Monday, June 25, 2012

Writers Without Borders (Or How Skype Broadened Our Horizons)

I belong to a writers group that meets monthly at my church. What makes my group unusual is that the attendees are in two different states...and two different countries. Cathy, Nicole and I--and sometimes Kyle--are physically at the church, while April in Florida and William and Beth in Canada attend via Skype.

It's worked beautifully for the past several months. We read aloud from our works in progress. Nicole has a wonderful YA book in the works, keeping us wondering from month to month what the snarky stepfather character will do next. Cathy's read from a couple of very different fiction projects. I've read from multiple projects and blogs. William reads from Heaven & Hell or his hilarious blogs. Or we do a joint reading from Same Time Tomorrow. (The pages we can read from, given that we meet at the church, is limited. It's no Fifty Shades of Gray, but it doesn't leave too much to the imagination. We're looking for beta readers, so be forewarned!) Beth had been reading from her current novel prior to its publication, but Saturday we were treated to 50 Shades of Sparkles, which can be found at her Bent River Books blog. April reads her powerful poetry, and Kyle, when he's with us, has a very imaginative fantasy in the works.

Mostly, we laugh. A lot. William doesn't just read his material, he acts it out. And he's very good at accents. Saturday, he read two pieces from opposite ends of the creative spectrum: a scene from his upcoming novel, A Cold Day in Hell, and a blog post featuring one of his most popular characters, RCMP Inspector Lars Ulrich (no, not Lars Ulrich from Metallica). The novel excerpt was so vividly written and so gruesome that he left us all speechless! Everyone just went silent. Speechless....

We've all received the benefit of each other's comments and suggestions. Some of us have made some discoveries about ourselves as writers. Beth found that in spite of her love of paranormal romance, her real gift is in romantic comedy. After years of writing drama, I've found that, at this stage of my career (and my life) all I want to write is humor. William, well, he's just confirmed what we knew all along--he's such a versatile writer that he can do both drama and comedy with equal skill. In all my years in the business, he is the most talented first-time author I've ever encountered. He has such an eye for detail that I will  no longer put my own books out there without having him read them first!

Nicole is still young but also incredibly gifted. I have to say it--she reminds me a great deal of myself at her age in her absolute dedication to her goal. Storytelling is as necessary to her as things like food, water and air. 

Some of our characters have become as much a part of the group as we are: Lars the Mountie; Roger, the stepdad everyone loves to hate; the rowdy Cantwell brothers...they all attend the meetings as regularly as we do.

That's why we laugh so much. In fact, one of the guys who happened to be in the church at the time of one of our meetings told us we were were laughing so loudly they could hear us down in the gym. "You're having way too much fun up here!" he laughed.

We must be doing something right....

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

It's odd how, when a loved one passes away, over time only the good memories remain.

My father's been gone a little over twenty-one years now. After he died, I was consumed by guilt. I should have said this...I shouldn't have said that...I should have done this differently. I was crippled by those feelings for a time. I blamed myself in very real sense for his death.

For a long time, when I thought of Dad, the mental image of him that came to mind was him walking out the door the day he went to the hospital, the way he was dressed...none of us knowing then that he'd never be coming back. Or at least Mom, Collin and I didn't know. Dad knew. He had a premonition of his own death. He saw it repeatedly in a recurring dream. He'd told us about it, describing it in great detail. The night he died, when we arrived at the hospital, it happened...just as he had said it would.

This makes me think of the lawn mower I got him for Christmas just
before he died. He wanted to take a photo of it with him to the hospital.
He never got to use it. 

I wonder if some of us have these premonitions as a warning from God to get our lives in order before our time of departure comes. Mom, Dad and I never discussed spiritual issues, and I've wondered--worried--over the years that they might not have gotten it right with God before their passing. I hope they did. I can't imagine an eternity without them. We all make mistakes, and God forgives. It's often harder for us to forgive ourselves--or those who have wronged or hurt us. Think about that. If our Creator can forgive us for anything, who are we to not forgive ourselves or each other?

Time really does heal, and now, the prevailing memories are the good ones. I remember his sense of humor...the outrageous practical jokes...the way he always came to the rescue when I did something stupid and got in over my head, even when he swore he wouldn't.... I think of how this man who worried he was too old to have a baby in the house became completely devoted to Collin....

