Monday, June 30, 2008

Anti-Heroes and Goodies

We're discussing the Redeemable Anti-Hero over at Swords & Stilettos today.

Tuesday, we'll be announcing a new book release for an author friend and there will be goodies given away...

Wednesday we have an interesting creative writing exercise crafted out of the discussions on this blog of what inspires our creativity.

Come see us each day, leave comments, join the discussion, play with your creativity, and grab your chance to win a prize!

Monday's List

1. We made it home in one day - a trip of 14 hours, with stops. That's 14 hours, 3 boys, and 1 backseat. You do the math.

2. We spent yesterday doing pretty much nothing just to recover.

3. I dislike doing laundry that is full of sand.

4. This is going to be one of those weeks where my "to do" list far outweighs the hours in every day.

5. I tried oysters while in Florida and very nearly vomited.

6. How anyone can eat something that smells like three-day-old dead fish is beyond me.

7. As we drove out of town, I saw a street sign for "Mullet Dr."

8. In all honesty, I don't think I could live on a street called "Mullet" anything.

9. Though with the South's propensity for mispronouncing common words (a city near me is Santa Fe with the "fe" pronounced "fee" for reasons that still escape me), perhaps the residents call it "mull-ay".

10. That's French for "Criminy, what did you DO to your hair?!"

11. We saw alligator road kill as we drove through Florida.

12. In the freeway median.

13. No wonder all the road workers wore high boots and looked extremely nervous.

14. Alligator wrestling is not on my bucket list - just fyi.

15. Neither is sky diving but I'd do that before I'd wrestle an alligator.

16. This week I'm working extra hours (filling in for someone on vacation), spending time at Nashville Shores while my hubby has a broadcast from there, hosting a 4th of July party, and working like a crazy woman to finish SHADOWING FATE and send it off.

17. Also, I'll be dealing with the fruit fly infestation we came home to.

18. And I'll be doing laundry and cleaning my house and taking the kids to the library so they can get more books for their summer reading incentive (they read 200 books between them and I buy them the all-access pass to the Pirates online game).

19. You'll notice that "sleep" is not on my list.

20. READER QUESTION: What's one thing you wouldn't add to your bucket list?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

What Moves The Muse

I recently completed an interview for a fellow author's blog (I'll post a link when the interview goes up) where one of the questions asked me what inspires my writing - the context of her question was basically asking what I use to put myself in the mood for writing.

We all find inspiration in different ways. Where we find it isn't nearly as important as making sure we never stop looking for what unleashes our own creativity. That said, I thought I'd list what awakens my muse. I found that I have a pretty eclectic range of what inspires me to spill words onto a page.

MUSIC: I've always been inspired by music. I grew up with a classical musician for a father and I didn't even know pop music existed until I was in fifth grade. We listened to classical, classical, and more classical and in the absence of words, I learned to hear the voices of the instruments tell their story. I'm never far from my iPod and I have nearly 6000 songs on it at the moment, many of them soundtracks or instrumentals. The stories within the music inspire me to write something that matches the mood of the song. When I'm working on a novel, I choose two or three albums that I only listen to while writing that project. A few chapters in and just the sound of that album instantly puts me into the world of my novel.

Some music I'm currently using for my writing: Batman Begins soundtrack, Nightwish Poet and Pendulum (instrumental version), Fallen by Evanescence, and Resident Evil soundtrack.

ART: I love losing myself in a picture that tells a story. My favorite art pieces are mysterious, haunting, and sometimes slightly disturbing (at least to others. lol) I like art where I can imagine what lives around the corner or what happens next. The right art puts me in the mood to write something that matches the tone of the picture or sculpture.

Some art I have in my writing space: dragon sculptures where the dragon is definitely on the warpath and planning to start his evening off with Fricasse of Tasty Peasant, wrought iron candle holders in the shape of Celtic crosses, a calendar of real-life castles, a sepia-toned framed picture where an ornate rusty gate opens to a path winding through a tangled forest and then disappearing into the distance, illustrated books on Ireland, China, and medieval myths, and a Thomas Kinkaid Victorian Evening print.

PHRASES: I've been a love of words since I was a small child. Usually to the dismay of my teachers. lol. I used to keep spiral-bound notebooks full of lists of words that I loved. Hearing a phrase that catches my imagination can easily turn into a poem or story idea or another chapter in my WIP.

NATURE: I'm often inspired by what I see out my front door. I'm really not a flowers and flowing grasses kind of girl. I'm much more interested in the clouds that press against the horizon, sealing us off from the rest of the world, or the burning moon that looks like a half-lidded dragon eye glaring down at his prey.

EMOTION: There's a biggie. The darker emotion that hits me sometimes can be turned into fuel for creativity. Some of my best work comes from some of my darkest nights. I find satisfaction in taking what is painful and turning it into a piece of powerful beauty instead.

There's my short list of where I find inspiration for my creativity. Where do you find yours?

Friday, June 27, 2008

For Inspiration

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit."
Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull

-Thanks to fellow writer Keli Gwyn for the quote!

Vacation Diary - Day Seven

We spent the vast majority of today at the beach and it was fun, despite things that happened.

Highlights of the Day:

1. I forgot to record this yesterday: we saw a crab on the sand, scuttling around. My children and several others were delighted and crowded around him to get an up close and personal view. The crab did not take kindly to being studied and raced to safety. Inside someone's beach tent. Up the pant leg of a sleeping toddler.

Mayhem ensued. The mother snatched the toddler and began beating at his pants. The crab took exception to this treatment. So did the toddler. Much screaming emanated from the tent and then the mother snatched her child's pants down, yanked out the crab, and threw him from the tent.

I sympathized with all parties.

2. I got stung by a jelly fish. Twice. At least that's what we think happened. I didn't feel it at the time it happened but I ended up with welts across both ankles and those hurt. I declined the Scientist's instructions to pee on myself to rid myself of the pain and also refused Daredevil's generous offer to do it for me. The welts are already almost gone.

I did shame myself later that day by shrieking like a little girl when I felt something (probably seaweed but I didn't reach my hand down to check) float against my feet again.

3. Seagulls are brazen, defiant creatures. Spend enough time around a flock of them and you begin to believe Hitchcock was on to something.

4. Turns out that spray-on sunscreen is best applied indoors where there is no chance of even the slightest breeze. My hubby now has a strangley patterned sunburn where gusts of wind blew the sunscreen off course. Poor guy is not a happy camper.

Tomorrow we leave Florida bright and unbearably early and will boldly attempt to drive the entire way home in one please-God-just-kill-me-now day. I'll let you know how it goes.

A Message For Muggles

Today at Swords and Stilettos, we've posted a link to J.K. Rowling's commencement address to the 2008 graduating class of Harvard. In it, she discusses the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination.

Come check it out and join the discussion!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Vacation Diary - Days Four, Five, & Six

It's Thursday night and I haven't blogged in three days.


Disney World, that's why. My feet still have blisters (but we won't blame my hubby and the shoes he picked out for me because in all fairness, I wasn't there to try them on and he did his best).

That said, I have one pair of white women's athletic shoes, barely used, for sale if anyone's interested.

Disney World was Tuesday. And by Tuesday, I mean bright and early Tuesday morning into not-so-bright and waaaay-too-early Wednesday morning. We had to forcibly remove the kids from the park which is kind of the point of bringing them in the first place.


1. Pirates. Not just the ride, which has this cool hologram of Davy Jones you have to ride through to drop into the main ride and which has Jack Sparrow in all the right places, but the gift store the ride vomits every passenger into was totally my idea of Excellent Places To Blow Your Vacation Money.

2. The castle. Wow. The version in Anaheim's Disney Land (where we used to go 3 or 4 times a year when we lived just an hour away) is a poor cousin next to this incredible confection of splendor and beauty. Apparently, you can rent a room in the castle instead of staying at the Disney World resort. I shudder to think of what that night of sleep costs.

3. The Monster's Inc. comedy show. Totally freaking brilliant. A live comedy show using animated monsters who interact personally with the crowd. It's funny (the "psychotic" monster was my favorite) and amazing. If you go, don't miss it.

4. Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster. None of you will be surprised to hear that I'm a roller coaster girl through and through. I haven't met a coaster I won't try. Thunder Mountain has always been one of my favorites and this time I got to introduce it to Daredevil (who kept saying after each turn "Is it over? Please don't let it be over!") and Starshine.

