Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pushing the Envelope

[caption id="attachment_3550" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Dirty Harry and his loaded question."][/caption]This week’s prompt is: Pushing the Envelope. Therefore, the first question one must ask is: "Do I feel lucky?" Okay, that's really a bit of dialogue from the classic motion picture, Dirty Harry, but a very good point which we will get to. I mean, really, what does that mean, pushing the envelope? What envelope?

For me it means just the opposite of what I have been doing since this amazing turn of events began last year when I found that publisher. With regards to my writing, I haven’t been pushing anything, other than myself to do so much more. Yet, we're not discussing working hard, meeting impossible deadlines or making our presence felt to the masses. I believe that "pushing the envelope" refers to pushing past one's comfort zone. To move beyond self constructed barriers. To do what is not comfortable.

I am not a marketing guy, but I think I have been bright enough to know not to alienate potential buyers of my novel. Therefore, I have not mentioned in any short story, novel, post or article which side of the political fence I may or may not reside. I have stayed away from any and all incendiary topics. Not only this, but I have also attempted to shy away from small things which could also get feathers ruffled, such as what form of music I have little appreciation for, or which sports teams I follow. Some of these things probably sound rather trivial to some, and most certainly, some of these things will eventually be made known (Country Music; Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Cubs). My point is that in the beginning I wanted to try to be able to reach every facet of my potential audience.

[caption id="attachment_3551" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Draper Street, Swedish Festival"][/caption]One example that I can give is The Kingsburg Swedish Festival. The city that I live in has Swedish roots. Therefore, our colors are Swedish; our buildings have a Swedish architecture; for all intents and purposes, we are a Swedish town. Once a year in May, we hold a festival which draws thousands. Years ago, the festival used to be held in our large park. Before and after our Saturday parade, people would head back to the park where the vendors and food booths were located. We had shade and comfortable grass to walk upon. Eventually, it was moved downtown to what we call our main street. Now we have to walk on cement and asphalt, and have little shade from the sun; but the consumers can walk amongst the shops and thus boost the downtown. Recently, there was a Facebook movement began which hoped to move the festival back to the park. However, since I am now a member of the Chamber of Commerce, you must now see that I declined the invitation to side with one side or the other. I think any reasonable person who has attended the festival would probably know which choice is best, but I am staying away from the subject.



Now, having said all of that, is this really what we mean? Or is it something more?

There is another way that one could push the envelope. My novel is a Christian/Horror crossover. It has a little bit of both and, I hope, is just the right combination to make the novel interesting, fresh and gripping. Now that it has been out for seven months, and I have begun to grow a small following across social networking sites as well as in my hometown, and the audience has begun to know what to expect from me, could it be time to push against their comfort zone? Do I now release a dark and pure horror novel where the devil seems to win more than he loses? Or do I release a purely Christian novel? How about Romance? I could do that, you know. I reach for the romantic comedy DVDs quicker than my wife does. Don’t think I couldn’t! Perhaps I could really shake things up by writing about the rape and murder a young girl much like The Lovely Bones.

What do you guys think? When might it be time to do such a thing? Too early and one might lose an audience before they have that trust factor where they’ll follow you anywhere; too late and they might feel abandoned. I was going to cite Stephen King, but because his writing is so prolific and his audience so varied that he probably did not notice the couple of times that I quit reading him. Of course, he knows that we sometimes come back.

[caption id="attachment_3552" align="alignleft" width="212" caption="See! I told you."][/caption]

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Arresting Developments (...or When your past catches up with you...)

This week’s topic was “pushing the envelope.”

Anyone who knows me,  knows ‘pushing the envelope’ is as much a part of me as my writing. In fact, sometimes they blend so well, I have trouble separating the yin from the yang. If it has something to do with politics, religion, GLBT rights, ecology, taking a Native American stance, embracing indie philosophy or supporting the e-publishing world – it will be pushed somewhere, sometime in a story of mine.

In other words, I am a rebel with a cause. Several causes. And those causes weave their intricate way into my fictional genre romance stories whether I want them to or not.

But that’s not the post you will read today.

You see, this past weekend, my past caught up with me. I experienced a scary reaction to an increase in my bi-polar medication. It was complicated with symptoms of congestive heart failure.

Needless to say, over the past few days I’ve been spending most of my time between doctors, hospitals, clinics, and in bed -- with a healthy dose of reality: life is too short and though I'm not afraid of death, I'm not ready to go like the rest of my family who died young.

So, in lieu of my normal post, please accept my pre-written, never before published short, tipping my hat to those law enforcement officers I grew up to admire and annoy. It's my belief these men shaped the world around me during a time when it was more fun to cause trouble than it was to stay out of it.

Envelope pushing? Yeah. I was always pushing something with those in authority – and still am, whether it be life in general or in my writing.

Enjoy.

I grew up in a small, northern Michigan community were everyone knew everybody by name and business. I also suspect there were a few incesterious families among the hay lofts, but who am I to judge?

Although my parents were rather prominent in the community, once I turned 16 I was notorious in my own right and intimately knew each one of our fine men in police uniform from the various run ins they had with my gang of idiots. I should stop now to note this was during the 70s/80s, so all minor infractions amounted to innocent mischief and mayhem.

Anyway, we had one Sheriff and four deputies, covering one county. We had three small towns and several townships and villiages, but that was about it.

Sheriff Bates (we called him Master-Bates) was a mean SOB. Tall, lanky with wire aviator glasses perched on his curved beak nose. If he was on your tail, you knew you were done for. If anything, he’d make up something to nail you with so it could be written up for the weekly county newspaper.

He was sheriff for a good 8 years. Then, he was accused of murdering someone in cold blood.

I remember the hoopla well, as my momma's name was pulled for jury duty. She had never had the 'privilege' before, and was looking forward to serving her country. Unfortunately, she was dismissed, as she severed on the Wednesday afternoon Mickey Mouse Bowling League along with Sheriff Bate's wife. Conflict of interest, they said. My mother was heartbroken. I was too. I wanted my mother to be able to nail the bastard.  Later, the case conveniently became a 'mistrial.' Master Bates left the force and ran a gas station until he died.

Next in line was our beloved Deputy Sheriff Swartz.

Claude had been the  longest on the force, yet a true sweetheart and oh how my momma crushed on him! Thick, wavy silver hair, glittering blue eyes, and a soft southern accent. He was on the beefy side, with little tuffs of silver chest hair peaking out over his uniform collar, which was always loosened around his thick neck.  If you ever got the pleasure of him pulling you over or coming out to your house, he'd blow the car horn, roll down his window and wait for you to come to him.   He would chop on his donuts and sip his coffee, all the while nodding his head and acting like he actually was listening.  After hearing the story, he would look at you and say, "Now it's just too damn cold to get out of this car. Do you really want me to write a report? It will take me half the night and I have to do it in triplicate. Is this a problem that really needs my attention, or can I go back to reading my book?"

Well, when he put it all in perspective like that, not many wanted to disturb his reading pleasure. After all, he was right. It was too cold...

Deputy Funk was third man on the list.

The dark haired "Italian Stallion' thought he was top gun… and had a problem keeping his ‘personal gun’ in his pants. By the time I left town, rumor had it he had impregnated several women with whom he had taken turns living with or at least setting them up in a secure little trailer out west of town, in the back pines.

Of course, who could blame him when his own wife thought a clean house consisted of stacks of newspapers, mounds of dirty clothes and dishes, and garbage bags? Artfully arranged, these items made little mazes to walk through the house. (I know. I babysat ONCE for their three children in that filth pile. The kids would play hide and seek among the waste.) I couldn’t believe he could let his children live in conditions like that.

Deputy Benac was the youngest out of the four deputies.  A homegrown boy, I believe he got all the crap jobs because he worked it all -  day or night. It was like the guy never slept! He always seemed a bit on the grumpy side. Made us wonder if he ever got laid.

The one thing about Benac though, if he caught wind of an illegal keg party by the snake pits, he would drive that huge old police car down a winding truck trail into the woods, issuing the same warning as always. "I know you kids are gonna drink regardless - just don't drive drunk while I’m on shift. I don't want to deal with scraping your ass off the pavement and delivering it to your parents." Then he'd stay, have a brew or two, and go without further interruption.

Last officer on infamous list was my personal favorite (or nemesis – depending on my mood whenever he pulled me over), Deputy Wright.

God love him wherever he is today.

Do you remember the television shows ‘Sheriff Lobo’ or ‘BJ and the Bear?’ There was a deputy on there named Perkins. Well, Deputy Wright was a dead ringer for this guy, both in looks (short, fat, reducing hairline with a cheesy mustache), personality (just damn effin’ goofy) and brains (dumber than dirt!).

