Monday, November 30, 2009

I Still Believe

When I was nine years old, I wanted to be a mermaid. I used to draw pictures of them and my sister and I decided when we died we would ask God if He could make us mermaids instead of angels...

Yeah, I was nine..

My freshmen year of college, I wrote a paper on the Loch Ness Monster for my English class. While I still insist I presented a valid argument for its existence, I didn't quite manage to make a believer out of my professor.

I still think I should have received an A for creativity, not that B...


Mermaids. Big Foot. The Jersey Devil. The Loch Ness Monster. They have all fascinated me. They're beautiful, mysterious, wondrous, even dangerous. And as varied as they are in their locations, appearances and histories, they all have one thing in common.

They take me away.

Staring at pictures of the Loch Ness Monster, I'm transported to a land of mystery and lore. I visit a time when fairies danced beneath hills and spirits whispered in the Highland mists. As I read about the Jersey Devil I'm carried to a dark, unpaved road, the bare denuded trees like skeletons as their bony branches stretch upward. Out of the eerie quiet echoes a heavy flap of wings and a gargoyle-like creature casts its shadow across the gleam of the full moon.
In those worlds I am a part of the magic. I can pet the sloped head of the Loch Ness Monster. Dive beneath the waves into the depths of the sea as a mermaid. Become another person. Escape.

Isn't that why we read?

Whether it's to walk in the shadow of Big Foot or delve into the world of vampires...Whether it's to crash land in the fairy kingdom of Oberon or fall in love and hungry passion with the man harboring a dark secret...We read to discover different worlds, and for a couple of hours, become part of those worlds. We're heroines, lovers, warriors, immortal...we're readers.

Magic, mythical creatures and legends do exist in this world of science, technology and explanations. And they're found between the pages of a book.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Landing Safely

“Heads down” yelled the stewardess. I heard the edge of hysteria in her voice as I leaned over and put my hands over my head. Just a few minutes ago, as my flight was coming in for a landing, the pilot had announced that there was a problem. He and his co-pilot, due to a malfunction, were unable to determine if the landing gear was down and they were not taking any chances. They were treating this as a potential plane crash and we would have to make preparation for a rough landing. We were going to be met by emergency vehicles.

I remember the overwhelming iciness of fear flowing over me as I heard this. There was no time to write notes and this was a few years before cell phones were the norm. I looked sideways at the woman sitting next to me. We’d taken our seats two hours ago and never spoken. I was in my early twenties, she was in her forties. Her face mirrored my own, nervousness and something close to panic. I blurted out, my first words to her. “I have to pee.” She laughed and for a split second our fear broke. She said she did too, than as the plane descended and the stewardesses yelled out the warnings, she grabbed my hand.

We waited.

We hit the tarmac with a gentle thump. The landing gear had worked. Everyone on the plane cheered, and true enough the brightly colored emergency vehicles were there waiting.

We made it safely to our destination. I never saw that woman again.

I won’t ever forget that panic.

This brings me to the point of the story-fear.

I am hearing rumors, and reading about the realignments of publishing houses. Writers are nervous, old and new. Things are changing. Those of us who are unpublished writers are afraid. We wonder will we ever get published? Is it even possible? Are we pursuing a fools dream? Even seasoned authors are uneasy.

We all are on that plane, and we are not sure if the landing gear is going to come down. The possibility that all you are working for will come to nothing is very real. It inspires in us the dark iciness of panic. We could pretend things are not going to change and ignore it, or we could duck our heads down, and brace for impact.

I suggest we meet our fear head on, we acknowledge it, then clasp each other’s hands and forge ahead, keeping our eyes and ears wide open. Things are changing whether we like it or not, but we can meet it without being crippled by our fear. We can help each other. Stories are waiting to be told, and to be read. There is a place for all of us, although it may be far different than we expected.

Just wait and see. We’ll land safely on the other side.

What do you think? Do you think upheaval and possible changes coming in the publishing world is to be feared, or should we embrace it and make it work for us? What are your thoughts?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Blessings


When I was sixteen, my family chose to move to a new city.  Great.  A junior in a brand new high school.  I knew no one and had no friends.  A long, lonely first month passed.  And then I saw this guy.  He was running on the stadium track behind the school. Gym shorts, no shirt. Hmmm - maybe this new school wasn't going to be so bad after all.... 

For a number of years now, my husband and I have taken a short pre-Thanksgiving trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  We usually leave Birmingham on either the Saturday or Sunday before the holiday and return on Wednesday, just in time for me to cook all evening in preparation for the great family feast.  Actually our first trip as a married couple occurred on our honeymoon, followed by a long stretch of years spent finishing college, establishing careers, and raising a family before we chose to return.  Some of these trips have included family members and friends which we both totally enjoyed.  And yet others, like this one, were just the two of us. Again.

