THE GOOD GIRL TRAP
What a kick! My first blog for Riding With the Top Down. Another first was a recent signing for my debut novel, A Little Death In Dixie. The universe has turned a full rotation since I started that book, but the people I’ve met and the lessons I’ve learned made it all worthwhile.
Want an example?
Last week in bumper-to-bumper traffic I pulled in behind a cherry red Mercedes convertible. A sticker on the back read: Well-behaved Women Rarely Make History.
We all know that, right? We’re assertive women, right? I changed lanes and waved to the woman driver whom I noticed was wearing Jackie O. shades. Her bumper sticker reminded me of another bit of wisdom from Story, Robert McKee’s brilliant book on screenwriting that I’d taken instantly to heart after months of struggling to write my Southern suspense. He said: Good girls don’t write good fiction.
What a choice! Be a good girl or write good crime fiction.
Are you kidding me? I’d rather make history and write a good book, but old ways die hard, especially when the cultural hook is set so deep it’s hard to wriggle away. Especially when you grow up in the South, in church, and you’re a Daddy’s Girl and a natural born pleaser. It’s enough to keep a Southern lady like me in line.
Shut yo’ mouth!
But I didn’t want to shut my mouth. I wanted to write a good book. That meant I had to tell the truth. In my world, a nice girl rarely admits to painful truths, much less writes down the kinds of truths that make her chest burn. Writing about perversion, guilt, shame . . . family secrets, even when they aren’t my secrets (not exactly my secrets) made me squirm.
A Little Death In Dixie Whose death was it? Just a character’s death or the death of my good girl front? Both. And let me tell you…nothing is as hard as ripping away your own cover. Damn, that smarts.
So there’s the trap. After years of avoidance, I had to feel these awful, un-lady-like emotions and look nasty realities in the face because I wanted a toehold in the writing world.
Did I pull it off? I hope so. We’ll see how readers respond.
In the meantime, while I don’t actually own a red convertible, I drive one on occasion.
(Maureen is too polite to mention it, but she is our debut middle-grade novel. Congrats to Maureen! This is a charming and funny book. Now, everyone make a note to run out and buy it at Amazon and BN in the next week or so. Or toddle over to www.BellBridgeBooks.com right now!)
Father’s Day is only a few days away, and, for me, as each year passes, it becomes harder to find a way to honor my dad. He’s retired. He has everything he needs—including vine-ripened beefsteak tomatoes. When it comes to gifts, my siblings and I have given it all from striped ties to meat-of-the-month club, from his favorite homemade pineapple upside down cake to redeemable coupons for shoe polishing and car washing. Then it hit me. He’d appreciate recognition of how he’s influenced my life. So here are a few invaluable lessons I learned from my dad.
Holidays honoring parents should last longer than a day. Years ago, my father declared that venerating the father was an event of such magnitude it should encompass the entire weekend. Honoring the father started Friday the moment he walked in the door from work and didn’t end until midnight on Sunday. During that third weekend in June, we’d make his favorite meals and allow him to watch whatever he wanted on TV without complaint—even if he “rested his eyes” while watching it. As a mom, I’m totally on board with expanding any holiday honoring parents.
Go light on the vermouth. When making a martini of the traditional sort, Dad liked it on the rocks, double shot of gin, splash of vermouth, two stuffed olives, stirred—not shaken. I won’t tell you what age I was when I learned how to properly mix my dad’s cocktail of choice. I will tell you he still has one most days served at five o’clock on the dot.
Duck tape and epoxy can fix just about anything. Be it broken dolls, chairs, tools, or leather purses. Whatever he was fixing for you might not look attractive, but it was functional.
Resting your eyes is not sleeping. These activities migh t look the same and sound the same, due to snoring. However, while resting your eyes, you wake up when someone turns off the football game you don’t appear to be watching.
Show no mercy to Japanese Beetles. When I was growing up, before we m oved to Louisiana, my dad had grapevines in the backyard. He fermented their juice into wine—and into some tasty balsamic vinegar one year. Nope, not on purpose. One of our summer chores required making our way through the grape vines encouraging the beetles eating the leaves to take a swim in a large mason jar filled with soapy water to kill them, thus ensuring the integrity of his wine. I guess my dad was into organic gardening before it became popular.
