Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Next Steps

Once again, I'm playing the writing waiting game. This time it's for the return of my signed contract, which will be accompanied by a link to the 'tasks' that I need to accomplish. From submission to contract was less than a week, so I really can't complain about this waiting. It's only been a couple of days since I sent in my signed copy of the contract.

But in the meantime, I can think about what needs to happen next.

I'll need to fill out a MIS (Manuscript Information Sheet). Here's where I'll choose an excerpt, blurb, dedication, and list snippets from reviews of my previous work. I'll also have to fill out a sheet for the art department so they can create my cover. This page lists pertinient information about my hero and heroine: looks, age, clothing choices. It also asks me to describe the theme and overall feel of my book, if it's part of a series, and what I want my cover to look like. I'll also be able to give some examples of other covers out of the TWRP catalog that I feel have the 'look' for my story.

I'm already running some blurbs through my mind. With a story this short, it's only 11,000 words, pulling an excerpt that doesn't give too much away is going to be a challenge, so I've been thinking about that, too. I have kind of a 'look' going for my other holiday stories, so I'll list A Christmas to Remember and An Unexpected Blessing for cover ideas. I figuring even doing some of the work in my head will put me ahead of the game when the forms arrive.

And then I'm wondering what kinds of edits my editor will suggest. She said she loved the story, so I'm pretty sure there are no major story points that are going to be changed. But I'm always curious about what phrases she picks out needing to be changed.

Ah well, I guess I'll find out soon enough, as soon as that double-signed contract for The Vampire and the Vixen comes through.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

First Lines and First Pages


We’re often told that the first line of our novel must ‘grab’ the reader so, out of interest, I picked up 5 random Mills and Boon/Harlequin romance novels from my shelves and looked at the first lines. Here they are:
 
It took her a second to realize that the sigh she heard echoing in the small converted bedroom that served as her office was her own.
 
T D Waters nudged the man on the ground with his boot.
 
“So this is where the multimillionaire property developer comes for the occasional weekend away from the city.”
 
So he was still a sucker for a pretty face!
 
Neile didn’t even have time to ring the bell before the door was flung open to reveal her mother, her hat tilted drunkenly over one eye.
 
Did any of those grab you? Only one of them struck me as a possible attention grabber, but I won’t tell you which is was (yet!). Maybe you can guess? What I have found interesting is that the two with (in my opinion) the poorest openings actually came from the most recently published novels, and the one I thought was best came from a 1991 novel.
 
I could probably find another 5 romance novels with similar openings, none of which could be considered as particularly attention grabbing.
 
I then looked at the rest of the first pages.
 
The first continued with a (very) long paragraph about the dog the heroine had rescued from its cruel owner, followed, incidentally, by several more pages of introspection (including backstory) by the heroine.
 
The next told us that the hero took a shot at the second of two drug runners but then was shot in his side by the man on the ground.
 
The third continued with the heroine stopping outside the house, and then a long paragraph describing the house and the meadows around it and the snow-capped hills in the distance.
 
The next went on to heroine’s thoughts about the image she’d just seen in the paper of a famous opera singer, with his most recent girlfriend, and then of how much she hated him.
 
The final one continued with a conversation between the heroine and her obviously scatty and eccentric mother, in which the heroine is astonished to be told she is to drive mother’s next door (male) neighbour up to Yorkshire.
 
This leads me to make several observations:
 
Maybe the first line doesn’t have to be the dramatic ‘hook’ the pundits would have us believe, but the first page should pull us in somehow.
 
Any long introspection at the start of the story is a big turn-off.
 
The first page shouldn’t contain a lengthy description of a place – that can come later. A couple of well-chosen sentences can convey as much as a long paragraph.
 
The first page should begin where the story begins – not necessarily with the moment when she meets the hero – but certainly with some kind of surprise (pleasant or otherwise), or an event that seems likely to affect the hero or heroine's life.
 
It’s said that a character doesn’t come to life for the reader until he/she speaks, and a conversation of some kind on the first page may be the best way to pull your reader into the story.
 
It’s not necessary to introduce ‘conflict’ immediately, but the first page should have the reader asking at least one question about the protagonist.
 
What else would you add to this list?
 
(PS The excerpts were shown in order with the most recently published novel first, and the oldest one last)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Distractions


I don’t write in a vacuum. I’m not just a writer. I can’t turn off the world for my craft. Distractions are one of the biggest problems I face as a writer and the biggest impediment to writing my books.

I don’t have a full-time, paying job around which I have to schedule my writing. I’m a stay-at-home mom to two children who are old enough to fend for themselves if necessary, not that you’d know it from all the “MOMs” yelled around here. I try to write during the day while they’re in school. Usually, I can get in at least a couple of hours. However, life often gets in the way. There are errands to be done, phone calls to make, rooms to clean, groceries to buy, etc. My kids depend on me, as does my husband. While everyone is supportive of my writing, they still need my help with things, and sometimes my plans for finding somewhere quiet to write just don’t work.