Okay, maybe I don't really want to meet up with him on the other side. 
He'll kill me for publishing this. I told him to smile, and....

I miss you, Dad. Take care of yourself, Mom, and all the critters. I'll have a lot to tell you when I get there....

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Devil's Back, and God Ain't Happy...He Sent a Hailstorm Down on Dallas!

Seriously. The Dallas-Fort Forth area was hit by a hailstorm last night, according to the Dallas Morning News. The Devil himself has returned!

Last night, twenty-one years after it went off the air, Dallas returned with much fanfare...and it definitely lived up to all the hype. The original was the beginning of the Era of the Nighttime Soap that reached its peak in the '80s. Remember its spinoff, Knots Landing? Falcon Crest, set in California's Napa Valley wine industry? The campy, glitzy Dynasty? Or Dynasty's short-lived spinoff, The Colbys (which was actually a better show than Dynasty but never quite took off with viewers)?

Dallas was always the best of the lot. At its core, it was about family--the Ewings. There was Jock Ewing, the wildcatter who struck it rich and married Ellie Southworth, heiress to the spectacular Southfork Ranch and their sons: JR, the eldest, who took over the reins of his daddy's empire; the youngest son, Bobby, content to run the ranch; the estranged middle son, Gary, who'd left Southfork unable to tolerate JR's mental abuse; and Ray Krebbs, Jock's illegitimate son and the ranch foreman. There was Gary's daughter, Lucy, taken from her mother, Valene, by JR's hired goons when she was a baby and raised by Jock and Miss Ellie. JR's wife, former Miss Texas Sue Ellen, tolerated his infidelity until it drove her to the bottle. Bobby married Pamela, daughter of his father's arch rival (and former partner) Willard "Digger" Barnes--a marriage doomed from the "I dos." Digger had always been in love with Miss Ellie. Pam's brother, Digger's son Cliff, was obsessed with revenge against the Ewings...and lived a Wile E. Coyote existence because of it. Sue Ellen's scheming sister, Kristin (Mary Crosby) was just obsessed with JR--first as his mistress, then as the one who shot him in that famous "Who Shot JR?" cliffhanger that made TV history in 1980.

Fast forward to May 13, 2012: Though some things remain the same--the familiar Dallas theme and the Southfork Ranch, which has changed little in two decades--there are major changes.  Jock (who died during the series' first run, along with his portrayer, Jim Davis) and Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) have been gone for many years. Bobby (Patrick Duffy), married to his third wife, Ann (Brenda Strong), has just discovered he has colon cancer and has decided to sell the ranch rather than have his adopted son, Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), and JR (Larry Hagman) and Sue Ellen's (Linda Gray) son, John Ross Ewing III (Josh Henderson), end up fighting over it as he and JR once did. JR's in a nursing home, having had a mental meltdown at the end of the original series. Ex-wife Sue Ellen is being pursued by power brokers to run for governor of Texas--in spite of her history of alcoholism and adultery. Christopher is about to marry lawyer Rebecca Sutter (Julie Gonzalo). John Ross, who's struck oil on the ranch in spite of the terms of Miss Ellie's will prohibiting drilling on Southfork, is in a relationship--personal and professional--with Elena Ramos (Jordana Brewster), daughter of the Ewings' former cook. Elena has always loved Christopher--but believes he opted to cancel their wedding plans. The next generation of Ewings is very much like their predecessors.

In Dallas 2.0, nothing is what it seems.

Bobby has made a deal to sell Southfork to the Del Sol Conservancy, represented by sexy Marta del Sol--who is conspiring with JR. Or is she? JR sees her kissing John Ross from the window of his room at the nursing home. Bobby's attorney is handling the sale of the ranch...but is he secretly on John Ross' payroll?  Christopher has been investing in alternative energy technologies--but his undersea methane extraction project triggers an earthquake. Rebecca's brother Tommy  arrives at Southfork for the wedding and manages to persuade Ann to give him a job...then meets secretly with Rebecca to report that "all is proceeding according to plan." Wait a minute....

All this treachery in two hours and fifteen minutes?

I wonder when--if--Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval) will return to take the Ewings on again. Ray (Steve Kanaly) and Lucy (Charlene Tilton) made cameo appearances at Christopher's wedding, so it wouldn't be out of the question to see other original cast members show up, would it?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

And the Next in Line is...

