Writer's Life

All That Remains the Same is Change

Welcome to Living After Midnight 2.0. It was time to upgrade and to explore new horizons. That, and my other host made my site vulnerable to too many spam comments. So please, while you’re here, take a moment to look around and let me know what you think. 

I’m one of those people who loves change. I like exploring new places and meeting new people. I like rearranging the furniture and painting a room in a wild new color. I like moving, although admittedly I don’t do it as often as I used to. I even enjoy learning about why people resist change so vehemently.

What about you? Do you embrace change?

A Viking Weekend

My partner and I headed off to Mystic, Connecticut for Viking Weekend at Mystic Seaport. I’m not sure why we were so interested (other than we’re members of the Seaport and it was a gorgeous weekend), but off we went for a two day adventure. It was a blast. On the Commons, a settlement of tents depicted how they may have lived. Many men and women of all ages, shapes, and sizes were dressed in Viking warrior or period garb. (Some were actors paid by the Seaport but most were simply Viking enthusiasts.) There were Viking ships, exhibits of tools, battle gear and weapons. Vendors sold all sorts of paraphernalia, from hand crafted satchels to leather sword shields. Still other sellers offered authentic food of the period, or so they claimed.  And if you wanted to learn how to make mead, they had you covered too.

Knowing little about Viking culture, we attended three lectures. My favorite was given by one of the Seaport’s boat builders and lead shipwrights . He’d spent three months reconstructing a Viking ship using only the tools available in that time and shared his experiences through stories, pictures and videos of his journey.

The two other lectures were given by purported experts in Viking culture, but interestingly they contradicted each other on many points so I can’t vouch for accuracy. Here’s a smattering of what was said:

  • Vikings were not pillaging raiders, but young sons seeking their fortunes.
  • Viking warriors operated under a strict moral code, never stealing or hurting the weak.
  • They routinely raided monasteries, sometimes returning to ones previously attacked.
  • Their raids extended as far as Northern Africa.
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See what I mean? What they both agreed on, however, was that we have scant records of this time period, leaving much for experts to interpret from a few stories and reverse engineering. For example, there is no information about fighting strategies, but what we believe to be true was gleaned from a small handful of personal accounts, as well as assumed from artifacts and remains.

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All in all, it was a great event. The weather was beautiful, the people were friendly, and we learned a thing or two. Now to find some Viking clothes and gear for our next excursion. Any idea where we can find a good leather arm guard?

A Concert to Remember: Sir Tom Jones

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It should be no surprise to those who know me that I go to as many concerts as I can. Even in the wake of the passing of the One and Only (Prince), I still have an appetite for good music and talented musicians. When I had the opportunity to see Tom Jones in concert, I knew I had to do it.

I was just a kid when he was on TV, but I remember watching his variety show with my mother. She, like many women in her day, was entirely smitten by him. Not only could the man sing, but he could Move. That's Move, with a capital M. Move in the way that, even just watching, your body remembers. Yeah, my mother would have been one to toss her bra and panties on stage if she'd gone to a show. (They don't still do that, by the way. I wish they did. I probably would have joined in.)

Today, Sir Tom is 78. It would be untrue to say that he is sexy for a man of his age. He is gorgeous and sexy for ANY age! The salt and pepper hair and beard, that freaking twinkle in his eyes...The man still has it. But when he started to sing, I nearly slid off of my seat. His voice is exquisite. It has always been extraordinary and it is still. Strong. Perfect. One of the songs he sang was Tower of Song, by Leonard Cohen. It is so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Tower of Song.  He also did a slow, uber sexy version of his hit, Sex Bomb. Sexy with a capital S. Sexy in the way that even just listening, your body remembers--Listen for yourself::Sex Bomb on YouTube

Unfortunately, the Foxwoods audience wasn't well-behaved enough for me to completely immerse myself in the music. The group of entitled, middle-aged beer drinkers sitting right in front of me (six deep, men and women) were loud, continually in and out of their seats getting--guess what--more beer. When they weren't shouting to each other or drinking, they were on their phones or drunkenly begging my friend to dance with them. I guess I looked too irritated to bother asking.

Sir Tom sang and played with the audience for a full two hours, no break. When he broke into his fast hits like  Delilah, What's New Pussycat?, She's a Lady and It's Not Unusual, the crowd went wild. So did I.

And its no wonder. Guess when he was born? June 7th.Same day as Prince.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are no coincidences.

