Monday, March 30, 2015

If the guy loves your kid...

If you're like me that's all it would take. Well, assuming he's a good person and there's some major chemistry happening. In every book I've written there's a child who's critical to the love relationship. In Trust No One my heroine is a single mother of a child with developmental delays. Sophie and Nathan meet under false pretenses: when he discovers she's using a fake identity to hide from someone, he decides not to reveal that he's a PI searching for her stepbrother—which leads to her kidnapping him at gunpoint. At this point in the book they've cleared all that up and Sophie is beginning to trust him, but they're on the run. They've taken refuge at Nathan's sister's house, and he has just returned with information that requires them to hit the road again.

Sophie was holding Max on her lap, spooning scrambled eggs into his mouth, when Nathan walked into the kitchen. He looked exhausted. Strung out, like he'd been up all night taking drugs.  The circles under his eyes were darker, whiskers covered his jaw, and his hair was a mess.
            He was so appealing she stopped breathing and just stared at him.
            The Bannister twins, Ryan and Lizzie, were strapped into booster seats, and began clattering and calling, "Unca Nafan! Unca Nafan!" Nathan bent down and kissed the tops of their heads, but his eyes were on Sophie and Max. Kat walked into her brother's arms and held him tightly for a moment. Still, his eyes held Sophie's.
Max stretched an arm out to him and said, "Boodie."
The smile on Nathan's face when he looked at her son stripped away all remaining defenses she had built to protect her heart. He rounded the table without saying a word and picked up Max off her lap. "How ya doin', Sport?" he asked, and kissed his eggy cheek. Max slapped his hands on Nathan's cheeks, wanting to play their game. Nathan puffed one cheek out and Max tried to slap it before he switched. Sometimes he let Max win and other times he switched around on him, getting the little boy all excited and bouncy. Max wasn't quite up to bouncy at the moment, so Nathan let him win.
Out of the corner of her eye, Sophie could see Kat taking in the whole scene, a small smile on her lips.
"Are you okay?" Sophie asked. "Want some scrambled eggs?"
Nathan shook his head. "We need to go," he said quietly.
Fear clutched at her throat. "Can I finish feeding Max?"
"Finish fast," he said.

            Do you like books where one or both of the characters have children, or do they detract from the story?


—Ana


Friday, March 27, 2015

Building A Character

How long does it take to build a character? Joe Smith walked into the conference room of the law firm of Smith, Smith, and Smith. He would much rather be home playing acoustic guitar or walking his bulldog, Elmer.

Do we know Joe now?

Sometimes we can identify with a character in a few well-crafted sentences, particularly in novellas. On other occasions it can take half a novel to truly understand and relate with a character, if not longer.

I can remember reading The Donovan series by Elizabeth Lowell and seeing glimpses and snippets of the character, Archer Donovan in Amber Beach and Jade Island. By the time Pearl Cove came around, I was salivating to know every essence of this man. Elizabeth had whipped me into a frenzy.

I am happy to reveal the cover for MIST, the second book in the Blue-Link series, which will be released this June. MIST, and the first book, SHADOW are stand-alone pieces. The term ‘series’ applies because each book has dealings with a global risk management company called Blue-Link. In each book we get a glimpse of Amanda Newton, the young, enigmatic owner of Blue-Link. Even in her brief appearances in the first two novels, we identify with her intelligence, drive, and unflappability. Yes, I’m the author, but I have a reader’s anticipation for the third and final book, DUSK, which will reveal how Amanda has come into such an impressive role, and exactly what makes her tick. 

In this case it has taken three books to build a character, but like everything else in life—the more we work for it, the better the gratification.

Are there characters that you have followed through books, or are you a hit and run reader?  There's nothing wrong with that. I'm a hit and run reader, but every now and then some stray personality in a series will get their claws in me and I'm eagerly along for the ride.

Maureen A. Miller
www.maureenamiller.com


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Living the Dream!

As a published author, many people believe I’m living the dream. And they’re right, of course. I love my job. It’s the best in the world.

However, I still have dreams, dreams that have nothing whatsoever to do with writing (although I may incorporate them into a story one day, of course). For instance, for more than 40 years, I’ve longed to see these magnificent Lipizzaner stallions.



As I have a big (terrifyingly big) birthday coming up in June, I decided to treat myself. Yes, I’m flying to Vienna with tickets for a performance at the Spanish Riding School gripped tightly in my hand. And I can’t wait.


How about you? What are you dreaming about? Are there items that have been on your bucket list for years - and years? I need to know. :)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why Yes, I Did Write That Book...

