Saturday, August 30, 2008

Thanks to Norman Mailer

I'm subscribed to a Writing Quote of the Day list. I've never been good at plotting far in advance. It's just my process. So this quote from Norman Mailer hit home.

To know what you want to say beforehand is not the best condition for writing a novel. Novels go happiest when you discover something you did not know you knew.

My novel had been creeping along, and I wasn't exactly sure why. I had the characters worked out, but although they were doing everything I expected of them, the story was slogging. Since my daughter had been visiting when we'd brainstormed the overall characters and their GMCs, I IM'd her (she lives in Northern Ireland) and tried to set up a convenient time to do some long-distance brainstorming.

Initially, we set up the heroine's back story and motivations, and I created a nice conflict between heroine and hero, along with his back story and motivations and conflicts. We sketched out the inciting incident, and the overall external conflict. But after 43,000 words, I hit a brick wall with the plot, because the conflicts all started being external. What I was missing was a way to connect the heroine's inner conflict to the main storyline.

Duh. Conflict 101. The heroine wants (or in this case wants to avoid) something. So, I knew I had to find a reason to make her give up what she wanted in order to solve a bigger problem. Only trouble was, I couldn't think of a logical way to connect the two. Why couldn't she solve the problem on her own, with her own resources? Why would she have to go back and ask for help?

Well, that's what the writing is all about. Answering those questions.
It's sending the story along a different path, but it's a path I can see again, and one that includes all the goals and conflicts we'd started with. Knowing I had that much right, . I took the time to jot some random notes and plot points, and had the AHA! moment after two sentences.

I e-mailed my thoughts to my daughter last night. We'll see what we come up with. And what else I'll learn along the way.

(And as a follow-up to yesterday, I'm home today writing--but also waiting for the cable/tv guy. I was going half-blind trying to watch the tennis matches yesterday, so I broke down and called to complain. They have an 11-2 window for me today. This morning, the cable modem light was blinking again, despite yesterday's repairman's assurances that he'd fixed everything and it wouldn't happen again, so I spent about 20 minutes getting through to customer service to make sure whoever they sent could handle both television and internet issues. Wish me luck!)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Customer Service, Continued

What I'm Reading: Hot Pursuit by Christina Skye

What I'm Writing: Chapter 13, Scene 2

Yesterday was a productivity bust. No Internet access in the morning. We've had off and on issues with the modem, but this time none of the usual fixes worked, so I called the customer service number (see yesterday's post about how much fun that was). The tech said he wasn't getting a signal, so they'd send someone out between 10 and 1.

***Note: has ANYONE ever had a service person show up at the BEGINNING of the window? Mine always show up within the final 15 minutes.

However, while I was waiting, my new cell phone was delivered. Good. I occupied myself with yet another customer service call finding out how to download the free ringtone they'd given me for my first phone. The rep was helpful, but not too savvy. She finally gave up doing whatever her handbook directed when her text messages weren't showing up on my phone, and told me she'd give me a credit to my account to cover the cost of buying it.
Once I can access my emails, I find 8 messages from with codes for downloading a free ring tone. Text message? Better read your manual again. And the messages are all with the same code, so no perk like 8 ring tones for all my trouble.

The cable guy finally shows up right before 1. He tells me the reason we didn't have a connection in the morning was because they were working on the system in the area. Like, why didn't the guy I called have that information? But after he checked, he proclaimed I wasn't getting enough "points" so and does his thing, which means disconnecting my cable while he works. He decides he's going to mess with the connections in the attic. I move my car so he can have access. He finishes. However, while he was here, I took a break from any computer work and turned on the US Open. Now, the television reception sucks. He checks some more stuff, says he can't see anything wrong with the picture and tells me I should get cable boxes for ALL our televisions to solve the problem. Excuse me? The picture was FINE before he started working. So, next call--AFTER the holiday--will be to someone who specializes in televisions, not internet.

While he's working, I test the camera on the phone. Although the camera button seems to work properly, the images still suck. I email one to the sales rep at the phone store. When I call him to see what he thinks, he agrees it's unacceptable. Now that I've had three of these phones, I can either try yet another replacement, or I can call the main office and they'll offer me a 'comparable' phone instead. Much as I love the features of my little phone with its dual slide, three strikes and you're out. So, I call the main office. Navigate phone trees, wait on hold, get the wrong operator but eventually get where I need to be. She gives me a choice of 4 phones. I ask if I can call back after I go to the phone store and get more advice and see how they feel, etc. No problem. She's recorded everything in my file, so all I have to do is call back with my choice. WRONG! I go to the store, choose a new phone and call back. I have to jump through all their hoops yet again (including swearing I didn't take the phone into the shower???--I've only had it a couple of hours, not that I shower with my phone anyway.) However, I can't choose the color. I get black, which will disappear on my black desk and in the black depths of my purse. And this rep doesn't follow the 'overnight because we screwed up' courtesy the other one gave me. No big deal, since the phone parts of the phone work, but now it'll be Tuesday before I see the new phone. (And have to learn more new tricks)

What happened to buying a product, and if there were problems, you took it back to the store where you bought it, and they made it right? Why can't I turn in a defective phone where I bought it and exchange it for another one?

This morning, everything was delayed while my computer installed a new update and got hung up in the process. By the time everything was back on line, I had to leave for my annual poke and prod. I came home armed with new prescriptions. We'll see what happens when I start a lower dose of my estrogen. Hubby beware.

On a happier note, I've got a massage appointment in an hour. Maybe by Monday, I'll be back to more interesting posts. I want to share my workshop notes from Male vs Female Brains. Very interesting.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Customer Service?

I've been dealing with customer service far too often lately. For me, the issue is why should it be needed? Seems to me, the quality of the product should preclude the need for contacting a customer service department in the first place. But when things don't behave as expected or promised, it's good to know someone cares. The question is, how much?

