Thursday, April 30, 2015

Not Your Mother’s Romance Novel, or…

Cynthia Thomason

We’ve come a long way, baby

Many of us are old enough to remember the beginnings of the romance novel as a popular genre in American literature. Although romance novels have been around for centuries – just pick up a copy of Jane Austin or the Bronte sisters –  the notion of romance as top selling fiction is a recent one. In the 1970s the “Avon Ladies” began the trend and included such greats as Kathleen Woodiwiss, Johanna Lindsey, and Rosemary Rogers. Those were the days of “bodice ripper” covers, pirates and captives, older men with virginal heroines to conquer, and the concept of no means yes. These books sold well, almost as if contemporary women had been waiting for fiction to titillate their senses and validate their need for recognition as sensual beings.

But what about the lady who read these books on the bus? Was she embarrassed by the cover of the book she’d chosen? Did she have the novel hidden in one of those cute flowery cotton book covers? Did she hide her novel behind the pages of Life Magazine? Did she hide the book from her husband and children? Yes, she often did.

But times have changed folks. Today’s romance authors are lawyers, university professors, savvy retirees. And their heroines are no longer virgins, repressed maidens, teachers, nurses, and secretaries. Today’s heroines are pilots, ship captains, explorers, real estate execs, almost any occupation you can think of. Heroines in historical romance fiction are educated, willful, brave, and verbally equal to their male counterparts. And guess what? They like sex! Thank goodness!

Today’s romance novels appear in several sub-genres, enough to satisfy any taste and reading level. Romantic suspense, intrigue, comedy, chick lit, inspirational, or blazing hot – the boy meets girl plot can leave the reader crying into a hanky or turning her light on through the night. And no longer are the plots just simple “catch a rich guy” or “tame the cowboy” themes. Today’s heroines suffer through divorce and battle breast cancer and weight gain. Their children become ill, they experience deep regret and redemption. The stories are full and meaty and true to life. Again, thank goodness!

Marketing departments at major publishers have recognized these trends and have kept pace. Book covers today are often comprised of inanimate objects. Heroes and heroines are most often clothed and resemble the boy and girl next door, though maybe slightly better looking than that gangly guy with braces. So write on, romancers. There is a genre for you and the plot is waiting. Just remember that happy ending. Some things never change.

Cynthia Thomason is an award winning, bestselling author who is active in the Florida Romance Writers.  She started writing in the mid 90's and have since published more than two dozen books in the romance and mystery genres.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

When It Comes to Science Fiction: It’s All or Nothing

Warren Hammond

The year was 2001. I’d just finished my first novel, a hybrid of scien
ce fiction and detective noir, and I was in the early stages of seeking an agent to represent me. As a newbie author, I knew my chances of success were low, but I felt I’d written a pretty good book and, as they say, no matter how many rejections you tally, it only takes one yes.
What I didn’t know, however, was how my book fit into the greater publishing world. Taking inspiration from some of the greats like Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy, I’d really written a hardboiled crime novel. But instead of setting my story in 1930s or 1940s Los Angeles, I’d set it on a distant colony world in the far future. Great idea, right?
Unconventional though it was, the idea of a SF/noir hybrid wasn’t exactly unheard of either. The most notable success was probably the 1982 classic film Blade Runner. Lucky for me, an agent saw some potential in my work and decided to call me.
That was my first big break. I was on the phone with a real live New York literary agent! Sadly, though, he’d called to tell me why he was not going to represent me. The book had issues. One, it was too long. Two, it had too much talk and not enough action. Three, it wasn’t science fictional enough!
The third one surprised me. I thought I’d done a nice job of walking the tightrope between crime novel and science-fiction novel. But as he explained, even if a novel is only one-percent science fiction, it’s science fiction. Mystery publishers weren’t going to touch it. If we were going to sell it, it would have to be a science-fiction publisher, and the book would be shelved in the science-fiction section of book stores.
He liked my characters, he liked my plot (most of it anyway), and he liked the hyper-noir world I’d built, but if I wanted to get this book published, I’d have to satisfy the expectations of the science-fiction audience. Mostly male. Mostly young. And mostly geeky. To sell it I’d need, and I quote, “More lasers, phasers, or shmasers.”
So with my inner geek fully engaged, I rewrote. And when I sent in my second draft almost a year later, it was received with an offer of representation. This novel became the first in the KOP trilogy (KOP, EX-KOP, and KOP KILLER), published by Tor Books.
It’s fourteen years later, and some of the rules have changed. Urban fantasy became a thing. Same for steampunk and cli-fi. Mash-ups have become more common. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that writers and readers have to meet somewhere, and that somewhere is called the marketplace.

