Category Archives: Secrets

Pot smoking teens and other family dramas

Hey readers,

PJ Sharon here on a lovely autumn day in the Berkshires. I’ve actually seen a few patches of yellowed leaves on the trees and the star-filled nights here are getting cool.Crane This crane will likely be taking flight to warmer climes soon enough.

It’s also the time of year for the spreading of colds and such.*sniffle…sniffle*

I guess I can’t complain. It’s the first time I’ve been sick in a few years and it gives me some needed downtime to rest and reflect…and write.

As I swim through the murky middle of my current work in progress, PIECES OF LOVE, I’m reminded of my own teen dramas and those of my many siblings. You see, I grew up in a pretty crazy, dysfunctional family. Lots of alcohol, a dash of mental illness, secrets, lies, some seriously scary and frequent catastrophes, and lots of drama! Yes, we all loved each other in our own way, but each person in that house of seven children and three adults, was flawed. As we all are. It’s what makes us human. It’s also what makes us interesting to paint into the canvas of a story.

There’s a reason that I write YA dramas that touch on  taboo topics that encompass everything from grief and loss of a loved one, to teen pregnancy, bulimia, the effects of war, and even sexual abuse. I draw as much as possible from personal experience and from all that I have seen to be true in the human condition.

So when I began PIECES OF LOVE, I wanted to make sure to give Ali’s plight its due. Not that I’ve ever lost someone to an alcohol overdose or been arrested for marijuana possession, but I’ve certainly seen my share of these kinds of family dramas to draw real emotion and conflict from them. Understanding the motivation behind why people do what they do is a key element in making your fiction believable. As is sharing accurate and interesting detail to utilize your setting to enhance your character’s journey. Since I’ve been on a Mediterranean cruise, I have lots of insights into how Ali sees the world anew with each port she visits. It’s been fun and interesting to revisit the places I went and relive it all through her eyes, watching her transformation from self-centered, immature teen trying desperately to avoid dealing with the painful realities of life, to a young woman who learns to appreciate the people in her life who love her.

Here’s the blurb for PIECES OF LOVE:

Sixteen year-old Alexis Hartman wants nothing more than to smoke pot and play guitar. What’s the point in planning for the future? Her world is shattered by her sister’s accidental alcohol overdose at college, and she is arrested for marijuana possession a second time. Her mother’s breakdown is the final straw that forces Ali to spend the summer with her Grandmother in Malibu.

But problems aren’t so easily dismissed. After Ali steps over the line one too many times, she’s certain her life is over and that she’s destined for juvenile detention. Her ‘Malibu Barbie’ grandmother, Maddie, takes desperate measures…a Mediterranean cruise…for seniors. If overwhelmed and motion sick Ali needs further torment, Maddie has decided that her granddaughter’s childish name could use an upgrade and renames her Lexi. Can a new name and a French haircut fix everything that’s wrong with Ali’s life? Maybe when Ethan Kaswell says the name.

Eighteen year-old Ethan, the poster child for being a good son, who is stranded on the cruise when his famous heart surgeon father is kept away by an important consultation, finds Lexi irresistible. Although he’s smart enough to see that there is no future in falling for a “vacation crush,” Lexi’s edgy dark side and soulfully sad eyes draw him like an anchor to the bottom of the sea. As she spirals out of control, will she bring him down too, or was he already drowning? Maybe by saving her, he can save himself. 

Greece2011 224 (2013_02_16 18_14_38 UTC)Visiting such ports as Portofino, Italy; Palermo, Sicily; and Rome. From the Greek Islands to Tunisia, North Africa; and Barcelona, Spain to Dubrovnik, Croatia; you’ll see the sights and walk on sacred ground with Ali as she learns about herself, her family, and what it means to love someone–even when you have to let them go.

Infusing our own experiences, we can create flawed but redeemable characters who are on a journey of self-discovery. The more vividly we can paint that portrait, the more we bring the story to life with their color, depth, and the rich texture of emotional reactionary drama that makes us connect to them in an intimate way. When the character’s fatal flaw forces them to face the consequences of their actions and choices, and we see them grow, it’s satisfying and uplifting. Readers heart’s are touched. It’s what all writers strive for and is so challenging to do, and do well.

