Thursday, August 30, 2012

How Can You Build a Map Without Knowing Where You're Going?

I recently took up bike riding, but as empowering as riding and feeling my legs get stronger made me feel, I was struggling to stick to a regular riding schedule and found myself making excuses a lot of time not to ride.

That changed this week when I set a weekly mileage goal for myself. With a clear destination in mind, I automatically began planning how to reach it. Instead of saying, "Eh, I don't feel like riding tonight," I found myself saying, "If I'm going to hit my goal, I need to ride tonight."

And what do you know, I'm motivated to go out and ride even when I don't really feel like it, because, damn it! I have a goal I have to hit. I'm proudly saying, "I've ridden x mile this week."

Granted, I didn't make my goal outrageously unattainable. This week I want to ride 16 total miles. That's 4 miles on 4 days. Next week I want to ride 18 miles, and the following week, 20. My goal is to reach 24 weekly miles by mid-October. TOTALLY reachable.

And double what do you know? This same method is working for my writing, as well.

I had been so stressed that I wasn't getting much writing done now that I have a day job that I was imploding and not able to write at all. Without even realizing what I was doing, a couple of weeks ago I started setting daily writing goals for myself. I didn't say, "I'll write when I feel like it and won't write when I don't." I actually created a calendar and plotted down which days I would read, and which days I would write, and which days I would take off.

I've since altered that approach now that I'm editing Rebel Obsession. Last week I decided that I wanted the first round of edits on RO to be complete by this coming Sunday morning so I could email it to my beta readers. I took the number of pages, divided it by the number of days, and just like that I had my daily goal. I calculated that I had to edit 43 pages per day to ensure the first edit is done by Saturday night. If you know how I edit, you'll know that 43 pages is a very challenging number, but not impossible, especially for this first edit, which doesn't involve a lot of rewrites (some, but not many).

With the number calculated and in my mind, I surged forward, and I'm right on target. in fact, I'm a few pages ahead of schedule as of this morning.

This goal-setting thing really works, and just as with riding, writing has become much more fluid and I'm motivated to sit down each night so I can make my daily goal, as well as my end goal.

Notice these key points about the goals I've set:
  • They are achievable. I did not set myself up to fail by giving myself a goal that would require super human abilities to attain.
  • They are challenging. While the goals are achievable, they do push me to stretch to accomplish them.
  • They are measurable. I'm not shooting darts and hoping for the best. I have actual, measurable numbers to stack my results up against.
  • They don't rely on others. My goals are for me alone. I can't control others, so I don't want others being responsible for whether or not I achieve my goals. (Example: I can have a goal to contact 5 book reviewers each week, but I can't have a goal to get my book reviewed 5 times each week. See the difference? One I can control, the other I can't.)
My goals allow me to see where I'm going and figure out how I will get there, and they allow me to continue moving forward. Seeing the destination allows me to build the roadmap, and in writing, it's all about the destination. If you don't know where you're going, how do you ever expect to get there?

What types of goals do you set for yourself? Do you find setting goals motivates you more or not?

Happy writing and happy reading!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fan Fiction - Friend or Foe?

Some people have passionate views about fan fiction, especially since the success of Fifty Shades of Grey. The Fifty Shades phenomenon would not have been the success it is today if not for the huge fan fiction following it gained. For those who have been completely detached from the Fifty Shades pandemonium, that story started as a fan fiction story for the Twilight books. The author later stripped out all the vampire and name references so she could publish it and not get slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit.
So, depending on which side of the fence you're on, you could either see fan fiction as a great thing or a bad thing. People who have seen success from starting out writing fan fiction probably see it as a good thing, but still others can make the argument (and have, which is why I'm using it as an example) that books like Fifty Shades cheated the system and aren't good enough to be published, and only became a success because of the rabid fan following from fanfic sites. Consequently, these people have turned an angry eye against fan fiction, blaming it for bastardizing fiction and for overshadowing truly original authors.
As for me, I vascillate somewhere in the middle ground. I have written fan fiction, and it's possible that I will take some of my fan fiction and alter it into stories of my own or work the components of that fanfic into existing stories. But for me, I use fanfic more as a writing exercise, as well as a means to generate more ideas and expand my creativity. Fanfic has been a great way for me to break out of writing ruts and find fresh ideas.

A few pros of fanfic:
  1. It's a great way for budding authors to open their fledgling wings and learn how to structure a story.
  2. Writing fanfic helps build confidence for new writers. This could be the first time these writers have ever written for the public, and doing so prepares them for when they write their own stories later.
  3. Fanfic allows fans to actively participate in, and be a part of, their favorite authors' stories.
  4. The authors of the original pieces that inspire fanfic can reap more fans from the added attention.
  1. Anyone can write fan fiction, but just because a person has written a fanfic piece does not make them an author. There is a LOT more to building a story than taking someone else's idea and making it your own.
  2. On that note, it must be remembered that if you do write fan fiction, you ARE taking someone else's ideas and characters and "having your way with them." The original author or other fans might not like where you take those characters.
  3. There is a faction of society who abhors fanfic. You need to be ready for backlash if you take a fanfic piece and rework it for publication.
  4. Last and probably most important, readers are extremely vocal. In the anonymity of the Internet, they will have no problem picking your fanfic piece apart. Writers (and not just of fanfic) have to have an extremely thick skin to take the critique of readers. Writers MUST NEVER retaliate, talk back to, argue with, or attack a reader who has criticized their work. Period. Doing so will destroy you as a writer. I've seen it happen. If anything, you should be grateful for the negative feedback, because it will help you improve your writing.
Fan fiction: love it or leave it. There's not denying the influence fan fiction has had and will continue to have on fiction. In a way, writing has evolved in a way to include fan fiction as a valid means by which to write and gain new fans, a following, and to have success in the writing world. Personally, I think it needs to be embraced, as long as everyone is aware of the pitfalls and legalities involved. Fifty Shades of Grey is the perfect example. Whether you love the books or hate them, you can't deny the effect Fifty has had in the writing world, or the success the author experienced from it. Think about that. :)

Do you read or write fan fiction? Why or why not? If so, what are your favorite types of fanfic stories?

