Thursday, October 28, 2010

Critique Groups

Sorry to have missed the last two weeks, but things have been a little crazy. I'm still in the process of adjusting to the "no day job"! It isn't exactly what I expected-since every day is a different, I actually have to keep a calendar. For a dyed-in-the wool pantser like me, that's a challenge, plus I have to remember to look at it...another challenge! But things are falling into place and I'm slowly moving into my new life.

One of the things that I'm looking forward to the most in this new life is joining a critique group with three other writers. Now critique groups can be tricky-I've tried online groups before without much success. It seemed that there were always a couple in the group who weren't all that constructive in their opinions. You know the type-people who like to shred you just because they can? God knows when it comes to writing, my ego is fragile enough without getting every line ripped apart, so I've really wanted to avoid a situation like that again.

What do I think makes a good critique group? Well, regardless of what I said in the previous paragraph, I really don't want to hear "this is the best thing I've ever read." First of all, I wouldn't believe them, and second, my first mentor, the late John Tigges, once said that a person learns more from criticism than one does from compliments. That sounds a little harsh, but it is true to a degree. My goal has always been to improve my craft, and I can't improve if I don't know where that room for improvement lies. BUT there are good ways to deliver the message without destroying someone's confidence.

I think it's all about balance. My editor is an expert at this-she points out the holes, what doesn't ring true, yet at the same time, throws me an occasional bone, so I know that there are some things that I'm doing "right". As a result, my ego stays intact, but I learn at the same time.

And that's what I think I'm going to get out of participating in this group. From their remarks, I expect to gain new skills and have fun at the same time. We've already had one get-together and we're all on the same page as far as our views about writing and what we expect from this experience.

How about you? Anyone else in a critique group? If so, what do you think makes for a good group?

That's it for this week. Have a good one, and see you next Thursday!! I promise!

Best,
Shirley

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A New Game is Afoot!

I admit it, I was skeptical.

Well, in truth, skeptical isn’t exactly the right word. My heels were dug in, and in one hand, I waved the banner of Tradition! Literary Accuracy!! Truth!!!

No, no, no . . . I did not like the thought of the BBC and Masterpiece Mystery producing a new take on the Sherlock Holmes stories set squarely in the 21st Century.

Holmes and Watson on cell phones? Using GPS to solve crimes? Speaking in (heavens!) modern tones?

Oh yeah. Skeptical. Big time.

And then I watched "A Study in Pink," the first episodes in the new series.

It took a while for me to get pulled into the story. Like maybe 10 seconds or so. And then . . .

Good heavens, gentle reader, dare I say that I (who love all things Victorian and think that Jeremy Brett is the god of all Sherlockian actors) was smitten.

The show is smart, clever, and twisty-turny enough to keep any mystery lover engaged. Holmes (played by a young fellow named Benedict Cumberbatch) is an odd-looking creature, all planes and angles. He’s quirky and incredibly rude, wondering aloud at one point, what it’s like inside the heads of "ordinary" people. According to one of the police detectives, he’s a psychopath, but Holmes disputes this theory, telling her that he is, instead, a high-functioning sociopath. His mind is lightning-quick. His tongue is sharp. And it is sometimes firmly in cheek, like the evening Dr. Watson shows up and finds Holmes laid out on a couch. Watson fears drug use, but Holmes announces that it is, instead, a "three patch problem" (remember the three pipe problem from the original stories?) and he’s using nicotine patches to amp his thought processes.

As much as Holmes is the intellectual center of the stories, it’s Watson (played by Martin Freeman) who is the heart and soul. "A Study in Pink" opens with a flash of combat in Afghanistan and for those who cherish the stories, you’ll see how perfectly appropriate that is. Conan Doyle’s Watson was injured in Afghanistan and this modern Watson follows in his footsteps. He thinks he’s suffering from PSTD and his therapist has suggested he start a blog and write everything down. As it turns out, this isn’t PSTD at all. He’s bored, and it’s Holmes and his adventures who add the excitement back into Watson’s life and make him forget that he’s supposed to be an invalid.

The two characters play well off each other and the supporting cast is less cartoonish than in some versions of the stories (not the Brett ones, by the way, but then, those were perfect!). The writers refuse to go with the stereotypes and have given us a competent, serious Lestrade (not the usual bumbling old guy), a woman assistant, and a flighty coroner who clearly has eyes for Holmes but can’t seem to put her lipstick on straight when he’s around.

