This last couple of weeks has been a lesson in time. Rather, in changing my perceptions of time - how much time I need, how much time I have, all of it.
I had a week of vacation, and really did not get any writing done until Friday or Saturday. This was really disappointing for me. There is enough going on outside of writing that I did not anticipate having a large enough block of time to get much writing accomplished once I was back to work.
Since I did have a week of vaction, the urge to write is there again. The capacity to make the words in my head come out onto the paper is there again. I am definitely running into challenges finding time to write, however.
I have written on my lunch at work before, but the most recent story idea involved a graphic m/m bedroom scene, so I grabbed a notebook instead of opening a doc on the computer like normal. I still ran into a couple of interruptions (they're inevitable if I'm actually sitting my office) but I managed to get 10 or 15 minutes of good writing time in on Monday, got some reading done on Tuesday and Wednesday, and more writing on Thurs. I even managed to avoid editing too much while I was handwriting, just making notes in the margin about ideas I wanted to make sure and get across when it came time to actually type up the handwritten story. That allowed me to get a lot more done.
A similiar situation came up with my Wii Fit this weekend. I just wasn't doing it at all if I didn't feel like I had at least 30 minutes to devote to it - which meant I was only doing it on the weekends.
So I'm going to change how I look at time. I'm going to try and use short bursts of time to get something done instead of waiting for the big blocks of time that rarely happen. I'm going to celebrate what I do get done instead of grousing about all the things I didn't get done.
I hope everyone finds time today for something they didn't expect to get to.
I have been reading a lot more than I’ve been writing lately and a couple of books recently really made me think about how important characters are to a story. The two particular stories I’m going to discuss feature male/male relationships, although a lot of what I want to say will apply to any story.
The first was a m/m/m shifter ménage, which should have been right up my alley. Typos in two consecutive sentences on page 6 (Chapter 1 started on page 5), though, and I was starting to get concerned. By page 12 these characters that have just been introduced are having unprotected penetrative sex on horseback, and by page 14 the reader is led to believe that Jake changed Leyland into a shifter without bothering to explain that little fact to him.
Now, as a reader I’m pretty easy. I seldom have a problem suspending my disbelief and just going along with whatever scenario a story sets forth. I had a hard time with this story, though, because the characters seemed so unbelievable. Would a human man really get further than a blow job without a condom? Would you really be able to fall in love with someone who was wiling to turn you into a shifter without telling you? (Even if you were a shapeshifter already and couldn’t be changed?)
In this case I feel like the author sacrificed her characters for the gimmick of revealing that Leyland is already a shapeshifter. Which is not to say that I think characters and plot should always be straightforward and up front. Discovering things as you go, having discrepancies between perception and reality for the characters can make for a wonderful story. All of the elements however, especially the characters, do need to be believable within whatever constructs the author initially presents. If they do not ring true in the moment of the story, they will turn the reader away, not draw them in.
In contrast, I also read a perfect example of characters that draw you ever more deeply into a story. This particular story is a m/m historical. It opens with two men in a coach getting robbed by a highwayman. This is of course an exciting bit of action, but the best part for me was how everyone’s response to the situation – what valuables did they have to lose, would they attempt to use their weapons, etc - was used to reveal their personality. Nicholas, one of the central characters, finds himself drawn to the highwayman, even attracted to him, but his genuine fury at being robbed continues to leap off the page throughout the scene. By the time chapter two starts and Nicholas is at a fencing lesson I’m completely hooked. I believe in Nicholas. I care about him. I stay up ‘til 2am to finish the book, even though I’m not usually a huge fan of historicals, because of him.
It shouldn’t really be a surprise, I suppose, but I really came away from this week realizing just how important character is to me in a story. All of the stories I read over and over again have characters that engage me, characters whose lives I want to visit again and again, regardless of genre or the gender of the partners or anything else.
I want to write characters like that. As much as I want people to think I’m good technically as a writer, what really matters to me is that my characters come alive. I always get a thrill when someone asks me to write more, but I really love it when people tell me “I love your guys,” and ask to read more of them. Not my writing, my characters.
