Monday, October 25, 2010

Take No Regrets

You know the old saying: Take no prisoners? This post is about taking no regrets--to the grave, that is. I've found with my writing that as much as I want to be published again, I want something else even more: to get it right.
To get my writing the best it can be, both in the story itself and in the craft.
And that means taking chances; shutting down that internal censor who when I get a nudge of an idea, whispers in my ear, "That's stupid. No one would want to read that."
One of my favorite writing manuals is The Modern Writer's Workshop by Stephen Koch, and in the first chapter, the chapter about ideas and how a writer's imagination leads to those "crazy places", Koch counsels not to let your "spark" flare and die at the voice of your internal editor. It's hard-- not to listen to that little voice. Because that's the same voice who saves us from ridicule. It's the same voice that keeps us homogenized with the rest of our "group", whoever that group may be. And it's the voice I try to block out most days, especially in the beginning of projects.
The painting above is by Ivan Albright and it's in the Chicago Art Institute. I had the opportunity to stare at it a long time last week on a drizzly Chicago day. It took the artist a decade to create it. It's incredible, isn't it? The marred Victorian door, the tombstone doorsill and the tattered funeral wreath. And look at the aging hand on the doorframe. The title of the painting is That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do. It's interpreted as a concrete image commenting on the brevity of life.
It worked for me.
Silence the Censor. Take no regrets.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Willing suspension of disbelief by Barbara Fleming

Willing suspension of disbelief is a contract between the writer and the reader, in a way. The writer takes you somewhere else, into other lives and other places, and the reader agrees to go along for the ride, to accept the reality that I and other writers create for you on the pages of a book.
Both of us know the characters we offer you are not real-life individuals. For me, as for most writers, I expect, they are an amalgam of people I have known, have observed, probably have admired or disliked. Part of these characters is of course the author herself, stemming from the subconscious and from life experiences, but part of them is imaginary, born of the creative impulse. Writer and reader both understand that.
Yet the reader who becomes absorbed in the book finds the characters and the events real enough to set aside the little voice in the head that says, "This is just a story," and accept what the book has to give, be it romance, adventure, drama or mystery, or maybe a combination thereof. Good books create a world that the reader enters eagerly and leaves reluctantly. Over my lifetime I've read thousands of books, and from among them emerge characters whose words or deeds have stayed with me and who become part of my frame of reference. To me they are real because they resonate so profoundly with life as I have known and observed it. Surely that happens with most devoted readers of fiction.
What is it that allows this suspension of disbelief, this agreement between writer and reader that makes a story work? It must be, to some extent, an earnest desire on the reader's part to be taken into those lives, that other place. It must be, also, the writer's craft, her ability to fashion a believable world. It must be, too, something mysterious and indefinable that has been at work in fiction for centuries. Perhaps we cannot fully understand or define it.
But we know that it has to happen if fiction is to work. Books that I abandon, having begun them hopefully, are ones that fail to pull me in so that I do not suspend disbelief. Books that I stay with are ones that allow me to put my real world aside and enter this fictional one, eager to find out what happens next, meeting people I come to care about.
Whatever this phenomenon is, however we characterize it, it is the magic of which fiction is made. Profound thanks to all those readers who enter the world of books time and time again and willingly suspend their disbelief.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Been a while since I've updated my blog - I'm sorting through the good, the bad, and all the stuff hard to pin down-that's what I'm doing right now so please excuse the haste.

New Books: 2010 books: Dead on Arrival and Merrywinds: HC from Five Star/Cengage.
Kindle e-books: Dead on Arrival; L.I.F.E; The Snafued Snatch; and Varmint.
Audio Books (BIM); Spanish Eyes

There's an anthology and Christmas Trek on Kindle just in time for Christmas and the prices on everything are less than five bucks - treat yourself as well as your friends, LOL.

If you want to know more about any of the above, please let me know. The best thing about writing is the people you meet and I love meeting readers and fellow writers.

Good luck and good reading to all of us, break's over! :-)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Building a Brand by Jacqueline Seewald

There’s been a lot of discussion among writers as to whether it benefits authors to be branded--by that I mean that writers want to market themselves by promoting their name, associating their name with a particular type, genre or style of writing. The premise? That this is the best way to build a readership. For example, when we see the name Nora Roberts we immediately think of romantic suspense.

