Saturday, May 31, 2008

My Favorite Alpha Hero - The Warrior

I have to admit my favorite type of hero is an alpha hero. For me, nothing is as sexy as a confident, take charge kind of guy. A man who knows where he's been and where he's going. And most especially, a man who knows when he wants a woman and he knows how to win her. Those are the heroes who make my toes curl.

Alpha males don't lack faults - often their faults include arrogance and overconfidence - but the smart author twists things. Some of the sexiest alphas I've read about are the ones who doubt themselves. They doubt their worthiness and they view themselves as weak. Often, their arrogance arises out of their self-doubt. Those are the kind of alphas I like to read about and write about. Invariably, it's the strong heroine who bares their doubt and helps them heal.

I even have a favorite kind of alpha hero - the warrior. Why is this character archetype my favorite? Whether he's a knight or a cop, he is a protector who stands for the defenseless and he brings the villain to justice. A warrior is a man with a core of decency and a sense of justice. For the warrior, it's all about doing what's right. He will never be the good man who does nothing and lets evil flourish. These traits are very attractive to me. They are also wonderful to write about.

A warrior isn't just a tough fighter. He's so much more, because his every virtue-tenacity, principle, and decency-can be turn 180 degrees to create his vices-stubbornness, rigidity, and self-righteousness. Chivalry can be followed so blindly by your hero, it can become a detriment in his own life. It's a wonderful twist on the warrior archetype.

A few years ago, I discovered The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Cowden, LaFever, and Viders. They offer some wonderful perspective on creating the Warrior hero in their book. To create an outstanding alpha hero, I'd encourage writers to use this excellent book as a writer's bible. I've mined it for tons of ideas when I write and it's helped me to create interesting, complex heroes and I look forward to creating a few more wonderful warriors in my writing future.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

13 Inspiring Women Writers/ Heroes




This week we’re talking about heroes at the Diner. To me a hero is someone who inspires. I started thinking about who inspires me. I got the idea to highlight women writers from my Aunt Barbara. For Christmas she gave me a book, “Women Writers,” by Rebecca Hazell, which turned out to be a fascinating read.

“All of these women were and are vital, sensitive people whose lives and words have ranged from the spiritual to the rebellious, from the sad to the joyous,” Rebecca says. “All of them put their life experiences, understanding, imaginations—and their hearts—into their stories and poems. In doing so, they have shown us not only what it has meant to be a woman in other times, but also what it means, at all times, to be human.”

What inspired me most was that all of these women wrote through their life struggles. They followed their hearts, and wrote with passion. Many faced difficulties because they pursued their dream to write and most had trouble getting published. But the ultimate success and recognition they attained made them legendary.

So here they are:







Thirteen Inspiring Women Writers/Heroes



1.) Jane Austen. (1775-1817) The English author, daughter of a wealthy clergyman, is famous now, considered to be the first great woman novelist. Her novels are must-reads in high school language arts classes and they’ve been made into TV dramas and situation comedies, as well as several movies. Did you know, though, that during Jane’s life, she hid the fact that she wrote because women of her social class didn’t work for a living.

2, 3 and 4.) Anne Bronte (1820-1849), Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855) and Emily Bronte (1818-1848). The sisters first published their volumes of poetry at their own expense, but they didn’t sell. It took them a long time to find publishers for their books, including “Agnes Grey,” “Jane Eyre,” and “Wuthering Heights”. The sisters were plagued with health problems and died before they could enjoy the remarkable success of their novels.

5.) Mary Higgins Clark (1927- ), the “Queen of Suspense,” began her career as a novelist as a widow with four children. Her first published book was the love story of George and Martha Washington. She has gone on to write almost 30 other books, mostly suspense novels and most of which I’ve read.

6.) Anita Desai (1937- ). This novelist, short-story writer and children’s author grew up in Old Delhi, India, and I suspect she felt like an outsider. She was a Hindu while many of her friends were Muslim. Because her mother was German, Anita spoke German at home, Hindu with neighbors, and English in the school she attended. Her sensitivity to differences in others is one of the qualities praised in her stories and novels. I’m also impressed that she wrote her first story in English when she was 7 and had her first story published when she was only 9.

7.) Isak Dinesen (1885-1962). Pen name for Baroness Karen von Blixen-Fineck. She was a Danish author who wrote primarily in English. She was immortalized in the film, “Out of Africa,” which I believe was based on her book by the same name. What I like most about her is her openness to adventure, whether that adventure turns out to be a happy or unhappy experience. That openness comes through in her prose.

8.) Enhedyanna (2300 B.C.).She’s one of the earliest known writers in history and I wouldn’t know about her if she hadn’t been featured in Rebecca Hazell’s book. She was a Sumerian priestess who lived in Mesopotamia (part of today’s Iraq) long before the era of Jesus Christ. One of the most important writers of prehistory, she produced her poems on cuneiform tablets that only recently have been unearthed.

9.) Helen Keller (1880-1968). She was blind and deaf, yet she studied, wrote and spoke professionally and led an amazing life. Her books have been translated into 50 languages, one of which was “Out of the Dark” (1913). The play and motion picture, “The Miracle Worker,” is perhaps best known.

10.) Beryl Markham 1902-1986). A British-born Kenyan, she became a bush pilot and a horse breeder when women weren’t supposed to do that kind of thing. She took chances. Example: She was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean from east to west (1936). And she was as adventurous in prose as she was in life. I love her descriptions in “West With the Night” (1942).

