27 February 2010

Ideas: Concepts and Generation

(or:- What would happen if the buttered toast landed edgewise down?)

Welcome to the literary crucible.

Today we consider one of the most basic elements of fiction writing—The Idea. The other basic elements being, The Plot, and The Writing.

First off let’s start with two definitions of Idea

Idea:- Conception, plan of thing to be aimed at, discovered.
Oxford English Dictionary

Idea:- That concept which, after indeterminable hours; gallons of coffee and
sleepless; sore-eyed; computer staring nights; still evades the probing
mind of the frustrated author.
Author unknown

The frustration of an elusive idea is intense. The need to create and produce a specific piece of work is tantamount to an author’s psyche. Plus it has been known in certain circumstances to provide the check to pay the bills. It is at these moments that the true nature of an author is refined, the literary crucible that will either forge a true all weather author or break the writer down into a motionless, staring mass of idealess jelly.

So how, as authors, can we keep up an almost endless supply of ideas to feed into our clicking keyboards. There are as many answers to this as there are authors on full time pay roll at Greasy Joe’s Sludge Bucket Café, and no one way is particularly right. As part of the nice, helpful guy that I am I’ve gathered together and expounded below a system that I developed over roughly forty years of writing. This system is guaranteed to, with a dose of tremendous luck (and an even healthier dose of stealing other people’s ideas,) to generate your own ideas for any given fictional situation.

Of course what it doesn’t guarantee is getting the ideas in time for that elusive contract…

I’ve concentrated my examples here for fantasy work, fantasy being my main love and my fascination. But the system is transmutable and can be adapted for practically any form of writing you choose. Even Non-Fiction—the system was used in the production of this article itself.

Also, although I tend to discuss the issue in terms of a new idea for a fresh story, the system can be equally applied to sections in the middle, and or end of novels and other long pieces.

I hope you find this process as useful, and as enjoyable, as I have over the years. And use of the system is entirely free provided you deposit in my bank roughly a million dollars per hour usage…

Spend some time in the mad cafe

Regardless of who you are the creative human brain works best when alert but relaxed. Music often helps as some people find it tunes in the creative nature of the brain, though this is indeed a personal thing. It is possible to find many authors who will listen to music as they write for just this reason.

A similar kind of tuning needs to be done for finding and creating ideas. It is very important to find somewhere where you feel relaxed. I've always found that being uptight and fighting through piles of words and papers and forcing myself to find an idea for a particular piece is the most counter-productive thing I can do. By focusing on the fact that I can't find an idea, the solution appears to rapidly become more and more distant.

Where to relax is a personal thing. An armchair in a small room is common, maybe in bed if you can resist the urge to watch TV or sleep. My personal favorite is to go to a local cafe or bar and amidst the bustle of people find a small corner table and sit. Armed with a hot brew or pint of beer, and a cheese Danish I sit and face the throngs. With a pad and paper ready I just let the atmosphere of the others around me draw out the tensions and open my mind to any incoming thoughts.

There are writers I know, who will sit with friends and chat freely about their ideas and plots. This kind of chatter can help tremendously but do take a pad and write the ideas down frequently. Otherwise the majority of the stuff spoken about will be forgotten by the time you've left the bar, kitchen or whatever. Be judicious though, one friend of mine was animatedly discussing various ways to kill off the husband in her companion’s novel whilst treating themselves to a pizza at the local restaurant. Half way through the exercise where they'd been through the list of poisons and found them boring, tried arranging an accident and found it too risky and were working on murdering him in his sleep when an elderly lady from a nearby table stood up and began speaking very loudly and angrily.

"You cold hearted bi...."

The object lesson is, if you will discuss techniques of murder in public it pays to either let your eavesdroppers know it is fictional now and then, or keep a loaded gun in a clearly visible place.

Wherever it is or whatever you do the universal factor seems to be the need to break away from the computer/typewriter and to let your mind clear from the physical act of writing. This spring clean of the mind allows new ideas to form where the old cobwebs used to grow.

To see or not to see

This may have given you the impression that I'm advocating you do nothing to generate ideas. This is not true. I do believe though that ideas are all around us and what we need to do is to train ourselves to see them. Terry Pratchett, famous for his Discworld, was sitting in the airport lounge one day and saw what many of us would see. A tired and haggard tourist pulling one of those suitcases on wheels. This suitcase, like so many, kept going off in the wrong direction as if it had a life of its own.

On the strength of that observation the inimitable Luggage was born. That living travel chest known to eat wizards for breakfast…

So ideas surround us and we need to observe more. How many potential story ideas have we passed today but failed to see because we haven't actually looked to see if they were there.

For one poignant fantasy I remember driving the coast road close to my home. I drove this particular road every day to work and generally thought nothing of it. Yet on this unusual day they'd been an accident and I was forced with all the other drivers to slow the car to a walking pace. It was one of those particularly dreary cloud covered days which gave the sea a kind of grey hue. It occurred to me then that the sea looked lonely. Developing that idea led to my short story The Lonely Sea.