5. The fireworks show "Believe" at the end of the night was really cool.

As for my children, the Scientist loved driving the race cars with his customary careful precision, Starshine was constantly in danger of either being lost or of bowling over innocent groups of tourists as he spent the entire day either staring at something behind him, or hopping over cracks (so he wouldn't break his mom's back!) with his eyes firmly fixed on his feet (I should have just recorded myself saying "Starshine! Please catch up!) to save myself the 857 times I had to repeat it.), and Daredevil had a new rule instituted after a particularly interesting encounter while waiting in line for Peter Pan - "No talking to strangers!". Unfortunately, the rule was for the safety of the strangers.

We spent much of Wednesday in Epcot and it was a nice change of pace from Disney World. Epcot is right up the Scientist's alley as it has a showcase of innovations you can play with, the history of space exploration, and a really cool walk through various countries of the world.

Highlights from Epcot:

1. Soarin' is an amazing ride, made even more special for us since we lived in Cali for years. Some featured cities in California included where we used to live, where we went to college, and where we spent our honeymoon.

2. Spending time in the "land" of China was really cool. We could close out the view of the rest of the park for just a little while and pretend we were there to collect our daughter. Plus, they had this amazing shop of all kinds of Chinese exports including the most incredible carved jade dragon ship ($3300! Ouch!) and I wanted one of everything. I'm bringing an empty suitcase when we travel to China so I can bring home tons of cool stuff.

3. Turtle Talk with Crush (from Nemo) is an interactive experience with an animated character where Crush actually interviews some of the kids in the audience. Our worst fear was that Daredevil would be interviewed and would ask one of the many questions he'd already run by us for pre-approval (all of which were turned down with an emphatic "NOT unless you want us to deport you to the Netherlands!"). He wanted to ask things like "Where do you poop?" and "How can you tell if you're a boy?"

Sure enough, the first child Crush turned to was Daredevil. It's Murphy's law. Since he was sitting on the floor and we were up on a bench, I had visions of turning to other parents and saying, "Wow! Whose kid is that?!" but all my fears were for naught. Daredevil eschewed all bathroom-oriented questions and instead amused the entire crowd (his dark gift) with his answers.

Starshine was the true problem.

Crush finished interviewing various kids and went behind a rock to grab an item he'd found the other day on the beach that he needed the kids' help explaining. He returned with a bikini top hanging from his neck.

Cute, I thought. This is because I am not psychic and had no idea the disaster about to commence from Starshine himself.

Crush then asked, "Can anyone tell me what this is?"

And Starshine, who has never once, not ONCE, clued in to something before everyone else, suddenly yelled out, in that split second before anyone else could respond,


Crush had some difficulty recovering from that one.

So did I.

Today, we left Orlando and drove to Cocoa Beach where we spent the rest of the day on the beach body surfing, finding shells to make a family photo frame, and building a sand castle "home" for the dead jelly fish (sans tentacles) Starshine found. I still don't think Starshine realizes the jelly fish isn't just taking a nap.

Highlights from today:

1. The Scientist dragged a body board out to where the waves were really breaking and proved to be a natural at body surfing.

2. At one point, my hubby joined him using a skim board, an ill-fated decision since a) skim boards are not meant for body surfing and have a regretable tendancy to plow their noses into the sand and their tails into your stomach and b) immediately after my hubby recovered from being punched in the gut with the skim board, the Scientist rode a wave right over his head, plunging my poor hubby once more onto the edge of the skim board.

My hubby gave up boarding after that.

3. The Atlantic Ocean is so different from the Pacific. Not just the temperature, either. The Pacific has so much going on out in the water... boats, barges, islands or rocks jutting out, a definite break between the water and the sky. The Atlantic looks like you're standing at the very edge of the world. The sky presses against the water until it looks like maybe we're all living inside Truman's bubble. You can't see any rocks, islands, or any indication that anything exists beyond the sand at your feet. No wonder people thought the world was flat.

4. Daredevil, Starshine, and I waded out to body surf without boards which translates into me anchoring myself against the wave and the gravitational pull of the undertow, one hand grasping Starshine, the other holding onto Daredevil, and then letting them float along without ever letting go. We chose to face the shore and let the waves crash into us from behind. For some reason, the catch phrase of the day became "Hold on to your poop decks!" before each wave.

No, I did not think of it.

Yes, I yelled it with them.

Unfortunately, after one particularly fierce wave knocked me off my feet and I surfaced to a few unexpected drafts, I realized that it wasn't my poop deck that needed holding.

It was my bow. Both of them.

I think a surfer or two owe me some singles.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Vacation Diary - Day Three

We spent the bulk of the day in Sea World and I was pleasantly surprised at how much there was for the kids to do. Of course we watched Shamu's Believe show and it was incredible. We also saw polar bears, walruses, barracudas, sharks (several varieties whose names escape me), beluga whales and my personal favorite, dolphins. I'd like to swim with dolphins someday.

Maybe we'll take a cruise and I can do it then.

The Scientist won a killer whale stuffed animal at the arcade and named it Shamu. Daredevil and I went on a roller coast together but we couldn't ride the Kraken, which looked absolutely amazing in a hey-I-might-die-here sort of way. Poor Daredevil needs four more inches before he's allowed to ride on that.

We went on paddle boats that look like giant floating flamingos, which, if you stop to think about it too long, is sort of the stuff of nightmares.

It was fun but the real story of the day was the heat. Relentless, fry you to a crisp despite your paltry 60 SPF heat. When we stopped for lunch, we all sat and guzzled 20 ounces of water each in less than three minutes. The kids recovered from it when we came back to the hotel and took them to the pool. My hubby seems fine, though he and I are still drinking a lot of water.

I, on the other hand, am still in Holy Heat Rash, Batman! mode so we'll see how I feel (and look) tomorrow.

We'll be spending all day at Disney's Magic Kingdom and my hubby and I realized today that while I packed socks and shoes for the kids, the two of us brought only flip flops. One day hiking around an amusement park in flip flops was enough to demonstrate, in excruciating, blistering detail, the error of our ways.

My hubby fixed that tonight by going to Walmart and buying new athletic shoes and socks for us both.

Yes. You heard me. He bought shoes for me while I was not present, an act that goes against all that we hold sacred in our marriage.

He had my permission for this daring feat but I took one look at the women's athletic socks he handed me (the ones that look surprisingly masculine) and listened to his "I tried to get something fashionable without adding color" and I have yet to work up enough courage to open the box.

Besides, whatever they look like, as long as they're comfortable, I'm wearing them tomorrow. And I give the man credit where credit is due. Picking out shoes for your wife, even if she isn't a shoe-oholic like me, is stressful.

Highlight of today: (besides the family time and the nightmarishly pink flamingo boats)

Daredevil, Starshine, and the Scientist were hanging out in the hotel's hot tub when three twenty-something guys from Brazil joined them. Daredevil sized them up and then announced: "Well, there's three of you and three of us but I guess we might lose the fight."
The Brazilians thought it was hilarious.

This is because Daredevil is small and cute.

Give it a few years and I shudder to think where his mouth and his firm belief that he can take on anyone and win will land us.

Anyone know a good lawyer?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Vacation Diary - Day One and Two

I'm blogging (with the intent to be somewhat regular this week while we vacation but it's anybody's guess how much reality will intrude on that idea) from the desk in our room at the Holiday Inn, while everyone else is asleep (or very nearly) using H.I.'s deplorably sloooow wireless connection.

Took me eons to upload that gorgeous Pirates poster but it was worth the wait.

We left yesterday at 5:15 p.m. which, since we'd planned to leave by 5 p.m., was a miracle of no small proportion. Usually, if we plan to leave by 5 p.m., we are out the door no earlier than 6.

We drove until 10 something that night and stopped somewhere south of Atlanta in a seen-better-days-but-fit-the-budget Super 8. Noteable items from our first day of travel:

1. All of the boys made it to the Super 8 alive, a feat which was doubtful at several points during the journey.

2. We stopped at a Cracker Barrel (hey! I get a 35% discount. Where else would we eat?) and Starshine and I were sitting together in the rockers on the porch after dinner, rocking quietly and sharing some quality time. Suddenly , Starshine belts out these words (with a tune attached to them which makes me wonder if I need to pay stricter attention to his music class next year...) "Old granny gots a lot of cookies! Old granny can't resist the cookies!"


