I Love Short Shorts

iOCX7EjJdTlDkbSF5Y9mWhIJ_9xkZa0jUU7XoajAWLo  No, I don’t mean the cheeky, ripped cut-offs the young gals wear. I mean short stories in varying lengths between a few hundred words (flash fiction) and 10,000 or so, something to be read in a single sitting. Merriam-Webster defines a short story as “an invented prose narrative shorter than a novel usually dealing with a few characters and aiming at unity of effect and often concentrating on the creation of mood rather than plot.”

O-kay. I’m not sure I wholly agree with that simple definition, because—well, let me go back in time about four years. Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America decided to publish an anthology of short stories called Romancing the Pages written by some of its members. I’d never considered writing short and had read very few short stories through the years. But, I answered the call. It sounded easy. Come up with a simple romantic plot; dash off a few thousand words during the down time while working on my novel. Hey, it was a chance to get something published. “The Guy With the Dragon Tattoo” came in at around 2,500 words, took many weeks and many revisions to finish. But I kinda liked writing short, even though it was just as hard (maybe harder on some levels) than working through an entire 60,000-word novel.

But what is the appeal of short stories to the reader? Their appeal, as I mentioned, lies in the fact you can read most of them in one sitting, while getting your hair done, waiting to pick up Junior from soccer practice, that hour at night before turning off the lights. We live in a Snapchat, Twitter, sound bite world. There isn’t the angst associated with picking up a short to read versus an 80,000-word novel. Wow, don’t have time to devote to that tome, so I’ll save it for, um, later.

But why else read short? It’s a chance to try out different genres, authors, styles. Since writing “Dragon Tattoo,” I’ve read dozens and dozens of short stories across many genres and romance sub-genres. A few did focus mainly on creating a mood; many contained an exciting plot and delicious characters. The good stories contained a beginning, middle and end that satisfied like a hearty bowl full of Irish stew. I experienced a full range of emotion appropriate to the genre. I laughed, I cried, I cringed, I sighed.

A side-benefit? Instead of reading the back of my Cheerios box for the millionth time, I can get in a whole story during breakfast to satisfy my reading addiction. Short stories can encourage those who don’t regularly read to get in the habit.

This year, I once again had the opportunity to contribute to not one short story anthology, but two. My critique group, Writing Something Romantic, is working on an anthology called Love for Christmas, which we’re hoping to publish before the holidays. My story, “Charmed by Christmas Magic,” came in at 10,000 words. The other romance anthology, Secrets of Moonlight Cove, will publish in the next few weeks. Each fun story in the anthology takes place in the fictional California coastal town of Moonlight Cove, and references characters from the other stories. “Maggie’s Mystery Man” also runs 10,000 words. Look for announcements of both publication dates here, on Facebook and other social media. I hope you’ll give shorts a try. Bet you can’t read just one!

 

Stories From Under the Bed by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

I was recently asked, what do I want readers to come away with after they read my book?

Well, first of all, I’m thrilled readers read my books.

That is the point, isn’t it? To write words, stories, and put them out in a place where people can read them?

I know people who write entire books only to tuck them away in neat little coffins under their beds, never to show them to another living soul. While I greatly admire their ability to actually create and FINISH an entire book, (something I struggled with for a long time), I don’t fully understand this impulse to Never Show Another Soul.  Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of writing something down? Isn’t the written word meant to be read? If not, then why write it?

I mean, I do understand that some people have a very deep fear of being ridiculed for the work they have poured their soul into. Fear can be very powerful.

And I also understand that writing is a learning process for the writer, and there are some books that should probably stay under the bed as far as” prime time” is concerned.

But writing is a learning process, so eventually, these things must see the light of day and actually be read- by someone, at some point. (Showing it to other writers is sometimes a good place to start). That is the only way to know how good, or how bad, they really are. And to create the opportunity to actually become a better writer- to learn what you could have done better, then try it.

I’ve written stories since I was a child. I knew that someday, I’d write a book. I tucked that dream under my bed and it nearly died in its neat little coffin, buried under the weight of daily life ticking away in years. Luckily it revived and reminded me it was there. One thing about this dream, though. It was always to write a book so people would read it.

Maybe it’s more natural for me to take this view of writing because I have a performer gene. I have a bit of musical talent, for both singing and playing an instrument, which I’ve gone to some trouble to cultivate. So the idea of getting up in front of an audience and displaying (exposing) my talent (or lack thereof) is something I’ve always accepted as part of the “artistic talent” deal.

