Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Hidden Value of the Sticky Note

Plot threads, character quirks, correct spelling of names…writing a novel is wrought with details that can sometimes get overlooked. The average fiction manuscript in my genre has between 80,000 – 100,000 words. That’s a lot of opportunity to either make a mistake, or make it great.

When I’m in the midst of a story, I try to keep notes around my computer or on my binder to remind me of the important things I need to keep in mind. Sticky notes are great for this, but a writer friend of mine prefers index cards. It’s your call.

You know you’re weaknesses. When you revise, what are the issues you generally have to work on to make the next draft better?

For example: I tend to get a little too technical when describing what the situation is, or what the danger may be. I want to keep the reader engaged and invested in my main character’s experience. That takes emotion. So I have a bright pink sticky note with “Emotion!” surrounded by hearts on the wall just over my computer.

If you tend to need more dialogue…then remind yourself to write as much as you want, you can always edit later, and to really let your conversations flow. Remember that the first draft gets the story out of your head, it doesn’t have to be perfect. You go back over it multiple times afterwards, so let the story pour out of you. Don’t get in the way.

Remind yourself to second-guess your first idea. I have a blue sticky note that has “2nd Place” because I usually hit upon a better twist, a better plot point if I dig beyond what first pops to mind.

Description, of characters and places, may be your weak point. Make yourself a note to constantly check for that as you write. Whenever you look up, you’ll be prompted to take a second look at what you just wrote.

By doing this as you write, it makes the editing process less overwhelming. You can concentrate on the larger issues like pace and tension. It also adds a bit of layering where you might not have otherwise known you needed it.

What are some tips or tricks that YOU use to make your writing/revisions easier? Until next time...Go Write.

Photograph by lalawren.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Use the Force, Writers...

In almost every film where the lead character reaches their darkest hour, there is a moment where something inspires them to continue. It gives them the strength, or the wisdom to overcome the seemingly impossible task at hand. With Luke Skywalker it was the voice of Obi Wan Kenobi exhorting him to, “Use the force, Luke.”

This is a pivotal point in the film. It is the moment Luke decides whether or not he truly believes that The Force will help him more than the tracking computer. It is his crossing over into the hero. I remember watching that moment as a kid with breathless wonder willing Luke to trust in the force. It was a movie making scene, moving and exciting…but if we’d never seen those prior scenes, the ones with Luke and Ben Kenobi training on the Millennium Falcon, that scene would play out differently.

There would be no audience connection with Luke’s past, or with the knowledge that Ben Kenobi was not actually dead but – on another plane of existence. Luke would have come off as kid so terrified by the responsibility of taking down the Death Star that he’d cracked and started to hallucinate and hear voices. Not a hero moment.

As a writer, my characters often come to a low point in their lives during the story. Whether it’s revisiting a painful situation, facing off with a deadly enemy, or struggling to survive an overwhelming scenario they need to draw inspiration from somewhere to continue.

I often try to incorporate Ben Kenobi moments in my writing. I’m not talking about old dudes in brown robes that speak like fortune cookies. I’m talking about a careful set up to explain how and from where the main character derives that final burst of strength to complete the impossible task. You have to know what it is ahead of time…planning is key to using this literary device.

First you have to decide what they will pull out of their hat to get the job done…
Do they dig deep down into the recesses of their psyche to overcome a crippling fear? Do they derive inspiration from a long-dead loved one? Maybe they’ve come full circle and the anger and fear of that prior experience has forges something stronger in them than they ever imagined.

Then you have to lay the groundwork...
Whatever the source of your character’s strength, the reader has to have some knowledge of it before the story gets to that point. Our readers need to have that emotional memory so when the main character reaches out in desperation and clings to that one glimmer of hope, its not an out-of-the-blue patch in that ruins your carefully crafted hero moment.

Whatever you decide it will probably be the most dramatic scene of your novel so make sure it’s worthy. Think of your kid self and remember what made you scream at the screen or bite back tears as you turned the page. Chances are you can recall those inspirational moments with great clarity because it was emotionally powerful. You'd connected with both the story and the character.

What kind of work do you do ahead of time to set up your climactic scenes? Do you have an idea in your head or do you plot it out on paper? How cohesive is the scene compared to what you write. I’d love you hear your thoughts. For now, I leave you with the iconic scene of my youth...

Until next time…Go Write!

Photograph by Andres Rueda.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tuesday Time Wasters

A great deal of my research for my books is done online. As a result, I often come across some really interesting sites that serve absolutely no other purpose than to waste time. I love them...but they throw me off my schedule so I decided to give myself permission to tool around on them for the purpose of blogging. Pretty slick, huh?

