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Monday, May 28, 2012

Exciting Times

     History was made last week. What? You didn't notice? With the deluge of information that swamps us every minute of every day, I'm not surprised.

     So what momentous event happened? A commercial spacecraft rendezvoused with the International Space Station. Dragon, a craft built and launched by a private company, SpaceX, carried food, clothes and other supplies to the astronauts currently living and working on the station. Before this event, only major governments sent cargo to the ISS. With this success, the way is open to a new era in space travel.

     As you know from previous posts here, I'm enthralled by space travel. While some authors wax nostalgic about the days of old when courageous men and women explored and settled the American West, I look forward to exploration beyond the confines of Earth. My stories take the reader into what, hopefully, is our future.

     Last fall, I was really bummed by NASA's ending the shuttle program. I should have realized that American entrepreneurs would take over. Visionary billionaires who made their money in other industries like technology, commerce and the arts are filling the void left by a government that can no longer afford what some think of as extravagance. Of course, the new adventurers didn't built spacecraft overnight. Their projects have been in the works for years. Only now that the government has gotten out of the way is good, old American ingenuity and sense of adventure propelling us forward. Halleluiah and amen. In the not-too-distant future, these private companies will not just send cargo into space but passengers. (Gee, do you think they'll charge extra for a window seat or to sit next to your spouse?)

     When my mother-in-law passed away at age 102, I marveled at the innovations in travel during her lifetime—from horse-drawn vehicles to landing on the moon. As exciting as watching the moon landing was for me, it happened over fifty years ago. And while I know we are still taking baby steps in our efforts to go beyond our own world, I'm in a hurry. I want to see us venture farther, to "boldly go where no one has gone before" before I die. This latest event is a start.

     On a side note, along with launching the cargo-carrying Dragon, the SpaceX rocket also carried the cremains of 320 people, including James Doohan, the actor who played Scottie on Star Trek. Scottie was always my favorite. In fact, he was my inspiration for a secondary character in Switched, a character who continues through the next two books. Though Mr. Doohan died in 2005, he finally got his wish. Last Thursday, it was his turn to be "beamed" up for a final adventure.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Guest Teresa Blue

My special guest today is author Teresa Blue whose first novel just debuted. Here's the blurb:

Travis Howland washes up on the shores of Lost Isle and into the arms of an angel. Known as the Night Bird, Emma Samson dedicates her afterlife to a solitary existence on Lost Isle, easing the passage of the dying. When she finds Travis weak and desperate, she gives him the only gift she has—a few more days to settle his affairs before his death. Sorely lacking in faith, Travis lives life with no thought for the future. When his lovely rescuer claims he has died, he can't believe it. He must warn his father that their ship was plundered by a greedy business partner, but only a leap of faith can save him. Together, Emma and Travis use his last few hours to avenge the traitorous deeds that torment him, and along the way discover that love can be found in any stage of life…even after death.

Welcome, Teresa. You must be very excited about seeing your first book published. How did it come about?

     The story Night Bird came after listening to a CD I purchased by Eva Cassidy that had a song with the same title. Eva’s sultry voice and haunting melody sent my imagination spinning. The song’s about a woman in some hotel room in Memphis, alone and one night she found a man on the streets who would surely die, so she took him in…and taught him how to fly. ‘Is the moonlight just a place, for his memory, now he’s gone.’ Sigh . . .  It’s a lovely song and I could listen over and over.

Tell us about your writing journey.

