Art Imitates Life

Being chronically obese is something like being a shape changer. I’ve often joked about over-inflating my feet when it’s hot. Just one of the outside influences that impact my shape.

Here are things that contributed to my weight issues:
*Raised in a low-income home
*Raised without a father
*Genetics, mostly from my mother’s side
*Tonsils out at age 2
*Molested, 3 separate incidents
*Spoiled
*Felt unloved
*Afraid of close contact with men

I gave myself permission on my birthday to eat pretty much what I wanted to eat. The next day, I jumped back on the health wagon. Did really good for four hours. Then I had a clear feeling of fighting an entity that wants out, much like a werewolf or wild cat or dragon. Leashing the beast is what my life is all about. Well, that and writing.

My inner-eating-dragon isn’t the only one I battle, either. There’s my inner couch potato, inner sex addict, and inner gaming nerd.

By the way, my inner sex addict is an introvert. Writing about sex is fine, acting it out with my husband is wonderful, but just thinking about doing anything with strangers? Let’s eat some chocolate instead.

Now I have this idea that probably isn’t new, but so many shape shifters belong to packs and families, all of the same animals, all life long. My idea – and I’m cool with sharing it here, there’s no way I will get all my stories written out. So if you resonate with this idea, go for it! – is a shape shifter who is a loner, and can become any of 4 or 5 different beings. And each of those creatures “lives” full time in the person’s brain.

There was a television show some years ago, Manimal, that went with a similar premise. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085051/ But it was a crime drama and not a lot of attention was paid to how he got that way, were there others like him, etc. Lois McMasters Bujold looked at multiple personalities is an awesome way with Mark Vorkosigan’s disturbing evolution in Mirror Dance. Not about shape shifters, but still exactly what I am thinking of. Ms. Bujold is an amazing writer, and the glimpse of many personalities in one brain is as smooth as silk and eye-opening. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_Dance

So I just need some demon bane to be successful at my diet and exercise. I need to fine the valve to deflate strategic areas. And I need some good crowd control moves to keep the brain characters in order. See you on Thursday.

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Prompts, Corpses, and Outlines, Oh My!

Prompts can be fun. There is some danger involved, however. When you start out with a couple “throw-away” characters, there’s a chance they will want a longer story, and become part of your mental whirl.

What is a prompt? It’s a tool used to stimulate your creative process. There are many different types of prompts. One is to throw out a word or several words, and write a scene involving those. In Romance writing, I ask that the two lovers discuss the word. Salad turned out to be a great discussion topic.

Other prompts involve setting up a scene, and letting your imagination run wild. I posted a thread on Scribophile titled How I Misspent My Summer Vacation. And that’s where the danger came in for me. I was writing a short piece taking place on the beach at La Jolla Shores, California. The male main character has demanded that I write more of this story. He kept me awake one night telling me his story. But I have too many other projects going on, so he will just have to wait.

Here are a few random prompt generators that might work for you. http://www.creativity-portal.com/prompts/imagination.prompt.html http://www.springhole.net/writing_roleplaying_randomators/plotgens.htm
http://panthermoon.com/generator.php

Another type of prompt is the visual one. At a convention some time ago I attended a writing workshop, and we were handed a stack of prints of various subjects. We picked one, and had 15 minutes to write. I got a pretty good one and an excellent story idea that I may be back to soon.

Here are the visual prompts I have posted at Scribophile. http://www.pinterest.com/pin/369787819376195705/

I love to play games and any game that involves writing something is exactly what I want. I used to go to a group in San Diego called Word Play, an excellent evening of writing exercises and companionship. Sadly, it’s a bit far with the price of gas these days. That’s where I learned about the Exquisite Corpse game. Originally it was a drawing game and or a poetry game. Here’s lots of information from Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exquisite_corpse but the version that I learned involves writing about three lines of a story, with the very last word at the beginning of the 4th line. Then the paper is folded down so that only that last word can be seen. The paper is passed to the next player, who does the same thing, picking up with that last word as the first word of their story. The results are as fun as Mad Libs, and really give a writer a boost in positive energy shared.