Then there are the social distractions: Facebook, Twitter, email and blogs. I leave them on in the background. Since I’m home alone most of the time, those things provide my social opportunities, my ways of interacting with people from the confines of my home. What’s great about those mediums is that they make it easy to take a five minute break and go right back to work. What’s not so great is that it’s very easy to get distracted.

Lately, there’s been a bit of a weird distraction. Starting February 1, I’m participating in the New Jersey chapter of RWA’s JeRoWriMo. It’s a 30K word challenge in 30 days. I’ve never done this before and I’m a bit nervous. But I’m also really excited and I’m finding myself getting inspired. I’ve got two manuscripts I’m planning to work on during that time period and the ideas are percolating. But since I can’t actually start writing until Feb. 1, all those ideas are doing right now are distracting me.

So, what’s my solution to the myriad distractions that keep me from writing? Well, a lot of it has to do with good intentions, while some of it involves actual plans. For the family distractions, I try to look at my calendar each day and plan when I think the best time for writing will be. I find if I schedule my writing, just like I schedule everything else, I’m more likely to get to it.

As for the social distractions, well, those are tougher. Part of my strategy is willpower; just sitting down and doing it. But part of it is also going easy on myself. Being social is not a bad thing. I’m allowed to “talk” to people. And it’s very helpful when asking for writing or industry advice. But like everything, it has to be done in moderation. So I use social media during breaks, after I’ve gotten my to-do list done, or as a needed distraction when I’m stuck on something.

As for JeRoWriMo, well, it may distract me temporarily, but ultimately, I’m going to have written 30,000 words in a month. And if I’m able to do that, and damper the other distractions, I’ll consider myself to have conquered this writing problem!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Love your Enemy

Storytellers must be very good people, for they often love evil antagonists. A good antagonist is "complex, multi-dimensional and fully human," Laurie Hulzer says in her e-book, "How to Evaluate Stories."

They are driven by deeply personal needs and fears. They were wronged in the past. Something they prized was lost or stolen. A beloved parent or teacher left them. Because they nurse an unhealed wound, they are willing to "sacrifice empathy, ethics, honor, integrity, generosity, real relationships, or other human values like justice, mercy, compassion, or forgiveness."

It's not too awfully hard to imagine how an evil person might act. I have to think only of religious terrorists or mass murderers. They have reasons for the heinous things they do. Their justifications may be twisted or warped, but I suspect many of them act out of fear.

A man abandoned as a child may fear there is no one he can ever truly trust. He may fear he is unlovable (why else would he have been abandoned) and protect himself by never loving anyone.

She grew up impoverished, suffering greatly, and vowed never to be poor again. Stealing, murder, assuming another's identity--all means are justifiable to meet the inner need for security.

In my WIP, the antagonist, when he was young, lost the woman he loved to his best friend. He became a prominent doctor, researcher and educator. He has everything a sane man could want, yet he is still crazy with jealousy.

His best friend was entrapped by the events of one horrific night and is incarcerated in a mental hospital. The antagonist is his doctor. He has complete power over his best friend and wields it under a cover of concern and compassion. But his fears have turned him into a shell of a human being. He is incapable of loving his mousy wife. He sleeps with his female students. He lies. He is consumed by the needs of his past and by his fears of being exposed as a loser. He will do everything to bury the truth.

Not every story has--or needs--an evil antagonist. But I often like the ones that do better.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Copy Cat?

Okay, so I had this really great idea I was going to pitch to my editor. Not just for one book, but for a whole series of books.

Since I spent (a lot of) time recently working on edits for my bullrider book, which is the third in a series of sorts, it reminded me how much I love the setting and world I'd created for those three books. I thought it would be fun to create a bunch of spin-off stories featuring characters who have had a mention in the other three books, but really weren't featured at all in any major way.

I even had the premise. The Corral (Which is the bar in my stories and features prominently in all of them.) would be putting together a calendar to raise money for an Adoption Fund started by one of the main characters in the series. In actuality, there would be no calendar, but each short story would feature one of the men from this calendar. I was going to title the series "The Men of The Corral" and each book would be titled with just the hero's name and say "Mr. January". This would give me a short story release every month for a year. (The stories wouldn't be long...just ten to twenty pages or so, so the project seemed doable.) How cool would that be?

I started making notes about ideas for some of the characters. I even went as far as to make up a proposal with my ideas. I was waiting until I submited my Halloween story to my editor. Once that was underway, I thought I'd hit her up with this to see if Wild Rose had any interest.

Turns out it's probably a good thing I waited. Because I happened to come across (from some blog or another) a book called "Jumping Mr. January". I looked it up, and as I delved further, came to find that a series just like the one I was thinking of proposing...literally with the same premise of a charity calendar...and books featuring the calendar model for each month...was already being published this year by another publisher.

I was one, disappointed, because I'd been looking forward to seeing if TWRP was interested and seeing if I was up for the challenge of creating twelve stories for one year, and two, amazed, because I honestly had thought my idea was a unique and different one.

Oh well...