As with all vacations, once away from the usual daily stresses, we took the time to remember the little things.  Hand in hand, we strolled the busy sidewalks enjoying the holiday lights and the festive decorations.  To stay warm, we huddled together on the ski lift as we made our way up the side of the mountain.  We teased each other, laughing and flirting - much like that teenage boy and girl and yet so much more.  An added depth that the passage of time and the sharing of lives brings.

I share this rather personal story with you because today is Thanksgiving.  And I am so very thankful for blessings too numerous to list but one of which is that I'm a romantic.  I absolutely love love stories.  So I write romance.

And the hero of the above two paragraphs, that workaholic, alpha male who is presently hauling Christmas decorations up from the basement and bellowing my name?
Oh, yes.  I am blessed.  





Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Finding Inspiration

Sorry this is a late post. I meant to blog several times yesterday but couldn’t come up with a single thing. It’s been one of those weeks.

But working today while so many people are off, I feel inspired. Why is working the day before a holiday so cool? Am I the only one who likes being at work when only the skeleton crews remain? It’s difficult to describe, but somehow I feel special. Like we’re all in this together. It reminds me of being in a school play, going to the school after-hours when the majority of kids are gone, and the school suddenly seems … smaller, doesn’t it?

I’ve been feeling pretty small in the work place lately, and I won’t bore you with the reasons. With the economy the way it is, I’m sure you can fill in the gory details with simple deduction. But today has a different feel to it. This place feels smaller, and for the first time in the last few weeks of hard-hitting depression, I feel like writing again.

How odd to find writing inspiration in such a strange place.

Where are you finding inspiration this holiday week?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?

This is an addendum to Gwen’s November 14th post about the importance of voice in writing. To sum up what Gwen said (forgive me, Gwen, if I don’t get it right!) minor problems in writing can be overcome or excused if the writer has a great voice and style.

To paraphrase Prince Hamlet, the story’s the thing.

I agree that an engaging voice is critical to a writer. Yours can be the most wonderful story in the world, but if you can’t tell it in a way that will draw the reader in, your story remains trapped between the covers of your book, languishes in the dark recesses of a desk drawer or floats lonely and unread in cyber space. As writers, we are storytellers. We want to share our stories with others. I’m sure there are writers out there who write for the sheer joy of putting pen to paper without a care for being published. I am not of them. To me, having a story that remains unread is like an actor performing on stage to an empty theater. Not my idea of fulfilling.

So, we sweat and strive and agonize to achieve that elusive (and, hopefully!) great voice, the perfect conduit that will deliver our precious baby to the reader . . . and then what? Where do we go from there? How do you achieve the right voice for the NEXT story you want to tell, especially if the voice in the book you just finished is a strong one?

That’s where I am right now. I just finished writing a book where the main character’s voice feels natural and organic, so much so that I am having trouble and some real anxiety about how to move on to the next book. Basically, I’m starting from scratch with the whole find-your-voice thing. Arggh! The main character in the next book is NOTHING like the heroine in the previous one, but I have to find her voice!

What tricks do you use to discover a character’s voice, especially if you and your character have little in common? How to imbue them with tricks and quirks and character traits of their own, not to mention that elusive voice, that will draw the reader in, make them appealing, likeable and totally distinguishable from the character you just wrote?

Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Paying your dues

I almost forgot I had a blog post due today (thanks, Carla, for the reminder!). When I checked my iPhone and saw the message, I was at a Ricky Skaggs concert. Now, that may seem odd, but I have to say that I love live music and I'll try anything once (most anything). So, when my parents wanted my hubby and I to go along to this concert that featured bluegrass music, we said sure.

And it was fabulous. Ricky Skaggs has won 14 Grammy Awards. There's a reason for it. Even if you don't care for bluegrass, it's an incredibly complex music to play. And it takes practice. Tons and tons of practice.

Yet this man, and his band Kentucky Thunder, made it look so easy. Their fingers flew on those instruments, making things happen that was just incredible to hear and brought the audience to cheers more than once. Incredible stuff.

We left the theater amazed at how fast their fingers moved, and how smooth the music was. And since I knew I had a blog post to write, I started thinking about practice, hard work, and dedication. (And, in the case of those fingers, muscle memory.)

That's what it takes to play damn good bluegrass, and that's what it takes to write a damn good book. Those men made it look easy, and I think that's what a good writer does too. But it's not easy. The work, the sweat, the blood, the tears -- it's all in there. You don't see it on the stage, but it's there.

