Wednesday, January 30, 2008
What I'm writing: Mystery short.
Anyone who read my early January posts might remember I had some trouble with the US Postal system after my computer lost its internet connection one day between printing a pre-paid shipping label and confirming the charge. I was unaware my card hadn't been charged and the label had been cancelled; I thought I took care of it by returning to the post office and paying on site.
Apparently there is no communication between the on-line and physical postal service systems. Although the clerks at my post office assured me I could pay for the existing label, the on-line people are saying no.
So, I guess I'm now a federal felon (good thing I wasn't aware of this when I had my Voice Stress Analysis). I tried to print another label yesterday to send my son a priority mail envelope and was told my account was cancelled until I paid the $4.60 for the label I'd already paid for.
I sent yet another email explaining that I indeed HAD paid for the label, and last last night got the reply: Any transactions made at the post office will not be reflected on your online account. If you are showing a balance due, it means that the label you printed was shipped and delivered. We do require payment before you will be able to continue to use your account.
I responded with a slightly-okay, definitely--stronger-worded response and I'm stuck waiting for their reply. I don't have high hopes for this one. But tell me. What part of "I have already paid" can't they understand?
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
What I'm writing: Untitled mystery short (or will it grow too long?)
Yesterday as one of the requirements for the Civilian Police Academy Alumnae, I went to the Sheriff's Office for a Voice Stress Analysis. Seems they consider anyone associated with the Office as a potential hire and we're screened just like anyone applying for a job.
No more electrical connections, straps or wires. Everything is based on micro-tremors in the voice, and you're hooked up to a small microphone at/near your throat and to a laptop computer.
The examiner was friendly, and experienced in putting people at ease. We chatted for a while about everyday stuff (although he did put a recorder on the table as soon as I sat down). He liked the idea that I was a writer, and was open to showing me the test results after we were finished. Everything is book fodder.
He read through the umpteem page list of questions I'd had to answer before coming in, asking for more details here and there. I'd filled the form out months ago and hadn't reviewed it. The first question asks if you'd ever done anything that if you did it today, you could be arrested. I'd checked "no" reflexively. He peered up at me and asked if I'd ever smoked marijuana. Well, I came of age in the 60s, and although I'd answered the specific drug-use question honestly, it hadn't occurred to me when I'd ticked the 'no' box there. I confessed to being like most everyone else in my generation; he laughed, took his red pen and made the change.
We reviewed the rest of the questions, and I confessed to probably pilfering paper clips when I was teaching and brought home papers to grade. Then he told me that he'd ask 31 questions, all of which were to be answered 'yes' or 'no'. Once we started, no more jocularity. He also told me I should lie to two questions. 1) "Are you wearing glasses?", where I was to say "yes" and 2) "Have you ever exceeded the speed limit" where I was to say "no." (He didn't even ASK if that would be a lie.)
So, we did all the questions. Then we did them again, this time with the mic clipped to the neckline of my sweater. If he didn't get an accurate reading, or didn't click his button to accept the response fast enough, or if something looked 'fishy', he said he'd repeat the question. To my surprise, he didn't have to repeat any of the 'real' questions, but he had to ask me three times if there was a recorder on the table, if the lights were on in the room, and if he was wearing a shirt. Also, noise in the hall outside interferes with the readings. I asked him why the "Quiet, interview in progress" sign was inside the room, and he said it was because when he put it outside, people bumped into it and swore, which was more disruptive than the normal sounds.
After we did the test twice, he deleted a bunch of questions and we did it once more. The one questionable response he got surprised me -- it was my 'no' answer to, "have you ever been questioned as a suspect in a crime?" That's something that's a definite 'no' for me -- nothing gray about it at all. But the readout was clearly 'stressed', although not enough for him to report it. He said it could have been because my mind was running through plot ideas or things I'd written. I found it interesting that the physiological responses show up even when you've 'rehearsed' the answers several times. It seems this system must be a lot harder to fool than the older polygraph tests.
All in all, a fascinating hour. I can't wait to see how I can put it to use in a story.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
What I'm writing: Workshop outlines and a mystery short story, as yet (as always) untitled.
