The Hormone Warning
Women know that there are days in the month when all a man has to do is open his mouth and he takes his life in his own hands! This is a handy guide that should be as common as a driver's license in the wallet of every husband, boyfriend, or significant other.

DANGEROUS: What's for dinner?

SAFER: Can I help you with dinner?
SAFEST: Where would you like to go for dinner?
ULTRA SAFE: Have some chocolate.

DANGEROUS: Are you wearing that?

SAFER: Wow, you look good in brown.
SAFEST: WOW! Look at you!
ULTRA SAFE: Have some chocolate.

DANGEROUS: What are you so worked up about?

SAFER: Could we be overreacting?
SAFEST: Here's my paycheck.
ULTRA SAFE: Have some chocolate.

DANGEROUS: Should you be eating that?

SAFER: You know, there are a lot of apples left.
SAFEST: Can I get you a glass of wine with that?
ULTRA SAFE: Have some chocolate.

DANGEROUS: Did you do anything at all today?

SAFER: I hope you didn't overdo it today.
SAFEST: I've always loved you in that robe!
ULTRA SAFE: Have some more chocolate!

PMS really stands for Potential Murder Suspect

Chocolate Sin
Happy Thanksgiving! Everyone bakes pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, including me. It's a tradition, after all, and my husband loves it. Me too, but I need some chocolate too. I altered a recipe and came up with this one for a very moist, rich chocolate cake. You can vary the darkness of it by the types of chocolate cake mix and pudding mixes you choose. Mine is a dark chocolate, devil's food version.

Chocolate Sin

1 box (18.4 oz) triple chocolate fudge cake mix (milk chocolate or devil's food will also work)
2 boxes (3.8 oz each) chocolate pudding mix (dry) (fudge or devil's food will also work)
1 cup (8 oz) sour cream
4 large eggs
½ cup oil
½ cup margarine or butter
2 squares semi-sweet baking chocolate
3/4 cup evaporated milk (fat free or regular) room temperature or slightly warm
1 cup chocolate chips

Directions: melt margarine and 2 squares baking chocolate in microwave. In a separate bowl, stir together cake mix, pudding mixes, sour cream, eggs, oil, milk, and melted margarine/chocolate mixture. Blend well with spoon. This will likely be too stiff to use a mixer. Blend in chocolate chips. Spray 9x13 cake pan with cooking spray. Pour batter in, smooth out and bake at 350 degrees for about 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool and frost with dark chocolate fudge icing or whatever you prefer. Or leave off the icing and heat each slice individually in microwave about 20 seconds before serving with hot fudge sauce (and ice cream if you want.) Enjoy!
Originality
I listened to a workshop today in which two agents and an editor were commenting on the openings of stories. They shared the thoughts going through their minds, and said whether they would request more of the manuscript. I would estimate twenty story openers were read aloud. For the most part, these stories were good. Some had problems but none of them stunk with a capital S, in my opinion. Clearly all the writers had studied their craft. I’ve certainly read published books that were on the same level as most of them. As for problems, a few had too much internalization and backstory up front (and no action.) Some had too much action and no characterization up front (which makes the reader ask, why do I care?) Others had too many romance cliches... in other words, they were not original enough. The bottom line is, they had problems but the writing was "good". This reminds me of Tony the Tiger. "They’re not good; they’re GREAT!" Yes, we have to make our stories GREAT! Not just good. Everyone is good, or can be with practice. To snare the editors’ and agents’ attention and become published, we have to be ingenious super-writers. We must BE ORIGINAL. I feel like I should tattoo that to my fingers. Hey, it would fit perfectly.

Some things to keep in mind:
"When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other. Originality is deliberate and forced, and partakes of the nature of a protest." ~ Eric Hoffer

"The man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds." ~ Mark Twain

"All profoundly original work looks ugly at first." ~ Clement Greenberg

I took the above picture of a sunrise. Very original, don't you think? :-)
High Concept
I listened to a workshop by Debbie Macomber called High Concept - How to Define It, Write It, Sell It from the 2005 RWA national conference. Debbie Macomber says high concept is, "What everyone wants but they don’t know what it is until they see it." We must decide for ourselves what is high concept. She gives 9 ways to find high concepts. The first of which is "watch for trends." She says it’s important to be first and asks who was the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic? I’m sure you know the answer. Lindbergh. But who was the 2nd? Almost no one knows his name. Some of the places she says to look for high concept ideas are current bestselling books, catalogs, magazines, TV shows, news (programs and papers), England (what’s popular here was often popular there first), Internet ads, and movies. Other ideas coming from the audience include things kids are into because they’re trend-setters. Mall shopping, music and songs. She gives several examples from her own works and tells where she got the high concept ideas. In particular, she recommends Faith Popcorn’s The Popcorn Report and her other books for predicting "what’s happening in our culture and why."

Macomber says to ask your local bookseller and librarian which books are most popular, what are the readers looking for? On television, look to see which new shows are the most popular. Agent Irene Goodman says a high concept is "something that is instantly recognizable and appealing in one short phrase." Macomber gives these examples: Clueless goes to Harvard. A female Huck Finn story. Bladerunner meets Matrix. If we can distill our stories down to simple high concept phrases like these, we have a better chance of capturing an editor’s or agent’s attention. I highly recommend this workshop for the great information and specific examples. Debbie Macomber's website is www.debbiemacomber.com.

Above is a picture I took of late-blooming fall flowers, a type of geranium.
Golden Heart, etc.
I’m entering the Golden Heart contest this year. This is Romance Writers of America’s biggest contest for unpublished writers. It has 1000 entries this year, which is the limit. I’m glad I sent my entry form in early. At the moment, I am printing out my pages so I can mail them in a day or two. The entry consists of 6 paper copies of the first 55 pages of the manuscript, including an up to 15 page synopsis, and a copy of the completed manuscript, on disk, CD or paper. I’ll also be judging in a different category.

