Monday, June 27, 2016

5 Ways to Get Inspired This Summer

Have the blue skies and ample daylight cut into your productivity? If you answered, "yes," then believe me. I know your pain. Gorgeous summer days can really mess up a work schedule. It’s hard enough to concentrate when the world smells like sunblock and nostalgia. Add the fact the neighbors are grilling and lawn mowers are mowing, and I'm lucky to put two sentences together. It's no way to complete a novel. *shakes head sadly* Everywhere we look this time of year, someone’s doing something more interesting than sitting behind a desk, but that doesn't change the fact that the work NEEDS done. So, how can we do the things we need to do when our minds are on a raft at the nearest pool?

I have a few suggestions:

5. Read. Read your favorite book. Read a new title. Read whatever suits your fancy. Sometimes a little mental break may be all you need to get your creative juices flowing again.



4. Take a walk. Around your block. Through the woods. Down the towpath. Anywhere you can absorb the world in bloom. The sights and sounds of a babbling brook, calling frogs and singing birds might jiggle loose your next great idea. Bonus advice: If your creativity is better fed by nocturnal things and bat colonies swooping past a full moon, go out at night. Build a bonfire and track rising embers into the ether.


3. Nap! Find a comfy chair in the sun room, a blanket under an old oak tree or a hammock on the porch, and gather your ideas by osmosis. A few new stories are sure to form in your pores if you fall asleep surrounded by nature, right? How could we not dream something amazing with the summer sun on our cheeks and warm wind in our hair?



2. Visit the local ice cream stand. Grab a cool treat to soothe your weary mind. Whether it’s a cone or sundae, sweet tea or lemonade, there’s just something special about the snacks at an ice cream stand. Not to mention, the stand is always surrounded by families and little leaguers, young couples sharing malts and older couples sharing memories. If the delicious treats and community feeling doesn’t inspire you, you never know what kind of story fodder you might overhear!



1.  Embrace the distraction. Sometimes, there’s nothing left to do, but make those memories. After all, it’s only summer for a little while, and life is about moments like these, right? So, somedays, I just have to grab the nearest rope and swing into the creek one more time. The work is guaranteed to be there when I get home.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

TOUGH GUYS






 TOUGH GUYS
 
            IMHO, a little known fact is that writers are among the strongest people on earth.  I’m not talking Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone strong here, more the quiet, unrelenting kind of strength that has little to do with brawn and a lot to do with brain.  To keep the actor analogy going, I mean writers are more like Russell Crowe or Patrick Stewart in the roles they typically favor—quiet, thoughtful, resilient and, most of all, determined.  Writers, too, are determined.  They’re hell-bound to get that manuscript published, no matter how long it takes, no matter how many rewrites they have to produce, or what the cost in sleepless nights or dry days when the Muse has fled.
 
They will not give up.
 
Case in point:  A multi-published author friend recently had a story submitted to a  major publisher.  She had polished the book until it shone, so her hopes were high, but realistically so.  After all, she’d honed her craft over the years and earned a good degree of acceptance in the marketplace.  Long story short, the book was rejected.  What smarted wasn’t the rejection so much but the cold way it was expressed. 
 
On the phone to me my writer friend said, “The only thing he liked was the typing.”  Her attempt at gallows humor over a book she thought could be her break-through novel was as gutsy as going 5 rounds.  So what did she do?  She plucked what was usable from the harsh comments and went back to work on the manuscript.
 
I suspect this tale or a variation thereof is familiar to anyone who takes his craft seriously.  The name of the game is rejection.  No wonder we who write have the hides of rhinoceri.  Well, that’s what Oil of Overcome is for.  You slather it on and keep on writing.
 
Let the Terminator beat that.
 
Which leaves me with a question:  Have you ever been temped to give up and throw your manuscript against a wall—but didn’t?  Why not? 
 
