Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Simple Pleasure of Summer Reading

Ah, Memorial Day… The Unofficial First Day of Summer. We can employ the hot months ahead any way we want—thanks to our troops, both past and present, who secure our fundamental rights. These inalienable rights give us an additional gift as well. We’re allowed to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, summer’s pleasures.

Think back. What were the simple pleasures of your childhood summers? Remember those sultry nights when Mom said we could stay up as long as we wanted—provided we were reading? When our flashlights lit the sheets tented over our heads while we read, camped out in the backyard? Can you hear the whir of the window fans at the county library as you chose favorite books as well as books by authors you’d never read before?

I can.

Even though I’m all grown up, those days aren’t far away. With my newly-minted master’s degree in my hot little hand, and some serious school work behind me, this Memorial Day truly feels like the start of summer. And I’m ready for the simple pleasure of fun summer reading.

Here are the top five titles in Nic's Summer To Be Read stack:

5. The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgrimur Helgason
If you’ve fallen prey to Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Henning Mankell’s Wallander series, you know all about the Scandinavian Invasion. Dark and brooding, raw and relentless, these mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels from the far north are great reads now finding a following in English-speaking markets—but they can be too much depending on your frame of mind. So if this year’s offerings, like The Boy in the Suitcase, seem a little daunting, follow my lead. Give Icelander Hallgrimur Helgason’s Hitman, and his lighter shade of Nordic Noir, a try.

4. The Lying Game by Sara Shepard
I confess. I’m one of the four million grown-ups watching the television incarnation of Shepard’s first brain child, Pretty Little Liars. Though geared toward teens and tweens, the show is deliciously addicting even for adults. That said, the Liar books tend to fall flat for the mature reader. Now, enter The Lying Game. It’s a YA novel as well, but unlike its TV adaptation it features a twisty mystery, a blossoming romance, and a touch of the paranormal that are perfect fun for summer reading. Game on!

3. Taken by Robert Crais
Robert. Crais. Nuff said. Ask me why and I’ll say, “Tell me why not.” If Raymond Chandler were alive today, I’d bet money he’d read Taken. Crais is a master of characterization, plot, pacing, the reversal, and the reveal. Rather than a summer picnic, his work is as satisfying as a winter feast.
2. The Witness by Nora Roberts
Since 1980, Nora Roberts’ work has become the heart of the American Romance novel. Now, with The Witness, she presents her 200th book. And it’s already waiting for me on the back porch. After all, what could be better on a hot summer evening than fighting crime and finding love from the comfort of my wicker chaise? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

1. A Study in Sherlock edited by Laurie King and Leslie Klinger
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuth has been a staple of the stage, screen, and bookshelf since Mrs. Hudson first rented rooms at 221B Baker Street to a couple of misfits over a hundred years ago. What is it about Sherlock Holmes that continues to tickle our collective fancy? I’m not sure I can put my finger on it, but I can’t stop trying. This new collection features short stories by Lee Child, Neil Gaiman, Laura Lippman, SJ Rozan, Dana Stabenow, and Jacequline Winspear—just to name a few of the fabulous mystery writers with whom I’ll be celebrating Sherlock, story by story, this summer.

Ah, summer… It’ll be gone before we know it even though Memorial Day is still with us. In the days ahead, enjoy the season’s simple pleasures—like reading. Now, with that said, what’s in your To Be Read stack this summer?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Guest Blog: Glenda Bodamer

This week the Rockville 8 is proud to bring you urban fantasy author Glenda Bodamer's very helpful take on character motivations.

