Archive for January, 2009

Age-old Writing Question #2 – Where do you get your ideas?

I used to think I knew the answer to this question. I used to think ideas were born out of hard work and intellectual prowess. To that, I now say “pphhhhhfffffffffffffftttt!”

The truth is, I have no idea where ideas come from. In a few cases, I can tell you what triggered me to be thinking about a certain topic, but not what brought about the new idea itself. Gargoyles? How in the heck would you ever pair up gargoyles and romance? I get asked that a lot. That is one of those rare cases where I remember the instant the seed of the idea — the topic of gargoyles — was  planted. Even if I can’t tell you how I eventually worked up the idea of my individual gargoyle reality.

I was in the bookstore — always my favorite way to procrastinate writing — and on browsing the bargain table, I found a coffe-table book full of beautiful photographs of gargoyles. I thumbed through it, intrigued. I was raised Catholic, attended Catholic schools for a few years, and I’d always wondered why these bastions of holiness (in their minds) had decorated their most revered cathedrals, such as Notre Dam, with these horrific, even demonic (dare I say Satanic) carvings. Sure, I’d read all the theories that the gargoyles are really just decorative water spouts. But I wasn’t buying it. They could have formed flowers or little bunnies or saints as water spouts. Why these evil-looking creatures inspired by nightmares?

I found in the book a legend about how gargoyles came to be popular. It spoke of a town in France under seige by a dragon about the time the area was struggling with the conversion from paganism to Christianity. It spoke of a priest who came to town and offered to slay the dragon if the townsfolk would promise to build a Christian church and convert once the deed was done.  So he did, and they did. Then they dragged the dragon’s carcass back to the village and burned it — all except the head and neck, which wouldn’t burn because it was already so charred from the beast’s fiery breath. They took the head and hung it on the wall of their new church as a warning to all that evil that they were not welcome here. Kind of like in Texas when the ranchers hang a dead coyote on the fence to keep other coyotes away. Yuck.

Anyway, I called “bullshit”. Because, being raised Catholic, I’m a little jaded about some aspects of the church. In my mind, the scene went a little differently. The priest had recently converted from paganism himself, and had quite a few tricks up his sleeve. He used his pagan magic to trick the villagers. Instead of slaying the dragon with prayer, he called forces the powers of nature and merged the souls of the village men with animals. The bears and lions and tigers (I would say “oh my” but it would be so cliche) then charged the mountain and slayed the dragon. These villagers who could then convert from man to beast were revered for ages as protectors of humanity. The carvings put on the churches were icons of respect.

See how twisted the writer’s mind really is? All my life, TV shows didn’t end when the screen went dark. Movie plots were just rough drafts for me to mentally rewrite. I didn’t realize that every kid didn’t make up new episodes of their favorite shows in their heads.  Thankfully, I’d already met a lot of other writers and realized I wasn’t alone before I found out everyone didn’t also make up stories in their heads to put themselves to sleep at night.

Sometimes ideas come like the gargoyles — a nugget, a backstory or a “what if.” Occasionally they come fully formed, as did the idea for “Angel and the Hellraiser” which appeard fully formed while I was on a cruise vacation in the Caribbean. Sometimes they come out of purposeful research and perspiration. Everytime I read the news or watch TV or flip through a magazine I’m looking for one of those nuggets, something that intrigues or moves me. I keep a file of them so I don’t forget the ones I find. Most of them will never be written, but it is comforting to know I have a list in case I draw a blank on the next book.

Ideas are everywhere around us. You just have to be open to them when they come calling.

 

See, being raised Catholic I tend to be a little skiptical of such things.

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It’s official. I’m a Wide ASS

It only took three days of classroom training to get it. The official certificate from the U.S. Government declaring that I’m a Wide-A.S.S., that is. How many people can accomplish that in just three days? Not many, since this is only the sixth time the class has ever been delivered, and was the final “dry-run” before it is made available to emergency personnel across the country. Wide A.S.S. = Wide-Area Search Specialist. That’s the search that spans tens, hundreds, thousands, even occasionally tens of thousands of square miles such as during the aftermath of a large tornado, hurricane or earthquake. It was quite an interesting class. Though we hope to never use the skills we gained, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, as well as the Greensburg, KS tornado have taught us how important it is to be prepared. One of the ways to improve your personal survivability? Have a plan–for your family, with your close neighbors and for your community. Get involved  in volunteer opportunities like CERT (Civilian Emergency Response Team) or the Red Cross. In the meantime, maybe we can all work on a new acronym for wide area search specialist.

