Letting Go

My heart was shredded today, left bleeding on a table, and then patched back up. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again. Today, in Clay Circuit court, our guardianship of my beautiful grand-daughter came to an end.
We reached an agreement with Jade’s mom for visitation (very liberal, I will add because Jadie will be staying with us except for three days a week). This visitation will be written into the agreement and become an order of the court. Jadie’s mom, Ken, and I all agreed that until after Jadie’s father’s trial, her uncle D.J. will continue to pick her up on Tuesdays and take her to see her dad for half an hour and then D.J. and his family can spend time with Jadie.
Jadie’s dad was in the court room today, and let me tell you, it was horrible to see him in striped pajamas and shackled with a waist chain, hand-cuffed to that waist chain, and fettered around the ankles. I am in no way condoning what he has done—but, for a while there, he seemed to have his life in order. What made it so horrible was at no time did he ever once admit that where he was and the circumstances he found himself in were his fault, through his choices. He made promises that I’ve heard over and over in the past six years, promises to do better when he is released, promises to never put her in harm’s way…
And, I have to trust that Jadie’s mom will abide by the court order. A large part of me believes she will, because she does love her daughter very much and says she wants what is best for Jadie. Yet, there is so much broken trust between the two of us.

I’m just going to have to let go and pray. And, I’m not really good at letting go…

Chocolate Frosting by the Spoonful

I’m having a pity party. A full-blown, eating ready-made chocolate frosting from the container by the spoonful, moping, whining pity party…
Why the pity party? BECAUSE I CAN!
Seriously, because I can. Because my proverbial, literary hide should be a whole lot tougher and I really thought it was. Because when someone leaves a review on my Amazon page that leaves me scratching my head and asking myself if that reviewer even read the book, my first instinct is to rip into said reviewer with every weapon at my disposal, call them out into the middle of a dusty street and suggest they slap leather. (Unfortunately, that’s illegal and I really do not look good in prison jumpsuit orange—or any shade of orange, for that matter.) My second instinct is to curl up in a ball, whimper like a frightened puppy, and eat ready-made chocolate frosting from the container by the spoonful. My third instinct is to do what I do best, and that’s write. (Lemme finish this container of frosting, first.)
My hackles come way up when it’s suggested I ripped off the plot line of an old movie, even if it is a John Wayne movie, as much as I love The Duke. As any of my former students in college freshman composition will tell you, if I even think a paper is plagiarized, I’m on the war path and may God Almighty have mercy on your soul. For the record—here are the similarities between that John Wayne movie (Angel and the Badman) and The Devil’s Own Desperado. Wayne played a character named Quirt Evans. My character’s name is Colt Evans. Quirt is a shootist who gets shot and ends up at the home of a family of Quakers. Colt is a shootist who gets shot and ends up at the home of a young woman raising her younger brother and sister. (I wonder how many Western novels, romance or not, have an injured gunfighter showing up on the doorstep of the female protagonist. Oh, wait…it’s a standard trope of the genre, actually.) Both men hang up the iron by the end of the movie/book and stay with the female protagonist. End of the similarities. Quirt never agonizes over the decision to take up hanging onto a plow. Colt knows he can’t hang up his revolver because he knows that it’s a question of when and not if his past finds him and he not about to leave Amy and her younger siblings in the line of fire. There are no battles over water rights in my novel, I’ve got a young woman orphaned by gunmen raising her younger siblings, and her father was a gunman who hid his past behind a preacher’s collar. The only things quaking in my novel are aspen trees.
This reviewer also said that I was using idioms in the wrong context so that they meant exactly the opposite of what was implied. Riiiiiiiight…NO. I had two multi-published and highly respected Western historical writers read the final draft before I started to shop it to publishers. One of those writers has won the Spur Award twice and was short listed for the Pulitzer. She was checking my idiom usage and the slang of the period. I trust her judgment.
Oh, and the comment about needing an editor…maybe I should tell MY EDITOR at my publisher that I need an editor. She’ll probably get a chuckle out of that.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I still have some chocolate frosting to eat before I go write my hero and heroine out of a particularly nasty situation.

