Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What It Takes to be a Novelist

Patsy, my decades-long friend and writing partner from my previous professional life is a natural storyteller. She tells of happenings in the lives of family and friends. While doing so, she embellishes with rich details, she paces the information flow, and she reveals the climax at just the right time.

But Patsy says she can’t write fiction. She is the most vivid dreamer I know, and retells her dreams fluently. But she doesn’t see the connect to writing fiction. Of course she could write fiction. Why do some of us think we can write fiction and others do not? And what does she mean by that? 

By nature, we are story-telling creatures. However, she doesn’t see that the stories she tells me are ones that others would want to read. Or she doesn’t think there’s enough detail to sustain a novel. And maybe there isn’t. Because she doesn’t like reading short stories, she would never write short stories. I read and write full-length and short, myself. 

Maybe that is the disconnect. She doesn’t see how to stretch the dream into a feature-length film. Is that a difference between those who claim “fiction author“ as an identity and those who don’t? Do we see all stories as potential novels? I know I do. Ah, but the execution!

How many novels have I started in my computer files only to abandon them because, as Gertrude Stein wrote, “…there’s no there, there.” ? Great premise, but thin on the development. Maybe a short story, but not enough engaging stuff to sustain a novel. However, there are a ton of resources for dealing with the saggy, soggy middle. There are strategies for plotting. There's all kinds of help for writers learning the craft. A great resource, writeonsisters.com, is full of tips and strategies.

See, I believe Patsy could indeed write a novel. She is an avid reader who knows what makes a good story. But she has to believe she could do it, and more importantly, she would need to want to be a novelist. It’s a hard enough job when you want to and think you can. 

And if you’d like to support a novelist, check out Streetwalker on Amazon. It’s a quick, hot, hot, hot read with a lot of heart. http://amzn.to/12Lp95X

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Writing the Bad Boys of Romance

I posted today at writeonsisters.com on characteristics of bad boys in books and how to write believable ones. In doing research for that post, I gathered so much information, that I thought I’d share the leftovers here.

Well, not really leftovers, actually, since this is new content, but the content is complementary to what is over there. Check out my other bad boys post today at http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/tips-to-write-bad-boys-in-books/

My erotic romance, Streetwalker, features hero Harlan, a bad boy for heroine Carrie. I LOVE Harlan. He is brilliant, powerful, confident, rich, gorgeous, great in bed, and more than a little bit flawed.

Harlan’s rebellion against society’s rules led to losing his medical license. So of course, he started a high end bordello on New York’s Upper East Side, enrolling as clients the rich and powerful of the city as insurance against prosecution. A bad boy.

Not all bad boys wear leather jackets, sport multiple tattoos and piercings, or have a scruffy look about them. Harlan is a great example of an elegant, successful, and living-life-on-his-own-terms, bad boy. And did I mention his sexual prowess?

In a nutshell (for the whole enchilada, to mix a metaphor, read the post at Write on Sisters), a bad boy exhibits certain qualities. I identified these as: exuding confidence, allowing his own interests to take precedence over others’ interests, moody, paradoxical, edgy, displaying an attitude, rebelling with or without a cause, engaging in dangerous hobbies, and being mysterious, complex, and complicated. Women respond to their perception that his strength will bring them protection, a universal need.

In writing your bad boy, be sure to avoid the stereotypes as the only traits. Make him more complex and he’ll interest your readers more. To clarify, we aren’t talking villains here. Villains in our books primarily exist to foil the protagonist, not to act as a potential love interest. Though it does happen.

We’re talking Bad boys as the guys who appeal to women in books (and real life?), guys you see around every day.

Think about Diane Lockhart’s fascination with Kurt McVeigh, a man different from her in nearly every aspect. Can you see the appeal for her, a buttoned-up corporate type? He’s so wrong for her from her friends’ perspective, and when she meets his friends, she finds nothing in common with them. Women who fall for bad boys risk being isolated from other friendships. Kurt is on the softer side of the bad boy continuum.

Another classic bad boy is Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. He flaunted convention and contrasted well with the ultimate nice guy, Ashley Wilkes. Scarlett, who schemed shamelessly to entrap Ashley, never could shake her attraction for the dangerous and rule-breaking Rhett.