11.) Helen Beatrix Potter 1866-1943), an English writer and illustrator of children’s books featuring charming animals such as Peter Rabbit and the Flopsy Bunnies. I just saw the movie, “Mrs. Potter,” which helped me see Beatrix as a real person so I was excited to find her in Rebecca Hazell’s book. It seems Beatrix’s well-to-do parents didn’t want her to write or marry anyone not in their class. She had to fight to do both and then her fiancé died. Years later, after she was a published author, she fell in love again, also with a man in whom her parents didn’t approve. She married him anyway. In all, she wrote and illustrated 25 books.

12.) Lady Murasaki Shikibu (973 to 1014 or 1025 or 1031?) Although she lived as a noble woman in feudal Japan, she had as much impact on Japanese literature with “Tales of Genji ” as William Shakesphere had on British writing with his plays. Her “Tales” is considered by many to be the world’s first novel. I haven’t read Lady Murasaki’s story, but I found the thumbnail sketch in “Women Writers”extremely interesting.

13.) Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957). The Wisconsin-born Wilder was 60 something when she started writing remembrances of her pioneer family’s life. Much of her childhood was spent traveling west by covered wagon, to grasshopper country in Minnesota, to the Dakota territory and to Indian territory in Kansas. Her daughter grew up listening to her mother’s stories of those frontier days and urged her to write them so that other children could enjoy them. Finally, Mother agreed and the “Little House” series was born. Because her books are autobiographical, it’s clear her life, although happy, was difficult.

Did I suggest you read Rebecca Hazell’s book yet? Your time will be well spent. You’ll find details of many of these 13 inspiring authors there.

Who inspires you? Tell me about your favorite women writers.



The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone
who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow
Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your
Thirteen in others comments. It's easy and fun! Trackbacks, pings,
comment links accepted!









Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Release Day



Today is release day for my paranormal romance, Shadows of Evil (available from Samhain Publishing). In honor of the release, the other employees have stepped aside to allow me to talk about my book. Thank you, ladies.
Okay, confesion time. I love the heroes in my books. I'm actually scared I'll accidently call my husband by the name of the hero I'm currently working on. I'm not sure if he'd understand. Garrett of Shadows of Evil is no exception.

Here's the blurb for Shadows:

For Kia Wolfe, moving to an isolated mountaintop is an act of independence from her demanding family and ex-fiancé. She’s literally dreamed about the regal old house for years, and for the first time in her life she feels at home. She’s here to stay, even though the house’s history of violent deaths is enough to scare off most people.

Garrett McKnight, owner of the contracting firm Kia has hired to renovate her house, is wary of the new resident. Emotionally bruised and battered by a self-centered ex-wife, he can’t get around the fact that there’s something about Kia that both attracts him and sets him on edge. And when Kia dabbles in a bit of Wicca, accidentally unleashing a hidden evil, it’s tempting to walk away and leave her to her to her fate.

But he can’t. Not when four people have died in that house.

The hero from Shadows was a hard man to get a handle on (no, not THAT way, LOL). Garrett, like a lot of men, tends to hold everything inside. It didn't help that Kia is such a strong character. She overpowered him for two rewrites. And then I finally figured out his goals and motivation, and things became more interesting. He's a loyal man, a caring man, and a man who is willing to go to the mat for the people he loves.

Here's an example:

"Kia?"

"Yeah."

"What’s wrong?"

A glance toward the kitchen had her swallowing hard. "Could you maybe come over here?"

"I’m on my way. Are you hurt?"

She shook her head before she realized he couldn’t see her. "No."

Through the phone came what sounded like a groan, then a door closed, and she heard feet running. "Are you in danger?"

She glanced toward the barricaded basement door. It was all too easy to imagine something blowing out of there, something dark and evil.

"Kia? Honey, what’s going on?"

It took effort to shake herself back to reality. "I found something I…I don’t know…" Then she was biting back tears.

"I’ll be there in a minute, just hang on."

"Okay."

He kept asking questions and she somehow managed to answer. But when she heard his pickup pull in the driveway, she gasped like she’d been holding her breath.

Dracula barked, of course, and the sharp sound tore at her already over-stimulated nerves. It was a trembling hand that pushed aside the drapes enough to make sure it really was Garrett who had just pulled in. Part of her wanted to race outside to meet him, but most of her would much rather not go out into the darkness.

She compromised by opening the door when he came up the steps. "Garrett."

Then he was across the porch and taking her in his arms, and his warmth and strength were a balm to her overloaded system. His gentle voice washed over her, soothing her, making her feel safe and protected. She heard the door close and lock, as he held her close.

Then he pulled back and took her face between his hands. "What the hell happened?"

I really enjoyed telling Garrett and Kia's story. It was fun working with strong, demanding Kia, but it was even more interesting finding the strength inside Garrett. Now on to the next story. Ah, the life of a writer. There’s nothing better. Oh, and getting published, that’s pretty cool too ;)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Alpha, Beta, Tomato, Tomahto

In the spirit of Memorial Day, the staff at the Diner has chosen to remember heroes of both real life and fictional types. In particular, I believe some of us are going to be talking about our favorite heroes from romance novels.

Unlike most romance readers, I have a preference for the type commonly known as a "beta" hero. While this affable sort bears little resemblence to the scientific "beta" of the animal kingdom, he is often regarded with disdain by fans of romance's "alpha" hero for being weak, passive and wimpy. He's accused of crying all the time, being a push-over and wearing his heart (instead of a different body part, I suppose) on his sleeve. These fans sometimes go on to describe the preferred alpha heroes as strong, caring, kind, smart, confident, competent and sexy. Basically, somebody who can protect the heroine physically and fiscally and see to all her sexual needs without her having to so much as say, "A little to the left, Ranger (or is it Morelli?)."

