World's Oldest Fledgling

The blog of Stephanie Wardrop, Y A Author

Crushin’ on a character


He’s seventeen years old and I suspect his birthday is in early November (he has a lot of Scorpio traits, at least). He’s tall, dark of hair and eye, and possesses strong facial features. He’s smart, sarcastic, snotty at times, and generally convinced that he’s right about just about everything.  But he’s also loyal once you’ve won his respect, generous, funny, a great writer, and a surprisingly good kisser. I have a crush on him.

Even though I made him up and he does, not in fact, exist. But if he did, and I were seventeen again and in Michael Endicott’s orbit, I would probably make a fool of myself to try to get his attention.


If you’re a romance writer, you know what I mean. Crushing on your characters is an occupational hazard, and pretty harmless, especially when you consider other occupations’ hazards, like black lung or severed limbs or carpal tunnel syndrome (though we writers get that one, too). If you’re not a writer, you may not be aware of just how a-litte-in-love we writers are with our creations. I know some writers, creators of wonderful, hunky, godlike heroes who give their male romantic leads Twitter accounts so they seem that much more real (and able to interact with the readers who are crushing on them). And to hear Robert Pattinson tell it, Stephenie Meyer was downright creepy in her devotion to Edward Cullen, though I don’t listen to anything R-Pats has to say and don’t know anyone who does any more.

But we writers are not jealous girlfriends. We love when a reader finds our romantic lead just as swoon-worthy as we do. At least, my heart fills with glee when a reviewer of one of the Snark novellas gets sooooo mad at Georgia for being mean to Michael. I can’t think of a higher compliment for a writer than realizing that their writing has had the exact emotional effect on readers that they were envisioning. So I don’t get mad at all if some reader somewhere wants a little piece of Michael for him/herself – now that would be creepy! Since he exists as much in the minds of the reader as he does anyplace else, there’s plenty of him to go around. And while he’s a modest guy, I know for a fact he would be awfully flattered to think that somewhere somebody with an e-reader is imagining what he’s doing right now.

And you can even imagine that he looks like anyone you want him to. I mean no disrespect to my publisher or the great people who design the covers my series, (because they are awesome as you can see below) but Michael does not look like this guy

  Image (he’s cute but blond and blue-eyed)

or this guy

 Image (hair isn’t curly and the eyes are, again, blue).

But you can imagine he looks  any way you want. Because he belongs to his readers at least as much as he belongs to me.  Writers are pretty invested in their characters and love when readers get invested in them, too.

In some ways, Michael also belongs to Jane Austen, I suppose, since the Snark series is a modern take on Pride and Prejudice and Michael is a contemporary teenaged Mr. Darcy. So as a little tribute to his ancestor – and to everyone’s favorite scene in the BBC version of Austen’s novel – I made Michael wet in the last scene.  (He’s not coming out of a lake on his estate, but emerges, dripping, from a friend’s pool).


It’s my little “easter egg”, of sorts. And I can assure you that, like Colin Firth, Michael looks pretty good wet. I’ll leave that to your imagination, too.

PS: Someone loved the P&P tv miniseries scene so much they made a statue! Check it out here. But apparently, that wasn’t even Mr. Firth in the wet shirt anyway. Click here to have your illusions shattered.


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Today is the cover reveal of The Enlightening (Mackenzie Duncan Series #2) by Adrianne James.

Title: The Enlightening

Series: Mackenzie Duncan Series #2

Author: Adrianne James

Genre: NA Paranormal

Release Date: December 6,2013

Add to your Want to Read list on Goodreads

Mackenzie Duncan found out that pack life wasn’t for her. Now she is running for the second time in the six months since she was bitten and turned into a Werewolf. But this time, she isn’t alone. This time, she has Geoff and Liam with her, two very hot Werewolves vying for her heart.

But her companions aren’t her focus. The only thing she can focus on is getting far from her old pack and their murderous ways. Only, she doesn’t just want to run. She wants to warn every pack she can that their lives are in danger too. No one should be turned against their will like she was and no other pack should have to surrender to the ideas of a centuries old, power hungry woman.

Not only does Mackenzie have to deal with her crazy ex-pack leader sending people out to kill her, she has to keep both men at arm’s length (and that proves to be much more difficult than she thought), but she finds out more about her own life and heritage than she ever thought imaginable.

And suddenly, everything makes sense…


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About Adrianne James

Growing up, Adrianne couldn’t get her hands on enough books to satisfy her need for the make believe. If she finished a novel and didn’t have a new one ready and waiting for her, she began to create her own tales of magic and wonder. Now, as an adult, books still make up majority of her free time, and now her tales get written down to be shared with the world.

