Thursday, April 24, 2014

Current Events-Adding the Next Layer by Tara Randel

Vector newspaper icon -
As I was reading the newspaper this morning, I got to thinking about how world events impact writers as we plot a story. With all the major headlines, and our ability to get news 24/7 on many different types of reading devices, getting information about current events for our stories is just a keystroke away. (Yes, I still sit down every morning with an old-fashion print newspaper. It’s my quiet time before I start the day.)

Certainly what is going on in the world tends to work well in suspense and thrillers. Any book that features characters in the military or police agencies may mirror what we read in the newspaper. Yet when the author adds actual world events, it makes the story immediate. We can imagine ourselves in the line of fire in a sandy desert somewhere or in a foreign city running for our lives because of certain secret information in our possession. I’ve never been in any kind of dangerous occupation, but I love edge of the seat stories that keep me turning the page to find out how the characters will get through danger and stay alive. 

I tend to write stories about characters who live in small towns. How do current events fit in? What about a world-weary traveler returning home after months of working in a refugee camp? Now all he wants is to experience peace. A wounded soldier back from deployment. How does he cope with what he’s seen and done? Or perhaps the photojournalist trying to deal with upsetting memories because of an assignment. A character who has had enough crime in the big city and wants to retreat to simpler life in a small town.

What about the news of a smaller scope? Local or regional. Not big enough to make the front page, but compelling enough to make a writer wonder, what if, and run with an idea from there. Again, with our access to the internet, there are all kinds of news and special interest stories out there to catch the eye of a writer for use in a future story.

Now, let’s take the current events and apply it to our characters. This gives us another layer of depth in an already emotional story. How have these events shaped heroes or heroines? Will the events they’ve experienced determine the decisions they make? What a way to build conflict.

The possibilities of adding the pressure of happenings in our small towns, big cities and worldwide are endless in story creation. Adding current events is the bridge of our imaginary characters to real life.  Done well, these events add another dimension to the world the author has created.

So, I have to ask, as a reader, do you like current events in the books you read? Is it too much invasion of the real world? Does it add a layer of immediacy you crave? I’m curious to hear what you think.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Holy SeaWorld Batwing Manta Ray! Reflections on a Research Trip by Carol Ross

As every writer knows, research is absolutely essential both to the writing process and in ensuring the authenticity of the work.  Recently I embarked upon a research trip to engage in the fascinating study of sibling interaction and family dynamics.  Okay, so it was a spring break trip to San Diego with my sister and her four boys.  Not having children of my own, I’ll take the opportunity for nephew/niece research time whenever and wherever I can get it.  Is it wrong of me to so shamelessly use my family for my own personal gain?  You be the judge.

I have two sisters, each has four kids, and fortunately both are eager to the point of insistence in “sharing” their children with me. Statements like this are not uncommon; “No, really, Carol--you can keep them as long as you want.  I’ll pack their birth certificates just in case...”  Or “Nephew #1 wants to run away from home and I really want to be a good parent and give him what he wants, so I told him he could move in with you for a little awhile--or until he graduates from college...”  They are incredibly generous these sisters of mine.

I am usually willing to take them up on their more reasonable offers of kid-sharing, and vacationing with my sisters and various combinations of nieces and nephews is not uncommon.  So sure, I was up for a week-long spring break trip--me and my sis and her four precious rapscallions basking in the California sun and seeing the sights. 

I’m going to say something now that will undoubtedly cause all of you moms to roll your eyes and mutter under your breaths at such an obvious assertion.  But please keep in mind that I don’t possess your built-in biological coping mechanisms.  So here goes--traveling with kids takes exhaustion to a whole new level.  And I’m not talking about physical stamina.  Last year I ran my first half-marathon--I can hold my own with these screen-loving couch-kids of modern days.  No, I’m talking about the kind of exhaustion that drains the mental capacity of adults and renders them stupid.  And let me be clear here--by “adults” I mean me. 

Two of my favorite words to hear in the entire world are “Aunt Carol,” which is immediately followed by a question or a series of questions.  If I had a dime for every time I heard the words “Aunt Carol” on this trip I would be a very rich woman, albeit a rich woman with acute tendonitis from clicking one of those counter-thingies because that would be the only way I could possibly add up all of these “Aunt Carol’s.”  And then I would promptly be poor again from spending these hard-earned dimes on churros and souvenir plush critters sporting tiny tie-dyed logo-embossed t-shirts.

