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.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Looking at a body of work

Many times I mention the two sides of writing and of life itself. 

The rose with the thorn. 
The love with the loss. 
The yin with the yang. 
The dark side completing the light side. 
Joy completed by pain. 
Winning and losing.

As humans we don't want to think that we must accept and expect what we call the dark side of life. We want it all to be what we consider light, but there are always two sides-- whether we are aware of them at the time or not.

After a summer of what I can only call hard work, I have a mix of emotions, which suit the dichotomy of the writing life. I put in a lot of hours, but I also got to look at my stories, plots, characters, dialogue, and see it as a body of work.

I have never been more proud of that body of work.
I wish I had not put that work out until it was at this place.
I love what I wrote, my plots and characters.
My craft is better today than yesterday.

It's hard not to wish I had been this good at the craft of writing when I brought them out. But I know, what has made them this good, has come from the demands of putting them out. That is what forced me to keep looking at them. As I wrote new work, I couldn't let go of looking again and again at the old. 

This is why I say again and again how important it is to write and keep writing. You don't get better by thinking about it. You get ideas for characters, plots and dialogue by thinking about it, but you get better at writing by writing.

Eventually my recent binge of editing has taught me a lot-- but later than I might wish. These are not typos, spelling errors, the kind of thing Word catches, but instead, better ways of saying something. It wasn't that what I had was wrong (although on a few books it was), but more that it could be improved.

Fortunately, where it comes to eBooks, the books can be re-downloaded by anyone who bought them; but it'd have been better if they had been in this shape in 2012 when they first came out. Or if I had known then all I know now... except I learned what I did by bringing them out. It is kind of a catch-22.

This is where someone usually says you should have hired an editor and that would have resolved this. I am one of those who merges the practical with my dreams. I have 17 published manuscripts (with one more combining three novellas which means it's also out there but the original work was the novellas.) Let's assume I went to someone who was not charging over $1000 per manuscript. Let's assume I found a talented editor for say $400 (definitely not a given that it could be done), that still would mean $7000. There is no way I could assume these books could ever repay that and the question would be-- who would loan it to me?! Since I am not into crowd funding-- not that I think it would have worked in this case-- nobody would loan it to me. And if they had, I would not have accepted the debt.

One thing I have come to realize about my stories, after looking at so many of them, one right after another. I don't write romances so much as novels about people. My love stories are about sensuality, passion, and even danger, but they are about real people caught in something bigger than they expected. They are about what feels like very real relationships set in situations most of us would just as soon never encounter. They have another difference that real life does not give us-- a happily ever after. Read the newspaper and you see the other side over and over.

In each of mine, exploring love is the glue that holds the story together. It is why each couple's story is one book and not fifteen-- which is what describing a lifetime relationship would be. Well, the Outlander series so far has only eight books to tell the story of one couple's relationship; so maybe it wouldn't take fifteen.

A love story starts at the beginning with we're attracted, but can this work? (which might also be two people who have come to the edge of divorce). It ends when they reach the happily ever after point (and before the nitty gritty of daily living cuts in-- although sometimes there is an epilogue). 

More on this topic coming next blog-- which by the way will now be on two-a-week schedule on a Sunday and Wednesday. My life is about to get busier, and I think I can do a better job keeping this blog active and vital if I drop back in frequency. I enjoy writing about writing, far more than I expected, but I am hoping when I finish the last of the 'edited' books (with I might add some new covers), I finally can get back to the fourth Oregon historical. 
'George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that's what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.'       from Saving Mr. Banks

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sometimes it's a bad fit

CJ Hollenbach who wrote a book on being a model for romance covers--
back then they still had hair on their chests, sometimes

Last blog I discussed small groups meeting to work on their books. There is something else out there in the writing world with large conferences held by different groups but pretty much open to any romance writer who lives nearby or is willing to travel. Some of these meetings are totally about learning the craft of writing. Others have scheduled fun events. Preface: what I know about all of them comes from reading as I have not gone to any.

For this summer my writing world has revolved around the craft of writing. I have edited every story I have put out (and two I haven't). Editing like this doesn't involve the most creative aspect of writing which is creating characters, dialogue, and plot etc. This is about word for word making the writing flow as well as I am capable of doing. Unfortunately my ability with the craft of writing has grown the more I write, which has meant each story has places I can upgrade what I had originally written. I say unfortunately because it is a lot of detail and anal work which definitely is not what I most like.

While doing this work, I take breaks. Some of those involve going outside or housework. Some are to surf around the internet, following up threads which might be political, personal, or literary. In following a craft thread, I came across the image above and it led me down a rabbit hole-- in a manner of speaking. 

Before that surfing, I had never heard of the above cover model, nor had I seen him on a book. From what I learned, he was posing during the years I was writing romances but not reading them at all. I learned though that he has written a book about being a cover model. I also came across the following link which describes the kind of conference I used to read about years back in one of the romance writer magazines. 

