Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Writing Magic

It's Wednesday morning, and I'm on my way to a friend's mother's funeral. With that in mind, there's no time to blog, so I'm posting something from a few years ago, a piece I wrote for a friend's writing blog. I was given the topic, "The Magic of Writing." Here's what I had to say:

The topic is interesting, and it’s got me thinking. Is there magic in writing? In mystery writing in particular? Well, the quick and dirty answer is that if there’s any magic, it has to be that I can kill people for a living and get away with it!

But something tells me that’s not what I’m supposed to be blogging about. As readers, we certainly know that books are magical. They can transport us in time and place. They can move our emotions, change our way of thinking, send our brains in all sorts of directions and make us dream and wonder and doubt.

The writing, though, is another thing.

Often, when I give talks to readers’ groups, someone will bring up writer’s block. "How do you keep going?" the person will ask. "How do you meet deadlines when you come up against writer’s block?"

And I’ll tell you what . . . I always give the same answer: I don’t believe in writer’s block. Because the fact is, I don’t believe there’s any magic in the process of writing.

Writing is, in a word, hard work. OK, so that’s two words, but you get what I’m aiming at here. There is no magical place you walk into when you sit down to write, no magical process that allows your fingers and your keyboard easy access to your brain so that all the words just spill out in perfect, readable order.

Every word is work. Every sentence has to be slapped and shaped, written and rewritten. And it happens with every paragraph and page and chapter, too.

That’s not to say I don’t believe in the power of inspiration. Sure, ideas pop into every writer’s head, and sometimes we take those ideas and run with them and realize that they are right on the money. But the writing part . . . there are days the words come easier, and I suppose there is a certain magic in that. Not to mention a whole bunch of gratitude on my part when I realize that I’ve completed more pages than usual. But most days . . . ah, most days are simply work days, days of coming up with the ideas, and chipping away at the words and thinking that there is something good and readable and interesting there--if only I can find the right words, and put everything in the right order.

I recently did a book signing and a woman came up to me and said she wanted to write a novel some day. "But," she said, "I’m not at the point yet of starting because every time I write something, I have to rewrite it."

The magic? The magic is knowing that’s what we all do. Everyday.

The magic is doing it, anyway.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tuesday Winners and Angie's Greatest Fear

Happy Tuesday! The winner's of the Stephanie Rowe Kiss at Your Own Risk blog contest are Eileen and Sara M. Way to go! Just email me at angie @ angie fox.com and I'll get your information out to Stephanie.

As I write this today, I'm sitting with my feet propped up on our Wii Fit Board. Now I'm assuming it wasn't designed as a foot rest, but it sure makes a comfy one. Which brings me to the next issue. Is it a failed new year's resolution if you haven't started yet?

You see, our family got a Wii for Christmas and courtesy of an amazing Black Friday deal, the Fit Board came along with it. That was cool because I've been wanting one for awhile. I hear they're really neat and a great way to keep track of your progress. Of course that is the problem too - according to multiple reviews on Amazon, your little computer trainer is so good at monitoring your exercise habits that he actually taunts you.

So basically I'm afraid of the Wii. I can't get myself to start because I wonder what the little guy will have to say about my weight. Will he berate me for my cheese and cracker habit? I need those to write. The fit board tests for balance and tells you just how clumsy you are. I'm a Fox. Our entire family is full of klutzes. Do I need to be reminded? My uncle ran over our neighbor's mailbox on Christmas eve and it's still sitting next to a broken post out there. That's reminder enough. And what if I skip a few days? I have things to do. The computer trainer doesn't. He's just twiddling his thumbs, thinking of new ways to taunt me.

And so I wait. I prefer to think of it as more than procrastination. It's a standoff. And for now, I get a pretty nifty footrest.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Self Improvement

I've noticed something recently-it's online, on the covers of magazines, and in all the bookstores. There are two topics that everyone seems to be concerned about, and I haven't figured out if it's because it's the beginning of a new year, or if it's because January is such a sucky month! The weather is undependable at best and beyond freezing at worst. Nothing's going on-it's just a boring month! Whatever the reason-right now it's all about self improvement, and it seems, if you believe the media blitz, that the two most important ways to improve yourself are:

Budgeting your money and losing weight!

