The Accidental Feminist

inspiration, my books, Thoughts

I’m not sure how I ended up writing a feminist novel. My main character, Rae Lynne Grimes, is a woman who can drive and repair anything from trucks to boats. She is a tough girl with a bad attitude. She is a fighter and a survivor. On the surface, she is as different from me as chrome is to pink.

While writing Chrome Pink, I didn’t think about the oddity of a female tow truck driver, nor did I think it strange that she was able to restore a motorcycle. My husband has often talked of his friend who worked alongside her father as a girl, and has now surpassed him in mechanical abilities. He spoke of women football players and race car drivers, and he pushed me to pursue my dreams, never setting limitations because of gender.

Rae embodies the strength of the women who have influenced my life. She is vulnerable and strong, street smart and naïve, she is an enigma, and she is all woman. I wanted a powerful personality, a character who could deal with life’s crap and give it right back.

I tease and tell people Rae is my husband in drag. That is only the first part of how she was created. I was taking a class online, the instructor told us to describe someone we know well. I described my husband. Afterwards, she told us to make changes: gender, race, religion, etc. and that became the skeleton for my character. Rae does have traits similar to my husband but she has evolved into a woman who has powered past her own weaknesses to do what has to be done.

I often thought my mother was weak. My dad didn’t even want her driving alone at night. When we visited her parents in the neighboring county, (pre-cell phone era), her father or brother would follow her home. After she started attending night classes at the local community college, I rode with her to keep her from traveling alone at night (that’s how I first met my husband but that’s another story). Dad was very protective of mom and I have taken on that role in his absence but she isn’t not as fragile as she sometimes appears. As an adult, I have come to know more of the story of my mother’s life that I was unaware of, like Rae Lynne, she has had to deal with pain and suffering, loss and fear, and as she has told me, she just did what she had to do to get to the other side.

Saying I’m not a feminist is like saying, I’m not a woman. It’s not that I think all women should run for congress nor should all women stay home and take care of the children. Today, we have more choices. I think, we as women, no, we as humans, have to find our own path, whether that is soaring to the moon or running to the grocery store. We are only limited by our own choices.

What I want my characters to say to my readers is simple, be you. It takes each of us to make the world work, celebrate what makes you special and unique. The world would not be the same without you.

I Need a Hero

my books, Thoughts

What Makes a Man a Hero?

I have six sons, a loving husband and several male relatives, all could be romantic heroes, at least to those who love them. We have military men, construction workers and volunteer firemen, first responders, dedicated fathers and Scout leaders, all embody the manly men who set feminine hearts aflutter. They are all good looking too, of course I’m probably a bit prejudice in saying so.

When writing the characters for my stories I don’t set out to use a certain person as a model. Often, traits, events or actions from friends and family members drift into my stories. If you are looking closely, you can see a piece of one son or another, my husband, my best friends, but unlike the characters in my stories, I do not know what is in the heart and heads of real people. In truth, I find it more liberating to create my characters and play inside their skins until I feel I have a real person on the page. While I don’t purposely steal my characters from real life, I am well aware that those around me influence my writing, my building of characters and worlds.

It wasn’t until I was preparing to publish Chrome Pink that I realized how much I’d borrowed from real life. Logan, the hero in Chrome Pink was difficult to write. I wanted him to be understanding and kind, but not wimpy. He had to be strong enough to hold up against a character like Rae Lynne. To find the balance between masculine charm and alpha-male, I looked to the men around me. My sons, husband and assorted relatives are mostly alpha-males. They are strong willed, opinionated and ready for battle but they are also gentle fathers, romantic husbands/lovers, and kind friends. From each of them I was able to see how a man handles the baggage of a traumatic childhood with the strength and character of a man who wants to do and be his best. I hope that I have captured these elements in my characters. I want them to feel real but they are not, they are characters from my imagination, influenced by those around me.

