Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ode to Jane Eyre...

So the new movie is out and of course I had to see it immediately. I have seen every variation and hope they continue to produce them throughout my life. I count Jane Eyre as one of my all time favorite female characters in fiction. When a new version comes out I always love to see how they’ll interpret the story, what lines of dialogue they’ll use, etc. In this one they used the … “as if there was a string tied to my rib…” My favorite.

This I thought was a very good version. Jane for me was very convincing. But what I liked about this version is they started the movie with her leaving Rochester. So we see her trek through the moors, her suffering until she finally arrives at the Rivers door. Then we see her life essentially being told through back story. Sort of cliché I know, but done with great affect here because I really got to see how the events of her childhood formed who she was.

In the book, she suffers, she suffers, her bff dies, she suffers some more and finally there is happiness, until there is more suffering. Bronte did not give her girl a break. Talk about throwing her in the dumpster!

But looking at it retrospectively I was able to really see how each event in her life brought her to the place she was. I remember reading the book - which I didn’t do until I was 22 – and screaming at Jane to stay with Rochester. What is the BIG deal? Go to Paris. Pretend you’re married. Who will know?

As she says… she’ll know. And it’s the iron core belief in herself that makes this heroine so compelling. She is plain, little and poor. She has ugly dresses and she’s always wearing her hair in that awful knot. Yet Rochester loves her and every single time I believe it. This movie really helped to showcase her developement into the woman.

Jane Eyre might be the very first Bombshell. She is tough, resilient, strong, witty and she loves. She loves completely and with her whole heart.

Great great character. I think I’ve been aspiring to write someone as amazing as her my entire writing live.

What about you? Who is your favorite heroine? Favorite hero?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I held my books...

My actual books. Held them.

That's all I really want to say. :)

Okay, and that I NEVER could have finished any books, but particularly not these two books, without my good friends Molly and Sinead.

For those of you who've been following this blog for over a year, you'll know that last winter I was, um, a basket case. I had insane deadlines for these two books, especially the second one, because being a total newb I didn't factor in enough time for revisions and line edits on the first, which I had to do during the, um, 8 weeks I had to write the second. (I had a luxurious 10 weeks to write the first one.)

I hit a few points last February, when I did not think I was going to meet my deadline. I remember one night in particular when I called Molly and Sinead in a panic and they came over and talked me in off the ledge, told me I could do it, and even though I hadn't shown them much of the second book, (when did I have time for a proper critique??), listened to me babble about the crazy plot problems I was having and helped me work through them.

I love you guys. :)

Oh, and I'm being interviewed today (and Thurs and Friday) at another group blog I'm part of that's more about promotion. Stop by there if you want a chance to win copies of the books!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Filling the Well or Slacking

I turned in my copyedits on Vanished in the Night last week. Then I switched immediately into booksigning mode. Book cover cookies (very cute, but not so tasty) ordered. Witch hat cookies (tasty and cute, but time-consuming) made. Beverages picked up from Costco. Then we had the booksigning and I switched immediately into sloth mode.

Friday I had lunch with a friend, checked on my mother and then started digging out the rubbish in my house. Thing One has been home on spring break and while I miss the kid incredibly, he leaves a trail of dirty dishes and clothes behind him wherever he goes that I’m not all that nostalgic about. I also crocheted myself right out of size 3 crochet thread. Saturday there was an RWA chapter meeting. I checked on my mother again (she has a bad cold), stopped by a school fundraiser, spent some time on the Stairmaster and . . .

I’m thinking you get the point. I haven’t done anything. I had most of Sunday to myself and instead of opening up my WIP, I reorganized the linen closet and cleaned the refrigerator. I didn’t even do a good job of it although I did combine the six open jars of sun-dried tomatoes into three.

Part of me argues that I needed the time. Part of me thinks I’m just being lazy. I thought I was all fired up to get back to work on this proposal, but when I had the chance, I went right to the linen closet.

So whatever it was, slacking or taking some needed time to recharge, this week I’m getting back on the horse. How about you? Do you take time at the end of a project? Or just jump into the next one?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Maze Runner, something Wanda Ottewell told me and a little Courtney Milan for good measure

About two months ago Sinead handed me The Maze Runner and said it was an incredible lesson in introducing problems and pacing. Sinead has never steered me wrong so I dug in. And then put it down, for two months. The premise is incredible - a teenage boy is going up an elevator, he has no idea where he is or where he's going. He has no memory. He arrives to a small community of teenage boys who live in this glade set up in the middle of a maze that they are supposed to solve. There are terrible beasts out there that will sting you and kill you and are very scary. Amazing, right?

