Descriptions for heat levels in book list

------holding hands, perhaps a gentle kiss
♥♥ ---- more kisses but no tongue-- no foreplay
♥♥♥ ---kissing, tongue, caressing, foreplay & pillow talk
♥♥♥♥ --all of above, full sexual experience including climax
♥♥♥♥♥ -all of above including coarser language and sex more frequent

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Emotional Adventures

photoshopping together two of my own photos

There is no genre of books that does not have some within that deserve a bad rap. Published or self-published, the fact is not all books are of good quality. Top sales don't guarantee quality writing.

Romances though get the bad rap partly because of some of the silly stuff that has been in them where the dialogue makes a person laugh unless maybe they are truly into the genre. It's a joke in Romancing the Stone where the romance writing heroine is concluding one of her stories and crying with how emotional it is while we, the viewers, are laughing

Recently, Farm Boss and I started to watch Gone with the Wind, and at the risk of offending aficionados of the film, I couldn't stand the dialogue and contrivances. Yes, it is a romance even if someone wants to think being a classic moves it out of that realm. It also has ridiculous and very unrealistic dialogue.

I think flowery language, unbelievable plots, and painting all romances with the same brush is part of why the books have been so disdained, but despite that, more of them are purchased than any other genre. there must be a reason for their popularity. Unfortunately though the rap leads many avid readers to not even give them a chance.

Some time back I began to look for a better descriptive title for romances as the name seems to suggest Valentine's Day, flowers and candy. I came up with emotional adventures because that is what the best romances are-- except then romance readers would never find them. The best romances are a roller coaster ride of ups and downs with the swish of speed but the knowledge that at the end you will be safely on the ground again. The best romances take their readers on an emotional journey where life and death, loss and gain are side by side-- as they so frequently are in life.

If someone dislikes reading about the love between two people of the sexual sort, then it makes sense they'd not favor romances. Even though there are diverse types within the genre, in the end, romances are about mated love. Used to be all of them were of the male female type but that's no longer true. Generally romances are not tragedies although Brokeback Mountain was. I would not say Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe was a tragedy even though one of the lovers died early. Some would say, oh those cannot be romances! Yes, they can because the dominant relationship was of mated love.

image purchased from CanStock

Most romances have sex-- either in them or implied for the future. Sex is, however, not their core or they are erotica. If sex is the most important part of the story, it isn't a romance. In my mind, romances should be about the emotional connection between two people and that often does involve sex. It's not all. It's about the challenge of relationship as much as love with how two people can get together -- or not. Phony reasons to keep them apart are lazy writing.

For the books I read or write, I want a hero and heroine I can like. There has to be a believable obstacle and a real way they can overcome it-- something that actually works in human relationships. Romances can teach and inspire-- like that's a bad thing?

To write about the romance which is really about a hero and heroine, I learned the most from Joseph Campbell books, like The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Mythologies can teach a lot about motivations, consequences, plots and characterizations.

wolf image purchased from CanStock and put into one of my photos

I tried to decide if my Christmas novella, A Montana Christmas was actually a romance; and although there is a couple who are married, and another who might become lovers, it's really more about ranch life and trying to bring a family together. It probably would disappoint a huge fan of romances but won't be found by someone who is not. Because it is an extension (although it stands alone) of From Here to There, which was a romance an emotional adventure, I think it still qualifies.

One of the problems a writer has, in terms of marketing, is not fitting a genre. There isn't much you can do about it because writers write what comes to them. What comes to me are stories of lovers which I then set into situations that interest me, and I really enjoy the process.

When I typed 'the end' to the one I wrote in January and February, it reminded me how much fun it is. I like creating these characters and knowing, despite what they will go through, a happy ending awaits. Reading and writing them is going on an emotional adventure-- whatever the books are called.

Finally, after I finished this blog, I came across a review of the film Argo, which said what I think is true for the good novel/movie and decided to include some of it.
Argo isn’t a documentary; it’s a historical drama. The opening sequence features a title card that reads “Based on a True Story” – which is entirely accurate – but the film makes no promises about having every little fact straight or being a perfect recreation of the events ...

Truth is not as important as good storytelling, and that’s what the feature film industry is about. ... What matters is that it respects the spirit of the reality while also being worth paying $10 to see.

Disregarding strict truth in sacrifice of entertainment doesn’t merit a Best Picture award, but what does is pulling it off so spectacularly well. Screenwriter Chris Terrio’s script works on all levels and brilliantly pairs with the actor cum director’s style and ability to balance both the comedic and deadly serious tones. Despite the fact that you know the story has a happy ending, the film takes the audience on one hell of ride to get there, filled with thrills, laughs, high tension and sex jokes.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Finding the energy in your work

Sky Daughter's new cover

Writing, once there is a desire to make the work public, involves marketing. You can write your whole life and not worry about what I am about to discuss below. But if you want to sell your stories, then the issue becomes twofold-- how do you get them seen and how do you describe, in very few words and images, what they are about?

As much as I have written here about how to write or get inspired to write or about what I am writing, equally I have tried to cover this other important angle. How do you market and how do you reduce your work to those key phrases that will convince an agent/editor/reader to take a chance on your work?

Now there are many writers who are far more successful than I am and might have a different view of this. Some pay someone to help them market their books but somewhere they had to go through this phase of figuring out how to reduce what they have created to a few key thoughts.

 I sometimes get involved in discussions at Amazon in the forums called Meet Our Authors. One of them, the western romance group, had a discussion going last week about covers and that interested me enough to put in my own two cents. I enjoyed reading what others had thought and done.

What I had said is the cover should depict the energy of the book. It should give the reader that first taste of what they would find when they opened it. A day or so later, I looked at one of my own books and realized where the cover looked great, showed the romance, truthfully it really didn't say anything about the deeper energy of the book.
third cover for Sky Daughter

So I went back and began looking at CanStock, my favorite image site, for something that might do a better job. I don't think the photo I needed had been there before; but when I saw it this time, I knew it was the one. I actually bought two of the same woman but only used the first as it more showed what I believed the book was about-- the growth of power in a woman who reluctantly finds she must come to terms with who her family was and who she is. 