In most cases, there are two options: the phone or a website.

Phones: sometimes that's the only option. First pet peeve: having to listen to advertising. This was particularly annoying when I tried to ask a question about a cell phone purchase and had to listen for several minutes while a recorded voice gave me all the steps to follow if I wanted to be able to order an iPhone when it was released at the end of the week.

Or how you can get better service by going to their website. Like, I'm calling because you're my internet provider, and I can't get onto the internet. If I could, I wouldn't need you at all. And why don't you know there's a problem in my entire area, and that's why nothing is working?

Or when you call, you get a 'corporate wide' message instead of the local branch of the store you're trying to reach. I can drive to my bank and ask a teller faster than I can get information from the customer service number for the bank.

Next: those menus. We won't even begin to discuss how many layers of menus you have to deal with trying to match your problem to their menu. I grumbled about this one a day or so ago, so I won't repeat it, but one menu went all the way to 9, and then said to press * for even more menus. Sheesh.

Third: Endless wait times on hold with music you don't like. Or if they play something halfway decent, they interrupt ever fifteen seconds to thank you for waiting because your call is so important. Not important enough to pay someone to answer your questions, though.

This week alone, I've dealt with service issues due to poor quality of a product. In one case, the letters on my keyboard wore off. After some relatively complex rigamarole, I found the right website, navigated to the right department, and stated my case. Someone working from a script, whose language was probably not English, tried to help. After sending a photo of the keyboard, (let's talk another pain. Get out digitial camera, get a decent exposure, transfer it to the computer, attach it to an email) it was indeed deemed faulty (I bought the keyboard because it said, "keys will not wear out—guaranteed for some ungodly number of keystrokes". Ok, they gave an actual number, but it was really big. After photocopying my receipt and scanning it and doing all that pain in the neck stuff, they did send me a new keyboard. Last October. It's already worn, so I dragged out the email thread, sent it back, explaining that the new keyboard hadn't survived 6 months. They went through their programmed routine, I re-explained it was a replacement, and they had the receipt documentation from the original. I was pleasantly surprised that they sent a new keyboard within a week. So, a bit of a pain, but they stood behind their product. Of course, it would have been nicer to have a higher quality product, one that lived up to the claims.

Next issue had to be resolved by phone. My cell phone (if you scroll way, way down to May 31st, you'll see how technology and I have issues) is supposed to have a camera. Well, technically, it does have a camera, but the pictures suck. I took it to the store, and they agreed. So, I called and navigated the telephone tree, swore up and down I hadn't bent, folded, spindled or mutilated the phone, and they sent me a new one. It arrived today, but the battery and SIM card aren't included. Rather than risk screwing something up, I stopped what I was doing and drove down to the store to have the guy who sold me the phone transfer the electronic bits. He did, and although he tried to transfer the one free ringtone I'd earned by filling out the registration on the first phone, he couldn't get that to work. He said if I called customer service they'd probably issue a credit so I could get another one. BUT, before I left, I tested the camera. Same exact problems, both with out of focus pictures and a recalcitrant 'camera on' button. Another salesperson confirmed the phone should have worked better. Back home, back to the telephone, back through the menu, back to 'your wait will be approximately three minutes'. The customer service rep was very nice and told me to send the 'new' one back and she'd express mail a new one right away. Good service? Yes. But a phone that worked properly would make more sense.

Just asking a question is trouble. My book club's flyer this month said, 'buy 2, get a third for $1.99.' Their featured selection was a three book bundle. But the pricing didn't reflect that third book at $1.99. In fact, the total price on the website was fifty cents MORE than the individual prices of all 3 books. They've got a decent link to a form for questions, and a reasonable number of selections that come close to the problem, but it's going to take up to 3 business days for me to get an answer.

Or, the forms that insist on your whole life history before you can even send a comment. I wanted to praise some good service we'd had at a restaurant. I went to the website for a contact email. I got a form. I balked at including my phone number, but I filled out everything else, including a brilliantly worded paragraph extolling the praises of our server. I hit 'submit'. I was told that the phone number was required (haven't they heard of the dreaded asterisk for 'required' fields?), and to click here to resubmit. I did. You think anything I'd written was still there? Heck, no. Did I retype it? Double Heck no.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dental Aftermath

Yesterday was dominated by dental effects. I'm very slow to respond to any kind of anesthesia, so after the dentist injected me and came back in what he considered the right amount of time, I still had virtually complete feeling where I was supposed to be numb. So, he gave me some more, after which things moved quickly.

He had a nifty camera on a stick that takes a picture of the tooth. He projected it onto the tv in the room and showed me that the tooth was cracked in all 4 directions and said I was lucky it hadn't fallen apart already. (Didn't I predict that!). So, it was time to grind. And grind. No pain from that, but it was the way way back tooth and keeping my mouth open wide enough for him to work was painful enough. And, although hubby will never accept it, they told me I had a small mouth!

The sound is irritating, the drill bit that makes your head vibrate isn't much fun, and I really, really don't like the smell of burning tooth.

The flip side to being slow on the uptake for anesthesia is that it takes forever to work its way out of my system. I got the first shot at about 10:15 AM. I couldn't feel much of anything until nearly 5:00 PM. And even when feeling came back, my jaw was too sore to open wide enough for a normal size bite of food. (Which, considering the anniversary dinner with the extra chocolate souffle, might not have been such a bad thing.)

When he finished, the dentist said I'd done a 'good job.' I told him I was more concerned that he had done a good job.

But it's done, and all I have to do is baby it for 2 weeks until the permanent crown is in.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Life's Little Routines

What I'm reading: Long Time Gone, by J.A. Jance

What I'm writing: Chapter 13 – caught up and moving forward again.