Happy Writing and Reading

- D

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Micah's Fall - Chapter Four

An hour before sunrise, Micah sat at the edge of the courtyard, growing drowsy. He had been up for nearly an entire day and night. He wasn't cursed to the darkness like his parents were. Someday he would be, but for now, he could play in the sun without harm, and knowing that a day would come when the sun would no longer be his friend, he spent as much time as he could in daylight.
He blinked, almost unable to re-open his eyes. Only the knowledge that Katarina — Kat — was still helping clean up forced him to remain awake. He rarely got to see her, being that she had made the change into adulthood a long time ago, and Micah normally slept at night when she was up.
She had danced with him tonight. Through several songs. What a thrill. That alone had been enough to keep his eyes open for the better part of the night.
At first, Micah had been scared to approach her, especially with the flowers, and then he had remembered what his father had told him about holding his head up high and walking with confidence. If he acted confident, others would see him as such. So, he had pulled up his boot straps, built up every bit of courage he had, and taken her the flowers. And then they had danced.
Micah had impressed her. He had seen it in her face and heard it in her voice.
Another heavy blink and Micah's head fell forward. He quickly bounced it back up, forcing his eyes open, only for them to fall closed once more.
When they opened again, he was bobbing lazily, his skinny arms draped over the large broad shoulders of his father, his long hair hanging over his face. They were no longer in the courtyard. In fact, they were almost home.
His magical night with the ethereal Katarina was over. When would he see her again? Hopefully soon. After all, he had to teach her how to shoot with a bow and arrow.
Drifting in and out of slumber, Micah’s thoughts danced between reality and dream as his father climbed the steps leading to the entrance of their home. By the time he was settled onto his simple mattress with its small down pillow, Micah was fast asleep.

