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Art, Music, and Emotion

As a stoic, unsentimental Scandinavian, it takes a LOT to make me cry in real life , but when I’m listening to music? Or experiencing some kind of art combined with music? OMG, someone pass the Kleenex.

Music alone reliably opens my emotional floodgates, but combining great music with another type of art can tip the experience to transcendent.  Today, I’d like to talk about art that makes us cry.

Apologies in advance for what will certainly be a video-heavy post. I hope you’ll be able to come back to this post when you have a little time, experience some of the art that tugs at MY heartstrings, and also share your own.

Dance

I’m a long-time viewer of So You Think You Can Dance, the competitive reality show that’s given so many dancers an opportunity to strut their stuff to the world. After the season is over, many of the Top 20 dancers deservedly make the leap from amateur to professional, but I find myself most emotionally impacted by the auditions – no, not the emotionally manipulative “up close and personal” sob stories, which I fast-forward past – but the performances themselves… just an as-yet-unknown dancer, interpreting a song through movement, in their own little world, before any famous choreographer gets their hot little hands on them.

The musicality of these two SYTYCD auditions literally brings me to tears.

After her audition, Melanie Moore , the eventual Season 8 winner, not only received a standing ovation from her fellow competitors, but was told by one of the judges that Zeus himself would invite her to dance on Mt. Olympus.

Moore is dancing to “The Meadow” by Alexandre Desplat, from the Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack.

Below, director/producer/choreographer and SYTYCD guest judge Adam Shankman gets a little verklempt watching Billy Bell’s audition. Adam wasn’t alone. (I’m a sympathetic crier, so this audition was a double-whammy.)

Billy is dancing to “To Build a Home” by the Cinematic Orchestra. Unfortunately Bell sustained an injury partway through the season and had to leave the competition.

TV

In my opinion, the last scene of the Six Feet Under series finale is the one of the most perfect pieces of television ever aired. In six sublime, fast-forwarded, largely dialogue-free minutes, we learn what the future holds for every member of the extended Fisher family as the youngest daughter, Claire, drives cross-country to start her first grown-up job. Given the Fishers run a funeral home, could the series really have ended any other way? Set to Sia’s “Breathe Me,” this scene and this song are forever entwined in my mind, combining to create a piece of art that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

FAIR WARNING: Some readers may find the montage’s subject matter – death – disturbing.

Music

Every morning when I sit down to write, I choose an artist, song, album, or playlist that I think will transport me to the emotional head space of the character whose POV I’m writing from that day. (Music is that reliable a tool for me; there are some pieces that make my eyes sting every time I hear them.) Here are Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson, joined by Jason Bonham on drums, performing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, with an arrangement I feel rivals the  original.

The chorus coming in at about 4:10? Talk about transcendent.

Books

You wouldn’t expect that reading a rocker’s memoir would provoke much of an emotional reaction, but Duran Duran bass player John Taylor’s 2012 memoir, In the Pleasure Groove, accomplished this rare feat. When Taylor described how his bandmate Simon LeBon sang “Save a Prayer” at John’s father’s funeral? Fellow Ruby Sister and Duran Duran superfan Vanessa B. and I both bawled like babies.

And finally, from my own work. In my 2009 GH finalist/2011 debut novel TASTE ME, I killed off a secondary character that some readers thought was developed strongly enough to get her own book – and yeah, it hurt.

In this excerpt, a siren choir sings Annika Fontaine home:

A burst of wind buffeted the small group as they assembled on the edge of the rugged cliff. Lukas instinctively leaned in to shelter Scarlett with his larger body. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed his father doing the same thing for Claudette as she stood in her family’s ancestral worship area like a poised ivory statue, her face locked in a rictus of control. In this thin, milky light, her hair looked more gray than red, and her mourning-white trench coat whipped around her legs. She cradled a fuchsia suede bag about the size and weight of a sack of sugar in both arms.

Her daughter’s ashes.

As opposed to her mother, Scarlett blazed with defiant color. She’d made no attempt to harness her hair, and it billowed behind her like a red sheet on a clothesline. Her calf-length wool coat was bright turquoise, her pink boots glowed, and her face was blotchy with tears.

Grief and sadness poured out of her like blood from a wound. Lukas clenched his jaw and held on to her hand as the siren choir gathered around them in a loose semicircle.

“Let us sing our sister home,” the Celebrant intoned. She turned her substantial body to the pounding sea and extended her arms to the sky and waves, singing the first haunting notes.

He thought he was prepared. He really did. But when the other women joined in… Jesus. Dissonant harmonies shrilled up and down his backbone, and he grasped Scarlett’s waist more tightly—whether to support her or to be supported, he didn’t really know. Scarlett was as much moaning as singing, her incomparable voice rising above the others as she extended her arms to the sea and tipped her head up to the sky. The collective mourning energy swirled above them like a whirlwind as the sirens sang the Fontaine family lineage, imploring the wind and the waves to accompany the brave siren Annika to her final resting place. Annika, daughter of Claudette, daughter of Signe, daughter of Siobhan, daughter of Siann, of Sorcha, of Catraoine. Of Sinead, Maire, Ceile, and Fiona. On and on, back through the generations, the sirens recited the names the unbroken Fontaine matrilineal line back to Canola, Goddess of the Harp.

It was now up to Scarlett to ensure continuity of the Fontaine line.

On and on the singing went, the sirens acknowledging sisters lost to history, sisters who’d protected their families and ensured their species’ survival by luring marauders’ ships into the cliffs with no weapon but their voices. Lukas surreptitiously popped an antacid and tried to distract himself by focusing on the waves pounding against the cliffs, the swooping gulls, the fall sumac blazing between the rocks, where the paparazzi crouched like fucking jackals. Something, anything, to distract himself from the taste of Scarlett’s saltwater mourning mixing with her mandarin essence.