One thing I’m sure of is that we can’t shy away from addressing tough issues when writing for teens, but we have to be willing to step fully into their shoes to get it right. Knowing that “pot” is now mostly referred to as “weed” and other such specifics, are important for authenticity, and can only be known if you hang around teenagers and ask questions. It’s been my experience that they are most willing to share their opinions and ideas when I tell them why I’m asking. They seem to appreciate that I’m willing to have an open dialogue and that I’m not interested in judging them. I don’t think any of my teen library group kids are “potheads,” or “stoners” as they call them, but they are fully engaged in the youth culture in a way that I am not.

I’m hoping for the book to be ready for release in the first part of 2014. A cover reveal and the ability to pre-order the book through Smashwords should be coming up at the end of November. I’m also working on recording a theme song for the book–possibly two, written by yours truly!

So if you’re a writer, write what you know, ‘they’ say. I agree. Either draw from your own experiences, or find a way to walk in someone else’s moccasins for a mile or two. Your characters will be so much richer for it! Just be real, and let your characters take the story where it needs to go. You might even experience some healing as you create/or re-create a painful real-life event that still holds you back from being the best you can be–just like your characters.

I often have to remind myself that ‘do-overs and make-believe are not only allowed in fiction writing, but encouraged.’

Today’s unlocked secret: Infuse your personal experiences into your writing to create vivid, authentic, and memorable characters. Don’t be afraid to tackle the tough problems, and keep it real.

I’m heading back to bed for more rest. I have to be better for my trip to Nashville and New Orleans later this week, where I’ll be at my step-son’s wedding and doing some research for book three in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. I hate getting on a plane and being THAT person who gets everyone else sick. I’m also thinking my sinuses aren’t going to appreciate the flight…uggh!

To happier thoughts and my original statement in this post, I really do love it here in the hills. Our town has the cleanest air on record in Massachusetts, and has one of the healthiest ecosystems. I routinely see lots of wildlife, including a host of various birds here. Although with hunting season commencing, and flight of the migratory bird populations, that will likely be less now. Blue heronI am so grateful to live where I live and feel blessed to be part of my small community.

As such, I’m participating once again at the Granville Harvest Fair coming up Columbus Day weekend (October 12-14). I’ll be hanging out in front of the library signing books with a few other authors. If you’re in North Central CT or Western MA, I hope you’ll stop by and say hello. There’s tons to see and do. I swear, we have one of the BEST harvest fairs in New England!

Do you write what you know, or rely on a mix of research, empathy, and experience? I’d love to hear from you about your process and how you make your characters authentic.

Rest in Peace, Duchess

Hi, Scribettes and Scribes. Suze here.

Jeanne Cooper 1928-2013
Jeanne Cooper 1928-2013

I was going to talk about my recent trip to St. Louis today, but yesterday’s news made me think about something else. Jeanne Cooper, the matriarch of my favorite soap opera, The Young and the Restless, has died. I don’t know if the part will be recast. On one hand, no one can replace her. Jeanne Cooper was Katherine Chancellor (on screen, anyway), and I for one would have trouble accepting anyone else in the role. On the other hand, the longest-running storyline is the feud between Kay Chancellor (her son Brock always called her Duchess) and the wonderful, scheming Jill Foster Abbot, and that’s always been the pivot point on which the whole show turns. Without Kay, we’re going to feel lost for a while until we get our bearings and see which new direction the show will take.

As writers, we can learn so much about plot and character from the soaps. One of the brilliant things the writers of Y&R did in the beginning was to give Kay some pretty big and scary demons. Her husband was in love with a much younger woman (the aforesaid Jill); Kay became alcoholic; she killed her husband in a deliberate car wreck where she intended to kill herself too, but instead survived. This formed the basis of the conflict between Kay and Jill, and although there have been times when they’ve reconciled (at one point, it looked like Jill was Kay’s daughter given up for adoption. This was later proven false), that underlying hatred of each other was always there. And when things got bad for Kay, the writers could always make it worse and send her back to the bottle so she’d have yet another internal/external struggle.

