Saturday, April 30, 2011

You Don't Know Zenobia

statue carved by Harriet Goodhue Hosmer
Mind, you, neither did I.  I was visiting the Huntington Library and Garden, and fell in love with this stunning statue.  I wanted to use it in my Z post, because I figured no one else would be blogging about Zenobia, and I had this foggy idea she was the Alexandrian librarian and scholar killed by a mob of Christian zealots in the 4th century.

Actually, no, that was Hypatia.


Zenobia was a 3rd century Syrian queen who conquered Eqypt and told the Roman empire to take their gladius(es?  gladia?)and pilums and stick 'em where the sun don't shine.  However, like her ancestor Cleopatra, Rome ended up defeating her troops, and Aurelian  paraded her through the streets in golden chains.

Both women were brilliant and fascinating historical figures.  From Wikipedia:

The contemporary Christian historiographer Socrates Scholasticus described her in Ecclesiastical History:
There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.[8]
Sources also describe Zenobia as carrying herself like a man, riding, hunting and drinking on occasion with her officers.[2] Well educated and fluent in Greek, Aramaic, and Egyptian, with working knowledge of Latin, tradition accords her renown for hosting literary salons and surrounding herself with philosophers and poets, the most famous of these being Cassius Longinus.[2][3]

Too often, women are portrayed as invisible, powerless, or purely sexual objects in movies or historical fiction, not as the strong, powerful, integral part of society they often were.  As the old Chinese proverb says, "Women hold up half the sky."  (The statue of Zenobia, above, was created by a female sculptor in 1859, then debate raged for some years because it was thought too good to have been created by a woman.)

History is recorded by the victors, and details may be altered to make for a more flattering account, or to please the current powers-that-be.   Political correctness is not a recent invention.  Then when Hollywood gets its hands on it... whatever truth might have remained often gets tossed out the window, in the interest of "telling a better story." 

Some recreations are amazing.  I though James Cameron's Titanic was very well done, as was the HBO mini-series John Adams.  Others...

Does it matter that people believe the Oliver Stone version of the JFK assassination, the Ron Howard vision of Apollo 13, or that Achilles, as portrayed by Brad Pitt in Troy, was straight?

Is it more important to get the look and feel of the period right, or the facts straight?

Does it matter that in many movies, Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's Spanish wife, is portrayed with black hair, thick black eyebrows and an olive complexion, rather than the way she really looked?

Is that a picky detail that nobody cares about, or a sign of sloppiness or laziness on the part of the casting and costuming?

Or that Henry, in later years, looked like this                                     Rather than this?

Which Henry would you rather have climbing on top of you?

Personally, I cringe at the whole "let's make it a better story" mindset.  As a writer, I understand that sometimes people and events needs to be conflated to make for cleaner storytelling.  In Gone with the Wind, the book, Scarlett had two sisters and three children, while in the movie she only had one of each, but that was one form of fiction being translated to another.

I'm not as comfortable with "cleaning up" historical figures and events, and making them more the way we might wish they had been.  That way leads to Dinosaur Adventure Land, where kids could learn about how Jesus was buds with the Dinosaurs, and how dinosaurs might still be around today.

Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but I'd rather have verifiable facts than truthiness.  I'd rather not have women Photoshopped into or out of historical recreations, but portrayed as accurately as possible.  And yes, I want them to get the damn hair color, age, sizes, and shapes of the major players as close to accurate as possible, too.

What annoys you about historical recreations?  
What do you think they get right - and where do you think they get off-track?

And with this, dear readers, I am done with the A-Z challenge!  Did you make it all the way?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Yet - Best Little Word in the World

By the Powers Invested in me by Nobody, I hereby declare that "yet" is the Best Little Word in the World.

Is there any sentence that yet doesn't improve?

I'm not a best-selling author. 
I'm not a best-selling author yet.

I can't come up with a way to end this chapter. 
I can't come up with a way to end this chapter yet.

I don't have a bazillion Followers. 
I don't have a bazillion Followers yet.

I can't <run a marathon, stop eating chocolate, quit my day job> yet.

I haven't contracted an STD yet.  (Okay, maybe yet doesn't quite work for that one.)

Yet is a tiny little word filled with huge hope and possibility.  There's a goal in sight that we're working towards, and we're not there - yet - but we believe, we know - we can reach it.  That there is still time.

The word yet makes me feel like this song, Parallels, by Yes.  (Yes is a word very like yet.  As I'm sure you've noticed.)

There is no actual video - just play it for the song, and read on.  (Provided you don't have crappy speakers.  If you do have crappy speakers... never mind.)

Whenever I hear this song, the church organ swelling grandly, the bass notes dancing up and down, the soaring vocals, I feel the embodiment of Yes! and Yet within me, like a girl joyfully twirling and whirling in a flower-filled meadow, with every possible life experience she could ever desire ahead of her and within reach.

Photo from Dreamstime
Wow.  Was it good for you?

