Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Pumpkins, the Pumpkins!

My family worries about me when I talk about fictional people as if they really exist. And I won't even go into looks they give me when I say my characters talk to me. I think they've got the funny farm on speed dial in case I start running through the house wearing only a tiara shouting, "The pumpkins, the pumpkins! The pumpkins are after me!" But I assure them, I'm no crazier than any other author--yes, I know, that gives me a lot of wiggle room--and the things that go on in my head are vital to the production of quality work. I say don't hate on me because the voices like me best...kidding, kidding. But take last night for example.

I went to bed feeling pretty good about myself as a writer. I finally finished a 35K+ novella I've been working on for months. Though I know a first draft is a long way from a finished product, I allowed myself to bask in the glow of the accomplishment. All the Good Men is a tale of Dahlia Foster who's sure the hackneyed platitude is true: After a certain age, all the good men are married or gay. Her best friend and her sisters dare her to put her fate where her mouth is. The terms of the challenge? During the month of August, she has to end her five-year-long ‘man fast’ and go on dates with men of their choosing. Oh, and she has to go out with anyone else who asks.

As the date disasters pile up, the vindication almost makes the torturous evenings bearable for Dahlia. But a handsome new neighbor, Jackson Carmichael, throws his hat in the ring and he may just be the man to prove her wrong…that is if she doesn’t scare him away first.

I drifted off to sleep with that warm, fuzzy feeling only a completed first draft can give. And then the rudest thing happened!

My characters tore me from slumber to start telling me all sorts of things about themselves that I didn't know. What? How could this be? The manuscript took me months to write in the first place because these stubborn characters wouldn't open up. And they pick 2am to get chatty? Begrudgingly, I staggered out to the living room and jotted a few notes in my journal, then stumbled back to bed. But there Dahli and Jackson were again making suggestions for backstory I could add, popping up in my dreams and opening up to me about the laughter and tears that would round them out with some depth.

About 5 this morning, I gave up on sleeping and pulled out the laptop. Now I have at least another 10k - 15K to write, which on one hand is good. The more layers of personality and meaning I put into the book, the more enjoyable a read it'll be. On the other hand, I want to beat Dahlia and Jackson. I'm serious, WTH? They could've told me all these things months ago when I was begging them to...or at least have waited until a decent time to propel me out of bed. Characters can be so inconsiderate sometimes. I suppose I shouldn't complain. They could've kept mute and left me with a fluffy romantic comedy instead of one in which real people deal with real roadblocks, desires, and insecurities.

So this morning I took All the Good Men out of my finished draft folder and put it back in the WIP file. Speaking of which, I best get back to work while my muse is all hopped up on caffeine. I always say, a muse in the hand is worth two in the bush. Okay, I never say that. Not even sure what the original version of that adage means. Anyhoo, back to the grindstone. Quick Brighid, before the pumpkins come after us again! Now, where did I put that tiara....?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Confessions of a Google-holic

Sitting in the park yesterday, on a perfectly lovely autumn morning, I did a little writing the old-fashioned way. I'm usually all about the electronica, but when the little one needs some fresh air, I'm perfectly willing to leave the battery-challenged laptop at home and scribble away in a notebook. No, not the cute Apple kind of 'notebook' that comes in so many lovely colors. I mean a cheap, three-subject, spiral-bound block of paper I bought at the drugstore. And sometimes my best work comes out this way. Yesterday was not one of those days. Sure, the scene I wrote was inspired, dramatic, and just what was needed to move the plot and characterization along—if I do say so myself—however, the whole scene went right in the trashcan. Why? Because it was based on something that DOES NOT happen. [Cindy takes a moment to decide whether to laugh or cry]

Here's what I learned today—When you step on a landmine it does not make a loud click and it will do one of two things 1. Immediately explode or 2. Wait a few seconds and then explode. There's none of this Hollywood melodrama where the soldier or, better yet, his commanding officer hears the telltale sound of a landmine arming itself and has time to say, “Son, don't move. Keep your foot right where it is.” Because even if the soldier stayed as still as a marble statue, the thing's gonna explode. Who knew? Well, apparently weapons experts and military history buffs all over the web know this, but those of us who glean most their munitions knowledge from movies and TV have been seriously misled. Not surprising. Apparently, the myth began due to some US propaganda during World War II designed to make the German S-mine, the famous 'Bouncing Betty', seem like something soldiers could outsmart. Not only is it untrue, but freezing is the worst thing you could with this type of anti-personnel weapon. With a bounding mine, it's better to hit the deck. It only goes to show, even things you think you know bear double-checking with a Google search. Which brings me to my next point, have I become so dependent on Google that I can't write without it?