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Characters and Settings: How I Keep It Together #MFRWAuthors

I stumbled around for a long time trying to work out a system of getting characters and settings settled in my mind. I usually start with an actor who could play the character I have in mind. Being able to see real people makes their physical characteristics easier to describe.But after awhile I tended to mix them up with other characters in the book—or even another book. Sometimes I totally forget what I’ve written. My haphazard records didn’t ensure that my characters eye color or hair didn’t change from one page to the next. In 2009, everything changed. I discovered a book called Break Into Fiction by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love. I worked through all the exercises and pulled all my notes together. I didn’t have to generate new information about my characters but this book gave me a record keeping system.

Since then I’ve looked at several systems for creating characters and settings but none have been as helpful as this book. Moreover, I attended two weekend workshops with Ms. Buckham which cleared up questions I had.

I’m afraid I’m not as particular about settings. The ones in my books tend to be real places I have been or seen. For example, Zander’s apartment in House of the Rising Son is modeled after Brian Kinney’s loft in Queer as Folk. Although I may change a few things, having concrete places in mind keeps me from having settings change constantly.

Today when I have a new plot percolating, one of the first things I do is to pull out my copy of Break Into Fiction and tackle those worksheets. I may not come up with all the answers when I start but this system reminds me that I need to know them to finish.

I Like Keeping Them With Me #MFRWAuthor

You may have heard the warning about never making a writer mad at you or you will meet a disastrous end in their book. I will admit to having desire to serve justice in writing on occasion but I don't believe I have ever done it. What would be the point? It would serve as a reminder of my anger every time I read it. I've never had a family member in a story either. They just don't fit into the kind of stories I write. Last time I checked they were all human and not a rock star in the bunch.

On the other hand, I have a few friends who have appeared on the page. Ria and Jewell are composites of people I know. Auntie Vi, a major player in Volume Two of Cheyenne's story, has been in the background for awhile waiting for her curtain call. Chance, the star of WOLVES (from my upcoming New Adult urban fantasy) is very much one of my friends. I wonder if he will recognize himself. My doctor will make an appearance in WOLVES, at his request. Yes, you read that correctly. He asked to be a character in the novel. My doctor is a very cool guy.

In truth, my characters are more likely based on actors, sports figures, or musicians who have the look I am going for. I will base my character on those looks, changing some of the details here and there as I see fit. My take on their personalities comes from what feelings their looks evoke.

Often, I'll develop a character and spend months playing in that character's world but not finish a story about him (it's usually a him). A hundred percent of the time, however, these beloved characters will appear in supporting roles in other stories--sometimes multiple other stories. I suppose I like keeping my “friends” with me.

Finishing a Book: Complex Endings and Beginnings

I have friends who throw parties when their manuscript is finished. One even rented a hall, catered it, and signed books for the occasion. Others unceremoniously set it aside and start the next one. And others who throw up their hands in exasperation and declare they are sick of the whole thing, refusing to look at it again. I have elements of each of those extreme reactions, with a healthy dose of relief that comes completing a big project that is personally significant, and a little bit of grief that it's over. Not that I ever finish a manuscript. Rather, I am more likely to have it taken from me before I “edit all the life out of it”. Even after it has been sent off to the editor, I am likely to keep rewriting it in my mind.My best luck at letting go seems to be when I can bury myself in a new project. I keep a notebook of ideas and rely on a gem inside to intrigue me enough to pull me away.

There is so much that has to happen to successfully launch a book I am not sure how anyone finds the time to celebrate at all. And because for me, writing is something I'm driven to do, have no choice but to do, I forget what a monumental accomplishment completing a novel truly is. Going forward, I plan to honor my achievement by buying myself something nice. Some possibilities?

  • A Barnes and Noble shopping Spree
  • An Amazon gift card
  • A new tote bag
  • A fancy pen
  • A fancy journal
  • Chocolate

Hmm. Now that I look at these all in a row like that, it seems what I want for finishing a book includes only books and writing related things. Which bring me right back to writing. Oh, well.

Yes. Chocolate is involved. Chocolate is always involved. #don'tjudgeme

I Can Hardly Imagine Worse

I don't understand negative book reviews, and I have never been compelled to write one. If a book doesn't click with me, it doesn't click with me. Maybe if the book were racist, sexiest, and undecipherable, maybe I'd think that it would benefit society to hear my opinion. Otherwise, I recognize that nothing pleases everyone so if I read a book I don't like, I move on to the next book. My opinion about negative reviews was, unfortunately, exacerbated by my very worst one. You see, my worst review was also my FIRST review.

That's right. The very first review I received for my debut novel, HOUSE OF THE RISING SON, was a 1-star review. And it gets worse. The reviewer remarked, "I admit it. I skimmed it." She went on to say that she didn't like the main characters.

She hadn't even read it.

