Almost Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

night

Paula’s Post #….Whatever-the-heck-we’re-up-to-already.

My posts are always due on Tuesday.

Usually I post first thing in the morning, so I tend to write my posts Monday night  and push ‘publish’ the next morning. Except this early Tuesday morning I was already up and gone before it was even ‘early’.

4:00am – Alarm Clock

5:11am- Give jerky treat to poor confused Poodle before abandoning him to petsitter again. Haul suitcases off to car and drive to airport.

5:50am – Check in with US Airways and pay single checked bag baggage fees you never have to pay on Westjet and start snaking through incredibly long, sequester created, TSA security checkpoint at the usually serene Palm Springs Airport.

6:25am- Stop for a well-deserved Venti latte and blueberry muffin at the ever so welcome Starbucks immediately behind the airport security checkpoint, only to hear the PA announcement informing us that our 6:59 flight had now ‘fully-boarded’ and that departure was imminent.

Well, not quite fully boarded since we weren’t on board.

6:26am – 900 hundred yard race-walk from Starbucks to airport’s furthest departure gate, completed without incident on my part but marred by a little ‘spillfest’  involving my husband’s Pike Place Tall and his pale pink and white striped Ralph Lauren seersucker sport shirt . The one with the little green polo pony on it that will now never be the same again.

7:03 – 43 minute flight from PSP to PHX. Execute three thousand yard dash from one end of the terminal to another, utilizing – count ’em – no less than eight, high speed moving walkways. Arrive at gate just as flight is boarding for MCO.

8:33 – board flight for MCO and sit in plane for 15 minutes, 50 feet from departure gate while pilots who boarded plane half an hour early then pull away from gate and then remember they forgot to pick up important paperwork they need on board before takeoff.

MCO = Orlando!

4:15 Arrive MCO and pick up luggage-that-did-not-get-lost and find Hertz Gold car service. Find car and realize that despite paying for the smallest, cheapest car in the fleet knowing the near certainty of upgrade… no upgrade…. and that we had in fact been assigned the smallest, cheapest car in the fleet. The smallest American car ever made? A  Chevy ‘Spark’. (Note: it looks twice the size it really is in this picture)

Chevy Spark in 'Salsa'

4:54 Stuff husband into driver’s side of Chevy Spark and close eyes while husband rolls down the Florida turnpike trying to adjust all the exterior mirrors and figure out how the radio turns on and off and the air-conditioning works. Stop at two different toll booths in the space of 4 miles (whose idea was that) and continue rolling towards “exit 2”  following MapQuest directions from MCO to hotel so cleverly printed off and sent to iPhone the day before.

5:21- Get lost anyway.

5:33pm Haul out iPhone and use Google Maps to re-calculate route. Find monolithic conference hotel and deposit America’s smallest car with parking valet.

RosenShingle Creek

6: 03pm  Check in and happily be allotted gorgeous, 13th floor room with panoramic view of three resort pools and golf course.

6:11pm Discover dream room marred only by the fact that said room reeked of either a glue factory, a meth lab and the vomitus left in the wake of a weekend bachelorette party.

6:12pm Ride back down13 floors to lobby to get assigned a new room.

6:22pm Ride back up elevator and discover new 12th floor room is even bigger and nicer except for the full on view of the air-conditioning ducts atop the two acre roof covering the hotel’s convention center.

6:23 pm Fret.

6:33pm Sit in second unsatisfactory room and watch helplessly as technologically impaired husband discovers he has work deadline. Watch subsequent melt down over the fact that he cannot complete an important filing on the tiny screen of his iPad. A  filing that absolutely, positively must be done that day.

6: 38pm Remind husband who still hasn’t completed important filing that it is now 3:38 in the afternoon in Vancouver and that  bank closes in 22 minutes. Fret as husband ignores me because he is still is fretting over his tiny iPhone screen and the aforesaid deadline for important filing. Give up and go back down to lobby to get key for third new room, Return and remind husband what he already knows:  14 minutes left to transfer funds to pay Canadian income tax t due April 30th. Today.

6: 46pm Watch helplessly for 15 minutes as technologically challenged husband endlessly attempts to negotiate online banking website on his now-internet-connected-iPad before giving up and calling bank manager to make the transfer.

7:03pm Leave voice mail message for bank manager.

7:09pm Do happy dance when bank manager calls back and makes evil tax problem go away.

7:11pm Sigh with relief knowing I’m not going to be penalized a zillion dollars for not making tax payment before deadline. Gather up luggage and roll on over to door nuber three.

7:45pm Eat outrageously expensive dinner at hotel’s steakhouse and unwittingly order three different types of potato side dishes. Eat all three anyway.

9:35 Chat with interesting Moroccan waiter for half an hour.

9:45 Return to room number three, brush teeth and get in bed. Watch evening news and weather and learn about huge torrential rain storm that will drench all of Orlando over the next four days. Fret.

10:38 Remember I forgot to do Tuesday’s blog post. Any blog post.

10:43 Realize I still have time to do short blog post before I turn into a pumpkin.

10:44 Write blog post. Realize that despite crazy day that I’ve described, I can actually report that I edited more pages of my manuscript on the plane today then I’ve managed over the last three weeks. I’m past 200 pages now. For me, always an odd experience to go back over what I wrote months ago and sort out the good, the bad and the ugly.

Some of it, I love. Some of it, not so much, but if it just keeps raining on my Florida vacation parade, I think I can finish cleaning up my manuscript in the next week.

Bring it rain. I‘m ready for you.

So long Disney World.

Hasta la Vista Universal Studios,

Sayonara Epcot.

Come hell or high water, my edits will get done!

10:59 smugly punch the ‘Publish’ button, one minute before midnight on the West Coast.

11:08 punch self in forehead when weary mind registers that if it is actually only 10:59pm in Orlando, it is only 8:59 pm in my usual ‘posting’ time zone on the West Coast.

