Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Overwhelmed for the Holidays

This week I took leave from work, thinking I could get a lot done. I'm working to polish up a manuscript for submission so having five days off seemed like the thing to do.


The plan started out well. Uh, okay, maybe not. For some unknown reason, I thought it would be a good idea to collect old photos and make scrapbooks for my husband's family for the holidays. Seemed simple enough. Three scrapbooks and I wouldn't have to worry about gifts. First there was the scanning. Ten straight hours. Then there was cutting out the pictures and sticking them into the books. Forget about fancy designs, I did a few little touches, but mostly, I was busy just peeling little sticky tabs off a roll and pasting the pictures to the pages. Another ten hours. One day. Another ten hours the next day.


Because the albums had pages that were 12"x12", the book itself added another inch for the spine and about ¼" all around for the covers, making it about 14"x13". So there was the question of a box. Or rather three boxes and a trip to several places to get them. Then I had to cut the boxes down because they were way too tall.


Total time, nearly four days and no writing done.


And I had such good intentions.


Now, not to complain, but while I was struggling with this insanely stupid gift idea, I was also without running water for 24 hours because the pipe from our water pump broke. On the bright side, I learned how to use a hack saw and two kinds of glue, including that pretty purple stuff. Not to mention having to move all the furniture in my office searching for a body. Because something started to…smell in there with that oh-so-distinctive odor. I think it's a dead mouse, but whatever it is, I couldn't find it. I think it might be wedged behind the baseboard and I really didn't want to start tearing my office apart. And there is the possibility it isn't a mouse because I also found a rather nice shed snakeskin above my kitchen cupboard. So there is that. Living at the edge of a swamp does have certain disadvantages.


In any event, I can tell you quite definitively that Febreze is absolutely useless when it comes to certain odors. And although it has a certain "mousy" element, I'd really be happier to think it's more reptilian.


And here I am, leave almost used up, with a manuscript I haven't touched in a week. Today, I absolutely intend to work on it, although I don't think that work will take place in my office. Not for a few days yet.


Oh—almost forgot, I do have some good news. My novella, Christmas Mishaps, is available now as part of the Cotillion Country Christmas anthology. Sorry about this ugly link, but if you are interested in taking a look, here is the link for the book:

I love holiday stories. They are such an excellent way to escape the stress of the busiest season of the year. And this year in particular I'm resolute about taking the time to read and relax. At some point.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Guest Blogger Marianne Arkins

This week, I'm very excited to have a guest blogger, Marianne Arkins.  She is a fabulous writer and has allowed me to post a thought-provoking article which intersects with two of my interests: animals and characterization.

Marianne can be found on the web at:    and

So, without further fanfare and other general nonsense, here is Marrianne!

All of my novels, and many of my short stories include animals in some way. Why? The answer is simple. I think it's a basic truth: the way people treat animals indicates the kind of person they are underneath any false polish they've managed to create.

That's not to say that you must be an animal lover to be a good person. One of my best friends is terrified of dogs, and barely tolerates other fur-people. BUT… if she saw an injured creature in front of her house, she wouldn't walk past it (though, she'd probably call me to help – still, she would feel sympathy and take action). Nor would she go out of her way to run down a dog (or chipmunk or frog or whatever) in the road. She would, in fact, make every effort to avoid it. She became a vegetarian as a teenager because of the way the meat industry treated animals raised for slaughter. I believe all these quirks indicate her basic character.

On the other hand, it's been clearly proven that many of the most horrific serial killers started out their "trade" on animals and worked their way up. A general disregard for life, especially life that is relatively helpless, indicates the type of people they are. In her San Francisco Chronicle article "Cruelty to Animals: A Warning of Possible Violence to Come" Dr. Margo DeMello says, "Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Andrew Cunanan, David 'Son of Sam' Berkowitz, and Albert 'Boston Strangler' DeSalvo were ALL cruel to animals before they started hurting people."

I had a former neighbor who owned a pit bull puppy. He also had two children, one of whom was a boy of about five years. Once, the puppy came running out of their yard to greet me and my dog as we walked past, leaping about and wanting to play. The boy came to fetch it, and—using a tight fist—punched the dog in the ribs for being naughty. This one action told me more than I really wanted to know about his family life.

Domestic animals are dependent upon us for their care. They're much like children, with the exception that they never stop depending on us. This makes our character's behavior toward animals a way to amplify certain characteristics.

In my eBook, One Love For Liv (available from Samhain Publishing), my heroine dislikes animals of all kinds. Witness her introduction to Spike, a bull mastiff and important secondary character in this story:

Something warm and wet swiped her face, both reviving and disgusting her. She kept her eyes closed and limply swatted at it. Her hand hit fur. "Ugh."

"Spike, back off."

Spike? What was going on? She gave a low moan and tried again to force her eyelids to obey her will, finally succeeding after a Herculean effort. A tanned face covered in five o'clock shadow and smears of black grease swam in front of her. Next to him, its neck surrounded by a studded black leather collar, sat the biggest brown dog she'd ever seen. The creature had drool suspended from its mouth and it looked as if it had swallowed a sneaker with the laces hanging out. Dear heavens, was that what had licked her?

A moment later, she turns to our hero and says:

"I'll sit on the curb. Just get your ugly dog away from me."

"Spike? C'mon, he's gorgeous." He gave the monster a vigorous scratch all up and down its body. "And he's not my dog, but don't worry, he's a marshmallow."

"I don't like dogs."

This isn't a very flattering picture of our heroine, in my opinion, and it wasn't meant to be. She's a snob, and more than a little bit selfish. Hopefully this comes across in how she feels about this overly friendly dog.

In one of my as-yet-unpublished novels, The Possibility of Forever, the heroine begins to fall for the hero because of how he treats her pet rat, Maynard.

Just inside the doorway, she stopped, surprised to see Jed rubbing Maynard gently with the cloth placemat, crooning to him under his voice.

Oh, she sighed silently, her heart doing a little flip-flop in her chest.

Without the impetuous of Jed's treatment of an animal most people would be disgusted by, it would have taken far longer for our heroine to see him as a love interest. It also showed us another side of an otherwise "tough guy".

I love stories that include animals. It's a great way to show (not tell) a lot about the characters… don't you agree?

About the Author:  Marianne was born in California, met her husband in Colorado, got a puppy and got pregnant, then moved with the group of them to the frozen north of New Hampshire where her thin blood keeps her indoors six months of the year. It's the perfect scenario for writing! She has a novel, "One Love For Liv" available in print on December 29th, and a novella "Kitchen Matches" available from Samhain Publishing. She also has eight published stories with The Wild Rose Press. Check out her website or blog for more information or to see what's going on inside her brain. If you dare.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Mystery of Titles

NaNoWriMo is over for another year, at least for me. And I managed to write my latest mystery in a month. Initially I called it Twilight, but someone told me that title was taken, so I later renamed the manuscript to The Adventurers. I should mention that when I originally thought of the story, it was called: Grave Mistakes. Because everyone in the story makes pretty grave mistakes. However, once again, I discovered that another writer had a mystery with that title. I hate reusing someone else's title if I can help it. So, since one of the pivotal moments occurs on a boat called The Twilight I decided to use that. And you know what happened. Hence: The Adventurers.


Title are obviously subject to change. Which is unfortunate since the title is crucial to my mindset and my general feeling of the book. So I try very hard to come up with a title that reminds me of the concept, especially when I'm writing it. Once that is set in my mind, any later changes to the title never really "settle in" for menever really encapsulate the essence of the story.


For better or worse, my current publisher has never suggested I change a title. However, I know that most publishers regularly and routinely force their authors to change their titles, usually to something wretchedly bland and vomit-inducing. Particularly for historical-set books with any kind of a romance in them. You usually end up with some sort of peerage, e.g. Marquis, Earl, or Duke; in combination with some adjective having to do with his amorous abilities or general bad-ass-ness, regardless of how well this does or does not fit the story. All these titles are interchangeable and all equally forgettable. Lately, I've been wondering if the publishers realize how they trivialize the books they are selling with these horrible, formulaic titles.


If I buy one of these, it is in spite of the title and horrific cover.


Maybe that's why I tend to be instantly attracted to the often ironic, satirical, if not downright black humor of crime fiction and mystery titles. The Weight of Water, Suicide Blonde, and the story-encapsulating Ghosts. Great, evocative titles. I wish I could come up with something like: The Weight of Water. Of all the titles I've run across over the years, that is, by far my favorite (although not my favorite book). Despite my terrible memory, I've never forgotten that title.


Do titles make a book? Will it make or break your sales?

Heck, no.

As I said, I've occasionally purchased books in spite of the titles and terrible covers, if the blurb on the back of the book interests me.


But when faced with rows upon rows of books, my glance will often et caught by the weird, the wacky, the different title. And I'll pull the book out and read the back, the first step to buying.


So in a way, the title can make the difference.


Or maybe not.


In the end, it's really a crap shoot. No one knows what book is going to be insanely popular and which brilliant book will not. I just need a title to work with.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Quick Update

National Novel Writing Month is blazing by in flames.  I've gotten 150 pages written and am right on schedule.

Except I just realized that I'm behind the times.  I picked the title Twilight because it is the name of a sailboat in the story, but just found out that there is some hugely successful book/series with that name!  ARGH!  So I shall have to pick another.  It started out as "Grave Mistakes" but I decided I didn't like that and changed it to Twilight.  Now, I'm thinking of "The Adventurers".

Hopefully, I'll finish it by the end of November (yay NaNoWriMo!) and can then let it rest before starting to edit the heck out of it.

