Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to a Star Wars Call Me Maybe

Song playing right now on my playlist: “Walk Like an Egyptian,” by Bangles

NEWS: I’m heading to the RWA Conference on Tuesday, so there will be no Six Sunday tomorrow, or Monday Hunk, or Grab Bag. I don’t expect to resume normal blogging until August 1. I hope to do some sort of live blogging of the conference, but not sure how that will pan out, so we’ll see!

Writing and the Writing Life:

Romance Writing

Browncoats:

In Geekdom:

  • And I’ll leave you with this (h/t The Nerdist):

Why Packing for a Trip is like Writing–Do It with Purpose or It Can Cost You

funny pictures of cats with captionsIf you’re a romance writer, then you know that a week from now several thousand romance writers will be descending on Anaheim, CA for the annual Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference. I’m going for my first time, and it’s also the first time I’ve flown since the airlines started charging for extra baggage.

Yesterday morning I looked up the dimensions of the bags I’m allowed and the weight restrictions and started planning on how I could trim what I normally pack for a trip. That same morning, I came across Jami Gold’s post, The Ultimate #RWA12 Conference Packing List and it got me thinking–packing for a trip is a lot like writing. I love metaphors, let’s see how far I can run with this.

Know the purpose for your draft/trip

Each novel is going to go through multiple revision passes. In the early draft phase, some things are not as important and so it doesn’t pay to get worked up over it. For instance, a first draft is just getting your story basics down. The next pass will be structural, making sure you have a solid plot. It would be costly time-wise, to polish any of your prose at this stage, or to ask/pay someone else to give you line edits, since any line, paragraph or scene could change dramatically or get cut.

How is this like packing? If it’s just a quick trip to a familiar place, the stakes aren’t high, and you’re driving, you can be pretty casual about packing. You won’t be penalized for throwing anything or everything into your car and sorting it out later. You have a rough idea of what you need and go with it. Since the stakes aren’t high, it won’t matter if you forget something.

Weighing each word/item

Once we get to that final polish before submission, however, the stakes are different. Now you need to scrutinize every word and scene to make sure it serves the purpose of your story. I’m at this stage with MUST LOVE BREECHES. I’m doing a mind-numbing Find for a long list of words and phrases that could either be cut, or that could be red flags for my prose. I’m only on Chapter 8, but I’ve already cut over 800 words I did not need! I have to do it in chunks, because it is so tedious, but I know the story will be better in the end. I’m at the pre-submission stage for this WIP.

How is this like packing? It’s like my preparation now for the RWA conference. The stakes are high, it’s a costly trip, and I’ll be flying where I need to be careful about what I pack or the airline will charge me. So, I’m going through absolutely every article I’m bringing to see if it can serve several purposes, to see if I actually need it, and in the case of toiletries, if it can be poured into a smaller container. A small tube of toothpaste still gets the job done, but will be more efficient (like that shorter sentence after you trimmed out those words you didn’t need). For a normal trip, I already have a pre-packed toiletries bag I just pull out and throw in stuff I use everyday but don’t have duplicated. It’s quick, it’s efficient and I’m on the road, no agonizing. But I can’t do this for this trip. I’ll be taking everything out of that bag and evaluating it. Just like in a rough draft, it’s okay to write clichés or insert extra ‘baggage’ we don’t need, but for a final draft? No way.

Research

At some stage, you will need to do research for your novel, especially if the stakes are high. First drafts can have placeholders, but final drafts cannot. Some things you write will come from your acquired knowledge, but the true test is recognizing your own limitations and knowledge gaps and to take steps to amend them. You can also surprise yourself in what you find when you research that can make your story stronger.

How is this like packing? For my first writer’s conference, I was driving and I was going to a city I was familiar with, so some things I knew what to pack and plan for. But there were also gaps in my knowledge that I recognized and took the steps beforehand to research, mainly the agents I’d be pitching to. So I researched them, made dossiers, and packed them.

Not researching can also lead to missed opportunities. Case in point: I was perusing some posts on the conference and saw that Saturday night is a big dress-up deal, as in folks where ball gowns! If I hadn’t taken the time to familiarize myself with what was happening, I wouldn’t have known and wouldn’t have packed one. Fortunately for me and my limited budget, I’m a denizen of Mobile and Mardi Gras balls, so I can simply choose one from my closet and pack it. Now, I understand that one can attend in business casual, but they’re in the minority and I would’ve hated missing an opportunity to dress up like that. How often do you get to wear a ball gown?

