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Sunday, October 31, 2010

In Theatres This Week...

Before we get into the latest box office offerings... TRICK-OR-TREAT! Happy Halloween!!!

Now back to our regularly scheduled business...Here at Lady Scribes, we are all about good stories, whether they be books, television, or film. So, we are spending a little time on Sundays discussing the latest releases and finding out what you saw, what you like, and what you’re looking forward to.

Last weekend’s Top 5 films:

1. Paranormal Activity 2

2. Jackass 3D

3. Red

4. Hereafter

5. The Social Network

Opening this week…

Saw 3D (R)

Tobin Bell, Cary Elwes

The 7th and advertised final installment in the horror franchise.

Wild Target (PG-13)

Emily Blunt, Bill Nighy

A hitman's retirement is threatened when he meets a beautiful thief.

Monsters (R)

Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able

Years after an alien invasion, a journalist and tourist start across the infected zone for the safety of the US border.

Welcome to the Rileys (R)

Melissa Leo, James Gandolfini, Kristin Stewart

A man who suffering from the death of his daughter seeks salvation by helping a troubled young woman.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Halloween Viewing

And after a whole month’s worth of build up – Halloween is finally upon us! Yay!!!

Those of you who have followed any of my blogs probably already know that I am a huge movie buff. I’ve even taken to posting here every Sunday what Hollywood’s newest releases are and which films were top at the box office the previous week. All of this probably stems from my years of screenwriting and all of those film study classes I took in college. Regardless of the reason, I do so love, love, love movies. Well, I love good movies. I hate bad ones. Then again, who doesn’t?

But Halloween is a different time of year. Even bad, campy movies are ok at Halloween. Mostly. There are still some movies that are so bad, not even Halloween can save them. Of course, I can’t name names, though I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. But I digress.

Recently, I was blogging about the old Vincent Price movies I used to watch with my grandfather when I was younger- HOUSE OF USHER or the HOUSE OF WAX or HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. (Just noticed, he did a lot of ‘HOUSE’ movies. Hmm.) Anyway, back on topic - still to this day, the final image of THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM will give me nightmares. And since I’ve written this today, I’ll probably have a nightmare tonight because that final shot just flashed in my mind. Perfect!! Just what I needed!

However, that nostalgic blog got me thinking along another path – what is the best movie to watch on Halloween? What has all the elements people are craving on the spookiest night of the year? I know that will depend on the person, but still – it’s a valid question.

I’ve never been one for slasher films. No gore for the sake of gore. But that’s just me. The lone exception to this would be the original HALLOWEEN, if one considers that a true slasher movie these days. There was something so inherently chilling about Michael Myer’s expressionless mask and the fact that he was silent as a mouse that just made chills race down my spine. Then add in John Carpenter’s creepy music, and I’m at the edge of my seat for the rest of the night.

Still, I think my favorite scary movies are more suspenseful than scary. How is that for turning the topic around? But it IS my blog post. I can switch it around if I want to.

Alfred Hitchcock was the master of suspense and I can watch and re-watch all of his films many times over. Truly he was a genius. My favorite Hitchcock film is one of his less famous ones - REBECCA. Then again – I simply adore Laurence Olivier. His talent combined with Hitchcock’s direction make this a masterpiece, in my humble opinion. (Now I know all my critique partners are laughing themselves right out of their chairs. “Humble?” But, yeah, I said humble.)

So, now I’ve told you what I like. What about you? What is the best movie you can watch on Halloween? I promise to watch the film that gets the most votes.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Quick Fix Recipe Ideas

Around this time of the college semester, my time is really limited. Mid-terms are going on, papers and projects are coming up on their due dates, and it seems like everything is happening at once. I'm still trying to get my writing time in, too. And now, the Texas Rangers have gone and gotten themselves into the World Series for the first time ever. I can't very well not watch that.

In order to make it all work, I'm having to come up with ways to save time. The first thing that usually goes is cooking. I'll often resort to eating out. For heath and monetary reasons, I'd prefer not to do that.

When things like this come up in the summer, a lot of times I'll make a big pasta salad and load it up with fresh vegetables and lean proteins, and then eat on it for a few days. But the weather is cooling off, and I'd rather eat something warm. I've got a crock pot, so I think I'm going to make a pot roast. I'm going to need more ideas than that, though.

Here's my favorite pot roast recipe. And be sure to use crock pot liners for easy clean up.

Put a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a skillet and put it on high heat. Generously salt and pepper your pot roast on all sides, then sear it. Transfer the roast to the crock pot. Add one package of dry onion soup mix and one can of cream of mushroom soup. Cook it on low heat for a minimum of eight hours, until it falls apart with a fork. If you want to add potatoes, carrots, etc., they can go in with about three hours left of cooking time.

What are your favorite crock pot recipes for this time of year? And do you have any other time saving meal tips?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Website Answers for Authors

Venturing into the world of websites can be a daunting task for any debut author, but especially for one a little slow to warm to new technology. Three years ago, I was still running on the treadmill with a portable CD player in my hand, not even in a holder. If it weren’t for my husband, who knows how long it would have taken me to transition to an iPod. In fact, he’s always been the one to introduce me to new gadgets, so when it came time to revamp my website, I couldn’t adequately answer his question, “Why do you need a new site?” Because my agent said so didn’t cut it.

I had to do some serious thinking about how to proceed. Should I spend the money for a web designer and purchase a domain? Would it really be an investment in my future, or would it be a financial loss I wouldn’t recover? I still don’t know the answer to the last question, but ultimately I decided if I didn’t believe in my value as a professional, no one else would. There is credibility in investing something into your career. It says, "I’m in this for the long haul."

So how in the world did I find a designer? I’m fortunate to be represented by The Knight Agency, and Jia Gayles was a fantastic resource, providing me with information on several web designers. If you don’t have these resources available, I would suggest finding author websites you like and checking the designer. This should be listed somewhere on the site. Then you should be able to go to the designer's site and view their portfolio.

