Thursday, February 28, 2013

Spectrum of Speculative Fiction Blog Hop

Welcome to my site and the Spectrum of Speculative Fiction Blog Hop. Thank you so much for stopping by.

I write fantasy. Even when I try not to. My stories tend to bend in unexpected ways to have a fantasy flavor to them.I don't always do it on purpose. Sometimes the fantasy elements just grow organically like daisies popping up in the spring. So, I write murder mysteries set in a futuristic Washington, DC with a psychic detective, or coming of age stories with magic.

In setting up this blog hop. Peter asked us to write about what we write and why we write it. I'm not sure I ever really thought about it before he asked. When I was very little, I liked fairy tales and fantasy stories. The first book I remember reading myself was Magic Elizabeth. I loved the make believe world of Bridge to Terabithia. Then fantasy became the stuff for little kids and I graduated to the books my older brother was reading - horror by Stephen King. I was too cool (says the geek) to read fantasy any more. I rediscovered fantasy in college when one of the actors in the show I was working handed me a copy of The River of the Dancing Gods by Jack L. Chalker. I was hooked. Again.

But why?

In fantasy and science fiction, we make the world the way we want it to be. These genres let us explore political and cultural mores in a safe way. The original Star Trek explored racial issues and the related tension during the 60's with the episode Let This Be Your Last Battlefield, featuring an ongoing racial war between two groups of aliens, one with black skin on the left side of their bodies and white on the right, and the other with white on the left and black on the right, and Plato's Stepchildren which featured the first interracial kiss on American television. 

There's a greater ability to explore what makes us human in fantasy and science fiction than in any other genre. Romance focuses on a narrow spectrum of human emotion:love, lust and desire. Murder mysteries and thrillers explore the depravity of the human condition. What makes people do the horrible things they do?

In fantasy, we have the ability to explore all these issues. Fantasy stories evoke wonder. They take us to new worlds. And in the best of them, they show us a bit about ourselves. I think that's why my stories tend to take turn down this road. Hopefully, you'll enjoy the trip with me.

Now the fun part; this is your chance to join me down the roads I travel.

The Contest:

I'm giving away a copy of my e-book short story collection, Paths Less Traveled, to one lucky reader. To enter all you need to do is comment on this post, and follow me on on Twitter.


Sometimes finding Justice means finding yourself.

Some women walk their own paths through the ages, even when mayhem follows. Follow two of these women as they each walk the Paths Less Traveled.

In “Lightning Strikes”, Falcon, a disinherited princess, wants to be the king’s spy. The theft of a prize stallion is her chance. But when her best friend stands accused, far more than her dreams are at risk. Falcon races to catch a thief before fatal vengeance falls on an innocent man.

Worlds away, Psyonics Corporation controls all paranormals and psychics in “Flashes of Life.” Its highest-testing but still latent psychic, Vonna accepts an assignment with the D.C. police to avoid the company’s breeding program. The company works to ensure failure in her first case – a homicide. If she can’t unlock her talents, a murderer will go free and she’ll be consigned to slavery.

The Paths Less Traveled. Strange universes. Kick-butt heroines.


The blonde female officer growled as I bent to slide under the yellow police tape. Her aura flicked with the burnt amber of authority and a hint of annoyance. Her jaw snapped shut as she took in my white leather outfit and gloves, the outward sign of my other than human status. Silver surprise limed her before changing to puce and signaling her disgust. Her gaze flicked to the emblem bearing the Greek letter Psi on my chest, and then skittered away.

"A pleasure to meet you Officer Williams. I'm Vonna Sinya, the assigned Psionic . Detective Muller is waiting for me."

Williams tapped her commlink and turned her back.

"The Charlie's here," Williams whispered.

Charlie-short for charlatan.

The word burned across my skin. It’s what the insens called psychics despite the scientific proof of our existence. I drove my fingernails into my palms. The white leather gloves only transferred the barest pressure to my hand. Recently graduated from Psy Corp, the gloves were a new addition to my wardrobe.