I hope that link works as it takes you to a pdf of a 2007 article by a journalist-- IN SEARCH OF THE NEXT ROMANCE NOVEL COVER MAN -- by Joshuah Bearman. The article describes the men competing in that contest and also the women who were attending that conference. (This contest incidentally is no longer part of RT conventions as of 2011).

The article describes why men entered such competitions and likely why they still put out their images for indie writers to hopefully buy and use on their books. For some they desire to get into acting. Others consider it a sideline. A really top cover model, such as Fabio years ago, can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. He branched out into writing romances and other money-making enterprises. So for the ones who succeed, it can be a lucrative career.

The article though also described something more-- why many years ago, I decided, even though I love to write romances, I'd never fit in certain conventions. I might have thought that was then and this is now-- except I have read it discussed by current authors as they talk about the 'fun' at some of their big events. Again, this is not all the conferences out there. It's the one with a costume ball, contest for hunky guys and 'fun' events. To be totally honest, at events like that, I would be a wet blanket. 

It's not that I saw what was described in the article, or I've heard writers talk about, as being wrong. In some ways, I envy those who can let loose that way, but it's not me. It wasn't even me when I was a kid in high school. To this day I have never been to a beer bust. Who would have invited me? Everybody knew I was the serious one. It's not that I am the religious one. I am not. It's purely personality type (and when I took those personality tests years ago, I came out being like 5% of the population or less).

I read the above article with a grimace as I imagined myself being at one of those big events and trying to fit in. I would not. And it's not that I don't admire handsome men. I write about them and put their images on my own covers. I am not too old to smile when I see a hot male body (beautiful woman too). But ogling it or making comments about how hot it is, voting for one man over the others in a beauty contest, that's not happening. It's not that I couldn't probably fake it if required but why would I want to?

I am not sure what all this means. I've been told for years that I should go to such events for support and networking, that it'd be good for me. I certainly could travel to some, but it would be expensive and would it really be worth that level of cost? I am sure writers there can skip the contests, etc. but then do they make the friends they were hoping to find-- the friends with whom they could then schedule individual retreats such as I described in the last blog? 

Mostly when such big groups were recommended to me in the past it was about getting connections with book editors with the idea of having a manuscript read-- except, I had mine read via the query letter route but the problem was in the manuscripts not being 'romance' enough. So what's the answer to that?

Lately I've been thinking that maybe I should stop surfing or even the marketing things they say a writer should do. It's in those situations or settings online, when I feel the most out of place, frustrated, and once in awhile even teary. I am relatively sure at a convention with costume balls, I'd have the same issues crop up.

Instead maybe I should stick to writing, making the books as good as I can, and if nobody else promotes them or finds them, well that's how it goes. At least I won't be out there in the social media feeling like an outcast or that proverbial wet blanket who just can't get into the fun and ruins it for others.  

In that vein I spent some time updating two of my book oriented blogs-- Rainy Day Romances and Romance with an Edge. The first is specific to my books while the second is more general to what I am trying to accomplish with my writing. Describing what that is can be a challenge. With the hope I'll get better at doing that, I got a new potential blog I named Romances with an Edge. It isn't up and active yet but maybe I'll find a way there to get across what my books are about... maybe ;)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Writer retreat

I saw this awhile back and thought it worth saving the link as inspiration that might help others plan their own such retreat with like-minded friends. 

Because I haven't ever gone to retreats, taken workshops, nor do I have a networking community, I've never plotted a book with anybody else-- although sometimes I do talk to my husband about scenes when I am in the midst of writing a rough draft. This happens most when I am working to resolve whether something seems logical.

Still to get together with other women the way Caroline described to discuss plotting future books, deepening characters, seems like it would be enjoyable and beneficial. The ladies (and I've read others who discussed this kind of experience) who can find such working friendships are fortunate indeed.

The workshop Caroline describes (link at her blog) had more about it online. It's geared to help writers put together a character-driven, magical story. It's what many writers hope to do. Those putting together the classes are aiming it at helping writers understand how to create characters who are compelled to act, where their emotions drive the story, and their actions create the drama where they will capture readers on a deep emotional level. Some of it sounds like the Joseph Campbell approach in the Hero's Journey.

I don't know that a plotted out system of writing would be helpful to me, and right now can't justify the $500 it would cost, but it was interesting to see this possibility. I know I would love getting together with other writers where we could discuss what we do, what we are trying to do and the frustrations.

So, a retreat is something to keep in mind for the future especially if I ever reached a point of not having new ideas. Some of it could be done as an online project since I am unlikely to be traveling to one of these workshops-- especially not if it lasted many days.  The link to that workshop and the theories behind their teaching can be found from Caroline's link above.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

images and chest hair-- or not

When creating covers, one of the things that both amuses and frustrates me is finding male images where the men have hair on their chest-- even a little bit. That royalty free images generally do not is a testament to waxing, shaving, male modeling, body building, and who knows what else as it's sure not about reality for men's bodies.

