Monday, April 13, 2015

Terrible bosses, bad jobs and happy endings.

The worst job ever? A terrible boss? We’ve all had one or the other. Lucky me, I’ve had both and at the same time. It sure didn’t feel lucky at the time. It was darn awful. The luck came later.

A while ago, I had a temporary job at a call center. The work was okay, just making calls and reading a script. The problem was that whenever I had a question I was told to look in the training manual. So I did that and I did whatever the training manual told me to do or say.
Here’s where I have to tell you something you might not know about call centers. The management folks listen in on calls. This makes sense. They have to check up on the employees to make sure everyone is doing the right thing. Apparently, I wasn’t doing the right things. I found that out on a couple occasions when my supervisor would stop by for a chat. She’d tell me I was “off script” or “following the wrong process.” Then she’d ask me why I was doing whatever it was that I was doing. And, for some crazy reason, she didn’t like it when I referenced the page number of the training manual.

Even after all these years, I can see the curl of her lip and the blank look in her eyes when she spoke with me. It was as though she couldn’t believe someone so inferior had been parked in her cubicle row. “It doesn’t matter that the manual says that,” she’d say. “Just do what I said.” I would’ve been totally fine with that approach if it hadn’t been for her dreadful attitude. Having her lurking nearby, listening in on calls, waiting to zero in and expose my every inept response made most every minute of every day terrible.

When does the luck come in, you want to know?

It came years later, while working on a story. I needed an inspiration for a bad boss. Viola! There she was. My dislike for her was so strong, my memories were--and still are--crisp and vivid. Having her there in my memory made creating the nasty boss I needed for my new novel, Unfinished Business, almost instantaneous.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

If I were snooping around your kitchen...

If I were snooping around your kitchen and looked in your refrigerator right now, what would I find?

•Three containers of leftovers: eight hot wings, chicken stir-fry and half a turkey sandwich. I always order too much food when I go out then feel guilty if I leave it behind.
•Four bottles of Founders Red’s Rye IPA - one of my favorites.
•Whole milk, for my lattes. 
•Lettuce that is too old to eat.

If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?

I’m tempted to say invisibility but I think that might get me into trouble. How about the ability to imagine something and have it transcribed into words while I sleep….is that a superpower?

If you could sequester yourself for a week somewhere and just focus on your writing, where would you go and what would the environment be like?

I’d go to Tween Waters Inn on Captiva Island, Florida and stay in cottage 101. The screened-in porch has a view of the Gulf of Mexico and the beach is about twenty steps away, just across the street. Breakfast at the hotel restaurant is fabulous. The afternoon is quiet, perfect for writing. Then, after a day at the keyboard, there are great bars and restaurant within walking distance but it’s quiet during the day. 

What's the one thing, you can't live without?

Exercise. I like weight training, distance cycling and dance classes best. 

I often have a hard time settling down and a good work out wears me out enough to sit down and focus. Also, I get a lot of answers to my plot tangles and character concerns while riding my bike or walking. Sometimes I even carry a small notebook with me, in case something pops into my head. 

Find me on Goodreads and read more.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Free range eggs! Organic, fresh chicken for dinners! How great does that sound?

I grew up in the suburbs outside Detroit but have lived in the country for a while. At the start of my country life, I made the mistakes city people make when they move to the country. Most of these errors were pointed out to me by experienced country folks but I did what most city people do when they’re given advice by country people—I ignored it. The errors were most obvious when I started raising chickens. The up side to these blunders is that they make for good stories at parties and added a lot of humor to my latest novel, Unfinished Business.

Free range eggs! Organic, fresh chicken for dinners! How great does that sound? To someone who’d moved from the city and has no idea what’s involved in raising chickens that sounds fantastic and like a whole lot of fun. After deciding I wanted to raise chickens, I bought some books, went online, and talked to people. Things I learned: how much space each chicken needs, what type of heat lamps are best to keep chicks warm, and the best atmosphere for nesting boxes. One piece of advice I ignored: put the nesting boxes in a cozy, dim corner because hens prefer darkness. That simply didn’t sound right. Surely the hens would appreciate my thinking of their happiness and providing them with a cheerful coop.

