Thursday, December 31, 2009

Avatar...

Okay I was going to blog on my list for 2010 but then I saw this movie and it simply required a post. I have a new fear in my life and I’m very concerned. I fear that I will never be able to see a movie without picking it apart to pieces.

I know writers do it all the time, but I was never one of those. When I saw a movie I turned everything off and just focused on what I was seeing, good or bad. Now afterwards if I liked it/disliked it I would always think about why that was.

I mentioned Sherlock Holmes in a prior post and I did see it and I did enjoy it. One element of the film however really bothered me and that was Irene Adler. She was awful. And I thought… okay what was wrong with her? What element made me dislike her so much? Miscasting, bad acting, bad storyline for her? In this case I’ll throw Rachel McAdams a bone and say miscasting. And I figure I can’t really blame the writers for that. It was just a poor choice by the studio. I was able to accept that and enjoy the rest of the movie.

Not so with Avatar. I was prepared to be visually amazed and I was. The effects were beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. I should have been mesmerized. I should have been dazzled. I should have lost myself in this other world…

I didn’t. Why? Because I couldn’t get beyond how one dimensional the characters were. The protagonist had “some” story. But the villains of the piece – which as far as I can tell were corporate America and GI Joe – were awful. I spent the whole time so focused on why a director would spend $300 million dollars to create this visual masterpiece and fill it with cookie cutter clich├ęs that had absolutely no serious motivation.

Corporate America guy only cares about money. GI Joe likes to kill things. Really? This is what you came up with Cameron?

You couldn’t give these villains just a hint of back story? Some deeper motivation? I wanted to stand up and scream at somebody. I wanted to stomp my feet and demand at least half my money back because all you gave me was something interesting to look at. You didn’t respect me – the audience. You didn’t even respect the craft of storytelling.

Characters 101: All characters good and bad must have motivation for their actions.

So now I worry. Is this the end? Will I never be able to sit in a dark theater and lose myself again? What about you? Can you enjoy a movie without thinking about the craft?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Zone

I whine a lot about writing. I talk about how hard it is. I talk about how difficult it is to plot a book, to come up with dialogue, to create characters. I whine. In all honesty, I whine in general, but I do whine about writing in specific pretty often.

Then I hit places like where I am today. I hit The Zone. The words are flying out of my fingertips. I know what the next scene should be before I finish the one I'm working on. I know goals, motivations and conflicts. I actually wrote in the car on the way to the Christmas Eve celebration at my boyfriend's mother's house and wrote again on the way home the next day. In the car! With kids horsing around in the back seat and my sweetie listening to that stupid dead cat song that he loves so much at Christmas time.

I don't know how to get here. I've tried a million ways to force it. I don't know how to stay here once I've gotten here. I will inevitably hit a rough patch and my production will slow and I'll get frustrated. Still, when I'm here in this Zone and I know my story and my characters and the obstacles they face . . . it's so good. I don't want to do anything, but ride the wave.

So, short post today 'cuz I'm riding it until I fall off!

Monday, December 28, 2009

My New Year's Resolutions....

I love New Year's Resolutions. Not as promises or pacts, or anything at all I need to feel guilty about when I don't achieve them - because I rarely do. But sort of as touchstones about what I've learned over the last year and what I want to learn over the coming year. I feel like I'm taking a big breath, looking at the work laid out ahead of me and prioritizing.

That and I really love lists.

Anyway - once again, I swear this will be the year I figure out what to do with a comma. And a hyphen. I am sure my misuse of these tools has not only infuriated the grammar warriors, but made me look like an idiot more times than I would care to count. This is the year. Comma here I come.

My writing time has shrunk into a little tiny speck - two hours three times a week. So it's time to open up the those hours in the evening and it's time to claim some weekend time for writing too. I need to get greedy and far more disciplined. I hate House - but I watch it, because I'm on the couch not writing. That's gotta change.

In fact I would say time management in general is going to have to be dealt with in the New Year. I'm a stay at home mom, writing books, making dinner, trying to exercise and addicted to television - surely I can make that all work. Right?

I had a conversation with my editor a few days ago (I think I'm going to blog about it later) and I've been walking around hitting myself in the head saying "stupid writer. Such a stupid writer." Because I screwed something up that I thought I'd learned. I'm relearning a really difficult lesson about plot. And I thought I had that crap figured out. But, this year I'm going to forgive myself these lessons I have to keep learning. I'm embarrassed and I feel like a freshman - but I think that happens to the best of us. Because in this really flawed book - I nailed something else. I mean I really got it right, albeit to the detriment of everything else. So, you know...one out of like thirty things ain't bad.

I'm going to join Ninc and I'm going to get to more workshops and one conference a year. And at that conference I'm actually going to talk to people instead of sitting in my room writing. Because while Drunk Writer Talk nourishes me I think I need to get out of my vacuum. I watch Maureen come back from conference with a sparkle around her, because she's talked to people that surprised her or infuriated her or challenged her in some way. I need some of that sparkle. That electric charge that comes from rubbing up against other writers - we all do.

I like that list. I feel good about it. Warm and challanged, ready to put my head down and get to work. Which is what New Year's Resolutions are all about.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day and my best and worst

Late post, because it's Christmas day and I'd be lying if I weren't a couple of glasses into the evening.

But so many great things to talk about this year, (please forgive the spelling and grammar problems.)

First for me, Books.

At the risk of sounding repetitious, Hunger Games, I am so passionate about that book. And then Catching Fire, which I loved almost as much. And I loved, Beguile a Beast, for me the best Historical romance I read this year. I too was disappointed by the Rehvenge book, far preferring Covet. I think perhaps I've gotten a little bored by the Brotherhood, but I still love her voice.

