Wednesday, January 31, 2007
She had purchased some of my backlist on eBay, from one of the zillion or so vendors who offer a smorgasbord of merchandise in an effort to cater to the varied tastes of their customers. This particular vendor had tacked on a healthy premium to one of my newer books because the book was autographed by the author. Any wonder the reader emailed me, asking not only why I charge to sign my books, but why I charge more than double the book's original price?
More than double? Ouch.
Go ahead. Ask me if I was a happy bunny when I received the question.
Unfortunately, neither was she when she read my reply. Here's why:
First off, writers aren't compensated for used book sales. We get nothing. Zilcho. Zip. Nada. No matter how often or where a used book is sold and resold, only one person makes money and that's the person doing the selling. I wish it were different, but there y'go.
Secondly, I don't autograph books . . . at least, not anymore. I did the first couple of books, when I donated them to a charity or other fundraiser, but I quit the practice. Now, I leave it to the movie stars and the politicians to give autographs.
I'm a writer. I inscribe my books to a specific individual when the person buying the book asks me to, and I've even been known to hug that person's neck in gratitude. I don't mind signing a book. I do it for free, and I say thank you for trusting me with your precious reading time.
What I do mind is being someone else's cash cow.
But there's not much I can do about it, except to say caveat emptor - buyer beware. I don't know who autographed the book that reader bought. And I don't know if the vendor knew . . . or even cared. Odds are, probably neither.
So I have a suggestion, and I think I speak for many authors. If you have a book you want me to sign, send it directly to me. I'll sign it for you.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Like CJ, I'm judging the Thrillers (and the RITAs). I have two criteria when I judge a book. First, did I lose myself in the story? Second, did I not want to put it down and, if I had to, was I thinking about it while doing other things?
All the things CJ mentioned yesterday are important, such as character and plot. They go into making a book "a good read." I have my own pet peeves. Stereotypical villains, for example. Too-Stupid-To-Live females. Men who are TOO alpha or TOO beta. Contrived meetings between the hero/heroine.
But when I lose myself in a story--when the characters are so well-drawn, so real and the writing flows so smoothly--I can overlook a lot of "flaws." Because really, are a few awkward POV shifts or a too-perfect ending that big of a deal when you close the book and think, "That was good. I'm glad I read that."
I ALWAYS finished a book I began until I started seriously writing. Between my writing schedule and my kids I didn't have time to waste. I hate thinking that way, but a book that doesn't grab me is a waste of time. I HATE putting a book down unfinished. I'm the type of reader that when I start a book, I usually finish it that night. If I'm going to invest 4-5 hours--my entire evening and some of my sleep time--I need to be lost in the story.
Authors who always pull me in include JD Robb, Tess Gerritsen, Kay Hooper, Linda Howard, Lisa Gardner, Karin Slaughter and Michael Connelly. These are established authors, and for good reason--they all know how to tell a story. They know how to draw me in so deep that I don't notice the passage of time, and all of the sudden it's two in the morning and I'm wide-eyed as I'm reading the last chapter. I want to find out what happens, but I don't want the book to end.
I can't talk about all the books this happened with because I'm still in the judging process, but the last book that I haven't judged where this happened was THE LINCOLN LAWYER by Michael Connelly. I started it on the plane ride from Atlanta (RWA) last summer, and that night after everyone was in bed, when I was exhausted from travel and the time change, I stayed up to finish the dang book because I couldn't get the characters out of my head. I HAD to know what happened or I'd never sleep.
This also happened with a book I was asked to blurb. I started it at nine one evening, planning on reading about a third of it. All of the sudden, it's one in the morning and I'm frantically flipping pages of the ARC, dying to know what was going to happen next, completely lost in the characters and the story, laughing out loud and giggling. That was BOBBIE FAYE'S VERY (VERY, VERY, VERY) BAD DAY, the debut novel by Toni McGee Causey that's coming out in May. (Aside: yes, I'm very jealous. This is her DEBUT book and it's so damn good!)
What was the last book you read where time stopped and you couldn't put it down until the last page was turned?
P.S. Now for something completely different . . . blatant self-promo. Today the first book of my new trilogy is released. It's already out pretty much everywhere--I saw it at my grocery store yesterday and at Target. People have emailed me that they've bought it over the weekend at Walmart and Borders. So it's out there! SPEAK NO EVIL is a romantic suspense that touches on current events: online safety. In my story, a college girl is found brutally murdered and dumped on the beach, her much older ex-boyfriend the primary suspect. As detective Carina Kincaid and Sheriff Nick Thomas dig deeper into the victim's life, they learn she has an online sex diary that isn't as anonymous as she thought.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Did I find it? Yes, but it was few and far between. When I judge, I consider every book to be a perfect 10. Out of those 120 books how many ended up a perfect 10 by the time I finished them? Three. And how many 9's? Five.
I don't think I'm an overly-harsh judge. But maybe I've read too much? So many of the books blend together—flat, cardboard characters following clichéd, over done plots to the point where I have to double check my score sheet. Did I read this book already?