Okay, clearly I CAN write without it, but the question is, should I? I mean, luckily this time I double-checked my facts before my editor—or worse, a fan—pointed out to me that I'm a doofus. Or is it okay to take certain liberties with the truth if the unrealistic situation works best in the novel? Hollywood does it all the time. See, this is why writers are great big balls of neurosis. I suppose it's up to each author and publisher to decide what's poetic license and what's over the top. But for me, in this case, I feel it's better to rewrite the scene than to rely on bad propaganda turned urban legend. Not to mention, if I've seen it enough times to have adopted it as fact, I could probably be more creative. No need to rely on hackneyed story-telling devices. Today, I'm back at the laptop reworking my brilliant scene so that it's both genius and believable.

So, all you writers out there, how much fact do you weave into your fiction? And how much inaccuracy are you comfortable with? Inquiring minds want to know!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Woman's Guide to Football

Personally, I think it's self-explanatory why I love football, but since I'm still trying to convince author friend, Jambrea Jo Jones, of the sport's virtues, I thought I'd make a list of the top ten reasons football could get your mojo rising.

10. Testosterone - What woman doesn't love high-testosterone, pumped up men?

9. Drama - Aside from the personal lives of the players--which is chock full of scandals, antics, and baby mama drama--longstanding rivalries, last-minute comebacks and Cinderella upsets are enough to keep you on the edge of your seat.

8. Pagentry - Fans painted in and waving team colors, perky little cheerleaders, tailgate parties, and a parade of athletic male physiques, football is more than a sport--it's entertainment. There's something to be said for bread and circuses!

7. Foooood - Keeping with that bread and circuses theme, I love football food. Be you kitchen-impaired or a bonafide foodie, you can turn any given Sunday into a rockin' dinner party.

6. One of the guys - A woman who appreciates football gets to take part in some esoteric--and at times bizarre--male bonding rituals. Male bonding not your thing? Think of it this way, you watched and celebrated game day with him, now it's his turn to take you shoe shopping.

5. Bad boys - T.O., Randy Moss, Jeremy Shockey. The list goes on and on. The NFL is rife with the bad boys we all love, but know we shouldn't.

4. The pants - Those tight, tight football pants sure do accentuate the positive. Narrow waists and delicious mounds of buttocks...and what's more they BEND OVER for the camera in those tight pants!

3. The pants - Mmmmm, those pants bear repeating.

2. The pants - Did I mention the pants? Just making sure.

1. Man-Love! - No where else--outside of a gay porno set--can you see so much male-on-male contact. Hot, sweaty bodies clashing together and rolling on the ground. What happens in the tackle, stays in the tackle...not to mention the locker room, but that's a whole other blog entry.

And that's why this author's a football fan for life. Viva el NFL!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

And The Pants Thicken

Okay, so it's day three of my pantsing experiment and I have to admit, the urge to map out the whole story is getting harder to resist. Doing do my best to let it develop organically! Must resist. Must. Resist. LOL.

To my surprise, the story is knitting up as quickly as a plotted book would for me. In fact, it's getting longer than I ever intended it to be! This fun experiment may result in a finished novella ms. BUT I'm not thinking about the end goal with this one--the journey is the destination, right?

Here's a peek at how things are coming along:

Along the two mile walk, Kathryn met up with other neighbors headed in the same direction. At the junction of three small farming communities, the marketplace—more of a happening than a locale—was the place to be on the second and fourth Saturday of each month. She waved hello to Jolisa, from two plots over; Susannah, the local apothecary and hostess to male travelers; old Sampson, who sold cotton yarn and thread; and of course Roy.

He walked next to his mule with a plodding gate until he caught site of Kathryn. Jogging up beside her, he took the cart handle from her. “Allow me, Miss Kate.”

“Oh, you don't have to,” she said, but didn't object too strenuously. She took the mule's lead from her neighbor and handed it to Marcus. What harm was there in letting Roy play the gentleman? Peeking under the tarp, she saw his cart brimmed with contraband. Oil and firearms from the nation of Texas and coal, spices, and tequila from Mexico.

“You been mingling with privateers again?” she asked.