Most of what I write leans toward the erotic edge of the spectrum. Which is perfectly acceptable, especially in the community of romance authors where I hang out on the web and at writers' conferences. Out there in my conservative neighborhood and work-a-day world, however, it's a whole different kettle of fish!

A while back I wrote three connected stories about brothers who ran a detective agency that catered to the rich and famous, the sort of clients who needed discreet security and were willing to pay top dollar for it. Being that the books were all erotic romantic suspense, I gave the brothers the last name of 'Long' and called their company 'Long Shot Detective Agency.'

My editor came up with a series title of Long and Hard, which I loved. When she told me a year or so later later that the publisher planned to release the collection in print, I was excited.

Everything was fine until release day. When I was sitting in a room full of non-writing people. And one of those people who happened to be one of my Facebook friends as well said from across the room, "Congratulations on your book release today."

I sat up a little straighter. No one else in the room even knew I was a writer. I muttered a thanks under my breath.

"You wrote a book?" someone asked from a far corner.

A middle-aged man next to me inquired about the title. Heat raced up my spine. There were at least thirty people staring at me now. My mouth grew dry. "Long and Hard," I said quietly.

"What?" a few people asked.

To hell with it, I thought. Yes, I wrote that book, and many more. And yes, it's erotic. And it already has good reviews. So why shouldn't I be proud. I sat up taller and squared my shoulders. "Long and Hard," I said louder.

A few people chuckled, most were silent. Within seconds, they'd gone on to another topic. No one suggested that they form a mob to stone me or that I be ex-communicated from the group. Not one person even gave me a dirty stare.

After the meeting, several of the attendees pulled me aside to inquire about where they could get my book. And I'd gained some new readers.

I learned a lesson that day about owning up to what I write, and who I am. I'm proud of what I do. So what that my prose are explicit and my characters engage in pretty smutty behavior. Lots of folks like to read about it.

So yeah, I did write that book. And yes - it's damn hot!


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A WOMAN'S PEROGATIVE


A WOMAN’S PEROGATIVE

I had another posting ready for today but decided to put up this one instead.  The reason for the switch is a blog by Ryan Boudinot I read recently entitled, “Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach In One.”  If you happened to come across it, you may have had a strong reaction to it.  As I did.  And as over eighty-five commenters (as of this writing) did also.

In case you haven’t read the blog, you may be interested to know Mr. Boudinot is an author of some note (i.e. Blueprints of the Afterlife, Misconception), the director of the Seattle City of Literature and an erstwhile teacher in an (unnamed) MFA program.

The thrust of his blog is largely a rant, bitter at times, concerning the quality or lack thereof of  MFA students.  He castigates them for lack of talent, not starting the creative writing process early enough in life, lack of drive, lack of imagination, lack of interest in the classics, yadada, yadada, yadada.

Understandably, the bulk of the 85 comments consist of high charged outrage, calling Boudinot burned out, a mediocre writer, insensitive--you get the drift.  But I’m not weighing in on the blog for any of the above reasons, but for the following paragraph, which I’m quoting verbatim: 

“It's not important that people think you're smart.

After eight years of teaching at the graduate level, I grew increasingly intolerant of writing designed to make the writer look smart, clever, or edgy. I know this work when I see it; I've written a fair amount of it myself. But writing that's motivated by the desire to give the reader a pleasurable experience really is best. I told a few students over the years that their only job was to keep me entertained, and the ones who got it started to enjoy themselves, and the work got better. Those who didn't get it were stuck on the notion that their writing was a tool designed to procure my validation. The funny thing is, if you can put your ego on the back burner and focus on giving someone a wonderful reading experience, that's the cleverest writing.”

In this, if arguably not in his other observations, Mr. Boudinot is, in my opinion, spot on.  So you can see the whole picture, here’s the link to the blog.


 Comments, anyone?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Who Loves Good Timing?

I think the title kind of says it all. I mean, I could've titled this blog: Who DOESN'T Love Good Timing? but that seemed too negative so I went the other way. (I'm stalling.) But really, it's not very often I'm scheduled to blog when I also have a new cover and new release in the near future, so I'm glad this month timed out perfectly.

I don't know about you, but life's been kicking my ass lately. I've been spending crazy hours at the hospital with my sister after her 2 day back surgery (and even an unexpected day in the ER with my aunt) so to say my brain is fried is putting it mildly. Truly, I'm up to HERE with hospitals. (Imagine my hand waaaaay over my head!)

