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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Koontz and Kisses

Dean Koontz wrote a children's Christmas tale. Who knew? A bizarre little foray into an android creation by Santa's much maligned twin brother. And it's the sequel to one published in 2004. Who knew? Guaranteed to delight eight year olds with descriptions of snot and boom-whacka-boom onomatopoeias. It's Dr. Seuss meets War and Peace: a sing-song cadence with unique rhyming words but far, far too long for one digestible sitting by a second grader. The reviews of the original tale, Santa's Twin, were much more favorable, but still question: can novelists be successful poets? If you're a fan, might be worth a look-see.

~

In honor of all that is spectacular about New Year's Eve, I propose a Vortex list of our favorite screen kisses, television or film. They don't have to be first kisses, but they must be memorable. Then, we'll have a bit of fun with the suggestions. Leave your choice(s) in the comment section by Wednesday or email them to me: la-mitchell@la-mitchell.com.

What is it that makes a screen kiss great?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Great Expectations and The Writer's Palm

I'm on a blog holiday the rest of this week. Check out a great contest and a December 2007 revival post. Merry Christmas, everyone.

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Have a great romance or women's fiction story you want to get in front of major New York editors? My local RWA chapter, North Texas Romance Writers of America is sponsoring a Great Expectations contest. Deadline: December 27th. Membership in RWA is NOT a requirement.

Polish your manuscript and send in the first 25 pages plus a query letter. Category-specific score sheets. Paper or electronic entry. Cash prizes awarded to the top three finalists in each category. Rules and entry form.

Final round judges:
Contemporary—Megan Long/Editorial Assistant, Harlequin Books
Erotic Romance-Raelene Gorlinksky/Publisher, Ellora’s Cave
Historical—Esi Sogah/Editorial Assistant, HarperCollins
Inspirational—Melissa Endlich/Senior Editor, Steeple Hill
Mainstream w/RE—Megan Mckeever/Assistant Editor, Pocket Books
Romantic Suspense—Alex Logan/Assistant Editor, Grand Central Publishing
Single Title—Talia Platz/Editorial Assistant, NAL
Specialized—Chris Keeslar/Senior Editor, Dorchester Publishing
Young Adult— Alvina Ling/Senior Editor, Little, Brown Books for Young
Readers

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Recently, another author made me aware of the unique features writers carry in the lines of their hands. Of course, this opens up an entire discussion about whether the ancient mysteries of palm reading hold any truths about our inner selves and the path we're meant to follow in this life. How is it possible that even in utero, before the movement of the hands have created patterns of folds, these lines are visible?

Each February when I was young, I'd go to the annual Psychic Fair with my sister. We'd spend the entire day in the realm of the supernatural. Palm readings, tea leaves--you name it, we did it. I remember being fifteen, laying my hands on the black velvet in front of me and screaming inside, hoping she would say the man I would marry looked exactly like my high school crush. I can't remember much about the reading, we lost the sheet of notes my sister furiously scribbled as she spoke, but I do remember Carson Bell wasn't in my future.

In sixth grade, I made a project of studying palmistry, complete with a hokey demonstration--crystal ball and all--of me reading my teacher's palm. He'd Xeroxed his hand several weeks earlier for me to study, and the reading came out remarkably accurate. What happened after put an end to my curiosity.

After I'd nailed almost everything about my first "subject", the remainder of the class would ask me over and over to read their palms. I'd learned a little, enough to be freaky dangerous with the knowledge, and enough to know when not to say anything at all. One day a boy named Kevin asked me to read his palm while we were waiting in the milk line at lunch. Standing there, the pungent smell of corn chips smothered in chili wafting through the narrow hall, I saw the life line on both his hands were cut short. Judging from my sparse experience, in his twenties. The inevitable question most people ask when offering their hands is, "How long am I going to live?"

Kevin asked. It was the first life line I'd seen that didn't wrap around the thumb's mount, the completion of a long life stretched to the wrist. I didn't know what to say, so I replied, "I can't tell you." For six more years, through the halls of jr. high and high school, I'd encounter him from time to time and he'd hollar across a crowded throng of students, "How long?" with a smile on his face. It had become a running joke to him. To me, not so funny.

Today, I'll look at my own. I consider it a project in self-discovery, but I won't look at the palms of others. Maybe the metaphysical types are more highly evolved than I am at looking into the future and holding secrets I'm not sure we have a right to know, but when I hold the hands of family members, I never look. Some things are better left unknown.

And Kevin? Sadly, I don't know what happened to him. I'm hoping when my twentieth reunion comes around, I'll find him, alive and well. If not-if by some cosmic mapping I still don't understand his life was cut short-I'll know I gave him nothing more than the knowledge most of us carry. Not knowing. How differently he might have led his life if I'd blurted out in eleven year old ignorance that he wouldn't make it to adulthood. Would he have embraced life or lived in fear? A small stone dropped into his pond in sixth grade could have changed everything.

So I stay with the safe in this post. The pursuit of self-awareness. If you're a writer, here's what to look for:

~Mercury and Jupiter fingers with rounded tips signify creativity.

~The Apollo (artistry), Mercury (communication) and Luna (dreams, creativity) mounts should be pronounced.

~The "writer's fork" is found at the end of a drooping Head line indicates literary talent. Usually medium-sized.

~A small cross (X) on the Mercury mount is also known as a "writer's cross"

The dominant hand reflects those abilities that are closer and more prounounced in your nature.

Check out the comments section for which of these I have and post your own...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fourth Kitty and Fourth Estate Books

It's official. I can now be called the freaky cat lady. No, I don't have a hairnet and salmon breath and name my felines things like Nathaniel Pawthorne, but I have surpassed the limit I thought I'd ever reach. The more the merrier, right? The best part is my new acquisitions were shelter animals set to be euthanized this week. I can't think of a better way to celebrate the Christmas spirit and new life than to show these two a much-deserved pampered one. I'll post pictures next week.

For now, I give the bibliophiles a stop-motion animation short 4th Estate Books (Harpercollins) created to celebrate their 25th anniversary. If my book were included, I'd want it to be in the red-light district. Enjoy!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Sanctity of Elvis

Some things are sacred.

Ask my family which Christmas music I subject them to ad nauseum and you'll hear a resounding "Elvis." To me, while I'm far away from everyone and every place that connects me to childhood holidays, nothing has quite the power to resurrect the Christmas spirit in me more than his music. His songs are every tree-decorating Sunday when his "Christmastime, Pretty Baby" inspired a burlesque striptease of loud holiday sweaters and fits of laughter to last all day, every shingle my father hand-glued on a homemade dollhouse when I was eight, every nasty pecan sand tart my brother insisted my mom make.