But I put the book down because the beginning is sooooo bogged down with this strange language with the boys use, and clumsy characterization, but what really bothered me is the hero had all these questions - as you would expect - and instead of answering them, or finding a reason for the other boys not to answer them, the author choose to have the characters say ridiculous things like "shut your mouth, you're not listening." Or the conversations got interrupted or something equally unsatisfying. Chapters of this.

Which reminded me of something Wanda Ottewell said about writing. If I am worried that a conversation between characters will somehow ruin the drama of my book - be it conflict or character or whatever - then as a smart writer I need to make sure they have the conversation and it creates MORE drama. Be it a big misunderstanding, or a secret or a world detail - whatever, you can only hold that conversation off for so long before the reader gets sick of it. So why not own the problem and create something unexpected.

Which made me think about Courtney Milan's newest book Unveiled. I'm three quarters of the way through this book which is basically a revenge/secret story. And at every turn Milan reverses my expectations. I'm a smart reader - I think I know what's going to happen and she honestly makes the opposite happen in a way I am not expecting at all. It's pretty damn great and easily her best book yet.

Maze Runner gets really good once the question answering doesn't matter. The pace absolutely sings, surprises at every turn and the world is very compelling. So, once again Sinead is right. So, two good books...I'm on a reading roll.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Do You Remember Your Dreams?

When Maureen had me fill out the questionnaire for Get Lost in a Story blog one of the questions was do you remember your dreams?
I always remember my dreams. Or at least I think I do. But I also know that I can have several in one night.

I have vivid, action packed story driven dreams. Sometimes scary, sometimes adventures. Sometimes I wake up in the morning with a sense of exhaustion like I’m Indiana Jones and have just recovered the lost ark.

Every time I think… can that be a book? Crazily enough I can even analyze that mid-dream. While I’m dreaming I think… “Oh wow this is so much fun, what an adventure, will this make a book?”

Sadly, not one has ever panned out for me in book form. When I wake up a lot of the dream fades and the pieces don’t seem to fit together. And when I start to think about the “plot” I suddenly see with my cool morning logic that it was all just a bunch of crazy nonsense.

I’ve heard stories about people eating certain foods or doing certain exercises to enhance dreaming just so they might unleash some subconscious idea. Luckily I’m an active dreamer so that’s never been necessary for me. But obviously some consider dreaming a tool for writers. Like the idea for Harry Potter is in there somewhere and if they just let themselves go in sleep and it will all come to them.

Last night I had a dream like that. It was a fantasy based children’s story. Just a broad stroke crazy concept that when I woke up I was like wow… that’s cool. Too bad I’m not a fantasy children’s writer!

So what about you all? Do you remember dreams? Do you use them to help your creativity? Or are they all just crazy chaos?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Stephanie's Release!!

Stephanie had a book out this month and somehow we seem to have forgotten to party!!!

So, I'm passing out the party hats and pouring the margaritas and today we're going to hear about Stephanie's fabulous new book and a bit about Stephanie herself. Isn't it about time we learned more about our fearless bloggers?


Stephanie Doyle is a dedicated romance reader. She began to pen her own romantic adventures at age sixteen. She began submitting to Harlequin at age eighteen and by twenty-six, her first book was published.  Fifteen years later she still loves what she does as each book is a new adventure. She lives with her cat Lex and two new kittens who have taken over everything. When she’s not daydreaming about heading to the beach, she’s thinking about her next idea.


Fresh on the heels of their disastrous date, Dr. Camille Lawson is none too pleased to find Dr. Wyatt Holladay darkening her doorstep. But a mystery ailment is claiming her patients – and just maybe the gorgeous doctor can help her get some answers. What should be a simple investigation of medical causes quickly reveals a very real threat. Someone is targeting Camille by killing her patients, one by one.

Surrounded by suspects and unable to convince the authorities crimes are being committed, Wyatt is the only person who can keep the infuriating beauty safe. With everything on the line, he must protect her reputation, her life… and her heart.

Romantic Times – Top Pick – “Wonderfully wounded characters and edge-of-your-seat excitement make this a great read you won’t put down.”  Page Traynor           


MAUREEN: What’s your favorite holiday?
STEPHANIE: Thanksgiving… because I don’t have to cook. Which means none of the pressure of gift buying and all the fun of eating.

MAUREEN: Where do you most like to read and how often? 
STEPHANIE: This might make a lot of wives and moms jealous - but one of the perks of being single and childless is I have all the time in the world to read. I have a chaise lounge, a couch and a leather recliner all designed for comfort reading. I can spend a Saturday or Sunday on the couch reading for hours and hours. I love it.

MAUREEN: What’s your favorite kind of story to get lost in?
STEPHANIE: A good one. Just give me a great story and I will sink so far into it that I won’t move for hours.

