Friday, February 29, 2008

Cool Characters Transform

I’m most definitely one of those people that likes to sport one-liner t-shirts. You know the kind—I’ve Misplaced My Mind, That’s My Story and I’m Sticking to It, etc. And those kinds of statement’s represent what a character I am. I don’t fit a mold (some might say I’ve broken it with my hips), cause I never really fit anywhere. As a high schooler I was a jock, a nerd and artsy. Now at the office I have friends in four departments that span the gamut from lowly to upper class. So I still don’t really fit in anywhere to a T.

But I think those kinds of characters are the strongest. They can blend with anyone…yet have the variety to stand out when the need calls for them to rise up. I’ve realized that not only do my characters get second chances, they also tend to be this type of gal or guy.

As some of the other Star-Crossed members have said inspiration can come from anywhere. I know that I have ideas daily, but after being a writer for a while I’ve learned to weed out the good from the bad. Sometimes I do try to opt for the characters that fall outside the box, like a fast food mascot or quirky copy clerk (this used to be a job of mine).

Out of the brainstormed ideas, I try to ask the questions that matter to the characters…who were they, who are they, what do they want, and what will stop them from having it? Read on for some examples of how I got inspired, then grew my characters. :0)

My bf is a constant plethora of material. I have to give him kudos for giving me the mascot idea. He was telling me about watching the Chick-fil-A cow on one side of the street taunt Red from Red Robin when they were having a hiring fair. He said, “I kept waiting for them to start tussling in the parking lot.” Of course I went the romantic road and thought what if their feud had started in school, then ballooned in adulthood? Then I considered what could make them bridge that huge gap—a child? Of course, I knew that I couldn’t use these characters per se, so I dreamed up a couple stand-ins that have intriguing backgrounds. (Like a bluebird that imagines herself as a superhero so she can suit up and withstand daily ribbing by the opponent’s crass cronies.)

TV and movies are also a wellspring of ideas. No, I don’t lift them straight from the context, but sometimes a situation (definitely reality tv) makes me brainstorm instantaneously. I’m a huge fan of Dr. Phil (yes, I said it). So I loved the idea of having a therapist as a hero, though Kendron’s idea of love don’t exactly fly with the heroine who has lived through her parent's divorce and remarriage in PERFECTION NOT REQUIRED. My entire cast from JUST ONE LIFE came from tv heroes (including Adrian Paul) and a Victoria Secret catalogue granted me the perfect woman to play my heroine. Those sword wielders I've mentioned from TIES OF VALOR are courtesy of Conan and Red Sonja...with a sci-fi twist! I know the movies rank high in cheese factor now, but Arnold in his prime swinging that broadsword…need I say more?

I’m hooked on Project Runway and loved the “costumes” they did for the futuristic 2066 collection. It included a fabulous duster jacket and garden party dress. That’s where the “look” of BELIEVE IN ME started. (Kaida, one of the strongest women I’ve created, was inspired by a Nike ad for sportswear.) Jacqui’s job was inspired by a concert I attended where I saw an awesome lighting show. Since I needed Jacqui to have an edge, while still being artsy, I gave her a painful past. Overcoming that pushes her to strive to be the best…and therefore become a superhero that kicks butt (like the ones I read about as a teen). Rad, the hero, started as a Fabio wantabe and ended up rocking my world like Colossus…hard as steel with a soft touch who never lets his team down. As readers who’ve stopped by the blog in October know, I love Halloween, which is synonymous with costumes. One of the most energetic characters stemmed from a Halloween get-up. I instantly thought of Aphrodite, but didn’t want to traipse around clad in a toga (like college). So I pondered a modernizing idea and my matchmaker from GA was born. Of course one unstoppable force must have another to counterbalance, so I pitted her against an ex-NFL player. (Which meant I had to do some research on football!) Though they’re striving for the same award, their paths to get there are far different. She’s shy but trying to be outspoken to fulfill her mother's vision, and he’s a national icon who’s trying to fit in to a whole new world without the training wheels.

Transformation is the key to strong characters, because readers want to see them grow. They want to see a person they can identify with, then have those “cliché” characters blossom into what they imagine they could be. Bridging the gap between those two parallels is what makes creating characters fun…because the author’s imagination is the limit.

___________________________

As you might be able to tell, I love pictures as visuals. (Could it have something to do with being an Art major?) I covered one wall of my office (when I was a copy clerk) with pics of my JUST ONE LIFE cast. They instantly caught co-workers' attention and made them ask how I was using them. Plus while I was working my subconscious could be free to wander this way and that to test out turns in my plot.



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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Torturing the truth out of the character

I’m always in the market for a new way or an improved way to create characters. I love seeing all these tips this week (and I’m making notes, LOL)

Most of my characters just come to me complete with a story idea. Then I have to put the thumbscrews to them to make them tell me enough about them to know what their real problems and goals are. Let me tell you, these folk have very high pain tolerances. Trust me on that :D

So basically, I’d start with a name and a short physical description. Most of the time, they’d tell me what they do for a living, who their friends are and who their enemies are. But when I’d ask about their goals, dreams or aspirations, they’d get all close mouthed and tell me that the idea for the story was what they wanted. Ooookay.

