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Monday, April 30, 2012


There was only one part of high school I enjoyed. (And really, who enjoys any part of high school if you're not Homecoming Queen material?) And that was art class. I was in drawing or painting or ceramics class every semester of high school, sometimes begging pretty please so my teacher - bless her - would let me retake an art class I'd already taken as a freshman. That great big classroom with all the windows, with the shelves upon shelves of paints and oil pastels and ceramic carving tools was the quietest, best place in that whole crazy school.

By senior year, I'd finally run out of classes to take and was horrified by the possibility of taking astronomy or home ec or any number of tortuous subjects. My fellow art geek veterans and I were so disappointed in this lack of options that our sweet, wonderful teacher decided to teach her first AP art class. There were about seven of us and she didn't have a time block available, so we commandeered a table in her intro level drawing class and enjoyed all the benefits of being AP students - meaning, so long as we finished our portfolios in time to send them off to the judging committee, we got to do pretty much any damn thing we wanted to do.

We were all geeks, and sometimes leaving a group of artsy geeks to their own devices results in...extreme geekiness. While we worked, we talked about movies, then about how we would have filmed those movies differently. Then we were leaving those movies behind altogether and coming up with our own stories. We compared ideas and offered suggestions to one another, we sketched scenes that we wanted to see brought to life and tore pictures out of magazines so we could assemble our "casts". Slowly I began to realize that, not only was I easily the least talented artist of the bunch, but that I was more often than not putting away my art pieces and bringing out paper and pencil so I could write instead. We listened to music and talked and juggled ideas, and it fueled my creativity in a way that it hadn't ever been fueled before. All this visual art made me want to create art with words. I knew I didn't have a future at an art school, but writing became my dominant interest.

I still have "sketching" sessions: I listen to music and flip through magazine pages. I still "cast" my stories. I'm working on a novel now - that will not be posted on the blog save for my flash fiction pieces - and have been compiling character names and poring over research materials, looking for inspiration, drawing, pulling up web pictures. I think it's important that, as I write and post the blog stories, I have something a little more secret in the works too.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Flash Fiction: The Fire

In the firelight, her porcelain face was a mask of shifting shadows. Her knees were drawn up to her chest and her fingers were clenched so tight she dug furrows in her long skirt. Her eyes that had been so dazzlingly open before were hard now, focused, sharp as a blade as she stared at the flames. In some long, forgotten part of his soul, he dredged up sympathy for her.

“They don’t like the fire, do they?” she asked.

“No. Some even less than others.”

“Good.” He might have seen a tear glistening crystal on her cheek, but she dashed it away. “I’ve decided I love fire.”

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Life Lessons in Steel Shoes

Cosmo's bridle, on the wall of my room

WARNING: This post has nothing to do with writing.
This week, I acknowledged the anniversary of my Cosmo’s passing with a heavy heart. I’ve lost both my boys now – there will always be horses in my life, but there was only one Cosmo, only one Skip. They had four legs and they couldn’t talk and they were just horses, yes, I know I always sound like one of those crazy animal people when I talk about them, but those horses were a part of my growing up years. My life-shaping years. My learning what it’s like to become a decent human being years.
Four years ago, on a chilly April night, I held Cosmo’s massive head in my lap as the vet pumped that last drug into his veins. I could feel the moment his heart stopped beating. Watched his eyes turn to glass. And in that moment, a whole lot of things made perfect sense to me.

There are variations on a similar saying floating around out there, but I can say with absolute certainty that: Everything I ever really needed to learn, I learned from my horses.

Be kind whenever you can

Tell someone to go to hell when you need to

Be honest

Be fair

Be loyal

Fight for something

Be patient when you’re teaching someone something new

Let your respect be earned, don’t give it away for nothing

Don’t be cocky

You don’t have to BE a man to stand up and take it like a man

There are no princes and princesses

Falls happen

Sometimes you need to have your guard up

A good lead horse looks after his herd

Earn things, don’t expect them to be handed to you

Be the one who runs into the fire

Work hard, work hard, work hard…and then work harder

They gave me the strength to dig in my heels, to be five-feet-one-inch of oh-hell-no-you-won’t. They helped me understand that there are lots of people in this world who don’t care about you, don’t like you…but that those people don’t matter: it’s the ones who love you who count.
It’s not the wind in your hair, it’s not freedom, it’s not being taller, stronger, being in control…the most amazing part of inviting horses into your life is coming to realize that these tall, strong, powerful creatures, these grazers, are full of personality. Of life. It’s the connection that’s important. The conversations without words. The quiet. The peace. To know that you’re grounded in a world that’s concrete and real, and that there’s more important things in that world than you.