There are many great designers out there, but I fell in love with the sites designed by Rae Monet, Inc. Because each site is a work of art, I feared it would cost a fortune. I’m happy to say the entire process cost half of what I thought it would. Not only is Rae Monet a wonderful designer, she made everything easy for this tech-challenged author. And she was kind enough to answer a few questions for Lady Scribes today.

Why should an author have a website?

Rae: A website is an excellent way to market yourself and your books. Ultimately, I expect your goal as an author is to sell your books or yourself. A website is a good way to do that. There's also an expectation from many publishers that a website shows you're serious about your writing career.

What do you recommend for unpublished writers who don't have any money to hire someone to do their website yet? Is there a free hosting site you would recommend?

Rae: I don't recommend the free hosting sites because they usually require you to advertise for them on the site. That can look more unprofessional than just having a blog at http://www.blogspot.com/ until you can save for a proper site.

What kind of content should an unpublished writer have on her site?

Rae: We recommend 6 main navigation buttons to populate for an author's website. Home, About, Books, News, Extras, Contact.

What are some benefits to hiring a professional rather than doing it yourself?

Rae: Well, you get it done right the first time. You can invest a lot of money and time "learning" to do your website yourself and have a very unprofessional look as a product. In the long run, you can spend more money than if you hire a professional.

How much does an average website cost?

Rae: You have to take into account a website has many elements: your domain, hosting, and the site build fee. It can range from $500 to $1500. (My site was at the lower end.)

Here is how the process worked: We had a telephone interview to discuss any visions I had for the site. I told Rae I was open to her ideas because graphic design is not my thing. We talked about my genre, images that came to my mind in association with the regency era, and some of the settings of my books. Rae’s creative energy took over. We had a big reveal over the telephone. I was nervous I would hate it and be one of those annoying, hard to please clients. Rae feared the same. We were both wrong. It was love at first sight!

Rae Monet, Inc. did an amazing job on my website, but don’t take my word for it. Go see for yourself! www.samanthagraceauthor.com.

If I can answer any questions about my experience, I'd be happy to share what I've learned. Just ask away and I'll do my best to answer.

***Stop by http://www.raemonetinc.com/ to view their amazing portfolio.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Top 5 Signs You're Going to Score High in the Golden Heart®

Last month, I blogged about The Top 5 Things You Need to Know Before You Enter the Golden Heart Since then, I’ve been approached by several writers wanting to know if their manuscript had what it takes to final in the biggest RWA contest for unpublished authors.
I’m always uncomfortable encouraging people to enter contests because I have no way of knowing their financial situation. As a general rule, if you can afford to enter, you should. Being a finalist in the Golden Heart can jump start your career. But if it’s a hardship to enter, you probably want to evaluate your chances before you plunk down your hard-earned cash.
Since I can’t read every manuscript, I’ve started to look for outward signs that indicate you probably stand a good chance in the contest. Start with a polished, completed manuscript. If you’ve had any of the following experiences, then you stand a good chance of success:
  1. You’ve been a finalist in a chapter contest: A significant number of Golden Heart finalists enter chapter contests throughout the year to prepare for the big event. If you make it to the finals, you’re on the right track.
  2. You’ve had a request for a full from an editor or agent: If an editor or agent has read some of your pages and requested more, you have a good chance of getting to the final round.
  3. Your experienced critique partner thinks you should enter: I only finaled in the Golden Heart, because Lydia Dare encouraged me to enter a manuscript I had given up on.
  4. You’ve entered before: A significant number of Golden Heart winners are manuscripts which were entered in previous years and have been revised and resubmitted.Also, you increase your odds by entering more than one manuscript. I was surprised by the number of Golden Heart finalists who told me they entered several manuscripts, and the one that finaled was not the one they expected to do well.
  5. You believe in your manuscript: Every year there are talented finalists who have never entered a contest and never submitted to an editor or agent before. If you believe in your story and know what makes it special, you probably have a good chance in the Golden Heart.
So there you have it, my top 5 indicators you’re going to do well in the Golden Heart. It’s very unscientific and says nothing about how successful your writing career will be. Some of my favorite authors scored low in the Golden Heart and went on to have fantastic careers.
How do you recognize those authors who are going to do well in the Golden Heart? For those of you who are entering this year, what signs encouraged you to enter? For those who have finaled in the past, how did you know you were ready?

***Due to a technical malfunction, "Website Answers for Writers" posted by accident this morning. Please feel free to check back tomorrow.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Simpler Time

I was watching Castle the other night and there was a place for people to go, dress and have fun in the late Victorian Era (1890s). They are romantics and are drawn to the simpler times. I thought the idea of the club (minus the murdering) was wonderful and would love to visit a place like that. The only thing similar I have ever participated in were the Madrigal Dinners in high school (where I was a wench and served the lords and ladies at my table). I attended in later years.

I've been to a couple of different Madrigal Dinners but none of them do it up like my former high school Well, at least not locally. From the moment you step out of your car you are transported. Street urchins with candles or lamps lead you through the back halls of the school, darkened and decorated. There is hay on the floor with the poor in sack cloth begging as you go. Once you enter the "castle" you are greeted by a chancellor and are left to wait until the hall is ready. The entire place is decorated with candles, greenery, and banners. As we make our way to the hall we pause to listen to the woodwinds.

We know ahead of time the name of our table and are led there by another wench or page. On each plate is the program. And for each table is the list of attendees. However, it is not your normal name. You could be a Countess, Princess, etc. with your name. It is great fun to find who you can pretend to be for the evening, and who outranks who.

The food is always delicious from the Wassail and fresh bread, barley soup, to the beef and potatoes, then Cornish hens, fruit and finally a rum cake. And between courses the Madrigals sing, jesters perform and the king makes his rounds. All in all it is a wonderful evening. This dinner is so popular that when the tickets go on sale for the 3 (maybe it is 4now) nights, they are sold out by 1:00 p.m. that day.

It is always fun to escape and be entertained at the same time, much like the club in Castle.

I've heard of Jane Austin societies having balls and soirées, but have never had a chance to attend one. I would participate in something like that in a heartbeat since the Regency Period is one of my favorite eras.