Jean Harrington is the author of the award-winning Murders by Design Series.  The tongue-in-cheek, Naples-set stories are available here:
 
 
 





 
 

 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Characters Are What They Eat

How ever clichĂ© it may seem, our characters usually need some type of sustenance to survive. While some stories can work around bodily necessities, others are forced to face them on the page or the author needs to use them to further the story. Be careful of the pitfalls of foodie scenes, though. Don’t use them to let the characters tell backstory or plot their next moves. It slows pacing. All too often, the scenes are set at a restaurant, home, or bar with predictable interruptions from wait staff or patrons. Make sure the story can’t be told in another manner. Food scenes are often overused by novice writers, much like scenes that include dreams or waking up in the morning and starting the day.

A spicy pepper and chicken dinner cooked and devoured in China.
Does your character like spicy food? How spicy?
So how can writers include these often necessary eating scenes and not make them cringe-worthy to editors or readers? By making them unique and bringing out more about the characters through showing, not telling backstory. Exactly what does that mean? How do you make a scene unique? How can we feed characters and move the story along at the same time?

Stick with me and I’ll give you a few bites to consider.
1. Use a food scene to show (not tell) a character’s background.
2. Go beyond the obvious.
3. Find out what’s particular to your story’s location.
4. Use food or eating to move your story forward.
5. Don’t forget to use the senses beyond smell and taste.

1. Use a food scene to bring out a character’s background.
More is revealed about a character when she is out of her element. Think about using a food scene to put at least one of your characters in an uncomfortable position. Is a character rich and can’t imagine a place that doesn’t offer warm hand cloths upon being seated, let alone eat street vendor food in Cambodia? Is your heroine poor, rarely eats out, or has a favorite pooch so finds nothing wrong with stuffing leftovers in an oversized purse? Is your hero in trouble and needs food, so resorts to old ways (stealing) to stay alive (or he’s with a heroine who dumpster dives after he complains about being famished because they are stuck in an alley for 24 hours to avoid bad guys). Use the actions of eating to reveal details about a character’s character or their background.

For example: Your hero and heroine are young so make a date for pizza. The hero takes her to a “special” place. She likes thick crust, pineapple, and fresh tomatoes. He tells her it’s not on the menu, but tugs her into the kitchen. The people in back smile as he snatches up dough and works it. During his show of tossing and creating her perfect pizza, she discovers his uncle owned the place and everyone in the family was expected to help out. Since he learned his craft, you can assume he has some work ethic. Or he worked at the restaurant after being caught stealing or painting graffiti on the building, and the owners/staff grew to like him. Why? Or as a wealthy kid, he’d made his first million at eighteen after betting his father a few years earlier he could invest a million and double his money (and he bought a gourmet pizza chain after learning the craft inside out).

You can also tell a lot about a character’s personality by what they drink. Every country, county, and frequently town has a special drink. Does your character drink moonshine, soju, foreign beer, pisco sours, champagne, or beer made by a local brewery? Is he a rich guy who disdains wine and hard liquor, but loves beer? Or a poor guy willing to do anything for French champagne?

Soju. A typical, inexpensive alcohol drink in Korea,
often mixed with a clear soda. Can be found in US, too.

2. Go beyond the obvious.
Your hero is helping a woman escape and are fleeing in an Asian jungle. The power bars are gone and they need food or will starve to death, particularly the muscled hero whose expertise is desert survival. Rain brings out flying bugs. The woman disappears, but later the hero finds her playing in the dirt, following male termites who have shook off their wings and are looking to mate. She has collected a good number of fat female termites and will cook them up in an old can they have secured. He learns how she helped her family survive in hard times by collecting the delicacy to sell at market. Or termites could be a favorite food she desperately misses after having run away and only rarely comes back home to see family (perhaps she’s afraid of a former opium lord that lurks in her mountain village). You could tell the same story using stir-fry crickets. Yeah, I just happen to have a photo of those.
Stir fried crickets cooked up at a small Cambodian village.

