Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Inappropriate content

What classifies as age appropriate?

I may not be a teenager anymore, but I remember the key events in my life - first kiss, first boyfriend, first love. The first time I picked up an "inappropriate" book. 

It was called Christina's Treasure. I have no idea who wrote it, and I don't remember where my friend and I found it, but I do recall the two of us reading it in the shadows and gasping at the "graphic"sex scenes. The book was well worn, spine cracked and pages furled. And the author introduced me to words that still make me blush.

Back then, I'm not sure where the book would have fit in the market. But I do know teenagers wouldn't be reading it "in the shadows" today and the scenes I found so graphic would seem tame compared to what you'll find in the book stores now.

As an author who wants to write everything from romance and erotica to thriller and young adult, I'm struggling with my now old fashioned views on what's age appropriate and what deems me a prude. As a new stepmom, that struggle is amplified.

My 13-year-old stepdaughter hates that I won't let her watch True Blood, and rolls her eyes when we discuss "dating" rules. She huffs at me when I suggest she show less cleavage, and pouts when I ask her to delete photographs that have undertones of sensuality.

And as I scroll through her friends' pictures, my helpful teenager shows me the "bra" shots, the excessive make-up, the short skirts, the pouty lips, and then the colourful comments on each image. I don't remember when I first used the word "sexy" (or rather sexii), but I'm confident it wasn't at 13. 

My throat catches when I read out loud to my teen Bella and Edward's first sexual encounter. Feathers are flying, I think. Was my first time like that?

I spent a good portion of my writing life shying away from taboo topics - what if my mother saw what I wrote? But now, taboo is in. Sex continues to sell. Controversial books of yesterday pale in comparison to what the kids pick up now. Drugs. Alcohol. Pregnancy. Homosexuality. Kids are reading about these issues today.

I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (But would now concur that even as Willie Wonka, Johnny Depp is sexii <3)

My teenager will still watch the Wizard of Oz with me. But at the end of the movie, she'll take the Yellow Brick Road off the beaten path, and suddenly, we're not in Kansas anymore. 

So where are we?

As an author who must meet the wants and needs of an evolving publishing industry, it's important for me to find out. As a stepmom who wants to arm her teen with solid decision-making tools, it's more than important - it's vital. 


Monday, September 28, 2009

Making Mondays more a"muse"ing (gag)


I'm generally not a fan of Mondays. But ever since I decided to change the "face" of my muse each week, Mondays are looking a little brighter.

This Monday I'm going with Damon from the new drama series Vampire Diaries. I confess to jumping on the vampire bandwagon, though my own writing hasn't strayed there - yet. 

I'm hooked on J.R. Ward's sexy vampire books, enjoyed Stephanie Myers' Twilight series, am saddened by the end of True Blood (watch for Eric as an upcoming muse), and now, have another reason to look forward to Thursday nights. 

Damon isn't just another pretty face. Okay, maybe he is, but he looks pretty darn impressive even when he's vamping out. He out-vamps his somewhat wimpy co-star, and he's got that hair I just want to twirl my fingers through. 

And in this picture - which I chose after much deliberation and considerable scrolling through  Google images - he has that whole cocky smirk going on. Yummy.

Yup, pretty certain Damon is exactly the kind of inspiration I'm looking for this week.



Friday, September 25, 2009

Dodging "the end"

Creativity truly begets creativity.

Ever since I immersed myself in all things writing, I can't seem to stop the ideas from flowing. In addition to the two series characters I've been playing with, I'm obsessed with the concept of a dark and romantic stand-alone novel, and just last night, a fabulous young adult book was born - at least in my brain.

Which is where it has to stay. For now.

Part of me recognizes the idea factory starts churning when I'm in my zone - when the writing starts to gel, the characters come to life, the story almost writes itself. But another part of me understands the factory has a manual switch I "subconciously" flick on when I'm nearing the end of a project.

I hate "ends" - not just in stories. But in life, too. I'd rather suffer through a job I didn't like than quit. Pretend a friendship is solid instead of accepting it's long past its expiry date. I fear death, not so much my own but of those around me. Goodbyes are not my thing.

So as I near the finish line on a couple of projects, I have a suspicion I've employed the best stall tactic I know.

That isn't to say I shouldn't explore the ideas. And yes, I have written them down in my moleskin notebook. It just means I have to take (as my friend Rocky would encourage) a DEEP breath and plug through to the end.

And somehow convince myself that in this case, "the end" is a good thing.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In honour of my mentor

I'm bowing to my mentor today.

I've been fortunate to study with Steve Berry,  author of such amazing books as the Venetian Betrayal, the Alexandria Link and the Amber Room. There's a reason he frequents the New York Times Bestseller list.

It's all about craft.

Though he'd humbly deny it, Steve is a craft master. I keep a copy of his eight craft rules in my purse at all times, and stick them on post-it notes beside my computer whenever I sit down to write. (That and the wonderful advice from NY Times Bestselling author James Rollins: I give myself permission to write crap today. I suspect neither Steve nor Jim has ever written true crap.)