Although Maureen Hardegree no longer euthanizes Japanese beetles for her father, the heroine in her debut novel Haint Misbehavin’ does. Visit Maureen at www.maureenhardegree.com .
This is a little something I’ve gleaned from BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell. Science has provided some intriguing and startling evidence that there is power in decisions made in the blink of an eye. Instinct, intuition, “precognition” are looking more and more like the end result of a gazillion minute pieces of data that your brain processes behind a closed door. (No “if, ands or buts” allowed in the room.) These feelings, hutches and urges are gifts delivered to you in the blink of an eye because your brain has seen a pattern, combined seemingly irrelevant data into a significant whole, or kicked into survival mode. We should pay attention to those gifts.
Writing is creative. Developing those instincts can lead you to wonderfully authentic, confident and organic work. Don’t throttle your instinctive creativity by being afraid to stray from the carefully mapped out route.
Beware of blinking. You can’t rely solely on divine inspiration. Gathering knowledge, experiencing life, honing craft, developing structure and paying attention to character arc are only some of the things you really do need to do. Why? So that the “war room” in your brain can make those subtle connections or see a pattern and nudge you. You get inspiration from perspiration.
Also, not every “blinked instinct” is a truth. Personal bias can sneak in. If you’ve carefully constructed a novel requiring a werewolf and in the middle of a tough scene you suddenly just KNOW the problem will be solved if you switch to a Vampire…be careful you aren’t acting on the fact that three people online mentioned that Vampires are hot and you need one to sell a book. You may be priming the pump instead of having that true moment of gestalt.
Words on paper. Lots of them. Especially “The End.”
You’ve got to make connections. You need support. You need guidance. You need to support and give guidance. You need to hand that manuscript off to a publisher.
Blink. Think. Ink. Link.
(Help us welcome Kathryn Magendie, who “was born a West-by-god Virginia Hillbilly (and proud of it), moved here, there, and yonder, before landing Western North Carolina, where she spins tales, drinks Deep Creek Blend coffee, an occasional vodka tonic with lime, and contemplates the glow of Old Moon.” Seriously, that’s her public bio. )
Didn’t I tell you not to come round here no more? Didn’t I tell you I couldn’t resist your charms? And do you listen? No. You flaunt yourself in front of me—all luscious and tasty, decadent and . . . and . . . You Yankee You! Why would this West Virginia born Hillbilly fall for a rascal from New York? Smooth . . . oh you are smoooooth.
Yes, yes, I know; I’ve called upon your charms in the darkest hours of my sad and lonely *heavy sigh* writing life. You were there while I wrote Tender Graces; you were there when I released that baby to the world—I thought I could just walk aw ay, but there you were again those long lonely minutes and hours and days and weeks and months while I wrote Secret Graces. My friend, you were, through those two books and beyond. Not asking anything of me but for the enjoyment of you. My muse, you were. My sweet writing muse.
When Secret Graces flew out of my hands and out to ever ever land, there came the fateful day I stretched my bones, sighed with a job done, and changed out of my writing pants, those loose and dreamy pants that have no defined waist. But wait. What is this?, I screamed. Unnggghhh. Unggghh. Why is not my zipper zippering? My button buttoning? You . . . you . . . you betrayer of waistlines! I thought I could consume you without consequence! Through two books you were my best buddy, and this is what becomes of that great friendship? Oh heaviest of sighs!
You won. Is that what you want to hear? With your silky voice calling. With your soft yet firm outer crust molded against the springform pan. The cream cheese! The vanilla! The touch of lemon zest! The thousands of tiny granules of sugar! The eggs—both golden yolk and slippery whites. And, you devil you; you even added a thin fine layer of sweetened sour cream on top, and then . . . oh then . . . you scamp; you held atop fresh plump strawberries oozing sweet red love.