TV, for me, Mad Men was by far my number one choice, followed by Generation Kill, amazing series if you can find it. And Stephanie, your boyfriend is in it.
I love, like everyone else, Glee. It's far from perfect, but what works, works so well, I don't care about the flaws.
And, don't laugh, but Vampire Diaries. OK, get past the teen love diary crap and focus on the character of Damon and the plotting. They move their storylines quickly, and make them entertaining and make sure they reverse expectations at lot more than you would expect.

As for movies, I cannot comment, I haven't seen enough, but UP, was my hands down favourite of the few I have seen.
Crazy, those guys at Pixar..

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas Eve.... My Best/Worst 2009

See I was very sneaky about not commenting on Molly’s post earlier this week because I knew I planned to steal her idea for my post. Gee now that I think about it… sneaky, stealing… doesn’t sound very Christmassy.

Best Books:

Am I allowed to say Kinsale even though she wrote the ones I read in the 90’s? I think because I didn’t find them until 2009 that should still count. Flowers From The Storm… hello!!!! Anyone?

I am so in love with Hoyt I might have been blinded a little by Devil – but I still thought it was a solid read.

And now you’ve all ruined Hunger Games for me I’m sure because I don’t know how any book can live up to the hype… but it will be my first read for 2010.

Best TV:

Glee – I watched two re-runs I hadn’t seen earlier in the season and wow this show is good. Original, turn you on your head good. A football team dancing to Beyonce – are you kidding me?

Bones – I know this one has been around a long time. And in typical fashion the couple is moving together at the pace of an iceberg but this show is different. This season the audience knows the hero is in love with the heroine, but she doesn’t know. So we get to watch him break his heart over her while we wait to see if she is finally going to catch on. Very well done.

Best Movie:

The only one that got me into the theater this year was Harry Potter. So I’ll have to go with that.

Best Fantasy Lover:

Eric from True Blood. Brad from Generation Kill. For me the best moment in TV this season might have been Eric in the color foils chomping on a guy.

Worst Book:

New Moon. No doubt. No question. My brain still hurts from reading this book.

Worst TV:

House. This show is doing wrong everything that Bones is getting right. Granted the romance is less of a focus but if your going to dip your toe into that water, do so with some originality. I have broken up with you House.

Worst Movie:

I haven’t watched a movie that I thought WOW in long time. For me most movies are okay. Harry Potter might have been WOW except for one ridiculous scene in the middle of the movie that wasn’t even in the book. How do you edit down a 700 page book and then decide to add a scene that wasn’t there and as far as I cant tell does nothing to move the plot forward?

So for me I’m lumping movies in general into this category. Step up your game Hollywood. I’m waiting.

And Sherlock Holmes… please don’t disappoint me.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Show. Don't Tell.

Anybody who writes has heard that one. Don't tell us your character is sad. Show us she's sad. Have the tears sting her eyes. Make her feel like there's a rock in her chest. Let her stomach twist in knots or have her lie in bed and refuse to get up.

I've been thinking about it a lot because the book I'm writing right now is in first person. It's pretty easy to get my heroine's feelings, thoughts, emotions, goals, motivations and everything else across because we are in her head all the time.

It's a little trickier with the other characters. They really have to show all that stuff because I'm never ever in their point of view.

I get a lot of inspiration from every day life and had a doozy of an example fall in my lap this weekend while I was on a bike ride with two friends. We'll call them Deb and Ellen because, well, those are their names.

I was a little ahead of Deb and Ellen as we turned from Putah Creek Road onto Stevenson's Bridge Road (you can totally google that, by the way). There was a car coming toward us, but we had plenty of time so I didn't worry about it.

Then I heard a blood-curdling scream from behind me. I whipped my bike around (I call her Bianca, by the way, because she's so pretty and special) half expecting to see that someone had wiped out in front of the car or that the car had swerved and hit one of them or some other horrid thing. Instead, there's a half-dead squirrel doing a horrible twitching flipping flopping death dance in the middle of the road.

Turns out, Ellen and Deb were riding along and the squirrel was just in front of them hopping along. Ellen had just something to Deb about how cute the squirrel was when the squirrel dashed out in front of the car and WHAM! got hit. (You can snort a little at that part. It's hard not to. It's like some sort of bad sit-com moment.)

So Ellen is almost falling off her bike and tears are rolling down her face. I'm trying to get her to not look at the squirrel's death dance and am hoping that another car comes along and finishes the poor thing off. Meanwhile, Deb hops off her bicycle and goes in search of "a big rock to put the poor thing out of it's misery." (You have to imagine that in a New Zealand accent, by the way, cuz Deb's a kiwi.)

So my point here? Besides the fact that squirrels really should learn to stop, look and listen before crossing the road?

Both women's reactions really showed me something. Both were equally compassionate. Both felt terrible for the little squirrel. Ellen (who is one of the sweetest, most empathetic people you'd ever want to meet) was devastated and could hardly move. Deb (who is one of the most capable and pragmatic people you'd ever want to meet) was prepared to do what had to be done.

Me? As usual, I was the observer. I'm not sure I want to think too much about what that says about me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Best and Worst of 2009

I love these lists but the problem with ME doing one is 1) I can never remember if something I loved or hated was this year or ten years ago and 2) I can never totally remember what I loved and hated and 3) these lists are always best compiled at a bar over many drinks. But since the drunk writers are flung to the far corners - this will have to suffice. But it sure would be fun to see all of you at a bar...

