Archive for October, 2006

October 30, 2006

Surrounded by Sluts

No, I’m not talking about politicians, although I. AM. DY. ING. TO. I could probably do five hundred miles of narrative and opinion blog pages all by myself between now and November 7th regarding our current politicians. But I’ll be quiet and just let The NY Times and The Washington Post and The LA Times and The Boston Globe and Newsweek take care of all that. I do have my standards.

By the way, I’m not including The Chicago Tribune, that’s all local politics and it’s all just disgusting. The only good thing I’ve seen come out of Chicago lately is Barack Obama, and I’ve already told you the minute he decides to run for President, I’ll be first in line to volunteer to man the phones. Then again, that might not be a good thing for Barack, but we do what we can. Our hearts are in the right place most of the time, even if our heads are in the wrong place all of the time.

What I am talking about this week are my crit partners, all of whom laughed and said I could call this week’s blog Surrounded by Sluts as long as I spell their names right. Typical writers, no shame whatsoever. We’re all book whores when you think about it.

I have five of the most talented, hilarious, competitive, intelligent, street-smart-type crit partners in the universe. I think I’m extremely lucky to be surrounded by them even if they are sluts. Or maybe because of it, I don’t know. They’re all just terrific.

I write crime fiction. I’ve written romance, mystery, suspense, I even whipped out a historical saga (that would be Second Generation, which is about a woman who wants to be President of the USA, the idiot). Now you’d think, wouldn’t you, logically I’d have surrounded myself with mystery writers.

But that wasn’t to be. I chose wallowing in sluttery instead.

First, Sloane Taylor. Sloane writes erotica. Hot erotica. She has one of the wildest, most diabolical senses of humor I’ve ever seen or heard anywhere. It’s a riot just being around her and she doesn’t let us get by with anything. “Just shut up and do it” is her mantra, and we all listen because we’re all afraid of her. 😉 I’ve gone on several fun but probably illegal capers with Sloane that would fill several books if we dared to write them. Hell, I don’t even dare blog about them.

Second up, Erika Kire. Erika writes erotica. Hot Chika Erotica. She also has one of the wildest senses of humor I’ve ever seen or heard. Erika doesn’t let me get by with anything either and in fact, she’s worse than all the rest combined, because She Loves To Find BooBoos In Other Peoples’ Manuscripts. Oh, not hers, no way! She’ll fight like a demented salmon swimming upstream to keep every single word she wrote or ever thought of writing. But after she thinks about it, which usually takes a day or so, she’ll say okay, you’re right, I’ll fix/change it. Then she gets even when she gets her hands on something we’ve written. Tit for tat or something like that. Whatever it is, I’m happy, because she’s an absolute BIRD DOG’S BIRD DOG when she’s critiqueing. Thank God.

Third on the list, Jenna Marshall. Jenna writes erotica. Hot erotica. (Are you detecting a pattern here?) I’ve known Jenna for many, many years, and I never once dreamed underneath all that Sweet Southern Charm there was a Boiling Red Hot Mama lurking in the weeds, or wherever Hot Mamas lurk. In fact, after critiqueing HER new book, I’m just amazed at what she comes up with, if you’ll pardon the expression. Who’d a thunk it. Not me. She surprises even me, and I’m hard to surprise.

Fourth, we have Yasmine Phoenix. Now to date, Yasmine hasn’t exhibited many erotica writer tendencies, but that woman Does Love to Talk About It. At this point in her writing career, she’s working on a paranormal with romantic overtones. But I’ll tell you a secret. She’s a closet erotica writer if I ever saw one. I shudder to think about the day she breaks out of that closet.

Fifth, Melissa Bradley, who hasn’t yet chosen a pseudonym so I’m outing her here. Melissa writes fantasy. Long ago fantasy. Actually, long ago historical fantasy. At least that’s what she’s working on right now and her story is phenomenal so far. BUT. Melissa READS erotica like Halliburton reads government contracts. She can probably recite every name of every good erotica author in the universe, AND the names of all their books AND the page numbers of their hottest scenes. Mel likes to say it’s all just research, but it truly has me wondering what she’s researching. Whatever it is, I’m convinced it has something to do with loads and loads of good hot yummy sex.

