Beguiling

Sometimes the strongest person in the room isn’t the one at the head of the table, the one shouting, the one at the center of everyone’s attention.

Sometimes the strongest person is the quiet one, listening, learning, studying everyone else.

Sometimes the strongest person is the one who doesn’t join in the drama that never solves a problem but looks good to others.

Sometimes the strongest person is the one who seems to do everything for others, forsaking their own needs.

Strength comes from knowing who you are, where you want to go, what you want to accomplish then getting there. It comes from knowing who you should include in your journey and who you should leave out.

I’m in the process right now of creating the main character of my next series of books and the above quote is a great clue to the enigma that is Vivienne. Like Carrie in Burnouts and Steve in Popstars she is somewhat of an antihero. Her natural place is not at the center of attention. But Vivienne is a little older than the other two characters and much more secure in her introversion. She may not have a clear vision of exactly what she wants from life (in the first book), but she is confident in her skills and abilities.

I love that her strengths are the opposite of the classic (and obvious) definition of strong. Vivienne is the quiet girl who is easily overlooked. She’s the willing ear for office gossip, the team supporter who bakes brownies for the Monday staff meeting, the girlie-girl in the pink sweater and lace. She’s the dark horse in the race to the top who surprises everyone, except herself, when she’s presented first prize then walks away from the cheering crowd to find her next challenge.

But it’s also Vivienne’s introverted nature that I hope isn’t overlooked by readers. There is a temptation to create an over-the-top character that stands out in the crowd. There is a definite risk in pinning an eight-book series on the power of quiet. But, like Vivienne, I can’t walk away from the challenge. All I can do is let you, my readers, get to know her as well as I have and hopefully fall in love the beguiling nature of a powerful introvert. 

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2015 In The Key of Life

2014 was a huge year for me. I turned 50, jumped out of an airplane, got a tattoo (my first), published two novels, and went on two cruises. It was a World Cup year (a big deal in my world) and my favorite novel ever, Outlander, came to life in a fantastic series. In the midst of all this my husband was sent on a four-month business trip and we had all the typical drama of a family with two teenagers. It’s enough to make me exhausted just reading about it. Having lived it (and loved most of it) I am ready for 2015. Because 2015 will be a year of slower, quieter, less…and I’m really excited about that too.

I have a Greek key of life bracelet my mom gave me. She told me the design (see exhibit A) represents the pattern of life, some up, some forward, some down and even a step or two back. It’s based on the twisting, turning flow of a river. I love the design because it’s beautiful, simple, ancient and wise. 

Exhibit A

2014 was definitely a moving-up-and-forward year and now ancient wisdom tells me its time for slowing down and taking a step back to gain perspective. It’s not that I plan to sit and watch the year go by. It’s more a time to start planning and laying ground work for another banner year in 2016 and/or beyond. It’s a time to recover and regroup–a much-needed lull.

I’ve already started meandering into my lull year. Over the Christmas break I cleaned out closets. (A cheap thrill if there ever was one.) I saw the movie “Wild” and I was re-inspired to get back to hiking, something I’ve always loved, but rarely made time for. There is nothing like a walk through the woods alone to recharge my batteries. I love to cook, but 2014 was a year of hastily thrown together dinners that took minimal time away from all the other excitement. In this slower year I can make time for made-from-scratch. 

I’m still writing, and have plans for at least two new novels in 2015, but I’ve vowed to get off the marketing merry-go-round long enough to develop a solid platform. Self-publishing is a rapidly changing industry where you can chase your dreams down all kinds of expensive, dead-end paths. I took a few of those detours last year and learned a some frustrating lessons. This is a good time for me to stop and put the horse before the cart before I start out again. 