I made it!

11:10pm – Yawn. Start editing half-assed blog post and idly wonder whether this incorrigible ‘Tigger’ might get enough done to steal away for awhile and actually find time to meet Tigger.

 

 

Genre roulette

Credit: iStock Photo licensed image.

Credit: iStock Photo licensed image.

Silk’s Post #33 — I’m confused about genres. Just a wild guess, but I’ll bet you are too.

It seems like genres have been hanging out with each other, no doubt under cover of darkness, and mating.

I can’t help but visualize Chick Lit and Horror making it on the floor of an abandoned, Gothic, beer-bottle-strewn party house under a cobwebby chandelier, and begetting this whole sex-obsessed Vampire offspring, for example. And that crazy Steampunk! It had to be conceived when the geeky sci-fi-addicted computer science major finally got that shy, Victorianaphile girl from the library tipsy on one glass of port, and then she doffed her spectacles and let down her hair and … well, you know what happened next.

Some of these genre couplings are yielding some pretty wild genetic traits. And that’s not even counting the scrambled DNA resulting from threesomes. Or the beasts issuing from inter-species liaisons. Talk about genre roulette!

No wonder there’s so much conflicting information out there about genres: what to call them … what they represent … who reads them … how hot they are. Writers hoping to be published are advised that they must be able to assign their work to a genre, for the convenience of agents and editors. And, of course, to aid the understandably confused book sales workers who must figure out which real or virtual bookshelf each title belongs on. By thy genre shall thy audience know thee, we’re told.

If it were only that simple.

First of all, what is a genre? A no less lofty publication than The Guardian provides an “A-Z List” of “Book Genres” numbering sixty-one. Sixty one! It includes such designations as Ballet, Paranormal Romance (children and teens), Fairies and True Crime, but no Steampunk. To me, the Guardian list looks like some poor editorial assistant finally gave up trying to classify books by genre, and just threw some genre names together with a mixed list of topics and audiences.

Remember: it’s all about eyeballs on bookshelves.

Popular reader website Goodreads looks promising when it comes to genre identification … at first. It does offer a genre short list for browsing purposes, which includes:

Art – Biography – Business – Chick Lit – Children’s – Christian – Classics – Comics – Contemporary – Cookbooks – Crime – Ebooks – Fantasy – Fiction – Gay and Lesbian – Graphic Novels – Historical Fiction – History – Horror – Humor and Comedy – Manga – Memoir – Music – Mystery – Non Fiction – Paranormal – Philosophy – Poetry – Psychology – Religion – Romance – Science – Science Fiction – Self Help – Suspense – Spirituality – Sports – Thriller – Travel – Young Adult

Okay, I can find my way around that. But then it also has a link to “More genres …”

Don’t go there!

It’s enough to send a writer looking for genre guidance into a catatonic state for a week. This “more genres” list turns out to be three very long pages with hundreds of listings (Goodreads calls them “shelves”), which includes such esoterica as Amish Fiction, Butch-Femme, Fat Acceptance, Geek, Lesbotronic, New Weird, Polyamorous, Post-Apocalyptic, Shapeshifters, Southern Gothic, Swashbuckling, Thelema, Urban Legends, Viking Romance, Whodunit, Yaoi, and the ever popular Zombies.

Well, at least I know what Whodunit means.

I like the approach to book genres found at the website of independent editors BubbleCow. They show separate lists of genres under “Fiction” and “Non-Fiction” that seem to hit an appropriate and understandable level of categorization. They even have created a cool word bubble graphic of genres that appears to distinguish the mainstream of literature from its smaller creeks and tiny rivulets.

Oh, but wait. At the end of their list, they provide a link to that amorphous list from The Guardian with the advice that it “should help.” Aaaargh!

The ever-reliable Wikipedia provides sensible genre lists in “Fiction” and “Non-Fiction” flavours, which actually attempt to define each genre in a few words. However, it seems to be missing many of the common genres listed in other sources; for example it oddly lists Tall Tales, but not Thriller, as a fiction genre.

But just keep scrolling … whatever weird and wonderful genre you may be searching for can be found in the Wikipedia section titled “Genres and sub genres”. Steampunk, for instance is shown as a sub-sub-genre of Science Fiction (itself a sub-genre of Speculative Fiction). And Steampunk even has its own sub-sub-sub-genre offspring: Clockpunk, and her siblings Dieselpunk and Atompunk. 

This got me thinking about all the promising genres that haven’t yet been invented, but are sure to evolve as existing genres continue to mate and as our speed-of-light media culture continues to stoke the genre fire with the newest crazes.

Here are some speculative predictions for genres yet to be born. Remember, you read it here first …

Dystopian Cookbook Cormac McCarthy meets Martha Stewart in this genre featuring roadkill recipes for survivors of the Apocalypse.

Junkpunk – A Steampunk specialization inspired by “Hoarders” programs.

Vegan Porn – Rude photographs of vegetables.

Alternative Legal Universe – Constitutional law as a fan fiction work-in-progress, dramatizing the tragicomic results as the constantly changing legal canon plays out in courtrooms.

Religious Erotica – Oh, wait. We already have that.

Anti-Freedom Conspiracy – Exposés documenting insidious plots of the Liberal Media, Academics, Tree Huggers, Unions, Ethnic Groups, Queers, Judges, Feminists and other Factions to take away Freedom-Loving, Law-Abiding Citizens’ most basic, God-Given human rights, like packing in shopping malls. Or wherever said Citizens freaking well want.

Women’s Fit Lit – Narrative amalgamation of diet books with inspirational fiction designed to empower generously-endowed women. Like a whole Oprah genre.

Orange Pulp – Pulp fiction specifically set in Orange County, CA.

Financial Suspense – Reality-based how-to books for amateur investors that focus on the dramatic tension and excitement of wondering whether you’re making a fortune, or losing everything (may be classified as either fiction or non-fiction).

