Monthly Archives: May 2014

Interesting BBQ With Teenage Boys and Girls

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    Like many of you, we visited with friends for Memorial Day. This particular family has been friends with my family for a long time. They married about the same time Hubby and I did, had their first son a year before The Girl was born, and their daughter two years after The Boy came along. Mr. Friend is an Ex-Army Ranger and saw some interesting times during the Gulf War while I had to play around state-side and pout.

The interesting side-effect to having two families interact regularly over the better part of two decades is that the children know each other well. But not too well. They live about a half-hour away now so we live separate lives, really only seeing each other a few times a year on long weekends when we don’t have other family obligations.

When The Girl was about four and their son was five, I recall her chasing him around at a BBQ. His dad took pity on our tiny daughter (she was always a favorite, being a petite thing and he was always tall for his age so they looked more like they were three years apart than one) Mr. Friend pinned his son, not knowing what The Girl had in mind. She promptly walked up to her friend, kissed the resigned child, and declared them married.

All the adults laughed, naturally. The Girl was very proud and her new groom seemed unusually accepting of his fate.

Fast forward twelve years to last night. Do you see what’s coming? Let me set the scene: another BBQ with the families, a petite 16-year-old who only reaches the shoulder (not kidding) of a towering 17-year-old who’s been sporting a neatly trimmed mustache and goatee for a year (I’m serious). The Girl has little interest in video games, the towering 17-year-old has little interest in academics or books, although they’re both a bit nerdy. Thank you, Stan Lee. Maybe.

The Girl has put in her time the last few times the families have met watching her brother and towering 17-year-old/‘soon to be boyfriend in another high school’ competing at insert-some-video-game-here and cheering on her brother’s opponent. Because naturally she wouldn’t cheer on her brother. (He’s her brother. Everyone understands that, it’s nothing weird.)

The kids were all settled on their computers, together and yet in their own little worlds, leaving the adults free to do our own thing. (Except for the youngest — another time.) Hubby, for some reason, had to go grab something from the den where kids were. Here’s where things get interesting.

I should back up and explain something. On Friday, The Girl came bouncing up to me almost crying that it had been too long since she’d seen her ‘soon to be a boyfriend in another high school.’

Naturally, I said, “Talk to your father.”

Hubby said, “You have their number. Call and set something up.”

She did. Then she called her friend from across the street who descended on our house Monday and spent an alarming amount of time ‘making over’ our fresh and innocent daughter into something I would expect to find climbing a pole. I was frantically thinking about my phrasing when The Girl approached me later, in heels, to show me the results. She winked and mouthed “It’s okay,” which I took to mean I was supposed to go along with this for her friend’s sake, so I enthusiastically approved of her overdone make-up and capris with heels. Then I pulled her aside as soon as her friend left and gave her my best WTF look.

“I’m changing, and taking it off,” she said and immediately when back upstairs.

“Why the charade?” I called.

“She wanted to help for my date.”

My date. That was our first clue. Up until that moment, it was a BBQ. Everyone else thought it was a BBQ. I wondered if the ‘the soon to be a boyfriend in another high school’ knew it wasn’t a BBQ.

Now, back to the den. Hubby went to go grab something knowing The Girl, The Boy, and ‘the soon to be a boyfriend in another high school’ were in there. (The extra child was with me killing off humanity. Another time.)

Hubby opens the door and innocently finds The Boy at his computer playing something. The ‘soon to be a boyfriend in another high school’ at his computer, with The Girl on his lap. Her arms are around his neck, he’s got one arm around her tiny waist, and the other on the keyboard. So . . . holding her, but playing his video game. Huh.

Not to embarrass The Girl (that would be dangerous) Hubby just got what he needed and left. Besides, The Boy was there, they were chaperoned. And all three of them knew The Boy would take any opportunity to tattle on his perfect sister.

Upon relating this tale to me later, I pointed out to Hubby that The Boy is bribeable — assuming The Girl thought of it, which she wouldn’t; she is nearly perfect and doesn’t tend toward corruption. ‘Soon to be a boyfriend in another high school,’ however, could very well think of it and, once the idea is floated, The Girl would know how to buy off her little brother.

Hubby and I are sort of laughing, but in the back of our minds, we’re also cringing. When you have a cute little teenage girl, you really don’t like it when life gets interesting.

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Remembering

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Memorial Day is for remembering. Apparently that’s something I’m not very good at. I remembered the holiday was coming. I remembered what it was for (I was all geared up and had a flag cake pan unpacked and everything). Unfortunately, I sort of lost track of time. I’ll blame that on the frenzy that accompanies the end of the school year and having two teens in two different schools.

