Friday, March 31, 2006
Today, my horoscope said "An outing with an imaginative friend will be just what you need. Talk about everything. You'll emerge with a clean perspective."
This is exactly what I have planned. Today, I am climbing into my silver beast and driving the five-and-a-half hours to Dallas and the Dreamin' in Dallas conference where I will meet my very best friends in the world and many other good friends and talk writing all weekend.
My critique partners/roommates have brainstorming sessions planned for Friday and Saturday nights. I even printed out vague story ideas I've been playing with for a while so I won't forget to haul them out and figure out a plot for them with my friends. I know they have ideas they want to plot too. We do this every time we can manage to get together face-to-face, and we look forward to it for weeks. Even months.
Yes, the Dreamin' in Dallas conference is a fabulous one. I learned to stiffen my shy spine and chat with editors there without falling all over my tongue. I made the connection there with the agent who now handles my books. The workshops are well planned and always fascinating. But for me, the very best part is meeting with my imaginative writer friends and brainstorming. Talking about everything. I know I'll come home with a clean perspective.
I'll be stimulated and refreshed and excited about this crazy business of ours. I'll be ready to plunge back into those revisions waiting for me on my desk. I'll have decent plots for those vague ideas, ready to be started once the revisions are done. And I'll have had a great time with my best friends. (Oh, and I get to have Sunday dinner with my oldest son and his two little boys too--extra special bonus to the trip.)
I can't wait!
Thursday, March 30, 2006
I used to be a crafter. You know the type, I always had some sort of project going. Everything from making stained glass ornaments to quilting. And I have a huge box of half-finished projects in the basement to prove it. (And several smaller boxes of the various tools and equipment I had to buy to actually work on the various types of crafts.)
I've never liked country music. Yuck! But the past couple of years, I've found myself drawn to it and in fact, almost obsessed with it. I want to listen to it all the time, no matter what I'm doing. With the death of Buck Owens, GAC and all the radio stations have been playing a lot of his songs and, to tell you the truth, if that was still what country consisted of, I'd still hate most of it.
But besides the fact that I'm addicted to Rascal Flatts and--good grief--have you seen Josh whatever-his-name is whose sexy "Baby lock the door and turn the lights down low" is on the radio every five minutes? Wow!--I think the thing that most fascinates me are the songs. And it isn't the music as much as it is the words. The people who write a lot of it are fantastic, talented word crafters.
"I'll be glad to take you back...just as soon as I stop breathing."
"...those big blue, need you eyes."
And all the plays on words:
"I hijacked a rainbow and landed in a pot of gold."
"I'm living in fast-forward."
"I've got a lot of leaving to do."
So what do these two diverse things have to do with one another??? (Hey, I'm a trained writer. Don't you recognize that expert transition?) They are both about changes. BIG changes for me. And about what led to those changes.
I have a box of unfinished crafts in the basement because most 'crafty' things I could learn how to do before I finished the project. (Maybe not well, but you know what I mean.) Once I learned the steps and how to do it adequately, the challenge was gone. And once I started using my creativity to write, I no longer needed to use it on some new craft that I would be bored with in five minutes because that particular craft was no longer a challenge. I changed when I found something to challenge me full time.
I suddenly love country music because it makes me feel things I haven't felt for a long time. I've always loved music. So that isn't different. But the past few years, I haven't listened to much--and I used to have something on full-time-- mostly because it was leaving me flat. It wasn't making me feel. It wasn't inspiring me to write or sing or dance. And now, country has made me want to stop and listen to the words and study how the rhythms and rhymes fit together--and write and sing and dance. I've changed.
The one thing you'll rarely hear from any writer is that they want to change occupations (or long-term goals to have it as an occupation if it isn't yet). And though I've changed what I write after ten contemporary romances--my last project was non-fiction and what I'm working on now is also non-fiction. But that isn't forever. I can feel myself itching to get back to making stuff up. And it might not be exactly the same kind of stories I was writing before, but it will be something. The word-crafting challenge is still there. And listening to (and studying) country music makes me want to play, too, and reminds me that "I've got a lot of learning to do."
What are your big changes?
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Well. . . I'd been planning to blog about an upcoming Authors at Sea cruise my publisher's sending me on this coming weekend and my realization that part of the reason I've been so stressed out about this is because I'd be forced to go 9 DAYS!! without writing. Something I haven't done since going to Italy two weeks after 9/11. Usually I write every day. That's what I've done for twenty three years and it's always worked for me, so I wasn't all that happy about changing patterns. (At least in Italy I got pasta, ice cream, wine, and Michaelangelo. Which I figured was a pretty fair trade-off.) Fortunately, I just realized that by having to take an additional carry-on, I can fit my laptop in, so I'm feeling much more secure about the trip.
But I digress...
What I stumbled across was this amazing thing called a Map of Literature. You can put in an author's name and it'll tell you what other authors readers of that first author read. I've no idea where they get their information, but my "if you like JoAnn Ross" list (and you know I couldn't resist checking) turned out to be Jayne Ann Krentz, Jayne Castle, Linda Lael Miller, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Suzanne Brockmann, Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Lowell, Christine Feehan, and Emilie Loring.
I have no idea what that means. Especially since I tend to write all over the place. But it started me thinking about my own reading habits, which are even more eclectic than my writing. I currently have books scattered all over the house and car waiting to be read ranging from "guy" fiction like James Lee Burke, Dennis Lehane (a mystery god, imo), and John Sanford to "women who write guy fiction" like Lisa Gardner and Tess Gerritson, romantic suspense, paranormals, horror, romance, erotic romance, and two books of "literary" short stories by Annie Proulx (who I've been reading since before the Brokeback Mountain movie), and speaking of a mountains, a TBR stack of non-fiction books for a new story I'm researching. I tend to pick them up to suit my mood and I'm often reading two or three at a time. I can't imagine all these names showing up on the same Map of Literature.
Which got me wondering. Knowing that romance readers are the most eclectic group of readers out there, would your own reader map show that you enjoy visiting one particular literary "country" in depth; or are you more of a "world traveler?"