A starving, half-dead, sickly horse named Cosmo showed me that there’s a difference between being broken and being defeated: broken things can be mended. Broken things can shine. And oh how he did shine.

A little red Quarter Horse with the cutest ears proved that being mediocre can be pretty special too.

Be happy, be content, indulge in a little sugar now and then. And don’t ever be afraid to be somebody’s happily ever after, even if it breaks your heart: horses give you the best years of their lives, and it’s our responsibility as their people to look after them in their golden years. My boys deserved to be loved until the day they died, and that’s what I did. The tears were worth it. So worth it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

My Enemy, My Friend

The Internet.

Blogging a full-length story like this has both its benefits and its drawbacks.

The positive: No length restrictions. Your average published novel today must adhere to word count specifications, and editors suggest cutting content and altering story lines so that the book can be printed in the shortest amount of pages possible. I'm allergic to short novels, so on the web, I have no limitations as far as length goes, which is great, because Made for Breaking is going to be long, I can already tell.

Also positive is the possibility of writing a romance that isn't so tightly wound around the central, romantically interested characters. I have so much love and affection for secondary characters, both in print and on screen, so I like getting to tell their stories too. It also fleshes out the story and keeps the relationships from feeling so fast and cheap.

The negative: No filtering for adult content and language. I can label this blog as "adult", but I really don't want to limit access to it. So I'm editing the original draft before I post each chapter. Which I hate - it is really, really hard for me to part with the f-bombs and cut out certain content elements. But then I feel less awkward about publishing it in an open forum, so I guess it's for the better. If I ever luck up and get published, I'll make sure the dirty version is printed.

As a person who is overly paranoid about plagiarism and who has a hard time sharing anything, I'm still getting used to this whole blogging concept. But the traffic has been steady and encouraging - the international traffic is especially exciting. So thank you to all visitors!

Monday, April 16, 2012

I Don't Wanna be a Sheep

Sheep in Wyoming, courtesy of my crappy little camera

No, I’m not a rebel or a renegade or someone who strikes off in a wild new direction. That’s not me. BUT, I figure there’s no sense being a sheep either.

I picked up a book this weekend – a romance novel the name and writer of which I won’t reveal – and within the thirty some odd pages I read, I realized the book was quickly going down a path that so many romance novels do. The main character had been born into a wealthy family – and I don’t mean successful dry cleaning business wealthy, I mean billionaire tycoon wealthy – and the author described a setting, without a trace of sarcasm, full of mansions, polo ponies, BMWs, Land Rovers, designer fashions and servants. And of course the hero of the story was impressed by the uber-rich heroine’s sweetness, generosity, backbone and spunk. She was, in a word, perfect. Completely without flaws, too good for this world…and her only real challenge in life was deciding which polo pony she wanted to ride that day.

It was quite funny.

For whatever reason, this kind of decadence is more tolerable in a historical piece. At least for me: I’d rather read about kings and queens than wealthy contemporaries. But regardless, I think it’s a trend in romantic fiction that isn’t relatable to the average reader, and it’s certainly not relatable to me.

What about characters with REAL struggles? With broken washing machines and dwindling paychecks? With fields that need sowing and lawns that need mowing? With crappy jobs and cars that don’t always start? But characters with good friends and strong families too, with depth and flaws and self-doubt. What about them? Why does a character have to be extremely wealthy and unquestionably perfect in order to be interesting? Why does he or she have to be a brain surgeon or a lawyer or a politician in order to have merit?

No one is perfect, no one’s life is perfect, and that’s what I want to write about. Real people with real problems, not millionaires with trust funds and kinky bondage issues. And I have to believe that there’s a market out there, that there’s room in romance for a touch of country and a dash of everyman, that there are readers who want representative fiction that isn’t complete fantasy.

That’s what I want to read, anyway, so that’s what I’m putting out there. Do what you love and love what you do…all that sort of stuff.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

100 Words: Continuation From Yesterday

He took a deep breath and held it, reaching out with all his senses to touch every part of his surroundings. The bark of the tree biting into his back. The crackly litter of leaves under his boots. The cool air that came rolling up along with a mist from the creek. The small body that huddled, shivering, next to him. He counted four men as he listened to the footsteps leave the stony bank of the creek and start up the hill.

