Finally, a Date

I thought I would switch gears a little this morning and pimp another book besides mine.  I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabeldon is being made into a TV series by Starz.

In case I haven’t badgered you already about the books, I’ll do that now.  “Outlander” is the best romance of the 20th century.  But it is so much more than a romance novel.  There is time travel, and detailed history, and druids and fairies and a boat load of interesting characters that are woven into a complex story that spans seven (very soon to be eight) books.  This author will blow your mind with her ability to manage so many complex story lines simultaneously.  

And now, we will have a TV series based on these books.  Yesterday Starz finally announced that the series will premier on August 9th.  I will be unavailable most of that day and part of the next (planned Outlander hangover).  We cray-cray fans have been given lots of pre-release press and I can report that the cinematography is stunning, the series is sticking very closely to the books and the two lead actors are yummy (and they have a fantastic chemistry together).

A hot couple with loads of chemistry – squeee!

 For those who are not fans (yet), you might think I’m bringing this up too far in advance.  We have an entire summer of vacations and keeping kids out of trouble between now and then.  I’m telling you now so you can read the book(s) before the series.  

Although it looks like director Ronald Moore is doing an amazing job, there is no way to capture all the details of the book in the series.  There will always be so much going on in the minds of characters that cannot be translated to film (at least not without the cheezy voice-over).  

A few warnings about the first book:  1) it’s huge.  Don’t let that deter you. It will suck you in and when you finish it you will be jonesing for more. 2) You will be jonesing for more.  I can attest that once you start, things like feeding your family will become a nuisance that keeps you from reading. 3) for some, it starts slow.  If you aren’t a history buff, the “Frank” part in the beginning will drag.  Hang on ’til there is a wedding.  Once you get there you will either be completely hooked or you should bail because it just isn’t for you.  

Once you are hooked you can join a world of other fanatic fans – like me!  For those who jump on the bandwagon today, you’re welcome. I’m happy to pass along my insider tip.

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Suburban Soul

There are times when I don’t want to admit that I grew up in, and currently live in, suburbia.  Almost anyplace sounds more interesting. It’s the land of houses and lawns and neighborhoods and strip malls that all look the same and exist in the same pattern around almost every major U.S. city.  And by default, we suburban dwellers are often seen as all the same.  We are the families with 2.5 kids, swing sets in the back yard, and baloney sandwiches for lunch. It’s seen as the middle of the road where middle-income families drive mid-sized cars to their mid-level management jobs wearing their mid-priced mall wear. 

We are mocked in movies and scorned by hipsters who insist that creativity and passion can only exist in places with independent coffee shops, non-standard house paint colors and high crime.  The consensus is that exciting stories and interesting people can’t be found in the aisles of Target and Lowes or on soccer field sidelines.  But I live here, I know better.

My Suburbia

I’ll admit there is a Stepford-like element to living here.  Conformity is encouraged and rewarded both in housing and personal demeanor.  Crazy is generally not welcomed and should be concealed.  But that’s where the fun starts.  Crazy set out in the front yard or brazenly displayed on the porch is so obvious.  If you wave your nut-ball flag all the time there’s no rumor, intrigue or speculation when the cops show up. 

There is passion and angst in suburbia along with pain and hope.  It’s just hidden behind tan and beige exteriors and banal discussions about potty training and tree rot.  There’s an art to reading between the lines and looking for clues, finding raw humanity in a place designed to hide it.  

I set both books in my Burnouts series in suburbia, because that’s what I know, and because it’s so much more challenging to both present the veiled outside and the spirit beneath in a character.  I love the scene in chapter 5 where Ben’s parents separate.  It’s real pain played out on the driveway (where everyone can see, *gasp*) by players schooled in the art of keeping it cool.  

I’m not sure if I’ll use suburbia again as a setting for a novel.  It’s a hard sell.  Like any stereotype, it creates a set of expectations in readers.  Fictional suburbia is supposed to be cheer leading practice, Friday night football and the occasional heated discussion over fence height regulations.  But I prefer the reality I saw growing up: the kids who didn’t fit in, the families who struggled to fit the mold, the imperfect and awkward love stories in a seemingly perfect world.  

A One Out of Five Review

It happened this weekend.  I got my first one out of five review.  When I published my book I knew it was bound to happen and I played the scenario out in my mind; mentally preparing myself for the blow. Ya know, the reality isn’t as bad as my worst fears.

