THE MAN WHO HATED CHRISTMAS…a holiday romance

It’s possible to enjoy the holiday spirit all year long, even if egg nog is only produced in December. You could download a copy of The Man Who Hated Christmas at Amazon, for instance, and read about a pair of workaholic avoidance geniuses who spend so many hours at their desks that their personal lives – to say nothing of one potted cactus (defunct) and one daughter (estranged) – are barren. That’s a pretty convoluted sentence, and just might take you until next holiday to figure out. That’d be New Years, by the way.

The Man Who Hated Christmas, after a typically rough start and a massive case of hiccups, is really, really up for sale. At the moment, through Amazon, but I have hopes of putting it out through others this week…that is, by New Years.

Lorne Foyle, at 44, has accomplished what he had long ago vowed to do. He’s a wildly successful entrepreneur, CEO of his own food empire. Those who humiliated him as a boy have been humbled by his glittering success. He’s at the top, the peak, the pinnacle.

His private life is a shambles.

Mary Lynn Portman, 36, inherited an ancient building on a very valuable plot of Upper East Side land. The building houses a battered women’s shelter, a task she never sought but protects fiercely. She routinely works hundred-plus hour weeks. Her employees love her. Her clients worship her.

Her private life is a shambles. Hell, she doesn’t even have a private life.

How on earth will these two ever get together?

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IT COULD BE FUN

A Carl Tanner novella, release date December 15 via Kindle.

When I began thinking about what kind of a hero to feature in this novella, I knew a 26 year-old off-the-charts alpha hard-body wasn’t going to be the answer. I know a few of them and pain on the ass often doesn’t even begin to cover it. Maybe I know the wrong ones. No, I think I know real-life ones!

So…what kind of hero would be satisfying to a…hmmm…mature woman? One who’s been-there-done-that in the guy department. I sat down to think about that. And in marched Carl Tanner, a mature, good-in-a-firefight hero but inept in relationships guy, on the surface appearing calm and competent and not totally a babe magnet.

But on closer inspection is hotter’n a just-fired gun barrel.

Maybe it’s the straight posture that says I know who I am. The broad shoulders, the lean belly, or the totally grabable ass? The blue eyes under the red-gold hair? Or maybe it’s the steady, straight-ahead look in those eyes, eyes that have seen too much.

Tanner’s pushing forty, a foirmer Navy rescue helicopter pilot, and the thin Nordic skin he inherited from his mother* is showing the years on the sun-blasted decks of aircraft carriers. That red-gold hair is stroked with silver. Sometimes he has a cranky knee from a long-ago crash. Sometimes he’s cranky, too. He suspects he’s on his way to becoming an old fart.

But he’s still lean and he can be real mean. Or a perfect gentleman. He can play it either way, and in his first novella, It Could be Fun, he gets a lot of both nice and nasty practice as he goes undercover as a bouncer at a ladies strip club.

Part of the Omega Team Kindle World, It Could be Fun is a challenge for military-minded Tanner, even though he gets to wear a uniform (all black). At least he’s developing a relationship, with feisty, funny January Jones, who isn’t as candid as she should be with her super-hot new lover. Jan thinks she has good reason, but the jeopardy she puts them both in is very nearly lethal.

Check out Tanner. Is he your kind of guy? Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you.

* Volatile Marcia Tanner, who would never have qualified for a Mommy License if such a thing were required, is a whole other story. One I may write one of these years.

A is for Author 

Years ago, teaching writing classes and coaching new talent convinced me that my entry-level writers couldn’t find access to enough feedback. There’s a number of reasons for this, not least of which is how subjective it all is.

There’s also an odd little fact that few of us realize. From early childhood to the day the hopeful scribbler decides to whip out a novel, reading and writing are natural habits. We all do it. So…writing a book? No problem. Just park your butt in the chair and the words will flow. Yeah, right.