After returning home this evening from The Boy’s last orchestra performance of the school year (whew!), Hubby and I decided to unwind by settling down to watch a rerun of BBC’s Top Gear. That’s when The Girl reminded us it was Memorial Day weekend coming up and she had plans. Which reminded me it was almost the weekend and I hadn’t written a blog post. Cringe. And also it was Memorial Day weekend and I hadn’t set up a promotion to celebrate. Extra cringe. (I wore olive drab for a brief period in my youth, so I feel particularly guilty about that.)

I apologize for the blog being pathetically short and dual-purpose, but Be Careful What You Wish For will be FREE from Friday, May 23 to Tuesday, May 27, 2014. This is the first book in the Genie in Your Pocket Collection, it’s rated at 4.6 stars (Thank You), and I’d love it if you’d give it a try and even leave a review if you like it. Assuming of course that you haven’t already.

If you do like Olive, my first mischievous genie, there’s a short story available as a FREE download on Goodreads, Meet Olive. Here’s the funny part about Goodreads – there’s two different copies of the story there. The version with the ship on the cover is a PDF, the version with a woman on the cover is ePUB. I’d love to say it’s just so you can tell at a glance which one you want. Actually this is a byproduct of me fighting with Goodreads’ interface. Getting anything done is like taking a shower with my cat. Their revenge is resetting my download counter on both versions. Bless them.

Also, sometime in the near future, the next book in the collection, Make A Wish!, will be released and Olive makes a guest appearance in there. That book is caught up in revisions right now. More about that later. Eventually I’ll write a short story about the new girl too. Meet Galila? Hmm.

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Nouns Are Important

ImageEvery woman should have a little black dress/cat. Read that as you will. I have both. Considering I also have two teens, I get more use from the LBC (little black cat). I figure in that sentence, dress and cat are interchangeable. They’re both nouns . . .

Okay, so maybe it doesn’t work quite like that, but why not? I’ve long held the suspicion that someone who can write a really good love scene could write a passable fight scene, and someone who can write a really rocking fight scene should be able to write a passable love scene. The theory is: write the scene you’re good at, say sex, then go back and change all the verbs and (hopefully) nouns. Voila! Fight scene. Fine, you may have to clean it up a little, but you’d have the framework. For someone who doesn’t know where to start, it’s somewhere to start.

Have I tested this theory? No. Why? Partially no need yet. The few skirmishes I’ve had have flowed from my fingertips organically and I didn’t need to cheat. The other reason why is I’d rather stay off The Guardian’s radar. They give an award every year for the worst sex scene in a book. Usually it goes to someone I’ve never heard of, but they’ve had some big name nominees. And while it would be free advertising, I’ll pass.

That’s me being a chicken, by the way. I’ve gone back and reread some of my first attempt sex scenes, and I don’t think I’d win against those writers The Guardian picks on. The winners aren’t just bad scenes, they’re creatively bad. The avid romance reader probably knows what I’m talking about – like finding a scene several pages long where everything is described in terms of food, or flowers, or (shudder) cars. Or authors who stubbornly refused to call anything by its anatomical or common name and instead terms like ‘winkie’ and ‘hoo-hoo’ slip in there. Talk about ruining the mood. If you can’t say it, honey, don’t write about it. Granted that’s an extreme example and I saw that in a pre-publication piece I was critiquing. (Disclaimer: it might have been intentional, I’m not sure.)

So the point? Nouns matter. Writers hear over and over that adverbs are bad and adjectives are weak. Use stronger verbs. What about nouns? In romance we hear about purple prose – the practice of giving decorative names to body parts and actions. Her shimmering globes and his velvet shaft, you’ve heard it before. Romance writers are told purple prose died a painful death over a decade ago, but it’s been a lingering one. In fairness, there is a reason it’s still around: repetition. There are only so many times you want to say dick, penis, and cock in nine pages. And describing female genitalia is arguably worse.

For some small-print publishers, there is a list of terms you can’t use. Ever. I’m not just talking about the F-word, the C-word is almost always on there if you see such a list, but some publishers don’t like other phrases or words. And some authors aren’t comfortable writing some terms. Maybe it doesn’t suit the character to admire her honey’s ass – she would think of it as a bottom, where another woman would most definitely think of it as his ass.

Nouns are one of the most basic building blocks of sentences, and therefore your book. Pay a little bit of attention to them. (And I was kidding about switching out the verbs in a love scene, by the way! Although, if anyone wants to try it, I’d love to see the results.)

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I Started My Book in the Wrong Place!

