Saturday, June 25, 2011

In the Good Ol' Summertime...

It’s summertime! I couldn’t wait for it to get here, couldn’t wait for the last day of school. I had glorious dreams of an idyllic summer—lazing with my kids, watching my garden burst forth, seeing my flowers in full bloom.

Let’s check the scorecard, shall we?

The fantasy: This year my garden will be on schedule, a neat and orderly weed-free zone. The reality: I put my garden in three weeks late, couldn’t find my row markers so I eyeballed the lines, and have had to till four times already.

The fantasy: This will be the year my kids learn to sleep in. The reality: My kids have made it as late as 8 a.m. exactly…wait for it…once.

The fantasy: Our pop-up pool will a breeze to set up and filled with warm sparkling water. The reality: Our pool is so crooked it is half the size it should be and it takes roughly 30 seconds for my legs to go numb when I’m in it.

The fantasy: My flowers will be a riot of color this year. The reality: My flowers will be a riot of color this year…only in the little starter pots that come from the greenhouse ‘cause I haven’t actually managed to get them in the ground.

The fantasy: My husband and I will hang out on the porch in the colorful rattan chairs that I lovingly fixed and painted. The reality: The only thing sitting in the unraveling peeling rattan chairs are the cats.

The fantasy: This summer my kids and I will spend hours in the throes of creativity. The reality: The only crafts my kids have done are the ones I give them to keep them busy so that I can make supper.

The fantasy: This summer I will learn to balance my writing with the rest of my life. The reality: I can write a kick-butt chapter if I ignore the world and everything in it for 6 hours straight.

The fantasy: I wouldn’t trade this summer for the world. The reality: I wouldn’t trade this summer for the world.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


I doubt that any of the genres that I don't "get" will surprise anyone. Also, I will totally cop to being a picky, picky reader. Most of the genres I don't get are really subgenres of the Category Romance genre. Without further ado, here they are.

First off, the Zillionaire Tycoon's Super Secret Mistress of Convenience type books. I don't get them. It's not I have a problem with people having a lot of money. It's just that I probably belong in a commune or something, and I get really distracted by the uber rich hero with his private jet and his yacht and his mansion and his summer home in Greece and his tailored clothes and I think "Seriously? Why do you have all this stuff you don't need? I'm pretty sure there are whole continents of starving orphans you could feed or entire ecosystems you could save with that kind of cash. I realize that all people whether real of fictional have the right to do what they want with their piles of money, but it bugs me nonetheless.

Next on my list is the I Have a Huge Ranch but I Do Absolutely No Work On It book. In some books, it's almost like owning this huge spread is some kind of romance shorthand for "I'm rich (you can tell by my enormous, well-appointed house) and rugged (you can tell by my hand-stitched boots, Stetson and over-sized and elaborate belt buckle)." I realize that there are likely real people who have huge ranches and never set foot in a barn, but that just seems weird to me. Granted, working in a barn is smelly, dirty work, no matter how it's romanticized in cowboy books where the cowboys actually do work (which I do prefer to the aforementioned ones). While the smell of cow manure and fresh cut hay does make me nostalgic, it doesn't make me feel randy. Also, I'm just here to say that sex in the hay mown is never a good idea unless you want your characters to have hives, rashes and bug bites. So yeah, most cowboy books don't do it for me.

Then there's the ever popular My Child Has Been Kidnapped or Is Otherwise In Danger but I'm Going to Screw the Hero of This Book While Passing the Time Until the Ransom is Paid or the Rescue is Attempted. Now, I like the occasional romantic suspense. Suzanne Brockmann? Bring it on. Love the woman. However, other romantic suspense that involves children in peril while their mamas are getting it on with hero while their child is missing or in danger give me The Full-On RAGE. Seriously? You can possibly think about sex when you don't know if your child is alive or dead? You can entertain the idea of entering into a potential relationship with a guy while your child might be being abused? If my child were in danger, the last damn thing I'm going to think about is how ripped some dude's abs are or if he's good in bed. Don't care. Want my kid. Want him now.