So now I'm trying to decide what to work on next. I submitted a query for my Halloween story on Monday and sent off the requested mss later that afternoon, so for now, that project is out of my hands. I did start another story called "One Great Night" that I could revisit. Or, I might go really crazy and work on the time travel story I had an idea for. I'll have to pull out the notes for that one and see if it strikes my fancy.

I'll let you know what I decide!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

100K Words in 100 Days


At the beginning of the year, I signed up for Sally Quilford’s 100K words in 100 days Challenge, starting January 1st, and ending April 10th. Even without a calculator, I can work out that means averaging 1,000 words a day. That’s less than NaNoWriMo, where the aim is 50K in 30 days. I managed that in November 2011, although I then had to spend about six months revising and editing the story (it will be released next month, all being well).
 
For the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I found I had to turn off my ‘inner editor’, and allow myself to write sentences, phrases and words I wasn’t happy with, in order to reach the target. I succeeded, all the time telling myself I could go back and revise later. However, it wasn’t an experience I wanted to repeat, so I didn’t sign up again in 2012.
 
So why have I signed up for the 100K in 100 days?
One of the main reasons was that it included any kind of creative writing, not just novels, but short stories, poems, articles, and blog posts. I’d already guessed that my usual ‘output’ per day on my current WIP was about 500 words, and I wasn’t sure I could increase that without writing a whole load of stuff that would probably need deleting, or at least, complete rewriting later.
 
Instead, I decided to ‘up’ my words per day by giving more attention to my blog. I had neglected it in the latter part of last year, apart from Six Sentence Sunday. After learning that this blog hop is ending at the end of this month, I realised I’d have to find some way to inject new life into my blog. As a result, I’ve re-established my links with two Facebook ‘blogging’ groups, The Writers’ Post and GBE2: Blogging On, both of which post a blog ‘prompt’ once a week. I’m making a determined effort to write something on the suggested topics, and so far I’ve managed ‘I’m Grateful For …’, ‘Past Lives’, ‘Fame’, ‘Masterpiece’, and ‘Music’.
 
The other challenge I gave myself was one in Sally’s list of prompts – to click on ‘Random Article’ in Wikipedia, and write something on whatever article came up. Sally suggested we could keep clicking to find an article we liked, but I decided I could probably spend all day doing that! Instead, I use the very first article that comes up, whatever it is (yes, I like making things harder for myself!) – and I also try to find some way to link it to writing. So far I’ve had articles on Biotechnology and Applied Biochemistry, Eagle County Colorado, and HMS Eastbourne! If you want to see what I managed to write about these, check out my Thursday posts on my blog! This week’s ‘random article’ is Lick Prairie Precinct, Illinois – and at the moment, I haven’t a clue what I’m going to write about but I’ll let it roll around my head until this evening.
 
Using these blog prompts has been an interesting exercise, sometimes taking me out of my comfort zone, which is no bad thing.
 
I haven’t managed 1,000 words each day, but I have written something every day. My highest total was 1653, my lowest 424, but over 21 days, I’ve written 21,796 words (someone has designed a spreadsheet so we can keep track of our daily and cumulative totals), so I’ve actually averaged just over 1,000 a day. Without the challenge, I probably wouldn’t have achieved anything like that total, and at the same time I’ve breathed new life into my blog.
 
And now that I’ve written 610 words for this blog, it’s time to return to my WIP, to add some more to that!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Judging A Book


How do you judge whether or not to read a book? By its cover? By its author? By the back-cover blurb?
I think new readers—those who haven’t read either a particular genre or a particular author before—make their first judgment by the cover. That’s why cover design is so important and so stressful to authors. We fill out the artist’s form, answering questions about the book, the characters and our own preferences. We agonize over whether the artist’s vision matches our own. We know that the cover is one of the first things a potential reader is going to notice.

My dad wanted to try reading a vampire book. He’s a True Blood fan, so he went to the bookstore, found one and started to read it. Yes, I glossed over his process on purpose, because frankly, I don’ think he had one. After a few chapters, he decided he didn’t like the book and stopped reading. When he showed it to me, I immediately understood why. The cover was a cartoonish drawing of a 19th century woman with her dress half open in the front, boobs showing, fangs dripping blood. I don’t remember what the title was, but it must have said “vampire” because that’s why my dad grabbed it. Had I been with him, I could have told him it wasn’t his style book. But I wasn’t and he learned his lesson.

Repeat readers—those who have read a particular genre or author—often pick their books by the authors they’ve read before. I keep a list of my favorite authors’ books, and sometimes even keep track of release dates so that I can be sure to read their latest books.

But what about the roamers? The readers who walk the aisles of a bookstore, or sift through book sites online looking for the perfect book. What about the readers who ask friends for recommendations? They’re the ones who read the back cover blurb. Those 50 or so words can be the most important words the author writes, because it has to whet the reader’s appetite, create character impressions and give just enough hint of a conflict to make the reader buy the book.

