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Posts tagged with: CHASE ME

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes….

ID-10079614In my day job, I’m a technology process analyst, and one concept I accept as inviolate is that processes evolve and change over time, and become more efficient, as we learn from past performance. As I sit down to plan my fourth manuscript, I want to share some of the ways my writing process has changed since I started my first manuscript some six years ago, and what I’m doing now to try to get out of the starting gate a little faster.

Did you notice that sneaky four-letter word? That’s right – as I plan to write my fourth manuscript.

In early 2007, I got an idea for a story I wanted to tell, a world I wanted to build, a series I wanted to write. I sat down and just {{shrug}} started writing, as new writers tend to do. Nearly two years and many revisions later, I typed THE END on a 136K-word (!) paranormal romance. Yeah, pieces of it were a hot mess, but it must have had…something, because after yet more revisions the manuscript won a Daphne, was named a Golden Heart finalist, and sold in a three-book deal. My acquiring editor, Deb Werksman—who read the whole flipping manuscript, bless her heart—must have seen the trees for the forest, because she made some very practical suggestions about how to prune away the brush, which branches to cut, in order to focus in on the romance.

Focus. Planning. Efficiency. That’s what this post is about.

Look, we’re all busy people. No one has time to write characters who don’t drive the plot, settings we don’t need, scenes we have to delete, words that ultimately don’t serve our story. Over several books, my writing process has slowly but steadily shifted away from pantsing toward plotting. By putting some conscious thought into what I want to write before I write it, my stories have more clarity, are produced writing fewer drafts, and require less revision. Being I write very, very slowly, I have to eke out efficiencies wherever I can.

So here are some things I’m trying this time around to give myself a better chance of writing it right the first (or maybe the second) time.  As always, your process may vary. ;-)

Know my characters, inside out and backwards – I come at a story through character, and develop the plot from there, so it’s really important that I know my major characters’ goals, motivations, and sources of internal and external conflict, very early in the writing process. I need to know their back stories, their issues, their romantic histories, how they see the world, what they show to the world, and what they hide and why. I want to know about their family of origin, their interests and occupations, where they live, what they drive. I need to have a good sense of their physicality, how they move. Finally, and most essentially for plot development, I need to know the problem each character is trying to solve at the beginning of the story, completely independent of the romantic relationship, with particular focus on the villain, since he or she catalyzes so much of the action.

World-building details – I write paranormal, so I have to have a good sense of the world I’ve created, and in the specific strengths and  vulnerabilities of the species I’ve created, so I can mine these details for conflict and plot points where there are opportunities to do so. My first book, TASTE ME, featured a control-freak incubus hero who absorbs emotional energy for sustenance, and a siren rock star heroine who manipulates and amplifies emotional energy with her voice. Their very physiologies created conflict. My second book, CHASE ME, paired a laid-back, half-blind were-shifter hero with a hyper-physical, hyper-sexual Valkyrie heroine. My third book, as yet untitled but releasing later this year, pairs a hedonistic incubus sculptor with a guilt-ridden, human hacker heroine. This fourth book? Two vampires: Tia Quinn, a wild-child investigative journalist, and Wyland, the staid Vampire Second. Being this book’s hero and heroine share the same basic physiology, I needed to explore other factors as sources of romantic conflict and to drive the plot (strength/weakness, youth/age, political necessity vs. power of the press, and their wildly divergent worldviews). Why yes, I am consciously and coldly crafting these characters so they have wildly divergent worldviews, right out of the gate. Why? Because it ratchets up the conflict. Because it creates endless plot possibilities. Because I can.

Continuity/characters –  When writing a series with recurring characters, and with published books out in the world, continuity is a perpetual concern. In a previous blog post about writing a series,  I mentioned creating a series bible or playbook. I’ve already used it planning this book, and I’ve also noticed some new things I need to add.  Tia, Book Four’s heroine, had a short scene in TASTE ME, where I described her from the hero’s POV as having a curvy, knockout body and precision-cut blond hair. Book Three’s Rafe and Bailey both have blond hair. Wyland, Book Four’s hero, has blond hair. That’s…WAY too much blond hair. I felt a need for some contrast, if only so the covers look more interesting! Thanks to some brainstorming with Ruby Anne Marie Becker in the chat room last month, Tia, who, um, changes the color of her hair for fun! Yeah, that’s the ticket! has a fresh, merlot-colored ‘do. Thanks, Anne Marie!

Continuity/series arc – One cool thing about writing a series with a recurring cast of characters is that you don’t have to say goodbye to a previous book’s hero and heroine after you type THE END in “their” book. You can continue to torture them! Planning-wise, I need to keep track of what’s happening in all these characters’ lives, especially facts I’ve committed to the printed, published page. As a short-term solution, I’ve created a list called “Coming into this story…” to remind me what’s happening in the lives of all the characters in my little world, and to consider how these facts might drive this book’s plot. Long-term? I think I feel another spreadsheet coming on…

IMG_0468Plotting – Finally! At this point, I have so many plot ideas banging around in my head I can hardly deal with it. I start a quick and dirty running list of all possible scenes: Tia is knocked out and left for the sun…Wyland delivers a baby…The Council chooses a human representative…etc. I’m a visual thinker, so I transfer these scene ideas to small Post-It Notes so I can start playing around with possible sequences and arcs. Some other questions I ask myself to help develop the plot:  How do the problems the hero, heroine, and villain are trying to solve at the beginning of the book evolve, morph and change throughout the story? What difficulties or surprises do they encounter along the way? What emotional journeys do the characters take? In the case of the hero and heroine, are these journeys compatible? How can I use the plot to expose my characters’ interior fault lines, and ratchet up the conflict? How can I inject some pathos into my villain? What do the major characters learn about themselves, and the world (THEME THEME THEME), as the story progresses?

Impose my structure -  I tend to write 20-chapter books, with each chapter being about 20 manuscript pages long and having two or three scenes per chapter, for a total of about 400 manuscript pages, which brings me in at about 90K words. Very engineer-ish of me, I know, but given my profession I come by it honestly. ;-) As you can see from my low-tech storyboard, above, I plot using a four-act structure, so each row on the page represents five chapters, or 25% of the book, with the end of each act corresponding to turning points, The Black Moment, etc.  When I’m done, each sticky note will represent a scene I need to write in order to drive the story forward in the direction I plan. That said, I definitely give myself flexibility to add, delete and adapt along the way.