Now, this doesn't mean I think that these books don't have value. They do to the people who love to write them and love to read them. It just means they're not for me.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I am a paperholic

Hello.  My name is Cheryl, and I’m a paperholic.  It’s been three days since I’ve torn anything out of a magazine.
Yes, I’ll admit it.  I am a paper whore.  I never realized the extent of my addiction until recently.  Our condo is up for sale, which means another move.  Eventual and looming retirement, probably in another state, has emphasized the need to pare down.  Way down.
Realistically, I’m never going to make a quilt from the dozens of patterns I’ve collected.  I’m never going to write enough books to justify the hundreds of pictures of men, women and couples I’ve stashed away to use as character models.  Ditto for odds and ends that might be used for scrapbooking or in a book of wonder.  And let’s not start on the recipes.  I mean, really?
My addiction is not limited to things torn out of magazines and newspapers.  I have notebooks.  Lots and lots of notebooks.  Legal pads, both yellow and white.  Steno pads.  Big, small, irregular, lined, unlined, if it’s made of paper and bound together, I have it.  Some of them are blank, but most have ideas scribbled on them.  I have notes from conferences I attended in 2004.  I have multiple copies of the Hero’s Journey, GMC, character interviews, research printed off the internet, writing exercises and tips. 
I am a glutton for paper.  I love the texture and smell, the hope of a blank page.  I love finding the germ of an idea that I’ve forgotten.  I love to reread the early versions of stories and marvel at how they progressed.  I love everything to do with paper.
I’ve purged a lot.  At first, the pain was like taking your elderly pet to the vet to be put down.  It doesn’t hurt as much now.  I can be quite ruthless at times, which is good, because there’s more to be gone through.
What didn’t hurt?  All the rejection letters I’ve collected in my twelve years of writing.  Why did I keep them?  They’re bad karma, so out they went.  I should have had a bonfire. 
What surprised me?  Some of those letters were requests for partial and full manuscripts.  They validated my writing, and too bad for the editor or agent who didn’t follow through on the opportunity.
I’m happy to say my collection of paper is more manageable.  It will be easier to move it across town or across the country.
As for my books. . .
That’s another blog.       

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I hate Technology, love my Characters!

Some days I really hate technology. Which really sucks because it's what I do for my SJD. This week has been filled with cranky servers, failing hard drives, and emergency calls to several clients. And of course it's the week that I'm the only engineer on staff and I'm supposed to be making major headway on a big summer project involving virtualization. None of which really has anything to do with writing, other than it takes some of my spare time away when I “could” be writing.

As I was mulling about what to blog on today, I started obsessing over all the bits and pieces of my stories scattered about myriad tech devices ranging from my smart phones (yep, I have 2) to my tablet/mini/laptop devices and finally my pretty purple Alienware desktop. I do love my Alienware machines. For a techie, they're just about the best as they come with no bloatware and can be configured in a myriad of ways, including colors. But my main writing device is, surprise!, my Toshiba laptop. It's not fancy, it's a “consumer grade” (nice term for “a true geek normally wouldn't own one”) machine, but I'm madly in love with the keyboard. For the writer in me, that's important. As it should be for anyone who spends hours and hours pounding out verbiage - regardless of the job title.

The problem comes about when I need to merge all of the bits and pieces from all of my favorite devices. I've yet to find a tool that isn't cloud-based (I don't trust Google with my data) that can upload and/or convert the bits scattered about on Apple, Android, Linux, and Windows systems into one spot. And I'm too lazy to write my own tool. Or maybe it's better said that I'm too busy to bother to find the time to write the tool I want.

Or maybe, just maybe, it's because Jess is complaining so loudly about my needing to finish the second book in her series that I just can't think straight. And it doesn't help that Paul jumps in to back her up, while Collie stomps around in another corner of my mind muttering about “playing favorites” with my characters.

Merie's far more patient and is enjoying all the chaos, while perching on my shoulder in those few spare moments I have to read Christopher Moore's book Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal which I picked up at the last GRRWG meeting. She's quite enjoying it really, as am I, and is really happy I have yet to purchase an eReader. And as much as I'm hating technology today, I'm happy to completely agree with her on that.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I'm Reading Away

by Tanya Eby

I’m two weeks into my “Slow Down and Read” summer campaign. It’s a campaign with a follower of one: namely, me. I’m okay with this. I just needed to create a name for it so I wouldn’t feel like a slacker.

