Thursday, December 31, 2009


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 clichés 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 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


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


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!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Stealing Your Traditions....and free books!!

Sweet sweet Thanksgiving. My family goes whole hog on Thanksgiving. We bring in international cousins and Hello Dolly Pie. We wrestle, play flag football, we play spoons until someone bleeds. Thanksgiving is our holiday. And because my brother is in the middle of wrestling season (he's a college coach - go Warhawks) and I live in Canada - it's too difficult to do Christmas all together. We've tried for years and this year - we've decided not to do anything. Which on hand is a relief. On the other hand it breaks my heart.

But here's my chance to start a new Christmas tradition with my own young family. this holiday is blank slate.

My Christmas Anthology - The Night Before Christmas - is all about Christmas traditions and Merri Monroe's love/hate relationship with them. I love this book and I would love to give out a whole bunch of copies this week to anyone who comments throughout the week. But only if you comment with a Christmas Tradition - because my intent is to steal yours in order to start mine...

Friday, November 27, 2009


I’m always behind. The last to start watching Mad Men, long after Molly and Maureen raved about how great it was. Same with the Wire, West Wing and Generation Kill.

I’m still working on getting my hands on the DVD set of West Wing, but I have finally seen Generation Kill. Amazing series, if you can get past the first episode, where we as the viewer, are dropped into a company of soldiers, without any introduction, or idea of names, who these people are, what marine terminology means, or even a why.

But as I watched, I came to two conclusions. 1) the guys who wrote this can write dialogue like no body else. (it’s by the same guys who wrote the Wire) 2) the series has the most cynical viewpoint of any military show I’ve ever seen.

The cynicism is beautifully shown, through terrible decision making by the army superiors, who, in general, are self-serving and incompetent.

Not unlike the superiors in the Baltimore Police department, or the Mayor’s office, in the Wire. The type of cynicism that is bred into both shows, with the heroes of the shows, not only battling the enemy, (be they enemy soldiers, or drug dealers) but also the people above them.

It a very consistent theme between both shows, and from what I hear, David Simon has a new show coming out, and I’d put money, there’ll be a similar theme to that show as well.

I’ve seen a lot of Joss Whedon’s shows as well, in fact, all of them, and he too seems to have a similar theme running through his work. The idea of the warrior woman is the central core of both Buffy, and Dollhouse, but also Firefly, where at the heart, (especially in the movie) the main protagonist is River, the ultimate tormented warrior woman.

I’m not familiar enough with the work of Alan Ball to know if this is consistent across a lot of the most interesting writers on TV, but I have started to look for a consistent theme in my own writing as a result.

Right now I would say it’s the idea of atonement, for real or imagined sins. I’m not sure why, but this comes up again and again in my books. Now that I know it’s there, I can enrich the theme, and also work hard on not repeating myself. Because someday soon, I am going to need a new theme.

Anyone else notice on going themes in their work? Or there any other great writers out there that repeat similar ideas in all of their work?

Thursday, November 26, 2009


There is a sucker born every minute. I know. I’m one of them. I have spent money on exercise videos that told me if I breathed correctly I would lose weight. I’ve spent money on pills, neck slimmers, special teas… you name it. I can’t stop myself. Despite being an intelligent person, despite knowing that if I simply ate less and drank less wine and jogged – I would serve myself much better. But still I continue to throw my money away on the idea of a quick and easy solution.

I once signed up for dating service. I’ve spent a lot of money in this venture as well, but this particular service was supposed to be very exclusive and consequently was very pricey. The woman sat me in a room and told me that after talking to me she already knew of someone for me. That I needed to be ready for what was about to come. That the likelihood was that I would be married and pregnant within the year. (This person I was to meet was very interested in having children.) All I had to do was sign on the dotted line. And of course hand over a check. Yes, I thought I could buy “the dream” of love and happiness. Like I said - I was the sucker. There was no “one” person. There was the typical series of fix ups with people I had nothing in common with like any other dating service I had ever used. Lesson learned. Shame on me.