MAUREEN: What’s your favorite fairy tale?
STEPHANIE: Beauty and the Beast. I’m not Beauty but I always saw myself with more of a “beast” type guy then a Prince Charming.

MAUREEN: Hiking boots or high heels?
STEPHANIE: High Heels.

MAUREEN: What sound or noise do you love?
STEPHANIE: Water. It’s crazy but I love all the sounds of water. A bath running, a faucet, the ocean, a creek. All of it.

MAUREEN: What was the first story you remember writing?
STEPHANIE: The first time I started writing was basically Star Wars fan fiction. I was obsessed with Leia and Han. But my first completed book was an historical about an Irish revolutionary fighting against the English… and of course she was a woman. All my stories feature really strong women.

MAUREEN: What really scares you?
STEPHANIE: Snakes. Snakes scare the hell out of me. Whenever I’m stressed about something or worried I’ll dream and then I’ll see a snake in the dream. It’s how my subconscious interprets anxiety. Crazy I know… but me and Indiana Jones. The difference is I NEVER would have gone into the tomb.

MAUREEN: If you were given a chance to travel to the past where would you go and why?
STEPHANIE: Oh wow… this is a tough one. If time-traveler was a position I would so apply for that. I would go back to Philadelphia in 1776. I would head for the American west in the 1800’s. I would love to be a Templar Knight – but before they started killing all of them…. So many times and places.

MAUREEN: Which of your characters would you most/least to invite to dinner, and why?
STEPHANIE: I would invite every one of my heroes – obviously I’m in love with all of them.  Of course they would also probably tick me off… but still.

MAUREEN: What would you say is your most interesting quirk?
STEPHANIE: I don’t know how interesting it is but I mix up common sayings all the time… I say things like… “We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it” or “He really threw a monkey at my wrench with that one…”  My co-workers not only make fun of me for this but have started writing them down.

MAUREEN: Hilarious. I had a friend in high school whose dad used to say, "Black duck of the family." It became a thing with us.


What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon?


Sleep in until the crack of eleven… breakfast at the diner which includes eggs and pork roll (NJ delicacy). Followed by two hours of quality writing. Then a long walk possibly followed up with a nap. Then a couple of hours of reading followed by dinner, a glass of wine and a good HBO show or movie. Wait – that is “typical” Sunday. You wanted my perfect Sunday… nope, same Sunday.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I'm having one this Thursday with my friend Spring Warren at the Borders in Davis, California at 7 p.m. Come on down. It'll be great. There'll be cookies with our book covers on them. Plus ones shaped like snails and others shaped like witch hats. We're going to do a literary mash up. Spring is taking a scene from her book (which is a memoir about eating 75% of her food by weight from her yard for a year) and my urban fantasy and smushing them together. It should be funny. And fun. Possibly even charming. I am extremely hopeful that we'll sell some books.

Now, let me tell you how much I hate doing this. I really do. I hate booksignings. I do one every year here in Davis for whatever book is coming out and I dread it. I try to make it fun. I try to make it a party (although Borders is banning booze this time). Still, it makes me just a little miserable.

Will anyone show up? Will too many people show up? Will obnoxious kids in the bookstore eat all my treats before the real guests arrive? Did I buy too much food? Will my talk be stupid? Am I stupid? Will anyone even care? Will they forget to order my backlist (again)? If they do order it, will anyone buy it? What should I wear? Dressy? Casual? Cleavage baring or modest? Okay. Forget the last one. I almost always go with the cleavage. I use it as camouflage technique. Maybe they won't notice how big my butt is if they're looking at my boobs.

Before I started writing, I used to love to go to booksignings. I loved to see if the author would look and sound how I expected her/him to or be entirely different. I loved to hear their stories. One time, Karen Joy Fowler read a scene that had been cut from her book. It was fantastic. I felt like such an insider. I've yet to figure out how to capture that joy on the other side of the table. I always feel sweaty and desperate.

So how about you? Do you love or loathe booksignings? Do you feel like you have to do them or do you blow them off entirely (something I'm seriously considering)?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Eat Pray Love or Rattling Eileen's Cage

Husband had a hockey game last night so I ordered up some prime chick flick and prepared myself for a Carbohydrate craving. And a James Franco Craving. And a Billy Crudup craving.
What I got was annoyed and, admitedly a Javier Bardem craving.

What is it we're supposed to like about this movie? That a rich woman severs all ties with the men she's hurt in order to travel the world and feel both great and then crappy about herself? I liked her big come to jesus moment - I don't have to love you to prove I love myself - nicely done, since we are led to believe she's thrown her love around without a lot of thought. That she chooses to love Javier with his eyes and that hair and the smile that I could have eaten with a spoon - I guess makes all that Italian pasta and Indian floor scrubbing worthwhile.