EVERYONE SWORE this guy either had a crush on me or he was out to get me. He knew my schedule and would lay in wait, watching for me to come by. He would always pull me over with the lamest of excuses, and stand there to talk with me for like 15 minutes, over trivial matters, personal matters, local gossip – it didn’t matter! He was sweet in an adorable way (all my friends thought I was nuts when I said that), but him pulling me over all the time just to talk was a hassle. When I graduated HS and left town, Wright left to go west months after.

Looking back, I wonder if I should have been brave enough to flirt back at him. Maybe I would have gotten a pair of handcuffs to remember him by.

It’s been 25 years since I lived in that town. A few years ago, I took my mate (who had only been with me a year at that time) north to see where I grew up. We stopped in to visit my best chum and his partner – and within 20 minutes, a police car pulled into his driveway.

With an unreasonable stab of guilt shooting through my gut, I looked at my mate and said, “Whatever it was, I didn’t do it! I haven’t been in town long enough!”

Well, I was right. I was not the one wanted this time. The officer was looking for Chad, the brother of my long time chum. Needed him as a material witness for an upcoming case.

While haggling over contact and other minor law farctions Bart and Scott were always known for, the law officer kept one eye on me the whole time he was conversing. Recognition dawned on his face.

“Well I’ll be damned! You’re George! Chan and Joyce’s youngest one!”

“Yeah. First time back since momma’s funeral back in '89. I live downstate now.”

“Hell, I thought you were in jail all these years.”

“Thanks for embarrassing me, Deputy Benac.”

“My pleasure. And that’s Sheriff Benac to you. Are you staying long?”

“No. Just visiting for the day.”

“Well, that’s good to know. With the Elk festival going on, I want no trouble from you today, got it?” He turned to address my mate. “I know everyone in my county. Ain't seen you before. Might want to reconsider the company you keep. These boys may be more than what you bargained for.”

With an evil eye cast back my way, Sheriff Benac eased his now heavy form back into the patrol car. Scott kept walking forward as the car crept backwards, grinning with his buck teeth and waving like he had no cares in the world, while Bart snuck off to the side of the house, and under the cover of the weeping willow tree, called his brother in warning the Benac was stalking him like prey.

We didn't have any more trouble the rest of the weekend.

I spent the rest of my vacation laying low, drinking in the next county over, chasing elk in the moonlight, reliving my glory days through smoke and song, and trying to convince my  now-leery mate that he hadn’t gotten involved with an ax murderer.

Even now, when ever I hear the sound of the siren, I cringe. Somewhere, deep inside, the child in me knows I'm still guilty of misbehavior.

Till next time - George

PS - if you want to keep current on my health prognosis, please stay in tune with my Facebook  page www.facebook.com/Harrison.Tate

How Texting Novels & Contests Can Get You Noticed

Thank you, CJ and the Wicked Writers team, for being one of my hosts for my Cherish the Romance Virtual Book Tour, which runs until October 10th and launches my romantic suspense, Lancelot's Lady. This promises to be the BIGGEST online book tour ever, with over 100 blog stops and prizes at every stop, including free ebooks to everyone who comments.

A couple of years ago, I came across Textnovel.com, which is where I met CJ Ellisson. The US based site resulted from the craze that had swept across Japan; students had been writing text novels for the past 6 years and texting them to their friends. Websites in Japan took up the challenge and began marketing them, which resulted in print publishing deals for many young writers and numerous bestselling novels. Textnovel is the English counterpart, the first website in North America to take on cell phone novels. Writers can submit chapters via their cell phone or computer. Readers can read (cell phone and PC) these works and comment and vote for their favorite stories.

In 2009, CJ and I entered the Dorchester Publishing "Next Best Celler" contest, hosted at Textnovel. My contemporary romantic suspense Lancelot's Lady made it to the semi-finals, the only entry by a Canadian writer to make it that far. The contest was exciting and challenging, and it allowed me to work on an older manuscript I'd put away, unfinished. What emerged in the end was far better than the original.

What made the contest even more meaningful for me was reading the comments that people left on my novel's pages. They loved the journey of Rhianna and Jonathan. Reading the tips and suggestions that Dorchester's editors left on other author's pages gave me more ideas on how to improve my manuscript and jacket copy.

When I didn't make the finals, many people may have thought I'd just curl up and lick my wounds. But not me. I was fired up, ready to go! Rhianna and Jonathan's journey had to be finished. I had to find a way to get it out to the public. An ebook! That was the answer.

Months later, I announced that Lancelot's Lady was slated for publishing in September. A new cover was designed. Advanced copies went out for review blurbs. When they came back, I was ecstatic. Reviewers love Lancelot's Lady. But more importantly, I can fulfill my promise to readers who followed this journey at Textnovel. They can now buy Lancelot's Lady and find out whether Rhianna and Jonathan can survive the secrets of their pasts, and readers will finally know what happens to the evil blackmailer, Winston Chambers. Sometimes a contest can lead to a work being published, either as the prize or as a result of the exposure and demand.

Writers, have you entered many writing contests? If so, what was the experience like? What about texting a novel; ever think of writing one on your cell phone? Have you joined Textnovel yet?

Leave a comment here, with email address, to be entered into the prize draws. You're guaranteed to receive at least 1 free ebook just for doing so. Plus you'll be entered to win a Kobo ereader. Winners will be announced after October 10th.

Thanks for dropping by this blog. Follow me from September 27 to October 10 on my Cherish the Romance Virtual Book Tour and win prizes.

Lancelot's Lady ~ A Bahamas holiday from dying billionaire JT Lance, a man with a dark secret, leads palliative nurse Rhianna McLeod to Jonathan, a man with his own troubled past, and Rhianna finds herself drawn to the handsome recluse, while unbeknownst to her, someone with a horrific plan is hunting her down.

Lancelot's Lady is available in ebook edition at KoboBooks, Amazon's Kindle Store, Smashwords and other ebook retailers. Help me celebrate by picking up a copy today and "Cherish the romance..."

You can learn more about Lancelot's Lady and Cherish D'Angelo (aka Cheryl Kaye Tardif) at http://www.cherishdangelo.com and http://www.cherylktardif.blogspot.com.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Vampires or Space Monkeys? Following the Trends.

This week’s topic is about pushing the writing envelope. Do you do it? When? Why? Or why not?

First of all, I had to ask someone what the phrase “pushing the writing envelope” meant. I had never heard it before. For those of you who may be in the same boat, it means to “go against the trends”. I’m assuming this refers to the current market trends of the writing industry.

In my opinion, “pushing the writing envelope” depends on quite a few factors. What are the current market trends, first of all? Where am I in my career? What is more important to me, following the trend and selling books, or writing what my heart desires even if it’s not popular? How does my agent/editor feel about this (since it is their job to predict market trends)? Could I not start the “next big thing” with my idea, however unpopular it might be right now?

See? A lot of factors.

John Grisham, for example, can write whatever he wants, whenever he wants, because he has a long-established fan base. His books will sell whether the genre he writes is popular or not. People will read his books simply because he is John Grisham.

I, however, am nowhere near Grisham’s level. Heck, I’m not even published yet. I’m still just a mere part-time writer trying to break into the biz. So yeah, for me at least, writing what’s trendy could increase my chances of gaining a book deal.

However, I much rather prefer to write the story that’s in my heart. The one my characters tell me to write. The one I love regardless if it’s trendy or not. That’s how I started my love for writing and I don’t plan to change it any time soon. Honestly, it was pure coincidence that TWILIGHT took off around the same time I started writing my first novel (yes, it’s about vampires).

It shows when you love what you write. You can see it, almost feel it, in every sentence. You’re willing to fight for it. Yes, it might lessen my chances of publication, but – lessen – not stop. Because I’m fully prepared to fight for every word I write. I have no problem self-promoting because I’m proud of what I’ve written and I want to show it off. So I’ll be stubborn and continue fighting until someone eventually gives me a deal.  ;)

[caption id="attachment_3512" align="alignleft" width="169" caption="Space Monkeys are the *new* Vampire"][/caption]

Now, that does not mean I won’t ever write what’s trendy. Um … hello, I’m already writing about VAMPIRES remember? But it just so happens that I like vampires. I also like steampunk, a current trend in YA, but I assure you I am not going to write a steampunk novel myself. While I love reading it, it’s not something I want to write about. Simple as that.

Is there a point to my back-and-forth rambling here? Yes. There is. The moral to this story, I believe, is that whether you push the writing envelope or not, you should make everything you write you own. Follow the trends, if you want to, but make it yours. Make it unique. Don’t lose your voice.

Did I mention my vampires aren’t undead nor in a love triangle? Because they’re not.  :)

P.S. No one did the contest, so I’m keeping the money. Muahahaha!

Contest: Get C.J.'s New Novel

Hey, gang. C.J. just published her novel Vampire Vacation on Kindle and Smashwords.

She is offering FREE signed and numbered copies of her print version (due in October) to the first 50 reviews of V V.

Go to C.J.'s website for more details.

www.cjellisson.com

Trust me, it's a very good read and you can be one of the first people to say "I knew her before she became..."

