Saturday, October 30, 2010

Writing what you want to read.

Why do people write? There are probably as many reasons and justifications (yes, sometimes madness does need to be justified) as there are writers. Some do so because they have a story to tell them world, vital information and insight that they feel the world will be weaker for not having. Bully for them. Not trying to be snarky, and in a few cases the author may be right. But it does sound a wee pretentious to me.

Could be because I'm not writing for the same reason they are. I write because as many wonderful, amazing books that are out there (far more than I can ever hope to read) there are some stories missing. You know how it goes. Sometimes you pick up a great sounding book, start to read, then realize the author had a completely different idea of the plot that you did. You start to think and wonder why didn't they turn left instead of right (yeah- Doctor Who reference there- go look it up ;)). A whole different story could have taken place. Eventually, in some of us folks with this odd illness, we start missing the books we think should be there. Sort of like a phantom pain of a missing limb, only these limbs never existed.

Trying to badger favorite authors into writing one of these missing tomes won't really work. Most of those fine folks have enough missing tomes in their own heads, they certainly don't need other folks dumping theirs in there as well.

The only option is to make it yourself. The idea pops in your head, prompted by other books, movies, tv shows, songs, pictures, whatever. It then kicks around, bouncing in your brain as it picks up more little bits of ideas, characters, concepts. Pretty soon you're thinking that man, you really want to read that book about the Girl and the Gadget who saved the world.

Then it hits you- it only lives in your head.

So, in self-defence of the valuable and limited space inside my head, I have to write the stories down. I need to get them out so I don't forget important things like where I live, what my name is, what I had for lunch. But also so that I can read the whole story. So that I can find out what exactly happened. Who lived, who died, who got drunk and started screaming for dancing minkies (you'll have to read my book for that one ;)).

Some writers write because they want to share their insights, some of us do so to see what exactly is lurking in our heads.

The quote for today:
"If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." ~Toni Morrison

Friday, October 29, 2010

You Never Forget your First... Tough Chick

You young'uns have it so easy. Nowadays everytime you turn around, there is yet another kick butt heroine to admire. Movies, TV, comics, books... no matter the medium, you can find some woman to satisfy your tough chick cravings.

In my day, we had to walk five miles in horrible conditions... uphill... both ways... to find something - ANYTHING! - related to a woman who could handle herself and all the guys around her.

Sure, there were a few, but in such drips and drabbles that you were just about to give up hope when the next one arrived.

Wonder Woman was the start of it. Sure, you can look back at her BDSM origins and propensity for having phallic shaped objects hurtling towards her and roll your eyes, but even those could not conceal the fact that finally there was a woman that the bad guys should run away from.

Several decades later, Ellen Ripley was introduced. Ripley - from the 'Alien' movie franchise - did not have superpowers of any kind, and that made her all the more amazing. She kept her head, fought moved forward in spite of her fear, and would never have been stupid enough to go weaponless outside and ask, "Is anybody there?" The part of Ripley was originally written for a male; bless the producers of 'Alien' for casting the amazing Sigourney Weaver.

A tough chick in the same mold as Ripley, we later met Sarah Conner from the 'Terminator' franchise. In the first movie, Sarah was as any of us, with man troubles, a horrible job, and who probably would go "Who's there?" at a strange noise. By the second movie, the woman could strip an AK-47 in less than a minute and break out of a maximum security institution. More than perhaps any other female character, Sarah represents the inner strength of women, of how we will transform ourselves to meet any challenge, especially when it comes to protecting out children.

There are a few other female characters whose advent preceded the tough chick revolution and help it come about, but I want to talk mostly about a character who had an impact on my own young life.

That character was She-Ra.

You heard me. She-Ra. Go ahead and laugh. I'll wait. Are you done?

Look, I get it. She-Ra in many ways was analogous to early Wonder Woman. The woman wore more make-up than most burlesque performers and had the same wardrobe to boot! (Speaking of boots, hers were high heeled.) A chunk of her powers were of the "Let's all be friends, kum by ya" variety. And she couldn't have been the sharpest blade of the bunch if she was the General of the Army but didn't realize she was in service to the big bad.

Yes, yes, yes, got it. I do get it. But you also have to look at what other female role models were available. That would be none. All other girls were there to look pretty and nothing else.

She-Ra had some problems, but in that show, the women were unapologetic about being the ones who kicked butt and ran operations. It was the guys who kept needing to be saved - and I discovered even then that I like the alpha boys, because I always thought She-Ra needed to dump that guy who she kept rescuing and find someone who she could actually count on to fight beside her and not be captured.

We may be in a more wondrous age as it concerns our tough chicks, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't remember those characters who helped blaze the way. Which tough chick made the most impact on you?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

This week, I've been getting ready for an intense experience know as none other than... National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short). For those who might not know, it's a month long writing event where you aim to write 50,000 words by the end of November. It begins November 1st, and you have a daily goal of at least 1,667 words. This year will be my sixth year/win. I know, I'm so humble. haha

Preparing is even more important to me this year than previously since I usually give myself November and then finish up my novel in December, but this year, I'm going to Europe for Christmas to spend time with hubby's family. So I'll only have a month and a half for my novel to get done before the end of the year (because I'm a sadist obviously), and I'll have to write quicker than I ever have.

Anyways, the meat of how I'm preparing.

1. First things first, I've let my family and friends know that I will be participating in NaNo. By now, they know how important it is to me, so I'll have their support throughout the month. They'll be there to cheer me on, but also, it shows them that I have set a priority on my writing.

2. I've taken care of (and am finishing up) things that could tie up my time during November and other writing projects are being placed on the back burner while I work on this new novel. Anything that isn't urgent or pressing has been dealt with. I've mostly gotten caught up on my favorite shows, too. That way my obsessions won't take up my time. lol

3. Figuring out what I'm going to work on for NaNo. With the amount of words needed to be written in the span of only thirty days, I always figure out what my novel is going to be about and (some years) outline it accordingly. Now, I'm not the type of person to write fifty page intensive outlines, but I do like to have a road map of getting from Point A to Point B. That way, I have a sense of direction, but there's a lot of options still open. It's still an adventure.

4. Cleaning my desk. Yes, I know. It should be something I keep tidy on a normal day, but with NaNo here... I'll need a place for my story notes, my character list, and my favorite caffeinated beverage, Coke.

5. Lastly, I'm kicking my internal editor to the curb. Recently, I've been doing a decent amount of editing, so the internal editor is strong. I've been doing more reading to try to cage it, and come November 1st, it's not going to be let out. It's important to keep a decent speed with writing during NaNo. If not, it can be easy to run into barriers that you can't figure out how to get around. I've noticed that when I am going quickly enough, that my brain helps me figure these things out instead of crossing her arms and refusing to help.

Anyways! That's what I'm doing this year. I hope it gave ideas of ways to make this year a winner if you're participating in NaNoWriMo! Each week in November, I'll blog my journey and share struggles and how things are going. Are you doing NaNo this year? What are you doing or have done in preparation?

The official National Novel Writing Month website. http://www.nanowrimo.org/

More Tips for NaNo.
http://www.writersdigest.com/article/november-is-national-novel-writing-month/

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Just Have to Laugh!

Have you ever read a story and laughed out loud? It occurred to me, that some people might not. I do all the time! Probably every book I read. At least once. Whether it’s an awkward moment or the hero says something lame (but I happen to find him endearing). There’s always at least one moment when I giggle.

But then there are those especially funny books… The ones that you just have to share! But sitting in my house, it’s either my husband or puppy. Neither of them particularly cares. But I must share how hilarious this was! I try to paraphrase, but he doesn’t get it. I read it word-for-word… still no laugh.

“No! You don’t understand. This is classic. CLASSIC.”

Yeah… nope. Not even a grin. Now occasionally, I can coax one out. But it’s only because I’m being ridiculous. Not because he took my side in the book argument.

I guess this is what happens in real life. It seems strange to me that someone could read this GENIUSNESS and not crack a smile. Are they reading the same thing?

Then it got me thinking… Maybe it’s like jokes. The Comedian was hilarious when he said it, remember? You try to imitate their tone, their emphasis. You think you’ve got it going on. Then you finish the joke… silence. Even family members won’t humor you. Then it starts the whole… “I didn’t say it right. When this guy said it, it was hilarious!” But at that point, you’ve ruined the joke for everyone. Way to go. Because ten bucks says that person won’t even laugh when the Comedian says it… because all they will remember is you crashing and burning.

Harsh right? Comedy is a tough world.

But for me, it’s simple. Make me laugh out loud, and I’m yours forever. I think its one great thing about the paranormal romance market. The authors can master dark and compelling stories and characters. But humor creeps in. All I’m asking for is a little.

