Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Opportunities of a Love Triangle

By Kasie Whitener

I’ve been binge reading romance novels lately. Every year I begin my literary year with some high intentions: the National Book Award finalists, the Booker Prize finalists. Then we go to the beach in August and I pick up a courtly romance and I’m sucked back in.

In high school, I belonged to a book club that sent me four new regency romances a month. A regency romance is historical fiction that does not bother being accurate in its historical details. Think antebellum costumes without the complications of slavery, candles and oil lamps without the discomfort of outhouses. Regency romances forget how rarely people bathed and that few, if any, cleaned their teeth. It’s a polished version of old manners, old social norms, and the subtle sexiness of glamourous costumes.

Usually my August romance novel will spur a binge of genre novels for a few weeks before I return to my more sophisticated reading list. Last year, I was caught up in a series by Sherrilyn Kenyon that had me downloading each successive novel as soon as the previous one was finished. This year it was J.R. Ward then Sarah MacLean then J.T. Geissinger.

When I finally emerged from Geissinger’s series about shape shifters, I found a series by Mary E. Pearson that brought me deeper into my fantasy fiction habit. Beginning with A Kiss of Deception, Pearson has crafted a series around a compelling love triangle that has me completely obsessed.

Romance novels very rarely play with love triangles. If they do, the triangle is shallow and mostly a device to make one party jealous of another. But Pearson’s book relies upon the triangle for at least two books (I haven’t started the third) and I never got tired of it. A love triangle offers a unique view of characters. There is the sense that betrayal is lurking all the time, that secrets are knotting themselves deep in the fabric of the story, and that someone is going to end up losing.

Love triangles are common in Young Adult (YA) fiction like the The Remnant Chronicles by Pearson. The Twilight series made use of the Jacob-Bella-Edward triangle, Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series stood on the Jace-Clary-Simon triangle and her Dark Artifices series is hinging on a new love triangle Julian-Emma-Mark.

How an author employs the triangle to test her heroine’s resolve is fascinating. Even the Ron-Hermione-Harry trio had its loyalty challenges through the Harry Potter series. A triangle provides the writer with opportunities to test the protagonist but also opportunities to get the reader to pick sides as well.

Pearson’s first book in The Remnant Chronicles series was a well-organized narrative that provided enough confusion for readers that I didn’t know which of the suitors I wanted Lia to choose. What I did know, though, was that I was fully invested in Lia and the choice she would inevitably have to make unless one of the boys made it for her.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The NaNoWriMo Hangover

By Kasie Whitener

National Novel Writing Month or “NaNoWriMo” is a frenzied 30-days of creation. The goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel. Thousands of people participate every year. Imagine how many novels are out there right now as a result of this ambitious month.

I have never written “The End” as the last two words but I have made the 50k goal four of the five years I’ve participated. This year I stopped at 50,392.

On December 1, I woke up with the worst hangover.

It’s like the morning after losing a football game. At first, blurry-eyed and foggy-brained, you wonder what exactly happened last night. Then it comes flooding back to you: the turnovers, the punt run-back for a touchdown, the poor play by the offensive line. We lost.

Waking up after a loss is the worst. Remembering how things went awry, wishing you could take it all back, feeling sad all over again.

December 1 is like that for NaNoWriMos. We know we should continue the work. The book is not finished yet. But we’ve been writing so much for so long, we just can’t bring ourselves to compose another scene. There is no dialogue left. No character’s fatal flaw. No coincidental circumstances. No villain nor valiant heroine. There’s no story left in our fingertips.

For the first time in 30 days, we’re not required to live in the world of the novel. In fact, we’re expected to walk away. Rejoin your regular life already in progress. Get back to family and friends and football.

The frenzy of NaNoWriMo consumes the writer. Every year I replace my morning gym workouts (5:30 a.m. until 7 a.m.) with writing. I can typically get between 1800 and 2500 words in that time. If I stay on track, I can surpass the 50k before the 30th.

This year I took a long holiday over Thanksgiving and on Monday, November 27th, I was 15,008 words short with four days to go. That’s 3,762 words a day I’d need to make up the gap and finish on time.

On Thursday, I had 10,000 words to go. I knocked out 5,000 between 6 and 9 that morning and sat down at 4 p.m. determined to get the other 5k done before the Redskins game kicked off at 8:25.