No, it's just like all the others is all…..
Many of these books are by multiple published best selling authors. Some broke new ground with their early books but now continue to follow in their own footsteps.
I can understand that—if you find what works for you and have a large following of fans wanting you to do the same old thing and paying you lots of money for it, who could resist?
And, many readers DO want the "same thing, just different". They demand it, complaining if "their" author tries a new direction. They like having expectations fulfilled, rather than being surprised. Reading is a comfortable escape for them, not a challenge or adventure.
I confess, I'm more of a thrill-seeker when I choose my books. Maybe because I now have so little time to read, every book I do finish must promise something new and exciting. Many don't deliver on their initial promise and end up being unfinished, but that's fodder for another post!
I think there's a time and place for both kinds of books. And bravo to everyone who is reading instead of watching TV or living their lives on-line!!
But as a writer, it's scary to think about. Your gut tells you to go one way, your brain tells you to stick to "what works", your heart wants to head in a totally other direction…what to do?
So, I'll ask all you readers out there. What do you want from a book? A comfortable, familiar sweater that you know will fit perfectly? Or a snazzy, new dress that may itch at first but gives you that feeling of ohlala?
Thanks for reading!
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Friday, January 26, 2007
This is my first post on this blog and because today is First Alert Friday, I'm using it to announce my latest release from Triskelion Publishing, TRUTH OR DARE, a paranormal suspense that comes out this weekend. This is the fourth book in the CURSE OF THE MIDNIGHT STAR continuity series, but it can also stand alone. The other books in the series are THE DISCOVERY by Lynn Warren, INTRIGUE by Esther Mitchell, and THE HAUNTING by Lynne Connelly. I'm very excited to finally have the entire series out in mass market paperback format.
So far, this is my only paranormal suspense. I usually write about hot, hurting, flawed cops and the gritty, determined heroines who make them realize that loving and being loved by a strong woman is an excellent way to heal an aching heart.
In TRUTH OR DARE, Kaitlyn Chambers is an experienced witch who's just been given the biggest assignment of her immortal life--to rid Scarlet Oak of the greedy ghosts plundering its refurbished halls. She doesn't count on running into a serial murderer. FBI Assistant Deputy Director Colin Winter doesn't believe in love or the paranormal. Yet when he is sent to Louisiana to solve the bizarre series of crimes, he is forced to rely on Kaitlyn to teach him not only the secrets of the grimoire, but how he can use a spell to unlock his haunted heart.
I'm in the process of setting up book signings, sending out press releases, and doing other things to promote this new release. To all who read it, enjoy! I had a blast writing it.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
One of the reasons I write is to entertain others. To do that I need the reader. I am thankful for all the readers out there who share my love for reading books.
Recently on an author loop someone asked if the book as we know it is dying. One person said they hoped not because she loved to hold a book in her hands and smell the paper and ink. Another pointed out the Star Trek series and how they portrayed a person reading a book on a handheld device. What do you think about the future of the book as a reader, as a writer? Will the way we read look different in the near future?
I personally don’t want to listen to a book although audio books are becoming more popular. I am a visual learner. I want to see the printed word. I don’t want to sit at the computer reading a book either. I wouldn’t mind using a handheld device that was easy to use and lightweight, but I don’t want to have to take out a loan to buy one. I think we will get there one day—possibly in the near future—but for me we aren’t there yet. I love holding the book and enjoying the printed page.
So I am thankful for the readers who continue to buy the books I write—others write. They keep alive what I love to do—write and read. If there were no readers, I would have to ask myself what would I be doing.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Therefore, I abide by several different rules, depending on why I’m reading the book and why I want to quit reading the book.
My book group requires me to slog through 100 pages of whatever volume we’ve chosen for that month. To be fair, I’ve only exercised this option twice in the six years I’ve been a member of this group. Generally, we read really good stuff and I’m glued to the pages to the very end.
When I’m reading for my own pleasure or edification, these are my self-imposed guidelines:
1) If the writer massacres the English language in the first paragraph, I skip to the beginning of Chapter 2 to see if there was some really good reason for this. If the author is still fracturing grammar or (my pet peeve) using vocabulary which clearly came out of a Thesaurus without any regard for its connotation or usage within a sentence, I toss the book without any feelings of guilt whatsoever.
2) If I dislike all the characters after 25 pages, the book goes.
3) If a truly horrific act of violence occurs at any point in the book, I drop it like a hot potato. I can see that on the news; I don’t need to encounter it in my fiction-reading.
4) The hardest decision is what to do if I’m just plain bored at some point in the story. All writers struggle with the sagging middle, and often the reader is rewarded if she just perseveres a bit longer. On the other hand, many books are bought by publishers based on the first 100 or so pages. All too often, the rest of the novel doesn’t live up to that promising beginning.
So I try to judge how much momentum the opening chapters of a book should have given me. Did I love the author’s writing immediately? Did one of the characters worm her/his way into my heart? Was the set-up truly intriguing and does its resolution still interest me? If I can answer any of those questions in the affirmative, I give the book another chance.