And I, unsuspecting, tappity tapping away upon the computer. Creating my fiction worlds where my characters can eat whatever they want and run around gleefully, yippee yi yo kai yayyy . . .and all the while my own butt is slammed against a chair, spreading ever onward! Because of you, Cheesecake.
Time after time—Tender Graces draft, Tender Graces rewrites, Tender Graces Galley, Tender Graces released, lather rinse, repeat with Secret Graces—I dipped my knife in hot water, and then sliced into you. You offered no resistance. One side, then another side, then I lifted a piece of you onto my plate. Then, with my fork, I cupped you onto the tines. And the first perfect bite as the creaminess spread across my tongue.
And now, now I cannot sit at my computer to craft the next book without the Pavlov’s Dog’s response to you, Cheesecake. Again and again and again—you and me Cheesecake, you and me.
I go mad with you, Cheesecake. Yet, you rogue, you tempter, you sweet sweet sprite. You wild wonderful Muse, you. Please say you will not call to me each time my butt slams against the chair and my fingers poise on the keys and the refrigerator hummmmms . . .
Please say you will quieten the siren call of your sweet succulent love.
As ever, you know I am yours and you are mine. Damn you.
“Jean Brashear’s wholly original, funny and poignant novel has a heart as big as Texas. Told in a warm and intimate voice, it’s like a road trip with your best friend. Don’t miss it!”~#1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs
Sometimes life gives us gifts of pure grace; one such for me has been meeting Pea O'Brien, the protagonist of THE GODDESS OF FRIED OKRA. She began as an exercise in sheer fun—sitting on my deck in a wicker rocker, taking a few weeks off from my contracted writing to see if, after several years as a working writer, I still remembered how to play, how to write for the simple pleasure of it, a joy too easily lost under the pressure of deadlines and expectations.
I knew nothing about Pea, even her name at first—only that a psychic had sent this woman on the road to search for the reincarnated soul of the sister she desperately missed. It all seemed like a lark those first few days, drinking this killer Mexican iced coffee recipe I got from Barbara Samuel (so much of said coffee wound up practically eating a hole in my stomach, but it's not Barbara's fault I brewed it so dang strong.) I'd sit and sip and type on my Alphasmart while listening to birdsong under my live oaks...and see where Pea would take me next.
When it was time to get back to my deadlines, Pea was never far from me, and over the next few years I returned to her often, letting the flight of fancy take me away whenever I could scrape up a day here or there.
Sometimes flights of fancy lead to real life experiences...and vice versa. My husband and I love taking back roads whenever possible (he has a whole collection of photos of oddball sights) and on one of our rambles, I spotted a sign for the Conan the Barbarian Festival in Cross Plains, Texas. Who knew?!? We were too late for that year's festival, but we detoured to Cross Plains, anyway, and indulged in such landmarks as the mural on the side of the library (wanna see the picture of me and Conan?) and Robert E. Howard's homeplace.
The year following, I'd forgotten all about the festival until I ran across a notice that it would be occurring in three days' time. Ring, ring: "Lover man, I know you're trying to make a living, but this is important—how would you like to go to Cross Plains this weekend?" Long silence. Then laughter. "I'm sure that's exactly what I was thinking, I just didn't know it." Never let it be said that this man doesn't love me. (Also, don't ask him where else on God's green earth I've dragged him in the name of research, OK?)
Three days later, we were in Cross Plains, watching the parade. (I cannot tell you how disappointed I was not to find cowboys in furry leggings with breastplates and helmets, brandishing broadswords—and okay, it's my dirty little secret that there is no sword-fighting competition at the festival as there is in my book.)
But there should be.
Speaking of Conan's daddy REH...I cannot positively recall how Howard's bloodthirsty, sword-wielding women got involved in my story, but I think it began with touring the tiny library and looking at first editions and manuscripts, then coming back home and ordering some of his books. I read the one called Sword Woman, and—voila!
There was Dark Agnes on the cover, nosecone breastplate and all, trying to take off this big burly brute's head with an evil-looking sword. She'd been her father's work animal, then sold to a husband but escaped, only to wind up befriended by a man who taught her swordplay—then tried to sell her, too. Heck, she had to become bloodthirsty just to survive. She seemed to me to be exactly the sort of spirit guide the lost and lonely Pea needed.
