Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What I Learned Reading Courtney Milan's PROOF BY SEDUCTION

The Story
Jenny Keeble survives by posing as a gypsy fortuneteller saying the things her clients want to hear. One of her clients, a vulnerable young man, brings his skeptical older cousin to prove to him of her validity. The cousin, Gareth Carhart, Marquess of Blakely, sees her as nothing more than a charlatan to bilk his cousin of money. 

To prove her spiritual validity, she challenges Blakely with tasks to enable him to win the heart and hand of a random woman chosen at a ball. Ned, the cousin, does everything he can to ensure that Blakely's tasks succeed. The results? All three find their world view and self-image challenged.

From A Reader's Perspective

Several pages passed before I warmed up to Milan's style of writing. Initially, I found the characters rather bleak and almost unappealing, but then the story unfolds...

Reading Milan's Proof of Seduction can compare to viewing a simple spiderweb. The characters stories all interweave and very slowly, Milan lets out silken thread to weave light into these characters. I especially loved Jenny: not for all the love in the world would she let go of her personal ideals. By the end of the story, I admired Jenny and found in her an amazingly strong female character I'd remember for some time. 

What I Learned as a Writer

Subplots = good in the correct hands.

Milan wrote as if this was a stand-alone, a rarity among romance writers these days. She literally wove three stories using the character Jenny as the center (even though the two characters in the subplots are related to Blakely) and used Blakely to spin the threads out. Do I make sense?

Jenny stood at the center of each story: she's the one who draws that character out: Ned, fighting debilitating depression, Laura, fighting insecurity and filled with self doubt, and finally Gareth, a man who takes his responsibility so seriously he's lost himself within his own life. 

Milan could easily have written a linear novel, leaving Ned and Laura to sequels. By including Ned and Laura's stories as a whole, the characters of Jenny and Gareth become multi-dimensional. The subplots bring layering to a rather simple and oft-told story. This layering of subplots sets apart Milan's story from all the other "young woman driven to larceny in desperation" stories. From here I derive my own lesson.

I've read too many books where the subplots set up sequels, with Milan I've learned how a subplot should actually bring depth to a novel. The subplots actually complement the main story and assist it to a satisfactory end. As a writer, I need to not assume that my book needs or deserves a sequel. If I introduce a secondary story, I need to ensure that I dovetail it into the main story: it should complement the story, enhance the main story.

BTW, I wouldn't mind reading more of Ned, if Milan chooses. I loved that character and the way Milan dealt with his depression....but that's another blog post about the creation of minor characters.

Thanks, Ms. Milan, for a wonderful lesson.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Goals for Week of June 28

Well. With last week totally a waste and none of my goals accomplished, I need to take a deep breath and start again. I experienced really bad writer's block caused by stress and uncertainty of our adopting our Lovely Boy. I've written two parts on the adoption process and am feeling the stress being to lift. While writing the first part of the adoption blogs, I labored over every word. The second part just flew and, by the time I finished it, I feel relieved.

My goals for the week really resemble last week's:

1. Word count: 2500 words by Friday morning (we think Lovely Boy's coming for the weekend)
2. Out of Genre Reading: continue James Rollins' Amazonia with attention on story pacing (lost the book last week...found out under my chaise)
3. In Genre Reading: read the new Tessa Dare
4. Blog: Wednesday's topic: What I learned from Courtney Milan's Proof By Seduction and Friday's writing exercise...I want to develop the Haunted House one step further.  Tuesday is scheduled already (Part 3 of my Adoption Process series) and I've roughly sketched something out for Thursday.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Reason for Writer's Block: The Adoption Process Part 2

I'm facing my third day of writer's block. I'm trying to work through it by typing out the emotions behind it...and the cure is on!


When we last left the Adoption Process, I wrote about events that took place in December of 2009. I'm still in December of 2009.

When we called on Monday after the Adoption Fair, our social worker went cross-eyed as we told her of our encounter with the Lovely Boy.

"But," she said. "You want siblings! You want young!"

Yes, but what we want and what God planned? Two different things. She shrugged and said she'd contact Lovely Boy's social worker and start the ball rolling. This was Monday.

