Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Need A Man!

Sorry, I was listening to the Eurythmics yesterday and "I Need a Man" came on. I really love the aggressive feel of that song. It came out in 1988, a time of glitz and gloss for both genders and the song feels like a rejection of that over-stylized male and a need for something rougher and tougher. Anyway, it got me thinking about heroes, particularly alpha heroes.

I've never been a big alpha hero writer. My heroes tend to be smart, cooperative, looking for the best solution to the problem. They aren't automatically ruthless. The ask first before shooting. They worked well for me, but lately, I yearn for something else.

I want to write someone who solves problems with the least amount of trouble. Meaning, he doesn't negotiate. He talks in sharp one liners, can fell a tree with a flash of his cold, steely glare. His sense of justice is iron clad: you are either a good guy or a bad guy in his view, there is nothing in between. He may frighten you at first, but in the end he makes you feel safe.

To me, Dirty Harry epitomized the alpha hero. In truth, if we had to live with this guy...well, we wouldn't. Handsome, chilling, determined, he brought a sense of order to a world in chaos. And that's why I think my interest in such a tough guy has emerged.

Dirty Harry came on the scene during a tumultuous time. We were still in the midst of a war. Culture was changing. Society was going through rapid changes. People felt unsure. We are going through similar changes now. Our economy is in tatters. I know people who only two years ago were going on lavish vacations and buying expensive cars that are now struggling to keep their houses. I see shops and business disappearing, hear stories about friends losing their jobs. The situation abroad is no better. The Middle East is still explosive. Europe is suffering its own economic woes. And hell, to top things off, Jon and Kate are getting divorced. Could it get any more turbulent?

An alpha hero cuts through the uncertainty, provides a solid answer and stable pillar to cling to. He radiates confidence and security, a beacon in the ocean of the unknown we feel cast adrift in. No, he isn't reality. That would be a bad thing. But in fiction, particularly genre fiction, we want that escape. We want to see a microcosm of our own world, see situations which seem impossible resolved in the most expedient way possible. We want to feel safe, feel rescued.

Hence my alphanazation of my heroes. They're still smart. They dress well. They're handsome. But they are more willing to shoot first and ask questions later. They are less interested in hearing the heroine's side of the story and more interested in seeing her safe. Its going to add some additional conflict because my heroines tend to be a little overbearing, but I think the result could be interesting.

Have you found your heroes becoming a bit more alpha these days?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Story ideas are exploding in my head like fireworks. Brilliant, loud and spectacular, they light up the night sky of my mind with flashes of breathtaking color and flare, and they fade just as fast. They fizzle out, frail pieces of ash that are lost amongst the other debris in my head.
I don't see it as my muse has gone wild. I see it as a lack of effort on my part. Rather than focusing on something tangible, I let my mind wander, attracted by the shiny things like a two year old in a candy store. Words are my playthings of choice, my Legos as it were, but I'm not using them to build anything constructive. I'm spewing little bits of scenes with no purpose.

No, there really isn't anything wrong with letting lose, but it feeds itself, taking me further and further from my goal. My mind buzzes with little flashes of brilliance, but that is all they are. I've done this before and it leads to a path of procrastination and a creative null. I'm too experienced to let this get a grip on me. The solution is simple. Finish the book I'm halfway through. It would seem to be an easy fix, but it is hard to focus. I'm not in a flashy, shiny section of the book. I will be soon, but it lacks luster right now. Or at least it does for me. I think we all get that way when we are writing a book and it is so easy to get distracted. I'm going to put blinders on and ignore the 4th of July display in my head, at least for awhile.

Do you get distracted mentally by other story ideas? Are they bona fide or just sparklers?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Location, Location, Location

When I start contemplating a book, the first thing that comes to mind is the setting. The location is as much of a character as the hero or heroine. Or perhaps I should say it is an extension of the characters. The yin to their yangs as it were.

My contemporaries are usually set in L.A., mainly because I live here and don't have the research issues. But also because I love the concept of gloss of Southern California and revealing a dark underbelly hidden from everyone's eyes. Okay, so the dark underbelly I'm revealing is imaginary, but I like the juxtaposition of a bright, sunny world unaware of an ominous shadow below the surface, waiting to erupt and tear the hell out of everything.