What about you? Do you laugh out loud, or do you keep your amusement to yourself?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Guest blogger Shiloh Walker

Finding Inspiration…

I rarely know what to guest blog about. Often I ramble. Usually about stupid stuff, but I end up making people laugh, and hey, I guess if I can score entertainment points, that's a good thing, right?

HOWEVER… I've had somebody nag…err… asking me to talking about the inspiration behind some of my fairy tale characters. So, today… that's what I'm going to do. Seems fitting… at a blog called Castles and Guns, my fairy tale/Grimm series is now out in print, I've got the next out in ebook tomorrow…why not?

The inspiration… originally… was Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Hansel and Gretel episode. J First character? Gretel. All grown up, but not Hansel, because in my world, Hansel was a bad, bad soul who met a very nasty end, because he did bad, bad things.

My fairy tale world is a weird one. You see, they aren't exactly retold fairy tales--more like reimagined--imagine the characters are real, and the stories were created to hide something scarier…darker.

Like Greta's story--she doesn't go by Gretel, and she doesn't like to think about her life, a time when her step-brother Hans molested her and her step-mother turned a blind eye to it. A time when her step-mother sold her out to whomever would pay the pennies for a day's work. It stopped when a kind women 'bought' Greta…and without Greta knowing it, this woman was what was called a Grimm… a guardian angel. They fight the demons who slip through a barrier into our world and possess mankind, and sometimes, they intervene when there are children, like Greta, being horribly mistreated.

Her hero? Rip--not from a fairy tale, but a folktale… Rip Van Winkle and he didn't sleep twenty years. There's a story there, but you'd have to read Candy Houses to find out more.

The next one? No Prince Charming and you can probably guess… it's Cinderella, and after three hundred years, her not-so-charming prince finally catches up with her.

Crazed Hearts is the third one, but I'm not telling who the inspiration behind Ren is…I kept his secret close. And he's still one of my favorites. His heroine is mortal.

The latest story, Tarnished Knight, is a weird twist on Rapunzel, but I used an earlier version-Percinette. She's broken inside over a tragedy that happened between her and her prince and it takes a smart-ass, cocky mortal to bring her back to life.

I've finished the fifth story, Locked in Silence, but it's one I'm holding close to my chest, too. Unfortunately, it's going to be quite a while before my readers get, almost a year, probably July or later. The characters in that book aren't anybody who have been introduced, other than Will, who is kind of the boss, and a smart-alec new angel by the name of Mandy. And if anybody wants to know the inspiration behind her character? Well… it's this Mandy

So that's a bit of info about the series, and for anybody who hasn't checked them out…if I haven't totally confused you, maybe you'll want to check them out… You can read more about them here.

Thanks for dropping by!

Shiloh Walker
http://shilohwalker.com/website

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beauty and the Beast: Book Covers

I love a beautiful cover. They draw me like the moth to flame. I’d be a liar if I said otherwise. I live in dread of selling my baby, Blood Judgment, and having someone in the art department come up with a hideous cover. It’s true, I freely admit it.

The cover is the first thing you see on the shelf. If it’s gorgeous I’m much more likely to pick it up and flip it over to read the blurb. If the blurb hooks me, I’ll read the first page. Then I make “the decision”. Buy it or set it down. There are exceptions. Maybe someone said I would love the book or maybe I know the author and want to support her/him. Otherwise, if the cover is bad and the title doesn’t hook me, it’s dead in the water. I know I am not alone in my cover prejudice. I know it isn’t right, but that’s how it is.

Friday I picked up a copy of Liz Carlyle’s One Touch of Scandal. I haven’t started reading it yet but the blurb grabbed me…right after that gorgeous cover caught my eye.

Another cover that I think is beautiful is JR Ward’s Lover Revealed. I like most of the covers from the BDB series, but the colors in this one blow me away.

Remember the covers on the old bodice rippers. Like the books or not, some of those covers were gorgeous. I loved this book, The Black Swan, by Day Taylor, and the cover.

Is it right that people pick books based on the cover? Of course not. But we all know it happens and I’ve already fessed up to doing it.

This brings me to the thing that really bugs me. Are writers and readers the only people aware of this? Why do publishers send books out the door with bad covers? If their artists can’t do better, why are they employed by the publisher? Why should writers live in fear of getting a bad cover? This should be such a non-issue and it isn’t. I see bad covers every time I walk past shelves of books.

As someone who can draw and paint (you didn’t know I can do that, well I can, and quite well), when I see these covers, I wonder what the person who designed it feels about it. Did they like it? Were they so rushed they just didn’t care? Did they think it was fabulous?

What do you think about bad covers? Have you ever gotten one? If so, do you think it hurt sales? Am I just a cover snob when no one else is bothered? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Re-thinking a Manuscript-...Again

Confession up front: I'm a certified plotter. If there were Anal-Retentive Writer Awards, I would win one or two or three.

Last year, during National Novel Writing Month, I decided to try being a pantser like my crit partner Susan. Susan calls me Rain Man, sets her characters free and lets them roam. I can do that, I thought. I had a seed of a book idea in my head, I knew a lot about my characters, I had already played out in my mind how the book would start.

NaNo came, and by the end of November I had almost 60,000 words and a few problems. First, that was it. The whole book. And it was too short. Second, it wasn't very deep. Third, it had no spark in its two-POV (hero/heroine) form.

So after writing the book in a month, I spent eight months retroactively plotting it, devising a multiple POV format and coming up with a sizzling subplot. I tore it apart and put it back together at 96,000 words. Now I had another problem. I liked the book but recognized that it had a slight case of multiple personality disorder. It was two books: a sort-of paranormal romance (from NaNo) and a sort-of urban fantasy (from rewrites). It sat firmly on the fence between two genres. Still, I liked it. My beta readers liked it. Maybe no one will notice it doesn't sit firmly within a single genre.

Yeah, right.

I got some editor feedback last week, to the effect that "Well, I like it but it isn't a real paranormal romance or urban fantasy--it falls betwixt and between...Can you revise it so that it's a true paranormal romance?" One sharp cookie, that editor.

And so it is that I find myself, on the eve of another National Novel Writing Month, once again taking apart last year's NaNo effort and rethinking it. Shortening some subplots. Expanding the romantic element. Upping the personal stakes.

To quote Scarlett O'Hara: "As God is my witness, I will never go hungry write without a plot again." Have you ever torn a manuscript apart and put it back together again...twice?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Are You Ready To Make A Commitment

Funny title, huh? I picked commitment to blog about because I screwed up. I'm blogging today (thanks to the modern miracle of electronics, etc) but won't be able to reply until Tuesday. Bad, Darcy.

So what is commitment to a writer? Making publishing deadlines, writing a book, finishing it, attending critiques with material to read and critique others in the group. The list is endless. Personally, I think the number one commitment a writer needs to make to themselves is WRITING. It's a struggle, but is something you need to do every day. You can use a word or page count. Whatever you like best. Find a place to write at and do it on a regular basis.

 At the October meeting of Eastside Romance Writers I sat next to a woman who didn't know where to write. She had kids, obligations, etc. So I told her my schedule when I worked at a large airplane company. I left home a little so I could play twenty questions in my head while I drove to work. I'd jot down those thoughts when I arrived, sort of filling in the blanks. At lunch I would pull out my own disk and type what I'd jotted down. Again, that flushed ideas/scenes out more. At night, after the kids were in bed, I'd look at what I completed. Usually it was anywhere between one and five pages. By the end of the week, if I was lucky, I had almost a complete chapter. I spent part of the weekend finishing up and polishing what I'd done. On Monday, I started the process all over again.

Everyone's commitment will be different. That's all right. We're individuals. Adults. We have different levels of writing ability.

In all honesty, commitment takes planning. Which wraps right back around to me . . . and why I won't be able to respond to your comments or questions until next Tuesday. Sorry.

What about you? What kind of commitment are you willing to make to be a writer?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Harmony in All Things

Hello all!

Before I get to my post, I'd like to send a small reminder that NaNoWriMo will be starting soon. If you don't know what it is that I'm talking about, please go to www.nanowrimo.org for all the amazing information. If you do know what I'm talking about, my name there is DanielleMonsch (clarity over creativity, that's my motto!) Please feel free to add me to your buddies :)

On with the post!

One of my favorite pieces of classical music is "The Nutcracker Suite" by Tchaikovsky. The story is about a older girl/young woman on Christmas Eve who receives a Nutcracker as a gift. She falls asleep and dreams that the Nutcracker comes to life, battles an evil Mouse King, turns into a handsome prince who takes her to his magical kingdom, and then she wakes up (there are of course story variations - in some tellings, it's not a dream - but that is the main swing of things). I love every single piece of music created for that ballet.

Being a Christmas fairy tale story the music is light and sparkling, introducing us to all of the wondrous creatures who populate the magical kingdom. Even the battle music, thrilling though it is, never goes too dark - always reminding us that in dreams, the good guys win.