I have thrown everything into this story but the kitchen sink, oh wait, I have that too. My friend has a plaque over her kitchen sink, “No man was ever shot while doing the dishes,” it influenced one of my scenes. What could be sexier than a man doing dishes?

What do you want in your fantasy lover? What makes a man a romantic hero?

 

 

Discovering my Voice

my books, Thoughts

Few people know I’m shy and timid, and a bit of an introvert. Okay, stop laughing, I am really, though I hide it well. In high school, I began speaking up for myself. It didn’t come naturally but with the encouragement of my mentor, Ms. Glenoria Jennette and one of my favorite teachers, Mr. Justice Tice, I began to find my voice. My husband, David, in the course of our marriage and raising our six boys has tried to help me find my courage. My sons, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, also taught me how to find my voice. Sometimes it was in their defense but often it was mediating between them.

For someone who is timid and fearful, standing up and making your voice heard is often difficult and emotionally exhausting. It’s much easier (less problematic) to just remain silent and stew in your insecurities. Writing is another way I have found my voice. Sharing my writing with others is terrifying and the many rejections I’ve received over the years has thickened my skin, though I am still insecure and tender hearted I handle it a little better now.

“A coward dies many deaths…,” If I could be anything, I’d be brave. For if I were brave then nothing would stop me from fulfilling my dreams. In my stories, I want my characters to be people who find their voice, their strength and their courage to face the task ahead of them. Whether it be allowing themselves to be loved or looking down the barrel of a gun, I want my characters to overcome their fears and conquer it.

My characters, like the main character in my novel “Chrome Pink”, are damaged personalities. Most of us don’t make it to adult-hood without some baggage. Rae Lynne Grimes has more than most but she is stronger than she realizes. She is a survivor—a fighter. After being raped and humiliated in high school, she fought back. Her anger and addictions nearly ruined her as she struggled with the shame and the pain, but with the love and help of her grandfather and her best friends she learned to cope with the demons. Hardened by her past, Rae still manages to retain a kindness the belies her tough exterior. Like many of the people we know, Rae has had to deal with the drama she didn’t create as well as her own bad choices. Her life hasn’t been a fairy tale and she is no one’s idea of a princess. She will tell you herself, she isn’t easy to love, but for that one person—she is everything. Logan Birdsong who sees past the tattoos and piercings, the foul mouth and anger, in his eyes, she is a jewel in the rough. While he has his own burdens, it is Rae’s strength and determination that pushes the story forward.

It is for those who will never reach the ball, those women who are destined to deal with the bad choices they’ve made, that I write. I want to tell the story of a women too tough to lay down and die. Women who go through hell and not only did survive, but thrive. I want to show others going through their own versions of hell, that they are not alone.

 

Do Not Let Your Fears Defeat You

inspiration, Thoughts

I have a confession to make. I’m a fraidy-cat. I am terrified of everything. I am afraid of trying and failing, but not trying is even worse, for that is definitely failure.

I tend to hem and haw, and toy with an idea until I make up my mind. Once I’ve decided on something I plow through until it is done. Right or wrong, I just put my head down and do it. I’ve made a lot of mistakes this way. Rushing through a job that would have been better planned and executed according to a specific schedule. I’ve also waited around and missed my chance because I couldn’t or wouldn’t decide. Life is about risks. If you do not take a chance, you will never accomplish anything.

My dream is to be a published author. I have written since I was ten years old. My first story was, of course, a romance written in red ink, titled, “True Love.” All through high school I scribbled stories and ideas for stories. The first time I read my work out loud for a friend she blew me off, embarrassed and hurt I didn’t share my work again for many years. I hid my stories in notebooks under the bed, afraid to let them see the light of day.

When my “adopted” sister found out I wrote stories, she encouraged me to share my work. She liked it and was surprised that I could capture her feelings on the page. Being able to describe emotions and experiences so that the reader asks, how did you know? For me, that was when I knew I didn’t just want to write, I wanted to be published.