I have attended the Old English Fare and enjoyed the meat pies and watching the entertainment, but I don't really escape into the past. And, I haven't had a chance to participate or watch historical reenactments.

Have you have had the opportunity to attend an event that takes you to a different place and they do it so well you forget about the present world? If you had a chance to visit a club or event, which era in history would you like to escape to?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

In Theatres This Week...

Here at Lady Scribes, we are all about good stories, whether they be books, television, or film. So, we are spending a little time on Sundays discussing the latest releases and finding out what you saw, what you like, and what you’re looking forward to. This weekend's new releases was a bit sparse, but next weekend's seems to make up for that.

Last weekend’s Top 5 films:

1. Jackass 3D

2. Red

3. The Social Network

4. Secretariat

5. Life as We Know it

Opening this week…

Paranormal Activity 2 (R)

Katie Featherstone

A family thinks they've been the victims of recent break-ins and install security cameras only to learn that something more sinister is afoot.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Our Guest: Laurie Schnebly Campbell

Building Conflict From the Head Down

Building conflict from the head down means starting with the character's mind rather than their heart or body. Sure, the heart and body can create all kinds of problems for these people...but without their head, those problems wouldn't really go anywhere worth reading about.

That's not to say a character who's trapped in a burning building has NO conflict! Of course there's conflict; the heat of the flames is approaching and there's no visible way out. Try the window? Oh, no, it's locked. Try the stairs? Oh, shoot, they're in flames. Try bashing a hole through the roof? Oh, gosh, will that work?

Sure, this character -- let's say a woman -- is in physical and possibly emotional trouble here. But who's ASKING these questions and evaluating these answers?

The brain in her head.

Even while her body is threatened by the fire (not to mention her heart, because her first love letter is still upstairs) and we can get all kinds of excitement from that physical and emotional turmoil...what IS it that keeps us rooting for her in this situation?

Her personality.

That's what draws us deeper into the story. Action and suspense and dangerous adventure are all good things, but we don't want this woman to be the same as every OTHER person facing the scary fire. We want to see what's different about her. What makes her more interesting, more attractive, more compelling than the character in the next room?

We might not know her backstory yet, so we can’t be attracted by the fact that she's an orphaned heiress traveling to meet the wizard-skilled lord of the realm. All we know is what we see her doing right now.

If she's gonna sit there like a bump on a log and say "that fire sure is hot, guess I'm doomed," why would anybody want to read about her?

Well, probably they wouldn't...a bump-on-a-log personality doesn't promise a whole lot of exciting entertainment. But a personality that we suspect will wind up in some kind of intriguing situation, some tantalizing turmoil, that's a character we want to read about.

No matter how this woman responds to the fire, we want to know she's got more fascination in her life than just the immediate emergency. And whatever's fascinating about her will be different than for anyone else trapped in this same building -- because she's got her own unique personality.

Which is where the most compelling conflict begins.

Julie Garwood defines conflict as external (the dragon) and internal (the demon). Both fabulous sources, right? But whether a character is dealing with a dragon or a demon or both, what matters to us is how they handle this conflict -- and how they handle it depends on what kind of person they are.

So it makes sense to look at what kind of people our characters are, and how ANY conflict in their life will be influenced by what makes them unique.

If we've got ten people all trapped in this burning building, they're each going to have a different battle ahead of them. Avoid the flames, sure, but that doesn't stay intriguing for long. Who's gonna blame the architect? Who's gonna find the axe? Who's gonna call their loved ones? Who's gonna lead the charge? Who's gonna follow? Who's gonna pray? Who's gonna panic? Who's gonna tell jokes?

You might be already thinking "actually, what MY character would do is this-and-such." That means you've spent a lot of time with this person; you know them really well. Which is a good thing!

But when you're first starting a book, you don't yet know how these people will operate...or even if they're going to set foot in a building that bursts into flames.

Still, you probably have SOME idea of what they'll be like. Which leads right into my question:

How do you shape a character's personality?

Do you have a particular system you like to use? A blend of several? Do you plan their personality before starting the plot, or are you more likely to start with the plot?

There's sure no right or wrong answer! I'm constantly looking for new personality-planning systems, and the ones I keep handy are those that offer all kinds of opportunity for conflict that comes from WITHIN the characters...because that leads them so plausibly into trouble outside.

And finally, after several years of relying mostly on birth order, priorities, enneagrams and the Myers-Briggs archetypes, I've got some new tools to explore next month. But right now, I'd love to hear about yours!

How do YOU shape a character's personality? Have you tried some method you'll never follow again? Found one that works every time? Focus on different systems with every book?

I can’t wait to see how other writers work...and look forward to seeing a whole lot of cool ideas.

Laurie, figuring we need something cool after all this talk about fire

Laurie Schnebly Campbell,
http://www.booklaurie.com/, is thrilled at getting to spend the day with historical authors, because she's never even attempted to write history. (Except for the stories she and her sister made up during junior high...er, better off forgotten.) Aside from winning "Best Special Edition of the Year" over Nora Roberts, her favorite thing about the World Of Writing is teaching online classes -- like next month's Building Conflict From The Head Down, at http://www.rwamysterysuspense.org/coffin.php.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Not all Change is Created Equal: A basic guide to page turning scenes

Currently I’m reading Holly Lisle’s How to write page turning scenes, and it’s so incredibly inspiring that I decided to blog on it. I’ve touched briefly on this once or twice with a blog about hooks, found here. But I thought I would delve a little more deeply as my light bulb moments go off while I’m in the middle of my own learning process.

The first basic premise Holly touches on is the basics of a scene: Two simple steps must be included in order to call it a scene.

1. A thing to be changed.

2. Change

Sounds so simple doesn’t it? It was such a light bulb moment for me when I read this. Essentially, you’re not writing about a character but instead about a character who changes. That’s your hook, that’s what makes your story compelling. Page—turning quality.

