Monday, September 30, 2013

Writing in Romantic Suspense. How did I get here?

     For me, setting out to develop a romantic suspense series came more out of a love for the characters rather than a set intention. The goal of any story is to entertain, to captivate the reader and whisk them away to a world of another’s creation. As a writer I find stories spiced with romance and suspense to be the most fun to create, but it is always the characters that make any story fulfilling.

     My journey into this genre began when I wrote my first novel, To My Senses. After that book had been published, I envisioned a follow-up to it. Recovery, became the second novel in the Nicci Beauvoir series and where we are first introduced to Dallas August. Born out of my love for the characters, and my desire to highlight New Orleans and all that she had suffered during the ravages of Katrina, Recovery led to the third book in the series, Sacrifice. Even after the saga of Nicci and David was complete, I felt there was still more to be done with Dallas August. He is a character with a great deal of potential and his business of buying and selling secrets ignites the imagination. I never consciously decided to start out on a series, but I eventually let the story and the characters make that determination for me. As a writer, I think you know when a story has reached its conclusion and when there is more to be written. The same is true for Dallas August, and I have already completed the second book in The Secret Brokers series, Of Sins and Shadows, which will be released next May. And I know there will be more for him in future novels. I believe when you find a character compelling as a writer you wish to continue with his or her development. It is an intriguing process to see how far a character can go. And I believe the reader enjoys revisiting old characters in each installment of a series as well. Like any good life story, we want to find out what happens to characters in which we have become emotionally invested. It is like conversing with long lost friends and catching up on the trial and tribulations in their lives. We find common ground and comfort in the fact that their downfalls are ours as well, even if their secrets, affairs, intrigues, and schemes seem a little more glamorous than our own. In the end, it is this feeling of familiarity that is the biggest inspiration for creating a series. Like wrapping your body in a warm robe on a cold winter’s evening, curling up with a favorite character is appealing to most of us. What is dear to the heart gives one a sense of calm amid the chaos of our ever-changing lives. And finding a few moments of peace amid the hectic, technologically fast-paced, sometimes overwhelming world in which we live is necessary, if not required. It nourishes our souls and reminds us that true characters, even the ones made up on the page, matter to all of us. 




Friday, September 27, 2013

Listmania and Goodreads. A good or bad thing?

     Like most things that start out with the best of intentions, I feel Goodreads and Amazon’s Listmania have begun to try on the nerves of many writers. We are used to people categorizing our books into a genre, but some of the lists individuals come up with are just short of astonishing. When one sets out to write a novel, they never imagine a day where they end up in the “best books with no story whatsoever” list.  

     But categories proposed on Goodreads seem to have taken the list thing to a new level. With the ever-present review bullying, the uptick in solicited reviews, and the exploding use of ads clogging the site, the use of lists to categorize books has become yet another in a long a list (excuse the pun) of offenses that has turned Goodreads into a network site many writers dislike using. When we start creating lists like “aggravating female leads who get on our nerves” or “books I have no intention of reading,” then the list epidemic has begun that slippery slide toward oblivion. When you trivialize what was once useful, you make it no longer palatable to those readers and writers who are seeking genuine opinions, and not fodder for foolishness. Which is the problem with any site that strives to be commercial and in the end only becomes a mere shadow of the professional and well-intentioned vista it started out as.

     I have watched Goodreads and Amazon grow into the powerhouses of book promotion. Rivaled by no other sites, Goodreads and Amazon perhaps need to start curbing the overzealous ardor of its members and helping readers and reviewers stick to the facts of a book, and steer clear of the fluff. I’m not advocating either site change everything, but perhaps execute a little more discretion when it comes to silly lists, and go back to the book-oriented sites they once were.

     But don’t get me wrong, I am all for the use of lists on these sites. As a Southern writer whose books are usually based in and around New Orleans, I do treasure lists that allow me to highlight the individual flavor of my work, but do I need a list that touts best “awful sex scenes” or “books a sex stalker can relate to” or my personal favorite from Listmania, “Nude photos UFO aliens erotica + classic Shakespeare.”  Really? I wonder what Bill wouId think of that list? I understand 50 Shades of Grey has changed the sexual landscape of books, and trust me, my books have a hefty dose of panty dropping in them as well, but how much is too much? When does the list pass the point of being useful and become comical and almost offensive.