I am a fraidy-cat, sharing my writing is like standing naked in the Walmart parking lot yelling, “Look at me!” I sometimes feel as if I’ll swallow my tongue when I try to read my work. I think, “Why do they care? I’m not that good. They’re not interested in hearing what I have written.” But I have found as I opened my mouth and shared my stories, people began to listen. They started to care about what I had to say and about my stories. They related to my characters.

I grew up believing traditional publishing was the only way to go. When I first started sending my stories to publishers and agents, they had to be printed and mailed. Does that tell you how long I’ve been working towards this dream? The past few years I’ve come close with articles published in magazines and stories and essays in published in anthologies. I’ve attracted the attention of a couple of agents even working with one for almost two years but still I’m unpublished. After breaking up with my agent, I realized I had to really get in there and make my dream happen, no one was going to do it for me.

Between my mentor, published friends and my family, I have pulled up my big girl panties, strapped on my leathers and stepped up to face myself in the mirror. I’m terrified but I’m ready. Once the story was edited (AGAIN) and my readers said it was ready to go, I began working towards self-publishing. Author-friends who have self/indie published, some of whom have also traditionally published, tell me it is the way to go. So much of the promoting falls on the writer’s shoulders so why not do it all the way you want to do it.

So, I’m battling the fraidy-cat and standing up to let my voice be heard. I am a writer and soon, I’ll be a published author. Don’t let your fears rob you of your dreams, if I can do it, so can you!

 

The Power and The Pain

inspiration, Story, Thoughts

I duck my head and hold my books close to my chest hoping to go unnoticed.

“Hey fellows look who it is, city shitty,” the older boy chants. His words are mimicked by the group of boys with him. All of them are several years older than me.

He reaches out and knocks the books from my hands. I blink back tears. Like blood in the water, my weakness attracts more abuse. Like sharks they circle, chanting and touching, pushing and crowding, I gasp for breath, my heart racing, fear threatens to loosen my bladder.

“Hey, you boys, leave her alone and get on the bus,” the teacher orders.

I gather my books and smile in relief and appreciation at the teacher.

“You need to toughen up, fight back,” he tells me.

I look up at him, six-foot tall and wide as a door. Tears blur my vision as I rush to the bus. I don’t know how to fight.

I squeeze past the boys standing in the aisles. They turn to face me, blocking the seats up front where I like to sit. The move their hips suggestively and laugh at my discomfort.

“Whew, what is that I smell?”

“I bet she pissed her pants.”

I hadn’t, at least not yet.

“Nah, I bet she’s just creamed her jeans.” He stroked my arm moving close to my undeveloped breast.

Chill bumps pebble my arms. There’s a tingling in my chest and a fluttering in my tummy. I shift sideways and push past the bullies.

“Leave her alone guys or I’ll kick you off the bus,” the bus driver, a high school boy, shuts the door and eases into the lineup. “Take your seats before we get wrote up.”

Perching on their seats, they look back to where I sit just in front of the black kids who huddle at the back of the bus. “Do you know what a carpenter’s dream is?”

“A girl flat as a board.” The boys laugh.

One of the black girls, I don’t know her name, whispers, “Don’t let them know they hurt you.”

Her sister tells her to stay out of it. “If they’re picking on her they’re leaving us alone.”

“Just keep your head down and ignore them,” the girl continues to whisper.

I nod and open my book, loosing myself in reading.

The boys continued their jokes. “I think she might be a Pirate’s girl.”

The boys laughed in reply, “A sunken treasure.”

I didn’t understand half of what they were talking about and that makes it easier to ignore them.

The bus makes several stops, the girls behind me rise. We’re on the road to my house. I glance up as they pass and the girl who looks close to my age smiles at me. I return the smile. I’ll ask my daddy who they are when he gets home.

Just a few more stops and I’m almost home. I rise and gather my things.

