How I spent my Spring vacation ~ a Pictorial

Sylvia DayI’m one of those poor academics who has to work most of the year except Agents Panelfor a few weeks between semesters and in that venerable time called Spring Break, which for me was last week. The hind end of it was spent at the Liberty State Fiction Writers annual conference, where the Keynote speaker was bestselling author, Sylvia Day. (She actually was much closer than this when I snapped the picture at left. It sure didn’t look this far away!)This year it expanded into a two-day conference, and I got to attend some great workshops and talks, as well as hook up with several writer friends, my agent, who also sat on the Agents Panel at right, and a bunch of other publishing professionals. But mostly–and here’s the really important part–I got to spent a goodly amount of time imbibing in all things theoretically Bad For Me, the absolute BEST part of any conference.

For example, here’s my glamorous agent, Marisa Corvisiero and I10676170_10153157517647298_4678831760680549663_n lunching on the de rigueur plate of institutional chicken atop a mish-mash of rice and what I believe were vegetables scraped from the previous day’s soup pot. That’s Marisa laughing at another of my uproarious bon mots. It was probably something like, “You gonna eat that?” (Yes, I’m that funny.) The iced tea was incredible, at least.

Conferences are also prime places for getting embarrassingly shitty cell phone pix taken of you. Consider the Edvard Munch study below. Don’t ask me what the impetus was for that. I have no idea.

Munch ImpressionComposition in Light and Dark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juxtapose that against what I call “A Composition in Light and Dark” at the right. There’s me looking all shady and ironic (and beat-up; it’d been a rough night) against the beatific figure in the background beaming like a Botticelli. Truth be told, I never knew I possessed such a talent for artistic expression. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but I swear, these are absolutely improv-ed. I’m also that talented.

Ultimately, the conference comes down to hanging out with good friends, drinking some good wine (or at least priced accordingly), and demolishing a honkin’ big dish of Brownie Sundae. Between all of this I got to make some really good plans for the future, some of which you will be privy to shortly. If the best business is done in the off-hours, then I’ll take this office space any time. It truly is where the best people are.

LSFW Dinner(left-right: Linda J. Parisi, Gwen Jones, Gretchen Weerheim, Marisa Corvisiero, Samantha Bremekamp.)

Pot hellions

Crater RoadSome watch for robins, some for crocuses, some even say marshmallow peeps, but for me the real harbinger of spring are potholes, I’m telling you, those pervasive little asphalt assailants never fail to creep up on us, around every bend and over every hillock, disguised like shimmering little macadam birdbaths until you hit one and bam! there goes the hub cap, spinning away like a frisbee.

I live fifteen miles from work, and on my way home last week I counted no less than 25 of the replicating little suckers. And that didn’t include the ever-widening fissures in the middle of the road, and the winter erosion of the softer shoulders, due to the dig and drag of the snow plows. And then there’s those inevitable frost heaves that pitch up and crack the roads, always on whatever side of the road I’m driving. Which, of course, quickly becomes your side when you swerve into my lane to avoid them.

But if all this isn’t bad enough, the cure isn’t much better. How many of you have driven smack into a fresh pancake of cold patch, that municipal quick-fix of asphalt the town boys tamp down with shovels and their own boots, to shut up the one irate taxpayer that doesn’t quit calling until it’s fixed. Ahh…the lovely ping-ping-ping of loose tar as it plies itself to the undercarriage of your car. You’ll be scrubbing that off until nigh on August. Soon those road patch patties will be as ubiquitous as dandelions, and just as hard to get rid of. Because if you’re betting on highway dollars on high to get them gone, you can just forget it. The bank is broke in New Jersey come June 30, and staying that way for a while.

For the meantime, take your comfort where you can get it. After the winter we’ve had here in Jersey, just seeing the road means it’s only a matter of time until we’re burning our bare feet crossing it. And that, my dears, could only mean a day at the beach.

Counting the days.

Break me, please!

4cfcbb62c5976427f498bd97f33ed5a022764103I’ve been in academia for fifteen years now and teaching college for five, and one thing the profession has never been is boring. I’ve met my share of interesting people, from Candace Bushnell to Maya Angelou to Robert Kennedy, Jr., to Francine Prose, and just today, in my Media Writing class, I met a former police beat reporter for the Asbury Park Press, Margaret F. Bonafide. She talked to my class of budding journalists about life as a beat reporter, and how one of your stories could even catch the eye of a film maker and turn into a documentary. It was all very fascinating and inspiring, and although my students were rapt as they listened, asking intelligent questions and offering her a rousing applause when she was through, she barely left the podium before they were out of there like a shot. Why, you may ask?

