"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

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Doing things the hard way

Wow, it's been a long time since I posted! My apologies. September was a crazy whirlwind of travel, then October was spent recovering from all the travel, and finishing the manuscript.

What? You finished the manuscript?

Yes. On the one hand, it came in a little shorter than I thought, at about 111,000 words. I was thinking it would be more like 120k. On the other hand, it told the story I wanted to tell...sort of. 

Here's the thing: I started out writing one book, and ended up writing something completely different.

When I first decided on writing a story about a girl pirate, I planned for a quick, easy tale. Take one of my favorite books, The Count of Monte Cristo, and change it to a young noblewoman who is betrayed by her friends. She comes back, years later, and gets her revenge.

The devil's in the details, folks.

There had to be a reason for these people to betray her. Ah, political intrigue. Taking place around the 16th-or-so century, they probably wouldn't put a woman in a prison. Selling her into slavery would be more likely. Why would anyone buy her? A noblewoman who is a virgin might be worth it to a sadistic man.

Suddenly, I am examining our views on women's virginity. I mean, why is that some kind of sacred gift, to be shared with only one man, blah-blah-blah? It's another first in our lives, like the first time we walk, our first words, etc. Why is sex a taboo physical pleasure, but eating a good meal is not? It was a lot for me to think about, let alone get into my "easy" story of Lisette the girl pirate.

And then the dragons came.

If you're going to write fantasy, you might as well write FANTASY--big, fat, over-the-top fantasy. I wanted a dragon. My buddy, Jeff Michaels, cautioned me about having a dragon just because I could, so I considered what a dragon might represent in my story. The idea came immediately.

My dragons are the physical manifestation of the desire for revenge.

Revenge is a strange thing. One of my characters describes it as a "beast that cannot be sated." When you are wronged by someone, you want that person to feel as much pain as you feel, but it somehow doesn't erase your hurt. I mean, if someone killed your loved one, how many times could you kill them back until your pain is gone? 

So I have a virgin and a dragon and pirates and it's all humming along, until I get to the part toward the end, where I've got two choices. I could wrap it all up, have a nice stand-alone book, one-and-done. Or, I could take Path B, which seems the most organic, the most logical path, but which begs for more story. If I take Path B, I can see a trilogy.

I've got the 5th Peri book to write, I recently thought of a sequel to Murder on the Hoof, I'm still writing my column, and now I've assigned myself two more 100K+ books to write? What is wrong with me?

I do learn the hard way every time.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Oh, the people you'll meet!

I'm currently working on a fantasy, involving pirates (male and female), dragons, and Caribbean islands. In contrast to my mysteries, where I've got everything kind of worked out beforehand, this manuscript is being written off-the-cuff, by the seat-of-my-pants, without basic regard for where it's going and how it will end.

Talk about a mystery!

I'm traveling to islands (that I'm totally inventing) with my heroine, Lisette de Lille, meeting new people and experiencing new things. It's both terrifying and thrilling at the same time. Pretty much like riding the Tower of Terror at Disneyland.

Lisette went through a transformation recently, and required a little help to get acclimated to her new life. I sent her to a small island, Ile de la Tuerie (Slaughter Island) to find an expert. I expected to find a wise crone to guide her. 

Lamya de Sang showed up instead. Lamya is Arabic, meaning "having beautiful dark lips" and "de Sang" is French for "of blood." Here is how she made her entrance:

* * * * *

I turned to face the waterfall, and my fate. This time, I did not have to wait long. As I watched the stream of white flowing from the cliff, making ripples in the aqua lagoon, a form appeared in the ribbons of water, so slow in movement, I blinked to make certain my eyes were not lying.
A woman emerged, like no one I had ever seen. Begum had spoken of a crone, an old woman. The goddess in front of me was not as I imagined.
She was tall, muscled, and with skin blacker than any native I had ever met. Her hair, copper and thick, draped her naked, glistening body. She stepped out of the water and over to a rock, where she retrieved a long, green robe, which she fastened about her. It had a way of covering and exposing her at the same time—tight at the waist, it opened wide at the top to display cleavage and was slit on the sides to reveal her legs as she walked.
She walked toward me. As she got closer, her eyes were the most curious part of her. They were gold, not a brash yellow, but deep and burnished like an ancient coin. She did not smile at me, but offered me her hand.
“I am Lamya de Sang.” Her voice had a languid, purring quality.
“I am Lisette de Lille.” I took her hand to shake, but she grabbed it and turned.
“Come.” She pulled me toward the waterfall. “We have much to do, and you are probably hungry.”