On Thursday, the school secretary pulled me out of my class to take an emergency phone call. Three children who fit our profile to a "T" needed emergency placement. Thus began the longest 24 hours of our life/marriage.

Hubby and I went back and forth on the phone trying to decide what to do. These kids needed us NOW as an emergency placement and we felt strongly that Lovely Boy would find a home, pronto. After all, Lovely Boy was so awesome. The next day - after we said no to LB and hello 3-kids, we were told that the kid would not come to us under an emergency placement and we would proceed using the usual procedure.

Now, it's like six days until Christmas and these three kids - removed from an adoption situation that wasn't working out - were going to spend Christmas in two separate foster homes and not with a loving family like us. I was BEYOND upset.

After the first of the year, Lovely Boy became the first child of the year featured on Wednesday's Child and we sat down to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly about the three kids (it's the first step after matching: it's the full reveal).

The news seemed mix. The kids had issues, but all workable. Sure, they were in therapy, but all foster kids are. We were handed 1" thick files to read on each kid. Hands were shaken and off we went to read up on the kids and make the next decision. We were given a week to do so.

Reading those files? Nightmare. The three kids were actually in three separate group homes. All three went to various therapists (every other week, just for the kids we'd have three separate therapy sessions and the week in between? FIVE separate therapy sessions not including the family and transition therapy sessions). Plus, one of the kids had an anger issue that frightened their classmate. One was ADHD. One wasn't speaking yet.

And nobody queried about Lovely Boy despite a wonderful push for his adoption on local television.

When I looked through the adoption folders for the second time, I saw my life literally stop: I'd need to quit my job in order to schlep these kids to all of their therapy sessions. How would I handle both an angry child and an ADHD child at the exact same time? I knew that I'd be trapped at home with these three kids while hubby only had to deal with them for a few hours in the evening and on the weekends. I pictured my marriage: my dealing with these kids by myself and then hubby coming home to the kids and an unhappy wife.

And Lovely Boy wasn't leaving my mind. How was he feeling? Did he think of us? Did he wonder what happened to us?

I felt I let him down.

As a couple, we chose to not pursue the three children. I felt horrible. I felt awful. I cried. But I wasn't the right mother for those kids. I just wasn't. Call it selfish, but I wasn't the right mother for those three children.

And I couldn't stop thinking of Lovely Boy.

After we turned them down, we quickly agreed to follow up on LB. Our social worker  didn't understand and thought us nuts: he wasn't what we initially wanted.

I couldn't stop thinking of my lovely, Lovely Boy.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reason for Writer's Block: The Adoption Process Part 1

I can't write today. I try and try. It's just not happening. I've done every trick that usually gets the juices going, but nothing worked.

Then I realized the issue: I'm waiting for the adoption social worker to call: he's suppose to bring our foster child over to show him our home and to discuss rules and expectations. It's now 5:12 and still no call. So, now I have to wait to find out if they'll come on Sunday morning for their visit or maybe earlier...or maybe later. The waiting makes me edgy and unsettled. I feel unfocused and restless.

When David and I decided to start the adoption process. We deliberately chose to go the public route through LA County. We went through all the mandatory classes, opened our home to both county and state  foster workers, and then started the waiting game. Waiting for The Call.

We don't want babies. It's not a lifestyle decision as much as it's a decision based on the incredible need for parents willing to take sibling sets and older children. David and I opted for a sibling set profile: get it all done at once. LA County did flips and we were immediately invited to an adoption event as soon as our approval went through.

An adoption fair resembles a mosh between a carnival and a pet adoption fair. Kids walk around playing games and potential parents trail after them trying to glean information from them. It's depressing.

David and I felt helpless at the whole process of this "fair" thing until we found the booth for boardgames. Well. We LOVE boardgames - got a whole room in the house devoted to board games. David plunked his butt into a chair and whipped out Kerplunk! and Connect Four. I sat at the next booth playing Uno. As kids walked by we invited to sit with us and play. It's so much easier to talk to kids if you do something with them. When David or I found a kid we liked, I'd jump up and run to find the social worker to discuss their availability (a trick we learned from the county parenting classes). After coming back from such a run, I found David sitting with a young man (I placed him at about 12ish).