During the day, Adrianne uses her camera to capture life’s stories for clients of all ages and at night, after her two children are tucked in bed; she devotes herself to her written work. Adrianne is living the life she always wanted, surrounded by art and beauty, the written word and a loving family.

As a young adult and new adult author, Adrianne James has plans to bring stories of growing characters, a little romance, and perhaps a little magic and mythology down the line for her readers to enjoy.

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Killing Your Darlings

WIP It Wednesday, revision edition


Most people know that the phrase “Kill Your Darlings” is not just the title of a new movie about the early Beat poets starring Daniel Radcliffe. It’s a term, variously attributed to William Faulkner, Stephen King,  and others, that writers use to remind themselves that when you’re revising, no matter how much you’re in love with a joke or a turn of phrase or a particular passage of prose, if it doesn’t work for the overall good of the book, it has to go. As I revised the last portion of the Snark and Circumstance e-novella series, I whacked a lot of darlings this morning. It was a virtual bloodbath here, with some phrases cut down quite easily and painlessly, others struggling and clinging to life even as I knew they deserved to die. But an executioner has to be heartless, so the blade came down; noble sacrifices of parts were made for the good of the whole.

And as I was revising, I was thinking that sometimes “kill your darlings” is almost more literal. Sometimes you have to kill the characters you love, your almost flesh-and-blood darlings – or at least let really bad things happen to them. And that’s a lot harder (unless you are GRR Martin, apparently).


To be honest, I used to scoff a bit at this notion. Duh, they’re characters, not real, I would think. But I have to tell you that when you spend a lot of time with these fictional people, inside and outside your own head, it becomes a lot harder to be disinterested in their welfare. Yet at some point in any narrative, your main characters have to come up against some serious chiz, be tested to the point of breaking, and that’s when some weird authorial maternal instinct kicks in for me and I want to protect them from all the pain and sadness in the world. But if I did, that would make for one really boring book. (And mean I have a pretty dangerous ego investment in identifying with my characters, perhaps).

So I had to suck it up and let my snarky self-rghteous teenage heroine, Georgia, get her much-deserved comeuppance.  For those of you who have admitted in reviews of the Snark series that you want to slap Georgia, I’ve got some good news for you: fate and her own ego slap her silly in this last installment. I had to let her be humiliated and regretful because that’s not just good plotting – sometimes that’s the only way to learn. In life and in fiction, I think, you have to earn your happy ending. And in Prom and Prejudice, I think Georgia earns hers.

I discovered something else through this revision process, but I’ll save that for next week: perfectly healthy writers can develop crushes on their male “romantic leads” and it is neither unhealthy nor creepy. I hope.

Stay tuned.

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Image(I can’t believe this is thirty years old)

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Have a Masked Love Holiday this Season!

Image Nicole Zoltack’s just released a holiday Regency novella from Swoon Romance, and it sounds like a good one! Here’s a taste:

Isabelle is content being a maid, and will do anything for her lady, even accompany her to a masquerade ball. Lady Theodosia needs extra support and encouragement on this night, for tomorrow she will meet the man her parents have pledged her to. 
Isabelle has never had occasion to attend such an event, and is at first ill at ease. But meeting an enchanting young man during the course of the evening makes her wish for a life she can never have. Thinking she will never see him again, she returns his flirtation and even reveals her face. Imagine her shock when he shows up the next morning, announcing his claim on Lady Thedosia. 
Isabelle does all she can to avoid Lord Adrian Wingave, but then he not only sees her, he recognizes her. To make matters worse, Isabelle fears her feelings are not one-sided. Torn between duty and desire, Isabelle hopes for something more this Christmas.

As a Regency/Jane Austen fan myself, I was happy to join her blog tour to introduce the book to the world. And since it’s almost officially the holiday season, Nicole and I thought we would share some Regency-era holiday traditions you could incorporate into your festivities next month.


The Christmas tree itself didn’t become as popular as it is now until later in the nineteenth century, though some Regency homes would have had trees decorated with ornaments and candles if they were connected with German traditions. There’s some debate about who brought the Christmas tree to England, with some arguing that Prince Albert did so, and others claiming Queen Charlotte introduced it in 1800; both are German-born.