I’ve been fortunate to land contracts despite my habit of blurring the boundaries of genre (my newest is an SF/spy novel), but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been flexible. Know your vision and stick to it. But be coachable; you have to be to succeed in this industry. Yeah, I know those last two sentences might sound contradictory, but trust me, they’re not.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Water Witch

from Jacqueline

 I have become a water witch.  Frankly, I believe it was a pledge I had to take as a resident of one of the most water compromised states in the USA. I wish I had a magic wand to bring on some serious, consistent rain across this continent’s parched lands, but I don’t.  No one does.  There is no magic wand, no silver bullet, and it is very, very serious. If you live here and you didn’t know that already, then your head is in the fast deepening sand.  If you are not taking personal measures to conserve water and play your part as a member of a community that needs everyone on board, then you’re in denial.

When my brother – a landscape gardener who originally trained with the Royal Horticultural Society and the National Trust in the UK – first came to live in the USA, he was stunned at the overwatering here in sunny CA. Even though his professional experience until that point had been in the UK, at that time southern England was experiencing its own drought (inadequate rainfall for years, plus the ground was so hard the typical English light drizzle could not impact the water table at all), so he understood the fundamentals of drought tolerant landscape management.  He would tie little notes on trees in LA. “You are killing this tree with over-watering.”  I remember twenty-five years ago he said to me, “Lawns are one of the biggest threats to California – why try to have an English country garden in a desert?”  But there you go – people like their lawns.  I have one, though I am letting it die. Why should I have a lawn when it’s on the cards that we’ll be scrambling for a few glasses of the clear cool stuff to whet our whistles before too long? 

But back to being a water witch. My mantra regarding water is, “Don’t let it go down the drain.”  You may think my measures are over-the-top, but this is just the beginning.  I am on a quest to reduce my water consumption and conserve water to the nth degree.  When I told a friend about my efforts, he said, “Well, up here in the Bay Area we don't have to worry, our reservoirs are 96% full.”  I said, “At the moment.” Summer is all over the place and it’s only April, so with evaporation, increased watering, and the fact that so many people are just hoping the drought will go away, that 96% full will be down to a puddle before you can say, “Turn that hose off!”

 So what is this water witch doing?

I invested in a water barrel for the garden.  It’s a nice one, faux wood, with a stand and a spigot, and though I have yet to get it linked up to the gutter (got to remain hopeful), there is an opening at the top with a filter.  I popped an “organic” mosquito killer in there, and that water barrel is there for my “gray” water, which comes from two main sources – the bucket in the shower, which minimizes water going down the drain, and the water from washing dishes.  Sometimes that water is used immediately for the garden and sometimes it goes into the barrel. And you would be surprised how it mounts up, ready to use for my garden, instead of a hose, which I refuse to use again anyway.  And when they start to ration water one day, or when there are standpipes in the street, at least I will have a few gallons set aside for flushing the loo! ( I am sure I don’t have to repeat the old mantra about when to flush and not to flush, not in polite company, anyway).

I have a timer in the shower, limiting myself to two minutes.  I think that's plenty.

I do not run the water to brush my teeth – in fact, this is an old one. I don’t think anyone does that any more anyway.

I am getting one of those devices that loops water around back into the system while you are waiting for hot water to come through. Even though I save that water anyway, it seems sensible not to risk wasting it in the first place.

Although I am not new to trying to act upon my concerns for the environment, my status as water witch is somewhat recent, so I know there’s much more I can do, and I know people out there have more water-saving ideas up their sleeves – so feel free to share yours. I will be the first to take them on board. We are in this together – for better or for worse, and it seems it is going to get worse, so best we become kin when it comes to water conservation.

That thing there should be a huge no-no right now. They break anyway, so let's ditch 'em.  I know how vulnerable they are because I once worked for a sprinkler-fixing company. Yep, the things you never knew about people!

I believe not using dishwashers could bring a whole generation of kids back to the all-important truly hated chore of clearing the table and doing the dishes.  Then wiping them dry and putting them away – and then taking the dishwater outside and using it on the roses and shrubs instead of having to irrigate with the hose. 