Okay, to be honest, here in the Midwest, we could probably use some helpful weight loss tips. We do tend to pack on a few pounds during the winter. (Hey, we need a little extra layer of fat to protect us from all the cold weather!) And because of said weather, outdoor activities are minimal. We're bored and thus we eat, but have no way to burn off the calories unless we make an effort to exercise. (Of which, I believe I've mentioned a few times, I'm not particularly fond of doing!)

However, someone in my critique group decided that it would be fun if we all used our Wii's and did a little exercise challenge. And you know what? It's working! Knowing that the other girls are faithfully doing their 30 minutes has inspired me to do the same. I'm on my third week now of exercising at least 150 minutes a week by using a combination of the Wii for aerobics (hula hoop and boxing are my favorites) and hand weights for strength training. I'm even keeping a food diary. (Who knew that a cup of Chex Mix had 961 calories!!! Really blew my calorie intake that day!!!)

The results of all this healthy living? No, I haven't given up on the Chex Mix and I have had an occasional Big Mac, but I'm more conscientious about what I'm putting into my mouth. Also the "jiggles" aren't quite as "jiggley" as they were. And my back, which has bothered me a bit since surgery last year, is definitely better. So maybe all the media hype (and encouragement from friends) is a good thing. If it inspires people like me to try and implement healthier habits.

But the real question is how long will this last? I'm notorious for picking something up, doing it for about six weeks, then getting bored with it and quitting. We'll see if these changes in my life are permanent!!

That's it for this week! Have a good one and catch you next!

Best,
Shirley

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

So What's Your Sign?


Did you catch all the hoopla last week about astrological signs changing? The story was all over the internet and even on the local and national news programs. Over the last x-thousands of years, stars have moved, the earth has tipped and wobbled, and the astrological signs we thought we’d been born under are all wrong.

At least that’s what the reports said.

Turns out it was much ado about an astrological nothing. Yes, the universe is expanding. Or is it contracting? No matter. Yes, the planets and stars and constellations are all shifting around up there, just as they have for countless of millions of years. None of this was news to astrologers, and the only system of astrology affected by all this change is one followed in places like China and India. "Western" astrology, what we’re all following when we check our horoscopes online or in newspapers or magazines, hasn’t changed at all.

Sure, like lots of other people, I read my horoscope every day. I check the one on my Yahoo homepage and another one on a site called kajama.com. They rarely say the same thing, and after I’m done reading them, I promptly forget what my day is supposed to have in store for me. I never go back and re-check at the end of the day to see if they were right on, close, or no cigar, either. So to me, this whole thing about signs changing would pretty much have been a non-event. That is, if a couple weird things didn’t happen because of it.

Me? I skimmed the story when I saw it on line, and would have gone about my day if my phone didn’t ring. It was my friend, Carole, born just five days after me (and in the same hospital, too) and she was up in arms.

"I’ve always been an Aquarius, and I’m not changing now," she said.

We talked about it. Then she started sending emails. The "new" system said she was a Capricorn and she sent a list of Capricorn qualities along with a note that said, "This isn’t me." (She was right, she’s nothing like a Capricorn.)

Hmmm...an interesting and passionate reaction. And not the only time last week I heard it. The subject came up at a meeting we attended on Sunday, and countless times over at FaceBook. Then I was in the waiting room at a doctor’s office when an elderly woman named Florence walked in. We’d seen each other there before, and I knew she was an avid bowler and that she had a knee replacement a year ago.

Florence said good morning, plunked down and said, "I’ve been an Aquarius for a long time. Nobody’s going to make me change now."

I do not bring this up to point fingers at those born under the sign of Aquarius. The fact that Carole and Florence are both late January babies is mere coincidence. I do think these reactions are interesting from the standpoint of identity. I know how Carole feels about astrology, much the same way I do. She reads her daily predictions, then does what she’d do anyway without thought to them. And I bet anything if you asked Florence’s opinion of omens and signs, she’d say it was a bunch of bunk.