And yes, Sue-Ellen and Allie -- I'm only guessing here, but I suspect your reading passports would be stamped Scotland most often. :D
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Although Kissed by Magic and Enchanted by Magic stand alone, I think I have always been working up to Endangered by Magic. The fairies Allegro and Largo had trials and tribulation in the first two books, which they needed to experience in order to face the dark dangers in this third book. This story was particularly challenging to write because I also added historical fact into the fiction. The king who took over France after Napoleon's defeat was gluttonous and ridiculous, a poor leader who impoverished the people even more. This, as I'm sure you can well imagine, caused unrest. Plus, he insulted the Tsar, which added to the strain. The feuds that I depict between Napoleon and his generals were the absolute truth, taken from several history reference books. All of this fit perfectly in my plot, to my delight.
A dark hero is my favorite kind of a hero. And Nolan is very tortured. I introduced him in Enchanted by Magic as the Bow Street Runner. In Endangered by Magic he has dark spells and doesn't know what causes them. He blacks out and can't remember what happens, which adds to his fear of losing control. Why are his clothes torn? Where has he been? In the prologue, he awakens to discover his beloved wife murdered and blood on his hands, which makes him go a little crazy. By chapter one, he becomes suicidal, taking horrendous risks with his life, not caring if he dies. Where did I get my initial idea for him?
Well, I have a friend who refuses to room with anyone during writing conferences because a couple times she woke up to discover she was naked. She had no memory of how she got that way or what she had done when she was in the nude. It totally freaked her out and she feared doing something that she'd be embarrassed about later, and so she didn't want anyone in the room with her. Although, I'm sure she wouldn't have murdered me,
At the beginning of the book, a troll attacks Allegro (my warrior faerie) and severs his pinky. This time, magic doesn't heal Allegro's finger in the manner he got his wings fixed at the end of Kissed by Magic. I did this on purpose, because I felt it strengthened his character. I'm a big fan of Terry Brooks. If you like fantasy, you really need to read his stories. Start out with the Sword of Shannara. Anyway, one of Brooks' characters in a later book loses his whole arm, and it was never restored although I found myself hoping it would be. But I realized the trauma made him a warrior, scarred in battle, but stronger than ever. That's what I wanted for Allegro.
Tessa, the heroine, was someone I've been wanting to write about for a long time. Half gypsy, she was raised in the camp for most of her life, then she was forced to live in English society. I did this for two reasons; I wanted her to learn her knife skills and how to survive in a very primitive, rough world with the gypsies because she would need to know exactly that to survive in the upcoming ordeal. Also, I wanted her to yearn for an identity, a place to belong. She's seen and experienced things no prim miss from the haut ton would ever dream of facing. If she was going to survive being with the hero and living in his magical world, she was going to have to already be acquainted with the idea of transition, because shifting to a magical world was going to be all that much more difficult. So that's why I had her switch from a wild gypsy girl in a totally different social structure to a member of the haut ton in a staid, uppercrust society.
Anyway, those were my thoughts, my ideas when I created this story. I hope you enjoyed the book!
Monday, March 27, 2006
I once read an article discussing essay questions on college admission applications. Most of the questions made my head hurt, but this one made me smile: "What is your favorite word and why?"
GEEK ALERT!!! I confess I actually had a favorite word as a kid, though I doubt it would have won me any college acceptance letters. The word was "aardvark." I still like it. How cool to have a word beginning with a double "a." And it sounds cool too, the way the second syllable echoes the first. It means, literally, earth pig. It's a creature something like an anteater or an armadillo. (Armadillo is a cool word, too.)
I've collected other words over the years. Brangle for example. It's archaic now, but it means to wrangle or squabble--which are also two pretty fun words to say or read. Mugwump, a synonym of sorts for poohbah. Hoity-toity. Namby-pamby. Shrubbery. Snark.
Language is one reason I like writing Regency-set historicals. The Regency period of England was a time of wonderful words. You could call someone a fool or you could call him a nodcock, a paperskull, a lobcock, or a cods-head. Beef-witted. A cabbage head. Ninnyhammer. Someone with more hair than wit.
Occasionally, I'll get too enamored of a word when I'm writing. One reader pointed out I'd become a trifle too attached to the word "trifle" in my first book, so I did a search and destroy for it in my second.
So...am I the only word geek here? Anyone else out there have a favorite word to share?
Saturday, March 25, 2006
The hard part for me is appearing in public. First, my usual writer uniform--sweat pants--is not considered appropriate. I'll have to find something decent to wear. Once I'm in the store, the challenge really begins. Like most writers I am shy. I like people, but I'd rather be able to edit, delete and re-word what I say. I can't rely on my mouth and tongue to come up with words spontaneously. Not with strangers around. But there is no point driving 3 hours each way to sit and read a book (I have seen authors doing just that at signings).
So I have my tools. Bookmarks to hand out. A prize to give away and plenty of chocolate. These are my ice breakers. They give me something to say and something to hold so that I can fight that urge to duck under the table when someone looks my way. A little coffee for courage helps too. Fortunately this Hastings has a nice cafe.
If I'm lucky, I'll meet someone nice readers. Very likely I'll meet others who will not be interested in my books. And there always seem to be one or two who want to rant about the amount of sex in books these days. That's okay. They still get a bookmark, a chocolate and a smile. Yes. It's the life of a famous author.
Monday morning I'll be back in my real life. And my sweats.
Friday, March 24, 2006
I need to get up and go vacuum up all the dead leaves and dried up Christmas cactus flowers that have been lost in the corner of my office before the new desk arrives and grinds them permanently into the carpet. (The cactus flowers aren't that old. My 15-year-old Christmas cactus has gone berserk and blooms periodically from September through May.) But the desk isn't arriving until 3 this afternoon, so I have plenty of time. (Says she who has been known to procrastinate a whole day away goofing around on the internet...)
Anyway, I just re-discovered a few hundred book covers for The Barbed Rose my publisher sent me last fall when I was cleaning out all the junk under the work table I'm replacing, and spent some time admiring them, and realized I had found a blog topic for today.
Book covers (or book jackets for the hardcovers out there) are the first tangible thing an author gets to hold in her hand that says "This book, this dream, is actually going to be real." Up until that point, the book pretty much looks like the same manuscript pages we've been shipping back and forth to publisher's offices. But when that cover comes, the reality sets in.
