Monday, April 29, 2013

Writing like I'm driving in Boston ...

I spent this past weekend at the New England RWA convention, hanging out with old friends, meeting some fabulous new people, and sitting in on some wicked awesome (as us transplanted Bostonians say) workshops. (For the record, Liz Maverick is a seriously smart and articulate lady.) As an added bonus, Arizona drove up to Mass with me and went mountain biking at the nearby Landlocked Forest, first with me, then on his lonesome.

When we were out on the trails, we crossed paths with a gearhead “here, feel how light my bike is” guy who totally spoke Arizona’s language, and who recommended two other trail systems in the area for him to check out. But when it came down to it, he decided to stick with the trails we had already scouted, as they were just a few miles away from the conference hotel. His rationale? “The drivers around here are nuts.”

Now, I’ll admit there’s been a time or two when he’s cleared his throat at my automotive choices and “that was totally yellow” moments, but it wasn’t until this past weekend, driving back up in my old stomping grounds, that it hit home how truly, wonderfully insane it is driving in eastern Mass, where you’ll get rear-ended if you actually come to a complete stop at a stop sign. And it also occurred to me that being a romance writer is a lot like being a Boston driver. To whit:

There’s a time and a place for rolling stops. Sometimes you want to slow things down a touch, but that doesn’t mean you kill your forward momentum entirely. Whether it’s a rotary, a demon battle, a love scene, or an emotional moment, inertia can be your friend!

Make every mistake going forward. Okay, so this is actually a horse quote, from the legendary show jumper and trainer, George Morris, but I think that it applies equally well here. We all know that person—you know, the one who can never figure out why he/she gets into so many fender benders, yet their first response is to hit the brakes, slow way down, and assess the situation. By which point the car behind them has already become one with their trunk. Similarly, in writing, it’s a great idea to push through—even pick up the pace—when the going gets tough. I figure that if I’m bored with a scene, there’s a good chance my readers will be, too—so I move on to something more exciting!

Dents happen. As do rejections, bad reviews, and the occasional .gif-laden snarkfest. None of which are fun, and all of which put nicks and dings in the armor we’ve had to build up in order to put ourselves (and our work) out there as writers. But they’re survivable. What’s more, some of them have lessons to teach us, like how it’s important to focus on the developing romance rather than over-complicating the plot, and there’s no such thing as left on red. So hammer out that dent (or leave it as a symbol of a larger crisis averted), and drive on!

Now, mind you, I’m not suggesting we should all drive like Bostonians. One of the reasons I love Connecticut is the way we move over a lane to give the other driver room to merge onto the highway—as opposed to Mass, where I’m pretty sure you’re legally obligated to aim for the guy in the on-ramp, bonus points if you get him to swerve into the ditch. But I do think there’s a time and a place for us writers to channel our inner Boston driver.

So what’s your worst driving habit, and what does it say about you as a writer or a reader??

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Video Trailer that Wasn’t

Now, I should probably preface this by saying that I’ve been writing fiction for going on fifteen years, and I’m only beginning to feel like I’m getting the hang of it. So I’m not sure why I figured: “Hey, I can totally film my own book trailer.” Because, you know, it’s not like people go to school for stuff like this, or spend years honing their craft. And not only that, I thought: “Hey, it would be totally cool to turn the dining room into a Western-themed Rube Goldberg, with different scenes for the different parts of Summer at Mustang Ridge.”

Note to self: Just because you managed to put together some better-than-average sales videos back when you were training and selling horses, that doesn’t mean you should try to tackle a project like this. And stop watching so many Mythbusters reruns.

Nevertheless, off I set on my “this totally counts as work” project, hitting Goodwill for cast off toys and fiddling with the build over the course of a few weeks. I got way too much help from Pixel T. Kitten, who became obsessed with fishing line and developed the habit of carrying all the little plastic trees into the bedroom and placing them on my head while I slept. In contrast, I got just the right amount of help from Arizona, who stayed out of the way until I was on the verge of a frustrated “HULK SMASH!” and then stepped in to tweak my design.

Here’s the plan: Pixel pulls on a string to set the first marble rolling along its way. The marble trips a pendulum that pulls a chock from beneath the little car, which rolls along (symbolizing Shelby’s arrival at the ranch) and bumps into the toy horse, which gets pulled along past the plastic cows by a weight disguised as a setting sun (Foster in loner mode). The horse triggers a fan, which makes a pinwheel spin, prodding marble #2 along its way and sending the cowboy and cowgirl sliding together for a kiss (romance!). And in the end, the book cover flips up to proudly advertise Summer at Mustang Ridge.

Sounds great, right? Except I could never actually get my Rube Goldberg to do all of those things in sequence. More often, the kitten would attack the string, get hung up on the tablecloth and pull everything askew. Or I would wind up the car too much and it would knock over the horse and rider and plow into the cows like some gruesome accident reconstruction. Or the sun would fall on the cows like something out of Armageddon. Or … or …

And where in my mind’s eye it had all played out with elegant simplicity, with chirpy background music—rather like the Honda ad, or the new Panera spot—in reality it all went way too fast for me and my cheap-o camera to follow, meaning that I missed most of the action, giving the video a Blair Witch Project feel and a whole lot of confusing visuals, and forcing me to conclude that Rube Goldberg Goes West (and the drawing-board sequel involving sex toys) would really require far more money and tech savvy than I’m willing to invest.

So here it is in all its questionable glory, done in still life because the moving parts were just too much for me to handle. Enjoy it. Laugh at it. And maybe give me a little credit for knowing when to cut my losses and focus on stuff I can actually manage to do halfway decently. Like writing.

Okay, are you done laughing at me? Not quite? How about now? LOL. Well, how about you share the misery—I’d love to hear about a project of yours that didn’t quite go how you had planned it! 