I used to try and "avoid" Steve's rules, foolishly believing I could make it in this industry without adhering to the eight principles that have not only helped Steve top the NY Times Bestseller wall, but also become one of the best teachers on writing I have ever met. 

As my critique partners can attest, I don't buck Steve's system anymore. 

I've taken flack for it - just today, one of my partners deemed me mean and vicious. And yesterday, another of our tight little group said the craft rules echo in her head as she sits down to write. I know what she means - for a few weeks after studying with Steve in Hawaii, his voice was ALL I heard.

The most basic of his rules is simply to "write tight." I've embodied that so much in my recent projects that now, as I work to flush out the characters, deepen the atmosphere, I find myself fighting for every word. I'm pretty sure Steve would be happy to hear that. 

The eight craft rules have made me a better writer, and for that I'll always be grateful. Perhaps even more important, though, was his strong encouragement to find a writing critique group. 

I'd been looking for awhile, but only just recently have I found a group of women I gel with. Our writing styles are quite different, our processes unique. But we all have the same goal - to tell the best story.

My stories are getting better because of these special friends. My writing continues to improve. And, to my surprise, hanging out with my three writing peers has some wonderful side benefits.

  • I like them. As writers. As people. I think I'm verging on love :-)
  • I remain immersed in the world where I am most happy.
  • I can lean on them - for advice, for brainstorming, for encouragement, and for a kick in the pants when needed. 
  • I am learning - even armed with Steve's craft rules, they have so much to teach me.
  • I am falling in love with my story a little more every day.

I'll never forget the advice my mentor has bestowed upon me with such generosity. I hope someday I will be able to pass on his wisdom to aspiring authors.

P.S. - Steve's latest historical adventure, the Paris Vendetta, hits shelves December 1. Buy it.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Backwards summer

By this time of year, I'm normally cursing where I live and begging the cooler temperatures to stay away - but then, I'm usually still basking in the afterglow of Hawaii.

I didn't get to go to the Maui Writer's Conference this year. I missed Thrillerfest. And though I won a contest that would get me to a great workshop in New York, it doesn't look as though I'll be getting on that plane either. It hasn't been a great year for career development. 

I decided this morning that I've been wallowing in that too long, and it's time to shed the negativity and look at all of the positive things this backwards summer has inspired:

  • I am now married to my high school sweetheart;
  • I am a new stepmom to an amazing 13-year-old girl;
  • The friends I've made in Hawaii or New York are STILL my friends, even when we don't talk everyday;
  • My dream agent has asked for ABSOLUTION;
  • My sister and I have strengthened our friendship;
  • I have amazing friends who care about what I write - and ask to see pages everyday; and
  • I have a kick-ass critique group that allows me to be a writer and embrace all it entails.
So I missed out on a few turkey burgers this year - I'll leave extra room for them in 2010. (Because, let's face it, I can take the high road this time, but no way I'm missing out on the conference next year.)



Sunday, September 20, 2009

One hot muse



Yep, that's Dean from Supernatural. You know, the hot one. Wondering what he's doing on my blog post? (Like I need a reason...)

I was reading my writer friend's blog the other day and was pleasantly surprised to see she'd ended it with a picture of Daniel Craig - you know, the hot Bond. I commented on it, and she said he was the image of her internal editor.

Go big or go home, she said.

Sadly, the image on my internal editor is rock solid. After spending a few weeks with Steve Berry, it would be hard to picture anyone BUT Steve telling me to "write tight." And something tells me his beautiful wife (and my friend) Liz might take issue with me conjuring up an image of her husband every time I sit down to write.

But the muse? Well, that's another story.

Like the finicky woman I am, I figure I can change my muse's avatar whenever I want. No telling when inspiration will strike, or which handsome fella will kickstart the mood.

This week, it's all about Jensen Ackles. Especially when I picture him singing the theme song from Rocky on a Supernatural outtake. I mean, how much better does your cheerleader have to look before you consider him your muse? Mine's pretty hot. How about yours?


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Worth fighting for?

What are you prepared to fight for?

For me, writing is a reflection process. Every time I create a new character I learn something new about myself. Because every character is a little about me and a lot about who I would like to be.

If Jagger has the ability to fire a black death arrow at the pest who ticked her off, chances are high I've got a few enemies I'd like to knock off with a sexy black crossbow. And if Cait's speeding through Milan in a hot sports car chased by a psychotic killer, it's likely because I'm a bit of an adrenaline junkie.

As I work through the rewrite of Absolution, I've had to put Heartless on the backburner. Not anymore. I can't. Partially because I love Jagger's story - but mostly because I love her.

She's far from perfect, but she stands firm for what she believes in. She isn't looking for love in all the wrong places, or acceptance from the people who could never give it to her. She's comfortable in her own skin, and though she views the world through the eyes of a skeptic, she's grounded in realism.

I love Jagger's wit, and her sense of style. I love that she doesn't care about her make-up and hair, or whether fish net stockings are appropriate attire at the Taj Mahal.

And I love that she's a fighter.

Jagger wouldn't let herself be affected by someone else's disapproval of her parenting habits. She wouldn't care if someone commented on her lack of housekeeping. She isn't interested in pleasing everyone.