That being said, the beta heroes I've encountered in the romance genre have all those same characteristics. Strength, caring, confidence, sex appeal. The difference is they don't automatically try to LEAD in every given situation. They aren't necessarily the CEO or the tycoon or the king, though if put in that position, they function admirably. They don't assume their judgement and their ideas are more sound than everyone else's, which logically goes hand in hand with the "alpha" desire to rule. An alpha isn't just somebody who winds up in charge due to fate, destiny or the vagaries of plot, it's somebody who wants to be top dog (or is it wolf?).

What drives a character to be the boss of the world, or at least his little part of it? Many things, but among those things would be the assurance that he or she is the best person for the head honcho job due to general superiority. Alphas aren't just characters who do what needs to be done because somebody has to do it, they want, nay, they *need* to be in charge. That is a crucial component of what separates the alpha from other character types.

And somebody who wants to be the boss of me--or the heroine--just isn't all that attractive to me, fictionally or realistically. That's also why I think many heroes who get labeled alphas aren't true alphas (which gets us into gamma, delta and theta land, and I don't want to go there today). In fact, one could argue that the genre fiction definitions of alpha and beta are schizophrenic in general and can be molded to fit whatever character type a reader feels is more attractive.

The fact is, most characters are complex enough that they don't fit any type, any definition, and aren't we readers all the better off for it?

If you want to read more about romance genre heroes, you can check back at this blog over the next two weeks as Diner staffers contribute to the discussion and also follow these links:

http://www.likesbooks.com/63.html

http://www.roadtoromance.ca/articles/articlebetahero.htm

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/8078/hero.html

http://www.romancingtheblog.com/blog/2007/09/30/would-you-want-to-live-with-a-romance-novel-hero/

(Note that I'm not covering the archetypes outlined in The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines, which are also interesting.)

Jody W.
A SPELL FOR SUSANNAH--Available now from Samhain Publishing
SURVIVAL OF THE FAIREST--Coming July 15 from Samhain Publishing
http://www.jodywallace.com/ * http://meankittybox.blogspot.com/

Friday, May 23, 2008

Recipe for Writing Success

Disclaimer: This isn’t so much a recipe as it is a meal plan. Specifically, this plan consistes of four parts, meat, veggies, spices, bread.

Bread. Like the bread you eat, this part of your recipe is made from basic materials. Decide what you want from your career. Is it a hobby for you, or do you want a career in writing? If you want a hobby, then you will use lighter, easier to prepare ingredients. If you want a career, then you’re talking something richer or heavier. So, snack cake or whole wheat? White bread, or Rye. Your decision.

Meat (or other protein source. This is the foundation the success meal is built around.
A. What do you want to write? Don’t think about what you think is selling. Consider what you want. What books do you enjoy reading? What television shows and movies do you watch? These questions will give you an idea of the direction your writing should take.
B. What are you willing to do to make it work? How much time and money are you willing to spend. What can you cut out of your life to make time to write? What can you cut back on? Are there things you can delegate to others?
C. Realize this won’t be easy. Make a commitment for the long run.

Veggies. How fast do you write? Do you need a lot of time to do revisions over and over? Does it take a long time to grow an idea into a useful form? How easy is it for you to create a character? This will tell you if need to use frozen veggies, or fresh. In other words, if you need 2-3 years to go from a solid idea to a polished manuscript, then you probably shouldn't build your meal plan around three books per year. On the other hand, if you can do a faster turnaround (and still do a good, solid job!), then you can take that into consideration and possibly plan for that three books a year.

Spices. These are the extras that make your meal more enjoyable. What are your support sources? Family? Friends? Groups? Associations? Internet? Explore your options. Use these resources to the greatest advantage. Family not supportive? Then don’t spend your precious time and energy trying to convince them that you’re the next Nora Roberts. They won’t listen. Tell them writing is important to you. That writing makes you happy. And that a happier you makes for a calmer household. If they’re supportive, thank them. Then take advantage of the gift to do what’s important to you--writing. The same thing goes for friends, and other support systems. Evaluate the situation. But don’t let lack of support stop you, just find another source.

Remember, things change. Every year or so, reevaluating the plan is a good idea. Make changes as needed or desired. Make the meal your own.

I hope you don’t mind if I add a personal note to this recipe. I use this very meal plan in my life. And next Tuesday (May 27), my paranormal romance, Shadows of Evil comes out from Samhain Publishing. For more information, you can go here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cereal, a Writer's Best Friend

I'm a pretty good cook, but gawd do I dislike cooking. Baking I'll do, even enjoy, but cooking? Just shoot me now.

Unfortunately my family discovered my unwanted talent and now they make me do it all the time. Had I known of the downfall ahead, I would have staged a few cooking disasters and then someone else would have to do it. Oh, well, a missed opportunity.

So what does a reluctant cook do when in the middle of writing a climatic scene and the kids are whining for food?

For me, I'm not above having popcorn, donuts or even the occasional candy bar for dinner, if it means I don't need to actually turn a knob on the stove. But ya can't give those things to growing kids. It's just not healthy. So what to do?

First, see if you can guilt Dad into doing it, but if he's had a long drive home from work, that's a long shot at best.

Second, sigh a lot. Who knows, maybe one of the older kids will take pity on you and offer to slave over the stove. Hey, it could happen.

Third, subtly remind the family of the benefits of cereal. I know my mom is cringing right now, but I don't think she realizes how important the scene I'm writing is (or how very much I despise cooking).

Forth, frankfurters are easy and require little supervision. Most of my kids don't like them, but they're probably having cereal anyway.

Pasta is great, but you need to remember to stir it on occasion, then drain, then add something to it. Too much effort. Cereal, definitely cereal.

When all else fails, there's always the beloved standby; PB & J. Of course, you need to actually have those ingredients in your house. If you don't, then you need to do one of the most awful things known to man.

