Sunday, May 01, 2016

A Creative Mess = Progress

Image by Kablam at OpenClipArt.
I just realized I need to clean my office. I don't usually let it get this far. It's a complete mess. Like, I'd close the door to hide this disaster zone if we had sudden visitors. It's that bad.

On the other hand, a sign of a messy office is a sign of progress being made elsewhere. I wrote a little more on my latest story this morning. It not only has legs, it now has a title! A title I'm keeping under wraps to keep from jinxing myself, but I will say that I'm extremely relieved that the idea fairy decided to sprinkle a little title magic over this one. I haven't had this much trouble coming up with a title since Dominant Territory.

Anyway, toward noon, Hubz, Mini, and I took a break and went to eat at Panda's. On returning home, I took some more cold meds, made a pot of  licorice root tea to try to tame my cough, and went back to work. I wrote a little more, and when the well dried up, I made two tester covers for the next release. I'm satisfied with one of them, so this week I'll be buying stock images for a new release. Woot!

So that's the latest. I'm back to the writing cave, and I'm  -t h i s-  close to wrapping up another short story. I'll post again when I have something more to say. Sending lovely vibes to everyone for the week ahead.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hello Again

Hello, again!

I just checked the calendar, and I can't believe it's already nearing the end of April. I guess I've been away from the blog for about a month, although it really feels more like it's been six months. Seriously. It feels like a big chunk of time is missing and I don't know where it went.

I've been keeping up based on events rather than actual dates: Dad was hospitalized at the end of March, and it's been three or so weeks since they removed his kidney. Mini has testing all this week, and beyond that, he has roughly 3 weeks of school left to go. Hubby has four more work days before his shift rotates, then he's off seven days again. That's how my clockwork brain works lately. Stop, start. Stop, start. Event to event, unceasing.

Somewhere during all this, I decided to pick up the pen again. Or rather, I decided to collect some disjointed words in a Scrivener file, which has since morphed into a story. I won't go into details and risk jinxing it, but I should have a new story up on Smashwords soon.

That's really all I had to say. I haven't been very active on social media, because...well, after everything that happened in March, I can't think of much to say. I especially can't think of much to say without repeating myself, and I've decided to spare everyone. I check in with a few friends on twitter still, reply to tweets here and there, and reshare pictures, but beyond that I struggle to make even basic conversation these days. I'm drained, verbally, emotionally, etc. I decided to bow out for a while, because I keep having to apologize when every conversation seems so awkward lately (because of me!). I'd rather do that than say something else that sounds like I've been dismissive or short with someone when that wasn't my intention.

So there it is. A much overdue blog update. Bear with me while I get my blogging groove back. ♥

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Using Tarot Cards to Aid in Character Creation

I've been meaning to write a not-so-serious blog post about using tarot cards as a guide to character creation, but I always find myself complicating the topic whenever I start writing about it. It's not a complex process, so I'm tossing my cards in the air, so to speak, and letting them fall where they may, because using tarot to sculpt your characters is easy, and it's an interesting way of digging into who your characters are on a sub surface level.

Let's dive right in and get started...

Chosing a deck to work with.
I have dozens of decks, but my favorite is The Halloween Tarot by Karen Lee and Kipling West, so that's what I'm going to use. I love the symbolism of the Halloween deck, but you can use any Rider Waite based deck you like, or even Leonormand style decks. The choice is yours.

If you aren't familiar with the meanings and symbolism tarot cards use, feel free to use the little white book included with most new packs of tarot cards to help you. Using the LWB (little white book) works, because the underlying meaning of the cards are what you're going to use to help build your characters' personalities and personal histories.

Shuffling, Drawing, and Laying out the cards.
Take your deck and shuffle the cards. When I lay out the cards, typically I like working in threes - three cards / three characteristics per character. I like to do this because it mimics a past, present, future tarot reading. I also do this because I read somewhere (long, long ago in a land far away) that our brains are hardwired to process threes.

Another reason I like to draw three cards per character, is because you can create a character arc with three cards, each card representing a shift in character persepective, but I promised myself I wouldn't bog this blog post down and make it more complicated than it needs to be. For the purpose of this blog post, I'm going to do a one-card draw and put it face up.

The card I drew is the World card. (shown above) This is the card I'm going to use to flesh out my character, which I've already decided is female, in her early 20s, and from a small Romanian village north of Bucharest. Other than that, I really don't know much about Stella (Stela). The rest of her traits I'll develope based on the World card.

