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Aug. 4th, 2011

Moon over Hawaii

5 things to be happy about

8.4.11

Good morning, and welcome to Thursday Morning Coffee!

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In no particular order, here are 5 things to be happy about:


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Jul. 27th, 2011

Moon over Hawaii

Are we rebels?

07.28.11



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I may have said this before, but writers are isolative people. Ask me to show you a good time, and I’ll show you my laptop, rocker-recliner, and a fresh cup of coffee. You want more details? All right – Pandora Radio (the paid version), an open MS Word document, and a story blasting into my head out of the ether so fast that, even typing 120 words per minute, I can’t keep up.  We’re talking nirvana here, folks, it doesn’t get any better than this.


And yet I also consort with a group of people who have a tendency to say, “Screw it, let’s ride!”



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So on Saturday, that’s exactly what we did.


A lot of stuff has happened since we last had coffee.


First, I drowned my Blackberry Pearl in the toilet. Then I got a new phone. Then we went on a 150 mile motorcycle ride for charity. And yesterday I published a short story on Smashwords (for details see post prior to this one, or click the books tab).


I have a bit of a history of crashing cars and dropping phones.


Enough so that my spouse looks at me sideways and says, “How much did you hate that Ford EXP?” (Google it, I dare you. Send me a pic, if you can find one. EXP in this case is not short for Explorer or Expedition. It was NOT an SUV – it was a wonky little 2-seater wanna-be sports car, and our particular model didn’t have any heat. In winter. In Minnesota).


Anyway. I digress. I’ve crashed a few cars in my lifetime. And dropped more than one phone in the toilet.


Which leads to different cars and different phones.


So now I’m getting used to a lovely little gadget called an iPhone, and at the moment everybody’s happy. Although today I am driving a wonky little 2-seater wanna-be sports car that doesn’t have air conditioning. High temps in the 90’s. In the Summer. In Wisconsin.


Sheesh, the similarities are killing me.


To make up for the inconvenience and expense of unexpectedly needing a new phone, I did my husband a special favor.


(No, not that. Well…  Ah-hem. Never mind).


I accepted an invitation from friends to join them on the Spirit of Service ride, which started in Hermantown MN and ended at the Carlton MN VFW.



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Oh, lookee! There’s my fancy new iPhone. In my hand. Now where the heck did I leave my sunglasses?


“The mission of this ride is to raise money for our Troops and Veterans, so we can lift the “spirit” of these fine men and women who have served and/or are still serving this great country.”


We’ve been on several charity rides, and they’re always a blast. On this one we were fed THREE TIMES (including cake!) and I even won a nice little prize in a drawing. It was 90 degrees and humid, which was only truly miserable when we stopped for food and beverages. Or when we parked in the direct sunlight at one of those stops and then had to get on the bike again. Ooh. I think my ass got hot-seat-burn through my jeans. Dang.


Bikers are cool. I often wonder about the rebel reputation, the view of bikers as troublemakers and rabble-rousers – because we feel that a lot of bikers are the nicest people you’d ever meet. We ride for charity, we look out for one another, we give each other the V sign as we pass on the highway going opposite directions. (That’s my job, specifically, when riding the bike – look pretty and wave. Ask my husband – he’ll tell you). When we’re parked on the side of the rode because the bike is acting ornery, other riders always stop to see if everything is okay.


When my magnetic sunglass attachment flew off my glasses and I made my husband jump out of formation so we could turn around and look for them, a good sized crew of bike folk pulled over and waited for us. It was a good thing, too, because we didn’t know exactly where the next stop was.


Admittedly, motorcycle rides are my husband’s gig. I’d still be perfectly happy with my laptop and recliner. But. I have made a promise to myself to get outside and live a little, especially since our summers are so short and our winters are long. There is plenty of time to be anti-social when the snow flies.



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The Spirit of Service ride was our first time out on the Harley together this year. Personally, I really enjoy buying clothing to ride on the bike. I especially like buying leather. I like the stops. I like trying new coffee (or sometimes vodka) at different bars and such along the way. The ride was also a great motivator for me to get my iPhone loaded with music.


Writers have vivid imaginations. Without my mellow, soothing music, I tend to sit on the back of the bike and have gruesome visions of how I could die any minute now. iTunes helps.


But where are the rebels, you ask?


We had approximately 50 bikes on this 150 mile ride. We had three or four really brave riders who controlled traffic for us. They weren’t in uniform. They didn’t have police authority. They just burned rubber to the head of the caravan and blocked intersections with their bikes and their bodies.


Talk about guts. Whoa!


It was nice though, because  all 50 of us were able to run the red light or the stop sign and ride in one big group. Probably safer – because pretty much everyone knew we were there, unlike the lone bike that often gets overlooked in traffic.


Sometimes there was honking and angry people. I sort of thought maybe a few of us could branch off and follow the angry ones, then solicit them to donate to our charity. “Hey, dude, you did not respect the group. You divided and inconvenienced the group by putting your car in the middle of it. Some gave all. You can give some.”


I like it. Of course, we didn’t do that. The few cars that ignored our impromptu roadblocks tended to pull over to the side of the road when they realized they were in the middle of a “gang” of 50 motorcycles. I don’t necessarily think it was intimidating, but it’s perhaps not the most comfortable position to be in.


In one small town a lady police officer had blocked the road for us. So perhaps the authorities were in on this, after all.


It was the whole road blocking thing that made me wonder if we were rebels, after all.


I think it’s possible. Rebels with a cause. That’s not too shabby. Live a little. Make sure you life has some fun stuff in it. Ride.


