Monday, November 30, 2009
Good Monday morning! Thanks to the Writing Playground folks for having me. And don’t worry I’m not going to talk about renovating this hundred and ten year old house—though I could tell you some stories! I’d like to share a lesson I’ve learned over eighty-some-odd books. There is one absolute truth about creating a fiction novel: the story is only as good as the characters. If you’ve been around the publishing world for a while, whether published or unpublished, this is not news to you. And if you’re not a writer but love to read, you know this from experience as well.
When I consider my favorite movies it’s quite easy to nail the reason I love them. Gladiator is one of my favorites. Not because I’m into watching the gore and violence or because the plot line was particularly compelling to me, but because of the character, Maximus, that Russell Crowe played. His brooding, wounded hero portrayal proved outstanding, in my opinion. Who can forget the lines, “…Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance in this life or the next.” Amazing! Then there’s another of my all time favorites, Long Kiss Goodnight. I loved, loved, loved Samuel L. Jackson in this movie! His portrayal of the character Mitch Hennessey was awesome and unforgettable. I have many, many other favorites. The reason I’ve presented these two particular examples is to demonstrate my renovation realities theory.
Generally when a story starts to develop in my very twisted mind I have one of two elements as a launching pad—a character that has stolen my attention and insists on being written or a plot idea that won’t leave me alone. Either way, it’s the characters that ultimately get the most of my time. Because I fully understand that when you hear a reader say, “God, I loved that story!” it is the character/s he or she loved. Creating those memorable characters is the key to an unforgettable story. Consider some of the classics that have endured the test of time: To Kill a Mocking Bird or Gone with the Wind. Both of those novels capture a time and place that is stunningly palpable to the reader. You can feel the story, taste it…smell it. But when you hear readers, young and old, talking about those stories the actual topic being discussed is nearly always one or more of the characters. Both authors created truly unforgettable characters.
So, how do we go about creating that unforgettable character? First, we make them real. Second, we renovate until we can stand back and say “yes, that’s what I was going for.” Whether you’re writing a wounded rogue or a quiet, sensitive computer whiz, he must have numerous layers just as real people do. It’s not enough to merely give him a name, a date of birth and profession, you need to give him the same elements a real guy would have. Where did he grow up? Any siblings? What about his parents? Dead? Divorced? Has he or she been married? Divorced? What was the environment like in his childhood home? What good or bad things happened to forge his personality and way of thinking? Whatever steps he takes, whatever judgments he makes about the plot, the other characters or his life in general are all motivated by who he is. You can’t fully develop who he is unless you give him a complete history. Think of your own life and the environment and events that made you who you are. That’s what you need for each of your characters. Whether it’s the hero or the heroine or the villain. Yes, the bad guys/gals have to be real too. The absolute best bad guys/gals are the ones readers feel some slight connection to. Creepy, huh? But it’s true. Look at Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. A truly gruesome, sick character. But he had so many, many layers. Extreme intelligence. Charm. Etc. No matter that he was a demented killer, there were tiny, tiny fragments of who he was that were undeniably relatable.
MOTIVE IS EVERYTHING.
That’s right. Motive. Every single day of our lives we wake up and make one decision after the other. Whether to make the bed immediately upon rising or leave it for later. What to wear. Shower? Make-up? What to eat for breakfast? Load the dishwasher or not? A second cup of coffee or not? Spouse, kids, school, work, bills, etc., etc., etc. All those things and many, many more require decisions every day, every hour, every minute. Every single decision we make, spontaneous or not, is motivated by who we are and our thought process. What happened to you when you were five and older sister locked you in the closet? What happened on the playground when the bully took your milk money? How it felt when your first love dumped you because he/she was a complete idiot but you didn’t realize that until a long time later.
WHO IS HE/SHE?
Give him or her a life and fill it with a history and I promise you will have created a compelling and unforgettable character. Now I don’t have any fancy charts or research books. I don’t even do all this up front. Most of the time I do it along the way (which means going back and layering—so if you can do it all up front, kudos to you!). That’s the renovation part. Yeah, I know, most folks (especially editors) call it revising. I prefer to think of it as character renovating.
So, how do you build and renovate your characters? Who are the characters you remember the most?
Thanks for joining us, Debra! We'll be giving away a copy of one of Debra's books to one lucky commenter. You know the drill. :)
Join us all week for visiting guest authors!
Friday, November 27, 2009
To all of you out there working today - bless your heart. I'd give each of you a homemade cookie if I could, not that it would help, but its the best I can do aside from staying home and not adding to the retail madness. A small consolation and a sugar high.
There's something about Thanksgiving that drains my energy reserves. Maybe it's spending all day with my family. Emotional overload there. Maybe its the hours of scuttling around the kitchen for a twenty minute feeding free for all. Or the mountain of dishes that come after it. Or the five to six thousand calories the average person consumes on Thanksgiving. You can blame it on triptophan if you want, but I think it has more to do with eating four days worth of food in a few short hours.
I just know that after all that, the last thing I want to do is get up at 3AM to stand in the cold and dark to go shopping. If I want something that badly, I'm going to order it on Amazon and have it shipped to my house. A lot of people also go to the movies. Seems a shame to pay for a movie just to fall asleep halfway through.
How are you spending your post-Thanksgiving weekend?
P.S. Don't forget that next week we kick off a whole week of fabulous guest bloggers starting Monday with Debra Webb!
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Thanksgiving MySpace Glitter Graphics
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
National Novel Writing Month and there are only 5 more days after today. I know lots of you are doing NaNo WriMo too, so please comment and let us know about your progress. I hope all of you win because it's extremely neat to paste in those words and see things come alive with the winner's screen. I know because at 11:45 last night I got this:
So because my brains are totally fried after writing 50205 words in 24 days, I'm posting today about bizarre November holidays. Did you know that...