Yet both these women clearly identify themselves according to astrological traits, and neither was willing to change that identity. No way. No how. They had both been "labeled" as Aquarians at birth, or at least at that point where they could read about astrology and figure out their own sign, and that label was so important to them, it said something about who they were, something that rang so true and felt so right, they weren’t even going to consider having it any other way.
So what do you think? And how did you feel about the change that wasn’t a change?

I’m an Aquarius, too, and I wasn’t nearly as upset. But then, I was born on the "cusp," the day one sign changes to the other, so I already have some of those Capricorn traits Carole wanted no part of. I wonder, though, had they suggested an even more radical change and told me I was something like a Saggitarius, how would I have felt?

I can’t say, but something tells me I might have been just as upset as Carole and Florence.







Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Something Wicked welcomes Stephanie Rowe!



I can't tell you how excited I am to have Stephanie Rowe with us today. Not only is she one of my favorite authors to read, but she was really great to me when I first became an author.

She's a class act and she's incredibly talented. In fact, I'm reading the first book in her new series,
Kiss At Your Own Risk, and am loving it. In fact, she's bringing TWO copies with her to give away today! Okay, so before I gush more, here's Stephanie Rowe.

I have a card sitting above my computer that says "Overcome the notion that you must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary," by Uta Hagen.

The moment I saw that quote, it reverberated in my soul as if I'd been searching for it my whole life. Why? Because it is our need as humans to be "regular" that constrains us and keeps up chained down. It keeps us from finding peace in our hearts, and from tapping into our magnificence.

See, the need to be "regular," is also the need to be accepted, to be approved of by others, to belong. We live our lives wanting to fit in. We want friends to like us. We want teachers to give us good grades. We want to our parents to love us. We want our boss to approve of us. And, as writers, we want readers to love our books, and editors to buy our manuscripts. But you know what? Every single person in this world has their own viewpoint about what is "right" or what is "good" and if we try to please them all, we're still going to leave someone out. Someone's not going to like what we do. So, what do we do to avoid that? We keep filing down our sharp edges more and more so that we won't offend, so we fit in, so we belong. But when we do that, what's left? A small, rounded lump that fades in bright sunlight. We try to become so ordinary that no one could possibly reject us.

But the way I see it, there's a couple problems with that approach.

First, some people are still not going to like us. If we've banked our self-esteem on the approval of others, and we twist and contort ourselves to make it happen, then when we fail, it's gonna hurt deep inside. I know it. I've been there. Spent most of my life there, actually.

Second, and more importantly, when we turn ourselves into a pasty lump, we extinguish the fire in our souls that make us vibrate with passion, with life, with happiness. And when we put that flame out, we lose the ability to become that special, amazing person that every fiber of our being burns to become.

I've written books with the goal of making them "marketable." I've sat at the computer and second-guessed my words, thinking about how someone else will react when they read them. And I've created books that were great, that sold well, but that didn't burn from within.

Then I got tired of chiseling off my sharp edges. I got tired of doubting myself. I lost the joy of writing, and I realized it was because I was writing under the fear of not being good enough. Of being too far outside the box that people wouldn't like me. I was striving to be "regular" enough that the world would love me. But you know what? Not one of us is regular. We are ALL different. We are ALL extraordinary. We ALL burn with passion that no one else can replicate. And it's only when we learn to love that about ourselves that we can let it go out into the world and fill our writing and our relationships and our lives, and experience the joy of illuminating the world around us, and finding those who flock to our inner beauty BECAUSE we are different, irregular and extraordinary.

When I wrote my book, Kiss at Your Own Risk, my current release, it was the first time in my life that I truly succeeded in letting go of the fear, of the inner critics, of the awareness of the world judging me. I wrote from my heart, I let that inner passion flow, and I let the book come alive, illuminating from within. As I sit here at my desk and look at my author's copies, I feel the purest joy in my heart, because that book represents the freedom of my soul, and it feels beautiful.

What about you? Have you ever let go of the inner critics, the fear of judgment, and let yourself be driven by the passion within you?

