Sunday, July 29, 2007

Time Traveling with an Epilogue

I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows [no spoilers, I promise!] and once again I must tip my hat to J.K. Rowling for delivering the goods. Not only is the story action packed and emotional, it has something so many books don’t these days...[and this is just my opinion, not really a spoiler]...the book has a satisfying ending thanks in part to the Epilogue.

One thing a lot of people complain about in romance is the Epilogue. There’s an often bitter division of the camps on this issue. Some people hate epilogues. They prefer a book to end where it ends and let their imaginations fill in what might happen to the characters the day after, or the year after or the decade after the author leaves them. Some books warrant that and it’s fine.

But some books just beg for a little bit more beyond the happy ending. I personally love epilogues. I don’t use them all the time, but I love when a story warrants one, because I really want to know what happens to my characters years in the future. It’s like getting the HEA and then some. It’s like time travel.

To me there’s nothing like peering through a misty window into the nebulous future and getting to see a glimpse of the people you’ve come to know and love. It’s nice to know how they’ve turned out and that the happily ever after really is ever after.

I have official epilogues in only three of my published works so far:

Bonfire of the Vampires
The Demon of Pelican Bluff
Flight of the Valkyrie

Which camp are you in? Do you think epilogues are overkill? Or are they a satisfying treat after a hearty meal?

Friday, July 27, 2007

When One can't Decide

Sometimes, one of the hardest things is to try and decide what book to start next. There are so many stories to be told, so many little tidbits jotted down for different books...different characters and different settings, all clamouring to be next.

And settings. Do I add something new to the sci-fi setting? If I started a new sci-fi series, what else can I put in/take away? Would it be too similar to the other series if I kept the basic planets and customs? I think so. each new series would need a new setting, but how different can you make a sci-fi?

It can be a real whizz-bang setting, with high sci-fi elements and sophisticated weaponry. Or a mix of medieval and high tech. Or...or...I think I just pulled a brain muscle.

Really, how much can you pack into a sci-fi before crossing the realms into fantasy? But isn't sci-fi fiction fantasy anyway? Do we really know that people will one day be travelling from planet to planet within just a few hours? heck, I've been to mechanics that can't even get my car started. I have my doubts.

I remember years ago watching a film called Beyond 2000, a documentary/information style TV series that showed all these whizz-bang (this is my word for the day, have you noticed?) things that were coming beyond 2000. Robots and houses with no kitchens and all sorts of wonderful hi tech stuff. Riiiiight! We're still cooking in kitchens and I haven't seen a robot in sight. I did watch the movie I, Robot and look what happened there?!

So how far do we go in our sci-fi romances or fiction? I think that's the key right there - it's fiction. Our stories are fiction, and that means we can do whatever we like, use any setting we like, and go anywhere we like, be as hi-tech or low-brow as we want to be. And have fun!

And romance, and adventure and...


World-Building 101

Something Xandra said in her latest blog got me to thinking...I know...just about everything gets me to thinking. But when she mentioned world-building and the minute detail she goes into when creating her worlds, I have to admit my ears pricked up slightly. You see, tonight I spent the evening while watching KiKi's Delivery Service with my hubby, writing up the "bible" for my new series. I don't usually go to such lengths as most details are carried around in my big fat head. I will write down place names and honorifics and such things, but I wouldn't really call that a "bible" it's more of a guide to keep my continuity straight. However, since my new series deals with dimensional travel, I figured I'd better start writing it all down so I have a reasonable timeline and know what's going to happen in what time period and in what dimension. Unlike most of my series, which have taken place in fantasy worlds, this one has one foot in our world and one foot in another. While the basis of my brave new world isn't unique, I think the spin I'm putting on it will be. And I hope my first attempts are kick-ass. (Just ask Jenn, she's read the opening to the novella that will hopefully kick off the series.) Anyhoo, I really needed to write it down.

I have to admit a great love affair for vivid world-building. That's why the Valdmar series by Mercedes Lackey transported me right into her world and let me leave this one behind. Everytime I read the exploits of her Heralds of Valdmar, I could imagine so vividly every detail of the world. I wanted to be a Herald. (And I read the novels in my late twenties to early thirties..ehehehhehe) Same with the Deverry series by Katherine Kerr. The believability is in the small details...the minutia of the world. Another great world is the Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley. And of course the world of Pern by Anne McCaffery. What these women did with their world-builidng should be disected and studied by every writer wanting to indulge in sci-fi and fantasy. Remarkable, gripping and transporting, as well as inspiring.

I try very hard at the outset of a sci-fi/futuristic/fantasy project to invision what the world is like. What are the political systems? Are the neighboring countries friendly or hostile? (I usually make them hostile - makes for a more interesting read) Next, what is the class system, or is there one? Is there a clear aristocracy or upper class? What kind of climate is the country in, the terrain? What are the seasons like and what do they call them? What is their cheif religion? Is it one, or many Gods? Is the religion tied directly to the political system...and who is in charge of it? How are the people educated? What are the cheif revenue makers for the country? Then I begin to form the cultural systems and customs. I have to admit that sometimes all these question feed through my head as I pants a story. Only if it's a novella. I openly admit that for Dragon Tamer *pictured above* I really only knew about three things going in. 1). Darion worked in a Hatching Ground in a rural setting. 2) Serrah was a federal agent who'd seen most of their world a few times over. 3) It was a world of higher technology than we have, but not unrecognizable. For longer more involved works such as the dimensional series, I'll write up something. Even something one or two pages long will sometimes help.

