"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bullies, gravity, and the need to fight

My horse trainer, Niki, had a question for me and our friend Christine today. She had read in a parenting magazine that little boys going into kindergarten needed to be taught how to use a urinal so they don't drop their pants in the restrooms that are shared by the older boys (BTW, nothing in this article pointed to inappropriate/abusive behavior). Since Christine and I have both raised sons, she wanted to know if this was important.

Neither Christine nor I had imparted this info to our boys, although I told Niki that if anyone needs to teach her son, it sounded like a dad thing to me. Seriously, I've never used a urinal - what would I know?

Of course, after telling her that, I messaged my son. "So when you were a little kid, was it hard to learn to use the restrooms at Morse (elementary school)?"

I'm sure I baffled him. "Not that I can recall," he said.

He then went on to explain that the only semi-difficult part was to figure out that you didn't need to drop your pants, which was kind of embarrassing, but you see the other kids and you figure it out.

"They might laugh at you but you pick up on it."

Ah. That's what some parent in the parenting magazine is trying to prevent. Someone's son was laughed at and he was possibly a sensitive soul (oh-so-not judging) and he was upset. Laughing at someone's inexperience is not a kind thing to do, but it is a kid thing to do, and combined with other events, could definitely point toward bullying.

And we can't let our kids be bullied.

Let's be clear: I don't like bullies. I don't like people picking on other people, no matter what the age. And I think bullying can very much depend upon the recipient sometimes. A tender heart is bruised more easily.

With all that being said, when I think of bullies (or poverty or violence or any other kind of worldly pain), I think of astronauts. One of the things they discovered being in space for long periods is that their muscles atrophied because there was no gravity for them to push against. We take gravity for granted, but without it, our entire physical structure would break down. We need to be pushed by gravitational force so we can simply stand up.

So even though I want a world of peace, love, and understanding, when I see pain or injustice, it activates my "moral gravity." I have something to push against, to strengthen my resolve to make the world better. I don't like bullies, but knowing they exist makes me vigilant. A perfect world might make me a moral slacker, willing to let evil creep in because I might be too weak morally to fight it.

To take this into writer's territory, I think this is what gives our stories their life. If our characters are not pushing against some wrong, what makes a reader turn the page?

It's a Catch-22 world. We want to stop the madness, and our drive to stop it is what grounds us morally.

Monday, August 11, 2014

She's so unusual

If you're a Cyndi Lauper fan, you know that's the name of her first album, the one that had four top-five hits. I saw her last week on PBS' Front and Center, performing songs from that album in celebration of its 30th anniversary. I love concerts where the artist tells you about themselves in between songs, and Cyndi delivered that in spades.

She told a story of playing the ukulele and singing to a stadium of 10,000 people and how they all -ALL- booed her. "When you get booed by 10,000 people in a stadium," she said. "ya grow a different kind of a spine."

I love that.

She's on my mind because she's one of those women who has always gone her own way and done her own thing and been unapologetic about whether you like it or not, even though I'm sure she wanted people to like her enough to buy her music because that's what you do as an artist. You create something and tell yourself it's about the creating of the thing and no one else's opinion matters, but then when it's done you YEARN for someone to love what you've created.

I like to think about women like Cyndi when I'm embarking on a new creative voyage, which is what I'm doing. You see, the good thing about being an author-publisher is that you can write whatever you want. The bad thing is that you can write whatever you want. I need to be writing the next Peri mystery. My imagination keeps bugging me to write about a girl pirate.

So I'm writing both at the same time. Don't worry, I can keep them both separate. Peri will not be swashbuckling any time soon.

I'm having great fun with the pirate fantasy. It's violent, it's sexy, it's a lot of things I don't usually write. It's so unlike me, I may have to release it under a pen name. I only have a couple of problems with it:

1. I'm so into the characters and the plot that I'm not paying much attention to the time frame. Does "somewhere around the time of the Spanish Armada" get close enough? Or do I need to spend time taking my reader into The Period? Do I need to anchor the story to some event?

2. I used to read a lot of adventure/fantasy when I was young, but I haven't read any in a while. What if I'm writing one big fat cliché full of clichés? What if it's been done and overdone, by younger and hipper writers?