     I’ve always had my nose buried in a book and when I moved to California, I read from sun-up to sun-down. Anaheim is a big place and not knowing many people, my salvation came in the form of those wonderful characters found tucked between the pages of romance books. I devoured each monthly Doubleday book club selection, waiting impatiently for the next shipment. Later, once my kids were big enough to go to school, I picked up a pen and tried writing as a hobby, hoping to clear the voices in my head.
     In 1999 after reading a novel called, The Charm School, I wrote a fan letter to the author, Susan Wiggs. She actually wrote back and told me about RWA. I joined the local Mid-Michigan chapter and penned my first novel.
     The ink was barely dry in 2001 when I came home from a writer’s retreat, (a weekend filled with informative workshops- I think that year we had Deb Dixon) and a special guest, editor Linda Kichline, who actually requested my full manuscript, Dark Desire.
     The ride home was full of chatter as we (Annette, Jeanette & I) processed all we’d learned those two lesson packed days. And I’ll never forget turning into the drive and wondering where all the water was coming from. It ran down the gravel drive in ripples, pooling along the roadside. Because our house sits back in the woods, it wasn’t visible until reaching the top of the hill. People I’d never seen before stood scattered in the yard watching the charred remains of my house crackle and burn. The fireman said it probably took a matter of twenty or thirty minutes and everything I owned was gone. Poof! My family, thank God, was safe, and even my dog although I’ve never seen him look so sad.
     It took several minutes to sink in as I crawled out of the car. I no longer had a manuscript, my backup files were toast. Worse, I didn’t even have a home! My husband came up and reassured me we’d be fine. We had great insurance. Nice try…but I bawled like a baby.
     It took an entire year to build the new house and in the meantime try and return some order in my life. Determined not to lose sight of my dream, the first thing I did was buy a laptop. I would write (at least keep lists) of stuff I wanted to remember, and outlining the destroyed manuscript made me feel as if I were still in the game, so to speak, pursuing my desire to write. Although I may never rewrite that particular story, I do have an outline for it.  :-)

I remember that time and how devastated we all (your chapter mates) felt for you. I've always admired your strength in returning to writing after that disaster. Now, tell us about Night Bird.

     I love new beginnings. There so much to look forward to. The beginning of anything always raises my heartbeat and gets me thinking. What if . . .  Or, do you suppose . . .  The fun part of being a writer is the ability to play with all of those possibilities.
     Let’s suppose someone’s foot did accidentally hit the blasted gas knob, turning it on, like in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and Captain Greg wasn’t ready to leave this life yet? Is there really a pull to the other side or is it a process, (sort of a beginning) that requires a few steps into the next phase?
     My story Night Bird is such a journey. Travis faces all this and more. The suddenness of his death has left him unprepared. But, Travis needs someone to guide him through the last final hours until he’s ready to cross into the next realm. That’s Emma, the Night Bird.

It appears that Emma is a ghost, an angel, or something more. I'm not telling. LOL The reader gets to figure it out. Is this your first venture into paranormal romance?

     No. Dark Desire was a paranormal. That story line had a female vampire who had been beaten and tossed out in alley to die with sunrise. She was desperate and my hero just happened to be in the wrong place. That first sip changed both their lives.

Sounds intriguing. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

     Create the stories living in your head, and enjoy the journey crafting folks and universes unknown to the rest of the world. Something only YOU can build. It’s your voice and your strokes that turn the blank pages into something memorable to share with the rest of us. Don’t lose your power. Only YOU can write the book of your heart.

Great advice. Something even those of us who've been at it for a while can take to heart. All right then, what's next for Teresa Blue?

     I’m tickled to say that I’ve signed a contract with a new ebook publisher Crimson Romance, a project from Adams Media, the non-fiction publisher who delivered such books as Why Men Love Bitches (an excellent book for story characterization) and the Cup of Comfort series. I discovered a great page on their website aimed at writing: story middles, dialogue, titles and beginning a story. http://www.adamsmedia.com/cup-of-comfort
     Jennifer Lawler is the editor in charge of the romance line and has been very welcoming. And she’s actively seeking new authors. Although Crimson Romance is primarily an ebook distributor, there will be a POD (print on demand) version for those who want a paper copy.

That is marvelous news, Teresa. I'm so glad you shared it with us. It's been great having you here as your debut book launches. I thoroughly enjoyed your book, Night Bird. I'm so glad you stopped by to share some of it with us.

     You’ve done a great job of introducing me, Diane! And I’m honored to be your guest here today. Thank you so much.

