Welcome. This blog was started three years ago by four aspiring writers who are now three published authors of novels and short stories (Barbara Elsborg, Dawn Jackson, Arlene Webb) and one multiple award-winning writer (Laurie Green). We blog to keep readers updated on our new releases or other random topics. We hope you enjoy your stay. :] Coffee?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The soft side of a man, odd habits and quirks.

We all have our thoughts on what makes or breaks a romance story. For me, nothing makes a story more than when an author has a character driven novel and the reader feels like this character is real. They have pasts, they have problems and yes, they have habits and quirks. These little touches can really bring a story to life.

I watched my husband with a hummingbird the cat got last week. I’d been painting the door and had it cracked open for the paint to dry. The cat bumped through and raced for my son’s room. My husband sat up in his chair, then bolted to his feet. “He’s got a mouse!” The cat dropped his prize at the foot of my son’s bed, just as my husband got there. Not a mouse, a hummingbird. It buzzed past his head and landed on the dresser.

The thing that really struck me, that tugged at the heartstrings and made me all mushy inside, was the way he scooped it up and cradled it in a dishtowel. Its little heart was pounding a thousand beats a minute and we didn’t know if it was too frightened to fly, or too hurt. It had flown up to the dresser, but after it got here, it collapsed. My husband was so gentle with it, so concerned. A side I rarely see, of my rough around the edges soldier boy. I’m talking a hard-core, combat trained, tough as nails Gulf War Army Veteran.

I love a man that once in awhile can let that softer side slip and give you a small glimpse, as my husband did. It genuinely upset him. He kept telling it, "It's okay sweetheart. It’s okay." He took it outside, nestled in the towel, and put it up high where it was safe. All along talking so soft. One of those fleeting ‘Aw’, moments for me.

Then he screamed at the cat and called it an asshole. A very fleeting moment, but that’s the man I know and love.

So, why am I telling you this?

The best stories imitate life. If you intend to build realistic characters, you need to work real life into the story. Take things that happen you, like the situation above and use them to breathe life into your text. Give your characters, character. Watch, observe, and write what you see. Spy on people. Snoop and be nosey. Go ahead, you’re a writer, you have a license to do it. In my opinion, the most compelling characters are those that have odd habits, little quirks and occasionally you get a glimpse of a rare side of them, as I did with my husband.

I remember when my youngest son was three. My older child was six at the time and used to hide behind the shower curtain and jump out at his brother when he sat down on the toilet. It scared him something terrible. He’d run out, pants around the ankles, screaming at the top of his lungs and crying. He took to wearing a happy meal, trick-or-treat bucket on his head and carrying a water pistol after that. In his mind, he was well armed. Regardless, he’d always rip the curtain back before he sat down. Twelve years later, he’s lost the bucket and pistol, but he still rips that shower curtain open. I hear it every time he goes into the bathroom. He’ll probably continue to do this for the rest of his life. For him, it’s second nature. An odd quirk.

It’s those odd quirks I love in the stories I read. All kinds of experiences shape and mould us into the people we become. Why should it be any different for our characters? Take time and think about your characters as children. What experiences did they have? What makes them the men and women they become? There’s nothing worse than cookie-cutter characters. You know what I’m talking about, we’ve all seen them. They fall flat and the readers don’t care about them. If you want them to walk off the pages and capture the hearts of your readers, build these traits into your characters. It will breathe life into them. Go ahead, give them quirks and habits, make them a bit neurotic, a klutz, or compulsive. These little life events make great material. Use them.

It's about a grizzled veteran and a hummingbird, a child and his fear of the monster in the shower, and the three hundred pound, bear of a man, neighbor, that takes the trash out in the morning only to meet a baby skunk. He dances around in his wifes fluffy pink robe, trash bags in hand, screaming like a little girl. Unforgetable moments that make you laugh, cry or react. These are the elements of a great story. These are the things I love to see.

The best books I’ve read have characters that are developed in such a manner. It’s all part of the world building. In Sci Fi and Fantasy we’ve got great elements to play with and sometimes we get so caught up in our worlds we forget it’s the characters that make these worlds come to life. So go ahead, give em some quirks. I dare you.

