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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Size Matters. . . .



....or does it? LOL -- did that get your attention? Sorry, I just couldn't help myself...


Well, it does matter and I discovered how important it is when writing the short story that became A NIGHT FOR HER PLEASURE, my upcoming short online story from Harlequin Historical Undone. I've written very long 105,000 word romance novels and shorter 75,000 word ones, too. I've written several 20-25,000 word romance novellas. I thought it would be difficult in trying to go from writing a full-length story to a shorter one -- about 1/3 the size and I was right. It WAS tough to do.

I mean -- if I have about 300-350 pages to tell a whole story, I can add lots of details, lots of backstory, lots buildup and lots of love. In writing a novella, there's only about 100-120 pages so many details and backstory has to go. The love has to be there, because it's a romance, but it must happen faster and be more intense in many ways -- so it's a different pacing and different level of tension. But, I still enjoyed writing those novellas.

This HH Undone was something even more different for me. Instead of a whole story, happening over weeks or months, or a novella, happening over days or weeks, I decided this short story would happen in one day! Yes, one day. Did you hear the pressure as I wrote that? Actually, an experienced writing friend told me to think about a novel being the story of a lifetime, a novella being the story of an incident, and a short story, well, less than that. She suggested that to make the romance work the couple in a novella had to have met before and that for a short story, there has to be a good level of conflict and interest already at work between the characters.


Hmmmmm....sounds like a plan, doesn't it? Well, it worked! Instead of planning out a plot that covered weeks or months I chose one that happened on one day - a special day - a wedding day. Instead of choosing characters who were strangers to each other, I chose a man and a woman who'd just married each other. Instead of looking at the big picture, I zoomed in on a particular situation - this one was loosely-based on the classic story- A Gift of The Magi by O.Henry. And the result? IMHO - a fast-paced, sexy short romance story that tells of the efforts of a newly couple to be the perfect spouse their partner needs or wants.

So, does size matter to you? Do short stories have enough time to build the romance? Are novellas enough or not? Are novel-length romances just perfect? (I'm feeling like Goldilocks and the 3 Bears now! LOL!) What do you think?

I'll send a small prize to one lucky person who tells me about their favorite length and why it works for them. Let me know!


Terri


Terri is awaiting the online release of her first Harlequin Historical Undone short story on June 1st -- it will introduce her new Harlequin Historical trilogy - The Knights of Brittany - Born to conquer and seduce! Oh my! Visit my website for more info - www.terribrisbin.com


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Refilling the Well...aka, my first cruise! - Holly Jacobs

CocoaSunrise.jpg

I've been under back-to-back contracts for the last couple years. And for a writer, that's great news! It means I've been employed for the last few years. Fantastic. But that also means, as I've finished one book, I've moved straight onto the next. That doesn't leave a lot of time to refill the creative well. So, on the fifteenth I finished next February's book and on the 16th, my dh and I left for Florida to start our very late 25th anniversary celebration!

Our first stop was Cocoa Beach . Our plane didn't touch down until after six, so we picked up our rental car at the Orlando airport, headed to the La Quinta Hotel right on the ocean in Cocoa Beach (see that sunrise...that's from our balcony) then headed to the boardwalk next door for dinner...yum. It was a great hotel right next to the Cocoa Beach Boardwalk. We grabbed dinner there and took a walk on the beach before bed!


Friday, we went to Nasa. Oh, sooooooo cool for the geek in me! We saw the Endeavor on the launchpad. There was a second shuttle out as well, but we couldn't see it. It's probably the last time they'll have two shuttles out together. We listened to an astronaut, Susan Kilrain speak. She's been in space twice! That's me with her.

Saturday, we just kicked around Cocoa Beach. Took long walks on the beach, and in local neighborhoods. We even found I Dream of Jeannie Lane! It's a beautiful city!

Sunday...we boarded Disney's Wonder for our cruise. We went to Nassau in the Bahamas, and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. They have the Black Pearl from the movie there in the bay. Of course, we had a lot of pictures taken with our favorite characters...

Now, on the Disney Cruises you sit with the same people each night, and you have the same waitstaff. Now, my dh's name is DJ (short for Don) and how weird is it that two of our tablemates were a Holly and Don? They live in central PA even (we live in PA too). And we had Mark and Jo, then Barb and her daughter Kate. Then come our waiters, Ricardo and Cristain. They were wonderful!

Now, I need to mention our room steward Sonia...she was absolutely lovely. We never saw here when she didn't have a smile! Plus, she left us the coolest towel animals every night when she turned down the bed!

One of the highlights of the trip was meeting new friends. We met Caroline and Jay along with their gorgeous little girls as we waited to board the ship. (We all had a camera karma moment!) And we saw them all over the ship. Our last night there, we met on deck nine and shared a bottle of asti spumanti!! I really we hope we keep in touch!

Our last night, I caught a beautiful sunset from the ship.

Thursday morning, we left the Wonder. It was really a magical trip. I read a ton of books while I sat on our private balcony. We did a lot of the activities (I won an airline blanket set...I really like winning!) and watched shows and movies! When we left Thursday, we went back to the Cocoa Beach La Quinta (and if you're ever down there, it's a great hotel). Lovely staff, every room has an ocean view, and it was fairly inexpensive! We went to Fish Lips for dinner and sat on the deck...and watched the wonder leave with a new group of people. SIGH. I'm pretty sure we'll be going on another cruise soon!

Friday morning we flew home. I spent the weekend doing laundry and basically catching up after my eight days away. Yesterday, the house was clean and I...pulled out the project I'd been thinking about during the cruise. Thinking, not writing. There were so many ideas and thoughts, that my fingers had a hard time keeping up! LOL I think that's a good sign that the well's been refilled! It was a very lovely week. It was great to be unplugged. No internet, no cell phone while we were out of the country. But it's very nice to be home, to be back to work...to writing!

I think everyone needs to occasionally take a break and just reload. Wishing you a break soon!