3. As we were driving, the kids kept trying to get truckers to honk. As we drove up to one semi, the Scientist was frantically pumping his fist up and down, trying to gain the trucker's attention when he suddenly gasped and said in a voice full of shock and awe, "That trucker is a woman!"

Daredevil's response: "Whoa. She must be one trash-talking, hard-nosed girl!" (I think this is a quote from one of their Disney shows but it's quite possible he came up with this on his own.)

Starshine's response: "Sweet Nibblets."

I am just as baffled as you.

4. We woke up this morning and filed outside only to find that the car occupying the slot several doors down from us (in the seen-better-days Super 8) was a red Ferrari.

Maybe that's how he can afford the Ferrari? Or maybe gas prices caught up to him too.

Today, we arrived in Orlando at 3:30 and took the kids to the hotel pool to let off some steam, burn some energy, and exise the demon of testosterone currently tempting each of them to commit various felonies for which their parents would be held responsible.

We wandered around Downtown Disney this evening (it's free to get in but everything else costs an arm and a leg). We'd given each of the kids some spending money and they blew the whole thing when we hit a store selling some uber-cool Pirates loot. Eye patches, daggers, swords, pistols, skulls, t-shirts, name it. I secretly coveted a few pieces myself but couldn't bring myself to spend money on me. :)

Tomorrow, it's off to Sea World and hopefully an early night. I'm sleepy now and I'm going to bed.

Sweet Nibblets.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Week In Review

1. We leave today for Florida.

2. We'll be gone for a week - Sea World, Disney World, Epcot, and then two days at Cocoa Beach.

3. We're all excited about the vacation - we'll see how long the boys can stand being packed into the back of the Explorer before the game becomes Last Brother Breathing wins.

4. Earlier this week, we went bowling together.

5. I believe I've told you about my mad bowling skills - last time I had a score of 1 as in Uno, as in You Stink - by frame 7.

6. This time, my hubby took pity on me and let me have bumpers just like the kids.

7. I did much better.

8. The Scientist beat us all on the second game and was proudly trash-talking his Dad over it. My hubby responded with, "Well, I would have beat you if I'd had bumpers." To which the Scientist replied, "Yeah but then you would have looked like a total dork."

9. "Oh reeeeeaaaaally?" I said as my hubby choked on his laughter.

10. The Scientist hurried to recover his gaffe with this explanation: "But you're a girl, Mom. It doesn't look bad if you have bumpers because no one expects you to be able to bowl."

11. "Oh rrrreeeeaaaaalllllyyyyy???"

12. At which point the Scientist opted for silence.

13. We have a summertime tradition with the boys of going outside at twilight and catching fireflies. We gather as many as we can into our glass jar, watch them light up for a while, and then set them free (the Set Them Free Rather Than Bring Them Inside rule was instituted last year after the Scientist brought a jar of them up to his room and realized sometime during the night that he'd neglected to seal the lid.)

14. A few days ago, the boys were chasing fireflies around the lawn and for some reason, Daredevil decided to name the one he was chasing Fred.

15. He chased Fred, yelling at Fred to stop, to come here, to stay still...Fred wasn't listening.

16. Finally, Daredevil lunged foward, clapped his hands, checked his palms and then looked at me and said, "Fred didn't make it."

17. Last night a couple in their early twenties flagged me down after I'd delivered their food. When I went to the table, the man pointed to the floor and said, "She dropped her fork. You can pick it up now and get her another one."

18. Awww, can I? Can I really?

19. I came back to the table, dropped the new fork and the check, and never went back.

20. And no, I didn't pick up the fork she dropped. Anyone old enough to walk and talk is old enough to pick up after themselves.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I'll Give You 10 Good Reasons

My fellow Golden Heart nominees had a plan - a good one! - to meet up after Friday's Conference activities and have dinner at a local restaurant. I was onboard with this idea for many reasons, not the least of which is that these women are singularly supportive, interesting, talented, and dynamic.

The plan has now been abandoned in favor of meeting at the hotel bar, sipping cocktails and mingling with any agents or editors who happen by. In theory, this is a most excellent idea.

In actuality, I can give you 10 good reasons why I should never meet anyone at a bar, sip cocktails, and attempt to network my way into any sort of business relationship. This is me after just two sips:

1. They say alcohol loosens the tongue and I think we can all agree that if my tongue were any looser, it would come flapping right out of my mouth.

2. Generally speaking, it is frowned upon in networking situations when one intrepid soul announces to the world at large that she can dance the macarena only to fall off the regrettably narrow bar stool before she is able to demonstrate said dance moves.

3. Is there anyone here who has forgotten the time I walked into a tree in my own front yard in broad daylight while I was dead sober?

4. Editors tend to cringe at the words, "OhmygoodnessyoupublishJanetandshe'slikemyfavoriteandIcansendyouthreemanuscriptsbytomorrowandHEYit'swarminhere!"

5. May I call to mind the time I participated in a wine tasting then went to wait on a table, leaned well into the customer's personal space because for the life of me I could not understand what they wanted to drink and shouted "Lemonade??" at them? Twice?

6. Two sips and I channel my inner Spinal Tap: Everyone around me will be rolling their eyes and saying to each other, "This one goes to an eleven!"

7. Walking into doorjams, chairs, and mowing down innocent bystanders does not a favorable impression make.

8. I must admit that clothes do not adapt well to spontaneous demonstrations of my (lack of) gymnastic ability.

9. What to do with my hands? What to do with my hands? Here! You hold them for me!

10. Really, there aren't enough excuses in the world for a woman who must crawl to the restroom, rather than walk into walls like the rest of the drunks.

There you have it. Indisputable proof that inviting me to sip cocktails in a bar is a bad idea - unless they've read the blog archives and I'm to be the evening's entertainment...

Trick Up Your Sleeve

Ever picked up a book and halfway through it realized that all of the characters sound remarkably the same?

I know I have.

As an author, that's an easy mistake to make. After all, every single character is coming from you!

Here's a simple trick to make sure each of your characters have their own unique diction/responses/reactions/expressions:

Go through a few dialogue-heavy scenes in your novel and highlight each character's dialogue with a different color (you can do this right on the computer or print it off if that's easier). Then read each character's dialogue on its own. If you've done it right, the cadence and rhythm for each will be different and you won't have them sharing similar expressions or reactions to the external conflict.

If you notice any of the separate highlighted strands sound alike, go back to your characters, figure out what makes them fundamentally different from each other, and change their dialogue to reflect that.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Shoe Check!

Taz had a Furball Incident the other night. My hubby discovered this first. This is because he gets up first.

And also because the Furball Incident occured on his shoes.

Bring Your iTunes!

Wednesdays are Creative days over at Swords & Stiletto. Jump start your creativity (this is for anyone, not just writers!) by participating in the exercise of the day!

Today you'll need your iPod, iTunes, or mp3 player and a fun assortment of songs to choose from. :)

See you there!

Penny Drop Moments

Guest Blogger: Tracey O'Hara who just yesterday signed a two book deal with Harlequin Spice Briefs!

I am very honoured to be invited here to guest post on your blog, CJ. Extra Pixie dust for you. =)

I have been writing for just over 4 years and every day I learn something new, whether it is about the craft, my characters or my story. But some of the best have been those “penny drop” moment.

You know the ones. It is when something suddenly becomes clear – something you may have been previously struggling with or something that just occurs to you. I love those moments.

One of my most memorable came about from contest feedback. I’d been struggling with the whole ‘show, don’t tell’ concept. Then one of the judges sent me an article on Deep POV. I realised that I was explaining what the character was doing and feeling. Instead I could ‘show’ what it was like in her head. The opening paragraph of my ms was -

The tropical night air hung thick and humid around Antoinette, as she crept quietly along the dank alley. Her clothes felt sticky against her skin and a tendril of hair, that escaped her braid, clung to the back of her neck. But she was only vaguely aware of these things as her eyes strained into the darkness ahead, searching.

Then I walked in her shoes – imagined what it would be like to creep down a dark alley on a hot and humid night – to feel the thick heavy air slicking hot sweat on my skin, sticking the t-shirt material to my body. And that is what I wrote. It was like being struck by lightning. All of a suddenly it made perfect sense. I got what the contest judges had been telling me. My new paragraph went like this -

The alley stretched ahead, dark and ominous...yet Antoinette moved forward, one deliberate step after another. Perspiration beaded on her upper lip, she ran a hand across her face to wipe it away before the saltiness slipped unwelcome to the corners of her mouth.

