Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Living the Dream!

As a published author, many people believe I’m living the dream. And they’re right, of course. I love my job. It’s the best in the world.

However, I still have dreams, dreams that have nothing whatsoever to do with writing (although I may incorporate them into a story one day, of course). For instance, for more than 40 years, I’ve longed to see these magnificent Lipizzaner stallions.

As I have a big (terrifyingly big) birthday coming up in June, I decided to treat myself. Yes, I’m flying to Vienna with tickets for a performance at the Spanish Riding School gripped tightly in my hand. And I can’t wait.

How about you? What are you dreaming about? Are there items that have been on your bucket list for years - and years? I need to know. :)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why Yes, I Did Write That Book...

Most of what I write leans toward the erotic edge of the spectrum. Which is perfectly acceptable, especially in the community of romance authors where I hang out on the web and at writers' conferences. Out there in my conservative neighborhood and work-a-day world, however, it's a whole different kettle of fish!

A while back I wrote three connected stories about brothers who ran a detective agency that catered to the rich and famous, the sort of clients who needed discreet security and were willing to pay top dollar for it. Being that the books were all erotic romantic suspense, I gave the brothers the last name of 'Long' and called their company 'Long Shot Detective Agency.'

My editor came up with a series title of Long and Hard, which I loved. When she told me a year or so later later that the publisher planned to release the collection in print, I was excited.

Everything was fine until release day. When I was sitting in a room full of non-writing people. And one of those people who happened to be one of my Facebook friends as well said from across the room, "Congratulations on your book release today."

I sat up a little straighter. No one else in the room even knew I was a writer. I muttered a thanks under my breath.

"You wrote a book?" someone asked from a far corner.

A middle-aged man next to me inquired about the title. Heat raced up my spine. There were at least thirty people staring at me now. My mouth grew dry. "Long and Hard," I said quietly.

"What?" a few people asked.

To hell with it, I thought. Yes, I wrote that book, and many more. And yes, it's erotic. And it already has good reviews. So why shouldn't I be proud. I sat up taller and squared my shoulders. "Long and Hard," I said louder.

A few people chuckled, most were silent. Within seconds, they'd gone on to another topic. No one suggested that they form a mob to stone me or that I be ex-communicated from the group. Not one person even gave me a dirty stare.

After the meeting, several of the attendees pulled me aside to inquire about where they could get my book. And I'd gained some new readers.

I learned a lesson that day about owning up to what I write, and who I am. I'm proud of what I do. So what that my prose are explicit and my characters engage in pretty smutty behavior. Lots of folks like to read about it.

So yeah, I did write that book. And yes - it's damn hot!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015



I had another posting ready for today but decided to put up this one instead.  The reason for the switch is a blog by Ryan Boudinot I read recently entitled, “Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach In One.”  If you happened to come across it, you may have had a strong reaction to it.  As I did.  And as over eighty-five commenters (as of this writing) did also.

In case you haven’t read the blog, you may be interested to know Mr. Boudinot is an author of some note (i.e. Blueprints of the Afterlife, Misconception), the director of the Seattle City of Literature and an erstwhile teacher in an (unnamed) MFA program.

The thrust of his blog is largely a rant, bitter at times, concerning the quality or lack thereof of  MFA students.  He castigates them for lack of talent, not starting the creative writing process early enough in life, lack of drive, lack of imagination, lack of interest in the classics, yadada, yadada, yadada.

Understandably, the bulk of the 85 comments consist of high charged outrage, calling Boudinot burned out, a mediocre writer, insensitive--you get the drift.  But I’m not weighing in on the blog for any of the above reasons, but for the following paragraph, which I’m quoting verbatim: 

“It's not important that people think you're smart.

