Friday, April 30, 2010

Writing Brunos

Awwww, poor Bruno. We have such problems writing heroes with less than alpha tastes. Why do we struggle so? It strikes me that a true alpha male with complete confidence in his masculinity would be quite comfortable with all aspects of his humanity--including smelling the flowers.

Somewhere along the line we've lost our way. It's okay for a woman to be a welder or love football or adore fishing, but a man can't do needlepoint or flower arranging and still be manly. Yes, yes, I know we all know men that are excellent nurses or decorators or kindergarten teachers but we don't use them as heroes. No, we use lumberjacks and SEALS.

Why is that?

The extreme fascination with military and other super-alpha characters might be more about our feminine discomfort with men who are well-rounded than the innate attraction to the alpha. I wonder if perhaps women are threatened on some level by the male who invades our "territory" much in the way men are threatened by the woman who dares to be a CEO?

Yet, we are still threatened by a real male. We objectify them in pictures, focusing on body parts rather than the whole. In the vast majority of photos our men are hairless, like small boys. Muscles and definition are all very well, but our underlying message is your masculine immaturity will allow me to be in control. We want our men to be pretty, hairless, and polished. Real men need not apply.

How do we reconcile the two? Women are insulted when men objectify them by stereotyping them--the dumb Barbie, the masculine landscaper, the bitchy CEO. We insist we can do it all, be everything from madonna to breadwinner, seductress to mechanic. Why then do we marginalize our male characters?

I've noticed the books in my library have a preponderance of men who are comfortable with their place wherever that is from cooking a special dinner to comforting a small child. They protect their women and children, but are proud when their woman can take care of herself. They provide for their families, but support their woman's right to her own accomplishments.

I say bring on the real men.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Reports vs. Reality

Many of my fellow authors are off to the Romantic Times convention. I went a couple years ago when the convention was in Pittsburgh. It's quite a show. I'm following this year's via Twitters and blogs.

Reading the various posts and tweets it occurred to me that those reports are similar to press reports of the Oscar that they don't bear the vaguest resemblance to what is actually going on.

I remember reading various blogs about the RT convention I went to and thinking Where was I when this was going on? Clearly, I wasn't in the same location. Was I even in the same hotel?

For new attendees, it's a huge blur of people, events, colors and experiences. I suspect it takes years to actually know enough authors and movers and shakers to experience the events as reported. If the new author isn't prepared for that, it can be a disappointing experience. My take on conferences and conventions?

Go for the fun of it. Go with no expectations. Go to meet your fellow authors. Gawk and take pictures like a tourist. Try not to do anything you don't want to see on a stranger's blog. Relax and enjoy.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lights! Camera! Action!

Action sequences are probably the most difficult thing for me to write. They combine all the hardest elements in one package--description, setting, mood, dialogue, action and usually multiple characters along with narrative. All the movements must be choreographed (even if they aren't included in the the actual scene) so you don't have Joe slugging Harry while comforting Susie while shooting Vincent). Unless, of course, Joe is a three-armed sloth from the planet Zorcon.

How is the writer to manage then?

It all go back to a collage of maps, photographs, acting it out with people, or in several cases I know, using Barbie dolls. One editor I know checks the action using her frog collection. However, it's done, it usually requires more than a vivid imagination.

Why go to that bother?

Because most of us don't visualize well. Yes, I know, we live in a visual age, but because we do, I think we often have difficulty seeing the scene without props. Why do you suppose we have an easier time following directions when we also have a map to look at?

Right. So after the writer choreographs the scene using whatever manner they choose, then they still have to write it. And it's not enough to write down words. Noooo. The writer must describe the scene so the reader can see the scene without the props the writer used for choreographing. That's not so easy.

In addition to the movement, the author must layer in emotion, description, and narrative in such a seamless manner the reader remains engaged through the entire scene to the end. This is true whether the scene is a multi-partner orgy or a heart-pounding race across the face of Mt. Rushmore. If the reader is bored half-way through the scene, they'll move on to the something watching the grass grow.

What about an example? Below is a sequence from Traveller's Refuge. Can you feel the panic in the village? In this scene, Trav is sitting outside on the patio sharpening knives as he fights the boredom of recovering from terrible injuries...

He put his materials down and took a snack break, studying the terrain surrounding the patio with a calculating glance. If an invading force made it this far, there was absolutely nothing to hinder their progress through the village. According to Dancer’s assessment, the warriors in the valley had next to no experience in fighting as a cohesive unit. Individually they were highly skilled. And that’s exactly how fighting was done in the valley—individually.

But if Fremont Llewellyn succeeded in invading, he wouldn’t be coming in as an individual. Traveller believed he would send in several small elite fighting groups. He tossed the rest of the juice down his throat and swallowed. Time was waiting for no man or woman. He needed to be on his feet and training the warriors to fight together.

