Saturday, April 30, 2011

Beauty in unexpected places

Today I'm using Miroslav Fišmeister's photographs. He has so many it's hard to choose. Some, such as the butterflies, are predictably beautiful if one takes the time to be still and look closely. Others, the bee and the ladybug, are charming and maybe more of a surprise. The bee's gossamer wings enchant me, and the yellow flower is a perfect setting.
Note: Click on the link top right to the Bee page to see a larger one. It's beautiful!

These photos are from the Czech Republic.

Here are a few quotes I found that I like. Oscar Wilde never disappoints.

The most beautiful thing in the world is, precisely, the conjunction of learning and inspiration. Oh, the passion for research and the joy of discovery!
- Wanda Landowska

I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering; surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy!
- Louise Bogan

It is better to be beautiful than good, but it is better to be good than ugly.
- Oscar Wilde

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious - the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.
Living Philosophies, 1931
- Albert Einstein

Monday, April 25, 2011

What's "Deep POV"?

Today I'm pleased to have my good friend and critique partner, Maryn Sinclair, as my guest. Maryn writes erotic romance, stories you won't want to miss if you like sizzling romance and good plots. Sexual Persuasion is her first novel.
In Loose Id’s acceptance email for my second erotic romance, The Escort, the editor-in-chief wrote: “We’d like to work to create a deeper POV and stronger characterization for Annie. This may come in the form of having to answer many “why” questions in edits.”
Of course, I know about POV, but what is this deep POV she’s talking about? I obviously didn’t have a problem with it in my first book for Loose Id, Sexual Persuasion, the one released this week. (I’ll explain why later.) So what was I doing wrong in the second book? First, I had to find out exactly what deep POV meant.
Here are some of the definitions I found when I Googled the term:
“A technique that infuses third person POV with the intimacy of first person.” Credit: Maeve Maddox
“What makes a point of view deep is how close we are to the viewpoint of the character’s thoughts.” Credit: Jordan McCollum
Okay, I get it. Delve into my character’s head.
In Sexual Persuasion, I do this by using backstory. Not telling it, but actually “living” it through flashbacks. In other words, a story within a story. Alex, my hero, is—tortured may be too strong a word—hindered by a past relationship that prevents him from getting involved in another one. His almost two-decades-old love affair with a man ended badly. It was his only homosexual liaison. We know what happens in that relationship because we relive it with him. We know how Alex felt then and how he feels now when he meets Charlotte and has the same visceral reaction to her that he had when he met his male lover. We know it. We feel it. We live it with him all over again. We’re in his head. I know, that’s repetition. I can’t emphasize it too strongly.
We’re in Charlotte’s head, too, as she fights her attraction to Alex because he’s characteristic of her bad romance choices. Alex is the attorney for Boston’s head racketeer, and he’s rumored to be gay. If that doesn’t have “bad choice” written all over it, what does?
Intrigued? I hope so.
I’ve always written in third person because I find first person too confining, and I’ve always written multiple POVs because I want to know what goes on with my other characters. Erotic Romance centers on the two main characters—or three or four, depending—because it’s about relationships. I am toying with one story that will incorporate more than two POVs, and one isn’t part of the relationship. Will that be a deal breaker? I don’t know, but I’m sure I’ll find out.
Back to my dilemma. As I reread The Escort, I saw what I was doing wrong. The first meeting of my two characters is from Annie’s POV. There is nothing to explain what she feels when she meets my hero, Daniel, a blind Iraq War veteran who hires her to accompany him for three days on a goodwill mission to help two young soldiers injured in the same attack that took his sight. As a lieutenant-colonel, Daniel found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. His career is over, something he’d focused on his whole life. Did Annie feel anything more than what revolved around her? No.
Even the hardest heart would feel sympathy for Daniel’s situation, though he feels none for himself. All Annie thinks of is the ten-thousand-dollar fee she desperately needs to pay the hospital bills that have mounted from her daughter’s near-fatal illness, which is why she took the escort job in the first place. Annie comes off as a cold-hearted bitch, and readers might not overcome that first impression. So I’m seeing a pattern now. I see what I’m doing wrong.
How do I fix it? You can’t “tell” emotions. You must feel them. Does Annie’s heart break just a little as she sees this handsome—of course, the males are always handsome in ER; rich, not always, but this one is; sexy, a given—guy who exudes strength and humor? Whew, that was a long, convoluted sentence. Yes, in the rewrite. Yes! We feel what she feels. We experience the gnawing in the pit of her stomach as she imagines the incomprehensible darkness of his life.
Strangely enough, Daniel, for all his problems, is the least messed-up (I’m sanitizing my language here) hero I’ve ever written. You’d think he would be bitter, but he’s not. He accepts life the way it is because things happen in war, and he won’t whine because the dice took a bad roll. In his mind, to take any other avenue would be no way to live. I sympathized with Annie, and I fell in love with Daniel. That’s a must in writing any hero for me, but he was special. He also gave me a chance to write in four of the five senses: feel/touch, hear, smell, and taste. Sight was out of his realm, but he made the others work for him, and I hope I made them work for the reader. That was really getting into deep POV, and it was a sensory experience.
I fell in love with Alex too. I knew him better because I was with him longer. Sexual Persuasion was originally rejected by Loose Id, but the editor must have seen something she liked because she asked if I’d be willing to work with a developmental editor. I jumped at the chance. Maybe that’s why I got the deep POV in that book and had to be prompted in the second.
Now, is deep POV a technique a writer should implement only in erotic romance or romance in general? I hope not. It’s a method that draws the reader closer to the characters, makes them fall in love with them, empathize with them, cry with them, or fear for them. It spurs readers to keep turning the pages because they care what happens. This goes for every genre, because beside the plot readers must be drawn to the characters we’re writing. If a reader doesn’t like them, doesn’t feel their angst, joy, sadness, or the love in their hearts, you’ll hear the sound of that book closing. Or in my case, the mouse clicking to another site.
I’m still in edits for The Escort, and writing this post reminds me I can do more with deep POV. Delve deeper. Chip away at the outside layers to expose the core. That’s what it’s all about.
Maryn's website is and you can find her on Facebook. See her author page and buy her book at Loose-Id. It will be available on Tuesday, April 26. There's an excerpt you can click on from the page about the book. Check it out!