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I finished the ‘sequel’ to Be Careful What You Wish For a couple of months ago, and now I’m ready to do my first revision. I usually do several, each time focusing on different things. Also, I make sure there’s time in between to give myself the best chance to forget the story and see it with fresh eyes. That way I give myself the best chance to spot loose ends, plot holes, and anything else in the storyline itself that really needs to be addressed. It’s sort of embarrassing to have a beta reader (they come after alpha readers) to point out that your hero could easily have escaped the dragon by simply climbing into his space ship that he conveniently left three feet behind him and turning on the shields. Or something. I don’t write anything with dragons or spaceships, so this is unlikely to happen to me. The point, however, remains valid.

Anyway, so I’m ready to do a revision and I start . . . humming along, fixing punctuation, tweaking sentences for readability, things like that . . . and I realize that I don’t get to The Point of No Return until chapter three.

That’s bad.

This is why we do revisions, people. Correction: This is one reason why we do revisions, people. I started my book in the wrong place and I’m not a happy camper. Or did I? Not necessarily. Yes, I have to fix it. In Be Careful What You Wish For, it took longer than I wanted to meet the genie, and I dropped an earlier hint of things to come to lead people along. This time it’s much, much worse. But did I genuinely start writing in the wrong place?

The thing about writing is it’s a creative process. It’s nice to start writing your novel at the point in the story where your novel is actually going to begin, but you don’t always have that choice. If you plan out the whole thing, it certainly swings the odds in your favor, I admit that. You don’t know until you pick it up for that first round of revisions if you pulled it off. Sometimes that first chapter was just for you to get to know your characters and has nothing to do with the reader or the story. It has to go. Take a step back, put on your critic’s cap, and ask yourself: Where is The Point of No Return for your character? In the Three-Act Structure, it’s common for the point of no return to be about a quarter of the way through. I personally think that’s too far in, but that’s me.

At this point, I’ll add that I don’t personally follow the Three-Act Structure template. I like my stories to be more character-driven and this focuses on plot too much. My characters lead me on their quest and I record it. I don’t usually plan ahead, and this makes following a structure a little more difficult. I do think this template makes a good point about how the book is divided into the beginning, middle, and end; and ensures you have the right amount of tension in each section. I think it makes writers take a stronger look at what they’ve created (plot-wise) and see if it follows the general trend. There are other plot-templates, this is just one. You see the term thrown around a lot with screenplays, but it’s applied to books as well.

Now we’ve established that I write by the seat of my pants and don’t consciously follow any real guide when I write. (With the exception of the Lexi Frost & Thousand Words series of novels, which I have a very vague outline for that should last me through about twelve books. I set things up books in advance with those.) I just sit down and start writing because I don’t want to get bogged down in needing to follow a format or structure. I don’t want to distract myself and dampen my creativity. However, if you’ve written 25,000 words and your character hasn’t left home yet to start his quest, maybe structure will provide a little guidance.

For this book, as it was with Be Careful What You Wish For, I hit that Point of No Return well before the quarter-mark the template usually suggests. It’s still farther along than I want it to be. I can provide little hooks to maintain interest until the reader gets there, but should I?

Let’s move on to look at Act I: The Beginning AKA what’s going on before the character hits The Point of No Return. Typically, it’s introducing the characters, the world, establishing the tone and voice, providing the conflict and showing what the stakes are.

Did I do that? Yes. So why am I complaining? Because it’s what I do. Deal with it.

Fine, so I want my The Point of No Return to be earlier in the book. Choices? Toss chapters 1 & 2 and fit the pertinent information into flashbacks, conversations, etc. (No, I won’t do an infodump, that’s sloppy.) There’s too much to easily fit in, and the reader will need this information before The Point of No Return, further complicating that option. All right, time to look at those first two chapters with a hyper-critical eye.

This time everything is suspect to important questions and I have a ‘take no prisoners’ policy in my mind. Does the reader really need to know this? Does the reader need to know this now? Everything that doesn’t receive two thumbs-up either needs to be moved or outright chucked. I can develop the main characters just fine starting from chapter 3. Can I eliminate enough to merge chapters 1 & 2? That would move my character’s Point of No Return up quite a bit. Can I do that without sacrificing the story’s tone and voice? Will it make readability suffer?

I’m skeptical I can trim and move that much, but we’ll see. Part of the point is showing how a comfortable, stable life is slowly turning upside-down. You can’t rush comfortable and stable too much without it showing. There’s one way to really find out: save a copy of the original work and just do it. See what the result is when I go in there with my pen/sword and start slashing. I can re-add bits, or return to the original version if I need to. At least I’ll know I made an effort to make the story as exciting as I could for my reader.

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