Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Djinn


Like most of my family, I’m a sucker for stray and abandoned animals.

After school one day I found a small black kitten someone had tossed into a garbage can. I took it home, we fed it for a few days, then my mother discovered it was losing patches of hair.

My mother made my stepfather take it to the pound while she took my little sister to the doctor.

We were kitten-less and the only family on the block to have a little bald girl whose head was painted with Gentian violet, the only cure for ringworm then.

I’ve always had animals living with me and they’ve always been adopted. I’ve had cats and dogs from shelters. I’ve had cats and dogs adopted from rescue groups. I’ve even had a rescue bird, from someone who had to give it up.

I currently have only one cat, a big black guy named Djinn, for those desert spirits that move so stealthily. He came to live with me almost thirteen years ago.

My daughter was an EMT, working for an ambulance company, transporting very sick neonatal babies. Her job consisted of 24-hour shifts so the crews lived at a base when on duty. She told me that there was a black cat who would hang around, begging scraps, and the other paramedics would joke about feeding him poison.

“He’s really sweet. He gets so excited that he drools when you pet him.”

“You can’t let those jerks you work with poison him! Bring him to me and I’ll find him a home.”

Famous last words. The home I had lined up fell apart, notices at work brought nothing and I squeezed him into a house that already had a dog and two cats, because once I saw him, I knew he wasn’t adoptable.

During whatever life he’d lived on the street, he’d been injured. His front right shoulder had been broken and healed crooked, so he walked with a limp and when he curled up, it stayed straight out at an angle; he couldn’t curl it up.

Recently, I was buying cat and fish food (not rescue fish, I did buy those) at one of those pet emporiums. That day, they were having an “Adopt-a-cat” display sponsored by one of the rescue groups. Ever the sucker, I walked through the rows of cages talking to the cats when a young man came over and began talking to me.

“Aren’t they nice? They all deserve good homes. Were you thinking of any one in particular?”

I smiled. “I’m just looking at them. I have a lame cat at home.”

He stiffened. He almost hissed at me. “There’s no such thing as a lame cat!” he said.

I was so stunned I couldn’t fathom what he’d said.  Did he mean that all less-than-perfect cats should be killed? I finally realized that he was years younger than me and had an entirely different understanding of “lame” so I said “He was injured. He limps.”

Djinn is now somewhere north of sixteen. His whiskers are pure white. He doesn’t clean himself as well as he used to. He still limps and occasionally needs help jumping up on the bed. Whenever I move around the house, he’s right at my feet and one dark night I’ll probably trip over him and break a hip.

But right now, my lame cat and I wander around the house at his regal pace.

I’m not sure who I’ll find when he goes but the young man was right, there’s no such thing as a lame cat.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Fast Draft

As the new year rolled around, I realized I hadn’t written a word since my father passed away over Labor Day Weekend. It seems my muse died along with Dad and I had no desire to write. I also hadn’t been back to one of my local RWA chapter meetings since the spring (we don’t have meetings over the summer), so I made a point of going to the meeting in November. The guest speaker was Candace Havens and among the things she talked about was her Fast Draft Method.

In Fast Draft, she writes 20 pages a day for 14 days. By the end of that time, she has 280 manuscript pages and a first draft of her book. She admits it ain’t pretty, it ain’t polished, but it’s a huge start on the way to a completed novel. Sounds daunting. After all, I did NANO two years ago and it was tough. But it was 50,000 words in 31 days, which comes down to about 6-7 pages a day -- not freakin’ 20!

Still, if you break it down, it does sound *theoretically* doable. I’m a SAHM, so basically I have 9-3 to write 5 days a week if I don’t do anything else, like laundry, grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, walk the dog, take a shower…you know, have a life. I don’t rely on getting much writing done on weekends. Sometimes I get lucky and crank out a few pages, but most weekends, my time is not my own. So back to that 9-3 day job. That’s 6 hours. Divided by 20, it’s a little over 3 pages an hour. Shoot, anyone can do 3 pages an hour, right? Evidently not me.

I joined a crew with some of my fellow chapter mates so we could keep each other accountable. I turned out to be an epic failure after the first few days. After not writing a word for 4 ½ months, my writing skills are beyond rusty. Seriously, you can’t run a marathon if you haven’t jogged in months, and I hadn’t been on the writing treadmill in far too long. Will I ever be the writing ninja that Candace Havens is? Probably not. But while I may have failed at this first effort, doing Fast Draft did do something for me. It’s got me writing again. It’s slow, and not always good, but I am getting words on the page. And to me, that’s a good thing.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Contests: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?


