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Saturday, May 31, 2014

This Is Summer

There's one heck of a rain storm going on right now. Just enough lightning to be dazzling, the rain lashing at the roof and the patio tiles. I've got the back door open, the screen door latched in place, and the smell of earth and water and ozone is rolling into the kitchen where I sit here typing with my half-glass of wine.

Summer is finally here, in all her glory. The flowers - the ones that survived our four-degree winter - are throbbing with color and silky texture. The afternoons grow heavy with humidity and press low over the pasture. The horses swish flies and want to go out early and come in at four, anxious for a shower and the box fans in their stalls. Everywhere is the droning of bees, the call of mockingbirds, the languid siren song of the sun. This is summer in the South. This is early mornings in the dew, tinny radios, afternoons in the AC and evening drinks in the outdoors.

Last night, my mom and I had a girls' night with homemade queso fundido and strawberry daiquiris at the pond. I love a rare, quiet Friday. A little reading time. So perfect.

KBC Lines 5/31

A good little chunk, actually. I put most of it under a cut because there are spoilers for the first two books. Raw text, as usual. Can't wait to share this - won't be long, now.

Keeping Bad CompanyCopyright © 2014 by Lauren Gilley

A month ago, Layla had pressed a key into his palm with the sad request that he come back home if he needed to. Tonight, as he fit that key into the back door, home was exactly what he needed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Workshop Wednesday - Through the Eyes

In my lingering brain slush, I've been spending good chunks of my writing time reading instead. Not good for productivity, but the novel's in a good place, length and plot-wise, so I'm not overly worried about it. Let's get back to the regular schedule with Workshop Wednesday, yes? Yes.

In my slush-brain reading, I've been working my way through Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, and whether you love or hate the series - I'm in the "love" camp - the interesting thing is the shift from Interview With the Vampire to The Vampire Lestat: notably, the difference in the way Louis sees Lestat, and the way Lestat actually is, in his own version of his history. And in the way of all great books, this difference instructs writers in the simple truth of properly fleshed-out characters: the reader's vision of a character is tainted by the eyes through which he or she is seen. Through the eyes of the story's other characters. Sometimes, it is only perspective that draws the line between protagonist and antagonist.

The best characters are human characters, ones who reflect all the many facets of human nature. Characters judge one another unfairly, sometimes too fairly, either tainted or blinded. They can be suspicious. They can just plain not understand or dislike one another. As authors, we have to understand how our characters might fit into certain social stereotypes in the eyes of others (readers or other characters). You could say Lisa was a hard bitch. You could say Layla was polite and anxious. You wouldn't be wrong...but you wouldn't have the whole story. Our other job as authors is to properly smash stereotypes to bits. We have to see our characters through society's cheap social filters, and understand them for the complicated, intelligent humans they truly are. And we have to take the reader's preconceived notions, and turn them on their ears as we paint them the true, hidden pictures of our characters - like telling Delta's story.

In Rice's works, you can read Louis's story and feel for him completely, then read Lestat's and realize you feel for him as well. And you can understand why they fail to understand one another. Dude, that's complicated. I think great writing is supposed to be. If art imitates life, I want it to imitate with all the best props and costumes, all the richness. Keeping in mind that your characters don't have to get along can really boost those character relationships to the next level of realism.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Back to Work

I'm actually getting some work done today. Not a ton - and I keep making stupid mistakes like "laminated" when I mean to say "illuminated." Both of which I misspelled and had to retype in the writing of this blog post. The brain's not at full-function yet, but I'm getting back into it. A manic writer can never stop being a writer. It's also been nice to spend some time out in the yard; working is good for your heart - all kinds of working.

I hope everyone has a nice holiday weekend. (I just typed "nive". Lord.)


The Female

“For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.”
Rudyard Kipling
This is definitely going to be true in the third novel. If you're after something new to read this holiday weekend - shameless plug - you could give the Russells a try.
God Love Her (Vol. 2)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Is It Friday Already?

