Firmly Committed!

It’s almost the end of January. How’s your New Year starting out? Break any resolutions yet?

res-o-lu-tion:-a firm decision to do or not do something.

If you’ve read my blog before you probably know that I’m a member of Carolina Romance Writers. We meet once a month to discuss and do all things writing. One of the resolutions I made this year was to do my best to attend all twelve meetings. You see, I missed a few last year and I believe my writing suffered for it. I guess you could say I wasn’t FIRMLY committed to going.

If you’re a writer, you know it’s easy to get caught up in the world of—I’ve got too much to do. That happened to me last year and before I knew it, I was missing meetings.

The excuses I came up with for missing are as follows:

I’ve got to take my son (fill in the blank). I’m always running him somewhere.

I’ve got to get in my word count. I had to do it on Saturday because I goofed off too much during the week.

I refuse to put on real clothes. It was freezing out and my yoga pants were so comfy.

HERE’S ONE THAT I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M ADMITTING TO YOU AS I HANG MY HEAD IN SHAME:

The subject matter really has nothing to do with what I write or where I’m at in my career, so most likely it wouldn’t benefit me anyway. Don’t judge, you’ve probably said it too:)

In all honesty, that was just a lie I told myself to feel better about missing. I’ve never been to a meeting that I didn’t walk away with something to help me further my career. I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what the subject matter, bottom line, when I don’t go, I miss an opportunity to be around other writers. And that, my sweet friends, is a huge mistake.

We need to submerge ourselves in the energy that comes along with being around authors. It’s powerful. It’s food for our creative souls. The abundance of liveliness can recharge a dying self-esteem that often accompanies this profession.

I’m very blessed that my chapter is only thirty-five miles from my house. Some of our members drive two hours to attend because they understand how important this is. The presentations and workshops they offer are unbelievable. They teach craft, industry and they bring in publishers and agents who graciously agree to take our pitches after they present. Is that awesome or what?

Of course, I realize life happens and I may have no other choice but to miss. However, it will not be due to the excuses I listed above. I’ve made a FIRM DECISION! My resolution!

Can I take a moment to talk to the published authors out there whose careers have them crazy busy? Trust me, I know you’re probably up to your eyeballs in deadlines and commitments and somehow your local chapter meetings have drizzled lower on the priority list. I encourage you to try and make it more often. Give unpublished writers, someone to look up to and admire, to turn to for advice. Give back to the chapter that gave you so much when you first started out. :)

For those of you who don’t belong to a writers group but would like to, RWA has a list of chapters and locations on their website. www.rwa.org If you’re not a member, you can always Google writing groups in your area. You may be surprised what you find. Hope to see you at the next meeting.

Remember to Dream Big!

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What’s in a Name?

A helluva lot actually.

I only wish I were posting about the eloquence and beauty of Shakespeare. No, I’m continuing my series about things I wish I’d known when I started writing. You can go back and read my posts on The Big Hook and Understanding Deep POV. Today, I’m posting about naming characters and towns. It seems so simple, right?

I’m a panster. I don’t really pre-plot, except in my head. (Although, I’m trying to do more plotting, but that’s a different post altogether:) My manuscripts manifest as a general plot and two main characters. I know the first scene and often the final scene. Everything in the middle is a big black scary hole. But, I must have the two MCs named before I can start my writing process. Their names and the development of their personalities go hand in hand for me.

Occasionally something will trigger the perfect name or it will come to me in a moment of clarity. Those moments are rare. Usually, I end up flipping through my handy 1,000 Baby Names book. (I had shed all baby items well before I started writing, so imagine my husband’s shock when he opened a delivery box to find that!) I like using a baby name book because they have the origin of the name, and if you already have the surname chosen, you can flip straight to the letter you want.

The other resource I’ve used to name secondary characters is the government list of most popular baby names for the birth year of my character. This came in handy when I was naming teenage football players in my contemporary series. You probably don’t want to pick ‘Richard’ for a teenager today—a little old-fashioned. In the same vein, ‘Jennifer’ would work well for a 40-year-old, but not so well for a teenager.