So when you're feeling the despair of rewriting a scene or chapter or book for the fifth time, remember that you're working on that muscle memory, that the more you write and revise, the better you'll get. Writing is a muscle and it must be exercised. No words are wasted, even when you're crying and wailing and thinking you suck worse than any writer has ever sucked before (believe me, I feel that at least once in every book!).

Because one day it's going to be you on that stage and you'll be thankful you practiced so hard and long, that your muscles are ready for the experience. You gotta pay your dues to make it look easy. Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder were a beautiful example of that.

So keep writing. Don't give up. Me, I've got revisions to finish. It's the practice I need to make it seem effortless when the reader is reading.

Are you working that muscle memory today?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Exposing Myself

Years ago, when I first heard about people blogging, I confess I didn’t understand the appeal. Why would someone want to write their thoughts for the world to read? And why would I want to read what someone else wrote? I’m sure much of that reaction was because I’m essentially a very private person. I’ve known people who, when you ask their name, you get their life story. That’s not me. There are people who have known me for years that probably couldn’t tell you one personal thing about me.

But I’m making the effort to change. I work with the recovery ministry in the church I attend and last month I gave my testimony. Speaking in front of a group isn’t difficult for me. I am, after all, an ordained minister. (See? You didn’t know that, did you?) But telling “my story”, those unflattering aspects of my life, not to strangers but to people I see week after week was hard.

And then I asked to be added to this blog group. I’m exposing myself.

Why? Because I realized one of my biggest problems in writing was this tendency not to share. I write inspirational romances. The struggle with faith is as important to the story as the romance. And the struggle in my current WIP is something I’ve experienced. It wasn’t pretty. I can either use all the emotions, even the ones I’m not so proud of, and make my heroine’s story “real” or I can withhold myself and let the writing stay flat. This isn’t easy. Nothing worth while is.

I don’t think it matters which genre you write. I think all of us expose ourselves one way or another in our stories. What about you? How do you expose yourself in your writing?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Word Lover

I'm always excited when I learn a new word. It's the height of geekiness, isn't it? I'm also fascinated when I realize I didn't know the correct meaning for a certain word.

Today's word I mistakenly thought meant new was noir. For those like me, didn't know it or have it right, it means "Of or relating to a genre of crime literature featuring tough, cynical characters and bleak settings."

Ahhhh!

Maybe I was thinking of the word neo. No. Not of the Matrix. It means "recent or new."

Now after that lesson, why do I believe it's time for little muppets to come dancing out of the shadows?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

So You Think You Can Dan...er, Write

I was watching So You Think You Can Dance last night (yes, I can't live without my DVR--I never watch live TV anymore), and something the judges kept saying caught my attention.


The gist was that if the dancers got "into character" and put the appropriate emotion in the performance, they could get away with a few technical errors. But, the opposite was not true. A flawless technical performance lacking emotion or story was not enough to cut it.


I think the same could be applied to writing. Grammatical problems or minor plot issues can be overcome with a great voice and style. It's more about the execution of the story, than its mechanics.


As I was flipping through The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman at BAM today, I was happy to see that he agreed. He basically said that execution was more important than plot for catching an editor's or agent's eye. If they don't get past the execution, they'll never read enough to get the plot anyway.


Not that we can afford to discount grammar or other technical issues--after all, we need to put our best foot forward--but we shouldn't forget that in the end, the story and how we tell it is what will grab the reader.


I guess I'd say, "Always improve your craft, but don't forget your voice."

---

The Daily Squirrel: soap (what's this?)

The scent of gardenias filled the steamy shower as she worked up a lather on the bar of soap. A familiar peace settled over her as her slick hands washed away the sweat and the lingering odor of cigarettes. Some day soon, she'd finish her degree, and she'd never have to work in a smoky bar again.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A New Publishing Wave is Building

This week a lot of excitement has abounded on the various writing loops. Why? HQN has a new baby sister, CARINA PRESS, and she's all E-Qute. At last a major publishing house is jumping into the digital age and giving new authors another way to attain their goal of publication.

According to the website, it's an opportunity to give those authors who don't fit the traditional genres a place for their stories. Wow, that's great!! At first glance, I was itchy to jump in and send off my query. Hey, although this publisher is independent from HQN, it might give me an opportunity to get noticed by the big sister. Lord knows I've been trying to get her attention a long time. I even got a request from my dream category this year and had high hopes.