After eight years of teaching at the graduate level, I grew increasingly intolerant of writing designed to make the writer look smart, clever, or edgy. I know this work when I see it; I've written a fair amount of it myself. But writing that's motivated by the desire to give the reader a pleasurable experience really is best. I told a few students over the years that their only job was to keep me entertained, and the ones who got it started to enjoy themselves, and the work got better. Those who didn't get it were stuck on the notion that their writing was a tool designed to procure my validation. The funny thing is, if you can put your ego on the back burner and focus on giving someone a wonderful reading experience, that's the cleverest writing.”

In this, if arguably not in his other observations, Mr. Boudinot is, in my opinion, spot on.  So you can see the whole picture, here’s the link to the blog.

 Comments, anyone?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Who Loves Good Timing?

I think the title kind of says it all. I mean, I could've titled this blog: Who DOESN'T Love Good Timing? but that seemed too negative so I went the other way. (I'm stalling.) But really, it's not very often I'm scheduled to blog when I also have a new cover and new release in the near future, so I'm glad this month timed out perfectly.

I don't know about you, but life's been kicking my ass lately. I've been spending crazy hours at the hospital with my sister after her 2 day back surgery (and even an unexpected day in the ER with my aunt) so to say my brain is fried is putting it mildly. Truly, I'm up to HERE with hospitals. (Imagine my hand waaaaay over my head!)

I'm so thrilled that I get to share some great news by way of a cover reveal! Yay! Here's my new gorgeous cover for A Little Danger! It's the latest installment in my Adrenaline Highs series and the first novella in the series as well. I am seriously in love with it!
What do you think?
The heroine is a little older than our hero and she's very conflicted with crushing on a younger guy. And really... he's not even that much younger in the scheme of things. Here's the blurb:

Elena Fraser is on her way to the airport to catch a flight to New York for the premiere of her daughter’s movie. Before limo driver Bill “Fido” Fidelo can make it to the freeway, a 7.1 earthquake collapses the overpass above and traps them. With nothing but time between frightening temblors, Elena and Bill learn more about each other, including the fact they’ve lusted after each other for years. 

Understanding they might not survive, Elena and Bill look to one another for solace and companionship. Bill tries to convince Elena that their seven-year age difference means nothing to him, and Elena soon realizes that life is too short to put off living. 

The passion they discover is enough to torch the limo they’re trapped in, but can rescuers save them in time, or will a final aftershock bury them before they have a chance to build a life together?  

I hope to get this novella out in April, but it might take a magic wand since more hospital time is in my future. LOL. Keep your fingers and toes crossed for me, people! 

Back to the cover... I LOVE the way she's looking at him. Like she might eat him up in one bite! Oh, but I LOVE the colors too!  What's your favorite thing about the cover?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday the 13th

Courtesy of W.J. Pilsak-ex:Datei.jpg

     The Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Ashville, North Carolina tells us 17 to 21 million people in the United States dread Friday the 13th. Many will not take flights; others take no chances, lock their doors, stay in bed all day and keep their fingers crossed. A number of buildings do not have a 13th floor.
     A novel written by Thomas W. Laws and published in 1907 became widely read. Laws titled his book Friday the 13th. The once popular book tells a story about a broker who takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on that risky day. The author’s readers became much more aware of the superstition and belief in its influence multiplied.
     Centuries before Laws wrote his novel, hundreds of the Knights Templar were arrested by King Philip was Friday, October 13th 1307. The Knights were an order of “Warrior Monks” formed during the Crusades. Dale Brown’s The DaVinci Code published in 2003 and Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry written in 1989 plus Maurice Druon’s historical series, The Accursed Kings and Tales of the Knights Templar by Katharine Kurtz, all refer to that time in history. But there is little documentation to prove that the superstition was born before the late 19th century.
     “And on a Friday fell all this mischance,” but traveling on a Friday has been considered unlucky since the 14th century and is mentioned in The Nun’s and Priest’s Tale and The Knight’s Tale two of the stories told in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.     
     Friday the 13th is not always the day bad luck is expected to arrive. Spanish speaking nations and Greece opt for Tuesday the 13th as their unlucky day while the day bad luck holds sway in Italy is Friday the 17th.
     Today most of us proclaim ourselves to be superstition free but I know if I spill salt, I use my right hand to throw a pinch of salt over my left shoulder—that keeps the devil, and bad luck away—far, far away. I admit I knock on wood for good luck and if there is no wood around I knock on my own head. Then there is the belief that opening an umbrella indoors is not a good omen. That apprehension can be traced back to the early Egyptians who believed it would offend the God of the Sun. Who wants to offend the God of the Sun? Of course, we all know if we carry an umbrella with us when rain is forecast—it will not.
     It’s not just polite to say, “God Bless You,” when someone sneezes, it dates back to 590 AD when Pope Gregory the Great decreed that prayers be said to fight a deadly plague in Italy. It’s also considered a positive sign when two people sneeze at the same time or when your cat sneezes. Don’t worry if that cat is black and crosses your path, if she comes straight towards you—be of good cheer—your future is bright and full of promise.
     The four-leaf clover or shamrock is extremely rare and extremely lucky. Anyone who finds a four-leaf clover will be blessed with prosperity, romance and luck in all endeavors. Sounds good to me—I intend to comb fields for my four-leaf clover the minute the winter weather leaves and the clover begins to grow.
     Fess you admit to any superstitions?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thinking through Evil Motivations