Shoving his frustration away, he went back to his chore while he considered the list of skills the warriors needed to develop. His appraisal of their potential deficiencies was interrupted by terrified screams and loud shouts. Struggling up out of the chair, he hobbled over to the stone wall, cursing his injuries and stupid legs.

Trav! Wrenna was shrieking in his mind.

Snarling, a sleek long-haired golden body soared over the wall and streaked toward the tangled knot of human and animals. With horror, Trav realized Wrenna was the human fighting with the grimahrs. Galvanized, Trav stalked down the hill toward the snapping, growling animals, entirely unconscious of the pain in his legs. When he was close enough, he threw the knife in his hands with desperate force, striking the grimahr that had seized Wrenna’s leg with his powerful jaws, squarely between the eyes. It keeled over, dragging her with it to the ground. Seconds later two more flicknives were buried in the heart of the second grimahr, and then Hawke and Llyon ran past him, completely focused on reaching Wrenna’s crumpled body.

Abruptly, help arrived from all over the village. A man Traveller didn’t even know led him to a nearby boulder and gently helped him sit down. Several men dragged the grimahr carcasses away once they were disentangled with Wrenna. Two other men and a woman knelt next to Harmony, working swiftly to staunch the bleeding from her wounds.

And Traveller saw none of it as he strained to see what was happening with Wrenna. Dancer and Eppie arrived and immediately joined Trav, taking charge of him. “Are you all right?” Dancer gasped out as he stared at the chaos on the incline above the river.

Trav watched the healers desperately working over Wrenna’s still body and he started shaking. Robyn brought a blanket from his chair in the garden and carefully wrapped it around him.

“Stay with him, Eppie. I’ll go find out what’s going on.” Dancer trotted down where they worked on Wrenna and spoke softly to Merlyn. After a moment, he ran back up the hill where they waited for word.

“They have the bleeding under control. They’re going to get her ready to carry up to the house where they can treat her better.” He watched slow tears trickle down Trav’s cheeks and he squatted down next to Trav while Eppie rubbed his back. “Trav, she’s going to be okay. They need to do a lot of stitching, though.”

“Harmony?” Trav asked with dread.

“They don’t know,” Dancer admitted. “They’re having a hard time stopping the bleeding. She has a terrible gash where one of the grimahrs ripped her throat.”

Trav gazed down at the scene, not really taking in the reality. “She saved her, Dance. I couldn’t move fast enough and Harmony just flew over the wall and went after them.”

“You saved her, too, Trav. Llyon said they wouldn’t have made it in time.” Dancer shook his head. “Come on. We’ll go inside and wait for her.”

“Not until they carry her in,” Trav replied stubbornly. “I can’t hold her, but I’m not leaving her, either. It’s all I can do.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Off to see...

It's a gorgeous day here. In a few minutes I'm off to take the house hunk for his colonoscopy. Fortunately, I have 99 books on the Sony reader so it should be no problem to entertain myself while waiting for him.

If you're over 50 have you had your colonoscopy? Colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers in the world.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Rainbow Underwear

I was folding my laundry yesterday when I realized I only had two pieces that were white. Everything else was colored. Mostly brightly colored. Now I'm not anywhere near the age of the underwear models with their perky breasts and flat bellies. Matter of fact, I'm...older. Well, all right, I confess I'm likely old enough to be their grandma.

Anyway, I started thinking about how underwear styles have changed during my lifetime. When I was a very young girl, white cotton knit panties were pretty much the style. As I added a few years on, I also wore a white knit camisole. (I always think that camisole is such a feminine word. Too bad it isn't used much anymore.)

Around thirteen, I graduated to a white cotton bra. Some of you are old enough to remember the kind that had concentric rings of stitching and came to a sharp point. No woman on earth was shaped like that, but there you go. It was the style. So millions of women wore bras shaped like breastplates.

When I married at eighteen, the first thing I did was buy colored underwear. No, nothing daring. No black. No red. As I recall, what was available in those colors back then was very expensive. I bought dainty flowered items in this awful cheap silky fabric that dried out in the dryer and frayed. After a few washings, it felt like shredded plastic.

Over the next few years, I went through several phases. Pale colors. Silky. Stretchy. (Yeah, I was pregnant for several centuries so there was a lot of stretchy in there. And for some reason, they didn't make maternity underwear in any color except white. Seems like they would have made color just to cheer the mom-to-be because for darn sure it's tough to feel sexy while carrying around a watermelon in your belly.) And...back to cotton.

The difference now is the wide variety of styles, colors, prints, and thank goodness!!! sizes. I have sports bras in red, gray, blue, black, pink, turquoise and beige. Panties range from black to purple to green to gray. What I find amusing is I never pay attention to what color undies I have on. If both pieces match, it's by sheer accident. If they come close to matching my outer wear, then that's obviously intervention from God.