I had the pleasure of moderating a writing workshop at the San Diego Gaslight Gathering a couple years back and taught the attendees to play the game. We managed about three rounds. Here are the results of the first one:

“The bells from Henly Tower woke the town as usual. Annie rubbed sleep out of her eyes and swung out of bed. Below, scents are a powerful aphrodisiac for the weak at heart. It would be better to have touch with a hint of power and fear. For a beauty of a dead fingernails clung from the drapes as she walked by and chewed on the tongue of a bat. Yes, it was the perfect night for a trip on the dirigible. Who knew feathers continued to haunt him. Why did he kill the chicken? He didn’t actually even eat the meat. IT just never shut up. “Bwaak,” it said, and then died. He plucked it and filled the pillows. The garbage disposal got the rest. Feet, feet are kicking me as I resentfully become awake. My wife continues to th4rash back and forth in bed. I look over at unfamiliar surrounding, up at the sky, overcast, chilly, and I wonder, really is it gonna really rain leaked through the edges of his hat, defeating its purpose entirely. He felt badly for the pointless nature of his protection, and politely ignored the trickle of water sneaking behind his ear. He put on the most miserable face he could muster. He ruminated the lady. Why, she wondered, was it so difficult to find a decent mad scientist in London? Perhaps Monsieur Fabre would be sufficiently insane as the crow flies. He sat in the morgue wondering what lingered in the casket, what evil was in there? He brought up his lit candle to the edge of the room, looking high, low, inside, outside. She wouldn’t grasp her emotions any longer.”

These exercises, it is to be hoped, have given you an idea for a novel. Now what do you do? If you are a pantser, or one who writes by the seat of their pants, you just start. If you are an outliner, you jot down point A and point Z, and sketch in all the in-between points. I am a mutant hybrid of those extremes. I can start out with the idea and nothing else, but at some point the possibilities of how the story might go must be put onto paper so they aren’t lost. Here are some excellent ideas about outlining.
http://www.creative-writing-now.com/novel-outline.html
http://annieneugebauer.com/the-organized-writer-2/novel-plotting-worksheets/
http://selfpublishingteam.com/6-writing-outline-templates-and-3-reasons-to-use-them/ (Love this one)

I hope you had fun and learned something to take away into your creative space. I’ll be back on Sunday.

Formula Stories for the Win

Tropes and formulas are a part of the Romance world. Searching Google will give you lots of plots and arcs and Very Important Elements for any romance novel. Using these formulas might just earn you some criticism about tropes and writing the same story over and over.

You can blithely ignore those critics. At the Romance Writers of America (RWA) meeting I attended yesterday, those of us who were not lucky enough to go to the National convention in San Antonio just last month were treated so some Publisher Spotlight notes that not only made us more jealous of those who went, but gave us lots of important information. And I am going to share some of it with you today.

Harlequin single title lines are not easy to break into, but the Harlequin series, under the Spotlight title, is a little more understanding of both authors and readers. And they insist on the formula. Not the same story over and over, but the same elements. Think of it like a foot race. All the entrants have to hit the same marks to meet the race requirements, but they can do it at their own time, in their own way.

The readers drive the desire for these same elements. A tortured hero, a flawed heroine, a reason for them to work together, a reason they shouldn’t fall in love, and a way to overcome all of that for the Happy Ever After (HEA). Here is Harlequin’s “format” for the perfect story: http://www.harlequin.com/articlepage.html?articleId=1425&chapter=0

Larry Brooks, the Storyfixer, wrote a great blog a couple years back on discovering that Romance writers are as competent and motivated as any other writers, and maybe more dedicated than most.
http://storyfix.com/what-i-just-learned-from-a-room-full-of-romance-writers And I am going to buy a copy of his book, Warm Hugs for Writers, to give to all my Scribophile friends when they doubt themselves.

Shoshanna Evers posted this Secret Formula in 2009, and now is a published author. Wait, can it be a secret if you post it on the Internet? http://www.thewriterschallenge.com/2009/09/secret-formula-of-most-romance-novels.html

At the RWA meeting, we discussed a lot of what is hot and what is fading from view in subgenres. Personally, I am just going to keep writing what I want to write, and I will find my readers through good stories. But the next wave is Historical Romance, particularly medieval. And paranormal is on the way out, apparently. I am sure there are more readers like me who just realized the wealth of books out there about Alpha Male Wolf heros that make me a little melty. And even a lion shapeshifter has caught my attention, in Dark Age Dawning #3, Daybreak by Ellen Connor (who turns out to be two talented women!).

