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.

Writing Contests: An Unfortunate Peek Behind the Curtain


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.

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!

Lost Souls, Found Genre #MFRWAuthor

There have been many books that have influenced me over the years, each for a different reason. Some were non-fiction books on the craft of writing, business development, and managing life situations. These are, of course, designed to impact your life. One book of fiction that most directly influenced me is Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite.

I received Lost Souls in 1992 as a gift, the first of many novels given to me by someone I love. Lost Souls was published by Abyss, an imprint of Dell Publishing. Abyss published primarily horror fiction and I depended on that Abyss logo when I shopped for books. It never let me down. I was heartbroken when it disappeared.

Lost Souls did more than introduce me to my favorite publisher, it introduced me to vampires in a way they had never been presented before. There was still an element of horror in that some of them were vicious and deadly, but mostly they were beautiful, sexy creatures. Later this style of gothic horror, in my opinion, evolved into paranormal romance and to urban fantasy, where romance is typically secondary to the main story.

Zilla and Nothing (the main characters) introduced me to the possibility of new worlds with new rules. Boys loved boys, humans desired non-humans, heroes could be flawed, rape and incest questioned the norms. And of course there was music. Lots of music. My love of this book led me to another novel by Brite, Drawing Blood. Later, I was drawn to the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series.Vampires and other supernatural creatures walked among us, lived and worked with us, and had lives with purpose beyond being the “boogeyman”. Between 1992 and now there have been many incarnations of the vampire story.

Experts periodically tell us that genres with supernatural elements are dead, but a stroll through a bookstore or Amazon indicates there are still plenty of people, like me, who are looking for that sexy, supernaturally dangerous hero. Which is why I write urban fantasy. My love of horror and fantasy merged perfectly.

And I can make my world whatever I want it to be.

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

These Words #MFRWAuthor

When I hear the phrase “words to live by” I think of Facebook memes and quotes at the end of writing exercises. But they are more than that. Often they’re a shorthand for someone’s philosophy toward a particular thing or life in general (Don’t sweat the small stuff), or an emotion. Speaking of which, I am not sure where “Bless her heart” became a “fuck you”. That is not how it’s used in the South, rumors to the contrary.

I can think of three phrases I use often and the reasons behind all of them. I fall back on “everything happens for a reason” to help cope with minor disappointment. An example would be the events of one evening when we had tickets for a concert two hours away. First my partner had an appointment she had to keep so I was to meet her. Being pathologically early, I left home in plenty of time. Along the way I realized I had forgotten the tickets and had to return home. I’d never taken this exit before, ended up wandering around the back streets of a city and being totally lost. (This was before GPS). When I did finally get back on the road I ran into traffic that was literally stopped. Basically I was in a parking lot for nearly an hour. When I picked up my partner we decided that something was telling us not to make this trip so we went home, convinced that we would have been in an accident or something had we continued.

“I can do anything for 15 minutes” is another I use often to make myself start something I don't want to do. It isn’t always true of course, but it does usually urge me to action. I try to use it when scheduling big tasks, and setting goals I am resistant to, even though I know I must (for instance, physical therapy exercises).

One I remind myself of (although sometimes don’t listen to myself), is “don’t love anything that doesn’t love your back”. This includes jobs, possessions, and toxic people. Sometimes that even includes a story that won’t let itself be written and causes too much stress.

My favorite is “life is short”. Sometimes I’m so busy working on one thing to another that I forget to stop and enjoy my life. Then I remember another favorite,  “Life isn’t a rehearsal”. These words to live by remind me how to live.

'Tis Always the Season

I have friends who say they would like nothing better than to have static seasons, preferably in a warm climate. I can't imagine being happy with that. There are things I don't like about each season but why deprive myself of the good parts? It will be difficult to limit myself to the best part of each season as there are so many. As we head into Autumn I'm excited to be able to go outside again. The temperature is cool and nature is putting on a show of amazing colors. The beach is deserted, and the amusements, while on a shorter schedule, are still operating. And the holiday season of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas gives us something to celebrate.

Then there is winter. I love snow. I love watching it snow. I love playing in the snow with my partner and our dogs. I even like shoveling snow unless it is the 3 footers we sometimes get. The earth is beautiful, quiet, and serene.

My favorite part of Spring are the colors on the mountains of home. The tender greens mix with redbuds and dogwoods painting a picture no mere human could create.

And finally, summer. The best part of summer is that my partner works less so is home more. We manage to take the occasional vacation and day trips if we watch the weather carefully. Too hot? Too humid? Too much. We use those sweaty days to go to the movies or the bookstore.

I used to be the type of person who complains about the weather constantly. One day I realized I was missing out on a lot of great stuff being so grumpy. In every season there's a reason to smile.

