Saturday, January 30, 2010

Caturday Snow

Wed: No snow on the weekend.
Thurs: Possible flurries on the weekend.
Fri: A dusting of snow on the weekend.

Make weekend plans.

Sat: Winter weather advisory. Snow from 10 Am Saturday until 3 AM Sunday.

Ooooops!

Wherever you are, have a warm, safe weekend.

anny

Friday, January 29, 2010

Gone for the weekend...


Last night (and for the rest of the weekend) things were very quiet at my house. My daughter is in Arizona for a work thingy. I received word late last night that she arrived safely. My son-in-law took the girls to New York for a weekend visit. He called around eleven to say they'd finally arrived after sitting still for two solid hours because of an accident, which turned a five hour trip into a seven hour trip.

After thirty-nine years with the same company, the house hunk is retiring today. He's not real sure about this whole retirement deal. I figure he'll settle down after a few days. Maybe the guys will join a bowling league or go fishing or play pool. I know they've been talking about going to the gym.

But for today (at least part of today) it will be absolutely quiet at my house. There will be those few final precious moments of solitude before my life changes again. I'll drink my coffee. Write a couple e-mails. Read a few blogs and ponder on the twists and turns in my life. And then the hunk will come home and we'll go find a steak to celebrate the change in his life.

Life is constant change. Those who complain that nothing ever changes just aren't observant. There's always something new going on. And part of living is embracing change. So I'm off to give life a hug.

anny

Thursday, January 28, 2010

And the winner is...!


Yesterday I wrote about the difficulties in restoring self confidence once it's lost. One of the downward spirals authors often fight is the depressing conviction that no one will like their book.

And then...something like this award comes along. Romance Book Scene.com reviews several thousand books a year. At the end of the year they choose three in a variety of categories as their favorites for the year. There's no voting, no poll. Just a list posted of their Best of the Best.

In the Fantasy Romance category, they awarded Love Never-Ending a First Place. I was overwhelmed this morning when one of my critique partners e-mailed me the link and asked if I'd seen the news. No, I hadn't seen the news. I went over to the site immediately, blown away that they liked my book so much.

Does that surprise you? We writers are probably the least confident, shyest group on earth. Every time we write something and send it out into the world, its like standing on the corner in our underwear--and trust me the reality of that image is not pretty. Then we wait for the word. What do our friends, editors, reviewers, critique partners think of our work?

I can't describe how devastating the blow is when a reviewer hates our work. My personal goal is to learn something from a bad review. So I earnestly strive to read that review with a discerning eye, working to match the criticism with what I know of my novel. But that doesn't mean it doesn't sting. I won't lie. It stings like fire. And because the review system is public, it is also humiliating.

That is the chance we writers take.

On the other hand, when we receive an accolade like this one above-- it makes us feel ten feet tall. In the strange way the world works, I've also found that I often receive an award when I am feeling my lowest. It's almost as though the reviewer angels know I desperately need affirmation.

Love Never-Ending is one of my personal favorites. It's also my longest book. If you would like to find out more about Love Never-Ending, just click on the book cover at the top of the post. And if you would like to see the complete list of the winning books, then click on the little gold seal next to the book cover! I hope you'll check out both sites!

Thank you, Roni and Romance Book Scene!

anny

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Nature of Friendship

Friendship. People toss that word around as though it was a simple concept. But friends are precious gifts we don't always appreciate until they're there holding us up when we falter.

I'm pretty even tempered. I rarely run off the rails. Don't usually get depressed or ticked off or irritated. But something happened to me last summer that robbed me of my self confidence. It leveled me in such a way that I spent months second guessing every word I've written.

There are days when every writer reads what they've written and thinks, "What was I thinking?" Those days are normal in the life of a writer when they naturally occur sporadically. But when they hit day after day after day they paralyze the writing process so that it crawls and eventually ceases altogether.

It is a tribute to my friends that this didn't happen to me. Every time I seemed to falter, they grabbed me by the suspenders and jerked me back on my feet. They dusted me down. They patted me on the shoulder. They yelled and cajoled and commiserated until I was back on an even keel.

Professional insecurity is a difficult thing to live with. Because writing is such a solitary calling, it's next to impossible to receive the positive feedback we so desperately need--unless our friends deliver it. They're the ones who know the stages we're struggling with. They're the ones who grasp the significance of too many days spent on busy work and not enough days spent writing.

They're the ones you trust enough to hand them your manuscript, knowing, KNOWING they'll tell you if it sucks hairy eyeballs. And when they tell you that, they'll also tell you exactly why.

Yesterday I had a meltdown. Not one related to my private life, but one that centered around my professional capabilities. Oh, woe is me. I'll never be successful. I'll never sell another book. Yada, yada, yada.

Heh. That's when every encouraging word I've ever uttered in the last three years was flung back at me full force. Using my REAL name. That's playing dirty. My private life is separate from my professional life. So in this case they were letting me know there was no place to hide. No creeping away to suck my thumb in the closet. Sigh.

It's good to have friends, isn't it?

They saved my life. Someday, I'll return the favor. That's the way friendship works.

anny

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Losing in Style

There are losers...and then there are LOSERS. Which are you? Do you lose in style, going the extra mile?

I have a theory. I believe that winning and losing is based on the final outcome, how we face it. Some losers show so much grace and panache that you just can't envision them as losers. And some winners are so ungracious and its-all-about-me that you won't ever see them as a winner.