But how to connect the two? Well...on another back roads meandering a few years earlier, I'd spotted this gun shop housed in a portable building (pictures of that, too, on my website) that never quite left my mind. Presto—Guns 'N' Glory, owned by a ferocious former Marine named...yep, Glory. She's the person, in the story, who decides Pea needs toughening up and hey, doesn't it seem perfectly in character that she's a big fan of warrior goddesses and good ol' whack job REH? (Gimme a big Heck, yeah!) I never went inside the real gun shop (closed every time we drove by) but I'm pretty sure it doesn't have crystals hanging from the ceiling or a lunch box collection.
But it should.
(Are you seeing a trend here? Ah, the godlike powers we writers wield!)
This book probably sounds a wee bit quirky—and, okay, it is—but I think I became the truest me as a writer I've ever experienced in the process of writing it. I went through a lot of agonizing and reworking and second-guessing myself (to say nothing of all the other people who second-guessed me) but in the end, I zigzagged and wrung my hands and got as stubborn as I was scared until I listened enough to my gut to unearth the version that I hoped like the dickens the amazing Debs of BelleBooks would "get" because I just felt in my heart that they would do right by the story.
Well, they did get it—and like it enough to buy it, these women I have so admired for years—which made every low point worth it, every moment of trying to hold onto my faith and keep going. And since then, I've experienced the enormous pleasure of spending several months playing with these fascinating and brilliant women in the most author-friendly environment I can imagine. To then also have some fabulous writers love it enough to give me killer quotes, well...as a writer, I don't know how life gets any better than this.
Mission accomplished. Joy rediscovered.
Jean Brashear is the author of 23 novels in romance and women’s fiction, with sales of more than 1.6 million copies, she is a three-time RITA finalist and Romantic Times BOOKReviews Career Achievement Award winner.
Book Trailer: http://bellebooks.com/books/GoddessofFri
According to Parker Blue, she likes to pretend she’s a hip young chick—and even had a friend draw her that way—but in actually, she’s just a wee bit older than that. And as for being hip, well, maybe not, but she definitely has hips. She’s the author of the young adult urban fantasy Demon Underground series, and here’s more of what she has to say about herself:
Menopause sucks. They tell you about the hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings, but they never tell you about the truly horrible part of menopause: noun loss. Ever since I started through "the change," I've been losing my nouns. I'll be talking away, using verbs, articles, adjectives and adverbs with ease, then I'll come upon a noun and be totally stumped. Especially proper nouns. Names?
Ha! Forget it. And what's that small black thing in my front yard the postman stuffs with bills and magazines? Not a clue. I know exactly what it is, but can't for the life of me figure out what it's called.
When I told my doctor about the problem, she laughed. She said a lot of women go through menopause and realize they're having a problem with their memory, but only a writer would identify the part of speech we lose. She promises me it's not dementia, not a sign of incipient Alzheimer's. No, it's simply menopause. My friends laughed, too, until it began happening to them, too. Who knew hormones could mess up your brain so much?
Wait. Hormones screwing with my brain? Oh, yeah. I've been there before...I forgot about puberty. Well, I didn't actually forget. I remember it very clearly (no nouns involved, you see). So that’s why I, a menopausal writer, can still write for young adults.
Besides, Deb Dixon made me do it. I originally wrote the first book of my Demon Underground series, Bite Me, as a paranormal romance, but she convinced me it would work better as an urban fantasy that would span the gap between teen novels and those written for adults. So, I rewrote it and she was right—it did work better.
Now, in the second book, Try Me, part-demon teen vampire fighter Valentine Shapiro and her faithful terrier hellhound, Fang, are once again patrolling the dark streets of San Antonio, Texas. Val's hunky human partner, Detective Dan Sullivan, is giving her the cold shoulder since she beheaded his vampire fiancée. Vamp leader Alejandro is struggling to keep the peace between vamps, demons and humans. The mucho powerful Encyclopedia Magicka has been stolen, someone in the Demon Underground is poisoning vamps, and Val's inner lust demon, Lola, is getting very restless since Val's now partnered with sexy Shade, the shadow demon with the blond good looks of an angel.