And writing is a lot like music. Music must be played, it must be heard. Writing is meant to be read. It’s part of the definition of the thing itself.

When someone reads the words I write, the words become more than arbitrary ink marks on white paper. A whole world, a whole reality, springs to life in the reader’s mind. Directly from mine.

Stephen King talks about this kind of amazing connection between the writer and the reader that completes the circuit of telling the story. Like a live wire, always waiting to make contact. The reader can experience this shared reality regardless of the distance of space and time between them and the writer. The words are the notes, music waiting to be played.  Written to be heard.

I write so people can read what I wrote. I write for you, the reader.

And the answer to the original question is I hope you, my reader, come away with a combination of what I put into my book when I wrote it and what you bring to the book when you read it. That you find something that rings emotionally true to you in the story. I hope it makes you smile and I hope it makes you want to read another one!

Where do I get my characters?

by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

I guarantee that if you ask one hundred writers this question, you will get one hundred different answers, all of them equally valid.

Here is mine.

Since writers write what they know, I’d have to say that my characters must come from what I know.  I know myself, and I know other people. So I think partly they come from inside of me, from who I am and what I feel, and partly they come from the experiences I’ve had with a lot of other people. People I’ve met, and people I’ve only seen. I carry around a whole database of memories, feelings, impressions and emotions that I don’t have to even think about. We all do, actually. Like it or not.

When I get a story idea, one of the first things I do is imagine my main character. I literally get a picture of them in my mind, maybe with just one or two physical characteristics- hair color, height, age.

I have a fuzzy idea of who they are, what kind of person. Are they bubbly and sweet? Reserved and observant? Booksmart or streetsmart? Spoiling for a fight? Not a lot of details, and I don’t plan them out, trying to figure out who they are.

Instead, I start writing them onto the page, putting them into a scene to see how they will react to it, I see their personality develop as I do this- but it is more like recognizing them as they reveal themselves, than making them into something.

I had this one heroine, early in a story development of a historical romance, who wore a hat in a scene. I first described the hat as a plain, brown hat. Very simple. I stopped in my literary tracks. I knew, without needing to examine why, that this heroine wouldn’t be caught dead in an ugly hat. I knew that about her, even though I’d never thought it through in any organized way.

Likely, I may base my character on someone I’ve known or seen. Like movies about dysfunctional families- we recognize all of those characters. We probably have some of those relatives. Heck, we may even be one of them.  We have all met certain “types” of people, that come with a basic sort of set of rules about how they interact with the world around them. These are fun frameworks to start with and explore, maybe even dig deeper into and blow up that careful façade the rest of the world sees.

Here’s where the internal component kicks in.  It’s kind of like Carl Jung’s theory of dream interpretation (sorry, psych major here): every person, every thing in your dream represents something of you. I think that is a little how I create emotional reality of my characters.

When I write my character into a situation, challenge them with difficult situations, new ideas, I stop and imagine how they feel. That’s the part that comes from inside. I have to feel that emotion with them, put that down on the page. Make them human. If I don’t, the reader won’t feel it, and they won’t care about what happens next for that character.  That part comes from me, for sure.

All in all, I try not to overthink it, and let it flow as organically as possible. When I have a story idea, there is already a perfect character for it. I just have to wait for them to show up.

There’s Nothing as Constant as Change

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I’ve thought a lot lately about how my life has changed over the past few years. A few of the changes have been a bummer, but most have been good. I try to be an optimist, but a lot of the expected changes have come fraught with anxiety at the mere thought of what was to come. For instance, my husband and I put the old house we’d lived in for over thirty years up for sale. Talk about angst, gut-wrenching fear and the emotional highs and lows as we willingly leaped on that real estate roller coaster and rode it, white-knuckling, all the way to our bright, airy, little townhome in our desired neighborhood. It was the longest coaster ride of our life, lasting almost one year.

But, just as most women forget the pain of childbirth and say hey, let’s have that fourth child, we decided to remodel the 1994 kitchen in our new home right away. Like not even two weeks after we moved in. We’re at the “fraught with anxiety at the mere thought of what was to come” stage. We bought our ticket for another coaster ride.

Change is what drives our lives. It’s what gets our juices going and emotions flowing. Endeavors and decisions and dreams fuel change. It’s what the books we read and the movies we see are all about. Simply put, a character comes up against a problem, makes a decision on how to solve it, and in the process of trying to solve it, changes something in her life. The soul-deep, satisfying stories show the character as one way in the beginning, and changed in some way by the end.

