Wednesday, March 30, 2011

When the Plan Doesn't Work


As many of you know, I made a New Year’s resolution to write every day this year. And I’ve been doing that...until Tuesday of last week.

I let all the crazy little things in life distract me and I sort of fell off the wagon, got a concussion, and went blind. And I completely stopped writing on my story.

Sunday I spent my designated ‘write only’ day, doing something other than writing, and then I felt like the fat lady who had fallen off her diet and ate everything in sight. But instead of feeling bloated, fat and gassyJ, I was more disinterested, vague, and lazy.

And I completely lost interest in my writing. Isn’t that a major sin or something?

I think it shoud be.

Well anyway, Sunday night I felt horrible. I’d planned to be in a certain spot in my story before Dreamin’. I’m not there and I’m not happy.

So, last night when I came home from a very, very tough day at work, learning a new payroll system, I wanted to do nothing more than order pizza, grab a beer and veg out on the couch until bedtime.

NO, NO, NO!

I did not allow myself to do that. I fixed a light dinner, had a quick glass of wine, then shut the door to my office and wrote for three hours.

I didn’t want to. I didn’t feel my story and didn’t know my next plot point. And my characters were a faint memory.

In fact I’d lost touch with my whole story, my fabulous story, in six days!

After two tormenting, intense hours of writing, I finally got my groove back. It wasn’t easy and it damn sure wasn’t pretty, but I managed to get my brain and my muse back together at last.

What did I learn?

Write every day! Don’t let life, people, chapter business, or laziness steal your dream. Your dream to publish a book is the only thing in the world that is truly your very own.

Claim it and make it happen!

Oh yeah, one more thing...Learn to say Hell No!

Write On!

Geri Foster




Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Write Your History Challenge - Guest Blogger Caroline Clemmons

Today at 4 Writers, we welcome the entertaining Caroline Clemmons to our corner of the world. Welcome Caroline, thanks for dropping by!

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Special Guest Star
Caroline Clemmons!

Hi, my names is Caroline Clemmons and I love family history. No, I don’t mean endless pedigree charts of names with birth and death dates. Who cares if we’re related to Queen Elizabeth or Lizzie Borden?  I mean the real history part.

I am the historian for my extended family. I collect all the anecdotes I can find--the interesting stories of who did what when and why, no matter how scandalous. Actually, I have to admit the scandalous tales are more interesting. I’ve published two books: one on my mom and her family and one for my mother-in-law. Now I’m at work on a more industrious tome for my dad’s family, with help from my brother.

In addition to locking those tales in for perpetuity, I’ve been amazed at some of interesting things I’ve discovered. Remember how boring it was to learn dates in history classes? But if you learn, for instance, that your ancestors fought in the American Revolution and the details of their involvement, that part of our country’s history becomes real to you. Reading about it goes from chore to family story. I have an autograph book from 1860-1871 that covers the time a woman in my family was at an academy for young ladies, through the Civil War, to just before her death from childbed fever eleven years later. That time became real for me.

I’m not saying your history changes who you are. Nowadays most people don’t care if your ancestors came on the Mayflower, were here to greet them, or came on an Irish coffin ship. We’re valued by the kind of person we’ve become.  Sure, being born wealthy is nice--not that I’d know--but we value people for how they manage whatever talents they’ve been born with.

Here’s a challenge for each of you. Set up a PC folder for Family History. Start with the names of those ancestors you know and write them down. Nothing formal, just start telling the stories your family passed down or those you remember. Then ask older relatives to tell you what they remember about growing up and stories their parents told.

Geri Foster, one of this blog’s owners, amazes me with the wonderful stories she tells. I could listen to her for hours or days. You have stories, too, funny ones and sad ones and some barely believable. But who’s going to know these wonderful stories from our family’s past if we don’t record them?  As writers, we can even fictionalize them and turn them into books.

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Caroline Clemmons writes romance and adventure. She and her husband live in rural North Central Texas with a menagerie of rescued pets. Her current releases are available at The Wild Rose Press at www.thewildrosepress.com/caroline-clemmons-m-638.html Her backlist is available from Smashwords and Amazon Kindle.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hot Sand!

I have the biggest case of spring fever! I know that spring has arrived, so it’s not all that unusual; but all I can think about is escaping to a beach and playing in the hot sand.
I’m not one to “lay out and bake”; I just keep thinking I need to. I need to cleanse winter out of my system.
Work is crazy. My life is busy. I’ve committed myself to some new things this year and those projects have taken away some of my precious hours, but still there is this overwhelming urge to lay in sand warmed by the sun. I thought maybe it was the full moon, but no—even though I think of it as a gravitational pull. It hasn’t waned. I wake each morning yearning for hot sand and sun.
Because of previously mentioned projects there is no time to plan a getaway, much less take one. I’m looking at the calendar (no longer fresh and blank) and wondering how it got so full? It’s my handwriting so I know I made those plans. But when?
In what part of my brain did I think I could do everything and still have a life? Why did I forget to schedule some free time to take an unexpected trip? What was I thinking?
At dinner with my children the other night I mentioned my predicament. They looked at each other and in unison said, “Aren’t you the one who taught us to say, “No, thank you for the complement, but I must refuse the honor.” I guess they were listening some of the time, after all.
Even knowing I’ve stretched myself thin, I still have this dilemma. I need to feel hot sand underfoot! It grows stronger with each passing day. I look at the surrounding area and wonder; where’s the closest beach? When can I go?
So now I’m on a mission, how to get everything done and still satisfy this bone deep longing, to walk barefoot across a hot sandy beach.
Galveston anyone?
Life is good, enjoy!
Ella

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Beware the apocalypse – the office supply one, that is

I have a problem.
I love office supplies. Post-It notes, pens, pencils, notebooks, journals, file folders accordion folders, brads, staples, mini staplers, rubber band balls, business card holders… well, you can see where this is going.