And yes, the covers are just what they sound like. Flat copies of what goes around the pages of the book. The early covers often have marketing information inside them to go out to book buyers, and the ones that come later will have exactly what is on the inside cover of the books as sold in the stores.
Covers are important. A book's cover tells bookstore browsers what kind of story is inside. A light-hearted story gets bright colors and perhaps a cute cartoon-style character on the front. A dark suspense gets dark colors and dramatic scenes. Fantasy and science fiction stories tend to get dramatic depictions of the strange creatures, machinery or events that take place inside. The wrong cover can give the wrong idea about the contents and requires a "Do-Over." I have a friend within my own imprint who got her cover completely redone at the last minute because the first one didn't have that "heroic otherworldly adventure" feel to it, and CJ Lyons, who blogs here, got her book pulled from the schedule because the cover didn't scream "suspense." Covers are VERY important.
The amount and method of author input into the cover differs from publisher to publisher. And sometimes between lines and imprints within publishers. I've only ever been published with Harlequin, but there's a great deal of difference in what I was asked to do as a series romance writer and what I'm asked for as a Luna author. The series authors have a website to go to where they put in information about their characters and answer questions about theme and such. There used to be a paper form to be filled out and mailed or faxed back, but it's all gone to the online stuff now. I think.
I've never seen it, because they shifted to online after I started writing for Luna. I get e-mails requesting essentially the same information--descriptions of the main characters, clothing, settings, scenes that I think might work well on the cover, theme of the story. Since Luna is a fantasy line and the setting and clothing is all in my head, it can take quite a bit of time for me to get all this stuff down. And sometimes they ask for cover input before I've written all the story and I don't yet have much idea what some of the settings look like.
So far, I've been delighted by all my covers. They have been gorgeous. I'm particularly pleased with the cover of The Barbed Rose (available in bookstores now), because it has all the elements I wanted--the white rose with its thorns in the corner, the compass rose symbol carved into the pillar under the heroine's feet--and if you look close, you can see the little tiny sailboat flying in the air over the city. Yes, there is a flying sailboat in the book. I told them to put that in.
Do covers inspire you to pick up a book? Has one ever stopped you from picking a particular book up? Is there a particular favorite out there?
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Think about the bookclub headed by a particularly famous talk show host and copied by various other programs, or about any of these "let's all read the same book" programs. You generally read a serious book full of layered metaphors. The book is often about cheery topics like death and injustice. Then you're asked questions about the book. You have to analyze it and explain what it really meant, what the author was saying about the state of the world. What does that sound like? It reminds me of high school English classes, which are often what turn people off of reading in the first place. Unless you come from a home where reading for fun is encouraged or unless you have a teacher who really goes above and beyond, you're going to come out of those classes sure that reading is no fun. The curriculum is full of books about death and injustice, which you then have to analyze to death (and as an author looking back at those years, I find a lot of that analysis highly amusing. It's entirely possible that those authors didn't mean anything and that the symbol you're analyzing was the product of an overactive subconscious). I think I'm probably a pretty advanced reader (considering I write books), but I took one look at the discussion questions about Life of Pi posted on the library web site and ran screaming. The questions almost ruined the book for me. They destroyed the magic.
I don't know if it's literary snobbery or just the feeling that if you're only going to get someone to read one book, you'd better make it worthwhile, but it seems to me that the way to get people into reading is to show them that reading can be fun. I know, it's a radical concept! You don't throw someone who hasn't read a book since high school in the literary deep end and expect them to enjoy the experience. Maybe you should start with the "gateway drugs" of reading -- romance, chick lit, mystery. Look for books that make people lose track of time, and instead of getting people to talk about theme and metaphor, ask them if they liked the characters, if they thought the hero and heroine belonged together, if they solved the mystery before the detective did. Get people hooked and wanting to read more, and maybe someday they'll want to delve into more challenging things, but even if they don't, they're reading, and that's wonderful.
I don't know how many people have told me that reading my book got them back into reading in a way they hadn't enjoyed since they were kids. One friend teases me that I've ruined his wife. She read my book, had fun with it, then went out looking for other fun books to read. She went from being a busy mom who didn't make time to read to being a woman who tries to set aside time to read and relax. I can't help but think that this will also have an impact on her little boy, who will now grow up watching his mom reading and going to the bookstore with her.
Kelly Ripa was on the right track with her TV bookclub when she chose fun, entertaining books. We need more celebrities willing to get over the need to make themselves appear intellectual who can recommend fun books to fans willing to follow their every move. Maybe libraries could sponsor romance reading groups for moms that meet while kids are in story hour. That would be the way to get new readers who might keep coming back for more.
Can anyone think of some sure-fire "gateway drug" books that would be great to recommend to reluctant adult readers?
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Maybe I'm crazy, or masochistic, but I find the deadlines comforting. They break a big project into manageable chunks. Into steps, like the rungs on a ladder. Just take one, then another, and then--presto--I'm holding a whole book in my hands. Created by just taking a deep breath and meeting the next goal on my list.
The truth is, I'm still quite a newbie at this. I've written four contracted books now, but that's a drop in the bucket compared to many authors. I'm still learning my writing process. Each book I have tackled differently. Each one has been an experiment in the creative process. The first I wrote without a synopsis and I let my characters guide me. For the next, I combined mystery/romantic suspense with regency-set erotica. I needed a completely different method. That one involved lots of spreadsheets. Spreadsheets about character motives. Clues. Even one to list the pictures my artistic heroine sketched throughout the story.
For my latest book, I'm expanding my method. I have spreadsheets that explain the goals, motiviations, and conflicts of each character. I have a character chart, where I explain what each character needs to make them happy. And I wrote the most detailed outline I have ever done for a book. I have tried to be a 'pantser' and write without a outline, and I 'flew into the mist' (the wonderful, evocative term author Jo Beverley uses), but I need the security blanket of an outline. Then I'm free to focus on the detail work that follows--the actual writing.
But I'm still learning. And I know I will always be learning, no matter how many books I write. So, I'm trying to keep a record of what I've tried, what worked for me, what didn't.
Do you have a method? Do you find your approach to writing is constantly evolving?
