they are alive (to those it applies, at least). However, we tend to forget some of the finer points of mortality. For instance, Tolkien tended to describe elves as looking at humans as temporal beings, here for a moment and gone the next. But, he also mentioned how they consider the flame of mortals to burn brighter than their own.

Elementals and spirits tend to be chained to their own core element while vulnerable and limited outside of it. Though they can be lethal when in control, they are only powerful in their own element. A fire elemental is strong when in an area it can burn and feed its flames; however, it is very weak in frozen tundra. Without any chains and bounds (of power, servitude and enslavement), mortals are able to move beyond and become greater than other “stronger” spirits.

Unbound mortals have to go through rigorous training, a lifetime of mixed emotions and pain. However, if correctly trained a mere mortal is more than able to challenge any opponent by simply moving and working outside of their limitations. Hunters slay the undead during noon with little fear of opposition. Mages use opposite elements to battle and try to outwit their target.

Mortals are given freedom of choice and by being unbound to anything are more powerful than most know. Creative, able to think outside the box, unbound of elements, land, location, and to a degree even time, mortals are well-equipped. We have a tremendous power to do both good and evil. We can build cities and destroy them. Every time a major culture is lost and forgotten another raises to power and prosperity.

The undead are wise to be wary of the mortals, even though they are the predators. In Europe, most wolves were nearly hunted to extinction due to fear of their attacks. Mobs tend to overthrow rules, governments and the occasional mad scientist and his experiments.

Set your pitch-forks and torches aside for the moment. How do you view the mortals in fiction? Utterly weak, pathetic and a blood-filled meal for predators or somehow different?

-Jorma Mäkelä
http://www.jormamakela.wordpress.com/

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Writer as Reader--A Tough Combo

The more I learn about the art and craft of writing, and the more I hone my critical eye, the more it strengthens me as an author. And ruins me as a reader. Talk about unexpected fallout.

I was an avid reader long before I was a writer. But now I find it harder to get "lost" in a book. I'll stop and think: Why did the author put that there? Did he/she realize that page used "was" twenty-four times? Man, that flashback scene ran on way too long. Did Dan Brown really need a hundred one-page chapters in The Da Vinci Code and if "show don't tell" is so important, why did everyone and his dog buy that book?

I've also become conscious of how often I start skimming in books, and make note of where I felt the need to skim. (Can you say backstory?)

I'm finding it hard, in other words, to just sit down and enjoy reading a book without the writer filter kicking in. And I miss it.

When I do find a book I can truly become lost in, it feel like an amazing gift. Which is why I grovel at the feet of JR Ward, Jim Butcher, and Patricia Briggs.

As an author, this writer-as-reader phenomenon really makes me cringe, of course, because there will be other writers like me (I hope) who might be reading my books and doing the same thing (except maybe they won't find anything to like). Oops. Sorry. A little authorial paranoia slipped in there.

I am trying to become more forgiving as I realize manuscripts are never really finished. I have yet to read through one of my own -- both fiction and nonfiction -- without the compulsion to tighten, change words, tinker incessantly. But deadlines come, tunnel-vision sets in, and we send our babies out, hoping a reader will get lost in our characters and stories--and not notice the things we'd have changed if we had Just. One. More. Pass.

Whose books have you gotten lost in lately?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Clubbing the muse

"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."
Jack London

Jack may have had the right idea. So many times in writing, and in life, we wait for the magic idea, chance, or muse to lead us where we need to go. With anyone in creative endeavors it's almost an epidemic.

"I can't write today, my muse is having fits."

"I simply can NOT paint today, the inspiration hasn't come upon me just yet." Etc, etc, etc.

As a writer, we're consistently exposed to the concept of "muse". A fellow writer might mention their muse woke them up at 5am to write on a streak that lasted through five chapters. A critique partner may say their writing hasn't been up to par because their muse is off dancing the night away at some secret muse-only club.

So what really is that saying about us as creative folks? Do we really believe in ethereal beings that give us our creative ideas? I am a fantasy so writer, so I suppose if any of were to believe it, it would be my ilk. But even I don't believe that.

Or is it just a convenient way to get out of what sometimes can be a drudgery- the BIC FOK situation (Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard)? I can't do the dishes tonight, I'm not inspired?

Or do is it an attempt to wow others by referring to our creative side as something from the gods (ok work with me here- "muses", you know where they came from). A way to increase the mystery of us crazy folks who write books?

Why do we rely on inspiration to get us to buckle down and just get the work done? Has anyone seen a plumber sit back after starting a job and claim he can't finish cause his muse just fled to the Bahamas? Not that writers and other creative folks are plumbers, this house would be flooded if I tried to be one ;). But the fact is that we seem to think that we need to be inspired, or have copious amounts of time, or a wonderful quiet study to get our work done.

I say Jack London was right. We can't sit around and wait for the magic little muse faeries to come share their insight and wisdom- sometimes we have to smack them around a bit. Just to remind them who is boss.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A New Way to Plot... The Slow Simmer

First things first, this isn't a blog about the fabulousness of plotting. Don't worry, pantsers! I don't plot all of my books. So I'm not really a plotter, but I don't write by the seat of my pants every book either. Sometimes I do a rough outline of major plot points, and sometimes the book just flows from my head to my fingertips. I guess my style of creating is something in between. Plotser, perhaps.

Recently, as many of you probably know, I've been working on plotting a historical urban fantasy type novel. But I've been doing something different than I have with other projects I've worked on. Letting the ideas simmer and reveal themselves to me a little at a time has been quite an experience.  I love letting them brew in my mind and play over and over, trying to figure out just the right way the events should happen before making a note about the scenes. I'm really in no rush since I won't be working on it until November 1st and the fun onslaught of National Novel Writing Month.

I decided to stir up ideas and think about who my characters are before the big move, which has now been completed. I'm now in the aftermaths effect of unpacking. Anyways, I browsed Holly Lisle's website to reread one of her articles on plotting, and what I found very useful was her "Novel Pre-Writing Workshop: Asking the Right Questions." I even decided to try out bubble mapping, which I'd never really done before, effectively at least.

Maybe some of what has helped me has just been the fact that I'm trying something new, but I guess that since I still have the rest of September and the entirety of October to figure out this novel (without burning myself out of it) that I can sit around and tinker with this new system to figure out a way to incorporate to what I usually do. That being said, when it comes to writing with me, "usually" is an abstract word. This way of preparing though makes me feel more at ease since my last few novels had their ideas thrown together at the last minute before I began writing them. Clear procrastination in action. Maybe I can kick my procrastination habit. Who knows?