I’m writing a great suspense novel. The love interest is hot, the mystery is intriguing, and the heroine knows how to rock a pair of keds. There’s just one problem, the villain doesn’t ring true.

In order for the plot to work as it is, we need to buy that he likes murdering people just for funzies. He also doesn’t want to get caught, but he loves teasing the FBI with hints. 

Now, when a villain isn’t ringing true, I have to ask a few questions:

Are there people in real life like this?
Sadly, yes. So, it does pass the “real world” test. 

But that doesn’t mean a reader is going to buy it. I mean, a vending machine is more likely to kill you than a shark, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of stories about a small-town mayor dealing with a mysterious, killer vending machine. (Though, Vending-Machine-Nado may be in development?) 

I’d bet that most readers would find a vending machine related death highly unbelievable, whereas we all know when we’re at the beach we’re just inches away from being squished to death by ferocious shark jaws. So, while these attributes may occur IRL, in a way, fiction has to be truer than reality. 

Have books and movies worked with that kind of villain before?
Yeah. Pretty much every serial killer movie, TV show, book, and macabre Sunday morning comic comes to mind. So, that’s not it…

If these motivations can work, both in real life and on the page, what’s wrong here? Is there some aspect of this character that’s different than characters with similar motivations in pieces that work?

Ding ding ding!

Random serial killers “work” as villains because, I think, we imagine that person has a compulsive desire to be in control, to be special, and to feel clever. They murder so that they can have the ultimate control over someone else. There aren’t many serial killers out there, so this act makes them special. And they tease the cops so they can feel like a superior mouse to the stupid cat cops. 

They’ve lacked all these elements in their life, which is why they are willing to take such extreme measures to attain them. (Full disclaimer, I’m not saying this is the actual psychology of serial killers, as I think it’s likely much more nuanced than that, but I think this is how most readers/viewers would interpret those types of motivations.)

I’m pretty sure that the reason my villain doesn’t make sense is because he has a speculative power, one that would give him a certain amount of control over other people.My villain doesn’t need to kill people to feel special and in control. He already is special and in control! So his motivation lacks authenticity.

Now of course, there are evil characters with super powers, but they usually have some higher motivation, like the pursuit of power, revenge, protection of other superheroes, love, an intense desire for tomato soup on a rainy day, etc. etc. 

By realizing what, exactly, is the problem, I can take a few steps back and see that his motivation has to involve higher stakes for him, he has to have a higher purpose. 

Now I just have to figure out what that might be….hmmmmm….