I know a lot of authors who struggle with this. I do too, although I happen to like writing blurbs. My background is in PR and some of the most fun things to do was to create marketing hooks for our products. The back cover blurb is like a mini-commercial and they can be a lot of fun to write—I, for one, love to channel my inner “deep-voiced, slightly cheesy spokesperson!"

So, how do you judge a book?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Repetition is the boon of good advice


I’ve read--you've read--many times that memorable characters have both an inner and an outer goal.  Laurie Hultzer, in her power-packed little e-book, “How To Evaluate Stories,” says a solid story is framed around what the main character wants—and what he or she actually needs.

A character’s Want is a clear, simple, ego-driven, and obtainable goal that directly benefits this main character. It is concrete and specific. A character’s Need is a deep inner ache, yearning or longing that the character is unaware of, denies, suppresses, or ignores. 

The action of a story is based on the conflict between the main character’s Want and Need. The tougher the choice the heroine has to make—the greater the risk she takes—the more satisfying (and probably more marketable) the story.

The resolution of a romance can vary. For example:

  1. The main character gets what she wanted, only to find that it is not satisfying. Reese Witherspoon’s character in Legally Blonde wants her boyfriend back. She follows him to college, takes his courses, interns at his firm, bests him at ‘lawyer-ing.’ When he sees her as desirable again, she realizes he is not what she wants anymore. In the comedy House Bunny, the heroine is kicked out of the Playboy mansion on her birthday. She lands at a sorority house for misfits and teaches them how to succeed socially. In the process, she learns to value herself, so when “Hef” finally invites her back, she doesn’t want to go back.  She doesn’t want her original Want anymore.

  1. The main character gets what he or she wants, only to have it destroy him. In Dangerous Liasons, John Malkovich’s character wins the bet with Glenn Close and seduces Michelle Phillip’s character. By doing this, though, he destroys the only woman who has ever truly loved him, and ends up dying, too.

  1. The main character can abandon his or her original Want and embrace a deeper Need. Like a childless woman who finally adopts, falls in love with her adopted baby, and then gets pregnant, a character can discover a better Want—or end up getting the Want after all. When Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman refuses to become Edward Lewis’ mistress, she abandons her original Want for financial security.  She gains the self-esteem she’s needed all along, and then in a true HEA, gets the whole enchilada of man, love and security.

The advice repetition in Laurie’s book prompted me yesterday to verify that I had clearly defined (in my head) my new heroine’s Want and her Need. I want to make sure I open with a solid presentation of my heroine's want even as I plant the seeds of her need. 

I have already outlined the basic plot twists and individual chapters. Today I will review each scene and target its POV character, that character's goal in the scene, and how the scene ends. I want each scene to make it harder for the heroine to achieve her want. I need to track how the hero and the villain get in her way (for different reasons). That way I will make sure my plot follows the escalating tug-of-war between her want and need. She will be a #3 type character--not be able to get her Want. She will get more. 




Thursday, January 17, 2013

Black Knights Inc.

If you're looking for a hot, wild, and sexy read...have I got a series for you.

A while ago we had a new member join my local RWA chapter. When she introduced herself, she told us her first novel was coming out in August of 2012. Hers is one of those fairy tale stories: She wrote a book, submitted it, and wound up with a three book deal! To say I was a tad jealous was an understatement...but she was super sweet, so I couldn't hate her too much!

She passed around postcards for her upcoming series, to be released August, September, and October of 2012. Based on the covers alone, I decided those books were a must for my TBR pile. But, we all know how that goes. The pile gets so big, things tend to get buried.

In August the first book, Hell On Wheels, debuted. I had every intention of grabbing a copy to read, but life, as usual, got busy and I didn't. Her second book, In Rides Trouble, debuted on both the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists. Okay, now I was green with envy, but also more positive than ever that I wanted to read those books. Still, life got busy, the TBR pile got bigger, and I never got around to ordering the books.

Then, one night at a chapter meeting, the lovely Julie Ann Walker shows up to share the good news of her bestselling book, and brings FREE copies of them. So I got two books I'd been dying to read, autographed by the author, for zero dollars. Talk about a win win.

And then life got in my way again. I set the books in my pile (It literally is a pile.) and there they sat. Over Christmas break I placed an Amazon order, and needed another book to make my $25 and over order to get free shipping. I figured I might as well complete the set, so I bought Rev It Up, the third novel in the series.

To make a long story short...I know, I know...too late. I started reading Hell on Wheels the Saturday before I went back to work after Christmas vacation. It was late, so I got through the prologue and one chapter before I couldn't keep my eyes open. The next day, I sat and finished Hell on Wheels and read all of In Rides Trouble. I literally could not put them down. I didn't go to church, I didn't write my blog for the day, I didn't check e-mail, I barely talked to my hubby. I just read and read and read, because these books were so damn good. Then I picked up the third one Rev it Up, which took a bit longer to read, only because, dang it all to hell, I had to go back to work and could only read at night. But I polished if off in less than a week. I just couldn't help myself. I couldn't get enough of her sexy, alpha heroes and heart-stopping action and suspense. I'm also a sucker for a series where characters overlap and we get to follow some of them into and beyond their happily every after.

