Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Migration of a Love Scene

Day 1: Starbucks, downtown. 9 am

I know what you’re thinking. Is it possible to write sex in a Starbucks? Contrary to what many believe about romance writers, we don’t have satin-covered chaise lounges in our offices. Our crystal goblets are filled with java to fuel the energy for the endurance marathon that is the love scene. We don’t slip into something more comfortable unless it’s the stained Parks and Rec shirt we got when we signed up for Pilates. Maybe some do, but they probably live on some planet in the Nora galaxy.

It’s true, the whirring espresso machines and baristas hollering out stranger’s names shifts the muse into a diesel engine. Slow to warm into the character’s heads, their motivations, the emotional journey necessary for this one scene. I watched two grown men fight over a stained, upholstered chair. I took in a nearby conversation (You know writers do this don’t you? Eavesdropping with a bionic ear fuels our creativity) between two men. One laid out enough laptop computer gadgets to put Best Buy to shame. The other laid out the male-version of his tragic “I’m happily divorced, my wife is a stalker” love story, complete with metaphors to lifeboats and Carole King.

Character’s state of undress: nowhere near first base

Day 2: Barnes and Noble, downtown (I was stuck for a week, okay?). 9 am

Those periphery desks? My next attempt. The man at the next table sat opposite, more intent on people watching than thumbing through his business journal. Normally, a past-time I identify with. On this day it was the equivalent of an audience. How can I be inspired to write the precise shade of flesh when all I have to go on is a glossy Pete Rose biography in the Sports section and Wall Street Boy with roman chimes for a cell ring? An added bonus to this day: a visiting surgeon from the nearby hospital in a chance meeting with said business boy discussing Apple stocks. The visual impact of the doctor’s powder blue scrubs turned every phrase clinical.

Character’s state of undress: first base

Day 3: Kitchen Table, home. 9pm

Yes, by this time, I was thinking that, too. Eliminate all factors out of the realm of control. And it was dark. That should help, right? But the guide channel from earlier that day flashed through my brain. Brokeback on Bravo. What would be cut, exactly? Would it be a study in tight storytelling? After all, Jake is the inspiration for my hero, who by this time was, no doubt, getting frustrated at the slow turn of events. So Jake is wearing thermals the whole time. The face, focus on the face. Twenty minutes, that’s all.

An hour and a half later: the cat is giving me his one-eyed stare. I’m back at the table trying to get that cruel earwig of dialogue out of my brain: “I wish I knew how to quit you.” Does mine wank like that line?

Character’s state of undress: past second

Day 4: Coffee Shop Three, less than 1 mile from home. 7 am

One detail I left out of my previous rant about this place is that it contains a flowing water fireplace-like room partition. I’d drunk enough limeade the previous night to float an arc. Add that to the perfection that was just-brewed iced tea, and I was b-lining it to the ladies room between heavy pettings.

Right about the time my hero’s internal dialogue was screaming “Finally!” a bible study group assembled at the next table, roundtabling and dissecting the moments each had been saved. At that point, the only deliverance I needed was from this *!@# scene.

Character’s state of undress: enough to go to confession

Day 4: writing desk, home. Midnight

Tissue box. I couldn’t be sure if the tears were because my characters had just been mercilessly ripped apart or because I’d championed over Debbie Downer love stories, nosy strangers and decidedly non-inspirational input and typed the scene’s ending punctuation. Is it satisfying for the reader? I’m too close to tell.

I do know it wouldn’t be the same without that precise shade of green from the Pete Rose cover. The exact contour of a stubbled jaw line on a Wyoming hillside. The fire and passion with which the saved had spoken. For writers, input is output, and I remain grateful for what life shows me.


While we’re on the topic, I recently stumbled across this brilliant post by Libba Bray detailing how writing a novel is like falling in love. Enjoy!

Monday, July 28, 2008

My Awareness, Raised in a Barn

I'm working on a post called The Migration of a Love Scene; but, since the entirety of the scene has yet to be fully realized-read into that what you will-a thoughtful perspective will have to wait. I offer you something to consider until then.