The gloves chaffed.

Muller strode briskly toward me. "Let her pass," he said as he approached. "Ms. Sinya, nice to meet you." He looked down at his hand, and then dusted it off on his pants before extending it.

Touching a psychic was the equivalent of offering your throat to a hungry vampire. The corners of his eyes tightened making the three crow's feet under each one stand out from his skin. He wasn't as sanguine about his offer as he'd like me to believe. He knew psychics were a threat even when smothered in leather. Maybe especially then. Still, the alpha dog was offering me a place in the pack and hoping I didn't challenge his authority.

I pasted a smile on and grasped his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Please call me, Vonna."

"Rick." He lifted the tape. "First murder?"

I ducked under the line separating cops from little people. "My first crime scene."

He shifted a step back. "Why do I get the newbies?"

"Because you're willing to shake hands with us?"

The change in his mood was so rapid that his bark of laughter and bright blue slash of humor startled me.

"That may be it." He walked toward the house. His pace was half the speed of his departure. "Main talent?"

A rash of heat flamed across my features. "We don't know."

Muller stopped and turned. "The Company does not let unknown psionics wander the streets, much less join active investigations. It's not like I just asked your favorite sexual position."

The Company was a pejorative term for Psy Corp. I'd heard it referred to an ancient song about owing your soul to the Company you worked for. If so, it wasn't a misnomer.

"I'm a thirty-seven."

"Excuse me?" Muller went pale in the flashing blue lights.

Despite the pit in my stomach at what might await me in the house, I smiled. "Just realize what you'd given your hand to?"
    * * *
Check out the other great writers on the hop (and their give aways):

Monday, February 18, 2013

Making A Story Work All The Way to The End

Did you ever finish a book and wonder why you just spent the time reading it or been so unsatisfied that the writer has earned a spot on the "Do Not Read" list? I recently have.

For obvious reasons, I'm not going to mention the title of the book or its writer. I don't tend to put a story down once I start it. So, I will occasionally finish a book I hate. While I was interested enough to keep listening to the audio tape of this book, the ending destroyed the story for me. Because of who I am, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why. The short answer I came up with was that the ending was just so unsatisfying it left me with a negative impression of the story.

Here are the main things that I think went wrong with the story:

1. The title character was the least used Point of View (POV).

When you name your book after a particular character, you signal to your reader that that character is the most important one in the book. So in a story called "Rachel's Revenge", I should be spending most of my time with Rachel. In this novel, there were 5 POV characters. The title character didn't come on stage until the fourth chapter, and is the character that for most of the story things happened to. She was the most interesting character, but she was almost never the POV even for scenes she was in.

2. The two characters with character development arcs were the least explored.

The title character and the only other female POV were the two least used POVs. However, they are the characters that changed the most. The women were foils for each other and each wrestled with the question of "who am I" and "who am a loyal to." While we got to see the resolution of these conflicts very little time was spend allowing us to feel the internal fight. The lack of POV penetration hindered my ability to care about the characters or the resolution of their issues.

3. Too little back story.

The issue of how much back story to put in is always a tricky question. I'm going to suggest that in any of the genres where the world the characters live in is not our own, you need to infuse those early chapters with back story. You still need a light tough so the history doesn't come out as an info dump, but if your characters are referring to the "Event", than the reader needs to know what happened to make the incident deserve a capital "E" almost as soon as it's referenced.

In this story, I spent too much time wondering about the post-apocalyptic world the characters were in while trying to intuit the cultural mores of a future Thailand. Mott of the POV characters came from different cultures so I had to navigate not only Thai culture, but Japanese, Chinese, American and "clone" cultural nuances.

I was more than halfway into the book before I started to understand the important differences between these cultures and how their histories affected the POV accounts.

4.  There as no clear protagonist.

I should be able to identify who the main character is in any story. But I struggled here. And the most likely choices lead to greater unhappiness with the ending.