Join the conversation and you're eligible to win one of TWO free copies of Kiss At Your Own Risk! (U.S. and Canada only)

Four-time RITA® Award nominee and Golden Heart® Award winner Stephanie Rowe is a nationally bestselling author of more than twenty books. A life-long reader, she began crafting stories at age ten, but didn't realize it was her dream until she was an adult. Visit Stephanie on the web atwww.stephanierowe.com.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Book by Its Cover?

I loved Casey's post yesterday featuring a picture of her German cover! (yes, I'm wondering what that skeleton is doing too!) Like Casey, I've also received the preliminary artwork for the new "Jess McConkey" book, LOVE LIES BLEEDING, and as soon as I have my editor's blessing, I'll debut it on this blog.

It's a wonderful cover-all sepia tones and jagged lettering-and it's different from any of the "Ophelia and Abby" covers. My editor made the comment that she thinks the cover says it's "a big book." Now I didn't want to sound dumb, so I didn't ask her what she meant. This is not an unusual situation for me...both the "not wanting to sound dumb" part and the "not quite" understanding what she meant. I've found that the publishing industry uses several phrases like that. Another one is "high concept."

I've also noticed recently, since I've had my Kindle and have been browsing more frequently, that there seems to be a trend in covers to tack on the words "A Novel" right after the title. (Personally my reaction is always..."Well duh! Of course it's a novel; it's under 'fiction!'")

So why do they do that and what do these terms mean? If someone told you that a book was "big", or that it was "high concept", how would you interpret that? When you see the words "A Novel" after the titles, what do you think? Do you assume that those particular books are more worthy of being read than ones that don't say they're a novel? And most importantly, would you want to run right out and buy these books?

Or does it make a difference at all???

Thanks for stopping by and I'll look forward to reading what you have to say!!

That's it for this week-have a good one!

Best,
Shirley

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cover Story

Well, here I was, feeling self-satisfied, all set to premier the cover for "Button Holed," the first book in my new Button Box Mystery series. The book hits store shelves in September and I got a look at the great cover yesterday. But, alas . . . for whatever reason, the picture won't upload.


Plan B . . .


Pepper Martin mystery #4, "Night of the Loving Dead," has been released in Germany. It's another . . . er . . . interesting German cover.


What is that skeleton up to?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Let's Talk Writing

Hey all, we're snowed in today in St. Louis. Well, I mean I could get out if I wanted, but the house is warm, I have these great fluffy boot slippers on and the house smells like bacon, so I'm really not eager to go anywhere.

The kiddos are also home from school which makes for short periods of silence where I worry what they're doing. As every parent knows, quiet = trouble brewing. And just when I'm about to call 911, they barrel through the family room much like a mob of wild ferrets.

Needless to say, I'm not going to get much writing done today. But I thought what we did last week on this blog was a lot of fun. We started talking about critique groups and writing and issues that unpublished writers face. So since I'll be here all day, at your disposal, I'm opening up the blog to questions. Feel free to ask anything you'd like about writing. Even if you're not an aspiring writer, if you're an avid reader and have always wondered why in the heck authors do X or publishers do Y, ask away and I'll do my best to answer.

Signed,
Angie under seige

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pack Leader?

Do you ever look at your life and think...how did I get here? Since it's the beginning of a new year, that's kind of what I've been doing lately. And boy, are there a lot of things to ponder! I'm retired from the Postal Service (a good thing!); I'm spending more time with my grandchildren (another good thing!); and my life has become more peaceful...most of the time.

However, there is one little change to my life that I didn't expect. I'd always had a picture in my mind of me typing away at the keyboard, while my faithful dog lay contentedly at my feet. And that's happened...sort of. Except it's not just one dog-I've wound up with two! Now I've always loved animals, but have always been a strictly one-dog household and intended to stay that way. How did I manage to add another dog?? Looking back, I think it started with my one, teensy remark... "I feel sorry for Jake."

