Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why Johnny Depp makes a great standard for a hero

Let’s start with how insanely handsome he is, which is always nice to have in a hero. I like that he’s very private, hates interviews, and avoids photographers so much, he moved to France to get away from the paparazzi.
He’s rarely photographed with his wife, and almost never with his children.

He didn’t sell baby pictures of his children.

He is vocal in his adoration of his children and his wife. He is ridiculously talented, Maureen would know how many oscar nom’s he’s gotten, and I like that he chooses roles that interest and challenge him, rather than always for the money.
Not that I’m against money..

So we have a talented actor who is also a devoted family man.

What really makes him hero fare is that he is the reformed bad boy. He used to smoke, drink lots, trash hotel rooms and date models. He was known, at one point, for his bad behavior, then he moved to France, met the right woman and became the man above.

Oversimplified, I know, but the reformed bad boy is incredibly rare as most women will attest. It’s almost impossible to change a man, which is why so many smart women marry nice guys, who were always nice.

But the appeal of reforming the bad boy is delicious.

And while the good guy is great husband material in real life, where’s the conflict? It will be bad boys for me, at least in my stories.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

She's Drunk Again...Stephanie Doyle and Suspect Lover

American Idol is back … and so am I.

I have a book out this month and Molly asked me if I wanted to blog. You know so I could promote it. See Maureen’s post about Self-Promotion for my thoughts on this. I suck at it.

Okay here it goes… I really liked writing Suspect Lover. It was a much more emotional book for me and the sex turned out very HOT. If you want you should buy it and let me know what you think about it. I would love to hear people’s opinions.

That’s it. That’s the extent of my self-promotion.

Now we can turn to something really important – the new format on AI. This year they’ve opted for 36 contestants instead of 24. Three groups of 12 where only the top guy, top girl and the next top vote getter (be it guy or girl) get through. I’ve done the math and my guess is this is going to mean a wild card night to pull out another 3 from the scrap heap. Go Anoop!

This is cut throat. This is ‘one shot and done’ type stuff. Simon said to more than one hopeful… (Paraphrasing – insert English accent here) “This was your one shot… in front of twenty-five million people… and you blew it.”

Very difficult to hear, yes, but the truth in a way only Simon can deliver it. It got me to thinking how important it is to make that one shot count. In writing I think we have a little more wiggle room. Write a book and get a bad review you have the opportunity to write another. Get a rejection from an editor/agent you can still submit to someone else.

But Simon’s brutal words brought home to me that a writer MUST make the most of each chance. Each outing in publishing - be it a query letter, manuscript, contracted book… must simply be the absolute best you can do. The competition – especially now – is just too fierce.
And what the Idol singers need to consider holds true for many writers.

Did you pick the right song for you? Translated – Did you pick the right type of story for you? If your strength is plot – did you go with a high action novel or some character driven angst ridden novel that falls flat because it’s not in your range?

Did you take a risk? Translated – Did you push yourself to the edge of that range mentioned above but instead of missing the mark you turned it into something fantastic? Safe is for losers in a competition like this.

Were you original? Did you bring something new to the table? Translated – Were you original and did you bring something new to the table. This premise crosses all art. You want to do vampires – go for it, but what new and different element are you going to bring to a vampire story to make it stand out.

Did you practice so that you don’t forget the words? Translated – Have you been working on your craft? Talent will get you so far -- no doubt. But when you’re talking about doing this over the long haul you’re going to need to have those writing skills mastered and at your fingertips so you can call them up at will without having to think too hard about them.

If you only had one shot, one story, one chance to sell it – how good would that book have to be before you let it out the door? So why shouldn’t everything you do in writing be exactly that good. I’m getting ready to start a new project and I have pledged to keep Simon’s voice in the back of my mind the whole time.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


I used to love Oscar season. I had an ongoing wager with a good friend regarding outcomes and the loser had to but a really fabulous brunch in LA. But then I had kids and stopped going to LA, fabulous brunches are a thing of the past and to tell you the truth - I can't watch many of the Oscar films.

