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Monday, June 25, 2012

In the Zone


Have you ever read a book you couldn't put down? One you read way into the night. You know the kind. You say to yourself "I'll just read one more page and then turn out the light." Then, it's "I'll just finish this chapter" and the darn author hooks you with the last sentence of the chapter and forces you to turn the page just to see what happens next. That's happened so many times to me. I love those books even when I regret the loss of sleep. The worst was when I would read until four-thirty and have to get up at six. Almost wasn't worth trying to sleep.

I had that same experience this weekend writing. Weird, huh? I've had good writing days before. Days when the Muse was sitting on my shoulder, whispering great stuff in my ear. More often than not, she would sit there for an hour (if that) then take off for Florida or Phoenix—anywhere but on my shoulder here in Michigan. I would keep writing, hoping she'd quit fooling around with another writer and return. Sometimes, she did. Sometimes . . . well you get the idea.

I don't know what happened Friday (and Saturday and Sunday), but it was marvelous. The words flowed. No, more like gushed—sentences, whole pages, chapters. Short chapters but still . . . The rush, the exhilaration, the feeling that the book was practically writing itself. And it was even going in the direction I wanted. I finally understood what athletes mean by being in the zone.

To get the picture, you should know I'm writing the conclusion of the Switched books. I know these characters. They've been in two books already. Some of the secondary characters, and the villain, have been steadily revealing themselves. After some brainstorming with my critique partner back in April, I had a good idea how to get the story from where it ended in Switched, Too to where I wanted everything to wrap up. I've been steadily writing ever since. Some days, it was like slogging through a marsh, but I persevered. I set things in motion, laid the groundwork, all of which takes time. I'm not in a rush. Apparently, my Muse decided I needed a kick in the rear.

On Friday, the words started coming. My fingers could hardly keep up. What a great feeling. Wasn't going to last but I was enjoying it. My husband dragged me to the fitness club (as he does almost every morning) and I couldn't wait to get back to the keyboard. After lunch, he asked if I wanted to do something (code for he wanted to get out of the house). I said no, don't bother me. I was a little politer—is that a word?—than that and I kept writing. At bedtime, I thought wasn't that a great day? Won't happen again, but wasn't it great? On Saturday, I did my usual—grab a cup of coffee from the Keurig, settle in the recliner with the laptop and, holy smoke, the Muse was back. When patient husband asked again if I wanted to go someplace, I said give me a half hour. Then, it was an hour later and I was still writing. "What's for dinner?" "Give me a half hour and I'll think of something." Another hour passed and he was putting hamburgers on the grill and would I please make a salad? I wanted to help with dinner. Really, I did. I was about to tear myself away but the bad guys were just . . . Oh, hamburgers are ready? Right. Salad.

Sunday was a repeat. Write and write and . . . "Honey, do you want to do something?" "Okay, but I'm in a really good spot. How about a half hour?" Then, I had to really consider what I was doing. He is awfully patient and understanding. But I really wanted to write one more paragraph, one more page, just another chapter . . . No, I needed to drag myself off the starship Freedom and return to real life. But, darn it. I was so afraid the Muse wouldn't return. That she'd say "Nuts to you. I gave you your chance." Still, I couldn't let my real-life hero think my fictional people were more important than him.

When I look at what I accomplished this weekend, I'm amazed. Oh, sure, the story is still in rough draft. All the pages I wrote will need some editing, tweaking, even downright revising. Today when I read it over, it may suck. But if I had such a great time writing, doesn't that mean the reader will, too? Will my rush to move the story along translate to a page turner for the reader? I fervently hope so. Will the Muse be back or will she decide to take a vacation in Bermuda?

Whichever way it goes today, that feeling of being in the zone sure was good while it lasted.

Have you ever felt that way?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Men are Different


Is that a "duh" statement or what? Around Mother's Day, I wrote about how women are different. I figure it's the guys' turn now. hehehe

We all know that men are bigger, stronger and can lose weight more easily than us—the last we hate them for. I suppose I'd better insert my caveat: the above and what follows are generalizations and don't apply to all men.

In this post, I'm concentrating on how they think. I mentioned before about the workshop Eileen Dreyer did for Mid-Michigan RWA's Retreat from Harsh Reality in April on how men's and women's brains are different. Since this was a retreat for writers, the purpose was so the characters in our books are more true to life and their motivations more realistic. A side benefit (which many of us talked about during meals) was she helped us understand our guys. Those of us who've lived with a man—father, brother, best friend, son, husband—already knew that men think differently. Many of us didn't know why or to what extent.