And my hats off to Xandra for the intricate notes she makes. You go, girl!! I think the more you know about your world going in, the more convincing you can make it for the reader. It helps to submerge them in the waters of your alien shore or to make them feel like an honored guest at your characters' royal wedding the more they know about their surroundings.

What are some of the methods you use to make bring your worlds to life? I'd like to hear.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Paint Chips

I've spent the past few months making trips every so often to Lowe's and Home Depot and loading up on paint chips. I have a stack about six inches high now for each room, I think. I've got colors taped to walls, tucked behind outlets and switchplates, or tucked up between trim. I've even gone so far as to get some little two-ounce tins of paint samples, ready to splotch on my walls. I look at the colors in sunlight and in shade, at night, in the morning. I sit there staring at paint chips and trying to articulate the exact mood they put me in. If I'm feeling depressed or mopey or antsy, I enter one of the rooms and stare at the paint chips, trying to figure out which one lightens me, or relaxes me, or makes me feel energetic and creative.

The other day, I was revising a scene in my WIP, and I realized that while I'm spending months choosing a color for my extremely mundane downstairs powder room, I'm spending a little over seven minutes on the setting of my scene. Seven minutes. And this from a confessed worldbuilding freak. I mean, I have pages and pages of notes about how the universe is supposed to work, on everything from cosmetic nanites to stewbeets, noble houses, and special cuisine only served in formal settings and in manor houses versus settlement houses.

But all of it means jack squat if it doesn't in some way contribute to the story I'm trying to tell about the characters. So I'm sitting down now, with my copious notes and my manuscript, and picking out paint chips for scenes. Normal people would probably do this before they actually wrote the scenes, but as we all know, writers aren't normal.

I'm not kidding when I say I'm using paint chips. I've gone through my foot-thick folder of paint chips and picked out colors that best invoke the mood for a particular scene and as I edit and revise, I keep glancing at those paint chips and summoning the sensibilities they invoke. It's unorthodox, but it seems to be helping me put another layer into the story I'm telling. I think I'll run with it.

And maybe someday, HGTV will have one of those "Scary Stories Of Decorating" about the insane writer who decorated her house in "Inciting Incident" and "Black Moment."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Kick A$$!

I’m lamenting the fact that I have so much to do (August 1st deadline, need I say more?) and so little time before I must pack my things to mosey to Virginia. However, I did sneak away from my desk (actually my bf’s that I’ve taken over while my laptop is down) to meet some local writer friends this past Saturday at the Greensboro B&N.

Those last two initials spelled disaster to my wallet. After our tete-a-tete broke up, my sister and I wandered to the discounted books. (I blame Cindy who told me about the fabulous book she’d unearthed!) In the end, I wound up dropping $60 by the time I checked out (though that did include HP book 7).

But I ask—how could I pass these up? It was almost like stealing! (Though I’m not a klepto.)

Medieval Swordplay: A 15th Century Manual of Swordfighting and Close-Quarter Combat by Hans Talhoffer. (I think this was the one Cindy gushed about, since the other clearance books didn't fit the bill.) I swear people thought I was high on something other than mirth the way I snorted and cackled as I flipped pages. But the detailed drawings will come in handy when I pen another swordswoman (notice I didn’t say man).

The Action Heroine’s Handbook by Jennifer Worick and Joe Borgenicht. All I had to see was How to Choke a Man with Your Bare Thighs. I was an action junkie way before I was a comic junkie, so this was an auto buy for me. Plus I write kick-ass heroines, so I can chalk this purchase up to research. Last night before bed, I saw this picture:

This could’ve come from BELIEVE IN ME if there were a couple mods done to the bike and the henchmen turned into officers. Then again, Jacqui doesn’t sport that Laura Croft braid. She’s way more punk than that.

And since today’s the 24th, I figured I’d do a random page (124) about ended up with How to Win a Catfight. (I mean really, there is a time and place where this lesson might need to be broken out. Hundreds of authors vying for a couple lucrative spots, `nuff said?)

Whether you’re taking someone down for stealing your man or scratching out a coworker’s eyes for stealing your ideas, it is handy to known how to master the catfight. The most important thing to bring to the brawl is the will to win. Victory (and maybe even the hunky man across the courtyard) will be indisputably yours.

Step 1: Prepare to use anything and everything on your person as a weapon.
The more tricked out you are, the better, so remember to accessorize.

Step 2: Take steps to protect yourself.
Put your hair up to avoid a vicious hair-pulling. Be prepared to assume the proper fighting stance to defend your face and chest (see “How to Take a Hit in the Boobs”.)

Step 3: Plan your offensive punches.
If you’re short, body punches are the way to go. If you’re tall, upper cut that attacker on the chin.

Step 4: Take your enemy off guard.
Offer to resolve the dispute through conversation. When she begins to calm down and listed to reason, proceed to deliver a sucker punch to the chin or stomach.