We hear so much about GMC–Goal, Motivation, Conflict. Well the Kay Chancellor storyline (click here for the Wiki article, if you want to read a synopsis) illustrates that beautifully. And as for plots, of course they’re outrageous. That’s why we love the soaps! But notice how every single episode ends on a hook, and there’s a bigger hook on Friday’s show to bring the viewer back on Monday. While your plots might not take the crazy twists and turns of a soap story, every chapter should end on a hook, big or small. Every book should end making the reader satisfied but wanting more (your next book). And if you ever need inspiration on how to throw rocks at your characters (remember the classic advice: Run your character up a tree. Throw rocks at her. Get her back down.), nobody throws rocks like the writers of soaps. Abducted by aliens? Secret babies? A long lost twin back in town and bent on revenge? Why not?!

So tell me. Do you love the soaps? What’s your favorite show (whether or not it’s still running)? What character keeps/kept you coming back for more and why?

But wait …!

This is the TVholic’s strategy for sagging middles

Hi everyone. Thea here today, but really, as you read this, I’ll be in KC at the RT Booklovers’ Convention and not in my usual position, rooted at the end of the couch, with tv on and WIP at the ready. So forgive me if I’m not posting an immediate response. (Full report on the conference to come, of course.)

So I want to talk about sagging middles — the kind you delete with a key stroke (oh, if only — ). I’ve said during workshops that “what if” is your single most powerful writing tool. Anything can happen in “what if.” It’s no-commitment plotting. It frees your mind. You can let go, make lists, let them take you to the most improbable plot places.

But wait …! It would be even more productive if at the moment when the plot seems to be chugging along, you stop yourself with those words. But wait …! The juicy incentive used by telemarketers to make you buy (can you tell I watch too much tv?). But wait — maybe your reader isn’t buying a smooth, unfurrowed plotline. Maybe your reader is waiting for something juicy to happen.

But wait …! What if your characters are afraid of losing something? (Love, fame, fortune, respect, family secrets, inheritance, friendship …) Make them lose it. Ask what lengths they’ll go to to get it back. What they’re willing to risk.

Because the more they risk, the more that stands in their way, the more conflict, the greater desire they’ll have (at greater cost) to reach their goal, and so, the richer the plot.

In the simplest terms: Get them in trouble and keep them in trouble. Keep throwing in obstacles, complications, repercussions and don’t let up.

But wait …! What if you don’t know exactly where the plot is going?

Write the NYTimes log-line. That hones it down nicely to two or three lines: Danny Jones has everything he wants, until a secret from his past threatens everything.

Or write the cover copy. That will focus you on the set-up, conflict, and what drives the plot.

But wait …! What if it’s still not working?

Make the problem personal and current. Someone is out to destroy Danny Jones and make sure he never is elected to anything.

Give the protagonist two villains and a moral choice. A childhood friend and his own brother are separately threatening Danny Jones. No matter what decision he makes, he will lose everything, including his friend and his brother.

Up the ante. Not only does a secret from his past
threaten Danny Jones personally, but also his burgeoning political career, his marriage, and his inheritance from a famous relative which comes along with a list of moral stipulations he may not be able to meet.

Add suspense by turning “what if” into “if only.” What could his enemy have against him? If only, all those years ago, he hadn’t — but then there was this other moment when — But nobody knew about that, did they?

Give your protagonist a moral dilemma that forces her to compromise either her beliefs or her values. If Danny Jones is up front about his past, then he will never ever be able to run for office, he’ll lose the love of his life, the inheritance from his famous relative, and he’ll never be able to see his children again.

Try reversing things. Make the hero the heroine and vice versa. Danny is Danielle, a powerful CEO who is courting politics and who has a secret she thought was buried deep in the past. Lovers? Liars? Friends? Family? Who is plotting to betray her?

