NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS
Friday, July 29, 2011
Then later at the dentist office as I waited for my daughter to have her teeth cleaned, I observed a family of three in the waiting room - mother, son and daughter - as they argued over who hadn't walked the dog that morning. I quickly summed up the relationship between the siblings, the parenting skills of the mother, as well as her marital situation.
When I stopped and laughed to myself at what I was doing, I realized it was something I've been doing for years. I fill in all the blanks of the countless people I encounter in the course of a day. I write their back stories!
Sure, some folks might characterize my behavior as a little weird, a bit on the intrusive side or even presumptuous, but writers get it. We don't find it strange when we hear someone say their characters have conversations in their head. We don't even lift an eyebrow when one of talks about a villain as if he or she is a living, breathing person. Because to us, they are living and breathing. They are our creation, the flowers we've coaxed from the fertile soil of our imagination.
So rejoice if you find yourself the moderator between the voices in your head. Celebrate if you fill in the details of scenarios you observe amongst strangers. You're not crazy. You're just thinking like a writer.
What about you? Do you create characters and scenarios from people you happen to observe?
Just for grins, here's one of my favorite writerly scenes, from The Shining (Graphic language warning!!)
Please stop by Love Romances Cafe today from 3-5 PM (Eastern) for a chat with the authors of Not Your Usual Suspects!
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
I’ve just seen the trailer for the new series of Dexter, due to air in the US in October (we Brits will have to wait). The premise behind Dexter is simple. A blood splatter analyst with the Miami Metro Police Department just happens to be a serial killer in his spare time. The idea might sound simple but there are many wonderful twists to the stories and the character of Dexter Morgan. I’m an addict. I’m a fan of the books by Jeff Lindsay and by the TV shows, despite the fact that they’re almost unrelated these days.
A few nights ago, I watched the film Crash. I’ve seen it several times and will no doubt watch it again. If you haven’t seen it, this film is about racial tensions in Los Angeles. One of the things I love most is that there isn’t a stereotype to be found in a cast that includes (among others) detectives and criminals, a district attorney and his spoilt wife, a Hollywood director and his wife who fall foul of a racist police officer, a wonderful Persian-immigrant shopkeeper and Hispanic locksmith. The way these characters interact and the seemingly unrelated events unfold is little short of genius. The film deservedly won three Oscars.
At the moment, I’m deep in edits for Silent Witness which releases in March 2012. While I’m working on those, I’ll be aiming to produce a book about which a writer says “Wow. I wish I’d written that.”
What about you? Is there anything you wish you’d written? Do share. I'd love to know!
Monday, July 25, 2011
Ever wonder what people think about us? Non-writers, that is.
I mean I get it when I'm talking with other writers. We'll talk about our WIPs, scenes, plotting, querying agents or editors, submitting manuscripts, entering contests. We understand and go through the same emotional roller coaster of ups and downs. But to somebody who doesn't write for a living, do they understand our obsessive compulsive behavior?
If you're anything like me, the moment I've decided to enter a contest, for example, I start obsessing. Second guessing myself. Did I send the right manuscript? Did I enter the right category/genre? Was I supposed to send a synopsis with that submission? How many pages was that again? Or worst of all, did I remember to format that sucker correctly?
Same thing happens when sending out submissions to agents and/or publishing houses. I go back and fret over those same questions. Always after I've hit the SEND button I will inevitably find something I forgot to do or include or explain that probably really needed to be there. Too little, too late.
Don't even get me started on reviews when a new book is released.
Then there are backups. How often do we make sure we backup what we're writing? It can go onto a CD, onto a flash drive, a thumb drive, get sent to an external hard drive, e-mailed to a different e-mail address, copied onto a laptop or netbook and even printed out. I've heard so many horror stories about people losing entire books they've written that this is another area of obsessive compulsive disorder I've acquired since starting writing. When I'm finished with a writing session, kablam, there's the backup. Done and done.
Are any of you like that? Are you a card-carrying member of the writer's OCD guild? If so, welcome to my world.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
It’s that time again, and I’m stocking up on necessary supplies.
