Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Faceless Voices

While I'm laid up (recovery is going quite well, thank you), I have an app from the hospital that reminds me of all the things I should be doing, along with an optional reminder for meds and a notes section. Theoretically, I know someone is reviewing my progress somewhere although it feels a bit like journalling. Who would read my journal? I send them pictures of the wound and status updates.  At my presurgical class, they told me I could keep notes on my progress. Yes, the app says the physician will be reviewing these notes but it also says don't expect them to. Imagine my surprise when I got a message back - not one I could track down or save, mind you - that said the wound looked good, and for the additional pain that came from laying in one position all night (a note I'd recorded), I should keep moving. Except as soon as I saw the notification, it was gone. So I think that's what it said before it disappeared. Its a notification, not a message.

Another day I got a notification that asked how I was moving. Probably a canned notification like "don't forget to check in," except it got me thinking about "You've Got Mail" and Cyrano de Bergerac and anonymous correspondence. Oh, and let's not forget "Sorry, Wrong Number." +Teresa Medeiros wrote a story about Twitter (Goodnight, Tweetheart) along these same lines, which I thoroughly enjoyed. A new take on an old trope (and she actually convinced me to venture into the Twitterverse with that book).

My imagination has been bizarre, my dreams fairly vivid - no doubt attributable to the meds. So when I pictured Fred MacMurray leaving me a letter in a post office box today, I started to giggle. (Yes, I'm making reference to a black and white movie made a million years ago.) One of my critique partners has been stuck on the topic of tropes, and how some are overdone, or just plain shouldn't be done.

Do I think there is a secret admirer on the other side of my app? Oh, heck, no. Likely a nurse monitoring and doing her job. But this brings me back to the inspiration of the day. People ask where I get my story ideas. EVERYWHERE! Sitting in a recliner with my leg up and reporting to an app! Authors are a different breed, doncha know. The story can be a saccharine romance or an edge of your seat thriller like Sorry, Wrong Number. An overused trope? Or one that is thankfully not visited very often?

Maybe a plot for the third book of the new series....

And in case you were wondering what to get me for my birthday (yes, its TODAY!), might I suggest you buy one of my books? Or buy one for a friend. Quick links are over there, at the top of the column to the right. Don't forget to leave a review. Best present an author can get!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Real Life Heroes

I went to the store the other day. A quick lunch time trip to pick a few things up. When I walked back to my car, there was a delivery truck blocking me in. GREAT. As I made my way across the parking lot, I heard someone on a cell phone saying "I think there's a dog in a car." Ok, Summer. Dogs. Hot cars. Someone standing near my car on a cell phone. I don't have a dog. Rounded the car next to mine. No dog in the car. Did someone hit my car?

Nope. There was a man laying on the ground between my car and the one next to mine.

Not a dog.

Poor guy is flat on his back with maybe three people standing over him, one of them on the 911 call.

"Do we need to do something? Is he having a heart attack?" I ask.

"They told us not to touch him," one of the people tells me.

He's breathing. His eyes are open, and I'm thinking the sun is going to blind him. It's a bright day. His eyes roll back. People are talking to him, trying to get a response. He's not talking. One woman asks him to squeeze her hand. Nothing.

One of the people look at me, realize this is MY car we're next to, and says, "you can probably go if you want to." Well I could, if I wasn't going to run this poor man over by moving my car.

The police show up and take over, and then the ambulance. Mr. Man doesn't quite know what's going on, and while they start to move him, he starts to panic.

The police and the EMTs were very professional, calming, going about their job. The rapid manner in which they are able to acquire information is startling. One of the EMTs says this man was at the hospital yesterday, or maybe even today. Just from getting his ID. I'm sure that helps them to understand what happened to him, or at least an idea why this happened.

While I camp out next to my car, because now the delivery van is gone but I'm blocked in by the fire department ambulance AND a fire truck, my five minute trip to the store has become an hour, and I'm getting my Vitamin D fix standing in the sun in the parking lot rather than on the deck at home. And you know what? I don't mind. Let these guys do what they have to do.