Men are wired for survival. From the beginning of time, their job was to hunt, thereby providing for the family/clan, while women protected the nest. This delineation of the sexes remained unchanged until the last century. Men are becoming (or allowing themselves to be) more nurturing. They are sharing child care with their spouses. As a mother and grandmother, I'm thrilled to see men becoming more involved with their babies. They don't hand off the baby with a stinky diaper. They read bedtime stories and, in general, share responsibilities with their wives.

Women define themselves by who they know, whereas men define themselves by what they do, which certainly explains why it's so devastating to a man when he loses his job. Or retires. He's lost his purpose. If a woman loses her job or retires, she still has her friends and family—the people with whom she has bonded. Women share their feelings with other women. Men don't. They talk about achievements and sports. "How 'bout those Lions?" Which makes when we start talking about how we feel almost painful for our guys. Sometimes, I think they'd rather have a root canal than discuss how they feel.

Men tend to be single-task oriented. Sorry, guys, but we multi-task better. Well, most of us do. I'm told I have tunnel vision when I'm into a project. Here's something I wasn't aware of: when men are in the middle of a task, they are so absorbed they don't feel pain. Whoa. We should have gotten that trait. It would've come in handy during childbirth.

Did you know that a sense of color is attached to the x chromosome? Is that why my guy can't tell the difference between beige and tan? To him, it's brown. Women have a more highly refined sense of smell, too, which probably explains why men don't smell the onions in the wastebasket.

Men are problem solvers. They want/need to fix things. Which is wonderful when the AC doesn't work in the middle of a summer heat wave or the garbage disposal doesn't work. However, don't you want them to just listen when you try to talk out a problem and not tell you how to fix it? "Now, honey, this is what you should do . . ." I have to say the guy I live with has never (not that I can remember, anyway) told me what to do—especially with my writing career. He doesn't do it with our kids, either, though there were times when they were young that I wanted him to. Instead, he patiently waits for us to work out our problems, come to our own conclusions, make our own mistakes. When asked, he offers information and, sometimes, suggestions. The best part is he doesn't say "I told you so" when our decisions don't work out.

There were many other points Eileen made during her talk, but this next one surprised me the most. To men, help means failure. If a man offers help to another man, this translates as that person doesn't think he's capable of doing the job. Consequently, men wait to be asked for help. Women see help a lot differently. We see what needs to be done and offer help instead of waiting to be asked. We often wish our guys would do the same. Really, I don't think I'm a failure if he offers to run the vacuum. Women helping each other (say, in the kitchen) is a time of bonding and sharing. One of my brothers started hanging out in the kitchen after large family gatherings because that's how he found out what was happening in the family.

Men tend to be more left brained—detail oriented, stronger in math and sciences. Women tend to be more right brained—languages, arts. Again, a generalization, but it's interesting how many female writers are married to engineers (raising my hand here). I wonder if it works the other way. Do male writers (musician, artists) marry scientists?

For all our differences, we make good teams. Rather than declaring one sex is better than the other, I think we complement each other. Together we are stronger than we are as individuals. Although we drive each other crazy at times, I wouldn't want to go through life without my guy.

If this post about the differences between the sexes helps you write better characters with more believable motivation, great. If you understand your guy(s) better, terrific. I know Eileen Dreyer's talk certainly helped me understand some behaviors. One of the really great things about the time we're living in now is that men's roles and women's roles are no longer etched in stone. Women can be "hunters" who bring home the necessities of life and men can be "nurturers". Again, complementing each other.

Although this is a day late, Happy Father's Day to all the men who are modeling to today's children what a "real" man is. To our fathers who are no longer with us, we miss you.

 Forty years ago, on Father's Day, I told my dad I'd met the man I was going to marry. We'd had two dates and I knew he was the one. Happy Father's Day, again, sweetie.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Launch Day


Sounds like a rocket lift-off, doesn't it? Yesterday, Switched, Too went live on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Usually, authors talk about "Release Day"--the day their publisher releases the book for publication. Since I'm the publisher, too, I like the concept of a launch. Sort of fits with what I write. Space adventures. It feels as if I launched that book into space.