Damn this heat.

Sweat trickled down her back, robbing her of more precious moisture and she tugged the damp t-shirt away from her sticky skin. Sucking humid air into her lungs was like trying to breathe through a warm wet blanket.

I’ll be forever thankful to that judge in helping me discover that ‘ah-ha’ moment. I now aspire to help other new writers to have those moments, to give back what someone gave to me. This is my most intense ‘penny drop’ moment.

Reader Question: Do you have a moment like this, where you writing suddenly jumps from level to another as you finally understand?

Tracey O'Hara writes both paranormal and erotica and lives in the land down under. You can learn more about her and writing at her website.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Do You Show The Signs?

Thank you to Danielle Marie for the link!

This is a fascinating (and inspiring!) article about the characteristics of highly productive artistic people.

Just to whet your appetite - The fact that I've set down roots in Tennessee, the fact that I choose to wait tables when I could use my teaching credential, the fact that I introduce myself to others and present myself on the web as a writer first and foremost, and the fact that I demand writing from myself daily are all indicators that I'm a highly productive artistic person.

Go read and then tell me what you think. =)

Art As Business

Writers are creative, artsy creatures who love words and how they flow together to paint pictures, tell stories, and evoke emotion. Writers craft and shape their words into poems, essays, blogs, novels, and short stories. Writers spend hours slaving over a single scene just to get it right. Writers are moved by their Muse, a slave to their get the picture.

Authors are writers who take all of that and shape it into something marketable.

I was talking with an author friend this morning (One with significant talent - multiple contest finals and awards) and was suprised to hear she had never queried an agent.

Not one.

Why not?

Well, her reasons are her own but most of it stems from fear of taking that next step. It's nerve-wracking to put your brainchild out on the open market and see what the rest of the world thinks.

The great news is, you don't have to. You can craft stories and poems and blogs to your heart's content, enter contests, or share them with friends. You can keep them completely to yourself. That's up to you and finding joy and contentment in simply writing is a reward unto itself.

If you aspire to publish your work and share it with a wider audience, however, you have to bite the bullet and start treating your work like the mixture of art and marketable commodity that it is.

How to Get Started:
1. Find a critique group or partner - someone who understands the craft of writing and can give you the kind of feedback the will drive you to a pint of Ben and Jerry's while you lick your wounds.

2. Go to writer's conferences - come armed with business cards (not the fru-fru kind, either), a one page info sheet giving your contact info and the hooks for any of your completed or almost completed WIPs and prepare to network your little heart out.

3. Draft a query letter - run it through the Query Shark and your critique group and start sending it to agents who represent what you write and whose sales you like.

If you aspire to publication and you still haven't taken steps to treat yourself like a professional, what's stopping you?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Apparently, I'm Not The Only One Who Needs Caffeine

It's 10:30 p.m. Monday night. I've just returned from the grocery store (hey, you go when you can). Because I'm facing a long night of writing and I don't feel all too energetic, despite taking a nap earlier, I decided I needed a jolt of caffeine (and does anyone else find it strange that this word thumbs its nose at the "i before e except after c" rule?).

How do you get a jolt of caffeine this late on a Monday in a small town? You go to McDonalds. They have fancy coffee drinks, now, and I decided tonight was the night to try one.

I used the drive through and the resulting conversation went like this: (

ME: *waiting patiently, although no one else is in line and there doesn't seem to be a valid reason for the lack of greeting from the little electronic box*

PERSON MAKING MINIMUM WAGE: (henceforth referred to as PMMW) Wait a minute.

ME: *wonders what might happen to my order if I tell PMMW he should at least say please*

PMMW: Okay. What do you want?

ME: *some consideration?* I'd like a large iced mocha, no whipped cream.

PMMW: Hold on a second.

ME: *wonders why I need to hold on when I've only ordered one item*

PMMW: We have like three flavors of coffee.

ME: Yes, I realize that. I want a large iced mocha, no whipped cream.

PMMW: So you want a mocha?

ME: Yes.

PMMW: We only have the mocha in one size.

ME: Yes. I realize that. A large. That's what I ordered.

PMMW: We only have it in a large.

ME: *grits teeth and decides not to point out that I'm staring right at the menu and I freaking know this already* Which works out well since that's what I ordered. No whipped cream.

PMMW: So you want the large iced mocha?

ME: *decides not to use the weapon of sarcasm against an opponent so clearly unarmed* Yes! No whipped cream!

PMMW: Do you want that with skim milk or regular?

ME: Skim.

PMMW: Alright. That's a large iced mocha with skim milk and extra whipped cream.

ME: What? No, not extra! No whipped cream.

PMMW: It comes with whipped cream. No extra charge.

ME: *decides that PMMW needs to be changed to PDTMW for PERSON DESTINED TO MAKE MINIMUM WAGE. Forever. And always. Amen.* I don't care about that. I don't want whipped cream.

PDTMW: So no whipped cream?

ME: That's right. No whipped cream.

PDTMW: Well, okay, if that's what you want.

ME: *bangs head on steering wheel* That's what I want.

PDTMW: Do you want anything else?

ME: *imagines the ensuing difficulty in ordering anything else off the menu and shudders* No.

PDTMW: Okay, well, pull up to the first window and pay.

All of that and I have to tell you, the coffee is pretty bitter, even with the mocha. I know, I know, that's what I get for getting my coffee at McDonald's. Never again, I promise.

Pants Or Plot?

Today's topic for discussion at Swords & Stilettos is the issue of Plotters vs. Pantsers. Come leave us a comment and let your opinion be heard (or ask us a question!).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Monday's List

1. Yes, for those of you uber-blog readers, I'm posting Monday's list on a Sunday night.

2. This is because I like to live on the edge.

3. So does Daredevil.

4. Last night he informed me (in his best indoor voice which means only half the restuarant heard him) that he had a rash.

5. When I inquired as to the location, he said the following: "You know how I wanted to wear the Scientist's shorts yesterday but they were too big? (umm, no, I didn't know this) Well, I had to put on 8 pairs of underwear to get them to fit. I've been wearing 8 pairs ever since and it's getting hot."

6. I'm not sure which is more interesting: the fact that his little boy logic led him to layer on the undies in an effort to wear a pair of shorts two sizes too big or the fact that he had no problem announcing it at my place of business.

7. In honor of Father's Day, I decided I would cook my hubby a nice steak dinner.

8. Using his grill.

9. When I announced this plan, every single male in my household within hearing distance dropped their jaw, widened their eyes, and stared at me in silence.

10. My hubby then got up, grabbed his tongs, and manned the grill.

11. Really, their confidence in me is overwhelming.

12. I'm going to bed early tonight. The constant late nights of writing have taken their toll.

13. Why do Mentos call their fruit-flavors "chewy fruit-flavored mints"?

14. While they are both fruity and chewy, they fall seriously short in the category of "mint".

15. I should invent a machine that irons clothes automatically.

16. You laugh but someone once said the same thing about the washing machine while slaving over a tub of sudsy clothes.

17. Or maybe you're laughing because the idea of me inventing anything is faintly ridiculous...

18. You may have a point.

19. Tiger Woods made an incredible putt on his last hole in the U.S. Open today to force a tie-breaker tomorrow.

20. My hubby is a huge golf fan so we were all watching this putt with much anticipation, mostly for his benefit.

21. When Tiger sank it, Starshine looked at my hubby and said, "Slap me some skin, my brother."

22. Oy.

23. Reader Question: Give me some recommendations for authors you adore in the urban fantasy/paranormal genre, either mainstream or YA. =)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Swords & Stilettos!!

Today, being Friday the 13th (although I don't know what that has to do with the price of eggs...but still, there you have it) and being Blog Like It's The End Of The World Day (which also was a freakin' coincidence but whatever), is the day Swords & Stilettos go live!

What is Swords & Stilettos, you ask?

It's a website devoted to creative writing, entertainment, getting published, and some all-around wierdness put together and maintained by my critique partner and fellow writer K.B. Wagers (our wandereringray) and yours truly.

What can you expect to find on Swords & Stilettos?

Sharp objects and really cool shoes.

Oh, and interactive creative writing activites, lessons in craft, entertainment, and did I mention wierdness? There will be some of that. =)

At the moment, we'll be posting every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We want this to be an interactive playground for writers in every stage of their career (or for those who want to dabble in some creativity) to come join the fun.

