Monday, June 30, 2014

Sources of Inspiration

A couple of months ago, my good friend, Brad, the Black Knight of the Southern Realms, came to visit.  He used to live in DC, he hates crowds, and he was visiting at the height of the cherry blossoms, so finding something he's never done before and that he'd enjoy proved quite the challenge.

This is my friend Brad.  We're nothing alike.  Brad is a biker.  Brad saved me
from quicksand once.  We have lots of adventures.

I ended up taking him to Hillwood Museum and Gardens and fell in love with the place.  Hillwood is the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune.  She's like Richie Rich, if Richie Rich wore stunning gowns and had a thing for Faberge eggs and Cartier.

When she passed away, she opened her mansion up to the public.  What I like is that the mansion is in DC (you can see the Washington monument from the mansion's second floor), but you feel like you're in the countryside.  The grounds are so quiet and peaceful.  Lawn chairs are scattered throughout and visitors are encouraged to stay a while and relax.  It's a great place for a writer to figure out a plot point or to outline their next story.  And it's usually not that busy.  I went on a Saturday at the beginning of June and had whole swaths of the gardens to myself.      

Please, stay a while.

I had the rose garden to myself.
Diana the Huntress

Then there's the mansion itself.  Oh my word.  Do you need inspiration for your next book?  Come on in!  Post was an avid collector of Russian treasures.  Priceless art, a room full of ornate Eastern Orthodox crosses, Faberge eggs, a chandelier that belonged to Catherine the Great...Post collected All.The.Things and the things are beautiful.  

This is the humble breakfast nook.  Chandelier belonged to Catherine the Great.
Plates belonged to some Russian noble.  Your nook looks like this, yes?
The museum also puts her dresses on display on a rotating basis.  Do not miss this, especially if you're writing historical fiction set around 1920-1950.  The dresses are in her closet (which is the size of my condo) and it can be easy to walk past them.  There are also a couple of jaw-dropping gowns in the Cartier exhibit that make the costumes on Downton Abbey look Downton Shabby.           

A few tips:

* Suggested price for admission is $15 per person, but if you get a yearly membership for $50, you can visit as often as you like (and you get four guest passes). 

* They have plenty of parking, but I love to walk to Hillwood.  It's a mile from the Van Ness-UDC metro and you can see homes with the most interesting architecture on the way there.  Plus, the neighborhood has a ton of cute dogs and if you're lucky, they'll be out on their walks.

* Bring a picnic basket (Hillwood offers complimentary picnic blankets) and have a leisurely meal in the gardens.  You can get food at Hillwood Cafe or just stop at the Giant by the Van Ness-UDC metro and stock up on goodies.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My Writing Process

The wonderful Rebecca Enzor, whose books I fully expect to see at my local B&N one day, has kindly tagged me for the My Writing Process Blog Tour.  Or as I like to think of it, "The Caffeine and Chocolate Tour."  I think it's pretty self-explanatory, so away we go!

1. What am I working on?

If you follow this blog or have seen my anguished gnashing of teeth on Twitter, you know I've always had a problem with 'voice' and 'connection' and that's a very difficult issue to fix.  What drives me mad (madder than a Targaryen) is that I've written several stories now, and the problem isn't getting any better.  And the criticism is spot on.  I KNOW it's missing.    

After getting the dreaded 'lack of voice' feedback in the last contest I entered, I took a couple of months off to see if I could fix the problem.  You know, without tricking a certain red-headed mermaid.

I have a plan of attack now and if it works, I'll let you all know.  I love my Beautiful Medusa story, love it dearly, and I'm going to try to re-write it to finally get that voice I've been searching for.  It probably won't work, but I want to make an attempt.    

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My work doesn't have voice and other people's stories do?

Ha!  Sorry, couldn't help myself.

I like to mess with people's expectations and I think that makes my stories different from what else is out there.  If you ever see a character in one of my books named Darla Dogooder who spends her time rescuing sweet forest animals, rest assured she's a mass murderer.