Losing--or winning--is about how you act on the stage of life. Recently read of a young woman who won an award at one of the award shows. As she walked on the stage someone accidentally stepped on her train. From the reports, she whined and carried on as though something life shattering had happened. As more than one person commented, the show she put on at her acceptance speech forever changed their perception of her--and not for the good.

In the triumphs and defeats of life, shouldn't we put our best foot forward?

anny

Monday, January 25, 2010

I've read that one...

So I recently discovered that one of my favorite authors writes under a different pen name. Picture me excited! Wow, more books!

Imagine my disappointment when I found them unavailable. I'd read an excerpt from one of them and meant to come back at paycheck time to buy the book. Like so many things in life, I forgot. Now that book isn't available on any site as far as I can tell.

Sigh. So this brings up something I've been meaning to talk about. I know of many authors who write under multiple names. They don't share that information with anyone else. Now once I find an author I like, I tend to track down everything they've written under all the other names they've used. However, if I don't know those other names, then I'm not likely to try books written by new-to-me authors. Money is too short.

There are numerous reasons to write under multiple names. Maybe you have a new name for each genre you write. Maybe the heat level is different for the different pen names. At one time (probably before most of my readers were reading) each publisher required a new pen name. That's fine. Just share that information with your readers! Otherwise, you'll miss out on sales.

This particular author is one I'll follow, hoping those books are eventually released. But hey! Life is short and my memory is shorter so the time may come when I just don't remember about this author. Too bad. I could really use a good book about now.

anny

Friday, January 22, 2010

Interspecies Dating

I love interspecies dating in romance. The motto seems to be "Make a way." Cat, dog, elephant, three-toed sloth...there's room for all of them. Haven't seen a spider romance, but I once wrote one for Timothy Tick. Heck, I even wrote one for a couple potatoes.

The thing about fiction is you can have almost anything you want. In an alien environment, the you set up the parameters and then you follow the rules. The only sin you as the author can commit is to change the rules mid-story.

So if you have a shapeshifting frog falling in love with a shapeshifting elephant, it's all good as long as your parameters allow it. The important part is setting up the parameters before diving into the story.

I have frequently admitted that I'm mostly a panster when it comes to writing. And that's true. However, I don't leap on that rollercoaster until my world is all in place and the parameters have been set.

Usually, I have a map with all the information about the planet, the basic description of the characters, and a rough idea of what direction the story will take. THEN I leap on for the ride of my life. And part of that story inevitably is the romance portion.

Ah, the possibilities. They're unlimited. They're wondrous. They're exciting. Below is a tidbit of a story I'm still kicking around. I just don't know where I want to go with it. But you're free to make suggestions. I'll post the beginning. And we'll make it a sort of choose your adventure except you get to suggest the next bit in the story. So here it is:

Things that go bump in the night don’t exist. At least that’s what Rainbow told herself as she pulled on a jacket for her nightly walk. Odd things had been happening lately, but surely there was a reasonable explanation. It was raining and the wind was howling. So what? That had nothing to do with whether or not she was going to give in to her inner urge to be a couch potato? A bet was a bet. No way was her best friend Margo Henry going to win the challenge. Just because Rainbow hadn’t thought quickly enough to insert a stipulation about bad weather—well, too bad. Fifty bucks was fifty bucks. She was so gonna dance in the parking lot when Margo paid up.

Her pedometer was firmly clipped to her jeans with the comfortable elastic waistband. She checked her pockets, making sure she had her keys and her wimpy little cell phone in her right hand pocket. In her left was her flattened roll of duct tape and her Swiss Army Handyman knife with fifteen tools. Oh, Margo made fun of her, calling her McGyverette, but she never went out without her trusty duct tape and Swiss Army knife. Who knew when she would have an emergency and need them? At the last minute she grabbed a tissue packet and stuffed it in the pocket with the phone and keys. She hated it when her nose started to run while she was walking.

All right. Rubber garden clogs? Check. Rain slicker complete with hood? Check. Umbrella? Rainbow looked at the empty hook where the umbrella was supposed to be hanging. Oh, yeah. It was drying in the bathroom. She plodded into the bathroom, closed the still damp umbrella and plodded back out to the front door. Umbrella…check. One of these days—when Margo paid up on the fifty bucks—she was gonna get herself one of those teeny little gizmos that played music. Until then, she’d just have to hum to herself while she walked.

She locked the door, closed it with a slam and hobbled down the stairs. Okay, so her knees weren’t in such good shape and Margo had shamed her into this stupid walk every day. She was thirty-eight years old! So what? She was walking!

When she opened the lobby door to the full fury of the storm, she quailed for a moment, just a moment and considered going back upstairs. But fifty bucks was fifty bucks and she needed the money so she opened the umbrella with a snap and sailed out into the pounding rain.

Six laps around the parking lot should do it. According to her pedometer that was exactly one mile. In the rain, one mile was her limit. Geez, why did it feel so spooky? Then she noticed that half the parking lot lights were burned out. Swell. Just swell. No wonder it was so gloomy.