Anywho - my best books of 2009

By far and without compare - Hunger Games. Best thing I read in probably the last few years.
Followed by my Russian War period: City of Thieves and The People's Republic of Love. Both excellent. Truly truly excellent.
Not Quite a Husband was brilliant.
The Shadow Of The Wind - an amazing, scary Gothic little gem that I can't get out of my head.

After that things get messy. I loved Covet and I really really enjoyed Catching Fire. I liked Meredith Duran's next two books (I had some problems with them, like Steph - but that is for another post). To Beguile a Beast was good - not top five, but good. I really enjoyed the Victoria Dahl books that I read this year - Talk Me Down and Start Me Up. I read some fantastic Category romance this year - She's Got It Bad, Hot Under Pressure, and Debra Salonen's fabulous Finding Their Son.

As far as disappointments - I was a little down on Ward's Rehvenge book. Good - but not a stand out in the series. I think as she slips from romance into Urban fantasy - I'll stay a great fan, but I won't be obsessively re-reading those books, which honestly makes me sad.

The last of the Hoyt series really disappointed me. It just fizzled a little. Beguile A Beast was a tough act to follow.

Best TV-
Mad Men and Glee - two shows on the opposite ends of the spectrum, but they got me every time. 30 Rock - the episode when they tapped the opening credits to Liz's talk show? Did you see that? Laughed so hard I pulled something. Honestly, funniest thing on television I have ever seen.

Generation Kill. For the writing. For the performances. For Stephanie's boyfriend.

Disappointing TV. Dexter. Oh, Dexter. How they ruined you. Californication. Oh, Frank Moody. How they ruined you.

Movies....what's a movie again? Does it involve animated elephants and talking dogs?
I did manage to see a few things - Away We Go totally destroyed me in it's simple perfect brilliance. Same with Sunshine Cleaning.

Disappointing - we had one night out to see a movie and husband and I love the Coen Brothers so off we go to see A Serious Man. Oy. Brilliant performances, excellent characters, dialogue that's sharp like razor wire. But, what a downer. Honestly.

All right - let's hear yours....

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Christmas list

Gah, I have not finished Christmas shopping and as always, will be heading to the malls at the last freakin' moment. Me and the rest of the terminally insane people out there, all fighting for a parking spot within walking distance of the front doors.

But as I come up with gift ideas for my family, I’ve been thinking of ideas of books I want to read in the coming year. I’ve read everything in my house and I’ve hit a reading slump, so I need something new.

I would love to read a fantasy romance series. Something grand and sweeping, fast paced, set in another world.

More historicals that engage my emotions. Like those great Judith McNaught historicals that first got me reading romance.

Another SEP that matches the brilliance of Ain’t She Sweet. That book has been on my mind a lot lately. Or Dream a little Dream.

A series that gripped me the same way that the Anita Blake series did for the first eleven books. I still believe she started the urban fantasy explosion and rightly so. Those books set the benchmark for pacing in that genre.

The next book in the hunger games trilogy. Any other amazing YA’s I can get my hands on. I think 2010 will be me glomming all I can find in YA.

I’m chomping at the bit to read Maureen’s updated take on Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, to see what Molly does with her next series, to read Eileen’s Chinese Vampires and I would seriously love to read Stephanie’s Salem historical, because it sounds amazing and we need some new and different historicals.

But really I’m hoping to get my hands on many books that surprise me, take me places I wasn’t expecting, and make me wonder, how did they do that?

And, watch more Hugh Jackman movies.. for obvious reasons.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Deadlines...

Drunk Writer Maureen made a comment in one of her messages the other day regarding her deadline and how she was afraid she wasn’t going to make it. Maureen all I can say is I sympathize. I have been there more times than I can count and it got me thinking about how deadlines hurt and also help.

How they hurt is easy. They bring with them intense pressure, the fear of what might happen if you fail to meet them and guilt if you’re doing something else in life other than working on your book.

I always start strong, then I linger, then at some point I realize the deadline is closer than I thought it was and I curse profusely before kicking it into high gear.

For my last WIP I was getting up every morning at 5:00 am (and believe me when I tell you I am not a 5:00 am girl. I’m more like a 10:30 am girl) to work on my manuscript before going to my day job. I was stressed to the max about the story. Completely stressed about meeting the deadline. And that stress was followed by my typical panic when I put all the chapters together, totaled the word count and realized I was 8,000 words short. I do this every time always forgetting that once I put the book together and start editing that I always expand in enough areas to make up the shortage.

Not fun.

But here is the flipside. I was getting up every morning at 5:00 am. I was producing anywhere from 5 to 8 pages a day. I was completely in a grove where the story was flowing as fast from my fingers as I could make it go. And I thought… if I could do this every day, and not just when I’m stressing to meet a deadline, I could write maybe two more books a year. Deadlines push and prod you to move the story forward. Deadlines do not allow for “writer’s block”. Deadlines make me go.

So love them, hate them. I do both. And know Maureen that you will make it. You think you won’t… but you will. It’s just how it always works out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Predictable elements vs iconic touchstones

I'm working on an adaptation of a fairy tale right now, and let's just say I'm struggling through my revision process. Brain bleeding daily.

Even the simplest things like whether the stepmother should be dressed in black, or whether magic wands emit sparks, give me pause.

On the one hand, in the western world, anyway, symbols like black clothing have been used by writers and costume designers for centuries. It immediately sends the signal to the reader: this person is bad. But it makes me think, "this writer--ME--is lazy". And it's not like I don't show this woman being pretty hideously evil -- constantly. Damn. She should be dressed in pink, shouldn't she... Damn.

Same thing with the magic elements in this book... I seem to be using a lot of sparks and balls of fire and bolts of lightning. Heck, even the fact that there are magic wands in my magical world, as opposed to something else, (magic rings? magic bracelets?), makes me feel lazy.

