Friday, December 30, 2011
For those of you who don't know, I manage a bakery for our local Walmart. The bane of many Walmart bakeries is a website called Cake Wrecks. If you have never visited it you don't know what you are missing.
I don't know what is more amazing about some of these cakes - the fact someone actually decorated them to look that way or the fact people actually pay for them and take them home!
Romance novels can be a lot like cakes.
Some are gorgeous to look at, but with little substance inside.
Some are less than lovely, but man are they some good eating!
Some are social relevance tomes masquerading as romance novels - sort of like a tofu cake with goat cheese icing. It's good for you, right? Right? Yeah, not so much.
And some are just, well, for lack of a better term - a wreck.
There are a lot of ingredients in a really great cake. But the most important ingredient is the skill of the decorator. And more often than not, the oversight of a really great manager. A great manager would never allow anything less than the decorator's best work to go out the door.
In writing, if we are smart, we try to put our manuscript before some really great 'managers' before we turn it loose on the world. Beta readers, critique partners, contest judges and for the real hot shots - agents and editors. It can be painful when one of these manager types tells us our cake is a wreck, but not nearly so painful as seeing our wreck out there in the public with the icing falling off of it and the word "Critmas" in big bold letters.
For those of you who think this post is perhaps more relevant to self-publishing authors than it is to others, you couldn't be more wrong. As writers we owe it to anyone to whom we send a chapter, a paragraph, a partial or a full to present our very best work. And we owe it to ourselves to do whatever we have to do to make sure our work is at its best before we send it out into the world.
Most important, we need to be true to what we write. Romance doesn't need to be dressed up or over-iced with intellectual philosophy, long preachy passages on social issues, efforts to raise it to the level of "literature" or any other apologies for what it is. Give me a real romance. Give me two people who fall in love in spite of the odds, who find each other no matter what the obstacles. Give me characters I can root for, or fall in love with or really wonder if they will ever live up to their potential. Give me adventure or comedy or angst or grand drama laced through and covered with all of the things that make my heart sigh and my soul smile. Take me to times and places I want to go and show me how love is the most powerful force on earth. Take no prisoners. Make no apologies. And hold nothing back. Show me what you got, romance writers ! No Book Wrecks here!
What are some things that wreck a romance novel for you? What do you do to avoid wrecking your own books?
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
I thought it would be perfect to introduce Hildie over the Holidays, when friends and families gather. I am fascinated about how everyone celebrates and the writing process-so I get to find out the best of both.
Hildie, I am glad you could make it here today, especially in the middle of this very busy Holiday season. So tell me, how do you and your family celebrate the holidays? With family, quietly? Huge party?
I am taking vacation the week of Christmas. My plan is to finish edits on my current novel, a western romance and send it out to my beta readers by end of the month. That is my goal anyways [sigh] we’ll see what happens.--Best laid plans always go awry-but I am beginning to think breaks are necessary.
What do you like the most about the Holidays? The least?
What was your first book published? Tells us a bit about it.
My first book “Desperate Betrayal” was published this year, in September. I was in the Highlands of Scotland at the time, so it was a magical time for me. I was in double heaven.
Desperate Betrayal is a Paranormal Romance. The story takes place in Atlanta, Georgia. Basically it’s about a young woman, Emma, who must convince a terrifying demon slayer, Cyn, to rescue her sister who has been kidnapped by demons. The twist is that after Emma discovers that he’s a single parent and begins to care for him, she still must decide if she can still betray him.
--Very cool..it is so on my TBR, calling to me....
***The Winner is Livia Quinn** Congratulations!
Monday, December 26, 2011
Saturday, December 24, 2011
This year Hallmark has an audio book you can record your voice on reading the story. Yes, you're ahead of me. I bought one and recorded the story, mailed it to her and a few days later Noel called me crying tears of joy as she listened to her Dad read her the story out of the book.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Because writing is the method that orders my thoughts—my form of quiet meditation—I’m thankful for this opportunity to post. Back-to-back major holidays demand a little time apart. A little time for reflection. A little time to ponder the big questions. A little list of reasons to be thankful for all this, despite the stress.
I’m thankful for the gift of writing. Because addressing my own goals, motivations and conflicts (sometimes) prevents me from blurting out random thoughts without regard for the consequences.