How his seed boiled at the thought of fathering Scarlett’s child.

Finally, the plaintive song came to a close, and the Celebrant stepped back, gesturing to the churning water.

“I … can’t do this,” Scarlett whispered brokenly, the first words she’d spoken to him in nearly a week.

Lukas bracketed her chilly face in his warm hands, trying to pour whatever strength he could into her. “You can.”

She clutched his wrists with her hands for a long moment, her eyes locked on to his. Finally, she stepped away from the shelter of his body and joined her mother at the edge of the cliff. And as the other sirens chanted, “All that was…all that is…all that shall be,” they reached into the bag with their bare hands, casting Annika’s ashes to the wild, wild sea.

Oh yeah. That still makes me cry.

Is there a type or piece of art that makes you cry? Happy tears, sad tears, bittersweet tears? Feel like sharing?  

-tammy 

 

TamaraHogan_TemptMe_100px

TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, has been nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace

 

 

Really? Quality, Craft, and Reader Expectations

Darynda wins a RITA!

Darynda wins the first Ruby  RITA!

Today is the day that preliminary round scores for RWA’s RITA contest** are due, and I have one last book to score. I’ve read it three times, and it’s giving me fits.

What’s the problem, you ask?

How many points do you award “The Writing” when the book features beautifully descriptive language, deep and authentic POV work, evocative love scenes…yet contains dozens of grammar and spelling mistakes? When an author uses some of the most original metaphors and similes you’ve ever read, but the book is riddled with text formatting errors?

I hold such a book in my hands, and it’s breaking my heart.

I wish the RITA score sheet had a writing mechanics category so I could acknowledge the author’s obvious creative gifts, but draw her attention to the shortcomings with writing fundamentals. Immediately after making this wish, an insidious thought crosses my mind, one that makes me wince but whose truth I can’t deny: Prior to this year, when RWA opened the RITA contest to self-published books, writing fundamentals and text formatting issues…pretty much weren’t. Issues, that is. Writing mechanics and text formatting are generally quite clean in traditionally-published books. Sure, you might find a stray typo or two, or a missing end quote here and there, but most traditionally-published books are edited several times throughout the book’s production cycle, correcting these problems before the book is released.

The book that’s breaking my heart is a self-published book.

So (she reluctantly asks), where do self-published books fit in, quality and craft-wise? In my experience, it’s a really mixed bag – and the books I received in my RITA judging packet this year bore this out.

Of the eight books I received, four were self-published—including the book that received my highest score, woo-hoo!! But to my disappointment, the other three self-published books all had problems with grammar, typos/spelling, punctuation, misused homophones (there/their/they’re), verb tense, and other writing mechanics issues that made it challenging for me, an admitted Grammar Nazi, to even begin to assess other aspects of craft and story. Two of the three books had serious text formatting issues, perhaps more noticeable in print than in digital format. One had so much head-hopping I thought I’d get whiplash.

These issues really pulled me out of the story – and while your mileage may vary, that’s where my personal quality bar is set. If I get pulled out of the story, I start losing interest. If it keeps happening, I pick up my red pen. It definitely impacts my score. I think, “If I wasn’t judging this book for a contest, I’d stop reading now.”  If I’d paid money for the book, I’d return it for a refund.

Yes, a refund. Yes, I’m serious.

I’m self-published myself, and believe me, I’m wincing as I write this, thinking about glass houses and throwing stones, knowing my own work is far from perfect. I don’t mean to suggest that self-published books shouldn’t be eligible to enter the RITA, or that there aren’t some very good self-published books out there (as evidenced by my top-scoring book), or that some small press and traditionally-published books aren’t real clunkers. But judging this year’s RITA contest – judging a random set of  traditionally-published books and self-published books by the same criteria, in the same contest, side by side, for the very first time – led me to explicitly assess my quality and craft expectations, both as a reader and as a contest judge. The fact that I even thought about my quality expectations meant that some of these books were coming up short. I didn’t need an advanced degree in statistics or analytics to notice which set of books I was having problems with.

This made me sad.

When judging unpublished contests such as the Golden Heart, I expect to have to occasionally wade through typos, spelling/grammar errors, and wonky formatting to find the strengths in a story. But to experience this when judging the published division of Romancelandia’s premier writing contest? As Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers used to say on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update”…

 

 

Tough love time: Books with typos, grammar/spelling/punctuation errors, and formatting problems have QUALITY PROBLEMS.  Books with quality problems simply can’t compete – for a good contest score, or for my book-buying dollar.

Am I setting the bar too high? Am I being too critical? Regardless of how a book is published, is “correct” really too much to expect when judging a contest awarding excellence in published romance fiction? When buying a book? I don’t think so. I refuse to think so.

<sigh> And now I know what I have to do with the writing score for the book I mentioned above. And it really hurts.

Tammy

P.S.  To the self-published author whose book received my highest score..thank you for restoring my faith in humanity – or in self-published books, at any rate. I really hope to see your name when RITA finalists are announced on March 26. ;-)

So, Ruby Readers… Whether judging a contest or reading for pleasure, do you have the same quality and craft expectations of a self-published book as you do for a small press or a traditionally-published book? Why or why not? How often are your expectations met?

What does the phrase ‘excellence in romance fiction’ mean to you?

** The RITA is the Romance Writers of America’s annual award for excellence in published romance fiction, and the Golden Heart awards excellence in unpublished romance manuscripts. For both contests, the score sheet is ruthlessly simple: rate the book or manuscript’s plot/story, the writing, and the characters, on a scale of 1-10 each, and the romance on a scale of 1-20. Add the scores together for a maximum total score of 50. Entrants receive a score but no written feedback.

TamaraHogan_TemptMe_100pxTamara 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 writes paranormal romance with a sci-fi twist. A voracious reader with an unapologetic television addiction, Tamara is forever on the lookout for the perfect black boots.