I am embarrassed to admit it took five years and an accident to make me observe, for the first time, the sea in that condition and to recognize that it had an emotion that could be used in a fiction tale. (The Lonely Sea was published years ago in a small press publication in England that I am now far too old to remember the name of.)

The thing is, we see so many things each day that are fuel for a writer’s imagination. And that is why taking a notebook with you and making copious notes is a godsend. Looking at my notes today, I saw the young couple having a tiff in the town mall with girl leaving rapidly, the young man following. There was a lost children's balloon scooting along in the wind under the eaves of town buildings. The strange, dragon shaped incense burner in a local store and the almost worshipful way that customers admired it.

Each of these have potentials for story ideas embedded in them. For example. The young man could chase his lover to apologize and they find themselves stepping through a portal to different parts of another world where they struggle to become reunited. The balloon is blown into the presence of evil and glares on the people below. The incense burner when wielded by the hand of the “faithful” becomes a creature of power and beauty, but little trust.
These germs of ideas would easily become short stories and possibly even novels.

Meet the media men

The media men can be the fantasy writer's greatest friends. Nine times out of ten if you are stuck for an idea for a fantasy story you need turn no further than your daily newspapers, news report or magazine.

Although any newspaper will do I tend to go for the ones which are less up-market. Tabloids would be wonderful if they didn’t appear to be mainly fiction from the get go. The newspapers I love are the ones which contain little paragraphs with snippets of information. These I regularly cut and stick into a scrapbook. Short pieces like:

'Police were baffled today when the missing housewife, XXXXX, was found drowned in her car on a bend off the A45, she had apparently driven through a hedge and trees into the river beyond. The reason that the search took so long [three days] to find the body was that the car had apparently passed through the hedges and trees without harming or breaking even a twig.'
—Now this is definitely fantasy stuff.

Then there's the not quite so obvious news item:

'Police today were praising the bravery of a young stranger who prevented the abduction of a child from the local play park. The assailant, described as in his late thirties, wearing a blue duffel coat and dark green trousers was scared off when the young man accosted him and refused to let him put the child in his car. Police are anxious to find the reluctant hero who disappeared soon after the assailant had driven off in a white....' Bingo! Ideas come tumbling down. Where did the young man come from? Where did he go? Why on earth did he confront the man who could have been the child's father?

I always look closely at everything, even the adverts can spark the odd crazy idea. Take this advert for example (the first one I found in a woman's magazine):

Advanced skincare with the Johnson's Touch.
Thanks to Johnson's you can now boost your skin's natural renewal
with new pH5.5 Healthy difference Cream.....

Advanced skincare? Skin renewal? Possibly a good starting place for a fantasy story and or science fiction. Perhaps even envisage a scifi/fantasy where the space ship is a huge intergalactic creature and a young energetic wizard-scientist discovers a cream which seals, heals and renews the flesh of the huge creatures. An aid to keep them alive in battles and sustain them in adverse space conditions.

Well, it's just a thought....

The question's not in how to try but more in who, how, what and why?

Seeing things and making notes isn't the end of the exercise. I can collect and collate observations until they fill books and books fill boxes. Which they do until I throw them all out, then start again. That doesn't make them a fully fledged idea though. Once the basics have been collected they have to go through a kind of inquisition which will make them burgeon into an idea.

So what if you have a cream that will renew flesh, a balloon which reflects the image of some evil entity it temporarily meets. The next process which these observations undergo will mould them into a basic fantasy plot. The technique is very simple and one that any parent of young children will tell you they recognize with frustrating clarity. I simply ask myself the W questions. (Note How is a W question, it just happens to be written backwards!)

Take the balloon. How does that become a true story?

I’ve already undergone a few questions and answers to get to the image idea any way. So add a few more to flesh out the story idea. Straight forward questions like. What could make the balloon special to be noticed? Would it be the balloon or something else? Would it be something in the building it was clinging to? What could be in that building? Where did it come from? How does it live, feed, contact with humans? This obsrvation became the basis on my wip Red Dragon, Blue. It is a horror tale where a father sacrifices everything in order to summon five revengeful spirits to destroy those who have murdered his daughter.

And this wasn’t the only tale I could fabricate from one observation. As I sat with my handy lil’ notebook and asked myself all of these things. I wrote down all the following answers to my constant interrogation. (Always remember to work within your created, or real world, limitations as you do this)

The balloon is a child's toy. The 'spirit of evil' was attracted to the balloon because it was a child. The spirit is evil because it is in torment. It is in torment because the child it was, was beaten and tortured to death. It feeds off the fear and souls of the living. It seeks revenge. When the story ends it will be avenged. It uses what tools it is familiar with (e.g.. balloons and toys) to create fear and death (balloon taking horrific face. Skateboard placed at top of stairs for someone to step on and kill themselves.) The house it inhabits is a block of apartments and everyone within it lives in a kind of fear without knowing why. No one can move out because they trapped by something indefinable. The child spirit must be appeased and 'destroyed/removed' from this plane of existence. Use the 'Love conquers all' ploy. Who would love the child spirit. A child. How would that child meet him. Originally in his/her dreams....