Now it’s back from practicality to pure fantasy. Hoping to finish the new proposal today and then work on the short story I’ve started. Since we’re having an ice storm, there shouldn’t be many distractions today and tomorrow to pull me out of the house. I just hope the power stays on! Backup plan is my camper if it should go out since the camper is heated by an LP gas furnace. Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Top Ten Things That Made Me Proud To Be An American Today

It was an amazing day. I was blessed to be able to get up early and sit back and watch the whole day’s proceedings. Despite some desperate circumstances in the nation and the world currently, I ended the day feeling uplifted. Here is an off-the-top-of-my-head list of things that made me happy today.

10. The inauguration of a president who “breaks the mold” of past presidents
9. The sight of politicians who opposed Obama in the elections sitting and celebrating his inauguration
8. The respect shown to George W. Bush for his years of service
7. The Obama girls looking so sweet
6. President Obama’s concern after Senator Kennedy was taken ill at the luncheon
5. The funny moment of flubbing the oath of office–a reminder that even presidents and supreme court justices are human
4. That really cool car
3. The fact they made the media ride in flat bed trucks that looked like they came right out of the cotton field for the parade
2. The sight of Marine One flying over the mall

1. Over two million Americans of all race, age, gender and political inclination gathered PEACEFULLY  to witness the change of leadership

I am so proud of all of our people. Not everyone voted for Obama. Not everyone agrees with his policies. Not everyone was happy with George Bush as a leader. And yet my understanding is that police did not make a single arrest in inauguration related activities, despite emotions running high because of the turbulent times.

Amazing.

Life’s little ironies

I’ve mentioned here before that I am involved in search and rescue work. Specifically, I am a search and rescue canine handler on a local, state and national response level. Being a writer also, there is nothing I would like better than to take these SAR experiences, so rich with drama and real-life emotion, and spin the tales here for all to ponder and laugh and cry over with me. I think it would be therapuetic. It is one of life’s little ironies that this thing I would like most to write about is one of the few things that I can’t write about. In some cases, my reticence is out of respect for the privacy of the victims I interact with. Other times, the policies of the governmental agencies I support prohibit discussion. And sometimes the searches are part of an ongoing criminal investigation and must be kept confidential for legal reasons.

Today’s search was one of the latter. I wish I could talk to all of you about it detail. Instead I’ll just say I was harshly reminded today of two truths in life:

1) There are a lot of sick bastards out there, and
2) There but for the grace of God go I, my family or my friends.

‘Nuff said. Hug your loved ones tonight.

No writing today. It’s kind of tough to jump into a fantasy world after a reality check like this morning.

When I can, I’ll sort through my pictures of Hurricanes Dolly, Gustav and Ike which I responded to in 2008 and see if any would be okay to post.

Naked Men

I am very frightened to see what kind of links to this site I will get with a title like that. But still, I have to be honest, and the theme for the week really is naked men.

It all started this past weekend when, due to a mixup in keys and room assignments at a hotel, a femaile friend of mine walked in on a New York City police officer sleeping in his birthday suit in what he thought was the privacy of his own room. From all accounts it was…awkward. But since both parties involved had to spend the weekend with a group of search and rescue personnel NOT known to pass up an opportunity for a little bit (or a lot) of ribbing, they both had little choice but to grin and “bare” it.

Closer to home, the hero of my new proposal is still walking around naked as well. Oddly, he doesnt’ seem concerned about it. Stranded up in the high country of the Sierra Nevadas, I can’t figure out where I’m going to get this guy some clothes. I mean, he can go around in the buff, but he’s hiking and there’s all kinds of scratchy and creepy-crawly things about. It just can’t be comfortable for him. Seriously, I’m going to have to find an abandoned campsite or cabin for him to stumble across, or something. Despite his protests.

