27 April 2015

Eyes on the Prize

So I'm sitting at my computer, staring at the white screen of death that Word gives you when you fire up a new document. I've shifted in my seat at least three times. I pulled up the internet, then immediately turned it back off. The number of dramatic sighs have gotten lost in the din of my brain saying, "just go take a nap."

It doesn't help that the curtains are open, and there is a breeze blowing outside that keeps drawing my eye to the tree with the red leafs across the street.

You see, I just did it again!

Oh, and there may or may not be a small bag of cookies on my desk. At one point there were cookies in there, but not anymore.

Which makes me sad.

But as I was gearing up to write a blog post about book covers, I kept getting distracted by all of these other wonderful (and frankly more interesting) things around me.

I think about what to type, but before I actually begin typing, I have a cookie. Then I must finish the cookie, lick my fingers clean, then go back to typing. But by then, I've decided I didn't like what I had been thinking about before, and I have to start over.

It is  vicious cycle. One I'm sure we've all been through at one time or another. Or five times this afternoon.

So why do we stall?  Why do we dawdle? Why can't we follow the advice of Nike and "Just Do It?"

In my case, the problem is generally one of two things.

First, and forgive me a moment of spirituality, I will figure out that I'm going in the wrong direction in any given project that I'm working on. Sometimes I can fight and fight and fight, but in the end I give up, and turn down a different path, and BAM, life is roses and Sprite. This happens in my life as well.

Second, my eye is not, as they say, on the prize.  Or, and this is a subcategory, I don't have enough of a project thought out to actually have a prize in mind.

Let's take this blog. What is the purpose of my blog? In the beginning, about a thousand writers told me that I had to have a blog, so that when I got fans they would know where to find me. They would want to know witty and silly things about my life. So that's what I blog about. Plus some writing stuff.

But that's sort of gone all wishy-washy. Especially since blogs are no longer the preferred platform of social networking.

But I like blogging. I don't love Twitter.

So why am I here?

Not sure. I guess my goal now is to figure out what my prize is. Then I can go for it.

As long as cookies don't get in the way.

Take a look at something you're doing in your own life. Is it making you happy? Do you know why you're doing it, or could the reasoning use an overhaul? If you don't see a prize, then consider taking the time to reevaluate your actions. Don't waste time on things that don't really matter.

On the flip side, when you see a worthy prize ahead of you, work like crazy to get there. It's always worth it!

20 April 2015

The Altar of Well-Meaning Advice

Crying freaks me out.

You know in the movies when the woman breaks down into hysterical tears and the poor boy doesn’t know what to do about it. Hug her? Get her a tissue? Slowly walk away while keeping eye contact the whole way?

I’m a girl, but that’s usually my reaction to tears. I know when I cry, I like to be left alone (except by the husband, who is required to hug me until I tell him he can leave). So that’s what I usually do.

Over the last month or so, I’ve watched a lot of friends and family members struggling. I won’t go into details—we all know that this life can throw curve balls and sling mud on a level that rivals political campaigns. Just imagine your worst day or week or year and perhaps double it.

I’ve had a lot of friends who have had miscarriages. This is a horrible situation to be in. Years ago I was speaking with a friend’s husband, and I simply told him how sorry I was.

He glared at me.

I said nothing more, mostly because I had nothing more to say. I’ve never been through that. What advice could I possibly offer him?

After a second, his face softened, and he said, “Thanks. I thought you were going to go on.”

“Uh, no.”

Then he snapped. He told me how many people tried to tell him about the time that their friend or family member went through the same thing, or that he should just turn to God, turn away from God, go take a vacation, quit his job to be home with his wife…pick a statement and someone offered it up on the altar of well-meaning advice.

He’s a passionate guy, and he was furious. He said to me, “You know what? You can tell the people who have been through it, because they don’t elaborate. They look at you and say, ‘I’m so sorry.’ You know that they know how you feel, and they remember that nothing really helped them, so they just pat you on the shoulder and walk away. Why can’t other people do the same?”

At this point, I was glad I’d stuck with my simple sympathy.

But he’s right. In general, people who love you want to help you. They’re not always equipped to do so, but that hardly ever stops them. And sometimes it’s hard to not smack them. Or, in my cause, wonder why I’m not giving them a hug or offering them food.