Tramping along the edge of the parked cars, splashing through the puddles on her fifth circuit, she didn’t pay any attention when another of the lights died a slow death. She was busy thinking about early retirement. Her company was really pushing the older workers to retire or quit so they could hire the young ones for minimum wage. Rainbow snorted. As if! She might have the stray gray hair or two, but she could still work with the best of them! She had two weeks of vacation starting on Monday. She was willing to bet no one would do her job while she was gone. Probably the desk would be piled higher than Mt. Everest when she went back in two weeks. Hah! Maybe her nincompoop of a boss would notice that she actually worked—unlike that prima bimbo, Boopsie. What the hell kind of name was that, anyway?

As she was walking past one of the lights it went out with an audible pop. She tilted the umbrella back and took another look around the lot. Only one light was still shining.

Okay. That was just not right. Enough walking already. Margo never specified how long she had to walk. Tonight five laps were going to be more than enough. As she approached the sidewalk leading to her door, the last light went out with a ping. She stumbled to a stop in the sudden darkness.

There was something out in the storm. Something…that didn’t belong there. Something wicked waited in the shadows.

Rainbow stood shivering in the blowing rain. The umbrella really did very little to keep the mist away so she decided that it would be far more useful as a weapon. With a snap, she collapsed the umbrella and clutched the wet folds in her hand. As much as she wanted to run for the door, she had a very strong notion that she needed to stay away from the parked cars. Slowly, step by step, she backed up moving back out into the open lot.

Abruptly, the rain fell harder, drumming on the cars, drowning out all the other night sounds. She pushed her hood away from her face, listening intently to catch the smallest out-of-place sound. When it came, it was too late for her to wield her umbrella. The huge dark form whooshed out from between two vans, landing on her back like a chunk of concrete.

She fell to the ground flailing and beating at the thing with her umbrella. It growled and hissed striking terror in her heart. She tried to scream but her throat closed up in fright. Then she realized that it wasn’t terror, but something squeezing her throat with power and determination. Her frantic struggles grew more frenzied when hot searing pain ripped her shoulder.

A red tide glazed her vision. In one tiny corner of her mind a little voice noted, This was what it meant to see red. She had never realized that a person could really see red. And then with a terrible roar, she leaped to her feet, flinging her attacker to the wet black top with a dull crunch.

Puffs of smoke curled in the rain. Arms akimbo, she stared down at the limp black heap on the ground and opened her mouth to curse it out for terrifying her. To her shock, a stream of flame flew from her mouth to the pitiful thing at her feet. In a flash, it burned to ash.
The street lights all around the parking lot blinked back on. Ignoring the strange events, Rainbow bent to pick up her broken umbrella and that’s when she saw the enormous scaly feet. Her red rubber garden clogs were perched rakishly on the biggest toes.

She shook her head irritably. The yellow slicker hood slid down over one eye. It was pulling on her ear, so she shoved it back out of the way with one curved claw and then bent her head to contemplate the puzzle of red garden clogs on those huge toes. It occurred to her, just in passing that they might be her toes, but her mind slid right past that and settled on the next thing that caught her attention.

The remnants of her jeans and cotton panties were wrapped around a pair of scaly ankles. In the weird light from the street lamps those ankles looked purple. Or maybe maroon. Odd. Very odd.

From the corner of her eye, she noticed something that resembled a snake with a rag mop on its head and it seemed to be swishing to and fro like an agitated windshield wiper. There was something very strange going on. She just couldn’t quite put her finger on what the problem was.

Then the tiger and the alien showed up.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bouncing Boobs, Beltway Ballet

I rarely go more than five or six miles away from home. Yet in the last five days, I've been on the Baltimore Beltway three times. Driving on the Beltway is similar to watching a ballet zoom by at seventy miles an hour. Some cars swoop gracefully from lane to lane with apparent ease. Others sort of stutter dance uncertainly, hedging their bets until the last moment. And of course there are the ones I call the anchor cars. They're the ones that find a lane and stick to it through thick, thin, fast and slow until it's time to exit.

Though I'm pretty much an anchor car type driver, I rarely have to step on the brake because I like to be observant enough to notice that the cars up ahead are slowing down. And therefore, I am really annoyed by drivers that spend their entire time on the Beltway pumping their brakes. That's one of my all time pet peeves. If you're gonna stop, then darn it, stop. Otherwise drive! If you're constantly having to slow down, it's probably because you're too close! And therefore you're driving too fast!

Yeah, don't get me started...

Anyway, I suppose you want to know about the bouncing boobs part. See, I wear a sports bra. I'm, um, in need of some hydraulic lift and support. And sports bras are supposed to keep you in place, so to speak. Note that word supposed to.

So we're barreling down the Beltway with the boobs bouncing merrily along as though I was jumping on a trampoline. Boomdity, boomdity, boom. And I'm thinking if this is the way I bounce around while driving down the road, what happens when I go for a walk?

I mean, for real--isn't this what these flipping snug sports bras are for? 'Cause truthfully my main goal in life is not to spend time having my boobs squashed flat. Just sayin'... Anyone else had this happen? What's up with that?

Anyway, that's my bit for today. Hope y'all have a good one!

anny

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Apocalypse Then

Apocalyptic movies and stories aren't new. The first movie I saw was Mad Max. And in the ensuing years, they haven't changed a lot. The vision remains much the same through the different versions both in books and movies.

In embarking on my own version I've inevitably hit a few snags. How bad are things? Really. For instance, in several movies I noticed that such things as electricity and water seemed to work. So...who was running the shop if those services were still available? I mean, in one movie, there were supposed to be no humans left. So how was this working?