By the way, my mother always puts her used dishwater on the roses – keeps aphids at bay, and her roses are always just gorgeous.

I never run the washing machine unless it is absolutely full, and even then I wonder what I could have washed by hand, just to save some water. Oh, and here in CA – what the heck are we doing with dryers? OK, so who loves ironing?  But with all that sunshine, save energy (and therefore water) by drying outside. I have a clothes airer which is great for drying the laundry, and I live by my friend Corinne’s old mantra about wearing wrinkled clothing, “Oh the creases will come out with the heat of your body.” 

It must have been about 15 or so years ago, I was in England visiting my parents during a drought. Increased house building in the south-east, together with insufficient rainfall had led to a serious situation.  I hadn’t quite grasped this fact, and having borrowed my parents’ car, I thought it was looking a bit dusty when I brought it back, so I dragged out the hose to give it a wash. In an instant my mother came running out of the house, yelling at me to stop.  “That's a £400 fine if the inspectors are driving round and see you doing that!”  What?  Yes, it was so bad, there were local hot lines to report water wastage, and you absolutely would receive a visit and if caught, that was you, £400 worse off.  The threat worked. People did not waste water. Now I come to think of it, perhaps I’m a water witch because my father was something of a wizard when it came to water conservation, even before it was necessary.

He linked the washing machine and all drains from the bathtub and every sink to a central sort of outlet that whooshed waste water right across the lawns and into another receptacle. It wasn’t pretty – a bit mad-scientist, to tell you the truth – but it did the trick.  I was really impressed.  My efforts pale beside such ingenuity.

 Now, do you live in a water-compromised region?  And what are you doing to conserve water?  I’m really open to new ideas, as I build my water-witch resume.

Let's not take this for granted ...

And by the way, this little piece is meant as no disrespect to real water-diviners, who are often known as "water witches."  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Genre Fiction

James O. Born

I have recently gotten serious about teaching writing and this Saturday will be at the University of Central Florida book Festival and in a month I will be at the South Carolina book Festival, and at each location I will be teaching a two-hour seminar on "How to Write a Novel."  I’ll refer to the blog and hope that if you are in the area can drop by.

Today kicks off a new series of blogs on writing.  We're going to talk about popular or "genre" fiction.  There are occasionally snarky comments tossed back between a few writers who identify themselves as, "literary" authors and those who identify themselves as a specific genre writers like a crime writer or science fiction author.  I have never gotten particularly involved in the spats.  I don't really care one way or the other as long as I'm writing a story I'm proud of and it's nice to have it published.

Stephen Marche of Esquire has an excellent piece on genre fiction here.  The article is titled How Genre Fiction Became More Important than Literary Fiction.  He makes excellent points about the needless distinction between the two.  Even the comments at the bottom of the page are pretty good.

In addition, here is a response from Lee Child from a British TV show which I have borrowed from : Kristy McDermott   

Last week I was in Britain and Ian McEwan’s Solar came out the same day, so there was this kind of “grudge match” thing going on —61 Hours by Lee Child vs Solar by Ian McEwan, you know, the Good Guy vs the Bad Guy, the Smart Guy vs the Thug — and I was asked about it constantly in interviews, and I made the point, and I think this is a serious point actually, that the rivalry does not come from us — why would I care about Ian McEwan? — the rivalry comes from them, and it is not necessarily about the sales, it’s about something else, it’s about this: that they know in their heart that we could write their books but they cannot write our books. That’s what it’s about. [emphasis mine]

When people ask me what I write I almost always reply, "crime fiction."  To me that most accurately describes the stories are generally write.  Some might be thrillers, some might be mysteries, but they all involve crime.  Even my two science fiction novels were essentially crime novels.  I won't even get into the distinction between thriller and mystery.  I find that I tend to read stories about the subject because I like to hear everyone's point of view.  For the purposes of the upcoming blogs it doesn't matter.  Just like it doesn't really matter in real life.  No one cares if you're a "literary" writer, "romance" writer or "mystery" writer.  As long as you're a good writer.  To quote Duke Ellington, “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.”  The same can be applied to writing.

Over the next few weeks I will present guest blogs from respected writers who tend to focus on one area or "genre".  Then we can let the debate begin.  In the meantime, please make sure you read the Esquire article.   I will be checking it like homework later.

Have a great Thursday.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

My Cinematic Life

James O. Born

I love to write, but I like to make movies too.  Just like Spielberg.  At least like the ones he made as a kid on a Super 8 camera.  Yes, my little videos are silly, but that's the point.  At least now I have better production values.