Boughs were also brought inside country homes, filling them with the fragrance of holly or hawthorn, and “kissing boughs” of evergreens, apples and flowers might hang over doorways like our more familiar mistletoe. Christmas carols are also more of a Victorian tradition, though if you were the first to sit by the Yule log in the fireplace you were considered likely to have good luck in the future.  On Christmas Day, you’d likely attend church, then have a family dinner (often a boar’s head — ewwww) and plum pudding (which my mom makes every year with a coin baked in for good luck). Gifts were given mostly to children or to the landowner in the form of a tithe; the next day, Boxing Day, the gentry would reward their servants and other aides with a Christmas “box” or gift.

As for the traditional “White Christmas”, sources indicate that the weather in the Regency era in late December was often rainy and damp and too warm for snow.  Nonetheless, this illustration from an 1898 edition of Jane Austen’s Emma is titled “Christmas Weather”:


Whatever you celebrate and whatever the weather where you do so, we wish you happy, as an Austen character would say.
Check out Nicole at her website and blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
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JC Emery on Ride-ing with Bad Boys



JC Emery is not just a writer of some steamy, kick-ass romances, like

Image in the Men in Badges series,


Image, the first in a series about bikers, Bayonet Scars.

She’s also one of the most honest and forthright people I know; she means what she says and she says what she means and makes no apologies. So we got to talking last week about bad boys in romance fiction, how they have always been so popular and why they remain so, and how troubling we, as writers and women and feminists, often find the depiction of truly bad boys, the kind that will assault the heroine to prove his love to her. (Think Rhett Butler telling Scarlet O’Hara he will “crush [her] skull like a walnut.” That’s not hot. That’s sick. If anyone says that to you and considers it foreplay, run.)


With incidences of domestic/relationship violence on the rise, particularly among young people, it’s worth considering how much romance fiction insists on the potential for violence as a sexy attribute in a mate.  Recently scholars and book fans alike have written with  fear and disgust about Twilight‘s Edward Cullen as a charming sociopath. (See Journal of Communication Inquiry 2011 35: 157 and Debra Merskin’s article “A Boyfriend to Die For: Edward Cullen as Compensated Psychopath in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilightfor a stellar example). And while I agree that there can be a great gulf between what we desire in our fantasies and what we want in our real lives, I still want to tell me daughter when she’s in the throes of her first crush (I’m not counting Niall Horan from One Direction),I don’t care how much the boy sparkles- if you tell me he’s been climbing into your room and watching you sleep for months, I am calling the cops.”

Now JC’s hero in Ride is a little rough around the edges, a bad boy by many definitions of the term, but he’s not dangerous to the woman he loves.  Check him out:

“IT’S NOT FUNNY,” she whines through a scowl, but the smile on her face is bright.

“Oh yes it is,” I say, with a grin. “What kind of mafia princess doesn’t learn how to shoot a gun?”

“The passive kind,” she grumbles, looking at my .38 she’s holding with both hands. I force myself to keep grinning, avoiding the impending anxiety that’s creeping up. When I first handed the gun over to her, I was nervous as fuck. I mean, I’d never given a chick I was fucking my piece before. But Cub doesn’t know how to shoot, and with everything going on, she has to learn. I don’t give a fuck how difficult she’s being about it. Hell, even if Junior wasn’t on his way here, I’d still teach her how to shoot. Yesterday, I gave up being pissed that her fucktard of a father didn’t teach her sooner.

It’s been days since I’ve spent more than ten minutes without Cub by my side. I’m getting way too comfortable falling asleep with her curled into my side, and waking up with her half on top of me. The longer it takes for something fucked to happen, the more on edge I get. Despite spending pretty much every minute with Cub and her pussy, which I swear is made out of unicorns or some shit, I can feel the tension in my bones. She walks around acting like she doesn’t really care what’s going on or the sacrifices the club is making to keep her tight little ass safe. I’m trying not to let her piss me off, but damn it, she’s working my last nerve. It doesn’t help that I haven’t had a drink or any bud since before Church the other day.

“You’re doing it again,” she says, handing the gun back to me. Her smiles falls, giving way to a grimace. I click the safety lock and shove it in the back of my waist.

“Doing what?” I ask, trying to keep the strain out of my voice.

“That thing with your neck. You keep tensing your jaw, and it makes the veins in your neck pop out. It’s creepy.”

“I’m on edge,” I say and blow out a deep breath.

 He’s no saint, that’s clear (though he does go to church). He’s tough, profane, and capable of violence, but that’s never going to be turned on the heroine, Cub. Despite her current inability to handle a .38, she’s an equal partner in this relationship, and that’s one of the aspects of JC’s offbeat romances that make them so delightful.

