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.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Life in Network Hell

If you know nothing about Life on Mars, either the BBC or the US version, this post will bore you to tears. Walk the dog. Floss your teeth. Get back to writing, slacker. If you know anything about the series-and about me-you must have known I'd come to an opinion about it eventually. I gave this reincarnated version three episodes. The waters are warm enough to wade in.

It's been almost a year since NBC canceled Journeyman. Last night, seeing a teaser of Kevin McKidd playing a hunky doctor on the upcoming episode of Grey's Anatomy smarted. What a leap off the tower of intellectually engaging drama, though the tower is lowered each year into the sinkhole that is a collective network impatience. This time, ABC is the guilty party, offering up something engaging, stirring a legion of viewers hungry for things other than American Gladiators and Cloris Leachman's thigh-revealing attire, and snatching it away when Nielsons don't deliver. Newsflash: only my parents watch television in real time and they're not your demographic. Change the system to reflect DVR/Tivo and internet downloads, the way most viewers put priorities first and avoid political and erectile ads. But I digress.

Life on Mars entered the Fall season trying to re-capture the Rice-a-Roni devotees left behind from Journeyman and add the magic elixir of network success: the cop show-this time with a 1970s twist. Who doesn't remember the Cameros racing through an entire decade of bad clothes and Farrah love interests? What red-blooded American male would turn away from cop-talk spiced with police brutality and characters that don't exactly play by the book? What woman could deny Jason O'Mara's fresh face?

The cast is superb, especially Harvey Keitel as the precinct's loud, blunt purveyor of justice. I enjoy wading into a scene that's not offering up CSI-ADD camera work and a David-Caruso inflated ego filling the screen. I like the historical perspective and the underlying irony of how far we haven't come from the 1970s. Those echoes add depth, something toe tags and snappy CSI banter can't reach. But, therein lies the show's demise.

Those CSI viewers ABC was hoping to attract are dropping off en mass because there's not enough cop. Unlike the original BBC series, which is rumored to have revolved primarily around cases each week, the new version of Life on Mars has become too character-driven. Huh. I thought that made for great television. Shows what I know.

Life on Mars does succeed in continuity-a place Journeyman failed. The very premise of Jack Vasser physically juggling his past and present life, central to Journeyman's conflict, is the structure that made it difficult for some to follow. Life on Mars has shades and echoes of Sam Tyler's present life, but the writers chose simplicity in structure.

ABC has yet to order more episodes. Apparently, when the execs tossed the Fall shows to the wall, the only things that seem to stick are gore and disco balls. What a shame shows like Cheers and M*A*S*H would have endured the same fate had they been produced in a results-hungry 2008. My advice? Watch the first three eppies on the internet, they're worth it. Tune in for a taste Thursday night, help the ratings. It's not like LOST, you'll catch up fast in the opening monologue. But if you can't bear to have a favorite canceled by impatient networks, don't bother.

Just turn off your set and go floss your teeth.

What shows are you watching?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Thousand Words

I adore this short film by Los Angeles screenwriter and director Ted Chung:

For more information on Chung's work and links to his other short films visit his page on the Berlinale Talent Campus site.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Will the Year 2036 Have Pick Up Artists?

If you're a sci-fi geek like me, you've probably heard of John Titor. Today, the Institute for Quantum Living posted an article profiling the details of John's arrival on internet message boards in the year 2000, his answers to questions about the state of the future between his time (2036) and the present day, and how he traveled through time. Entire websites and documentaries are devoted to celebrating and debunking this man and his prophesies. Cafe Press even has shirts devoted to the phenomenon.

For skeptics(also like me), it offers a what-if to chew on for awhile, even if our rational mind dismisses everything surrounding John Titor as a hoax. I've long believed that our society's overindulgence, recklessness and the slippery slope of moral values will endure a backlash. People will stand up and say "Enough is enough." I picture a world reshuffled into true communities again, smaller nexuses of activity where we rely less on purchasing tomatoes from Guatemala and more from local growers. Where townspeople dive into decisions and education and volunteering because resources from the greater governments will have lost the funds and the power to intervene in day-to-day life. A homecoming for people like me who come to realize the "opportunities" that come with big city life aren't worth the ridiculous dance we endure to be part of it.

Strangely, this is part of our future, according to John Titor. Maybe he, or whomever created this fantastic tale grew weary of the noise, the choking exhaust, the prevalent hum of fear and intolerance outside the door. Maybe for some, believing in the possibility of time travel is easier than believing we're collectively capable of real change.

I'm pretty sure my subconscious has been thinking about this for awhile. While entertaining that mind-bending twist at the end of The Night Caller, I wondered what it would be like for the reader to discover that the heroine of the 1880s they'd come to know was actually a hundred and thirty years in the hero's future and society had reversed itself, minus the hard-won lessons of humanity's darkest hours. I can't conceive of it working for this story, but someday, I'm sure the idea will surface again.