Shop.

I loathe shopping, probably as much as cooking. But that's for another blog :)

Happy cooking!

~Maggie

Monday, May 19, 2008

Blending (Food) Genres: Italian on the Barbie, with a Dash of Southern Flavor

I can remember when my daughter’s kindergarten class came up with a project to create a book of their favorite recipes. Rachel decided her contribution to this culinary work was going to be Betty Crocker Instant Mashed Potatoes. Yep, I had to send in a recipe that required heating water, butter and milk in a pan and then dumping in dehydrated spud flakes. We jazzed it up a bit by explaining how to make a butter volcano out of it, but I’m sure all the teachers and moms were shaking their heads, wondering what I fed my family if instant mashed potatoes was Rachel’s favorite dish. Aren’t ya’ll glad I’m a waitress here at the dinner and not the cook? But I’m not totally inept in the kitchen and once the weather warms, my family does most of our cooking on the grill. Last night was make-your-own-pizza night at our house. Here’s mine:

Grilled BBQ Chicken Pizza

12” pre-cooked pizza crust (Boboli or Mama Mary’s)
Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Chipotle BBQ Sauce
4-6 oz. cooked chicken breast, diced small
Chopped red onion
Mozzarella cheese

Spread BBQ sauce on pizza crust. Toss diced chicken in a little extra sauce and spread evenly on pizza. Add red onion, and mozzarella cheese. Place on grill over low-medium heat. Grill until crust is crispy and the cheese is melted. As long as your husband (the Grill Master at our house) doesn’t get distracted and burn the crust (it happens), it’s delicious!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Reason to Get Up in the Morning

A good many years ago, I went to a pot luck dinner. All the food was great, but there was a wonderful breakfast casserole on the menu that stuck with me. The excellent cook shared her recipe with me, and today I'll share it with you.





Sausage-Egg Casserole


Cube bread to cover the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan.
Ingredients:
1 lb sausage
(or 1/2 lb ground beef and 1/2 lb sausage)
2 c. grated cheese (I like sharp cheddar)
4 eggs
2 c. milk
3/4 t. dry mustard
1/4 t. salt
1 can crean of mushroom or cream of celery soup
1/2 c. milk
Fry up the sausage or sausage/beef mix and drain
Then beat together: eggs, 2 c. milk, dry mustard and salt.
On top of the cubed bread, spread the drained meat and then add the egg mixture.
Mix together the can of soup and 1/2 c. milk and pour over the combined goodies beneath. Top with cheese. Refrigerate over night.
In the morning, wander bleary eyed into the kitchen and pre-heat the oven to 350F. Stumble back to bed for 1 and 1/2 hours (don't forget to set your alarm and be sure you put the casserole into the oven before going back to bed). When you get up, you will have a complete breakfast with only one dish to wash. (I'm not counting the dishes from last night). This is a great Sunday brunch meal.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Maidie's Shortbread

Hey Cookie! I hear you’re lookin’ for new recipes to try out at the Dinner. I dug this one out of Bridie Murphy’s Grandmere when I was bummin’ around in Scotland one year. It is very unusual and incredibly crunchy, for those of us tired of the thick shortbreads. It’s still just as buttery (Yum!) as the usual, but it’s so crisp the villagers claimed Maidie must have been a changling!
Enyoy and watch out for Long Lankin’!


Maidie’s Shortbread

½ Cup confectioner’s sugar (Powdered sugar)
1 Cup butter at room temperature
2 Cups flour
Pinch of salt
Pinch of Baking Powder
2 teaspoons Ginger
2 teaspoons Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Cream sugar and butter together. Sift dry ingredients together and add slowly to the butter mixture, beating well. Place on un-greased cookie sheet or baking stone and bake for 20 Min at 350 degrees until the shortbread has “brown feet.” Score with a knife and leave until cooled.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Recipe for Improving Your Work-In-Progress




A Recipe for Improving Your Work-In-Progress


My friend, Chris, makes the best chocolate chip cookies. It’s all in the recipe, she insists. I have her chocolate chip recipe and I try to duplicate it, but my cookies never turn out like hers. But when we make those cookies together, mine are like hers.
Guess I just need someone to guide me.
Sometimes fiction can be like those chocolate chip cookies. Published authors make the creation of luscious fiction appear effortless.
If you’re like me, you try to draw from the style and techniques of those published authors, but your version falls short. You have a gnawing feeling that something is off. Maybe a critique partner points out a problem or your writing group helps you spot what doesn’t work. Great, you think, now I know what the problem is, but how do I repair it?
You scratch your head, unsure of how to proceed.
Do I have a recipe for you! Actually, it’s a book: “Fiction First Aid” by Raymond Obstfeld.







You don’t even have to read the entire book because it’s organized by ailments and symptoms. For example: What if you sail along in your novel until you get to, let’s say, page 126 and suddenly you don’t have a clue what should happen next. You’re stuck. What to do? Raymond O. recommends three quick fixes:
-- Change the character’s names, or
-- Add a new detail or character trait, or
-- Change the setting
He also talks about what plot is and isn’t. He gives you helpful tips he calls physical therapy so you can get your writing back on track. His suggestions are both easy and creative. Then he gives you a case study where he deconstructs a classic piece of writing so you can follow the recipe of a published master. …









Here are 13 problems for which “Fiction First Aid” offers fixes.