I returned from Colorado Springs to find 8 Rita entires waiting for me. I was pleased that I didn't know the authors so I won't have trouble being objective, or have to recuse myself from any of the reads. However, I won't be reporting titles here.
Yesterday a group of 6 romance authors from the Central Florida Romance writers gathered for a book signing at a local chain store. It was nice being out and about with 'grownups' after 10 days having fun with my grandson. He's adorable, but at 5 weeks, not much of a conversationalist.
Book signings are interesting experiences. Some people go out of their way to avoid even eye contact. Others smile, but walk past. It's obvious they don't want to feel any obligation to buy, but speaking from my experience and that of others, authors like it when you stop by. Yesterday we met a graphic artist, a children's book author of his first book, students, kids, moms and dads. It's fun to chat, to discuss reading and books, and we really don't expect to sell a book to every person who stops by. But we love to say hello. We'll even give directions to the restrooms if you ask.
Monday, January 21, 2008
We've been empty-nesters for years, and none of our children lives nearby. I work at home, don't watch a lot of television, and confess to being out of touch with some (okay, most) of the latest trends. However, this past week, I've been staying with my son and daughter-in-law and new grandson (have I mentioned that enough lately?) which is heightening my awareness of the thirty-something generation.
Yesterday I spent the afternoon with my daughter and son-in-law who also live in Colorado. They insisted I move with the times and play Wii games. To be honest, I really had absolutely no clue what they meant when they said, "come over and we'll play some we." So, "we" is really Wii. I remember Pong, Space Invaders and Tetris. And the original Mattel hand-held football and baseball games with moving red blips.
I was ushered down to their home theater with its overhead projector and their hundred-inch television screen for some serious gaming. First, I had to have an identity—my "Mii". Once that was established, we went bowling. Now, I bowled on the occasional date back in college, so at least I understood the game. Once I got the hang of bowling with a remote, I didn't fare too badly. After that, it was boxing, where my son-in-law had the rare opportunity to whack me around. We tied on that one, and the game was a very nice workout, requiring a beer.
After a short stint at tennis, where I had trouble figuring out how I could play doubles and be both players, we moved on to Guitar Hero. HUGE generation gap here, because although I once played a mediocre folk guitar, like everyone else in the sixties, I think I recognized two of the playlist offerings. My lack of coordination surfaced again – all that right and and left hand stuff, plus my dim muscle memory wanted to "play" the left hand, not just keep fingers on buttons.
Later, we met another couple and their fifteen-year-old son for dinner. The men talked about work, my daughter and the other wife talked about mutual interests, and I, the oldest at the table, was engaged in conversation with the son about my exploits of the afternoon.
I wonder if he's ever played Pong or Space Invaders. I was good at those.
Friday, January 18, 2008
Quick post -- I'm still in Colorado Springs. I had some 'grownup' talk time with two fellow authors this morning - Lise Fuller who writes for Cerridwen Press, and Beth Groundwater who writes for Five Star. A little shop talk was inspirational, and to keep things moving in the writing direction, I got a release date of February 20th for my Wild Rose Press short story, Hurricane Breeze.
Hurricane Breeze started as a 'palate cleanser' after finishing my Dalton & Miri book, the spin-off of When Danger Calls. WDC was still far too fresh to edit objectively, but after a few days the writing itch was back. Being relatively lazy, my first search was through old files to see if there was any inspiration.
As I've mentioned before, I used to hang at iVillage, where a short story group had weekly writing prompts. One was to use the word "curmudgeon" in a short story.
For the story to have a chance with The Wild Rose Press, however, it had to be a romance. Since my exercise featured a reclusive, up-tight novelist dealing with his elderly neighbor (the curmudgeon of the story), there wasn't much of that.
Still, it was worth thinking about how to work a woman into the story. Since I had the framework of my male protagonist, I needed an acceptable (meaning totally opposite) female character.