Monday, March 9, 2015

Old Dogs, New Tricks

by Daryl Anderson

It’s a cliché that writing is a lonely job. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s certainly solitary, which is why I have dogs. Their unconditional love and easy companionship make the whole business of writing a little less lonely.

At least 99% of the time…and it’s that other 1% that’s been bothering me of late.

I suppose it started with Pitch, the stray puppy I brought home several months earlier who decided that his mission in life was to chew his way through the entire house.  Pillows, table legs, even a ceramic pig enticed him.

But I took it in stride. With the possible exception of Labs and Boxers, all puppies outgrow their youthful mischief. It was the problem with Fera—my fifteen-year-old Rottweiler mix—that pushed me over the edge.

For practically all of Fera’s life, she’s eaten from the same bowl—a heavy-duty plastic job that my old dog had grown increasingly fond of with each passing year. (Only when it was too late did I discover just how fond.)

But as I said, it started with Pitch, who had also taking a liking to Fera’s bowl. Bluntly put, he ate it.
Or tried to. That he did not entirely succeed was not for lack of effort. His sharp puppy teeth had managed to gnaw off most of the black rubber coating from the bottom, but I was more concerned about the deep gashes in the bowl’s interior, which provided a perfect medium for bacterial growth.

I took a shaky breath—time for new bowl.

On the first attempt Fera backed away from the metal bowl as if it were a coiled viper. Reassessing the task before me, I opted for the slow, safe route. For a week—or two—I continued to feed Fera from her old bowl, but placed the shiny new bowl in increasingly close proximity, thereby sensitizing my old girl to the new reality. When I reached the point where the bowls touched, I was ready to try again.

And as an added incentive, I sautéed some ground turkey and rice and mixed it with Fera’s kibble to sweeten the pot—or rather the bowl.

This time Fera was way ahead of me. Before I’d put the bowl on the floor, she was already backing away. I was about to dump the mess into the old bowl and try again another day when my husband intervened.

“Leave the food,” he said. “When Fera gets hungry enough, she’ll eat it.”

But she didn’t eat it—not that day, nor the day after that.

I wasn’t ready to accept defeat, but neither could I watch Fera starve herself so I began feeding her by hand, cajoling all the time for her to eat from her “nice new bowl.” When that didn’t work, I tried other dinnerware: plates, pasta bowls, aluminum pie pans, but nothing worked.

Then one night, just before falling asleep, the answer came to me! The next morning I found an old cereal bowl that fit snugly into Fera’s battered bowl. Sure enough, Fera ate her chow. Maybe it was a little crazy, but it was sanitary, which was always my primary concern. I bragged to anyone who would listen about my ingenuity.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” my husband said.

But like so many victories, mine was short-lived. The next day when I placed Fera’s bowls on the floor, she cowered, tail flat as road-kill. We stared at one another for a long, long moment. I’m no dog psychic, but I’m pretty sure Fera was thinking the same thing as me: Have you lost your friggin’ mind?

I blinked first. I poured the kibble into her old bowl and put the new one away. “Here you go, girl.” I pushed her cherished bowl toward her, relieved that the awful game was over.

Only Fera wasn’t ready for it to be over. She shied from her once-beloved bowl. I grew cold with the realization of what I had done. Instead of acclimating Fera to a new bowl, I’d managed to instill a fear of bowls—indeed, of all dishware!—into my elderly dog

Since that awful day, I’ve fed Fera by hand. It’s a slow process, but the other morning she actually ate a few morsels from her old bowl. Hopefully in another day or two things will be back to normal.

I don’t know what—if anything—Fera learned from the entire ordeal, but one thing is crystal clear, at least to me.

Maybe you can teach an old dog a new trick, but not always the trick you wanted.

Facebook, BlogSpot

Friday, March 6, 2015

Strong Women: Building a Character’s Background

Posted by Sandy Parks

This week includes and celebrates Worldwide Women in Aviation week, Women in Construction week, International Women’s Day, and Women’s History month. Whew, and I probably missed a few. That’s great to know, but what do these celebrations have to do with building characters?