I won't go any further as I hope this gives a full enough description of how the questioning process works. In fact it is essential to know when to stop the questioning. For a short story it is unnecessary to go into the detail that would be required for a novel. For something the length of this article I used about two 8” by 4” sides of sparsely handwritten notes taken from this process.

I find also that the questioning process helps to weed out story inconsistencies. For example, assume I'm writing a story where the unsung hero suddenly rises from herding his father's pigs to kingship and glorious victory as a famous warrior. The questions would remind me that a pig farmer wouldn't know how to use a sword. In fact all he would know is pig farming. The questions then teach me how to create a character from him that influences those he needs around him, and together they achieve the goals which the plot has set for him.

See the stranger with the glazed stare

This is the process I generally follow:

1. Allow steam from coffee cup to fog up my glasses.
2. Allow sighing waitress to remove yet another untouched coffee mug
3. Wonder if my butt’s been glued to the seat.
4. Is my pen frozen immovably to my hand?
5. Allow thoughts, observations and ideas to mix and meld.
6. Write them down!

Maybe it's a personal thing, perhaps observation/question method is one that only I can use. If that was the case I wonder what would have happened that day in the airport lounge if Terry Pratchett had said,

“Oh, another one of those hard to control suitcases...."

I believe it is the nature of an author to learn to ask questions. In the belief that eventually we’ll ask the right one which will produce that gem of an idea.

Whether you have trouble generating ideas or not, I hope that in the long, dark idea-blanked night of your soul this small monologue has been of some assistance to help speed you on your way.

S.J.'s Third novel Dante I, third in the PIACT undercover agent series will be out sometime in the summer.

Now isn't that exciting news! More details later.


26 February 2010

Admitting my addiction...

I'll be the first to fess up. I have what you would term an "addictive" personality. My current obsession is Facebook... or rather, the games and applications there. So here's a list of things that might mean you're dealing with similar issues. ;)

You might be addicted to Facebook if...

1. You make sure you leave enough time in your morning routine to harvest/serve/or otherwise take care of your various FB games.

2. Ditto for your evening routine.

3. You have at least one or more restaurants, farms and pets in FB land.

4. You find yourself quoting FB status posts to your friends or family.

5. In Cafe World, you know exactly what dishes to begin cooking so that you can serve them at a certain time of day, and plan accordingly.

6. You set your DVR for a favorite television show so you can keep playing on FB.

7. You often spend hours randomly searching FB for former school friends; boyfriends or girlfriends; former co-workers; and that girl who used to cut your hair.

8. You have ever spent real money to purchase Farmville Dollars; Cafe Coins; Brownie Points; Gold; etc.

9. When FB is unavailable for a day or longer, you begin to develop a nervous twitch.

10. You laugh maniacally when you pass up a friend or son/daughter on a game you both play. Then proceed to taunt them about it.

I'd think of more... but I have food to serve now. ;) Have a great weekend, everyone!

24 February 2010

What is Darfing, Anyway?

I stumbled across some interesting information today over at Making Light about a new venture by our friends at a certain vanity publisher who shall not be named. Read this first, and then come back here.


In specific, from the letter the publisher sent to their authors in 2005, they claim that they are going to beat the other publishers, presumably the big New York publishers, by "darfing" them. In the comments you'll see that no one quite understands what darfing means. I've listed 13 possible definitions for darfing and I thought you guys could vote on which one is most likely. Except you can't pick #1, it's no fun.

Darfing is:

1) A typo (dwarfing, darling, darkening, barfing, darning)

2) Sneaking around behind somebody and fully intending to nip at their heels, but chickening out, so they don't even realize you're there

3) The act of squeezing a soft substance (like cheese or a brain) until it has fingerprints in it

4) A type of tea in which the leaves are steeped with ipecac syrup

5) Something furries do, and we shan't speak of it

6) A city in alternate universe Wisconsin that's home to the world's largest darf sculpture

7) Diving for fish, but instead of using a spear you use a mechanical grabber hand, such as the E-Z Grabber or the Norpro Long Arm Grabber. Darfers hotly debate which brand of implement works best.

8) A combination of barking and vomiting, most often used when describing how insane someone is or what happens when you have a really bad stomach virus, one.

9) When you're supposed to be doing your homework, but instead you lay on the ground with your feet on the bed and read an old magazine, not the kind with nudie pictures but the other kind.

10) An architectural term used to describe a type of crenellation which....yeah, I got nothing.

11) When you're cooking and forget the pot is on the stove because you're on the internet or something and you ruin dinner.

12) The sound of a cat's claw piercing and ripping a windowscreen that was supposedly pet proof.

13) Like Sunday driving (an aimless pleasure drive), only instead of doing it in a nice car with good company, you do it in a car that's likely to break down any minute while fighting with your passengers, plus you get lost in a really bad neighborhood.


Vote in the comments or tell me what it REALLY means.

Jody W.
www.jodywallace.com * www.meankitty.com

22 February 2010

New Cover & Great Reviews!