When I hit 50,392, I quit. There are still at least three major scenes to go before the novel is finished. At least 6,000 more words. But I’d done what I set out to do, so I closed the laptop.

Then the Cowboys beat the Redskins.

And December 1 was miserable.

I couldn’t write anything. I couldn’t focus on the screen. I couldn’t even think about Neverland and Lost Boys and Peter Pan that unscrupulous tyrant.

The NaNoWriMo website told me I’d won but I felt like it had won. NaNo had taken all I had to give. Now I’ll just be sucking down ice water for the next few weeks.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

You Write Like a MOTHER

by Lynda Maschek

We all do it. Straight or Gay. Male or female. Young or old. Experienced or novice. Alien or human. When we write, we write like a MOTHER.

Mothers and writers guide the plot, (child) into new directions and can change the course of a child or a story. A good writer will grip your attention, change your outlook, give you hope or tell you what you need to hear but don’t want to know, all in the same sentence. Mothers are like that, too.

Much like a writer, Mothers guide us to find new adventures at the neighborhood playground, the mountains or foreign shores.

Mothers nurture and nudge our curiosity, they educate and inform. 

Mothers can hold us in suspension about our next Birthday surprise or they can hold our suspension about the next psychotic character they plan to marry. 

Winston Groom, the author of Forrest Gump, created a memorable character who typified the essence of motherhood. Mrs. Gump was a proper Southern woman who startled the reader with her savvy sexual methods to persuade the school Superintendent to accept her son into mainstream school.

Seeing the potential for a strong plotline and character structure is another mothering gift. A writer has to dig behind the obvious, (think teenagers,) and discover what is hidden within the character.  Writers and mothers can guide a mediocre personality and develop it into its full potential, for good or evil, as did Mrs. Gump. She saw the potential in young Forrest and filled him with wise quotes that later were necessary to guide him in his life, proving him more intelligent that the people he encountered. 

Mrs. Gump also taught Forrest that he had no limits, nothing to fear, and to not let anyone tell him he was ‘different” or unworthy of accomplishing great things.

A writer writes a story, holds the hand of the story, builds it up nurtures it and then knows when to let go. The storytelling of the sacrificial mother, working multiple low paying jobs so that her gifted child can attend Juilliard, will one day realize her hardest sacrifice will be to surrender her child and allow them to pursue their dream. 

The mother/writer gave all she could and then struggles with the dreaded right-of- passage, when her work will ship out and make its own way through the world to be reviewed by critics.

Writers naturally develop a mothering consciousness about their work, be it novels, short stories or poetry.  Similar to a brooding mother bird, writers protect their literary nests of heart and art. They minister to the growth of words, characters, mysteries, dramas and adventures, allowing their unique stories to unfold.

Just like Mom.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Reclaiming Creativity, Rediscovering Self

By Jodie Cain Smith

Last April my family and I, all eighteen of us, spent a week together in a house in Destin, Florida, to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. My sister Kellie is creating a photo book to commemorate the trip and my parents’ accomplishment of sticking together all those decades.

Kellie called me last night. “Jodie, I barely have any photos of you from Destin. Were you hiding from the camera?”

“Well, mostly, I was the photographer, but I’ll take a look at what I’ve got on my phone.” I hung up with her and turned back the clock seven months.

First, I saw what appears to be a collection of “before” pictures. Before my diagnosis. Before treatment. Before forty-two pounds and the most stressful year of my life melted away. Before I reclaimed creativity.

I hate every picture of myself from that trip. But, not for the reason you may think.

I hate those pictures because they show a woman I never want to be again.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) had robbed my body of its ability to use insulin and brought with it a nasty cocktail of anxiety and depression to poison my mind. Unknowingly, I had struggled with this for over two decades, but always had writing to depend on as my way to embrace the world or rage against it.

However, for the year leading up to my diagnosis and treatment, I feared I had lost that coping mechanism. Most days, I struggled to write at all, much less anything worth publishing. I stopped listening to my instincts on writing, allowing others too much influence over my writing style, stories, and characters. Then, I just stopped writing at all.

I had lost my ability to be creative, authentic, and brave.

Then, a succession of miracles occurred.

First, a doctor listened to me and forced me to face the reality of anxiety and depression. She did this by asking me if I was still writing. I told her, “No.” She responded, “Jodie, that’s not good.” She also said the words PCOS and pre-diabetes. The latter was terrifying.