If it weren't for the caliber of actors in these ridiculous two-dimensional parts, this movie would be terribly painful. The gruff Texan who calls Liz Groceries (played by someone great whose name I can't remember) oh, lord, what a poorly written character. What a blatent manufactured device, but when he tells that story about nearly hitting his son with the car...amazing. Beautiful.

Billy Crudup is one of my favorite actors, he makes it all seem believable, no matter what it is. And his moment in that meeting room, calling his wife a quitter, telling her he chooses her - awesome. Totally sided with him. As we were meant to, I'm sure.

And then, oh Javier. The mix tapes. The way he cried saying goodbye to his son. That slow slow dance to the bedroom. I have longed to be Penelope Cruz for many reasons, I have a new one.

But this movie sucked. If it weren't for the fact that Julia Roberts is one of the most likeable actresses on the planet, I would never have gotten over the fact that I didn't like this woman. At all. And I get it, she knows she did a crappy thing and I can relate, who doesn't do crappy things, but...I don't know, is it becasue she was rich? Because she was so righteous about it? I just didn't care.

I don't know why Eileen hates this book, but I agree with her, whatever her reasons.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The power of a great story

This might be a mish mash of a post, so bear with me. One of the smaller entertainment news stories this week was the casting of Katniss in The Hunger Games movie.

The director cast Jennifer Lawrence, acadamy nominated star of Winter's bone. I haven't seen it yet, but from all accounts, she will make a great Katniss. Not only was Entertainment weekly keeping track of the casting, but so was my favourite Gossip site, Lainey gossip, two very different websites, but both very invested in the source book, because they loved it.

And hey, I can't fault them for their good taste and I'm thrilled that YA is getting the attention it deserves for the varied and excellent story telling in this genre.

But it makes me want to shout out for romance. Why does this genre get no respect? A new movie adaption of Jane Eyre came out this week. What is Jane Eyre, but a wonderful romance, written two hundred years ago.

Romance novels, on the rare occasion, they are made into movies, are relegated to movie of the week. Even chick lit gets more respect from the movie world. Something Borrowed, the movie, is getting released this week.

Hell, a movie about two cowboys falling in love got nominated for an oscar. So why don't romance novels get any respect. A lot of romance novels incorporate action, compelling conflict, drama. I would be first in line if a movie got made from one of my favourite romances, but it seems unlikely.

Why don't our great, (written in the past 30 years) romances get the credit they deserve outside the romance genre?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why we beat ourselves up as writers?

I mentioned in comments the other day about Richard Blaise on Top Chef All Stars. This guy is amazing. He’s talented. He’s creative. He can cook the bleep out of anything. He’s clearly a star and has basically sailed to the finals. I’m not great with numbers, but he couldn’t have been in the bottom more than once and he was regularly either in the top or a winner in the challenges.

He’s a nervous wreck! He’s paranoid about not winning. He’s shouting to himself as his food is sent out that he SUCKS! He’s clearly not good enough for himself. Now that can be an issue on many levels for a person – but let’s focus on the creativity element.

Why does a person who has clearly succeeded in his profession not think he’s ever good enough? According to his on camera interview… by not doing so it forces him to continue to work harder and be better.

Right now my writing life sucks. I’m sure there are some out there who know this feeling. Of course I’m alternately giving myself a pep talk then telling myself that I suck as a writer.

In the dark times I will try to pull myself out with logic. I’ve had 12 books and a novella published. I can’t really suck that bad. Publishing is an achievement so many writers aspire to and I’ve reached that goal.

But I’m not where I want to be. Which means I must suck. I’ve gotten rejected – so I must suck. I got a bad review – it’s because I suck. When I can step back and look at myself (I usually beat myself up for being fat but that’s a whole other post) I think… I hate that person. I hate the negative nelly who is always down on themselves even when they’ve accomplished something. Like Molly’s advice about really rejoicing in the positive because there is so much negative. It’s great advice.

But I also realize part of why I kick my own butt is for the reason Richard does it. In a creative and competitive world you have to be self-motivating. You have to want to stand above the rest because it is the only way to get noticed. You have to work harder and do more than the person next to you. I know as writers we say we don’t compete individually against each other… but well we sort of do don’t we?

The two Regency Historical writers, who are submitting on proposal at the same time, are going to the same pool of editors. Same with the paranormal writers, mystery writers – you name it. Chicken is chicken. And the best chicken is going to win.

Granted this isn’t done under a 60 minute time constraint with two authors pitted against one another as they struggle to crank out pages... but the result is the same. Creative people, going head to head, for a limited number of publishing spots. Only a few are going to make it to the top. The rest… sadly… will be asked to pack up their laptop and go.