Last week, I wandered into a Pottery Barn store, a place I almost never go because charging the equivalent of a car's down payment for a giraffe-print pillow that would become ground zero for hairballs around here is absurd. I had eighteen minutes to kill and hundred degree temperatures to escape, so I strapped on all the pretentiousness I could muster and entered the foreign land of glossy, lime green "&" sign bookends and stark white vases that looked more like Charmin rolls than haute decor. At minute fifteen, I saw it.

An hourglass.

A dwarf to its magnificent, Oz-like shelf partner, the gravity of its symbolism spoke to me in the way only someone obsessed with time can appreciate. Its simplicity and smooth lines, the purity of its contents, made me forget all about my disdain for trinkets. Its cold, air-conditioned glass brought relief to my heated palms. The promise of inspiration a worthy trade for a lunch out that day.

Treasure in hand, I navigated the potpourried landscape of diagonal beds and blue-haired, botoxed grannies to the register. A man desperately trying to recapture his Gap-like youth took one look and strapped on a visible why-don't-you-just-buy-a-toothpick-and-waste-my-time expression, quickly ebbed by the task at hand.

"Five minutes. That's all they get, huh?"

"No more," I said. Until that moment, the precise functionality of the piece hadn't occurred to me. Was it true? Was his snarky remark some kind of divine message? Had I really been shortchanging those around me in an effort to finish this book?

"Did you see the other one? Huge."

"How much time does that one give?"

"Not sure. An hour, maybe. Is this a gift?"

"Yes." A lie, so fleet from the tongue. Could I not own its importance? Had it been an attempt to diffuse my compulsiveness to have it, a subconscious safety net of potential re-gifting? Or was the hourglass everything I intended it to be? A gift of time to myself. Five minutes more to chase a dream.

I watched the Gap-offender painstakingly wrap the fragile contents in layer after layer of skin-colored tissue and bury it in a lined box worthy of something a hundred times its value. Gift receipt in place, a handled, textured bag shaken out to welcome the presentation, I left the man, the store of excess and an aggressive octogenarian debating the precise word to describe an orange shade of ick and became part of the oppressive heat once again.

I haven't timed a thing with it. Maybe the falling sand is just too precise. Too limiting. Gone is the deep-freeze sensation in hand, a sacrifice to the energy bill. It occupies a writing corner filled with a Victorian house, a slick blue angel on a rocking horse and enough spiritual awakening crystals to make me a D (something my CPs should collectively confess on Post Secret). For now, it's the perfect reminder of five minutes. Five for them, five for me, both part of the quest for balance I'm forever seeking.

How do you find balance?

Friday, July 25, 2008

I Want to Believe

At the risk of hanging my gomer side out, I must confess how the prospect of a new X-files morsel leaves me tingly and channeling my inner pocket protector diva. Not enough to pick up and trek to the movie alone tonight, as I reside on a disturbing island of people who only recognize reality and all things grounded, but enough to gorge on 2 am re-runs until my CP finishes going all Pro-Liason on me in San Fran next week.

I want to believe that this stand-alone theatrical attempt to recapture the Mulder-Scully magic hasn't become a casualty of its own warped loss of time--much longer than the nine minutes they lost on a vacant New Mexico highway. That special freakishness that catapulted the series to cult status is the very thing that has become distilled over a decade, the weird in pop-culture now a rule rather than the exception.

I want to believe that my preoccupation with David Duchovny wasn't simply a by-product of the sparse inspirational landscape that was the early 90's.

I want to believe it's possible to sustain a storyline's sexual tension over fifteen years without the characters realizing that sleeping on the couch and watching porn during non-working hours has dimmed the romance.

I want to believe it's possible for beautiful nerd chicks to become even more stunning with time.

I want to believe that someday when I show my children the donated X-files memorabilia in the Smithsonian, they'll not take one look at me, roll their eyes and suggest their father's Snoopy dance would be far more entertaining.

I want to believe that shining a bulb beneath my blinds at night will bring elderly, smoking men who will cryptically foretell of a great list in the New York Times that will contain the name L.A. Mitchell.

I want to believe a bee sting will not get in the way this time.

I want to believe the wild-haired self-published author I met at the Weatherford booksigning spouting a conspiracy theory about Wal-mart is NOT Max Fenig.

