Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I want to be a Romance Novel Title Picker

I spent a few minutes at the Book Rack this afternoon, browsing the "these are so old we can barely give them away" pile, and I found some that were definitley worth the .50 I spent on each of them. Not sure they'll be worth the time to read them, but I'll give it a shot. 

First up is Song of Autum, by Mary Cummins. 

Perfectly cheesey 1976 romance cover picture.  This is not a Harlequin, it's a Magnum.  Whatever.  The first line is what jumped off the page and grabbed me:
"Nell Merryman stepped down from the bus in the main street of Cockermouth, and looked round with appreciation. "

How can you not want to read this book?  Have I ever mentioned that I live really close to Big Bone Lick State Park?  Maybe I don't have room to talk, but I have GOT to go visit Cockermouth.  Whereever it is.

Next up:  A Flaunting Cactus, by Wynne May

I mean, really.  Maybe it's like a Christmas cactus, but I've never heard of one.  Doesn't mean it doesn't exist, but that's just the dumbest name, ever.  I thought Harlequin was really bad at contemporary titles, which are pretty lame:  The Cop's Secret Baby, or the Sheik's Secret Bride or whatever.  But at least you have a hint about the contents of the story.  This one has a couple in formal dress on the cover.  Not a cactus in sight.  Maybe "cactus" is a metaphor.  We'll just have to see.  Stay posted. 

I also bought an early Harlequin Temptation.  A Touch of Madness by Deirdre Mardon, we'll see how it stands up to later Temptations.  I like the cover on this one, though, because if you squint, it kind of looks like an early Ted Danson there about to get some spit swappage. 

Anyway.  It was a fun trip to the used book store.  What have you found lately? 

Monday, April 25, 2011

What's in a Dirty Word? A LOT, Apparently.

Anybody ever read a story that started with the line, "I never thought it would happen to me..."??  Just wondering. 

I've talked before about how important it is for me to have an emotional connection to a character before the sexy stuff gets started, and now I want to talk about what happens after I am in love with the hero.

For some reason, this weekend, my Twitter Feed was being blown up with pet peeves about erotic writing (maybe because I follow a lot of erotic writers?).  Now, let me just say here (in case my mom has discovered by pen name and is reading this) that my goal as a writer is not necessarily to write smut.  I was kind of aiming for the romantic suspense road, but seem to keep getting sucked into (so to speak) stories that just lend themselves to going down (so to speak) a lustier path. 
I don't know where I'll end up, but while I am on this little literary detour, I'm thinking about what works for me and what doesn't when I read a sex scene.  And it doesn't matter if it's classified as "Erotic" or "Contemporary" or "Paranormal", there is a lot of great sexy stuff out there.  There is also a lot of stuff that sounds icky or takes me out of the story, or just plain doesn't work for me.

There is a great series of posts at the Dirty Birdies blog about this kind of stuff (I'm not linking you to any specific post, because today's isn't specifically about this topic; it's written by my pal Tiffany Reisz about her upcoming release, The Siren, so I'm doing some pimpage while I'm ranting). 

My freshman year of college, when we all realized we were old enough to BUY P#*N, many of us subscribed to Playgirl Magazine.  I can honestly tell you that there is not a single nekkid photo that I remember from those magazines (mostly, probably, because there was some rule about the guys having to be, um, floppy, and how boring is that?), but I do remember the stories. We would howl with laughter and highlight the alliteration (we were in college, and we knew words like "alliteration" and how what it means).  My favorite was "Rock hard rod."  Fortunately I don't run across "rod" as a euphemism any more.  But as bad as some of that writing was, I read it.  And I started sorting the good from the bad. 

Some of the issues that crop up for readers is body position.  As in:  How on earth does he get his mouth THERE when his YOU KNOW WHAT is THERE?

Other people hate first person point of view.  I have to admit, it takes some skill to write first person POV in a sex scene, but I've seen it done. 

Many of us have "ick" words.  "Cream", "Seed", "moist" and "Channel" were mentioned on Twitter last night.  I guess maybe it depends on your genre, because those words don't bother me so much when used in historical love scenes; but in contemporary ones, I keep thinking about how cream has a white, thickened consistency, and that, in certain body areas, is an indication that a trip to one's gynecologist is in order.  Just sayin'. 

My personal "Bleh" word is "erotic" when used to describe something, well, erotic.  "His kiss was the most erotic kiss ever."  BZZZZZZ.  Sorry.  Word fail.  "His kiss scorched her from the inside out" might work better for me.  "Erotic" is a total "tell" word for me.  If you are telling me I'm supposed to be turned on, you might as well unlock the door and make some popcorn, because my obstinate nature will shut you down. 