And of course you’ll need to have the building blocks of the scene to build with: character, pacing, conflict, dialogue, action, description and backstory. If you have your characters sitting around talking about what they plan to do next, cut the scene. It’s not compelling enough to bring about a change. Instead, start the scene with them doing it. In today’s fast paced world, people don’t realize that while the world is evolving around us, so do our tastes and hobbies. Our attention spans grow shorter and shorter, so must our writing grow and change. Which translates to every scene must count. Every scene must change. Every scene must show growth and move the story forward.

Now I’m not going to give away all her secrets as you’ll just have to get the book yourself at http://www.hollylisle.com/ but I will give one or two things that helped me find my "aha" moment.

Getting the basics down on paper in twenty five words or less can help you focus on your main plot.

Sometimes we just need to know what we’re trying say before we actually say it. I know how hard it is to condense a 100,000 word project down to twenty—five words or less but sometimes that’s exactly what we need to give us insight into what we need to say.

Characters are such a complex thing it would take an entire book to explain this part of a scene, so just make sure that you know your characters. Know what makes them tick, what they want, what they’re willing to do to get it and more importantly, what they’re not willing to do to get it. And then set them in the absolute worst possible point in the story and watch them squirm. Don’t ever be nice to your characters, whether it’s an outside conflict that you’ve set them in or an internal conflict. Be harsh. It’ll do them some good.

So to wrap this up I’m going to give a fun little exercise and see what everyone can come up with. This is just for fun and I’m going to participate as well. At the end of the day I’ll post my own little exercise. Holly uses this exercise in her book and it completely changed how I looked at scenes. I’m going to twist it a bit though to fit in here.

Put a character someplace alone. In an empty church, in an old barn, in the desert, in an attic, or even in a bed trying to go to sleep and in 200 words or less, bring about change. Change the scene somehow, someway. A new character stumbles in the room, or an internal conflict comes into play. Show me the change! Good luck and have fun with this, and feel free to discuss the examples, I'd love to see what everyone thinks about the entries. And more importantly, write and count it toward your word count for the day because we all know that every time we write, we get better. Practice makes perfect, after all.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What defines you?

Music has been a defining party of my life since as long as I can remember. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before but I love to sing. The problem is that I sing like a frog on crack. It’s so bad that when I was young my own mother would tell me to pipe down as I belted songs out from the back seat of our car.

However, just because I can’t sing does not mean I don’t have a deep appreciation and love for music. I can directly link major moments or times in my life to a particular song, which represented what I was going through or made me feel a certain way. When I was a senior in high school, my favorite song was "Boys of Summer" by Don Henley. I was a bona fide beach girl, and this song encapsulated my summers. The song "Dancing Queen" by ABBA reminds me of my mother every time I hear it. She would dance around our house singing this song when I was young, and to this day my friends and husband think I’m crazy for loving ABBA, but I have a special place in my heart for the group that makes me think of my wonderful mom every time I hear them.

The song "Leaving On A Jet Plane" by John Denver always reminds me of my dad, a pilot for thirty years. The song "Fortunate Son" by CCR was my getting ready to go out song in college, thus I can’t hear it without thinking of Disco Night in T Town.

I had two five-year relationships before I met and married my husband and the songs "I Can’t Tell You Why" by the Eagles and "Chances Are" by Matina McBride and Bob Seger each respectively remind me for good or bad of the times with those men.  "At Last" by Etta James was the song my husband and I danced to at our wedding and will always put a picture of my husband’s sweet face in my head when I hear it.

So last night as I was out celebrating turning thirty-nine I wondered what song do I think defines me now. The truth is I’m not sure, but I’m going to have fun finding out. I made a list of five things I want to do this next year: 1. See an amazing concert, 2. finish writing another book, 3. go to NYC, 4. go to San Francisco, and 5. buy a bike and train for a race.  Maybe the song that defines me will be about traveling.

Do you have a song that reminds you of someone or something or perhaps that defines the moment you are in right now?

I’d love to hear about it!

Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

E-book Sales Jump 172%

According to Publishers weekly recently, and the 14 publishers reporting their August sales stats, the E-book market share has grown stronger yet again in comparison to mass market, where sales are down. But what does this mean for the reader? Not much really. Readers are embracing change but the part that should please all authors is that readers are buying – in any format.

When I first started buying new novels as e-books I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I think my first purchases were chosen by guess work, the format determined by the PC e-book reader program I’d downloaded first. Looking back, I wish I’d known more about the file types I was buying. Initially, I was reading on my PC. Later, I read them on my smart phone when I learned I could. But when I recently tried to move every e-book I’d purchased to my new iPad, I struck problems.

PDF is probably the most common e-book file format around and those files transferred beautifully. I have a lot of long Google Books documents, scanned collectible works, and reading them via iBooks (an iPad App) is fantastic. What I did stumble over were the e-books I purchased from Mobipocket. Now I loved (and still love) Mobipocket Reader yet the program is incompatible (as far as I can determine) with the Apple iPad platform. Initially mildly frustrating until I discovered just what DRM protected files really means to the buyer. And then got miffed.

DRM (Digital Rights Management) restricts access to the file by other e-book reading programs and devices. Which means that since Mobipocket doesn’t have an App for the iPad I can’t read those DRM protected files on it at all. Now, since I still have the Mobipocket Reader program on my PC I can still view them, but only if I’m bound to my desk for the duration of the work. Escaping the desk for reading was the reason I bought the iPad in the first place so finding out that I’ve spent my money on something so restricted doesn’t make me happy. Those stories are not portable at all now and I really loved those stories.

However, when you do have a good look at the file types available it’s clear to see why I was initially so confused. There are an astonishing large number of file formats to choose from: PDF, EPub, PRC, FB2, LIT, LRF, MOBI, PDB, PMLZ, RB, RTF, TCR, TXT. But from now on its EPub or PDF for me – I’m done messing with weird, and protected, formats. LOL

So for those of you who are embracing the flexibility purchasing e-books provide, what programs, devices, and file types are you downloading the most? A very curious mind wants to know.

