Wednesday, October 1, 2014

astrology and characters

Back into writing and creating a plot/action, a busy time, which makes doing the blog a little difficult. I guess editing works better with creating new work for here than creative writing especially on this story where although I have a general idea of the plot, know the characters, how it all comes together has been up in the air. This happens to be some of my favorite kind of writing; so not complaining at all.

 image from CanStock

 As I got back into this fourth Oregon historical, I came to a scene where the men began to discuss their ages; conversation led from there to when is their birthday. Now I had the year of their births and where it happened but hadn't actually thought I needed their date. Suddenly I did and it was kind of fun to take a look at how astrology might have impacted their personalities.

Since I already knew their personalities-- many of these characters earlier starred in their own books, I picked a birth month based on it fitting who they were-- not molding them around that birth month.

At one time I was really into astrology. Not the horoscope type where you decide if it's a good day to buy groceries based on the stars but the look at the Zodiac for how the average person born at your time will be impacted as to personality. I had a computer program (it didn't work when XP came along) as well as a lot of books on astrology. Using a combination of both, I did a lot of readings for friends, even my hairstylist. I always did it for free, of course, as I was no professional. I did though have an ability with characterizations due to the writing. I only asked one thing from them-- how close to you does it fall. You know most of the time it was 90% or better. 

Did you know that you can use astrology to find possible past life scenarios where you might have lived in different periods of history based on your sign. The Elements of Reincarnation by A.T. Mann. Basically this astrologer came up with chart to show what lifetimes are impacting your actions today. It would not show all your lifetimes but the ones that relate to your tasks this go round

Then there are Karmic Astrology and Karmic Relationships by Martin Schulman which illustrate how a certain combination in your chart can indicate your relationships with others in your current lifetime.

What does that prove about anything? Nothing much as cycles might explain it as much as planetary influences. So one period of time influences you to be one way and another differently. 

Personally I wasn't very good at astrology because it's about math. My scientist husband was better at it. Numbers are my weakness and astrology brought that out in spades.

Keep in mind for serious astrology, the time of birth can matter as much as the day. It impacts the moon in your sign, your ascendent and all the other planets that can have subtle or more important impact on who you are. If you really want to complicate it, this all can change through a person's lifetime with what some regarding as a progressive astrology chart.

Anyway what I did for this book did not get that complicated. I settled for year and day. I then had fun with one of my astrology books which has fun with the whole process. Born on A Rotten Day-- Illuminating and coping with the dark side of the Zodiac by Hazel Dixon-Cooper.

Just to give you an idea how she approached astrology, here is a traditional way to look at Aries-- Element-Fire; Quality-Cardinal; Polarity-Masculine. 

Her approach was Aries-- Element-Selfish; Quality-Bossy; Polarity-Aggressive. You can see how that could help a lot more for fleshing out a character than the more traditional approach.

Interestingly when I decided to find a birth date and sign for each of my characters, I thought about what their personalities were like as I already knew them to be from having written those earlier books. Only two had the same sign. Each actually had a sign that fit them perfectly. I had a Libra, Leo, Sagittarius, Cancer, Aquarius, Capricorn, Scorpio, Gemini, and Taurus (no Aries, Pisces or Virgo). I guarantee you that when I wrote these characters, I had not thought of their astrology signs.

Does that mean the fact that they did fit their signs a bad thing-- meaning they are stereotyped? Well, if they are, then so are we all because we do have traits that can work for us or against us. Whether our differences come from astrology, it doesn't matter. The basic qualities that we have which do fit an astrology signs could be influenced by having a reading-- except I hadn't done a reading for myself until I was into my 50s and yet my first astrology reading hit pretty close to my weaknesses and strengths.

 Doing an astrology chart for a character where you might be unsure of their personality could help you give them those little weaknesses and strengths that make them feel like someone you know-- maybe even are married to ;).

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Oregon-- my inspiration

When writing a book, decisions will be made on plot and characters. These can come from many sources. In my opinion, one of the characters will always be the setting. A strong setting for a book does a lot to establish the reader in the story even if that setting is all imaginary. 

Living or spending a lot of time in a place is not required for using a region or city as the setting. Writers can also make up settings. Outlander, which is so set in Scotland for country, ethos and energy, proves such a story can be written since Diana Gabaldon says she had not been there before she wrote the book (although she has been there many times since). What she did was a lot of research to make it seem real to the reader.