Wuxia Romance – Martial arts meet marital arts.

Query Thriller – Heart-pumping, rollercoaster tales of writers’ quests for publication, coupling the soaring highs and wrist-slashing lows with sound and helpful advice from actual literary agents and editors (additional fees may apply).

Dark and Dangerous

Image courtesy Pando Hall Magnus

Image courtesy Pando Hall Magnus

Helga’s Post #31 — Today, I spent my time on something naughty: I buried my nose in EROTICA.

Inspiration came via email from Kobo. They recommended two new titles for me. The first, which I am looking forward to read, is Khaled Husseini’s new novel And the Mountains Echoed. If it’s as good as The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, then his legions of fans, including me, will be in for a treat.

The second title Kobo recommended for me (for reasons unknown) was ‘Entwined With You’ by Erotica queen Sylvia Day. Never heard of her? Take note of her accomplishments:

#1 New York Times and #1 international bestselling author of more than a dozen award-winning novels sold in thirty-nine countries. A reader favorite across several genres, there are millions of copies of her books in print worldwide. She has been nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Author, has won the RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award, and has been nominated for Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA award twice.

I was intrigued. I was also in search of a topic for today’s post. So I started reading those ‘Look Inside’ freebie sample pages that Amazon offers.

Wow!

When I got to the end, I sat back, trying to decide if I should take a cold shower or get seriously depressed. Or start laughing out loud. The shower would be the obvious option if I wouldn’t be a writer. Seriously depressed is not my personality, so that left ROFL (‘rolling on the floor laughing’ for people of my generation).

Because, if you are a writer in a genre other than Erotica, reading the stuff will amuse you  no end (unless you are a fan of the genre, in which case writing style is irrelevant).

Think about it. We are trained, brainwashed, indoctrinated, beaten into submission, whatever, to follow some pretty universal writing rules. Such as, ‘Show, don’t tell.’ Or ‘Avoid adjectives and adverbs’. Reason being, they are your interpretation of the facts. You, the writer, should not have to do that if you present the right facts.

We pay good money to learn that stuff. It’s drilled into us from the day we start writing fiction.

It seems though that breaking the rules is quite okay for publishers of Erotica. In no way am I passing judgment on the genre. It’s good fun to read now and then if you’re able to suspend judgment on style. But I am intrigued as to how many books are published that break those rules we’ve been taught to avoid like the plague.

Not surprisingly, men are often big supporters of their wives reading the stuff. As some Erotica websites claim, husbands may be cowering under the sheets while others are writing thank you letters to these authors who have inspired their wives to turn into veritable pussycats in bed. Or tigresses. (Shades of the the fifties and sixties?)

E L James’ Fifty Shades Trilogy has sold more copies to date than the Harry Potter series (and counting). Even people who had no previous interest in contemporary romance have jumped upon (or are thinking about it) this runaway train and delving into the naughty tale of BDSM.

Help me out here, please. What does that tell us about the book publishing industry? Or (I really, really hate to pose this question), about readers? Wished I knew. What I do know is this: If I would submit chapters of my work similar to some of the books published in the genre to my critique group, they would shoot me down without so much as an apology. Instant death. Go hide below your desk and shame on you. If you survive your justified suicide attempt, go back and fix your garbage. And re-submit again without your boisterous shit and your adjectives and adverbs, and your characters no one can relate to, because they may as well live on some distant planet.

We can’t argue with success, though. I concede that I may be naïve (privilege of a certain age). Perhaps Erotica gets a ‘Get Out of Jail Free Card’ when it comes to writing rules. Whatever. It does make me ponder a fundamental question though, which one of my favorite bloggers I follow has raised:

‘Is publishing a book more important than writing the story I want to tell?’

Ah, oh. Not an either/or question. Because if we want to tell a story, by its nature, we want people to read it. And if it’s not published, that ain’t happening. But that’s a topic for another post. So in closing, for your titillating pleasure, here are some Erotica excerpts from Reflected In You (they refer to the same man):

– His glorious shoulder-length mane of inky black hair

– He was a testament to leashed power. There was no need for him to shout when he could get people to quake in their shoes with just a look or a tersely spoken word.

– At the ridiculous age of twenty-eight, he was one of the top twenty-five richest people in the world.

– I was positive he was the hottest man on the planet. And he kept photos of me everywhere he worked.

– He turned, pivoting gracefully to catch me with his icy blue gaze.

– Dark and Dangerous. And all mine.

– Those sculpted cheekbones and dark winged brows, the thickly lashed blue eyes, and those lips… perfectly etched to be both sensual and wicked.

– That look conveyed how hard and deep he wanted to fuck me – which he did every chance he got – and it also afforded me a glimpse of his raw, unrelenting force of will.

– The soft rasp in his smooth cultured voice was nearly capable of making me orgasm just listening to it.

– Confronted with that breathtaking face framed by that lustrous dark hair, I felt my knees weaken just a little.

– I was pretty sure he owned a significant chunk of Manhattan.

– He was outrageously gifted in bed. And he knew it.

– The paparazzi followed his every move.

– With a soft groan he sealed his chiseled mouth over mine.

– He straightened, shrugging off his brooding sensuality and instantly capturing me with his severe intensity. So mercurial – like me.

– His luxurious living room; his private elevator; his black Bentley SUV; a quick glance at my Rolex (all in one paragraph)

– Long enough for his brow to arch over his piercing blue eyes.

– He caught me in his fierce blue gaze.

– He purred, sprawled against the seat with the predatory insouciance of a sleek panther who’d neatly trapped a mouse in his den.

Excited yet? Take a cold shower. Or ROFL. Whatever your inclination. Either way, this genre is the ticket to riches if that’s what you’re aiming for. And you won’t have to worry about adjectives and adverbs. LOL.