And to put this all in the proper, absurd perspective, I leave you a photograph posted of John Titor:
I'll venture he's the one in buckskin on the left. His friend is too Pick Up Artist to be convincing.

If you read the article, let me know what you think. If this is all too much for you, dissect this jokester's time travel couture.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Vortex 10, Just Because

Thoughts today are so random, they can only be compiled in the form of a Vortex 10...

Top Ten Things I'm Thinking About Today

1) The universe has sent two flocks of religious zealots to my door in the past week. What does this mean? One, I tossed a newt on her sensible heel (long story) and told her I was Catholic. Didn't work. The other insisted I read her industrial toilet tissue-thin leaflet and contact them if I had any questions afterward. Yeah. I'll get right on that. I'm considering purchasing the $19.99 nun habit at Party City and keeping it by the door.

2) Speaking of costume shops, I'm thinking the adult female costume section needs a new addition. I'll call it #515 Bitch. Five foot six. Brunette trying to stretch to blond but stumbling into what Clairol would call "straw-pumpkin." Complete with two-sizes too small shirt and enough inflatables underneath to render costume fetchers in orange vests mute. Accessorize with a coach bag large enough to fit her mouth and a license tagged to her shirt that gives her the privilege to disregard all social etiquette.

3) I RickRolled someone today. If you don't know what this is, click here and consider yourself RickRolled. Random, I know, but I was in jr. high when this song came out and he looked exactly like john-I-have-a-crush-I-can't-explain-when-I'm-grown. In pre-adolescence, I hadn't come into my own with Z-rock and leather pants worship yet.

4) Beside my keyboard, page twenty of my manuscript looks like vomited Fruit Loops. I've attacked it with Margie Lawson's Deep Edits technique and I'm not sure whether to cheer for the tight, ruthless assault on what spills naturally from my brain or be offended that every single word seems to lack that special something now.

5) Revisiting Dwight Swain's MRU's have reduced my human experience this week to a long series of cause-effect stimuli I can't stop labeling.

6) I confess to seeing the final three minutes of Life on Mars last night, after still not watching the episodes clogging my DVR, and his little jig had my heart. Any man willing to show his complete inability to dance in front of fifteen million people has me already. I'm gorging on the episodes tonight.

7) The sunset last night on my journey to the mailbox made my knees weak. Some things words will never capture.

8) Wolf Blitzer was in my dream last night-college (again!). As disturbing as that was, as much as I would have given anything to swap him for Anderson, it was the only cautionary flag I needed to exile myself from CNN-island until 2009.

9) I've read WaiterRant's blog, almost from the beginning, but his appearance on Oprah this week made me as territorial as #515. I don't want to see his talent reduced to the same ass-landscape as Tom Cruise and Maria Shriver. Seriously, I'm happy for him.

10) Hello, statcounter visitor who googled "undress and tickle game" and landed here. I hope you found what you were searching for. Sort of.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Flash Fiction: Home

If we were to pull out a technical card, this is my first piece of flash fiction ever. Most people know my rambling prose would put Faulkner to shame. So, I seized the challenge and had a great time. Thanks to Charles for the idea and the invitation to join him in the spirit of Halloween. Be sure to head over to his blog to read the stories of others who felt inspired, too.


The sailor maneuvered the starched, dress whites, the yards of make-do-and-mend-war-dresses circling curved, lithe bodies, patriotic banners plunging like paratroopers from the warehouse rafters. A saxophone’s low C-note stretched around the crowd like a seductive yawn, the perfect overture to slow bodies in motion. The need for touch, a soft spot to cradle frayed nerves and sear in the mind a warm, liquid path of home, imposed on the July night.

Finn ducked a USO banner, his gaze steady on a petite frame: the perfect hourglass to mark the dwindling hour, butter and cream roses sheathed against pale skin, tea-stained lights reflecting blue from her sleek, black hair. The young woman faced a second-story window, alone, staring out at the sleeping dock, her reflection more fog than substance.

He approached, cleared his throat. Her shoulders shifted, relaxed, as if he’d awakened her from a lumbering sleep.

“A prelude to a kiss.”

She turned, swept vanilla and flowers and everything exiled from a four-thousand ton battleship, into his awareness. Her brow knotted.

“The song,” said Finn. “No one should be alone during this song.”

She smiled, a warm trickle of welcome. Pinned above her heart, an anchor broach glistened.

“Say something.”

She spoke, not with her patriotic red, ample lips, but in the two steps her heels cleared the floor toward him, the uneven rise of her delicate collarbone, a gloved hand filling his palm. The plane of her body neared, a forbidden line with all the temptation of tepid water in an Atlantic winter.

