Saturday, September 30, 2006

Writer's Block

Okay, so you're sitting in your chair, staring at the screen, and nothing is happening. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. What can you do to jumpstart the flow of ideas?

Actually, there are several things:

Read. Everytime I'm stuck I pick up a book and start reading. I don't know why it works, it just does. While I'm reading, my brain is working out the solution to whatever problem I'm having at the time. 99% of the time this works.

Question everything in the scene. Even if you're not a plotter (like me) you can ask yourself questions about the situation or scene you're stuck in. One of my crit partners is writing a historical. She's a panster. And even though we've hashed out the plot a dozen times with her, she doesn't write it down and forgets or decides to change the basic plot in some way, so she either ends up getting stuck or taking a different direction and writing herself into a corner. But that's a whole other discussion. Anyway, the H/H in her story were stuck in a store and she couldn't get them out. So they stayed there for a loooong time while she griped and complained and sighed. Then came to our next meeting with a previously written scene she had polished. I kept saying, "When are these two going to leave the *&%$% store?"

Her answer--I don't know. So we started asking questions. (They H/H had ducked into a store, shop, whatever, to avoid someone they didn't want to meet up with.)
What's the purpose of this scene?
Why didn't they want to meet up with said person?
What's the worst thing that could happen to them at this point?
Is the Heroine content to blindly follow him without demanding an explaination?
Can you use this scene to show yet another of the Hero's many layers? His skill as a spy?
How will this impact their relationship?

Plot/outline. Go back to your outline or plot and decide what--logically--should come next. For every action, there is a reaction or consequence. If the H/H are in the store, then obviously they have to leave. Out the front? Out the back? Who decides? Why? Consequence or complication resulting from the impulsive decision to hide in the store?

Shake things up. Are they going to TALK to each other or just stand there? Take them out of their comfort zone. A person's true character comes out during times of stress. This is a good place for one of the characters to say/do something that will leave one or both questioning their own beliefs, assumptions, the status quo. If nothing changes as a result of them being in this store, then they shouldn't be there.

These are just a few of the things you can try, but I can tell you I've used them all and have found them to be helpful.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Superheroes, Mayhem & other such stuff

Today was superhero day at my school. It's homecoming week, and every day we've had a theme. Being dead to the world at 5:20 AM when my alarm goes off, I've been like the majority of unspirited people and failed to participate. Today, though, when someone asked me where my costume was I simply joked back, "I'm wearing it. I'm a superhero. Can't you tell?"

And in a sense I am. My life is full of mayhem. I have edits to read and proof--I did a lot of them at the hair salon today while my roots got covered and my girls got pedicures (a rare treat). My agent and I talked today and she asked me if I'd gotten to her comments yet. I'm on a November 1 deadline. I have 55 ninth grade essays to read over the next few days, for my students are chomping at the bit to know how they've done. My daughter turns 10 on Sunday, and I still have to order her cake. Thank goodness for Wal-Mart--they can do it with only 24 hours notice and if I'm desparate I can just grab one already made and they'll add the inscription on the spot. My cat barfed on the floor, and I'll have to Resolve that out on Saturday, won't get to it until then. Oh, and I need to call the Longaberger lady and put off meeting with her to close my book party. Somehow I'm feeling like a hamster in a wheel who is never going to get caught up.

Whew. Could Superman keep up with the life of a single mom of a 4th and 6th grader? I'm not sure. Dinner was Burger King. Indulged in Whopper Jr. Gotta cut that out. Sigh.

So that brings me to this moment, when I'm doing my drive by readings of my blogs (while paying bills as the dial up connection slowly loads the screen) and I notice that none of my fellow authors have posted lately. I figure that they're like me, insanely busy. I figure that while I'm here today playing Superwoman and Wonder Woman, I'd post something.

Now I'm going to finish my bills, drop by another blog, and hopefully crawl into bed. Two weeks until my school's fall break. One until the first quarter is already over. Like Superman, time too flies. I just wish I could get it to slow down.

Michele Dunaway

Monday, September 18, 2006

World Series Hopes Fading

There are 14 games to go in the major league baseball season, and while it's not mathematically impossible for my team to make the playoffs, our hopes are fading fast.