With the release this season of Elvis Presley: Christmas Duets, we are subjected to a play list of tracks laid over his vocals by a smattering of female singers of our time. Someone should really tell Carrie Underwood that winning American Idol does not grant her the keys to every kingdom, but even her "I'll Be Home For Christmas" track is stellar compared to a duet with Gretchen Wilson. I feel confident Elvis would overdose all over again if he knew his "Merry Christmas Baby" was forever united with the Queen of Wal-mart. Why not extend the Elvis empire to a "Silver Bells" duet with Rob Zombie? A Fall Out Boy "Silent Night"? Lisa Marie, in all her lip-twitching glory, should be the only one allowed to sing with her father. Just because we have the technology, doesn't mean we should use it.

Wow, that was a theme in my previous novel. Huh.

Anyway, maybe I'm just an old soul with a semi-youthful glow. So to make amends with all of you out there who think marrying Elvis to Olivia Newton-John in "O Come, All Ye Faithful" bliss is the best new Christmas song since "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer", I offer up a way for you, too, to sing with The King. Please don't send me your version. I'll either be listening to Elvis or Rob Zombie-just not at the same time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Joseph

I'm channeling my inner Julie Andrews (not Oprah. Not.) to offer up a few of my favorite things. You won't find any battery scarfing devices or high end anything on here. That's not me. Just being in Macy's today made me break out into a rash of pretentiousness. I'm happy with slippers to replace my holey ones and a great book. Oh, and a contract. And a time machine, but Hoff's taking care of that, isn't he?

Favorite Thing #1: New Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos
These fall strictly into the "guy chip" category that I'd normally never touch. Anything with flames on the bag to warn you of impending halitosis and bright orange nuclear powder on the fingertips doesn't usually make it into my pantry, but I witnessed a twelve year old reaching excitedly for the bag with a look of pure bliss on his face and thought, "I'll have me some of that nom nom." I only recognize three ingredients, but the soy sauce is the best descriptor. It has a spicy, Asian flavor. Serve with breath mint. And Scope.

Favorite Thing #2: Bath and Body Works Sea Island Cotton Lotion
The genius product writers have this to say: Pure white cotton flows in fresh ocean air. Soft. Clean. Heavenly. Why is clean is always associated with the ocean? Every time I've spent all day on the shore, I've returned smelling like a salty creature of the deep. Nevertheless, it has aloe barbadensis leaf juice and apple and grape extracts in it, so imagine smearing fruits and leaves on your skin and running down the beach and I think you've got it.

Favorite Thing #3: Starbuck's Salted Carmel Hot Chocolate
You know that salty-sweet one-two punch that DQ Peanut Buster Parfaits used to have when you were twelve? That's this at 120 degrees. Yes, paying three dollars for hot chocolate is absurd, but isn't everything at Starbucks exorbitant? Wait for the gift card from your crazy aunt and try it. Don't take the final two sips though. The salt sludge will take a year off your life.

Favorite Thing #4: Superview Highlighters
Highlighters are like Post-its: You either obsess over colors and could rainbow your entire existence or you have utilitarian yellow. I fall firmly into the former category. Superview highlighters are half-size so you can gorge yourself on more colors. The best part is the set that comes with a rappelling-like clip to fasten them together, highly metaphoric for those editing moments when you feel like you'll thrust yourself and your characters off the next plot cliff.

Favorite Thing #5: Netflix
If you haven't made the jump, what are you waiting for? In two months, I've saved more rental money than I contributed to the Blockbuster empire over the past two years. And who doesn't love going to the mailbox and seeing that bright red envelope that screams "Hugh Jackman!" between the utility bill and yet another Chase credit card application? It's like having a movie butler that will simultaneously fetch the most obscure classic and the new release you used to karate-chop other renters for.

Favorite Thing #6: Michelob Ultra Tuscan Orange Grapefruit
Some will say this is girl beer. It probably is. I'm sure, for men, drinking fruity alcohol requires a temporary revocation of your man-card. The bottom line is-it's winter. Wouldn't we all rather be soaking up rays on the Mexican Riviera? Don't plunk down your hard-earned greenbacks on the lime or raspberry flavored Mich Ultras-they are the fluff that bows at the feet of this Summer-inspired beer.

Favorite Thing #7: The Westinghouse Indoor/Outdoor Remote Set
If I actually had this, it would be favorite thing #1. As it stands, the ritual of turning off outside Christmas lights at midnight involves a mad dash to three separate plugs dressed in aforementioned holey slippers and a mismatched homage to warmth. Of special delight is when wet holly branches snap me in the face while reaching for the outlet. A Holly Jolly Christmas, indeed.

Favorite Thing #8: Amazon's Free Shipping
Is it any wonder why Amazon is killing the brick and mortar stores in sales? Amazon tempts me with the dangling carrot of free shipping if I'll add only $5.95. Would I rather pay for shipping or another delicious literary offering? Yes, I believe I will have another.

Favorite Thing #9: Passing a FeedBurner milestone
Thank you to everyone who returns, quiet as Cindy-Lou-Hoo on Christmas Eve, to read the blog and for those who feel compelled to comment. For all of you, I offer up my Favorite Thing #10: an e-card I received this year:

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Quest for Father Time

It's not even Christmas yet, I know, but I wouldn't be doing my time-obsessed duty it I didn't pass along this opportunity. Unfortunately, I'm nowhere near the cities participating in the New Year's Eve Adventure Game: The Quest for Father Time. According to my trusty Statcounter, however, some of you are, so I offer this up as a treat for a memorable way to bring in 2009.

Ravenchase Adventures has put together a world-wide event, promoted as a cross between The Amazing Race, The DaVinci Code and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Here's the game's premise:

The Past

Every year, Old Father Time does his best to keep his gnarled fingers wrapped around time’s hourglass, preventing the change from one year to the next. Though stubborn, Time considers himself fair and has thus created a wild, intellectual challenge for you and your team to solve.

The Present

With a healthy dose of irony, you and your teammates must race against the clock to guarantee that time’s forward progress will continue. At once fighting for and against time, you and your fellow chrononauts will test your mental courage and intellectual prowess against not only that of Father Time, but also that of the other competitors.

The Future

With the help of your map and your clues, you will find Time’s clues and secrets hidden throughout your city. Solve them as quickly as possible, and get to the after-party in time to celebrate your success and welcome the arrival of 2009 in high style. Champagne will be on hand for everyone, but only the most successful chrononauts will enjoy Father Time’s fabulously tacky prizes.

Participating cities and links to more information on team formation and cost:

Honolulu, Hawaii
Nashville, Tennessee
New Orleans, Louisiana
Paris, France
Princeton, New Jersey
Richmond, Virginia

If you hear of anyone who participates in this, pass it along. I'd love to hear about it.

How do you usually spend New Year's Eve?