For surnames, I keep one of the dinosaur phone books that are still printed and thrown on my doorstep every year. There are probably on-line resources, but it is SO easy to flip to the letter you have in mind and scan until you find a fitting last name.

For naming fictitious towns, I use my (again old-fashioned) paper atlas. The town in my football books is called Falcon. When I was debating whether to set the series in Tennessee or Alabama, I was skimming over towns in middle Tennessee. Falcon, Tennessee exists. No, I’ve never been there, and I decided to move my fictitious town to Alabama.

Now, I shall clue you in on my downfall. Once I have the two MCs named I come up with secondary characters on the fly because I don’t want to spend the time flipping for names. Invariably, my secondary characters end up with names starting with the same first letter as one of my main characters. It’s some sort of brain reflex, I can’t seem to stop. In my first Falcon football book, I had the following: Dalt, Dixon, Dave, and Darcy. I also had Reed and Robbie, and Ada and Avery. Guess what I ended up doing? Changing a boatload of names. One of them changed from Reed to Logan. He is the hero in my second book, and I have a difficult time thinking of him as Logan when he was Reed for many, many months. And, poor, poor Dave went through the following transformation: DaveMikeAndyTyler.

Also watch out for using rhymey names or names with the same cadence. Groups could include, Sarah and Leah, or Gabrielle and Isabelle, or Landon and Grayson. I don’t care if your characters are brothers and sisters. DO NOT get cutesy. It ends up being confusing and frustrating for the reader who can’t keep the characters straight until a quarter of the way through the book.

And, my last tip…don’t do a blanket find/replace if you do decide to change a character’s name. I did that with Andy to Tyler, not thinking about how Word works. Therefore, Vandy became VTyler and sandy became sTyler. Of course, in the way of the universe, I realized this about a half hour after sending it off to my agent. I proceeded to bang my head against the desk. I never mentioned it and neither did she. My guess is that she’s seen it all before. But, you bet your bippy I sent her a clean, fixed copy before she submitted it to editors!

What are some of your tips for naming characters? What annoys you about names when you are reading a book?

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Where It All Began…

Once upon a time, long ago, in the year 2011, yours truly was a writer who was just getting her bearings. Alone in her cave, she crafted tales of love and lust, and all the while she was beleaguered by doubt. Were her words any good? Would she ever really make it? Isolated, she pressed through the tangled path to publication, all the while convinced there had to be a better way.

Meanwhile, in a restaurant on the other side of town, a thriving RWA chapter held its monthly meetings. Our protagonist in this tale knew of these gatherings, and every month, she debated with herself about whether or not she was brave enough and good enough and dedicated enough to go.

Finally, on the eve of the publication of her first novella, she summoned her courage and made the trek.

She arrived early (a feat which has yet to be replicated) and was greeted by a member of the chapter who welcomed her warmly. After a few minutes’ discussion, he gave her an odd look and pointed her to a table in the corner.

“I think you might fit in well here,” he said. Unwittingly, he’d changed this fledgling writer’s life.

Other members of the group trickled in, and slowly, a number of them filled in the spaces around our heroine. At first, she felt the interloper, but as their discussions filtered in, she took in the way they talked about agents and editors and deadlines and “crazy writer eyes” and plots and characters and sex scenes. She processed the awesomeness of their hair and the coolness of their shoes.

She wasn’t sure if she belonged there, but damn if she didn’t want to.

It wasn’t easy for her, but she introduced herself and began to commiserate. When the rest of the group ordered mimosas, she requested one, too.

Soon after, the speaker for the day began his presentation, and she listened with rapt interest to his discussion of writing in multiple genres. Considering her interest in contemporary and paranormal and futuristic and gay fiction, his advice that it was possible to pursue them all broke down another layer of her self-doubt.

And then the interactive portion of the workshop began.

The room full of writers of which our heroine was now a part was challenged to take on the classic tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and then to re-envision it in the genre of their choice.

A light bulb went on.

In this writer’s mind, an entire universe suddenly exploded into being. A high-tech, futuristic world where a group of three mercenaries were tied together by invisible connections hard-wired into their nervous systems. Where a brilliant young scientist stumbled into their barracks while on the run from a shadowy corporation.