Most of my books have been set in Oregon as it is the state where I was born as well as where I have spent most of my life. It's not though why I set my stories here. That is because I love it so much. I think even when I do base a story other places, the ethos of Oregon goes with me. 

I know it well because it's where I often choose to vacation. For  vacations, I like to be where I can spend enough time to just sit, experience, feel the soil, smell the fragrances, dip my hand in the water, and then draw on those memories when I need them, when I yearn to return, but cannot. 

Although I have traveled around the US (mostly due to circumstances that involved family or work), when it's my choice, I head for somewhere in the American West. I love this land. It speaks to me from the Rockies and Big Horns to the Pacific Ocean. 

The American West is where I have based all my stories, contemporary and historical. It will be where I want my ashes put someday (although exact location I am still considering). Even when I set a story in some other state, the spirit of Oregon comes with it.

Finding just a few photos to show why Oregon is so special, why I have based ten of my books (four currently unpublished) wasn't easy. It is a diverse state with many different ecological zones. You might think you know it; but if you haven't been here a lot of years and spent time in various parts of it, you most likely do not.

 Yes, those are a lot of photos and barely touch on all that I love about my home state. There are none of the Wallowas, Metolius, The Gorge, or Southern Oregon. Well maybe in a future blog because I have hundreds of photos of this place I love so much and feel fortunate to live.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

sexuality in art

image from Canstock

In a world as divided on sexuality as ours is, any writer or even artist will have to decide whether they express sexuality in their work or avoid the issue. It is possible to write books with no sexuality at all or with just the implication some might be there. Think back to the days of Gunsmoke when Marshal Dillon had a girlfriend who ran a bar and maybe a bordello but did anything ever go on between them? You could imagine what you pleased. A writer of romances or any genre, except erotica, has that option.

Once the writer has written the book and a sexual relationship is there, then the question of covers arises. Famous writers, who sell books on their reputations, don't need anything to tell the potential reader what will be inside. For those not so well-known, a cover is part of what alerts the reader to what they will find and this benefits reader and writer (writers do not want disappointed readers).

How readers see covers has been an education for me. For some, a sweet cover with a man's shirt buttoned to the neck would be better. And that is probably true-- if the book is a sweet romance with no sex, but when someone writes what I do, I think a cover should depict the energy of the book. My sex scenes are not graphic, but they are there.

In the culture in which I live, nudity is suspect (especially male)-- even if it's just the guy's chest. Violence is fine but absolutely no bare skin of desirable parts (and a man and woman both have desirable chests). I ran into this zeitgeist with my painting and sculpture. I got past personally worrying about it with both.

Besides doing sculptures of nudes of both sexes, I also painted women and men without clothing (some more discretely than others). I did it when I felt it better told the story-- and I always felt my fantasy paintings or sculptures of people told a story often ambiguous but nevertheless a story.

Currently I don't sculpt or paint mainly due to time constraints and also with sculpture, it takes up a lot of space in the house. I don't sell the work nor do I hang the nudes here or in our Tucson house because I know that kind of art offends some people.

A story that goes along with it involves my going into an art gallery and seeing a clay bas-relief of man and woman that I liked. As I discussed it with the owner, she said a mother had come into her gallery with two sons, saw a nude male sculpture, and expressed her offense as she took them right back outside. These were boys. Shouldn't they know already how nude men look? This thinking regarding nudity-- partial or otherwise-- goes way back in our culture and not apt to change soon.

So by the time I got to putting my books out, I knew sex would be a public issue. I took time to think about it, as who likes to have people think poorly of them? It took me awhile to decide how much sex would be in the published books. 

What I decided is we need more depictions of healthy sexuality-- the steamy, consensual, responsible kind, which is not abusive nor manipulative. I am not trying to write about sex as it always is but as it can be. I also don't write about casual encounters, but that doesn't necessarily mean married. When the sex occurs, it's when it naturally would for these two people. It also does not solve all their problems as if by magic. It is part of a whole relationship-- not all of it.

This year I had brought out a series of asexual novellas-- fantasy western contemporary. When I decided to put them together in one book, I added back in the sexual encounters I had glossed over and only suggested before. I frankly liked the book better. It felt more complete. I then pulled the novellas as I didn't want to confuse readers. They get all three in the book but they also get the whole enchilada for each of the three couples.

Where it comes to reading someone else's books, I don't buy them based on sweet or spicy. I buy based on wanting a certain type of story. If there is too much sex in a book, dragging on and on, I'll skip those scenes. I also don't mind if there is none. It's not a factor to me. What is a factor is responsible behavior in hero and heroine. If it's not there, I will toss a book into the garbage, and if it's an eBook, it's getting deleted.