Skeptical? Not anymore. My only complaint is that there are only three episodes scheduled for this year and we’ll have to wait until next year for more.

You can find out more about the series–and go to Sherlock’s website and Wastson’s blog–here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00t4pgh

Friday, October 22, 2010

Something Wicked welcomes Keena Kincaid


Sometimes the scariest creatures out there are the ones so driven by obsession to fulfill their desire that everything else is just fuel for the fire.


In my current release, ENTHRALLED, the villain is terrifying to me because her motivations and desires are so very human. However, what she’s willing to do to reach her goal is beyond what most of us would ever consider—and then she goes even farther.

In ENTHRALLED, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine schemes to murder her husband, King Henry II, and rule as regent through her eldest son. The historical record concerning Eleanor and her husband is thin, sometimes conflicting, and lacks detail. Much of the motivation, affection, disappointment and hatred that stretched over the 37-year marriage must be inferred. But we do know that she not only encouraged estrangement between father and sons, but also actively led her sons in rebellion against the king in 1173.

My muse took it from there.

Eleanor is cold and manipulative, yet understandable. Well into her forties, her legendary beauty is fading and her husband flaunts his love for a younger mistress. She’s standing at the edge of irrelevancy—and she doesn’t like the view.

In my opinion, a good villain needs three things:
1. An understandable goal.
2. A firm belief that the end justifies the means.
3. A complex nature, complete with a good side, i.e. he may blow up the museum to stop the looting of his culture, but he takes his mother to church each Sunday.

So what do you think? What separates the cardboard baddies from the can’t forget villains?

Keena Kincaid is the author of four romance novels set in 12th century England. Her books are available from The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble online as well as anywhere ebooks are sold. You also can fan or friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and visit her blog, Typos and All. Leave a comment or just say hello to be entered into drawing for an e-copy of her newest release, ENTHRALLED.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Head Games

Finally, after nearly a month of working on the outline for Pepper Martin mystery #8, I began writing the book yesterday. A small victory to celebrate, but as always, outlining, then writing, makes me think about how many different hats writers wear.

Outlining, writing, re-writing, editing...each requires a different skill set and a totally different mindset, too.

When I’m outlining, I find myself more fully involved in the story than when I’m writing it. I get preoccupied (and this week, I let my son’s toasted cheese sandwiches burn because I was so busy thinking, I completely forgot about them). This is the time when all possibilities are considered, when ideas come together–or not. When they do, it’s on to the next plot point and the next idea. When they don’t . . .well, it often means backing up a couple steps, reconsidering, looking at things from a new angle.

Often plot points that seem insurmountable are easily fixed and those, too, are small victories. Sometimes, the problems that are the hardest to solve send the clearest messages: this is not the way the story should be going. Start all over again!

The actual writing seems to come from a different part of the brain. This is where words collide, where images float around like dust motes in a streak of sunshine. Sometimes what I want to say is clear, but more often, every word is a battle. Yesterday, I wrote nine pages and was insanely proud of myself. Of course, ask me about that today after I read over those pages and see if they’re really as brilliant as I hope!

I rewrite as I write, going over and over a sentence, a paragraph, a scene. Consequently, when I’m done with a book, there’s often not much left for me to do. That doesn’t mean I don’t put on my editor hat–another different skill–and look at the book as a whole, checking for inconsistencies, and flow and pacing.

It’s interesting, this creativity stuff, and it always makes me marvel at the workings of our brains. With any luck, mine will keep heading in the right direction, and that deadline that’s getting closer every day!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Werewolves and high tea

Thanks again to Kate Douglas for blogging with us yesterday! I first met Kate a few years ago in Dallas when our agent got a bunch of us together for a high tea. Can you picture a group of paranormal authors sitting around drinking Yorkshire Harrogate while discussing ways to vanquish demons, romance werewolves and make weapons easier to hide?

It's a wonder our waitress didn't run for the hills. Or maybe she was a demon slayer in training and was too busy taking notes. We only thought she was writing down our requests for more pastry and cucumber sandwiches (Those suckers were surprisingly tasty.).

But I'm glad our agent did get us together and that I've been able to touch base with Kate at many more writer events and on email. She's a fantastic storyteller and a great person too. And she's giving away goodies! That's always a bonus, right?

Five readers are going to win a copy of DemonFire, HellFire or a stuffed Bumper the dog. The winners are: Linda Henderson, N.S. Walters, Tammy, Tracey and Jane. Just email me at angie @ angie fox.com and I'll get your information to Kate!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Something Wicked welcomes Kate Douglas!