Step 5: Deliver the punch.
Keep your body tight and step into your punches, while torquing or twisting your hips. To deliver an uppercut, make a fist with your thumb on the outside. Draw back your arm and bring your fist up squarely to make contact underneath your opponent’s chin. To punch her in the stomach, draw your elbows in and quickly jab your dominant fist straight out or angled slightly down until you make solid contact with her body.

Step 6: Continue to deliver body blow.
Aim for her kidneys, which are located on the back of the body a few inches above each hip. A good punch to the boobs will hurt her as well. If her hair is long, pull it…hard. Use your fingernails to claw her dace. Pull off a shoe and jab her in the arm. Whip her with your belt.

Step 7: Avoid inflicting injuries that might bring legal action.
Hair-pulling, body blows, and light scratching will not get your community service or jail time.

Step 8: Stay on the offensive.
Wrestle your opponent to the ground or back her into a corner by continuing to move forward. She will be off balance and forced to back up until she’s literally against the wall.

Step 9: Once your opponent is sufficiently incapacitated or has run away, get to safety.

Amazing Marvel Universe by Roy Thomas with Audio Commentary by Stan Lee. Stan “ the Man” Lee is all I had to see to add this title to my stack. (And that the $50 price had been marked down to $15). Getting to listen to the comic icon state some cool facts himself made the purchase even sweeter to relish. (That little black strip on the right is a digital audio device that plays clips. I just wish the files also included some of his catch phrases!) For all you “true believers” the latest edition of Who Wants to be a Superhero starts this Thursday (July 26th) at 9 pm on the Sci-Fi Channel!

So I wasted an hour or so perusing, what’s a vacation without a little reading material? I mean who knows, I might have to save someone using my new action heroine skills. Thank goodness I have the manual, diagrams of how to use a basic weapon and Stan Lee egging me on! Okay, okay. I’ll save a little room in my luggage for romance…every kick-ass chic needs a little TLC to keep her soft-side malleable. Though I don’t think the SHOMI title WIRED I have in my backpack will make me too much of a bleeding heart.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Is Too Much of a Good Thing is Still Too Much ?

Since I missed my day this week, I decided to wait until the freebie days to post. Sorry, but I'm recovering from surgery and at the beginning of the week I still had trouble sitting at the computer for long periods of time, as my liver felt in danger of exploding. Not a good visual, and not a great feeling either. But now, I'm back to my old sparkely self and ready to put in my two cents on conflict. (I didn't see that it was a theme week, but since it seems a good one, thought I'd follow suit.)

We all know as writers that conflict is a good thing. It's what drives our plots and keeps our characters from getting together too quickly. It's the journey and strife they must overcome in order to gain the reward. Given that...can we ever have too much conflict? My opinion is yes.

There seems to be a push lately that says that something exciting and action-packed must happen on every page. Sorry, Homey don't play that. I like action-centered stories just as much as the next rabid reader, but I like a little character development and backstory chucked in there for reference. Please. When your characters must try to evolve and resolve their romantic complication amid bombs bursting and cars flipping and shoot outs and kidnappings and running for their's kind of hard to build a relationship or grab a little nookie. I'm told I write action-filled stories, so does this make me a hypocrit? God, I hope not. But I do think that entwined in the action scenes I have good solid relationship and character building. I've also been told that action and conflict aren't the same thing. I think it all depends on the scenario. I'm thinking right now of a contracted novella I have with Red Sage, titled Mind Games.

Mind Games is a futuristic that involves two characters who are on the run from a government agency ran by the heroine's father. What I tried to do in that story is in between the glider chases (I did say futuristic) and shoot outs with the cops, I put the relationship parts, so I went from hard action to emotional action. From external conflict to internal conflict. Most of the conflict in this story is external when it comes to the hero and heroine. But then it's a novella, so I really didn't have the space for a long lengthy drawn out conflict between the two of them. Which brings me to another point: picking your battles.

At a recent meeting of NJRW, Madeline Hunter gave an excellent all day workshop on conflict and putting conflict into your synopses. She mentioned the fact that relationship conflicts should be the last one's resolved in romances...and I a point. While I don't like my characters to be lovey-dovey and ready to run to the altar from page one (because, let's face it, how much fun is that?) I get very frustrated with books where the hero and heroine are hold outs all the way through the book. As in fighting and bickering on every page. I can't stand that. It drives me up a tree. In that instance, too much conflict is definately a book killer for me as a reader. That being said, I do love it when an author strikes a balance between antagonism and fun. Jenny Crusie is a master of that.

My favorite books seem to be where the hero and heroine are together working toward a common goal. Maybe the things keeping them apart are internal rather than external. One of them needs a perspective change or to grow a little to realize they need stay together after the external conflict is resolved and the bad guys/or gals are caught.

In my novel By A Silken Thread (which should have been out this month...if Trisk hadn't gone tits up) the black moment in the book happens about a third of the way through. So, very early on. But I think it works, because Marcus and Tara spend the time from that point rebuilding what they almost lost and gaining new insights and trust. At the end of the book, she must decide if she wants to stay with him in Florida or return to her family home in New Jersey. I won't tell you which she decides in case by some miracle it gets picked up by another publisher in the future. But that way I felt as if they were working toward a common goal throughout the book, but the end left room for the heroine to re-evaluate what she wanted in life.

