The Ghost in the Fedora

Strange things happen at my house.  We built our home on thirty acres after moving from Southern California to Northeastern Oklahoma.  And when I say we built it, I mean my husband.  At the time, he owned a residential construction business so he literally laid the foundation, drove the nails in the sheet rock, and shingled the roof.  It’s a modest little place really, an 1800 square foot brick and white frame cottage style house with a wrap-around porch. In spring, summer and fall, I decorate the front with pot after terracotta pot of geraniums, impatients, marigolds, and happy-faced pansies.  It’s a pretty, homey and cozy.

Not that kind of house that looks haunted. But it is. 

Odd sightings began long before my husband put the last coat of paint on the walls and we moved in. Once the front porch was built, the ghost of a man wearing an old gray fedora began to show up. We got used to seeing him from time to time sitting near the front steps as if waiting for the house to be finished and for us unload all our worldly belongings.  The first time I saw him, I walked over to the guy ready to introduce myself. I thought maybe he was just some friendly neighbor. I took a couple of steps towards him….then…he wasn’t there.  I stood for a few moments with my mouth hanging open, wondering, “Did that just happen?”  It wasn’t nearly as scary as it was jarring.  I had the sense that he meant no harm. He was only curious.  Oddly, we haven’t seen him since the day we moved in fourteen years ago.

Shortly after getting settled in, we decided to have the house blessed.  We arranged for a guy named Joe, who according to a friend, knew about these things, to come and perform the ceremony.  When he was done, we talked about the ghost in the fedora.  I wanted to try to contact him.

“You want to leave this alone,” Joe warned.  “There’s a spirit here, one who guards. He’s playful but not mean. He keeps a dark one away. If you let one in, you let them both in. Leave it be.”

So, we live with weird stuff. Sometimes while the whole family is watching TV in the family room, the stereo in my daughter’s room will turn itself on.  There are times when the printer comes on by itself and runs sheets and sheets of blank paper through it before it just stops.  Hair brushes, toothpaste and soap jump off the bathroom counter at three in the morning.  Our friendly ghost’s favorite game is to play “shut the bedroom door in Lynn’s face.”  He thinks that’s a laugh riot. 

Over the years we’ve gotten used to him. I like to think that maybe we’re the family he didn’t have in life.

Power Behind The Throne

One writing myth is that you have to get the right story in front of the right editor.  To some extent, that’s true.  But there is a bigger issue than lucking out on just the right editor.  You have to keep in mind that editors aren’t buying a book for themselves.  They’re buying the book to sell, and that means the real power at any publisher is the reader.

I know that a lot of multi-rejected authors think the reason they can’t sell is because editors don’t know what’s good writing.  Maybe.  But what editors DO know is what will sell to the readers.  Oh, they might not get it right every time.  We all know stories about authors who were rejected a gazillion times, only to have the gazillion and one editor buy it and watch the book become “the read of the year”.  But mostly, editors get it right on the head.  And while they may wish to discover the next big hit, they’re realistic enough to look for the book that will make money…both for the publisher and the author.

Which brings us back to the real power behind the throne, the reader.  So how do we write to sell to readers?  First, you have to write something you believe in.  If you don’t believe in your work, your story will show it and the reader won’t believe in your work either.  Next, you have to understand not everyone is going to love your work, so don’t try to satisfy everyone’s taste.  Then there’s the matter of the latest hot book.  Once a particular theme or character type or whatever hits big with readers, readers become ferocious for the same thing.  At least, until the next hot theme or character or…  And finally, when readers pick up on something you really don’t feel comfortable with, don’t despair.  Find some way to own it.  Twist it, turn it, wring it dry until you find some way to make the new wave work for your writing staff.

But most important, remember.  You’re not writing for yourself or an editor.  You’re writing for readers.  You’ve been a reader all your life or you wouldn’t do what you do.  Ever heard of a bestselling author who didn’t like to read?   Cling to the roots that make you a writer…the desire to produce great books like the authors you’ve always read and admire.

My Guilty Pleasure

On Saturday, DH had to go into his office to work and asked if I wanted to come with. “Yes, yes,” I cried, and was seated in his truck before he could turn around. Why? I got to indulge in my own guilty pleasure. Half-Price Books–the main store, just a few miles from DH’s office.

Big deal, you might be thinking, but it is…to me. Stacks and stacks and stacks of books, magazines, audios, DVDs,CDs, vinyls, cassettes, blu-ray, and that other movie thingie that was on vinyl. Gift kitsch, calendars, bookmarks, a coffee shop that rivals the BIG S, and a massage therapist. I get to wander aimlessly or directly depending on the time I have to spend going thorugh obsure books (not mine though), 1st editions, latest releases–or close to them, mass market, hard back, and bestest of all bestest, my ultimate most favorite sections–CLEARANCE!! For $3 or less! Is this just not awesome!

It is a rare and sad day when I can’t find a thing at a Half-Price Bookstore. Last Friday when I was with Amy, I spent $44 and that was after my 20% discount because I am a valued customer! This past Saturday was no different. I had to be selective with my audio books on CD, allowing myself only three instead of the six I had selected. Then I got a reference book on identifying ocean fish for a dollar, and yes, the copyright date is 2001, but really….how much are fish going to change?  I also scooped up for a $1 an autographed book. Brand new and never been read.

