Friday, November 27, 2009

Quick one

Last week, Friday, I had an unexpected conversation with my mother that resulted in unexpected vacation plans for us both.

By tomorrow I will be here:
The image was shamelessly stolen from, so if you're ever looking for a sailboat ride in the Leeward islands, please consider them.

I'll be gone for a week.  I'm taking my writing notebook and some books to read with me.  And my blackberry.  The laptop stays at home.

Wish me fun.  :-)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dance the edge of sanity

I once wrote a college paper on schizophrenia called Dance The Edge of Sanity.  The paper got an A, but the professor tried to edit the title to Dancing The Edge of Sanity.  I guess she didn't appreciate my artistic integrity.  Nor was she a fan of the Indigo Girls.

I've been thinking recently about skill levels.  Those attained in both writing and in dancing.  I'm a West Coast Swing dancer.  I've been at it for about two and a half years.  I have no desire to earn a living at it, but I do know a number of pros who make their living teaching the dance and attending events.  They have a passion for WCS that I will never share.

They eat, live and breathe it.  All of their friends come from the community.  They are constantly sought after partners whenever they hit the dance floor.  I, however, just like to dance.  I've learned enough to enjoy myself, but I still feel like a beginner out there.  Mostly because I compare myself to those pros.  I compare myself to those who spend a lot of money on lessons, or have been practicing for over a decade, or are willing to put in the hours to make sure they become a "success" at this dance (whatever success means to them.)

External measurements of dance skill (aka judging) simply aren't that important to me.  I need it as a creative outlet.  But I don't much care if I'm never foot-perfect or achieve the label "Champion."  I do it because it feels so damned good to groove to the beat.  It's something I do for myself, and recently I've gotten feedback from my dance partners that my joy in dancing brings them joy too.

I tell them I'm a beginner because I still feel like one.  But they tell me, "No.  You're not."  I'm comparing myself to the pros.  They're comparing me to true beginners.

It feels the same with my writing now.  I've attended a number of writer-focused events recently.  And despite being unpublished (and unsubmitted, frankly) I've realized, I'm no longer a true beginner.  Unlike my dancing, I have put in the time in the past year to LEARN the craft of writing.  I have read, and read, and read.

I've read how successful authors do it.  I've read what sought-after agents expect.  I've read about editors' professional expectations, and most importantly, I've read books.  Books that show me how it's done.  Through all of that I have learned my craft, yet I know I still have a lot to learn.  But, when faced with the questions and expectations of a true beginner I wonder "how the hell can you not know that?"  Forgetting there was a time when I was just as clueless. 

Now, when I stand before a master of the craft, I am humbled.  I think I'll never be that skilled, that imaginative, that subtle.  And you know what?  Just like my dancing, I may never be, because just like my dancing, I don't PRACTICE my writing enough.  I know the basics.  Now I have to do them.  With my dancing, I am perfectly satisfied to sit back and let others enjoy the glory.  I have no agenda, and therefore don't feel the least bit compelled to work towards ephemeral "success."  With my writing, I'm going to be published, dammit.  That is my success line, that is the hurdle I will sail over.   I am going to grab that glory for myself.

A speaker I heard this past weekend said that of the 100 people who set out to write a book, only 10 will succeed in finishing it.  And of the 100 people who succeed in finishing a book, only 10 will follow the path to finding an agent or editor and seeking publication.  Of that number, guess how many succeed?  Your guess is as good as mine--I stopped listening and patted myself on the back for being in the 10% who actually finished their novel.  The point is, success can only be achieved by persistence, by practice, by sitting down and DOING IT. 

They say that to want to make a living as an author you have to be insane.  Well guess who's dancing the edge of sanity?

With that written.  I'm going out dancing.

Currently Reading: Night Play
Currently Reading: Ty's Temptation 
Currently Reading: F is For Fugitive 
Currently Reading: Genderflex

Monday, November 23, 2009

My secret adult love

I'm a girl.  I'm prone to girly things like pedicures and chocolate addition.  I have way too many hair care products and understand instinctively the need to swing my hips when I feel that tingle between my thighs in the presence of a beautiful man.

But one thing I've never really succumbed to in my girly existence is the movie star crush.  Like most girls out there I've enjoyed a good looking face attached to a well-cared for body.  My biggest teenaged crush was Greg Louganis.  *ahem*  Yeah.  The whole sexuality thing sort of evaded me back then.