.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stranger than fiction… can it be true?

OK, dear readers…. getting even with someone who’s riled me? Have I ever written a character to help me deal with my anger?

Well, let me tell you something… anger? A little strong, perhaps… catharsis might be more appropriate…  But imagine losing your job (not difficult to imagine these days). Would you want to get your own back on the guy giving you the push? Especially if you had been doing most of the work and he only seemed to be window dressing (at times, anyway)… Oh! And I forgot… it is your company!

[caption id="attachment_3491" align="alignright" width="275" caption="Stranger than fiction..."][/caption]

It’s true, I tell you! Imagine it… there I was, one sunny August Monday morning, stepping into my office as CEO of a public limited company – my company, the company I founded – ready to face another day struggling with a depressed economy and the increasing fallout of the sub-prime crisis, when my business partner says to me: “David, we want you off the board and out of the company. Period.” (Or words to that effect, at least!)

Well, what’s a guy to do? A guy who is burning to write a story? I write one, don’t I!

This is a work of fiction.
All characters and events in this publication, other than
those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to
real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All companies
and locations are either the product of the author's
imagination or, if real, used fictitiously.




Are there any recognizable characters in it? Well, that would be telling… but since the idea of this post is to enlighten you, dear reader, I can offer you one possible answer!

In UK employment law (and I am sure that it is not too different in the US), there is a thing called a “Compromise Agreement” and one of the things in that legal agreement is a requirement for me not to bring the name of the company or its directors or staff into disrepute. There are also laws on slander and libel! Of course I didn’t write about anybody in my old company! Of course… because there must have been a perfectly good reason why I had to leave! Must there not? It was my own decision. Was it not? Of course it was – the agreement said as much!

So the story I wrote is not about my company, my exit, my business partner or my colleagues! The only truth of the matter was that the hero leaves his company. It was so true, in fact, that one reviewer had to suspend disbelief:
“This story has more twists than a corkscrew and I reached a point where I simply had to keep reading to find out what would happen next. On more than one occasion I simply couldn't see how the situation could be retrieved. It's superbly, cleverly done. I had to suspend disbelieve over how easily Finn was initially ousted from Tiger Oil, but after that I was hooked.”

Suspension of disbelief? Really! The only (possibly) true bit in the fiction, and… well, I won’t carp on about it.

But how did I handle characterization? How did I not get sucked into a potential legal minefield of libel and slander? Well, I made a conscious effort to select a board of directors who were most definitely not images of my acquaintance. (I had no money for a court case!) I found a real oil company, with a real board of directors and said: “Hey-ho, these are the guys for me!”

[caption id="attachment_3487" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Old Town, Nice... nice spot for people watching!"][/caption]

But isn’t it funny… have you ever sat in a cafĂ© (the South of France is brilliant for this – sorry, name dropping again) and just watched the world go by? You see someone. They have a physical presence, characteristics, mannerisms… all good stuff for observation. And then you sit there and imagine them in conversation… imagine who their lover might be, who their partner is, what happened to them that morning, what is going to happen next… you project them into another reality – your reality. They are malleable… you can dress them (undress them!)… you can see things in their character that might (oops), accidentally of course, remind you of other people. (Now, isn’t that strange!) You could even murder them!

“Ooooooo,” I hear you say, “…did you say murder?”

“I did,” I say, smiling; a little sardonically, perhaps. “I am a thriller writer.”

“Did you really project the character of your business partner onto one of the characters in the story? And then murder him?” you say.

“Of course not…” I smile again, wink, in a knowing sort of way, and continue “…I sold him a copy of the book, of course! He loved it.”

“So, no revenge then?”

I consider your question thoughtfully for a moment longer than is perhaps strictly necessary. Rubbing my chin, I reply.

“Have you ever heard the saying, ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’?” says I. “There is a series in this!” I laugh. The sound of my laughter echoes, eerily, as though it is being channelled down some tightly narrowing but endless passage, bouncing ceaselessly, carelessly off the walls, until it disappears in the distance, a faint reminder of the past.




Oh… and the competition? How remiss of me, I nearly forgot!




[caption id="attachment_3490" align="alignleft" width="133" caption="Gloria..."][/caption]

Well, since I will post a real “printed” and signed copy of my book “River of Judgement” to the lucky winner, who may well be in the US, then I will make this one challenging… Go to Smashwords, download a free copy of my short story Gloria, read it and leave me an honest review there. Then post a response here on WickedWriters with an answer to this question: “Which character in Gloria is a character based on someone I have known?” There is only one right answer. No marks will be deducted for honesty in the review! In the event of more than one correct answer there will be a tie breaker. The tie breaker will be the most accurate (or amusing) answer to the question “Which renowned classic short story writer influenced the plot of Gloria?” All runners-up (anyone who actually enters) will receive a consolation prize. Bon chance, mes braves!

Monday, September 20, 2010

All Rolled Into One

My, what an interesting topic this week – have we ever gotten revenge on someone by writing them into one of our stories?

Most people who know me know that I never put any real people into my stories. Heck, I don’t even put myself into my own stories.



Wow, that was a little too close.

Point taken.

Truthfully, I sometimes have a tendency to put people I know into my stories. For the five or six of you who have read my previous blogs, you know that many times I’ll take parts of real people and meld them together into an amalgam.

I’ll also imagine (aka “fantasize”) about certain actresses who might play a role if my novel or short story were to make the big screen. That’s why Michelle Rodriguez, Angela Bassett, Linda Hamilton (looking much better on yesterday’s episode of Chuck than she did six months ago in real life) and Anabella Sciorra keep showing up repeatedly in my posts.

And I have been known to do away with more than a few enemies in my novels and novellas. A female classmate of mine in junior high tried to bully me. I tried to be the gentleman and not cold cock her when she slapped me repeatedly. I held out as long as I could before I belted her one. Then, I got home and got a different kind of belt for my “self-defense” (courtesy of mom).

(Note: You should never hit a woman, I know, but she was slapping the crap out of me; I lost feeling in my left cheek).

After serving a month’s grounding, I decided on a different fate for the would-be bully. So far, she’s met horrible fates in at least 10 stories, including the NAACP ACT-SO regional award-winning one-act play Ghost.

If you knew my back story, you might find some other enemies (and one or two back-stabbing psycho ex-girlfriends) meeting cruel fates in Black Man With A Gun, Next-Door, Society’s Children, Wrong Choices, Skyfall, Slow Boat to China, and Collection. A few double-dealing shrews associated with MMP (a defunct publishing company) might suffer unimaginably in Red Herring and Farm Report. For my female readers, I won't mention all the women associated with stages and poles who have gotten my ire over the years (oh, wait, I just did...whoops, sorry).



And don’t get me started on how many “targets” bit the dust in Land of the Blind. I think I may have been angry at the entire southeastern United States. Or it was probably just the Army. Go Navy!

Right now, I have a real doozy of a target. This woman I met online once threatened to tear both my arms off and beat me to death with them. Even worse, she’s from New Jersey. Is that even a state? Ah, yes, my revenge will be sweet in the sequel to Hunters.

So, remember this one thing. If you have enemies that you want to get back at, try writing science fiction and horror. They’re really great vehicles for getting vengeance.

And I will end this now because I’m really starting to creep myself out.

Note: My apologies for not announcing the winner of my contest. I was surprised that so many people commented on my blog from a few weeks ago. I was concerned because the usual one person in my fan club was sick and missed reading me.

The winner of the contest is Sharon Hamilton, whose reviews are always in-depth and informative. Sharon, if you’ll drop me a line on gmail about how I can send a copy of Crawl to you, I’d appreciate it. Last I heard, the novella is so hot copies are flying onto the shelves.

Also, I think I’ll have to give J.D. Brown an honorable mention for admitting to blushing at the description of the female runner in Red Herring. Took a lot of guts, J.D. Get in touch with me and I’ll give you a coupon code or something for a copy of my e-book Dark Tidings (your choice of volumes I or II).

And, please, ladies, get in contact with me soon before C.J. really kills me this time.

Note 2: If anyone’s interested, I may be making my television comeback tonight at 10 p.m. (Eastern)/9 p.m. (Central) on ABC’s Detroit 1-8-7. I’m a senior detective (the other black guy with the ugly green, brown and orange-striped tie) in the night-time hostage scene with Mike Imperioli (The Sopranos) and James McDaniel (NYPD Blue).

[caption id="attachment_3459" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Detroit 1-8-7 (no, I'm not either of the black guys in the photo)"][/caption]

This will be my first appearance on TV (other than America’s Most Wanted) since I played Speed Channel photographer Tony on “Team Cherokee, Part I” and “Team Cherokee, Part II” on Walker, Texas Ranger in 1999.

Also, I’m in the front row of the church scene in Lottery Ticket for those brave enough to see that movie and I’m control room technician Greg (yes, I got to use my real name) in the upcoming Life As We Know It with Josh Duhamel and Katherine Heigl on Oct. 8.