The other thing I love about the Greek key is that it is continuous. In America we tend to see trends as one way. We love the drama of the slippery-slope theory–“one step in the wrong direction and its all down hill from there.” But ancient wisdom (and my own life thus far) tells me otherwise. There will be set backs and slow years. There will be days and even years when you seem to be spinning your wheels. Times when the most exciting thing you could put on Facebook would be “Cleaned out a closet today!” Which can suck when your friends are all posting pics of the degree they just finished or their dream vacation in Europe. That’s when I remember that all those cleaned out spaces make room for new things in my life or make it easier to pick up and move on to something or someplace new in my next up year.

Running To Stand Still

When my kids were little and we would go to the park I was constantly stopping them from taking time to stand on the edge of the pond and watch the ducks, or climbing on rocks. I wanted to keep moving on our walk and get home where, ironically, we really had nothing pressing to do. I was on self-imposed White Rabbit time, always late, always busy to get to … what? The end the walk? The end of my day? The end of my life?

I’ve been reading “The Skinny, Sexy Mind: The Ultimate French Secret” in preparation for the next novel series I plan to write. The book’s title really doesn’t describe the content well. I’m almost finished and still not sure what a skinny mind is. The part that has made sense, and made this a book definitely worth reading, is the American author’s analysis of how two years living in France helped her to overcome a long history of eating disorders. It has a lot to do with the rushing, racing to nowhere mentality that is so common in the United States and that I describe above. 

What she discovered in France (and I am rediscovering through her book) is an attitude of joie de vivre or joy of life. Americans think they get the concept, but what we really get is something like french fries, we think it’s what they have in France when it’s actually an Americanized version. Joie de vivre done our way is streamlined and fast and as copious as possible. Which is absolutely silly when you know the true meaning. 

The true meaning has to do with pleasure and guilt. The author, Trish Blackwell, learned to give herself lots of the first with none of the second. Generally, French women don’t do guilt, because most of them really don’t give a damn what you think about them. Their focus is on living their own life and getting as much pleasure and joy from it as possible. It’s summed up in one of the many quotes I highlighted, “When the focus of your life is more directed towards impressing or competing with others, you have sacrificed your ability to live your own life.”

Trish Blackwell’s eating disorders were the result of her competing, in her mind, with every other female around her. No matter how hard she tried the woman she saw in the mirror was in some way physically inferior to some other woman. She was literally running as fast as she could to a finish line that she was moving closer and closer with her actions, her own death.

It takes guts to for an American woman to declare that she is living for pleasure and has sworn off guilt. It flies in the face of our puritan work ethic and ultra competitiveness. Other women will be the first to pin scarlet letters to your chest: bad mother, selfish, indulgent, lazy. At a party recently I admitted that I have no interest in a mega cardio workout because I happen to like my curves and really don’t want them to disappear (plus is sounded like a horrid form of torture). Most struggled for a response to that announcement. 

And joie de vivre is about so much more than food and weight. It’s about slowing down and saying no to stuff that adds nothing to your life. Today the morning news show was one guilt ridden statement after another about not finishing Christmas shopping or decorating on time. Guilt is the national conversation and obsession but does it really add anything to your life? Would anyone on your gift list think less of you or reject a gift because it showed up late? (I know I accept gifts anytime someone wants to give them–day late, year late, it’s all good.) 

I celebrated the solstice yesterday, slowly, quietly, with no agenda but my own. It was fantastic, a true slice of joie de vivre. It’s an overcast day today but my little dehydrated orange slices look sunny and sweet hanging in my window. I love them because they are a reminder to slow down or even stop–all my competing and obsessing–all my running to stand still.

Is Sex in Romance Novels Necessary?

For both of my current novels and most likely all of my future novels I include a disclaimer letting readers know that my writing is intended for readers age 17 and older. I believe in using realistic language in dialogue and I believe that sex is necessary for my romance novels.

Not all romance writing contains sex scenes. There are stories featuring couples who are too young and stories that focus on all the other aspects of a relationship. Some readers consider sex to be a private act, even for fictional couples–something not discussed or described in polite company. I get that. Despite my writing, I am not known for kissing and telling on myself. I’m not one to sit around and dish on my sex life with my friends. But I see sex when writing about a couple’s relationship as vital to me telling their story.