1) “Wallpaper” settings, where the setting overpowers the characters or the setting is so bland readers miss it.
2) Too many happenings in the plot
3) “Connect-the-dot” plots, which seem so predictable the reader feels bored.
4) Cardboard or Flat Characters
5) Clumping -- a form of over-description
6) Un-involving characters
7) Insufficient character motivation
8) One-dimensional antagonists
9) Clichéd style
10) Monotonous style
11) Overwritten and confusing style
12) Melodrama (not good)
13) Unconvincing cross-gender points of view

Of course, there are many more manuscript ailments than these 13, which prompt me to offer a suggestion: Read “Fiction First Aid.” In fact, buy a copy and keep it on your reference shelf. The next time your editor, agent or critique partner notices a flaw in your beloved manuscript, pull out “Fiction First Aid,” turn to the appropriate symptom and apply one of the quick-fix recipes. Your work will be better for it.
Happy Writing.




The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone
who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow
Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your
Thirteen in others comments. It's easy and fun! Trackbacks, pings,
comment links accepted!






Monday, May 12, 2008

Deadline Dinners

This week at the Diner we're going to be sharing our culinary expertise, or lack thereof, in a series of recipes that may involve food and may involve something else entirely! As for myself, I'm choosing the traditional recepe route with my suggestion of a deadline dinner.

When you're a writer under deadline, some days you don't even have time to go to the bathroom, much less cook dinner. Or maybe that's just my poor time management and clingy toddler? Either way, one essential tool to the writer who wants to eat something besides take-out, sandwiches and tv dinners is the crock pot.

Here's my recipe for crock pot chicken, which cooks in 6 hours on low. When you take your noon break to eat lunch (ha!), set this up and dinner will be ready at 6:30.

Step 1: Insert whole chicken in crock pot. Please remember to remove plastic outer wrapping and disgusting inner giblets.

Step 2: Dump about half a bottle of one of those insta-marinades or a can of condensed soup onto chicken.

Step 3: Put lid on crock pot, and be sure to not only plug it in but turn it on. Oh, yeah. It happens.

Step 4: Cook for 6 hours on low.

Yes, I'm serious. That's all there is to it. You can do a beef or pork roast in 8 hours on low using the same expert technique of removing the plastic wrapping and dumping something flavorful on it. If you're feeling adventurous, you can add chopped up vegetables to the roast and you will have a complete single dish in one pot. I haven't tried whole baked potatoes but there's probably a recipe out there for them.

The challenge comes in when you need more than 6 hours betwixt crock prep and eating time, like if you work outside the home at an 8-5. You'd want to find a recipe that takes longer to cook, set it up in the morning, and leave it on all day. Slow cookers are pretty safe home alone, and they don't usually throw parties.

(Note: I don't recommend trying to crock a pot of beans in a workday unless the beans are out of a can. I never can get the timing right on dry beans.)

Here are some links to crock recipes:

http://southernfood.about.com/library/crock/blcpidx.htm

http://familycrockpotrecipes.com/

http://www.cookingcache.com/cat/crockpot_recipes/default.aspx

http://www.recipezaar.com/recipes/crockpot

And my favorite recipe site: http://allrecipes.com/Recipes/Main-Dish/Slow-Cooker/Main.aspx

Some crocks may be more programmable than others, meaning you could set it on "cook" for 6 hours and then have it switch to "warm" until you get home. Some even hook up in your CAR, yes, your car: http://www.roadtrucker.com/12-volt-cooking/12-volt-portable-slow-cooker-crock-pot.htm

I have a crock with 3 settings -- off, low and high. This type of simple cooker is not only cheap but probably sitting around unused in somebody's attic, so it's not like you'd be out a mint if you end up not enjoying the whole crocky experience.

But I think you will. Happy crocking!

Jody W.
A SPELL FOR SUSANNAH--Available now from Samhain Publishing
http://www.jodywallace.com/ * http://meankittybox.blogspot.com/

Friday, May 9, 2008

Conferences. Oh how I love them!

My first conference was my Romance Writers of America (RWA) local chapter conference. Relatively small, it gave me a chance to experience a gathering of the minds without being overwhelmed by a mob. Soon after my arrival there, a tall, regal woman walked into the members suite. "I’m Stella Cameron," she said. She was one of our speakers. A few minutes later, I found myself having lunch with her. It was an absolutely wonderful experience. One of many I had that weekend. There were other opportunities to speak not only with Stella, but to other published authors, editors, and agents. I learned a lot, including the fact that famous authors, agents, and editors are people just like us—and they don’t bite!

A little over a year ago, I was able to attend the national RWA conference in Atlanta. It was a neat experience, and again I learned a lot, but it was a huge event. I really missed the opportunities to schmooze that a smaller conference allows. On the other hand, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as a huge gathering of writers and publishing professionals. It was an experience I hope to have again one day.

I’ve also attended a couple of writers retreats, where writers get together to share information, encouragement, and maybe to get some work done on a current work in progress. These lower-key events have the benefit of being relaxing and comfortable. I highly recommend them.

So, which is better; smaller conferences, larger conferences, or writers retreats? Personally, I think that’s an apples and oranges type question. There is no comparison. There are benefits and drawbacks to all three. Smaller conferences and retreats offer the opportunity to get to know people better. Larger conferences allow a person to get to know more people. All three offer learning experiences. All three offer the writer an opportunity to recharge and get excited about getting home and back to the keyboard.

Bottom line: Any of the three will help a writer meet her career goals. Pick an event you’ll be comfortable with. Decide which one appeals to you. Location and finances may have a lot to do with your choice. But please, don’t say you can’t spend that kind of money on yourself. Like the L'Oreal commercial says, "You’re worth it."

See you there!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Perfume and the Nasty Judge

Conferences: Editors and Agents are people too!

This will be my first year going to the RWA National conference. I'm really looking forward to it. I've never been to San Fransisco...heck, I've barely been out of my time zone. I'm nervous about a lot of things, but one thing I'm not nervous about is meeting editors and agents. I have to thank my local chapter for that.