Well, whaddaya know, I managed to get through that without the loss of a single noun. Well, so far as you know. Luckily, my noun loss problem isn't visible to readers. If I have a problem remembering one, I can always come back later to fill it in and no one is the wiser. But make me feel better, will ya? Tell me it happens to you, too. If it doesn't, I'm not sure I want to know.
While I'm waiting for your comments, I'll take a break and see if I have anything to drink in the...uh, oh crap, you know—that big silver thing in the kitchen that keeps food cold....
(By day Anthony Francis studies human and other minds to design intelligent machines and emotional robots; by night he writes fiction and draws comic books at the collision point of hard science and pure fantasy. He was inspired to study artificial intelligence by Douglas Hofstadter, to become a writer by Isaac Asimov, and to write urban fantasy by Laurell K. Hamilton and Richard P. Feynman. He got his Ph.D in AI and his brown belt in Taido from Georgia Tech; he currently supports his out-of-control reading and writing habits by working at the Search Engine That Starts With a G. Anthony lives in San Jose with his wife and cats but his heart will always belong in Atlanta.)
I'm Anthony Francis, the author of Frost Moon, an urban fantasy published by Bell Bridge Books. When I started writing Frost Moon, I decided to create something I would want to read - an adventure that was magical and sexy and fun, but with a little edge of realism that made the magic more believable. A novel with a heroine who herself was magical and sexy and fun, but who didn't begin her adventures already endowed with the power to dispel the forces of the darkness with her quick wit and kung-fu grip. Someone who had every reason to go diving into the world of magic - but who dives in out of her depth and has to learn to swim. So was born Dakota Frost, and the alternate Atlanta of the Skindancer series.
So what is Frost Moon about? Someone is skinning the tattooed every full moon - and Dakota Frost, Atlanta's best magical tattooist, has just met a werewolf who is either the killer ... or possibly the killer's next victim. Tall, edgy, and beautifully tattooed herself, Dakota Frost can bring her marks to life through the magical art called skindancing, a skill which makes her the object of many people's desires. The killer wants her ink; the werewolf wants to be inked. A man-in-black wants to protect her; a young orphan wants to be protected by her. A skeptic wants to challenge her skill; she wants to meet that challenge. And it's all going down in Atlanta just before the full moon.
I had fun writing it, and I hope you have fun reading it. But I hope you get more out of it than that. The surface of Frost Moon is a just-ever-so-slightly over-the-top action adventure universe, but beneath that surface are two firm principles. The first principle is that if magic was real, then magic would be real, woven in deep with Nature's laws. In the Skindancer universe, magic was hidden in secret for centuries by wizards pretending to be scientists; but the counterculture movement of the 1960's it began to break free, creating Dakota's world where vampires work with the police to maintain law and order and magical tattooists get licensed at City Hall.
The second principle is that if I didn't make it up, it should be as accurate as possible. Almost all the places in Frost Moon are real parts of Atlanta - not just the bookstores and restaurants and nightclubs but also the more obscure touches, from the statue of Lord Buckhead in Storyteller Square down to the keypad leading to the APD offices on the upper floors of City Hall East (I had a friend go check). And if some nefarious person were to, say, inject a shifter with silver nitrate to thwart their change, I can guarantee you that the hypodermic filled of silver nitrate will look like it's actually filled with silver nitrate and not with mercury ... and that the injection will have more of an effect on the shifter's life than just delaying the shifter's change until the next chapter.
And I can also guarantee that Dakota herself will change. She's tall, cocky, on the edge of arrogant; but the first time someone faces a real fight it can change you. Frost Moon leaves both scars and gifts on Dakota's body, psyche and life, and I'm going to enjoy exploring how those change her in future books.
I hope you enjoy them too.
-the Centaur, Wednesday March 17, 2010