So, you may ask, if yesterday was the day I launched Switched, Too, why did I wait until today to write about it? The thing with DIY publishing is that you never know when the various sites (Amazon, B&N, Smashwords) will actually make the book live. Smashwords is great but their distribution to other outlets (Apple, Sony, etc.) takes a while. Amazon and Barnes & Noble say 12-72 hours. Big gap. It was exciting to see them live yesterday. Whoo-hoo! It seems like this book took forever to get to this point. So, pardon me, while I gush a little.

Switched, Too started back in 2001, after I finished Switched. I had to tell Scott and Veronese's story. The fans of Switched told me so and I know I disappointed many by not getting it out there right away. I made some mistakes along the way (writing certainly has a learning curve) and then "life" intervened. I had to put Switched, Too aside for a while and here it is eleven years later. Sometimes, a story isn't ready when it's started. It needs percolating in the author's mind. Switched, Too certainly percolated.

In other blog posts, I've mentioned how much I like Scott. Good thing since he's the hero. I don't usually have a real person in mind when I write. I'm not one of those authors who uses photos of models or movie stars as inspiration. But this time, I kept "seeing" Tom Cruise in Top Gun whenever I thought of Scott. Not the physical person but the character--a hotshot pilot, trying to prove he's good enough, with a "ya gotta love me" grin (like when he was singing "You Lost That Lovin' Feeling" in the bar).

That was my Scott. He's so cocky he figures trading places with his identical twin wll be a piece of cake, that he can actually be a starship captain. Self-confidence is not his problem. If he only knew what Fate had in store. Okay, not Fate--me. Storytellers are told that to make a story better you chase your hero up a tree and then throw rocks at him. Keep making the situation go from bad to worse. Hehehe. The things I throw at Scott and Veronese--starting with the ship under attack the moment they beam aboard. And then . . . Oh, my.

Those two have some growing/changing to do, too. She has to lighten up and he has to show he really has more depth than he lets on. And of course they have to admit they're attracted to the other.

I had fun writing this book. I'm so glad it isn't still lingering in my computer. I hope you are, too.

Here's the blurb for Switched, Too:

Be careful what you wish for...you might get it.

Down-sized astronaut candidate Scott Cherella leaps at the chance to go into space. He just has to pretend to be the captain of an Alliance of Planets starship. His lifelong dream quickly becomes a nightmare when sabotage erupts. To save the ship and crew he has to depend on an uptight, disapproving colleague.

The only time Veronese Qilana broke the rules tragedy resulted. She vowed never again. Now, to protect the real starship captain, she'll have to deceive the crew by helping the imposter. They must work together to uncover the saboteur and get the crew safely home. In doing so, they discover opposites really do attract.

Switched, Too is available at: Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and Smashwords.com

For an excerpt, see the tab "Excerpts" at the top of this page.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sequels


            Have you ever been on a vacation where you didn't want to leave the people and/or the location? Have you ever gotten to the end of a book and wished it didn't end there? Did you ever wish you could find out what came next?
         That often happens for me. I love epilogues--you know, the "five years later" when you find out how the main characters managed reality. Sometimes, a book will have secondary characters who are so compelling I hope the writer will give them their own story(s). That often happens when I write. For months (sometimes years), I'm caught up in a world I've created with people I've grown to know and love and I don't want to leave. I want to stay and see what happens next.
        When I finished writing Switched, I knew I had to tell Veronese and Scott's story. I liked Scott right away. His cocky, devil-may-care attitude appealed to the reckless side of me—the side I've always kept hidden. Scott reminded me of Tom Cruise in Top Gun with his cute grin and "doncha love me" attitude. Veronese, on the other hand, was super serious, nose to the grindstone, intense. Yet, there was a vulnerable side to her. She needed someone who could help her see that life can be fun. Never mind the ship was under attack, never mind they had to keep Scott's true identity a secret, never mind a saboteur was wreaking havoc. Sometimes, you just have to lighten up. In so many ways, I found Veronese was very much like me. Super serious, etc. until a certain guy came along who showed me how to have fun. I got my guy. And Veronese got— Ordinarily, that would be a spoiler but, c'mon, I write romance so you know there will be a happy ending.
        Switched, Too is coming June 10th. I've been waiting for everything to come together for this book for over ten years. It had to be put on the back burner when "life" took over. Now that it's almost ready to be released, I'm getting so excited.

By the way, a very special thanks to all who responded with advice on which cover to use. It was unanimous. And thanks to everyone who checked out the Goddess Fish Party Pavilion yesterday. It was great fun for me. I hope you found it fun, too.