November 2 is . . . . . National Deviled Egg Day
November 3 is . . . . . Sandwich Day and Housewife's Day
November 4 is . . . . . Waiting For The Barbarians Day
November 5 is . . . . . Gunpowder Day
November 6 is . . . . . Saxophone Day and Marooned Without A Compass Day
November 7 is . . . . . National Bittersweet Chocolate With Almonds Day
November 8 is . . . . . Dunce Day
November 9 is . . . . . Chaos Never Dies Day
November 10 is . . . . Forget-Me-Not Day
November 11 is . . . . Air Day
November 12 is . . . . National Pizza With The Works Except Anchovies Day
November 13 is . . . . National Indian Pudding Day
November 14 is . . . . Operation Room Nurse Day
November 15 is . . . . National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day
November 16 is . . . . Button Day
November 17 is . . . . Take A Hike Day
November 18 is . . . . Occult Day
November 19 is . . . . Have A Bad Day Day
November 20 is . . . . Absurdity Day
November 21 is . . . . World Hello Day and False Confessions Day
November 22 is . . . . Start Your Own Country Day
November 23 is . . . . National Cashew Day
November 24 is . . . . Use Even If Seal Is Broken Day
November 25 is . . . . National Parfait Day
November 26 is . . . . Shopping Reminder Day
November 27 is . . . . Pins And Needles Day
November 28 is . . . . Make Your Own Head Day
November 29 is . . . . Square Dance Day
November 30 is . . . . Stay At Home Because You're Well Day
So let's all have a parfait today as we get ready for Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Yes, folks, it’s just a couple of days before Thanksgiving, and my kitchen is ripped to hell and back. In preparation of putting our house on the market, we’re replacing the flooring and countertops in the kitchen. We thought we were using good forethought – this is something that needed to be done last year, and no one would purchase this house with the current floors and countertops, so let’s go ahead and replace it now and get a little enjoyment out of it ourselves. Plus, we won’t be trying to deal with construction as we pack stuff, *and* I’m not knee-deep in a book at the moment.
Forethought – working overtime here at Casa PC.
So, with days to go before Thanksgiving, and my birthday, and the arrival of my b-i-l from Scotland, my kitchen is a disaster area. I can’t even make a cup of tea without it being an epic journey, full of hardship and trial.
And though the workers swear this isn’t going to take very long, how many folks here want to make a bet they won’t finish before they decide to knock off for the holiday, leaving me in this construction zone trying to prepare Thanksgiving dinner?
Oh, and trying to *find* everything I moved out of the way for the workers… good dog, it’s a nightmare.
It’s probably too late to order Thanksgiving dinner from a local restaurant, so we may be having PB&J sandwiches. I’m sure that’s what the pilgrims actually had on Thanksgiving anyway. They were probably too worn out from the harvest to actually cook. Right?
The holiday season is definitely starting off with a bang (mainly from the guys working in my kitchen) and will most likely end with a whimper (from me, on the couch in the fetal position).
Make me feel better – tell me about a time when your careful “forethought” backfired in your face…
Monday, November 23, 2009
This week is Thanksgiving, something I’m sure none of you have forgotten. As women, we are usually the ones responsible for the planning and plotting that goes into holidays, even if they aren’t being held at our house. The same is true at our home—I do the planning, my hubby does the inviting (usually without telling me until the last minute). But it all works out in the end. In the past few years, we’ve ended up with a house full of family and friends who eat, talk, laugh, and play games all day. Something I enjoy with a heart full of gratitude.
But all this partying makes it tough to get any writing done. First there is the cleaning, then purchasing supplies, then cooking… the list can extend to infinity sometimes (or at least feel like it). Since I’m also in the middle of NaNoWriMo, all this extra party planning can really cramp my writing style. I’m sure even you non-writers find time short during this busy season. So what’s a wanna-be author to do?
Here are a few tips:
1. Up your NaNo word count.
I know this sounds counter-productive, but for those of you trying to write during the month of November (NaNo or Not) do your best to up the amount of words you pull out on the days you do write. For success in NaNo, the goal for each day is 1667. But I always make my goal 2000. This way, I can manage a few days off during the month without guilt or getting really behind. So push yourself to do more, and enjoy your reward later.
2. Take it One Small Step at a Time
It can be overwhelming to sit down and face a 2000 word goal, but how about 500 words? Oftentimes, I don’t write my whole goal in one sitting. I do a large portion of it in the morning, when the house is quiet and empty. Then I do the rest in much smaller chunks. Thirty minutes while the kids do homework or clean their rooms. 30 minutes while the hubby watches a television show. Just 30 more minute before bedtime, then I can sleep. You’d be surprised how much easier it is to tackle any large project in smaller steps.
3. Be Prepared
For plotters, this is much easier. But it is also doable for pantsters too. Before putting down your pen for the day, take a few moments to write out the first few sentences of your next scene. Make sure your notes on the coming pages are complete and you have a decent map for where you are heading. This will make jumping into the next session much easier (no staring at a blank page wondering what the heck you were thinking to have them break into the warehouse so soon…) and your writing will flow more quickly from the start.
I find a To Do list essential for big projects and my writing is no different. This way, I can see how much time I have, then jump into whatever task I have time for, without worrying I’ll forget what else needs to be done.
4. Utilize the Buddy System
Find a writing friend who needs to accomplish as much as you do at this time. Vow to keep each other accountable. Daily emails require you to send in those totals, even if the sum is 0 (and embarrassing enough to force your hands to the keyboard). Set up times for write ins (getting together for the sole purpose of writing—bookstores are great for this).
And don’t forget a reward. Plan an outing to get your nails painted or a massage when all the hard work is done. A night out to dinner with some girlfriends. Or form an accountability group where everyone pitches in $10, and the top three performers during the holiday season get to split the pot for After Christmas shopping! This will give you a tangible reward, other than the relief you’ll feel when you see all those words on the page.
My hope is that you’ll be able to be as productive as I hope to be this holiday season. We’re all busy. I know that. But you can still manage something (this is me giving ME a peptalk here). So tell me your best advice for getting writing (and other holiday tasks) done during this busy time.