There is only one piece of music that sort of breaks from this mold. The music from "The Arabian Dance" has a lushness, a hint of sensuality to it, a slight darkness around the edges, that no other piece of music in the ballet contains. It reminds us that this is a young woman starting on the path of adulthood, and though she is not yet mature enough for a true romance with the Nutcracker Prince, she is now irrevocably on that path.

So, what the hell does this have to do with writing? Follow me for a couple more minutes here.

"The Arabian Dance" is different from the rest of the music, but in the context of the ballet, it works. Thematically, "The Arabian Dance" fits with the other music, showing the girl both the inhabitants of this magical realm, but also doing double doing in showing pieces of herself. In terms of musical harmony, if you listen to the entire Suite, all the music flows together. Yes, every piece is different, but you never experience that jolt that pulls you out of the music and makes you reorient yourself.

Making every section unique and distinct, and yet it all flows perfectly together, that is the mark of a master.

Such as it must be for your story.

Usually PR and UF are darker in tone. In too many books, as I'm reading, the author will throw in some random 'wacky' moment that comes from nowhere and I don't know what to do with it. It jars me out of the story. Now I know why they did it. They were afraid of the book getting too dark and wanted some levity to make sure the book didn't end up depressing everyone.

A completely understood reason, and one I agree with. However, the problem was, there was no harmony, there was no flow. The levity didn't connect with anything else in the book, so it ended up a lump, ugly and just there, something to shake your head at.

Humor can be found in any situation - the term 'gallows humor' came into being for a reason. No matter how dark your book, if you desire, you can add scenes to give it a lightness around the egde that will prevent your readers from donning all black and debating poison vs. drowning as methods of suicide. Just make sure there is harmony to your work, a thematic coherence that will pull your readers into the story instead of jolting them out of it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Superstitions about Cats

Sorry for the delay of this post. It goes to show that never plan on doing things at the last minute, lest you forget that you have to do it! And, do things in advance when you have something uber stressful going on (aka getting new driver license w/tests).

So! Today I'm talking about some of the superstition regarding cats. Being a cat lover, I find the topic quite interesting. Below are the most fascinating superstitions I was able to find.

As most people know, Ancient Egyptians worshiped cats, and as one of my favorite cat-related quotes go, "Thousands of years ago, cats were worshiped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this." Anyone who owns a cat knows this is true, but, back to the subject. =) Part of the reason why Egyptians worshiped cats were because of the cat’s "glowing" eyes. As I found from one of my sources, "This was because Egyptians worshipped the sun, and they believed that cats could retain the sun's power within their eyes. They believed this because of a retina adaptation called ‘tapetum,’ which is the phenomenon that causes cats’ eyes to appear to glow in the dark; anyone who has seen a cat has probably noted this phenomenon, wherein a cat’s eyes reflect a somewhat green circle of light." That's surprising to me since I hadn't really heard of that idea before doing my research, but it makes a lot of sense.

Another very interesting tidbit is that during the medieval ages just before the Bubonic Plague really started up, there was a lot of cat killing going on. And...guess what? That is one of the reasons why the Bubonic Plague was so devastating. Cats would have been important in killing the brown rats, which spread the black plague.

Another source has this to say about cats in the Middle Ages, "It was largely in the Middle Ages that the black cat became affiliated with evil. Because cats are nocturnal and roam at night, they were believed to be supernatural servants of witches, or even witches themselves. Partly because of the cat's sleek movements and eyes that 'glow' at night, they became the embodiment of darkness, mystery, and evil, possessing frightening powers. If a black cat walked into the room of an ill person, and the person later died, it was blamed on the cat's supernatural powers. If a black cat crossed a person's path without harming them, this indicated that the person was then protected by the devil. Often times, a cat would find shelter with older women who were living in solitude. The cat became a source of comfort and companionship, and the old woman would curse anyone who mistreated it. If one of these tormentors became ill, the witch and her familiar were blamed." That makes more since on why people thought they needed to kill cats at the period of time, but it's still so horrible!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this topic! I'd love to hear what you think about these beliefs as well as share your own. Have you heard of interesting cat superstitions or tidbits?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You know it’s a Good Blog if…

There are so many blogs out there in the publishing industry, it would be impossible to read them all. You can spend three to four hours on a Saturday browsing last week’s entries and you still won’t hit more than your top five blogs. Trust me, I’ve done it. So what makes these sites popular?

I’ve assembled a list. And I’m asking what you think about it and its relation to fantasy.

You Know it’s a Good Blog if:

•You log onto the internet to search for something specific, find yourself on a blog, and then an hour later log off internet explorer before ever going to your original intended site.
•It makes you laugh out loud. This is no small feat. Literally laughing. Not overplayed “LOL”, which people have a tendency to use to bridge awkward silences.
•It takes less than ten minutes to read.
•You actually continue reading past the usual ten minute marker because it’s so interesting.
•It solves a mystery of something in your mind that you’ve been mulling over for days.
•There’s regular posting, so you can count on an entry. This is a shout out to all the busy people… which is pretty much all of you.
•The author’s voice shines through so clearly in the writing that it makes you buy their book.
•Someone whose life perspective makes you want to be their friend in real life. So you do the next best thing by “follow”ing them on the internet, which is pretty much stalking for the shy or lazy. Not that I have anything against it. I'm a fan.
•A perspective that’s different. A blog you can read that’s from someone else’s viewpoint and broadens your own.
•One that makes you think. Not always agree. But think.
•Content. You care about the topic. And if you didn’t at the beginning, you do by the end.

These are just a few of my own observations. What makes a good blog from your perspective? Does the content matter? As a site focused on fantasy, are our goals any different than an Editor or Agent blog? At the end of the day, the content shifts across the industry, but we’re all after one thing. We all love to read, write, and bring books to the public. So does “Good” transcend all that?

Or is it all about the one thing I left off the list. Connections. If you have a voice that everyone can relate to or be intrigued by, people will read. No one is going to read something they can’t connect with. Same goes when a reader picks up something from the shelf. You may write something that doesn’t connect with the masses, but even a small following is worth taking the time. In my opinion, that’s “good”.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The UF Heroine – Kick Ass and Attitude?

Writing the urban fantasy heroine is a real challenge for me. The common denominator of all UF heroines is that they are tough, kick ass women. Well, with the one definite UF I’ve written, I have a tough, kick ass woman heroine. But! I battle with her as much as my hero does. I just see her as terribly flawed, because she is completely caught up in being a tough, kick ass woman. She hasn’t slowed down and actually reflected on why she is doing what she does, why she reacts without thought, literally who she is! She is caught in a trap of being a victim, even if she doesn’t know it!

I love Ivy, but she is one tough chick to write. To make her refusal to see beyond her past to realize she even has a future, is hell. I think I’ve done it, but I’m letting the MS rest before checking it over again. And my agent is reading it, so I’ll get some professional feedback on whether I nailed it or not.

Anyway!

I’m working on the follow up to the book Decadent Publishing bought and find myself with a similar heroine for that book, a fairly straightforward paranormal adventure. She is the quintessential victim who has no idea how much that identity is driving the decisions she makes.

It’s one thing for a victim to know she is a victim and to react in the accepted manner of victims. Generally they aren’t terribly sympathetic characters and most readers seem to find them tiresome.

I feel the same way about such characters. And here I am, writing a character that has the same bent…but without the normal baggage that comes with it. (Well, not that she’s aware of.) (I’m making myself dizzy…)

I’m hoping I can avoid my reader finding them tiresome.

I do think that victims in denial of being victims are interesting to write, but I’m not sure my readers will find them attractive. But if they are ass kicking, tough, with attitudes… Of course, they are wounded women in need of healing, but isn’t that pretty much a given when writing? There has to be some vulnerability, even Superman has his kryptonite.

Am I overstating the tough ass-kicking attitude holding UF heroine? I for one, hate stereotypes, but this one does seem the norm. For now. Until something else sweeps the genre. Your thoughts?

Monday, October 18, 2010

When Your Character Isn’t Who You Think He/She Is

When I first started writing with the intention of seeking publication I was strictly a panster. For me, that wasn’t a good thing. I spent two years on the first book. I have rewritten that book more times that I will admit to and I still haven’t sold it. Although I think I have repaired all of my self-inflicted damage and believe it now stands a shot at selling. I started that book over five years ago.

Before I began my second novel I cranked out an outline. That book went a lot better, but I still had to rewrite it more times than I want to think about. This book is now ready to go. . .after three years of revisions and rewrites. So what was the problem? It wasn’t the main plot or subplots. It wasn’t problems with the heroine or the villain. It was the damned hero. In both cases I didn’t really know my hero and the hero is almost always the MC in my work. Not good when you don’t know your leading man well enough to let him shine.

