A Sneak Introduction to Off The Grid, My Next Endeavor

Well, my edits are back in the hands of my lovely editor. I have a feeling Off The Grid is this close to preliminary gallery territory. Yay! I’m so excited about this story. Besides creating (hopefully) engaging characters, I loved exploring the widening gap between the rich and the poor in this one. Off The Grid takes place in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, which has long been dubbed Canada’s poorest postal code. My heroine, Dr. Sophie Monroe, is a Doctor for a Downtown Eastside clinic and an activist. Caleb Quinn is a Family Law lawyer, ranked one of Canada’s Top Lawyers Under 40.

Working Blurb for Off The Grid

A committed doctor to Vancouver’s inner city, nothing fazes Sophie Monroe. Until a pregnant teenager shows up at her clinic on Christmas Eve requesting sanctuary and claiming the baby’s father is one of the city’s most influential businessmen. One who has threatened to do whatever it takes to safeguard his reputation. Sophie is in over her head and thankful when aid shows up in the form of an attorney who’s a little too confident and a lot too sexy.  

All Family Law expert Caleb Quinn wants is a date. One chance to prove he isn’t the elitist jerk Sophie assumes. Helping deliver a baby is not what he has in mind. But before long protecting a traumatized teenage mother and her son become his first priority. Even if saving them pits him against the baby’s father, a childhood friend. A man who will do anything to keep his dark side private.

But justice never comes cheap. Will doing the right thing cost Sophie and Caleb their reputations? Or their lives? 

The First Paragraph

Dr. Sophie Monroe lifted her face to the cold sting of falling snow. The flakes cooled her heated cheeks. Their fresh scent cleansed her mind of the day’s battles. On the ground it covered the everyday debris of crack vials and castoff condoms. Litter from the urgent business dealings conducted in the shadowed alley behind her clinic. In the waning light of the gathering storm she studied the dark doorways relieved to find them empty.

A Look At Who Inspired The Leading Characters

I feel bad that I don’t know the name of the gorgeous guy from The Bay flyer. I was struggling finding a real life image of the hero in my head but the minute I saw this flyer I knew.

Diable CodyThis is Diablo Cody who, among many other accomplishments, wrote the screenplay for Juno.

There you have it. I was getting too excited not to share. Can’t wait to share more, like cover reveals and release dates! Here’s to surviving Monday and the last days of summer.


Emotional Force and Donald Maass with a Cameo from Steve

Josh's 19th and Donald Maass 003This last weekend I attended a Donald Maass workshop. To say I was excited about meeting him, but also learning about his writing philosophies, is putting it mildly. A one day workshop for which two other writers and I traveled from one province to another for a total of eight hours of driving each way. Also, the members of the Calgary Association of the Romance Writers of America (CaRWA) rock! They were friendly and open and picked the most beautiful spot to host a writing workshop. We spent the day at the foot of the Rocky Mountains with the sun shining and the scent of cedar in the air.

No doubt, the man is inspiring. My head is full of ideas and a new or reinforced way of looking at character.

But the drive there, the time spent discussing writing with three other writing buddies, was also full of awesomeness. If laughing takes years off your life, I definitely lengthened my lifespan. Note: It’s hard to drive when you’re laughing so hard you’re crying. OMGosh. Also, what are three writers unconcerned about while driving to a Donald Maass writing workshop? How much gas is in the gas tank. Sheesh. We coasted into a acreage just off the highway hoping for a miracle. Thank goodness for Everyday Heroes like Steve, who gave us his last litre of premium gas. He also offered to rescue us if that last bit of gas was not enough to get us to the next gas station.

A Tiny Look Into a Donald Maass Workshop

This workshop was based on Maass’s latest craft book, Writing 21st Century Fiction, High Impact Techniques For Exceptional Storytelling. In it he shares his thoughts on the future of fiction, genre fiction in particular which he suggests is dying. That the New York Times stats suggest newer genre transcending novels, such as The Help and Water For Elephants are enjoying far more than their share of weeks on the list. Genre fiction appears there but for far shorter amounts of time. One to four weeks versus 60 weeks or longer. The reason? There are a few of them but one of them is:

The Emotional Impact of Captivating Characters

We spent a fair bit of time learning about creating captivating characters. Okay, most of the day. Indeed, the very first thing we had to do was identify the feeling we were most afraid to put down on paper. The idea is to tap into deep emotion and create from there. Then we had to think of a spot to inject this feeling into our main character. Also  the concept of conflicting wants within a character.