The irony is the newest cover is closer to the one I first intended to use for the book (it's had three since that time) except that first digital painting was more like a watercolor than what a lot of the readers want in their books. I like its more painterly look a lot, but I didn't think it would work for readers who make snap judgments on what they will read and do judge a book by its cover.

  first cover for Sky Daughter

After redoing the cover, I looked at its trailer. My gosh, it also didn't do a good job of truly telling what this story was about. So I redid it also. Marketing is something am learning as I go. I may never have it all figured out. In that, it's a lot like life.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Two I loved and not in a series

As long as I'm writing about someone else's romances, I thought of two more illustrating how very different romances can be for what's in them. These happen to also be two that I know exactly where I was when I bought them and although I have loved them, I don't own more by either author. Their other books just didn't register with me; but because of loving these two, I definitely did try their others.

For me, sex isn't a big thing in a book to have it or not have it. I do find that if the sex becomes too dominant, I get bored. I am not easily offended though and a little sex on the dark side doesn't horrify me unless it's glorifying rape. That is a total no-go. If that hero forces the heroine when she says no but she later likes it, I will toss that book into the garbage if I bought it. Abuse isn't sexy to me.

So two more book reviews of romances that I have loved for very different reasons-- one with a lot of sex and one with the implications of it but no descriptions. One written by a woman and the other by a man. Neither one currently on Kindle.

Years ago I read a book again in the Lake Oswego library that I loved. I had looked for it in various used bookstores through the years but never found it. Finally I decided I'd give an Internet search a try. Lo and behold there a used copy was and I ordered it. 

Vardy by John Harris is an historical novel that has a strong romantic relationship at the center of it. Set in France and beginning in 1870, it is the story of one of Napoleon's military leaders. Colonel Max Cary de Lily is small, ugly, missing one eye, scarred, but also full of the energy of war heroes or really any hero. Vardy is a young woman who at first is drawn to his power but then falls in love as she is pulled through the adventures of a volatile time in France's history. This story is well set in its time period but never loses the power of the two main characters. Vardy's growth as a character is part of its appeal. Even though these two people are lovers, there is only the suggestion of sex, no descriptions.

When it arrived, in beautiful condition I might add, I was delighted to find it was as pleasing to me as a novel as it had been when I first read it nearly 40 years earlier. It is also very different than the second book I will review.

In 1991, we had made a hurried drive across the United States right after our daughter's wedding. Farm Boss was involved in a project which involved using for the first time a laser. It was being built in Massachusetts and the company was in danger of going under before they could get the laser shipped. He needed to get the glitches out. It wasn't going to be something that could be done in a few days. I suggested we go back together, drive and spend the month it would take (company covered costs). It took us just 4 1/2 days to drive there from Oregon. It gave me a lot of time alone with one of those weeks at Rockport and two in Concord. It was a memorable trip on many levels as I could wander where I chose during the day and there were many delicious historical sites from which to choose.

It was while in Concord in a small bookstore that I found Shadow Play by Kathleen Sutcliffe. I took it back to the lovely old hotel where we were staying and didn't quit reading until I had finished it (it not being a short book). It remains one of my favorite romances; but when I went looking to see if it's still available, the professional review of it was scathing although other readers wrote reviews expressing the same love I felt for this story. Goes to show.

Shadow Play is a romantic fairy tale loosely set in an historic period but that's not the crux of the story. It has all the ingredients I love in a romance starting with a great hero and a heroine worthy of him. The hero has been through a lot of bad times but emerged as someone considered almost a god in the Amazon. Some of that is good marketing on his part but he's more the hero than he knows. The aristocratic heroine is out of his league or so they both think until enough time together changes their minds with lots of adventures, one right after another as they travel up the Amazon into forbidden territory. There is a villain worthy of any romance as he is beautiful physically, dangerous and presents a risk to the hero until the climax. So troubled past, dangerous present, uncertain future, and some lusty sex.

It always amazes me how when I love a book it doesn't mean I will like anything else by the same author. As authors we always hope we are creating books, whether in a series or not, that will make others want to read all we wrote. While it is true that when I find a book I love, I will check out others by that author, it doesn't automatically mean I'll even like them let alone love.

Also all the talk, of paper publishing having more value than eBooks, I think is disproven by how quickly books disappear from the shelves and even the ability to buy those put out by the big publishing houses. Some of these oldies are having their authors retrieve the rights and put them out as an ePub. I am all for that because any book I have loved I will want to read again.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What makes a romance novel great

Yes, I get it that a lot of people consider romance novels to be cheap trash. They want a book that they feel worthy for having read and romance novels don't cut it. There are a lot of delusions regarding these books where people think that someone reading them is living a lonely life, not out in the world, maybe leaving their husband in a vain hope of finding that illusive daring, handsome hero.

Romance novels actually are often (according to sociological research) favored by those who live very busy lives and have a lot of stress in their work. Ranching certainly qualifies for that with its ups and downs. Nurses, those with high pressure jobs, as well as someone in finance or anything where there are many demands, and they want a break from pressure.

Based on research, most readers of romance novels are in committed relationships with no intention of running off with anybody except their partner. They read them for the same kind of escape they get from movies-- as well as some spice that they wouldn't want to live but enjoy the break from reality. Some hide the fact they do read them for fear others will consider them inferior.

Whatever the reasons for reading romance novels, the following is for those who are writing them, do read them, or are open to finding out what the heck their appeal is since they sell better than any other genre. After doing some looking around for what others felt made for a great romance novel, I found some suggestions that sounded quite similar to a great book period.

Play to our common humanity
 Personal sacrifice as a powerful emotional act
 Book opens with a hook
 The story flows and there is sexual tension between hero and heroine
 Conflict and friction must be believable
 Characters are likeable and we care about them
All of those has been broken by some best selling romance novel that totally blew readers away despite having at least one of the leads unlikeable, no personal sacrifice, no opening hook, sexual tension only at the end, and/or totally unbelievable friction to the point that it seemed ridiculous those two people couldn't get it together sooner.

Because I think actually what makes a good book is more subjective than objective, I thought about the things that have made one great for me.  Most of my beloved romances were not written by best selling authors and were never bestsellers themselves. By now they have been mostly forgotten, certainly are not for sale in any new bookstore. But they still sit on my shelves for a reason-- they speak to me personally.