Take THAT, Bitch!

When I organized the schedule for this quarter I had a slew of great topics to choose from thanks to the talented George. He came up with a page full, and this one really called out to me. Of course I slotted it for one of my weeks because after all, I could. ;-)

Six years ago, when I first moved back to Virginia, I joined the PTA at my daughter's pre-school and took a position on the board. There was this petite, curly-haired blonde woman running the whole she-bang, who I can honestly say I hated. Hate is a pretty strong word in my book and I wholeheartedly meant it in regards to her.

She drove me, and many other PTA board members and volunteers, insane that year. I honestly had to hold back from running her over with my car if I saw her in the parking lot - damn the onlookers! Her toddler holding her hand was the only thing to save her.

The anger and frustration I felt dealing with this woman has since left me gun-shy about getting involved in any PTA again. Oh, and I've been asked, bombarded and cajoled many, many times since that year. I have some friends involved this year with the public school and I am tempted, but I have to say no until I get healthy (and I'd have to convince Pete, which might sink my chances).

I took great pleasure in crafting my nemesis into an antagonistic role for the heroine in the second book in my series. Only one or two people who've read my book even know of my relationship with this domineering shrew of a woman, and so far, only my husband has read the beginning of the second book and saw the name I altered to fit this character. He laughed his ass off.

This is the same man who begged me to quit the PTA when he saw how distressed I was associating with this woman month in and month out. But I refused to let anyone force me out. I stuck out the whole year. I earned a bunch of money for the school as the fundraising chair and I politely refused to ever be a part of the PTA again, even when the woman never came back to the school with her kids the following years. She had made so many enemies I wouldn't have been surprised if the school asked her not to come back (keep in mind it's a private school, and not a state-run pre-school).

It was cathartic to get even with this woman in the pages of my book. Granted, it's been a while and I had pretty much let it all go (although, reading this it certainly doesn't sound that way), and I never exactly "get even" with her. But it's still nice to craft a character I dislike and model it after the only person I've hated in decades.

I was able to laugh while I thought up annoying dialogue lines for her. I was able to bring some of her arrogance and mannerisms from my memories into play. And I was able to move on. While the Coraline character in The Hunt may mean something entirely different to me as the author, I hope the readers enjoy her devilishly crafted part.

How about you? Have any of you killed off a character in one of your stories who remarkably resembled someone from your life?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Outlining: A Personal Journey

[caption id="attachment_3437" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Taken last winter with 100 other potential author photos. The beard did not last the spring."][/caption]

      To outline or not to outline; that is the question. At least that is one burning question this week at Wicked Writers, where we endeavor to discuss, convince or even lecture on the necessity of plotting one’s course when beginning that next bestseller. Some might suggest that it is in fact the most important writing one will ever do.

     As I contemplated this week's prompt, I was unsure just which side of the fence I was standing behind. I have written by simply sitting down and blazing ahead, come Hell or high water. More recently, I have written with more of a plan. It wasn't until I had written this post's rough draft that I came to fully realize just which side of the fence I should be standing behind. Walk with me, won't you...

     I might be a special case and I will leave that for you to decide just how special needs that might be. What I mean by this is, I have done quite a lot of writing where I have started madly typing away, allowing the visuals in my head to play out as if they were the scenes in a motion picture that had yet to be written down. A script in reverse, if you will. Regular readers of mine will recall that I have mentioned this before. In fact, my first novel was written just this way. It did take twenty years to write, so it would be extremely difficult for me to champion this method of writing. It took much editing and many rewrites to get it where it is now, and may be one of the reasons why it took so long. Perhaps if I would have mapped it out with an outline it might not have taken so long to complete. I have also written all of my short stories in this fashion, but the size and scope was so much easier to rein in, if and when things began to go astray.

     For my second novel I did map it out. I don’t know whether it was the greatest outline in the world since I had never tried writing a novel with one before. I think it did help me to map out the action beforehand and to narrow my focus. That novel only took eight months to write from beginning to end of second draft. My third novel in the series currently only exists as an outline. Yet, even now, as I contemplate working on that project this winter, I can hear the outline speaking to me. I grow excited just thinking about it, most likely since I don't have to do the heavy lifting now. I am confident that once I blow the dust off of that thing, the images will begin to play and the writing will be quite easy. Whether it is good or not remains to be seen!

     You will be visited by three ghosts... Okay, perhaps just one.

     Come just a little further please...

     I recall a painful writing experience that occurred in my youth. Today, not only does every home have a computer, but there is one in every other room. However, what you are about to see occurred back in the 1980's when there were only one or two computers on every block. You know, the dark ages! Anyway, my neighbors allowed me access to their pc for my writing. I spent many an afternoon there, but one particular evening I must have been late getting home and neglected to save my work. I recall leaving their home, feeling horrible as I walked back across the street. That night I spent hours jumping out of my bed as bits of action, dialogue, etc., came flooding back as I was attempting to go to sleep. Eventually, I got enough of it back, or at least enough to save the story. If I would have had an outline, it might have saved me from a lot of stress, unless of course I had neglected to save that, too.

     As you have taken this journey with me, you must realize, as I have, just how important outlines can be.  Mine are not great sketches of character or the latitude and longitude of every single subplot. They are only a few sentences that essentially script out where I need to be with each chapter. They still allow me the freedom to create, unshackled to strict rules, while helping me to focus on what should to be happening next. Perhaps more importantly than anything for me has been how helpful they have been with my pacing. Studying my outlines I have come to realize just what was needed and exactly when it was needed, much like a film director planning his shots by storyboard.

     If one would have asked me how much stock I put into outlining prior to this week, I might have said that I was not a believer. However, as you and I have found as we walked the terrain of this subject, I believe that I can be firmly counted among the converted. How about you? Are you reluctant to sit down and outline for fear that it zaps the creative process? Is it far too mundane a task? Are some of you other Wicked Writers out there believers in simply sketching your writing, and thus leaving plenty of opportunity for creativity or spontaneity? Do some of you actually prefer the shackles? (Poor attempt to entice comments?)

     The Wicked Writers Staff thank you for all of your comments this week and every week, and hope that you will keep them coming. We are reclining about Headquarters, snacking on Maple Bars and sipping coffee, eagerly awaiting more. Or is it just me?

     Oh, and thanks for taking the walk with me...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

KISS YOUR GOALS GOODBYE! Keep. It. Simple. Stupid.

To tell you the truth, neither one of this weeks topics thrilled me. I've been 'forever' perfecting a story outline that thinks outside-the-box for the attention disorder that cycles with my bi-polarism (close, but no hookah smoking orange cream flavor to scream "Eureka" as I jump from the bathtub and run naked down the street.)

I also felt a little funky chatting about setting realistic goals for writing. After all, I'm the one who still thinks it's fun to take the adult son up on his challenge to eat a 2 pound "shamu" burger without training for it first (I mean, come on! I've rocked premie babies who weighed less than what I was wolfing down!)

However, I decided to go with the lesser of two evils - and chose to write about setting realistic writing goals. Yeah. This coming from someone born under the sign of Capricorn (as many sea-goats sport tunnel vision when it comes to their goals. They disregard everything else - family, friends, even their own emotions - while in pursuit of their goal.) I was also born in the Chinese year of the Dragon, which may explain how I HAD to learn to temper my 'Let's go get 'em' goal attitude, as Dragons are extremely tenacious.

So, out of years of trial and error (heavy on the error part), I've come up with the surefire formula for goal setting, guaranteed to work for Capricorn/Dragon/bi-polar/eccentrics like me who are ready to kiss their goals goodbye -- because they'll be looking at their accomplishments in the rear view mirror of life.

Don't believe me? Then, my doubting friends, read on.

The plan is based on the anagram K.I.S.S. = Keep it simple stupid.

Now, this is not to be mixed up with Margie Lawson's wonderful DUH plan =

  1. Do it first -- or as close to first as humanly possible

  2. Understand that it will be inconvenient and/or difficult and do it anyway

  3. Hurray! Celebrate! You did it!


The main objective in KISS is just that - keep your goals simple, realistic, specific, manageable, and attainable, while still being able to live life, act like a human, breathe, eat, sleep and have sex.

Espesically the 'have sex' part. Really important there, especially if you want to write a great romance.

Before I get into the fundementals of what has helped me maintain a healthy set of realistic writing goals, I would like to take a moment to mention something about the concept of 'time management.'

It does not exist.

No such animal.

A made up term that belongs in the last century, along with dentists who drill on teeth without novocaine or gas.

Think about it. Time can't be managed. Time is uncontrollable and we can only manage ourselves and our use of time.

From now on, refer to this snagfu as "self management." And it's up to YOU to stop making excuses, get off your duff and do something other than complain and whine about not being able to reach your goals.

Now, with that being said, there are common "time wasters" dancing like dust faries with the toys in our attics.