And, joy of joy...there's a fourth book in the series coming out, Thrill Ride. Trouble is, I don't know how in the world I'm going to wait three more long, long, long months before it comes out in April. And I'm hoping there will be more to the series, because by my calculations, Ozzie, Bill, and Angel need their stories told...and so perhaps do Christian and Mac...maybe even ex-CIA Agent Zoelner. A girl can dream, right? Because I just can't get enough of those hot, wild, and sexy Black Knights.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Les Miserables


The movie ‘Les Miserables’ was released here last Friday, and I’d already booked for the very first showing in the afternoon. By Friday morning, I was so excited I couldn’t concentrate on anything, as it my favourite show of all time!
 
I’d already had a taster. I saw the original trailer (online), some interviews with the cast, and a TV programme about the making of the movie. In the past two weeks there have been several different trailers on TV and I’d read reviews, both professional and amateur.
 
I’ve seen the show about ten times on the stage, both in London and Manchester, and was ‘hooked’ by the sheer power and emotion of it the very first time I saw it. I wasn’t sure how the stage show would transfer to the big screen but, from the moment the movie started, I was totally enthralled. It surpassed all my wildest expectations! The real settings, whether they were the docks at Toulon or the Parisian streets or the sewers (yuck!) added to the drama in a way that the stage couldn’t do. The battle on the barricade was more dramatic than the stage version, and the close-up shots of the characters’ faces gave a deeper insight into their emotions.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I love the stage version and would go to see it again, but the movie paints a much bigger picture, and the visual effects are stunning. All the power and emotion is there, even stronger than on stage.
 
It occurs to me that in our writing we are trying to do the same as the movie does - and here I am talking about the movie and not Victor Hugo's novel.
 
We want our readers to experience the setting, not as an onlooker, but by seeing it through the character’s eyes. Recently, I wrote a chapter where the hero and heroine were exploring a room that had been abandoned for over a century. One of my CPs said she felt she was right there with them as they explored. Wonderful music to a writer’s ears! If we can involve the reader in the setting, we’ve hooked them!
 
We also want the reader to experience the character’s emotions, whether those are anger, love, despair, fear, or whatever else. In the movie, we saw all this in the actors’ faces or in their voices. With writing, we can get inside their minds. Only then can the reader feel with them, rather than be told how they are feeling. (I’m making a determined effort not to use the word ‘felt’ in my current WIP, because this is telling the reader, not showing the feelings).
 
One of the main strengths of ‘Les Miserables’ (in my opinion) is the enormous diversity of characters. What’s interesting is that the ‘good ones’ all learn more about themselves as the story develops, whereas the ‘baddies’ remain stuck in their own obsessions (as with Javert) or their sleaziness (the Thenardiers). Maybe we can learn from that. Our main characters need to develop and discover more about themselves and the villains need to get their just desserts!
 
Of course, there is conflict too - the external conflict between Valjean and Javert, Fantine’s struggle against injustice and poverty as she seeks to support her child, and of course the students’ revolt. The internal struggles of the characters are equally as powerful, especially Valjean’s struggle with himself, Eponine’s acceptance of her unrequited love, and Marius torn between his newfound love and supporting his friends. In my opinion, the internal struggles of the characters in our books can prove even stronger than the external conflicts they may have to face.
 
Last but not least, ‘Les Miserables’ stirs our emotions. ‘Can You Hear The People Sing?’ always sets the hairs on my neck on end, ‘One More Day’ blows me apart, ‘On My Own’ fills me with sympathy (and empathy too), and ‘Empty Chairs and Empty Tables’ makes me cry. And of course there’s the anguish of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’. Do our stories give the reader the full gamut of reactions and emotions like this?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Catharsis


Last week, I wrote about using a physically painful experience to be able to write effectively about pain. I haven’t done that yet, but I seem to be having many “writing as life” moments. Yesterday, in my personal blog (http://jenniferwilck.com/blog/2013/01/14/free-pass/), I wrote about how I wish I could push aside all restrictions, such as manners, responsibilities, and the like, and speak and act freely, without concern for the consequences. Paula read my post and commented that I should create a character who does that. It was a great idea!

Her idea made me think. I don’t usually write from personal experience. It’s a question I’m asked many times by readers about my books. I’ve definitely incorporated a particular real-life snippet in each book, but more than that I haven’t done.

However, upon further examination, I might be headed in that direction soon. My antagonists, the real bad guys, be they male or female, are all based in part on a specific person I know. And in my head, for cathartic reasons, I’ve worked out a scene where a heroine gets her revenge on him, as I wish I could do. I’ve got the entire scene worked out—setting, characters, event, etc. I know dialogue, facial expression and even who comes to her rescue. If I could tell a complete story in one scene, I’d be set.