TEMPT ME, Underbelly Chronicles Book 3, was released in Oct. 2013.

 Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace |

 

Ruby Tuesday: Tamara Hogan

Welcome, ladies and gents, to another edition of Ruby Tuesday, that day when we get a closer acquaintance with one of our Rubies.  Today on the hot seat we have our paranormal wordsmith of the north Midwest, Ms. Tamara Hogan.  Welcome, Tammy!

Name: Tamara Hogan

2009 GH Category & Title: Paranormal – Underbelly

What Happened to That Book: Published by Sourcebooks as TASTE ME

Website: www.tamarahogan.com

What subgenre(s) do you write? Paranormal romance.

When did you start writing? (And why?)

I wrote poetry pretty seriously when I was younger—my English degree has a creative writing focus—but other than a couple of brain farts here and there, I didn’t write very much after graduation. I had health problems, I got married and divorced, I built a career, I fell in love again…you could say that life got in the way.

Tammy’s Golden Heart book

Some twenty-odd years after graduation, watching a Motley Crue show of all things, random thoughts combined, making the spurious connection that ultimately became the Underbelly Chronicles world. I started writing my first manuscript the next morning—and that manuscript was my 2009 Golden Heart finalist.

How many books have you written? Three full-length novels (TASTE ME, CHASE ME, and TEMPT ME) and one short story, TOUCH ME. The first two were published by Sourcebooks, and the last two were self-published.

What are you working on now? Underbelly Chronicles Book 4, ENTHRALL ME, which is Wyland’s story. (Does anyone else identify more with their books’ heroes than with their heroines? Bueller?)

Uncle Stevie Nesting Dolls

Uncle Stevie Nesting Dolls, in a place of honor

If you could grow up to be one writer, who would you want to be? Stephen King. I can definitely see myself writing horror at some point.

Where do you get your best ideas? From observing the culture. I read, broadly and constantly. I watch a lot of TV, especially science, history, and nature programming. I’m pretty clued in to music, technology, and internet culture. All these influences swirl together in my brain, and in my books, I cobble ideas together in ways I find interesting. The fact that much of this observation can be performed sitting on the couch is an added plus. ;-)

What was the first romance you ever read? I can’t remember the specific title, but it was probably a Harlequin Presents category romance. I was a precocious reader as a child; I hit the adult library stacks at age 10 and never looked back.

Tammy’s Latest Release

What’s your day job? I’m a technology process analyst for a company that makes networking gear. I telecommute to Silicon Valley from my Minnesota home base.

What was the first job you ever had? Gymnastics coach.

What is the worst job you’ve ever had? Managing a shoe store. Working retail, especially around the holidays, definitely exposes one to the nastier side of human nature.

Marital status?  Kids?  Grandkids?  Auntie? My partner Mark and I have been happily unmarried for fifteen years. We’re childfree by choice and have two naughty cats. (When maternal instincts were being handed out, I was standing in the puppy and kitty line.) I love being an aunt, and our two “goshkids” bring much joy to our lives.

Where would you build your dream house? On the north shore of Maui, with an unobstructed view of the Pe’ahi (Jaws) surf break.

What is the most interesting place you’ve ever traveled to? Bangalore, India—a city of massive contradictions. Cardboard shanties bump up against twenty story glass skyscrapers and world-class medical centers. Traffic comes to a full stop for roaming cows. Glorious temples and beautiful “American” hotels are juxtaposed with begging children, bony street dogs, and the poor relieving themselves at the side of the road because they have no alternative. I couldn’t buy a cup of Starbucks coffee for weeks after returning, knowing that the couple of dollars I’d spend would feed a poor Indian family for a week. No foreign travel experience has made me examine my western middle-class privilege more.

What’s your astrological sign? Pisces.

What is your Myers-Briggs designation? INFP.

Which TV show are you most addicted to right now? If I have to narrow it down to one, probably The Big Bang Theory.

MN Quilt Show

One of Tammy’s Quilts at the MN Quilt Show

What hobby takes up the most of your time? I make contemporary quilts. This winter’s project is a new bedspread for our room. Google “Tessellating Tabbies” if you want to see the pattern!

What is the best writing advice you ever received? To please myself first. OK, that sounds kind of naughty, but you know what I mean: if I’m not excited about the story I’m writing, how can I expect others to be? I wrote my first book with complete freedom, and no expectations. I didn’t particularly care if I broke rules or not; I just wrote a story that I’d personally want to read. I spent most of last year trying to get back to that place, rediscovering the joy in writing a story and not worrying quite so much about publishing it. If I enjoy the process of writing the book—if I’m pleased with the end product—it’s a success to me. And there’s SO much satisfaction in that. ;-)

There certainly is.  Thank you, Tammy!

Happy Holidays from The Story Masters!

In early November, I gave myself an early holiday gift: a four-day writing workshop with The Story Masters!

I mean, COME ON. Look at this instructor lineup! And within a 50 mile drive of where I live?! I was SO there.

Though I highly recommend everyone experience this awesome workshop for themselves – the next scheduled session is Feb. 5-8, 2014, in Atlanta! -  (CORRECTION: 2015! Thanks, Anne Marie!) I thought I’d provide an early gift to our readers by passing along some of the tips and exercises I took away from each instructor.

Present1From Christopher Vogler, author of “The Writer’s Journey”:

While taking us through an in-depth explanation of The Hero’s Journey, Vogler advised the following:

TIP:   As you write, preserve your awareness of your “spark”: “Why did I feel compelled to write this story again?”

TIP:   Remember cause and effect. Each scene should cause the next. The next scene has to be written for a reason.

TIP:   If you have to choose, it’s better for language to be clear than be poetic.

EXERCISE:   Distill your story down to one word. (Romance writers, “love” is too easy. Dig deeper.) This word is probably your primary theme.