“Me?” He gave her an oily grin. “Never. I found this stuff by the side of the road.”
Of course he had. Roy was the kind of man who knew how to get things. Anything...for the right price.

“Marcus,” the man barked, “you're getting bigger every day.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Your birthday's next month, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And yours,” he said to Kathryn, “is next week if I'm not mistaken.” Pulling from
his pocket a package wrapped in cloth and fastened with string, he presented it to her on his outstretched palm.

“You shouldn't have.” She covered her mouth with one hand. The other hesitated, then reached for the present. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure.”

“May I open it now?”

“I insist.”

Her fingers worked the crude knots to reveal a carved wooden comb, a sewing needle, a small glass bottle, and a pot of balm. She uncorked the bottle and inhaled. Coconut oil. “Oh, Roy, thank you, but this is too much. How can I ever return such a favor?”

A nervous laugh shook his thin frame. “Don't think nothin' of it. I found those by the side of the road, too.”

“Well, it's a beautiful gift. Thank you.”

“You can use the wrapping as a scarf. The coconut stuff's for your hair and the other's made from honey and beeswax. I think it's for your lips.”

“And who told you that? The bush by the side of the road?” she teased.
He twittered again. “Right.”

Though he didn't want to take it, she slipped him a pint of whiskey to show her gratitude.

She found a place near the pond to set up her cart so she could keep an eye on Marcus while he fished and swam. The other children, ones with horses or mules to draw their family carts, had beaten him there and were taking flying leaps from the rope swing into the tepid water.

A pop of gunfire caught her attention. She scanned the woods for Reformer troops or guerrilla soldiers, but found only a thirteen year-old boy, all knees and elbows, taking pot shots at an old sign post. Kathryn marched over to him, her brow furrowed, jaw set.

“Daniel Mabry, give me that pistol,” she said. “You scared the dickens out of everyone and I don't think your daddy would appreciate you wasting his ammo.”

“But—” he began to object, but she quieted him with a smack to the back of the head. The crestfallen boy handed over the gun.

Stay tuned! More updates to come...

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Plotter's Take on Labor Day

Happy Labor Day to all! Hope this last holiday of the summer finds you and yours safe and well.

On this day to honor the tireless worker who keep our society running, I humbly present a plotter's way to celebrate. After all, being an author is hard work! And though the benefits are not as demonstrable as the duties performed by teachers, police officers, doctors, firefighters and the members of our armed forces, and many other professions too numerous to name, we writers offer the gift of entertainment--necessary respite from the daily drudgery that weighs on all of us.

So how do I celebrate the joys of my profession this holiday weekend? As many of you already know, I am a staunch plotter (Viva los plotters!). Before I set about working on a manuscript in earnest, I must have a vision of it from beginning to end and all stops in between. Sure, I'll change a character or event as the story requires, but still, I'm pretty faithful to my overall outline. It's the only way I can keep myself focused and produce a complete product.

Though I wouldn't give up my process for the world--it's treated me pretty well thus far--I will admit it's mentally draining. All the obsessing and reviewing. Did I get it right? How will this plot line play out? Why can't I see it? But today, since we're supposed to honor labor by taking a much needed rest, I ignored the voice that drives me to write in such an orderly fashion. I decided to play. Yes, play! Because writing can feel like playing with no more purpose than the joy of linking raw words together, plucking a gem from the ether of jumbled thought. Yes, today, I'm flying by the seat of my pants and enjoying it immensely.

Here's what I've come up with so far and, if I do say so myself, I can't wait to see what happens next. But I peeking! Wish me luck :)

Flashing red lights and sirens—death came cloaked in garish, noisy trappings. At least it should have appeared so, but Coulter didn't seem to notice. His gaze already fixed upon some imaginary plane. In this, his final minutes, he remembered the coconut scent of her hair and her cherry-flavored lip gloss. Was it lip gloss? Or lip balm? He couldn't remember. She'd told him once, but he couldn't keep straight the different types of cosmetics she used. As if her beauty needed any enhancement to begin with. He should have told her that, but he hadn't.

You're wasting time, a disembodied voice murmured. Her voice.

It occurred to him that all his time had been wasted. Foolish, self-aggrandizing bravado wrapped in a veneer of lofty ideals. And he'd never taken the time to tell her why he'd left. Did she know? She had to know. She knew the intimate details of his mind. Still, he should have told her. But he hadn't.