Micah awoke to afternoon sunlight spilling on his face through the small, nearby window. Blinking against the brightness, he rolled to his side and pushed himself up. He still wore the clothes he’d worn last night.
Sylvia was peeling potatoes at the table across the room.
“Well, good morning, little Micah.” Sylvia smiled brightly. “Are you hungry, little man?”
She always referred to him in human terminology, but then, she was human, so that made sense.
He nodded, which set Sylvia to bustling about, her long kirtle dusting over the floor. Micah noted the hem was soiled and worn. Most of the humans in the village were considered peasants in their world, but here the vampires took care of all their needs and provided them with food, shelter, and a place to live.
“Why don’t you change out of that suit, little man, and I’ll take out the legs on those trousers for you.” Sylvia scooped porridge out of a pot hanging over the glowing embers in the fireplace, ladling it into a small wooden bowl.
Micah glanced down at his too-short trousers then immediately stood and stripped.
“I danced with Kat last night,” he said proudly.
“Oh, you did?” Sylvia set the bowl on the table with a wooden spoon.
“Yes.” Micah pulled on dirty, brown trousers and a tunic then ran across the wooden floor toward the table.
Grabbing the chair, he yanked it back so it dragged loudly across the floor.
Sylvia jumped. “No, Micah. Ssshh. Your parents.” She motioned toward the floor.
Micah wasn’t used to being inside during the day while his parents were sleeping in the cavern they had constructed under the house.
“Sorry.” Micah quietly scooted the chair back and sat down, digging into his bowl of porridge.
“So, Kat danced with you last night, did she?” Sylvia returned to peeling potatoes and gave him a conspiratorial wink. “Was she a good dancer?”
Micah’s face heated, so he knew he was blushing.
“She was, wasn’t she?”
He nodded, looking down into his bowl.
Sylvia giggled. “To have seen that,” she said. “Just wait until you get older, Micah. You’ll be quite the catch if I do say.” Her face grew animated as she pointed her knife at him.
Micah snickered self-consciously. “Nah, not me.”
With a hoot of disagreement, Sylvia wagged her finger at him. “Have you seen your father, little man? I daresay he’s the handsomest man in these parts, yes he is. And you’re the spittin’ image of him, you are. You’ll be breaking hearts across the land, you will.”
Micah was always being compared to his father, which was fine by him. But Micah wasn’t as confident as Sylvia about his future heart breaking ways, because all he could see was a future with Kat. And he would never break her heart. If he was lucky enough to win her over someday, he would be ever-faithful and never look upon another. Even at twelve years old, he knew she was his future.
After finishing his porridge, Sylvia excused him, and he grabbed his bow and arrow and darted out the door.
Sunlight warmed him as he ran through the cobbled lanes of the village, past the courtyard, and into the woods he considered his home away from home. As he trekked through the underbrush, he collected berries and seeds, stowing them in the pocket of his tunic. Once he was deep into the thick of the forest, he shimmied up his favorite tree, settled on a thick branch so high up he could see forever in all directions, and took out a handful of berries and began to eat.
The wind was cool and strong this high up, and he had to take out a length of twine and tie back his hair so it wouldn’t blow over his face.
Popping another berry into his mouth, Micah leaned his head back against the trunk and closed his eyes so he could listen to the silence. Well, not silence, but to him it was. No chatter reached him from the villagers. None of the other young bothered him here. No adults oversaw him. He was completely alone with the wind, the birds, and the trees. He liked it. Only here did he feel totally free and safe to fantasize about the future.
As if on cue, his thoughts skittered to Kat and the way she had looked in her blue dress last night. The bodice had pushed her full breasts up into soft mounds of pale flesh that had been hard for Micah to avoid looking at. But now, in the privacy of his secret place, he let his mind settle on the memory of how they had looked pressed up and together to form a crease of cleavage that beckoned to be touched.
His little body warmed pleasantly, a sensation he was feeling more often, especially since he had started growing so rapidly.
His thoughts drifted further, taking actual events into the realm of make believe. In his mind, he was a grown man dancing with Katarina, and she was enthralled with him. She found him to be the handsomest man in the land – even more handsome than his father – and begged him to touch her breasts as they danced. When he did, she sighed and reached up to unlace the bodice of her dress so he could push his hand inside and feel her more fully.
Micah opened his eyes, his breath coming in heavy draws. His whole body tingled from the images of his fantasy, and he felt delightfully warm between his legs. Absently, he looked down, only to jump and nearly fall off the branch in shock.
What was wrong with him? His trousers stood out where his penis was. Scurrying to look inside his pants, he found that his penis had swelled and was standing straight up. What had he done?
Panic set in. Had he somehow infected his penis? Had he eaten a bad berry? Was he being punished for having impure thoughts about Katarina?
Clapping his hands together, he laced his fingers and bowed his head against his joined hands in prayer.
God, I promise never to think about Kat like that again if you just make me better. Please God. I’m so sorry for thinking about her like that. It will never happen again. I swear. Please just make my penis better. Please don’t let it fall off.
He had heard tales of men whose penises had fallen off for a variety of reasons, but he had thought they were just stories to scare little boys like him from doing or thinking bad things. Now he wondered if they had been true. Or what if he had been infected with leprosy. He knew of the sicknesses that infected humans: leprosy, plague, and a variety of other deadly infections. Could he have somehow picked up the germs and grown ill?
Opening his eyes after praying for several more minutes, he saw that his penis was still hard and swollen. Prayers weren’t working. God wasn’t going to heal him.
Manic thoughts raced through his mind about what could happen to him.
Jumping to his feet, he was about to hurry down the tree so he could rush back to the village so Sylvia could take him to one of the healers when his eye caught movement in the distance.
Stopping, he looked again, squinting against the sun.
Three men wearing armor and riding on horseback were heading toward his village in front of a closed carriage that looked more like a box on wheels.
His infected penis forgotten for the moment, he hurried down the tree and sprinted for home. If he were an adult, he could just think himself home and he would disappear in a mist of fog and reappear back in the village a moment later.
“Messengers are coming!” He announced as he got closer to home. “Messengers from the king are coming!”
Humans and young vampires who had yet to go through the change to adulthood rose to attention or wandered out from their homes. It would still be a couple of hours before the sun set to allow the mature vampires to venture outdoors.
Micah ran through the lanes of the village, shouting the announcement of the coming visitors.
When he reached his house, Sylvia darted outside, wiping her hands on her apron before brushing a strand of hair back off her forehead.
Suddenly he remembered his infected penis. He practically burst into tears as he stopped dead in his tracks and looked at Sylvia.
“Help me!” He ran toward her, letting his tears flow.
Concern ripped across her features as she opened her arms and hugged him close after he slammed into her.
“What’s wrong, little Micah? Are you okay?”
He clutched the back of her kirtle inside his fists and cried against her shoulder. He was so embarrassed to admit that he had been thinking such lewd thoughts about Katarina, but Sylvia had to know what he had done if she was going to help him.
“I did something bad, Sylvia. And now….” He sniffled then broke into a fresh round of crying.
“Ssshhh, little man. It’s okay. What happened? Tell me what happened so I can help?”
Tears gushed down his face, and he pulled back, hiccupping through his sobs. “I was thinking about Kat. I know it was wrong. I shouldn’t have thought of her like that, and I never will again, but I did and now my penis is going to fall off. It’s swollen. See?” He stepped back and looked down, but his penis was no longer sticking out from his body.
His prayers had worked. He was cured.
When he looked back up at Sylvia, she was obviously fighting back a smile.
“I swear, Sylvia! It was infected just a little while ago.” No way would he allow her to think he was lying. Micah didn’t lie.
Sylvia broke into a fit of giggles. “No, no. That’s not why I was smiling.”
Micah frowned, and his face fell with embarrassment. “What’s so funny?”
She shook her head and ushered him toward the house. “What you experienced…when your…um, penis…swelled like that? Well, how do I explain…?” She bit her lip, trying not to giggle. “Maybe you should talk to your father about this, little man.”
“No.” Micah scowled. “Tell me. Please. I don’t want it to happen again.”
At that, Sylvia broke out in tinkling laughter. “Oh, little Micah, if you only knew.”
Well, if she would tell him what she knew, he would know. What was the big deal? If what she could tell him would keep his penis from falling off, he wanted her to tell him, not make him talk to his father.
“Please, Sylvia.” He was about to break down into tears again.