So how do you prepare yourself before starting a new writing project? Do you have an outline? A vague idea?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Guest Blogger Tierney O'Malley

Secret to creating believable characters: Know the right question to ask.

It's true. Search the web about how to avoid flat as paper doll characters and you'll get overwhelming results from your search engine. Detailed how-to articles are available online and from the library. Still, I get this question about how I manage to create my characters. One writer asks if there is a written guide or formula that I follow when I write my characters. My answer is no. I don't have a written guide, just questions I always ask. But I told her that there are guides available online and I encouraged her to check them out.

So what do I do when I create my characters? First, I think of my hero and heroine including the secondary characters as people. It's easier to write them if I see them as someone who exists and you might actually meet. And then I begin with the question: Who is this person?

You're probably thinking, “Wow, this blog is for dummies.” You could be right, but this simple question I often ask, my trick so to speak, helps me to write lovable, memorable and believable people. With this question in mind, I begin to paint my hero or heroine in my head. Then I jot down my answers.

For Joanie Saint Claire, my heroine is Passionate Bid, I answered my own question like this: Joanie is a 17 year old young woman. She wears glasses, braces,old paint-splattered sneakers, and a plaid shirt all the time. Joanie is a young woman with fair skin, green eyes and hair the color of sunset.

Pretty simple, huh? Now I have the basic heroine. ; ) But she's just like a character in the game Sims or Flat Stanley (a cut out paper boy that travels around the world by mail). So let's attack Joanie's personality. Use the same question. Who is Joanie as a person?

Joanie loves her father very much. She also loves to read and paint and is secretly in love with the hero Julian Ravenwood. She's a horrible cook (I always make sure my characters are flawed. That's what makes us all human, after all). She will do anything even dance erotically at a cheap restaurant at night to put food on the table, and she's forgiving with a soft heart towards others. Okay, now I know a little bit about Joanie's personal life and I somewhat plumped her character. Another thing I often keep in mind when it comes to personality is create one that readers can relate to.

Now, I ask another question. What kind of struggle she's going through, what are her needs. Being a single mom with bills to pay Joanie struggles financially. She finds that she's still in love with the man who left her while she's still in her wedding gown. From here I was able answer another question about her feelings. What she's going through at a times like this.
dramatize the feelings and you're character will definitely come to life.

Apply these questions to your hero, heroine and villains (villains have their good side, too) and you will have a memorable character. Take the time to write down your people's characteristics. They are worth your extra time.

I am not an expert when it comes to characterization. For sure, there are authors out there who has better ways to create an award winning character. But this is what works for me and so far, I've been getting great reviews about my books. And most of the time, there is a mention about how well written my characters are. :)

Do you have a special way to write your people? I'd love to hear it.

Sincerely,

Tierney O'Malley
Romance Author
http://tierneyomalley.com





















Author: Tierney O'Malley
Publisher: Red Rose Publishing
Blurb:
                               The destiny of a man
Drop dead gorgeous veterinarian, Julian Ravenwood, has made a mistake--slept with a young virgin, Joanie Saint Claire. Forced to do the right thing, he marries her then leaves while she's still in her wedding gown.
The fate of a young woman
Joanie finds herself facing an altered life after her one night with Julian. She's left alone with a little bug who means the world to her.
The spirit of an abandoned wife
An opportunity to solve Joanie's problems comes when Julian shows up to serve her. She agrees to sign the divorce papers on one condition--he pay her one hundred thousand dollars.
The unexpected love
Julian can't believe it. His scrawny bride has grown into a seductive, attractive, and feisty woman he can't stop lusting after. And the secret she has kept rocks his world.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Playing the Game in World Building

How important is sports in Fantasy? I started thinking about this yesterday and realized there was one obvious example: Quidditch in Harry Potter. It’s a sport that is very much a part of their society. Do you think this aids the reader in their submersion into the world of wizards?

Creating a game is easy, but creating a sport that attracts fans is more challenging. There’s a reason why we’ve consistently had the same most popular sports in the United States. At my household it’s football, baseball, basketball and soccer.

I think the issue goes beyond describing a bat as a stick and a baseball as a yarn woven round item (which I’ve totally tried to do in a fantasy), or coming up with a ball of some type and shooting it into a goal.

When I think of Harry Potter, is there anything more perfect than wizards flying around on brooms and a Golden Snitch? It’s really the perfect sport for the series.

It could depend on the type of Fantasy. If the audience is young adults, it may be more important to add the excitement of the final match. Not saying we don’t need those things in adult focused work, but perhaps it’s a divide.

Can anyone think of a series besides Harry Potter that uses a sport to help the reader experience the world on an added level? I couldn’t think of any other examples off the top of my head.

I’m wondering if in high fantasy you could get away with gladiator-type sport for fun, or if you need something a little more lighthearted to endear the reader.

Do you think it’s essential to create our own sports? Is this part of world building? Or, is it a nice edition when it’s done right, but not necessary?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

When Bad Gun Habits happen to Good(?) Girls

My hubby is a gun enthusiast. Just as doctors cringe at 'ER' or lawyers don't really want to go near late night TV, he has to knowingly disengage the part of his brain that deals with how to handle guns before going near any type of action oriented entertainment.

I am not a gun enthusiast, but hubby has made sure I know my way around them, so that I'll never be intimidated or scared of them. I have listened to him dissect truth from myth in what can and can't be done with guns, and while guns will never be my thing, I'm grateful for the knowledge.

My brother is a knife and bladed weapons enthusiast. Nothing makes him more giddy than a new blade in his hands, and if you want to see the boy weep with joy, let him watch a show about swords forged by one of the masters.

I am not a knife person either. But just as with hubby, brother has taught me a thing or two concerning these weapons, such as how to hold them correctly and difference in offense vs. defense handling.

I think there are some things in life you need to experience to truly understand them. One of those things is you must handle weapons to get the full effect of the power these creations hold.

Of course, any reasonably intelligent person knows the mechanics of how a gun or sword works, understands that they are not to be played with as toys, that they can kill, that there are correct ways for handling them safely.

All that is true. However, you simply cannot comprehend the awe and wonder that these creations can evoke in you, as well as the terrible dread. How holding a piece of metal can make you feel invincible. How staring down at a blade can twist your stomach with the realization it wouldn't take much for something to go completely wrong.

