Thursday, December 31, 2009

Women Heroines: Susanna Dalbiac, Heroine of Salamanca

Today is the first of my Women Heroines series, which will deal largely with historical women who broke the traditional women's mold by moving into traditionally male activities. I think I'd also like to emphasize men who encouraged women to step out of the shadows, but we'll see where this leads us. Susanna Dalbiac was definitely one of those women, and her husband Charles did not fail to support her.

***

SUSANNA DALBIAC: HEROINE OF SALAMANCA

The photo to the left may possibly be apparently Susanna Isabella Dalbiac, the heroine of my story here, but I doubt it because the dress is more typical of the 1860s, and it appears Susanna died in the early 1840s. The one below is more likely her daughter, Susanna Stephania Dalbiac, despite the apparent late 18th century dress. I'll explain more later. Above is a painting of the Battle of Salamanca, showing the 4th Light Dragoons charging.

Susanna was born in 1787 and married James Charles Dalbiac, who had joined the 4th Light Dragoons as a cornet in 1797 and made them his lifelong career. Charles joined the Portugal campaign in April 1809, and when he fell ill of a fever, Susanna rushed to his side to nurse him, and thereafter stayed with him.

According to William Napier, "This gentle lady has followed her husband through two whole campaigns in the Spanish Peninsula. She has been by his side in every danger- in every vicissitude she has borne her loving share. In all the thrilling movements of the past few days she has ridden close to her husband's regiment. Again and again has he urged her to seek security but as often she has refused to leave him."

On the night before the Battle of Salamanca, Susanna and her husband slept beneath the stars, she wrapped in his greatcoat, when a thunderstorm struck, stampeding the terrified cavalry horses. Charles snatched up his wife to safety atop some artillery pieces, and he climbed up after her, but there were many of the dragoons who were trampled, Thirty horses were still missing the next morning.

Despite such an inauspicious start to the day, Wellington found the advantage he needed in the audacious mistake of his counterpart, Marmont, who thought he was seizing an opportunity to outflank the British-Portuguese Army. But he didn't know Wellington had judiciously hidden Pakenham's 3rd Division behind the hill, at an angle to the main force, the very place where Marmont's troops hurried to attack and turn the British flank. As the French over-extended themselves to trap their foe, Pakenham lunged, cutting off a good part of the French forces. Then Le Marchant's Heavy Cavalry came at the enemy in a wild and brutal assault that left the French in ruins and their commander, Thomieres, dead.

The 4th Light Dragoons were a part of Le Marchant's assault, and Susanna rode after them. As described by Major Elliott, "The cannon shot of the enemy flew past her, the French shells burst all around. Leaden bullets pierced her riding habit in many places.. . The cavalry trumpets rang out an order, the horses broke into a rapid trot, she drew aside her horse, for she knew that a desperate charge was at that moment to be delivered."

As the cavalry rode into their own cloud of dust, Susanna spotted a color guard with an arm wound gushing blood, and she bandaged it and gave him wine from her flask. From then on, she raced about from one wounded man to another offering aid, and when her wine was gone, she bent to a stream to refill her flask, bullets flying all around her and splashing water in her face.

It was many hours later, hunting through the thousands of dead, dying and wounded, not knowing if he lived or had died, before she finally caught up with her husband again, and they embraced on the battlefield. "As the regiment was dismissed from its ranks, all its remaining men gathered around the brave lady with demonstrations of deepest admiration and respect."

Susanna stayed with her husband until they returned to England, and never returned to the campaign again. In 1814, she gave birth to her daughter, Susanna Stephania Dalbiac, who later married the Scottish Duke of Roxburgh. Many years later, Charles spoke of his wife, "Of this incomparable wife I will only add that a mind of the most refined cast, and with the frame of body alas too delicate she was, when in the field, a stranger to personal fear."

In looking for pictures of Susanna, I could find nothing at all. Then I came upon a family genealogy site which showed a picture of her husband James Charles Dalbiac, in his later years, still in uniform, and one of her daughter. But to me, there's something wrong with that photo. Most of you can probably spot it quickly. The young woman in the photo- probably a photo of a painting- is wearing a dress of the very late 18th or very early 19th Century, when the elder Susanna would have been a young woman. The younger Susanna was not born when this style was in fashion. So I thought perhaps the similarity of names fooled someone, and likely the younger Susanna's husband was better known. I have since my original posting about Susanna talked with a descendant, Pelham West, who provided a portrait of Susanna Isabella in mid-Victorian dress. He tells me this portrait of the younger Susanna hangs in Floors Castle, the ancestral home of the Duke of Roxburgh, who the younger Susanna married. He doubts if the duke would have had the portrait of his mother-in-law hanging in his home, and also notes the portrait was identified by a cousin who was more or less contemporary with the older Susanna, and may have met her.

So perhaps this is one of those paintings in which the subject posed in costume, perhaps representing a more famus figure. I wonder if those precise folds in the garment are meant to indicate a dress that was carefully folded and stored away, perhaps a dress of an earlier era, belonging to the heroic ancestor, Susanna Isabella Dalton Dalbiac. But I still think it is more likely the older woman. Pelham West suggests I get n touch with Floors Castle, or perhaps even go visit to see for myself. That sounds like an excellent idea.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Surprise Snow 2009



The weather folks seem to be caught off guard with the first snow every year. Last year it actually came on Christmas, the first snow I've ever seen in the Northwest on Christmas Day. This one is quite lovely. It was supposed to rain, with temp around 37. This started about an hour ago and is already over an inch deep. Temp about 34, so it's very wet. The flakes are giants, about 2 inches across or more. In the photos they are the indistinct white blobs that look like spilled white paint.


Jinx (above) and Frankie (left) have opted to take naps instead of trying out the snow. Frankie seems to have fallen in love with my hand mitt project.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Holiday Video Card For You

video

In gratitude for all the friends, family, fans and supporters, those who simply drop by now and then, those who read, critique and review, and those who simply read my books, a donation has been made to Mercy Corps
Click here to view:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

THE GIFT: A True Christmas Story from Linda Swift


When Linda Swift asked me to do a cover for her new release, Single Status, neither of us remembered meeting before. But something about her name kept niggling at my mind, and after awhile the memory began to emerge.

In 1996 after the RWA conference in Dallas, we sat together in the airport when wave after wave of thunderstorms grounded us. After several hours, to our relief, we finally took off. Unfortunately, we came back in. Passengers de-boarded, mechanics tinkered with the engine, more thunderstorms arrived, and finally we left Dallas for real at 5:00 p.m. Too late for anyone's connections. I last saw Linda at the St. Louis airport, where I spent several more hours with the stranded Portland Gay Men's Choir, who sang most of their repertoire for other stranded passengers. We finally got into Portland at 1:30 a.m.

But Linda's card went into my Rolodex. And funny thing, she still had my card too. And I always wondered what happened to her. Now, I know. And I don't think we'll lose touch again.


THE GIFT

All of my family is musical except me. And it was after a performance of her husband's band at a casino in Tunica, that my daughter had an almost fatal accident. While standing on the sidewalk in the wee hours of morning as he loaded his equipment, she was run down by a casino employee, high on drugs, thrown onto the windshield of his car, which hit a wall and caught fire. She was helicoptered to a trauma hospital in Memphis with multiple injuries. Her dad and I arrived from Kentucky and after an all-day wait, she had hours of surgery. Our first miracle was that she lived.

We stayed in a motel for a month, taking turns with her husband, sitting at her bedside, so that she was never alone for a moment. When word spread that she was injured, fans of her band and her husband's flooded her room with flowers. There were so many and the scent was so strong that one physician remarked "Why, this is like a funeral home." A very inappropriate remark in my opinion!