He used the example of a college student writing final exams. You are reaching your goal, on the cusp of getting that degree you’ve struggled and worked hard for. Are you excited about all the study and work that has to go into writing these final tests? No. You’d rather be anywhere else then taking those final steps. Simplistic example, yes. But you get the idea.

There should be a war going on inside your character. What do they want most? What is the cost of getting it? If you’re familiar with Maass’s WTBN Workbook you’re familiar with his ideas on conflicting desires or feelings. On inner conflict. Tension of Every Page. In Writing 21st Century Fiction he spends a lot of time on: micro-tension.

My notes on writing emotionally:

  • skip expected emotional experience
  • don’t write what we think we should
  • stir readers’ hearts by being utterly and completely honest
  • wake them up
  • grab them in a personal way by being true

The only way to do this is to write from a personal place. To take experiences of extreme emotion and apply them to our writing. Do not write safe. This way readers will not get what they expect but what is true and comes from a deeply personal and conflicted internal space. Write personally and make heart to heart connections. Answer the hard questions. Even if, or especially if, it casts a harsh light on the main character.

To have the greatest emotional impact you have to get out of your own way. Use feelings of shame and fear. Tap into insecurities. Figure out a character’s deepest, darkest secret. This is why we wrote down the place we were most afraid to go in our stories. You don’t want to go there? Too bad. You need to be able to take your characters there in an authentic and true way. You need to be able to create an intense emotional landscape for your characters. You need to be able to write that into a character’s inner journey.

Don’t worry I’m not going to ask you to reveal your greatest fears but to simply say if you have a chance to attend a workshop by Donald Maass take it. However, feel free to share the names of books you’ve read lately that transcend genre? That move past the  literary typecasting of dull and depressing?

I’ll share mine: Before You Go To Sleep by SJ Watson.

Hump Day Confessions

 Photo of the Week

Calgary Zoo 2013“Just smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave…” Skipper, Madagascar

Confession of the Week

I have a thing about the names for animal groupings. I think it’s the writer in me always looking for different ways to look at and add description. Or the fact I’m a word geek.

Penguins live in large groups, and there are several different names for these groups.  When they group together on land, they are known as a waddle.  When the group is nesting, they are called a rookery.  When the group of penguins is found in the water, they are known as a raft.  On certain occasions, baby penguins form a group inside the larger group, which is known as a creche (kresh).

There’s something about describing a group of men in a ballroom and referring to them as a waddle. If you’re in the mood to indulge your curiosity or your geekiness check out Animal Congregations, Or What Do You Call a Group Of…

Favorite Post of the Week

I Love Men – Thought Catalog From Tumblr. I loved this post and her wonderful and thoughtful description.

On The Reading Front

Currently: Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass

Just Finished Reading: Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts

On Cue: The Hitwoman Gets Lucky by JB Lynn

Great Book Quote

“He looked like every glossy frat boy in every nerd movie ever made, like every popular town boy who’d ever looked right through her in high school, like every rotten rich kid who’d ever belonged where she hadn’t.” Jennifer Crusie, Welcome to Temptation

Not a word about his chiseled jaw or piercing blue eyes but you still get the picture. Love it.

How about you? Anything to confess? Read a great book? What to share a link?

The Perfectionism Trap

Submission for Off The Grid is in the hands of my lovely editor at The Wild Rose Press. Whew! It’s a romantic suspense (of course) and takes place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In an area called the Downtown Eastside which is notorious for being Canada’s poorest postal code. It’s the first book of my West Coast Trilogy. I’ve very excited about this story so fingers crossed.

My initial intention was to write a short story. Then it stretched into a novella. It now stands just shy of 60,000 words. And I’m good with it. And now I want to attempt to write it into a trilogy. I don’t what it is about a set of three books that I love, but I do. I’m not big on reading series. I get to about, well, book four and stop.

But I want to give the idea of a trilogy a go. So I have plans for two more books: Off The Ledge, and Off The Streets. Even though the idea scares the beejeebers out of me because…what if I fail. What if I can’t do it. What if I can’t make it right? Or weave the threads together? Or? Or? Or in other words, make it perfect?

But luckily inspiration came my way while I was editing Off The Grid. I read on a blog post by Kristen Lamb: 10 Ways for an ADD Writer to be OOH! SHINY!…Productive. I didn’t need to get past the picture to discover my new mantra.

The world doesn’t reward perfectionists; it rewards finishers. Kristen Lamb

It just so happens that Writer Unboxed has post today titled Good Enough by M.J. Rose about conquering perfectionism.