If you're a Phile, own it here so you can inhabit my island for a bit. We'll sustain on a steady diet of obscure, random trivia and sunflower seeds.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dear Mr. Extrovert,

A healthy understanding of the dynamics of an introvert is in order. You know us as the ones you must drag to social engagements. We're the first to try on invisibility at the room's periphery and the first who want to leave. You label us shy and loner, words as dispensable and empty as the heat shields on a Starbucks cup. There is more percolating beneath the surface than you think.

That awkward pause in small talk or the fact that we'd rather engage in solitary activities such as reading or writing than enter a tight jeans contest at a biker bar does not mean we are anti-social. While your brain is engaged in back lobe activity, seeking out the rich, sensory stimuli of interacting with others and your environment, we are firmly engaged in frontal lobe processes such as problem solving, introspection and complex thinking. Participating in a robust debate on the merits of professional wrestling may energize you, but we're contemplating the physics of spandex and the crippling effect of such a "sport" on your maturity.

While you thrive on small talk and would engage a willow tree in conversation if you could, we abhor it. Give us something deep and you'll find out our conversational preferences lie firmly in meaningful exchanges. Watch us grow animated discussing things we're passionate about and then try to label us shy. We can be the life of the party, engaging strangers with a charm that seems to come out of nowhere, but be warned. This social glimmer is fleeting. Our recharge time is precious. What you may view as isolated or arrogant is how we rediscover the essence of who we are.

We know why society values social skills. Our patterns of human behavior are firmly entrenched in tribal mentality. Trying to draw us out into an extroverted reflection of yourself suggests there is something wrong with the way we are when, in fact, our kind are predominately responsible for most of the advancements in civilization. If Albert Einstein or Issac Newton don't convince you of the merits of being an introvert, what about Steven Spielberg or Michael Jordan?

We connect the dots. Notice things others miss. Our focus is precision; our imagination active. We are exceptional listeners. Were it not for us, you'd join your own kind around that willow tree, shouting above each other to be heard. We are the quiet minds who see and accept your loose tongue and impulsive behavior. Appreciate us for all that you can't see.


The Introverts

Monday, July 21, 2008

Subterranean Inspiration

A huge thanks to everyone who took the time to send their characters to the weekend party. Turned out more like a dysfunctional dinner party, but a success, nevertheless.


As tempting as it was to concoct a Vortex 10 list that included the perks of last week's expedition to the Texas hill country, rife with references to bat guano, Pocahontas-style canoeing and peaches straight from the orchard, I'm firmly tapped into my serious side this week. I've surpassed the distracting phase of summer and curled back into the routine I've longed for for six weeks. Mind-bending, page-counting productivity. So, for now, I offer a small installment of there's-a-story-there-somewhere:

The Longhorn Cavern State Park represents only five percent of cave formations found on earth, those carved by underground rivers. Similar to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, you’ll not find stalactites and stalagmites, but an intricate system of limestone carved away much as the Colorado river shaped the Grand Canyon.

As exciting and potentially lethal as the physical science of it all was--hundred foot plunges, scorpions and my complete lack of outdoorsy-foresight to wear something besides beaded flip-flops--the human element is what captured my interest most.

In an area known as the Subterranean Ballroom, a rich and varied history unfolded. The Civilian Conservation Corp of the 1930s cleared away debris and found the remains of a confederate stronghold, including weapons, dynamite and some unfortunate souls still in uniform. During Prohibition, industrious locals crafted a raised wooden floor and stocked a limestone bar with the county’s finest bootlegged whiskey. Free drinks to the sheriffs from nearby Marble Falls and Burnet ensured everyone present had immunity from the law. The perfect irony of small-town justice.

A nearby ante-chamber known as The Church attracted the fervent Christians of the area, who felt closer to God in sixty-eight degree comfort. Ballroom stragglers who never quite made it out the night before found that closeness in slumber, laid out on the back pews.

Legend has it, Sam Bass, the notorious outlaw responsible for the Union Pacific gold train robbery in 1877, hid his stash from the Pinkerton Agents and the Texas Rangers in these vast caverns. The fortune he amassed during his short, but lucrative train and stagecoach-robbing career remains a secret of the caves.

Thankfully, the only snakes I tripped over happened to be the industrial cords to the cave's mood lighting. I left with only a fleeting sensation of white crickets in my hair as an afterburn of the adventure.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Party Time

Drinks are on the house for our first ever Character Party, lasting all weekend long. If yours wants to mingle, email me your character's name, photo you use for inspiration and a line of dialogue overheard at the party ( A click on the (...) will take you to the character's creator.