Holly

Monday, April 27, 2009

Stealing Words - Jessica Inclan


Stealing Words


For over twenty years, I’ve taught composition and creative writing at a community college in California. From day one, I was forced to learn how to spot the cheaters, the stealers, the plagiarizers, the ones with the answers written on their sleeves, the ones who “borrowed” a short story published in Family Circle or Women’s Day or Redbook (magazines they hoped I didn’t read) and turned in typed up on fresh new paper, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 font.

My second semester teaching an introduction to literature class (back in the days before any of us knew what Times New Roman or Google were), I asked the students to try their hands at all the genres we’d been studying. I wanted my students to see the hard work it was to create an apt metaphor, a distinct character, or a line of realistic dialogue. The assignments included writing a short story, a poem, and a three page, one-act play.

For the short story assignment, I received the predictable coming-of-age in suburbia tales, first date sagas, evil parents against righteous teenager adventures. But there was one story that caught me, the story of a young woman, married with a small baby. The main is in that miserable part of a marriage, right after the baby is old enough to not be viewed as the second coming, the vernix is truly off the rose. No, the young woman is caught in the fugue state of little sleep and not enough money, her husband gone every day to work early and home late. Out of desperation, she contacts an old boyfriend, and they begin what might be seen as an emotional, telephone affair. She grows dependent upon his words of advice and the embers of their old connection, a sexual, physical, and emotional connection that they slowly talk back to crackling life.

One day, on the eve of going to meet this old flame for lunch, she climbs up to the attic and finds a box of mementoes from her courtship with her husband. In this small, hidden leather box are love letters and ticket stubs and an invitation from their wedding. A dried flower from the first bouquet her husband ever gave her. A card from a romantic restaurant. Sitting on the floor of the attic, she goes over her relationship, and when she comes down from the attic, she knows what she has to do. She calls her former flame to cancel the date, and when her husband comes home, she sits him down and begins to tell him the story I’ve just recounted to you above.
The implication is she wants to make things better. She brings him closer to her, and the story ends with hope.

My goodness, I thought. How impressive! What a great attempt by a student.

I put down the story and thought about the student who had written it. A dark, hunched-over girl who slunk into class just barely on time, she didn’t speak up in class very often, and now I knew why. She was a writer, an introvert who held her cards close to the vest. An introspective, thoughtful young woman, who was absorbing all that I had to teach her, a student who new an apt metaphor already. But she’d never mentioned anything about her aspirations and dreams of writing, and I made a note to sit down with her before the end of the semester and encourage her ambitions.

A week after returning the stories back to the students, I was in the dentist office, waiting for my appointment, and I picked up a recent edition of a women’s magazine. I flipped through the pages searching for the fiction, settled back in the hard plastic chair, and started to read the short story entitled The Memory Box, which was the story of a young mother and her old high school flame.

Just like that, the mystery of the amazing story by the reticent student was solved. And instead of sitting down with her during office hours to urge her forward toward publication and an MFA, I failed her on the assignment and told her if it happened again, she would fail the class.

Usually I don’t have such divine intervention to spot a stolen story. More often than not, their plagiarized work does not appear in national magazines. Despite the work it takes to catch my students at this duplicity, I understand their motives because I am a former cheater. In college, I took a class called Sociology of the Work Force. The biggest assignment that semester was to go into a local business and interview the work force, finding out the ins and outs of the business and the problems and joys of working there. I was to mingle with the staff. I was to find out how the business ran. Then I was to write it all up in no less than 15 pages.

I was a freshman and had just moved to Turlock, a little California Valley town, the university sitting in the middle of former farm land. At the time of the assignment, I didn’t know anyone well except the guy who lived downstairs who played music all night long, and I was just getting over the shyness that disappeared only after the ignominy of childbirth in a hospital.

But at that time, I was afraid to go to a tire store to buy tires much less walk into a place where I had no true business at all. During the first few weeks after receiving this assignment, I drove my 1972 VW Squareback into town after school, parked on Main Street, and walked toward an insurance company office, my hand almost touching the door knob. But then I faltered, freaked out, stopped dead still. I ran back to my car, drove home, and ate a bag of popcorn instead.

So what I did instead of pushing myself to and through that insurance office door was to create an office based on that building and what I’d seen from the outside. I invented the various people who worked there: The office manager, the clerical staff, the phone operator (this was before digital anything). Using my experience of working at Traveler’s insurance for two years before I went back to college, I fabricated a thriving company, imagining the pitfalls of an all female clerical staff run by a tyrannical office manager, all of them being directed by a gigantic, octopus of a home office located in Connecticut. I imagined their lives, their martial status, the number of children each had. I created dialogue, suffering, and success.

I worked late into the night, writing up all my “findings,” and then I turned in my paper, later receiving an A. No, not just an A, the best grade in the class and a round of accolades from my professor and the class.

So I cheated, but I didn’t steal as my short story purloining student did. I didn’t find a similar project written up in some obscure sociological journal, a journal only found then on microfiche. Maybe the difference between cheating and stealing seems slight in this moral morass, but if I plagiarized, I plagiarized from my own life, my own thoughts. I might be a cheat, but I don’t borrow without asking. I said yes to myself, out of desperation.

So when I notice that a paragraph in a student essay springs out of nowhere, a blooming rose in the middle of a fallow field, I shrug and then do what I have to. The student and I have that serious talk, the one where he starts to sweat and his lower lip trembles. I explain how wrong it is to take someone else’s hard work and copy and paste it as if it were his own. Yet the world outside the confines my college setting isn’t providing a very good example for my writing students. We can’t pretend that students aren’t being shown that professional writers plagiarize, too.

Last year, there was another author stink about plagiarism. The romance writer Nora Roberts, Newsweek, The New York Times, and the blogsphere took on the case of writer Cassie Edwards full force, and the accused and internet-convicted writer was shamed out of book contracts (Signet dropped her after the furor didn’t die down after three months) and support because she was caught stealing research about blackfooted ferrets. After that discovery, bloggers googled big sections of her work and came up with several sections where other writers’ work was used without due credit. Edwards claimed that she didn’t realize that she was supposed to credit her sources. “When you write historical romances, you’re not asked to do that,” she said.