What Dreams Are Made Of

GCh. Wych’s Prince of Summer “Snape”
photo credit: Erin Gorney/Fuzzy Feet Photography
So, I’m sitting at my desk, thinking about nothing in general and watching Dixie sleeping in her whelping box. And, that got me to thinking in a very specific direction. This is the first planned breeding I have done in more than six years. The last litters three years ago I had weren’t planned by me, but they were planned by Junior, who climbed the fence while we were on vacation to be in the same large yard with the girls who were in season. Thanks, Junior…NOT. But, even that wasn’t bad because one of the girls Junior bred, while it wasn’t the optimum breeding I would have done with her, still combined pedigrees and blended well. The only puppy, Miss Ziva, from that litter shown finished her championship under both all-breed and specialty judges. Ziva carries a legacy pedigree, through being line-bred on GCh Wych’s Prince of Summer—Snape. There are genetics she carries that many thought had been lost.

Wych’s Where Honor Lies “Dixie”
photo credit: Tenna Perry
But this breeding…this was planned from the time I brought Dixie home. When I brought her home, Vander was already a grand champion and nationally ranked. As she grew and matured, the reasons to do this breeding became more and more clear. Where she needs help and improving, he is strong. Where he needs improving, she is rock solid. This is strictly a phenotypical breeding. Vander is a blend of some of the strongest, most prolific champion producing bloodlines in modern collies. Dixie carries much of those same bloodlines, but she also carries a legacy pedigree. Part of her bloodline is no longer available anymore. The genetics she carries from her grand-sire —Snape—are the legacy.
GCh. Bandor’s The Wyching Hour “Vander”
photo credit: Johanna Lance
And this breeding has me thinking. More like dreaming. And hoping. At this stage of the game, while waiting for her to have her babies, I’m just praying for a healthy litter. But, I can’t stop the dreams from creeping into the mix…dreams of elegant, showy tri smooths, of glorious, dark-coated sable roughs…

Oh, the stuff that dreams are made of.

Pure Vanilla

Okay, I have to admit I’m a little puzzled. I’ve now had three different friends tell me that though they loved reading The Devil’s Own Desperado and are looking forward to reading Smolder on a Slow Burn, they had some problems with “THE SCENE”. When I asked what they meant—was it too graphic (I didn’t think so, and apparently, neither did my editor because it wasn’t kicked over to erotica), too much not left to the imagination? What? WHAT? 
All three of them kinda danced around an answer and then blurted out, “I just kept imagining you as the girl in those scenes.”
Now, two of these three friends I have known for years (and one of them for almost thirty years), and we have travelled to dog shows together and slept in the same hotel room. Sometime in the same bed if there were four of us in the same room. I never thought that there would be an “ick” factor in writing romance because these people know me. But, that comment did bring the “ick” factor up into the stratosphere and made me rethink starting to use a pen-name.
The problem with a pen-name is I’m starting to get a fan base and following under my own name. And, another problem I see with using a pen-name is I’m damn proud of what I have accomplished in my writing career, including “THE SCENE” in my romance novels. Damn it, that’s MY name on the cover.
I have been asked if my private (think sex) life has ever made it into my novels. The answer to that is a resounding “NO” followed up with the codicil that I just have a really great imagination. Sorry, hate to say it, but no…that part of my life is pretty much vanilla. If that was a TMI violation, I’m sorry.
I know those three friends will purchase Smolder on a Slow Burn when it’s released on August 20th. I’ve already promised them I will let them know page numbers for those scenes, and they can skip over them. That way, they don’t have to keep seeing me as the heroine in my books. All though…my DH might have to worry if the hero in Smolderever came to life and walked up to our front door.