I'm talking controllable things like personal disorganization, your inability to say "No" to anybody with a request, interruptions such as the telephone, email, TV or drop in visitors ("Have you got a minute?"), stress, anxiety and fatigue, procrastination (what are you avoiding?), conflicting schedules with children's or spouse's activities, indecision, ineffective delegation (come on, do you have to do it all?), acting without total information/ignorance, dealing with other people’s issues or problems, unclear communication, unclear objectives and priorities, lack of planning.

Get the point?

No approach to realistic goal setting for writing your novel is gonna work if you don't get the other crap straightened out first. Period.

One last point before I lay down the blueprints that will change your life.

You need to get a firm grip on reality. Take off the purple and round John Lennon glasses and remember you are wearing big-boy underpants (and in some cases, a few are in frilly white lacey things that would make Ernest Hemingway bristle with envy).

If you're working full-time and are coaching little league three times a week or are a big time Scout Master with duties at home: think. What are your priorities? Where will you make the time to write?

If this is your second time around in the relationship department and you have a revolving door of his kids/her kids every weekend: think. When? Where? Be concious of your decisions and stick to them.

If you work outside the home, have two kids and a husband who doesn't lift a finger for mealtime, bath time or homework - are you really gonna set a goal of writing 3 hours a day? How are you gonna manage?

Don't get me wrong. It's alright to stretch yourself (in fact, you want to), but it's not alright to stretch yourself beyond a sensible limit. Unrealistic goals will have you crying like a little girl. Before you know it, you admit defeat and run to the refridgerator, right into the arms of Ben and Jerry.

For the sake of your hips, you really want to avoid this ice cream scenerio (well, unless B & J were part of the making time for sex chat we had earlier, but then that would be just too kinky even for me and I'm not going there).

After you've given honest assessment of your current situation and have dealt with all the time wasters, proceed with this simple, yet effective plan.

1. Set your time goals.
Some writers decide on a specific amount of time they are going to spend writing each day. Whether they can only manage half an hour or are able to devote 8 hours a day to their craft, they sit themselves down at their desk and they stay there until that goal has been met.

This is also where they give themselves a time limit. A self imposed deadline or a publisher's submitance deadline. Maybe even a holiday deadline. It's up to you, how much you are willing to write and how stretchable you are (within reason). See? Simple!

2. Set a time to write.
If you really want to be invested in your writing goals, then you need to take this first step seriously. Again - it doesn't have to be a huge hunk of time. Just some 'time' - an hour? 90 minutes? More? Less? Your choice. Keep it simple and attainable.

You may be a morning person and most creative then, or like to write in the evening when the day's work is done. No matter. Set this block of time aside everyday when you'll be writing. This doesn't mean every moment of that time is going to be devoted exclusively to writing. It does mean that the daily discipline of being there sets the standard for your craft. See? Simple!

3. Set page goals.
If the time you spend at the desk doesn't feel right for you, set a minimum number of pages to write per day. Whether it's 1 or 5 or 10 pages a day, set your goal and stick to it.  I tend to shoot for 3 pages a day and on the nights I don't sleep well, I allow myself a page or a page and a half. Maybe off set some with editing what I did do the week before. See? Simple!

4. Set aside a special place to write.
This can be a certain room in your house or even a special place at the kitchen table or elsewhere. For a couple of years, I actually did my writing in the bathroom closet.  (insert - and yes, I have a ton of coming out of the bathroom closet jokes.) Wherever you can carve out a spot, do it. Then, when you sit down there at your appointed time your focus is on writing. See? Simple!

5. Decide when to stop.
Whether or not you have spent your alotted time or finished the number of pages you set for your daily goal, it's alright to stop. But, it's a good rule to stop just before you reach the end of what you want to say. By stopping there, you will automatically have a place to start the next day. See? Simple!

6. Focus!

Really concentrate on the goals you want to accomplish, and be as specific as possible. Don't say "write a book." That's too vague of a goal to lead to any direct action. Say "write a paranormal mystery story for Kensington that has a Christmas theme," or something to that affect. Embellish your statements to make them clearer.  See? Simple!

7. I challenge thee...


Make your goals challenging, but not impossible. Writing down "write seven 90,000 word novels in a year" is not only stupid, but it will become obvious so early that you'll probably stop pursuing the goal altogether. And what of the story line quality? It would suck. Trust me. Stating something more doable, like 3-4 stories, will challenge, but, in the end, you'll still have a life and will still be writing. See? Simple!

8. Sins of the Past

List the reasons that your writing has failed in the past. Not to self flagellate in the wee hours of a bad day, but to steer you back on the path to submitting your book!  Look; what tendencies derailed you before you could even get started? I find by identifying the barriers that brought me to a halt previously, I will be more aware and breeze on by them, rushing to the victory line. See? Simple!

See? Simple. Realistic. And plenty of time for a healthy sex life.

Now, get started immediately. Keep going, don't stop, and don't skip listing your failures. If you don't address them, you'll be doomed to repeat the same mistakes again and again. Till next time, KISS - Keep it simple, stupid!

The Release of Vampire Vacation

Sometimes things line up and you have to sit up and pay attention. Yesterday, I was exchanging emails with Liz, my Monday counterpart, and she told me she was working on her post for next week. It never occurred to me to stop and think, to realize she was scheduled for yesterday and not next week. I posted in multiple spots and places last week with the same post, so I was a little out of it.

Next, I exchanged emails with my agent who was disappointed we hadn't heard back from the last three publishers yet and she didn't blame me that I was going to start the ball rolling on getting my book self-published for December. Why December? Well, I didn't want it to be November when we're planning our big 40th birthday trip for me -- a weekend in New Orleans followed by a seven day cruise.

Releasing it when we returned would conflict with Thanksgiving and all the associated hoopla, so the first week of December seemed like a safer choice. Then I read this excellent article on self publishing sent to me by Rolando Ray, a neighbor and friend, whom I stole his name for a character in my book because I loved the way Rolando sounded when pronounced.

After reading that article, it hit me: I've done everything right and then some. If I'm going to succeed in self-publishing there is really no reason to wait. The industry has changed so much just in this year alone. The lower cost of Kindles combined with the higher revenue rate on ebooks across all major platforms is a no brainer for a lot of authors with the techno savvy I've got.

Establishing myself as a publisher enables me to approach printers-- like Dorchester will be doing with Lightning Source, a POD printer under Ingram Publishing. I'll be launching my book via digital, print, and possibly audio formats, on 10-10-10. I was going to wait til Friday to announce it, but with today's free blog topic it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I'm excited. I'm scared. I'm going to be working my ass off non-stop for the next few weeks to try and make this thing fly. I love the control I'm able to have doing things this way, and I love the idea of it all happening now over getting a contract and waiting 18-24 months for a release date.

I've got email campaigns to design with my marketing guru husband, beta readers to beg for written reviews, and some final touches (like a glossary, acknowledgement and contributor page) to finish... oh, and remember to breathe.

Deep, soul-cleansing breaths which will calm my frantic beating heart and help me get through the biggest moment so far in my 39-years on the planet. Yes, even a 35-hour labor doesn't compare. Heck, that was only a day and half when you think about it. The real work has been in the years since!

Will it be a good choice or will I land flat on my face? Time will tell. And if I fail, at least I'll have tried my damnedest.

Outlining your Goals

Hello again bloggers. This week we are discussing the topic of setting realistic writing goals or outlining. I'm going to try and touch on both of these because I think they go hand in hand.

I used to be a panster. No outline, no character sketches, just go! It was the worst thing I ever did. While I had a story there, it was written so poorly that it sickens me to see the first drafts of some of my stories. I had characters with magically changing hair and eye color, thier personalities would take a sudden 180! The plot would jump and skip and go off on a side direction - completely out of control.

So I tried writing notes and keeping them in a notebook. This quickly became disorganized so I switched to loose paper in a three ring binder. It really made a difference in my writing but even still, I felt like my stories were missing something and I couldn't figure out why.

I took a workshop earlier this summer about outlining and plotting. The workshop used the book JD mentioned yesterday First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S. Wiesner. I enjoyed it so much, I actually bought the book. Do I follow her steps completely? No. But I do use many of them.

I write very, very detailed character and setting sketches using the sketch worksheets in Karen's book. I added a few things of my own of course, to work with my fantasy level stories. I also made a few changes to make them work with my series. In Karen's book, I believe she says to make new sketches for each book of a series (or maybe I heard it somewhere else). I think that is a waste of valuable time and paper. When I go to outline/plan the second or third book, I merely add to what is already there. I don't create brand new sketches.

Now when it comes to actual plot outlines and summaries, I don't do this. Occasionally I'll write down a few notes or ideas in a bulleted list, but I don't actually outline the story in order or anything like that. It doesn't hinder my creativity when I do, I just don't like to do it. Since I character and setting sketch so deeply, I get extremely excited about the story and just want to write it.