You’ve Got to Be a Little Bad to Be a Good Samaritan

 I write a lot of newspaper stories about people who help other people. The two most common reasons they profess to offer help are because it’s right, or because they feel a connection to someone who needs help. They’re good people, and I’ve got to tell you, they inspire me.
            But in fiction, good people don’t necessarily help you.
            Let me give you an example.  
            A few years back, while reviewing some chapters in a high fantasy I’d written, I was vexed to find that it felt flat. It shouldn’t have. My poor, stressed out and emotionally beat up wizard was on a river, trying to elude pursuit and get to my heroine, who was in prison hundreds of miles away. In short, I’d tortured my wizard character the way a writer is supposed to do.
            So why did the scene feel flat? Should I just cut it? That is what I tend to do when a scene goes nowhere.
            I went through my writerly checklist to tell me what I needed this scene for, what it had to accomplish within the larger story, and concluded that I needed to keep it. There was action in it, too, so it should be interesting. Right?
            Then it hit me where the problem lay. I’d given my wizard an older married couple to carry him down the river, and while she was a stitch, they were too darned skippy nice. They just cheerfully took him aboard their boat and oohed and aahed when he discovered a new way to work his magic.
            They had to have their own agenda. I made them smugglers, although reluctant ones. They needed money. The wizard offered to pay for passage. But their need to hide something from my wizard, and their nervousness about it, added the necessary umph and tension to make the scene interesting.
            So if a scene’s bugging you, and you have characters who want to help, give them an agenda. You never know where that agenda might lead you. In my current book The Jaguar Spell, for example, my heroine drops her work in South America to go to New York to help her friend. Well, she secretly loves him, but she’s managed to stay away from him for years. Why does she decide to help him now? She owes him big-time. She’s guilty and hoping for absolution, and knows absolution could only come if she helps him with something important, life-threatening. Figuring out why she owed him opened up a whole dimension to the story that I hadn’t anticipated when I’d sat down to write it.
            But, you protest, some people really do help others from selfless reasons. For those folk, God bless ‘em. But while in real life we can thank these folk and feel inspired, in fiction we can’t let them be. A writer’s job is to figure out why that person acts that way. Do they help because secretly they hope the people they help will feel grateful to them? Do they help because they want other people to know they’re helpful? Do they need to shore up their self-image? Do they figure there’s a karmic payoff — God will see that they did good things and reward them?
            If you’re still doubting the power of getting good motivations for helper characters, go see The Avengers. I’m not giving any spoilers to say that all of those heroes, those alpha males and women, had their own agendas. The tension of whether they would come together, how they would take turns helping each other, to defeat Loki and his horde drives the movie.
            All these examples means there’re many helper motivations to choose from, from the heroic to the prosaic. It’s a veritable feast of motivations to work with.
            I feel the sudden urge to give blood. I think a local church was having a blood drive. They had a sign out. Or maybe I should do that ad for the volunteer group that approached me. Hm…

Glenda Bodamer is the pen name of a multi-published author of romances that had nothing to do with jaguars, fairy tales, or warehouses. She's attended the revered Clarion SF/Fantasy Writing Workshop, taken a masters in rhetoric of all things, and worked as a professional writer for government, ad agencies, large and small companies, magazines, and newspapers. Glenda and her husband live outside Boston with their two wonderful teenagersreally, she means that wonderful most daysa sweet former shelter hound dog mutt, and more wild turkeys in her neighborhood than she would like.

When Glenda's not writing or driving her teenagers around, she enjoys needlework, making stained glass windows and boxes, and jogging, but not at the same time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Never, never, never, never give up!

“Never, never, never, never give up.” – Winston Churchill

A few weeks ago I attended the Washington Romance Writers annual retreat, In the Company of Writers. Our last speaker on Sunday morning was Diane Gaston who shared Churchill’s words of inspiration. Despite setbacks in her road to publication and various challenges since then, Diane has always kept that message at the core of her being. Never give up.

I’ve completed two marathons. Around mile 18 (why do the organizers always put mile 18 in the middle of nowhere? I’m looking at you Marine Corps Marathon at Haines Point!), the doubt creeps in. You start questioning why you’re doing this to yourself, why you started, who would care if you stopped, hey, you almost made it. Close enough, right?

Close enough isn’t the same as hitting the goal.

Some of you know that I’ve been on a weight loss journey for the last eight months. I’ve done astoundingly well. By most standards, if I said, “I’m done” today, I’d be a success. I’m in good health, I sleep well, I have terrific energy, and my jeans look better on me now then ten years ago. Hot damn!

Again with the but: I’m not done.

Several years ago I watched The Secret and one message has stayed with me front and center: most people give up just before they reach their goal. Like they get lost in that darkness before the dawn and can’t hold out to morning.

But I can.

Quitting when I only have 25 pounds to go would be like getting to the midpoint of my work in progress and deciding to stuff the manuscript in the desk drawer never to see the light of day again.  Which, heh, is kind of what I did with my writing around December of last year. I put it in a mental filing cabinet and walked away.

But I’m not a quitter.

So I’ve come back to the writing fold. Because I never, never, never, never give up.

Commit. Recommit. Repeat as necessary.

Y’all have commitment issues? Digame, mis amigos!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What Makes a Sexy Hero?

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past week about what makes a hero sexy or appealing beyond the requisite hunky, hot good looks. And, believe me, I don’t have it all figured out, but I figured I’d open the discussion here with the Rockville8 to get the dialogue going among writers and readers so that we can intentionally tap into the sexy factor that our heroines and female readers crave.

I’ve identified five qualities that immediately came to mind that amp a hero’s hotness quotient for me when I’m reading:

1. Attractiveness:
He’s attractive. Not every woman is attracted to every man. Hallelujah! Or we’d be in big trouble. There are physical characteristics that I’m drawn to in a man. This varies from woman to woman--what attracts me may not attract you. So, oftentimes, it’s hard to pick physical characteristics that will appeal to every woman. That being said, romance writers oftentimes will go with the fantasy. The hot bod. The chiseled features. Model perfect men. Well, we are talking fiction, so why not pick perfection, right? Just keep in mind, if you pick some strong defining physical characteristic, not every reader might like that physical trait. So you might need to compensate in other areas--strength, courage, etc.