I have a tendency to write heroes who start out a lot less than they need to be to pull off extracting themselves from whatever poo I’ve stuck them in and winning the heroine’s love for their happy-happy in the love department. Once I get them in the poo pile, they grow into an alpha. Sounds like it should work, right? Hero grows into a badass mofo by the end of the book. Yes? Well, no. By the end of my struggles with Blood Judgment, I had isolated my problems to that issue. Once I worked back through the manuscript and made all the revisions to correct my hero, everything clicked.

I realized that in both manuscripts, Crimson and Blood Judgment, that the heroes were not the characters I had thought they were at the beginning of their stories. And in both instances, I had written them in the same way.

The mistake I made was in writing characters who did not have what it takes to get where they needed to go. They simply weren’t capable at the outset of becoming what they had to be. Once I understood where I had gone wrong and reworked them, making them tougher at the outset, the stories worked. They no longer had to make such a big change and as a result they came off as more believable. Character change is necessary but it won’t work if the change isn’t realistic to the story.

So how about you? What character blunders or others have taken the longest to see and correct?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Guest blogger Kathy Kulig

Dragons and Other Cryptid Creatures

I love flipping through mythology, ancient folklore and supernatural books to stir up ideas for my novels. Take a myth and twist it a little, surround it with interesting characters, a compelling setting and premise and you have the start of a story. Many of my stories start this way.

One of my favorite research books for myths and legends and just about anything strange and unusual when it comes to supernatural topics is THE CRYPTOPEDIA – A DICTIONARY OF THE WEIRD, STRANGE AND DOWNRIGHT BIZARRE by Jonathan Maberry. http://tinyurl.com/33oey9x

In there he has a section on Dragons and Dinosaurs. Dragon myths are found throughout the world and share many similar physical characteristics even among cultures that had no contact with one another. The most common explanation for this is that these people unearthed dinosaur bones. The size and shape of these discoveries later developed the myths and legends for dragons.

While researching shapeshifters and dragons for my book DRAGON WITCH, I came across Cryptids and was amazed by this area of the supernatural:

Cryptids “are creatures that are believed to exist, but for which there are no existing physical records or evidence.”
And Cryptozology is the science of trying to prove the existence of these creatures.

Most of us are familiar with cryptids such as The Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch or Bigfoot, but there are many others with fascinating stories. And if you’re a writer they may give you ideas to develop those myths into stories.
Dragon of the Ishtar Gate is one of the Cryptid creatures depicted on the walls of Babylon (575 B.C.E). It’s cited in the Apocrypha—a collection of stories claimed by some to have been excised from the Bible—as a dragon that was kept in the Temple of Be by King Nebuchadnezzar.
Ebela-ntouka—called “killer of elephants”. From the region in the Republic of the Congo. It’s as large as an elephant, but has a tail like a crocodile.
Fouke Monster (Boggy Creek Monster) A 9-foot tall vicious and predatory hominid from the Texarkana region of Arkansas. Sighted since 1997.
Incanyamba – S. African lake monter known by the Zula people. Said to look like a plesiosaur—an aquatic dinosaur with a long neck and flippers.
Jersey Devil—Commonly seen in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Legend goes back to Colonial times. It’s appearance varies, but the themes are similar—a mother of a dozen children who when gives birth to the thirteenth, it transforms into a monster and flew off to haunt the forest.

Dragon Witch by Kathy Kulig at Ellora’s Cave

BLURB: Biologist and witch, Jaida Chel combines nature magick with herbal science to protect Kai, the last shapeshifting dragon on her world of Somerled. But when Captain Brayden Stokes reenters her life not only is Kai’s life at stake, but so is Jaida’s secured position in the colony. Brayden and Jaida can’t resist the sexual heat between them, even though she knows a relationship would be doomed. Fleet pilots don’t stay planetside for long.

Jaida is torn between Brayden and her dragon and companion, Kai. When Kai morphs into a human twice a year, his sex drive is ravenous. He must mate for twenty-four hours or die. Unrestrained passion between Kai and Jaida temps Brayden into a forbidden encounter. With Jaida’s sassy, wicked ways, the three cross boundaries, exploring eroticism beyond their imagination. When secrets and betrayals are revealed, Brayden must risk everything for one last chance at love.

EXCERPT:

Jaida Chel slipped off her raw silk sarong and flung it over the hook on her kitchen wall. Now naked and cooler, she rushed back to the bubbling pot of blue-green slurry on her stove and waved her applewood wand over the steaming brew, reciting a blessing as she stirred.

Oh, guardians of this distant land,
protectors where the sargassia dwell,
Infuse no ill or bane for Somerled.
I ask you charge my magic spell.

After lighting a candle and white sage incense on the counter next to the stove, she took a quick sip from her glass of lialade. The afternoon sun streamed in through her wide windows and open door raising the heat in her tiny adobe cottage.

Outside the warm breeze rustled the leaves of her citrus trees and abundant garden of grapes, vegetables and herbs. Closing her eyes, she inhaled the sweet-scented breeze and enjoyed the brief swirling coolness on her bare skin. Her nipples tightened and hardened to the gentle touch of air, like a lover’s breath. It had been much too long since she’d had made love—half a year on Somerled.

What if she took a lover from town? Nothing permanent, just a casual affair. After three years on this planet, the colonists had forgiven her for her devastating mistake at the last settlement. Most agreed this was a more hospitable planet even if it wasn’t their first choice. It was all her fault they had to relocate here. The colonists had made the adjustment. If only she could forgive herself.

She might find a willing partner now. Nothing permanent, just a casual affair. She doubted there would be a man from the colony willing to ostracize himself and be her life mate, but she might find a secret lover. A few ideas came to mind on how she might accomplish such a plan. The only concerns were to keep the other colonists from finding out and making Kai understand her needs. Kai could be very difficult and jealous at times.

She glanced at her shelves containing jars and bottles of elixirs, teas and ointments that she sold or bartered with the colonists. Her Dragon Tear Elixir, the most prized product on Somerled for its medicinal purposes, was nearly out. To make more she had to travel to the coast for the sargassia harvest, the elixir’s key ingredient. Mmmm. The twice a year harvest had its other benefits too—seeing Trent again. She smiled and felt her pussy clench.

Noticing the layer of green slime on the surface of the bubbling mixture, she quickly skimmed it off with a flat spoon. The aquasam had to be poured into the containers before it jelled or she’d have one hell of a mess.

The warning bells clanged, signaling a guest approaching her house. The bells were her magical guard dog. The garden gate squeaked as heavy footsteps trod up her stone walkway. She rolled her eyes to the ceiling and sighed. Mr. Moretti. Forgawdsake.

She eyed her blue tunic hanging on the hook out of reach and then at the pot of aquasam that she dared not stop preparing. As the last of the thick skin was removed, she picked up the pot and began pouring it into the small jars.

Caught naked in her kitchen again. Was Mr. Moretti making a habit of arriving early on pick-up days, or was it her imagination? He distributed her wares in the village store since most colonists dared not visit her, and she avoided trips into the village unless absolutely necessary. “Mr. Moretti, you’re early. Could you wait outside? I’m almost finished.”

He didn’t answer, but out of the corner of her eye, she saw a figure standing in her doorway. The dazzling sun peered into the house behind him, only allowing her to see his silhouette. She felt his gaze travel over every inch of her.

She dribbled a little of the blue-green syrup down one of the jars and groaned. “Grant me power,” she mumbled, then called out to him. “You can leave my delivery at the door while I pack up your order.”

Still no answer.

Nudity wasn’t uncommon among the settlers—Somerled was a tropical planet most of the year—but it wasn’t exactly proper for a married man to be alone with a single woman, especially when she was naked.

Then she heard two thunks outside her door—her bags of rice and flour. “Great. Have yourself a seat under the lia lia trees, and I’ll get you something to drink in just a minute.” Already the solution was darkening and getting thick and hard to pour.

But the shadow remained, leaning casually in her doorway, arms crossed. She felt herself flush and a shiver crept up her body. Mr. Moretti was a stout man and at least fifteen years her senior, not her type. And it was not like him to be so bold and impolite.

Finishing her chore, she turned to face him, a bit annoyed with his rudeness. But the man leaning casually in her doorway was not Mr. Moretti. He was tall, broad in the chest, with well-defined muscular arms and dark hair cut short. With the sun so low in the sky Jaida could not see the man’s face. Nor could she guess who he might be.

She swallowed, took a step back as her mind raced trying to recall the other settlers in the village who could fit the dimensions of this man but couldn’t. A twinge of fear shot through her at the thought of space raids, but she hadn’t heard the sirens. “Are...are you here to pick up Mr. Moretti’s order?” she stammered. Who was this man? She glanced at her sarong, suddenly feeling exposed but hesitated to grab it because she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of showing her discomfort.