Ask questions- As an engineer and as a writer, I feel one of the most valuable tools in my arsenal is asking, “Why?” “Why won’t Wyland drink from Tia?” “What’s the villain’s real beef with The Council?” I keep a list of these questions in a notebook under the heading, “Things I Don’t Know” and then do ten minute writing sprints for each to explore possible answers.  I’m rarely satisfied with my first answer, because it tends to be obvious, easy, superficial at best. I use a technique called “The Five Whys” to dive deeper, to try to discern the authentic origin of any conflict or motivation. I also keep a list of simpler WHAT questions in my notebook: “What does Wyland’s bedroom look like?” “What is the Humanity Chair’s work history?” “What do Tia’s eyes look like to Wyland?” I carry this notebook in my purse and knock off a question or two when I’m waiting for a doctor appointment or for a friend to meet me for breakfast. Or during Winter Writing Festival sprints. ;-)

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I had a startling thought not too long ago. Back when I was a software developer, I never would have dreamed of simply {{shrug}} starting to code – not without first having a solid understanding of the requirements I had to fulfill, how I’d go about fulfilling them, and what my desired end state was. Doing so would be wasteful. Expensive. Time-consuming. Frustrating.

lightbulbWhy would story-telling be any different?

Do satisfying stories happen by accident? Get pulled out of a vacuum, or out of thin air? Hell no!  It takes analysis, thought, awareness, knowledge – at least it does for me, at this point in time. This is how my engineer’s brain works. With each manuscript I’ve written, I’ve found more and more parallels between my technology work and story-telling. I’ve found a way to align my writing process with something I already understand how to do quite well.  The relief I feel is stunning.

One thing is certain: this process, too, will change, morph, evolve and hopefully improve over time. But right now? At this moment? I’m chomping at the bit. So, Book Four, Chapter One, Scene One? IT IS ON.

How has your writing process evolved over time? Which changes have you made, why, and how have they worked for you?

Award-winning author Tamara Hogan loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives in Minnesota with her partner Mark and two naughty cats. When she’s not telecommuting to Silicon Valley, she enjoys writing edgy urban fantasy romance with a sci-fi twist. A feral reader with an unapologetic television addiction, Tammy is forever on the lookout for the perfect black boots. Visit her on the web at www.tamarahogan.com.

Freeware image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphoto.net

What I’m Reading: Non-Fiction

That sounds awfully dry. Let me liven things up a bit:

What I’m Reading: GIRL CRUSH EDITION! <3<3<3

Ahem.

I always have a couple of  books going at a time – fiction for the bathtub and before bed, and non-fiction for the couch/living room. Recently, I read non-fiction books by two amazing women who make what I think are important observations about solitude.

Sherry Turkle, professor of computer culture, Chair of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, and author of The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit and Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, recently published Alone Together:  Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.  In this thought-provoking read, Turkle brings over three decades of experience in the technology and robotics trenches to examine human identity, and technology’s effects on our lives over that time. She is very much a digital anthropologist, holding up a mirror to humanity’s interaction with technology and asking some very provocative questions:

  • What does ‘being present’ mean when we ignore those sitting next to us to focus on our gadgets?
  • Where does creativity come from if there’s never an opportunity to experience true solitude?
  • If it’s always possible to be in touch, when does one have the right to be alone?
  • How can self-reflection occur when we have little opportunity for uninterrupted thought?
  • How do children develop self-reliance when Mom and Dad are always a text message or cell phone call away?

Turkle did a TED Talk earlier this year that might give a taste of where she’s coming from. (Approx. 19 mins). Basically, I think she’s acknowledging that despite technology’s many wonderful gains, we, as humans, still yearn for something coveted and ever-more rare…someone’s undivided attention.

Now, to a book I just re-read due to its never-ending awesomeness: Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”  If introverts needed a spokesperson – and dang it, we probably do, because we’re not at all likely to toot our own horns – Susan Cain is a very engaging choice. In this highly readable book, Cain delves deeply into the subject of introversion through the lens of psychology, brain chemistry, neuroscience, corporate leadership studies, and personal anecdotes, and compellingly reveals “the advantages and potentials of being quiet in a noisy world.” As Cain notes, introversion isn’t about shyness, it’s about how a person responds to social stimulation. Extroverts tend to find crowds, noise, parties and conferences (!) energizing, but introverts – one third to one half of us! – can find these events quite draining.

I highly recommend the book, but I think I’ll let Cain speak for herself. This TED Talk from earlier in 2012 might be the most significant learning experience I had this year, and I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve forwarded the link to.  (Approx. 19 mins)  (Have you heard about Ted Talks?! Check them out! )

Cain’s description of reading quietly with her family made me melt, and her boots are just killer.

As writers, many of us are introverts, and the fact that we frequently complain about the impact of digital distractions on our productivity means we’re quite aware that stretches of solitude, of uninterrupted thought, are crucial ingredients for creativity. I have long known I’m a MASSIVE introvert, a shade-loving plant, and, as Cain explains in the video, I’ve definitely felt the sting of others’ perceptions. “Odd.” “Anti-social.” “Luddite” – which gives me a giggle because I’ve worked in technology for 25 years and have email addresses older than most college students. “Marching to the beat of her own drummer.” Weeeell, that one’s pretty darned accurate.;-)

But you know what? After reading Turkle’s and Cain’s books, and listening to them speak, I don’t feel quite so alone with my very similar concerns. Instead, I feel like I’m in very good company indeed.

Do you have any thoughts about the videos, or the questions Turkle poses?

What are YOU reading right now? Any girl crushes you’d like to reveal? 

Psst!! Just in time for Christmas, my award-winning Underbelly Chronicles debut, TASTE ME, is a 99-cent Kindle Big Deal through 12/22.  Nook users, B& N has price-matched.