Here's how defines yet
1. at the present time; now: Don't go yet. Are they here yet?   [Of course. there's also the annoying Are we there yet?]
2. up to a particular time; thus far: They had not yet come.
3. in the time still remaining; before all is done: There is yet time. [I love love love "There is yet time."]
4. from the preceding time; as previously; still: He came here on a vacation 20 years ago, and he is here yet.
5. in addition; again: The mail brought yet another reply. [Let's imagine the mail is yet another fan letter, shall we?]
6. moreover: I've never read it nor yet intend to.
7. even; still (used to emphasize a comparative): a yet milder tone; yet greater power.
8. though the case be such; nevertheless: strange and yet very true.

Eight different ways to be used!  That's a lot of work for such a little word, but yet's a powerhouse, I'm tellin' you.

One more important thing about yet.  I have not yet visited all the other A-Z participant sites, but I truly intend to!

How do you feel about yet?
Does it empower you, or are you thinking, "yeah, whatever"?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Xing Out the Extraneous

(According to my dictionary, xing is an acceptable spelling for crossing, so I'm not cheating!)

extraneous - 1. introduced or coming from without; not forming an essential or proper part; 2. not pertinent; irrelevant.

One of the fabulous things about this A-Z Blogging Challenge is I have come to "meet" so many other fabulous bloggers with a variety of interests.  There's literally dozens of wonderful blogs I've discovered and am now following.

Blowing a kiss To all now following me, welcome!  Blowing kisses and so very glad you are here.  I hope to post content in the future that's interesting, informative, and entertaining enough to persuade you to stick around. 

One of the terrible things about this A-Z challenge is that there are so very many people participating.  If there are more hours in the day than there used to be, they forgot to clue me in on how to access them.  It's my intention, in May, to get caught up visiting on all the blogs I may have missed, and at least say hello.

However, call me a bitch (you wouldn't be the first,) but I'm not going to follow everyone I visit, nor auto-follow those who follow me.  (see above about hours, day.)  In fact, there may be blogs that I am now following, that I may decide later are simply not "doing it for me," and I may stop following them.

This doesn't mean that your blog isn't excellent.  It just means that it's not a good fit for me, right this minute, in terms of my personal goals and available time.  It also doesn't mean, if you visit my blog and leave comments, that I won't come visit your blog from time to time.

When I Follow a blog, I don't just click the "follow" button and then, See ya!  I visit the blog regularly, try to make helpful and/or interesting comments, and connect with the author.  (Again, see above about hours, days.)  See yesterday's post about Why Do We Follow - or Not Follow - A Blog for more ideas.

Like most writers, I have a day job, plus family & friends who would like a sop of attention thrown to them now and again.

Then there's my dream.  That dream is to eventually make a decent living as a professional author.  To that end, I need to eliminate or X out the extraneous, the things that are distracting me, eating up time, and not advancing me towards realizing my goal.  Which every writer needs to do. 
Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have "essential" and "long overdue" meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.   ~J.K. Rowling

To that end... sorry, TV! You're staying off, even if there is a great car chase on.
Modified from EamonCurry at Flickr

Just Saying No to Suduko.
Modified from wampyrii at Flickr

Pleasure reading?  In moderation, okay, in excess, no more.  <weeping>

Goodbye, LOLcats!
Modified from LOLCats

Okay, maybe I'm not quite ready to go cold turkey on LOLcats, and I do have the excuse of using the stuff on the blog, but I have to cut down looking at silly things on the Internet, like cats playing patty-cake (still, wasn't that hilarious?)

I hope if you've found and liked my blog, that you will follow and keep coming back, but I understand that you, too, have time limitations, and I may not be "doing it" for you.  Your main interest be trading patterns with other bloggers who knit dog sweaters.  Which you won't find here.

You may also be a writer, but for whatever reason, your reaction to this blog is not "I'm in love!" (or even like), but, "Meh."

If you've stopped by and don't choose to come back, thanks for stopping by, and happy travels to the blogs and sites that do hit the spot for you.

Blowing a kissIf you've stopped by and decided to follow, please click a reaction button or post a comment, on this or future blogs, as to what you really liked (or hated,) so I can give you more of it.  (More of what you liked, that is, not more of what you hated.)

And thank you, every comment means a lot to me!  More kisses!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Do We Follow - or Not Follow - A Blog?

Anybody know what letter are we on?

Right, W.   Thanks, Bill.  Aren't you proud you made it this far?  Even if there were a few places where you got stuck. (Or was that just me?)

For W I'm tackling the question, Why?  As in, why do we choose to follow Blog X, and not follow Blog Y?

Here's my personal take.

from Krista76 at Flickr
Why I Do Follow:

#1 - What's in it for me When I read a blog, I am looking for high levels of entertainment, and/or interesting information that relates to where I am in my life and present pursuits.  Right now, I am not personally involved in breastfeeding or raising llamas - not to knock either of those interests.  But unless your blog about said subjects is really, really humorous, or features poignant, brilliant writing, it's not helping me to learn.

#2 - Make me laugh.  I follow The Oatmeal, CakeWrecks and other funny sites, because they bring a smile to my face, sometimes an outright guffaw.  Not only do their posts spark ideas I sometimes use in my own writing, just the act of laughing loosens me up.

#3 - Quality Content.  There are a billion blogs out there offering advice on writing and blogging in general, and on contemporary fiction writing specifically.  I don't need you to write in my genre, but I do need quality: things you've learned, tips, links, helpful examples.