I'm so thrilled that I get to share some great news by way of a cover reveal! Yay! Here's my new gorgeous cover for A Little Danger! It's the latest installment in my Adrenaline Highs series and the first novella in the series as well. I am seriously in love with it!
What do you think?
The heroine is a little older than our hero and she's very conflicted with crushing on a younger guy. And really... he's not even that much younger in the scheme of things. Here's the blurb:


Elena Fraser is on her way to the airport to catch a flight to New York for the premiere of her daughter’s movie. Before limo driver Bill “Fido” Fidelo can make it to the freeway, a 7.1 earthquake collapses the overpass above and traps them. With nothing but time between frightening temblors, Elena and Bill learn more about each other, including the fact they’ve lusted after each other for years. 


Understanding they might not survive, Elena and Bill look to one another for solace and companionship. Bill tries to convince Elena that their seven-year age difference means nothing to him, and Elena soon realizes that life is too short to put off living. 


The passion they discover is enough to torch the limo they’re trapped in, but can rescuers save them in time, or will a final aftershock bury them before they have a chance to build a life together?  

I hope to get this novella out in April, but it might take a magic wand since more hospital time is in my future. LOL. Keep your fingers and toes crossed for me, people! 

Back to the cover... I LOVE the way she's looking at him. Like she might eat him up in one bite! Oh, but I LOVE the colors too!  What's your favorite thing about the cover?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday the 13th



Courtesy of W.J. Pilsak-ex:Datei.jpg


     The Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Ashville, North Carolina tells us 17 to 21 million people in the United States dread Friday the 13th. Many will not take flights; others take no chances, lock their doors, stay in bed all day and keep their fingers crossed. A number of buildings do not have a 13th floor.
     A novel written by Thomas W. Laws and published in 1907 became widely read. Laws titled his book Friday the 13th. The once popular book tells a story about a broker who takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on that risky day. The author’s readers became much more aware of the superstition and belief in its influence multiplied.
     Centuries before Laws wrote his novel, hundreds of the Knights Templar were arrested by King Philip IV...it was Friday, October 13th 1307. The Knights were an order of “Warrior Monks” formed during the Crusades. Dale Brown’s The DaVinci Code published in 2003 and Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry written in 1989 plus Maurice Druon’s historical series, The Accursed Kings and Tales of the Knights Templar by Katharine Kurtz, all refer to that time in history. But there is little documentation to prove that the superstition was born before the late 19th century.
     “And on a Friday fell all this mischance,” but traveling on a Friday has been considered unlucky since the 14th century and is mentioned in The Nun’s and Priest’s Tale and The Knight’s Tale two of the stories told in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.     
     Friday the 13th is not always the day bad luck is expected to arrive. Spanish speaking nations and Greece opt for Tuesday the 13th as their unlucky day while the day bad luck holds sway in Italy is Friday the 17th.
     Today most of us proclaim ourselves to be superstition free but I know if I spill salt, I use my right hand to throw a pinch of salt over my left shoulder—that keeps the devil, and bad luck away—far, far away. I admit I knock on wood for good luck and if there is no wood around I knock on my own head. Then there is the belief that opening an umbrella indoors is not a good omen. That apprehension can be traced back to the early Egyptians who believed it would offend the God of the Sun. Who wants to offend the God of the Sun? Of course, we all know if we carry an umbrella with us when rain is forecast—it will not.
      
     It’s not just polite to say, “God Bless You,” when someone sneezes, it dates back to 590 AD when Pope Gregory the Great decreed that prayers be said to fight a deadly plague in Italy. It’s also considered a positive sign when two people sneeze at the same time or when your cat sneezes. Don’t worry if that cat is black and crosses your path, if she comes straight towards you—be of good cheer—your future is bright and full of promise.
     The four-leaf clover or shamrock is extremely rare and extremely lucky. Anyone who finds a four-leaf clover will be blessed with prosperity, romance and luck in all endeavors. Sounds good to me—I intend to comb fields for my four-leaf clover the minute the winter weather leaves and the clover begins to grow.
     Fess up...do you admit to any superstitions?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thinking through Evil Motivations



I’m writing a great suspense novel. The love interest is hot, the mystery is intriguing, and the heroine knows how to rock a pair of keds. There’s just one problem, the villain doesn’t ring true.

In order for the plot to work as it is, we need to buy that he likes murdering people just for funzies. He also doesn’t want to get caught, but he loves teasing the FBI with hints. 

Now, when a villain isn’t ringing true, I have to ask a few questions:

Are there people in real life like this?
 