 

Award-winning author Tamara Hogan loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives near Minneapolis with her partner Mark and two naughty cats. When she’s not telecommuting to Silicon Valley, she enjoys writing edgy urban fantasy romance with a sci-fi twist. A feral reader with an unapologetic television addiction, Tammy is forever on the lookout for the perfect black boots. Visit her on the web at www.tamarahogan.com.

 

 

Social Media Agita

For authors, it’s pretty much de rigueur to promote our work, and engage with our readers, using social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter. But for many people in the information technology field, willingly supplying personal information to any third party unless it’s absolutely required is…unthinkable. Anathema. Gets you sprinkled with loser dust.

Being both an author and a technologist, social media is a subject of massive personal agita for me.

My native mindset is that of the technologist: security and risk focused.  I have an innate personal desire for silence and privacy, near-zero socialization needs, am massively introverted, and have an ongoing challenge with digital overload…add growing up Scandanavian and Lutheran in Minnesota, where, as Garrison Keillor says about Lake Wobegon on A Prairie Home Companion, every child is above average, so there’s no need to go tooting your horn, little missy. Is it any wonder social media and promotion are not exactly natural fits for me?

And then there’s the physical safety issue.

There was an unfortunate incident recently that brought all this agita to the forefront:  a literary agent recently reported having been assaulted by a disgruntled author. As an assault and stalking victim myself, reading this story made my stomach plummet to my feet like an elevator in free-fall. As a technologist, I found the divergent attitudes toward social media to be rather eye-opening. From the story:

Van Hylckama Vlieg said the incident taught her to be more cautious about her job and social media usage. Until the incident, she had been a keen user of the location-based social networking service Foursquare, often sharing her location in and around her daughter’s school, where the attack took place.

“My husband works for Yahoo,” van Hylckama Vlieg says. “A lot of people who work in tech[nology] circles tend to be more open [with their information].”

I found this comment startling. It doesn’t align with my experience of technologists at all. Several commenters expressed similar views:

The IT people in my family are absolutely paranoid about the internet…constantly warning us all not to put anything out there at all. They don’t use any social media – no Facebook, no Tweet, no nothing. They even refuse to order stuff online using credit cards and each have several email addresses not using any variation of their names. -- Susan of Wales

Same with mine. My father’s in Information Security…he’s the most paranoid person in my family about sharing information over the internet. No addresses, alias when I post something (sometimes) and never do things like tell my age and stuff… I know very few IT people that are open with their information on the Web. – Mercy Grant

Being a successful author today pretty much requires that you reach out to readers, reviewers, and other writers using digital means. But what do you do when the requirements of the author’s job utterly collide with beliefs and behaviors forged by decades of professional experience and personal inclination?  From the technologist’s perspective, I’m a clueless loser if I willingly feed the digital maw with likes, tags, tweets and clicks, or provide more personal data than I absolutely must. From an author’s or publisher’s perspective, I’m a paranoid loser if I don’t.

Sometimes my brain feels utterly cleaved in two.

It’s a struggle for me to try to explain to friends and loved ones exactly why so many technologists are so rabid about data privacy. It’s challenging to talk about such a complex subject in a meaningful way without a shared vocabulary. How do you condense a career’s worth of knowledge, experience, research and concern into a casual conversation, or into a blog post? Where do you even start?  (I tried: “Ten Things You Can Do To Reduce Hack Risk” Part 1 and Part 2) Technologists are concerned because we simply don’t know who can access, use, buy or sell our personal data, now or into the future. We don’t know how our personal data might be used. The law is about fifteen years behind technology here – the last significant update to the Telecommunications Act was made in 1996 – so in the absence of meaningful and appropriate consumer protections, we choose to protect ourselves.

I try to make what I hope are informed compromises. Writing under a pseudonym has been very helpful for this purpose. Tamara has a Facebook account and fan page; Tammy doesn’t. Tamara has a Twitter feed; Tammy doesn’t. Yes, Tamara and Tammy share computers, ISPs, IP addresses, and other technological trackables, but the risk of any one individual having enough interest, time and skill to connect the digital dots between Tamara and Tammy is relatively low—not zero, mind you, but low. Making a mental distinction between Tamara and Tammy helps me navigate this risk more productively.

Like the children of Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, I want to be above average in everything I do, but when push comes to shove, Tammy’s concerns will always trump Tamara’s. Always. This means that Tamara, who writes and sells books, pays a price. She doesn’t always hold up her end of the bargain, promotion-wise.  She isn’t above average – at least as far as sales go.

And that realization really, really stings.

Do you ever experience social media agita? If so, what do you do about it?

Award-winning author Tamara Hogan loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives near Minneapolis with her partner Mark and two naughty cats. When she’s not telecommuting to Silicon Valley, she enjoys writing edgy urban fantasy romance with a sci-fi twist. A feral reader with an unapologetic television addiction, Tammy is forever on the lookout for the perfect black boots.

CHASE ME Buy Links: (Amz | BN | Sourcebooks | Powell’s | BAM | Sony |  Kobo | iBooks)

Website | Facebook | Twitter            

“Gabe. Where can I get me one of him? Sexy and smart? That is a diabolical combination that left me wanting to hunt down this man and make him my own.”  – Redheads Review It Better

“It’s sweet. It’s fun. It’s downright naughty. I can’t wait to see what pairing gets their book next.”  – Pure Textuality

 

 

 

Adventures in Series Writing

I just turned in my third Underbelly Chronicles manuscript, TEMPT ME, which some Ruby readers might remember us referring to in Comments late last year as “the religious woman and the sex demon.” Reformed hacker Bailey Brown is one of two humans alive who knows that “first contact“ already happened, that humanity has secretly shared its home with extra-planetary species for millennia. Though this knowledge still serves up the rough existential moment here and there, her own spiritual foundation was rocked long ago, when, after her arrest, her preacher father disowned her, denouncing her as a sinner. Already carrying enough baggage to fill a cargo hold, Bailey doesn’t know what to do with her unwavering attraction to her boss’s brother, sculptor Rafe Sebastiani—a real-life, honest-to-goodness sex demon.