I'm also blogging today at The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood. I'd love for you to stop by and say hi!
Join us next week for Guest Blogger Week!
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
This is a pretty big turn around over the last few months. We've had layoffs. I've picked up a ton of work that I'm not 100% certain how to do. Some days walking into the building was as depressing as walking into a funeral home. Not exactly fun. For the most part, I think the layoffs are behind us and things are settling down. While I'm very busy, I'm trying to make the most of my situation and my boss and coworkers are a big part of that.
I work with the coolest people ever. Why, you ask? Because we're all leaving work in the middle of the day today to go see Twilight: New Moon. (Just ignore that groan from PC in the corner, there.) My coworkers have gotten into Twilight over the last year - without my help, I might add - and when the movie tickets went on sale, they asked if I wanted to go with them. So, we got the swanky VIP seats in the adults only section for the 11AM showing today.
Not just any boss will let you take a 3 hour lunch to see a movie and even fewer bosses will actually be in the seat next to you sharing her popcorn. Like I said, coolest people ever.
So, what about you? Are you going to see New Moon? Are you excited for another movie to come out over the holidays?
P.S. And a happy birthday to Birdzilla! Maybe Instigator will let you get that alpaca. :)
Thursday, November 19, 2009
But along with venturing into new territory with my story, I've also found that my process is morphing a little. In the past, I've used music to get me into the mood for writing a specific scene or to help me when brainstorming. However, the moment I sit down to a blank page open on my computer screen the music gets shut off. I can't concentrate.
Maybe it's because of my dance background. There's something about music that makes my muscles...move. Almost as if while the music is coming in through my ears it has to flow out through my feet and hands and head. This makes writing a little difficult. Not to mention that I find myself typing the lyrics instead of the scene that's in my head. The closest I've ever gotten to writing with music before has been listening to a fantastic creativity CD. Very low. With no lyrics.
There's something about this new project and my creative juices that seems to be triggered by music. Rock music. Heavy metal music. The Playfriends will attest to the fact that for years I've listened to Country. Not so much right now. At the moment I'm spending my time with pounding beats and heavy lyrics ringing through my ears. And LOVING it!
For some reason, the same things that bothered me just months ago no longer seem a problem when I'm writing with music in my ears. The other day I was coming home from work, completely and totally exhausted and ready to write my productivity for the day off. I switched on my rock playlist in the car and thirty minutes later when I got home I was energized and ready for the words to flow.
I'm wondering if this is a new development in my writing process or simply because the music fits the project that I'm working on. I suppose I'll find out soon enough. The cool thing is that when I get done with this book it'll have its own soundtrack...at least in my own head.
Do you listen to music when you write? How about when your read or watch TV? Do you constantly have music in the background or do you rarely listen to it? Do you have any favorite songs or artists that you think I should listen to? I'm always looking to add to my playlist.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
It’s November 18 and two weeks ago I found myself humming along with Silver Bells as I shopped for a curtain rod. Most of the stores have had Christmas merchandise since Labor Day, and some even began putting it out while the temperatures and humidity were in the nineties.
I still have leftover Halloween candy but I’m bombarded with boxes and bags of Christmas treats. Printer paper is hidden behind gift wrap. My face cleanser has disappeared in a sea of red and green gift sets of bubble baths and scented lotions. The garden shop has hidden the potting soil to make room for tinsel and trim.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. I especially love my granddaughter’s reaction to Christmas and I have an idea she’s really going to be into the whole Santa and gift thing this year. But Christmas doesn’t seem as special now as it did when I was a kid. I don’t know, but could it be that after 57 Christmases, it’s lost its glow? Or could I just be in a bad mood this year? Or maybe it’s because Christmas isn’t just a month-long season like it used to be. It seems to stretch for half a year now.
I know why merchants put out their Christmas wares so early. As a former retailer, I know that you have to compete. And Christmas is your make-it-or-break-it season. Most retailers strive to make enough profit between Black Friday and December 26 to keep them solvent til the following Christmas season.
And if you’ve ever wondered why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, it’s not because it’s the busiest shopping day in the year that puts stores in the black. Here’s the real story:
The Friday after Thanksgiving has become known in the last few decades as one of the busiest of the year for retailers, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. One of the names used for this day is Black Friday, which some say comes from the fact that it is the biggest shopping day of the year, putting stores firmly in the black. This is false, as the days closer to Christmas generate more in sales. For the true origins of the term, we have to dig back a few decades.
Laurence H. Black was one of the best floor men in town, working in the men’s department of the old Osberger’s Department Store for over thirty years. He had been with the store since its humble beginnings as a menswear store on Richmond Avenue in the late 1920s. Except for a very brief stint in the service during World War II, he remained with the store as it grew, eventually settling into its later eight-floor retail palace on North Geary Street. Black was a fixture in the store, presiding over the suits, shirts, ties and millinery in his ever-present black suit (”That’s how they remember me. Black suit, Mr. Black, see?”) with a red carnation in the lapel. In a very cutthroat industry, his was one of those rare cases in which he was respected by everyone in the city’s retail trade, regardless of store affiliation. His reputation was even cemented throughout the region, as Osberger’s expanded in the 1950s and Mr. Black would often be called upon to train sellers at the various stores.
But it was the downtown store he loved the most. He was typically one of the first there in the morning (just behind Wharton Osberger) and one of the last to leave, which is exactly as it was on November 27, 1964. Toward the end of his twelve-hour shift, as the massive brass clock overlooking the restaurant in the store’s Grande Center Court read 7:48 pm, Laurence H. Black collapsed, felled by a heart attack. Old man Osberger closed the store the next day and clerks at the city’s other retail palaces wore black in tribute.
