Monday, April 30, 2012

My Totally Awesome Solo Writer's Retreat!

I finally worked up the nerve to do what I'd been dreaming of since my writing career took off...but my house remained small and full of interruptions.

I got myself a hotel room.

And let me say, it was pure bliss. I wrote for approximately twelve hours straight and rewarded myself with a nice midnight swim in the twenty-four hour pool. I subsided on junk food, cigarettes, four Red Bulls, and a six pack of hard cider. With no interruptions, no TV blaring, and no people around, I was able to really let loose with my imagination. So much so that my characters surprised me.

I wanted to get 8-10 thousand words written, but I only got 6 thousand. However, I also got the remaining scenes left in the novel outlined. All in all, I considered it an extremely productive endeavor and I highly recommend it to any writer.

Friday, April 27, 2012

10 Tips on Becoming a More Productive Writer.

With a night job, a family, and a tiny house full of kids, animals, and my T.V. addicted husband, writing can be hard for me sometimes. My office is a TV dinner table in the living room. So yeah, I repeat: writing can be hard. However, I've been averaging between two and three thousand words a day. How have I been doing this in the midst of such chaos (as seen below)? Here's some tips.

But at least my muses stand guard over my "office."

1.) Progress Bars. I swear by these. Say you're at 15K...but if you add just 500 more measly words, the percentage will go higher. It can be very addicting but motivating. As you can see, I have three up right now. I've left the 100% completed project up because it's another bar to measure the others against as well as a reminder that you have completed something and thus can do it again.

2.) Announcing your goal for the day. For one thing, doing so is declaring a concise commitment. For another you feel more obligated to fulfill it. Also, having your online buddies rooting you on really helps.

3.) Make a deadline. If you don't have a set due date for each draft of your manuscript, you can be very tempted to flounder and perhaps even give up. Some of you may already have a deadline from your publisher. In that case I still recommend making your own. Try to get it done earlier. If you succeed, you will impress your editor. If you fail, at least you're still likely further ahead and more likely to make the one the publisher set.

4.) Have a group of critique partners and/ or beta readers. I cannot stress enough the importance of beta readers! They want to know what happens next in your story and they will not shut up about it until you provide.

5.) Keep tabs on other author's goals and progress. It was watching other authors declare their goals and  then triumphantly announce when they nailed 'em that motivated me in the first place. "This chick got 2K today?" I'd think. "Damn, I gotta catch up to that...and maybe even beat her!" Friendly competition can be healthy. Also, you all end up rooting for each other so it's all good.

6.) Give housework the finger. Again, observe the picture of my office. This was during a 3 day writing which I nailed 12K. Oftentimes, the story takes priority.

7.) Limit your drinking. No, don't quit drinking (unless it's hurting yourself and others). A lot of writers drink. The reason? Alcohol lowers inhibitions. With lowered inhibitions, I can let loose those poignant emotional scenes...and that's not the booze talking. My beta readers cried, man. They cried. Success!! But don't drink so much the words become blurry or you lose track of your story. Don't drink so much that you're too hung over the next day to write. I've pegged my limit at 4 hard ciders on the weekdays and 6 on the weekends.
8.) Don't be afraid to skip a part or two and jump ahead. Sometimes I just don't have the right word or description to something that leads to the part I know. In those instances I type "so and so does this" or simply, "blah blah blah" and then highlight. You can always go back later and fill those parts in as they come. The important thing is to press on.

9.) Turn off the internet. I've noticed that checking my email, twitter, and facebook can be endlessly addicting...and distracting. And don't get me started on I'm grounded for a week from that site, LOL. So I turn off my internet for an hour, write, turn it back on, check my stuff, post an update, say hi to a few friends, then turn it back off. My productivity has skyrocketed since.