Okay, I'm going to stop here and ask you all:  Who do you think writes really hot love scenes?  Not necessarily specifically erotic writers, although I love those, too...but who would you recommend as a model of a writer who does "it" right? 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Imaginary Research

I have a theory, based on fourteen seconds of email conversation with a writing friend.  We are both happily married and have lots of imaginary boyfriends.  I know that there are people out there who think that reading romance sets us up for unreasonable expectations from real relationships, but I read somewhere that married women who read romance "get lucky" twice as often as women who don't (which makes sense to me.  I've read Tom Clancy, Stephen King and Dan Brown, and rarely have those writers put me "in the mood").

  I wonder if the same romance-reading women are twice as likely to stay faithful?  Are we more likely to stay married?   I mean, if we can crawl into a fictional Happily Ever After, every now and then, does it take the edge off of the "O. M. G.  What was I thinking when I said yes?"?

As of yesterday, The Big Guy and I have been married 20 years.  O.  M.  G.  We are working our way  through our Happily Ever After--sometimes it's a walk in the park, many other times it's a labor of, well, LOVE.  I suspect that making it this long without killing each other (and only occassionally wanting to) is due in equal parts to Love, Hope, Faith and plain old Unwillingness to Quit; but I am willing to give the Romance Writers of America their percentage, too.  Sure hasn't hurt things any! 

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Great Author Quest

Good Morning, and Happy Monday!  I can say this because noone can smack me upside the head through the computer.  I am not REALLY cheery this morning, but I'm working on the whole Power of Positive Thinking deal.  I've been such a fuzz brain for the past month that I'm determined to find my way back into the light.  

Yesterday The Big Guy and I started on The South Beach Diet.  As a confirmed Food Addict, I know that the word "diet" is considered a major no-no.  The politically(?) correct term is "Lifestyle Change".  Whatever.  "Diet" means "The stuff you eat", so TBG and I are eating the stuff that is suggested on the South Beach program.  I got on the scale this morning and I lost five pounds since yesterday.  TBG said the inevitable "It's just water weight", but that's okay...that "water" weighed five pounds.  I am thinking positively. 

Anyway, that's not what I'm here to write about today.  While perusing the Monday morning Blogpost extravaganza, my friend Jessica Lemmon wrote about an author (Gina Wilkins) she discovered last week while laying around trying to survive an earache.  I hastily scribbled down the name in the "Authors to Check out" section of the little notebook I carry around with me.

I suppose many of us compulsive readers keep a list of books they've read, books they are looking for, that sort of thing.  I have a cute little black and pink plaid notebook with pages and pages of author names and their books.  I'm a big fan of series, so I love to find an author I haven't read and hunt down all of her/his books, in order.  I go to Fictiondb.com and look up my writer.  This site is great for listing the series that a writer has, with the books in order.  Then I copy them into my little black book and start the hunt. I am not a big user of goodreads. I think it could be useful, especially if I didn't blog or tweet, to connect with other readers/writers; but I can't carry it with me to the bookstore (wait, is there an App for that?). I still need my little black book to keep track of my TBR list, and I'm not inclined to double dip the organization...one list is enough! 

 I usually start my search at the library.  I am fortunate enough to live in an area with three pretty decent public library systems.  Each has a branch or two that is close me at some point in my day (work, picking up kids, home).  Then if the library doesn't have it, I'll hit The BookRack, which is my favorite used book store.  They don't pay cash for used books, they give you store credit...which, for me, pays off pretty well.  After the BookRack, I will hit Half Price Books.  Last, but not least, Amazon

Now let me stop here and say this:  When I find a writer that I love, I will buy her/his books new.  I totally want to support writers.  After all, one of these days, I'm going to have something out there that I want people to buy!  But in the beginning stages of my love affair, or when I can't find a new copy of something, especially backlist stuff, I do used.  I am like the Crocodile Hunter, sneaking through the stacks, hunting for sight of the elusive first novel of my latest author crush. 

What about you?  How do you keep track?  Which authors do you love to hunt? 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Studying the English Language HAD been fun at one time.

Okay, not really, but the topic of past perfect verb usage has come up in conversation lately.  When is perfect not so perfect (and why is it called “perfect”?)?

I dragged the lab copy of The Transitive Vampire off the shelf (yes, even Science Geeks find good grammar to be useful) but found it to be fairly useless on the subject.  “Had” is used as a helping verb in the past perfect tense, but there isn’t much explanation about how to use it to write a best-selling novel (or even one that passes muster with one’s critique group). 

