Friday, October 30, 2009

Bigfoot, Alien Abductions, and Jesus’ Face on a Tortilla

I had hoped to write a timely Halloween blog about the scary creatures that live among us. When I was growing up, these stories graced the front cover of The National Enquirer every week. The paper was one of the few places you could find the in-depth scoops about the unnatural and freaky events happening in our world. Even the movie Men in Black touted the papers value, holding it as some of the best journalism on the planet. Excited about doing research for my blog, I trotted off the store and bought the newest copy. What a horrible disappointment.

The first disturbing thing I noticed was the cover. It looked like every other cover that flanked it. Movie stars in bathing suits. Movie stars locked in passionate embraces of other famous people. I would not have been nearly as disappointed if one of those celebrities had turned into a zombie and had eaten its film crew. But no, these were ordinary stars doing ordinary star stuff. Where were the predictions of Nostradamus? As a young girl, I used to pour over my grandmother’s copy of The Enquirer, trying to decipher the secrets of his prophecies. The cover held no mention of the world ending, or the dead rising, or Billy Bob’s neighbor turning into a werewolf. It’s almost Halloween, for crying out loud, where’s the horror?

As I flipped the pages, I became frantic looking for headlines like; ‘I GAVE BIRTH TO BIGFOOT’S BABY’, or ‘I SAW JESUS’ FACE ON A TORTILLA SO I ATE IT AND CLEANSED MY COLON FROM SIN.’ There was nothing, not a single mention of the half shark man, time machines, or a 100-foot sandwich. I also noticed a stunning lack of alien abductions, anal probes, and crop circles. They have all been replaced by story after story of too thin movie stars, divorcing movie stars, yoga gurus dishing the dirt on movie stars, and new mom movie stars who got their bodies back within 48 hours of giving birth. Sure these articles are scary, but they're not worthy of a Halloween blog. Thankfully, The Enquirer still had over forty listings for psychic hotlines in the back, but where were the hard-hitting scoops about the Batboy, or the prehistoric dinosaur caught in a lake in Alaska, or the 700-pound ballerina? I’m sorry to say, my friends, that those days are gone. The once solid icon of sensationalized journalism has sold out to the lure of Hollywood.

So when you need to know about the cannibalistic tribes of the Serengeti, the latest sighting of the Loch Ness Monster, or when the world is going to end, don’t bother looking to The National Enquirer for answers. The only thing you will find there is how to cleanse your colon just like the stars do.

Halloween Treats for All!

It's such a busy day today, I'm not sure where to start...

Today is Day 9, and the final day to enter the Cupcake Give Away hosted by Romance in the Backseat. Lots of great items being given away in the name of Breast Cancer Awareness. Juniper Bell and I (Morgan O'Reilly) are participating, so you could win one of our books.

Today is also the Halloween Hotties Blog Hop in which Tielle St. Clare joins the fun. Hop from blog to blog, comment, and you're automatically entered to win free books! Some of the authors have more give aways on the side, so be sure to read carefully. And of course, enjoy the eye candy. Fat free goodies galore!

Morgan O'Reilly
Get Some Tonight

Friday, October 23, 2009

Of Sense and Sensibility: Writing a Series

Just having left Mr. DZ’s Dinner on Route 66, this blog comes to you from the navigator seat of our Kia Sedona as my husband and I drive through the Arizona desert toward the Grand Canyon! After twenty-five years in Alaska, I am finally taking advantage of seeing America. Thank heaven for laptops and satellite connectivity. As a full time writer, I can work from anywhere, including a van doing 75 mph on Route 66! But I digress… this blog is supposed to be about the pitfalls of writing a series, not my life on the road.

Vamp Squad; The Series began as a single book about one particular member of a group of female undercover anti-terrorist operatives for the US government. My group of hot vamps were the invention of a mind that wanted to combine strong female characters, exciting action, hot romance, and the paranormal twist of vampires. I combined all of that with the need to kick the Taliban’s butt and came up with Strange Beginnings, the first mission of the newly formed Vamp Squad. And that was fine, until I got to the end of the book and wanted more… I wanted each of my lively and individual characters to have their own love interest and mission. Hence a series was born! Like any first time mother, I had no idea what I was in for.