Needless to say, it's been a crap week. I'm not a crier, so I haven't been a puddle; I've been fully-functional, eye makeup and everything. But I'm depressed; can't sleep well; exhausted; I keep realizing I'm just staring off into space. And I can't write. Not even a little bit. My head's all dumped out and filled up with dark clouds. It'll pass, but it might take a bit.

I've been looking at puppies. From the start, I always knew I'd want another Dobie after I lost Riddick. It's been planned all along, and isn't a knee jerk reaction. I said, though, that people will think I'm a monster for getting a new dog too soon. It was funny: my aunt said, "I might think that if it was a boyfriend you were replacing that fast, but not about a dog." To which I said, "But dogs are more important than boyfriends. Dogs actually love you." Oh, I'm just kidding...actually, no, I'm not kidding at all.

Wish I had some sort of writing update, other than to say, rest assured, KBC is coming along and will be out this summer at some point. Everyone enjoy the holiday weekend, say a thank you to our American heroes. All that good stuff.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Eight Years is Not That Long

Stories are always better when you start from the beginning.

There is only one breed of dog in existence bred for the sole elite purpose of providing personal protection for their humans. Selectively bred by a German tax collector, the Doberman Pinscher is the secret service agent of the canine world - not an attack dog, but a protector. If a Doberman attacks you, it's because you messed with the wrong human. Most people don't know this. Even fewer know that within their families, these dogs are the most loyal, loving, affectionate, goofballs. They are happy clowns. They want to be at your side, or at your feet, 24/7. It's their attachment that makes them protective. That insane loyalty. They are load-and-go, take everywhere dogs. The official dog of the US Marine Corps. Family pets. An intruder's worst nightmare.

My mom had one growing up. It was her brother's dog, really, a beautiful female named Satana. In all my years growing up in someone else's barn, a dear friend who was also my boss, and a surrogate aunt, had a 100 pound male named Max. I never met Satana, but Max was the best dog. I loved that dog to pieces, because that's the ting about Dobies - you can't help but love them. So when I moved out to the country, and I wanted a dog who could serve as both companion and farm protector, there was no question which breed he had to be.

Eight years ago, on a blustery March day, I rode shotgun with my dad the five hours to Valdosta, Georgia, with an envelope of cash and three very important instructions from my mom:

1) Pick a friendly puppy who wants to come to you.
2) Look closely at his parents to ensure they have proper conformation.
3) Make sure he's pretty.

The Doberman Ranch, set behind an overgrown fence, would have been easy to miss. The sound of the dogs when we climbed out of the car, though, was not. Standing at the gate, listening to the din of barking, the bottom of my stomach dropped out. What was I doing here? I wasn't even brave enough to go through the gate! But then...that's what I wanted a Dobie for. I didn't want strangers to be willing to come through my gate.

Point made.

The breeder came out of the house, welcomed us in, and the barking turned off, like a switch had been flipped. The females, heavy from pregnancy and floppy-eared, watched from the yard, intense, silent, watchful. The studs and the puppies were in the kennel - a barn with long chain link, covered runs leading out the sides. It was a nice setup - indoor and outdoor areas for each dog, food, water, beds, toys. And the dogs...

Riddick's grandfather, a massive red, leapt up and put his paws to the chain link, licking at my fingers through the fence, happy, nub wagging. A good first impression.

And then there were the puppies, separated by litter. A little female with the daintiest face ran to the fence, wiggling and barking and the very essence of friendly. I'd had my heart set on a male, but she checked off two items on my list: she was gorgeous, and she was personable. "She's not for sale," the breeder told me. I didn't blame him. I'd never seen a dog that beautiful.

So I got back on track. "I'd really prefer a male," I said. "A black one. A big one."

"Down here."

A litter with three black males left, their ears all cropped and up in tape, their feet bigger than their little heads. He opened the gate to their run and they tumbled out into the yard, making a break for it, ignoring us completely.