First of all, Angie, thank you so much for the invite to blog here at SOMETHING WICKED.
I sometimes wonder if people are getting sick and tired of me popping up all over the Internet, but my readers are nothing if not gracious...they’d never say a word to my face!
If I come across as a bit loopy today, please accept my apologies. I’ve been struggling with the current book I’m writing, CrystalFire, which is the fourth and final book in the DEMONSLAYERS series. When I started work on this one, I had a perfect visual for the opening and a fairly good idea what was going to come next. I’ve known from the very beginning, when I first proposed the series to my editor, that this last book would star Willow and Taron, two secondary characters who first appeared in DemonFire.
Taron is a Lemurian scholar who was fascinated by Willow, the tiny will o’ the wisp created as an assistant to help Dax, my ex-demon, survive in Earth’s dimension. Dax was a mercenary, hired to fight a demon invasion on Earth that threatened to tip the scales in the favor of evil, and Willow helped feed him energy to strengthen his powers...at least she did until the demon king ate her.
She ended up as mere consciousness existing inside Bumper the dog—a mutt that’s a cross between a pit bull and a poodle. I guess she’s a pitoodle...but BumperWillow, as everyone started calling the funny looking dog with the sprite inside, is a powerful ally in the fight against demonkind. She doesn’t look all that fierce—picture a pit bull with a blonde Shirley Temple wig.
Okay? Got that. STOP LAUGHING. Bumper is true warrior. Really.
So how does Willow end up as a heroine? To be honest, I wasn’t really sure, but then the demon king showed up and tried to take over Bumper’s body in an act of possession, but Willow shot a power burst at the demon. Unfortunately, her blue sparkles bounced off Taron’s sentient crystal blade, ricocheted across the room and zapped Bumper. And the demon king missed the dog and took over another man’s body and somehow Bumper’s consciousness ended up inside Willow, and Willow ended up with a full-sized woman’s body...and Taron doesn’t want to fall in love, but he’s having a really hard time fighting it. (Yes, I’m taking a deep breath here...) And Willow isn’t fighting it at all—she’s been stuck in that dog for way too long and now she’s finally got a chance to learn about life and love and all the things denied a two-inch tall sprite with sparkly wings.
Things a five foot, ten inch woman with masses of curly blonde hair doesn’t hesitate to try. Of course, Taron’s got issues—he’s avoided love all his life because of a fortune told him when he was a child. He knows that if he ever falls in love, he’s destined to experience unimaginable joy and unendurable pain, and it’s that unendurable pain that stops him every time.
So, we’ve got this tall, sexy Lemurian who’s nearly immortal, but he’s lived a celibate life as a scholar. In fact, he’s never even kissed a woman until Willow shows up and convinces him that since they’re both so curious about sex, it’s become the proverbial elephant in the parlor, and the best way to settle the issue is to go ahead and do the deed so they don’t wonder about it anymore.
Yeah. Right....like that’s going to help? And in the meantime, they’ve got their friend’s dad possessed by the demon king and they have to rescue Ed, but they’re all alone in the quest because all the other demonslayers are stuck in Sedona, which is all Taron’s fault because he sealed the portal they need to come home, and then Eddie Marks, one of the demonslayers, gets trapped in the void and, well...I still have no idea how it’s all going to work out, but that’s the joy of writing paranormal.
The whole process of putting together a story is asking “what if?” and then turning the muse free to figure it out. At least that’s my process. It’s worked for twenty-one novels and novellas in my Wolf Tales series and so far it’s working with the DemonSlayers. I never really know, going into a book, where it will take me, but the ride is always an adventure, and the hero and heroine always end up falling madly in love and finding their own happily ever after.
And that’s the main thing, isn’t it? Enjoying the ride and tagging along on a journey to find love. I go into a story thinking it’s my world and my rules, and then the gloves are off and the adventure begins. I hope you’ll join me on this one—DemonFire released last February 23, a day I celebrated by crashing my pickup into the side of a mountain. When HellFire came out, I stayed home, and when Nocturnal released I managed to make it to the grocery store safely, so it’s all good. StarFire, the third book in the series, will release in March, and CrystalFire is due out next Fall. Of course, I still need to figure out how I’m getting Eddy out of the void and then we need to get the demon out of Ed, but I’m not worried. Somehow, it always comes together.
I am curious, though. What is it you like best about paranormal? Why do you pick up a story about demons or werewolves or vampires rather than a contemporary romance or historical? Let me know your thoughts, and you might be one of the lucky readers to win either a copy of DemonFire, HellFire, Nocturnal or a stuffed Bumper the dog. I’m going to ask Angie to pick five winners for me. Did I say I love giving stuff away?