Women aren't the only ones that enjoy colored underwear. Men have an astonishing variety of colors and fabrics and styles to choose from. Children have a wonderful selection that includes styles with Barbie and Batman and Spongebob.

Remember the old days when you added bleach to the underwear washload? Heh. No more. Do people still have any white laundry? I remember my mother also adding something called bluing to the laundry. I wonder if anyone still uses that? Come to think of it, what the heck was it supposed to do?

At our house, we toss all the laundry in together. Dark colors together and all the light colors in another load. And once in a while we have enough for a white load. But not often.

Now we have all the colors of the rainbow.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Edits? Guidelines? Revisions?

I recently spoke with a young woman--an aspiring author--about the business of writing. Like most aspiring authors she was aghast at the idea of editing. Surely, surely, no one was going to tell her what to write! When I pointed out that every publisher would reserve the right to edit her work, she adamantly stated she would "just find another publisher".


Well, I suppose it's possible. Not likely, but possible. In her case, if her story is as she described, I suspect she won't find a publisher in any case. There are too many of the publisher "no-noes". I did point out that publishers have guidelines for a reason.

And that's when she flat out floored me. Very kindly, she explained she would tell the publisher why those elements were important to her story...and of course, the publisher would understand.

Um, no. That isn't the way it works.

There are some hard-and-fast rules. Aside from those rules, there will be edits, possibly revisions, and then more edits. No work is perfect. Every writer can use a second and third and...more pass under the eagle eyes of editors, critique partners and beta readers.

And that's the final answer.


Thursday, April 22, 2010


After several weeks away from one of my works in progress, I finally took time today to read it--from the beginning. It's good. I still like it. Unfortunately, I'm not sure where I was planning to go with the story.

Who are these people? I had a rough idea when I began. Now I'm not so sure. Originally the heroine was pretty young. Now I think maybe she should be older. But if she's older, how will that change the story? How will that change the hero?

Who is the hero? I realized I don't know very much about him. How will I find out? He seems to be in charge of a small group of survivors. How did that happen? Why is he in charge?

What is this story about? Is it a story of survival? Is it an action adventure? Is it a romance? At the moment it seems to be a schizophrenic mess.

I suspect I'll end up making major changes. The trick will be deciding what those changes should be. Then once I start it all over...Onward!


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cause and Effect...

During the last few weeks, I've read a lot. All genres. All time periods. I confess they've all been my "keepers", but that was deliberate because I was reading with a special purpose. I read specifically to analyze why they worked.

I concluded it's not enough for a book to be exciting, or have a wonderful plot, or memorable characters or description or action. It must hang together. Um, what do I mean?

Well, for ever cause there must be an effect. A simple (often used) example might be the letter that doesn't reach the recipient, therefore leading to some action on their part (such as leaving town) so the h/h never get together. There are many variations of this theme especially in romances.

There are others, though, not as obvious, but just as important. The heroine turns right at the intersection instead of left, thus allowing her to see the hero with another woman (or visa versa). Or the protagonist has a flat tire which places him in a vulnerable position while fleeing from the antagonist.

As I read, I noted the great skillfulness some authors had when dealing with cause and effect. And some beat the reader over the head with the result, taking care to "explain" while others assume the reader will be sharp enough to understand the way the threads come together weaving the picture.

There were some authors who left dangling threads. In some cases I believe the danglers were deliberate, allowing for another book or two. Others...I'm not so sure. They just might've dropped that stitch. Sometimes minor stitches don't affect the overall story, though I personally find them a bit niggling. Not immediately, but later in the middle of the night when I'm going over the story in my head.

Cause and effect. How do you use them in your stories? What's your favorite example from someone else's story?


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Busy Day

Well, I'm off to explore the joys of a colonoscopy. Did the whole prep thing yesterday. Today is the actual real deal. Quite frankly, I'm tired and hungry and when I get home I plan to eat something and take a nap.

And tomorrow will be a better day. Talk to you then!


Monday, April 19, 2010


I'm working on a sword/fantasy/sci-fi story at the moment. Fantasy is tailor made for questing. I was having a bit of a problem keeping all the strands together until a happy thought occurred to me. I decided to structure it like a game...a questing game.

Once I hit on that basic idea, I sat down with pen and paper and "structured" my quest. One column was all the steps required to complete the quest. A second column was a list of all the corresponding barriers to completing those steps. And the third column listed any peripheral actions (such as sex) that might possibly take place along the way.

I had no problem laying out the story. None whatsoever. However, now I'm having trouble writing the story. I've puzzled over this for a couple days. And it finally dawned on me--I know how the story ends now. I know the story and therefore, I lost interest.