On the harder side of the bad boy continuum, think to Morelli, Stephanie Plum’s nemesis, virginity-taker, and man she simply cannot get out of her life. Adding in another bad boy, but a more complex and softer bad boy, Ranger, just adds to her man dilemma. There is no way Stephanie Plum is going for the nice guy. No way.

An interesting piece I came across, and then lost the link to when I had a computer glitch causing me to lose all my research, was on women and how birth control had changed to put them more in charge of their relationships. The gist of one section was that ovulating women are attracted to bad boys, and women who are on birth control seek men who are perceived more as nice guys. I interpreted this to mean, women want strong, healthy babies (from the rugged men), but they want a nurturing male who will be faithful to them to raise the babe. An interesting notion.

Research into what constitutes a bad boy always leads one to a book by Carole Lieberman and Lisa Collier Cool, Bad Boys: How We Love Them, How to Live with Them, When to Leave Them. Dr. Leiberman’s research led her to identify 12 archetypes for bad boys. She used movies and folk and fairytales to name them. These destructive men to avoid are: Fixer-Upper Lover, Wanton Wolf, Commitment Phobe, Self-Absorbed Seducer, Wounded Poet, Prince of Darkness, Lethal Lover, Power-Mad Prince, Misunderstood & Married, Grandiose Dreamer, Man of Mystery, and Dramatic Daredevil. A more recent book by Dr. Lieberman is Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them and How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets. Analagous to the bad boys book, there are 12 bad girl archetypes. Maybe that will be a later post.

Involved with a bad boy or want to be? Know this. The chances of changing him are slim. And why would you want to? The parts of him that attracted you would disappear, and then what? You leave him because he is no longer edgy, dangerous, challenging? Who wins in that?

If you want more, here are some links so you can do reading on your own.

Writing the Bad Boy

The Trouble with Bad Boys is Them Bad Boys are Trouble

Why Women Love Bad Boys and Dump Nice Guys

Why Do Girls Like Bad Boys?

What’s Your Literary Bad Boy Type?

Four Literary Types You Shouldn’t Date

10 Literary Bad Boys We Love to Love

Bad Boys of Literature & How to Spot Them in Real Life

Monday, September 15, 2014

Parenting and Using It in Our Novels

From inception, this column has always been primarily about relationships. Admittedly I write more about the romantic ones, but recent events have made me consider other relationships and what those mean for writers.

I wrote last week about my mother who passed away less than two weeks ago. She was 87½. The pieces of the relationship I described were my experience at being parented by her. I’m sure my brother and sister would have different perceptions and for sure different interactions. As I finished up that post, I wanted to challenge them to share what they experienced, remembered, perceived. But that won’t happen, I know.

However, it put me in the mood to remember the stories the three of us would share about childhood memories. They were wildly disparate. Different to the point that I wondered had we been there together. Was I interpreting through my own distorted lens and faulty memory what was not true? Surely that has happened to you as well.

As authors, our parented selves contain a trove of stories to delve into, to mine, to transform for our characters. The joys, the pains, the fears, all of these are part of our childhoods, and using them in our characters brings authenticity to our stories.

My parents were stern discipliners, stemming from their own experiences being disciplined in the years of The Great Depression. Mother was less severe than Daddy; we could usually get her to see an alternative.

But once Daddy made up his mind, there was no compromise and no veering from the course. It was as if he felt he would be less than a man if he changed his mind like women always seemed to do (in the minds of his generation). So, even if he knew he was wrong, and he was on so many occasions (Aren’t we all?), he stuck to the decision made.

He was quite physically abusive to me. Not so much to my siblings, but then they didn’t challenge him as much as I, the eldest, did. I was the one most like him in intellectual interests, I think. But his emotions were thwarted and twisted from the parenting and economic hardships he endured. Imagine a bright, bright man who had to quit school in 8th grade to help provide food for the family. Imagine that lack of education resulting in low-level factory and janitorial work for nearly 40 years that never challenged him intellectually. The grind of that kind of work would do a number on my psyche.

When I decided to become an educator he took it upon himself to change my mind. Since I was paying for my own education, I didn’t listen to him. However, one conversation has stayed with me for decades. Daddy: “Why would you spend all that money to be a teacher? If you’re going to spend that much, get a job that pays you more money.” Me: “But I love teaching. It’s important to me to enjoy my work, to give back to the world.” Daddy: “Work is to buy food and pay the rent. Work isn’t for you to enjoy.”