The Devil is in the Details–of the Setting

(This blog is cobbled from notes I took years ago at a writer’s conference, and I’m sorry I don’t remember and didn’t note who gave this talk.)
Setting…yeah, that place where your story/novel takes place. The millionaire’s mansion, the wide open spaces of that western novel, the cramped quarters of a compact car your heroine steals to get away from the villain…setting is just as important to your story as are the main characters. The goal of description is to create a well-designed set that provides the perfect background for your characters. Without the details of setting, you’re condemning your readers to wander around an empty stage, trying to figure out where they’re at. Too much description though, especially in large chunks, and you’re risking what I once heard described as “the tombstone effect”—large blocks of description that are just so much grey material the reader will skim (and sometimes skip) looking for action.
So, how do you reveal setting without etching it in that tombstone?
Setting is revealed through motion. Put your character into a place she isn’t familiar. Let’s pretend she’s a girl of humble origins and she’s just landed the job of a lifetime—nanny to a widowed multimillionaire’s kids. Now, have her walk through that rich dude’s home on her first day on the job. Which details would she notice immediately? The softness of the Persian rug underfoot? The paintings on the wall? How do those paintings make her feel? Can she tell the difference between a Monet or a Picasso? Does she sink into the leather couch? Can she smell the leather? Use active verbs as she makes her way through this place. Instead of explaining/telling that the chandelier glittered and danced in the light, make her blink because of the display. Instead of telling your reader that there’s a heavy, HUGE marble table in the room, make her detour around it. And, we can’t forget the kids…are they happy there is someone new there? Or, perhaps looking at her as if she’s just one in a long string of many who have come and gone. Make sure it’s your character that’s doing all the action—not the setting.

A character’s level of experience reveals setting. Different characters perceive the same surroundings in very different ways, based on each character’s familiarity/lack of such with the setting. Let’s take our girl of humble origins above and our rich widower and put them somewhere else. Let’s suppose our rich widower lives in a secluded home high on a cliff overlooking the ocean and the only way to get there is to walk across a rugged, boulder-strewn beach. She’s shivering and bundled to the teeth but the wind is still cutting through her wool wrap while the rich widower beside her is wearing only a cable-knit sweater and doesn’t seem to be affected by the damp, cutting cold in the least. She tripping and falling over half-buried pieces of driftwood in the damp sand and is utterly certain that her shoes will be completely ruined by the time they reach his home. She’s pretty sure that the wind, the dark clouds, and the waves pounding the shoreline mean a major storm is brewing. The stench of rotting seaweed and dead fish makes her nauseous. However, she sees the incredible beauty in this wind and water carved fantastic landscape, while he just sees another barrier to keep people out of his life. (Good grief, I think I just came up with a clichéd Gothic novel…) Familiarity doesn’t always imply good.

Use your character’s mood to establish setting (and to set the mood with your reader).  Let’s go back to our poor heroine trudging along that beach and take out the rich widower. From her vantage point on the beach she can determine that she’s halfway between her car on the shoulder of the road and the imposing house on the cliff. As she walks along the beach, different sea birds wheel overhead. The wind off the water is invigorating, and scented with the tang of salt. The surf pounding into the massive boulders jutting into the water and along the shoreline booms as it slaps the weathered and intricately carved black rock. She laughs at herself as she trips over a partially buried large piece of driftwood. Pleasant, isn’t it? She’s on her way to a new job and this colors everything she looks at.
Now, let’s change her mood. She’s still halfway between her car and the house, but her car is broken down. She’s got no way to call the owner of the massive, bleak looking house that looms over the cliff side. The wind is biting, hurling sea spray and sand into her face. The birds overhead shriek as black clouds encroach on this stretch of beach and she can smell the rain that is imminent. Falling to her knees when she trips over what is suspiciously reminiscent of a sailing ship’s prow buried by the relentless wind piling sand against it, the black rocks rounded by eons of wind, surf, and sand appear to be grave markers, noting the loss of life that has happened so often on this bleak, wind-swept, and unforgiving stretch of shore. Your character’s mood will determine how the setting is described.

The five senses reveal setting. Different senses evoke different reactions. Visual information is processed primarily at the cognitive level. In other words, when our character reveals the scene in terms of visual input, our readers will usually react at an intellectual level. Sound, smell, and touch all evoke sensory responses and emotion. Smell has been determined to have the strongest attachment to memory. Touch gets romance writers a whole lot more mileage than sound. Taste is the toughest to incorporate into writing, but it can be done. Show your reader what your characters are seeing, hearing, smelling, and touching and you will establish the setting without reading like a travel-brochure.