So you sit. And experience almost at once the sudden onset of writers block. Where do I start? Who tells the story? How much back story? Which details do I include? Your creative process comes to a screeching halt. This is where the first group of wannabes falls away.

The survivors struggle on, writing and editing and wondering if all the time and effort is nothing but a colossal waste. And, unless the writer is really lucky, it’ll take far too long to get an honest answer. Because writing is so solitary, and comments so subjective, feedback is tough to get and internalize.

Not only feedback, but basic information. Developing characters, plotting, details, conflict, tension, sex and violence, sub-plots, genre requirements, branding and marketing. The list is endless. Sure, an MFA program can help. We should all be that lucky. So…where can a writer, yearning to be informed, find help?

A is for Author. Over 333 basic, need-to-know topics covered, giving the new or almost-new writer valuable data that demystifies, explains and clarifies not only craft and technique but branding, marketing, publicity and publishing.

Available worldwide, in English, in both digital and trade paperback format. Or click below and buy it right here.

HOW ARE YOUR KEYWORDS WORKING?

It’s a pretty common practice for authors to select keywords and then forget about them. Okay, keywords done, now on to the important stuff.

Big mistake. I’ve said this before: nobody except your loved ones care that you have published a book. The world is almost totally indifferent to your hopes and dreams of authorial stardom. And this applies to every one of your books, not just your first or second. You’re ahead of the game if you treat each release as if it was your first book.

One good place to start? Keywords.

Keywords are your friends. They help in discovery. A browsing potential reader will type in keywords or phrases – firefighter, first responder, naked first responder, or maybe EMT Chicago – and waits for what comes up. The machine only gives the reader matching keywords.

The term “keywords” includes key phrases. Do not use the plus sign! Keywords without plus signs are treated as single words by the search engines. Hot first responder is regarded as three separate search words. Hot+first+responder is, for the mindless machines, a single word and obviously cuts visibility way down.

If other, selling, authors use “historic hot Italian”, and yours fits, use that same phrase as one of your keywords. If your vendor only allows seven keywords, selecting them with care (to avoid duplicates) makes sense. Be accurate, particularly about heat level. If you have a series, be sure to use the series name: Miami Vampire series, or Cross Keys Ranch Romances.

After release, be sure to review your keywords, particularly if you’ve been translated into another language. Several weeks post-release, it’s a good idea to review your choices and, after checking out the competition, do a bit of tweaking.

For the browsing potential reader who doesn’t know about your books, keywords are the primary way you’ll be found. Make sure they’re working for you.

WHERE TO START?

I have one helluva story idea. It’s about a guy who is sent undercover to a ladies strip club–

No, that isn’t it. It’s really about this ex-military guy who’s never managed a long-term relationship with a woman, and he–

No, dammit, that’s not it either. It’s about this ex-military guy who recently survived several days as prisoner of a bunch of savage women who planned to torture him to death. And then…no, wait. That’s kind of back story.

So could I start it when he gets the assignment? Or when he’s confronted by the highly pissed-off manager just spoiling for a brawl? Or when he first gets the notion that the assignment isn’t as advertised? Or that the hot babe giving him the come-on is a fraud? How much information, and how quickly*, does the reader need to be hooked?

The work in question is It Could be Fun, a Carl Tanner novella, now in its final editing, to be released December 12 as part of The Omega Team Kindleworld. We meet Carl just before his fortieth birthday, a year after he’s left the Navy. He loved the service and its people and what it stood for, but he no longer loved kissing brass, among other issues. After the near-death-by-torture experience, Tanner signs on with The Omega Team. (Or was this, for you, just boring back story?)

But maybe none of that is important, either. What to put in? How much, how little?When and where to put it in? More importantly, what to leave out?

Many agents and editors claim that more than a few novels would be improved if they started with chapter three. That’s asking a lot of a writer, to kill two chapters of her darlings.