I know this is a product of the kids - but I can't watch tough movies anymore. I spend so much of my time imagining the worst end result of any one of my child's actions through out the day (ie: if I let him walk on the sidewalk instead of sit in the stroller he will get hit by a car and die OR I will rush out to save him and I will get hit by a car and die, leaving my husband alone to raise the children, but in a few years he'll meet a fabulous thin blond and she will raise my children, slowly removing all photos of me in the house. When Lucy gets married she will thank the blonde and call her mom. Mick, so living the new blond will marry a woman just like her, rather than just like me and his house will be neat and clean but he'll be trapped in a soulless, loveless marriage.) that it's simply not entertaining to go out and experience more human drama on film. I've had enough of it just walking down the street with my toddler. Which isn't to say I just want mindless blockbusters, but the middle ground films are few in far between - Little Miss Sunshine. Waitress. I've heard Slumdog is feel good, but you have to get through some children being tortured or something. We watched Babel on the Movie network a while ago - I needed an IV to help with the dehydration caused by crying. I was sobbing uncontrollably almost from the first scene. Not fun for anyone.

Anyway - times have changed - can't watch tough, serious movies. Want feel good fluff.

Adam and I had a chance to go out the other night to see a movie and ended up at Milk, and before the movie I was sitting in the theater, nearly asleep in that nice, hushed popcorn-scented half-darkness getting irritated that filmmakers can't make smart blockbusters anymore, or that indie films all have to be so tough. Remember Apollo 13? Excellent blockbuster. Forrest Gump? There are others, right?

But then the movie starts and f*$! me if Milk isn't amazing. Just amazing. Top to bottom, left to right - good storytelling, excellent EXCELLENT performances - Sean Penn - you can't say enough about that guy's ability to disappear into every single role he takes on. This gay activist is played by the same guy who played the Boston Irish tough guy in Mystic River. Same guy.

And don't get me started on James Franco. Because the guy KISSING Sean Penn and looking at him with such a complicated and realistic mix of love and worry and respect and disappointment is THE SAME GUY who put his foot through a cop car windshield in an effort to see better while driving said car in Pineapple Express. I wonder if James Franco watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High at some point in his youth and thought, while watching Penn, making out with that guy on film is going to change my life.

And Gus Van Sant, whom I already love so much for bringing me Good Will Hunting - manages to make this sad movie, terrible tragedy into something hopeful and inspiring.

I guess my point is, those middle ground movies are still there. But when did the distance between what the public wants and the films Oscar awards get so wide? Not everything has to be a Will Farrell film, but why can't we wrap good storytelling and important stories in candy-coating that will bring out the masses?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Self Promotion

One of the realities of publishing these days -- whether you're published by a major house whose giving your book a huge print run (or a small one), an e-pub with only a website for distribution, or self published -- is that authors need to do self promotion.

I think romance writers have always known this... but it's even seeping into the literary world, evidenced by a quote by Margaret Atwood I recently read... which I really should look up the actual words... but to paraphrase, it was: "shameless self promoter" used to be an insult in the publishing world, now it's a necessity.

But what I keep wondering is: how far is too far? I mean, for me anyway, there are writers out there whose books I will NEVER buy because of their behavior online, or (for a scant few) how they refer to themselves in their e-mail signature lines.

Where is my personal line-in-the-self-promo sand drawn? It's ill-defined and drifts, I must admit... But some examples:
  • weekly Facebook requests blasted out to everyone and anyone to buy a book or become a fan. Friend, okay. Fan? If I've never heard of you -- not so much.

  • calling yourself "bestselling" every time you sign your name or write your bio (especially in venues with other writers who know what bestselling means in the industry) when in your case, "bestselling" translates to being in the top twenty books released, by your e-publisher in June, for two hours, one day when you got your husband and best friend to buy two books at the same time

  • calling yourself "award winning", when the only award you've won was an obscure contest where you placed in the top 3 of 5 entries, or your book won an award for the most blatant man-titty cover

  • being a member of a writing community, but never posting or answering any questions for over three years-- and then posting twice a day for the entire month your book comes out and drawing attention to your book with every post

  • drawing way too much attention to a review from a site that rarely gives anything but good reviews (fine to celebrate a bit. fine to post it on your website. but especially around other writers, don't act like you got a starred review at PW, a positive (or even negative) review from Kirkus or Library Journal, or a DIK review at AAR -- if what you actually got was 4 butterflies (or whatever) at a site that gives 4 or 5 "butterflies' 90% of the time, or only ever posts reviews for books they liked. Face it, some of these review sites are in it for the free books. **Maureen braces for tomatoes**)
Those are some self-promo pet peeves of mine. But like all things, there are degrees, and it's often all about the execution.