"This 'rusty nail' concoction is proving stronger than Dr. Morton's Ether Dome at Massachusetts General." ~Michael Koristiaan (...)

"Ah might could have another one of those crab cake Hors d'oeuvres. Now, you want my opinion? Invest your stimulus package deal into waste management. Garbage is always a growth industry." ~Curtis Waggstaff (...)

"Gimme a fast car, a woman who isn't a witch from hell and a good burger--not necessarily in that order." ~Dean Winchester (...)

"My current project is like Blair Witch meets the original Friday the 13th, except not so funny. And with zombies. I'm opposed to all traditional distribution. We'll be leaving bits of the 16 millimeter out-takes in bus stations to create a grassroots following. Where's the restroom?" ~Roz Denks (...)

"Even teaching can be outsourced. Kids get tutored online via Bangalore. Summer classes, college prep: all online. I have to bring
added value to the classroom to stay relevant. By the way, this Pinot Noir is excellent." ~Esteban Quiroga (...)

"A man could lose himself out west. Disappear, if he wanted." ~Chester A. Farr (...)

"You got a beer?" ~Chaz Trahan (...)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Your Villian is Invited, Too

We're going to try an experiment here next Friday, a mixer of sorts for the characters populating our current novels. Scan photos or send me links ( to those people who inspire you as you're writing a scene. If you're a reader, send who your mind's eye pictured for a character. Include the name of the character and one line of dialogue they're most likely to be overheard speaking at a party. Let's see what kind of crowd we can gather.

Night Language of the Body

In junior high, I found a library book on sleep positions that fascinated me. I can't remember the title, and an internet search on the subject found few leads except SIDS research and positions of the karma sutra. Maybe the "night language of the body" is a dying art.

The non-verbal communication we dispense during waking hours can be a powerful road map to our personalities, our beliefs, our dreams. Even during waking hours, subconscious behavior is filtered through the lens of our experiences. So what happens when the awareness of our own bodies slips away in sleep? Can the sleep position our bodies gravitate to be as telling as words spoken during the dream state?

Professor Chris Idzikowski, director of the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service began an analysis of sleep positions while studying five distinctive types of snoring. His research focuses on the six most common sleep positions and the links to particular personality types.

The positions:The Foetus: Also known as the fetal position. Forty-one percent of those studied and twice as many women as men fit into this category. This position belongs to individuals who can appear tough on the outside, but have a "big heart" on the inside. Recharging that soft, vulnerable part of themselves during sleep is essential.

The Log: Fifteen percent of sleepers researched slept in this position, characterized by lying on their side, both arms down close to the body. These people are social creatures who often trust strangers, sometimes to the point of being gullible.

The Yearner: Participants who slept on their side with both arms out, around 13 percent, possessed an open, but often cynical or suspicious nature. They may require time to reach decisions, but once made won't change their mind.

The Soldier: Only 8 percent of sleep subjects slept on their back with both arms resting close to the body. Often quiet and reserved people, they avoid loud discussions. They set high standards for themselves and those around them.

The Freefall: In 7 percent of the cases, subjects slept on their stomach, arms wrapped around the pillow, head turned to the side. These people are sociable, but can be interpreted as abrasive or bad-tempered, often rejecting criticism.

The Starfish: Five percent of participants slept on their back with both arms up around the pillow. Trustworthy and good listeners, they dislike being the center of attention.

I want to add my own unscientific category here, namely because my sleep position isn't represented in the above and it's the main reason that jr. high book stuck in my brain:

The Flamingo: A combination of the log and fetal position. One straight leg represents the part of the personality seen by the world; the curled leg is symbolic of the closely guarded, private side few will ever see.

Completely me.

The remaining 5 percent of study participants slept with such variation, they couldn't be matched into any one category.

If you're into the ultra-scientific Cosmo version, you can zoom in on it here along with a lacy boy-shorts model demonstration instead of a cartoonish Wal-mart jammies version.