But I was rejected because my book, while well-written and compelling, didn't fit the line I targeted (and had been encouraged to target). It read like a romantic comedy. Huh? I thought for sure it was pretty darned sexy. And who says we can't laugh on the way to the bedroom? My CPs and writing friends quickly assured me there was a market for my book(s), but a lot of the published sexy romantic funny stories are SINGLE TITLE.  I don't have that many words, so I've queried agencies in the hope that one will take a nibble and, eventually, I hope to land one who could help me find a home for my book(s).

My goals are simple. Keep writing, find an agent who can cut through the forest undergrowth for me, and keep writing.

Then this little temptation came along. And I am tempted. A lot. And a lot of other people, with recent rejections for being not quite a fit are getting pumped up. Why not zip off a query and an MS? What would be the harm? E has been very good to many of my writing friends (you know who you are my darlings!) and I have considered entering that publishing pool with queries before, so why not give Carina Press a whirl? Or any other E publisher with an established record.

However, I stopped myself from taking the plunge. Oh, my toes are curled around the edges of the pool, and my muscles are poised to spring. But nope. I'm reeling back my impulse. The old Christine would not have stopped herself. Trust me. I am usually a very decisive, quick action kinda gal and if I make a mistake, heck, I can fix it.

But this is my career. My dream. I need to evaluate my next move very carefully. I sat on my hands after I read all the news and submission guidelines (well, not really, I worked on my GH entry #2 and made phone calls and roamed the web loops for information) and analyzed the situation (Gwen would be so very proud of me).

First I asked trusted friends who are in E-publishing houses what the experience is like for them. Many positives. A few negatives. That's good to know. If I choose to go this route, it could lead to a nice writing career (hey I am assuming everyone will say yes to my brilliant prose). Second, I asked my CPs and my Chapter mates what they thought about this idea. Third, I waited for the Southern Magic Chapter Prez, Laura Hayden, to weigh in with her wise counsel. Fourth, I chewed on the information. Fifth, I reread the website and the blog posts. Sixth, I slept on it.

After a good night's sleep, I woke up and decided to wait a little longer before diving in. Not that I don't think this might be a great option for me as a writer, but because I want to see where all this is heading. What does RWA say about it? What will the contracts be like? Will this lead to print (unlike other E/digital publishers, print is currently not an option with Carina)? When I read the CARINA PRESS blogs, I loved the idea of finding a home for my book on an e shelf. This is a reputable company with the muscle behind it to power it to success. And there's a good chance that this company might lead to print options at the right time if authors demonstrate a huge marketability.

It's a win-win IF my book is accepted and I utilize all the information they'll teach me to promote my writing. If my book (again, dreaming here but I live in an ongoing delusional world) hits a unique niche and takes off that's a cool thing. Woohoo! The possibilities are endless. But for now this idea is new and I'm not sure if I am ready for all the work of self-promotion.

Again, the simple goal of writing screams for my attention.

I'm tempted. But I don't have business skills (I am not good with grids, ask Carla LOL), and I hate admin work. That's why I am hunting for an agent to represent me. I want to focus on WRITING. Thus, I am sticking to my original course. I can always reevaluate this opportunity later when I have another book completed, learned more about the e-world, sharpened my craft, and I have time to build my marketing network.

I don't know how this particular venture will impact the publishing industry as a whole. I'm not that smart. But I am smart enough to bully my impetuous side down and settle back before I make a big decision that could impact my future writing career.

Any thoughts out there about the latest E-Qutie? E-Pub vs Print Pub? Pros? Cons? Words of Wisdom?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book Report

If you don't already have it, buy this book. Now.

I know the title's lame. And it's part of a how-to-write series. I don't care. James Scott Bell has written one of the best books for aspiring writers that's out there.

Even though you think you're getting just tips on plot and structure, you're getting so much more. He gives great characterization tips. He gives great "writing life" tips. He gives great storytelling tips. He talks about genres, dialogue, and tension.

Seriously. I would marry this guy if he were single. Well, and if I were single.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

It's all Relative, Darn it !

I have two brothers. They're really great guys and very supportive of my writing aspirations. I wish they were as supportive of my need for repairs to my plumbing and having my roof cool-sealed, but that's another story. They're hard-working, terrified of our Mom (who isn't)and are good to their spouses, kids and animals. So, I think I'll keep them. Besides, they give great Christmas gifts.

We all have relatives we'd rather not talk about or at least rather not have at the family reunion. I've noticed that in many romance stories the hero and heroine either have no family at all or have a family that makes the Addams family look normal. It got me thinking.

Some secondary characters are a necessary part of the story, to keep it moving. We can write them in and out of the story at will. When it comes to relatives it's a little bit harder. Have you ever made a hero or heroine an orphan only child because you just don't want to fool with the relatives? Have you ever added and eccentric relative only to have them take over the story and run with it? Do you ever think your writing about relatives is born of your own familial experience or do you try to keep your family out of it? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Inquiring minds want to know.