Here it is - the cover for this year's Halloween anthology from Kensington Brava. I just saw it for the first time last week and I'm really impressed with how hot it is in a subtle way. My third zombie story, titled SMOKE ON THE WATER, is in this book, which will release in September 2010. I sort of wish my story were a werewolf tale, considering the cover, but I'm guessing the other two stories in the anthology probably are. ;-) Isn't it a great cover, though? THE BEAST WITHIN is already available for pre-order on Amazon and a few other places. I can't wait to read the other stories in the anthology!

I'm still working on catching up with my writing schedule after the devestating loss of my Mom in late December, but it's slow going. The good news is that my military paranormal zombie romance series has been getting great reviews and seems to be doing well. That's a huge relief to me. I really wasn't sure if romance readers could get past the whole decomposing zombie thing to enjoy the romance part. ;-)

RT Book Reviews Magazine said about HALF PAST DEAD: "These zombie stories stand out in a genre dominated by vampires....D'Arc delivers a creepy and pulse-pounding story of danger."

And they had this to say about ONCE BITTEN, TWICE DEAD: "D'Arc deftly blends horror, romance and action for a thrilling, sexy tale."

ONCE BITTEN, TWICE DEAD comes out officially on March 1st, but it looks like it'll beging shipping from Amazon on February 23rd. :)

I've been really fortunate with some great reviews of late, including this last one from RT about my latest print compilation, BROTHERHOOD OF BLOOD: "These vampire tales can stand alone, yet cleverly intertwine the lives of the characters...Each one entertains with drama, tender romance and erotic sex scenes."

I have a lot of print titles coming out this year and little energy to keep up with all the promotion I should probably be doing, unfortunately. With any luck, things will start to settle down soon. I have a feeling my depression and new appreciation for the realities of suffering will be affecting my writing. It'll be interesting to see how I might grow as a writer as a result of this devestating experience.

It's one of the few potentially good things that might come out of this experience. I've been trying to find the silver lining to all of this and it's really, really hard. Meanwhile, I just keep trying to live one day at a time. Thanks to all of you who've taken time to write to me. Your support through this awful time means more than I can say.

21 February 2010

Divination: Celtic Ogham - Eadha

Eadha, pronounced "EH-yuh" (or Edad, pronounced "EH-duth", probably depends on the dialect)
Tree: White Poplar (Populus alba)
Letter: E
Month: Autumn Equinox
Color: Silver, white (some sources say red or red-speckled grey)
Animal: White horse, swan
Deities: Angus mac Og, Arawn, Rhiannon
Planet: Mercury or Saturn
Stone: Obsidian

White poplar, aka aspen, is a moisture loving tree that flourishes along rivers, streams and wetlands. Its wood has traditionally been used to make shields. In contrast, it's a flexible tree that will bend a long way before breaking (like its cousin, the willow). Its leaves quiver at the slightest breath of wind, hence its nickname, "the whispering tree."

Its ability to survive averse conditions is a message that we, too, have the ability to endure and overcome. Spiritually, it tells you to stay strong against worldly pressures; know that Universal Love is on your side to help you move beyond fears, doubt and pain.

Arawn is the king of the Underworld, of the unknown, hence his association with Eadha. One of the legends of the goddess Rhiannon is about her being falsely accused of eating her own infant son. Having married a human, she could not return to the underworld. Instead she patiently endured her punishment - standing by the castle gates with a heavy horse collar around her neck, telling passersby of her crime and sometimes carrying visitors on her back - for four long years. Her courage was rewarded when her son was returned to her by a nobleman who had found the kidnapped infant abandoned in a field. She resumed her place as queen, forgiving those who had accused her.

To see other posts in this series click here or click one of the tags below. :)


19 February 2010

Serenity Now

Today, y’all get the confluence of a few things that have been flowing in my life that aren’t necessarily about writing, certainly aren’t paranormal, but they do influence my writing.

First, what genius thought up perimenopause? Because this betwixt and between stage is like the hell-end of purgatory and I can see the fire and brimstone from here.

*Deep breaths. Serenity now.*

I sometimes wish I was more crunchy granola with the whole maiden/mother/crone, moving through life stages, welcoming a change in fertility, yadda yadda yadda. This is a freaking nightmare. I can’t think and the mood swings should come with a warning claxon that screams, “Step away from your mother! Maintain peace at all costs! Go to your room if you value your life!”

*More deep breaths. Serenity now, please.*

Second, ADD can be kind of fun. Things that were lost become new again when found. This is not actually so when the lost thing is a bill.

*Whoo. Getting light headed. And was I not asking for serenity loudly enough?*

The mood swings are killing my writing, too. I am currently on my fifth version of this @#$*& Steampunk story. It’s not enough, apparently, that even though I started it four years ago it now looks like I’m just jumping on the bandwagon. No. Now I realize that because I have no magical or paranormal elements to it, I’m actually writing science fiction – and I swore I’d never write science fiction because the worldbuilding and the details are an absolute killer. Welcome to my fictional nightmare.

*Screw the deep breathing. Where the hell is my serenity?*

So. Wildly fluctuating hormone levels, wonky brain chemistry, and worldbuilding that is sapping my will to live. I haven’t decided whether to go Virginia Woolf or Mad Max with this little crossroads of life. But you know what I do want?