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Aha, so that explains the “challenge binge” I’ve gone on in the last month or so. The timing is not coincidental. I’m about to type “The End” to the first draft of my romantic suspense novel. Yes, that’s a good feeling but there’s lots of polishing to be done before it’s truly finished. I also feel a great sense of loss because while revisions are pleasurable in their own way, I’ll miss the white hot creativity that a first draft requires. I’ll miss my characters too; I’ve gotten to know them pretty well by now and I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.
Here’s what I’ve gotten into in my search for new sources of satisfaction:
1) I’ve discovered Sudoku, the Japanese puzzle in which you fill in a grid of squares so that the numbers 1-9 do not repeat vertically, horizontally or within each of nine boxes. It makes me feel as though I’m exercising the mathematical part of my brain, which generally doesn’t get much of a workout, although Sudoku is really just about patterns. The squares could be filled in with dog breeds (never put two poodles in the same row) and it would still work but, hey, I can pretend I’m doing higher math. Even better, when I fill that last number in, the whole puzzle looks so, well, complete, that it’s very satisfying.
2) I’m training for a 5K race (benefiting a local charity) which takes place in April. My son has run in the race for three years and I decided to join him this year, even though I hate to run. It’s truly amazing what my decrepit body can do when pushed in a very careful and methodical way. When I ran the whole course, hills and all, for the first time without feeling as though my legs were going to fall off, it sent a huge rush of satisfaction coursing through my brain.
3) Knitting may not sound like much of a challenge but I just took it up again after many years of never touching a needle. Did I decide to just knit a nice little neck scarf or a pair of mittens? No, I embarked on an enormous (six feet long!) shawl for my daughter in a pattern I’ve never even seen before. Did I go back to the yarn store to get help when I encountered something in the directions I’d never done? No, I looked it up on the internet and suffered through some trial and error. So far the shawl looks pretty much like the photograph in the pattern book. When I get to the end of a (very lo-o-ong) pattern row and spread out what I’ve knitted for a quick quality check, I get an amazingly strong sense of accomplishment from seeing how the work has grown just from the tiny motions of my fingers.
Okay, so none of these are climbing Mt. Everest but, for me, they represent very real ways of finding satisfaction. What I love about Berns’ definition is that it gives us some power over the quality of our lives. Winning the lottery (and believe me, I’ve tried) is beyond our control but finishing a shawl is completely up to the knitter.
So how do you get satisfaction? Remember this is a public forum, so don’t tell us about that kind of satisfaction.
Saturday, March 18, 2006
This has been a banner month. I got a "fan e-mail" from France. It seems that Luna has released The Compass Rose in French this month. Probably not to correspond with the North American release of The Barbed Rose, but it's very cool anyway. The French title is La Rose des Vents, which, literally translated, means the Rose of the Winds.
Wind is a touchy subject this week. I live in the Texas panhandle, and this past week, the whole place has gone up in flames. From Childress in the southeast corner to Dalhart in the northwest, grass caught fire last Sunday and the wind whipped it out of control. Today, my little town--which is no more than thirty minutes from all three of the biggest fires--got some rain, but 30 miles away, they had to shut down I-40 again, because a lightning strike started yet another fire. When the equivalent of the whole state of Connecticut is burned bare, it tends to bring things into perspective.
And yet, once you've done what you can to help--which never seems adequate to the need--what else can you do but go back to your own life, hug your family and get your work done? Still, a few more prayers for rain and no wind wouldn't go amiss...
Friday, March 17, 2006
I have to admit, many a times, I didn’t know my limit and drank way too much green beer. Rolla was a party school, and I could tell you many stories we won’t even get into here. Now I’m older and wiser. But sometimes I still struggle with limits, especially in writing. I may have only a limited time to write. My publisher only has limited spots to place my book. My writing may be limited by my creativity. And worse, I can be limited by my own self-doubts.
But once I began to look at setting limits as positive things, I discovered that by setting beneficial limits, I had more control over who I was and how much I could accomplish. I could remove restrictive limits and replace them with positive ones that helped me reach my goals. I eliminated the limits that held me down, and added limits that protected my creativity.
Just as our characters have limits, authors also have tolerance thresholds. While we analyze our characters and establish their limits, many times we don’t spend enough time contemplating our own. Worried about our careers, we may push ourselves into areas in which we may be uncomfortable just so we get a sale. We may agree to a PR tour we don’t want to do. We may commit to writing faster than we normally do, at the expense of our family and our sanity. We have pushed ourselves beyond our limits, and that can lead to burnout, frustration, and doubt.
Limits you set for yourself should not be limitations. Limits are self-imposed and self-directed, based on doing what is best for you. Just like limiting how much you might spend on promotion, or limiting how much food you eat, limits should be positive choices that yield positive benefits. Knowing your limits can eliminate guilt and self-doubt. Once you choose to create positive limits, you’ll be in control. Limits allow you to set priorities, and say no to those things that aren’t important.
So evaluate whenever you feel something is askew. Ask yourself whether the limit you’ve placed on yourself is harmful or beneficial. If it’s bad, change it to something that benefits you. For example, you may find you get more writing done if you limit the time you spend on line reading blogs or posting on message boards. Or you may find that you need to limit your writing time slightly so you can create an online presence. You may choose to limit the amount of chapter activities you do so that you can spend more time with your family. Setting personal limits that you are comfortable with is healthy. The person you answer to is yourself. You should know where your limit is long before you reach it.So what are the limits you’ve set that are holding you back? How can you get rid of them, and turn them into something positive?
Thursday, March 16, 2006
But the place that I’ve been drawn back to time and again is that verdant green Island of Poets, Ireland. During my two trips there I have repeatedly found myself transported by the friendliness of the people, the awe-inspiring vistas, the heart-lifting music and above all, the craic.
“The craic is mighty tonight,” a young man named Padraic told me as he and his cousin Michael regaled me with tall tales of their family history in a bar in Killarney. I raised an eyebrow, being unable to make myself heard over the toe-tapping fiddle and bodhran duet beside me, and he explained. “The craic, the stories, the talk, ya know?”
Oh yes, I know. That melodious accent, burred by stout or good whiskey, husky with the smoke of peat fires, and rich with visions passed down one generation to the next. Every trip I’ve made to Ireland, I’ve returned home enriched with ideas and possibilities, delighted by the prospect of weaving the people and stories I met into my own tales, and eager for the opportunity to go back once more.