How to survive query rejections

Joe’s Post # 32 — Well, the rejections have started to come in (and those now out there for a while might very well be considered rejections since not every agent will get back to you).

So how do you survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?

10 possibilities.

cuddling1) Cuddling. Cuddle your teddy. Cuddle your sweetie while watching Amazing Race. Cuddle your children. Cuddle your dog, cat, hamster or pet snake. The healing powers of cuddling cannot be underestimated. Not only is it snuggly but it helps remind you that there are other more important things in life than a letter that says, “you suck, you totally suck, you need to give up writing and become a professional cuddler.”

2) Alcohol. Not my first choice but the choice of many writers. Whiskey, neat. A Cougar Town glass of red wine. A belini with a pink umbrella. It helps dull the pain, it helps you forget, but it’s pretty temporary (and it could make thing worse, especially if you decide to send off an email to the rejecting agent threatening to send locks of hair to them or something.)

3) Ignore it, it’s part of being a writer. Oh how I wish I could get this mindset. It’s like the guy who can walk over to a pretty girl, get turned down (or in the case of my friend, Sean, get a glass of port thrown in his face) and march back without having lost a stitch of confidence. I’m honestly not sure how to not feel the rejection and that port will stain!

4) Go for a walk. Clear your head. Take the dog, cat, hamster or snake with you. Fresh air helps. I know it shouldn’t but it does. Look at the sea or the trees or the fit people jogging. Hate them if need be. Tell yourself that as soon as you get back, you’ll do #10.

5) Phone a friend. Rant at how unfair the world is. Rant that you wrote the all-time world’s best query letter. Rant that you used the best font, the most amazing paper, the greatest opening ever written by a pasty-faced writer sitting in front of his ‘puter and you even got the agent’s name right. Get it all out. Cleanse that bile.

zombies6) Go do something fun. No, not leave dog poop on the neighbour’s lawn. Go bowling. Blow zombie heads to bits in a video game (or in real life depending on which apocalypse is plaguing us). Watch a movie. Listen to your favourite music with eyes shut and head cradled by a comfy leather couch. Go have coffee with a friend and splurge on extra foam, or whipped cream. Read a book. Remember that fun can still be had.

7) Exercise. (No, this is NOT a sub-heading of the ‘go do something fun’ option!) Like walking, this about getting out of the house and working your body so hard that feelings no longer matter. For me, that’s 2 push-ups, 3 sit ups and a glass of water. Go play tennis until you can’t walk. Go shoot hoops until your arms burn and the little kids shout, ‘hey mister, get off the court, you haven’t made a basket in 130 shots.’ Run until you can barely breathe. Lift weights until your muscles bulge like Swartzenegger’s. It doesn’t matter. For some reason I don’t completely understand, exercise is good for the mind as well as the body. Maybe even good for the soul. Who knows.

8) Feel what you’re going to feel. It’s what my therapist would say. And my dog. The more you fight your feelings, the more they will build up and come back to bite you in the ass at some point. So you repress for a week, then suddenly someone parks in your spot and you go all Tarentino on them. Or someone asks how are you doing and you burst into tears. Feeling sad, it’s ok. Feeling angry, it’s ok. Let the feelings pass through you until only you remain (to quote the fremen of Dune.)

9) Meditate. You know, sit and cross your legs and clear your mind. Can anyone actually do this? Really? At best I’ll fall asleep. At worst, I just get stuck in my mind and pull a groin muscle. But it’s something to consider if you’ve evolved to a higher state of being, like those people who carry around yoga mats and (to quote a friend of mine) “are ready to lay that mat down anywhere and do the sleeping dog.”

10) Get another query letter written and sent out. A rejection is not a failure. Failure is only failure when you stop.

Yesterday, I did 6 of the 10 things.

Today, another rejection and I think I’ll do one of them until I throw up. Your guess as to which one.

No is a two letter word that’s difficult to accept

Karalee’s Post #31

For the last six weeks my body has been controlling me through something physical called pain. Pain in the butt to be exact, and down my left leg. Sciatica.

My dragon boat team started practicing the first week in March. I lasted four sessions on the water and could hardly walk up the dock to my car afterwards. I’d had problems last season, but nothing like this.

I had to say no to staying on the team.

I also had to say no to any activities for the next month.

After four weeks of physiotherapy and medications I was able to walk the dogs six blocks and start back in the gym and ride my bike, all at  50%, but hey, I was back being active. Running was still out of the question. I also couldn’t sit up to write so I made myself a pillow backrest complete with hot water bottle and wrote semi-reclined, much like the position of Paula’s chair a few posts ago.

I was writing well and making great progress. My characters (good, bad, major, minor, walk-ons and red-herrings) were all lined up and migrating together like geese, the characters changing positions in timely fashion to keep the pace sharp.

Then last week I bumped up my activity to 70%, still no running or sitting to write, and I felt quite good.

So, I added in some gardening.

I love to garden and once I get going I usually don’t stop until 4 or 5 hours later. Last week I made myself quit before two hours. This was the time it took me to dig in my winter rye so it could decompose as green fertilizer for my vegetable garden. It had to be done as it takes three weeks after digging it in before I can plant seeds.

I felt okay with only some increased back pain and no leg pain.

The next morning I was back to a massive pain in the butt and down my leg again. Not as bad as initially, but I could only walk the dogs two blocks and had to cut out activities for five days.

I’ve had to say no to gardening.

front yard

front yard

So, I hired my daughter, a landscape gardener, and her boyfriend to weed and mulch my front yard. They’ve done a great job and I appreciate it.

I need to go at a slower pace than what my mind demands, and listen to my body. Really listen. It’s hard to say no to activities I love to do and sit back and wait. The pace is too slow, like a poorly written thriller.

dogs at front door

dogs at front door

I feel so young still, my body should heal fast, right?

It’s important to be a good listener and to be flexible.