15 February 2010

Valentines, Presidents, and Beads, Oh My!

With a triple threat of holiday cheer to choose from this extra long weekend, which shall we choose?

Yesterday, scores of candy hearts, nougat centered chocolates and paper hearts changed hands in celebration of the horrific deaths of the martyrs; Valentine of Rome, Valentine of Terni and Valentine of Africa. Somehow I’m losing the romance in there somewhere.

Perhaps we should go with the happier legend of Father Valentine who secretly performed marriages for the young men under Roman Emperor Claudius II after the emperor declared all young men remain single in order to produce better soldiers. Of course, when Claudius found out he had Valentine arrested and executed, but not before Hallmark legend has the doomed priest write the very first valentine to his beloved. Yeah, still not seeing it. But hey, chocolate is chocolate.

At least President’s Day is clearer. Well, unless of course in your neck of the woods the event calendar says Presidents Day or Presidents’ Day. In Massachusetts you’re celebrating “Washington’s Birthday”, while Virginia officially celebrates “George Washington Day”. Parts of the Midwest have rolled out the rug for “Washington and Lincoln’s Day”, and not to be outdone, Alabama chose “Washington and Jefferson Day”. Hmm, well whatever you call it, the sales are great!

So then Mardi Gras is the keeper. Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday, the last day of revelry before Ash Wednesday and the fasting of Lent. Carnival starts after Epiphany, and throughout the world spans the season from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” but is used to cover the entire celebratory three days, (week, or two weeks depending on where you are). Despite being both the last day and the entire celebration, Mardi Gras garners no confusion. It is a time to cut loose, to blow off steam, to get in a last hoorah, and to party like tomorrow god is watching.

You may dread the Hallmark Holiday of hearts and flowers and the pressure to be both coupled and the perfect couple. You might have no idea which president you’re celebrating or why you feel the need to buy that over-priced blender just because it’s 25% off. But even if you can’t pronounce Mardi Gras, let alone explain what a King Cake is to your friends; we can all relax, kick back, act up, and let loose while the letting is good.

I hope you enjoyed yesterday. May those of you still off work enjoy today. And may we all get a chance to flash a stranger and get some beads…metaphorically speaking anyway. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Holiday Ramble Done


13 February 2010

Dispatches from the snowy south

I saw asphalt on my street today. That might not sound like a big deal, but I live a few miles south of Washington, DC, the city that hijacked all the snow they needed for the Vancouver Olympics.

Seriously. Yesterday one of the county snowplows got stuck in front of our house. Of course, there was a little (ahem) car-ma involved. The driver had been trying to bury a neighbor’s car which was parked, quite legally, on the street. It was intensely satisfying to see the driver forced to free the car in order to free his plow. When you’re snowbound, you take your jollies where you find them.

I suppose a more diligent person would’ve used the occasion to write until her fingers bled. My local Romance Writers of America chapter seemed to think this was the perfect snow activity. The chapter president issued a writing challenge when last weekend’s meeting was called on account of snow. I didn’t participate, not because I didn’t write—I did—but because snowstorms don’t inspire my writing muse. They bring out my inner Betty Crocker.

Or maybe it’s the other way around. Greg, aka The Spouse Person, swears our December blizzard didn’t kick into high gear until I started baking six different kinds of holiday cookies. Our second-to-last storm didn’t turn into a record breaker until I made brownies, and this time… This time I made spaghetti sauce from tomatoes I froze last summer.

It’s all my fault!


Much as I’d like to see myself as some kind post-modern domestic goddess weather witch, putting the finishing touches on the perfect cassoulet as the first snowflakes begin to fall, I suspect it's only the wan remains of the nesting instinct that afflicts all professionals from time to time. Which isn’t to say the impulse isn’t dangerous. Remember, I’m the daughter of the woman who created post-nuclear spare ribs and imploded turkeys. Most of my recipes aren’t quite that bad, but Greg did need to have a crown reattached after attacking my last batch of Jelly Belly Blondies.

I blush to say, I laughed. Like I said, you take your jollies where you find them.

What about you? Does your lizard brain react to extreme weather with a frenzy of domesticity? Do you write away the white-out hours, or does a heavy snowfall simply make you itch to escape the prison your house has become? Nosy—er, inquiring minds want to know.

Regardless of your reaction, I hope the snow found you safe and warm and left you that way. Also hope you enjoy a splendid Valentine’s Day tomorrow, but if you find yourself in dire need of holiday reading material, there’s always You Know What.

Cheers and winter smiles, Jean Marie

12 February 2010

It's Valentine's Day! Do you Celebrate?

Sunday marks the day almost every woman in America has strong feelings toward. Love it? Hate it? Boycott it?

That's right, VALENTINE'S DAY. The day the men in our lives are supposed to come up to snuff and show us how we make their world go around.

But what if you're single and heartily embracing the fact? Or divorced and just not ready to dip your toes back into the dating pool? Or, like me, have a husband who is often away? Does the day really matter then?