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Amazing Gifts of Ice Age Artists

Courtesy of Miroslav Fišmeister
I recently came across this picture of the Lions of the Chauvet Cave in France, one of many spectacular panels of drawings, or paintings, discovered there. The paintings there are the oldest known, carbon-dated to approximately 33,000 years ago, almost twice the age of the Lascaux cave paintings.­­­ The forms and movements, the lines and grace of the animals, show incredible talent. The cave painters smudged charcoal to create shadows and depth, they incised lines into the white stone to emphasize certain features—all with charcoal, bits of pigment, and stone or bone knives on rough cave walls. By firelight.
Jean-Baptiste Oudry
Imagine what they might do with the tools we take for granted: brushes, canvas, a limitless palette of colors. Michaelangelo, move over.
Here's a male leopard by 17th century French wildlife artist, Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755). An elegant painting, but it doesn't have the graceful spine of the Chauvet lionesses (I think they're female). To me, they're slinking, probably stalking something, maybe wary of the cave bear they're about to tackle. I may have to re-read Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear. If I remember, she visited the Lascaux caves and studied them before she wrote the novel.
This is a "portrait" of a woman found in Dolní Věstonice, south of Brno, Czech Republic. Possibly the oldest known replica of a human head, it was carved from a mammoth tusk. The woman has an "awry," or deformed, face. The skeleton of a woman with just such a face, having traces of a long jaw joint inflammation, was also found at Dolní. The grave and its contents indicated a very prominent or powerful person, so there's much speculation that it's the same person, possibly a shaman or mystic.