Since my stories do have sexuality in them, my covers show that. I don't put out covers hoping they will sell a book-- although I do take into account what readers enjoy in a cover.  Creating covers is recreation for me and changing them once in awhile, even leaving behind a cover I liked for something new, is a nice break from writing. Every cover out there on my books is one I like-- yes, including all those bare chested, hunky guys ;).

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Beyond genre

While I am winding up editing all my books, I keep an eye out for articles by or on successful writers. I came across this one last week. I read Elmore Leonard back when he was writing what might be considered pulp westerns, but believe me, they were always more than that. When I learned he was the guy who was now writing bestsellers, I was surprised but not that he was a good writer. I was just surprised he had jumped genres and that he finally got recognition.

For me, one of the hardest things about writing is not writing but marketing and recognizing that what is popular is not what I want to write. How can I then whine if what I do write is not accepted by readers? The answer is cannot. 

Elmore Leonard had put out tips about being a writer which I have thought were good. While the romance genre has its own rules, I think his tips made sense for any author to take into account. I don't know how other romance writers see this, but I aim to write a story that can go beyond one genre even though it is a love story with a happily ever after. While I understand happy endings are plebeian to intellectuals, I am not an intellectual; so I love them. I like writing a story where a couple will go through hell to get to their happily ever after, but they will get there. Yeah, i know that's unrealistic-- good. Realism isn't on my high list right now!

Elmore Leonard's tips

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
And his most important rule, to sum up all the others: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”                  Elmore Leonard
Now every one of his rules has probably been broken and broken well by a best selling or even classic author.  It's like being a painter. You know the rules of composition and then you break them when you have a reason. Knowing the rules isn't a bad thing-- nor is knowing when you story demands you go a different way.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

on writing and editing

After mentioning how much time I spent editing my books, like the whole summer, I thought it might be of interest what that means. Assuming you are doing your own, cannot afford to hire a professional editor, as best I know it, there are various ways to approach the job. I'll discuss two.

A writer can literally edit each chapter as they go. Write a chapter and go at it word for word as they write. Make sure each word/sentence/paragraph/page is polished before going onto the next. Have an outline nearby and stick to its basics. If they vary from it, they have a good reason and create a new outline.

If such a writer has a beta group to check what they are writing, they'd write that chapter, probably still trying to keep it right for spelling, punctuation, consistency, etc. Then send it off to their readers or even their editor-- while writing on the next chapter. When it comes back, they will take into account what the beta readers thought, if there is a majority opinion and, if it was also sent to an editor, what they suggested. Use what works and argue about what, as the writer, they believe did not.

Basically chapter by chapter editing, with or without beta readers, likely means the book is ready to go out the day it's finished.

There is another approach to editing, and it's mine. It's how I used to paint and sculpt also. Write it in a white hot heat of feeling the energy of the story. Don't worry if it's perfect, although for those who tend to write with grammar as a natural part of their writing, it's not going to be totally unreadable. Basically this approach captures the characters, the plot, much of the dialogue. For me, those aspects usually end up being what stays with the book. 

For any book I have ever written, I had spent a lot of time thinking about it before I ever start writing. I know the characters and what I want them to be. I know the plot. What I have fun with along the way are the things that crop up, which I didn't expect. That doesn't keep me from the ending I knew it would have. The ending can be tweaked, but the gist of it won't be different.

Ideally I set my rough draft aside for a couple of weeks and work on other projects. It's hard to do an edit when you literally just finished-- it's too fresh.

Some writers have a different purpose for each subsequent edit. They look at specifics like say spelling or logic, etc. 

My approach is that I go for the polish whether it's the first or the seventh. I look for typos, punctuation that is missing, and the long blue line that Word uses to say a sentence is not correct. I always check out Word's opinion, but sometimes they are wrong especially when it's dialogue. In editing, I look for consistencies of timing and character behavior.

If in editing the first time, I can enrich a scene by more details; or if it had too much detail, I'll add/delete it there. The future edits are less likely to add but might still end up with deletions. 

Edits are also where I double-check my research when I come across specific points where I can see there might be a question. Literally I don't write anything that I haven't researched first, but sometimes I've forgotten the details, and I look for my notes or go back to the original source to be sure I got it right. This is true for historic, of course, but also contemporary. There are a ton of ways to goof up even a contemporary.