Yes, metrosexuals might wax, but real cowboys, loggers, men who work with their hands, very few of them do (as in I have not known any). Most movie stars likewise still have hair on their chests. 

Remember the guy below and his popular television show? Oh probably not if you are young (Clint Walker and he played Cheyenne from 1955-1963). I suspect he played a role in how many western writers still write about the tall, black haired western hero ;). His show almost always had him taking off his shirt for one reason or another. None of us complained :). I will admit when I was 13, I thought I'd marry him someday. Then I found out he was already married. A major disappointment!

So finding men with bristle on their jaw, that's easy but on their chests... not so much. Yes, it's true some men have very little chest hair, but all men, by nature, have some. I recently saw Dirty Dancing again and Patrick Swayzee had a great body in it, several shirtless scenes, and I had to look hard to see if he had chest hair-- he did. Just not a lot.

Even Native American men had chest hair, but genetically they had little. Many of the tribes plucked their chest hairs-- maybe because they were into body paint for battle. Could that explain the hairless men of the royalty free sites?

Maybe this is because young women like smooth hairless chests. To me, likely a testament to my own age, I like chest hair although I wouldn't particularly like it heavily covering the whole body.

Some object to the covers of romances having bare-chested men period and find especially negative the need for so much muscular definition. Well men do have muscular definition, at least those who work hard for a living. What they do not have are waxed and oiled chests. I am all for muscular chests... but for my book covers, give me some chest hair please? 

When Jimmy Thomas, one of the models for book covers, said he'd be putting out some images with hair because he'd had an injury and was unable to model for awhile-- hence had not waxed, I was waiting and bought two different ones. Currently this is not on any of my covers, but someday it'll be the inspiration :). To me, hair on a man's chest is manly. Why is that not more popular for book covers???

Thursday, August 28, 2014

creating paperbacks

back-cover & cover for Her Dark Angel

Besides a summer of editing, this has been a time for me to work out back-covers for paperback versions of six Portland romance/adventure/suspense books. A back-cover has to fit with the cover while giving a reader a bit of what they will find in the book. I looked at various books I owned for ideas as to what would be needed. There were many options from basically a blurb, to something catchy, to no info at all. 

Good. That means I can do what I think suits my books. I plan to let these set for awhile as I consider if they are the final version. It has taken time-- and isn't finished as the spline still has to be created but my publisher (husband) does that. It was though rewarding as I enjoy working with images.

In the process of all this work (yes, I have gone a little dry-eye from so many hours staring at words), I put together the chronology for all my books. For the historicals, I'd done this as I wrote them, although hadn't put them in a list. You can't write a historical without knowing what else happened at the same time. Earlier, I hadn't bothered with the contemporaries as I always thought of them as happening when I was writing them.

Except some had connecting characters and years in between. I needed to figure this all out when I decided to connect the Portland, Oregon, books as a series-- related by their locale. What I learned is that while some had a specific number of years between the first and connecting story, I had to choose wisely where I began the dates. 

Things also happen in contemporary times, which you could not ignore if you set your book there-- 9/11 is an example. Any book set in 2001, unless early in the year, would have to take that into account. I was in no mood to go back into any books set in that fall and add it in; so best to avoid that specific time period. 

The other thing I have done during my editing phase is set the books, with continuing characters, closer together on my blog specifically for them-- Rainy day Romances. I enjoy writing stories with continuing characters; so it has happened more than a few times. I get to liking a certain character or set of them and enjoy working with them again.

Maybe my finally creating a chronology is another stage of becoming more organized. Writing is one thing. Publishing a book adds another dynamic. When I wrote just for myself, chronologies didn't matter. Readers though do their own calculations. If they don't like the writer's logic, probably they won't return for another book. The books in this list are all my contemporaries to date. I do have plans for more though and will now just add them where they belong.

When we did the first paperbacks, we put out Luck of the Draw, which is set in 1974. I was uncertain of whether to include it in the list of contemporaries as there is a lot of debate about how far back contemporary goes. Some suggest a good idea is to call such books-- contemporary historic fiction. They add that if it was contemporary to you, it's contemporary, which it certainly was. It is set in Oregon but Pendleton. Like so many of the things I write, it doesn't fit in a convenient box! About that, there isn't anything I can do...

      1974    Luck of the Draw (Pendleton, Oregon)

1998      Moon Dust (Portland, Central Oregon)
1999      Evening Star (Portland, Coast, Southern Oregon, Tahoe)
2000      Desert Inferno (Arizona)

2005      Bannister’s Way (Portland, Coast)
2006      Second Chance (Portland)
2007      Hidden Pearl  (Portland, Umpqua)
           Sky Daughter (Idaho)

2009      Her Dark Angel (Reno, Portland, Tahoe)
2010      When Fates Conspire, Part I Diablo Canyon  

           From Here to There  (both Montana)

2012      The Dark of the Moon-- Part II Diablo Canyon (Montana)
2013    A Montana Christmas (Montana)
2014      Storm in the Canyon -- Part III Diablo Canyon  (Montana)