I urge any writer who writes in the fantasy genre, where weapons are as common as dark and dangerous heroes, to find a way to safely explore the various weapons they are writing about. It will bring an authenticity to your work that reading all the warning manuals in the world will never be able to. No one who has ever fired a gun could write their heroine blithely swinging a loaded gun around while talking to people, and anyone who has experience on how quick and complete the sword can cut something, they would never have their hero swinging it in any situation but a fight to the death.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Editing: Pleasure and Pain

I love editing my work. I also love getting the first draft down and letting the story unfold. I love getting to know my characters better and really understanding where they’ve come from and why they are who they are and why they act the way they do. But editing is where the story and the characters begin to shine.

And it’s a good thing I like editing because recently I discovered I was going about it the wrong way or at least the wrong way for me. As a result, I have spent way too much time working on Blood Judgment, my urban fantasy romance.

I would edit a little as I went. I just couldn’t stop myself from going back and reading over some of the previous writing and working it a little before delving into the writing session. So what, you say, lots of writers do that and do it well. True. But I bet those writers had it together at the beginning and had a better outline for their project. I outline as much as I can and then pantster it where I need to. It’s the pantstering that causes me problems. Of course, I also come up with some darn good ideas as I go along, too, so pantsing has its rewards.

Once I arrived at The End, I began editing in earnest making pass after pass until I thought, hey that’s pretty good. Then a bad thing would happen. I would make a change to a subplot or the main plotline and because of that change I would have to make changes in other parts of the ms. Parts that I had already edited to perfection, or at least what I thought was perfection when I moved on to the next section.

The problem is pretty obvious. It’s the going back and having to change what had already been edited.

Then I ran across a book called The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel: A Step-by-Step Guide to Perfecting Your Work by Robert J. Ray. This book pointed out the error of my ways and put me on the path of good editing. Robert J. Ray explains how to handle editing subplots and the main plot to prevent the very problem I was having. Then once those edits have been made, and only then, do you polish the sentences. Talk about editing empowerment. This book is on my keeper shelf. I don’t agree with every little recommendation in the book, but overall, I really like it and find it useful.

How about you? What are your favorite craft books? What did you take from them that made your job as a writer better or easier?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Genre-Bending: Sci Fi, Move Over

I'll just say it up front. I've never been a fan of traditional science fiction. If I see a spaceship anywhere on a book jacket, I won't pick it up. Distant planets with alternate cultures? No thanks. Military battles fought through the far reaches of the galaxy? Wake me up when the guys with the pointy ears win.

But one of the most interesting things going on in speculative fiction these days is the breakdown of the barriers that have traditionally existed between genres. I knew urban fantasy and romance had melded into that sexy beast known as paranormal romance--to the point where it's difficult with a series like the Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse novels, for example, to know exactly where they fit.

Gotta say, I love that. I mean, Black Dagger Brotherhood. Need I say more?

In early October, I'll be starting a new series of columns on my publisher's website (shameless plug for Tor.com here!), taking a look at the upcoming releases each month in science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy and YA. As I've sorted through the hundred-plus releases for October alone (no wonder my TBR pile is toppling over), I came across several new releases I didn't know how to categorize.

Steampunk, the current darling of the sci-fi world, blends mechanical whirligigs with alternate history with urban fantasy elements. I recently finished my first steampunk, Mark Hodder's The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack, and was blown away by it in much the way Simon R Green's Nightside series hit me when I first read it. There were so many ideas pulled from different places, it almost made my head explode: Victorian England, werewolves, chimney sweeps, Oscar Wilde as an urchin paperboy, mad scientists, airships, poet Charles Algernon Swinburne as a BDSM freak. I loved it. Technically, it's sci-fi, but not in any form I've seen it before.

Last year's Locus Award winner for best science fiction novel (and also a Hugo and Nebula nominee) was Cherie Priest's Boneshaker, a wild ride through Civil War-era Seattle that has been virtually destroyed by a mad inventor. There are also zombies. Priest's sequel, Dreadnought, is due out in October.

Bending genres even further is author Meljean Brook, who in October will give us the unlikely-seeming mashup of steampunk and romance in her novel The Iron Duke, which begins a new series teaming a feisty English inspector with a national military hero as they dodge zombies and cross treacherous waters to save England itself...and find time for a little love along the way.

Personally, I love these new genre mashups. For the first time in...well, ever, if I'm to be honest...I'm actually anxious to read something from the sci-fi shelves. It's not your daddy's space opera any more.

Have you read any genre-benders you'd recommend?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Sparkle of Romance and Gemstones

I forgot to mention in my first post that I'm a gemological technician. That and $2.00 will buy me a cup of coffee (no dessert). But I wanted to mention it because like a crow I have a tendency to go for the bright and shiny. I put gemstones and/or jewelry in almost all my stories. If you'd like I can post about the myths and legends regarding various gemstones. Here's Topaz and how it relates to sexual tension.

Topaz is called the Sun Jewel and has the widest range or curative powers. It takes its name from topazios, meaning 'to seek'. And what is the hardest thing for writers to do--finding the right balance of sexual tension? Sexual tension isn't sex scenes. It's chemistry. The attraction between your hero and heroine. It's the spark that keeps drawing them together.

Topaz, an aluminum silicate, has been used since the late 18th C. The most common color is yellow. The most valuable is pink. Topaz is known for inspiration and awakening. The Egyptians believed yellow topaz was colored with the golden glow of Ra. This made the gemstone a very powerful amulet that protected the faithful from harm. The Romans associated topaz with Jupiter. The Greeks felt that topaz gave them strength and made its wearer invisible in times of emergency.

For medicinal purposes, topaz was crushed into a powder and mixed with rosewater to prevent bleeding. Also, pressing the stone against the side of the nose stopped nosebleeds. Even more astounding, if one drank a dose of topaz and wine, madness would be cured.

In mystical things, the topaz is used for strength. Unfortunately, the gemstone's curative powers wax and wane with the phases of the moon.

The popularity of topaz grew tremendously during the Middle Ages when people believed the gemstone had the power to strengthen the mind. It is considered a symbol of friendship, and often is thought to bring together better and deeper relationship and to enhance one's ability to give and revive love. That could be why it is thought to increase creativity and feelings of joy.

And you can use that creativity to have your characters notice little things about each other. Make them aware. It can be the manicured fingernails of the hero, the timbre of his voice, the scent of his aftershave. Or, how about the warmth the heroine feels at his first touch, or the peppermint on her breath that reminds the hero of holidays and baking cookies.