I am kind of an intuitive writer, and usually can get my verb tenses, pronouns and numbers to agree without too much thought. I think.  Had thought.  Whatever.  I need help with commas, of course, and have to remind myself not to end a sentence with a preposition; but most of the time, I think I do okay (all right, all right…yeah, there is that run-on sentence thing.  Whatever.).

Past perfect is used to express an action completed in the past:

Dave slammed the door and ran a hand through his hair, tugging at the short strands. Regular old past tense, which is how the action of the story is told.

What the hell had Carol been thinking?  She had stepped in front of the bank robber with no regard for her own life.  Now we are into past perfect:  the past of the past. 

That seems pretty straight forward, but it gets really tedious to read, especially when we are delving into back story (especially really ridiculous backstory):

Dave couldn’t fall in love with someone who had no regard for her personal safety.  It made him think about his mother.  She had jumped in front of a speeding train to rescue a baby seal who had been stranded by a psychopathic zookeeper.  She hadn’t been killed instantly, but instead had lingered:  her body had been shattered but her mind had remained intact.  Knowing that his mother had been aware of her condition had been the worst thing to watch…

So what are the rules here?  I did the usual Google search, and came up with plenty of websites with specific rules about how to use past perfect.
This website was helpful, and has exercises to practice on:

  But what about a long paragraph, or even a long flashback?
Blog wisdom seems to suggest that using past perfect at the beginning of the flashback (or whatever) and then switching to regular past tense is appropriate, as long as you are clear about the time change when leaving the flashback for the “real” time of the story. 

http://tracey-rolfe.blogspot.com/2007/06/past-perfect.html  (I love that this is another Tracy/Tracey/Traci worrying about this stuff)

 If I were to rewrite the previous paragraph intuitively I would probably do this:

Dave couldn’t fall in love with someone who had no regard for her personal safety.  It made him think about his mother.  She had jumped in front of a speeding train to rescue a baby seal who had been stranded by a psychopathic zookeeper.  She wasn’t killed instantly, but instead lingered:  her body had been shattered but her mind remained intact.  Knowing that his mother was  aware of her condition had been the worst thing to watch…

And okay, that’s just messy.  Granted I would never submit a manuscript with my verbs highlighted to emphasize their lack of agreement.  What do we call that:  tense hopping?  I am terrified of head hopping, now that I know what it is.  

Now that I am thinking about this past/past perfect tense thing, I am wondering if I should find the nearest Grammar-holics meeting.  Anyone want to be my sponsor?  I am sure there are books out there I should buy…can someone tell me which is the Big Book of Grammar-holics Anonymous? 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Not all vampire junkies dye their hair black. Who knew?

There are a lot of writers that I really like, and there are a few that I absolutely LOVE.  These are the writers who create characters that crawl into my psyche and take up residence. They tend to write series with ongoing character arcs.  I suspect that's how a great character finds his way into my heart.  He starts out as a bit player in someone else's story and starts to grow, having his own point of view scenes until he has to have his own story. 

I am pretty sure that I have mentioned Suzanne Brockmann here before (ya think?).  She does this character thing as well as anyone I can think of, although she's just kind of tied up her Troubleshooter's series for a while.  I am anxious to see what is next, and to try to figure out how she does it. 

My other hero-author is JR Ward, creator and WARDen of the Black Dagger Brotherhood and Fallen Angels.  Lover Unleashed was, um, unleashed a couple of weeks ago.  I LOVE those vampires.  They are big, bad, kinky, damaged heroes.  At first I was kind of horrified at the dorky names:  Wrath, Vishous, Zsadist, Phury, Torhment...really?  But I got over that and the names started to seem normal-ish, to the point that I'm thinking I might have to rename a couple of my kids. In true fan-geek fashion, I bought a copy of Unleashed for my Kindle so I could read it right away, but made plans to attend the signing she held in Cincinnati on April 9th. 

I live in Northern Kentucky, and the Barnes and Noble where the signing was is about a 40 minute drive from my house.  The signing was scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday, which was right between The Sam Stanley Experience's boy scout pancake breakfast fundraiser and prom.  Since the Prom Date Goddess lives in Cinci, I thought, Well, lets head out around one, get the book signed and I can get TSSE to PDG's by 4, no problem. 

Wrong!  Have you heard the adage, Man Plans, God Laughs

We got to Barnes and Noble at 2 on the dot.  Sligtly later than 357 other rabid JR Ward fans.  I know this, because I got a line ticket that was number 358.  TSSE immediately got nervous. 