That brief look at an external conflict just wasn’t making it for me. So I had to get tough, er, tougher. (You have to let them know who’s boss, right?) I started digging but in a round about manner (sometimes being sly works better than being mean--sometimes)

All our good characters have to have some positive quality, something that makes us either admire the hero or wish we were the heroine (or maybe vice versa depending on your gender, lol) But one positive personality quality isn’t quite enough to make a rounded character. And while they might tell me they’re honest, you’d have thought I was asking for their first-born when I wanted to know what other positive personality qualities they might have. Good characters, the kinds we willingly follow for 300-400 pages, have several. I try to go for at least 3 but no more than 5 (more than 5 just seems to put them in the Dudley Do-Right category)

Next, I try to find at least one negative personality trait because none of us are perfect, are we? Here’s the funny part. They always come up with namby pamby negatives like ‘I eat too much chocolate’.

I mean, really, can there be too much chocolate?

Well, okay. If the character is diabetic or trying to lose weight, a fondness for chocolate is a negative. Anyway, I have to keep digging, forcing the answers out of them until I latch onto the negative that personifies that character. Truthfully, one to three negatives is enough for a ‘good’ character, More than three and we start wondering if this character is an antihero or maybe the bad guy. Obviously, we don’t want the reader to mistake our hero for a villain (antiheroes are a whole ‘nother subject) so we don’t want to go overboard on negatives.

The main thing we as writers have to remember is too enlarge those positive personal qualities, those things that make our heroes and heroines larger than life. They’re not just brave, they’re courageous. They’re not just honest, they’re the Abe Lincoln of honesty. Before you start worrying about Dudley Do-Rightism, don’t forget we’re tempering those positive qualities with the few negative ones. That makes them human and far more interesting to us.

After I’ve got a handle on their appearance and personality, and knowing what the kernel story idea is, I’ve got a good starting place. I usually begin to write the story here (I think I mentioned that I’m a pantser) but sometimes I find that I need a bit more.

Generally, I’ll start with a brief paragraph about them in their current, normal life. That’s easy because it’s pretty much superficial and going to change as soon as the story starts. I realize I need to know more about them so I begin a biography. It’s generally sketchy at first and I’ll add to it as I go along, pulling the information from the characters (I’ve found toothpicks under their fingernails is very helpful when they’re being recalcitrant). When I have enough of their biography done, I can see how they’ll act or react to the different stimuli of the story. And, even if they haven’t told me in words, I’ve got a handle on what their inner wants or goals might be, what their deepest fears (besides me LOL) are, and how those wants or fears will impact the story and the other characters they meet.

I do this for my protagonists (both the hero and the heroine since I write romance) and the villain. The only real difference is the villain gets a few less positive qualities (he or she has to have at least one to keep from being cast as the Evil Overlord type bad guy and to build just a little reader empathy) and maybe a few more negative qualities than the heroic pair who are my protagonists. The good guys and the bad guys are a balancing act after all...but that’s a subject for another day :D

Hope this helps explain some of my techniques for building characters.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tip Sheets

Up until a few months ago, I really didn’t give character creation much thought. [That sounds bad, I know] but my characters seemed to just appear fully formed in my head. They had faces and usually full names, first and last, and occasionally they confessed to me their personality quirks before I started writing their stories. It worked – though I did come across a lot of surprises. [Actually sometimes that was the fun part.] Halfway through a story I’d discover something about a character that I didn’t know. Sometimes it would be that big AHA moment, like when I realized while writing my first werewolf story, Wolfsbane: Aspect of the Wolf, that my hero, Daniel, actually had some werewolf blood in him. That significantly changed how I handled the rest of the story. My favorite one of these AHA moments came during an unpublished story I wrote about 10 years ago called AU [Alternate Universe] in which the heroine, Andrea, confesses her love for her commanding officer, Steven. I’d been writing about these characters for a while, and I never, never knew how Andrea felt about Steven. It totally blew me away to find out.

Now, while those moments can be a lot of fun for a writer, and they happen whether you meticulously plot your characters or not [because, lets face it, even people you know in real life can surprise you. It still shocks my best friend that I’m a ‘beer swillin’ hockey nut.*’] it’s better to know as much about your characters as possible before you start writing.

Some authors do character interviews, analyses, collages, portraits, charts, etc. I’ve tried a couple of these, but what worked best for me was the simple Tip Sheet. I developed my own tip sheet and since I’ve been filling out one of these for each story I write, I find my writing goes more smoothly and my characters seem to come alive for me much faster.

Here are the categories on my tip sheet:

BLURB: Since I’ll need a blurb anyway when the story is finished, it helps to have a rough draft to work from.

HERO: I put him first...well, just because. This section is going to contain is vital stats and his personality, his motivations, his deep dark secrets [at least the ones I know already]

HEROINE: Same thing as above. I want to know what attracts her to the hero as well and especially who she is outside the framework of romance. What is her life really about before she meets the hero and how does it change?

IMPORTANT SECONDARY CHARACTERS: This helps a lot, because once I know who is going to be circulating around my MCs I can flesh out the plot a lot better.

IMPORTANT THEMES, SCENES AND FOCUS: Since a lot of times I get story ideas from scenes that will end up in the middle of the book somewhere, it helps to jot these ideas down. This also helps in crafting the characters because I can tailor their personality traits to jive with or contrast the theme of the book.

CLIMAX, ENDING, BLACK MOMENT OR ESSENTIAL PLOT TWISTS: Same as above – I’ve always been a pantser, so sometimes I don’t really know the ending when I start a story, but if I do, having it hear helps me know what I’m working toward. Sometimes all I know about a story is the monumental plot twist, so having that on paper also gives me a framework to hang everything else on.

That’s it. This is much simpler than a lot of the forms authors use to map out their characters and their stories, but it works for me. I can fill in a Tip Sheet in half an hour or so and then I refer to it throughout the writing process. I don’t revise the tip sheet, because it’s just a reference to get me started, and sometimes keeping all my original notes intact can help me get back on track if I lose focus.