In the meantime, after November/NaNoWriMo ends, I'll be working on getting a vampire novel in shape to submit to The Wild Rose Press.  I just hope they like it.

This has to be short because I'm working my fingers to the bone trying to complete "The Adventurers" (or whatever I end up calling it).

Happy dreams and I hope everyone is having the best November, ever!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Food for Thought

I'm not supposed to be blogging at the moment so I'll be quick.  This is almost a note to myself about a couple of a-ha!'s that have recently sunk into my pea-sized brain.

The a-ha!'s are not new information.  They are old pieces of junk I acquired at some distant point in the past, stored away in the cellars of my mind, and periodically dusted off, intending to think about them but never quite doing it.  (And how's that for a run-on sentence?  I am the total Queen of run-on, curly writing.)

I like to write these things down because verbalization helps my thinking process.

A-Ha! One

Sensuous, or even sexy, writing is not about the mechanics of who stuck what where.  It's not even (entirely) the use (or overuse) of exotic-sounding words and adjectives.  Or the use of similes and comparisons to rocks (jewels), fabrics (satin, silk, velvet) or flowers (roses and cherries). 

It's about description.  Now a lot of authors just layer in those adjectives and comparisons to the point where it annoys you just to read it.  I'm totally not a fan of that, and my desire to avoid it lead me astray.  I convinced myself I didn't need to write a lot of descriptions.  I don't like writing descriptions, and I generally don't like reading them (with a few exceptions).  So I "excused myself".

And got further into the weeds, and lost sight of my goals because I began to associate description with sensual with erotic with bad writing in general.  (At this point, I'm sure many of you are in a "hair on fire" mood.) 

Epiphany:  that chain of associations is totally wrong in almost all aspects.  There are excellent erotic writers (stick your flaming head into the shower and put out the fire).  Sensual doesn't have to be erotic.  Descriptions may or may not be sensual, but it is your total best friend for developing deep, complex characters and making your audience "feel, see, hear, and taste" the scene.

Descriptions don't have to be over-written.  But they do have to be written.

If you're not writing descriptions, folks aren't going to get into your characters.  Your story will fail.  Boo hoo.

A-Ha! Two

Problems are food for the brain.  If you give your problems to someone else to solve, they will get the food and grow strong, while you starve and grow weak.  And you then can't blame them when they get the promotion/glory/money.

The last few months, I've noticed some of my team members not monitoring NTFRS replication on our domain controllers (okay, that's technie talk for "they weren't doing their jobs).  So I looked at it and found The Nightmare on AD Street.  I mentioned it to them.  They messed around with it and even called Microsoft and then basically threw up their hands.  They did a few things Microsoft suggested, but here's the thing:  any time they reached a point where the Microsoft said:  and evaluate the results, they stopped and threw up their hands.

They didn't want to think.  They wanted explicit instructions they could follow precisely without making a complex decision or understanding what they were seeing.

So I sighed, put aside what I was working on, and picked it up.  I joined one of their calls to Microsoft--didn't hear anything new, but just wanted to touch base.  Then I took a look around.  I found a huge nest of problems that stemmed back a freakin' year--which is how long these people have been ignoring things.

Now my NTFRS replication skills were rusty, but I tried a few things.  Discovered the problems were even worse than I thought.  Called my boss, made a few plans for some heavy-duty repairs.  Went to bed.  Woke up with an idea for a way to get some things repaired and make the situation easier to do the big heavy-duty fix.  Implemented them.  Got two out of three problems resolved, leaving one easy fix to be done on the weekend to take care of the last problem.

All of that is the explanation for how I grew my brain on this food--because now I have freakin' unbelievable skills with NTFRS (and wrote several new internal Wikis for my team members on it).

And my team members still have squat. And their little brains are shriveling even as I write this while I'm growing bigger and stronger.

And the real irony is that there are some higher grades opening up.  And they are going to complain if I get a promotion because it isn't fair.  Maybe I won't get the promotion, either, but...

They gave me their food.  They didn't want it. 

Don't give up your food.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

First Week of NaNoWriMo

For the month of November, my blogs are going to be short 'n sweet.  I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo ( because it lets me concentrate on just writing.  This November, I'm pledging to write 50,000 words in 30 days on a new Regency mystery called 'Twilight'.

Thus far, I've written: 

15 pages on Nov 1; 10 pages on Nov 2; 7 pages on Nov 3; 5 pages on Nov 4.

Honestly, I realize it has been a downward spiral so far, but I anticipate getting back up to 10 pages per day and hanging in there.  I won my goal of 50,000 words last year with my Regency romance, Love, The Critic, and I fully intend to win this year, too.

And I'm trying to work through my disappointment at the Romantic Times review of "I Bid One American" which got a measly 3 stars (my last book 'Smuggled Rose' got the full 4 stars) but the only thing the critic could find wrong with it was that Nathaniel didn't solve the mystery until the end of the book.

Well, frankly, if that was their only problem with the book, I'm good with that.  Because generally speaking, mysteries aren't solved until the end of the book.  Well, duh.  And as a writer (not to fill this blog with self-justification) there were certain events and clues that had to occur/be found before the mystery could be solved.  This necessarily meant that I couldn't just wave a magic wand and "voila" solve the mystery.

So I feel okay about it, even if they did give it a measly 3 stars.

One other thing I would note.  I've been reading a lot of reviews lately and I've seen a distinct bias *against* humorous novels.  To a large degree, I believe this is another factor in the 3-star rating.  For some reason, unless a book is full of angst, fear, and generally over-the-top anguish, critics seem to think it "less worthy" of a good rating.  Same with movies.  Comedies almost never win awards.

But I have to tell you, writing something that is light, frothy and funny is really, really hard. In fact, I would argue that it is harder than writing all that serious anguish.

So...onward and upward!

Have a great week!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

3 Days until NaNoWriMo

Just three more days before I start National Novel Writing Month! I'm so excited, and I'm busily trying to finish up stuff to clear the decks so I can write untrammeled and free from aggravation (other than my day job, housekeeping, and other unfortunate duties).

I'm judging a writing contest and have gotten through 4 out of the 5 entries, so I hope to finish that up before November 1. I try to read every entry at least twice and add which I hope are cogent comments. And I never take points off if it "just didn't appeal to me". But the scores are still lower than I usually give and that is making me a little nervous. I may go through one more time before I send them back just to make sure I'm not being overly harsh or critical.

The wonderful NaNoWriMo folks gave me a stupendous surprise gift on Monday. They somehow worked out a deal with CreativeSpace to let us get an actual printed paperback of the book we wrote last year for NaNoWriMo if you managed to win. Winning just requires you write 50,000 words.

So, I had an absolute BLAST putting together a cover for my book. And since I had been prepping it to send to a publisher, I had a good clean copy (as clean as I could make it, anyway, given that my brain often supplies what should be there, even if it isn't).

So...I just got my paperback in the mail! Here is the cover I created for it. I know it's not brilliant, but I rather like it. The book is not a brilliant masterpiece of insight into the human condition. It's a very light historical romance about a poetess who gets blasted by a critic and gives up writing. Eventually, she decides to move on with her life and marry. to her horror, she soon discovers that the man she decides to marry is the critic, himself.

Ah, well. What is a story without a little angst and consternation?

Anyway, it was so much fun to do this and such a nice surprise from the NaNoWriMo folks.

Now, I need to diligently get my bits of plot pieces together for my historical mystery (with a nice, light romantic sub-plot) called Twilight. I've already got some scenes burning in my brain and my fingers are itching to get to the keyboard, but I'm patiently waiting until Saturday, Nov 1, to get to work.

My little AlphaSmart keyboard is due for a real workout. My goal is to write 2,000 words (roughly 10 double-spaced pages) per day, for 30 days. It's definitely do-able as long as you don't worry about eating, sleeping or having a life outside of work.

You may ask: why the Alphie? Didn't you just buy an eeePC so you could write anywhere? Why, yes. I did. But you see the eeePC makes it attractive to *edit* while you write, which is deadly to NaNoWriMo productivity. While the Alphie makes it very hard to edit while you write since you can only see 4 lines of your writing at a time. So all you can do (effectively) is write fresh stuff on an AlphaSmart, as opposed to polishing and otherwise wasting time fussing with previously written material on an eeePC or PC or laptop device.

During the next four weeks, then, I will have only the briefest of blogs since my fingers will be worn to nubs typing new, mind-bogglingly brilliant prose. I will try to keep up-to-date, though, on my progress.

Then, when NaNoWriMo ends, my Christmas novella, Christmas Mishaps, will be out from Cerridwen press! That's due out Dec 3, so I'm pretty excited about that. I don't have a cover, yet, but I'm hoping to have one soon to plaster everywhere.

Hope everyone is doing well and exciting about Halloween and all the wonderful fall festivals. This is my absolute favorite time of the year. I love the cooler weather, fall foliage, and just basically feel GREAT!

Best wishes and have a spooky Halloween!


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Almost NaNoWriMo Time!

Lots going on so of course I'm fighting back a cold.  At the moment, I'm barely holding my own, but I have the bad feeling the cold may win.  In any event, lots to do, places to go, people to see.

I really wish days were 36 hours instead of 24, though, because there are must not enough hours to get everything done.

Found a great quote for authors out there.  I'm constantly getting asked about the rules, like plotting, characterization, do's-and-don'ts, formatting manuscripts, writing query letters, writing a synopsis, and the like.  To my delight, I now have a great answer.

There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.  W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)

Onward and upward.