Here's the premise: Lisette, a young noblewoman, is supposed to get engaged to Eric on her 18th birthday. Their marriage will unite their small island kingdom against Spain. Instead, Lisette is betrayed by Eric and a Spanish girl, Mercedes, so that Spain can claim the island for its own. Lisette is sold to a pirate, Rocco, who plans to sell her to a duke who wants to buy a virgin. Except that Lisette will not go down without a fight. She plans to gather the gold and skills to return to her island and take her revenge on the people who betrayed her.

Does that sound interesting?

Here's a piece of the first chapter (this is a ROUGH draft):

* * * * *

The masked man swung his blade at the small girl with precision, and the girl raised hers in response. A clang of metal echoed through the chamber. Having pushed her assailant back, she grasped the hilt with both hands and moved into him, hewing right and left with each step. He matched her stroke for stroke, suddenly charging in with an uppercut.

Leaping back and to the side, she shielded herself from his sword with her own. In her peripheral vision, she could see the stairs up to her bedchamber. Her bare feet danced to the fourth step, giving her the advantage of height.

He rushed at her, his blade hissing with furious speed, but she parried each movement, attempting to bend him backward and send him down the staircase. Instead, he pressed upward, causing her to climb, backward, toward the higher level.

A sudden pounding at the outer door distracted her. In the briefest of moments, she felt her sword flying from her hand and her legs buckling underneath her. She was forced to the cold marble, the steps carving into her backbone. The man followed her to the ground, his body smothering her own. The thin shirt and leggings he wore could not hide the hardness she felt pushing against her thigh, and she blushed at the excitement of her breasts rubbing his chest.

The only thing separating them was his sword, held sideways at her throat.

“Lisette! Are you all right?”

She pulled her own mask from her face and glared at the man on top of her. “It’s Mama.”

Tossing his sword aside, he removed his mask. “I thought she was visiting her sister.”

His face was still close, his body still caressing hers, still excited. Lisette stared into his blue eyes, curtained with dark lashes, and briefly considered his beauty, then focused on the problem at hand.

“Get off me,” she whispered, then shouted at the door. “One moment, Mama.”

The next few seconds were a scramble to pull her skirt and bodice over her pantaloons and muslin top. Shoving his sword into her fencing companion’s hand, she motioned for him to climb to the bedroom and hide, then ran down the stairs to the door. On her way, she noticed her own blade on the floor and snatched it up. She propped it behind a tapestry, then unlocked the chamber.

“Mama, I thought you were visiting Tantie Elena.”

The elegant, older woman glided into the room as if she were sailing on a cloud, then turned to look at her daughter. Marie’s gaze could be brutal. She could elicit a confession from any of the household help, and often reduced Lisette’s younger brother to tears. Lisette was not immune, but she was still headstrong enough to follow one lie with another in an attempt to escape discovery and its consequences. She forced herself to relax her eyebrows and meet her mother’s glare.

“You are a mess,” Marie said at last.

Lisette pressed her dark auburn curls upward from her face. “I’m so sorry. I was resting upstairs, and the room has been so warm. I’m sorry if I didn’t hear you right away.”

Her mother did not look convinced. “I thought I heard swordplay before I knocked.”

“Swordplay?” Lisette laughed. “Whatever would I be doing playing with swords?”

“Let us not be coy, Daughter. When I caught you last month dancing about in those scandalous clothes, I believe you were warned not to do it again.”

“That is why I did not.”

“Because if you do, your father and I shall lock you in the tower. You understand this, yes?”

“Yes, Mama.” Lisette kept her head down, attempting obedience.

Marie’s face softened, and she put her hand out to touch Lisette’s chin. “My darling Lisette, do not think we are unreasonable. Believe me, locking you away is the last thing we want to do. Your betrothal to Eric will combine our two houses, which will hopefully keep Spain from trying to rule our island. But Eric will not want a wife with such barbaric skills. Your brother is two years away from a marriage match. We could perhaps keep the Spanish at bay for that long, but your marriage saves us from two years of difficulty. You must abandon your rough and tumble hobbies, at least until Eric says ‘I do’.”