Do you have a form you work with to help create your characters or your plot? Do you think it helps as just a starting point, or throughout the whole process? Feel free to use my Tip Sheet if you like it, and if you do, let me know if it helps you with your stories.

* Without the ‘beer swillin’ part.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Who In The World?!

How do I create characters? Gee, I really don't know. They come to me in different ways. Sometimes it starts with a name, other times a situation. Sometimes I'm writing a story and secondary characters fall from my fingers onto the keyboard complete with name, job description and background. (Those are usually going to be the most fun to write- since they "talk to me.") But whatever method I use, I employ one strategic piece of weapondry - my character sheets.

When I write novels, I find it immensely helpful to interview my characters to learn about their lives and what motivates them. I ask them questions that range from their favorite song and group to the most outragous thing that ever happened to them. Getting inside the character's head is so important. Knowing where they came from socially, financially and spiritually contributes to how they ended up at the place and time in which they appear in the novel.

Ever heard the phrase, "everyone has a story,"? Since we are the ones creating them, we need to know as much about them as possible. I'm not a writer who creates characters from people I know. They may be composites of several people in my acquaintance, but if they are I am unaware of it. I tend to think of them as their own separate entities, with thoughts, feelings, emotions, ambitions, likes, dislikes, loves, hates, and things them make them go hmmmmm.

Traits:

I try to give my character traits that will help them in the story. For instance, in my novel Idolatry, the hero Campbell McGinnis loves to build puzzles. Not just your average 500 piecer of Mt. Rushmore or dogs playing Frizbee, but the cool 3D ones of world landmarks. This skill comes in handy when he and heroine, Ella Fitzpatrick-Sims find fertility statues that when fit together create a key. Not only was the trait useful to the advance the plot, but it also gave me a couple of nice scenes with Mac building his puzzles with much care, and Ella's hyper-active Westie distroying them.

Personality: I think it depends on the book. I noticed most of my heroines tend to be very outspoken with a bit of a flip sense of humor (Gee, I wonder where they get that from?) But the character has to fit the situation. A cheery Pollyanna in a very dark gothic might not work so well.

Jobs: Again it depends on the book. The heroine in one of my current WIP's is a bartender who is in grad school getting her Masters in social work. Another heroine is a typist in a typing pool in 1910, New York. In another WIP, my hero is a contractor who specializes in restroing historical buildings. This is intregal to the plot since the main trust of that book is a castle haunted by the souls of those who died in in years before, and he is the man restoring it. The book would not have worked if he was say, a cop, or a baker.

Whatever method employed for creating characters just remember they should all be realistic, with both flaws and attributes. Making them as human as possible—even if they come from light years across the galaxy—is key to making your readers love them.

-Kat

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Voices In My Head

One of the most fundamental aspects of crafting a story is who tells it in the first place. Or rather, who the story is about. They say that Story is Character, and whoever They are, they're right. Stories grow out of the characters to which they happen. Stories worth telling, that is.

So it stands that, if you are writing, you will be spending a LOT of time on developing your characters. So will your readers, so you have to make your characters riveting enough to keep their attention. Now there are all sorts of tools to ferret out and log everything about the people who people your stories--five page spreadsheets detailing everything down to how often they clip their toenails, questionnaires, interviews, worksheets, spec sheets. They are all useful. They all can also bog you down, so use them carefully.

For me, the sheets are all but useless. I have a "picture" in my head of the thoughts, opinions, reactions, and characteristics that make up a character, but writing it all down more often than not is a futile exercise for me, because my picture may not be accurate, and I won't know it until I put the character in a series of situations and see what they actually do. Ninety-nine percent of the time, these scenes or snippets won't make it anywhere close to a finished product, or even under the eyes of a critique partner or beta reader. They're just for me and my characters to get to know each other.

I can't tell you if this method will work for you, but it's proven enlightening for me. I put the character in three or four situations to see how they react. One is a formal social situation, one is a life-threatening situation, one is a confrontation, and one is an emotional situation. Depending on the story I'm thinking of, there might be one or two other "stock" situations where I place the character in a "traveling" situation or an escape situation.

At the very least, try it if you're stuck or wondering if your story or characters are missing something.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Engage Me Already!

That title’s not a typo. After I posted for Valentine’s Day I realized the second connotation when talking about books. “Engage me already,” could definitely be sighed while you bow back in your chair. Or it could be the war cry you utter when tossing a book across the room. Though if you’re split 50/50, you’d likely go retrieve it.

I’m one of those readers that tries to last until the end (unless it’s a textbook). Though I’ve often read books that took forever to get started. Like the one I’m reading now that doesn’t seems to pop into everyone’s head as an introduction. The book just finished that task at page 68. Ditto that same problem for the one before too. It took half the plotline to get started…though it was published 2 years ago. (Recall how market wants vary from year to year. Now it’s hit `em hard and fast with all the good stuff.)

I know I shouldn’t be pointing fingers, because I’m guilty of this writer’s fault—getting to the crux of the problem or the action that kick starts the book. I’ve gotten better during my last few manuscripts. (My comments from contest judges prove it.) Part of the problem stems from a writer who feels the need to tell the reader everything about the characters. Other times it stems from the writer not knowing their character(s) well enough. Hence the onslaught of mock interviews authors can fill out to learn everything about their characters, including what undies they wear. However, this can also substantiate the problem, because it gives writers more fodder to work into the story line. Which of course takes the reader away from the main story line, while the writer goes on a side tangent. This is where that purple pen is required to mark up those manuscript pages to save only what’s needed, and keep the pace from bogging down.