Next to her I placed a sculpture of Nefertiti, found in the studio of Thutmose, considered the official court sculptor of Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten, who died in 1336 BC or 1334 BC. There are many similarities in the pieces, considering that one was carved with crude tools thousands of years before.
Courtesy of Miroslav Fišmeister

Keith Schengili-Roberts

I wonder if the storytellers used the paintings to enhance their tales, keeping their audience spellbound through long winter evenings. The stories probably had all the elements we look for today, interesting characters, a riveting plot, conflict--breathtaking cliffhangers. I can see it, flickering firelight, children falling asleep on their parent's lap, the artist among them inspired to create another painting.
When you're thinking how far we've come, consider the Lions of Chauvet. The cave wasn't discovered until 1994. Skeletal remains of a mammoth, lions, and a number of cave bears, carbon-dated to the same time period, were also found in the cave.
By the way, the photographs of the Lions and the mammoth carving of the woman's head were taken by my friend Miroslav Fišmeister. One day I'd like to show you more of his gorgeous pictures, taken around Brno, Czech Republic.
A couple of interesting sites:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dipping My Toe in Self-Publishing

 Author Karen McCullough is my guest today. She writes in several genres, from romance to mystery to fantasy to suspense and more. Come on in--If you don't already know Karen, you'll enjoy meeting her.
About six months ago, after hearing other writers talk about it—and sometimes getting wonderful results—I decided it was time to take the plunge and dip my toe into the new world of Kindle publishing.

I have quite a few books that have been out of print for a while. Some of them are going to stay that way. They’re either too dated or in the case of some of the earliest books, I don’t feel like they fairly represent the quality of my writing today.

But there are others that I still like quite a bit and hate that they’re not available.

Then along came Kindle, and it seems like the entire publishing world has turned topsy-turvy.  I don’t own a Kindle myself, but I do have an iPhone with the Kindle app and a nice library of books I’ve downloaded.  I like reading off my iPhone. I always have it with me, so I can read anywhere, any time I have a few minutes—in line at the grocery store, in the doctor’s office, or when I’ve stopped for coffee.  I can hold it in one hand while I do something with the other. The screen is small, but adequate.

I decided it was time to take the plunge.  I had the edited manuscripts for a couple of my older titles. One was going to need some rewriting. The other one was a bit dated, too, having been written in the mid-1980s before cell phones and portable computers became don’t-leave-home-without-them appliances, but it still worked.

I read through all of the formatting requirements and reformatted the manuscript, and read over the cover requirements.  Fortunately, I’m a web designer  as well as an author; I’ve been using Photoshop to design banners, headers, and other web graphics for years.  Making a cover wasn’t too hard.

Then I loaded it up, told a few people about it, posted about it on my Facebook page, and…  A few people actually bought copies of it.

No, it’s not a bestseller by any stretch, but it has sold at a nice steady pace of about a dozen copies a month for the last few months.  I’m not going to get rich that way.  But those are all bonus sales. It wasn’t getting any sales at all when it was out of print.

Blurb for A Question of Fire:
When Cathy Bennett agrees to attend an important party as a favor for her boss, she knows she won't enjoy it. But she doesn't expect to end up holding a dying man in her arms and becoming the recipient of his last message. Bobby Stark has evidence that will prove his younger brother has been framed for arson and murder. He wants that evidence to get to his brother's lawyer, and he tries to tell Cathy where he's hidden it. But he dies before he can give her more than a cryptic piece of the location.
The man who killed Bobby saw him talking to her and assumes she knows where the evidence is hidden. He wants it back and he'll do whatever it takes to get it, including kidnapping and murder.

Karen McCullough is the author of ten published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. Her most recent releases are A GIFT FOR MURDER, published in hardcover by Five Star/Gale Group Mysteries, HEART OF THE NIGHT, from Red Rose Publishing and available as an ebook from most sources, and the re-released ebook of A QUESTION OF FIRE. She invites visitors to check out her home on the web at and her site for the Market Center Mysteries series,

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What do you think about book reviews?