     In the end, I guess the lists that are started on these sites are in a strange way a reflection of the world we live in. It seems the rise of the social media has allowed everyone to voice those once silent thoughts, and even given them the opportunity to make lists glorifying their varied viewpoints. After all, freedom of speech is in our constitution, but somehow I wonder if our founding fathers had to publish their work on Goodreads or Amazon what kind of list would they have ended up on? “Hot men in wigs do destiny?” It boggles the mind.   

Monday, September 23, 2013

Why we cannot have too much of Paranormal Romance?


     Can one ever have enough of hot vampires, shifters that combine the best of animal and human form, witches, ghosts or all other assorted creatures that go bump in the night? Of course not. Since we began telling stories as hunter-gatherers huddled around the fire, the allure of the life that exists beyond the safety of that firelight has enthralled us. Paranormal romance is a testament to our imagination and a way of bringing all the legends of our past into our present, and preserving them for future generations to come.

     I know some paranormal romances may be bit much for future readers to swallow, and fiction tends to blur the lines of fact, but it is the preservation of the concept of what these paranormal creatures represent that will always captivate us. How such stories have the power to transport us to another place and time is vital. Feeding the imagination with stories, any kind of story, is as important as feeding the body with food or the soul with spirituality. Without our imaginations we cannot thrive, and whether stories are about vampires that live throughout the ages, ghosts that fall in love with the living, or strange mortal creatures that have the power to change form, all are needed to keep us growing.

     Plus, there is a great deal we can learn about our humanity from such tales. When we can see another’s life, read their thoughts, and for a moment walk in their shoes, then we also learn to embody compassion. Yes, they are supernatural creatures, but when we feel their pain at not being able to walk in the sun, know the touch of another, or live openly as they are, we begin to understand and empathize a little more with that strange neighbor next door who feeds all the stray cats, and never talks to anyone. Sure we might picture that neighbor as weird, and perhaps be leery of their company, but we eventually learn to accept them; just as we accepted Lestat, and Frankenstein as important aspects of our culture.    

     Lastly, we can never have enough of such stories because they give us hope and joy. They entertain, and for a few hours take us away from the burdens of life. We all need to escape, and paranormal romances allow us that escape. We become the hero or heroine, we live vicariously through their adventure, we find love, we face difficult odds, and for as long as the book lasts, we are enthralled. Isn’t that what it is all about? To find a story that touches your soul? Because in the end, what moves us matters. Sometimes to be able to appreciate life, to be uplifted, you must first be swept away. No medium does that as well as a book. And when it is a paranormal romance, well, that’s even better. Love, after all, knows no limits. If we can believe a lonely vampire or abandoned ghost can find love, then perhaps, hopefully, we can, too  

Friday, September 20, 2013

New Orleans

     Like the memory of a first kiss, the warmth of New Orleans pervades your soul and forever becomes a part of you. To travel among the wide oaks and antebellum homes of the Garden District makes for beautiful postcard pictures, but it does not give you a true indication of what it means to be a New Orleanian. You have to immerse yourself in the old world atmosphere and varied traditions of the people of this town in order to understand them, and, hopefully, become one of them.

     You need to dine in the myriad of exceptional restaurants and take part in a heated discussion about where to find the best bowl of gumbo. Spend a Monday morning drinking coffee and chicory in an old uptown kitchen while learning how to cook the perfect pot of red beans and rice. Experience the wrong way to eat a muffaletta sandwich, the right way to shuck an oyster, and the only way to eat a beignet. And you will always have to remember that if your food isn’t boiled, blackened or fried, it just ain’t cooked.   

          You will want to traverse the different sections of the old city divided not by points on a compass, but by proximity to the Mississippi River or Lake Pontchartrain. Because no one in the Crescent City could ever tell you where to find the south end of town, but they could recite by heart the neighborhoods along the bend in the river. From the Bywaters to the Irish Chanel, from Lakeview to the infamous Ninth Ward, so many smaller sections alive with their own unique histories make up this city. Each part of New Orleans has a rich heritage based on the struggles of its French, Spanish, Irish, African, or Italian founders.
     Then head over to Canal Street, where the local term “neutral ground” was created in the early 1800’s. In those days, the wide thoroughfare was first used as a common market area between the feuding French and Spanish occupants of the city. Take a streetcar ride down legendary St. Charles Avenue to see the world renowned Audubon Zoo. Along the way, soak up the different styles of Victorian, Greek Revival, and Colonial architecture represented by some of the city’s finest homes. Let the soothing rocking motion of the streetcar ease your cares, as the sweet scent of magnolias streams in from the open window beside you. At the end of your streetcar ride, walk the broken cobblestones of the French Quarter, and take in the alluring sights of the tightly packed Creole cottages. Listen for the seductive sounds of Jazz music resonating around you, the smell of great food hovering in the air about you, and let your imagination linger on the romantic wrought iron balconies above you. Make your way to Jackson Square and take in the tall spires of St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest Catholic cathedral in the continental Untied States. Walk through the adjoining Cabildo Museum, where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803. Stroll on over to the Moonwalk, by the edge of the Mississippi River, and enjoy the calliope music coming from the Delta Queen Riverboat. After you have learned to bargain like a pro with the vendors at the French Market, then saunter down the shady sidewalks of Esplanade Avenue. The street made famous by Tennessee Williams and his tale of hidden desire. Finally, let yourself wander the narrow alleys of St. Louis Cemetery Number One, where you can visit the above ground tombs of famous former residents Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen, and Paul Morphy, the chess phenomenon.