These ladies, and I use the term VERY loosely, are fantastic to work with. Even though I probably bore them to tears with my little gothic/suspense/thriller/mystery/younameits, they sit politely and listen while I read the latest murder or abduction or coroner’s scene, and then they all critique nicely, although they probably want to put duct tape over my mouth and stuff me in a closet while they get to the good stuff.

But yanno (T/M Miss Snark), good writing is good writing, and they’re all good writers. And over time, I’ve (unfortunately) trained them to speak up whenever something doesn’t sound right, or even quite right. I’m thinking I have a mile-wide masochistic streak to even be in this business, much less let erotica writers critique my gothic/suspense/thriller/mystery/younameits.

However, dang it all, these women are GOOD! They truly know what they’re doing! They’ve helped me at least as much as I’ve helped them, even on days when helping me consists of handing me the Kleenex and listening to me bitch and moan and write my Last Will and Testament because I figure I’ll die trying before I Ever Get It Really, Really Right.

I truly don’t have a clue what I’d do without them. They’re amazing.

So here’s to critique groups and all inhabitants thereof. May all of you be as thrilled with each other as we are. May you all have many, many loud, raucous debates that last far into the night because you’re having so much fun you’ve forgotten what time it is. May you all have International Bestsellers.

I know my critique buds will.

Sorry I was so late getting this done, folks. My crit group, those wonderful, long-suffering ladies (koff koff) have just wet-nursed me through another traumatic week with my book, The Scoutmaster’s Wife, doing their darndest to help me over the hump even though it contains no erotica–although if it did it would have sold by now–and I just didn’t have enough time to sit here and give y’all a proper blog until this evening.

One of these days I’m going to take a page from THEIR book and write y’all an improper blog. I bet if I do my readers will quadruple that week. Right? Call your friends and neighbors.

Love y’all, you KNOW I do. Come back again over the weekend, I’ll have something else new for you by then.

The Hotclue, whose next book is going to be a…guess what?

The Writing World | 8 Comments  

October 15, 2006

If I Could Go Back To Just One Day in Time…

…it would be one special Sunday at my grandmother’s house in Metropolis, Illinois when I was five years old.

Today there’s an empty lot where her house stood. Across the street, which is now paved, is a baseball field. My Grandma’s yard itself seems astonishingly small when I see it today. It looks as though no house could possibly have been built there, for sure not one that could have held a couple and six children. But it was and it did. She raised her whole family there, as well as several grandchildren from time to time.

It’s hard to describe the magic of Grandma’s house through the eyes of a five-year-old because five-year-olds see things so differently. But there’s one Sunday I clearly remember, and thinking about it today, I’m five years old again.

It’s a warm summer day. The breakfast biscuits and butter and sorgum molasses and eggs have been cleared away by Grandma, who is now in the back yard chasing down a chicken for Sunday dinner–the only day of the week we have meat. Most of the time it’s beans and biscuits or corn bread, which seems perfectly natural to me. Grandma grabs the chicken, ignoring my shrieks, swings it around by the head, breaks its neck, and proceeds to de-feather it outside over a pot of boiling water–the same pot she’ll use to boil water to wash clothes in on Monday, using a washboard and bars of lye soap she made herself in large wooden tubs. After the chicken is clean, she puts it in her ice box in a big blue and white pottery bowl to soak in fresh buttermilk.

Then, every Sunday, she puts on her black hat, which she attaches to her hair with two hat pins, and walks a block to the small church where she worships. Sometimes I go with her. This day I don’t. I stay home, take a small piece of charcoal, and head across the dirt road to the tennis courts where I never see anyone play tennis, and sit on the warm concrete, drawing pictures. It’s okay for kids to draw on the concrete. Everyone knows the next rain will wash it away.

When I get tired of that, I head back to Grandma’s yard where I pull several tiny flowers from her flower garden and sit by the water pump in the side yard, under the big cherry tree, digging in the dirt and re-planting those same flowers. I turn them into my own garden, longing to have one someday just like Grandma’s. Her garden, which seems to go on endlessly, is half flowers; rows and rows of them on one side of the path all the way from the house and back to the outhouse. Sunflowers three times as tall as I am, hollyhocks and yellow and orange zinnias and snapdragons and honeysuckle and roses will bloom there all summer long.

