Where's the Obsession?

I finished up my revision over two weeks ago. Normally, I’d be plunging ahead into my next project, flush with the excitement of something new.

Except this time, the creativity isn’t coming.

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You and me both.
Reminds me of the song Where Have All the Cowboys Gone by Paula Cole, just replace Cowboys in the song with inspiration. Interesting that I’ve never been a big fan of the song. Kept trying to figure out why the singer needed a cowboy rather than making her own happily-ever-after if she wasn’t finding it from her partner. I listen to lyrics too closely, sometimes.

Still, I have several characters floating around in my head, but none of them are really meshing with a solid story or a love interest. I write Romance, so the love interest is critical.

Not sure what’s causing this. Perhaps I’m trying too hard. Or not hard enough. Or I’m feeling burned out with the book I wrote, the other I revised, and having a full time job.

Or, perhaps, I’m having a bit of a book hangover.

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I spent a lot of time with the last set of characters. Really working hard to put them on the page and bring them to life.

Normally, the way I deal with loss is move right into the next story. But it’s not working this time. The first few weeks of writing a new story is what carries me through. The excitement. The freshness of the project. The need to get the swirling maelstrom in my head onto paper.

I normally love starting a new project. The time to create. To make something out of nothing.

So far, no fabulous ideas begging to be put on paper have usurped my every waking moment. I tried reading a couple of novels for inspiration, but I couldn’t get into them either.

Not sure what’s creating this sudden lack of creativity, but it can go ahead and be on its way now. I’m ready for my next obsession.

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How about you? Ever have your creativity suddenly dry up or just lose interest in something? What did you do to rekindle the spark?

"Saving" the Bad Boy

So, while we know that in the real world that women actually prefer nice guys, lots of fiction has the heroine living happily-ever-after with a bad boy.

While I appreciate Star Wars portraying how that worked out for Princess Leia, in romance writing, we expect the ever-after to stay happy.

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Biggest problem I’ve seen is how does the writer get there.

Most of us can believe that Han has reformed after being frozen in carbonite and putting his life on the line for the Rebellion even after Jabba has been “paid”.

In romance novels, I see heroes as colorful as Han, but rarely do I see the crucible of the story they’re put through strong enough to elicit the change in them required to give the audience their happily-ever-after ending.

And in Romance, if there isn’t a happily-ever-after ending, it isn’t Romance. That’s a key component of the genre.

I won’t name the book, but in a novel I put down recently, the hero was a classist jerk. He was born an earl and had nothing but contempt for the lower classes. Until along comes the heroine who is a girl from the streets. She might be a viscount’s long-lost daughter, which of course she is because this is fiction, but the hero doesn’t know that.

Somehow he overcomes his classist jerkiness because he’s in lust with the heroine.

Ad yes, lust, because they’ve known each other all of three days and he’s been unpleasant most of it because he’s “put out” having to host her.

Um, yeah, not buying it. When I opened the book, I was willing to suspend disbelief. I’m willing to believe this girl is the missing viscount’s daughter. I’m even willing to believe that the earl can be shown the error of his ways.

But I need a lot more than he wants to bed the heroine for that change to be believable.

I see this same issue over and over again in Regency fiction. The number of reformed rakes is amazing. Yet, few authors give me a really good reason why that rake reformed. The love of a good woman just isn’t enough.

According to my grandmother, a tiger doesn’t change his stripes, and if someone shows you their true colors, don’t try to repaint them. Must run in the family.

But she’s onto something here.

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Can people change? Yes!

Do they change often or easily? No!

So, if you want me to believe that your rake has reformed, he needs to go through something that causes the reformation. Perhaps he has a brush with his own mortality, or something significant happens that shows him what a hollow life he’s leading. Maybe falling in love does this to him, but there has to be some depth there.

If he’s in love with the heroine because she’s attractive? Sounds to me like he’s still a rake.
How about you? What do you need to believe a real or fictional person has changed?

Death of the White Knight?

Jenn Moss over at Rough and Ready Fiction had an interesting post on “goody-good” characters and why they don’t work in modern fiction.

She writes science fiction, whereas I’m a romance writer, so our audiences are not quite the same. Still, it got me to thinking about the anti-hero and bad-boy tropes that seem to be quite popular.