Happy Thursday, Darlings, and be glad it’s almost Friday!



Jul. 21st, 2011

Moon over Hawaii

Pushing Limits

7.21.11


Welcome to TMC, the Time Machine Challenge! Oh, no, wait. Never mind.


Welcome to Thursday Morning Coffee!



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Whew. That’s better. Scared myself for a second. Thought I was heading into Sci-Fi territory and was going to have to stretch the limits of my imagination. But no, that’s later this month. THIS is just our weekly coffee chat. Er, monologue.



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I am, however, going to talk about limits. About “The Line.'”


Just where the heck is that line, anyway?


One of the hardest things about being a parent how kids are always pushing limits. How far can I go? How long can I avoid doing what I’ve been told? How many minutes past my bedtime can I manage to stay in the living room? Seems like I’m either a waitress or like a drill sergeant, and I don’t like either of  those roles. Reining in, holding firm, saying no, and no, and no isn’t fun, and I find myself wondering how I gave birth to a child that pushes every boundary that I try to set.


And then I think about my habit of genre-bending in writing. It’s an Ah-Ha! moment.


I don’t like limits, either. And I’m always pushing against them.


My vampires are, in some respects, vile and nasty creatures. They do bad stuff, like eat people. They have little conscience, and less morality. And they’re the good guys, the ones I make you root for.


Oh, DeVante has his code, yes, but it’s more practical than moral. “Daniel’s too young, Roderick, too young!” DeVante would say. Too young at eighteen, nineteen. It wasn’t really Daniel’s age that DeVante found reprehensible, by the way. It was the fact that vampires made of human teenagers didn’t tend to survive, which made the effort of training, changing, and supervising them a huge waste of energy.


Let me also tell you this, dear reader. In the original draft, Daniel was sixteen. Roderick was twenty-five – and older than that including vampire time.


I was pushing limits right from the start, but I was forced by the industry to age my young character if I ever wanted his story published. Because characters in fiction must be eighteen years old to have consensual sexual relations of an erotic nature.


There’s a line. And it’s a pretty firm line.


But. I can be sneaky. I’ll give a gold star and a free read to the first person to guess which of my characters had erotic sex before age eighteen.  Hint: It’s not Lily.


This is just the beginning. I’ve run up against several genre limits, and sometimes my typing fingers get slapped by editors and reviewers.


Examples? Why yes, read on:


There is no rape in romance. Whoops, take that scene out.


There must be clear consent in BDSM erotic fiction. And more SSC (Safe, Sane and Consensual) than RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink. RACK isn’t safe enough for fiction. Well, slap my fingers and call me naughty.


Don’t get me wrong – SSC guidelines make a lot of sense for real life. I would not argue that, even though I know people who deviate from it.


When it comes to fiction, I have trouble coloring inside the lines.


Hmm… some others:


Romance requires a happy ending. (How is the three-way relationship in Above the Dungeon ever going to work? Two of the three can hardly stand one another).


Specific to gay romance, adult men (or vampires) do not have sex with underage boys.


In erotic fiction, it’s okay for one character to cum in another’s mouth, but not okay to pee. Oh and sometimes they can’t cum, but must come. Let’s not forget that. There are grosser taboos in erotica, but I’m not going to get into them.


Oh yeah, and here are some great examples of how NOT to write erotica. (No matter what the blog title says, don’t forget the word NOT)


Some of the lines seem to be set in industry standard stone, others vary by publisher. A writer tends to figure it out in the editing process. And since I’ve learned not be in love with every word that I write, I cut what I have to cut and move on.


I would say 99% of the time setting a scene behind a proscribed line is possible, and I’d rather toe the line and have my work read than ignore the line and leave it sleeping on my hard drive. Those are choices that I make, often with a nudge from an editor. I’m not angry about the lines either, I just notice that in first drafts I tend to ignore them, knowing that I’ll figure it out later.


If I don’t push the boundaries of literature, who will?


And yet - Sometimes it’s easier to self-edit from the get – if I know I’m writing erotic fiction,  I create characters that are at least eighteen. It saves me a lot of trouble and heartache down the road.


DeVante, if he noticed, would approve.


Happy Thursday, darlings!



Jul. 13th, 2011

Moon over Hawaii

TMC – Self-publishing Experiment

07.14.11



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Good morning, darlings, and welcome to Thursday morning coffee!


I am pondering the joys and/or frustrations of self-publishing. I know, there are blogs dedicated to this topic, like Joe Konrath’s Newbies Guide to Publishing, that are hugely more comprehensive on the subject than I will be, but this is what is on my mind this week. Plus, maybe I’ll get lucky and writing about it will straighten out all the data that is jumbling around rampant inside my head. Clearly characters, plot, and dialogue are better companions for me. (Click the Newbies Guide link – the entry for Tuesday July 5th is about how “they” - whoever “they” might be -  are needlessly afraid that bad writers might screw up the whole world order by self-publishing bad books).



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All right. So.


Why e-format? I have a small-press publisher and a contract for a paperback. I could write myself a writerly resume and do some standard submissions. Oh, yes, I could. A little research, a little patience, and I could certainly publish them in print.


Print is the dream. My book in 6x9 trade paperback on my shelf. In my hands and real. Hell, I even wrote a note to myself in my “keep forever” copy, because I am that much of a geek (grin). I admit it.


But now I’m the wanton, slutty girl who keeps saying, “More. Faster.”


The sad truth is that 6x9 paperback sales are a bit dismal for a little-known author.  I tell people about my books. I have nice business cards that point to this blog and a book page on this blog that offers buy links. My covers are awesome, my chapters start with beautiful drop-caps, my publisher “gets it” as far as creating a phenomenal book.