DH called far too soon as I hadn’t had a chance to thumb through the $1 CDs….this is a job that my darling daughter is so good. She finds some of the best deals. If you get a chance to visit a Half-Price Books, it will be worth the time no matter how long or short. And if you have far too  many books, they buy stuff too!

Kids or No?

Marilyn here, with an informal survey: how do you feel about kids in your romance novels? Yea, nay, don’t care, as long as they’re important to the story? Do you have little tolerance for overly cutesy kids, or do they make you go “aww”? Do you wonder if they’re there just for the cute factor? And where the heck do they disappear to when the hero and heroine need a little private time?

I’ve written lots of kids — though lately I found that dogs work just as well for the cute factor, LOL. They can be just as annoying during the love scenes, too. I’m not big on kids just because they’re kids; I want them to be integral to the story. I want them to sound and act like kids. And sometimes I want them to please, God, GO AWAY and let me have a little grown-up time with the hero and heroine!

What’s your take on the little buggers?

The Back Burner

Back in the old days (Not that I’m old enough to actually REMEMBER the old days.  Okay, Shay, stop snickering!), every kitchen had something simmering on the back burner.  Stock, soup, gruel…whatever.  Writers are the same.  We don’t just work on one thing at a time.

Oh, we may have only one story on paper or computer disk, but you can bet, we’ve all got “something on the back burner”.  For instance, beside the time-travel romance I’m working on, I have two more contemporaries, one romantic suspense, one historical romance, and a mainstream novel where I’ve started either the prologue or first chapter.  In short stories, I have two SF, two horror, and one confession started.  And that doesn’t count the approx. two dozen story ideas I have typed up in a separate file!

I bring this up because I had a break through today.  I was looking over the winners of our recent unpublished contest and, out of the blue, without rhyme or reason, I suddenly had the GMC I needed for the heroine of my romantic suspense.  I’ve known for a couple of years the old one was weak.  Every time I fixed it, judges would all say the same thing.  “Your heroine’s GMC is too weak.”

They may say the same about this one.  But it “feels” right.  Just like that soup on the back burner eventually “smells” right, I’m confident that this time, this story will be ready to put on disk.  Oh, I’ll still work on my WIP, but now, I have another story ready to work on.  Or maybe work on when I need to put my WIP on the back burner to simmer out a problem.

Thank God, my writing stove has a lot of back burners.  Now, if only the “cook” can live long enough to finish all the stories.

The P-A-M Principle

As I’m judging another round of contest entries (I only do 3 contests per year), I often give advice to the newbie tender writers that I was given by a very famous author. I’m not sure she remembers, but I still have that page where she critiqued FROM THE SHADOWS. I’ll never forget what Marilyn taught me–she’s taught me a lot but this particular piece of advice is so basic and so necessary. I call it the PAM Principle.

Every scene needs these three things in some form or fashion.

Place   The reader has to be grounded in the scene, to see what the characters do. This may require a couple of sentences or an entire paragraph. Even if they’ve been in the same location, has something changed that has affected the characters? It can be good or bad or the same old same old.

Action  What is going on in the scene? What are the characters doing? Maybe she’s sitting alone contemplating her future. Maybe he’s talking to his best friend. Maybe she’s plotting murder? Something must be going on.

Movement  The scene must move the story forward. Without that the story drags, sags, ultimately bores the reader.  And as Sandee mentioned,  “Life is too short to read a bad book.” I don’t want that bad book to be one with my name on it.

I hope Marilyn’s advice–as I’ve tried to explain it–will stick with you as it has with me.

Have you received a writing  tip that’s made a difference with you?

The Man of Our Dreams

I started reading a historical romance the other day — great cover, interesting back-cover blurb, familiar author’s name. The opening scene was a nice one, setting up the backstory for the heroine. I was pretty captivated.

Until the next scene when we meet the “hero.” (In case the quotes aren’t warning enough, I use the word very, very loosely.) His behavior when he meets the heroine is so repulsive, so unheroic and so unforgivable that I put the book down and can’t make myself pick it up again.

I have a wild imagination — couldn’t have written 70 or so books if I didn’t — but I can’t imagine what that character could do to redeem himself in my eyes. And the heroine’s response to his behavior is so off the mark for me that, in the space of a few pages, I went from liking to her to thinking she was freaking nuts for not running screaming the other way.

Am I less forgiving than other readers? Maybe. After all, the author herself clearly had no problem envisioning her hero behaving this way and her heroine accepting it, and I’m guessing the editor didn’t, either. It also had a couple of good endorsements, so I’m assuming those authors read the book, too, and didn’t mind.

I don’t expect heroes to be perfect. I’ve written con men, drifters and thieves as heroes, but they all had a sense of honor, a line they wouldn’t cross. Even at their worst, they hold to that honor. Based on my introduction to this particular character, he wouldn’t know honor if it bit him on the ass. Remember the old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”? Thanks to this hero, the book’s going on my got-better-things-to-do pile. Does he redeem himself? Don’t know. Don’t care.

I was thinking about this while walking last night. I had the iPod on and came to An Innocent Man by Billy Joel. That song resonates with me. The guy saying those lyrics — he’s prime hero material to me. If you’re not familiar with the song, check out the lyrics at the link below. You can listen to the song on this link, too.

Whaddaya think? Am I asking too much of this hero? Do characters ever do something at the start of a book that makes you toss it, or can you stick with them through anything to see how they turn out?