What I want are strong personalities in hero and heroine. If the blurb talks about a feisty heroine, I'm outta there. I don't want obnoxious hero or heroines but they should not be perfect either. The last straw for me would be some weak little flower of a woman who goes from one stupid mistake to another disaster, from which the hero, for reasons beyond logic, is willing to save her.  If he has to save her, it should be from a situation that even a strong woman could have fallen into. I like it where hero and heroine are capable of saving each other. I am not into Wonder Woman or Superman type hero and heroine.

Then there has to be a real problem to prevent these two lovers from making their relationship into the happily ever after sort. No way can that be some mickey mouse misunderstanding. My favorite books have two people who realize they are in love but they simply cannot find a way to make a life together. Will they overcome the obstacle? If it's too easy then it's not worth taking the time to read.

Personally I like to have danger as a strong element. I am not into romances where the people sit around and talk or work through the kinds of problems I could find in my own life. I don't need a book for that.

Generally speaking, the land and nature will be part of the story. It will be another character where I can feel the terrain, the problems it might present. It might be places I have been or simply have read about. It should register as real although I don't care that it's like a Louis L'Amour where I could go to that place and find the waterhole. I'm fine with some fantasy but it should feel it could have been there.

Back when I had the time to read romances, I enjoyed both contemporary and historical novels. For me, a really good romance I will want to read again. That means I want to own them if at all possible. I have quite a few really old books, those written in different time periods many of which I spent hours in used bookstores to find. I think the oldest publishing date for one of those old ones is 1899-- Janice Meredith, A Story of the Revolution by Paul Leicester Ford); that one I got as a child and still have my address written in the front (the farm where I grew up and our phone number in case it got lost apparently) No, I didn't buy it new ;)

In historical romance, I will mention two favorite authors both of whom wrote series. First is Roberta Gellis. I fell in love with her books Bond of Blood and Knight's Honor after checking them out of the Lake Oswego Library when my children were small. I wanted them so badly, but they already were not available in bookstores; so I found her address-- not as easy before the internet, wrote her and she sold me hardbound copies of both which had a slightly musty smell from being stacked in her garage, unsold. Not long after that her books started appearing as paperbacks in the bookstores and I bought most of them. Like so many authors, I can't say I love all of her romances but considering she's published 25, meticulously researched, set in various periods of English history, it would be too much to expect every one of them would meet my needs. Her stories do have sex in them.

When I looked, Patricia Veryan currently had only two of her books on Kindle but others are still available to purchase used. It's not easy to come by all her titles (30 historicals set in England). Likely those who buy her books keep them. She wrote quite a few series with characters who might've been in earlier books as secondary.  When possible, I bought them when they came out but she wasn't well-advertised and sometimes I had to find them used or through online searches. They are historical romances with suspense, adventure and sometimes mystery involved as different characters worked to save England from villainous plots.  Love, danger, dashing heroes, interesting heroines, often humor, and zero sex.

I could go on but it doesn't really matter what I have loved as the truth is we are all different. Some of the books I've liked best are no longer available anywhere. Some people talk about Kindle as a short-lived way to be published but in reality it could last longer than novels in paperback or hardbound which, unless by big name authors, are usually a store for a few months before you can only find them in used stores-- if there.  eBooks have the potential of allowing books to be available for as long as the internet keeps working (or places like Amazon, Nook and Kobo find it profitable). Finding the ones you don't yet know are great, now that is the trick especially with books which won't be in libraries or in bookstores-- generally.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What makes for a great book?

In forums and elsewhere in blogs, there is always discussion about what makes for a great book? It's a subject that authors or wantabe authors should concern themselves even if their own aspirations are not to reach the level of greatness. There is always a critic out there willing to tell readers who they should read. How do you (as writer or reader) decide?

One opinion I found on what makes a book great:
 -Is contemporary in any time and place because it deals with human nature.
- Is indefinitely re-readable because we can always learn more from it.
- Is most strongly connected to the Great Ideas and thereby to all the other Great   Books.
- To this some would add "and is always over everybody's head all the time."                                Mortimer Adler

This link is to a list compiled of the greatest books online.

Then I found this from notes from the writing chair that great books have
great characters
great plots
strong sense of setting
real emotion

A few months back, when I was with the family, I thought of this question for my kids who are all avid readers-- what makes a book great to you-- but too late. We were getting ready to leave, but one thing my son suggested was he liked to be surprised in a book. He liked it to not follow the plots and plans of everything else he'd read. What he said rather fit what I got from this site: Helping writers become authors

Theme-- the book must mean something
Strong characters, ones we care about
Takeaway value which means a truth of human nature
Satisfying ending
Good mechanics
In Summation: "A good book grabs you by the soul without your knowledge. By the time you're in tears or laughing at the top of your lungs at the same time it's too late. You're hooked."     Tom Williams

Everyone has seen the lists of the greatest books of all times about which most readers don't agree. I went looking for such a list and found much diversity. There is not one such list. And worse, even when I saw such lists, I realized the books that have been great in my life, they aren't going to be on them.

My goal when I read is to find books that will add an enriching aspect to my life. They likely won't end up on any NYTimes list of best sellers or even classics of all times. There are some books I simply won't read, like The Lovely Bones no matter how much others say it's wonderful (did not watch the movie based on it either). It had a topic that simply doesn't work for my life. I have enough paranoia and worry over my children and grandchildren without feeding it.

Years ago, when I was just entering adulthood, I set out to read all the books by certain authors like Steinbeck and Hemingway.  I haven't reread any of them since, but I can say I've never forgotten those stories. Some of them certainly qualify as great like Grapes of Wrath which still speaks to human nature and culture. It wasn't my favorite though of the Steinbecks, that would be Cannery Row with quotes that still stand up like "Being at ease with himself put him at ease with the world." That was a time when I read voraciously. I'd hit the library as soon as a term was over at college, and the librarians would laugh by the stack I'd carry away that they could tell it was a break.

Of more modern authors, I've enjoyed books like A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, The River Why, have read much of what Louise Erdrich, Carolyn Chute, Molly Gloss, Mary Alice Monroe, and Barbara Kingsolver have written. Everything I read doesn't have to have a worthy purpose-- but if it leaves me feeling worse than when I started the book, I sure won't read another book by that author-- and I will be irritated at myself for putting time into it. I also feel no obligation to finish any book I start. The book has to hold my interest and I better like the characters or it'll be history and no guilt. I have all the difficulties in ranch living to not need to purposely give myself more of it in the name of being literary.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Just Do It

As they head for me, it's not that they adore me so much. It's that I put out the cob corn/oats/barley. Today on our way to town, there is no cob but they live with hope.