When I first found that man lying next to my car, I thought he might be dead, with his eyes open, not moving, flat on the ground. And then you notice he's breathing. THAT's when I started wondering what I could do for him, but thankfully, someone else was already on top of it. Good neighbors who might easily not have seen the poor guy lying in between cars in a parking lot. People who took the extra time to make the call, to stay with him. And finally, the first responders who treated him.

Real life heroes. All of them.

(And people wonder where authors get their ideas)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pet Appreciation Day

My schedule has been a little skewed lately. As a creature of habit, my cat is understandably confused. This "throwaway cat" has been with me for 17 years, and I thought today was a good day to appreciate her.

"Poo-pooh" is still pretty spry for an old lady, with a few exceptions. She's hard of hearing. Have you ever been able to sneak up on a cat? While she's looking for you one direction, if you sneak up behind her to announce yourself, she doesn't hear you... until you create a vibration. Then she turns and jumps two feet in the air because you've startled her. She doesn't have all of her teeth anymore, and she has a hard time grooming herself.

She was rescued from a dumpster and "someone" brought her to me insisting I needed another cat. The resident cat (K.C.) was not amused. However, K.C. assumed the Alpha cat role and took it upon himself to train her, which was mostly good--for us. For Poo-Pooh, not so much. He taught her to be afraid of her own shadow. She hid from visitors and was shy about sitting on family laps if there were more than two people in the room. If you were alone in the room, she was all over you. K.C. was a mischievous big brother, chasing her and then back tracking when she wasn't paying attention. He also had a habit of hiding around corners and then jumping out at her. Such a prankster! And, of course, poor Poo would be so traumatized that she would hide for days. She rarely made a sound, except for her exceptionally loud purring. You could hear her coming from long distances.

When K.C. crossed the rainbow bridge, Poo wasn't quite sure how to handle being an only child, but she adapted quickly. She found her voice and lost a lot of her panic-induced fears. Now she's vocal, calling out for you whenever she doesn't see you. AND she likes company. Whereas she used to run when she heard the doorbell, now she goes to see who's there with me.

Cats are creatures of habit. She follows me most everywhere when I'm home, and when I'm away, she lets me know she's missed me by telling me and sitting right beside me and touching me with her paws. She hasn't lost her "three's a crowd" mentality. We're more likely to have a kitty on our lap if we're home alone, but as an old lady, she isn't as comfortable on laps as she used to be, so she doesn't stay long. Whereas most animals are nervous around small children, Poo is curious. She's cautious, but she wants to see these tiny humans. The first time she saw a baby, she was dumbfounded. "What the heck is that?" Fortunately for us, the tiny humans in our lives are animal friendly. They've grown up with critters, so they don't go running at her and shrieking with glee. They approach her in much the same way as she approaches them.

I never expected this poor, sickly cat rescued from a dumpster to survive, much less for 17 years. She's been a source of entertainment, of affection, and companionship. As I spend the next several weeks recuperating, I know she'll be right beside me cheering me on.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

You Need Thick Skin

A step into the irreverent today. Have you ever heard the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life?" (You can click below to listen if you haven't, or if you have and want to hear it again.) Like the topic of this post, the movie it is from is somewhat controversial, a movie people either loved or hated because of the subject matter.

As an author, one of the things they tell you is that you have to have a thick skin. Reading is subjective. There are several best sellers that I haven't loved, but I don't bash them simply because they aren't "my cup of tea."

The most important part of writing is to make sure you get the mechanics right. If your grammar is poor or it is riddled with mistakes, most people won't spend the time reading it. Even when its perfect, you should be prepared for negative feedback, because not everyone is going to like what you've written.

