Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday Poetry: Self Pity

"Poetry is truth in its Sunday clothes." -Joseph Roux

Self Pity, by D.H. Lawrence

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

Best recited by the Master Chief (aka Viggo Mortenson) in G.I. Jane:

Friday, June 27, 2014

Research Trip! Fort Mason

Those of you who know me know I value my day trips.

Writing is a solitary business. Most of my time is spent at a desk, swigging cold coffee and tossing back Ibuprofen to combat lower back pain. What can I say? It ain't always sexy, folks.

Which is why I seize any excuse I can to venture out into, you know, The Real World.

I am fortunate enough to live near the city that has become my Muse. San Francisco is one hell of a town. Every time I go there (which I do, as often as time and gas prices permit), I discover something new, something wonderful, something that would be perfect in a book.

One of my recent trips took me to Fort Mason. This old Army installation is located on the waterfront at the edge of The Marina district.

Today, the old officers' quarters have been transformed into rent-able living spaces and a youth hostel. As you can see (below), there is also a lovely community garden (this is San Francisco, remember?)

(Below) Part of the city skyline from the recreation field at Fort Mason.

(Below) And more of the city skyline. This is a view out over The Marina and Cow Hollow districts. And of course, the Golden Gate out in the distance.

(Below) Another gratuitous Golden Gate shot, over the rooftops of Lower Fort Mason.

(Below) And another, from a slightly different position, and with the masts from the marina in the middle.

But the coolest part of the trip? Check this out (below): the abandoned entrance to the old San Francisco Belt Railway! I read about this online, and it was the main reason I wanted to check out Fort Mason. Well, I found it, and yes, it's every bit as awesome as I thought it would be!

Now, I'm what you might charitably call a "geek," especially when it comes to history. I've also traveled a fair bit. Most other cities I've visited are purely modern creations. History is bulldozed, paved over, shoved aside. While in many cases this makes perfect economic sense, it is, nonetheless, sad.

San Francisco is one of those magical places that hasn't tried to hide or cover up its colorful past. Rather than pave over history, the modern city of San Francisco is literally built around it.

You see it in obvious things, such as the still-functioning street cars and the obviously-old buildings. But you can also see it in more subtle touches, such as the long-obsolete etchings in the sidewalks on Market Street that mark where telegraph lines used to run.

With so many layers to peel back, I doubt I'll be running out of inspiration -or excuses to visit- anytime soon.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Plotting? It's Easy! Sort Of...

“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” -Gene Fowler

You have an idea.

Maybe it's a good idea. Maybe it's even a great idea. Your characters have started talking. You're ready to start writing.

Hold that pen, Slick.

How many times have you been down this path before? How many books have you started? Perhaps more importantly, how many have you finished? If the answer to that question is less than one, allow me to make a humble suggestion.

Plot first.

I've been down this road myself. I had already been writing for years before I finished my first book. That I never finished any of these earlier projects wasn't a huge deal to me. It was still just a hobby, after all.

When my son was born and I decided to get serious with my writing, I realized I needed to do things differently. In short, I needed to learn how to plot.

I proceeded to read a shit-ton of books on plotting and story-boarding/mapping/voodoo/whatever.  The lightbulb came on for me when I realized I wasn't going to find all the answers all in one place. I still believe that early research was important, but more for recon purposes.

Since then, I've cobbled together my own approach from several of the books I read, including The Romance Writer's Handbook (Rebecca Vinyard) and Writing A Romance Novel For Dummies (Leslie Wainger). I found both useful in different ways, and cherry-picked different things from each.

Are you at a loss where to start? Looking for a simple, flexible way to plot your book? If so, stick close.

 My (Unpatented, Super-Anal, Probably Thoroughly Unprofessional) Plotting Process:
*Note: I write romance novels. This is reflected in how I plot. If you write in other genres, you may still find this helpful, but you'll probably need to tinker a little more*

1) Create the characters. I have some basic character sketch templates I fill out before I start plotting. It helps me get to know who I'm dealing with.

2) Plot the relationship trajectory. I've read this referred to as the "Major Plot Points". They include any interaction between the hero and heroine that furthers their relationship (first meeting, first kiss, first sex scene, etc.).

3) Flesh out the rest of the plot. Think of it as "connect the dots", the "dots" being your Major Plot Points. What needs to happen to get from one dot to the next? This usually is where you insert your sub-plot, or the part of your book that doesn't have to do with the love story.

Then after all that's done...