I assumed that the title character would be the main protagonist, but she doesn't fit in that role. She's far too passive until far too late in the story. She has no try/fail cycles.

The most likely main character is the American. He's the one mentioned in the book blurb before the title character. He does have try/fail cycles, and he's one of the primary actors in the story. But there's no character growth. He's not changed by his journey. If he's my protagonist, the ending is even more disappointing.

Then there's a character I tend to think of as an antagonist, the Chinese. While helping the American, the Chinese is also working at crossed-purposes. He has a try fail cycle, and he has a character journey. But if he's the protagonist, the ending is a huge failure.

Okay, those first four problems all technique issues. And even then, I may have gotten over the complaints if the ending had worked for me. So, what happened in Act III that made feel like I'd wasted my time with this story? Read on.  . . .

4.    POV arcs were left open.

While a writer may not tie up all lose ends to preserve the ability to have a sequel, there still needs to be a conclusion that is appropriate for the story for each arc. Two of the POV characters made life-altering decisions and I was denied the ability to see how those choices played out.

The Chinese character I mentioned above finally decides to rush back into the doomed city to save another character. He does this knowing that the choice might mean that he perishes. The last "chapter" of the book ends with his decision to go back, but there's no resolution. The reader never knows if he succeeds and saves himself and the girl, or fails.

One of the Thai characters also makes a life-threatening choice, and while we are told about the explosions she orders and sets, we don't know if she survives the act of domestic terrorism,

5. The final chapter is called an "epilogue" even though there had been no clear climax.

I'm not sure why the writer made the choice to title his final chapter as an "epilogue" but it made for an abrupt ending. As I said above, the previous two chapter ended with two POV characters making decisions that would put them in peril. So, hearing "epilogue" after the Chinese man ran off to save the girl had me cursing a blue streak. If  I'd had a paper copy of the book, it would have sailed across the room.

I hadn't experienced a story climax yet so to be thrust into the wrap up felt like a violation of trust. There had been lots of small climaxes and resolutions, but rather than wrap up, the writer pushed into another conflict and then cheated to resolve the conflict in the space he had left.

6.  The American's death was off stage and pointless.

Remember how I said the American was the most likely protagonist? Well, I thought that he was until the epilogue. Then I'm told that he died between chapters. ACK! I had the same feeling about this as I did when JK Rawlings killed two characters off stage during the final battle. It was a cheat. The characters didn't have to die to make the story work, and by having their deaths off stage, the writer trivialized those characters' parts in the stories.

Now, there's an argument here that the American had to die for the title character to reach her potential. The American filled a mentor/protector role. But mentors tend to die in stories near the beginning of the journey, and not in a foot note at the end. Just like in Harry Potter, the title character had changed before the death. It struck me, both times, as author intrusion rather than a story imperative.

7.  The title character abandons the motivation that had caused her to act for no apparent reason.

During the story, the title character decided that she needed to seek out her people, who were rumored to live free somewhere in the north. She kills when she believes she cannot achieve this goal. Then, finally, when no one can prevent her from achieving this goal -- she gives it up. Instead, she stays in the now abandoned city. This was a huge let down. I wanted to see at least one POV character achieve her goal.

8.  A minor character comes to the forefront in the epilogue resulting in a new story and not an ending.

So, in the epilogue, the title character is living alone in a drowned city. She happens to bump into a minor character from much earlier in the story. He offers her a new dream. She gives up her hard-won independence to this stranger and his implausible promises.

Again, the ending felt like a trick. If this was the point the writer had been building toward, the moment should have been foreshadowed. Instead, of coming to a satisfying conclusion, this section felt tacked on to set up a sequel.

What I want when I finish a story is closure. I don't always need "happily ever after" but I do want to feel like my time was well spent and that the characters got what they deserved.

How does dissecting this book help me write a better ending?