It seems like it would be easier to write the story since I have a pretty good idea how I'll weave all the strands together. But I guess that isn't going to be the case. Instead, I'm now struggling with a certain irritation because I'm stuck with the story line as laid out. Obviously, I'm not much of a plotter.

Apparently, I'm somewhat a free spirit. And free spirits are most likely pantsters when it comes to writing. Part of my own enjoyment in writing is that joy of discovery as each bit of the story is revealed.

I'm going to stick it out. Maybe I'll learn something new about the story and myself. Maybe...this will be my quest. Maybe I'll take the crazy straw and go on.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Welcome to my world...

Angry shouts and terrified screams followed the crack of heavy splintering wood as the raiders broke down the massive doors guarding the royal family’s apartments. While the king and the adult member of his extended family were rounded up and slaughtered, loyal retainers raced through the secret escape passage with the king’s children—two small sons and twin infant daughters—determined to save the last of the royal family of Baryna.

Guards and retired warriors viciously defended the narrow tunnel giving the retainers precious time to reach the hidden vault far below the palace. When all who survived were inside, the last warrior released the prepared trap, filling the passageway with heavy stones that hurtled down on the pursuers. The warrior rushed through the bronze covered doors signaling the guards to slam them shut.

Enormous iron gates descended with a frightful clang from the ceiling behind the doors, barring them from the inside. A terrible silence fell over the small group as they came to grips with the bloody terror in the royal apartments.

Finally, Aken, the leader of the guard straightened his shoulders and declared with bitter anger and grief, “The king is no more. Long live the king.”

In the center of the big room, a young woman set a small sturdy boy on his feet. Sleepily, he rubbed his eyes and yawned as all around him, men and women knelt to swear fealty to Romaden, their new king.

By morning, the weary group had reached the Tarchema Barrens. Even in the early hours of dawn, word that Vrainal, leader of the raiders, had seized the Baryna throne, had filtered through the dark streets of towns and villages across the land. At the edge of Tarchema Barrens, following long held plans, the retainers split in four groups, each taking one of the children with them. Those that guarded Romaden also accepted the responsibility of guarding the royal chronicles and genealogies. A smaller fifth group carried away the royal regalia, sword, casket, dagger, goblet and crown. When Romaden was old enough to claim the throne, the regalia would be retrieved. In the meantime, Vrainal’s false rule would not be supported by his possession of the regalia.

When each child was safely within the family stronghold on the rocky island retreat off the coast of Gultera, the retainers were supposed to split up, melting into the small towns and large cities, forming a network for information and support. Vrainal the Usurper would find his reign more difficult than he imagined.

* * *

A woman would no doubt be the cause of his death, Eli thought, but probably not today.

With the billowing dust storm at his back, Eli dared to breathe a tentative sigh of relief. The posse hot on his trail had disappeared in the first swirling rust colored clouds. If the storm didn’t catch up with him before he reached shelter, his escape would be assured. He shook his head at his own foolishness. The village headman’s daughter was a luscious morsel, too tempting to pass up though he knew better than to fall for such feminine wiles.

Most women scorned turned to their male relatives for vengeance, but not Niria. No, instead she reported him to Vrainal’s raiders. Well, next time he would remember to keep his hands to himself. His primary goal now was to outrun the storm.

Then he spied the colowoots lazily circling overhead. His grime-rimmed eyes slid over the barren land searching carefully as he reined his weary shnormies to a halt. The lop-eared beasts stopped on the rutted trail, flapping their long ears and raising small clouds of dust when they stomped their feet. Tiny stinging latibugas swarmed up their legs, attacking the fresh source of food.

In the Tarchema Barrens, you were either prey or predator. Often you were both, but Eli preferred to be on the predator end of the scale. He pulled his spyglass from the pack behind his seat, climbed up on top of his dusty hover caravan, and studied the immediate area while keeping a cautious eye on the dust storm at his back. The little bloodsucking colowoots wouldn’t be this far out in the wastelands unless there was a body to feast on.

Out in front of him, to the side of the trail, a flock of colowoots squabbled over a dark shapeless bundle. Eli didn’t waste time wondering if the victim was dead yet. Colowoots didn’t attack the living. He clambered down from his perch atop the caravan and took up the reins, snapping them over the shnormies’ haunches with a quick flick. The approaching dust storm was gathering speed. He needed shelter for his caravan and animals and he needed it immediately.

Under the sting of the reins the shnormies moved into a jerky trot, tugging the floating caravan over the rough ground toward the bundle. Though time was running out, Eli couldn’t afford to pass by the body without at least coming to some conclusion about how it came to be subars from nowhere. No one walked into the Tarchema Barrens on foot. When his caravan stopped alongside the body, his uneasiness turned to alarm. The dead man was no roaming wanderer. His fine clothing and handsome riding boots told their own tale. Here was a wealthy man, alone and dead, with no mount in sight.