"Where are their parents?" I asked. "Can I see the sire and dam?"

He informed me that, though he'd bred the sire and dam himself, he'd sold them, and didn't have them there. The new owners had brought the puppies to him to sell.


As Dad reminded me, the grandsire was very impressive. Still...

Okay, back to the friendly test.

I couldn't get near any of them.

They were out, and running like mad, playing with each other. They wanted nothing to do with me at all. Fear is a bad sign, I reminded myself as I got close enough to one, finally, and hemmed him up against the fence. He crouched down, and I snatched him up before he could get away. Awesome. I'd just snagged the scaredy-cat of the bunch. He didn't try to get away, but immediately began to whine.

Then I took a look at him...and realized that I had no idea if he was pretty or not. His feet were huge. He had popsicle sticks holding his ears up. And he needed a bath in the worst way.

We'd come five hours, though. Going home empty-handed would have made me too guilty for words.

"Is this the one you want?" Dad asked.

I whispered back, "He's the only one I can catch."

So with a sinking feeling, we paid the man, took the papers and health certs, and off I went with a dog who may or may not have been the worst possible choice.

The moment we hit the interstate, he got carsick, and proceeded to puke puppy chow all over me.

Ten minutes later, he peed on me.

This is what happens when you name your dog after a fictional uncatchable convict.

What I didn't know during that five hour car ride home, was that no one could have hand-picked a more perfect dog for me. Within the first week, he was following at my heels, thirteen weeks with no leash, while I turned out horses, cleaned stalls. The bond was instant, and it only strengthened with time. Sometimes I was anxious, sometimes he was; sometimes it was more like having a little brother than a dog. He was too damn smart for his own good. A gesture, a word, just a sense of wanting him along, and he would follow - lead, mostly, turning back now and then to take directions, blazing ahead again. In a lot of ways, he was too aggressive for most people's taste - he was a true alpha male, in the canine sense of the term. Hard-headed and strong. Like my Markus. One of those big beasts who responds only to love and that unspoken energy, never to force. And he was beautiful. So beautiful. Here I was this plain girl no one noticed, and suddenly this big, sleek dog was turning all kinds of heads. I wasn't used to people stopping me to ask questions, but ask they always did.

I had to say goodbye to Riddick Monday night, at seven-thirty. As it does so commonly with Dobermans, his heart enlarged with age. Last Thursday, he went in for his regular annual checkup, and the vet detected an arrhythmia - a mild one. Blood was drawn to check for heart stretch, but he went home that night, ate his hot dog table scraps and was his normal self. Monday morning, he started coughing. Mildly, at first. I split a Chick-fil-A grilled chicken breast with him for lunch. After, the coughing intensified. He began coughing up white foam. I knew, then. Dread had plagued me for days, ever since that blood was drawn, and that awful certainty hit me in the stomach, like it did with Cosmo, and with Skip. That moment of understanding, despite all your hope, that this is the last few minutes you have. In four hours, he'd gone from fine, to critical.

On the way to the vet, they called with his blood test results. They were dangerously high. I said I was on the way, and they cleared a room for me. As I walked in with him, they sent me straight to the back. He no longer had an arrhythmia. He had no rhythm. Not one halfway normal beat. It was a miracle he was still breathing.

When all drugs failed to bring back a normal cardio rhythm, the outcome became obvious. He would die, suddenly, a fast drop and instant death. It might be minutes. Hours. Even the next day. But it would happen, and it would be traumatic for everyone involved. This is the third time I've had to make the decision to have an animal put down, and it never breaks your heart any less. It doesn't become easier. But that was the best, most humane option for Riddick. His poor heart was done. He'd lived life at ninety, non-stop, for eight years. And suddenly, this was the end.

But he'd had one HELL of a life. And he was so spoiled, so loved. And his vet, she loved him too. I was so glad she was the one there.