After being away 3 weeks out of the last month, things are finally falling into 'routine' again. We weren't going to go out for our anniversary, having eaten out so much on our travels, but when we got an email from a local favorite restaurant saying they were having a special event dinner on our anniversary, we took it as a sign from above that we were meant to attend. So we did. We ordered a bottle of champagne, and the manager gave us the house's signature chocolate soufflé dessert in honor of our anniversary. Of course, nothing is perfect, and they put it on the bill. It takes more than half a bottle of champagne for me not to notice, and they apologized profusely and removed the charge. What they didn't explain until I asked was an additional $4.17 "Admin Fee." Seems they tack on a fee to cover their publicist who sends the emails to their mailing list advertising the event. Is something wrong with this picture?

Despite the champagne, I did get up and hit the Y, although I admit to moving a tad slower than usual.

In the 'real life' realm: Dealt with the phone company about my malfunctioning camera on my cell phone. Dealt with the bank to confirm a transfer for bill paying. I have a renewed hatred of those telephone trees. It used to be you could bypass them by pressing zero at the start, but they're now burying that at least two menus deep. Even the constant barrage of political campaigning uses recordings. As does the newspaper, which wants to know if my paper started up again after my vacation hold. Doesn't anyone use real people anymore?

For writing: I finished fixing the formatting on the recovered document and dealt with some plot points I decided needed to be addressed now rather than later. Played around the blogosphere for a while. Followed up on a submission of my mystery short story. Filled out a review request form for When Danger Calls. Revised chapters 11 and 12 to a point where I feel comfortable moving on, and started Chapter 13. Didn't hit 1000 'new' words, but I'm ready to keep moving forward again. All I have to do is keep from getting too caught up in the US Open.

Today I've got a dreaded dentist appointment for what is most likely going to be phase one of a new crown. There's a remote chance he can fix it with some bonding agent, but things like that never happen to me. If there's a more complex and expensive option, that's the one I'll need.

And I got a great quote from a friend in my email inbox this morning:

If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads but what he re-reads. ~Francois Mauriac

What do you think?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Still Married After All These Years

To my husband:
Has it really been 39 years? How young we were! You survived dancing at our wedding,

and went on to dance at the weddings of all three of our children.

And even the Comics are celebrating with us today.

All my love...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

On the Road - Rest of the Trip

What I'm reading: Stop Me, by Brenda Novak
What I'm writing: Unraveling the computer crash disasters.

After another computer Blue Screen, I gave up on the WIP. We met a friend/colleague for drinks and dinner. While in the low country, eat low country, the consequences be damned. I had a delicious bowl of she-crab soup. Rich and decadent.

The next morning, neither of us was hungry, so we packed and departed. Charleston to Savannah was relatively uneventful, with only occasional dealings with wet weather. The GPS lady did an excellent job of getting us to the hotel, although she doesn't like it when the entrance or parking doesn't exactly match the street address we punch in. However, we pulled up to the door of the Mulberry Hotel, now a Holiday Inn, but still steeped in "The South". George, the bellman took us to our room and told us everything we could possible want to know about the hotel and the area. He's been doing it for sixty years. A real charmer.

Unlike our government-paid room in Charleston, this one was elegant. And huge. A corner room with a balcony overlooking the pool area. Three dressers and a closet. King bed. Too bad time and budget didn't allow a longer stay.

Our first mission was to find the restaurant we hoped to have dinner at. (I know, bad sentence structure.) When I'd searched the Net for a hotel, this one advertised The Lady and Sons, and since we both get a kick out of Paula Deen on the Food Network, we figured we'd give it a shot. They only take reservations in person the day of the meal, so we checked the map and started hoofing it. Given Fay's proximity, the weather was relatively cool for this time of year in the south, albeit muggy. A fifteen minute walk through some historic squares and buildings, and some construction-dodging brought us to the podium in an outdoor alcove, where the head-set outfitted receptionist took our dinner reservations. We were pleased that they had openings, but apparently between gas prices, the weather, and the onset of school in many areas, things were quiet enough so we had a choice of times.

Step one accomplished, we moved to the next item on our 'to do' list, which was to walk along the river. The pictures are gray, as was the day. Hubby had his good camera; I had my point and shoot, which I could stick in my purse when it started raining.

He didn't have a case for his camera, so when the dampness turned to an earnest rain, we ducked from awning to awning and decided to take refuge in a seafood place. Knowing we had an early dinner on the agenda, I opted for a bowl of gumbo, and was still hard-pressed to finish. Everything starts with a roux, and even a simple soup has extra richness.

The rain had let up enough to walk back up the hill to the hotel without camera damage. We made good use of the time we had before it was time to clean up for dinner. I left hubby to his nap and wandered down to the lobby to enjoy some tea and piano music.

Given the unpredictable weather, we opted for a cab to the restaurant. We were seated on the third floor, near the bar, and turned over to Michael, a delightful young waiter whose accent definitely didn't match the locale. Originally from Boston, he was working as a food stylist when his entry for a fall cover for Gourmet Magazine caught Paula Deen's eye. He's working in the restaurant as he continues his education.

Again, I opted for the full southern dinner. I know I'll get some raised eyebrows when I have to step on the scale at the doctor's office on Friday, but when you're at a restaurant that specializes in southern fare, why not enjoy it? I meant to take "pretty" pictures to show the presentation, but everything was so yummy I kept eating before I remembered the camera. So, sorry about the less-than-perfect pictures.

Instead of a bread basket, they serve a hoe cake and a cheese biscuit. With syrup on the table.

I opted for fried green tomatoes for my appetizer. Hubby was "good" and had a salad, but I appeased my conscience by leaving most of the fried crust on the plate.

For dinner it was the crab cakes. They came with black beans and rice, crispy fried greens and diced tomato. Couldn't manage dessert.

We waddled back to the hotel.