I’m thankful that my characters can play out dramatic scenes, heedless of the potential impact of their words.
I’m thankful for friends and family and this season set aside for gathering. Because it’s their anxieties and antics that provide an unlimited supply of plots and characters for the rest of the year!
I’m thankful for Southern Magic and RWA. Because it’s my fellow writers who understand that writing is not a self-indulgent hobby. It’s a gift, a calling and a terminal condition. I’ve tried to quit a half dozen times, but without the prop of written words I fail to maintain a sense of balance.
Happy Holidays, y’all! Shop, light candles and gather together! Make merry! In a wild moment, add lights to your bottle tree! And make a bit of quiet time to write.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
I want to talk a little about POV today and how understanding what we're really talking about can help you become a better writer.
Since beginning to write and joining RWA, I've heard a lot of talk about POV that makes my poor little academically trained brain twitch. I've heard people confuse POV with voice, confuse shifts in perspective with shifts in POV, and then critique others based on those misunderstandings.
Now, I want to be clear. To some extent, knowing the fancy-schmancy literary terms for these concepts isn't necessary to write. It may not even really be necessary when you critique someone''s work. I think it's perfectly possible to know that something is wrong, even if you call it by the wrong name. But, calling it by the wrong name often obscures what we're trying to say and doesn't help the writer make improvements.
Plus, I don't think it hurts to know what you're talking about, when you start talking. So, here goes.
Point of view can be divided into two camps- First person (me, me, me!) and Third person (him and her). That's pretty basic, I know. But it pays to be clear.
First person, in a lot of ways, is the easiest to get your head around. You have a single character narrating. It can be the protagonist (hello, Bella Swan) or it can be someone close to the protagonist (a la Nick Carraway in the Great Gatsby) or it can be someone not really related to the action of the story (the way Death narrates The Book Thief.) Anyway you look at it, the first person narrator is defined by and imited to that particular character's consciousness. They can't use vocabulary that the character wouldn't use or description that the character wouldn't come up with. The language of the text has to be appropriate.
Easy enough, right? Okay, then, stick with me.
It's third person that gets tricky.
So here's the deal- third person narrators can either be completely or partially omniscient. They can know everything about everyone, some things about some people, or particular things about only one person. Most are only partially omniscient. Most are limited to one or two main characters.
Most Romance is written in third person, limited omniscient POV. We are usually limited to only the hero and/or heroine's perspective (although, occasionally, we'll get something from another secondary character). The thing to remember, though, is that the narrator is still separate from the author. Even though s/he isn't named like Nick Carraway is, every single 3rd person narrator is a fiction, just like Nick.
And there's only ONE narrator in a third person narrative. Period. The narrator is an over-voice. If you have multiple narrators, you're dealing with a bunch of 1st person narrators.
So what about all this head-hopping I keep hearing about? Wouldn't that be multiple narrators? Wouldn't that be multiple POVs?
In a word--no.
I think that a lot of writers confuse the shift in voice or discourse with a shift in point of view.
Let's take one of the most notorious head-hoppers of all, the unparallelled Nora Roberts for an example:
"This, he thought as he took her face in his hands. Just this, so worth the wait. Soft, sweet, a yielding tremor, and her arms came up to wrap around his waist, to draw him into her.
The next flash of lightning didn't make her jolt. She rolled with the thunder, sinking into that lovely flood of pleasure."
Some might see the above passage as a shift in POV--we're "hopping" from Beckett's point of view to Clare's in the space of a single sentence. But that's not really what's happening.
If you look closely, the POV stays the same--it's still an outside narrator, third person, with some measure of omniscience. What's changing is the way that particular point of view is using free indirect discourse.
Here's what I mean:
Direct discourse is quoted speech/thought. He said, "I'm going to kiss you."
Indirect discourse is reported speech/thought: As he kissed her, she thought, what a lovely flood of pleasure it is to sink into a kiss.
Free Indirect discourse is a way of using the language/consciousness of the character through which you are focalizing* the narrative, which is what we have in the example above. There is no quoting, no reporting of Clare or Beckett's thoughts. Instead, the narrator uses the language of the characters to evoke the immediacy of first person narration without using first person narration.
Get that? It's the same narrator. The same POV. Nothing has changed except the language the narrator is using.