How accurate is Idzikowski's study? Did you find yourself? Does anyone really want to own the freefall one? Ouch.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More 10 Lists, More Fun

Our characters always say the right thing--that snappy retort those of us in real life think of after the fact and recreate a dozen times to find just the right cadence in what could have been. So in the spirit of what-I-wish-I'd-have-said and because I feel a snarky 10 list coming on, I offer up Six Flag's infamous icy Pink Thing along with ten dialogue bits I could have fired off during Monday's theme park excursion were I a book character:

1. To the studded belt park-goer: The angel wing tattoo covering your back does not inspire divine thoughts for those caught in your sweat-soaked wake. A shirt? That would be heavenly.

2. To the Walmart-esque greeter at front gate security: You, friend, picking through my bag with your long-handled wooden spoon, have restored my faith in homeland security. Consider that stash of confiscated aerosol hairspray you've accumulated your hazard bonus for a job well done.

3. To Avril Lavigne: Your AMA performance piped through on wide screen monitors made the line for the runaway mine train seem longer than an Amtrak route to New York. The 101 degree heat index liquefied my eyeliner. What's your excuse?

4. To the Six Flags corporate guy who took out the bumper car ride: The road rage previously contained and harmlessly diffused in that magnetized rink of hell has now been unleashed on your parking lot at closing time.

5. To the overworked, underpaid sanitation employees: The dust on the runaway mine train's Old West Saloon display is thicker than my living room mid-book. Before the wooden tracks plummet unsuspecting, virgin riders into the unknown, it would be nice if the Mexican gunslinger with his boots up on the table looked more menacing and less powdered-wig geriatric.

6. To the chiseled human specimen in the Green Lantern costume: Thank you for beautifying the park in a way only green spandex can.

7. To the safety engineer that decided the warning placard need only be posted on the Texas Giant's rear seat: You try resting your head back on the seat while being dropped 13 stories at 60 miles per hour. Instead, suggest a last-minute change of heart before the G-forces from your ride jackhammer the last three years of college from your passenger's brain into the ether over Dallas.

8. To the head advertising wanker on the current Six Flags account: the severed head of an exchange student screaming, "More flags, more fun" might be less misleading if you replaced it with one of the following suggestions: "More restrooms, less accidents"; "More money for a Coke; More chance you can't afford the gas to get home."

9. To the mechanic in charge of the old-fashioned cars: Although we love channeling our inner Bo Duke circa 1920's by flooring the gas pedal to make your lawn-mower engines go, the sheer force to sustain the thrill necessitates hazardous Chinese fire drills to restore human power.

10. To the testing team who created OFF! Tropical Fresh Scent: Come to Texas. You have no idea.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Interview with Candace Havens : Mentors

Candace "Candy" Havens is one of the nation's leading entertainment writers. Candy has interviewed countless celebrities, including Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage, Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon and George Clooney.

In addition to writing columns on everything Hollywood, she has published biographies on Buffy the Vampire creator Joss Whedon, and actor George Clooney.

A Texas native, Candy attended Houston's prestigious High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and the University of North Texas. A 17-year veteran of the entertainment industry, Candy has written thousands of articles and conducted thousands of interviews. She attributes her success as an entertainment journalist to two rules. One, treat each interview like it was a one-on-one chat between two friends. Two, never be afraid to go after the interview you want, no matter how famous the subject.

Candy was a columnist for Tribune Media for 15 years, where she wrote weekly columns for an overall audience of 44 million readers. Candy is also an entertainment critic for the Dorsey Gang on 96.3 KSCS, which broadcasts in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and the Managing Editor of FYI Television Features.

I came to Candy for an article about writing mentors, because for a brief, valuable span of time, she became one for me. Her Write_Workshop yahoogroup reaches over a thousand writers, offering everything from Fast Draft and Revision Hell workshops to guest interviews with bestselling authors and publishing industry insiders. Here's what she had to say on mentoring:

L.A: When did you know you were ready to mentor others?

Candy: I've always been one to pass on information as I received it. If I learned something cool from a class, I told everyone I knew. *Smile* I'd been writing nonfiction for 20 years before embarking on a fiction career. Though they are two different things, the work ethic that it takes to succeed at both is not. I'm not sure there was a moment when I thought, "Now I'll be a mentor." It sort of grew out of people telling me they liked certain aspects of my writing and could I help them. I opened the Write_Workshop (a free writer's workshop) online because I was trying to help too many people and I wasn't getting my own work done. That allowed me the opportunity to help a lot of people at one time. It's been an incredibly rewarding experience.