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Day of Mourning

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved friend. Steadfast in his appearance numerous times during the course of each manuscript, he proved himself most dedicated. Always wanting others to bask in the editing limelight, he unselfishly retreated behind highly proliferating dependent clauses and ten dollar words. His lean two-word stance was the salt of literature, a tandem offering so subtle he eluded the tightening police for years. He never saw himself as redundant, merely offered what he had to give. His contribution to word count will not soon be forgotten.

Goodbye Mr. "his-own". May you rest in peace.

If you have an overused crutch word or writing gaffe you'd like to bury, leave it here...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bookworms, Creamed Corn and Skynyrd

I'm almost convinced I have a tag me sign taped to my back. Twice in one week. This one's about books, and I'm all up in that, so I'm game. Bookworm Award rules: 1) Open the closest book-not a favorite or most intellectual book-but the book closest at the moment, to page 56. 2) Write out the fifth sentence, as well as two to five sentences following there. Despite cat privileges (does anyone else declare these?-when the cat's comfortable weighting a human, said human does not have to move?), I reach:

Dark Rain by Tony Richards:

The goods he was delivering slid around a little in the back. Big brown crates filled up with canned goods, any kind that you could think of. Beets, clams, tuna, creamed corn-name it, it was there. This was all he did, come rain or shine. Deliver the stuff to the grocery stores throughout the area.
And he was usually happy with his lot. Not now, though. Not at all.

Tagged to play: Melanie, Laughingwolf, Pam, Sandra
and Marilyn (because we all know what they say about paybacks)

~

Since I began writing The Night Caller, my fascination with nineteenth century photos has increased exponentially. I stumbled across this one a few days ago:Do you see it? I'm not one to buy into every potato chip-Jesus thing, but I had a hard time seeing past the dominant image at first. If you cover the wavy hair, you'll see a child in a white hat. Take your hand away, it could be a precursor to a Skynyrd album cover.

~

Who doesn't love a guarantee? Literature-map is the book version of Netflix's suggestions. Type in your favorite author and out spills a treasure map of proximity to your tastes. Great tool for writers who need to prime their market savvy, too.

That's all the randomness I have to offer today. Wear black on Friday, we're burying our worst writing crutch word.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Feeling the Love and Answers

Before we get down to the business of answers and all things Thorn Birds, I have to squee at the honor bestowed on the Vortex for being named someone's favorite. Granted, she has winner's guilt over a 2007 impasse of epic writerly proportions, which could account for some of the love. Nevertheless, I'll display the avatar proudly. Thanks, Marilyn.

Sadly, no one answered all the true/false questions correctly, so watch for more freebies in the coming weeks. Ask me if I can resist rummaging around a discount bin to score time travel movies or books. Go ahead, ask.

Now for the answers to The Thorn Birds trivia:


1. Colleen McCullough hated the ABC miniseries adaptation of her international bestselling novel (t/f). True. According to executive producer, David L. Wolper, the author revealed her dissatisfaction in several interviews with Australian newspapers.

2. The original week the miniseries aired in 1983, a major airline aired episodes during its evening flights so no passengers missed any portion of the ten hour saga (t/f). True.

3. The McDonald's corporation was the number one advertiser during the miniseries (t/f). False. In fact, McDonalds was so dissuaded by the religious controversy surrounding the miniseries, they refused to purchase any ad time. Later, they amended their position to only purchase ad time before the relationship between Father Ralph and Meggie was consummated.

4. Rachel Ward beat out actress Jane Seymour to portray Meggie Cleary because she had a more authentic Australian accent(t/f). False. Rachel Ward did beat out Jane Seymour for Meggie's part, but not because of the accent. Casting believed Jane Seymour to be too strong an actress to portray the innocence needed for Meggie.

5. Amongst the many technical flaws in the film, cars are seen driving on the right side of the road instead of the left, as is the norm in Australia(t/f). True.

6. The antique church robes used for Father Ralph's wardrobe came from a former priest who'd been excommunicated from the church(t/f). True.

7. Bryan Brown, the actor who portrayed Meggie's husband Luke O'Neill, and Rachel Ward fell in love on the set and remain married to this day(t/f). True.

8. The "ashes of roses" dress Meggie Cleary wore at her coming out party was lost in the men's bathroom at LAX during filming(t/f). True. While shipping off cast and crew to film in Hawaii, a studio assistant left the dress in the men's room at the airport. A mexican soldier found it, saw the studio's address in Burbank and returned it. The dress arrived in Hawaii minutes before the previous post's publicity photo on the beach was taken.

9. The sugar cane fields and beach scenes were filmed in Hawaii(t/f). True.

10. Christopher Plummer won a Best Supporting Actor Emmy for his portrayal of Archbishop Vitorrio(t/f). False. He was only nominated.

Last tidbit of trivia about the final scene in the miniseries: In the book, Father Ralph dies in the house with Fee present. The Thorn Bird's screenwriter, Carmen Culver, envisioned the rose garden as the perfect place to end the saga. In such a harsh land, she believed, the garden became a metaphor for heaven.

This week: literature maps, false heads and a ceremonial burial of my biggest crutch word. Bring yours and we'll bury it together.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Drohgeda!...Bless You

Guys, check your man card at the door. This post might make you cringe from all the estrogen. Don't say I didn't warn you.

In seeking a diversion from the dizzying blur of final draft line-edits and the copious amount of holiday preparation I haven't even attempted, I offer up a concoction of romantic trivia from the past. To celebrate the latest run of The Thorn Birds on LMN and the evolution of my appreciation since I watched the miniseries the two previous times, a game of Friday True or False?:

Richard Chamberlain would have satisfied my Irishman and Father-What-a-Waste fantasies all in one deliciously bundled ten hour saga had I been born thirty years earlier (true or false?)

Okay, that was just to get you warmed up. Do I really have to answer that for you?

Seriously, here goes. Careful, some are tricky:

1. Colleen McCullough hated the ABC miniseries adaptation of her international bestselling novel (t/f).

2. The original week the miniseries aired in 1983, a major airline aired episodes during its evening flights so no passengers missed any portion of the ten hour saga (t/f).

3. The McDonald's corporation was the number one advertiser during the miniseries (t/f).

4. Rachel Ward beat out actress Jane Seymour to portray Meggie Cleary because she had a more authentic Australian accent(t/f).

5. Amongst the many technical flaws in the film, cars are seen driving on the right side of the road instead of the left, as is the norm in Australia(t/f).

6. The antique church robes used for Father Ralph's wardrobe came from a former priest who'd been excommunicated from the church(t/f).

7. Bryan Brown, the actor who portrayed Meggie's husband Luke O'Neill, and Rachel Ward fell in love on the set and remain married to this day(t/f).

8. The "ashes of roses" dress Meggie Cleary wore at her coming out party was lost in the men's bathroom at LAX during filming(t/f).