The following year, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, all of the employees wore black suits and dresses, highlighted by a single red carnation, with a moment of silence at 7:48 pm, a tradition that carried on year after year and was picked up by many other stores in the city. But, through many consolidations and sales and employee turnover and whatnot, the reason for the tribute and the tradition itself has been lost, save for a few old-timers who still remember. The small Osberger chain was dissolved in the early 1990s and the old parent company is now the owner of a chain of movie theaters in Australia. If you trace back through approximately fifteen mergers and acquisitions you’ll find that the old Osberger stores themselves are all now Macy’s. The central Osberger’s store on North Geary was converted to office space in 2001, after sitting vacant for a number of years. They’ve kept the central court and clock, however.
by RJ White from www.thecitydesk.com
So, are you in the Christmas spirit already? Got your Christmas shopping done? Ready to behead a stuffed Santa before December’s even begun?
Just to keep this on a positive note, here’s a nice Christmas decoration I thought you’d enjoy.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Let me explain…
Not long ago, I went to a booksigning and a woman I’d never met before came up to me, introduced herself, shook my hand, and said the magic words: “I just love your books.” Before I could even say “thanks,” she made a face and shook her head. “I bet you get tired of hearing that,” she said.
Um, in a word, NO. Those five words made my day. My week. Heck, my whole month of staring at the keyboard hoping I could whip my hero and heroine into line was suddenly shining in a whole new light.
Let me tell you – I don’t think any author gets tired of hearing that.
As a reader, I expect an author to entertain me. I expect to like the book I’ve plunked down my hard-earned cash for. That’s her job. We have a business relationship: she writes the books; I devour them. But honestly, it rarely occurred to me to drop an author an email and let her know that I enjoyed it. After all, she’s probably drowning in email from folks gushing about how much they loved the book.
Maybe some authors are. I can think of several authors with forums full of rabid fans gushing about how much they loved the book. But I can’t imagine anyone ever getting tired of hearing someone loved something they created. That’s like getting tired of someone telling you how smart and beautiful your child is (just because you agree, that doesn’t mean you don’t want to hear it ~g~). Still, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d sent an email to an author letting her know how much I enjoyed her book.
The more I thought about it, the worse I felt. I thanked the server who refilled my drink at the restaurant. I thanked the toll-both operator when she handed me my change. I thanked the clerk at the grocery store who helped carry my bags to my car. Heck, I even thanked the police officer who wrote me a speeding ticket. These folks were all doing their jobs, and I thanked them for it. (Maybe I’m just too Southern…). But a book – the wonder and glory of a book that swept me away, made me laugh and cry, gave me hours of pleasure after a not-fun day – I’d let that go by without even thinking about the person who created it.
Now, before anyone thinks I’m simply fishing for compliments here or advocating the ego-stroking of authors, let me be straight about one thing: I’m a writer, yes, but I was a reader first. And I’m still a reader. I will always be a reader. But I’m a more appreciative reader now.
So I started sending emails. If I enjoyed the book, I sent the author a quick email letting her know it. Nothing long, nothing complicated, no in-depth analysis or critique. Sometimes, they were just a sentence or two long: “Dear Author, I just finished THE BOOK YOU SPENT MONTHS CREATING, and wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed it. Thank you.”
Sometimes, they wrote me back. Sometimes they didn’t. But I felt better for it, and maybe I made that author’s day with my email. Maybe my email was able to counteract that snotty email from the reader who despised the entire book because they’re vegetarian and the heroine ate a cheeseburger, and how could the author be so dense and cruel to ignore the plight of animals…
People are quick to criticize, but very slow to compliment. And since gratitude is good for the soul, I figure it’s a win-win all the way around.
So, tell us in the comment tail who you’re reading and loving. (Your comment will pop up on the author’s Google alert – if she has one – and she’ll get a little smile for knowing you were willing to tell others how much you enjoyed the book.)
To earn Karmic Extra Points, then go to the author’s website (or even her Facebook page) and tell her how much you enjoy her books.
I promise you – it will put a smile on her face.
**And I'm blogging over at Tote Bags 'n Blogs today! Come visit!
Monday, November 16, 2009
Oh, well, she's always fun to have around!
I have a secret passion, which I’m going to confess to here, even though it makes me seem very sad and extremely dull… I’m a jigsaw puzzle junkie.
There, I’ve said it, and I’ve probably lost a few billion cool points in the process — especially if you knew some of the puzzles I’ve got hooked into doing by my mum. Yup, she’s a fellow addict. In fact I blame her for my affliction as I believe it may be hereditary — all three of my sisters being afflicted with the same puzzle-junkie gene. Anyway, my mum plays a lot of golf, and she buys most of the puzzles — get the picture? Pretty damn scary, eh? Have you any idea how boring a puzzle of a golf course can be to look at for several hours at a time?
But you see I can’t stop myself. It’s a compulsion. I see all those squiggly shaped pieces lying before me and I just have to fit them together or die trying. And there’s a very specific process to be followed to do it.
First I’ll judge the colour and texture of each section of puzzle. Next I’ll group all the relevant pieces (of which there has to be at least a thousand – anything less is for wimps, folks). Then I’ll put together the easy bits (any part of the picture with writing on or people is usually a good place to start). My mum meanwhile always does all the edge bits (we do make a pretty good team actually, despite her golf issues). And then, as things start to hot up, there’s the long hours staring at individual sections, visualising in my mind what each missing piece would look like and then piddling about endlessly sticking the wrong bit in the wrong hole till you finally get one of the little bastards to fit. Of course there are some highs if you manage to pop a piece into place at a glance that your mum and/or your sisters have been agonizing over for hours. (NB I never puzzle alone, because that would make me a dotty old dear). And to finish off there’s always that huge expanse of sky (puzzle makers always stick it in there, because they’re sadists) which all looks exactly the same and drives you totally nuts.
Have I bored you into a coma yet? Excellent! So now that I’ve got you begging for mercy, I’m finally going to get to the point of this blog post. And what is the point?