My editor is reading the manuscript right now, so I figured it might be a good time for me to do some writerly housekeeping—to think about and flesh out the series arc, to update my Master Character List, to refine my world-building materials, to reacquaint myself with the characters I’ve left on chessboard plot-wise.  With a shudder, I sucked it up and re-read TASTE ME and CHASE ME, with an eye toward documenting physical descriptions and such. Which “facts” had I committed to on the printed, published page?

Holy Continuity Errors, Batman! In TASTE ME, I stated that Rafe’s given name is Rafael, not Raphael as my Master Character List says. (Easy but essential fix.) Hmm, apparently Bailey was incarcerated for a short period of time, not merely sentenced to parole. (Oops.) Bondmate or bond mate? Minicomp or mini-comp? How many floors does Sebastiani Security have again? (Four, not five. Whoops.)  Crackhouse Coffee, or Crack House Coffee?

The things you forget if you don’t write them down! Like *GULP* your first hero’s eye color! Lukas, I’m so, so sorry.

I knew if I didn’t invest some time updating my series and world-building materials now, I’d make more mistakes later on, so I’ve temporarily set aside research on my fourth book to update the following:

Master Character List:  I come at my stories from character, so this list was the very first document I created when building the series’ world starting back in 2007. Every character mentioned in every book, no matter how minor, appears on this list. For each character, I track name, age, species, occupation, some key information about their back story, their GMC if they have them, and every specific physical trait I committed to on the page. I’ve expanded this document to include which cars they drive, where the characters live, and which Underbelly Chronicles books they’re seen or mentioned in.

Series Arc: The Underbelly Chronicles is plotted as a nine-book series, with each book following a hero and heroine as they solve a mystery or battle a villain, with each book building up to a final battle with the series’ Big Bad in Book Nine. The series arc hasn’t changed significantly from the original proposal, but now that I’m three books into the series, I have a deeper and richer view of how certain characters can drive certain books’ plots. A couple of supposedly minor characters are living MUCH larger on the page than I ever anticipated, yielding plot possibilities I hadn’t previously considered. I also have an opportunity to respond to reader feedback by introducing possible love interests for characters I hadn’t originally targeted for an HEA. I want to nail as much of this stuff down as I possibly can, NOW, so I can lay a stronger foundation for more complex future stories.

World-building – Origin Story: The series’ origin story is that about 4000 years ago, a spaceship cruising past Earth crashed in northern MN instead of reaching its intended destination. Hopelessly marooned, the passengers — incubi and succubi, vampires, sirens, werewolves, faeries, and Valkyrie — managed to survive a hellish first  winter and started repopulating, making a conscious decision to leverage humanity’s propensity for myth-making to help them hide in plain sight. The series is mostly set in present day Minneapolis, location of the privately held technology conglomerate Sebastiani Labs, whose secretive Board of Directors doubles as the extra-planetary species’ ruling council. The crash scene was the very first one I wrote, over five years ago, and given Book Four’s role in the series arc, I think I finally get to use it!! Wheee! But reading the crash scene now, through the lens of the identity of the series’ Big Bad? Whoa, I have so many more questions – and there are so many new possibilities!

World-building – Species: Each species in the series has a certain set of biologically-based strengths and weaknesses, and with each romantic pairing, I try to mine those strengths and weaknesses for conflict, particularly romantic conflict. In TASTE ME, I paired up Lukas, a control freak incubus who must absorb emotional energy for sustenance, with Scarlett, a siren rock star who interprets and amplifies the emotional content of music with her voice . In CHASE ME, I paired up my hyper-physical Valkyrie archaeologist Lorin with genetically damaged werewolf geologist Gabe. In TEMPT ME, I pair up Bailey, a human tech savant with a guilt complex a mile wide, with Lukas’s brother, Rafe, an incubus sculptor with a reputation for hedonism even among his kind. (Can you say “issues?”) In Book Four, I have a different kind of hero/heroine challenge—two vampires. Physically, the hero and heroine have the same strengths and weaknesses. So I’ll have to delve into some messy emotional ground here for sources of conflict.

Settings:  Writing down setting details just hasn’t been on my radar. So far, most of the Underbelly Chronicles takes place in the Twin Cities Metro area, with the Sebastiani family cabin, Lorin’s archaeological dig, and the Arkapaedis’s original crash site located in northern Minnesota.  But as the number of books and characters grows, and the same buildings and locations get referenced in multiple books, fine details like how many floors Sebastiani Security has, and what the Sebastiani Labs boardroom looks like, were getting lost in the shuffle. I’ve started a Settings spreadsheet, and I’ve also mapped all the series’ locations and residences. This map hangs on the wall of my home office.

Themes: Having re-read all three of my books in a short period of time made me aware of some running themes in my work: Friends are the family you choose. Living outside the traditional strictures of society. Data can be fallible, as can health.  To me, theme is at the heart of the writers’ admonition “Write what you know” and I’ve definitely used these themes to inform my world-building. I’m sure more themes will become apparent to me as time goes by, but now that I’m aware of theme, I’ll write ‘em down.

So much to keep organized! I’m starting to get a better feel for why it takes me a whole year to write a book! But…OMG, Ruby readers, what if I hadn’t listened to that pesky inner voice, noticed that hair standing at the back of my neck – those signals that said, “Re-read your books. NOW!” What if I’d stayed heads-down in Book Four research instead, and hadn’t discovered those continuity errors in time to fix them?

So…lesson learned…occasionally taking a few hours away from the WIP to update my series materials and keep myself organized is an investment in my work, not a distraction from my work. It is important. Worthwhile. Essential.

When you’re working on a project, how do you keep your materials organized? Scrivener users, any insight into whether the package helps organize things at a series level? 

Award-winning author Tamara Hogan loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives near Minneapolis with her partner Mark and two naughty cats. When she’s not telecommuting to Silicon Valley, she enjoys writing edgy urban fantasy romance with a sci-fi twist. A feral reader with an unapologetic television addiction, Tammy is forever on the lookout for the perfect black boots.