Here’s what I’m wondering on Wondering Wednesday: what makes you stop reading a book before you hit “The End”?
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
I'm a hopeless romantic -- one of the reasons I love romance novels -- but I also enjoy finding love stories in other places where they can be told in different ways. That's one reason I really enjoy mysteries. In a mystery series, half the fun is often watching the slowly developing relationship between the ongoing hero (or heroine) and his/her romantic interest. Even when I was a kid, I'd always try to find the last Nancy Drew book so I could see if Nancy and her boyfriend ever made things official (I don't think they ever did). Today, let's be honest, do we rush out to grab the latest Stephanie Plum mystery because we want to see what case Stephanie gets mixed up in, or because we want to see how her relationship with Joe (or Ranger, depending on how you lean) is going?
One of my favorite mystery authors is Dick Francis. He writes standalone books instead of series, but each one usually involves some romantic element. In some cases, the romance raises the level of tension for the hero, but I enjoy just as much the ones where the relationship is the hero's calm oasis in the midst of all the crises. He manages to do both in his latest book, Under Orders. There's something very satisfying about those kinds of stories for me. It's occasionally a nice break to see the romance as a relief from the conflict rather than the source of it.
Then there's The Genre Formerly Known as Chick Lit. I never felt that label was denigrating to what I read or wrote. My main problem with it was that it was used to create arbitrary divisions between books. If it was lighter, fluffier, funnier and generally not as "good" (and, quite often, if the author had a background in romance), then it was "chick lit." But if a novel covered some of the same subject matter with perhaps a little more perceived depth and literary merit, or if the author had more literary credentials, then the book was just a novel without the chick lit label. Now that publishers are trying to avoid the chick lit label with all books, the books that are about young women finding themselves are left to stand on their own merits without an artificial dividing line. One of my favorite books from last year, Love Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos, is one of those books that could have gone into either category. It's a fun, witty book about a thirtysomething woman trying to figure out her place in the world while she reconciles her Cary Grant fantasies with the way real men and real relationships work. But it also delves into some pretty deep issues about family bonds and obligations, and because the author is also a poet, the language is gorgeous. If you're a fan of old movies who ever dreamed of being swept off your feet by the likes of Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart, this is a book you may enjoy.
Does anyone else have a favorite love story from outside the romance section? Or from within it?
Monday, January 22, 2007
It's that time of year again--a new year, a new beginning, time to start fresh, begin anew, etc.
Resolution time, if you're into that sort of thing.
Time to once again measure ourselves against whatever yardstick applies. Some measuring sticks are pretty standardized--is your BMI in the healthy range? How's your cholesterol, your blood pressure, your blood sugar? Bringing these health measurements within the medically approved standards accounts for a number of New Year's resolutions, but at least the ranges and limits have some scientific backing (at least until the next bit of groundbreaking medical news comes to light). We don't set the standards, but our own results are, to some extent at least, within our control.
So, too, are many of the other yardsticks people drag out on Jan. 1st--be better organized, keep better records, stop smoking, start exercising, swear less, call Mom more . . . I could go on (and on :-)), but I'll spare you. You know the drill as well as I do.
However, there are many other ways we measure ourselves--our degree(s) of success, whether we believe we're working hard or hardly working (and all the variations in between) . . . If only we could do more, do better--if only, if only, if only . . .
If only I compare myself to you . . . or maybe you over there. You, the person who has it all together. We all know you, or someone like you--your house is clean, your laundry done (and ironed!), your kids always finish their homework without being told and never lose a book or forget a permission slip. Since you're one of us--a writer--you also write a minimum of two chapters every day, 24/7/365 (none of which needs a bit of revision or editing), your editor loves every idea you pitch and never rejects anything you send her, agents are falling over each other in a bid to add you to their client list, you final in every contest you enter and make every bestseller list in the continental US (and a few foreign ones, as well). You always know which hat you're wearing, and you never break a sweat as you effortlessly switch one piece of headgear for another.
You're that person who can make me feel like a failure, as if I'm lacking in some way because I can't keep up with the sterling examples of perfection you set. You're Romance Writer Barbie, Superwoman . . . a goddess from on high. If I measure myself by your yardstick, I'm probably never going to measure up.
Which would be a shame, since you don't actually exist. I can never know every detail of what makes up your yardstick, any more than you can truly know what goes into mine. Yours won't be of any use to me whatsoever--unless I want to torture myself and set myself up for failure. As writers we know POV is important--what is revealed, what is tucked away out of sight, all the motivations that form our inner and outer selves. The scale I use to measure myself changes a bit each and every moment, shifting and adjusting for my life's ups and downs (see, this does relate to today's topic :-)). It's as fluid as a river, and just as a river changes course and charts new territory to account for the obstacles in its path, I need to accept that sometimes things don't work out as I planned, figure out a way to learn from my mistakes, set new goals, keep on moving. I can only be a failure if I accept that something didn't work, then sit there and feel sorry for myself instead of adjusting the scale on my yardstick and starting over again.