This stealing of work not one’s own comes up now and again in the published works world. This habit people have of borrowing from others is an old, very old habit of us humans. Shakespeare used pretty much every old story in the books to create his tales. Research the entirety of his plays, and if they aren’t based on old plays written one hundred years earlier, he’s stealing from Homer. But in recent times, we've decided it is a bad practice—at least, we give lip service to its wrongness. But stealing is wrong, especially when someone tries to pass of words as his or her own in order to 1) make money or further a career or 2) get a grade. If you want to copy a little love poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and put it in a Valentine's Day card to try to show off for your true love, well, I think the world will forgive you. And the truth is, the world will never know, as poor Elizabeth has fallen from popular consumption.

When you are writing for the world or an audience of more than one, watch out.

So back to the imbroglio with the romance writer: Edwards was accused of stealing from the novel Land of the Spotted Eagle by Luther Standing, plopping sections of his work into her own. I read through the text she allegedly "wrote" and the text she supposedly "stole” on several web sites, and reading about her actions gave me the same feeling I have each time I collect papers and find stolen paragraphs here and there. Distress and irritation.

With Google, it is hard to cheat and steal your way toward a novel. And with practice, it’s easy to spot a phrase not the writer’s without the assistance of that fabulous search engine. My students don't seem to realize that if they email frequently me in one particular style, with a particular diction and syntax, it will strike me as odd when I read their final essays containing writing diametrically opposed. Suddenly, they write better than I can, with complex and compound sentences, literary allusion, nuance, and verve. What were they thinking? Maybe they assumed I wasn’t paying much attention?

Or rather than stealing an entire essay as that seems like too much, they cram others’ ideas in their essays here and there, lifting up the seams of their writing and slipping in an eloquent sentence or two. What do they imagine? That I won’t notice their particular styles and voices?
There I am in my office, a paper in my hand, reading along with the student’s unique style, and then all of the sudden, poof! a perfect paragraph, full of vocabulary I don't even know, something like acidulous. It’s like finding a pearl in the middle of a soft and gooey oyster. Was I born yesterday? Am I such a rube? Please, give me some credit to be able to spot these things.

Last week, when writing about the play Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg, an international student from a country quite unacquainted with British diction and syntax wrote that Mason, one of the main characters, was a “Nelly queen.” The following paragraph was likewise filled with expressions and sophisticated sentence variation I had never seen before from this particular student. All I had to do was call him to my desk, point to the phrase, and he gave it all up.

“I wish I had a good excuse,” he said. “But I was so tired of thinking in English, I felt my head was going to explode. Like a balloon. So I borrowed someone else’s idea.”

Borrowed indeed.

Now for the romance writer, I can see that she might have been under some stress as well, even though she knows English and is writing in English. She was probably contracted for three books a year, and her specialty is the historical. Setting is big with this writer and with historical romances. So, there she was, trying to figure things out about the terrain, flora, and fauna of the space her Native American characters were roaming through, and she realized she didn’t have a clue about the poor little black-footed ferrets and didn’t have time to travel to the Dakotas to research (though she probably had enough dough to go). So she flipped open Luther Standings’
books and started copying.

This won’t speak well of me, but I have been known to tell my students this dictum: “If you are going to cheat, cheat well. Cheat smartly. Don’t make it obvious.”

Then I tell them, “Cheating smartly is harder than getting an A all on your own.”

And this Cassie Edwards? A professional writer? How hard would it be to do a better job of cheating, re-crafting the sentences so that they are almost hers, and then giving credit to Mr. Standing at the back of the book where credit is due? I think that's an easy thing to do.
Writers are greedy. Writers tend to think of the world as their palate. A word here, a phrase here, a thought there. A situation, a character, a scene. Tragedies can be occurring around us and we are thinking, I have to write about this. We pluck scenarios from the air, scribble them down on note cards or receipts, and go home and use them with impunity.

We say, “Wait! What did you say?” And then we run off to find a post-it.

We sit at luncheon tables and argue about who gets to write about what.

“I heard it first,” we say. “It’s mine! Mine!”

But sometimes we take this practice too far. I had a writer friend, a fellow teacher, who for years would take ideas I verbalized and use them in her poetry. One day I’d say something pithy or profound, and the next, I would read the line in her brand new poem. I am younger than she, and twenty years ago, I didn’t have the fortitude to tell her that no, I wasn’t thrilled she’d used my remark in her poem. No, it was not a gift to me, thank you very much.

I just let this practice continue, watching my dreams, my thoughts, my ideas rush through her work like water. But when we shifted to communicating more through email than actual conversations, I would find whole sentences I’d written appearing front and center in her work. Now she’d crossed the line into plagiarism. One time I wrote to her about what I believed in, and the next day came a poem via email titled “Credo,” which was basically my original email reshaped. The final straw came when I wrote to her in an email that I was exhausted and that “Sitting in a bar in Paris right now, alone, with a cigarette, a book, a glass of deep red wine, and the promise of someone coming to find me later, later, would be splendid.”

The next morning, I clicked on the blog site that both of us post on and saw her blog for the day, a poem entitled “Cigarette in Paris.”

After that, after twenty years, I finally told her enough was enough. She wrote back to tell me that I was over-reacting, that writers can use the universe in their work. That this great, big, wonderful planet is our paint box.

After I found air to breathe, I sat staring at her email, wondering how my writing students would ever figure out the implications of stealing if my writer friend--if my professor of English friend--could so easily cross this line. Our friendship will likely not recover.

As for my composition students? Many of them are from other lands, coming here after taking English for a couple of years at home, and plopping themselves into higher level composition classes because they need to get in and out of college because it's expensive to live in the United States and go to college. They have visas and families at home, and they don't have an unlimited amount of time to learn the language. Mom and Dad have said four years and four years only, sonny. Mom and Dad have also said, “You better get all A’s.”

They pay a very high tuition, even at the community college, and they have living expenses as well. With a writing class, sometimes a student can pass because there are often multiple opportunities for revision. English teachers are nothing if all about process, process, process. Drafting, peer editing, revisions 1, 2, and 3. A student can revise, go to a tutor, get help, and craft an essay that can get a passing grade. Or, he or she can borrow a paper, buy a paper, steal a paper.