But there is no getting around the fact that when you prey on people’s dreams, when you cash in on hope, desire, desperation… it can’t feel good. Going for a person’s weak spot to make money, it’s just not very nice.
This is my opinion of Harlequin Horizons. I get it, it’s a business and as long as there is a sucker born every minute, why not part them from their money. And while I think it’s not nice, I also think it’s up to the sucker to learn her lesson. I have when it comes to buying love. (Not exercise equipment).

That said I wonder if the anger over this venture doesn’t stem from something else. Are authors really this upset for the suckers that might fall into HQ’s evil clutches? Or is there something else driving the fire. Could it be that, what we’re really bothered by is the fact that this lessons our accomplishments as writers? For both the published and trying to be published. What we thought made us unique – either being published or going through the struggle of rejection – can now “sort of” be had for enough money. If I stood in a room of people who knew nothing about publishing and said I write for HQ Silhouette Romantic Suspense and someone else in the same room said … “Me too. I write for HQ Horizons.” Would anyone really know the distinction?

And so I have to say that for me, having been a sucker all my life - I hope writers don’t follow this path of being parted from their money for an illusion of the dream. But also I acknowledge here, in public, that part of what has bothered me about this, is my ego. Today my accomplishments feel less important because anyone (with the cash) it seems can be “published.”

And it’s at that moment that I have to remind myself – I don’t write for pats on the back. I don’t write for money (which is a good thing since I’m not making much) and I don’t write so I can stand up and say I’m published. I just like to write.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Intolerance. Now that's a topic. And one I'm certainly not prepared or qualified to cover properly, but I couldn't think of a clever title for this post.

Tonight I went to see the film Prom Night in Mississippi and while watching I kept thinking, what year is this again?

If you haven't heard of this movie, it's a documentary about a small town in Mississippi, called Charleston. A small town that Morgan Freeman just happens to live in (or near). I gather he was born there, moved away when he was six, but moved back at some point as an adult.

Anyway... Although the US Supreme Court ordered all schools in the US to be integrated in 1954, the high school in this particular town did not admit black students until 1970. And because the white parents were so upset about their children being forced to go to school with black kids, they (and the school board) decided that there should be separate proms. And ever since then, there have been two proms at this school -- one for the whites and one for the blacks. (No idea what would happen if a kid of another race were to move to this town... I guess no prom for him.)

In 1997, Morgan Freeman approached the school and offered to pay for the prom if they integrated it, but his offer was rejected. According to Freeman, the students were all for it, but it was blocked by the parents and the school board. So, he decided in 2008 to try again, but this time he took a documentary film crew with him, and the school, no doubt under the pressure of having the film crew there, took him up on it.

Mostly. Kind of.

Yes, they did have their first ever integrated social event in the history of this town, but in the end, the parents of the white kids got together to throw a separate prom for whites only -- which most of the white kids went to, even though a good number (16? 18?) of the them *also* went to the integrated prom. (The school is 70% black and 30% white.) And oh the pressure put on the white kids to show up to this white only prom, even if they were on the committee planning the integrated event. Horrible. And ridiculous fears and speculations perpetuated by the white parents of the depravity that would occur at the integrated prom, and the ugly words used to describe these imaginings. Chilling in this day and age. Chilling in any day and age.

And I kept having to remind myself that this wasn't a story about the south during or before the civil rights movement. This was real life. Real life in 2008. And the hatred and intolerance of some of these people, the pure ignorance and fear of the unfamiliar. Very sad.

And that kind of intolerance made me think of an Amazon review posted for the anthology, The Night Before Christmas, that Molly's fabulous story is in this month -- with Brenda Novak and Day Leclaire, no less. Check it out if you haven't already. I haven't read Novak's or Leclaire's stories yet, but I can attest that Molly's is fabulous.

But yes, her story has a subplot involving a secondary character who happens to be gay. The plot involves the heroine keeping a big secret, and so this teen kid dealing with coming out to his dad was a fabulous parallel story and totally worked to heighten the conflict and mirror what was going on with the heroine, and to force her to follow her own advice. Very nice. It also fit with the overall themes of being accepted for who you are, not where you come from -- not to mention the themes of love and forgiveness that were key to the romance plot.

Sure, the romance could've been told without this added complication or layer, but it wouldn't have been as poignant, or as conflict ridden, or as touching, or as interesting.