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I’ll think more on the anti-hero, but research says that bad boys really don’t get the girl. There’s several links in that article to the studies proving it, too.

It also explains the role of narcissists in this perception. Narcissists are really good at fooling us into believing that they are good people in the short-term, but they can’t live up to it in the long-term. Nor do they really want to as they aren’t interested in those types of relationships anyway.

They article also explains that there are reasons that some women may be attracted to bad boys, but a lot of that has to do with how they were brought up and their family life. Basically, what they’ve come to expect from a relationship.

Many years ago, I had a good friend who had a thing for bad boys. After again being treated poorly by her current love interest, we were eating ice cream together while she lamented the state of her heart. This had not been the first time this series of events had happened, and I asked her what she’d expected.

We knew he dabbled in drugs, drank, smoked, and was barely passing in school. He was more interested in his motorcycle than he was her. What did she think was going to change?

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She was dumbstruck by the question , and she never gave me a straight answer. In hindsight, I don’t think she knew. Not really, and I never did understand. Eventually, we drifted apart as friends because you can only watch someone self-destruct so often before you just can’t feel much for them.

When life hands you onions and you cry, I’ll be there holding the tissue. But when you keep going to the onion patch and picking onions, eventually I gotta shrug and walk away.

It didn’t help that relationship that I’ve always been a fan of the white knight. The good boy that understands duty, honor, and kindness. I liked Luke better than Han, King Arthur better than Sir Lancelot, etc.

Many years later, and I think I’m starting to get it.

You see, my mother was very adamant with me that you love someone for who they are that day. They aren’t going to change. They aren’t going to become someone new for you. They are who they are, and either you love them then and there or you don’t. If you love them for who you think they can be, you’re only hurting them and yourself.

That stuck with me my whole life. If I wanted to be with a person who’d love and respect me, I needed to marry someone who was already like that.

And I did.

But this wisdom doesn’t seem to flow through our culture. There’s this expectation that if you love someone enough, they’ll change for you. That underneath their angst and misery is a heart of gold just waiting to fall in love with the girl that saves them.

Maybe some others have had experiences where this is true, but outside of fiction and the movies, I’ve never seen it.

I’ll keep the white knight.
How about you? Do you think the White Knight’s dead? Ever had a friend go for the “bad” boy or girl? Maybe you do or did? How’d it go?

 

 

Alive!

Ever have character come alive that you never expected? To develop such complete and totally personality, yet you have no story for them? No idea where or how they fit into your world?

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This happened to me the other afternoon. DH and I had a couple of hours to ourselves (I know, how did that happen?), and we started discussing the book I’m editing now. This led to us discussing the hero and heroine’s two sons and me wondering if I’d one day write their story. We started talking about the boys, and that led to some interesting insights.

 

A quick snippet of their conversation:

“At least I didn’t set Mom on fire.”

“I was two years old! Nobody brings up the fact that you pooped on Mom when you were two.”

“Did not. And you were three when you set her on fire.”

“Two, three, whatever. It’s not like I had control of the magic. Not like I meant to do it. And I’ve tried to make-up for it every mother’s day since. But no matter what I get her, Dad still gives me this look like, ‘That’s it? That’s all you could get your mother after setting her on fire?’ I could get her a solid diamond horse and carriage, a fleet of solid diamond horse and carriages, and it still wouldn’t be enough.”

“You did set her on fire. And a solid diamond horse and carriage wouldn’t exactly move.”

Dylan glared at his brother. “I tracked down three golden unicorns, captured them, brought them back here and taught them to dance for Mom. Dad still gave me the look because it wasn’t all five. But the other two were so freakin’ fast.”

“Should move faster.”

“You fast enough to outrun a fireball?” A glowing ball appeared in Dylan’s hand.

Lucas grinned. “Whatcha gonna get me for my birthday if you set me on fire? The last two golden unicorns?”

“Go to hell.”

“Speaking of hell, Dad did have to bring in an Oskelesian to teach you to control your magic.”

“An Oskelesian that the legendary Sir Marcus married and, even though you’re a prince, Sir Marcus would still kick your ass if he heard you say anything bad about her.”