Recently released historical romance e-book editions on Amazon (available to Australian readers too):
Arabella Sheraton – The Dangerous Duke
Michele Sinclair – The Christmas Knight
Tamara Lejeune – Christmas With the Duchess
Jackie Ivie – A Knight in White Satin
Christie Kelley – Scandal of The Season
Daisy Banks – A Matter of Some Scandal
Terri Brisbin – A Storm of Pleasure

Ciji Ware – Wicked Company

Monday, October 18, 2010

Goal: Achieved! What's next?

People who know me know that I'm a very goal-oriented person. I love to make lists and check them off, whether it's a big goal like reading 30 books in a year, or a small goal like making the bed or doing the dishes. I simply love a sense of accomplishment.

Recently, I issued myself (and my husband) one of my most challenging goals to date: running a 5k. Another local mom mentioned she was going to be running the Run for Wishes 5K in Liberty State Park, and so I decided we should all run it. I spear-headed our team, Happy Hour Moms, and then we all embarked on 2.5 months of training.

Thankfully, I'm a slow enough runner that I could actually snap a pic of our view!

I had never run before, other than 30-60 second bursts here and there on the treadmill, or when I was forced to in middle or high school. But really, I'm not a runner - I despise the activity - I even figured out the trick to bees so that I don't have to run when they come around me. But what I do love is a good challenge, and this one was pretty lofty.

We started out with 35-minute walk/runs at the beginning of our training, which got us about 2/3 of the way to the full 5K. Our goal was to be able to do the whole thing in 30 minutes, so we continued to train to that end....and then we got sick. Then our daughter got sick. Then we got sick again...You get the drift, I'm sure.

So training slowed a bit and some weeks our 3-4 days of running turned to 1-2. But by late September, we were ready to run the full 5K. My first time was about 46 minutes, and every subsequent day I ran it, I shaved off a minute or two. I knew I wouldn't be able to do the run in 30 minutes at this point, but the goal was simply to run the entire time without stopping to walk.

Reunited with the baby after crossing the finish line!

How did we do? Not only did we run the entire time without stopping, but we both beat our best time by 3 minutes, clocking in at 37 minutes and 11 seconds, despite crazy winds coming at us off the Hudson Bay. And yes, we crossed the finish line together, along with one of our other Happy Hour Moms (the 4th pulled ahead and beat us by 10 seconds!)

The big question, though, once one accomplishes a goal is always: what's next? Many times we experience let downs once we've achieved our goals. Sometimes we feel lost without this thing guiding us. Or, if you're like me, you've already decided on the next goal.

I'm floundering a bit these days on my writing goals and it irks me greatly, but having so many illnesses in this house for the last month and a half has kind of zapped my creative energy. So I'm focusing on what comes easy: health and fitness. I'm done running, but I have a weight-loss and flexibility goal, which I hope to accomplish through lots of yoga.

The Happy Hour Moms (and Dad) and the babies :)

But enough about me, I want to know about you. Are you goal-oriented? Is there a goal you achieved that you never thought you could? What is your current goal?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

In Theatres This Week...

Here at Lady Scribes, we are all about good stories, whether they be books, television, or film. So, we are spending a little time on Sundays discussing the latest releases and finding out what you saw, what you like, and what you’re looking forward to.

Opening this week…

Red (PG-13)

Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman

A former black-ops agent reassembles his old team to survive a new threat.

Conviction (R)

Hilary Swank, Minnie Driver

A working mother puts herself through law school to represent her wrongly convicted brother.

Hereafter (PG-13)

Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard

Three very different people are touched by death in very different ways. Directed by Clint Eastwood.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Guest Blogger: Lisbeth Eng

Find the Hero; Find the Villain

The back cover blurb of nearly every romance novel I’ve ever read clearly identifies the hero and heroine. Without even opening the book, you know the names of the two people who will overcome whatever obstacles lie between them to live happily ever after. On the back cover of my recently released World War II romance novel, In the Arms of the Enemy, there is a description of one woman (presumably the heroine) and two men. No, this is not a ménage à trois. All I will tell you is that one of those men will end up in the heroine’s arms in the end, but I’d like to keep you guessing which one he is as long as possible.

Isabella Ricci has joined the Italian Resistance to fight the occupying German army. Her lover, Massimo Baricelli, sends her on an espionage mission, which involves getting “friendly” with the enemy in order to uncover intelligence the Resistance needs. German army Captain Günter Schumann pursues Isabella’s affections, never imagining that he is the target of her scheme. You have now met the three principals.

One heroine, two possible heroes? Is this fair? Am I teasing the reader and violating some unwritten rule of the romance industry? One of the things I love about my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, is that they are willing to take a chance on a plot that is a little “outside the box.” Traditionally in romance fiction, one man and one woman is the preferred formula. It is not that In the Arms of the Enemy has no hero. I just want to keep the reader in suspense for at least a little while as to which man he turns out to be.

It may also be unclear at the start, or even at the finish, who the villain is. Villains are not required for romance novels, though one is often present and he or she can be quite nasty. When people ask me, “Who is the villain in your book?” I don’t have an easy answer. There are at least a couple of characters you may find unlikeable, but I wouldn’t describe them as villainous. Like most real folks we know, my characters are a combination of good and bad, though some may have a little more of one quality than of the other. Who is the villain? If I must name one, then it’s the war itself. The individuals in my novel find themselves thrown into the abyss of the Second World War and watch as friends and loved ones are brutalized or killed. All struggle for survival, while fighting for their respective countries and their principles. And in some cases, the battle is between principles and country.

Most Americans have no difficulty identifying the “bad guys” of World War II. In works of genre fiction intended for an American readership, the villains typically are either German or Japanese, depending on the setting. Italians, the third major partner in the Axis alliance, usually get away with less blame, at least in American genre fiction. (Ethiopian World War II genre fiction may have a different take on that.) The Italians surrendered in 1943 after the Allied invasion of Italy, and German forces occupied the northern part of the country. The Germans met with the staunch resistance of Italian partisans, and brutally punished Italian civilians in retaliation for partisan attacks on their troops. The Italian Resistance against the Nazis, though not as well known as the French, makes the Italian people more sympathetic to Americans. There was a German Resistance, too, but it is less well covered in popular culture, the 2008 Hollywood film Valkyrie notwithstanding. (I can’t tell you whether there was a Japanese Resistance because I haven’t researched the Pacific theater of war as I have the European.)