So imagine my surprise when I went to post a review on Amazon and discovered someone had gotten there first to post a negative review -- specifically about this subplot. Now, reviews are reviews and there's really nothing to be gained from arguing with reviewers. Especially Amazon reviews where anyone and everyone can post them. Tastes vary and everyone is entitled to like or dislike a story they read. But this review wasn't about taste, or likes or dislikes for that matter, (unless it was "I dislike reading about gay people"). Nor was it even about the story or how well it was written. The review was firmly centered in intolerance. It's reads like a public service warning: Danger. Gay character in this book. Stay away. But the reviewer is careful to point out that she's not homophobic, and she doesn't hate gay people. Oh no. It's just that the inclusion of a gay character spoils stories for her.

And it so reminded me of the people in this documentary... I'm not a racist, I just don't want a n*** rubbing up against my daughter at the prom. I'm not a racist, I just think they should all just keep to themselves. I not a homophobe, I just don't want to acknowledge such people exist.

Ummm.. What year it it again?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Other People's Success

My little cousin Justin has just achieved huge success. I call him my little cousin, even those he is quite a few inches taller than me, because I'm about 20 years older than him and changed his diapers.

If you haven't heard about Justin, you should probably check him out on Twitter. Yep. That's my little cousin talking about my uncle at Shitmydadsays. If you haven't heard about Shitmydadsays, you can read about it all over the place because my 29-year-old cousin got a HUGE book deal and is developing a sit-com for CBS. I won't tell you how much the book deal was for, but suffice it to say, you could add all my advances together and it wouldn't equal what he's getting as an advance for his first book.

People keep looking at me and asking me how I feel about this. I am thrilled! It's fabulous. First of all, my uncle is hysterically funny and people should know that. Secondly, Justin is doing a fabulous job of capturing a lot of his wisdom. It's especially funny for me to read it, because I know all the backstory and all the context. Thirdly, he's FAMILY, people, and as far as I'm concerned in our family, a rising tide raises all the ships. (The converse is something my uncle says which is that we're like a litter of piglets and if you pull one tail, we'll all squeal.)

While Justin's success certainly has an element of luck to it, I challenge you to find anyone's success story that doesn't have a little sprinkling of luck on it. Mine does. While it might seem like all this happened overnight to a kid, Justin has been working hard at being a professional writer since he graduated from college. Longer, really, since he worked at it WHILE he was in college as well.

I think people expect me to be jealous or resentful. After all, I'm 20 years older than he is and have been at this for a while and no one is making a sit-com based on my work and my books aren't being sold at auction. I'm not saying I don't want those things for myself, I totally do. I just don't think that Justin getting them has anything to do with me or my work.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Weighing in on the Harlequin Situation

We weren't going to talk about this because there are so many people out there talking about it. So. Many. Computers around the world are crashing from all the yelling. But my feelings about this situation have solidified over the last day.

First I have to say - The Harlequin Horizons endeavor as it was originally set up was predatory. And sleazy. It blurred the lines far far too much. The fees are outrageous and the 50% royalty on a book someone paid for - was like...I can't actually think of what it was like, it's that bad. That said - I think Harlequin's forays into alternative publishing is smart. They're losing money like the rest of the industry and they have the resources to make Carina Press a valuable asset to the romance publishing world. Harlequin Horizons? I'm sure they were trying to figure out how to leverage their greatest asset - their slush pile. But unless they clean up the lines between Horizons and Harlequin proper -and the pay rates - it's just a big stinky mess.

Now - I also don't argue that RWA needed to do something. As an organization with the mandate to protect writers - it was their job to step in. However I feel more and more that they responded to the hysteria - rather than the problem.

Thomas Nelson also partnered with ASI - has the same language on their website that everyone was so upset about on Harlequin's website (again, it was worth being upset about - bad bad Harlequin) But Thomas Nelson is still RWA approved (last I checked). And now RWA has to backtrack and figure out how to handle this new monster in the romance world. This is exactly what happened with e-publishers. RWA took a stance, had to backtrack - infuriated a lot of writers, made everything incredibly complicated and ARBITRARY! A thousand dollars and you're legitimate?