Because I now read a few blogs by writers as well as those who want to write, I've had some thoughts on the whole process where it comes to creativity. 

The more you expose yourself to ideas and thoughts, the more your own mind will conjure up its own work. Read newspapers, magazines, listen to stories about life, find exciting images, explore interesting ideas and write/paint/sculpt or whatever it is you wish to be doing.

not quite yet spring on our creek but it's coming

I have written all my life but not thought much about what that meant until the last few years. It simply was what I did. I wrote novels. I wrote for groups I might be in. I kept journals. I wrote the blogs. I wrote letters. Writing was just always there, but I didn't see it as the essence of who I was.

It was easier to see it where it came to my friend, Diane, who has always painted. From the time I met her when we were both 21, I have never known a time she wasn't painting or drawing something. Maybe she thought of it as who she was. I don't know but it certainly was what she always did in various modes.

When I would say I'd like to paint but don't have any inspiration, she'd say-- just paint and it'll come. The few times I have gotten into painting heavily, that's exactly how it happened-- I'd paint and more would come from doing the first where i had no idea where it was going.

Writing is the same way. Just write. Expose yourself to ideas and then write without a clear idea of what you are going to do with it. Who cares? Just write. When you write, more will come to you.

The other night I had a dream that was one of the movie dreams. I woke with it still firmly in my head and believe its plot would make an interesting novella. I won't be writing it because now I want to finish the John Day, longer historical romance that has been sitting back for a year.  But the thing is-- the dream came because I have been writing. Creating leads to creating. Even when you don't know where your story will go, even before the dreams, just do it. 

This week I spent time creating a trailer for the Southern Arizona novel whose rough draft I recently finished. A trailer is a series of images and key words with music to create interest in the book for readers. It shouldn't give away too much but it should capture the essence of the book. What is this book really all about? If you didn't know while you were writing it, you will know before the trailer if finished as you work to reduce it to a few images and words.

Creating trailers is good for a writer. I don't think I could do one until the rough draft is finished, but as I worked on this one, I saw some elements that I should have emphasized in the story but had not. I went back and added some but will add more as I do more editing. The trailer told me a piece of the story that I hadn't seen until I worked with those images.

I highly recommend creating trailers. They aren't hard and they really do add a dimension to writing. In the link below are all of mine for the contemporaries. Some of the historicals do have trailers but those will only be here when their books have been ePubbed. 

Even if someone has no interest in reading the books, trailers can be fun to view.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

a love story

Writing love stories as I do, how could I not write about these books on a day like Valentine's Day. Now I must admit that personally I don't pay much attention to such days or haven't since I was in grade school, and we would get those collections of punch out Valentines, take home a list of classmates, and write our own name onto each card; so everybody got a bunch of Valentines to take home. Then came the years of boyfriends and would he give me one or how about if there was a Valentine's Day dance, would I be invited by the boy I most liked that month?

Overall Valentine's Day isn't a favorite to me (cut flowers don't last long, I don't wear jewelry hardly ever, candy is bad for me, and the words on cards should either be what we say daily or they are meaningless). Basically, despite the fact that I write romances (there's gotta be a better word for them), I'm not overly sentimental as a woman. 

On a day supposedly devoted to love, I empathize too much with those who want but don't have a beloved at this time. This kind of day is just a kick in the heart for so many

Except love, and a day devoted to reminding us about that, is about more than the sexy sort with which we tend to equate it. It's about love of animals, of land, of country, of home, of calling, of god, family, life, learning, etc. There are many types and expressions of love.

When I thought about which of my books would I most like to write about as a tribute to love, it would have to be chosen from my 11 contemporaries already published. Frankly the one I am actually 'hottest' on happens to be the historical where I just got its rough draft finished. It's always that way-- last love is at least best remembered love.

Among my contemporary eBooks, there is one that especially comes to my mind in terms of illustrating many types of love. From Here to There is not only a love story of a man and woman but of the land and the energy it brings to a life. It's a love story of ranching, family, hard work, nature, history, animals, and of those who write down their story for their families to someday benefit from finding. It's an ode to a region I love and a life I have both lived and cherished. The stories of the West have been part of my life from the time I was a child. It's wonderful to be almost 70 years old and find they are still stories that thrill me.

This isn't a story about boxes of candy and bouquets of roses. It's one of grit, sweat, blood and over it all-- love. To give a taste of this book, the following is a segment where the hero, a successful businessman from the East, is trying to understand what these Montana ranch people mean by the western way. As an outsider, he questions what their values really are.  This kind of discussion is one I've heard many places in real life. In the book, it comes after a family dinner.