While I was writing one of my books, I was between critique groups, so I tried the RWA groups. I wanted to incorporate some of the places I've visited into the story--Scotland and Fort Lauderdale. One of the early critiquers took exception to my descriptions of Scotland. She was British (I would say English rather than Scottish, but I can't remember now) and she said before I attempted to write about a place, I should visit first. I was shocked! I HAD been there. I wrote those places that inspired me, but she went on to tell me my main character surely would want to visit the mall in Manchester. AHEM. My character had a short stop in Manchester, and no reason to visit the mall. I immediately called a friend of mine who lives across the ocean and asked what I'd gotten wrong. We talked about landmarks and notable sights, and as a result, I actually included some things that I hadn't seen when I was there.

A second critique group told me I might want to give up on writing. They suggested I use more flowery prose, all those ugly adverbs that I've always been taught to avoid. And that was after I had two novels published (which I didn't hesitate to point out to that person). If I didn't have the other two books under my belt, I very well might have called it a day and thrown in the proverbial writing towel. That's when I stopped looking for an RWA group to fit in with.

Further down the road, during one of my early attempts to hire an editor, I was somewhat surprised when she sent back comments like, "Cameron isn't a girl's name. You should change it." Hello? Have you ever heard of Cameron Diaz? Oh yeah, and then there's Cinda. "What kind of a name is Cinda? Your readers won't relate to it." And that's when I severed ties with that editor. If the worst thing she could pick apart in my writing was the names of my characters, she wasn't helping. That editor is fairly well respected in the industry, she has written some books on the craft, but after my experience with her, I'd never buy one of them.

Despite these criticisms, I continued on my journey. It isn't about finding someone who blindly agrees with you because they don't want to hurt your feelings. I have had some very blunt feedback on my writing, but that feedback was constructive. Not condemnation for the names I'd chosen for my characters or criticism that I didn't travel someone else's road.

Can you imagine telling someone they should give up writing?

Without a doubt, writing is a craft that must be finely honed. I don't always get it right on the first draft, but my method is to get the story down first, and then look for what's missing or what I've gotten wrong. Even still, when I hand the finished product in to my editor, she'll often find more things wrong, what's still missing or what should be corrected, and I trust her. Constructive criticism from someone who knows the industry. Once it's pointed out, I can see it clearly and correct it.

Unlike "Cameron isn't a girl's name."

If you're an aspiring writer, keep at it. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. The longer you're at it, the more automatic it becomes. Silly mistakes, like using that for who, correct themselves. The word "just" jumps out at you the minute you type it (although there are still many instances that sneak through). And if someone criticizes your work, consider the validity of their comments. All criticism should be considered. Criticism can hurt, but sometimes it might make your work better.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Attending writer's conferences

I have to tell you, I always enjoy going to the Chicago Spring Fling. Nice job, once again, ladies.

There are always fun little snippets that come out of it, from Sonali Dev talking about "heartgasms, you know, when you heart engages and maybe triggers a little something down there..." to Robyn Carr talking about "I'm perfectly willing to write crap" (i.e., its better to write ANYTHING than nothing at all). One of my favorite lines was Molly O'Keefe, who was doing a session on how to write a sex scene. They'd moved her conference room and someone came in late, so she said, "this is the sex workshop. Are you here for sex?" The secret to a good sex scene, by the way, isn't in the mechanics, it's in the rest of it - why is it there and what's at stake rather than a gratuitous show of flesh.

But that's some of the silliness. The conference provided interesting market views, pointers, and writing workshops. One group of authors shared their brain child, a model that no one else will be able to replicate, but it was interesting to see how they pulled it off. And then of course there's the networking. Meeting new people, rubbing elbows with some of the big leaguers, being with people who understand your journey.

Did I mention the publishers and agents? Most conferences offer "pitch sessions," a chance to speak to a publisher or agent of your choice (among those attending). It's an inside view into the industry and what works, what doesn't, and where your work fits (or doesn't). Because I'm starting a new series this year, I had something fresh to pitch, and whereas first timers are generally nervous and shaking in their boots, having been through this a time or two (yes, I was still nervous), I find myself asking more questions about who they are and what they can do for me. It was a fun conversation! (And yes, she liked my pitch, so we'll see what she thinks after reading more of the latest work in progress.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Taphophilia and Memorials

Several years ago, I needed character names and decided to take a walk through a cemetery to "borrow" names from grave markers. Around that same time, the city organized a cemetery walk, which is fairly common with historical societies, etc. What better way to walk through the cemetery than with a guided tour? The anticipation sparked my imagination with a woman who is more comfortable in a cemetery than in the real world, and I started to write the story.