I spend as much time marketing as I can stand, and it feels less useful than if I used my time writing down the daydreams that are spinning in my head. Because writing would be practicing craft.


I want to build a fan base. I want a hundred thousand people to “one-click purchase” every damn thing I write. When a dream is fulfilled, a new one springs to life. Having a goal to work toward is a key to happiness. A hundred thousand is lofty. I suppose I’d settle for less. Smile


More. Faster. The only way I can offer more to my readers faster is to get more of my writing out there NOW. Short stories available in e-format for cheap or free feels like the way to do that.


So… I’m thinking about getting a couple of short stories out there in e-format. One of my short works is a little taste of life on a psychiatric unit called My Fifteen Minutes.


I’m choosing Smashwords because DeVante’s Coven is available there. And because Smashwords has a free formatting guide for conversion of a Word Doc  into an e-book. The guide gives step-by-step instructions (including pictures) about how to strip a manuscript of formatting and prepare it to become an e-book that will be available for many different types of e-readers.


Because I’m an experienced MS Word user, and because the Smashwords formatting requirements aren’t too far off from my small-press publisher’s requirements, the formatting part was not all that tough. My Fifteen Minutes needs feedback from my early readers, and a final proof from me, and should be ready to go.


Of course, there comes a moment when a book needs a cover. Even an e-book.


And this, my darlings, is where the trouble starts.


I am a writer. I am good with words words words words. And I am a total dunderhead when it comes to graphic design. Total. Dunderhead. Even when I want More Faster.


I have beautiful photographs with which to create book covers. I have a love of all things font. But I cannot marry the two. Perhaps because I don’t have the proper tools, though perhaps even then it would be fairly hopeless. The tools I have at my disposal, aside from my photos, are MS Paint and Word Art. They don’t actually work well together, but I came up with this:



My fifteen minutes cover


You would not believe how much trouble that was. First I cropped a picture of some clouds to get the most dramatic effect.


Here’s the original picture:



bright clouds


Then I inserted the cropped photo into a blank Word document. Then I spent HOURS fooling around with Word Art. Word Art is tricky. There are shadow effects, 3-D effects, swoops, banner styles, and so on. THEN – there’s the matter of “fill” – if you’ve worked with Word Art you know there are a million and three ways to “fill” Word Art, with color, transparency effects, rainbow effects, textures… you get the idea.


Simple large black font – Times New Roman (no kidding!) looked the best. Now I have a dramatic book cover with an acceptable font… but here’s the tricky part -  technically, it is a WORD document, a .doc file. And for a book cover I need a .jpg.


Oh dear.


What would we do without Google, anyway?


How do you make an image in MS Word become a graphic JPG file?


Well, let me explain how I did it. (There might be a way that is far superior and less complicated than MY way, btw, but obviously I don’t know what that way might be). I had to make the completed book cover small enough so the whole thing showed on my laptop screen. Then I hit “Print Screen” on the keyboard. Then I opened a blank MS Paint document. Then I hit Ctrl-V to copy the screen print into Paint.



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Then I saved it as a JPG. THEN I opened that image with MS Office Picture Manager, clicked “Edit photo” and cropped all of the screen print crap out.


Which left me with a really small book cover graphic.


I don’t know if it will matter or not. I mean, e-book covers tend to be thumbnails, so maybe a little pixelating around the font won’t be apparent.


Here’s what happens if I skip the Word Art/MS Word part, and just add text to the photograph in MS Paint.




It loses something, doesn’t it? Partly, I think,  because  I don’t know how to get the thick black border in Paint without hand drawing it. And I am NOT doing that. No way.


And here was my original “blank” short story cover – just to demonstrate that Word Art tends to be identifiable enough to be made fun of:



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I removed the “short fiction” tag because it kind of gives the idea that the book is a collection of short stories. I don’t want to be misleading.


I tried it in red, too, but didn’t like that at all.smj short fic cover


Black font is the best, at least with the cloud background.


My friend Coral fiddled with a cover for this, too. She came up with one I liked, but I’m not sure the title will show up in a thumbnail size. And I’m still attached to the thick black border.



Coral cover 1


So anyway. My Fifteen Minutes by SM Johnson available soon at Smashwords (I hope).


I will keep ya’ll updated.


Happy Thursday, darlings! Friday is just around the bend. And so is my mind.



Jul. 7th, 2011

Moon over Hawaii

Daniel’s Hometown Tour

07.07.11

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Duluth MN – (1) A Cold ass town on a hill where you can't get lost. All you have to do is pop the clutch and let the car coast and you'll find your way to Lake Superior. The two major Duluthian Pasttimes are Getting Drunk and Getting Frostbite.  (7) a homophobic, racist… town full of hicks. has no culture whatsoever…

The above definitions are opinion, not fact. More may be viewed at  Urban Dictionary.

I thought it might be fun to give a virtual tour of Daniel Winthrop’s hometown, which is my hometown, too. Photos, unless otherwise noted, are shamelessly stolen (with permission) from my good friend William.

Daniel Winthrop, the main character in my upcoming release, DeVante’s Children, hails from the northern MN town of Duluth. It is a beautiful city, but often cold and intractably conservative. I have said, more than half-seriously, that Duluth is a big white bubble. In more than one way.

First, there is a lot of white snow and ice here.

lakewalk winter

iced canal park lampposts

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(Above is the pier that Daniel and Roderick walk after Pride)

Second, there are a lot of white people here. Daniel’s experience of never having met a black person until he was 12 is perhaps less possible today than in 1981, but not by much.