Next week is Spring Break baby! And it’s not even next week yet! You see, it’s the wise student that gets a jump on.

Today is Wednesday, and I still have two more days of classes, but already, my attendance roster is falling short. Just the other day I had a student in one of my English classes tell me he would be in Cancun over the break, so could he have extra time for this week’s assignment? “Might I suggest you do it before you go?” I may have well asked him to hand over his spleen. Hey, you only have to write that three-page essay. I have to grade over thirty of them. And that’s just for one class. I’m wisely staggering them for the others. They’re not the only ones on Spring Break, you know.

So what will I be doing? Funny you should ask. I do have a book I’ve just started, so I’ll get in some extra writing time. Get my taxes done. Sleep. (Ah, yes, I fit it somewhere in before my 7:30 class.) Not shovel snow (It was a blissful 60 degrees here today in Jersey.) AND go to a writers conference next weekend! (See last week’s post.) That in itself constitutes my own Spring Break, a break from the ordinary, a chance to reinvigorate, reconnect, and renew. With chips and dip, of course, And wine. Lots and lots of wine, yessir.

In vino veritas, ah yes.

Five reasons to attend the 6th Annual Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference March 21-22

CreateSomethingMagicalConAd_FINAL_webBeside the fact it’s located in convenient Iselin, NJ, just off Route One? That lunch is included? That I’ll be there? Well, if THAT isn’t enough motivation, let me give you a few more reasons why:

  1. Sylvia Day! ~ Keynote speaker, #1 New York Times and #1 International Bestselling Author. Breakfast speaker, #1 New York Times Bestselling author Maria V. Snyder.
  2. Editors and Agents! ~ Forget that messy query process – speak face-to-face with living, breathing editors and agents. Too many editors and agents to list!
  3. Workshops! ~ On craft, on children’s books, fantasy, mysteries, blogging – even martial arts, plus much, much more!
  4. Bookfair ~ Your favorite authors, signing your favorite books, courtesy of Watchung Booksellers.
  5. Writers and Readers Tracks! ~ Special events exclusively for either or both, with access for all to meals and parties, plus the Bookfair.

And I’ll be there! What else do you need to know? But alas, in case you do, you can always click here for more information.

See you there!

 

Yadda, Yadda, Yadda…

blahblahblah

There’s a writer I know who always pens the perfect dialogue. His characters can banter with all the snap and speed of a table tennis tourney, their chatters’ cadence a direct reflection of the intensity of the situation, or in its languor, its lack thereof. Dialogue can paint a vivid portrait of a character’s personality, revealing the level of intimacy between the protagonists, or recreate a historical era with its manner of speech and choice of words. Dialogue, in and of itself, can be your book’s barometer, setting the mood through the characters’ zingers, laments, opines and asides. Prose would be decided dry and lumbering without it, relegating readers to trudge through page upon page of telling not showing, its characters never really coming alive. Knowing this, I think we could all agree attention to dialogue is essential to good writing. But so is too much attention, which is what new writers often can’t see.

There comes a time in every professional writer’s life when the work ceases being written and thus becomes read. From the time it leaves the desk and goes before a beta-reader or an editor, it begins to exist on its own, without the aid of its creator’s vision. What the reader sees is exactly what the writer has put forth, but if what they’re seeing becomes skewed in the transmission, then it’s not the reader’s fault if they don’t “get it.” Dialogue, as stated above, is a wonderfully descriptive vehicle to transport your story along. But if you’re only saying so much outloud then finishing the balance of the information in your head, you’re not getting your character’s message–or your vision–across to your readers.

New writers often have fabulous stories in their heads, but fail when getting them to the page. Often, this mistake shows itself in dialogue, as the characters will say things colored by insider information obvious to the writer, but not so much to the reader. This happens when the writer is so close to the story they unconsciously fill in the missing information. When this happens, try closing your eyes to take a look at the scene, then write what you’re seeing beyond what the characters are saying. When your hero says, “Feeling a bit depressed today?” Don’t wait for the heroine to simply say “Yes,” before the hero rambles on. Imagine the scene from his point of view. Let us see her with her head in her hands. Let us feel her tremble under his touch as she breaks into tears. Do we hear the ocean rumbling below as they stand on the cliff, taste the salt in their mouths? Dialogue’s essential, but if you’re not giving us the complete picture, you’re only getting half your story on the page.