I have no idea where this came from, but I got an idea today involving Charlie, one of the characters in my last Friday Flash Fiction story, and the coffee cart boy Ulysses mentions. It's very rough, but I wanted to get the idea on paper, at least, so here it is.
There's nothing graphic here by any stretch of the imagination, but this story does involve homosexual men flirting with each other. If that is not your cup of tea, then you should probably quit reading now...
Here is "Three O'Clock"
Charlie knew he was bouncing with impatience while he waited for the elevator door to open, but he couldn’t force himself to stop. Three o’clock – the very best time of day. Coffee and flirting and maybe an invitation for more if he played his cards right.
The doors opened at last, revealing the coffee cart in the lobby and the handsome barista who operated it. Everything about Mark appealed to Charlie, from the dark spiky hair and lean, slender body to the eyebrow ring and sweet, almost shy smile that Charlie swore Mark saved just for him.
Mark had looked up as soon as the bell dinged the elevator’s arrival, as used to the routine as Charlie by now. Three o’clock. Early enough for Charlie to beat most of the afternoon rush of caffeine hunters, and close enough to the end of Mark’s shift that he was free to talk and play. Charlie admired the snug fit of Mark’s black button down shirt as he approached the cart, his eyes travelling slowly up and down, soaking in every detail. His grin broadened when Mark acknowledged his perusal with a light blush.
“Yes, please,” Charlie beamed. He ordered the same thing every day, but it still gave him a little thrill each time Mark remembered his order.
“Anything else?” Mark asked, eyes lowering so he could peek up at Charlie through his eyelashes.
Charlie opened his mouth to reply, but found he had no air to speak or breathe with. Tearing his gaze away from the heat in the sapphire gaze that Mark was careful to keep mostly turned away from him, Charlie managed a low laugh. “Don’t tempt me.”
Oh. Oh, that was a happy smile stretching Mark’s face at Charlie’s words. Damn. Charlie knew he was staring at Mark, completely ensnared by the sight of him steaming soy milk and preparing espresso shots and smiling, but he could not look away. He heard himself babbling on, covering his fascination with too many words, but Mark was used to that by now, too. Mark answered back when he could get a word in edgewise, the movement of his throat jostling the heavy chain that rested along his collar bone.
There, just above the chain was the dark smudge of a hickey. How on earth had Charlie missed that before? It wasn’t all that large, but it was almost black, edged with red where teeth had worried the flesh, too.
Hot. Even as Charlie mourned the lost opportunity for more than a flirtation with Mark, his body reacted to the sight of the bruise with undeniable enthusiasm. He wanted to touch it, taste it, in the worst way. Mark might even let him, but the person who’d claimed him would almost certainly object.
“Are you going to introduce me to your friend, boy?” came a low rumble from behind Charlie.
Mark’s smile had always been bright and intimate for Charlie, but now he positively glowed. “Oh, yes, Master,” he breathed. “This is Charlie. Charlie, this is Master Byron.”
Charlie had noticed the chain around Mark’s neck, of course, but he’d never realized it was actually a collar. How had he missed that?
With a shake of his head, Charlie brought himself back to the moment and clasped the hand that Mark’s master had extended. It was huge, warm and strong. The arm attached to it was sized to match, thick muscles rippling under the skin as Charlie’s gaze travelled upwards to meet Master Byron’s eyes.
This story came out of a challenge in the Writer's Duel on Romance Divas. I had fun writing it, and wanted to show it around one last time.
The prompt guidelines were as follows:
Your hero or heroine (your choice) is a participant in a treasure hunt reality TV show. Their directions have been tampered with. By whom and why? What dangers and consequences are there??
Please include: A facial scar, a partridge in a pear tree, red stiletto shoes, and a skunk.
The original post was supposed to be about 750 words, but I added just a few more back in for this because I just missed them.
Here's the story:
Ulysses P. Rathbone slapped his credit card on the counter, snatched the cell phone out of the sales clerk’s hands and started dialing. He still had no idea why those ducks had dive bombed him at the fountain and sent his Blackberry plunging to the depths of the wishing pool, but he’d finally gotten it replaced. Now he just needed to get a hold of Charlie and have him resend the email with the final Super Search clue.
