nikki The other night I dreamed that fellow Stiletto Gang author Linda Rodriguez rewrote the back-story on the main character of my Carrie Mae Mystery seriesNikk Lanier. Nikki is a twenty-something red-headed linguistics major turned superspy with an overbearing mother and a steady boyfriend who works for the CIA. Notice how none of that background involves a whirlwind marriage and divorce from a blonde lawyer and the adoption of an African orphan? But by the time my dream Linda was done that’s what Nikki had. And in my dream, I kept thinking, “Maybe I could make the divorce work, but what am I supposed to do with a baby? I can’t just send it back!” And then I woke up in a cold editorial sweat trying to figure out I was going to jam all these changes into Nikki’s next adventure that I’m 30,000 words into with no place to add in a spare baby.

What I love is that in my dream, never once did I question why Linda was rewriting Nikki’s backstory, and it certainly never occurred to me that I could just reject the edits. Nope, once Linda wrote it down, it was set in stone. Never mind that Linda and I have never actually met in person or done any writing together what-so-ever. In my dream, the changes were done and that was that. The other odd thing about my dream was the very real dual reality of Nikki’s reality. Linda may have written it, but I couldn’t send the baby back to the orphanage because Nikki would be upset, and what would her friends think?

But once I woke up, calmed down and then stopped laughing, it occurred to me to wonder. Do other authors dream about other authors? Do they dream about their characters? Is my brain off the deep end or just averagely crazy? I may never know the answer to that one…

Creativity vs. Time

When I was in college there was a hierarchy of artsy-ness. The fine artists looked down on the graphic designers, who looked down on the production people, who had to make do with looking down on people outside the art department. Web designers and Illustrators had to float around the edges and hope that no one eliminated their department before they graduated. I could never figure out why the fine arts students were so high and mighty – they were at a state school studying painting. It seemed wildly clear to me that their degree was a complete waste of daddy’s money. It was my opinion that the graphic designers were just as creative as fine artists; we just happened to be practical enough to want jobs after graduation. Such sentiments were far to mercenary for the art department where creativity only had to serve it’s own purpose and things like deadline’s, client needs, and money were all too, too pedestrian to be considered. Which seemed silly to me since even if you became a wildly successful painter you were going to come up against deadlines (we need 12 paintings for your gallery show in September!), client needs (the White House says the portrait can’t be a nude), and money (don’t worry your pretty little head about money!), why not learn how to manage these every day things? Wouldn’t that make you more successful? The resounding answer from the art department seemed to be that such thoughts would stifle the creativity.

And when it came to art, I had no problem shaking my head at their silliness. The only place I allowed myself that kind of indulgent largesse was in writing. I would be out tip-toeing through the tulips of my imaginary worlds for months at a time. But as I have gotten older and more experienced in the craft of writing I have discovered two problems with this. One – the product frequently is not what is needed. Too much wandering down unprofitable by-ways and I come back to the main plot of the story with about 100 pages of random stuff that don’t serve the story at all, but because I’ve just spent months on them, I love them too much to cut. Two – I don’t have the time. I now have a husband, a daughter, and a business to attend to and they all have a legitimate claim to my time. And how is the dog supposed to get any attention if I’m off typing… again? (Hint: He has to look gosh darn adorable.) So, my solution? Schedules and outlines. Those two foes of creativity have become my friends. With a strong outline my writing is faster and more productive than the days when I sat down at the computer wondering what to write today. I’m not sure how anyone else manages (and I’d love to hear other people’s experiences), but I’m hanging my hat on a schedule and an outline.

The Case for It’s

Recently, I was ranting on Facebook about my hatred for the periods in a.m. and p.m as well as the comma between city and state in addresses (see what you miss by not being my Facebook friend?) and one of my friends posted a link to Weird Al Yankovic’s new song “Word Crimes.”  As a long time Weird Al enthusiast and a Facebook friend to several editors and writers I had already seen the video (click here if you haven’t).  The video parodies “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke’s insanely catchy hit from 2013.  If you haven’t heard that one, then you probably weren’t living in America all of last year, but here you go – Blurred Lines.  (Warning: may not be suitable for work and my cause you to get in arguments with your feminist friends over whether or not the song is “rape-y”.  Double Warning: If you use the word rape-y at me, I will smite you.)  But back to the story, as I watched the Weird Al version again (because why wouldn’t you?) I was caught by the line “You do not use “it’s” in this case!”