Have I just hit that point where everything about my book feels trite and derivative?

Do you make use of iconic symbols as shorthand in your stories?

Feeling befuddled and bewildered and questioning everything, today....

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Investing

I'm not here to talk about my 401K and not just because it's totally pathetic. Seriously, I'll be lucky if I get to eat the expensive cat food when I retire. Nope. I want to talk about getting people to invest in your book, not just with their money and their time, but also with their hearts.

I got a great e-mail the other day. It was from a reader who was worried about one of the characters in my last book. Granted, I wished I'd explained how things ended up a little better in the book so she wouldn't have been upset in the first place, but she wrote me an e-mail because she WAS WORRIED ABOUT A FICTIONAL PERSON I MADE UP!! So regardless of the fact that I maybe left a little loose end, I felt like just about the most successful author on the planet.

Yesterday, Sarah Mayberry talked about how she starts a book. Where did she start? With character. The last time I read a book and sat there with tears rolling down my face at the end of it, it was because I was invested in the character. Oh, sure, the plot was great and meticulously researched and the setting was beautifully wrought and the dialogue was good. Still, it was the character that the author made me love and made my heart break along with hers.

How do we do this? I have no clue. I guess I lucked out a little last time. I know I like my characters flawed, but they still have to be redeemable. It's a tricky line to balance on. I know Molly knows how to walk that tightrope pretty darn well.

What do you need in a character to connect with them?


Monday, December 14, 2009

Sarah Mayberry Floats Floats My Boat...

I've been thinking about something Eileen said about how a high tide floats all the boats and I am on a quest to find those category authors who create such a high tide. Great category books can be hard to find and I feel like every person who has given up on category, or read one that they hated and now don't pick any up - have been cheated of a great read.

I believe great category romances are the reasons why romance lovers love romance. It's conflict and chemistry - in a bite sized package. And there are authors out there who are as good and better than the pioneers of the genre. We met Kathleen O'Reilly some time ago - she rises the tide for all of us. And now - meet Sarah Mayberry - she writes for Blaze and Superromance. She's a story editor for Australian soap operas. She loves shoes and booze. And she writes wicked good romance. Her Christmas Super: HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS is both sexy and tear jerking and I can't wait to get my hands on her Jan. Blaze HER SECRET FLING .

How do you approach a story? Characters first? Situation? As a person who loves your heroines and the successful flip you manage to make between what’s considered feminine and masculine (and am amazed at how gritty and real you make them) how do you approach your characters?

Every book comes from a different place. Sometimes I have a sort of "flavor" in my mouth for the kind of story I want to tell, sometimes I have a situation or character. My next Super - Her Best Friend - was inspired by my friend telling me how she and her husband got together. The Super I'm about to write was inspired by an ad in a local magazine seeking sperm donors for a single woman in her late thirties... Once I have those story seeds, though, I start thinking about characters who will be pushed to change the most by this sort of situation/story. Often I have a clearer idea of one character more than the other, so once I feel I have a grip on that one character, be it the heroine or hero, and have worked out what their weaknesses/fears and backstory are, I then think about the partner who will challenge/excite that fear the most. For example, a commitaphobe who falls for a woman who is determined to have a baby in the next year. That kind of thing. Very basic, on some levels, but by the time I've thought about what they both want and why they are that way, the story starts to unfold for me. I spend quite a bit of time with my characters before I start writing, I guess, but things still come to me during the book and I often go back and adjust or add elements during my revisions.

In regard to flipping characters and playing with the masculine/feminine, this is not something I necessarily set out to do on a conscious level. I have always been one of those women who carries her own suitcase and changes her own car tire, so I tend to make my heroines responsible and capable in this way. I also think that men - real men - are far more uncertain, gentle and nurturing than we often give them credit for. I did a weekend workshop with an LA story consultant when I was last working in-house on a TV show in Australia and she helped crystalise something for me when she talked about Tony Soprano. Now, by rights, Tony Soprano is a very bad guy. He's a murderer, he's violent, he's very animalistic. Yet he's also the reason people watched The Sopranos, and many, many people love him. Why? I believe it's because we see his vulnerabilities - his fear and anxiety, his confusion, his great love for his kids, his concern about managing the men beneath him, his conflicted love for his wife, his brutal upbringing. People do crappy things all the time in life, but almost all the time they have a reason for it. As a reader, I am prepared to forgive much if I understand why and can empathise with that why. So even though I sometimes write difficult/scratchy/selfish heroes and heroines, they always have their reasons, and I always try to show that sometimes what they say is not necessarily who they are or how they feel privately. Vulnerability is the key.


Are there things you’ve tried in your books – envelopes you’ve pushed that an editor has pushed back on?

I can honestly say I have never had my ed clip my wings. She's never said "too unlikeable" or "too slutty" or "too damaged" or anything like that. I write very, very detailed outlines - they're usually about 6 - 8 pages, single spaced, and I break them down into chapters so that when I sit down to write, I have a road map. I think because of my TV story lining background, I tend to like to get things sorted before I write. I try to anticipate problems and really dig in. That said, sometimes a story or plot point looks and feels strong in outline but when I get into the nitty-gritty honesty of the moment in the book it feels all wrong. Then I have to sit down and think my way out of the hole. Not much fun, but I haven't not found a way out yet! So I think because I usually show in my outline where the story is going and what's behind my characters' actions, she trusts that I will pull it off.

How do you find the jump from Blaze to Supers? What do you like about writing each?