Champagne – my drink of choice no matter what the situation. More practically, Diet Dr. Pepper. Pain au chocolat from this new little French bakery we found. Dark roast coffee. Almond granola bars. And chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
Sounds like I’m anticipating a siege, doesn’t it? Well, I am. I just got the first round of copy edits on my new book and am preparing to lock myself in the office to get them done. More than that, though, to use an old phrase, This Means War.
I am fortunate. I have one of the best editors in the business and like her very much personally. When we aren’t working on a manuscript, I call her a dear friend. However – when we are facing off over the slashed and bleeding bulk of my manuscript, things change.
What does she mean that I have to change a major character’s name? That is the character’s name, and I cannot picture her with any other. It would be like suddenly having to call Jane, whom you’ve known since grade school, Margaret. Of course, I paid no attention to the fact that three other characters have names that begin with the same letter, or that the name is so unusual that some might regard it as a typo.
And what if I left a couple of hours window unaccounted for? Or that a certain character needs more motivation? How does she dare suggest that I change the focus of the ending?
During this process I try desperately to hang on to my vision of my novel, from minor skirmishes over word choice (I was raised to believe that longer is better) to bloody battles over the final resolution. This is my book; it was born in my head and delivered through my fingers, and I know it better than anyone else.
Wherein lies a lot of the problems. There are things in my head that are not on the paper (well, screen, but you know what I mean) and the book is weaker for it. There are things that I simply cannot see are missing, or wrong, or misleading, and that is why we need editors. Good editors. To me, a good editor is one who wants to make my book stronger, not to recreate it into her vision, and I am blessed to have one. Actually, I have two, but being human can only deal with one set of revisions/edits at a time.
Not that we always agree, but our disagreements are always civil, if civil can be stretched to occasional screaming bouts of voluminous hyper-verbosity. (Told you I liked big words!) We’re still friends, so I guess what we’re doing works.
Which does not mean that she walks all over me. When all is said and done, this is my book, my story, my vision, not hers, and it should retain that eternal ‘me-ness.’ (I like to make up words, too.) A good editor like mine recognizes and fosters that.
And a good editor deserves the best I can give, including meeting her deadlines, so I need to get to work. But first I forgot – I need to go get a supply of jelly beans… and maybe some grapes…
However! Before I go… I have news! Before I blog again, which is supposed to be on 26 September, I am going to have a release.
LURE OF THE MUMMY is set in my beloved
LURE OF THE MUMMY is my first horror novella, but more than that, I have been told that it is the very first EVER horror novel ever published by either Carina or Harlequin! Now does that make me a groundbreaker or a guinea pig? I don’t care – I’m simply delighted!
Now I really must go get those jelly beans and grapes… and maybe some pizza… and definitely some ice cream…
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Is it because humans are so obsessed with death that we find murder so acceptable--and yet there's no doubt humans are equally fascinated by sexual desire.
There's a study by Dr. David Buss (author of The Murderer Next Door) who says:
“Killing is fundamentally in our nature because over the eons of human evolution murder was so surprisingly beneficial in the intense game of reproductive competition,” Buss said. “Our minds have developed adaptations to kill, which is contrary to previous theories that murder is something outside of human nature—a pathology imposed from the distorting influences of culture, media images, poverty or child abuse.That's pretty scary stuff, and yet it makes perfect sense to me. And, what is that sentence, right there...
“Though we may like to think that murderers are either pathological misfits or hardened criminals,” he added, “the vast majority of murders are committed by people who, until the day they kill, seem perfectly normal.”
"over the eons of human evolution murder was so surprisingly beneficial in the intense game of reproductive competition"Reproductive competition. For humans that (generally) boils down to who gets to have s e x with whom.
Interesting stuff. Both s e x and murder are fundamental acts in the animal kingdom and yet, in fiction at least, s e x elicits a much stronger reaction from readers, and is considered much more intimate/personal than murder.
In my humble opinion, it's that intimacy that makes sexual relations integral to romance novels--it isn't about which bit goes where. It's about the emotional risk of getting close to someone and trusting them when you are at your most vulnerable. Most animals don't have face-to-face s e x, except octopods (have you read SEA OF SUSPICION? ;)) and it is that vulnerability that lies at the heart of a successful romance novel.