He could be very closed off. At other times he would cry, especially in later years. He liked to laugh, however, and his work nickname was “Happy”. But not so much at home. He resembled Lincoln physically, and like Lincoln he was a depressed personality through all the years I knew him. To Daddy the glass was never half full. There wasn’t a glass, and don’t go getting your hopes up for one appearing. He told me once that he had an advantage over me because I had high expectations, and so, was disappointed when things didn’t happen the way I wanted. He said that he was never disappointed because he didn’t expect good things. So sometimes he even was happily surprised when they did happen. He advised me to be more like him. I ignored that advice, too.

Today, he would have been turned in for child abuse. He used the belt or a switch on me a lot. I went to school with welts. Back in the day, what happened at home, stayed at home. He tried to grind me down into compliance and obedience to make his life easier. But it was my persistence and challenging that allowed me to achieve a good bit of success in my field. I am a resilient person.

He died at age 92, nearly two years ago. I regret that in all those years he was never able to say he was proud of me. That is very hurtful. I accomplished a lot--a PhD, wrote more than a dozen books, had some national reputation. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to say it. I have no idea why.

Does he sound like a Shakespearean tragedy character or what? All kinds of story fodder exists in the actions, beliefs, and personalities of the people who parented us.

I started a novel several years ago based on my father’s personality and foibles (with some embellishments, of course, for dramatic effect). I need to finish that novel, I think, to bring closure to a very difficult relationship. Writing has a way of doing that for me.

What in your parented life would help you shape a story character? Develop a plot point? Explain relationships?

If you want to read about the relationship with my mother, here are the links:

Mothers and Daughters http://angelicafrench.blogspot.com/2014/09/mothers-and-daughters-rip-mother.html

Everything I Know about Cooking Started with My Mother http://sharonarthurmoore.blogspot.com/2014/09/everything-i-know-about-cooking-started.html

Food Grieving http://sharonarthurmoore.blogspot.com/2014/09/food-grieving.html

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mothers and Daughters: R.I.P., Mother

Betty Lorene Lawson Arthur passed away last Sunday, September 7, 2014. The death certificate will say Monday because that’s the day she was found, and no autopsy was performed. Natural causes, it was ruled. And I’m sure it was, but I would have liked closure on why. For my own medical history. For some idea of what her last moments must have been like.

At 87 and a half years, exactly, she survived longer than the average American woman. Longer than her husband. Longer than her four brothers and one sister. She was the last of her generation’s immediate family group. She knew she was next, and she was okay with the inevitability.

She wasn’t a perfect mother, and I was FAR from the perfect daughter, but we had an indestructible bond. The mother-daughter relationship is far stronger than mere blood would expect. We share with our mothers the first menstrual cycle and its incumbent fears and expectations. We know the childbirth pains she experienced when birthing us. We share the never-ending fear that something awful will happen to our children. Those are bonds no son can know. It is the Sisterhood. The Red Tent.

Mother carried around the psychological wounds of her childhood. And sometimes those wounds caused her to act in ways, make decisions that I disagreed with. And we argued. Oh, my how we argued. But the absolute, complete, love underneath was the firm foundation we always settled on after some contretemps or another.

Her story is one I’ve tried to novelize in my incomplete draft, Grassy Crick Holler. I think I need to go back to that story for closure and as a tribute. It is the very least I can do.

She was a coal miner’s daughter. Really. In West Virginia. Her stories of those mining towns and the fear when the bell rang signaling tragegy in the mine, was part of the fabric of my childhood.

When she was 5, her mother died at age 28 of pneumonia after giving birth to her latest son. Jack was seventeen days old when Grandma died. Grandpa was left with five children, no child care, no money for child care. He allowed Uncle Jackie to be adopted by a wonderful woman. The rest of the family were briefly scattered to live among various relatives, and then reunited when Grandpa married “the first Lilly”.

She purportedly took good care of the kids, but I guess, as Mother told the story, these were very hard depression times in a state that never was rich. Grandpa worked nights in the mine, and so did Lilly to supplement the family income. Mother tells of accompanying Lilly to her rendezvouses down by the rail tracks. She was told to stay by the tracks while Lilly went off to conduct business. At least she didn’t leave Mother home alone, right?

Grandpa divorced “the first Lilly” when he found out. Kids scattered again among family. But those families were struggling, too, and my mother ended up in the orphanage and then was farmed out to different families over the years or returned to the orphanage when families didn’t want her or she couldn’t live with them. Imagine the number that would do on your psyche.