One that may be of interest to writers out there is called, I Write Like. I ran into it from someone tweeting about it earlier in the week and thought it looked fun. You paste a section of your tweets, blogs entries, or facebook posts onto their site and a statistical analysis tool tells you what famous writer your style resembles. I'm apparently a Stephen King clone which doesn't bode well for me since I write Romance. Yikes!

For those of you not into web time is a fun project you can do at your desk with minimal supplies! I personally like the idea of being useful when I'm procrastinating. It makes me feel like I have an actual goal other than avoidance. --->

This guy does the most amazing paper crafts ever! He made a self portrait and used computer engineering to make a fold and paste, 360 degree mask of his own head. Its amazing! This next site may actually be helpful to writers using daylight as a plot vampire and werewolf authors, take note. 

Finally, I leave you with a site that is both beautiful and useful. The New York Public Library has digital images of vintage maps you can use to enhance your story accuracy. Find out where stuff was back when. Cool, huh?

So now you're equipped with some fun and maybe helpful links...Go Write!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Distant or Intimate - 3rd Person P.O.V.

I often write in third person point of view (P.O.V.) because it gives me the chance to filter everything through one character's mind. The most popular way to use third person is ‘open’ third person, where the author switches from one character to another throughout the novel. Cop dramas are the prime example. The detective is the main filter, but occasionally, the author hops into the killer’s head to give another perspective of the crime.

I prefer ‘closed’ third person point of view. I stay in one character’s head throughout the entire book and therefore the reader learns what the main character knows, when he learns it. Since I write suspense, it works out well.

There are a few things to watch out for when writing in third person P.O.V. Because it is a bit removed, the character’s thoughts and feelings can come across as distant or cold.

For example:

August leapt across the table at the killer and closed his hands around his throat. Sorren yelped with surprise. August didn’t let go.

We are in Augusts head here, but it’s sort of clinical…like we’re observing through a window. If we change it just a little, we can draw the reader in closer:

August leapt across the table at the killer and closed his hands around his throat. He didn’t let go, Sorren’s yelp resonating in his ears.

This is a little better. We’re in August’s head and now we’re hearing what he does…when he does. It’s more in the moment. We can actually make this just a bit more immediate:

He leapt across the table at Sorren, his hands already closing around the killer’s throat. Sorren’s yelp resonated in his ears blocking out all semblance of sanity as he squeezed tighter. August wailed as his sister’s smile blazed across his memory.

This scene is immediate and frantic. The leaping, choking, and squeezing all intermix with what the character is hearing and thinking. All three examples are third person P.O.V., but the intimacy with the main character is greatest in the third one.

I challenge you to take a look at your W.I.P. and see where you can yank the reader off their bum and into the action where they belong.

Until next time…Go Write!

Photograph by asluthier.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Do the Thing You Fear and the Death of Fear is Certain

Writing a full length novel is difficult at best, impossible for many, and downright insane for most. Writers take on hours of solitude and angst over storylines or characters. We brood over scenes we love, but don't need. We tinker and revise and polish until we feel ready to...revise again. Most people spend years in this loop. They never feel ready to show their work. They're afraid its not perfect.

Then there is the query. Does it reveal too much or too little? Will the agent "get" my story idea; will they love the characters like I do? We cut and paste and show it to our blog buddies. We stare at the one page we're allowed to send. Our hopes go will go with this one-page herald...our sweat and tears. But you have to send it, for it to do any good. My old writers group had a lady that spent months on a query she never sent out. Her reason? She was afraid if she took that step, the one that opened her up to rejection, that the result would be devastating. She loved writing. She didn't want to quit. Fear.

Proposals are hard to put together. There’s market analysis and author bios to wrangle into place. We have to include marketing ideas and why we're qualified to write this particular book. Its intimidating. It can seem overwhelming. Then there are the three chapters or the fifty pages we're allowed to send. They must be perfect, so we go back to our revision loop and agonize over every adverb and comma. We're afraid they won't ask for more.

Waiting, for me, is the hardest part of writing. Waiting to hear back on the queries I sent. Waiting to hear back from my proposal packages. Waiting. Waiting. Will they want the full manuscript? Have I missed their email? What if they all say no? Do I keep writing this series? This genre? Fear.

Then you get an agent and it all starts again. He sent your proposal out to the editors and now we're waiting again. What if you get too many rejections? Will you be dropped by the agency? Will they keep trying? Should I write something vastly different to show my range?