As for our friend the hummingbird... Not to worry. It survived. After about an hour, we went back on the porch where we'd left it. It was gone.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Another Ramble: Coincidence in Fiction

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidence.

Sound familiar? How about this? "Life imitates art."

The question of coincidence has been a plot point in at least one popular movie. In Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone's character is a wealthy heiress and author. When her parents and a lover die in circumstances very similar to murder scenes from her books, detectives are suspicious. The coincidence might be incriminating evidence.

Coincidence in fiction is a real concern, or there wouldn't be a reason for the above paraphrased blurb.

Coincidence happens.

As writers, the need to pen "fresh, original" material craved by editors and agents, but even when we think our ideas are exciting and new, that may not be the case. I mentioned Dawn's run-in with the Crystal Skull problem in my Cliches and Icons post. Sometimes writers create situations in their minds that have already happened, will happen in the future, or become part of pop culture. Ever heard the adage about putting a monkey in a room with a typewriter and eventually he'll (or she'll) write an entire novel? Yeah, it's kinda like that. If you can dream it up and type it, it's probably something that actually happened somewhere, sometime, or is in someone else's novel.

But coincidence in fiction isn't just about names or a sequence of events. Sometimes things can take an almost prophetic turn.

I wrote an early draft of Draxis many years ago. As fate or bad luck or forces of irony would have it, my main character's name is Katrina and there's a reference to her in an ancient legend as "The Wind of Change." Lo and behold, years later the name Katrina comes up for a developing hurricane in the Atlantic, and this terrible storm proceeds to devastate New Orleans and much of the Gulf coast. People die or endure terrible hardship, and an entire region is left a water-logged wasteland. Suddenly, critiquers who had no problem with my character's name the week before became incensed that I would invoke such terrible memories by using it. I thought a long time on what to do. I resisted changing her name; I felt it suited her character. My decision was to--pardon the inappropriate pun--weather the storm. A friend pointed out that no would would have taken exception to a character named Andrew or Camille, but those had also been devastating class five hurricanes. Time passes and painful memories fade. It was only the timing that made my character's name controversial. I kept her name Katrina. I haven't had a negative comment for over a year. Public sensitivity ebbs and flows.

Names can be a touchy subject. No one quibbles if your character is named Mary, John or Thomas. Come up with something more exotic and chances are someone else did first. I changed the names of two of my characters multiple times before I was satisfied with Ryn, my staunch, manipulative admiral in P2PC, and Timmar, my Jeckyl-and-Hydesque assassin in Draxis. As it turned out, both of my "original" names were character names in novels I later read. So much for originality. Since I'm an avid reader of both authors' work, I worried about this quite a bit. I emailed them to express my concerns (dismay) over the coincidence and wondered if I should (*sigh*) change the character names, yet again. Both had a similar response. [paraphrased] Don't worry about it. This is far from a rare occurrence in fiction.

Yup, coincidence happens.

I haven't changed the names (again) to date, but I may in the future. This will be a good question to ask an editor when the books reach this stage. As writers, we have to think of our work like clay. A WIP is exactly that, a work in progress. It can be reshaped, tweaked, and manipulated at any point in the editing/marketing process. Nothing we write is carved in granite.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Saturday Morning Ramble: Cliches and Icons

My co-bloggers and I have had a few conversations recently about the new Indiana Jones movie, the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. You see, in one of Dawn's novels, a major element is a crystal skull. Now she's in a situation. Forge on at the risk of agents or editors deeming it "a cliche' that's been done before" and assuming she copied the idea from popular media, or come up with a new artifact in its place that might not fit the story as well.

Dawn said: The thing about it is, nobody had anything like it. It took a lot of research to pull it off and make you feel like you were in SA when I've never been there. I chose the crystal skulls because they've been found on every continent on the planet and the true mystery is that nobody knows where they really came from. And here's something to chew on, if a silcone chip can store the data it does on a computer, what could an object that size hold?