CHASE ME Buy Links: (Amz | BN | Sourcebooks | Powell’s | BAM | Sony |  Kobo | iBooks)

 Website:         www.tamarahogan.com

Facebook:       https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tamara-Hogan/232541540189788

Twitter:           https://twitter.com/#!/TamaraHogan1

Goodreads:     http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/4866483-tamara-hogan

 

 

Favorite Romantic Heroes

Today, I’d like to gush a little bit about my favorite romantic heroes.

I read my first romance novel when I was ten years old. (There was no such thing as YA back in the day!)  I was a very precocious reader, blasting through everything of interest in my library’s children’s section in record time. After finishing Little House, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden series, I took a 90’ turn into the adult stacks, and never looked back.

Over six thousand books later, over half of them romance novels, there are some romantic heroes that have a permanent place in my mind and heart. Though I won’t even TRY to select a favorite Argeneau, Troubleshooter, Carpathian, Bridgerton, Rohan, or Black Dagger Brother, following are some of my all-time favorite romance heroes. In no particular order (until we reach the Top 3):

Morgan Trayhern (Return of a Hero by Lindsay McKenna) – McKenna excels at writing military heroes, and in this, the final book of her late ‘80’s Silhouette Special Edition “Love and Glory” series, self-sacrificing Marine captain Morgan Trayhern is one of her most riveting.

Dmitri (Archangel’s Blade by Nalini Singh) – In this, the fifth book of Singh’s stunning Guild Hunters series, we see the heat and protectiveness hidden under Dmitri’s lethal surface. Archangel Raphael’s chilly vampire enforcer finds love, fighting  every step of the way.

Sebastian Wroth (No Rest for the Wicked by Kresley Cole) – In this delightful and quirky entry in Cole’s Immortals After Dark series, self-loathing vampire Sebastian enters the Talisman’s Hie, a brutal Amazing Race-type competition for immortals, to win Kaderin the Cold- Hearted’s love.

Jericho Beaumont (Heart Throb by Suzanne Brockmann) – Jericho, a talented actor and former “Sexiest Man Alive” until addiction caused his very public downfall, is now in recovery and ready to make a comeback. His leery producer, Kate O’Laughlin, has to decide whether she can trust him with her movie, and her love.

Hawke (Kiss of Snow by Nalini Singh) – In this, the latest book in Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, Snow Dancer wolf pack alpha Hawke, having lost his fated mate in his youth, has to come to terms with his uncomfortable and inconvenient feelings for the young, beautiful and fragile Sienna Lauren…who isn’t so fragile after all.

Dean Robillard (Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips) – when professional quarterback Dean has to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a beaver-costume-clad woman walking alongside the road, he never dreams he’s meeting the love of his life—even if she thinks the Dolce & Gabbana boots he’s so proud of are ‘the gayest things she’s ever seen.’

Finn Rorkken (Moonstruck by Susan Grant) – The kickoff book in Grant’s Tales of the Borderlands series introduces us to Finn, commander of the fearsome Drakken Horde, who looks to me—and to several of the book’s Earth-born characters—like Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Jack Sparrow. (Drool.) Under the terms of an intergalactic peace treaty, Finn agrees to work as second-in-command to his former enemy, war hero Brit Bandar—who he wants to both kiss and kill.

Raphael (Angels’ Blood by Nalini Singh) – in this first book of her edgy and lush Guild Hunters series, Singh introduces us to the fearsome and sensual Raphael, the powerful Archangel of New York, and his lover, the vampire hunter Elena Deveraux, who, though human, is more than his match.

Miles Vorkosigan (The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold) – 4’9”, pale, his body covered in surgical scars and with severe physical impairments causing him frequent pain, Miles intoxicates with his brilliance, confidence, humor and grace, working as a soldier and peacekeeper, taking extraordinary lovers across the galaxy—until the day he meets his Ekaterin. Sigh…  

And…drumroll please!

Roarke (…In Death series by J.D. Robb) – What can you say about the incomparable Roarke? Brainy, hot, powerful, lethal. A blue-eyed, Irish-accented billionaire who’s equally adept in the boardroom, the bedroom or in a back alley brawl, and who gives police lieutenant Eve Dallas an invigorating run for her money. It was like Nora read my mind when she wrote him, right down to the long black hair that he lashes back into a ponytail as he sits down to use his illegal, unregistered computers.

Who are your favorite romance heroes, and why? Which of your favorites have I left off the list?  Let ‘er rip!

 

Tamara Hogan loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives near Minneapolis with her partner Mark and two naughty cats.  When she’s not telecommuting to Silicon Valley, she enjoys writing edgy urban fantasy romance with a sci-fi twist. Her debut, Taste Me, won a Daphne award, and was named a WisRWA, Prism and Golden Heart Finalist.  For more information, please visit http://www.tamarahogan.com/

“Gabe. Where can I get me one of him? Sexy and smart? That is a diabolical combination that left me wanting to hunt down this man and make him my own.”  – Redheads Review It Better

“It’s sweet. It’s fun. It’s downright naughty. I can’t wait to see what pairing gets their book next.”  – Pure Textuality

Buy Links: (Amz | BN | Sourcebooks | Powell’s | BAM | Sony | Kobo | iBooks)

Chase Me

10 Ways To Reduce Hack Risk – Part 2

This post is Part Two of Friday’s post, “Ten Ways to Reduce Your Hack Risk Part 1.” Part One focused on passwords, click risk, and protecting your computer from viruses, malware and other digital gremlins. Today, the rest of the list… 

6. Open online accounts only as needed.  Everyplace we do business online, we leave personal data behind. The more places we leave our data, the more places there are for it to be stolen from. How many of us received an email from Zappos.com recently, informing us that their customer database had been hacked? How many of us received a similar email from TJ Maxx a couple of years ago, notifying customers that their credit card numbers may have been compromised? Every online account you create is potential hacking vector. To reduce your risk, only create accounts as needed. Consider shopping as a guest, especially if you don’t think you’ll be a repeat customer. Don’t store your credit card number with your account if you don’t have to. Provide the absolute minimum amount of data the form or website requires. Delete accounts you no longer need or use.  