Wrapping the reins around the caravan hitch, Eli hopped down and approached the body. The colowoots shied away, squeaking in anger while he grimly checked the body for telltale wounds inflicted by men. They weren’t hard to find. From the numerous slashes and cuts, the man had fought fiercely before succumbing. A second look at the boots assured Eli that they were the handiwork of a fine boot maker. Certainly robbery had not been the motive. No robber would have left them behind. On the underground market the boots would fetch enough distris to buy an entire herd of shnormies.

Briefly, Eli debated taking the boots himself, but in the end he concluded they would bring him more grief than he could handle. He went back to the caravan and climbed up to the seat, casting an anxious look at the dark sky on the horizon behind him. No more time to tarry. He must find shelter at once. He snapped the reins, urging the shnormies into an unaccustomed gallop. Ahead of him was a ravine with a large cave. If they could make it before the storm, the cave would provide shelter for both his caravan and the shnormies.

The caravan bounced as the shnormies stumbled over the ruts. The first tendrils of wind began to hum across the land. As they approached the lip of the ravine, Eli hauled back on the reins to slow the shnormies’ headlong race over the edge. They thundered down the slope into the ravine with the caravan slewing from side to side. In desperation Eli braced his feet and yanked on the reins. The shnormies slowed to a walk before staggering to a stop, sides bellowing, a few feet from the cave.

It took Eli a few heart pounding moments to realize the shnormies’ abrupt halt wasn’t due to his heroic efforts. Rather, they shied away from the scent of death that permeated the ravine. Wearily securing the reins, Eli leaped down, racing over to the nearest body. He hoped to find someone alive since the colowoots were not present in the ravine, but he was doomed to disappointment. The man was clearly dead. Rushing from body to body, Eli found that none had survived the terrible massacre.

After hurriedly dragging the tumbled bodies out of the way, he guided the shnormies and his caravan deep into the cave just as the howling dust storm descended upon the ravine. The shelter allowed him a few precious moments to fling protective covers over the shnormies’ heads before he crawled inside the caravan and slammed the door shut.

The wind whipped down the ravine, scouring everything in its path with sandy grit. It howled past the cave mouth, screeching as it rose at the end of the canyon, racing over the flat barrens, leaving deafening silence behind.

He wanted nothing more than to stay in his caravan, huddled on his bunk, but there was no one else to deal with the dead. He would not shirk his duty. Rolling to his feet, he shuddered as he contemplated the task before him. Opening the cupboard overhead, he lifted down the jug of gulteria—fine dark ale from the coastal city of Gultera. The plug squealed as he worked it loose. After pouring some in his mug, he pounded the plug back in and set the jug back in the cupboard. Then while slowly sipping the soothing liquid, he mentally listed all that he must do before darkness fell on the ravine.

When the last drop was gone, he tugged on his cap, tied a fine gauze scarf over his mouth and nose, and went back out into the cave. First he stopped to check on the animals. After many trips across the barrens, the shnormies had adapted to the protective hoods, but Eli liked to give them a comforting pat or two as extra reassurance and reward. Though most people didn’t bother to name their shnormies, Eli felt a kinship to his animals when he named them. He patted Thumi’s gritty golden hindquarters as he stood placidly waiting for release from the caravan. Next to Thumi, Tomac stomped his feet restlessly and snorted. His dark brown hide twitched and he snorted again when Eli caressed his long neck and shoulders. “Easy. Just a bit longer.”

With a shallow breath, Eli turned away, heading for the vandalized caverns out in the ravine. Once he searched them, he planned to place the bodies inside and burn them in the morning. But first—first he hoped to find a hint of who the dead were and why someone had murdered an entire party of travelers.

A high pitched wail echoed from the ravine walls as Eli stepped out of the cave into the waning light. The tiny short hairs on his spine rose in alarm as his head came up, searching for the source. The next unhappy cry galvanized Eli to race for the caravans. Ripping open the door of the nearest one, he peered inside, astonished when he found himself face to face with a grubby youngster perhaps three or four years old who was peeking out of a storage space.

Eli climbed up into the caravan and squatted down next to the boy. He frowned, his nose wrinkling at the acrid odor of stale urine as he studied the youngster crouched in the hiding place. Finally Eli sighed. “What is your name, boy?”

“Romaden.” The boy’s lips trembled as tears threatened to spill over his dusty cheeks.

“Well, Romaden. Come out of there. We’ll go to my caravan and clean you up a bit. Are you hungry?”

After a moment, Romaden nodded.

“All right. Do you know where your clothing is stored?” Eli inquired hopefully.

The boy swiped his running nose with his sleeve and pointed to the storage unit under the bunk across the narrow aisle from him. Eli pulled open the drawer and stared down at the tumbled piles of ladies undergarments.