Those of us who were born and raised in the South or at least by a Southern Mama (that would be me) know that in the South you don't ask if there is insanity in the family. You just ask which side it's on. I love Jeff Foxworthy's take on it when he says you get into the car after the family reunion, look at each other and say "What is wrong with those people?" In my family we invite "those people" to the reunion just for the entertainment factor. (Don't tell my Mom. She thinks we're being nice.) And don't even get me started on my Yankee cousins.

So, how about it. Would your relatives recognize themselves if they read your novel? Do you use relatives to spice up your story or as comic relief or are they just too much trouble? What's the best use of relatives in a story you've ever read? or written?

Friday, November 06, 2009

2009 Reader's Luncheon Tomorrow!

Each year Southern Magic hosts a Romance Reader's Luncheon. This year's event will take place tomorrow at the Homewood Public Library.

I have handled the registration for the last two years and I am happy to report that many of the people registered this year attended last year's event. Obviously they enjoyed themselves last time.

What's not to like? For the cost of admission you will get a great lunch, sit with an author at a table they host, where you will find a goodie bag awaiting you filled with several books and promotional material from well-known authors. Top that off with our keynote speaker, Anne Stuart, and you have a day guaranteed to please. Did I mention that there will also be a book signing by the authors in attendance?

You're out of luck this year if you don't already have a ticket. This year's event is sold out. Start watching for next year's event on our website during the summer of 2010. You wouldn't want to miss it again.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Hurts So Good

This year has been one of several “firsts” for me. My first request for a full manuscript. My first contract. My first book release. And my first negative review.

Ouch. The reader didn’t like my characters and isn’t sure she will read anything else by me. After wondering if maybe I had stolen her lunchbox on the playground when we were younger, I quickly did what any person would do…I became defensive. And then I started doubting my writing ability and questioning how I could have made the characters and the story better. Regardless that three other people had reviewed and really liked the book, I allowed the one negative comment to kick my confidence and joy of writing out from under me.

Now this self-doubt only lasted a few moments, but I was reminded of something that stayed with me much longer. Count it all joy. Everything—the good, the bad and the ugly—has purpose. The positive and the negative comments make me a stronger and more prolific writer. Both sharpen me—one just feels better than the other! But the negative accomplishes something the positive cannot. It reveals where I am. The bible cautions beware if all men speak well of you. I’ve always viewed that verse in a certain way. Now, as I’m experiencing these “firsts”, my eyes are opened to another aspect of it. If men only spoke good of us, how would we know we are strong enough to handle criticism? Would we be shipwrecked on the shores of self-doubt never able to find the courage or esteem to set sail once more? How would we discover whether our identity and joy is based on something more than our jobs? How would we find out that in the face of adversity we have the fortitude and strength to press forward? Yes, accolades uplift us, but it’s the disappointments that challenge us to rise in the first place.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Relevancy

“I’m not reading any more young adult paranormals,” announced my mother recently.

“Why?” I was aghast, I write paranormals and YA.

She gave a sniff of disdain, “because in the last book I read, it was obvious that the writer doesn’t have children.”

Curious, I asked “really? Give me more specifics.”

She proceeded to tell me about a book she’d read, where the heroine was in her very early teens having the freedom to go out late at night (My mother didn’t allow me, did yours?). Then came the worst thing in her opinion, the characters “had no reaction when they killed others.”

I pondered on what she said, and found it made sense.

As writers, we create worlds, light and dark, which we have to make relevant to the reader. We also have to justify the actions of all of our characters in this world. For example, if the heroine from the story my mother read had a severely dysfunctional family life, than most readers would have accepted the late night wanderings. As for killing, if there had been a reason that those who killed had no reaction, whether it was compartmentalization, revenge, sociopathic tendencies, etc, than the reader could understand (maybe not accept, but they’d go with it).

Imagine if you will, writing about a police officer. Perhaps he comes upon a deadly motor vehicle accident, what do you think he would do? Is this is first one? Or twentieth? Do you think he’d joke around, act nonchalant? Would you? If he does, how would you, as a writer, justify his behavior? This applies to every character and situation. I know when I give my manuscripts to my critique partners; I request that they tell me where the story stops them or where it doesn’t make sense. My greatest fear is to lose the reader, or to turn them away because they don’t believe my reality that I have created.

What do you think? Have you found a story where you could not identify nor believe what was going on? Did it ruin the story for you?

As for me, I am going to continue to write my genres, but now, I wonder, will my mother read it?