Say you're picked up by the publisher...will they spend enough on marketing? What if you don't sell like they wanted? The list goes on and on and on...And yet we do it anyway. We type and fret and hope desperately.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Because to not write is the worst thing I can imagine. To not slip into that wonderful world that blinks to life when my fingers hit the keys would mean a life less extraordinary. Fear may cause me to hesitate, but never to turn back. I encourage all of you to send out your queries and proposals. Give them a kiss and slip them through the mail slot...the worst that could happen is you never did it.

Another compelling character waits on the fringes of your mind to be written; another world. This one comes more easily...the story more vivid. Glance over your shoulder at the fear you shed and trampled on the road to better things....Now Go Write!

Photograph by The 5th Ape.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Pocket Protector is Showing...

So here's the thing...I'm really a geek at heart. I have t-shirts with code on them, lusted for a binary watch, and know that when certain people talk about python..they aren't refering to the snake.  So I absolutely could not pass up a chance to monkey about with some fun new techie stuff.

QR-Codes are the weird square thingies you're starting to see around the internet. They can be scanned by an iPhone, a Droid, or any other smart phone with a barcode reader.  This one I generated on a website.  If you use your phone to scan get the address to my book website,  Snazzy, right?

You can imbed them with text, a url (website), a text message...they're very fun to play with.  They are often called 2-Dimensional codes because, unlike a barcode, they carry information both horizontally and vertically. Displaying information in both ways allows the QR-Code to hold several hundred times the information carried by traditional barcodes.

I've seen them on billboards, in magazine ads, on social networking name it, the technology is cropping up everywhere.  Take a look at the photos of all the 2d codes collected on this Ning site. They are a heck of a cool addition to a business card, especially if you actually work in the tech field.

With authors needing to have a web presence and queries having web addresses now...I wonder what is next?  Let me know what you think about all the technology...brave new world or temporary kerfluffle?  Until next time...Go Write!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Peculiar Glint Of Light On Metal

The Death Scene Blogfest is in full swing over at Tessa's Blurb and some of the entries are downright chilling!  You guys are amazing!

This excerpt is from a thriller/suspense novel I wrote a few years ago called, The Shadow Effect.  August and Eliseo work for a company called Intelli-Trace, as bounty hunters for stolen technology. 

Turrel is an information broker that stole an interrogation formula. Justin is his partner who betrayed and murdered him.  Pt7 is the name of the formula that rips the memories from one person, allowing them to be seen by another.  Justin is taking bids from terrorists and drug cartels.

August retrieved a vial from Justin's hideout and decided to see if he could use Turrel's memories to track was a trap.

The Shadow Effect
Intelli-Trace Contagion Lab

The Pt7 pulsed cold pain up the vein in August’s arm. He pulled back reflexively and looked at Eliseo who watched him warily.

“August?” Eliseo asked.

August’s squeezed his eyes shut; his face pulled into a grimace.

Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea…

August’s body bucked violently from a blow to his jaw. His head snapped viscously to the left sending flashes of pain throughout his mind. He opened his eyes and saw that he was in the abandoned warehouse where they’d found Turrel’s body. August ran his tongue over the jagged split in his lip and tasted the saltiness of blood. His entire body ached; his gut, back and torso throbbed with pain.

August tried to move but realized he was bound to a chair with duct tape immobilizing his arms and feet. Another blow, this time to his stomach, forced all the air out of his lungs, and he doubled over in pain and struggled for breath.

Someone off to his right spoke. The voice sounded out of breath but familiar. August craned his head to the right with great difficulty. Through the haze of pain, August’s looked through Turrel’s eyes, back in time, and focused on Justin’s sweating face.

“It worked,” August gasped. “It worked.”

His eyes, wide open, weren't looking at Eliseo. He wasn’t in the Contagion Lab anymore. Eliseo's voice echoed from far off.

“I see the warehouse,” August’s said. He tried to focus on Eliseo’s voice, but it faded farther away from him as he slipped deeper into the memory.

“I do hope you eventually get to experience what our friend Turrel is going through,” Justin sneered. “My only regret is that I can’t be there when you finally feel this pain.” He swung again, the blow sending shards of pain through August's ribs. “That is for the one you gave me in Venezuela,” Justin said.

August could barely make out Justin’s face. Turrel hadn’t had the strength to hold his head up for very long, and so August’s view was limited to what Turrel had seen with his head hanging low against his chest.