Before I edit any story however, I always write an outline. I don't know why I do this, but it seems to help me stay on track. Usually as I go to edit, I come up with great ideas for scenes or things to add that take away from the main plot of the story. So, I have to have an outline handy to make sure I stay on track.

How does this relate to setting realstic goals? Well first point, if you don't know how you write, you can't set any time frame or goal to complete anything, in my opinion. I can say that I can sketch and write a full draft in a month - without the crazyness of NaNoWriMo. However, editing takes at a bare minimum, three months. (And that's not counting my main WIP that has taken forever - that's how badly it was written the first time.) So, I realistically set a goal to write a new book and have it finished in the next four months. Extra time given for when life gets in the way and to make sure I don't skip school and things like that.

Also, sketching and outlining the way I do helps me to stay focused - so that four month goal I can actually keep. Without focus, it would take me much longer to write and edit a book! My main WIP is a perfect example of this. I've been working on this story for EIGHT YEARS! But I have many other stories that are ready and waiting for a final polish or even the first edit.

Sketching out details greatly helps and I recommend this method even to pansters. At least get some notes written down about the setting and characters to help you stay on track - without hindering any of the plot. It works great for me - and I wish I used this method years ago.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Outlines ... and a Contest!

[caption id="attachment_3384" align="alignleft" width="142" caption="Recomended for help with Outlining."][/caption]

Hello readers and fellow Wicked Writers. After last week’s beautiful stories honoring heroes and remembering lives lost on 9/11, it is apparently now time to get back into the business of writing. This week’s topic is:  Setting realistic writing goals and outlining.

I can hear everyone groaning like a bunch of teenagers in an English Comp 101 class. Let me start by saying that I could probably spend all week enthusiastically talking about goals and outlines. So be happy I only get one post.

I’m going to leave goal setting for someone else to talk about so I can discuss my newest obsession. Outlining.

It baffles me that a lot of writers refuse to outline. They say things like “It hinders my creativity.” Um, excuse me? What? I have to disagree. Outlining may not give you brilliant ideas, compelling characters, or an amazing plot arc, but it doesn’t take those things away either. On the contrary, a good outline is like a snap-shot of your novel, so you can easily see where those elements need to be developed.

I’ll admit, when I first started writing I thought it was just a matter of sitting down and typing a story. Outlining seemed like an extra step that would take up my time. I’ve come a long way since then.

I think the reason so many writers turn the other check to outlining is because they don’t know how to go about it, and thus, they are afraid of it. There’s no reason to be. We’re not talking about query letters here. No one is going to read or judge your outline. You can write it however you want. It’s your ideas, organized in a fashion that allows you to find them, use them, and build off them, again and again, at any stage in the writing process.

And yeah, whether we like or not, outlining is essential to success, reduces stress, mistakes, and prevents wasted time. How many of you ever spent an hour searching through post-its and scrap paper for that brilliant idea you scribbled down in the middle of the night? Hmm. Too bad you didn’t jot it down in your outline, right in the exact scene you intended.

Since no one is going to see your outline besides you, you do have the option of making it really simplistic. A list of plot points, for example. However, I favor a more detailed outline, with character sketches, setting sketches, research notes, a plot summery, and ideas for scenes all ready to go – typed up and handy. Trust me when I say it makes life easier.

Like I said, I didn’t always use outlines. There was a time when they seemed taunting to me too. If you still cringe at the idea of outlining, there is a book I recommend that will help you get started. It’s called First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S. Wiesner. Just don’t be fooled by the title. You won’t have a first draft in 30 days, but you will have a constructive, detailed, and organized outline that’s almost good enough to be your first draft. Even more awesome than that, Wiesner teaches you how to revise your outline so you don’t have to revise your first draft. When done correctly, all you should have to do is edit and proofread.

Ahh, yes, outlines are beautiful.

Now for the CONTEST! It’s my turn to host this week’s contest, and I’ve put a lot of thought into this. *Insert wicked laugh here* I’m going to use this opportunity to do some shameless self-promotion. Please real ALL rules and instruction below:





J.D. BROWN’S SCAVENGER HUNT !!!!!!!

I’m hosting a scavenger hunt that runs from Monday, September 13th, 2010 at 9:00am Central time to Monday, September 27th, 2010 at 12:00am Central time.

How to enter and WIN:

1.    Subscribe to the Wicked Writers blog, then leave a comment below with your first and last name and “I SUBSCRIBED TO WICKED WRITERS FOR THE SCAVENGER HUNT” somewhere in your comment.
2.    Follow me on Twitter.com (http://twitter.com/authorjdbrown) , then send me a direct message on Twitter with your name and “I’M FOLLOWING YOU FOR THE SCAVENGER HUNT” in the message.

3.    Go to my personal blog and follow OR subscribe to my blog. Then leave a comment on my blog with your name and “I’M FOLLOWING YOUR BLOG FOR THE SCAVENGER HUNT” in your comment.

4.    Go to my website and sign the guest book (yes, you have to look for it). Include your name and “I’M SIGNING YOUR GUEST BOOK FOR THE SCAVENGER HUNT” in the message.

5.    When you’re done with the above items, send me an email at jdbrown.author@gmail.com and include your FIRST and LAST NAME and an EMAIL ADDRESS that I can reach you at. Make sure the subject of your email is “THE SCAVENGER HUNT_YOUR NAME”. For example – THE SCAVENGER HUNT_J.D.BROWN.

Rules:

1.    You must complete ALL five (5) of the above requirements. If you are missing one, you will be disqualified. I will email anyone who is missing an item, so long as I receive your email entry before the contest closes at 12:00 am central time on September 27th, 2010. Anyone missing an item after midnight on September 27th will not be notified and will be disqualified from the contest.

2.    You must remain a follower on Wicked Writers, my Twitter, and my blog until after I have announced the winner (which will be on September 27th, 2010 at 9:00 central time).

You do not have to be active or continue to post comments other than the ones required for the contest and you are free to stop email subscriptions/unfollow me after I have announced the winner.

The PRIZES:

First place is a $25.00 Borders gift card!

Second place is a $10.00 Borders gift card!

Winners will be selected at random by my Pomeranians. Hopefully they won’t eat the prizes…

Happy hunting!

J.D. Brown

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Who is Henry Blogg? …lest we forget (words for unsung heroes)

It is understandable, at times like this, when world events are remembered and those that have lost their lives in-service or as innocents become our present focus, to reflect our current feelings and dwell in the now.

But, as writers, we have a responsibility.

Our writing, regardless of genre, is reflective of our times. In our words we possess the power to enlighten future generations as to the state of our cultures and societies, their failures and successes, their heroes and heroines.

We have a choice.

We can follow commercial trends and write in the isolated moment of dissociated facts, or we can weave into the fabric of our narratives, stories that leverage our experiences, our knowledge, our feelings.

[caption id="attachment_3369" align="alignright" width="264" caption="Exceedingly good poetry!"][/caption]


Far-called, our navies melt away; On dune and headland sinks the fire:Lo, all our pomp of yesterday Is one with Nineveh and  Tyre! Judge of the Nations, spare us yet. Lest we forget—lest we forget!


From "Recessional", a poem by Rudyard Kipling

What would it be for our stories of vampires and ghouls to revolve around tales of heroism that are rooted in the philosophy of battles between right and wrong? What would it be for our narratives of love and endeavour to struggle against forces that seem destined, on some perennial, visceral level to frustrate our desires for peace and democracy for all?

In fiction we can build on fact. We can draw parallels in previously untold-of worlds. We can bring enlightenment to others and longevity to the past.

In 1873, John Ruskin wrote that ‘…the art is greatest which, conveys to the mind of the spectator, the greatest number of the greatest ideas…’ Writing as an art, then, has a duty to convey great ideas to its readership. It is no option, writing as an artist, to simply relay facts. We must aim to convey ideas, to create within the minds of our readers, images of realities that, while fictional, leave lasting impressions and promote the possibility of learning.

[caption id="attachment_3368" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Arthur C Clarke"]Arthur C Clarke[/caption]

Consider the plot for a science fiction novel… An unpaid, volunteer space rescue pilot, consistently flying out on deep space rescue missions in an improbably under equipped, manually controlled, aging space shuttle. This space pilot normally shuttles his craft from moon to moon, carrying supplies between outposts. When a distress call goes out, he is first to respond. Is this something for Arthur C Clarke?

Perhaps one of the bravest and most spectacular rescue missions this pilot undertakes sees him rescue 11 crewmen from the meteor-shattered hulk of the galactic freighter Fernebo. And this on top of an earlier rescue mission that same day. In fact, the pilot himself has to battle through a meteor storm to reach the stricken wreck. By the time he pulls alongside the Fernebo, he and his small crew had been fighting the elements of deep space over nearly 14 light hours.