She took one look at his face and her expression sobered. “Oh, you poor little thing.” She hugged him again. “Okay, but don’t you tell your parents I told you.”
He shook his head eagerly, willing to do anything to know what had happened to him. If that meant entering into a secret pact with her, he would.
She looked over her shoulder toward the door then back to him as she knelt. Lowering her voice, she said, “When a little boy reaches a certain age, his body starts to change so he can grow up. Do you understand?”
Micah nodded, but he wasn’t sure where this was going.
“Okay,” she said, then paused as if she was choosing her words before continuing. “A boy who hits that age can expect a lot of things to happen. His voice changes and deepens.” She eyed him dramatically and ticked the items off on her fingers. “He starts to grow facial hair. He gets taller. Hair sprouts under his arm and…elsewhere.” She hesitated, her face blanching. “And he experiences occasional, uh…umm…well, his penis can grow and harden.”
“Why?” Micah wasn’t sure he wanted to grow up if he would have to go through all that.
Sylvia grew flustered and waved her hands. “That’s all I know, little Micah. Just that it’s normal and nothing to worry about.” She rose to her feet and straightened her apron. “Now, what’s this you were saying about messengers coming from the king?”
In other words, she wanted to change the subject. He didn’t understand why she was so uncomfortable talking about what had happened to his penis. It wasn’t like it was her penis. He wondered if she would be so eager to dismiss the subject if it was her penis and it was going to fall off. But then she did say that whatever had caused his penis to enlarge like that was normal, so maybe he shouldn’t worry.  If it happened again, he would talk to his father. Until then there was little he could do. At least he was out of danger for the moment.
“I saw messengers from the king approaching on the road into the village,” he said, pointing.
“Well, perhaps we should head to the courtyard to greet them on behalf of your father, you and I.”
By now, word had spread from home to home about the coming visitors, and the villagers — minus the adult vampires — were heading toward the courtyard. Sylvia took his hand and together they joined the others to hear the message the king had sent them.
The delegates were just arriving as Micah and Sylvia reached the courtyard.
One of the knights pulled out a scroll of parchment, read for a moment, then looked up. “I am seeking Yaris Black on behalf of King Bain.”
Everyone turned and looked at Micah.
“He’s my father," Micah said.
The knight looked down from his large black and brown horse. “I assume he still sleeps.” As a knight of the vampire king Bain, the knight knew full well that the adult vampires would not rise until the sun had fully set.
Micah nodded. “Yes, Sir.”
“Our orders are to speak only to him, as the lord of this village, so we shall take leave in your home until he awakens.”
Sylvia’s hand tightened around Micah’s as she spoke. “Of course. The king’s men are always welcome in our home.”
Micah eyed the boxy carriage and knew a vampire was inside. A traveling coffin, that’s what the carriage was.
“Show us the way,” the lead knight said, dismounting.
The other two knights followed suit, the crowd murmuring and restless over why they were here. King Bain only sent messengers when a major announcement needed to be made, and usually such announcements were bad news.
The fourth knight stayed behind the reins of the horses pulling the carriage, flicking them forward so they followed slowly behind as Sylvia and Micah led them to their home.
When the knights got a look at the cottage Micah’s family lived in, they seemed shocked.
“For a lord, Yaris lives modestly, does he not?”
Sylvia quickly came to his father’s defense. “Yaris wanted to live among the people, not over them. He prefers being part of the community.”
The knights shook their heads. “This will not do. Not now. Not with what has happened.”
“What do you mean?” Sylvia’s voice held a hint of worry. Micah knew her well enough to know she was shaken by their arrival.
“We will speak to Yaris before we address anyone else,” the lead knight said.
The carriage pulled to a stop in the lane in front of Micah’s home and the human driver stepped down.
Once they were all inside, Micah watched curiously from his bed in the corner. Something wasn’t right about these knights. They were too serious and too tense. They made Micah uncomfortable.
One of them looked at Micah.
He’ll make a fine soldier.
“What did you say?” Micah hadn’t seen the man’s lips move, but he had clearly heard him speak.
The knight frowned at him. “I didn’t speak, little one.”
“Yes, I heard you. You said, ‘He’ll make a fine soldier.’ Were you talking about me?”
With his brow deeply furrowed, the knight tilted his head to the side and spoke slowly, as if he couldn’t believe what had just happened. “I never spoke, son. You must have heard what I was thinking.”
Micah surely hadn’t heard him right. “Huh? You’re joking.”
The knights exchanged glances and the one who had been looking at him said, “No, son. I was thinking that, but I never spoke. You heard my thoughts.”
“Gregos will be pleased,” one of the other knights said.
“Yes, this one is strong,” said another.
Sylvia hovered silently in the background, eyeing the knights suspiciously.
I don’t like this.
This time, Micah heard Sylvia’s voice clear as a whistle, but he saw with his own eyes that she hadn’t spoken. His gaze met hers as she looked up at him.
Micah’s too young for this.
“What are you talking about?” Micah jumped off his bed and glared at everyone in the room then looked back at Sylvia. “What do you mean that I’m too young for this? What’s going on? What’s happening?!”
Sylvia’s mouth gaped open. “You can hear my thoughts?” She stilled, looking startled. "Since when did you start reading minds, little man?"
The knights exchanged pleased smiles.
“I can’t read minds. I’m not crazy like that!” First his penis inflated and now he was hearing things — unspoken thoughts. What was happening to him?
Sylvia rushed forward. “Ssshhh, little man. It’s okay. You just surprised me, you did. You’ve never been able to hear my thoughts before.”
Micah tried to pull away, but Sylvia grabbed his hands. He's growing up too fast.
“I don’t want to be a freak. I don’t!”
“Little Micah. Quiet now. Sshh. You’re not a freak.” Sylvia took hold of his face and tried to steady him.
“Well, what’s wrong with me then?” He was having a monumental meltdown in front of the king’s knights, who were laughing at him, but he didn’t care. Micah just wanted to be normal again. In the past twenty-four hours he had begun to feel like anything but.
“Nothing’s wrong with you, little man.” Sylvia turned back toward the knights. “Pardon, but he’s had a rough day.” She turned back to him once more, her blue eyes boring into his. “Nothing’s wrong,” she repeated. “You’re growing up is all. This is what happens when a vampire young grows up.”
“I don’t want to grow up!” Micah didn’t like all these changes coming over him. Not one bit.
"Don't worry, little one. Gregos will make a man out of you," said one of the knights.
Sylvia shot him a coarse look. No!
Before Micah could give much thought to what the knight had said and Sylvia's reaction, a section of the floor pushed up, and his father rose out from the tunnel below the house.
"What's this?" he said, looking around.
The four knights grew serious and stood just as a knock came at the door.
Sylvia hurried and opened it as Micah's mother joined his father and glanced around at the strange faces in their home.
"What's going on, Yaris?" his mother asked.
His father frowned. "I think we're about to find out."
Sylvia opened the door, and an elegantly dressed male vampire with almost magically tawny eyes smiled. "May I?" He gestured questioningly toward the inside of the room.
With a wave of her hand, Sylvia invited him in.
"Gregos? What are you doing here?" his father said.
"I bring word from the king, Yaris."
Micah had never seen the male before, but it was clear his father knew him. It was also clear his father was upset by Gregos's presence.
"What's wrong?" His father hazarded a glance toward Micah as if he had already glimpsed what was to come.
Gregos bowed his head. "I can see there will be no preliminaries with you, as always. You've always been one to get straight to the point."
"You know me well, old friend."
Gregos offered a weak smile, then said bluntly, "Peace time has ended, Yaris."
Deafening silence followed, and Micah could feel the dread fall upon the room.
Clearing his throat, Gregos broke the silence. "We're at war. You know what this means."
His father met Micah's gaze again, and this time Micah saw the sadness. When his mother's composure broke and she sobbed as she turned away, Micah knew the worst was yet to come.
With a wave toward the door, Micah's father said, "Let us speak privately, Gregos, and then we can make the announcement to the rest of the village."
Micah watched them go then looked around the room. Sylvia consoled his mother in quiet whispers, and the four knights all met his gaze in turn. They knew. Whatever was about to happen, they all knew but him.
He had a feeling his life was about to change forever.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: As always, remember that this is a work in progress and a first draft only. I have invited my fans to be a part of the writing process by posting the unedited draft as I write it. This prequel to my AKM novels is for those who want to see more of Micah Black's beginnings and how he ended up where he was at the beginning of my novel, Rise of the Fallen. One day this manuscript will go through the editing process and be published, but for now you can read the draft here chapter by chapter.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Dash is a Dash is a Dash - Or Is It?