With the help of my crit group, we brainstormed the 'what if's that make a story. By the time we finished, I had the major plot points worked out. In a short story, there aren't that many of them! The surprise for me as I went back and started writing was that the male protagonist insisted on being the sole POV character in the story. While Tiffany was a catalyst, she never insisted on taking center stage.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I'm now in Colorado Springs, where the ground has white stuff on it. The news said tomorrow the HIGH is supposed to be in the low teens. But, since I'm here meeting and visiting my new grandson, we're not outdoors, although I think we'll have to brave the elements soon and do some basic food shopping.
It's been a LONG time since I dealt with an infant. I went 'solo' for a while this morning while my son drove my daughter-in-law to the car dealership to have a funny noise checked out. Since my most recent experience with a 4-week-old was over 3 decades ago, I was amazed to see all the bells and whistles the industry has come up with.
I had swings for my twins—you put them in a seat and turned a crank. I think it played music. It would run almost long enough for us to eat dinner without holding a baby in one hand. Now there's a swing that requires a pilot's license to operate. It's electronic, with choices of tunes, and it took someone showing me how to get the baby out of the secret locking mechanism.
The 'baby bouncer' seat is a far cry from the vinyl-padded plastic "tray" we carried our son around in. This one has a 'vibrate' feature. Imagine a tiny baby getting the benefits of a cheap motel 'magic fingers' bed—and you don't need to feed it any quarters.
Diapers—with pictures on them, Velcro-type tabs, elastic. I used cloth (white) with safety pins to hold them on. Of course, none of this new technology changes the baby side of things. He still eats, sleeps, poops and cries. I wonder if he knows how good he has it, compared to his dad, who somehow managed to survive.
Friday, January 11, 2008
On January 2nd, the "Hearts and Handcuffs" blog had a post about resolving to write more sex scenes, and some interesting discussion ensued.
Finding myself between projects, I fiddled around with writing an 'out of the blue' sex scene just for fun. On a whim, I sent it to a writing buddy, and it turned into a round-robin exercise.
In the ensuing exchanges, I learned a lot about myself as a writer who writes sex scenes.
The opening was short and simple, a mere 400 words. Woman alone in the bathroom, getting undressed and putting on a silk nightgown. It was primarily a sensual scene, and, as always, I wasn't really sure where it would lead. I ended the scene with this:
She runs a brush through her hair, then tucks an errant lock behind her ear and smiles. Quietly, she opens the door wide enough to slip through, leaving it open barely a crack. Just enough to show her the way to the bed. Where he waits.
The response moved the encounter to his pov and definitely transported it into 'sex scene' territory. And since there was little, if any, character development, it leaned toward my definition of erotica, not romance.
The gauntlet having been thrown, I was faced with a couple of character details I hadn't considered, but hey, I have no problems writing hot and heavy, so I started writing section 3.
And hit a wall. There were two consenting adults in bed together, but without knowing who they were (or at least who SHE was, and a little more about him,)I couldn't write the scene. Absolutely couldn't. I realized I wasn't in her head, and that I couldn't write the physical parts without the mental parts. I had to stop, create a character with back story, with a reason for being where she was – even if it was a casual one-night-stand, I had to know WHY she would do it, and so on. All I 'knew', and this was thrown at me by my writing partner, was that she was an "older" woman. Until I knew a whole lot more about her, the writing wouldn't happen. I simply could NOT write a 'Tab A into Slot B' scene.
Once I created the character, I found it easy to move forward. Of course, the taking turns approach tosses some challenges as it's impossible to plot much in advance, because you don't know what will happen next (even more than my normal 'seat of the pants' writing surprises), but I wasn't looking for plot when I started writing. But without the emotional connection, without a deep understanding of the character, the writing is flat and darned hard to pull off.As a matter of fact, on round 4, after seeing where my partner took the scene, I put the brakes on entirely, and made the two character take time to talk. Even with some character back story in my head, I needed to show it on the page. I shall await my next installment, but I'm sure my writing friend will have kicked the action back into high gear.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
In The Book Report Department in Orlando Magazine's January issue , Jay Boyar has written a clever, humorous, tongue-in-cheek article about the conventions of the genre, using four examples written by Orlando area romance writers. I'm proud to be included.