But what if it worked? What if the start of your novel is clogged with a mass of needless back story? What if a highly-condensed prologue** would allow you to justify the willful slaughter of nearly five thousand defenseless, beautiful words? What if you took those two lapidary chapters that you love so very, very much and put them in a separate file labelled My First Murders?

What if you realized, as I have, that most fiction inevitably starts in the wrong (i.e., earlier than necessary) place as the author works into the story?

Could you then delete or excise those two chapters without having a nervous collapse? And would you then have the best starting point?

Only you can make that decision.

* Quickly. First page, if possible.

** I know, prologues don’t get no respect these days, even though about one-third of recently released books contain them. By the way, you can’t take those two chapters, label them prologue, and think you’re off the hook. It doesn’t work that way. But, condensing? To two pages? Maybe.

DO YOU SPEAK PUMPKIN?

Hungary. We had twelve hours on the ground between flights. Nightime hours, so why go into Budapest? We opted for a nearby Motel Six-type place in the countryside. The next morning, still on Central Asia time, we were up at dawn, walking under the autumn-gold trees and scuffling through drifts of leaves, in search of Belgian pastries.

What we first found was a middle-aged farmer in a battered blue truck, selling pumpkins and squashes. But not just any old specimens, these babies would win best of show at any American state fair. We circled the back of the vehicle, making aw-shucks cries of awe and amazement.

The farmer beamed, began talking to us in Hungarian. Except for ZhaZha Gabor, I’d never been able to utter even one word of that difficult language. But he spread his hands to about a yard apart, then pointed to a two-foot long specimen. He had some like this that were that long. Wow!

He pointed to ridged, pumpkin-colored squashes, again did the hand-spread with audio subtitle. Again we were awe-struck. Again we took photos. We all laughed. We told him we were American. He was delighted to meet us. We shook hands. Waved goodbye. It was a great five minutes.

Communication between people is very nearly universal. If you want to engage, you’ll find a way. There are universal signals: eye contact, the smile, the wink, the shrug, the head-shake (although in a few cultures, that signals agreement). These days, there’s Google Translate, a life-saver if you don’t have access to an interpreter or multi-lingual bystander.

But, as usual, I digress. Anchoring dialogue with the speaker’s body language gives the passage depth and richness. It can build suspense, create suspicion, raise guilt or anticipation. It can signal a lie or evasion.

Early writers often get stuck on using “she smiled” or “she shrugged “. I would suggest you give those two a vacation and consider what you would do as you utter the deathless dialogue you’ve cooked up. Odds are it isn’t shrug or smile.

Stymied? Watch a conversation, any conversation, and see how many motions or facial expressions you can catalogue. Plenty, I’d bet. Then use them in lieu of the smile or shrug.

A is for Author, now available on-line or through Amazon in trade paperback, covers 333-plus topics the novice writer needs to know. Dialogue is just one of the subjects.

SMELL THAT!

I recently spent some very enjoyable time in Poland. Not only are the cities historic, interesting and beautiful, but the food is exceptionally tasty. Even a vegetarian can find plenty of choices. A lot of the bread – ridiculously cheap by American standards – is gotta-have-more delicious. And the soups…everywhere I went was the rich, warm, friendly smell of soup.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

What kind of smells are you putting into your writing? That the hero smells of Paco? The heroine’s hair of apples? Sunshine? That the room smells musty?

You can do better than any of that. Don’t put down the first thing that comes to mind. Pause and think. Make a list. By the third synonym, you’re beginning to pass by the obvious, the things anyone can think of.

Maybe the room smells of wet dog, or careless housekeeping, or a million dead skin cells. The heroine smells of hope or optimism (why not? this is fiction, after all), or of moth balls or damp wool. Or roast pork with apples, cinnamon-dusted donuts. Or bad breath.