Without topaz, which is considered a powerful aphrodisiac and often was used to treat sexual dysfunction, the lack of sexual tension makes your story flat. The challenge is to bring that awareness alive with little details about your characters. But you have to keep the readers guessing. Sexual tension isn't about will they or won't they. But, when will they.

All gemstones are gifts from the earth. It doesn't matter if they're precious, semi-precious or just pretty rocks. From the earliest times human beings have found beauty and magic within stones of all kinds.

If you want to know more about topaz, ask away.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Coach's Midnight Diner: an Experiment in Faith

http://themidnightdiner.com/


Yes, I called Coach's Midnight Diner an experiment in faith and I'm not really alluding to the fact that the Diner is a Christian horror anthology. It's also about faith in the writer.

I don't know if you've ever read any Christian fiction, if not, let me give you what has been sort of the sorry-assed formula through out the 70's and well into the 80's. It went like this: Mary is a teen with a problem. She swears and kisses boys and smokes. One day her Christian friend, Tammy, shows up. Tammy shares a scripture with her and Mary never ever swears or kisses boys again.

(Of course, one is forced to wonder just what the hell that scripture said...)

And the dialog in Christian stories had to follow strict guidelines. One is not supposed to swear in Christian literature. One may say, "Jonny swore," or come up with another, less vulgar way of speaking. In the end, gang members talked like this, "Say, Billy, I believe I know where we can score us some swell crack!"

But it was proper, you see.

And sex....please.

So, nope, no writing about unsavory characters and desperate situations. No using rough language, and no sex, not ever.

Then, I suspect, someone must have actually read the Bible. Jesus has whores and murderers in his family tree. In the time of Elisha there was a famine so intense people ate their children. In the book of Judges this one man's wife is literally raped to death and in his rage the man hacks her into chunks, straps her pieces to some of his mules and sends them to different parts of the country.

Then there are the amusing parts like when God smites some of the Pharisees with hemorrhoids. (Come on, that's funny.) Or when King Saul slips into a cave to relieve himself and David and his men are also in there hiding. It had to take true warrior discipline to stand there listening to the king of Israel take a dump and not burst out laughing. Especially for guys.

My point is that you couldn't have written about those things in modern Christian literature.

One of the truly shining, beautiful aspects of the Bible story is that despite tremendous darkness and the horror that comes sometimes with just being alive, the Light still shines. There is still cause for hope, still cause to love, still a reason to have faith.

Coach's Midnight Diner hands the keys back to the writer and let's them tell that story in whatever way they deem fit. And nope, it's not always pretty.

I was honored to be a part of their, "Back from the Dead," edition. This time out I share the platform with some truly exceptional authors. If you've never peeked at this type of literature...or if you have and ran the other direction...'Might be worth a second look.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Research... It's not just for Historicals

When I first started reading, I read historical romances. I'd double majored in Creative Writing and History for two years in college before realizing that I wanted to get out of school faster than would be possible with a double major, so I dropped History and went with Creative Writing. With that being said, why then do I write urban fantasies and paranormal romances?

I thought they'd require no research. I knew in my reading that so much goes into historicals that I didn't think I could pull off that caliber for creating novels as a new writer. I wanted to, of course, but it never occurred to me to even try. Now I feel ready to try all these years later. I'm currently plotting my first historical urban or dark fantasy.

That aside, I know the importance of research for contemporary novels now, too. The manuscript I'm currently editing has had several things I've had to look up. Pistol-whipping, car accidents, and city locations to name a few things. My next urban fantasy will be mostly placed in a foreign country, which I've visited. I have the benefit of having been there, but of course research comes in handy when I need to refresh my memory.

Google and Wikipedia are usually my starting points when I set about to research, from there, I try to find legit websites and glean information from them. I end up learning more than I initially sought after and have to close my web browser to get back to work. In the past, I've researched things in honest-to-God books, but with the internet being so handy, sometimes it's hard to get up the motivation to do so if I can find something quicker and easier on the web, unless the internet doesn't have what I need. I've thought about asking experts, but so far, I've just been a bit too timid.

How do you go about researching? What are your starting points? Do you use books or the internet?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Do your characters ever talk back to you?

One time I had this character who was so critical! I felt like they leaned across the wall of my brain with their arms crossed saying:

“Really? That's the best you can do?” Character taps foot.
“It's not that bad.” Author folds arms.
“THAT'S my conflict?... Seriously? Have you met me?” Character raises brow.
“Um... I created you.” Author feels smug.
“You're still on that? Psh. You may have created me, but have you met me?”
“Touché, character. Touché.” Author's smile fades.

END SCENE

Does your character ever run away from you? You're sprinting to catch up but eventually you have to stop because you're out of breath. Meanwhile, you're thinking... or perhaps yelling after them. “WHO ARE YOU?” But they can't hear you because they are out of here.

I’ve recently had this experience. You reach the end of writing your book and figure out that you don’t really know the character. It’s frustrating, but perhaps it’s also brilliant. Yes, you’re out hundreds of hours. There are hundreds of hours of more work in your future. But how totally awesome is it that you’ve made a character and it ran away from you?

Is that where vivid characters come from? Someone wrote a mediocre one and then discovered that the character had a lot more to do, a lot more to say, and a lot more to give. Fantastic!

That’s part of the beauty of writing. Even flat characters can have depth. You just have to find it. Writing a book without knowing your character is tough, but I would never call it a mistake. It’s part of the process. Every character you read started somewhere. Probably as a really boring person with minimal personality. Well, I might not go that far.

Some characters are just born a certain way. For instance, on the story I’m editing now, I knew the character was from a suppressed society that enslaved women. I think I rewrote the beginning six times, trying to make my heroine the way I thought a slave would act. It didn’t work because my character was like a light bulb. And she bubbles off the page all the way through. Of course, she needs a lot of improvement and I still have a long way to go with my revisions, but her personality was very distinct. It changed my whole concept, but I had to find a reason why she was this way. Her conflicts were still essentially the same, but her personality alternated her circumstances.

Characters are so interesting because they come from our minds. I’m not someone who uses people I know. At least, not intentionally. Does anyone use others as inspiration? I’d be really fascinated to hear a story of how that worked out.

Has your character ever run away from you, or am I just a lotta crazy?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lost in the Nightside

One of the things I love about fantasy and urban fantasy in particular, is the ability to make a soup out of the things you love and know about modern life, the media, a lifetime of reading, and just plain old daydreams.