I even know, or think I know, which story I can put it in. It’s the second book in the series I’m writing. My problem right now is that the heroine in that story does not speak freely. She’s very controlled, plans for every situation and comes across as someone who is completely, 100% capable. For the scene to work, I’d have to make significant changes to her backstory. I’d have to make how she comes across a fa├žade, which would definitely make her interesting and three dimensional. If I do it right, I can show  how she progresses from being perfect on the outside because that’s what’s expected of her (in contrast to her sister, who’s a mess, and the heroine of the first book) to eventually doing exactly what she wants, without regard for the consequences. The scene where she gets her revenge on the bad guy could be the perfect denouement to that character arc.

Now I just have to get up the guts to do that, because, while I’m not this outwardly perfect heroine like I’ve created, I do definitely care about the consequences!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What's in a Name?

So...since I don't have enough going on these days (ha ha ha), I decided I wanted to write a Halloween story to submit to The Wild Rose Press for this year. In 2012 I had a Thanksgiving story, in 2011 I had a Christmas story, I figured it made sense to stick with the holidays. Trouble is, the deadline is just before the end of January. I really, really am hoping to make it, but I've had little to no time to make any sort of decent progress. I catch a few minutes at the keyboard here and there, but not enough to really sink my teeth into anything. But, at least I'm getting bits and pieces written. I'm not looking to make this a super long story. It's going to fall more in the Rosette category (2,500 to 20,000 words).

Right now, my biggest issue, besides not having enough time to write, is I can't find a good name for the hero. I'm using Rafe as a place-holder for now, but I'm not wild about it. He's mysterious, sexy, and just might possibly be a vampire, so the name needs to fit: Steve, Tom, or Mike just isn't going to cut it. If something doesn't come to me soon, I'm going to head to my favorite resource for names...internet lists of baby names. I really prefer to have my characters name themselves, but at this point, with time running short, I'm getting desperate.

Any ideas?

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Colour Me Blue


One of the ‘prompts’ suggested for the 100K Words in 100Days challenge is ‘Try picking a colour and writing as much as you can about it.’
 
I’ve chosen blue, not just because it’s my favourite colour, but also because it seems to have dominated my life. At my junior school, the ‘unofficial’ summer uniform was a blue checked dress, and in the winter we were expected to wear blue sweaters or cardigans (any shade of blue). Most kids wore navy, until my mother, who at the time owned a wool shop, knitted me a royal blue cardigan. The headteacher obviously liked it, because I was pulled out in front of the whole school one day, and she told the rest of the kids that this was the colour she wanted everyone to have! My mother had to stock more royal blue wool in her shop to supply the ensuing demand! Even forty plus years later, I used to smile when I drove past my old school and saw the kids in the playground, all with their royal blue sweaters!
 
When I went to high school, the uniform there was – yes, blue. Navy skirts and cardigans with white blouses in winter, and in summer our dresses were blue and white pinstripes. I was also in the Girl Guides, not just as a teenager, but for a lot of my adult life (as a leader) and again the uniform was blue.
 
Even now, when I’m choosing new clothes, I have to make a conscious effort to steer myself away from buying blue all the time. I admit, though, it is still the dominant colour in my wardrobe!
 
Apart from those practical links to the colour blue, what else does it mean to me?
 
Blue eyes – mine are blue, and I love men with blue eyes, too – Paul Newman’s probably being the most outstanding, and Martin Sheen has real 'blue Irish eyes'!
 
Blue skies always make me feel more alive than the dull, grey skies we often get here in the UK (and especially last year which was the worst ‘summer’ on record – so depressing).
 
Blue sea and lakes, especially the Mediterranean. The sea around the UK is often more grey than blue (reflecting those grey clouds of course!), but my photos of the Lake District and Ireland prove that we do see blue water sometimes in the lakes and seas!
 
And what about emotions? Blue tends to be associated with sadness – Blue Christmas, of course, and (showing my age now!) ‘Singing the Blues’ by Guy Mitchell. Maybe we’d better not mention ‘blue movies’ although I’m not sure why they’re called blue! On the plus side, blue is also associated with fidelity and loyalty, and blue furnishings in your home are said to have a calming effect.
 
It has occurred to me that it might be an interesting exercise to write something like this as one of your characters might write it! What colour would they choose and why?
 
Meantime, what colour would you choose and why?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Writing About Pain


I got a cortisone shot today in my hand, the third of three. For those of you wincing, I’m allergic to anesthetic. The ones YOU get have anesthetic mixed in; mine are straight up. Not that I want to one-up anyone, but as much as your cortisone shots hurt, mine hurt worse. It’s excruciating for 10 minutes, and then it just plain hurts for the rest of the day. Lucky me.

After I got past the first 10 minutes of pain and could think, I started to think about writing (knowing I had a blog post to write today). And after I moved my hand a bit to make sure I could actually write the blog post (yes, I should have done it earlier), I thought about how we describe things.

The more vivid the descriptions, the easier the reader can enter the story and feel like they are living what you write. We use specific words, choose our adjectives wisely, limit our adverbs and use active, rather than passive, verbs. We incorporate multiple senses.