It’s a funny thing about that half of her garden. I always wonder why there are so many flowers until I realize, years later, that those flowers are her beauty and her dreams. She plants snapdragons and honeysuckle hoping hummingbirds will come, and they do. The yard is full of them. That garden, to me, is a symbol of the simplicity and tranquility of that time. When years later I see a yard full of flowers like that, I always stop, breathing in their earthy beauty, thinking about her. And I cry.

The other side of the yard is a riot of vegetables, rows and rows of corn and beans and lettuce and red and yellow tomatoes and green peppers, which she cans all through the summer so we can have vegetables over the winter. Her trips to the store are short. There isn’t much she needs there, other than more flour. She makes her own lard in the fall when my grandfather kills the pigs, which she also cans for the winter.

She starts Sunday dinner as soon as she comes home from church because on a wood burning stove it takes that long. First she mixes the biscuit dough, pouring a huge pile of flour on the only counter she has, swirling her hand into it to make a hole, where she pours milk and lard and salt and baking powder, then continues to swirl until the liquid has picked up enough of the flour to make a huge ball of dough. The leftover flour goes back in the bin. Nothing is ever wasted in Grandma’s house. I watch this from my corner. It fascinates me to watch her make biscuits because there’s something magic about her hand movements, always so sure, so swift. So loving.

This day, she fries the chicken and we sit around the table. My grandfather dips his biscuits into a saucer of molasses, my grandmother passes the chicken and boiled potatoes and string beans and lettuce and tomatoes. And a bowl of great northern beans, always. My grandfather, a quiet man, never says much during mealtime. My uncles, who are still young and at home, laugh and crack jokes, full of the joy of life, still looking forward to the rest of their lives, unaware of the good as well as the tragedy that lies ahead. But for today, I can barely wait to finish dinner, because today we’re making ice cream.

An hour passes while my grandmother clears up the dinner table and then I sit on the front porch with them, dying for the ice cream-making to start. But this is Sunday and the pace is slow. The ice cream will come, but it’s so rare to have it that I’m bursting with excitement.

Finally they give in to my pleas and we all head out back. I watch while the whole family pitches in. My grandmother stirs the milk and sugar and vanilla and egg custard she made in the house earlier and pours it into the metal container. My grandfather puts the chipped ice–which he chipped in a burlap bag–into the ice cream maker, alternating it with salt. My uncles begin to take turns churning the handle.

It takes forever.

They add more ice. More salt. I’m mesmerized. I cannot take my eyes off that brown wooden bucket. After an eternity, the handle begins to move slower. It’s getting hard now. It won’t be long and I can barely sit still, but I do.

My uncles are sweating because of the exertion and also, they say, because it’s hot, but I don’t feel the heat. I never do at Grandma’s. Her house is air-conditioned by God.

My uncles offer to let me turn the handle and laugh at me when I can’t. Then, finally, it’s time.

They open the bucket, slowly…so excruciatingly slow…scraping the ice and salt off, pulling the metal container out. I’m almost screaming with anticipation but I don’t make a sound. Not now. I can’t. We’re about to have homemade ice cream.

Grandma carries the container into the kitchen. We all follow her. We sit around the table while she dishes it out. First to my grandfather. Next, my uncles. Finally, finally! she hands me a bowl full of vanilla ice cream and a spoon, and I begin to dig in. The cold sweetness, the unbelievably wonderful smell, and the taste, all things that I can’t begin to know, at the time, will stay in my mouth forever. I can feel the grains of sugar. I can almost count them as they slide down my throat fast, way too fast. My uncles tell jokes, it’s almost too hard to concentrate on the ice cream because they’re so funny this day. Even my grandfather, who rarely smiles, laughs out loud.

Finally the ice cream is gone from our plates, but it’ll never be gone from my mind.

I can tell you, no ice cream has never again tasted like that ice cream did on that long-ago Sunday at Grandma’s house. The whole day is still with me, all of it. Early in June in Metropolis, Illinois, when life was simple and secure, and love and laughter surrounded the life of a small five-year-old girl.

Thanks y’all, for stopping by and letting me go all nostalgic on you. But some days, ya know, it’s hard not to. Y’all come back again soon, ya hear me?