While two of the members of the unit were violent to their core, the third sparked with regret. And in the eyes of the woman who had infiltrated their base, he saw salvation.

He saw love. He saw desire. He saw home.

In one afternoon, a friendship, a career and a book were born.

Here and now, it’s 2015, and tomorrow, my futuristic novel, Through The Static, hits the shelves. The original idea I had on that fateful afternoon in 2011 took some twists and turns, and it took its own damn time coming into fruition. But is that story I dreamed up on that day, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

I also couldn’t be happier with the people I met that afternoon. Among them were Elizabeth Michels, Heather McGovern, Jenna Patrick, Lori Waters, and Sydney Carroll – the very women I am honored to blog and drink and commiserate with to this very day.

I’m not exactly sure what the moral to this story is, but on the eve of the publication of this book, I felt compelled to share it with you. Perhaps the point is that you should never doubt your worth. That you never have to soldier the lonely fields of writerdom alone. Perhaps it’s that you never know when inspiration will strike.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s that amazing things can happen in your career and in your life – sometimes several amazing things can happen at once, even.

All you have to do is give them a chance to.

Through The Static is a new futuristic, erotic romance, written by Jeanette Grey and published by Samhain. Find it on  AmazonBarnes & Noble or Samhain – or add it to your shelf on goodreads.

Through The StaticThrough the Static

The only way to save him is to let him into her mind…and her heart.

When cybernetics researcher Aurelia Locke is attacked, she instantly recognizes her assailants as a Three—a mercenary unit made up of a trio of soldiers whose minds have been cybernetically linked, their pasts erased, their wills subsumed.

By the skin of her wits, she escapes to an abandoned house, where she hacks its security system in her desperation to find refuge.

Jinx is already on high alert when his Three notices something isn’t right with their safe house. But he never expected to find a woman wounded and bleeding out in his own bed, or that his visceral reaction to her would begin to awaken his lost past from a years-long haze of violence.

In a mad gamble to escape, Aurelia frees Jinx from his Three by severing his neural connection to them and tying his mind to hers. The power of their link shocks them both, manifesting not only in shared thoughts, but in an intensely passionate physical connection.

But dangerous forces pursue them, intent on reclaiming Jinx and silencing Aurelia’s knowledge. Her only chance of saving him is to risk everything—her research, her heart, and her life.

Warning: Contains manipulation of a person’s memory without his consent and brief episodes of mind control, as well as a smart girl on the run, a high-tech soul-bond, and telepathy-enhanced sex.

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Why the Hell NOT You?

Wow, it feels like forever since I last blogged last.  First, let me just say how excited I am for our new blog lineup!  I mean, seriously, have you checked these ladies out?  They are nothing short of dynamite, and I am truly honored to be blogging with them.  Every single one of them, both new and old less new (can you tell who has a birthday coming up?)  Our readers are in for a treat in the upcoming year!!

So, I’ve been a busy girl the past few months.  I quit a job, took a month off to write, and started a new job.  I made it through another compulsory season of gymnastics for one daughter and am heading toward another season this coming weekend for the second.  I fumbled through the chaos of the holidays and dug out last year’s New Year’s Resolution list, clenching my jaw as I changed the 4 to a 5.  Things were chugging along, business as usual, and 2015 was looking to be a repeat of 2014.

And then this happened…

OSU-champ

Many of you know I am a HUGE Buckeye Fan, so this has been a very exciting couple of weeks for me.  And whether you like football or not, this season has an amazing story that we all can learn from.  So let me break it down for you…

A week before the season opened, we lost our Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback to a shoulder injury.  Most fans will admit (myself included) they tossed 2014 out the window at that point.  But then something happened…our backup quarterback grew into his own and ALSO became a Heisman Trophy hopeful who would lead us to the Big 10 Championship.  Until he broke his ankle in the last regular game of the season against our rival Michigan.  Again, most fans tossed out the rest of the season.  But then, here comes the third string quarterback leading the team to a shut out win in the Big 10 Championship Game against Wisconsin and then onto the playoffs where they beat Alabama AND Oregon.