I recently discovered the Nightside series by Simon R. Green. At present there are eleven books, and he plans to end the series at twelve. I’ve been thoroughly hooked on the books and been reading them at an alarming rate. Sometimes, two in a day. (It was a road trip and the husband was driving. I was reading.)

In the Nightside it’s always 3 in the morning. This world exists underneath modern London and consists of every vice, technology, magic, sinner and even a few saints that can be imagined. Though the saints don’t last long. It’s that kind of place.

Much as the television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, would include sly asides regarding pop culture and real life, so does the Nightside. Green created a world that celebrates all the quirky bits of life. And constantly there are bits and pieces that pay tribute to fads, pop culture, long running television, music, history (both real life and alternate)…it’s wonderful, marvelous bit of soup!

Featuring the adventures of the private eye, John Taylor, who uses his ‘private eye’ to find anything. John is a complex character who strongest personality trait is an undying loyalty to his friends. And when he takes a case, he follows it to the end, happy or not. He eventually hooks up with Shotgun Suzie aka Suzie Shooter aka Dear God, It’s Her, RUN! Suzie is a bounty hunter who would just as soon shoot than not. Less paperwork when you bring them in dead.

The books aren’t thick, there are repetitive details that I tend to skim over. But I doubt most people are reading them at my breakneck speed so hearing a description of Strangefellows, the bar John patronizes, over and over again won’t bother most readers. The writing is fast, snappy and I must admit, full of a great deal of tell instead of show. It’s written in first person POV and John does tend to lecture a bit.

But there is something about this series…

It may be the massive amount of genre rule breaking that is going on. Time travel, mystery, horror, a bit of gunslinger wild west, steampunk, science fiction, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic realism, adventure…it’s all there. The characters fascinate me, but I think it’s the world that keeps me hanging on. I’m not a devotee of dark fiction, generally. And things are often dark in the Nightside. The good guys generally win but the death toll can be incredible.

I’ve been trying to figure out what it is he’s doing that totally captivates me. And ponder how I can slip elements of what he’s created into my books.

There is something in the Nightside that reminds of the Lois McMaster Bujold and her Niles Vorkosigan series…Charles de Lint and his books set in Newford. His work harkens back to the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Pelucidar books. Or Fritz Leiber and the world of Lankhmar, featuring the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Even Michael Moorcock and Elric of Melniboné.

John is a private eye and the books are very much a tribute to heroes like Mike Hammer. If Mike had lived in a world that was a mad mix of Buffy/Dr. Who/Camelot/The Dresden Files/Anita Blake…

I love a good soup and writing a story that gets away with mixing it up. Every culture has it’s versions of soup…or its version of goulash/hash/pancit…the one pot, one skillet, one casserole meal.

What do you like to see mixed up and served between the pages? Or on the screen if you’re an e-book junkie like me?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Glamorous Life

As anyone who has never written a word for publication knows, once a writer becomes an author, they are living the glamorous life. They sit on the sofa and eat bon-bons all day as their millions pile up in the bank.

Uh yeah, those of us on the writer’s journey know better. Once you start selling, the workload gets worse. So much for glamor and bon-bons.

Most writers have an arsenal of tools, cool and helpful resources we’ve found along the way to help us make our lives easier. After I finished my first manuscript, I happened on a link for one of the coolest things I’ve ever found. Manuscript Analyzer. This is one nifty tool by Christopher M. Park. You load in your ms and this tool gives you some great information. It calculates how many times you use each word in your manuscript. It tells you the total words, distinct words, possible adverbs, and frequent offenders. It also lists each word and tells you exactly how many times you used it. From this I learned that I had an ongoing love-affair with the word realized. Not only was I using it too many times throughout the work, it is a telling word. I was committing a double whammy with that one. The great Manuscript Analyzer can be an eye opener. I bow to Mr. Park. You can find it at http://www.christophermpark.com/manalyzer.php to run it online. If you are uncomfortable with that, you can download the application to your computer. http://www.christophermpark.com/tools.php Either version will make your life better if not more glamorous.

The next thing I found to make me a better writer was the wonderful world of online workshops. I don’t recall how I found the first one, but I was instantly smitten with education for writers, all at my convenience. I found a second workshop soon after. Once I joined RWA and a couple sub-chapters, workshops started turning up like fleas on a dog. I was drowning in workshop bliss. Nothing could make it better…until I found this link http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Announceonlinewritingclasses/ which gives me a monthly listing of more workshops than I could ever take at once. I have recently read that new RWA rules will prevent workshops from being listed on sub-chapter loops. If that is the case, this link will be invaluable to the workshop junkies among us.

One other resource I use frequently is a fantastic list of action verbs. I keep a printed list for those moments when I can’t come up with something better. You can find it here http://www.deannacarlyle.com/articles/verb.html as an article by Deanna Carlyle. It will make your life easier.

So how about you? What cool tools do you have stashed in your writer’s toolkit?

Guest blogger Jorma Mäkelä

Hello everyone.

Today I would like to talk a little bit about a group of people. No one really trusts them or gives them a thought of day. You see, they are somewhat of a fantasy. Their cold, calculative, coffee hungry demeanor usually puts people off. Their lives revolve around death. Of course, I could say that these are lawyers, IT Support personnel, coroners, or even normal hunters. Nay. I am talking about Necromancers.

They have been around for ages, lurking in the background, sipping coffee and other narcotics, and having a jolly old time. In almost every culture, there is a reverence for the dead. Necromancers are more than just animators of dead tissue and bone. Their initial and primary purpose historically has been to communicate with the dead. In ancient Greece, for instance the dead were not omnipotent, but weak. However, they had knowledge and were tied to wealth unimaginable to mere mortals. Another important task that necromancers have had is understanding anatomy. For a long time, anyone working in field of anatomy were connected to a type of necromancy. While gaining access to fresh bodies was highly restricted, doctors learned what they could from old carcasses and naturally mummified corpses. Their behavior was not considered normal, but rather distasteful and unfit to most people.

When it comes to literacy and folklore, necromancers have always been painted in a somewhat unjust light. Usually they are the dark power roaming in the background negotiating with liches and raising "the new utterly undead skeleton army of the day" while sacrificing virgins on an altar to some dark entity. Some might abuse their power, that is true, but I fail to understand why necromancy is considered inherently evil. Old Greek tales mention men and women talking with the dead to convey the will of the gods to the people, future omens and events of the past.