Blaze books are a lot of fun. Blaze heroines are honest about their sexual desire and are very bold and modern. There's something very liberating about having a heroine who is so up front and honest - real life is often far more complicated. There are certain demands for the Blaze line that are different for Supers - Blaze readers are looking for a sexy situation, there needs to be ample opportunity for physical intimacy, and in some ways the romance is a little backward - sex first, then emotional intimacy. Unless it's a friends to lovers book, of course! In a more traditional romance, there is attraction and then emotional intimacy as the hero and heroine draw closer to each other and sex is the natural conclusion to all the two-stepping and back and forth. So doing it the other way around can be a challenge - and really forces you to dig into the psychology of your characters to find reasons why they would be happy to be physically but not emotionally intimate with each other. Supers, by their very nature, offer a much broader pallet. They tend to be more realistic in tone in that pregnancies, family conflicts, personal crises, pets, siblings, careers - all the mess of real life - are very much a part of the picture. In Blaze, it's about the heat, and I think Supers are more about the romance, if that makes sense. I like writing both, for different reasons. As I said above, Blazes are fun, and I get to be outrageous in my head in ways that I would never be outrageous in real life. Supers are more complex and having that broader pallet to explore after having written a dozen or so Blazes is both challenging and stimulating.

Please tell us that your life as a successful soap writer is as exciting as we all want to believe it is? How did the job come to you? Were you writing romance first?

I have always written romance - I think I tried to write my first romance when I graduated from my writing degree at 22. It was terrible, however, and I'm very glad a copy does not still exist. I got my chance to put my hand up for a job in TV through nepotism, of sorts. My partner did the same degree as myself - although we never met once on campus, believe it or not - and he scored a job working on a TV show not long after graduating. He has since gone on to work on many shows all over the world. One thing you should know is that a soap opera chews up an enormous amount of story - it's a greedy, insatiable story gobbler. The soaps we have here in Australia are quite different from the daytime soaps in the US that tend to drag stories out for months on end. It's kind of the opposite down here - we burn through story at a great rate of knots. Anyway, while my man was working on these shows I was sitting on the sidelines, working as a journalist, chipping in with story ideas and suggestions whenever I could. He kept telling me I was good with story and should try out for a job but I didn't want to work with him - that seemed like a fast-track to divorce-ville to me. The time came when they were looking for a new storyliner, and he was ready to leave in-house work. I took two weeks off work and came and sat on the story table for two weeks for free, a sort of informal work experience. I loved it and seemed to click with everyone and was offered the job after a few days.

As for it being exciting... Being a storyliner is enormous fun. There aren't many writing jobs where you get to sit in a room with a bunch of other like-minded souls and plot out loud and talk about character and emotion and act out scenes and argue over motivation or reactions etc, etc. Usually these arguments happen in our heads in our lonely writerly offices, right? So there's enormous energy and lots of crude, silly, pointless jokes flying around. The flip side of all that it that it can be absolutely exhausting - coming up with over 100+ dramatic, interesting, moving, funny scenes per week to fill 5 x 1/2 hour episodes is a daunting task. Doing that 48 weeks a year is even more daunting. At this time of year - just before Christmas - everyone is feeling burnt out and exhausted and drained, let me tell you! But at the end of the day, both myself and my man agree that storylining on a soap is one of the best jobs we've ever had. We've both been story editors, too - which means we've been in charge of the story room and all those unruly, poo-joke-telling storyliners, and that is a far more exhausting, challenging, pressured job. Personally, I enjoy it, but I can't do it for huge stints at a time. And there's definitely no energy left at the end of the day to write a book. At the present, and pretty much ever since I've been published, I write scripts on a freelance basis - that is, every four weeks or so I get a script to write. It arrives in my inbox, I read the outline, have a chat to a script editor, then I get two weeks to write the script and hand it in. All done by remote control, really, and not particularly exciting or glamorous.

What’s next for you?

I've written a single title book called Before and After that I'm shopping around at the moment. It's just finaled in a competition down here in Australia and is in front of a couple of publishers. It's a bit of a departure for me - first person, chick lit. It's about a 30 year old woman working as a storyliner on a soap opera and her realisation that somehow, while she wasn't looking, she's put on a lot of weight. ( I know what you're thinking - where did she get that idea?! ) The book is my attempt to be honest about how it feels to be big and how hard it is to lose weight and all the unrealistic expectations we pin on the idea of "when I am skinny". I had a lot of fun writing it and I hope it finds a home.

I'm also in the throes of plotting a romantic-comedy screenplay with my partner. I've done some story consulting work with a production company this year, working with a couple of just-starting-out writers who have crafted a really lovely and funny romantic comedy and talking with them and thinking about the rom-com form has got my juices flowing. So, we shall see.

And I always have other Harlequin ideas burbling away in the back of my brain...

I’m on a hunt for top shelf category writers/books – what are some of your top shelf writers in the Harlequin/Silhouette world?

This is such a tough question. I tend to read outside the genre to refill my word well, as Stephen King calls it. But I do try to pick up series books when something catches my eye or I read something good on review sites. I just finished Ellen Hartman's Super, His Secret Past and loved it, so I'm keen to read more of her books. I have also recently enjoyed Karina Bliss's Super, Mr Unforgettable. Anything by Joan Kilby, who is also a Super writer. I love your books, Molly, and have been recommending you on other blogs! I'm also partial to Carol Marinelli, who writes wonderful Medicals, which I don't think are generally available in the US, as well as Presents. And Susan Napier also rocks a good Presents. I'm sure I'm leaving many of my favorites out. It's hard to think when my bookshelf is all packed away in boxes (we're moving house) and I have nothing to consult.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pacing - almost as hard to define as voice

I used to judge a lot of contests. For me, and this I know is coloured by my own preferences, the biggest issue I would find with most entries was pacing.