The ugly truth is humans are necessary on a fundamental level to run things. Computers can do a lot of things, but when resources run out, it takes a human to arrange a resupply. Much of our electricity is generated using a variety of coal, gas, wind, solar collectors... and eventually, something somewhere runs out or breaks down. Humans must be available to fix whatever needs to be fixed.

So in the apocalyptic movies and books, it always startles me when the characters have electricity, phone service, mail delivery, internet service, television, water not to mention fresh milk and orange juice and other oddities.

A true apocalypse would look more like the chaos in Haiti--with no one ever arriving to help. Lots of people would die. There would be no resources except the most primitive. And those resources would belong to the most powerful/most ruthless of the survivors. Whatever it would be--it wouldn't be pretty or poetic. Most men would likely have beards because hey! No razor blades. No coffee. No sanitary products. No disposable diapers. No toilet paper. For that matter, maybe no toilets.

The creation of a post apocalyptic world requires thought, thought about the most trivial things we take for granted. No gasoline produced=no vehicles running. No vehicles running=none of the most basic items except for those things locally produced. However if that production requires fuel=no production.

In a discussion of these points a woman I was talking to said, "Well, I'll just sew our clothes."

"Interesting," I replied. "I never knew you were into growing cotton (or wool), carding it, spinning it, weaving it so you could make clothing."

"Of course I wouldn't do that. I'd buy the fabric at the store!"

"What store? There are no trucks to bring the fabric from the fabric mills. And certainly no imports."

Hmmmm. Maybe I'll just keep those containers of fabric and yarn in the closet. If all else fails, I'll have clothes.

anny

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Long Range Planning...

Today the hunk and I went to see a Financial Planner. The hunk's employer (in their usual fashion) offered a retirement incentive plan with a long lead time to consider it--30 days. So on the 22nd of this month he must notify his company if he plans to take the retirement package. And if his application is accepted, his last day will be the 29th.

Of necessity, we needed to figure out whether we could actually live on his pension plan. It was an interesting experience. For several years we've lived a cash only existence. And we have NO debts. The planner wasn't quite sure what to make of us. It took him a while to move past that.

We spent pretty much most of our marriage in debt. When we finally had an opportunity to change that, we very deliberately paid everything off with the view that we wanted to be debt free when we reached retirement age.

Now, we have approximately two weeks to pull our stuff together, file whatever paperwork we need to file, and get ready to leap out into the unknown territory know as retirement.

Friends ask me what the hunk is going to do after he retires. The answer is? I have nooooo idea. I plan to get up every morning and lock myself in my office.

In our other planning and speculations, we never really thought about what the hunk would do when he no longer had to work. After thirty-nine years on the job, it's pretty ingrained for him to "get up and go". Computer games and surfing the internet can only take up so much time.

So in the next couple weeks we'll also be researching things. There are volunteer possibilities. We have a senior citizen center not very far away with lots of activities. He could go for a walk. He could go to the gym. It's interesting that we don't plan that part of our lives as meticulously as we plan our finances.

What about you? What will you do when you retire?

anny

Monday, January 18, 2010

Fine Art of Procrastination

I was going to organize my receipts for tax-time. No, they're not done.

I was going to organize my royalty statements and make sure they were all entered on the computer spreadsheet. No, they're not done.

I was going to update my series bibles so I'd know what the possibilities are for new stories. No, they're not done.

I was going to update my list of non-words so I'd have something to choose from when I need a new "word" the next time I write a book. You guessed it, no, it's not done.

It isn't that I've been wasting time. I write between eight and ten hours every day. I've been working hard to finish a book--so hard that I felt guilty taking time to go grocery shopping or stopping to eat lunch.

So now I find that some things must be done, whether or not I want to stop long enough to do them. The thing about procrastination is it comes back to bite you in the butt--usually at the most inconvenient time.

What do you procrastinate about? Or are you one of those really organized people who have everything done way ahead of time?

anny

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

Shallow Sallies

In light of the terrible tragedy in Haiti, I've decide to postpone the rest of my posts regarding the planning of an alien culture until next Thursday. All those who commented on the various blogs, including Facebook and MySpace will be entered in the contest. I appreciate your input and I'll announce the winner a week from tomorrow.

In the meantime, I ponder a disturbing trend that seems on the increase. As I wander from blog to blog on my list that I read, I confront more and more blogs with shallower subjects. That doesn't bother me. What bothers me is the evidence that the "lowest common denominator" attracts the most attention.

Blogs about popular television shows, coffee brands, sexy men, boot brands and whether or not blonds have more fun puzzle me. What's the point? Why are fifty commenters compelled to write about whether or not they prefer chocolate or coffee?

There are other blogs out there. Yes, there are. They deal with more serious issues such as human rights or the poor or the state of the world. And two or three readers comment. Sometimes. But no dialogue seems to continue. It it because we feel helpless to do anything about those issues? Or do we truly not care?

I'm old enough to recall when the environmental issues such as recycling first gained recognition. There were those few who immediately committed to making a difference in there personal lives. But the vast majority of people initially thought they were nuts. There were comments like, "nothing I do will make a difference, anyway". Now, many years later, we know that wasn't necessarily true. Every person can make a difference.

So what about other global issues? Are we afraid to speak out? Or do we really care more about how many women Tiger slept with? Is that really who we are? I hope not.

anny

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bless the Children...