Sadly, yes. So, it does pass the “real world” test. 

But that doesn’t mean a reader is going to buy it. I mean, a vending machine is more likely to kill you than a shark, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of stories about a small-town mayor dealing with a mysterious, killer vending machine. (Though, Vending-Machine-Nado may be in development?) 

I’d bet that most readers would find a vending machine related death highly unbelievable, whereas we all know when we’re at the beach we’re just inches away from being squished to death by ferocious shark jaws. So, while these attributes may occur IRL, in a way, fiction has to be truer than reality. 

Have books and movies worked with that kind of villain before?
 
Yeah. Pretty much every serial killer movie, TV show, book, and macabre Sunday morning comic comes to mind. So, that’s not it…

If these motivations can work, both in real life and on the page, what’s wrong here? Is there some aspect of this character that’s different than characters with similar motivations in pieces that work?

Ding ding ding!

Random serial killers “work” as villains because, I think, we imagine that person has a compulsive desire to be in control, to be special, and to feel clever. They murder so that they can have the ultimate control over someone else. There aren’t many serial killers out there, so this act makes them special. And they tease the cops so they can feel like a superior mouse to the stupid cat cops. 

They’ve lacked all these elements in their life, which is why they are willing to take such extreme measures to attain them. (Full disclaimer, I’m not saying this is the actual psychology of serial killers, as I think it’s likely much more nuanced than that, but I think this is how most readers/viewers would interpret those types of motivations.)

I’m pretty sure that the reason my villain doesn’t make sense is because he has a speculative power, one that would give him a certain amount of control over other people.My villain doesn’t need to kill people to feel special and in control. He already is special and in control! So his motivation lacks authenticity.

Now of course, there are evil characters with super powers, but they usually have some higher motivation, like the pursuit of power, revenge, protection of other superheroes, love, an intense desire for tomato soup on a rainy day, etc. etc. 

By realizing what, exactly, is the problem, I can take a few steps back and see that his motivation has to involve higher stakes for him, he has to have a higher purpose. 

Now I just have to figure out what that might be….hmmmmm….



Monday, March 9, 2015

Old Dogs, New Tricks


by Daryl Anderson


It’s a cliché that writing is a lonely job. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s certainly solitary, which is why I have dogs. Their unconditional love and easy companionship make the whole business of writing a little less lonely.


At least 99% of the time…and it’s that other 1% that’s been bothering me of late.

I suppose it started with Pitch, the stray puppy I brought home several months earlier who decided that his mission in life was to chew his way through the entire house.  Pillows, table legs, even a ceramic pig enticed him.

But I took it in stride. With the possible exception of Labs and Boxers, all puppies outgrow their youthful mischief. It was the problem with Fera—my fifteen-year-old Rottweiler mix—that pushed me over the edge.

For practically all of Fera’s life, she’s eaten from the same bowl—a heavy-duty plastic job that my old dog had grown increasingly fond of with each passing year. (Only when it was too late did I discover just how fond.)

But as I said, it started with Pitch, who had also taking a liking to Fera’s bowl. Bluntly put, he ate it.
Or tried to. That he did not entirely succeed was not for lack of effort. His sharp puppy teeth had managed to gnaw off most of the black rubber coating from the bottom, but I was more concerned about the deep gashes in the bowl’s interior, which provided a perfect medium for bacterial growth.

I took a shaky breath—time for new bowl.

On the first attempt Fera backed away from the metal bowl as if it were a coiled viper. Reassessing the task before me, I opted for the slow, safe route. For a week—or two—I continued to feed Fera from her old bowl, but placed the shiny new bowl in increasingly close proximity, thereby sensitizing my old girl to the new reality. When I reached the point where the bowls touched, I was ready to try again.

And as an added incentive, I sautéed some ground turkey and rice and mixed it with Fera’s kibble to sweeten the pot—or rather the bowl.

This time Fera was way ahead of me. Before I’d put the bowl on the floor, she was already backing away. I was about to dump the mess into the old bowl and try again another day when my husband intervened.

“Leave the food,” he said. “When Fera gets hungry enough, she’ll eat it.”

But she didn’t eat it—not that day, nor the day after that.

I wasn’t ready to accept defeat, but neither could I watch Fera starve herself so I began feeding her by hand, cajoling all the time for her to eat from her “nice new bowl.” When that didn’t work, I tried other dinnerware: plates, pasta bowls, aluminum pie pans, but nothing worked.