9. The sugar cane fields and beach scenes were filmed in Hawaii(t/f).

10. Christopher Plummer won a Best Supporting Actor Emmy for his portrayal of Archbishop Vitorrio(t/f).

The first blog visitor to correctly answer them all will receive an archbishop cone fashioned out of construction paper from me. Kidding. I'm feeling generous, so in addition to bragging rights, the winner will get a copy of Colleen McCullough's novel, The Thorn Birds.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Pick-Up Vortex 10

I was going to blog about something different today, but I feel an overwhelming need to address the masses of men out there who subscribe to the Mystery doctrine of wooing women. If you don't know who Mystery is, you won't give a tinker's damn about the contents of this Vortex 10, but if you're still curious, check out this Talk Soup clip.

Dear any-man-who-thinks-The-Pick-Up-Artist-has-it-going-on,

I use the term "man" loosely. Anyone who buys into Mystery's goal is too immature and self-absorbed to come close to a woman's definition of a real man. I know women are hard to understand. Many times, we are at a loss to understand ourselves, but this self-proclaimed messiah of seduction is not the answer.

I've watched bits and pieces of Mystery's philosophies for two seasons now, enough to gag down a few of his preachings. Why, you ask? Lost is still in reruns. Accompanied by his wing man "Matador" and a steady parade of shallow women who in no way represent most of the fairer sex, Eric von Markovik has dished out plenty of advice. Most of it, crap. Yes, he empowers shy and awkward men with confidence, but when the litmus test is bedding women, you've already lost the game. The inner poise most women respond to will be inevitably altered into something akin to his co-host's implants-bloated and deceptive. I don't speak for all women, but I do speak for the kind of women most of these genuine contestants hope to find:

1)Any man who gives his ego a nickname is a tool. This goes for Mystery or Matador or any other one-word avatar used to perpetuate his own sense of purpose. If you have to name it, you aren't there yet.

2)Why take fashion advice from someone who looks like a pimp? Approaching women in Purple Rain attire does not make you desirable, it makes you laughable. Take the free initial makeover the show provides and stop there. The size of the bauble around your hairy chest is directly proportional to how much women laugh when you turn away.

3)Cry on television if you win the Nobel Prize or are rehearsing a death scene for I Wanna Be a Soap Star. Don't cry because Mystery is digging for re-enforcement of his inflated contribution to society.

4)If you approach women in the grocery store's produce section, you're busted. It's cliche and you might as well have thumped your grandmother's melon for all the interest you'll get.

5)Soul patches and eyeliner work well on very few men. Those men are named Johnny Depp and Johnny Depp. They aren't you. Don't even try.

6)You'd do better to learn the mneumonics of STDs than the abbreviated pick-up artist lingo because the few women this advice works on will have an alphabet soup of disease.

7)Women have built-in pick up line sensors. Coming up to a woman at a club and saying "Hey, do you know whatever happened to Velcro?" will solidify your status as one to avoid because you're either wasted or stupid. Cater an opening remark to the situation, never use the same line twice and you'll have a better "gambit" than any schmuck who actually bought into anything Mystery had to say.

8)Earning the title "Master Pick-Up Artist" might as well be "Master-Bader" to our ears (apologies to my brilliant high school chemistry teacher for his unfortunate name). Why not earn the title of Master of Fine Arts and impress women with more than being coined best kisser by a porn queen?

9)Yes, the $50,000 might be worth going on cable to make a complete noob of yourself, but the price of your soul to be a wingman to an overinflated wanker is too high.

10)Lastly, receiving one of the seven colored medallions is no different from the celebratory Worlds of Warcraft quests you accomplished in your mother's basement. It's not "the best thing that's ever happened to you", it's a sign you're a gullible schmuck led down the brick road of bad dating advice.

Signed,
Double X chromosome

Monday, December 1, 2008

Defining Success

Every artist defines success differently. Some long to reach the pinnacle of cultural awareness in one shimmering, defining moment of glory. Some believe sweet recognition comes only through the slow, nurtured scope of a lifetime's body of work.

How do you define success?

For one reason or another, this question has niggled me the past month. Perhaps it's because success is a fluid idea, relative only to where we are along the path. What was success to me eight years ago-not entirely different now-has taken on an edge of maturity and appreciation. The process defines me in ways I was only an outsider to then. While I joke about the NY Times list-what writer doesn't?-I can feel the definition of success shifting within.

Imagine a writer who follows the creative path, always held prisoner to an idea that seems to define him. He experiments with different genres, grows in his craft, but this one idea encapsulates all that he is and loves in his work. He toils over its scope and magnitude for over a decade, while his peers mass produce books consumers are hungry for. His moment is coming, he can feel it as surely as he realizes the story he's creating is shaping his own life. And when he realizes success with this one masterpiece, more than he could have possibly imagined, he witnesses a glimmer few will ever know.

Imagine another writer, every bit as much along the creative path, but never stopping to find that one true elusive story of the heart. She is the steady racehorse of her publishing house, a mid-list author who's accumulated thirty books in twenty years, some her best, some utterly forgettable. Collectively, her body of work made it possible to live a decent life as an artist, garner peer awards, and develop a modest legion of readers. She wonders what it must be like for one of her novels to reach past the stratosphere of success, but doesn't toil over the fantasy. She has another deadline to meet.

Would the first writer spend the remainder of his days trying to recapture that glimmer only to fail? Would the second ever find the true diamond within?

If you, as an artist of any kind, could pick your success, which would it be?

Friday, November 28, 2008

#438

I finally tackled the monstrous chore of cleaning out my office closet. You know the one: phone books stacked taller than Mount McKinley, file boxes stuffed as much as my post-Thanksgiving stomach, random board game pieces littering the floor like they'd staged a grand escape and plummeted to their death. I culled and filed and organized until I'd reduced my life into fifty or so labeled letter-sized folders. Neat bundles, just the highlights-death, taxes-you get the idea, until I ran across one dot-matrix printed page with the words Discover Module 4 at the top.

In 1993, I sat down at a computer console in the counselor's office of my high school and logged answers to a UNIACT interest inventory to determine a possible list of occupations. The questions reduced my values, perceptions of my own abilities, and experiences into a mathematical quotient, a left-brained analysis of dreams.

Some of them I knew would be there. I'd wanted to be a teacher since I presided over a captive classroom of Cabbage Patch dolls when I was five. Teaching was always a no-brainer for me. Something I never once questioned, as preordained to my human experience as breathing. Out of thirty-six possible occupations UNIACT listed for me, 34 percent fell under education. Vocational. Elementary. Physical Ed (though if the questionnaire had addressed eyeliner and my aversion to track pants this clearly wouldn't have made my list). Back then, had I read an inevitability into the results, barely glancing at the other possibilities?