Such feats may have earned the rescue pilot an Intergalactic Federation Gold Medal. They become regular citations! Indeed, some twenty years later, this relentless pilot and his faithful crew are called out to the space barge Sepoy. He might even refer to this later as the worst journey in his then 24 years as a rescue Pilot. He makes several attempts to go alongside the stricken barge but it is impossible to hold his own ship in position to effect a rescue because of the solar winds and meteor showers. He decides to run his own ship onto the deck of the Sepoy. But he only has time to take of one crew member before his small ship falls away, and he has to return and repeat the dangerous manoeuvre. Both crewmen are rescued, but all, including the rescue pilot and his crew carry injuries from the event.

How would our memory of Henry Blogg be affected if Arthur C Clarke had written of such heroism in his novels?



No other lifeboat crew member has been awarded as many medals as Henry Blogg. He was awarded three Gold Medals and four Silver Medals for Gallantry. He was also awarded the George Cross and the British Empire Medal. Henry joined the crew of the Cromer lifeboat in 1894 at the age of 18. He became the Coxswain at the young age of 33 and continued in this role for 38 years, retiring in 1947 at the age of 71. During 53 years’ service, his Cromer lifeboat launched 387 times and saved 873 lives.

As I sat writing this, I remained conscious of 20 years of my own military service – a different time, a different world – and a brother who has just this month arrived in country, in Afghanistan, to commence a tour of duty with the Canadian Forces there. Respect!

[caption id="attachment_3367" align="alignright" width="150" caption="My hero..."][/caption]

But, I am not a historian; I am a writer of fiction. So, if I am to take a lead from a fictional hero of mine, “It was a dark and stormy night…” how am I going to portray the big, heroic events of the now for future generations to gain insight and ideas from? And how might you, as a writer also, respond?  Or, as a reader, what might you expect? Do tell! :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Heroes -- Alive in Our Hearts and Books

Wow, what a tough subject this week -- 9/11 and heroism.

I was a sports writer for a major American newspaper that September day in 2001, which gives me some insight most people don’t have. I had often wondered what reporters felt like on December the 7th and by the end of the 9/11 I knew the awful feeling.

I never really thought about where I was when it happened because it seemed so insignificant to the overall scheme of things. That I was waiting for a ride to Wal-Mart to get a new battery for my car might be as inconsequential to history as you can get.

That all changed when I got to work, though. I got my car battery and went into work at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Not much of a sports section that night. Instead, most of us helped cover the American reaction to 9/11, got quotes from sports fans and ordinary citizens and worked our asses off for the next week to get every angle possible, especially on the background of Osama Bin Laden and Al Queda. I tell you that “useless” information everyone said I had about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the CIA response in the form of the Mujahideen suddenly became extremely useful.

The only real downside was that I already had the images of the collapses of the north and south towers of the World Trade Center seared into my mind and I had to watch them over and over again that week.

To get through it, I hit the books. Literally. I couldn’t read anything about police officers or fire fighters because they would only remind me of the awful sacrifices made that unforgettable day.

Instead, I read war books. Real life stories about how America coped with past wars and how the men and women who fought them coped. I knew the American armed forces would be responding to the attack and I also knew the Taliban would be as stupid as Saddam Hussein was in Desert Storm.

The first book I read was Day of Infamy by Walter Lord, about the Japanese sneak attack on Dec. 7, 1941. That seemed most appropriate. I  followed it up  with Incredible Victory, also by Lord, about  how we won the Pacific War.

Other books about Americans triumphing over adversity soon  followed – The Great Escape (Paul Brickhill); The Short-Timers (Gustav Hasford; hint: was the basis for Stanley  Kubrick’s classic Full Metal Jacket); War Year (Joe Haldeman), and Pork Chop Hill (S.L.A. Marshall).

I also remember checking The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank, Otto Frank & Mirjam Pressler) out of the library. Talk about finding positive examples of surviving through incredible adversity.

I think I ignored all the larger-than-life stuff like the Mack Bolan series because I felt comfort in reading about the true exploits of real people. Because real people died on December 7th, just like on 9/11. Real, everyday Joes and Janes signed up to fight the Japanese. Just like Americans were torn from their norms and thrown in to a seemingly impossible situation, so, too were the young men who found themselves in Marine boot camp, being stripped down and made into brutal killers for Vietnam.

These were books about people who had already been through catastrophe, had rallied together and had triumphed or provided inspiration for others to continue to live. I like Anne Frank’s diary despite her ultimate fate. I still enjoy the original movie with Millie Perkins and the remake with Melissa Gilbert, if only to remind myself that while life might suck, it will go on.

It makes me wonder what books will be written about Afghanistan and Iraq. Those wars seem so politicized and sanitized now that we Americans (and our allies) go on with our daily lives and treat them like 30-second sound bites.

Maybe we need modern versions of Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers or G.F. Borden’s Seven Six One or Mark Bowden’s Blackhawk Down.

Then, we would definitely never forget that awful day in September.

Other recommended reading:

The Longest Day (Cornelius Ryan)

A Bridge Too Far (Cornelius Ryan)

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (Ted W. Lawson)

Flags of Our Fathers (James Bradley & Ron Powers)

Jarhead (Anthony Swofford)

The Bridges at Toko-Ri (James Michener)

The Cruel Sea (Nicholas Monsarrat)

The Bridge Over the River Kwai (Pierre Boulle)

The Red Badge of Courage (Stephen Crane)

Diary of Alvin York (Alvin York, edited by Tom Skeyhill)

1968 (Joe Haldeman)

We Were Soldiers Once…and Young (Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore, ret. & Joseph Galloway)

Honoring Heros

In remembrance of 9/11, we'll be sharing our stories of heros with you. Whether they be real, from our own writings, or taken from that historic time in our country. The terrorist attack on the pentagon and World Trade Center, as well as the downed plane in Pennsylvania, will be forever carved into the minds of our nation.

Like when Regan was shot, the Berlin Wall came down, or Lady Di was killed, many of us will be able to recall the exact place and setting in which we received the news. I happened to be feeding my ten-month-old daughter in a high chair while watching Regis and Kelly when the first plane hit. My husband worked from home and I raced downstairs to interrupt his conference call to tell him the news.





We found out later that Pete's roommate for four years in college, Henry Ryan, who belonged to Engine 7 Ladder 1, happened to be filming a French documentary with the Naudet brothers that day. The group was on a call ten blocks away, with the cameras rolling, when the first plane went in to tower number two. The men were the first to arrive on the scene, the first team to make it in, and the only rescue team to make it out without losing a man.

It still gives me chills when I think about it. And when we went to Henry's wedding a year later it was spine-chilling to see the dance floor fill up with the solemn-faced brave men and toast the heros who didn't make it out that day. I felt small in their presence, which was not accurate by any stretch of the imagination — I was eight months pregnant with my son by then.

My nephews were teen and pre-teen when 9/11 happened. All three were affected by it in their own way, ways I will only be able to guess at. One grew up determined to help. In eighth grade, Asa organized his school to send care packages overseas when the war first started. Much to our dismay, all three nephews joined the Army when they became men; first Asa, then Justin, and finally Eric.

Please don't think our dismay is because we don't support them, we do. We had hopes of the safety of college or a secure job for them all, but they made their own choices. Recently, after a year-long deployment overseas in Iraq, the youngest one, Eric, died in a motorcycle accident. In our minds he is a hero for serving his country, just like all the men who do so now and who have in the past, whether he died in service or not.

The brave men and women, of all races, all religions, and of all sexual preferences, who serve in any capacity, are heros in my mind. Most times what they do is a thankless job. Whether they are firemen, soldiers, policemen, medics, doctors, nurses, teachers or clergy, they all serve our populace and are heros to our country. We only seem to honor them when the chips are down and not 24/7 like we should, but it's much better now than it was after Vietnam, so I'm not going to complain too much.

Perhaps as a whole, we all need to remember Kennedy's words and hold them closer to our heart:
"Ask not what your country can do for you, but you can do for your country."

Without the people, the people with attitudes that reach beyond their own needs and their own interests, where would we be as a nation?

On the whole, there might be lots of things wrong with our country right now. But one thing everyone can be proud of is the heros we have within our ranks. They may not fit into the cookie-cutter alpha role many authors portray them as, they may look and act just like you and I — but they are heros nevertheless. And I'm honored to know them, one and all.

Where were you the day the planes hit? Do you have a story of heroism you'd care to share? Do you have a soldier you'd like me to send a care package to? Asa is returning to his home base soon and asked me to not send him my latest two packages. If you have a relative serving overseas who'd like one, please comment and leave your email, I'll select two soldiers randomly to receive them.

Honoring Heros

In remembrance of 9/11, we'll be sharing our stories of heros with you. Whether they be real, from our own writings, or taken from that historic time in our country. The terrorist attack on the pentagon and World Trade Center, as well as the downed plane in Pennsylvania, will be forever carved into the minds of our nation.