You're very welcome. Teresa Blue can be found at

As a special treat, here's an excerpt from Night Bird:

    “Tell me, exactly what has transpired these last few days to change me from a man to a…monster?” He grabbed her by the shoulders. “Explain, damn you!”
     Emma watched the fleeting emotions score his face, understood his shocking disbelief at what he’d been told. “I told you. You have died, to put it frankly.” And then more gently, she said, “Upon the beach. I found you and transformed you.”
     She cast him a shrewd glance as she chewed on her bottom lip and waited for more—anger, tears, something to convince her he believed. Except for the rapid swell of his chest, there was none. Usually those chosen were willing, even eager, to make the deal. Typically, the lives she’d encountered were desperate enough to agree to anything if it granted them precious time to make things right before their demise. But since there’d been no time to gain Travis’s permission, she’d acted on instinct.
     Maybe she’d been wrong.

Night Bird is available at Amazon.com

Monday, May 14, 2012

Criticism—Constructive or Otherwise

      Have you ever finished a project—like painting a room—and been so full of pride with what you accomplished that you showed it off? Then, after you say "What do you think?" the person tells you all the mistakes? The line along the ceiling is crooked; you didn't scrape the paint off the window; you should have done another coat there because the former color bleeds through. There went your pride in your work. Like a balloon losing air, your pride (and confidence) went pfft. Well, you did ask what they thought.

     The same thing happens when you ask someone to critique your writing or you submit your work in a contest. Now, I'm not talking a first draft. It's the best work you've done. And the critiquer (or judge) tells you all your mistakes. Well, you asked.

     After nearly twenty years of writing and being critiqued, it's never easy. Last week, I got a double whammy. First, my in-person critiquer told me the first chapter of my new work-in-progress is crap. To be honest, she put it more politely. She told me what she always says—cut all this (highlighted), too much backstory or too much explaining. Then, my on-line critiquer told me to ramp up the emotion in my YA novel. Ramp it up? I thought it was. Oh, and, cut this (highlighted) too much explaining. Gee, ya think I have a problem being too wordy? The upshot is by the end of the week I felt a little bruised and battered. No, make that a lot bruised and battered. Was I being too sensitive? Probably. More like my ego was stomped on. By friends, no less. And my confidence went south.

     Now, I know better. Theoretically, I know they want me to succeed. Experienced writers repeatedly tell newbies (I've done it myself) if you want to be published develop a thick skin. If you can't take well-meaning criticism from a friend (critiquer) who has your best interests at heart, who wants your story to be better, how are you going to take editorial comments or reviews? Still, it hurts. When told my work needs more work, I get all defensive and start explaining why those parts are necessary. At least, that's what I did at the in-person critique. When the online critique came two days later, I didn't answer right away. I took the time to think about what she wrote before thanking her and saying I would work on it. Of course, the last was what I should have done in person, too.

     When I was a member of a writing chapter in Chicago, they held critique night once a month. One of the rules for the critiquee was to listen, take notes, and not talk unless asked a question. Good rule. Don't talk. Listen. The people who took time to read the work and offer advice did so to help make the writing better, stronger. So, it is with each critique. Usually. There are a couple of caveats to be aware of. If you really feel a person is being critical just to be mean, ignore them and drop them as a critique partner. It's worth bearing in mind that everyone writes their stories differently. You have to be true to your voice. Sometimes a critiquer wants your story to sound the way s/he would write it. You have to sort out all the comments and decide what works and what doesn't. The same holds true for comments from judges in writing contests. Take what works.

     While the above sounds like advice to anyone who lets another read their WIP, writing this post has also been a reminder to me. Listen, take notes, and keep my mouth shut. Next time, I promise. Now that several days have passed, I'll get back to those WIPs and see what happens when I delete the unnecessary parts (or cut and save for later in the story) and ramp up the emotions of the teens in the YA. I'll see if the stories read better. In the end, though, I have to keep another caveat in mind. It is my story.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Women Are Different

     Well, that's a no-brainer. Different is good. It means we're distinctive, special. Last week, I mentioned that Eileen Dreyer was our speaker at Mid-Michigan RWA's Retreat from Harsh Reality. This very talented, best-selling author brought to her workshop the research she did into how men's and women's brains are different. In light of the upcoming holiday celebrating mothers, I thought this topic was worth musing on this Monday morning. I hope you do, too.