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! More like hyphens and dashes and...more dashes. Oh Lord!

The dash, the en dash, and the em dash. The Three Musketeers of the writing world. The Holy Trinity of the literary apocalypse. The...okay, you get it. These simple lines on paper (or a computer screen) are enough to make the staunchest writer quiver if they don't know when to use which.

No, don't run away. It's okay. No need to panic. This is easy. Really. Check it out:
  1. Em Dash (—): Denotes a pause in thought, a parenthetical statement, or — more casually — an afterthought. In a web page, a web developer can include — to represent the character. When typing, you can input a character by holding ALT and typing 0151 on the numpad.
  2. En Dash (–): Denotes a range, especially of numbers, such as $100–150. – in a web page or ALT-0150 on a keyboard.
  3. Hyphen (-): Used for the hyphenation of words (co-ordination; able-minded; pre- and post- touring.) Just use the keyboard key for this one.
Thank you to for the above definition and shortcuts.

Em Dash
In writing, the em dash is likely to be the dash you will use most. Why? Because we think and speak in parenthetical statements, which means that — for the most part, at least — your characters will, too. [Did you see that? I'm pretty excited. I've never used the alt+0151 trick to create an em dash. Woo-hoo!]. I'll admit that I'm the queen of the parenthetical or interjected thought in my writing. Just ask my editor. But that's how my characters speak and think. They not only cut each other off, but they interrupt their own thoughts by interjecting extras as they think and speak. The em dash is used to convey that interruption of flow.

En Dash
Being that en dashes are used to denote a range of things, authors probably won't use the en dash much in their novels, where everything should be spelled out. You wouldn't write "Micah counted from 1-10 before opening his eyes and shouting, 'Ready or not, here I come.'" You would write "Micah counted from one to ten before opening his eyes and shouting, 'Ready or not, here I come.'" So, if you're an author, just scratch the en dash off your repertoire of punctuation marks for novels.

Dash (Hyphen)
That leaves the hyphen, otherwise called the dash. The hyphen is used for — gasp — the hyphenation of words. Imagine that! A hyphen hyphenates. No shortcuts are needed to create the hyphen. The hyphen has its own key — right next to the zero — on your keyboard. It is what it is, nothing fancy. A hyphen is like milk without chocolate syrup. It's plain ol' vanilla ice cream (and sometimes vanilla is all we need, right?). You would use it in words such as like-minded, shell-shocked, and mother-in-law). And that's it.

BAM! That's all there is to it. The em dash breaks up flow, the en dash states a range, and the hyphen — or dash — hyphenates words. Easy as 1, 2, 3, right?

Hopefully this has helped clear up this much-misunderstood — and maligned — trio of punctuation marks.

Happy writing! And, as always, happy reading.

- D (not — D or – D, but - D) *wink*

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Details: Make Sure Your Characters Are Taking Their Showers

So I'm reading this book see...and it's a pretty good story...but the author seemed to forget that her characters needed to take showers. Yes, showers. Can I hear a collective "EW" from the crowd?

I was reading along last night, and after a while I began to wonder when the female lead was going to take another shower. No, this was not a case where the author glossed over the shower scenes. She was detailing the days' events down to the minutae, so it was pretty clear that, no, the woman had not showered in three days.

Here's the course of events:

Female lead gets up and showers, then packs for a trip. Male lead comes to pick her up. They have a savage, sweat-inducing quickie, then rush around like their pants are on fire to dress and go to the airport, running through the sweltering airport in the tropical locale, just making it to their plane on time. They arrive at their destination a few hours later and immediately begin socializing with family. The female goes to bed in her clothes and falls asleep. It's late at night. In the morning, she wakes up, changes into new clothes, goes to the bathroom, puts her hair up, and goes down to breakfast. Then she puts on a steamy hot snowsuit and goes out to shoot some guns in the snow. By the time she returns home, she's covered in sweat, but changes out of the snow suit to put on another change of clothes and heads down to dinner. After dinner, she and the male lead character go to a cabin in the woods, where there is no running water for a shower. They have wild sex all night (by now it's been two full days since the woman has showered). The next morning, they wake up and they have sex again before leaving for the airport. On the fourth morning, the woman finally has a shower.