Years ago, ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” after some complaints about all the yak going on during the games, dropped their color commentators from the night’s telecast, simply showing the game with the score on the screen. The experiment was a rousing failure, as the game lost its sense of immediacy, its excitement, its human quality. Dialogue in our writing works the same way, but only when we’re adding the complete picture, by coloring inside the lines. If we don’t, we’re left with just a line drawing, a one-dimensional outline with no substance or depth, a yadda yadda yadda of sound and fury, signifying a lot more work to do!

 

Diagnosis: Writer – Five Sure-Shot Symptoms

vintagetypewriter_93579-758x485No, you’re not crazy, even though your friends and family think you are. Even so, you have to admit that at time, you do seem a bit “off.” Still, how do you measure crazy against what accurately borders on obsession? I was thinking of this last weekend while lunching with some fellow writers, wondering whether they’re afflicted with similarly bizarre affectations, or if I was I suffering in silence. Odd or not, it’s made me realize that dammit, I must be a real writer, because although I’m not cutting off an ear or anything for my art, I sure am suffering some peculiarities. Such as:

1. Post-it Note Addiction - It’s true. I carry them everywhere. I have pads of them on my desk, in my purse, in the pocket of my course binder. I whip them out to jot down lines of dialogue, character descriptions, plot lines–even the premise for this post. They’re all over the place in my office, and when I’m on  the road and inspiration clocks me, I jot down my genius and stick them to the inside of my wallet so I don’t forget. By the way, they’re also good for shopping lists, as you can stick them right in front of you on the inside of the shopping cart.

2. Drinking Hot Liquids Cold – During the winter months I usually have a cuppa something at my elbow while I’m writing, but I have to tell you, I can’t remember the last time I actually sipped it while it was still hot. Usually the cream’s left a sheen on the coffee, or the tea’s soaked down the string to the tag, an “accident” puddling on my desk, whatever’s in the cup long, gone cold. The opposite effect is true in the summer, when I never seem to sip anything cold: the ice just a memory, the glass dripping condensation. I should probably just yank a bottle out of the cabinet and forget about it. Either way, it all ends up the same place: room temperature.

3. Vitamin D Deficiency – My last routine blood screen had everything come back normal except my Vitamin D level. Apparently deficiencies of this vitamin, which is created by sunshine, can cause depression, chronic fatigue, weight loss (I wish), diabetes, heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis. In addition to a disease I thought went out with the nineteenth century–rickets! “It’s not unusual to see decreased Vitamin D levels in the winter,” my doctor had said. “But yours? Don’t you even step out on the porch?” All right, I guessing the LED glow from my laptop isn’t enough, so I suppose it’s supplements until the snow melts and I’m hitting the sidewalk again.

4. Plot-related Memory Loss – Has this happened to you? You’re driving along, trying to work out what exactly Protagonist A is going to leave on Protagonist B’s doorstep, and the next thing you know you’re sitting in the parking lot at work, with no idea how you got there. Or you’re in the shower and you’ve just thought of the perfect setting for your heroine’s vacation. But there’s this bottle of conditioner in your hand, and you can’t remember if you washed your hair first. Whether you’re staring at blank walls or losing threads of conversations, it’s not early dementia–it’s Plot On the Brain. And trying not to think about it only makes it worse. Better to lock yourself in the closet and get it down and over with.

5. You Do It Anyway – This I have found the most telling. You’ve written a bunch of novels, a dozen short stories, more than a few essays, innumerable blog posts, even kept a journal for more years than you’d care to own up to. And although you’ve had some limited success, though nowhere near where you’d like to see yourself, you keep doing it. You finish one piece then start another, because you know if you don’t your axis will tilt and forget the Vitamin D–you’ll feel a deficiency worse than if all the chocolate in the world suddenly disappeared. You can’t help yourself, even on the days when that rejection shows up in your inbox, you still want to do it. You’ll cry and curse and hate the world for stopping you from doing what you can’t seem to give up. But then all of a sudden that perfect line plants itself in your head, and you’re back to doing it anyway. You’re so pathetic. Maybe. Maybe not. But oh man, sometimes it’s such a bitch being us.

Okay, enough whining. Back to work.