Dogs, man. We have less than a decade with them, and they tear us to bits. It would be easier not to have them, to give our love away only if it can be long-lasting. But the thing is, as bad as the bad is, the good is worlds better. Dogs know nothing of human treachery. They do nothing in half-measures, they love you every second, give you 100 percent, and in return, our time with them is short.

I keep waiting to hear his toenails clicking across the hardwood floor. I keep seeing him from the corner of my eye. When I wake up, I expect him to be standing beside my bed, wanting to go outside. He was my constant companion, my shadow, my wing man, for eight and a half years. It's so quiet without him. The house is so empty.

Goodbye, baby boy. You left some giant paw prints to fill.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Good Night, Sweet Prince

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. ”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet


Monday, May 19, 2014

Cover Update - Made for Breaking

Made for Breaking got a bit of a facelift this weekend, with some new font that ties it visually to the other Russell books. Been meaning to do that for a while now, and had a chance Saturday.

Plug alert: still just 99cents for Kindle download. Find it here, and get started with the Russells.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Saturday Pics

I am determined to get some good writing done today. But the minis in the tall grass were too cute not to share. Bonus AB, because sometimes I pretend she's Shadowfax.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Keeping Bad Company - Another Look

Yesterday, Riddick had his annual vet checkup, and what I thought would be a quick trip for a rabies vaccine has turned into me waiting for test results. I had the best of intentions of blogging today, but I'm tired and stressed, and just not feeling it. So instead, please enjoy another look-see at Keeping Bad Company. Directly follows last week's chapter 3 post. Once again, posting raw text, so please excuse typos. And check out Made for Breaking and God Love Her to get all caught up with the Russell clan.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Workshop Wednesday - Staying Motivated


I always say that I'm a manic writer. It's a disease. I need my word fix. But there are days I feel more motivated than others. It's important for me to stay excited about my current project, and the unfortunate thing about writing, there aren't a lot of external motivators while you're writing the book. The reward comes after, when it's done and you get reader feedback. But in the middle of the process? Sometimes, you have to treat yourself.

I don't set daily word count goals. That's a reward in and of itself. When I do, I feel undue pressure, and am then disappointed on a slow day. Some days are super productive, some less so, and productivity can be relative. I let it ebb and flow. Sometimes, completing a difficult scene, coming to an epiphany, working through a sticky conversation - those can be little victories. I think it's a good thing to acknowledge them, let them breathe a moment, and give yourself a little pat on the back.

My rewards:

- A new book to read. Reading helps me gear up for writing. It settles and refocuses my brain. Nothing like a brand new book with that good ink smell to celebrate a little writing win.
- A reading break. I read a chapter of whatever book I'm reading for fun. A beat of downtime between creative sessions.
- A new addictive song on iTunes.
- Ten minutes scrolling through my fave Tumblr blogs.
- Ten minutes taking Instagram garden photos.
- A piece of really good chocolate. (Dove!)
- Tiny glass of white wine (at the end of the day, mind you ;)
- Internet window shopping - I can't buy anything, but it can be fun to look and decompress for five minutes.

Maybe I've got ADD, but I work well when I take little microbreaks, and then have a little celebratory reading and wine time at the end of a long day of writing. For me, it's important to stay off social media when I'm writing. That's less of break and more of a brain drain, in my opinion. I can go look at a pair of boots, and dive back into writing. But scroll through Facebook...ugh. Then I just want a nap.

In the feedback slow-downs between books, you've got to keep fresh and keep going. Have a bite of chocolate and tell yourself  "good job on that last paragraph."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Horse Laundry

I'm on a horse laundry mission this week. And boy, do horses have some laundry. There's polo wraps (above), sports wraps, saddle pads, towels, coolers, quarter sheets, dress sheets, rain sheets, heavy blankets, fly masks...I've probably left something out. I have 18 years worth of horse "clothes," much of which was given to me, as gifts or handmedowns. The polo wraps and saddle pads can go in the washing machine - IF you keep them regularly washed and they aren't too scuzzy. But this is my big spring washing, and the cats have been sleeping on my stuff all winter, and no way is any of it going in the washing machine that washes my delicates. So I have this 20 gallon tub I fill with water and detergent, and stir the clothes around with an old broom handle like a witch at her cauldron. And then the blankets - yeah, those are too dirty to even think about the washing machine. In the tub they go. Rinsed on the driveway with the hose. Then on the fence to dry in the sun. Then everything will get folded, rolled, wrapped and stowed in a clean place so they're ready to use.