Am I telling you not to make resolutions, set goals (both personal and professional), or expect anything of yourself? Never--none us got where we are today by doing that! We're published authors, people who have succeeded in a business that's not for sissies or the faint of heart. When we're knocked on our backsides (or flat on our backs), we somehow find the strength to pull ourselves to our feet and give it another shot.
Due a series of events I couldn't (and certainly wouldn't) have made up if I tried, today is my "new year"; my resolution is to only use my own yardstick to measure up my life. Otherwise I'll just make myself crazy and not get anywhere at all. I'll keep my hands off your yardstick--for both our sakes, please keep your hands off mine.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
But sometimes as authors, I think we might just get asked a little more often than others do. It’s understandable. We seem to have so much time on our hands. Even wonderfully supportive spouses who are normally understanding can forget that if you’re staring into space, in front of your computer, you’re actually working and say, "hey, if you’re not doing anything, would you mind . . . ?"
So how do you keep from volunteering every time someone calls or emails or knocks on your door? I’m not sure I have an answer, except that you have to be honest with others and yourself and look at the time you have and decide if you can be an effective volunteer or not.
Last year I turned down many requests unless they directly related to my career. I knew that with two books coming out, plus homeschooling my children, and my normal writing schedule, I’d be swamped. I know others that can handle more, but I couldn’t. It wouldn’t have been fair to the commitments I already had or to the people I would supposedly be helping out. I felt bad, but promised myself that this year, I’d make up for it. And have accepted a couple of volunteer positions already. One of them being the position of my daughter’s Brownie girl scout troop’s cookie mom. A dangerous job, being surrounded by all those delicious cookies! Also incredibly time consuming as some of you moms out there who have done this know. With organizing all the girls and moms and collecting orders and money, distributing the cookies – even something as simple as this will kill hours of my time. But this year I’m up for the challenge.
So how does this relate to writing? In our writing life I think we need to be careful how much we pile onto ourselves too. I know authors who can write four or five books a year and do a great job. If I tried to do that I make myself insane. So like in the rest of my life I mentally shelve "extra" stories and ideas I may have and do not volunteer to work on them until I’ve finished what I committed myself to already.
On days that I feel bad, I tell myself that what’s important is not how much I’m getting done, but how well I’m doing what I’m doing. And that helps, a little . . . .
Saturday, January 20, 2007
This is the question that's been on my mind for the last month or so since I took the leap -- again -- into trying to write a single title romance. How do I know I'm ready? How do I know if my writing has evolved enough, if my idea is good enough, or if at this very moment I'm giving agents everywhere a good belly laugh?
One day I'm sure the book is brilliant, and the next day I kick myself for sending out any queries at all. But I figure the only way to know I'm ready is to throw things out into the world and find out.
I never had to worry about this before. I wrote my first book a few years ago and I guess I was ready because it sold and here I am with book number seven, Untouched. So maybe we can't know if we're ready or not until the results are in.
I love writing category, but some ideas don't fit, and I think it's natural for us to always want to push the limits, to push for something more. And maybe there's just no concrete starting point, no perfect time to jump. Seems to me writers are often mental adrenaline junkies, always pushing the edge with our ideas and seeing how far we can go. Sometimes we get up limping, but we keep moving.
I guess that's where I am now. I wasn't ready the first time I tried this a few years ago, and I found that out because the book didn't sell (thankfully, really, I'm so grateful that editors saw I wasn't ready), though I learned a lot in the process. I think I'm ready now, or maybe I'm closer to ready. Maybe I'll get a little farther along, if nothing else, I'll bandage up the bumps and bruises I might receive in the process, and keep going.
How have you known you were ready to take on larger projects, or to make a move in a new direction? Were you sure at the start, or did you just jump and find out later?
Friday, January 19, 2007
Creativity is a many-legged creature. I think everyone is hardwired to be creative in one fashion or another, whether it's baking delicious confections or making unique records of memorable moments in a person's life (aka scrapbooking, which I have been assiduously avoiding, because I think it could easily possess me.) Some people claim they're not creative or artistic, but when you start asking them about hobbies, they invariably have one, and it invariably is creative in some fashion. (Okay, my fella may be an exception. I think his hobby is watching television--but he can be very creative in the projects he takes on at the college he runs.)
And I think that creativity metastasizes--it spreads and feeds on other little rivulets of creativity, not killing them, but expanding them into streams, and then rivers, and then great oceans of creative ... stuff. I think that participating in other creative activities feeds the creativity required for writing.
But sometimes I think that's only an excuse for why I love my own personal creative outlet (the one that isn't writing). I've taken the same oil/acrylic painting class through the continuing education department of the next county's junior college (the one in my county doesn' t have much continuing ed, no matter how often I tell the president he needs to offer more) for several years now. I see it as paying $6 a week for studio space.