The nice delivery guy left me a present today on my porch:  a box of print copies of my book I Bid One American.  It really gave me a boost.  Then, with all those lovely books in my hands, I got a wild hair (or is that "hare"--ouch!) up the you-know-where and entered the book in the RITA contest. 

For those of you who have never heard of the RITA (you're in good company, by the way) it is a contest sponsored by the Romance Writers of America. They pick the best book of the year in each of the different romance-related genres. I'm not sure I'd exactly classify I Bid One American as a romance, per se, so this was probably a dumb-blonde move, but what the heck.  All they can do is laugh at me and give me really low scores.

So what else is new?

Anyway, it's entered and may the best book (obviously, my book) win in the Regency historical genre!

Next on the agenda--well, I've just completed a rash of submissions (a rash to go with my cold--hahaha).  And like scattering wildflower seeds, I hope a few sprout.  Got one rejection back already, which is record time because they had the query less than 15 minutes (they wanted an e-mail query so they could beat the world's speed record for rejections). 

That's what I was busily doing last week, hence my deafening silence re: blogging, etc.

And...drum roll...I'm preparing for NaNoWriMo!  Yes, that's right, National Novel Writing Month.  Last year, I managed to win by writing about 60,000 words (you only need to write 50,000 to win) on a Regency romance manuscript called, Love, The Critic.  It is, unfortunately, not going anywhere but in a drawer, but it was fun. 

If I get another wild hair (or hare) I may chop it up and offer it as a serial from my web site.  Or something.  I sort of it like Love, The Critic--it's a cute little story about a poetess who unknowingly falls in love the man who wrote a scathing critique of her poems and pretty well demolished her career.

Poor things.  I'm tough on my characters.  But as I always remind my husband:  Life's a bitch and then you marry one.

Anyway, this year for NaNoWriMo, I'm intending to work on a historical mystery called:  Twilight.  Yep, you guessed it--it is indeed set in the Regency period.  For those of you who read I Bid One American, you may recall the hero, Nathaniel.  Well, his younger sister, Helen Archer, is the heroine in Twilight.  It's part of a "triple play" of stories about the Archer siblings who all have the misfortune--or luck, depending upon your perspective--of having the irrepressible conniver, John Archer, as their uncle.

In Twilight, Helen managed to lose the Peckham necklace the first time she wears it at a ball.  When she goes to retrieve it, she finds herself smack-dab in the middle of a murder investigation.  There is a lot of subterfuge going on, and Helen is going to find it a bit trickier to get that necklace and escape unscathed than she thinks.

Psst, keep this quiet because I don't want to jinx it, but I also just submitted a "prequel" to I Bid One American to my publisher.  The manuscript is called The Necklace and it features Nathaniel's older sister, Oriana Archer.  Oriana is the lady who manages to find The Peckham necklace after it is lost for years and years.  Unfortunately, she's almost murdered as a reward for her efforts.

The Peckham necklace has a very, very bad reputation.  =):o)

I'm hoping I can finish Twilight this fall, because with the new year, I want to start on a new historical mystery--although I'm not sure which one.  I've plotted out several, and my fingers are itching to start on all of them.  I'll just have to see how Twilight goes.

So wish me luck.  It seems like I blogged about a lot of nothing, but what the heck.  I can't be brilliant and insightful all the time.

Have a terrific evening and stay well!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Bits of Good News

First the good news:  I only have a month to go before "I Bid One American" is released in paperback!  Whoopee!  Although for the impatient, it is out as an e-book from just about any e-book store you'd care to mention, including:

Fictionwise, Amazon's Kindle, and of course the publisher, The Wild Rose Press.  (Sorry about the lack of active links, but MySpace doesn't seem to want to cooperate with me tonight.)

And on December 3, my Christmas novella:  Christmas Mishaps, comes out from Cerridwen Press.  I just wish I had a cover to show you.  But I should get one soon.

I don't have a release date yet on my short story:  Outrageous Behavior, but it ought to be fairly soon.  We already finished the edits.  And during that process, I think my editor at The Wild Rose Press put some sort of brainwashing device into her e-mails because I went insane and gave them a second short story:  Rose Wars, to publish FOR FREE!

Yes, folks, another of my stories will soon be let loose upon the world and you won't even have to pay for it.  What the heck was I thinking?

Almost last, but not least: Writers and Readers of Distinctive Fiction are featuring me in their Spotlight feature this week--which is really, really nice of them.  (If you get the chance to visit their site it is at: .)  I always love to babble about myself and they gave me plenty of room to do so.  I just hope I didn't say anything terminally embarrassing.

Nearly forgot--I'm also featuring a new contest during the month of October: The Unluckiest Heroine contest.  The prize is a gorgeous, multi-strand carnelian necklace.  All you have to do to enter is visit my website at: to find the name of the poor heroine in "Christmas Mishaps" who just can't seem to stay out of trouble.  Then send an e-mail to with her name. 

Pretty easy, right?

Finally, I got three rejections--two of which were submissions I was really "counting on".  Nonetheless, I'm putting that in the "good news" category because it should complete the set of three.  Not that I'm superstitious or anything, but I need to make a little lemonade here because my office is overflowing with lemons.

Oh, I finally got my eeePC updated, and I can now reload my writing software (Writer's Cafe).  This has been a bit of a trial for me because every time I tried to update my eeePC, it would start misbehaving and gradually reach a point where it just stopped working.

The nice eeePC folks, though, let you restore it in "factory fresh" condition by pressing the F9 key when you turn it on.  I hate to do that because then I have to reconfigure everything to be the way I want it, but I really had no choice the first four times I did it.

However now it looks like I may have found the right combination of updates to do, so later tonight I shall reload Writer's Cafe and get back to work on The Necklace.  I really want to submit that to my publisher next week.  I actually hope to someday earn royalties on this one. :-)

As far as writerly things and news (not so good)...this last spate of rejections really nailed something for me.  If you write a book, but deep down inside you sort of feel "ho-hum" about the characters, then chances are good your readers--and more importantly your editors--will feel the same.  This problem often occurs if you're like me, and you really, really want to please some editor/publisher by writing to their guidelines.

Some of us don't fit in, follow the rules, or play well with others.  You'd think I'd know by now how to disguise that a little better.

Anyway, not a day goes by when I don't learn something new. 

And I like it that way.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Just finished reading a popular science book about poisons--and it brought home to me how important it is for writers to read books outside their normal areas of interest. I'm not sure this book qualifies for me since I write mysteries and have long held an interest in forensics, but anyway, I enjoyed it immensely. 

The book was called:  "Molecules of Murder" and was classed as a popular science book.  I have to say, it was very popular in my household.  My biologist husband stole it from me the minute it came in the door. I finally had to fight him for it.  When I got my hands on it, it proved worth the trouble. So worth it that I'm searching out other books by the author: John Emsley.

 Emsley has a warm, chatty style of writing and an approach that makes even chemistry—which can often be very dull—fascinating. And as with so many British writers, he has a understated humor that hits the mark, e.g. "…she poisoned her father with a white powder sent by her lover, Lieutenant William Cranstoun, who assured her it would end her father's objection to their marriage. It did—it killed him."

 You have to love a science book written like that. Emsley is popular, and no wonder. I wish some U.S. scientists would realize you don't have to be dull and humorless to write about science. In fact, I believe that the cold, somber style of most science papers written in the U.S. is directly responsible for the decline in science students. It was certainly one factor that killed my career in the sciences. That and being told that science papers were not supposed to be funny. Or amusing.

 I guess only deadly dull papers can be taken seriously.

 Anyway, I'd rather read a British science article any day, since most of them have a much more accessible, warmer style and wry humor even while covering exactly the same subject with the same accuracy.

 Americans take themselves way, way too seriously.  Science should be fun, not BORING, and so should the articles (in so far as it is possible).  I'm not suggesting they be filled with a joke a minute, I'm just suggesting that we need to take ourselves a little less seriously and one or two minor, wry comments doesn't mean the information in the paper is any less accurate or real.

 But I digress.

 The point is, if you are a writer, expanding your horizons to other fields of endeavor can only make you a better writer.  If you are at all interested in science or the application of chemistry to forensics, check out that book (and note--I don't know Emsley and never heard of him before, and he's not paying me to write this--although if he reads it--any small gift he sees fit to send me would be much appreciated.)

 "Molecules of Murder" is therefore highly recommended, particularly for anyone with the following interests:



Students of Chemistry/Forensics

Folks interested in or involved in Forensics


Law Enforcement (I particularly think folks involved in law enforcement would love this book to get a better handle on, or at least introduction to, the chemistry of poison in a very accessible way.)

 Nitty-Gritty Review

For those who want a little more info...I'd preface the following with the background info that I have always loved science and forensics, so keep that in mind.  But if you love shows like CSI, you may find this book fascinating. "Molecules of Murder" actually gives you the science behind the poisons. In the introduction, Emsley presents you with a brief look at the history of chemical analysis and its application in solving murders throughout history.

 The good news for Modern Society is that it appears poisoning's "heyday" is pretty much over. It's on the decline as a favorite murder weapon, and that's excellent news if you're in the law enforcement line.

 The book is divided up into chapters relating to different poisons, e.g. Chapter 5 "Adrenaline and the Near-Perfect Murders of Kristen Gilbert". The poisons discussed include: Ricin, Hyoscine, Atropine, Diamorphine, Adrenaline, Chloroform, Carbon Monoxide, Cynanide, Paraquat, and Polonium.

 In each chapter, there is a brief introduction of a historical (or recent) case of the use of a poison, followed by these sections: toxicology and chemistry; historical uses; production and application; the effects of poisoning; detection and identification; positive factors; examples of poison attacks; and then a specific case where the poison was used in murder.