But I think it’s the never-ending questions that inevitably do me in.  And it’s not so much that the questions are never-ending as they are difficult. (No, I am not smarter than a fifth-grader, and I think I’ve already proven this by admitting that I repeatedly and enthusiastically agree to these trips.)  I really want to provide answers to these thoughtful inquiries.  And I try.  I do.  Because I know the answers are important to them. 

As both of my teacher-sisters often say--almost every moment can be a teachable one.  I think that’s lovely, so I try to live by this advice.  And of course I love these children of my heart and want to spend time with them, be there for them, help mold them, and make a difference in their lives.  And so I patiently try to answer these brain teasers that make the SAT’s look like a first-grade worksheet.  The following questions are borrowed from the actual vacation transcript--no context provided or needed and it can be assumed that each and every one was preceded with an “Aunt Carol”...

Nephew #3: “Is the komodo dragon the biggest lizard in the world?  Do you think it would rather eat people or hard-boiled eggs?”

Nephew #2: “Do you think SeaWorld was a bike shop when it very first opened?”

Nephew #4: “Do panda bears hibernate?”

Nephew #1: “Do you know what color the San Diego Padres uniforms were in 1974?”

I always start out each of these vacations with a fresh dose of enthusiasm, but by the end, with exhaustion settling in and my now-aching brain about as useful as a pot of cold mush, I find myself more and more often reverting to one of a few pat answers: “Sure, why not?” or “That sounds great, honey!” or even “Mm-hmm.”  Sometimes in a burst of caffeine and sugary-vacation-snack-induced energy I’ll mix the words up or attempt to creatively re-string some combination of them together.  

But they become wise to this, these clever nephews of mine, because not only do kids ask a lot of questions--they listen, too.  Oh sure, maybe we think they aren’t listening and sometimes we might even wish they weren’t listening.  But they listen.  They do.  I have proof.

Nephew #1: “Aunt Carol, can you take us to Disneyland again?”

Me:  “Mm-hmm.  Sure, why not?”

Nephews #1-4: “Woo-hoo! Mom, Aunt Carol is taking us to Disneyland again!”

Me: “Wait...what?”

My sister:  “That sounds great, honey!  Ask Aunt Carol if I should pack anything besides your birth certificate...”

Any “research” I may collect and share from these trips shall be deemed authentic, hard-earned and a precious gift from God.

With Mother’s Day looming, I’d just like to add a heartfelt salute to all you mothers out there who are brave enough (and strong enough) to travel with your children.  And a sincere thanks to my wonderful sisters for all of their kid sharing.  I truly do treasure (almost) every quasi-mothering moment you gift to me.

Please tell me I'm not alone in collecting research from my family in this way?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Can't we use our powers for good, people??

I had no idea my ports were clogged. Really, there were no symptoms at all until everything went black. Allow me to explain.
Picture me, sitting meek and mild in my office chair, banging out the next heart wrenching work of fiction. Picture Adolph Finklestein (this might not be his real name) sitting in a dark basement in New Jersey, concocting a diabolical computer virus to send to my unsuspecting computer. (New Jersey might be arbitrary too, but I’ve been there. It would be a swell place for a cyber villain to hang out.)
So with the click of a key, Adolph whips me a computer virus that delivers hordes of persistent little Trojans that try to convince me my computer is under attack.
Your system is being scanned!
There’s a rogue program raping and pillaging your gigabites!
Danger, Will Robinson, danger!
Not to worry, dear readers. I am saavy. I have read about these evil attacks. I smell the ratty Finklestein and I most definitely click the “x” to decline Finklestein’s suggestion that I purchase his ferocious platoon of cyber soliders to protect my tender vitals. Clever, no? I can sit back in my chair uninfected by the nefarious virus propagator gnashing his teeth in his New Jersey basement.
Ha! Take that!
 Here is where our story takes a turn to the tragic. Unfortunately, Finklestein being the diabolical hacker that he is, has created a program whereby clicking the “no thank you” x actually translates to “Absolutely! Mi computer is su computer.”  Finklestein immediately commences the port clogging procedures.
 Fast forward two hundred dollars and twenty four hours later. Professional computer helpers at Web Dispatch, all wearing white hats and a few, I believe, mounted on snowy horses, have restored order, unclogged my ports and weeded out Finkelstein’s devious buggers.  
The ending of the story is mixed. Finklestein is vanquished, but only temporarily, I’m certain. He’s no doubt rolled up his flannel sleeves and set to work on the next round of attacks, leaving me to shake my head in wonder.
 Why? Oh Finklestein. Why can’t you use your powers for good? With skills like that can’t you turn away from the dark side and work on something productive? Curing cancer? Fixing global warming? Inventing a biodegradable diaper?
Surely you can see some other way to impact the world, Mr. Finklestein?
Or perhaps your ports are clogged, too. 