You don't know glamor until you're rinsing wet cat hair down the driveway with one hand and swatting away red wasps with the other. Somehow, I think the next time I put a saddle pad on Markus's back, he won't be thanking me for the Spring Mountain scent.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Catching Up on Reading

I preach reading like religion for writers, and here I've been so bad the last few weeks about writing in abundance, and not reading like I should. With Mothers Day weekend, and subsequent business, I decided to play some catch up.

Book club read The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd for last Thursday's meeting, and we had a really active, meaty discussion about it. Book discussion can be hit or miss. Sometimes, the conversation is slow. This book was not only beautifully written, but it inspired all of us to add our two cents. Lots of overlapping and talking-over: the best kind of book club meeting. It's a great book - highly recommended from me. The dialogue feels as though it isn't period appropriate, and some of the scenes - in historical accuracy - are brutal to read, but the novel is definitely worth the read.

For next month's meeting, I'm reading The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. I'm only a hundred pages in or so, and while the narrative is...well let's just be honest and say depressing...the prose sucked me right in. I'm big on pretty prose. Pretty prose is important. Barry is Irish, and there's just no faking that authentic, lyrical, melancholy of Irish writers.

I also treated myself to Interview With the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice. It's high time I read those - some real vampire literature. For so long, I was tainted by the mental picture of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise from the movie - the antitheses of my ideal vamps, but I've finally managed to shake it off, and can't wait to dive into the books.

Still working on The Once and Future King a little at a time. It's a massive volume of all the individual books, and the writing is droll and unconventional. I shall persevere - it's a classic and deserves to be.

I have an addiction. I'll admit to it. Some women can't stop buying shoes - I can't stop buying books. There's worse vices to have, I'm thinking.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Flowers for Mothers' Day

My mom has instilled in me a love of flowers, of living, growing things, animals and birds and butterflies. The horse bug is contagious - I got it from her, passed down from one generation to the next. She has been, through the years, my cheerleader when I wouldn't cheer for myself. My shoulder to cry on. My courage. She can back a trailer, drive a tractor, and cook like nobody's business. She's a domestic mom and a horse show mom and a farm mom. She's the first person to read all of my books. She encourages me tirelessly. As of Friday, when my little brother passed his last class, she's the mom of two college grads, and I always hope that someday we'll both make her proud.

I'm truly blessed to have her for a mother. Love you, Mom. Thank you for all the things for which I can never say thank you enough.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Keeping Bad Company - First Look

I wanted to share a whole chapter this time - chapter 3, since I want to withhold chapter 1 just a little longer. It's a pretty explosive first chapter ;) All text under the cut because of spoilers and language. So if you haven't read God Love Her - you can find it here - and don't want to be spoiled, stop reading now!

Raw text, so apologies for typos.

Happy Friday, and happy reading.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Workshop Wednesday - Covers, Front and Back

Today, I forced myself to knuckle down and get my covers done - front and back. I'll be honest, formatting photos and back cover copy is tedious and my least favorite part of this whole book thing. I'm a storyteller, not a marketing guru. It has to be done, though, and I'm always happy with the outcome.

Front cover: I like covers that are unexpected enough to catch my attention, and subtle enough to make me want to know more. I always make at least three, show them to my beta readers, and see which one they gravitate toward.

Less is more - The more complex and layered the image, the less memorable it will be in the readers' mind. You want a distinct, clear focal point that leaves a definite impression. When I do book events, everyone comments on Made for Breaking. It's a strong image, but not a cluttered one.