 While that may sound dry and perhaps daunting, it is incredibly accessible because Emsley makes heavy use of anecdotes and examples from history, recent events and even literature. The broad range of examples is part of what makes this book so entertaining. For Rican, he goes into the details of the murder of Soviet dissident George Markov in 1978. The USSR Secret Service agent actually used an umbrella to deliver the poison to Markov and frankly, for the fascinating details, read the book. It's nothing short of unbelievable and would make a great fiction story although I doubt any editor would find it believable enough to buy it.

 Part of the interest of "Molecules of Murder" is th heavy use of short anecdotes. The sections are actually written almost as murder mysteries like Columbo—where you may know who the killer is, but the intrigue comes from how he or she was exposed and the poison identified.

 I learned so much from this book and was completely enthralled.


And I totally plan to use it when writing my next murder mystery.


Sweet Dreams!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Random Thoughts on Writing

Just finished reading a crime novel that I enjoyed, but made me think about how easy it is to read a book, internalize it, and then duplicate elements in it without realizing it.  Or at least I'm assuming that's what happened with this author.  It was really the most bizarre thing.

Background:  I'm a huge fan of Charles Todd's Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries.  I actually like the books more for the development of the main character than the mysteries (which are rather thin).  Rutledge suffered severe post-traumatic stress during WWI and is fighting to be normal, hold down a job, and basically live a life within post-war British society.  The glimpses of society during this period--when everyone is trying to adjust--and the difficulties Rutledge faces just getting along (much less investigating murders) is fascinating.  I just can't get enough of them.

And Rutledge's biggest challenge is to appear sane when he hears the voice of a dead Scotsman in his head.  It's done brilliantly and you feel so anxious for Rutledge in his efforts to control his fragile mental condition.  And part of the brilliance is the development of the voice into what amounts to a second character, a Scotsman who died during WWI, due to Rutledge.  It is heart-wrenching.

So.  Enough background.

I read this new book--well, I won't provide a lot of info about it because I really don't want to criticize the book or embarrass anyone.  In fact, other then what I'm going to describe below, the book was one of those "I can't put this down" stories and I doubt anyone else would notice or have this same issue with it.

Anyway, at the chapter 7 mark, all of a sudden, the main character is hearing a voice in his head.  Seems it is a reaction to WWII stress.  A reaction he never displayed up until that point.  And it's not like some horrible thing happened to trigger this, either, during the first 6 chapters.

Seems like the character should have displayed this issue from page one instead of waiting that far into the book and springing it on the reader after you think you know him.  Particularly something as important as schizophrenia (or whatever mental illness it is that makes you hear voices in your head).  That seems like a major thing that the character ought to be experiencing from the beginning.  He shouldn't seem normal and then half-way through the book suddenly become schizophrenic.  Unless he forgot his meds.

And he doesn't seem particularly disturbed by this sudden mental degeneration either.  Nor does he seem to struggle with it--and with the effort to appear normal--the way Rutledge does.  At least not for the next few chapters, anyway.

I'm okay, you're okay.  He certainly seems okay with the whole voice thing.

Here's the oddest part.  The voice in this guy's head is...yes, that's right.  Scottish.


I had not realized that if you suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome brought on by a wartime situation, and you hear a voice in your head, that voice will be Scottish.

Learn something new every day.

But what did I gain from this as far as writing goes?

It may not have been a mistake on the author's part.  Maybe she never read the stories by Charles Todd and it is just a coincidence.  Maybe no one else noticed that the main character didn't have this trait until chapter 7.  Maybe no other readers will find it at all odd, or peculiar, and I'm making a mountain out of a molehill.

All these things could very well be true.

But it did bug me.  So I concluded:

1)  Don't suddenly veer off into left field and inflict new personality traits on your characters half-way through the story.  If they are going to be weird, make them weird from the start.

2)  Don't use specific, peculiar character traits that are MAJOR traits of characters in series written by other authors.  (Note to myself:  No matter how much you like Adrian Monk, do NOT make a detective in any story you write an obsessive, anal-retentive, mental case.  Even if you want to.)

3)  Be careful about absorbing things from other writers and grafting them deliberately, or inadvertently, into your work.  It looks...peculiar.  (See above.)

I may be a little too hard on that author, but it is something that I want to watch out for in my own writing.  It's so seductive and easy to slip up.  And imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it's also a form of plagiarism in my eyes, even if it is technically--not.

But most of all, the most egregious part of this was that the author took a perfectly fine, sympathetic character and grafted something unnecessary and unnatural and just plain weird onto him.  I can only imagine she wanted the hero to be more vulnerable and therefore more sympathetic.  But the reader already liked and was rooting for the hero.  There was no need to "work up more sympathy" for him.

Leave well enough alone, already!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Writing as a Career

Writing is such a strange career: I almost never meet writers who are "comfortable" with where they are.  In my day job, I'm a computer specialist, specifically an Enterprise Administrators managing over 550 domain controllers in 370 sites nation-wide.  And while everyone wants more money, folks are pretty happy with "where they are".  I know that back when I decided writing was a dream job (emphasis on dream) that had little to do with reality, being an Enterprise Administrator was my ultimate goal.

So naturally, having reached that goal, I no longer want it.  Story of my life.  Anyway, I mentioned this computer stuff not to make your eyes glaze over but as a point of comparison.  Because writing, in a lot of ways, is never what you expect, and your goals have a way of morphing into something completely unexpected and nerve-wracking.

When you start out, you just want to write.  You might never care if you get published, the writing is enough.  That's sort of a misty, happy-crappy initial stage.  For some writers, there is no desire or need to progress.  Sigh.

They are the lucky ones.

But for a few, the idea of getting published takes root.  Then really weird things start happening.  Just like the acting world, I've seen the development of "strata" of writers. 

And note, having an agent will make some of the upper strata easier or more possible, but in no way guarantees the writer will ever make it from one strata to the next.  Even having multiple agents doesn't always help.

Night-Writers:  This is the first strata.  They are the equivalent of those actors and actresses who get occasional "gigs" at community theatre or perhaps even a paid, local production.  For writers, this means you have squeaked through the door to publication by smaller publishers, e.g. e-publishers.  You get royalties, but there is no way to live on the money because you may make $50-$300 per book and it may take 6-months to write a book (or a year, in my case).  Hence the term, night-writer.  You have to keep that day job, just like all those wait-folks working in restaurants determined to someday get their big break.

The advantages, however, are that you don't necessarily have to conform to what is popular in fiction.  Publishers are more willing to take a chance on you, since they don't have to pay you an advance up-front.  You can work at your own pace.  You have creative freedom.

The disadvantages are fairly obvious.  You aren't making enough to even receive minimum wage for the time you spent writing your book.  You're responsible for all your own advertising and promotion, which is typically more money out of your pocket and may actually require you to spend money earned at your day job.  Most likely, you won't be able to walk into a bookstore and find your book: they are typically sold via Internet sources, even if your e-book is sold as a paperback.  Not a bad thing, just an ego note.

The Commercials:  So now, the writer has made it to a level that actually pays advances.  These are still smaller publishers, but they do pay advances ranging from $500 to $1000.  Just like actors in commercials--you can earn money, and it's fairly nice money, but not enough to live on.  Unless you can write really, really fast.  Again, if it takes you about 6 months to write a novel (I take about 6 months to a year, or longer) then you may make $2,000.  Still not enough to live on.  At least for me.

The advantages, though, are that you may actually find your book in a few bookstores (ego boost!).  The publisher may do some (small amount) of promotion and may already have some distribution channels which will help you.  They also, typically, don't lock you into a multi-book contract with outrageous deadlines, so you still have some scheduling freedom.  And you may retain fairly good creative freedom, but...maybe not.

Publishers in this range tend to have stricter guidelines about length and types of stories they will publish.  But they will accept manuscripts from writers without agents, so that is a huge plus for some writers who have difficulties finding (or working with) an agent.

The Soaps:  Yeah!  Okay, so you're not a glamourous writer lounging around with a chef, gardener, housekeeper, and two or three hangers-on.  But you have the chance now to actually make a living if you don't mind earning slightly less than those on welfare.  Seriously, many writers consider this "mid-list" or at least a living wage, but if you quit your job, it's best if you're married to someone who is working.

You get multi-book contracts, e.g. a three-book contract.  Just like a soap actor, you have a little job security (unless the soap actor pisses off someone and gets written out of the story).  You get an advance somewhere in the range of $3,000 to $25,000. 

The publisher does a little more in the way of promotion, plus they have distribution channels, so you'll actually find your book in a bookstore.

This is the stage all non-published writers who want to be published aspire to (unless they're totally starry-eyed and think they'll leap right to movie star).  They (often naively) think if they just reach this stage, they'll be all set.  For some, this may be true.

But you know, some folks are just never happy and writers seem to be more angst-ridden than almost any other group of people I've ever meet.  Because so many are at this stage and completely fraught with performance anxiety and other woes.  Which is actually understandable, given the fact that writers when they reach this stage, often (foolishly) give up their day jobs, thinking they have it made.  Or because they have to in order to keep up with the writing schedule imposed upon them by their publisher.

This is where it really does get to be like the soaps.  Because mid-list writers are like actors, slightly nicked by a knife and then thrown into an ocean of sharks and told to pretend to be terrified.  The camera is rolling.  They could be "written out" at any moment and be swallowed up again into relative obscurity. 

The advantages are that you're finally able to--possibly--make a living.  The disadvantages however, really start to be noticeable, just like those sharks.  You now have to meet a schedule imposed by your publisher.  This can be a huge problem for folks who take a little longer to write and polish a book. 