Do you enter writing contests? If you do and you’re one of those rare people who always receive glowing feedback, today’s blog isn’t for you.

But if you sometimes receive your entry back with comments that sting or get you down, my friend, the fabulous and multi-published author, Angi Morgan, has sage advice for you. Her experience will encourage and cheer you.

Please join me in welcoming Angi.

SHOULD YOU LISTEN TO CONTESTS?
By Angi Morgan

THANKS so so much for asking me to visit today. I have to admit that today’s my deadline and I’m suffering through the end…but I’ll be popping in to answer questions. Mia asked me to share my contest experience and how it led to my first sell with Harlequin Intrigue. But the contest experience --at least the way I used it in 2009-- was a series of events and taught me a very important lesson.

Let me start by stating that judging is extremely subjective. When we write, we bring our life experiences to our work. It’s the same for a reader. Joy, stress, promotions, family problems--anything that’s happening in the life of the reader affects their interpretation of the writer’s hard work. Reading the story at a different juncture in their life, a reader could interpret it a different way.

Have you found your inner voice? The one that’s not telling you to jump off a cliff? Mine came when I wrote a 1000 word chapter for eHarlequin® Round Robin (details on my book page). I wrote that chapter without letting anyone see it. Chapter 7 of The Rancher and The Rose was for fun, just for kicks, totally spur of the moment. And yet, it won. Winning gave me the confidence to trust my own writing a bit more, but it also surprised me that I liked to add a splash of humor into my stories. My attitude toward my own writing changed a little that year. I wish someone had told me to listen to my gut and write MY stories the way I envisioned them.





The following are exact quotes (type-os included) that SEE JANE RUN received from 2009 judges. Each contest received exactly the same entry. No significant changes (only corrected errors) were made to the manuscript when it sold. I am neither endorsing nor condemning any of the following contests. This is my personal experience that I’m sharing, but I have found it’s very typical of any writer’s journey.

Great Expectations (130) WON FIRST PLACE, Editor requested Synopsis
127: “Most everything reads very well, with the exception of needing more setting and clarification on setting in several places.”
120: “The first scene needs to be simpler and some of the motivations of the characters could be tweaked a bit.”
130: “The story grabbed me from the beginning. I was intrigued.”

Dixie First (100)
78: “It’s disingenuous to save the Tah-Dah about the child until page 25. The sheer number of names you’re throwing around makes it hard to keep up.”
69: Grammar and punctuation need a second look. If you’re not in a critique group, you might want to consider joining one.”

Sheila (100): Just a note, I received these scores AFTER the book had already won the DAPHNE.
95: “If the rest of the book is written in the same fast paced, snappy dialogue, intriguing characters, sexual tension and suspenseful emotional impact as the chapters I have read, then I believe this book will be published. I look forward to seeing it on the book shelf and reading the full book.”
98: “This is excellent, well thought out and developed. The GMC for both the H&H seems appropriate and with proper depth.”
84: “Because of the long passages of narrative and internal dialogue things get a bit slow at times.”
46 --this is not a typo--it really is a 46: “I had a hard time believing she doesn’t just tell Steve that Rory is his son. She would have done it the moment they were in the cabin together.”

Connections (200/20)
139/8: “I'm not getting an original 'voice' here.”
198/20: “Wonderful Opening Scene”
156/14: “Double check your vocab and word usage. Also with internal thought dialogue or brand name’s, I believe you should italicize instead of underling.” 
(When you judge a contest, double check your spelling…especially if you’re counting someone else down)

Great Beginnings (4 ranks between 1 & 10)    
8 - 8.5 - 8 - 8: "Well written and interesting."
9 - 8 - 7 - 8:    “I would have like to know a bit about the connection between Jane and Steve.”
8 - 8 - 9 - 8.5: “While the characters were interesting, I didn’t feel connected to them.”

