Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Return of the Prodigal Daughter

Daughter One finished her last exam yesterday and I'll be picking her up from university tomorrow to bring her back home for the summer. I am both excited and apprehensive about this. Excited because I've missed her and our chats about movies, life, books, clothes and whatnot. Apprehensive because she's been away, living as an almost adult, for over 8 months now and is used to coming and going as she sees fit and not having a worried mom and dad looking over her shoulder every second of the day. Now, she'll be living with us again and we have to settle into a new family dynamic. I really don't know how this will turn out.

I've discovered in the time D1 has been away that a life of blissful ignorance for parents can be a really good thing. When she first left I'd be texting and calling frequently, mostly to see if all was going well and to be assured she was adjusting to life in the dorm and away from home. I needn't have worried. D1 was ready to leave home at 10. She has LOVED her first year at university and, I think, if she could she'd stay there year round and be perfectly happy to do so. It's not that she doesn't love us but she's had a fabulous year and is already excited and planning her involvement with the university for her second year coming up in September. The only thing she's really excited about in coming home for the summer is getting a job and making some money :)

So,in the past eight months I've become used to worrying about her from a distance which is a totally different kind of worry than when a child is home. The transition from child to adult is hard enough on the teen but, my God, as a parent I'm struggling with it now that she's coming home from such a long time away. How much do I get involved in her life now? What do I need to know about what she's doing while living under my roof? How do rules apply to her as opposed to her other two, younger siblings?

I've already promised her that I will try and be as laid back as my control-oriented personality will allow. All I told her was, "Please, just let me know if you'll be home late and text me if you are staying at a friend's house otherwise I'll get absolutely no sleep this summer." She assured me that since all her friends are of legal age now to go out to clubs and she's got to wait until later in the year not to worry she won't be out that late. Yeah, right. Like she'll be hanging out at the library when her friends are out partying. Uh-huh.

But, as any parent who is lucky enough to still have a decent relationship with their kids as they hit this young adulthood age, we have to remember that we are blessed to see them progressing not only in age but hopefully in wisdom. I only hope some of that wisdom rubs off on me too.

So as my prodigal daughter returns I ask the universe to grant me the following wishes:

Please let me have the wisdom to keep my mouth shut when I need to.
Please let me know when to prod and ask her to talk about things that may be bothering her.
Please let me understand that she won't want to talk to Mom about many things. And please let me be okay with that.
Please let me remember that I am also evolving as a mother and that our relationship is evolving (or should be) as well.
Please let me remember that she is still only 'almost' an adult and won't necessarily always speak or behave as one all the time.
Please let her do her own laundry.

Those are pretty reasonable wishes, right? Well, maybe I was pushing it on the laundry one ...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rainy Day Randomness and 7 Things You didn't Know About Me

I hope everyone's Easter weekend was lovely and restful. Mine was spent visiting my folks back on the farm. Only hubby had to stay here to deal with reno stuff and Daughter One had an exam on the Saturday so couldn't come down. I did briefly get to see her on the way back home Sunday night and she'll be home for the summer this Friday so that's good! What wasn't so good was my car battery dying while at my folks but that's okay - Dad charged it. What wasn't ok was me locking the keys in my van while cleaning the inside of it. Oi. Thank God for CAA. As a result of all the running/driving around/general craziness I didn't get to see my old buddy Jan (sorry bud! :( and I didn't really plan a blog post for today. Luckily I'm home on a planned vacation day and I found that one of my lovely fellow bloggers, Kelly Hashway, at awarded me the Stylish Blogger award! Thank you Kelly! And congrats to her on her just released picture book May The Best Dog Win!

But to receive this award I understand I must share 7 things about myself that you all may not have already known. I can't imagine what you don't already know about me but here goes:

1. I've travelled to Portugal, Spain, Florida, South Carolina, PEI, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, New York City, Las Vegas, Cuba, Bermuda, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Israel.
2. I REALLY want to travel to California, see the Grand Canyon, tour the Greek Islands, and visit Hawaii. Oh, and England and Ireland of course. Sigh. One day, one day...
3. When I was 29 I went to Israel to work as a volunteer on an archaelogical dig where we dug up a 3,000 year old Phoenician cemetary. We stayed on a kibbutz near the Lebanese border. Never got a chance to travel to Jerusalem. Big regret on that but that whole trip made me live out my childhood fantasy of becoming an archaelogist.
4. My favourite bad snack is Humpty Dumpty Bar-b-q chips (I think they're only available in Canada)
5. My favourite meal that requires no cooking is French bread, pate, olives and cheese. Put me on a Greek island with that meal and a good book and I've found nirvana.
6. My favourite meal that requires actual cooking - anything in a restaurant. (I know you all know I hate cooking)
7. My favourite TV mini-series is Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth. However, (and this is a momentous admission people) I think that might have been supplanted last night when I watched BBC's North and South for the first time with Richard Armitage. Holy smoldering dark romantic hero people! I'd seen Richard in the mini-series Robin Hood as Sir Guy of Gisbourne but this mini-series is what launched his career. The last ten minutes of the series is probably the most romantic thing you will watch. EVER. If you haven't seen it go forth immediately and watch.

'nuff said.

And that's it. Thanks for letting me be random on this rainy day!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is Finishing Your Story Always a Good Thing?

So before you assume that the question in the title of this blog post is the result of my love-hate affair with my current wip, let me first state unequivocally that I absolutely believe that writers need to complete a novel before they can see whether the story works or not. You learn soooo much by writing the entire character and story arc of a novel that the question I just posed should probably never be posed. And yet...

As much as I believe in this in theory, and as much as I believe in this in practice (dear God, the PRACTICE you get from writing a complete novel - or several complete novels - is priceless)there sometimes comes a point when a writer thinks "I'm beating a dead horse here. The story is not coming together. The spark is gone." But when does a writer know when a story is truly dead? Maybe it's just in a coma. Let me offer a case in point.

My next novel, THE BREAK (coming out in Spring 2012), I'd abandoned in the murky middle before sending it to my agent along with another (complete but needing revision) novel. I wanted her advice as to which story should be the one I concentrate on. She felt THE BREAK had more potential. I turned back to it (after a good several months away)and something clicked. Not sure if it was the agent's validation, not sure if the break on THE BREAK (sorry, couldn't resist)was all I needed. Whatever it was, I forged on and finished it in a couple of months after that. Now it's being published next year after I'd initially abandoned it (can't really remember the reasons now. Probably the same frustrations I have whenever I get to the middle. But my point is, it was a good thing I finished it because it will see the light of day now. And yet...

I'm 3/4 's of the way through the first draft of two books. I'm having issues with both of them. I stopped one last fall to start work on a 'shiny new idea' and wrote to the murky middle on that one, edged past the middle, decided it wasn't working for me, went back to the one I'd abandoned, fell in love again, wrote to the almost end point, noticed a whole slew of flaws (the biggest one being that it's supposed to be a paranormal when there isn't enough paranormal in it) and I'm now thinking "What's the point? I'm beating a dead horse here. The story is not coming together. The spark is gone."

And yet...

I hate not finishing a story. I keep thinking if I just keep working at it, maybe the spark will ignite again. But then sometimes, maybe trying to work up a fire in a dead hearth just exhausts you. And maybe, sometimes, it would make more sense to gather up some new wood and get that crackling fire going without so much huffing and puffing to fire up that one, small coal buried under a lot of burnt out wood.

I guess my question to you all is: how do you know when the fire in your story is really out?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What's the Kiss of Death in a Novel for You?

I know that appreciation for a novel and whether someone thinks it's good or bad is a subjective thing. I know that depending on your mood, a reader could pick up a novel one day and think it dreck and on another day might be so engrossed in it that they miss picking up their kids from school. But in the last week, two writer friends have both said the same thing about two different novels (neither one of which I have read) that made me think this one descriptor is probably the worst thing someone could say about a novel - for me, anyway. The thing they mentioned? The books were BORING.

For me, that one word is the kiss of death for a novel. I hadn't planned on reading one of the books (it was the last in a series I'd never gotten into) and now I likely never will. But the other one had been on my list to pick up. I'd actually been looking forward to when it came out in paperback so I could have a good summer cottage read. But now? With the BORING label stuck on it? Nuh-uh. I can forgive a lot of things: characters that are TSTL (Too Stupid To Live), overly-complicated plots, writing that is too bare-bones, or too overblown, but a boring story? That's it.

Now boring could, of course, mean different things to different people. But the way these two writers described the books to me, it sounded very similar. Basically, a whole lot of nothing happening for a whole lot of pages. No conflict, no action, page after page of descriptive prose about setting, just … nothing. The writing was good. In both cases written by very accomplished authors. But a reason to keep turning the pages? Um, not there.