I’m currently finishing the hopefully final revisions on a thriller that echoes with the roar of the explosion of Atlantis; reveals the brave deeds and anguished decisions of an ancient Irish warrior queen, Maeve; spirals into the present as two lovers meet on the storm-swept cairn where Maeve is buried; and finally crescendos with one woman’s struggle to save two children.
I’m pretty pleased with it—as I read it, I can almost feel the rhythm of Padraic’s lilting speech, the beat of the bodhran, the slashing ribbons of rain. My hope: that when I’m finished, it will be as inspiring as the island that inspired me.
Are there places that have inspired you to write? Novels that captured the essence of a locale so much that you felt you were actually there? Please feel free to share.
Cathryn J Lyons, MD
No one is immune to danger…
BLINK OF AN EYE is “a perfect blend of romance and suspense.” –Sandra Brown
Coming soon from Tor Books!
Check out my new reading group at http://www.cjlyons.net/
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Done is done. Over, put to bed. It's the book finished, and there's always a curious depression with the elation of accomplishment. Put it off like the end of a good party. Bad party means bad characters that you want to chuck in the bin. Good party and it's three AM and you didn't notice, gotta go and soft bed's sounding fine, but the desire underneath is to keep it rolling just an hour more so you can all stay up and go out for breakfast. But it's done.
Not done's worse. Regrets for unwritten letters, books, stories left in the head where they're still perfect, which is why it's so hard to put them on the page because you have to ruin them to do that, break the shell, let all the messy stuff out before you can shape it into something decent, or at least to what you hope is half there. God, I love rewrites. It's the chance to paint over the canvas, get it good the way you can't in the rest of life--I always get the perfect smackback two hours too late. Rewrites--second chance to heaven.
Not so with that done/not thinking and marking up time since either direction is looking back or ahead, and the view can be bleak or terrifying both ways, and looking means not getting much else done since it's about the same as being seized by vertigo. Or buried alive in sucking mud. 'Course you have to take the time now and then to look. How else do you know where you are? Back in the trenches.
Back to doing. So much better there. In the middle, keyboard going like the drums in King Kong. Staccato bursts of Tommy-gun dialogue shooting up that bar around Indy and Marion. Doing like crazy. Bliss. No milestones hanging heavy from the past, too big and overshadowing the work at hand like a megalithic (ah, such a word) henge--hmmm, should it be unhenged instead of unhinged? Better still, no milestones ahead to shadow the road, make it seem impossible--it can do that on it's own, thank you very much. Everest is for sissys. Try struggling up a novel, clawing one scene at a time by your fingernails, baring the truth like your teeth in a grin, and being one of the souls who'll dance naked on a metaphorical table (and thank you, Sister Krissie, for preachin' that one to the choir, telling it like it is, amen and awomen and asoul who dares look the dark in the eye and cull the heat from brimstone). Folks like that help you shake off the birthdays and kick-start the new years.
Which is as good as any a time to kick those milestones, start grinding. Bump and grind and strip the hesitation. Turn 'em all into a big fat useful millstone, not one hanging around the neck like yesterday's baked albatross--live ones are good luck, doncha know. Yep, keep it living, keep it grinding, dance with the words even when the tango goes to tangled and you wish you could just take that sentence out and shoot it as a mercy.
Birthdays and new years, good time to put the head down and look at one foot before the next, one word after the last, not look too far back or far ahead, not in the story, not in the life, not think about the wish-it-were's and why-it-wasn'ts. Good time for a toast, and to get drunk on the words. Again.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
On CNN yesterday, the commentator was interviewing several experts on the subject. One guy was saying that the theory of Jesus marrying Mary Magdalena and having children has been around for thousands of years. So that's not a unique idea that Baigent and Leigh came up with; it's a historical point of view. One of the fiction characters in The Da Vinci Code says that the history book wasn't correct, and that's another reason for the lawsuit. Good grief, it was part of the plot for the character to claim it wasn't factual.
On CNN, the commentator was asking the others, "What is their objective? What do they want?" The three experts said, "Money." That's it; they're jealous that their book didn't make it big and they want a piece of the pie.
Maybe Dan Brown's mistake was that he shouldn't have mentioned any of the references in his story – just like I try really hard not to mention any names of actual restaurants in my settings. But then I'm sure that a lot of people probably went out and bought those reference books to see for themselves what Dan Brown's characters were talking about. I certainly did. To me, it's like cutting off your nose to spite your face for these authors then to sue Brown after he was so nice as to mention the name of their book in his story and generate new interest in something written over twenty years ago. So if Dan Brown would have said that he got his reference material from several sources and didn't give anyone credit in his story, just made up fictitious reference books, maybe he wouldn't have been sued. Then those nonfiction authors wouldn't have gotten an increase in their sales.
I just hope that Dan Brown wins the case, and that he counter sues. If he doesn't win, won't that set us all up for lawsuits? Right now I'm studying Celtic history, and I'm thinking of tweaking the mythologies to make them fit my story. Isn't that my right as a fiction author? Or am I going to have to worry about lawsuits? (I know, only unless my book makes a huge splash like The Da Vinci Code!)
My husband says anyone can sue anybody for anything. I know that's true. We can get sued for someone walking across our property and stubbing her toe. But I hope this isn't an indicator that fiction authors are going to have to face lots of lawsuits. I don't want authors to have to start monitoring their plots, or worry about what their fiction characters do and say because fiction authors can't tweak historical facts. After all, as an expert from the Library of Congress once said to me, history is what people report. Who really knows what really happened, and how it affected a person? Several people can see the same event, but because of their perspective, their prejudices, their experience base, or simply where they're standing, each report will be different.
And remember, we are writing fiction. (And I can't wait to see the movie!)
(For more information, click here.)
Monday, March 13, 2006
Chick lit--those of us who spend a lot of time talking books know exactly what the term means, or think we do, but I was amazed this summer to realize a lot of people still don't. I was at my home town library for a book signing, when I got into a conversation with my cousin about books I thought she would enjoy. She told me she loved Sex and the City. I thought "Bingo--chick lit, of course. "But when I shared my wisdom with her, she just blinked back. No clue what I was talking about. Confident I would easily locate dozens of examples to show her, I bee-bopped up to the librarian and asked, "Where do you shelve chick lit?" Yet another blank stare.