Well, originally I had this fab analogy planned about how the desire to fix a puzzle is the same desire I have when I build a story. First I have to create my characters, then work out their conflict and their backstory – which is like that initial sorting exercise - and then when I start writing it all out it’s a matter of slotting everything into place. Figuring out where each emotional development, each turning point, each character revelation, each line of dialogue goes in your story. And not giving up when you get the wrong piece in the wrong hole and have to start over….And sometimes you may need some help with that from your editor or your critique partner … And …
But actually, after I thought about it, I realised that analogy was pretty lame. So this is actually just a blog post about Heidi’s sad obsession with sticking little bits of squiggly shaped cardboard together! Sorry.
So do any of you guys have sad obsessive hobbies that you want to share? I’ve outed myself, now you can too.
And to give you an added incentive to ‘fess up (and so I don’t look like the only dotty old dear here), I’ll pick a comment at random to receive a free copy of my latest book, Public Affair, Secretly Expecting, which is the second in the Brody Brothers duo (and not due out in the States until next March). It features bad boy Irish movie star Mac Brody, shy London dress shop manager Juno Delamare…. And not a puzzle in sight. Honest.
Visit Heidi at www.heidi-rice.com
Sunday, November 15, 2009
And what’s a birthday without presents? We’re giving away a prize pack of 10 Harlequin books and some goodies as our main prize. But we had so many visitors that we’ve added a few extras.
And the winners are:
In order to claim your prizes, please email Angel at angel @ writingplayground . com (no spaces) with your snail mail address, so we can mail your prize to you. Any prizes not claimed within 7 days will be regifted.
Thank you all, and I hope you will continue to party with us here on the Writing Playground.
PC Here: Helena is Donna Alward's winner from Wednesday. Email me at email@example.com to claim your book.
Friday, November 13, 2009
So much has changed since our very first blog post. Of course we shoved Problem Child out front and made her go first in her role as ceremonial canary in the mineshaft. When she didn't croak, we each took our turn. Since that time, with guest bloggers we've posted about 1300 blogs. 1300! We've posted over 150 industry interviews, articles and book recommendations, too. Who knew we had that much to say? Well, we not only had things to say, but we had people to listen, too. A huge Playground thank you to everyone who shows up on the blog and the website, comments, and makes us feel like we're doing something worthwhile. You're really special to us. We (heart) you guys.
Ack. I refuse to get misty! (::world peace, world peace::) One sure cure for the sappiness is cabana boys! Let's get this party started. It wouldn't be a Playground birthday without our favorite drink - the Teeter Totter, petit fours from our local bakery, a chocolate fountain, and of course - our crew of highly...uh, talented... and scantily clad cabana boys here to indulge your every desire. Scratch that... most desires. We're not running that kind of joint.
So, have Raoul bring you a drink, give you a back rub and let's celebrate four great years! Today, please share how long you've been hanging out with us and your favorite part of the Playground. One commenter will receive a fabulous prize featuring an assortment of books, a DVD, tea, Vera Bradley notepads, fuzzy socks and other goodies in a tote bag.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The girls have both been sick. Sweet Pea three times in the last month. In fact, she started not feeling well yesterday and is currently curled up with her blanky, pillow and some movies in the vacant office right now. I will be calling the doctor's office as soon as they open.
Last week is was Baby Girl. I lost Thursday and Friday to staying home with her. You'd think I'd have liked having a couple extra days off. Not when I have so much to do. I'm ready for my life to go back to normal!
All things considered, it could be much worse. I mean so far (knock on wood) we've managed to avoid the swine flu. They certainly might feel yucky but not enough to really scare me. I'm just tired of the constant interruptions to my schedule and my life. I had stuff planned for today that did not include a 2 hour trip to the doctor's office!! The second one in two weeks I might add.
At this rate I'm never going to get to chapter three. Sigh.
Am I being selfish? Are you dealing with illness in your life? Have you fought the swine flu?
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Today is Remembrance Day here in Canada. At 11 a.m. on November 11, World War I ended and today we remember those men and women who died in combat and who continue to serve in our military.
What has always struck me when I’ve spoken to veterans or watched programs on television – be it fictional or documentaries – is that no one is willing to accept that they are a hero. There is this insistence that it is the men and women that died that are the true heroes. And I can understand how someone would feel that way. Those people gave their lives. They will not be coming home. They have left mothers, fathers, siblings, wives, husbands, children behind. They have sacrificed in the ultimate way a person can sacrifice themselves for their country – with their lives.
And yet, I humbly assert that there is more to a hero than someone who has died on the battlefield.
When I looked up hero in the dictionary, I got this: 1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. 2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal.
Nowhere does it say one needs to die to be a hero.
Those men and women who returned home are heroes too. They are left to deal with the consequences of battle, the deaths of friends, possibly their own injuries…they bear their own scars and do it willingly. They have done, and continue to do, the jobs we turn away from and pretend don’t need doing. They put themselves on the line. If that isn’t a hero, I don’t know what is.
When I go to the cenotaph, it is not only to remember the dead, it’s to honour those still living, and those willing to put themselves in the line of fire for my freedom.
To me, those are the real heroes. Is it any wonder I enjoy writing military heroes in my Romances?
My current release is A Bride For Rocking H Ranch in Montana, Mistletoe, Marriage, out this month. My next military hero is coming up in March in the second book of the Cowboys and Confetti duet (Once Dance With The Cowboy is book 1, and out in January). In March you’ll meet Noah Laramie in Her Lone Cowboy. Noah is a man of extraordinary character who is soldier, brother, cowboy and lover. I hope my readers love him as much as I do.
Visit Donna at www.donnaalward.com
So let's talk about men in uniform today. Or cowboys. Or both :-)
One commentor will win a copy of Donna's current release.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Muscle memory is yet another cool thing your brain does – it learns to group things together so that you can do them without thinking. For example, think about how you shift gears in a car (foot off gas, clutch in, shift, release clutch, press on the gas). If you try to think about each step as you do it, you’ll stall the car out in a heartbeat. Eventually, though, you just do it without thinking – your brain does it all for you as one complete movement. It’s how athletes, dancers, and musicians have their bodies in the right positions at the right moment.