I’ll give her the final word on bad boys and what’s “too” bad to bear:

I don’t necessarily think there’s a definitive line in the sand to be drawn over what behaviors are acceptable in fiction and which ones are not. As a loud-mouth feminist and unapologetic biker fan, I find myself torn. I know all too well the way it works with lifestyle bikers (as opposed to weekend riders). And this is in no way a criticism of the lifestyle of all bikers, because as a group, they are as varied as any culture is. Some motorcycle clubs are about community service, some are about freedom, but there is a subculture within the greater biker community called outlaw bikers. The outlaw biker culture is vastly different from what we know most people to be. It is often de-humanizing to women, with few women being respected enough to be treated as a person. Women are often passed around, dismissed, and even beaten-up on. So I find myself both intrigued and disgusted by this world. How can a feminist like these kinds of guys?

Most women I know are drawn to alpha males, and while men in fiction may get away with murder (and then some), their real life counterparts have to toe a much finer line. The guys in my Men with Badges series are all inherently good. They may make the wrong choices along the way, but it’s with the best of intentions. Here’s how I think I make the bad boys work in relation to that. It’s like the flip side of the coin. The men in the Bayonet Scars series (Ride, No. 1, due out 10/28) are not who western society traditionally considers to be good guys. They drink, do drugs, have a ton of sex, curse… they can be mean and violent, and they don’t apologize for it. But like you’ve seen in a lot of romance novels where their behaviors are forgiven or justified, I try very hard not to do that.
I don’t write weak women. They don’t forgive poor behavior necessarily, they just sometimes either don’t care or they may choose not to make an issue of it. Other female characters may raise hell over something. It depends on who’s in what situation. None of my women feel helpless without a man around (I wouldn’t even know how to write that), and none of them ever feel like they’ll die without the company of their true love. (Forgive the gagging sounds). They are as complex and messed up as the men they fall in love with. I think that’s the only way a romance like this can work. Good girls who fall in love with bad boys always get hurt, because bad boys don’t magically become good guys over night. The women in the Bayonet Scars series actively choose to stay. And none of them are without faults and poor behaviors of their own. They see the men they love with clear eyes (eventually) and they make the choice to love this disturbed man. I don’t feel sorry for them for choosing to stay if he’s a bastard. Being raped and held captive? Yes, I feel for the woman who ensures that. The woman who knows going in of her free will that she’s hooking up with a horn dog? Not so much. Eyes wide open, ladies. He is who he is; don’t expect him to change into something he’s not. Deal with it or move on. In that regard, I think having strong-willed proactive women on the page who make their own rules and give the men an option to hop on board or leave them alone, is important to giving readers a couple they can root for. My ladies are always the ones who set the rules of the relationship. She might fight like hell for terms and conditions she’s comfortable with, but she will walk if her guy doesn’t measure up. It’s just about giving the man traits she can live with, and giving her expectations he can abide by. And that will differ from couple to couple.
Some of the men in the series come to us already trying to make a change in their life, others come to us fighting hard to stop change. I’m not a huge fan of story lines where a woman comes along and suddenly this awful man turns over a new leaf for her. Waking up next to her in bed and he realizes he’s been a total scumbag his entire life? I don’t think so. I think, for the most part, people are fairly stagnant at their core. A rapist is a rapist. If he’s going to violently force himself on a woman, I don’t see him one day realizing what he’s done is awful and unforgivable. It’s the same reason I can’t believe Michael Vick now realizes that dog fighting is wrong. Prison doesn’t change who you are at the core. It either makes you toe the line so you don’t return, or it tears you down, making you meaner and more volatile.
Knowing the dirty details of the world my characters live in, I have to straddle the line between romance and realism. And maybe I have a disturbed way of looking at romance, but I think there is something very romantic about the deeply flawed individual trying to be better, whether they ever succeed or not. Giving a character someone they feel is worth trying for is key. But in order to understand what trying and being good look like in the biker world, we have to understand the parameters which we’re working within.
One thing that makes writing an outlaw biker romance difficult is that romances typically make the love story between the characters the most important aspect of both character’s worlds. Not only is that implausible in the outlaw biker culture, it disregards the core belief system of these clubs. These clubs, outlaw or not, only truly function when they treat one another as individuals and their club as the most important thing in their everyday life. Whoever you family is, whatever your job is, wherever you’re from, all becomes history and the club becomes your first priority. Outlaw or not, there’s great honor in standing beside someone and knowing you’d take a bullet for him/her and he/she’d take one for you. Not many cultures promote or allow for this kind of loyalty, whereas in outlaw biker culture, it’s mandatory. An outlaw biker protecting his brother (fellow patched club member) over a woman he just met IS being loyal in his world. Ideally, he could save them both. But making the choice to protect his club– whether that be an individual member or the entire unit– shouldn’t be seen as being anything less than loyal.
