I’ve Moved!

You might remember that I’ve mentioned several times that I planned a major overhaul of my blog. After deliberating about it for several months, I’ve moved it to a self-hosted site.

The flexibility offered by self-hosting better meets my needs as a writer, despite the amount of time required to execute the move when I already have sooo many commitments, both professionally and personally. I keep telling myself that in the long run, it’ll save time, and I think it will. I’ll have a solid foundation in place when I find a publisher, and be ready to go full steam ahead with the whirl of social networking, marketing and promo, while continuing to write new stuff.

If you’re a follower, please go to my new site and subscribe there to continue getting updates. The site is still in development, but the blog is up and running, with all the posts and comments from here imported. I have lots of great content planned for the whole site, not just the blog. I hope you’ll all come along for the ride! 😀

Author Spotlight: Azure Boone and the MotherFugnWriters

I’ve mentioned my friend and critique partner, Azure Boone, several times here on the blog. I’ve told you she’s an amazing writer, and a wonderful person. Well, today, you get to meet the lady herself! I know you’ll be as crazy about her as I am. Please join me in welcoming Azure Boone, in her guise as the…

MOTHERFUGNWRITER!

Kenra: So, Azure, readers have to know – what the hell *is* a motherfugnwriter?

Azure: Well, it’s a title for the Mother and Wife Writer. The –fugn- part (which I’ve told my husband is German for love and pronounced few-gen, LOL) represents two things to me: that thing we do as “wives”, and the bad-ass women we actually ARE. The original phrase was “Mother Fucking Writer”. But, virgin ears and all….

Kenra: Let’s all hope Azure’s hubby never gets curious enough to look that word up! Or mention it to someone who knows German… Azure, what made you start motherfugnwriters?

Azure: Umm, well, mainly to form a cyber-place where mom/wife writers could relax and meet other women they could relate to. Motherfugnwriters often feel alone, despite having children. We’re behind the scenes doing all the necessary shit nobody else wants to do. I thought it would be nice to have a place where we could let our hair down – maybe even cuss a lot, since we play a saint all day long.

We talk about the things we don’t have anyone else to talk to about. Which is one of the reasons my posts are often of a “wifely/writerly” nature, as well as motherly.

Kenra: Tell us about this Zazzle store you’ve been burning the midnight oil to set up.

Azure: I create products that would make great gifts for writers – T-shirts, mugs, hats and shit with funny writer slogans that highlight the secret and alien life of Writers. So I decided to set them up in an online store.

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Kenra: What inspires your posts? Some of them are a bit… ahem… unique.

Azure: Gosh, my posts seem to be PMS inspired I think. Like a random stream of conscious, wherever my life takes me, that’s what’s getting posted. I usually keep it geared to Writing, which is easy, since it’s what I love doing and studying.

Kenra: What do you do in real life? What’s your day-in-the-life of a MFW?

Azure: Well it’s LOUD, for one thing. I have 8 kids, 9 if I count my grandson.  But don’t panic, 3 of them take care of themselves, so that leaves me with… err 5, sometimes 6. I home school 3, soon to be 4, of the 5 right now. The challenge, which I’ve kinda overcome, was juggling it all.

We all work together. My kids do laundry – yes, washing, drying, and folding – they do dishes, everything except mop the floors and clean the toilets, in fact.

Kenra: What 3 of your posts would you most like to share with readers here?

Azure: I’m partial to the last one I did, Killing The Erotic Muse, and I liked Getting Wet And Ready about getting in the mood… Oh, and I liked Naked Bare Back Muse Riders For Hire. I know, I love these wacky titles.

Kenra: Where else can we find you online?

Azure: Here’s my author blog, Google Plus, Facebook Page, and Twitter.

Kenra: One final thing. Azure’s Paranormal Romance, Devil Wants A China Doll, will soon be available. Her main character, Rone, is possessed by the demon of Lust and Rage. He manages to live life because he has a  psychic shield that prevents the demon from contaminating anyone he has contact with – important because the demon can make a person commit suicide by sex. Then he meets Sheeku, with big problems of her own. Sheeku bypasses Rone’s shields and lives to tell the tale. For a while, anyway.

Azure, will you share a little with us?

Azure: You know I will! This is a make-up scene, after Sheeku thinks Rone cheated on her with another woman.

I kissed her teary cheek softly.

Her hand was suddenly in my hair, sliding on my face.

Oh God, no, please… don’t do that.  Not now, I won’t stop…

            She slowly turned her face to me and no force in Heaven could move me away.  And there she was, staring up at me with glittery blue eyes, offering a chance to redeem myself.  Make it better, please do it.  Make it better.

