Monday, April 30, 2012

Gone Retreatin'

The Rockville8 is taking the weekend off to attend the 2012 WRW
“In The Company of Writers” Retreat.

We’ll have lots to report from the great list of speakers, agents, and editors attending.

See you next week!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Dog Ate My Homework, Enjoli and Other Life Issues

Why no post from the Rockville 8 before now? Because the dog ate my homework.

The very same dog I can’t get to eat her own food. The only dog I’ve ever had to refuse meat—good, fresh-cooked meat.

I’m sensing you’re not buying this. I wouldn’t, either. The truth is that I lost track of the fact that it was my turn to blog amidst the day job, the volunteer positions on two different boards, a family, cleaning, cooking, chauffeuring, and being sick. We all have these things. We all have times when we drop the ball.

So, why do I feel like such a failure when one of the balls drops out of the air? I guess because I think I should be able to do it all. Bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and oh, yes, never ever let you forget you’re a man. Why? Because I’m a woman. Enjoli told me throughout my formative years that I should be able to do all this and more. For those of you who don’t remember what I’m talking about Google “VINTAGE 1980 80'S ENJOLI PERFUME COMMERCIAL CAUSE I'M A WOMAN.” It’s all there in infamous glory on YouTube.

 If I were an Enjoli woman, I’d never wake up late and have to rush around like a lunatic. My child would always be perfectly groomed, read to, and in bed on time with no complaints. When she said “Mom” it would sound like a loving caress not a desperate shriek from the laundry room when she can’t find two clean matching socks.

 My husband would always be attentive, not overworked. I’d be able lavish attention on him even after a full day of office politics, horrific commutes and last minute book reports. We’d never have daycare issues. We’d always have time for each other.

I can’t really address the part of the commercial where the man says, “I’ll cook” because he does actually do a lot of cooking. So I guess I have a tiny whisper of an Enjoli moment. But I’m not getting vamped up while he’s cooking. It just gives me more time for other chores. Besides, if I put that much perfume on, I’d cough until I choked. And that’s just not sexy on any day.

Writing? Well, that has to come between a full-time job, loads of laundry, driving to practices, volunteer work and a thousand other things. And yet I do. It surprises me how much I’m able to do it and how much it energizes me when I do, even after an exhausting day. That’s why I keep writing because it’s one of the things I love about my life.  And I do love my life, despite its sometimes breakneck speed.

By the way, if I was a real Enjoli woman I’d be able to create a link to the YouTube commercial just like that. To all you Enjoli women out there, get over it. I’m off to put my ratty robe and bunny slippers on.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Wheels for the Redneck Godfather

In the dark winter days, I had cars on the brain. The characters in my current manuscript had places to go and no wheels to take them. I tried out some generic cars—a blue Ford, a brown Buick—but like bad-fitting jeans, nobody was comfortable. This was especially true of my villain, Lamar West, the Redneck Godfather.

Cars became my obsession. As I scanned the streets for vehicles, I also reflected on fictional characters and the cars they drive. Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton) came to mind first with her '68 VW. Like Kinsey, the VW is a little worse for the wear and needs a tune up. But also like Kinsey, the VW is doggedly persistent and loyal to a fault. In Kinsey's case, the VW is more than just a car. The bug takes on a secondary character role, the trusty side-kick, the confidant and the comforter.

Are cars an outward manifestation of the character? You betcha'. Sara Paretsky's Chicago-based PI, V.I. Warshawski, is one tough cookie. She'd got a smart mouth, an insatiable curiosity, and sense of justice that lands her in trouble. V.I. likes speed and she has just the car to prove it, a Trans Am. The Trans AM is an American racing car and back when V.I. bought hers it was a tough, sexy machine with lots of power. Just like V.I.
The Trans Am is an effective metaphor for V.I.'s excursion into the male dominated world of law enforcement and investigation and in both arenas the speed and danger are a heady mixture for this hard-living and hard-loving character.

This research showed me that if you plop your character into any old car, you miss an opportunity. Cars can provide readers deeper and more nuanced insight into a character's personality. So what kind of car does the Redneck Godfather need?

Well, here's a few facts about Lamar: He's a self-made man with working class origins who today wears Italian suits, brings home an easy million-dollars a year (tax-free!), flaunts his wealth, and has no interest in being green (sorry Prius). He controls a vast criminal organization along Georgia and South Carolina's I95 corridor with interests in drugs, prostitution, extortion, gambling and other vices.

Back in the '80s, Lamar would have driven a hot-rod Camaro, but today he demands a luxury car. But not, he told me, one of those candy-ass European imports. No, Lamar wanted something with some bite. Try typing that in a Car Max search.

Then one day, I saw it: the new Dodge Charger, a beauty of a car with a shark-like silhouette and cocky lift to the rear. It has all the trappings of luxury: shiny chrome, sleek metallic finishes, and a silver grill like a steel-trap. But under all that polish  is an old fashion muscle car with a high performance engine rarin' to go.