Within a matter of minutes, we were in love. Serious love.

As with any love situation, problems immediately jumped up: at 13 (he turned 14 in February). he wasn't within our profile range (we wanted young like 6-8) nor was he a sibling (we wanted 2-3). But we loved him. We genuinely loved him.

At the end of the fair, pizza's offered. This lovely young man invited us to eat with him. Did I tell you we loved him? We loved him. We sat, ate pizza, he shared his cupcake with me (still have the topper), we told him to stop trying to sell himself on us. We loved him.

But he wasn't within our profile.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The "Stalking" of Authors

In her now-infamous Twitter rant, Alice Hoffman tweeted that she "doesn't have fans, [she] has readers". For months now that comment bugged me so much that now I find myself questioning the tweets I send to my favorite authors.

Starting in childhood, I followed authors by writing them letters, researching their lives via the library, scanned the talk show lists thoroughly in the hopes of seeing one of my idols, and scoured the newspapers at the public library in search of mentions in various book sections.

Some kids worshiped KISS, I worshipped Laura Ingalls Wilder. During the summers, my friends lived at the beach while I lived at the library reading everything I could by Lois Lowry. and Louisa Mae Alcott My girlfriend wore Journey t-shirts and me? I made a t-shirt with a picture of a horse with the caption "Trixie Forever".

Yes, I was a cool kid....not. However, happy memories fill my childhood thanks to my favorite authors. I spent summers on a horse ranch with Trixie Beldon. Harriet The Spy and I kept journals of our friends' activities. I vowed to not fly in the house along with Annabel and mentally held her hand when Gloria left. When life dished me pain during those awkward teen years, Jo March sympathized. With books nearby, I never felt alone.

Now, 40 years later, I still will read a book simply because a favored author wrote the thing. Good, bad, or ugly, I support my favorite authors even though I trip myself up when I finally get to meet them:
  • I've driven five hours and spend the night in a podunk town just to meet Laurie King...and then suffered through shyness that prevented me from asking my questions. I blushed horrifically when the store owner offered to snap a picture.
  • I stood in line for over an hour just to hear Jasper Fforde and then couldn't remember my name when it came for him to sign my books.
  • Steve Hockensmith, I simply adore, but my close friend had to talk me into taking a picture with him. 
  • I won't go into the happy dance I did when I realized Tasha Alexander adores Firefly just like I do...and she tweets back to my shock.
And the list of embarrassments goes on and on.

When Hoffman made her comment, I stopped in my tracks. Thanks to the Internet, I write to my favorite authors. I tweet them on Twitter. I comment on their blogs. I don't see myself just as a "reader", I see myself as a supporter...and isn't that what a fan is?

Thanks to my love of fiction throughout my life, I still seek escape from the sometimes painful realities of my life. I squee when Roarke seduces Eve, I whisper "go girl" when Emily defies her mother and learns Greek while solving her husbands death. I hold the hand of Old Red while he mourns his lost love and I cheer when Big Red finally publishes his writings. The characters my favorite authors create keep my company in those dark hours of life.

The Hoffman comment turned my genuine love of these characters and my pleasure in supporting my favorite authors into a feeling of stalking...good thing I don't like her writing.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Writing Goals for the Week of June 22

Ah...I love summer vacation: 12 weeks of nothing but self-absorption. It's good to be an underpaid and under-appreciated teacher. 

My writing goals are simple:

1. Word count: 1500 words by Friday afternoon. ( I don't write on the weekends: that's family time)
2. Out of Genre Reading: continue James Rollins' Amazonia with attention on story pacing.
3. In Genre Reading: re-read Tasha Alexander's And Only to Deceive
4. Blog: Wednesday's topic: What I learned from Mary Balogh's A Secret Affair and Friday's writing exercise...I'm not sure yet what I want to do. Tuesday and Thursday - if I write for those days are always random topics. Tuesday is scheduled already and I've roughly sketched something out for Thursday.