On one hand, the narrator does head-hop. But the narrator never breaks out of the third person omniscient narrative. The narrator does not change from Beckett to Clare.
Let me repeat that--it's worth repeating--the narrator DOES NOT CHANGE.
So why do you care?
Who, knows. Maybe you don't. I think the better question is what can we learn from this?
First- we can learn to speak more precisely about the craft that we're undertaking. That, at the very least will reduce the amount of twitching my poor little brain experiences.
More importantly, though, I think by understanding what we're really talking about when we talk about POV shifts, means that we'll be making better, more conscious choices about our craft.
EVERYONE uses free indirect discourse in Romance. It's a convention of the genre. Usually we wait for a scene break or a chapter break to switch, say between hero and heroine, but getting into the head of the characters is what makes romances so compelling. It's not just "he did this" and then "she thought that." We get into their heads, because authors use their language to narrate from an outside perspective--it gives the stories an immediacy that they otherwise wouldn't have.
I've most often heard this described as shifts in POV. All together now--IT'S NOT!
So, when we talk about shifts in POV, we're not really talking about shifts in POV. We're talking aout shifts in free indirect discourse. This is absolutely essential to understand because it means that the narrative voice matters--just as much as our heroine or our hero's voice.
Look at it this way--to head hop successfully (and I'd argue that Nora's been pretty darn successful), you have to have an overriding narrator that holds it all together. That 3rd person narrator has to have a strong, authentic, and powerful voice. Hers always do. Pick up any Nora Roberts book and it feels like, sounds like a Nora Roberts book. Same goes for Sherrilyn Kenyon (who also is a master at effortless shifts in free indirect discourse). I'm not saying that it sounds like Nora Roberts, herself, though. I'm saying that she uses a strong narrative presence that has a certain consistency to it.
So what does that mean for us as writers?
It means that we have to understand that we are not the narrators of our books and (unless you're writing a 1st person) our characters are not the narrators of our books.
If you've discovered your writerly voice, you know what I'm talking about. We don't write books that sound like we sound when we talk. We write books that are narrated by our fictional, authorial selves.
To my mind, that's better. (I'm nowhere near as interesting as any of the stories I want to tell.)
But when we critique others by saying that their are POV shifts and there are really only shifts in discourse, we do the person we're critiquing a disservice. I think it pays to be precise. It helps others to be precise.
Okay, class dismissed. Now get out there and make sure you're critiquing things accurately and effectively.
*Focalizing is another fancy-schmancy term taken from narratology. Basically, think of a camera. When we look through the viewfinder of a camera, we never see the whole picture--we're limited. Third person narratives usually focalize through a specific perspective--through one or more characters or through their limitations in omniscience.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Or rather that's what I want to be doing...until Jan. 1.
My first launch has been a thrilling rush and exhausting. Love, love, love having my story out and seeing the cover on Amazon, B & N and Goodreads.
I had a lot of fun tweeting, blogging, and getting interviewed, but I'm plumb tired. The two best things to come out of this experience:
1. I realized I'm truly blessed with wonderful friends, who support, encourage and sustain me.
2. Reader notes. I love to receive notes from people who read my story, to know that my writing touched other hearts.
However, now I'm ready to move on, ready to rest and rejuvenate. The third djinn book is like toddler demanding attention. I find myself wanting to shut out the world and spend some quality-time with this story...but I can't.
It's the holiday season and there's school programs to attend, a whirlwind of parties, getting the house ready for Christmas and travel. Taking deep breaths and reminding myself -- balance. Life is about balance.
So how do you find balance?
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
You have over a hundred books published by traditional publishers, besides re-releasing your backlist, what made you decide to self-publish your new series?
The Faces of Evil series is one I've wanted to do for a while now and there just wasn't time and the traditional publishers who looked at the original concept weren't interested. So, I set it aside and moved on. I found myself worrying about trends and what the publishers were looking for instead of being true to myself in terms of where I know my strongest creative assets are. After going through a life-altering tragedy last year and losing my momentum in the traditional business, I decided I was going to write what I wanted to write and publish it on my own. My focus became the stories rather than whether or not the series would be sellable to a publisher. Due to the permanent damage done to my right arm and hand I was forced to start this venture with a new method for writing -- DragonSpeak. It was difficult at first and I felt certain I couldn't use it for my Colby series since there would inevitably be changes in voice and tone. After a period of trial and error, I finally found my footing. Self-publishing versus sending the project out gave me full control over the cover and the content. I knew what I wanted and where I wanted to go with this series.