We were in a position where our wins sort of counted double because our wins could also take away wins from those teams we were battling. But this past weekend we were swept in a three-game series.

Being in the (this year) weak National League, a team playing below 500 percent has a possibility of making the playoffs.

It's nice to have hope. Last year my team clinched the wildcard spot in the playoffs on the last day of the season. In many recent years we've been in the wild-card race up to the end of the season.

It's good to have hope. I feel so sorry for the hometowns -- and especially the players -- who are out of contention early in the year. Understandably, their play has to lack intensity, their games excitement.

Mid season this year we acquired a player from the always-out-of-the-race Tampa Bay team. He was so thrilled to finally be playing second-half games that actually meant something.

Have I told you I'm down? For the past several years, I have watched my team play every night. Even though there are 14 games left, I suddenly don't want to watch them anymore. They've got no fire in their play. I feel as if the manager has thrown in the towel.

Winning's fun.

The only good thing about being out of playoff hopes is that I can reclaim my evenings. Maybe now I can attack my monstrous 2b read pile.

Of course....if my Astros could only get hot . . . you know what I'll be doing come October!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Idea Factory - K-9 Corrections

People are always asking me where my story ideas come from. Since I live on the coast of Maine, where people understand fishing analogies, I tell them that I'm always casting my net out. When I read a magazine or news story or when I watch news on TV or when I go out to dinner at a restaurant, I imagine how this person's conversation or that news event might work in a story.
Often I bring in small fish that I have to throw back, that is, ideas or characters that don't work out into plots. Sometimes, though, I pull in keepers. I'll find the perfect hero for a story, then perhaps a situation to put him in, and I'm off.
Here's an example of what may be a keeper.
The other night I attended the kick-off gala for a new program sponsored by the local Humane Society. I'd heard about programs with prisoners training dogs before, but this is the first time we've had one in Maine. At the gala they presented a video of successful programs in other prisons around the country. As a dog lover, I couldn't resist, and as a writer, I was fascinated by the tough inmates and their reactions and growth along with their canine charges. A vicious murderer who'd been on death row and a tattoo-covered career criminal turned to mush with puppy kisses and tail wags. Their dogs learned to come, to heel, to sit, and other canine good manners. The men learned to show positive emotions, to praise, and to care. Officials at the prisons in the films reported that because of the Prison Dogs programs, their facilities had less violence and guards and inmates interacted in more positive ways.
K-9 Corrections, as this Humane Society program is dubbed, aims at teaching at-risk prison inmates in a medium-security facility and at-risk homeless dogs from the shelter the skills to become safe members of society. A local trainer with extensive experience and expertise in positive reinforcement methods will train the prisoner-trainers. The dogs, as in other programs, should learn faster because of the intensity of the program, living with their trainers 24/7.
A successful outcome will have dogs and their trainers graduating in ten weeks. The prisoner-trainers will have learned responsibility for another being, compassion, patience and dog training skills. The dogs will become adoptable by learning obedience and house manners and by passing the AKC's Canine Good Citizen test. Then lucky families will be able to adopt well-trained, socialized dogs, and prisoner-trainers will receive another dog to train.
So I'm thinking of a possible story. An intrepid and beautiful dog training expert helps redeem shelter dogs and hard-case inmates. I write romantic suspense, but I don't want to derail the training program by having one of her prisoner-trainers stalk her. Perhaps there's another prisoner who was wrongly convicted (Think Harrison Ford in The Fugitive.) and who hides in her van as she leaves the prison grounds. At first he forces her to help him, but then…well, you know what happens. ;-)
Think this one's a keeper? Or should I throw it back?
In any case, while I'm creating, I'm getting out my checkbook to help support this admirable program. If anyone is interested in learning more about K-9 Corrections, you can visit

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Books--the All Purpose Cure?

I had lunch the other day with a dear friend who happens to be a former bookseller. I've known her for years (I worked in her store, in fact), and while a love of books happens to be one of the many things we have in common, in recent years we haven't had much chance to simply sit and talk about books. This past Sunday we did, and it was wonderful.