Keep the audience in mind - for some people, sweaty, tangled bodies on a front cover will be a repellant (like for me. I don't read any books with writhing, unclad couples on the fronts). But those same tangled bodies will attract other people. Think about the content of your book, and why your readers are choosing your books. My books contain explicit sexual content, but those scenes are not the reason my readers read my books. The focus for me is on character and story and setting, so the covers are never explicit.

Back cover: There's a great blog post about persuasive back cover copy here.

My personal spin on the process is:
- Play the trailer in my head. I cram the story into mental images, complete with music and voiceover, and imagine what big points the trailer would focus on. The book's snapshot, if you will.
- I set out the conflicts, and signal that characters will be forced to make choices. You'll have to read the book to see how it works out. The back cover is all about setting up conflict.
 - Focus on the big conflicts, and keep it short and thematic. What are the big issues? Who has the most to lose?
 - I don't talk about the sex because half the fun is finding out when, where, how. Sex is a given, might as well not spoil it.

Back cover copy is like flirting with the audience, intriguing them, making them want more. It's not exactly what the book's about, but the vapors of it. A hint. There is such a thing as too much information, when it comes to fiction. You want them to experience the novel, not pick it apart or mark their places by certain expectations.

Sometimes, I shorten and punch up the online book summaries, make them even snappier and more appealing, though I may have longer synopses on the books I have in stores. Online shoppers have reviews, blog links, Twitter links, and other factors that help them decide, whereas an in-store customer has only the book.

I'm so glad to have Keeping Bad Company set up. Glad I took the time this morning. Full synopsis below, subject to tweaking, because that's my prerogative :).

When their family was threatened, the Russells made a pact: no more secrets. But Johnny’s secret isn’t one he can share. To keep his father safe, he prospects with the Black Dogs Motorcycle Club, diving headlong into a whole new depth of counterculture, tangling himself in a war that his family started…and his new biker family is going to finish. If he wants to patch in, he must prove his unswerving loyalty to the club. If he wants to protect the people he loves, he’ll have to learn to live with outlaws.
Arlie Scott, runaway, bartender, longs to escape the mess she’s made of her life. It gets messier the night she flirts with the cute biker boy across the bar…and witnesses a murder. Now she’s swept up in the dark world of the Black Dogs, forced to trust Johnny Russell when he says he won’t let anything happen to her, determined to find her own place in this antiquated land of leather and lies.
Evil lingers in the shadows, threatening families of blood and brotherly bond. In this third installment of the Russell saga, the family will be put to the test, fighting a common enemy alongside the might and malice of an unstoppable outlaw force. Johnny must choose between two worlds, because he can’t belong to both, and he can’t betray either.

Keeping Bad CompanyCopyright © 2014 by Lauren Gilley


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

All American Magic Roses


Casting Shadows

I was making shadow puppets on the wall of Markus's stall the other night while I filled his water buckets. Because filling water buckets is one of those small drudgeries of horse ownership. He was unimpressed. He's an unimpressable kind of horse.

The shadows got me thinking.

The things that have impressed us in life - they've left shadows over us. A shape fell across us and we looked up and marveled. And at some point, we got big enough to realize we were casting our own shadows, across the things we love. The shadows are the un-retouched, honest shapes of ourselves. And we can't pull a Peter Pan and slough them off, go looking to have Wendy sew them back on again. They're with us always.

My shadow falls across my writing and that used to frustrate me. There were things I refused to do, and I hated that I couldn't stop refusing them. It was like wishing not to be spurned by the cool kids, though I'd never buy a new wardrobe, toss my hair, and try to become one of them. I've come to realize, on this book journey, that it's not a matter of refusing to do things. I can't change the shape of my shadow, is all. Becoming aware of that has gotten me to a comfy spot. It's enabled me to more fully embrace the joy of writing a male lead like Johnny Russell, who doesn't fit the mold and is so much more fun because of it.