It's always easier to see flaws in a story structure when the story's not ours. What dissecting this story taught me is that if I want a happy reader, I need to:

1. Make sure she can tell who my protagonist is. If I have a title character, she needs to be a prominent POV,
2. Have the right amount of back story at the right time;
3. Develop character arcs and sink into POV to give the reader a reason to care what happens next;
4. Bring each character arc to some resolution so the reader feels like that character has completed his journey for now.
5. Have the character deaths make sense and have the necessary prominence. A minor character can die off stage. A main character should almost never die in a footnote.
6. Have a story twist or ending needs to be well foreshadowed.

These threads run all the way through the story. So, while the list won't save me from picking up another disappointing book, it will help me keep my stories from disappointing readers. I hope it helps you too.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

WINNER - Love Is In The Air Blog Hop

Thank you to everyone who stopped by during the Love Is In The Air Blog Hop. Unfortunately, there can be only one winner. So . . . . Congratulations to:

Kelly Powell.
 Please e-mail me your e-mail address and which e-book format you want. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Love is in the air - Blog Hop

It's almost Valentine's Day.  And while I can't say I'm a fan of the commercial version of the holiday, I do love the idea of spending time letting those we care most about know how we feel.
If you'd asked me when I first started my writing career if I wrote romance, I would have laughed and said "ah, no." It's not that I don't like the genre. But it's one of my dirty little secrets. You know those books you read when you're away at the beach, or when you just need to escape to a perfect world. I would have told you that I wrote fantasy.
As you can probably tell from the blog's tag line ("Stories about characters that live . . .and love."), I've had to readjust my thinking. I kept noticing that romance always crept into my stories. In those early ones, romance wasn't a main plot line, but a subplot.
Now I have three fantasy/romance short stories published in collections or an anthology and one fantasy/romance novella in print, and my current work in progress is an erotic romance. So, I write romance stories or ones with strong romantic elements most of the time. And for the Love Is In The Air Giveaway Hop, I'm giving away e-book versions of two of them: Shots At Redemption and Apollo Rising.
To enter the contest, please comment below. The contest will stay open until midnight EST on February 14 (of course), and the winner announced on this blog on February 16.
Shots At Redemption Blurb:
Even mythical beings need a chance to correct their mistakes and reclaim lost loves.\

We all make mistakes. In this collection, a witch, a goddess, and a dragon take their shots at redemption in the hope of reclaiming lost love.

In "Best Dressed and Obsessed", Janelle, a graduate-level witch, chooses a magic dress to enthrall her professor. Sadly, the dress is cursed. At her graduation ball, will she kiss the man she loves? Or kill him?

Eons ago, Zeus decreed that Odysseus leave Kalypso. In "Kalypso's Song", Odysseus is reborn as a scholar. Can Kalypso convince him to reclaim the love they were denied?

The sea dragon Ryu spares a ship crossing her domain when a human child aboard reminds her of her own lost children. Ryu finds an unlikely surrogate family in "A Sea Serpent's Tale". When her new family is attacked by another dragon, can Ryu save them?

Shots at Redemption. We want them. We need them. But, do we get them?
Apollo Rising Blurb:
Shot by Cupid's golden arrow, Apollo has only truly loved Daphne. He visits her each eclipse, and longs for reunion. He seeks the Fate's advice and learns he may finally restore Daphne to her true water nymph form by enlisting other gods' assistance.
If  Apollo fails Daphne will be lost to him forever. To regain Daphne's soul, Apollo must deal with the devil, King of the Underworld. Love-torn and treacherous, Hades would slay the pantheon to remain with his wife for the full year. Apollo's quest might just give Hades the leverage he needs to do so.
Will Pheobus Apollo surrender the sun to reclaim love? Can he break Daphne's curse or will his attempt destroy her forever? Will she still love him after millennia as a soulless tree? Will the end of the quest see Apollo rising, or in sunset?

Don't forget to check out the other great blogs in the hop for more chances to win. 