I don't know what exactly I thought Greg and I were going to do together.  I was 12, and though not exactly naive, I just knew that if he ever met me, we'd be the best of friends and have lots of babies.  Woe betide anyone who told me he wouldn't be interested in the likes of me.  I think my mother was rather relieved at my taste in men.

Over the years I liked many more TV / movie stars, but no one else made it on to my wall after Greg.  I'd think of these stars with a smile.  I'd admire their looks and physiques as a kind of art.  Beautiful to look at, lovely to hold.  But my mind never took the next step towards assigning inner goodness (and therefore luuuuv) to that outward beauty.

Then came Mr Ewan McGregor.  It was many, many years later.  There was an extra element this time.  He sang.  The physical beauty was matched by something on the inside.  As crushes go, it was short-lived--even for a crush.  I was partly in love with his character from Moulin Rouge, I was partly in love with the packaging.  I knew I was being shallow even as I dreamed and lusted.  And the truth is, I was probably just in a receptive mood when I watched the movie, and all of my need for a hero was transferred on to his beautiful self.

But now, now... I've grown.  I'm an adult.  And now my crush means something.  It has surpassed the physical and reached a transcendent place of admiration.  Now it's about more than the character, it's about the man.  And that man is Mandy Patinkin

You've seen him in other places.  You probably remember him from The Princess Bride.  A character so consumed with revenge that he becomes a master swordsman, knowing that when opportunity strikes, he won't have to rely on luck to reach his ultimate goal. 
"Offer me money." 
"Power too.  Promise me that" 
"All that I have and more. Please." 
"Offer me everything I ask for." 
"Anything you want." 
"I want my father back, you son of a bitch."

But I'm not talking about the young, passionate Mandy.  He was a caricature with clear motivations and goals.  No, I'm talking about the adult Mandy.  The complex, overdeveloped man who can smile at a murderer and befriend him because he knows that what he gains in the exchange, while it may tarnish his soul, is for the greater good of mankind. 

See, in my new place I have extended cable.  For the majority of Americans this is no big deal, but I had been living on Limited basic for many years, and all the things that others take for granted in their daily viewing was lost to me.  Now, however, I have access to daily marathons of Criminal Minds.

Criminal Minds, for the uninitiated, is another one of those FBI crime shows, where a team of good guys gets called in to stop the bad guy.  It's not ground-breaking, it's just well done.  The team of FBI good guys are called Profilers.  It is their job to show up and figure out what kind of person commits this kind of crime, and then help the locals use that information to track down said bad guy.

Mandy is one of the head profilers.  He's often stuck in the position of reasoning with and empathizing with the bad guy so they can find the hostage or bodies or whatever they need from an offender before they cart him off to jail.  Mandy plays it so well.  He is soft-voiced with melting compassionate eyes and the sweetest smile and somehow, he never loses his humanity, even while confronted by the lack of humanity in his interviewees.

His character loves art, and cooking.  He is self-controlled and private, the mythical shaman who, while seeming to remain untouched, absorbs all the negativity around him yet retains his serenity.  And he sings too!  Criminal Minds is one of the darkest of the crime dramas.  They don't hesitate to show the blood.  They call a murder a murder without celebrating the perpetrator.  They show how devastating a toll work like that takes on the people who do it.

Then, he was gone

In my investigation as to why the soul of the show and my newest crush abandoned Criminal Minds, I discovered lots of theories.  Primary among them was the idea that he was merely playing his Prima Donna card again, as he'd reputedly done in other projects.  But the theory that I believe, the one that spoke to me, said that the darkness of the show got to him and he couldn't handle it any more.

Something about that resonated in me.  He knew it's just pretend.  He knew he's being well-paid for his efforts.  He knew his reputation would take another hit for walking off the project, but he didn't care.  He had to protect his soul over and above any material gain.  That, to me, was heroic behaviour. 

He had a weight of expectations on him.  A prime-time show on a major network.  He had co-workers counting on him and he stuck it out for as long as he could.  But when it came right down to it, protecting his soul from the damage of exploring and inhabiting the gutters of human experience was more important than anything else.  Many people labeled his actions as selfish.  I see them as the strongest kind of heroics.  After all, character isn't about someone else's opinion, it's about doing what's best - regardless of what other's think. 