Time out to discuss something serious. A bit south of here, thousands of people are suffering in the aftermath of a series of earthquakes. When you talk to people they say they feel bad, they wish they could do something to help.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/cb_haiti_earthquake
Well if you're one of those people, I have good news for you. You CAN help. It's really simple. You can do it on-line. Just log on to the Red Cross site and donate.

Former President Clinton said tonight that as little as five dollars is just as important as the huge donations. There are doctors working without such supplies as aspirin, gauze, tape, just the basic supplies. Don't make excuses. Just do it.

anny

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Alien Flora and Fauna

While your hero and heroine are naturally the most important creations you'll devise, they aren't likely to be the only flora and fauna on your new planet.

Animals in particular serve several purposes. Many cultures have pets. Almost all humans consume some form of animal, whether it's milk, cheese, meat, or even all the varieties of fish and seafood. And of course vegetation is good for shelter, food, clothing, possibly even transportation.

But what type of flora and fauna will you create? Part of your decision goes back to the general environment. If it's a desert planet, then there will be less flora and your fauna must necessarily be adapted to the desert environment. On the other hand, if it's a rain forest, you'll likely have a much greater variety of possibilities.

Animal creation can be a fascinating process. Imagine--you even have the honor of naming your creation. In the Mystic Valley books, I have an entire cast of animals ranging from the grimahrs, hoppers, peekies, and rowans to wolvalas. Grimahrs are very large wild catlike carnivores that have various combinations of blue-green, blue-purple or green-purple stripes. Rowans are horse-cow type of animals used for meat, milk, dairy. They produce great quantities of manure used by farmers. That last not so interesting fact actually is important in the valley as that manure is a barter item between the Rowan farmers and the grain farmers.

The flora in Mystic Valley ranges from quotania bushes (useful for everything from scent to jelly) to the wachaz thickets (useful for medicinal teas). There are mahlzal trees with black iron hard wood used in the giant looms and cucazhas that resemble cucumber or zucchini squash. Variety is everything...

Some people ask me how I keep track. That's simple. I keep a running glossary. That glossary begins on day one and is an ever evolving list that is open to additions all the way to the end of the book--or even through the next two or three books if I end up writing a series.

What about you? How do you envision your alien planet? Is it green with thousands of wonderful plants and animals? Or is it a desert with some really strange adaptive flora and fauna?

anny

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Alien Culture

Planning an alien culture requires thought about the components of various earth cultures. Actually, it requires the author to choose an earth culture that will be close to what he or she envisions the alien culture will be.

As much as we would like to believe we have original thoughts, it would truly be difficult to conceive a totally alien culture. And if it was that different from earth cultures, how would earthlings communicate? How would we find common ground? Even now, we find it nearly impossible to find common ground between earth cultures.

As strange as it may sound, I usually first decide what the physical environment will be like. Is it a desert? Or a rain forest? Or an island paradise with hidden serpents? That physical environment will ultimately determine what is valued by that culture. Water? Land? Sea life?

What do the inhabitants eat? How is it obtained? Are they hunters or farmers? Or an odd combination? Maybe they eat food manufactured by overseers. Maybe they're vegetarians.

What is the technology level? If they are a peaceful society, how is that peace maintained? What does their justice system look like? If they are a warrior society, what type of weaponry do they have?

What about the family composition? It is a patrilineal society or a matrilineal society? Are the family units nuclear or extended?

In historical novels--particularly romances--there is a hallmark authors strive to pass when they write. They strive to write a book that is more than a wallpaper setting. The same is true for novels set in an alien setting. It cannot just be a story with some alien names and a couple of alien costumes, yet set in a background with earth values and technology.

The author has to plan on full immersion in their alien culture. If they are going to have earth values, then they must account for that in some way. Who is to say that aliens would practice monogamy or even have such a concept? Would they be limited to one spouse? Or would they even have a concept of commitment? Perhaps they would have a culture that more closely resembled that of a house cat.

What do their shelters look like? Or do they even need shelters? Perhaps they have no concept of privacy.

Do they make music? Do they create art? Do they have a written language? Do they have such abstract concepts as time and afterlife? Simple everyday phrases such as "just a minute" and "time is of the essence" might not work in dialogue in that case. If their concepts do include time, how do they mark time?

The process I've just illustrated is usually called world building. The best novels set on other worlds have extensive world building. The story (boy meet girl--or whatever it might be) could take place in almost any setting. What will make it different is how detailed the setting is and how the characters confront and deal with that setting.

That's my take on world building. What do you think? How would your planning be different?

anny

Monday, January 11, 2010

Take Me To Your Leader!

Aliens--how do you like yours? Tall, short, weird, humanoid, familiar, strange? I've been watching Shrek with my granddaughters. He's a hero. A reluctant hero, true. But the heroine still falls in love with him. He's green, round, and um...rude. Yeah, rude is a good word.

I've been observing all sorts of alien types, whether it's the fellow from Beauty and the Beast or that odd guy on SG-1 with the gold circle on his forehead. From E.T. to Superman, there are a wide array of aliens to choose from.

I'm kicking around a possibility for a story. My heroine will find herself on an alien world. The difficulty lies with the world building and the aliens themselves. What will they look like? How will their culture function? What technology level are they living with? Who's in charge? What sort of planet/atmosphere do they live on? There are dozens and dozens of questions to find answers for.

But first, most importantly, is the hero. Without a picture of him in my mind, it's difficult to envision his world. Is it a sunny world? Or does he live in a jungle? Maybe he lives underground--or in a soaring spire high above the surface.