- Go back and insert where the scenes/chapters start or end.

- Go through, chapter by chapter, and outline everything (EVERYTHING) that is going to happen in that chapter, right down to when someone sneezes. Make note of any excerpts that pop into your head, any great pieces of dialogue, any description that needs to be woven in, that sort of thing. Keep all of this where you can refer to it easily (I have a notebook), and devote maybe one or two pages to each chapter.

- At the top of each page, define what your objective is for that chapter- increase sexual tension, flesh out characters, major turning points, etc. It helps you focus when you're actually writing. It's so easy to get carried away in the creative flow, it helps to have a visual reminder of what you're actually trying to accomplish.

- Finally, give yourself permission to completely change everything if you need to. I've noticed, especially after the first sex scene, the hero and heroine often go in a totally different direction than I had anticipated. It's a very organic thing, so make sure to leave room for the story and the characters to breathe.

Does it work? I've published three-going-on-four books since I started a little over a year ago, so I'll let you be the judge.

Starting out is always tough, but sometimes it helps to know it was (and is!) tough for other people too. I had a tough time starting. I think it was because I hadn't figured out who I was as a writer, and didn't realize I'm the type who needs to plot my stories out first.

If you're still reading, I assume you're ready to get serious. I hope this post provides some clarity. Kudos to you for knuckling down, asking questions, and figuring stuff out! A lot of people don't take that step.

Those are the people who end up writing journals, but not books.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Poetry: The Highwayman, Part Three

"Poetry is truth in its Sunday clothes." -Joseph Roux

The Highwayman, by Alfred Noyes

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,  
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,  
A highwayman comes riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.  
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there  
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Poetry: The Highwayman, Part Two

"Poetry is truth in its Sunday clothes." -Joseph Roux

"The Highwayman's Footsteps", Tristan Elwell

The Highwayman, by Alfred Noyes


He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at noon;  
And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,  
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,  
A red-coat troop came marching—
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord. They drank his ale instead.  
But they gagged his daughter, and bound her, to the foot of her narrow bed.
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!  
There was death at every window;
         And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest.
They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle beneath her breast!
“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
         Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!  
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
         Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.  
Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.  
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;  
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
         Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear;  
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding—
The red coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still.

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!  
Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light.
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,  
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
         Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

He turned. He spurred to the west; he did not know who stood  
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own blood!  
Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew grey to hear  
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
         The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shouting a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.
Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;
When they shot him down on the highway,
         Down like a dog on the highway,

And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Bad Reviews Suck. Except When They Don't.

“From my close observation of writers... they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review. ” -Isaac Asimov

I can't think of many authors who actually like bad reviews.

Understandable, right? I mean, no one likes to hear that the book they worked so hard on, their literary baby, didn't resonate once they released it into the world. Or worse, that its very existence outright offended someone.

I'm coming to the keyboard having received my very first bad review this week. And I'm not talking about one of those "nice try, better luck next time" reviews. The reviewer hated everything about the book, from front cover to back.

But I'm not here to vent. Or cry. Or bitch.  Because guess what?

There's nothing wrong with that.

If anything, I'm glad they wrote that review. Because while it may have stung, it also forced me to do something I've never really had to do as an author: I had to do a little soul-searching.

They were very specific about the things they didn't like. And nothing they said was wrong. Most of what they listed were things I had done with great intent. A couple weren't, and thanks to them, I have some new ideas on what to work on (and hopefully improve) in my next book.

But what about the things I knew about? The things I had done intentionally, that they didn't like? That's where the soul-searching came in.

As authors, it's important to be able to take criticism. Many of us can't- at least, not well. But it's equally important to know where and when to stand your ground. Not everyone is going to like the books we write. Does that mean we should try to write to suit every audience?

Absolutely not.

Sometimes it takes a pinch in the soft place for us to decide to stand our ground. Stand by our characters, our style, our story. To write with passion means to risk alienating some people, some of the time.

So I appreciate that bad review. I'm grateful to the reviewer for giving my book a chance. I hope the next thing they read will be something they enjoy.

But if you'll excuse me, I have another book to write.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday Poetry: The Highwayman, Part One

"Poetry is truth in its Sunday clothes." -Joseph Roux

The Highwayman, by Alfred Noyes


The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.  
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.  
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,  
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,  
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.  
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
         His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.  
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there  
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.  
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,  
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
         The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,  
Then look for me by moonlight,
         Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;  
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
         (O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)

Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.