Still too weak to travel to her home in Nashville, she was moved after a few weeks to a rehab center nearby. And when she was finally given permission to travel, my husband and I went ahead to prepare her condo for an invalid. Both bedrooms were upstairs and not wheelchair accessible so we had to buy a bed for the living room. Her dishwasher didn't work and neither did the stove oven. Remember, she and her husband traveled with their respective bands and domestic life did not have priority. But since I was responsible for cooking nutritious meals, I needed proper equipment.

After a couple of days of frantic shopping for appliances, a bed, and groceries, then a frenzy of cleaning as we had been warned of her wounds getting infected, we fell into bed for a few hours sleep before her homecoming.

Sometime after midnight, I was awakened by a loud noise like someone hitting a wall. I tried to ignore it but it only got louder. Muttering something unprintable, I staggered to the window and looked out. And there by the front steps was a lone figure doing something with wood and a hammer. At first, I couldn't figure it out, and then it dawned on me. A man was building a ramp over the concrete steps.

Something we had not even thought of!

I called my husband to wake up and join me. And together we determined that it was the young man next door. We had met him and his wife and young son when we came two days ago and had heard our daughter and husband speak of them before. They had come to Nashville from New York City because he wanted to be a musician. For the time being, they were both employed at the nearby mall, where he worked a late shift as a security officer. Since they had lived in a big city, they had no car and both walked the couple of miles to their jobs as they couldn't afford a car. My daughter and husband had loaned them their car at times for buying groceries and other necessities.

The night was freezing cold and the guy was bundled up in a jacket, sock cap, and gloves as he determinedly hammered away at those boards until he had the ramp finished. And as I stood there watching with tears in my eyes, I felt such gratitude for this simple gift of kindness. It was truly more beautiful than the roomful of flowers I had tended every day. And even more special because I knew it had been a financial sacrifice to buy the lumber as well as a difficult task to build it in the middle of this frigid night.

My daughter came home, and after a fourth surgery and many more weeks of intensive therapy, she was able to walk again. And the much-used ramp was finally taken down. Now only a few scars remain to remind her and us of that almost fatal night. And this is the second miracle.

The neighbor couple went back to New York City after a time because their family needed them there. And the hoped for career in music hasn't happened yet. But I remember them from time to time and make a wish that all their dreams may soon come true.

***

LINDA SWIFT is a native of Kentucky but calls many places home including Florida where she now lives with her husband, a power plant consultant and avid golfer. She is the sole member of a musical family--which includes her husband, son, daughter, and son-in-law--who neither sings nor plays. But she loves to dance!
A late bloomer, she attended college for years between being a wife and mother, then became a counselor, psychometrist, and teacher of physically and mentally challenged students in public education.
Linda began writing poetry at ten, has won numerous awards for poetry, articles, and short stories and has had a play produced on TV. Writing books has been her goal since completing a romance novel at sixteen. She is the author of two books by Kensington and has two e-books currently available from The Wild Rose Press, one of which is also available in print. Her current release is Single Status from Awe-Struck who will also publish her new holiday book in December and her first historical in early 2010.

You can find Linda at her website here: http://www.lindaswift.net/

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Kindle for PC - Great for Bad Eyes

I promised I'd do an update on the Kindle for PC, and now that I've read a few books with it, it's time to report in.

To re-cap: I don't own a Kindle, although I know a lot of people who have bought them and love them. Several people have told me they've both bought and read more books since getting their Kindle. I've had some experience with e-book readers and realize that although many people find it their optimum choice for reading, they're not for me.


Right eye sees this

My reasons have much more to do with my unusual eye problems than with the readers. I've had seven eye surgeries, you see. And while some of my vision is far better than it was when I was just near-sighted, my vision is just plain distorted. Reading has become a major headache for me-- literally. Oddly, both eyes have learned to compensate for each other, producing something kind of like normal. But you can see I'm happy for any help I can get.

Before e-books I'd almost given up trying to read whole books. Yet I could read on my computer fairly well. But e-readers still elude me. Mostly the light-gray/dark gray contrast is too poor. But I can't adjust them well enough to compensate in font size either. So whenever possible I bought the e-version of any book I wanted to read. I had to really want it badly to read it in paper version.

Left eye sees this


A few weeks ago the Kindle for PCs became available. I already have several brands of PDF and Adobe Digital Edition, and a few others. But I couldn't read books that only came in Kindle, and sometimes they're cheaper. And free is a perfectly acceptable price. So could I read Kindles without a Kindle? Would it be any better than other reading formats? Why not try?

Keep in mind, this is a Beta version. There will likely be more improvements in the future. I have figured out how to transfer books to both my laptop and MSI Wind netbook. Simple: download a copy of Kindle for PC on the Wind. Since I'm using my same email address and password, I'm automatically linked to both computers. I can then pull up anything I have archived-- that's everything I have-- and place it in Home on the W ind. Then wherever I quit reading in any book, that's where it opens up in either computer.

Freaky. It's like Amazon is looking over my shoulder while I read, and can reach right into my computer and do whatever it wants. That, I DON'T like, whether it's true or not.

Similarly, I can upload to theKindle site any document I want to be converted into Kindle format, and then download it. That's more cumbersome than I like, and I definitely don't like that feeling of outside control. I have always been opposed to Amazon controlling my reading habits and book-buying habits. So frankly I'm glad I haven't tied myself to Kindle, especially with a big handful of money. Since I don't want Kindle having any access to my personal documents, or books and stuff I buy elsewhere, I can still use other PDF type programs to read them. Or keep them in Word or WordPerfect.

To date, I've read two full length books and a short story. At first I couldn't see any real difference, other than the flexibility my laptop gives me. And I was irritated by having no page numbers because, being a writer, I just naturally analyze and study every book I read. But I hadn't noticed the adjustments (remember, I don't see peripheral stuff well). But I discovered I could not only adjust the font, but the page size. I need a narrower page because it's hard to follow straight lines, and I'd get to the end of a line, but lose where the next line began. With the Kindle for PC, I could narrow the page to a readable width, but still keep a nice size, readable font size. If I needed to, I could enlarge the font to letters as big as a fingernail, but still keep the pages themselves small. True, fewer words per page, but in some readers, any attempt to do this meant getting some lines with only a few words, and sometimes some repeated lines on the next page. Not Kindle- it's got great continuity. Score 2 for Kindle.

But I can't seem to drop down one line at a time, and the arrow keys or other page turners seem to work only for full pages. I got used to it, learning to only use the down arrow at the bottom of the page. But there could be a way to go line by line and I just haven't found it.

While I'd like to have page numbers, I can see that would be hard, if I have fully adjustable page and font size. What I have instead is a percentage of the book. So if it says I've read 70%, I know I'm probably around page 140 to 160. I can get used to this too.

For the same reason, I don't think it supports graphics well yet. With the page flexibility, graphics could end up all chopped up. That means Kindle for PC will be limited mostly to fiction books without illustrations until this works better. That's a shame. And while I can certainly see color illustrations on my laptop, if Kindle can't read colors, will I be able to see them? I don't know. Maybe that will change in later versions.

I do like the way the bookmark functions. I just set it. Then when I re-open Kindle, it takes me right to where I left off automatically. You wouldn't think this would be a problem, but it is with some e-readers, which at the least require several steps, or don't work at all half the time.

The main advantage for Kindle is, they make book buying very easy. Go to Kindle directly from the software, or go directly to Amazon on the web. Find the book I want, click. My account is charged. Click, it downloads directly to Kindle for PC.