“Did another freighter or shuttle arrive today?” she asked with her power voice, the confident tone used to evoke the goddess and nature spirits on this planet to do her spells.

The man chuckled. A familiar, sexy laugh. “Hello, Jaida.”

Her stomach twirled with excitement, her nipples tightened and her body ached with need, all from the sound of his voice.

Damn you, Captain Brayden Stokes. Her heart ached too, although she thought she’d put that part of their brief encounter all behind her. She breathed in the white sage, burning in a censer, in an attempt to block the erotic memories of Brayden that flooded her mind—his mouth, his hands pleasuring her. Closing her eyes, her thoughts drifted to many hot, passion-filled hours, making full use of every spare inch of his tiny, private bunk. An involuntary throb began between her thighs, remembering his hard cock plunging deep inside her. The sage did nothing to ease her desire. Already, she felt dampness and a swelling in her clit. She was clean shaven. If Brayden glanced down would he see the evidence that betrayed her desire? Crossing her arms over her waist in a casual pose, she then turned on an angle and crossed one ankle over the other in an attempt to hide her pussy. She glared at his silhouette. “Hello, Brayden. What brings you planetside?” she asked coolly.


VISIT: http://www.kathykulig.com/
http://www.kathykulig.blogspot.com/

Thanks so much for having me as a guest on Castles and Guns.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Understanding who you are as a writer.

Let’s face it, writing is a psychological game of darts with our ego and sense of self as the dart board and a wide variety of folks with varied intentions holding the darts ;).

As one friend put it (she’s not a writer but understands) it’s akin to being on a job interview ALL THE TIME. We write in a bubble, creating our own words in coffee shops, libraries, home offices, then venture to send our babies out into the world without so much as even a scarf to keep them safe and warm.

We enter contests, find crit groups, send out queries to agents and editors all the while leaving our psyches open for attack.

Now, I’m not saying that most people who view our little darlings have ill-intent, some might, but the majority don’t.

However, that doesn’t always mean their feedback is accurate for our work.

Last year I entered a contest with my SF book. I didn’t final, got to work with an amazing author (Linnea Sinclair) out of it, but didn’t final. Aside from Linnea’s very helpful feedback (and she pulls no punches ;)), I also got some very detailed comments from another author. Her strongest suggestions concerned loping off the first 10 or so pages. She wanted me to start where "the guy” showed up. Now this judge was also a well respected published author, but she didn’t “get” my book.

First- to be fair to her, I’m entering Romance contests with NON-Romance books. My books have romance in them definitely, but they would be shelved in the SF/F side of the bookstore and don’t follow the set-up of a Romance book.

But the thing was, this judge didn’t “get” my book. She thought the set up was boring and that it was all about “meeting the guy”. The plot of the book is my main character not “meeting” or “hooking up with the guy”. Even if it was, I didn’t agree with where she wanted me to start the book- it didn’t fit how I see that book.

Now, also last year, I had the first chapter of my fantasy book read and critiqued by a professional editor at a writer’s conference. He also had some suggestions about the beginning. And I agreed with him. The beginning of my fantasy book was very atmospheric and nicely done- but it didn’t fit the book which is a fun, fast-paced, humorous adventure. His prodding of, “what about starting here” (a bar fight a few pages into the book) made me come up with a new beginning (that I’m still tweaking ;)).

The difference wasn’t that the editor was “better” than that judge. It was that he “got” my book. I knew he got my book. I also realized that other judge didn’t get it. I was able to decide which advice was right for my books and for what I wanted my books to become. No one anywhere is going to get the exact advice from more than one person- the trick is to learn what works for YOUR vision of your book.

As we grow as writers we have to learn to trust our guts- we need to know our books so well that we realize when someone’s advice or judge comments ring true, and when it’s not hitting the mark. It doesn't mean the judge, fellow writer, agent, or editor is clueless, it just means the comment might not work for this book. The whole idea of getting feedback is to strengthen our work- but we can’t do that unless we understand our work and ourselves very well.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dragons: East vs. West

In terms of Paranormal Creatures we love, I think it's safe to say that Dragons rank in the top 5 easy - they certainly do for me.

However, in mythology, there are actually two separate and distinct types of Dragons. One is the European type Dragon (which is a mixture of Greek, Middle Eastern, and Medieval Europe folk tales), the other the Asian Dragon. It is interesting how the views of these two types differ, so I thought to give a very quick mythology lesson today and compare/contrast the two main types of Dragons.

Let's start with the Asian Dragon. The Dragon is a very powerful figure in China, Japan, Korea, etc. While there is some commonality between the Dragon Legends of all these countries (as with any mythos, you'll find a lot of mixing of elements and new pieces being added when trade and religion started expanding in the region) there are still subtle differences.

First, Asian Dragons are associated with luck, wisdom, longevity, strength, sometimes even benevolence. They are associated with water, serving as gods of rivers, lakes, and oceans, with the power to control rain and flood.

Physically, they are a mishmash, with the body of a snake - except they have four short legs with claws - and a head that can be described roughly as an alligator with horns and a beard. Depending on the age and strength of the Dragon, their size can range from roughly human size to gargantuan. They have no wings, their ability to fly a mystical ability.

Dragons are also associated with Royalty - both Chinese and Japanese Imperial lines tell of a Dragon being amongst their ancestors.

The historical European Dragon is in almost every way a contrast with the Asian Dragon. For one, European Dragons are traditionally evil... why do you think all those knights were trying to slay them? It is portrayed as a beast more than a mythical creature. It has the ability to breathe fire and fly, but not because of any magical ability, that is simply the way it's made.

In keeping with the animal theme, it has no intelligence and no ability to communicate. Physically, it is huge, like a dinosaur, with wings, a spiked tail, and four razor sharp claws.

The only human condition these Dragons may be connected with would be greed - the stories of Dragons having piles of gold and jewels in their caves.

Now, the European Dragon as we think of it today - the one with all the magical ability, the ability to talk, the intelligence, and the ability to... well... shift into human form - has come about in large part because of the popularity of Dungeons & Dragons (yes, yet another thing to thank the geeks for).

Sure, at the time the D&D gamers were only thinking of how to superpower a nifty medieval creature so that the players could have more fun trying to kill them in game, but the end result is that Paranormal authors - after playing with the vampires, werewolves, and demons - thought to themselves, "What other creature can I now make a dark and broody hero? Ooh, Dragon!"

Dragons are fascinating with diverse origins and mythos, a treasure for both the reader and writer. I hope this very quick overview gives you a bit more appreciation as well as perhaps sparking an idea or two on how to make your Dragon stand out.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Interview with Rachel Vincent

Thanks Rachel for interviewing with us today! Her newest release, ALPHA, came out on October 1st. Check out her website at http://www.rachelvincent.com/.

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

RV: I'm a full-time urban fantasy writer with nine novels on the shelf and three more coming in the next year. I write the Shifters series for adults, the YA Soul Screamers series, and I'll be launching a new adult series next fall.


2. When/how did you know you wanted to write?

RV: I've been writing as long as I can remember. Literally since I could hold a pencil. But I didn't start writing novels in hopes of a career in publishing until mid-2004.


3. How long did it take you to get published?

RV: I'm never really sure how to answer that question. I mean, when do you start the clock? If you start counting the year I was five and wrote my first short story, it took me more than twenty-five years. My first novel, Stray, sold in January of 2006 and was published in June 2007.


4. How long does it take for you to write a book?

RV: That depends on the book. When I'm writing a rough draft, I try to write a chapter a day. But I also try to take holidays and weekends off, so it could be anywhere from four weeks (My Soul To Save) to three months (If I Die), but generally 2-3 months. But then there're rewrites, revisions, edits, etc... Overall, it's a very long process, and I usually have about three books in various phases at once.


5. Tell us about your newest release, and the final book in the Shifters series, ALPHA.

RV: Alpha is the final book in the Shifters series. It's about love, and loss, and fighting for what you believe in. Like the rest of the series, it's full of action, and I'm told that readers are alternately laughing, cheering, and crying throughout the book.


6. How does it feel for the Shifters series to be coming to a close?

RV: It's very bittersweet. I'm proud of Alpha and glad that the series seems to be ending on a high note, but I will miss writing it.


7. Was it hard to write the final book in the series?

RV: Yes. I put off starting Alpha as long as I possibly could, because I was afraid I couldn't do the story justice. But eventually, I had no choice other than to just dive in.


8. What was your favorite book to write?

RV: My Soul To Steal (Soul Screamers book 4) Although, looking back, I also enjoyed Alpha once I got started, and If I Die, in spite of the numerous interruptions and tight deadline.