Keep the reader guessing. For Danielle any of those people associated with her could be her enemy; any one of them can say or do something that would lead her to believe she is on the verge of losing everything. She has too much at stake. She has to be careful not to rock the boat. What is she going to do? (I love this; I think it works even better!)

But wait …!

But I can’t. I have to go. But you can. What juicy incentives would you add to the list to entice your readers to keep reading?

Thea Devine is currently working on a new erotic contemporary romance, and enjoying the release of five of her backlist titles, Reckless Desire, Ecstasy’s Hostage, Relentless Passion, Montana Mistress and Angel Eyes in Kindle editions.

Why Don’t You Cooperate?

Hi, all. Suze here. Welcome!

A couple of weeks ago, I learned a new word! And I’m about to use it in a sentence.

If you want to succeed in the writing business, don’t be afraid of cooperatition.

What’s cooperatition, you ask? Well, clearly it’s an amalgam of cooperation and competition. I’m crossing the border into Jennifer Fusco/Market or Die territory, here. The theory is that if two individuals/businesses are providing the same or substantially similar services, if they work together both will benefit–even if they are in competition with each other for the same customers. Ever hear the expression A rising tide lifts all ships? Same principle. Need a movie reference to understand it better? How about Miracle on 34th Street, when Mr. Macy and Mr. Gimbel send customers to each other’s store if their own doesn’t carry a requested item? Good will abounds and sales go through the roof. As Charlie Sheen might say: Winning!

Make no mistake: Writers are in competition with each other. But it’s much more subtle than, say, the rivalry between Pepsi and Coke or Microsoft and Apple. Writers compete with each other for spots on a publisher’s roster, for the attention of an agent, and for readers who have only so much time and so much money to spend on books.

But readers are the most wonderful kind of repeat consumers. They don’t buy/read just one book a year. And if readers see that an author promotes other authors and behaves professionally and enthusiastically toward them, they will think better of the writer for being a decent person who loves her craft. Theoretically, that translates into sales. As a consumer, I don’t buy products from jerks if I can possibly help it. And that goes for books and authors too!

Here are some ideas for practicing cooperatition with other authors with whom you share a readership (or potential readership):

  1. Partner with someone. Example: Kristan Higgins and Jill Shalvis and their Facebook Man Wars. If you’re not familiar with Man Wars, check out these two authors on Facebook–once a week or so they choose a theme (men in uniform, Australian guys), post pictures of the hottest possible guys, and write funny, sexy captions. And they’re usually zinging each other in a friendly way. This technique promotes their brand (romance and hot guys) and engages readers with new content all day long–with nary a sales promotion in sight.
  2. Promote other authors–especially those with products similar to yours.  Offer congratulations on Facebook and Twitter when a colleague hits a bestseller list or releases a new book. Leave positive reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads. Hopefully, they’ll do the same for you. Even if they don’t, you’ve still put a lot of Macy’s/Gimbel’s-style goodwill out into the universe–and the universe tends to notice things like that.
  3. Assemble a group of authors into a partnership that is about more than sales. Example: Jungle Red Writers bills itself as “The View. With bodies.” These mystery/crime fiction authors often talk about timely topics in a panel-type format. I think it’s brilliant! Yes, their books are mentioned, and links abound, but there is plenty of non-sales content as well. Another example: Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen. These writers of culinary mysteries post new recipes every day–again, promoting their brand and providing new content for readers. And if readers like one author’s books, they’ll probably like–and buy–the others.

What do you think about cooperatition? Do you have any ideas to add to the list above? We’d love to hear about it!

Themes and Memes

Thea Devine today, watching as the snow stops, the sun comes out, and ready to jump-start some new ideas. I created this list for a workshop I gave at several Chapters (including CTRWA), and I’ve had a few new thoughts since I distributed the handouts.

Maybe you’re looking for a theme, an idea, a spine, some motivating mojo. Maybe you need a break from the WIP and want to write something just for the change (like, in my case, Not Sex). Maybe you want to play around with some bigger ideas and plot points. Maybe this list will help.