10.) Get a hotel room. I saved up my money and did some careful shopping with Expedia and reserved a room for tomorrow night. I will keep the internet off, have a steady supply of cigarettes, Red Bull, and hard cider. I will have no kids, husband, animals, friends, solicitors, etc. to distract me. My goal is 10K. I will let you know how that goes. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fun at the Release party for HUNTED

I've been anticipating this story since book one, when the premise was first hinted. Needless to say, like all of Rebecca Zanetti's release parties, I was hella-excited to attend this one. The only bad thing about 'em is that I've been working a night job and thus I only get to hang out for a half hour tops.

But I made it, picked up my copy of HUNTED and I got my fan-girl picture with the author.

Rebecca's her usual elegant self. I look like a dork, but at least I'm rockin' my DIO shirt!

My buddies, Shelley Martin and Bonnie R. Paulson were there as well and we had fun catching up. I didn't get any wine this time because I'd lost my wallet (at work, thankfully) and the guy carded me. Shelley and Rebecca were jealous, but I was more irritated than flattered. It sucks not having a wallet...or wine. But at least I learned that my heavy metal t-shirts make me look young. :)

To make up for the lack of wine, I indulged in the always awesome appetizers. There was this feta-olive-herb spread that was to die for.

Then Shelley and I wandered around the store, ogling the cooking supplies. I REALLY want the nifty utensils for getting meat out of crab and lobster. We also ran across something that had me giggling and telling dirty jokes...until one of the store employees caught us, but you'll have to check out my Facebook page for that one.

Alas, it was time to go to work. So I hugged my friends, got another hug from the author for good measure and took myself and my shiny new copy of HUNTED off into the warm Spring evening.

And I'm still wondering where I'll have my release party. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

When Fiction Inspires Reality.

In my post, "Best Books I read in 2011," I raved about this book. Well I decided to reread it and once more came across something that drove me crazy. During the hero's time traveling adventures, he went to a restaurant in the fictional town of DERRY, Maine in 1958. Every time he ate there he ordered something called "Fried Lobster Pickin's." Not much description was offered except the following: "The heap on the platter looked like roadkill, but it smelled terrific and tasted better. Probably a billion grams of cholesterol in every bite, but in 1958, nobody worried about that, which is restful." 

Anyway, I really wanted to try these things and by my 2nd read, I tried to find out if they were real. As far as I could discover, they weren't.

So I decided to invent them. I pictured "Fried Lobster Pickin's" to be chunks of lobster meat that were beer-battered and deep fried. And that is what I made.

Okay, they didn't really look like roadkill, but I think I nailed the part about high cholesterol. :) 

OMG, they were freakin' EPIC!!!! My taste buds were most pleased.

I used Western Pride batter mix and Alaskan Amber Ale.

And thus, another miracle has been inspired by fiction.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why the Sex Doesn't Sizzle (and How You Can Make It Sizzle): Guest Post by Dolly Garland

Have you read a sex scene that falls flat? Forget about tension and desire, what you are feeling is more akin to boredom and distraction.

We’ve all read those scenes.

Many of us have written them too. There could be tons of reasons why this happens. It could be just lack of practice or just psychological discomfort, or something else. We are not going for psychoanalysis here. Our focus is on the end result.

It’s likely that you might get better by practicing, but I prefer a more methodical approach to learning so that results become likely rather than an accident.

Before the extreme right-brained amongst you question the validity of using methodical approach for creative things, let me assure, yes it works. Focusing only on our creativity or only on logic is an excuse people use to say “I was born that way”, but if you intend to go through life and be successful in whatever you want to do, at some point you need both creativity and logic.

We are just going to apply that principle to writing sex scenes.

What you need:

A journal and a pen. You can do this electronically, and I’m not saying it won’t work. If you are used to typing everything, it probably will work. However, I do advocate writing by hand. There is something about the physical act of putting pen on paper and getting the words out – words that are uniquely yours not just because you thought of them, but because your hand shaped them – that helps assimilate the knowledge further. It connects words to your emotions and to your mind and heart.

Answer these questions before we can move on to making your scenes sizzle.

Why is the scene there?

Does it move the story forward?

Is it there because the characters are at the stage in their relationship where sex is the only natural progression?

