Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

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