For more of Kate Douglas, visit

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Last of the Demon Slayers - speed bump!

Gah! It drives me crazy when great plans go wonky. On Tuesday, I announced that we'd be releasing The Last of the Demon Slayers today. It was going to be so cool. I even had it circled in red pen on my calendar.

And then late yesterday, we learned from Amazon that they need more time. How much more time? It shouldn't be more than a week. So here we are, at the starting block. Pirate is getting antsy. Flappy is eating the starting pistol and I have no idea what the biker witches are getting themselves into. They're probably at the all-you-can eat buffet.

But hey, on the bright side. The book is great. The ending made me cry (and not because of anything bad happening, but because of this sweet moment). And this book will come out soon. In the mean time, we just need to keep Pirate away from the hot dog vendors and the spells under wraps and we should be fine.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sunsets and Cemeteries


What's with me and sunset pictures lately? Just so pretty!





Gorgeous weather and a historic cemetery to explore--my idea of heaven!


Spent last weekend in upstate New York, in the area around Westfield, Lake Chautauqua and Jamestown. The breezes off Lake Erie make the area perfect for growing grapes, and there are any number of wineries nearby. We did our best to visit as many as we could, and tasted (and bought!) some nice wines.

Found some surprises in the area, too. Like two different cemetery tours in Jamestown. Of course, we had to participate. It’s all research for my Pepper Martin mysteries and besides, spending a late afternoon (and in the second case, a few nighttime hours) in a cemetery is my idea of vacation heaven!

The site of the tours was Lakeview Cemetery, a beautiful, garden-type burial ground established in 1859. On the first, daylight tour, we walked the grounds and listened as costumed re-enactors told us about the lives and times of the people buried there. The famous and the not-so-famous, buried side by side, all with interesting stories to tell.

Sunday night, we attended the "Twilight Mausoleum Tour." Talk about good timing! In the book I’m working on now (Pepper Martin mystery #8), Pepper needs to break into a mausoleum and steal the bones there. I won’t even try to explain why! Let’s just say it’s for a good cause.

This tour was perfect for research. Not only did we get to visit four mausoleums with a lantern-carrying, costumed tour guide, we got to go inside. Oh yes, I had ideas before, but actually being in the mausoleums...well, I thought of a couple different ways I can further complicate Pepper’s quest.

And of course, what’s a weekend away without looking at a gorgeous sunset. The one pictured here is over Lake Erie and I think it rivals the sunset photo I took in New Mexico.
There’s beauty galore in New York, good ideas to be had, and all those wineries. A winning weekend!



Hey, how often do you have a chance to go inside a mausoleum--at least while

you're still alive and kicking? (Cue the spooky music here!)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Last of the Demon Slayers

Hey all, it's been a crazy week already. That's because I'm doing something completely different from the usual "sit down and think of ways for my characters to vanquish imps, demons and other supernatural nasties." Instead of writing, I'm tackling the other end of the process - publishing.

As many of you may know, my publisher for the Accidental Demon Slayer books has been having trouble distributing books and paying authors. Dorchester wasn't meeting its contractual obligations, so after thinking long and hard on it, I decided to take back the rights to my December release, The Last of the Demon Slayers.

I have to tell you, it's the strangest feeling to be back in control of my December book. As I was telling my agent, there are days when I can barely find my car keys. But I owed it to the book and my readers.

The Last of the Demon Slayers is a great addition to the series. I'm so stinking proud of how all of the elements came together on this one - Lizzie, the biker witches, Pirate, Flappy the dragon.

And I've gotten a mountain of email from readers wondering what is happening. Will the book come out? The answer is yes. The book needs to be out there. And since I have the files, we don't even have to wait until December.

I've turned everything over to Amazon and they are going to release The Last of the Demon Slayers on Friday, October 15. It will start as an ebook, and then go to paperback a few weeks later. We're still working on a date for that paperback release. But even if you don't have an e-reader, you can still get the book on Kindle for PC (what I use) or Kindle for Mac.