Choosing character traits based on the cards you drew. 
I knew I wanted to create Stella before I ever reached for my tarot cards, so starting out I had a vague idea of a slim, brunette woman in mind for a central character. However, I didn't have her personality nailed down at all. Her personal and family history is even more vague for me. I need to know these things about her before I start writing her story.

To add meaning to her as a character, I'm going to look at the meanings, themes, and symbolism found in the The World card. In the Ryder-Waite deck, some of the typical themes for The World card are about expanding energies, embracing all the elements of our nature (a potential theme for my dear Stella), and completion. The card holds many other meanings as well. After I've drawn a card, the next step it to sort through that card's themes and meanings to find the ones that best apply to the character I want to create.

The LWB that comes with the deck can give you more clues about the meaning of the World card: success, feeling at one with the universe, cycles. If you don't have a little white book with your tarot deck, you can find individual card meanings listed both at Keen and Biddy Tarot. They're both excellent resources that I highy recommend.

The image on the card, which differs from deck to deck, can also be used as inspiration to add to the personality of your character. In The Halloween Tarot, the world card shows a black cat in the middle of the card instead of a woman. Maybe Stella is intensely superstitious, self-centered, or a crazy cat lady. Maybe she's someone who loves her cat more than she loves her husband or siblings. That's an interesting idea. I'm going to write that one down. I'd definitely riff off that idea to find out why Stella is the type who loves her cat more than her family. What happened in her life to make her feel that way? Did her family do something to her? If so, what and how does this affect her life now?

While going through the character creation process, I usually make a list of all the possibilities that I come up with based on the card in hand, and then go back through the list and choose the ones I like best.

Back to the character in question, maybe Stella is a vet, who has a knack for dealing with stubborn cats. Or, maybe the people in Stella's life view her as a 'black cat' type...whenever she comes around, they're sure something bad/unlucky is about to befall them. That's yet another interesting option I'd want to add to my list...and I'd probably turn over another card to answer the question: Why do people feel Stella showing up brings them bad luck?

Whatever card I turn over to answer that question, I'd mine the meanings of that card to come up with possible answers. For example, if I turned over the 3 of Swords, the answer might be: People view Stella as bad luck, because she brings sorrow, bitterness, and bad news with her whenever she shows up. Or maybe Stella is a heartbreaker. That could work well in a romance. All of those meanings: sorrow, bitterness, bad news, and heart break are meanings attributed to the 3 of Swords card.

Bonus: The Underlying Theme
Sometimes, when I'm stuck for a theme for a short story or novel, I turn to the tarot. I shuffle the deck of my choosing, but instead of turning over the top card, I set the deck down and then flip it over to reveal the card on the very bottom of the deck. For some people who read tarot, the card on the bottom of the deck can represent "the underlying issue" of a situation or problem.

When brainstorming your story, if you're interested in writing and developing a singular theme, seeking out "the underlying issue" can be a good way to generate ideas. Look at the card on the bottom of the deck and riff themes off the symbolism of the card the same way you would for creating a character.

Have fun with creating characters. 
As with any creative process, you'll get some good results and some stinkers. The point is to have fun while letting the cards lead you to new possibilities you can riff off of. If you get stuck with a personality trait that doesn't seem to fit, or if you're just not sure what to do with a card you drew, you can always return that card to the deck and draw another one, or you can turn over another card to add to the overall picture. The key is to look broadly at the cards symbolism, meanings, and key themes to help you paint a picture of who your character is and how they behave within your story world.

If you like this post, or would like to know more about using tarot to create characters, leave a comment or let me know via social media. I'm reachable at all the usual places, including here at the blog. I hope to do more creative, writerly posts like this one in the future.

Stress Rollercoaster

I haven't written about it yet on the blog, because I've been busy and stressed out, however I've already announced it on other social media so I feel I might as well own up to the fact that my dad is in very ill health. When we first took him to ER a few days ago, we didn't think he'd ever be coming home again. It looked that grim.

His diagnosis has swung from cancer, to not being cancer, and back to cancer again - just not as imminently life threatening as the initial diagnosis led us to believe.

Tomorrow morning, Dad goes in to have his right kidney, a tumor affecting the tube that leads from the kidney to the bladder, and a portion of the bladder removed. After the surgery, we'll find out if he has to go through chemo as a follow up. It's all I've been able to think about for the past 24 hours. It's enough to drive a person crazy.