If we allow ourselves to remain at the mercy of our desire for perfection, not only will the perfect elude us, so will the good.” – Alex Lickerman, M.D. in Happiness in this World

The Harvard Business Review: How To Escape Perfectionism.

But the world doesn’t reward perfection. It rewards productivity. And productivity can only be achieved through imperfection. Make a decision. Follow through. Learn from the outcome. Repeat over and over and over again. It’s the scientific method of trial and error. Only by wading through the imperfect can we begin to achieve glimpses of the perfect.

check out The Feel Good Lifestyle blog and Pia Savoie’s post on From Perfection to Action: 5 Simple Tips to (Finally) Free Yourself from Perfectionism.

The allure of perfection is like a mirage. It cannot be achieved, because there is no final destination.

I’m going to work on the letting go of perfect when it comes to my writing. To strive for quality, but not at the expense of finishing. To try new approaches. To stretch my wings. To help others reach their dreams.

To imperfection.

To honesty.

To effort.

Rocky Mountain Inspiration

Easter and Calgary 2013 025We spent a lovely, lively four days with my sister, brother-in-law and two nephews in Calgary, Alberta, last week. Alberta is the neighboring province to our west. We also took a little  with a side trip to the picturesque town of Banff located in the Rocky Mountains that divide Alberta and British Columbia.

How’s that for a geography lesson? A teacher I am not. That’s my sister! She’s also a foodie. So we ate very well while we were there. Porridge with a variety of toppings for breakfast, homemade tomato for lunch, trout for dinner. Lawd, it was delicious. Good company and good food make for good times!

My husband and I lived in Calgary for four years after we were first married. We loved it there, but it just wasn’t where we were meant to live. I love my wide open prairies and my small city. But I still enjoy going back to the mountains and we hadn’t been there for far too long. Writers gain inspiration from all kinds of settings. But there’s something about being surrounded by the majesty of the Rocky Mountains that stirs the creative juices. For a romantic suspense writer the possibilities are endless. Every setting comes with it’s own dangers. With it’s own storms. It’s own extremes. Own challenges. There are high divides, passes and alpine lakes here. Variations in weather and season. These mountains are home to moose, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, black bears, and others from butterflies to eagles. It is a rich environment to draw from.

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What settings inspire you? Have a favorite book set in the midst of a mountain range? Do you pick books because of setting?

Nanny McMuse

I’m always intrigued over discussions about creative muses. The names, the personalities, the sense of their effectiveness or the absence of them. I think it’s largely due to the sense that my own muse plays a more background role. I received a present from my sister some years ago, a miniature sculpture of a smallish doll with short strands of thread and yarn sparking out of her head. My sister said the strands represented ideas. She doesn’t have a name but I’ve always loved the notion of her and she sits patiently on my desk ever ready to encourage ideas. A symbol of creativity.

A comfort.

A guiding spirit or a source of inspiration according The Free Dictionary.com. I don’t think of my muse as in attendance or absent, but simply a lurking spirit with those ideas sparking out of her head, smiling, never naughty but always engaging. At least, that’s what comes to mind when I think of her at all.

Until I watched the movie Nanny McPhee. It struck me that she was a perfect representation of a creative muse.

“There is something you should understand about the way I work: When you need me, but do not want me, then I will stay. When you want me, but no longer need me, then I have to go.”  Nanny McPhee

There when you need her, reminding you of the necessity to keep writing no matter how hard times are but ready to back off and let you be your creative self when the juices are flowing. With her looks representing a troubled soul when times are tough, but softening as the person’s spirit eases and finds its way.

Muses are as individual and unique as the people that claim them. They have a will of their own. They plot, motivate, and inspire be they corporeal or ethereal. Whatever works.

What’s your idea of Muse? What do you think of mine?

What’s In A Name

I suck at naming characters, fictional towns, the café on the corner, the fictional Christmas Eve ball extravaganza thingy. So imagine my dismay yesterday as I sat down to start revising my current work-in-progess, Off The Grid, and I immediately had to come up with names for, yes, a Christmas Eve charity dinner, a law firm, and the name of a charitable organization. All in the first 250 words, in the same paragraph. It took me way too long to come up with names (ideas) I could work with. Afterwards, I needed a nap.

There are many authors out there with a talent for clever names. I envy Nora Roberts ability with catchy place names. JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood names: Wrath, Rhage, Vishous, Zsadist, to name some of my favorite brothers. Suzanne Brockmann with her Troubleshooters series and Tara Janzen’s Steele Street crew of reformed chop shop boys all with interesting monikers. The names Albus Dumbledore, Scarlett O’Hara, and James Bond all bring to mind a certain image (even before we saw the movies).