Sex is the physical representation of their relationship. So many things left unsaid can be demonstrated through a couple’s sexual contact. Most of the men I know are not particularly verbal when it comes to their emotions, they prefer physical demonstrations. Women’s communications are replete with subtext and subtly that can be more easily expressed through sex. Good sex scenes are not only fun to read (and can bring on rounds of real sex), but they also give an author a huge toolbox of ways to demonstrate the dynamics of a relationship.

Bad sex scenes don’t do this. Bad sex scenes are like most porn–one dimensional, sophomoric, repetitious. Face it, there are only so many ways you can have a couple of undeveloped characters insert tab A into slot B and have it be interesting. Bad erotic romance writing (and there is good out there) relies on lots of descriptions of how “hot” the man and woman look, their physical perfections, and how much they get off on looking at each other. It also relies on contortionist positions or exotic locations (although a billionaire’s desk/penthouse/plane have become a required cliche).  Sex is a physical language that bad erotica reduces to a twenty-word vocabulary.

Used to further demonstrate a couple’s love (or lack thereof), sex is so much more than the legal definition. In my first novel, Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks, the female character has experienced all-too-common bad teenage sex. She doesn’t understand why others are so excited about this frankly dull act with a selfish man. The male lead, Ben, is a conflicted virgin. He respects his first girlfriend’s choice not to have sex before marriage, but he realizes he is years from being willing to make that kind of commitment and full of the natural urges of a teenager. The relationship that develops between these two is sexual and that is one of the key elements to their connection. The couple they become would be incomplete without it. Through their sex life Ben shows Carrie what affection is like from an unselfish man and Carrie allows Ben to discover the sexual side of himself without feeling like a pervert.

Bad sex is a fantastic way to allow characters to show unvented feelings–a kiss ended too soon, lack of eye contact, repetition or speed are all ways to give readers another piece of the puzzle.

Then there are all the social norms that surround sex. (That could be several more posts.) I am currently reading Fear of Flying, Erica Jong’s 1973 runaway best seller that sold millions of copies with the promise of her catch phrase “a zipless f*ck”. Compared to current erotic romances, it’s tame. But it is an insight into the sexual revolution of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Freed from the fear of pregnancy by the pill for the first time in the history of mankind, women struggled (and still do) to redefine the role and rules of sex. If you read it for a cheap thrill, you’ll be disappointed. If you read it as one story of the tentative steps women were making into a very brave new world, it’s fascinating.

And that’s what characters allow us to do. They allow us to go where me might not go ourselves. They allow us to play out scenarios and stories of “what if”, which can be exciting and empowering and comforting and deeply emotional when those stories shine some light and insight into the taboo subject of sex.

Strong Women

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a woman strong. I’m in the planning stages of my next series which, at this time, will be eight books featuring a central character, Vivianne. She is my reason for wanting to write the series and she will have to be a very strong character to carry the story line for that long.

In assembling the elements that will make her an interesting, engaging character I’ve studied stereotypes, role models, heroines, and trend setters. I went to see “Mockingjay Part 1” and was impressed with Katniss. She possesses not only physical skills, but also fierce loyalty, fight, and undying hope. 

I am in love with all the women on the HBO series “The Newsroom”. Aaron Sorkin created females who are intelligent, clever, self-effacing, and unapologetically female and sexual. These women don’t dumb down or diminish any part of themselves to please others and they inspire me.

Then I discovered Nimue and I knew I had found the final piece of this character. Although a minor character in the King Arthur legend, she fascinated me. She is the female everyone overlooks and underestimates, but she knows her own power. She hides in plain site and lets everyone believe she isn’t a threat and in doing so befriends, counsels and influences kings, queens and magicians. Her power is her quiet and sweetness, comfort and understanding–beautiful irony. 