So many entries spent pages describing scenery, detailed out the daily activities of characters, had pages and pages of zippy conversations with best friends, none of which moved the story forward in any way.

I think, along with depth of characterization, it really separates the beginners from the seasoned pro’s.

For me, pacing is all about discipline. The discipline to understand what is really important to the POV character, and the discipline to remove anything that isn’t. For a long time, I associated fast pacing with suspense and adventure stories, because there, the external plot carries everything along, and the pacing is easy to figure out.

But read Susan Elizabeth Phillips, or Elizabeth Hoyt - stories where the suspense plot is minor, or non-existent, and notice how quickly those stories zip along. There’s no accident to this, even though those authors make it seem effortless. Any scene that doesn’t move the plot forward, and reveal character, or backstory(preferably all three) does not belong in the book.

I know it’s the standard we hold ourselves to in my critique group, and trust me, it’s a frustrating critique to hear about our beautifully crafted scene, that sadly, does not move the story forward.

And anyone who wants to take a master class in pacing, please read the Hunger Games. That book is now my gold standard in creating a fast paced read.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I don't like ho-hum sex...

Do I have your attention? People are starting to read this blog thinking where is she going with this one. But of course this is a writing blog not an article for Playboy so when I refer to ho-hum sex it’s in my romance novels.
Now let me be very clear, this is not to say that I only read books with extreme sexual content. I’m actually not much of an erotica fan unless I trust the author who is writing it. To me there is just nothing worse than bad erotica.

What I mean by ho-hum sex is that scene that feels like it was just put in there for the sake of being put in there. We know they have to have sex. It’s expected, but you can tell when reading it that the author just doesn’t put a whole lot into it. It’s more about blocking and steps. Step one: clothes off. Step two: petting. Move to the right, hit the bed, turn over. Step three… you get the idea.

Now I love my steamy reads. I think Elizabeth Hoyt has mastered the art of what I consider to be good sex. It’s always a little different. It feels authentic. And it’s hot. Kresley Cole is another author who I think succeeds with this. She tends to push some boundaries, which is fine as long as it’s true to the story. Pushing boundaries just for the heck of it doesn’t work for me either.

But there are also authors who create the most intense scenes with very little description. One of my all time favorite sex scenes is by Laurie R King who writes the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes books. In A Monstrous Regiment of Women, Russell and Holmes marry and consummate the relationship. The scene however is overlaid with the first kiss. Interspersed between dialogue we get just a hint of that scene behind the bedroom door and it was intense and very heated with nothing more than a few written lines. Nothing ho-hum about that.

As a writer I always try to remember that. It’s not the words, the positions, or crossing some taboo lines. It’s about the characters and why we as readers want to be a part of that very intimate moment between them. Someone once asked me if I just cut and paste the sex scenes from one book to the next. (A man who doesn’t read my books who got a very nasty glare from me after such a comment.) But I hope that if I ever attempted such a thing that it would be very obvious. The scene from one story should simply not fit with the couple in the second story. If I’ve done my job anyway.

Talk to me, do you like it as RT rates it these days…. Mild, Hot or Scorching?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Release Day Party! Free book! Twenty Authors!


Yesterday was the official release day for the anthology my short story, "Lost and Found" is in, THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF TIME TRAVEL ROMANCE.

I'm a little in love with this cover--okay, the model on the cover--even if they did spell my name "Many More". (My apologies to the great Michelle Rowen, aka Michelle Maddox, who's also in this anthology, for stealing that joke. At least she got her name as part of the back cover blurb. ;-)

Covers are something we authors have zero to little input on, (in this case zero), so it's nice when it turns out to be not-so-hideous. :-) While it's what's between the covers that pleases readers and builds word of mouth, the cover is probably the next single biggest thing that can impact sales, and so I bow down to the cover artist who picked this hot guy.

But back to the party. While this isn't a novel, it is the first time any fiction of mine has been in print, (unless you count a few stories and poems in school yearbooks, or that 5000 word excerpt that was up on Amazon for the better part of a year in a contest), and I must say, it's a nice feeling. Especially since I recently did get contracts for what will be my first two novels in print. Read about that, here. As an update to that post, my publisher (I have a publisher...squee) has a new website. Turns out my books will be part of the launch of a new imprint, Pickwick Press.

Neither of these "first deals" came about in a normal first deal kind of way, and I will blog about that at some point, but for now, let's just party! Someone pass the bubbly.

I'd love to give away a copy of the anthology to a commenter. If you comment by Friday at midnight, I'll choose a random winner on Saturday. If you want to hedge your bet, you can order the book from Amazon, or Indigo or anywhere books are sold. It makes a nice gift. Just saying...

If you could travel through time, when would you go?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Stepping Up to the Plate

I'm here to talk Twilight again. Yes, I'm aware of how unwise it is and how what I say right now might make me a little bit unpopular. Let me explain why I'm willing to plunge into the mess I'm about to create.

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a class being taught at the University of California-Davis about Twilight. Yep. An actual class about Twilight. The woman who teaches the class, the lovely and gracious Amy Clarke, happens to be a fellow soccer mom. After we had a spirited chat (fine, it was a hissing spitting rant on my part) on a soccer sideline about Twilight one Saturday, she invited me to stop by her class to hear some presentations and perhaps add my own (horrified and horrible) perspective.

I heard two presentations; one on the history of werewolf and vampire depiction in film and one titled "Edward: The Perfect Man." Yep. The guy I think is an abusive boyfriend (and BTW, I'm not alone on this one, click here for a very interesting discussion of same) was being held up as the perfect man by three completely darling and impressionable young college students.