L.A: You've been on both sides of the relationship. With that perspective, what's the most essential quality of a successful mentoring partnership?

Candy: I was lucky to have incredible mentors right from the start. I think it helps if you are on the same page. If you're looking for the same sort of things out of your career. Jodi Thomas was inspiring for me from the beginning because she had longevity. That's something I wanted-and to build a great career. She's also the most giving and friendly woman I've ever met. I always say I want to be like her when I grow up. Our writing is nothing alike, but we want the same things out of this career we've chosen. Jodi introduced me to my first agent, and introduced that agent to the woman who became my editor four months later. That whole thing made me a big believer in giving back, networking and mentoring.

L.A: What advice can you give writers who want to find a mentor?

Candy: This can be difficult. I won't say who, but I can remember sitting across from a very famous author and thinking, "Please, be my friend." I had this whole scenario where if she were my friend she would introduce me to her editor--you know how it works. You can't push these things. They have to develop naturally. Go to conferences and make friends with other writers. I had six really great mentors there at the beginning and I met them through other writers. I've had people ask me directly to help them and it's tough, especially for someone like me who needs to help, to say no. If I were starting out and I was on some of the writing loops with published authors, I might send a post that said what I wanted out of a career and ask if there was anyone who might have a spare moment to chat. I have people I'm helping out now, who emailed me one question and I've been working with them ever since.

For more information about Candy's novels and workshops, visit her website.

What has been your experience with mentors, writing or otherwise?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Winners and Mentors

A huge congrats today to Marilyn Brant, who should buy a powerball ticket for all the times I've drawn her name in giveaways here. Thanks to everyone who peeled themselves away from family and fireworks to visit this past weekend.


I needed article ideas for the summer issue of PROspects, the online newsletter for PRO members of Romance Writers of America. Mentorship, specifically as it relates to writers, surfaced at about number eight on my brainstorming list. I'm not talking about the passing interest of an online professor for the duration of a month or an exceptionally helpful contest judge who leaves a score sheet weighted with comments. Mentorship, in its perfect form, involves a partnership that extends beyond the page. From those throw-in-the-towel moments of self-doubt to the zero-gravity moments of accomplishment.

A few have filled this role, in a diluted form, for a season of my long learning curve to publication. I have, without being aware, filled the role of mentor once myself. So, is mentor just a sparkling word for what we writers already do to pull each other along or is there something more?

Tomorrow, I'm proud to post the extended interview that didn't make it into the article. Valuable gems from someone who has made it her legacy to help other writers. A bit about her:

Candace Havens is a veteran entertainment journalist who spends way too much time interviewing celebrities. In addition to her weekly columns seen in newspapers throughout the country, she is the entertainment critic for 96.3 KSCS in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She is the author of Charmed & Dangerous, Charmed & Ready, Charmed & Deadly, and the nonfiction biography of Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy, as well as several published essays. Visit Candace at

If you're interested in my article on writing mentors, you can find it here.

Today : The Texas Giant at Six Flags...squee!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Titanic:Relative Fate

The 1912 Titanic disaster casts a long shadow throughout the contemporary thriller, Titanic:Relative Fate. Filled with murder, suspense and a hint of the supernatural, this newest release from Canadian author V.C. King has earned her a publisher's choice award and the attention of readers far beyond Titanic enthusiasts. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask her about her inspiration for the story and Titanic's enduring legacy.
(read blurb~previous post)

L.A:Your previous work includes erotica, psychological thrillers and horror, so the leap to supernatural is understandable. What gave you the idea to revisit Titanic in a modern context?

King: My erotic horror phase of writing was more of a diversion from my passion of creating novels, though last year, Writers Digest did honor one of the stories in my book Seven Sexy Tales of Terror, so I guess it wasn’t quite as bizarre as I originally thought.

Titanic: Relative Fate, on the other hand, was a story I’d wanted to write for many years. I don’t know why I’m fascinated by the story of Titanic’s loss, as so many people are. I wondered if it was all the what-if questions ... had just one thing been different, could the ship and her souls have been saved?