Often, I receive emails at the end of a semester that go something like this: "I was just wandering why I get C in my final grade? I felt that I participated quite many of times and only one absent day."

I want to say to this student who is wandering, “You did great. You earned a B, and that in and of itself shows how hard you worked on every paper. You learned a lot about writing and worked on your English. I really liked you a lot, your nice smile, your willingness to listen, though I wasn't always sure you understood what I was saying. In your writing, you showed me your original, true voice, and it was lovely. But you don't have the essence of the English language down at all. In fact, I didn’t read one sentence that followed correct English syntax from capital letter to period. You need to stay here a couple more years and go back to the classes that you seem to have already gone through and take them over. Yes, I know you've already taken them, but it didn't quite stick. Neither did this one you just took with me. So give it a go. Give the language acquisition a chance to truly work. Don't expect miracles from yourself. If I was trying to take this class in China, I would have been kicked out the first day. Give yourself some slack!”
But I am never quite this honest. Instead, I talk about points earned and such, and I know that this student--who wants to transfer to the local university--is upset. Stress and pressure. Will he plagiarize next time in order to get an A? Will he turn into a repeat stealer?

Will the romance writer learn from her public humiliation? Apparently Nora Roberts was plagiarized by another writer, and that writer is doing quite well, thank you, churning the books out as we speak, making the big dollars even though she’s been caught cheating.

Will my former friend continue to take others’ ideas? Will she see that doing so without attribution, acknowledgement, or asking is wrong? Will she learn that the world is not her paint box and that sometimes, we need to ask before we decide to paint the tree?

Often, we wish we didn’t have to do the work we need to in order to get the work done. We want to be like the cobbler and his wife who awaken in the morning to find that elves made shoes all night long, leaving the whole day wide open and task free. We want the work to appear, the ideas to sit in neat and organized packages on the workbench. The work we need to do is long and arduous and asks more from us than we think we have inside. Our heads are going to explode.
We want it over, now. We want to move on and get the grade and the money and the publications and push forward. We want to avoid embarrassment and discomfort. We don’t know how to tell a story, any story. We don’t want to walk into a room full of strangers and ask to interview them about their lives and employment.

We don’t want to do the heavy lifting.

But cheating doesn’t work except to provide us with an example of something that is counterproductive. After my own fine, glorious stint at cheating, I never did it again. After holding my made-up paper in my hands and listening to my professor laud me, I vowed to change my ways. In later years, I realized that though I might have jumped started my life of writing fiction, I didn’t stretch toward or even near the assignment. I learned that when we cheat, we cheat ourselves and everyone else. We don’t learn. We don’t grow. We stop moving right there, on the very spot where the sentence took the turn toward someone else’s hard work. The second that we lasso the words that belong to another, we let go of our own talents and hopes. We go into hiding behind those stolen words, hunkering down like trolls under a bridge, knowing that if we aren’t caught, we should be.

I don’t know if my writing students see plagiarism the way I do, and I know I can’t stop it, not with the world telling us it’s not so bad--unless we get caught. But I will continue to read for those moments when my students let go of their own ideas and latch onto others’, and I will help them, stop them, tell them to go back another time, and try again.

video

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Novel Idea - Christine Blevins

Research.

I do an awful lot of it. As a writer of historical adventure stories, I keep lots and lots of notes. I have a box of spiral notebooks filled with handwritten notes. In my constant quest for all the wonderful tidbits required to make a historical novel come alive, I sometimes bump into a tasty morsel that is altogether unrelated to the project I am working on at the time – but compelling nonetheless. So what do I do? I jot it down.

My first novel, Midwife of the Blue Ridge, is an adventure tale set in 1763 about midwife Maggie Duncan, (the main character) making her way as an indentured servant from the Scottish Highlands to colonial Virginia. Evidently, sometime during in the course of researching 18th century ocean travel and life aboard a sailing vessel, I jotted down this interesting but unrelated fact in the top margin of my notes:

New York City had been occupied by the British Army for seven years?

Hmmm…

The War of Independence is a massive event in our country’s history, and we Americans begin learning about the birth of our nation from the moment we attend our first Fourth of July celebration. Between the time we enter kindergarten and graduate high school, significant facts and events like the Boston Tea Party, the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, Valley Forge, Common Sense, Saratoga – all become etched on, and sometimes lost in the wrinkles of our brains.

Some part of me knew that New York City figured in the war somehow – but that the city was occupied for seven years was a revelation – I was intrigued. Not only did I jot the fact down – I double-bubbled it! This note is the embryo of my new novel, The Tory Widow.

The Tory widow’s adventure begins on the steps of St. Paul’s Chapel just after Anne Merrick’s marriage ceremony to a much older man. At that same moment, news of the Stamp Act’s repeal sweeps through the city and prompts a triumphant street celebration where Anne becomes the recipient of a wild, celebratory kiss from a handsome young stranger.

Ten years later, Anne is a widow. The “shot heard round the world” has been fired. Blood is shed at Lexington and Concord, thousands are dead and wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the port city of New York is thrown in turmoil. Against this backdrop of civil strife and revolution, Widow Merrick struggles to maintain her deceased husband’s printing business, and survive in a perilous world where a woman’s lot is usually governed by the men her life.

British warships begin to menace the harbor, and loyalties are questioned. The fanatic Sons of Liberty scour the city, relentlessly pursuing and punishing supporters of the Crown. Loyalists are terrorized – tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail. As the widow of a known Tory, Anne Merrick draws the unwanted attention of these fanatic Liberty Boys – one of whom she recognizes as the same man who’d kissed her on the steps of St. Paul’s years before.

General Washington’s Continental Army arrives to stem a certain British invasion and New York transitions in to an armed camp. In spite of Anne’s apparent Tory leanings, Liberty Boy Jack Hampton finds he is drawn to the determined widow, and Anne finds it hard to resist the ardent patriot. Jack leads Anne to rediscover her true ideals. Together, they weather the confusion and fervor of an extraordinary time.