How many of us would have the courage to walk away from something that lucrative?  To do what's best for our soul in the face of overwhelming expectations?  Is it more heroic somehow to stick around and be emotionally and mentally filleted day after day when there's an exit door directly behind you?  He faced it as long as he could, then stood up and said Enough.  Effectively saving himself to fight another day. 

Any heroine worth her salt would stand behind her man, er, crush when he makes the grown up choice to walk away from the pain instead of pretending he doesn't care.  This heroine couldn't find a picture from "behind" Mandy, to simulate the experience, so Mr. Patinkin, if you ever want to provide me with an opportunity to support you in real life, just give me a call.

Just Finished:Undead and Uneasy 
Just Finished: Kiss of The Night 
Just Finished (skimmed): Coyote's Mate
Just Finished: Harm's Hunger 
Just Finished: Knightly Dreams 
Just Finished: Mine To Possess 
Currently Reading: Ty's Temptation 
Currently Reading: F is For Fugitive 
Currently Reading: Genderflex 
Currently Reading: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I miss Intimate Moments.

Silhouette Intimate Moments that is.

I read a book this morning that struck me in its dedication to character development.

I've been trying to NaNo, and after two days I was stymied by my lack of subplot.  My other books started with a vision.  Like a schizophrenic, I could see my character in front of me, crystal clear, at the beginning of the big changing moment in her life.  I knew who my heroine was, I knew what she was facing in that moment, and though the story wasn't written for me by any means, I had enough there to build a whole world.

In this book I started with a backstory.  She is the sister to my hero of Never A Bridesmaid.  We know what happened to her from the previous book, and though we don't know all of the details, we know enough to help inform her character.  I knew where I wanted to start this book for her.  She had to be in a place where she was ready to receive the love of her hero.  I had to create that crystal-clear, life-changing moment for her.

So even though I didn't have that crystalline image in my head, that picture of her in the exact crossroads where she could slide back into unhappiness or step forward with faith into her future, I still had enough of her to start the book.

But shit.  Okay, I've started the book, now where do I go?  Where's my subplot to go hand in hand with her emotional growth?

A lot of romance books I've read recently are more accurately labeled romantic suspense.  Someone is in jeopardy--usually the heroine--and there's a love story intertwined in there too.  There's a killer, or stalker, or other kind of psychotic out there trying to possess or endanger the heroine.  And the hero, with all his life-skill and badassedness is gonna stop him.  Romantic Suspense makes for a compelling read.  There's a built in page-turn going on there.  Is the bad guy gonna get her?  And if he does, how will the hero save her?

However for me, that's always a bit of a cheat.  It's a romance.  The hero and heroine are never going to die.  The bad guy is always going to be stopped.  It's why I don't actively seek out RS.  There's no real suspense there.  In fact, even the mysteries that I do read, unless they're single title (which they are not) have the same set up.  The lead detective of the series is going to live to solve another mystery, so I can never buy into any scenario where her life is in danger.  (Secondary characters are in a much more precarious situation and I do admit to biting my nails for them from time to time.)  But I'm a romance reader, I'm in it for the happy ending.  I'm not in it for the murder mystery. 

In the development of any romantic mystery something is usually sacrificed (for word count), and that sacrifice is usually in the character development, in the emotional connection.  The sitting down and talking it out, the happy non-adrenaline-infused moments are what really allow the reader to believe in a true HEA.  The couple that can talk out their problems (not just kill them) is the couple that's going to last.

So now I'm looking for a subplot for my NaNo book, and I know without a doubt the emotional growth my heroine needs to experience.  I know what holes in her character need to be shored up by the love of her hero.  But none of this will be served by the traditional life-in-danger trope.  And more than that, how many of us can really relate to that level of stress and fear?  How many of us have been the objects of a serial killer's obsession?  How many of us have been stalked by a psycho who leaves clues in our mailbox, and whose actions have left room and time for police presence?

In comparison the book I read this morning was much more relatable.  The hero had made mistakes in his past that he was working to overcome.  He was also working to overcome things that are a lot closer to home for most of us - familial disapproval, community judgement, personal disappointment in the way he's lead his life.  The heroine is struggling with the same things, but from a different perspective; and recognition of that similar struggle in each other is where they find their connection.  Watching them admit their personal lacerations and how they've been scarred by them is what brings us into a deep understanding of these characters, and also what lets us know that they have enough faith and trust in each other to weather the roughest of life's storms.