In the Arms of the Enemy is set is northern Italy, and all of my characters are either German or Italian (some of the Italians are Fascist supporters of Mussolini while others are members of the Resistance). Not all of the Germans are Nazis. But don’t expect nationality or uniform to help you distinguish good guys from bad, heroes from villains. You may even find yourself sympathizing with a character you thought you wouldn’t like. All are first and foremost human beings, and I prefer to focus on individuals and their admirable qualities as well as their flaws. Most of us have an assortment of both.

But I promise I will not disappoint you, the ardent romance reader. I have created and will reveal a hero and heroine for you to care about and cry for, a man and a woman who draw you into their lives and touch your heart.

An English major in college, Lisbeth Eng has also studied Italian, German and French. Lisbeth is a native New Yorker and has worked as a registered representative in the finance industry for the past 25 years. Her first novel, In the Arms of the Enemy, is available in e-book and paperback at The Wild Rose Press. Lisbeth invites you to visit her at www.lisbetheng.com.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Finding the Story

A few weeks ago, my sister asked me what I thought of the Rangers this year.

Me: "Huh? The Rangers? Why?"

Sis: "We're going to make the playoffs, that's why."

Me: *shaking head to clear cobwebs* Maybe she means the New York Rangers. The NHL season was about to start, after all. But why would she care about them? And they were barely in pre-season training, so it was way too soon to be talking about the playoffs. "Our Rangers?"

Sis: "Yes, our Rangers. Who else?"

Me: *still confused* "The Texas Rangers, right? You know, the major league baseball Texas Rangers, not the law-enforcement Texas Rangers--the ones who haven't been in the playoffs in over a decade. The ones who have never won more than a single game in post-season history. Those Rangers?"

Sis: "YES." Her exasperation at this point was dripping so hard it could have been raining.

Me: "I don't know that I think anything of them."

You see, I grew up in the DFW area in Texas. I've spent my whole life as a casual Rangers fan.

My dad likes to tell the story of my first Rangers game. They were playing the Angels, and I was so young that I didn't really understand any of it. All I knew was that the "Wangews" were playing the "Faiwies." Over the years, my enthusiasm with the team has had an ebb and flow. I remember watching Nolan Ryan pitching in his final years, still striking out more batters than anyone else in the league. In my high school years, the team actually managed some success finally, and then not too long after that, they started to get into the playoffs.

The one thing that had been consistent through all those years, though, was that they always seemed more focused on bringing in the big names, dishing out the exorbitant contracts, than on putting together a TEAM. They were a baseball team that relied on those big names to hit home runs. If enough of the guys went long, then the team won--despite the fact that the pitching staff usually crumbled, and despite the fact that the defense was spotty from year to year, and despite the fact that they seemed to rarely just focus on getting a man on base and then moving him around until he got home.

In recent years, I'd pretty much tuned out. It was always the same ol' same ol'. So when my sister wanted to know what I thought of the Rangers, and the fact that they were going to the playoffs, that's what I thought.

Me: "Well, I guess I think that they'll do just what they've always done in the playoffs. We'll be up against the Yankees in the first round, and we'll get swept. That's the Rangers' story." At least, it has almost been the story. One of those years, we did manage to win one game. I'm pretty sure it was a fluke--one of those nights when we managed to hit more home runs than they were able to produce.

Sis: "I don't know about that. I think you should watch. I think this year's Rangers will surprise you."

So I watched. And I didn't recognize them.

There's only one single face on the team that I recognized from the last time I was paying attention to the Rangers and what they were doing. One. And he is a guy I didn't expect to make it very long in that organization, because he isn't much of a home run hitter, and he isn't an overpaid, big named dufus. I was sure he would only last a year or two before being shipped off to a team that had a chance at doing well, and being replaced by some slugger with an ego the size of Texas. I was wrong.

There were other things that made them unrecognizable to me, too. For one thing, not only did the Rangers have a great group of starting pitchers, they have a solid stable of relief pitchers. Having one or the other, wouldn't have surprised me. But to have them both? It took me quite a while to pick my jaw up off the floor after that realization.

But the thing that surprised me the most? This Rangers team can play "little ball." They get a guy on base, whether through a hit or a walk, or even through being hit by a pitch...and then they do what it takes to advance him. They steal bases! They bunt! They do all sorts of things that the Rangers I always knew would never have dreamed of doing.

And they used all of these things to win the first game. Okay, I thought to myself. Well, they've won one game in the playoffs before. I suppose this isn't entirely unheard of. This isn't completely rewriting the Rangers' story.

But it didn't stop with one game. Just Tuesday night, the Texas Rangers managed to win their series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Me: ???????????????????? !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You see, I thought I already knew the story. I thought that history was bound to repeat itself. I thought that the Rangers, the only team in all of Major League Baseball who had never won a series in the post-season, would stay that way forever.

They proved me wrong. They did the opposite of what I expected.

Tomorrow night, they'll begin their first ALCS, playing against the dreaded Yankees--the team that, up to this point, has been the Rangers' post-season nemesis. The albatross following them wherever they go. Part of me is thinking that this first series was an accident, and the next series will straighten out the world again. Part of me is expecting to see the Rangers slugging for the fences again, and to see the pitching staff fall apart, and to see the Yankees sweep them in four games.

Part of me is hoping that I'm just sticking to the story I've always known.

All of this really makes me think about the stories that I read, and the stories that I write. So often, I'll read something and think I know where the author is headed, only to be taken down a completely surprising path that is far better and more exciting than the expected. But then sometimes, I'll think I know where we're going, only to discover that it is exactly where we're going. I leave that feeling disappointed.

As a writer, I don't want to disappoint my readers by giving them exactly what they expect. I want to surprise and delight them. That means I need to work harder, to be sure I don't repeat what is already out there (or what I've already done).