I’m not speaking out of criticism, I’m just trying to explain what is, and why Daniel had to flee.

There are ZERO gay bars or clubs in Duluth. There are 1 to 3 gay (the actual number depends on what you consider a “gay” club ) across the St. Louis Bay  in Superior, WI. The Main Club, The Flame Nightclub, and JT’s Bar and Grill. It only takes a few minutes to drive from Duluth to Superior in a car, but public transportation between the two cities of the Twin Ports is limited to once an hour, at best.

Here’s a picture of Elephant Rock in Lincoln Park, which would be considered by Daniel’s parents to be the “wrong” side of town, by the way. There is an anonymous child on top of the rock, near the center – just for a size reference.

Elephant Rock

And now a picture at the top of what’s known as the Turtle Slide, in the same park. No, I don’t know why it’s called the Turtle Slide. LOL.

Turtle Slide

And a view of the Turtle Slide from below:

Turtle Slide from below

Duluth’s Canal Park is popular with residents as well as tourists.

The Aerial Lift Bridge spans the shipping canal and leads to Park Point, a 5 mile long sandbar, beach, and prime real estate.

Here is the bridge in its standard street level position:

Aeriel Bridge down

Here’s the bridge surface raised up a little bit to allow one of the Vista’s Fleet to pass underneath. The road surface actually lifts pretty much to the top to allow 1,000 foot ocean-traveling ore boats to pass underneath. It is amazing to see.

Aeriel bridge up

How about some Duluth Superior PRIDE pictures? Here is RuPaul.

Here are some leather boys:RuPaul 6 crop

boys in leather

And RuPaul again, because… well, why not?

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Al Franken in the PRIDE parade:

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Festival Saturday at Bayfront Park (in close vicinity to Canal Park) is a huge, fun, rainbow-filled event:

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Here’s a view looking in the direction of downtown, which is opposite the lake and the canal. Significant is “the big hill.” Northlanders go “over the hill” to the mall, the Barnes & Noble, and if they are headed to the Iron Range.

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These next few pics were taken by my mother. Here’s sort of the opposite view, from the top of the hill to the east, looking out over the harbor. You can see the sailboats flocking around the Tall Ships, which came in as an exhibit for a few days. The stretch of land to the right that angles across is Park Point (the 5 mile sandbar). The large buildings in the center and at the far right are parts of Essentia Health.

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Here’s a winter shot of Lake Superior and one lonely, foggy ore ship. Yes, the summer pics are prettier, but the truth is that Duluth winters are long and dreary, so don’t be fooled. We just get crazy happy when the sun shines and the temp rises above 50 F, so we take a lot of pictures.

moms pics, cruise 230

Winter scenes are by far the most common. In the next picture, look how HUGE the ship entering the pier is compared to the actual pier. The channel is narrow, but it is DEEP. The “barge” in the center is the ship, the “barge” to the right of the ship is the canal, and if you look hard you can see the Aerial Lift Bridge – tee-tiny, and that ship will go underneath it. Amazing.

moms pics, cruise 078

One more that shows a little perspective. The foreground is Duluth, MN. The angled stretch of land is Park Point, and on the far side of the Point and beyond is Superior, WI. There are two bridges that connect Duluth and Superior – the Blatnik Bridge, otherwise known as the High Bridge – and the Richard I. Bong Bridge, otherwise known as the Bong Bridge. I’m just reporting the names, folks, I did not make them up.

moms pics, cruise 008

I will leave you with what Daniel saw the night he walked the Canal with his elusive-maybe-vampire-boyfriend Roderick, begging Roderick not to leave him… you might even see a version of this picture on the cover of DeVante’s Children!

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Happy Thursday, Darlings!

Jun. 29th, 2011

Moon over Hawaii

Tell us a story, Storyteller

(with a bonus interview with New Orleans author Greg Herren)

06.30.11


I have a weird and wondrous story to tell about my path to becoming a published novelist. The journey started with (you'll never guess this part)… writing a novel from beginning to end.

This should be the first stepping stone for every person who wants to publish a novel. Yeah, it sounds like a no-brainer, but the truth is that many people start writing a novel but never quite get around to finishing it.
Agents, editors, and publishers don't have the time to invest in an unknown writer who might, eventually, finish writing a book. It doesn't matter how stellar the idea is, or how nicely the sentences in a query are strung together.

It took me years (ten, if you must know) to write a complete first draft of DeVante's Children. And after all of that, it wasn't even good yet. I sent packets to agents and publishers and received rejection letters (if I received anything at all, that is). I joined a ListServ writer's group and received critiques that thickened my skin.

I re-wrote the book. More than once. More than twice.

I read everything in the vampire genre that I could lay my hands on. (It was possible to do this in the pre-Twilight years, FYI).

I started writing a new book, which is a technique I highly recommend. The new book was easier. I was a better writer with better writing habits. And I had learned to trust the process – so long as I keep pounding out the words, the story will come. I had a full first draft of DeVante's Coven in eighteen months.

When I wasn't writing, re-writing, or reading, I tried to connect with other writers. Facebook and Twitter didn't exist, but I found on-line communities, critique groups, and email groups.

If an author of a book I liked had a public email address, I'd send a message. I couldn't imagine an author not wanting to hear that someone liked their book. (I still can't imagine it. Email me. Tell me you loved my book. Please?)

One of the authors I had a sporadic correspondence with was Greg Herren.