Perhaps it was what the senior surviving officer, Second Officer Lightoller, had said, “The disaster was just due to a combination of circumstances that never occurred before and can never occur again.”

I wanted to explore all these things … the idea of fate, tragedy, how ordinary people respond when faced with extraordinary events. But so much has happened since Titanic’s time—World Wars, terrorism, the threat of global warming …

… So, could it happen again?

I had to find out. It may sound crazy, but I had to get on board that ship. And the only way to do that was to build one, in my mind’s eye, from scratch.

L.A: The amount of research necessary for a novel of this magnitude, not only of the Titanic but of modern shipbuilding, must have been extraordinary. Take us through your process.

King: The first thing I studied (and studied) was the British Government’s 1912 report of their formal investigation into the loss of Titanic. This document is a detailed, technical accounting of the circumstances surrounding the disaster, remarking on the many incidents contributing to the tragic outcome, from missing binoculars, the unusual weather, to the design of the ship.

This kind of research is often very tedious for a creative writer, but it paid off. I now had a far better understanding of what the passengers faced, and I reread survivor accounts with renewed fascination.

But could this incredible story be related in a contemporary setting? Thanks to tours of shipyards up and down the U.S. eastern seaboard, publications from the Royal Institute of Naval Architects in England and conversations with Canada’s Transportation Safety Board, I realized, yes, it was more than possible to write an intriguing, authentic tale about a modern-day Titanic.

No icebergs, though. Too cliché. But that, I discovered, was one of the notable differences between then and now. With a warmer North Atlantic, ice doesn’t cross Titanic’s path anymore.

L.A: When you began writing the novel, did you have an ending in mind? Did you feel restricted by the perceptions you knew readers would bring to the story through their historical knowledge? Through Hollywood's treatment of the event?

King: I didn’t have the exact ending in mind. That’s the great thing about writing. The imagination takes off once words start to flow. When the main character, Abram, went back on the ship in the end, I saw the tremendous parallelism between that and when he tried to save his friend trapped on the ship during her launch. It was Abram’s character, his internal conflict, which gave me the ending. I had no way of knowing that when I began.

Regarding the Titanic movie, that was a love story. There are romantic tensions in my book, and certainly Titanic: Relative Fate hopes to expose the many truths and myths about the ship. Just as important, however, Titanic: Relative Fate is a story about people, their struggles and their triumphs. But, in our time, not in the past. So, no, I did not feel restricted by Hollywood’s treatment in the least.

L.A: How did you come up with the title, Titanic: Relative Fate and how important was it from a marketing standpoint to have Titanic in the title?

King: Excellent question. The working title for Titanic: Relative Fate was Titan’s Sister, the name of the ship in my book. But titles are critical in terms of marketing. A lot of thought must go into them. In fact, well-known authors have told me that they’d prefer to have a great title and write a story around it, rather than the other way around.

L.A: What advice do you have for other authors considering self-publishing?

King: I’m an engineer by training, generally not someone considered to have great syntax skills. So before I started showing my novel to editors and agents, I wanted it professionally edited.

Subsequently, not only did Titanic: Relative Fate win an Editor’s Choice award through the publisher, but it also went on to achieve the Publisher’s Choice designation, an award endorsed by the bookseller Barnes and Noble, recognizing the novel’s editorial and design quality.

Therefore, my advice for any author starting out in the business, whether considering self-publishing or not, is to find a good editor. And trust that editor. They are the bridge between a good book and a great book that sells.

L.A: What's the greatest lesson from Titanic we've yet to learn?

King: In every disaster, we struggle to find the one thing that would’ve prevented it. But that’s an old way of looking at things. Tragedies of great magnitude can seldom be attributed to a single factor. Rather a number of causes come together at just the right and time and place, defying the checks and balances in place to prevent it. As Mr. Lightoller, Titanic’s senior surviving officer said, “Everything was against us.”

L.A: What is your view on fate?

King: I’m paraphrasing the Swiss philosopher, Carl Jung, when I say, “The probability of a certain set of circumstances coming together in a meaningful (or tragic) way is so low that it simply cannot be considered mere coincidence.” If not coincidence, then what is it? Fate? Destiny?

Carl Jung would’ve been 36 years old at the time of Titanic’s sinking. I wonder what his thoughts were about the disaster. Certainly, if any of your readers have an idea, I’d be happy to hear from them.