As other writer organizations make public statements regarding their disgust over Harlequin Horizon's and Harlequin in turn backs off (Harlequin removing their critique service seems like a direct response to MWA) I'm wondering if there wasn't a more tempered and thought out way to handle this that wouldn't change an author's pan status, their ability to enter the Ritas next year sign books or speak at the national conference with their Harlequin Editor.
I'm supposed to be protected by RWA, too.

I for one am hoping and am fairly sure that this will be cleaned up in a little while - and we can all get back to actually working.

Here we go....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Magic time

The more I write, the harder it gets. I sit at the computer and I edit the words as I type them, and from now on, I’m going to try and do that less and less. The words flow less easily now than they used to when I first started writing, something that indicates my knowledge of good writing versus just words, and also something I regret in some ways.

But there is a time of the day, when everything seems to flow, at least in my head. As I’m lying down to sleep, and I think of my current WIP, the characters seem so clear, their words and voices ring so true and even occasionally I think of major turning points. It’s by far my most creative time, and while I can remember most of what I think about, when I sit at the computer to type, that half-asleep clarity, the pure creation deserts me.

Sometimes I get inspiration from taking a long walk and letting my mind roam, and sometimes from mediocre movies. A great movie fulfills its potential in a way that is awe inspiring, and wonderful to watch, but a mediocre movie, especially one that flows from a really interesting concept allows me to rethink the original concept in a way that could work well into a story. Movies like The Crow, and Dark City had amazing concepts never fully realized. And it’s far less intimidating than trying to live up the wonder that was Aliens or Jaws.

Does this happen to anyone else? Is there any other time that works for pure creation? I need a new fix, something closer to absolute wakefulness that can take me to the computer and actually writing words on the screen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Speed Demon

I wrote my first "longer" novel, my first women's fiction project, very quickly. It was the first time I tried NaNoWriMo, and well, it was awesome. (Not the novel, the experience. Although I still think that novel had some shades of awesome, too.)

At the time I was using a Palm and an extended keyboard and I would sit down somewhere (usually a coffee shop) and just type and type and type until my battery ran out or my brain exploded. The good thing was I didn't have any internet access on the palm, so minimal distractions. Then I'd go home and upload it to my PC, pat myself on the back for how many pages I'd done (usually 10-14) and laugh at all my horrible spelling mistakes.

I swore I'd try to replicate this with each one of my subsequent books, problem is, it never worked again. I think it's because I learned a hell of a lot about writing and storytelling during the revision process for that same book, as well as a lot about my own voice, which actually shines through for me at least partially via the revision process.

Basically, I think the issue was I started to expect more of myself. I started to expect what I produced each day to be closer in quality to what I'd discovered I was capable of producing. I expected the wording to be a little clever or interesting or at least avoid too many repeating words in the same sentence. And I'd learned more about storytelling and I expected myself to come up with cool reversals and to ensure I had a clear goal in each scene and that my characters were acting consistently and being well developed. If I realized something I added in chapter 10 should've been foreshadowed in the opening chapters, I'd go back and foreshadow. If I realized in chapter 15 that I really hadn't understood my hero's motivation when I first started, I'd go back and rewrite the opening scenes -- maybe even rewrite everything up to ch 15 again to make sure the new motivation really worked. I told myself my revisions would be easier because I was writing a much stronger first draft.

Thing is, I think it made my revisions HARDER. Harder because I was less likely to just scrap entire sections I'd spent days writing and agonizing over. Harder because I'd struggle to make a particularly clever or hard won metaphor or quip or description fit into my revised version of the scene. (How can I revise this scene so he still gets to say that after she says this, even if it doesn't make sense for her to say this anymore...) Harder because I was less willing to, as they say, "kill my darlings".

Now, out of sheer necessity and an insane deadline... (more about that on my own blog very soon ;-)... I am writing quickly again. And once again I've fallen in love with writing quickly.

Yes, I am probably deluded. Yes, you'll probably see a post on this blog sometime in December where I'll whine about my revisions and how stupid I was to write my first draft so quickly...