Every June my local chapter, Long Island Romance Writers, has a luncheon with editors and agents in attendance. It's a lovely, relaxed setting where you can mingle with the guests and sit and eat with an editor or agent you're looking to connect with. By attending for the last four years, I've discovered one very important thing, most editors and agents are very approachable and eager to talk.

Websites are great for finding out their guidelines, what they're looking to acquire etc... but nothing can replace meeting face to face. There have been a few times I thanked my lucky stars an editor/agent passed on my story. Hey, we're not going to click with everyone. And there have been times I've submitted to someone I never even considered.

On Sunday, Jeannie mentioned Kristin Nelson's suggestion to keep your pitch down to two minutes (or a couple of sentences) This is a great idea. Give them the gist of your story and then let them ask the questions. But be prepared. I can't stress enough the importance of knowing your plot, your characters and their conflicts (both internal and external) You can fumble your words--hey, we've all been there--but to not be able to answer a simple conflict question is not a good thing. Be enthusiastic and don't worry about being nervous. I'm sure you won't be the first nervous writer they've ever encountered and you won't be the last.

We've all heard the typical conference suggestions; wear comfortable shoes, pace yourself, never talk bad about anyone (a good rule in life as well as in the conference:) but the most important, please, please don't go crazy with the perfume. A few nights ago, I attended my daughter's spring concert and the woman in front of me must have bathed in her fragrance. By the time the concert was over, my head was pounding and I felt physically ill. Be kind to your fellow writers. No one wants to miss a workshop or editor/agent interview because they're stuck in their room with a migraine.

Contests: Not every judge is a happy, friendly gal like me :)

I've heard a lot of the burning question: To enter or not to enter. There are those who love contests and those who would rather eat glass then enter (ew, kinda graphic there, wasn't I?).

Before I discovered critique groups, I entered a few contests and they helped me a lot. Contests judges taught me to go easy on the exclamation points, lose the unnecessary name tags and for God sakes woman, learn the POV rules!

They also taught me, not everything they say is gold.

As a contest judge and a critique partner, I feel the golden rule should be; criticize with kindness. Now is not the time to hone your gift of sarcasm. Yes, you need to be honest, but if you can't do that and be kind, you need to rethink being a judge. Otherwise you come off like the bully on the playground.

I've heard horror stories where writers receive low marks because of simple formatting issues like using a # instead of a * for a scene break, because their sex scenes were a little too graphic for the judges taste or because your Texas hero had never been to a major city. Some judges will fall in love with your voice, some will hate it and others simply won't 'get it.'

If you have the time, it's always nice to send the judges a thank you note. On the other hand, if you've encountered a judge who was nasty, insulting or rude, you need to contact the contest coordinator.

This happened to me a few months ago and I didn't say anything. Since then I've been told by contest judges, coordinators and writers I should have complained. No one has the right to make you feel inferior or stupid and they certainly don't have the right to insult you.

Contests and conferences are great tools for writers to utilize. They can be expensive and time consuming, but anything that will give us the edge and get us closer to the golden ring can't be all that bad.

~Maggie

Monday, May 5, 2008

Contests and Conferences: Confessions From an ‘Almost There’ Writer

When the gals at the diner came up with the idea of blogging about contests and conferences, I figured the conference topic would be a no-brainer, since I just came back from an awesome one (God bless Jeanne Adams and the rest of the WRW Writers Retreat committee -- you’re amazing!) But since I’m also up to my eyeballs in contest entries I need to judge (Why does every chapter I belong to have their contests fall in the spring?), I might talk a bit about them too.

Contests:
I have never been, nor will I likely ever be, a contest sl*t. You know who they are. They’re writers who enter every contest out there. Frankly, I don’t know where they get the money. Entering contests is an expensive business. But I do know why they do it. There’s nothing better than finaling and/or winning in a contest. It tells you you’re writing does not bite wienies. Sometimes, you just need that unbiased validation from someone other than your friends or your family. Granted, it’s a crapshoot and you’re going to get some judges who hate your voice and tell you not to quit your day job (shame on those judges -- you can be honest without being cruel). Unfortunately, we all learn sooner or later that the proverbial rhino skin is a fashion necessity in our business, because once you start putting your work out there, you’re going to get brutally honest comments from editors, agents, reviewers and readers, too.

After I started finaling in about 50% of the contests I entered, I decided to stop entering contests for feedback. Instead, I started entering contests for one reason only -- to hopefully final and get my work in front of a specific editor I prayed would buy it. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t (hence the 50%). I don’t enter contests any more because now I have an agent who can get my work in front of multiple editors for me (and he’s faster and a whole lot cheaper than any contest could ever be). But I do know some unpublished authors who are agented and still enter contests. Why? Well, some say they do it for the feedback, to test the waters with a new manuscript before sending the proposal off to their agent. Me, I think they’re also doing it for the validation. It’s hard to be *almost there*, having an agent but still not selling. Getting the pat on the back from a contest final goes a long way to remind you that you and your agent are not wrong and your writing does not bite wienies.

Conferences:
Just as with the contests, I’m no conference groupie either. Again, it’s about the money, but also about the time. Being a SAHM with 2 small children, I’m not free to jet set all over the country. I have to pick and choose the conferences I go to. So why do I go to the ones I do go to? Well, to be honest, it’s not for the workshops they offer. Since I’ve been writing for over 10 years, there aren’t many workshops out there to teach me anything new. It’s also not to pitch to editors and agents, although it’s always great to chat with them when there’s no pressure on either side. I already have the agent and I’ll meet my editor face-to-face *fingers crossed* when I sell.