Her mother reached into the pocket of her dress and held a piece of silk out to her daughter with a smile. “Happy birthday, Daughter.”

Taking the item from her mother, Lisette unfolded it. Her eyes widened. “Mama, your necklace.” She withdrew a large emerald on a delicate golden chain. The jewel itself was a deep blue-green, so clear that Lisette could see the ocean in its depths.

“I cannot give you much. But this was my mother’s, and her mother’s before her.” Marie seemed lost in her thoughts. “It is our safety net. Never be afraid to use its value to get what you want.”

Lisette wanted to cry, but she smiled instead. “Eric is a good man. I’ll be able to keep this until I hand it down to my own daughter.”

Marie smiled back, her own eyes shining. She kissed her daughter’s cheek, and opened her mouth. “My dear—”

“Lisette,” a child’s voice called from the corridor. A young man burst into the room, scruffy in his ragged clothes and muddy shoes. “Lisette have you seen my mother?”

“Edmund.” Marie’s voice was sharp. “Your mother is at work. You are supposed to be cleaning the stables.”

The little boy backed against the wall, away from Lisette’s mother. The sound of scraping and clattering was heard as the hidden sword hit the floor.

Lisette stared at the sword for a half-second, willing herself to appear calm but surprised.

“Poussin,” she said, calling the boy by her pet name for him. “I told you not to bring your father’s sword along when you play in my room.”

She swept the blade up and cradled the hilt in his hands, staring at him with meaning. The boy feigned contrition. “I’m sorry, Miss Lisette. I forgot.”

The young girl winked, then turned to her mother. “When Gigette was straightening my quarters yesterday, I’m afraid I told him he could play in here. He likes to be with his mother.”

Marie stretched tall and stood, expressionless. She was quiet for a few moments, and Lisette worried that her lie would be discovered. The young girl looked at Poussin. He was nodding and caressing the sword.

Lisette watched Marie’s eyes narrow, then relax. The older woman turned and floated toward the door. “Gigette will be in soon to help you prepare for the party.”

“Yes, Mama.” She watched the older woman leave down the corridor, then shut the door and sighed.

“That lie will cost you,” Poussin said.

“It’s worth every sous.” She smiled and went to the fireplace. A small ceramic dragon sat on the mantle. She opened the gold hinge at its belly and extracted several coins. Placing them in the young boy’s outstretched palm, she told him, “Take the sword to your room. I’ll retrieve it later.”

Opening the door, she guided him out, glancing down the hall to see if her mother was nearby. The way appeared clear, and the sword in the boy’s hand would solidify her falsehood. She closed the door, turned and looked to the top of the stairs.

One lie down, one to go.

She ran upstairs to her room and laid her gift on her dressing table, then peered around. Lucian, her fencing partner, was nowhere to be seen.

“Lucian? Where are you?” She tried to keep her voice low, in case anyone was spying. “Lucian?” She checked under the bed and continued to whisper his name. He was not behind the window drapes to her right, so she went to the left, calling.

A hand reached out of the heavy tapestry and grabbed her wrist, pulling her into the darkness. The other hand wrapped around her waist and pulled her close to him. She could smell his familiar mixture of sweat and smoke from the blacksmith shop where he worked, shoeing horses.

“Lizzy,” he whispered as his face drew nearer.

She pushed him away and moved into the light. “Lucian, stop. Remember who we are.”

“I don’t care. I might not be able to give you a castle, but I can give you a good life. I am good at my trade, and have many customers. We could be happy.” He followed her, spinning her toward him. He eased his hands back to her waist.

“Yes, I’m sure.” She put her hands out to stop his advance. “You would work all day in your shop, and come home to plant your seeds each night. Soon we would have children the way the pantry has mice.”

He smiled, and she could see the mischief behind it. His eyes had a sparkle to them as he leaned in to whisper in her ear.

“There are ways, I’ve heard, to have one’s pleasure and keep children from coming.” His lips brushed her jaw and slid up to her earlobe. “Although, truth, if you were my wife, I would have a hard time leaving our bed.”