Okay, I was actually grossed out imagining what this woman must have smelled and, yes, tasted like after 3 days without a shower, and after having all that sex and sweating like she had been. Just gross.

Furthermore, the characters always seem to wake up and immediately have sex. I don't know about you, but first thing in the morning, with morning breath and having not had a shower since the morning before, I'm not feeling especially comfortable with the idea of getting freaky, you know what I mean? And this chick had gone THREE days without showering. Furthermore, I usually have to pee like a camel first thing in the morning. And since these characters drink - a LOT - in the evening and right before bed, I imagine that they have to go pretty badly in the morning, too. And yet, they don't seem to be bothered by their full bladders and just go at it like minks.

What I'm trying to say is that, as an author, you really do need to pay attention to the details of your characters' lives and behavior. It may be fiction, but even in fiction things have to be believable. People don't just wake up with perfect hair and perfect breath, with perfectly clean bodies and empty waste organs. Humans don't have bladders the size of 5-gallon jugs that can hold their pee for days at a time. And even in fiction - especially romantic fiction - your characters need to bathe. I mean, what did this chick's hair look like after 3 days of no showers? Hell, what did it SMELL like? What did SHE smell like? Ew!

Details, details, details. You need to be aware of the details, because rest assured, your readers are, and you don't want your inattention to the details to detract your readers from the story you're trying to tell, thus interfering with their reading experience. Trust me, I was very much detracted from the story, and my reading experience was negatively impacted, as I kept wondering when this woman was going to bathe again. And that's a shame, because the story was actually pretty good.

Happy writing, and happy reading.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

"Couldn't Help But To" - The Phrase That Should Be Shot

We authors have so many important things to worry about while we're writing a book: structure, believable dialogue, crafting, grammar, spelling, punctuation. Then there's POV and showing vs. telling, which are two heavily debated areas in themselves authors need to consider. Whose POV should I use to tell this story? When do I change POV? How can I show and not tell? With so much to consider, sometimes it's easy to fall into bad habits elsewhere if you're not careful. But when bad habits affect the words you write, that's when you need to stop, take a breath, and address the problem.

I'm reading a book and am about to scream at it. Why? Because the author has a fascination with three words/phrases that grate my nerves as a writer and have begun to make me question the author's joy in writing the book:

1. Fill/Fill the air
2. Around/Around them (or around her/him)
3. Couldn't help but/Couldn't help but to

Everything in this book I'm reading is "filling the air." The sound of music filled the air. The smell of chicken roasting filled the air. His moans filled the air. And usually, these things are filling the air "around" someone, whether it's around him, around her, or around them.

Here's the thing: when you smell something, it's in the air. When you hear something, it's in the air. To say that it's in the air is redundant. Instead of saying "music filled the air," you could just as easily say, "She enjoyed the music," "Music thumped from inside the club," or "The hard-hitting beats made her want to dance," all of which would be more descriptive than "Music filled the air."

How does music filling the air look? Sound? Feel? "Music filled the air" is a classic case of telling and not showing. By working a little harder, the author could have made that (and all the other "fill the air" references) so much more interesting and effective in this book. "Filled the air" is what I call a lazy phrase. It's the quick way out for a writer who doesn't want to work harder. That's just my opinion, but every time I feel my fingers wanting to type that phrase in one of my books, I stop and pull back, backtrack, and rework the sentence, because I know that "filled the air" is simple telling, and I want to show.

Same with "around them." Back to the earlier examples, If the smell of roasting chicken is filling the air (ugh), then it's doing so "around them." There's no need to state the obvious, which the author of this book I'm reading does every other page or so. In fact, I'm tempted to go back through and count how many times the author uses this phrase. Instead of saying, "The smell of roasting chicken filled the air around her," just say, "The smell of roasting chicken made her mouth water." Because we know the smell was filling the air, and it was doing so around her. You could even jazz it up: "As she searched for her keys, she smelled a chicken roasting from one of the other apartments. Mmm. Her mouth watered. She loved roasted chicken, which reminded her of cold, autumn Sundays watching football with her father. Her family always roasted a chicken on Sundays." See how much more interesting that is? It shows us something about the character and her surroundings that "filled the air around her" doesn't express.

Oh, but it's "couldn't help but to" that really grates my nerves. Nothing like a little "couldn't help but to" to slow me down while I'm reading. This is a wordy phrase that says nothing at all. And in writing, every word should mean something. Filler words should be edited out during the editing and proofing process, and "couldn't help but to" is the mother of all filler phrases. A derivative of "couldn't help but to" is "couldn't help but," which is just as bad. Here are some examples:

Wordy, clunky way:

  1. "He couldn't help but to watch her dance."
  2. "She couldn't help but scream when he jumped out from behind the door."
  3. "I couldn't help but to imagine what life would be like without cell phones."

Cleaner, crisper, snappier way:

  1. "He watched her dance." (because if he is watching her, he couldn't help himself from doing so. To say so would be redundant.)
  2. "She screamed when he jumped out from behind the door." (again, if she screamed, she couldn't help herself from doing so, so why state the obvious with "couldn't help but to"?)
  3. "I couldn't help imagining what life would be like without cell phones." (notice that I removed the "but to" and left the "couldn't help." I did this to show that sometimes you want to convey that it was beyond a character's conscious efforts to refrain from something. You would use this shortened phrase for effect in such cases, but to use the full phrase "couldn't help but to" would just be clunky)
Alternative, more interesting ways to show the action:
  1. "Watching her dance made his heart beat faster, his lip twitch, and his palms sweat." (now we get a sense that "he" might be a serial killer or someone bad. We're showing now, not just telling.)
  2. "Joseph jumped out from behind the door. 'Boo!" Liz screamed then cursed. She hated when Joseph did shit like that to her. Jumping out from behind doors to make her scream? Really? Did he think behaving like a ten-year-old would impress her?" (Oooo, Joseph is trying to catch Liz's eye, but little does he know he's turning Liz off).
  3. "Life without cell phones? I couldn't even imagine that." (Just a simple change, but I get a clearer feeling of the character's voice when I see it written this way vs. the way this example was written in the previous two sets. Do you?)