 "Well, now we know you like our pies. What do you think of our West?"
 Phillip managed to swallow his coffee before he choked. "What could I think?" he asked, hoping he could avoid a straight answer to her direct question.
 "You could hate it, love it or not have made up your mind yet," Nancy suggested, sitting beside Emile and lightly massaging her husband's neck.
 "I see you're not going to let me off the hook," Phillip said with a faint smile.
 "Is it such a complex question?" Nancy asked innocently.
  "I don't think we should put Phillip on the spot this way," Helene said, interrupting protectively. "What he thinks or doesn't think of the West is his business."
 Phillip knew because of Helene's protective intervention, he could avoid the issue, but he chose not to. "I have a question for you all. What is this West you talk about?"
 Wes sat up straighter. "You don't know what the West is?" he asked with at least pretend amazement.
 "Sometimes you people talk as though this is a foreign country or something, that people out here have a different set of values than anyplace else. Is that how you see yourselves and this country?
 "Maybe a little," Nancy admitted. With a small smile, she suggested they sit in the living room where it was more comfortable for the rest of this conversation.
 Helene looked at Nancy speculatively, wondering what Nancy's purpose had been in bringing up the issue. Her friend had always been provocative in her comments. It was one of the things Helene liked about her, but she was never snide.
 "Can I help you clean up?" Helene asked, carrying dessert plates into the kitchen and hoping Nancy would agree so she could ask her what had possessed her to put Phillip on the spot that way.
 "Nope. I'll do that later. I want to enjoy the conversation." Nancy smiled benignly at Helene, her face ingenuous--except in the gleam of her blue eyes.
 "I should apologize to you, Phil," Nancy said as soon as everyone was seated again. "It must have sounded like an accusation the way I put my question. I didn't mean it that way." She smiled a gamine grin that Phillip thought would have made it nearly impossible for anyone to take offense at what she'd said.
 "We are defensive though," Emile said, leaning forward, his voice intense. "Outsiders come here, buy up the land, move into the valleys and hills and they don't understand our ways, share our values. They don’t understand the problems we face with say wolf or grizzly predations. They want us gone is the honest truth and leave this place for vacation homes and the wolves and grizzlies.”
“I have read about the conflicts,” Phillip agreed, “and see how it seems confrontive.”
“It causes a lot of trouble when newcomers or worse outsiders expect to change everything to meet what their goals or what they left behind. If they didn’t like how this was, why’d they bother to come?"
“Everybody came sometime,” Phillip argued.
“Outsiders cause us a lot of grief.”
"Outsiders. That's a good word for the way you people treat anybody who wasn't born on your land."
 "Oh my, I'm sorry I ever brought any of this up," Nancy said.
 Phillip made his own tone conciliatory. "I'll concede the evils of the big cities with high taxes, crime, pollution, and overcrowding, but how about if we keep this discussion to the thing I really don't understand. What is the philosophy that you folks see as being Western, that separates a Westerner from what you would call an outsider?" He had no desire to get into an argument with Emile. On the other hand, fighting with Wes might have a certain appeal. His eyes narrowed as he looked toward Wes, who had settled next to Helene on the gingham covered sofa. What were that guy's intentions?
 Emile subsided back, as Nancy, who had moved to sit on the arm of his chair, began soothingly kneading his shoulder muscle.
 There was a silence "A lot of the ways around here have changed, even since I was a kid," Amos said finally. "There was a time when a man was judged by what he did not just what he owned. There wasn't so much concern with how much money you had, but more how you did your work, what your word was worth. You know, even now with some of the old timers, a handshake is as good or better than a paper contract would be somewhere else. In fact, with a lot of men, you never get a signed contract. A man's word, that's everything. Know what I mean?"
 "Maybe. I deal with people a lot on the look in their eye," Phillip said thoughtfully. "It doesn't always work out though when you don't have the expectations written down. People remember their promises differently."
 Amos grinned. "Well, that's true out here too, but if a man's worked the winter at your side, you've watched his kids grow up, seen how he keeps his stock, how he maintains his fences, you get a feeling for him and the kind of fella he is. A man who can do does. A man who can't brags.”
Phillip smiled. “That’s pretty much true anywhere.”
 "Well we do come out here from other places, heck, if we count our families, all of us came from someplace else, but there's different kind of men, not so much matters about where they come from, but more what they're like inside. There's those that come, buy up land, fill it with cattle, overgraze their places 'til there isn't a blade of grass left, then go belly up. They're sucking it dry and pretty soon somebody else's got what's left. The city folks look at it and don’t know it was another city folk who done it.
“Some see these ranches as just investments. They don’t work it at all and take land out of production. They don’t care about the schools, the socials, none of it. Another kind of fella, he sees the land and the people here as a responsibility, a way to feed his family and other folks. He takes care of it, like it's in trust or something. Looks after his neighbors. He's the kind of man we say it'll do to ride the river with."
 Amos chuckled. "It ain't the hat so much. It's what's under that hat. We got a saying out here--the bigger the hat, the littler the outfit. I think though you're not so much asking what makes the West what it is, but more what is we're tryin' so hard to hold onto that we feel threatened by newcomers?" He waited for an answer.
 Phillip nodded. "It is something of what I see."
Emile answered.  "Some of it's a feeling of self-sufficiency in the community, a caring for each other. A man takes care of himself but also helps out those around him. There’s knowing you can leave your door unlocked and if your neighbor comes by the only thing he'll be going into your house for is to leave you a pie or loaf of bread his wife baked."
 "It sounds Edenic," Phillip said, remembering the neighborhood he'd grown up in. If you left your door unlocked there, you'd find the place destroyed and emptied out when you got home; and if you were lucky, the burglar was gone and was not waiting to beat you to a pulp.
 "I suppose it is and a lot of it's already gone,” Emile agreed. “When I was a kid, everybody used to get together at the county grange on Saturday nights for pot lucks and at each other's barns for dances. Us kids would watch them as they’d dance all night and the worst thing that would happen might be a couple of hotheads fighting over some pretty little thing down behind the barn.”
Amos chuckled. “Yep, when the boys'd get through trying to knock each other's heads in, they'd shake hands. If a man's barn or house burned, the whole valley'd show up to put up a new one. You saw a fellow driving his rig down the road, and you not only knew who he was but who his people were. Nowadays, I don't hardly know half the people three miles from me, let alone all the way into town."
 "You can't blame that totally on city people who moved in though," Phillip said. "Change happens. Nobody can hold onto anything forever." He ought to know the truth of that. He'd never lived in any home longer than a year, and father figures had changed with the seasons—sometimes twice in a season.
 "We can damn well try," Emile retorted argumentatively.
 Amos shook his head. "No, he's right. We can't hold onto what was, and we probably do glamorize the old West too much, make more out of it than it was, like it really was John Wayne running things back then."
He stopped for a moment and then, as though thinking aloud, mused, "It's a funny thing about the Western way of thinking. On the one hand, it's a man helping another man by choice, but on the other hand, it's a man being independent, doing for himself. I think that's what we don't want to lose the most... independence."
 "You don't think people from the city can be independent?" Phillip asked, knowing what the answer would be.
 "City folks want somebody else to do everything for them," Wes said. "Get the government into every part of life. Raise taxes, ask for services. They want to butt into everybody else's business and tell them how to run it. You get a man from the city out here and the first thing you know he wants sidewalks, street lights and expects you to help pay for them."
 Waiting until the laughter died down, Amos quipped, "Well now, I don't want you to think this business of Western independence goes too far with us. You go taking away our electricity, and we'll be squealing like stuck pigs."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

WIP-- the book and me

In January and February, nighttime has been a very productive time for WIP (work in progress) on which I've been working. I'd wake up and before I'd fall back asleep, I'd think what should happen next. Basically as though I was actually writing, I'd try out this or that action and see if this set of words felt right/or not for the characters. Where did that dialogue take them? What would happen if they did that? I would sometimes play out several scenarios.