9. What do you have planned for the future?

RV: I have two new Soul Screamers books coming up in the next few months (My Soul To Steal, Jan1 and If I Die, Sept 1) and a new adult series starting in the fall. Also, there's a Soul Screamers enovella called Reaper coming out December 1 of this year.


10. What advice do you give to those who are just starting out or trying to become published?

RV: Keep writing and learn how to take constructive criticism. And polish, polish, polish!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Am I Going to be Brave?

I’m wincing at the computer as I write this. Only one eye is opened, barely able to read. And the reason is because I wrote a blog post, and then I wasn’t brave enough to post it.

I had a discussion tonight with someone who is--by her own admission--newer to the romance genre. It was about reading your story aloud for the first time. It takes a certain amount of insanity, gall and exhibitionism to give the precious words you slaved over to another. I would own up to each of those traits. I LOVE when people read my work. My favorite is when they actually like it. I’m always up to learning from what they don’t like. But let’s be honest. When we hear negativity, it’s not all sunshine and roses.

Off topic…

Back to topic…

So, I didn’t have to battle the utter terror of giving my words to another. I was all for it. But in this industry, there are all kinds of wars. I was going to say some are easily won. But then I realized it’s not a war if it’s easy. I’ll settle on some are more challenging than others.

Part of what I struggle with is allowing people I know outside of the industry into my worlds. Or should I say realms? It’s one thing to share it with my online critique group, critique partner, editors or agents. But I’m not sure I’m ready to share it with family, or work colleagues. Because it’s a little scandalous. And I was told tonight that I come off a little waif like. This is only further supported by the fact that yesterday a man came to my door and asked me to give his flyer to my parents. Oy. I haven’t lived with my parents in years. So perhaps I project a persona, which obviously has falsehoods associated with it, because that’s not who I am. But that’s how I’ve chosen to be seen in the work place. So now I fight the battle. Will I ever be brave enough? I’m not sure, because I’m pretty sure sensual romance breaks one or two of our codes of conduct.

I guess if you write it, you have to own up to it. Be proud of it. Love it! At least, the first draft. Anyone who says they love their book after ten drafts is a big fat liar… I will fight you on this. If you don’t hate it, you just haven’t gotten there yet. Maybe the brave part comes later, after people start to love your work. I’m not sure I’ve reached that shiny little level. It looks nice from down here though.

What do you struggle with most? What part of the journey stopped you dead in your tracks and made you think for the first time: damn. I’m going to have to be brave.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

THE Couple

THE Couple

I’m not a person who insists on a happily ever after. But I do want consistency. If a couple is introduced in a book, in a series, and I invest an interest in them…I want them to be THE couple of the book. If they are presented as a couple, committed to each other…leave them alone.

Challenges can arrive, temptations, even minor transgressions that need forgiveness. I mean, don’t leave them without conflict! (As a married lady of 30 years, trust me, there is conflict within a relationship. It doesn’t have to come from outside.)

If you have a heroine or couple who believe in and practice an open relationship, cool. I can buy into that. And I can buy into a couple changing. But I hate investing my heart in a couple and then having a third hot and hunky skip into the story and suddenly…sigh, history means nothing.

Especially if it’s a continuing adventure. I like a stand alone story where the established couple stays an established couple. I even like a series with stand alone adventures where the couple stays an established couple. I’m funny that way!

I can’t tell you the number of series I’ve started where there is a couple. And I fall in love with them…and they have adventures, their relationship grows, is challenged…and in volume three or five or seven…here comes a new tall dark and hot and suddenly…the couple is no longer a couple. (Why doesn’t anyone just let them turn into a threesome? I see that so seldom! Instead it’s an either/or sort of thing. Sigh.)

The bigger the series, the more likely this is going to happen. It depresses me. Are authors unable to write a realistic couple that can survive all the challenges and continue to be a couple? Do they get bored writing the same couple? It just isn’t saying much about romance when THE COUPLE won’t make it.

With the series that are one continuing adventure, one continuing theme, it seems inevitable. So…I tend to avoid those series. I believe in the happy ever after and what comes after…including the struggles. But still feel betrayed when the romance I started with shifts and usually, for reasons I just don’t agree with. (I will admit to experiencing author sabotage…where the author changes a hero so fundamentally, it’s understandable that the heroine bails. But again, why sell me on a guy, then pull a switcheroo?)

I loved how the book, “The Princess Bride” Goldman included the bits after they escape from Prince Humperdinck… Because life continues past that ride into the sunset. And IMHO, overcoming all of that and still holding together is where the real challenge lies.

Urban fantasy seems to be rife with the toss a third guy into the challenges. And the fans divide into which hot guy they want the heroine to be with. Is it all marketing? Honestly, I find it all depressing.

Nora Roberts/JD Robb has a great series going with the Eve Dallas/Roarke thing. And this couple is committed to each other. And her publishing numbers certainly aren’t suffering!

Am I a voice in the wilderness with this idea? I mean, it’s not that I don’t believe in temptation or hot third parties…but…!

Your thoughts?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Writer’s Books – How I Love Them

I love books. That’s a given. My To Be Read Pile has over 600 books. I have bookcases crammed full. I can’t find my desk anymore. My printer takes up one entire end of my desk. The rest is covered with novels, violin books, sheet music, and a slew of non-fiction books, almost all of which are either violin or writing related.

I have books on plotting, books on editing, books to generate ideas, books on writing screenplays (these cover things fiction writers need to know), and recently I’ve been adding books on short stories. Yesterday I picked up a book called Creating Short Fiction. I knew I had to have this book after learning the author, the late Damon Knight, wrote a little story called To Serve Man which aired on The Twilight Zone. As a Zone rerun fan, this was one of my favorite episodes. The end is awesome and that’s exactly what you want in short fiction. I haven’t had a moment to dig into this book yet, but I can’t wait to start on it later this week.

Some of my favorite writer’s books are published by Writer’s Digest. I have more of these than I care to count. All of them are good. Most are excellent.

Then of course I have a copy of Deb Dixon’s GMC. Every writer should own a copy of this book. If you look for a copy, do yourself a favor and get it straight from the publisher, Gryphon Books for Writers to get the best price on this little gem.

I also have Writing the Breakout Novel and workbook by super-agent Donald Maass. This book taught me a lot even if it did cause me a bit of frustration in my quest to live up to Mr. Mass’ suggestions.

At this point I have honestly lost count of how many writing books I own. I’ve even managed to buy duplicates of two or three books because I haven’t logged them all into Library Thing (a really cool site that allows you to list your books) yet.

How about you? What are your favorite craft books? Which ones made the biggest impact on your writing? Which ones couldn’t you live without?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Don't Judge Me By My Search History

I'm in the plotting stages of a new manuscript, which means my Google search history is weird and about to get weirder.

From the last 24 hours: *Price per pound for dead alligators; * caudal fins; *River Styx; * Axeman murderer *New Orleans homicides 1900 *banana pudding recipe (okay this one was personal) *decapitation *time it takes body to drain of blood *nymphs

Well, you get the idea. Nonwriter friends are always amazed at how much research is required for fantasy fiction. We "make all this stuff up," right? But how many times have you read a book that delved into some area you were familiar with and gotten upset because the author got it so wrong?

One of the things that spurred me to begin writing fiction in the first place, after a long career in journalism, was just such an instance. I'd been toying with the idea of writing an urban fantasy set in post-Katrina New Orleans and learned that a couple of British authors had just released one. This was in 2009, about three and a half years after the storm. So I thought, well, it's been done. No need for me to reinvent the wheel and, besides, I don't know how to write fiction.

Then I read their book and got so ticked off at the wild inaccuracies that I knew mine would have to be written. I know 99 percent of the people who read that book didn't know the difference, but to the one percent who did, the way the setting was butchered was beyond frustrating. Maybe I did or didn't write a better book--only the readers will be able to judge that--but I know damn well I wrote a more honest and accurate one.

Is accuracy important even in fantasy fiction? I know some may disagree but I firmly vote: YES!

We can't get everything right but we owe it to that knowledgeable one percent to at least make a stab at doing our homework. I know nothing about weapons, and I'm sure my characters are toting around the wrong semiautomatic handguns. But I've at least spent time researching it and still hope to find someone more knowledgeable to tell me if I got it wrong.

But it's plotting time now, and I'm heading off to spend the next week or two reading about the worst criminals in New Orleans history and searching out the biggest, baddest brand of necromancer I can find. I'm also hoping the FBI never has cause to search my Google search history or Amazon purchase history. In fact, I'm already envisioning the IRS audit where I have to convince the auditor that the copy of "The Idiot's Guide to Alchemy" is, indeed, a business expense.