But for now, my fingers are flying, ideas are flowing, and pages are accumulating. Yippee!!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Goal, Motivation and Conflict

I spent Halloween at the Emergency Room with my mother. Yep. Halloween in a college town on a Saturday night with my 83-year-old mother. My mother was having some problems and wasn't really safe in her apartment in the assisted living facility. There was a bed open in the skilled nursing facility in her retirement community.

My goal? To get my mother in that bed.

My motivation? To keep my mother physically safe.

My Conflict? The rules that say that a doctor's orders have to be given to move someone into the skilled nursing facility and that the doctor has to actually see her which means the ER on a Saturday night.

So I ended up hanging out with my mother and my sister and the guy who got in a fight and got hit over the head with a beer bottle and nearly lost his ear and the kid who was having an anxiety attack after ingesting something he shouldn't have and a long line of very slender young ladies barfing out the sides of their gurneys from having way too much drink.

Now, if I was writing this, I might well have been tempted just to let the sweet little Mommy go into the skilled nursing facility because that would probably have been the point. Show the caring daughters getting their mother into a safer situation. But what would have made the scene interesting was Beer Bottle Guy and the Bevy of Barfing Girls.

My approach to writing a scene has always had to do with what I, as the author, needed to accomplish. Is there a piece of information or misinformation that must make it to the reader? Is there a character to introduce? A plot point to reveal? It's all about me, me, me.

Of course, I've heard other writers talk about having each scene have the POV character have a goal, motivation and conflict, but this seemed like one more straight jacket that might paralyze me and keep me from writing the scene at all. I thought it might deaden the scenes and make them less organic and flowing.

Then on Friday, I got totally stuck trying to end a scene. It had started out fine. I'd let the reader know what I wanted them to know and I couldn't get it to end. It finally occurred to me to wonder what it was my heroine wanted in the scene, what was stopping her from getting it and how she might work around that. Presto! I managed to get her out of her damn kitchen! Woo hoo!

I'm always looking for a way to improve my writing, to take it to the next level. I'm not certain I can apply the whole Goal, Motivation and Conflict thing to each and every scene that I write, but I'm wondering if it might add some extra SNAP!! to my writing so I'm willing to try it.

Anybody else a slave to GMC? Love it? Hate it? Use it when you're stuck?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blunt Conversations about Royalties part 3

We drunk writers love a good theory. Get us drunk and we will get righteous about our beloved theories. And my royalty statement seems to prove one of my favorite theories and has given me a new one to get righteous about.

My favorite theory is that there is nothing a harlequin writer can do to promote oneself that truly truly makes that much of a difference. I've had books get amazing reviews, I've had books get sucky reviews - they sold the same. For some books, I've done lots of guest talking on blogs - I've sent out lots of books and for others I've done nothing - again, about the same. And while covers are important - unless they're truly truly awful - I'm not sure they make a huge difference either. My best cover - Worth Fighting For was also the third book in a series and it sold considerably less than the two books before it. Around 14,000 in the US, while the others were around 18,000. Now, this is also during the worst economic situation in decades, so really, who the hell knows. But I'm not going to let that stop me from my theory.

Now, as we speak, my website is displaying my Christmas message from LAST year - so clearly, I like being lazy. And that said - I think the way for me to bust out of the middle of the pack is to perhaps be a bit more diligent in some basic promotion.

But the books that have sold well, I believe have sold well for a reason. Publisher support. I've been really lucky to be involved in promotional giveaways that introduced a lot of readers to Baby Makes Three (the first in the series) for FREE. My numbers for the second book are the best I've ever had - around 22,000.

I think the other reason some books sell well and other tank is the use of hooks. Everybody wants to groan and roll their eyes (myself included) at the cookie cutter of nature of Presents and now Desire (as someone said somewhere - Desire is now Presents II- the Revenge. Funny) This is what sells. You want to make money selling series romance - don't stray too far from the well-worn path. The books of mine that have had a flash on them like A Little Secret and Single Father - sold way better than the books without the flash. My December 08 book had the secret baby flash and from the numbers you wouldn't know that it too came out during the heat of the economic meltdown. August O8 - no flash, bad numbers. My Feb 09 book about the son of the President of The United States - miserable miserable miserable.