I've been married for ten years this year. Amazing how time flies. And, I'll admit it, the first few years, I put a lot of stock in waiting to see what he came up with for Valentine's Day. As the years went by and we spent more holidays apart (and far too much money on flowers that died far too soon), I began to realize something.

My husband shows me he loves me all year long, so why does it matter if he spends three times what a bouquet of lilies runs any other time of the year to have them delivered on Valentine's Day out of a sense of obligation not to disappoint me? Or struggles with hundreds of other would be Romeo's to get one of those fancy reservations at a decent restaurant?

It doesn't. After sharing him with the Navy for ten years, none of those things are important. It's just another day. This year, we'll spend it with a telephone call from Haiti where he is serving onboard the USNS Comfort aiding in the earthquake relief effort. And, if he had not been deployed, we had agreed to spend the day together because that's the one thing money can't buy - TIME.

But what if you're divorced and still off the market or embracing your single status?

Back when I was single and loving it, it used to drive me up the walls to have attached women do the pat-me-on-the-shoulder thing in sympathy that I didn't have anyone to do special things for me. Hello? I WAS NOT SINGLE BECAUSE NO ONE WOULD HAVE ME!! I was single because I wasn't ready to settle down and hadn't yet met the man who would change my mind.

And that's what is wrong with Valentine's Day. It's full of expectations, expenses, disappoints, and stress. Some of us have true romantics as significant others who really do enjoy plotting the ultimate Romantic Evening, or day, or lunch...you get the point. :) But those are th expectation

For the rest of us, there are other ways to enjoy the romance in the air. Read a good book! You knew that was coming, right? :) Or maybe take a long bubble bath or soak in the hot tub. Take a few hours out of your weekend to recharge your batteries and pamper yourself.

And, if you know someone who is bacheloretting the weekend, please don't do the sympathy thing unless she's truly in the pits about being alone when every commercial is touting love and romance. She may just be plotting her next single foray into that ocean of men still waiting for the right bait.

Do you have plans? Or would you like to share the most romantic Valentine's Day you've had? How about the worst?

10 February 2010

Making the Shift

Just recently I went to a Mentoring Workshop given by the NJSCBWI. This was part of my New Year's resolution to invest more in my career by seeking out these professional writing thingys and attending them (and guess what -they're tax deductible).

The mentoring workshop went like this - you send in 30 pages of your manuscript, and an editor or agent, whoever is attending the workhop, gets them and reads them over and gives you notes. That kind of input is priceless.

You also give your pages to the other writers in your group for them to critique as well, which is also very useful, especially since most of the other people who sign up for such things aren't clueless newbies.

So I submit my pages and wait. I get an editor from Penguin/Putnam Young Readers. I am so nervous - what if she totally hates what I've written? What if it's total crap? I'm ready to listen to her critique, because I want this book - a YA historical fantasy, currently titled Smoke and Mirrors -to be the best one I've written. I want this book to have an agent and a hardcover NYC deal.

She gave me terrific notes, all written up for me to keep. She loved my synopsis, called it 'excellent' but too long. Okay, I can fix that. She liked the story, liked the characters. Warned me against making my villain a caricature (which I talked about here a couple of months ago; I guess I hadn't done enough softening), and staying too close to the original Fairy Tale. She wanted me to lose the very thing that had inspired the story in the first place, but there was a good reason for it. I scribbled notes on her notes, nodding and agreeing. She didn't say the writing was bad, in fact she said that all the changes she wanted she said I was "totally capable" of making. I like confidence!

Her biggest criticism was that it didn't seem to read like YA, but more like tween. Which is what I usually write, so it wasn't surprising. What she was really saying is it needs more, um, "older" ideas about relationships. In short, sex it up a little.

That doesn't mean turn it into a red light special, of course, but after thinking about it, I could see what she meant. There needs to be a different kind of meat for YA's to sink their teeth into, and it doesn't have to be overt. It's not just 'sex', but sexual tension, a little edge to the story.

It's strange to write it, but on the other hand, in certain places it's coming naturally as I revise. Just a matter of sticking myself into the head of seventeen year olds instead of fifteen year olds. No matter it's late 19th century - teenagers are teenagers. Actually it's MORE interesting, because I have to remember all the mores of that time period, which lends itself to increased tension. Add in the romantic triangle I've got going, and this book is ready to explode.

It's rather exciting, and yes I mean that :P

Yanno, I actually could get used to this. It's kind of fun, and even a little freeing. I won't be writing Romance any time soon, though. I'm not ready for that.

I'm planning on attending the annual NJSCBWI conference. I wonder what I'll learn next.

09 February 2010

Promo Tuesday: "Hoodoo Cupid"

If you still haven't yet found the right Valentine's Day read, may I suggest "Hoodoo Cupid" from Red Rose Publishing. It's got a sexy hero, a never-say-die heroine, admen behaving badly, an emergency stash of Dove chocolate and just a hint of voodoo. As the blurb says:

Maggie Scanlan’s voodoo was a total bust until she took her scissors to a voodoo doll on Valentine’s Day. All she wanted to do was to make ad agency wonder boy and professional rival Dan Constantine know what it felt like to be cut off at the knees. She never expected him to break his leg, much less sweep the rug out from under her—in an Emergency Room, no less.