Do you recommend this to newbie authors, not published with traditional publishers? Why?
Publishing, whether with a traditional publisher or on your own, is a complex and very unique journey. I wouldn't recommend anyone do something just because it worked for me or someone else because the creative process is too personal. But I am thoroughly enjoying the journey and I would highly recommend that all authors explore their options. That's the great thing about this, ebooks have opened up a vast and wondrous opportunity! But that doesn't mean that traditional publishing is going away, in my opinion. It means we have a new avenue to explore and that there are far more opportunities to be published without waiting for a traditional publisher to decide your work is what they want. Whether pursuing traditional publication or self-publication, I would urge all to make sure the work is the absolute best it can be first! Also, if the self-publication route is chosen, invest in a professional looking cover. Finally, if you've never been published before focus on the work, get as many reads as possible and make sure you're writing to your strengths and not to trends. I've toyed with romantic comedy and paranormal in an attempt to follow trends, but that's not where my strengths lie so I'm sticking with romantic suspense/thrillers.
How is this series different than the one you write for Harlequin Intrigue, The Colby Agency series?
With a bigger book I can explore the characters more deeply and develop subject matters with grittier elements. But the lives and the feeling of "family" among the characters is similar to the Colbys. I hope folks will enjoy these characters as much as they have the Colby family.
Each coversheet carried the BPD logo, not the Bureau’s. Made sense. Jess was here in an unofficial capacity. Dan wondered how her husband felt about her rushing to the aid of her former lover. The wedding band she wore was simple, not a piece of jewelry that would draw the eye. Yet, he had spotted that delicate gold band the instant he saw her standing in his waiting room.
The stack was passed around, the final copy of her profile landing in his hands. He flipped over the cover sheet and stopped. Turned another page and then another. Each was the same. “The pages are blank.” What the devil was she doing?
Patterson, Griggs, and the two detectives, like Dan, stared from the unmarked white pages to the woman standing before them.
She waited, hands on hips, until the muttered remarks had ceased. Then she gestured to the packets they held and announced, “This is the profile I developed based on the findings you’ve provided.”
Dan opened his mouth to demand an explanation but she silenced him with an uplifted palm.
“If you,” she sent an accusing look at him, “called me down here to do your job for you, then you’ve vastly overestimated your charm and my patience.”
“What in blazes is the meaning of this?” Griggs demanded.
Roy Griggs had done police work too long to be yanked around by anyone, Quantico’s hotshot profiler included. Dan couldn’t believe Jess would pull a stunt like this without some point she felt genuinely compelled to make. There had to be a point. And it better be good.
Jess acknowledged the senior cop, in terms of service, with a nod. “If you’ll give me about two minutes, I’ll gladly tell you.”
Dan relaxed. His lips twitched with the urge to smile. There wasn’t a damned thing humorous about this case. It was her. He’d almost forgotten how she loved to get under the skin of authority—any authority. More than two decades in the northeast hadn’t changed her much. Her manner of dress was more sophisticated but beneath that stylish veneer she was still the same old Jess, he would wager. When the lady had a point to make, she intended for the room to listen. Didn’t matter who was in the room.
“There are two potential explanations for the disappearance of these young women.” She directed everyone’s attention to the photos on the board. “One is,” she crossed her arms over her chest and stared straight at her attentive, however annoyed, audience, “that they left of their own accord and they don’t want to be found. They’re certainly all of the legal age to make that decision and the only cause to consider vulnerability in these disappearances is the statements of the families who say the actions are out of character. Frankly, their statements are of little consequence, in my opinion. After all, what parent is going to say otherwise?”
“Not possible,” Chief Patterson objected. “We’ve been through that scenario already and it’s off the table, Agent Harris.” He sent a livid glare in Dan’s direction. “I don’t know why you’re behind the curve here, but I know the Parsons family nearly as well as I know my own.”
“Macy and Callie are honor students,” Griggs added his two cents. “They’re good, smart girls. They wouldn’t do this to themselves or to their families.”