I’m not sure why reading feels like I’m slacking. Maybe because when you’re a working mom, any time you take time for yourself feels like slacking. Then again, reading is the perfect treat for a mom. You get a little time to escape to a new world and with all the books out there, that could be a new world of love and lust or darkness and espionage. Maybe even all of that at once.

I have a combination of things on my list from literary novels to classics to modern mysteries. And I’m also reading some romances from my very own writing group….GRRWG.

I’ve read books by Joselyn Vaughn, Brynn Paulin, and Bronwyn Green. Next up: Temple Hogan and Abigail Barnette. I’ve also purchased several others from our group and will, at some point, have a book by everyone (from our group) in my queue.

Not only has it been fun reading, but it’s given me a glimpse of these writer’s voices, and maybe a smidge of who they are as people. Reading someone’s work gives you a hint of the spirit in them. And by spirit, I mean personality. It’s fun to see playfulness, sauciness, and downright sexiness in these ladies.

I’m enjoying slowing down and reading, obsessing less, and generally just trying to relax a bit more about my own work. I had a major existential writer crisis, which has culminated in me changing the genre I’m writing in. So while I cocoon a bit more and get ready for that transformation, I’m going to keep on reading. I’ll be on a pirate’s ship next. My kids will see me smiling. It will be my own little secret as to why.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Critique Groups

I've read all kinds of articles about finding a good critique group, how to do critiques, and even how to separate from a critique group that isn't working. (Luckily haven't needed to use that advice.)

All these articles say the group I'm in shouldn't work.  We just happened on each other.  We don't write the same romance subgenres. In fact, we don't even write the same overarching genres. There's sweet contemporary romance, YA paranormal, crime/mystery and even literary fiction.  But it has worked phenomenally.

When we started, none of us had published a novel.  We were all working on our first or second manuscript. We were in the same boat and maybe that's what allowed us to start.

We each bring something different to the table at the coffee shop where we meet: mechanics, style, experience, emotion, characterization.  Our critiques are balanced because of this.  We can be certain that someone at the table will catch what is off about a scene.

The most important reason our group works is trust.  We trust that each recommendation is given to help improve our book.  No one tears anyone down.  We are there to make our writing better and to learn from the others.

In the last five years, we've gone through a lot  together, including getting seven books, as well as some short stories,  between us published.  I can't wait to see what the next five bring.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Being a Friend

I know we're all writers and this is a writer's blog, but here's the thing. We live such a solitary existence that we need to keep our friendships strong. I have friends who write and friends who don't understand writing. I need them all. But I think sometimes, we get so caught up in the minutia of our lives that we forget that our friends are still there.

You know that saying, "It isn't all about you?" I've come to discover that while we need to keep that healthy tidbit in mind, it is possible our friends don't. What I mean is, your friend has a death in the family, they work solid day job hours and overtime on weekends, they have a sick puppy, and are struggling to keep diabetes at bay. Generally they are so used to juggling this, that they don't realize how much of their lives revolve around the details. That's okay, because that's when you get over yourself enough to help.

But say a day comes that you're having it rough. Things just aren't working out, and you don't make a phone call to that friend. She's forgotten that her problems aren't the only ones, and she gets upset with you for not calling her to talk about them. While she may not understand what's going on with you, you need to put yourself on the back burner.

What you were thinking was, "Hey, she's got enough going on. I don't need to burden her with my problems." What she's thinking is, "She can't even be bothered to call." Or, "Why won't she let me help her with this?"

Now, I'm not saying your friend is self-absorbed when I say that she's caught up in her issues. I'm saying she's thinking that you are caught up in yours, when you don't communicate with her.

Or say you have another friend you cherish who seems grateful to everyone but you, despite the time and energy you spend helping, or offering help. That you begin to feel taken for granted, and remind yourself that person has other things going on in her life. Maybe you did slip through the cracks, but maybe the people she's remembering really need her more than you do.