Personality and brand is important

While there are guides to writing well, at some point you need to be skilled enough to let your unique voice shine through your writing and know when to break the rules. You will also bring your own sensibilities and mindset into your writing. You also are nurturing a brand–you.

How is this like packing? There are tons of advice out there about what to pack and what to wear for your trip, but ultimately you need to be true to yourself. You’ll pack things that show your personality, sometimes without you even realizing what it says about you. Are you someone who always packs a deck of cards, just in case?

Since my RWA trip is about furthering my writing career, and is not just a trip to the beach with family, you better believe I’ll be packing with this in mind. Yesterday at Target, I bought a little Yoda plushie that I can attach to my conference bag to help distinguish it from the 2000 other bags, but I chose it because it’s f&*)*ing Yoda! And see, that’s part of my brand as a geek girl romance writer. Unfortunately my geek clothes are all super casual, so completely inappropriate for this conference. My funds didn’t allow me to purchase funky, dressier stuff only nice, classic clothes on clearance, but it will give a professional appearance which is vital. If I ever get successful, I’ll be able to not only afford it monetarily but flaunt convention a tad.

It can cost you

Failure to understand the nature of the writing business can cost you. The title of this post uses the phrase ‘do it with purpose’ instead of  ‘do it correctly’ for a reason, though. You need to go about writing with a clear purpose at every stage, but there is no “right” way to do it. However, if you fail to do it with purpose, it will cost you. Perhaps it’s not having patience enough to seek outside opinions and self-publishing your first novel. I just read a comment from someone who only had friends and family proof her work before she put it up. She got some pretty bad reviews, which she said stung at first. She admitted though that now that she’s going to critique groups, she’s realized her story could have been much better. The cost to her? Bad reviews and potential brand damage.

There are so many other ways it can cost you– submitting to agents/editors before the story is as polished as it can be, or not researching said agents/editors, will cost you the ability to pitch to them again for the same project, for example. Just like any stage of writing, this needs to be done with purpose as well.

How is this like packing? Used to be you could throw anything into a suitcase or more than one and check it. No longer. Money is tight for me, so it totally sucks that I have to pay $25 to check my bag, but I already know I won’t be able to take everything in a carry-on. However, I do not want to go over the 50lb limit, or check a second bag, so I’ll be going over everything to make sure I don’t incur any more costs. I’ll be packing with a firm purpose. Just like in writing, as I mentioned above, I’ll be scrutinizing every item to make sure it serves the purpose of this trip.

It can also cost you during your trip if the stakes are high. For instance, if I didn’t do any research or planning and just quickly packed for this trip willy-nilly, oh boy would it cost me professionally when I arrived. I would have been ill prepared and come across as unprofessional.

Veteran Writers/Packers

Because I’m a new writer my knowledge is pretty limited. Especially compared to the multi-published authors. There are a lot of things that are second nature to them that I have to consciously do, or strive for, or learn. I’ll make mistakes along the way. I already have, in fact. I’m learning.

How is this like packing? Veteran conference goers will have an easier time than I will packing for this trip. They know what to expect, what to bring. They’ve made mistakes in the past and learned from them, and get better and better each time they go.

How about you? Are you going to RWA? Did this metaphor make a lick of sense? Do you see other ways packing is like writing that I missed?

Monday Hunk Who Reads – Billy Crudup

Billy crudup

Thousandrobots at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Billy Crudup

I simply HAD to see if this hunk was a reader after seeing him in Stage Beauty last week. He was absolutely incredible in that movie–I was literally on the edge of my seat during one of the scenes, it was so compelling. Thank you wonkomance.com for alerting me to this movie!

Anyway, here’s a picture of him helping his son sign up for a library card! It was part of a fundraiser for the NYPL Young Cubs program.

And in 2009 he participated in the NYPL’s Young Lions Awards for fiction. The award honors the works of authors age 35 and under who are making an indelible impression on the world of literature. Here’s a picture of him with one of the finalists.

In October of 2011, he participated in a fundraiser with several other stars for  the Starry Night Stories fundraiser, a benefit for Children of Bellevue’s Reach Out and Read program. Crudup reads the children’s book Duck for President. Here are some highlights (which include Crudup):

In the movie Dedication, he plays a children’s book author, and in this interview, he reveals that his favorite kid’ books are Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree.