It’s how you type.
I’m forcefully reminded of this at the moment because I have a new keyboard, and IT’S DRIVING ME INSANE. It’s bad enough when I have to use someone else’s keyboard and I realize that not all keyboards are exactly the same. The difference in where the keys are may only be millimeters, but that millimeter is enough to throw me off and litter anything I type with typos. And, dog help me when I’m at the in-laws and I’m using a UK keyboard: some of the keys are in a completely different place and it totally screws me up.
Because I’m suffering from wrist problems (ergonomics is something I’m now forced to explore if I don’t want to suffer for my art), I have a new ergonomic keyboard. It’s curvy and has the split in the middle, and I’m having a really hard time learning to type on it. It’s hard enough to adjust to a new keyboard with the millimeter spacing differences, or the difference in pressure it requires to hit the space bar, but this is insane.
The main problem I’m discovering is that I don’t use the “correct” fingers to hit the keys. The B key is on the left side of the split, but (and this is news to me) I use my right index finger to type the B. That’s not working out so well for me (and since there’s a B in the middle of my name, it’s coming up a lot). Those letters in the middle of the keyboard (T, Y, G, H, B, N) never messed me up before, but that was before I discovered that my dominant right hand obviously likes to take over some of the keys that belong to the left hand. And because those keys aren’t where I expect them to be, I’m messing up all the other letters as well. ARGH!
You don’t want to know how long it’s taken me to get this far on the post or how many errors I’ve corrected already.
And the space bar is sticky, requiring me to hit it harder than I usually do. (I think that might just be a fault of this keyboard, and Staples and I will be having a conversation about that.) I’m not the happiest of campers at the moment. (And this is why I suffered through with the old, non-ergonomic keyboard until the book was done. There’s no way I would have been able to write while dealing with keyboard issues. I’m hoping I’ll adjust before it’s time to start on the new book in earnest.)
I’m downright grumpy about the whole thing.
So, is it just me? Am I the only one who gets tripped up by the millimeter of difference between keyboards or the only one who has trouble adjusting to an ergonomic split keyboard because I forgot everything I learned in Ms. Router’s 9th grade typing class? Do you type properly? Correct fingers on the proper keys, wrists properly arched?
Or is this just a typical Problem Child problem?
Tomorrow we welcome Harlequin Romance author Donna Alward to the blog!
Monday, November 09, 2009
Yep, it is that time of the year again. November is National Novel Writing Month, and some of the Playfriends are participating at various levels. Keep a watch on the sidebar to see our totals as they grow.
For myself, I’m wondering what the hell I was thinking when I signed up. I’ve been struggling at the computer for about 6 months now, the motivation to get words on the page having hightailed it into the darkness of the night. Motivation is a huge part of being a writer. We start writing because we are moved to create something outside ourselves from the voices and stories overrunning our brains. We get to the page every day because that same drive pushes us to do so. Even when our internal motivation runs low, we can still be driven by external motivators, like deadlines or requests. For myself, all of these have been singularly lacking in strength recently. I’m not sure if it is burnout or what, but the emptiness is still there.
Now, that is not to say that I haven’t been writing. That’s one of the wonderful things about being part of the romance writing community, is that opportunities for encouragement and motivation abound. Even without being published, there are contest deadlines, accountability groups, critique partners, and such. I joined a Novel Push Initiative challenge in October with my sister, where the goal was to write 250 words per day. Now, compared to the 2000 per day I must write for NaNo, that doesn’t seem like much. But it helped me return to some form of enthusiasm for my stories that had been lacking.
And the more time I spend with them, the more I remember why I wanted to do this. NaNo is an opportunity to completely immerse yourself in your story. To not come up for breath before diving into the next scene. You basically live in a tiny, one bedroom apartment with your characters for a month, listening to the story as it unfolds. It is aggravating, tiring, stressful… and inspirational. I’ll be completely sick of these people by December 1st, but I’ll know them inside out and be grateful for the journey.
Until I collapse from exhaustion. :)
Are any of you NaNo-ing? Have you ever had a project that both drained and uplifted you?
Join us on Wednesday, Nov. 11, for guest author Donna Alward.
And don't miss the Playground's 4th Birthday Extravaganza on Friday the 13th! There will be a big prize given out by the cabana boys!!!
Winners of the Not So Scary Halloween Contest Grand Prize winner are Chris Jones of Texas. Runner up prize goes to Laura McIntyre of Oregon. Tune in January 1st for our next contest in 2010.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
It's a special month on the Playground because November is our birthday month! Can you believe we're four years old? We're so appreciative to everyone who's making this journey with us (and making it so much fun)! To celebrate, we'll be hosting a blog party on Friday, November 13th and we hope to see you there. As always, there are presents for our Honorary Playfriends, so be sure to come by for a chance to win.
But if that's not enough, we do have other things to keep you occupied this month.
Samhain author Vivi Andrews joins us in the Sandbox to talk about paranormals and staying warm in the winter: www.writingplayground.com/sandbox.html
As we get closer to the end of 2009, Diane O'Brien Kelly is back with another tax tips article - this time about all that glamorous travel - in School: www.writingplayground.com/school.html#tax2
Speaking of travel, we recommend Nicola Marsh's TRIP WITH THE TYCOON as well. Just don't read while hungry. : www.writingplayground.com/school.html#tycoon
In addition to our birthday party, we have some great guest bloggers lined up for November. Historical author Annie Burrows visits on 11/3; Romance author Donna Alward takes over on 11/11; Modern Heat author Heidi Rice comes back again on 11/16, and our chapter-sister Debra Webb joins us on 11/30 for the start of Guest Blogger Week.
Angel will be off guest blogging on the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood on 11/23(www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com) and the Problem Child will be at Tote Bags and Blogs on 11/17 (http://authorsoundrelations.blogspot.com/). We hope you'll come by and say hi there as well.