Aim for the flash. The average Harlequin buyer is racing through the grocery store or pharmacy, they have about three seconds to dedicate to buying a book - if they don't know your name - they're going to know that flash. And how to get that publisher support? Write the best book you can and be the kind of author your editor wants to support. Play nice. Work hard and be realistic and smart about the conventions of the line you're aiming for.

Those are my lessons from this royalty period. Now, back to work on my cowboy book....

Friday, November 13, 2009

Better Late than never?

Seems to be my motto these days. But I’m finally getting a few precious moments in front of the computer. It’s been a year since I’ve submitted a book to editors and agents, and because it’s been so long since someone said ‘hell no’ to my work, I’m feeling pretty positive these days.

I’m getting ready to submit, so I imagine that feeling will disappear very shortly, but I’m enjoying it while it lasts. Because as writers, don’t we need our feel good moments?

I’m getting mine these days from Glee. The show is the polar opposite of Mad Men, and yet I’m loving both. Where Mad Men is subtle and ambiguous in all the best ways, Glee is loud and joyful and has the subtlety of an elephant belly-flopping into a kids pool. But sometimes the combination of singing and bad boys and some nice unexpected reversals are exactly what we need.

Every week I start Glee with a mild tension, thinking, this will be the week they ruin my good will, because seriously, how far can they take this. And this week, I was completely charmed by Puck, and how they made the bad boy endearingly sweet, and still a bad boy, (weed cupcakes, need I say more). I love, love, love where they are taking the relationship between Kurt and his father, and how they’ve managed to avoid the most obvious clichés and ground the relationship between two very different people in their mutual love for each other.

And Sue, who is a little one note, but a really funny character and the writers are adding a nice humanity to her as well. After this week, I have faith that the Glee writers will continue to charm me, and given the absence of mad men in my life, I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Things You Can't Control...

I’m going to say a few things and at first it might sound like bragging, but I think if you continue reading this post you’ll see how someone with my current mental state couldn’t possibly brag.

I am very successful in my day job. I’ve been with the same company for close to fifteen years. I’ve worked by butt off each and every one of those years. I come in early… (well I used to before I realized that I could still keep my job even if I got there fifteen minutes late) and I stay late. I’ve been consistently promoted throughout the years and now I’m running my own department. The more I pour my creative ideas into the job, the harder I work at it, the better the company does. The better I do.

I have (as much as anyone can have in these economic times) job security.

I have worked for my publisher for fifteen years. I have worked by butt off on each and every book I’ve written. I’ve met every deadline (there was one… but that was under exceptional circumstances) and accepted every revision my editor has given me. In short I have done anything I thought I could to meet the demands of my employer. I’ve tried to grow in my job, push the creative envelope and branch out when new opportunities were afforded.

I have no job security.

In fact as I write this I realize there is a very real possibility I might be fired someday. This of course stems from the receipt of the royalty statement. That mystical sheet that gives us our job performance review. How many books did we sell? Are our numbers growing? Do people like us? Are we making money for our employer or are we costing them?

I’m not going to lie. I don’t think my numbers look good. I had some expectations and they were not met and I realize… I can’t control it. I can’t make people buy my book. Now maybe you think this is a plea to go out and buy my books… and of course it is… please please please buy my books. (Now you see how a person so pathetic as to beg couldn’t possibly brag about anything.) But at the end of the day I can’t make you. I can work harder. I can give more. I can pour every ounce of myself into writing. I do this in my other job… success. I do this in my writing…Meh? Who knows?

It is enough to make a grown woman cry. Or drink. So I as I write this blog and I drink my wine and think in the words of Sally Field...“You must not like me. You must not really really like me.”… I realize that I need to let it go. I can’t control it. I can only do my best, put the work out there and hope. That is the reality of a writer.

Tell me again why I do this?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why Don Draper is a Hero (and the Mad Men writers are mine)

A year or so ago, I wrote an analysis of the first episode of Mad Men where I marveled at the skill with which the writers made me, the viewer, care about a guy who really wasn't a very good guy. It particularly struck me, because I saw Season 1 of Mad Men all out of order the first time, so I already knew Don's "big secret" before I watched the first episode, and I just loved how the writers hid the truth from us, without lying. How they showed us all Don's most positive traits before revealing things that would turn many viewers off, if they'd been the first things we knew about Don.