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But why don’t we?  Yes, yes, the current rules state that “it’s” is a contraction.  “It” is not possessive; “it” cannot own anything.  But I say, “Listen up English – if you’re not going to provide me with a gender neutral pronoun, why can’t I use the defacto pronoun already in use in conversation – it?”  Clearly, the language is lacking such a word. English should stop being stuffy and allow this clearly needed possessive to enter the dictionary.  I’d willingly delete “tweep” from the Oxford-English Dictionary if I could have “it’s.”  Who’s with me?

Don’t Feed the Gremlins

The premise of my Carrie Mae Mystery series is that in the sixties, while other ladies were burning their bras and inventing Tupperware, Carrie Mae Robart founded a door to door / friend to friend cosmetic selling empire – Carrie Mae Cosmetics. Her goal was to give women financial independence without having to work outside the home. However, the more women she met, the more she realized that there were some problems that couldn’t be solved with just money ­– some problems needed a fist in the face. So Carrie Mae set up the Carrie Mae Foundation. Financed by proceeds from the cosmetic sales, the foundation is part non-profit – working on pro-bono legal cases and lobbying government on women’s rights issues – and partly a women only, black-ops, elite fighting force. The heroines of my stories Nikki Lanier, Ellen Marson, Jenny Baxter and Jane Rozmarek are part of that force and they travel the world, fulfilling the Carrie Mae mission statement: helping women everywhere.

Now the thing you’ll notice about this premise is that it’s only partially based in reality. I mean, sure, it’s possible for a woman in the 1960’s to found a peer to peer make up sales company. Not that I know of any… ahem. But sadly, it has apparently never occurred to anyone to found an elite fighting force for women as part their non-profit. (If someone knows of one, please email me immediately; I would like to join up.) The problem with all of this lack of reality is that I have to make it sound plausible when writing. And that means all the other bits have to sound real. I have to research the guns and the locations and I try to make sure that my characters emotions feel authentic. But if I spend too much time in reality, I suddenly look at my own premise and think, “That’s ridiculous! I can’t write that.”

That’s right; I tell myself, “I can’t.” Those are some of the worst words in the English language. (Although, they’re still not as bad as, “We need to talk.”) I’m two books and two short stories, and half a manuscript into a series, and… I can’t? How does the Can’t Gremlin sneak into so many places? I thought I was well fortified behind the Walls of Fantasy; girded by the Armor of Gumption; defended by the Holy Force of Imagination. And yet… I can’t. Why is it so hard to get that jerk of a gremlin out of the house? Can’t have an elite fighting force? You might as well suggest that a woman can’t write books. The cycle of Can’t can be extremely hard to break, so when I get too down in the Can’ts, I like to read other people’s books. There’s nothing like a good trip through someone else’s imagination to leave the Can’t Gremlin in the dust. But still, I know he’s just waiting around the corner to trip me up. Which is why I prefer to visit reality infrequently and for only brief periods of time. Feel free to visit me any time, but leave your gremlins at the door – I can’t be bothered with Can’t today.

Right Villainy

I’m sitting in my backyard listening to my neighbors complain about one of their roommates. Apparently, the miscreant roommate has three bags of trash sitting by the door to his room that he has failed to take out.

“I mean, that’s not a problem… exactly.”

Each of the guys carefully, and politely denote their own housecleaning failures.

“I never make my bed.”
“You never saw my apartment; I can get meh-ssy.”
“I have empty bottles in my room too.” (“Not like that,” interjects the first guy.)

They each tiptoe up to the line of declaring the roommate’s behavior an actual problem, but don’t cross it. Clearly, the garbage is still being contained in the room. But equally clear is that they all find the roommates sloth disgusting. Note to the miscreant: When 3 twenty-something dudes, who have only a tentative grasp on hygiene, find your housekeeping habits to sub-par on the rank of foulness, you just might have a problem.