The tenuous connection between Anne and Jack is severed when Redcoats invade and the British occupy the city. To survive, Anne Merrick must draw upon her Tory reputation to infiltrate British military society and work clandestinely for the patriot cause. With treachery, cunning, stealth and courage her only weapons, Anne fights for her country, and the man she loves.

Up the Rebels!!

Huzzah! Enter to win a signed copy of The Tory Widow, plus an 18th century survival kit (lavender water and a hankie) by leaving a comment with your favorite fact about the American Revolution. Remember, you must type in your email address to be entered.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What if the words don't come? - Chloe Neill


Writer's block. Two of the most feared words in the writers' world. Whether it's exhaustion (too many deadlines!), repetition (too many volumes in the series!), fear (will my second novel be as good as my first?), or distraction (dog, day job, boyfriend, sunny weather), writer's block can be a crippling adversary in a creative life.

At one time or another, I've struggled with all of the above. Fear is a particularly big issue right now, as sales of my first novel, Some Girls Bite, have been strong. The doubts thusly begin to creep in. Will the next book be as good? Can I "repeat" the success? If this manuscript isn't as good, why bother working on it?

My usual approach is to force through it--to get out a few words (whether it be 10, 100, or 1,000) and focus on increasing the word count. As Nora Roberts reportedly said, you can't fix a blank page...but you can edit bad writing later on.

I take the same approach for exercise. If I haven't had a chance to run in a while, I'll settle for 10 or 15 minutes on the treadmill that next time around. It may not be great, but it's *something.* It's a building block toward a longer run. Ditto for manuscripts, which are a marathon of creative effort.

So, if you find yourself staring at a blank screen, or what can you do? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Find a different locale

Do you usually write on the couch? In your office? If you're finding that the words don't flow in your usual spot, try another place. If you work at home, get out of the house. This could be as simple as dragging your laptop to the sunporch or deck, visiting a library down the street for some peace and quiet among the stacks, or visiting a coffeehouse if you need the ambient noise to process. If the weather's nice, try a local park.

2. Skip ahead

Is the current scene killing you? Then skip it. Jump 20 or 100 pages ahead and write a scene that falls later in the book. A love scene. A fight scene. A great entrance or exit. Something that will get your blood and adrenaline pumping, and get the word count moving again.

3. Switch the medium

Do you usually type your manuscripts? Grab a favorite pen and notepad and try writing longhand. Although it may take a little longer to handwrite the words, writing in longhand offers one important benefit--no distractions! There's no wireless internet in a paper notebook and, thus, no excuse to check out the news, update your blog, add a Tweet, or check your sales figures.

Not that I'm guilty of doing any of those. Repeatedly. :)

The argument works in reverse, as well. If you typically handwrite, spend a few minutes on the computer. Don't even bother opening a word processing program--type in the body of an e-mail. Maybe you're exercising a different part of your brain, but the switch seems to help me focus.

4. Find some inspiration

If you find yourself staring out the windows when you should be writing, take your body's hint and get out of the house for a bit. Visit a museum or a gallery, and look for inspiration, visual or otherwise, that can help you get going again.

Check out a park: If there are folks around, what can you learn from their activities? Details for writing about that volleyball scene? Fighting tactics when the folks from the Society for Creative Anachronism show up for combat practice? Even a drive in the car can get you thinking about meadows, mountains, skyscrapers, barns.

5. Surf the web

The Interwebs are full of miraculous things. Research tools, news, pictures, etc. Put aside 30 minutes and allow yourself to surf. Browse wikipedia, check out the blogosphere, or visit a favorite news site. Get a glimpse of what other folks are reading, thinking about, *doing*. You never know when that sidebar story might become an excellent detail for worldbuilding.

6. Take fifteen...or twenty...or the evening

If you're truly struggling to concentrate, maybe it's time to take a night off. But instead of spending the evening tapping our five or ten words, or scrolling up and down through the manuscript--and making yourself feel worse for writing poorly--make a *conscious* decision to step aside, to listen to some music, or to just think about something else for a little while.

7. Give yourself a break.

The biggest consideration, though, seems to be patience. For better or worse, you've got to wait it out, struggle through it, eek out 100 words at a time, if that's what keeps the page count moving.

Good luck, thanks for reading, and thanks to Author Sound Relations for having me today!

Chloe

Friday, April 24, 2009

When in doubt Naked David Boreanaz it - Amanda Ashby



Anyone who knows me knows that I have a minor, totally under-control, no need to get worried about it, David Boreanaz obsession. Anyway, due to this small (completely harmless) fixation, I do have a tendency to mention his name whenever possible, because I've read The Secret and I know that if don't put this stuff out there, then nothing will ever happen, so really it's my civil duty to talk about him as much as possible.







Plus, as my friend Marta Acosta and I have discovered, the more you talk about David Boreanaz (with particular reference to being naked) the better blog hits you get. We first stumbled across this phenomena when my debut book You Had Me at Halo came out I did a guest post for Marta over at her fabulous Vampire Wire blog.

Anyway, because of my above mentioned obsession, I might've said his name once or twice (or fifteen times, but really, who counts these things?) and because she is a gracious hostess she put up some very lovely and very naked pictures to accompany my post. The thing is, that almost a year later she told me that it's still the blog entry that gets the most Googled.


Which was why, when I did a blog post for her to celebrate my new book Zombie Queen of Newbury High, I did exactly the same thing and not only did we get loads of hits for it, but everyone got so excited about the thoughts of David Boreanaz naked that Marta decided to form the Naked David Boreanaz fan club (I told you she was a great hostess).












So my friends, because I'm a sharing and caring sort of girl, my tip of the day is whenever you want to get your blog hits up, just show some pictures of the gorgeous DB baring his flesh and see what happens. But remember, I called dibs on him first (what? You didn't think I was that much of a sharer and carer did you?)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Grandma and the Prince - Part 6 - Barbara Bretton

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

For all that Grandma El retained her love of England until the day she died, she never felt the need to go home again. When she left England for the United States during World War I, she didn’t look back. Through the years El talked endlessly about the importance of family and how it was she who kept us all together but, when push came to shove, she’d found it easy to leave her English relatives behind.