I knew writing one novel involved knowing your hero and heroine intimately, doing your research well and adding secondary characters as the plot and scenes developed. But writing a series, holy moley! Strange Beginnings centered around Natalia and Yuri, and rolled out of my mind in a flurry of words and key strokes. I had no idea I would need to recall all of the little details I had built into their world and the intricate facts I had established with the first book. When Susannah, my fledgling nineteen year old, began screaming about her own story in my mind, I was at a loss to squelch the urge to write her book. Then came Monique, the French vixen and the coven’s mistress, Elizabetta. Lastly, quiet, stately MorningStar, my wonderful Native vampire urged her tale. It was only the beginning!

So, what color was the Colonel’s hair? Who was Natalia’s assistant? Where was Yuri originally from? Was Develin a captain or a major? Which bad guy died and which one will come back to haunt us? Where did Monique come from? Who turned Elizabetta? I was scrambling for the details and continually re-reading my own manuscripts. After a while, it’s amazing how much you can’t remember of the stuff you created and wrote! Sense should have told me to keep track of things. The sensibility of it was glaringly apparent, later on. As Susannah’s story, book 2, unfolded and I built more specifics into the history of the Vamp Squad, I found that I needed to edit some of the first book. And I couldn’t always remember who belonged to what car and the correct names of secondary characters that popped in and out of both books. I even spelled some names a couple different ways. What I did know was that if I got it wrong, someone would let me know when they bought the book and found the mistake (readers are great at that).

Thank God for the Emerald City Writer’s conference that came along about the same time as Susannah’s incessant yowling. I attended a workshop on writing a series and within forty-five minutes, figured out how to solve alleviate my problems. It’s called Continuity Profile and comes in a file (or three-ring binder) full of tabs, forms, timelines and other very helpful notes. I learned how to create and record a character profile (everything from eye color to favorite pets and ugly childhood memories), set up a master timeline of events and keep track of special notes cataloged by book, character, event, and timeline. It was a God-send. Though it took some time to create, especially after the fact, having an easy and quick way to look up information made writing subsequent books much more efficient and I spent less time wading through previous books looking for that one little fact from Book 1 that just happened to raise it’s ugly head in Book 4! I know the colonel’s hair is sandy blonde, Natalia’s assistant is the ever-vigilant Petra, Yuri is from Petropavlovsk, Develin is a captain and the bad guys all die. Except for… well, that would be telling now, wouldn’t it?

My series is into Book 7 and my gals are happy, but some of the more interesting secondary characters have begun to talk out of turn. When will it end? Probably never! A good series with fresh plots and great characters is like a little piece of home. There may be some new faces as the family grows, the places may have a different coat of paint or take on new elements, but the series will be there when you want another taste of the new and exciting but familiar in some aspects. Just like home, only with vampires and big guns…and missions to save the world, and fabulously hot romance. How could it be anything but fabulous with the Vamp Squad?

So here’s a little piece of advice from the one who did it the hard way. If you decide to write a series, develop a Continuity Profile right off the bat. Keep it updated and handy. It will make your life much easier and writing much more fun!

Happy hunting.

Miriam Matthews

To find out more about Miriam Matthews or see a sneak preview of Vamp Squad; the Series, go to

Monday, October 19, 2009

My First Conference

My First Conference

16 Days Before the Conference:

In less than three weeks, I will be going to my first writer’s conference. I can’t wait. I’ve been to conferences with my husband, he’s an optometrist, and may I sum up that experience with one simple consonant; “ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.” But, this conference is all about me, no kids, no husband, no dishes. I will be participating in a group pitch session. I hear that ‘it’s good practice.’ I understand this to mean that pitching is a painful, yet necessary right of passage in a writer’s life. Taking this to heart, I decide not to be nervous. I doubt the agent/editor will verbally flog me if they don’t like my story. I doubt I’ll be made to sit in the corner with a dunce hat on if my stories hook isn’t catchy enough, will I?