You can read the article from my website.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
The new year is a time when we think about clean slates, fresh starts, and not repeating mistakes or doing things we might regret later. As I've said, I'm not into "resolutions" but rather attainable goals. However, I think this one falls into the "resolution" category.
I've spoken before about my "click moments" for characters; those flash insights that define a character. For Blake Windsor of WHAT'S IN A NAME? it was the line, "Papa, I don't think I said I love you near enough" from Dan Fogelberg's song, Leader of the Band.
Many times I thought about looking up contact information for him, just drop him a short note saying I enjoyed his music, and how I was inspired by that line and wrote a book. But the book was just a 'fun thing' I was doing, and it sounded silly, so I let it slide. Then the book was published, I had no qualms about telling anyone how that one line of the song was the fire behind the character, and thus, for me, the entire story. After all, who reads e-books? But bother a famous star with my little thank-you? He'd probably think I was just trying to get some free publicity was my rationalization.
Then the book came out in print and I could hold it in my hand. People read it, and liked the way Blake was forced to face the reality of what had motivated his entire existence. Again, I quoted the lyrics. Finally, during some of the post-Christmas downtime, I took those few moments to track down a website to find a contact so I could tell Dan Fogelberg what that one line had created for me.
This is what I found:
Dan left us on December 16 at 6:00am. He fought a brave battle with cancer and died peacefully at home in Maine with his wife Jean at his side. His strength, dignity, and grace in the face of the daunting challenges of this disease were an inspiration to all who knew him.
I was 10 days too late. I was as guilty as he had been in the song about not speaking up in time. Leader of the Band cycled into my background iTunes mix a few minutes ago, and it brought tears to my eyes. Would he have cared if one fan said his work made a difference? I don't know. But I sure as hell wish I'd taken the time to let him know before it was too late. And hadn't felt it was silly for me to give him a mention when I wrote the acknowledgements for the book.
And if you or anyone you love isn't getting regular screens for prostate cancer, DO IT NOW.
Sunday, January 06, 2008
Today's 'not surprising' news brings another email from the Postal Service informing me that although I canceled a 'click and ship' label, it was scanned into the system, and I should go immediately to their website and pay for the postage. And, of course it's one of those "do not respond to this email" messages.
Apparently the problem arose because although I'm dealing with the USPS, I'm going through two separate payment systems, even though (I assume) all the money goes to the Postal Service. I checked my AmEx account, and lo and behold, there's one charge, and only one charge, and it's for the correct amount.
I emailed a blow-by-blow via their 'contact us' site, and we'll see what happens. I'm beginning to think this might be an omen as to how I will fare in the contest, which is why I was sending the package to begin with.
My next "only trouble is interesting" event of the day started with a surprise bit of publicity in an article in the January issue of Orlando Magazine for several local romance writers. One of my books, Finding Sarah, is mentioned in the article. I popped into my local Barnes & Noble to see if they had any copies. After scanning about 8 racks of magazines, I went to the counter to ask if there were any copies of Orlando Magazine. She said, "we keep them right here" but since they weren't "right there", she checked the computer, and they haven't arrived yet. OK, I can deal with that; at least I didn't miss them.
So, I asked if she might like to order a few copies and I would autograph them for potential customers. When she checked the computer, she discovered that although What's in a Name? is there, Finding Sarah is flagged as "not available for order." Naturally, there's nothing she can do about that.
I did get an immediate response from the Cerridwen office (surprising since it was early Sunday morning), and she shot off an email to their B&N contact, but there's no telling how long it will take to correct the situation.
Let's hope anyone interested in Finding Sarah will figure out that the publisher sells the books, and they're on Amazon.com.
Friday, January 04, 2008
What I'm working on: Same stuff, different day.
I don't normally check out videos, especially ones longer than a minute, but a good friend sent this, and I was lucky enough to have 5 minutes of uninterrupted Internet connection. If you haven't seen Mrs. Hughes, check it out. It's a hoot. It was a most timely diversion after my morning.