Like when Regan was shot, the Berlin Wall came down, or Lady Di was killed, many of us will be able to recall the exact place and setting in which we received the news. I happened to be feeding my ten-month-old daughter in a high chair while watching Regis and Kelly when the first plane hit. My husband worked from home and I raced downstairs to interrupt his conference call to tell him the news.





We found out later that Pete's roommate for four years in college, Henry Ryan, who belonged to Engine 7 Ladder 1, happened to be filming a French documentary with the Naudet brothers that day. The group was on a call ten blocks away, with the cameras rolling, when the first plane went in to tower number two. The men were the first to arrive on the scene, the first team to make it in, and the only rescue team to make it out without losing a man.

It still gives me chills when I think about it. And when we went to Henry's wedding a year later it was spine-chilling to see the dance floor fill up with the solemn-faced brave men and toast the heros who didn't make it out that day. I felt small in their presence, which was not accurate by any stretch of the imagination — I was eight months pregnant with my son by then.

My nephews were teen and pre-teen when 9/11 happened. All three were affected by it in their own way, ways I will only be able to guess at. One grew up determined to help. In eighth grade, Asa organized his school to send care packages overseas when the war first started. Much to our dismay, all three nephews joined the Army when they became men; first Asa, then Justin, and finally Eric.

Please don't think our dismay is because we don't support them, we do. We had hopes of the safety of college or a secure job for them all, but they made their own choices. Recently, after a year-long deployment overseas in Iraq, the youngest one, Eric, died in a motorcycle accident. In our minds he is a hero for serving his country, just like all the men who do so now and who have in the past, whether he died in service or not.

The brave men and women, of all races, all religions, and of all sexual preferences, who serve in any capacity, are heros in my mind. Most times what they do is a thankless job. Whether they are firemen, soldiers, policemen, medics, doctors, nurses, teachers or clergy, they all serve our populace and are heros to our country. We only seem to honor them when the chips are down and not 24/7 like we should, but it's much better now than it was after Vietnam, so I'm not going to complain too much.

Perhaps as a whole, we all need to remember Kennedy's words and hold them closer to our heart:

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but you can do for your country."

Without the people, the people with attitudes that reach beyond their own needs and their own interests, where would we be as a nation?

On the whole, there might be lots of things wrong with our country right now. But one thing everyone can be proud of is the heros we have within our ranks. They may not fit into the cookie-cutter alpha role many authors portray them as, they may look and act just like you and I — but they are heros nevertheless. And I'm honored to know them, one and all.

Where were you the day the planes hit? Do you have a story of heroism you'd care to share? Do you have a soldier you'd like me to send a care package to? Asa is returning to his home base soon and asked me to not send him my latest two packages. If you have a relative serving overseas who'd like one, please comment and leave your email, I'll select two soldiers randomly to receive them.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Size Matters & four other needs

This week the prompt at Wicked Writers was: Five things that we would like to see in the genre that we write in. Since my debut novel is a Christian/Horror crossover, and aimed more for a PG-13 type of rating, I am commenting today somewhere between thrillers and horror. And no, this is not C.J.’s post, I was simply looking for something sensational to entitle the thing with. If you were looking for something else, you might try Everything Erotic on Kindle. Shameless plug for C.J., I know (smiles).

Before I begin, please allow me to fill you in on what it is that I like.

[caption id="attachment_3337" align="alignright" width="196" caption="The novel"][/caption]One of the first novels that I ever read was The Amityville Horror, by Jay Anson. I am not here today to debate with you whether or not George and Kathleen Lutz concocted their story. I will leave that to others. There are plenty of sites on the web devoted to which side of the fence one might reside on with regards to this subject. If nothing else, it is simply one of the scariest “haunted house” stories that you will ever read. And you must read it at night, alone, while the rest of your household is quiet, if you want the best effect.

I think I like haunted house stories or ghost stories, if you will, due to the fact that it is something that every one of us can relate to. We all live in buildings that make noises in the middle of the night, and at some point or another every one of us have been alone in one…in the dark.

Serial killer stories are another of my favorites. Of course I refer to the fictionalized versions! I don't like it at all when it is real and being reported in the newspaper or on the evening news. What I love is the intrigue, the criminology work that must be done and the chase as the authorities close in. On the other hand, part of the reason that we can believe these stories, unfortunately, is due to the fact that these killers really are in the news every year.

Now that I have explained a bit of the “what”, I would like to explain the “why”. What I enjoy is the sitting on the edge of my seat kind of stories. I am not interested in crazed lunatics with chain saws, running around tirelessly, hacking up everyone that they can find into indescribable pieces. Nor am I interested in Saw XXIII or whatever number the filmmakers are on. I want to be thrilled by dark material, but not shocked, revolted or disgusted by torture porn and the like.

Having said all of that, the following are five things that I would like to see different. I will weave between print and film to help better illustrate some of the points.

1)  Something new. Since much has been done before, it simply makes it that much more challenging to come up with new ideas or fresh twists. M. Night Shyamalan hit the first pitch that he ever saw for a grand slam with The Sixth Sense. Unfortunately, he has only managed a few weak singles and a double since then, but I like him, so I wish him well. The thing was that his idea was totally fresh, and it invigorated the genre. Of course, we then saw a lot of folks simply coming up with a great reveal for the end of their film or book, with little but a weak story to get us there, as if we cared by then.

[caption id="attachment_3338" align="alignleft" width="160" caption="A scene from The Sixth Sense"][/caption]

2)  Stop showing us. When I was in high school I once heard that a poll conducted with prisoners revealed that they would much rather have a Sears catalogue then a playboy magazine. Less was actually more. I thought the notion ridiculous at the time, but I was a teenager who could only think about women, so what did I know? One of the reasons why the film, Jaws was so successful was apparently by accident. The mechanical shark, Bruce, named after Mr. Spielberg’s then-lawyer, did not work often enough, so they did the best that they could under the circumstances and it ended up making everyone involved look brilliant. The reason why the original Friday the 13th part 1 & 2 were good was due to the fact that the audience was rarely given any glimpse of either Mrs. Voorhees or eventually her son, Jason. In these cases, what we received mostly was the expectation of the killer. My good friend, Carole Gill, who recently blogged here made a very good point of this on her own blog. You should look her up if you have yet to do so. We're hoping to enlist her talents here soon on a more permanent basis. She's the real horror writer.

[caption id="attachment_3339" align="alignright" width="160" caption="Where's that bigger boat?"][/caption]

3)  About Length. I know, I know; stop it already. The point here would be that the most important aspect is for the author to tell their story. I would hope that market concerns would not be the driving factor. Stephen King’s The Stand was far too long for a newer author, so the publisher had him trim it down. It was very good; however, when his name became so much bigger than any of theirs’, he was allowed to put back all of the pages that he had trimmed. What is key is that each chapter, every paragraph, and ultimately even the shortest of sentences be necessary. If it takes longer to give the reader the proper back-story, then make it longer. If it’s too short, don’t give us filler simply to stretch it out. The story is what it is. Thankfully, Mr. Jackson gave us additional footage for the dvds because there were times in all three Lord of the Rings films, and especially in Return of the King where I felt rushed through the original theatrical release. I recall Clive Barker’s Nightbreed making me feel that way, too.

4)   Unnecessary murder. Why does each of Dirty Harry’s partners end up dead or physically incapacitated? I would have thought that once would have been enough. I have killed off a few characters in my writing, but am conscious of the fact that others feel the same about this subject. Let’s not erase someone simply because they are in the way, or in order to give the lead character the motivation necessary to kill every deviant that comes there way, ala Charles Bronson in Deathwish. What about this 70's idea that every sex-starved teenager should die, leaving only one left to survive. Did those screenwriters think  that it made it a fairer fight? My 16 year old and I were watching Predator recently. Thankfully, the woman survived and was helicoptered out of the forest with Arnold the Governator, otherwise it’s not a great story any more as it is a star turn for the leading man. How about killing off the lead somewhere near the end of the movie? How’s that for original? I know it’s been done before, but so infrequently that only John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima comes to mind or Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan.

[caption id="attachment_3340" align="alignright" width="106" caption=""I 'ain't got time to bleed!""][/caption]

5)  Too many twists. I love twists and turns and surprise endings that you never saw coming, just as much as the next person; however, not all at the same time. In The Dark Knight, although a very good film, I doubted that Batman would actually ever catch Heath Ledger's masterful Joker, when he had made him look so pathetic for the entire film. I thought Dan Brown's Angels and Demons was a terrific book until three-quarters of the way through when it took one twist too many for my believability.

Perhaps I am being too picky, making much ado about nothing. Perhaps not.

What do you say? I'd love to hear what you think. Did I miss anything? Did I go too far?

What about the rest of the panel for this week? We would love to hear your comments. If nothing else, have a great long weekend. Just not here...

[caption id="attachment_3341" align="aligncenter" width="220" caption="112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, Long Island "][/caption]