3. Find out what is particular to your story’s location.
On a trip I took to the southern states years ago, it was particularly cold and freezing. We stopped in a small restaurant in Georgia for dinner. Even though living in Ohio at the time, the cold had followed us south and I wanted to warm up. So I ordered tea. Imagine my surprise with they delivered a glass of ice-filled sweet tea. “Bless your heart, sweetie. You’re in the south. If you want hot tea without sugar, you have to tell us.”

When a British character exploring the world claims to love barbecue, his friend brings him a skewer with roasted frogs. Americans are frequently known for not wanting heads or tails on their fish dinners. Does your character try to fit in when traveling abroad or demand the fish eye staring back at them be removed?
Skewered frogs from a Thai street market. Highlighted in yellow circle.
Check out the other fish and eels.

4. Use food or eating to move your story forward.
Perhaps your character is from a foreign country and now lives in an American city. He craves coffee, tea or perhaps fresh bread made like back in his home country. Waiting at a special bakery in his multi-cultural city, he overhears something he shouldn’t. He suspects the people might be terrorists and tells authorities, but they level their suspicions at him instead of taking appropriate action. This could be the start to a mystery or thriller.
Flat bread baking in a Moroccan oven in Fez.

5. Don’t forget to use the senses beyond smell and taste.
You’ve seen on television a man holding a teapot way above a glass and pouring. The hot tea gurgles as it hits the glass. Food on a hot plate sizzles and flames up when sherry sauce is poured over it. It’s loud enough to turn heads in a restaurant. This is the perfect time to slip something incriminating into someone’s pocket or purse. Could popcorn at a movie theater remind a former soldier of gunfire?


Go forth and write your foodie scenes, keeping in mind a few of these ideas to make your scene unique, and your characters bigger than life.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Lori Foster's Reader & Author Get Together (#RAGT16)

So, back in January I receive this author interview which asked how readers could meet me...

I was foxed. 

All of the conferences I've done in the past have been aimed at writers where I've networked with other authors, learned craft, and met people from the business of publishing books. Sure, there are some book signings at these events but they are pretty limited. Being largely self published these days, I wasn't about to send myself on a book tour (although the concept has merit :)). 

The next email I received was about Lori Foster's Reader & Author Get Together looking for a lunch sponsor. 

So, I have this problem (aside from the habit of starting sentences with "so."). I like being in the background. I do not like jumping up and down and saying "Hey, look at me!" A lot of it is cultural. I grew up in Britain and you do not brag. Ever. So (ha) the concept of hosting lunch for everyone made me kind of nervous. At the same time I'm one of those authors who happens to be doing pretty well (thank you, God, the Universe and everything), but no one has ever heard of me. I'm not talking about people in the street :). I'm talking readers who love Romantic Suspense as much as I do, and other big authors (Lori Foster LOL). I mean I've sold about half a million books and they have never heard of me, at all. That's fine in terms of everyday life, but it's not great when I need to be expanding my fan base. 

I'd already decided 2016 was the year I was going to put myself out there. So I bit the bullet and offered to co-host the Saturday lunch for RAGT16 along with one of my best buddies, Rachel Grant. Rachel was an obvious choice because--one, I was rooming with her in the near future in Hawaii and I could make her life miserable if she said no (just kidding, Rach!!). The real reason is we both write plot heavy, sexy Romantic Suspense stories with smart heroines. RAGT16 was small enough not to feel too daunting (500 people about 80 of whom are authors), relatively cheap, and I'd heard it was well-run and very friendly.

After much planning, last week I found myself on a flight to Cincinnati. (I should mention I was sick as dog--why does that always happen? A cough and laryngitis, just what I needed.) 

Anyway, I really didn't know what to expect. 

The first surprise was the ride system, where volunteers pick you up and drop you off at the airport. How fricking GREAT is that? A reader called, Joni Anderson picked me up. What are the chances of that happening? Toni Anderson/Joni Anderson? Seriously I felt like I'd met my twin. 

Next I tracked down the elusive Rachel Grant and met the lovely Jenn Stark (though I never got a photograph). Nor did I get photos with Lori Foster, Karen Rose, Darynda Jones, Karen Marie Moning or JR Ward. I'm an idiot (this is not news). 