#4 - Consistency in posting.  Everybody gets busy, and it's okay once in a while to phone-it-in and say, "Can't do it today."  We're all human, and stuff comes up.  But if you go from making six posts a week to six posts a month, and four of them are "just checking in because I don't have time to make a real post," you're going to lose me.

#5 - Let me hear your voice.  I've read, even followed a few blogs that are chock full of information, but I'm not hearing the author's voice.  Why are you interested in baroque music, SETI, the proper way to shoe a horse?  Help me understand why you are drawn to this subject; sell me on why I should care.  If your site's just a book report, term paper, or encyclopedia... well, it's not the only one out there.

#6 - Break it up with pictures, short video clips, white space.  White space is our friend.

Why I may choose not to Follow, or even drop a Blog: 

from cable car couture
# 1 - Don't hurt me.  If your blog has so many brilliant graphics, with flashing ads and an electric blue and hot pink background so bright that I need sunglasses before clicking your link, I'm going to pass.  Please think twice about the text boxes that are partially transparent over a busy graphic art design, no matter how cool the art is.  Cutesy (when they are hard-to-read) fonts, long unbroken paragraphs, texts or links that are of colors difficult to read... all make me lean toward not Following.  When I visit blogs, it should not be a painful experience.

#2 - Relentless flogging of your own book.  Of course you should promote your book(s), but if four out of five of your posts are "Buy my book, buy my book, buy my book," and little else, it's a turn-off for me.  (If you're offering good content, with one teensy paragraph per post being a reminder to people about your book, that's a different story.)

#3 - Nothing but lists of other people I should follow/visit, etc.  Again (see #5, above), I want content from you.  if you've got lots of friends, I'm happy for you, but why I should take your advice on who to visit when I have yet to connect with you?

#4 - Egregious spelling and grammar mistakes from a writer.  If your having problems wrapping you're head around the proper way to use "you're" and "your" (which is the opposite of how I used them in the first part of this sentence) you're going to lose (not loose) me.  It says to me you're not at a point in the craft where I can learn from you.  That said, everybody makes mistakes (as a kindly friend pointed out, I have my own punctuation problems) and a few mistakes and typos sprinkled in here and there are forgivable.  (Especially if they're mine, of course.)

#5 - Inconsistency in subject.  If on Monday I stumble on your blog and you have a fabulous article about how to write conflict, but on Wednesday it's a long, much too detailed post about your dog's hysterectomy, and on Friday it's about what you had for lunch... Sorry, I'm outta there.  It's fine to write a blog simply for the purpose of connecting to personal friends and family, and throwing in everything including the kitchen sink, but if you want to build a large following among strangers, who don't really care about Mrs. Floppy Ears, you've got to be consistent in what content you're offering us.

#6 - Whining.  Blogging and writing is hard work, it's tiring, and there's a fine line where we do want to acknowledge that fact and to connect with others who've also struggled.  I can't connect emotionally with perfect people to whom everything seems easy-peasy.  On the other hand, if your blog has a consistently negative tone...  Sorry, I'm not wanting to hang out with Debbie Downer.

Speaking of self-promotion, I've posted previously on Blogging and Branding that contain more links to some good references.

Please share, below - what makes you follow a blog?
What makes you decide not to click that Follow button, or to unFollow at a later time?

And <gulping, bracing myself> what flaws do you see in my blog that I should address?
Thanks so much for your feedback and comments.

P.S.  W is also for Winner!  I'm delighted (and a bit surprised) to be a co-grand prize winner of Nate Wilson's A-Z Contest.  My Amazon wish list is going to be very happy.  Go to Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire to check out the entertaining alphabetical entries.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Voracious Readers Required

Let's just say it bang: If you're writing a book, and you don't read voraciously, you are not serious about becoming successfully published.

From Kate Hart's Fabulous Flowchart on How To Get Published:   
Have you read widely in your genre?

No, I don't want to taint my genius.

Get over yourself & go read.
Carol Muske Dukes, the Poet Laureate of California, and author of a number of books of poetry and several novels, says there is one “sure sign” someone is a writer: “A writer reads constantly, reads everything she can get her hands on, tears apart libraries and bookstores, never is without a book in hand.”  (from PsychCentral's The Creative Mind.)

Another guy who knows a little bit about writing, Stephen King, said, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write."

We need to read books in our genre.  We need to read books, articles and blogs about the craft of writing.  We need to read books that are not in our genre, but perhaps do an excellent job at something we are trying to do: great characters, strong plotting, well-done multiple POV's, creative ways to blend in background details.  We need to hold our noses and re-examine books that failed to hold our interest, and unpack why that happened.

If we're novelists, we should also consider screenplays, both for movies and television.  The brevity and pacing of screenplays can be helpful.  We can see how an entire relationship might be revealed in two lines of dialogue and a look.  (Unlike my usual wordiness, yikes!)

Want readers to keep turning the page?  We can learn from TV's pacing, the way action builds to a mini-cliffhanger right before each commercial break.   Whether it's Desperate Housewives, or my old favorite, Lost in Space.