He fought against the unwelcome teardrops that flooded his eyes. He would not allow himself to die as a blubbering coward. Dying well, that was all he had left to hold onto, the last shred of his pride. The coming darkness held no pain and to his surprise, he was not afraid. Regret. Therein lay the anguish. So many regrets.

A wet cough brought up a bitter mouthful of sputum and blood. It wouldn't be long now. Coulter pressed his face against the cool marble floor. He wished it were warmer. Flash, screech. Flash, wail. Flash, screech. Flash, wail. Yes, death came cloaked in garish, noisy trappings. Shut it out and remember the coconut scent of her hair. Katrina.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Twelve spicy dishes, with an order of happily-ever-after

Experience the series that prompted You-Gotta-Read-Reviews to rave: "The author writes in vivid detail and such heart-wrenching feeling about everyone involved in the story. The reader is given an enticing glimpse into how complicated relationships can be when there are no set boundaries and yet, how simple they can be when the walls come tumbling down. Ana's trepidation about taking steps to further involve her heart when she is so frozen by fear of the unknown cause the reader to turn pages to its completion and wait eagerly for the next book to be released. Okay, Ms. Jacks, I'm waiting." Buy it today!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Rejection Letter...What a Relief!

Yes, you read the title of this blog entry correctly. I got a rejection letter from an agent yesterday and I was happy to get it! Now, before you start thinking I've gone off my rocker--which, by the way, happened a loooong time ago--allow me to explain.

Since the beginning of my ebook author odyssey, I've felt at home with the vision and voice of the ebook community. Naturally drawn to alternative forms of expression, I embraced the rich variety available through epublishers. One year into my dalliance with writing, I made a five-year career plan. It included expanding my skills, tackling the task of full length novels, and working my way up the epublishing food chain. I stuck to this plan for another year...and then I was seduced by the darkside.

Author friends of mine, being supportive and fabulous as ever, began to encourage me to sub my work to agents. Ugh. An agent? Really? Don't get me wrong. I have the utmost respect for agents as professionals and human beings, but I don't feel that print publishing as a whole is the future of the industry, so why buy into it? Because I'm as human as the next author and the prospect of a print contract conjured up reveries of six-figure advances and my name plastered all over Barnes and Noble. So I started the painful process query letters. Queeeeeery letters. Note: in my head, the term 'query letters' is accompanied by Darth Vader's Theme. Dun, dun, dunnnn, dun, da, dunnnn, dun, da, dunnnnn.

Anyhoo, after months of battling constant rejection for reasons as far flung as my some of my heriones' panties, a dark cloud descended over the entire process of writing. I'd just about decided to swear off agents for good when a friend passed along an intriguing contest--sum up my book in 140 characters or less. Not 140 words. Characters. I thought it sounded fun so I entered. Unfortunately, I was one of the winners. Stars in my eyes again, I forked over my complete manuscript. I received an email confirmation that the agency received my manuscript and that it would take 6-8 weeks for them to respond. Cool.

I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited. During this waiting period, the excitement of the unknown mixed with the dread of another rejection letter weighed on me. My daily 1000 words started to feel an awful lot like work. Perhaps the energy it took to keep hope alive for all those weeks sapped the creative impulse I pour into my stories. Who knows? The exhaustion was compounded by the fact that even if the agent decided to represent the manuscript, the waiting had just begun. There's the wait to see if any publisher would read it and then another wait while it sat at the bottom of an editor's TBR pile. Crap.

Finally the 8th week passed, but I'd still received--say it with me all you writers out there--no response!

Another week passed. And another. And another. Sixteen weeks later I received a polite, well-crafted, and thoughtful rejection. The agent pointed out the many strengths of my work, citing the pacing of the novel as her only problem. I appreciated the professional feedback. And instead of feeling down in the dumps about another rejection, I felt FREE. Free of the desire that had consumed me for so much time! And I felt overjoyed to return to my original path--exploring the future of this industry instead of hopping on to the tail end of a dinosaur. Sparkles and dollar signs cleared from my eyes, I saw with my own vision again: bringing tales of strong and sexually empowered heroines to the women of the ebook community. I write women's erotica because I feel it's an important excerise of my freedom of expression. Go girl power! That's all I've ever truly wanted. And it's good to be back.

So when I say, a rejection letter...what a relief, I absolutely mean it. And not with a smidge of irony.