What were the other occupations? Museum curator, foreign language interpreter and librarian all make sense. Customs inspector, parole officer and sanitarian do not. Cataloging rat droppings in Waffle Houses doesn't light my fire, although the thread here really smacks of rule enforcement. FBI agent? Only if I get Mulder as a partner. But when I opened myself up to read the others, a full fifteen years later, I found a message from the past more perfect than I could have imagined.

#87 Columnist
#112 Book critic
#140 Editor
#354 Radio/TV Program Writer
#423 Technical Writer
#438 Fiction Writer

I was meant to be here. Crunched by numbers, culled from a place of values, abilities and experiences, the second most prevalent occupation predicted for me was exactly where life led me: a writer. A mathematical, left-brained answer to the venom of doubt that creeps in when I read another's masterpiece or can't find myself in the words I've committed to the page. A true gift to a heart filled with second dreams. Remember when I said there are no coincidences? On a day more uncertain than most, when I'd escaped to a diversion of insurance forms and file folders-tangible, concrete evidence of a day well spent-I found something far more valuable than deposit slips. I found my place on a road map drawn long ago. A quiet spot with the resonance of a dream and a life well spent.

A badge and an "I Want to Believe" poster in my office still would have been a close third.

What were your early dreams?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What on Earth?

Today, I'm all about shopping. Mind you, I'm a freaky female because shopping is one of my least favorite pastimes. I'd rather listen to someone rip my protagonist to shreds as one of the least valuable members to ever occupy literary society. Almost. I had to decompress from the absurdity of men clearly out of their element pushing grocery carts and the incessant chatter of women on cell phones buying cell phones at the AT&T store with 45 minutes of yoga. After which, I fell asleep in the corpse pose and awoke to my cat's one eyed-stare.

Then, behold. My favorite catalog came in the mail. One hundred and twenty seven pages of snarky t-shirts, pop culture items and deliciously non-politically correct gifts. My yearly thank you for the one-time purchase of a Hilary Clinton nutcracker. This, my dear blog readers, is Feliz Navidad to my spirit, weary from commercialism and the grinches already clogging the Wal-mart check out lines. Nothing says "Merry Christmas" more than a bog monster rising out of your toilet bowl or alien crash figurines for your garden.

So here, I give you my top ten favorite holiday gifts from the What on Earth catalog in the hopes that you might find inspiration or at least a smile to counteract the tool up the street who already has antlers affixed to his SUV:

1. Who doesn't need a snarky shirt for those days you just want to set the PTA all atwitter? My favorites? "Yet, despite the look on my face, you're still talking" and "If you woke up this morning, it's because Jack Bauer spared your life."

2. Hooray for the Bra-a hardback coffee table extravaganza for the feminist or perv on your list. Comes complete with ten interactive pop-ups and a bra hook closure.

3. The Michelangelo's David switch plate. The caption reads "Turn on the light--and David, too." Art as an interactive experience, the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

4. The Loo With a View book. Gorgeous photos depicting vantage points from inspiring toilets all over the world: the summit of Mount Fugi, under the Northern Lights and at the Station Inn in Yorkshire Dales (wherever that is-Miladysa help us out). A perfect way to class up the uncle on your list who clutters his privy with skin mags.

5. Not everything in this catalog is bathroom humor, but who can live without the You-Record Talking TP roll? The temptation to pre-record a message for a captive audience is almost too much to resist.

6. A rain chime music box, reminiscent of the Native American sticks, gives you 30-45 minutes of magical rain sounds from its hundreds of tiny steel beads randomly falling on internal chimes. Long enough to drown out the digestive sounds of your in-laws post-holiday dinner.

7. Crime Scene Scarf, meant to duplicate the plastic ribbon used by law enforcement. "Extra long for stylish looping and layering."

8. What Monty Python fan/writer doesn't need the Killer Rabbit stapler? Wrestle your synopsis together using this attack bunny's bloodstained fangs.

9. The flying monkeys plastic gun, direct from the land of Oz. Comes with a set of four terrifying one-inch red fedora-ed and caped primates.

10. And for spiritual moments around the tree, an ornament that reads, "Go Jesus-it's your birthday, Go Jesus!"

Happy Shopping, everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Life in Pictures


Not sure if this post should be related to time travel or time suck, but both are completely perfect. Life magazine just released its entire archive to Google Images courtesy of the Library of Congress. This union marries the delicious searchability of Google with creme de la creme photographs from every decade beginning in 1860. How great is that?

I lost an hour, easy. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Vj Day, August 14, 1945, Times Square

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Transitions

I don't always respect my reader. For reasons beyond me, I'm allergic to transitions that would provide perfect guideposts through my stories. Time and time again, my critique partners point out these oversights in bold red Sharpie-marks "I'M LOST!" I take it for granted that I've made the connections-why should they need the vanilla staples of transitions such as "Later that night" or "Afterward"? Ick.

Because they do. According to Jessica Page Morrell in her craft book Between the Lines, transitions are a courtesy to the reader to help them keep the fictional dream going. They help the reader to trust the author to lead them through the turns while freeing them to anticipate what's ahead. She cautions, however, "Do not imagine your reader is an intellectual invalid. While you should always guide the reader along in the story, there is no need to hover or announce every change." So how to find the balance?

In my quest to finally put this shortcoming to rest, I dove into Morrell's eight purposes of transition:

1. Moving readers through time

The most used of all transitions. Let's face it, sometimes we just want to inject the vitals. If a writer skips around in story time, the lost moments, hours or weeks must always be accounted for in the reader's mind.

2. Bridging the gap between scenes

Scene cuts are useful in a well-told, well-paced story, but if every new scene jumps into a new viewpoint or setting without warning, the reader will grow tired. These can be in the form of clues about where the scene is taking place or how the character arrived there. This type of transition is especially important when crafting an emotional sequel.

3. Compressing time

Not every moment in the story is of equal importance. This type of transition summarizes events when the reader doesn't need to know a huge amount of detail. If you find you've cut a scene because it doesn't advance the plot, but the information is necessary to the story's greater understanding, a transition is the perfect writer's tool. Morrell suggests, "It's a good idea, when you compress information, to focus on a few poignant details. Piecing together memories emulates the fragmented recollection we have in actual life."

4. Anchoring flashbacks

Indicates to the reader a shift backward in time or forward to present story time. Use of a sensory device or object is a full-proof way to make the transition believable and natural, as it is often how we access our own memories.

5. Indicating a change in setting

If a scene drops your reader into a new location, especially abrupt or surprising settings, a simple transition using sensory clues will keep the reader from becoming disoriented. Also, if a writer is employing multiple viewpoints, often in more than one locale, make sure the reader is re-grounded in the new viewpoint.