Friday morning, we skipped breakfast again and hit the road. Unfortunately, Fay hadn't listened to what the weather folks had said about her being well on her way, and we drove home through many feeder bands. Rain, buffeting winds (but my low-to-the-ground car handled them admirably). Idiot drivers. I feel for the emergency response folks who had to be out in that weather dealing with the consequences. And, for whatever reason, the rest stops along the way had shut down their restrooms. Hubby's driven the route numerous times, but because of this wrinkle, his scheduled pee stops had to be rethought.

Can't believe some folks don't turn on their lights when they're in the middle of a downpour—Florida law says you have to use lights and wipers when it's raining; don't know about Georgia. But will have to look up use of flashers when driving. It did give greater visibility, but I'm not sure it's entirely kosher.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

On the Road, Day 2

What I'm reading: Death Angel, by Linda Howard

What I'm writing: Revisions--but technology raises its ugly head. Again.

A trip isn't really underway until you remember what you forgot. Tradition states that one passes M&M's when you cross state lines (or county lines in those big, long states). We did remember to buy them, although after reaching for a bag, I realized that the dark chocolate M&M's are in purple bags, so I grabbed one of those instead. It wasn't until we were on the road that I realized I'd bought PEANUT M&M's. I don't like peanuts. Lucky for me, I had a small bag of plain left over from our last trip in my purse, so I made do with that while hubby snarfled the peanut ones. Note: buy "real" dark chocolate M&M's before leaving Charleston on Thursday.

I also brought along my iPod. My OLD iPod. (Driver gets to pick what goes on with the radio, and since we were taking my car because it gets better mileage, and even though it was hubby's decision to take my car, and it was his trip, he still wanted me to drive). The battery life of that iPod is pretty sucky, so it didn't last the entire trip. (At which point I remember that my new car has a CD player; my 10 year old Saturn didn't). What I forgot was the charger. For some reason, the old iPod wasn't able to charge on a laptop. It was part of the territory, so I just carried the charger. Well, hubby insists that it should work, and he tells me I have to download new iPod updating software. So, I do. Then, that software tells me I have to download the newest version of iTunes. So I do. The laptop still won't recognize my iPod. I brought my little shuffle, so I still have tunes for the drive back. No big deal. Or so I thought.

So, I finally hunker down to work on my WIP. I get the Blue Screen of Death. This has NEVER happened on the laptop. Everything
starts up again fine, but after working in Word for about an hour, the entire computer freezes and I have to reboot. I'm getting a tad worried, and re-save everything under new file names. This happens several more times, and I'm getting very familiar with the file recovery options in Word. Another Blue Screen, and I decide working on the book is not meant to be.

When hubby gets back, I tell him I'm not going to deal with it until later, I have the files on my flash drive, and what are we going to do about dinner?
Sticky Fingers. In Mt. Pleasant, not far away, and we get to drive over the gorgeous Ravenel bridge. Great ribs. I don't eat much meat, but Sticky Fingers is definitely the exception. (Don't tell hubby, but that's part of the reason I decided to come along on the trip, despite all the extra poundage left over from RWA and Oregon.) And, not being in the mood to make decisions, we get the rib sampler platter for two. Yummy.

We get to the hotel, stuffed, and I use Norton's GoBack program to turn back time 36 hours, returning my computer to the state it was in before I did those downloads. Although hubby swore it shouldn't delete files, only programs, what does he know? He's never used it. It deletes files. Thank goodness for the flash drive.
And, I've been working on this blog, with a break to go down to the lobby for coffee for about half an hour. Word hasn't frozen. MAYBE things are right with the world. Reports from Florida indicate Fay has been pretty much of a wimp, and she seems to be hanging a sharp left, so we shouldn't have too much trouble driving home.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On the Road, Day 1

What I'm reading: Forever Blue, by Suzanne Brockmann

After three checks to make sure the air conditioner was really off, we headed out, fingers crossed that Fay won't wreak havoc in our neighborhood while we're away. There was no hurry, no pressure. We opted for my car, a Honda Fit Sport, rather than hubby's Toyota pickup. More comfortable, and a heck of a lot better gas mileage. We're hoping we won't have to do too much driving in the rain on the way back, because it's a low-slung little baby, but we've long since learned there's very little point in basing any decisions on weather predictions. Seems that most weather forecasters would be hard-pressed to give accurate reports on yesterday's weather, and hurricane tracks are always full of surprises.

For some reasoning known only to the local school board, they've switched start times for the high schools and middle schools. Something to do with saving money on busing, but I didn't follow the initial story. Seems to my mind, if you have X number of students to transport, the time of day you do it shouldn't matter. Nevertheless, it's a done deal, and that meant that we hit the first day of school traffic backup at the high school. After that, traffic was never an issue, at least not in our direction. We did notice numerous convoys (or caravans?) of utility trucks headed south toward central Florida, to be ready for any storm-related problems. It's nice to see TPTB taking action, and realizing that central Florida is a logical place to stage disaster relief. We hope it's not needed, and they'll be using it as a test.

We rolled into Charleston on schedule, checked into the hotel. Since this is a government sponsored meeting, they had the say in the hotel and the room blocks. No king room, and no desk, only a small round table and two uncomfortable chairs. A dearth of open electrical outlets. I'm working from one of the beds. Tiny bathroom, but we're on different schedules, so that's OK. Points for the free bottles of water, pretzels and chocolate chip cookies. Bonus points for the lighted magnifying mirror in the bathroom, even if there are 3 appliances (hair dryer, mirror & coffee maker) and only 2 outlets. Minus points for absolutely no hooks in the bathroom. So much for my handy-dandy toiletry case that's designed to hang over a hook. No real closet, just a 'wardrobe'. Loud air conditioner that seems to have two choices: meat locker or clammy. And drapes that don't cover the window so the street lights outside shine right into my eyes. I woke up and thought I'd had an amazing night's sleep, looked at the clock and it was 2:33 AM. Shades of Alaska.