I am a realist. I hadn't expected the world to fall in love with me at first reading. I didn't think I was the next Laurell K. Hamilton. I just hoped some folks would find my book and enjoy the story, maybe connect with my characters. I knew that a book about a bisexual incubus with kids and a screwed up childhood wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. Still, I couldn't have anticipated that someone who "skimmed" the book would be so publicly and permanently negative. Yes, 1-star reviews are permanent. They affect an overall rating in a way that is difficult to overcome, mathematically speaking. Fortunately, I'm surrounded by kind, generous, and experienced authors who talked me off of the ledge. I recall, in particular, a letter from syndicated columnist and author Vicki Williams. Her words of support and encouragement meant (and still mean) so much to me.

For giggles I read the 1-star reviews of my favorite books.Doing so helped me to understand something about the review process. Since nothing pleases everyone and we live in a world where the internet makes it easy for people to express all sorts of views, negative reviews are the cost of being a writer. Our work is public, therefore opinions about it will be too. It is also clear to me that most people don't understand the ramifications of negative reviews and consequently don't hesitate to give a very low rating for peculiar reasons. For instance:

  • "I skimmed it."  How do you know if it was good or bad?
  • "I hated the cover." Not a commentary on the story.
  • "Just got the book, I'll change the review after I read it." No. Just no.
  • "Not the type of book I care to read." And that deserves a low rating?
  • "I skipped every scene this character was in...The book was confusing." Of course it was confusing.

Overtime, House of the Rising Son received more reviews, including many 4 and 5-star accolades. The fact that readers enjoy Cheyenne's story (and find him as sexy as I do) is encouraging, and has strengthened my commitment to continue writing. I do still read my reviews (can't help myself) but I take them for what they are: One person's experience. Bad reviews are going to happen. So are good ones.

Writing Contests: An Unfortunate Peek Behind the Curtain

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I don't “do” contests, either to enter or to judge. As a newbie writer, I competed in a couple of them early on, but a few meetings of various writer’s group cured me of thinking the feedback would be worth the money they charged. A writing group I'd joined spent several meetings trying to come up with money making ideas. One such idea was to offer critiques for a fee. Although I admit that I was skeptical of this as a fundraising strategy, I listened to seasoned writers refusing to “waste their time”. I listened to people with one or two books under their belts wanting to charge hundreds of dollars to read and comment on entries. I listened to someone who had never been able to pitch a book successfully wanting to charge to critique pitches and offer developmental critiques. The entire process had me wondering if we might do more harm than good offering such services.

For my first bad personal experience, I was in a meeting where the officers were giving an update on the progress of the contest. A simple discussion turned into a tirade by members of the club’s contest who apparently thought they were unduly burdened. For more than 40 minutes people complained. They were sick of the horrendous writing and burdened by the contest rules which required them to offer meaningful critiques. On and on they lamented about wasting their time on writers who were clearly clueless and never going to be publishable. Yes, they actually said these things and worse. I was mortified for those in the room who, in good faith, had submitted their work. I vowed then to never enter another contest.

I decided to never again judge a contest due to a similar ridiculous circumstance. I was asked to help my group out and critique a few contest entries. I was skeptical of my ability as I was newly published and still learning to be a better writer myself. But I figured I'd view my role as one of a beta reader and offer my take on the author's story structure and ability to draw me in as a reader. I explained this and was assured that my plan was in line with the rules/goals of the contest. I was also assured (and in fact, the rules of the contest stated explicitly) that the judges' feedback and scores would be anonymous.

Flash forward to weeks after the winners were announced. To my horror, one of the contestants approached me and complained about the score she'd received. As you might imagine, I was stunned. I did keep my cool, and reminded her to look at my comments and not just the score because I, in fact, liked her story. I scored her in accordance with the judges' rubric and offered meaningful and kind feedback. To add insult to injury, every time we ran into each other over the next year or so, she pointed at me and announced to whoever was nearby (including agents and editors!) that "she hates my writing".

Yes, I did go back to the contest's organizers to complain. I was assured there was "no way she could know". Funny. Because she did know.

By no means do I discount all writing contests. There are many notable competitions resulting in significant accolades and opportunities for winners and runner ups. My advice to new writers would be to investigate each contest thoroughly. Just a few sample inquiries: What is the reputation of the sponsoring group? Are there many participants? What are the qualifications of the judges? What kind of feedback will you receive?

Have you entered or judged any writing contests? What was your experience? I hope lightyears better than mine.

That Which I’d Rather Not Do

Some things fill me with such dread that I can’t bear to think about them for more than seconds before my pulse starts to race and my brain becomes fuzzy in its retreat from facing the horror. You know the kind of thoughts we all run from. The age of our parents, siblings, pets. The health of said loved ones. To stay sane, I can’t allow myself to truly think about those. In fact, I’ll stop right here. So let’s see, what else do I avoid doing?