Is it there because you just want a bunch of sex scenes to sell the story?

This is not a judgement process. You can write them for whatever reason you wish, but it’s important to know why you are writing, because it is your why that shapes the scene.

Face Facts

Read your current scene out loud, and answer these questions:

What did you want it to be? Is it supposed to be dark and intense, fun and giggly, sweet and romantic?

Is it what you wanted it to be?


Get Inspired

Make a list of sex scenes you remember. Don’t cheat. Don’t Google it, or browse through your DVD shelf.

This list has to come from memory. You remember these scenes for a reason. They had impact on you. They had something special that just stayed with you.

For example, I immediately think of:

Matrix, the scene between Neo and Trinity during the celebration in Zion

Buffy and Spike

Shakespeare in Love, the first sex scene which is romantic in every sense of the word, with sonnet recitals included

Titanic – for its innocence

From books, first time between Jaenell and Daemon in Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop

Scenes between Eve and Rourke in the “In Death” series by J. D. Robb

I must have seen and read hundreds, possibly thousands of sex scenes but in this ten seconds, I thought of only a handful. Because these scenes had something special that connected to me.

Why do these scenes work for you? What elements appeal to you? This is not an exercise in copying other people’s work.

Shred Your Scene

Pick it apart. Every single bit of it. How many POVs? What’s the location? What is the mood you are trying to convey? Is there any dialogue? Choreography? What emotions are already there? Are there any lines that you really like? Are there any gems that you must keep? Are there any clich├ęs that you need to get rid of?

Get Involved

You’ve just ripped apart your scene, and it’s fresh in your mind. Get your journal, and start writing.

Write about your impressions of the scene, your frustration of what’s working or what’s not. Write about good things you found. Write what you can do to fix it. You might find fragments of the actual scene seeping in, that’s okay.

The key is to write fast and absorb yourself in this scene. Let is completely take over you. Get in the zone as if you are actually there. Give your brain a chance to feel challenged. Did deeper, and gather as many ideas as possible.

Fix It

Type up your scene, with double space between each individual line, and then make a comment next to every single one of those lines as to how you can improve it.

Yes, it’s going to take time. Yes, it will be annoying and you just want to get on with it. Trust me, I know. If impatience was a skill, I would win awards. But if you do this for even two or three scenes, you will not only fix those scenes, but you will also learn where you are going wrong, and the next time you are writing sex scenes, the process will be much easier.


Pick one of your scenes that is weak, that doesn’t create the emotional response you want it to create, and take it through all the steps listed above. Don’t skimp on the work.

Dolly Garland is a fantasy writer and a founder of Kaizen Journaling, where she helps a community of Kaizen Warriors create their personalised arsenal for success. Find her on Facebook

Monday, April 16, 2012

Writing, Reading, and the Inherent Dangers Therein: Guest post by Elise Rome

Thanks so much to Brooklyn Ann for inviting me to blog today! When she first approached me about the idea for this post, I immediately said yes. She asked me to write about how we readers-turned-writers can turn off the “critique” side and read just to be a reader again.

The truth is—at least for me—I’m never “only” a reader anymore. I’ve spent too much time editing my own work and critiquing others’ manuscripts. Even when a friend asks me to just do a beta read for her (i.e. reading full manuscript without comments and instead giving summary of feedback at the end), I can’t help myself. I have to turn that track change marker on and mark anything I see that could be improved. Even when I tell myself that I’m just going to read a book for fun, I might not be as analytical about what I read, but I’ll still be reading along and hit something—a specific plot device, perhaps—and my writer brain will wake up and shout, “Look at that!” I’m tempted to say it’s a curse, but I have to admit that I like it. =) More on that in a minute.