(I have to say, Mark Goddard fired off many a rocket in my pre-adolescent imagination, big time.  Well, maybe I didn't have to say it, but wasn't he gorgeous?)

They say in regards to good sex, which for some odd reason I have digressed to, that those who understand their own bodies, what pleases them, what they do and don't like, are much better love partners than those who are unaware.

So, too, with writing.  If we are trying to create an all-enveloping, magic world that our readers enter and never want to leave, we had better know for ourselves what that feels like.  If we don't, how can we create a satisfying experience for our readers?

I don't want people to read my work and say, "Eh, that was okay.  Next!"  I want readers to be passionately involved with my work.  I want them to be so enraptured they can't put it down, so buzzed they tell all their friends how much they loved it.  So delighted they want to repeat the experience over and over again (see good sex, above.)  I want us to be Rhett and Scarlett, tangled together to the very last page.

Which reminds me, it's just about time for me to re-read Gone With The Wind.

What are your experiences as a Voracious Reader?
What books, articles, or sources helped you in ways you didn't expect?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Upstream - Some of Us Are Going To Make It

Image from Melville House Publishing
... and some of us aren't.

We all dream we'll end up here, and maybe much more.

Fame, riches, groupies, talk shows...

Reality is, the whole writing business is extremely hard work, that for the majority of people who try it, doesn't pay off the way they hope or dream.

A lot of swimming upstream, only to be defeated by rushing water and exhaustion.

Or, perhaps, eaten by bears.

(IMO, they should pass a law that all nature documentaries like this are narrated by someone with that wonderful deep, sonorous voice, like David Attenborough here, "Eventually they have to go for it, despite the danger," while the dramatic music swells in the background.)

Just sayin.'

See, now you thought procrastination was the biggest threat to your writing career, when it's actually bears!

Yes, I'm using salmon as a metaphor for writers.  And if you click on either link you'll be directed to two other great A-Z writers who already wrote fabulous posts on how to use them.  (Didn't you just love that one bear at the end, mouth open, like he's saying, "Hey!  Get into my belly!)

As noted, some of the salmon did make it past the waterfall, past the bears, past the eagles and all the other things that tried to stop them.

But they don't have a chance if they don't keep swimming.

Maybe it's egotistical of me, to think that I can succeed where others fail, but I intend to keep swimming.  Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.  Maybe I will get eaten by bears, but this I know: only the fish that tried to swim upstream made it to their goal.

(I'm going to gracefully abandon the salmon metaphor now, and ask you to join me in pretending that those fish that made it all the way to the end did not just spawn and die anyway.)

Less than a week to go and we've reached the end of the A-Z Challenge!
Besides "just keep swimming," is there any metaphor that keeps you going?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Techonology - A Tangled Love/Hate Relationship

Sometimes I feel like, if my genitals had a USB port, I would make love to my new computer all night.  (paraphrasing The Oatmeal.)

Other times...

man shoots computer with a shotgun

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude, I am, indeed, deeply grateful we can communicate through the wonderful world of the Web.  I am grateful for the magic of cut-and-paste.  And spell-check.  And push-button printing, even if all printers currently leave much  to be desired.

I think of Sofya Tolstoy (married to Leo,) who not only bore him 13 children but made six hand-written copies of War and Peace for him.  Six!  I still haven't gotten through reading the damn thing, but that's what life was like for writers in the good ol' days.  Writing every draft by hand, and then hand-copying each and every freakin' word for submission.  (Or, suckering a loved one into doing it for you.)

So in many ways modern life is better and easier for writers, and yet... in many ways it's harder too.

Leo Tolstoy did not have to continually Tweet while writing War & Peace, or Anna Karenina.
  • #happyfamilies are all alike, every #unhappyfamily is unhappy in its own way.  Tell me Im not f#@king brilliant!
  • RT@AChekhov yeah that babe at the party last nite was smokin hot - too bad Im married
  •  Wishing #happybirthday to the #bestpublisher in theworld
  • @FyodorD - Crime & Punishment was reading your lame book, ha-ha!

After many years of resistance, I've just started Tweeting, and I am painfully aware I don't know what the pluck I'm doing.  Hash browns, I understand, hashtags... not so much.  I'm sure I will get it, eventually, but right now I resent having yet one more technical thing I have to learn.  I learned computers, an uncountable number of various word processing programs, and the Internet, and MySpace, and FaceBook... where does it end?!?

humorous pictures

Do they (the great, mystical "they" out there) not understand that all I really want to do is write!

Reality, meet Writer.  I have to work with the system the way it is, not the way I fantasize it "should be."

So, per the wisdom of Will Work 4 Followers, aka Single Dad Laughing, who knows a little something about blogging and writing, I'm examining what are my Five Biggest Goals for this blog.  He suggests they should be: 
  2. Rewards. And I'm talking material rewards & perks, not intrinsic ones.
  3. Consistency.
  4. Hot Blog. The way your blog looks and feels when people visit is the most important part of making sure people stick around. Make it your goal to add something new to it every week (or to get rid of something useless). Learn how to tweak your template. Learn bits of HTML. Learn how to nudge your margins. Make it your goal to have a super sexy blog by x date.
  5. Honesty. I'll also be blogging more about this later. If you want a big blog, you're not going to attract followers by painting some perfect picture of some perfect life. There are two words for that. Boring, and boring. People are faulted, and they're surrounded by more than enough "Perfection" to make them sick. 
For myself, I can put #2 on the back burner, for now.  I don't think #5, Honesty has been an issue - I'm full of problems (see above.  And below), and I've admitted them all along  (or is that false modesty?  Yikes!)