5 Stars

How do you feel about writing book reviews and rating the books? I have a hard time with them. I'd like to give 5 stars, but if I give them to every book I like, my reviews won't mean anything.
Goodreads' rating descriptions appeal to me, but honestly, most books come under 3 or 4 stars that way.
1 - didn't like
2 - it was okay
3 - liked it
4 - really liked it
5 - it was amazing
Another problem is that I have a lot of friends who are writers, and for the most part, I love what they write. But that 5-star rating? I don't know. Should that be reserved for books such as The Kite Runner, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Secret Life of Bees, and Beach Music? Those books were very special in my view. Or does it just mean books I loved?
5 Stars
Will my friends be hurt if I don't give them 5 stars? I certainly don't mean it to be taking anything from their books. I'm still thinking about this. Maybe I should publish my own rating system on Goodreads and use 5 stars for books I love and often read several times.
Of course, if I really dislike a book, I wouldn't review it and probably didn't finish it anyway. I used to feel compelled to finish what I started, but life's too short. I don't have enough time to read what I'd like, and I don't plan to waste it on one I don't like.
Those stars include my own. I think Haunting Refrain and The Peeper are good, but I can't honestly put them in that stellar group with To Kill a Mockingbird or Gone with the Wind.
My other pet peeve is reviews that give a synopsis of the book. I skip those and absolutely won't write them. When I've accidentally read one, I feel I don't need to read the book, that I already know what happens. And spoilers drive me nuts. Why do people feel the need to publish the key to the story and take away all the suspense? At least it should be clearly marked that it contains spoilers.
Mostly I try to leave off the rating and just say how I felt about it. I'd like to know how you feel about it and what you do.

Monday, April 11, 2011

How Fast is Fast Writing?

My guest this week is Jerry Weinberg, author, lecturer, and raconteur. Jerry's books include a wide range of fiction and nonfiction.

A reader writes: "I am curious about how many words per hour or per day that people write. I once read that Stephen King wrote "an amazing 2,000 words a day." I am a little confused here how they count words. I have been writing short stories this year for practice and enjoyment. I average about 1,500 words per hour. That includes the hours spent revising the words."

What's an Hour?
It's no wonder you're confused. Here are some of the types of "hours" that are sometimes included, sometimes excluded, when people are talking about "words per hour" or "words per day."

- Hours thinking about the content before writing a word.

- Hours typing a first draft.

- Hours thinking about the content after writing some words.

- Hours editing an Nth draft.

- Hours researching a draft or revision or redraft.

- Hours corresponding with reviewers and dealing with their comments.

- Hours trying to sell the manuscript.

- Hours working with editors after a ms. is sold.

- Hours working on promotional material.

- Hours corresponding with readers (including writing blog entries like this one).

- Hours installing hardware/software for your writing tools, and tracking errors in those tools.

- Hours banking all the royalties and dealing with tax issues.

There's also the question of how to count "words." Is it words in the finished ms.? Or maybe all the words you've written in all the above activities, many of which were thrown away?

So, if you add up all these words and divide them by all these hours, you get one number for your rate. But if you're counting different words and hours, you'll get a different rate.

Is 1,500 words per hour an extra amazingly speedy rate?
It might be if you're talking about finished words appearing in print, taking into account all those other hours in a writer's business.

Figure it out. A fairly big novel has 120,000 words, so this rate would be more than 35 novels a year. A few writers do achieve this rate, but they write under different names—because readers won't buy novels from one author at that rate.

There are quite a few other authors who achieve this rate–but only on days they're working, and they don't work every day, or perhaps not eight hours on days they do work.

What Are Typical Words Per Hour Rates?
My reader goes on to ask: "How many words per hour or per day do you write when writing novels?"

When I'm drafting a novel, I can readily type 1,500 words per hour. I have, several times, knocked out a 120,000-word ms. in a solid week. Over 50 years, I've produced roughly one 120,000-word book per year, so I must be doing other things than drafting manuscripts.

Other writers' answers will differ, so don't compare yourself to others–especially don't compare your "rate" with someone's not-clearly-defined rate.

If you compare your own rate today with your own rate yesterday, you may learn things about yourself–and notice ways to improve your writing process. That's what counts, not Stephen King's or Jerry Weinberg's "rate."
Jerry (Gerald M. Weinberg) writes from experience. He has published more than 60 book, fiction and nonfiction, and has coached hundreds of writers, dozens of whom have published their own books, including several best-sellers. <>
Earth's Endless Effort
The largest living being on Earth, LAFE (Large Aspen Forest Entity) is threatened by industrialization and seeks the aid of Daphne DeFreest. Before she can help, they must heal her broken body, find a way to communicate, and win the love of her life.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I'm really not slacking off. I'm on a search and destroy mission, looking for was, that, and other such words in my manuscript. It's really tough trying to rewrite and still keep things sounding natural, and I often end up cutting. By the time I'm finished, the manuscript will be close to two thousand words shorter, and I hope much stronger. It's a slow process, and I want to finish it this weekend, so I'm not doing anything I don't have to.