There is no guarantee of a follow-on contract.  Each contract is a separate negotiation and future contracts may depend *gulp* upon how well your previous books sold.  This means that pretty much each book needs to be better than the last.  Not as easy as it sounds.  Your muse needs to buckle down and write every day, regardless of physical or emotional trauma.  And having a multi-book contract does not mean they will automatically accept your second or third book.  They may decide it doesn't work for them and that's the end of the contract.

Or, you can wake up to find whatever genre you wrote is no longer selling and no publishers will even talk to you.  Your agent may give you a nice kiss on the cheek, a pat on the head, and a goodbye forever (except to get those royalty checks on past sales).

Talk about performance anxiety.  You have to fight for every scrap.

The Movie Stars: We all know these folks.  As a writer, you can become a movie star with your first book, a la Allison Brennan, or you can work your way up like Jennifer Crusie.  Regardless, at this level, you have an agent.  You have no other job.  Your mere name brings dollar signs to the eyes of agents and publishers.

At least for a while.

If you think all worries are over at this point, you are sadly mistaken.  One bad book can be forgiven.  Two bad books...maybe forgiven.  But three? Hmmm.  Four?  Well, sweetie.  There are always the soaps.  Or commercials.

In fact, nothing is certain at any stage, except:

 *  What you write tomorrow must be better than what you wrote today.

*  You'll never be completely free of neurosis.

*  You'll never know if/when you'll get that next contract.

But you know what?  While writing may make eventually me crazy, if I don't write, I am crazy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


It's birthday time for all of us Virgo folks and despite my best efforts to dissuade people from even mentioning it, I was lucky this year. My husband got me a sewing machine because my old Pfaff bit the big one and I was using my mother's machine from the 1950's but many of the rubber pieces on it are crumbling. I'm very happy he caught my comment about my desire for a new machine before they became scarcer than hen's teeth. Seems no one sews anymore.

To my shock and dismay, even Wal-Mart is getting out of the sewing and fabric business so I'm not sure where I'll find supplies, but I'm going to keep on as long as I can. I don't sew a lot anymore--who has the time? But I do have a pressing need to sew. I've discovered that if I make very, very wide-legged long pants out of light fabric, I can stave off the ravages of summer rashes. Even a blade of grass brushing against my ankles in the summer will leave long red streaks that blister and itch for a month afterwards. I'd say I have sensitive skin, but that makes me sound like something out of Princess and the Pea, when it's more like something you'd find on one of those late night medical shows. 'Nuff said about that unpleasant topic.

At least I have my new sewing machine!

And my sister really got me where it counts. She took our really old 8mm film and had some video place put them on DVD. It is so incredible to watch ourselves as children--and my mom and dad, who passed away about ten years ago. Those DVD are the greatest gift of all, I think.

This evening I played around with ripping the DVD to my computer's hard drive (it worked) and I purchased a utility which then lets me convert the files to standard mpeg (or other types of movie files). Once I do that, I can "be my own producer" and clip out a few to put up on YouTube. Not that I think there will be a lot of folks interested in watching a couple of kids running around with hamsters, a duck, and a boat-load of Christmas presents... But I enjoy watching other folks' videos, so why not?

And amazing how much work my parents and grandparents put into holidays for us--and we didn't even truly appreciate it (until now). My grandfather made doll beds and furniture out of scraps for our dolls while mom and grandma made Raggedy Ann & Andy dolls, and entire wardrobes for our Barbies and other dolls. Not to mention matching outfits for my sister and me. Our dolls were better dressed than most kids--even if all those clothes were made from remnants from the curtains, table-clothes and upholstery my mom and dad happened to be working on. Mom and grandma sewed constantly. Now I know why, and I can see why that sewing machine meant so much to me.

So here's to nostalgia, birthdays, and getting that happy, weepy feeling over silly things like old movies and sewing machines.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Random Good News

Despite all the overtime and aggravation at my "regular job" this week has held some really nice goodies for me.  My lovely and talented editor, Nicola, has created the cover for my new short story, Outrageous Behavior, and we've even gone through the first round of edits.  I know that "going through the first round of edits" sounds mind-boggling horrible, but I actually like it.  I'm weird.  But I get this feeling of progress when I go through them, especially if the edits are light.

And even when the edits are deeper, I still sort of like it, because it's a challenge that I feel I can rise to meet.  I can do this.  In short, it makes me feel competent, which is a nice feeling to get once in a while, rare though that is. is the really nice cover Nicola made for my short story--I particularly like the fish.  Fishing actually does have meaning--a fun meaning--in the story and it makes it a little different.

And after all, there are very few ills that fishing cannot solve.

I've been toying with the blurb for this story.  So far, I'm thinking along the following track.

As the Season in London comes to a close, Laura finds herself in a predicament. The one man she is attracted to has neglected to make an offer for her, and her family wants her to accept the proposal of a fortune-hunter. Determined not to let propriety stand in the way of her future happiness, she resorts to outrageous behavior to escape the damp grasp of the wrong man—and discover true love in the arms of another.

Nothing is set in stone, but it does rather describe the story in a nutshell.

Then, after I got my edits and cover, I also got the grand news from Writers and Readers of Distinctive Fiction that my blurb for my Regency romantic mystery, I BID ONE AMERICAN, won their contest!  Yippee!  That was nice.  Especially since I struggled a lot with that blurb, trying to capture the essence of what is basically a Regency "romp" with a mystery sub-plot.  Writing those blasted things is a lot more difficult than you might think.

But writers really need to master the art of writing that brilliant, 100-word, blurb that will sell their book, because that is pretty much what you want to put in your query letter, as well.  That is, the letter you send to a prospective agent or publisher, tantalizing them into requesting your partial or full manuscript.  If that simple paragraph captures their interest, chances are good it will also capture the interest of readers.

Or at least that's my theory until someone hits me over the head with completely undesired facts.

Oh, and did I mention that I sold my Christmas novella, Christmas Mishaps, to Cerridwen Press for their Regency anthology?  I can relax now until around October when I'll get the edits for that beast.

In the meantime, I'm polishing up a traditional Regency (no mystery this time, sorry) called, LOVE, THE CRITIC, to send to Cerridwen Press and another Regency romantic mystery called, THE NECKLACE, to send to The Wild Rose Press.

I also have another Regency short story, ROSE WARS, that I'm torn on.  I'll either send it to The Wild Rose Press for their "free story" program as a sort of advertisement for my writing, or sell it as a short story.  That's a tough decision.  At the moment, I'm leaning toward freebie, though.  Just because it might be a nice way to rope in a few more readers.  :-)

And I've submitted a Regency mystery, THE VITAL PRINCIPLE, to a few places, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that one.  It's a bit of a pecular mystery, but I enjoyed writing it so I'm hoping to find a home for it.

An agent is still studying THE BRICKLAYER'S HELPER, another Regency romantic mystery. 

Wow--I've got quite a few manuscripts out there in the wilds.  Let's hope a few of them find places to roost.

And I'm getting used to my eeePC.  It's got a few gotchas that I ran into--probably because I'm a computer geek and tried some things that a normal person wouldn't--but on the whole I am very pleased with it.  In fact, I completed my edits on my short story on it, and am plowing through edits on LOVE, THE CRITIC now, so it is already earning its keep.

I feel like I'm forgetting something that I wanted to add to this blog, but I can't quite think of it at the moment.  On the whole, though, the week is starting out fairly well.  I've got to get to bed early, though, because I've shifted my overtime to an early morning slot, hoping it wouldn't be as bad as late evening.  The jury is still out on that one, though.

Good night and pleasant dreams!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Technology and Writers

Finally got my cute little eeePC and I'm using it right now to write this blog.  It is going to take some getting used to, especially the keyboard.  While the keyboard is 95% of the size of a normal keyboard, it feels a little smaller :-).  But then, I don't have very slender, small, lady-like hands, either. 

If I were to travel back in time, based upon my hands and feet, there would be no doubt that I was--or am--a peasant.

That notwithstanding, I can always get an external keyboard if this one drives me crazy.  I think I can get used to it, though.  Besides that, I have had a few glitches.  Nothing the eeePC wikis couldn't walk me through--but I did lose my file manager icon at one point and the networking goes in and out.  Probably need to update more of the software.

I did manage, though, to connect to my big guy PC and access my manuscripts, so I can edit those babies from anywhere in the house.  (I bought a wireless access point at the same time as the eeePC so I can get to the internet and any PC in my house at any time.  Like I really need to waste more time on the Internet and messing with computers.)

But the big plus is that I now have a device to use when editing my manuscripts on travel!  And this little bugger will even fit in my purse (my big purse that looks strangely like a diaper bag--but isn't as I don't have any children unless you count all the animals and my husband.)  Or I can even take it to our cottage.  I no longer have an excuse to be a slacker.  Boohoo.

And I remember my first manuscript--written on an old manual Smith-Corona typewriter.  With carbon paper (to make a duplicate).  Never did sell that one, or the one after it, but it sure made me feel it was serious business when I typed it out because I didn't want to have to go back with a lot of corrections.

I've gotten really lazy lately knowing that I can go back and edit any number of times with very little effort, now.

And speaking of technology and writers--I've yet again been perusing the various writery tools out there.  I'm still most enamored of my little cheapo Anthemion Storylines and Writer's Cafe.  They let you brain storm and even add clip art and pictures with Writer's Cafe, and  then get down to business actually working out the storyline itself with the Storylines piece.  I just wish the two were more tightly integrated so that junk you put into Writer's Cafe could be fed into Storylines.

