The Sound of Laughter

I really do love laughter. It’s one of the best sounds people can make. We don’t invest in it enough, in my opinion. That’s why humor is such an important element in my stories. There are even laughs to be found in the scary stuff.

BoneofMyBones_w9288_300 This story was my attempt at making laughter part of the scary stuff. One of the most fun characters to write in Bone of My Bones was Mama Toulouse, the medium who hooks Rose up with Matthias the necromancer. She has an almost maternal relationship with Rose, which made for some great and funny dialogue. I hope to have lots more of her in Rose’s future adventures.

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Welcome Isla Grey!

AsylumHarbor

Trouble is the last thing Devon Brown needs when she leaves the painful memories of her past behind and heads to Shell Island.  As the Salty Dog’s new bartender, she finds herself drawn to Kerr, the Shell Island harbormaster.  But finding her happily-ever-after is difficult when dealing with an obnoxious bootlegger who supplies the bar with illegal liquor and a jealous coworker.

Sounds pretty interesting, doesn’t it? Well, just wait till you hear from the amazing author who wrote this story. She’s stopped by today and I’ve forced her to answer some questions. Then she’s going to share a bit from Asylum Harbor, her latest release from The Wild Rose Press. It’s Book One of her Salty Dog series. So let’s hear a bit from Isla Grey:

islagrey

  • When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I can’t think of a time where I wasn’t writing.  When I was younger, it was just little bits of rhyming words that I’d write in cards for my grandmother.  Later on, I remember winning a school writing competition and after the principal told me I should keep writing, I think my fate was sealed, it encouraged me to keep going.

  • What inspires your writing?

A little bit of everything.  It could be a unique place I pass while walking or driving on the road or a conversation I hear—some of the stories I can tell just from things I hear people say!

  • Who is your favorite character that you’ve written? Why?

I think Kerr from “Asylum Harbor” has been my favorite.  He’s good but not too good—he has that bad boy streak.  He’s also the type of person who doesn’t let others too close to him, so he’s hard to know.  You have to dig the layers away to find the true character underneath.

  • What would be your dream writing getaway?

I would love to spend a week at the beach during the summer where I can spend the days writing on a deck overlooking the water and I can walk the beach at night for ideas.  Usually when I go on vacation, I get very little writing done.

  • Who are some of your favorite authors or what are some of your favorite books?

There’s so many!  I’m a big fan of J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books.  Right now I’m loving the “Miss Peregrine” books by Ransom Riggs.  I also have a soft spot for Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe for my macabre side.  I also love some of the classics including “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte, which is probably my “go to” book and “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier.

  • Tell us a bit about this latest book.

Asylum Harbor tells the story of Devon Brown who packs up and leaves her home to become the new bartender of the Salty Dog on Shell Island.  She’s not looking for trouble or romance, but she finds it in abundance when she finds herself falling for the brash and brooding harbor master, Kerr.

If you’d like to find out more about Isla and her work, you can catch her at:

http://www.islagrey.com/

http://www.islagrey.com/islas-inklings

https://www.facebook.com/AuthorIslaGrey

You can find Asylum Harbor at:

The Wild Rose Press and Amazon

Here’s that peek at Asylum Harbor I promised:

“You already got dibs on this one Kerr?”

Porter shot an evil glare at the opposite end of the bar and looked back toward her.  “I’ll see you tonight.”  He flicked his tongue.  “After work.”  He raised his glass in a mock toast and chugged it in one gulp.

The lights dimmed for Victoria’s dance of the night.  Devon watched Kerr, who was usually headed for the exit by now, and breathed a sigh of relief when he remained glued to his seat with his back to the stage.  He wasn’t staying for Victoria’s peep show.  There must have been something about this Porter character that got under his skin in a bad way.

Devon was eager for the quick break.  She hustled to the back as the chords to “Simply Irresistible” began to pelt over the speakers and ran some cold water over her forearm.  A red welt was beginning to show where Porter had held onto it.  She hoped he would be gone by the time she got back.

Making it out before mid-song, Devon rounded the bar when someone snagged her wrist and thrust her hard against the bar, knocking the wind out of her.  She could smell Porter’s alcohol-laced breath as his weight pinned her under him.  One of his grubby hands shot under her shirt while the other wrestled with the button on her pants.  “Let’s give them a real show.”

She struggled to reach the Equalizer, but it remained hidden, out of her grasp.  Devon hoisted her knee toward his crotch, but Porter lost his balance and fell backward before she could make contact.