We also have to announce our winners of the Not So Scary Halloween Contest! Grand prize goes to Chris Jones of Texas and the runner up prize goes to Laura McIntyre of Oregon. Congratulations! (And as a bonus, the prizes have already been shipped - Smarty Pants is ahead of the game for once!)
We hope you enjoy the month of November on the Playground as much as we will.
Friday, November 06, 2009
Historicals are great and the recent upsurge in popularity means there are tons of new ones coming out each month. I'm going to share a couple with you to enjoy. This month...
Before The Scandal by Suzanne Enoch
It Was a Scandal Waiting to Happen . . .
Don't Bargain With The Devil by Sabrina Jeffries
"New York Times" bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries delights and entertains with this novel of Regency manners and roguish passions -- fifth in her dazzling School for Heiresses series.
The future of Charlotte Harris's fi nishing school is in jeopardy when a charming Spaniard -- world-famous magician Diego Montalvo -- arrives to turn the bordering estate into a scandalous pleasure garden. Valiantly ignoring his wicked flirtations, outspoken Lucinda Seton vows to derail his plans and save the school, unaware that Diego's true mission is to spirit the long-lost heiress away to Spain for a handsome reward But before long Diego's heart is playing tricks on him, and Lucy is falling under the illusionist's spell. How can the Master of Mystery go through with his devilish scheme when all he wants is to make the lovely heiress his own?
The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell by Samantha James
A cruel twist of fate changed Simon Blackwell's life irreparably. A man of intense passions, he resolved to deny his emotions and desires forever, taking refuge in the wilds of the moorlands and shutting himself off from the world. But on one extraordinary night, on a rare trip to London, the unthinkable occurs. An intoxicatingly beautiful stranger stirs the sensuous hunger he has sworn to resist. Simon Blackwell believed that no woman could tempt him.
"But Simon dares not love again--for fragile love can be lost in an instant. And now Annabel must find a way to open his heart to the most glorious risk of all . . ."
To enter, comment today using the phrase - "I want to be taken back in time."
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Brothers and Sisters, Survivor, Top Model...none of these is holding my interest these days. I honestly couldn't care less if Izzy or George survived. How sick am I? Lately, I've found myself watching weird shows on The Discovery Channel, National Geographic and The Food Network rather than Prime Time Television. Ghost Hunters anyone? But even then it's only because I was flipping and thought, "Meh. Why not?"
And don't get me started on The Jay Leno Show. In my opinion, that is a waste of an hour. I've always been a fan of Jay's. I much prefer him to Letterman (however I prefer Letterman to Conan which is saying a lot). What really bothers me about the new show though is that it's taking time from some potentially good programming. I wonder if maybe the lack of 5 hour long shows each week is contributing to the overall lack of good choices.
There were a couple new shows this season that I wanted to like - Three Rivers because I love Alex O'Laughlin and hated what they did to him on Moonlight, Mercy although it looked really intense, Cougar Town because I was a huge Friends fan and Accidentally on Purpose because I liked the premise. Yeah. None of them excites me.
I'm wondering if it's me. If I'm just not in the mood these days to give a new show a chance. Am I overly critical? Are there fantastic shows out there that I'm missing? Or should I spend those hours on my elliptical instead of bemoaning my lack of television time? What do you think?
P.S. And for those of you that were sure I'd be talking about the New Moon release set for later this month...here's the trailer for you to watch. :-)
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Huntsville, Alabama is located in the north central part of the state, less than twenty miles from the Tennessee state line. It’s the fourth largest city in Alabama with a 2008 population of roughly 177,000. The metropolitan area, which includes surrounding towns, has a population of over half a million.
The town was settled in 1805 by John Hunt. Hence the name Huntsville, though it didn’t get that name until 1812. Originally known as Twickenham, it was the first incorporated town in Alabama in 1811. It grew quickly because of the cotton and railroad industries, and cotton still plays a part in this area’s economy.
In 1819, a constitutional convention was held in Huntsville and the town became the capital of the new state of Alabama. Then on April 11, 1862, the city was occupied by Union troops during the War of Northern Aggression. After the war, the area became a center for cotton mills. Each mill had its own housing, school, church, stores and other supportive businesses. One of the mill areas, Merrimack, was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the old mill offices were remodeled into a performing arts center.
The depression years saw a decline in Huntsville’s industry, but the city became known as the Watercress Capital of the World. There are still a few spots around where the cress still grows.
By 1940, Huntsville was a sleepy little town with less than 15,000 inhabitants. Then with the US’s involvement in World War II, the town was chosen as the site for a chemical and munitions manufacturing plant. The Huntsville Arsenal closed after the war, but by that time, Wernher von Braun and his German rocket science team had been brought to the US and they settled in Huntsville to begin developing the United States’ space program.
Marshall Space Flight Center was dedicated on September 8, 1960 by then President Dwight Eisenhower and we began the space race to the moon and became known as Rocket City USA. Huntsville is still heavily tied to the space program as well as the US Missile Defense Command. It also is home to the second largest research park in the world.
In terms of geography, Huntsville is located in the Tennessee River valley. Several plateaus and large hills, which we residents call mountains, surround the city. The area is also heavily dotted with caves in the limestone bedrock, and we have the occasional sinkhole or two. We are also the headquarters for the National Speleological Society.
The climate is humid subtropical, characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild winters. Some years, we have outbreaks of tornadic activity in spring and fall, though tornadoes can occur during any month as evidenced by the November 1989 tornado that killed 21 and injured nearly 500 people. Snowfall is rare but occasionally Mother Nature will goof like she did on January 1, 1963 when she dumped 17 inches of snow on the city in 24 hours. The last significant snowfall was 13 years ago, and forecasters say we’re overdue. Because snow is so rare, the area has no real road equipment to deal with it, and the standing joke is that if you drop a tray of ice cubes on your kitchen floor, the city will most likely close the schools for the day.
Huntsville is also an official US Customs port of entry, which is why you can go into the McDonald’s near Huntsville International Airport and find members of the US Border Patrol. They are NOT guarding the border between Alabama and Mississippi; rather they are looking at the numerous air shipments that arrive from all over the world.