From James Scott Bell, author of “Plot & Structure” and “Conflict & Suspense”:  Present2

On Day Two, Bell used Vogler’s Hero’s Journey material as a jumping off point to provide us with more information about – as you might guess! – plot, structure, conflict and suspense.

EXERCISE:   Getting to know your characters:

<CHARACTER NAME> is a/an <ADJECTIVE><NOUN> who has to <WHAT><BECAUSE>

Example: Scarlett O’Hara is a southern belle who has to fight to save her home during the Civil War because if she loses her home, she’ll be dependent upon others for her existence, and never a woman of strength or substance.

EXERCISE:   What would cause your character to throw a chair through a window?

EXERCISE:   Describe your character’s best and worst days.

EXERCISE:   Your character has been unjustly imprisoned. What childhood memory do they escape to in order to comfort themselves?

EXERCISE:   Have your villain explain to a jury why they’re right. (This exercise forces you as the writer to get in their head and on their side.)

EXERCISE:   What happened to your villain at age 16 to explain why he or she is the way they are today?

Present3From Donald Maass, author of “Writing the Breakout Novel” and “Writing 21st Century Fiction”:

Ooh, the collective shudder that went through the room when people walked in on Day Three and noticed there was no projector or PowerPoint presentation! Maass promised we’d write a lot, and dive deep and sometimes uncomfortably while doing so. Maass more than held up his end of the bargain, starting the day off with some provocative words about writing goals. Paraphrasing:

Goals can get in our way. When you feel all caught up in deadlines, word count, page count, and meeting agent/editor/reader expectations, STOP. Ask yourself, why do I do this? What am I trying to say? What matters in the end is not that you made your daily word count, but that you told a compelling story. THAT’S the goal. Remember?

So, when you sit down to write, ask yourself: what do I want my readers to feel today? Dial into the emotional experience you want to convey.

TIP:   Access your own emotional life to make your characters’ emotional lives more vivid. Mine those emotions and assign them to your protagonist.

EXERCISE:   Name an emotion (such as fear.) Remember a time when you experienced that emotion – vividly. What happened, and when? (Time of day, setting, etc.) Choose one specific physical detail. What was it about the scenario that made you feel most <EMOTION>? What did you feel that you didn’t expect to feel? (free write 5 minutes)

EXERCISE:   How can I wreck my hero’s journey so badly that I have to revise or rewrite? (Imagine the gasps of horror when Maass said this!) According to Maass, daring to do this can result in stronger, more surprising, more dramatic stories – which he, as an agent, would dearly love to see.

EXERCISE:   Give yourself an additional 30 pages on top of your current manuscript length. What else could happen if you extended the story’s timeline? Might it be more interesting than what you currently have?

DAY FOUR BONUS! We spent a full day analyzing To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter by chapter! With clips from the movie. Absolutely AWESOME.

In closing: So much of the Story Masters workshop focused on deep character knowledge and conveying  emotional authenticity. All three instructors urged us to mine our own lives for material. Talk about writing what we know! ;-)

I hope you find some of these tips and writing prompts as revelatory as I did. This class was definitely the gift that will keep on giving, for years to come!

TamaraHogan_TemptMe_200pxDo any of these tips or exercises resonate with you? Will any be helpful as you explore your own work?

Everyone brave enough to give one of these exercises a try here on the blog will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of my Oct. 2013 paranormal romance, TEMPT ME, in their choice of available formats. 

Best of luck – and best of writing! 

 

TEMPT ME:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace
 Gift box images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 

 

 

What Are You Thankful For?

Thanksgiving is the time of year where the concept of thankfulness is visibly front and center.

By personality and profession, I’m a problem-solver, instinctively attuned to recognizing, and then correcting, problems, exceptions, deviations and anomalies. Sometimes I need a reminder to break out of problem-solving mode, and consciously acknowledge the things I’m thankful for. Thanksgiving gives me that reminder.

Things I’m Thankful For, in no particular order:

Good health: For those of us living with chronic illness, the concept of good health is sometimes a day-to-day thing, but all things considered? 2013 was a pretty great year. I barely met my insurance deductible! Speaking of which: I am thankful to have health insurance.

Modern medicine: Every time I grumble about how many sticks it takes for me to have blood taken, I try to remember that had I been born even a decade earlier, I likely would have died during my teen years. I’m thankful for butterfly syringes, with their small-gauge needles!

Employment: I survived yet another round of corporate layoffs – oh, excuse me – “limited restructuring.” In this economic climate, I feel so fortunate to have a job that challenges me, and a regular paycheck, when so many equally capable people don’t. And did I mention, yay health insurance! ;-)

Family and Friends: They may not always understand me, but they always have my back.

Democracy: I feel fortunate to have been born to parents who live in a democratic society, where, within the scope of the laws of the land, I can say anything, do anything, be anything. As someone who lives some aspects of her life outside prevailing cultural norms, believe me I don’t take this for granted.

Last but not least…

TamaraHogan_TouchMe_200pxREADERS!! This year, I reconnected with the joy and exhilaration I felt when I TamaraHogan_TemptMe_200pxwrote my very first book – before I sold and writing became /gulp/ a job.

Thank you to READERS everywhere, who give writers yet one more reason to listen to these voices in our heads, and to push our words out into the world.

What are you thankful for this year?

TOUCH ME (6/13)   Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords
TEMPT ME (10/13)  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace

Ruby Release: Tempt Me by Tamara Hogan!

I was hooked on the Underbelly world from book one, so when our own Tamara Hogan offered to let me read Tempt Me (Bailey and Rafe’s story! Squeee!!!) before it came out, the answer was a no-brainer.  I had high expectations for this book and it did NOT disappoint.  In fact, Ms. Hogan has raised the bar and this is, in my humble opinion, the best Underbelly yet.  Sexy, intriguing, and set in a richly developed paranormal world.