I think it’s a problem all writers have and most will own up to. However, I realized I’d gone overboard with this addiction just the other day. I was riffling through the stacks of wide-ruled paper (23 packages at last count) when I came across an odd package. It was light but colorful, a perfect little square tucked  into a bag. I tugged and several more fell out. Within moments, the floor was covered with a prismatic, plastic-encased plethora of book covers. Book covers. My kid hasn’t used those since the 8th grade. He’s a JUNIOR.
Why am I still holding on to those?

But it gets worse. Much, much worse. I decided to see just how bad my addiction was. Eek.  I really should have just left the lid on that particular Pandora’s box. Or the office supply box (which I have.) It’s really a Rubbermaid 30 gallon tote and it is filled to the absolute brim with the aforementioned office supplies. I have a particular weakness for journals. And nearly every one of the 72 (YES, 72!!) that are in there have some sort of meaning. I can remember where I got them or what kind of deal I made (seriously, WHO can resist spiral bound notebooks for 10 cents each? And buy only one? NEVER!)
A teeeeeeeeny tiny portion of my office supplies
Here, too, the spectrum of colors reign supreme. Pink, purple, blue, yellow, green, red, shiny, dull. You name it, I have a notebook of some sort in it.

This does not begin to cover the Post-It notes. At this moment, I have four packages of stickies that contain 12 pads in each pack. Unopened. The opened ones are like Ella’s cardboard boxes – they breed and breed and breed. Total pad count: 96.

Pens? Oh, my, I shouldn’t even go there. I get on a kick with them. I find a style that I like and I snap up a dozen or so. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Two weeks ago, Office Depot came out with an awesome pen. It writes sooooo well and it comes in all sorts of nifty colors including orange and purple. I bought 12 of them. Multiples of the pink, blue and purple, if you wondered.

I also have a couple of whiteboards, a Dymo labeler, three razor-blade letter openers, four different kinds of staple pullers, index cards in full and half sizes, markers, pencils and an electric stapler.

Just to name a few.

I should address this situation. I know it. I just can’t seem to bring myself to do it.
Maybe the next time there’s a back-to-school sale, I will refrain from buying anything because I know I have everything we need. <twitch, twitch, twitch> Okay, maybe not.

What about you? Got any secret stashes? Any kind of oddly multiplying things you can't resist?

Happy shopping!
Jennifer August

Friday, March 25, 2011

Our Amazing Bodies

Open Wide.
Say Ahhhh!
I had laser gum surgery Monday and am recuperating. I expected to be in quite a lot of pain, but am not really. Yes I’m sore and achy, and tired, but considering how in-depth the procedure was, I’m impressed I’m not in more pain. Okay, I am taking a mild pain medication which helps, but still, I am amazed at how quickly our amazing bodies heal and how much medical torture we can endure. I’ve decided this year to address some of my medical issues and this was a big one for me. Yay, now I’m on the mend and the worst is over.

I have to eat soft foods for 10 days, so that part will be difficult because I like to eat so much! And of course when they say “Don’t eat spicy goods,” Yep you got it, I’m starving for Mexican! I can’t drink either because of the antibiotics I have to take, so bummer, no martinis! So I have to get creative with my choices especially if I want to keep it healthy. I can think of all kinds of foods that are soft that I like to eat, but most of them are deserts.

Yes, I had to stop and pick up a gallon of Blue Bell French Vanilla Ice Cream. What better excuse to get to indulge on something I like? Ice Cream is a food group isn’t it? For backup I have avocados, mashed potatoes, steamed cauliflower, and the makings for lots of banana smoothies. No seeds, nothing that requires much chewing. Oh, and okay, I can let a chocolate kiss melt in my mouth, yummy, yes I’ve already tried that one, twice. 

Hell's Gate
Possum Kingdom Lake

I’m off for the week (it's Tuesday when I'm writing this) and hope to catch up on napping, relaxing and reading, maybe sneak in some writing. We may even go up to Possum Kingdom to spend a couple of nights and I’m truly looking forward to seeing the lake again. It has been a while. We’re going to rent a cabin and a pontoon boat and just hang out on the lake.  Sure hope the weather holds out.

What a perfect atmosphere for getting better, both physically and mentally.

Everyone have a great weekend and do something fun.
Wendy

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cyberpunk Romance - A Trend. With Guest Blogger Daryn Cross

Today at 4 Writers, we're delighted to welcome Daryn Cross! Be sure to visit her website and her blog.
Welcome Daryn, and thanks for sharing your insights with us!

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“I have no idea what cyberpunk is,” you claim. Yet you’ve seen it many times and probably have read it too. Think back to films like Logan’s Run, where everyone over 30 is eliminated and the only life the people have ever known is life without disease to age 30, when they’re “renewed,” which, unknown to the populace, really means they’re incinerated.  Then there is Blade Runner in a futuristic society where the runners hunt replicants, advanced humanoids now banned from earth. Finally, you probably remember Minority Report with Tom Cruise as a policeman of the future who hunts down criminals before they commit crimes, begging us to discover if the predictions can be false.

Cyberpunk is characteristically about a dystopian world of the future where advanced technology goes hand-in-hand with the degradation of society and a break with the social order. These societies of the future are often formed and controlled by large mega-corporations or dictatorial governments where civil rights and freedom of choice are strictly limited or eliminated completely.