“I don’t think these are your clothes, boy. They seem a bit too frilly even for a youngster.”

Creeping from his spot, Romaden knelt next to the drawer, plunged his grubby paw into the lacy garments, and tugged. The false bottom yielded to his efforts, revealing neatly packed clothing for a small boy.
Nabbing the first things he saw, Eli jumped down from the caravan and grabbed Romaden under his arms, swinging the boy down to stand next to him facing away from the bodies. “Close your eyes until I tell you to open them. We’ll come back for the rest of your things.”
Obediently, Romaden shut his eyes.

Taking his hand, Eli led the little boy back into the cave to his caravan. When they were safely inside, he said, “All right. You can open your eyes now.”

While the boy stood very still as he stared at his new surroundings, Eli lit the lamp over his small wash basin and poured some water from his cistern in the bowl. Silently, he stripped the soiled clothing from his new charge and scrubbed him down from head to toe. While he cleaned and dressed the boy, he meditated on his next steps.

Tarchema Springs, the nearest settlement was over forty subars away, on the edge of the barrens. It was a small huddle of mud and stone houses where the inhabitants eked out a living by charging for the use of the springs and selling water. If all went well, it would take two days to reach the Springs. The next settlement, Qildomi Heights was two days on the other side of the Springs.

Somewhere between the ravine and the Heights, Eli would have to think of a way to hide Romaden’s fiery bright hair—silky red-blond strands that would bring a death sentence, even to such a small boy. From the moment he confronted the child, he’d known what the raiders were searching for. They wanted to capture the missing heir of the exiled royal family of Baryna.

With a sour smile, Eli wondered which of the gods was laughing at him now.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Virtuous Cat

So I wonder...what does virtuous poop look like? And if analyzed what secrets would it reveal?


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Party hearty...

Last night I had a chat. A bunch of my author friends came out to keep me company and we had fun. Some old friends I haven't talked to in a while came and that made the party extra special! That's the way I do it. Come. Have fun. Post your excerpts. Maybe brag about what's going on with you. And we all have fun.

I'll have another chat next month. If you missed this one, then I hope you'll come next month. My chats are generally a party heart chaotic collection of wonderful excerpts, possibly some sneak peeks, and some general chit-chat. Everyone is welcome. And if you're an author you're welcome to post an excerpt.

I hope you'll drop by the Anny Cook and Friends party in May!


Monday, April 12, 2010

Week Upcoming...

How was your weekend? Mine was pretty good. I have a busy week coming up. On Tuesday from 7-9 PM EST I have a chat at Love Romances Chat Loop. If you enjoy steamy excerpts and chatting with authors and readers from all over the country, please drop by. If you're an author, make sure you bring an excerpt to post!

Then on Saturday from 3-5 PM EST I'll be at the Constellation Bookstore in Reisterstown, MD for an Author's Tea. Please drop on by so I can meet you!

In between I have a couple works in progress to nudge along and a bit more research to do. Research is a lot more fun than writing, of course. Research is not too difficult. Writing is gut-busting work. Would I change my mind if I could go back and start over?


In any case, I hope y'all have a great week. Onward!


Friday, April 9, 2010

Another sequel?

How many sequels is too many?

I'm not talking about movies, though goodness knows there are several that have quite a few--Star Wars, Star Trek, ... But what about books? There are quite a few very successful series out there. And there are many more that have fizzled and died. What makes a successful series?

I believe one element that might make for a successful series is the ability for each book to stand on its own. Almost all series are more enjoyable if you read them in sequence, but some are written in such a way that each book truly stands on its own. Jonathon Kellerman's long-running Alex Delaware series comes to mind. Most of Robert B. Parker's Spenser books also work well individually.

But many others truly need to be read in order. Certainly, the Harry Potter novels fall in that category. The problem with a series that's designed to be read in order is you lose the reader right around book five or six. Life happens. People lose jobs, have babies, move, have family emergencies, get a new job, whatever, and lose track of the books release dates. By the time they catch up, there are too many books to read or purchase so they drift away.

I suspect Mercedes Lackey has worked out the best system. She created the world of Valdemar. And then within that world, she writes short three book arcs. She even has the freedom to write individual stand alone books or duets. The reader can pick and choose or catch up at a later date. The three book arcs are set at different time periods on the Valdemar timeline. And the Valdemar series is popular enough to keep all of them in print.

Other series lose steam--especially romantic series--when they reach what I call 'endpoints'. The main characters marry. Or they have children. Or one of them dies. If the entire series is dependent on the same main characters, readers lose interest at one of those endpoints. We love our HEAs. But for whatever reason once the h/h reaches the point of "they lived happily ever after" the reader is content to move on.