“I suppose you also know those families nearly as well as you know your own,” Jess suggested. “Like Chief Patterson knows the Parsons.”
The tension thickened, forcing the air out of the room. Any inkling of humor he’d felt at her tactics evaporated. Sweat lined Dan’s brow. Jess needed to get to the point. If her intention was to piss off everyone at the table first, she was well on her way.
“Damn straight I do,” Griggs mouthed off.
“Burnett?” Patterson demanded. “What kind of dog-and-pony show is this?”
Her hand went up to silence Dan a second time. “All right then,” she said calmly. “Let’s explore the other possibility.”
Dan gritted his teeth to keep his mouth shut. Her pointed censure had signed him up for that same PO’d club his colleagues had already joined. She was the only one still calm and wherever she was going with this presentation remained frustratingly unclear. These people—he—needed help. Not a block of instruction in identifying intent or motive.
“It appears we all agree that there is only one feasible explanation. These girls,” she indicated the photos again, “were taken against their will by someone who means them harm since there has been no ransom demand. We could be looking at a human trafficking ring, a sexual predator, or just a plain old psychopath.”
A quiet, heavy with agony, coagulated in the air, making a decent breath impossible.
“If that is, indeed, the case,” Jess continued, “you,” she pointed to Griggs, “you,” then Patterson, “and you,” her attention rested finally on Dan, “are missing relevant details in your investigations.”
Disgruntled glances were exchanged but no one argued. She was right. It was difficult to argue with that. Guilt added another layer to the burden already straddling Dan’s shoulders and knotting in his gut.
“Every single one of you has been in this game long enough to understand the one fact that makes all the difference in this case and all others.” She paused, made eye contact with each member of the task force. “When a person commits an act against another person, violent or otherwise, that act is always driven by motive. Always. Whether the act was impulse or calculated, a motive exists. There are no exceptions. Whoever took these girls, whether one unknown subject or four, had a motive.”
Jess moved to the table and leaned down to flatten her palms on the shiny, manufactured wood surface. “We have to find that motive. Otherwise we won’t be looking for four young women.” She pointed to the photos on the board. “We’ll be looking for four bodies.”
That heavy silence continued to reign for one, two, three more beats.
“Did you come all this way just to tell us what we don’t know, Special Agent Harris?” Griggs spoke up, breaking the spell she had cast. “Or are we going to talk about what we do know?”
Jess straightened, eyed him with blatant skepticism. “I read the interviews with family and friends. I studied the photos of the homes and the places where the girls were last seen. Pardon my frankness, Sheriff Griggs, but what you do know is irrelevant to this case, as far as I can see. It’s all that you don’t know that makes the difference.”
When this series is complete, what do you plan to do next?
My goodness, I'm not sure. I'm way too deep in the Faces of Evil!
Now a for-fun question, you’re starring in a movie about your new series, playing the part of the heroine, Jess Harris, who is the actor playing Dan Burnett and why?
My husband! Because he's my hero!
Check out all of Debra's Books, and especially the following.
Obession: Faces of Evil
Impulse: Faces of Evil
Decoded (Colby Agency)
Monday, December 12, 2011
Saturday, December 10, 2011
I’m busy. I work full time, sing in my church choir, cart my theater loving teenager to and from endless rehearsals and dance classes, keep house—sort of—stock the family larder with essentials like Cheerios and toilet paper. I’m busier than a three-legged dog marooned on Flea Island.
And expected to meet a deadline.
Most of you probably keep a similar schedule. Welcome to the life of the Modern Writer.
Did I mention I live with more than one theatre buff?
I’ve developed a fondness for their Passion Ice Tea and bruises on my backside from their hard wooden chairs. (Some other person ALWAYS homesteads in the comfy seat before my arrival, leaving me to roost in one of the cruel chairs.)
Did you know, for example, there’s a magazine completely dedicated to sheep?
But, I’ve adapted. The nerve endings in my butt have died, and my brain has learned that sitting in Starbucks is the cue to write. Now, I no longer hear the music or notice the noise of the baristas. As for my abused behonkus, I chalk it up to suffering for my art.
The point is we can train ourselves as writers. In my case, the green and white blinking light of a Starbucks’s sign throws my creative brain into gear.
Thank goodness, because I have a deadline approaching.