Month: November 2012

Evil is Easy; Nuanced is Hard — Requiem to 666 Park Avenue

I just heard that ABC is cancelling my beloved show! I can’t say I’m surprised. I lowered my expectations when they cancelled All My Children in favor of The Chew and One Life to Live in favor of something which I don’t believe is still on the air. Still, it galls me a little to lose 666 Park Avenue because I love the Dorans. I’m really going to miss those two.

Gavin and Olivia Doran are the king and queen of the Drake at 666 Park Avenue. They’re a gorgeous couple, really – my hat is off to whoever put Terry O’Quinn and Vanessa Williams together. I’d have supported any interracial couple in such a high-profile position, but this particular couple is riding high at the helm of a very well-written show.

I’m not sure where I first picked up the suggestion that Gavin is supposed to be evil. It might have been at the beginning, in the first episode, where we see him collecting on various debts owed by tenants in a supernatural way we’ve seen in TV-land before. Someone’s promised him something in exchange for musical talent. Someone else has turned to murder in exchange for more time with a deceased spouse. We get it. Gavin’s the Devil. Olivia’s not innocent – she doesn’t shrink from plans for “how we get Henry” (who moved in with the new building manager) – but Olivia’s not evil, either.

As the stories unfolded, however, I had trouble accepting Gavin as evil. I couldn’t figure out where on the moral spectrum he lived until the Halloween episode. See, he and Olivia were walking around New York, preparing for their annual Halloween party and generally looking like the Absolute Cutest Interracial Couple EVER, when she had to take a phone call. She made him carry the shopping bags, which no evil character would do in a million years, but while they were separated, someone tried to run Olivia over with an SUV. He was unsettled by the close call, but evil characters can be unsettled when some person tries to damage their property.

That night, at the party, Olivia was playing Haunted High Rise with some friends when she was abducted by wrongdoers. Okay, I thought. Now we’ll see what our evil friend Gavin is made of. The wrongdoers called to announce that they had Olivia … and Gavin capitulated. He just wanted her back at any price.

“He loves her,” I said to the cat. “He loves Olivia.” No one who’s in love like that is really evil.

Now, don’t sleep on Gavin. He has no problem pushing you down an elevator shaft if you say no to him. He will trap you on the floor between dimensions if you try to avoid the consequences of your betrayal. He will give you the ultimate Gift with a Message: the Head in a Box. In this regard, Gavin is very like the Devil we know from theology, literature, and the Charlie Daniels Band. He won’t make you do anything, but he can make you choose to do things.

But it is too easy to dismiss Gavin as evil. The purity of the relief on his face when he found Olivia, safe and sound, is just not compatible with evil. Ultimately, the two of them teamed up against kidnapper and thief Victor Shaw and gave him the Head in a Box. Olivia picked out the gift wrap, and Gavin delivered the package.

This past week, Victor, who failed to get the message from Head in a Box, told Gavin that his daughter didn’t die in a car crash. Instead, said Victor, Gavin’s daughter killed herself. Victor went on to say that Gavin was at fault for the suicide and that Olivia knew all this but wasn’t talking.

An evil person would have taken this out on Victor – who has been talking out of turn for a while now – and then taken it out on an innocent person who had nothing to do with this before visiting his wrath on Olivia. We have all seen evil people do this sort of thing on TV. We’ve even seen not-so-evil people do it.

Instead, when Olivia finds him, Gavin looks devastated, just as we would expect someone to look when his enemy drops this kind of bomb on him. Indeed, I think the worst of it for Gavin was that Olivia was keeping this a secret.

That’s not evil. That’s normal. For her part, Olivia yelled at Gavin earlier this month for keeping a secret from her. He apologized to her then. This week, she was sorry. Both times, the two of them came together as a couple and teamed up against Victor Shaw. Not only is this not standard Evil Couple behavior, it’s not even standard Soap Opera Couple behavior. I almost feel bad for Victor, but you know, most people would have stopped when they got the Head in the Box at the dinner table. Now that he’s been beaten within an inch of his life by a figment of a dead person’s imagination (you had to be there), he’s been driven to an undisclosed location to have the last of the bejesus beaten out of him.