Here's Jake's story-he belonged to my oldest daughter's family. They had adopted Jake from the Animal Rescue League before they had children. Fast forward eleven years, three little boys, and two demanding careers later, and poor old Jake was spending most of his time in their backyard. My daughter felt fierce guilty at the lack of attention he was receiving, but at his age, knew she couldn't find a home for him. And if she sent him back to the Rescue League, again given his age, his chances of adoption were pretty slim. (And we all know what happens to dogs who can't find forever homes!) Plus to never see the dog he's known his entire life would break my nine year old grandson's heart. When I made my off-handed comment, her eyes flared, then she grinned slowly and responded, "Why don't you take him?"

At first, I thought I'd simply bring Jake over for doggy play dates with Roxy, but somehow that idea quickly morphed into Jake becoming a permanent resident. How, I can't exactly recall, but a couple weeks later, all bathed and combed, Jake arrived. He's of undetermined origins-maybe some Collie; maybe some Rottweiler-and weighs about 50 to 60 pounds. He also sheds like crazy.

So now my day includes walking two dogs (I had to buy a double leash); feeding rituals (not in the same room...we have "issues" over which bowl belongs to which dog. Roxy thinks they're both hers to which Jake strenuously objects.); and tossing toys (again, Roxy doesn't share, so Jake had to have his own.). I also spend several minutes a day letting one, or both of them, in and out. I'm very seldom alone-as I write this both dogs are lying at my feet and the moment I get up, they'll follow me.

If you come to my door, you will be greeted by cacophony of barking dogs-a habit Jake has picked up from Roxy. Then once inside, you will have to suffer a lot of sniffing and tail wagging. (We're working on manners, but it's not going that well.) You might also find socks and other unmentionables in odd places. (Jake is quite fond of carrying things around in his mouth. He doesn't chew them-just lugs them around then drops them wherever when he tires of his game.) And I really hope you're not wearing black. If you are, please bring a lint roller! There's only so much one vacuum cleaner can do.

Oh, and I forgot to mention another thing-my youngest daughter is moving home in a couple of weeks. She'll be living here for a few months while she finds a job closer to home. AND she's bringing her Siberian Husky, Max!

Welcome to my pack!!! *g*

Best,
Shirley

(PS--I tried to get a picture of Jake to post, but he didn't care for the flash!)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year, New Calendar

As New Year’s rituals go, this one is pretty basic: at the beginning of the year, I always put away my desk calendar and replace it with the new one that I find in my Christmas stocking (thanks, Santa!). This year is no exception and that’s what I did this morning. While I was at it, I kept track of all the little bits and pieces and reminders I found tucked away in last year’s calendar. Here’s what the treasure hunt revealed:

A two-for-one coupon to Panera. That will come in handy next week; I’ve got lunch date there with a friend.

The contract reminding me I’m speaking at the Lakeland Community College Writers Conference on March 26. Very important to keep front and center, especially before I had that new calendar to mark the date.

A note about doc appointments. Ditto above. Now that I’ve got that new calendar, they’re all written down, and I can get rid of one piece of paper off my desk. It’s history.

My son’s social security number. Go figure.

A card that gives me a special deal on a prescription I recently had filled. I’ll pay no more than $25, it promises. Since the prescription ended up being free, I guess I don’t need it.

An Akron Beacon Journal review of "Tomb with a View" sent along by a friend.

A friend’s mother’s cell phone number. You never know.

A cover flat for "Tomb with a View." It’s time for covers for "A Hard Day’s Fright," the next book in the series, so I think this one can be filed away.

A wallet-size photo, my daughter’s high school graduation picture. She’s 31 now.

A knitting pattern. I’ll probably never make the "Super Knitted Poncho," but it’s adorable, and a reader had it on at a signing and was kind enough to send me the pattern.

A friend’s daughter’s cell phone number. Another you-never-know.

An insurance identification card that belonged to my husband before we were married. Why do I have it? I have no idea!

How about you? What are you New Year’s rituals? And what did you find tucked in your 2010 calendar?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On writing

You know, I just realized it's Tuesday. Yeah, yeah - insert joke here. In all fairness, we've just gotten off a holiday. And copious amounts of chocolate have melted my brain.