Linda Howard's MacKenzie series illustrates this point. Once Wolf and Mary iron out their problems, we're eager to move on Joe's story and then the other children. Conceivably, she could have written half a dozen more centered about the MacKenzie family. But each book stood firmly alone within the series. The glimpses we caught of the other characters were intriguing and satisfying without requiring their stories to continue. And two of the sons never had their own stories (though I continue to hope!)

Perhaps what we need is a new word to describe subsequent stand alone books placed in the same world. They really aren't sequels or series. So what are they? How do we describe them in such a way as to let the readers know they don't have to read them 'in order'? Any ideas?


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Creepy horror

Have to admit I've been reading some romantic suspense in the last few weeks, studying the ways various authors insert that necessary bit of creepiness in their stories. The best ones slip it in so gently you don't suspect it's coming so it catches you flatfooted and unprepared.

Some telegraph it, try to explain the significance of the creepiness, and therefore take some of the punch away. It can work. But it doesn't work quite the same way.

Others bludgeon the reader with enough pukeable gore to turn the reader off. Now I know people in all walks of life have to deal with all sorts of things, but when you're pushing the gore quotient, then I think the romance has to be really, really fine. I'm not talking about sex, either. I'm talking about a hero/heroine you can really get behind and root for because the reader needs something to counterbalance the gore.

Creepiness, the best creepiness should make the hair on the neck stand up. Of course, the reader's own phobias can add or subtract some of the creepiness balance. For instance, some people were completely creeped out by the carnivorous spiders in my book, Kama Sutra Lovers. Other readers commented about the overall creepiness of the sharcrabs in the same book. And one woman wrote to tell me she thought the scene that faded away with the bad guy screaming was pretty darn creepy.

I suspect that horror hits closer to home if it's perceived as possible. If the book is a fantasy, it's less likely to have a sense of immediacy than if it's a contemporary tale in a setting that readers can relate to. That is possibly why a tale such as Fatal Attraction is scarier than say...Friday the Thirteenth.

In any case, be warned. I've been studying hard these last few weeks. No telling what I'll come up with when all the ideas roaming around in my brain get together. Sleep well, tonight!


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Man tears...

I'm trying to figure out why most men don't cry. Is it because men are embarrassed by tears? Has our culture robbed our men of such an important emotional outlet? What is it?

I don't advocate tears at the drop of a hat, but except for extreme grief, when's the last time you've seen a man cry? A few, very few women report their men crying at the birth of a child. So that would be a moment of extreme joy. At least I hope it's joy.

What about pain? You know, I cannot say I've ever seen a man cry from pain. A car radiator exploded, showering my son with boiling water all over his chest. That hurt. I know that hurt. No tears. I was crying, but not him. My other son had surgery on his tail bone. Man, he was bleeding all over and I had the excitement of changing his bandages. No tears...

So what will induce a man to cry? How extreme must the situation be for them to surrender to tears? And why is that so?

Even in books, men don't cry. They get angry. Is that their substitute for tears? They curse and rage and stomp around but they don't cry. And when they cry, the author writes it in such a way that it's almost an apology for the man crying, as though they're embarrassed for the man who exhibits one of our most basic human emotions.

I'm re-reading Birthright by Nora Roberts. In one of the few exceptions I've read, the men in Birthright cry, not at death, but at life. They cry to celebrate survival. They cry when they share overwhelming emotions. They are strong enough to cry in the arms of their women. And because they can cry, their strength and determination to protect their families seems to stand out more starkly. The reader doesn't ever question their commitment to their woman.

How do you feel about man tears? What will induce your man to cry?


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Scary dreams

I didn't sleep well last night because of the dreams. I don't usually remember dreaming so this was a rare thing for me. And it was disturbing.

I didn't have nightmares. I had weird disjointed bits of dreaming. Subject matter was varied. Tupperware. Writing on the wall. Pizza. Plastic craft containers. Hearts punched into the wall paper. Potato chips. Weird stuff.

There was no coherency to the mish-mosh. The dreams were more like a series of slides, presented for my observation. As far as I can tell, they're not related to anything in my life in the last week or two, at least. There was just this overwhelming collection of unrelated images that had no meaning for me.

The way it worked was this...I dreamed, I woke, I dreamed, I woke...all night long. So today, I have a tad of brain freeze. Some parts of the dreams are still disturbingly vivid. I was trying to match Tupperware lids to their containers. Some nebulous entity kept taking them off and putting them on the wrong containers. What's up with that?

Another scene was a wall outside a bathroom (not my current bathroom and not one I remember having anywhere I've lived, but I KNEW it was a bathroom). The wall was covered with tiny hearts drawn with colored magic markers. I remember believing my two granddaughters were responsible for the decorations.

In one brief flicker, I was trying to eat a piece of pizza, but it kept sliding away. That scene is frustratingly vague. I don't know whether I was holding the pizza or someone else was.