To further mitigate your risk, consider using one credit card for online shopping, and another for your real-world activity. That way, if the credit card you use for online shopping is compromised and you have to cancel your account, you’re not dead in the water credit card-wise.     

7. Use extreme care accessing the internet over public wi-fi.  Public wi-fi, a staple of convenience at coffee shops, airports and hotels, isn’t necessarily as secure as you might think. It’s a fairly straightforward matter for an unscrupulous person to compromise a legit wi-fi network, or to create a new, fake wi-fi hotspot, (video, 5:00) which people then unwittingly use.  For those who use tablets or smart phones…have you ever thought about how many unknown wi-fi networks you connect to on a daily basis? We simply have no way of knowing how secure these networks are. Carefully assess convenience vs. risk here. Just because we CAN pay our mortgage while we’re at the coffee shop doesn’t necessarily mean it’s necessarily safe or smart to do so. You greatly reduce your risk by issuing such transactions from places where you have more control more over the network – like, at your house.   

I consider any work I do over public wi-fi to be insecure. I don’t access financial accounts, key in a credit card number, and try not to key in passwords unless I’m accessing the internet through a VPN tunnel, which creates a virtual private network and encrypts your data. If you need to access critical accounts from public wi-fi, seriously consider using VPN software. It provides a lot of protection for very little cost.        

8. Cloud security is a field in its infancy. Use care. Technically, there’s nothing magical or supernaturally safe about “the cloud.” While it’s very convenient to be able to store and access your data from anywhere you can log on to the internet, the cloud is still a server farm in some company’s basement, with access controlled by programs, policies, processes and people – some of which can be circumvented or breached. While some cloud-based services encrypt your data as a matter of course, this is not necessarily a widespread practice. Also remember that, depending on your method of access, you might be retrieving your cloud-stored data using a potentially insecure wi-fi network, which increases your risk.   

9.  About mobile devices and tablets… If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you’ve heard the accusations that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. hacked the cell phones and voice mail of British politicians, celebrities, crime victims, and members of the royal family. First line of defense for our mobile digital devices? Physical control. Put some thought into what a thief might be able to do with your mobile device and its apps should you lose your smartphone, or if your iPad is stolen. Ensure your mobile devices and your voice mail are password protected to the fullest possible extent. 

Viruses and malware can be downloaded to smart phones and tablets, too. Many of the same protection packages we use for desktops, laptops and netbooks are available in tablet and smart phone versions. Pay a visit to your friendly neighborhood App Store. Load up.    

The most recent volume of 2600: The Hackers Quarterly was all abuzz about QR code hacks—you know, those odd-looking black and white squares you swipe your smart phone across, taking you…where? QR codes take you a website, and unless you can translate  pixel, you can’t know if you’re being taken to a malicious one until it’s too late and your device is compromised. Again, check your friendly App Store for QR code scanners if you’re concerned about this risk. Being I have an extremely low tolerance for being marketed to, this isn’t a risk I’ll personally incur, but YMMV.  ;-)

10. Social media – there are several of layers of potential risk to watch out for when using social media tools:  

Information you knowingly share with other users, subject to your privacy settings: You might be surprised at how many people use some variation of a pet’s or child’s name as their password. Guess what one of the most common subjects people talk about on social media is? Kids and pets. Some of the information hackers use to crack passwords or phish you is unwittingly supplied by users themselves. One way to reduce this risk is to be a lot less specific about what you share on social media. Don’t mention family members’ names, upcoming vacations, your child’s activity schedule, or other absences from home. One current phishing scam targets grandparents who unwittingly reveal their grandchildrens’ names on Facebook. Pretty soon grandma or grandpa gets a panicky, static-filled phone call from someone claiming to be their grandchild, in desperate need of funds because they’ve been mugged, robbed or need bail money, FAST. Grandma or grandpa, perhaps hard of hearing, doesn’t want to admit to not recognizing their own grandchild’s voice, and sends the scammer money via Western Union or other wire transfer serivce. As older users migrate to social media tools in increasing numbers, this scam is on the rise.  

Information you may unknowingly share with other users: Pictures taken with phones that have onboard GPS or location capabilities sometimes have that information embedded in the picture’s digital file structure—and it’s a fairly simple matter for others to retrieve it if they want to. In addition, there’s a new generation of ambient social media tools and apps that uses your phone’s onboard GPS capabilities to broadcast your current location to other users of the tool who share similar interests, which I personally find creepy as hell. It probably surprises no one to learn that I keep my smart phone’s location tracking, GPS and wireless capabilities turned off until I explicitly need them.      

Information that the company who developed the social media tool collects, stores and uses, now and into the future:  With Facebook’s recent IPO filing, and Google’s change in how they manage their user privacy settings, people are becoming more aware of how companies collect, manage, store, and use our personal data. How are our activities tracked while we’re using their services? How will they use that data? Do they sell it to marketers? To data aggregators? Is personally identifiable information removed or not? What do their Privacy Policies and their Terms and Conditions or Terms of Service say they can do with our data? (You know, those tiny-print, endlessly scrolling documents o’ 6 point legalese that most of us don’t bother to read before blithely clicking the “I Accept” button?) For how long?

Just what are we agreeing to with that one tiny click? 

RTFM, dudes. Read the Terms of Service, read Privacy Policies, read the user guides that come with the products you buy. Though the federal government isn’t quite as asleep at the wheel on this issue now as they were even six months ago, the manner in which companies collect and use customer information is still largely unregulated. In the absence of any law, we have to protect our own interests. As always, knowledge is power.  

Companies don’t provide free coupons or programs or games out of the goodness of their hearts. We pay for these things with personal data. Every time we click on “Like”, click on a coupon, follow an ad, go to a website, issue a search, or register for a grocery store discount card with an email address, it’s tracked, aggregated, and cross-referenced (Facebook Is Using You). Chances are good that if you’re not paying to use a product or service, YOU are the product being sold. Personal data is the coin of exchange.    