10 Days Before the Conference:
Today my focus is on my wardrobe. I’ve been an at-home-mom for a number of years and own very little in the way of ‘business casual’ dress. What I do own is nice, but over the last couple of years, I’ve stacked on a few extra pounds. I keep meaning to correct that situation, but every time I feel the impulse to exercise, my mind overrides it with the command to lie down and read a good book. I’ve tried joining a gym, where there’s nothing to lay down on, but my car is possessed. Instead of ending up at the club, I end up at Starbucks. The one near my house is inside of a grocery store. They sell doughnuts, not a good start to a workout. As the conference approaches, I must accept that I will not lose 40 lbs. within the next 10 days. I’m going to have to work with what I’ve got. I have learned that trying on clothes in my heightened state of fluffiness is like moving. I’m trying to cram all my junk into a container that can realistically only hold half the mass. Since my clothes are not going to conform to my more voluptuous figure, I’m going to have to get a bigger container.

One Week Before the Conference:
Appropriate apparel located! I tick that off my ‘To Do’ list. Now my focus moves to preparing the family for my absence. There is some innate need to make the world completely right before I exit the house. Why is this? When I’m at home the laundry is rarely caught up. You will never find precooked meals in the frig waiting to be reheated. Why do I feel the need to clean my house? Do I think it’s going to stay that way while I’m gone? I have two 8 yr. old, human tornadoes, able to destroy a room in a single pass. I will only be gone for three days. It’s not like they’re going to starve. Even if they didn’t eat the entire time I was away, they would still be alive when I got home. Heck, even the dog knows to drink out of the toilet when the water dish is dry. Maybe I’ll thaw some hot dogs.

1 Day Before the Conference:
Prior to any trip I take, I briefly entertain the thought that I will only take carry-on luggage. As I stand looking down at my big suitcase, I throw my head back and laugh. It’s filled with items to be donated for the basket raffle. This works out well since I’m quite sure I will be winning one of the baskets; donated items out, won items in. I may as well pack an extra pair of wongie-waistbands. There is nothing like putting on stretchy pants after a long day of conferencing. I cram my tennis shoes on top. Maybe the hotel has an exercise room. I pause, who am I kidding? I toss the sneakers back in the closet. I crack myself up sometimes.

The Conference and Home:
I’ve been home for five days and the conference high is wearing off. I’m exhausted and I still haven’t unpacked. Emptying my suitcase feels like the fun is over for another year. However, I have a lot to accomplish before next year’s conference rolls around. Four things have become my mantra for the next 365 days.
1. Write, write, and write. Get the story down on paper and stop obsessing. There’s always time to edit.
2. Let my voice shine through, which will happen, if I write.
3. Don’t get lost in the time suck of email, Facebook, Twitter, and a thousand other venues. Instead, turn off the internet and write.
4. Keep my butt in the chair. The refrigerator doesn’t need to be cleaned. The silverware drawer doesn’t need to be organized. I don’t need to try on all my old makeup until the pages are written. Focus on the goal. Write.
Okay, so there might be one reoccurring theme, but it’s an important one, write the book. The conference has shown me that I am capable of writing much more than I’ve required of myself thus far. Nobody is going to write my book for me. As-a-matter-of-fact, nobody but me really cares if I ever write a book. Family members still want to eat; the school still wants me to volunteer; and the dog still wants me to walk him. Nobody cares whether I sacrifice sleep in exchange for that hour of quiet writing time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Plotting the Window

As I ponder what to write for my very first blog, I keep getting distracted by the insulation contractor thudding up and down the ramp to my addition. Construction has consumed all my energy of late, and at the moment its hard not to be resentful of the time it has taken away from my manuscripts.

But even with all the physical activity, my mind is never far from writing. Take “pantsing” versus plotting and my recent experience installing windows. Windows require framing the opening just so. If you just wing things, you might need some serious rearranging before you can actually display to the world your shiny new glass. On my addition, when I lifted the first pane into place, I discovered the opening was an inch and a half too short.

It really stinks to put in a whole lot of effort only to discover that what you created doesn’t work and has to be chopped and hacked. Think sawzalls and chisels and the awful squeak of galvanized nails coming out of boards you were just sure would be stout enough to withstand the strongest Alaskan earthquake. They probably would have, but I had to rip them out. I still used the same opening, but it was a lot of work to rearrange king studs and cripples and header boards and the OSB siding I’d already installed. And my beautiful framing is now a mess. If only I’d plotted that window beforehand!

No one will ever know I went through all this by looking at the window. The trim and siding cover up errors on the outside, while sheetrock will eventually hide all the mistakes on the inside. But much like my first novel, I wish I had saved myself the effort.