Does it save me money? Well, both e-books I've read were cheaper than the paper book and cheaper than the same e-book on Fictionwise. But I also bought two books I haven't yet read on Fictionwise that were cheaper than the Kindle variety. I'm fine with either a PDF or Kindle reader, but now I have more shopping power because I can go either way.

Ease of reading? Well, much better for me, at least. I can adjust the brightness of my laptop screen to best suit my eyes. And font and page size are easier to adjust and maintain on Kindle for PC. I have one reader format that is very easy to accidentally re-set, and also to lose the page I'm on. Who needs that?

I also like that there is a Table of Contents for the chapters, which includes the first line of each chapter. Generally I can tell if I've read that line before, if I forgot what page I was on and didn't bookmark. It's also useful when going back after finishing the book if there's something particular I want to check. If I were still doing book reviews, this would be helpful.

Headaches? None so far. But the paper book I also read this week knocked me out of the entire next day. I've long since decided a backlit screen reduces the effect of double vision for some reason, and that's probably the most straining part of my vision. Sometimes I can work at my laptop for fourteen hours and not really have problems. Now I've got that benefit for reading books too.

I hope.

My way of reading isn't for everyone. A lot of people think the new Kindle for PC doesn't have a purpose-- why not just get a Kindle and read on it? Other than a few hundred dollars, that is. And a lot of people find reading on an e-reader less straining on the eyes than working or reading on a computer. And they point out the battery life of my mini-laptop is nowhere near the life of an e-reader. Also my mini-laptop with its spare battery weighs as much as three Kindles. But I'd be taking the mini with me anyway, and it gives me more battery life than I can use per day as it is. And for me, the comfort in reading is worth the drawbacks, which I find minuscule.

I'd say, if you have eye strain problems, or find yourself frowning when you're reading, you might want to go one step further than your optometrist. Check out how you're reading. Can you make your eyes happier? If so, you'll make yourself happier too.

So Kindle for PC gets a mostly huge thumbs up from me. I suspect I'll be using it a lot. Where to get it?
http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=kcp_pc_mkt_lnd?docId=1000426311

Or if you lose the URL, just go to Amazon.com or search the web for Kindle for PC. It's easy!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter, The Love-Hate Time of Year

It's supposed to get above freezing today. Hooray! Until the next storm hits tonight. Here in the Northwest, I think we can love snow a little bit more than the rest of the country, this year. Or maybe not. We don't get really hard winters as a rule, so when the bad weather hits, we've usually forgotten how to drive in snow and ice.

I admit I hate being cold now, but I remember the time when I really loved it. These days, I love it, but mostly from the warm side of the window. Still, all those memories have to be good for something. That would be writing stories, of course.

We walked to school back then- yes, walked. About a mile. We girls were allowed to wear snow pants, but we had to take them off when we got to school. Yes, girls wore dresses back then.

And we went ice skating on the town reservoir, or on Weber's Lake, in the evenings. Every day we watched the temperatures and gauged the thickness of the ice by whether the temperature got above freezing. We calculated it in terms of days, and every day above freezing, even an hour, took a day off the total count. It took four days minimum below freezing all day and night for enough ice to skate, which meant we allowed at least six days for safety.

Skating was at its best on nights when the moon was full and a bonfire blazed on the shore, where hot chocolate seemed to appear in cups from moms who had dared to join us, and now and then marshmallows were blackened to taste. The ice sometimes grew so thick we could have driven cars on it, but no one ever dared. Our cars were too precious to risk. And sometimes when the lake was getting even colder, giant cracks would echo from one end of the lake to another as we'd skate over it. It was spooky. But we all knew how ice expanded as it froze, and the cracks meant the ice was getting even thicker. We would be safer, not in more danger.

On my 13th birthday, we loaded into cars and drove to a remote creek that was maybe 30 to 50 feet wide and not very deep, but was frozen along its entire course. We skated what seemed like miles up the creek until it narrowed too much and the ice had buckled too badly because it was too shallow. And then we skated back, and were so exhausted we could hardly manage to get into the cars to go home.

Mom had a special treat for us- Because it was also the day before Valentines Day, she had made meringue cups in heart shapes, baked them till they browned, and filled them with strawberry ice cream. I had never been all that fond of strawberry ice cream, but that day it seemed really special.

Ice skating was like flying to me. I wasn't all that good at it, but I rarely fell, and I felt like I soared when I skated. I didn't like Crack the Whip- the guys seemed to think it was funny to put the girls at the end so they'd fall. And we probably looked pretty awkward when we tried to skate with one leg dangling in the air behind us while we spread our arms and pretended to be flying swans.

And there were those who had boyfriends, who snuggled near the fire instead of skating. I didn't, but I don't think I cared, because I loved the skating and I preferred being out on the ice with the boys who loved it too.

I don't have any photos from those skating times. But the memories endured. And the love of soaring over the ice came to the surface again in a book, His Majesty, the Prince of Toads, a story that takes place in the frigid winter of 1816, and my hero finds a way to use Sophie's love of skating to give her a gift to ease her pain in coming to grips with a tragedy she had shut out of her mind many years before. But when he takes her out on the ice that frozen night, he is making a frightening sacrifice, knowing his war injury of shrapnel in his knee is aggravated by such action as skating. The pain is horrendous, and his biggest fear is that he will lose his leg. But for Sophie's need, he takes the risk, doing everything he can to hide his pain from her.

I won't tell you more, in case you haven't read it. I'm hoping and planning on a re-issue of the book soon. But if you get a chance to read it, you'll know, when Sophie skates, she's really me, in a way that isn't often true of my characters. But it's also where Sophie is really Sophie, and where she finds her lost life. And where Lucas finds true heroism. On the ice.

Delle

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Under- $100 eBook Reader Is Here! and Other Exciting News


For years I've been hearing people say they wouldn't read ebooks until they could buy an ebook reader for under $100. That seemed to be a Magic price point for people everywhere. Kindle and Sony changed the price point for a lot of people by providing e-ink and better book accessibility, but still many readers wanted that cheap, no-frills reader, and couldn't understand why it couldn't be done.

Well, now there finally is one, available at Fictionwise/eBookwise sites, for $89.95. It's the eBookwise 1150. True, it's not a nice slick new model with e-ink screen. http://www.ebookwise.com/ebookwise/ebookwise1150.htm

Description:
The size of a paperback book, weighing about a pound, and with its backlit screen, the eBookwise-1150 gives new meaning to the term "light reading." The device also includes powerful electronic features that offer you a reading experience beyond that of a traditional book. You can turn pages and change the text orientation just by pushing a button. By simply touching the screen, you can enlarge the text size, bookmark pages, highlight passages, make notes, search for key words and hyperlink to other parts of the book.

Kindle, meanwhile, is planning on giving away FREE the new software for reading Kindle-formatted books on your PC.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=kcp_pc_mkt_lnd?docId=10004
26311

This might not be interesting to some people, but there is a surprisingly large number of people who have become accustomed to reading on their PC, laptops or mini-laptops (netbooks). Some of these folks, like me, were once the very people who said they couldn't read for hours on a computer screen. But that was before screens became so sharp and clear. It was also before we just plain got used to using computers for so many hours a day. Now that the Kindle software will become available any day now, this means Amazon is now a source for me to buy my ebooks. And I don't have to spend a few hundred bucks to buy a device that, for me, isn't what it's cracked up to be. In fact, e-ink screens hurt my eyes and give me headaches.

My main complaint about the Kindle and other e-ink devices is that the screens are so small. Sure, I can enlarge the font, but then I'm spending time frustratingly scrolling side to side as well as up and down. Or I have to re-format into something decidedly un-book-like that sometimes splits words in strange places or duplicates lines or paragraphs when scrolling to the supposed next page.