I'm keeping it simple this week as we have adoption stuff with Matthew. He and his social worker will visit one evening to see the house and talk about family expectations. I need to do a good scrubbing of the place and I don't want too high of writing goals to put stress on both situations. Plus. I really need to start my prep work for next Fall's school year. 

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I'm a Hobbiest, Not a Writer

When I think of a "real" writer, I mentally "see" someone who eats/drinks/sleeps all the while they type. They walk through life writing on anything they find: every experience provides a prompt.  A writer will die if they can't put their thoughts down on paper. A writer cannot imagine doing anything else in life.


I'm a hobbiest. I keep my writing goals small and I probably spend way more time researching than actually writing on my project. I agonize over story structure and scene placement. I labor over character profiles and endlessly search for photographs for visual references. I'm far more caught up in the process of writing than in the actual writing itself.

I still see myself as a hobbiest.

I stand on the outside of Twitterland and live vicariously through various writers who seem to eat/breath/drink the written word. I just don't fit in with most writers. It doesn't take me all day to write 1000 words - I can write that in two hours, easy. Most Twitter writers agonize over their word count and I think something's wrong with me.

Recognizing my hobbiest status takes tremendous pressure off my back: I don't agonize every word and couldn't give a fig for my word count. I don't fantasize about publishing my work and I only remotely dream of having Colleen Lindsay represent me. Just because I lull myself to sleep by imagining scenes from my book does not mean that I'll write them down in the morning. And so what if I highlight my favorite passages in books written by Tessa Dare or Mary Balogh...I'm still a hobbiest.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

What I Learned From Tessa Dare's GODDESS OF THE HUNT

The Story

The main story centers on the relationship of the Jeremy Trescott, Earl of Kendall and 19-year-old Lucy Waltham. Jeremy's watched Lucy, the young sister and ward of a close friend,  grow from a young girl of 11 to a young lady. Though Lucy spent most of her teen years infatuated with another of her brother's friends, Toby, she finds herself engaged and married to Jeremy. Suddenly, Lucy finds herself in a privileged world far different from the country life she previously lead.

My Thoughts As a Reader

I struggled with the book initially as it didn't quite follow the path I expected the story to take: I thought the story would follow the courtship between Jeremy and Lucy, but instead Dare chose to take the reader through the relationship post-wedding. This threw me off and I needed to restart the book with the idea that Dare followed a different path than what other writers do. 

I found myself greatly interested in the description of the expectations of behavior for a Countess. All of the people surrounding Lucy expressed very different expectations and she struggled trying to find her own way. On top of her struggling in understanding her new role, Jeremy also found himself in trying to find his way as a husband and Earl. His late father, overly harsh and very unapproachable, left a negative legacy that leaves Jeremy feeling almost overwhelmed as he tries to define his own style of leadership. 

The characters drive the story and pull me through. I root for Lucy's unique take on life and I sympathize with Jeremy as he tries to show his love for her without losing sight of his responsibility to his people. 

Once I realized that Dare writes about relationships in which romance blooms versus romances that relationships grow out of, I inhaled her book and quickly purchased the other two in the series. 

What I Learned As a Writer

Lesson learned? Grow relationships, not just characters.

Lucy, as a ward of her clueless brother, never attended finishing school, never experienced a Season. Left to her own devices, she grew willy nilly and received treatment by all around her as more of a pet than a person. Jeremy, on the other hand, had the father from hell and grew up without a lot of humor.  These two were destined for each other.

Dare never really changes the two characters: Lucy does temper her impulsiveness and Jeremy does loosen up a bit, but that's not the main purpose of her story. Instead, as Lucy and Jeremy adapt to married life, they grow as a couple and begin to complement one another. In the subsequent books, we see the two pretty much the same individually but they're now a couple: Lucy still sparkles with a lively spirit and Jeremy still quietly leads the way.

Am I making sense?

Dare hasn't written a love story of two people who meet and fall in love, she's written a story of two people whose strengths and weaknesses not only complement one another but also improves their relationship. Lucy brings light into Jeremy's life and Jeremy brings a sense of order and decorum to Lucy's. Together, they fit. 