Any writer wants their female protagonist to be strong (or achieve that through the story), but her background must explain how she became a doctor/lawyer/pilot/spy when she came from a troubled, impoverished, or lacking of support background. Writers frequently make the heroine a successful person who climbed up by her bootstraps, often times via unbelievable circumstances. That inconvenient necessity of getting from A to B is glossed over. She is a doctor because her cancer-ridden, drug addict mother left her abandoned at a young age. Motivation, yes, but hmm. How did she get from there to having the grades, the drive, and the funds for all the education required?

How does building characters connect to these women’s week celebrations? For one, there are often events during those weeks that are specifically aimed at young women of school age to entice them into particular fields. One is happening this week near me and is sponsored by the 99s, a women’s pilot organization. They offer free first rides and hands on seminars about being a pilot. They follow up these events with scholarships to encourage women to learn how to fly or hone other skills, and often provide mentorships to get young women jobs and internships. Many a young teen working at an airfield has gone on to be an aviation mechanic or pilot.
First flight for young girl at Women In Aviation Week activity Fly it Forward.
Photo by S.Parks
Other organizations do similar things. So if your character comes from a low income family, or is orphaned, or lacks a support system, hook her up with a mentor, give her an opportunity to try her hand at construction or mechanics or business, or just about any field (especially those under-represented by women), and then let her grow. Here’s an example. For extra money, your character cleans the church after services. The pastor has a flying ministry so takes her for a flight. When she shows interest in aviation, he gets her a job at the local airfield where she gets interested in working on the planes. The head mechanic starts to teach her and suggests she eventually apply for a training scholarship from the women’s mechanic organization. Sounds boring, but it builds a plausible background for why your gal can manipulate an aircraft or even car engine with ease.
Girls waiting at tarmac gate. A female member of the Civil Air Patrol is
running ramp safety with the CAP cadets.

Boys and girls wait for their first flight at an
Experimental Aircraft Associations Young Eagles day (free first flight). 

Where can mentors come from? The woman who flies her plane on the day your character shows up at a local hangar for the free flight. Or an aerobatic pilot at the local airshow where the young girl waits to get an autograph from her favorite flyer. Or a “big brother” or “sister” who comes into her community to assist? The special mentor may also add another layer to your story and be that missing mother or father figure, or be the comedic release in your story.
99s who offered free rides at event and often act as mentors
to women interested in flying. All ages and varying careers.
Young fan standing before Patty Wagstaff's aerobatic plane at an airshow. Patty is a multiple National Aerobatic champion, instructor, and supporter of women in aviation. Photo S. Parks

All in all, a woman who works hard to build/grow into the person she is today, is more likely to have the strength to be the super heroine we want in our stories. So start thinking about that background/backstory and how it can play into building the character you need to make the story believable. Give her an opportunity to become interested in her chosen field, a mentor to guide her, and scholarships/internships to carry her to success.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Let's talk about a movie!

I went to see American Sniper on the weekend. I've read a lot of autobiographies written by soldiers and SEALs who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I hadn't read this one. (I confess I knew the movie was coming and I'm lazy).

First off, let me say, I loved the movie. I've read a lot of the criticism aimed at the film but for me it was a simple story following one man's life as a SEAL and the effect that life had on his marriage. The whole movie is perfectly shot. The graphic horror--the speed with which everything could go to hell? Very well done. I thought the characters were beautifully underplayed in terms of acting, and the most impressive thing to me was how the movie was told unflinchingly in terms of point of view (such an important lesson for writers to learn and apply). There is no room for doubt in this guy's mind. He is fighting a war against evil. End of story.

So that's what I liked about the movie. The one thing that detracted from the whole experience for me was the creation of the fictional olympic gold medalist sniper who is on the other side of the war. I 'got' it in terms of storytelling, but couldn't the guy have just been a really great shot without making him an Olympian? That little bit of Hollywood irked me. It's not true. There was no need for it and it made me doubt the integrity of the interpretation of the rest of the book. Now I'll have to listen to it on audio just to see what else they changed.