The older boys stand up and lean out of their seats. One of them grabs my hands and puts it on the fly of his jeans. I snatch my hand away and stumble from the bus. I hear the bus driver threatening the boy but know nothing will happen. Nothing ever does.

I wish him dead.

He is killed in a car accident a few years later, I cannot mourn him. In truth, I am thankful he is gone. Over forty years later and I still feel the fear and shame, bullying has lasting effects.

 

When my grandson complained of being bullied, my first reaction was to tell him to toughen up, fight back, don’t let them see your pain. What is the answer to dealing with a bully? I still have trouble standing up for myself, being brave, finding my voice. I believe, that is why I write.

 

Nanowrimo Inspiration

inspiration, Thoughts

November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those who have never tried NaNo, it is an amazing experience. You push yourself to see how much you can write in a month, the goal is to finish a novel. A couple of years ago I tried it and succeeded with over 60,000 words. It was hard work and the month of November isn’t the best month for me to do a project of this magnitude. By December first, I was exhausted and spent much of the month trying to catch up with all my holiday plans. But I’m glad I did it. It proved to me that I could work on a time limit, plan out a novel and stick with a goal.

How did I succeed? Well, I’m a pantser and I hate to outline but because I write suspense and I wanted to stay on task, I needed to do some planning. A writer friend, Kate Parker gave me the idea of using sticky notes and a folding board. I wrote everything I wanted in the story: 1) characters’ names and a brief description of them (looks, emotional baggage and ticks or tells or picture), 2) places/settings with a brief description or even a picture, 3) plot points (i.e. Jack will fall down, Jill will tumble after, Mom wraps his head in brown paper, etc.). I even wrote out red herring ideas and clues.

No matter what genre you write, if you are a plotter or pantser, it doesn’t hurt to have a few ideas planned out. I love the idea of the sticky notes because I can move them around to suit my changing mind. If you’re thinking about NaNoWriMo, go for it and don’t forget to plan it out.

I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can

Thoughts, writing inspiration

My writer’s journey has been more like a Dancing with the Stars episode, two steps forward and many more backwards. I’m dancing as hard as I can and still get the of steps wrong. I’ve had articles published in magazines and newspapers. I’ve been short listed on anthology competitions, and I even caught the interests of a couple of agents.
After working with an agent for over a year, I now find myself without a dance partner. I’m facing a dilemma now of which way to go. Do I become a solo act and self-publish or do I take another chance with an agent and hope we can learn to move as one, or do go straight to a publisher and dance the choreography they already have in place?
My greatest fear in working with another agent or even a publisher is giving up control of my story. As much as I learned while working with my agent, there were changes we made to the story changed so much that it is barely recognizable as my original story. I know that I was blessed to have such a conscientious person honing my skills and molding me into a more productive writer but after all that work, my misstep landed me back on my butt with nothing published and no agent.
What do I need to do to succeed as a writer? I have good friends who have found success with traditional publishing and others who have succeeded with indie publishing. What is the right path for me?
My main concern with self or indie publishing is the cost. While it’s true, as an independent publisher I have complete control and will reap total rewards but it also means that all of the cost, all of the decisions and all the risks are mine. The past ten years since deciding I wanted to be a published author, I have learned a lot about the publishing process. I have attended workshops, programs, watched YouTube videos and taken online classes. But I know there is no knowing like doing.
I had about made up my mind to self-publish when an opportunity to pitch my story to an agent came knocking at my door. What do I do? Part of me wants to take the plunge and see what I can do and part of me says, you’ve been down that road, let’s try something new.
My first step in this new dance is to read my story with fresh eyes and see what I want to keep and what I want to change back and even what I want to make new. I still hear my agent’s voice in my head, guiding me, but I know whatever decisions I make are mine. So, whether I dance with the stars or fall on my butt, the choice is mine. Whatever I do, I’ll sing and new song and make up the steps as I go along. I’m still dancing, but for now, I’m dancing to my own tune.