Look at Laura Drake’s first published book (a Rita winner), The Sweet Spot. At the start of the story, literally in the first couple of paragraphs, we learn that her heroine, Charla Rae, has a problem with Valium that she uses to try to numb the pain of the tragic death of her son. Divorced and attempting to keep a bucking bull ranch from going under, the inexperienced Charla Rae faces one hurdle after the other. And you just know she still loves her philandering ex, but refuses to admit it to herself. I’m sure I’m not spoiling the story, cause this is a romance after all: Charla Rae gains a level of expertise on the ranch, faces her demons of grief and guilt, and rekindles love and romance with her ex. She is not the same girl she was at the beginning of the story. Soul deep and satisfying. I highly recommend it.

Another way to look at how characters change in stories is to consider – are you ready for it? – Transformers. Yes, those vehicle-robots in the movies and comic books. Take the autobot named Optimus Prime. In the movies, the identity he presents to the world is that of a red and black Peterbilt truck. Utilitarian, strong, solid, worker bee. But given the right motivation, he can rearrange all those Peterbilt parts to become the supreme ultimate, save-the-world hero of Optimus Prime. He always had, deep in his metallic essence, the soul of a hero. Maybe that was kind of a stretch, but it was fun to think about.

Identity to essence, to use the words of Michael Hauge, master story guru, describes a character’s arc from the beginning of the story (the identity she shows to the world) and her essence (who she really is revealed). The trials and tribulations she faces throughout the plot peel back the layers of her psyche to finally reveal who she really is.

Think about the major changes in your own life. Did you learn something from them? Did you find out you were a lot stronger than you thought you were? Weaker? What is your favorite keeper book? I bet one or more of the main characters went through a soul-deep character arc.

Let me leave you with this little nugget about change to think about, because deep in my essence, I’m an optimist:

Change comes bearing gifts.

by Barb DeLong

It’s in the voice

I’ve been reading romance novels since—forever and haven’t read a romance I didn’t love—well maybe one or two. Several years ago my “to read” stack of books was growing and my reading time was shrinking. A time when I was working fifty plus hours a week and free time was at a premium.

I spent the day with author Linda McLaughlin, shopping at Barnes and Noble (adding to the “to read” stack) when we found an audio cassette box set of Nora Roberts’ The Key Trilogy. Linda asked if I’d read the trilogy, and sadly I had not. In fact, I’d only read one or 9781491542071_p0_v1_s192x300two of Nora’s books. She suggested giving the box set a try. I’d only listened, or tried to listen, to one audio book before when a friend let me borrow a mystery-suspense novel. I ejected the first cassette within minutes because the narrator’s voice drove me crazy, and never tried one again. At the time, I spent a minimum of two hours a day sitting on the freeway going to and from work, and since my car had a cassette player I decided to give audio books a second chance. If this one faired better, then I would be able to read more authors—no, listen to more novels by authors I hadn’t had time to read.

I slid the first cassette to The Key of Light into the dash. Brother, what a difference a voice makes. Within minutes Susan Ericken’s wonderful voice swept me into the lives of Malory Price, Dana Steele and Zoe McCourt and the world surrounding Warrior’s Peak. When I finished The Key of Light, I immediately started book two, The Key of Knowledge and finished with the Key of Valor.

One audio book led to another and another and another. Before I knew it, I’d listened to numerous titles by Nora, including J.D. Robb. I added other authors I didn’t have time to read. Then I started listening to favorite books I’d read. My favorite historical romance is 9781469261492_p0_v2_s192x300Saving Grace by Julie Garwood. I’ve read the book several times and when I was finally able to obtain an audio version, I was in seventh heaven. Performed by Rosalyn Landor, the Highlands and the Scottish warrior Gabriel MacBain became so vivid in my mind. I remember listening to Jennifer Cruzie’s Agnes and the Hit Man and laughing out loud while driving down the freeway.

My audio library is still growing. I now have either CD’s or MP3-CD’s in both unabridged and abridged (I prefer unabridged). I have even repurchased certain audio books I originally bought in cassette format. I recently read an article that stated there has been a strong growth in audio books in companies such as Audible. Amazon’s Kindle Edition offers an audible narration with your book’s purchase. OverDrive is a digital download platform for public libraries.

Even though I no longer find myself sitting on the freeway for hours at a time, I still prefer listening to an audio book instead of a music channel. And heaven forbid if I forgot to bring an audio book along.