            The burning stab in my chest combined with the fire in my groin.  I closed my eyes.  Shield was on tight, but what if this was the demon’s doing?

            She slowly sat up and my body matched her every move, magnetized, trapped in her pull.  So much need to fill, and pain to erase.  And she wanted me to do it.  The nice guy with the soul-eating devil.

            I could only watch as she put her hands on my shoulders and climbed into my lap, facing me.  My hands clamped on her waist as heat bolts shot through my groin.  I wrapped her in a hard embrace, wanting to feel her completely, no, prevent her from doing more, prevent me from ripping her clothes off.

I pressed my face to her chest, listening to the frantic life calling for me.  I embraced her closer, wanting her to be real.  Fuck, she was, she was so real.

In one push, the buried man inside me broke free.  I dug hungry fingers into firm muscle at the junction of her jeaned thighs.  Her breath drew in sharp and the sound struck the demon’s cell.  The demon struck back hard, and I strained my mind, solidifying the quiver in his cell while sliding my hands slowly and firmly up, feeling her body beneath the light t-shirt.

I wanted that satiny skin beneath it more than ever.  “Sheeku.” My fingertips pressed on their way back down.  Down, until I filled my hands with her perfect ass.  I squeezed hard and pressed her tight to my stomach.

            “Rone.”

The desire in her voice slammed me with terror.  I waited for her to call my demon’s name next.

She didn’t.

            My hands surged back up her body, the man in me knowing the time was short.  He hurried to take before being locked away, one hand pressing those perfectly shaped breasts into my chest, those bite-me nipples driving me to the point of orgasm. Hunger purred up my throat as I wrapped the base of her hair with trembling fingers.

            I pulled her head back and stared at her slender neck.  Her nails dug into my shoulder blades and desire raced on fiery currents through my veins.  I studied the creamy column.  She was life and I would die if I didn’t taste her.  Just once.

            I opened my mouth and leaned with a groan.  I licked the satin, slow and hard.  Salty… sweet… fucking delicious. “Sheeeeeku,” I breathed into her neck.

            Then it was there, bitter and biting into my gut.  Her fear.

“Stop, please,” she gasped.

Keep checking back here for updates on Azure’s work!

STRANGER DANGER!!

Absolutely not! I forbid it, young lady! What do you know about this… this… CHARACTER… you’re writing about? Nothing, that’s what! Well, I won’t have it! Before I allow you to write him, you’re going to figure out who he is!

Too much? Really? ‘Cause I didn’t th… Oh well, you get the idea.

Earlier in the week, as I was thinking about how to begin a short series of posts on characters for my Nailing Down The Essentials series, I came across this CuriosityQuills post. The author lays it out far better than I could.

Back in The Good Ole Days…

Way back, when I was a young writer determined to create a best seller, I wrote what I thought were extensive character profiles. Then I spent two decades just dabbling, while I focused on being all I could be as an Army wife, and a mother, and held down a demanding career. When I came back to serious writing a couple of years ago, I’d forgotten about character profiles.

I’m too old to waste time…

Okay, so I’m not ancient. 🙂 But, at 44, there are so many things I want to accomplish. I don’t mind taking the time to do something right, or to savor experiences. But wasting time, especially mine, really irks me.

I started writing my first weredragon novel with not much more than a vague physical description for Van, the hero. Really BIG mistake. I had no idea how or why he would act, what he might think or do in certain situations. I didn’t even know whether he was gay or straight, or what he liked. As a result, I spent a great deal of time writing scenes that didn’t ring true, and trashing them.

In frustration, I took another approach, that also wasted time and words. Every time I needed to make a decision about him (Was he modest, or comfortable with his body?), I wrote a scene justifying the decision (Slightly modest, as a result of his cousin’s cruel teasing when they were adolescents). I ended up writing dozens of scenes that I knew I would never use, but to be sure my decision rang true to his character, I wasn’t sure what else to do.

Why write character profiles?

Some writers might be able to write complex, multi-dimensional characters beginning with only the vaguest of details, and manage to keep every moment real. They make all those bits and pieces cement into characters that are more real and consistent than your college roommate. I can’t do it, though.

These days, I get to know my characters pretty thoroughly before writing the first word of the book, as part of my outline process. I’m not talking about their physical descriptions, or the list of events that make up their lives. I’m talking about the series of experiences that turned them into the people they are. I’m talking about WHY they make the choices they do, and react to certain situations the way they do.