About Dark Age Dawning, I picked up a copy of the third book, and started reading it without the slightest intent of looking for the first two novels. Not only has that changed a few chapters in, I am going to find everything they ever wrote and read it. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8397035-daybreak

Dystopia worlds have been a big deal for a while, where magic makes everything dangerous and beautiful. The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones are big reasons for this trend. But the genre has been around for a long time. Animal Farm being one of the earliest, and The Handmaid’s Tale one of the best. Here is Julia Gandrud’s 8 Point Dystopian Plot Formula. http://writingreadingandlife.com/2013/11/29/guest-post-8-point-dystopian-plot-formula-julia-gandrud/

Think you need a little more help getting this formula under your belt? Look for your local RWA chapter and find out which workshops are available. You can take some of the on-line workshops from any chapter, if it suits your needs. There are also many other sources of learning, from community college creative writing to Scribophile forums, but some of those are not exactly Romance friendly. But here’s a great plot mapping idea from Tracey Montana and Adrienne Giordano at the Romance University (whose motto is R U Ready? Love it). http://romanceuniversity.org/2009/10/19/do-all-roads-lead-to-plot-mapping/

Like Adrienne says at the end of the blog, I’d love to hear how you use the formula, and how you map your plot! Maybe you’d like to write a guest post for me on the subject! Maybe we can trade posts! I know if I followed through on half the ideas I come up with, I’d be rich and have all the time in the world to write. See you on Thursday.

I See London, I See France

I located an amazing board on Pinterest where corsets and stays and chemises are shown in real life. I love this one of a chemise. http://www.pinterest.com/pin/217298750742808383/

And more pretty things to go under the actual gown: http://www.koshka-the-cat.com/regency_underthings.html

And another statement that the drawers were just not the thing: http://www.janeausten.co.uk/corsets-and-drawers-a-look-at-regency-underwear/

So we pretty much see how women got on for most of the month, but what about when Aunt Flo came to visit? You know, that time of the month. LONG before maxi-pads and tampons. I have found a place where this seems to be the conclusion: They used nothing. http://www.mum.org/pastgerm.htm I am not sure that works for Regency women, but for rural and lower classes, it could be just part of life.

However, some interesting points there include that women began menstruation much later than today, used no contraceptive, so were pregnant and not menstruating most of the time, and also breastfed so again, they put a stop to it. Plus many had no idea of good nutrition, and were malnourished or overweight or sick most of the time. So when they did have their monthly courses, they uses pads that were held in place by a belt of some sort. This is speculations, but not a bad guess.

Everyday stockings would be similar to the ones on this page: http://www.fugawee.com/Stockings/stockings.htm but they would not do for a fancy dress ball. http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com/2012/03/wearing-right-shoes-stockings-in-1811.html Most of the history of stockings and hose skip right over the Regency period http://www.stockingirl.com/hosieryhistory.html which probably means nothing much changed during that time. Finally, someone mentioned the garters! http://uffnervintage.blogspot.com/2010/01/hose-me-down-so-where-are-my-garters.html

Now to shoes, the finishing touch. The women could pick dancing slippers, boots, and heels, according to this wonderful site: http://www.american-duchess.com/shoes-18th-century Here’s a complete history of the shoe: http://all-that-is-interesting.com/fascinating-history-footwear

The final package: http://www.wemakehistory.com/Fashion/Regency/RegencyLadies/RegencyLadies.htm
http://www.kristenkoster.com/2011/11/a-primer-on-regency-era-womens-fashion/

And just for fun, I leave you with this until Sunday.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/tanyachen/wow-the-history-of-womens-shoes-is-really-insane-and-patriar

Slip of the Tongue – Or – The Foundation Series – Or – The Stays the Thing.

I may have mentioned that I write Regency Romances. Published nothing so far, but come pretty close a time or two. Under and assumed name so my sister won’t be ashamed to acknowledge me in public, I am writing erotica. I have a fun scene where the hero dances the heroine outside and into a hedge maze, and does unspeakable things to her. That’s why I wrote it down, instead of making a recording.

One reader was amazed that the hero could simply pull her sleeves down her arms a bit, and all her glorious bounty lay exposed before him. “Didn’t they have bras?” she asked. No. No, they did not.

I’ll let Uncle Wiki fill you in on the history of the brassiere. Suffice to say bras were not used until the late 1800s, and the Regency era really slipped into the Victorian era about 1820. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_brassieres

What did the women do to keep the “girls” in line? There were several options. Much depended on the social status of the woman. Regency women dressed like an onion, in layers. First there was the chemise, also called a shift. Often this was the nightgown, too. Over this light and easily washed shift, would go the stays. https://mantua-maker.com/Corset_Patterns.html The breasts were lovingly placed into the stiff cotton twill garment, and a wooden (usually) busk (yardstick) is inserted in the front, in a pocket designed just for that use. The stays were expected to flatten the stomach, but lift and separate the bosom. This is more flattering than the Georgian flat from neck to toes style, and much more comfortable than the Victorian corset.