My Agent Broke Up With Me

Thoughts

My Agent Broke Up With Me
I had no idea breaking up with my agent would feel a lot like breaking up with my high school boyfriend. Like infatuation, my first experience with having my very own agent was exciting and a little frightening. There were times I felt as if I had no clue what was expected of me or where we were heading. Learning to communicate and trust each other is the most important part of any relationship, and like some lovers who don’t stand the test of time, it was miscommunication that caused the demise of our partnership.
Philosophers would say it was all by design. Some people come into our lives for a season, others for a life time. I believe my agent came into my life at a time when I needed her. She gave me confidence and taught me a lot about craft and the business of writing. I appreciate the time we had together and feel stronger for the experience. Like that first love who taught me to French kiss and drive a stick shift, my agent gave me the courage to fight for what I wanted and the knowledge to achieve it.
Being true to the vision for my novel is important. When I first started working with the agent I was too afraid to say anything for fear she’d not want work with me anymore. While some may believe it crazy to rock the boat when you have an agent in your corner, and perhaps it is. But if you are not true to yourself then what happens when you mold yourself or your writing into what they want and it still isn’t enough. I feel that is what I’d done. I’d changed my words to fit what she suggested or what I believed she wanted. In the end it wasn’t and I was left not knowing what I’d done wrong. I believe my agent wanted to help me deliver the best book possible but somewhere along the way communications broke down and the relationship failed.
Like the first bloom of romance, there is the honeymoon period where everything is rosey and perfect. You both try really hard to make the relationship work. It’s a learning period. You do the back and forward dance until, if you are lucky, you get into the same rhythm. If you are lucky your first agent could be your only agent, after all several marriages started out as high school sweethearts. Like that immature relationship with your high school boyfriend, rushing the intimacy could cause the romance to disintegrate. For a strong and lasting relationship with an agent it is important to feel like partners. Having a strong, well balanced relationship built on mutual respect and faith. Believing in your work enough to fight for it and not be intimidated by the agent. Like that first boyfriend who overwhelmed me and made me feel I wasn’t quite experienced enough or pretty enough to keep him interested, I felt inadequate in my relationship with my agent. It is difficult for many first-time authors to believe in ourselves. Finding an agent who understands what you need as a person as well as a writer.
I don’t regret my time with my agent. She taught me so much that I could not have received anywhere else. She put a lot of time into my novel and her effort on my behalf is greatly appreciated. Like that first love, I now feel more confident going into my next relationship or doing things on my own.

Learning to Self-edit

Thoughts

I posted this previously on the Pamlico Writers’ website under Word Detective. Finding the right word isn’t always the problem. Sometimes spelling or using it correctly, is the problem. The more I write and the more I participate in writing challenges, the better my writing becomes.

Words not use or over use. Now I’m taking this from my own manuscript. These are words and phrases and things I did too much of. I’ll start with a quote from the illustrious Mark Twain via Jon Winokur @AdviceToWriters, “Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”, your editor will delete it and the writing will be as is should be.”
My first and I kind of caught this myself but my critique partners said, no, it’s no longer cute if everyone is doing it. Rolled his/her eyes, it was bad enough I even had my character comment that her eyes would stick if she kept doing it and then he rolled his eyes. Too much of a good thing.
The next was shaking his/her head, he/she shook their head, a whole lot of shaking going on. I searched for other ways to show it either with dialogue or another action. Example 1: She shook her head, smiling. “Yes, that’s what I want.” Okay, that’s not too bad unless you have a lot of shaking. After a while all the characters resemble bobble-head dolls. Example 2: She nodded, smiling. “Yes, that’s what I want.” Again, not awful but I have even more nods than I do shakes and, yep, that bobble-head thing is still happening. Let’s change it completely. Example 3: “Yes.” Tears filled her eyes as she clapped her hands together bringing them to her lips, she said, “That’s what I want.” No more bobble-head, the emotion is stronger and more visual.
The list continues:
Shrug down saw/see/seen wait inside feel/felt
Glare blinked do/done met glance frown
Sigh check know/knew face grip gaze
Suck like think/thought shift act up
Turn return took/take stare still meet
Look blush sure meet could believe
Change try/tried would/should can will that
Smile started it/it’s/its