I love y’all, you KNOW I do,

Family and Other Odd Creatures | 11 Comments  

October 10, 2006

The 95% They Never Tell You About When You Start Writing A Novel

That would be the 95% of the time when you don’t feel like writing.

I’ve seen it in so many writers and I’ve done it myself. Write a little, stop. Write a little, stop. Put it down, put it away, put it where you don’t have to look at it, under your bed or hidden away in an obscure computer file where even Bill Gates AND the CIA couldn’t find it. Anything to get it out of your sight and off of your mind, because dammit, you don’t WANT to write today. Today stretches out into tomorrow, into the next day, and all of a sudden you discover you’ve wasted an entire week, month, year, and have not even one page to show for it, when what you originally SAID, and meant with all your heart, was, “I want to write a book.”

Sound familiar?

I thought so. We’ve all done it.

But authors who get book after book after book published year after year don’t allow themselves to do it often.

Here’s what you need to realize: Someone a lot smarter than I said, “Writing is mostly re-writing.” And it is. Pages of great prose don’t just fall there by accident when you’re typing away thinking about something else. Oh sure, sometimes a brilliant thought or phrase or an unexpected scene does happen and you don’t have a clue where it came from, but that’s one of those magic days when you’re blessed with some otherworldly sense and it flows from your fingers.

Those magic days don’t happen often. You usually have to work at it.

Most days it’s just slogging away, hating hell out of what you just wrote, KNOWING you’re the world’s biggest fake because your dialogue is the suckiest ever, your narrative would bore even the most desperate reader half to death, and nothing jells.

That’s when you really have to buckle down and keep at it, because that’s the 95% of writing you never hear about in author interview blogs. Pubbed authors rarely want their readers to know what goes on behind the scenes, but y’all know me, I don’t care. I’ll tell you.

What happens behind the scenes, those tough days when nothing jells, is that if you’re smart and you want to be published any sooner than 2075, you keep noodling with it until it does jell. I would venture to say most of what most authors write is done like that. You just sit there and force yourself to keep writing whether you like it or not.

And then, when you save it to go back to the very next day, you’ll either find that it’s not nearly as awful as you thought it was and a few words here and there will salvage it, or it is as awful as you thought. If it is, if you’re anything like me, you go back and start noodling with whatever’s bothering you until you Get It Right.

I don’t recommend my method for everyone. Many authors say they keep on writing till it’s completely done, till they type THE END, and then they go back and fix everything. That works for them. It doesn’t work for me, and I’ll tell you why.

Because I know me.

If I know something isn’t right with a scene I just wrote, I can NOT go on until it is right, and sometimes that means days on end of shifting words, paragraphs, deleting this, adding that, sometimes swearing the whole time, but I have to Get It Right. Then, and only then, can I move on. The good news about doing it that way is, when I write THE END, it’s almost as good as I can get it. And then I go back and fine-tune it. And then I have someone else go through it for typos and continuity.

I think a lot of that, with me, is that I’m extremely conscious of character development, which is supposed to be happening all the way throughout the book. To me, character development is the most important part of the book because my characters ARE my book. Nothing else is as important because if readers don’t like your characters, there goes the book, no matter how slick your plot might be.

What happens in one scene leads to the next, and to me, if the wrong thing happened I’m usually going to know it right away, even if I did just type it myself, and I’m going to want to fix it so that the character development makes sense. If I don’t, I’ll flounder around and the rest of the book will be off-kilter until I go back and fix what happened way back when things went wrong.

That little voice always tells me something’s not quite right. Experience has taught me that if I don’t listen to that little voice, an agent or editor will nab me on THAT VERY SPOT sure as hell. It always happens. Every time. So if I hear that little voice, I go back until I find where it went wrong, and fix it. I might as well get it over with while it’s fresh in my mind.

You may be different. Things like that might not bother you.

They do bother me.

The point I’m making is, writing a novel isn’t just a matter of sitting down and typing out a book in a month and sending it off. It never works that way. I doubt it even works that way for Nora Roberts, although I could be wrong about that. 😉 But most of us have to re-write until boiling hot blood spurts out of our foreheads. I sweated on one paragraph in one of my earlier books for almost two weeks until I finally wound up deleting what was bothering me so much. I do that routinely now and I don’t even miss what I deleted.