What am I reading?
I just finished reading a medieval historical romance called Dryden’s Bride by Margo Maguire. It is a Harlequin Historical from the year 2000. Why am I reading such an old book? It was in my TBR stack, I read the back and it sounded interesting. A knight with a dark soul. Yeah, I can get into that. I really loved the hero who'd been tortured and wore an eyepatch. I’m trying to narrow down my TBR stack because I’m sure at the moment it contains well over 200 books. I would like to get it down to 100 at least, because let me be honest with myself, how can I ever read that many books? I would love to read them all but I simply don’t have time, considering the amount of time I spend writing.

What am I watching?
Braveheart - the most famous of all Scottish historical movies. We’ve all seen it before, of course. I wanted to watch it again and see what I’d forgotten. I remembered the violence. :-) I had to fast-forward through those parts. With a DVD I still saw enough to know what happened. I really hate the part where William’s wife is murdered. Heart-wrenching. I always cry during the part where, as children at the beginning, she gives him a thistle at the burial of his father. There are many, many things to love about the film--the beautiful landscapes, the bravery and determination of the Scotsmen, the drama, action, adventure, humor and emotion, men in kilts, Mel Gibson. Sigh.

Speaking of thistles...have you ever seen a white one? I hadn’t, but I discovered this one (pictured above) while I was out walking one day. I seriously have not altered this picture in any way, though I confess I did some of my earlier ones to see if you were paying attention. (Blue and purple leaves, haha! ;-))
November Blog Reiver
This month in my Call of the Clans column, Blog Reiver, I visited the blog of Stephanie Bond. Her blog is a must-see. Go to www.stephaniebond.com and click on "Open Book". She gave me permission to use her entries: Monday, October 3, 2005 "Generating publicity through article-writing" and Sunday, October 9, 2005 "The ultimate in multi-tasking." It was difficult to choose those two because all her entries are incredibly informative. I learned a lot and plan to visit again soon. Okay, I just visited to make sure the addy above was correct and caught myself again reading several entries before I could stop. Addictive, I tell you. :-)


Something to think about: "Some of the world's greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible." ~Doug Larson
Favorite writing books
Today I want to talk about my favorite writing books and why I like them.

GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon. This is probably at the top of most romance writers’ list of "must have" books. Why? Because without what you learn to do in this book you don’t have a complete and cohesive story. The GMC concept is useful for most types of fiction.

The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray. I LOVE this book because it taught me how to plot. Seems strange I know because at first it doesn’t appear to be a book about plotting. But it presents the three act play method of structuring a story in such a way that makes perfect sense to me. I always felt certain things should happen at certain points in the story and this confirms that and explains it. The author goes on to show how the different points in a story relate to each other. If you have "this" at plot point one, then you need "that" at plot point two. The story will be a tighter unit. Hard to explain without going into detail.

Roget’s International Thesaurus. This reference book has over 1300 pages. I bought it new and it is the most worn-out of all my writing books. If you want to avoid being repetitive, using worn-out cliches then a good thesaurus is a must. Did you notice how I just used "worn-out" twice? I wouldn't have done that if I'd been using my thesaurus. I would've looked up the word and perhaps used dog-tired, dog-eared, exhausted, overtired, haggard, enfeebled, the list could go on.

Langenscheidt’s New College Merriam-Webster English Dictionary. I LOVE this dictionary. It has 1560 pages and weighs a ton. Not only does it contain everything a regular dictionary does, it also gives the date the word was first used. Since I write historical, this has proven invaluable to me. It saves me an incredible amount of time.

Description by Monica Wood and Setting by Jack M. Bickham both from the Elements of Fiction Writing series from Writer’s Digest Books. I used to have a real problem with setting description in my writing--I left it out. :-) Once it was pointed out to me I read these two books and learned that I loved writing setting description, probably too much. Now I have to be careful not to overdo it.

How to Be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis. This helped me understand what is in contracts and what it all means. Even if you have an agent you still need to understand all the terms and clauses.

Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon. This book has lots of great things in it. Character names, professions, clothes, facial expressions, psychological problems, foreign words, etc. I use it a lot as a jumping off point. I may not use exactly what’s in the book but it gives me new ideas.

The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines, Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, Sue Viders. I use this book as I’m planning a new story. After I have a general feel for my main characters, I look up their archetypes in this book and get ideas for more personality traits. I go by gut instinct for which archetype they are. I don’t assign my characters one. They tell me which they are and this book allows me to dig deeper into their psyche so I can get to know them better and present them as more three-dimensional on the page.

20,001 Names for Baby by Carol McD. Wallace. Almost every time I need to name a character I peruse this book. If it’s a main character, sometimes I’ll browse through it for an hour or so. The name must fit the personality, after all. If it’s a secondary character, sometimes I’ll just pick an appropriate name at random from the book. Any thick baby name book will serve this purpose. For last names, I use the phone book.

Do you have a favorite book about writing that I haven't mentioned? If so, please let me know about it. I'm always looking for more "must haves". :-)
Revision complete

Autumn does strange things to the trees here in NC, but I'm enjoying it. I finished my revision last night and sent the manuscript off. Woohoo! Wish me luck and cross every body part you can. Okay, maybe I can relax for about an hour then back to work. :-) I have projects in the pipeline. Which will be next? They're all trying to come out at once. A short story, a novella, another Scottish historical. Ooh they are all so tempting. I must also catch up on critiquing for all the wonderful people who critted my manuscript as I was revising it. (Thank you!) I must get busy.

Something to ponder: "At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you." -Goethe-
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