Dan makes her crazy, and every finely tuned professional instinct is telling her to run. But her heart—and Dan—have other ideas. Will they make it a Valentine’s Day to remember? Only Maggie’s voodoo doll knows for sure, and it’s not talking.

There's even an excerpt if you'd like to read more.

You know you do. ;-) Happy reading!

Jean Marie

08 February 2010

Inspiration: Get it Where You Can

Writing a story can be...oh, what is the word?...HARD!

I mean, seriously, creating a brand-spanking new world with sights, smells, tastes, and sounds? Developing new people with hearts, guts, skin and bones that readers want to fall in love with? Delving into conflicts that are believable and strong enough to grab the reader by the collar and propel them into a story they don't want to put down? AND digging deep enough to make it all fun, emotional, awe-inspiring, and completely satisfying?

Dang, it is hard.

There are times, I will admit, when it all seems impossible. On those days I look for inspiration, something, anything with a boot to kick me in the seat of my pants. I find inspiration in all sorts of places and here are a few:

1) My boys are the first to tell me to stop being a wus. Just do it already, Mom. Plus, they are super good to bounce ideas off of. They have no qualms in telling me if something sucks. But they are also great at telling me what rocks. The best thing is they keep me grounded and remind me what's really important--when's dinner?

2) My hubby is an athlete. He challenges his body and his mind on a daily basis. Men fifteen years younger than he is are jealous of his accomplishments. I see how dedicated he is, how motivated, how he keeps going when his body hurts, or when he is tired. The man is a living inspiration.

3) My parents, sisters and brother all lift me up. They've suffered through my growing pains and rejections and never once suggested I quit. Encouragement from people who love me no matter what? Priceless.

4) My friends have always been there (in good times and bad) with kind words, hugs, jumps for joy, rejection condolences, chocolate, coffee, and money to buy my books.

5) Authors who have gone before me and who are struggling beside me are inspirational. A great book lifts me up, gives me hope, and turns the light on at the end of the tunnel.

6) Artists, athletes, and anyone who has set stellar goals for themselves and have worked their fannies off (for years, usually) to reach them.

7) The Bible. I can always find inspiration in there.

8) Me. Looking back at how far I've come, helps to move me forward.

9) Inspirational Quotes. I love them and collect them. This week I found one from Muhammed Ali that really spoke to me, "I am the Greatest. I said that even before I knew I was."

So here's to being the greatest! I wish you inspiration and joy in your journey to reach the stellar goals you have set for yourself. If you have quotes, or inspirational stories to share, I'd love to see them.

Kimberley Troutte

05 February 2010

Secondary Characters

I usually have a hard time thinking of a topic for blogging, but today's idea sort of fell into my lap from another discussion on favorite scenes with secondary characters with another group. I got to thinking about The Watchers series, and I must say there is a couple who will always be my favorite, thus make a cameo in other books in the series whenever I can fit them in...Robyn and Trigg from Midnight Reborn.

The following scene is from Midnight Rose, the second novel of my paranoral romance series, The Watchers.

I hope you enjoy the following snippet:

"Okay, chiquita. You’ve been boring holes through me for the past hour. What is it?"
Robyn sighed and tried not to smile at Vane’s use of the endearment. He had called her chiquita since the day they had first met.
She knew she had been caught. Wiping her hands on the dishtowel she held, she walked out of the kitchen, up to the billiard table and chose her words carefully, knowing she was jumping into choppy waters. The situation between Vane and Rosa really wasn’t any of her business, but she felt compelled to bring it up.
"Vane, anyone can see you are troubled by something, and I am pretty sure I know what that something is."
Vane hesitated on his shot and glanced up at her before turning back to his game.
"I also know Rosa is having a difficult time too." Robyn saw Vane tense at the declaration.
Maybe, she thought, he hadn’t realized Rosa was suffering.
Vane walked around to the other side of the billiard table, and lined up his next shot. He spoke without looking up. "What are you getting at, chiquita?"
"Well," she continued, unable to stop herself from wiping her hands anxiously on the dishtowel. "I think you two are making a terrible mistake. It isn’t easy to find the right person these days, and I think you two are perfect for each other. You’re both too thickheaded to see it."
Vane looked up and raised an eyebrow at her assessment of their behavior.
"Chiquita." Vane sighed and laid down the pool stick he was using. He ran a hand through his hair and shrugged. "Rosa is a very special woman. She is refined, classy. She needs someone who would be good for her. A man who has a nice job, can put her up in a nice place and build a family with her."
"And you think you can’t?"
Vane looked her straight in the eyes, his face somber. "No. I can’t. I’m a Watcher—a vampire warrior. I hunt and kill Rogues. Hell, since I started dating her, I have brought her nothing but trouble."

When reading a series, do you find yourself wondering about characters whose stories you've read in previous stories? Or, do you feel their story is over and done with...time to move on? Do you think their appearance takes away from the main characters or adds to the story, bringing it more depth?