I come back every week, wondering what these two are going to do next, and now ABC is going to cancel it, no doubt to bring us season 854 of the Bachelor or the Bachelorette or some other variant of Desperate TwentySomethings Acting Like Small Children Over Someone They Met Twenty Minutes Ago. We will not be better off for this. But at least the show will have a proper finale when the time comes. That’s enough comfort for me, until I can share the true source of my joy with you.

In the meantime, I welcome Red Box theories below.

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A HotList of Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving! As you’re reading this, I’m hanging out with my family. I’ve done a lot of thinking this year about gratitude and what I’m grateful for, but I know you’re wanting to hang out with your families as well. Or maybe you’re hanging out by yourself. I did that for years, and I do not feel like any less a member of my family for having done that.

Anyway.

These are five things I’m grateful for today.

  1. I’m grateful for my family. They take a lot of BS from me, poor guys. But no one’s ever made me laugh harder than my family. No one’s had my back like my family. No one can make just hanging out on the couch a joy like my family. And no matter how crazy things get, I would never trade my family for anyone else’s. And things get pretty crazy. Just so you know.
  2. I’m grateful for my cats. I’m kind of cheating here. My cats are part of my family. I’ve got three, with their own little quirks and personalities. One of them is a prissy little Southern lady. One of them is an opinionated little bad girl. The third used to live in the parking lot of my old apartment complex, until she decided to live with me. Adopting an animal is a pretty powerful emotional experience, but there’s nothing quite like having an animal choose you. I’m so grateful for each of them and their silly behavior and all their little sounds.
  3. I’m grateful for my day job. I talk smack about the day job all the time, but I really am grateful for it. At the outset, it is not Job From Hell, which was going to destroy me if things hadn’t ended so badly. The new day job keeps the lights on and food in everyone’s bowl until the writing can take over for it. Then the day job gives me the time to allow the writing to start taking over. I can’t ask for more than that.
  4. I’m grateful for my senses. Not long ago, I was in a state of ecstasy over something I was eating, and it occurred to me that I have never specifically been grateful for the fact that all my senses function well. As an erotica writer, I’m constantly have to feed and test my senses, looking for new scents and tastes and sights and sounds – and then looking for ways to describe them. But it’s not just for work – I love the way things taste. I love staring at things of beauty – the hot, shirtless men; muscle cars; the clean lines of paintings and buildings; the amazing mélange of colors that come together for sunrise and sunset. I love music from Aerosmith to Mozart, and the louder the better, and I can’t imagine what smells better than my favorite vanilla-scented soap, unless it’s coq au vin or mint chocolates or whatever makes the Cavemen smell so spectacular. And let’s not even get into my sense of touch. 😉 So if I haven’t said so before, I’m committed now to being grateful every day for my senses.
  5. I’m grateful for the writing. I was captured by a story idea while I was at Romanticon (and when am I going to stop talking about that? How about around next Romanticon?), and I was talking to my mom about it. I spend so much time around writers that I hadn’t imagined for a long time that not everyone is suddenly struck by story ideas in the middle of something else. I told another good friend of mine that when I was a little girl, I thought I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be. I thought I wanted to be everything – and then later, like in law school, I realized that I was actually making up stories about what someone in those various jobs might do. If one week, I thought I wanted to be a doctor, my imagination seized that idea and put together an Emergency 51 style plot line with a doctor that looked me, driving that ambulance with my best friend and partner to rescue people before their wrecked cars exploded. Another week, I thought I wanted to be an astronaut, and my imagination turned that into a day-to-day job on a space station, befriending offworlders and having adventures. I wanted to make up all those stories. It just took me years to figure that out. I’m grateful to have it all figured out now.

Right now, I’m probably grateful for a good book and a nap. How about you?

Cocktailery: Drinking and Writing and Writing and Drinking

Hemingway (supposedly) urged us to “write drunk [and] edit sober.”

I don’t work while I’m drunk. Being drunk tends to make me talkative, flirtatious, and sleepy, in that order. But I do enjoy a little something to help me shake off the so-called real world before I get set up with the characters.

It’s hard to choose the right libation sometimes. For me, the key is to find a drink large enough that I can sip at it without frequent refills but not potent enough to make me drunk if I have more than one. Then there’s the matter of food. I may not always drink while I’m working, but I do typically have something on hand to eat, so whatever I drink has to go well with food.

What’s an erotica writer to do? Our senses need indulging. It keeps us and our writing sharp.