I've seen evidence of this meandering, boring, why-is-this scene-even-in-the-book? type of writing in many a novel. When it happens in the case of the last of a series (hello? The first half of the last couple of books in the HP series? Boring.) you still keep reading because you know there is a payoff at the end. Some big event that will be coming that will make the slog worthwhile. And maybe, when it gets to the end of a long series like HP, readers will want to stretch out that time until the end, not wanting to say good-bye to Harry and all that. But in a stand-alone novel? In a first time authors work? Why?

Yes, boring is subjective but character and good writing can only take you so far. Plot and conflict and making things worse for your characters is what keeps people turning a page (not talking about literary fiction here folks, just your average commercial book). Personally, I'd rather be accused of a whole slew of other issues in my writing but if someone tells me they were bored? Agh. As the inimitable Jack Nicholson once said "I'd rather stick needles in my eyes".

How about you? What's the the Kiss of Death for you in a novel?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Editors Revision Letter - Anticipation or Dread?

I've recently had a few writer friends about to publish their first books mention how nerve wracking it is waiting for the revision letter to come from their editor. I can totally sympathize because when I was waiting for the revision letter for ILLEGALLY BLONDE I truly did not know what to expect. Even when you talk to your editor beforehand and they assure you that it won't be horrible, that they are there to help you work through it, you can't help but picture a massive evisceration of your novel coming at you at some point and you being left to put the torn apart body back in some manner that won't make your book look like Frankenstein's monster. Well, even though I'm by no means an old hand at this publishing game, I am now waiting for the revision letter for my second book, THE BREAK, to come sometime in the next few weeks and this time around, let me tell you, I am totally NOT dreading it. In fact, I am completely, one hundred percent, looking forward to it. Am I nuts? I don't think so. Let me explain.

A revision letter is actually a wonderful, exciting thing to receive. It is a gift. If it's from an editor you trust and with whom you enjoy communicating it is - or should be - a fascinating dialogue about your book. If you love your book, why wouldn't you love talking about it? Dissecting it? Looking at it from different angles. Yes, tearing it apart might be hard but a good editor (and I've been very lucky to have worked with a very good editor) will give you a blueprint. Sort of like an architect and a builder working together to make this book the most beautiful house it can be. Now note that I said 'working together'. This is key. In no way could I have worked with a dictatorial process. "You must remove this scene. You will change this character from a male to a female. You must make the ending a happy one, not the tear-jerker you have now." No. Working together means that the suggestions and questions an editor has of your story should be just that: suggestions and questions. And, for the writer's part, you should be open to all suggestions and willing to answer/consider all questions. As for whether you accept or reject suggestions, a writer has the ultimate responsibility to their story. I'm not advocating a writer dutifully say: "Oh, yes. You think that scene would be much better if those secondary characters were gone? Okay. I'll do that." Don't accept changes without thinking about them and what they would do to your story.

The writer should always have a reason to accept or reject a suggestion. Do you believe, as your editor has suggested, that the secondary characters clutter the scene with too much dialogue, taking away from the emotional impact of the heroine confronting the hero? Or do you believe that having the secondary characters there, watching the train wreck of a relationship crumbling in front of them, will make the scene more impactful for the reader? Whatever you decide, keeping them or letting them go, give the reasons for your decision to your editor. It may be enough for the editor to say: "Okay. Glad we agree." or "Hmm. I didn't think of that. Maybe you're right." or "Are you sure? Because if you do keep them then…" - and the dialogue will continue.

The other reason I'm anticipating getting that revision letter is simply because I LOVE revision. I hate first drafts and I'm in the middle of one now that is beating my butt so maybe that's why I'm looking forward to working on revisions. The chance to work on a novel that is 'finished' so to speak but that will benefit from some spit and polish is exciting to me. It makes me feel like there's progress being made. It's the decorating phase of the house build. All the boring wiring, plumbing, drywall, etc has been done. Now it's time to paint, select the right furniture, place it just so to make that house really show off well (You can tell I'm in the middle of a house reno right now, can't you?:))

So, to all my friends waiting for those letters or who have just received them: embrace this part of the process, don't dread it. It means your book is getting so close to being published!! What's to dread about that?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Things That Go Bump in the Night

I don't write horror nor am I a particular rabid fan of the genre but I do admire those authors who can scare the beejeezus out of people. It is a talent most rare.