All of which got me to thinking about villains and bad guys and wondering whether or not they realize that they are failing at their end of the social bargain. What if villains are just totally incapable of realizing that their 3 bags of garbage is offending the other roommates? Getting kicked out of the house will come as a total shock if you have no idea that a hazmat suit shouldn’t be required dress for your room. Maybe if Sauron had just been a little tidier maybe he wouldn’t have had to move in with the Orcs. If Darth Vader hadn’t grown up with Jabba the Hut as role model maybe he wouldn’t have gone to the dark side. If Voldemort hadn’t had to live on the back of some guy’s greasy head maybe he wouldn’t have been so peeved all the time. What do you think? Do villains choose to deviate from the social norm, or do they just blow right by the stop signs without seeing them at all?

Power of Attorney

This past year I have been focusing on my graphic design business and having a child (see adorable picture of Zoe below) and it’s been hard to give the time required to write a novel. Not that I’ve stopped writing or wanting to write, but the amount of hours I have available is not what it once was. Since I had shorter hours I decided to shift to shorter projects and I’ve spent the past year working on short stories. This has been both hard and rewarding. Hard in that I’ve always worked in long format and short stories are structured differently than novels. Short stories have made me practice new skills and work in new ways and it has been extremely rewarding to see these new skills bear fruit.
But as my life (and daughter) settle back into a routine, I’m looking forward to returning to the novel structure. In fact, I have plans for a third Carrie Mae Mystery, High-Caliber Concealer, and an as yet to be named mystery set in the San Juan islands. I can’t wait to share these new adventures with you, but today I’m releasing the last of my pre-daughter short stories. Power of Attorney a Carrie Mae Mini-Mystery is now available! I hope you enjoy it!

The Arch-Nemesis

I was watching The Big Bang Theory the other day – the one where Sheldon was expounding on his hatred for Wil Wheaton, his “arch-nemesis.” Having an arch-nemesis is such a comic book notion that the idea of a real person with an arch-nemesis has comedic potential built in. But it got me thinking about how we approach our enemies in real life. Most of us don’t say we have enemies. We have people we don’t like – mean people at work, that jerk of a clerk at the DMV, or the weird neighbor who thinks it’s great to feed that raccoons. To say that person is an enemy is to imply that they are out to get you and that conversely you’re probably out to get them. An enemy seems to imply a state of conflict that most of us aren’t really comfortable with.

But Sheldon got me to thinking: Who have been the “enemies” in my life? That one girl at the office who over watered my bamboo plant and then blamed me for the fact that it smelled like dog poo? (That is what happens when you over water bamboo, by the way.) Could I turn her into the villain of a workplace adventure? Just how much bad behavior does it take for a reader will believe a character in the role of villain? Accidental over watering probably doesn’t make a villain. I think we’d have to ramp up the bad behavior before a reader would believe she was anything more than a workplace annoyance. And since I was considering my life through the lens of villainy I had to wonder if I had ever been anyone else’s arch-nemesis. Of course, I’d probably be horrified if I found out I was hated by someone, but to figure so large in the pantheon of someone’s life would be kind of cool. So then I paused to consider what about my character would make a good villain and I realized it was quite clearly my underground volcano lair.

What character trait do you think makes for a good villain?


PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Help a starving author – leave reviews for the books you read today!

There’s a lot of talk these days about shopping local with the goal of supporting actual people instead of massive corporations. Well, you can’t get much more small, local, and actual than author. Reviews really do help authors. It’s through reviews that their books percolate through the great Google and Amazon algorithms and get recommended to other readers. And new readers means new buyers, which translates directly to an author’s pocket book.

That being said, I don’t often leave reviews for books. An author, I know that harsh reviews can be devastating to writers. I also think that after working on the craft of writing for more than a few years, that I’m pickier than the average reader and that can make for some rather negative reviews. But since I truly value an honest review I have adopted a “If I can’t say anything nice, then I don’t say anything at all” policy when it comes to reviews. Which means that my reviews are further a part as my life becomes busier with less time for reading, and I find it harder to find a book that I love with the same passion I did when I was younger. Hopefully, that means that if you see a review from me, you’ll know that I truly enjoyed the book.

So keep on leaving reviews, try not to be too mean, and definitely, definitely keep on reading.