We’re here to help one another through this mess of life. I wish I had the perfect answers for everyone who had questions, and I wish I knew the exact words to say to pull someone out of a downward spiral, but I rarely do. And most of the time, if you’re the one crashing, and you’re not ready to be comforted, no one’s words will help you

As an author, I put my characters through hell all the time. As a friend, I wish I could write the problems away, but it doesn’t work like that.

Everyone is going through something. It may not feel as important or as real as your own problems, but for the person suffering, it is. Be a listening ear. Don’t judge, and whatever you do, don’t make light of someone else’s pile of issues.

No writing advise today, just a call to be a good friend. Everyone needs one or two.

06 April 2015

The Brand Demand and the Guy Who Wrote It.

Hey everyone,
Today we are hosting the, ah, er, umm...one and only (because the world can only handle a single copy) Johnny Worthen.

Seriously, if you've met him there is no short description, and if you haven't, hold on to all of your bits and pieces.

Although if you have a short description, leave it in the comments. I'm curious.

Johnny has a handful of books already published. None of them are the same flavor. Which is pretty much awesome. His latest baby is:

As usual, I sent him some highly personal questions to answer. Although I held off on anything having to do with the bathroom or bodily functions. Mostly to spare you.

1-Write down the next four thoughts you have. (I'm just trying to demonstrate your acute and somewhat epic ADD)

1— I’m sick of this song. I should change it.
2— Where’s the remote?
3— I spend too much time looking for the remote.
4— Come on! Where’s the goddamn remote!

2-Let's say you are king of the world, what one food would you purge from planet Earth?


3-Would you support Pay Per View combat rounds in the Senate? They have to fight it out in order to speak on the floor? They get to choose weapons—thumb wars, swords, Q-Tips...

No. Bullies always win things like that.

4-What is the most frightening aspect of Southern Utah Romance Writers? There must be a story here.

G rating. It’s not tantalizing, it’s not titillating, it’s trying and tame. Give me flesh!

5-In six words, describe politics. I'm insanely curious.

Rich people exploiting poor people.

6-What get rich quick scheme tempts you the most?

Armored car heist.

7-How did a political thriller make it to the top of your to write list?

The politics is mostly motivation. It reflects the frustration many left leaners feel in a very conservative environment. It was born out of the Prop 8 debacle in California and the terrible Bush years we’ve yet to recover from. It’s a story about a person who holds strong beliefs but holds them without a tether to the world he’s trying to protect. Galen Reed, the protagonist, limits himself emotionally and intellectually as he fights a Robin Hood crusade against toxic hypocrites and unfettered capitalism. It is ultimately a character study of loneliness and purpose, two of my favorite themes.

8-What was the best part about writing this book?

I’ve always admired Edward Abbey. When I became a writer, I wanted to do something like he had done and create a mythology of resistance. THE BRAND DEMAND gave me a chance to connect with his MONKEY WRENCH GANG a little bit. Different times need different tactics, but both gangs are fighting for what I think is right.

9-So, why should we read your book? Hmmm? (This is the part where you dazzle us with your rapier wit.)

THE BRAND DEMAND is an adventure/mystery. It’s about bad guys who are good guys and one guy who meets a gal. It’s got high stakes and local color. It has an eclectic ganga and a sex scene that makes me blush. It challenges both sides of the political spectrum and is a page-turning read. It’s very cool.

10-What's next? Following your career is like riding the Tea Cups—you never know where you'll end up.

This is a hat-trick year for me. First, I have THE BRAND DEMAND now. In July, CELESTE, THE UNSEEN BOOK 2, hits the shelves. That’s a thrill right there. And in the Fall, I have the start of what I hope to be my signature series, THE FINGER TRAP, a Tony Flaner mystery. It’s a comic noir, full of social commentary and mid-life crisis.

Next year, DAVID, THE UNSEEN BOOK 3 will hit and I’m shopping a handful of other titles hoping to break into the big five. I’ll be attending and presenting at writers conferences as much as I can to pick up clues and leave a few. I’m living the dream. Wish me luck

If you would like to as Johnny any questions, mock him or (and this would be better) say hello, here are the many ways he has given the innocents of the world to stalk him:

And if you're now dying to read THE BRAND DEMAND, click on the title and go thee forth unto Amazon!

Look at that face.
Don't let it fool you.

25 March 2015

Beast Charming-What a Hottie

Today I'm interviewing the ever witty Jennifer Wardell.
You may poke her and make fun of her, because quite frankly, she can take it.
Just read one of her books, and you'll see.
You'll laugh and you'll cry-because you're laughing so hard.