With each edit, I look for where I can enhance the action. This happens  a lot with 'said' where it is better to insert the accompanying action instead. It still must make clear the character speaking.

Editing also looks for consistency in thinking. I don't have this happen often but if say a character has a fear of snakes and the next chapter is handling one with no fear, that doesn't work. Likewise I ran into one, early on, where I had a heroine who didn't like coffee and then had her drinking it one morning on her desert patio. Definite no-no.

Recently, when I had edited a rough draft that I had written in one lunar cycle, I was very upset that on the sixth edit, I still found redundancies or places I'd gone on and on. I had not expected that. For awhile, it gave me some doubt about my writing ability, but I looked at the characters, dialogue, plot, conflict, the WWW, and felt overall it was all I wanted it to be. 

The characters and story warmed my heart where I wanted it to do so and made me feel the action. A writer has to find all of that in their own writing or there is no hope any reader will. If reading it to edit makes me lose interest in the story or feel it's blah, it probably means the book has a bigger problem than punctuation. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

wisdom on writing

Awhile back, I had the good fortune to be in Amazon's forum for writers when the well-known writer, Anne Rice had begun a thread she intended to help indie writers by offering what she had learned. 

That forum grew heated when trolls found it and began to argue with her or try to run out the clock on her thread. They became so domineering that she finally gave up coming. While she was there though, she gave out some helpful wisdom. 

The following was not necessarily there in that form but it was what she said again and again. I believe she expressed how it is if you want to write. 
On writing, my advice is the same to all. If you want to be a writer, write. Write and write and write. If you stop, start again. Save everything that you write. If you feel blocked, write through it until you feel your creative juices flowing again. Write. Writing is what makes a writer, nothing more and nothing less. —- 

Ignore critics. Critics are a dime a dozen. Anybody can be a critic. Writers are priceless. —— 

Go where the pleasure is in your writing. Go where the pain is. Write the book you would like to read. Write the book you have been trying to find but have not found. But write. And remember, there are no rules for our profession. Ignore rules. Ignore what I say here if it doesn’t help you. Do it your own way. —- 

Every writer knows fear and discouragement. Just write. —- The world is crying for new writing. It is crying for fresh and original voices and new characters and new stories. If you won’t write the classics of tomorrow, well, we will not have any. Good luck.                                    Anne Rice

I am proud to be an indie writer and grateful I have had the chance to pursue my passion for writing without having to fit a niche in a publishing house. Today, thanks to places like Amazon, is a great world out there for writers. Yes, it allows us to make mistakes, but we are the captain of our own ship-- which means we need to learn all we can about where we want to sail. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


For me, keeping a story interesting involves using the WWWs. These are not so much like the patterns one might find in romances but more how life is-- real life, not just fantasy plots. It is about ups and downs. It's about fate. It's about the unexpected changing everything. It's about how a high often is right before a low and vice versa. I use it in my writing, like it in what I read, and can give an example from one of my days in August. 

That day, I had literally just been thinking how much I enjoy my life since my husband mostly retired. He has his projects, as I have mine, but we also have time to sit outside and sip wine while we talk about what we're doing or how the world is going. 

Walking away from my editing and into the kitchen, I was having a warm, glowing moment -- not something I didn't know before but just the moment I stopped to think-- yeah, this is very good.

When literally, my husband walked in from a check of the cattle and strapped a belt and holster with a gun around his waist. Eight of the cattle were missing, and he'd seen a truck go up our road with a big cattle trailer on behind. "Who do you know up there that has cattle?" he asked as he headed back out to drive up and see what was going on.

He was gone so fast I had no chance to say anything. From a high, I went to instant fear. What if it was someone out to rustle cattle? It's not as though I don't know it happens. I thought of the value of the eight animals. That was nothing when compared to running into a potentially violent encounter. 

 The problem was when he drove off, we could not either one know what it actually was. The trailer could have been unrelated to our missing animals. The potential of the other possibility made me feel fear. I went outside to listen for any sounds indicating a violent encounter. Maybe ten minutes later, he was driving back down with the information that the trailer had had nothing to do with our wayward livestock, which he later found deep in the brush and hiding after breaking down the fence.

I can think of a hundred moments like that on a ranch where with big equipment and livestock, life  changes instantly. It is the way though of all of life. The WWW in fiction is also life. It does make a book more exciting. It also reflects reality into fiction. The best fiction, including romances, is, after all, a reflection of life.