I have to say, though, after using nearly every product out there for writers, there is nothing any of these packages do that can't be done in your wordprocessor or spreadsheet.  With one notable exception.  They all make you painfully aware of the ELEMENTS of a story and the progression of scene and sequel, building tension, etc.  They make you think out why you want to include a scene, what you're going to accomplish with it, and hopefully make you get rid of anything that doesn't build the story.

Once you learn that process though, well, all the software in the world isn't going to make your job easier.  Because you still have to write the story and edit it.

But I believe I will stick with my Anthemion software-even if it doesn't run on my eeePC.

And guess what my first project will be?  I want to write yet another short story (I'm having fun with them) but this time it will be a murder mystery.  :-) 

Good night and pleasant dreams!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Layers of Character

Characterization and writing style completely obsess me both as a reader and a writer.  Like an English Bulldog with its jaws locked on its master's trouser cuff, I just can't let it go.

Recently, I read a book completely out of my normal reading habits.  There is nothing like reading something you wouldn't ordinarily pick up to make you see things from a different perspective.  On the one hand, this book gave me new insights into techniques for characterization and description that didn't end up in purple prose haze.  On the other hand, it raised that nasty old spectre of inadequacy (mine, not the author's) and envy:  Why can't I write like that?

What was I reading, you ask?  And what insights did I gain (other than utter despair)?

I'll tell you.

"Rumors" by Anna Godbersen.

I normally don't read things that aren't guaranteed to have a complete ending and a happy ending.  I, frankly, just don't like series because I don't like loose ends.  I have enough stress on my day job (as you all know by now having becoming familiar with my updates and fairly continual whining) without reading things that don't end nicely and neatly.  My life isn't neat, and I can't even completely tie up the ends of most projects I'm involved with, so I really don't need that irritant when I read. Which is all, entirely, besides the point.

And while "Rumors" is billed as a book for young adults, I have no clue as to why.  It struck me as literary historical fiction that just happened to have young main characters.  Shrug.  (I'm not here to second-guess the publishing industry's classification system.  That would be good for another blog, though.)

The book is very literary.  In a good way.  The writing is outstanding and smooth--almost exquisite.  And I've rarely seen a writer weave in period details so effortlessly.  You truly fall into that brief, charming era of New York high society in 1899, before the world changed irrevocably with the World Wars.

The way Godbersen can draw pictures without resorting to slushy purple prose is truly amazing. No heaving bosoms, fiery red hair, and flashing emerald eyes in this book.

And what struck me most of all, though, was her characterization.  It exemplified a couple of things I wanted to note.

Let me give you two examples of passages about one of the main characters called Penelope.  In this scene, Penelope is part of a group of wealthy Society folks handing out Christmas turkeys to the poor.

Even through her dogskin gloves and a layer of newspaper wrapping, she could feel the cold squishiness of the bird.  It was heavy and awkward in her hands, and she tried not to show any signs of revulsion as she moved forward with the promised Christmas turkey.

That's one of those little passages that makes you start really considering Penelope.  There were a few others before this where you were starting to wonder about her personality.  Then a few paragraphs later:

...But Penelope thought her hands were superior, and so preferred to change gloves ten or eleven times.  She never wore the same pair twice, though her recently discovered virtue had inspired her to donate them occasionally.

Yeah.  What a peach of a girl.

Nowhere does the author sit down and tell the reader that Penelope is a spoiled-rotten, two-faced, manipulative bee-itch, but a few more paragraphs like the above and you know.  You KNOW--without being told.

And that's the point.  So many writers forget that characters are built from thoughts, feelings, and actions in the story.  Layer upon layer.  There is no instant characterization--it is done by revelation of the layers of action and the characters thoughts/feelings. 

Some writers try to tell us who a character is and what she is like by having another character describe her.  The author is attempting a shortcut, for example when she has the hero say, "She may be a pain in the butt, but she's smart and I trust her judgment."

That statement by the hero does not make the heroine smart, nor will the reader automatically trust the heroine's judgment if the heroine then proceeds to do a lot of dumb stuff (like walking down into the dark cellar where she knows the killer is awaiting her).  We (the readers) will just conclude the hero is at a minimum a bad judge of character and at worst, a complete slack-jawed, drooling idiot.

Characterization is hard work--really, really hard work--even if Godbersen makes it look ridiculously easy.  It is something I struggle with as a writer because my preference is to write a log of dialog--most of it funny/snarky--and just a dash of very abbreviated action and even less description.  But that's no way to create lasting characters.  You've got to have those layers and you've got to use those layers to show, bit by bit, how the character would act in a specific set of circumstances and in a way that only that character would act.  And reveal why they are acting in that fashion and how the character feels about it.

It's very complicated and very hard.

But as a reader, I know I have no patience for books that try to do an end-run around layered characterization.  So it's gotta be important.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Guest Blogger: Nancy Hunter

Sometimes it's fun to "cross-pollinate" with other writers and give folks a chance to read ramblings from a slightly different, albeit still twisted, mind.  (All writers have twisted minds--we have to in order to write.)

Today I'm sharing my blog space with a fellow writer from Cerridwen Press, Nancy Hunter!  She has a new book out, and the following is a tantalizing glimpse of Taste of Liberty.

Book Info:

Taste of Liberty

by Nancy Hunter

Cerridwen Press

ISBN:  978 14199 17394



In a time of war and loss, tragedy unites two enemies who seek vengeance but find love, only to learn that it was never their destiny to be together…

Liberty MacRae, daughter of an American Revolutionary, and Sebastian Cole, a British soldier, share a vendetta against the brutal British commander who killed their loved ones. Each brings a special gift to their quest – Liberty has a second sight that allows her to predict death, and Sebastian is a Fated One, a man who died before he could kill his enemy and has been sent back by the spirits to complete the task. When they fall in love, they have to find a way to defeat not only the murderer, but destiny as well - a destiny that demands that Sebastian either forfeit his life to defeat his enemy or forfeit his soul. Can they find a way to change their destiny before Liberty's most harrowing premonition - that of her lover's death - comes true?


Libbie would have screamed but her throat was frozen in fear. Death had hurled itself at her, had stumbled, had— Landed in an azalea bush? She was still shaking, still felt the cold fear curled in the pit of her belly but the bright strands of red hanging in the air had dissipated. The death that had lurked just beyond Lady Jane's garden was no longer there. And the creature who had frightened her beyond reason and was now struggling to right himself looked uncannily like one of her dinner companions.

Libbie shook again but this time with laughter. She wiped away the tears that had begun to dry on her cheeks. With the threat gone, she felt light again and joyful and invincible. She reached down into the azalea bush and grasped Mr. Cole's hand to help him stand.

"Miss MacRae, are you hurt? I'm so sorry, I didn't see you there." He stopped to catch his breath.

Libbie covered her smile with one hand and nodded. "I'm fine," she finally managed to say. "I daresay you bore the brunt of our unfortunate encounter."

He was breathing normally now. "I do apologize for that. It's just that I heard a noise and I…" He shook his head.

Libbie took a step back from him, hoping to shrink into the shadows. He had heard her crying like a baby, like a lunatic driven insane by the full moon. Like the aberration of nature that she was. But somehow she didn't want Mr. Cole to know the truth about her, to believe anything bad about her at all. It wasn't just that he was handsome, although he truly was. His black hair shimmered in the moonlight, his dark blue eyes were so wide and intense that she felt she could fall into them. He was much taller than she, broad-shouldered and lean. A sleek black panther, tense and still but ready to spring into action at any second.

"Miss MacRae?"

Libbie realized he was proffering his arm to her.

"I asked if I may escort you back to the party."

She nodded and took his arm. As they walked slowly up the garden path, Libbie struggled to find a reason to explain her previous state.

"Were you lost?" Mr. Cole asked quietly.

"Pardon me?"

"On the garden path. I thought you might have been lost, trying to find your way back to the house."

"Yes, I was… I mean, I got turned around on the path." She smiled up at him. She wanted to throw her arms around his neck, to kiss him and thank him for not making her explain herself as she so often had to do. To kiss him…

"Here we are," he said as they stepped onto the veranda. "I wonder if I might ask one favor of you, Miss MacRae."

"Anything," she said quickly, then blushed.

Mr. Cole smiled. "It seems you stepped outside just before we were to share a dance."

Yes. It all came back to her. She hadn't wanted to dance with him. The things he'd made her feel, even from across the room when she'd first seen him, the touch of his hand as he escorted her to dinner, the sound of his laughter as he sat next to her. Something about Mr. Cole made her want to say and do strange things, like kiss him in the garden and dance with him on the veranda. But then he had mentioned her father…

He stepped back from her and stood in position for their dance. Libbie decided she had been overreacting to an innocent comment and obligingly curtsied to him as he bowed to her. They started a minuet, one Libbie had danced dozens of times but she couldn't quite keep the rhythm. The song was slow but she was breathless. As they stepped back and then forward another time, her knees bent under her against her will as another vision pressed in on her. Before she sank to the ground, she felt Sebastian's arms around her waist, pulling her against him, and the vision faded.

"Miss MacRae, are you all right?"

"I'm fine. It's just the heat. It's unseasonably warm this evening, don't you agree?"

"And you had a fright earlier."

"No, I'm fine," she insisted, steadying herself and pushing away from him. "You merely stumbled over me and I've recovered."

"I meant before that. You were afraid of something. You went out into the garden alone and got frightened."

"I go many places alone and I assure you I don't frighten easily."

"Perhaps then you should frighten more easily, because the world can be a very dangerous place."