Of course I had to interrogate Tammy about her latest release… but first, here’s a look at Tempt Me:

 

A sex demon and a preacher’s kid? Heaven forbid! 

Technology whiz Bailey Brown is one of two humans alive who knows a very important secret: that humanity has shared their planet with paranormals for millennia. When an obsessed hacker from her past threatens to expose the secret, Bailey and her Sebastiani Security colleagues must use every weapon at their disposal to stop him. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and she can’t let herself be distracted by her boss’s gorgeous brother, even if he is temptation incarnate…

Incubus sculptor Rafe Sebastiani hasn’t produced a decent nude in over a year, since he made the most selfish mistake of his life: sleeping with Bailey Brown. Now, with a deadline looming, his cranky muse has finally allowed him to express his memories of that incendiary night in clay. But when his brother asks him to pose as Bailey’s lover to provoke her dangerous ex, he jumps at the chance…to sculpt her, to protect her, and to earn the right to tempt her—and only her—for the rest of their lives…

You know you want it.  Doesn’t it just sound tempting? 

Now, without further ado, let the grilling commence!

VA: You know I’ve been waiting for this release.  Did you feel any particular pressure writing a book you knew your readers were eagerly anticipating because they already loved the characters? 

TH: Honestly? No.  Call it confidence, call it arrogance, but when I write, I please myself first. (That sounds kinda dirty, doesn’t it.) I write stories I’d personally want to read, and let the ‘do readers like it’ chips fall where they may.  One thing that helps take some of the pressure off is that I did a lot of character development work for all the series’ romantic leads before I wrote a single word of my first book, TASTE ME. When I started writing TEMPT ME, I already knew Bailey and Rafe fairly well – but they still managed to surprise me here and there. ;-)

VA: Did writing the third book in the series impact your process at all?

TH: Process-wise, I find series continuity to be the biggest challenge. Underbelly Chronicles series readers already knew Bailey and Rafe from TASTE ME and CHASE ME, but while writing TEMPT ME, I lost count of how many times I had to go back to TASTE and CHASE and reacquaint myself with exactly which facts I’d committed to the published page! One of my biggest challenges continuity-wise was crafting the exact sequence of events leading to Bailey’s pre-9/11 hacking conviction. In TASTE ME, two characters talk about Bailey having “done some time” for hacking “the NSA or the CIA .” Kinda specific, but it still gave me some room to move. As soon as I figured out how I wanted to address that issue, Edward Snowden made his very public revelation about NSA data collection—GAH!—which drove me to perform one final, frantic revision pass.

A more enjoyable process challenge was going back into the TASTE ME timeline and writing TOUCH ME, a novella that explains exactly what happened between Bailey and Rafe when they disappeared together the night of Scarlett Fontaine’s concert at Underbelly.

VA: I loved Touch Me, it’s such a great teaser to Tempt Me.  Speaking of Bailey’s checkered past, I loved the Hacker Conference – is that a real thing?

TH: Yes, DEF CON, Black Hat, and the Wiretappers Ball are all real events. Pro Tip: when traveling, do NOT stay at a hotel hosting a hacker conference. Just…don’t.  ;-)

VA: So many details like that combined to make the book feel current and really make the reader think about the technological world we have now that we’re only learning to navigate (like the question about the viability of digital as long term storage and all the little things Bailey does to protect her online self).  Was that an intended message of the book or just a natural side effect of writing about tech security?

TH: I don’t know that it’s possible to write about tech security and not express a rather cautionary perspective, but I definitely want readers to think twice—three times—about the digital privacy trade-offs we make every day as we use technology. (Pro Tip #2: If you’re not paying to use a product, assume you’re the product.) Consumer and citizen protections in the digital realm haven’t kept up with the times; most law on this subject predates the advent of PCs and cell phones, providing little to no practical protection. I highly recommend the recent documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply, which provides insight into what we’re agreeing to by bypassing seven pages of 6-point font and simply clicking “Yes” in that Terms and Conditions box appearing on most websites and social media tools. (It turns out we’re complicit in our own victimization.) Character development-wise, it was great fun creating Bailey, a character whose opinions are even more extreme than my own!

VA: Bailey is such a fun character!  And Rafe makes the perfect foil for her.  A sculptor with the body of a male model?  Be still my heart.  Were there any artists in particular that inspired you when you were creating Rafe and describing his work?  (I couldn’t help but think of Rodin as I read.)

TH: No, Rafe and his work weren’t inspired by any particular artist. Character development-wise, I think I was intrigued by a beautiful man who has enough strength of character to realize that his good looks are his parents’ doing, not his, who had enough self-awareness to realize the family business wasn’t for him and that he would have to forge his own path, and who has the talent to make a living expressing the beauty he finds in others rather than living off a cushy trust fund.

VA: I also love that Rafe, Bailey’s humanizing influence, isn’t even technically human.  The Achilles heel that a creature who is accustomed to not only sensing emotions, but everyone being able to sense his wouldn’t think to actually say what he feels is such a brilliant touch – and causes all sorts of luscious conflict. And pheromone intoxication!  Love.  What was your favorite part of exploring the human/incubus relationship dynamic?

TH: Looking at my body of work so far, I think it’s a habit of mine to poke around that Achilles heel, to explore the unexpected drawbacks of a skill or ability that most people might think would be pretty awesome to have. In the Underbelly Chronicles world, incubi and succubi absorb emotional energy for sustenance. If it’s there, they absorb it—and in the case of Rafe’s brother Lukas, he tastes the emotion, too, due to a genetic glitch. What would it be like to be battered by sensory stimuli 24/7? Do you really want to know what your husband or partner is feeling all the time? What would the emotional energy at a murder scene taste like? Lukas knows, and it’s horrible—something he doesn’t have to explain to his family, because they’re incubi and succubi.  The Sebastiani family is so used to this shorthand that they sometimes forget that not everyone has this ability. They have to remember to use their words, especially with their lovers and bondmates.