The antagonist is often overlooked in detailed description. He or she ought to have as carefully constructed habits and attributes as any other major person. The old adage of giving your good character a bad habit and your bad character a good habit is handy to remember. If your villain is a thorough-going rotter, make him step over ants or shoo wasps outside, keep a pet rabbit or dote on mom. Or smell like fresh, cold air.

Likewise for your heroine: maybe she doesn’t dote on mom, maybe she neglects her. Or her personal space resembles a landfill. Or she reeks of patchouli. Maybe your hero is a bit OCD, or has poor social skills. Maybe he is too preoccupied – or too threatened – to shower and shave.

Secondary and other characters get attributes commensurate with their importance. A casual passer-by gets no description or habit; a sidekick gets quite a bit. A suffocating wave of perfume, aftershave, or body odor can be all you need to identify a character and bring them to life.

Consider how you want to present your fully-rounded characters in order for them to move successfully through your story. Their attributes make up part of how the reader will form a picture of them as well as how she’ll perceive their character and competence to work in the story. Their smells enrich their images.

How they look is best described by another character. How they move. How they act. How they smell. Put it all together, feed it to the reader a morsel at a time, building up a picture in subtle stages.

And don’t forget all those delicious, tanta.uzing smells.

WHAT’S IN A LIFE?

During World War II, roughly twenty-five percent of Belarus’s population died. Some died as what is so charmingly called “collateral damage “. Others were murdered; the Jewish population effectively vanished in the death camps. So did Roma, suspected collaborators, and the mentally or physically defective. The Nazi killing machine was gruesomely efficient.

Belarus, just south of today’s Lithuania and just northwest of Poland, is about the size of Kansas and a lot of it is, like Kansas, farmland. In 1940 it was, among other things, the path of the central thrust of Hitler’s three-pronged invasion of Russia. The entire German war machine rolled over those farms and through those cities.

The battles were horrendous. Nothing was given up without a fight.

After the invasion and the battles and the destruction, the Nazis occupied Belarus until the war ended. The country was devastated, the cities in ruins. For people whose land has been ravaged by war, just because the shooting stops doesn’t mean they can sashay off to the mall and buy new clothing. There is no mall. There is no clothing. There is no transportation or food or fuel. War takes everything and leaves nothing in its wake.

Late last night, in cold and rainy Minsk, we were in the metro, returning to our apartment after enjoying a colorful ballet performance at the Opera House. As we walked the long, damp, underground passage toward our exit, we saw a lone flower seller. All other vendors had gone home.

She was in her seventies. An infant at the end of the WW2. Her father had probably died fighting and maybe her mother had a Hero of the Soviet Union medal to show her. She had grown up hungry year-round and cold in the winter. In her youth, she’d lived well behind the Iron Curtain. Stalin’s purges and other insanities had probably touched her family. She’d had to toe the party line, no matter how ridiculous it might have seemed. People had vanished from her life without warning or explanation.

And then, in 1986, they got Chernobyl. Eastern Belarus was directly in the prime fallout zone. Thousands died; more will die. Even today, produce from that area can be unhealthy to consume.

In 1992, by the end of Russian rule, she perhaps had children and grandchildren. But after Russia left, Belarus got their very own home-grown dictator. The country is the only dictatorship left in all of Europe, with KGB-style “law enforcement “. (Nearby Azerbaijan, also a dictatorship, is in Central Asia.) The economy of Belarus is precarious. Median annual income is the equivalent of $5000USD.

Does the old, tiny, sweet-voiced flower seller make that? Selling boquets of home-grown flowers in the subway at ten o’clock at night? We were leaving in the morning and had little money but we managed to buy one boquet. Her hands were very cold. I’m five feet tall; she was shorter than me and probably weighed twenty five pounds less.

Belarusians are nice, pleasant, welcoming people. She had a sweet, kind of fluty, voice. I speak no Russian and she had no English. I’ll never know her story. But she has a story and my guess is it’s astonishing, heartbreaking, tragic, scary, joyous, uplifting and depressing.