In my subplot search I had forgotten that vitality and that page-turning quality can be created from simple emotions.  No one has to be planning a betrayal.  No one has to be behind the door with a glinting knife.  The simplest Will She or Won't She set up of trusting in love is enough to keep the reader glued to the page.  It's something we used to get all the time in Silhouette Intimate Moments, and it's something I miss.

Just Finished: The Road To Adventure 
Just Finished: Rogue's Reform

Friday, November 6, 2009


Please note; The word KERFUFFLE only has one L in it.  A single L.  Locate it.  Learn it.  Love it.

The second half of today's PSA relates to the sympathetic character.

I started a book at the beginning of the week that I don't think I'll name because I don't think I'm going to finish it.  Why? because I just don't care about the heroine.  Or the hero, even. We're romance readers and writers on this small blog.  We are used to our H & H being larger than life.  We have gotten used to them having transcendent beauty, and, at least in the heroes, we're used to them having slightly more money than God.

As mere mortals, we generally find their lives enviable, but we still wouldn't want to be them because with Mo' Money, Mo Problems.  Even so, we love these guys and gals.  Our soul aches and our heart breaks for them... our eyeballs go dry for the love of them.

Unless we can't stand them.

So, this book I can't bring myself to finish... *sigh*  We have the amazingly, stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful woman who has a vice or two.  Her vices are greed and vanity, oh yeah, and pride.  And then there's that bit about thinking she should get a pass on breaking the law because things haven't gone well for her.  And all men should fall for her, because she's so hot, and she knows it.

And though she's broke as a joke, she won't confide in her loaded family because--even though they've never treated her as less than--she feels like an outsider.  But she's only broke because of making idiotic financial decisions based on greed.  The Feds are after her for insider trading, and she feels persecuted because, you know, she's so hot, and the female investigator is just jealous.  And why isn't the hero wrapped around her finger like she needs him to be - doesn't he know she's hot?

And let's talk about our hero for a second.  He thinks she's hot.  But, you know, he's rich and successful and has had groupies throwing themselves at his hot self for years, so he can resist.  Even so, she's the most beautiful of the beautiful women he's ever known.  Therefore, of course, she is not to be trusted. 

*rolls eyes*  I got about seven chapters in before I just couldn't turn another page.

Beauty is good.  Inner beauty is better.  Vice is fine, TSTHOW (too shallow to hang out with) is not.  Confidence has its place, but humility is more attractive.  Oh yeah, and don't expect your readers to be sympathetic to a character who puts her own security in jeopardy out of greed, breaks the law while doing so, is caught, and thinks she should get off scott free.
When you're a new author "they" tell you to read.  Read everything.  Read the good and the bad.  Examine it all.  Learn what makes the good, good, and how to emulate it.  Learn what makes the bad, bad, and though you won't be able to do so entirely, try to avoid it.

I've read craft books, and countless blog posts on writing.  I've read thousands of books, both good and bad.  I have, I daresay, a bit of an instinct about how and why a book isn't working, though I still can't always identify the elusive IT that makes a good piece of writing work.

I know in the past I would have continued to read this book--especially after having invested seven chapters to the cause--but not this time.  There was nothing more to learn from my foray between the pages of her writing effort.  The writing was fine.  Lively even.  The plot, I'm sure would have gone somewhere eventually.  But those damned characters.  I'm sorry, I just can't give a rip for the poor blonde bombshell who broke the law but is still living in style with her rich family and wants a free pass on breaking the law while she's so harassed by the rich, gorgeous hero who hasn't done anything to her except keep his pants zipped.

I have learned all I needed to know from that book.  Keep your characters sympathetic.

In other news, I'm a maroon (deliberate misspelling of "moron" based on my deep and abiding love of Bugs Bunny).

Early this year, I learned that I have a very difficult time writing daily.  I can think about my story daily, mentally plot, learn my characters, etc. ...all of the other internal work that goes along with writing a book.  But sitting down and writing daily is something my mind balks at; the creative well needs time to re-fill.

Two to three good writing sessions a week can provide me with many workable pages.  Trying to force it provides me with a pitiful amount of pages.  I'll be back on the NaNo horse tomorrow after two days off.  I can feel the words bubbling up inside me. 