Friendships can often feel like a slippery balance. Good friendships don't keep tabs, though I do believe human nature allows us to forget that. We don't know every aspect of everyone's life. By nature I'm not going to tell any friend every detail of what has me down because I know it will bring her down too. I'm also going to apologize if I miss a call, but I'm going to wish that friend remembered that I have my own, different set of problems, and cut me some slack.

That maybe migraines effect my speech and my memory. That maybe telling you again how hard I'm struggling isn't something any of us needs to dwell on. And sometimes, I'm going to remember that just because you don't think of me now, when I want you to, doesn't mean you won't down the road.

I'm a firm believer that the friend who sits by, being a friend despite her own insecurities and woes, despite being overlooked, will be the friend who is remembered for her constancy.

What kind of friend are you? What kind of friend do you need to be for others? Are you someone who seeks accolades? Do you need to brag and be told how wonderful you are or can you switch gears and do that for someone else? Reach out and tell your friend how awesome she is, how important she is to you, how talented she is. Keep your own accomplishments quiet. If your goal is to be noticed, you missed the point of friendship.

Are you someone who can take criticism without lashing out? Can you support your friend when she seems to have forgotten you? Are you there when she calls, at whatever time, for whatever reason? Can you tell her how you feel without getting snippy, or verbally attacking her?

Friendships are so valuable. You have to protect them like the treasure they are. Don't let your doubts color how strong your relationship is, overcome the doubts. It's impossible to overlook a friend like that. If you're still worried about recognition, it'll come. Just don't stomp your feet in the meantime. Value what you have. Friends are our life lines. And to a writer, they keep us connected on a very fundamental level. It's humanity at its best and it is the cornerstone to all the relationships we write about. It's also what keeps you grounded when you look outside yourself.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Perfect Love

Perfect love doesn’t make much of a story. Neither do perfect people. Even if everything gets tied up in a neat bow by the last page, I prefer to see the struggle, the growth, the pain and losses in life that all give me something to root for. The element of surprise is good but only if it makes sense in hindsight. Joy is good but conflict is better.

How different that is from real life! If I could choose perfect love, I’d be with my best friend, the man who knows me better than anyone in the world. Our friendship and trust – and love – would grow deeper every day. I wouldn’t want someone adding conflict or drama to my story unless it was something minor, like lost luggage on our trip to Italy, or running out of maple syrup and substituting jam on our pancakes. Trivial conflicts barely worth a mention.

Love creates a position of strength, whether in real life or fiction. Precious and profound, love needs to be shared, not hidden, as a light that shines into the darkness should not be hidden beneath a basket.

Nearly all fiction, whether categorized romance or not, is a story containing love. And so in real life, because there will be conflict and pain, growth and struggle, let our stories begin and end with love.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rachel's Erotic Novel on Friends

Oh, I just came across this video the other day. I thought Rachel's defense of her erotic pleasure was sublime.


Follow this link to YouTube to watch when

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hot. Humid. Cranky. Summer In Michigan

It's summer in Michigan, near the lake shore, which means it's hot and humid. My house doesn't have air conditioning, which means I could become a cranky writer. The library has AC, so I can camp out there. But the purpose of my blog this month, is not to complain about Michigan's weather, which changes almost as much as teen girls change clothes.

It's summer, here in Michigan that means its festival season. We spend our winters cooped up inside, so naturally come spring there is pretty much a festival every weekend until the snow flies again.

Why is this important?

Several reasons.

* It gives you a break from icky things like housework, work, and chores
* It also gives you a creative break from writing and delving into the same world day after day.
* It provides excellent fodder for the next book regardless of what genre you write.

Food festivals give you a chance to listen to music you wouldn't normally listen to and try foods that you wouldn't normally try. Buy something, sit slightly off to the side and watch what happens. Even if no idea strikes you while you're there, it will trigger something in your subconscious and probably with your muse for later use. Take pictures to spark interest later or reflect on something that happened.

The state of Michigan has a huge list of events going on around the state on a wide variety of topics and interests. Pick one, go explore and come back exhausted and probably full after trying something from almost every food booth, shower and sleep and wake up with new ideas and a way around the story problem you're having.