Some of my favorite cocktails – the Crystal Light Midori Sour, for instance – fit the bill with no trouble. I just use a little more lemonade. The pineapples thaw out as I’m working, and I love having that nice little treat waiting for me at the end of the drink. But this month, for NaNoWriMo, I tend to lean toward wine. It’s good for marking the transition between “work” and work, and there’s a bit of a ritual involved in opening the bottle and pouring into my favorite glass.

For NaNo, I like to have two bottles of wine on hand. I was introduced to Genoli Blanco, a white rioja from 2010, at a tasting, and I fell for it pretty hard. I don’t typically care for white wine because it’s so sweet. But this is kind of a departure from white wines, I think. It’s not as full-bodied as a red, but it’s very complex. It’s lightweight and goes down so, so nicely when it’s cold.

As far as reds are concerned, I rarely turn down a shiraz. It’s bold and powerful, sometimes lacking in nuance. Like me. This month, I’ve made a switch to the 7 Deadly Zins. It’s a blend that manages real complexity without tasting like an identity crisis. Is it sweet or spicy? Is it fruity or smoky? Is it playful or mellow? Yes. Yes, it is. It also plays well with almost everything I eat during NaNoWriMo – slow cooker chili (JL Wilson’s recipe is my favorite), slow cooker chicken soup, and of course, deep dish pizza. I’d like to think all this is true of me, too, but I do tend to be my own biggest fan.

I celebrated my submission with a good friend and a bottle of Bordelet Poire Authentique. Wow. If it were at all feasible for me to drink that every day, I would totally sign up for that. I could definitely taste the pear, but its delicate undertones kept that from being overpowering. It made everything sing – from the paprika sausage to the buffalo cheese to the prosciutto. I may even go for another bottle once NaNoWriMo is over … or maybe I’ll stash one in here for the next special occasion.

I know some of you are Writing While Intoxicated. I don’t judge. Just tell me what you’re having!

Alexa’s Favorite Writing Things 2012

Oprah’s just unveiled her list of Favorite Things for this year, and inspired by her assembly of items and by NaNoWriMo this month, I decided to come up with a short list of my own. Mine are cheaper than most of Oprah’s favorite things – she got me this year and has something for $20 – and they’re indispensible to my writing process. They also make terrific stocking stuffers for the writer in your life. Or the writer you’d like to have in your life.

Or me. Just keeping it real.

These are some of my favorite things for work, but as they say, “All work and no hot shirtless men makes Alexa a dull girl.” At the end of this month, I’ll have another favorite things post with stuff I’d love to have just for kicks.

The AlphaSmart 3000. For writers prone to distraction, the AlphaSmart is a perfect tool. It’s basically a portable keyboard with a display that allows you to see four lines of text at a time. And that’s it. You can’t get on the internet. It won’t run other programs (although I think there’s a calculator buried in there somewhere). It’s even kind of a pain to edit what you just wrote. Its simplicity is gorgeous.

Once you’re done, you hook the AlphaSmart up to your computer and let it dump all your words into the program of your choosing. I’ve plopped things into WordPress, MS Word, and into Scrivener, which I get into below. It holds 8 files, one for each day of the week, plus an extra for notes, and you will get 700 hours of battery life on 3 AA batteries.

I paid about $30 for mine on eBay – go check it out!

Scrivener. Neil Cross convinced me to look into purchasing Scrivener. Not in person – OMG, I would talk about that all day every day – but with his testimonial on the developers’ website. He and many other writers sang the software’s praises, talking about how intuitive it was, so I gave it a try. The developers offer a 30-day free trial, but they only count the days you actually use it. So if you try it one day and then go back to it six months later, you would only have used two days. That really impressed me.

Scrivener costs $40. You are getting a TON of program for $40. There’s enough program that everyone can use it a little differently and still be getting their money’s worth. I like it because I can keep the same document open in two windows (Chapter One on the left and Chapter One again on the right). Then I can move things around from place to place very easily. I often have to rearrange stuff inside my chapters, and that was a HUGE pain to do in Word. I also keep my outline open all the time, so I can see how far along I’m getting and move portions of the document as necessary. There’s a panel on the right where I can keep my notes as I’m working. The index card for that particular scene is displayed there, along with whatever I need to keep in mind while I’m working. Everything’s in one spot.