So why do I go? It’s for the energy boost I get from being around so many enthusiastic writers at one time. It’s my way of refilling the well once or twice a year. Lately, I’ve had little-to-no desire to write, even though my latest manuscript is so close to being finished it should already be stamped and in the mail. Holed up in my house all day with no one but my poor blind dog for company, the fire of motivation tends to die down and cover my laptop in a thick layer of ash. When that happens, I find I need to be in the company of writers. If you want to know the truth, I think my muse runs away from home every now and then and I have to go to one of these conferences to find her. The little lush, she’s typically hanging out in the karaoke bar with writer friends I see only once a year. But being in that creative atmosphere for a whole weekend with fellow authors re-energizes her and she comes home willingly, albeit tired and a tad bit hung-over. *G*

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Conferences, Conventions and Contests, oh, my!

What can help you sell your novel?

Well, that would be conferences, conventions and contests! Let me tell you why.

Recently, I attended the World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City, UT. Being responsible for the pitch sessions, I was lucky enough to get to spend time with Agent Kristen Nelson and Mirrorstone Editor Stacy Whitman. Both are lovely ladies, and were great fun!

Kristen gave me a few tips to pass along to the people signed up to see her, and I think they apply well to all pitches. She suggests you limit your "pitch" to about two minutes (see if you can get it down to a couple of sentences), leaving you time to ask questions and her time to ask questions. Don't memorize your pitch - just talk about it. Have questions prepared to ask. Her website is www. nelsonagency.com, and also check out her great blog, Pub Rants.

Stacy provided guidelines for the Mirrorstone line (YA) and the Discoveries line (independent fiction). You can find both at http://www.mirrorstonebooks.com/submissionguidelines. She suggests you read the guidelines before you pitch, so you'll know whether your manuscript fits in. Many thanks to her, Kristen and Editor Don D'Auria of Leisure Books for their participation.

What else? Well, contests are also a good way to get feedback on your work AND get it in front of the right editor or agent. Pick contests that feature the editor and/or agent you'd like to work with and enter. Even if you don't get to the final stage the first time, you'll get valuable feedback on your prose.

Research is KEY. Research the publisher/editor you want to work with, research the contest you want to enter, research what kind of scores/feedback you'll get. If you have questions, ask your critique group, Yahoo loop or just other writers you know.

Remember to behave professionally in all cases. A bad first impression may not ever be fixed.

I've got a contest list each month, so if you need some suggestions or would like a copy, let me know at mdntvoices@yahoo.com

Jeannie

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Pet Peeves from an Infrequent Writing Contest Entrant.



I wasn't sure what to write about for this week's blog entry. I've only been to RWA Nationals last year and haven't been to any other romance conferences or conventions.

In addition, I'm not a frequent writing contest entrant either. What I realized is that even though I don't enter contests regularly, I do have opinions about them. STRONG OPINIONS! :-)

So...my contest pet peeves.

The first as you can see...

Postage. I've gotten so if I see that a contest is hard copy only, I won't enter unless the final judge is someone I REALLY want to read my manuscript. I'd love to see a lot of contests loosen up or go green and switch to e-contests. It's expensive to send a package and just as expensive to include a self-addressed return envelope so I can get my entry back to read the possibly snarky comments of judges.

Judges. I've been fortunate to get mostly helpful responses. However, there have been one or two sharp comments that have stung a lot. My feeling on the topic is, what does not kill me makes me stronger. As a writer, I'm supposed to develop a tough skin, but I don't possess rhino hide just yet. Judges, please be nice. Remember, you were a contest entrant once yourself.

Lack of comments to explain scores. Contest organizers - please encourage your judges to comment. If not in the manuscript, at least on the score sheet. Nothing annoys me worse than to spend 25-35 dollars on my entrance fee and get nothing but numbers back in response. Or a one sentence explanation for a low score. Ugh.

Heat level. This is major for me because I write erotic romance. If the contest, or the contest judges, don't like or want erotic romance. State it up front. I'm fine with that. But do NOT say you accept all heat levels in all categories then as an entrant I receive low scores with comments which suggest that the story isn't a romance because the characters are intimate in the first three chapters or they think about one another in a highly sexual way from the start. I end up feeling as though I wasted my money. I'd rather have a contest create a separate erotic romance category. I'm good with that, as are most other writers of erotic romance.

Entry fees. I can accept a 25-35 dollar entry fee if I get to submit 25-35 pages for consideration. If a contest asks for the first chapter only, or a single scene, or 10 pages only, I'd appreciate it if the contest didn't charge that same entry fee. I want bang for my buck. I'm far more likely to enter a contest which accepts 30-35 pages than I am to enter one which will accept only 10-15 pages if both contests require the same entry fee. Just like the next gal, I prefer a "bargain."

Eligibility. I've been considered ineligible for contests for my novel-length work because a short story of mine was published in an anthology in 2005. I'm very proud of my publishing credit, but RWA doesn't view me as "published" so why does an RWA chapter? Also the skill set for writing a short story and a novel length work are very different. It makes sense to judge apples against apples and oranges against oranges.

This is one contest entrant's opinions only. Your mileage may vary.

Yes, I do still enter contests and they have provided valuable feedback for my writing. I commend contest organizers and coordinators. It's a tough job and I didn't realize just how tough until this spring. I volunteered to act as a category coordinator and I've been BUSY. I've worked with a good bunch of ladies (both coordinators and judges) and I'm really proud of the work we've done. After my experience, I will be an even more saavy consumer when I enter contests because I know how much work goes into them.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Convention Manners

When my niece was four-and-a-half we took a trip together to the County Zoo. Cheerfully, I looked forward to a day of teaching Claire about the different animals and their habits. I had no idea I was to receive a life long lesson in humility.