Love is in the Air Blog Hop 2013
1. Under the Covers (Host) 39. LITERAL ADDICTION (US & Int) 77. Dark Divas Reviews (INT)
2. The Jeep Diva 40. Dani Harper, PNR author, (INTL) 78. Another Look Book Reviews (INT)
3. Kindles and Wine 41. Nite Lite Book Reviews (INT) 79. Paperbook Queen (INT)
4. Amber Lin 42. Book Lovin' Mamas 80. The Book Tart
5. Addicted2Heroines 43. I Smell Sheep (US) 81. Delighted Reader (US)
6. Miss Vain's Paranormal Fantasy (INT) 44. Scarlett Sanderson (INT) 82. Kristine Cayne
7. Queen of All She Reads (Int) 45. Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy 83. Dana Delamar - Romantic Suspense (INT)
8. Queen of the Night Reviews (Int) 46. Rhian Cahill (INT) 84. Ju Dimello (INT)
9. Lea Barrymire (INT) 47. Tabby @Insightful Minds (INT) 85. Helena Harker
10. Book Monster Reviews 48. LaVerne Clark - Novel Natterings (INT) 86. Evelyn Jules
11. Cocktails and Books (int) 49. Paranormal & Urban Fantasy Reviews {INT} 87. Maggie Wells
12. Reading Romances (INT) 50. Riverina Romantics (INT) 88. Donna Cummings (INT)
13. Dakota Trace 51. Book Savvy Babe (INT) 89. HEA Romances With A Little Kick
14. Isabelle Drake 52. Cari Quinn (US & INT) 90. Ana♥ @ Beach Bum Reads
15. Nicole Morgan 53. Patricia Leever 91. Amanda P @ Paranormal Romance
16. Diane Thorne - Erotic Romance Author 54. Wendi Zwaduk 92. Amanda and Dawn @ Lets Get Romantical(DOM)
17. Cabal of Hotness (INT) 55. Megan Slayer 93. 3 Partners in Shopping USA
18. lisa beth darling 56. Talk Supe 94. Deal Sharing Aunt USA
19. Ren's Little Corner (INT) 57. Lee Brazil 95. Sinfully Sexy Book Reviews
20. DMG-Spike (INT) 58. June Kramin 96. Bonnie Bliss
21. The Secret Sanctuary of Books (INT) 59. Romance Book Club 97. Michelle Clay
22. Dianne Hartsock (INT) 60. Close Encounters with the Night Kind 98. Natalie-Nicole Bates (INT)
23. Happily Ever After - Reads (INT) 61. Taboo Reviews by Lolita 99. Author Julieanne Reeves
24. Books of Love (US Only) 62. Kerry~I am a book addict...and proud of it (INT) 100. Christine@ RCJR eZine Blog
25. Holley Trent (INT) 63. Desiree Holt 101. Ann Cory (US/CAN)
26. Kallypso Masters 64. Read Our Lips! Book Review Blog 102. Nancy DiMauro
27. DC Juris 65. Romancing the Dark Side (INT) 103. Eleni Konstantine
28. Billi Jean 66. Nya Rayne 104. Nicky Penttila
29. Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews 67. 105. The Book Referees
30. Bianca Sommerland 68. CS Maxwell ~ Where's My Muse (US) 106. Blakely Chorpenning
31. Kindred Dreamheart (INT) 69. Darkest Addictions (Int.) 107. Literal Hotties Naughty Book Reviews
32. Paige Tyler 70. Simply Ali 108. Susan D. Taylor
33. Hot Listens (INT) 71. Goldilox and the Three Weres (INT) 109. Rhonda Laurel
34. Serenity Woods (INT) 72. Sara Daniel 110. Lily Harlem
35. Maxine Mansfield 73. AJ's Reading Nook (INT) 111. Hannah Fielding Romance Novelist (INT)
36. Rhys Astason (INT) 74. Blackraven's Erotic Cafe (INT) 112. Aubrey Watt (INT)
37. Natasha Blackthorne ~ Erotic Romance (INT) 75. Blackraven's Reviews (INT) 113. Normandie Alleman (US & INT)
38. Day Dreaming Book Reviews 76. The Readers Roundtable (INT) 114. Book Sniffers Anonymous (INT)

Monday, February 4, 2013

I Spit In Your Eye . . . Or Not

Conflict. It's an inevitable part of life. As a result, it's a necessary part of a story. Amazing characters only take you so far. It's when those amazing characters interact and oppose each other that a story is born.