Since my blog is still a baby, I'm trying to focus on #3 and 4 - working to offer good, consistent content, with an increasingly attractive look.  I figure, if I do that (and tweet my little brains out,) the followers (#1) will come.

So I came across a cool commenting system on other blogs, Intense Debate.  Installed it here, seeking to fulfill point #4.  Looks gorgeous.  Feeling very happy, excited, proud of my tech-savviness,  until...  I made another tweak to add the A-Z button links, and Intense Debate went away and ate all its comments.  <puzzled, but not disheartened.>  I moved the gadget around  - it came back.  ~Kisses~ for everyone.  Life is sunshine and rainbows again.
Mural Available by WallStory

I made another gadget and formatting tweak.  And Intense Debate is gone again - once again, spitefully taking all new comments!!!  I read the troubleshooting manual which suggests uninstalling it and reinstalling it.  Again?  Really?  As part of the template, only once you do, you can't make other changes to the template.

But I still need to make other changes to the template.  <whining>  I am still tweaking and fine-tuning and trying to create a cleaner, more wholesome-looking blog.

Only without the granola.

So, as Scarlett O says, "I'll think about it tomorrow.  Tomorrow is another day."

Have you, too, experienced Technical Difficulties?
Do you struggle with Twiiter-resistance?
Share in the comments, below, and I wlll try my best not to erase 'em.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sex Bombs Away!

When I was a teenager, I fell in love with Supertramp when they released Crime of the Century.  Before they exploded with Breakfast in America, when everybody decided they liked them.

I had a little bitty cassette player, and tapes (yes, this was in the Dark Ages,) and owned Crime of the Century, Crisis? What Crisis? and Even in the Quietest Moments.

When I discovered they'd released an album prior to Crime (actually, they released two, the very first one very rough), I had to special order it.  And then, it came, and was... this.

I loved the music, but felt horribly, horribly embarrassed by the sight of this woman's naked boobies.  Since I carried my tunes with me everywhere... people (meaning boys) were gonna see it.  And what would they think of me?  (Only a total slut would carry something like that around, right?)

I took the cover insert out of the plastic case and painted a nail-polish bandeau on her. Whew!

Cut to present-er day - When I wrote my first novel (not the one that scored me an agent, but my very first) it was, as many first novels are, highly autobiographical.  <groan, hiding face in shame here.>  I wrote it to relieve the pain of a failed love affair, and since sex and sexual attraction had been a big part of that relationship, they also had to be a big part of that novel.

I wrote it, it served the purpose of helping me exercise my writing muscles and exorcise my bad feelings, but  it hooked me on writing, and so, I decided to keep going.

Next novel - more of a chick lit thing, but sex and sexual attraction were still a big part of it.  So I had a decision to make.  Should I make the sex scenes as explicit and erotic as I possibly could, or should I go in the direction of euphemisms and lightly touching (no pun intended) on the subject?

I decided that if publishers wanted a change in the heat level, it would be easier for me to tone down already written sexy scenes, than to take a barely steamy scene, and try to make it hotter. 

So, that book scored me an agent (if not yet a publisher.)  I wrote another - more "good rejections," (Beverly is a a very good writer, but...)  Still, it seemed that whatever I was doing, worked.  I was near the target, if not yet hitting the bullseye.

On my current WIP (work-in-progress,) it's straight up erotica with a theme, as requested by my agent.  Will it work?  We'll see.  My agent has gotten me more good rejections <aargh!> on it as an unfinished WIP  and a few publishers are interested in the completed manuscript.  Which I am setting as my goal to have done by June.

I've gotten past being embarrassed by naked boobies, though it is still not easy for me to write sex, and I admit, I'm somewhat conservative in what I write.  A little bondage, perhaps a few menages a trois, voyeurism, but mostly straightforward male-female stuff.

I continue to read the other erotic material in the current market.  Some of it is similar to what I write, some is more subdued, and some of it, wow, it's "Release the Flying Monkeys" stuff that, frankly, scares me more than titillates.

To each their own trapeze, I guess.

I don't think every writer can or should try to write sex.  However, I do believe that since sex, sexual attraction, and just plain sensuality are such a big part of most people's lives, that it's dishonest not to acknowledge and deal with this factor in some way in our writing.

(You can order a Sex Bomb or other bath & shower delights at Lush.  I had to try my own, and yes, it really does fizz up this fast.)

For some readers, the sex bombs may be more figurative or sensual. For others, sex needs to be genuine, explicit, Part A into Slot B action complete with all the bells, whistles, and back strain.

Consider your audience when writing your novel, and make sure you offer them the level of heat they're expecting. Check out Sarah Allan's "E" is for Erotica A-Z post for some good insight into the differences between erotic romance, porn, and other types of  hot writing.