Have you ever experienced such villainy? Please  tell me I'm not the only one!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Character Naming by Melinda Curtis

I've found that naming characters is just as hard as naming your children.

I bet you're thinking, "Duh."

Naming a character shouldn't be that hard.  You're creating them in your head. There's no significant other to argue with about it. Trust me on this.  I've fought with Mr. Curtis through the naming of three children (luckily, he has no interest in naming pets, otherwise, they might never be named).

But back to me, my head, and character naming.  Back when I first pitched Harmony Valley to Heartwarming, I needed to come up with three names for my heroes.  Easy-peasy? Na-uh. Here's the mumbling conversation I had with myself (when you work alone from home you're allowed to talk out loud):

"Peter, Pete, Sam, Samuel, Fred, Mark, Josh...Those all suck." (apologies to anyone with dear ones of those names)
And then, "William (there'd just been a royal wedding), Farley, Stu...ah, Will works."
Followed by the idea to have someone with a Scottish or Irish descent. "Mac, Flynn..." Googling of names ensued.  "Just go with Flynn."
And for the final hero.  "Sam.  Sam fits a small town."
I dutifully scribbled down ideas and darned if "Sam" didn't stop me.  "I'm not Sam.  I'm Slade."
"Dude, no way. Slade is not small town.  Slade is New York City, upper east side." Serious visions of a head-shaking, dark-haired man with cuff links and a tie - designer by the way. Totally disapproving.
"Okay, okay.  You can be Slade." Sly smile on my part. "At least until Victoria calls me on it."

Well, Victoria didn't call me on it.  Slade became the third musketeer/financier of the trio of heroes that launched Harmony Valley. He surprised me in other ways (Why won't he take off that tie? Why does he hate Harmony Valley so much?). His story is Season of Change, releasing on May 1.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from others about their challenges naming their "babies" - whether it was your children or a character in a book.  One lucky reader will win an autographed copy of Season of Change (just as soon as I receive my print copies - lol).

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sit Down Saturday with Linda Hope Lee

Today we’re celebrating the release of Linda Hope Lee's Eva's Deadline.

So, Linda, where did you get the idea for this novel?
I like to write about places I visit, especially small towns. I've vacationed for years on the Washington Coast and thought it would be a good setting for a series. The fictional town of Willow Beach in Eva's Deadline is a composite of several small towns there that I'm familiar with. 

In looking at the cover, if you could add a caption or captions, what would they say?

"I'm so glad I found you."

How long did it take you to write?
The first draft took about two months.

What is your favorite scene?
The scene where Eva returns from spending Christmas in Seattle and finds herself seeking out Mark at the newspaper office. They realize how much they have missed each other and fall into each other's arms.

Who was your favorite character and why?
The hero, Mark Townson, is my favorite character. I like his loyalty to Eva's father and also his willingness to make sacrifices for love.

If you could pick fictional characters to play the hero and heroine, who would they be?
They aren't fictional characters, but the actor Patrick Muldoon, who is in a Hallmark movie I like, A Boyfriend for Christmas, could play my hero, Mark Townson. Kelli Williams, who plays opposite him in the same film, would be my choice for Eva Sinclair. 

Tell us one thing you learned during research.
I learned about the rules of inheritance.

What music would match the mood of this novel?
Being a Blues fan, I hear Percy Sledge singing "Let me wrap you in my warm and tender love" whenever Mark and Eva share an embrace. "Take Time to Know Her" and "When a Man Loves a Woman" from the same CD (Percy Sledge, When a Man Loves a Woman and Other Hits) also fit the story.  

This is your 21st book.  Exactly what does that mean to you?
It means I still have stories to tell. I've found I really like to write series and hope to produce more.

What do you plan to work on next?
I'm working on books 2 and 3 of the Willow Beach series. After that, I have a small town in Idaho in mind for another series setting.

What are you reading for pleasure right now?
I'm reading Muriel Jensen's Love Me Forever and enjoying it very much. It's set in Astoria, Oregon, which is only a few miles south of where Eva's Deadline takes place.