Lucas crossed his arms over his chest and raised a brow.

“For Dracor’s sake, you were engaged to their daughter. How bad can her mother be, Oskelesian or not?”

“You had to bring that up.”

“You were engaged last month. I burned Mom over twenty years ago.”

“But Mom didn’t bargain her life to a dragon to save Tamryn.”

“Not my fault you can’t keep your girlfriends. Shouldn’t you go slay the dragon or something and bring her back?”

Lucas’s jaw twitched. “She made the bargain voluntarily, and he lived up to his half.”

“Hasn’t stopped other men.”

“I’m bound by the code of Dracor and the Dragon Church.”

“Thank the gods I’m not.”

“If you’re not fast enough to catch the last two unicorns, you wouldn’t stand a chance against a dragon.”

“Better a dragon than Mom and Dad trying to marry me off. You weren’t fast enough to escape that. Took a dragon to get you out of it.”

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Now, to figure out a story for them… They have a unique dynamic. I can see how they love each other, hate each other, and would do anything for each other, but only after giving the other one a thorough teasing. I don’t think any of this would ever make it into a book, but knowing it about them makes them richer and easier to write.

 

How about you? Ever have an idea for a character come to life all on its own? How about characters having arguments in your head, or making you smile at your desk for no reason?

To Leave or Not to Leave…

To leave or not to leave an unfavorable book review.

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I’ve read several blog posts of late saying that we shouldn’t leave unfavorable book reviews, especially if we’re authors ourselves. The contention is that with the very hostile conditions authors face today, we should be supporting each other, not tearing each other down.

So, my mom’s advice: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

On the one hand, the current environment for authors is truly awful. Most authors are lucky for a book to payback all the costs of publishing it, and almost none make minimum wage on the hours they’ve poured into their work. There’s a lot of reasons for this, none of which are going away anytime soon.

In this environment, authors really do need to stick together. Combine that with the fact you could be having a bad day when you read the novel, maybe it just isn’t your thing, or any other reasons that could influence something as subjective as whether or not you liked a book, and I can understand the advice.

Yet, I’ve read books that are well and truly awful. They lack basic plot structure, or their plots are so full of holes Swiss cheese’ll hold more water. Flat characters, heroines too stupid to breathe, or heroes that are jerks. I read romance, so this is not really okay.

My personal “favorite” was the book where the heroine knew everything about everyone just by looking in their eyes (this was a historical romance with no magic), and she was always right.

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Not really sure what the correct path is. On the one hand, I want to support fellow authors. I want them to keep writing so I can read their stories. I want them to be able to make a living at it.

But I feel like it’s disingenuous to only leave good reviews. If I only do that, then reviews cease to mean much as only those satisfied (or those paid to leave good reviews) do so.

I’m still torn on this.
How about you? Do you leave reviews for books you’ve read? It’s easy if the book’s good, but what if the book is really bad?

Attending My First Town Hall

I pay taxes. I vote at almost every election, even primaries. I considered myself to be doing my civic duty as a member of a democratic republic.

Yet, there are so many concerns that when I e-mail my congressman, I simply get a form letter back telling me he’s glad I shared my concerns with him, but he’s going to do whatever he wants to do anyway.

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So, I attended my first town hall to see him face-to-face and make him tell me face-to-face that my concerns don’t matter to him.

It was an interesting experience to be in a room filled with people, all of whom were demanding action, and watching the man we elected dance around the facts and basically tell us he didn’t care about our concerns.

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See, my congressman has been in congress since around the time I was born. He has absolutely no concern for what I have to say. Apparently, he’s not worried about being re-elected. We are one of the reddest counties in the country, so, he’s probably right.

Rather than feeling defeated, it makes me want to go to more town halls and continue to push. To make him listen to me. And if not, perhaps to find enough other like-minded people that we can force a difference in how he acts if not how he thinks.

I’m interested in the political process now, in how we could run someone against him effectively. Not because I think the challenger will win, but because I think real competition might make him listen when his constituents speak.

Makes me wonder why there has never been real competition for him or for many in a Congress most Americans think are doing a terrible job. I need to research more to understand this.

Makes me wish there were federal term limits.

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Not that I think I’ll make a difference, but if we all think that, then we’re all correct and our politicians can continue to not listen to We the People.