The Kindle DX is larger, almost the size of a sheet of paper. More my size. But at $489? I'm afraid not. But it is a factor in driving down the prices of other less-endowed ebook readers. The Kindle 2 is now $259 at Amazon, and Christmas is coming. I'm betting there will be a price reduction suddenly announced just in time for holiday shopping.

And Sony? Showing improvement- much sleeker, better models. And I've seen older models on sale at Fry's Electronics for $159-179. They're getting less proprietary, and adding more formats like PDF. You can access public libraries and Google Books Online. But not with the older model that's on sale. So you'd still be stuck with the Sony store, where books are more expensive.

The Foxit eSlick was also recently spotted at Fry's Electronics, (brick and mortar stores) as was the Jetbook. Prices for both were running around $179. It's probably no surprise to you that both companies are probably coming out with new models. Funny thing how lower prices show up just before new model releases, isn't it? But sometimes that's the best way to buy technology. Foxit, by the way, does seem to have resolved its battery drain problem, which was its major drawback.
Jetbook's manufacturers, ECTACO, have just announced they will be releasing a new model, the Jetbook Lite, which will come out at $149! It's not an e-ink screen, and is more like the eBookwise, but seems to have a few more features.


What about the Nook? A different technology that shows lots of promise. Although the reading screen is grayscale, there's a touch screen for commands that's in color. Why? Maybe because most ebooks are still text only and don't need color? But I'm still waiting for the aility to read and see books full of pictures. Color pictures. At least Nook is showing the possibility. Price: $259. Oops, right back up there in the sky.

And a new wrinkle in Nook's sleeve: Barnes & Noble is now being sued by Spring Corp for stealing the secrets of their Alex under the guise of a cooperative partner venture. According to Spring, B&N actually participated in meetings with them regarding developing a "Kindle Killer" reader, without telling Spring they actually had a device of their own under development.

The bottom line? If you want a cheap reader, it's available, now. If you have a netbook, you will very soon be able to get Kindle software and buy Kindle books without buying a Kindle.

You can still get great deals, often at better prices than Kindle, on Fictionwise and EBookwise. As for the fancy, expensive devices, well, spend your money if you want. They're good deals if this is what you want. But they'll all be better buys next year, both cheaper and better-featured. And Christmas is coming. The field is getting very competitive. Let's make that extremely competitive.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

DAMNED AND DANGEROUS-The Making of a Hero

Meet my new hero. He's Captain Nick Torrington of the 4th Dragoons, and instead of Napoleon's soldiers, he's fighting demons. Blood sucking demons who want to take his soul and are doing a damn good job of it. His only way out of it risks the life of the woman he has come to love. For the man known for his reckless courage- the man dubbed the Hero's Hero, this is unthinkable. Which will he sacrifice? His soul or his beloved?

Who is Nick? Where did he come from in my mind? There's an excerpt below, and some pictures that inspired me. He's like this tortured contemporary warrior, but without the modern touches. And like the one fighting the winged demon for possession of the frightened black horse. He's like the man I turned to bronze for the Hero cover. Nick is all of these, but something more.

And if you like the opening, please consider following the links above for the Scarlet Boa contest and give it a vote. It's #99. And the deadline is October 31, so hurry.
***

DAMNED AND DANGEROUS

July 22, 1812
Salamanca, Spain

It was an omen, the soldiers said. A violent thunderstorm the night before a battle always brought victory to the British Army.
Captain Nicholas Torrington had little use for omens. Battles were won by fighting. Today, the gory red sun glared through smoke and dust to blind the enemy, and the roar of cannon deafened them to the oncoming thunder of a thousand hoofbeats. The dragoons galloping up the slope toward the French were riding into glory.
Nick raced hell-for-leather at the head of his squadron, blood pounding in his veins like drums as they veered toward the fleeing enemy to cut them off. Frantic French infantry rushed to form a square. Their muskets rose in unison. They fired.
A ball hit the colonel and threw him from his saddle. In the flash of glances, Nick caught what was in the colonel's eyes. Death. He shoved down his rising bile and raced on. The colonel would have demanded it of him, as he did of himself.
A ball caught Nick in the hip, searing through him like tearing fire. The saddle disappeared from beneath him. Even before he screamed, another ball slammed into his skull. Brilliant light sheared through his head . He floated in the air with the thick dust that hung above its Mother Earth, his last thoughts oozing away like blood . The Hero's Hero. . . The Drunken Poet-Warrior. . . Fitting way to die. His father would be proud at last. . .
* * *
He hears the round shot singing, feels it whistling by him,
In the rush of battle as the horses charge the square.
Flash of steel is gleaming. Guns spew forth their grapeshot.
Screams of men and horses rip the wind and split the air.
On Azan's burning slopes. . .
God, no. He'd composed better verse roaring drunk, in the officer's mess as they celebrated a battle by getting as sotted as the ranks. He was good at it, they said. Composing verse. He never remembered, though. He could only do it when he was dead drunk. Now he was only dead. Ought to be a relationship there. Dead drunk. . . Dead. . .
What rhymes with slopes? Copes? Hopes? Mopes? God, all poets should be consigned to Hell for the pain they wreak on their victims. Which was probably where he was– in Hell. He had no form, no substance. Except dead men didn't write rhymes. Or maybe only really bad ones. He sure couldn't be in Heaven. God and all His angels knew he wasn't saint material.
He lingered in the nothingness above the battlefield, yet, no, he didn't float. He lay on the ground, trapped in his body, a prisoner waiting to be freed of the pain, trouble, strife. Yet a strangely comforting warmth washed around his neck and oozed into his hair at the base of his scalp, the copper scent oddly like. . .
Blood. His own. Nick's eyes popped open.
A ghoul stared back at him. Not a man– its skin too gray, eyes pale as sheets. Blood clung to the corners of its mouth beside great fangs tinged pink from its feast.
Nick was the feast. Bloody Hell. He really was in Hell.
The demon stiffened and blinked. "Oh. Terribly sorry, old fellow. Thought you were dead."
"What the devil?" Nick tried to push himself up from the ground, but his arms, his legs seemed boneless. His senses gathered as he breathed dense, acrid air. Moans of wounded and dying men and horses bombarded him as they never had before.
The ghoul dabbed a folded handkerchief to his lips as his ashen flesh brightened to normal. Red-rimmed white eyes brightened to gray and the fangs vanished into a mouthful of straight, gleaming teeth.
"Rankine!"
Lieutenant Harry Rankine of the 4th Dragoons! Nick willed his hand to touch the prickling skin and oozing blood on his neck. "What the devil is going on here?"
Rankine winced as he dipped his head with a self-effacing wince. "Terribly sorry, really," he said. "Awfully gauche of me. I do try to stick to the dead, I assure you. Creates all sorts of unwanted complications otherwise. And you did seem quite dead." He licked his lips. "But now I think of it, you do taste rather fresh."
"Bloody hell! You were sucking out my blood!"
"Well, yes. Didn't think you'd miss it."
Rage pumped through Nick, but as he sat up, pain clanged in his head like the inside of a bell. He clamped his head between his hands. Hell, wait a minute. He'd been shot– his entire brain had exploded. He'd felt it. He couldn't be alive, much less thinking. He forced himself to his feet, and lightning pain stabbed through his hip, sending bile rising in his throat.
"Easy there, dear fellow," said Rankine.
"I'm going to kill you, Rankine."
Rankine cocked his head. His angelic smile curled up the corners of his mouth as he pointed a finger at Nick. Lightning streaked through him. His muscles froze. He could be stone, for all his futile efforts to move.
"Not bloody likely," said Rankine with a pleasant lilt. "Actually if you'll give it some thought, you'll see I've done you a bit of a favor. You would have been dead, you know. Merely a slight miscalculation on my part. Happens now and then, although I do my best to prevent it. Makes you my responsibility, sort of like a son one didn't count on producing."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

JESSA SLADE and Her Hero, ARCHER!