I was bamboozled.
After a lot of searching and me fumbling for a description of what exactly chick lit is, we turned up one copy of Bridget Jones's Diary and one copy of The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing in general fiction. Success!! The librarian was thrilled with this new discovery and my cousin promised to check out chicklitbooks.com when she got home.
Since then I've read a lot of people's descriptions of chick lit and to be honest a lot of them are a little simplistic and at times, insulting. Chick lit has grown a lot over the past few years. There are lots of subgenres to choose from--something, I'd even go so far to say, for almost everyone.
Here are a few of my favorite subgenres and books I recommend:
- Mystery: The Mommy Track Mystery series by Ayelet Waldman (You won't find this shelved with chick lit, but they are most certainly mom lit mysteries. Love them!)
- Paranormal: I've read a number of these this year. A few of my favorites: Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon Hunting Soccer Mom by Julie Kenner (also mom lit), Enchanted Inc.: A Novel by Shanna Swendson, and Goddess for Hire by Sonia Singh.
- Hen Lit: (okay, I hate the term, but try and get past it...) I liked a number of the Next books published by Harlequin. One to try is Sandwiched by Jennifer Archer. I also loved Savannah Blues by Mary Kay Andrews (Also a mystery with a great Southern setting which I am a sucker for.)
- General Chick Lit: I have enjoyed many of the Red Dress Ink books by Harlequin, including Spitting Feathers by Kelly Harte. Then, my all time favorite chick lit has to be Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes. I can not say enough good things about this book. Not the least of which is that it has one of my all time favorite lines comparing a woman's pursed lips to a cat's butt. Now that is my kind of humor!
So, even if you think you know chick lit and it isn't for you--I urge you to give it another gander. Truly, you'll get more good out of a few of these excellent reads than you'll get out of twenty pairs of last season's Pradas. ;-)
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Being on the east coast, I didn’t watch the last ten minutes — dogs had to be walked before bed — but I was glad Crash won. It, along with the equally excellent The Constant Gardener, were the only ones I’ve seen so far because I’ve gotten spoiled by my monster screen TV and hooked on the DVD extras. They both left me thinking about the stories for days afterwards, but with Crash, I actually had a lot of conversations on writers’ lists and with my workshop group about whether all that back and forth time-jumping and changing povs could be done in a book without the actors to help readers keep track. I still think all those povs (off the top of my head I remember seven) would be very, very tricky.
However, getting back to the Oscars, other people commented they no longer watch TV, and don't care about popular culture all that much. Again, putting on my sparkly shallow girl tiara, I’ll also admit that my TV viewing always seems to match the top ten-twenty of what America’s watching. This year my reality shows are The Amazing Race (amazing again after last year’s family race bust), Dancing with the Stars, Beauty and the Geek (a wonderfully sweet show about tolerance and often, like this year, incredible personal growth), and so far The Apprentice, but I may give that up pretty soon as I did Survivor and American Idol because of boredom and repetition.
Reality shows do much of what we do in fiction. Put people in stressful situations, then watch how they react. And no, they’re not real, but neither are our books, so they work for me. As do popular shows like Bones, Gray's Anatomy, Lost, The Sopranos (which YAY!! is back!), Deadwood (brilliant, but admittedly not as mainstream popular), and, occasionally, Desperate Housewives. I’ve discussed this with other writers for years and those of us with more pop culture tastes are convinced it’s helped us have long-lived careers. There’s a reason they call it Mass Market, after all.
Back in the early 80s, when I was writing my still unsold books in an Allstate booth in a Phoenix Sears store, I insured a woman who'd grown up in the hinterlands of Alaska, where her family ran a store and restaurant for workers building the oil pipeline. She told me that when she'd moved down to the Lower 48 States to go to college, her most difficult adjustment was that having been so removed from American popular culture for so long, she felt lost by references in the most casual of conversations. I'd think that would be a problem for contemporary writers who aren't "plugged in." Yet, I know successful writers who don’t ever watch TV, so apparently it doesn't bother them. Which just goes to show, once again, how different we all are.
One of the people who commented on Rob's blog is an aspiring comedian whose friend, David Feldman, was one of the first, if not the first person in the country to actually get a degree in popular culture. He's written nearly a dozen books on the subject called The Imponderables, has taught her to be proud of her viewing choices, and now rather than admitting to being a TV addict, she says she's a student of popular culture.
So, from now on, instead of letting anyone make me feel the need to defend my "guilty pleasures," I'm going to stick to my belief that hey, I'm studying popular culture! :D
Friday, March 10, 2006
Some romance readers love a man in a kilt, others a rugged Special Forces soldier or a sophisticated aristocrat. But for some readers none of these heroes can compare to a cowboy. Perhaps it is that so many of us grew up loving horses. How could we resist a man who loves his horse better than any other living creature up until the moment he meets his heroine?
Cowboys are often the strong silent type. They wear spurs, eat cold beans and sleep on the ground for weeks at a time without the influences of civilization. A cowboy's existence can be a lonely one. "Brokeback Mountain" notwithstanding, these tough men need the soft touch of a woman. I think that is the appeal for me. The stark contrast between a hardened man who is more comfortable with his cattle than he is with other people and a tender woman--the ultimate social creature. When my editor asked me to write a novella with a cowboy hero, this was the scenario that came to my mind and my story "Moonlight Whispers" was born.
My story appears in the anthology, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, which has just been released. I play the role of the author no one has heard of, while the other two authors are well known to readers of Western romance--Lorraine Heath and Georgina Gentry. I enjoyed reading both of their stories. With no more guidance than the anthology title, we all came up with very different stories in different settings. But all three stories have this in common-- a tough cowboy hero and a woman who softens him. Mind you, these heroines aren't wimps either, but they are all women in desperate need of a hero.
When I hear from readers who enjoyed my books, they almost always add a special thank you for writing a western. There just aren't enough good westerns out there these days. If you're one of those readers who yearns for a hunky cowboy--this book is for you. The beautiful trade paperback format is a special bonus. That bare-chested cowboy looks great in the larger size.
So--what's your preference? Cowboys? Scots? Or do you like to sleep around, er, experience different types of heroes?
Thursday, March 09, 2006
I've been thinking lately about why we read, and about why we read what we read.
