Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mixed Messages

Come here. Go away!
Look at me. Stop noticing me!
I want you. Don't touch me!

These people as characters can be incredibly interesting. The reader cant help but want to know what forces created a person that is so screwed up they fight against the very thing they long for.

These people as people are just annoying.
Sure there's a certain amount of intrigue involved - especially if you actually care about the sender of the mixed message. But if you barely know that person, if you haven't developed an emotional connection to them, you're more likely to just write them off as more trouble than they're worth.

But what if you have developed that connection? What if you DO want to get close, and touch and share and that person is still sending the mixed message. What then?

A long time ago, in my wee, distant adolescence I read a quote somewhere that stuck with me. Mr or Ms Anonymous said: Everyone deserves a second chance, and another and another and another. As many as the heart can endure.

I took it to heart. I live by it in my love life. Second chances. They're the backbone of a successful relationship, they're what keep us circling around each other until we are so fully intertwined that we cannot even fathom separation.

But there's the second part of that quote - the part that has become more important to me as my experiences grow. "As many as the heart can endure." That's really the crux isn't it? At some point you move from being a caring, forgiving soul to a doormat, willing to accept whatever dross is throw your way. Especially if it's all dressed up in gold.

So for me, I don't like the mixed message. It can work at the beginning of a book, it can work in the beginning of a relationship - but after a while only trust, plain-speaking and honesty will truly get the job done.

How do you sort out mixed messages?

Just Finished Reading: The Man Next Door
Currently Reading: Lover Revealed
Currently Reading: Ceremony In Death
DNF: A Family Practice

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sweet revenge

So, a few posts ago, I put an author on blast for writing Mr Perfect. (much to my astonishment, she's an author who frequents a blog I comment regularly, but that's a story for a different day) Two days ago, my hero put me on blast for making him too damned nice.

In the lingo, I'm a pantser. For those who don't know, it means that I'm an author who does not pre-plot or outline. I write "by the seat of my pants" and let my characters guide the story however they see fit. Writing this way can get an author into all kinds of trouble. You can write yourself into a corner, you can wind up with major inconsistencies that you have to fix on the back end during re-writes and edits, and you can wind up like I do - with a character that won't play ball, and you're stuck because you have no outline to guide you.

I started this second book off from the heroine's POV. I had this fantastic image in my head of this woman at a major turning point in her life. Her backstory didn't exactly write itself, but it came pretty damn close. All the things that fucked her up and lead her to this point make for a complex, vulnerable, resiliant character that is more than ready for a Good Man [tm].

So that's what I did. I gave her a Good Man [tm]. That was great for the first 100 pages or so... then things started getting a bit stale. The interactions and scenes had 2 - 3 times as many crossed out words as usual (a sure sign I'm not feeling the flow of the story) until finally, two days ago, it ground to a halt. My hero had what would be called a "hissy fit," if he weren't so manly.

Mr Good Man got in my face and said, "I'm not just a placeholder you know! I have problems of my own. I wasn't put on this earth just to serve the needs of your heroine. If we're supposed to be a perfect match, she needs to help me too." He was right. I had been treating him badly. He and I had to get together and spend "me time" on him.

He's not a bad guy. He's kinda beta, a risk avoider, likes to be prepared - just like a good Boy Scout, and turns out he's stubborn too. The heroine knocks his socks off, and he has some deep insecurity that he's not good enough for her - at the same time, he knows that there's no other man in the world who would ever treat her better or love her more than he does. Quite the pickle; insecurity and arrogance and humility all in one package.

We have more work to do, he and I. I have no doubt he will dig his feet in again if I try to paint him as too much of a white knight. He came back into the story fighting, and I wound up writing a love scene that I didn't know was coming. All in a day's work for a pantser such as myself.

But for now, I'm just amused and chagrined that I could recognize so clearly in another woman's work what I was unable to see in my own. I really need a critique partner. Any takers?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

If you don't have anything nice to say, think of somthing

There's a constant low-level chatter on the net about critiques, about being "nice," about unfair and vicious reviews and the ubiquitous mean people. I'm of two minds about this. I believe in honesty. I believe in not taking things personally. I believe in karma and I really, really believe in paying a compliment when you feel one inside.