I still think a bit of backstory is essential when building a new world where there’s nothing ordinary to relate to. (Though these days editors/agents want to nix a good portion of those details.) I’m also all for getting to the action…but not so quickly that by page two I’m still wondering what the heck is going on. By all means, the author can drop me in the middle of a firefight, but she needs to arm me with weapons to take down the bad guys, instead of swinging at anyone.

Above all don’t make the beginning putter on and on like the little engine that could. Either the reader is going to skip ahead (overlooking all those fabulous prose you’ve labored over) or they’ll put down the book and never pick up anything you’ve written again. Another thing to note is that if the author starts fast, she should finish completely. Don’t make the beginning grandiose then let the ends to tie up strong trickle away or the reader (including those agents/editors) will feel robbed. Then more book pitching will be involved…and not the kind that relies on face-to-face selling.

_______________________________
In other news, I didn’t get that sparkley for Valentine’s Day. I got a love voodoo doll. Yep, you heard right. I’d mentioned getting one…to tie in as a giveaway for a story. My bf didn’t hear the last part. Selective editing, eh?

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Writing encouragement

Hemingway said -- Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.

Of course, things were a little different back then. Communication with other writers is a whole lot easier nowadays especially if you write any of the romance genres. Between national writing associations, local chapters and internet groups, there’s a wealth of experience to be shared and learned from. A writer no longer has to eat beans and live in a dusty, dark attic to be worthy of her craft. She no longer has to be lonely.

But I sometimes wonder if all this contact might not be detrimental to actually getting a book written. In today’s electronic age, it takes bare minutes to get online and check the email that fills our inboxes. Not that I’m willing to ignore my email (see Bernadette’s post from yesterday, lol) but it does take time and energy to scan through, read or simply delete. Time that would be better spent finishing a writing project or starting a new one.

For some of us, email can be detrimental. But, for others, it may just be the proverbial boon. How so? It can lead to a camaraderie, a feeling of belonging, with others who share the same passion to create with the written word and that’s no small thing. Non-writers just don’t get our compulsion to sit in front of a computer screen waiting for the exact right word to burst out from amongst all the other words clamoring for our attention. They don’t understand how elated we feel when we manage to work our way through a particularly difficult scene or the sense of accomplishment we get from finally, finally, understanding why our hero or heroine is balking at taking that next step in the plot we’ve so laboriously created.

I suspect most of the time they think we’re...crazy.

They might not be entirely wrong.

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~E.L. Doctorow

We writers become inspired by snippets of dreams or movies or even books. We watch the leaves turn, flipping their bellies skyway in the wind and find ourselves diagramming a scene with an impending rain. We talk to our cats or dogs or birds and create characters that might not be very human. We hear voices. We weep when our characters weep, hurt when they hurt, grow enraged when they’re enraged.

But most of all, we write. Day in, day out, we write. Illness, personal problems, troubles with the day job may slow us down, may even throw us into a bout of writer’s block. But before long, we creep back to the keyboard and we write.

I’m going to leave you with two more quotes I found that just speak to today’s world of writing. I hope you find them as encouraging as I do.

Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences... They are the ones who keep writing. ~ Bonnie Friedman

You're not going to be a writer someday. You're a writer today. Discipline yourself to write and take time to enjoy writing. Do it a lot. Have fun with it. Begin now. ~ Jack Heffron

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Virtue of Patience




It’s not the fall that kills you, they say. It’s the sudden stop.

And along those lines, it’s not the rejection that drains the life out of an author, it’s the waiting to receive it.

I’ve been all around the web lately frequenting places where writers hang out, and one thing I’ve noticed is, we all abhor the waiting. My friend, suspense author Jennifer Elbaum, just e-mailed me a virtual ARRRGH about the stress of waiting to hear back from agents and editors while she also waits for the results of a writing contest.

On Romance Divas there was recently a discussion thread devoted to the agony of waiting to hear something from someone about anything. We’ve all been told the best way to combat the anxiety of waiting for a response to a submission, is to write something else.

That sounds great in theory, but when you’re sitting at your computer typing away, it’s so easy to fall into that endless cycle of refreshing your e-mail every five minutes just to see if maybe this time there’s a response.

One thing authors need is lots and lots of is patience, and sadly it’s usually in short supply, especially nowadays when we live in an instant-gratification world. When you can microwave instant coffee and fast forward through commercials, when FedEx can deliver your packages overnight and dialup is practically extinct, how can you train yourself not to look at the clock or the calendar every five minutes during the three months [or more] it takes an agent to respond to your query?

Bottom line...I don’t think you can. I’ll never be Zen about waiting to hear from editors. It just isn’t going to happen. So rather than fret, I’ve decided to embrace my anxiety. The watched pot may never boil, but eventually, after hitting refresh 8000 or 9000 times, that response will be there. I know it will, so I’m just going to keep trying.






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Monday, February 18, 2008

Guest Blogger - Ashlyn Chase

Good morning! This week we welcome author Ashlyn Chase to our small corner of the universe. Ashlyn Chase describes herself as an Almond Joy bar. A little nutty, a little flaky, but basically sweet, wanting only to give her readers a scrumptious, satisfying, reading experience.