The benefit of being a writer instead of a contestant on Top Chef is that you have endless possibilities to go back to the competition. But we also need to realize that if you’re not working, struggling and dying to get better, if you’re not thinking in your head about getting to the top… you might not get to the middle.

So I suck as a writer. Which maybe for now, that’s okay for me to think, because maybe it will serve me in the end to push myself to that next level.

What about you? Anybody else out there suck as a writer?

P.S. Happy St. Patrick's Day to all Irishmen and drinkers. And all drinking Irishmen!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lovin' My Blog Sissies

Due to last week's blog posts, I've had an epiphany and might, just maybe, be able to fix my WIP.

I was feeling like my heroine was a little boring and the pace was a little off. I'd been thinking it was just the kind of book I was writing. It's more women's fiction than suspense. It's not supposed to be a heart-pounding thrill ride. Then I read Molly's post about copping out. Eesh. That was EXACTLY what I was doing. Just because it's not a suspense novel doesn't mean it should be dull.  

I still wasn't sure exactly what was wrong, though. Then Maureen posted about embracing your inner villain. I started thinking about how much work I'd put into the villains of Vanished in the Night which comes out in August. I did, too. I knew all about them. I knew what motivated them. I knew their goals and their feelings. In a lot of ways, they drove the story and while I don't think anyone will root for them, they are pretty interesting.

I'm not feeling that way about the heroine in my WIP. She's reacting to what's happening. Other people are driving her. She's drifting. Eventually she gets a clear goal and goes for it, but she's not doing that at the beginning of the story. I'm sure if I met her, we'd be great buddies, but on the page . . . zzzzzzzzz.

I realized that was what I had to do. I had to figure out a way to make her more active. To make her drive the story, But that's going to mean a lot of rewriting. A lot of tossing of scenes I've already written. It's going to be hard. Then there was Steph, reminding me that as a romance writer I should revel in eating the hard.

Finally, Sinead reminded that it's important to really dig into the book. Don't get distracted by diddling around with a word here and a word there. Dig in. Do some work.

Well, I'm doing it. Thanks, my sweet drunk blog sissies. This one's for you!

Monday, March 14, 2011

I Think Writing Might Be Bad For My Health

I needed an epic writing day last week to launch myself into the third act of my book. So, on Friday I sent the kids off, turned the heat waaaaay down in my house and made a pot of coffee. Springsteen on repeat, no television - off I went. Six hours later, one phone call with Sinead to get myself out of the corner I had written myself into, a bag of carrots and half a loaf of raisin bread later - 5,000 words.

I was wired and exhausted, my head hurt, my heart was racing. I felt like for six hours of sitting I just rode adrenaline, which is crazy! I was eating toast and sitting, what did I need the adrenaline for?

After all that I turned on the news to see what had happened in Japan, and spent the next several hours crying. I went to bed in the clothes that I slept in the night before and that I wrote in all day. I couldn't fall asleep until three a.m. because of emotion and a brain that wouldn't stop.

The next day I still didn't feel right, so after our TRW meeting, I drank a bunch of beer to relax. That worked. But OH MY LORD! This is not good. This is not a healthy life.

At least once a book I have a day like this, I don't think it can be avoided. But what effects has writing had on your health? (As I write this, my back is practically bent in, we can start with posture!)

My prayers and hope are with everyone in Japan or who have loved ones there...what a nightmare.

Friday, March 11, 2011

They're just words on a page

There is a point while I'm editing where I lose track of the story, the scene, and I'm staring at words on a page.

I'm there now. I can evaluate sentences, but the effectiveness of scenes are beyond me, and I cannot sort it out in context with the book. So when someone asks, how is the book coming, I truly have no idea. I'm so caught up in the trees, I barely know the forest exists.

I know there was a point where I could read scenes and chapters and point to what was wrong. But that point is not where I'm changing words, and I'm really concerned I can't get back there. Because when you've read a scene four, or five times, it stops making sense within story context.

I always feel like my threshold for this is lower than other writers. That I get to this point faster and get immersed in it easier. I know writers that can edit and edit and love to do this and truly have an amazing impact on the book, while I know after a while, I'm changing words and nothing else.

Other than time away from the book, does anyone have any good tips for editing without losing focus on the story?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Eat the Hard...

I know… it sounds totally pornographic… but it’s all I’ve been thinking about lately. For those of you who having been following us for a while you’ll remember Nora Roberts coined this phrase at last year’s National Conference in her keynote address. For those of you new to DWT – then yes… she did say “Eat the Hard” to a group of 2000 plus women.

Her point is that publishing ain’t easy. She can’t be bothered with excuses like the market is shrinking, there is no room for new authors, getting sold is MUCH harder today than it was 20 years ago and there is too much pressure to be a bestseller right out of the gate.