**Churns a little butter while humming the OSU fight song**

I swear there’s a point here.  I’m not just gloating…

For me this was more than just a football game – it was an omen promise that 2015 is going to be a kick ass year.  It wasn’t a perfect season by any means, but the Buckeyes found a way to overcome all the odds and shut a lot of people up who’d simply said it couldn’t be done.  And it taught me a very valuable lesson as well.  When the Buckeyes took the trophy home on Monday night, I crossed all the crap off my New Year’s Resolution list and replaced it with one single question…

2015-motto

No, seriously.  Why NOT me?  Why NOT you?  Why NOT anyone who has the determination and the will power to push through and beat the odds?

Why NOT?

I get it, I do.  It’s more comfortable to look at this as a long shot so that the failures don’t hurt so bad.  If you don’t expect much, you can’t be disappointed, right?  But don’t sell yourself short.  You are just as capable as the next guy.  You have your own little special talents and you have all the potential in the world at getting them discovered.  And you WILL get them discovered.  You will.  It’s not a question of IF, it’s a question of WHEN.  You might just be the third guy in line on the bench who winds up in the biggest game of the season and KICKS ASS!

That’s not to say it goes without hard work.  Maybe not blood and sweat (unless you’re into that sorta thing), but there are definitely going to be tears.  Lots of tears.  But as my daughter says, tears are just weaknesses leaving the body.  Let them go, look in the mirror, and ask yourself…

Why the hell NOT me?

Let’s ROCK 2015!

Jenna P

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Do You Really Know Your Characters?

A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon a character questionnaire, and I felt like I hit the lottery. I can’t remember where I found the first one, or how I came about using it, but since that fateful encounter, I have come to depend on them.

Within the Bad Girl ranks, we have several plotters, several pantsers, and several plotsters (is that what you’re calling yourselves? Idk idk idk). I am solidly in the former category, hardcore like. If I don’t plot out every detail—every chapter, every scene—I hit a brick wall. It’s inevitable.

I’ve attempted writing without my roadmap and, while I can do it, it generally takes me three to four times longer than if I’d just sat down and mapped it out in the first place.

See how his face is hidden behind that hood and you can’t really tell who he is? That’s why I put this here. Totally the only reason. *shifty eyes*

 

I know a lot of authors feel the first 10-20k words they write of a book could, potentially, be throw-away because they’re getting to know their characters in that time. A character questionnaire does the same thing for me, but I do it upfront and pre-story instead of within my writing. It shows me exactly who that character is who’s sort of foggy in my mind…allows me to flesh them out completely.

A quick search on google will turn up quite a few options for questionnaires. Over the years, I’ve amassed several, and because I was flying from one project to the next, I didn’t have time to really sit down and consolidate or figure out which questions are the most important and which questions are the ones my characters always skip over (thus the ones I don’t need).

Well, after a year of going gangbusters, I had a little break in December, and I set out to do this. I compiled all my questions, printed them out, then color coded them based on the type of questions they are. Then I went to good old Scrivener and created a section in my template sheets for character questionnaires. Instead of filling out question after question with no rhyme or reason (and thus having a hell of a time trying to find an answer when I’m on chapter 20 and need to know right now what that traumatic event was that happened when the character was five), I broke them up into twelve (yes, twelve!) sub categories, each containing multiple questions—as few as ten all the way up to 105). Some of you totally just groaned and rolled your eyes, while others had a mini orgasm, amirite?

Some of the sub-categories are:

  • Basic info (things like name, birthdate, hometown, etc)
    You’re probably not going to find out much useful information in this section, but it’s good to have for facts later on in the book.
  • Physical description (besides the standards here, there’s also questions asking about scars or tattoos, how the character feels about his/her body, if they have any nervous physical habits/gestures, etc)
    This is a surprisingly eye-opening set of questions. Sometimes something as simple as “How do you feel about your body?” can bring about something that shapes your character—say a history of an eating disorder, or maybe a parent who has one and has pushed his/her beliefs on their child.
  • Personality Traits (what’s their biggest fear, street smart or book smart, etc)
    This was really a catch-all for me, because so much of how we view things make up our personalities. This section has, I would say, the biggest opportunity for specifically helping with storyline.
  • Childhood/History (everything from what kind of childhood did they have, to how many siblings, to are they keeping any deep, dark secrets)
    This is another great section for digging deep and getting answers you might not have thought about otherwise.