My Internet access has been totally unreliable for the past few days, and until the cable guy shows up tomorrow, I can't trust it. So, rather than post and lose the connection (the way it did when I was in the middle of a credit card transaction for a postage shipping label, which meant I printed the label, stuck it on the priority package, drove to the Post Office, dropped it off, came home, checked email and found a message from the postal service saying my order had been canceled. Apparently the Internet did its Bleem-out between printing and approving. I sent an email to their customer service address as instructed on the email, but it appeared to be one of those, 'we'll get to these comments in due time' kind of forms to fill out, so I decided to call the clerk who'd waited on me. After all, I'm in there all the time, and she likes my books.
You know how hard it is to find a post office phone number in the phone book? Once you do, it's a master number for the entire system, and you go through countless 'press one for this, two for that' steps before you can get the number of your own branch. Which rings interminably once you do get it. Then the clerk says, 'well, just print another label and bring it down.' Which you can't do because that means getting on line, and your cable is out again. So you drive back to the post office and the line is very long this time. And the clerk you left the package with isn't at the counter.
Now for the 'bright side'. The clerk was only getting change, not out to lunch, and she let me 'cut' the line since technically, I was a continuing transaction. She punches stuff into the computer, charges my credit card and tells me it's the same transaction, same tracking number. I remember to take my receipt and go home.
Where there's another email, this one a response to my query (shock of shocks) saying, 'sorry, we can't re-charge your card, you'll get a postage due notice. Then, an hour later, I get a confirmation that my card has been charged, only the label and tracking numbers are different from the ones on my original. At least we're only talking about $4.60, and I'll watch my credit card charges and see how many times I paid to mail those books to Colorado. AmEx should be easier to deal with than the USPS.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
What I'm working on: The e-publishing workshop I'm giving in February and March. Website updates.
As a long-time central Floridian, freezing temperatures aren't the norm, so to wake up to temps in the low 30th is a major adjustment. It was one of those mornings I'd have been happy to stay in bed, but getting my exercise in (one of those measurable goals) got me moving. And it gave me the chance to start reading the book the library delivered yesterday.
Before I get into the depressing look at what I didn't accomplish last year, I found a great recipe for candied walnuts on Nancy Robard Thompson's site the other day. I didn't have walnuts, but I did have a nice bag of pecan halves, and they came out yummy. So yummy, in fact, that next time I make them (and I know I will) I'm going to up the 'generous pinch of cayenne'. A LOT. Because that's the only way I can think of to slow down the gobble factor. And since I'm trying to get back into my normal eating habits, which got shot to blazes during a month of having to eat out 3 meals a day, I need to slow down.
And then there was the toenail color survey on Mimi's blog, repeated on Macy's. I took it, and for some reason pink was my color. I have NEVER been a pink person. I have a pink t-shirt given to me by the Wild Rose Press publisher, because it's their color. And one hand-me-down pink shirt my mom gave me, which I wear once in a while, but not if I'm going beyond the grocery store.
Since I posted my accomplished goals earlier, it's only fair to keep looking through my notebook to see where I fell down, and to decide if I ought to give it another shot, but probably via a different method. I did start a 3-ring binder for my 5th book, and I did research, but I failed to write chapter summaries (post-plotting, I call it) after 4 chapters. And my character notes are sorely cryptic. Not good if I want to write a series.
I took the IRS for writers class -- good. I set up a spreadsheet -- good. But 'set up filing system for receipts? Well, a file folder labeled 'receipts' doesn't count, I dont think.
My next page sets a goal of summarizing/deconstructing/reconstructing 3 chapters a week from books by authors I admire (sub-goal of pacing) -- well, total zero on that one.
Keep character notes updated weekly? Nope.
Keep track of promotion? Not after February. Not to say I didn't do it, but I have no way to track what I actually did. This is one I doubt I'll ever quantify. There are too many loops, and too many sudden opportunities. I'll probably revise the goal to something more like, "spend XX minutes/hours a day/week doing promotion."
Meanwhile, the temperature icon on my computer says 36 and it's flashing red. Wind chill advisories. A nice day to put a log in the fireplace and drink hot chocolate -- but then, maybe it should be Rooibos tea. Keeps me on track with one more personal goal.