What makes many writers' paths to publication interesting is that every journey is twisted and convoluted in its own way. Each of us has taken a different route to reach this destination. There are key markers along the way – learning the craft of writing, and connecting with people who will say your writing sucks and then tell you exactly why. Some of them will even tell you how to fix it!

But Greg didn't read my novel and proclaim me the worst writer in the world. He didn't introduce me to his publisher who thought I was the greatest writer in the world, either. And I didn't ask him to do any of these things.

I told him I liked his book. I probably asked him a few questions about publishing. I'm pretty sure I asked him about gay vampires, as I was still struggling with the fact that Daniel, the main character of DeVante's Children, was gay. That hadn't been in the outline, and it both excited and blindsided me. It was Greg who informed me (gently) that gay vampires were not new, that it had been done before. Heck, it had been done by him.

I could have been disappointed, but he was always encouraging and kind.

Sometimes the little things turn out to be the big things. The favorite bedtime story shared with a child, the little decisions that lead to a whole new direction in life, the small kindness of a passing stranger that brings hope to a fledgling writer.

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Greg, his partner, Paul, and scores of other people relocated to other parts of the country. Kindness made me want to know that Greg and Paul were doing all right. An internet search sent me to Greg's Live Journal page and gave me some reassurance.

Another search result popped up, too, for a writing contest sponsored by Suspect Thoughts Press called Project: QueerLit. The links were not particularly related. Perhaps Greg had written something published by the contest sponsor. I never figured it out. But there was the contest, and all I needed to enter was an unpublished novel with a gay main character. Coincidence, Karma, or fluke?

I entered DeVante's Children and won an honorable mention.

Two years later I entered DeVante's Coven.


And won the grand prize of a paperback contract.

Meeting Greg Herren last year at Saints and Sinners was a big deal to me. This year I managed to be a little less shy, and asked Greg some questions about Katrina, New Orleans, and his work. I figure if I want to talk about him, the least I can do is rope him into the conversation and maybe even pimp his writing. Please check out his recent releases with Bold Strokes Books.





 

 

 

 

Quick and dirty (well, not all that dirty!) interview with Greg Herren:

In the Scotty Bradley Adventure Vieux Carre Voodoo, Scotty talks about how Katrina changed him. The book carries a theme about reaching for the brass ring and living in the moment, because you never know what might happen tomorrow. How did Katrina change you as a person, a writer, or both?

vieux_carre_voodoo


Katrina changed me as a person in much the same way it changed Scotty; a realization that everything can be taken away from you in the blink of an eye. We always take for granted that tomorrow is going to be there, that our lives will be the same, and there's always going to be time to do all the things we want to do, and dream about doing. I had already thought I was aware of that--I'd always dreamed of being a writer but never did anything about it, until i realized it wasn't going to just 'happen' unless I made it happen. It was a sobering realization. We don't like to think about those possibilities; that tomorrow I could get hit by a bus crossing the street, or the tornado is going to come ripping through my neighborhood, or some idiot on a cell phone is going to plow into my car. But it does happen, every day. I once said I never wanted to look back on my life with regrets for not doing things I always wanted to do. So, now I try to remember that and take chances, do the things I've always dreamed of doing. Paul and I are going to Europe next year for the first time--which I've always wanted to do.


I get the feeling from reading your books and your blog that you have an ongoing passionate love for New Orleans. Where in the city would you send a visitor so they could experience what you love most about New Orleans?

You know, it's really the little things I love the most about New Orleans. I love the pie lady, who walks around yelling "PIES! FRESH BAKED PIES!" I love that you can be walking to the post office and come across a second line parade. I love that there's always live music playing somewhere. I love the smell of garlic outside Irene's on Chartres Street. The sky is such a stunningly beautiful shade of blue here. I love that the clouds at night over the French Quarter are pink from all the neon glowing. I love walking along the river on top of the levee and watching the freighters and barges. I love the sound of the streetcars. I love the way total strangers start up a conversation like they're old friends. I love watching the local public school marching bands in Mardi Gras parades. I love the way the trees on St. Charles Avenue have beads trapped in their branches.


Some of those little things never came back after Katrina--like the little kids tap-dancing for tips with bottle caps on their shoes.


Listen to the pie lady here. I'm not positive it's the right pie lady, but maybe?

Here are some trees on St. Charles. If you look closely and maybe squint, you’ll see the beads.

DSCN0190
 
What current project are you most excited about?

Right now I am finishing a vampire novel and the next Chanse mystery. I am pretty pleased with both of them, but next year I am writing another y/a I can't wait to start, and a romantic suspense novel--I've always wanted to write one, and now I actually have the chance to do it. I think about both of these two books all of the time--which kind of sucks since I have to finish these other two first. I also am toying with ideas for another Scotty. There's a very strong possibility that this Chanse book will be the last one, so I really want it to be good, go out with a bang, if you know what I mean. I also have a couple of short stories I'm working on I am really enjoying.


Murder in the Garden District

I know exactly how hard it is to work on existing projects when new ideas are screaming for attention!

For more about Greg Herren, check out this recent interview by Jeffrey Ricker for Lambda Literary or visit Greg's blog, Queer and Loathing in America.

Thursday = almost Friday. Yay! (Or as Greg would say – Huzzah!)

Happy Thursday, darlings! Hope you have a great weekend.

Jun. 22nd, 2011

Moon over Hawaii

The Good Life

I can never know what anyone else's life feels like, just this one. My own.

I know, I'm thinking thoughts that can be passed off as deep, but in fact are not. DeVante and crew can speak into one another's heads, but I have long been aware that we human beings are not so lucky. We are, ultimately, alone inside our own heads.