Sometimes I think internal conflict can be more interesting than the over-the-top external types. When you get down to the nuts and bolts of character development, the internal struggles they go through are what motivates and spurs them on. It's what gets them into trouble in the first place, or keeps them trudging on when all seems lost. It's that part of them that tells them to give up, or thumb their nose at the world. I really don't think that psychologically speaking internal conflict and motivation can be separated. They are that closely linked.

Think about it next time you sit down to write out an outline or do a character sketch for a story idea. Do you have too much of a good thing, not enough or is it just right for the length of the project.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A thimble full of facts about Conflict

I get the feeling it's conflict week here at Star-Crossed. I don't know why I think's just one of those psychic feelings I get.

In all honesty a week probably doesn't do Conflict justice. It's the bread and butter, the underlying structure of any good novel. While stories can and have been told about characters whose lives are simple and uncomplicated, where nothing much happens to them except the day to day activities of their benign existance, these aren't the books that fill up my keeper shelf by a long shot.

Conflict is the key to a novel, the reason for its existance. Life is about conflict. We all have problems [and we're all characters of some sort] and how we tackle these problems often defines us.

In romance especially, conflict is essential. Halfway through writing a novella last year, I had to trash my plot and start over because I realized the hero and heroine just liked each other too much. Their relationship was smooth and comfortable. Things were going to well between them and nothing stood in the way of their happiness.

Who wants to read that? Not me. I didn't even want to write it. I realized what I needed to do was make life hard for my characters. Their relationship had to be rough, fraught with hardship and an underlying reason why they shouldn't be together. I gave them enemies who wanted to tear them apart and put them in a society that would look down on their union. I chased them out of town and in fact all the way to the brink of death before I let them finally enjoy a moment's peace.

Not all conflict has to be this severe. But as Angela said in her post, it can't merely be based on a misunderstanding. There must be forces at work, both integral to the characters and apart from them that will serve to tear them apart. The trick is to make the conflict so compelling that readers will truly wonder if they're going to get that happy ending.

Hit 'em with both barrels and see what happens. That's conflict.

Conflict works - with care

Reading the entry by my esteemed fellow author *grinning and waving* I thought I'd put my own thoughts to the topic.

Conflict is what can drive stories forward. I haven't yet read a book where there is no conflict. But conflict comes in many forms. Emotional, physical, mental - you get my drift. It's interesting, intriguing, laughable, sad, violent - so many things it can make us feel.

But the kind of conflict I hate is the one that's thrust in there simply to make waves. The cause is easily explained, way too obvious, and feels forced. Sort of like...'Oh, this story isn't going anywhere. I'll have the hero say something and her misunderstand', which works fine, but not if it's way to obvious that the misunderstanding was completely silly. We all misunderstand things, but if it's important or jolting enough, we ask for an explanation.

I guess what I'm trying to say, in my normal rambling way, is that conflict caused by misunderstandings is fine, but not when the excuse is too flimsy to bear.

I love conflict that is a direct clashing of culture or personal traits. When it's between two people with strong opinions. When it's tossed out there between a fictional couple to fight over - now that's when we start to see something interesting happen! No misunderstandings, in fact, nothing but complete understanding but neither is going to back down from their beliefs.

Now that's conflict that works for me!


Monday, July 16, 2007

The Trouble With Conflict

It's said that Story is Conflict. Guess what? I suck at conflict.

At a workshop taught by the fabulous Jennifer Crusie, she let on that a lot of what we think is "conflict" is really Trouble, masquerading as conflict. In my WIP, I looked long and hard, and realized that most of my current "conflict" is, you guessed it, Trouble wearin' a dress.

Most readers who are unfamiliar with the writing process don't really get to see the ugly part of story crafting. They don't get to read the first drafts, or the jumbled mess of scenes that get cut from the final WIP. And they should be grateful, really. At least in my case. Even other writers, who theoretically understand there's a difference from a draft and the finished product, have a mess that's totally different from mine in the middle of the process.

In order for conflict to be present in a scene, both character and plot have to change. Scene conflict is a smaller-scale representation of the conflict in the story. So I've been looking at story conflicts lately to see just what kind of story conflicts are most appealing to me as a reader.

I'm crazy about the types of stories that show a character taking a fall and struggling back up. I love seeing a character learn what they're made of. You'd think I'd find a conflict like that simple to write--or at least easier, courtesy of familiarity, but sadly, I'm discovering that's not the case.

So I'm setting out into my WIP, looking for trouble, and fixin' to start a real fight. Wish me luck. And have bail money ready.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday the 13th: A Week in the Making

I usually don’t give much credence to the superstitious, spooky occurrences of Friday the 13th. Though I have on occasion had small bouts of bad luck or unfortunate incidents I wrote off to the day. This week took the cake as far as calamity goes, even before the dreaded black day arrived.