Daphne (123)
123: “Interesting. Guess I’ll have to wait for the book. Great story. I wouldn’t be able to put it down.”
121: “Gosh, what can I say?  Your story really held my attention, good action and interaction.”
119: “This was a fantastic read. I would definitely pick this up if I saw it in a bookstore. Good luck finding a home for it!”
88: “somewhat enjoyable”
WON FIRST PLACE, Editor & Agent requested full manuscripts
Received offer from Agent October 1st
Sold to Harlequin Intrigue on November 12th
No editor changes to story or sentence structure, no major edits, December
Won the Golden Heart July 31st 2010
Went on sale at midnight August 1st 2010
RT nominee for Best Series First Book
Booksellers Best top five Best First Book & Best Series Romantic Suspense

Molly 1st Round (100): 95, 83 ADAVANCED TO SECOND ROUND
95: “Good sense of time and place.”
83: Make sure action and plot stay believable.
Molly 2nd Round (100): 86, 83
86:  “Jane’s conflict is great.  She has the promise of being quirky but doesn’t quite come off as interesting as I think she could be.  Steve might need a little more work too.  There’s nothing unique about him.  ”
83: “Make Steve someone I want to love – right now there’s nothing extra special about him.”

Rebecca (100): 73, 98
73: Judge made no comments, just re-wrote sentences.
98: “The pacing is fantastic. Just the right blend of action and narrative.”

Maggie (no scores or score sheets returned): two published judges
FOURTH  PLACE, by Susan Litman, Silhouette
“Thanks so much for a very enjoyable read. I hope someday soon I’ll be able to read the rest.”
“Send it to a publisher!”

Daphne 2008 (123)
I mentioned that I have entered the Daphne several years. I used the same basic entry in 2008. What changed? The number of pages for the entry.
                2008: 15 pages, 1 page un-judged synopsis
                2009:  5000 word entry, 675 word synopsis
Words worked in my favor, I entered 5 additional pages in 2009. I have a lot of white space in my work.
119: “I love your story. I’ve judged this contest many years and the entries as a whole are much better this year. You have stiff competition. Good Luck.”
99: “Bitchy I know, but I’d like to see a little more of where they are.”
108: “Tightening your pacing will give the story more impact.”
101: “The writer should try to get out of her own skin and into the skin of the hero, heroine, and (most-importantly) the reader.”

SO, should you listen to contests?
Honestly, you have to listen to yourself first. WAAAYY back in 2003, I wrote a book called See Jane Run. The entire conflict turned on the lie that the heroine kept from the hero: he was her son’s father. At the time, numerous judges and critique partners reflected the opinion of my low-scoring judge above: I needed to have the heroine tell the hero immediately. I listened. I changed the book. I did not sell the book. No matter how I changed the book, I couldn’t get a strong conflict onto the page. It was hard to pin (even for editors) exactly what was wrong with the book.

I set SJR aside for several years. I talked about it. Threw the idea around. Was fortunate enough to find a new critique partner who didn’t mind reading SJR. We talked some more. The book finaled in a contest and received a request. But I hadn’t made changes. I knew it would ultimately be rejected again.

Several years have passed since I changed my original story. For some reason--call it experience or gaining confidence in my own opinion--I knew I had to rework SJR back to its original plot. I did. And each time I received comments back in 2009, I stuck to my guns: my opinion, my vision for the book, my instinct that *I* knew the story better than anyone else. And it definitely helped that I had a critique partner (waving at Amy) who supported me and continually told me the story was mine.

Can contests help? Certainly. I love comments and seeing how others view my work. I’m actually missing them.

Can contests hurt? Yes. Definitely. We’ve all experienced the hurtfulness of a stranger’s words regarding our work. I can’t say that the initial hurt ever stings less, but this past year, I laughed more than I cried. Especially when the book sold to Harlequin without me changing anything.


IN THE WORDS OF YOGI BERRA: "If you don't know where you're going, you might wind up someplace else." Seek the opinion of others all you need to, but always remember you’re telling the story.

Angi Morgan writes “Intrigues where honor and danger collide with love.” She combines actual Texas settings with characters who are in realistic and dangerous situations. Angi is a finalist in the Bookseller’s Best Award, Romantic Times Best First Series, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence and the Daphne du Maurier.

DANGEROUS MEMORIES, available February 5th


“From the echoing shots in a cemetery straight through the hair-raising conclusion, this story of missing memories and murders will rattle readers from the opening pages, as they guess and guess again who the real culprit is.”  4 1/2 stars from Romantic Times Magazine
~ ~ ~

FIND ANGI
Website   Facebook   FB Fan Page   Twitter @AngiMorganAuthr
A Picture A Day   Goodreads  (separate book give away)

ENTER TO WIN a basket of Angi’s favorite things (picture available on her website--eventually).  The January Giveaway ends on January 31st, winner announced February 2nd. Registration will be through Rafflecopter.  



Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Day for Oddballs, Fruit Loops and Characters



Happy Peculiar People Day! That’s right. Today, January 10th is Peculiar People Day. There aren’t a lot of details about this holiday, but I’m guessing the day commemorates geniuses and other individuals, who live a just a bit outside the box. The Free Online Dictionary defines peculiar as unusual, eccentric, odd, distinctive, and distinct from all others or strange.

I’m intrigued by the wacky and weird. I like those who walk to a different drummer and I betting you might too.

To celebrate this usual day, please join me in thinking of those unique people we know. Then, to spare friends, family or acquaintances, let’s limit our naming of oddballs, fruit loops and characters to those who appear in fiction. I’ll start off with thirteen of my favorites.



  1. Philip Marlowe from Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep
  2. Professor Rubeus Hagrid from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter Series
  3. Tarzan from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes
  4. Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird
  5. Scarlett O'Hara from Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind
  6. The pirate captain, Mad Machen, from Meljean Brook’s There Will be Monsters
  7. Tobias "Four" Eaton, from Veronica Roth’s Divergent
  8. Gandalf from JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
  9. Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations
  10. Yileen from Kendall Grey’s Inhale.
  11. Aibileen Clark from Kathryn Stockett’s The Help
  12. The Boatwright sisters: August, May and June from Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees
  13. Dr. Waldo Butters from Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files

Do you have a favorite character? A fictional kook you’d like to discuss? Please share.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Angels! Demons! The Silk Road! It's a Workshop!

By Eilis Flynn

Because Jacquie Rogers's and my next workshop, Angels and Demons Along the Silk Road and Beyond, starts in a few days over at SavvyAuthors.com, I figured I'd tell you a bit about it today!

In Western society, angels and demons have clear-cut roles: angels are good, demons are bad. But if you were to check out those terms in other parts of the world, you’ll find that those names don’t mean the same thing at all.

Consider, if you will, the “angel” you’ll find in the Philippines. Maybe it’s because of the heavy Spanish influence over the centuries combined with the dark mythology that already existed in the region or it may be something else, but the angels in the folklore in those parts are horrifying and scary and not at all like the angels you’ll find in Western culture. The gruesome angels of the Philippines will give you nightmares, even more than the weeping angels of Dr. Who fame. Bizarre? No. It’s just a word — one that means very different things, depending on where you are.

Now, think about the demons that you’ll find in the folklore and mythology of the Far East. Demons in Chinese and Japanese folklore aren’t the minions of Satan, the way you’ll find in Western society, but they are nonetheless fearsome. Some of them are ogre-like in their appearance, designed to frighten and ward off evil; some of them are menacing, but quite pleasant in appearance. Some are downright seductive. Evil? Well, maybe. You never know. Some of those demons are good, some are not. “Demon” is just a word. Some of you may be familiar with the Japanese anime “Inu-Yasha,” the half-human, half-dog demon. If you aren’t familiar with the story, Inu-Yasha (literally, “dog demon”) yearns to be big and tough and mean — but he’s saddled with the responsibility of a girl, who’s not very happy with the situation, either. (Spoiler alert: They fall in love.)

Then there are the angels you’ll find in the folklore of regions in between, from which much of Western society gets its own mythologies. For instance, the mysterious and seductive djinn are known as demons, but they have any number of skills and personality types, ranging from mischievous to malicious, shape-shifting to wish-fulfilling, even aiding mankind. “Demons,” they’re called. But are they evil?

As you may have surmised, sometimes demons don’t go by a familiar name; nor do angels. In Japanese mythology (specifically, in Japanese Buddhism), the beings we think of being good and — for the lack of a better word, angelic — are known as tennin. Tennyo (the feminine term) are described as being preternaturally beautiful, dressed in intricately designed kimonos, and they carry lotus blossoms, which are symbols of enlightenment. Tennin live in Buddhist heaven as companions to the Buddhas, and they can fly; some are shown to have wings, but more often than not they’re shown as wearing feathered kimonos, which allow them to fly.

In a story that has a very familiar sound to it, there’s a well-known story in which a tennyo comes down to our world and takes off her feathered kimono in order to bathe. A fisherman hides the kimono and tricks the angel to marry him. But after some years he confesses to his wife what he did, at which point she retrieves her feathered kimono and goes back to heaven. This story has many elements in common with stories of faeries found in Western society, which tells me that mortals are the same all over the world: when they see beautiful, ethereal females, they promptly fall in love and trick them into marrying them. Mortal men aren’t so different, no matter where you are!

