blog hop

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

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!

If I Could Just Talk to Them #MFRWAuthor #book #authors

The list of writers I would like to meet and talk with is long. I’ve always been an avid reader and was lucky enough to discover Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, Anne MCCaffery, and Ursula LeGuin as relatively new writers. But before them, I had fallen under the spell of Andre Norton. Born Alice Mary Norton, she wrote at a time when publishers believed only boys read science fiction, and obviously only males could write it. She wrote other books under pen names Allen Norton or Allen Weston. Her juvenile fiction usually featured an outsider who survives challenges and becomes the hero figure, saving the day. This “rites of passage” theme appealed a broad audience making her a best seller to adults also. My love of “underdog heroes” can be attributed to her.

A little later, I discovered Barbara Michaels who I suppose would be classified as Gothic romance. Again the outsider, usually considered the “bad boy” in the beginning of the book would turn out to be the hero in the end.

I would love to talk to these women about how they withstood the prejudices against female authors (and readers) and flourished and became the leaders in their genre.

Some time between Norton and Micheals I discovered H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Both these authors wrote in the 30’s but had a resurgence of popularity. I can almost understand my attraction for Conan who was born a slave but became a king. He does loosely fit my character preferences. But my attraction to the cult of Cthulhu confused me until I remembered The Dunwich Horror in which the truly bad guy was my favorite character. He became a bad guy because the townspeople hated his family and shunned him.

So my third author would be H.P. Lovecraft. I would love to understand the working of his imagination. And I would like him to know that while he was never recognized during his lifetime, 80 years later he and his creatures are an integral part of the horror genre.

My 4th and 5th authors are still living. I would love to talk to Tanya Huff and Poppy Z Brite and ask why they stopped writing my favorite books. Tanya moved from main characters who were gay males to write female main characters in the military. And Poppy went from anguished gay males to books that seem to be about food in New Orleans. If I could just talk to them, for even a moment, I'd also beg them to write just one more book in their old style.

 

My Choices Brought Me Here #MFRWAuthor

Life is filled with roads untraveled. Decisions I’ve made to go left instead of right, north instead of south, have brought me to where I am—who I am—today. What if I’d made different choices? Would I be a different person? Maybe. Maybe not. There are too many “what if” questions to know for sure. That being said, the answer to the question, “What would I do if I didn’t write?” isn't a stretch when one considers I still have a “day job”. Two, in fact. In my work life,I always find myself in some type of social service. Whether it was as a social worker, a professor, or CEO of a non-profit, the emphasis has always been on working closely with people, helping them to acquire the skills, information and resources needed to live their best lives possible.

My human service work isn’t as disconnected from writing as one might assume. I’ve learned to patiently get to know people, to see their lives from varying points of view instead of making easy snap judgements about them due to their circumstances. This probably explains my tendency to write about and cheer for the underdog, as well as create rich, three- dimensional characters.

None of this means, however, that I don’t dream a myriad of what-if scenarios. An exercise in The Artist Way by Julia Cameron asks the reader to write down 5 occupations he or she would like to have. Here’s my list: Rock star, dancer, rock star’s wife, rock star manager, or rich man’s kept woman. I guess I zigged when I should have zagged.

What’s your what-if list?

It's a Little Like Giving Birth #MFRWauthor

People ask me all the time if I write myself into my books. Yes and no. Most of my characters are male so I don’t particularly identify with them other than finding them attractive and, for my heroes, likeable. My ego may show up in a female character at some point, probably more as someone I'd like to be rather than who I am. That being said, I’m not sure that it is possible to create without having myself in my writing to a significant amount. Getting a book to print is a little like giving birth: Your DNA is in the mix with your blood, sweat and tears. And it's all fun and games until you have to painstakingly squeeze out actual words that you  hope other people will find as wonderful as you do.

More to the point, like DNA is passed onto one's children, my interests and choices are infused in my stories. For example, on a simple level my characters—or at least my heroes—will look and behave in a manner I find appealing. My heroes are either significantly short or exceptionally tall. None of those average height guys for me. They'll all have long hair because I like long hair. Their clothing may change to conform to the story but it will still be something I find attractive. So my preferences and desires will always be present.

In terms of personality and behavior, the protagonists in my books are unlikely heroes who have to go the extra mile to prove they are worthy. I’m not sure that means anything more than their struggle is huge (and therefore more interesting to me). I would have a difficult time writing about a gorgeous billionaire who has to fight to get ahead. Kudos to those who can.

Because it's so important in my life, music will usually play a role in my stories. If nothing else, a minor character will be a musician but most often it will be a significant element in the setting or in the life of a main character. I frequently get ideas for stories from music. I am sure that the mood of the music I play while writing affects the words on the page. Emotional music makes for an emotional story. Sexy music…well, you know.

There is also the aspect of the time and effort that goes into writing these stories. If I'm tired and pressed for time, my writing echoes a negative feel and drags on. In revisions, I can effectively moderate this tone. On the other hand, if I'm excited about the story or something else in my life, my writing takes on a lighter, happier, or more optimistic tone.

I dare say people die when I am feeling angry about something. #writerprivilege

Recollections #MFRWAuthors

I have heard people claim to remember events from their childhoods, some clearly as far back as their toddler years. Maybe they do. I don’t.

What I have are flashes, pictures that come to me. Sometimes I know their context, sometimes I don’t even know that.

My earliest memory is of me as a preschooler sitting at window at the front of our apartment, waiting for my grandmother to come home because she always brought me a treat of some kind. I turned and watched her walk up the stairs and down the hall and wondered why she didn’t speak to me. Then I heard the door open and her walk up the stairs and greet me.

Weird, right?

The apartment was across from a grand hospital that had once been someone’s home. I remember my sister and me crawling under the fence to play on the grounds of the hospital. I loved that park with its soft grass and towering oak trees. Eventually the hospital was turned into apartments and the land leveled for parking.

We didn't live in that apartment long because strange things kept happening to people in the family. I remember a dream I had there when I was four or five, and it still gives me the creeps.

I’m currently working through the book, “It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again” by Julia Cameron. Thanks to some of the exercises, I have discovered that if I set aside the time to think about and explore the fragment of a memory, one image leads to another and more of my childhood is revealed, or perhaps imagined. Unfortunately ,still nothing from my toddler years.

How far back do your memories take you?