After weeks of preparations, I brought the chicks home from the feed store and every morning, afternoon, and evening I checked on the adorable baby birds. I fussed over them and let myself be charmed by the silly peeping and the ridiculous way they fall asleep standing up.
It wasn’t until the chicks’ sweet yellow fluff had been replaced by brightly-colored feathers and the birds were old enough to venture out into the yard that my errors became apparent and I learned a few things that are, in retrospect, painfully obvious.

Chickens can and will fly. Right over the fence. My perfectly measured yard? Abandoned. The birds’ favorite place to spend the day was my herb garden, scratching and digging up all the tiny tender seedlings I’d carefully planted earlier that spring.

Something else I learned is that hens really do prefer dim lighting for egg laying. My cute tin nesting boxes, bolted to the wall of the coop in the pretty morning sun–empty. Instead of filling the boxes with eggs, the hens flew off, far away from the coop in search of cozy corners. Where did they find them? In my garage. On top of the trash bins. Or in the barn. Way in the back by the lawn furniture I’d bought at a garage sale years earlier and kept meaning to refinish.

The harshest lesson? Roosters really are mean. They look cute in cartoons and are pretty perched on fences, crowing at sunrise. But they’re mean. They don’t appreciate the hard work of taking care of them and they don’t want to be friends. Given the chance, they probably will hop up and scratch you with their spurs. It was this lesson that found its way into Hayley’s story.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Guys can be confusing. So true, right?

As a writer, I want to be sure my male characters talk and act like real men so I often do research--talk to men, watch men, think about men. You know, the basic stuff. Sometimes even that isn’t enough. Sometimes I have to be direct, like a guy. For me that means asking questions. I was talking to a guy friend of mine about how to make sure my male characters sound like real men and our conversation turned to the stuff guys says to girls when they want to say something nice but don’t want to come across as a rude jerk who’s only interested in her body.

Here’s what he told me.

If a guy says:
that’s a pretty sweater

He means: 
you have pretty breasts

If he says:
those are awesome boots/shoes

He means:
you have awesome legs

If he says:
those are great jeans

He means:
you have a great ass

Ok. That’s not the whole list. There were others including potential compliments including her jacket, blouse, skirt, turtleneck, tank top, khakis, gloves, hat, scarf—and others I’ve already forgotten.

I do remember though, when I asked him if there were any coded compliments about other things—other things being anything other than the woman’s body—and him drawing a complete blank. I prompted him with, you know, like maybe if they want to say something about her personality.

Again another blank.

Hmmm. I guess that coded speech does serve its purpose.

Decoding some guys can be a challenge but most of the time its worth the effort. Right?

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Like most writers, my writing process varies somewhat but there are some patterns.

I start writing to get a sense of the characters and setting. I might write the opening of the story, a scene or two from the middle or the end. In the beginning, I write whatever comes to mind, whatever makes the story and characters come alive for me. I keep writing until I get stuck.

When I get stuck I ask myself a couple questions. What does she want? What’s her goal? What does he want? His goal? The best stories have complex characters who desire several things, often these things are conflicted. Like the woman who wants excitement in her sex life but is afraid to trust. Or a guy who wants to commit to the woman he’s in love with but has a job that always puts him in danger.  Once I know what the characters want I can use those goals to give the story shape.

The next ingredient is motivation. Why does she want crave excitement in her sex life? Sure, everyone wants excitement. But each character is unique and much of that individuality is expressed in motivation. Does she want excitement because she’s just left a dull but secure romance and wants to know what she’s missing? Or does she want to experience some wild sex because she’s just finished law school and has done nothing but read, write and study for the past couple years? What about him? Does he long to provide for his woman because while growing up he never had a home of his own? Or maybe appreciated his childhood and wants to provide a stable home for future children. The characters’ motivation propels the story forward by causing them to move toward their goals.
Next up, conflict. What’s in the way? There has to be something in the way ‘cause if there isn’t a problem there isn’t really a story. Readers are wonderful people, but, well, they do like to see the characters work hard for that happy ending.

The best conflicts are ones custom designed for the character. That woman who wants hot sex but is afraid to trust? Create a to-die-for hero who gives her a taste of what he has to offer but makes it clear that to get more she has to trust him. Even better, add in an external element that requires her to trust him, to do something she can’t, maybe help her achieve a goal that’s important to her. 

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