Just to have a power does not mean that the power itself is inherently evil or bad. Necromancy is just another "art" along with Aeromancy, Pyromancy and many others. Having a gun does not make a person inherently a bandit or a robber. It is a question of control and the use of the power by the wielder that defines if it indeed is evil. The context means more than merely the type of art. Power is a tool. Tools do not kill people. Who pulls the trigger of a gun is responsible, not the gun itself.

I am currently plotting a Necromancer story for the upcoming NaNoWriMo. Meanwhile, I’ll return to my cup of coffee and give you a simple question, what are your thoughts on Necromancers and their art?

I am happily married to a wonderful woman, work in IT, and in my free time, I am designing a computer game project involving the undead. Check out my blog http://jormamakela.wordpress.com for tips on IT.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Writing in a split level head

Yes, for those of you old enough to recall Dr. Demento (and yes I'm dating myself and it ain't pretty) the title is an homage to a song played on that old radio show ;).

2010 has been the year of writing in a split level head for me. Or maybe it should be a triple level split ;).

I have been writing for a while but at the end of last year I decided I wanted to stop shopping my "overweight" epic fantasy (yes, epics can be too big if you're a new author ;)) and work on my craft.

Now along with trying to tighten my grammar and punctuation, I also wanted to work on story building aspects. And honestly just see what I can do in terms of multi-tasking. Lets face it, the days of an author having the luxery of only doing one book a year are quickly vanishing. Being able to put out more than one book a year is a skill I think we all have to develope.

So this year, the massive fantasy has been set aside and I've been editing my completed light SF book, finishing my humorous fantasy, and starting AND finishing my steampunk.

This has required a bit of split level mental living let me tell you.

The three series (since I seem to have psychological issues against writing a single stand alone book no matter how much I try- I'll be seeking therapy soon- no worries) are all very different. The light SF is very much what I call a graphic novel pace. It's fast, it's sharp, and it has lots of explosions. :). My heroine is tough as hell and takes no guff from anyone (well until our story progresses obviously ;)). The humorous fantasy is unlike the other two in that it's first person. It's also very flip, light, very few explosions but many drunken faery issues. Also a run in with a vile cherub gone bad. The steampunk-obviously- has a Victorian feel. Yet at the same time I've got an invasion from Mars going on so it's sort of Torchwood (with less angst) meets The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

All three have very different characters, settings, and vibes. I've found that switching between them does affect my mindset- I drink ALOT more tea when I'm working on the steampunk one for instance.

At first it was tough, I'm not just doing one, finishing, then moving on. In a single week I most likely have done something to all three. But as I go on with this experiment, I find that it's strengthening my focus. I can switch between worlds alot faster (the right music definitely helps ;)). Since the styles of the three are all so different, I find myself paying more attention to the twist of voice needed for each book. It's still my voice, but each one is a variation of it. My blow-them-up first-ask-questions-later Star ship captain is extremely different from my Victorian scientist. Yet they still have elements of my voice.

By the end of this year, I plan to have all three books finished and in final edits. While I won't be doing another triple split for a while, it was a very interesting and enlightening experience.

I like living in my split level head :).

Friday, September 3, 2010

Opening Lines...Opus 1

If I say the words, Beethoven’s 5th, you can hear Beethoven’s opening line even as we speak. Same with Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Oh, sure you can. Take a listen. (The vids in this post will require copying and pasting to hear them, but you won't regret it...)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GT7_Y1pIBb4

Mozart takes his opening musical statement and he works with it, expands on it, and sees it through several different view points. But the motif remains, no matter what the rest of the piece is doing.

Great music works a lot like writing a novel. Your opening line should be a powerful hook, something that presents the very essence of what your work is going to be about.

Example:

"All children, except one, grow up."

What a fantastic opening for “Peter Pan.” In a single sentence, we know what the story is all about, and the author simply worked the motif from there.

Some openings are not so brief, but even then, the opening must introduce the character of the tale. In The Haunting of Hill House, you could stop after the first line…

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream…

…and you just know bad things are on the way. But who stops there?

Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Ha! It practically BEGS to have this playing in the background….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FXoyr_FyFw (I love the way pipe organs take up most of a building, eh?)

Shirley Jackson maintains the same somber, chilling tone through out the book.

I should confess something right here…I am a classical violinist, so I come by my nerdiness honestly. But I wish I had made the connection between writing and composing much sooner, it would have saved me a great deal of time.
Is there anyone here who DOESN’T write to music? How many times has a particular song seemed to help your scene flow a little more easily? That’s because the music helps your mind arrange your words.

Itzhak Perlman, the greatest violinst in the world, in my opinion, has often said that violinists should play the way they sing. We don’t allow music to be mere recited notes from off of a page, but a more purely organic expression. Music does the same thing with our written words.

Here’s one more vid where another violinist, Joshua Bell plays and explains this concept a little more thoroughly. I know you won’t mind watching because Bell is flat out gorgeous, but especially listen when he talks about Bach’s musical motif…..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6ZKb99MXI0

Hey, another blogger here, Joan Coy is also a violinist and what can I say, we’re all just dead sexy.

But did you hear what he said? About Bach taking his one motif and using it to take you on a journey. And how the variations on the single motif grow to become like life itself…Hmmm…a story taking on a life of its own…Oh sure, what writer wants that? Uh…okay…every writer. Bach is like having a writing workshop transposed into musical form and pumped into your head.

And it all starts with the opening line…That tone setter. The very first beat of your story’s heart.

Maybe you’ve written or know of a line that both hooked you and set the perfect stage for an entire novel. By all means, please share! I’d love to hear it!

Thanks for reading!

Michele

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Guest blogger Lynda K. Scott

Day Dream Believer

I remember the first story I ever really wrote...way back in the 4th grade. I’m not sure what Mrs Moore’s goal was, other than to make us practice elements of English that she’d been trying to force into our demented little minds. But our assignment, to write a story with the main character going through a magic tunnel, stretched our imaginations.

Ahem. As an inveterate day-dreamer, I have to confess stretching my imagination has never been a problem. In school, I’d miss crucial details on assignments because I’d be creating worlds and people in my mind. Today, in business meetings, I have had to force myself to focus, to stay in the now and not think about the fascinating worlds or characters prowling through my mind.