We try to dream up original, fresh ideas, but how original is original? How fresh is fresh? That can change in a few weeks. Sometimes in a day. Even in minutes. If you've been working on a manuscript for a while, chances are someone is going to come up with something close to your premise, your characters or an important story element, or there's going to be a major news event that echoes it. How quickly can you roll with the punches and transform an overnight cliche' into something else?

Writing requires a lot more than talent with words, plots, dialogue and character development. Like any business it's about knowing the market, the market trends, and the competitions' product (though it rankles me to think of other writers' work in that way). As writers, we have to be in the know. Sometimes we have to make gut-wrenching decisions about our work because of recent events. At other times, we have to weigh the risk. In time, a cliche' may no longer be a cliche' but a rediscovered idea. Something that's fresh once more.

Part II: Coincidences will be posted soon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Blog

For all the SciFiRom fans out there, I've been notified of a new blog devoted to this subgenre: The Galaxy Express.

Yea! We're gaining momentum.

Be sure to stop by and visit this gorgeous, well organized site. Heather obviously spent a lot of time on it, and her posts feature her unique, fun voice. Be sure to check out the SciFiRom authors by decade.

http://thegalaxyexpress.blogspot.com/

We've also added it to our blog links at right.

Telling the truth-

- as far as your opinions of books are concerned. Always, sometimes, never?
I suppose in a private conversation you can say what you think about a book, assuming you're not my husband and it's not my book he's talking about. Only - it's wonderful - will do, dear, if you value your bits ands pieces.
But on the internet where your opinions can be read by the world and possibly the author you're reviewing , how truthful dare you be? If you hate a book, would you tell everyone? If there were aspects you didn't like, would you always temper them with praise for the few bits you did? Easy to proclaim your love for a story. Far harder when you detest it.
I made the mistake once of telling the truth about a debut book in a very blunt way and I upset the author. She said I didn't but I know I did and I apologised. Not for the fact that I hated her book for so many reasons, but the way I expressed my opinion. I don't like to upset people and I thought about how I would react if someone hated any of my stories. Rejection from agents and publishers is one thing, but a deep down detestation of something that might have taken a year to write is something else.

But in this world we live in, praise is seen as all -important. Do we only want to hear praise? Can't we learn from constructive criticism? We should be able to and I hope I do but I'm very cautious now about reviewing anything I really don't like. Consequently I wonder if authors get a false idea of the way their books are perceived. If everyone gushes, do they think they've written a masterpiece? Are you brave enough to tell them you didn't like it, when the rest of the world appears to?

I'm reading a romance by an author I like very much. It's her latest book and I paid $14.00 for it. She's a bit formulaic but generally I like the formula. Forceful MCs - straight down to the heavy stuff with blunt language. But in this latest, the woman is vulnerable, trying to look after her sick brother, even contemplating the horror of sleeping with a guy (not the MC) in order to get her brother the help he needs. All OK so far. Then suddenly, the MCs are in bed together. The woman who was sweet and gentle although determined and brave- is so desperate to get into bed with the hero I was taken aback. Her language changed, her behaviour - everything. It was such a character jump, I wondered if I'd skipped a few pages by accident. In addition, the POV changed so much it was confusing.
The story has been bought by one of the big publishers so someone must have read it and loved it but I don't know why. I've read almost every book by that author and this is the second that has left me disappointed. (Not the one I read prior to this but a year or so ago) It has to be the name that's sold it and to be honest, the name sold it to me but I wonder if these big names ever get anything rejected?
I

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Take It To the Stars Q&A

What do you find sexy in a story and what falls flat? Do you like explicit scenes, or do you preferred it toned down with closed doors and everything left to the imagination, or something in between. What makes a great Romance great? What makes a character sexy, puts sizzle between the pages and what turns you off?
In a nutshell, tell me what makes a Romance story one you'd pick up and read from cover to cover. The Happily Ever After is a given, I want to know about everything in between.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Brenda Novak 2008 Auction

Thanks to Dawn for letting us know about this one.