But a universal indicator of attractiveness for our hero seems to be that he cares about his appearance to some degree. He doesn’t need to be model-perfect in looks or build, but he does need to take care of himself on some basic level--he needs to be clean, smell good, comb his hair, dress to attract the right attention, keep his body in good physical shape. But more than the initial physical attraction that draws a heroine (and a reader), there has to be a whole attractiveness package that adds a depth of sexiness to our hero--personality, strong character, courage, loyalty, sacrifice, competence or successful at something, preferably something he’s leveraged into a career.

2. A Code of Honor
He’s got a code of honor. This ties in with what’s going on under the surface and is wrapped up in the motivation of our hero. I’m not always concerned that my hero is good--because I do love a sexy badboy hero. His choices may not line up totally with the world’s rules, however, he’s honorable at his core because he holds standards that even he won’t break. To me that is hot, hot, hot.

3. A Real Man
He’s a real man at his core. Translate, Alpha male. For me that’s important. I know it’s not important for every woman. It all depends on what you find attractive. But my hero doesn’t take bullshit from anyone. He might take some heat from the female, but it’s because he’s got the bigger picture in mind. He doesn’t roll over. He’s strong and he can hold his own against a strong heroine. A sexy hero also stands for what he believes. He doesn’t back down when the going gets rough. He’s a rock solid pillar in any storm.

He knows what he wants and he claims it. Nothing sends chills up my spine when I’m reading a well-crafted romance like that moment when the hero thinks Mine. This heroine is his soul mate and he’ll do anything to win her, keep her, and protect her.

Steve Harvey in his book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment has a lot to say about real men. He says you know a man loves you when he will Profess, Provide, Protect.

Harvey says every real man will claim his woman in public, warning other men off--effectively saying this is my woman, wife, girlfriend, etc. His purpose in life is to provide for those he loves. “Society has told us men for millennium that our primary function is to make sure our families are set--whether we’re alive or dead, the people we love need want for nothing. This is the very core of manhood--to be the provider.”

A real man wants to feel needed, and by allowing him to provide for a heroine in some way--whether it’s financial, emotional, or physical--the hero feels his purpose is fulfilled. His world is complete. Harvey completes his thoughts about the makeup of a real man by saying: “When a man truly loves you, anybody who says, does, suggests, or even thinks about doing something offensive to you stands the risk of being obliterated. Your man will destroy anything and everything in his path to make sure that whoever disrespects you pays for it. This is his nature.” Talk about motivation? And when a man feels he can’t protect someone he loves, it drives him nuts--often to irrational actions and threats.

4. Overcomes Woundedness
He overcomes his woundedness, with or without a good woman’s help. Whatever that wounding was that sits at his core, that has made him the man he is today and has crippled him to some degree, he overcomes it to find the love of a good woman and to move forward with his life. And, then, he loves the heroine beyond reason and logic. He’s found true love and he’ll move heaven and earth to claim it and keep it. For me, it’s imperative that he’s monogamous. This is his one true love. There is no other. He has only eyes for the heroine, all other women pale in comparison and he’s no longer tempted by anyone else.

5. Desires Connection
He desires connection--a soul mate, a partner in life . . . and possibly children. Maybe not at the beginning of the story, but by the end, his mindset has shifted. He wants connection. It goes back to the Mine philosophy and claiming his own. He desires to build his own clan or family. That starts with finding a good mate, then expands to building his own clan--whether it’s with his own children, or collecting a family such as team mates, friends, her family, friends, etc.

There’s a desire in this mindset that makes him want to be a good partner, a good life mate who wants to take care of others--he doesn’t need to cook for the heroine every night, he just needs to see when she needs a break and take the initiative to order carryout--he needs to take care of her, and his clan, on some level. He’s an engaged father and friend and he truly cares about those around him.

On a recent (5/6/2012) CBS Sunday Morning show, Simon Baker gave an interview. Yes, Baker is mucho sexy. What I found hotter than hot was at the end of the segment, he said the most important thing to him, over his career as a successful actor, was to be a good father to his three children because he never had that growing up. My heart cracked.

Talk about Melt-Me Sexy. That did it. But for me, this all ties into the Provide and Protect mode Harvey talks about in his book. As women, we do crave a real man who provides and protects what he’s claimed as his own. And in our fiction, what he claims is the heroine. For the segment with Baker, go to

So, what does it for you? What makes a hero sexy for you when you’re reading or writing? And, yes, it’s all grounded in what we find appealing in the real-life men in our lives. Who says fiction can’t mirror real life? As writers, we know that the best fiction does reflect the true emotional ups and downs in life, the real motivations that make people do what they do--it’s what draws readers in and keeps them glued to the page until the end of the story. So, let’s stir the pot. Get the discussion going. Find out what truly moves our readers and heroines to love the men they do. Then, let’s give it to them in spades.

Let the discussion begin! What Makes a Hero Sexy? Who are some of the sexiest heroes you've ever read or watched? And why?

Here are a few pictures to get you thinking of your favorites!