If you'd like to read one of my sexy (if not explicit) stories, it's online here:

So, what do you think about writing sex?
(Keep it PG, please, this is not an adults-only blog.)
What's hard (pun intended) or easy about it for you?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R is for Retarded

Because that's how my brain is feeling, this far into the A-Z challenge. Retarded. I'm trying to get around to reading all these fabulous posts by other participants (which I am doing, mostly) and to think of insightful comments to leave on other blogs, and my mind is going D'oh! like Homer Simpson.

Retarded, according to my Random House Webster's Dictionary, means characterized by retardation. And that means:

1. the act of retarding or the state of being retarded
2. something that retards; hindrance
3. slowness or limitation in intellectual understanding and awareness, emotional development, academic progress, etc.

Please do not sic some shrill-voiced grifter in a red dress on me, okay? Because I am using the word correctly, and if in a disparaging manner, it's to myself.

Not that long ago, it was not politically incorrect to use the word "retarded" to refer to those with Down's Syndrome or other developmental delays. It could be respectful, "Jimmy, don't stare at that boy, it's not nice. He can't help the way he looks, he's retarded." Or it could be insulting, "Girlfriend, I can't believe you failed the English test on Friday, it was so easy. You must be full-on retarded!"

Now it's come about that people are referring, in hushed tones, to "the R word," as those who are pigmentally challenged usually refer to "the N word." Though about "the N word," there is a fiery debate raging among those with darker skin coloring as to whether it is acceptable (for them) to say the word as a way of reclaiming its meaning, or whether it is still insulting and degrading even when it comes from a new artist, dripping with bling, rapping about his homies and his ho's.

American English sure can be a bitch!

My stepmother, who died a few years ago, was born a Negro. For much of her youth she remained a Negro, but with the dawning of the civil rights movement, she became a colored person. Then in the 1960's through the 1980's, she was black and beautiful (and she truly was beautiful, IMO.) Sometime in the 1990's, she became African-American.

This was very confusing to her and others of her generation. Personally, I don't think people need to "correct" an elderly person with dark skin who calls herself black, colored, or Queen of the May for that matter.

"Gay" is totally owned by homosexuality now, in most people's minds, and whether it's used in an old Broadway standard, "I Feel Pretty," or a Victorian novel, hearing it out of present-day context will evoke snickers or smirks. Like "the R word" used to be, gay can be used in a neutral way, "That's my cousin over there, with his partner; he knew he was gay all the way back in middle school." Or gay can be insulting, "I can't believe you did that, dude, that is so gay!"

Language drifts; old words acquire new meanings, new words are added on. We don't use "prithee" much anymore; we do use "texting." "Lame" is what we say about someone doing the Funky Chicken on the dance floor, not what we say about someone of similar age with a bad hip.

James Brown could get away with this and look groovy; Great-Uncle Jim will just look... lame.

As writers, it behooves us (look it up!) to not only pay attention to these things, but to make an effort to find beta readers in our "world." If it's set in the not-too-distant past (like the 1960's or 70's), we can find sharp-eyed readers who will recognize time clues or anachronisms from that era.

If it's YA, we can recruit (or bribe) teenagers to read it looking specifically for word choices that don't work. If it's set among private investigators, or ballet dancers, or the adult movie industry, we should get at least one, preferably more, set of "eyes" to look it over to ensure we're not using words that jar the reader out of the world we're writing about.

If it's sci-fi, we might find an actual scientist in that general field to read and see if it holds water. For fantasy - we may not be able to get a reader from the planet XKSDBWUG-y, but we can locate readers who read our general genre.

That's all I got. I was thinking of going in another direction, but my mind is feeling, well, retarded right now.

What words or phrases do you wish would make a comeback?
What new words are you happy to have?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Quitting's Not for Everyone

Some days I just want to quit.  Quit blogging, quit writing, quit Tweeting (boy, do I want to quit Tweeting!)

Quit the A-Z challenge, even though I am soooo close to finishing.

Quit the human race and go live in a cave somewhere.

Provided said cave has a hot tub.  And Mai Tais.  And good-looking men named Handsome and Sexy to bring me the Mai Tais and massage the kinks out of my shoulders, and then...  See, even when I "quit," I begin writing fantasy!

Sometimes we do need to quit writing - or at least put it on the back burner for a while.  Maybe some things in our lives  - jobs, partners, children, parents - simply won't permit the time and dedication we want to invest in our writing.  Been there, done that myself.

Maybe we believe we've given it all we have to give, have given it our best shot, and there's simply no more there there.

Sometimes we believe that prematurely.

Brett Favre played for the Green Bay Packers for 16 seasons, from September 1992 to January 2008.
Photo by PSU Mark2006
via Wikimedia Commons

He officially retired from Green Bay and football in March 2008.

In July 2008, he decided he wasn't done after all.  He ended up playing for the New York Jets in fall 2008.
By Mass Communication Specialist
1st Class Jennifer A. Villalovos, USN.
via Wikimedia Commons

In February 2009, he announced his retirement from football (again.)

In August 2009, Favre signed with the Minnesota Vikings.  He played for them for 2009-2010, taking them to the play-offs in 2009 (In football years, he was a total geezer, mind you.  And, for those of you who don't know American football, the Vikings are the Packers' arch-rivals.  Unthinkable!)

By Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons

In January 2011, Favre officially filed retirement papers.  This time, between concussions, multiple other injuries, age, and sexual harassment suits (oh Brett, why, why??  and in Crocs <shuddering>) his retirement is probably gonna stick.

My point is, even if we have to quit - for a while, even if we have to put our writing on a back burner for a time, we don't have to give up. It's okay to change our minds about quitting.

We may have to work harder, when picking up writing again after some time off, but that's to be expected.  We may have to learn new skills, and make new connections, because the world of writers and readers and publishing isn't the same game as it was XX many years ago.

Luckily, writers tend to get deeper and more interesting as we age.  It's not like we're subject to being tackled by six 300 lb linebackers on our way to the keyboard (though some have harder battles than others.)

Some of the most amazing writers in literature didn't get their official "start" until well into their forties.  Or later.

We don't have to give up on our dreams.  Maybe we'll fulfill them, maybe things will turn out differently than we fantasize, but we'll never regret pursuing them.  (Only not pursuing them.)

We don't have to be so hard on ourselves.  Because we may not have lived up to some shining goal: First book published by age 25; blogging every single day even if everyone in our family has the flu, and we've got it worst, if we haven't reached five bazillion Twitter followers by Halloween, doesn't mean we have to quit.

Or, if we have quit, it doesn't mean we can't put on a new uniform and try again.

Have you ever quit writing?  For how long, and what brought you back?
Please share any tips in the Comments.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Passel of P's Preventing Progress

We all want our work to be, well, PerfectPolished, every word a precious gem, something that garners praise and admiration from the public.

And we want, no, expect, it to come out that way.  On the first draft.

Draft?  Who needs a draft?


Draft of Madame Bovary via Wikimedia Commons
We need to understand and accept that perfection is not possible.  We will never get our work to be perfect.  We can get it, perhaps, as perfect as we can make it at this time, and then make the decision - is this good enough to send out, seeking an agent and/or publisher now, or does it need to go in the back of the drawer to be revised again in another year or two?

We need to let go of the pride that tells us that we cannot/should not write multiple drafts, go through multiple revisions, because we're too good for that.  Uh, no, we're not.  (See above, Madame Bovary.)

Pride goeth before a fall.  Being too attached to our precious darlings, thinking that our work is brilliant, simply brilliant, keeps us from making the revisions we need to make it presentable.

On the other hand, self-doubt, and criticism can eat us up, preventing us from putting one word on the page (or screen.)  We procrastinate and postpone because we are petrified with fear, because we know that the words on the page can't possibly match up to the perfection in our heads.  We poison ourselves, telling ourselves we have nothing to say that hasn't been said before, a zillion times.

By Sir Frank Dicksee [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
It's true, nothing has been said that hasn't been said, done, enacted before. Yet we keep reading books, watching TV and movies, going to plays. Why? Because even if "boy meets girl" has been done before, it hasn't been done that way, with that twist, with that particular interpretation.

Storywise, West Side Story = Romeo and Juliet
(with a very slight change of ending.) Right?

Which one would you get rid of, the Shakespeare version, or the Bernstein/Sondheim/Robbins version?  Or would you, like me, be adamant about keeping both

If we have that spark burning inside, we need to stop letting perfectionism and procrastination prevent us from banging out a draft, because nobody can tell our story the way we can.  We need to sideline our pride and acknowledge that our draft will need to be revised.  One speaker I heard suggested a minimum of 17 times.  While I wouldn't adopt any set number as a hard-and-fast rule - it's possible that 4 revisions will do the trick, it's possible that 40 will not -  we need to understand that writing is about REwritingAlways

We simply need to do whatever we need to do to get our story in the best possible shape.

Which P's most often get in your way?
Share in the comments, below. (Please.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Objectionable Characters Need Love, Too

Sometimes a villain just can't get a break.  All Snidely Whiplash wanted to do was tie Sweet Nell to the railroad tracks (because, apparently, that's what bad guys with curly mustaches do) and that dolt Dudley Do-Right kept interfering with his dastardly plans.

(Aaaah, satisfaction.  I've always wanted to use the word "dastardly" in a sentence.)

In a short, satiric cartoon, caricature works.

In a novel or movie, or even a work of non-fiction, a one-dimensional antagonist is unbelievable and boring.  (Check the reviews for the movie Dudley Do-Right with Brendan Fraser, if you doubt me,)

Used by permission.  Go here and buy some great art!

Even Hitler had his good points. He was monogamous, a teetotaler, and a loving pet owner.

Up to a point.  Like others who loved Hitler, his dog Blondi did not come to a good end.

I'm not arguing that Hitler wasn't so terrible, okay?  I am saying that the bad guy isn't always seven feet tall, covered with rank hair, foaming at the mouth and easy to spot a football field away.

Sometimes it's only in retrospect that we realize a villain was a villain.  And we need to remember that villains are never villains in their own eyes.  They may do regrettable things, sure, but only if they conquer the world (or whatever their aspirations are) can they bring peace and security to everyone.  They're actually the good guys, doing it for you and me.  (Aka "the ends justify the means.")