So bookmark the site, link from here, or add us to your livejournal friends page and let the mayhem begin!

Today we've got interviews up so you can get to know us both (though many of you probably know waaaay more about me now than you ever wanted to know!) and yes, it will be entertaining.

And yes, a little wierd.

See you there!


I just posted my usual Friday's Week In Review and for reasons known only to my computer and perhaps some techno-villain lurking on blogger, snorting with glee as he messes with innocent writers like myself, the post showed up below the Black Gallows Moan poem that was already there.

So, whatever.

Scroll down past the older post to find the newer post. Makes perfect sense.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Black Gallows Moan

As snow does to a fire through splendid cities white Ophelia floats;
Her sweet madness the devil's paladins;
Like dragonflies threading the bark of the boughs.

On the blue summer evenings the shivering willows
Would dust with fine gold, the flowers that you picked.
In a slumbering alder hemmed in by chimaeras
From violet forests where the stars are sleeping.

The black gallows moan; i shall let the wind
Embroidered with black moss weep on her shoulder
Of an eternal voice and endless.

The rivers let me sail; i have seen maelstroms eternal
Devouring the green azures where gleams the daylight.
Backwards into sleep, i hung there

Poem created using this site.

Week In Review

1. I can sum up my activities this week in one pithy word: Writing.

2. I've discovered, as I continue to throw plot twists into SHADOWING FATE, that I can write faster than I ever thought I could.

3. I am incredibly grateful to my hubby for being so supportive of his wife's crazy hours so I can finish this book before we leave for vacation!

4. A few days ago I took the kids to our neighborhood pool and there was a small group of teenage girls sitting with their feet in the water.

5. One of the girls was singing. Loudly. Apparently under the midguided impression that A) she was on key and B) the rest of her neighbors (most specifically a teenage boy) wanted to be serenaded by her.

6. Daredevil, who as you know has NO FILTER between what he thinks and what he says, swam by her, stopped, threw his hands in the air and said in his very best outdoor voice, "If you had a heart, you would stop singing!"

7. She stopped.

8. Starshine ate an ice cream cone tonight and managed to coat his eyebrown with cone crumbs and his eyelashes with ice cream.

9. When asked how it got there, he looked surprised and said "I don't remember hitting my eye with my ice cream..."

10. Ah, yes. Well, in his case that doesn't mean it didn't happen.

11. I am constantly amazed at how many parents take their kids out to eat and either don't make them clean up after themselves, laugh when their kid throws ice/fork/food/other sibling onto the floor, or let their kids run wild throughout the restuarant, apparently thinking the other diners and the staff don't mind babysitting.

12. Get Smart comes out next week.

13. I'll be there.

14. Go here, enter the site, click on collections then This Season and my newest shoe craving (and due to price, one I'm never destined to own!) is called Bu.

15. I need a great dress for the Golden Heart awards ceremony. I have until the end of July to find one.

16. In thirty minutes, a twelve year old neighbor girl will arrive at my doorstep willing to clean or organize anything for the incredible bargain of $5 an hour.

17. She will be earning a lot of spending money from me this summer!

18. I wrote a line in SHADOWING FATE the other night that made me laugh so hard I couldn't keep typing for a few minutes.

19. My to-be-read pile is growing...I'm not reading anything but my own WIP at the moment but the second I'm finished, Katy's newest novel is my top priority.

20. Reader Question: Which draws you into buying a book - the cover, the hook on the back cover, or scanning the first chapter?

Writing A Synopsis Is The 5th Level of Hell

I'm just saying.

You WILL Do My Bidding

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Flattery Will Get You An Autographed Copy...

I've read all kinds of posts from writers about why they write and what keeps them writing. There really isn't a concensus. Some write because they love it. Some feel compelled to tell their stories. Some chose it as a career and there they stay.

For some, the reward of finishing is reward enough. For others, the journey is what it's all about. Some want to be a best-seller.

I am not ashamed to say that for me, it's the reaction of my readers I want. I write because writing has always been the best mode of expression for me and because my wild imagination runs toward storytelling. (And NOT toward artsy scrapbooking so please don't invite me to those parties. I barely know which end of a glue stick to use and I'll probably just sit on the scissors and give everyone waaaay too much to talk about.)

Finishing isn't enough for me. That's like breaking a speed record with no audience, for me. What I really want is for people to read my books and tell me they couldn't put it down. I want people to stay up too late because they had to read just one more chapter.

I'm not trying to be the next Oprah book club selection or change the face of literature. I'm trying to keep you at the edge of your seat, reading.

I have three people currently reading SHADOWING FATE as I finish the (very exciting!) plot twist I threw in and race toward the (chills guaranteed) ending. None of those three read in my genre, which is kind of funny because you'd think the best beta readers for me would be urban fantasy/paranormal fans.

However, I figure if I can entertain and captivate someone who wouldn't normally be drawn to this type of story, I can sell this book.

Today, Paul (who reads sci-fi/fantasy exclusively) told me that he can't stop reading SF.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is all I need to hear for all the late hours to be worth it for me. He can't stop reading. =) For that compliment, I will be autographing his copy of SF when it hits shelves! (Oh, alright, I would have autographed it anyway but get my point.)

Okay, I lied. I'd like a nice fat book deal on the table too. And I'm going to get one because I'm going to keep the editors reading just one more chapter. ;)

Staying True to your Voice – Writing in Multiple Genres

Guest Blogger: K.B. Wagers (our own wandereringray!)

My bookshelves look like a library threw up on them. You can find anything from a history of Rome, to Shakespeare's plays, Russian literature (sometimes in the original Russian), erotica, urban fantasy, science fiction ... you get the idea.

My insanely varied tastes have had a major impact on my writing style. To date I have finished three science fictions novels, a dark erotica novel, one fantasy, and one urban-fantasy. Waiting in the wings of my brain are a young adult novel and several other crazy ideas.

What I do isn't very common (and we'll have to wait to see if it works *grins*). A lot of people will tell you to find a genre you're good at and stick with it. I don't disagree with this advice and part of the reason is a lot of new writers are still feeling their way around the mechanics of writing. You're trying out different voices, etc. to see what works for you. This is a good thing and you shouldn't ever be afraid to try a new genre, or a new anything for that matter.

Unless you can find really strong voices though, I suggest sticking with what works. Switching genres can be difficult if you don't have unique enough voices to shine through.

There are a number of pitfalls/clichés to avoid as well as ways to come up with some truly unique ideas in different genres.

Fantasy Clichés
· strapping young hero
· quest for magical object
· band of friends, each with one specific talent

It's important to note here that sometimes these things do work, it's just that they've been done – over and over - and that makes it harder to come up with a fresh perspective on things. If you don't have a strong voice, you're not going to catch anyone's attention.

Find characters with depth and switch things up a little. Pair that strapping young hero with an earnest but bumbling princess, or swap it out entirely and make the princess the one who has to deal with an enthusiastic but hopeless older brother. Have the group find the magical object only to discover it's not so magical after all. It's the little things that can make your voice shine through even the most overdone of clichés.

Science Fiction Clichés
· rebel fighters vs. power in universe
· zany crew of misfits jetting around galaxy
· alien invasion

As an amusing note I've written all three of these things at one time or another. The alien invasion was the first book I ever wrote and it will never see the light of day. *grins* My erotic novel is about a rebel leader who's fighting to restore her country to its former glory. And my current WIP has a zany crew of misfits.

How is that helpful at all then? *laughs* I know, I'm crazy that way sometimes. Here's the deal – the first book is crap because it's tired, formulaic and has very little going for it. There's a possible kernel of an idea buried in the muck, but it's going to be a long time before I have the energy to go dig it out.

The other two? Well, obviously this is my opinion, but I think they have enough of a character component to override the initial "obvious cliché" reaction of the base story. In fact, the voices are what carry the stories away from the potential flop.

Writing in multiple genres is tricky. I handle it by trying not to work in them at the exact same time – at the moment I have the luxury to do that. I'll complete a book, give myself a few days to de-stress and then a few more to get into the mind-set for the other genre.

Another trick to pulling this off is to make sure your main characters are nothing like each other. Sometimes we have habits as authors to throw bits of ourselves in there or things we'd really like to see in ourselves. The hazard is you can end up with five different female leads from separate series and yet they are all martial arts masters.