Reading is sexy people!

So that’s this week’s Hunk Who Reads. If you like these articles, please comment. They’re fun to write, but are time-consuming :) — on that note, if you run across any photos of hunks reading, please let me know. If you know of an intellectual hunk you’d like to see profiled, let me know that too.

For further opportunities to idolize men and books:

Do you have any photos of male celebrities reading?

Come back next Monday to see the next Hunk Who Reads…

Past Hunks Who Read/Related Articles:

*previous Ovaries Exploding Award winner

Six Sentence Sunday – 7/15/12

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. I have some exciting news (for me)– Secret Cravings contracted my novelette BEER AND GROPING IN LAS VEGAS! It is scheduled for release January 2013! I had two contract offers on it, and received a third just recently! Also, this will be my last post for 2 weeks — I’m going to the RWA National conference and I need next Sunday to get ready :) Are you going?

Here’s my working blurb, which needs to be 150 words (it’s 149 right now). Thoughts?

Can a djinn and a magic slot machine bring two geeks together?

Riley McGregor is a geek trapped in a Good Ole Boy body and as owner of a microbrewery, smart chicks never look at him twice.

Rejected by a geek who wanted to “trade up,” Mirjam Linna would rather immerse herself in work than be the girlfriend-of-the-moment. Stranded in a Vegas hotel, she makes a wish—a night of hot sex with the man of her dreams. It’s granted. She agrees to dinner, but afterward, she’ll say thanks, but no thanks, and see what’s on the SyFy channel. But when they meet, they’re surprised to find they had a shared connection in their past. Sparks fly as these two learn to be in the moment, be themselves and find love.

Fans of Star Trek, Star Wars, Monty Python, Firefly and Marvin the Martian will enjoy this romantic comedy.

Anyway, in light of this development, I thought I’d share the opening lines, which has not been through the publisher’s editor:

Mirjam rubbed the tiredness from her eyes, but the Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland still occupied the Rivenbark Hotel & Casino elevator with her. She blinked and squinted. Yep, and life-size. Complete with a hookah.

Plastic squeaked against glass as the caterpillar shifted to make more room. It made eye contact.

As always I welcome constructive feedback. Thank you!

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! 

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Batman Spa (and some Firefly)

Song playing right now on my playlist: “Let’s Dance,” by David Bowie

NEWS: I signed my first contract! BEER AND GROPING IN LAS VEGAS, coming January 2013 from Secret Cravings Publishing!

Writing and the Writing Life:

Browncoats:

In Geekdom:

I’m a contracted author!

I’m so very excited to announce that I just signed my first writing contract! It’s for BEER AND GROPING IN LAS VEGAS, a 13K word novelette, due out in January 2013 by Secret Cravings Publishing!

I actually had two contract offers on the piece and opted to go with Secret Cravings, which I’m very excited to be a part of this established e-publisher.

I have to admit, I got choked up when I received Secret’s contract. I felt like all my hard work (and obsession with writing) had finally paid off, that it was a reality, that I hadn’t been fooling myself that I could do this.

This Sunday, for Six Sentence Sunday, I’ll post the opening six sentences to give you a taste :)

Here was my query, which I’ll use as my jumping point for my blurb:

Riley McGregor is a geek trapped in a Good Ole Boy body and as owner of a microbrewery, he’s just not meeting his type. Smart chicks never look at him twice. He’d like to find someone who appreciates him for who he truly is.

Rejected by a geek who wanted to “trade up,” Mirjam Linna has lost herself in her work as a computer programmer. When a djinn and a magic slot machine bring these two together for a blind date, Mirjam wants nothing to do with it. However, her sister threatens more drastic measures if she doesn’t take advantage of the offer. Mirjam agrees to dinner, but after that, she’ll say thanks, but no thanks, and see what’s on late night on the SyFy channel. But when they meet, they are surprised to find they had a shared connection in their past. Sparks fly as these two learn to be in the moment, be themselves and find love.

BEER AND GROPING IN LAS VEGAS is a romantic comedy with paranormal elements, complete at 13,400 words. Fans of Star Trek, Star Wars, Monty Python, Firefly and Marvin the Martian will enjoy this romance.

Obviously, I’m super excited for a number of reasons. One of them, oddly, is that I’m looking forward to the process: working with Secret Cravings on the cover, working with their editor to polish this puppy up, etc.!