At one point in my life - primarily in my teenage and early twenties days - I was a huge Stephen King fan and loved watching horror movies. Reading the book IT made me even more deathly afraid of clowns. I have vivid recollections of the TV series Night Gallery (gah, The Earwig! Dolls coming to life *shudder*). I remember calling my friend Jan on the phone when we were both home alone at our respective houses watching the TV adaptation of King's 'Salem's Lot and at a crucial point (I think a vampire was floating outside the window of a 2nd floor bedroom asking to be let in or something) the roll-up blinds in Jan's bedroom flew up with a clatter causing her to scream over the phone and me to have a heart attack. I remember watching my brother reading The Exorcist and him having to put the book down every few minutes and pace around just to get a break from the tension. He still remembers seeing the movie when it first came out and the hype was about people fainting in the aisles during the screening. He said the producers weren't over-hyping. The movie was that freaky. I still have vivid memories about The Blair Witch Project and going home alone (8 months pregnant) thinking the movie wasn't that bad but, when faced with a dark, empty house (hubby and Daughters One and Two were gone) and calling up my Golden Retriever to the bedroom, allowing her to sleep in the bed with me (strictly a forbidden thing until that point) and locking the bedroom door against … what, really? Don't even get me started on Paranormal Activity or The Ring. Nightmares, I tell you.

So you'd think that with all those vivid recollections I would run the other way when my daughter said she wanted to see this very hyped and buzzed West End hit play called "Ghost Stories" that's now playing here in Toronto. I have to admit, the advertising is very well done. Warnings in the ads state:

"Please be advised that Ghost Stories contains moments of extreme shock
and tension. The show is unsuitable for anyone under the age of 14"

They even have videos showing audience members cowering behind their coats and screaming at key moments.

Ya. Sounds like fun, huh?

Well, instead of running the other way, the two daughters, my brother, hubby and I will be going to see it this Saturday (the Boy does NOT enjoy scary things. He will be at a friend's house well away from ghosts, demons and other supernatural beings). My brother has said that he wants his money back if he's not terrified when he turns off the lights that night. My brother is sick. The teenage girls like to be scared and love to scream so they're all in. My husband will think it's stupid. And me? I used to enjoy being frightened but now I'm not so sure. Why put myself through the stress? Yet, horror is a big business. Do it well and you've got a career out of it. Hello? Stephen King, R.L. Stine? But people wanting to be scared? I don't get it. What is it about some people that like to have that fear adrenaline rush?

What about you? What really scares you when you read or watch a movie (besides bad writing that is :)? I'll let you know if the play was as good as the hype or if the overpriced tickets were a scam. And if I survived...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Birth Order and Your Characters

Ever since I read an article about how the birth order of children affects their personality I've been analyzing my family and friends to see if their character traits reflect or refute the birth order characteristics. Since every one of us lines up somewhere it's kind of a fun checklist to see whether this is fact or fiction. And speaking of fiction, here's my question: do you consciously attribute your hero/heroine's personality characteristics to their birth order?

I know in the case of my novels, I've had a younger sister (with an older brother), an older sister (with a younger brother), an only female child, an older brother (with a much younger brother). I have yet to write about a character with more than one sibling. As I read through the list below I can see that I have attributed many of the characteristics of the Oldest and Youngest to my characters. Maybe I did it because I was aware of this birth order theory but I didn't consciously set out to write them as a 'type'. Goodness, I hope my characters have a little more complexity than that. However, I have to admit many of the traits listed below can be attributed to my firstborn and youngest siblings that I've created. I haven't written a middle child character yet but, from the list below, it would be an interesting character study. Middles seem much more complex and harder to define than the other two (that's my Daughter Two for you!)

Below, I've excerpted the descriptions of the three main birth orders care of this article

First born children are natural leaders. They tend to be perfectionists, reliable and conscientious people. They don't react well to surprises and can be aggressive, but can often be people pleasers. Children who are first born have a strong need for approval by others.

Doesn’t make waves
Follows parents’ wishes
Emotionally intense
Surrogate parent
Leadership material
(Note: Only children are similar to first born children. However, they are even bigger perfectionists, are more responsible and tend to get along better with older people than individuals their own age)

The middle child is often the most difficult to stereotype. Almost always guaranteed to be the opposite of their older sibling, middle children typically feel as though their older sibling stole the spotlight from them, while their younger siblings could get away with murder. They tend to be secretive, more withdrawn and not prone to talk about their emotions. Since middle children feel as though they were overlooked by their family they grow stronger connections with peers and are excellent people readers and peacemakers.