Monday, April 8, 2013

What do you mean I can’t blow stuff up??

Let me begin by saying that I love being Jesse Hayworth, and I’m so excited to share the new books with you, starting next month with the e-release of SUNSET AT KEYHOLE CANYON, a novella romance set at Mustang Ridge.

But … (Yeah, you knew the ‘but’ was coming, didn’t you?) while writing the third book set at the ranch, I’m finding that I really, really want to blow something up. Not because I’m bored with these lighter, gentler romances (no way!), but because amping up the danger is a really great way to throw together two people who might otherwise avoid each other, setting us up for sparks to fly.

The third book (title still under discussion) is a reunion romance between the dude ranch’s mastermind, Krista, and the hunky cowboy who broke her heart. Now, I’ve written a lot of reunion romances—first because I love them, and second because it means the characters already know each other’s flaws (or think they do), so I can focus on the plot without spending lots of time on first date-style conversations.

Sounds good, right? Except that I’m now realizing that this works really well when there’s a big, loud plot forcing the characters to work together. In the Nightkeeper books, there is usually a prophecy or some aspect of the magic that makes it imperative for the hero and heroine to team up. In my Intrigues, there’s a mystery to solve and a damsel in distress to protect. Which makes it easier to take two people who really don’t look like they mesh well, and stick them together until they figure out that they actually mesh very (very!) well, indeed.

But … well, what about when we’re not on the brink of apocalypse and there’s no villain to vanquish?

You see, as Book Three and I cautiously circle each other, testing for weaknesses, I’m realizing that I need a different sort of reason for Krista and her ex to team up when it would honestly be easier (and more comfortable) for them to avoid each other. Because I don’t know about you guys, but if I ran across an ex, my first thought wouldn't be, “Hey, we should totally team up to train this mustang.”

Sure, I could use a trope or two: They’re trapped in an elevator! They woke up in Vegas, married! They’ve inherited a place together! The thing is … Krista and her man need something hotter and more intimate, yet at the same time more subtle. And, well, as the author of forty-some “when in doubt, blow sh*t up” books, subtle isn’t exactly my middle name. So I’m pulling on my Big Girl Writer panties and doing some brainstorming, and I’m getting excited all over again at Doing Something New.

So how about you? What new thing have you done recently? What was the best (or worst) reason you’ve come across for a hero and heroine sticking together even though they’re butting heads? 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Of recipe disasters, kitchen meltdowns and Peeps

It all began with a phone call to Virginia Kantra (a fab author you should really be reading if you’re not already) that started with a discussion of advertising and ended with a “my cowboy hero is hunkier than your marine hero and I’m gonna prove it” (and vice versa). Which led to exchanges of sexy (and not so sexy) bacon memes on Twitter, followed by a challenge to come up with original Peep art for our books.

Et voila!

[To check out more Hero Humor, connect with us on Facebook (click for Jesse and Virginia) and Twitter (click for Jesse and Virginia).]

I had a ton of fun putting together my picture, especially when Pixel T. Kitten got involved in my photo shoot, looking like a wooly mammoth in my fluorescent marshmallow herd. But when it was all over, I had four big boxes of Peeps and zero desire to eat the dang things.

Sure, most people would probably just throw them out. However, ever since being read The Velveteen Rabbit as a child, I’ve had a real hang-up about rejecting things with faces. I can’t throw out stuffed animals, dolls, or Peeps. Instead, I must use them for their intended purpose, whether it be snuggling or ingesting. I know this about myself. I accept it. I work with it.

But while I can manage to eat a six-pack of Peeps now and then when my mom sends them to me, there was no way I could gag down four twelve-packs. And have you ever tried to throw Peeps in the back yard for the raccoons or neighborhood dogs? Trust me, they’ll still be there when it’s time to mow the lawn. And, well, yeah. Not a pretty way to go, for either the Peeps or Mr. Mower.

But then came the lightbulb moment: I had Rice Krispies! I could make Rice Krispy Treeps! Envisioning pretty swirls of yellow, pink and blue, I got to work melting the butter and confirming that the Cabinet of Man Cereal did, in fact, contain multiple boxes of Rice Krispies. Then I tossed the Peeps in, and started stirring. Whereupon I discovered two miscalculations:

One. Despite my plan to give the Peeps a glorious end, melting is not a pretty way to die.

Two. When melting sugar, bright pink + fluorescent yellow + speckled robin’s egg blue do not equal pretty pastel swirls of those colors. Instead, it equals a nasty oozing swampy sort of brown. Into this brown ooze the melting Peeps subsided, their little faces disappearing last, staring up at me with marshmallow expressions of, “Whyyyyyy?”

It was pretty awful—almost as bad as the time I made pork chops with an olives-and-wine sauce, didn’t have cornstarch or flour to thicken the sauce, and figured baking soda should work. It didn’t. Instead, it created the sort of vinegar + baking soda volcano we used to make in science class, the foam tinged an unfortunate green from the less than stellar olives I had pressed into service. Enter Jesse’s famous Slimy Green Pork Chops. I’ll send you the recipe if you’d like.

But I digress.

Once the Peeps were melted and I stopped twitching in a corner of the kitchen, I mixed in the Krispies and everything else went more or less according to plan. And you know what? Darned if the swampy brown didn’t become a lovely caramel color once it was mixed with the Krispies. So much so that Arizona, in digging into his first Treep, said, “How did you get the colors off? Did you skin them before you cooked them?”


So that’s my cooking oops moment for the week (and if we’re lucky, the month). How about you? Got any good cooking oopses for me, or any good Peep memories? Want to say ‘hi’? Give me a shout out and you’re entered to win a couple of signed backlist books from my Bag O Books!