As a writer, I need to not just focus on growing my characters individually, I need to grow their relationships. In real life, relationships grow or they just stop existing. If I truly want my couple to "live happily ever after", I must grow their relationship so that my reader knows the love isn't impulsive or for the moment. 

Thanks, Ms. Dare.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Writing Exercise: The Haunted House

This 5-minute writing exercise comes from: CM Mayo's website: Five Minute Daily Writing Exercises

The glass slid to the right.
"Not today, dear. I need to finish grading."
The glass slid back.
"Thank you. Go play somewhere else, please."
Up above, the sounds of stomping came loud and clear through the floor. I sighed and made the mental note about specific instructions.
Soon, the stomping interrupted my concentration. With another vexed sigh, I set aside the grading and made my way up the stairs.
"Alright, we can play. Just for a few minutes, though." Remembering specific instructions. "After I finish grading, we can play longer."
The stomping stopped and I waited on the stair landing for the next move. The silence didn't last long: the doors down the long narrow hallway soon began banging rhythms.
"Blue Danube."
The doors halted. Yep, I'd guessed right. Silence followed and then a rhythmic stomping began.
"Ooh...that's a new one. Hold on, I'll need a hint."
The mirror next to me began to swing.
"Not the mirror, please. Bad luck, ya know."
The mirror stopped it's swaying and the stomping took on a new rhythm. Truly stumped, I listened for a few more minutes.
"I'm clueless. What's the song?"
Giggling filled the hallway.
"Yes, you should feel pleased. You usually can't trick me."
My daughter's Barbie came from her room, riding her pink bicycle. I knew the song. I let out a groan. Seriously, I knew this song.
"You played 'Daisy' or is it called 'A Bicycle Build For Two'?" The song my daughter played at her last piano recital.

And the five minutes are up.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What I learned from R G Alexander's REGINA IN THE SUN

Note: As a wannabe writer, I read books to learn from published writers. Sometimes I learn from the writer's talent, sometimes I learn from their mistakes. However, I never forget this reality: they are published and I am not.

The Story
The story opens up in a small English town in the dead of night. The feeling is that of old, old England as Reggie runs to Sanctuary. We learn that she is "Unborn": a vampire made, not born and so, therefore, unwanted. She runs to a man, Lux Sariel, who leads the Truebloods - vampires born and so, therefore, the good guys. Lux gives Reggie sanctuary and makes her his mate. Lux calls together all of the vampire clans to address the rising of a serious group of bad guys: The Shadow Wolves. However, not all of the vamps see the Shadow Wolves as bad and side with them in a showdown between both sides.

Thoughts as a Reader
I thought this book a period novel in the initial pages: that caught my attention and hooked my interest. The images of Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes came to a jarring halt when I realized several pages in that this was actually a modern day story. Would have loved it as a period piece...

As a reader, I liked the idea of vamps being born, not made and I enjoyed the element of prejudice against those that are created. This element of prejudice brings a complexity to the story. Unfortunately, Alexander never really develops the element and opts for a tidy resolution, of sorts.

I believe Alexander initially wrote this as a simple paranormal romance, but sent the book into the realm of erotica with a jarring inclusion of a sex scene witnessed by Reggie. I'm ok with the idea of erotica, but felt "ewy" at the thought that Reggie sat and watched three people have sex. That's not ok. Ick.

Thoughts as a Writer
Lesson learned? From Alexander's writing, I learned to limit characters. In the opening pages of the novel, Reggie's thoughts introduce too many minor characters and they just keep piling up as the book goes on. Most don't move the story forward and, in the climatic scene, they muddy the waters and confuse the heck out of me as I struggle to remember who is who.

As I write my current story, I plot out ever scene. I write a summary of the scene, it's purpose to the overall story and then identify who appears. Every person who appears - or mentioned - must add to the scene AND the overall story. I must put my finger on every person in a scene and say "he enables the hero to do this" or "she represents the reader's perspective". If I can't identify their purpose, out they go.

As a result of reading REGINA IN THE SUN, I halted my writing to go back and plot out each scene thoroughly, identify superfluous characters, and tighten my story. Thanks, RG Alexander.