Writing a novel isn’t always fun. You don’t end every day thrilled with what you wrote. You may have to completely rewrite it tomorrow, and the day after that, and maybe even a week after that.

But isn’t that better than writing nothing at all?

If you want to get published and stay published, you don’t have a choice. You have to do rewrites and you have to keep at it day after day. Even then, you may have to do more rewrites when an agent or editor gets their hands on it, but I covered those kinds of rewrites in an earlier blog. This is about keeping after it day after day no matter how bored you are or no matter how badly it’s going. Because only keeping at it at least ensures you’ll have a stab at getting where you want to go.

Not keeping at it ensures that you won’t.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how my skiing lessons went last week…well…I don’t want to talk about that right now. Maybe next week, after my ego heals a bit more. Or maybe I’ll talk some about character development. We’ll see how it goes.

Love y’all, you KNOW I do! Come back soon, ya hear me?
Always and Forever
The Hotclue

The Writing World | 2 Comments  

October 3, 2006

Nine and a Half Pounds of Dynamite

This is Beth Anderson, guest-blogging while Hotclue is off in Colorado trying to learn how to ski. I apologize for her absence, but her lessons seem to take longer than anyone else’s. Last I heard though she wasn’t skiing, she was sitting in the bar telling jokes. That is so like Hotclue. I apologize, also, for this post being made so late, but I’ve been meeting myself coming and going over the past few days. Hopefully I can make it up to you.

A big name author recently wrote that writers should never blog about their cats. Well, I’m going to anyhow, just this once.

My daughter Barb and her Totally Wonderful Significant Other, Chris, came up this past week to paint my living room and finish peeling the wallpaper off in our hallway (that we started peeling a year and a half ago) and paint that too. They brought their dog, Denali. A big dog. A friendly, galloping big dog. A sweet, friendly, loving, big, galloping dog.

I have three cats. All three are experts at psychological warfare. You don’t dare cross them because they retaliate. And of course, they don’t like dogs.

A little background here, before we get to this weekend’s debacle. (Yes, I know you’re not supposed to start writing anything with background, but I’m gonna, just this once.)

First, we have Jessica, who is almost 20 years old. We adopted her from a family who had to get rid of their cat. A co-worker who knew exactly what she was doing showed us her photo and I fell in love. I’d take her, but my friend had to take her to the vet to get her neutered and declawed, I was to pick her up and bring her home. I wanted her to love me, but I also didn’t want her sneaking out and having kittens, as young, un-neutered females are prone to do. We bonded that evening when she was still hiding under our bed and I slid a bowl of water and a dish of food under and reached my hand out to her at the same time. Jessica’s paw moved over, touched mine, and suddenly I had a cat.

Jessica is sweet, she’s gentle, but she also has a vile, petulant side. I’m almost sure she’s my mother-in-law reincarnated, who used her devious other-worldly ways to infiltrate herself into our lives just as she did when she was human. I adore her, and I’m sure my mother-in-law appreciates having me forever stroke her head, telling her how sweet and adorable she is.

Second up, Beemer, my boy cat. He picked up my husband outside of a restaurant one Halloween. Beemer was too young to have been running around loose, he obviously had been starving and one paw was burned. He followed my husband to the car. When my husband opened the door, Beemer jumped in. My husband called me from the car and informed me it looked like we now had two cats. I said no, absolutely not.

When I got home from work that night Beemer had already been to the vet, had all of his baby shots, his foot was bandaged and he was eating. He hasn’t stopped eating since, although he did take time out that night to jump up on my lap and purr into my neck. Of course I fell in love and he stayed. He still thinks he’s starving. He gets dry heaves when he’s not fed on time. (His time, not mine.) He’s huge now, he’s messy, he has a touchy stomach, he’s obstinate, but he loves me. What else can I say other than Beemer is male.

Last, I hope, but not least, The World’s #1 Worst Terrorist, Sarge. Sarge came to us in a friend’s pocket. Very tiny, the runt of the litter, the last one left, and–the story goes–they were going to take her to the pound. One peek at those sweet, innocent, dewy eyes and I was hooked. Here was an adorable tiny kitten who needed a home. I had a home. She took one look around and realized we were goyem. Little did we know how goyem we really were. Within one day she had climbed up a pair of $500 sheers on my living room picture window and torn them to shreds.