* * * * *

She reminds me of a sculpture I saw once - whether in a museum or the internet, I don't recall - of the bust of a woman, black and beautiful, with a neck like a graceful swan, full lips, large eyes. I searched all over the internet and can't find her. Perhaps it's because she walked out of the museum and into my story.

Lamya teaches Lisette many things. I hope she returns. She's a wonderful character.

Later, Peeps--I gotta go write another chapter.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

She vexes me. Who vexes you?

Now that I have my own office, my writing den, my oasis of wordsmithing (yes, okay, I'm still in love with it), I have been writing A LOT. My pirate fantasy is humming along at over 68,000 words and it's nowhere near the finish line. What is surprising me the most is that I should be in the middle of the book, where I begin to slow down and take forever-effing-long to dig my way out and head for the third act. But this story is zipping along so fast, sometimes I feel like my fingers are in a hurry to catch up with it.

Until now.

My pirate Lisette is on a long journey, through many islands in the Caribbean. (Note: These are islands I have invented because, hey, fantasy here.) She has met many people, some who've been helpful and some who've been harmful. Some have been so harmful, she had to kill them. 

(Because, hey, pirate.)

She is currently on an island to hone her new powers (teaser alert!), to find a possibly hidden treasure, and to use said treasure and powers to exact revenge against the people who betrayed her. I know on this island, she will also encounter someone from her past. I'd say she has enough to do here.

And yet...there is a woman who keeps appearing in the first scene in the village. A tall, elegant woman, with white hair piled high. Regal in manners. Her name is Adelinde Marquez, and she owns the town brothel. I can picture her clearly, and probably saw her in a painting or a movie, but I don't remember where. In my mind, she has her back toward me and is turning. I see about a third of her face. Haughty and cunning. The closest I can get is a mashup of these two:

"Woman in White" by Alfred Henry Maurer

MyAnna Buring, aka Long Susan in RIPPER STREET

When she first appeared, she was going to try to steal Lisette's gold and trap her into working as one of her putas. But that scene didn't work--a lot of drama and action, but it only got in the way. 

I rewrote the scene and had her help Lisette secure lodging for the night. Nope. Too flat. No bueno.

Then I took Madame Marquez out of the story altogether. It left a big hole, big enough to sail any ship of the Jolly Roger through.

Clearly, she belongs here, but doing what? What am I supposed to do with her?

Journal. I must take time away from Lisette to write Adelinde's story, in Adelinde's voice. As much as I'd rather be working on pirates and dragons, I must first find Adelinde's past, her reasons for being a madam, where she wants to be going in her life. I don't know that she will last beyond this meeting on this island. I only know she is necessary.

And that she vexes me.

Any authors out there with vexing characters? Come on over and share them with me. We can cry in our wine together.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

New digs.

Hold on to your seats, Peeps, I did something wonderful this week.

I got myself an office. In the house.

For years, I have roamed like a nomad through our home. Mostly, I wrote in the family room, laptop on my lap and Turner Classic Movies on, for background noise. Sometimes I would move into the living room. When I was absolutely determined to finish a manuscript, I took it to the dining room or the kitchen, sat at the table, and pounded out 20,000 words in less than a week. 

At one point, I thought perhaps the dining room would make an okay office - we only use the table during the holidays, when we have friends over.

Our house has four bedrooms. One is our master suite. Although he lives in an apartment in Long Beach, Marcus still has a toehold in his old bedroom. I kind of like it when he comes over. The third bedroom is the guest room. I like guests, so I don't want to force them out of anything.

That leaves the fourth bedroom. When we first moved in, we made this our Computer Room. We had two desks with two computers. Marcus had his little Mac (remember those little, cube-ish numbers?), Dale had his computer, and we put my old daybed in there in case we had an overflow of guests. It worked.