In these classes, I spend hours trying to get just the right shadow on the hip of a cantering horse, or the right shape to a little boy's arm (usually I wind up painting over it and starting again at least once). (A few samples.) It requires me to look at something and see what's really there, see that this blue is cerulean and cobalt with a whole lot of titanium white, and that if I splat the white paint in a row just so, it will look like a breaking wave at the ocean, but if I want a cloud, I need to leave more gaps and use less paint. I've progressed from painting a single large flower or simple landscape to painting hydrangeas and little boys at the beach. (I still can't paint roses. And I cheated when tackling a portrait, and used an opaque projector to trace the outlines of a photograph onto the canvas--but it looks pretty darn good.)
These hours are important to me. I work hard to protect my Tuesdays in town. There's a community choir starting up at the local college on Thursdays, sometime this semester, and I'd like to participate in that (I'm an alto--or maybe a tenor, depending). Because all writing and no art and music makes Gail a dull girl...
Thursday, January 18, 2007
My husband recently asked me if enjoy writing. I said it's like exercise--I enjoy having written.
Okay, that's not entirely true. There are moments when a character does something that surprises me or the perfect word or image comes to mind. But, in general, writing is hard work for me. (I indelicately refer to it as having a bad case of verbal constipation.) When I face the blank computer screen to begin a new book, I feel overwhelmed. How will I ever "break the silence" and write that opening line that will capture readers and not let them go? How will I fill a page--how will I fill 400 pages?? (Yes, I know there are writers who get all chirpy when starting a new book--I've actually met one...and I'm very happy to say I didn't haul off and punch her.)
At this point I start to hyperventilate and I have to try to clear my mind of all the negative thoughts whirling around in my head like angry bees. I remind myself that a book isn't written in a day or even several days. (I'm sure someone has written a bestseller in a week, but it wasn't me.) I remind myself that if I keep my eyes firmly on the ground in front of me and not on the ground 20 yards ahead, I won't trip.
Actually, that's something I have to remind myself of often, even when I'm not writing.
Now I'm taking a little time to bask in the feeling of accomplishment (and to write promotional stuff--ick). At the moment, I love my book--and I probably will until I see it again in copy edits or get far enough into a new book to love that one more.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
You know, I’ve always admired the coordination and quick reflexes of an accomplished juggler. Whether they keep pins flying or balls spinning or even that one guy who juggles sharp weapons, a good juggler is amazing to watch.
It dawned on me the other day that in our own way, successful writers have become accomplished jugglers in their own right. Oh, we don’t keep bright colored balls circling overhead as we write. However, we do manage to juggle all the demands that interfere with the time we need to spend planted in front of our computers, letting our muse whisper words in our ear. Okay, most of the time, no one is whispering anything except that the laundry needs folding or it’s time to start dinner, and on a lot of days, getting those words down on paper is like pulling teeth.
But most writers I know are amazingly committed people and somehow manage to get it all done—the laundry, the meals, the housework, their other job, if they have one—and yet still make their deadlines, get their copyedits and revisions done on time. Oh, yeah, then there is the promotional stuff and the need to come up with new ideas and the research.
Can you see all those balls flying through the air yet?
And of course, there are all of the components of good writing that we have to keep in mind with every word we choose, each sentence we craft, each paragraph we build, each story we tell. Point of view, internal conflict, story arcs, choosing the right names for our characters (a real time consumer for me!), sensuality, grammar, spelling, back story, world building—the list seems endless.
But here’s the amazing thing: we do it. We pick up the balls and somehow start them all flying. Of course we occasionally drop one, but that’s what revisions are all about. For the most part, we keep those spheres whirling in intricate arcs, using our creative energy to make patterns that have never existed until our fingers touch the keyboard and practice the amazing feat that is good writing!
I know Wednesday is for questions of all kinds, so here’s mine: What tricks have you learned to help keep your juggling skills sharp?
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
(For those who might be wondering, I began pre-law, switched to business, then education, then literature, then right before the final semester of my senior year, I jumped to urban geography, and no, that's not all about states and capitals, but how we use our public and institutional spaces.)
My checkered educational history may seem be irrelevant on a day we're supposed to be talking about what we read, but actually, it's what I love about writing and why this is the only job in my life I've stuck with for more than three years. (Did I mention I'm easily bored?)
Every time I begin a book it's like beginning a new major. Would it be easier to simply keep writing about stuff I know? Sure. But rather than take that old advice to write what you know, I believe writers are much better off writing about something they want to know. Because that way, their excitement for the subject will translate to the page, which will hopefully excite readers, as well.
I read 25 non-fiction books on firefighting before and while writing Blaze. Not only did the work fascinate me (and make me consider, only briefly, switching careers again), I received a lot of letters from firefighters and arson investigators after the book came out, telling me that I'd nailed the forensics and experience of fighting a fire. The best letter came just a few weeks ago from a former FBI agent who established the first (and still best) fire forensic major in the country. The same school I'd sent my heroine to. Had I not read a book about the course at University of Kentucky, I wouldn't have been able to give my heroine that history.