“I want you to see someone,” Justin said. August felt his hair being yanked back, and Justin turned his head to face a mirror. In it, August could see Turrel’s face, confused and in pain, looking back at him. August moaned, his mind cranking, trying to process his thoughts separate from the memory.

August twisted, trying to get out of the chair, but Turrel’s body didn’t react to his movements. A surreal claustrophobic sensation gripped August. He tried to concentrate on looking at Justin, but Turrel had kept his gaze to the right and behind Justin. August clenched his teeth as another blow slammed into his gut.

“And that one is for screwing up my plans in Peru,” Justin said and spat.

Turrel’s emotions kept surfacing in August’s consciousness. Fear and anger mingled with August’s own. Again August tried to look at Justin, but Turrel had kept his gaze from Justin’s face. He had been concentrating on the wall behind Justin as if trying to mentally escape the onslaught his body was suffering. August cried out when one of Turrel’s fingers was broken. The pain was excruciating, boring its way into August’s mind.

Justin jumped at him, wrapping his hands around his throat. August’s lungs screamed for air. August felt the panic that had ripped through Turrel’s mind. August felt the world start to slip, go black. Suddenly Justin let go. August coughed, gasping for breath.

Turrel looked away from Justin again and August felt the panic give way to something else, a quickening in his stomach almost like surprise. August forced himself to concentrate on what Turrel saw. August took in a makeshift office with a desk and papers or drawings tacked to the wall. August saw the other men in the room—Victor and others he had seen at the Venezuelan mines. They were laughing and shouting. He could make out some of the laboratory equipment as well as a uniform of some sort that lay draped over a chair at the far end of the room. Something tickled at August’s consciousness, but he lost it when Justin pulled out an old-time straight razor.

They'd found Turrel with his throat slit.

Justin held the razor in front of him, wiggling it gleefully. “You be a good messenger now Turrel,” Justin said. He raised his arm, swinging the razor in an arc.

August shouted, his eye registering the peculiar glint of light on metal, before the razor slashed down. His body bucked against the chair back

The most incredible cold shot through him taking his breath away.

“August!” Eliseo yelled and raised the fire extinguisher again.

August thrashed out of the chair gasping with surprise. His shivered with shocking cold. Hands trembling violently, August moaned. He rolled onto his side, grabbing at his throat. He half expected to see his hands dripping with blood. Shaking with residual adrenaline and fear, August grasped his head with his hands trying to contain the throbbing.

“Am I back?” August asked hoarsely and staggered against the counter.

Eliseo stared at him with wide eyed shock. “Are you okay?”

“Eli,” August forced a smile. “I think you just saved my life.”

Eliseo swore under his breath and threw the extinguisher on the floor at their feet. “I thought you were dying, you idiot,” he shouted. “What happened?”

Okay, so techinically someone else died before the scene...and August just relived it...but that's what I got, people.  Take a peek at the other great entries over at Tessa's Blurb.

See you guys on Wednesday...until then, Go Write!

Photo by laszlo-photo.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Write Hard, Write Fast, And the Fire of Creation Will be Yours

On July first, Michelle Gregory over at Beautiful Chaos hosted a blogfest called Share Your Darlings and participation entered you in a contest for a book drawing. I won and received The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell in the mail this week. Thank you, Michelle!

I've read a few chapters and I have to say, its a great book for motivation.  Bell took the battle strategies of the great Sun Tzu, a Chinese general writing around 400 B.C, and applied them to the war writers fight for publication.  In it, he explains reconnaissance of marketplace, tactics for editing and refining premise, and business strategy.

One of the most useful chapters was actually one of the first. Chapter two discusses essentials that writers must posess, or develop, to be successful in the publishing industry.
  1. Desire
  2. Discipline
  3. Commitment to Craft
  4. Patience
  5. Honesty
  6. Willingness to Learn
  7. Business-Like Attitude
  8. Rhino Skin
  9. Long-Term View
  10. Talent
Now, I have to admit I winced at a few. Namely number 8. Critiques are hard for me to take, but recognize their value and try to learn from them. I have the desire to write, don't feel right in my head when I'm not. Okay, doing well, down the list we go...

Discpline - check, Commitment to Craft - check; I'm always trying to hone my skills, Patience - not so much...and then I hit Honesty...the willingness to confront my weaknesses. *scratches head* Hmm...moving on.  Next we have Willingness to Learn - I don't fight with my critique partners and I rarely set my manuscripts on fire so I'll count that as a 'check'.