Monday I found out my mom was sick and had to give her a pep talk about why she should endure the agony (ie. side effects of going without her meds for three days) so that the Sinus/Allergy Specialist could see what her symptoms really look like. (Think a Weasley hi-jinx or newbie spell gone wrong.) Next I got a rejection from FLUX for my YA, Decoder, right before lunch. Eventhough I was bummed, I had to admit Mr. Karre’s letter was nice. Then right before bed, I found out Triskelion had finally filed Chapter 7 (but thankfully I was on the list of creditors).

Tuesday my bf told me that he might have to come back home a day early from the only vacation we’ve planned this year because “Black Out” period starts on Tax Free Weekend. Let’s say I had choice words to utter about that. (Oh…if only I really did know some black magic like Snape.)

Wednesday was a triple hit hump day starting with an announcement that one of the key figures in my department at my full time job was leaving, which means more work for the rest of us to divvy up. My sister called asking for a favor that made me grit my teeth…you know how you can never say no to family. (Atleast her pups aren’t the size of Sirius Black’s wolfhound.) Then I rounded up the end of my writing time, in the middle of a scene I could get back into (AKA a hot scene), and my computer made a strange little noise. Now “The Rebellion Begins” is also the tagline for my fan who’s decided not to work anymore long hours.

Thursday I found out I have no money. Okay, so all is not lost because I do have a few coins to chink together in my pocket. But really, don’t you hate it when all those pesky bills descend upon you in one week (like mail dumped off by a swarm of owls from Hogwarts, though this variety doesn’t talk). Especially when you’re trying to buy tickets for your one-and-only vacation after promising your family you’d take care of it.

Today (Friday) is the day HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX was supposed to unveil to billions nationwide, but the Powers That Be decided to move it up two days. (I think because the book comes out on the 21st, so it’s easier for the kids to remember.) I went to see the latest installment the day it opened (partially due to scheduling conflicts similar to Tuesday’s news). I say the Powers That Be should’ve kept the original date. Why? Because in the movie Harry’s days seem to be filled with unlucky happenings. What kid (no matter the age) wouldn’t love viewing a magic movie with the best villains to date doing all manner of vile things on a dreaded, superstitious day? It’s ripe for added entertainment value.

I hope my HCRW chaptermates who’ve been doing Nationals (as in Hogwarts sans uniforms) had a better time this week (and that no mishaps struck them a blow today). In the end, I think snagging three Golden Hearts and two RITAs at the awards ceremony tomorrow would top my week off on a good note. Here’s wishing Debra Bess, Elizabeth Langston, Anahita Sugden and Emilie Rose shine like the bright stars they are.

Cherrio! (`Cause you’ve always got to look for the silver lining, even if you’re just talking about your invisible cloak.)
Friday the 13th might actually be my one good day this week! At 12:04 this morning I learned my friend Colby Hodge (aka Cindy Holby) won the PRISM award in the Futuristic category! Woohoo!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Wednesday Whining

I’ve been trying to lose weight...well, all my life pretty much. But in the past two or three years I’ve tried really, really hard. I eat far less than what I used to and yet I lose like a quarter pound of fat every three months. Sigh.

My doctor says I need to exercise more. He’s probably right. But my job requires me to sit in front of my PC eight hours a day, then if I write at home I’m sitting in front of my home PC another two to three hours a day. The remaining time I’m doing the Suzy Homemaker routine of cleaning house or cooking.

Apparently I need to get an exercise bike and bolt my laptop onto the handle bars.

The problem is...when I exercise I get hungry. Not for salad (which I had for dinner) or veggies (which I have for lunch). No, I want some sugary, fat or salt laden snack. Something that has Taste, real honest to goodness taste!

Even worse, when I stumble across a road block in my writing, I want to EAT. Mostly, I curb this impulse by doing some short housecleaning task for a few minutes (and won’t that inspire you to get back to work on the mss?) but the hunger is always there.

It makes me envy the heroine in my current wip. She has the perfect metabolism, can eat a whole cake, a box of bon bons, a half gallon of ice cream and wash it all down with a quart of chocolate milk and still lose weight the minute she crosses the room.

I can gain weight apparently by admiring the recipes I receive in my email box from Kraft Kitchens. A brisk mile long walk only stalls the inevitable gain.

But I just discovered that I have an underactive thyroid so maybe there’s an explanation for this lack of weight loss. Maybe there’s hope that I will drop the same ten pounds I’ve already lost (and found again) four times in the past year. Maybe I’ll be able to eat something with TASTE once in awhile.

And, yes, I will continue to try to fit in some exercise (grumble, grumble, grumble). It’s good for the heart and other parts of the body. Besides, walking is a good way to get to the local Dairy didn’t just hear me say that, did you? LOL

Maybe I really ought to attach my laptop to the handlebars on my bike? Or do any of you have any suggestions that don't involve exercise or lettuce?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Science of Fiction

I did something this week that I haven’t done in a while. I picked up a non-romance book to read.

Like clearing the pallet after a spicy meal, a dose of non-romance, like a dose of non-fiction now and then, I believe can be good for the romance writer’s soul.

I chose an anthology collection of hard science fiction stories called Forbidden Planets, edited by Marvin Kaye. The book is a specialty volume, available through the Science Fiction Book Club. The title intrigued me, and since I’m going to be writing about Forbidden Worlds for Amber Quill in the coming months, I thought it might be interesting to see what other authors, non-romance authors, think a forbidden world should be like.