That was a very minimal snapshot of what kinds of questions I answer before I start any project. In the end, I generally end up with roughly 10k words worth of questions and answers (in total from both characters). And I’ve never once done the questionnaire and had it be completely useless. There has always, always been something that’s been incorporated into the storyline based on something the character’s told me during the questionnaires.

I take some time before I sit down to plot my outline and fill these in for the two main characters, and I do so as if I were the character. If my character is a forty-year-old plumber named Bob, I answer those questions just as Bob would, so I’m already putting myself into the head of the character. It’s a great way to get a sense of what kind of personality your character has, what kind of sense of humor they have, and their general disposition.

One other thing to consider when filling these out: not only do you get great information from what your character answers, but you might also find you get insight on them from what they don’t answer, so pay attention to that, too!

Do I have any other plotters out there who love questionnaires like I do? Or maybe you’re not a plotter, but you do this anyway? Or maybe these make your left eye twitch… Tell me how you connect with your characters and figure out who they are!

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2015 Is Happening!

Every year I set goals and put them out there, in hopes I’ll stay focused. Today, I thought I’d review my 2014 goals and the results, to show how goals vs. real life works for a writer. Some goals get checked off, others fall short, and sometimes you accomplish something nowhere near your radar. Those accomplishments are often better than anything you had planned. Goals are exactly that. Something to shoot for, and if you hit it – GO YOU! If you don’t – GO FOR IT NEXT YEAR!

Turns out, 2014 was no joke. Let’s see how I did. (Wrote a song about it. Wanna hear it? Here it go!):

  1. Promote the Heckyll Jeckyll & Hyde out of co-authored release. I did this! The book was released in January and I’m pleased as punch with the results.
  2. Finish latest co-authored WIP & submit it to editor. Uhm, or not? This didn’t happen. This book baby is going to be longer than our standard 60k, there was a lot of stuff going on in our personal lives, etcetera, etcetera. We’re trying again this year. 
  3. Finish contemporary WIP. I did this. Finished it in March.
  4. Query contemporary. I did this too. :) The best part is, my agent loved it! Yep, this book baby put my agent, Nicole, and I together. That’s one of the highlights of 2014 and it wasn’t something I could plan. I honestly never thought it’d happen. I wanted it to happen, but for all my confidence, I’m as filled with self-doubt as anyone.
  5. Attend Moonlight & Magnolias. Oh, this happened. If you were there, YOU KNOW! It was a blast, as always.
  6. Teach workshop at two writer meetings. Check. EMichels and I led our workshop at two meetings and at M&M. There were wands.
  7. Begin new contemporary romance and get near the half-way point. Not s’much. Here’s the thing: I wrote 1/4th of a book, then I stopped writing that story all together because that series isn’t going to come to fruition right now. Instead, on the advice of my agent, I wrote a completely different book, set in a different series, in its entirety, and it’s now in the capable hands of my critique partners. Again, I didn’t plan this, but trust me, it’s way better than what I had planned. Funny how that happens, huh?
  8. Get back into my pre-baby jeans. This happened! I’m amazed. The jeans are now hopelessly out of style (until they come back in style), but I accomplished something even better. I found peace with my body image (only took about 40 yrs), and it has nothing to do with my size. I’ll blog more about this and how it relates to our craft in a few months, so stay tuned.