Well, some of us are alone. I happen to have a cacophony of characters leaping around in there creating all kinds of ruckus, and they don't settle down until I let them out to play. That's writing. At least that's writing for me.

I am a day-dreamer, a silly-pants, and I am oh, so frequently lost inside my own head. It is a beautiful, wondrous place, and I like it there.

But.

Real life so often intrudes. Like when school is out and there's a child mooning about, glaring at her toys and video games, and moaning, "Mo-om, I'm bored. Play with me," and I have to go to work at three o'clock, and the muse is pounding my patience into dust.

And then it's Monday night and I've had to work the day job all weekend, but our shows are on tonight, and my husband deserves a snuggle. Or at least some time together in the same room.

It's Tuesday and I haven't hung out with my mother in weeks, and the house out of toilet paper and food again, damn it, and I have no choice about going to the store.

It's Wednesday, and all I want to do is write a blog, but the dishes need to be washed and the child stays up until midnight because she has a sore throat.

All I want to do is write.

I count the lost hours. No, more than that. I mourn them.

There's a pressure to be productive every moment. There's pressure to create free moments in which to be productive. It makes me think that it must be lovely to not be a writer, and I wonder if other artists feel this way.

I could say, "Yes, I'm free that day, and it would be lovely to get together for coffee." Maybe I'd see my in-laws more than twice a year. Maybe I'd pop over to my brother's house in the morning just to shoot the shit. Maybe I'd have more friends. Maybe I'd figure out what's the big deal with American Idol, or America's Top Model, or have a clue about who the hell the Kardashians are.

And yet… I'd lose the words.

Words that Emily might say about her daughter: I wondered how many hours she'd spent crying since I called her from the hospital. I often referred to her as my girl. But she had always been her daddy's girl more than she was ever mine.

The words rattle and roam in my brain and repeat themselves endlessly until I finally write them down. And the muse will be content to rest for a moment. But it's never long before she gets restless and stirs up my brain again. I think I've said somewhere before that the muse is like a great white-winged seagull that drops ideas onto my head, then flies off laughing, leaving me behind to do all the work. Sometimes the idea is nothing more than a sentence, and it's my job to make sense of the thing, build the whole story out of practically nothing.

Who is Emily, anyway? A name, a vision… a cardboard cut-out on a flat piece of paper. Well, that's who she is without DeVante, right? But add DeVante, give them history, give them separation, and suddenly you get something like this: I lifted out the cotton-wrapped bundle and hugged it to my chest, letting the strange beauty of old sadness seep into my heart. These things cannot hurt me the way they did when the pain was fresh and new. Time works its quiet magic, mending and molding us so carefully that we rarely notice the stitches, and only see the scars when we take the time to look for them.

There are the heavy, soul-revealing moments, but then there are the light-hearted ones, the ones where Emily drives DeVante beyond all patience, until he finally has to talk back:

"You asked for a mortal lifetime – nay, you demanded it, and I allowed you to go. Do you think my options were limited? Do you think you had some power over me that I had no choice but to let you leave? No. The only power you had was that which I gave you. Your mortal husband is dead. Your mortal child is grown. You have had your lifetime. Now it is my time. I have waited quite long enough."

"So I am out of choices?"

"There are always choices. You can choose me or you can choose nothing. But I am done playing games."

"Nice, DeVante. Way to win a lady's heart."

He started rocking me from side to side. "You knew I would come, and you were ready. I should like to think you have already made the hard decisions."

"But is it so wrong to want to move slowly out of my life and into yours?"

"Not at all." But there was something strange in his voice, and it seemed like he went quiet before he finished the thought. Like there was something hanging in the air between us that he was leaving unsaid.

"What?" I asked. "Tell me."

"I take what I want, when I want it. I am not human, and I have no qualms about using the human world to serve me to my greatest purpose." His caramel voice wrapped around me like his arms, heavy and warm, sliding over my skin and sending shivers down my spine. "But you. Well. I have loved you from the first, allowed you to be my conscience, and have stayed well away for many years at your request. Forgive me for being impatient."

Yes, forgive me for being impatient. Forgive me, family. Forgive me, friends. Forgive me, partner. Forgive me, child.

Writing is my drug.

I could stop doing it. For the summer, maybe forever. Prozac would allow me to live quite happily without words. To bed at ten at night then up and running off to work in the morning. The muse would drop her ideas on me, and I would be like Teflon, content to let them slide away. I could make more friends and we could commiserate about anti-depressants. I'd accept more invitations, play more board games, and watch more television. And I could function without the muse, relax without the work. At least for a while.

But then the words would be lost, the hours mourned, and I'd just be a person with a job and a family. It paints a pretty picture, doesn't it? A life in which one has no need to eek out quiet writing hours in the night, the morning, or the middle of the day. Fuck the muse. Let her go shit on someone else's head.

It's a thought, but a poor one, because then we'd never have this:

The last page slipped from the printer and I felt utterly alone as I held it in my hands. "Ah Daniel, Roderick, DeVante... how I shall miss you, my very good friends." I could cry for finishing the story – because it had crawled into my head and stayed there for so many years. "Yes, I shall miss you now that your story is finished."

"Ah, dear writer, it is not an ending, it is the beginning. Of your story."

The voice was in my room, not my imagination, and the rich tone fell over me like a warm blanket.

I froze in place and the page slipped from my hands. I was afraid to turn around.

"Do you not want to look upon my face?"

I turned slowly, and then I stared. There he was, the vampire, as utterly beautiful as I had created him to be. He stood not three feet away… as if he had just stepped from the page.

And I can’t live happily without this. I’d be lost. 