On the homefront: Not much happening today. Still writing. Horse shoer was here — always fun chatting it up with him and his wife. Then I took a ride on my reliable equine buddy  Storm since it looks like the weather tomorrow and Friday will prohibit outdoor activities for cold weather wimps like me.  Now just trying to eek out a few more paragraphs before calling it a day and watching American Idol.

The age old question for writers…

Plotter or Pantser?

I thought I’d use today’s post to answer this standard question writers get asked (and ask each other). For those not familiar with the lingo, a plotter is a writer who thinks out the events of a story in detail before beginning to write. A pantser sits down at the computer with a vague idea of a scene or character and let’s it rip — thus “flying by the seat of her pants,” or pantser.

Anytime you get more than two writers in a room for any extended period of time, this topic is bound to come up. Writers are fascinated by each others’ processes. Seems like no matter how many books we’ve written, no matter how successful we are, we have this need to reassure ourselves we’re doing it “right.”

Me, I fall to the plotter side of the spectrum, but not in the extreme. I know who my main characters are, and a bit about their lives and histories, before I start. I always have an opening scene in mind and ideally I have about 5 major events in mind, one of which is a turning point in the middle of the book and one of which is the climax, or ending.

I can and have written books without having five big events firmly in mind before I start, but  it makes me an anxious mess. Having five events in mind is my security blanket. Really. No need for a stuffed rabbit or fuzzy blankie. Just give me five plot points and I can write the pages to connect the dots.

What I don’t do is write down all the information on my characters and events  in any sort of formal outline or chart. Five plot points, one opening scene, two main characters — that’s less than ten things. Yeah, I can keep that much in my head. On a good day.

The exception, of course, is when I have to write a detailed synopsis (the bane of many a selling writer’s existence) to market the story to an editor prior to writing the full manuscript. Can I just say…agony?

None of this is to say that the pantsers of the world are wrong. I greatly admire authors who can put their fingers on a keyboard and let their imaginations fly with no prep work. Actually, I hate them. But I have to say I admire them because I often run into them at conferences and publishers’ parties and such. It can be awkward.

All for now. This weekend is a big annual search and rescue canine training weekend, with teams coming in from all over the country to work at our Texas facility. It’s always fun since we haven’t seen these folks since our summer whirlwind of hurricane deployments. It will be nice to sit around after training and share experiences from those deployments.

Back to writing-related stuff on Monday as I wrap up the unicorn proposal and begin writing a paranormal short story.

The view outside my window

It’s really hard to write a story set in a hot, tinder-box dry, smoky, volcanic-ash-blowing-in-the-air-and-lava-flowing-down-the-mountainside kind of environment with this view out the office window:

But the sun is now coming out and it’s supposed to warm up today, so hopefully the icicles won’t be around much longer.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I’m still working on the opening for that new book. It’s a little tricky since it keeps trying to take a decidedly fantasy bend, and it isn’t supposed to be a pure fantasy. It needs to be somewhat grounded in contemporary reality. At least a little. Even if it is about unicorns.

Also, I am bugged by the fact I can’t decide on the hero’s name. I should just call him “Bob” and go on. I can always do a Find/Replace All once he tells me what he really wants to be called. But…it just bugs me.

All in all, the first week of full-time writing is going well. I’ve stayed pretty focused and made good progress toward my goal of having a submission package (including the proposal for this new book and a completed short story) done by the 19th. The muse is being kind.

Back to work…


Available Now!

western romance novel boxed set

7 men as tough as the West. 7 women ready to Cowboy Up

Available Now!

Psychological Suspense short story with a bonus inspirational short story included

Coming Soon from Vickie Taylor

Fantasy Romance Novella

What am I reading today?

GOOD OLE BOYS - Denise Barker - Just started, but I'm intrigued so far!

Last five books read:

TEXAS GOTHIC - Rosemary Clement-Moore - Awesome! Great fun and spooktastic at the same time!

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN - Ransom Riggs - Really creative idea. Enjoyed it very much!

BOOTSCOOTIN' BLAHNIKS - D.D. Scott - Very enjoyable, fun book!

THE GOOD DAUGHTER - Diana Layne - Awesome! Get it now!

GOT YOUR NUMBER - Stephanie Bond - Fun little mystery!

What’s on my TBR List?

GOOD OLE BOYS - Denise Barker

Reader’s Guide to E-publishing

Find your next e-book here!

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