Kerr towered over him.  “Get your hands off her.”

Asylum Harbor book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDfqmyddcQ4

Looking Past What You See

It’s hard being judged. No matter whether it’s for your gender, your age, your body or any other surface aspect, knowing someone is looking at the outside of you and making determinations about what’s on the inside is discouraging, to say the least.

People are like icebergs. We only see the tip and unless we take the time, we never know about the hidden depths below the surface. It’s easy, and lazy, to look at someone and determine their intelligence, their creativity, their life skills and their worth by an outer inspection, or even a casual glance. Such neglect robs the viewer of the surprise of true character.

This is even more apparent for a writer. Characters need layers as much as they require physical descriptions. There should be hidden depths that add spark to the story and make the reader long for more. I would caution those who wish to hone their writing skills with an admonition: if you are depending on the surface to tell you about the inner person, then likely you are writing stereotypes and not real characters. Be careful you don’t judge away the best part of your story.

A Little Motivation, Please

I decided to spend a weekend somewhere besides hunched over my computer, trying to write something that would sell so I went to my first ever Con, Bubonicon, held here in Albuquerque. And here’s what I got to do there:

GRRM2cropYep, that’s right. I got to listen to George RR Martin read me a chapter of his upcoming Winds of War. George had some advice for those of us struggling to write the stories we really want to: “Sometimes your muses f*^% with you.” Good to know.

Besides George, Bubonicon offered lots of other great writers giving out advice. The best was another of my favorites, Daniel Abraham (who also is half of the writing combo of James S.A. Corey).

danielabrahamcrop

His series, which began with Leviathan Wakes, is being made into a TV show (I read his fantasy series The Dagger and The Coin, which is awesome) and that was what most of the questions centered around. He said something that is a great reminder of what a crap shoot writing can be. He told the audience “This is random. All of this is random chance. I know lots of great writers who work hard and don’t have that success. It’s just random.”

It’s hard to keep plugging along some days. Other times it’s hard not to. Maybe that’s the meaning of being a writer.

Score One for Creativity

It’s important to stand out in a crowd. I know, I know, that’s not what we heard when we were kids. Standing out was not the recommended behavior for those whose goal wasn’t to be voted class clown in their high school yearbook.

Still, as writers, it’s what publishers and marketing firms and even readers tell us our books should do. I don’t know if they are right or not, as I’ve apparently not stood out from the crowd enough to discover that answer. The New York Times has not yet come calling to make sure they spell my name right on the bestseller list.

I have discovered though, that sometimes what it takes to stand out is blunt honesty. I uncovered this tactic recently while driving around the city I live in. I don’t know how many panhandlers there are in other places, but my town has turned this into a regular job for a lot of folks. And some of them are using a very creative approach to standing out from their particular crowd. In the last few weeks I’ve seen a couple that made me take note.

One went for the “let me cry on your shoulder” approach with the following sign:

“Homeless due to poor taste in men”

Another decided to throw caution to the wind and act as if we were all his buddies. His sign read:

“I want a beer”

I didn’t stop and chat to see how their attempts at creativity worked out, but they reminded me of something my dad once told me about one of his college professors. He said sometimes they would get papers back with answers marked wrong, but out to the side they would say “OTC +1”. The professor told them he’d given them one point for “the old college try”. Hopefully these folks got a least a buck for trying to stand out from the crowd. I’d hate to see that kind of creativity go to waste.

The Economics of Writing

I have this stereotype of a writer I cling to: sitting in a small cafe for hours, hunched over a journal writing, while sipping some form of expensive hot drink from time to time (or wine, which goes better with the fact that I’d really like the cafe to be in Paris). A small part of me still believes you can’t call yourself a true writer until you do that.

As with most of my dreams, however, this one gets hit by a reality check all the time. I am your basic introvert with one quirk: I love to be in crowds. Oh, I don’t want to interact with them, at least not beyond a smile and a few words of chitchat. I think that’s why I love them. They are strangers demanding nothing more of me than basic courtesy.

And I enjoy getting out somewhere to do my writing, somewhere where I can’t see the dishes or the laundry or all the other little things that can pull me away from writing. So I keep trying to find the perfect spot to sit and write. But experience taught me small cafes have a number of limitations:

  • they are very expensive
  • most of those hot drinks they sell contain coffee
  • I hate coffee

Most of them don’t have the noise either, at least not beyond quiet, polite chatter. When I first got serious about my writing, I would sit in a local diner. It was the most creative atmosphere I’ve ever found. There were kids running around, families arguing, waitresses calling orders back. It was awesome. And it was cheap. Which was excellent because more often than not I was broke. The gas money it took to get there was about all I had to spend.