When it comes to writing, it's all about effectively conveying the scene. In the book I'm reading, the three word phrases I listed in the beginning have become so prolific that I have developed a sense that the author simply wanted to hurry up and finish the damn book already, as if she was tired of writing and just wanted to get it over with. In other words, I feel like she wasn't having any fun, and that she didn't care to try harder to give me something worth reading. The story feels rushed.

By the way, the book I'm seeing this problem in is NOT one of the books I've highlighted off to the left on my page. I will keep the book's identity a secret, as my intent is not to call out the author, but to call out this problematic method of writing so that other writers can learn and not make the same mistakes.

Happy Writing! And, as always, happy reading!


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Piracy

I read the attached blog post and felt it resonated loud and clear for authors, and since I have a lot of authors following my blog, I thought you would like to see what another author had to say about book piracy.

Micah's Fall - Prequel - Chapter Three

Chapter Three
Katarina found Isabel in the crowd and pulled her aside.
“I found him,” she said. “And you’re right. I had no idea he was so enamored of me.”
Isabel laughed that tinkling laugh of hers. “Yes, my son thinks you’re the something special, Katarina.”
She made sure not to bring up little Micah’s penchant for stealing desserts. “I promised him a dance later. Oh, and I asked him to teach me archery.” She grimaced. “You don’t think that was too much, do you?”
Isabel shook her head as she set down a large bowl of gravy, spilling some on her hand. She licked her finger then wiped the excess on a nearby towel. “Not at all, Kat. He knows of your age difference. This is just a phase he’s in.” Isabel waved her hand dismissively.
“Okay, because I don’t want to hurt his feelings or make him think I’m .”
Katarina liked Micah, but he was still just a boy. He wouldn’t even reach his adult transition for another twelve to twenty years. Little Micah could still tolerate the sun, for goodness sake. Kat hadn’t been able to go out in the sun for ten years, not since she had been twenty-four years old.
Most vampires didn’t transition as early as she did. Twenty-four was considered a young transition. Most hit their crossover into full adulthood between twenty-six and thirty. Her early passage into becoming an adult could mean issues down the road for her, but she hoped she was only being paranoid, because Kat had high hopes for a family someday.
Isabel touched her wrist, catching her attention again. “Oh, and please don’t mention his short pants. He’s very self-conscious that they don’t fit.”
Kat remembered how funny his pants had looked on him, but Micah hadn’t seemed to care. “He’s really started growing, hasn’t he?”
Isabel handed her a tray of sausages. “Yes, before we know it, little Micah will be big Micah.”
“And God help us when that happens,” Yaris said, joining them. “He will be a hellion that one.”
Isabel harrumphed. “That’s our son you’re talking about.”
“I know. And I’m damn proud when I say he will be a hellion.” Yaris stole a sausage and darted away.
Kat hid her smile. Like father like son, both of them food stealers.
Isabel shook her head at her retreated mate’s back. “Ignore him,” she said, turning back to Kat.
“Oh, I don’t think he means anything by it. I think he just means that Micah will grow up to be a powerful male.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Isabel said.

The ceremony for the newly-mated couple was lovely, and Katarina found herself longing for the day when a male would select her in that way, his biology firing to form the binding link that would forever tie them together and provide the best chance for a child through his calling phase. Couples who weren’t mated through biology struggled to conceive, while those whose biology had bound them together found the road to conception easier.
Drake and Emily danced in the center of the circle, fully embraced within each other’s arms, locked into eternity together. They had just returned from their mating fete, which had been spent miles from the village in a remote cottage where Drake’s calling couldn’t be a distraction to the rest of the village.
As she gazed around the circle surrounding the couple, she felt her cheeks heat at the sight of Nicolas. Nicolas was young and unmated, brawny and strong, with dark hair and even darker eyes. Perhaps tonight would be the night he noticed her, because she would have liked nothing better than for him to ask her to dance and perhaps take her on a walk later.
“Hi.” A soft voice drew her gaze around and down.
He lifted a tiny bouquet of wild flowers toward her. His face was as red as a tomato, and his sharp eyes flitted to the ground. “I found these for you.”
“Why, aren’t you the sweetest little thing.” She took the flowers and lifted them toward her nose.
“I saw you smelling them earlier,” he said, pointing toward a table, “so I knew you liked them.”
“So I do.” She pressed her nose into the simple white flowers and inhaled.
Micah was such a darling boy.
“Didn’t I promise you a dance?” She reached out her hand.
If the boy could blush any more than he already was, he would have no blood left in the rest of his body. His small hand trembled as he took hers, but she could tell he was trying valiantly to put on a brave, confident face.
“Come on then.” She gave him a gentle tug and bobbed her head toward the courtyard, where other couples had joined Drake and Emily as the nearby string quartet played.
Still holding the dainty bouquet of flowers, she lined herself up with Micah, who fumbled self-consciously to figure out where to put his hands before taking a fortifying breath and finally getting it right.
“This is a waltz,” she said politely, readjusting his arms ever-so-slightly. “My, you are getting tall, Micah.”
The top of his head came up to her chin, which was a remarkable height for a twelve-year-old, vampire or not.
“Yes,” he said, trying to make himself even taller as if to prove to her that he was older than he was.
He made her laugh. Micah was such an adorable child.
“I guess I can’t call you little Micah anymore, can I?”
Micah shrugged. “It’s okay.”
She got the feeling that he was just happy that she was talking to him at all.
“Okay, Micah. Dance with me.” She knew he knew how to waltz. All the young were taught how to dance.
Surprisingly, he was a good lead. It took him a bit to get his bearings, but once he found them he smoothly waltzed her around and across the floor, and it was obvious he was pleased with himself by the way he met her gaze and smiled up at her, seeming to lose his self-consciousness at least for the time being.
“You’re a good dancer, Micah,” she said as the song ended and she stepped back to clap.
“Thank you. So are you.” He bowed toward her like a well-mannered male should to his dance partner.
She curtsied in response. “Why thank you, sir. Would you like to dance with me again?”
Another song rose up from the quartet.
“Why, yes Miss, I would. But I do believe the male is supposed to ask the female that question.”
Kat fought not to laugh. He was trying to sound so mature and grown up, and she had to admit she was impressed with his boldness after faltering with shyness earlier, but his words sounded clumsy coming from such a young mouth.
“Well, would the kind sir like to ask the lady to dance?” She bowed her head at an angle, deferring to him.
For a moment, Micah looked stymied, his boyish face rouging again with embarrassment. Then he cleared his throat, held out his right hand, and said, “Would the lady like to dance?”
With a giggle, she took his hand. “How can I resist an invitation from such a handsome young man as yourself?”
That seemed to send Micah to the moon. He practically beamed as he stepped forward once more, locked his arm around her waist, and spun her in time to the music as she laughed.
Yes, little Micah Black would make some lucky female a good mate someday.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: As always, remember that this work is not edited and may (and probably does) contain errors. Feedback is welcome in the comments. Thank you. Chapter Four coming soon. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What Do You Do When Life Gets In the Way?