D. (Diane) McEntire www.dmcentire.com

04 February 2010

My Thursday Thirteen Favorite Lines from “Hoodoo Cupid”

Cue the trumpet fanfare. Today marks the release of “Hoodoo Cupid”, my first contemporary romance, by Red Rose Publishing. “Hoodoo Cupid” tells the story of two ad agency pros—copywriter Maggie Scanlan and agency wunderkind Dan Constantine—who fall in love in an Emergency Room…with a little help from a certain voodoo doll.

In honor of the occasion, and because it’s Thursday, here are thirteen of my favorite lines from the story:

1. Forget the clichés about friends helping you move and friends helping you move bodies. Real friends sacrificed their lunch hour to help you exact proxy revenge outdoors on a day so brutally cold even the agency’s smokers refused to risk it.

2. “Now hurry up and push your pin in his heart so we can get back inside. My five-year plan doesn’t include freezing to death for the sake of you or your bad boy.”

3. “It’s not going to work. It never does. All it does is make me feel better. Take that, Daniel Curtiss Constantine.” Maggie finished hacking through the second leg and started to sob.

4. “Yeah, I can see how it’s a real attitude adjuster,” Germaine said dryly.

5. The universe had other plans. It planned to enjoy a big honking, snorting, coffee-through-the-nose-spewing belly laugh at Maggie’s expense. There, not a dozen yards in front of her, striding in the direction of her favorite takeout, was the bane of her professional life.

6. It never occurred to her to push him into traffic. He stepped off the curb all by himself.

7. “So this is what it takes,” Constantine gasped, “to get your attention.”

8. She expected the surroundings to diminish him. Instead she discovered the width of his shoulders owed nothing to padding. An uneasy mix of guilt and curiosity writhed inside her. Did his legs match the rest of him?

9. [His eyes] were a clear light gray, completely at odds with his Mediterranean complexion and the dark brown eyelashes that belonged in a mascara commercial. When those eyes focused on a person—the way they focused on her now—it was like being targeted by a pair of lasers.

10. His voice had a husky quality—a subtle roughness like vintage mohair upholstery, which inspired almost as much thigh wriggling and skirt palming among the agency power groupies as his eyes.

11. The only answers Maggie had were rude. She found a spot on the floor that looked like Kansas and wished for a tornado.

12. Worse, the movement called attention to his muscular, mostly naked legs. Inside her head she groaned. He’d be perfect if only he weren’t in advertising.

13. (The one my Texas friends like best.)
“Afghanistan?” she squeaked. “You were in the Army?”
“Three years, eight months, seventeen days, and just a little over three hours. Do you want it in minutes? C’mon, Maggie, give me a little credit. You didn’t think it took me seven years to graduate Yale, did you?” He laughed. “If I’d been that slow, the only way I could’ve made a living would’ve been to move to Texas and go into politics.”

Now you know you want to read the rest. Check it out at Red Rose Publishing and, maybe, take it home for Valentine’s Day.

Happy Reading!

Jean Marie

01 February 2010

Odd Dreams and Wild Things

In the annals of wild dreams, I'm sitting on the mother lode most days. I dream in vivid color and exquiste detail. Most of the time they aren't very cohesive though, so that sucks, but hey, I can still glean little germs of wisdom or awesome story ideas from them.

So, when I woke up yesterday after sleeping maybe five hours after my shift ended at 7am, I felt as if I'd been through a half-broken looking glass. The dream I had was so disturbing, but not for reasons you may think. There wasn't blood and gore. I wasn't being chased by some psycho with a butcher knife or even hunted by a wild animal. No, not me.

I was Chicken Little.

Not the actual CL. I mean I didn't have feathers or a beak. I was me, but having an experience that shook me as if the sky were falling. Worse. Large objects were falling at me. Like guns you'd find on battleships. The barrel. The big damn barrel coming straight at me as I look up into the clear blue sky.


And more disturbing was the fact that as these objects were hurling themselves at me from outer space, I stood there open-mouthed waiting for the thing to land and make the loud vibrating sound of impact with the earth. However, there was no sound. No impact. It just sort of disappeared when it should have landed. And the tidals waves that should have occurred when this gun barrel hit the water, where was that? Honestly, that's the thing that woke me up.

Now, I'm not one who believe much in dream interruptation. I think we assign our own values and symbolizm to things, and what might mean something to me, might mean nothing to someone else. So, even though I own a dream dictionary, it's not a book I reach for very often. (Probably not even once since I repainted my office over eight years ago). I doubt, however, if I were inclined to search for battleship guns in a dream dictionary, I probably wouldn't find it listed.

So, what does it mean?

Damned if I know.

Do I care? Not it knowing what it means. I'm more disturbed by just the image of looking up and seeing something so huge coming at me than I am discovering the underlying cause.


I hope my sleep isn't as disturbing today when I lay down before work. It's hell having to spend the entire sleep cycle outrunning objects, only to go to work to care for patients who just won't understand that I've been dodging space junk all day.