The next few got harder. Business-Like Attitude - Can I become more informed about the process of publication and how can that help me as an 'artist'?  Sure. Number eight - Rhino Skin. *winces* I'm getting there. I'm no longer crushed by rejection, but it still stings. I doubt that will EVER go away, but I can work on using the feedback more efficiently.

Nine was interesting. Bell asks you to not think, "Do I have a book inside me?" He wants you to think: "Do I have a writer inside me?"  Changes the perspective from product to craft...very helpful.  The last one, Talent, was actually least important to Bell. He said that everyone has some talent, its what you do with it that matters.  Not sure what to think about that one...but, okay.

The book has a section at the end of the chapter to write down your reactions and I had quite a lot to jot down. Bell then asks you to revisit your comments a year later to see if you've grown as an author. I really enjoyed this quick read. Its not an in-depth teaching book, but more like a pep-talk with cool military references.  I felt ready to kick some writer's block hiney, that's for sure.

Thank you again, Michelle for the book. Now until next time...Go Write!

Photograph by tanakawho.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Drink - A Snake - And a Hermit

So here's the thing...I've finished my first chapter of the book I'd resolved not to write. Call it giving in, bargaining with my brain, or just being weak but I got tired of staring at my unmoving cursor and decided to try something other than being stubborn.

I started to write a series of books with a shade or hue in the titles. I already wrote Purple Knot and Ruby Dawn. I was SUPPOSED to start on Bayou Blue but my muse - malevolent head-games junkie that he is - decided that writing something else would be more fun.  I argued, stubbornly refused, and finally decided to give in...but only ONE chapter!

So here it is...the fruit of my frustration.  I hope you like it.

The Black Adders
Chapter One - The Hermit

I knew they might die but I did it anyway. The possibility wasn’t remote at all. Still, the need prickled through my nerves, a waning high making my hands sweaty on the steering wheel. The obedience just came. Like all things in my life, I did what my father told me to do.

When the fender-bender scam went wrong and the family inside the crash-car fried while still strapped into their expensive leather seats, I hadn’t regained my mind enough to fully experience the terror of that day. The smell of the flesh and burning rubber and the strangled screams from within would come later in my dreams. On the day I killed the Cutler’s, I stood on the side of the road, forehead bleeding into my eyes from the blow on the steering wheel, and marveled at the pretty colors of the flames.

No one thought me monstrous for this. I was an Adder. The Black Adders, they called us. Ruthless and feared, we are the gypsies of the modern age. Grifters and swindlers; every one of us have hearts as dark as pitch.

I should have remembered that when I turned on them.

I should have known that hair dye and name changes and new apartments don’t keep your past at bay for long. Gypsies understand fate. Its power and peril are twisted with our history back to the covered wagon caravans that meander our past.

I forgot what I was. Thief, con artist, criminal.

A Black Adder whose heart does not deserve to be trusted.

I often wondered if suspicion of my own impulses led me to a place where sin is not only sanctioned, but rewarded. Las Vegas, with its frantic pace and anonymous faces lit up by a million fake stars, seemed a fitting place for me. If I had to hide somewhere, it might as well be a place where everything is false and temporary.

A place that mirrored my own crimson smile.

I walked along the phony cobbled street of the hotel’s lobby. Made to resemble a quaint street in Europe, the resin stones paved a path to blinking slot machines lined with drunken guests. I adjusted my wench costume to encourage bigger tips and strode through the aisles of gamblers with the tray of drinks balanced on one palm, my other arm at my side ready to pat away straying hands.

Big Bob, a name he’d given himself, balanced precariously with one butt cheek halfway off the green stool, and tried to tip his “Female Body Inspector” hat in a shameful attempt at chivalry.

“Hey there, Raven, when’ re you gonna give in to my charms and come home with me?” He winked at me and I tried to smile, but the piece of unidentified debris on his brown mustache made me wince instead.

“You know I can’t date customers, Bob.” I drawled my words like a girl born in the middle of Memphis. The fact that I was from Southern California didn’t change the fact the men tipped me better with the sweet twang. “It’s completely against the rules.”

Bob leaned forward and twirled his mustache. “Well how can I get you fired then, Sweet Cheeks?”

The greased hair of a black and white movie villain flashed in my head and I smirked. Bob was on the wrong side of two hundred pounds and the little burst capillaries on his nose meant tonight’s level of drinking wasn’t something he only did here. I probably represented the bulk of his interaction with females.

Sad, really, but not my problem.