It wasn’t that easy for her sister Edith. Dede (her family nickname) was the child who had been bartered to childless relatives in return for passage to New Zealand for her parents and siblings. She was the one who’d been left behind in England while El and Cass ran free in Auckland. England was her home and always would be.

In 1963 Dede retired from her job at the Hotel Taft and moved to a three room apartment on Layton Street in Elmhurst, five short blocks from where we lived. My mom was elated. She’d adored Dede from their first meeting and the thought of having her living nearby put a permanent smile on my mother’s face. Dede was an odd combination of reserve and warmth, of wicked humor and cool sophistication. She and my mom went to the movies together every week. Risque foreign films with subtitles and content objectionable to the Diocese of Brooklyn that they laughed about afterward over coffee and pie at Dede's apartment.

My Aunt Mona, El’s daughter, adored Dede too. She took her shopping after work, out to dinner, vied with my mother for Dede’s attentions and love. Grandma was still living in New Jersey at that time, which was a good thing for all concerned. The major battles between the sisters were still a few years in the future.

R to L: my aunt Mona, my mother, Aunt Dede

Taken at my wedding 9/8/68

Dede was the one who stayed in contact with our relatives in Liverpool so when she decided to return to England for a visit, nobody was very surprised. “Come with me, El,” she said to her sister. “Let’s go home together.” But my grandmother wouldn’t consider it. “What do I want with England?” she said to Dede. “You can go alone.” And Dede did. She went to Rome and Venice and Naples. She went to Zurich and Brussels. She went to Paris. She went to London where she met a man who would become very important to her. And then she went home to Liverpool. To Sea View where she’d spent her childhood.

To the same dog she’d played with as a girl? Wait a second!

The well-groomed collie was sprawled on the lawn when her cab pulled up the long curving drive. What a well-behaved dog, Dede thought. He didn’t even glance her way when she called to him. “That looks just like Teddy,” my aunt said to the cousins who greeted her. “That is Teddy,” they said. “He died the year after you left for America. Grandmamma had him stuffed.”

I am descended from a long line of animal lovers but obviously some of them loved animals a tad too much. Poor Teddy had spent the last forty-five years as a lawn ornament, brought inside only when it rained. “We just couldn’t part with him,” they said. “We comb his hair ever day.”

That was one of the nicer family stories Dede told us. The other ones? Well, let's just say I'm not proud of the genetic mix bubbling through my veins. My great great grandfather was master of all he surveyed. When Dede moved back to Sea View, he was still the patriarchal figure whose moods set the tone for life inside the great house. The Edwardian Era flourished in London, but the Victorian Era, in all of its repressed and urgent sexuality, still reigned in my family’s home. My great great grandfather knew he existed above the law within the walls of his house. Children lived in the shadows, in a netherworld of adult expectations and their own fragile dreams.

They knew what they were doing, my family, when they asked for Dede rather than El. Dede was tall and awkward, a quiet girl who grew into an introspective woman. She lived an interior life. Not so my Grandma El. El would not have gone quietly to her new home. Society’s conventions were enough to still Dede’s protests. Society would have had to work much harder on El. I like to believe society would have lost the battle.

No one spoke up against my great great grandfather. His daughter Claire retreated into her own private world. She crept through the house on silent feet, seeing everything, revealing nothing at all. Dede would awaken with a start in the middle of the night to find Claire standing over her, gazing down at her with vacant eyes. No motherly touch from Claire, no words of comfort from anyone at all.

(Would it surprise you to learn that Dede grew up to be a reserved, self-contained, independent woman who turned into the quintessential geisha each and every time she fell in love?)

My great great grandfather’s reach extended beyond Sea View. Your daughter for my patronage, he’d said to the dairy farmer. The dairy farmer thought it sounded like a fine deal and the two men struck a bargain. The girl, a scared little chit in a faded cotton dress that had obviously known its share of owners, was delivered that night to Sea View. Dede watched from her window on the second floor as the child walked around back to the servants' entrance. Briefly she considered tapping on the window, to let the girl know there was someone who understood what she was feeling, but Dede knew an action like that would bring the wrath of God down on her own head and so she kept silent.

I learned from Dede that my great great grandfather died in bed one night with a young girl spread-eagled and crying beneath him. There was a sense of acceptance about Dede as she told this story that puzzled me, but that was only because I was too young to really understand what she wasn’t saying. I was a happy, spoiled American child of the 1950s. Stories about rich relatives and spooky mansions and Jane Eyre-ish little girls passed around like baseball cards were the stuff of the books I devoured on a daily basis. The fact that this was real, that it had happened to my Aunt Dede, took years to sink in.

A hint of things to come: Dede runs off to Detroit with a handsome cop. My grandmother ends up destitute with two kids under the age of five. (Although I didn't find out about that until I was fifty years old!)

As with most things in my life, it is only through writing about them that I've come to understand my family's history.

Okay, maybe "understand" isn't the right word. Let's just say I'm starting to make a little sense out of it.

Thanks to all of you who have read and enjoyed the story so far. I appreciate your comments more than I can say. This month three commenters chosen at random will receive signed copies of CASTING SPELLS and JUST DESSERTS as a small token of gratitude.

PS: I'm Barbara Bretton and you can find me here and here and here. My next book, LACED WITH MAGIC, will be released in August 2009.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Perfect Day--Michelle Monkou



Tell me about your perfect day...I know there may be lots ways, but share one.

Because, I plan to share what was a perfect day for me.

Last Friday, after several days of nonstop rain, the sun broke through and the temperature rose to about 70. As I got in my car for the 1 1/2 hour drive to a booksigning, I couldn't have planned better weather. The bright blue, cloudless sky put me in a great mood.