I also like putting a character into a setting they are familiar with, a place well within their comfort zone and twisting it, throwing the character off balance and watching what they do when confronted with the bizarre. I find very few of us are truly adventurous. We like our homes, we like the comfort of knowing our surroundings. How disturbing is it when they've got a street closed and we have to take an unfamiliar detour to get home? Or you realize your favorite checker at the grocery store has left? Heck, I get antsy if I have to park in an area of the parking lot I've never parked in before. While all of these are small and hardly worthy of Prozac, I like to blow them up. Maybe the heroine finds out her favorite checker is really a demon from Hell bent on sucking out the souls of all the baggers and she is the only one who can stop her. Or the road home has been blocked by the arrival of a 300 foot fire breathing banana slug. I like to take the expected and shred it.

In historicals I love to take a beautiful, pastoral landscape and fill it with beautiful people then throw in something so evil it reveals the rottenness underneath. It puts my characters in a tailspin and unravels all they ever believed in. The exterior remains gorgeous and pristine but underneath the elegance is dark world where the lovely people are truly ugly.

Do you use settings and locations in a similar manner or are they a more of a backdrop for your story?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Marble Palaces

There is more pleasure to building castles in the air than on the ground.
~~~~~Edward Gibbon

When I was a kid I loved my Barbies. For hours I'd play in my room with them, enacting dramas of my own creation, building imaginary marble palaces for them out of plastic desks and shoe box furniture. Scraps of fabric from my mom's sewing collection became sweeping gowns of the most precious silks and velvets, perfect for those ballroom scenes. As I got older, the worlds became more elaborate, the plots more involved. I had good Barbies and bad Barbies and only one Ken. Yeah, things got complicated, making "Dynasty" look like a "Dora the Explorer" cartoon. I didn't realize at the time I was sowing the seeds of a writer. Those hours of solitude with just my dolls for company were molding my brain for writing.
My purpose is to entertain myself first and other people secondly.
~~~~John D. MacDonald

My first ventures into writing were little short stories I wrote about the places I saw on road trips. I didn't intend to share them but occassionally I would read them to my folks. They thought they were funny and I recall them encouraging me to write more. I moved on to stories heavily influenced by what I was reading. Those I didn't share at all. But they entertained me, just like my Barbies had years earlier.
The only reason for being a professional writer is that you just can't help it.
~~~~Leo Rosten

In college I finally got the urge to write as a profession. To be honest, I couldn't have picked a worse time to make such a decision. I took a creative writing class my freshman year. While my classmates were writing angsty stories about alienation and the darkness of their childhoods, I was writing about dating, about being jealous of a roommate, about a man whose office chair explodes and sends him hurtling out the window. I felt self-conscious about my writing and denigrated my own choice of words. My teacher thought my writing had merit, but as a student, I felt the lack of importance of my work. I should have been writing mighty protest novels or feminist essays. I should have been trying to change the world through words. Sigh...we do tend to get bloated with hot air as college students.
There are many reasons why novelists write – but they all have one thing in common: a need to create an alternative world.
~~~John Fowles

I didn't start writing again seriously until I was 32 and my second child had been born. I wish I could say why it happened. I picked up a WIP I'd started ten years previously and devoted myself to it. It wasn't good but it was a marvelous teacher. But I finished it, edited it and started submitting. I didn't have any success, but it drove me to keep writing. Those years were the golden years. I loved writing, loved the worlds I created. And I kept submitting, with a bit more success on my one manuscript.
Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.
~~~~Cyril Connolly

I landed an agent. She shopped my book. It didn't sell. I didn't quit writing, but my focus had changed. I worried about marketablility, I tied myself up in knots wondering what exactly it was that editors wanted. I quit writing for myself and tried to think on another level, a level that doesn't exist. Everything I wrote pretty much sucked. I'm a good writer, I have good pacing, great dialog, etc., so nothing I produced was bad per se, but it lacked the soul and the heart which makes a book great. It was obvious I writing without passion.
Forget all the rules. Forget about being published. Write for yourself and celebrate writing.
~~~~Melinda Haynes

It's summer and I watch my kids play. They don't have Barbies right now since they got cleaned up and put in storage. But the six year old can pick up a stick and immediately be in outer space fighting some monster or the nine year old can put on an old tie and carry a big tote bag and pretend to be a trial lawyer. Their minds are ripe with images only they can see, worlds they have created with only their imaginations. They remind me of those years I spent with my own toys, creating worlds out of almost nothing. And they remind me why I am a writer and how I too can create marble palaces out of thing air.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reader Fatigue

Do you ever get reader fatigue? I've been reading a lot lately, nothing new there, but I've really poured it on since I got the Kindle. Now I usually have one paperback and one digital book going at all times. Problem is I've been a one-trick pony when it comes to genre.