Instead embrace it. Eat it. Own it. Be better than everyone else. Be different. Make your book so good that no one can stand not to publish it. Because that’s what publishing is about and it doesn’t matter when you started. Forget what was the market, focus on what is the market and do your job better than everyone else.If you’re feeling sorry for yourself… stop it and go back to work.

Nora Roberts is the Jillian Michaels of writing. All genres too – not just romance. Because I can’t imagine it’s any easier to break through as a “Thriller” writer or a “Mystery” writer. Name your genre. I’m sure there are lots of mystery writers who believe they are the next James Patterson and don’t understand why they just can’t get their chance.

Nora got to the top by working hard. She expects that anyone wanting to reach that top needs to work just as hard if not harder. And there is no room for cry babies that’s for sure.

I respond to this type of kick-your-ass motivation and I need it because right now I’m feeling sorry for myself. My writing isn’t going well with the new book. I can’t seem to get a foothold in the story. I’m stressing about my current release, my book out on submission and the next proposal for my current publisher.

I feel like I need some validation from “the publishing world” that I can do this. Sure we take in the feedback from friends and critique partners. And we definitely need that. But in the end it’s so easy to dismiss it when you get a rejection. The only thing that matters is if NY likes it. Sort of like asking your friend how you look in the dress vs. asking your mother.

So here I am hanging over the pit of despair wondering again if I have a smidgen of the talent needed to write the books I have in my head… and the words come back to me… Eat the Hard.

Work harder. More often. Give your next idea everything. Stop whining and worrying and just sit your butt in the chair and figure out how to tell the story in your head. It’s good. It’s deep and intense and layered. Just get it out….

Yep - Nora’s husky voice is in my head and she’s really trying to drown out the sulky depressed whinny voice that’s saying… “You’re just not that good a writer.” I’m hoping she wins.

What about you? Who is in your head when you need someone to kick your butt?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Embrace Your Inner Villain

Most of us who've been at this storytelling thing for a while know that it's important to understand and show the motivation of not only your protagonist, but also the bad guys.

And while I already understood that, this is an area where I sometimes cop out... "Because he's evil!" LOL And one other tidbit I remember from that Paul Haggis talk was about understanding villains. He made me see that it shouldn't be a surface level thing.

He said that for every character he's written, who does something most of us would consider "bad", he works hard to put himself in that character's shoes and write the scenes with the understanding of why the villain truly believes he/she is doing good. That is, it's not enough for a villain's motivation to be the hero deserves this for I am evil, or for I want revenge, or whatever... Better if the villain truly believes he/she is doing the right thing and for the writer to explore and understand that.

This discussion came up after we watched a clip from Crash. It was the scene early in the movie, where Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton are pulled over by the Matt Dillon cop character (when she was giving her husband a BJ while he was driving) and the Dillon character basically uses his power of authority to sexually molest Thandie Newton.

Stepping back for a second, the amazing thing about Crash, for me, is how Haggis forces us to see two sides to every character in that movie. The people who initially seem bad, we see good things and vice versa. But listening to him talk about how he developed all that, I realized it was more than just showing the sympathetic side of the "villains". It was his understanding why each character thinks his actions are not villainous.

For example, he reasoned that in that scene Matt Dillon truly believed he was doing Thandie Newton and Terrence Howard a favor. He wasn't just wielding his power to get off on it. He believed he was teaching them an important lesson to keep them safe. He thinks something like: Fool around while you're behind the wheel of the car and there could be dangerous consequences. This, what I'm doing now? Is nothing compared to what could have actually happened if you'd crashed the car or hit a pedestrian. Me doing this to you now, humiliating you both, will help you remember those consequences and think twice before you act recklessly again.

Sure the audience doesn't get all that. We see a cop we assume is a racist arrogant asshole using his power and position to put his hand on Thandie Newton's private parts in front of her husband who's too afraid to do a thing about it... But listening to how Haggis thought about it and talked to Dillon about it on set, and then thinking through the other things that happen with his character (until he ultimately saves the Thandie Newton character from a car crash...) it all resonated deeply for me. And I think I understood a bit more why I love that movie.

And from now on, I'm going to work harder on thinking about my villains' motivations and why they truly believe they are doing the right thing.

BTW When asked about the coincidences in Crash, which didn't bother me at all when I first saw that movie -- to me, that movie was like a miracle, but Haggis's response (and I'm sure he's been asked that questions a million times) was that Crash was meant as a parable. But that modern audiences can't recognize a parable in a modern day setting. Some people might not buy that and might think he's making up an excuse after the fact, but I buy it. The story was about connections, lives colliding into each other, so the conicidences of their meeting was part of that overall story. (Crash is one of my top 10 movies...)