When my finances got somewhat better, I started looking for one of my dream cafes, where artists of all kind would gather and the creativity vibes would reverberate around the room. Yet the writing I did fell far short of my diner journals.

Thanks to my grandchildren, I have become well acquainted with McDonald’s. It’s full of noise of all kinds, kids running around yelling, all the things you’d think would prevent any focus on writing at all. I even got to watch two old men almost come to blows the other day.

But I’m finally ready to admit I do my best work there. And it’s cheap. I can grab a coke for a dollar, there’s an abundance of excellent character material right in front of me and as long as I don’t start a fight, they don’t appear to want to throw me out. I wonder if they have McDonald’s in Paris?

Leni Riefenstahl, Eminem and Kate Breslin

Today I was made aware of a controversy raging in the world of romance. The gist of the storm centers on a debut novel by Kate Breslin titled For Such a Time. Released in 2014, the story focuses on a rather unusual couple, a Jewish woman placed in a concentration camp and the commandant of said camp. Not every reader’s cup of tea. The outrage spun into a tornado when the book was nominated for the RITA, a prestigious award given by the Romance Writers of America.

Most reviews agree that it is well written. And many of them believe it to be the story of a captive who develops Stockholm syndrome and falls for her abusive captor, who is the hero of the story. They feel the development of the story is problematic and it should have never been published as it is offensive and racist.

I read many of the comments and reviews about the story and its controversy. Doing so reminded me of something I have found to be true about both art and artists: artists come with an agenda. All of them. Let me explain it with a couple of examples.

In a film class I took in college we discussed the work of Leni Riefenstahl. She pioneered certain film techniques and had a blossoming career. Then she became Hitler’s propaganda machine. Over the years of WWII she made films promoting the Nazi party, a choice for which she paid dearly after the war. The fact remains that she was a creative and talented filmmaker. She was good at what she did.

I was introduced to the music of Eminem by a co-worker. I found his music brutal, honest and engaging. Many people found his music misogynistic and racist. But he was and is a talented, creative musician. He was good at what he did.

From the reviews I read, Ms. Breslin is a talented writer, capable of excellent visual imagery. Her writing talent does not appear to be in question. One of the strongest complaints against the novel is the fact that at the end of the book, the heroine converts from Judaism to Christianity and this is what “saves” her. Kate Breslin is a writer of Christian fiction. That’s her agenda. From what I’ve read it sounds as if she wanted to show that no one is beyond God’s love and the teachings of Jesus can bring hope and salvation to anyone, even a Nazi.

Honestly, I doubt she looked beyond that agenda when writing this story. One of the other complaints about the story is they felt she worked so hard to make this “romance” work that it actually didn’t. In spite of her struggle to be as historically accurate as possible, she bent her own rules by forcing her hero to be a Nazi. She ignored the fact that no one who achieved a high enough status as to be in charge of one of the death camps would be anything less than a completely committed follower of Hitler. Her story needed him to have some qualms, so she gave him some. Doing so fit her agenda.

With her focus on accomplishing her goal with her story, the idea that many would find her work offensive likely never occurred to her. As I said, I believe every writer, every artist has an agenda. There’s a reason every woman in Nora Roberts’ books ends up empowered, and usually in business for themselves. Female empowerment is her agenda and the romance is part of that. When I pick up a book by Sherilyn Kenyon I know going in that the hero, and probably the heroine will have suffered a painful and abusive childhood. Her agenda is to demonstrate that can be overcome through love.

And that is the big question to me. How important is our own agenda when we write? Do we recognize what our agenda is? And do we recognize it in the work of others? There were a number of people who commented that this novel should never have been published, that it was so insensitive and so offensive it should have been rejected. But we need to remember that the publisher and the author share a common agenda: to spread the word of Christ. Simply because we may not share that agenda doesn’t mean they aren’t entitled to have it.

Rather than censoring the work, it might be better if we understood and evaluated that work in terms of the agenda behind it. There are always going to be things out there which grate on the edges of our nerves, or stir intense and disturbing feelings in us. Even better, they make us stand up and say this is wrong, this is bad, this is hurtful. The more we practice standing up for what we believe, the more chance we stand of changing other people’s agendas.