"Mom, we are never going to make it.  Can't we just skip it?"

"No.  I just paid $20 for a hard copy of this book that I already have on my Kindle, I'm going to get it signed.  I love this writer, I want to be her when I grow up."

So we got in line, somewhere in the religion section, and began slowly, slowly inching around the periphery of the store.  I was amazed at how many people were there,  how many DIFFERENT people, all humming with excitement.  I have to confess, I had some preconcieved notions of what a JR Ward fan would be like.  I expected mostly young goth/ comic-con type women with dyed black hair and multiple piercings, tattoos and boots.  And there were some.

 There was one pair of girls who had home-made BDB t-shirts with their chosen warrior's name on the back (for those of you who are not in love with a Brother, here's the deal: In the Black Dagger Brotherhood, a male has his bonded female's name tattooed on his back during a mating ceremony. Any true hard core female would totally get her male's name on her back, too.).  What was really awesome was that they had a guy with them, presumably a boyfriend, who was also wearing a BDB t-shirt.  I didn't get close enough to see who he had on his back, but I was quite impressed that he had been roped in to appearing in public. 

Meanwhile, Sam was getting more and more nervous about getting to PDG's on time.  There was a couple behind me in line, who seemed very much like average middle class suburbanites.  Like me.  Turns out they were very much like me.  I am all about meeting people who are different than me and finding common ground, but I am not prejudiced against soccer moms, so we started to chat.  They actually live about a mile from me.  How crazy is that? We had driven separately, 40 minutes away, to meet in line at Barnes and Noble. I complimented Jim for being such a good husband and willingly suffering through the experience.  Not that The Big Guy wouldn't have done this with me, I just didn't ask him.

 Behind Jim and Dawn were the most surprising fans of the day.  Two handsome young men in their thirties, getting books signed for their wives, who were at a Pampered Chef party.  My comment to them, "Oh, boy.  You are getting SOOO lucky tonight!"  Which they both agreed was part of the plan.  One of the guys had read the books and liked them.  His comment:  "Lots of violence and sex.  What's not to love?"

A few steps further and TSSE and I had made it past Religion, into History, and there was no way in hell that we were going to make it all the way to the travel section, where the WARDen was holding court, before we had to leave.  Dawn and Jim graciously took my book and I gave them my cell phone number.  I figured I could run TSSE to PDG's and get back before Jim and Dawn got to the head of the line.  I didn't need to bother to stick around to take prom pictures, that's what PDG's parents were for.

What happened instead was that Jim called just as I was pulling in to PDG's driveway.  They already had the book signed.  Would I like them to drop it off for me when they got back to KY?  How cool was that? 

I am very sad that I did not get to bask in the aura of one of my favorite writers, but the sad thing is totally cancelled out by everything good that happened. TSSE got to PDG's on time and I was able to stick around and watch the preparations and the arrival of the limo and meet PDG's parents and neighbors.  I got Dawn from the bookstore's email address and we are going to talk books.  How 'bout those warrior vampires...not only saving their own species, but uniting humans across the tri-state! 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Oh, Carlos.

This is the only picture I took in Mexico.  I really would like to say something clever, but really...a picture is worth a thousand words.  As a writer, I know I should try, but all I can say is that this is a real drug store in the Cancun airport...and you just walk in and pick up your little blue pills (and the antibiotics with which to chase them) and pay for them.  No messy prescription needed. 

We really had a great time on our anniversary vacation.  The Big Guy and I went with two other couples who were also celebrating 20 years of wedded...Bliss, yeah, that's it!  We stayed at the Now Sapphire resort on the Mayan Riviera.  Great resort.  Not a complaint in sight. 

Okay, one complaint.  The background music that looped endlessly through the dining/pool/bar area was really, really weird.  It was this easy listening kind of jazzy, light, female singing covers of stuff that didn't quite hit the easy listening, kind of jazzy, light sound mark.  I was almost okay with 3 Little Birds (Bob Marley) done elevator style, but Buffalo Soldier?  Followed by Satisfaction.  My friends heard a version of Sweet Child of Mine, but I missed it.  The kicker for me?  Radiohead's Creep. 

Anyway.  I learned several things in Mexico.

1) Carlos was supposed to be a six-foot tall cabana boy with six pack abs.  Instead, he was a five-foot tall shyster in the airport, who sucked us in to buying discounted snorkeling trips in exchange for suffering the time share experience at the Moon Palace Resort (which was lovely, but still).
 Lesson:  Keep Walking.  TBG, the only one of us who suggested we NOT take Carlos up on his offer, was very nice, and never even once said "I told you so." 