Some writers need the comfort of a solid working title and character names before they begin the story. Names represent the character and the character’s belief and their world. Even when working with a contemporary real-life setting a certain amount of world building is required. Names can reflect the attitude of a character. They are our first introduction. They give a feel for the protagonist, perhaps even their environment. They can ooze mood. Think Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff. What does the name Jane Eyre say about her character? One of my favorite lines comes from a scene between Jane and Rochester: “You think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?” Her name presents the two sides to her. She may be plain and little, but she has a heart and a soul and strength of character.

I’ve started keeping a list and I add names to the list while watching football. Monday I jotted down Brackenridge, Inkman, and Mann to name a few. Another favorite place to find create name is movie credits. Those are my two most interesting sources. I’ve heard obituaries can be a helpful, if slightly creepy, name resource. You could use something like the Character Name Generator. There are all sorts of baby name help out there.

I definitely don’t need a title before I start writing, I run on the idea that the right title will come, and often does, once I know the story better. The same goes for character names. Right now I have a short story in the works and the heroine’s last name is a question mark. For me, the best solution for the naming dilemma is pen and paper and a chuck of time to work through some ideas.

So, for my work-in-progress, Off the Grid, and three different names I needed I’m starting with: The Spirit of Christmas Banquet for the name of the fundraiser. (I’d really like to use a word other Christmas, and Banquet is just plain boring. So, still needs more work.) A Safe Night’s Refuge for the charity. (This charity gives offers homeless families a safe place to stay. I don’t mind this one.) Carson Cooper for the name of the law firm.

And that’s where I’m at. Feel free to offer any suggestions. Any at all. Please. Of course, the other question is how much time is too much time to spend on something that shows up once or twice in the entire story?

Is There a Secret Formula to Creating Strong Female Characters?

“It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through.”  Zig Ziglar:

Nope, no secret formula. But in my mind there are a few requirements.

Confidence: No surprise there. Confidence is incredibly appealing. It affects how we feel, our behavior towards others, and the outcome of any undertaking. It creates a heroine who is more powerful, more in control, and more satisfied. They expect equality, cooperation, and respect whether they bus tables or run companies. Whether they run a daycare or a country.

Passion: A heroine can be down and out, discouraged beyond belief, have lost hope. But once that fire within has been stoked it allows her to live life, experience it, and claim it. She does not live a life of temperance. When she regales her grandchildren with stories of her past, her tales are met with wide eyes and open mouths.

Determination: There is no superpower greater than determination. She will let nothing stand in her way. There is no obstacle big enough, no danger great enough to keep her from her goal. From winning. Because who can afford to lose if the life of their children is on the line? Their patient’s life? A total stranger’s?

Strength: Often the ‘flight’ or ‘fight’ response is a luxury they can’t afford. Someone has to be around to look after the kids, the dog, the house, the neighborhood, the community. Women are the fixers. The multitaskers. The gatherers. They can be the hunters. The thief in the night. They can be whatever they have to be to survive.

Commitment: They know the cost of responsibility and are willing to pay it. When all seems lost they do not allow the feeling of wanting to quit to overpower their commitment. There is no ‘taking your best shot’, there is only try harder.

Purpose: The foundation for all the rest of it. To know what they are to do and why. Not to be confused with wanting power over something or someone else. It does not need to be about conquest and supremacy. It is deeply personal. It is passionate. It is backed up with thoughts, words and deeds. It will be evident in how she feels, heals, creates, and shapes her future.

“Beauty is a true expression of who you are. The coolest girls are never the ones that have the prettiest face or the best bodies; they’re the ones with their own unique style and look. They are the ones who are true to who they are.”   Wendy Zomnir

There you have it. My take on heroines. I’d love to hear your thoughts or have you add to the list!


Romanticism and The Hero

The Romanticists did not present a hero as a statistical average, but as an abstraction of man’s best and highest potentiality, applicable to and achievable by all men, in various degrees, according to their individual choices. Ayn Rand  The Romantic Manifesto

I don’t pretend to know a lot about Romanticism or the Romantic Era, other than quoting Thoreau or Emerson on occasion and I doubt that counts as knowledgeable. And it’s been a couple of decades since I’ve read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I haven’t read anything of hers since, although I have always wanted to read The Fountainhead. But this quote came up when I was researching heroes and it spoke to me.