Writing No Safe Place was more of a challenge. I knew the city of New Orleans and its people well, had written about it a lot before, so mainly the new things I was learning about were voodoo and -- oops -- hurricanes. I was somewhere between one-half and two-thirds done when Katrina hit, so I put the book on the shelf and, not wanting to lose my publication slot, quickly began an entirely new story. During the time I was writing Impulse, I read whatever books I could find on Katrina as they came out, the Times Picayune every day, but for the everyday details of life, I relied on blogs from New Orleans residents, which was, more often than not, a depressing way to begin my day, because these gave me a window into a city that did not in any way resemble the Mardi Gras and Jazzfest pictures I kept seeing on the television newscasts.
I know writers who come up with their plot, then research what they need to know whenever they get stuck in the writing. I'm just the opposite. My characters have, with all 90+ books I've written, always come first. Once I know them fairly well (they always surprise me, even sometimes on the last page), I begin looking around for a concept/premise/plot that will fit their personalities, their conflicts, and the theme of my story, which, as we discussed here the other day, is usually redemption. It's only out of my research that my plot begins to take shape.
The book I'm writing now for NAL, which is tentatively titled Shattered, features a former SEAL whose helicopter crashes in Afghanistan at the beginning of the book and a heroine who's worked her way up the hospitality ladder and has just been named manager of a 5-star hotel in Florence, Italy when, ten minutes after her promotion, her hotel is blown up underneath her by a terrorist. Oh, and did I mention the serial killer back on Swann Island, South Carolina? (Unfortunately, although I tried my best, there wasn't any room for the kitchen sink in this story. But hey, I'm not finished writing it yet. LOL)
Along with the usual bibliography of serial killer books written by former FBI profilers, I've spent the past eight months reading every book on Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Special Forces I could find. Which, at last count, is 28 books. (Yes, I could have stopped reading after a dozen or so, but the recent ones were both horrible and fascinating at the same time, sort of the reading version of watching a train wreck.) Out of all those dark and depressing books, one stands out for its uplifting message.
Three Cups of Tea is, as the cover blurb says, one man's mission to fight terrorism and build nations. . . one school at a time. After nearly dying while climbing K2, Greg Mortenson was wandering lost and broken in both spirit and body when a determined sherpa found him, and took him back to his impoverished Pakistan village, where the people nursed him back to health. Moved by this, as anyone would be, he made an impulsive promise to return one day and build them a school. He did even better. Three Cups of Tea is the story of his decade long odyssey to build schools, especially schools for girls, throughout the region that gave birth to the Taliban and sanctuary to Al Qaeda. While he wages war with the root causes of terrorism -- poverty and ignorance -- by providing both girls and boys with a balanced, non-extremist education, Mortenson must survive a kidnapping (by a warlord who wanted a school for his girls!), fatwas issued by enraged mullahs, death threats from Americans who consider him a traitor, and wrenching separations from his family.
At the time the book was published last year, with little fanfare and without publicity, he's quietly -- and doggedly -- built fifty-five schools serving Pakistan and Afghanistan's poorest communities. And as this real-life Indiana Jones from Montana crisscrosses the Himalaya and the Hindu Kush fighting to keep these schools functioning, he provides not only hope to tens of thousands of children, but living proof that one passionately dedicated person truly can change the world. I couldn't agree more with what U.S. Representative Mary Bono said in her back cover quote: "Greg Mortenson represents the best of America. He's my hero. And after you read Three Cups of Tea, he'll be your hero, too."
Maybe writers can't change the world by building schools. But we've all received letters from people who, for one reason or another, hadn't read until stumbling across one of our stories. Which was when they discovered how entire worlds open up between the pages of a book. And bringing the world to people who might never have opened their minds to the amazing, "what if" possibilities our stories present, is, imo, something we can all feel good about.
Friday, January 12, 2007
In my most recent book, Deadly Memories, Jack is obsessed with vengeance. He believes he can't ever again have a family--a full life, in other words--because his dangerous job has cost the lives of his wife and son. He's on the outside of life until his relationship with the heroine makes him want more. I'm working on two projects at the moment. In one, Kate feels she must control everything around her, follow rules, and marry a stable man, all in order to feel safe and secure. This wall prevents her from living the full life that deep down she really wants. Naturally, hiring security expert Max to guide her through the Central American jungle shows her the way. In my other project, Lani uses her burn scars as a means to separate herself from others and prevent being hurt. And Ross won't let himself get close to people because he fears he'll fail them. See? All characters who are on the outside, who want happiness in life but fear the change that's necessary to find what they really want.
Maybe that's not some big revelation to anyone else, but it hit me hard. Apparently my stories are about those outsiders who don't quite fit in. In real life, some of us are observers and misfits because of our innate makeup and personalities. Fiction requires more motivation than simply one's internal makeup. Now that's got me thinking about a new character. Hmm...
Thursday, January 11, 2007
It made me think a lot about the power of words - how words are the gift that really do keep on giving.
It goes both ways of course, positive and negative. I remember my mother telling me never put something in writing unless you MEAN it. Never put in writing something you might REGRET.
When you write something down - even if its a thank you note - or a post it note! - remember that your words have power, and sometimes, if you're lucky, grace.