When I know WHY, I can be sure all my characters’ decisions and actions will be realistic for them, that they will be consistent and multi-dimensional. After I point them in the general direction I want them to go, I can trust them to take care of the WHAT and HOW. It becomes their story. The events fit the character, rather than the character changing at the whim of the events.

Getting to know the stranger

HOW do I get to know them so well? Well, the process changes a bit with every new character. First, I decide the superficial stuff, but that could just as easily come after. The physical description, and things like: sex, age, race, profession, birth family structure, location, and etc., are pretty basic and generic.

Then we get to the hard parts. I write their backstory by first dividing their lives up to the present into stages – infancy, early childhood, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood (sub-divided into regular intervals, depending on age, decades, half-centuries, centuries, and etc.), and if necessary, middle-age and old-age, subdivided in the same way as adulthood. For each of those stages/intervals, I write two influential memories, one good, one bad – just a brief little scene overview that can be fleshed out further if necessary.

My vampire’s having a rough day

For a one-hundred and fifty year old female vampire, I would write one good and one bad significant memory for infancy, early childhood, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood. The second interval of adulthood would begin at fifty years old, then one hundred, then each decade thereafter.

Maybe her old brother threw her down the well when she was six, and now she fears water and cramped spaces, after spending thirty six terrifying hours in the well waiting to be rescued. So, she isn’t going to willingly explore the narrow cave that’s actually a tunnel leading to the bad guy’s compound. She’ll need serious motivation, and no alternatives, to go there.

Since I know that, I know that when the bad guy’s henchmen try to force her into the cave at gunpoint, she’s going to fight hard, because she fears the cramped, dark, and damp cave far more than she fears a gunshot wound. I need her to get in that cave, though, so after she kicks the henchmen’s collective ass, I have to throw something else at her, something worse than the cave.

The vampire bounty hunter, with orders to bring her head to the bad guy, bursts into the clearing at the mouth of the cave. Enough? No, maybe she’ll take her chances and fight him too. Let’s add to it. The bounty hunter’s two assistants are with him. And the love of her life will die a permanent death in less than one hour unless she finds a way to save him. Maybe. Oh, and she has the secret weapon, the only thing on earth that can kill the bad guy and ensure her, and her lover’s, survival. She darts into the cave.

Adding it up

If I hadn’t known about the well incident, I might have sent her bravely forth into the cave, even after an earlier scene hinted at her fear. The phobia wouldn’t have been integral to who she is, just a passing fear. We’d have missed that kick-ass fight scene, and the additional conflicts and complications. The character would have been less complex, less real. Each of those memories can be used to add additional facets to the character, and new conflict or resolution to the story.

I don’t stop developing the character when the memories are written. I also create a short story for each main character, just a couple of pages, summarizing the story from their point of view, as if they are THE main character. This takes care of each character’s agenda and motivation as it fits within the larger picture of the whole story.

Now, not only do I know my character quite well, I know how she’s going to react to each situation. I know what else I need to throw at her, for the story to have the kind of impact I want it to have, while being logical and realistic for my character. She’ll be a multi-dimensional person, rather than just blinding going along the road I set for her, overcoming obstacles and making the changes I think she should. She’ll think and feel, and change on her own, and her character arc will feel natural and organic to the reader. She will have a REASON to be in the story.

Yeah, it took extra work at the front end, but it saved countless hours of floundering around trying to get characters to do things that don’t fit their personalities. The result is that I’m writing the story to fit the character, rather than writing a character to simply plug in to the story.

What do you do to get to know your characters before you start writing? Or do you jump in with little more than a vague idea what the character looks like?

No Authors (or Elephants) Allowed!!!

A recent post on Dear Author sparked a discussion in my blogging network about whether authors should thank reviewers. According to the post, even a simple Thank You in the Comments of the review will kill discussion among readers.

I can see that happening if the review, or the ongoing discussion, is negative. Most people are uncomfortable saying unflattering things about a person’s work if they know that person is listening in. Especially if the phrasing is less than tactful. But if the discussion and review are positive, why would the readers abandon the conversation?

DON’T?

Now, in my Rethinking Reviews post, I stated that the best advice I’d ever seen for responding to reviews was simply DON’T. But, like everything else about writing, that approach doesn’t work for every author. Some feel compelled to acknowledge the roughly twelve hours the reviewer put in to read and review their book. In that case, a strictly professional Thank You comment or email seems to be the answer. Saying “Thank you for taking the time to review my book. I’m sorry it wasn’t right for you,” in response to a scathing review can be an effective method of taking the high road, and refusing to stoop to that level. For some readers, it gives the impression of class and professionalism.