I also want to thank my Beta readers who helped me get my submission to a place I felt confident sending it out. Thank you so much!

Anyway, just had to share :)

What about you? If you’re contracted, do you remember that first moment when someone actually said “yes”?

Monday Hunk Who Reads – George Clooney

Posing with Jacob, whose story was the inspiration for this book, A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk by Jan L. Coates

George Clooney

He’s one of those guys that gets better looking as he ages, don’t you think? He didn’t use to do it for me. But anyway, since we had Noah Wyle last week, a sharp-eyed commenter spotted his co-star in ER, George Clooney, with a book and it seemed only appropriate to feature him this week.

Here’s a photo of him reading Al Gore’s book, The Assault on Reason.

Apparently, his favorite book is Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace! Whereas, this source says it’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, a book that says we can change the world by empowering women.

And here’s a peek into his LA home, where you can see books play a normal part of his life.

(h/t to Linda Morris whose sharp eye spotted Clooney’s photo)

Reading is sexy people!

So that’s this week’s Hunk Who Reads. If you like these articles, please comment. They’re fun to write, but are time-consuming :) — on that note, if you run across any photos of hunks reading, please let me know. If you know of an intellectual hunk you’d like to see profiled, let me know that too.

For further opportunities to idolize men and books:

Do you have any photos of male celebrities reading?

Come back next month to see the next Hunk Who Reads…

Six Sentence Sunday – 7/8/12

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. Today I’m sharing sentences of my new novel, STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY. I finished the rough draft only last month ago, so this is pretty rough. It’ll probably get revised a ton, but this will give you a rough idea.

This is a steampunk romance set in 1890 Mobile, Alabama, and a loose sequel to MUST LOVE BREECHES. Last week we saw the hero’s cravat sail away in the breeze as he’s approaching in a hot air balloon. I’ve skipped his landing and his introducing himself to the heroine:

Her eyes dropped to the faux pas in his attire, the lack of cravat. She’d never seen a man’s throat and collarbone before. Well, except her father’s and he didn’t count. Her heart gave an extra little thump. Tiny black hairs were sprinkled there, teasing her as to what lay beneath his shirt.

Strong-looking fingers fiddled with the collar at his throat, attempting to close the gap.

As always I welcome constructive feedback. Thank you!

IN OTHER NEWS: MUST LOVE BREECHES finaled in the Celtic Hearts RWA chapter contest, the Golden Claddagh, in the paranormal category this past week!

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! 

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Jar-Jar Binks Target Practice

Song playing right now on my playlist: “On the Radio,” by Regina Spektor

NEWS: MUST LOVE BREECHES finaled in the Celtic Hearts RWA chapter contest, the Golden Claddagh, in the paranormal category!

Writing and the Writing Life:

Browncoats:

  •  Last week I posted the announcement of the Firefly cast reunion at ComicCon. Now there are rumors that a big announcement will be made. Oh, please be true and be what we’re thinking!!
  • And I thought you’d enjoy this:

In Geekdom:

Re-run: Eric and Sookie – Why So Steamy? Writing Sexual Tension…

Thought I’d pull a post from the archives that might interest you since True Blood is on air again, and since this is the 4th, it’s kinda relevant because watching this kiss is like firecrackers going off! bah-dum-bum-tcheeh.

————–

I’m going to take an excerpt from True Blood to illustrate/discuss writing sexual tension and the stages of intimacy. Monday I featured Alexander Skarsgård as the Monday Hunk Who Reads, and I’ve had today’s post in mind for a while now, so I thought I would round off the week with True Blood to stick with the Skarsgård theme.

One of the greatest tools I found for anyone writing romance, either as the main plot or as a subplot in a non-romance book, is the 12 Stages to Physical Intimacy developed by Linda Howard from Desmond Morris‘ book Intimate Behavior: A Zoologist’s Classic Study of Human Intimacy. I first heard about this in an online class this past summer, “From Slow Burn to Fast Sizzle: Making Sexual Tension Work For You,” from the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal Chapter of RWA given by romance writers Kira Sinclair and Lynn Raye Harris (thank you!)