Cyberpunk has been around for a long time, but it is still a popular and growing trend, which has now entered the romance fiction market. It, and its biopunk cousin (biological and genetic engineering plus advanced technology in same dystopian future) and distant cousin steampunk (advanced technology usually using steam or clockwork mechanisms to run machines to combat society or government in Victorian historical times) have spurred writers’ imaginations making the concepts popular avenues for expansion of romance into the science fiction markets.

To enter this market as a writer, there are some things you need to consider:

1. How are you at worldbuilding?
There will be a need for a unique vocabulary. New words must be invented, the landscape will be far different than it is today. Methods of travel and life on a daily basis have been altered. What does the citizen of the future do and how much are his activities curtailed?

2. Can you invent new technology and machines?
This is the part I enjoy, but it also means making it believable. I have invented packaged meals like MREs that reconstitute with a single drop of water and direct sunlight. My folks fly in waterjets that give off the chemicals needed to reform and make more water. I have an Android that populates the Cash Chronicles, soon to debut in electronic format. He has special talents humans don’t have.

3. If bio or genetic engineering is part of your world, do you know enough to make it sound possible so you can suspend the reader’s belief? 
Is cloning part of the new world? How are babies born, in utero or entirely as a separate process? Are your people inventing new species? Has experimentation gotten out of hand? What is a human being’s life span in this new universe, short due to environmental conditions, or long due to scientific breakthroughs?

4. If you decide to write steampunk, can you get your history right while doing one through three well at the same time?
To me, this is the hardest, because you have to walk the tightrope of dressing your characters correctly and making them speak without using modern idioms. At the same time, you’re inventing machines and an alternate history gone wrong.

So next time you consider writing a cyberpunk novel, remember what Bruce Sterling says in his article at http://hem.passagen.se/replikant/cyberpunk.htm. It’s about…”inhumane technology, environmental collapse, omnipotent mega-corporations, ruthless commercialism, overcrowded mega-cities, vicious criminality, terminal decay, neon and chrome, violence and death.” Are you up for it? Something to consider: is our society that far away from fitting the profile?
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Check out The Cash Chronicles
Bobbye Terry is a multi-published author of several different genres. She writes fantasy and science fiction under the pseudonym, Daryn Cross. In April, she will begin to indie publish her science fiction series, The Cash Chronicles, but the prequel to the series is an historical set in mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. The story, Millicent, introduces the villainess who is responsible for the dystopian U.S. of 2145. See just what made her the power-hungry woman she becomes.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Perfect Word

 
I am recovering from an ugly bout of the intestinal flu and I’m sure I don’t need to go into detail about how miserable I felt or how much I suffered.

Just the phrase, ‘intestinal flu’, has enough power for all of us to conjure up more mental pictures than we’re comfortable with. We don’t have to mention, the queasiness, the vomiting, the diarrhea, the cramping, the sweat, the aches and pains... Well, you get the picture.

When it comes to description many of us are victims of the “first word club”. We use the first word that comes to mind. Often these are words we’re very familiar with. They’re like comfortable slippers we wear around the house. But writing is all about stepping out of your comfort zone, and into the unknown, willingly.

Mark Twain, one of my favorite authors, once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightening bug and lightening.” He also said something about never using a dime word when a nickel one will do, but since I couldn’t find the quote, I’ll just wing it.

Mr. Twain is saying take the extra time to find the perfect word that describes and conveys exactly what you want to say. Don’t go with that first choice and never use two words when one will do.

We are well past flowery prose in Romance novels. There was a wonderful time when we would read pages and pages of description (even when we didn’t know the meaning of half the words) while we waited patiently for that one sentence of dialog, only for it to be too brief.

Today our readers want us to get to the point with the least amount of words and that’s a great challenge for some writers. We love to stretch out verbally and lavish the reader with big words and phrases. Alas, we can’t do that anymore and expect to get published.

There are several writers I call condensed writers. They say everything with the least amount of words. Their writing is so compact and concise I want to cry with envy. They teach me a lot. Most are my critique partners. They amaze me at every turn. Rock on ladies!

My advice is, increase your vocabulary no matter your age. I’m old, and I add a word every day. But don’t make it a big word or a word no one understands. Make it a word that is compact, concrete and clever.

Also, read, read, read. Reading makes us smarter, younger and better writers.


Write On!

Geri Foster

 




Monday, March 21, 2011

Reminiscing

Yesterday was a day of reminiscing.
People and events I hadn’t thought about in years—YEARS—kept popping into my mind. From childhood memories of cleaning off a corner lot so we could play sandlot baseball (hey the boys came to us) to college silliness and other things. Some memories were funny, reminding me of good times and good friends.
Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out why or what the trip down memory lane was about. What had triggered it? What was I supposed to glean from the flood of long forgotten memories?
Some brought tears to my eyes. Others simply reminded me how blessed I am.
My years are rich with memories of people who’ve touched my life, enriched it, changed or altered my path. Good times, bad times, sad times, my life in snippets of colorful clips.
As the previews played on the screen of my mind I saw the teacher who encouraged me to write my stories down. A friend’s mother showing me that you don’t have to birth a child to love it. The first time a friend betrayed me. The first time I fell in love. The joy and sorrows of a life fully lived. There were memories of grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, in-laws, children, nieces and nephews.
The emotional footprints of my life gave me pause for thought. I’ve learned so much from the people who populate my past. I continue to learn from those who grace my life today; our smiles, our tears, our attitudes.
I’m still not sure why all those memories chose to tumble across my brain, maybe it’s the full moon or maybe something that needs to be reinforced or relearned, but I enjoyed the trip down memory lane.
Life is good! Enjoy!
Ella    

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Textspeak - Is it just me?