I can still spend time with my dogs and my family, bike to have coffee with friends instead of running with them, and of course, I can still write and go wherever and do whatever my characters do.

And that’s a lot of freedom.

If I listen better this time and progress at a steady pace instead of trying to leap into heavier activities, then there is still  time to heal and be able to do the hiking and longer bike rides that I like to do in the summer. I’ll also be able to get back to gardening and running.

But I will continue to say no to dragon boating. My body doesn’t tolerate the bending and twisting. If that’s all I end up saying no to, I can live with that.

Happy writing.

The power of five

fivePaula’s Post #32 – Another week, another post. Another Monday night, another quest to find something worthy and witty to write about for my upcoming Tuesday post.

I’m not complaining. I’m never really at a loss for words. But this week, I wanted to return to the core ‘story’ of our blog and focus on the ‘writing’ as opposed to another one of those all-too-frequent posts about why I’m not writing. Or, to be more exact, not seriously engaged in re-writing, with our 5writers critique retreat now less than two months away.

Not that I don’t have plenty of material on that subject after a week punctuated by a long-awaited visit with my one year old grand-daughter:

🙂

and also by what I suspect is a newly broken rib.

😦

(Mine, not my grand-daughters).

Cracked anyway.

Ouch.

As my mother was oft fond of reminding me:

Pride Cometh Before the Fall

Truer words appear never to have been spoken. Good grief! Last week, I actually posted a picture of me winning the Tennis Club Championship.

How proud I was.

How hard I fell.

Poetically, on the tennis court of all places. How humbling that this week, thanks to said sport, I can hardly get out of bed.

But hold on, I promised that this week, I’d write about writing, or at least the writing life. So I started to cast about for a great writing topic and, with the above fall from grace in the forefront of my mind, started to think about the characters in our novels and where we, as writers, find our inspiration. How we frequently draw on our own triumphs and tragedies to create the conflict in our fictional characters’ lives.

Hmm… I thought. That’s pretty good. That would make a great post.

Then I read Helga’s brilliant post from Friday, A Grimm Tale and realized, once again, I’d been trumped. In spades. Kudos Helga, loved it!

Darn that Helga, she always thinks up such clever ways to torture her heroine. Or, perhaps in this case, have her heroine torture her?

Hmm… I thought, maybe I better think of something else. I mean there are lots of good topics out there, all I need to do is flip it around. I have this cool writing book, ‘Flip Dictionary,where author Barbara Ann Kipfer, in a huge reverse dictionary, offers cues and ‘clue’ words to lead writers to the exact phrase or specific term they need. So, thinking about Helga’s post from Friday on Protagonists,  I thought maybe I should consider writing something about Antagonists. Just flip it up, so to speak.

Cover of "Flip Dictionary"

Cover of Flip Dictionary

Of course, then I read Silk’s post from Monday, My Villainous Day. Again, absolutely brilliant. Entertaining for not only our followers who are writers, but also for anyone who enjoys movies or plays or films. Fabulous post, Silk.

Yeah, really fab Silk. Thanks a bunch! Now what am I going to write about?

Next year I am absolutely, positively going to insist we ‘shake up’ the order that we post. Sure, sure, sure… I know it was my idea that we 5writers all have a set day of the week to post to the blog. It made sense at the time. That way we could all remember what day it was we were supposed to post. As in… If this is Tuesday, it must be Paula. But come on, that was before I realized I’d be following Silk every week.

For anyone, that would be a daunting task. Silk is Silk.  But for me, Silk is the worst to follow.

Sorry Silk, but you know what I mean.

For some reason, even if we are thousands of miles apart, even if subjected to very different gravitational pulls, wind gusts, sun spots, tides or moon beams, Silk and I have the uncanny knack of stumbling upon the same idea, at the same time.

Hmm… It’s all coming back to me now. My mother used to say something else. Something like:

 ‘Twice burned, Thrice shy‘.

Okay. TIme to be “Thrice shy. I admit I’ve been pretty busy lately, maybe before I write anything this week, I better look back at the recent topics and posts and make sure I’m not repeating something already posted by one of my fellow 5writers.

Let’s take a peek…

Wow!

A funny thing happened on the way to my post. Looking back over the 160 odd posts produced since this blog started in September, I realized something I already knew.

What a privilege!

How wonderful it is to be part of this fabulous, dynamic writing group.

The stereotype of the tortured, lonely, reclusive writer, locked in a dingy garret, is an all too familiar one.  Even when the ‘garret’, or writing room, is not so dingy, writing can still be pretty lonely, the writer’s room frequently a solitary habitat, as demonstrated by a recent series in The Guardian on Writer’s Rooms. Notable recluses like J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee just reinforce this image.

But I’m not reclusive.

If you follow this blog you know, (as I’ve frequently reminded our readers), I’m the self-professed ‘Tigger’ of the group. But even so, my writing life would be unbearably lonely without my 5writers buddies. Not to mention infinitely less productive, infinitely less creative.

I like to think of it as ‘the power of five’.

Five individuals, each with our own marvellous ‘backstories’ and histories to bring to the group. Just look at Karalee’s recent post Adventures of a Writer. Is that really you up there Karalee, swinging from the mainstay? At least I think it is the mainstay. Or maybe it is the foremast?

But guess what?

If I don’t know enough about nautical terms, I can ask Karalee. Or Silk, who is no slouch of a sailor, either.

Again, that’s ‘the power of five’.

Not only does our writers’ group provide a sense of community, it is also a fabulous resource for pooling and sharing knowledge. We can’t of course write one another’s stories, (well, we could if we officially ‘collaborated’ as Helga and I did on a culinary novel we wrote some years ago). But even if not collaborating  we can share: our enthusiasm, our troubles, our fears and hopes. We can also share our own unique knowledge base, life history, strengths and even our quirky personalities.

All can help make our stories better. All can help make our stories richer.