Some – most – companies are scrupulous about how they use the data they collect, but despite any public relations message you might hear about how much a company “cares about your privacy,” it’s prudent to take these messages with a massive grain of salt. No database is 100% safe 100% of the time. Companies can and do get hacked. Some companies build their security infrastructure on the cheap. Companies release programs with known and unknown bugs, every single day, and despite people’s best intentions, some of those bugs can create security gaps large enough to drive a semi trailer through. Some companies’ day-to-day practices don’t conform with their stated policies. Some hackers seek employment at these very companies, exploiting vulnerabilities from the inside while their buddies do the same from the outside. 

Most people don’t have the skills or motivation to hack you—but unquestionably, there are some who do, and for the most part, it’s nothing personal. Hackers are increasingly organized, hosting their own conferences and gatherings, publishing their own magazines, and learning from each other in dedicated online communities. Some hackers seek bragging rights, others intellectual challenge, some want publicity, some have a political point to make or axe to grind, and still others are in it strictly for the money. There’s an active black market for stolen passwords, credit cards, and social security numbers.  

Yes, one person’s prudent is another person’s paranoid, but believe me when I say that people who have been hacked, stalked, been victims of crimes, or had their identities stolen take it very personally indeed. These individuals, of necessity, have a very different relationship with personal data than people who haven’t had these experiences. 

Whatever your level of risk or concern, I hope this post provided you with some new information you can use to manage your risks more effectively.

Questions? Comments?  Fire away! What are you concerned about? What actions have you taken to reduce your digital risk? Are there areas you think you need to punch up?   

The second book in Tammy’s Underbelly Chronicles series, CHASE ME, releases June 5, 2012 and is available for pre-order now! Follow Tammy on Twitter at @tamarahogan1, and visit her relaunched website, www.tamarahogan.com.

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10 Ways To Reduce Hack Risk – Part 1

A couple of years ago, I read an interview with a digital security professional who said, “There are only two kinds of companies: those who don’t know they’ve been hacked, and those who won’t admit it.” Boy, have times have changed. The hacktivist collectives Anonymous and LulzSec are quickly becoming household names, and nary a week goes by where we don’t hear a story on the national news about a company, organization or government entity getting hacked, and their data – or their customer’s data – being compromised. We also see hacks personally, when friends on our writing loops ‘send’ typo-laden emergency requests for money, or messages consisting solely of a suspicious-looking link.   

There’s no way to completely eliminate our risk of being hacked, but there are some practical things we can to to reduce the likelihood that it happens, or to  mitigate the damage if it does.  

First, a necessary disclaimer: My professional experience is as a software engineer and technology process analyst. I am not a digital security expert. However, due to my professional background, and because of certain life events which I won’t go into here, I am unusually attuned to data privacy and digital risk management. I’ve also spent a lot of time researching hackers and hacker culture for my 2013 Underbelly Chronicles release, TEMPT ME, featuring a reformed hacker heroine and a not at ALL reformed hacker villain.

Know from the get-go that due to these experiences, my opinion is biased. My default position is defensive: to assume shenanigans, to distrust any request or transaction that I don’t initiate myself, and to question, and usually decline, all requests for data I don’t see as strictly necessary. One person’s prudent is another person’s paranoid; your degree of risk tolerance may vary.  

Second, an apology:  Due to length reasons – this is already going to be a two-part post – I had to assume a certain level of technical knowledge on the part of Ruby readers. I’ll do my best to answer any questions in Comments, but many of the words, phrases and concepts I use in the post are quite thoroughly covered online. I don’t know your individual needs, your configuration(s), or level of risk tolerance, so please make sure you independently assess any product or service mentioned in this post or comments.    

My intent with this post is to inform you of some practical things you can do to reduce your risk of being hacked, and to shine some light on things hackers are doing that you may not be aware of.   

10 Ways to Reduce Hack Risk – Part 1

In the digital world, there are two factors that we, as users, control—our equipment, and our behavior. As hacker and convicted felon Kevin Mittnick once said, “…there’s no patch for stupidity, or rather gullibility.” Hackers are doing some surprising things to exploit that gullibility, and our desire for speed and convenience.  To reduce your chances of being victimized, consider the following: 

1. Manage your security and privacy settings. Your operating system and browser provide a degree of control over which cookies get downloaded to your machine, whether you see pop-ups and adware or not, and over some of the data that gets collected about you as you tool around the internet. Explore these settings, and fine-tune them as you see fit. Pop-ups and adware are very productive hacking vectors, able to deliver viruses, trojans, spybots and other malware to your computer with a single click. Want to reduce your risk? Think before you click. Any link or ad that tries to manipulate you emotionally, or make you freak out about something, should be considered suspect.    

Some hackers target children with attractive pop-up ads: “Download FREE Justin Bieber Wallpaper!” or “Like Webkinz?” As soon as your child clicks on the ad, it downloads a keystroke logger, virus, or other piece of malware that puts the family’s data at risk. 

Just last week, I went to an admittedly-sketchy internet neighborhood to do some research, and sure enough, was confronted by one of those red, blinking, fake “We found an infection!” messages, supposedly produced by a name-brand virus protection program – one I know I don’t use. Suspecting that the box was a Flash animation rather than an authentic dialog box, and that clicking anywhere on the box, even on the so-called cancel button, would kick off a malware download, I crashed my computer rather than click. When in doubt, just don’t click.  

2. Use firewalls and supplemental virus/malware/trojan/bot protection programs. Your machine (or device) is an essential line of defense against hackers. Make sure yours is loaded up and ready for bear. No one tool or package can protect your machine from every virus, piece of malware, or digital gremlin that comes down the pike. Different programs catch different things, so running multiple packages in combination provides a higher degree of protection. In addition to your operating system, your browser controls and internet firewall, consider running supplemental pop-up and adware blockers, anti-virus software and malware and spybot detection programs. At least some of these supplemental programs should run ‘resident’, providing active protection whenever your computer is on. Check for and install recommended updates! In the case of my spybot program, it’s rare that even a week goes by without an updated detection package being released. This should give you a feel for how quickly new malware is being released into the wild.  