We're all stressed out and anxious. We all just show it in differnet ways. Oldest hasn't spoken barely a word in the past three days. With mom, she's a chatty type, and I can tell she's nervous because I can't get in a word edgewise. Hubz is brooding and grumpy. On top of the panic, rapidly shifting news and emotions, my body decided to hit me with the worst sinus infection of all time. I can't smell or taste anything, and my ears feel like they're packed with cotton. Even when someone is talking to me directly, I can barely hear a thing!

The real waiting begins tomorrow, but in the meantime, I've been obsessively cleaning house, organizing devices, culling and moving things around, and updating all manner of things... the typical worrywart way of trying to control one's environment when absolutely nothing is under control. My nerves are shot, but my house is cleaner than it's been in the past six months. ♦

Wicked Obsession - A Brief History of the Mal Vampires

I received a question recently from reader Jennifer F. about the mal vampire, Julian, in my novel Wicked Obsession, so I thought I'd take a moment to give some details related to that character which might help explain what a mal vampire is exactly.

In Wicked Obsession, during Julian's youth, he was in a house fire, and his body was left scarred. Because the damage was caused by fire, he could only heal from it to a degree. Vampires in my universe are creatures who pride themselves on their strength, good looks, and immortality - which is tied to their ability to heal. They consider scars of this nature to be a terrible flaw, and often, something to be ashamed of.

Before Eleni's arrival at his chateau, Julian had remained closed off from the world because, in his opinion, he is flawed due to his extensive scars. It is his love for Eleni that brings him out of his shell and allows his heart to heal.

Where did the term mal vampire come from?  I made up the term to describe vampires who had suffered some kind of misfortune that made them "less desirable" in the eyes of vampire society.

On its own, the word mal in French, means "poorly", "bad", "wrong", but is typically used to describe a verb. Mauvais vampire would be the term I'd use if I was simply trying to convey that Julian is a "bad vampire". But that wasn't my intention. The term mal (the way I'm using it) was loosely inspired by the Malheur (misfortune) card in the Oracle De La Triade. (Edited to add: a similar card would be "misfortune" in the Leonormand Gypsy deck.)

In my novels, vampires who have suffered physical traumas, whether by fire or other means, are mal(heur) "misfortune" vampires. However, because they are a globalized society of vampires, with Russians living in America, and Americans living in France, I felt that over time, the vampires probably would've simply shortened malheur to mal and embraced the shortened phrase mal vampire as a sort of double entendre. I hope this helps explain the origins of the mal vampire.

The first book in the series, Wicked Temption, is still out of print. Thanks for your patience.

Wicked Obsession is available online at Smashwords, and is available in print on Amazon.  

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Breaking My Bookish Heart

Last week, I went over to Samhain Publishing to look at their horror submission guidelines, but the page had a message posted that the company is closed to submissions (of all genres, not just horror) while they catch up on slush pile subs. They've done that before, so I didn't think much about it. I figured I'd go ahead with my project and keep an eye on twitter for when they reopen submissions.

Fast forward a few days later, I log in to twitter, and the first tweet I see is that Samhain is in the process of closing its doors. Of course I'm moving forward with my project anyway, but the news is still shocking and depressing regarding the company. I have a lot of friends published there, and Samhain has what I would consider one of the best horror imprints on the market today.

I have no idea how this has affected the romance editors up to this point, but it's clear where things are headed after the letter announcing the company's closure was posted to the site. At any rate, I did some further digging, and I guess the signs have been there since late last year that they might be facing closure. Editor Don D'Auria was let go in 2015, and he was the one who built their horror line. I followed his authors from Dorchester, and read them at Samhain as well. I'm crossing my fingers and waiting to see where he turns up next. The same with the authors who will be shut out by the closure. I'm curious where they will go once the dust has settled. I know a few people who have said that the Samhain closure is their cue to focus on self-publishing, but at the same time, I've heard others say their sales at Amazon are down because of the KU program. Now, Amazon has filed patents and has started the wheels turning toward the possible creation of a used ebook market on their site. This adds even more uncertainty to an already unstable ebook market.

After the Samhain announcement, I began looking into the larger digital publishing companies that are still standing. Keep in mind, I'm still looking for a stable publishing "home" myself. There are three companies that appear to stand apart from the rest: Entangled, which is still relatively new; Lyrical, which is under Kensington's umbrella; and Carina Press, which is an imprint of Harlequin. I'm curious to see if any of these companies cast their nets to catch the top tier talent left displaced by Samhain's closure. I'd also be interested to see what the ratio of romance writers vs non-romance writers in terms of those author acquisitions turns out to be.