I’m halfway through and I’ve found the stories interesting so far. The scientific language fascinates me. Having characters spout off facts and define themselves through logic rather than emotion is unusual and refreshing to a degree. The style of writing is a little different than what I’ve become used to over the years, a little drier. Romance writers tend to be jucier, we delve into people’s psyche’s very deeply, our scenes are often gut wrenching, heart rending or seat squirming where as many of the scenes in this book are merely that – scenes to be observed. Characters do things and there are consequences that are physical rather than emotional.

I’d almost forgotten what that was like. The POV thing is all different too. There doesn’t seem to be as strict a rule about POV per scene, head popping isn’t a problem. In fact, in the first story, I wasn’t even sure who the main character was supposed to be. I was in everyone’s head for a while. I decided the one character who survived at the end was likely the protagonist.

Endings aren’t happy.

They’re not necessarily tragic, and they do usually contain a twist, a denouement that makes you go Hmmm. The object is a lesson learned rather than a love defined.

That’s cool. It’s different. It’s like a new recipe for a favorite dish. Some of the main ingredients are the same, conflict, character motivation, strong plot, but the spices are different. I’ve been reminded that writing is a science as well as an art, like cooking or medicine, there are different ways to approach it, but you still need to start with the basics.

Friday, July 06, 2007

I Just Did It

No, I didn't just come from seeing "Transformers" - though I have a feeling that I'll have a date with Optimus Prime in the coming weeks. (Hehehehhee...maybe that's what I should call Dave from now on...hhehehehehe) Anyhow, my news is kind of fun and good: I sent in a submission to Cobblestone Press's Vampire Oracle deck.

I've got to admit I've kind of gotten into cruising publishers' websites and looking for contests that lead to publication. Not that I haven't been able to find my own avenues to publication, but I think working within their parameters to come up with a totally original storyline is kind of exciting. Yes, I love being able to write what I want, when I want, but the it's fun seeing how far you can stretch their bounderies with your own imagination, and still stay within the proposed framework.

And this doesn't apply just to Cobblestone's contest, which I have to say has more parameters than the other ones I've sent submissions to lately. Which is fabulous! I'm grooving on the fact when completed it will be an interconnected novella story arcs. Those selected for the final cut and print, will be included in a great project. Very cool.

I'm also going to enter the Brava novella contest. Now, as I read the rules for this I reflected on the fact that this contest has been going on for several years and I've never managed to find out about it until it was already closed to submissions. I'm really pleased that this year I'll be able to actually get something in. However, the caveat is that you can only submit 750 words!!! Now that's a challenge for you. They better be the best, most thought-provoking, character illustrating, plot illuminating, coflict revealing words you've got in the story. It's a lot to pack into 750 words. Some authors would shy away from that...not me.... it makes me want to rise to the occasion and do some of my best writing ever. That said, I think I'll play to my stengths.

It's become abundantly clear to me lately that my strength definately lies in sci-fi and futuristics. I don't know why that is. The reception I get for those works seem to be better than the contemporaries I've been trying to get editors and agents to buy into. It's not like the love scenes aren't hot..they're down right scorching. I just can't seem to get them to read that far. Can it be my voice is so different in the two sub-genres that I don't write the same way for the characters? Don't know. I just hope Brava doesn't mind a little something out there.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Chicks. Dig. Giant. Robots.

I am not going to rush out looking for a yellow Camaro. I will not poke every tractor-trailer at the truck stop just in case it does something out of the ordinary. I will not regard every boom box I encounter with suspicion and wariness. I will not wonder about every police cruiser--oh, who the hell am I kidding?


I'd settle for finding out that my mom-mobile has a secret life I don't know about (and Grocery-Getter, if you're reading this, I was the one who wanted to name you War Wagon or Sex Machine, I swear it!). Over at the neighbors, when we were admiring my neighbor's motorcycle, I did so with wary anticipation, fully expecting the damn thing to finally lose patience with the poking at it and just stand up.

That would have been the best thing ever. Ever ever ever.

I mean, I didn't expect much. An 80's cartoon, based on a toy, converted into a movie guaranteed to have most of its budget devoted to special effects and designed to appeal to the target audience of the toy, rather than the movie. The only reason I was in line for the 10:30 AM show was standing next to me--actually more like, dancing next to me, until he darted off to jump up and down in front of the movie poster until called back to avoid getting lost with all the other half-chunks doing the pee-pee dance of anticipation. Michael Bay, for pete's sake.

Let's just say, I was pleasantly surprised. Independence day is the perfect holiday for movies that burn things and blow stuff up.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What Has TRANSFORMERS Taught Us?

Let’s look at the technical, real-world application for authors—cross promotion. Have you seen those commercials where the cars transform and people think they’re totally cool, then the camera pans to an auto sales shot? Yep, that’s to get you to buy the car. And all of the dealerships who are involved also have huge banners displayed on their lots. Then there’s the devilish toaster who steals the guy’s Mountain Dew. Now, really what were we interested in—the drink or the mocking robot? And of course, then there’s the merchandising: t-shirts, dinnerware, Underoos, backpacks, not to mention the dozens of new toys. Come on, who wouldn’t want a voice modulator that turns them into Optimus Prime?