Why is Jenn Stark so lovely? Because she lived nearby, she let us to mail her all the books and swag we planned to give away at our lunch. Can you imagine trying to bring that on the plane? Lifesaver.



Me and the wonderful Rachel Grant
 I think I squeaked when I saw our banner for the first time. We decided to cut it in half so we could both keep half.

Like I say, I wasn't sure what to expect. I was a little worried readers might expect me to entertain them in some way, but this isn't the case at all. Most readers want to chat but they have groups of friends they want to hang with. I had to laugh when me and Rachel bumped into Karen Rose at Friday's lunch and when we tried to sit at a table we were all told in no uncertain terms the seats were taken (it's KAREN ROSE, people!). I did laugh.

I met reviewers and people I'd interacted with online.
With the wonderful Cindy Overton
Waterproof Kobo and awesome swag we donated!
And the raffles--wow. All I can say is the raffle baskets blew me away. They stretched around the ballroom. Rachel and I donated one for charity and one for the lunch/event. Check out the money raised for the various charities here.
Amazon Echo (donated by Montlake Romance) and some amazing books and swag donated by us and other wonderful authors like Melody Anne, Nancy Herkness, Sandra Owens, Lena Diaz, Krista Hall.
At the Saturday signing
The signings were a lot of fun but I learned a valuable lesson. If your book #1 in a series is FREE, and you give away book #3 with lunch, then make sure you have book #2 for the signing. I made the mistake of bringing my newest releases and thought one woman was going to shout at me. :) Lesson learned. One of the sweetest things that happened was being presented with this personalized wine glass made by a fan. The quote on the back is from A COLD DARK PLACE :) She made them for a lot of authors!

What else...they had a pajama breakfast, but I swear to god only me and Rachel showed up in our PJs LOL. They also had a costume party with a Disney theme. Believe it or nor I was supposed to be Elizabeth Swann from Pirates of the Caribbean. My husband actually said to me, "But she weighs 10 lbs soaking wet." We're still not talking ;) Rachel was Rey from Star Wars. Look at that awesome costume courtesy of her daughter. Wow!

 Karen Marie Moning and JR Ward were both there and I heard they were a blast to hang out with. 
I was also able to catch up with author Sharon Hamilton whom I adore. 

 So, was it worth it? 

YES! I had a ball and it's always worth it to meet new readers! The event usually sells out within a day. If you want to attend and want to know when it opens, sign up for the newsletter on the website







Wednesday, June 15, 2016

ON TOUR WITH WILL SHAKESPEARE




     Stepped through the magical doors of the Lincoln Center Library in New York City and into a celebration of Shakespeare’s productions—productions produced in America from colonial times through today. Through the use of broadsides, programs, engravings, photographs plus models of sets, costume designs, prompt scripts and annotated scripts—with handwriting legible and beautiful—used by the major stars of yesterday and today, the exhibition tells the story of Shakespeare in our nation. I traveled through history with Shakespeare’s words brought to life by his interpreters.
     During the Revolutionary War the Continental Army lost control of cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and New York. The British Army presented shows at the Old Southwark Theatre—comedies, melodramas and King Henry IV while at The Theatre Royal British officers used scripts they had with them or had them copied at a local print shop. Both sides used quotes from King John, Richard II, Hamlet and Macbeth that would support the cause they favored.
     Shakespeare came to America with family troupes like the Hallam-Douglas families and the American Company who played seasons in large port cities. In the 19th Century, Actors who were into their mature years chose to play Falstaff. The year 1839, saw Falstaff performed by James M. Hackett at the Park theatre for his farewell performance. Ben De Bar played his Sir John Falstaff in Henry IV at Union Hall.
     Shakespeare was popular in the gold camps; a man might keep a treasured book of his works next to his bible and declaim a few lines for his fellow miners. Actors who specialized in melodrama and Shakespeare, authors, orators and elocutionists all played rural and western America—troupes entertained in Nevada City, Grass Valley, Rough and Ready—remote camps where the sound of a gun became as familiar as the sound of clapping. Actors gained a wealth of experience—the scarce supply of talent offered young actors like Edwin Booth the chance to move from theatre to theatre and mining camp to mining camp. The Bard of Avon came to California with the forty-niners; an estimated twenty-two of his plays were performed on its stages with Richard III the most popular. The Jenny Lind Theatre in 1850 was packed with miners who abandoned gambling and saloons to see Hamlet and King Lear. The Booths played Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello in addition to Richard III, and in 1856 Laura Keen came to San Francisco with Coriolanus and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
     In 1849, a gory riot broke out in New York City over methods of acting in a Shakespearean play. An energetic approach was thought democratic and American while analytical technique was considered patrician and English. Infuriated by a performance of Macbeth, a mob of 10,000 converged outside the Astor Place Theatre—taunts and heckling turned to fighting. Paving stones were thrown and the New York Militia opened fire shooting into the crowd. Twenty-two people are thought to have died and one hundred and fifty injured.
     After World War II, communities all over North America developed theatre companies and festivals. Festivals have reflected social changes and practiced non-traditional casting—hiring the best performer for the role. Directors often alter the time and place of Shakespeare’s original work. Touring companies travel around cities and states reaching more and more audiences but the words remain. I believe William Shakespeare would have approved.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Malbec Mayhem