3. Choose “strong” passwords – and change them occasionally! Understandably, a lot of people choose passwords that are easy for them to remember—but if it’s easy for you to remember, chances are good it’s easy for others to guess, or for a program to crack. Use “strong” passwords. A “strong” password has a seemingly random combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters. You may have noticed that more websites and programs now ‘force’ you to create strong passwords by default. One approach to consider when creating a password is to choose an affirmation, a song lyric, or even the punch line to a joke, and then combine the first letters of each word into a password, throwing in an upper case letter, a number, or a special character somewhere along the way. The longer the password is, the more secure it is.  

For example: The refrain of a current Kelly Clarkson single contains the line, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Using the above technique, one possible password you might craft is: WdkYmYs*3.  Sorry for the earworm! ;-)  

Further mitigate your risk by using different passwords for different types of accounts. For example, use unique passwords to access your most precious data (bank, brokerage, and medical). Use another password for online accounts or shopping, and yet another for social media accounts. Using the same password everywhere might be convenient, but if someone manages to hack one of your accounts, then they’re all at risk. 

Teenagers sometimes share passwords as a digital expression of love and trust. Discuss the risks of this behavior with your child. Priority One after a breakup? Change passwords! Everyone should change their passwords at least occasionally. The longer you use the same password, the more risk you incurr.   

4. Be careful clicking links.  I think most of us know to not click on any link emailed to us by someone we don’t know, or a company we don’t do business with, but click risk exists elsewhere, too: in Facebook and Twitter links, in email supposedly sent from people we know, and in communications from companies we legitimately do business with. Unfortunately, hackers are getting really good at producing fake email notifications. I assume any email I receive from a company or corporation is a phish attempt by default. Disregarding the oh-so-convenient links supplied in the email, I go directly to the company’s website, log into my account, and initiate any needed action myself. I also… 

5. Download program updates directly from the vendor’s website. Many companies very helpfully notify you when a new version of their product is available, allowing you to download the latest and greatest by clicking a message bubble or an OK button. This is a vector that hackers are exploiting more and more frequently. Recently, on a hacker bulletin board, someone claimed to have deployed malware using a fake iTunes software update notification. The target, thinking they were installing a legitimate update from Apple, clicked on OK, and … whomp. To reduce this risk, download program updates directly from the vendor’s website. Any legitimate update will be available at the Download page.   

So, let’s talk risk – risks you’re knowingly or unknowingly taking, risks you want to mitigate, risks you want to prevent from occurring in the first place. What are you concerned about? What actions have you taken to reduce your digital risk? Are there areas you think you need to punch up? 

Part Two of this post, covering wi-fi, the cloud, social media and smart phones, will be available on Monday, Apr. 2.

 

The second book in Tammy’s Underbelly Chronicles series, CHASE ME, releases June 5, 2012 and is available for pre-order now! Follow Tammy on Twitter at @tamarahogan1, and visit her relaunched website, www.tamarahogan.com

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Write Ferociously!

We’ve been having a lot of fun, and getting a lot of writing done, during Sunday afternoon writing sprints held in the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood Winter Writing Festival chat room.   For those of you who haven’t had a chance to stop by yet, the sprints typically occur over a two hour time period, and within each half hour block we write for 20 minutes, then chat for10.

During the 10 minute chat, we share what we each accomplished (or not) during the 20 minute segment, and we also chat about a lot of other things. Sometimes people momentarily step out to caffeinate, to move a load of laundry from the washing machine to the dryer, or care for kids, pets and spouses. Sometimes we talk about the weather, character arcs, villains vs. anti-heroes, great workshops, and upcoming agent or editor pitches. On Super Bowl Sunday, we determined a) that it was perfectly OK to cheer for the Patriots solely because their QB is hotter and b) that we cared a LOT more about the Puppy Bowl than the Super Bowl. We debated the artistic merits, and relative hotness levels, of Van Morrison, Prince and Adam Levine. And did I mention that Tom Brady is hot.

On Super Bowl Sunday, one of the participants mentioned that she’d recently received a coveted “revise and resubmit” request from an editor at a publishing house. Woo-hoo! After all the hooting and hollering quieted down, she revealed that she felt… really, really nervous about it.

Of course!! Completely understandable. Those of us in the chat room understood perfectly. Receiving an R & R request is a very important milestone in a writer’s career. It means the author is past receiving “good rejections”, that an agent or editor sees very specific and marketable promise in your work, and is thisclose to taking you on as a client.

Or not.

It all depends on how well you execute the revisions.

Ugh! Maddening! Success is so close you can taste it!!  You’re afraid to get your hopes up, because being so close, it would hurt SO BADLY to receive the other dreaded “R” – a rejection. There’s no getting around it - rejection really stings.

In this situation, there’s a natural tendency to shift into self-preservation mode, to play defense, to take fewer risks so we don’t ruin our chances.  But what if by playing it safe we extinguish the very spark that the agent or editor saw in our work in the first place?

My opinion? This is not the time to lay down a safe, boring bunt!  Swing for the fence!

Put yourself in the agent’s or editor’s shoes for a minute. Say you’re evaluating two R & R requests, both competently written. Would you rather:

  • read a safe manuscript that follows all the rules but bores you silly, or
  • have to rein in an author who took some chances, maybe went too far,  but whose manuscript crackles with life?

As a contest judge, which manuscript would you rather read? 

I’m not really one for affirmations, but the picture I posted at the beginning of this post was taken in my home office.  “Write Ferociously” reminds me to be brave. To embrace my inner honey badger  (video  NSFW).  To trust that if I write too far out of bounds, my CP or my editor will yank me back.    

But dare to dance right up to the edge. Be memorable. Swing for every fence. Be “pretty badass.”

Write ferociously.

Are there affirmations you use to help navigate the twists, turns, detours and speed bumps you encounter along the road to publication?  Exactly what DOES success taste like, anyway?  Be specific. ;-)

<—  FIRST LOOK!

It’s been a long time coming, but TASTE ME’s follow-up, CHASE ME, is releasing June 5, 2012 – and is now available for pre-order!

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…and if werewolf geologist Gabe Lupinsky was in the habit of strutting around his employer’s parking lot wearing no shirt and a leather jacket, I have no doubt that he’d choose a classic style like this one. ;-)

(Fanning self)

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