What makes romance work within the bounds of club life is that, unlike other criminal organizations, bikers are prone to inviting the women in their lives (Old Ladies) into a certain amount of club business. The women who are well-regarded within these organizations receive unparalleled respect and protection from patched members. A woman who achieves this status level within a club is considered family. If somebody picks a fight with a member’s Old Lady, he’s picking a fight with the entire club. It doesn’t matter if you like the guy’s wife/girlfriend or not. It also doesn’t matter if she was wrong. What matters is that you protect your own. Always.
Because of her station within the club, she may be treated very well or very poorly. Just like patched members, women in this lifestyle have to play by a certain set of rules. If she understands her place within the organization and is supportive of the club, she has a much better chance of having a positive experience. However, a woman who goes against the club is subject to similar penalties as that of a member. An in-house betrayal is a serious problem and is dealt with in-house. If her heartthrob bad boy uses her as a punching bag, it’s up to the club to rectify that, if they’re the kind of club that even would rectify an issue like that. And this is where the fiction comes in– I’m not going to glorify a man who beats his woman. I’m not going to glorify a rapist. I’m not going to try to convince anyone that the messed up stuff my characters do is excusable. I’m not in the business of justifying behaviors, I’m just telling a story.
I try to find the balance between what’s realistic and the story I want to tell by conceding certain things. Following the same thoughts as above, if a man cheats on every woman he’s ever been with, then surely he’s going to cheat on our heroine. I’m sorry if romance readers don’t like that, but I don’t see a way around it. So instead of writing a guy who’s cheated, I’m more inclined to write a guy who may be a murderer, a drug dealer, a pimp, but he’s always been faithful when he’s in a relationship. Or, if I must, I may hint at extracurricular activities, but never put it on the page. The part of romance that has always appealed to me is the lowest of the lows. How do these characters relate to one another, how do they interact, even when the absolute worst possible things are going on around them? If my bad-ass alpha male outlaw biker is in a screaming match with his girl, he may say the worst things imaginable to her, but he’s might not storm out and cheat on her. Or if he cheats on her, he may not yell at her. I don’t know that we can say that’s being “good” to her or not, but it’s the concession I make.
[Warning: possible Breaking Bad spoiler]
Being good to people means different things in different situations. In some worlds and situations it means saying please and thank you. In others, it means killing your stalker. And in some worlds, it means showing someone you love them by setting them free. I think what we saw during the Breaking Bad series finale was the ultimate act of redemption. For those who haven’t seen Breaking Bad, you might want to stop now. Though, I’ll try to avoid giving too much away. Walter White is a fifty year-old high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal, in-operable lung cancer. Already stretched to his financial limit by his disabled teenage son, and pregnant stay-at-home wife, Walt reaches his breaking point. At his lowest low, he makes choices which change who he is and the rest of his life with such magnitude that nobody in his path is unaffected by the consequences of his actions.
But what happens in the final episode brings us full circle to who he was in the first episode. Walt’s character doesn’t necessarily change throughout the series, but rather expands. We see him do all of these horrific things over the course of five seasons, and then at the very end, we see him try to right those wrongs. But again, keeping in mind the world he lives in, righting his wrongs is not done with an apology and a handshake. Walt doesn’t have the luxury of adhering to the social laws of mainstream society. But he does manage, in the most realistic way possible, to redeem himself. A man who I had given up on a few episodes prior, had me sniffling and cheering him on in the final moments. To me, that says that almost any character is redeemable.
Just like in outlaw biker circles, there are different rules that must be followed, not only out of respect for those around you, but to simply stay alive. It’s important that readers/viewers not expect an outlaw who lives beyond the bounds of what we consider decency to adhere to the mainstream systems of laws and beliefs. There are some behaviors which I think are universally unforgivable such as any kind of sexual assault. Murder, depending on the world and situation may even be acceptable. But the one characteristic I require of all my male leads is that they be loyal. Where their loyalty lies may be troubling for some. But I strive to always write characters and scenarios that feel genuine, regardless of how sometimes awful we may consider them to be.
You’ve met two of her characters briefly now.  Go check them out.  Ride just received its 99th review on Amazon, so you’ll want come climb on and go for a spin.  Find it on Amazon,Smashwords, and Goodreads.
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NaNoWriMo No More?