That’s the power of five.

In the past, we’ve provided advice to one another on a myriad of topics: from physiology to dragon boat racing (Karalee) small town life, marketing, and sheep shearing  (thank you Silk) culinary arts, cold war Europe and jazz (thank you Helga) even gnomes, trolls, gryphons and guy-movies (oh come on Joe, you know it’s true).

But the power of five doesn’t stop with technical advice.

In every sense of the word, we’re here for one another. Some of this I may have shared before. If I’m repeating myself, I can count on one of my 5writers buddies to remind me – that’s the power of five, too..

But the point is that the longer we work together on this 5writers project, the more I am impressed by ‘the power of five’. If I’ve written myself into a corner, I know I can count on one of my 5writer colleagues for suggestions. Okay, maybe not before the big reveal at Whistler in June, but certainly afterward. I know if my novel has a ‘sagging middle’ my critique group will tell me about it. With the power of five, I can ask for solutions.  Suggestions on how to tighten up my story’s flabby belly muscles.

That’s the power of five.

If you are reading this blog, and you’re not yet in a writers’ group, think about what you’re missing. Maybe your group won’t be exactly like ours. We think ours is pretty special, but if you join or create your own group, you and your writing buddies will all bring to it your fabulous, unique life experiences, your writing strengths, your wealth of knowledge, your technical expertise, your shoulders to cry on and laughter to share.

I guarantee the result will be more than mere multiplication, the result will be exponential.

That’s the power of five.

the authors

My villainous day

the-villain

Credit: iStock licensed image

Silk’s Post #32 — I love him. I love him not. I love him. I love him not. I love him. I love him not.

Really. I love him not. Or maybe her. I’m not ready to tell you that yet.

I’m talking about my antagonist. My villain. My thing that goes bump in the night.

I spent the entire day today with my antagonist. Cooped up with a twisted character, an evil presence. I’m happy to report that I don’t like my villain very much, and I hope you won’t either.

One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
— William Shakespeare

I’m lying, of course. (I learned that from my antagonist.)

I actually love my bad guy. Or gal. Why? Deeply flawed characters have to be very complex, or at least that’s how I like them best. They’re so fascinating. Delving into the psyche of a villain is like descending into a scary, but fantastic, hypnotic and awesome cave. We keep going down because we can. We just hope we can get back up again.

History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.
— Ian Fleming

Pure evil isn’t really all that interesting. It’s just the reverse of pure good, which is also not very entertaining, as admirable as it may be. It’s the messiness, the illogic, the unique way in which the antagonist is broken, distorted, unpredictable that makes him or her so fascinating.

Things were easier for the old novelists who saw people all of a piece. Speaking generally, their heroes were good through and through, their villains wholly bad.
— W. Somerset Maugham

After all, there are limited ways a character can be “good.” Goodness can be quirkily flawed, but it has to remain within rather narrow moral, emotional and behavioural parameters. I think that’s what makes it challenging to come up with truly interesting, memorable and relatable protagonists, as Helga discussed in her last post, “A Grimm Tale”. After all, we do have to like the protagonist. Otherwise we won’t care what happens to him or her.

But there seem to be no limits to the devious ways a character can be “bad.” First of all we don’t have to like them. That certainly opens the floodgates! In fact, we have to have negative feelings about them. Disgust. Hate. Fear. Anger. All powerful stuff. This gives the writer virtual carte blanche on creativity.

I love to make even villains people you can relate to. When you find out who did it, I think you almost like the person, which is not easy to do.
— Harlen Coben

The most horrific monster is both a victimizer and a victim. We do have to relate to the bad guy, too. That’s where one of the most important feelings of all – pity – comes in to play. When a writer can reveal the painful story of how a villain became so warped, what awful background made the apple rotten, we feel the tragedy more deeply. We see the buried, tortured spark of humanity, the good character that the antagonist might have become if only … if only … and we despair.

Nothing is more dramatic, more affecting, than the fall from grace. It’s so central to virtually every creation legend.

So, no wonder we love to hate our monsters.

In the old days, villains had moustaches and kicked the dog. Audiences are smarter today. They don’t want their villain to be thrown at them with green limelight on his face. They want an ordinary human being with failings.
— Alfred Hitchcock

But back to my monster. He, or she, has been mocking me all day. Just when I thought I knew why my villain acted in a certain way, every time I tried to connect the story background to the story foreground, some piece would slip out of place. The bottom line is that I “get” my antagonist. I know his or her damaged psyche, motivation, frightening capabilities. But I haven’t yet totally integrated these into the plot.

Red Riding Hood has met the wolf. I just haven’t quite figured out what the wolf’s plan is.

And in the end, maybe his, or her, plan is just to act like a wolf. We think everything has to make sense. (Or I tend to, at least.) But with an antagonist, we can sometimes break that rule.

As for an authentic villain, the real thing, the absolute, the artist, one rarely meets him even once in a lifetime. The ordinary bad hat is always in part a decent fellow.
— Colette

Remember the famous story of the scorpion who hitches a ride across the river on the alligator’s back? Halfway across, the scorpion stings the alligator and they both drown, but not before the alligator, completely befuddled, asks the scorpion: why, why why? The scorpion says: Because I’m a scorpion. It’s just in my nature.

That’s what I’ve been battling my antagonist about all day today. I keep wanting to make my villain conform to logic. Make sense. He, or she, keeps telling me: I’m crazy, you dumb b*tch of a writer! I don’t have to conform to your girl scout, two-plus-two-equals-four, sappy f*cking logic! You’ve never been down here in hell with me, so stop trying to tell me what to do!

And it’s true.

He, or she, wins.

The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.
— Alfred Hitchcock

A Grimm tale

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Helga’s Post # 30 — Something odd happened as I read through my manuscript. No, that’s not quite truthful. I  knew it was always there, whenever I sat down to write. In a subliminal sort of way. But now, as I start editing the first draft in anticipation of our group’s retreat, I let it bubble to the surface, unbridled.