And watching the season 3 finale episode, I had my little mind similarly blown.

Season 3 was a bit of a slow burn, with lots of interesting subplots, but no obvious major plot line for a while. Yet, I finally thought I had it all figured out. Slowly and surely, I figured, they were taking away everything Don cared about. It seemed a tad obvious, but a big part of me thought, he has it coming. It's about time Don's lies and cheating and arrogant manipulations and occasional cruelties caught up with him. I figured the writers had decided they had no choice but to punish him a bit, and I assumed the season was about Karma coming back to bite Don. I figured the season would end with everything falling apart and him starting over again next season, or at least being cut down several notches. Or maybe he'd implode in some major way.

But while what I'd been expecting sort of happened, I realized the Mad Men writers were at least two (or forty) steps ahead of me, and were so much smarter than that. Yes, they caused a huge crisis for Don, several crises at the same time, in fact, but instead of having him crumple or implode and get what many probably think he deserves, as I'd started to expect, they proved why their main character, Don Draper, is worthy of the title "hero" or protagonist.

What does Don do when everything's falling apart around him? He rises to the occasion in every sense of the word. He's brave and smart and bold and convinces others to follow his audacious plans. He realizes, whether or not his wife had been having an affair doesn't matter. He sees he has no business or right to be angry with her, takes the high road, and gives her what she asks for, even though it will destroy the perfect little family life he's constructed and oh so desperately wanted his entire life. He eats some crow and tells Pete and Peggy why he values them -- even though he hates Pete and has trouble respecting and valuing women. (And Peggy proves herself a worthy protagonist, too.)

Yes, in the Season 3 Finale episode, Don, with bags under his eyes, with childhood flashbacks haunting him, with everyone else tossing up their hands in defeat and saying, "Well, there's nothing we can do," Don proves himself a real hero. (Even if we all know he's a fake.)

Oh, Mad Men, how I do love thee.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spank me and tell me I'm bad!

Yesterday, Molly mentioned her critique group which started me thinking about the whole critique group thing.

I have been flying solo for quite a few years. I had a critique group back in 2002 to 2004 (or maybe a little past). We kind of fell apart after two of our members moved to other towns. By that time, there were only two of us actively writing anyway and the other person was writing personal essays. I was a little uncomfortable when it started turning into The Eileen Show.

Anyway, they were terrific in a lot of ways. Great sounding boards for ideas and directions. Excellent copy-editors. None of them, however, were writing popular fiction and didn't really know a lot about the romance genre. By the time we disbanded, I was a little relieved although I missed them.

A few months ago, a group of writers from my local RWA chapter asked me to join their critique group. I said yes mainly because I liked the people. They're a very smart, funny, sassy group of women and I find it hard to resist a chance to hang out with smart, funny, sassy women. I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to be in a critique group, though. A lot of times, I don't finish things until they need to be turned in. There's no time for critiquing. Plus, I wasn't sure I wanted anyone monkeying with my stuff.

For the first few months, it was kind of pointless. I'd turn things into them at the same time I was turning them into my editor or agent and we know whose input was going to count more, now don't we?

But now . . . now, that I'm back to the long game (not just synopses and proposals, but actually producing pages), I'm totally hooked on it. They find little logic issues right away and I can fix them before they trip me up 200 pages later. They tell me when I'm dumping too much info and should save some for later or when I'm not dumping enough and they're confused. They tell me when someone says some thing stupid or offensive so I can take it out before my editor takes an unassailable dislike to my hero. It's marvelous!

Now, I like it when they tell me how funny I am or how clever, but it's when they tell me where I've screwed up that I come out energized and excited to delve deeper into the work.

It's only been a few months, but I'm totally hooked and can't believe I didn't have this backing me up all along. What was I thinking?

So, here's to you, Tiny Killer Bees (that's our name, don't ask me to explain it)! I love it when you tell me I'm naughty! Keep it up!
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