For example, right now I’m re-reading one of my favorite books of all time, DEVIL IN WINTER by Lisa Kleypas. I haven’t re-read this book since becoming a writer, and although I still love it with an equal amount of passion as before, I’m now able to notice things about Ms. Kleypas’ (who just happens to also be one of my very favorite authors) writing that I never noticed the first time around. Here are just a few things I’ve seen:

1)      She gives one or more paragraphs of information about a specific historical fact or tradition. It’s not coming from the character, but from the author herself directed at the reader. We’re always told to show, not tell, but this is very obvious telling.
2)      In the hero or heroine’s POV she gives physical tags about that specific person—taking a step out from the third person limited to omniscient and back again.
3)      She repeatedly uses the same words when describing her hero’s mannerisms. For example, he raises a brow sardonically or murmurs wryly.

All these are things that I would mark up in a critique, and yet, here’s the thing that strikes me as I’m reading this book again. Despite the three instances I mentioned above and any others I may come across in the future, I’m still enjoying the book. I notice these issues and move on, but the book still works! In fact, I can’t turn the pages fast enough. Perhaps even more importantly, I remember that when I read DEVIL IN WINTER for the first time, before I started writing seriously, I didn’t notice any of these—and I loved the book. Makes one wonder about all the “rules” we have as writers…

As a result, I now have two differing opinions on reading books from a writer’s perspective. First of all, I think it is a blessing rather than a curse to be able to notice what works and what doesn’t work in books other than our own. I believe this can only make our own work better, because we’ll be able to translate that knowledge into our manuscripts. Secondly, however, I think it’s important to realize that just because we see something “wrong” as in the Lisa Kleypas examples given above, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it was wrong for that author or that book. We personally may not like writing like this in our own work, but instead of calling something wrong and turning our nose up at someone else’s book, we should instead look at how that author makes the “wrong” look right.

Again, using the examples from DEVIL IN WINTER from Lisa Kleypas given above:

1)      Although she gives the reader direct information about historical information, she only gives enough of it to satisfy the reader’s curiosity—and then she moves on. Because of this, rather than it slowing down the pacing or shouting at me as author intrusion, I appreciate this piece of knowledge that doesn’t detract from the story but rather enhances it.
2)      Although she gives the POV character physical tags that they wouldn’t be able to see in their POV, it is subtle enough that as a reader I still feel like I’m in the scene with the characters, and I even feel that I know them a little better than I would otherwise if only given access to their direct POV.
3)      The consistent use of certain adverbs and adjectives in the hero’s mannerisms keeps his character consistent, reminding the reader of the villainous bad boy persona we were introduced to at the beginning of the book.

As you can see, analyzing how an author violates “rules” and yet makes them work can be just as effective as analyzing how an author does something “right” or does something “wrong” that we should try to avoid in our own writing.

As for trying to read for pleasure and leaving our writer brains elsewhere, I have to say that I think this is one of the inherent dangers in becoming a writer. You’re never not one. However, there have been a few times when I’ve had success with getting lost in a book, and that’s when I’ve given myself permission to enjoy the book as it is and later come back to it for a full analysis of what worked and what didn’t. I’ll cross my fingers that this approach works for you, too! =)

As a reader-turned-writer, what do you think is the most valuable part about reading other authors’ work? Have you had success turning off your writer brain for the sake of pleasure-reading? If so, how?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Attack of the Plot-Moppets: 5 Reasons I Don't Have Children in my Romances

Nope, don't want em at all.

The lovely ladies at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books have a hilarious glossary which features nifty terms for common things found in romance novels.

Today I wanted to discuss the "Plot Moppet: a small child who has no purpose or development except to drive the plot forward. (Coined and defined by Red Headed Girl)."

And this is one of the reasons I don't care to read about such characters, much less write them. But here are my other reasons:

1.) I read romance to take a vacation from children. I'm a mother of three and although parenting is rewarding, it can be very stressful. Enjoying a three hundred page break from them is a dearly needed breather.

2.) Kids are messy and bratty in real life. But many romance novels seem to pretend they're perfect angels. I can only suspend my disbelief so much. And I try to be realistic in my writing, so why would I want to write about kids destroying the heroines favorite things and giving her a headache with their squabbling?