“Hi, Boss!” came the enthusiastic reply from the other end of the line. Charlie was gay as a maypole and twice as chipper, but he was a genius with computers, so Ulysses put up with the sugar shock.
“You sweet talked that guy at the coffee stand into an extra shot again, didn’t you, Charlie?”
“Maaaaybe,” Charlie giggled.
Sorry he’d asked, Ulysses got down to business. “I need you to send me that email again, the one with the Super Search clue.”
“Tiger, tiger burning bright, you’ll find me in the City of Lights? That one?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Zap it over here pronto.” Ulysses glared impatiently at his phone, but before the email could come through a screech blasted through the speaker.
‘Charlie!” Ulysses shouted to be heard over the noise. “What the hell happened? Where’s my clue?”
“Fatal error, my ass!” Charlie shouted accusingly before explaining, “The computer just died, Boss.”
“Well, you’re the computer queen, so fix it! I need that email!” Ulysses could hear clunks and thunks as Charlie shuffled things around, interspersed with expletives that increased steadily in both inventiveness and pitch.
Almost out of nowhere another scream rocketed through Ulysses' ears, threatening the integrity of his eardrums.
“Oh, my GOD! There’s a MOUSE!” Charlie started hyperventilating, sending the octave of his voice into the stratosphere. “There is a MOUSE and it has been EATING the COMPUTER! The computer’s dead!”
Mice eating the computer, ducks drowning his phone – Ulysses decided he must have slipped into some kind of Animal Planet Twilight Zone. At least he had the most important part of the clue. “Fix the computer and get me that email,” he barked at Charlie before jabbing the End button.
Two hours later, wedged into an airplane seat and headed to Paris, Ulysses chuckled to himself. A mouse, a duck . . . Hell, throw in a skunk and a bird or two and you’d have the whole menagerie of his ex girlfriends.
He didn’t have as much magic as some Hunters, but Ulysses could always recognize a Shifter when he saw one. Of course, finding them wasn’t the dangerous part. He bore long, jagged scars on his face, deep enough to be felt even inside his mouth as a reminder of what happens when a Lioness decides you’re little too cavalier with her affections.
He’d learned his lesson, though. Smaller Shifters, they were the key. Take the Partridge he’d dated once, for example. Met her in a pear tree of all places, in her family’s orchard in California. Sweet little thing. Sure, she’d gotten a little huffy when he moved on to the Turtledove twins on the neighboring ranch, but she hadn’t clawed his eyes out or anything.
Ulysses’ Blackberry pinged an email alert as soon as he landed. Tiger, tiger burning bright, you’ll find me in the City of Lights. No Triumph here, sad tale to tell, but you will find La Tour Eiffel. Charlie had come through - just in time for Ulysses to find out he was in the wrong damned city. Stifling a curse, Ulysses headed back to the ticket counter.
The Super Search sign was still posted when Ulysses pulled up to the Mirage. He burst through the hotel’s double doors and skittered to a halt in front of the host. “Have any other teams made it through?”
The host simply smiled and motioned for the woman standing behind him to come forward. Tiny black dress, Cruella De Vil’s big ass white coat, and red stilettos? No mystery there. “Hello, Sylvia,” Ulysses sneered. “What’s a nice Skunk like you doing in a place like this?”
“Ulysses, darling. You’re right on time,” Sylvia beamed.
More girls drifted over to join Sylvia. Patti, Tonya, Tracy . . . Oh boy.
“What is this, some kind of joke?”
“Not a joke, dear boy. A treasure hunt,” Sylvia replied with a tinkling laugh. “You had to find the treasure, and the girls had to stop you. Wasn’t it fun?”
“Oh, yeah,” Ulysses scoffed, “A real blast.” He knew the answer, but forced himself to ask one more question. “So, there’s no treasure, then?”
“Oh, no, Ulysses, there is a treasure,” Sylvia reassured him. “It’s right in front of you.” Her gaze narrowed as she added, “You didn’t recognize the treasure when you had it, and we’re here to remind you that you will never, EVER have it again.”