By morning, I would have pretty well worked out the next steps. Research and even something in current news sometimes added to ideas. If you have ever written a book, you know how that is. It's important to give some time to allow serendipitous happenings to add to the writing.

When I write a book, I do know where it's going. I know what the ending will be, but how I get there, some of the twists along the way, that's where the muse comes in. Fleshing out a story is the fun of writing and also where a person has to be open to new ideas that suddenly come along.

I am fortunate to be able to discuss plot elements with my husband as I decide on this or that-- particularly where it comes to action scenes. He gives me different insights-- not always appreciated, of course. I can do this with him because he's not a future reader for the book. He's its publisher. I've learned not to discuss too much of the story with those who will eventually buy a book. It can ruin the story for them.

On the week-end (at 114,00 words) I wrote The End, but again if you have ever written a book, you know the end right now is not the end of the process. It means the rough draft is finished which is for me a major yahoo but certainly not all that's going to be needed.

After I had saved the words on five jump drives and one memory card (insecure much ?), I planned to let it set for a few weeks. It turned out I couldn't do it. I wanted to see how it flowed, if the action made sense, and so I reread and did a first edit over the following few days. I tweaked here and there, but the real editing I will put off for a month when I can look at it through fresh eyes.  I will do three editings with another by a man to see how it works from the male perspective. Only after that will I no longer consider it a WIP.

Right now, I feel very good about how the writing went, how the story developed and the characters. But later it could be like I experienced the other day when I was in a store and was feeling pretty good about myself until I looked in a mirror I passed and thought-- who is that old woman? I have learned that it's best to give it some emotional distance; and I have other projects to work on in the meantime.

an old map indicating some of the country where the story is set

As breaks from this kind of thinking I have been reading other blogs and several have discussed the great literary works they read. Basically they would fit under the category of uber classics for me, more for intellectuals, not someone like me who although I have read many books regarded as classics like Steinbeck,  Hemingway, Dickens, Austen, Buck, Shakespeare, etc., my favorite reading was never what intellectual elites would consider high quality. Nope, I liked pop fiction and still do when I have time to read.

While I am admitting my own more plebian tastes, I should add that I don't read stories that are negative or dark. I don't watch those kind of films either. I learned a long time ago that I needed to put positive things into my brain for both images and words. If something is going to end in a burst of violence, I am not their customer. If they look too emotionally traumatic, it won't be on my list. The only kinds of films I watch that have violence attached have it in a fantasy like the comic book movies. I like things that couldn't happen and are like a roller coaster of action say like Jurassic Park or  2012 (the latter of which critics despised). If it seems too real or is horror, you can count me out-- noteworthy or not.

I read for pleasure and although from the sounds of what others say, they do also, what gives them pleasure wouldn't me. I want a story that is easy to follow with emotional rewards. No overly challenging my brain. It's challenged enough as it is. I am not sure if that gives me an inferior brain. Maybe so.

So I've been doing some research on what 'experts' consider to be great reads. What makes a book a classic. Why would someone struggle to read something that was depressing? What do they get from it? Well, I didn't get an answer to that from my 'research' but maybe someone who comes here will have an idea and post it.

For me I read for two reasons-- one to learn things I need to know. That comes from non-fiction (including magazines and newspapers)-- as no matter whether fiction appears to be realistic or not, it's fiction. And then I read for pleasure and escapism whcih means nothing that ends with a tragedy, nothing I have to struggle to understand the why of-- I get that from non-fiction.

 Image from CanStock and photoshopped along with my own photo from Tucson.

The above is how I see the hero and heroine of this book and might end up part of a trailer if we do decide to ePub these historic novels. I know it might sound strange to put this much work into something I don't end up publishing, but I've written all my life and only recently even had to make this kind of decision. I will put it out if I can see a way to get it seen. If not, I'll put it aside until I get better at the marketing end. I have eleven books already out there to try this or that.  The last year has involved a lot of learning; but where it comes to marketing, I have a long way to go.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

musing on muses

If you write, paint, sculpt or pretty much do any art form, you are likely aware you have those happenings that seem serendipitous. You are writing (painting/sculpting/drawing) along with a pretty good idea of where you are going but something just appears from seemingly nowhere and it fits so beautifully that you are in awe. 

I think this kind of thing happens most when you are working and not waiting. I consider this sort of thing as happening more when I know where the work is going, have the structure in my head, but it's the fleshing out where the serendipity comes along. Something happens that I can't imagine ahead of time and yet, there it is.

This week, on my WIP (work in progress), I had one of these moments. When I had finished the segment, I thought-- do I have a muse helping me? I had begun writing a scene where I thought it'd provide nice atmosphere but wasn't thinking of deeper meaning. When I finished it, the deeper meaning was clearly there.

I don't have the answer to why, but I sure like the help this kind of moment provides. It's often a tiny little element to the overall work and maybe a reader would pass right over it as nothing significant but for me it's what writing/painting/sculpture are all about-- and very encouraging when it happens.

I only wish that kind of thing would work with marketing........................

 photos are desert wildflowers in Southern Arizona and do relate to the serendipity


Friday, February 8, 2013

up, down, and around

This is our choice in every moment.
Do we relate to our circumstances
with bitterness or with openness?
Pema Chodron

The words are on the top of my calendar for February. Good advice but not always easy to live. February is a month that often can be hard as it's not quite spring but winter is almost gone-- or so we hope. The days are lighter for longer-- unless they aren't due to storms and constant fog. Buds are beginning to burst-- unless a hard freeze comes along.

Listening to the news can be so depressing that many decide to avoid it except don't we all need to know? Or can we help anything with the knowing when we often only know part of a story?

My writing is moving along well; this story is long enough now to qualify for a long historic romance but the writing of it isn't done. It has two important pieces yet to cover. The writing has been very rewarding except... it's still an uncertainty what I will do with it.