Therefore today's key to happiness is… Living the good life is chasing your dreams and living with a passion for something.

Peace out darlings, enjoy your coffee!

Jun. 16th, 2011

Moon over Hawaii

Beautiful Words

I think one of the primary reasons I am a writer is because I am in love with words. I was a poet long before I ever thought to be a novelist, and it is still satisfying to manage big scary emotions by whittling them down to a few perfect words.

Like Life

 

Walking and among the dirt brown gray

a glint

red gleam bright shiny

and my heart hurts for a moment

then lifts

sudden sharp understanding

yes

life is like that.

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I write stories these days, most of them novel-length. Genre-choosing is tricky business, and I avoid doing it as much as possible – are the vampire novels horror or paranormal romance? erotica or gay & lesbian fiction? Can a story be GLBT fiction and still be mainstream? Can BDSM be anything other than erotica? Does character-driven fiction have to be called romance?

My characters live in my head and on the page, where their lives unfold chapter by chapter. They talk and cry and think, and have sex with the bedroom door open. I love it when they say beautiful things. Snippets of sweet nothings live on my flash drive even when there is not yet a story in which they belong:

I want to take the time to lay you out in the daylight, explore you from the curve of your breast to the curve of your ass, set my teeth on the bone of your hip, brand you there with my tongue, the way you branded me with your fingers and your words. I want to discover your sweet spots, name them, make them my own. I want to trace your tattoos, every line, every shaded place, examine your toes with my mouth. I want to part your legs, kiss the soft skin of your inner thigh, carefully open your layers, look and touch and taste you. And although I know you like it rough, I want to slide my fingers into you gently, reveling in your slick soft sweet, and that you would be still and allow me this. I would lock eyes with you, put my fingers in my mouth, and have you watch me taste the essence of you. And I would press them again into your center, and then to your lips, offering yourself to you, loving you, the girl, and begging you to love her, too. I would make love to you as if you were utterly fragile and might break.

Words and words and more words.

If I am to love a book forever, all it really takes is one small passage of perfect words. Words that shift heart or mind, words that frame the feelings we so often keep hidden, for fear of letting too much hang out.

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Housekeeping for the following sections: Click on a title or book cover to learn more about a particular book. When possible I’ve linked book titles to author sites. Otherwise the link will lead to a buy page (probably Amazon). I dearly hope I am not stepping on toes or infringing copyright… if you are the owner of something I’ve quoted and you want it removed, do let me know.  Now, back to Thursday Morning Coffee…

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I could quote passage after passage from Anne Rice, whose work inspired me to create my own vampires. Her Lestat is surely a devil, and he ruminates at length about his own fiendishness, and yet he is beloved. Here are words from The Tale of the Body Thief, David Talbot talking to Lestat:

"No, you're not evil, that's not it," he whispered. "It's me, don't you understand. It's my fear! You don't know what this adventure has meant to me! To be here again in this part of the great world – and with you! I love you. I love you desperately, and insanely, I love the soul inside you, and don't you see, it's not evil. It's not greedy. But it's immense. It overpowers even this youthful body because it is your soul, fierce and indomitable and outside time – the soul of the true Lestat. I can't give in to it. I can't… do it. I'll lose myself forever if I do it.."

Body thief cover

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And then there are writers who describe things perfectly simply, and yet in a way that is almost like a punch to the gut. From Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions:

The mystery of all this still leaves me scratching my head, that a baby was made in my body, grew on my milk, and lives here in the house with the kitty and me. It's too big to comprehend: Pammy said the other day that the thing happening in her body is so bizarre, so unthinkable, that trying to accept it is like being eight years old again with someone explaining to her that the light from the star she is staring at took twenty years to reach her. All she can do is stand there staring at the star with a kind of fearful wonder, waiting for the information to make sense.

operating instructions

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This next one is from a book that I can't even pick up without feeling my throat go tight. It's Elizabeth Berg's Talk Before Sleep. If I need a good, healthy cry, this is the book. I can read just about any section of it and end up sobbing. In fact, just looking for a passage to share left me damp:

I walk around the house , touching things; a book, the smooth surface of the kitchen counter, Meggie's bear that smells like her. Then I get into the bathtub, lie back with a wet washrag over my face, and let go. It's a howling, really, a self-indulgent letting go of some part of my awful pain. And then, I sense her presence. I sit up, pull the washrag off my face, frightened and exhilarated. She will appear, see-through, say something so wise and healing I can easily go on. But she does not appear. I only hear her voice inside my head. "Knock it off," she says. And I do.

My ultimate favorite passage from Talk Before Sleep is about the ordinary strangeness of being married for a long time, and again, there's a simplicity to the truth-telling that slays me every time:

I too had had my moments of sitting on the side of the bed in the morning, looking at my husband getting dressed and wanting to take his arm and say, "Let's just stop this." One doesn’t. One makes coffee.

Talk before sleep

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Purely for inspiration, from a man who certainly knows what the ins and outs of being a best-selling author entail, here's a beautiful nugget from Stephen King's On writing:

Some of this book – perhaps too much – has been about how I learned to do it. Much of it has been about how you can do it better. The rest of it – and perhaps the best of it – is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you're brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.

On Writing

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And just so you don't get the wrong idea, I'm perfectly able to be in love with my own words, as much as I am in love with the words of others. It makes editing difficult, and hammers home the idea of "killing your darlings." Certainly we cannot be in love with every word of every first draft. How could we possibly keep everything and still mine the depths for the real story if that were the case?

Words bring me joy. I hope you find words that bring you joy as well.