Nice view from the bar atop the hotel. We took advantage of their happy hour prices and watched dolphins in the river below. Free bar snacks. Should have had more and skipped dinner, but we didn't. Luckily, we brought our cooler and I saved half my dinner which will be today's lunch. After years spent finagling per-diems to cover expenses for two, I know to bring enough breakfast and snack items, and can usually get by buying only one meal a day.

I slept in, went to the hotel's fitness center, and hung in the lobby while the maid cleaned the room. The Olympics are tuned to the men's triathlon, something I would never have paid attention to until my daughter decided to become a triathlete. But now, it's nearly noon, and time to tackle the WIP.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Being a writer means dealing with readers. Some of them are reading a completed books you've written. Others are critique partners, reading what you're working on. Others are editors, both for acquired manuscripts, or those you're trying to sell.

The challenge is remembering how to interpret all the comments. "Loved your book" is an easy one. And now that I've entered some contests with published books, it takes a moment to switch from the mindset of reading a judge's feedback on an unsold manuscript. I can change the latter, but there's not much I can do about the former. Recently, I got the kind of feedback that makes me think the reader was in a hurry (understandable; I had something like 8 books to read for that same contest). When I worked with a former critique group, I'd always want to know if I wrote it wrong or they read it wrong. I remind myself that one book isn't going to resonate the same way for all readers, and I try to move on.

Working with editors for books on their way to printing is another aspect of feedback interpretation. The obvious fixes: typos, grammar, etc., are no-brainers. But sometimes their suggested corrections don't work for me. And, although there are critique partners who would probably be surprised, I do manage to seek out compromises and gently explain my reasoning.

I've worked with quite a few critique partners since I started writing, and I've learned what special insights each of them brings to the work. Some have been able to zero in on characters; others find important plot holes; some can spot all my overused words and grammar glitches (queen of the dangling modifier, I am).

One member of my on line groups is an Aussie, and male. He's helping me a lot with my Aussie hero. Another is a computer programmer, British, and also male. How can he possibly critique my romantic suspense? He's my technical wizard, and also has a super-keen eye for things I can't see on my screen, like extra spaces or periods (although he calls them full stops). He also loves to check up on me, and will research facts if I spring something new at him. Given the differences between US and British technology, there are often quite a few. He recently learned something we take for granted here: cars in different states have different and easily identifiable license tags. Apparently not in Britain. He loves following my mystery threads and doing his damnedest to find holes, and I love him for it. Does he nit pick? Yes. Do I care? No. Every little thing that makes me think about the flow of the story helps make it better. Sometim
es we get a good laugh over the comments. Here's a recent one:

I wrote:
He dropped to the ground, flipped over and scooted himself under the car. She tried not to move, even held her breath, as if it would make her lighter, envisioning him crushed if she so much as shifted her weight on the seat.

He responded:
[Picky – holding her breath would make her fractionally heavier, though you’d need a very expensive set of scales to tell the difference. A lungful of air at sea level weighs about 5 grammes, or just under two-fifths of an ounce. If she breathed out, most of the air would stay within the car, so the total weight of her plus the car would hardly change. I’m completely missing the point, aren’t I?]

And then there are the dreaded rejection letters. Now that I have an agent, they go to her first, but she forwards them to me. They seem to come faster when they're sent via an agent, and they're a lot friendlier, too. Now, if there would only be consensus, maybe I could think about revisions before she sends it elsewhere, but aside from the "no thanks" commonality, they've all picked on different reasons for passing. They all do say I'm a good writer, and a strong writer, so that's encouraging. And having ARCs of my next book in hand encourages me to keep working on the next book. So do the 'finalist' certificates.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

On the Road Again

Back to the dreaded packing, this time for a 5 day trip. At least we're driving, so none of the airline luggage restrictions. And it's hubby's workshop (it's Kogia workshop, in case anyone's interested, or even knows what that means--points if you do). It's in Charleston, SC, so it'll still be hot & muggy. I'm planning to hole up in the hotel room and try to fill in some newly discovered plot holes. Hoping the hotel television doesn't get too many Olympic channels, or I might succumb to spending too much time watching. But heck, it's only every 4 years. (Don't remind me that the US Open Tennis will pick up right after the Olympics are over--another addiction.)

And, speaking of hubby...I ran into my neighbor yesterday and asked her to have her kids keep an eye on things for us while we're gone: making sure the paper and mail really don't get delivered; check the porch and driveway for deliveries, etc. I mentioned the air-conditioning episode, and she said the air was off, that she turned it on for us Saturday afternoon, thinking we'd be home Saturday night, not Sunday night. Well, hubby had told me they were not getting back from Africa until after we got back, so when the usage details on the thermostat showed usage for both Sunday and Saturday, we could only assume it had been running the entire two weeks, because how else would it have been turned on? And, since hubby couldn't remember turning the a/c off before we left, and admitted if it was on, it was likely his fault, we accepted it. However, they got back before we did, and being wonderful neighbors, took care of things. That explains the much lower electric bill that showed up yesterday. So, here's my public apology: Sorry!

But we both thought the air had been left on. You can be sure we'll both be checking before we leave from now on. With Fay on the horizon, we also have to make sure everything is battened down, and that all important computer data are backed up -- to flash drives or some other system we can take with us. No point in having everything backed up to devices that are in the house. For the most part, we worry more about flying debris than direct hits, although 2004 demonstrated that even though we're far inland, hurricanes will come calling.

If there's a decent Internet connection, I'll continue my normal blog routine next week.

Friday, August 15, 2008

More RWA workshop notes - More Romantic Suspense

Karen Rose is another author I admire and respect—and, like Brenda Novak, Karen is on my 'don't mind coming in second to her' list -- this one was in the Lories.