Many writers choose to use pen names. They write in a variety of genres and assume a different nom de plume for each. The theory is that it will confuse readers if writers use the same name for different types of work. There is also a tendency for publishers to try to place writers in neat categories. It’s more convenient to connect a name to a particular format.

But what if you resist branding? Are you destroying your chance to be taken seriously as a writer or build a readership? I don’t limit myself to one particular format in my writing. My books are never “in the box.” They’re always unique and different. I confess I like to experiment.

I write historical romance like TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS which isn’t category or “formula” Regency. I write romantic mystery novels like THE INFERNO COLLECTION and THE DROWNING POOL and, coming in May, THE TRUTH SLEUTH. However, I also write books for children like A DEVIL IN THE PINES, books for young adults like the soon be released STACY’S SONG, poems, short stories, nonfiction articles and plays, all under my own name. Will I confuse readers and reviewers? I admit I am something of a maverick who doesn’t take well to branding. Is that a mistake? Does "branding" work well for marketing writers?

Your thoughts, opinions and comments are most welcome!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Treasures of London

When I visited London this summer, it was like going back in history, because I spent every minute I could in places like Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court, and the Tower of London. Westminster Abbey was so glorious, I wanted to go back to hear a service there. I stood in the area where the choir sits, and imagined the music that Elizabeth I would have heard at her coronation.

Speaking of Elizabeth, I visited Lambeth Library, an awesome place with ancient texts. On this particular day the library hosted a traveling exhibition, and what a display it was. One of the five extant Gutenberg Bibles was on display, a huge volume with a bright red cover. We were told it may very well have been the first one from the Gutenberg press.

Terra Cotta figure

What I remember most vividly, though, was a document sealed in a glass case. It was one page, signed by Elizabeth I, for the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

I was privileged to take an archaeological tour in Hampton Court, which included a trip through royal apartments and up to the storage room. The tour guide, knowledgeable and friendly, was in charge of protecting and storing artifacts connected with the palace. He unveiled treasures from the past and allowed us to photograph the items.

He unwrapped a lovely (and rare) terracotta likeness of a queen (see accompanying image), and we all snapped pictures. It is believed to be of an eastern monarch, possibly Cleopatra. The roundel probably comes from the Holbein gate which was demolished in 1754.

Henry's bed

Another rare treasure was the lower part of Henry VIII’s bed, gilded and heavily ornamented (see image). As I snapped the image you see here, I could not help but think of the lovely young girls who may have lain beside him in this bed, later to find themselves in the Tower, awaiting their execution.                                                                        

If you could visit one place in London, where would it be?

Joyce's 3rd book, The Tapestry Shop, is due to be released Oct. 13th
    Of the book, Romance Reviews Today says:
. . . meticulously researched . . . Beautifully written, this is an excellent novel for the fan of historical fiction.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Characters Who Just Won't Cooperate

I’m currently in the midst of the dreaded first three chapters of my new novel. If you’re a fellow writer, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, just imagine having someone you think you know well change their personality on almost a daily basis.

These chapters are especially frustrating for me because I like knowing what I’m doing, where my story is going. I research my characters extensively and plot out my story completely before I begin writing. I am as far away from a “pantser” (one who writes by the seat of her pants) as you can get. My characters are well defined and their personal goals and conflicts will drive my plot.

At the end of my first chapter, my heroine revealed something about her past that I hadn’t planned. It just came out of her mouth, when she was describing her skills in an effort to secure a job. But, hey, it was okay. It rounded out her character, added to her likeability and her motivation for behaving in certain ways. It fit. So I didn’t worry over much. It’s cool when your characters come to life.

Last week, though, my new hero started reacting to my heroine in a way that showed me he has trust issues. What the heck? I didn’t plan for him to have trust issues. Trust isn’t supposed to have anything to do with his relationship barrier. But, it fits so well as a reaction to the actions of my heroine that I know it’s right.

It’s just that now I have to reexamine everything else about him.