With the right adjectives, the Charger can help convey the menacing attributes I want the reader to absorb about Lamar: barely controlled violence under a thin veneer of civility. Next time you see a Charger on the street, imagine the Redneck Godfather at the wheel. He'll be smiling—in a scary way.

So, what's your character driving?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Change Is as Good as a Rest

A change is as good as a rest. At least, that’s how the saying goes. I certainly hope it’s true, because really, now that spring has sprung, who has time to take a vacation? Maybe we can mark Easter off the calendar, but Passover still has a week to go. The kids are probably home for spring break, but the day job might still expect you to show up so chances are you’ve got to take this show on the road and head to day camp or daycare, the babysitter’s or Grandma’s. And there’s still more to do.

If your boots are blocking your closet’s sandal shelf, you’ll have to switch out your wardrobe. There’s spring cleaning, spring yard clean-up, and the spring AC check. Your professor is expecting your thesis, your editor is expecting your manuscript, and your mother is expecting you for dinner. All in all, there’s no rest for the wicked and very little for the righteous.

When life starts to wear you out, maybe that’s where change can come in handy. Now, I’m not talking big, momentous change. I’m talking about a small, occasional change in the things you have to do anyway. Just such a change can freshen your outlook and bring a bit of fun back to your life. Best of all, you control it which is more than we can say for that spring storm that ripped the shingles off your roof or the stray dog that dug up your daffodils.

Here are Nic's Top Five Ways A Change Can Be As Good As a Rest:

5. Don’t let the daily drive to work or school grind you down. Instead of sticking with those familiar roads—and the rut you’re in—take an alternate route tomorrow and don’t forget to enjoy the view.

4. Exchange your evening glass of chardonnay for pinot noir—or better yet, a Manhattan—and perk up those taste buds.

3. Switch that standard shower gel for something fruity-tootie or excitingly exotic. Just make sure it’s definitely different.

2. Pick a spice, any spice. Try adding it to a serving of your favorite dinner dish tonight.

1. Spend the night someplace else, whether that’s a B&B in Boston or a tent in your own backyard. You’ll wake up with a whole new frame of mind.

So what do you think? What life issues get you down? When they do, have you ever tried a fast, fun way to perk yourself up? What's your quick change?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bo & Patch & The Walking Dead

First, I want to say "Thank you, so much!" to Lisa's pharmaceutical expert, Dave Hopkins, for taking the time to visit with the Rockville 8 and for his fantastic answers to our questions.

And now, I want to talk about soap opera.

My mom loved Days of Our Lives, so I grew up watching the good families of Salem. But it wasn't until I had two small kids myself -- and Bo Brady rolled into town on his motorcycle -- that I got HOOKED. And not long after that, Patch Johnson, Bo's ex-BFF, came to Salem looking for revenge. 

Oh, the bromance! Oh the conflict! 

Oh, the soap opera . . . to this day, it's my favorite kind of television. 

Not that I'm still watching Days of Our Lives -- I had to give that up when my youngest started school and I went back to work. But, luckily for me, there's plenty of soap opera in night time television, too.

Veronica Mars. Friday Night Lights. The Vampire Diaries. Being Human. Luther. Justified. The Walking Dead.

Give me a good anti-hero and I'm IN (Hello, Patch!).

Give me a good bromance in a conflict lock, a la Bo & Patch (Damon & Stefan, Boyd & Raylan, Shane & Rick) and you've got me riveted to the screen.

When The Walking Dead first debuted, it didn't interest me at all. But that's because they didn't advertise it as a soap opera. LOL. I heard good things about it, about the writing, but I didn't hear the right things so I never looked it up. 

Luckily, I kept hearing good things, and then I got a Roku and, on a whim, I cued up the first episode of The Walking Dead.

And then the next. And the next.

Anti-hero. Bromance. Conflict lock. Honor at the core (Thanks, Mary Blayney!). The Walking Dead has it all. 

Yes, it's the end of the world. Yes, the earth is overrun with zombies. But that's just the backdrop for the soap opera of a cast of good (i.e., fascinating, not necessarily moral) characters making difficult choices. And that's what I love and need to learn to do in my own writing.

I'm not much interested in episodic shows like Law & Order or CSI in all their many incarnations. The case of the week can be interesting to catch here and there, but it doesn't hold my interest the way an ongoing saga of human emotions does. And as I was rewatching some of TWD season 2 last night, it occurred to me that the key to all of that is in the choices. The writers set up the storylines, like dominos, and then they knock them down. They create characters that I care about and then they force those characters to make a choice. 

My favorite storylines are the ones where the character makes what should be the right choice -- and it gets them into even deeper trouble.

So. That's what I'll be thinking about, as I set up the dominos of my own storylines . . . what choices will my characters have to make? 

And how will that make it worse?

Or, as they say on the companion show, Talking Dead, "What's eating YOU?"