It’s about the persona of my protagonist. Not only my protagonist. Any fiction writer’s protagonist. I asked myself whether we are creating characters in our own image. Are we hiding our autobiographies inside our manuscripts?

You bet we do.

I didn’t realize that when I started writing my story, I was unsure what kind of person I wanted to create. I guess I wanted her to be many things, and I endowed her with different traits, depending on whose ‘How-To’ book I was reading at the time. Donald Maass put it aptly in ‘The Fire in Fiction’:

‘Heroes who are nothing but good, noble, unswerving, honest, courageous, and kind to their mothers will make your readers want to gag.’

Duly noted. So I aimed for my protagonist to be heroic, but with flaws. Yet flaws not so serious as to render her a wuss or be fatal.  She should be able to feel deep emotions, without being melodramatic. She should be capable, but not boisterous. She should be unique, without flaunting it.

She should be… she should be… oh bloody hell.

Fine lines, all of them. I made changes to my protagonist time and again, with the result that she ended up being three or more people all in one. She was a total scatterbrain, without focus or conviction. I ended up with a flimsy character. The kind that may prompt the dreaded question, “Why should I care about this person?”

I sort of knew it when I started writing the first draft, but wasn’t ready to confront it.

Common wisdom dictates to ‘just get the story down’ and don’t spend time on details in the first draft. Makes tons of sense, but I believe it cannot extend to character development. This is where most of the groundwork has to be done, before writing the first sentence of Chapter One. The story begins and ends with the characters, and the plot is the excuse to write about them.

So what did I do before I realized the errors of my ways?

I tried to hide her imperfections with clever plot twists. And with lots of secondary characters, to shift the focus away from her. And with planting enough little traps so the reader may not notice just what a nincompoop my protagonist really was.

It backfired of course. I had to reinvent her. Not just with little things like voice, or colour of her eyeshadow, or her preference for men with six-packs rather than six (high) figure bank accounts. This girl had to acquire a moral compass and a steely determination among other things. Her ‘angry outbursts’, her ‘tear-streaked cheeks’, all met their just destiny: the  delete button.

Triage was in order.

I had to get into my character’s head. And she into mine. Pleased to meet you. The real YOU that is. It’s taken a while.

“What made you decide to show the reader that deep down I am really insecure?” She asked me.

Me: “I wanted to make you honest. Before I changed you, I couldn’t tell what made you tick. Not even I, your creator, knew who you were. So now, I can see through you. I can read you like a book, pardon for putting it this way. I can tell how insecure you are by the way you try to hide it. By being cocksure. In your face. Especially to your boss.”

“Interesting. What am I so insecure about?”

Me: “Well, you know, you always feel inadequate when you meet people with status. Especially people who had a higher education. You always want to run with the fast crowd, but you were scared shitless they would figure out you’re an imposter.”

“You mean I wanted to break out of my social class, my background?”

Me: “Yeah, that’s it. You  put your finger on it.”

“Wow. That sounds so Freudian. And it sounds like an image of yourself.”

Me (long pause, clearing throat): “Well, you know, the more I wrote about you, the better I understood you. On one level I really wanted you to break out of your mold, and you did in a way, with your ceaseless ambition. Yet, how shall I put it, you never quite fit in.”

“I know. Because I feel your tether on every page. As soon as I think I’ve been accepted as one of the ‘beautiful’ people, meaning the smart and the powerful, you pull me right back again on that leash of yours. But the really cruel thing you did to me is something different.”

Me: “I’m not cruel! Not deliberately anyway.”

“Well, you are. Because by now you’ve moved me so far beyond my poor background, that they’ve closed ranks back there. They don’t want me any more. Calling me a social climber, a traitor to my kin. You’ve placed me squarely in no-man’s land. I’m an outsider. I don’t belong.”

Me: “There’s no denying that. But understand, I’m not writing Grimm’s Fairy Tales. You are never going to ride into the sunset on a white stallion with your handsome prince.”

“Can I at least have sex? It doesn’t have to be on a stallion.”

Me: “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You already had some in the past, and what good did that do you?”

“But that was back story. Your readers hate that. Let’s do it in real time. Please?”

Me: “Let me think about it. I still have to write The End anyway. Just don’t you ask me what’ll happen to you, okay? Keep in mind though the world is a cruel place. It’s a jungle out there.”

“You’re gonna kill me. Right?”

Me: “Now don’t jump to conclusions. It’s not healthy to harbor such morose thoughts. Think positive. Whatever happens, I will be fair. And I will try my best to avoid a lot of blood and gore. There has to be some, you understand, because we want to sell the book…”

“Please, don’t. Otherwise…”

Me: “You’re threatening me? Listen, sweetheart, all I need to do is stretch my pinkie and push that button in the upper right hand corner of my keyboard. The button that all you characters hate with a vengeance.”

(Laughter): “You won’t. Because you want to sell your damn book, don’t you?”

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Image: Book Cover for ‘Grimm Fairy Tales Volume 12’
(Joe Brusha, Ralph Tedesco)

A query for fun

Joe’s Post #31 — You know what, after a week of no responses from agents, I just needed a laugh. So I reworked something I wrote a while ago.

A query.

April 15th, 2013

Dear important agent-like-person,

Please, please, please take a look at my novel.  It comes in at 350,000 words, but it’s really not that bad.  All my friends say so, even my mom who thinks I should have been an accountant.  Plus, my friend, Arwen, who is not the Arwen of Tolkein fame (but that’s where her mother got the name), anyway, she says that she really liked it except of course for the spelling errors and the overuse of the word blood-splattered.