I was so relieved when their presentation wasn't about how they personally saw Edward as the Perfect Man, but was instead an interesting discussion of how he fits the mold of so many heros in so many books and movies and television shows. They had a little check list that included the hero hating the heroine at first and then loving her, that she was the only one to whom he revealed his emotions, that he was often difficult and arrogant and unpleasant to the heroine and it was up to the heroine to "fix" him. They compared Edward to Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff and even dudes in Korean television shows, all of whom display these same characteristics that also make them abusive jerks that you would never want your sister/daughter/friend to date.

After comparing Edward to a lot of very specific characters, they then put up a montage of romance novel covers and said he pretty much was the same as the heros in all those books. I was horrified. Especially when I realized that the kids were kind of right.

We all do this. We need a reason for our hero and heroine not to jump into bed together by page 10 (depending on what we're writing) so we make him mean or dismissive. We need them to get past the conflict so we make them The One for each other so she's the only one who can heal his wounds with her good, pure love and if she doesn't, it's somehow her fault. We trap her in a relationship that might well suffocate her at best and choke the life out of her at worst.

Let's make a stand here. Let's not make our heros abusive jerks. A guy can be an Alpha male and not physically subdue our heroine when she disagrees with him or belittle her or make her responsible for his emotional well-being. Let's not perpetuate a myth that endangers women.

I know what we write is fiction and isn't supposed to be reality. It does, however, embody our world views. Let's espouse one that is healthy for our sisters and daughters and friends and, yes, our selves.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Some Thoughts on Voice...And some WINNERS!

I feel like voice is something we're never going to agree on. What you think is voice, I think is theme and what I think is voice, you think is crap. However I love to talk about it. I love to get drunk and get misty eyed about it. I love to get drunk.


The last few weeks (nine days spent with my kids and my parents - have I mentioned how I feel about booze?) I've heard a couple of things about voice that I just loved. Don't totally understand what the speakers were talking about when they talked about voice - but that's the subject matter for you.

The first was Jon Favreau on the fabulous show Iconoclasts - two famous people from very different mediums get together and talk. In this case it was Jon and Tony Hawk. It was great. Anyway, Jon was saying about Swingers vs Iron Man (two totally fabulously entertaining movies) that he's not the same writer he was with Swingers. His voice isn't raw or insightful - now, he needs all the golf clubs to tell his story. He needs some effects and some money. He needs Robert Downey Jr. because he can't keep hammering the 20 something angst.

I love that. Our voices grow up with us and change and we should probably embrace it just so we can keep telling great stories, rather than become a shadow of ourselves.

Second thing - Jason Reitman talking about his storytelling style vs. his father's. I'm totally paraphrasing: Ivan Reitman wants to take your favorite story and tell it better than you've ever heard it. He wants to ruin you for other versions of that story. Jason wants to take the worst story you've ever heard and tell it so well you can't help but love it.


See, awesome. But is that even voice? What is that? Style? Don't know.

On to our winners!

J.K. Coi - I need you to email me because you are a winner from a previous contest and I am a lazy lazy blogger so email me at molly @ molly - okeefe .com no spaces! with your address and I will send you a bunch of fabulous things.


Winners of a couple of Molly O'Keefe classics - and I do mean classics - are:

Gale Laure

Karen Whiddon

Becca J. Heath

please email me with your addresses and I'll send out some holiday cheer - thanks so much for your comments.


Friday, December 04, 2009

What I love about the Holidays

I’ve been really grinchy in the comments section this week. It’s a combination of lack of sleep, time and restricting myself to one cup of coffee a day. A bad plan if ever there was one.

But really, I love Christmas, always have, even the year when I was sixteen and a typical sullen teenager who spent all day in my room reading Pride and Prejudice, refusing to do anything with my family, or the year I ate so much chocolate that I spent a large portion of Christmas night throwing it all back up. (seriously, it’s a wonder my parents didn’t kill me)

It’s not the gifts I love, although sometimes that part can be really nice. It’s a combination of a whole bunch of little things.

So here is my list in no particular order.

1) Candy canes. Can’t get enough of them, am eating one now as I type this and probably will have at least one a day from now until the end of Jan.
2) The home made apple pies my mother always makes. Because who doesn’t think their mother’s pie is the best in the world? And she usually makes a few, because my father will eat a whole one all by himself, and then it just gets competitive for the rest of us. So Christmas day lunch is always at least a couple of slices of home made apple pie.
3) That my husband’s family celebrates on Christmas Eve and my family celebrates Christmas day, so each side gets to keep their tradition, and we get two Christmases every year.
4) Advent calendars. Because my girls are so excited that they each have one and get to open a new door every night. A small piece of chocolate has never given as much joy as they get from their calendar chocolate.
5) Boxing day porridge. Because we usually stay at the folks place on Christmas night and in the morning my Dad makes his slow stirred porridge that sticks to your bones and is so good.
6) Playing trivial pursuit on Christmas night. It’s always girls against the boys and so far, we’ve traded wins each year.
7) Following that up with a movie my mother will heartily disapprove of. So nothing in the Christmas spirit and usually something sci fi, or thriller ish..

Ok, so as I type this, I’m now looking forward to Christmas. Now I should think about putting up my Christmas tree. Now I have to go order Molly's Christmas Anthology and Maureen's time travel anthology. I was thrilled to find both available through a major Canadian chain(Chapters), and free shipping. Seriously, how much better can it get?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Gift Giving...

