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.”
I recently transferred from one store to another, so here are
Thirteen things I've learned since I transferred to the new store:
1. I lived across the street from my old store, and now drive 45 mins one way to get there. Apparently having the extra time to wake up and sing along as loudly as I want is a good thing, though. I'm the kind of girl that gets up in the morning just in time to get ready and get to work. No leisurely breakfast or reading the newspaper for me. That is especially true now that I have to commute in the morning and at the same time have to be to work an hour earlier than I did at my old store. I am discovering, however, that all of a sudden I am more productive in my first hour at work since I started having the extra drive. Who knew?
2. 45 min drive vs 2 minute walk = triple the monthly gas bill. Yuck.
3. Sunny Han's is still some of the best Chinese food I've had. Takes some getting used to because it's not a lot of sauces and fried things, but their brown rice and steamed vegetables are just so good.
4. Apparently I am not the only one who doesn't like to throw things away, because there is an astonishing amount of stuff in the back room that was here when I managed here two years ago.
5. Sing along songs are more important to a good driving cd than just a fast beat.
6. Mt. Hood is almost heartbreakingly beautiful at sunrise.
7. I actually am a better manager now than I was two years ago.
8. No matter what city my office is in, it's still the same job.
9. Muscle memory for things like where supplies are and the best path across the parking lot to Quiznos works even after two years away.
10. Change really can reenergize you, even when you aren't unhappy with the way things are.
11. 6:00 is still too dang early to get up in the morning, and I still don't want to have to be in bed by 10:00.
12. I must be developing more of a routine schedule, since Fluffy the cat is usually waiting for me at the window when I pull into the carport.
13. Coffee's On is still a great place to go. They remembered me, which was very nice. They even remembered that I didn't have a favorite drink, but get something different almost every day.
I have had such a hard time coming up with Thursday Thirteens the last couple weeks! For some reason the first part of the week has just been all about rush rush rush. So while my body is tired, the real problem is that I am mentally exhausted.
So here are thirteen things I do to rest and reenergize my mind.
1. If it's night time, I go to bed. Sometimes it's hard to stop the momentum, but a little extra sleep never hurt.
2. Take another look at the schedule. Do I really need to be to work at 8am, or can I take an extra 30 minutes and pet the cat?
3. Stop hitting the snooze button and get up on time. Skimping on time to get ready and getting a few extra winks sounds like a good idea, but for me if I start the day rushing around, I'll just keep doing it.
4. Get dressed up. Not schmancy date dressed up, necessarily, but the full daily routine. Again, it takes time, so there's no rushing through it. Second of all, if you do rush, it tends to show. Knowing I look barely presentable never makes me feel good. But the little buzz when someone compliments hair or clothes because I took time with them is a definite boost.
5. Find the right music. It would seem like you would want something super peppy and energetic, but for me that is not the case. The point is to stimulate the brain and wake it up, not really to exercise it. I have cd's like The Art of Concentration from Lifescapes, Zen Grooves from Avalon, and Hemispheres from Sharper Image that are upbeat enough to give me energy without being intrusive or edgy.
6. Watch TV on DVD. The episodes are short enough that it's easier to just stop and go to bed when you're ready, rather than feeling like you need to finish a whole movie. And there's no commercials blasting at you, wearing out your eyes and brain.
7. Go to Jamba Juice instead of Starbucks. Caffeine is a good thing, but Jamba Juice can do more to give my whole body energy, and not just my brain.
8. Reread a favorite book. I know, we hardly find time to fit in all the new stuff we want to read, but for me, although reading itself is always a pleasure, reading new books can be stimulating rather than relaxing for my mind.
9. Make plans with a friend. Me, I call my mom and see if she's free for dinner. Having plans after work is the best way I know to make myself leave on time. I should be smart enough to do it on my own, but sometimes I have to give myself a little help.
10. Make a to-do list. Having a visible representation of what you need to get done, and then being able to check it off can really give you a boost.
11. Smile at someone and ask how they're doing. No matter how busy you are you really do have five minutes to make someone else feel good, and the personal contact makes you feel good, too. Not to mention it slows you down just a little.
12. Go for a fifteen minute walk. Just another way to STOP for a few minutes. A walk gets your adrenaline flowing, which makes your body feel better, and your mind can relax.
My Critic has this thing about me writing poetry, or rather the Critic is quick to remind me that I am not great at poetry and thinks I should avoid it at all costs. I'm not entirely convinced the Critic is wrong, but I've decided to continue the practice of forcing myself to post my poems somewhere whenever I happen across them.
So, for Flash Fiction Friday, here is a poem from senior year of high school:
Nature's call is a siren's song. Trees croon lullabyes with creaking limbs. Grass whispers secrets to the wind, and the brook's cheerful chatter tells us to hurry as we fly to nature's retreat.
But we look back.
Jangling phones, shreiking printers, cranky customers, bosses with razor tongues, children clamoring for attention, clanging construction, blaring alarms, headaches screaming for Excedrin - These are the tools society uses to restrain our retreat.
Mother Nature greets you in her backyard, a barefoot version of Cinderella's fairy godmother with twigs in her hair and grass stains on her feet. Her smile shines like the sun in her domain, and her bower offers respite from the world looming large behind us. The cheerful brook lip-laps away the headache, the grass massages stressed muscles, and the trees rock us into peaceful repose.
Then we go back.
I suppose poetry is like anything else - you have to practice to get better. Still, I persist in seeing poetry as something you are born with, not something you learn. I can't imagine ever really getting comfortable with it, but picking at the scab of it every so often seems to be good for me.
I was also reminded of a poem that I'd almost forgotten, but that still gets right inside me. It's Love Song: I and Thou by Alan Dugan, and I have always connected with it. You can read it here.
On another topic, I pulled out some of my very first stories the other day in a fit of nostalgia. I have to apologize to some of my poor characters, because I had completely forgotten about them. I remembered a few as works in progress, but I did have a couple that were completely finished. Very much a sixteen-year-old-girl kind of thing, but not altogether the horror I remembered. I also found a hard copy of one of two fanfiction stories that I'd lost. It's like having an extra warm fuzzy blanket to know that story's in the world somewhere again.