Thinking about our far-ranging conversation on the drive home, I was struck by the fact that not only are we both book fiends (another way of saying bookaholic :-)), but we each maintain a sizable book stash. My TBR pile is more like a small mountain--in actuality it's an entire bookcase with side-by-side tall stacks piled along the entire top shelf--and the books there run the gamut of all types of romance, several types of mysteries and suspense, historical novels, some science fiction, nonfiction, history, travel, cooking, a bit of poetry and essays . . . I buy what interests me, even if I'm not planning to read it right away. There's a comfort level for me to have an assortment of choices, because I never know exactly what I might want to read next.

My friend's TBR pile is similar; maybe that's because her tastes are as eclectic as mine. I know we're both very curious people, but I think there's more to it than that. What I want to read at any given time is what I'm in the mood for--but why is that so varied? Why are there times I look at all those books and feel like I have nothing to read--and I need something right, right now?

Depending upon my mood, maybe I need something that only a certain type of book can provide.

I guess my TBR pile is like a medicine cabinet for my emotional well-being. Just as I wouldn't take Pepto Bismol for a headache, but would go straight for the ibuprofen (or, heaven forbid, my migraine meds), there are times when only a romantic comedy will satisfy my need for escapist fare. Perhaps if I'm working through something emotionally, that's why (though I'm not aware of it at the time) I'll go for a serious, emotionally charged historical romance.

Friends and family are wonderful, of course, and have certainly helped me when I've needed it, but let's face it--there are times you might not want to talk about something with anyone. Or if it's the middle of the night and something is on your mind, a book won't grumble about being taken off the shelf at 2 a.m. when you can't sleep! Books have been loyal companions all my life. Over the years there have been many times I've retreated into a book, then realized once I'd finished it that I knew the solution to a problem, or I felt better about whatever had been bothering me.

A prescription for whatever's ailing me, with virtually no side effects, no need for a doctor or an expensive insurance plan.

I knew there must be a reason for that giant book stash--it's therapeutic. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Destroying American Culture

I've never been the rebellious or revolutionary type, but apparently I'm at the forefront of a movement aimed at bringing about the downfall of Western culture. Cool! I wonder what one wears to bring down an entire society. Probably black, or maybe olive drab military style wear, accessorized with a dashing bandanna. I'll have to go shopping.

What did I do to become the scourge of the American intellect? I read and write (gasp!) chick lit.

For those who aren't entirely sure what chick lit is, other than "those books with pink covers that have cartoons, martini glasses or shoes on them," chick lit could possibly be considered a cousin of romance, or else maybe a post-modern romance. In these books, the focus is on the heroine's personal journey as she figures out her place in the world. Part of that may be learning to tell the difference between Mr. Right and Mr. Wrong and to figure out how to make things work out with Mr. Right once she finds him.

According to some increasingly loud voices lately, these books are bad for America and are undermining Western culture. You see, the popularity of these books, which leads to them being not only (horrors!) published in trade paperback form and shelved in general fiction where serious readers might actually stumble across them (I guess these people don't worry about the romance section because, of course, they'd never think of going there and they can pretend it doesn't exist), but they have the audacity to take up space on those coveted front tables in the bookstore (I may faint). If people are reading these fluffy books, they're not reading real literature, and because these books do sell, it means valuable publishing spots are being used up on worthless drivel instead of deserving literary works. Because of this, the brains of American women are turning to mush, and deserving female literary authors aren't getting the fame and fortune they deserve.

These deserving female literary authors have gone so far as to publish a collection of stories given the charming title THIS IS NOT CHICK LIT, just to prove their point that this is what you should be reading, and now they're blogging, writing columns and doing interviews everywhere they can to preach the word that fun books by, about and for women are going to destroy America (you may think I'm exaggerating, but check this out).

If anything is hurting America, it's the fact that people aren't reading much. There's so much competition for our leisure time, with TV, the Internet, movies, DVDs, video games, and the like. Turning books into the literary equivalent of Brussels sprouts isn't going to help matters. A lot of the people who aren't reading as adults had enough books about death and injustice forced on them when they were in school that their impression of books is of something boring and depressing. If these people find something they do like reading that makes them feel happy, whether it's chick lit, romance, fantasy, science fiction, mystery or anything else not on the list approved by the Literary High Command, criticizing their reading choices isn't going to turn them into serious literary readers. If you make people feel bad about what they're reading, they might just not read.