     But there is another, more important, criteria for being an ingrained member of this eclectic southern city. You have to learn to appreciate life. Not the day-to-day hurried existence that shortens the lives of stockbrokers and businessmen, but the easy lust for the fulfillment of the senses. For everything about New Orleans is tailored to the forgotten art of self-gratification. In these days of such soulless existence, it is a heartwarming relief to find a place unashamed of its abundant way of life. No one in New Orleans regrets the way they live, they only regret when they have to leave it.

     So the next time you think about my hometown, don’t linger on the unforgettable disasters of our past. Instead, revel in what makes our city unique, shamelessly flamboyant, and stoically unapologetic for its transgressions. New Orleanians have moved on from Katrina. Despite the numerous media attempts to bury the residents under clouds of negative press and dim outlooks, the people remain resilient. Because they know that when Mardi Gras is over, crawfish season is right around the corner. We may have paid a heavy price for our time in paradise, but we know that somewhere up in the heavens, someone is answering our prayers. After all, the Saints did finally win the Super Bowl.       




Monday, September 16, 2013

A French Quarter Ghost Story

The French Quarter of New Orleans has been called “the most haunted place in America.” Trust me, it is. Growing up there, I often heard neighbors complaining about their noisy ethereal guests. I, too, had strange experiences: doors slamming, lights switches going on and off, cups flying out of cabinets, the usual stuff. But probably the creepiest occurred one fall day when I was alone in the Creole Cottage my father rented for his business. Left to answer the phones while his secretary was at lunch, I was sitting in the front part of the cottage where the french windows allowed in the bright sunshine. I had been doing homework when this strange swishing sound began in the room behind me. It was as if fabric of some sort was rubbing together. Now, in the office where I was there were cats; four of them. What kind of business has cats in the office, well, this is New Orleans and nothing is the norm. Anyway, the cats were sprawled about on different desks and as the swishing noise drew near, I saw every cat’s head pop up from where they were resting. As the sound entered the office I was in, all the cats turned in unison to the room entrance. At this point I was feeling a little uncomfortable. But as the noise grew louder, all the cats suddenly sat up and began to follow something with their eyes moving across the room toward me. The room instantly grew very cold and a slight breeze brushed across the side of my face. At this point, all four cats were staring directly at me. The hair on the back of my neck rose, and I was frozen to my chair. If that was not enough, then the giggling started; a soft tinkling kind of noise that was definitely female and sounded as if it was right next to my ear. The swooshing noise began again and I watched terrified as the cats began to follow something out of the room with their eyes. When the noise stopped a few seconds later, the cats all stretched, repositioned themselves on their respective desks, and went right back to sleep. At this point, I jumped up from my chair and ran to the front door. I stood on the doorstep with the door open so I could hear the phone ringing, but stayed outside, comforted by the hum of life from the French Quarter around me.

      When I told my father about the incident, he laughed and said, “You just met Annabelle. She died in the cottage of yellow fever in the epidemic of 1853 just a few months short of her wedding to some plantation owner.”

    I then inquired how he knew this.

    “A neighbor told me. In the Quarter, the neighbors always know about all your ghosts.”

     The experiences I had in that cottage became the impetus for my book, The Ghosts of Rue Dumaine. It is my homage to Annabelle and all the other ghosts I encountered there.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sneak Peak: The Ghosts of Rue Dumaine

 Danica leaned against the doorframe and reflected on the various stages of childhood and adolescence she had gone through while occupying this room. The rainbow-painted walls her mother had painstakingly decorated for her had been replaced with posters of boy bands and television heartthrobs until her mother had died. After the funeral, Danica had come home and removed all the posters in a fit of rage, wanting to be surrounded once more by her mother’s rainbows. The last year she had spent in this room, she had felt comforted by those rainbows, as if her mother’s love had been forever sealed beneath the paintbrush strokes on her walls.