For example, I have no problem with people celebrating good news or telling me when their book's coming out through social networking sites or writers loops... Or sharing their first sale or first review, or a particularly great review, or contest wins (even about covers)... I actually love hearing all that good news and sharing people's joy...

But hear me now Self-or-Tiny-Press-Published-Writers-on-Facebook do you really think you need a fan page that YOU set up and have to ask people to join??? Aren't fan pages supposed to be by and for, well, fans? (Full disclosure... I have gladly joined fan pages for writers I've actually met/know of online, and/or whose books I've actually read.)

I think when you're asking social networking "friends", you don't even know, to be your "fan" it comes down to the wording. I'd have no issue with someone who's honest and says, "Hey, I've started up a fan page for my books, just in case people who've read my book, or are thinking about reading it, would like a place to interact and network, and so I can easily keep you informed when stuff's happening related to my book." That's so different from acting as if actual fans have set up the page, and then asking people, who don't even know who the hell you are, to "be my fan".

I just thought of someone who did this really well... Nadine Dajani's brother set up a "Buy My Sister's Book or Die" group on Facebook when her first book came out. I loved that. It was cheeky and funny... Actually, I think being invited to join that group was why I joined Facebook... Maybe it's just because I know and like Nadine that I didn't find that obnoxious... but I think it was entirely in the execution. I think I would have joined (or at least clicked on the link to) a group called "buy my sister's book or die" even if I'd never heard of Nadine...

J.D. Rhoades' "Gang of Hellions" facebook group is another example of someone doing it "right" in my mind. I don't know the guy... haven't read him (yet), but I did have people I knew who were in his group so gladly joined when I first got invited. And his messages to the group aren't frequent, and are always amusing... And he's generous to other writers--doesn't use the group solely for his own promotion... For example, he has this thing called "clinching" (named for Jon Clinch, author of Finn, who, I assume, was the first author they "did it" for. (And clinching rhymes with lynching, so it's funny... Because there's nothing funnier than lynching... I digress.) Basically the way a "clinching" works, is J.D. sends a message to the "hellions" group telling everyone to change their facebook status to "a fan of whatever-author-is-being-clinched". Great idea... viral marketing on Facebook that's fun and interactive and generous... So different from being bombarded with "be my fan" or "buy my book" messages...

I suppose, when it comes down to it, self-promoting is, at its core, social interaction, and like most social interactions, there's a line that 90% of people never cross... And the ones who do cross it, typically have no clue they've crossed it. (The bull in the china shop so often thinks they're an innocuous butterfly...)

Then there's the other extreme on the self-promo continuum. Like MOLLY O'KEEFE -- who never calls herself "award winning" (even though she should) and doesn't use this blog to mention huge stuff like:
  • her latest release THE STORY BETWEEN THEM is out this month and got a 4 star review in RT,
  • or that her last book THE SON BETWEEN THEM, not only got a 4 star review from RT, it also got a DIK review from AAR,
  • or that she's won reviewer's choice awards from RT the past two years running!
  • or that she won "best series romance" in the reader poll at AAR year before last!
  • or that she's short listed for the readers' choice best series romance award again this year!! (go vote for THE SON BETWEEN THEM as best series romance. Now.) Update... voting has ended. **Pout** I hope she wins...
  • or that she's up for a freaking career achievement award at RT this year????
(Lucky Molly has me to toot her horn. She never does it herself. Bad Molly.)

How far is too far with self-promotion? Is there a line? Or is everything and anything fair game, given the highly competitive nature of the publishing industry? Am I riled up for no reason? Will I want to eat my words when it's me promoting a book? Have I just been friending too many people on Facebook? Are some of the pet peeves I mentioned fair game in your books?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sexy Premise

My coffeemaker broke - this morning!!! I nearly cried. Is it wrong that I view every morning as simply a reason to have coffee? Anyway - the lack of caffeine will be felt in this blog post.