So, after much pushing and razzing and downright threatening from other writer friends, I finally joined Twitter (find me! @jennifer_august). It’s a lot of fun! I found my old editor from Red Sage <waves at TS>, started following some of my favorite authors (Yes, that includes Julia Quinn. Duh… What kind of rabid fan would I be otherwise?!) as well as Karen Hawkins, Shayla Black, Michelle Miles, Susan Gable, Diana Duncan and Sophie Oak.

I also, OF COURSE, have a feed from the most spectacular of all baseball teams, the Texas Rangers. I still am in heaven over last season and the World Series. Thanks guys. Though, I will like to say – quit trying to screw Michael Young over. That man should be nominated for Most Flexible Player EVER!!!

I don't always tweet, my friends, but I when I do, I spell correctly.
There are a  couple of other things I follow and, since I’m so new to this, I realize I have a lot to learn. But I find I’m having an extremely difficult time reading some posts because they use text speak. Yeah, yeah, 140 characters, blah, blah, blah. But you know what? That should be a challenge, not an excuse for idiotic writing. Seriously, it’s two freaking characters more to type your from ur. <shudder> And, in my mind, it looks and sounds stupid. I mean, ignorant stupid. Like a backwoods porch held together with chicken wire and cow manure. Or those hanging truck testicles. That kind of ridiculous.

It’s a daily chore for me and I find myself skimming posts that begin with UR or something along those lines.
I will pony up here, though. Recently, said former editor had a post that made me both cringe and laugh. To quote “Must. Kill. Dangling. Participle.” I have such a problem with those, I was surprised she didn’t suggest I seek counseling and a 12-step program. But still, all my words were spelled correctly, even if they were dangling.

Onward and upward, I suppose. I shall deal with it as long as I can, but I know my irritation is going to grow with each post and one day, I’ll just snap and WHAM! hit that unfollow button. *sigh*
As the mother of a horrible speller, I may be a bit more sensitive to this sort of thing but it still grates on my nerves. What about you? Are you okay with it or does it make you want to perpetrate mayhem on the poster?
Mayhem? Did someone call me?


Happy correct spelling,
Jennifer August

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bird Watching and the Reality of Nature


Male Cardinal

Female Cardinal

In our back yard, nestled in a corner near the swimming pool, we started out fifteen years ago with a simple bird feeder hanging on one of those decorative shepherd’s hooks. Slowly the birds began to find their way to our backyard. Now we have concrete in the corner where the bird feeder used to reside, so we sprinkle a few cups of seed right on the concrete so the birds are much more comfortable while they munch away. No more teetering on a little bird feeder for our entertainers.


Reb Breasted Robin
  Last summer we purchased an Orbit Lounger and now we can stretch out on our patio and bird watch. Every year we get lots of couples of sparrows, red breasted robins, white winged dove, grey dove, woody woodpeckers, cardinals, wren, blue jays, and mockingbirds. Wow, I didn’t realize how many different breeds until I started listing them. I haven’t seen Tweety Bird yet, but I know he’s coming.


It is such a pleasure to sit back and watch these birds and their natural feeding rituals. They most definitely do things in a certain pecking order. It’s fun to watch the birds run each other off. Now they also know they can squawk at us and we’ll get them some more bird seed. Wild birds make excellent and low maintenance pets. All you need is bird seed and perhaps water for a bird bath. How easy is that?

Red Bellied Woodpecker


A few years ago we were watching our new pets, and all of a sudden something huge swooped into the bushes and snatched up a Sparrow. My husband and I stared at each other. “What the heck was that?” we both said in unison. Later we saw it again and realized a huge hawk was hanging around. We’ve seen him numerous times now. He’s getting braver and will fly not too far from my husband head. I sure hope he doesn’t try to peck him on his shiny bald head! Hmmm. Death by Hawk pecking. Might make an interesting mystery. Oops, getting off track. Back to the birds. Now this is where the Reality of Nature comes in.

Red Tailed Hawk - Amazing Powerful Bird

I know this hawk has been feeding on some of the birds in the neighborhood otherwise he wouldn’t still be hanging around. The other day he swooped into our bushes again while the birds were feeding and snatched a dove. I mean this dove was a very big bird too. I was shocked. I was standing in my kitchen watching through the glass door and I wanted so bad to run out and rescue the dove. I wanted to shoo off the hawk, but I forced myself to resist interfering with nature. The hawk had the dove down on the ground and I couldn’t see either one of them because of the ground cover. Then there was a shuffling, leaves flew around and the dove got loose and flew to the fence. The hawk zoomed off in the opposite direction. I have to admit the hawk is an amazing bird. Very large and powerful. I remember when I was young having dreams of flying like a bird, I wanted that free feeling. If I were a bird, I do believe I'd want to be one of the larger species, like the hawk, or perhaps an eagle?

A dove and her chic.


Oh my, I was surprised as I watched the dove recover itself. After a few shaky minutes on the edge of the fence, the dove flew away. I was amazed that it had escaped, but I was certainly glad that it had. Sometimes I feel guilty that we are feeding the birds and in turn supplying a feeding place for the hawk, but I think our birds would get very upset with us if we quit putting food out, because they certainly come looking for it and they let us know when they’re unhappy.