The shoulder straps, as you can see here: http://www.songsmyth.com/underthings.html can be undone from the front and tucked in the back, if your ball gown had a wide neckline. So my hero could easily have pulled the stays down the slender heroine, with no impediment.

Shall we finish dressing our Regency Heroine? Why not! Over the stays, her ‘tiring woman or abigail places the petticoat. The bodice of the petticoat would be of a cheap, coarse fabric, and the had open sides for eas of dressing. Strips of fabric tape tied it all closed. The chemise would not be ankle length, but the petticoat was designed to fill out the shape of the dress, so that the wearer’s legs could not be easily perceived under her gown. It went to the hem and had at least one ruffle, properly called a flounce. http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/why-petticoats-and-chemises-were-worn-under-regency-gowns-jane-austens-world/

Drawers, you ask? Oh, no. Only fast women and prostitutes would wear drawers! http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2010/11/06/ladies-underdrawers-in-regency-times/

But that’s a step backward. Here are a few more wonderful links on the subject, and next Thursday we’ll look at the outer layers, and that wonderful hobby, laundry! Have a good week.

http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2007/10/undressing-your.html

http://www.kristenkoster.com/2011/11/a-primer-on-regency-era-womens-fashion/

My Life in Books

Every writer I know is also a great reader. I don’t think I would be driven to tell stories if I hadn’t lost myself in the pages of some great adventure. I might have pursued another creative outlet, but in “the autumn of my years” I have no regrets.

I can actually look back at my life through the books I read at different times. My sister read to me, and I loved it then, and still do. If you want a job as book reader, look me up when I’m rich and famous. In Kindergarten, my teacher handed out mimeographed (inhale! Can you still smell it?) pictures of a “bookworm” so cute you would gladly let him eat your library. For every book we read out loud to the class, we could color in one segment of his long body. I read a little story book about The Three Little Pigs. Later, with classmates, we would act out that classic tale of thinking things through and killing wolves.

A few years later, I had one illness or another, and my mother bought me a glossy hard covered book, Black Beauty. My sister was also horse-mad, and I picked up some of it from her, but never had quite the opportunity she had to be around actual horses. A wide variety of pets did embroider my life, and I have always been a fan of the various creatures we humans live with. And so it will come as no surprise that I picked up books like The Yearling, The Black Stallion, Big Red, and Lad: A Dog. And any and all sequels to these. We lived in a rural section of a small town, with no sidewalks, and no parks very close. I went to a private school so I knew none of the kids in the neighborhood, if there were any. These books and the characters in them were my best friends.

In high school, I got into some serious literature. Shakespeare, of course, and many assigned books I had already read when they were handed down from my sister or brother. I remember being excited by the pirate novel, The Silver Oar by Howard Breslin https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17316760-the-silver-oar?ac=1 due to the comparatively mild sexual scenes. But I never knew you could write about that stuff!

I got in with friends who were fans of TV shows about World War II, and read The Great Escape, Where Eagles Dare, The Guns of Navarone, and Von Ryan’s Express. I read a bunch of non-fiction, too, doing my first ever research for my writing. I wrote fan fiction, and I am not ashamed of it. But no, you will probably never see any of it.

Before I graduated, my group of friends had morphed into Star Trek fans, and I was reading Asimov’s Foundation series and wondering why I just didn’t like much of Robert Heinlein. And I was writing fan fiction for Star Trek. I had a good time, but I lamented the fact I couldn’t write original stories. I would love to go back and tell myself, be patient. This is just part of the learning experience.

Some years later, my sister (she really is my guardian angel, and I love her dearly!) shared a book with me. An historical romance by Kathleen Woodiwiss. The Flame and the Flower is credited as the first modern romance novel, and my sister and I devoured everything she wrote, and subsequently Rosemary Rogers added fuel to our burning pasisons. I wandered off the track to explore Barbara Cartland, Edith Layton, and Georgette Heyer. I found my perfect writing model in Mary Balogh, and Regency romances.

I’ve spend the years exploring lots of humor, science fiction, and historical novels. But my writing heart first and foremost is in the Regency period. That whole “universe” is open to any writer, to create and play and populate. It’s my home and my spirit is happy there.
This is my last Wednesday post. I’ll be back on Sunday to wrap up (finally!) the world tour, and then next week I’ll post on Thursday. My schedule is such that Wednesday is too much of a push for getting a good post up, most of the time. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful week.