The Brenda Novak 2008 Online Auction to Benefit Diabetes research has something for everyone, but especially for those who write. You can bid on a variety of agent evaluations, author critiques, and editor evaluations. What a great way to get solid feedback on your novel, and participate in a good cause at the same time. You may see some well known names among those listed. There are also an assortment of items--jewelry, handcrafted items, books, you name it.

http://brendanovak.auctionanything.com/Home.taf

Check it out, join in the fun, and help benefit diabetes research.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Time

Sometimes I wonder if it's worth getting out of bed. Today I should have stayed there but since I didn't - have a look at how not to spend your time.
-woke at 2.00am - I'd like to blame jetlag but it was drunken son and friend rolling home.
-woke at 3.00am - That might be jet lag or possibly husband snoring
-woke at 5.00am - Got up, switched on computer and since house was so cold, sat in nighty, scarf and son's T-shirt to work.
- 5.15 - made coffee and settled back at computer
-5.30 -one word written, made another coffee.
-ooh kitchen a mess, dishwasher needs emptying, broken glass on shelf, prawns on the kitchen table, strange thing in sink?? Yuk.
-6.00 - escape to gym
-8.00 -return feeling self-righteous but exhausted
-8.30 start writing four times only to be interrupted to make tea, breakfast, wash son's essential clothing he hasn't managed to put in his own machine, make more tea, iron son's essential clothing
-11.00 - five words written. Daughter is bored and wants to bore me. Send her shopping with husband. Son decides to bother me.
-11.45 I put 12 books up for sale on ebay - after daughter explains intricacies of camera. Oh that switches it on! Realize I've made mistake with postage and will be giving the things away.
- my presence is demanded to help get garden furniture out of the attic. I didn't need all my toes anyway.
-BBQ - great, I only have to organise food, table, drinks - clean up everything but not cook. Isn't that thoughtful
- Son washes garden furniture - what a saint
-daughter wants mother to drive her to rail station. 30 minutes there and 30 minutes back. 12 speed cameras, 18 sets of traffic lights and creativity slumping every minute that passes.
- son has already left when i get back.
-Hooray- me time.
- son has left hose running - water bill will now be huge. Husband discovers that son has left hose on for the whole of last week while we were away. Huge bill will now be giant huge bill.
-Damn - plot crisis, character crisis, worry over water bill
- husband calls for tea
-husband calls for food
-husband calls for - well he can forget that.
8.00pm - delete all 150 words I managed today.
Bedtime.


-

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Nick DiChario

Another epic novel made it into print this month, and I wanted to add my two cents in promoting it. Based on Nick DiChario’s first novel being such a success, knowing he’s a talented intellectual with a delightful sense of humor, I can’t wait to get my copy of VALLEY OF DAY-GLO.

I had the privilege of Nick’s help when I took my first, non-college, writing class. Not only a remarkable teacher, a quote from him gets me through the low spots as I attempt to break into the sci-fi market. ‘Wonderful weird.’ And those 2 words are all I’ll say about me.

In Nick’s words:

My first novel, A Small and Remarkable Life, is set in the middle 1800s and is as much historical as it is science fiction (maybe even more so). I did a lot of historical research on how people lived and survived in those days, and some of it even got into the book.

My second novel is completely different. Valley of Day-Glo is a far-future, post-apocalyptic comedy written in the absurdist tradition of some of my favorite authors (Franz Kafka, Mikhail Bulgakov, Samuel Beckett, Kurt Vonnegut, for example.) The story has a completely different style and tone from my previous novel, and I hope my readers will enjoy the departure.

A blurb I copied of Small and Remarkable Life:

The much-anticipated first novel by Hugo and World Fantasy Award nominee Nick DiChario puts a spin on the story of being stranded on an alien planet, cut off from your own people, unsuited to your new environment, and physically different from everyone else. This is what the young alien Tink Puddah must face when his parents are killed on their first day on Earth in the year 1845, and Tink finds himself stranded in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.