The second miracle was the treatment for my PCOS and insulin resistance. Within a week, I could feel the positive effects of the medication, healthy eating, and increased exercise. I felt hopeful. The constant fog in my brain began to lift. I began to like myself again. And, the scale began a nosedive.

The third miracle came via my husband and an overdue heart-to-heart. He told me to stop coddling him, worrying about him, trying to control him. Now, seven months later, I know this was the miracle I most needed.

By ditching my need to control everything and everyone around me, I freed my mind to write. One month into my new lifestyle of letting go, healthy eating, and rigorous exercise, I began a new work-in-progress, one I never thought I was capable of writing.

As for the “before” pictures, I printed one out, but it is not displayed where you might think. It’s not taped to my mirror or stuck on the fridge. It will now live on my desk as a constant reminder that if I continue to live healthily in body and mind, I can be my best creative self.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


Here's a blast from the past : a previous post from Alex Raley, a member who's no longer with us. You're never forgotten, Alex.

By Alex Raley

                                             y                        We look for inspiration when we write. Often it comes out of the blue or from the pleasant and interesting things going on around us. A couple months ago, I found myself with my head against the wall waiting for the 911 folks to arrive and wondered why I had put myself in that situation. In the hospital and on my way to recovery, I began to think of all the experiences a hospital brings: some debilitating, some embarrassing, and some just downright nasty. With the right attitude they can be funny. I began to think poetry as soon as I settled down in hospital routine (meals to the minute, vital signs as soon as you fall asleep, the day’s date with nurse and nurse tech names, shift changes with new names, morning doctor visits. I imaged everything poetically, including the 911 activity. When not interrupted by hospital routine, I was constructing poems, poems much too bawdy for a blog but poems that will eventually see the light of day. Does that seem odd?

                                                                       Do not let experiences pass by you. Even the most unusual or gruesome can be an inspiration to write. I had never thought of gruesome as an inspiration, but I cannot tell you how my mind raced once I wandered into the groove. Now that I am at home I need to hit the computer and put those bawdy poems to paper.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Agents Can Be People, Too

By Kasie Whitener

We are all selling almost all the time. We sell our kids on bedtime and vegetables and our families on holiday gatherings. As writers, we sell our readers on a character’s motivations, a plot’s plausibility, and a story’s value.

When it comes to querying, we try to sell an agent that this story is one with which they will make money. We craft the perfect query letter to an agent’s design and attempt to convince them that this product we’ve created is worth their investment.

Agents are sales people, too. At the South Carolina Writers Association Big Dream Conference, an agent said she spends the better part of her day getting rejected by editors and publishers.

I am an entrepreneur. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of sales people look past me for someone better to talk to, check their phone for messages during my monologue, and scroll through their mental rolodex trying to remember my name. It is not hard to figure out when a sales person is truly interested in what you are saying and when they have already assessed you as zero value. I’m guilty of it, I know. I have been trapped in conversations with people who want something from me knowing full well I cannot or will not give it to them.

Conferences make it easy for literary agents; they take the hustle out of finding clients. An agent meets dozens of hungry would-be authors from which to choose. Any one of these could be the next breakout novel, memoir, or business book. So why does she look like she’d rather be anywhere else but here?

I know when the prospects are weak it can feel like the event is a waste of time. Literary conferences are full of wannabes. And wannabes can be exhausting. So many agents approach writers as if we are all the same: interchangeable dreamers with unrealistic expectations and limited knowledge of how the publishing industry works.

As a business owner, I recognize the signs of good networking and relationship building. When I interact with literary agents, I no longer think about whether they will like me or my book. (Last weekend I didn’t even tell anyone I wrote a book.) I watch how they listen to the stories people tell them, how they encourage and relate to the writers around them.

All industries’ bad habits are perpetuated by those who accept stereotypes, generalizations, and “the way things are.” Truly gifted entrepreneurs, agents, and sales people forge relationships that create meaningful connections with other human beings. Person-to-person, not Wish Granting Agent to Wannabe Writer, or Persistent Writer to Stubborn New York Agent. Just people telling stories, listening and connecting, and maybe doing business together.

It would be refreshing to meet an agent who didn’t have that fear in her eye that I might pitch her my book. Someone who just said, “Oh, you’re a writer? That’s great.” And then, “So where are you from?”