I saw women who I had once written off as just plain weird in a whole new light. I may not agree with everything Madonna or Angeline Jolie have done, and each has made some very public blunders, but both are definitely strong. They have a unique perspective that they are not afraid to live. They are living life on their own terms. That became my definition of a strong woman. 

The beauty in that statement is that it holds true and can encompass all women. Your own terms may include being a full-time mom or choosing not to have children. Your terms may include no marriage, a single marriage or many. You might choose to focus on your career or to dedicate your time to charity work. And actually, these are not either/or scenarios. Strong women don’t allow others or society to tell them that they cannot be or have exactly what they want even if it may seem contradictory. They can be a deeply religious gay woman or a CEO/mommy in fifty shades of pink. 

Strong women write their own unique story.

I’ve been inspired by Vivianne and her story is still in the beginning stages. I want her to be exciting and interesting. I want her to make readers laugh and think. But I don’t want her to be a morality tale or a how-to guide. She will live her life her way and hopefully inspire women (and men) to have the strength to do the same.





Scarcity’s Slave

The green-eyed monster, that I like to deny even exists in me, has slithered to the surface more often than I want lately. It happens when I get all OCD on my book stats. The internet being what it is, makes it easy to not only obsess over your own numbers, but do copious amounts of comparing with other author’s numbers. Amazon is a statistician’s dream. The nerd number-cruncher in me gets caught up in cross referencing genre categories. It’s the part of me that wants an answer to the question, “How am I doing?” A question that guarantees a long time-wasting trip in search of an answer that doesn’t exist. 

And worse, just posing the question sets up a me vs them scenario (that also doesn’t really exist). If one author sells a thousand books, it doesn’t mean that another author will then  not sell a thousand. Her success does not equal my demise, but it can feel that way. 

Our society loves number crunching comparisons and a lot of what Amazon does feeds that love. You can find out who has written the most reviews, whose reviews were voted most helpful, who sold the most stuff today or even the most stuff in the last hour. It all looked so helpful and cool, until I realized the toll it was taking on the part of writing that I love. 

Most author’s don’t write that first book so that they can obsessively check their sales and rankings on Amazon. They write it out of love–for writing, for the topic, for the characters. They write it because they want to share that story and connect with other people through it. Then, after hitting that publish button, they are gobsmacked with the reality that they are now not only an author, but a small business. If they want any one to connect with their writing, they are going to have to make a lot of noise to get attention. Que up an army of gurus with advice on the perfect way to do just that. I won’t go into the mind-numbing details, but it is staggering the number of ways (with more coming everyday) that you can/could market your book and boost those numbers. As a rookie in this field, I’ve been researching and reading and trying to figure out which are right for me. 

And that was how I discovered the question I need to be asking, “What is right for me?” That answer (and there is one) turned me around. It squelched the green-eyed monster and put a lot of the joy back into writing and marketing. Looking at my writing career from that perspective, I let go of the numbers crunching that gave me heart burn and could only give me a very fleeting answer to the “How am I doing?” question. It gave me a direction that includes working with and building up other authors and truly communicating with my readers. 

My work reflects my mood and books written from a competitive perspective will smack of desperation and compromise. Passion and excitement die in that environment. However, I’m not going to lie. I’m on shaky ground for me. The place where I need to stand requires that I believe in my writing without numbers to back me up. It requires that I stand firm on my fledgling faith in myself. But I know that blindly pouring another story from my heart and gut is the right thing for me to do. It’s the action that will make me a stronger and better person, and not a frantic slave to the statistics of scarcity.

A Writer’s Labor Day

I’m pushing toward the end of the first draft of my second novel so I am writing like a woman possessed. I have maybe six to eight chapters to go so I don’t want to stop laboring too long on this Labor Day and lose my momentum (although this is really fun labor).

To honor all those pursuing creative careers I’ll just post the following and let it speak for me.