Check out the two short videos I made about training with a K-9 and then see some of my earlier work with such great actors as Micheal Connelly.

The last one is the first I ever made.  Literature and Lead said it all.  With bullets!

I'm in New York this week but will start up the writing blogs next week.

Have a tremendous Thursday.

Scent of Murder Teaser

Scent of Murder full vieo

Books and Bows

Literature and Lead

Friday, April 03, 2015

On Thin Ice

from Jacqueline

As readers of our blog know, at heart I am a country girl. I was born and raised in the Weald of Kent, a broad swathe of land so named for the ancient forests that once covered the whole region.  Weald is from the Anglo-Saxon word wald, meaning forest.  My childhood playground was the fields, farmlands and woods that will forever mean “home” to me.  

In a way, everyone was an environmentalist where we lived, even before we knew there was such a word.  The notion of recycling was alive and well – we took our newspapers and other card/paper goods to a place where they were sent for pulping again. We took our bottles back to the store, to be returned to the bottling plants, and many kids collected tin cans to take to the scrap yard – pocket money waiting to happen!  We had a compost heap in the garden, and “waste not want not” was a mantra that every child in our community grew up with.  If you didn’t need it, it wasn’t bought for you, and people took buses to get anywhere.  And even then, when I was a child, my dad predicted how life on our planet would change.

Those long summer evenings and weekends were the time when, as a family, we would go for endless walks across the fields with the dog, and we’d talk about all manner of things, but usually about our surroundings, about the land, the apple crop this year, and how the hops were coming along.  And we would talk about the past and the future, the two coming together as my parents shared stories of their childhood and listened to ours.  

My dad predicted that our fields and woods would be at risk, that one day there would be a supermarket where the stream curved into a meander here, and a shallows there.  We feared a gas station would take the place of the Big Climbing Tree, and a restaurant where the dewpond was nestled in a wooded glade, next to the Five Acre Field, which would become a parking lot. My dad told us that, really, development had to stop somewhere, that we were killing ourselves, we humans – and he’d add that it wouldn't be the first time, either.  “We get too big for our boots, that’s the trouble,” he said.

I think of those conversations a lot now, even as there are those who deny such a thing as climate change.  And though much is written on the subject, every now and again, another voice is added to the increasingly loud, argumentative conversation, and it is a quiet voice, a voice that tells a story, that weaves the personal with the universal and it has enormous power to touch hearts that grieve for that which is being lost.  Rotten Ice, writer Gretel Ehrlich’s recent essay in Harper’s magazine has barely left my thoughts since I read it on a ‘plane last week.  For over 20 years now she has, for extended periods of time, traveled to Greenland, living with Inuit people and traveling by dog sled with local hunters.  In the essay she catalogs how their lives – lived for many years in the same self-sustaining way – have changed and will continue to change; their experience of climate change is immediate, disastrous and heartbreaking.

You can of course read the essay yourself, and I would recommend that you do. But here are a couple of the elements in Ehrlich’s story that resonated with me.  Such modern inventions as snowmobiles are banned in Qaanaaq and Siorapaluk, the two oldest and most northernmost villages in the world; instead the locals hunt using dogsleds in winter and kayaks in summer.  Everything they take from the land – be it polar bear, narwhal or seal - is used, and nothing wasted.  Hunting across ice is a crucial part of their work, and the food gathered sustains communities throughout the year – yet now, instead of nine months of good ice, there are only two.  The ice is breaking up from beneath, and glaciers are calving icebergs at an unprecedented rate. Yes, you’ve heard it all, I know, but before you peel off to check your email, imagine this picture.  The Inuit people have untold respect for their dogs, because they depend on their dogs. The dogs get fed before the people on a hunt, and they are beloved, as one loves a working dog.  Can you imagine how it must be, to hear a hunter, one of your people, someone who only knows how to hunt and provide for his family and neighbors, weeping as the shots ring out and he is taking the life of every single one of his dogs because there is no ice to hunt on, therefore no food for family or dogs, and no other option in sight?  Can you imagine the men turning their backs when one of their number breaks down and beats a dog – because he has reached the end of his tether, and despair is so closely allied to anger?  We only hurt the ones we love, so the saying goes. 