Talk about writing what you know. I also have a lot of trouble expressing emotions aloud to those I love. ;-)

VA: And now for something completely different… WYATT.  The villain.  He’s a brilliantly developed character and I LOVE that about him.  A consummate manipulator, the way he thinks is really fascinating.  He refers to another character as being a “kinesthetic thinker” and then alters his speech to adapt to that – could you tell me a little more about that and how you created him?

TH: While I was researching, trying to flesh out the details of Bailey’s criminal backstory, I came across a quote by the renowned hacker Kevin Mittnick: “You can patch technical vulnerabilities as they evolve, but there is no patch for stupidity, or rather gullibility.” Security-wise, people are the weakest link, and in the hacking business, people who exploit these gullibilities are called social engineers. And it occurred to me that young Bailey, an impressionable, socially awkward technology prodigy, would be a social engineer’s ideal target. (As you might imagine, there’s more to the story of Bailey’s hacking conviction than meets the eye.)  I researched the work practices of famous, and not-so-famous, social engineers, and developed Wyatt from there.

VA: And finally… What’s next in the Underbelly world? When can I get my next fix?  :)

TH: Underbelly Chronicles Book Four is all about the vampires! ENTHRALL ME is the story of the staid and responsibility-bound Vampire Second, Wyland, and how he comes to love a young, edgy, entirely inappropriate woman—vampire investigative journalist Tia Quinn, who readers may remember from the concert scene in TASTE ME.  Being I’m a slow writer, I’m targeting a publication date of Fall 2014.

VA: I can’t wait!  Thank you, Tammy, for giving me the inside scoop on Tempt Me.  

Today one lucky commenter will take home a paperback or digital copy of Tempt Me!  So don’t be shy, boys and girls!

Read an excerpt!

Buy It Now:  Amazon (Kindle and Print)– BNARe

 

Ruby Reprise: Deep Third, Demonstrated

I have a confession to make. I keep a red pen on my bedside table. Oh, I don’t actually USE it. It’s strictly a prop. When I find the occasional typo, grammar error,  misspelling or the like while I’m reading in bed, I glance at the pen. I imagine picking it up, circling the error, and then moving on.

But I recently read a best-seller that made me seriously consider scrawling bloody deletion marks through dozens of occurrences of “she/he thought.” (The only thing that stopped me? It was a library book – and as the philosopher Mr. Spock once said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.) The usage was correct, per se, but honestly, the author’s stylistic choice drove me bananacakes. “Of course ‘she thought!’” I shrieked after encountering the fourth “she thought” on a single page. “WE’RE IN HER POINT OF VIEW!”

Ahem.

Yeah, I have very strong feelings about POV. Which leads me to recall this post I wrote in Aug. 2011, about writing in deep third point of view.

Enjoy!

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Dungeon ColchesterI write in deep third person point of view – fathoms deep, dungeon deep third person point of view. A couple of weeks ago, while doing an author chat for a friend’s book club,  someone asked, “Okay, what exactly does that mean?”  (Lesson Infinity +1 in how readers and writers sometimes don’t share vocabulary, or care about the same things.)

It occurred to me that some of our blog readers might not know what this means either, or that maybe our readers might find it interesting to see how one author – me! – achieves her personal, preferred point of view. As always, your mileage may vary.

A couple of (overly-simplistic) definitions to start:

Point of view (POV) - the narrative voice or mode that an author uses to convey what happens in their story.  Examples are first person, second person, and third person.

Third person point of view – a mode in which the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings or opinions of one or more characters, using ”he/she” rather than “I” language.  Comes in subjective, objective, and omniscient flavors.

I see “deep third person” POV and “third person subjective” POV as being analogous.

As both a romance reader and a romance author, I have a strong preference for deep third person point of view because I want very intimate access to the physical and emotional layers of the story. (Romances are about feelings, right?) The more viscerally I experience a characters’ feelings, reactions, and dilemmas, the more engaged with the story I’ll become.

With the rest of this post, I’d like to demonstrate how I expose that saturated physical and emotional layer using some simple revision techniques.  Consider the following two (quick ‘n dirty) sentences:

Will’s ankle was swollen and he was getting more and more concerned about his diminishing supply of medication. It was almost exhausted, and he knew that unless he found help soon, he would not be able to continue. 

((shrug)) An OK early draft that gets the point across. But it could be stronger. Let’s first omit some extraneous words, and simplify the language:

Will’s ankle was swollen and he was concerned about his medication supply. Unless he found help soon, he wouldn’t be able to continue.

Better. Next, let’s raise the stakes by layering in some specific details:

Will’s ankle was broken and he was out of pain medication. Unless he found help soon, he’d be in real trouble. 

Next, eliminating Will’s name from the narrative when we’re in his point of view brings us closer yet. (Will wouldn’t think of himself as “Will”, right?)

His ankle was broken and he was out of pain medication. Unless he found help soon, he’d be in real trouble. 

Better. I feel there’s less narrative distance than there was in the previous example.  Next, I’ll layer in some additional details for authenticity – namely, swearing. :-)

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. If he didn’t find help soon, he’d be up shit creek.  

Now we’re in both his head and his body. His ankle hurts – badly – and naming the medication fleshes out characterization. (How does this guy have access to morphine?)

Next, showing a character’s thoughts brings us deeper:

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. “If I don’t find help soon,” he thought, “I’ll be up shit creek.”  

Hmm. Can I show Will thinking, without using the word ”thought” in the narrative? Why, yes, of course I can – by using italics and first person POV to indicate thoughts!

His broken ankle throbbed like a mother and he was out of morphine. If I don’t find help soon, I’ll be up shit creek. 