Ellington’s bluesy movements dictated their own, a union of beats, a suspended orchestra of body and mind. Finn waded into a curl along her neck, his body alive in the streak of moonlight cresting the night-sea lock. Her temple teased his lips, the barrier of his warm exhale the only distance left.

He swayed past their first kiss, an impromptu pledge before boarding, love letters bulging beneath his cot mattress. In her nearness, he found years, decades; in her touch, she became a destination that penetrated every ache, every truth within.

“Been looking everywhere, Finn,” a male voice cut in.

Finn started. His gaze awakened, languid from a state more intoxicating than a furlough binge. His hand collapsed, his palm empty.

She was gone.

“Where’d she go?” Finn turned, sought every platform within fleeing distance. His body still swayed from her imprint in his arms. The music stopped. A chorus of polite claps from below rang sour in his ears, his gut.


“The girl. The one who was just here.”

“Every available girl in North Carolina is downstairs and I find you up here, dancing alone.”

“She was just—”

“Right.” His buddy pounded out a few shoulder smacks, a humoring rally of camaraderie when the weeks lengthened and the pill of loneliness no longer slid down easily. “What’s say we find you that blond at the door—she was a real looker.”

The inertia of his friend’s insistence carried Finn to the step’s threshold. The band bounced a swing through the soles of his polished shoes. Finn turned.

A tiny anchor flashed, of stars or polished silver, he couldn’t be certain. He lingered, one breath to savor vanilla, blossoms, dreams—a lifetime lived in the arms of a woman.

All as elusive to a sailor as home.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Sacrificial Revelation

If you'd studied writing under novelist Jim Shepard, you would have learned his philosophy on pacing. Pacing, he theorized, has very little to do with actual chronological passage within the story's world. To be effective, pacing is a direct correlation to the rate of revelation.

No amount of fast-paced action will engross the reader if nothing is happening to advance the story. Readers crave new tidbits, fresh insights, twists in perspective. Even a character's highly intriguing, passionate observation can be thrilling if the way he views the world comes across as a revelation of character.

Anton Chekhov
also had something to say about pacing. His rule of revision: throw out the first four pages of any initial draft. He believed the first four pages amounted to nothing more than a writer "clearing his throat" and theorized it took four pages to settle into true voice and story.

Sounds brutal right? Not so fast.

The opening scene of The Night Caller has plagued me from the beginning. Now, in its final draft, the divisive opinions of beta readers haunt me. Eighty percent of them have said the same thing, which leans me to a weighty decision and a drastic move. Lo and behold, after reading Chekhov's advice I turned to the magical page four and saw it for myself. A scene break capable of starting the real story. Now I just have to find the strength to cut three pages that now have that ring of inevitibility, the perfect darlings that may not be so perfect because I can't edit them objectively. My mind trips ahead in a heady fog of familiarity, probably the surest indication Chekhov was right.

Leave your pacing tricks as a burnt offering in the comment box. I'll need something fresh to distract me from mourning my darlings.

Friday, October 10, 2008

So That's What Ate Those Last Ten Minutes

Have I got the creepy perfection in clockwork for you today, just in time for Halloween. But first, a hoo-ha to my revamped website and highly anticipated group blog debuting soon. It's really a no-brainer as to which is created by a professional, but each serves its purpose. I hope you'll pop over and let me know what you think...wait. Only if you like them. Otherwise you can feed your opinion to the grasshopper.

Thanks to frequent visitor Melanie for this item of the weird. Apparently, I've been obsessing about time long enough that people instantly think of me with all things relating to time and clocks. That's branding, baby!

This is the "Corpus Clock." Its inventor conceived it to pay homage to an Englishman named John Harrison, who in 1725 invented the grasshopper escapement, a mechanical device in all clocks that helps regulate movement.

The clock features no hands and is designed to speed up and slow down at erratic intervals. The grasshopper's teeth and barbed tail are integrated into the clock's function and stand as a metaphor for "eating time." Thirty seconds into each minute the beast's jaws open, only to snap shut at :59 seconds. When the hour tolls, a chain clanks into a coffin, which then slams shut.

The corpus clock's inventor, John Taylor, dipped into his own pocket (at a cost of 1 million pounds-$1.8 million) and states, "My object was simply to turn a clock inside out so that the grasshopper became a reality."

It's erratic motion speaks to time's relativity. Taylor recalls Albert Einstein's observation:
"When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it's longer than any hour. That's relativity." more on the Corpus Clock

Obviously, the man standing in this photo is not Stephen Hawking, the famous cosmologist who unveiled the clock at the Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, England recently, but he does seem sucked in by it.