"I missed this old place," she whispered.

A sudden rush of cold air moving down the hallway caused Danica to turn away from the bedroom door and peer into the darkness behind her. She took a few steps further down the hall until the aroma of cigar smoke mixed with a hint of brandy wafted in the air around her. Danica remembered that smell. It had always filled her bedroom whenever the dark man would appear.

"Is it you?" she softly called into the hallway. "It’s me, Danica. I’ve come back. Just like I said I would."

Danica walked briskly past the entrance to the master bath to the final door at the end of the hall. Without hesitation, she pushed the cypress door open and walked inside the master bedroom. The light from the large picture window overlooking the courtyard shone into the room, accentuating the deep burgundy color of the carpet beneath her feet. She stepped into the center of the room and observed the ceiling fan above. Danica waited, straining with every breath to hear the slightest stirring.

"Welcome home," a man’s wispy voice resonated around her.

A hopeful smile curled the edges of Danica’s heart-shaped mouth. "Thank you, Gaston. It’s good to be home."

A few minutes later, Danica returned to the living room, where she found Pat scrolling through messages on her cell phone.

"Let’s sign the papers," Danica happily announced. "I want to get moved in as soon as possible."

Pat gave her a wary going-over with her brown eyes. "You positive about this, Danica? I need to make sure you’re aware that other tenants have had problems—"

"It’s fine, Pat. I know you said the place is haunted and people have had some bad experiences, but this…." Danica waved to the room around her. "Just feels right."

Pat gave a skeptical shrug. "I have the papers ready back at the office. The rent is eight hundred and fifty a month. Mr. Caruso wanted me to charge you the same rate he charged your father. He insisted I make this as appealing to you as possible. You must have made quite an impression on the old man when you were a kid. He never cuts anyone a deal."

"Please tell Mr. Caruso I appreciate it."

Pat replaced her cell phone in her front jacket pocket. "Let’s turn off all of these lights and head back to the office."

Suddenly, from the shuttered window beside them, three loud knocks reverberated across the room.

Pat grabbed at her chest. "Jesus! What in the hell was that?"

Danica smirked as she watched the color drain from Pat’s perfectly made-up face. "Just someone outside on the street banging on the wall…happened a lot when I was a kid. Drunk tourists would often bang on the shutters at all hours."

Pat regained her composure. "Of course, you’re right. I didn’t think of that."

Danica motioned to the pocket doors leading to the kitchen. "Let’s get you out of here, Pat, before you have a heart attack."

"Gladly," Pat offered and rushed to the doors. "I never liked this place. I just hope you know what you’re doing, Danica."

"I know," Danica asserted with a grin. "I’ve always known."

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Self-Publishing: The Good and The Bad.

     Like most writers, my path to publication was plagued with numerous rejections, intermingled with a few unexpected successes. I tried for several years to send out query letters to agents and publishers. Every time I was told the same thing, you have talent but do not currently fit our needs. Sometimes when a door is slammed shut in your face, you need to pry a window open with a crowbar. Despite the numerous warnings for authors to avoid such pitfalls, I decided to self-published my first novel, To My Senses. I considered it an educational opportunity to discover if I really had the talent to make it as a fiction writer. I researched quite a few companies and went with one associated with a large, and reputable, book seller/distributor. The experience gained was priceless.

     And after my first novel, To My Senses, was released I learned the ins and outs of book promotion. My novel garnered critical praise, and received a few awards, all of which helped to bolster my confidence to continue onward with my writing. But it was the encouragement of the book reviewers I got to know while promoting To My Senses, that really convinced me to push onward and publish my second novel, Recovery. Finally World Castle Publishing picked up my third novel, Sacrifice. Now I am on novel number five, The Secret Brokers, with four more contracted and waiting for publication with my publisher.

     Is my self-publishing adventure for every writer? No, absolutely not. However, if you are a writer who writes for you, and not to impress a publisher, then perhaps you should look into self-publishing. It can be frustrating to get your book out there and garner the attention you feel it deserves, but if you are talented, the readers will eventually find you. Good books are hard to find these days. As an avid reader, I set out to write a novel I would want to read and remember. And I soon found I was not alone in my beliefs when a small following grabbed on to my novel and started spreading the word about work. Word of mouth is your best promoter and no publicist can buy you that kind of attention.  Believe in your writing, get your work out there by any means necessary, be patient, and the rest…well, that is where your story begins.