My goals for 2015 and some predictions that are silly, but no less true:

  1. For real this time, finish the co-authored WIP and share it with the world. 
  2. Revise, edit, and tweak my contemporary WIP until my eyeballs fall out.
  3. Go on submission with said WIP. (eek! meep! *hides under desk with Bucky Bears*)
  4. Blog monthly on my website. I’ve left my writer website to float aimlessly for about the last 8 months. I have plenty to blog about, that may or may not be related to writing, and there’s no excuse for me not to have fun and/or informative content over there. So…yeah. That’s gonna happen.
  5. Go on a huge vacation and celebrate turning the big 4-0. This is the big time, Bad Girlz of the world! This means I change census categories and everything. One might think it also means I’ll grow up, but I’ve accepted that’s never gonna happen.
  6. On that note: See Avengers: Age of Ultron ELEVENTYMILLION times, obsess over it, and fret about Cap3 for an entire year. (I wish I was being even a little bit facetious about this. I’m not.)
  7. Attend Moonlight & Magnolias and soak up all the writer-y goodness and conference fun.
  8. Write more books. Tell more stories. Write solo, co-write, write tiny stories for anthologies, do all the writing. Because you know what? Even when it drives me crazy, even when it breaks my heart, writing is my thing and it’s a thing I love.

How was your 2014? What do you hope to accomplish in 2015? Any goals you’d like to share? I wish you guys all of the luck in the world!

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Writing Lessons from Orphan Black

First off, let me say how excited I am to be one of the new Bad Girlz. Thanks to all the Bad Girlz for inviting me to join all the fun. I’ll endeavor to be interesting and not a sure cure for insomnia. So we’re going to start off with one of my favorite topics and pastimes — TV! Some people call it an idiot box, but I disagree. Sure, there are shows that are total brain rot, usually of the “reality” variety, but we’re also experiencing what has been called the second golden age of television. There are a lot of really well-written, well-acted shows out there. And as a writer, I draw inspiration from well-written TV and from how actors bring characters to life. The latest addition to my TV viewing is Orphan Black. I’ve just mainlined the first season and am part of the way through the second season, all in preparation for its return on BBC America for season 3 this spring. Not only is it a pleasure to watch as a viewer, but there are several lessons to be learned for writers.

Some background — The show stars Tatiana Maslany as not one but several different clones. The main character, Sarah, never knew she was a clone until she sees someone who looks exactly like her step in front of a train to commit suicide. That’s the inciting incident, and one that really draws in the audience. They want so many questions answered. Why do these two women look alike? Why did the one kill herself? What will be the repercussions of Sarah assuming Beth’s identity? FYI, turns out Beth was a cop, and she was aware there were other clones and that they were being watched by whoever created them in the first place.

6f5e03c0-dc7a-11e3-be0e-7bffb4ed2011_orphan-black-hair-makeupCharacterization — Maslany is amazing. Even though you know it is the same actress playing all these different parts, part of you believes they are different actresses. Each character has a different background, different mannerisms, speech patterns, likes/dislikes, different lives. Watching all the differences Maslany puts into these women who are genetically identical is a great lesson in how to shape our own characters. And as the seasons progress, we can see how Sarah changes and grows. She goes from being a con artist to wanting to change, to be a part of her daughter’s life. And then she changes from caring only about her daughter and foster brother Felix to feeling, in a way, responsible for the various clones who come into her life. They band together for their common good, even though they don’t always agree.

Even the secondary characters are interesting, particularly Felix. He often provides comic relief in a show that can be dark. But he isn’t just a two-dimensional funny guy. He’s supportive, loving, often the only person in her life that Sarah can really trust.

AA_orphanblack_thumbnail_s2_02_webExternal Conflict — Someone is killing off clones, so not only does Sarah and her “twins” have to try to figure out who, but also why and how to avoid getting offed. Is it the big, secretive corporation? Or the crazy religious nuts? Or someone else entirely? They also have to identify their monitors, the people put into their lives to watch them, without letting those monitors know they’ve figured it out. Sometimes finding out who these people are is very jarring and bleeds into internal conflict. How can you trust anyone if the person you’re closest to is just an employee of some organization that is watching you like a lab rat? It leads to a lot of paranoia, especially in Alison, the suburban soccer mom clone.

Internal Conflict — One of the things that makes us human is our individuality. But what if we’re not unique and there are other people just like us? Okay, so that isn’t really likely in real life (unless, perhaps, you’re writing about twins), but we do all struggle with or at least think about what makes us unique. What do we have to contribute to the world? Do we matter? Our characters can experience some version of this.