I'll be talking about my hero and planet all week. Drop me a comment and add your thoughts about alien heroes and their worlds. At the end of the week--on Saturday--I'll draw a name from the commenters to win a twin pack, print copies of Dancer's Delight and Carnal Camelot (autographed, of course) along with some other goodies.

So speak up!

anny

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Friday, January 8, 2010

Proofreading Woes

I've nearly finished it! Yes, The Alpheli Solution (tentative title) is nearing completion. I've explained my writing/revision process several times in the past. Theoretically when I finish typing "The End", that should be it. Right?

Well, no. Proofreading is both the easiest and most difficult part about writing. Easy because you're not actually writing anything. Difficult because the eyes insist on seeing what your brain tells them should be on the page--whether it's there or not.

I find most of my errors by reading my writing out loud, to my hapless, trapped neighbor over the phone. She's captive audience who patiently sits through my reading and correcting. Maybe she's reading a magazine while I drone on. Goodness knows she's had enough practice that she can now mutter the appropriate responses in her sleep.

All writers have some form of editing they do. Some are pickier than others. The easiest form of proofreading is to go through the document, checking all the words that have squiggly red or green lines under them. After all the corrections are made, then it's time to check for those words you use over and over and over. (My favorites shift with every book, but some past winners were that, just, deep/deeper, and then.

Check for proper usage on the tricky words: they're/their/there, your/you're, peek/peak, bare/bear, shutter/shudder. I once read a book where the heroine repeatedly "shuttered" while in the throes of ecstasy. Um, there's another one--throes/throws.

Then there are all the times you actually meant your, but left the r off so you end up with you. That's a biggie with me. I call it my brain freeze error.

If you've changed a character's name halfway through the story, don't forget to double check that you changed every single mention. You'd be surprised how many books arrive at the stores with heroines with more than one name.

If you're like me and you make up words, then you have to make sure that word is spelled the same every single time. In my current work in progress, one of the key words is alpheli. I added it to my personal dictionary in the beginning. That makes it easier for me to spot when it's misspelled.

Proofreading is best done in several stages. Out loud. Printed. On the computer screen.

And I'll still miss something!

anny

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thermostat Wars

Over the years, I've concluded there should be one temperature setting year round on the thermostat. Seventy degrees Fahrenheit seems reasonable to me. It's warm enough in the winter and cool enough in the summer. If the thermostat is set at the same temp year round then everyone would adjust to that temperature.

Instead we have the yo-yo effect from summer, winter, spring, fall and all the odd-ball weird peaks and valleys in the temperature ranges. We spend more time trying to be warm enough or cold enough when we ought to learn to put on or take off enough clothing to be comfortable.

For many years the hunk was walking around moaning and groaning about how hot he was while I was always freezing. Well, he was a couple hundred pounds overweight so of course he was hot. He was carrying around all that extra insulation! And his solution was to set the thermostat low enough that everyone else walked around with cold noses and fingers.

Now that he's lost quite a bit of his insulation, he's always cold. And now of course his solution it to turn the heat up so that the rest of us gently roast. All day. All night.

My solution is simple. If you're hot, take some clothes off. If you're cold, put some more clothes on. That way you control how hot or cold you are without making everyone else in the house or office miserable. It's a practical solution. If taking off your clothing isn't enough, find a small individual fan to sit under. Again, this is an individual solution rather than a global situation.

The truth is all of us have different personal thermostats. No household lives in temperature harmony. There is always someone who must make a compromise. However, if the temperature is set the same year round at least that person stuck with the compromise will realize that they are the ones with the issue.

In the winter this might mean extra socks, fuzzy slippers, a heavy afghan or sweater. Or... not. I have a grandchild who is always peeling her clothing off down to the bare minimum because she's hot. If the temperature of her skin is anything to go by, then yes, she's definitely hot. But hey! the thermostat says seventy so we're all good.

anny

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Keepers

Picture it now. A guest walks into my apartment, stares wide-eyed at the triple stacked bookshelves and asks...Wow! Have you read all these books? If I had a nickel for all the times I've been asked that, I would be very rich.

The question I would like answered--why would anyone keep 3000+ books if they didn't read them? Seriously, that's quite a few more than most people would need for interior decorating.

Some people collect spoons. Others crochet or knit in their spare time. My grandfather collected pencils from all over the world. I read books.

The primary difficulty I have is money--or the lack of money, I should say. So when I buy a book, its an investment. A longterm investment if you will because I expect to read that book multiple times. I have collected books by certain authors and I reread the entire sets every year. Some authors such as Louis L'Amour or Georgette Heyer were quite prolific, affording me the promise of hours of quality reading.

Others, such as Dana Stabenow or Christine Warren are relatively new authors on the stage. In any case, if their books are keepers, then they've earned a place on the bookshelves because I anticipate reading them over and over.

There are of course, e-books available now (or as some like to call them, digital books!) Those reside on my computer hard drive AND flash drive because you never know when that sudden urge to read might strike.

There, too, the keepers have homes in individual author's folders so I can locate them easily instead of scrolling through a list with hundreds and hundreds of books.

I suppose you're wondering what makes a keeper. A keeper must make me smile or laugh or nod my head because I know exactly how one of the characters feel. It might make me cry or worry that the hero won't be rescued in time. A keeper (of the fiction variety) must make me feel.