No, see, what I really meant was…

One of the dangers of responding to reviews is giving in to the temptation to explain what we really meant when the reviewer obviously misunderstood. As much as we want readers to see exactly what we think we’re showing in the book, explaining can look like making excuses. We don’t want readers to think our writing is so poor that we’re unable to express what we mean, and thus have to provide explanations after the fact. Note – If we’re asked in an interview to explain something about our book, it’s a different situation. We’re expanding on, rather than making excuses for it.

What’s your motive?

Most of us write because we love it, and have a passion for writing. Like anyone else, we like to talk about what we love. So, are authors welcome to join in readers’ discussions of other authors’ books? Like the rest of it, we have to be careful of the impressions we give. If we didn’t care for the book, some people will assume it’s sour grapes, that we’re jealous of that author for whatever reason. And, if we loved the book, some will decide we’re simply promoting our friend’s book, hoping to boost her sales.

Squeee! Fangirl moment

Before I joined online writing communities and became acquainted with several of my favorite authors through the online conversations I’ve had with them, I would have been thrilled if an author deigned to discuss her book with me. These days, I’m ecstatic if an author talks with me about her book. There’s just something about talking with someone who created something that you enjoy.

 

How do you feel about authors joining in book discussions? If an author discusses books, hers or anyone else’s, do you doubt her sincerity and motivation?

Which Pants Are You Wearing?

Okay, so I’m not talking about clothes. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

Are you a pantser, or a plotter?

Translation: Do you write by the seat of your pants, with no plan, or do you outline and plot your project?

I used to be a pantser, but over time, became a plotter. As my writing evolved, so did I.

Have you ever taken a walk on the other side of the fence?

The debate about whether it’s best to outline, or not, often becomes heated. Anything so integral to our writing becomes intensely personal, with about as much emotion involved as debates over various child-rearing techniques. So “heated” is a gross understatement.

The point is, everyone thinks their way is best. Several writers, all using the same approach, will each individualize that method until it becomes their own, each finding what works best for them. And once we find something that works, we stick to it, sometimes to the point where writing becomes highly ritualized. Outlines longer than the finished book. Successive drafts in different colors or fonts. One particular location. A certain shirt. Hey, if it works, use it.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

I’m issuing a challenge. The goal is to adapt and expand as a writer.

If you’re a plotter:  Choose a plot question. A What-if? scenario. Something like… What if an angel fell in love with a serial killer?

Once you have your question, without any further thought, start writing. Don’t make any notes. Don’t think any further ahead than the end of the current scene. When you reach the end of the scene, start a new one, no notes, no thought.

If you’re a pantser: Choose your plot question, as above. Before you start writing, name two characters and decide their roles in your scenario. Write down one major, and one minor conflict. Begin with inciting incidents, the course of the conflict, and the resolution, with a minimum of one sentence to summarize each. Then write your story.

Whether you end up with a short story, or a novella, or even a whole novel, maybe you’ll have a few new tools in your repertoire. And just maybe, you’ll find something to add to your current technique that will help you be a better writer. Hell, maybe you’ll even have a little fun.

 

Are you a pantser, a plotter, or something in between?

Everybody’s A Critic

Many online writing communities have a place for writers to post snippets of their work for critique. Several communities revolve exclusively around sharing and critiquing, often on a sort of tit for tat basis. In order to post your work for review, you first have to critique several other writers’ work.

These sites can be invaluable for honing your craft and getting your work polished and ready to submit to editors or agents. But there’s a dark side, too. They can utterly destroy a writer, even a talented, promising one, with the drive and potential to be really good.

How the hell can a writing community destroy a writer?

Not long after I started visiting writing communities, I became a member of a tiny writing forum. One of the writers who often shared her work usually posted really short snippets, almost flash fiction. Her writing needed a great deal of work, but there were good points, too. The rest of us had picked up that there was something different about her circumstance – perhaps she was very young, or had a learning disability. But she loved writing and was proud of her work. We all offered some gentle criticism, and a bit of encouragement.

After a couple of months, one of the other members, who rarely ventured into the share-your-work area, deigned to critique her work. This other writer had been a member for quite a while, and was generally respected as an authority among the dozen or so regular posters. He posted a several hundred word long diatribe about why her work was “utter crap”. When challenged for his cruelty, he continued to rant, saying she didn’t deserve to call herself a writer.