Soon I will have written five historical romances; but with the uncertainty of how I can get them seen, I am unsure if I want to go the ePub route right now. I also though don't want to submit any of them to a paper publishing house. It isn't because I fear rejection, it's because I don't really see how they'd have any better way of getting them seen. I'd lose the ability to pick my own covers, and they would take a bigger piece of whatever sales there might be when they put them into ePub. They would also dictate what my story had to be because it's what they do. I can understand that-- especially after a year of marketing myself, but I still don't want it. I want my story to be true to itself.

It's not an easy time whenever I think of marketing. From the writing end, winter has been rewarding for me. This particular story has flowed right along even though it's more complex than many I have written. It takes a time in history, in an area I very much like, and sets two people as they begin on the adventure of life and love. It has been all I could have hoped when I began.

I write by writing anywhere from a thousand to five thousand words in a day. Then I think about what I wrote. There are days I might not write the next day while I think about these characters and where they are going. What would logically happen next? I debate how their relationship might grow or roadblocks along the way. Secondary characters enter the story and questions about them are part of the equation. For an historic, I do research as new elements come into play. I do all that knowing that what I write may not be what is wanted by the romance novel reader of today.

I do not think my romances are typical romances, but I know there are other writers out there also writing those that are not. It's a question of how to get them seen, and it's what will hold me off from putting out this one or the one before it because I think as it stands, it would just disappear in the massive pile of all those out already with more coming in every day.

Some say the mass of ePubbed books will ruin this whole thing, especially with no kind of critical oversight. Except Amazon, Nook, Kobo, etc. are providing a service, more of a huge warehouse than a publishing house. You present to them books that are ready to go or they reject them. 

Yes, what they do makes them money, at least on some of the books, but it also helps the writer get their books out at least where they can be found-- if the writer finds the way. If these houses started doing critical reviews, they'd be the publishing companies who have set limits and rules for what they want to see in their line. It would be the end of the Wild West time for ePub and maybe that will yet come. How many books can they really hold in their system?

I suppose some of my funk is coming because this month there has only been one sale of a book. Amazon has this system where you see your sales, but each month it starts over. Now last month there were enough sales to make me feel okay, but this month just one-- at this point, that's the least I have ever had. 

And I might add that the books I never put out for free never really got many sales. That tells me several things. One that all those books I gave away didn't really help sales in the long run either because those readers only want free books-- or because what I write doesn't interest them enough to buy another by me. 

Now that might be my funk... It could also be over a week of a publishing glitch on one of the books when I changed a cover but it hung up and eventually had to be resubmitted (it wasn't the sole sale for sure), Or it might just be one more gray day in a row. They claim it'll be sunny on Sunday. I can only hope. 

We got our first lambs (also two new calves). That's definitely uplifting.

The image on the top was put together from one of our Navajo kachina type figures and the background of Pusch Ridge in the country around Tucson where the book I've been writing has been set.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

ethics and dialogue

As long as I'm writing about ethics, I might as well get into another area where writers do have to make decisions. It involves use of obscenities, curse words, foul language, and being politically correct for the time in which we live. What was acceptable even five years ago may prove very offensive today. The problem a writer faces is staying true to the characters but what about when that would offend today's readers? How to deal with that?

 photo taken at Oregon High Desert Museum, January 2013-- doesn't relate to the topic but will be a factor in the historic romance I am currently writing.

To illustrate this, I can't even use the words that are most coming to my mind because this blog is PG rated. Some of them I have never used. A few I used to never use but now once in awhile do in discussions because they have become so mainstream. I can think of one that I didn't learn its meaning until I was in college and my aunt explained it to me after a boyfriend had used it. My daughter asked to have that word explained to her when she was in second grade.

When I write dialogue for men, I know most of them use far rougher language than I give them. Sometimes I get around that by saying they cursed crudely or something that lets the reader imagine what that meant. And a lot of young women today talk that way also, and it's not the shocking thing that it was when I was a young woman.

An example of a word regarding the politically correct or incorrect, that is a good example, is squaw. That was a word which was taken for granted for years. To many people, it was just a word for American Indian women (which might should be Native American women instead of Indian but that's not a given as it varies with tribes for what they prefer. Safest is to use their tribal name if it's required in a book). Squaw though, commonly used back in the 1880s or not, I wouldn't use today in any book I wrote as it is a very offensive term regarding women-- showing total disrespect.

Throughout the west we have all kinds of geographic places with names that have had to be changed as our world became more sensitive as to how they were perceived. It's a tough one for a writer as not many people want to offend others, but writers like to use dialogue in way that seems fitting to the character. 

It's something each writer has to work out for themselves. I have several swear words I do let my characters use, varying with their personalities, which I know offend some people; but I feel they are needed-- even knowing I might lose readers over them.  If I used some of the rougher words, it might seem more realistic to the times and characters-- but I don't for my own sensitivity as well as that of readers.

I also run into this when I write sex scenes also and yes, I do write sex scenes. I don't want to go too graphic but I do want to make it feel like it was what happened and give the reader an enjoyable read which for me means nothing crude there either.  I also avoid euphemisms used more frequently in the older romances when they first began to write about sex. This isn't because they offend me but because they make me laugh instead of think about a romantic encounter.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Ethics and fiction writing

When writing a story from ideas in your head, a lot of things come into play that will vary with genre. Readers expect certain things from a mystery that will be different than from chick lit. If you are writing in a genre that is action oriented, a lot of emotional reaction isn't required. Some stories barely give you the motivations of the main protagonists; and you see what they are by what they do-- if the writer stays consistent.

Romances have action, dialogue, and the inner workings of the character's thinking. These books resolve how people will do certain things, what their reactions will be, how they will feel after they make choices, and that's an important part of any romance from Jane Austin to Nicholas Sparks. There might be different styles involved, some with more emphasis on dress and behavior and others with even violent actions, but in the end, a romance (the best of them) will be about emotional reactions and even ethical choices.

When I have the most problems reading someone else's romances is when they ignore ethical actions. They might let a hero or heroine behave in a way that is an abomination, but it's supposed to be okay because they are the hero/heroine. Say what! I suppose some with male heroes has come from the rise of the anti-hero. But even an anti-hero has to have an ethical code to find sympathy from most readers/viewers.