Bradley Cooper was amazing, as was Sienna Miller, an actress I've never really cared for before. The movie made her seem very human.

That Chris Kyle made it through the horrors of war, the years of separation to get back to his wife and kids, and fought the often unexpected mental battle of returning to civilian life--that was inspiring. The fact he was murdered by a vet he was trying to help? Heartbreaking. Gut-wrenching. It took the story in a circle that is so fictionally perfect it doesn't seem real.

So, have you seen the movie? Read the book? What did you think?

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ...


I’m a passionate fan of outlining, especially for novels with extensive world building and plot twists, red herrings and clues. They keep my details in order, remind me of key points and provide a roadmap for my story. If you’re having trouble pacing or plotting your novel, outlining is a great way to get the words flowing again. Personally, I think outlining is the most powerful tool in my writer toolkit. Don’t get me wrong. I still follow the story when it deviates from my outline, but as a girl who’s done it both ways, I have to say a detailed outline will save immeasurable amounts of time among other things.

Here are my favorite things about outlining:

  1. Making time to write is tough. Writers have other things to do, right? Lives. Friends. Family. Fandoms. Actual paying job-gigs. So, we have to make the most of our time at the keyboard. Outlines break the novel into bits, so you can get your head around what you need to write each day. Don’t waste precious time rereading yesterday’s work so you’ll know where to pick up. No more wondering what will go into today’s chapter. With a complete outline, you’ve already done the hard work. You’ve plotted it all and broken things into chapters. Now, mark them off. Delete them if you want. Letter by letter. Number by number. It will be simple to see how far you’ve come and exactly where to start next.

See? You just saved hours! Plus, I love marking things off. Sometimes I make lists just to cross things off. It feels amazing. What writer can’t use a pat on the back?

  1. Outlining gets all your tools in one place: IE your ideas, your time frame, motive and red herrings. When the outline is perfect, you’re ready to write.

  2. No more plot holes and underdeveloped story arcs. Completing an outline will give you the opportunity to review quickly for missing plot points, arcs you started but forgot about, and other writerly disasters. Remember: It take seconds to remedy errors at the outlining stage. Find the same mistake in your manuscript, even in your rough draft, and you’re looking at hours to make it right.

  3. Use color. I color-code my outlines and use them as visual aids when I’m finished. It’s easy to see if the back story scenes (blue) are too clustered or when the romance (pink) runs too thin in one area. Color-coding provides a quick visual of your story.

  4. Voila! Guidelines! Outlines keep you, the writer, moving forward. For example: I try to write a chapter a day. That’s my thing. So, I open my document and my outline, scroll to where I left off and boom! When I’m done with the chapter, I walk away. Guilt free. Which brings me to…

  5. Daily goals. Maybe word count goals discourage you. They flat out freak me out. Don’t even ask me about my Nanowrimo. Just. Uh-uh. Outlines show daily goals in terms of scenes and chapters not words, and I love that. It feels great to finish for the day and not beat myself up for spending such a small amount of time at the keyboard. Hey. I met my goal and I’m going to go watch Netflix.

For me, a couple days of outlining and plot prep saves months of lost time staring at the screen between flashes of inspiration or thousands of lost words when I realize something I put into the story isn’t working. There’s nothing worse than highlighting a few thousand words and hitting DELETE.

What do you think? Do you outline?


FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Mary Sue and You - How Much of Ourselves Do We Put in Our Novels?

by Janis Patterson

One of the more peculiar kinds of book is known somewhat disparagingly as the Mary Sue. Although it can occur in any genre, it seems most prevalent in romance and marginally less so in mystery and usually but not always is the offering of a beginning or very amateurish writer. The generally accepted definition of a Mary Sue book is that the protagonist is always just too perfect – too beautiful/handsome, too smart, too brave, too kind, too loveable, too adored by everyone they meet, too… everything. Obviously most of the time this is just a bit of wish fulfillment and self-projection by an unskilled author. Yes, there are professional authors who indulge in this fantasy trip, but thankfully they are rare.