I hid the sheers so nobody would know she’d done that, which tells you how quickly I fall in love. In fact, I’ve never had her declawed because by that time I had decided declawing is a horrible thing to do to cats. As a result, Sarge has had her way with countless blowup mattresses, and the chair in my writing room is in shreds, but what’s most important, a chair or the cat? Sarge, so named because she has three stripes on her arms, rules the house. She’s little, she’s fast, she’s sneaky and she’s tough as hell. Just about what you’d expect from the runt out of a litter of eight.

But enough background. Back to the Big Redecorating Weekend.

In my infinite wisdom, I had figured out that if we kept all three cats in our bedroom all weekend, everything would be fine. I brought in their water bowls. Their dry food bowls. Their litter box. I knew within minutes that was a mistake because one of the cats used it. Even so, it was too late, That Dog was already in the house.

Somehow we managed to keep them all in the bedroom all Friday and Saturday. We got half the living room painted. Then, early Sunday when my husband went to the bathroom, all three cats tore out of the bedroom. Quietly, of course.

Among all of her other self-imposed duties, Sarge is our Hall Monitor. She’s perfectly capable of standing in front of a hundred-pound dog and daring him to come any further, which she did. When I got up, Sarge was standing in the doorway between the dining room and the family room, where Barb and Chris were sleeping. Dog wanted to come out and play. Sarge didn’t want him to. He had backed up, cowering, behind the sofa. Sarge wasn’t about to let him by. And he was letting her get away with it. A hundred pounds of dog, cowed by a nine-and-a-half-pound cat. Unbelievable.

I walked into the kitchen and found the other two cats eating That Dog’s food. Sarge joined them in their quest and I know exactly what their quest was because by now I know how cat psychology works. Since Dog wasn’t leaving, they were going to starve him to death, and Sarge wasn’t going to let him anywhere near his water either. Now get this. Normally you have to put the cat food up where the dog won’t get it, and normally you have to protect cats from strange dogs.

Not in this household. In this household the cats eat the dog’s food and the poor dog doesn’t dare look crosseyed at them no matter what they do. I fully expect them to construct a Tent City in the hallway so he can’t get out of the family room.

Update, Saturday Afternoon:

Two cats under my bed, Sarge on top of the refrigerator where she can Watch Everything, Dog asleep in the family room. That Dog ate all the cats’ food, score one for him, I didn’t see him do it either. To his credit, so far he has stayed out of the litter box, which contains several (to any dog) Delectable Doggie Tootsie Rolls. I’m off to clean the cat box right now. More later.

Update, Sunday Morning:

The cats are now institutionalized. They won’t leave my bedroom. They all got the message at the same time, apparently…except for Sarge.

Barb took That Dog outside to do his thing early on, and Sarge took up her post at the back door. When they were ready to come back in, That Dog took one look at who was guarding the door and hid behind Barb, shivering. Barb insisted they were coming in. Sarge stayed where she was. Barb and That Dog came in the house. Sarge said, “Whoa now, wait just a damn minute here!” and took a flying leap at That Dog’s head, probably intending to tear it off. BUT That Dog finally got all his nerve together, gave a mighty lunge and barked.

This time, Dog 1, Cat 0. Sarge ran back into the bedroom and stayed there the rest of the day with the other two cats. We actually got a lot done Sunday. Not only the painting but Chris, the most adorable and brilliant of wonderful human beings, built me, without me knowing he was doing it, a beautiful flat stone and river rock walkway out the back door to our fence, and in addition to that, a beautiful little garden with flowering bushes and mulch covering the dirt. An absolute oasis, a lovely spot to look at when things get to be too much in the house, which they often do. Bless them. They’ve saved my sanity.

Dog went home that afternoon. My Grandpuppy, I call him, and I miss him. Besides being totally sweet and completely loveable (he sat on my lap Saturday night during a huge thunderstorm while Sarge sat at the window and watched all the fireworks) he’s the only one I’ve ever seen who could actually make Sarge behave for more than fifteen minutes.

That was my weekend. How was yours?

Hots will be back next weekend, and Sarge says Hey!

Love, Beth (A poor substitute for Hotclue, I know, but as with everything else, I try.)

Family and Other Odd Creatures | 7 Comments  







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