To celebrate the first interview ever here on The Vortex (I know!) and to extend my heartfelt thanks to V.C. King for spending time with us, I'll be giving away an ebook, Adobe version of Titanic:Relative Fate to one lucky blog reader. Question or thought, Jung or otherwise, be sure to leave a comment before Monday, 12 am to be eligible.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

R.M.S. First Novel

It could be that all historical photographs catch my eye because I'm so deeply entrenched in my novel's villain at this point, a man obsessed with being the first to capture the precise moment of death, but this time the pull is stronger.

Some of you know my history with all things Titanic. If you do, humor me. Aside from this little jaunt into wouldn't-it-be-cool-to-be-an-angsty-novelist, it was the topic that first peaked my interest enough to engage me into a full-length young adult novel eleven years ago. The fifth graders I was teaching at the time couldn't get enough facts, personal accounts and photographs. It became a safe way for their young minds to try on human tragedy, think beyond themselves and role play, and I became just as obsessed about feeding their curious appetites. Biographies, documentaries, navigation maps, I soon found them all and amassed a body of knowledge about the event, enough to think I could write a fictional account that would speak to young readers beyond the group assembled before me.

So it was through the story of a privileged girl and a steerage boy I tried on my novelist's boots. I own it enough now to admit it was ten chapters filled with the worst literary fouls ever committed to paper. But in the scope of the event, about which much is widely known, there is little room for a story to play out in any other way. Unlike period pieces or wartime dramas, the Titanic tragedy is a blip on history's radar, a few days confined to the parameters of a ship. Essentially, I'd written James Cameron's storyline before I even knew he'd spent a Hollywood fortune to dive down to the wreckage. I finished the novel the month before his movie was released and came out of the theater feeling like my dream had sunk right along with Jack. I knew the blockbuster would forever define the event, right or wrong, and my manuscript would always be the one that came after. The perfect, oh-so imperfect copycat.

This sepia photograph was taken on April 20th, 1912, six days after Titanic's tragedy, by a Czech sailor named Stephan Rehorek. En route from Bremerhaven to New York, the German ship Bremen diverted its course to assist with recovery. When the U.S. registered vessel Mackay-Bennett, chartered for the same purpose, arrived, Bremen continued its journey. Rehorek returned to New York and developed the photograph. He made two copies and mailed one to his parents and one to his brother in the form of a postcard with the following inscriptions on the back : Dear Mother and Father. This card is a view of the iceberg that collided with and sank the Titanic liner and Dear Josef. I am sending you, too, a postcard of the ship that sank. We were following about a thousand miles behind it. Next time you come home our parents will show you pictures of the icebergs which were photographed from our ship.

Friday, look for my interview with V.C. King, author of Titanic: Relative Fate, a fast-paced, suspenseful, contemporary tale with haunting echoes to the past. The premise is fantastic, the research exhaustive and accurate. The blurb:

Titan's Sister is about to set sail on her maiden voyage from a harbor in northern Florida. But just as the ship's brash young owner begins the sequence to launch, a sudden, unexplainable accident takes the life of one of the crew. Not long afterward, shipbuilder Abram Harwood watches in horror as the dock, on which the massive hull rests, catches fire, soon turning the area into a raging inferno. Against his own reasoning, Harwood slowly comes to the realization that a chain of unusual and dangerous events has begun that could launch his beautiful new ship straight into harm's way.

In Titanic: Relative Fate we meet Titan's Sister, the sister of the doomed Titanic. Built as a modernized replica of the legendary vessel, Titan's Sister is a wonder to behold. Yet Harwood begins to question whether there is more than just a physical resemblance between the two ships. Intrepid detective Melika Jones joins the ship's virgin voyage to investigate the strange accidents surrounding Titan's Sister.

Yet, instead of solving the mystery, Jones and Harwood are faced with a new nightmare once Titan's Sister is finally at sea, and they begin to wonder if she awaits the same fate as the Titanic.

Lastly, if you're interested in taking in the traveling, international museum exhibit, Titanic:The Artifact Exhibit, I have it on excellent authority that it's an incredibly moving, interactive experience you won't soon forget. I'm still plotting for a way to get to one. Anyone up for a road trip?