Your readers will notice, so make an effort to give your characters life. I have three main female leads at the moment, and only one knows a martial art. The other two are fighters also, but more brawlers than anything. And of those two, one is inclined to rush head-long into situations without thinking of the consequences, while the other will sit back and plot out all the angles before she moves.

They are all separate entities though, with unique personalities and distinct behaviors. You wouldn’t read one book after the other and think "oh that's just like X but in space" and toss the book aside.

So pay attention to this! *grins* We harp on voice a lot, and I know it gets tedious at times, but it really is your single biggest ally. You can write a book that's completely out of the "hot zone" of publishing at the moment, but if your voice rocks? You'll get snapped up in a heartbeat.

K.B. Wagers hears voices in her head. Thankfully not the kind that tell her to do horrible things, unless it involves getting up at 2am to scribble down a very important scene that can't wait until sunrise. The good news is the voices are responsible for five completed novels - three of which are out on submission. When she's not writing she's getting into fights or jumping off buildings. Come read more about her insane life and the stories that follow at

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Step Away From The Paw-Print Bottoms!

I went to the bank a few months ago and stood in line behind a woman who was a low income couch potato whose social life revolved around her fifty cats.

How do I know that?

I don't.

What I do know is that the woman in front of me was overweight, her hair was yanked up in a sloppy ponytail, her accent was what most southerners instantly recognize as "redneck", and she wore cheap gray sweat pants with GIANT cat paw prints embroidered aross her generous backside.

Now, it's very likely that this is a warm and wonderful woman who was simply having one of those days. Maybe she has six children, another two she's taken in from a sick relative, and she's lucky to have made it out the door. Maybe the only clean garment she had at the time was the awful pair of kitty-paw-print sweats her great Aunt Mildred gave her for Arbor Day. Probably she was on the way to serve soup to the homeless.

Most people would never get past her initial appearance to figure that out because first impressions are tough to overcome.

Chapter One is your novel's first impression - your one chance to hook your reader into your story. Don't ruin it by choosing what requires the least effort from you.

Your first chapter should:

1. Introduce your main character: "Introduce" is not a euphemism here for "give the reader every last detail". "Introduce" is code for "seduce the reader into rooting for your m/c".

2. Plunge your reader straight into the action: "Action" here is not a euphemism for "conversation whose main goal is to establish background or give story details". "Action" is code for "action". As Miss Snark always used to say, give me a flaming corpse on page one and you've got me.

3. Set up the conflict: You don't have to deliver the whole ball of wax in chapter one. You do, however, need to give me a sense of the stakes and a reason to keep reading.

4. Ground the reader in setting: I've devoted an earlier post to this so I won't rehash in detail. Suffice it to say that you can ground your reader in setting with a few well chosen sentences sprinkled throughout the chapter.

5. Enchant the reader with your Voice: From paragraph one, your reader should be drawn in by your unique Voice. If your chapter reads "flat", start re-writing until you nail it.

Avoiding the Paw-Print Bottoms:

Don't open your novel with anything that screams cliche. You can read through Agent X, Kristin Nelson, or the Query Shark to find a more comprehensive list of the types of openings to avoid but here are a few to get you started:

Don't begin with:

*someone's dream
*a long inner monologue involving mundane daily details
*someone driving to work/school/church thinking about their day
*conversations between two characters that don't instantly generate conflict
*long descriptions of the weather (unless, of course, the weather is your villain)
*a group of characters doing nothing important

Check yourself:

*Do you spend too much time on painting the scene and not enough time making your reader care about who's in the scene?

*Are you aware that your novel has a slow start but are hoping that since it picks up by chapter five, your slow beginning won't matter? (Agents aren't going to read to chapter five if you can't hook them on chapter one!)

*Does your m/c stand out in chapter one as unique, interesting, different...something to make me want to turn the page and see what happens to her?

*Is your conflict either a)unique from other books on the shelves or b) a fresh take on an old idea?

Your first chapter is what will grab an agent's attention, bring in the requests for more, and later, what will seduce a reader into buying your book. Pull out all the stops. Re-write, re-write, re-write until your first chapter is a tightly written, fast-paced showcase of your Voice.

Your readers don't need every detail in chapter one. They just need a compelling reason to keep reading.

Monday, June 9, 2008


Tonight I went grocery shopping and stood in front of the cookie display in the bakery section for several minutes, staring at the package of cookies in front of me, trying to figure out why anyone would make Chocolate Liver cookies.

I mean, I don't eat chocolate so I know I'm not an expert on what chocolate can and cannot do but even I know that the magical properties of chocolate are not enough to redeem an organ whose sole function is to process waste into poop.

I thought it must be someone's idea of a sick joke but I had to admit, the cookies were a rich, dark brown so...

Then I thought it might be the latest fad diet. Get your protein and your sugar fix in one low-fat, disgusting little package!

I was all set to grab a package, march over to the baker counter, and get to the bottom of it when some latent anti-idiocy gene suddenly flared to life and I decided to take another look.

I leaned closer, blinked my bleary eyes, and realized I'd missed something in my initial inspection.

Not liver. Lover.

Got it. Who knew how important one little vowel could be?

The moral of the tale is this: When I'm functioning on too little sleep and too much imagination, I have absolutely no business in a grocery store.

Monday's List

1. Last night, on my way to bed at *#@^ in the morning (yes, another laaaate night writing), I stepped on a pile of clothes pins left beside my bed.

2. See? They're trying to kill me.

3. This morning, Starshine ran into my room, locked eyes on the pile of clothes pins and said, "Hey Mom! Did you see my swords?"

4. Why yes. Yes I did.

5. I'm now in the market for a pair of steel-toed slippers to use for the dangerous pathway between my bathroom door and my side of the bed.

6. My hubby is taking the kids to see Kung Fu Panda today.

7. Fortunately, this means they will have a fun afternoon and I will have some quiet for writing.

8. Unfortunately, they started "practicing" kung fu on each other the minute they heard they were going and I've now exchanged my nurse/referee cap for the hat of Instant Executioner for the next boy who decides to chop his brother upside the head.

9. Two nights ago at work, Paul and another friend of ours (who shall remain nameless unless she chooses to claim credit in the comments I'll call her K.) got into a battle.

10. Mashed potatoes were slung, rags were snapped, and grits were wiped as they did their best to one up each other.

11. Then Paul decided to pretend he was shoving a cup of mustard into K's nose.

12. K turned on him and told him that if he did it, she would blow snot out of her nose onto the cup.

13. The only problem with this statement was that K has enthusiastic body language when she talks. She illustrated her point with what was supposed to be a demonstration of the dry run variety.

14. Instead, Paul got a face full of snot.

15. We've now dubbed K Snot Slinger.

16. I laughed so hard I couldn't stand up.

17. At the pool this weekend, Starshine and Daredevil were in the 3 ft playing when Starshine suddenly called to me, "Hey Mom! I'm going to go under and when I come up, I'm going to be someone else! See if you can guess who."

18. He dunked and then exploded out of the water screaming "I'm Satan!" with his arms waving wildly and his face contorted into a ferocious glare.

19. Daredevil instantly turned to him and said, "Well, I'm God" and shoved Starshine back under the water.

20. No wonder my neighbors watch my home so carefully as they walk their dogs.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

It's Official...

My children are trying to kill me.

When I sat on the miniature torture device that looks like a toy metal airplane but feels like a colonoscopy, I chalked it up to childish forgetfulness. I did pause to wonder why a child of mine would be playing airplane in my bed, but why do my children do anything?

You see my point.

When I stepped on a glossy I Spy book discarded near my bed and wrenched my back as I slid precariously across the floor and launched myself onto my mattress, I congratulated myself on having a soft surface to land on and made a mental note to ban all books from my bedroom.

But last night...last night the true agenda of my spawn became frighteningly clear.

As you know, I hauled myself upstairs at an insanely late hour. My hubby, who does not hear voices in his head and therefore feels no compulsion to stay awake for hours turning those voices into a literary masterpiece, was already asleep. I, being a respectful wife and not wishing for a repeat of the Earthquake Incident in which I, as a newlywed, learned that the consequences of startling a heavy sleeper awake is a backhand across the face (YES, I startled him by flinging myself on top of him and NO he did not mean to backhand me...), did not turn the light on in our bedroom.