I read urban fantasy and if you are familiar with the genre, you know it isn't always the most uplifting and the steady amount of action can be exhausting. I can feel myself burning out and I need to give it a rest. But I don't want to stop reading. So here's your chance.

Give me some book recommendations. Fiction, non-fiction, no matter what the genre, give me the title of a book you have read recently that you liked and want to share. Triple points if its available on Kindle.

Its going to be a long summer and I plan on spending much of it with a book in hand.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"The color of the sky as far as i can see is coal grey"

I was a big 10,000 Maniacs fan back in the day and "Like the Weather" was big favorite. It always plays through my head on unseasonably gray days.

It is the middle of June in Southern California and our views of the sun have been limited. All of the great events which hail the coming of summer have occurred under dreary skies and damp conditions. Its taken the luster from the days, sapping the sparkle from a time which should be exciting and filled with anticipation.

One of my small pleasures is the drive to pick up my kids from school. I pass down a street with old Craftsman houses. Large trees line each side of street and stretch out to form a canopy for cars to drive under. The leaves are vivid, so green and glossy they don't seem real. But without sun, they are pallid, the branches sinister rather than joyous.

We love color here in the Southland. We've the good fortune of mild temperatures so we can grow so many things. But they are dependent on the sun. Oh, the flowers get enough to grow, but their colors are faded. The pinks and yellows have no depth, the violets and reds are cold and passionless.

Obviously it affects my mood. I'm not the only one. I was discussing it with others today. We are discombobulated. We are tired and listless. We suffer from a malaise which has no set symptoms or diagnosis. It isn't that we hate cold weather, trust me, by August I will be whining in the entirely opposite direction. We expect bad weather in the winter and enjoy wearing our winter coats and sweaters, sipping mugs of hot chocolate. But those times have passed and now it is time to be outside amongst the greenery.

We've always had something called "June Gloom" which brought in a severe marine layer to the area in the morning but burned off by noon. We don't like it, but we accept it because we know our afternoons will be sunny. This is something different. We've had it before and to be honest, I predicted we would have it again this year because of how cold our winter was.

I am going some place with this besides incessant complaining. As I get older I've noticed my moods are affected more and more by the weather. I don't know why. And when my moods are involved, my writing is thrown into upheaval. I'm motivated, but my thoughts are cloudy. It's like my mind has gone gray like the weather. Ironically, the WIP I'm working on takes place in the middle of December and the skies are gray and cloudy with constant storms. But I can't get myself into it. Over the last couple of days, I've had time to write and I can't get myself going. Blogging has been difficult because I can't seem to form sentences. Maybe just spewing my weather-themed diatribe will be enough to shake me lose. Or hopefully the sun will come out and I can feel normal again.

Does the weather affect your writing? Has it always or do you find the weather having more of an impact as you get older?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Winding Down

Sorry, it looked as though I had disappeared from the face of the earth. But the end of school seems to kick everything into overdrive. I don't remember the end of the school year being like this when I was a kid. It's like Christmas around here. We have a constant stream of events at the school which all require participation. Last week I attended two end of the year plays and a school fair. I baked and cooked for two major functions. I attended one team party. Started organizing another. On top of this are the other activities beyond. Baseball has been all consuming this year and it came to an end on Saturday.

My daughter's team played a 3 1/2 hour game. It went to 8 innings. In normal game play, the drop dead time is 2 hours, no matter what the score, but because this was tournament, it could not end in a tie. So we played until the tie was broken. It was exhausting, particularly for the kids. Anyway, it was a disappointing loss, but part of me can't help being relieved. Now I'm working on the team party which is a whole other job.

I wonder why I do this and how I got into this position. I certainly didn't plan it. My life's blueprint did not involve this level of immersion into kid activities. And now I find it is pretty much what I do, it is the center of my life. Of course writing has taken a backseat, I haven't written anything in at least a week, probably longer. Do my children appreciate it? Of course not, kids aren't wired that way. They believe they deserve it. Do I enjoy it? Yeah, I suppose. My nature is to be reclusive and anti-social, but being involved forces me to interact with others.

There are times I'd really like to chuck it. I'd like to spend my time writing and not get involved. But I'm also aware of how difficult it is to get published, how easy it is to get sucked into the emotional roller coaster of rejection and triumph which is a writing career. It can become too important. In thirty years' time, no one is going to remember my writing. But I do think my kids will look back in thirty years and remember how much it meant to them to have me there.

Of course, if they end up being a bunch of axe murderers, I'm going to be all kinds of ticked.