So when I am writing a story as I am right now, ethics is an important aspect with which I off and on wrestle. Sure I need to get tenses correct, spelling right, sentence structure making sense (although perfecting of that comes later with editing), but ethics are big to me. I want my characters to act logically-- even when they sometimes make mistakes. And when they have acted unethically, I want them to be aware of it at least eventually.

 Image rights purchased from CanStock

On the current book, I have a lot of this kind of thinking going on as there are some big ethical questions for the hero and heroine. She faces hers not only because of her period in history but from those any culture puts onto its people. Cultures encourage obedience and punish by different methods disobedience of its rules. Some of this probably is human nature and some about power and survival. The more options a culture permits, the more confusing life can be.

As a woman of the 1880s in the West, my heroine has lived by rules and pretty much edged around what isn't okay-- like visiting an occult shrine or going to a psychic. She is 25 and unmarried by choice, again something a genteel lady would not be doing unless she's staying home taking care of aging parents. Obviously by her choices, she is going against the stream but how far is she willing to go in doing that?

She might have been able to avoid resolving that question except life isn't letting her on several levels. A big one is when she is attacked (won't go into details of what happens but it's not a rape), and she must decide whether to bring charges against the perpetrator or hide what happened to save what's left of her reputation. It's not exactly a problem unique to her times but made harder when women had less rights, couldn't vote, certainly not hold public offices and even the right to own property hadn't been held all that long.

So the story had gone along quite well until I got to this sticky situation. It's easy, as a writer, to turn a major protagonist into a symbol for what is right to do and make it turn out that way... or even go the other way... but better writing is to make it seem inevitable as a choice and that the character would actually do this-- whether it's the best choice or not. That's something I am taking some time to decide. It's not exactly a road block as I know what comes after, but I want to get this part right-- which to me is what good writing is all about.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Yes, once again we have gotten here, not just past the hump of Winter Solstice but to the Celtic celebration, Imbolc, which I have written about in another blog many many times but perhaps not with the emphasis on what it means for creativity. 

Imbolc (ewe's milk) is when we get our first lambs as it is the traditional time for lambing in the Celtic lands from where the celebration originated. Our ewes are heavily pregnant in the days before February 2. We wait for those first little sounds from the newborns, the crooning of the mothers. We hope to not hear the lost sound of a lamb where no mother is speaking back to it.

See how heavily laden she is-- so ready with the weight of that belly as it has dropped-- photo taken January 31, 2013

Besides longer days and new growth and life, this is a time of creativity in a spiritual and an inner sense or so the sages say. We can dream dreams with these long nights but the gradually increasing day's length means activity is about to burst forth. We can think about what is within and find ways to bring it out. Suggestions for Imbolc are reciting poetry, lighting candles, starting new plants, or gathering in circles.

I saw an interesting topic in the MOA (Meet Our Author's) at Amazon. Well the topic wasn't but something that arose within was.-- how long does it take to write a book? Some asserted that if it did not take a year, then the book wasn't worthy. Others felt that someone who turns out say five books in a year has to be doing inferior work. One suggested that if a person worked a 12-hour day, there was no way there would be time for writing a novel. I put a brief comment there but decided I'd prefer to expand on it  here as it is part of creativity and bringing forth our own light.

Basically I can address this from where it comes to my own writing and what I have heard others say about theirs. Yes, some take years to write their books while others, with equal skill, can bring out several books in a year. Some people have written only one masterpiece and it was finally recognized as such when they were in old age-- thinking Helen Hooeven Santmyer's-- And the Ladies of the Club or Norman Maclean's, The River Runs Through It. Not that it took them a lifetime to write the one great book, but it took that long to have it recognized.

There are traditionally published authors who write under several names to avoid having readers think they are writing too much. They might write under different genres for the same reason or because it's fun to vary what they do.

So my opinion is that if someone has an idea for a book and knows its trajectory, they can easily write 1000 words a night if nighttime is all they have for their own fiction. The catch, of course, is to have that initial idea. Sometimes long hours at work drains the creative juices. It's not the time to write that is lacking. It's the time to work out the fictional plot and characters.

If they wrote 1000 words a day, varying it a bit, they would have their rough draft in a couple of months. Then would come editing, editing and re-editing. If they wish to go the traditional route, they then have to write a query letter, synopsis and maybe outline to interest a publishing house or agent in their work. I won't say it's easy to do this when working long hours but it's not impossible-- if the person has that initial idea and knows where it's going.

As for me, I often go days writing nothing where it might seem nothing is happening on my book idea, but it's going through a lot of phases in my head or in notes. When I am writing, I can easily do 5000 words in a day. But then I need to reread and think about where that got the story and whether it worked. It was not hard at all with A Montana Christmas to write so fast because I knew those characters and where the story was a novella, it didn't have the complexity of a full length novel.

My current work in progress has taken characters I knew vaguely from a prior story but had to get to know them a LOT better. I began writing their interactions, what they were doing, who else they were involved with, when did they laugh, when did they cry, and as that unfolded, so did more and more of the story. Although i have the time to spend a day writing, I don't have that every day. 

On those days I am busy elsewhere, i think about these characters and where they might be at the time. I think about them most especially right before bed as I consider what they did that day and where might that lead them. It's easy in such a time of intense writing to lose track of my own life if I don't make the effort to stay in touch with 'me.'

A lot of what I write has been fully formulated before I sit at the keyboard but I am open to changing something if the next step reveals what came before was a mistake. It's so easy with the computer versus the days when all of what I wrote was done on a typewriter, one of those lovely old black ones where you had to strike the keys hard. If I wanted to readjust things with it, it required cutting apart paragraphs and taping them into new places. Love the modern world where it comes to tools that help creating happen faster and easier.

If you are wanting to write fiction but haven't yet done it, think of the story that is in your head, the nuances, the additional parts you might be able to flesh out, use the darkness of these long nights for that but then start writing. A thousand words a day is not a bad goal as it's pretty easy to do. Even if your ideas don't seem like much, write them down-- one thing often leads to another. You can assess its value later. The main thing for those who want to write is-- write.

Fame or recognition, sales or popularity, that might never come. They aren't what make you a writer. Some might think it's all about the money or being a great artist in your writing abilities. Nope. It's that you write. Now being an author, having that recognition, that might take something else but to be a writer only means one thing-- you are one who writes.

May Imbolc give you some of that light and glow to get your own work going.