Beautiful Hummingbirds!
 On a lighter note, we also get a wonderful surprise each year when the hummingbirds return. We get the cutest two couples that come back year after year. Now they may not be the same ones as I know the life span is only five to nine years, but even if it’s not the same couple, we usually get two sets of them each year. It is amazing to watch these tiny birds feed and fight over the feeder. One will hide in the bushes and when it sees another approaching, it will rush out and run the other one off. Too funny to watch.

And if you’re lucky, they’ll get used to you being out there and will fly right by your ear and you can hear the speedy hum of their incredible rapid wing beats. Did you know the wings beat up to 53 beats per second? They are three to four inches in size and weigh only 0.07 to 0.21 ounces! Tiny little things!

So do you bird watch? Have you witnessed natural things that were upsetting to you, but you knew you shouldn't interfere with Mother Nature? Did you interfere anyway? I'd love to hear your stories.

Eager to hear your fun experiences,
Wendy  



   






Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where Do All These Meanies Come From?


831838I know everyone has asked themselves that question at one time or another. I just received a couple of emails about that very topic. But again, why are some people so mean? They make every one around them miserable. Some people will say, well, they are unhappy so they like to make others as unhappy as they are.

857863But is that fair?

I don’t think so, how about you?

When someone makes me mad I do one of two things. I either give them the silent treatment, or I blast them with words. Both work about the same.

1271302I have a cube mate that I could stick her head in a file cabinet and slam the damn drawer shut. She is so annoying and snarky.

Okay, we know there are bitchy people, so what do we do to keep from being sent to jail without a chance for parole?

Now, I’ve had my share of arguments with friends and family. I have a mouth. But that’s different. Usually it’s over a misunderstanding or someone’s feelings were hurt. I love those people and no matter what, we’ll make it right.

1320744Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. I’ve had it bestowed on me, and I’ve given it. Use this tool often. It will save your friendships and keep you from eating alone on Thanksgivings Day.

Let’s get back to how do to deal with all those annoying people who just make us nuts. The roads are full of the most ridicules people in the world. Want to have a bad day? Pull out of your driveway.


First off, I’m a genuine happy person usually. It takes a lot to get me mad and I’d rather smile than frown. Better yet, I love, love, love, to laugh out loud as much as I can. I like people and I think that shows through most of the time.

I’m going to continue being a happy person because I have a secret life.

I’m a writer!1020206

Half the time I’m not even in this world. I’m off on some great adventure. My characters are coming up with snappy dialog, my plot is thickening and the heroine/hero are rushing towards the climax. And since I work on two stories at once, my brain goes a hundred miles a minute. Most of the time I refuse to let crazy things, or people in life mess with my writing.

I’m not saying it hasn’t, but my biggest goal is to let go of this nonsense and stay ingrained in my story. I do this by asking the following, will all this crap matter when I am a New York Times Best Seller?

Hell No, it won’t!
1290355

So, just keep writing those amazing stories, coming up with great characters and LIVING THE DREAM, BABY!!!

Write On

Geri Foster

Monday, March 14, 2011

Slaying the Dragon

I’m a mild mannered person, not usually given to fighting-but last Friday I found myself up against the wall and unable to turn the other cheek.
With the beautiful spring weather, I’ve left the doors open a few times. There was trash to put out, a two handed job if ever there was one, and no way to shut the door. A couple of times I left the door open while I checked the mail; with the warm temperatures I’ve turned off the heat.
Friday morning I’m getting ready for work. I reached for my shoes and there he was-a dragon!
I screamed, jumped backwards, bumped into the bed and almost toppled onto the floor. As sanity returned I felt a little silly, but the creature sat on top of my shoes opening his mouth and hissing.
What a dilemma! I realized I had no dragon slayer to call. I would have to fight this battle myself. The objective: to reclaim my shoes and drive the invader from my home.
How, I wondered, could I capture the dragon, retrieve my shoes and make it to work on time? There was no time to draft a battle plan. I needed to charge into action.
All this thinking and rationalizing probably didn’t take two minutes, but as I stared at the creature who had invaded my home, he continued to lift his body up and down and hiss at me. He was magnificent in his fury and to me, a novice dragon slayer, a truly terrifying sight.
I tried shooing him away. He pumped his body even more furiously. Okay, I thought, maybe I can wear another pair of shoes, but no I really needed that pair.
I vacated the bedroom, conceding Rounds One and Two to the invader.
I walked up the hall, searching for anything appropriate to use as a weapon, discarding first one item and then another. Plastic bags were out because they weren’t stiff enough to contain the creature. I’ve just recycled all the cardboard boxes. I walked through the kitchen and into the garage. Nothing presented itself as a likely weapon. Thursday was trash day, so pickings were slim as my grandma would have said.
The clock was ticking, anxiously I searched again. How I wondered would I explain myself if I were late to work? Would anyone understand? I needed my shoes!
Finally, I settled on a jar that had once held the most delicious sliced peaches. Silently, I sent a thank you to my son for sharing this find with me, but mostly I was grateful that they came in a glass jar that I hadn’t yet recycled.
Jar in one hand, whisk broom in the other, I returned to the bedroom. I approached my shoes; my uninvited guest was still there. He sat on top of my shoe as if prepared to defend it to the death.
It was a fierce battle, full of retreats and advances; but five minutes later I stood victorious! The gecko inside the jar. As I retraced my steps up the hall I issued a stern warning to the varmint to never come inside again. Boundaries are there for a reason, I said; you get to live outside, I get to live inside.
Life is good, I thought as I turned him loose in the Rosemary bush. In my mind I heard the music swell. Victory tasted like the sweetest honey.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Puppets, comedy & teens

One of my favorite comedians is Jeff Dunham. For those of you who don't know him, he's a ventriloquist with very flavorful characters like Walter, Peanut, Achmed the Dead Terrorist and Bubba Jay.
A very, very long time ago I saw him in "concert" (if you can call it that) at a comedy club. We're talking 1991 or so. At the time, he only had Walter and Peanut. Oh, and Jose Jalapeno On A Stick.I remembered Peanut vividly. In addition to his purple skin and big teeth, he had a shock of fluffy hair and every time he made a joke, he'd pick on the guy sitting directly in front of him: Hey, Bill! Zooom! and he'd wave his hand over the hair.