Libbie widened her eyes in shock. "I'm more aware of that than you'll ever know, Mr. Cole. I've seen things that…"

She looked away from him. It was more than seeing things. It was feeling unbearable pain, reliving deaths died a hundred years ago and yesterday, feeling evil coming but not knowing when or where it would arrive. She looked him in the eye. "I don't need a lecture from you about it."

He grabbed her shoulders and stared at her with the same determination she saw in her father's and brother's faces when they wanted to convince her that she needed their protection. But as she stared up into Sebastian's dark, hooded eyes, his look changed. Determination seemed to give way to confusion, then to resignation as he leaned closer to her. His soft breath brushed her cheek, his fingertips caressed her shoulders. Libbie closed her eyes, willing him to come closer, to actually kiss her.

Taste of Liberty available NOW at Cerridwen Press


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Character Vulnerability

Just got another rejection, sigh, which was pretty devastating because this particular manuscript, THE BRICKLAYER'S HELPER, is particularly near-and-dear to me.  It's one of those rare stories that just flowed and where you felt like you finally got everything right.  The best you've ever written.  And I just love the story.

It's one of those masquerade, murder-mystery, adventure stories laced with a liberal dose of humor.  Or at least that's what I think it is. :-)

Obviously, others disagree, which can be really, really discouraging if you feel that it is the best you've written--or may ever write.  To be honest, it hit me really hard.  It make me think, yet again, about quitting.

Be that as it may.

After a couple of days of thinking about it, I'm thinking I need to do a few tweaks in the first few chapters.  Generally, my biggest flaws are always in the first few chapters.  Once the story gets going, it runs pretty well.  But I have a hard time starting out.  Mostly, I have to completely rip out the first few chapters.

All of this is sort of a digression--in a way.  What I think I really have to do, though, is something I'm always somehow reluctant to do: expose my character's vulnerabilities.  Because this is what makes people reject manuscripts: they don't find the characters compelling.

This is difficult for me as a writer for a number of reasons.

  First and foremost, I feel like my characters do show their vulnerability, but I don't spell it out.  I write something like:  She turned her back on her husband, picked up the cast iron frying pan, and banged it down on the stove.  To me, that clearly shows she is angry.  So I don't want to laboriously explain.  And if this follows an entire scene where she has been arguing with her husband, and if he has said ugly things to her, I also figure the reader will know that the woman is both hurt and angry.

But does the reader really know that?  Perhaps.  Or maybe...not so much.  Even the most astute reader needs a little help now-and-again to interpret actions and even words, because they can generally be taken in multiple ways.  Maybe the woman banged the frying pan down because it was hot.  Or because her wrist gave out.  Maybe she's not angry--she's tired and hurt.

I've finally realized that you do need to insert a few words, here and there, to let the reader know what the characters are feeling.  I've been wary of doing this because I loathe over-writing and am terrified I will become entrapped by flowery, angst-ridden purple-prose.

Unfortunately, my first draft therefore has nothing spelled out.  So I get rejections a lot if I forget this lesson.  Then, I realize my problem and go back in and add bits of emotion...or I try to, but at this point, I also tend to overreact and put in too much navel gazing and explanations.  I have a hard time finding the happy medium.

 My other problem is that frequently, my characters are trying to hide their vulnerabilities and I let them.  So they hide their fears from the reader behind a smart remark and a laugh.

EXPOSE THEIR FEARS.  Big lesson I tend to forget.  One of the best ways to earn reader sympathy for your character is to show some chink in their armor, some vulnerable side, a fear, an Achilles heel.  If your heroine is a tough chick, give her a spider to fear.  Well, that's a bad example because it's totally overused.  But you get the point.

So now I need to go back to The Bricklayer's Helper and just add a sentence or phrase to show poor Sarah's deepest, darkest fear.  She actually has a lot of fear and she's become a master at redirection and suppression, but the dark pit is there within her.  I just have to expose it to give her character depth.  Because she's too good to let go into that long goodnight without putting up a fight to get her story published.

I'm off to the land of rewrites, dictionaries, and angst.

Sweet Dreams!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Writing for money or for free?

Another summer is slipping by much too quickly and as usual, I'm getting much less done than I wanted.

What I managed to do, however, was surprise myself by writing a fairly reasonable novella entitled CHRISTMAS MISHAPS for Cerridwen Press' proposed Regency anthology, Cotillion Country Christmas.  My lovely and talented editor approved it and now all that is left is real work: contracts, endless editing, and proofing.

I cannot write quickly, hence my surprise at this accomplishment.  I found out about the project sometime around March and initially had a deadline around June, which normally would be pretty impossible.  Especially considering I had no clue at the time what I would even write.

Not even one idea.

However, as fate would have it, I was reading some Regency-era (early 19th century) magazines I had found on the Internet.  One article talked about a common superstition which stated that if a woman was the first to step over the threshold on Christmas day, she was a harbinger of ill-luck or even death.  As a result, only boys or men were allowed to set foot outside or go visiting in the morning (or as long as it took for some man to set foot over one's threshold).

This odd notion struck my fancy.  So I started a novella about a woman who is estranged from her sister (her sister having run off with the heroine's fiance two years earlier) and wants to make amends.  But she's due to leave London with her parents on Christmas day, so she decides...well, you can pretty much guess, can't you?

Her Christmas day goes downhill from there, including being tormented by a younger man who she suspects is only playing at flirtation.  And she really wishes he wasn't just playing.  And that she wasn't years older than him.

So, anyway, I got about half-way done when I got sidetracked.  And at that point, it looked like the anthology might get sidetracked, too, so I put it aside.  Then, in June, they said:  come on and submit!  Deadline July 14th!

What?  Are you kidding?  After a bit of scrambling, I managed to finish early and submit it.  My editor found a few problems she wanted corrected before (possibly) accepting it, so I made those modifications.  And managed to submit it again in time for the final July deadline.

Apparently it was satisfactory enough for the novella to go to contracting.  This stage always makes me nervous because I fear that something may still happen that will cause the thing to crash-and-burn, but that's where we are.

Only time will tell.

Assuming I'm being paranoid for no reason at all, I'll keep you posted as to the progress and eventual release date of the final product.  I must say, I rather like my little novella and am seriously considering doing a few more shorter works.  Not to mention a longer traditional Regency romance called:  LOVE, THE CRITIC, which I really want to submit to my Cerridwen Press editor--just as soon as my balls grow back and get big enough to submit it after this last round of submissions.

I never have a lot of confidence and what little I can muster is always gone by this stage of the game (i.e. accepted but waiting for contracting, etc).  But maybe by August my editor will be reading through LOVE, THE CRITIC and not imagining all the cruelly torturous punishments I deserve for inflicting such a manuscript on her.

Anyway, back to shorter works of fiction...and writing in general, my other publisher, The Wild Rose Press, has a "free story" program where they publish short works by their authors and give the stories away for free as teasers and promotional material.  (If you haven't checked it out, do so.  After all, it's free.)

I've been thinking hard about this "free story" idea and am still kind of wafflely.

About a month ago, I wrote a short story but put so much into it, I finally submitted it as a regular submission that I will hopefully get paid for.  Because in the back of my mind was another well-known author's advice that if you are a professional and expect to live on your earnings--you must make earnings.  You don't expect a doctor to do your open-heart surgery for free, why would you expect a writer to hand you their story for free?

And if you don't think writing takes just as much time and effort as other careers, you are probably not a professional writer.  That made sense to me.  And I do look on writing as a profession--not a hobby.  A quality product should receive a suitable recompense.

One must live, after all.

On the other hand, I blog for free.  And I do think there might be some value in a short promotional piece that readers can get for free to see if they like your writing.  The problem with that, though, is that you then have to do a good job--which means put a lot of sweat equity into the piece--if you want to impress your readers enough to get them to actually purchase anything else by you.

Which in my mind means spending upwards of a month on a short story, and then giving away all that effort and time, for free.  You can be very sure that Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe never would have considered doing such a thing.  And I'm a little reluctant to de-value my writing by giving it away for free, too.

The other ugly aspect of it is that if you do give your work away for free, you generally can't go back and try to sell it or earn money off of your story.  Most publishers have clauses in their contracts--even short story contracts--that specifically state they won't publish material that has ever been made available to the public for free.

Once free, always free.

In the end, I'm not sure I'll submit the second short story I recently wrote for free, even though that's what I originally intended to do.  I want it to be entertaining, which means spending more time on it.  With enough effort, it should be good enough to draw in more readers for my longer works, like I BID ONE AMERICAN, my Regency romantic mystery. 

But we'll see.  I'm easily persuaded, one might almost say--wafflely--so the fate of my little Regency romance short story, ROSE WARS, is still up in the air.

We'll see which way it falls later this summer (preferably, that waffle will not fall buttered side down).

Good night and pleasant dreams.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Historical Accuracy, Phase 2

A few weeks ago I wrote about historical accuracy in my blog. Since I just submitted a historical novella to my editor and am thinking about what to write next, I started contemplating this topic again. I mean, I'm not sure I could even get the details of my own time period accurate, much less those of a period two hundred years ago. And there is that whole TRUTH issue. I'd like to think that there is some sort of TRUTH or FACT that is understandable and knowable, but for most of us, truth and "facts" are largely based upon our perceptions and often limited, or skewed, knowledge.

We do the best we can, but knowledge is like peeling an onion, there is always another layer. There will always be someone who knows more than you do.

You might think I just digressed in discussing THE TRUTH versus perceptions of the truth, but alas, no. Because I'm trying to plot out another historical mystery, and I keep running into decision points or issues.

And that leads me to think about just how accurate I can, or cannot be.