How much research do you do? What's the wildest thing you've done in the name of research? Mine is fairly tame (so far): driving all the backroads of East Alabama looking for the single-most isolated spot, farthest from a hospital. (Answer: Penton, a semi-defunct community in Chambers County, that is now the home of the Penton Vampires.)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

To Critique or Not To Critique

The other day someone at Eastside Romance Writers asked about the guidelines regarding critiquing. There aren't any! Each critiquer has similiar questions about the piece they are critiquing. Does it move you? Is it entertaining? Does it upset you? Each writer might be looking for something different. One may want a grammar check, another a plot check. It doesn't matter! You make the rules.

I have belonged to one critique group for absolutely years. We've rotated people in and out as some moved, a couple didn't work out, etc. We bring copies for everyone to follow along as the writer reads. Afterwards we have a round table of discussions. Our cardinal rule is to use constructive critiques. If you don't like something, say why and give a suggestion to fix it. That ain't as easy as it seems. Everyone jumps in and helps if they agree. If you don't have tough skin, this face-to-face type of critiquing might be hard to take. You have to decide if you can do it. If you can, great! Just remember you're making a time commitment, too. If meetings are weekly or monthly, you are making a promise. Keep it!

I've also e-critiqued with members who moved away until they found someone in their new areas. We use 'track changes' and make comments along the way. Again, both happy faces and frowns are used. I'm a firm believer in being fair and giving a writer both sides. Some people believe a writer receives a more honest feedback with this method. I'd like to think that with a face-to-face critique group you do as well. The one disadvantage with this method of critiquing, you have to wait for your critques. Ask yourself if you have the patience.

I have a friend who critiques one-on-one with another writer. They read aloud their work while the other listens. Afterwards, they discuss, make comments, etc. This method is similiar to the first critiquing I mentioned, but has a very personal feel.

So how do you choose the right group? Ask questions. What are you looking for in a critique group? Are the other members at the same level of writing as you? If you are uncomfortable in a group, move along. Eventually, you'll find the right one.

In my humble opinion, critique groups are a valuable asset for every writer. I've heard some writers consider writing groups as a sign of weakness or lack of talent. That's bull! A critique offer the single best source for feedback on your work. You should consider it a formal workshop that you are lucky to attend.

How do you critique?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Guest blogger Stacey Kennedy

Howdy!! Thanks for allowing me to join in on the fun over here at Castles and Guns. So, let’s get to it! Are you a reader who has ever thought, “Ooohh...wouldn’t this be a great book?” Well if you are, then you’re just like me.

Never in a million years did I think I would become an author. It was never a dream from childhood, or a career I set out to do after high school. It all came from one idea. A story of a young woman who loses it all, and on the brink of ending her own life, awakens to be in the Otherworld. It’s an adventure of her discovering exactly who she is and just all the secrets hidden from her. A wild ride of love, danger and passion.

The story just kept building in my mind. Until one day, I just had to write it. It wasn’t long before the life of Nexi Jones captivated me. I wrote all four novels in The Magical Sword series in less than a year. It took hold of my thoughts and there was nothing I could do to stop it. No matter how much I plotted, planned out what I thought should happen, once I got into the writing grove, the story swept me off into an entirely different direction.

Presently, all four of The Magical Sword novels have been contracted with Liquid Silver Books, and so has the spin off series, The Blue Bloods.

Without further ado, here are the first two novels in The Magical Sword series, THE WILLOW and THE WICKED.


THE WILLOW – THE MAGICAL SWORD BOOK ONE

A past of secrets, a life broken by death―awakens to a world of promise and love, but lurking danger threatens to destroy it all.

In Carson City, Nevada a tragic car accident has claimed the lives of Nexi Jones’ adoptive parents. Now, without them, her reason to live has vanished and she is determined to end her pain.

The problem with that, it’s not heaven she wakes up to, it’s the Otherworld. Nexi must reconcile the truth about her past, and her heritage as part guardian/part witch, while she begins to train to join the Council’s guard. But it’s not the combat training that has her worried, its attempting to keep her cool around the luscious guardian, Kyden that’s her biggest concern.
Before long, Nexi’s skills are put to the test as she begins to fight against the supernatural who have taken a human life. But nothing can prepare her for the journey ahead. Soon, she will find herself lost in a mystery and fighting to keep all she’s gained, as Lazarus, a vampire, threatens to take it all away.

Buy Link - http://www.king-cart.com/cgi-bin/cart.cgi?store=linda018&cart_id=44657.44535&product_name=The+Willow&return_page=&user-id=&password=&exchange=&exact_match=exact


THE WICKED – THE MAGICAL SWORD BOOK TWO

Thirsty vampires are only the beginning of trouble―magic, love and danger at every turn.

Nexi Jones knows two things—being half Guardian is tough—being half Witch is simply problematic. With her Guardian duties put on hold, she begins the gruelling task of discovering her magical abilities, which tend to be unpredictable, at the best of times.

At least, she has her luscious Guardian, Kyden to keep her grounded. That is, until the military-built, Ryker returns with a keen interest in being a constant thorn in her backside. With enough trouble controlling her powers—the added rivalry between the two tough Guardians leaves Nexi in urgent demand of a fire extinguisher.

But when tragedy strikes the very core of the Otherworld, Nexi needs to shape up as she lands herself knee deep into vampire society—a world run by vampire Mistresses who offer their assistance in unearthing a deadly plot of revenge. But as the truth begins to unravel, Nexi begins to discover that the Otherworld isn’t the only place where Supernaturals exist—and there is something far darker than thirsty vampires lurking within the shadows…

Buy Link - http://www.king-cart.com/cgi-bin/cart.cgi?store=linda018&cart_id=44657.44535&product_name=The+Wicked&return_page=&user-id=&password=&exchange=&exact_match=exact

The third novel, THE DEVIL’S KISS is scheduled for release September 2010, and the fourth, THE FIRST AND THE LAST will be released in November 2010.

Wanna take a peek at what’s to come, stop by my website at http://www.staceykennedy.com

I’d love to hear from you!!







Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/profile.php?id=100000956942180
Goodreads - http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3473046.Stacey_Kennedy
Twitter - http://twitter.com/Stacey_Kennedy

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reasonable Goals = Win, Part One

Okay, initially I meant this topic to be one blog post that I could write and neatly wrap up in one entry, but I think it'd probably be better to divide it into two since I guess I have more to say about it than I thought.

First of all, what makes a good goal? It's specific. You state exactly how you're going to get to it. It's measureable. How much are you going to get done? It's written down. 'Nuff said. And it has a time limit. How long will it take you to complete?

So, everyone is probably going to get real tired of hearing me talk about the awesome event coming up in November called National Novel Writing Month. But I honestly love it. It's a way for writers that don't have contracts (and even some that do) to have a set deadline. Something that they can't necessarily blow off if they don't feel like working on their novel. It's a concrete period of time to focus on getting the 50,000 words done, to tell your internal editor to get lost, and to have fun.

It incorporates all of what makes a good goal. By November 30 (time limit), I will write 50,000 words (measurable) by writing 1,667 words a day (specific). And it's written down. Everyone knows I have that as my goal since I have a Nano account that I keep updated when it comes that time.

That's one of the beauties of it. It gives writers something they're accountable to. Besides, knowing that tons of other people and having the comradery of thousands of other writers going through the same thing as you, at the same time, is pretty powerful in itself.

Although, is 50,000 words in one month reasonable? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how fast one can write consistently, but it's still a goal that can be attained with focus and dedication. It's just out of most people's comfort zones and gives them a push to achieve. Somehow during that month, my focus becomes sharper and I'm able to keep with my word count goals (for the most part).

So, in that same vein, my critique partner and I have decided to share goals to help with accountability. We both know that we want to increase our output, so we came up with this way of being able to help each other keep with it. Knowing that you'll appear to be a slacker to one of your friends and writing peers, definitely adds a kick to get things done. We'll just need to make sure we have good goals. Once we do, we'll make sure they're reasonable, which is what I'll talk about next week.

Until then, what are some good goals that you've made recently?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Yes, I’m crying. Deal with it."

I’ll tell you a tale that causes me no shame. Anyone else cry during Avatar? *Raises hand*



*Rolls eyes*



Yes, I cried, okay? I don’t want to spoil details, but it was really sad when the thing got attacked and the people tried to… vague much, right?

If you haven’t seen Avatar, I would run and buy it. It’s my favorite movie of all time. It’s the perfect amount of fantasy, adventure and love. I’m a sap, so there has to be love. :-)

But it makes me cry. I’m not talking one glistening tear. I’m talking chest heaving, make-up running; husband keeps glancing over with that look (You’re not seriously crying now, are you?). Then I have to respond. “Yes, I’m crying. Deal with it!” Except at the time it came out more as “Look at the…” *Points at the screen helplessly* *Fights back sobs* “And the…” *Gives up and goes back to sobbing*

*Sigh*

I’ll never forget the face of the stranger sitting next to me. It said it all. Basically… “A theater of 600 and I ended up next to this girl?”