“If you got me fired, you’d lose your connection for the best Long Island Ice teas this side of the Mississippi.” I winked at him and performed the required tilt and knee bend to deliver his drink with as much view of me as possible. The floor manager actually checked to make sure the waitresses did the move. “Besides, wouldn’t you miss me?”

My smile felt forced, but his mirror response told me he liked what he saw. His eyes went suddenly watery. Mouth tilting down slightly at the corners, he nodded. “I – I would miss ya, yeah.”

I blinked, not knowing how to respond. Why did he have to go and have real feelings? I cleared my throat, patted his meaty hand, and stepped back. “Well…I – I’d miss you too, Bob.”

He smiled then, a yellow, jagged-toothed grin that reminded me how broken people congregated here.

“It’s my anniversary on Tuesday.” He said it so low I almost didn’t hear him over the binging machines and din of the surrounding conversations.

“Your anniversary?”

“Yeah, twenty-four years. She’s…something,” he trailed off.

I glanced at his bare left hand. He didn’t wear a wedding ring. “Oh, that’s really great, Bob.”

He stared down at his feet. Encased in black socks and brown sandals, they looked swollen to me. Bob nodded, wiped at his forehead with his hand, and looked up at me with confusion.

“What were we talking about?”

“Drinks, Bob,” I prompted. “You wanted another one?”

He searched my face with unfocussed eyes and nodded. “Oh, yeah, keep them coming, Sweet Cheeks.” He tossed a hundred on my tray and turned back to the slot machine, his face still bewildered.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a hand go up, signaling me for a drink. I turned, making sure to swing my hip in his direction and pose with a smile. It wasn’t a customer. Instead, a young guy wearing too-dark blue jeans and a silver belt buckle large enough to use as a trivet, waved a piece of paper at me. I stood and stared at him blankly, until he sighed and shuffled over to me.

“Didn’t ya see me signaling for you?” He stood next to me breathless a look of annoyance wrinkling his uni-brow.

I eyed the skinny farm boy and raised an eyebrow. Peach fuzz and acne mottled his sallow cheeks. He didn’t look older than seventeen. “Yeah, what do you need hon?”

He held up an envelope and then tossed it on my tray. “A guy paid me twenty bucks to give this to you. He said you’d know what it meant.”

I glanced at the envelope. White with the blue and red stripes of international mail, it looked like someone used it as a coaster for a week before giving it to Kentucky Ken here in front of me. Looking over his shoulder I snapped my chewing gum a couple of times before speaking. I got a lot of ‘offers’ around here that were better left unanswered.

“What did this guy look like?”

“He had a black snake tattoo, kinda coiled up, on his neck.”

The muscles of my arms and legs froze up and I felt wooden as I tried to shrug with an uninterested look on my face. “I – Is he still here?”

The Kentucky shrugged. “He was just walking by, said to find a serving wench with the same exact tattoo on her wrist, and give her the mail.”

“Did he have a—”

Kentucky put his hand up interrupting me. “I didn’t ask his sign or nothing, lady. He just gave me the money and I did what he said.”

He didn’t wait for me to answer before leaving.

Speechless, I sank back into the shadow provided by the fake rock fountain and watched Kentucky shuffle out of the casino. He crossed the street and melted into the throng of walkers on the main strip. I didn’t see anyone meet up with him.

Putting the tray down, I tore open the envelope and held the card up with quivering a hand. On it, an old man clad in a black cloak held a staff in one hand and a lantern in the other; the Hermit card in a Tarot deck.

My family used the Tarot to scam people out of hundreds of dollars. The Adders did not believe in any sort of magic. We believed in the power of lies, and the rewards that come with lying well to those willing to pay to hear them. I knew they held no magic or power to foretell the future, but I also knew what the picture meant.

I flashed on my mother, seated in her long skirts and beaded scarves in front of a table draped with silk. We used to work the carnival circuit whenever my father got arrested for his scams. She’d flip over the Hermit card and pause dramatically, staring at the customer with kohl rimmed eyes wide with fright.

“The Hermit,” she’d hiss.

The customer would always lean forward, breathless with dread. “What does that mean?”

My mother, raven hair like my own, would squint her honey colored eyes and whisper. “A traitor.”

I held the card to my chest and backed further into the dark corner. That’s what I was; a traitor to my family. My actions after the Cutlers died tore my family apart. Swallowing hard, my eyes flit across the room toward the doorways and dim hallways.

Fear thrumming in my chest, I looked at the card again and panted against the suffocating tightness in my throat.

Someone found me.