The characters that are the most compelling are those who fully exhibit their humanity and vulnerability.  In Unbreakable by M. Night Shyamalan, even though it's based on cartoon superhero and villain themes, we see Elijah Price (played by Samuel L. Jackson) being born with too-fragile bones shattered by the ordeal of birth, watching wistfully at the other children on playgrounds he can never enter.  By the time we learn he's the bad guy, he's fully earned our sympathy.  We can despise what he's done, we can wish he'd used used his powers for good rather than evil, but we can see his logic, and still feel sorry for him despite all the horrific things he's done.  If there's a weakness in the script, it's that David Dunn (played by Bruce Willis) isn't nearly as interesting a character.

In many ways, Archie Bunker was a caricature, and  though his bigotry and ignorance was exaggerated, he had his soft spots.  He was clearly fond of Edith and Gloria, and although his logic was often warped, we sensed underneath it all Archie had a good heart and sense of fairness.

 He came to not only strike a chord of recognition in many (who among us didn't have an Archie Bunker among our fathers, grandfathers, and uncles?) but to demonstrate a  hope that love, and life experience, can change those who'd grown up learning their bigotry from their families of origin.

Can anyone ever forget the Sammy Davis Junior episode, where Archie's prejudice against Negroes and Jews ran smack into his celebrity worship?

The possibility of growth and change - the idea that the hero can be seduced to "the Dark Side," and that the villain can be redeemed in the end, is what makes a story great.  One of my favorite fantasy writers is Mercedes Lackey, partly because she's excellent at taking someone we loathe, at the beginning of a trilogy, and turning him into an ally we're rooting for by the end.

Unless your goal is to write a comic book, when you create an objectionable character, make sure s/he exhibits just that range of possibility.  (Just don't forget to give your good guys and girls range, too, or the baddies will steal the story.)

Who's your favorite objectionable objectionable character, & why?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Negativeland - A Book You Can't Forget

It wasn't awful, but I couldn't have read another page.

Published in 2004 by Autonomedia, Negativeland by Doug Nufer is a constraint novel.  Like haiku or sonnets, it's a literary technique in which the writer must follow a specific condition which forbids certain things and/or requires others.

It begins:
None of the stations played anything good, but I kept at the buttons, pushing off songs from a childhood we were all supposed to have had.  Commercials bothered me more than ever, news was propaganda, and traffic reports were no more useful than the weather.  It wasn't yet 1988, and I was driving home from Tacoma. 
I liked Tacoma because it wasn't Seattle, the same as I liked Seattle because it wasn't New York, and vice-versa.
You couldn't miss what the constraint was, could you?  Not only does every sentence contain some sort of negative construction, even the chapters are negative, starting at -6 and proceeding to 0.

In an interview, the author talks about how people who didn't know about the constraint form prior to reading, didn't much care for it.  As another writer, I have to say that the author is very, very skilled at what he is doing, and conveys the bones of a reflective, interesting story.  At the same time, it was neither graceful, nor easy reading.  Although interested in the story and intrigued by the style, I found I could not read it straight through, but had to put down, frequently.

Part of that reflect other storytelling challenges by the author.  The main character is a former Olympic gold medal swimmer from 1972 (fictional - an East German actually won "his" races) who subsequently married a Rose Queen, and was used by his ad agency father-in-law as promotional figurehead for a chain of shady gyms across the country.

It touches upon themes of celebrity, of homecomings, of shoddy business practices, gambling, and hucksterism.

This story is told in first person, with flashbacks, as the main character in 1988 is doing a road trip across the country with his current girlfriend.  So, timewise, it skips all over the place, without many clues in each section as to when that particular action is taking place.  There are few dialogue tags to tell us who's speaking, so "she" may refer to the (now) ex-wife, or the current girlfriend, or the current girlfriend before she was the girlfriend.  Oh, and the main character is named Ken Honachick, but the current girlfriend calls him Chick or Chuck and other characters call him Ken or Kenny.

Dizzy?  So was I.

As a writer, I have to ask myself, could I do this?  Could I write at least a page of two in this style?  So for that reason, I recommend giving it a read, or perhaps another of Nufer's constraint novels, Never Again, in which no word is used more than once.

As a reader, I can't recommend it.  I already have a day job that makes me exercise my brain significantly.  When I turn to books, it's primarily for pleasure and relaxation.  While I enjoy books that make me stretch a little, this one is 186 pages of hard work.  I couldn't escape into it.  

User-friendly, it's not.


All writing, of course, has some kind of constraint. Generally, something is written all in one language or jargon, though there may be occasional outlier terms or words.  It can't be called a blog if it's not on the Internet.

We may write a piece to fit a certain length.  We may write about a certain subject (f'rinstance, A-Z, anyone?) or be required to include certain links or location.  A story of mine just published fits all those constraints.  

They're taking submissions, so check out their guidelines and submit your own short-short story to them.

Up for a shorter constraint challenge?  Try Nate Wilson's A-Z Challenge at Sometimes, The Wheel Is On Fire.  There are even prizes.

Have you read Negativeland, or another constraint novel?
What did you think?
Have you ever tried to write a novel or essay under constraints?