     According to Eileen's research, the roles of men and women developed out of necessity millennia ago. Men hunted, women protected the nest. Men were physically stronger so they had the strength and stamina to stalk and take down animals to provide food for the clan. It made sense that someone had to stay behind and protect the campsite. The women. Don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying that because this was the case for centuries it should be the case today. I'm came of age in the sixties. Women's lib and equal rights are still my theme song. Just because we've always done things one way doesn't mean we have to keep doing them—especially if there's a better way. But that's a topic for another post. And please bear in mind as with any generalization there are always exceptions.

     Today, I started musing on the way women protect the nest. I grew up in the days when women worked until they got married or they went straight from their father's home to their husband's. (Note how sexist that sounds today.) After marriage, they stayed home to raise the children. The television shows of the era like "Father Knows Best" (think about that title), "Leave it to Beaver", and "The Donna Reed Show" demonstrated the role women were expected to play. What those programs didn't show was all the work women did to protect that nest. They hunted, too, only at the grocery store. Except for the time my mom—the city girl who grew up in St. Louis—shot a pheasant that was eating our corn. She not only protected the campsite from winged invaders, she provided food for the table. Yay, Mom.

     Men seem hard-wired to see the "big picture" while women sweat the details. (Perhaps that's why men need help finding the butter in the refrigerator.) While that seems to indicate a subservient role for women, think about it. Would anything get done if someone didn't take care of the details? The title Project Manager comes to mind.

     Women are the nurturers. Hand a guy a baby for the first time and he holds it out at arm's length. When a woman holds a baby, she cuddles it to her breast. Instinct? Think about teachers and nurses, traditional "women's" careers. Nurturing roles. Since the sixties, halleluiah, women have choices. And to be fair, so do men. But then they always did. I remember something attributed to Ginger Rogers about her doing everything Fred Astaire did only backwards and in high heels. Hasn't that always been true for women? And not just while dancing.

     A woman hears differently than a man. I don't mean the selective hearing men adopt when they're watching sports or don't want to discuss a topic. I always hear noises especially during the night. I have to wake up my husband and say "Did you hear that?" and he goes "Huh?" When my children were babies, I always heard them at night. Not just their crying but any of the variety of noises babies make. Mind you, this was before baby monitors. My husband claimed that when we were sleeping he heard the phone (he was on call 24/7) and never heard the babies while I heard the babies and didn't hear the phone. Hah. I heard both. He slept soundly when the kids were out on dates. I didn't until I heard them come in. I don't think I got a good night's sleep until they left for college. Talk about protecting the nest.

     Another way women are different is that we form communities. It made sense long ago that the nest protectors worked together to ensure no harm came to the camp while the men were out hunting. Women quickly discovered that many hands make the work light. We're stronger together than we are separately. Where do women congregate during parties and family get-togethers? In the kitchen, helping the hostess or keeping her company. Through bonding with other women, we tend to be the tradition keepers. As I've mentioned before, tradition is important in my family. Bridal and baby showers come to mind. Whenever we host a shower, we invite not just the aunts and adult female cousins but all the little girls in the family as well. It's a way for them to learn by observance and gives them the knowledge so that they can carry on traditions. A new tradition is developing, not just in my family, to include the prospective grooms and fathers. While it's nice that they're part of the celebration, not many guys get the fun/silly games we play that are part of showers. In my family, the guys tend to hang out in another room watching football/baseball/basketball (their form of bonding) until it's time to eat and open gifts. Whatever, it's the women who bring this all about. The organizers, the tradition keepers and tradition makers.

     Eileen Dreyer's talk, "His Brain/Her Brain", helped those of us who attended Retreat be aware of the differences between how men and women think so that we can be better writers. Unless we only write in the woman's point of view, we need to be more aware that men think differently. Then, when we write in his point of view, our work is more realistic. If you're interested, Eileen includes the slides from her presentation on her website. What her talk also did for many of us was to explain why men are the way they are and why they do some exasperating things. To borrow a line from the movie True Lies and twist it:  Men. Can't live with 'em. Can't kill 'em.

     Women are different. Women are special. Next Sunday, celebrate the great women in your life. The nurturers, nest protectors, tradition keepers. Where would we be without them?