One final thing on Haggis. He also talked about how furious fellow Canadian director David Cronenberg was with him for using that title. (Cronenberg has a 1996 film also called Crash.) Haggis said Crash was actually just a working title he didn't plan to use, but the distributor liked it. And Cronenberg... Really mad. I was lucky enough to be at the world premiere screening of Crash about 15 months before it hit theatres and when Haggis introduced the film he didn't say much, if memory serves, except that we were the very first people to see it (not even any industry screenings before) and then he apologized to David Cronenberg for using that title.

How much do you think about your villain's motivations? Do yours think they are doing the right thing?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Prejudice and Reading

I generally consider myself a pretty open-minded person. I like to think of myself as tolerant and accepting. I hate it when I realize that I’m not as tolerant or as accepting as I wish I was.

I recently downloaded an audio book from the library (I totally love doing this, by the way, it so so cool that I can hit a couple of buttons and have an entire book loaded onto my iPod without ever leaving my house although I really worry about copyright infringement and pirating, but that’s a blog of a whole ‘nother color). I hadn’t heard of the author, but the premise of the book sounded interesting and since it was from the library, it was pretty much a no risk proposition.

I started listening to the book and it was terrific. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s darn good. I started wondering if this was the author’s first book since she was so terrific and I hadn’t heard of her. I went online. Nope. She had dozens of books. I did a little more investigating. She’s published by Zondervan, an Evangelical publisher of Christian books.

This kind of froze me in my tracks. I realized that if I’d known that this was an Inspirational novel (I believe that’s the classification that RWA would use), I wouldn’t have picked it up. I’m not Christian. I assumed that the issues being dealt with in an Inspirational novel, or at least the ways in which those issues would be dealt, wouldn’t speak to me.

Boy, was I wrong and, boy, do I feel like a great big bigot. But can I just say, “Yay, reading!” Because as embarrassed as I am about being a bigot, I’m super excited about the idea that reading can break down those kinds of prejudices just by telling a great story that opens someone’s eyes.

What about you? Have you stumbled across any prejudices that you didn’t know you had? Has reading opened your eyes to someone else’s world?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Cop outs: I'm Not Writing That Kind Of Book

Maureen and I were at the office the other day and I realized I had written fifty pages (not in one day, because that would be nuts!) without any chapter breaks. And for awhile it was fun to go through and stick in those page breaks, but then I realized with a sort of sick sinking in my stomach, that there were no chapters, because I wasn't writing to that chapter end - that little cliffhanger that I know from experience, keep readers up way past thier bedtime.

So, I mentioned this to Maureen, saying that I had gone into this book, with all of it's betrayals and secrets and damaged people with the idea that I was going to take a page from Hunger Games and write to a cliffhanger, and try to put in at least one reversal of expectation in each chapter - small ones, little bits of dialogue, something.

I laughed and said "oops."

Maureen nodded and said in this last book of hers, that she wrote every scene to a cliffhanger. Now, I love Maureen. I really do. She's totally swell. But I wanted to throw hot coffee at her. I did.

But then I thought - she's writing action/adventure YA. She's got monsters and danger and threats from all sides. I'm writing a romance. It's just not that kind of book. And I let myself think that for the rest of the day. But that night I laid in bed and knew it to be a cop out.

I might not have danger, but I have drama. I have hurt feelings and broken hearts and when paced right - that emotional plot is as gripping as an external plot. I know, because I've been kept up late by those books. So, I can't let myself off the hook with this. I have to hold myself to the bar I set.

So? What are your cop outs? What are the little lies you tell yourself in order to get through that first draft?

Friday, March 04, 2011

Do I need my opinion confirmed?

Still obsessed with this season's American Idol, and it has very little to do with the contestants. I realyl don't care to hear another version of a Mariah Carey song and while there are a couple of guys that seem as if they could be interesting, all the fun for me is in watching the judges.

I love Steven Tyler, he seems so loopy and sincere, and genuinely thrilled to be there. And now J Lo - seriously, cannot stop watching her. I spend a lot of time trying to sort out her makeup techniques and just how gorgeous she is, and how genuine she also seems to be and how invested in this contestants she is. Both she and Tyler seem to really care about how they do.

Which is great, but it has left the heavy lifting of the critiquing to Randy, and well, he's never been very good at that.

What I'm saying is that I miss Simon. I miss his very direct comments about the performances, not his cruel statements, but how he'd get to the point, without any real concern for the contestant's feelings. But he was mostly right, when the rest of the panel got it wrong, which they frequently did.

And sadly, when Simon loved a performance I loved, it made me love it more. As if I needed my opinion justified.