I procrastinate deliberately and fully when it is time to change out our seasonal clothes. I used to store out of season clothes in bins in the basement. But I got tired of the seemingly endless trips up and down the stairs. First trips to bring up the next season's clothes, then again to put away the season's. Eventually I could not face that anymore and began storing the bins in the mudroom/pantry. They still have to be stacked and unstacked and dragged through the house to the bedroom for examination. I’m really getting to old for this shit.

Each season I promise I am going to try on every piece of clothing and pass on any that don't fit or look like I want them too. But after a few bins, I am tired and start finding empty drawers to shove them into. At that point I promise to throw away anything I put on through the season and don't like. Of course I never do. I know which ones of those items is not going to fit like I want so I don’t bother to even touch them.

Winter to summer transition is easier because the clothes are less bulky and I am more likely to find a place in my drawers and closets for all of them. Summer to winter is a nightmare because I love heavy sweaters but I can only fit a couple of them in the drawer that held 15 t-shirts. There are usually several empty bins left over when summer clothes are put away.

The real problem is transition time when the weather does not know if it is going to be warm or cold and I need a variety of weights. Procrastination is at its peak. I don't want to hunt in those bins for specific pieces of clothing. So I do what any true American does.

I go shopping.

Tell me, is there something you’d rather not do, ever again?

Island Girl? Not a Chance. #MFRWAuthor

This week’s blog hop topic gave me more trouble than it should have. I read, “What I would invent if I were on an island?” I immediately thought about a deserted island, which is not necessarily the case at all. It could be an abandoned island resort. It could be the island home of a very rich celebrity. It could be the training ground for an elite set of assassins... I digress.

My mind went to deserted island and the immediate need for air conditioning. I hate the heat. And it would be in the tropics. Right? Who ever got stranded on a snow covered island?

Dragging myself from the idea of air conditioning and wealthy estates, I decided that it would be a deserted island without comforts. What might actually need if I were there?

My thoughts went to the television show Naked and Afraid. I’ve seen a few episodes and sat in horror watching these people with bugs in their hair, bare feet, no food or water. Naked.

Let that sink in. Why would someone want to do that? It is not in my realm of understanding.

I would need shoes at least, a water supply, a means of making fire. Even if I could start a fire, I would have no idea how to clean an animal so that it would be edible. Then again, it could be the perfect opportunity to go completely vegan. It might work if I had any idea at all how to differentiate between edible and poisonous. Did I mention I hate vegetables?

At any rate, I would not be inventing anything. If I was ambitious, I would manufacture stuff I already know I'd need. I can’t think of anything totally new I'd need to create.

I did have one take away. I would starve to death in a matter of days.

There’s a Hole in My Bucket List

Bucket lists seem to be a big thing these days. While I never thought of it as a bucket list there were some things I wanted to accomplish before I am too old to enjoy them. Maybe my ambitions were small. Maybe I was lucky because my goals have been fulfilled for the most part. Or maybe my bucket had a leak. The things I haven't done were set aside mostly because I grew up and decided I didn’t want to do those things after all. For instance, for a long time I was enamored with celebrating New Year’s Eve in Times Square. The outing quickly lost its appeal when i learned about the lack of bathrooms. I am both too old and too young to wear a diaper.

After realizing that I don’t have a bucket list, I decide to research them. I perused the internet to look at other peoples’ bucket lists. Many were filled with exotic places or, strangely, related to heights. I couldn’t really relate to those but I suspect I could add traveling if I gave it some thought.

It was fun to see some of the things I have done on other people’s list. It might be even more fun to look at lists and compile one of things I have done. It makes me smile just thinking about some of my adventures.

I have seen Prince live nearly 100 times. I met him and got his autograph. I stood beside him and realized he is shorter than I am. I went to his concerts on two continents. When I was in MPLS, I was nearly involved in a traffic accident with him.

But is that 5 items on just one?

I’ve met Jason Momoa three times—and he remembered me. That probably makes two.

Hmm. Maybe I could borrow some that I found on other peoples’ lists for the other 3. Let’s see. I’ve done a ride along in a police car. I’ve stood in two different states at the same time. In the same vein, I’ve stood atop two mountains that allowed me to see multiple other states. I’ve ridden in a hot air balloon. And I have driven a limousine.(No, neither Prince or Jason were involved.)

I think I’ll start keeping a list of all the things I HAVE done. My life is full. I don’t need to focus on what I haven’t done—yet. Which reminds me:

I need to meet Roman Reigns!