On the other hand, each window you install gets easier and better. The second window I planned better, and it went much more smoothly, with only minor bubbles in the flashing and a few bent nails in the lip. By the time I got to my fifth and largest window, I was darn proud to have it on the front of the house.

And just like those windows, my fifth manuscript, February Trust, was pretty enough to place second in the Emerald City Writer’s Conference.

So I will keep writing. I will think of it like installing windows into imaginary lives. And someday, my manuscript will be skillful enough to be a pane of shiny new glass with a publishing house.

Until then, it’s back to the addition on my own house.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Criss-Crossing Conversations

When I began to write Maxwell’s Fall and Jackson’s Rise, I knew the books were going to be connected but even I was a bit surprised how intertwined the stories became.

A little background…Jackson and Maxwell are identical twins and werewolves. In the second book of the series (Summer’s Caress) you meet the twins and I enjoyed these characters so much, I decided they needed their own stories.

The two books begin with the exact same scene, just written from a different point of view. The scene phone call between the brothers. Each brother is hiding something from the other. Being twins (and werewolves), they sense something is wrong r and individually decide on an impromptu visit to see their twin. They cross in the air, one arriving Anchorage, Alaska and the other in Las Vegas, Nevada.

I could have stopped there. They’d ended up in their respective cites and barreled into their conflict (or it barreled into them). The stories would have been good written separately. Instead, the books became wrapped around each other. They occur in the same week. And there are several phone calls…between the books. It was like dialing across manuscripts. Jackson calls Mandy, Reign calls Max. Both sides of the conversation appear, but in their respective books.

For example, in Maxwell’s Fall, after experiencing a night of incredible sex with a man she believes is Jackson, Mandy receives a voice message from the real Jackson. He apologizes for the previous night and sounds distracted. Mandy is crushed. She thinks he’s apologizing for making love to her.

In Jackson’s Rise, you get to see what he’s apologizing for and find out what (or who) is distracting him.

The books were written at the same time and when a line of dialogue changed in one book, it had to be changed in the other.

It’s not necessary to have read Maxwell’s Fall to enjoy and understand Jackson’s Rise—the stories stand completely on their own—but it was great fun as a writer to incorporate both POVs in a scene. We rarely get to live the scene from more than one person’s mind.

Moment of blatant self-promotion…Jackson’s Rise comes out from Ellora’s Cave October 7, 2009. Check it out!

Have fun,

Friday, October 2, 2009

I Heart Writers Groups

Okay, so I'm moving. You know what that means: cramming my life into boxes, giving away half my possessions, filling out change of address forms, and in my case ... ((sob)) ... leaving my writers group! Yes, I'm going to do what I can to make it to meetings, but reality is, most of my Tuesday evenings will now be bleak and lonely. No more venting about plot points and query letters and contest judges who just don't get me. No more unconditional support and offers of chocolate after a rejection. No more celebrating after a contract offer.

Sure, my sweetie does his best. But he doesn't understand what we writers go through. And I'm pretty sure my babblings would eventually drive him insane. Should I pick out a handy birch tree that won't mind listening to me? Hire a teenager to nod sympathetically? Maybe provide a script?

No, nothing can replace a good writers group. Getting together with like-minded people who GET IT is like oxygen. I still remember how nervous I was when it was time for my first critique. I kept ducking into the bathroom hoping we'd run out of time before it was my turn. But my lovely critiquers came through. They gently pointed out "head-hopping" issues, but also made me feel on top of the world with just the right amount of praise. I left inspired, motivated, humbled, relieved, and chanting the mantra, "I love this group!" And then I read their work. OMG! So talented, so amazing, so diverse.

My group helped me learn how to be a writer, how to get my work out there, how to handle the ups and downs of this crazy business. Writing has to be the loneliest job next to long-haul trucking. And truckers get to hang out at rest stops. Maybe writers groups are our rest stops. Places where we can recharge, connect with others of our kind, and exchange war stories from the road.

Would anyone else like to give a shout-out to their writers group? Let's give our groups some love. Make sure they know how much they're appreciated. I LOVE my group, but it will be from a distance now. Thank God for the Internet, and Yahoo loops. And for the fact that I'll be close enough to make the trip once a month. Hmm ... it's a long drive ... maybe I should take up long-haul trucking. ;)