Image Everybody knows that November begins the holiday season, and, along with it, seasonal anxiety. Many of us, though we know better, nonetheless  try to live up to some Hollywood-produced expectation of the perfect holiday during which the family sits around a long dinner table groaning with delicious food, chatting happily and in harmony. Everyone gives – and receives – the perfect holiday gift, heralding that the approaching New Year to be the best one ever. That never happens, but each year many of us remain neurotically, delusionally, damagingly hopeful, only to be let down later.

So I’m letting myself off the hook this year.

I’ll still try to find the perfect presents for my loved ones, hope for a cordial gathering at a table or two, and accept that my New Year’s rockin’ Eve will be spent at home, as usual, and I’ll probably be asleep when the magic that will be 2014 officially commences.  But I’m giving myself a break regarding another seasonal nerve fray-er: NaNoWriMo.

If you’re a writer – or striving to be one – the Season of Anxiety begins not at the end of November with Thanksgiving but at the end of October with the advent of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month . it officially  begins November 1st but people start gearing up for it in September.  I used to kind of hate NaNoWriMo.  And not just because I still harbor an adolescent hatred of anything that seems to be imposed on me by unseen collective forces, or because each year, barely three days in, I would already find myself woefully, irretrievably behind.

I’m letting myself off the hook because, frankly, I put enough pressure on myself, and this year,with two deadlines looming, I would have no chance in hell of writing an entire novel in thirty-one days, even if I never slept and called in sick every day or gave my students a month-long “group project” that involved their coming to class but working quietly and not bothering me as I typed away.

I’m letting myself off the hook because I always wanted to be a writer in part because  I liked the idea of being an iconoclast, someone who doesn’t jump on the bandwagon just because it’s rolling through my town. And I know that writers, solitary as they are in their work, need a sense of community to sustain them, and NaNoWriMo provides that for everyone who signs up, all over the globe, and allows us to compare notes and progress and cheer each other on. And  I love this part.  But because I am still, in large part deep inside, that neurotic teenager convinced that everyone else is spending their Saturday nights at some awesome party somewhere while I watch The Love Boat and make fun of it, I don’t need the constant posting and tweeting and general measuring of word counts. Having let go of NaNoWriMo this year, I can truly say to those who signed up that I’m really glad that you’re at the party, and I’ll get there, eventually. I’m just going to be fashionably late, like, say, December-ish, when my semester dies down?


If  there is somebody else out there flagellating themselves when they don’t get the desired number of pages or words written each day, let me be the first to tell you It’s okay. You can still finish your novel, this month, even, and novel writing has always seemed more like a marathon than a sprint to me.  Some novels are just going to take longer than a month to draft and maybe yours is one of them. You’re not a big old loser if you don’t finish until January, or whenever.  What matters is that you get there.

It’s hard to find the time to write. Believe me, I get that.  I’ve been stealing scraps of time for revision so much lately that I keep thinking about William Faulkner at work in the post office in Oxford, Mississippi, closing the customer service window while people were trying to buy stamps because screw them, he had a novel to write. (And a really good one, too). But I am more Stuart Smalley than William Faulkner at heart, Maybe you won’t find enough time to write this month, and that’s okay.  stuartSmalley If NaNoWriMo motivates you to do close that metaphorical window on reality and write write write,  then go for it!  Just don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet your goal. There’s no finish line here, no ribbon to run through that will be packed away on December 1st. It will feel just as good to write those final words a month or two from now.

Maybe I’m a quitter, or the cheerleader for the under-achievers. Maybe I’m the Julie McCoy of the new millennium, Cruise Director of the Lazy Boat. But I don’t think so.  I know I felt a lot less pressure – and a lot more like writing – when I got that NaNoWriMo monkey off my back.  I support all writers who dive in to NaNoWriMo with a gusto that I just can’t afford right now. And for anyone else who is lagging behind in the word count department, take heart. Maybe we’re the tortoises to their hares. We’ll catch up – maybe even triumph – eventually.


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Lizzy Charles’ EFFORTLESS WITH YOU now in paperback!


Summary from Goodreads: 
School is out and Lucy is ready for the perfect summer: lazy days at the pool, invitations to the most exclusive parties, and romantic dates with her hot new boyfriend. That is, until she lands in trouble one too many times and her parents issue the ultimate punishment: a summer job. Suddenly, the summer can’t end fast enough.