She worked as a psychiatric nurse for several years and spent a few more years working for the Red Cross. She credits her sense of humor to her former careers since comedy helped preserve whatever was left of her sanity. Ashlyn holds a degree in behavioral sciences and has been trained as a fine artist, registered nurse, hypnotherapist, and interior designer. That’s nice to know but not important to her career as a multi-published author. She is published with Liquid Silver Books as Cyndi Redding and Ellora’s Cave/Cerridwen Press as Ashlyn Chase.

Most writers, whether they’re aware of it or not, have a ‘theme,’ some sort of thread that runs through all of their books, uniting the whole mishmash into an identifiable signature. Ashlyn’s identified theme involves characters who reinvent themselves. It’s no wonder since she has reinvented herself numerous times. Finally content with her life, she lives in beautiful New Hampshire with her true-life hero husband and a spoiled brat cat.


***********************************************************************************
What do my husband, family and friends think of my writing?

This is a question I get frequently, probably since I write erotic romance. Since I believe in being completely honest (or joking around if I can’t be) I’ll give you the surprising truth.

My husband tells me I’m the coolest wife ever. At first he wasn’t very supportive, thinking this was just another “pipe dream.” But soon he came to realize that this writing thing made me happy and I was working my fingers to the bone to succeed. Now he’s a big fan and wants to read all my work as soon as it’s finished. I’m glad I didn’t let his earlier feelings discourage me! He says he even tells the guys at work about it now. They all think I’m the coolest wife ever too. One guy said, “Let’s see…accountant? Erotica writer? You win.”

My daughter vacillates between being proud of me and refusing to acknowledge I’m her mother. (Laughs) “Just don’t tell my friends…” she says. Okay, I can understand that. But once in a while one of her friends or coworkers wants to know where they can buy my books. Ah ha! She does talk about what I do. But does she read it? No. Never. And that’s fine with me too!

Let’s see… How about the in-laws? Well, my father-in-law and his third wife think it’s great that I have a career and make enough money to contribute to the household. Do they read it? I doubt it. They’re “nice” people who go to Mass every Sunday and volunteer in soup kitchens. I, on the other hand, am probably going straight to Hell. Hey, at least they’re praying for me.

My mother-in-law. This was the biggest surprise. Recently, she broke her hip and stayed with us for a month while I took care of her. She saw how hard I work and then, without my knowledge, picked up an anthology off the shelves with one of my short stories in it! Oh my goodness. I almost freaked out when I heard that. But, she liked it, and said so! She even told me about the parts she especially liked so there’s no doubt in my mind that she did, indeed, read the story. Okay, score a whole bunch of cool points for my mother-in-law.

Now friends and neighbors. What an odd mix of reactions I get from them! Friends support my career. As far as I know there’s only one who wants to read my books and she waits until they’re in paperback. The neighbors don’t invite me to any more Tupper parties. Aww… I’m crying into my checkbook, which used to bleed green because of all these product parties!

The upshot of this article is: if they love you, they only want your happiness and will continue to associate with you. If they don’t, perhaps you’re being used or you were never truly friends in the first place.

Where there’s fire, there’s Ash
www.ashlynchase.com
www.myspace.com/ashlynchase
www.leagueofamazingwriters.com
www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639331453


Heaving Bosoms now in paperback: Details below.
http://www.jasminejade.com/p-3862-heaving-bosoms.aspx
The sequel Quivering Thighs, coming 2/8/08

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Obligatory Romancey Post

It being Valentine's Day (well, the day after, at least). I decided to do a romancey post, just to fulfill my obligation to the atmosphere of mid-February. And dog knows we need something to heat up the 18-degree temperatures around here. But you know me, I'm going to turn it into something writing-related. I'm gonna let you in on a little secret.

Character romantic arcs are some of the most difficult aspects of writing. I know one of the basic tenets of romance is the arc of the progression of the relationship between the principals. And it should be fraught with conflict.

But what makes a good romantic conflict? A good realistic one? It's one of the toughest things to plot, if you ask me. Personally, I've never been involved in romantic conflict. Drama, yes. Conflict, no. Melodrama, dog yes. But nothing sustainable past the age of about 20. My own Mr. Xandra and I did not have a rocky road of love.

So I am challenged to create conflict that is worthwhile enough for characters I care about and I want others to care about. Part of the appeal in romantic fiction is seeing characters become worthy of healthy relationships through character growth. I enjoy the stories most where I can see that characters not only find love--because two dysfunctional people can find love, but that they become worthy of healthy love in the process through their own individual growth. It's rather pragmatic for a romantic notion, but one that lends realism to a romantic story, and one that inspires real hope and truly believable happy endings.

-- Xandra

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

VALENTINE'S DAY CONTEST

Just to let you know there's an Valentine's Day contest running now!

For a free, signed, printed copy of Soul of a Predator, some magnets and postcards!

From the 11th Feb to the 17th Feb, the authors of this blog will be posting topics to do with Valentine's Day. List the authors and their topics, and send the answers back to me by the 18th Feb. All correct answers will go into a draw, and the winner, as I said, gets a printed, signed copy of Soul of a Predator. (I live Down Under, but yes, I will post it air mail to you )

The winner will be announced on the 19th Feb

Good luck all!

cheers
Angela

angelamv@westnet.com.au

Engage Me Already!

So the rollout of “9 Valentines on a Dime” didn’t make me a local Valentine’s celebrity. Heck, even my co-workers who read it didn’t choose me as a finalist for the company’s Valentine Queen. (Something of a blow for a person who loves love, writes romance and ranks V-day up there with Christmas. Come on, I have a Valentine article out for gracious sakes!) Though it did make some people see me as the romance guru for the impending holiday. (In fact one of my mom’s co-workers wants me to pen her a V-day story…for free thanks to my mom.) Alas, my brain is fried and the big day hasn’t even arrived yet!