6. Indicating a shift in mood, tone or emotion

According to Morrell, "Shifting mood, tone and emotion as the story progresses ensures variety in your story. If every scene plays out as light and hilarious or somber and distressing the sameness of mood and tone will flatten out the story and cause the readers to become bored or restless." Although this is the most difficult transition to pull off, emotional shifts are often underscored with setting and lighting changes.

7. Indicating a shift in point of view

Morrell highlights Cold Mountain as a good example of point of view shift. Charles Frazier establishes the simple pattern of one viewpoint per chapter, which, in itself, serves as a transition the reader can easily internalize. Clues are still necessary to let the reader know how much time has elapsed since he last visited the viewpoint character.


8. Clarifying relationships

Often when a new, secondary character is introduced, a short transitional biography accompanying the physical description can help the reader "make room in his imagination."


Morrell's most important piece of advice about transitions? Variety, variety, variety. Be sure when you edit, you've sampled many different ways to transition. Here are some further transition cues found in Between the Lines:


Lighting, weather, seasons/years/eras, objects, mundane activities, a character's appearance and health, specific references to time or date, indirect references to time passing (ie--a garden growing, a crowd thinning), activities, interruptions (telephone, doorbell, arrival of another character), sound, space breaks and chapter breaks and datelines.


Lastly, (did you like that one?)I'll gush, again. If you're looking for fresh topics on writing, an examination on the subtle aspects of fiction and a comprehensive list of transitional words and phrases, you need Between the Lines. It's absolutely one of my favorite craft books.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Grand March Into Random Thoughts

You caught me again in a scattered moment. I can't pin my thoughts into one cohesive, philosophical waxing, so I won't even try. Maybe after this brain purge, I can get back to focusing on my novel's final read-through.

Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Contest is streaking an excited path through all the listservs and blogs, the second-round promise of that paved highway to publication leaving all the unpubs atwitter. I know. I was an entrant last year. Any contest of that magnitude the year of its inception was destined to have problems. I hope they've worked them out. Most who read this know I'm a glass half-full kinda person; and, far be it from me to advise anyone considering entering the contest, but I aim to shoot it straight. I met some wonderfully talented writers in the same boat as me. You'll find all kinds in your peer group of entrants. The cutthroats. The ones spewing peace and moments of zen that would put the 60's to shame. The "expert" unpubs who deem it their job to comment on everyone's work. Although Amazon will ask you to label your entry a specific genre, I don't believe the hugely talented panel of judges is looking for genre fiction, certainly not romance. It is free; it is a shot. I do preach writers must get their stuff out there. I'm just sure the there is not where I want to be. To read a post I wrote in the thick of the competition, click here, or visit Maureen McGowan's blog and do a keyword search for Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Her novel made the one hundred cut last year, which is a huge accomplishment. Yeah, Maureen!

Wal-Mart on a Sunday is some kind of cosmic punishment for something I haven't fully realized yet. Snark, maybe, or putting a half-moon up for a post last week, which inspired almost no one to speak up. Anyway, I found the perfect way to pass the time while subjected to this counter-culture shopping event. Wal-Mart bingo!

Crazy electrical things keep happening around me this weekend. Not that I'm self-important enough to think a huge grid of power is based on me, but a peep told me Friday night that it's easy for spirits to manipulate electrical things. Suspicious activity has increased here at Casa Mitchell. Of course, the incidents have been firmly relegated to my I'm-delirious-from-edits part of my left brain. Did I just see what I thought I saw-twice?? Na.

I participated in my first Grand March this past weekend. Nothing says bonding like a hundred strangers bouncing up and down to polka music, exploring the limitations of their Right Guard. I smiled so much that day, my cheeks ached. Now that is a day of life well spent.

If you haven't played Loaded Questions, get it. Not only will it teach you things you never imagined about the people you surround yourself with, it's like every writer's perfect fantasy of "what if". Now my critique group knows I think about Eric Estrada on occasion, believe the dirtiest job in the world is airplane bathroom cleaner and look in the mirror X number of times per day. I'm SO not revealing that one. My favorite question? I'll leave it with you here:

If you could be invisible for one day, what would you do?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tiny Anonymous Gifts

Picture this:

I’m sitting at my most-conquered Starbucks table, premium writing real estate because of its rare size and proximity to a wall plug. I’d scored the location five minutes ahead of a grumbling business type forced to huddle around a cramped rounder and dine on my second plug scraps of electricity. Behind me stands a stack of exorbitantly priced coffee pots (does anyone actually buy a $500 pot from Starbucks??) that teeters on occasion when I scramble away to recapture the time writing has snatched. Across the aisle, a woman in pea-green Crocs taps her foot to an i-pod tune while studying a textbook.

I feel guilt, so I justify the space by spreading out manuscript pages. I do this at home in deep edits so the highlighted colors tell a story. Totally unnecessary here, but to stave off the nasty glares from grumpy executive man. And there, something new creeps into my awareness.

This manuscript is two years old. I unearthed it that morning from my closet to enter it into a prestigious contest. The final version my agent had on file, one sent to two dozen publishing houses, had sprinklings of a mysterious maroon-colored penmanship on several pages. The handwriting, not of anyone in my critique group nor writing friends I sometimes send pages to, was quiet. Small and unassuming, but dead-accurate. The comments were like tiny gifts packaged into calligraphic bows.

In the cacophony of bean grinders and frothing machines and chirping cell phones, I waded through the mental rolodex of readers who’d had this manuscript in hand. The dinosaur method of handwriting should have provided hard evidence; most critiques I get now come via fattened emails loaded with track changes. Someone physically held these pages, and I can’t find him or her to thank.

The comments stop around page thirty-six. Does that firmly relegate the time period to the novel’s inception? Did the reader grow weary of the mistakes? Was that all I had to offer at the time? To whom did I entrust my raw words at the time that I no longer recognize the script?

I may never know, but it scarcely matters.

Those red marks are someone and everyone who’ll one day dive into our pages looking for an escape, a truth. Every fastidious cursive letter represents a bond, not with print runs or book clubs, but one anonymous reader who, through our stories, will become more intimate with us than almost anyone else. A thought both frightening and comforting.

We don’t write for many, we write for one. A full circle of writer to reader, complete.

And if anyone out there makes their “g”s like figure eights and crosses their “t”s only when inspired, don’t tell me. I love anonymous gifts.

Who do you write for?

Monday, November 10, 2008

From Castles to Chest Hair

Congrats to the winner of the First Line contest: Sue L. Here it is again in its glory:

It seemed funny, at the time, to see the world land in my yard, roll forward and squash Marin.

Sue, email me at la-mitchell@la-mitchell.com and let me know where to send your DVD. A huge thanks to everyone for tossing the ideas out there. Never underestimate how huge that is. Since I was twiddling my thumbs wanting to comment on each, you’ll find my gush on each one in the previous post.