It's not posted yet, but it should be up there any time. I also have a new cover, since the publisher owns the old cover. It was done by Kim at Hot Damn Designs. That's her own medieval sword in the picture. I so want a sword like that. My old publisher has promised to take down the old listing from Amazon, and I hope it doesn't cause any confusion in the mean time.

Come Friday, Lizzie and the gang will be on their way to readers, full speed ahead on a new adventure. And that's what it's all about.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What's in a Title?




Let's talk titles. What do you think makes a good title? One that is descriptive of the setting, the characters, the plot? Or is it a "you know it when you see it" kind of a thing? And the most important question of all-would you buy a book based on the title?

I have a reason for asking these questions-even though I generally stink at picking out a title, I thought I had a pretty good one for the "Jess McConkey" book. As I've mentioned, it was DIE STANDING (from a line in a Shania Twain song that originally started me thinking of the concept for this book). Notice I say "was"? After a conversation with my editor, the decision was made to change it. She didn't feel that it really fit the storyline. And yes, she wanted a title that I would like, so my opinion was solicited. BUT, since as stated, this is not my strong suit, I gave my blessing to whatever Emily, my editor, and the marketing team at Avon thought would be best. Here's what they decided:

LOVE LIES BLEEDING

Why? I wouldn't call this a romance. Well, the title is actually one of the common names for Amaranthus caudatus-a bush that was popular in Victorian gardens-and one does figure into the story line. I came up with the idea of using it for two reasons: 1. I've always thought it was a really cool name for a plant. 2. There's a bit of a spooky legend concerning it and The Villisca Axe Murders (a terrible case that took place here in Iowa in the early 1900's.) That's it-nothing deeper. No symbolism intended.

BUT, after this title was selected, I did a little digging and here's what I found out about the "essence" of Love Lies Bleeding. It is as follows:

"Love-Lies-Bleeding essence has proven to be a powerful balm for those undergoing great physical and psychic pain. When the soul has been stretched to the breaking point, it can enter another dimension of spiritual awareness."

Is my main character undergoing "great physical and psychic pain"? Pretty much-at the beginning of the story, she feels as if her entire life has been stripped away. She's lost and her main goal is to get her old life back.

After reading the above, here's what I'm thinking now-maybe this is the title the book should've had all along and we got nudged in that direction.

Am I reading too much into this? Is my assumption too woo-woo?

Maybe, but I'll tell you right now-if LOVE LIES BLEEDING hits the bestseller lists, I'm planting those suckers all over my yard!!! *g*

That's it for this week!! See you next Thursday!

Best,
Shirley

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wednesday? No Way!

What is it about Wednesdays?

Suddenly, they’re sneaking up on me. Once again this morning, I was blithely sitting at my computer, minding my own business (OK, so I was really doing the USA Today crossword, but that counts, doesn’t it?) when it hit me–

It’s Wednesday.

And I need to blog.

I blame this lack of focus wholly and completely on the fact that I am currently outlining a book. It’s Pepper Martin mystery #8, and it sorely needs a title and a whole bunch more chapters. Until those things fall into place, my brain is literally somewhere else.

I’m juggling possibilities and impossibilities. Considering options. Having aha moments that are so brilliant, I can’t stand it–and discarding them in an instant when I realize the ideas I've thought of just will not work.

So far, I’ve punched and slapped and fought my way through seven chapters. They are good and solid. They are fun and interesting. Now to figure out where to take the story next.

Better get to it. See you next Wednesday.

It will be here before I know it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bloodlust, vampire ducks and things that go bump in the night

Bring on the Halloween treats. And I don't mean the candy (although if you do have candy, I'll take that too). No, I'm talking about the fun things that you only seem to find in stores this time of year.

Like last night, my husband came home with a bottle of Dracula's Bloodlust cabernet sauvingnon. He bought it for the label, and for the fact that it's made in Romania. Probably at the foot of Dracula's castle, at least that's what I'm telling myself.

Then there was the four-pack of True Blood that a bunch of us shared at the Archon Conference this weekend. I have no idea where they found it. It tasted like sweet tarts and orange drink, with maybe some 7-up mixed in. It was an odd combination. Frankly, I don't know how Bill Compton and the gang do it.

Then there are the costumed rubber duckies we bring out every year for the kids. I bought them because they're glow in the dark and I thought I could do this haunted (yet silly) duck pond out in front of the house. Naturally, we've been playing around with the props instead.

And of course - my favorite - the laughing skull door knocker. His eyeballs pop out on long wires and he sings a song whenever anyone comes to the door. And around here, that's entertainment.