If trust is his major issue, then he may have different goals than I envisioned. He might have a whole new inner story. And if he does, it may mean the conflict between hero and heroine is not as I’d imagined. It might mean I have to rework the whole darn plot!

I’ve spent a week fretting about this.

You see, I always forget this happens as I begin. It happens throughout the book. Characters come to life, whether you are a plotter or a pantser and they take you by surprise.

And, for the life of me, I’m not sure why I always fret when it happens. In the end, so far, it has always been the uncooperative character who has deepened my stories. In CHOICES, it was one of my villains who refused to behave as I had envisioned. Harriet was supposed to be a social climber but I didn’t plan for her to be a laudanum addict. She just started drinking the stuff to treat her migraine headache and suddenly, all her horrid behavior made sense. She was a motivated villain.

So, I guess I should quit worrying about my new hero. It makes sense for him to distrust my heroine and already, it gives him more reason for not wanting to work with her and for his worry about her influence over their employer. His reactions are making so much more sense, now that he’s revealed the distrust.

Now, I just have to go back, figure out what made him that way, and wait for one of them to do something else unexpected!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Late and Hectic

For some reason, I had October 8th on my calendar, and then had one of those harrowing moments when a thought nigggled -- had I signed up for the first Friday. Which is TODAY!!

I'm sitting in a hotel room in Bellevue, Washington at the Emerald City Writers' Conference. Last weekend I was in Greensboro, NC for the Writers' Police Academy. Somewhere, time got all tangled up, or disappeared altogether.

As writers, we're constantly juggling writing, promotion, edits, blogs, websites, and maybe the occasional Tweet as well. And some of us have day jobs. If you're an organized person, you might be able to schedule everything. Then again, my 'to do' board clearly says blog for Author Expressions on October 8th.

I'm doing a presentation here called "Plotting for Non-Plotters." I guess the fact that I can't plot more than a scene or two in advance attests to my lack of organizational skills.

But you don't really have to know everything about your story before you start writing. With a few basic ideas, you can get some words on the page, and once they're there, you can fix them.

This is basically how I do it, and what I'm going to talk about in my workshop: This is my basic starting point for writing a romantic suspense, but it's not much different for any commercial fiction genre.

H/H trying to get on with their lives

They meet/interface/at cross purposes

Bad stuff happens

They fix it and have a HEA.

And then there's the character sketch GMC. (Goal, Motivation, Conflict)

Randy wants to be a good cop.

Sarah wants to have a successful business.

Randy and Sarah want each other.

My next step will elaborate (very slightly) on some of the conflict potential in the book. Since this book is a sequel, most of the character back story was established, which cuts back on how much time I had to spend figuring out their basic personality traits.

Sarah wants to be independent. She wants to prove she doesn't need to rely on anyone.

Randy wants to take care of people. That's why he became a cop.

There's plenty of room for those underlying character goals to be at cross purposes. Remember, only trouble is interesting, so it's a good idea if the character's goals can create friction between them.

With that established, it's time to think of possible scenes that will put the characters into situations that show who they are. Some will be relationship scenes, some will be scenes showing the characters getting or not getting what they want.

Scenes in the book can be broken down into several basic categories:

Randy on the job

Sarah on the job

Randy & Sarah in a relationship

As the writer, my goal was to keep Randy and Sarah apart (I'm nasty that way). But I'm not totally heartless, so the book opens with a relationship scene, where Randy and Sarah are having dinner together at a restaurant after he's been away for six weeks. Of course, I couldn't make it too easy, so just when it looks like they're going to have a very hot reunion, he gets a call and has to report to a crime scene.

I decided to make it a murder scene, and a complex one. Something out of the ordinary, something that would challenge Randy's cop abilities. I gave him a dead body to deal with. At this point in the book, all I knew was Randy had to be doing cop stuff (to irritate Sarah), and it had to be something that would keep him away for at least the entire night, preferably more. So I gave him a body that had absolutely no identification. I stuck it in a remote field, naked, with his face blown off. Did I know who he was? Nope. Who did it? Why they did it? Nope. Not yet. Didn't need to, not the way I write. I have chapter one on the page at this point, and I can work forward from there.

Next month, I promise to be 'on time' with my post. Again, apologies for being late!