Don’t get me wrong, it stung.  Since my book is like one of my babies, I want everyone in the world to love it, but that’s not realistic. 

So I shed a few tears, swept the porch, then decided to share yet another aspect of being a self-published writer with anyone who might be interested.  My office of one feels particularly lonely today (although to be fair, it is also located on my clean back porch with sunshine, birds singing and a cool spring breeze).

If you would like to read it, the review is on the blog The Reading Kitten and was written by a very sweet woman who was kind enough to read my book and give a first-time author a chance.  Whether she liked it or not, I am truly grateful to her for doing that.  I have read some horribly unkind, hurtful reviews for other books on Amazon and Goodreads.  This review was fair and honest and definitely not cruel in any way.  Maybe that’s what makes this so much easier.  

Reviews are there to help readers decide if a book is for them and one star reviews do that just as much as five star.  I actually read the one and two star reviews more than I do the fives.  If the issues the reviewer had with the story are not things that would bother me, then I am encouraged to buy the book.  My two-star Amazon review points out that my book has teenage drinking, cussing and sex.  That’s true and that review saves romance readers who are offended by those things from buying a book they would not enjoy.

Reviews also help me to be a better writer.  The good ones let me know what resonated with my readers, which elements worked.  The negative (or more accurately, low star) reviews give me more insight into who my audience is or isn’t.  They help me see elements that might be confusing or places in my storyline that need clarification.  

I read an article recently by an indie author who hit it out of the ballpark on her first try.  Her debut novel went to number three in her category on Amazon.  Jealously reared it’s ugly head that day.  Then I put myself in her shoes.  The slow ride may be frustrating, but instant success can be scary, very scary.  I checked out her book on Goodreads and I am sorry to say that she had some of those truly mean-girl reviews.  She has thousands of five star reviews, but something tells me it is the hurtful, biting ones that stick with her most (although I hope not).  There will always be those who feel the need to take pot-shots at whoever is at the top.  She might be ready for that, but I can honestly say that I’m not.  

I’m posting this today as a way to face another fear; pull it out into the light and examine it; see that reality isn’t as bad as what I created in my mind.  I got a one out of five review.  I cried, cleaned (a little), analyzed, shared and survived. 

Character Casting Call

For those who knew me in high school some of the characters in “Burnouts, Geeks and Jesus Freaks: a love story” might seem familiar.  I ran with a group of four very silly girls who laughed so much that we almost failed any class we took together.  I rarely finished my lunch because they had me laughing ’til I fell off my chair almost everyday.  But they are not MG, Casey and Gina.  I am. 

Writers love to study people.  I’ve never minded long waits in airports because it’s such a smorgasbord of interesting people.  For a few years after college I worked as a temporary secretary and I loved it; but not the typing part.  I loved getting to see the inner workings of an office and the characters who work there for a week or two.  Then I got to move on to another office to observe and study.  All my life I have been gathering ideas, images, personality types; studying motivations and actions and words.  I’m putting all that stored data to use now, creating characters for my novels. 

My character Ben is a perfect example of this idea.  I pulled together my memories (and a few borrowed from a friend) to create him.  His personality and looks are a combination of at least four different men I’ve known.  I pulled words, actions and physical traits from each then filtered them through the story I had created in my mind.  The same is true for all my characters.  Although Carrie is me, the writer, she is not me in high school. 

Interestingly, this means that I get to be both male and female, good and bad, old and young. (And it’s so much fun to be bad.) 

Lately I’ve been writing the sequel, “Popstars, Friends and Lovers.”  It’s the story of what happened to two of my secondary characters, Steve and MG. On the days I write from Steve’s perspective, I feel more like a 19 year-old guy.  I may be running mommy errands, but I’m doing it while listening to hard rock and wearing torn jeans and chucks. I flipped a guy off who cut me off in traffic the other day.  That was definitely more Steve than Karen.  I have to delve into the character’s head to see the world through their eyes and sometimes a little of that bleeds through to my real life.  (My family should be grateful I write romance and not murder-mystery.)

Most of “Popstars” takes place when the characters are college age.  I am mining my college memories for scenes, character traits, words, actions.  This might make some people nervous (and you know who you are – ba ha ha ha ha ha).  But what you will actually see might be a glimpse of yourself, a piece of an event, a character that’s similar, but not exactly like you. Because the memories are mine and the story is mine and in the end the characters are all really part of me.