She addressed some of the areas where romantic suspense has different emphases from other sub-genres. Like any other book, establishing the goals, motivations, and conflict for the hero and heroine is vital. However, she attests that in romantic suspense, the villain drives the story.

The villain: Establish the villain's motivation. Some effective ones can be revenge, power, or greed. Give him a personality. Is he antisocial? Sadistic? Dependent? Somewhere, he should have a reason for doing what he does, but she also said some people are just "bad" in general. Is there some pathology behind his behavior.

(Note: If you followed my series on Criminal Thinking, you might also pick up some character help there. Your villain will probably think differently from your hero and heroine.)

Your villain must be smart. At least as smart as your hero and heroine. He must be a formidable opponent, although he can appear to be the man next door. He must also be 3-dimensional. Find his vulnerability.

Things to avoid: The "they" of faceless groups. Find one individual and connect with him. Stupid, bumbling villains. Redeemable villains. Cardboard villains. Villains who appear from nowhere. The motivation of the villain can be the mystery.

Hero and Heroine: their relationship must be threatened by the villain, fed by the suspense. They must stay close to the action. Be sure their occupation(s) give them a right to be where they need to be.

Things to avoid: a heroine too dependent on the hero. Stupidity. A too 'macho' hero. Too much arguing.

Victims: make them human.

Secondary characters: they give dimension to the hero and heroine. Options include: best friend, family, neighbors, coworkers. Secondary characters are great for explaining technology and avoiding info dumps or too much telling. They can provide conflict.

Plot: get the details right, and know where to drip the clues. The romance and the plot have to intertwine. Each scene has to feed both the romance and the suspense. A secondary plot gives a 'bigger book' feel.

Pacing: each scene has to advance the plot. Suspense scenes are usually shorter. A romantic suspense has an urgent mood.

Continuing dilemma for me: some of these gems don't lend themselves as well to a mystery-centered story. More things to work on.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

More RWA Workshop Notes - Romantic Suspense

What I'm reading: Trust Me, by Brenda Novak

Another RWA scheduling choice I made was to attend Brenda Novak's workshop on Romantic Suspense. It seemed like a smart thing to do, considering she won the Daphne du Maurier award (instead of me!). Highlight? She gave me a plug during her introduction.

Her points:

A romantic suspense must be ONE story, not a romance and a suspense. They have to be dependent on each other, and the outside tensions have to be equal for both the suspense and the romance. One cannot exist without the other. Things that affect the suspense plot will also impact the relationship.

In a suspense, the timeline is usually short. Building the relationship over a short time has to feel plausible.

There's usually a lot of research involved, and you have to do enough to write with confidence about your subject. However (and this point was reiterated in the FBI workshop I took later), she said it's better to go with a widely held belief rather than confuse readers even though you're "right." This is problematic, because so many readers watch the CSI type shows and believe what happens there is the truth. They'll assume you're wrong, even if you're right.

Conflict: you need a lot. Constantly up the stakes, both for the suspense and relationship. You also need to vary the emotions. Escalating fear throughout the book without any other emotions, or breaks, will leave a reader exhausted, and likely unsatisfied. Conflicts can't be static.

She gave a lot of good writing advice that works regardless of genre. Start on a hook, leave the back story for later, create questions. End scenes in the middle. Tell the boring stuff, show the emotional. Use description sparingly. Use interesting, unique details in descriptive passages.

Revisions: she provided some exercises to move the first draft from ordinary to compelling. Use riskier language, have your character say something outrageous. Challenge reader expectations. Use subtext to add layers. Make dialog work on more than one level. Blend narrative with dialog.

Pacing needs to be quick and tight. Don't repeat information (one of my pet peeves).

Characters must behave in a manner that holds true for the nature of their situation.

Don't forget the villain.

Hold the tone of the book to a sense of mystery.

What hit home for me? First, that I already "know" a lot of this, but need to work a lot more at keeping it in the front of my brain during plotting, writing, and revising. That I shouldn't expect the first (or second) trip through a chapter to be 'right'. That I need to pay more attention to the way I'm connecting the relationship with the mystery. And that can be the rub, because I write mystery, not suspense. I rarely have a "villain." And I have yet to delve into more than two POVs. I thought about it for my current WIP, but haven't been able to bring myself to do it. Goes against what I like in a book.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

RWA Workshop notes: Watching the Detective

One workshop choice I made was, "Watching the Detective" which recounted working in the office of a surveillance agency dealing primarily with Workers' Comp claims. They're hired, usually by the insurance company, to verify that a claim is legitimate.

Our presenter worked in the office transcribing all the reports the investigators filed. She loves her job because she gets to know everything about all ongoing cases.

Touching the highlights:

All their field agents are male, although the office staff has numerous females. Bottom line: most of their days are spent parked in vans, and the guys have plumbing designed for 12-14 hours days without a break. Most of them are young, under 30. The agency likes them to have some college, and military service is good, because they're used to the discipline and working the hours.

They need people with common sense, good communication skills, patience, who can work independently (they rarely send out more than one investigator on a job due to cost) and are good at multi-tasking. In addition, an ability to anticipate what people are going to do, and who are a bit sneaky are good qualities. They also have to be able to stay awake.

One thing our presenter found strange, was that when she circulated questions to the investigators for the workshop, a frequent answer to her question, "What do you like about this job?" was, "the lack of monotony." Even though they're sitting in a van most of the time, they liked that the specific cases change frequently.

There's a high turnover of investigators, and the most common jobs the guys move on to include the FBI, police departments, and … auto repair. Seems they spend a lot of time keeping the vehicles working.

Speaking of vehicles: they use SUVs and mini-vans, usually gray or brown, with tinted windows. Inside, they'll have a video camera, laptop, Nextel phone, a fan, ice (the vans get HOT—they can't leave the engine running for a/c), food, shirts, caps, foam knee pads, workout gear, overnight gear, so they're prepared. They do NOT carry weapons.