Highly attuned to needs of others
Doesn’t like to follow authority

Last born children tend to be outgoing, social butterflies. They are also the most financially unstable of all the other siblings since their primary interest is in having a good time. The youngest children of the family are often very charming, but can also be manipulative and spoiled

Highly social
Laid back
Few expectations of self

Please note that these traits may change based on the space of years between children and the female/male dynamic. For example, I'm the youngest of two but there were 7 years between me and my brother so I'm more like an only child.

What about your characters (or family members :) ? Do they follow these traits or at least some of them? Or do you think this is a bunch of hooey?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Celebrating Cinderella Ninja Warrior and Sleeping Beauty Vampire Slayer

I'm so thrilled to help my good friend and fellow #torkidlit author Maureen McGowan celebrate the release of TWO (that's right, people, you heard me TWO) new YA books: Cinderella Ninja Warrior and Sleeping Beauty Vampire Slayer. Now if those titles aren't enough to make you run to your nearest bookstore and grab them off the shelf then the concept of having kick ass heroines save themselves instead of waiting for a prince to do it for them should get your butt in gear (hmm, I seem to be writing in a very 'kick butt' oriented kind of way. I'm already being influenced by the books). Not only do you get characters you'd want your pre-teen and teen daughter to emulate, the reader also get to choose which decisions our heroines must make along the way. Romance, adventure, humour and vampires? What's not to love?

But I have to confess, while I'm very excited about the concepts of these two books and what Maureen has done with them, I'm absolutely thrilled to celebrate the fact that Maureen is the one who wrote them. Anyone who has ever met her knows what a great personality, a wealth of writerly knowledge and a true-blue friend she is but, most importantly, Maureen is a GREAT writer. She's been nominated for the prestigious RWA Golden Heart award twice for two different books. (For those who don't know, RWA is the Romance Writer's of America. Being nominated for the Golden Heart is a very big deal folks.) Now that her first books are out everyone can get a chance to see what so many of us already know: Maureen is a true class act, a very fine writer and these will only be the first of many great stories we can expect from her. I'm always thrilled to celebrate when an author has spent years honing their craft and is finally being rewarded for their patience, perserverance and passion. Maureen has all three in spades (she may suggest her patience is over-rated)and this is a big deal for all who know and love her.

So, yeah, I'm celebrating and I hope you do too. Bring on the Ninja's and the Vampire Slayer's! Maureen's books are out! Whoo-Hoo!!!

Friday, April 1, 2011

What Genre of Writing Do You Wish You Could Write?

A good writer should be able to write anything, right? I mean, if you have the chops to write a good horror story, why couldn't you write a good thriller or mystery, or a romance even. Lord knows a lot of romances could be classified as horror stories. :) And yet, we don't have many writers who cross all genres successfully. Not to say we don't have some. Nora Roberts excelled at romance and women's fiction and then moved into thriller territory writing as J.D. Robb and becoming just as big a writer there. You have quite a lot of romance writers branching into closely related genres like romantic suspense or women's fiction. And, of course, just about everyone is trying their hand at a YA these days. But cross genre writing is not that common a practice even though I'm sure many of us have a secret passion for writing a genre we love to read yet can't for the life of us nail down.

I wish I was one of those writers who could write every kind of genre and write it well. I mean, my reading is eclectic and I go from YA to romance to thriller to literary fiction depending on my mood. I used to love reading horror but less so these days. So why can't I write in all of those styles? I know my strength is YA and romance, maybe one day branching into women's fiction though that's a tough nut to crack. But the one genre I love and wish I could tackle and come out triumphant is historical romance. I love this genre. When it's written well it has everything I need: great heroes and heroines, rich, evocative settings, intrigue, chivalry, dastardly villains, a foray into a past time that makes me forget the stresses of today. I'm not a big fantasy reader but the world setting done in historical is just as important as a fantasy world and, I think, even harder to accomplish because there will always be a reader out there ready to pounce on you if you've gotten something wrong. I was so in love with historical fiction that it became my first attempt at writing a book. Specifically a middle grade story set in medieval England. I called it Castle Walls and it sucked. Well, I could see glimmers of my future writing voice in there but it definitely wasn't a historical voice. My 14th century heroine sounded suspiciously like a 21st century teen. But it was so much fun finding out about the peasant revolt and describing castles and moats and things like that. However, it wasn't meant to be. Probably a good thing :)

So, come on, fess up. Are there any genres that you have a secret hankering to write? And do you think you will one day?