The powers behind the marketing swarm knew who their audience was and we’re not just talking little girls and boys. Try twenty somethings who are looking for hip cool toys (not necessarily literally), as well as thirty somethings who remember the old series with fondness (and want to buy a bit of nostalgia). What do the majority of us (since I fall in the demographic) do? Watch TV! So where do you think those business savvy marketers placed ads? In prime time TV on the hottest shows, including a guest judge appearance by Michael Bay (Transformers’ director) on On The Lot. Of course, during every intro Transformers was mentioned as well as the occasional clip played. MySpace is also a huge place where their “focus audience” lurks. So they went all out on a page where you choose to be an Autobot or a Decepticon. (Of course I went Autobot all the way. But I’m guessing you knew that about me.) Another place Transformers dominated was the MTV Movie Awards where Optimus Prime appeared opposite the hostess. At every break, viewers were treated to clips of the movie.

If a person has to hear a suggestion three times or see it on half a dozen occasions to make the information stick, we’ve all had plenty of subliminal messages sent our way.

So what was their key? Tapping into several niches for prime product placement and thinking outside the box (we’re talking cars that turn into alien robots here!). Let’s say you write superheroes like Jennifer Estep (sorry ladies I though it best to use someone outside our midst), what can you do to cross promote? Sign at local game and/or comic stores. (Yes, the later does still exist.) Hit the cons hard (RWA, RT, Comic Con, Book Expo, DragonCon to name a few). Being in an environment where there are more bodies, means a higher probability that you will sell books. You will also get the chance for name/face recognition by being seen. I know it’s scary, but you gotta get out there. (And if you can’t, send goodies for the promo room or to get stuffed in gift bags!)

It also doesn’t hurt to have an ad in a national trade magazine. Every romance author goes for RWR and RT, but what about comic/gaming rags? These are people looking for something new. And the only people reading them aren’t guys. I remember plenty of days flipping through my bf’s issues trying to kill some time while he leveled up. If you can’t pay the fee to run an ad, call them with a story angle built around your book or write in to comment (but be sure to get in something about your title or your website address). If all else fails, try to get on a reality show. (Yes, I am being half-way serious here.) I can’t count the amount of authors I heard at Nationals last year saying they tried to get on to Wife Swap, etc. as a marketing tool. Who Wants to be A Superhero was a little hokey, but who wouldn’t want to meet Stan “the Man”? And it’s national exposure that will have longitude because episodes are released in DVD collections and hosted as downloads for avid viewers.

The best part about this whole spiel? All these tricks can be used for any genre with a slight tweak. Just think, with the Optimus Prime voice modulator you could be snuggling up to your cyber-licious honey with your eyes closed, dreaming about really taking over the world…in a good way.

Dun-da-da-duh. Now, the review (`cause you knew it was coming!):

Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg have a picture that’s sure to make moviegoers come back for a second pass. There was so much packed in the film (even at 2 hours +), you have to see it twice. The plot is simple, just like the TV show used to be. But there is plenty of action and unexpected conflicts that arise to keep fans on their toes (along with the Autobots). Eventhough this blockbuster was constructed as an action movie, it has two romance subplots that are at moments heart-jerking. In short, if you haven’t seen it yet, roll out! I’m sure it will have you thinking the same thing I did--I wish my car did this!

(I write this under the duress of mini-Optimus who ultimately dismissed being my bf's birthday cake topper, so mini-Bumblebee and mini-Shockwave will have to do the honors!)


If you can’t get enough of movies, check out my Movie Night contest running until July 27th! You just might win one!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sci-Fi French Films & Immortality

In the last week I’ve watched two French sci-fi films, both using a combination of CGI and graphic art techniques. The films were delivered to my doorstep, one after the other, courtesy of (which I joined as soon as I realised Blockbuster was woefully inadequate if you’re any sort of cinephile). What’s interesting about this is that I have absolutely no recollection of having put these films in my cart at At the time, I was wondering at the lack of any good sci-fi films, which goes to show that sometimes synchronicity does work!

Immortal Plot Summary:
New York 2095. In a strange pyramid floating in the sky, the gods of ancient Egypt are judging Horus. In the city, a young woman with blue hair and tears is arrested, but she has a secret power, even to herself...

Immortal was filmed with real actors in a ‘digital backlot’ and is visually stunning. The idea is intriguing – Horus tried to enter the body of a ‘clean’ human in order to pro-create before he is sentenced to ‘death’ for rebellion. The body he possesses is that of a prisoner, Nikopol, accidentally released from his 30-year sentence of suspended animation. Nikopol/Horus immediately sets out to find the mysterious woman with blue hair - and blue tears that permanently stain - who has been hired as a test subject by a conglomerate investigating immortality.

Read more here.

Renaissance Plot Summary:
Paris, 2054. Cyncial cop Karas sets out to look for young scientist Illona, whose sudden disappearance may be linked to her top-secret work on premature aging. Her boss, Dellenbach, owner of a large cosmetic conglomerate, wants his researcher back, as does Ilona’s fiercely protective sister Bislane. Karas sets out to look for Ilona, but finds no help from her mentor, Dr Jonas Muller, so he asks for help from Farfella, a gangster.