Are there stories you wish you didn't already know what was coming? Do you find yourself stuck in a story rut, rehashing the same plot points again and again? And are you following the baseball playoffs? Which team's story are you most interested in seeing change?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Life in 3D

Have you ever wondered what life would be like if it came with movie special effects? I have, almost every Tuesday for a month. You see, Tuesdays are the only mornings I'm required to make an appearance at the office. The rest of the time, I work out of my home.

Every Tuesday I park in the two-hour parking across the street from the hospital, pop the ear buds for my iPod in my ears, crank the music and make the trek in for staffing. And on my walk, mainly in high-heeled boots since it is fall, I imagine how cool it would be if I could move in slow motion with the wind lifting my hair away from my face, theme music thumping in the background.

The drivers yielding to pedestrians might not find the slo-mo thing great, but maybe they would love some other special effect you see in the movies. Maybe they’d think it would be cool to launch their vehicle from a ramp and soar over the cross-traffic and the excruciatingly slow lady in kick-butt black boots in the crosswalk. I could lift my hand in the air as this car glides over me like that boy in Free Willy did when the killer whale leapt over him. Crud! What just dripped on me? Is that oil?

Ooh, and what if I could run on walls like in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? That would be awesome. Here comes my kid with sticky fingers targeting my white t-shirt. Clomp, clomp, clomp up the drywall! Woo hoo! Better luck next time, sucker eater. And just think how easy it would be to clean the cobwebs from the corner of a room.

Or, you’re corned at a party by the most boring person on the planet who won't stop talking about his quest for the perfect shoe horn. Suddenly, a dazed look comes over you. Your mouth gapes. Intense violin music swells in the background. You look at him. His lips are moving, but you can’t hear a thing. The ground begins spinning. Spinning faster and faster until, miraculously, centrifuge flings the dullard through some hidden portal into another dimension - I’m guessing this is what happens because how else can you explain his rapid disappearance. You, however, are completely unaffected, aside from a tiny bit of dizziness cured by squeezing your eyes tightly together and issuing a small shake of the head. Wouldn’t that be great?

If life did come with special effects, what effect would you like to employ and how would you use it?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

5 Reasons to Attend Your Local RWA Chapter Meetings

A writer friend recently asked if it was worthwhile to attend the local RWA chapter meetings. Well, of course, it’s worthwhile to me, those people are my friends! But I did stop and think objectively about what I get from my local chapter that’s not available on the national level.

I belong to the Coeur de Bois chapter in Boise, Idaho, which is probably one of the smallest RWA chapters. We have 35 members, but many of them live far from the city. With mountain roads being impassible much of the year, we only average about twelve members at our monthly meetings.

So what do I get from such a small group?

A specialized lending library: Our chapter has a small but impressive library of CD’s from past RWA conferences, both national and regional, as well as how-to-write books that are not available through our public library. I may have initially over-estimated the size of this library, because our librarian is so gracious in sharing her own collection. This is true of all our members, who have fascinating collections on everything from English History to chemistry.

Access to a wide variety of experts: I’m not talking about the guest speakers, although they are wonderful. I’m referring to our chapter members, whose expertise ranges from gardening to luxury shopping to poisons. In our ranks, we have a former EMT, a chemist, a doctor, and a college professor. Whether I’m looking for a mathematician, computer whiz, travel agent, or billboard model, the varied talents of our little group never cease to amaze me. And nothing beats sitting down and talking to your sources in person.

Built in Travel Buddies: Idaho is far from all the major conferences. Luckily, my chapter sisters are willing to travel together and share expenses. Roommates make it possible to stay longer and get more done.

Exposure to New Experiences: My local chapter often challenges me to step outside my comfort zone. Whether it’s a field trip to a firing range or a local strip club, members are always willing to support your “research.”

Friendships that last a lifetime: I love my online crit partners, but it’s only at my local chapter that I can have a regular coffee date with someone who truly understands what it means to be a writer. They help me brainstorm, critique my work, and commiserate when life gets in the way. How they put up with all my whining, I will never know. But they always cheer me up and get me back in writing mode, and for that I’m truly grateful.

So there you have my top 5 reasons for participating in my local RWA chapter. What makes your local chapter special? What do you get at your local chapter that you can’t find online?

Monday, October 11, 2010

What is your favorite part of Halloween?

As Jerrica pointed out last week, it is October. However, she quickly learned not all of us embrace Christmas so early. Sorry, Jerrica.

So, in celebration of this fun holiday let’s stay in the present.

Halloween dates back centuries and something I will probably blog about at a later date. It has evolved from the pagan practices of the Celts and Druids into how we celebrate now. Today, it is all about costumes, candy, parties and being scared.

Costumes: Just go to any Halloween store and there are all kinds. From the cute princess/fairies and super heroes for the kids, to the more adult version. Some I can’t image wearing, even in my younger years. Mainly because the party I still go to was outside for many years and I had no desire to freeze and end up with pneumonia all for one night of fun. Plus, no matter how warm, I was never one to show so much skin in public. Still, I am amazed at the creativity I see year after year.

Candy: What is not great about lots and lots of candy? When I was younger I knew every single neighbor I basically begged from for a treat. My favorite stop was across the street for popcorn balls. They were wonderful and I have not had one that even comes close to being that delicious. We would also get homemade cookies as well as store bought candy from other homes. My kids were not so lucky. Even though I know most of my neighbors, there are only a few I would let my kids keep a homemade treat from. I simply don’t know the rest well enough.

Parties: On this one night, no matter what day of the week, parties go on and they tend to last late. Some do have their parties the Saturday before, but most bars are overflowing with costumed characters partaking of Halloween style beverages.

Being Scared: This can be accomplished in many ways. Who doesn’t love a haunted house? Okay, that would be me. In high school I worked in one for a few years. That was fun. Going through one and not knowing what to expect around the next corner is not for me. Nor do I like the more modern scary flicks, especially the slasher movies. I personally don’t see a point in a movie aimed at topping the last movie with the most dead bodies, body parts, most horrible way to die, and tons of blood without much of a story. I am lucky to make it through Psycho. I am more of a Hocus Pocus type of girl, or Scooby Doo.