In Beautiful Medusa, Medusa is the hero and Perseus and Athena are the villains.  Another character in the book, Echidna, eats people (mmmmm, villager sandwich), yet she'd risk her life to keep Medusa safe.  That's another feature of my writing, I suppose, I tend toward grays rather than black and white, straight good and evil.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because it makes me happy.

Because I have to.
I caaaan't stop.  I have a writing addiction.

Once a story idea gets ahold of me,  I have to get it out.  If I don't, it becomes unbearable.
For Beautiful Medusa, the original myth enraged me so much, I wanted to redeem a character who I felt had been terribly wronged (as told by Ovid, Medusa was turned into a horrible snake monster because she was raped by Poseidon in Athena's temple.  That's it.  THAT'S IT.  Even worse, after she's turned into a monster, Medusa runs away so that she won't hurt anyone and Perseus HUNTS HER DOWN. Why is he the hero?!).

I also wanted to explore why Athena punished Medusa in the first place.  That fascinated me and there's no easy answers there.    

4. How does my writing process work?  

I write slow.  The turtle is my spirit animal.  The three-toed sloth is the wind beneath my wings.  Snails wave to me as they zip on by.

I climb trees in the same amount of time it takes for you
to write a page.

I'm OK with writing slow.  As long as I get there and am proud of the result, who cares how long it takes?

Part of the reason why I'm so slow is that I'm an epic Pantser.  Sometimes people ask me questions, like:  "How does this chapter end?" or "What happens on the next page?"  Those questions are always greeted with this:

I have no idea.  I write strictly linear and let the plot develop organically.  I go wherever the characters want me to go.  I do have images in my head, and if I can work them in, great, and if I can't, then that's OK too.  For example, from the start, I've pictured Medusa riding the Pegasus and landing dramatically in front of her friends to save the day.  And luckily for me, everything came together and I got to include that in a scene!  Woohoo!

But I also had a very specific idea of how Prometheus and Medusa would first meet (it was inspired by Nick Fury and the Avengers) and I had to give up on that, because it just didn't mesh with the direction the story had taken.    

There you go.  That's my writing process.  Slow and steady, largely improvised, and aided by chocolate and caffeine.

I now tag the lovely and talented Maria D'Isidoro.  Check out her site!  She can also tell you all about her exciting news.    

Sunday, April 27, 2014

So I Entered This Little Thing Called PitchSlam, Part 2

Original First 250 Words:  I never knew what it felt like to be hunted. Not until today.

I swept my gaze around the supposedly safe confines of the Temple of Athena. As far as I could tell, I stood alone in the inner sanctuary, and yet I knew I wasn’t. A predator watched my every move, far enough away never to be seen, but close enough to always be felt.

I picked up a lily resting on a stone bench, the bloom as pale as the marble it sat upon, and studied it with a scowl. The temple’s garden didn’t have lilies like this. I had no idea where it had come from.

My hunter had started stalking me in the morning. Half asleep, my senses still dulled, I had felt a presence by my bedside. I woke up screaming, the senior priestesses rushing to my room.

I begged them to search my quarters. They had found nothing, assured me it was merely a nightmare. But you couldn’t hear the inhale and exhale of a nightmare’s breath, nor could a nightmare run its fingers through your hair.

Suppressing a shudder, I tossed the lily to the ground, as if it were made of poison.

Wherever I went, whatever I did, my predator followed, leaving small tokens for me to find. I could almost catch the broad-shouldered figure of a man out of the corner of my eye, but when I turned around, he was gone.

And none of the other priestesses believed me.

PitchSlam Feedback: After reading your entry, we've found you could strengthen your opening page by addressing the following issues:

- We feel this lacks voice. Play with really getting into your MC's head. What does she sound like? What words would she use? Even though this isn't dialogue, we should get a sense of that personality. As-is, it feels flat. Be brave & infuse it with a voice that will stand out.

- This may start in the wrong place. Is there another moment of higher tension? Interaction with another person/being? Maybe give it a shot?

New First 250 Words: I never knew what it felt like to be hunted. Not until today.