And sometimes, they're pure EVIL!

3.) Kids are a buzz-kill on the "mood." Yeah, I know where babies come from, but that doesn't mean it's hot when the tot gets in the way during "sexy-times." Of course most of the books I read handle this with the kid conveniently going to bed without protest or being hauled away by a nanny. Which again brings me to frustrated disbelief.

4.) Most of my heroes are vampires and my vampires are sterile. So I don't have to worry about it for most of my books....until my Urban Fantasy series in which there are some disturbing scientific breakthroughs in vampire reproduction. But I'll handle that when it happens.

5.) Most romances feature heroines who want to become mothers and I want to write for those who do not. I believe the genre sometimes neglects these women. I believe there should be moppet-free stories for them too.         

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lucky 7 book tag.

...until they hear the can opener. 

Bonnie R. Paulson tagged me in the "Lucky 7" blog game-thingie that's been going around. I'm supposed to go to page 77 of one of my novels, go down 7 lines and post the following 7 lines. Then I get to tag some friends.

So here's my snippet from page 77 of BITE ME, YOUR GRACE:

            Ian was torn between amusement at her daring and anger because she was forcing him to muddle through this awkward explanation. Angelica should be even more grateful than her mother had been for his saving her and her family from social death. Leaning down as if to smell her perfume, he lowered his voice. 
        “Spare me from your wrath, Angel. Since you insist upon knowing, I will tell you that your reputation was not the only one in danger. Thanks to that upstart, John Polidori, and his story taking the Continent by storm, people have become suspicious of me.”

Ahh, that book was such a blast to write. 

And now I shall select my victims...mwah hah hah hah: Shana Galen, Tracey Devlyn, Sean T. Poindexter, Jamie DeBree, Jonathan Weyer, Terri Garey, and Tiffany White

Monday, April 9, 2012

Finding Your Bliss.

Back in 2008, I lost my career as an automotive technician. This was a crippling event since automotive technology was my major in college, and I could never work in that field again. I felt like a failure. I felt like all the money I'd spent on tuition, tools, and books, and those stressful two years of 21 credits each semester, non-stop studying, living off Top-Ramen and nearly losing my man had been a waste.

Some miracle stopped me from crumpling into the fetal position and crying like a little kid. Instead, I went straight to The Center For New Directions at my local college. They were the ones who helped me get through college in the first place. They even helped my now husband and I stay together by offering free counseling.

They did not disappoint. They were offering a free workshop for women in transitional periods in their life.

I believe those weekly classes are a big contribution to my current successes in life and one of the techniques they taught was to find your BLISS.

Life can often be miserable, but it can be joyful as well. Often it is little things that make your life better. Those little things are your BLISS. When you're struggling with an important project, or had a bad day, or encountered a pitfall in life, your BLISS can help center you and get you back on track.

In the workshop, we had to do this and those who can should follow along. Make a list of little things, (that luxury cruise doesn't count) that never fail to cheer you up.

Here's mine:

Bundling up in a warm blanket on the couch and reading a good book...while eating Cheetos. Good books are the best thing to take you away from the world. And Cheetos just seem to go with them naturally.

Watching outrageously cheesy B-horror movies...especially with a friend who enjoys them as well. Life is too serious most of the time. A little ridiculousness can be healthy.

One of those shameless daydreams where I'm a total badass and I do something impractically awesome. Come on, we all do it! A lot of mine feature me magically being able to play guitar.

A cat's purr. It's been scientifically proven that a cat's purr triggers a release of endorphins. Couple that with soft fur and you get a happy sigh from me.

An entertaining conversation. Whether it's something crazy like "who would win in a fight between Gandalf, Yoda, and Professor Snape?" or something mundane like "Hey my husband did something dorky today." "Really, mine too!" Conversations like these give your mind a break from its troubles.

A game of darts. What can I say? It's fun to throw things. :)

Megadeth. Music has always been very important to me, and Megadeth is my favorite band. No matter how bad of a day I have, they always cheer me up. I picked this video because they're topless. :)

What is your bliss? What things pull you out of the darkness and havoc?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What makes a favorite author?