A keeper must be written well enough that grammar, spelling, and syntax don't throw me out of the story. If there are a few challenging words that require me to consult my trusty dictionary, that's fine, but if I find I must keep referring to the dictionary repeatedly to get through the first chapter, then alas, that book will not make my keeper shelf. My time is limited, after all. And I choose not to spend my time looking up words in the dictionary.

A keeper must have a smashing ending. I can forgive all sorts of things in a book. I can forgive a less than catchy beginning or a sagging middle or even a whiny heroine or stupid hero as long as the author crafts a truly terrific ending. If it's an ending with a surprise twist, that's even better. I love surprise twisty endings.

Finally, a keeper must leave something to the imagination. Back when I was a young girl, the stories traditionally ended with "and they lived happily ever after." I like that because it allows each reader to envision their own sequel. Mine were usually of the variety, "and they moved to Idaho and bought a ranch" or some equally interesting and unlikely scenario. But in the end, that is the enticing quality to a keeper--that opportunity to engage the imagination.

A keeper in the non-fiction category is a book that shares knowledge in an accessible manner. I'm not precisely stupid, but I'm not looking for a thesis paper in my research tomes. What I need is a book that presents facts or opinions in such a way that I can readily locate the information I need. Pictures, drawings, and diagrams are bonuses. The more esoteric the subject matter, the more welcome explanatory drawings and diagrams are likely to be. If I'm searching for an antique dagger for my hero, then a picture is a really fine thing. The same is true for Victorian maternity fashions or pre-historic pots.

On the other hand, if I'm researching history, then maps are the single most useful item in a book. I loooove maps. Big maps. Small maps. Black and white and colored maps. Give me a good map and I can almost write the history for myself!

When you come into my house, be aware that it's a house filled with the possibility of learning. It's a place where books are respected and revered and treasured.

anny

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Iz Fluffy...

Body shape is all in how you look at it. For those of us who are fluffier, its a fine line between feeling good about self worth while acknowledging your need to whip the physical self into shape.

The trick is to realize that while appearance is not the sum total of who you are, it does reveal something about your personality. For instance, I'm sixty, lead a sedentary lifestyle, and my body type reflects that. It doesn't tell the entire story, of course, but if I led a very active life, I certainly wouldn't be nearly as fluffy.

A sedentary lifestyle can be one imposed by a medical condition (disability or asthma) or the sheer love of watching television (couch potato). Appearance alone doesn't reveal the cause behind the effect. In my case, it's a combination of medical and BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard), a common condition suffered by writers.

And for writers especially, the lure of the keyboard prevents that active lifestyle I mentioned. Every moment away from writing really is guilt driven. Time spent shopping or walking or doing the dishes is time lost that could be better spent in writing--at least that's what our minds tell us. Ah, it's a wicked choice, it is.

The evil truth is no writing = no income. No income = budget shortfall. So for every moment a writer spends away from their keyboard, there is a ticking clock in the back of their brain telling them they are losing money. It's not much of a surprise then that many authors are of the fluffy persuasion.

Oh, there are skinny writers. Yep. But I submit that many of them are a little higher on the income ladder and therefore not so tied to the keyboard. It takes a deliberate choice, a firm commitment, a lot of willpower to walk away from the computer and spend time on our personal health and welfare.

I'm not sure I have those, but this year I'm going to try. My first step will be to get up and walk around my apartment for five minutes out of every thirty. We'll see how that goes for a couple weeks. If its a successful attempt, then I'll stretch it out to ten minutes.

And I'll challenge the other fluffy writers to find some way to spend time on caring for themselves. What shall it be, my friends?

anny

PS: The winners for free e-book from my back list are MissKallie2000 for the comments on January 1 AND PamK for the comments from yesterday! Please e-mail me with your choice of title and format at annycook67@yahoo.com

Monday, January 4, 2010

Blue People

"His mouth hung open. His startled green eyes met hers and he saw they were a deep, clear shade of turquoise that danced with amusement at his reaction. Without comment, she dropped the sandals she carried in one hand onto the grass at her feet, shook out the pale rose meerlim she carried over one arm and casually slipped it on. Self-consciously, she smoothed the tendrils at her neck and patted the intricate knotted arrangement of her lustrous black hair. Three slender jeweled picks anchored it at the crown of her head.

Then, she began to move toward him and his mouth snapped shut. She stalked with all the grace and queenliness of a hunting cat. This was not a woman to trifle with. Very carefully he noted the other details… Gently pointed ears with tiny gold hoops in the points, the intriguing tilt of her almond-shaped eyes and the hint of fanged eyeteeth. So—a predator lurked in her genes. He couldn’t believe he’d made friends with a blue Vulcan."~~Dancer's Delight by Anny Cook.

Sigh. All this time I thought I had an original thought when I described my blue people in the Mystic Valley. Imagine my surprise when I got a good look at the Avatar people.

As they approached, two young men came out onto the porch carrying what appeared to be bundles of bedding and dumped them in a small wood handcart.

He wanted to drift back into the trees and study them carefully, but Eppie tugged him forward with a quick smile. Within seconds he had deduced that they were identical twins, somewhere in their late teens or early twenties. It was difficult to judge with complete accuracy, but he suspected they were at least six inches over six feet tall. Both were shirtless, revealing broad muscular chests with long lean muscles in their arms. Their hair, an amazing shade of carrot red, was arranged in a multitude of narrow braids that fell well below their hips. Each braid ended in a square jeweled bead.