And when a girl was standing in the hallowed halls of the Temple of Athena, she should never have felt that way. Maybe in the slums of Delphi or the untamed wilderness, but not here.

I peered up at the statue of Athena. My Lady towered over me, three stories tall, a spear gripped in one marble hand, her golden helm glittering in the afternoon light. Flowers and late-summer fruits were piled at her feet. I left my own offerings, praying for guidance.

“Blessed Athena, wise and serene. Protectress of us all.” Today, more than ever, I took comfort in the truth of those words.

No one could hurt me, even if they had somehow gotten past the temple’s four mighty walls. My Lady would keep me safe.

“Alessia, come on.”

I jumped at Naima’s voice. My fellow priestess stepped into the sanctuary, tugging at my sleeve and shooing me toward the courtyard. Then she took a closer look at me and her face fell.

“You’re still upset about this morning, aren’t you?” I considered every priestess here to be family, and I had two older sisters back home, but Naima was the little sister I had always wanted. A year younger than me, her family originally hailed from the far away city of Thebes, on the river Nile.

“Of course, I’m upset. Someone was in my room last night, and I know that’s not even possible.”


Once again, feedback is welcome.  This was a tough one, because I've always had trouble with 'voice.'  Is this more voicey?  Is it voicelicious?  I can't tell.

What I ended up doing was taking my first 500 and flipping it around.  I pulled the dialogue closer to the top and will intersperse information about what's going on while my MC, Alessia, talks to her best friend.  Hopefully that makes the opening stronger.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

So I Entered This Little Thing Called PitchSlam

It's a nifty contest with one big benefit: We receive feedback on our pitches and first 250 words and get to re-submit. Here's my revised pitch:

Title: Beautiful Medusa
Genre: YA Fantasy

Original Pitch: Transformed into the legendary Medusa for refusing Poseidon’s advances, sixteen-year-old Alessia must escape from Perseus and decide whether or not the exiled god who claims to love her is merely using her to destroy Zeus.

Pitch Feedback: The pitch had us up until the bit about the exiled god, then it started to read like a completely different story. We have no idea who that is, which renders everything that follows irrelevant. Plus, why does she have to decide anything about the god? What consequences will this decision bring about? Why does she have to pay attention to the god in the first place, when her focus was on escaping Perseus? If she doesn't love him back, the god's claims are moot. And is she not interested in breaking the spell and becoming herself again?

New Pitch: Transformed into the legendary Medusa for refusing Poseidon’s advances. Hunted by Perseus for her head. Sixteen-year-old Alessia’s only hope for salvation might lie with a treacherous god and the infamous Echidna, mother of monsters.

Query: In a land wasted and wrung dry, where happiness is as rare as any jewel, sixteen-year-old Alessia considers herself blessed to be a Priestess of Athena. But when the girl’s extraordinary beauty draws the unwanted attention of Poseidon, her life becomes a nightmare. Cursed for defying an immortal and cast out of her home, the gods transform Alessia into the legendary Medusa and condemn her to live life as a monster.

Snakes for hair. A gaze that can turn a man to stone. Razor sharp talons at the end of each finger. All Alessia wants is to hide herself away from the world before she hurts someone, or worse. Yet to the kings of ancient Greece, Alessia's petrifying gaze makes her a weapon to be won at any cost. With the kings offering unimaginable riches to anyone who can bring them the head of the Medusa, the scared girl soon finds herself hunted by the all too clever hero Perseus and many others.

Struggling to hold onto both her life and her humanity, Alessia flees westward and finds the impossible: Sanctuary and a chance at love with a fallen god preparing to wage war on Olympus. But are his feelings sincere or is he merely using her? And when the war comes, will Alessia, the once loyal priestess, exact revenge on the gods who turned her into Medusa?

Based on the legend according to Ovid's Metamorphoses, Beautiful Medusa is a YA Fantasy complete at 94,000 words. Though the story can stand alone, there is potential for a sequel.


All feedback is welcome! Hopefully my new pitch is better than the first.