I have already expressed in comments how I feel about the holidays. Definitely not the fun for me that it used to be. Reading Maureen’s post yesterday brought it all back too. The thing is I think I was truly spoiled as a child. I’m the youngest of six so for me the holidays were about everyone coming home, getting together, laughing, playing. Not to mention I also got tons of gifts. Packages from Santa and my brothers and sisters. My birthday is the 19th of December so in addition to all the Christmas fun, I got all the birthday fun too. I never had a problem with it being close to Christmas.

For me December was like my own special month filled with good times.

Now December is about getting older and stringing lights off the deck on my condo. There is a reason women marry… I’m convinced it’s to have a husband to string the Christmas lights. And the other tough part about the holidays: gift giving.

I have to confess - I am a sucky gift giver. I never know what to give. I hate giving gift cards because they’re too easy but I do it anyway. All my nieces and nephews are teenagers so they just get (and just want) cash. No fun in even thinking about ideas there.

Each year my one sister manages to find the perfect gift and each year I strive to match it… and fail.

Last year I gave my assistant at the office a gift card to Dunkin Donuts and Petco. She likes coffee. She has dogs. I thought this would be good. She gave me the most beautifully illustrated book on Jane Austen you’ve ever seen. Copies of personal letters from Jane, copies of original manuscript pages… I wanted to cry.

So I’m taking this opportunity to use this blog for personal gain. HELP ME. I need good gift ideas. I need clever, thoughtful ideas I can steal…(cough, cough)… borrow so that I won’t be the sucky gift giver again this year.

The one gift I’ve already bought for myself… naturally a good book. Molly, I can’t wait to read The Night Before Christmas anthology. I plan to save it as my reward… for hanging up those darn lights!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Holiday fun

I could really identify with Merry, the heroine in Molly's fabulous Christmas story in the anthology THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS with Brenda Novak and Day Leclaire. At the start of the story she's less than merry about the upcoming holiday, in fact in the opening lines she describes herself as being attacked by Christmas as she gets choked by a drooping garland and tackled by a blow up santa. Hilarious, but also shows the character's irritation. An irritation that's really not about Christmas, but about something else all together.

And that's the way it is for me, too. Although not the same reasons as Molly's heroine. For me it's all about dealing with change, coping with the realization that the holiday will never again be like the Christmases I remember. Not like the awesome magical holidays I had as a child, with tons of white fluffy snow in Montreal and Winnipeg. Not like the crazy-fun Boxing Day gatherings with my cousins when we were teenagers in Toronto -- there were 10 of us all fairly close in age. (Yes, Spoons and Pounce and broken fingers were involved.) But I think the Christmases I'll miss most were the ones where my siblings and I were young adults, but all still single, and it was just the four of us and our folks, and maybe a few aunties, getting drunk and paying games. One year we invented a game called The Grand Toss. I can't remember all the details except it involved both throwing darts, retrieving objects from the bottom of the pool and a lot of drinking. My brother (who just turned 40), was likely underage at the time... His big sisters were so corrupting.

And don't even get me started about the "guess that water animal" game we played one year. I think you had to be there to fully appreciate it. But let's just say one of my (slim) sisters was very upset when we all guessed walrus at her baby seal imitation.

Now there's another generation below us in the family, and when our generation has more than a couple drinks we just want to sleep. And this year will be the first since my parents moved out of the house they were in for nearly 35 years and the site of the crazy invented games.

But I'm sure we'll find some new traditions to carry us through, even if they're slightly tamer and involve more naps.

How about you? Are the holidays getting better all the time, or starting to fade?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Grinch no more

Let me be perfectly clear. I am a Holiday Hater. Generally, some time in the fall (it gets earlier and earlier every year) I see the first Christmas decoration go up or the first ad for Christmas shopping and I suddenly feel like there's a stone weight in my chest. It dissipates some time in early January (for us the holiday season doesn't really end until my boyfriend's mother's birthday). But for months, I'm unhappy and tense and I make my boyfriend tiptoe around me and my children shift away from me on the couch whenever a Christmas ad comes on TV (which is a lot) with just the tension that is vibrating off me in nearly palpable waves. Plus don't get me started on all the weight gain . . .

I have tried and tried to get some holiday spirit, to find something in the season that didn't make me grit my teeth and growl. There was the year that I played nothing but Christmas songs in my car from Thanksgiving to Christmas because I love to sing and a lot of those songs are fun.

Didn't work. It just made my children start to cry every time they heard Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and gave me serious ear worms all day.

There were the years that I decorated the house inside and out because having grown up Jewish, we didn't do that and I always thought people's Christmas trees were beautiful.

Didn't work. It just made me trip over stuff in my already over-crowded house and gave me bad dreams about the Christmas tree bursting into flames in the middle of the night.

There was the year I thought I'd get in touch with the Christmas spirit by hand-making all the gifts.

Didn't work. It just meant late nights trying to get everything done and who really wants hand-made gifts anyway?

Suddenly, however, this year, I'm not feeling so Grinchy. I don't know what it is, but I've already decided not to spend hours stressing trying to get the perfect gift for each person. I'll do my best and if it's not good enough, well, it'll still have to do. I can sing a few Christmas carols, but it doesn't have to be constant. I can have a piece of fudge, but I don't have to bury my face in the dish and eat the whole thing.

It's early yet. My serenity could be stripped away from me. It happens. But at least the rock hasn't formed in my chest yet. I like the sound of Molly's Christmas story (what a surprise, since I think she's a fabulous writer and a terrific human being) and the idea of reading about someone who has a love/hate relationship with holiday traditions.

Happy Holiday to all of you. Congratulations to whichever one of you commenters wins a copy of Molly's fabulous book. And if any of you have any hints on how to maintain my serenity through the next few weeks, please let me know!
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