So I thought I’d shift gears a smidge and talk about engagements…one of those inevitable happenings that seems to manifest on the day set aside for love. Perhaps this came in part because everywhere I go girls are flashing their rings and talking pre-wedding plans. And yes, I want to be in that bunch. Alas, the time hasn’t come…but that doesn’t keep me from nudging my bf and tossing in a few ideas for proposals.

Without more adieu, here are a few ideas from my heart to yours, in case anyone out there is searching for a different way to pop the big question!

Build an Aw!: No girl can resist a stuffed animal that makes you want to grab its chubby cheeks and cuddle until the stuffing comes out. So why not make a puppy, record “Will you marry me” on the custom voice box, and dangling the ring like a dog tag from the pup’s collar. Better yet, make a Build-a-bear friend that looks like your honey down to the clothes, then add the ring on her finger. Next ask your girlfriend to pick out what’s the difference between the two. When she spots the sparkler, drop to your knees and pop the question.

Carry On: Travel a lot? Why not pick up your intendeds ring during your travels, so it really does seem like one of a kind (atleast in your hometown). Then tuck it away in a safe place, preferably while you de-board so there’s less chance of it getting snagged. Since there’s a 90% chance you’ll see your girlfriend when you arrive, why not ask her to help you unpack? Assign her the task of sorting through your carry, where she finds the bauble tucked safely. For this proposal, it might be nice to add something like, “I’ve been around the world, but the place I like best is by your side.”

Magellan Message: Tell your girlfriend that you forgot something at a friend’s house, then ask her to swing by and pick it up on her way to meet you. Give her the address, which she can plug into her navigation system (but don’t make it too complex or she’ll really feel put out). When she delivers the brown box to you looking perplexed, slice it open and reveal the ring box to her saying, “This looks like it’s for you.” When she pops it open, spring the question as you drop to one knee.

One for Your Guy: So you’ve seen the ring dropped in champagne, why not return the favor by dropping a wedding band into his mug of beer while you’re watching the game? Of course this should only be attempted when the two of you are alone, or in mixed company. If this went down in front of his buds, he might feel like you’re setting him up for a ribbing and say N-O.

A Dozen Possibilities: Guys are apt to buy their girl a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day, but this time make it special. Encircle each stem with a wedding ring—11 fake and one that’s real. (Any craft store or superstore should have the stand-in variety.) Hand her the bouquet and let her read the card that says something to the effect, “You’ve captured my heart…and wrapped me around your pinky. Now it’s your ring finger’s turn to shine.”

The Note Holds the Key: Get a stack of heart-shaped post its. Print love messages on each of them, then scatter them across the floor to a candlelit dinner. (Make sure to save the best as table decorations, including one on her plate that says she has the key to you heart.) Then suspend the key to a jewelry box on the tapered candle in the center. When she nabs the key, retrieve the box and let her do the honors to unveil the ring. (Position it in the middle of the ring compartment, with nothing else inside.) Pluck the ring from the cushion and slip it on her finger while popping the question. (I just found out Kay Jewelers did something similar on their V-day commercial. Am I good or what? Lol!)

Bon Appetite!: Can’t decide where to pop the question? Why not have a course at each stop. (One for an appetizer or salads, one for the entrée, and another for a very special dessert.) Of course putting the ring in food can be troublesome and unhealthy if it's swallowed, so use the ring as garnish. For example, a slice of chocolate cake with a small piece of curled chocolate (or cinnamon stick) that props the ring up to sparkle in the mood lighting.

No matter what your Valentine’s Day holds in store, I hope you have a great day full of love and laughter. Make a memory you won’t forget…or atleast eat enough chocolate to regret it the next day!
____________________________

What’s Your Favorite Idea? Post a comment here or shoot me an e-mail by Saturday at noon and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a plethora of Valentine goodies! (To echo Lynda, this contest will only be for those residing in the US.) Conversation cards, bath & body basics and romance reads…oh my!



-- Skylar

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Valentine, Valentine

Valentine’s Day is a day meant for lovers…as any ad for jewelry, resorts, clothing, or, yes, even food will attest. Like Christmas or Mother’s Day, it’s gotten commercialized. Too much so, in my opinion.
Very Sexy Comments & Graphics



From the ads we see, it appears that only large, extravagant gifts will ‘prove’ your love for your sweetie and that just isn’t so. Our Skylar just had an article in a magazine that really shows how easily and inexpensively you can say ‘I love you’. And, you know what? Those methods say it just as clearly as a diamond necklace or a trip to Tahiti.

One of the nicest gifts I received from my hubby consisted of a card and a Whitman’s Sampler (not the big one—the medium sized one). The card was a Valentine’s card but not the mushy kind. He prefers the funny ones, usually with a pop-up center. This particular one had a pop-up showing a guy grabbing his girl in a big hug. My sweetie did the same after I opened the card (no, we won’t go any farther than that as to his expectations later :D)

You see, you don’t have to spend googogs of money to show your affection.

Suppose you don’t have a significant other? Well, how about doing something nice just for you? Before I met my guy, I often celebrated these sorts of holidays with…myself :D Treat yourself to a nice dinner (even if you eat in, avoiding all the crowds, you can fix your favorite meal). Treat yourself to a box of your favorite chocolates or other treats or buy a small bouquet of flowers to brighten your room. Put your favorite movie on and spend some good quality time with you. You’re worth it so do something special for yourself.