Keep in mind that everyone reacts differently to conflict. I picked the picture I did for this post because it shows three different responses to an argument. The woman in the foreground is trying to avoid and ignore. The woman in the back is defensive. The man is aggressive. Just like my friends don't respond to martial conflict like my husband and I do, everyone responds to conflict, both the anticipation of the fight and the disagreement itself differently.

In my day job, conflict and its resolution is what I do. You would think this would make me  ready for a fight once I punch that proverbial (and invisible, in my case) clock to switch from work to home. It doesn't. My husband's also an attorney. But our at-home conflict style is very different than what you might expect. We've had an agreement since we married not to use litigation tactics on each other to "win" fights at home. One of our friends has the right to tell her lawyer husband that he's harassing her and he needs to leave the room. He goes when she tells him. Both marriages have lasted more than 15 years. The conflict and resolution mechanisms work, or don't, for the particular couple based on who we are.

We've all dealt with the passive-aggressive fighter, or the persuasive bully. Most of us have been micromanaged or been asked to take an approach to an problem we don't agree with by a superior. Have you ever argued with a psychopath? It's an interesting experience. First, a psychopath generally isn't going to get obviously angry. If you catch a psychopath in a lie, she'll pause and then glibly switch topics. The best way to fight with a psychopath is not to engage.

Does your MC wait all day to confront her ad executive boss who's stolen her idea? What happens when the boss blows off that meeting for a hair cut? The movie Working Girl (1988) has two great conflict scenes. First, when Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) bursts into a meeting to expose Tess (Melanie Griffith) as an idea stealing secretary. Tess, our heroine, doesn't stand up for herself. Instead, Tess, mutters and apology and leaves the meeting in disgrace. Cut to the next day. Now, when Katherine confronts Tess about her "theft" in front of only one witness (the love interest, Harrison Ford), Tess fights back. She tells Katherine that while she may fool the NY types, not to BS her about what really happened. The two scenes illustrate nicely how the same person reacts differently to the same conflict in two different settings.

Every interaction has some level of conflict. Many conflicts arise from misunderstandings. Let's take Mary and John again. They are moving from their cramped one bedroom apartment to their dream house. This should be one of the happiest days in their lives. But even here, there's conflict. John's doing all the heavy lifting and telling Mary to get out of his way. He knows she has a bad back from a car accident and doesn't want her to get hurt. He also wants her free to tell him where the furniture goes so he only has to move it once. Not understanding that John is only trying to protect and help her, Mary feels diminished, slighted, cut out and hurt.

It's not enough to say: "Mary was angry. Did John think she was an invalid?" This is telling. The word "angry" in the sentence conveys nothing to the reader about how Mary is actually feeling.

Is her gut clenching? Is she on the verge of tears? Is a headache brewing? Does she feel alternately hot and cold? Was the build up to the fight worse than the actual fight? Does the conflict roll off Mary's shoulders or does she feed the ember of hurt to make the next blow up bigger? Will she avoid confronting John because her own parents had fought constantly, and she vowed not to fight in front of her kids?

When it's time to put a conflict on the page, we need to think about all these factors. A character's response to conflict has to be consistent with who he is and the situation he finds himself in. Remember to show your reader the internal and physical responses to the coming confrontation, and the actual conflict - whether big or small.  Remember how you felt and use those experiences to enrich your writing.