For example, dressing the heroine—or any Regency woman. I've attended several "re-enactment" type affairs where folks who specialize in Regency clothes show what ladies wore and how they got dressed. And they very strongly made the point that a lady simply could not dress herself due to several factors including:

  1. Restricted movement due to corsets, which prevent a lady from reaching behind to fasten up the back of her dress, for example; and
  2. The excessively complex ties, strings, pins (straight or otherwise) used to keep garments together.

Not to mention the discussion about whether Regency women's clothing actually had buttons or not.

The consensus of this group was that no lady could dress herself without help. And a few dresses actually did have a few buttons.

On the other side, several members of the Jane Austen Society have informed me that shy & private Jane used to dress herself. And they don't believe buttons were used on women's dresses (except as decorations) despite the drawing of Jane Austen showing a row of buttons on the back of her dress.

When you think about it, maids and servants often wore the cast-off clothing of their employers. And servants dressed themselves. Ergo, the clothes they got from their employers actually could be thrown on without help or the servants wouldn't have been able to dress themselves in the cast-offs. And please don't remind me that the servants could have altered the clothing. I know. It's all relative.

So…can my ladies dress themselves? Do their dresses have buttons?

I suspect the truth lies somewhere between the two viewpoints. Ladies could dress themselves if they didn't tie their corsets quite so tightly, and a few dresses did, indeed, have a few buttons down the back.

On to my next problem: locale. I just started reading a British mystery—contemporary (more or less—I mean, at least it takes place slightly less than 100 years ago). The author resolved the problem of locale by making up a completely fictional …shire in England with a fictional stately home, and two fictional nearly towns. I like that solution better than my previous ones. I used to pick a small place at random and "en-grandize" it into a name worthy of a territory title (like a Duke's) and so on. Although Georgette Heyer was very good at that, I was less good at picking obscure-enough place names for it not to "rankle" with folks actually from Britain.

So for that—forget the accuracy and go for the completely fictional.

Finally, flora and fauna. You absolutely HAVE to avoid placing rare (undiscovered in that time) plants or hybrids not even created yet in your story. Those just will not do. Nor does it work to name all the flowers you know and have them blooming at the same time, e.g. mums and daffodils. But where I get into the weeds is WHAT TO CALL THINGS?

I'm sitting here with the c. 1808 copy of The Gardener's Calendar, looking at the list of roses. Now, to take a step back, many of the plant names are the same as today, which is great and makes it easy for me to list plants that I know people today will understand. But there are a lot of hybrids or plants that have names that have fallen into disuse and there it is difficult even for an expert to identify exactly which plant is being described.

Roses are notoriously difficult. In this 1808 book, there are many named which could be almost anything. 'Dutch hundred-leaved' could be Centifolia, aka 'Rose of a Hundred Leaves', 'Rose des Peintres', the 'Provence Rose', 'Queen of Roses' and 'Old Cabbage Rose'. Which name do you use?

At one point, I wanted to put a list of the roses grown by the Empress Josephine at Malmaison on my website. Until a rosarian noted that most of them were Gallica roses that are not grown any longer and were lost in the mists of time—not to mention, how would you give the modern reader any reasonable rose names since those rose varieties that still exist are generally known by different names? And there is very little chance of me being able to match the original rose variety name from the list to a modern name that a contemporary person would recognize.

Given that sort of challenge, how can you really paint an accurate picture of the past? Even those who LIVED IN THE PAST couldn't always agree on a consistent name for a rose (hence, Linneaus' universal scheme of names, taxonomy, based on Latin—but even that doesn't address rose varieties since they are not separate species but just hybrids or varieties).

Anyway, enough. I will do my best, knowing that whatever I do, I will get questions from readers that will be perfectly valid—because in truth, truth seems to be more relative than I would like.

And for those who like puzzles, here is a list of roses from 1808:

Early cinnamon; Double yellow; Red monthly; White monthly; Double white; Moss Provence; Common Provence; Double velvet; Single ditto; Dutch hundred-leaved; Blush ditto; Blush Belgick; Red ditto; Marbled; Large royal; York and Lancaster; Red damask; Blush ditto; White damask; Austrian yellow; Double musk; Royal Virgin; Rosa mundi; Frankfort; Cluster-blush; Maiden-blush; Virgin, or thornless; Common red; Burnet-leaved; Scotch, the dwarf; Striped Scotch; Apple-bearing; Single American; Rose of Meux; Pennsylvanian; Red cluster; Burgundy rose.

Note, the spelling and capitalization are from the 1808 book. J

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Think the Virus, Be the Virus

  Initially, I thought I would blog about my greatness  as a writer and stuff like the fact that Coffee Time Romance has me listed as their featured writer this month.  I've gotten some terrific reviews from a number of reviewers for my latest Regency romantic mystery, I BID ONE AMERICAN, including a lovely item coming out soon from Romance Reviews Today. But despite all of this, I've had sort of a rough week and I'm not up to such shamelessness.

One would think such things would make a writer glow with good feelings and positive energy about their skills.  Instead, it makes me sort of sick and worried about whether I'm any good at all or just a huge sham.  (Wow-Sham! Oh, no, sorry, wrong television ad.  That would be:  Writer-Sham!)

In fact, I'm sitting here wondering what possible reason could I have for considering myself successful as a writer?  I have severe doubts that I am even a decent writer.  Certainly, I'm no Saki. 

And have I ever written anything that a normal human being could understand, much less enjoy?  I don't know.  I mean, if I was a fabulous writer, wouldn't I be on the NYT BestSellers list instead of just my publisher's bestsellers list?  Wouldn't I be #1 on  Or at least #2?  Wouldn't I have editors begging me for my next book?

Wouldn't I have agents actually putting my name on their rejection letters, instead of "Dear Author"?

Wouldn't I be smart enough not to be writing this in my blog?

So then I started thinking about how it is we writers can go through years (I mean like 30 years) of kicks-in-the-teeth, multiple agents, people telling us our writing stinks, others telling us our writing is capable (ARGH!) but for some incomprehensible reason it's not what we're looking for at the moment...  And I got even more depressed.

What the heck is wrong with us that we keep beating our heads against that wall for little or no gain?  Earning $42 in a year is not going to keep that gas tank filled, kiddo.  Although I guess I'll soon see what "bestselling status" means when my first royalty check floats out of my publisher's hands this fall. 

The point is, though...obviously most of us are not doing it for the money.  In fact--what money?  And we're sure not doing it for an ego boost because I can tell you that I've been kicked so often and so frequently over the last ten years that if there's any ego left I'd sincerely like the wee thing to step forward so I could shake it's microscopic little hand.

This week, I came really, really close to the decision:  maybe I just need to give up.  Maybe I totally stink-on-ice and need to stop inflicting my stuff on others.  I'm just fooling myself with this "I'm a writer" shtick.

I've got a 3" binder full of rejection letters which I can't help saving because I'm completely anal.  Isn't that proof that I'm not a good writer?

So why do I do it?

Why don't I throw in the towel--right now, right this minute?

Who the heck knows?  I sure don't.  No wait--I have this uncomfortable feeling it's because I'm insane.  Completely.  I've got weird stories in my brain that won't leave me alone until I write them down.  And I have this overwhelming urge to communicate.  I don't know what it is--I just have to talk to people, even if it's in writing.

I have to try to explain this world around me and the people in it.  Why do people act the way they do?  Why are we so obstinate?  Why do we take the obviously wrong path?  What the heck is wrong with someone who thinks killing another human being is the answer to any situation--unless of course that person just really, really needs a-killin'.

Don't I get enough people-time and talking at work?  I'm on the phone 7-8 hours a day on conference calls, help calls, planning calls, calls about this-and-that, you name it.  I'm called upon to play amateur psychologist to weed out personal issues from technical computer issues or just listen to some over-worked local site administrator blow off some steam before he goes in and beats some unsuspecting user over the head with their computer monitor.  You'd be surprised what's involved in my job in the way of people skills.  (And I've frequently wondered how many innocent user lives I've actually saved from beatings or worse.)

But really, no one listens to me, anyway, on most of those calls so they're pointless as far as communications go.  And if I get hit by a bus on the way home, those calls are going to buzz on quite nicely without me.  Waves washing over footprints on the beach.  Here for five minutes, gone for eternity.

In a totally strange way, my books are my forum and safety-valve.  Or maybe more like this nice little virus I communicate to others.  They read it and get infected.  Oh, nothing quite fatal.  But something sticks--a scene, a character, a turn of phrase.  And the infection takes hold and spreads as that turn of phrase or idea takes root in the reader, and the reader passes it on to their friends, families, and even enemies.  Maybe especially to enemies.

And so communications takes place.  Insidiously.  Virally.  And despite all the bashings we writers take, we can take pleasure in the fact that yes, even the editor or agent who turned us down was exposed to the virus.  They may even have been infected.  It may stick in their brain until they die. 

And in my case, sooner or later, one of my ideas may pop out of an editor's mouth just as if it was their idea or phrase.  And I have triumphed.

I communicated.  I may have even explained something about the world and its strange inhabitants--at least to myself.

So despite everything, all I can do it keep on trying.  Keep on submitting my projects, and never stop.  Think the virus.  Be the virus.

And if you're a writer, maybe that's the attitude you need to go for, too.  Be the virus.  Write.  And keep on writing until your writing infects enough people to count as a success.  Or die trying under a poorly aimed spray of chlorine disinfectant.

NEVER give up hope.

Sweet dreams.

PS.  I actually feel better now.  Weird how that writing aimless, brainless drivel really does work.  Therapy for the terminally poor and bewildered.