Look who's with us today! Jessa Slade has dropped by (or not exactly dropped, more like banged on the door because I over-slept) with her hero Ferris Archer from her new debut release, SEDUCED BY SHADOWS. And if you ever thought you'd never be seduced by a dark and dangerous demon-possessed hunk, think again. Because Archer, winner of ISOH's Most Deliciously Tortured Hero Award, has arrived.

And here's your chance to win a free copy of this fabulous new book, to set you onto a brand new form of addiction in Urban Fantasy. Just read and follow instructions at the bottom of our interview.

Jessa Slade: Hi, Delle. Thank you so much for letting me guest post with you today. You’ve given me the chance to hunt down the hero of my debut urban fantasy romance SEDUCED BY SHADOWS. Ferris Archer—an immortal warrior possessed by a repentant demon—has been a busy boy since the book hit the shelves at the beginning of this month and I’ve been curious how he’s handling the sudden exposure.

So please welcome to “In Search of Heroes”—

Archer: Where’s my shirt?

Jessa: I... Uh, sorry, what?

Archer:
You wanted to know how I’m handling the exposure. I’m asking where you put my shirt.

Jessa: Oh, well, technically, your shirt isn’t my responsibility. That would be the cover artists and—

Archer: It’s November in Chicago. Rocking a leather jacket without a shirt is no easy task in Chicago in November.

Jessa
(slightly peeved): I’m sure you’ve faced tougher challenges, my dear hero.

Archer
: I’m not a hero.

Jessa
(smug): That’s what all the real heroes say.

Archer
(with a flat stare): I’m not a hero.

Jessa (backpedaling slightly):
Not at the beginning of the book, perhaps. In fact, you called yourself garbage man to the damned. But the mission you and the other alpha male fighters undertook with the help of the repentant demons inside you was to save the world, destroying evil one gnarly bit at a time. What else would it take to make you a hero?

Archer: Most of the time, it’s not clear the world wants to be saved. Dragging it back from the brink against its will makes me a fool or a bully, not a hero.

Jessa: Are you always so optimistic?

Archer: Only on my good days.

Jessa: But you’re having good days now, now that you’ve found Sera Littlejohn, the first female possessed in the living memory of your band of not-so-merry men.

Archer (gaze softening): Yes.

Jessa (eyes rolling): By ‘yes’ I assume you mean you’re groovy without your shirt when she’s around?

Archer:
She stripped everything else from me, why not my shirt along with my isolation, my fatalism, and my suicidal demon-slaying fury? Death and damnation seemed inevitable before her.

Jessa: And she took that away from you? How rude.

Archer: No kidding. Do you know how hard it is to maintain the required demon-slayer level of angst and arrogance when just the sight of her makes me melt inside?

Jessa: Hmm, I know you fought against it for an unholy number of pages.

Archer: Fighting is the only thing I knew for almost two centuries. I’d gotten damned good at it. Giving in... That was much riskier.

Jessa:
I guess that’s what all you reluctant heroes lack—the love of a good woman to set you on the right path.

Archer (wryly): That was love? A boot kick in the ass that sends me sprawling in the middle of that path?

Jessa: When you need it, yeah. With the whole world relying on you, the battle of good and evil raging around you, weren’t the stakes high enough?

Archer: Perhaps too high. I may be talyan—a man possessed by a repentant demon—but I’m still just a man. The powers of good and evil that invade our world are just a reflection of the good and evil invading every soul. If after a few millennia the world still haven’t found a balance between dark and light, what chance does one man have?

Jessa: But for Sera, you took that chance. Love conquers all.

Archer:
Which explains the scars.

Jessa:
Yeah, sorry about that. At least the black leather pants hide the evidence. Thanks for baring your souls and various other manly bits today, Archer. I’m sure we’ll see you around in the other novels of The Marked Souls.

Archer:
If I had a shirt you’d see less of me.

Jessa:
Don’t hold your breath, man.

Read Chapter 1 of SEDUCED BY SHADOWS at http://jessaslade.com
For a short story prequel to the world of the Marked Souls, visit http://tinyurl.com/MarkedSoulsPrequel

Want a chance to win a signed copy of SEDUCED BY SHADOWS? Leave a comment about the riskiest thing you’ve done to avoid love or embrace it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

IT ISN'T WRITER'S BLOCK- IT'S OPPORTUNITY

It's a sad fact for almost all authors that sometimes their writing gets stalled. We usually call it Writers' Block. Or we talk about the Muse having deserted us.

Writers tend to whip themselves unmercifully, especially when they aren't being productive. No matter how they rationalize, re-frame or euphemize, they are really blaming themselves. Nothing feels more helpless to a writer, because when writing is blocked, productivity dies. A physician doesn't say, "My Muse has left me today", but there's a reason. He is calling upon his accumulated knowledge more than on new insight. A runner doesn't claim his legs just won't work today. Because they will. They might not be up to top speed, but they move. But when a writer is blocked, the brain just isn't making the connections that allow work to flow.

Mental creativity is a very different activity. Other things, like a base of accumulated knowledge, are required for new creativity, but usually the formulation of new fiction has to come from a different part of the brain. And all kinds of things can interrupt or interfere. All writers run into the problem in some form or another, and they all fear it. Getting around it, over it, under it, or through it can be simple, or it can be a monumental struggle.

Writing is one of the most difficult jobs a person can do. In the initial phase of a writer's career, she often feels the free flow of new ideas, the amazing exhilaration that comes along with a new story, characters who jump to life on the page, and a setting that gains reality even as the words come out- it often seems so easy. The author believes in her own genius (she should, because it's real). But she doesn't know, and probably can't grasp at this moment that she has just been suckered in to the most difficult job she will ever try to do.

Soon she'll reach the hard part. Soon she'll learn her first wonder-creating efforts are full of flaws-- naive writing, plot inconsistencies, characters without motivation, or other things that could make her story a financial success. (Discounting those few authors who actually do sell their first story right away, of course.) She'll begin to realize there is no such thing as a perfect story, and yet she must always strive to reach perfection.

But she's hooked. She sets herself on a course to learn to write better. She takes courses, attends workshops, reads books, studies other authors, meets with and shares experiences with other authors. She now is learning the actual craft of writing, which takes her creativity to new heights.

When she really starts to get good is when she discovers the work getting harder. Nothing wrong with that. But she may also feel like her ideas are drying up. Probably not. More likely, she has learned to discard the initial ones that are the easy way out- the trite solutions. She's learned not to manipulate her characters into doing something abnormal for them just because she wants them to do it. She now plots more carefully, more accurately, and doesn't just stick in a scene, because she now knows a scene must be a logical consequence of previous action, not just another event.

All of this is harder. Just plain harder. Now that beautiful, euphoric glow of creativity must co-exist with hard core, down-to-earth writing skill and technique. She's reached the point where she understands that good story telling is hard work.

This is when she will run into real problems and few solutions. She feels like the beautiful creativity has dried up. She starts battering herself with her own insecurities. Is she a has-been? Did she never 'have it' in the first place? She feels like a fraud, because she should be producing, but isn't.

Usually this is also the point when outside influences can interfere more. Most writers have many other obligations and distractions. Their multi-tasking abilities could already be taxed to the limit, when here comes one more. Concentration wanes. New ideas just don't come. Self flagellation increases.