2)  Carlos was supposed to be a six-foot tall cabana boy with six pack abs.   Instead, he was a five-foot tall shyster in the airport. 
 Lesson:  Mexican men in Mexico are, on average, no taller than the Mexican men in Kentucky.  Someone was passing a link around last week with a map of the world and average, uh, man part lengths which suggests that Mexican men don't need to be tall, but I can't verify that this is true.  Anyone? 

3)  To a Mexican bartender, "Virgin Margarita" sounds just like "Frozen Margarita."  I was really good and didn't spit tequila across the bar when I took my first sip of alcohol in 8 years.  I also didn't fall off the wagon.  It was just a sip, it wasn't intentional, I didn't feel a buzz, and I didn't drink anything else.  I never got to go to an all-inclusive resort as a drinker, and I might have felt like I didn't get my money's worth, but I remembered the most important Lesson of all:  Free tequila is never really free. 

Cancun is absolutely beautiful.  We did get our snorkeling trips and I found Nemo.  He's safe and sound living next to some purple fan coral of the Isle Mujeres.  The people of Mexico were delightful.  The guys on the boat ride to the snorkeling place did the best Titanic skit I've ever seen, and they do a lovely impression of Ricky Martin singing YMCA (You kinda had to be there).

But now it's back to real life, laundry and carpools and science experiments that don't always work.  I found my favorite pen and I'm all recharged and ready to do some more writing! 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Confessions of a Closet Writer, a guest post by Kate Pembrooke

I'm kinda busy with my cabana boy, Carlos, and my hubby, The Big Guy right now:  In another three weeks or so TBG and I will have been married 20 years.  We've actually been nice to each other for part of that time, so we are celebrating in Cancun.  We are with two other couples, all of whom aspire to be the least fancy people possible, which totally rocks, because there is no pressure to have "the right clothes".  I am pretty sure I might even lose the rattiest sweatshit contest. 

My very first writing friend, Kate Pembrooke has graciously agreed to do a guest blog for me while I watch The Big Guy arm wrestle with Carlos for the right to rub my feet.  Kate and I met in an online writing class.  I was the obnoxious one in the back row, heckling the teacher and she was the nice one in the front row who told me what the homework was when I fell asleep. 

Our lives as writers are pretty similar.  Kate is who I would be if I weren't too lazy to do the research necessary for historical romances.  And she would be me if she was inclined to raunchiness.  Unfortunately, she has a thing against Ohio State, but I am practicing my open-mindedness. 

Without further ado, I bring you...Kate! 

Confessions of a Closet Writer

My name is Kate and I’m a closet writer.  For years it’s been in the back of my mind that I’d like to try my hand at writing a book.  Someday.  When the kids got older, when I wasn’t homeschooling any longer, when life got less hectic. So I’d jot down story ideas and sketch out scenes.  I completed some short stories and even dabbled in writing poetry.  All to keep a connection with writing even though it wasn’t the writing I really wanted to do.  Well, the kids are older, I no longer wear my teacher hat (or at least only in a supplemental way to help with homework), and, well, I’m reconciled to the fact that life will probably always be hectic.
So about a year ago, I decided the time had come.  It was time to stop thinking about writing a book and get busy doing it.  I started taking online classes through RWA.  (In fact, that is how I met Teri Anne.  We were both taking a plotting class and we connected with each other since we were the newbies of the bunch.)  I set writing goals, which, sadly, I didn’t always meet.  But for the past year I have been writing. Not as regularly as I should, but steadily at least. I completed NaNoWriMo and, in the process, learned a lot about myself as a writer.  Namely I really can write more words in a day than I thought I could.  It all comes down to BICHOK.  (Butt in chair, hands on keyboard)
This year I joined RWA and my local chapter of RWA.  And let me say right now that the writing community is filled with some of the nicest, most generous people I’ve ever met. Initially, my main reason for joining was because I know myself, and I always take something more seriously if I’ve forked over money for it.  But the encouragement and support I get from the writers I have met at the monthly meetings has proven it was money well spent. 
I’m slowly transforming from a writer wannabe into a writer.  I’m still a closet writer though.  I haven’t reached the point where I feel comfortable boldly proclaiming that I’m working on that book I’ve always wanted to write.  I don’t mind sharing my writing ambitions with other writers.  They understand and, more often than not, are eager to offer suggestions to help me along my writing journey.  The circle of people who know I’m writing has expanded since a year ago. One of these days I may even let my friends and extended family in on my secret.