If you have never tried an audio book, why not give one a try? You too might find yourself falling for them as I have.

INSPIRATION…where does it come from?

I’m often asked where my ideas and inspirations come from by family members, friends and new acquaintances when they find out I’m a writer. My answer—everywhere: when I travel, just out and about, or reading travel and cooking magazines. I take pictures galore to remember settings and save articles that have piqued my interest.

Here’s an example. My professional background is in the field of real estate. Whenever I’m in a new town or city, I pick up the local real estate magazine showing homes for sale. I flip through the pages, look at the pictures and read the listings. I usually fall in love with at least one or two of the homes. One time I read the intro for a property that went something like this:

Nestled in the stately ponderosas, this 5,000 square foot cedar and redwood home weaves modern comforts with endearing rusticity. A huge stone fireplace graces the living room area, while high ceilings and glassed dining area show off breathtaking views. Five bedroom suites provide warmth and elegance, with most rooms overlooking either the lake or the forest. In addition, the 30 plus acre parcel provides a wealth of outdoor activities. This is one of the finest homes ever to come on the market. Priced to sell quickly. It won’t last long.

I can tell you my imagination went wild. I started to think about a heroine who needs a fresh start. She reads an advertisement (like the one above) on a real estate website and decides then and there to put in an offer to buy the property (sight unseen of course). When she arrives she finds that yes, it is nestled in the stately ponderosas, but the modern comforts are not endearing at all. In fact, they look to be from the 1940’s. And so the story begins.

My niece took a picture when she was in Oregon and sent it to me of train IMG_2593tracks leading into the woods. And I was off on an adventure. Might hero or heroine be returning home after running away years before??

One day I was out walking at Downtown Disney by the Disneyland Hotel and I saw a man talking on his cell phone by the gated swimming pool area. I started to think, was his wife sitting by the pool watching their children and wondering if her husband was again talking to the office or worse, his mistress? Was this the last straw?

I’m working on a new project I was inspired to write when a friend sent me a picture of a lighthouse on a charming little island. This one will have a bit of suspense and I will be blogging about it occasionally as I go through the process.photo(2)

I wish you and yours a glorious 2016! I hope it’s filled with relaxing days reading your favorite author and a few new ones.

Jann Ryan

Take me there…with Katie Keelor

Val MilletteIf I didn’t live here, I’d want to live there.  If I didn’t live now, I’d want to live then.  If I didn’t do this, I’d want to do that.  Curiosity about history and wanting to know what happened in the past…you become a time-traveler. As a writer, add travel to historic locations only fuels the fire.  Every place I visit I want to know what it would be like to live in that era and there’s where the time-traveling takes place.  It’s such fun!

My first “real” trip took me to the legendary St. Winifred’s Well in Holywell, Wales.  Later trips found me dazzled by the Book of Kells and the famous library at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, swooning over the magnificent architecture of John Ryland’s Library in the industrial manufacturing city of Manchester, England and later to my grandparents’ birthplace in Blackburn, Lancashire—one of the most important cotton producers in the world and just one of the hundreds of cities, small towns and villages where the majority of the work force kept the cotton mills operating in the 1800’s.  For “fun” I traveled with a good friend on a tour of Regency-era London, Bath and Brighton and other locations in-between where the passage of time has been overlooked and history preserved.  My last “real” trip took me to never-to-be-forgotten sights of Paris and the silk weaving center of Lyon, France.

Closer to home, I love going to Sacramento.  Yes, I have family living there but you will find that our state’s capitol is such an interesting place.  Before each visit my son’s usual question to me is “What do you want to do while you’re here?”  and unless I have something special in mind, my usual answer is “Let’s do something you haven’t done yet.”

His response to a recent challenge resulted in a trip downtown to the Old Sacramento Historic Park and the “underground tour.”  Another weekend living the past during “Gold Rush Days” was all it took for me to get the idea for my current novel “Swept Away.”

Today, California is experiencing a serious drought.  Not so in the mid-1800’s.  In the winter of 1861-62, heavy snowfall and 45 days of rain inundated the city of Sacramento breaking through the levees with momentous flooding.  A fantastical idea came out of this catastrophe—in 1864 the citizens banded together to raise the streets 21 feet higher than the river’s edge, or 9 feet higher than the street level. Close your eyes.  Can you imagine watching the state’s capitol building balancing on hundreds of screw jacks being raised less than an inch a day?

I can.  Take me there…please.