Instead, I carefully picked my way across the floor to my side of the bed, feeling around with my toes for stray books, metal toys, or my dog before committing myself to each step.

The path was clear.

I sat on my bed, gingerly and with great care, in case another surprise awaited me there.

All clear.

At this point, I made a fatal error in calculation: I relaxed my guard.

My hubby winds the blankets all around himself and tangles everything up on the bed so when I come to bed it is with much tugging (Oh, alright, I rip the blankets out of his hands...but he once backhanded me, remember? Save your sympathy.) and rearranging of blankets to get the bed into the state of organization that makes my little heart happy.

I tugged. I yanked. I realized the top blanket was tangled up at the end of the bed. I bent forward at the waist to tug it forward and impaled my eye on the point of a large K-nex sculpture placed inexplicably at the foot of my bed by my children.

Ouch doesn't quite cover it.

When questioned this morning, my children pointed to Starshine as the creator of the sculpture (which has seven - count them...SEVEN - pointy ends sticking out of it) and when I inquired as to his reasons for placing it on my bed at night, he looked innocent and said, "I made a game. It was your turn."




Nevermind that Starshine is the master of the non sequitur. I got the message. The game is Unlikely Injuries For $500 Alex and apparently I'm the only one playing.

Reasons Why I Am Not Asleep

1. I worked tonight and my feet hurt.

2. I fear this is not because I walked too much but because I am no longer in my twenties.

3. I am writing another scene for SHADOWING FATE and even though my eyes are crossing, I'm excited about seeing the end of the novel and I hate to stop writing for something as mundane and over-rated as sleep.

4. Wait til you meet Alexa's Alpha male...

5. A stranger told me tonight that she reads my blog and loves it and so I feel inspired to post something vaguely entertaining so as to prove that I deserve the compliment.

6. Though why anyone would want to know why I'm still up at 12:43 a.m. is beyond me.

7. Three of the last four nights have been 3 am bedtimes.

8. Which means that I no longer make much sense when I talk and I don't remember things 1.7 seconds after they are told to me and I cannot be trusted to accurately judge the distance between my mouth and my fork.

9. Really, the main reason I'm still up is that I'm downstairs and my bed is upstairs.

10. Ugh. Stairs.

11. And I'm listening to Seether's latest album, the one I listened to once and didn't like, because I feel I may have been unfair in my knee-jerk assessment and am going to give it another chance.

12. I saw my site linked to the site of someone I don't know and had a "Oh wow! What a compliment" reaction which further fueled my desire to post something fun...

13. Nighttime yoga is in my future next week.

14. Truly, I hope none of the positions become permanent.

15. Not just because of the pain likely involved in involuntarily holding Sitting Duck or Flaming Idiot (Haven't heard of those? Clearly, you haven't watched me do yoga) for hours, but because my hubby's reaction when he wanders downstairs at 4 am to go to work would be nigh impossible to live down.

16. And then I would have to kill him.

17. And I really love him.

18. Other reasons why I'm not asleep?

19. Probably...but I'm too tired to remember them.

*sigh* Off to bed then, stairs and all...let's just hope I don't dream of Harley-riding fainting goats who wear orange tulle and smoke pipes while planning crimes of a decidedly sinister nature again. That was just disturbing.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Week In Review

1. Last night we watched The Curse Of The Black Pearl as a family.

2. Told you I needed my Jack Sparrow fix.

3. As I'm posting this, my kids and I are watching Dead Man's Chest. =)

4. I've been up laaaaate every night this week finishing SHADOWING FATE.

5. It's just the right mix of suspense, humor, and "oh crap".

6. A few days ago, apropos of nothing, Daredevil looked at my hubby and said, "You are just creeping me out on so many levels!"

7. Lol

8. Two nights ago, Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys came in to Cracker Barrel to eat with a couple of his friends.

9. Because I do not know what any of the Backstreet Boys look like and care even less, I didn't recognize him.

10. Apparently not enough other people recognized him either (we currently had a dining room mostly full of older couples and rednecks) so he started singing - loudly - at his table.

11. I was frankly surprised both he and his ego could fit in the same chair.

12. I will admit to being sorely tempted to wander over to him and say, with my best expression of honest confusion, "Hey, didn't you used to be someone?" but the die hard fans in our restaurant ranks assured me they would tar and feather me if I committed such sacrilige.

13. *sigh* It ruined all my fun.

14. I was going to start doing yoga before going to bed this week but since I've been up til 2:30 or 3 am writing, I'm putting that off until next week.

15. Evanescence needs to come out with a new album. Soon.

16. Apparently, instances of e coli in 9 states have been traced back to contaminated tomatoes.

17. The only thing I could think when I'd heard this was that the premise for Kim Harrison's alternate reality (contaminated tomatoes containing a mutant strain of bio-drug gone bad wiping out much of humanity) was about to begin.

18. That's what happens when you read constantly...real life starts to look like fiction.

19. Though I won't be eating tomatoes any time soon.

20. Reader Question: Which fictional alternate reality would you most like to inhabit?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Keep Writing!

Some days, I stare at my work in progress (WIP) and think one of the following:

*I don't know what happens next.

*I can't finish this, it's too big for me.

*I know I've got something screwy with the plot/conflict/setting/characters, but what?

*My WIP is a POS.

*I have no idea how to do this!

I think all writers have those days. Writing is such a solitary endeavor. No matter how many critique partners we have to share our load or how many supportive readers we have who love our stuff, the reality is that if we don't find the words, the story will never be finished.

How do we power past the doubts, the paralyzing realization that we've just written ourselves into a corner, or the blow of another "this project just isn't right for us" letter? How do we refocus when the ideas run dry, the words sound cliche, and the characters all start to sound like cardboard cutouts of themselves?

Here's what works for me:

1. Keep writing. Nothing fuels doubts more than inactivity.

2. Call a critique partner and brainstorm. Sometimes just talking through vague ideas or possibilities with someone who understands writing and gets your voice is enough to solidify the course of the novel in your head and get you excited about writing again.

3. Keep writing. Even if all you can eek of out yourself that day is a page, it's still one page closer to finishing and you have silenced the voice in your head whispering that you can't do this.

4. Network with other writers. The writing process itself is a solitary pursuit but the rest of this life doesn't have to be and surrounding oneself with others who are driven to put the voices in their heads down on paper can be refreshing and motivating.

5. Keep writing. Writing produces more writing which fuels more writing until the ideas are sparking, the words are flowing, and the passion is burning again.

6. Change it up. Do a few creative writing exercises outside of the chapters you're writing. Write letters from one character to another. Write scenes that happened before your novel takes place. Write a prologue for another project... =D Get your creative juices flowing again.

7. Keep writing. I may have mentioned this one before. If you stop, it's hard to find the inspiration to start again. Besides, inspiration is a fickle beast. Determination is much more effective.

8. Approach the problems that trouble you using Courtney's "because" method and get to the bottom of what isn't working so you can fix it.

9. KEEP WRITING. Nothing matters - your ideas, your creativity, your characters, your talent - nothing matters if you don't keep writing.

READER QUESTION: How do you move beyond doubt, discouragement, or dry spells in your writing?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Signs, Signs, Everywhere A Sign...

Two nights ago, I learned two very valuable lessons:

1. Just because the Cracker Barrel that I work for has the men's restroom on the left and the women's on the right in the little restroom hallway, does not mean every Cracker Barrel employs this same policy.


2. A grown man caught in the act of readjusting his goods by a woman barreling into the wrong bathroom will shriek like a little girl.


Lesson learned. Either I read signs instead of assuming I understand the bathroom arrangement or I walk around with my ipod blasting in my ears...

What Theater Taught Me About Dialogue

Guest Blogger: Amy Atwell

I'm so pleased C.J. invited me to discuss dialogue today. Dialogue is possibly the most valued tool in your writer's kit. Some writers are intimidated by dialogue—how can they possibly get the people inside their heads to have voices of their own and say things that are interesting, while they convey important information and move the story forward?

I've had dialogue in my manuscripts described as "crisp" and that it "zings." But one contest judge summed it all up: "I could hear the twangs and sounds of the secondary characters without being overwhelmed, while providing everyone with their own voice." Jackpot—dialogue that reveals character but doesn't call overt attention to itself.