He’s in pain, he’s out of meds, he’s in trouble, and he knows it. Yet…he’s still looking for help, not waiting for it to come to him, which was a conscious characterization choice on my part. I could easily have written him having a different sort of thought.

And deepest of the deep – 100% interior monologue:

My ankle throbs like a mother, and I’m out of morphine. If I don’t find help soon, I’ll be up shit creek.

I would argue that this last example is slightly less successful than the ones immediately preceding it, but I wanted to take the POV progression to its deepest logical conclusion.  (Note that if you remove the italics, you’re writing in first person POV.)

So in this example, I used simple revision techniques and careful word choice to dive ever deeper into Will, exposing more and more of his physical reactions, his thoughts, and aspects of his character as the examples progress. Through each revision, the two sentences became leaner, meaner, more specific…until Will is exposed, right down to the bone. And I find the unanswered questions raised by these two sentences equally intriguing: Who is this guy? Where is this guy? How did he break his ankle, and how did he get his hands on morphine in the first place?

Which version do you like the best, and why? What do you think happened to Will? (I’ll share the scenario I had in mind later in the day.)

TamaraHogan_TouchMe_200pxPssst. The Kindle version of TOUCH ME, my Underbelly Chronicles novella,TamaraHogan_TemptMe_200px is free today and tomorrow! If you download a copy, I’d appreciate your honest review.

And watch for TEMPT ME, Bailey and Rafe’s full-length book, in October 2013! (Read an excerpt.)

 

 

Free-for-All Friday: What are you researching?

Thriller writer Chelsea Cain recently tweeted:

ChelseaCain Tweet

 

I see I’m not the only writer who has these concerns, especially given recent revelations about government data collection. Um…NSA? FBI? DoJ? LMNOP? You know that very specific research I did recently, with the body decomposition rates in a very specific geographic area under very specific weather conditions?

It was research. Really. Kthxbai.

Every story, regardless of its historical era and no matter how reality-based or speculative the world, requires research to maximize the story’s authenticity. My recent research forays have included hematology, twerking, theoretical physics, burner phones, the House of Draculesti, Tasers, and Justin Bieber’s latest unfortunate tattoo.

Any government agency trying to build a digital profile of any author is going to have a mighty hard time. ;-)

What are you researching right now? Please share some of the weird, unexpected, notable, or interesting areas you’ve researched for a recent writing project. Did you learn anything that surprised you?

TamaraHogan_TouchMe1

GIVEAWAYS! Today, Ruby Sister Hope Ramsay and I are two of the featured authors at Dear Author‘s August Giveaway Extravaganza, celebrating romance readers for the entire month! Pop on over to have a chance to win our books.

Psssst! You don’t have to go to Dear Author to learn that my self-published Underbelly Chronicles e-novella, TOUCH ME, is free at Amazon Aug. 9-11! Grab one, fast! ;-) And if you’re so inclined, I’d appreciate your honest review!

 

 

Free-for-All Friday: RWA National Tips and Tricks

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Can you believe the 2013 RWA National Conference starts next week? It seems like just yesterday that the Rubies were all named 2009 Golden Heart finalists, but if you look at the right hand side of our website’s home page, so much has happened since then.

In those four years, there have been many additional Golden Heart finals and wins, several RITA finals, and one RITA win (Darynda Jones generously let us rub RITA’s belly for luck). A gratifying number of Rubies will walk the stage as nominees and presenters at this year’s awards ceremony.  But to me, the biggest metric of our success is this: since 2009, the Rubies have collectively published over 200 books.

OVER 200 BOOKS. Yay, us!

There’s a lot of experience here at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood, from the sisters and from members of our community.  Whether you’re a RWA National newbie or an old hand, today, in true free-for-all Friday fashion, we’d like to learn everyone’s tips and tricks for navigating RWA National.

Here are a few of mine:

Don’t overpack! (You’ll need room in your suitcase for books!) I challenge myself to make it through the entire conference on four pairs of shoes. Four. I choose my shoes first, and build my wardrobe around them. Take it from a massive shoe hoor, IT CAN BE DONE.

Wear comfortable shoes – Yes, more about the shoes. Showing off our fierce footwear is part of the fun, but on the other hand, no one wants to hobble around with bloody blisters all week long. You’ll be on your feet a lot throughout the week, so plan ahead. Break in your shoes beforehand, and bring blister treatment products.

Dress in layers – I had an amusing chat with a hotel employee at last year’s conference about how, at an event like ours, dominated by women, ABSOLUTELY NO ONE is happy with the temperature!  I’m always cold in air conditioned hotels, so you’ll find me bundled up in long sleeves and a sweater. Other attendees will be walking around in sleeveless shirts, carrying battery-operated fans to battle hot flashes. As Grandma Marion always said, “It never hurts to carry a sweater.” Grandmas are wise.

Eat lunch with strangers - Get out of your comfort zone a little! Break away from your buddies and sit with strangers at the conference’s luncheon events. Everyone at the conference loves reading and writing, so you won’t be strangers for long.  It’s not unheard of to find yourself sitting next to, and making informal contact with, an agent or editor who might then ask for your pitch. The person you ask to please pass the salad dressing might be an influential blogger, someone you follow on Twitter, or an author whose work you enjoy. This is the easiest networking opportunity you’ll have all week long. Take advantage of it.

Take some downtime - for most of us, the conference is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t feel like you have to attend every single workshop. Sometimes the best use of your time is to go up to your room for an hour, decompress or take a nap, and re-energize for the evening to come. For more on this topic, here’s a blog post I wrote in 2011:  Behold My P-Ness! Writers, Myers-Briggs, and An Introvert’s Guide to RWA National.