I am sure these are only a few of my faux pas in writing. In your rough draft, you will make these mistakes unless you are a disciplined writer. I am not, I just put my fingers to the key board and write. I make up my own contractions even. But as I’m reading over my work afterwards, I look for those mistakes. I also ask my friends and family to read for me and I do a search and destroy. With my Word document, I can go into editing and find words. It will tell me how many times certain words show up. Like “that” 85 times!! That should rarely be included in your manuscript, I know that but because it’s an easy word to use, I used it a lot.
I used “do” 42 times and “like” 51. Some weren’t as bad but “very” 22 times, and as Mark Twain said, shouldn’t be used in writing at all. We each have our fall back words, place holders if you will. Do the editing, have others read and thank goodness for computers that can give us the information we very much need.
Happy hunting, I mean writing.

Not a Commercial for Audible The Letty Dobesh Chronicles

Book Review, Thoughts, writing inspiration

I have often talked about how much I love audio books. When I am busy and have little time to read I enjoy putting on an audio book and letting the narrator read to me. In college I listened to records or cassettes of lectures, reenactments of historical events and books. I found audio books again when our local library started offering books on cassette and later, on disk. I have bought audio books from used books stores, chain stores and even truck stops but the latest and easiest I have found is being a member of Audible. I can order books online and have them delivered to my phone. I can listen to them anywhere I bring my phone.

Being a member of audible, I receive one “free” book a month (of my choosing) but I can also purchase books cheaply through their daily deals. Here is where I’ve discovered new authors I’ve never read, some of whom I’ve never heard of. Recently I purchased Good Behavior by Blake Crouch. Some of you may have seen his television series by that name. I had never heard of Blake nor his series but I loved the description of his main character so I purchased the books.

The Letty Dobesh Chronicles, which the television series Good Behavior is modeled after, is about a woman who is on the edge. Recently released from prison, Letty is fighting drug addiction, low self-esteem and her own desires to be good. The stories are fabulous, giving us a look into the human condition. Here is a woman who should have given up hope and become one of the nation’s lost people, instead she keeps finding new reasons to keep going, new hope, new purpose.

While the stories I listened to through Audible were truly enjoyable. Letty is one of the best written characters I’ve ever met. The part I enjoyed the most was Blake Crouch’s commentary. At the beginning, he told how the idea for Letty came about. This wasn’t a short process, it was something that simmered on the back burner for years until something flipped the switch and made him look at the idea differently. As an author, hearing his process was fun and enlightening, and even encouraging.

Blake Crouch is a North Carolina author with two television series under his belt. The idea for Good Behavior is from a series of short stories about Letty, The Letty Dobesh Chronicles. While the series doesn’t follow Blake’s original stories verbatim, he is okay with that. Crouch tells about the process, the work on the series and how it is different and similar to the stories he wrote. It is unusual for the author of the stories to work on the screen play for television or movies but Blake Crouch has been able to separate the two processes and enjoys seeing where the television series will go.

While the original stories are all his individual work, Mr. Crouch explains how with the television show, it’s not about his vision but he culmination of all who work on the show from the set and costume designers, to the actors and directors and also his fellow writers.

Listening to Blake Crouch talk about writing in different aspects from the first kernel of an idea to seeing the show on television is something I felt needed to be shared. If you are an author and wish to see your work in different venues, listen to this audio book.  I would love to have Mr. Crouch come speak to my writer’s group. He is interesting and inspiring.  I will definitely be checking out more of his books, I hope you do as well.