Plotting — This is a show that has lots of action, lots of tension, but there is the occasional quiet, emotional scene too, like when Sarah spends time with her daughter, Kira. But I’m never bored. Nothing drags, which we all know is the death knell in a book. If a reader gets bored, she puts down the book and may never pick it up again.

There’s a lot more to learn from this show, but I’m still in the midst of watching and processing. Are you a fan of Orphan Black? Have you learned any writing tips from it? If you’re not a watcher, are there any TV shows that have been particularly enlightening to you as a writer? And for the pure fans of Orphan Black, who is your favorite clone? I like all of them in different ways, but I’ve got to say Alison cracks me up in all her uptightness (yes, I just made that a word). And though he’s not a clone, I love Felix. Also, even though I haven’t figured out quite what I think of her yet, I’m glad to see Maria Doyle Kennedy back on TV. I really liked her as Catherine of Aragon in The Tudors.

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Give the Gift of a Book!

I’m the last of the BadGirlz blogging about the Holiday Season. We offered practical presents, a cute craft, encouragement, and even what NOT to get a writer. Everything I want is seemingly impractical or doesn’t even exist. Like Hermione Granger’s time-turner or a cloning machine or a microchip so I can find my way home after I go wandering, sleep-deprived and mumbling about conflict and dangling participles. Finding a personal chef or housekeeper or assistant under the tree would be awesome too.

Let me say up front, I am quite possibly the world’s worst gift giver. I struggle with birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries. I ask my husband what he wants and he tells me I should have been paying attention to all the hints he’s been dropping (like a woman). I stare at him blankly (like a man). He shakes his head and says with a fair amount of dismay, “You are a romance writer?!”

If it were up to me, I would give books to everyone (In the ultimate irony, my husband doesn’t read, by the way). So, instead of offering suggestions on what a writer wants, I’m going to throw out some suggestions on books you can gift. I’ve read and can personally vouch for all of these picks. Perhaps, you’ll even find a book to gift to yourself this holiday season!

  1. For the preschoolers and toddlers in your life: If your kids/grandkids/nephews/nieces haven’t PtCdiscovered PETE THE CAT by Eric Litwin and James Dean, then be their hero and introduce them to the coolest cat on the planet who teaches kids that “no matter what you step in, just keep walking along and singing your song.” That’s a lesson even adults can benefit from.
  2. Lower Elementary Age Kids: I SURVIVED series by Lauren Tarshis. Each book in this series takes place during an epic historical event. The latest was The Destruction of Pompeii. She also writes about Pearl Harbor and Gettysburg among other events. The books teach history in an engaging, exciting way.
  3. Upper Elementary Age Kids: WONDER by RJ Palacio. A beautiful story that teaches kids about acceptance. My son’s 5th grade class read this, and he loved it so much he insisted I read it as well. It was awesome.Wonder2
  4. High School: RUNNING DREAM by Wendelin Van Draanen. An inspiring tale about a high school track star who loses a leg in a school bus accident.
  5. Sweet Romance: ATTACHMENTS by Rainbow Rowell. I haven’t read Eleanor and Park yet, but it’s on my list. This book is set around Y2K and a techhead who is tasked with flagging inappropriate emails at a newspaper. It’s cute and different.
  6. Sexy Romance: MOTORCYCLE MAN by Kristen Ashley. Someone tweeted aboutAshley_MotorcycleMan_MM this book, and I was intrigued enough to check it out. Loved it. Very hot with two great main characters set around a motorcycle club.
  7. Super-sexy Romance: OBSESSION by Liliana Lee. A trilogy of serial novellas set in historical China. Fast-paced and entertaining.
  8. Heart-Rending Romance: ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes. I’m not a crier normally, but man, this book got me good. It made for a great book club book. Lots of controversial topics for discussion.
  9. Dog Lovers: THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN by Garth Stein. The life of an aspiring race car driverArt of Racing told from the point of view of his beloved dog. I read this book in one sitting.
  10. Serious Literature Lovers: CUTTING FOR STONE by Abraham Verghese. I opened this book ready to trudge through it. (It was a book club pick). I could not put it down…loved it!! Forget everything you know about Ethiopia. I pictured a desert wasteland with starving children (Thanks Bob Geldof and Do They Know It’s Christmas?). This book shattered all my preconceptions.
  11. Unexplored History Lovers: THE ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline. I could not believe this book was based on real events in the early 1900s America. Blew my mind. While thirteenth-cover-usathere were a couple of plot points that had me scratching my head, overall the fascinating history made up for it.
  12. Mystery Lovers: THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diana Setterfield. This is a twisty, dark gothic. If you like to be surprised at an ending, check it out.