And it’s also not a surprise that the angels of the other side of the world bear similarities — they come from the same roots, sons of Abraham, after all. (Since the biblical Abraham is regarded as the father of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, the religious cultures are referred to as “Abrahamic.”) The roots are the same, but there are clear differences. Jibrail and Gabriel are both archangels and messengers of the Almighty, but one is from the Islamic tradition and the other Judeo-Christian. Michael is the angel of nature for Islam, but for the Judeo-Christians, he performs acts of justice and power.

What is an angel, anyway? In Judeo-Christian and Islamic cultures, they are servants of God, like Gabriel often messengers to mortal man (and in fact, the term literally means “messenger”). In Zoroastrianism and Native American societies, angels are often guiding influences or guardian spirits.

And outside of the Abrahamic tradition, in Zoroastrianism, each person has a guardian angel, called the fravashi. In Sikhism, there’s Azrael, the angel of death. (If you’re a comic book fan, you’re probably aware that Superman’s original name was “Kal-El,” as in the House of El. “El,” of course, is a common angelic suffix, like Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, even Daniel. Coincidence? Probably not!)

What’s all this mean? Just that angels and demons can be found in many places, in ways you wouldn’t expect. Angels aren’t necessarily symbols of good, nor are demons necessarily symbols of evil. The names may change, but whatever you call them, myths and legends about angels and demons can be found all over the world. Let Jacquie Rogers and Eilis Flynn take you on a walk around the world to examine those myths, and see how they shift, change, and evolve as we travel.

And before we get started, let us tell you about the Silk Road. You might already know this, but just in case you don’t. The Silk Road was a series of important trading routes going over land and sea that existed long before the Christian era began. A lot of trade occurred along the route, bringing silks and spices and more from the East to the West. Traditionally, the Silk Road connected a region of China with Asia Minor and the Mediterranean, a route that was more than 5,000 miles long—a goodly distances these days, but unimaginable back then. The Silk Road had northern routes and southern routes, and the goods were transported from places as far away as the Philippines and Thailand and Brunei, all the way to Italy and Portugal and even Sweden.

Not only were silks and spices moved along these routes, so was culture, language, and even technology, and that meant Asian concepts and items were introduced to Europe, and vice versa. That includes the variations of angels & demons. We’ll see how the ideas of those elementals began and changed as we walk from region to region, changing little by little until those concepts end up drastically different when compared side by side. Come along and check out what kind of angels and demons you can find all over the world.

Eilis Flynn was an anthropology major long ago, and she's thrilled that it's finally coming in handy! She can be reached at eilisflynn@aol.com or at www.eilisflynn.com.

Monday, January 7, 2013

I Can't "Call it Anything"


I know you've heard this. When you're starting a new story and you're wondering what to call it. Someone, a critique partner, writing buddy, editor, or your helpful DH says, "It doesn't matter. Call it anything."

Well, it matters to me. For some reason I can't really get my head around my book until I have an appropriate title, something that helps me keep my eye on the theme, stay tuned into the characters or an overview of the series. 

I love a good title. It's one of our most important marketing tools. Let's face it - where a poor title might still get someone to pick it up, a great title is well, irresistible. 

A great title can be just one dramatic word - Abandoned, Unspoken, Untamed, Devoured. It can be indicative of a series like Jeannine Frost's Halfway to the Grave, One Foot in the Grave, At Grave's End, This Side of the Grave, Destined for an Early Grave. (Kind of obvious they're connected.) Or Katie McAlister's Up in Smoke, You Slay Me, Fire Me Up, Holy Smokes, Light My Fire. (The Aisling Grey series about the green dragons.)
Some of my favorites are mystery titles: Juliet Blackwell's books about a witch who has a vintage clothing store in San Francisco - A Cast Off Coven,  Hexes and Hemlines, Secondhand Spirits. And recently I discovered Kate Collins' Flower Shop Mystery - Dearly Depotted, Act of Violets, To Catch a Leaf, Night of the Living Dandelions. 

A couple years ago I held an informal naming contest for my book I was pitching at M&M. We decided Tempest Rising fit it perfectly. One month later I discovered a new book by that title and was totally stalled by having my title usurped. Not intentionally of course, but it felt that way. 

So here I am with a new series, trying to figure out no only the name of the first book but how will my titles relate to each other within the series. Is there a common thread, word, color that I can incorporate. Well, right now I just need a working title for the first book. I've figured it out for now and I can move forward. 

How about you? Do you have to have a title that fits before you can write the book?

Readers -  Do you have any favorites? There are some great ones out there. 
 
ja