Family, faith, community: I think these themes the most important today
Anything goes vs old time values
Hedonism vs. religious stricture
Good vs evil
Something profound – like failure – shapes and changes a protagonist’s life
Loss of friends, community, job: after adversity, struggling to make a new life
Impact of separation, divorce, death
The love that could not be
Rebellion and where that leads the protagonist
Old boyfriend returns and upends everything
Consequences of sexual attack (Steubenville)
Repercussions of cavalier sex
Rags to riches: heroine spirals down and out and climbs back to a better life
An unseen lurking threat
Haunting — by ghosts real or imagined, conscience compels actions
Objects of desire: the key to a crisis in the present is in the mystery code located somewhere exotic that will save the country, the world, the planet (I love this theme)
The government is out to get us
The government is out to save us
Child in jeopardy
Impact of random violence (wrong place wrong time)
Controlled threat (stalker, serial killer)
Apocalyptic event changes life as we know it
Hero/ine against all powerful cabals that seek to dominate everything

And then …
Peripheral characters tell hitherto unknown story of a historical figure of real person –
The Other Boleyn Sister, the Tsarina’s Daughter, The Paris Wife
Ongoing characters reader falls in love with: Stephanie Plum, eg.
Exotic locations in exotic times: Wilbur Smith and Barbara Michaels, ca 1920’s Egypt; Daisy Dalrymple mysteries (1930s)
Wounded hero (like Jesse Stone) solves small town mysteries
Impact of major historical event (9/11, Columbine, Newtown)
Beloved fictional characters — like Mr & Mrs Darcy solving crimes; Jane Austen parsing out mysteries etc.
Boomer characters — the Covington novels
“clubs” — book, knitting, quilt. Jane Austen etc.
Historical mysteries — Alienist, Dante Club, Anatomy of Deception

Need some motive power? characters could be searching for family, a murderer, a lost sibling, assets, heirs, vengeance, treasure, lost love, an abandoned child, a new life, another chance.

Or they could be running from a murder charge, an ex-spouse, a stalker, toxic relationships, their childhoods, the past, responsibility, secrets (see below).

Or they could vanish. People leave for any number of reasons: they committed an opportunistic crime, were in an accident, were kidnapped, just took off, eloped, escaped an abusive situation, were running from the law, were seeking to start over, committed suicide

Maybe someone’s hiding something: someone’s secretly …

An alcoholic
An Exhibitionist
A pill addict/drug addict
A gambler
A shoplifter
An extortionist
An embezzler
Bulimic
Covets her sister’s husband
Endures physical or emotional abuse in a loveless marriage
Did bad things out of jealousy and never got caught
Got pregnant by seducing a man who resembled her husband who couldn’t have children and passed it off as his
Has an irresistible impulse to kill
Is really a bad girl when family and friends think is so good
Did something bad just to see if she could get away with it
Had a secret baby she gave away
Thought she was adopted; finds she was her mother’s natural illegitimate child

That’s it, guys. What do you think? Any ideas to add to the mix? I’d love to hear them.

Thea Devine is working on her next erotic contemporary romance — and pondering a handful of other ideas.

Let Your Geek Flag Fly

Hi, all. Suze here, wishing you a lovely day.

logo[1]This past weekend, Mr. Suze and I attended a two-day event in New Hampshire. Our son, the Crown Prince of Hardydom, is a member of his school’s FIRST Robotics team and this was his first competition. FIRST is an organization founded by Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway as well as numerous medical devices–and he’s also king of his own island nation, the Kingdom of North Dumpling). Teams from across the country work with local mentors on a predetermined challenge: build a robot to accomplish specific tasks. This year the robot needs to be able to shoot disks (frisbees) into a goal as well as climb a pyramid in order to score points. Click here to see the robots in action.

As I watched the competition from the stands, I couldn’t help noticing that there were a lot of, well, geeks in that arena. Proud geeks. Intelligent geeks. Geeks wearing capes and tights and labcoats and team tee shirts–working hard and having a heck of a lot of fun. And it got me thinking. We each have our own particular brand of geekness, don’t we?