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
What I'm writing: Unexpected Danger, final edits before submission. An aside--I hadn't looked at the manuscript since prior to going to Africa, and the separation was a beneficial one. First, I caught a few things that had made perfect sense when I wrote them, but with my sieve-brain memory, when I read them again, I couldn't figure out what was going on. And, in some places, I didn't remember what was coming next! Second, overall, I liked the book. I didn't find so many crutch words (still have too many 'moments', plus another list to cull), and there were scenes that triggered emotional responses.
It's January 1st, and time for the obligatory New Year reflections. I don't make resolutions--haven't for years. At least not for me. I do make them for my husband, however. Works better that way. Not that he keeps them, but at least I'm not breaking them.
About a year ago, I tried to follow Roxanne St. Claire’s advice in a goal-setting workshop. I created my Goal Setting Notebook. The cover, in my mediocre calligraphy says, 2007 Goals.
From there, I broke things down into basic categories, and I guess it’s time to see what I accomplished, since I have to be honest and admit I abandoned writing down what I was doing along the way, and only re-discovered the notebook when I was looking for something handy to take to South Africa for journal-keeping. Not counting my neatly-penned title page, I wrote something on a grand total of 11 of the pages (and we’re not talking big pages here—under 4x6 inches). And almost all those entries were jotted down in January.
My long-term, broad goals were:
A. Productivity, sub-headed with Finish Two Books.
Yes! I wasn’t thinking about this as a goal once I got into the writing, but I finished Hidden Fire, my option book for Cerridwen Press, which is now under contract, and Unexpected Danger, which is with my agent. When Danger Calls, which is with Five Star Publishing for a December 2008 release was technically “finished” at the end of 2006, but went through edits and revisions. Still, I’m not going to count it. Or the short story I wrote and contracted with The Wild Rose Press, but I will make a note to include at least 2 short stories for 2008 goals (if I write them down).
B. Craft, sub headed Learn About Pacing
Sorta-kinda. I had my crit partners alerted to flag anything that slowed the pace (too fast hasn’t seemed to be a problem). I went to workshops that addressed the topic. Did I learn how to do it? Not sure, but feedback from reviewers and the agents and editors I’d queried with When Danger Calls said it was a fast-paced read. So, although I still don’t know “how” to do it, it appears I’ve improved on that score.
C. Increase Presence/Visibility
Medium marks for this one, too. Although since I started at ground zero, I could probably increase my score to a medium-high. I’ve got my website, this blog, and have tried to hang at some of the on-line groups. However, it’s time consuming and I have no real way to measure success. I made chapter books for my two print books, and started participating in signings once I had print books to sign. I went to 3 conferences, and have signed up for 2 already this year and will be on panels.
I submitted another novel to Cerridwen, and a short story to Wild Rose Press, both of which were contracted. I sold a book to Five Star, “sold” being the operative word. They pay advances. And, I got an agent. On paper this looks fantastic. Internally, it didn’t happen the way I expected. Agents were still rejecting my submissions, telling me I was a very talented writer, but the material wasn’t ‘quite right’ for them. I think that might related to my mystery leanings rather than suspense, but I’m not sure I’m ever going to change my writing, and that’s another subject. The book sale came as a result of a clichéd ‘elevator pitch’ although at the time, I had no idea I was talking to an acquiring editor. I was at SleuthFest, and my romance-oriented books, although set against mysteries, straddle the genres. He asked a few questions, I talked about my book, he invited me to his table in the pitch room (at which point I tried very hard not to look as dumb as I felt) the next day. I took his flyer for their Expressions line, he had me sit and chat, asked me to email him the full, and I did. When the contract offer came, I still had no agent, and nobody seemed all that excited about their cut of the small advance, but Kelly Mortimer said she’d negotiate the contract, and I ended up signing with her.
Looking back, I’d say I met most of my goals. And although I have no doubts that the system is a good one, and I’ll outline 2008 goals, I think I know I’m just not organized or efficient enough to keep things in writing. Heck, I don’t outline my plots, and I never even got around to writing that to-do list for my trip to Africa.
What works for you?