In a very sad post, the first writer apologized for taking up time and space for her crap and promised never to “bother” anyone with it again. She left. I have no way of knowing if she continued to write or not. I hope she did. She enjoyed it, and what she lacked in skill, she made up in enthusiasm and unflagging support for other writers.

 Grow A Thick Skin

I’m not saying this happens on all share/critique sites. Far from it. But there are a few where the most out-spoken critics are harsh, even cruel, in their reviews.

So? Writers have to develop a thick skin. If you can’t take the heat… Rejection and harsh criticism are simply part of the game.

Of course they are. That’s not what I’m talking about. The fact is, there are people out there who totally get off on shredding someone else’s work in a way orchestrated to hurt the writer as much as possible. Even if a piece is decent, they do their utmost to find nothing good. Sometimes, it goes to the point of purposefully misunderstanding the writer’s words. If all that fails, it devolves into personal attacks.

These critics aren’t just critics. They’re bullies. Often, there are other writers on the site who jump in, backing up the bully. They certainly don’t want her attention turned to their work. In return for their loyalty, the bully gives their work favorable criticism, no matter how undeserving.

What about the writer whose work is subject to this form of bullying? Think about it. A dozen or more people, seemingly well-respected, tell you, in so many words, that your best work is utter shit. No one finds anything positive, and if they do, it’s something insignificant.

If you’re thick-skinned enough, you pack up your marbles and go play elsewhere, or perhaps you revise and re-post. If you revise and repost, chances are, the same thing will happen all over again, probably even worse. Heaven forbid you give a less than rave review of the bully’s work! To have such gall is to risk having the toxicity spill over from the writing site into other areas of your online life.

So, what do you do?

First, before posting work or critiquing, check out the community. Read the other members’ critiques, and their work. Do the reviews seem honest, offering constructive criticism that’s clearly explained, pointing out both the good and the bad? Do the reviews actually reflect the quality of the work, or is so-so work being hailed as the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Are the more negative aspects of the critiques worded tactfully, or cruelly?

Search for mentions of the site on other sites. Does it have a good rep among writers? Is there one person, or a small group, that makes the bulk of the critiques? Check the archives. Do people come and go fairly regularly, or do most people join and leave after a short period, with a few members staying for a long time? One or a few people making the bulk of the reviews over an extended period, while others come and go in rapid succession can be a red flag and warrants a closer look.

The answers to those questions will help you decide if the site has anything real to offer. If it doesn’t, keep looking. If you think it might, post a trial piece – something small that isn’t part of a work you’ve poured your heart and soul into. That way, if the critiques turn nasty, you aren’t hurt as badly. Once the critiques are in, ask for clarification of any points you don’t understand, to see if the other members are willing to explain their remarks, without flaming you.

Keep looking until you find a community that fits well. Above all, don’t give an anonymous stranger behind a keyboard the power to take away your dream.

What kind of experiences have you had with sharing your work for critique in online communities? Have you encountered bullies? Or have you found a site that works for you?

What can we do, as a community of creative individuals, to put a stop to this form of bullying, other than refuse to participate?

Giving Thanks for Writing

I like to think I’m always thankful for all the blessings in my life, but this time of year, I tend to be more conscious of it. I’m fortunate to have many things to be thankful for – a husband who truly loves me and is supportive of all my harebrained ideas, a daughter I’m close to and is mostly healthy, 3 happy healthy grandsons, a stepfather who makes my mother truly happy, a mother who’s still healthy, a couple of really good friends, and that we all have enough to eat and good shelter.

My health isn’t all that great, but even that I’m kinda grateful for. It could be, and has been, much worse. And it forces me to slow down and appreciate the good things in life. Most people don’t get that in their early 40s, busy with family and career and social stuff. I get to focus on spending all my time on things that make me happy, like my grandsons and husband, and writing.

When I first got sick, it looked like I would never be able to write, or do anything really meaningful again. Over the years, thanks to a fantastic group of doctors, I’ve recovered enough that, with hard work, I can write again. Probably won’t ride horses or do any serious hiking again, but I can write.

Before I got sick, in the midst of a career that I loved, I still wanted to write. That’s all I ever really wanted to do, from very early in childhood. When real life kicked in and I had to help pay the bills, I turned to something with a steady paycheck. While I dabbled around with short stories, in the back of my mind, dozens of novels sat unwritten because I didn’t have the time.

Now, life has forced me to have the time to write, and I’m enjoying it to the fullest. So, that’s why I’m thankful for writing.

Is there something special about your journey as a writer that makes you especially grateful for it?