I C Summer Blog Tour – “Navigating the Writing Path: From Start to Finish”

My on-line writing buddy, Louise Redmann, thought of me as a participant in this great blog tour from I C Publishing (www.ICPublishing.ca). Thanks so much, Louise, I had a great time answering the questions and thinking about writing more than usual. Please visit her blog at https://louiseredmann.com/?p=423 and soak in the photos of her awesome first-hand research opportunities.

Here are my responses to those questions:

1. Share how you start your writing project(s). For example, where do you find inspiration? Do you outline? Do you jump right into the writing? Do you do all of your research first?
I have a few ideas that came to me from dreams, one or two that evolved while I was reading some book that didn’t go the way I thought it should, or watching a movie with the same situation. I’ll have a conversation in my head out of nowhere, between two people I don’t know. Inspiration finds me, I rarely have to look for it. Sometimes my husband gives me an idea with a pun or silly thing he will say. I jump right in to jotting down the notes about the idea, and over time have filled notebooks and computer files. It’s not likely that I will get all my ideas written out, but I hope to come close. I outline if I have a complex story that I need to keep track of, but I don’t expect to adhere to the outline rigidly. Funny thing about research, I do a lot of it before I write, but I can’t count the number of times I have paused mid-sentence to go look up one detail that I forgot to clarify.

2. How do you continue your writing project? i.e. How do you find motivation to write on the non-creative days? Do you keep to a schedule? How do you find the time to write?
Motivation to write is always an issue that comes up in my Scribophile group. I don’t have much trouble in that direction, but if there seems to be a gap between what I want to write and what’s forming in coherent sentences, I walk away for a while. I read, watch a movie, pull weeds, clean the kitchen, play with the odd parrot or two (I live with way more odd parrots than that) and in general free my brain to work out the problem. I have a schedule that gives me about 20 to 30 minutes in the morning before I go to work, and two evenings when I can squeeze out an hour or so. The weekends are split between what must be done to keep things running, like bird cage cleaning, feeding, watering, people food shopping, events, and so on, and Sunday which is my sacred writing day as much as possible. Now and then, during breaks at work I pull out a pad and pen and start making outlines, notes, even posts for my blogs that I later transcribe. It’s all good.

3. How do you finish your project? i.e. When do you know the project is complete? Do you have a hard time letting go? Do you tend to start a new project before you finish the last one?
I give my project to others to critique and read for me. When they can’t nitpick any farther, then it goes to my live-in editor, who formats, spell-checks, nitpicks a bit further, and then it’s done. I don’t have any trouble letting go because by the time we reach the end of the process, I have read the story a thousand times at least. I do start new projects before I finish one to keep myself from getting bored, and also to keep up with various projects that keep coming along.

4. Include one challenge or additional tip that our collective communities could help with or benefit from.
My characters grow in my head, and I learn surprising things about them as time goes by. I found a great way to bring out some of those secrets and peculiarities is to interview the character. It’s fun and it helps so much to give the character free rein over the keyboard. Another great idea is to list five to ten things your character would have in their medicine cabinet, or freezer, or closet. Then put it into a sentence that starts: (Character Name) is the type of person who has (list things) in his/her (pick a location from the three choices above.)

This has been great fun! I hope more of you will want to jump in and participate in this tour. Here are the two great writers and bloggers who agreed to carry the torch from here:

Kate Whitaker writes for fun and profit from the woods of Pennsylvania. You can most likely find her sitting at her kitchen table yelling at kids and cats as she tries to figure out a new way to kill made up monsters. http://wordsthatburnlikefire.wordpress.com/ (I love the chapters she shares on Scribophile, we’re talking serious talent here!)

Ian Faraway is a silly person, and has this to say about himself: I’m not that old but not that young, though I act like my 3 year old niece on a sugar rush at times! I hope this summer I’ll have enough time to write more, and do more in the writing community! Occupation: I’ve been writing since I started writing… all in all, it’s been a very strange day! Interests: Writing, Chess, Games, that thing where you take a pen and write words on paper, learning, joking, exercising. Websites http://ianfaraway.blogspot.com/ (Ian obviously has some not-so-serious talent)

Please drop by and say hello to these talented folks, and help us spread the tour far and wide! Enjoy your week, and I’ll be back on Sunday.