Let's hear it for books of all kinds! The act of reading engages the imagination, increases the vocabulary -- and according to some research, it may help prevent Alzheimer's disease. People can find their own meaning in anything they read, whether or not the author intended it. In fact, something that engages them emotionally may be more likely to have a lingering effect. If it makes you laugh a little and cry a little, it might just make you look at life in a different way. So, don't let anyone make you feel guilty about what you're reading or writing. It's all good.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go put together my dangerous revolutionary wardrobe. I'm thinking a pink bandanna with an all-black catsuit and pointy-toed stiletto black boots.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Release Day!

This is a day of firsts for me. It was my little girl's first day of senior kindergarten. And it is the official "street date", "lay down date", or release day for my first print books, Sin and Wild Nights. Both are from Kensington’s erotic romance line, Aphrodisia.

It was a strange day of celebrating and working. First thing this morning I received an email from a reader who had just started Sin and was enjoying it. This was hugely exciting. But waiting for me was the remaining 200 pages of page proofs for my January book. I stared at the stack and it stared at me. Finally I decided to write back to my reader--that was way more fun.

Then I remembered I had to do contact a bookstore marketing manager about a booksigning I'm going with best-selling author Jo Beverley, a writer I really admire. Emails were sent, pictures gathered, a blurb written. This will be my first print book signing.

As lunchtime arrived, I tackled the proofs. This time celebrating and promotions had to wait. The proofs were in great shape. Although I had to scratch my head in one place--how could I let two different butlers end up with the same name? Hopefully that's a correction I can make. But just as I prepared to mark up my proofs for the last time, I received a wonderful email. I'm going to be on an erotica panel at the 2007 Romantic Times convention! I was way too excited to finish page proofs then. So we decided to go out and celebrate all these firsts. The kids had a great time, and now…it's back to work.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Saturday morning I was drinking the first of my many cups of coffee and reading the newspaper. I’ve been reading DEAR ABBY since I first picked up a newspaper as a nine-year-old. I’ve both agreed and disagreed with her over the years. But it wasn’t until Saturday morning that I felt compelled to write to her.

Saturday’s letter was written by a mother who voiced concern that her fourteen-year-old, straight-A student daughter was reading adult romance novels. The mother felt the books were “too mature and erotic” for her daughter and worried about how they’d impact her daughter’s future relationships, especially as to what is and isn’t “acceptable in those relationships.”

For the most part, I agreed with Abby’s response. She pretty much told the woman she was being overprotective and instead of trying to censor her daughter’s reading materials, she should keep the lines of communication open and let the daughter know she can come to her mother with any questions she has. Abby even suggested that the mother read some of the books her daughter is reading.

Great response, I thought. Enlightened. Intelligent. Yeah for Abby!

Then I read further.

Abby blew it with her next paragraph in which she states: “Some might argue that the idealized depiction of romance, and women being ‘rescued’ by powerful, wealthy men, is more worrisome than the sex and eroticism. However, if you are raising your daughter to respect feminist principles, I don't think you have anything to worry about.

That’s when I marched over to my computer and sent Abby an email, setting her straight. I told her that it was apparent she hadn’t picked up a romance novel in decades (in hindsight, I wonder if she’s ever read a romance, given how long romances have featured strong heroines), that today’s heroine’s are independent, empowered women who don’t sit around waiting to be ‘rescued’ by the hero. They work alongside the men in their lives as equal partners, that more often than not, they’re doing a good deal of the rescuing themselves. I also told her that the plot lines of today’s romances deal with issues that impact all women.

I could have written volumes, but I decided to keep my response to a few succinct sentences, the better to have a chance at getting them published as a rebuttal. There’s a lot more I would have liked to say. I’m sure after reading the column and her response, you have some choice thoughts on the subject, as well. Let’s hear them! And let Abby hear them. (You can read the entire letter and Abby’s response at
Go to the link to respond to her column. We romance authors take enough of a beating from sanctimonious individuals who form opinions of our work without ever having read a page of our books. Here’s our chance to reach millions of people to set the record straight.