The reality: Creative work is different from other kinds of work. As we learn and hone new skills to create better and better work, we are setting ever higher standards for ourselves. We can't accept the work we did when we were first beginning because now we know how to do better. We must now aim for higher, better goals. Those easy solutions we found when we were so ignorant are no longer acceptable. Now we strive not just for a story but for THE story, the best story.

And finding the best story is hard. It's simply not the same thing. Our writing job has changed. If writing is easy, then we need to be wary of it. It may not be the best we can do. The trite plot solution is the one that's easy to find. Anyone could think of it. It's the first thing that pops into a person's mind. Sometimes it's exactly the right solution. That's fine. But a book full of easy, trite solutions is of little interest. The answers that are hard to find are often the ones that give a book its unique twist and make it exciting.

When a story suddenly comes to a grinding halt, it's not because the author has lost her ability to create. Instead, she has reached a point of opportunity. It's her chance to dig very deep, work very hard, to find the one thing that will take her story out of the realm of the ordinary. It's her chance to find the magic world that really is her own creation, to find the unique and unexpected twist that takes her story beyond the boundaries of ordinary living into the extraordinary world fiction readers want.

So when you reach an insurmountable block in your writing, look at it as an opportunity. Time to work really, really hard, to dig, explore, search, experiment. Give yourself permission to try things that won't work, so you can study those and see if they subtly point to the path of something that might lead you to yet another path, knowing that each path, though it may not take you where you want to go, will show you something else that might change everything.

If story-telling were easy, anyone could do it. And no one would care.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Home Invader? Bandit? Or Just too friendly?


Before I get on with today's tale, I'd like to impart some Breaking News! Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, who you may remember from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, was the free-style disco champion of the whole of Derbyshire for a dozen years. Because "Gentlemen do not Conga". Don't believe me? Below is the proof, in this video by Mitchell & Webb:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTchxR4suto

Now on with today's blog, about a weird little incident:

My favorite writing place is in my second-story bedroom, sitting cross-legged on my bed with my laptop. It's close to a window to the back yard, with nice fresh air and plenty of light this time of year. In winter, it's like a connection with the rest of the world.


You can see in this photo the ceiling is vaulted and the upper window is half-circular, over a 60 inch wide main window. And notice, the distance from lower window to roof is at least four feet. There are no outside ledges.

Our cats, such as Jinx, shown here, have also always loved this window, where they can look down on the back yard, and when it's open, sit in the breeze and chase birds in their imaginations. After replacing the screen four times over the years, I've gotten lax, knowing it would have fresh kitty claw marks in no time. It really needs to be done badly, but it's become just one more thing to fix someday.

The big weeping white pine outside the window has grown taller than the house, and now and then Jinx is more than usually interested in it because a huge, fat brown squirrel roams up the tree and onto the roof, where I can hear him scampering. I'm guessing it's the feast of pine nuts that has made him so big and chubby. He's often down on the deck or roaming around on the beams where we hang plants, and he and Jinx eye each other with wary interest. He must weigh several pounds and is probably half again the size of a normal squirrel. (This pic isn't my squirrel, who seems to be hiding from me now. But he looks a lot like mine. And note the paws.)

Yesterday I was hard at work polishing a manuscript when I heard that familiar sound of a cat clawing on the screen, and I yelled at Jinx. But I looked up and she wasn't there. Then I heard the noise again so I got up to look, and spotted a new snag in the screen.

As I stood at the window, close up, suddenly this little gray paw reached out right in front of my eyes. "Why, you little rascal!" I said, and the paw withdrew and vanished. Remember the squirrel in ICE AGE? That's what it looked like.

And yes, the tear in the screen was just a little bit bigger.

I went outside and I've looked and looked at that tree, and can't see how he did it. There is one branch almost close enough, since most are too distant, but it's very skinny. And he could only have done it if he weighs enough to bend the branch down. Even at that, he must have a really long reach. The little critter was trying to trapeze his way to my window!

Does he want to get into the house? Is he just curious? Or is he getting a bit too friendly? Maybe hearing my voice scared him off. He often just watches me when I'm out on the deck, but other times he's skittered away when he heard me coming out the door. I hope he doesn't ever really latch onto the screen because I don't know how he'd get down without about a 15 foot fall.

Back when I was a kid, we lived in Olney, Illinois, the Home of the White Squirrel, and we had a squirrel that would actually come in the house for a treat, until one day she was freaked by a noise and ran across my baby sister to get out. We never saw her again. So I've always been partial to squirrels. But I really don't want them in my house. I know too much about the critters, you see, and they can be as bad as coons when trapped inside.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER: Vivid Imagery in Your Narrative



CURRENT WORK: Finishing up a cover art project today.
MOOD: Is groggy a mood? Read a book too late last night.
UPDATE: Hubby bowled 623 in 3 games last night. He's not so old after all!

*****

I'm reading a great book right now that totally hods my interest. I'll tell you all about it later this month
, but right now, let me just say it's IMMORTAL OUTLAW by Lisa Hendrix, and it's an excellent example of my subject today.

I've read a lot of manuscripts lately that ought to be wonderful, at least in having a good plot and intriguing characters, yet somehow don't excite me. Personally I think that's fixable, where a story that has no conflict or character growth has to be completely re-thought. The story with the right skeleton can be fleshed out but a boneless body really can't move much, no matter how pretty the flesh. So let's talk about how to make the writing more exciting.

The first thing that comes to my mind
is passive writing- I think because I've also seen a lot of that lately. I've caught myself doing it, too. I think it's something most of us do because it's part of everyday speech.

An explanation: Passive writi
ng, passive voice and passive verbs are not the same thing, but they're related. Passive verbs are verbs that don't do any action, they simply "are". Zen-like. Passive voice occurs when the sentence is "written backwards" so to speak, and the subject is treated as the object. "It was written by me." instead of "I wrote it." Again, the passiveness takes over and makes the first sentence feel flat.

Passive writing involves all of these things and more. The work
takes on a Zen-like inactivity. (Zen has its value as a state of mind, but genre fiction needs its opposite, action, to achieve its purpose.) Conflict is softened. The Black Moment is mitigated until it is sort of dove gray. The story loses its tautness and meanders, as if it can't find its purpose.

To me, passive writing
also includes choosing words that lack a vivid sense. This includes verbs, nouns and modifiers. We can add our modifiers to them, but it's better if the main word bears most of the load. Often when I can't seem to get a visual of the scene, or the characters don't dance before my eyes, its because nothing in their descriptions has caught my imagination. They "move", but they don't "frolic". There's often a lot of thinking going on, but little of it is recollection of vivid scenes.

Sometimes those mental gyrations can be made vivid. As I was writing this, I remembered this scene as an example. Instead of Ned thinking about his twin sister's death, he recalls this scene:
Ned saw in his mind the newly green slope of parkland that ran down to the brook. Cecily laughed, no, giggled, as they ran together, each with a homemade kite, and she could not get hers into the air. He'd had to stop and do it for her, while she held his. But the minute he had her kite airborne, she squealed with delight and forgot about the one she had been holding for him. It slipped from the sky, tumbled limply downward and crashed against a rock.
Lots of internal thought is very hard on a story. That's because it lacks action. It lies either in the past or in the future, and so it doesn't have the intensity of the present. But in a scene like this, the memory Ned has of Cecily is one of action, so it SHOWS the memory as if it were right now, not so many years ago. Never does he think how much he still loves and misses his twin. But we know.