Before this edit started, I read Terry O'Dell's romantic suspense What's in a Name? and really enjoyed it. Well-written with good characters--everyone has secrets.

I started M. Louisa Locke's Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery, another good one with an intriguing character. I really want to get back to it.

I hate to admit how addicted to my Kindle I've become. I have two hardback books by favorite authors that I keep putting off, and recently I returned three books to the library. I didn't have time to finish them and don't like carrying them around.
What are you reading? How do you feel about hardbacks and e-readers?

Back to the edits. See you.

Monday, April 4, 2011

4th Book Release: Kind of Like Your Tenth Birthday

My guest today is Peg Herring, a former English teacher with a penchant for historical mysteries. 
Remember when you were going to turn ten years old? You were so excited to reach double digits, and you kept telling everyone it was going to happen: in a month, in two weeks, in five days, tomorrow. Their response was somewhat tepid. Even your family members, who were really excited by your third, fifth, and even sixth birthdays, seemed a little blasé about this one. It wasn’t exactly big news anymore.
That’s what launching my fourth book is like. I’m still excited, and I want everyone to know about it. Most people try to seem interested. But there’s no sparkle in their eyes, not like with Book #1, where they were surprised (and often thrilled) to learn that they actually knew an author. Or like Book #2, where reviewers told them they would love, love, love this book.
Now it’s old news. “Peg’s written another book,” I imagine someone saying with a sigh. Some seem unwilling to meet my eye when I tell them, and I know what they’re thinking: “Is she going to keep doing this forever? Are we obligated to keep buying these books, just because we know her?”
No, you don’t have to buy this book or any book to remain my friend. If something I’ve written sounds like something you’d like to read, I hope you try it. If not, no worries. After all, you don’t feel bad when you choose one hardware store over another, do you?
So here’s my new offering. THE DEAD DETECTIVE AGENCY is a paranormal mystery, very different from my ongoing historical series starring Elizabeth Tudor.
This book is contemporary, and, according to one reviewer, it “… combines belief in the afterlife with the paradoxical uncertainty of survival in the present, and is full of wickedly dark humor combined with regular laugh-out-loud moments.” (Sam Millar, New York Journal of Books).
Here’s the teaser: Young secretary Tori Van Camp wakes on a luxurious cruise ship with a clear memory of being murdered. Enlisting the help of an odd detective named Seamus, Tori sets out to discover what happened, and who wanted her dead.
You can see more about the book at the places I’ve listed below. I hope to continue this as a series as well, so enjoy! And remember: don’t feel you have to buy an author’s book just because you know the person or met her at a book signing or get your hair done by his mother. Buy books you want to read. There are too many good stories out there not to find those that grab you.
Info & buy links for THE DEAD DETECTIVE AGENCY:
Peg’s website:
Peg’s blog:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lay your money down, boys!

Those pesky verbs, lay and lie. The main problem is lay because it's the present tense of one verb and the past tense of another.  It goes downhill from there. The underlying problem is that we hear it misused so often our ears are no longer trustworthy. I think you just have to memorize it and retrain your ear.

lay, laid, laid - means to place or put something down, and it must have an object, something to receive the action. You can't just place or put; there has to be an object.
Present tense: Gentlemen, lay your cards on the table.  (Substitute place or put. Ask lay what? Cards.)
Past tense: Yesterday he laid the flowers on the grave. (Substitute placed or put. Laid what? Flowers)
Past participle: The wren had laid her eggs in the flower pot before. (Substitute had placed or had put. Had laid what? Eggs.)

lie, lay, lain - means to rest or recline, does not need an object

NASA. Hubble: N90 star-forming region

Present tense: "When we have an urge to use an exotic word, let us lie down until the urge goes away." I think that's at least close to a line by James Kilpatrick. (Substitute rest or recline) He lies among the lilies in the field. rests/reclines
Past tense: All night he lay in the haystack, counting stars. (Substitute rested or reclined)
Past participle: She had lain in the ditch for three days before being found. (Substitute had rested or had reclined)

If you have any good examples, I'd love to see them. Or any quibbles—let me know that too.