*

After a weekend of gorging myself of all four episodes on Heavy: The Story of Metal (OMG-Janey Lane) and two Victoria Holt classic gothic romances, is it any wonder I have gothic on the brain? Purely from a marketing standpoint for my own novel, I needed to wrap my brain around the definition and feel of a classic gothic romance to know if The Night Caller fits into a modern version several NY publishers purchased in the past month. Without benefit of seeing these on the shelves for at least twelve months, I’ll have to concoct my own theories about this resurgence.

Gothic romance novels (like Metal, actually) never really go away. At times, editors may laugh in the face of anyone trying to sell one, but in the past decade, Dorchester has taken a chance on them with their Candleglow line authors Christine Feehan, Evelyn Rogers and Colleen Shannon in 2001; and, more recently with debut author Leanna Renee Hilber’s The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. With recent word St. Martin intends to repackage and rerelease Victoria Holt’s 1960’s classics, I smell a trend resurgence. That stale odor of the paranormal vampire and shapeshifter romance, masked by the yet-to-be-explored gothic sub-sub genre with a modern take.

To understand the modern prediction, I had to lay out the ingredients of the former. Against a backdrop of the true gothics-Rebecca, Jane Eyre, even Poe and Jane Austin’s mockery of the gothic, Northanger Abbey, I dove into the mid-twentieth century version. Here’s the recipie: Two parts angst to one part suspense/mystery. Add a castle-sized medieval stone, handfuls of eccentric secondary characters tied to the house, a smattering of charming, mysterious, brooding men, secrets and curses, and stir with spirits, real or imagined. The reader maintains an element of distrust toward the brooding hero—everyone, actually—which makes first person heroine narrative essential. The heroines are by no means waifs, but confined by their station in life, which naturally gravitates the setting to historical.

Therein lies a built in audience for readers of historical romance. But how to freshen and appeal to women who read contemporary paranormal? Here’s my theory:

Modern romance readers are sophisticated. They dabble in mainstream suspense, watch James Bond movies and can dissect LOST mythology far beyond how Sawyer’s chest hair (or lack thereof) plays into it. They crave the hero’s POV to draw them closer to his inner conflict and magnify the intimate relationship. They no longer want him storming home from “business”, leaving a frightening wake in the castle upon their arrival. The modern gothic romance hero is the darkest of all tortured heroes, but this time, the reader’s distrust of him comes from the horrors within. He is the supreme challenge to love, leaving the modern, strong heroine the only one to reach him. She must be as formidable in character and courage as he is dark in his, manifesting her strength through either occupation or insurmountable odds. She must have a damn good reason for investing herself in the chaos surrounding her; her motivation becomes the touch point to the entire plot.

The heat level, understandably, must go from a slow, simmering kettle to what modern romance readers expect. While a kiss to the hand has its charms, no NY romance publisher will take a chance on selling propriety.

The setting, while essential to a modern gothic romance, must be tight. Gone are the dense, undigestable passages of portraits and curtains and tableware. The writing must be fiercely economical to bring the classical heroine out of her musings and smack-across-the-face internalizations and into the action-meat of the story. Quirky secondary characters are still welcome.

So that’s my take. Does The Night Caller fit? That’s for me to know and an editor to find out. Let’s just say we're not contemplating Sawyer’s chest hair. Or are we?

What’s your take on gothic? Did I get it right?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Elect Your Favorite First Line

In honor of Michael Crichton and the sad news of his passing, I offer up the DVD film adapted from his novel, Timeline, as a treat for the Vortex First Line winner.

Of course, you knew it would be time travel, didn't you?

Cast your vote in the right sidebar before Sunday, 11pm CST; and yes, you can vote for yourself and more than once. If you'd still like to enter a first line, I'd be happy to add. Here's the photo again:



A: Mac Jennings guided his sixty foot Wellcraft through the Atlantic, thankful for the calm seas.

B: As he saw the great gray orb sprout up between the still-fragile leaves of young barley, old man Grant couldn’t suppress a wry grin. They were right. With good enough fertilizer, you can make anything grow.

C: I was the only witness, at the end of days, when the sun was gone and what was left of the moon settled in a desolate field crackling with the fading energy of a dying ember.

D: In the twilight evening, the moon came down to earth, and I found myself standing in its shadow waiting for the world's destruction to begin.

E: Zoltag clapped his hands in delight. "The new planet's here. The new planet's here."

F: It seemed funny, at the time, to see the world land in my yard, roll forward and squash Marin.

G: Scientists proved that the Spaghettio meatball's properties, when tested on alien soil, were not in accordance with the "Nutritional Information" found on the label.

H: It took thirty hours of driving on rain slick highways, each of us taking a six hour shift behind the wheel in between half-drunk groping in the back of the van or head bobbing to iPod-islands of personal meditation, and then after we ditched the car the stumbling slog through November fields with muddy ruts and stalks and rocks hidden in the night with only the beacon ahead to guide us, the light on the banks of the river and in the shadow of the mountains, some crazy Kinsella-if-you-build-it masterpiece of a bankrupt farmer gone batshit and in glow of this monstrosity looking like God's own Brunswick 16 pound bowling ball all Bobby can say is "Where's the little flag the astronauts left?"

Next week, I tiptoe through the market minefield of old skool Gothic Romance versus this-doesn't-have-nearly-enough-sex-in-it modern market demands and I play detective trying to figure out the mysterious handwriting on an old manuscript. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

First Line Fiesta

Participation Day here at the Vortex. I love this picture. Write the first line of the story....

Oh, and because you probably have election hangover and your brain is screaming, "Please, don't ask me to think!" I'll sweeten the pot. We'll all cast our votes Friday for best first line. The winner gets a secret DVD from me to be revealed Friday.

Who's first?

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Scent of a Hero

My relationship with the hero of the novel I'm still diddling with, The Night Caller, has crossed firmly over into the he-refuses-to-pick-up-his-socks phase. We've surpassed the honeymoon first draft, navigated the second draft plot hole bruises where each of us refused to see eye to eye and are in the final edits before the pages are shoved into submission. We're languishing in the too-familiar zone. I know as much about how he looks as the back of my own hands against the keyboard. I know he clips the first word of his sentences when he's angry, drinks more coffee than my high school AP history teacher, works only in boots past midnight and hates American cheese.

So in final edits, while I polish every nuance of his character, I'm struggling to find the one thing about him that will breathe fresh life-the turn of a phrase or description where I'll remember discovering him for the first time in that blissful first draft. Enter semi-neurotic writer on a quest for the perfect hero-scent.

It started innocently enough. A postcard-sized card tucked into a Belks sales ad. I rarely smell the women's perfume samples that pass through my hand. We all know on us they transform magically into God-that-smelled-so-much-better-on-the-card-stock-wand. Male fragrance samples I always embrace, because I know they'll stay manufactured and uncompromised by the seven other warring cosmetic products on my skin.