The movie looks like a black-and-white graphic novel, probably reflecting the noir aspects of the film. I was geek enough to watch the special features where the director reveals that all the pictures were done in black and white, with no shades of grey. I started off being fascinated by the brilliant use of white, but after a while its monochromatic nature became a bit wearying.

Read more here.

Why do I even mention these movies? Because, theme-wise, I wanted to see something different. Instead, I got more of the same. Although visually unique, the plots seriously lacked in originally as there were countless similarities to Blade Runner and The Fifth Element in both plot and style.

Lately I’ve been wondering why the theme of immortality has caught our cultural awareness, reflected by the popularity of genres such as urban fantasy and paranormals with their wealth of vampires and weres. While these take immortality for granted – part of the background setting, as it were – it’s cultural, social and scientific impact only seems to be seriously explored in science fiction.

Yet I’m still left with the feeling that...well, is that all? Is immortality the only theme that possesses the sense of awe and grandeur that we want from our science fiction? Is it lack of originality or just a sign of the times? And are we really that obsessed with living forever?

The other question it raises is whether there is any room for this sort of exploration in genre romance? My gut instinct is to say no - unless it is SF with romantic elements. What do you think?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Monday Moaning

This is Monday, right?

That's why I'm rearranging my office. Dusting the furniture. Throwing out Very Important Stuff that I've kept for...well, forever, that I've never looked at.

That's why my PC just gave me a mighty scare. All in fun, of course. The silly thing is even now giggling its little kilobytes off. Grrr.

The trouble started when I moved my desk to the other side of the office a few months ago. I don't know why but it makes the power cords and cables a lot more accessible to my office buddy, Wookie, and she's of the firm opinion that all cords were designed for her amusement. I've tried explaining that power cords are not to be played with but she is a cat. There's no reasoning with her.

So since I'm cleaning and rearranging (and I sure would like to get my wireless system operational again but...) I decided I'd try to tie up and arrange some of the thousands of cords without which a computer simply can't work. Honest, all I did was unplug the monitor, tie wrap the power cord, and plug it back in. That's all.

Yet when I turned the computer back on...NO INTERNET CONNECTION!!!

I don't know about you but when I get those vile words, my heart starts to palpitate. My hands start to shake. I break out in a sweat like an addict on the verge of withdrawal. Panic, nay, hysteria, starts thrumming through my veins. I yell at Wookie (who ignores me). I yell at my PC (aka Black Beauty) who simply stares back at me (pretty much the same way Wookie does! Maybe they're related? In spirit, if not form.)

I recheck all the connections, including the ones I didn't touch. They're all secure. I turned the computer off, then back on. Still no Internet. I check the modem. It has power, the cables are secure. I'm pretty much at my wit's end (sometimes that's not a very long trip, you know?)

Finally I decide to shut everything down, including my power strip (the one where everything is plugged in). Turn it back on.

And my Internet connection is now working.

There are days when I could take a big stick and beat this system to death. The only thing stopping me is that overwhelming panic of being without my Internet fix. It just isn't a pretty thing at all.

But I will be attempting to re-connect the wireless network later today or tomorrow. I've this perfectly good laptop I'd like to use downstairs (if Wookie doesn't try climbing onto my lap when I'm holding it). So if you don't hear from me...well, say a prayer. For both me and my PC.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

Two new releases...

I'm hijacking the blog today to let y'all know about my latest releases. There were two in June, both from Changeling Press.

Firesnake by Cassandra Kane


Meridia Hancock is a firestarter with a body heat is so high no one can touch her without getting third-degree burns. Raised in a traveling carnival, Meri decides to grab her chance at a normal life when the carnival is suddenly disbanded. The only problem is -- how's a freak of nature to earn her living in the real world?

And there's a more pressing need. Sex. Each passing day brings a stronger desire to mate. But who wants to sleep with a virgin who can burn you to a crisp?

Dr Jonas "Iceman" Anderson seems the only man for the job. But the gorgeous, cold-blooded scientist refuses to play ball. He not only insists he’s from another planet but he’s convinced she’s the mythical Firesnake and must remain untouched. It’s up to Meri to show him the error of his ways…

Read More or Buy Now

Demon Ahoy! by Cassandra Kane


When Kalandra, an Elemental, decides to look for her missing demon lover, she never expected to find him enjoying life on a desert island in the Caribbean. Kal doesn’t want him back -- she wants answers. Like why he walked out on her five hundred years ago.

Sark’s spent his time whittling driftwood and getting a great tan, but he knows things are about to change when Kal storms onto his island. But how can he tell her how he feels without destroying her illusions about the past?

Read More or Buy Now

Demon Ahoy! is part of a series of Escapes by Changeling Press authors, releasing two a week throughout the summer. Changeling Press is running an Escapes contest for all readers, details of which can be found on their website.

That'll be all from me for a while unless I can kick-start the muse. She's been very stubborn lately, and more than a little jealous of all those characters lying around on deserted beaches. Or maybe I'm just feeling grumpy that my own long-planned holiday to Barbados had to be cancelled. *sigh* Oh well, I really should be writing...