What do they do? First, find a place to park where they can observe the subject. Ideally, they'll find a place with street parking. In rural areas, they might put out traffic cones to make it look like they've got a reason to be there.

Not-so-ideal: large apartment complex, where it's difficult to locate the subject. Other tough locations are high crime neighborhoods, or places with nosy neighbors who are part of Crime Watch, etc. Investigators are supposed to let local law enforcement know they're in the neighborhood, but it doesn't always help. A concerned citizen expects the cops to show up when she reports a strange car parked outside. Many departments require the cops to show up even if they do know the investigators are out there.

Next, note all cars in the area and report color, make, and license. Our presenter said she sees reports with very specific details, and others that say, 'gray sedan". (And here I thought ALL guys knew cars.) Then they wait and watch.

One common lead, since these are workers' comp cases, is to know the subject's next doctor appointment and follow him from there. Glitches with that system include the subject hopping onto rapid transit. The investigator follows, the subject gets off and retrieves his vehicle from the parking lot and drives off. The investigator's car is still back at the doctor's office, so he's stuck. Subjects on motorcycles are also tough to follow if you're in a van.

What they DON'T do: engage with subject; go onto the subject's property; look in windows; touch the mailbox.

If the subject leaves his home, the investigator follows. They have cameras concealed in shopping bags which they'll use in grocery stores. There, the best place to follow a subject is immediately behind him. People tend not to pay attention to that spot. They'll look for things that indicate an injury is being faked, such as a claim for a wrist injury, but the subject is hefting gallons of milk from low shelves with no trouble.

If the subject is going into smaller stores, or goes into several stores, it's harder to remain inconspicuous. One investigator lasted about two minutes following a subject into a lingerie store because he knew he'd be discovered. Schools are another very difficult place to tail a subject. Most parents are VERY wary of someone taking pictures, etc. One specific problem was when the subject was on a golf course, and the closest the investigator could get was a nearby gravel road. He ended up being stuck and had to call for a tow. Being noticed means being caught. One cute investigator got hit on by the subject. Being tall with bright red hair is another drawback. (Note the caps kept in the van for such circumstances).

The work is more or less seasonal. They don't work much in bad weather because the subjects don't leave their homes. They also don't hang around after dark.

This information is based on one firm, and it specializes in one type of work. It's not representative of private detective work across the board, but it was an interesting hour.

And, in a moment of synchronicity, Lee Lofland's guest blogger on The Graveyard Shift is talking about her experiences as a private investigator.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

RWA Conference Workshop Highlights

NOTE: Photos added to the Barley or Hops post (August 9)

Going to RWA, despite the fun and excitement, is stressful.
With its jam-packed schedule of conflicting sessions, just deciding where to be and when is a challenge. The recorded sessions help with the decision making, because there's a chance to hear what's been going on at the other sessions (although there have been glitches, so it's not a sure thing).

The first day, however, was 'easy' because it was pre-conference. On Tuesday, the Kiss of Death chapter had its annual workshop. This year it was an inside look at Customs and Border Patrol. I touched on this in an earlier post (with pictures of Duffy the beagle).

This is the portable X-ray unit. We got to ride in the back of the truck and watch as they examined the contents of the green cargo container.

Takeaway tidbits – the 5 layers of security for goods coming into our ports.

1. 24 hours before a ship leaves its home port, it has to register with US customs.
2. CSI – Container Security Initiative. There are agents in 50 countries who try to stop problems before they get anywhere near our shores.
3. CTPAT – Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism: Teams are sent overseas to audit the supply chains from raw materials to finished product
4. Remote Portal Monitors: All vehicles, with or without containers are tested for radiation before being allowed entry.

(those yellow pylons on the left are the monitors)

5. Officers on the Ground: Any unusual readings are checked by a CBP agent. At the Oakland port, they're tied into the science labs at Livermore for interpretation of any unusual readings, since many 'normal' items will contain moderate levels of radioactive substances (ceramics, for one, including the porcelain used in toilets). Sometimes, they'll get readings from the drivers, who might be undergoing medical treatment that will trigger an alarm.

Some stats (based on 2005 data)

On a typical day, the USCBP

1,181,605 passengers and pedestrians, including 630,976 aliens.
69,370 truck, rail and sea containers
235,732 incoming international air passengers
71,858 passengers/crew arriving by ship
$81,834298 in fees, duties & tariffs.

62 arrests at ports of entry
3,257 apprehensions between ports for illegal entry

2,187 pounds of narcotics in 65 seizures at ports of entry
3,354 pounds of narcotics in 20 seizures between ports of entry
$77,360 in undeclared or illicit currency and $329,119 worth of fraudulent commercial merchandise (think Gucci knock-offs) at ports of entry.
Another factoid: The major manufacturers give training to CBP personnel on how to recognize the 'real' stuff.
1,145 prohibited meat, plant materials or animal products, including 147 agricultural pests at ports of entry. (Thanks to "workers" like Duffy)

Refuses entry of:
45 criminal aliens attempting to enter the US

7 illegal migrants in distress or dangerous conditions between ports of entry

Protects more than:
5000 miles of border with Canada
1900 miles of border with Mexico
95,000 miles of shoreline

There's more, but stats get boring. However, the tour did give us a very good look at what the 42.000 employees of CBP do every day. Those 42,000 are broken down into 18,000 officers, 11,300 Border Patrol agents, 1800 agricultural specialists, 650 air and marine officers, and 500 pilots.