Then, life intervened and marriages, babies and careers came along. I forgot the comedian's name, but I remembered that darn puppet. 

Fast forward several years to a chance viewing on Comedy Central of a show called Arguing With Myself. Lo and behold, it's Jeff Dunham. Funnier than ever and debuting a new puppet that night. Achmed The Dead Terrorist. 
This is an Achmed poster I designed for
a recent Jeff Dunham contest.
Seriously funny stuff, right there. My friends and I quote Achmed's routine like we wrote it ourselves. 
However, the coolest thing in the history of ever, is how much fun I have sharing it with my son. The one born just two years after I saw Jeff in concert. I never in a million years thought he and I would have so many laughs and giggles over that guy. And all it takes is one small word, just one hint of the Achmed accent and we're off and running. It's not only fun, but a real joy to bond like that. He and I had the pleasure of attending a Jeff Dunham concert two years ago - at an arena, not a comedy club! - and it was awesome. Of course. I hope that's as wonderful a memory for my kiddo as it is for me. I'm so glad I got to share that with him. 

It seems my family has always had inside jokes that tickled the four of us. We were a military family and traveled the world just the four of us. Most people agree that we made the Waltons look dysfunctional! And, through all those years, one of the things I remember the most is the laughter. We pretty much lived a country & western song - didn't have a lot of money or material possessions, but we had a lot of love and laughter. Some familiar phrases include "We're gonna need a bigger boat" (usually in relation to space in the house) "pulled a Clements" (doing something so polar opposite from common sense that it's funny) "motengator, motengator, getting it on" (when my dad and brother would whoop up on me and mom during a game of Pinochle) and the recently added "It's okay, you're pretty" (when you say or do something blonde-worthy). 

Even now, some *mumble* years later, those memories make me smile and laugh with fondness. I'm delighted to be able to pass this family trait on to my son and I hope he passes it on to his kids (his VERY FAR IN THE FUTURE kids). 

Hug your kid/pet/parents/siblings today,
Jennifer August

Friday, March 11, 2011

What Yanks You Out of Reality and into a Good Novel? The Importance of Scene.

For some, it’s the unique characters. For others, it’s the twisting plot. For me, it’s most often the scene. This probably stems from the fact that while growing up I loved to read in order to escape out of my world and into one that seemed more desirable to me. If I could have, I would have literally left my home for the novel’s more exciting worlds.

Creating these worlds for my characters is something I thoroughly enjoy and hope to eventually master.

Questions to ask yourself when preparing your scene:

Where and when does the novel take place? What does the air smell and feel like? What sounds does the character hear that are in sync with the chosen place? What sounds or sights are not normal for the place? Like elephants on a beach would be out of the norm, but could definitely be there for a good reason. What else do you see? What does the character taste as she/he takes in the sights, sounds and feelings this scene draws from them?

What is happening in that particular scene? How do the scene, situation, and characters meld together? Can the author make the reader feel like they are truly present, as if they have time-travelled into the midst of the scene?

Here are a few simple examples of what kinds of moods scenes can accomplish:

On a cold foggy morning, Myra shivered into her sweater and started her trusty Chevy, patting the dashboard and saying, “Good girl,” when she started without a hitch. She pulled out of the driveway heading for work. Around the corner, she spotted a recently placed yellow ribbon tied around a huge Oak tree. Alligator tears fill her eyes and her chest constricted trying to imagine what her neighbors must be going through. As she thought about the yellow ribbon throughout the day, her eyes fill with tears again, and her throat clogged with emotion. Gratitude circled through her that her sons were home safe in America, but then danger had begun to drift homeward as well. Still, she was glad they were home. God Bless our troops, men and women alike, she prayed.

Are you in the scene? Did tears threaten to puddle in your eyes? I hope so. Let’s see where Myra goes next.


Beautiful Mini Shetland Pony

After two busy intersections, Myra turned down an old road and slowed to get in line at the four-way stop. Amazed at the growth in the area, she could still see signs all around her of how the neighborhood used to be considered “country living”. On the right side of the road, a Leopard Appaloosa, a silky black Quarter horse, a blonde miniature Shetland pony, and two goats grazed on a grassy plot of land. Myra rolled the window down breathing in the scent of freshly baled hay and newly mown lawns. A couple of Border Collies lazed nearby. She remembered her friend’s grandfather calling them cow-dogs. She wished she could pull up a lounge chair and join them. She wondered about the owner of the property.

Perhaps a frustrated horse rancher lived there. Maybe a couple moved out here when they were quite young, thinking progress and technology wouldn’t make it out this far west any time soon. Maybe a crazed serial killer had set up his insane nest out here before people started filtering in on what used to be his quiet domain. Ha! See how quickly we can change the mood of a scene! Love that creative part. 