Here’s some more good news. If you win NaNoWriMo, you get a discount code for half off. If you don’t win but find someone who does – a practice both NaNoWriMo and the Scrivener folks are okay with – you can have their code. So I actually got Scrivener for $20. Try out the program this month if you’re NaNoing and let it convince you.

Spiral notebooks. The list gets decidedly low-tech from here with the appearance of an old favorite. When I started writing – during class as a girl – I used to use the margins of these for stories so I could take notes in the center of the page. Of course, that meant I hesitated to let anyone see the inside of my notebooks for any reason! Today, I don’t have to waste all that space on chemistry or calculus or … wow. I just got really nostalgic for a second!

I use the notebooks for everything except the actual draft. I keep my initial brainstorming notes there. My lists of blog topics go there. I keep snippets of description in there, too. I used to keep a separate book for each project, but it didn’t take long for me to lose track of those. Now I just dump everything onto the page and sort through it as I’m going.

I was at a workshop with Candace Havens last weekend, and she showed us the inside of her spiral notebook. It was so cool! I feel like we’re besties now. Hers was really pretty and expensive-looking, though; I bet Oprah has something like it on her list. The ones on my list go for ten cents each at WalMart during back to school season. I go out there and buy 30 or 40 of them at a time and then work through my stash.

Index cards. I probably have enough index cards in here to wallpaper the house. One of my teachers in high school taught me to use them to outline papers, and I’ve kept that habit for *coughcough* years. They’re good for arranging scenes, of course – I just put a few words about a scene on a card, and then another scene on another card, and then I sit on the floor and spread them around. Scrivener will let you do that on the screen, but my mind needs to touch the card, and I accept that. There’s more to the lowly index card than that, though. I use them to keep track of my project ideas – right now, I have 16 of them on my bulletin board, each with the names of a couple from one of my stories. I also use them to write quotes on. One of my favorites, “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song,” is front and center above my keyboard for those nights when I feel like I’m a huge literary joke that everyone gets but me.

I have index cards in all colors, lined and unlined, and I do so love building a little stack of them as I’m plotting my next story! You can score them at the dollar store, and they fit beautifully in your favorite writer’s stocking.

Pens and highlighters. It is really embarrassing for a writer to be caught out without a pen. I know because it happens to me all the time. I don’t need anything fancy to get the job done. In my day, the chisel and quill were gradually replaced by the transparent Bic Cristal, which is still my favorite. Today, you can get a purple ballpoint pen at the grocery store. Isn’t progress grand?

Some people are organized enough to use a different pen for different purposes. That’s not me; I can barely manage to keep one in my purse. I am happiest when I’m using a color that’s not black, but aside from that, anything will work!

I can’t keep enough highlighters in the house for some reason. I’ve used them for editing – one color for dialogue, one for action, and so on – but again, I tend to not be that organized. I’m much more likely to use them while I’m reading, so that the good parts stand out more. I highlighted The Sociopath Next Door like wildfire!

Tuck a pack of pens – or one really nice pen – into your writer friend’s stocking, and you will make her happy. Slide one of the nice ones (the kind that come in a box) across the table to her and tell her you’re thinking about her hand on it while she’s working. Hell, that’d make me happy!

Now get out there and shop! The Oprah folk will start packing the mall soon.

I think everyone has been too kind to say how badly things seem to be going for me in NaNoWriMo this year. There’s a good reason for that, though. Earlier this week, I finally submitted Project NSA, the story with which I won the Passionate Reads Pitch Contest in February 2011. I had to pull two all-nighters to do it, but now it’s done. My hope is to get back to my collection of erotic short stories this weekend – my day job is closed on Monday for the holiday, so I can catch up. But I do acknowledge at this point that I need to catch up.

Have questions about what to get the writer in your life? Want to tell the world about your favorite things? Hit me up in the comments.

Open Letter: You are not in the book. Sorry.

Neighbors:

You all are wonderful people. I know you’ve come here from various places, either through word of mouth (mine or someone else’s) or via various links from the rest of the Internet. I recognize that you took time – a truly nonrenewable resource – out of your life to come out to my blog and read whatever’s on my mind on Thursday. I’m really grateful for all of you for doing that.