Adrienne de Wolfe once told me, "Enough of the brown horse! We know he's brown. You only need to say it once." Yes, every time I'd mentioned the horse, he'd been "brown horse". But it was not another word for brown I needed. Think about how much more vivid it would have been to show things about the horse's unique way of moving, the way it tossed its head, or plodded. The horse was no major actor in my story, but he could have added to the dramatic vitality of the knight who rode him if I had not portrayed him like a horse in a child's coloring book.

SHOW, DON'T TELL is the best way to make a story vivid. But I neglected some really important things in the paragraph above: the other four senses. We can see the mane tossing in the wind. But we need sprinklings of the other senses as well. Horses make all kinds of noises. Our hands running over their coats feel their sleekness, but if we rub the other way, they become bristly. We can scent them, for horses don't smell the same as pigs or cows. We can smell the dust their hooves churn into the air as they run. Dust, we can even taste. Use of the other senses beyond sight and hearing need to be used more sparingly, and all such details need to be chosen carefully and not over-used. I try to avoid more than one detail at a time because too much description can over-load a scene and bog it down.

Women, I think, write this way more often than men, but I could be wrong. I read mostly women's work. But I think we go overboard trying to get our points across. We seem to be afraid we haven't got our point across so we try to re-phrase it. Then we explain it. A recent paragraph in a manuscript I read had the heroine first think about what she was going to say, then say it. Then she showed her thoughts with her body language. Then she had a narrative paragraph following explaining why this had happened. If you want to bore me, this is how to do it. ell it to me once, one way, then get on with the story.



Tuesday, September 8, 2009

SAVE THE PROLOGUE! Making Your Prologue Do Its Job


CURRENT PROJECT:
3 full book covers for print books.
And a new, exciting ending for FAERIE.

MOOD: Goal-oriented and focused.
UPDATE: Kitty is doing very well after her surgery, and a cooling fan/laptop stand has saved my crashing laptop. Unfortunately I will be too broke for awhile to buy the bigger hard drive I need so badly.

*********

Saving Prologues can't come close to the importance of fighting fires and saving lives, but I chose this photo to symbolize my topic today, mostly in honor and awe of the amazing fire-fighters who are battling the dangerous blazes in California and around the country right now.

So, what do I mean by 'Save the Prologue? I've told so many authors over the years to ditch their prologues. Why? And why, in spite of that, do I write prologues in my stories?

Prologues aren't bad things. They are just frequently mis-used. They, in fact more hinder a stry than help it. And truthfully, I've mis-used them myself, but always for what I considered a good reason. Not the first one I wrote, though. It was beautiful. Fabulous. It also got in the way of the story. And that right there is the one most important reason to not keep a prologue.

The real question, then, is what do I mean about getting in the way of the story? How does a prologue work, or not work? How can you tell if it is good for the story or not?

By definition, a prologue comes before the story. That makes it the dreaded "backstory". Once upon a time when reading was one of very few forms of entertainment available, people liked long, sometimes slow-paced books. That meant longer time could be spent enjoying them. Much of earlier fiction is like this.

If you pick up THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, for instance, you'll go through 17 pages in the beginning that elaborate history, characters and how they came to be in the area, family trees, and so on. There might be more- I don't know. That's as far as I got with the book on two separate tries. I know there's a great story there. I just didn't have the patience to get to it.

Contrast that with today's action movies and TV, or fast-paced adventure stories. Think of THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER by Tom Clancy. Movie or book, it was gripping from the outset. The book did it better than the movie, in my opinion, but that's because a movie actually needs a little bit of time to get the audience settled in their seats and transported into the movie's world. The audience is captive simply because they went to all this trouble and expense to get there, and they aren't about to walk out. But a book can always be picked up later, so it's easier to put down.

Back story isn't story. Simple as that. If it's story, it isn't truly a prologue. If a book starts out with the history behind the story, not only is the reader getting restless in her seat, she's often being told ahead of time something that can be withheld and create suspense, and therefore be much more intriguing if revealed later, possibly as a secret unveiled. If you tell me in the opening of the book the one thing that makes the story a story, why would I want to read the whole book just to see that unfold? Maybe I would in some books, but I honestly can't think of any.

But when does a prologue work?

A prologue must be intriguing, so much so that the reader simply must continue reading into the story. That means a story question is set up, not aswered. It can be a short history lesson for the story, but only if it fulfills this requirement. It must contribute something valuable to the story, and it must not block any other part of the story.

I used one in APHRODITE'S BREW, first because this is a light, humorous book and I needed a humorous opening. I did need to explain why such a brave and dauntless hero, not to mention loyal, clean, reverent and dutiful, could be driven to hide in Bath just at harvest time when he loved most being home. And the reader needed to see for herself just how scheming and determined his match-making mama was that he could be caught off guard and have to flee to save his hide from matrimony. And the reader needed to know why and how much he detested scandal.

Backstory. Every bit of it. But it's full of action and decision, and character development, all of which lead directly into the story. I didn't want to hide this information and reveal it later because unless the reader knows these things, she might see the hero as a silly wimp. She'd know better later, but that's too late.

In my current work, FAERIE, which is a medieval paranormal romance, I need the prologue to help develop the interface between fantasy and reality. Building the world in a fantasy sometimes takes up more room, but it's still a romance so I can't take up much. The scene takes place between two secondary but very important characters who are deciding something about the hero, who stands close by, unsuspecting that his entire life is about to be changed by a promise broken and another fulfilled. The reader may get the feeling of suspense, and when the old crone leaves by walking through the wall, the paranormal theme is firmly set.

It's backstory to the true plot. But it fits in directly with the next scene, the first chapter, which ties hero and heroine, plus the two secondary characters, the king and the crone, together.

In my vampire story, DAMNED AND DANGEROUS, though, the prologue became a first chapter because it is the true beginning. It's when my "Hero's Hero" protagonist meets the vampyr and the dilemma my hero must resolve begins.

That's the clue: A story begins when the story's first conflict is set forth. I like my romances best if hero and heroine can meet in the first chapter, but often when the secondary plot line is very strong, that doesn't work out as well. In adventure stories, or strongly paranormal stories, those other elements have to fit in well, and this can slow down the romance. Sometimes establishing the story world in a prologue can accomplish this. It's a trade-off, and sometimes a very difficult balance to achieve.

It's best if a prologue is very short. A maximum of three pages. And yes, I broke that rule too. I'd say, if you're having trouble deciding whether the beginning is a prologue or a first chapter, go for the first chapter if you can. If you can't be sure to re-evaluate it, in particular asking yourself if you're giving away anything you can withhold and reveal later for better effect.

In other words, a successful prologue must do one thing: move the story forward, not explain the past. If it does this, and especially if it propels the story better because of it, that's when you should keep it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Too Many excuses

And too bad they're real...
Computer crashing- can't keep it up more than a few minutes
Sick cat back from vet- hiding from me
Hubby's hotel reservation screwed up- I have to fix it- With no computer
Overdue cover art project- lost file in crash but retrieved it finally
Did I mention headache? Wonder why?
Back tomorrow

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

SEARCH AND DESTROY! Editing Your Manuscript

No, this is not about war- only about the war with words that a manuscript sometimes becomes.

I spent all morning looking for a photo of a World War I dogfight, or a World War II fighter. I prefer buying images to be sure I'm not violating anyone's copyright. But the only suitable images I found would cost me $30! There are some things I'm not willing to do for a blog, and that's one of them.

So instead I'm giving you this one of the cavalry approaching Vittoria in 1813. They're both symbolic of the editing process I'm going to describe.