“Friends of yours?” she whispered, her breath warm against his cheek. Her voice quivered with fright.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

100 Words: More, Even Cheesier Flash Fiction

The Wait

Night crept in on soft, padded feet. It made no sound, but as the darkness pressed in around them, circling like hungry, silent wolves, it brought with it a dread so fierce it caught his breath in his throat. As the last of the light winked out, he saw the white of her tattered dress fluttering around her feet. And then everything was black. And then he heard the sounds: the splashes down the hill at the creek. They were coming for them, slowly, because they knew their prey would not run. “Come here,” he told her. She did, and together they waited.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Scenes of Saturday

I love writing that's visual, and by that I mean that I love to read a passage that generates a vivid, colorful mental picture of the landscape being described. The little details are important in establishing setting and mood, the "feel" of the fictional world we're in.

I've always been a crap-tastic photographer, but I'm trying to take better pictures. Trying to put some of those fun little details to write about on film, and hopefully inspire better writing at the same time.

My favorite pictures from today:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Most Difficult Part

I'm working on a query letter today. A new one, because after I've sent one off to another agency, I realize I'm not at all happy with it and that I should probably pitch my idea in a new way, in a new light, to the next agency. You sell the same book each time, but different agencies request different types of material, so, like a resume, you tailor each letter so that it sounds as fitting as it possibly can. But it's still a guessing game. The most difficult part of this stupid writing fascination of mine is the wondering.

At a dressage show, there was never any wondering. I rode down the center line, saluted the judge, and put my horse through the test pattern, whispering to him under my breath, wincing at the blunders, and by the time we halted again and exited the arena, I had a very good idea of how we'd done. But the proof came in the returned test sheet. The judge - well, her scribe really - had recorded comments beside each movement. Slow behind. Needs more bend through neck. Stiff in corner. Needs more impulsion. And at the end, a summary: pair shows promise. Lovely expression. Rider needs to work on suppling the horse through the more collected movements...etc.

When I submit a manuscript to a literary agency, I compose a letter according to the accepted standard: a quick summary, a catchy line or two, a short description of myself. I make five drafts and I chew my fingernails down to the nub, finally send it off with crossed fingers and...


No feedback of any kind. Most agencies simply do not respond to a project in which they are not interested. And I understand this - they have too many queries and the inbox is backed up. I'm okay with this. I'm even okay with the standard form-letter rejection. Though your idea sounds intriguing, we're afraid this story does not fit our tastes.

But the frustration takes hold when all this non-feedback starts to build up into a mountain of doubt. Was it the letter itself? Did the story concept sound stupid? Did I come across as immature? Is it my lack of credentials? Is it my age? Do they just want vampire stories right now? Should I stop writing altogether?

The only real option is to push the rejected story aside and start writing another. Rinse and repeat when that one meets the same end. I know this is how the business works, so I'm not whining, but as I stare cross-eyed at another query letter, I'm really wishing I could be passionate about accounting instead of writing.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Versions of the South

Sometimes, fiction paints the South in a vivid, colorful light. Depictions vary from derogatory - backward, inbred hicktowns - to complimentary, if not embellished - sweeping and Gothic. Love the region or hate it, it's where I grew up, where I live, and you're supposed to write what you know. One thing I've come to know over the years is that you can't put a label on the South and expect it to stick. Yes, we say "y'all" and "bless his heart"...but we don't all eat grits, we don't all have rusted cars rotting in our yards. And if we go barefoot in the yard, it's only because it's hot as sin and the grass is thick and comfy as new carpet.

This past weekend, a family bridal shower reminded me that there is not one definition of the South. Different families, different states and towns have different Southern traditions. My Southern perspective in fiction is based on the version of the South that I live in. This weekend, just for fun, I pieced together some of the "rules" as my family observes them:

Aesthetics are important! One does not simply set plates on a table. Tablescapes are critical.

Babies, weddings, new houses...everything is celebrated. This cake was done up and looks exactly like the shower invitation.

Family is more important than anything else. Good times and bad, the support system is always there and appreciated.

Southern ladies do not slam shots and get falling down drunk. They drink wine, and they can drink it all day without making fools of themselves.

Flowers, flowers, flowers...they're worth the work.

There is always an abundance of food. Hospitality = food.

The kitchen is the hub of every house: it's where everything happens, where everyone gathers.

There is a certain preserved elegance in the South - in my South anyway - and it's fun to infuse that in my writing.