This one was called Unforgivable. Am I supposed to know who Sean John is? I'm guessing from the "vibe that is explosive yet chill" description, he's firmly off my pop culture radar in the netherworld of hip hop. But the name, ahh, that had me. What man in his right mind would perpetuate a state of erotic allure and proclaim his unworthiness all in one breath-or inhale-in this case? Does the black bottle further this dangerous enticement for the woman who dares to purchase this for her man? Does the scent resemble anything of the unforgivable nature of my hero? I had to know.

I unfolded the flap, closed my eyes and firmly entered the Unforgivable vibe. My first thought was the back room of my grandfather's house when I was ten. Utilitarian red carpet, scorpions in the shower, black vinyl pull-out sofa my cousins were forever using as a whoopie cushion. Not exactly the "explosive, yet chill" Sean John was hoping for, I'm guessing. It did whet my appetite to find the one scent that was my hero-the final touch of realism that would evoke that writer-reader magic.

Armed with enough card stock wands to stretch from here to a NY editor's desk, I braved the male fragrance counter and spritzed until the nostrils of the Katie Holmes wanna-be salesgirl flared from the ambush and she offered her services to narrow the search. I smiled politely and said, "Research."

By the time I reached home, even the Kleenex wad in my purse begged for mercy from the metrosexual locker room ambiance I'd created. I laid each one out, disappointed I'd not had the wherewithall to write the cologne's name on each wand. No, that would have been neurotic. My hero wasn't in the name, anyway. He isn't explosive, yet chill or any of a dozen other empty words crafted by ad teams in high rise buildings. He's not on any of the soggy cardstock wands or in any glossy black bottle. The time has come for him to stop breathing in my mind and start anew with someone else. A reader who'll bring her own scent-memories and olfactory tastes to the pages. Someone who'll complete that writer-reader contract where I've left off.

Somehow, it feels unforgivable that I'll move on. Take a new story on a honeymoon. Dance words around another hero. But the real betrayal lies in not letting go. Writing is a balance of many things, the hardest of which might be knowing when a piece is truly finished. There will always be a different verb, a more specific noun. The real magic comes from a place not of pimped-out scents and glossy description but from the vibe within the writer all along.

Even Sean John would chill on that.

Too bad there's no Smell-O-Blog technology. I'd share Sean John's humid-August-crickets-through-the-screen-door vibe with you. Gah. And who knew cologne had trailers now? Get his vibe. Uh.

Your turn...what semi-neurotic thing do you do to jump into your story's reality?

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Romantic Halloween

Romance and Halloween. Not so much, right? Think again. If costume-less teenage punks sinking their meaty fists into your candy bowl sounds less than appealing, grab your loved one tonight and try one of these ideas:

A midnight graveyard picnic
arrange to meet there if you dare



Create a haunted bedroom
candles, black rose petals, webs, red wine

A walk in the woods
Take along a blanket and flashlight and find the perfect spot to swap ghost stories or Halloween memories.

Fright Night at the Movies
Popcorn, candy and many, many opportunities to clutch your partner

Secret costumes
Arrive at a party or large club where everyone will be in costume, but don't tell each other what you'll be. Find each other through clues of body language or behavior-the way they dance, move, speak to others, choice of drink.

Costume party for two
No elaboration needed.

Nighttime pumpkin patch
Carve out some pumpkins and a time long after the trick or treaters have gone to bed. Spread autumn leaves on a blanket in the backyard (or bedroom), light the jack-o-lanterns, have a picnic of wine and dessert.

Love letter or poem
Write a love poem about all the ways your life would be scary without your love in it. Burn the edges of the paper and roll it up in twine or black ribbon. Found haunted love poems work well, too.

Have a great Halloween, everyone!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Man the Contests!

Funny thing about those contests I mentioned. How fun that "Home", my paranormal short inspired by Charles Gramlich and his blog reader's flurry of flash fiction, took second place over the weekend in the Western Pennsylvania Romance Writer's Bump in the Night Contest.

See what I mean about pots on the stove?

Find it here if you missed it, and be sure to check out the other delightfully wicked Halloween flash fiction pieces in Charles' challenge.

Check out this Navy poster from WWII. I'm pretty sure this guy's name is Finn.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Serenity and Opportunity

First things first. When my agent and editor are clamoring at the door for my 38th book and I'm brain dead, you can find me here:
Unfortunately, it might take me until book 38 to figure out exactly where this is.

My inbox is packed with announcements for short and novel-length fiction contests, anthology requests and reader's contests, so I thought I'd pass along the info:

The Paul Gillette Writing Contest, sponsored by Pikes Peak Writers. Deadline: November 1, 2008. (that's Saturday, people) Categories include: short stories, book length children's, historical fiction, mainstream, mystery/suspense/intrigue, romance, science fiction/fantasy/horror and young adult. VIP judges include a panel of eight agents and editors. Awards include registration fee for April conference in Colorado Springs, CO or $100-first place; $50-second place; $30-third place. Winners attending the conference will receive top priority in agent/editor appointments. FMI.
L.A: This is a huge contest and conference. Great opportunity. Any way I can pimp myself back home, I'm there. April in Colorado is beautiful.

Bantam/Spectra presents a new short fiction contest for unpublished writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror. For its third edition of Spectra Pulse, Bantam's exclusive magazine distributed at Comic-con San Diego and select conventions and bookstores, the publisher is allowing unpublished writers to have their work featured alongside some of the most well-respected names in SF/F. One lucky winner will receive $100 and have his/her story published in the 2009 Summer issue. FMI.
L.A: Squee!

Time in a Bottle Anthology. Looking for stories that explore parallel events in time, the nature of time or in some other way are centered around time. Along with time as the central focus, it must also fit one of the following genres: hard science fiction/soft science fiction, fantasy or space western. Submission period: November 1, 2008 to May 1, 2009. FMI.
L.A: You can imagine the squee factor when I found this one. It came from a writing friend, but I can't find anything about the anthology itself or who's publishing it. Be sure to check it out thoroughly before submitting.

My publisher, The Wild Rose Press, is sponsoring a Sony eReader Giveaway contest. Purchase any title from the list of their sponsoring authors between September 22, 2008 and December 15, 2008 and you're eligible to win. You can also enter by sending a postcard containing the title of three books in the giveaway list by three different authors to: The Wild Rose Press, P.O. Box 708, Adams Basin, NY 14410. FMI and a list of eligible titles.
L.A: Who doesn't want an eReader? Go for it.

That's it for now. If you've heard of any other contests, do share. My theory about contests is simple. The more pots on the stove, the higher the odds of something really great happening. Get your fiction out there.