Today's fun: write the caption for what he must be thinking.
Have a super weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Do's and Don'ts for Wednesday

I would be doing everyone who visits here a disservice not to mention the sheer volume of time travel entertainment that continues to enter mainstream media. Soft market, my-well you know.

Not so much into cop dramas, although I have been known to watch a few moments of Law and Order SVU here and there to try to exact a friend's celebrity crush in my brain. Life on Mars may use time travel as a gimmick to resurrect the detective shows of the 1970s and follows on the heels of the much mourned Journeyman, which actually used time travel as an integral part of the plot. Guess we'll see if this is a Beretta revival capable of surviving in the land of mediocre TV dishes.

A play in Philadelphia called The Dos and Don'ts of Time Travel opened this week. While the protagonist's thesis is that time travel movies all have the same problem-they all suck-the play explores much more than the surface issues of scientific time travel theories. Characters encounter different temporal versions of themselves and are able to trade places. According to Philadelphia Inquirer's Tony Zinman, "Dos and Don'ts isn't a play just about philosophy or film or science; it's also about love and grief and neediness and memory."


Kim Lenox, a talented writer and frequent visitor to the Vortex, is celebrating her debut novel, Night Falls Darkly, this week. Love, love, love the dark romance. I can't wait to get my hands on it. Here's a tease:

Death is inevitable.
But there are some souls, more wicked and disobedient than most, who defy Death’s claim.
Rebellious souls who must be called to heel.

ARCHER, Lord Black, returns to England at the behest of Queen Victoria to immerse himself in the dark, hellish streets of London’s East End. Among the immortal Shadow Guard, he is the most prolific and cunning of the Reclaimers. He revels in the hunt of his current prey: an ill-mannered, reluctant soul reviled in the daily newspapers as Jack the Ripper. Archer has only one weakness … one distraction … the young woman he spared from death two years before.

ELENA WHITNEY has never wanted for anything – not since coming under the protection of her mysterious and absent guardian, Lord Black, who has gifted her with everything a young woman of quality could ever hope for, including an enviable address, an unlimited income and entrĂ©e into the drawing rooms of high society. But now, after nearly two years of indifference, he believes he can sweep into her life and rid himself of her by marrying her off. If he knew anything about her – anything at all – he’d know she had greater aspirations than that.

Be sure to check out Kim's blog for the latest information on booksignings, links to excerpts, contests and the fantastic reviews pouring in for Night Falls Darkly.


Literary Agent Donald Maas is giving away a free download of his book The Career Novelist, packed with information on everything from breaking into publishing to staying viable in an ever-changing market.


And finally-maybe because I'm back to staring again at my opening line-I offer up the Top 15 Worst Opening lines of Romance Novels. A cautionary tale for any writer, but funny because there's no way any of them are legit. Sounds like Blazing Saddles meets a group of male writers over tankards of lager. Viva la romance!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Backward Glance

The task seems insurmountable at times. Agent research, queries, slush piles and the big "R". It's been almost nine months since I felt the sting of rejection. I'd almost forgotten there would be those out there who'd see my manuscript more fitting as bath tissue.

And then, as if on cue, I read this yesterday: "Don't look at how far you have to go. Look at how far you've already come."

Maybe it's the sunrise emerging behind me or the foreign, non-caffeinated electricity zinging through me at an ungodly hour, but this mantra worked for me. It stilled the worries, the restlessness over things beyond my control and encouraged me to breathe in the scope of the road traveled.

Here, I hope you'll offer up what you see at a backward glance. I'll go last...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Girl and Her Desk

The desk I sit at each day to craft my stories-don't laugh-is my desk from junior high. Last week, under the pressure of the black hole that is my top middle drawer and the sheer weight of my determination to finish the !*&^*% book, my stalwart, maple slice of childhood began bursting at the seams.

I could boast about how the brilliant craftsmanship, the tongue and groove design, made it possible to save this relic; but, instead, I'll tell you what this desk says about me.

It makes me think about my Dad, who gave it to me as the single most important item in my twelve year old life. Having a good desk to study at in my own quiet room diverted my attention from my Jack Wagner posters and groomed me for a life of focus. Twenty years later, he hauled it across many miles to return it to me. Rags and lemon oil in hand, we brought the richness back together.

It helps me to recall how intense the raging crush I had back then must have been to have carved this boy into immortality, front and center. He was Ryan, and I can tell you that because his name eventually made it into my previous novel as the hero's given name-a secret only the heroine knows. As it was back then. Only the desk knew.

The desk has claw marks on the edge from a cat I miss dearly, hundreds of number shadows and equations visible at eye level in perfect light, and holds inside it every glimmer of hope, all tangible evidence of this dream. It's loyalty, character and history packaged into not enough space and inadequate leg room and height, but I can't think of better inspiration.

What does your space say about you?
Oh, and I'm laughing because I actually had the nipple photo on my wall