Because right now the judging panel cares too much. And in certain instances they are overpraising some performances.

In previous seasons I used to fast forward through all the critiques except Simon's and now I find I'm fastforwarding through them all. But I'm still watching, as long as J Lo continues to fascinate me.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Where Are We Going?

So I read in Publisher’s Marketplace an article about the jump in ebook sales for January… again. The numbers were staggering. Makes sense – people got their Kindles and Nooks for Christmas so January definitely might show a spike that ultimately levels out. But the reality is bookstores are closing. I know I’m responsible because I haven’t stepped inside one since I got my Kindle. And while ebooks are on a meteoric rise (which many say is because they have nowhere to go but up) it still seems the market is shrinking.

It’s crazy to say, because in so many ways I feel like a novice having only written for one publisher for all these years, but I’ve been in the publishing business now going on 15 + years. For the first time I really feel on edge.

Not that the whole thing is going to come tumbling down. I’m not a doom and gloomer. I mean when the music industry changed and all the record stores closed there were still artists coming out and making music and selling records and making money.

I kind of look at the two industries the same in that regard. Record labels are still signing artists and radio stations are still only playing selected songs they choose to promote. They are doing a filtering process for us so that not everyone who thinks they can sing (ala American Idol) can start screeching at us through the car radio. Thank goodness.

Then there is YouTube. And here anyone can put their song video up and maybe somehow it/they will catch fire. Greyson Chance comes to mind. He’s a 13 year old kid who did a cool version of Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi for a middle school talent show. The next thing he’s on Ellen, signing what I’m sure is a major deal, now touring the country and performing.

People are going to succeed through traditional channels. And now, because of ebooks, people might be able to succeed through self-publishing avenues. Who knows maybe I can put a book on Amazon. If the stars align maybe someone will find it and read it and maybe some crazy fire will catch too and I’ll actually profit from my sales. I’ve never viewed this type of process as a real road to publishing success. My attitude has always been if my book is good enough – a publisher will see it and pay me money for it. If it’s not – they won’t.

But with stores closing, self-publishing growing and the market shrinking… I don’t know anymore.

I really do believe we need agents, editors and publishers. I believe in the filtering system despite how harsh it can be. Because there is a difference between a person who wants to write and a person who can write. As a reader I don’t want to have to wade through the masses to find the quality.

However, I will say that where the path seemed very clear to me before… write a book, get an agent, sell it to a publisher, get an advance, earn out royalties… now I don’t know.

I read on Dear Author – I think it was - about the concept of identifying with editors. Maybe you love every author editor Jane Doe signed. Maybe Jane Doe now contracts directly with authors and together you both sell your books. The author generates the product, the editor lends creditability to the quality of it. Everything is done electronically.

A whole new world maybe. I’ve been reading for so long that the publishing world needs to change its outdated method of returns and storage and distribution… but now it really feels like it’s finally happening and I’m not sure what it’s all going to mean.

What will be the publishing future for writers?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Faking Human Interactions

I promised to blog more about the Paul Haggis talk and while this post isn't about a light bulb storytelling secret, it was one of the things I liked about his talk.

Turns out Mr. Haggis likes to work in public--just like me. (Oh, I have something in common with a really successful writer!) Sounds like he has several coffee shop haunts and hotel lobbies he uses as his "offices", setting up for the day with a laptop and madly writing. (Aside: Hotel lobbies! What a great idea. I'll bet I could find some great ones to work at in downtown Toronto...)

Anyway, he said that he likes to work in public so he can pretend he's part of humanity, fake that he actually interacts with other people while he's writing, feel as if he's part of the real world. And that actually did set off a little moment of self-realization for me. I think that's exactly why I like it, too.

Writing is such an isolating profession and when I'm in full-on writing-cave mode, even if I'm out in public during the day, I start to forget how to talk to other people--that is, how to use my mouth instead of my keyboard to communicate. I forget how to form sentences without editing them.

That's one of many reasons I'm really starting to love the little routine Molly and I have started of meeting once a week for a few hours and sitting across from each other in a coffee shop. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we don't. But I feel like I've actually interacted with another human being on those days.

Maybe this isolation thing is a bigger problem for someone like me who lives alone, but I think I'd feel this way even if I didn't. I find it hard to write around people I know who don't "get" what I'm doing. For me, anyway, I get self conscious or annoyed if they want to know how it's going, or even if they're trying too hard to be quiet (clearly I'm easily annoyed)... But writing in the midst of strangers? Or with a trusted writer-friend? Magic.

And even if I spend six hours in a Starbucks (like I did today) without saying a word to another living soul (which I also did)... I can still pretend I'm a member of society. And really, as fiction writers, isn't what we do largely about faking it?
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