Just Finished: Shattered Dreams 
Currently reading: Heather's Gift 
Currently reading: Dance With The Devil

Monday, November 2, 2009

So Phoenix doesn't seem to fit my blogging lifestyle...

I wonder what that's all about?

I've done just as little here as I ever used to do in Tucson, I just feel like I'm doing it in a cooler place.  Meanwhile, I haven't said a thing on here in almost a month (aka 3 weeks).

Quite honestly, I expected to be a tad overwhelmed mentally by Phoenix.  I thought the freeways would cow me into submission.  I thought the hustle and bustle of it all would drain my brain and the never-ending city block after city block would leave me longing for some wilderness.  That hasn't happened.

Phoenix uses an irrigation system that keeps it a lot greener than Tucson ever was.  I feel like a wastrel seeing so much green grass and trees in the heart of the desert, but it feeds something inside me that I used to have to leave Tucson to get.  That sense of nature, that connection to the growing and living world.  Of course, it's all artificial here.  It's not like living in a place where it, say, rains... but it's good. 

In Tucson I had a totally different appreciation for nature.  Tucson is the sort of place where you have to appreciate nature or it will kill you.  That's how it is.  The insects will try and kill you, the reptiles, some mammals (two-legged ones too), and yes, even the plants will try and kill you.  As will the sun.  You learn to respect and celebrate life in all its forms there, because surviving is so hard outside of an air-conditioned home and without running water.

Phoenix is much bigger than Tucson geographically but, like most big cities, it's really a collection of smaller cities bound together by common weather and a freeway system.  But it doesn't feel like that.  At least not to me, not yet.  I moved to a kinda ritzy area called Scottsdale.  I'm like, five minutes from downtown, my quiet little condo is halfway between two main drags and I can get most everywhere I need to go just by taking the surface streets.  I've only hit the freeway two or three times since getting here.  I feel like I live in a small town with unlimited access to a big city and all it has to offer.  It's kinda cool - except I'm having a hell of a time finding an all-night grocery store out here.

I'm still looking for a roommate.  It's such a buyer's market it's hard to get a response, but I keep plugging along because 1/ the landlord needs to fill that second room, and 2/ I wanna save on my utility costs.  So we continue looking, but I'm not having much luck.  If you know someone who lives here and wants to move to Old Town Scottsdale and live with a Cool Chick while we trade witticisms and watch Criminal Minds marathons let me know.  (It's a no benefits kind of situation for any eager pervs out there.)

Maybe one of the reasons I haven't been blogging much is because I'm so far behind on my Google Reader.  2 days of No Internet Access while I moved from Tucson up here and waited for Phoenix Chicks to get the hell out of my way.  Followed by 5 more days of No Internet Access while I waited for Phoenix Chicks to cancel their service so Cox would hook up mine.  (Really, Phoenix Chicks? Really??) and then 4 more days of No Laptop after I tripped on my cord and broke it and had to wait for the replacement to come in from Amazon while I prayed that was the only thing broken. 

Add to those hardware interferences the fact that I was unpacking (no, I'm not finished yet, get off my back!), and learning where things are in my new city, and hanging out with my new, cool writer / blogger friend. Hey Gurl!!  And, of course, reading too.  Oh, I also finished crocheting a blanket and started another one too.  All combined, I'm now 488 posts behind on my Reader.

The nice thing is though, I don't totally miss it when I don't have access.  I'm happy to spend time catching up, but I'm able to walk away from the blogs a lot more readily.  This is progress.  I've learned SO MUCH from the writer and reviewer and editor and agent blogs.  Culling new gems of crazy-useful information is becoming a more rare experience, therefore I don't feel as if I'm getting as much return for my time spent.  Instead I can and will spend that time writing now.

So said: I started NaNoWriMo.

Today's progress: 1021 words

If the blogging gods call to me, I'll let you know how it's going.  If they don't, you'll see my NaNoWriMo progress tick up on the counter to the right daily.  If any of y'all wanna join me in supporting each other through this torturous endeavor, drop me a line and we'll get our writer groove on together.

Just Finished: Holiday in Death 
Just Finished: Dark Slayer 
Just Finished: Night Pleasures 
Just Finished: Awaken My Love 
Just Finished: All Together Dead 
Just Finished: Someone To Watch Over Me 
Just Finished: Divorced, Desperate and Delicious 
Just Finished: Torn 
Currently Reading: Night Embrace 
Currently Reading: Heather's Gift