Oh, and if you're not from Michigan, bring SCUBA gear, we breathe our water. Stupid humidity.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Beating Memory Meltdowns

A friend and fellow writer Holli Castillo had a great blog post and I’m going to borrow her idea and talk about it. We are writers and you would think writing it down would be an easy thing but the truth is while we pound away at our keyboards for hours a day creating, we don’t jot down details of everyday life or ideas for our books when we see or think of them.

This last week has been one of those weeks. I’m moving out of my bat-invested apartment, my son is graduating and the open house is the day before. Busy doesn’t even begin to describe it. Keeping up with emails and publicity for my newest book, A CASE OF HOMETOWN BLUES, that will be out at the end of the month has me pulling my hair out!

In that mix of craziness, I have had some really great ideas for characters, plots and settings. Why my brain decides to be so creative when under tremendous stress is a mystery. The bad news is that in two minutes or less those great thoughts will be gone.

We need to capture those ideas. I have two ways. One is the traditional method with pencil and paper and I do okay just to scribble down the gist of it and hope that will jar the rest of it when I have time to do something with it.
The other is a word document that is always open on my computer. It is where I will type the idea. They always come in the middle of something else and if I don’t note it, it will be gone with the next sentence. I save the document often but go back and look for things there.

It doesn’t matter how you save them either digitally or traditionally, just save them. I don’t think I can pack more into my thoughts and one of the ideas is so cool I can’t wait to work on it. For today though, my son will be the major focus in his cap and gown, all grown up. If something does come to me, I will have to figure out the notes feature on my phone but that is another blog about how my phone and I don’t communicate. Enjoy your day and don’t forget to note those brilliant ideas!

W.S. Gager
Author of the Mitch Malone Mystery Series

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Power of Words

As I went through my last round of revisions, I polished and polished and polished, weighing each word and looking for superfluous adjectives and overworked adverbs. (Did you catch how overweight that sentence is?)

Wordsmithing is the last phase of writing for me. I need to get that first draft of sentences, paragraphs, chapters on the page before I switch on my internal editor. If I try to edit as I write, then I lose the pacing of the story, and it will take me forever to write a single page.

A few of the things I look for when I wordsmith are:

1. Repeated words - unless I've repeated them for effect.
2. Adverbs - I search for a stronger verb.
3. Too much info or action in one sentence.
4. Too many said's in dialogue - I look for ways to use distinct speech patterns for each character and include more internal thoughts about what they feel. Readers are smart. They don't need a lot of he said, she said.

For fun, let's look at how well-honed the sentences are in the books you're reading.

Grab the book closest at hand, turn to page 52 and write the second complete sentence in a comment below. Let's see how published authors are using their words.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Going to the Faire

Last Sunday I went to the Mayfaire Fenaissance Festival with both daughters, my son-in-law, and my granddaughter. Bridget is only four months old, so it was her first Festival. We want to make sure she gets a rich cultural education!

It was a beautiful sunny day. We arrived about an hour after the faire opened, and people dressed in period costumes greeted us, acting in character. Even the parking lot attendants were entertaining! There were games, shows, booths, and lots of food.

Festivals like this are fun, but they come from a desire to escape the busy, goal-oriented lives we live. It's a return to simpler times. Of course nothing would make me want to give up a lot of my modern conveniences, especially my internet! But at a renaissance festival it's fun to listen to the music, (less complex) watch the games (the rules are easy) and stroll about with the most pressing decision being "What's for dinner?"

Being an avid reader and writer, I enjoy the festivals because my thoughts turn to tales about the knights in armor and the fair damsels. It’s a great place to stir my imagination. Granted, in my stories the armor looks a bit different, and the hoop skirts give way to kimonos. But the ideas of chivalry and justice are universal. The hero always wins the hand of the fair maiden, and the villain always loses. No matter the language, or the culture, everyone understands the idea of “Happily Ever After.”

On the heels of this holiday weekend, my hope is that the sacrifices of our young men and women in the service of their country result in a “Happily Ever After” for our world.

Patty Kiyono