One thing you can do is enter my Valentine’s contest. All you have to do is leave me a comment by Saturday night and I’ll put your name in a drawing. The prize? I’ll send you a copy of Linda Wisdom’s new book ’50 Ways to Hex Your Lover’ which is due out in March. (I’m really sorry but I have to limit this to U.S. addresses due to ridiculous postal costs). On Sunday morning (February 17) I’ll put the names of any commenter to this post in a box and let my Wookie Baby (the best and most impartial feline I know) select the winner.

And, if you don’t win, go to your favorite online or brick and mortar store and pre-order the book. You won’t be sorry and this is another example of something nice you can do for yourself.

Have a great Valentine’s Day!

-- Lynda

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Romance and Roses

ah...romance. Valentines Day. The day of Romance and roses and chocolates... Well, for those with partners, husbands and boyfriends - maybe! For the little ol' spinister like me at the moment, it's just...well, heck, when I looked at my roster last night at work, it looks like it's me and the patients and a busy night! LOL

But to get back to the crux of the matter - Valentine's Day. What a lovely thought, to be able to lavish or show by a sweet gesture just how much your loved one means to you. (hey, I could give my cats a treat for dinner LOL).

And this brings me to love. Love in books. How do we put across the tender/burning feelings in our romances without making it looked rushed and tawdry? The build up is like most relationships...the meeting (be it good or antagonistic), the getting to know each other (however bumpy the road) and finally the awareness of feelings towards the target that is more than you'd give a brick fence.

This couple may be in love!

Bringing together two characters isn't always easy, especially if there are obstacles between them that seem insurmountable. Such as death, shape shifting, futuristic, time travel, fantasy... There are so many things that can and do go wrong, but at the same time, it gives us the challenge to create romance in even the most dubious settings.

It's a challenge that can be so interesting and entertaining all at once!

Ultimately, romances have Happy Ever Afters, so we know that our characters will end up in love, but the ride there can be wild, funny, hot, frustrataing and anything else we decide to put in front of them.

But in the end, love wins out over all obstacles, and that's what we want.

And you know, in a world like today, romance is so special. So show your loved one how much you love them...pick a rose, whisper in their ear how much you love them, and present them with the token of love.

Then help them eat the choclate - after all, love is sharing, right? LOL

Happy Valentine's Day!

cheers
Angela Verdenius

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Is Our Love Too Splendid?

Love is indeed a many splendored thing. It happens suddenly with first looks. It can build over time from friendship. It can be a whirlwind that blows apart your life or trudge along like a pesky bulldog. But do you think it can be too grandiose?

(Think of stopping mid-ski run in Aspen for a surprise Valentine engagement crowned off with a ZsaZsa sized diamond versus popping the question where you had your first date while he offers up his great-grandmother’s heirloom ring in a heart shaped box.)

As romance writers and readers do you think we tend to focus too much on building a fabulous story that has no nook and cranny unturned? Are we too inclined to build this grandiose courtship with an explosive culmination, whether it happens fast or slow?

In some ways I think today’s market is leaning that way. People, including agents and editors, want something new and different. You’ll hear it said anywhere, but the writers’ inability to grasp exactly how that should be executed has led to some serious contrivance. A condition which shouldn’t necessarily happen in an act that stems from emotions, which are supposed to change like the weather. (And we can all attest that we’ve had some cooky weather.)

Believe me I understand the contrivance of a girl who turns into a femme fatale by night so she can hide her true vampiric identity, or even a superhero who dolls himself up as a super model by day so he can sleep in from romping around under the moonlight. There are circumstances where contrivances work, but not when they are over done. Just as the plot should ebb and flow, so should the romance. It should be like a living, breathing lifeline that connects the two characters. And sometimes I think writers worry too much about how to get their characters into situations, than how to show that they are in love.

Or they try to express love in grandiose measures, while not really showing the reader how the display makes the couple involved act and react. In other words, they don’t focus on the core elements…the little things that make everything tick. Remember even the grandest bits of fiction usually have an element of factual everyday occurrences.

How can you focus on the romance when you have vampires, werewolves and aliens parading around in the same book where one of these is a sex addict and must attain the elixir, but only by bringing the heroine (who we’ll say must remain a virgin to ratchet up the tension) safely to the witch who has the potion to solve all the mismatched dilemmas. I’d applaud anyone who could pull this off, and I’m sure for some gifted writer out there it may be possible. Unfortunately having to tie all these characters (not as a ménage or other multiple partner relationship) into the main romantic story line. There is so much going on, the reader fails to see the underlying moments that create the arc of the love story because it’s hidden under…playful romping.

I think that lack of clarification has become somewhat of a downfall. Yes, you want believable characters, even if you have to suspend belief, but you want to see those characters fall in love. You want to feel what they feel, hear what they hear, smell what they smell, see what they see and taste what they taste…even if any of those things are awful. (But man, they can be so good!)

All in all, whatever concoction you’ve brainstormed as a writer (and I’ve done a few doozies), boil down to the romance. That should be the underpinning that you frame everything else on. Use your GMC to enhance and heighten, not as the backbone. Each plot point should create a situation that heightens the romance or reveals sexual tension that sparks from the emotion. Each action should show a character trait to make the reader realize how the characters feel.

Above all make the love (not sex) moments count…and better yet construct them so that the readers go “Aw!” and want to rush right out and get that kind of hero or heroine.