People have thin skins. There's a constant barrage of negatives in this world, and it's really all any individual can do to counteract that. To that end, I like to give compliments. If someone looks good that day, I like to tell them. If their eyes are pretty, if they did a good job, if I'm proud of them, if I'm simply grateful they're in my life, I like to tell them. It's important to have the folks in your life know, without a doubt, that you DO recognize the good in them.

Don't be stingy with your compliments. Let them flow. Watch other people bloom under the freshening power of your good words.

On the other hand, I have to say it again, I believe in honesty. Speak your truth. If someone is upsetting you, tell them. If someone does something objectionable (wrote a bad book), it's all right to say so. That's not to say it's all right to attack the person (author), but it's more than fair to critique and dissect their actions (work). Don't let someone get away with bad behaviour or treating you ill - speak up and let them know how their actions affect you.

But, one of the things we don't realize is that if we make a conscious effort to speak a compliment whenever we feel one, it gives our criticisms so much more power. The recipient knows you're not saying something bad because you dislike them - they trust your opinion, they already know all the many, many ways that you like and appreciate them - and the criticisms will be taken in the manner intended. As a means of improving, not as a route to personal destruction.

So, say something nice whenever you can. You never know when you'll need that pool of good-will to skewer someone in.

Monday, March 23, 2009

written by Jane Doe [et al]

I finished another book the other day. Shocking, I know.

It was a pretty decent story, the heroine was well developed and though I had a few issues with some other ways the book was put together I was willing to stick with the story until the end. At the front of the book was a long, long list of Acknowledgments.

The reason I mention that the heroine was well developed is because I don't know if the author knew that she'd done a good job on the woman. I was moving right along with the story, it all felt perfectly authentic and then, bam! Every couple of chapters, the heroine would do or say something that simply didn't fit her.

She was billed to us as a particular type person - bit of a cold fish, loved her family, unlucky in love and very business oriented. The author built her character around these markers. Then, I'm pretty sure, someone in her writing group, or in the editing booth or even her kid, read her manuscript and said, "OMG, it would have been so funny and cool if your heroine did this instead!" And the author, full of that evil self-doubt that plagues the masses said, gratefully, "You're right! I'm going to add that in. Thank you SO MUCH."

The rationale behind these pebbles in my pudding was never explained. MarySue suddenly becomes a sarcastic wench for 3 lines, with a wicked glint in her eye and daring twist to her lips. Then, she's back to form. No explanation is given of where that came from or why. Or the balls-to-the-wall executive is suddenly stricken by a debilitating blush when she never even broke a sweat before. Then, the moment is over and she's back to winning and losing fortunes as if it never happened.

Listen up fellow authors, that self-doubt ain't doin' you any favours. And neither is your husband or critique partner or editor when they try to put their words in YOUR character's mouth. You know how I know it was written by committee? Because you're too good an author to be so inconsistent.

You are the one who dreamed up your hero and your heroine. No one else understands them as well as you do. No one else can mix their quirks into your character's heads, or pulls the strings to make them jump the same way you can. You're the one who knows their flaws, their weaknesses, what makes them giggle, that they LIKE being forced to do the Funky Chicken at family weddings by Aunt Edna.

We all know the people in our head make us a bit crazy. We all hate it when they don't talk to us, and we listen with rapt attention when someone else talks about our baby. The teacher can hand you back a book report with a big ol B+ stamped on the top and tell you your kid is doing well, but you're the only one who knows that if he had actually read the book he would have gotten an A.

No one can tell you what you already know about your own people. No One. You live with them. Trust your instincts. Defend them.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Your eyes are as brilliant as the morning dew," he said,

yeah right.
What guy do you know who talks like that? C'mon - be honest.
Can't think of any? How about a guy who at least thinks like that.
What about a man who looks at you as his heart aches with wanting to hold you close, just wrapping you in the warmth of his arms until you know that you deserve love. And when he's done takes you to bed for four hours - the first three of those being totally devoted to you and your needs. After that it's off to save some puppies and help a few old ladies across the street.


Well, yeah, I read that book the other day. HE was Mary Sue. He had a wholesome life, the selfless job, was a more unselfish lover than a vibrator, wisely understood her friends and family with just some casual observation and literally saved lives at the end of the day. (Oh, and of course, his body was perfect enough to rival Michelangelo's David.)