Due to my tiny house and only having one book case, I had to get rid of 3 bags of books. Excuse me a minute while I mourn their loss.

This is my bookcase after getting rid of 3 bags of books...and a foam airplane one of the cats "killed."
As you can see, I still have a lot of keepers. Some are favorite books, like THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett, SILKEN SAVAGE by Catherine Hart, IF TOMORROW COMES by Sidney Sheldon, and NEW ORLEANS LEGACY by Alexandra Ripley.

And some are favorite authors.

The difference is: The favorite books are ones I read and reread over and over again, but I didn't enjoy other books by those authors as much.

But this is a favorite book by a favorite author:

I replaced it after my eighth read but kept this copy for sentimentality.
But what makes a favorite author?

My answer:

A favorite author is one whose books are an instant buy.

A favorite author is one whose books do not leave your library.

A favorite author is one you forgive easier. i.e. Stephen King often sucks at endings. I'm sorry, but he does. However, the journey still makes it worthwhile.

A favorite author is one who you won't give up on if they write a less than stellar book. However, if they keep writing bad books, they can easily lose their position. I ranted about that here a couple years ago.

Some of my favorite authors include, Stephen King, Eloisa James, Shana Galen, J.R. Ward, Maggie Shayne, Judith McNaught, Rebecca Zanetti, and of course, my critique partners: Bonnie R. Paulson and Shelley Martin. Because you cannot be a good critique partner if you do not love the other's work... and love it enough to call out the author when they're letting you down.

Favorite authors inspire me to work hard, so maybe one day, I too, can have permanent space on someone's bookshelf.

Monday, April 2, 2012

My thoughts on bad erotica.

A lot of romance authors, including myself are annoyed when people refer to romance novels as porn for women. But, surprisingly I've discovered that many erotica authors feel the same way about their work. Well, I kinda think erotica is porn. Porn is made for the purpose of inciting sexual arousal in its audience and I always felt that erotica served the same use. I mean, it's not like I read it for a compelling story or a deep emotional connection. (Disclaimer, I'm referring to short erotica stories, not erotic romance, which does involve those aspects.)

That said, I should clarify my statement: Well-written erotica is like good porn with good acting.

Admit it, most of us have seen at least one adult film...and chances are, we've seen an awful one...or ten. The bad acting goes far beyond robotic lines.

The worst aspect is the woman who is obviously faking enjoyment. Watching her painful efforts to mask the agony in her eyes and moan in false pleasure always makes me think the director shouted, "Now you better pretend to like it, or this rape film will turn into a snuff film real quick!"

...and sometimes it's the guy who seems to be losing despite his costar's desperate attempts to moan encouragement. It's like they're being held at gunpoint or something.

Get in the mood, or else!

Badly written erotica is the same way. It doesn't matter how many "dirty" words and exclamation points the author throws in. It's not going to turn me on. I'm going to give an example, but to keep it PG-13, I'm going to replace all the dirty words with "smurf."

"My smurf was so wet. At last my fantasy of being filled with two smurfs was about to come true! Lester's tongue flicked across my throbbing smurf as Wilbur unfastened his pants releasing his giant smurf. 

"I took it all into my mouth and fondled his smurfs. His hand reached forward to stroke and pinch my smurfs! 

"Then Lester's smurf plunged inside of me, filling my smurf until I couldn't take another inch! 
'Smurf me, Lester!' I cried as Wilbur's smurf dripped down my chin."

And then Gargamel showed up, turning this nightmare into a full-fledged clustersmurf.

Anyway, you get my point.

Now good, smurf-free erotica is, well, it's hot, and definitely does incite arousal in its audience. So if someone calls it porn, I shrug and say, "So?"

However, finding quality erotica can be difficult, so I always recommend downloading the free sample first....and if it ends up being bad, I turn on the text-to speech feature and enjoy a good sophomoric laugh.