How about you? Do you make sure to vote? Have you ever called or written your congressman? Ever been to a town hall with them? How did it go?

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye is hard. Really hard. The longer you’ve known someone, usually, the harder it is to say goodbye.

As illustrated by the Harry Potter cast.

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Same is true for me when I finish a story. Whether a rewrite or a first draft, there’s a bit of sorrow that casts its shadow on the accomplishment.

So, yes, I finished the most recent edit of “Crowned Prince” that I started on October 24th. It took me eleven weeks to finish, and in that time, I was able to dedicate some pretty serious hours to the revision process. Interesting, as the first draft only took me eight weeks to write.

On this rewrite alone, I’ve traveled with these character for almost a quarter of a year. I’ve spent much of my free-time with them and many hours thinking about them. Working through their foibles, their defeats, and their victories. Seeing them change and grow. Falling in love with them along the way.

As I reread the ending for the eleventh time last night before finally sending it off to my beta readers, I knew I was going to miss these characters. Finally, at long last, they had each other and their happily-ever-after. They’d earned it, they knew what I cost, and they were both willing to fight to keep it.

I lingered with them a while, and then I closed the file and cracked open the novel I finished in October. Best way to beat the sadness of saying goodbye to one set of characters is to become invested in the next set.

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Years ago, when I finished writing my first book (that the Doubt Demon eventually stole), I actually cried when I was done. I had put over two years into the story, and I never thought I’d be able to write another. Took me a lot longer back then to realize I had more than one story in me. Once I realized I could write more than one book, and started work on the new one, I felt much better. Completing it made me feel better yet. (Yeah, Doubt Demon got that one, too).

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I’m not a big fan of book series that feature the same characters as the “leads” over and over, but I do love series that let me go back to the world the author created. Especially if I get a glimpse of some old favorites living their happily-ever-after while becoming invested in new characters.

Perhaps this is why all three books I’ve written so far stand alone, but they’re all in the same world. While you may never “see” the characters from the previous novels “on screen”, you hear the new characters reference them as appropriate. It gives me a little hug of feeling, reminding me I didn’t really say goodbye. I just said until later.

 

How about you? Ever feel sad when you come to the end of a book, whether reading it or writing it? If so, how do you overcome the sadness? Do you like series that feature the same characters? Same world(s)? Why or why not?

Talking Turnip

It’s January.

It’s cold. It’s dark. Did I mention cold?

Why did I move to the frozen tundra again?

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You’d think I’d have lots of time for writing, but being stuck inside with two small children during these dark and cold days is not conducive for writing, revising, or anything resembling creativity. Unless your definition of creativity is running out of ways to burn their energy, giving in, and letting them watch more TV.

I cannot tell you how painful children’s shows are to the grown-up brain. Worse yet, is when my husband and I look at each other and then try to come up with a logical reason for anything in the show.

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At one point, we’re watching the Octonauts, and my husband makes a comment that they aren’t properly classifying some creature. They have the wrong phyla, and the creatures in the story are not actually closely related.

At which point I look at him, and ask him if that’s his biggest issue with a show that features a walking, talking turnip and a polar bear “captain” that doesn’t eat the penguin, sea otter, or rabbit on his ship.

Yeah, too much kids’ shows.

How do you get through these brutally cold, dark months? Any kids’ shows out there that don’t make your brain want to explode?

Five Things I Learned as a "Professional" Writer

I was recently fortunate enough to have three days where the kids were in daycare, and I was home from work. DH and I decided that we didn’t want the girls to completely get out of their routine over the holiday season, and he was fine with me spending these days getting some house stuff done and writing.

So, for three days, I got to spend most of my time writing. Here’s what I learned:

1. Errands Take Longer Than You Think – Among the things I needed to do during these three days were a variety of errands. I was home, so I agreed to do them all. Having no idea how long it can take to go to the bank, buy cat food, and get dinner fixings, I set out to get them done in less than an hour so I could start writing. Only to find the bank doesn’t open until nine. The pet store at ten. I learned really fast getting everything out of the way right after dropping the girls off was about as likely as finding a unicorn in my driveway holding a million dollars.