And what has that to do with all of us?  Look and listen, we’re not far behind.  The east coast knows this.  New Orleans knows this. California knows this. Britain, hit by 100mph winds this past week, knows this.

Dr. Jason Box is the somewhat controversial American professor of glaciology at the Geological Survey of Greenland and Denmark.  While other climatologists might raise voices and frown to make their point, Box gets straight to it.  “We’re f***ed,” he said in August 2014, referring to evidence of methane being released from the Arctic floor.  And maybe that’s how we need to be spoken to now, just to shock us.  People and civilizations are dying due to an industrial machine that began walking all over the planet a couple of centuries ago, urged on by the great god, Consumerism.  We cannot run and we cannot hide, wherever we are.  But even if there is no time left to change the course of climatological events, we have time to adapt.  And maybe it does come down to this – a mindfulness about how we use our planet, each and every day, and how we contribute to either its strengths or weaknesses.  Preparedness is now. The fire is already burning, we can’t put it out, yet we need to work out how we can all live with the heat and sustain our earth.

Yes, I know it’s an old chestnut and we’ve heard it before – ditch the SUV, recycle the green waste, conserve water, lower the carbon footprint. And then there’s the other argument: “Why should I conserve – look at China!”  But you know, collectively, we’re like sulky kids being nagged to clean our rooms, aren’t we? “Yeah, I’ll do it in a minute …” or “But Billy doesn’t have to clean his room!”  Then we go out to play, and the mess is still there.

Ehrlich closes her essay with this.  “We have to stop pretending that there is a way back to the lush, comfortable interglacial paradise we left behind so hurriedly in the twentieth century.  There are no rules for living on this planet, only consequences.”

The Big Climbing Tree came down in the hurricane of 1987 – the devastating winds that were, arguably, Britain’s climate change wake-up call.  There was never a supermarket built in its place, and there is no gas station where the stream meanders, or any sort of building, because the land is privately owned and the current guardians have fenced off acres and acres of wood and meadow, so even the ancient footpaths can be walked no longer.  Part of me thinks that isn’t such a bad thing. The Five Acre Field is growing back into forest – probably for the first time since the Middle Ages – and the old stiles will break down and mulch into the earth, as we all will in time.  My dad predicted that, eventually, the human race would destroy itself with its unstoppable destructive hubris.  We would laugh at him. “Oh Dad, there you go again.”

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Scent of Murder

James O. Born

Next week my newest novel, Scent of Murder will be released by Forge/MacMillan.  It's been a long time since I really promoted a release.  I was spoiled by working with Lou Dobbs on my last book because he did all the promotional work from his TV show.  It was great.

I like talking to people and doing book signings, but sometimes all of the other stuff can become overwhelming.  (Ask Jackie and her current tour for the fabulous A Dangerous Place: A Maisie Dobbs Novel )
In the end it's all worthwhile.  I'm proud of the book and happy it's coming out.  That's really the bottom line.  And I'm lucky to have this blog and all my friends who write for it and read it for support.

If you get a chance to share any of these photos or the cover, I would appreciate it.  That's how the word gets out.  I've heard several authors say you win over readers one at a time.  In order for readers to become aware of you they need to see something about your books that interests them.  Maybe it's the subject matter, maybe the author bio or maybe something odd like the research you put into it.

I said before on this blog that I've talked to a lot of dog handlers to understand exactly what goes into a police K-9 unit.  I've gathered enough information for a dozen books if everything works out right.  I've also changed the tone from my earlier novels to focus more on the dogs themselves rather than just the police work.  I'm hoping the book appeals to both dog people and people interested in the intricacies of law enforcement investigations.

The next month promises to be filled with a lot of interesting events.  Aside from the book signings I will be at the University of Central Florida book Festival on April 17 and 18 And the South Carolina book Festival in mid-May.  Both of those stops include teaching a work shop on how to write a novel.  And I will referred to my blogs over the past year quite a bit during the class.

The Palm Beach Historical Society is hosting me on April 15 in the historical old courthouse where my father sat as a circuit judge for many years.  I'm speaking at the popular Writers Live program hosted by the Palm Beach County library system on April 22 at the West Boynton branch.

I will be traveling to New York and several other stops around the country, but the bulk of my energy will be in my home state of Florida.

Just using the blog as a chance to talk about my new novel and show off a few photographs from my research.  My thanks to the Jupiter Police Department for informing me with K-9 "Jimi" and my friends Tony Martindale and Frank Finelli for filming it.