If you want to read a sweet, quiet book that reads like poetry, try Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver. I'd share my favorite passage, but I lent the book to someone, and it has yet to be returned. If you happen to have the book, the passage one from Sam's POV, while he's working at the bookstore. He notices the sunlight turns the dust in the air to gold and how the summer heat makes the bookstore smell like unread words. I know I'm not describing it as well as Maggie did, but it's the best I can do.

shiver_thumb

All right, back to your regularly scheduled programming. Happy Thursday, darlings!

Jun. 9th, 2011

Moon over Hawaii

Coffee and Cats

 

First off, for your Thursday morning coffee, let me just say that… I love coffee. I am addicted to it. I need it in the morning, and I need it in the afternoon. If I don’t have to get up early, I drink it right until bedtime. The fully caffeinated version. If I don’t get coffee by 4 PM, my mood drops, and I become lethargic, irritable, and really quite cranky. This is very noticeable, because my normal mood is happy, cheerful, and game for just about anything.

folgers 2

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A couple of years ago, my husband and I went to Sturgis, SD for bike week. We rode with a group of ten riders and passengers. We rode for hours every day. And let me tell you, I had such an attractive and enjoyable little snit after 5:30 the first day that 9 bikers made sure we stopped at a coffee joint by 4 PM every single day thereafter.

Ahhh, the power of coffee.

I keep decaf in the house, and I do drink it on work nights, but it’s not the same as my beloved Folgers.

I leave my house two-fisted with coffee. One travel mug to drink on the way, and one that I sip off of for the rest of the morning. Work coffee is icky. It’s definitely not Folgers.

I worked a double shift the other day at the hospital, and discovered another wonderful form of coffee: Starbucks Double shot. In a can. I found it in the refrigerated section of Walgreens. I bounced through my 2nd shift singing, “Super-extra-caffeinated Starbucks Double shot. Iced.” People laughed at me. I laughed at myself. It was caffeinated fun. Double shot for a double shift. Highly recommended!

Starbucks double shot

Onward and forward to the subject of cats.

Cats are weird. I may have mentioned this a time or two. My cat, I think, is particularly weird, but I could be wrong about that considering he’s the only cat that I know well. He retrieves me at 10 PM because it’s bedtime. And if I refuse to come to bed, he stands by my chair and bitches at me with his “pissed off squirrel” voice. It totally cracks me up. The other weird thing he does is with his tail. He likes to be stroked from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail, and this is the only acceptable petting. He will suffer through other kinds of petting, but not for long, and it’s pretty obvious that he’s not enjoying it. Anyway, if I pet him correctly, there’s a tension in his tail, and he wraps it around my forearm and  pets me back.

Just for fun, here’s a picture of the dog being jealous of the cat:

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The dog and cat have lived together for a full year now, and they remain absolutely not friends. They don’t hurt each other, although they do take turns chasing each other. One day the cat is afraid of the dog, the next the dog is afraid of the cat. It’s endlessly entertaining around here.

The cat’s new thing is to run to the back door, then turn and meow at me in a rather demanding way, and he’s clearly saying, “Hello? I want to go outside now.” What’s funny about this is that he’s never been allowed outside. But his body language is pure and total expectation that I am going to open that door and let him out. I almost feel guilty, like I’m keeping him a prisoner, and that the first chance he gets, he’s moving in with the neighbors.

I wish you wonderful coffee on this pleasant Thursday, Darlings!

Jun. 1st, 2011

Moon over Hawaii

Saints and Sinners 2011

I recently attended the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. It was, omigosh, a GREAT time. If you’re a GLBT writer looking for a conference that’s both fabulous and affordable, I urge you to consider S&S (Saints and Sinners). The parties are fun, the classes are stellar, and the panels are informative. And on top of all that, it’s the French Quarter, and that’s a party all by itself.
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It would take me hours to run down all the great stuff I learned, so I’ll just give a quick overview and some links. Jess Wells taught a class about setting and world building, and I just have to say… she knows her stuff. My head is spinning with all the wonderful ways I can strengthen my WIPs (works in progress) through the use of setting. I will freely admit that, until now, I have used setting as a backdrop, but going forward I hope to create settings that become an integral part of the story, that drive the plot forward, and challenge my characters to grow.

Aaron Hamburger told me what not to do when writing about sex, and gave me a whole list of new things to consider when I’m writing erotica. What’s not to love about that?

Achy Obejas taught a fantastic class about conflict  that included a mini-workshop where we got to practice giving our characters stakes, obstacles, and disappointments. I walked out of there thinking about really devious ways to force my characters to grow.

In addition to the classes, I attended several panel discussions, with topics such as Social Networking, The Future of Publishing, and Blogging Book Reviews.

I also read an excerpt from DeVante’s Children at a wonderful classic used bookstore called FAB. AND, if that isn’t awesome enough, Otis had DeVante’s Coven in the window of the store (which is sort of rare, because the book is available as POD (Print on Demand). But look, look! There it is! Right there, in the middle!

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Here I am posing with DeVante’s Coven after the reading…

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We did party a little bit here and there (well, okay, we might have got an eensie-weensie bit tipsy pretty much every night)… and we talked and laughed and danced and made friends. One of the best parts of this conference for me is that I get to hang out with my publisher, Sven Davisson, and his partner, Nate, and that totally rocks.

We stayed at Olivier House. The courtyard table on the front page of their site is where we had our coffee every morning. I’ll close this entry with a picture of my husband and I standing in the hallway of Olivier House. Do we look happy and relaxed, or what? You know it!

 

 

Happy Thursday, Darlings!

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