She married my father at age 17, still in ninth grade because she had such erratic schooling. She didn’t go to school for the first time or learn to read until she was 8. I know she saw marriage to Daddy as her ticket to a better, more stable life. And it was. He died almost two years ago at age 92 after their marriage of 68 years.

As a kid, I remember how she wanted to be open to anything we wanted to know. Because she had no one to explain menstruation to her, when she got her first period, she thought she was dying. She hurt and she was bleeding. And she didn’t know how to tell this latest foster mother. She was beyond scared. She told me that she swore she would never have her children wondering about their bodies.

At a time when my friends’ mothers were reticent to talk about the female body and human sexuality, my mother was eager. If she didn’t know, she’d pull out this aged medical dictionary she had, and we’d read it together to see if we could find the answer. Unsurprisingly, my friends would hang out at our house so they could ask Mother questions they couldn’t ask at home.

Also, I credit my lack of sexual inhibition--I, quite simply, don’t have any hang-ups-- to living on a farm where reproduction just is what goes on and to my parents clear sexual connection to one another. I thought everybody necked in front of their kids!

Despite numerous and very serious health issues over the years, she was doing so well living on her own in her own home still. Iowa has a wonderful aging-in-place model of support for seniors. My brother looked in on her. People came to clean, walk with her, set up her pills, and so on. The latest was that she was planning her new adventure. She was moving to Denver to live in an apartment near my sister. She was so excited and so looking forward to this new phase of her life.

When she died in her chair Sunday, quite peacefully, likely from her on-going heart issues, she had just made her famous Mexican Cornbread and had the fixings on the counter for cherry pie. We think she sat to rest, and then went to sleep forever. That’s the way to go. Kisses, Mother!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Indie Revolution

I LOVE books—the feel, the smell, the look of them. So when I put a Kindle on my Christmas list a few years ago, it surprised me as much as anyone. I’m not much of a gadgets guy (well, except for kitchen gadgets), so the desire to own this little electronic reader had to go back to Jean Luc Picard, Captain of the Enterprise. Well, and the memory of lugging two huge satchels of books away with me for the summer.

When I first saw Captain Picard’s electronic reader, this is well before Kindle, Nook, etc., I was impressed that a whole library could be on his hand-held device, and I knew that this was an invention from the future that could be mine. I knew someone would create it for me. And they did. And others did. And more others will take them to the next level.

But for me to publish an e-book instead of or before a printed book? Well, I just wasn’t so sure I wanted to do that. There IS something about holding your book in your hands. I needed to be won over. Talking with e-book authors and publishers has helped. 

I went the traditional route for my first two books (and their sequels). I am currently published (e-books and print books) with two small presses. I put up no money and get royalties. It is the wimp’s way out. No hassles for me, and I feel I am a “legitimate” author. I am not so sure, for me, that going indie will beat back my insecurities.

First, one has to get past the old vanity press notions that dog us. Sadly, indie e-books--rightly or wrongly--are linked to so many poor quality books that going indie still carries the taint of “you couldn’t make it traditionally.” 

Digital publishing makes it so much easier for authors to publish. Publishing your work can be accomplished through royalty-paying publishers who review your book.  It can also be done on your own through sites like Smashwords, Lulu, and Create Space.  There are both “supported publishing” sites and there are opportunities to do each book on your own.

When traditionally published, you get a royalty rate, pay no upfront money, and may see both e-book and print copies of your book. They pick the cover, they arrange the copyright (sometimes), and they provide editing services and will format your book for digital release.
When publishing on your own, you must do two things: pay to have your book professionally edited and pay to have an original cover designed. Both are critical to keeping up the quality of e-book and print books. Don’t rely on the stock covers various sites provide or you might be sharing a cover with another author’s book. 

Additionally, indie authors arrange for copyright and use provided templates to format your e-book or print book for publication. Still, after you pay the fees, you own your book with all rights and you get all the royalties after paying some site fees.

In both cases, as all authors have learned over the last few years, marketing is Job One for you. Publishers, digital or print, do little. So, some argue, why split your money with traditional publishers? Go Indie!

Since I have a couple of books I cannot find homes for with traditional publishers, I am trying to get brave enough to go Indie! But I still need some handholding.