Heartstone began in one such meeting. I started with the idea of a lone woman and infant wondering down a rural highway, dazed, confused and not knowing where they came from or who they were. That’s how Keriam, the heroine of Heartstone, came into being. She was the child who grew up with no idea that she’d come from another world. But what were she and her mother doing there? How did they get there?

As a writer, these kinds of questions filter through my mind at the oddest moments. One day, I was leafing through a magazine at the doctor’s office and I saw a photo of a truly gorgeous, bare-chested hunk with dark hair and silvery gray eyes. His eyes, both the color and the expression, reminded me of a wolf photo I’d recently seen. I knew I had to put him in a book. His name became Eric and he was a shape shifter. Here’s how I introduce both Eric and Keriam’s ‘mental problem’.


In the window, her cousin, Janna, fluffed the skirt of an old ivory wedding dress. Keriam smiled, remembering how the young woman had held it up to her body and admired it in the oval mirror. A true romantic, Janna fantasized about her wedding day constantly.

At least one of them had a fantasy.

In three hours, people would come into the store and browse through the collection of lovingly worn antiques.

People. Strangers.

She swallowed and rubbed suddenly damp palms against her pants legs. She took a deep breath. Released it slowly.

She and Janna would chat with them. Point out the eighteenth century armoire, the Art Deco or the kitschy collection of farm implements gracing the walls. Everything was going to be just fine.

Her stomach took a queasy roll.

Facing people she knew, and ones she didn't, was going to be hard. It hadn't always been so, just since her parents died. She inhaled raggedly at the surge of grief. So much had changed for her since then. But today was going to be a good day. It was, she repeated.

Janna backed out of the window. A moment later, she trotted through the front door to stand at Keriam's side. Her cousin's excitement poured off her in waves.

"Well? What do you think? Is it fantastic?" Janna asked.

"Oh, yes. Seriously fantastic."

"Are you sure?"

"It's beautiful." Keriam focused on the display, on the wedding dress with its yards of lace, fighting the rush of anxiety and joyous anticipation Janna was feeling. It would be worse if Janna actually touched her, she knew, and kept a careful distance between them. "Now. Let's get ready for hordes of customers to make us filthy rich."

"In your dreams," Janna said, laughing. As she passed through the door, she added, "Mine, too."

Keriam stopped as the weight of unseen eyes danced over her skin like thorny little ant-feet. She whirled, taking in the entire street with a sweeping glance.

Roseberg’s small business district, composed of ancient brick storefronts, would soon be bustling but now was serenely quiet. And yet...

Someone was watching her.

Across the street, a large black dog sniffed a reproduction coach lamp near the curb. Keriam dismissed the animal, letting her gaze move toward the intersection. A shadow, long and sharp in the sun's slanting rays, moved and vanished before Keriam could identify it. No faces pressed against the glass of the shops lining Main Street. There was no traffic.

Her attention returned to the dog. It sat, tongue lolling, tail idly sweeping the sidewalk. It had a feral tilt to its pale eyes that made her think wolf. Which was ridiculous, there weren't any wolves in this part of Michigan.

Then...expectancy flashed through her body, heightening her perception. From the east came the scent of the pig farms and the rendering plant, faint but distinguishable to her acute senses. Automobile fumes from the highway drifted, mingling with the occasional perfume of green, growing things from the surrounding farmlands. A silent call hung in the cool, morning air and she let the door close without going inside. She shut her eyes, fighting the urge to follow the call, to abandon Janna and the store.

A single, deep bark cut through the wild sensations and, as if a door slammed shut, the scents were gone, the call silenced. Her heart skipped a beat, then skittered like a wild thing. These episodes were coming far too often. And too powerfully. How long before she could no longer fight them?

In fact, Eric is the ‘dog’ Keriam sort of adopts at the beginning of the book and calls Wolfgang. Eric/Wolfgang, in true hero form, is there to protect Keriam from the villain who has just attacked her in this next excerpt.

She had to get away, had to run while Marc and the dog fought. Almost weeping, she couldn't find the strength to stand up as bout after bout of nausea wracked her body, doubling her over, making it impossible to stand much less run.

She had to get up. Had to.

Other sounds, the pound of running feet and the scrabble of clawed toes on dead leaves, broke through the haze in her mind. Get up, get up, she exhorted and stood on unsteady legs. She fastened on one thought--Run.

Suddenly there was silence.

Run!

"Keriam?" The soft male voice nearly stopped her short. She ignored it, took a faltering step away from the horror.

Run!

Keriam stumbled into a shuffling run.

A body stepped in front of her, cutting her off. A very naked, very male body.

She stared at him, incredulous, her lungs screaming for breath as her mind screamed for understanding.

"You must come with me," he said. Dark, wavy hair fell onto a face that had a rough elegance, yet was too strong to be conventionally handsome. His eyes were a compelling crystal gray, like smoke on a mirror, and were vaguely familiar.

Her gaze shuttled from his face, down his gleaming chest, and then centered on the junction of his powerful sweat-slick thighs. His penis bobbed, starting to swell, and her breath locked in her throat. She shuddered, staggered back.

He extended his hand toward her palm up and said, gently, "I will not hurt you, Keriamsadhe."

She clamped her mouth shut on a bout of hysterical laughter. Then she saw the patch of light looming behind him. A large, shining oval, a window, which revealed a forest in the full light of day.

Light that came from two directions.

Light with a distinctive orange tint. The birds within that window of light had bright, glittery scales and slender, forked tongues.

Mutants, naked men, windows to other worlds. She swayed, weak-kneed and her vision arrowed down to a tiny pinprick of light, then went black.

One of my early creative writing instructors insisted the story was in the details and he was right. I needed a home world and a hero for Keriam. But twenty six years after she and her mother left it, her home doesn’t look anything like it did. Purlea had been terraformed into a garden world in its heyday. But, after the planet was lost to the villain, the planet’s natural ecology began reasserting itself. The image of Purlea, after the terraforming began to fail, is based on one of the old Windows wallpapers that came on my PC.

The landscape was just as barren, bleak and desolate as it had looked on the holo-image. The wind moaned across the rocky plains like a tortured demon. Keriam pulled her cap down and her collar up to protect her face from the blowing dust and grit. The only signs of life were low, sulky bushes and a sooty yellow grass that hugged the ground stubbornly. Keriam thought it would be better off if it let go and flew into space. Eric resettled the pack on his shoulders after Froggie took wing. "Let's go."