The city has three historic districts, numerous museums and parks, a large yearly music festival, a yearly arts festival in the park and an annual science fiction convention (of course we do because we’re The Rocket City). Performing arts abound, and the downtown area is highlighted by the Von Braun Center, which opened in 1975 and includes an arena where Elvis performed on May 31, 1975 and where Goldie Hawn’s son plays hockey for the local university. The VBC also plays host to the Heart of Dixie Romance Readers’ Luncheon each May.
Does Huntsville have any notable natives? Sure! There’s Tallulah Bankhead, the actress; Bo Bice, American Idol runner-up; Albert Russel Erskine, chairman of the Studebaker Corporation; the country music group Heartland; John Hendricks, founder and chairman of the Discovery Channel; Grammy-winning singer Brian McKnight; numerous MLB and NFL athletes as well a several Olympic medal winners; and Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia.
I like to say it’s one of the best kept secrets in the country. It’s international in flavor because of the high-tech industries and the universities yet still retains a small-town feel. Our schools are good and the cost of living is low compared to other areas of this size.
And if you’re ever in the area, y’all give us a holler and we’ll treat you to biscuits and grits, tea so sweet it will make your teeth hurt, and take you to eat BBQ at Angel’s husband’s restaurant.
Where do YOU live and what's it famous for?
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Hi! I’m Annie Burrows, and I’ve never blogged on this site before. Just to introduce myself, I write Historicals for Harlequin, mainly set in the Regency era. And, for “Tasteful Tuesday”, I’m going to be talking about ballroom dancing, in particular, the waltz.
Fans of shows like “Strictly Come Dancing” or the US equivalent, “Dancing with the Stars” will not need to be told that the waltz is danced in 3 / 4 time with a strong accent on the first beat, and a basic pattern of step-step-close. The lady performing the waltz in these kind of shows usually wears something long and floaty that swirls as she twirls, and the man quite often adopts white tie and tails. It looks so tasteful, and romantic, doesn’t it, when you see couples such as Jade and Ian waltzing round the set of Strictly Come Dancing? And I have often set key scenes between my heroes and heroines during balls, describing the romance which sparks as they waltz in each others arms.
And yet, at the back of my mind, I always wondered how it could be possible to decide on a potential spouse during the course of one or two waltzes. And totally dismissed the old-fashioned notion that there was anything the least bit indecent about the waltz. Because, as I’m sure many of you know, at the time most of my stories are set, many people thought it was quite a shocking dance!
"We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last (reads an article from the Times of 1816)... it is quite sufficient to cast one's eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now…we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion."
What? Voluptuous intertwining of limbs? A fatal contagion? Is that the same dance we’re talking about? Surely not!
Yet another group of people who strenuously opposed the introduction of waltzing to polite society were, strangely enough, dancing masters. They claimed that the basic steps were so simple, they could be learned in a relatively short time. Which might have posed a threat to their profession.
Simple! Hah! It might be simple for some people. Those who know their left foot from their right, for instance. But once I began to take ballroom dance lessons myself, I soon learned that doing the waltz is a vastly different experience from watching the waltz. For a start, you would not believe how much all that rising and falling makes your calf muscles ache. And then, once you master that basic step, there are reverse turns, spin turns, contra checks and hovers. Not to mention hesitations, and reverse spin turns.
But then, all of a sudden, something clicks, and…you’re dancing! And – wow! I could not believe how sexy it is, having my partner twirling me round, whilst holding me almost as closely as he would if he was just about to kiss me. It is, quite simply, one of the most erotic experiences you can have in a public place with all your clothes on! (The flip side is that there is no easy way to overcome the shock of being held, face on, by a man who is a virtual stranger to you. When he plants his feet between your legs, to push you into a reverse turn…yeeurgh!)
Ok, you get the picture. It is a very intimate experience, waltzing. Wasn’t it Oscar Wilde who described ballroom dancing as a vertical expression of a horizontal desire? How right he was! Now that I’ve done some waltzing myself, I can completely understand why it is that so many of the celebrities involved in “Strictly” embark on affaires with their dancing teachers. And why a girl could decide, during the course of one waltz, if she could marry her partner. Or not.
So, if you want to inject some romance back into your relationship, I can thoroughly recommend going along to your nearest dance school, and booking a course of lessons.
There is absolutely no guarantee you are going to end up looking like an Alesha Dixon, or a Tom Chambers (recent winners of Strictly…) My partner and I certainly don’t have “The Look”. For one thing, we are getting on a bit. And one of us (I won’t specify which) might possibly have two left feet. As one teacher remarked to my husband, whilst learning the tango, (which is supposed to be one of the sexiest dances) “You look about as romantic as if you’re pushing a trolley round a supermarket!”
But we are not going to give up our lessons. Spending the evening in each other’s arms, giggling as we blunder into the furniture, yelping as we tread on each other’s toes, and occasionally, gloriously, experiencing the triumph of mastering a complicated step, is always an utter delight.
And we can’t wait to get home!
Visit Annie at www.annie-burrows.co.uk. Annie's November book, Devilish Lord, Mysterious Miss, is available now. Click below to read the first chapter!
Monday, November 02, 2009
He’d always been a fan of Fillion from back in the Firefly days, when he played Joss Whedon’s version of a Space Cowboy:
I, on the other hand, appreciate him for other reasons. ;) I'm a sucker for bulging biceps...
He’s a superb actor with a great sense of timing, and reminds me of my hubby with his innuendo filled one liners.
But my favorite parts of the show are seeing him staring broodingly at the computer screen while he’s typing away. That’s probably the least interesting to other people, but I find a touch of communion with the character there, because I understand what that moment feels like.
So Nathan Fillion gets my vote this month because he’s relatable, and hunky!!!
This week is Theme Week! Stay tuned.
Tomorrow, welcome guest author Annie Burrows.