I don't know why people get more upset about s e x than murder. I'd like to find out. Anyone have any insights?
Monday, July 18, 2011
I’ve often wondered how I would act in the face of danger. For instance, if a mugger cornered me, would I be calm, cool, and collected? Would I freeze up? Would I kick him in the… um, shins, and run? I’d like to think I could make a wise decision based on a split-second analysis of available exit routes, strengths and weaknesses, and whether I’d had my Wheaties for breakfast.
I probably think about scenarios like these more than the average person, though likely not more than my dear fellow suspense writers. Because – spoiler alert! – there is DANGER in my books. And maybe even the occasional mugger. So I have to think about the myriad ways my various characters would respond in such a situation, and why. What’s more, I have to consider how their actions shape the way they act in the rest of the book.
Behavior is a combination of three factors: biology, psychology, and social environment. For a character to behave in a believable manner, writers must consider each of these factors when deciding on the appropriate sequence of events.
- What is the character physically capable of (e.g., has she had her Wheaties)?
- What is his/her mental state and thought process at the time of the event (e.g., is she thinking about her grocery list when she is surprised by her attacker or is she expecting an ambush)?
- And what is going on in the character’s surroundings that promote or inhibit one reaction over another (e.g., is there a gun, or are there others present who could get hurt)?
There are so many combinations of factors a writer can put together. My characters probably hate me for what I put them through. But hey, they come out stronger in the end, right?
For example, my heroine in ONLY FEAR is being stalked. When she first finds out it’s Serious (yes, with a capital “S” AND italicized), her home has been invaded by the man, her sanctuary desecrated. Despite her experience as a psychiatrist, she crumbles. (Well, just a bit, anyway… I love my strong heroines, after all.) But her growth arc in the book shows her growing stronger as she faces each dangerous encounter. And when family members are threatened, her behavior changes. She’s willing to take on more risk for those she loves.
My hero, on the other hand, is an experienced ex-Secret Service agent. He already knows how to deal with danger on a daily basis, and welcomes the opportunity to face it head-on if it means defeating an evil force. But he’s also dealing with something from his past that hinders his confidence. His reaction to danger is quite different than the heroine’s.
And of course, when you get the hero and heroine together, they can do anything. Because love crosses into physical, psychological, and social realms. And love conquers all.
What about your characters? How would they act when faced with danger and why?
Friday, July 15, 2011
The pursuit. The hunter and the hunted. Chase scenes are the primal throb of thrillers. Our palms sweat, our hearts pound and our blood races as we revel in the chase, whether by foot, animal or machine.
A good chase scene not only will have action and suspense but will also reveal character. Put Keanu Reeves, Harrison Ford, or Steve McQueen on motorcycles and you’re going to have three very different scenes. Here are a few of my favorite cinematic chases.
Raiders of the Lost Ark. A legend for all time. From “Truck? What truck?” Indiana Jones overtakes the truck by horse, tosses a few bad guys off, is shot and is thrown out the front window. The look on his face when the hood ornament bends and cracks off is classic Indy. Before the scene is over, Indiana Jones makes his way under the truck and then uses his whip to be dragged behind the truck before climbing back on and regaining control.
The Italian Job. Most fun. Mini Coopers driven where no car dares to tread including the LA subway.
Return of the Jedi. Obstacle course. Luke and Leia race on flying speeder bikes through a dense forest with Storm Troopers smacking into trees.
Bourne Ultimatum. Wings on feet. Bourne’s breathtaking foot race across the roofs of buildings in Tangier makes one think he stole the god Mercury’s winged shoes.
Live Free or Die Hard. Best knock down. After being chased throughout DC, Bruce Willis’s John McClane takes out the pursuing helicopter with a car.
Live and Let Die. Spectacular boat chase. Have to list at least one James Bond movie. Gotta love speed boats peeling around the Louisiana bayou with one ending up in a pool and Bond leapfrogging in a boat over the redneck sheriff’s patrol car.
As an aside and on a lighter side, I also want to pay homage to the chase scene in What’s Up Doc? when Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal drive a Volkswagen Beetle down San Francisco’s famous ‘Lombard Street’. Hysterical.