My latest story, novella MALBEC MAYHEM, releases tomorrow!

Restaurant owner and chef Alex Montoya grows Malbec grapes on land he co-owns with a less-than-trustworthy business partner. His new girlfriend, Sofia Pincelli, needs those grapes to show her father she has what it takes to make award-winning wine—and save the reputation and finances of the Pincelli winery. When the Malbec grapes go missing…there’s mayhem.

A few people have asked me about Malbec wine since the varietal isn’t as well known as reds such as cabernet, merlot or pinot noire. Malbec originated in southwest France and served mainly as a blending grape to enhance other red wines’ flavor. (It’s one of the six grapes allowed in the blend of red Bordeaux wine.) Susceptible to weather and insects, it was nearly wiped out in Europe when frost and root rot killed most of the vines. Fortunately for us, the grapes found a new home in Argentina. Most of the Malbec on the market today still originates there.

Recently, vintners in Washington state have planted the grapes and found it thrives in eastern Washington’s higher elevations and dry climate. These vineyards have the hot days and cool nights necessary for the grapes to produce more acidity. That acidity creates great tasting and long lasting vintages.

A crowd-pleaser—easy to drink, with a ton of juicy fruit flavors—Malbec is becoming one of the most popular red wines on the American market. Some people love to call Malbec a working man’s Merlot, as the wine has many of the same characteristics that make Merlot easy to drink, with an added spice and acidity that makes it seem less polished.

I loved this line I found on a wine buying website: “Malbec is the guy who rides the Harley to Merlot’s guy that drives the Vespa.”

Have you tried Malbec? What’s your favorite red wine?



                           ~ Malbec Mayhem ~

Successful restaurateur Alex Montoya’s charmed life has hit a snag. His trusted business partner turned out to be not exactly trustworthy, and Alex could be facing jail time over some of his partner’s shady financial deals. As if that weren’t bad enough, creditors are calling in loans he didn’t know he had and he’s desperate to prove his innocence before all his businesses are repossessed.

After a career-building stint in Napa Valley, Sofia Pincelli has returned home to eastern Washington to take over the family’s winery. Running the family business, however, means dealing with her ailing father’s continued micro-management—and his disapproval of Alex. Her father’s condemnation of Alex’s rumored involvement in his business partner’s schemes runs so deep, it threatens Alex and Sofia’s blossoming romance…along with the Pincelli family’s signature red wine. Sofia needs Alex’s crop of Malbec grapes to show her father she has what it takes to make award-winning wine—and save the reputation and finances of the Pincelli winery.

When the Malbec grapes go missing, Alex and Sofia must join forces to find the fruit before it spoils—or risk destroying both of their businesses and their hearts.