From Novel to the Big Screen: *Meh*

The blog hop topic this week is my "favorite movie made from a book". It would have been so much easier to write about favorite books that had been ruined by being made into a movie. I'm not generally a fan.

One of my earliest favorite movies is The Haunting (1963) based on The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. It was a faithful adaptation as far as the technology of the day allowed. Now, 54 years later, I still consider it the scariest movie I've ever seen. I was thrilled when it was available on Amazon a few years ago.

Another favorite of my youth was the Conan series by Robert E. Howard, which appeared in the 1930's. Three movies have been made from it. I liked them all but have to admit the one with Jason Momoa as Conan is my favorite because, of course, Jason.

The movies from Salem's Lot and The Shining by Stephen King were also fairly effective. Usually, however, movies from books fail (in my opinion) because they choose actors who don't quite fit or change important factors. One example is a television show made from an urban fantasy series by Tanya Huff. The TV version turned my favorite male character into a very irritating young woman, and "updated" the vampire's career from romance novelist to graphic artist. The same is true for the Janet Evanovich movie based on her Stephanie Plum series. I don't know who those people were, but they were definitely not Stephanie, Morelli and Ranger.

The takeaway on this is that if you make a movie based on a vastly popular book, perhaps you need to put some thought into why it's so popular before you consider any changes.

Social Media, My New Playground

Over the past few years social media has exploded with ways to connect to friends and family.  As a marketing tool, they were economic and direct ways to interact with your readers. But there are too many to use them all effectively. Marketing gurus always advise a new one along with ways to use them. These are also ways for me to stalk, er, follow folks I'm interested in. Roman Reigns. Jason Momoa. The Winchester boys. But truthfully, no one has time to use them all. I do spend time on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. I try to check them everyday but sometimes that just isn't possible. I also blog. Obviously.

Pinterest Is my favorite. I go there to find clothes for my characters and sometimes the characters themselves. I have found their houses and apartments complete with floor plans. I spend many wonderful hours lost on Pinterest.

And that's the trouble. If I am not careful Pinterest, and all the other forms of social media, can take up too much of my time and there is none left for writing. I can easily justify the time we spend since we must have a platform. That is one of the first questions prospective agents and editors ask, and if you cant show them a decent following then you may not be worth their risk.

It's like the dog chasing its tail.You spend all your time on social media to maintain connections with people who like your work, which does you no good unless you make time to write your book. Finding balance is the key.

But I do like to play online. Come find me, and we'll play together.

They love you anyway: Best Friends #MFRWAuthor

“Best friend” is an interesting, complex concept. It seems to have a variety of meanings, depending on who you're asking and the context.. To make it even more complicated, our understanding of  “best friend” changes with each stage of development—at least in my observation. When you’re five, your best friend is the kid you see most often. When you’re a teenaged girl, it’s the person you giggle with. And when you’re middle-aged, it’s the person who simply understands you the most—and loves you despite yourself. As a teen, my best friend and I shared a love of The Rolling Stones. We didn’t have access to concerts, but we spent time together listening to albums, hunting down the latest magazines with even the tiniest snippet of information and pictures. Oh, the pictures. The cooler and sexier the better. Mic Jaggar did not disappoint.

Our love of music didn’t end with Mic and the gang. We also got into the local music scene, going to clubs headlined by acts from across the region. We spent every free minute together. I thought we would always be friends, but it wasn’t meant to be. As time went on our interests changed. We saw less and less of each other. In tenth grade boys entered the picture, and we drifted apart for good. That relationship marked the last “best friend” in my life for many, many years.

When I met my current best friend, it was for a similar reason--lust, I mean, love of a popular rock star. The one and only Prince. She and I started as pen-pals, and met for the first time at one of his concerts in 1993. Although we lived 900 miles apart we kept writing. We also managed to visit frequently and attend dozens of his concerts together.

About twelve years ago, life took an interesting turn and brought me to New England. She’d recently moved here too. Distance isn't an issue anymore. We’re able to share a wider variety of interests. We've tried ski lodges, Niagara Falls, comic cons, shows like Supernaturalists, Cirque du Soleil, and I've even dragged her to WWE wrestling matches. We try new things, and encourage each other to be braver than we would be alone.

Besides our common interests, she is my confidant. She’s gives me a kick in the ass when the pity parties go on too long, and she is a safe shoulder to cry on. When I need help because my back is hurting, or because I again bought something that I can’t assemble alone (or given my tendency to put things together backwards or inside out, shouldn’t), she’s right there. I don’t even have to ask. She accepts me for who I am, with all my quirks and flaws that other people have tried to change.

Because she knows me so well, she understands it wouldn’t work anyway.

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