He was beyond a chick with a dick, he was some kind of sick experimental fantasy gone wrong. Now, I can believe a guy thinking that a woman has gorgeous eyes, or great hair, or hell even "worthy of love" - but this author had literally turned on the purple prose inside his head. She tore the ass out of it. It was the sort of thing that you'd expect a naive '70s heroine to say, or a poetic Victorian who hasn't yet realized that she's the only one not thinking dirty thoughts.

You certainly wouldn't expect thoughts like that to be going through the head of a red-blooded, healthy, horny, modern American man. I'll give you, some men are more thoughtful than others, some men better lovers, there are even some men who actually do slow down and take the time to not just recognize, but acknowledge the wonderful woman they have in their lives ... but 24 / 7?
Grow a pair.

You've heard authors say it before, you've heard readers beg for it, and I'm here to reiterate. FLAWS! Write in some damn flaws, people. If this man had been oddly compassionate with her, but impatient with his family or saved people by day and started fights in a pool hall by night, even if he was frickin' colorblind it would have made the book more interesting. Instead he was the antithesis of every complaint a woman has ever had about a man, any man - oh, except he wasn't filthy rich. But SHE was, so no worries there, dear reader.

It's a pity, because the heroine was kind of interesting. She had a moderately effed-up family, an interesting personal backstory and even a decent (if contrived) reason not to trust Mr Perfect when he dropped into her arms with glistening abs and teeth. Unfortunately, seeing as ol whathisname already came fully assembled, there was nothing there for her to fix.

A year from now, when the magic of her hoo-ha wears off and he raises his wet face from between her exhausted thighs, he's gonna stop and say, "Hold on, what am I getting out of this?" Then what's going to happen? Because it sure as heck isn't Happily Ever After.

Currently reading: Her Sexiest Surprise [DNF]
Still reading: Wolf Tales III
Going back to: Dreams From My Father
Just about to Start: Tempted

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Call me Average

Call me behind-the-times, call me a stick-in-the-mud-paper-waster, but I just don't give a flying fig about the Kindle. Ditto for the Sony e-reader. I'm glad they're out there. I'm glad they're an option to folks, but I am sick to death of reading about them on every damn blog I visit.

I am a reader. I am a long-time reader. I am also an internet-savvy, computer-addicted, modern woman. You know what else I am? Poor. At least right now.

I suspect that I'm just like most of you. I don't have an extra $350 sitting in the bank waiting to be spent on a leisure device that will then require me to spend the same amount on books as I currently do. When I'm done with the book, I can't donate it to my local RWA or library, I can't sell it at a used book store, I can't loan it to a friend and I definitely can't throw it against a wall.

If I drop my $350 piece of machinery on a hard floor or in the tub, I can't pick up a replacement for a few bucks on From what I read, if I have a hardware or software failure somewhere along the line, I can't even get a replacement copy of something I never physically laid my hands on, because the companies who sell these books & devices don't have customer service to that level yet. Admittedly, a publisher wouldn't replace a lost / damaged copy of a paper book either, but chances of my having the sort of catastrophic failure of 200 paper books as I could have with a single device is unlikely.

All of this translates into the fact that the e-reader has a long way to go before it will be something that factors into my perfectly average life.

When I started this blog, it was partially a response to the myriad topics I see on other romance blogs out there. People talking about issues in writing. People talking about decisions in publishing. People talking about their reading experience. All of which fascinate me, are important to me and matter to the quality of the books I produce. I wanted to have a space to say my own thing without feeling like I'm hijacking someone else's space. So I'm using my own space to say that the advent of the Kindle and the Sony e-reader are NOT Romance topics.

The Kindle and the Sony e-reader are pieces of machinery that have nothing to do with the visceral experience of writing, reading, creating a plot, building a character, living up to readers expectations, awesomely bad sex scenes, or a romance novel so good that it moves you to your soul and makes you a devotee for life.

To the few people who read this, I beg of you, please, go back to talking about romances on your blogs. Take your technophile discussions to the altar itself. Engage with Sony and Amazon (and now Fictionwise) on their own soil and get back to the stuff that made you worth reading in the first place. ROMANCE.

Just finished: One Silent Night
Just finished: Violet Among the Roses
Just finished: Sugar Daddy
Just finished: P.S. I Love You
Just finished: Dream Warrior
Currently Reading: Wolf Tales III
Currently Reading: Slow Hands
Just about to start: A is for Alibi
Just about to start: Lover Awakened