Taking the current market into consideration, I can't blame any author who decides to go full throttle indie, but for me personally, I'm a fan of hybrid publishing. I like to have a traditional/digital publisher for some projects, and then self-publish the works that I know would sell better as indie titles on Smashwords. Because most of my sales come from foreign markets and their distributors rather than from Amazon, this works best for me. The problem with the ongoing market shrinkage is that there are now fewer reputable independent trads and epublishers for writers like me to send work to, so we end up being pushed, for better or worse, into self-publishing because there's no where left for us to go.

Follow Your Inner Moonlight

Follow your inner moonlight; don't
hide the madness. (a mixed quote
usually attributed to Ginsberg)
I'm woefully behind in reporting the latest crazy Cora Adventures. If you follow me on twitter you've probably heard most of them by now, but here's a fast recap of February 2016.

  • Two trips to see the hospital vampires. I'm surprised I have any blood left. A couple of my numbers still don't look good, so I'm back to the doctor next week to find out what's going on.
  • Two stories sent out, two rejections received. One rejection was a keeper, very encouraging with good advice. The other, not so much. It was one of those rejection letters stinging enough to make me question what I'm doing with my life.
  • Shout attack by a little old lady in a red sports car at the gas station. She didn't know how to pull her car up to the pumps on the same side as her gas tank, and in her opinion, this was my fault. A little scary, a little amusing. 
  • I chipped my left front tooth. I don't even understand how. 
I'm ready to ditch this month, I tell ya. Onward to March.

Moving along to the topic at hand - tarot. I haven't posted much lately so I thought I'd share one of my favorite tarot cards of all time. It's the Moon card from The Halloween Tarot by Kipling West. I can't think of another Moon card that gives such a smart and unique take on the traditional tarot meanings and symbolism.

Some of the themes the Moon card represents are cyclic change, a short phase or waiting period, being creatively or emotionally blocked, trickery and doubt, things that look different when you shine a light on it, painful transformation, emotional baggage, hidden or buried emotions rising to the surface, feeling that you're being held at an emotional distance from others, barking at the moon - aka, freaking out over perceived threats that may or may not truly exist (the story of my life), and feeling emotionally isolated or unstable. It can also signify the need to either reign oneself in (and conform to accepted standards), or to come out of one's shell - both scenarios designed to break your isolation and return you to "civilization". It depends on the reading and the card, and there are many card variations out there.

As I mentioned above, my favorite Moon Card is the one from The Halloween Tarot, which shows a werewolf undergoing a painful transformation. Because of his own feral state, he is left to wander the wilderness alone, unable to get past the briars and fence that bar him from seeking comfort and refuge in the house on the hill. His blocked/painful situation isn't necessarily a unique experience, although it may feel that way to him - that no one understands what he is going through. The skull on the fence shows that others have come this way before and perished because they couldn't either reign themselves in, they couldn't figure out where to go next, or they simply didn't call out for help (howl) or otherwise heed directions. The werewolf's feral state is contrasted masterfully by the image of a loyal Boston terrier, which is sometimes called the American "gentleman" of dogs, to further paint an impression of savagery versus civilized behavior. Very clever of the artist, I have to say.

I get this card pretty frequently when I'm creatively blocked, or facing a lot of little frustrations. It's just a phase. Bear with it, and it will pass. That's the typical takeaway. I also get this card when I'm having  hard time deciding what I want to do with a writing project that has stalled. Now, this is just a personal take on this particular Moon card, but I can't look at the werewolf without thinking of the quote, "Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness."

In other words, stop trying to transform yourself and the story into something it's not mean to be. I'm frequently guilty of this, trying to force my stories to fit a mold and my characters to act a certain way. The card indicates that it's necessary to go deep and follow your own personal flow. Be authentic and trust your instincts.

In both the traditional Rider-Waite and The Halloween Tarot decks, both cards show a lobster marking a pathway or trail leading off into the hills. However, what sets the Halloween deck apart, is that the designated trail, a.k.a. "the traditional or appropriate" path, isn't effectively leading the werewolf (ourselves) out of the wilderness. It doesn't matter if the werewolf ended up that way by wandering off track accidentally and getting lost, or if it happened while he was in the process of trying to cling to an outdated trail in order to get to his destination the "right" way, or if he deliberately rebelled against the path set before him and took off on an unmarked route that turned out to be a deadend.

Whatever scenario fits the querent's situation, the Moon card could be a subtle message that when you're blocked from going one direction - don't give up!  It's perfectly okay to try different paths until you find the one that works for you. ♥