So, I've got all these rita books and some of them are short erotica and Blaze books and they hinge on the sexy premise. Gotta get them in bed as fast as possible. And, not one that I've read has worked. It's either 1. actions and dialogue that are SO just gross. A hero saying something that despite his looks in real life would get his head knocked off. Or the heroine being so aggressive that in real life despite her looks it would get her classified as crazy. It's true however that in real life most men would sleep with her and then call her nuts and never return her phone calls. But my question is - is this sexy? Is this really working?

And 2. Throwing sex into a situation where there is no place for it. A car is under attack - rockets are being launched at the car - it's simply not believable and not even believable in "it's a fantasy go with it" sort of way (And trust me - no one can suspend disbelief like I can.) That a man and a woman are going to be lusting after each other - noticing the six pack abs or the erection! Who is going to have an erection when you're under attack?

I'm all for a sexy premise - and to me there's nothing like a sexy premise in a historical. That is good fun genre. Remember Susan Johnson's Silver Flame? Heroine sells herself at the brothel? Sexy premise all over the place. But, in contemporary romance the sexy premise has to be elevated - it has to be a real plot situation and it can be a great device - otherwise - it's just bad.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

We have a winner!

And the winner of Florence Case's new book, DEADLY REUNION, is:


Please contact me at maureen at

Friday, February 13, 2009

conflict on every page

I think Maureen took that home from a workshop she did from Donald Maas, but it’s something that hasn’t strayed far from my mind since she told me of it.

But it sounds exhausting and hard and my first thoughts about conflict are fighting, disagreements, disputes, all words that indicate that your character is in crisis. Big drama moments, that can overwhem a reader if they happen on every page.

Then I started to watch the Wire and everything I need to know about conflict is all right there. And yes, Molly got both Maureen and I started on this show and yes, every TV critic ever has raved about this show, and yes, it’s as good as everybody says it is.

What the Wire does, is create several points of conflict for each character. If they introduce a character, that person will cause trouble for someone else. Even the so called good guys cause conflict for each other. The lieutenant of a group of cops is the perfect example of how they create conflict.
He’s a career oriented guy, someone who wants to proceed through the ranks. They give him a detective to watch over that resents hierarchy, but is great at his job. The commissioner is yelling at the Lieutenant to solve a big case quickly and expediently and the lieutenant’s people are telling him this case is too big and important to solve within a week and providing him evidence to support their claims. Evidence his superiors are not interested in.
Right in the middle of all of this, is this lieutenant, whose need to do the right thing is at war with his career plans.

And this guy is a supporting character in the show. The main characters have equally as much conflict, coming from all sides. Its brilliant plotting and it works on every level.

So thinking about it, I’ve decided to re-think certain characters that I usually put into my books. The big one right now is the ‘best friend’. The character in the book that is there as a sounding board to the hero or heroine, the one that listens, offers advice, but does little else. Not enough conflict in that character. Unless, they have a life of their own, something that either contrasts nicely with the heroine’s predicament, or causes problems for the heroine.

I’m going to rethink my characters goals, both big and small, and ensure every scene challenges at least one of those goals.

I’m aiming for conflict on every page, but if I get to conflict on every second one, then I’m better off than I am now.

I’m still exhausted thinking about it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Welcome, Florence Case!

Today we’ve got a visitor! Everyone extend a warm welcome to Steeple Hill author, Florence Case. And there’s a prize! (Read to the bottom to get the details. Okay, technically you could just scroll down... but you'll want to read this interview. Trust me.)

I’ve known Flo for four or five years now and she’s a super warm and supportive person and I’m absolutely thrilled to see her in print again! Her backlist includes three historical romances under the name Florence Moyer, for Pageant Books and Kensington, and five category romances, under the name Hayley Gardner, for Silhouette Yours Truly and Silhouette Romance.

In addition to being an author, Flo has worked as a freelance editor, and has taught romance writing classes and completed manuscript critiques for the Writer's Digest Magazine School. These days, she’s happy to be focused back on the side of publishing she most loves—creating stories.

Her latest novel is DEADLY REUNION, a February release in the Steeple Hill Inspired Suspense line.