On the other hand, some don’t believe a writer can create a believable character without putting a little of themselves into the mix. It is this touch of humanity that makes the character live. So when we are creating our characters, how much of yourself do you put into your people? I’ve asked this of a lot of writers and have gotten answers ranging from ‘nothing at all’ to ‘a passion for ripe olives’ to ‘she’s my Aunt Clarissa.’

I know that writers are all different, but I do believe that most writers tend to make their protagonist the same sex as themselves. While there are some who do write the opposite sex both beautifully and believably, doesn’t the basic denominator of sex itself color our writing? A well-crafted male character will have a different view of and reaction to the world than an equally well-crafted female character, no matter by which sex they are written. 

While I am neither, I have written 20 year old protagonists and 80 year old protagonists, but at the base of their character is the fact that they are women and that basic fact of femaleness does a great deal to shape them.

I’m not going to go into sex stereotypes, which is its own minefield, but say again that what and who we are has to influence the characters we create. As an experiment, we should take the skeletal description of a character – for example, a 35 year old widowed single mother of three who is a welder, who used to want to be a nun and who is allergic to peanuts – and then ask five or ten authors to flesh the character out by writing a couple of scenes. Other than those skeleton points, I wonder how much any of the characters created would resemble each other.

To offer up my own work, my main protagonists are human (as I am), are female (as I am), are Caucasian (as I am), are politically and socially conservative (as I am), are generally tall (as I am not but wish I were) and reasonably intelligent (as I hope I am). Other than that they run the gamut from demure 19th century librarian to arrogant and opinionated old lady to wildly courageous contemporary spy and, should they ever meet, would probably have nothing of substance to say to each other.

I’m not saying that every writer should have something of herself in her characters. Neither am I saying that no writer should ever put anything of herself in her characters. I am instead offering for thought that a part of ourselves does live in our characters, that it cannot help but do so. Our job as writers, though, is to keep Mary Sue at a distance and let our characters shine as themselves.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Ugly Truth

Here’s a dirty little confession: I get jealous sometimes.

I’ve been blessed with great writing friends. They cheer me on when I’m up and support me when I’m down, and I like to think I do the same for them as they struggle in this crazy profession of ours.

But every once in a while, when they experience greater success in their writing than I do, I get jealous.

This isn’t an easy admission. Jealousy is petty. It turns me into a small-minded, mean-spirited version of myself that I really don’t like. And it takes away from others’ success, even if it’s only in my mind.

My closest writing friends and I started at roughly the same place in our writing careers and we worked very hard. They’ve earned every little bit of their success. As have I.

Jealousy–in my case anyway–is like admitting that I believe I’m the better writer and really, should be more successful than they are. They should be jealous of me.

I know, I know. I told you it was a dirty little secret.

I couldn’t handle the feeling, so one day I told one of my friends how I felt.  Instead of recoiling in disgust, she just patted me on the knee. Then she shared her own stories of jealousy and we laughed at ourselves.

How do writing couples deal with this? What happens if one partner has more writing success than the other? Seems to me you need a strong, healthy relationship to deal with the monster together.

I deal with it by admitting it. Whenever I feel that spike of jealousy at a friend’s success, I tell them. Turns out the jealousy monster gets smaller when you shine the light on it. I’m still not proud of feeling jealous, but I am gaining self-knowledge, and maybe a little wisdom.

Here’s what I learned. Don’t let jealousy fester in the dark. Drag it out into the light and let it shrink from shame. Share your feelings with your friends and learn to laugh at yourself. And whatever you do, don’t belittle other writers in any kind of public forum. That only reflects poorly on you.

So… anyone else out there feel like confessing? How do you deal with the ugly feelings that jealousy engenders?

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