The Gypsy world and the culture surrounding con artists is very interesting to research. I've learned so much already...I should be writing Bayou Blue, but this is too fun!

Hope you liked the chapter. Until next time...Go Write!

Photograph by cauchisavona.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Juicy Sample...Chapter?

I went to the farmer's market today. Tented tables lined the blazing asphalt. Guys in straw hats offered samples of succulent summer fruit cut with pocket knives right in their hands.  They talked about their groves and gardens. Where they find the best fertilizer and how they know it's ready to harvest.

One guy sold the most amazing salsa made out of tomatillos and packaged in the town he grows them. I had a taste, thought it awesome, and bought a jar.  Never would have pulled it off a grocery shelf...I really don't fancy salsa all that much. But he seemed so proud and had a sample right there, so I gave it a whirl and BOOM! I was sold.

Why can't writers have these types of gatherings?  Wouldn't it be great if we could have a set gathering place, put out our wares, and talk face to face with agents as they meaner by?  I'm not talking about writer's conferences...those are for writers.  We flock to them, scramble for a time slot with an agent, and babble through a 60 second of many they've already sat through.  We're nervous, they're tired, and the time is rushed.

No, I'm talking about proud writers showing off great selections of our finest work and shooting the breeze with the casual confidence of the nectarine dude - I bought two pounds. I guess the closest we come to that is our blogs. We fine tune, color tweak, and background change to help pass the days as we wait for our queries or proposals to render results.

If only a pretty table cloth, a juicy slice of a great story, and the twinkling smile of the one who wrote it were the way we got our novels sold.  Like the tomatillo sauce guy says..."I guarantee, if you try it, you'll love it."

Friday, July 9, 2010

Refining My R.E.A.R.

No, I'm not detailing my gym workouts. Okay, so I made the funky acronym on purpose. The premise is valid, however. Real Emotion And Response from your reader is the key to keeping your book in their hands.  I hate it when I read a book and realize that I don't really care what happens to the characters; that their experience and responses are too out of my personal understanding to relate.  This is a very bad thing...especially for romance writers.

There are a lot of things that go into a novel. Core elements like plot, pacing, tension, name it. You're building a world for your reader, it takes sweat and planning.  We all strive to do our best and hone our craft. We all agonize over that adverb, or that sub-plot, or word count.  You know what? Its all for nothing if the emotion doesn't ring true and the reader can't relate.

Take a certain paranormal romance series for example. The plot isn't that original. The characters could use some layering. The setting is dreary and not really described much. But the angst...whew!  Talk about resonating with your demographic.

The idea that the most desirable, most dangerous of the characters would move mountains to be with you is alluring. Who wouldn't want to be so enchanting that an Adonis-like creature would defy the rules of his universe, his family, even his personal beliefs to have you?  Is it any wonder that the series broke past the target audience to their mothers? Being desired, above everyone else, is universal. Whether its for your beauty, strength, wit, or writing ability...we want to be wanted. It's a basic human need.
But something real lies underneath the twinkling glitter of the story dream. Something that pulls at your reader's core. Real emotion - longing, insecurity, desire for something you know is more than you deserve. Through the fog of the improbable, you reach out to that part of your reader that still smarts from that rejection or unrequited love, or lost spark -- and you elicit a response that transcends plot details and adverb over-usage.

Mechanics can be fixed and fine tuned. Word counts can be bent and plot can be tightened. That's what revisions are for, right? But that real emotion...that visceral connection with the character is powerful. Don't forget, in your quest to shine and polish your "work",  that it is a work of "art" to begin with.

So work on refining your 'rears' my friends. Until next time...Go write.

Photograph by DerrickT.   Photograph by Victor Bezrukov.  Photograph by pedrosimoes7.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Dark Side Is Calling...

I have one writing gear...thats it. No multiple settings for this baby.  When things are good, they're awesome.  I write like I've main-lined pure adrenaline. Nothing distracts me, I start typing and before I know it, my husband is telling me to take a break four or five hours later. Poof! Just like that...and I swear it feels like I just sat down. I take a quick coffee with him, wish him good night, and start writing again.  Two or three in the morning? No problem.  I just type till I notice the tops of my hands are hurting. I pound out twenty plus pages a night this way and its fantastic.

That is not what is happening right now. Right now I sit and stare at my computer like I'm in a Barton Fink remake. I've alphabetized all of my cd's and books, dusted my keyboard and printer, and generally farted around. The problem with my writing binges is that they end. They last one night, two nights...three at the most, and then they're gone. Poof! Just like my lost hours, my steam is gone and I end up buying microwave pasta cookers online at two in the morning instead of working on my novel.