So off I went to Boonsboro, MD to sign at a cozy bookstore called Turn The Page. The store happens to be owned by Bruce Wilder. I parked and said hi to fellow author Donna Kauffman. Once we entered the signing area where the walls are a minty green and filled with local artists work, there are also other authors taking their seats. I spied my table, but I wonder why someone "dumped" a bunch of Nora Roberts books at my table. Then I started hunting down where I should sit at the other tables. But my books weren't there. My books were at the table where the Nora dump seemed to be. Strange.


Then Bruce comes in to get us ready for the eager customers. So in walks Nora who gives her hubby, Bruce, her special request - diet Pepsi and then sits at MY table. Yeah I know, it's more like I was at HER table. But it's my story. So for the next three hours, we signed, smiled, chatted with over a hundred Noraholics from the local area and as far away as Essex, England.

P.C. Cast, Carla Neggars, Darlene Gardner, Mary Blayney, Sofia Nash were a few of the other authors. And boy, did we have fun.

From my vantage point, I spied this woman outside taking a picture of a gold plated sign on a street lamp immediately outside the store. After I couldn't take it anymore, I asked someone what was she doing. I discovered that Nora's foundation donated the street lamps on Main Street. The plaque had her name on it.

Then across the street, the new Inn BoonsBoro (owned by Nora with themed-rooms inspired by famous literary couples) sat invitingly with its bright white porch and brick front. Some of the authors had stayed there and loved it. I can't wait to make a weekend getaway.
Once the signing was done, I jumped in my car and headed to the next stop -- Washington Romance Writers retreat in Leesburg, VA. Now my perfect day would culminate into the perfect weekend.

As a writer, I couldn't have asked for a better way to spend my time. In the company of writers is like being around old friends.

Share your perfect day and a random winner will get my current release - Only In Paradise.


Michelle




Monday, April 20, 2009

Old-Age Home For Books by Linda Conrad

Last month we talked about Spring Cleaning and I said the subject of organizing your books was a topic for another time. Well, no time like the present. I’ve finished with most of the promo for my Safekeeper series and my April release; IN SAFE HANDS. I am now dithering over a new proposal. And...my house cleaning is done!

So, temporarily I have a pristine house and the books that have collected in my office over the last year ought not to be cluttering it up. These are well-read books, the ones looking a bit gray around the edges, that I’ve enjoyed and should be outside in the hands of someone else who will enjoy them as much as I did. I am not one for selling my used books. But can you ever bring yourself to throw a good book away? Books that might not be slated for your keeper shelves perhaps, but books you enjoyed and are now so over? Just the thought gives me the heeby jebbies.

Here are a few surefire ways of finding good homes for your graying babies and a little inner peace for yourself:

1. Stop by a nursing home with an armload of books and ask for the activities director. Most will welcome you and your books like a long lost sister. While there, peek into a few rooms and say
hello. Talk about a good feeling!

2. The Emergency room of a hospital is another great place to leave a few books. Hardly anyone thinks to bring along reading material when they are rushing a loved one to the ER (only to sit around waiting for hours on end)

3. Stack some books in a shoe box (loose books slide all over the back seat) and put them in your car. Drop a few off at all the places you visit during your regular day. The waiting room of you children's doctor, the hairdresser, the dentist and the nail place are all good opportunities. I left a couple of paperbacks in the jury waiting room last month and I bet they were a big hit. Some of your graying babies may be unwelcome at some of these places and pitched. But most will be passed on to be read again and again.

4. How about that charity flea market that has been soliciting you for donations? Drag out an old basket, fill it up with books, add a ribbon and there you go! A great money maker.

5. Some (but not all) libraries are thrilled to get new book contributions—even paperbacks.

6. There is a movement I’ve heard about where the idea is to leave a book on a bus bench or at a table in the mall food court (or other public places) for others to read. But I worry about uncontrollable things like weather and rowdy teenagers. You might want to try it for yourself, though.


Now I have another problem. When I began to clean the books out of my house, I found a stack of books still in my To-Be-Read pile. Uh oh. I am in big trouble. Now I remembered why I wanted to read all those books in the first place. Must read instead of work!

Here are just a few of the titles I absolutely must read before reading anything else:

Murder Game by Christine Feehan
Storm Front by Jim Butcher
The Desert King’s Pregnant Bride by Annie West
Gateways by F. Paul Wilson
Manhunter by Loreth Anne White
Whisper No Lies by Cindy Gerard

Oh dear.

How about you? I’d love to know what’s in your To-Be-Read pile. Or maybe you have a better idea to share of what to do with your books once you’ve read them. We are dying to know!

Leave a comment before tomorrow morning and I’ll choose two people to receive an autographed copy of IN SAFE HANDS (or a book from my backlist if you’ve already read it)

Linda Conrad’s latest Silhouette Romantic Suspense trilogy, The Safekeepers, wrapped up in April with IN SAFE HANDS.
Don’t forget to drop by Linda’s website to find out
what’s Behind the Book for her series, and register to enter her ongoing contest to win books and gift certificates!
http://www.lindaconrad.com/



Friday, April 17, 2009

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words - Tawny Weber

Remember Glamour Shots? Back in my teens, those intriguing mall photostores that an average, every day woman could walk into and be tousled, teased and photographed into looking like a sexy cover model? I remember when they were all the rage to give a significant other a boudoir photo for special occassions. And, if I recall, photo retouching was a part of the package.

Then, photo retouching was 'rare'. Nowadays? Well, who with a computer and digital camera doesn't own a photo editing program? And have you seen the cover of a Cosmo, Glamour or Elle lately? The stars gracing those covers are so smooth and blemish free, its almost surreal. In a way, they're selling a fantasy - a really well edited one *g*

This whole photo editing phenomena inspired the plot of my May Blaze, Going Down Hard. The heroine is being stalked via photographs. The photos are obviously edited, at first very poorly (she comments at one point that the stalker can't even get her head facing the same direction as the kinkily posed body he's pasted it on to). But over the course of the story, the stalker gets more proficient with his editing, and the pictures get more nerve-wracking.

Sierra, my photoshopped heroine, ends up having to agree to a bodyguard so her company won't lose a key client. I had a lot of fun writing this story, but always in the back of my head was the whole 'would I want to be photo edited or not' question.