In terms of the books we write and read, it's amazing really, to think that words are the ultimate gift. To think that we are presenting ourselves - literally and figuratively. We're showing something very personal and profound in our choices of what we write and what we read. We're sharing something exciting and intimate.
If you love a book, don't you just love sharing it, recommending it to others? Aren't there quotes, scenes, moments that keep on living with you long after you've set that book aside to gather dust on a shelf?
Words are never outdated and never out of fashion, when they have meaning.
Make what you say, write, and read meaningful - today!
Give a word or two to someone you know.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
So what about music and stories? Do any songs remind you of stories you’ve read? Bring to mind characters that were so real they stuck with you for years? Or if you write, do you associate any of your books with music? A year or so ago, I discovered music was key to keeping me in the story I’m writing. At the time, I’d pick a CD and play it –over and over and over- until it basically became white noise while I wrote. Then whenever I played it, my fingers itched to write! A total Pavlov-like response, but it really helped when I had to do revisions. Pop that music in and I was right back in the story.
Then my awesome hubby got me an iPod. Oh the joy of playlists!!! I can pull from ALL my CD’s to create a personalized soundtrack to my story (okay, so this technology has been around for awhile –but its new to ME). GREAT fun, and again, it is like plugging into my Muse. Push play, write. And for those stalled moments (hours, whatever) at least its good tunes while I stare at the screen.
So... my question to you for wondering Wednesday – what do you listen to when you write? When you read? What are your fave romance tunes?
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Why this particular rainbow brought tears to my eyes is anyone’s guess. At the moment my life is good. My family is healthy and I anticipate a productive and fabulous year. But tear up I did. I thought about the things I am grateful for besides my family. Good friends. A growing a loyal readership. A muse that chugs along like a fine workhorse and hasn’t failed me yet. The support and encouragement of my editors and agent.
And okay, chocolate and that I love to bake. (Getting those fat calories from homemade goodies is so much tastier than from the bought kind :-)). Great wine. Good movies, Grey’s Anatomy, Project Runway, Democracy Now!, books and magazines.. I could go on and on, but I’m starting to bore myself.
The thing is, that sign, that rainbow, boosted my spirits (after I wiped away the tears) and reminded me that life is beautiful—a wonderful thing.
There are signs all around us if we bother to see them. I don’t know about you, but I plan to keep my eyes open.
What signs have you seen lately? I’d love to know.
Monday, January 08, 2007
I only made one resolution/promise -- to spend January revising a book that an editor showed a lot of interest in and wanted to see again after I made some changes. My agent received her email regarding the book two days before Thanksgiving. I knew that with the chaos of the holidays and non-stop company for much of December (plus some minor surgery right before Christmas) that there was no chance I’d get anything done in the way of revisions before the end of the year. Heck, I knew I wouldn’t get any writing done aside from an occasional email during that period, and with an infant and toddler in the house for a good portion of that time, even that was problematic. So figuring the editor didn’t expect to see the book before the beginning of February (at least that’s what I’m hoping) and knowing that I can revise fairly quickly, I gave myself permission to wait until January to begin. January 2nd I’d start. By January 31st the editor would have the revised manuscript on her desk. Piece of cake.
Or so I thought.
Except that I didn’t factor in getting sick with the head cold that devoured Cleveland. And given that I’m in New Jersey, you can imagine the sort of head cold I’m talking about! Think can't-get-out-of-bed flu without the fever and add a sore throat and bronchitis to the mix. It’s hard to write when neither your brain nor your eyes will focus and your body doesn’t want to be in any positions other than prone or supine but your symptoms keep you awake all night.
Anyway, back to blaming my predicament on the weather. You might wonder how I came by this convoluted rationale. Well, we’re going through the second warmest winter ever recorded in my area of the country. Last year we had about 20 inches of snow by this time. So far this winter I think we’ve only had two days where the Fahrenheit dipped below freezing during the day. It’s January 8th, and we’ve yet to have a killing frost. Without a killing frost the germs are partying like its New Year’s Eve, Christmas, and Ground Hog’s Day all wrapped up into one huge gala event. It’s so warm that the crocuses, daffodils, and cherry blossoms are starting to bloom!
And it’s not just me. Everyone is sick. As bad as I’ve had it, my husband has had it worse. So here we are a week into my schedule, and I’ve revised not so much as a single sentence, thanks to a Pacific warm front that’s had the calendar thinking it’s spring for the last two months. Meanwhile, I’m feeling a bit better today. By the time you read this I should be tackling that manuscript. I’m considering adopting a Japanese custom and wearing a face mask when I go out in public, at least until my revisions are done. If I catch anything else, I want it to be a break. I could use one of those right about now.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
It wasn’t that 2006 was such a bad year. I mean, sure, I had my share of disappointments but I also experienced a lot of wonderful moments last year. I guess the thing is, I'm just ready for a new year and new challenges. I have lofty goals this year, too. (And I’m not referring to my cleaning out the downstairs bedroom closet, either. LOL.)
One of the items on my list is to appreciate the small victories in life. You know the things I mean. Choosing to walk up the stairs rather than take the elevator. Remembering to say thank-you to the people whose assistance we take for granted. Celebrating every bit of good news related to my writing, no matter how small. Celebrating the little stuff.