_________________________________

So what spawned this little jaunt into overblown love? I was dining with my mom and bf, pooped as could be from a hellacious workout and bemoaning all the items on my to-do list when I got home. I started ticking them off, then I mentioned my bf hadn’t called about how to work the washer (sometimes they must be coached and or prodded). To which he said, “Every time I wash clothes, something bad happens. So I washed the dishes.” Amazed, I turned to look at him and gushed, “I love you.” No, that wasn’t super romantic. But I was so overjoyed by that pitying act that I’d have kissed him silly if my mom hadn’t been sitting across the table. Those small things that make your day, that take some of the weight off our shoulders, that make you know that your beloved cares about you…those are what really matter. To top that off, he told me tonight that he asked off for Valentine’s Day, because he knows its means a lot to me!


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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Erotic Language

I’ve been reading an erotic novel (and loving it as it’s from one of my favorite writers). But it just struck me that this particular writer uses much more…lurid language than I’ve seen in other erotic books. I’ll admit I don’t read a steady diet of erotics but I’ve read enough to be familiar with the words.

Now before you get your panties/shorts in a twist, let me just say that I’m no wilting flower when it comes to strong language. However, I recall a certain publisher, who shall remain nameless even though they’re no longer in business, who defined an ‘erotic’ book by the language it used. This always struck me as funny because, for heaven’s sake, you could make the old nursery rhyme ‘Jack and Jill’ erotic if you used words from the ‘erotic’ word list. (I’m reminded of George Carlin’s famous list, LOL) And we won’t even mention Mary and her little lamb (though come to think of it, that would be bestiality and most publishing houses frown on that. Thank goodness.)

To me, erotic writing doesn’t need a splattering of racy or four-letter words to be, well, erotic. Not if I’m drawn into the story, not if I like the characters, not if I worry about the plot (and, yep, there should be a plot, IMHO) and how it will affect the characters. And I love hearing the strong, earthy language when the characters are in the deep throws of lust :D Most of the time. But there are a few words that just stop me in my tracks.

I’m afraid Blogger would come stomping down on us if I listed the words here so I won’t and you don’t need to know the ones I don’t like. You probably have your own short list (or maybe it’s a long list). As for me, after that one moment of squicky unease, I keep on reading. I’m sure those of you who read erotics do as well but…

Are erotic books defined by their language? If you cut the racy words out, can the book still be erotic?

What are your thoughts?

-- Lynda


Monday, February 04, 2008

Guest Blogger - Sapphire Phelan

Good morning, everyone. This week we welcome multi-published author Sapphire Phelan. So put your hands together for a round of applause :D

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Ms. Phelan is an author of erotic and sweet paranormal, fantasy, and science fiction romance. She also writes as Pamela K. Kinney, for horror, fantasy, science fiction, and a nonfiction ghost book, Haunted Richmond, Virginia. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two cats, and admits she can always be found at her desk and on her computer, writing. And yes, the house and husband sometimes suffers for it!

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Thank you to the ladies at Star-Crossed Romance for letting me blog here today. I had my first male/male romance story come out in Under the Moon’s print journal, Forbidden Love: Sacred Bands in September 2007. On the heels of that, at the end of October, Beast Magic—a paranormal novella with werelions—came out from Phaze. November was quiet, but in December, two stories—one sweet and my first historical romance, the other, a sensual fantasy romance in Phaze’s Coming Together: Under Fire anthology— premiered. I ended 2007 with a bang.

Let me ask the readers and yes, the writers here too: how dark is dark and do you prefer your romance hot, or bland and safe? I write what I like to read—the stories of my heart. Yes, I still read a sweet romance—heck, I write them too—but even a hero or heroine in my sweet stuff may still have issues, that desperation that has them teetering or even going over the edge. It makes them more interesting. And add to that mix, a hero that’s a shapeshifter, or a sea being, or even a parasitical alien, toss in hot sex, and you got something that’s definitely not your mother’s Harlequin of the ‘70s.

I am not alone either. J. R. Ward has some cool, edgy vampires in her books. Lori Handeland has dark characters that shapeshift. Some authors write BSDM stories with paranormal beings.

But how far is too far? When do you say, enough is enough? Or do you want it carried a bit farther; going where no reader dares to go before? I write the books and stories of my heart, but is it the one of your heart? Let me know, or let me know to keep me writing what I write.


Sapphire Phelan
http://FantasticDreams.50megs.com
www.myspace.com/SapphirePhelan
http://SapphirePhelansPassionCorner.blogspot.com
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SapphirePhelansParanormalNewsletter


Go beyond the usual, instead take the unusual that stretches the boundaries and find romance with Sapphire Phelan's aliens, werewolves, vampires, fairies, and other supernatural/otherworldly heroes and heroines.


Out Now:
“The Dark Man”, included in Forbidden Love: Sacred Bands- Under the Moon

Blurb: Michael never understood the compulsion to go to the beach. There, he meets Sevin Merrow, a Finman, a creature of the sea, and a seductive sorcerer. Michael begins to understand what the Dark Man wants of him as he weaves a sexual spell about him.
Will it lead to love, or something darker and deadlier?


Beast Magic-Phaze Publishing

Blurb: They came from two different worlds.
Ramses was a werelion. Shana Tory was human. The Dreaming foretold them as soul mates.
So Ramses tracked her down in America, and when he found her, made her his and brought her back home with him to the South African Bushveld.
But others from his pride, led by one evil lioness, do not want them together.
Besides their lives, will their love survive the coming war?


“Shadow Lover”, included in Coming Together: Under Fire-Phaze Publishing
Support this book by purchasing it as either print or e-Book at Phaze--proceeds goes to the fire victims.


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