Dialogue doesn't scare me. I revel in it. It's the natural result of working fifteen years in educational and professional theater. I've analyzed scripts and helped bring them to the stage as an actor, stage manager, director, even playwright. From Shakespeare to Neil Simon to my own work, I've learned heaps about dialogue. But translating those lessons to narrative fiction took some practice. Here are some challenges I faced with my early attempts at dialogue, and how I applied what I'd learned in theater to help me conquer them.

Challenge: My early dialogue was clever, witty, a little sarcastic—the problem was all the characters sounded alike, they all sounded stilted, and they all sounded a little like ME.

Solution: Review your character sketches. Characters are individuals and, as such, have unique qualities to their speech. Gender, age, education, lifestyle, income--these and many other factors come across in how they speak. Guard against writing all dialogue the way YOU speak and think. Feel free to use imperfect grammar, incomplete sentences, and creative punctuation to make your characters' spoken words SOUND like they would say them.

Challenge: My dialogue sounded natural and realistic, but it tended to meander, and scenes went on forever.

Solution: Sacrifice some of that realism. No one needs to read half a page of your hero ordering breakfast from the punk waitress with the nose-ring (unless, she's the heroine). Cut extraneous words that sound so natural: Well, um, yes and no (they're often implied through action or the rest of the line the character speaks), so, then, now, and characters calling each other by their proper names. Dialogue needs to reveal character, convey pertinent information, heighten conflict and progress the story.

Challenge: My dialogue tags were obtrusive. Characters chortled, wheezed, laughed, shouted, and so much more.

Solution: Follow the example of play scripts. They rarely suggest to the actor how to say a line. The dialogue and punctuation is usually self-explanatory. Trust the reader to interpret the character's words. "Hush," she shushed, is redundant. "Hey!" he shouted, is redundant. The simple tag "said" is the least obtrusive—for most readers it's invisible.

Challenge: My dialogue scenes were filled with characters looking up, down, across, and over, nodding, smiling, blinking, breathing (sometimes not breathing), staring, gazing, standing, sitting—it was BORING.

Solution: Many play scripts are 99% dialogue, with very few suggestions as to action, except where it becomes vital to the plot of the play. Directors and actors spend weeks working out the "stage business" or "blocking" of what the characters do while they talk. Often, we get so caught up writing the dialogue, the internal thoughts, the emotions, we forget that our characters aren't in a bubble. Let them interact with their surroundings.

Extra tip: Many actors use "props" (short for properties—any item the actor handles onstage) to help convey their character to the audience. This can be as simple as a pair of sunglasses for your hero (does he rest them on his head, lower them down his nose to peer over them at the heroine, hide behind them, readjust them at a key moment in the dialogue).

Challenge: My characters made speeches. You know, those lengthy paragraphs of monologue.

Solution: Monologues work in plays—if your character is alone onstage. If there are two characters, the playwright uses the second character to interject comments and break up that big speech. This is a good opportunity to reveal more about both characters and increase conflict—your scene has conflict, right?

Challenge: Important bits of information got buried within my dialogue scenes. I wanted to find a way emphasize it that felt natural to the reader.

Solution: In staging a play, directors have actors "point" certain moments. You can point a bit of dialogue or point an action. In narrative fiction, you can use this same technique. First and last sentences of paragraphs tend to carry more emphasis to the reader. If you're combining dialogue with a narrative action, whichever you put last will tend to carry more emphasis.
"Dialogue" + Action will point the action, while Action + "Dialogue" will point the dialogue.

One of the best self-teaching tools I implemented was to review my dialogue scenes by reading the narrative parts and tags silently, but reading the dialogue out loud. It gave me a physical illustration of how the reader's brain had to switch gears while reading. Another way of doing this is to highlight the dialogue—just the spoken words. You may even want to use different colors for different characters (this comes in extra handy if you fear your characters are all starting to sound alike).

Do you have blocks of pure dialogue? This can be a good thing, especially if there are only two characters in the scene. Once the reader gets into the flow of the conversation, it's unnecessary—and disruptive—to tag every line.

Do you have a dialogue paragraph where the character speaks, has an action, speaks, has a tag, speaks, has another action? These can be hard on the reader, because every time the writer interrupts the flow of the dialogue, your reader has to shift gears. It's not necessarily wrong, but I recommend using it minimally and for specific effect.

Playwright George Bernard Shaw summed up the importance of the spoken word in his immortal play, Pygmalion, later adapted to the award-winning musical, My Fair Lady. Below, a brief line sung by linguist Professor Henry Higgins:

An Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him,
The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him.
Use proper English, you're regarded as a freak.
Oh why can't the English learn to speak?
—My Fair Lady's "Why Can't the English," lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

The movie offers a great research opportunity to study dialogue. Its London setting provides characters with different dialects, different social classes, different economic and educational backgrounds. The scenes are dialogue-heavy, because it was originally a stage play, and that dialogue is designed to reinforce character, illustrate the conflicts, and move the plot forward. Plus they're celebrating the importance of language throughout.

If you're familiar with the movie, but don't have three hours to watch it, pop by this site and skim through George Bernard Shaw's original play script.

Best wishes to you all on your writing. If you have other tips on dialogue, please leave a comment here. I'm always looking to add to my bag of tricks!

Former theater professional Amy Atwell realized her love of plays stemmed from the stories they brought to life and launched her quest to tell the stories in her head, first as play scripts, then as novels. Her Golden Heart® Finalist manuscript, Public Relations, features a soap opera hunk and a Broadway wanna-be finding love in the heart of Manhattan. Read more about her at

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Contest for Unpublished Authors!

Have your contest entry critiqued by published authors and Golden Heart finalists!

Presenting The Golden Network’s

2008 Golden Pen Contest

for unpublished writers


Short Contemporary: Susan Litman, Harlequin

Single Title: Tara Parsons, HQN

Romantic Suspense: Adam Wilson, Mira

Historical: Allison Brandau, Berkley

Paranormal: Chris Keeslar, Dorchester

Inspirational: Melissa Endlich, Steeple Hill

Mainstream with Romantic Elements: Kerry Donovan, NAL

Young Adult: Jennifer Heddle, Simon & Schuster


1st place in each category: Engraved gold pen; a certificate and a check for $30.

2nd place in each category: Certificate and a check for $20.

3rd place in each category: Certificate.

Final placements will be announced in the RWR.

Entry deadline is September 1, 2008. For more information, entry form and scoresheets, please visit this site.


A blog reader asked about using smooth transitions in her writing so I decided to tackle that topic for today's Writing Process post. Smooth transitions are essential to excellent writing - they help maintain your novel's pace, change POV, and ground your reader in what came before.

They are also tricky little devils.

I've used transitions differently in my two novels. For DYING TO REMEMBER, I have two or three smaller scenes per chapter, each scene told from a different POV. Instead of transitioning with words from one POV to the next, I simply hit return, used *** centered on the next line to indicate a larger space needed due to scene change, and then started the next scene. I loved using this method because it makes it easy to keep a fast pace (give just enough info to get the reader on the edge of her seat and then switch to someone else) and I didn't have to mess with pesky sentences that restated anything that came before.

For SHADOWING FATE, that method didn't work because the entire novel is told from Alexa's POV. Each chapter is one complete scene. Some chapters are continuations of the previous scene and thus didn't need a transition. They did, however, need a quick sentence to ground the reader who might, God forbid, have put down my novel and picked it up later and need to be reminded where they are in the plot. (As you know, it is my goal to make my books impossible to put down!) For chapters where time has passed since the end of the chapter before, I use one quick sentence at the beginning to cover that gap and then launch the next scene.

Here are some tips that work for me in crafting transitions:

1. Use line breaks (the centered ***) to indicate scene changes between different POVs as a transition. See chapter one of DYING TO REMEMBER on the sidebar for an example.

2. Don't belabor your transition. One or two sentences can ground the reader in your current scene and cover any gap in time between that scene and the last.

3. Make sure you use a transition - which is really just an explanation for where the character is and why - if the scenes do not follow each other in chronological order so your reader isn't lost.

4. If it works for your novel, try a creative approach to transitions - like labeling the top of each scene with the day, or the time, or the location. I've seen this done very effectively and that one little label is all the transition you need.

5. The best way to understand how to effectively use transitions is to read stellar examples of other author's work. Read extensively in your chosen genre and in a few others and pay close attention to how that author structures their transitions. You'll begin to get a feel for what will work for your novel.

Happy transitioning!

Harry Potter Trailer & More!

The final trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 has been released, and I'm not going to lie. I get choked up every ti...