So, when I realized that today was Thankful Thursday – the day when we’re supposed to blog about our good news and the things for which we’re thankful – I thought it only fitting that I start making good on that list.
That’s why I rewarded myself with a facial for sending off a proposal for a new book to my agent. Yea, me!
It felt good celebrating that small victory, too. LOL.
What about you? What are the small victories in your life that you should appreciate/celebrate more?
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
There was no way her brother was dead. Officials claimed the biochemist had been murdered in the Brazilian rainforest, his body fallen prey to the mists of the jungle. But Kate Collier knew Zach and couldn’t leave it at that; Zach was all she had left.
Tall, dark and mysterious. A.C. Slader had a past that was as turbulent as the Amazon River. Yet he was the only one who could guide her on a journey from which many never returned. A journey that would stretch the limits of their faith in God and each other...
This is my Love Inspired Suspense (Heart of the Amazon) for January 2007. I think of this book as the African Queen meets Romancing the Stone. I had so much fun writing this adventurous romp. I even visited the jungle to get the feel of the place down right for my book. I remember trekking through the rainforest in knee high rubber boots, waiting for a snake to fall from a branch (thankfully one didn’t). The place was often very quiet except for my sloshing. They don’t call it a rainforest for nothing. When I got through with my hike, I was covered in mud and had to throw away my outfit. I couldn’t get the mud out of the clothes.
You can read the first chapter on my web site.
Margaret Daley's web site
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
You can find the recipe here (I don't want to cut and paste, since I used the site recipe and want to give them credit...aren't internet recipe sites the best ever?): Gurken und Kartoffelsuppe.
Highly recommended for soup lovers withstanding winter (although the Northeast has been amazing warm so far).
Monday, January 01, 2007
Since the topic for the day is Manic Monday--Life's Ups and Downs, I thought I'd talk about surprises. There are people who thrive on the unexpected. They bubble over with enthusiasm at surprise parties or if they're whisked off for a romantic weekend getaway.
I don't like surprises or last minute plans. I'm the kid who was always shaking the presents underneath the Christmas tree. Heck, I'm the kid who led the reconnaissance missions to find the presents before they were wrapped! I must have driven my parents absolutely insane. :-)
Oh, I've tried to be spontaneous, but I find it stressful. I work for a major US airline, and since employees fly standby, last minute trips are doable if I pick a destination where the flights aren't full. Other people I'd worked with had done it, so I decided to give it a try. On a Thursday, I picked a city that I would fly to the next day. I listed myself on the standby passenger manifest and would wing it on the hotel and rental car. I was going to do things on the spur of the moment. I was!
Okay, I didn't. I cancelled my listing on Friday morning. I just couldn't do it. I need to have a guaranteed hotel reservation and the rental car put on hold. I need time to research activities and historic sites at my chosen destination. I need plans!
That doesn't mean I can't be flexible. When I went to Australia, flights filled up and my parents and I ended up flying out five days early to ensure we got there. We had no hotel until our original arrival date, but I was fine with that--mostly. I think jetlag played a huge role in my calm acceptance, but, hey! That counts. We ended up in a nice hotel in Sydney's Chinatown and it was within walking distance of a lot of interesting destinations. And I loved the surprise we got when we checked into our original hotel in The Rocks. They upgraded us to the penthouse! We had a wonderful view of the opera house from our lanai and I'd go outside every morning, have coffee and watch the boat traffic in the harbor.
On this same trip, my dad made some interesting arrangements that I knew nothing about until a day or two before this particular tour. Wine tasting. I know what you're thinking, this is hardly something anyone would object to surprise or not. But I didn't tell you the unusual part yet. We rode camels to the winery!
At first, I was nervous because the gait was so different from a horse (not that I had a lot of experience on horseback, but at least I'd done it before) and I worried I'd fall off. After I became used to the way the animal moved, I started worrying about the camel in back of mine moving forward and biting me. I heard camels bite. I also heard they spit, but I wasn't sweating that. I figured I could just wipe spit off, but a bite? After a while, though, I stopped worrying and started enjoying myself. Hey, I was riding a camel in the Australian Outback and this was a once in a lifetime experience. And out of everything we did, this is probably the most memorable tour of the entire vacation.
I've reached the conclusion that if I have the big picture taken care of--to use travel as an example, hotel reservations made, time to buy guidebooks and read about an area, and so on, I can handle spontaneity on the smaller day-to-day details. There are a couple of things I find funny, though. First, I handle change in my life well. I might not like it, but I don't resist it or fight it. Given my feelings about surprises, I'm amazed by this at times. And second, when I write, I don't use or develop an outline. I might have a general idea of an upcoming scene, but that's all the guidance I have. I've given up trying to decipher my idiosyncrasies and now I just accept them.
Are you someone who likes surprises? Can you be whisked away from an impromptu event without worrying? Or are you someone like me who likes a framework for stability?
Shards of Crimson - Available January 2, 2007