Striding through the parking lot on the way to the front entrance, my pig-tailed companion admonished me to “Remember our ten Zoo manners!” I nodded wisely, but truthfully, I had no idea what zoo manners were. Did this mean we had to use napkins with our Popcicles, sit up straight on the park benches, or blow our noses before we go in?
After buying the obligatory sun block, animal t-shirt and pink stuffed flamingo, I bravely bit the bullet and invited her to tell me what her ten zoo manners were. The things I learned from her have stood me in good stead throughout my life.

I have attended many conventions in different states in a variety of capacities, including guest speaker at several. During my tours, I found there are a lot of people who could benefit by a good set of Zoo Manners themselves. Next time you are at a convention make sure you also carry the wisdom of a four-and-a-half-year old sage.

Claire’s Zoo Manners

· Respect the natives and their habitats – Don’t make loud noises or poke fun at them. You are a guest in their habitat. Behave like one, or you won’t be allowed to come back!
· Don’t brag. If you brag, people think you can’t really do things.
· Donate your pennies to good causes. Don’t put them where someone could choke on them.
· Recycle! Don’t make a mess for someone else to clean up.
· Don’t run fast or you might get knocked down by something bigger than you are. Always look where you are going. If you can’t see, slow down!
· Take your turn, and do the best you can. You can’t win by cheating.
· Be polite; people see politeness more than they see bad manners. Always say please and thank you.
· Don’t pinch your nose, dance around and yell “It stinks!”
· Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t get pushy.
· …and my all time favorite… Don’t feed anyone except goats.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Thirteen Things I Learned From Entering Writing Contests

This week we’re discussing conventions and contests. There’s debate about the merit of contests and gossip about unfair “judgezellas,” but for me, entering contests has been a good thing. So I’d like to share with you the…






Thirteen Things I Learned From
Entering Writing Contests


1) Sometimes the judge’s comments are more important than the score. I’ve often been lucky enough to have a judge pass along advice. For example, one judge drew arrows and wrote, “This is where the scene comes alive for me.” That feedback literally pointed out an area in my manuscript I should expand.
2) Opinions vary. A few years ago, I went through a contest-entering frenzy. Through the miracle of multiple copies and contests with similar requirements, I sent my current Work-in-Progress everywhere. In one of the first contests, my work was shredded. Red-inked comments told me in no uncertain terms to keep my day job. My score was roughly equivalent to a D- in the contest’s point values. I was crushed. Then a month later, another contest deemed an entry, bearing those same D- words, to be a finalist. I was stunned. A few weeks later another contest informed me that my manuscript had reached the finals. C’est la vie. Opinions vary!
3) Proper format is important. When I started entering contests, I really didn’t know about formatting and subsequently lost points. Kind judges and fellow writing partners helped me figure out those writing conventions.
4) Things get easier with practice. In one of my first contests, nervous as a newbie, I forgot to enclose a return envelope for my manuscript. Now, I prefer to use Paypal and enter electronically, and I’m a lot more relaxed about the whole process.
5) Enter the right category. Make sure your piece works for the category you’ve chosen. Some summers ago, I thought the terms “sweet, sensual, spicy and sexy” were a matter of opinion. I didn’t know that sex scenes had actual ratings. I entered a love scene where the characters exchanged a good-night kiss. I had described a hot hero I thought of as sexy so I entered the piece in the sexy category. Oops. Had I asked critique friends they probably would have set me straight before I entered. Instead, although the piece made it to the finals, I received an inked tongue-lashing from the editor I was hoping to impress.
6) Trust yourself over whatever feedback you receive. Write how and what you want. Please yourself first. You may be a trend-setter. Even if you’re not, you deserve to feel satisfaction from your work. Write what you feel compelled to do. If you like it, others likely will, too.
7) Pay attention to postal rates. This can be trickier than you think because it may be months before your entry is returned in your self-addressed and stamped envelope. Postal hikes seem to be the norm these days.
8) Choose your contest. Enter one you believe you can win or one you’d like to win. Look at the prizes, the number of pages required, and the editors, agents or authors who will judge the finalists. In my last romance writing, the key couple didn’t meet in Chapter One. Many a judge looking at the first 10 pages could wonder if my manuscript was a romance at all. So I entered it in contests willing to evaluate 25 to 50 pages and/or required a synopsis. More advice: Look at the prizes. If the grand prize is a trip to a convention you aren’t that enthusiastic about attending, consider a different contest.
9) Try again. Practice does make perfect. The more you write and polish your writing, the better it becomes. And who knows, your piece may shine in the next contest.
10) Ask questions and accept help. Acknowledge the advice that judges and coordinators offer. They can be an excellent source for writing tips. I still use some of the synopsis writing guidelines a kind coordinator sent me.
11) Be happy with whatever score you get. It would be wonderful to have your manuscript always make the finals, but that isn’t realistic. I read somewhere that although they’re skilled predators, hawks and eagles only succeed in catching their prey 10% of the time. So cut yourself some slack. No one succeeds all the time. And those Cinderella moments when an editor calls to say, “I must have your book,” tend to be few and far between. Learn to pat yourself on the back whatever happens. You succeeded in entering a contest. It wasn’t just a dream; you did it! Give yourself credit for being courageous in putting your work out there.
12) There’s always another contest. When you get your entry back, know that you can improve it and send it to the next contest. There will always be another contest or another agent or an opportunity for publication.
13) Winning feels great!

I’m sure you all have stories about contests you’ve entered, good and bad. Please share your experiences and any tips you’d like to pass along. Thanks.
-- Brenda Davis



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