In a nutshell, in order to make the sexual tension between two people believable, a writer should show the characters progressing through these 12 steps:

  1. Eye to body
  2. Eye to eye
  3. Voice to voice
  4. Hand to hand (or arm)
  5. Arm to shoulder
  6. Arm to waist, or back
  7. Mouth to mouth
  8. Hand to head
  9. Hand to body
  10. Mouth to breast
  11. Hand to genitals
  12. Genitals to genitals

To learn more details about these steps, and how to use them and switch them up, see Jenny Hansen’s post Using The 12 Stages of Physical Intimacy To Build Tension In Your Novel and Terry Odell’s 12 Steps to Intimacy.

Okay, studied up? Let’s see it in action! For non-fans of True Blood, this kiss scene between Viking vampire Eric Northman and Sookie Stackhouse had been a long time coming. They’d kissed before, but never initiated by Sookie and always through some kind of trick or manipulation by Eric. This is the first kiss initiated by Sookie. Up until now, there’d been a lot of stage 1 through 3, especially 1 & 2 by Eric. He can’t get enough of looking at Sookie and I wonder if that’s what makes him so sexy, is the way he looks at her?

Alexander’s Skarsgård’s character Eric has just basically told Anna Paquin‘s character that he doesn’t dare be around her any more since all he does is cause trouble for her and he doesn’t dare risk hurting her or getting her killed. He’s walking away. So here, let’s see how many stages we see (don’t worry if you’re at work, it only goes up to 9):

Okay, confession time for me. When I first saw this I literally had chills running up and down my whole body. Yes, even to my toes! I kid you not! After I had this very physical response (I think I also said “Whoa” out loud), the writer in me had to ask WHY? Certainly I don’t have this reaction anytime I see people kiss on screen. Especially when Alexander Skarsgård’s character here is looking so dorky in gym clothes. (Though he IS certainly adorkable here!) I’ve seen some great actors give me chills and then other times, not a one (for the same actor). And it’s not because “they’re hot” as I’ve seen some dull kisses from actors that I find “hot.”

WHAT about this scene did this for me? I don’t really know the answer, but I wondered if it was because of these stages? Do you know why? I’ve always wondered about chemistry between actors and how and why that translates onto the screen… Watch it again (go ahead, you know you want to). Here’s what I observed on rewatching.

  1. Notice his eyes when he first hears her calling his name. They snap up and track around to stare at her. (Chills are already starting again. Or maybe I just need to get Central Heat?) Anyway, it’s dang sexy…
  2. Camera switches back to her and more eye to eye contact. Intense eye to eye contact. And then her confession.
  3. His slow walk back maintaining constant eye contact. I think the constant part of this is essential here.
  4. Her arms go out for some hand to arm and hand to shoulder action. Her arms outstretched also symbolize her acceptance of him
  5. Then, oh then, frames 1:30 to 1:35. One hand draws in her hair on the back of her head. The the other hand does the sexy back-of-the-fingers swipe to the nape of her neck. They’ve skipped a couple of stages with him touching her this way (step 8: hand to head). This is a very intimate move and they haven’t even kissed yet. Look closely at these frames and see the emotions play across his face as he does this move. He almost winces and I think even just being this close to her is more than he’d ever hoped for. Also, this is a very vulnerable position for her since he’s a vampire. She’s trusting him. Having his mouth near her neck like that is very intimate/sensual, even if he wasn’t a vampire. I think it’s implied that he’s drawing in her scent here too.
  6. Her eyes open and she brushes by his ear
  7. He holds back, letting her initiate
  8. She looks him in the eye and they maintain eye contact
  9. She kisses him, but frames his face first in her hands, while maintaining eye contact
  10. He responds (le sigh)
  11. And the kiss escalates from there with his hands moving in her hair, etc.

The musical score was perfect for this scene too, but we can’t rely on music in our novel writing…

I’ve been really trying to figure out what makes some scenes in books so intense and others not so much, and I’m becoming more and more convinced that eye contact is the key. Or maybe it’s that the flat ones skipped some steps and it felt forced? I’ll have to study some more (dang)…

All kidding aside, there are reasons why some scenes where all they do is look at each other

(or just touch hands)

are loaded with tons more tension than a full-on sex scene. And I think it’s the same reasons why one sex scene can be sexy as hell and another is a yawner. Stepping your reader through the stages will help, as well as making sure you’ve laid the emotional foundation.

What else did you notice from the clip? Are you a True Blood fan? What did you think when you first saw this scene? What are some elements that help make scenes in books or movies sizzle? Why do some things fall flat?