Some of you are friends and colleagues, and I want to take a second to give you a little extra thank you. You’ve had my back and offered me your support and advice and comfort and all the things that good friends and colleagues offer each other. In return, I’ve generally given you very little. But you’ve been so patient with me, and I recognize that you could have written me off when I said or did whatever I said or did that would have caused a less patient person to write me off. I do try to be worthy of your friendship, and I admire and have genuine affection for you.

All of this makes it hard to say what I’m about to tell you. 

You are not in the book.

What do I mean? This book does not contain any character based on anyone I have ever met in the real world. That includes you. You may have some doubts as to whether you are in the real world, but I don’t.

You’re not in this book, the last book, or any of the books to come.

Some of you are not at all surprised to hear that you are not in the book. That’s good! You can hop on down to the comments and leave me a nice note, and I promise to be a better friend and colleague to all of you.

The rest of you are probably in one of these two groups: people who were hoping to be in the book, and people who were hoping to avoid being in the book. Let’s take the first group first.

I kind of feel like I’m disappointing you by saying that you’re not in the book if you want to be in it. But the fact of the matter is that I am not really making up any of the characters in the book. At some point, I get a weird intuitive flash, during which I see a part of the story. Then, as I’m letting my mind wander along the path revealed by the flash, I’ll get another flash, and then another, and then I’ve got most of the storyline. After that, I’m really just getting things organized and writing them down. I don’t exercise that much control over the story. It just shows up, fully populated, begging for attention. I don’t know anyone in the story. That’s what makes all of this so exciting.

Beyond that, I make it a point to keep real life away from my stories. I started writing many years ago (when we backed up our novels by copying them onto another scroll) to escape real life. Real life is a little easier to deal with these days – in fact, it’s pretty cool sometimes – but I do like to take a vaca in my characters’ fictional world every so often. It’s a nice place for a getaway. It’s close to the real world, but it is not the real world. Putting real people into the fictional world is like taking the BlackBerry on vacation. Sure, it’s not impossible to do. But if I can choose not to do it, I don’t do it – and I can choose not to do it.

This also means that I’m never in the story. I’m just the person hearing and seeing and telling the story. To beat our vacation metaphor to death, that’s the difference between vacationing at the resort and working at the resort. Never the twain shall meet. It’s not to punish you. It’s to protect the vacation.

And now to those of you who are hoping to avoid being in the book.

Some of you would just prefer not to be in an erotic romance novel, and you know what? That is totally cool! You don’t have to want it. We’re still good! Especially since you’re not in the book anyway. Hop on down to the comments and leave me a note.

On the other hand, I know some of you think I am going to punish you in some way by putting you into the book and then doing something unpleasant to you. I have heard of people threatening their enemies with such a thing. Please be assured that I would not do that to you. At the outset, I would refer you to my earlier points about how I don’t make up the characters or the story. Whatever unresolved personal issues you and I might have do not intersect with the story, since I don’t make up the story.

I’m also not going to use my powers as the writer to include you in the book for revenge – that’s going to mess up my vacation in the fictional world. I’m not going to spend my vacation thinking about unresolved personal issues. I’m trying to dodge the real world, which, again, includes you.

Finally, if you wronged me in a way that would inspire me to consider vengeance, immortalizing you in print – even if no one else ever sees it – does not serve that purpose. It just doesn’t make sense from a punitive standpoint. I either forgot about you altogether (because I don’t want that sort of energy in my life) or I passed you and your misdeeds along by word of mouth to all my friends and colleagues. I mentioned that they have offered me support, advice and comfort earlier.

I also suggested that other writers wouldn’t have a problem writing evildoers like you into their stories in order to exact vengeance against them. Sure, I won’t do it. But I can’t speak for other writers, and I talk to a lot of writers.

Is that not reassuring to you? Well, maybe you should look into the way you treat people. This isn’t about not mistreating writers for fear of ending up in the book. It’s about not mistreating people because what goes around comes around.

Today is the first day of National Novel Writing Month. I’m more excited than usual to be working on 50,000 words of erotic short stories in the next 30 days. Actually, I hope to be done by Thanksgiving, so I’ve got about 3 weeks.

Wow. That didn’t sound crazy until just now.

I don’t know what the rest of the month will bring. But I can be certain, as always, that none of you will make your way into the book, for good reasons or ill.

Leave me a comment anyway? Pretty please?