Flo, thanks for stopping by to visit and congratulations on the release of DEADLY REUNION. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

Yes, I've always wanted to be a writer from the time I was about ten years old and wrote my first, two page short story. It was a mystery involving children and what was in the trunk in their attic. I wish I could tell you what it was in the trunk, but I've long since forgotten most of the details except that my teacher told me it was a very good story. Then, when I was thirteen, I started writing heroines for my favorite television heroes in westerns or in detective shows, or, if they were older heroes, giving them daughters who would go through danger and have a younger colleague of the hero's rescue them. I think now that's called fan fiction, but back then, I had no idea.

I did this all through my teens, then started writing short stories in college and during my early twenties. I received a couple of great rejection letters for those stories.

Thinking I would spend my life in the Northeast, I got my Bachelor's degree in German from Montclair State College (now a University) in NJ, hoping to get a job as a bilingual secretary, which paid well back then. As it turned out, I married a wonderful guy and moved for his new job to the deep South, where they don't speak German. But it didn't matter, because all I ever wanted to do was write fiction.

I began to pursue that dream, and like most writers, had some successes and a few heartbreaks. Basically, I wrote my million words long before my first two books were published by Pageant Books in 1989.

Where do you get your inspiration? Characters first? Plot? Dreams? Divine intervention?

Oh gosh. I'm convinced Divine Intervention was behind DEADLY REUNION, because lots of that book was unplanned. I would write something down and not know why, and then a couple chapters later, the "why" of it became so clear. It would happen again and again. But generally, I would say my main inspiration comes from situations that grip me and won't let go.

For DEADLY REUNION, for instance: What happens if a murderer is set free, and later it's discovered he is indeed guilty, but due to double jeopardy laws cannot be retried without new evidence--but even more frightening, he's found God and is going to YOUR church? That's what I started with. As I dreamed up characters for the situation, it changed somewhat, but I think the intensity of the fear that would grip someone in the initial situation is still there.

You’ve written in several sub-genres, what led you to try inspirational romantic suspense?

The romantic suspense part is easy to explain, so I'll tackle that first. I've always put, or tried to put, a mystery or danger into each of my books. This was easier to do with historical romance, but I had to hold back, and rightly so, with my straight category romances I wrote for Silhouette, which needed to have the focus on the relationship, not on a mystery. I decided to try not holding back and seeing if I could break into romantic suspense.

The decision to go into the inspirational genre was really tough for me, and to be honest, I fought it. My faith in God is important to me, and I was afraid I would get something wrong, such as writing characters that do not glorify God, or worse, turn non-believers away from God, which would horrify me. But I kept feeling like I needed to write characters who are more focused on God than those I'd been writing, and who have faith that comforts them in times of trouble. At the same time, I wanted to keep them "real", with questions about God they cannot answer, and doubts that pop up, and faith that wavers, because these things happen with believers' lives sometimes. Fortunately, Steeple Hill let me do that.

James Bond or Austin Powers?

Love this question! The movie previews I saw for Austin Powers didn't do a thing for me, so I skipped that movie. The three James Bond flicks I've actually sat through, I think I knitted or read a book and just looked up when there was shooting or some sort of explosives. (I have no idea why movie violence is so interesting to me. In real life, firecrackers going off can send me running straight for the house. I double check--okay, triple check my doors every night to make sure they are locked. You get the idea.) For fantasy or fictional heroes, I think I'm more into police detectives--in which case give me Robert DeNiro in any detective role. I love watching the intensity in him when he's facing the bad guys. I also loved Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue. They are both powerful, 'get it done' guys that don't take any nonsense from anyone. (And I don't care if they have a little bulk on them.)

Tell us more about DEADLY REUNION.

I believe this is my favorite book I've ever written. Angie Delitano, a police officer, was betrayed by her former fiancé, a lawyer who got his client, a man she is positive murdered his wife, off scot free at her expense. To be fair to Boone Walker, he did warn her he would do anything to free the man. And now that the murderer is free and engaged to marry her sister, she is determined to stop the wedding. There are just two problems at the opening of the book--she stopped her sister's first wedding, so her family is barely talking to her and barely trusts her, and on her way to dig up some evidence on the murderer, someone threatens Angie's life. So in order to accomplish her goal, she must go to Boone Walker, because, just like with his clients, she knows if he promises to help her, he will do anything it takes to do just that.