She'd fight for her dog Seth. Her lover Torek. Her pride and dignity. Her sense of peace. She'd fight for love - because she is bound to duty.

But most of all she'd fight to stay true to herself.

I owe a hell of a lot to Jagger, because with every word I put on the page about her, I'm learning what to fight for. When to take things to heart - and when to back off. She's teaching me when to lean on people, and when to accept they've moved on. And she's showing me that the only person I really need to please is myself.

So I can't stop writing about her, because on my list of what I'd fight for, Jagger is right near the top.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Addicted

I'm becoming a contest junkie.

Not just any contest, though. Writing contests. Consider it part of my procrastination plan as I plug away on restructuring and revising Absolution.

I entered my first contest a couple of days ago. An online contest you can find at www.firstlinefiction.com. My odds of winning are not bad - only 15 people entered. I can't remember how I stumbled on that contest, but I've been googling new ones for the last two days. Yes, I do recognize that is also a procrastination tactic.

It's just that some of them are so damn tempting. They call to me like a lighthouse beacon, spotlighting my affliction for challenge. Some of these contests aren't even in a genre I've tried writing before. Those are the ones I think I'll try first.

Interested in giving it a shot yourself? Check out these links - but don't dilly dally, deadlines are fast approaching. Is it any wonder why I'm planning to enter them?

Scare the Dickens Out of Us
4,000 or less word short ghost involving a Dickens character. Must take place in December. First place is $500. More details at www.clarklibraryfriends.org

CBC Literary Awards
Short story, poetry and creative non-fiction categories. Deadline for all three is November 1, 2009. Why bother? Um...first place in each category is $6,000. Check it out at www.cbc.ca/literary awards.

Better Sex Erotic Fiction Contest
$2,000 for 3,000 words or less about...sex. Well of course you don't want your Mom to read it - that's why you use a pseudoname. www.bettersex.com (type fiction contest into the search engine) The deadline is Oct. 4.

1001 Awesome Words Contest
A respectable $750 prize for 1001 words or less. Open fiction contest. More info at www.pankmagazine.com.

Ladder Writers
New website, new contest. Prize money is $50 but the concept is fun. Climb the literary ladder by entering contests and being an active member of their writing community. Check it out at www.ladderwriters.com.

Writer's Digest Popular Fiction Awards
Five categories and a chance to win in ALL five. Deadline November 2, 2009 - $2500 cash prize. (Maybe 5 times) Google the Writer's Digest website for the full scoop.

Writer's Digest 10th Annual Short Story Competition
1500 words or less could net you $3,000. I like the math on that. The odds, however, might be another story. Big contest. Big magazine. Big competition, I'd guess. Deadline: December 1, 2009. Look them up online to enter.

A Woman's Write "Good Read" Fiction Book Competition
Written a good read? Send the first 75 pages to www.awomanswrite.com for a chance to win $500. Deadline is November 30, 2009.

Glimmer Train magazine has monthly contests. Some of them are cool. Google them.

And the grand poobah of contests - not because of the cash (which is not much, considering) but just the bragging rights:

The 2010 Adventure Writer's Competition
Have you written a book Clive Cussler would be proud to read - and judge? Deadline for 50,000-130,000 word submissions is January 1, 2010. Pretty sure the $1000 prize is a small prize considering your entry is judged by the father of thriller himself.

Oh yeah, there's some stuff on Harlequin that might be of interest, too. 

Good luck.



Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rewrite. Ugh.

I've been called lazy before, and not just by my Nona.

My writing mentors have accused me of relying too much on the muse and not enough on personal drive. I'm not going to deny it, because then I'd be lying. I'm not so much a fan of writing as I am a fan of "having written."

As a result, I tend to write when the voices in my head have become unbearable, or the money carrot has been dangled. And more than anything, I despise re-writing.

At least I did.

But one query letter changed my mind. My dream agent called to tell me he loved my book - almost. He was ready to offer representation - almost. And he wanted to pitch the book to a publisher next month - if I agreed to a few minor changes.

Not minor.

He loved the main story thread. Complimented the characters, my writing style. There was just something about the sub plots, he said, that seemed a little...lame. 

Lame?

I took a day to stew and then accepted that he was right. In truth, the sub plots had always seemed a little...lame. Instead of recognizing the cheese factor and fixing it, I was content to go along with the general consensus that the book was good. And ready.

Good. Maybe. Great? Not even close.

I want it to be great. 

And so with much trepidation I called back my dream agent and told him I would succumb to his rewrite prison. That I would brainstorm new sub plots, eliminate the cheese factor, and certainly not present him with a "lame" revised draft. I promised to set all other projects aside (sorry Jagger) and have ready, by the end of the month, a new and improved Absolution. 

And now I must eat crow. 

This new version of Absolution is firmly rooted in thriller. The characters come alive from the page, and the sub plots intertwine with a much fuller, more exciting main plot. Instead of dreading the rewrite, I am inspired by it. 

So I guess instead of hating you Mr. Dream Agent, I owe you an apology. I think it will come in the form of a kick-ass book.