Beast Charming is almost here!
If you've ever loved a boy, you know that they're both beastly and charming. It's okay to want to smack them.

Jennifer will now answer my random questions:

If you could start your day the exact same way every day for the rest of your life, how would you start it?

I'd have a nice, leisurely morning lazing about in bed, a stack of both new and beloved books next to me and some poor soul delivering me breakfast.

A Capella music, ya or nay? Discuss.

I've got nothing but love and admiration for people who can make beautiful music without the aid of a backup melody. The groups that add vocal rhythms using sounds can get so complex that you can't tell there aren't any instruments when you listen to the song.

What color would you paint the outside of your dream house?

I'd make it so I could change the house's color according to how I was feeling at a particular moment. Sometimes I want a classy gray house, but other times I want a purple house covered in stars.

What is your favorite foot attire?

Unless the ground might make my feet hurt, I prefer to go barefoot whenever I have the opportunity. Shoes and socks are useful, but they're also extremely confining.

What is your preferred writing ensemble?

I'll write in nearly anything – I have a notebook in my purse if inspiration hits me when I'm away from my laptop – but my ideal writing outfit is pajama pants and a nice, comfortable t-shirt (preferably with some sort of witticism on it). That way, there's nothing to distract me from what's going on inside my head.

You probably get this a lot, but if you got sucked into a fairy tale, which one would be your secret dream come true? What character would you play? (I know people who want to be the Evil Queen, I'm just sayin'.)

Oh, there are so many stories I'd love to be sucked into, but whatever one it was I'd want to be a side character like the fairy godmother or mysterious old woman by the side of the road. Even the Evil Queen is usually stuck in one spot, fulfilling her "destiny," but as a side character I could go around and completely mess everything up for the better. I could give the Evil Queen inside intel if I decided I liked her better than the protagonist, or I could keep the serving girl from marrying the idiot prince and let her run off with the farm boy she's secretly in love with anyway.

Have you had a lot of awkward moments in your life? Has this attributed to all of the fantastically awkward moments that your characters go through?

My life seems to be made entirely of awkward moments. Even on those rare occasions when I seem vaguely calm, cool and collected on the outside, inside I am always absolutely certain that I am about five seconds away from doing something mortally embarrassing.

My characters end up in those kind of situations so often because I want to imagine that even totally awkward dorks like me could still be heroes. Also, it always helps to realize that you're not the biggest screw-up in the world, and if I can give that to my readers then I've done my good deed for the day.

Which awkward moment are you particularly proud of? (In your books, sheesh.)

There are so many moments that it's hard to pick just one, but early on in "Beast Charming" Beauty tries to have a dramatic moment and instead gets completely lost in the woods around the castle. There's something really funny to me about having all that momentum – the perfect argument planned, righteous indignation firmly on your side – and not getting to do anything with it because you're not sure which way is north.

Why Beast Charming? What drew you to this story?

I always loved "Beauty and the Beast," but the unspoken message that Beast needed to be "fixed" by someone better than he was bothered me. Most of us are messed up and/or damaged in some way, and we should be saving each other rather than waiting for some mythical perfect person to come along and do the job.

Tease us. Why will we love this story?

Because the hero gets the happily ever after and supporting characters get all the best lines, and so when you make a supporting character the hero you get the best of both worlds. Also, sometimes complete disaster can be absolutely hilarious, and we all know that the butler is usually the one who's secretly running the entire show. 

You see? Read it, you won't regret it!

And if you're now dying to stalk Jennifer, here's how you can do it: (I believe she encourages the stalking But be prepared, she might fight back.)


Oh, and don't forget the Rafflecopter giveaway. Free book stuff? Yes please.

23 March 2015

Jo vs. Nature...Nature is Winning

I really, really do.

As a kid, I never had to do yard work. My dad did it all. Maybe my parents had agreed early on in their marriage, that mom would take care of the house and dad was in charge of the yard. Or maybe that was the expectation of the time—they’ve been married for over 50 years. Either way, yard work never ended up as one of my chores.

Okay, there was a brief stint where I did mow the lawn, but that’s like extreme vacuuming, so I don’t really count it as yard work.

No, yard work is the weeding and the edging and the trimming and the watering and the clipping and the seeding and the tilling and the spraying…and all that jazz. Which isn’t at all jazzy.

This post is making me sound like I hate nature. I don’t hate nature, I hate having to beat it back every three seconds. Because I swear, I’ll weed a section of a flower bed, get a drink of water, go back for more weeding and little, green shoots have already started to invade the six square inches that I just cleaned out.