What’s next for you? What are you working on?

MISTLETOE AND MURDER, coming out in November 2009, is my work in progress. It's probably better if I don't talk much about it, but it involves a city, Christmas, and a heroine and hero who, the closer they get, the more the villain wants to kill them both.

It sounds just as fabulous as DEADLY REUNION! I’m curious, are you the Florence Moyer that the EPIC award is named after?

Yes, that’s me. When the internet seemed to be getting more and more popular in 1997, I got the idea to put out the call to other interested authors to form a small email group that later became EPIC, the Electronically Published Internet Connection, to investigate the young phenomenon of ebooks. I just had a feeling that ebooks would be big. During the next couple of months, the group expanded and went official, with board members. To help make us more professional, (and because this was before yahoo groups, and a lot of emails were going astray), I bought a program for my computer that would take in emails and distribute them, including in digests if people wanted them. I ran that for a while. I also learned html coding and set up the first web site with graphics that another member sent me.
Later, I dropped out of the group, as I was primarily interested in traditional publishing, but EPIC remembered me by making the Florence Moyer Service Award at their annual conferences. Of course, not being in EPIC, but their having the award named after me, has a strange side too. A couple years or more after I left EPIC, I met up with a member at an RWA conference, who'd heard of me because of the award, and who'd thought I was dead.
Uh, not yet.

That’s hilarious. (About the being mistaken for dead, I mean.) Good on you for all that hard work for EPIC. Wow. (Always wondered how writers survived before Yahoo Groups.) What are your favorite books, movies, TV shows?

Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series--because I was born and raised in Jersey, and that's where her books are set. Anything by Lisa Scottoline because she's funny and sophisticated at the same time. Movies and TV shows: All the LETHAL WEAPON movies because of the camaraderie between the two main characters. Anything with Robert DeNiro in it, and almost anything with Clint Eastwood.

TV shows: 24 with Keifer Sutherland (love Chloe), and Prison Break because of the camaraderie, and I thought it was neat that one brother would go to prison to break his brother out. And anything like Forensic Files, 48 Hours, Snapped--basically any true crime show.

I look at the above list and go ugh, people are going to think I'm violence happy. I'm not, honest. I think the thing is I like to see lawbreakers caught and the good guys get happy endings. But just in case there are more doubts, here are two more movies I loved: RADIO, based on a real story about this mentally handicapped young man whom a high school coach befriends and really helps. Having a handicapped young adult son, this movie is heartwarming for me. And CHRISTMAS STORY, because we've all been kids with that kind of wish. (Mine was for a Barbie doll when I was six.)

I love CHRISTMAS STORY, too. What’s your favorite thing about being an author? Your least favorite?

My favorite thing is being able to stay home. I don't have a least favorite, unless it's writing something and it not selling. I try to learn from it, but it's basically sad.

What’s your #1 piece of advice for aspiring authors?

Read. I know it sounds clichéd, but I'm a firm believer in this. I lost my first publisher to a buy out by a larger publisher, who closed down the paperback line I had sold my historical romances to. (After they were published, fortunately.) I broke back into publishing only when I spent three straight months reading fifty category romances in a row, and marking down what worked and didn't work for me in them. It helped me develop a feel for how to write a category romance.

What’s your favorite drink?

Ice tea. No sugar. I used to drink tons of it, but had to cut down on caffeine. Years ago, in my wild days, I used to love tequila sunrises, but drinking gave me migraines the next day, so I had to stop.

I want to thank Maureen and Drunk Writer's for having me. I enjoyed the interview.

We loved having you Flo, and the next time I see you in person, the iced tea’s on me.

**One lucky commenter, chosen at random, will receive a copy of DEADLY REUNION.**

Comment by Friday the 13th at midnight to be eligible. Winner’s name will be posted on the weekend.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The End

What makes a satisfying resolution to a romance novel? This has been on my mind a lot lately. My current WIP is a series, 5 books, where the overriding suspense arc won’t be completely put to bed until book number 5.
The bad guy in the current book won’t get his ending until book number 3, and while I will answer some of the suspense questions I raise in the book, I won’t be answering all of them.
The one thing I will resolve is the romance, my hero and heroine will be together and committed to each other by the end of the story.
This is more and more common with the influx of single title series books within the romance genre, but coming up with an ending that the reader finds satisfying, while still leaving a lot of questions unanswered, is really, really tricky.