To make matters worse, the job is painting houses with Justin, the most popular, egotistical guy in school. Spending all summer with Justin might be other girls’ dreams, but definitely not Lucy’s. After all, Justin is cocky, annoying, and a jerk. So what if he’s the most beautiful jerk Lucy’s ever seen? Or that his grin makes her forget she’s mad at the world? Or that maybe, just maybe, there’s more to Justin than Lucy realizes. Only one thing is certain: it won’t be the summer she wanted, but it might be exactly the one she needs.


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About the Author

When Lizzy Charles isn’t scrambling to raise her two spunky toddlers or caring for premature and sick babies as a neonatal intensive care nurse, she’s in a quiet corner writing or snuggled up with a novel and a few squares of dark chocolate. Black tea keeps her constant and she loves guacamole. She married her high school sweet heart, a heart-melting musician, so it’s no surprise she’s fallen in love with writing contemporary YA romance novels.

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Making Villians and the Nature of Evil

WIP It Wednesday, Halloween 2013

I’ve been thinking about the nature of evil as I work (slooowly) on this WIP. I’ve never written a real “bad guy” before so this is new to me, and like all good liberals, I do not believe in a Manichean universe or a world in which some people are just born evil. If there is anything we can truly call evil, I think, it develops in a person as a result of complex environmental factors. I have to believe that this applies even to the pus-bucket who was just arrested (thankfully) for buying a puppy on Craigslist so that he could torture it.  Only two things in the universe would prevent me from punching that crapbag in the face if I saw him. One: I really need to believe that I am “better” than that. And two: I know that I wouldn’t be able to punch him hard enough. Better to donate to an animal rescue group to help other victims and hope karma eventually takes care of this sphincter muscle masquerading as a human being.


As for my writing, to create this character, a villain with a capital “V”, I have had to think a lot about what makes him so villainous, so I’ve thought a lot about some of the literary and historical characters I have found to be truly evil. I’ve read some great books about evil and psychopathology, like Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test and Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect: Why Good People Turn Evil, both of which I’ve read fairly recently. But I think the first time I became aware of what could be called evil was when I saw a film in in fifth or sixth grade about Hitler and the Holocaust and realized for the first time that human beings can do some truly despicable things to one another. I had nightmares for a week. Then in late adolescence, I was fascinated by the Manson family, because I was a neo-hippie myself and horrified by the idea that young peace-and-love chicks could be persuaded (or coerced) into stabbing people. And as an adult, I was a huge Sopranos fan, in large part because, like many viewers, I was captivated by Tony’s balancing on an icepick-thin point between being an average guy from a messed up childhood home and a truly amoral, unfeeling “monster” capable of hurting anyone. A lot of us must feel this way, because Tony has morphed into a Son of Anarchy, a Blacklist baddie, and a meth cooker who manages to strike fear in viewers’ hearts while wearing tighty whites. Clearly I am not the only person who finds these characters so compelling. Image <-miss you, Mr. Gandolfini 

One thing that really fascinates me about those we could label “evil” is the fact that, as far as I can tell, no evil person in history has ever thought they were evil.  I don’t think Vlad the Impaler sat around his castle, drinking blood out of empty human skulls, and saying to himself, “Yep, I sure am evil.”  I think most “evil” people do what they do because they think they’re on the side of good, or at least because they think they’re right.  I heard an interview on NPR a few weeks ago with Louise Fletcher, who played Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and confirmed my suspicions about villains’ sense of themselves. She seemed genuinely surprised when the interviewer characterized Nurse Ratched as evil, because she always saw the character as someone who was convinced she was doing right in a difficult situation.

Image  <- Louise Fletcher – totally not evil

So for my WIP villain, Count Giancarlo Montoni,  whose name is taken from one of the first Gothic villains ever in Ann Radcliffe’s The Castle of Otranto, I have used the notion of a bad guy who is convinced he is good, or at least that he’s right.  He has powers beyond those mortals possess and believes that this gives him special rights or privileges – or  greater insight into what needs to be done to make the world a better place (as he defines that). He’s also modeled on the devil figure in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, a guy who waltzes through history seeing what mayhem he can instigate, and in that vein, he’s also somewhat like the demons in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, who use their powers to do little more of use than mess with people. (They knock the hat off of a bishop, for example, if I recall correctly). I find fascinating and disturbing the notion that people with power and ability might do very bad things just because they can, and Montoni does this to a great degree. The world is his board game and we’re all just little plastic figures to move about.