Anyhoodles, I’ve enclosed the manuscript and a picture of my cat who inspired me to write the story.  It’s basically about this angel who’s not really an angel who wants to save his people who don’t really like him, so he goes off to a very weird land that is full of monsters and he overcomes them all, falls in love, has lots of sex (that I hope my mother will never read about) then comes back and everyone loves him. Like Rudolf the reindeer except, well, there aren’t any reindeer.  Oh, there is a battle though.

So, this has to be something you’d be interested in, doesn’t it?

I mean, I talked to you at the Surrey Writer’s Conference, and, even though the security guards eventually had to haul me away, I thought we made a connection, a real connection, so you’re the first one to get this manuscript – after my cat of course.

I just know that you will love it and I expect a call within a week, but don’t worry, if I don’t get that call, I’ll just fly out and talk to you in person as I know exactly where you live, (though I think I may have to leave my cat at home.)

Yours truly,

Bob (remember me now?)

So, I hope everyone out there is writing or reading or thinking about reading or writing.

I’ll be back next with week with something different. Again.

Adventures of a writer

Karalee’s Post #30 — I’ve made some headway with my writing the last week, getting my timeline straight with my villain and my protagonist. They have both conceded and stepped up to the plate with sleeves rolled up and guns out so-to-speak. I now have the first 35,000 words in second draft form.

dragonsinger20Yesterday I took a trip back in time. The Blue Water Cruising Association invited my husband and I to Victoria to give a talk on the sailing trip we took with our family in the Mediterranean. That was in 2001 and 2002. Our children were 11, 9 and 5 when we got on the plane from Vancouver to London and then on to Paris where we commissioned our sailboat.

We returned two years later. We had planned for one.

My husband kept a wonderful log of our adventure. It’s on the website http://www.davidgreer.ca/cruise/.

Friends and people I meet invariably ask me if I’m going to write a book about our trip. Undoubtedly I will pull some experiences into a scene here and there, but I don’t intend to write about the adventure as a story in itself. It was a difficult time for me. I had sold my physiotherapy practice the year before and was at the point where my children were in school and I was going to take time for myself and WRITE.

Instead my husband made a decision that lead to him having to sell his business. He had a good buy-out, not enough to retire on, but enough to give him time to get into another business (we hoped). It’s a decision that the family still feels the consequences of and one that I still have difficulty getting my head around. I knew our life would change dramatically in a direction I had never anticipated or wanted. I suffered acute depression and it  took over a year to bounce back.

But I’m a strong person and supported the family on this trip since the opportunity was there and the children were both young enough to go with us and old enough to remember it. I also had to face my fears of high winds, anchoring, and raising a family in completely new surroundings every week. On average we were at a new port  or anchoring spot every 3 days.

It makes finding an agent and publisher seem like a piece of cake, although I’m like Joe and have a moment of great anxiety as I press the ‘send’ button.

We decided to take the family on this sailing adventure and face the financial consequences of both being unemployed when we returned. We weren’t being foolish safety-wise as we had twenty years of sailing experience on the West Coast and our children were also used to being on a sailboat.

The trip was an adventure, not an all-inclusive holiday. Not only because we had three children in tow, but also because we lived full-time on a sailboat and did what families have to do, such as shop for food, cook, clean, and do laundry. We did all of this in strange ports and in languages we didn’t speak, and in addition we had to teach the school curriculum to our children.

dolphin and boys in MedIt was a great family time and a learning experience for all.

What did I learn?

  • a 45 foot sailboat is about 200 square feet of space. Over half is common area, so there is about 15 square feet per person of private real estate. Our boys shared bunks so they had even less.
  • Being a parent is a difficult job to begin with and safety concerns on a sailboat compounds it. Let a six year-old learn to ride a bike on a dock and it’s downright negligent, although I’d wager that it does make the learning curve shorter.
  • I prefer being tied to a dock than anchoring. We dragged anchor a few times and it was frightening.
  • Being a school teacher is hard. I don’t know how teachers manage twenty or more in a class. I salute them.
  • My daughter and my youngest son are self-driven and my middle boy needs lots of encouragement and consequences. Genetics must be a factor here.
  • Self-propelled scooters are a godsend to keep children happy when out touring with their parents or getting groceries.
  • We enjoyed a day sail on a catamaran and the comfort level under sail far exceeds that of a mono-hull, plus they could leave everything out on the counters too.
  • All the males on board get seasick. The females don’t (thank goodness).
  • Sailing doesn’t mean I couldn’t write and I wrote my first book in Tunisia where we stayed in a marina for 5 months over the winter. (Ha-ha, there’s the 5 months again) Some of it is good writing and maybe I’ll do another draft. And no, it wasn’t about the sailing trip.
  • Being disconnected from media is a good thing. Both the destruction of the twin towers in New York (9-11) and the start of the Iraq war happened when we were out of touch.
  • Night crossings terrify me and exposure didn’t decrease the fear. My brave daughter’s company helped a lot though, and I thank her.
  • Families that play together stay together. I’m sure this concentration of time together has anchored the family and we still talk about the experiences we had in the Mediterranean.

jocelyn swinging on boatOn our return finances became tight as the dot-com fall-out made getting a job difficult for my husband and I couldn’t return to physiotherapy after being out of practice for 3 years. Consequently we’ve had to sell all our major assets and downsize. It’s not easy to sell one’s home and I am still dealing with the loss.

I did insist on having a space to write though, and for the first time I have an office to myself. I feel lucky to have the writing bug. I also love to garden, and both keep me more than busy full-time. And of course, I still have a family to care for even with the two oldest living on their own.

The presentation in Victoria went well and I shed a few tears reliving the sailing experience with our young family and all the good times and learning situations we had. Our children are now 23, 21 and 17. They are all responsible young adults and I’m sure that exposure to different cultures and to many people living in poorer living conditions than in our home environment have played an important part in their world view.

And now it’s back to getting my fiction story finished.

Happy writing.

All the photos were taken by David Greer.