Oh where, oh where, has my writing spark gone? Oh where, oh where, can it beeeeeeeee?

Since el lightning strike-o, things have gotten a bit overwhelming at my house. The hubs and I had already been in the middle of adding a new car to our household, with all the requisite new car paperwork, insurance modifications, and much-eagerly-anticipated trips to the BMV - or the License Branch, as we call it in my family. We had also been in the beginning stages of refinancing our house to take advantage of a MUCH lower fixed rate than we already had, which meant we were having to gather a diaper-load of financial paperwork for that, as well. The new car and the refi are going to save us hundreds of dollars per month, though, so it's worth the trouble. But, yes, we were already butt-deep in paperwork when lightning mistook our tulip tree for Ben Franklin's key-toting kite and officially pushed me into the state of overwhelmed. The loss is in the thousands of dollars, so until we get the check from insurance, the situation is a bit precarious emotionally and mentally, being that we didn't have the money to spare to replace all that we've lost.

At any rate, the ol' brain-a-roonio and all my creative juices went on holiday from the overload and emotional straing and left me stranded on an island of despair. I had been on a writing frenzy and suddenly blanked out and went dry. That's pretty disturbing to an author, so, understandably, I freaked. I'm still freaking, to be honest, but I feel better today after taking a few days "off." 

I mean, what do you do when what you consider to be your livelihood abandons you? Heck, my writing desire had gotten up, waved goodbye, and walked out the door, leaving me to stare in disbelief. No! Don't go! Come back! ACK!

Feeling like a bird with no wings, I fumbled about, stammered a little...and threw a fit. How could my insta-fiction mind and my characters leave me? ME! The one who can set their worlds right and solve all their problems by writing them out of the hole they're in.

I needed to get them back. I needed to find a way to make my characters speak to me again and for my creative juices to begin flowing once more. So, what did I do? I shut off everything. Facebook? Bye-bye. Twitter? Has to wait. My blog? Sorry, but it, too, needed to be set aside. And I read. I pulled books from the stacks of to-be-read piles and started reading. I finished Jeaniene Frost's Once Burned and started reading Fantasy Lover by Sherrilyn Kenyon (despite some disruptive head-hopping, it's quite good). I also began reading a book on the Crusades. Fascinating reading, that one.

After a few days of reading and not much else, guess what happened last night? One of my characters poked his head out from behind the tree where he was hiding and said, "Is it safe?"

"Safe for what?"

"To come back out?"

Of course, this was Micah. Micah and I are likethis. We'recloserthanpeanutbutterandchocolate. He and I are symbiotic. One can't live without the other at this point, and I think he will go down as my favorite character EVER! I love him with all my heart, even though he's a product of my imagination, and I can easily see me continuing to write about him for decades to come. With that said, of course I told him it was safe.

So Micah sits down with me and starts telling me more of his story as I read about the bloody battles to take Antioch and Jerusalem during the first Crusade. Micah was all like, "Yes, that's how I remember war back then. I remember sitting after a bloody battle like that, my hands filthy and covered with the blood of my enemies, my body weak from lack of food, listening to the dying moans of those around me. I remember we were so hungry that we ate the flesh of our dead like the Crusaders did." And Micah and I talked. He went on to show me how he had started off as such an innocent child but that war had hardened him more than the natural maturation of growing older, and he showed me how going home to Katarina healed his hardened heart after the relief of hearing a truce had been struck.

I smiled, letting my imagination run with what he was showing me. I knew that if I just walked away from all the distractions vying for my attention and pulled out my books, I would find my way back to Micah and his world, which is where my writing mind needs to be. Reading always seems to light my creative spark. I will keep reading, with Micah by my side, and eventually the rest of his friends will slink out from whatever hidey-holes they've disappeared into. Before long, they will all be clamoring once more for me to tell their stories.

That's my cycle. Reading is how I get back to zero. It's how I find my characters when they've gone off to play Hide and Seek without okaying it with me first. Losing them was terrifying and disorienting, but for the first time in over a week, I feel hope again. Micah coming out to talk to me last night eased my mind and made me breathe more easily again.

How do you find your way back when life gets in the way? What is your grounding rod (pun intended)?

Happy reading and writing.