When I looked into taphophilia (defined as "morbid interest in graves and cemeteries," but why does it have to be morbid?), I began to understand the attraction. The cemetery is dotted with angels and obelisks. From mausoleums to flat stones. Old markers, new markers. Taphophiles seem to prefer older cemeteries, the spookier ones with the more interesting stones, but that's the point. They're interesting

The cemetery I toured has a wide variety of monuments across a varied landscape. Mausoleums are built into hillocks (they're called french mausoleums, for the record). Different shapes and colors of stones adorn the graves and different types of engraving mark the stones. In this day and age, granite stones are either sand blasted or laser etched. Most stones are made of either granite or marble.

French mausoleums

As part of my research, I visited a monument shop - the granite works and the memorial works. Cutting the stones has become a computerized science which is no less interesting, and while I had pictured a guy holding a sandblaster in a small room, what I actually found was that same small room, with the "guy" standing outside the room, looking through a window, setting the computerized sandblaster to etch the stone, and he could either watch, or walk away while the computer followed its program and did the work. 

More of what I learned: 65% of people opt for cremation these days, and many of those people don't ever end up in the cemetery (on grandpa's mantel, dispersed into the ocean, etc.) either as a measure of cost or choice. There are cremation niches in the cemetery, and those niches commemorate the life of the deceased much the same as a headstone would. Some cremains are buried and have a headstone. What's the impact? Future genealogists may never find relatives without a grave marker annotating their life. Some people would like to be commemorated, remembered for who they were, or at least have their life acknowledged. Some people don't care if anyone ever remembers their contribution to the world.
An Epitaph

Last but not least - epitaphs, and this is the theme in my novel. I've been told people who want an epitaph carved on a stone generally have an idea what they want to say. The front of the stone is meant to state the facts. Name, date of birth, date of death, with limited space for another line or two, such as beloved mother, devoted father, etc. The back of the stone is wide open for any additional thoughts. While I was at the memorial works, I saw a three-foot stone with the entire 23rd Psalm engraved on the back. 

I found the stones and the symbolism interesting, and spread across a wide green lawn, I can see how some people would develop an interest with it all.

How do you want your life to be memorialized when you die?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Where in the world... ?

Chicago spring fling
Book Signing Information

This weekend, I'll be attending the Chicago Spring Fling Writer's Conference. These ladies always put on a great conference. Looking forward to reconnecting with people I know and making new friends. At past conferences, I met some of my favorite authors and was introduced to new favorite authors. The conference also provides informative workshops. It's an energizing weekend at a time when I need to be energized! SO looking forward to it.

If you're in the Chicago/Schaumburg area, the book signing is in Schaumburg, at the Hyatt, on Saturday from 3-5 (click on the link beneath the picture for additional information). They always have dozens of excellent authors, and this year's headliners are Courtney Milan, Robyn Carr and Christina Lauren. There's a long list of many more of my favorites (including moi) - just had a fan girl moment as I was looking it over!

I'm meeting with a new publisher at the conference, and will be pitching my new series to her (wish me luck). In preparation, I've been revisiting everything I know about writing a query letter and a synopsis. Can I just say those two things are among the very hardest parts of writing a book?

When I get back next week, I'll fill you in on the research I've been doing. Although I started this same research years ago, there was one last component that I hadn't gotten around to, and now that I'm wrapping this one up, I'm making the rounds and verifying my information, and its fascinating!

In the meantime, pop over to the book signing if you can. Pick up some summer reading materials (I know I will be) and make sure you say hello!