Sorry buddy…

Fantasy for me is reality. I cry. My heart really clenches. Characters in books are real, and they have the ability to break my heart. It’s a lot to give to a story of make believe. But I don’t think I could change it if I tried.

I don’t write to break hearts, because that’s painful and people can get it in reality. But I write to change hearts, perhaps make them a little softer. In a world weighed down by people breathing down the neck of death, what’s wrong with enjoying living? If you find that in a tale, more power to you.

To give that to someone else, that’s the gift. That’s the miracle. That’s the dream.

Does anything make you cry in fiction?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Nalini Singh Blog Contest - Winner Announced

Every reader has authors they love. One of my personal favorites is Nalini Singh. She writes the Psy-Changeling series and the Guild Hunter series. If you’ve never read one of her novels, I strongly suggest it. For the paranormal lovers, I would go for the Psy-Changeling. For the urban fantasy fans, I would read the Guild Hunter books. Of course, I love them both.

Nalini Singh has graciously offered to send the winner of this contest a signed copy of Branded by Fire! All you have to do to enter our contest is answer our question.

What is your favorite paranormal creature?

We’ll randomly pick the winner at midnight Eastern time using randomizer.org. Good luck everyone!

AND THE WINNER IS... SHARON HAMILTON!
Please e-mail us your address at castlesandguns@gmail.com by Friday. We will pick another winner if the prize is not claimed by then.

Thank you everyone for posting, and congratulations Sharon!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Conditioning to Write

This weekend I attended the Central Ohio Fiction Writers’ conference in Columbus, Ohio. The keynote speaker was Suzanne Brockmann who delivered a wonderful speech as well as conducting workshops. One of the things she talked about was anchoring when writing. If you’re unfamiliar with anchoring, it’s a technique of associating something with writing (in this case) to train yourself to write whenever you encounter the associated item or stimulus. Think Pavlov’s dogs.

The anchor you choose can be almost anything that you can control. Something as simple as lighting a candle, sitting in a specific chair, or maybe just closing the door to your office.

As she explained how this works for her, I realized I have done something close to this for a long time. I park my butt in a specific chair. A glider to be exact. And prop my feet up on the matching ottoman. A perfect laptop arrangement for me to write and edit.

But this isn’t exactly what Suzanne Brockman was talking about because I do other things in my favorite chair as well, like reading, watching TV, homework (don’t ask or I may tell you about my music theory class) and just relaxing.

The anchoring Ms. Brockman spoke of is something used as a stimulus to write and nothing else. Since I can’t abandon my favorite chair except for writing I’m going to try something else. Perhaps burning scented oil. I enjoy burning candles and oils and I enjoy writing. So putting them together has to be a good thing.

The idea is to train yourself to respond to the stimulus by writing and to continue writing for as long as you have the stimulus. If something happens to interrupt you, you must remove the stimulus so you associate it only with writing. That would mean I could only sit in my favorite chair to write and if someone, say my five year old, came along and interrupted me, I would have to remove myself from my chair. And that isn’t going to happen. Trust me on that. So I think the scented oil would be nice and easy. Someone disturbs me, blow out the candle. Then when they get the hint and leave me alone, light the candle again and go back to business.

I have to admit, I like this idea. I’m usually pretty good at sticking with my work, but there are days when the call of email and surfing are too great to resist, and I slink off into cyberspace and abandon my characters in whatever trouble I’ve put them in. I’m going to give it a try and see if I can train myself to be more focused and ramp up the work.

What about you? Do you have any tricks to keep yourself focused? Do you have an anchor and does it work well for you?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

God's Spiritual Gifts & Urban Fantasy

So writing a blog about spiritual gifts and fantasy fiction (especially if one comes down on the "Guns" side of "Castles & Guns") is kind of an odd topic, but that's what happens when I go directly from church to blog on a Sunday, so cut me some slack, 'kay?

Those of you brought up in a Christian household probably know the concept of "spiritual gifts," those metaphyical, spiritual talents each of us is given by God. There's a test one can take to discern which of the twelve or so gifts you're strongest in (here's one online)--churches like to trot them out every few years to see if you have some hidden gift they can entice you to use. I took my test this morning for the first time in several years and saw that one thing had changed: my administrative skills have grown stronger (it's called juggling a full-time job, a writing career, a live-in senior adult, three blogs, two crit groups, and a partridge in a pear tree). Overall, though, my top "gifts" have remained the same.

I've struggled a bit between my faith and my fiction over the past couple of years, but finally realized that my spiritual gifts, and the faith beneath them, have come into play in my fiction without any conscious effort on my part. Okay, don't give up and run for the hills. Bear with me, because I bet your own core beliefs come into play the same way.

My books are not religious. They do not have religious themes. They have characters who curse like sailors, drink to excess on occasion, aren't always exactly chaste, and--well, I mean this is fantasy--a lot of them aren't even human. I've spent considerable time thinking about how I can publish books without certain family members ever seeing them.

But lately, I've come to terms with it because, in the end, I am true to my stories and I am true to myself and my faith. At the heart of my writing are themes I seem to unconsciously return to again and again: the struggle to find one's place in a world beset by chaos and evil; the search for love and an open mind to recognize it even if it comes from an unlikely place; the heroism of loyalty and the cost of betrayal; the ability of love to transcend much of the crap going on around us.

As writers, we all do that, yes? Are you conscious of your underlying themes as you write a book, or do your own core beliefs shine through without your realizing it?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Why writers are crazy…

Ok the sentence above could be answered any number of ways as anyone who is, or knows, a writer will attest. We’re all a bit odd- comes with the territory.

But I would like to present a hypothesis today that we are crazy (at least in part) due to lack of definition in our field. IE- it's not completely our fault :).

For today’s demonstration I will present two scenarios with similar goals:
Graduate student (with thesis as the final “product”) and Fiction writer (with agent/editor/published book as final product)

We’ll start with the graduate student (Example is for a Psychology program- so don’t go jumping in my face that yours was different- work with me!)

Step one: GRE- ok for folks who haven’t experienced this little monster of modern day horror, count yourself lucky. This test is designed to measure skills you supposedly learned in your undergraduate studies (right ;)). It’s a messy test with no real validity (in terms of predicating success in graduate school) but it’s required for most programs. Point is- it makes it more difficult to get in (in theory ;))

Step two: You are accepted into the program. You engage in structured seminars that are aimed at creating, proposing, and defending your thesis. There are paid professionals there to guide you.

Step three: You design, propose, conduct (or research), and defend your thesis. Again, paid professionals send you back to the drawing board with concrete examples of what didn’t work. Repeatedly.

Step four: Thesis is successfully defended and goes on to live happily in the campus library (or submitted to an academic journal, but we won’t go there ;).

Step five: Graduate student graduates and much celebrating is heard throughout the land.


Writer
Step one: No test, no criteria, no nothing. You string words together, anyone can do it.

Step two: You flounder about, trying to find out the “rules”…find out there are three but no one can agree what they are. You go crazy re-editing your work every time it comes back from a contest or critique group…

Step three: You finish book, you send out queries and get form letter responses- when you get a response.

Step four: You repeat step three. Maybe moving up to “thanks but no thanks” letters with your name. Still not sure what you’re doing wrong.

Step five: You either start digging your way through the junk, to find ways of getting and understanding feedback. Through trial and error you find helpful writing resources and groups. Or you give up.

Step six: You keep at it, what choice do you have?

The sad thing is, and the part that makes us crazy- is path two sounds better ;)

So what do you all think? Are we crazy? Or just devilishly clever?

Have a great Saturday all!

Friday, October 1, 2010

So Just When did the Monsters get so Wimpy?

Zombie romance?

Maybe it's because I hail from Pittsburgh PA (Home of George A. Romero and all those "Dead" movies) but I can in no way, shape, or form get my head even slightly around the concept of a zombie romance.

Romantic stories... with zombies. Someone please slap me awake.

I shouldn't be surprised. It seems to be part of a larger trend to take all the menace out of those formerly terrifying bump in the night creatures.

Vampires started it all, of course. Anne Rice, I am looking squarely at you. Granted, Lestat was not exactly the same as the modern vampire as romance hero, but the beginnings were there.

Now don't get me wrong. I do love my Paranormal romances. I love the dark, anti-hero leanings, the possessive eternal love of the vampire, the werewolf - heck, we are even getting into full fledged angels and demons romances. I applaud that romance has expanded to accommodate all of these.

Still, I do miss the badness these creatures once possessed, the fear they inspired in us. Worse, now that they are so accepted, it feels like authors are digging ever deeper into the monster soup to make even more horrible monsters now romance acceptable.

Zombies. Sigh.

Can we ever go back to thinking these monsters... monsters? Do we want to? What do you think?