Weeds are like dust, you get rid of them, but they’re not gone, they’re just lurking nearby, waiting to settle back into their invasive lives. My life.

For instance, last weekend trimmed our peach tree.

This tree is a survivor. In the two falls that I’ve lived in this house, it has produced several large totes full of peaches. Big, juicy, delicious peaches.  We’ve never watered it. We’ve never sprayed it. We’ve never trimmed it. It’s like the cat of trees.

Well, I figured since last year we had to prop a bunch of the branches up—because there were so many peaches on them—that I would trim it.

First off, ask four people how to trim a peach tree and you’ll get four different answers. Make it look like a square. Only trim branches that poke up. Only trim branches that poke down. Cut off all small branches and make it start afresh. Trim it in the fall. Do it in the spring. Do it at night…okay, no one said that I had to trim the tree during the night, but you get what I mean.

I still have tendonitis in my right elbow, so I’m not supposed to use my right hand to trim branches, nor am I supposed to use the double handed trimmers. That leaves lefty and a pair a clippers that have never worked together before.

If anyone had been watching I imagine that for a few minutes, it looked as if the tree and I were having a staring contest. There should have been dramatic, whistle music. The wind rustled the branches. I narrowed my eyes. A new blossom burst open. I flexed my semi-special left hand fingers around the clippers.

After the standoff, I went in.

Remember, this tree hasn’t been cut back in at least three years. Maybe more.

I started on the outskirts, trimming anything that looked dead. I started near the bottom, because I’m short. The clippers and my left hand finally figured out a system that worked. 

I should have worn safety glasses. Lucky for my hands, I had gloves on. My arms got all scratched up when the tree repeatedly expressed its displeasure at being assaulted. It dumped pollen all over me in an attempt to breed. Or maybe that’s its version of throwing poo. A lone bee decided that the pollen on me was more attractive than that in the hundreds of blossoms still on the tree. Apparently the tree thinks sticking branches in my hair is hilarious.

Oh, and just in case anyone is wondering, the husband conveniently got an emergency call from his office and had to do an hour and a half of work from home.

I’m going to have a little chat with his boss, who apparently also got out of yard work, about the whole incident.

It took a while, but I did get the dang tree trimmed. It sort of looks like a square. Ish. There are lovely, pink blossoms on it, so it looks adorable.

I felt a momentary swell of pride and accomplishment when I was finished, but then I turned around and saw the pile of branches that I then had to wrestle into the garbage can. Not to mention getting the garbage can into the back yard through a door that’s just a tiny bit too small for it.

It never ends!

On the bright side, it only took us an hour to weed the flower bed. It looks good. We used our first installment of Weed & Feed. We might actually get more grass than weeds in our yard this year. I think we got rid of the gopher.

No, this post isn't at all about writing. It's about a very stubborn character (me) who refuses to change their stance on an issue that shouldn't be a big deal. All characters need quirks, right?

Not shockingly, I still hate yard work.

16 March 2015

Breaking Down the Trilogy

The other day I got to be a guest speaker in a high school creative writing class. During the question and answer session, one of the students asked me how I managed to pull my trilogy series for New Sight apart into a plot for three separate books.

To be honest, I’d never thought of the New Sight story as just one book, so I’d never had his dilemma—which seemed to be that his story was too big for one book, so it needed to be partitioned into three.

My answer was clumsy, but in essence what I’m about to type.

How should the progression of a trilogy go?

I’m not an expert—in oh so many things—but I’m good at stealing, er learning from others. In this case, I always go back to the original Star Wars series. For me, they are a good balance for a trilogy. I’m not sure if they are the trope or of they just used all of the tropes. Doesn’t matter, we’re going to chat about them today.

The simple and overall plot of Episodes 4-6 is that Luke has to take down the Empire. (I’m ignoring Anakin’s story for now. Mostly because I can.) To take him from moisture farming nephew to a Jedi Knight capable of convincing his no-good father that he needs to toss the Emperor out the air lock (ish) is a bit much for a two hour film. Plus, Han Solo wouldn’t have gotten nearly enough screen time, and there wouldn’t be nearly enough C3P-O comic relief moments. And we needed all of the other characters to take down the military might of the Empire while Luke takes care of the Emperor/Daddy issue.

So how do you put breaking points in a monster like this?

Let’s look.