Some people read for edification. To learn something or to experience reality in a new way. Many of these people read because they have to--they need to keep up with markets or the doings of others in their company or because they're in one school or another and the teacher has assigned them materials to read. Many others don't "have to", but still choose their reading materials as a matter of "should." "I should read this new best-seller/classic/whatever."
Then there are those of us who read purely for entertainment. We are legion, and ageless. We range from the children giggling at the tales of Captain Underpants or waiting anxiously for the next Harry Potter book (though many HP fans are parents or grandparents) to the grandmothers catching up with their monthly subscription of Harlequin Blazes. We read because we like it. Because we can escape from our everyday lives into something different. More fun. More exciting. More...just more.
I think this is why I write what I write. It's sort of the same thing as reading what I read, only really slowly. All of us who contribute to this 2 B Read blog write romance. Romance digs into the deepest needs of human existence and promises a satisfying ending. I've added the magical adventure of fantasy to the romantic topics of love and relationships. I guess that means I'm more escapist than most--dunno. But fantasy, in the end, is about good triumphing over impossible odds, just as romance is about love winning out over despair and loneliness.
And I like being all about that.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
My second book, The Naked Marquis, was officially released March 1. Yahoo!! It's already sold out at the local Borders--the one across the street from my youngest son's high school. In a few days, I'll go to other area bookstores to see if I can sign stock.
A weird thing is beginning to happen. People, even people who aren't related to me, who don't know me, are reading my book.
"Duh!" you say. "Isn't that what you expected?"
Well, yes, I realize this is the goal. Certainly I want thousands of people to run to the store and buy the book. (Hint, hint.) That's how I get royalties and maybe new contracts to write more books. And I do have an imaginary reader in my head while I'm writing and revising. I often ask myself how a reader would experience a particular scene. Is it clear? What emotion does it create? Will the reader laugh? (I write humor, so laughter is usually a good thing.) But when the book gets out there in the wild, real readers will pick it up, people who will bring their own experiences and thoughts to my words.
One type of reader I don't have in my head while I'm writing is the male of the species. I'm always a little taken aback when a man tells me he's read my book. Maybe this is because the males I live with--one husband and four sons--run screaming at the slightest suggestion they might look at my stories. Or maybe I'm just freaked that men will read all the male point of view parts and find them totally unconvincing. Or just take things in an unexpected way. One of my male friends, after reading my first book, asked me who in my life or what events inspired me to write the psycho murderer rapist villain.
Aeeiiiiee! No one. It's fiction. I made it all up. It's lies, lies, lies.
So, with a new book out, I find myself split--eager for people to read it, yet a little afraid and hesitant at the same time.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Not an assistant (have had many of those), or a secretary (ditto), or anyone for whom in any way, shape or form I need to worry about employment laws, or, you know, actual lunch breaks. No, I need a good old-fashioned minion (evil optional) who rushes to obey my every command, for fear of the death or destruction which would follow the thwarting of my wishes.
But, lacking those, I rely on my children.
Many of you are aware of my wonderful Book Release Day tradition of dragging the children on a tour of bookstores so they can OOOH and AAAH over my books. But, given their sincere and utter lack of, well, sincerity, in their previous ooohing and aaaahing, I've decided today is different.
I'm going to force them to pay me compliments. MWAH HA HA HA.
None of this pitiful "Mom, we're home from school, where is our snack?" today. No, for one precious day, it will be "Mom, we're home, can WE fix YOU a snack, in honor of release day?
"No? Would you care to relax on the couch and watch a film of your choice, without a single GAGGING NOISE during the kissing? Because you're such a brilliant writer?"
I bask, content, in the devoted attentions of my minions.
And then the alarm goes off and I wake up, bleary-eyed, minion-less, but still excited. I may not have minions, evil or otherwise, but I have the best job in the world. And today is release day. :)
PS For an excerpt, to view my astonishingly fun movie-style book trailer, and more, please visit me at www.mysterychick.com. And may you find minions of your own!!
Monday, March 06, 2006
A writer was on one of my early listservs, about six years ago. She was multi-published, but had just gotten a new editor. This editor asked her for the outline of her next book, something that had never been asked of her before.
The writer took a book, put it on a sheet of paper, traced its outline with a pencil, and faxed the sheet to the editor.
I think it is safe to say that writer was what we call a "pantser." She did not do outlines and wrote by the seat of her pants.
Are you a "pantser" or a "planner?" This question gets discussed and debated among writers, and the answer appears to be interesting to readers too. Do you know your plot before you begin? How much detail do you outline first? Do you just sail into the mist without a chart, letting the story unfold as it goes, writing by the "seat of your pants"?
We know that both systems work. Neither one is more correct. I have been thinking about these differences, however, and wondering about my own "pantser" tendencies. I cling to them, even now that I have to do some planning in advance. My refusal to outline in detail goes beyond mere preference, however, and I've been wondering why.
Fiction writing has been an extremely intuitive process for me. I suspect it is for everyone, no matter how much detail gets into an outline. I have come to realize that the stimulation of my intuition is a large part of the appeal for me, however.
Are you a highly intuitive person? Do you trust your gut more than your logical analysis of a situation? Ten years ago, I would have emphatically said "no" to that question. My rational side dominated, or so I believed. In the least, I did not trust my intuitive reactions.
Writing novels changed that. Freeing my intuitive side created an intoxifying change in me. A dam had been holding all that in, and writing fiction broke the dam.
I became aware of the way stories worked themselves out in my subconscious, and how words and ideas and layers appeared out of nowhere as I wrote. I slowly came to appreciate that a balance had been restored in my spirit.
In the last few years, however, a peculiar thing has happened. This intuitive side has begun playing a bigger role in my life outside of writing. I increasingly trust my gut in many situations now. I also realize how much I did in the past too. I simply did not admit to myself that I was allowing intuition to guide me. The voice was always there and I always heard it, I just did not acknowledge it existed. At the same time, however, I am less likely to sail into the mist in my writing.
Now I wonder if a different lack of balance is forming, one where I give too much weight to those intuitive reactions outside of writing, and not enough when I write. This is the opposite of when I began my first novel.
The play between the two is important, I think. One has to check the other in order for either to work right. I can't go through life ignoring what my brain says about situations. Finding that balance as I write is important too. It can't all be intuitive.