What about you? What is your favorite part of Halloween? Is it the costumes, candy, parties or the goriest movie being released?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

In Theatres This Week...

Here at Lady Scribes, we’ve decided to do something a little different on the weekends. We are all about good stories, whether they be books, television, or film. So, we thought we’d spending a little time on Sundays discussing the latest releases and finding out what you saw, what you like, and what you’re looking forward to.

Opening this week…

Life as We Know it (PG-13)

Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel

Two unlikely Godparents must put differences aside to raise their Goddaughter.

Nowhere Boy (R)

Aaron Johnson, Kristen Scott Thomas

Biopic on a young John Lennon's life.

Stone (R)

Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton

A corrections official and inmate find their lives intertwined.

Secretariat (PG)

Diane Lane, John Malkovich

Biopic on the Triple Crown Thoroughbred.

It’s a Funny Kind of Story (PG-13)

Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts

A 16 year-old boy checks himself into a psychiatric hospital.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Guest Blogger: Eliza Knight

Hello Lady Scribes and Readers!

Thank you so much for letting me stop by today to talk about writing short. Since December of 2008, I’ve had a total of eight romance and erotic romance novellas published (3 of which are no longer available), with The Wild Rose Press and Ellora’s Cave.

For many writers the idea of writing short is more daunting than writing a full length novel. When considering writing short, these thoughts may run through your head: “How will I fit it all into 25,000 words or less?” “Will it be too fast paced?” “Will my readers feel satisfied at the end?” “How many love scenes?” “How many secondary characters?” “Is there room for sub-plots?” “Can you have a series of novellas?”

Today, hopefully, I’ll be able to answer those questions for you. Let’s start with the first question:

How will I fit it all into 25,000 words or less?

Believe me, you can fit it all in. Just be careful of what “it all” is. When writing short, the key is to have the story focus on the relationship of your characters, and one or two major conflicts. Don’t think of it as an abridged version, or your readers will too. Shorter works still need just as much planning, all the five senses, showing and not telling. Just as you should in a novel, use the various scenes and dialogue to get your characters personalities, goals, motivations, internal and external conflicts across. Use action and reaction scenes and love scenes. Make sure your story and romance are progressing at an even pace, and that all loose ends are tied up when you finish. My biggest tip for writing short—stay active. Every scene should have something happening. You don’t have time for lulling scenery descriptions, ruminating for an entire chapter or meaningless backstory. You only have a certain number of words, make them count.

Will it be too fast paced?

The answer to this is, yes, if you’re not careful. Remember that this is not a novel, you don’t need all the sub-plots and several secondary characters. You can’t have slower paced chapters where we are only ruminating on previous happenings—this doesn’t mean you can’t have reaction scenes, you can, but don’t waste a whole chapter. Keep the story plot itself relatively simple, with one or two goals per h/h, and one or two conflicts they have to overcome to reach those goals.

Will my readers feel satisfied at the end?

They should! This is a story, first of all, and as long as you tell the story at an even pace, with plenty of conflict, tension and romance thrown in there, as well as a satisfying ending, all loose ends tied up and everyone happy, villains punished, lovers together, disaster avoided, then you’ll be golden.

How many love scenes?

Now this seems to be the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue! It depends. I’ve done some short stories with only one or two love scenes, and others with half a dozen. It depends on your story and how sensual/sizzling/hot/erotic you want it to be. So unfortunately, there is no magic number, but make sure it makes sense for your story and that each love scene moves the story along. This goes for novel-length too. We don’t need any gratuitous love scenes, make it purposeful—even if that purpose is only to show us how much they love each other.

How many secondary characters?

This will also depend on your story. In my own writing, I tend to like have a few. One female confidante for my heroine, one male confidante for my hero and a villain. Sometimes I have more than that, sometimes, it is just a few. Remember that with a shorter story, you don’t have time to develop a bunch of characters, and you want the main story to still be about the hero and heroine and their relationship. Don’t let secondary characters take over, or take away from the main focus of the story.

Is there room for sub-plots?

Yes, there is. But it doesn’t mean you have to have a sub-plot. My MEN OF THE SEA series novellas all have an underlying suspense sub-plot, some mystery that has to be solved, but at the same time, the characters are trying to work through their own internal issues as well. So while I do have a sub-plot, I make sure that it remains that way—a sub-plot. When it starts to intrude on my focus—the h/h and their relationship—then I know I have to tone it back.

Can you have a series of novellas?

Absolutely! I myself have had two series with novellas. All the stories are linked, but can stand alone.

What other questions do you have about writing short? Hit me with your best! I’m happy to answer!

The last book in my Men of the Sea Series was released this past April…

Her Captain Dares All

Pursued by kidnappers, Lady Tessa Woodward is running for her life. When handsome Captain Jeremy Williams comes to her rescue in the backstreets of Paris, she persuades him to help her escape France and return to her home in England.

Captain Jeremy Williams is captivated by Lady Tessa's fiery nature and agrees to give her passage aboard his ship. Once on board, his desire grows and soon reveals a sensual side to the woman he can’t deny. But when danger threatens his lady, will the captain dare all to save her?

Publisher Buy Link: http://www.thewildrosepress.com/her-captain-dares-all-p-3992.html

Amazon Kindle Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Her-Captain-Dares-All-ebook/dp/B003JH88ZU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1286288763&sr=8-1

Other Men of the Sea titles: Her Captain Returns, Her Captain Surrenders

Eliza Knight is the multi-published author of sizzling historical romance and erotic romance. While not reading, writing or researching for her latest book, she chases after her three children. In her spare time (if there is such a thing…) she likes daydreaming, wine-tasting, traveling, hiking, staring at the stars, watching movies, shopping and visiting with family and friends. She lives atop a small mountain, and enjoys cold winter nights when she can curl up in front of a roaring fire with her own knight in shining armor. She is represented by McIntosh and Otis, Inc. Visit Eliza at www.elizaknight.com or www.historyundressed.blogspot.com