In any case, I suspect that's why I don't "remember" any of my dreams. To do so would make me crazier than I am. I like things nice and orderly and my dream world last night was anything but orderly.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Monday morning

Ugh. Why is the morning after a holiday always so...tough?

Maybe it's because there's so much planning leading up to the holiday and then, suddenly it's over. Our holiday was quiet and restful but there's still this sense of let-down.

And anticipation. Easter is sort of the official harbinger of spring. Around here, the fruit trees are blooming like mad, the sunny faces of daffodils are bright splashes of color and the yellow-green of the forsythias provide a punch in the midst of the spring green sprouting leaves on the trees. Spring.

The kids are still home from school today. Apparently, there's a strange tradition here of Easter Monday. I've moved all over the country and this is the first time I've ever heard of Easter Monday.

Sounds of traffic and birdsong drift through the open window. Later when the kids crawl out of bed after squeezing every bit of sleeping late they can, there will be shouts and laughter and probably even childish screams of excitement as they race up and down the grassy hill.

Maybe I'll write today. If not, I'll spend some time world-building for a story I'm working on. Sometimes planning is also inspiring as you work out the details of the plot.

I hope y'all had a lovely weekend. Now, it's back to work.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Zombie Apocalypse

During the last few weeks, I've been reading quite a bit. Regardless of genre, there is a trend in the books I've read to dismiss evil as paranoia. So the protagonist tries to warn someone in the book. It could be the general populace, it could be the heroine or hero, it could be his boss. Whoever he/she's trying to warn dismisses the warning because evil has not been a part of their lives.

The thing is...this dismissal of evil is realistic. Except for those individuals who have demonstrated their badness to each of us personally, we tend to believe everyone else is good. Oh, they're not perfect, but we're comfortable with them.

The few people out there who assert that no one can be trusted are dismissed as paranoid. This is particularly true of children. Yet I suspect that children have a much clearer idea of who is evil and who is not. They see adults as they really are because adults don't prevaricate with them. Children are perceived as powerless. When a child refuses to spend time with an adult, his caretakers should pay attention. Most kids are not paranoid without reason.

Adults dismiss their own feelings of uneasiness when they should be examining those feelings more closely. Our early warning system is there for a reason. Stop. Listen. Look behind the facade. When someone warns you about someone, don't dismiss them out of hand. Instead, make your own observations.

The more power the individual has due to position, the more likely he/she will abuse that power. Are all people in powerful positions evil? No. But we should never let the position blind us to that possibility.

Consider the revelations in the last few weeks regarding abusive priests and Boy Scout leaders. They are classic cases of evil masqueraded by positions of power.

Is this a comfortable subject? No. But evil walks our world. Wishing it would go away will not make it so. Refusing to acknowledge it will not make it disappear. Only with vigilance can we protect ourselves and those around us.

If that makes me paranoid...well, better paranoid than blind. The zombies aren't coming. They're here.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Baby on Board?

Must be my pet peeve week. Read a book last night with several of my pet peeves in it--all centered around babies. Let me start out by saying I happen to love babies in books. Unlike some readers who are put off by babies, children, animals, mother-in-laws, etc. in erotic romances, I happen to believe they are a welcome addition.

Erotic romance is what happens in the midst of all that life going on around us. Eliminating everything but the two (three/four) people in the bed presents a false picture. However, whether you want your romance sterile and lonely or peopled with family and friends, there are a couple things I find sincerely annoying.

One: If you don't use birth control, how can you be surprised by a pregnancy? By birth control, I'm include all forms of sterility, barrenness, and old age. In this scenario I talking about two 20-50 year old individuals who are healthy and sexually active. How could they be surprised at the outcome? If I read one more book where the supposedly intelligent hero or heroine says, "But it was only one time!" I'm gonna puke.

It NEVER takes more than one time to get pregnant. Whether it's the first time a couple has sex or the twentieth time, it only takes ONE time to accomplish the deed. Unless they're aliens...then all bets are off.

Two: If you know your birth control has failed, then you should expect (no pun intended) pregnancy to follow. Skipped birth control pills and broken condoms probably ought to provide a head's up, folks. Baby on board!

Rather than acting all shocked and stunned, the couple should be counting the days until they know for sure--one way or the other. Instead, in book after book, the heroine is clueless until she passes out or pukes in the morning. How is that mature?

Three: In this day and age, what male over twenty-five (in America) is unaware of the way the female reproductive system works? I don't know of any myself. No, I'm sure they don't sit around and discuss menstrual cycles with their buddies during football commercials, but I'm pretty sure they know how the system works. So how in the world would a man not know what cessation of menses usually means?

If pregnancy is going to be part of the story, at least don't make the hero/heroine so stupid the reader will be tempted to call CPS for the safety of the kid.