We'll see how many books come out with CBP characters and plots. We certainly got the fodder. I'll post about more workshops over the next few days.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Home from RWA Nationals

What I'm reading: Partner in Crime by J. A. Jance

Home from RWA. While it's great to be home, finding the 'routine groove' seems to take forever. So far, the only major screw-up was that hubby left the air conditioner running for the two weeks we were gone. So much for saving electricity—not to mention a whole big chunk of change. Apparently when I said, "Did you turn off the a/c?" as we were getting ready to leave, he interpreted it to mean, "Did you turn off the water heater?" Selective hearing. I swear, he listens to the first two words and fills in the blanks with whatever pops into his head. He admits that a/c was on his list but wasn't checked off. I didn't think I needed to follow him around checking to make sure he did what he said he'd done.

TSA in Salem pawed through all our luggage. I don't mind, but it would be nice if they'd repack it the way they found it. Our ten bottles of Oregon wine came through intact, and are now safely put away in the wine rack.

Since I woke up at 6:30, I figured it was a sign that I was meant to get back to the Y. Four hours of sleep should be enough, right? All the recumbent bikes were full (has NEVER happened at that hour) and I almost turned around to go back to bed, but I managed to convince myself to stick around and use the elliptical. The new ones have a better ledge for books, and my eBook wise fit, so at least I could read while holding on to the stationary grips for dear life. This model had the other handlebars that move back and forth, but I ignored them (except for when I had to dodge them to get at my water bottle). Managed to survive, but it's not my favorite workout.

For the rest of the day:

Does it count as 'unpacked' if you get everything out of the suitcase, or do you have to actually put it all away? (I did get all the wine taken care of, though.) I tell myself it's good exercise to deal with one or two items at a time. More walking.

Then there's the laundry, and the empty fridge, and waiting for the mail to be delivered, which will mean another overwhelming stack of things to do.

Down/upload pictures from my camera. Wait for DH to share his much better ones. But because he shoots RAW, that means his pictures are about 8 MB each, and I have to wait for him to reformat into reasonably sized jpgs before I can share them with you.

Send ARC to the reviewer who requested it.

Deal with tracking expenses for taxes. (I know that one's going to hit the 'maybe another day' list).

Move files from laptop to PC.

When my brain clears a bit, I'll try to get back to posts about some of the RWA workshops and some more pictures of our trip.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Barley or Hops?

What I'm reading: Birds of Prey, by J.A. Jance

Yesterday's excursion took us from Salem to the Oregon coast, with a brief stop at Otis, a wide spot in the road, for what was supposed to be their Marionberry pie, but turned into lunch. Most of the rest of the day was spent at scenic beach spots where I observed my husband, his sister and her husband endeavor to identify every living piece of flora and fauna.

The cold, windy, gray day didn't make for any striking views, but there's a rugged beauty in the gloom. Can't say much for the 'beauty' of the smells of congregations of birds and sea lions. We ended up on the streets of Newport, where we had dinner at a brew pub.

Question of the day. You're in a brew pub. You go to the area of the restrooms. There are two doors. One says "Barley", the other says "Hops." Which would you open?



Today's itinerary is supposed to focus on winery tours. There's some excellent Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley.

Friday, August 08, 2008

More bits and pieces from RWA and San Francisco

What I'm reading: Sweet Talk by Susan Mallery

What I'm writing: Chapter 12 -- and lots of plot notes.

Admittedly, I'm not a plotter. I have the broadest strokes of story, a bunch of back story for my main characters so I know how they'll behave and what makes them tick, but much of the other stuff is very vague. VERY vague. After being away from the manuscript for nearly 2 weeks, I went back and read the last few chapters, and crossed another one of those bridges, where I knew where the characters had to be, but wasn't exactly sure how they'd get there.

With a clearer mindset, I had one of those delightful "aha" moments and although it means some going back and fixing, rewriting, etc., I'm feeling more motivated to move ahead. And, thanks to hearing all those authors saying this is the way they work as well, I'm not even frustrated about unraveling and reweaving.

As far as RWA bits -- some pictures from Fisherman's Wharf.

That's Alcatraz in the distance, between the sailboat masts. Forbes Island, a floating restaurant is to the left. And the fog's rolling in.

Coit Tower from the wharf.


Fog rolling in -- Golden Gate Bridge and WWII Liberty Ship the SS Jeremiah O'Brien

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Touching Base

What I'm reading: Skinny Dipping, by Connie Brockway; Pursuit, by Elizabeth Jennings

After a wonderful, if exhausting, week in San Francisco at the RWA National Conference, I'm enjoying some decompression time in Oregon. The guys are off doing manly stuff, and I'm totally content to stay in the house with the bird and cats. The weather is marvelous compared to Florida, and I have plenty of reading material. Plus, of course, a WIP in need of attention.

The Kiss of Death tour was an interesting look behind the scenes at Customs. We watched them X-ray cargo containers, and saw how every vehicle entering the port of Oakland goes through radiation scanners. I wonder if everyone on the tour decided it was too complicated to contrive a plot based on smuggling anything into the country – and out's not that much easier. Our delightful leader (with a perfect romance heroine name – Roxanne Hercules) answered our questions, but had no qualms about saying, "I can't tell you that."

Our tour ended at the San Francisco airport's International terminal where we watched Duffy the agriculture inspection beagle in action and had a chance to see how incoming passengers are screened.

They use beagles for this kind of work because they're in high passenger traffic areas and aren't likely to be seen as the kind of threat the larger, aggressive dogs would be. The German Shepherd types are used in the cargo areas, and are usually sniffing out drugs, not apples and sausage. Duffy's handler said Duffy is just about the most laid-back dog he's ever worked with -- and I think Michelle Gagnon proved his point.

Allison Brennan spoke at the annual dinner, and it's always nice to hear a Big Author admit that they've run into situation where they've had to rip apart huge chunks of a book and start over.

Wednesday was a 'free day' and my husband and I played tourist, walking from the hotel to Fisherman's Wharf. We opted for the scenic route. Our route took us t through Chinatown and North Beach.

A walk of under 2 ½ miles isn't all that much, but the San Francisco hills made it something we'd remember for the next few days.

I'll post more as I find time.