What are your favorite chase scenes, whether cinematic or literary?
Monday, July 11, 2011
If you’ve just come back from a conference or plan to head out soon, here’s my tried-and-true medicine:
Start with Decompression. Take off the heels, the suitcoat, the badge. Get into your softest slouch clothes. Your work in the yard shirt. Your flipflops. Outer transformation signals inner transformation. (That’s why Cinderella needs a dress to go to the ball, people.)
Download. Now it’s time to write everything down. Journal. Make a To Do list, however you work best. Flush it all onto an empty sheet. Random images, odd thoughts. People to contact. Dates to remember. A phrase you heard. A new drink you tried. The striking intimacy of being in an elevator with someone whose work you know, whose words moved you. The way that time shifts, elongating then snapping back, over before you know it.
Friday, July 8, 2011
I'm so excited about my upcoming release, THE FIFTH KINGDOM (July 11, 2011) a romantic suspense.
I loved writing this novel because although it is a romantic suspense, there was something very magical going on and it wasn't just the sizzling energy between the hero and heroine. It was some very special powers from an unexpected item.
In THE FIFTH KINGDOM, those powers come from an ancient relic discovered in what could be Montezuma's tomb. The relic is a copy of the Aztec Sun Stone sitting in the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. The original sun stone is about 12 feet in diameter and weighs about 24 metric tons. You can read more about the original here.
The relic in the book is similar in terms of its look, but it is small enough to hold in your hands and made of obsidian and silver on stone. Pure black obsidian was actually quite rare to the Aztecs and that's the reason that many of their sacrificial knives and the like, were made from this precious substance. Obsidian was more prized than gold in fact.
The obsidian and silver relic is very different from the original in one important way: It has mystical powers which are released once it comes in contact with something very sacred.
What can be so sacred? What about blood?
Now I won't spill about whose blood awakens the energy in the relic or what it is because I don't want to spoil the story for you.
For the Aztecs, the original sun stone was not only a calendar or sorts, but also a way to tell the history of the Aztec people. It tells the story of the four kingdoms of their past history and hints at what might end their fifth kingdom. The fact that some believe we are now living in that FIFTH KINGDOM is what inspired the title of the book.
I'll leave you with the Aztec Sun Stone and it's supposed abilities to predict the end of THE FIFTH KINGDOM and also, the video premiere for the novel.
I'd love to hear from you as to whether you believe in the possibility of ancient relics having special powers.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Monday, July 4, 2011
Friday, July 1, 2011
In mid-July, I'm going to spend a week out in the wilderness, hugging trees, singing Kumbaya, smoking a peace pipe, and running away from black bears, grizzly bears, cougars, wolves, moose, elk, and other large mammals that can eat me or squash me like a bug.
Two years ago, I wouldn't have sweat this. Not because I would've come out on top in one-on-one combat with any of the wildlife (not even in my wildest dreams), but because I practiced a lot of running at the dojo four times a week (it hurts less if opponents can't make contact) and know I wouldn't have been the slowest person in the group. These days, an octogenarian with a walker could probably outrun me. Sad, but true.
So, why is a city girl who enjoys winter sports because most wildlife are hibernating or gone south risking life and limb by going into the great outdoors during the peak of summer? Well, (1) this week communing with nature while slathered with SPF 100 sunscreen and mosquito repellant is a leadership course for my MBA. No, seriously. I will actually get credit for hiking and camping for a week. It (2) also gives me an excuse to visit MEC and buy new layers I can use for snowboarding. And (3) I may use it in a book someday. The heroine of the next book may find herself lost in the woods with a killer on her trail...or tripping someone to distract a grizzly while she runs away. I can make either scenario work.
While I'm a coward at heart, this trip is not the most questionable thing I've done in the name of research. I have white water-rafted, skydived, taken the controls of an airplane, pushed 130 mph on the Autobahn, eaten food from a street vendor in Asia, crossed a street in Paris, and a few other things that are a little fuzzy (probably for the sake of my sanity). Bungee-jumping and base-jumping are still on my list...which reminds me I still need to plan a trip to New Zealand in the next couple of years. (No, I really don't have a death wish. If I did, I'd try planking.)
What have you done for research?
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