Then one night, just before falling asleep, the answer came to me! The next morning I found an old cereal bowl that fit snugly into Fera’s battered bowl. Sure enough, Fera ate her chow. Maybe it was a little crazy, but it was sanitary, which was always my primary concern. I bragged to anyone who would listen about my ingenuity.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” my husband said.

But like so many victories, mine was short-lived. The next day when I placed Fera’s bowls on the floor, she cowered, tail flat as road-kill. We stared at one another for a long, long moment. I’m no dog psychic, but I’m pretty sure Fera was thinking the same thing as me: Have you lost your friggin’ mind?

I blinked first. I poured the kibble into her old bowl and put the new one away. “Here you go, girl.” I pushed her cherished bowl toward her, relieved that the awful game was over.

Only Fera wasn’t ready for it to be over. She shied from her once-beloved bowl. I grew cold with the realization of what I had done. Instead of acclimating Fera to a new bowl, I’d managed to instill a fear of bowls—indeed, of all dishware!—into my elderly dog

Since that awful day, I’ve fed Fera by hand. It’s a slow process, but the other morning she actually ate a few morsels from her old bowl. Hopefully in another day or two things will be back to normal.

I don’t know what—if anything—Fera learned from the entire ordeal, but one thing is crystal clear, at least to me.

Maybe you can teach an old dog a new trick, but not always the trick you wanted.

Facebook, BlogSpot


Friday, March 6, 2015

Strong Women: Building a Character’s Background

Posted by Sandy Parks
www.sandyparksauthor.com

This week includes and celebrates Worldwide Women in Aviation week, Women in Construction week, International Women’s Day, and Women’s History month. Whew, and I probably missed a few. That’s great to know, but what do these celebrations have to do with building characters?

Any writer wants their female protagonist to be strong (or achieve that through the story), but her background must explain how she became a doctor/lawyer/pilot/spy when she came from a troubled, impoverished, or lacking of support background. Writers frequently make the heroine a successful person who climbed up by her bootstraps, often times via unbelievable circumstances. That inconvenient necessity of getting from A to B is glossed over. She is a doctor because her cancer-ridden, drug addict mother left her abandoned at a young age. Motivation, yes, but hmm. How did she get from there to having the grades, the drive, and the funds for all the education required?

How does building characters connect to these women’s week celebrations? For one, there are often events during those weeks that are specifically aimed at young women of school age to entice them into particular fields. One is happening this week near me and is sponsored by the 99s, a women’s pilot organization. They offer free first rides and hands on seminars about being a pilot. They follow up these events with scholarships to encourage women to learn how to fly or hone other skills, and often provide mentorships to get young women jobs and internships. Many a young teen working at an airfield has gone on to be an aviation mechanic or pilot.
First flight for young girl at Women In Aviation Week activity Fly it Forward.
Photo by S.Parks
Other organizations do similar things. So if your character comes from a low income family, or is orphaned, or lacks a support system, hook her up with a mentor, give her an opportunity to try her hand at construction or mechanics or business, or just about any field (especially those under-represented by women), and then let her grow. Here’s an example. For extra money, your character cleans the church after services. The pastor has a flying ministry so takes her for a flight. When she shows interest in aviation, he gets her a job at the local airfield where she gets interested in working on the planes. The head mechanic starts to teach her and suggests she eventually apply for a training scholarship from the women’s mechanic organization. Sounds boring, but it builds a plausible background for why your gal can manipulate an aircraft or even car engine with ease.
Girls waiting at tarmac gate. A female member of the Civil Air Patrol is
running ramp safety with the CAP cadets.

Boys and girls wait for their first flight at an
Experimental Aircraft Associations Young Eagles day (free first flight). 

Where can mentors come from? The woman who flies her plane on the day your character shows up at a local hangar for the free flight. Or an aerobatic pilot at the local airshow where the young girl waits to get an autograph from her favorite flyer. Or a “big brother” or “sister” who comes into her community to assist? The special mentor may also add another layer to your story and be that missing mother or father figure, or be the comedic release in your story.
99s who offered free rides at event and often act as mentors
to women interested in flying. All ages and varying careers.
Young fan standing before Patty Wagstaff's aerobatic plane at an airshow. Patty is a multiple National Aerobatic champion, instructor, and supporter of women in aviation. Photo S. Parks

All in all, a woman who works hard to build/grow into the person she is today, is more likely to have the strength to be the super heroine we want in our stories. So start thinking about that background/backstory and how it can play into building the character you need to make the story believable. Give her an opportunity to become interested in her chosen field, a mentor to guide her, and scholarships/internships to carry her to success.