It’s a fine line between getting the reader excited to buy the next book, and frustrating them so much that they throw the book against the wall.

I’m lucky because I have a critique group who will tell me whether it works or not.

And not all of the characters I introduce in the story will have a happy ending. A couple of them will have a miserable ending, again, something that will frustrate some readers.

I’m thinking of the books I’ve read where the author leaves a lot of open questions at the end of each story. The Brotherhood books to a degree, where the big bad continues to wreak havoc, and certainly the Anita Blake books, where the romance was left unresolved at the end of most of the books.

And I think like most things when it comes to writing, it’s all in how well, or not well, it’s written.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Writing and Jazz

The other morning, I heard a TV critic being interviewed on the radio, and the topic drifted to Lost and whether or not the critic believed the producers'/writers' claims that they've known, from the beginning, how it all ends and that everything that has gone on ties in to the overall story.

I found the critic's reply to be insightful and it made me think more about writing a series of novels, or even a single novel.

The critic said writing a TV series was a bit like jazz improvisation.

"Yes!" thought I. You know the basic melody when you start, you know where you think you want it to end, you know some of the high and low points you want to reach, you know the notes you'll play most often and which phrases, themes will get repeated, BUT you have no idea when your song will get cut off or how long the piece will last or where it might go along the way. At any moment, the audience might start throwing tomatoes, (gumming up your trumpet and forcing you off the stage) or might start cheering just as you were planning to end, and caught up in the glory, you might decide to play some more.

I think writing a series of books is like that, too. (Says the girl just starting the second of what she hopes will be a 4-6 book series.)

When I saw J.R. Ward talk last fall, she said that she had ten books in her Brotherhood series all mapped out in her mind before she started. At first, this freaked me out. But as she continued her talk, and after reading her "Secrets of the Brotherhood..." book, I came to believe she saw them all, in the same way the makers of Lost saw their series from the beginning. Loosely, with no idea how long the story would be. Ward had no way of knowing how many of the books she'd get to write and how quickly she'd have to tie up all the loose ends and how many unexpected twists and journeys she might make along the way that came out of the writing process.

I think the key is to have an overall plan, but to make it scalable and flexible... both to take advantage of the amazing magic that is sometimes writing -- discovering better and great ideas along the way -- and also to hedge your bets in terms of how many of these books you're going to get to write.

I guess I'm not really saying anything new, or revolutionary, here. I just liked the jazz improv analogy.

Off to tune my trumpet.

(And the Lost writers had better come up with a good explanation for that smoke monster! Methinks they were playing a little off key when they added that.)

Monday, February 02, 2009

It's About Trust...

It's like Christmas morning right now with all of this fabulous television, my DVD's of The Wire and my big box of Rita Books. Seriously, I'm so entertained I don't know what to do with myself. Lost isn't making me crazy yet, Friday Night Lights is like eating a big bowl of home made macaroni and cheese and Battlestar! Sweet sweet Battlestar.

Will watching this week's episode I realized the writers of Battlestar and The Wire have never betrayed me. They've never taken my trust and gone running off into crazy plot land, or extraneous character-ville. I trust them. I trust them so much that when they introduce something new, something delicious and subtle and small - I know I'm in good hands. I know that small detail is going to matter. It's going to be big in a way I won't see coming. When they introduce those new details, or characters or subplots - I'm thrilled. I literally rub my hands together with glee.

Lost does it and I'm like - "what the hell are they doing now." Because Lost took my trust and went berserk. And while Friday Night Lights is doing a great job, I still remember the dead body subplot from season two and when something new crops up on the show, I'm worried. Nervous that they'll blow it again.

I've had some excellent Rita entries this year. But I've had a few that don't even bother to try and earn my trust. Because trust involves mystery. It requires the reader to say - well, not too sure where you're headed, but I'm with you. You've got me.

And the last few books have been spoon-feeding me character and backstory and conflict, like they don't trust me to get there on my own. Trust, clearly is a two way street.

So, my takeaway is that unless we trust our readers to follow the breadcrumbs, they're never going to trust us to take them someplace fabulous.
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