He began to kiss her neck, tickling her skin with his mustache and moistening the path with his tongue. As he worked down to her collarbone, she stretched her chin to give him more access. Closing her eyes, her body felt as hot and molten as the forge where Lucian heated his iron. A moaning sigh escaped her and Lucian rose up, his mouth seeking hers.

Grabbing him by the shoulders, she stiffened her arms and stopped him.

“No. We will not do this.” She stepped backwards. “Tonight is my birthday party. At midnight, I turn eighteen and I come into my dowry. I will be betrothed to Eric and we will unite our two houses.”

“Eric.” Lucian spat the name. “Weak-willed, slow-witted Eric? His family has been dangerously inbred.”

“That’s not important.”

“You don’t love him.”

“Also not important.” He was right about everything, but Lisette did not like to speak badly about anyone. “I’m sure in time I’ll grow to love him.”

“He’ll never make you purr the way I do.”

Her hand across his face was immediate and stinging. He glowered at her and turned away. She felt a lump at the pit of her stomach.

“Lucian, I need you to understand.” Her words felt like lead on her tongue. “My family has much wealth, but my brother is the heir. When they are gone, I get nothing. Even my dowry is not my own. The money goes from my parents’ safekeeping to my husband, if they approve of the marriage.”

She walked to the window and looked out at the rolls of greenery that ran down to the cliffs, out to the sea. “On my wedding night, my husband will have my body and my money. All I will have left is my heart. That is mine to keep. If I marry you, then I get no money and I lose my body and my heart. There will be nothing of me left.”

The young man joined her at the window and sat on the open ledge. “I never thought of you losing your heart to me, Lizzy. I always thought it was an even trade.”

He slid down to the balcony below and skipped over the wall to the ground. She watched him go, angry with him for being so wrong for her in every way but one.

* * * * *

Who wants to read more?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Dear Amazon and Hachette, please leave me alone

I got a message in my email this morning from "The Amazon Books Team." I won't bore you with the entire contents, except to say that it was a big-long-letter to all Kindle authors stating Amazon's position regarding their fight with Hachette and why they think ebooks should not be $14.99. They asked me (and all Kindle authors) to email Hachette's CEO and tell him why we also think ebooks should not be priced at $14.99.

I may indeed send them both an email. In the meantime, here's my very public reply:

* * * * *

Dear Mr. Pietsch of Hachette, Mr. Bezos of Amazon, and all interested parties,

I got no dog in this fight of yours.

I'm not a Hachette author. As a matter of fact, I'm not traditionally published. I'm an author-publisher. I can understand the fear of traditionally published authors in this fight. If their publishers can't sell ebooks for large amounts of money, then the authors' small amount of royalties will be even smaller. Of course, if the publishers paid a decent royalty rate, it wouldn't be so frightening, but what are you going to do when you are locked into a system that no one wants to change?

As it is, my books are selling fairly briskly at the moment for $3.99 apiece and I get to keep $2.79 of that. So as an author, I'm only concerned in the outcome of the fight if it affects my sales and my profits.

I do have something to say as a reader. Mr. Pietsch, I realize you think that Hachette is the Holy Grail of publishers and every book is perfection, but I refuse to pay $14.99 for an ebook. Much of the work to prepare an ebook is the same work you do for your hardcovers. The only difference is the formatting. Then you upload the book. No print runs, no warehouses, just upload the book - once.

How is that worth $14.99 OVER AND OVER?

In addition to the chafing feeling I have when I feel I'm being gouged, I have begun to hate buying traditionally published books because I think I'm feeding a system that keeps their authors at-heel. Authors, you created this wonderful world with these great characters! Why are you getting paid so little for your creation? Without you, the publisher wouldn't be publishing!

Here is where I divulge that I might have paid more than $9.99 for some books, but it was done for research that I needed (and under protest, I might add). But I'm not paying $14.99 for a book I want to read just for pleasure, especially when that book is so locked up with DRM that I can't even loan it out to my husband's Kindle.

So go ahead and have your fight. As a Kindle Select author-publisher, I admit, I am pro-Amazon, but at the end of the day, I want the authors to win.