I think that finding that balance, centering myself between the two, is essential to my writing. So I have been making some changes in how I write, to make sure the mist doesn't clear completely.
It is the surprise of discovery that makes writing and reading exciting for me, after all.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
I knew I wanted to be a novelist when I was in junior high, and being the compulsive person that I am, I went to the library and checked out about half a dozen books on how to write a novel. I wanted to learn how "real" authors write. I don't know if I just got lucky or if the library skewed its choice of titles, but every single book was written by a plotter.
The more I read, the more disheartened I became. I didn't do any of these things the authors said I had to do in order to be a "real" writer. I can't say if it was only my perception as a teenager or if it really was true, but I recall there being a tone of It Must Be Done This Way in each of those how-to books.
As you may have guessed, I'm a seat of the pants writer by nature, but at fourteen, I didn't realize there were plotters and pantsers. All I knew was the books said I had to do it their way and I didn't. But I decided that I could learn. I had my mom drive me to Target and I bought 3x5 index cards. I already had the cork board, now all I needed was plot points to write on the cards.
I struggled for weeks. I had to renew the books from the library. I struggled some more. These plotter methods sapped every last drop of joy from storytelling, and I knew if I ever wanted to write, I couldn't do it like the books said.
Even in the eighth grade I was determined (My mom called it stubborn) and I decided that I was going to do it my way. I returned the books to the library and tossed the index cards in a drawer. Maybe I'd never be a "real" writer, but at least I was going to enjoy writing again. And I did. I found the fun I'd lost trying to be a plotter.
Because of this experience as a teenager, I'm very sensitive to any author telling someone they have to write one way. Whenever someone asks me about how I do it, I always end by saying, "but you should do whatever works for you. There is no wrong way to write."
But part of me is still this impressionable fourteen-year-old girl, certain that her way is somehow wrong. As much as I love to read author blogs, I have a really hard time when they start talking about their process because I never seem to do anything the same way as another author does it.
I just sit down and write.
I'm a seat of the pants writer and slow, but my first draft is usually fairly close to the final version of my book. Yes, I have holes to plug, and yes, there's a lot of clean up to do, but I rarely write scenes that don't make it into the story.
Yet it seems inevitable that about the time I'm cruising along with my writing, I'll see a blog where the author does do a lot of cutting and rearranging and I start wondering, well, maybe I'm wrong, maybe I should be gutting my stories more. I always have to remind myself that my way works for me. Maybe I'm so slow because my subconscious is working out what scene is the right one to come next.
Or I'll find a blog where the author writes her first draft in like three weeks and then fleshes it out. I can't do that. I know I can't, but I still struggle with whether this way is the right way. But I know if I laid out my story in a barebones way, it's told and I'd have to fight to work on it because my mind would be so ready to move onto the next idea. Yet there are writers who swear by this method. It works for them.
Friday, March 03, 2006
Book dedications are really important to me. I’ve dedicated books to family, to friends, to editors—to people who have meant something to me, for any number of reasons. Once I’ve decided who to dedicate a book to, it sometimes it takes me a while to not only figure out what I want to say, but how best to say it. I always read dedications and acknowledgements in other people’s books—in part because I’m nosy (well, I am a writer—it’s not nosiness, it’s curiosity, an inquiring mind . . . sure it is:-)), and because what the dedication says tells me something about the author (maybe I am nosy).
So what does the dedication in For My Lady’s Honor say about me?
The most obvious fact is that I love my son, my daughter-in-law, and my late grandmother. Something just as important to me as honoring them was to show that my grandmother was a unique and wonderful person (I’m sure the mention of wrestling raises a few questions :-)).
Over the years I spent a lot of time with Grammy, and I learned an infinite number of things from her. As far as I know, she never wrote anything longer than a letter, but she did teach me the elusive Holy Grail of writing . . .
. . . the Secret Handshake.
You know—that mysterious something that published authors know (or so it's said), and the unpublished ones don’t?
Perseverance. Stick-to-itiveness. Sheer, unadulterated stubbornness.
So much of what I’ve learned about dedication, I learned from her. When you get knocked down, pick yourself up and give it another shot. Don’t be satisfied with just getting something done; do it the best you can. Be loyal to those who matter to you, to those things that matter to you—and don’t apologize for it. If you’ve done your best at something, be proud of what you’ve done, even if it doesn’t work out right this time around.
I don’t know if I’d be the kind of person willing to stick around for so long in this business without learning those skills. The romance writing biz is not for the faint of heart, or those who are easily discouraged. Being able to keep hold of the dream of continued publication in the face of reality is vital; if you don’t believe in your work (and yourself), who will?
When the going has been rough, I’ve drawn upon the stubbornness and dedication I learned (and inherited!) from her. I’m a writer. I’m still at it, and I don’t plan on quitting, no matter what.
Thanks, Grammy. You couldn’t have given me a more valuable gift.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Frankly, I'm amazed at authors who talk about making their characters do things. I've been asked to give workshops on creating characters. And I have realized--now that I have attempted to do it twice--that I have absolutely no clue how I create characters. It's such a subconscious process, that I discover them, more than create them. They're new people that I have to get to know, not characters I consciously "create." Which is probably why those charts and things don't work very well for me.
And it's probably why I have absolutely no control over my characters whatsoever.
They won't even let me name them. (Yes, I'm whining now.) I have to wait and use my development notes or my "morning pages" (which are written just as often in the evening as in the morning) to see what name bubbles up out of my swamp. Sometimes the characters come strolling out and hand me the name as they present themselves to me with a demand that I tell their story. If they won't let me name them, they certainly won't let me dictate behavior.
In my book, The Barbed Rose (Blog Break for Shameless Self-promotion: on the shelves Now, from LUNA Books, ISBN 0-373-80225-0, second in The One Rose Trilogy: End Break) I spent several months begging and pleading that my characters not make me write certain scenes. I mean, my Dad reads my books. That's worse than my Mom reading them. But no, they ignored me completely and went off and did whatever they wanted. Several times. And again for good measure.
But I wouldn't trade anything for the bunch of lunatics that live in my swamp. They might be completely out of my control, but they're a whole lot of fun. I just try to keep up with them.