 

What are some books you’ve read this year that are worth gifting?

 

 

 

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Giver Beware: Cautionary Tales For Picking Presents For Writers

This month, the Bad Girlz have been preparing for the holidays by talking gifts. Literal gifts, as in things we want, and more figurative ones, like hopes for writerly success. Just to be contrary, I’m here to offer up some suggestions for things not to get your writer friends this season—unless you know them very, very well.

The Wrong Writer Reference Book. Shortly after I made my interest in writing known, a dear, wonderful, encouraging person in my life got me some writer’s reference books.

About writing magazine articles.

The books were so well-intentioned, but they not only had nothing I could really use to help me in my path as a novelist, they were actively discouraging. Here I was, reaching for the stars, and here was someone dear to me giving me information about how to settle for something nice and practical and sort of tangentially related.

If you know your friend and what she writes, by all means, stuff her stocking with craft books and reference materials. But if you’re not really sure what she does, don’t make the mistake of assuming that all careers in writing follow the same path.

The Wrong Notebook. My brother is a writer, and two years in a row (back before I was writing myself), I got him really nice journals for Christmas. I’d seen him squirrelling away notes on crumpled pieces of paper, and thought it would be really great if he could get his ideas down on beautiful, leather-bound pages.

Nope.

I feel even more ridiculous about this assumption now that I’m a writer. Personally, I vastly prefer getting my ideas down on loose scraps. If I wrote them in a gorgeous journal, how terrible would I feel tearing them out to add to my story file later? Or worse, crossing them out?

Beyond that, writers are often weirdly superstitious about their craft. There aren’t a lot of materials involved in what we do, and so we tend to be very particular about the items we choose to use. Personally, if I do keep a notebook, I prefer for it to be spiral-bound (so I can tuck a pen into the binding), unlined (so I can write really small and all over the page and sometimes sideways), and purse-sized (so I’m never without a piece of paper). A notebook that doesn’t meet these specifications will still be a much-appreciated gift, but honestly? It’s unlikely to be a terrible well-used one.

Fortunately, my brother told me that second year that he still hadn’t used up the first notebook. There was something about the way he said it that gave me a clue. Picking a notebook is personal. I never tried to do it for him again.

More Desk Detritus. There are so many cute little literary-themed knick-knacks out there these days. Shakespeare bobbleheads and framed prints of kittens next to inspirational sayings. Ceramic tiles with witticisms about coffee and wine glasses covered in quotations. They’re awesome. They’re adorable.

But seriously. I can’t find anything on my desk. One more bit of clutter and it might turn into a black hole.

Many writers live in similar environments. There’s an exception to every rule, but in general, our minds are brimming with ideas, and our lives and our desks are brimming with stuff we swear we’re going to find a place for, no, really, I promise, just as soon as I finish this book.

If your writer friend has a clutter problem, please think twice before making it worse.

So what should you get for your writer friends? Hard to say. Gift cards to book stores are almost always appreciated (though if you’re going the digital route, be sure to keep your recipient’s e-book reader of choice in mind so you get something compatible). I particularly love being given a book the giver has read and loved – there’s nothing like a personal recommendation when it comes to finding new things to read.

Or maybe—going back to the literal vs. figurative gifts discussion, consider giving the writer in your life the one thing every writer needs: time. Homemade coupons for things like childcare or a quiet afternoon alone in the house, or arranging for a cleaner to come by would all be amazing ways to show your support to your favorite writer.

Because really, one gift I know we all would love is simply the chance to do what we love. Write.

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