Me, I’m a history nerd. If it happened a couple thousand years ago and we’re digging it up now, I’m hooked. Add an element of DNA or skeletal analysis and associated artifacts, and you can forget about dinner and clean clothes, because I’ll be parked in front of the computer or television screen sucking up factoids. I’m also fascinated by stuff like ancient languages and their relationship to modern tongues, and what they tell us about our ancestors’ migration/settlement patterns. I’m that girl who rubbernecks, nearly causing accidents, every time she drives past a house with one of those signs nailed to the front telling who built the place and in what year. If I miss it, sometimes I’ll turn around and go back and look. Later, I may Google the name and date to see if there’s any more information available. If I possibly can, I stop to read historical markers on the side of the road. I was captain of my school’s history bowl (trivia) team–2-time New York State champions!

MV5BMTMyMTQxMTQwMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjE5ODg4._V1._SX78_SY140_[1]So I totally get what these robot-building kids are about. And I applaud them!

Say it loud. I’m a nerd and I’m proud.

What about you? Are you ready to let your geek flag fly here at the Scribes? I’d love to hear what geeky interest keeps you away from your chores–Cryptozoology? Comics/graphic novels? Computers and technology? Experimental horticulture? Eighteenth century poetry written by nuns? Free yourself and admit it here! Inquiring Scribes want to know.

Pictorials, Paper Dolls and Old Magazines

We went to Arizona to visit family over Christmas vacation. It was our first trip there ever and one of the highlights (among many) for me, was our visit to Tombstone, the town that didn’t die. I walked the streets of history that I’d only seen in books — pictorial histories, which I discovered years ago when I wasn’t writing, hadn’t been published, hadn’t a thought I ever would be published.

Pictorial histories put me in the picture. I didn’t have to have lived in that time and place to describe what I saw in those old photographs, I was writing westerns initially — five of my first nine books (I know — who would have thought) — so I relied heavily on pictorial histories (Before Barbed Wire is a good one) to describe how it was from those taken-at-the-time photographs.

I love them, don’t you?

When I veered into the Victorian era, I found troves of photographic histories on everything from harems to Sherlock Holmes’s London. I also loved the reproduction editions of the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues from the 1890s. Especially the house kits. I love floor plans.

And for clothes — I bet most of us have the Dover paper doll editions as well as their photographic histories of fashion. But at some point, it occurred to me that there might be a wealth of other kinds of paper dolls on-line : fictional characters, movie stars (from the thirties and forties), teenagers from the fifties, along with accurate depictions of the fashions of the times.

And then — old magazines. I found about a half dozen copies of Ladies Home Journal from the 1920’s in a basement we were clearing out. I pored over them for years. I added to that collection when I realized I could find more magazines from the 20s on-line — from any era, really. Is there anything more immediate than reading a woman’s magazine of the day? The articles, the advertisements, the fashions, the advice — personal and decorating … how different, how the same …

I haven’t succumbed to one of those “build your own” western towns or southern plantations. Yet. (I’m very tempted by the plantation, though.) I do have a Victorian house pop-up book that came complete with its own punch-out family. And lots of furniture. I haven’t set it up. Yet. I just like looking at it and imagining what’s happening there. You know — family secrets, secret panels, something the family album, ghosts on the staircase, eerie dreams, hovering fog, blanketing snow, a haunted attic …

Of course, a lot of this is available on-line. Call me old school. I like holding a book.

And of course, before we left Tombstone — I took loads of pictures. I don’t know if I’m ever going to write another western, but you never know: I do have a couple of ideas.. So — do I even need to say? — I bought all the pictorial histories I could find as well.
Do you love paper dolls, pictorial histories and old magazines? Do you ever use them? Do you have a secret source you’d like to tell?

My Secret, just between you and me: there are Downton Abbey paper dolls on-line.

Thea Devine is currently working on her next erotic contemporary romance — and readying those original backlist westerns for eBook release.