The bright red hair distracted him only for a moment from the smooth pale blue skin, pointed ears and dark tilted eyes. Broad intricate tattoo bands decorated their upper arms.~~Dancer's Delight by Anny Cook

In this excerpt Dancer encounters Eppie's brothers, Llyon and Tyger. Beaded braids... So if you want to have an idea of what blue people might look like, here one is.

I confess I haven't gone to see Avatar. So when I found the picture up above I was rather startled at how close the character was to my description of my Mystic Valley people.

So what do you think?

anny

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dog Under the Desk

I have a dog that lives under my desk. I haven't quite figured out why as it's cramped, cold, and I occasionally forget she's there so she ends up with my foot in her mouth. But every day she keeps me company, faithful as, er, a hound. Ahhhh, that must be where that expression originated.

I'm not quite sure why she's attached herself to me. I don't feed her, water her, or walk her as those are responsibilities attached to other people. I don't even talk to her as I mostly forget she's warming my feet. Yet every morning once I get up and carry my coffee into my office, she nudges the door open and trots in here to curl up under the desk.

Maybe it's the steady clack of the computer keys as I write. Maybe it's the occasional music of my Josh Groban or Susan Boyle CDs. Maybe it even the blinging of the windchimes outside my window. I don't know.

But each day as I plot and ponder the next step in the writing process, there she sleeps, keeping me company in the most unobtrusive way. Dogs are quiet.

The cats meander in, demand attention, snarl, knock stuff down, try to climb my legs, walk on the keyboard, and generally annoy me until I toss them out. Maybe that's the difference. The dog is restful. The cats are restless.

Anyway, until the doggie's family moves on, we'll enjoy each others companionship.

anny

Saturday, January 2, 2010

So you want to be a mutant ninja...

Sometimes...you have to settle for second choice. I wanted to be a princess. My parents had the poor taste to not be royalty and my other options were extremely limited as princes were few and very far between.

My second choice wasn't quite attainable, either. I wanted to be an astronaut. However, I'm darned close to blind and have a chronic kidney problem. It seems that the federal astronaut programs want people in close to perfect health. Considering how hazardous it is to be an astronaut, it might not be a bad thing that I had to pass that ambition by.

Then I thought I wanted to be a star. I wasn't quite sure what kind of star I wanted to be, but I wanted to be someone who walked out on stages amid cheering and screams. It's a good thing I never saw that ambition realized. I get stage fright and claustrophobia. Nope, that would have been an awkward stressful life for me.

Of course, I suppose I could have settled into my next choice. I really, really wanted to be a spy รก la Mrs. Pollifax. I mean, physically it would be possible for me to go down to Langley and offer my services. That secret yearning isn't totally beyond the realm of possibilities. Surely, in this day and age of terrorists and dangers to our nation, surely the CIA could find some use for me. Maybe I'll reserve that one for further consideration...

Dreams and wishes don't always come true, but that doesn't mean life is over. What it does mean is we find new dreams and wishes. We seek out new endeavors to embark on, new possibilities to explore. We seize the opportunities presented and search out every learning experience that comes our way. For only those prepared are able to take advantage of the golden ring when it arrives.

Hmmmm. Mutant ninja turtle, you say? Green shell? Check! Mutant? Definitely! Gonna have to work on that turtle bit...

anny

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Years Resolutions?


Traditionally at this time of year people take time to reflect on the accomplishments, good decisions and bad for the past year, and set some goals for the coming year. I think it's a natural human trait to stop and assess where we are in our lives. The closing of a year is a good time to think about what we want to accomplish in the coming year.

When I was a much younger woman, New Year's resolutions were a popular tradition. I've noticed that it's a tradition that seems to be passing away pretty much. And perhaps that's not a bad thing. Resolutions somehow are so concrete that they set us up for failure when we can't keep them. Personally, I believe setting goals is more positive. A goal is something you can strive for, yet it isn't a failure it you don't reach that goal. It's a destination, not the journey.

I have some private goals that I won't share. Unlike some who write blogs, I believe there are some things not meant to be shared with the general public. If you believe you are a close enough friend to inquire about my private goals, drop me a line!

But there are some professional goals that I feel free to share with you, my readers and fellow writers.

A) I want to finish four books this year. Finish, polish, and submit them. That may be a relatively modest goal, but I'm a veteran of the "life interferes" wars so if I accomplish more I'll be very happy, but if not... then four books will be very good.

B) I want to develop a feasible promotion plan that doesn't rob me of time to write OR time with my family. I have noticed the internet can turn into a sinkhole that swallows every bit of time we allow it to take. That's time that never can be recovered. So all those minutes I kid myself that I'm promoting my books? They won't be happening in 2010.

C) I want to read and meditate more. There are days when I swear that my mind is so fuzzy I can't put two thoughts together. Life bombards us with so much sensory input its a miracle that any of us are sane. So I plan to make time for more quiet space in my life.

D) I want to physically meet with my friends. There's a problem with this. Most of my friends live in other parts of the world. So... I can either travel so I can visit with the friends I have. Or I can make more friends locally. It seems to me that both options should be doable. So hopefully, I'll be traveling more this year.

What about you? What are your goals for 2010? Tell me about them. I'll draw one poster at random for a free book--one of my e-books of your choice.

anny