Scenery is fairly easy. We can look out our window and describe what we see. If we don’t see a specific scene, we can look it up on the Internet or find a photograph and describe it. Again, we’re “there” so it’s pretty simple (at least in theory) to get our readers there too.

Things we do every day, or frequently, are also easy to describe. They’re part of our lives—some of us know firsthand the drudgery of carpooling or cleaning. We cook and can do a pretty decent job of describing the sights and smells of the food.

We can also pretty easily describe joy and satisfaction, for most of us experience it frequently, even if it’s only in little ways. But the more difficult emotions to describe are the painful experiences that our characters are going to go through—sadness, mourning, devastation, physical pain. For most of us, we don’t have those experiences often enough to have them in the forefront of our minds. We have to think back to a painful experience, put ourselves into that original spot and draw from there.

Most of those uncomfortable experiences are not ones we want to relive and we certainly don’t want to record our feelings at the time we’re experiencing them, at least, not in any clinical way. Those of us who keep blogs or diaries can go back to those writings at a later time, read the rawness of our emotions and transfer those emotions to our characters, but doing so is not without a risk to us.

But for me, today, I was in a painful spot that I CAN use for future reference, almost immediately. Sure, as I said earlier, it was excruciating. But it was a physical pain, not an emotional one. Sitting down now to record how it felt when the needle pierced my flesh, or the burn of the cortisone, or the physical ache afterwards, will not make my hand feel worse. Nor will it bother me and cause me to have to leave my computer for a break. The feelings are fresh, but physical. And now is a great time to write them down, so that the next time I want one of my characters to experience physical pain, I can refer back to my “cheat sheet.”

And, hey, if none of that works, at least it gave me something other than my hand to think about! J

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cross Training

I attended a workshop on wholesaling produce last Friday.  Food safety rules are evolving and getting more stringent. This is good, but will require much more work from veggie growers. With consumers wanting more of their food ready to eat, stores and distributors are pushing processing and liability back onto growers. I not only have to take the risk of raising produce, I have to wash, sort, trim, sanitize, bag, label, box, label, invoice, label, and document for inspectors my compliance with a crazy number of checklists.

This sounds like publishing. I used to think all I had to do was conceive characters and turn them loose in a plot. Edit for consistency and typos and send it off. This has been really hard. Especially the rejections.

I have to do these things for my WIP's, and if I have improved in my craft skills, I will wait an agonizingly long period of time, edit, check, resubmit, wait. If I am lucky, I will have to learn about contract clauses and do seemingly endless promotion. If I self-publish, I will also have to learn how to format for multiple e-readers, design covers, write blurbs, do another even more intensive line edit, really promote, and take even more risk.

Everyone says it is possible. To go for it. And I will, even though some days it seems like an invitation to another crisis of self-doubt. Right now I'd much rather write than garden.  Or be Rachel's film roadie--here is a shot taken during pre-shoot rehearsing.




Thursday, January 3, 2013

All in a Day's Work

I've been on vacation from my real job for the past two weeks. Even though I love what I do for a living, it's been a wonderful break. Sleeping in. Getting caught up on some scrapbook organizing. Naps. Grocery shopping during the day. Keeping up with other blogs and actually leaving comments. All those little things in life, that seem so minor, but always slip through the cracks when things get busy.

I even accomplished my goal of having the revisions done on "This Feels Like Home" and getting it back to the editor at TWRP by the end of the year. Well, I finished the revisions on December 31 and sent it off on January 2. But I'll call that a success since the Press was closed for its own winter break until then. It was nice to feel like a writer again, and be able to devote large chunks of time to actually making progress on a story.

Monday I go back to work. I'm fine with that. I feel well-rested and ready to get going again. Part of me is excited. Part of me wishes there could just be more hours in the day. Because I will miss having the time for those little things. Once the work day is done, meals prepared, meetings attended, etc., there's not much time left over.

But it is what it is. At this point I'm not wealthy enough to not work at all and not prolific enough to be a full-time writer. And as I mentioned already, I love my job and wouldn't want to leave it. And as nice as it's been to be away, getting back to a regular schedule will be nice. I just hope I can find some time to devote some time to writing once the busyness kicks in again. Because this vacation also made me remember what I love about being a writer: things coming together and the story coming alive on the pages.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Unplug


I did not want to come home from vacation Sunday. In fact, I dreaded it, but not for the reasons you might expect.
I did not dread returning home to the freezing cold New Jersey weather from the warm, sunny Bahamian weather, even though I loved the sun and hate being cold. Although I do wish my tan had lasted a wee bit longer.
I did not dread having to do a ton of laundry when we got home—that’s what happens when three out of the four of us bring almost every clothing item (and shoes) we own on the off chance we might have needed them. Call it the price of being prepared.