Sincerely yours,

Gayle Carline

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book contest and more!

I really didn't plan on doing a Goodreads Giveaway Contest. I've done them for all of my other books, in the hopes of garnering reviews from strangers. Let's just say it feels like I've garnered A review from A stranger. Maybe two.

Can't say I love Goodreads. I hate the fact that you can give a book stars without a review. I've gotten some two and three stars on some of my books, with no explanation. I take serious critiques of my books very seriously. How do I know what they didn't like? I also hate seeing those "To-Read" numbers, because they never change. Two hundred seventy-two people plan to read Snoopy's book.

What's stopping you? Tick-tock, people!

Still, I'm doing another giveaway, for Murder on the Hoof. You've got two weeks to enter. Good luck!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Murder on the Hoof by Gayle Carline

Murder on the Hoof

by Gayle Carline

Giveaway ends July 28, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

In the meantime, here's the book video. Marcus did the music. He's so cool.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Writing: To italicize, or not to italicize

I thought I'd talk a little about writing today. Normally, I just write, show you what I've written, then let you decide whether I've done it correctly or not. Call it insecurity, but just because people tell me that they love my characters or my dialogue doesn't make me want to run out and teach the world how I do it.

Who am I to teach others?

But my editor was talking to me awhile back about a workshop she was giving. She was trying to describe the difference between being in a character's point of view and using italics to denote the character's thoughts.

"You do it really well in MURDER ON THE HOOF," she said. "But it wasn't released yet, so I couldn't show them an example."

Naturally, I was flattered. I was also curious - about my own writing style. How do I decide when a character is thinking something, as opposed to just being in their head? It took me some weeks to figure it out, but I now think I understand my own rules and can pass them on to you.

Picture yourself driving down a street. You're listening to music, keeping your eyes on the road, checking the rearview mirror every 10.24 seconds, just like the experts recommend. As you travel, you are aware of the construction they're doing on that house to the left, the small child on the bike to your right, the traffic up ahead, slowing down for the light, when -



As you can see above, your thoughts about your drive are just images. Perhaps they are accompanied by sound and smell, but they are not forming words and sentences in your head. Your brain is logging sensory experiences, until that last word. That word, your brain actually formed and said, even if your mouth didn't expel it.

That's basically how I use italicized thoughts. My character might be experiencing events, but the only "thoughts" he or she has are the ones that are actual words/sentences.

Here is an example from MURDER ON THE HOOF:

* * * * *

There was a cluster of young riders at the end of the arena, sitting around on their horses and talking. Not certain if there was room to pass, and not wanting to disturb them, Willie turned across the arena early.

“Hey, watch out,” a man’s voice barked at her.

She looked up to see the same man who’d nearly run into Emily, now barreling toward her like a freight train. Her first impulse was to stop. She raised the reins and breathed, “Ho,” but saw that she was stopping in his direct path. Her second reaction was pure adrenalin—she kicked the mare, who leaped forward and took off running.

All thoughts of how to ride disappeared from Willie’s brain. She braced her weight into her stirrups and pulled on the reins. The effect was not what she wanted. Belle raised her head and yanked forward, adding a hopping motion to her gallop. Willie grabbed the horn, trying to push herself back into the saddle. Her body shifted to the right with each bump. The rapid jostling kept her powerless to either stop the horse or get back in the middle of it.

Damned if I’m gonna come off. With one final thrust, she shoved her body left and down. Belle slowed for a moment, allowing Willie to bend her knees and sit back. The pair settled to a stop. What felt like a ten-minute nightmare was probably not even worth a rodeo’s eight seconds.

Willie let out a deep sigh and looked down at Belle’s head. Tyler and Emily were already at her side.

“I’m so—” Willie began, then choked on the word “sorry.” I’m such an idiot.

“It’s not your fault,” Emily said, helping her off the horse. “Bobby Fermino is a horse’s ass.”

* * * * *

I hope this example and explanation is helpful. In the meantime, the chance to win a Kindle Paperwhite can still be yours. Read this post (http://gaylecarline.blogspot.com/2014/05/but-wasnt-there-another-contest.html) and follow the directions. You could be a winner!