Some things I don’t leave home without:Deep water plug

  • earplugs, in case the room next door gets rowdy
  • bubble bath and my overflow drain cover – turns even the stingiest hotel bathtub into a soaking tub!
  • First aid kit, including Band-Aids, safety pins, the aforementioned blister treatment products, ibuprofen, tampons, etc. (Why pay inflated gift shop prices?)  I didn’t even NEED tampons during RT2013 in May, but I gave two away from my purse stash to authors in need. Is this sisterhood or what?  ;-)
  • NutriGrain bars, for breakfast or a quick afternoon snack
  • 6′ cheapo extension cord, for convenient gadget charging
  • Favorite book signing pen
  • Bookmarks and business cards – carry at all times!

 

What are your conference tips and tricks? Any items you don’t leave home without? If you’ve never been to the conference before, what questions do you have? It’s free-for-all Friday; anything goes!

Tammy’s latest release… 

TamaraHogan_TouchMe1

Touch Me…An Underbelly Chronicles Novella

Mere hours after human technology whiz Bailey Brown learns the truth about her Sebastiani Security co-workers—they’re all vampires, incubi, succubi, sirens, faeries, Valkyrie, and werewolves!—she’s thrown into an undercover operation protecting a siren singer at Underbelly, one of Minneapolis’s premier nightclubs. With pheromones saturating the air like sweet chloroform, starving for touch, and her inhibitions fading fast, Bailey has to avoid Rafe Sebastiani, her boss’s gorgeous sex demon of a brother, at all costs…

Because only his touch will do.

$0.99 at Amazon.com! Other digital formats available Sept. 2013.

 

A Heretic Tweets: Tweeting for Fun, Not Profit!

heresy

I’ve always likened Twitter to a global, virtual cocktail party. Depending on who you follow, you can participate in, or overhear, some of the most interesting conversations. But…don’t you sometimes, even while recognizing its importance, get bored to tears with the sheer volume of author promo appearing in your Twitter stream?  With seeing upteen retweets of the same promo tweets you scrolled past yesterday? For me, there comes a point where it all just turns into hissing static.

Don’t you sometimes want to go to a different corner of the cocktail party, hang with a different crowd? Use Twitter for PLAY, instead of for WORK? I know I do.

Heresy!!!! BAD AUTHOR!!!  I can see agents, editors, and publishers chasing me with flaming torches and pitchforks right about now. But…honestly. Sometimes I desperately need a palate cleanser. Something different, something fresh.

With Twitter, it’s really easy to drop in on those other conversations. You can follow whoever you want, and search for anything you want. Do I have a few minutes between day job meetings?  Fire up HootSuite, and see what’s happening in the world. Any breaking news? Who’s been hacked today? Where’s my Science Porn? WHERE ARE MY EMERGENCY KITTENS?!  In the reading/writing world, which books are people talking about – not just mindlessly retweeting? What are they saying? Who’s kicking off a #1k1h writing challenge as I dial into my fourth meeting of the morning? #sojealous

My Twitter use kicked into higher gear when I bought a Kindle Fire HD late last year. For better or for worse, I can now tweet from my living room couch in the evenings, and not just from my desktop computer, my laptop, or my smartphone.

Some things I’ve had fun with on Twitter recently:

  • I exchanged quips about the TV show #Hoarders with writer Amanda Hocking and comic Michael Ian Black. We deemed the episode we were watching “Extra roachy.”
  • Book blogger Limecello and I occasionally snark on #Bones and #SYTYCD together – but we snark out of love.
  • I had way too many raunchy #candyheartrejects suggestions on Valentine’s Day. It’s better that some of those tweets never again see the light of day, but the next morning I woke up to 35 new followers.  ;-)
  • I’m thrilled that I’ve received several friendly and innocuous (damn it) direct messages from an athlete/writer/LGBT ally who not too long ago elbowed Johnny Depp off my “Top Ten To Do” list. Minnesota recently became the 12th state in the nation to allow same-sex marriage, and IMO, former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe‘s smart, incisive, and hilariously profane advocacy had a lot to do with it. Damn, can this guy write. And he reads! Books! And tweets about them! And how cool is it that Kluwe’s wife asked him to do beefcake shots for his recent feature in Out magazine? Let me throttle back on the fan-girling long enough to pimp his upcoming book: “Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities,” his first collection of essays, is coming out end of June 2013. (Here’s a partial index to give you a feel for its content. Language NSFW.)

Does anyone else get a completely over-sized thrill when someone whose work you respect responds to a tweet, retweets or Favorites something you’ve written, or follows you? Thank you, Wil Wheaton, Mindy Kaling, John Taylor, Foo Fighters, Amanda Palmer, and (gulp) the hacker collective Anonymous – not that I’m keeping track or anything. ;-) Foodie and fellow Minnesotan Andrew Zimmern recently followed me after I tweeted “GET IN MY BELLEH!” in response to a picture he posted of some yummy-looking fried chicken. /shrug/ Go figure.

I don’t have a huge list of followers – it’s growing slowly, steadily, and organically – and being I write so slowly, most of them have NO clue I’m a writer…but I guess they’ll find out when they see a very judicious amount of promo in their Twitter streams when I release my next book.  (Novella cover reveal below!!)

Whether it’s via Twitter or Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram or Pinterest, who do you think has an interesting or entertaining social media presence? Tell us about a time when an RT, DM, Like or Follow gave you a tingle. 

Follow me!  Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

TOUCH ME, an Underbelly Chronicles novella, is releasing later this summer.

TamaraHogan_TouchMe_200pxAward-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 writes paranormal 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. 

Her debut, TASTE ME, won a Daphne du Maurier Award for Mystery and Suspense, was nominated for the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award®, and won Prism Awards for Best Dark Paranormal, Best First Book, and Best of the Best.

“Heresy” comic by Esther Wheaton via Obohemia (Ren) / CC BY-NC-SA 2.5
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