 

When a Kiss is not just a Kiss

romantic_vintage_kiss___happy_valentine_s_day__by_thubakabra-d76ft2bThis Valentine’s weekend I’m going to put on my romance writer’s hat and dwell a bit on one of the three most important occurrences in a romance Novel – a) the first meeting between the two lovers, b) their first kiss and c) the first time they make love. Now, being of a perspicacious sort, I’m venturing a guess you’re hoping I’m going to jump all over c but sweetie, you’re wrong, mainly because that’s just too darn easy. Instead I’m going to focus on what is infinitely more monumental – the first kiss.

Yes, monumental. Are you kidding? you say. What can be more earth-shaking to a relationship than the lovers’ consummation? Think about it this way: if consummation is the inaugural flight, then the first kiss is the trial balloon. If it doesn’t fly, if it isn’t convincing enough, then chances are this trip’s going nowhere.  Consider this from one of my earlier (yet unpublished) masterpieces:

“You make me crazy, Jane,” he said softly, brushing his hand against my cheek, “but you’re in my head, and you won’t go away.”

I could feel the tenseness of his body against mine, and that dizziness returned, my legs wavering. He must have felt it, too, as he held me tighter, my hands finding their way to the small of his back. Then I looked into his eyes, the lightning drawing the gold from them, and then to his lips, slightly parted and ready to fall onto mine.

I had never wanted anyone more.

“Jane,” he said, and the sky exploded.

I fell into the all of him, his mouth warm and delicious on mine, my mind as fuzzy as drugged. He wrapped his arms tighter and lifted me from the ground, his lips tracing tiny charges across my collarbone. I reached down and gathered his head against me, kissing the windy sweetness of his hair. Then he whirled around, setting me to the picnic table.

“Well, hallelujah,” he said, smiling at me.

It would have been easy to simply write that he kissed her, she welcomed it, then they moved on to whatever ultimately transpired in the scene. But that would’ve been larcenous to the readers. They’re expecting more. In a romance, just as in a real life relationship, a first kiss is so much more intimate than even the sex. In actuality, it’s the first act of trust between the couple, and either’s reaction will determine the course their relationship will take. Was it mutual? Was it welcomed? Was it reciprocated? Does it lead to more? Does it change the relationship for better or for worse? Consider this from an even earlier tour de force:

She moved closer to him, so close she could see the slight tremble on his face, feel his breath on her cheek, hear nothing but the sound of her flaring pulse. She raised her eyes to his as he took her hand and pulled her into his arms.

“And it scares the hell out of me,” he said as his mouth fell to hers.

Brett’s world went black for a moment, though its spin remarkably advanced. He tasted warm, soft and vaguely of whiskey, and wonderfully, wonderfully like more.

She lost her head for the duration, found it acting of its own accord. She saw its mouth opening wider and wider still, saw it drawing its breath from its share with his. Saw its eyes flutter in an almost-swoon, thinking that a distinct possibility if she hadn’t been so securely in his arms.

Here was the man she once thought a killer, who would have killed to save her son’s life, who could have lost his own for doing it. At once who he was didn’t seem so essential anymore, as long as he was who he was now.

“Brett, Brett…” he whispered, burying his face in her neck. She arched it back as his kisses trailed electric charges against her skin, her eyes opening and closing with the force of her breath coming hard. She raked her fingers into his hair and dragged his mouth back to hers, his kisses desperate and greedy, her heart pounding against his own wildly-beating chest.

He laid his cheek against hers, gathering her so closely she could feel herself melting into the folds of his body. Then upon his cheek she felt a startling moistness as he suddenly drew apart from her.

He held her out, her breath catching at the sight of him staring. No longer did she question the evening light when his sudden pallor was so apparent.

“Forgive me,” he said.

Oh yes, things have definitely changed, but is that good? Is either lover coming away from this encounter exhilarated with the romantic discovery of each other, or has their bussing made things more muddled than ever? (Maybe if I ever get this epic published, I’ll be able to tell you!)

The thing is, a kiss, at least in the world of romance, is never a simple thing. It’s probably more complex than a Newtonian theorem. To do it right, at least in this writer’s opinion, it must be electric, life-altering, physically shattering and ultimately axis-tilting. It should be one of the most descriptive pieces of writing in the book, and neither participant should come out the same as before they entered into it. It may crash them together or force them apart, but it should always leave them longing for more. But most of all, it should open them to a world neither of them ever experienced or expected, and one they couldn’t ever imagine living in without each other again.

All Excerpts © Gwen Jones 2015 – All Rights Reserved.