Angels at Midnight!

Collin just finished the cover for the ebook edition of the 1989 novel by the same title. The ebook will be available on Amazon in late June (or early July, depending upon how long it takes KDP to take it "live.")

Angels is the story of Collin Deverell (yes, I named the character for my son!), heir to an oil baron and his art patron wife. Unlike his twin brother, Justin, Collin has no interest in the family business. He's a world fencing champion who has Olympic gold ambitions. When their parents are killed while traveling in South America, Collin deals with his grief with world travel, women and high-stakes gambling. He finally comes home to find the family fortunes taken over by a syndicate and vows revenge. His need to take down those who have duped his brother gives him a focus he's never had before.

Enter Ashley Gordon-Hollister, former daughter-in-law of the crime boss Collin is after. Ashley, too, wants to bring Hollister down. After the death of her husband, Hollister's son, he and his wife took her son away from her. She's a pawn in Collin's scheme at first, but soon becomes his partner...and eventually, his lover. Together, they play a dangerous game and stay one step ahead of the insurance investigator determined to bring them down....

Though it wasn't planned, there's an odd bit of timing  involved with the ebook publication of The Unicorn's Daughter last month and now with Angels at Midnight. The Unicorn's Daughter begins during World War II. We released it just before Memorial Day. Angels at Midnight features a male protagonist who's a fencing champion. Fencing is one of the sports of the Summer Olympics, which begins only a few weeks from now.....

Honestly, I didn't plan it that way!

Friday, June 8, 2012

La Vida Loca, a Mad Dog and Media (Over)exposure!

An excerpt from Sucker-Punched, an upcoming novel by Robin Collins....


I was in the center of the ring with my brother Mike hoisted high above my head, poised for a body slam. The crowd was roaring. It was great. I love it when the fans go crazy like that. Pro wrestling fans are the most verbal, least politically-correct fans in the world. That's what makes them so great—in my opinion, anyway. This is a crazy life, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Mike was trying to break free. “Come on, Paulie,” he gasped. “This is the third time this week!”
They love it, Mike,” I told him. “Listen to them!”
Listen to me, you idiot,” he shot back at me. “I'm your brother!”
Not here, you're not,” I said, preparing to make my move. In the ring, we weren't brothers. I was the Punisher—no relation to the comic book guy—a Heel, a bad guy, of the first order, and my kid brother was a Face, a good guy known as Pretty Boy. That was a stretch. Mike's a long way from pretty.
I love you, bro,” he pleaded.
I love you, too.” Then I slammed him to the mat.


Was it my imagination, or were you enjoying that, bonehead?" Mike asked when we went backstage to the locker room afterward.
I grinned. "What do you think? "
"I think you're an asshole, " my brother said. "I think you like beating the crap out of me."
"I like winning."
I was supposed to win.”
You did.”
Only by disqualification.” Mike was looking for something in his locker. Pain meds, probably. Who said to be a wrestler means being in constant pain? I can't remember—but whoever he was, the dude was right. Bruises, broken bones, torn muscles, concussions....

I was about to head off to the showers but got sidetracked. The reigning heavyweight champion, Mad Dog Mueller, came barging into the locker room, duffel in hand. Mad Dog is the biggest, ugliest creature to ever walk the earth—three hundred-plus pounds of pure mean and a face that looked like it had been on the losing end of a fight with a meat cleaver. There are few movie star faces in wrestling, but Mad Dog's got a face only his legally blind mother could love. And I'm not sure about her devotion to the beast.
His match was next up and he was just getting there. "You do know you're late, right? " I asked. “You're going to be the cause of the boss' next scheduled stroke.”
Mad Dog glared at me. Most of the heels in pro wrestling are nothing like their ring personas, but Mad Dog really is a world-class jackass. "What are they gonna do, start without me? " he asked, pulling off his street clothes. "I'm the champ. It's my show."
"Sure it is, champ, " I said, nodding. Mike was looking from one of us to the other but not saying a word. He didn't have to, really. He thought Mad Dog and me were about to brawl right there in the locker room. It wouldn't have been the first time. But no, I had no desire to roll around on the locker room floor with a naked Mad Dog. The other guys might come in and get the wrong idea, y'know?
Mad Dog--” Mike started.
Shut up, loser!” Mad Dog wasn't interested in anything either of us had to say. He pulled on his robe--he was one of the few who still wore a robe out to the ring anymore--and hoisted the heavyweight championship belt onto his shoulder with a smug look on his ugly mug. His entrance theme began, filling the arena with eardrum-splitting heavy metal music as he headed for the ring.
"Don't you think we should have told him? " Mike asked as we went out to the entrance to watch.
I grinned. "And ruin the surprise? No way! "