Ever get into one of those situations with your story where you wonder if you'll ever get the manuscript clean enough to submit? Are the little things getting you down? You've got the thing in a good sequential order, and you're happy with the goals, motivation, conflict, dialogue, and all that major stuff, but you still keep running across those nit-picky things that make you pound the flat of your hand against your forehead.

You need Search and Destroy. It's a systematic approach to error elimination that can be tailored to your own particular writing quirks.

Search and Destroy, hereinafter called S&D, is really a more sophisticated Find and Replace. On my PC, it's called up with the F2 key. Word Perfect uses (Ctl+f), in the Edit Menu, and Word divides it into Find (Ctl+f) and Replace, which also gets you there. (F2 is easier.)

You knew all that. But did you know how many ways you can use this when editing?

Well, first, you have to have some kind of idea what you're trying to replace. Are you a passive writer, over-using passive voice instead of active in your stories? An easy way to find this is to keep a list of the passive words you most often use. Start out with all forms of the verb 'to be', and then do a search for each one. In fiction, 'was' is probably the most common, so start with it, then analyze each sentence that comes up. Is this a legitimate use of 'was', or should the sentence be re-worded?

Often with passive phrasing, the subject and object of the sentence need to be reversed. Although you won't find all examples by searching for 'to be' words, you'll catch a lot of them. Then learn through observing your own writing what other words you commonly use in passive construction. Add those to your S&D list.

If you have a tendency toward certain crutch words, S&D can save you. This is where your S&D list comes in most handy.

My Crutch Word list includes:
oh
well
just
then
that
and (starting a sentence)
but (also starting sentences)
suddenly
brilliant
magnificent
silver (why are all my clouds silver???)
bunches of words relating to passion which I over-use,
and recently, for some reason, furtively

Speaking of 'furtively', it's an adverb. I now search for all '-ly' words. Not that they're bad words- they aren't. But it's very easy to use an adverb with a weak verb, and thus weaken my whole sentence. For example: "He moved furtively along the canal. . ."

That brings me to weak verbs. Moved, turned, etc are weak because they are so vague, they don't evoke an image in the reader's mind. 'Walked' might be better because at least we know it's done on two feet at a moderate pace. But verbs like 'sneaked' or 'crept' are specific enough for the reader to envision the movement. Sure, adding 'furtively' to 'moved' gives a mental picture, but combining the two into one strong word improves pacing in scenes that need to be tight. Fewer syllables have a sharper impact. If he is 'sneaking' or 'creeping', you don't make the mistake of thinking he's 'strolling', 'striding' or 'ambling'.

On my Weak Verb list are:
moved
motioned
turned
walked
sat
stood
crossed
moved to (I HATE this! It says almost nothing!)
told
looked
saw

Any of these might be perfectly all right, but my very long list keeps me looking at them to be sure.

And then there are the Cliches:

massive oak desk (table) (aren't they all?)
voluminous skirts (aren't they all???)
elegantly curved lips (maybe it's just me, but I sure over-use this one)
fuzzy bunny slippers, usually pink (not me. I don't do fuzy slippers of any kind)

Make your own list, and keep adding to it. Every time you come across a really great way of saying something, better make a note of it because before you know it, you'll use it again and again and again. You'll create your own cliche! And it could be one of those 'once a book is enough' words.

I've even used the S&D approach to check my punctuation. I hate it when I come across a contest entry that has variously one and two spaces between sentences, then here and there five spaces, likely created by using Tab. But after having laboriously re-trained myself years ago to change from one space between sentences to two, recently I decided to go back to one. (It no longer connotes 'unprofessional', as it did years ago.) Funny how it's harder to go back. So now every time I finish a chapter I run it through S&D, searching for PERIOD SPACE SPACE and replacing with PERIOD SPACE. I repeat the process for question and exclamation marks. But also I have to check for quotes ending sentences, such as END QUOTE, PERIOD SPACE SPACE. It doesn't really take long and it gives me just a little more peace of mind.

And then there's the ellipsis. Those three dots... Well, actually they should be. . .
And how about scene breaks? Searching for them quickly finds one that lost its center justification for some reason.
I also check to be sure each chapter starts off in the same format- same number of spaces down from the top of the page, etc.

Oh, one more thing. Years ago I put a manuscript in the mail, certain it had been polished to perfection. I went home, where I picked up a copy I'd left on my desk, and on the very last line of the first page, I spotted: "She looked through the sex-paned window to the courtyard below. . ."
So now I search for 'sex' too.

So tell me, what words, phrases or cliches would you add to your Search and Destroy list?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

KNIGHTS IN SHINING ARMOR: Our Favorite Fantasy

What can be more heroic than the Knight in Shining Armor? Strong, courageous, he's the epitome of the hero in every way.

He's the warrior. He's the protector. He's a gentleman, in an age when the term had little to do with gentleness and a lot to do with privilege.

(In case it isn't really clear to you here, Sir Kay's in real trouble because his sword has just broken.)

He was the big achiever of his era- the super-hero of history. He began his career by being sent from his home as early as age five to be a page in another man's domain. And that alone was a great privilege, for only a knight's son could be chosen, and only some of the sons, at that. After rugged service as a page, if he succeeded, he became a squire, and became truly a knight in training.

By around age twenty, if he had proven himself, he was knighted. And at this point, he had to provide horses (usually several) battle gear, weapons, and the necessary servants to manage all of this. So he was not only a great achiever, he was pretty wealthy, too. That meant he not only had land and power, and vassals and villeins to serve him, but also to protect. And he could afford to take a wife and raise a family.

He's the idealist, visionary, the one who seeks the Holy Grail, and who is often seen as pure and saintly. Or, like Sir Lancelot, he's seen as a worthy man and knight, but one who is also deeply flawed. He must obey the Code of Chivalry, which controls his military life and his treatment of others. In addition, he is expected to live by the precepts of Courtly Love, which developed in the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Well, that's how we see it today, anyway.

We all know our fantasy of the medieval knight isn't a lot like the reality. But most of us don't really mind. The fantasy knight represents to us the best there is to be had in the way of men. Well, Alpha males, that is. Yet our Knight in Shining Armor is a Beta male in our hearts, too. We see him as the perfect lover, the man who can be gentled by a woman's touch.


I think that's why our Knight in Shining Armor is so attractive as a hero. It doesn't matter to us that historically his armor didn't shine, or that in the earlier years he didn't actually have the plate armor we usually envision. We know that in the rough and tumble and savage times of the Middle Ages, the knight might have been brutal in his treatment of others. He certainly was no hero to the Saracens.

We know as well that the knights were vassals to their kings. And they were completely controlled by the powers and beliefs of their day. But we also know they lived in a different time, one in which the science and knowledge we have today was completely alien. They lived by faith and superstition, as all people did then, because they had no other explanations for the world in which they lived.

But this is no history lesson. If you want that, I'll give it some other time. This is about our fantasy. Why is the fantasy so important? Why so enduring?

Because our knight represents to us the best that can be found in men. He is the iconic male, possessing all the strengths of the Alpha male and Beta male, yet he has their flaws and weaknesses too. We have wrapped up all our ideals in this somewhat mythical, somewhat real character, and we've built in the flaws that make him human. Not only that, he has all the characteristics that make the traditional male sometimes inexplicable to us females.

He is above all- male. The kind of male we all want to love. But sometimes it's better to love him in our fantasies and keep the real, everyday male in our daily lives, knowing, after all, a fantasy is still a fantasy.

So I love writing Knights in Shining Armor. They are my true heroes. Sexy, too. What do you think about knights? Do you see them in today's men? Or are men too liberated these days to be like knights?

About Me

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I write write write. Sometimes I travel. Then I write some more. And I have a great family who understand that I write write write.