Passing the mini-ranch in the mornings gave her a sense of calm country atmosphere, of relaxation, wide open spaces, quiet, no phone, no TV. It brought back memories of a favorite time when she and her childhood best friend grew up spending weekends at their family farm in Falco, Alabama. Crack of dawn Saturday mornings sitting on the tailgate of an old pickup truck full of feed heading out to supply the herd, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, and having the best of times. Of course she was having a good time, she had a huge crush on her best friend’s brother.

Okay, what about the previous paragraphs of scene? What does it tell you about our character? What emotions is she feeling? What else can you tell about the scene? Have we touched on any of the five senses? Are you drawn into the scene?

Ok, so now where’s Myra going?

On the left side of the road a park sits adjacent to the new gated community. A wide sidewalk offers a pleasant place to walk, jog, and exercise the resident’s and their dogs. Myra watches a young slender woman wearing sexy sweats swiftly walking with her two extremely large but well behaved shaggy dogs. She wishes she had time to stay in shape like the wealthy young ladies of this rich area. Why couldn’t she make more money? Why couldn’t she have been born rich? The scent of pine drifts into the car as the fog begins to lift. Across the road a herd of cows graze near the fence line waiting for breakfast to be delivered.
So what does this scene tell us about Myra? What does this scene tell us about the area of town? One thing I pickup on is that she wishes she had more time and money. So where does she go now?


 Around two more corners, Myra enters a whole new elegant world. Houses the size of castles, some closely resembling the antiquated structures, have popped up faster than they can sell in this modern world. Allowing herself to drift back in time, she wonders what would it have been like to live back then? A romantic tug at her heart steals her breath away.

Okay, what about this previous scene? What is she thinking about? What is she feeling? What kind of crazy imaginings is she having? Are you there with her?

I know I have probably rambled, but I’ve had fun putting together these scenes. In reality, this is what I see in a forty-five minute trip from home to work, of course slightly embellished. I had fun expanding, elaborating and manipulating reality and fiction to prove a point. Thanks for listening, and

Happy Scene Creating,
Wendy

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

CHARACTERS


Let’s talk about characters. No, not weird people, but Characters we write about. I think Characterization is the toughest part about writing a book. It’s like Voice, how do you define it.

1282454We’ve all interviewed our Characters. Let me tell you, all my Hero’s like the color blue, they are usually looking for love, but don’t know it, and they have mystical eye colors. They are at least six feet tall, handsome, clever, witty, and border on being rude. They have something in their pasts they are trying to get over, and at the beginning of the book they swear to remain bachelors.

Does that pretty much cover the Heroes?

1209045The Heroines are all beautiful, shapely, intelligent, and in desperate need of something; usually a hero. She’s educated, wears stilettos everywhere, lives on coffee and has a great job.

Sound like any Heroines you’ve read before?

1283145Okay, you take these traits and try like all-get-outs to breathe life into them, and it’s very hard. They feel stiff, cookie-cutterish, and unbelievable.

What’s a writer to do, you ask? Don’t all the workshops tell you to interview your Characters, give them a flaw, trash their back story, and throw a little motivation their way and you will be just fine, right?
1271301
Until you re-read your first chapter and you know, deep in your heart, something is missing. The Character! How do you fix that?

I tried this lately and it seems to work.

As modern Romance writers we are sometimes guilty of being a little bit lazy. At least I am. And remember, I have the attention span of a gnat. So, I don’t waste a lot of time on anything.
1336762
But Characters are the most important thing in your story. You can have a plot that only Megamind could figure out, and description that makes you want to cry, and motivation strong enough to tempt your reader to want to jump into the book and make it happen. But remember, a book is the Character’s story. They are the reason we write in the first place. And if you aren’t into the Hero/Heroine, you won’t finish the book.

743315So, how do we make them real? I mean really, really, really real.

Start out with a REAL person. I’m serious!

There are more Characters in my life than I have books to write in my lifetime, even if I were younger. My family alone could fill a bookshelf.

So, start with real people, with real personalities and embellish like hell.

1330602Every one of my Characters are someone I know. Not the complete person, but if I told them who they were, they would recognize themselves immediately.

Okay, let’s start with some general things. First, I know three people that never, ever lie. Not even itsy, bitsy, tiny lies. And my husband is one of those people. Never ask him if these pants make your butt look big. You won’t like the answer.

Also, I have several people in my life I truly admire. They are noble and honest people. Also, I have friends who make me laugh, make me cry, make me sit up and pay attention.

I also know people I don’t trust at all. Also, I know liars, and cons and irresponsible people. I know people who constantly accept challenges they can never meet. I know people who are lazy and whiners.

I know big hearted people, cold hearted people, good hearted people, evil hearted people and tons of no good scoundrels. 


832824If we get back to studying the people in our lives that we work with, shared a childhood with, or are related to, we would create great Characters because you have the bare bones of a Character in the people we already know.

If you are struggling with a Character, ask yourself; in real life, who does this person remind me of? Or this person I know, or work with, or am related to would make the great beginning of a fantastic Character in my book.

Give it a try. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Better yet, look in the mirror and ask yourself what’s inside you that would make a great character. I didn’t say you had to use every personality trait. J

Write On!

Geri Foster




Monday, March 7, 2011

SPRING!