But this is actually good because this morning, I probably would have talked about something more general, and right now I'm involved in a rather interesting discussion on my Facebook page about the nature of the critique partner relationship.

Now for those of you who aren't writers by trade, a critique partner is another writer - usually in your genre - who reads your work and tells you what kind of adjustments you want to make. Perhaps something isn't clear or a character isn't coming off well (too weak, too strong). Maybe your pacing is off or you're not explaining something.

Or in my case this week, I've been mud wrestling with a chapter in The Monster MASH, this new book I'm writing for St. Martin's Press. The story is coming along really well, but this one chapter has been giving me fits. Something wasn't on the page quite right and I had no idea what was wrong or how to fix it. Just that "something" didn't work.

Rather than force it, I decided to talk it over with my critique partner, Jess. I thought I had a decent idea of what to do, but I still wasn't feeling 100%. I'd sent her a few earlier chapters to look over - chapters I knew were solid - and that's how she caught me. Jess called and said, "why did you give away the farm in chapter three? You need to keep the reader guessing longer. That's why chapter 6 isn't working. You killed your tension." I looked and she was right.

Ha - I love it when she's right. But how did she know? Other than the fact that it's always easier to see the overall picture when it's not your book, I also think it's because Jess and I don't write the same. She's a plotter and I'm more organic. She writes plot-driven stories. I write character-driven stories. She writes dark, angsty sci-fi. I write quirky books demon slayers and supernatural doctors.

And we think so differently that we can look at each other's work and dissect it. You don't have to approach your work the same way in order to be compatible. It's not about being in the same boat. It's about being able to look at the other person's boat and give them advice on how to paddle.

I think my biggest piece of advice to unpublished writers would be to find a critique partner who isn't like you. Search for the ying to your yang. I'm sure glad I found mine.

So thanks for the advice, Jess. You're quite good at paddling. And I'll send the readers after you when they complain they were up too late reading because they just had to see what happens next.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Something Wicked welcomes Syrie James

Something Wicked would like to welcome Syrie James. She's just released a new book called Nocturne and we asked her to stop by and chat a bit about the story and how it came together. Thanks for joining us, Syrie!


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be snowbound for days and fall deeply in love with a gorgeous, reclusive, fascinating man—only to find out he's a vampire? That's the premise of Nocturne. Nicole Whitcomb is caught in a blinding blizzard while driving through the Colorado Rockies, when her car tumbles into a ravine. She is saved from death by Michael Tyler, a smart, accomplished man who lives in a beautiful, secluded mountaintop home surrounded by forest. It's clear from the start that Michael has rescued and brought Nicole into his sanctuary reluctantly, but she can't help but be drawn to the kinder, gentler nature she glimpses beneath his initially gruff exterior.

Both Nicole and Michael are hiding secrets and running from past mistakes, and in each other they discover a kindred spirit. Their blossoming attraction turns to affection and then into a passionate, once-in-a-lifetime kind of love, a profoundly meaningful experience that is destined to change them both forever. But there are things about Michael's habits and lifestyle that mystify Nicole. The clues mount up, and when Nicole learns Michael's terrifying secret, she has nowhere run but into the blizzard raging outside, and Michael may be the only one who can save her life.

I love "good" vampires. I think a person who was a good-hearted human being is still going to be good-hearted after they've been changed—but they'll be a tortured soul, because they must drink blood to survive, an act that could kill an innocent human being. In Nocturne, Michael is just such a vampire. There's a reason he's sequestered himself in the Rockies, far away from people … a reason why he struggles so hard not to become involved with Nicole at first, even when he is falling deeply in love.

I was so enthralled by the story and characters that the tale poured out of me. This is one of the sexiest books I've ever written! An intelligent being who's lived for centuries should be well-read, highly skilled, and an expert at everything, don't you agree? Especially sex. Vampire sex should be the best sex a woman has ever had!

Do you believe in true love? Have you ever been attracted to a person that your friends or family thought was wrong for you? How would you feel if you were snowbound with and deeply attracted to a gorgeous, fascinating man, only to discover that he was a vampire? I look forward to your thoughts and comments!