I did not even dread returning home to regular food from a cruise filled with more food than I could eat in a lifetime, although we certainly did try!
No, what I dreaded most was returning to the “constantly plugged in” status my life was before our vacation.
My email is on from the minute my kids step out the door until I go to bed. Same with my Facebook account. Yes, I’m one of THOSE people. And I used to feel guilty about it. I used to slink around and not respond to people’s posts immediately so they wouldn’t know I was there. I’ve hidden (I think!) my profile so most people can’t tell when I’m logged on. But then I realized something important.
See, I’m a mom and a writer. I spend most of my days at home by myself. When I’m not taking care of my house or my kids, I’m writing. I don’t have the benefit of working in an office, surrounded by people whom I can talk to whenever I need a break. I can’t hang out with my friends all day long—they have busy lives too, and if we spent all our time “doing lunch,” we’d never get anything done. And believe me, we’re a lot busier than you think we are. So, my connection to the outside world is through email, Facebook and other forms of social media.
One of the other things I do is volunteer with my Temple. That requires me to converse with many people, answer questions and help out with projects. Most of these things are done through email. Because my email is open all the time, I see most emails as they come in, enabling me to respond quickly and be productive. That’s not a bad thing!
But, this vacation, I decided to do something different. My family was traveling for a week with my parents. Since that’s kind of like stepping back in time, I decided to truly make it an “80’s vacation”—minus the clothes and the hair—and sever all ties to my computer for the entire week.
It was daunting, especially the thought of not writing for an entire week, but I thought it was important. First of all, if I can’t stay away from my computer for a week, I have a bigger problem! Second, no one is irreplaceable. There are other people on my committees who can fill in for me. Third, it’s a slow week. And fourth, I wanted to be truly present with my family the entire time we were together. I didn’t want to be listening with half an ear while I was checking my email. I didn’t want to post pictures of my vacation for others to enjoy, rather than enjoying my time myself.
So, I shipped my computer off to the Geek Squad for a much needed tune-up, changed the settings on my iPhone so that I couldn’t connect to WiFi even if I wanted to, and brought my iPad only for reading (I swear!!!).
The first day was hard. Partly because we were home and out of habit I kept looking for my computer. But after that, it was so relaxing! I couldn’t stress over nasty emails or emails that asked me to do something. I didn’t have to make sure to forward information to anyone. No one online stalked me or knew what I was doing every minute of every day. And my family and I shared jokes and laughs without constantly posting about it (although I’ll admit to writing down a funny thing my 11-year-old said, just so that I could remember it in the future), allowing us to respond to each other and have an even better time. I didn’t post my pictures immediately—I doubt in the long run whether it will matter if I post my pictures the second they were taken or a few days later. I’ll still have the memories, and my friends will appreciate my limiting the number of pictures I actually post.
I also gained a valuable lesson regarding my writing. Taking a break allowed the juices to flow. It let ideas take hold in my brain and rattle around a bit. It let me relax enough for the worries to slip away and the ideas to enter. I came home inspired and itching to write!
I also learned several things about myself on vacation. Number one, I had a lot more fun interacting with people in person than I ever do online. Number two, my stress levels decreased drastically and I was able to relax. And number three, I can survive without my computer. So much so that I dreaded coming home and turning it on.
You can see how long THAT lasted!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Age is just a number - isn't it?

I have to admit I greet 2013 with a certain amount of apprehension. Maybe one of the reasons is that in August this year I reach one of the milestones in my life – one of those dreaded ‘Big-0’ birthdays. Another decade over and the start of a new one. Easy when you’re 20 or 30, but less so as the numbers preceding the ‘0’ increase. My mind tells me I cannot possibly be that old, the calendar tells me differently.
 
Many years ago, when I was in my (young) teens, my friend and I heard our mothers talking. They were both in their 40’s, but said they still felt like 18-year-olds. I remember how my friend and I looked at each other in complete disbelief. How could people as old as our parents think they were still like teenagers? It didn’t make any sense to us then, but of course as I’ve grown older I understand exactly what they meant.
 
I won’t say I feel like an 18 year old. In fact, I’m glad I’m not that age. I’ve learned a lot about life and people and myself, too, since then. So maybe, in my mind, I’m somewhere in my late 30’s.
 
Inevitably, every decade of my life has had its highs and lows, but I’ve been more fortunate than many of my peers in that I’ve had no major health issues (fingers crossed), apart from my arthritis, which has been part of my life for so long, I’ve learned to live with it.
 
Looking back at the different decades, I’ve come to the conclusion that they actually get better as you get older!
 
This last one has been especially memorable as I’ve travelled to places I never thought I would see – Sharjah and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, many of the Western Front battlefields, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, the USA, Canada, and Egypt. I also ‘discovered’ Ireland and have paid 9 visits there, to different parts of the island.
 
This last decade has also seen my return to writing romance novels, thanks initially to Jed and Abbey Bartlet from ‘The West Wing’ and then to Linda Lael Miller whom I got to know on an American Civil War tour in 2008. The result: four books published in the last eighteen months.
 
I’ve seen my two daughters settle happily with their respective partners, and I’ve seen my two grandsons grow into fine, handsome young men.
 
So yes, this past decade of my life has been a good one. Maybe, therefore, I shouldn’t be approaching the next one with apprehension. On the contrary, I should be saying, ‘Bring it on!’