Hello, sunshine! Welcome to Texas!
Even though we haven’t had a really hard winter, (and yes, we’re due for another freeze) I’m so ready for warmer temperatures. I was lucky enough to be born in Texas, fourth generation as a matter of fact on the maternal side. My heritage is in the country, I learned to celebrate spring early in life-as a child following my parents and grandparents around the family homestead.
I love spring and the warmer weather. I fantasize about living in a place where the temperatures don’t range from the low thirties in the morning and the high seventies in the afternoon. But deep in my heart I know I’ll never leave Texas. Texas is in my blood, my heart, my soul.
To celebrate spring, I’ve got the tomato plants ready to go and this year I bought some asparagus. I love fresh asparagus right from the garden, so I thought I’d grow my own. I know it’s a lot of work, but years down the road it’ll be worth it.
I love watching the grass turn green, the plants grow, all the blooming flowers and trees. If it’s March can Bluebonnets be far away? I look forward to Bluebonnets. And butterflies, I love watching butterflies flit from bush to bush and flower to flower. Their bright colorful wings catch the light and lift my spirits; they always make me smile. Oh and hummingbirds, don’t forget those beautiful winged speedsters.
Yesterday I saw a little boy trying to get a kite off the ground and into the air, it's spring.
Lawnmowers roared to life, it's spring.
Neighbors took time to chat as they cleaned flowerbeds or washed the cars, it's spring.
And let’s not forget the sound of steaks sizzling on the grill, it's spring.
When the day was done, light faded to darkness with a subtle softness and the promise of another spring day tomorrow.
It’s spring time in Texas, a time for love and laughter, fun and excitement.
Enjoy!
Ella

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Say What?!

I’m a random person and I accept and acknowledge this, it’s just one of my {many} quirks. That being said, I sometimes find myself caught by a word or phrase. As in, someone will say it and I’ll wonder where it came from and why it originated in the first place. (I do this with food all the time. I REALLY wonder what in the world made someone grab a cow’s teat, squeeze and partake of what came out, but that’s a whole different discussion.)
Like everyone else, I have words I use and over-use. Whatever, dude and bite my butt come readily to mind. I also have favorite words such as luscious (love the way it rolls off the tongue), resonate (because it sounds like its definition when you say it aloud) and addlepated (it’s just a fun word to use and say).  My mother likes serendipity and my good friend Sarah Martinez likes gobsmacked.
What really grabs me, though, are phrases. I’ve been spouting “God bless a milk cow” lately and have received endless rounds of ribbing. I assure my friends it’s a different cow with each blessing. This got me to thinking about other phrases. I did some research and found a few fun ones, whose origins were sometimes far from what I expected.

By Gum: exclamation of surprise. This is a euphemism for By God and a minced-oath, which is just a fancy way English people used to communicate without being explicit in their language. Gotta love those old Victorians.
Doubting Thomas: someone who refuses to believe something without direct evidence. This is a biblical reference to Thomas the Apostle who refused to believe in Jesus’ resurrection unless he felt his wounds himself.

Cut the mustard: to come up to expectations. In the 1900s when commercially prepared mustard became the rage, the word mustard was used to convey strength. To be the proper mustard meant the real deal and genuine article; to be all mustard meant excellence.  It’s mostly used in the negative now (Can’t cut the mustard).


Make no bones about it: expressing a fact in a way that leaves no doubt. This one surprised me. Dating back to early 15th century England, it actually refers to soup. If you found bones in your soup, that was not good; if you didn’t, it was. Ergo, if you found no bones in your meal, you were able to swallow it without difficulty or objection.

Close, but no cigar: fall just short of a successful outcome and get nothing for your efforts. In the early to mid-1900s, fairgrounds and carnivals dominated the American landscape. Game stalls would give out cigars as prizes (what?!) and if you didn’t win the game, you were told “Close, but no cigar” because you obviously did not win the prize. I believe your lungs probably thanked you, but I could be wrong.
Pass the buck: evade responsibility by giving it to someone else. Are you ready for this? It has nothing to do with money. As poker became more prevalent in the latter part of the 19th century, players were a suspicious lot and the deal would often change hands to avoid cheating. The person who was next in line to deal was given a marker – usually a knife with a hilt made from buck’s horns. Hence, passing the buck.

Blaze a trail: to lead the way. This one also got me. A blaze is a mark or notch. In the beginning of frontier and pioneering days, intrepid explorers would notch trees so others could follow, or “blaze a trail.”

How about them apples? Wait, what’s that mean?

Happy talking,
Jennifer August

Friday, March 4, 2011

Spring Fever

Spring is in the air….

Ready for Pretty Flowers!

I hear you coming most weather of fair,
I’m ready to shed my winter self if I dare,
But it’s easier when you get here, I really do care.
Come to me, come to me, I beckon your call,
I’m tired of cold weather, snow, ice, and it all,
I’m ready for colorful flowers that spring up pretty and tall.
You’re almost here, and with anticipation I wait,
It’s having to work, instead of play, that I hate.
The temps are on the rise,
Sunshine’s in your eyes,
Bees are a buzzin’,
Birds are a chirpin’,
Squirrels are a chompin’,
Barbecues are a smokin’!
Neighbors are coming out of winter seclusion,
Heading out into nice weather to adventurous excursions,
The Ice Cream Man's Jingle!
Or just opening their doors and windows and curtains.
The ice cream man’s jingle sounds in the cul-de-sac,
Children come running out like a stepped-on ant bed ready to attack,
Parents appear for an afternoon snack,
Brothers and sisters are quick with a wise crack.
Walkers and runners and bike-riders alike,
Gather around for a neighborhood hike,
Out for a Spring ride!
Trudging up the trail and down the trail, oops, watch out, there’s a bike!
Oh, and look, look over there, some cute kid’s flying a kite!
The dogs are happy and bouncing around,
Cats are having fun too, pouncing the hound,
Personally I’m happy when I get to dig in the ground,
And am joyful just thinking of pleasures I’ve found.
Happy Spring!
Wendy