If it means what I think it means (and that’s not always guaranteed), it’s speaks to the essence of character. It’s about being true to your purpose and moving forward despite obstacles or because of them and how that is represented in late 18th century and early 19th century in art, literature and philosophy.

She goes on to write:

If man possesses volition, then the crucial aspect of his life is his choice of values—if he chooses values, then he must act to gain and/or keep them—if so, then he must set his goals and engage in purposeful action to achieve them. The literary form expressing the essence of such action is the plot. (A plot is a purposeful progression of logically connected events leading to the resolution of a climax.) Ayn Rand The Romantic Manifesto

From hero to plot, internal to external conflict. I like it. I think that’s what it means to be romance hero or heroine of today. Purposeful action in defense of one’s values and beliefs. As a romance writer it’s important to note that the unrealistic muscled fantasy hero we are often accused of creating is really symbolic of their inner strength of character. Though they have flaws and are guilty of making wrong decisions, they try to make it right. That’s my kind of hero.

Of course, I’m not going to complain if they happen to look good naked! What are your thoughts?

Strong Heroes: The Whole Package

It’s Heroes Week here on the blog as I’m celebrating the print release of BACKLASH.

No one can argue with the appeal of strong heroes. There is considerable discussion, however, over the definition of the word strong and what that means in terms of attributes other than muscles. Not that there’s anything wrong with a nicely sculpted six pack.

“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it.” Thucydides

When written well they are incredibly sexy. So, what can I do to create a hero who is fantasy worthy? Who embodies the qualities that would keep a reader turning the pages?

**Strong Heroes Toolkit

Sense of Honor: Most important would be a sense of honor. A strictly held to Code of Conduct. That requires honesty, fairness, and integrity in one’s beliefs. Above all, he had better back it up with his actions.

Set of Core Values: These speak to what the hero wants. To his motivation. Ideally, one or more of his beliefs will have to change in order for him to have his happily ever after. Conflict, conflict, conflict.

Exemplary Hero Credentials: I might show him saving someone, or performing an act of heroism, for which he takes no credit early on in the story. I might create a situation revealing his ability to love and commit, even if he would shudder at the thought. An alpha hero needs to prove himself worthy of sympathy by the reader.

Respect for the Heroine as an Equal: They may butt heads. They may clash. They may disagree. They may not treat each other as inferior, weak, or stupid. They are partners. Boundaries must be set and often by the heroine.

Stamina and A Very Specific Skill Set: Yes, I do mean sexual prowess. This may be one of the areas subject to the largest level of poetic license in the romantic fantasy. The ability to make love all night long. Over and over again. Always putting the pleasure of the heroine before his own. But whatever the type of sex, it must be mutual. There is no “you know you want it” type thinking. No means no. Any alpha male worth reading knows this. Choice offered. Answer respected. No qualifiers.

Physical Strength: My idea of the perfect alpha male involves muscles, and lots of them. Frankly, I’m not so much about physical appearance, beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all that, but I’m a sucker for a six-pack. One of my favorite books by Eloisa James is called A Duke Of Her Own. It is the Duke of Villiers story. The Duke, who is not thought to be especially attractive, knows it’s his money that draws women to his bed. However, he is equally aware that his physique and his skill keeps them there.

Natural Leadership Qualities: Who isn’t drawn to these? To the alpha in the pack who doesn’t second-guess? Who leads instinctively? Part of the fantasy remember? Confident and sexy.

Feelings: He has them. He does not discuss them. Unless. Absolutely. Necessary. An alpha male needs a strong voice. He needs to use language and descriptors appropriate to an alpha male.

Courage: I think there’s a quote that goes something like: Courage is not the lack of fear, but rather it is taking action in the face of, and despite, fear. My idea of the alpha male psyche includes a healthy sense of fear accompanied by smart action in the face of it. Their physical strength must match their inner strength.

A Serious Flaw: Or two. While talking about world-building from my friend, Hayley, I learned about the Rules of Magic. I think it should apply to alpha males, too. Just as magic can’t do anything it pleases, neither can alpha males. You can’t just bandy about all that testosterone without limits and repercussions. They need a weakness. To be vulnerable. How else are you going to make him suffer? Have the heroine make him suffer? Create conflict? And more conflict?

Are you drawn to alpha males? What qualities and traits would appear in your Alpha Male Toolkit? Do you have a favorite alpha male character?

**My Strong Males Toolkit first appeared on a group blog I used to write for called The Prairie Chicks Write Romance but I thought it might be worth sharing again.