How does this happen? Its not like I don't know what to type. I'm extrememly organized and usually block out my scenes so I don't think that is the problem.  I know what needs to occur next in my story so why can't I write it? Maybe I just hate my characters and don't care if the two of them ever get out of the alligator invested swamp.

No, I think its that my heart is in another story right now.  One I'd resolved not to write. The tale of the dark and dangerous Siyah and the self-hating Raven.  It's not a happy journey. I'm not even sure they both survive it. I'm not sure about ANYTHING having to do with them. The entire plot and story is just a thick fog randomly lit up with sparks of electric possibilities. I've refuse to block it out or even think about the ending. But I can't work on anything else because their tale of terror and temptation is too, well...too tempting for me to focus on my "official" novel.

So I sit here, munching on M&M's and lurking amid the Facebook posts about new babies and the Tweet announcements of "awesome" summer antics.  Your pictures are blurry, by the way, just an observation from a grumpy insomniac.

My eyes flit from time to time to the scribbled notes I grudgingly jotted down about gypsy legends and curses. I thumb through an article about grifter scams, but quickly toss it away.  I will not abandon a perfectly good, well constructed novel, to work on this...this...wait -- is that a book on talismans over there?

Photograph by Jamie Neely.  Photograph by Horia Varlan.  

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I Should've Seen It Coming...

Michelle over at Beautiful Chaos had the most awesome idea...EVER. She proposed a blogfest in which we share our most favorite scene. She called it the "Share Your Darlings" Blogfest and it is Uber-Cool

So this is from a book I wrote last year called, Purple Knot. This scene is after a very emotional chapter in which the main character, Rain Cruz, signed off on an emergency C-section that resulted in her best friend, Summer's, death. 

Jimmy is the main character's love interest and the brother of the friend that just died. Mona made a scene upstairs not ten minutes ago...screaming and throwing medical supplies about the room in an outburst of violent grief.

Rain is not a fan.

I'll let Rain describe Mona in her own words:

"Mona was Jimmy and Summer’s mother. Big haired and perpetually tipsy, she was a southern belle of epic movie proportions. Given to sneaking cigarettes at inopportune moments, she never seemed to be around when they needed her. Mona and I never really hit it off. The only time she ever took my side was when I announced I was moving away from Seattle, away from her son."

Purple Knot
Chapter Four

In retrospect I should’ve seen it coming. After signing papers with the nurse, I wandered down to the cafeteria to find some coffee, or arsenic. Either would have done, really. I stood in the aisle between the hanging packages of trail mix, and the steaming soup buckets wondering what I was even doing down here, when Mona yelled my name at the top of her lungs.

“How could you do this? That baby has no mother because of you!”

I froze with a bowl full of potato soup in one hand, a ladle in the other. Again, hindsight tells me I should have kept the ladle in my possession.

I was not sure what to say to a crazy person who was now suffering unbearable grief.

“I’m sorr-”

“Don’t you ever speak to me again!”

Mona bellowed and strode across the cafeteria toward me. People parted for her like they knew her, and made an open path right to me.

“You are the worst kind of…of…scum.”

I watched with morbid fascination as her hands came up again. Her long coral-pink nails flashed in the buzzing florescent lights. I saw Jimmy run out of the elevator, scan right then left, do a double-take and launch himself towards us. Alas, he always seemed to be a second behind the action. Mona grabbed my sweater with both hands and shook me like bag of dirty rags. Occupied by the bowl of now wildly sloshing potato soup in my hands, I was useless against her onslaught.

“You…did…this! You did this!”

Mona heaved with the strain of throttling me and I could smell the bourbon on her breath. Where did she get bourbon in a hospital, I thought madly? Jimmy yanked Mona off of me and sent her sliding on her butt through the puddle of spilled soup. His face was tight when he wrapped an arm around my waist and pulled me toward the door.

“You need to come with me.”

He carried me out of the cafeteria into the elevator. The bowl of soup was still in my hands. I could hear Mona shouting as the doors closed achingly slow on yet another crowd of disbelieving stares.

This is one of my favorite scenes because I've experienced dealing with grief and surreal craziness at the same time. Its strange the things you notice during moments like that...the coral nails are a detail ripped from my own reality.

I hope you liked the excerpt. I encourage you to go on over to Beautiful Chaos to catch some other great "Darlings"...Until next time -- Go Write!
Photograph by mukais.