The crowd greeted old Mad Dog with the usual chant : "You suck! You suck!" He leaped into the ring and threw off his robe, his arms outstretched to allow the unworthy a view of his physique, which was a lot better than his face, visually speaking.
That's when the audience--and Mad Dog--realized he'd forgotten his trunks. The idiot was standing in the middle of the ring, in front of fifty thousand people-- and--God knows how many watching on TV--butt naked! 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Writers Karma: What Goes Around Really Does Come Around

Above all, writers need readers. But we also need each other. The support and camraderie shared by writers is invaluable...after all, no one understands the highs and lows of this crazy business more than other writers. Rejection? We've all been there. The frustration of finding an agent? Not many writers get signed with the first one they query. Getting published? The wait for a contract can be the worst experience we'll ever have. Especially if that contract never comes. When I wrote and sold my first novel, I didn't have that kind of support network. I didn't even know there were any local writers groups, and we didn't have the internet. It was my agent who taught me the importance of networking...and I'm so glad she did!

Now that we have a new option--self-publishing--there's a whole new set of issues to deal with. There's choosing how to publish and with whom...making the books media...and now, more than ever, we need each other.

Most writers understand this. I've been fortunate to be part of a wonderful group of writers who support and encourage each other. Right now, one member of the inner circle is dealing with overwhelming family issues. The rest of the group has offered her understanding and whatever else she may need. Another is about to launch a new book and wants to do a blog tour. Several of us have offered our blogs to get him off to a good start. Collin has designed most of our covers. William does my editing and Beth's. Mike knows more about promotion and marketing than any of us. Beth formats the books. We all buy and review each others' books. Yesterday, I finally got around to getting a start on my Pinterest page. I started with book covers--my own and friends' covers. So did Beth. 

But as in any other profession, there are divas--writers who are all about themselves. They don't buy or review other authors books and try to claim we only give each other good reviews because we're friends. After all, we couldn't possibly be giving honest reviews if we didn't give them five stars, right?

They don't comment on others' blogs, but they wonder why no one is commenting on theirs. They don't buy others' books but can't understand why we aren't lining up to buy theirs. When asked to use their blog for a blog tour, they expect to be paid--even if the blog in question doesn't have enough traffic to warrant payment for its use.  ("But I have to charge you. You'd be taking up MY valuable time." What an ego!)

Yesterday, I had an experience that was beyond stupid. I made a mistake with an idiotic Facebook quiz that resulted in a baby diva making a complete fool of herself rather than simply deleting the unwanted posting.  A non-issue became an issue. The baby diva was rude and unprofessional. "Please don't post anything on my Facebook page that doesn't directly pertain to ME. When people visit MY page, they have to see ME. Just ME! Why don't you love ME????" 

I'm paraphrasing here, but this is the gist of it. Princess has to be the center of attention. Even if she has to stomp her feet and act like an idiot to get there.

I won't say that no successful writer has ever been a diva. There are more than a few...but they became divas after achieving success, when people were (for the most part) willing to put up with their behavior. Diva behavior in someone before they've achieved success is usually the kiss of death for one's career. What goes around really does come around...and when the author karma train derails, look out!

What goes around really does come around...good and bad!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Event...and Venus Transits the Sun, Too!

Today, in certain parts of the world, we'll be able to witness an an event of astronomical proportions--literally. Venus will pass between the Earth and the Sun. For a backyard astronomer like myself, this is like Christmas in June!

This photo is from the National Geographic's website. Check them out for more photos and info on safely enjoying the transit. It won't happen again until 2117!

(You have to look closely to see Venus--that little dot to the right. It's not like a lunar eclipse, which almost blocks out the Sun.)

And I hope you'll hop over and check out my Beishir Books site, where I've posted on the success of the release of the reboot of The Unicorn's Daughter and the secondary characters who demanded--and got their own book, a comedy with the working title Sucker Punched!

Tune in tomorrow, when I'll be discussing how to deal with divas....