Over the years, the computers became obsolete, more computers moved in (they also became obsolete), and the room became known (at least to me) as the Computer Graveyard. Old users manuals and the packaging of video games and learning DVDs stuffed the shelves. Towers were lined up under the desk, and old scanners and printers were atop it. At one point, I gathered up all the cables and hard drives and other kinds of unnamed hardware and put them into Rubbermaid tubs, which I stuffed into the corner.

When I mentioned that I'd like an office and maybe I could turn Marcus' room into one, Dale scowled and said, "Why can't you use the computer room?" (He swears he never said this, but it's what I heard.) Thinking about using the computer room sent me into convulsions. How could I possibly THINK in a room that looks like this?

To be fair, this was the room at its worst.

After cleaning, but I still can't take a picture of the desks - too much stuff!

One afternoon, I was in the garage, sweating my guts out in the summer heat, digging through cardboard boxes on shelves in the corner. I was looking for more copies of THE HOT MESS, and cursing that I had to drag everything out of the way just to get to my book stuff. 

That's when it hit me.

The book stuff, the things I'm always trying to find, are out in the garage and difficult to pull out. The computer room was filled with stuff nobody was ever looking for. 

Why not switch the two?

All clean, except for the FAX machine. Sometime we need to FAX things, oddly enough.

After two days of packing, schlepping, more schlepping, unpacking, more packing, and a wee bit of decorating, I have an office. It's organized, it's quiet, I love it. And it has paid me back in two meaningful ways, in the mere three days that I've had it.

Done! That's my folded laptop on the desk. All of it was Dino approved.

1) I'm more productive. Away from the family room and its distractions, I can put on a little music and write. I've written over 5000 words in two days. I feel more driven to work out a story problem than stop and "take a little break."

2) I'm more organized with my days. I used to have a problem getting any reading done. Writers need to read, in general, and I have friends with books - I'd like to honor them by reading their words. When I was in the family room, I felt like the words I wrote were dribbling from my fingers at a snail's pace. I had no time to read. Now, I can write like a fiend until 7 pm or so, then retire to the family room and open up my Kindle (or a physical book).

So, if you need me, I'll be at my desk. Don't worry - Dino will keep me company.

Anybody need boxes?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Because it's Friday

Here's a little excerpt from A MORE DEADLY UNION, just because it's Friday:

* * * * * * *

Oh no oh no oh no. Benny’s mind raced about like a cyclone, a whirl of thoughts and ideas, swirling too fast for him to capture one and focus on it. The bright sun outside the hospital had reflected too harshly on everything. The people milling around inside the emergency room had been too loud and too colorful and too busy. It was all too much.
Thankfully, he was home. Home, where he could see all his things and relax. Now that structure was restored to the front of the house, he had been able to move back in. He went into his kitchen and poured himself a glass of milk. Milk was soothing. It was white, a blank slate to calm his brain.
Skip was shot. Skip. Shot. The words kept rolling around. Skip could be scary. Actually, all policemen were scary. He didn’t see Skip, or any of the police, often. Still, there was a leaden feeling to his insides, all the way to his toes. Skip was hurt, and some of the policemen were dead.
Dead, like my mom. I miss her so much. I miss watching TV with her and the smell of her cooking. I wish she was here to tell me what to do.
Willem had told him to give blood, but that was out of the question. Doctors and needles made him want to pass out. Of course, so did talking to police most of the time. Benny waddled from one room to the next, his dress loafers making soft clicks on the wood floor.
I should give blood but I can’t give blood. His brain buzzed in agitation again, and he started talking to himself as a way to focus.
Skip needs help. How can I help him?”
Benny ambled up the stairs to his room, and looked at the Matt Helm posters on the walls surrounding his round bed, an original from the movie set. Every night, he went to sleep dreaming he could be like the man on the poster. Matt was sure of himself, just like Dean Martin. He knew how to do practically everything. He could drink and gamble and play golf. Sometimes he even played golf for charities.
Benny stared up at Martin, smiling, surrounded by beautiful women. What would Dino do?
An idea sprouted, a tiny idea. Benny wanted to grow it bigger, but he didn’t know how. He knew who could grow it, though.
Picking up the phone, he dialed his friends, the Nickels. 

* * * * * * *

How is Dino going to help Benny out? Want more? Your copy is waiting for you, in either Kindle or Paperback.

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