With his long-legged stride, he set a brisk pace, aiming for the red splotch on the horizon that had to be the singular mountain she'd seen in the holo-image.

In single file, with Keriam in the middle and Eric in the lead, they set off toward the rising sun. Froggie quickly resumed his perch on Eric's shoulder, tucking his head under a leathery wing. The plains weren't flat, she discovered. The land actually dipped and swelled like a vast, frozen sea. Small, bloated plants with waving filaments broke the surface like fishermen in solitary clumps. Whatever those filaments meant to attract, Keriam hoped not to see.

Here and there, when the wind died, puffs of bilious yellow gas burst out of the ground like tiny stinking farts. Obviously, Purlea would never draw tourists in its present condition.

They stopped at mid-morning, then again at noon, to rest and eat. Beyond the ever-present dust devils and a few high clouds, nothing moved. It was easy to imagine they were alone on the planet, but she knew that Purlea teemed with Gawan-spawn. And soon, at dawn the next day, the city and its nearby Defense Base would be bombarded.

She felt a sudden upsurge of compassion for the dwellers here, the Gawan victims. And a deep concern that her biological father, if he still lived, might be harmed in the coming attack. Although he would never replace Don Norton in her heart, she had a deep-rooted need to see him, to try to rescue him. She looked up at the mountain, their destination. Their hope for victory.

The ancient volcano reared like a giant from the plains, wreathed with several wispy clouds over its jagged top. She placed her hand over her stomach, a fierce protective urge bubbling up in her throat. A moment later, reality set in and regret bloomed for the unformed life sheltered inside her. The poor thing might never have a chance to live, to be born. Everything depended on the outcome of their mission. Automatically, she looked at Eric. If anyone could pull this off, he could. She'd never known anyone with his stolid determination.

They reached the mountain just as dusk began to settle over the broad plains. Eric led them toward a series of broad terraces cut into the almost sheer sides and began to climb. She paused and looked back. In the distance, rising slowly, a low mist hugged the rocky, barren soil.

"Don't dawdle, Keriam." His light touch on her shoulder sent warm tingles through her body. She didn't want to respond to his touch, not at all, but there seemed little she could do to stop it. Their destination, a narrow slit concealed within one of the vertical crevices, came into view. Eric squeezed inside then stepped out, kicking dirt from the ledge. He darted a look at her, then said, "We'll rest here, then continue."

These kinds of images are what filters through my mind when I’m not totally focused on something else. I see a photo, I begin developing a story behind it. I hear a sound, I create a strange and wonderful source for it. My imagination runs rings around me, day and night, shouting with glee as it springs yet another story idea at me.

Mrs Moore probably had no idea that she would be creating a ‘monster’ when she gave us that magic tunnel writing assignment. But I have to be grateful to her for giving me the idea that my ‘day dreams’ can be written as stories for others to enjoy.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Great News! If you buy Heartstone through the Mundania site, you can use the code LSCOTT10 at checkout and receive a 10% discount on your total purchase. http://www.mundania.com/book.php?title=Heartstone

Trade Paperback
240 pages
$13.95
978-1-60659-233-5

eBook
$4.99
978-1-60659-232-8

Eric d'Ebrur is out of time. He must find the legendary Heartstone and fulfill the ancient Gar'Ja bond he shares with the Stonebearer. But when he finds her, he discovers that love can be more dangerous than the Gawan threat. Eric can defeat the mind-controlling Gawan but will it cost him the woman he loves?

After terrifying episodes of hypersensitivity, Keriam Norton thinks she's losing her mind. When handsome shapeshifter Eric d'Ebrur saves her from the monstrous Gawan, she's sure of it. But insane or not, she'll find the Heartstone and, if she's lucky, a love to last a lifetime.

Heartstone is also available on Amazon.com if you prefer (but there’s no discount there) http://www.amazon.com/Heartstone-Lynda-K-Scott/dp/1606592335/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1281979082&sr=1-1

If you join my newsletter group AND email me with the words Castles and Guns in the subject line, I’ll enter you in a drawing for a ‘heartstone’ necklace of your own. Deadline: Tuesday, Sept 7.

I love contact with my readers and there’s lots of ways to stay in touch with me. The best way is to join my newsletter, a non-chat yahoo group, with a low volume. Hope to see you there!

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I'm a Professional Juggler

Not the fun kind. I wish I could entertain at parties, but I fear I just don’t have the flare. Today, I’m concentrating on life and how everyone juggles. Moving, changing jobs, finding jobs, kids, families, births, deaths, babysitting, dogsitting, finishing school, going back to school, writing, reading, dentist, doctor, bills, mortgage, rent, work… *Takes a deep breath* Anyone else exhausted? There is so much life “stress” and sometimes people tell me everything they handle and my mouth hangs open.

It started my mind turning today. How does “stress” apply to fiction? Or, more importantly, how does life stress effect characters?

Has anyone ever heard the saying, “life happens”? Boy, does it. In fiction, a world happens. It’s different, though. The heroine doesn’t have to worry about rocks hitting her windshield on the freeway, or someone hitting my (I mean her…) car at the grocery store and driving away. Her dog never has an accident in the house. Unless one of these “moves the plot forward”… but when does it? It never moves anything important forward in life, except perhaps the annoyance scale. These are all life stresses that drastically affect our lives on a day-to-day basis, but most of these are seemingly absent in fiction. Especially fantasy.

Here’s the kicker. Maybe, it’s even the reason I read fantasy… Some days, wouldn’t you rather fight an evil wizard than stare at your cracked windshield one more time? Give me a damn sword, people. I’ll save the world. Anything would be better than one more bill from the doctor’s office. So when I get home from wielding my sword on a daily basis (a metaphorical sword… nowhere close to being as cool as a real one)… I want to escape into a world without the little things plaguing it.

Sure, someone’s life is in the balance. A war evolves: good versus evil. The fate of the world hangs in the balance. Couples cling together in their last moments as everything around them, life as they know it, collapses. Drama… tension! But where’s the stress? Where’s the broken nail as they hang off the edge of an impossible cliff?

It’s absent. I’m thankful for it. I often hear “nobody wants to read that”… When it comes to stress, I agree. What do you think? Are you glad aspects of “real life” are missing? Have you read a story where the heroine is stressed out? Like normal people stressed out… I tried to think of all the stories I’ve read and I couldn’t think of a heroine who suffered from one of these small annoyances and allowed it to drastically influence her life. But doesn’t it influence yours? Is this a trait that separates our characters from ourselves?