Oh, definitely not in the 'orgy with chocolate' way that Sierra was. But maybe in more of a magazine cover, the same but improved version of myself. I still haven't decided *g*

So I'm tossing the question to you - if you were asked to do a photo shoot. It could be for an interview, an award or to sell a product, would you want your picture altered? Or not? And why? Let me know, and I'll pick one commenter to win a copy of my May Harlequin Blaze, GOING DOWN HARD.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Emotion - Laura Drewry

I had a whole blog written last night about authors who have the incredible talent of making me feel every emotion - good or bad - that their characters feel. I think we can all have favourite authors who have the ability to pull those emotions from us, leaving us feeling elated, or devastated or furious.

It's a goal I continue to strive toward with my own writing.

However. . . as I was finishing up the post last night, someone sent me the link to this video and I immediately shelved what I'd written for another day.

This is something everyone should see. I don't usually ike to cry before my first cup of coffee, but this woman makes it all worth it. :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY

So while I'm sorry I don't have an informative blog post to share this morning, I'm not sorry to sharing this with all of you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Arabian Nights Fantasies - Annie West




One of the great joys of writing fiction is the freedom to indulge in a little fantasy when it comes to setting my stories. Most are set in real places, yet others are my own creation, often based on places I've seen or read about, or if I'm lucky, visited.

My current story is set in a fictitious desert kingdom based loosely on an amalgam of places I've visited, ones I've seen in movies and documentaries or read about. Yes, I do my research, but more, I dream. And I wanted to share just a few of the pictures I've collected that to me are evocative of the spell I want to weave in my own stories.

Since I was a young girl I had a special soft spot for fantastic stories that might have come out of the Arabian Nights. Yes, I watched Sinbad and Ali Baba and all those corny old Hollywood movies. I loved stories where swashbuckling warrior heroes braved the evil emir's court to rescue a gorgeous heroine with flashing eyes, gauzy veils and independent spirit, from a fate worse than death at the hands of the villain. I Dream of Jeannie was my favourite TV program for years - just loved Jeannie's costume and the way she could do what she wanted with a blink of her eyes. Genies in bottles? Definitely my cup of tea.

More recently I've had a chance to visit a few places that surely could inspire a middle eastern romantic fantasy or two. Just like palaces and castles elsewhere in the world, some of these heritage buildings or even modern hotels seem just the place for exotic tales of danger or desire or intrigue amidst unbelievable luxury.

I suspect the gorgeous architecture in these buildings taps into my deep romantic streak. I love the archways, the courtyards with tinkling fountains, the carved privacy screens that give a hint of intrigue (OK, so I have a vivid imagination). The mosaics, lush fabrics, gorgeous jewellery and exquisite tiles. The sense of luxury. The idea of a secluded harem! Now there's a thought to spark an interesting romance!

Are you a sucker for an Arabian Nights fantasy too? Can you relate to a heroine in a gilded cage of a palace? Do you get a kick out of stories with flashing-eyed horsemen, of rescues from the harem, fights with scimitars and a love more precious than a sultan's hoard of gold and gems?

Annie's latest book, THE DESERT KING'S PREGNANT BRIDE, is a Harlequin Presents Extra release in mid April. It's already spent weeks on the eHarlequin bestseller list. To find out more, visit Annie's website at http://www.annie-west.com . Or you can buy it at Harlequin or Amazon.

Annie will give one of her backlist books (maybe even a sheikh fantasy) to someone who posts a comment.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What to do when there's nothing to do.... - Donna Alward

I'm cheating. I'm writing this ahead of time.


There's a very good reason. And that is, I've been looking forward to April ever since we hit mid-November.


Mid-November meant OMG there's only seven weeks until Christmas. It also meant it's time to get serious about my January 10 deadline. Then it became the end of November and it all changed when I was hit with huge revisions that took three weeks. All of a sudden, Jan 10 was way too soon and I was sick with The Cold and Christmas was looming and I was so tired I could hardly see straight.


Skip forward to Jan 27. That's the day that the Jan 10 book actually made it in, which was fine as a) my editor and I had discussed the inevitability of being late due to before Christmas revision chaos and b) there was actually some room in the schedule to play with. But still, I hate being late. HATE IT. So I decided then and there that I was still going to make my next deadline, which was April 1. No matter what.


Which meant 8 weeks to write the book. Which turned into six as I had two rounds of revisions on the last book. It meant February and March were greatly a blur of writing, kids being off school for either spring break or snow days, and another round of the flu. But I made it. On April 1 that book went in to my editor, and surprise surprise it turned out to be one of my favourites to write so far.


But...


It was also the last book in my contract, and I know the next book won't be due for a while. So I'm left with nothing to do. AHHHHH BLISS!!!!!!!! The moment I hit that send button, it was like a whole world opened up!


But what do you do when there's nothing to do?


Well, you start out with doing a newsletter and updating your website. You catch up on promotion things on the go and e-mails that you've left by the wayside while you desperately tried to finish the last book. You critique and you write blog posts and preload them.


You actually do laundry and then cook your family a dinner that does not consist of chicken fingers, jarred pasta sauce or frozen pizza.



You clean your house and start the spring yard work and finish painting the risers of the stairs that you started eight months ago and left half way done. You actually consider what bulbs and shrubs you will add to the perennial bed, promising yourself that THIS YEAR you will have time to tend the garden as it should be tended.





You tackle the tbr pile or shelf and indulge in reading - something else that has fallen by the wayside in the deadline crunch.


You put in order your National Geographic, Travel and Leisure, RT and RWR magazines and dedicate an afternoon to nothing but magazine reading - all in the name of research, of course.



You walk an extra 2 miles a day with the dog because Nationals is coming up and you don't want to meet a bunch of people for the first time LOOKING LIKE THIS.


And you dust off the keyboard and get to work on that fun project you promised yourself you'd write WHEN YOU HAD TIME.


All in all, having nothing to do can sure be exhausting!






What things do you catch up on when "work" finally loosens it's chokehold? Post in the comments and I'll draw for an advance copy of my June release, Hired: The Italian's Bride!