Luke is a farm boy. The Emperor is a Sith Lord. There’s no way that Luke is getting anywhere near him without being able to use the Force. In order to become a Jedi and gain control over the Force, he needs to know what the Force is, what it does and that he can trust it.

In A New Hope, Luke is introduced to the Force by the crazy guy in the desert, he gets tossed in with the rebellion (those other characters I was mentioning), runs like mad from Darth Vader, and he is urged by the now disembodied voice of the desert dude to use the Force to blow the Death Star. Which he does. So it’s a set-up movie, but it doesn’t beat the audience over the head like many of today’s origin stories do.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke is sent off to learn more about the Force—which he has obviously been working on—by his dead mentor’s ghost thing. His rebellion buddies get to tangle with the tangible bad guy while Luke runs around a smelly swamp lifting rocks and eating dirt. Luke has to gain these skills in order to go up against the Daddy/Emperor combo. Han and Leia fall in love. At the end, Luke has faced Darth Vader, and he knows all of the family secrets. He also kind of lost the fight with his dad, but he is determined to go after his friend, Han. So he’s learned about the Force, but he’s also learned what’s truly important—friends, loyalty and caring about others.

That sets him up for Return of the Jedi.  Luke has his Force skills, he’s in it deep with the Rebellion, he’s heading up the rescue party for Han and he’s mentally preparing for the fight he knows is coming. With all of that, he’s as ready as he can be to go after the big goal and take down the Emperor. And in the end, he doesn’t actually strike the Emperor down, but instead uses the Force and the loyalty and caring about others that he learned in the first two movies to NOT turn to the dark side. Which looks pretty painful, if you ask me.This brings good old Anakin (aka stupid head) out of his twenty year funk and gives him the man parts to toss the old man out like yesterday’s trash.

That’s what I told the class the other day. Use each book to bolster the main character’s set of skills and tools so that they are ready for the big fight at the end of the series.

What do you think? Do you agree? Am I way off?

02 March 2015

So He's a Vampire, So What?

A while ago I volunteered to judge for a writing contest. The first 500 words of a novel, to be precise. Most had fantastic ideas, most had decent hooks, some had good conflicts, a couple had great voices and most were clean as far as grammar and spelling go. However, I can say that every single one of them were lacking in (or completely lacked) one, very important thing.

The author hadn't given me a reason to invest my time or emotions into the characters.

Just how important is this?

Well, let's go back through my blog/ranting. What doesn't (usually) make a good beginning?

Starting in the middle of action.
Not letting the reader settle into the story.
Pacing that gives the reader whiplash.
A weak voice.

Now most of these can be salvaged, if the author gives the reader characters to care about.

The guy in a fight to the death can be interesting if we find out right up front that he is fighting to keep his daughter from being sold as a sex slave.

The cabin boy on the boat in the middle of a storm can't get swept overboard because he knows the secret of how to stop his now insane captain from raising a sea monster that will destroy the kingdom. Oh, and the captain is his father.

A vampire attacks a little girl, but one suck of blood and he realizes that she's poisoned him and now he's her slave. Just who is the bad guy here?

Stories are about change. And the most important arc of a story—as I've just recently been reminded of—is how the main character changes. They start out with a weakness that the reader picks up on near the beginning. The author takes the character through their own personal hell—sometimes kicking and screaming—until they realize that they need to change. They must change or they can't save the girl, save the world or even save themselves.

The best way to show a change is to show what things are like before anything new happens. This is another point where the stories I judges lacked. Not one of them took the time to show what a normal day looked like to the main character. It can take a few sentences to a few chapters, depending on your story, but this must be a part of the beginning of the book.

Vincent was your everyday, normal vampire—sucking blood, harassing the weak humans and partying with his rich buddies –until he makes the mistake of attacking that little girl who poisoned him. He had a feeling he shouldn't have done it, but she smelled soooo good. Now he has to decide if staying alive is important enough to bring down his own people, or if he will sacrifice his immortality to keep the vampire race from being wiped out.

If Vincent cares about the world around him before this, then the sacrifices he has to make won't be big enough to write a whole story about. If he doesn't care about his own skin then it doesn't matter when his new master sends him to kill the vampire leaders. Oh, and one of the leaders should be a relative he doesn't. That always makes things interesting.

Last year I went to a Comic Con panel titled “Why we love Joss Whedon.” The overwhelming response was that he creates awesome characters. Characters are why most readers keep reading. Give the reader enough about the characters to make them care. That is all.

What are some of your favorite characters and why?