2. It’s Lonely – I am an introvert by nature, but being home alone all day really tests that. I found myself keeping iTunes on at all times, and eventually reaching out to others through Twitter. Sad, I know. But there it is.

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3. Distractions Abound – The internet is normally not much of a distraction for me, but then, I only have an hour a day to write. Easy enough to turn off distractions for that amount of time. A whole day? Suddenly, a whole lot harder.

4. Timers Need Not Apply – My first two days, I foolishly listened to advice that recommended setting timers for productivity and break time (50 minutes or so of writing followed by 10 minutes of doing stuff). This was hugely detrimental to me as I could sometimes write well over 50 minutes, and 10 minutes was sometimes too long and other times not long enough of a break period.

5. The Joy of “The Zone” – When you have carved out an hour a day to write, you guard that hour jealously and write during it no matter what. But when you have a whole day?  There is this magical zone, and once in it, you can do amazing things. No children to pull you out of it, no spouse talking about important things. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish. Or how much you can cut.

 

How about you?  You ever have a day or three just to write?  How did it work for you?

 

 

6 Things I Learned Making Christmas Dinner for Someone with Allergies

My sister has serious food allergies. Ones that a lot of people have to endure, such as peanuts and tree nuts, but also some really difficult ones like soy.

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Yes, soy. If you look at the ingredient list of most pre-packaged foods, you’ll find they contain soy. It’s apparently a great emulsifier, so it’s commonly used in processed foods as a stabilizer.

That means when she comes over for dinner, specifically Christmas dinner, you have to really think about what you serve, and I want everything on the table to be something she can eat. That means reading the ingredient list on anything I buy in a package. Don’t believe me, look at the ingredient list on your bread. Soy. Check your ice cream. Unless you bought Breyers vanilla, good chance there’s soy in it. Chocolate chips?  You guessed it, soy!

So, when we hosted Christmas dinner for the first time many years ago, I really struggled. And, frankly, dinner was bland and not very tasty.

I feel like this year I did a lot better. The food was tasty, and everything I made or bought was safe for her to eat.

Here are a few things I learned:

1.Less Is More – Food with fewer ingredients on the ingredient list tends to taste better as well as have few allergens. The bread I purchased had flour, salt and yeast. It tasted amazing!

2. Short Shelf Life Is Actually Good – Things with a short shelf life tend to taste better and be lower in potential allergens. You can combat the shorter shelf life with a refrigerator or freezer. I live in the frozen tundra. Come December, my entire backyard is a freezer. Not kidding. We actually put things in coolers outside to keep them from freezing solid as the cooler will insulate against the cold.

3. Keep it Simple – Much easier to make allergy friendly food when what you’re making is simple. We prepared a huge fruit and veggie tray (that got demolished, by the way), and everything was allergy friendly.

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4. You Have to Make Stuff – In your kitchen. Where you know there are no nuts or anything else lingering. Mashed potatoes weren’t hard. Gravy was a different story. And while my first attempt at making gravy wasn’t as good as the stuff out of the jar, it was just butter, flour, and turkey drippings with some chicken broth added. Give me a few more attempts, and it’ll be better than the jarred stuff.

5. Enjoy Life – I’m not getting paid to say this, and I think this company is amazing.  When I went through the battle of eczema with my daughter, this place was the only reason I could still have chocolate. Not sure I’d have made it without chocolate . . . It’s the only places we know of that makes chocolate chips my sister can eat.

6. Experiment – My mother-in-law has an amazing cheesy potato recipe she shared with me. But, one of the ingredients was a can of cream-of-mushroom soup. There are no cream of mushroom soups available for purchase in my area that don’t contain an allergen I need to avoid. After researching some other cheesy potato recipes, I substituted softened cream cheese for the can of soup. Recipe tastes great!  So good, in fact, when my mother-in-law tasted it, she wanted the recipe.

Overall, I like to think the food was good. I’m not a gourmet chef, and I really don’t even like to cook. But I wanted to make Christmas a time we could kick back, relax, and enjoy family without anyone having to stress about what they’re eating. I think we accomplished that.

 

How about you?  Any food allergies you’ve ever had to deal with? How did you do it? If not food allergies, any other sensitivities you’ve encountered? What did you do?