A story of courage, determination, hope, and survival, A Small and Remarkable Life chronicles the journey of two people headed in very different directions: the alien Tink Puddah, a lonely outsider who finds the strength and resources within him to endure the most brutal and unforgiving conditions, and the holy man Jacob Piersol, determined to save Tink's soul, but tortured by his own past and the God who seems unable to console him.

A blurb I copied of Day-Glo:

In the grand tradition of Vonnegut's absurdist fiction, Nick DiChario’s second novel Valley of Day-Glo, a post apocalyptic satire, tells the story of young Indian brave named Broadway Danny Rose and his search for the mythic titular valley where "death becomes life".

Following a nuclear blast, the Iroquois are among humanity's only survivors. Some have returned to the ways of the past, while others attempt to honor those same traditions, while at the same time drawing their names from the buried remnants of white (or Honio’o) society. Many take their names from films or theatre, such as Broadway Danny's parents, Mother Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Father The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Using Iroquois myth and tradition as a touchstone, DiChario skillfully roasts our materialistic and gluttonous society. Danny's journey from his homeland to the mythic Valley leads him to civil war, love and loss, hermitage and pyramid schemes. Science fiction is often called the genre of ideas, and Valley of Day-Glo is no exception.

AWARDS:

World Fantasy Award nominee

Nominated for two Hugo Awards

John W. Campbell Award nominee for Best New Writer

A Small and Remarkable Life was nominated for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best SF Novel of the Year (2006).

Some of Nick's plays have been presented in Geva Theatre’s Regional Playwrights Festival in upstate New York

WEB SITE: http://www.nickdichario.com/


--Arlene

Monday, May 12, 2008

Writers At Play

In my internet wanderings, I found this blog of like-minded writers and accepted their invitation to "steal" their "Writers At Play" logo and install it on our blog. See lower right. (I figured since they posted an invite, they wouldn't mind a spontaneous snatch.) Since we are also writers at play, I couldn't resist.

Click on the icon to visit their site, or click in the link list under "Other Blogs/Sites of Interest."

Friday, May 9, 2008

Moonstruck to be Released May 25

In my blog site wanderings, it came to my attention that Susan Grant's MOONSTRUCK will be released later this month (May 25). I'm looking forward to reading it, as the advance reviews indicate it will be an edgier Sci Fi Rom...maybe even a breakthrough novel.

Here's the link to Susan Grant's web page featuring MOONSTRUCK. (Dawn, I'm sure you already have this one earmarked. :) )

http://www.susangrant.com/books/moonstruck.htm

I don't want to miss this one.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Long books

Does the length of a book matter when you choose what you want to read? The days of the bonk-busters are sort of over but every now and again, I come across an enormously long book by an author I like and have to do a hard think over whether to buy it. Last time I was in the States, I bought 'The Summer Garden' by Paullina Simons. I've read everything she's written. Loved them all. The Summer Garden is the third book in a trilogy about Alexander and Tatiana. It's a whopping 839 pages. Very hard to hold when you're lying in the sun!!! It was a great story and I was so invested in the lives of the characters by the end that I sobbed for the last 50 or so pages. Not because someone had died but because I couldn't stand to think that they might. After 839 pages I was in the story with them in a way I haven't found with shorter books. BUT I think you'd really need to be a fan of Ms Simmons to even buy this size of book in the first place. I saw a few reviews that claimed it was rather repetitive. I disagree. She built the world of their relationship in great detail and made me understand the strengths and weaknesses in their marriage. Maybe she didn't need 839 pages but I was hooked all the way through.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Blue Devils

This is the US Blue Devils, a military horse unit my spouse is a member of, carrying in the colors at the Rolex Horse trials, the largest horse show in North America. Over 75,000 people on the grounds, 25,000 in the stands and a world wide television audience of over 1 billion. This is the first time in the history of this event that any Army unit has been allowed to carry in the colors.

Left to right CW4 Dyk on "Piet Hein" SFC Babb on "Calvin" and Captain Avison on "Capito."

The event is being rebroadcast on Euro Sport, and NBC will do a one hour special on May 4 from 5pm to 6pm EDT. That will cover the entire three day event.