The point? Everyone you meet has a story, and it’s often buried. Even the most benign or inconsequential-appearing person knows things, has done things, has survived things, you’ll never imagine. That little old guy at the senior center may have flown sorties in Korea, or gone undercover in Eastern Europe. The little old lady nearby could’ve been a real life Hot Lips Houlihan.

You have to listen carefully to get the stories. Ask questions. Writers are a combination of magpie and vampire. We collect bits and pieces that can often be someone’s life blood. You need to hear those stories. Not only for your sake, or for the sake of enriching your craft, but for those who will share their lives with you.

Never miss an opportunity to learn someone’s story. And never think that anyone you meet doesn’t have a story.

I AM NOT ONE TO WHINE…

I much prefer to wine.

BUT…last night, some moral defective got into my car and stole my new Samsung tablet. Bad enough that all my passwords were -are?-in it. Worse, I’d uploaded several works-in-proggress, partly-edited. Worse yet, my entire itinerary to Central Asia was in it…and we are at the moment in the Ft. Lauderdale airport ready to board the flight to Warsaw, our first stop.

Oh, boo hoo. But what crappy timing.

Picture this: 6pm yesterday, discover tablet is missing. Search house, luggage, trash, discard clothes piles (many, many). Search, of course, car. Twice. Then again. No dice. At 7pm, decided I had somehow lost it (in more ways than one), and we decided the thing – which had to go on the trip as it contained not only all the links to our hotels and flights (12 of them) but my Smashwords and KDP connections, to say nothing oof my WordPress blog or whatever this is – had to be replaced.

That was really important as A is for Author – my magnum opus – is really, really up for sale the minute I hit the “yes” buttons.

My friend and partner-in-travel Lea researched replacements while I pretended nothing had happened by going out to pet Princess CooCoo (who refused to come in because a human was in residence)(besides me, The Provider of Food). Then I faced reality: my new, beloved toy was gone.

Finally, off to Kmart- sale! – and then back home to reload everything and change ALL my passwords. Took until 11pm. Then I had to finish Daniel Silva’s new book…1am.

More picturing. Today, left for five hour drive to airport at 12:18pm (18 minutes late, I may never hear the end of it). It is now 24 hours after discovery of theft and we are in Ft. Lauderdale, passing time at a bar. My new tablet – without cover, dammit – works fine.

But that opportunistic little creep who started the whole thing…did he ever think of the consequences? No. Probably not. What a shame, what a waste of his life. My tablet is easily replaced. His self-respect? Gone, baby, gone.

Well…off to Warsaw and many points east.

More later.

PS: New cover purchased in Krakow, Poland for $12US. Red leather. Okay, red faux-leather. With a big elastic strap and an interior organizer. Works great.

IRMA DOES STRANGE THINGS…

A week ago the wind was rising, Marathon had been trashed, Naples was getting shredded, and the weathercasters were giddy with importance. My friend Judy and her Samoyed Stoli (who speaks in tongues, I kid you not) had artived to ride out the hurricane. My sister Barb had called and lectured me on getting out while I  could.

Well, I couldn’t.  No gas. Parking-lot roads. A freezer full of food. A cat sulking in the underbrush,  really pissed about the dog in residence (he only wanted to play).

And then it didn’t happen. The killer storm died right in front of us, fifty miles east in the flat scrub of Florida’s old cattle country. Wind shear played a big part, just blew the northern side to tattered scarlet shreds. Amazing to watch.

Course, if you lived in Arcadia, it was no damn fun. I have friends betwen here and the center of the state who still have no power, are still reading by camping lantern and cooking on camping stoves on the back porch. At least they still have a back porch.

My heart goes out to the people who have lost nearly everything. They face a daunting task, picking up -literally-the pieces of their lives. I wish them the tools to do the job: bravery, mental toughness, friends and community to help and support, and send my best wishes. Not enough, I know,  but the best I can do.