In this regard, I hope to make him like the literary character who most scares the crap out of me: Iago, from Shakespeare’s Othello. What always gets me at the end of that play is not the body count, the sheer number of lives that have been cut short or otherwise ruined for Iago’s caprice. It’s that when he’s asked by a thoroughly debased and shattered Othello why he did it, Iago refuses to tell him. And that destroys Othello even more. Because Iago made all of this awful stuff happen to him and Othello will never, ever know why. Iago is not the cartoonish super-villain in a crappy movie who dangles the hero over a shark tank while explaining, in great detail, the twelve points of his plot to destroy the world as well as his complex motivations for doing so. No. Iago is not going to give Othello – or the theater goers – any closure. Like Honey Badger, Iago don’t care. And a person who doesn’t care is truly scary. Because they are capable of anything.

Image <- if i just bummed you out with this post, go immediately to Youtube and look up this guy

So that’s what I’m working with as I try to flesh out my first bad guy. I’m a little bit like Victor Frankenstein, stitching together influences from here and there to make a monster.  Let’s hope things turn out better for me than they did for Herr Doktor.

What I’m reading


what I’m listening to

lou NY albumRIP, Mr. Reed. As my friend Chris said, “The world just got a little less cool” with you gone.

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This one goes out to my new Twitter followers – I said when I hit 400 (a paltry number to some, I know) I would play Truth or Dare or True Confessions, so here we go 

My real-life encounters with ghosts!


I am more than willing to admit that this first one is probably the psychological manifestation of late adolescent grief, but it was powerful and surreal enough to me to remain a vivid memory many years later.  (I can already see my husband smirking skeptically when he reads this, but a promise to Twitter followers is a sacred vow, right? I have to reveal something big and potentially embarrassing.)

When I was sophomore in college, one of my best friends died very suddenly. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this event affected how I looked at the world ever after. Besides the fact that I loved her and felt closer to her than I did to most people, her death forced me to acknowledge something that most young people know on some level but don’t quite believe in their hearts: Even if you’re not old, you can die.  Just like that. The ground is always a little shakier after that realization for any young person; any step feels like it could set off a min i earthquake with infinite shock waves spreading everywhere. Months after her death,  I was in a psychic tailspin at the time and something pretty bad was about to happen to me.  In the midst of this, she came to me twice, when I was half-asleep, half-awake. (Yeah, I know.  The fact that I may or may not have been asleep proves that it’s just a dream and not a ghost and I probably agree with you. However, I will add that there is a school of paranormal thought  – and  ancient wisdom – that argues that ghosts come to us in our sleep to tell us what we need to know.  They catch us when we are least likely to miss or dismiss the message).

In the first encounter, which was truly a dream, I was walking with my then-boyfriend through the common area in the dorm and she was sitting there, , reading a book. I was surprised to see her, naturally, and she looked up and said, “Be. Careful.” And then I woke up, shaken, because, trust me, my friend was not one to shy from danger. Rather than warn me about it, she would have grabbed my hand and jumped headlong into it with me.

I met her again a few weeks later, when I was lying on my bed reading Faulkner.  (I swear I did not fall asleep, but I’ll readily acknowledge that I was a typically overtired student and, much as I love Faulkner, I found Absalom! Absalom! hard going.)  I felt a hand on my bare knee (our dorms were overheated so I wore shorts in the dead of a Pittsburgh winter) and looked up from my book to see her sitting there for about half a second, long enough for me to recognize her and hear her tell me, “It’s going to be okay.” And then she was gone.  Maybe it never happened. Maybe I “saw” her because I needed to see her again. But looking back, I think her words helped.  At the time they may have given me the hope that I didn’t see anywhere else.

The next supernatural encounter came years later,when  I was wide awake — and at work. My workplace at the time happened to be a haunted restaurant, a former estate that had been turned into a place of fine dining and had ghost hunters coming on a somewhat regular basis, though this was long before there were thirty television shows devoted to paranormal exploration.  The people who owned the place and who had worked there for years were pretty unforthcoming about it. They weren’t running around telling everyone about what they’d seen but if you asked, they would calmly and matter-of-factly describe it and leave it to you to believe it or not.  They knew what they had seen.

In my first weeks there, I didn’t think much about the ghost stories at all.  I went about my business, though I found it odd that a few times, as I was in the little waiters’ nook  on the second floor grabbing something out of the little refrigerator, I often turned my back to have the refrigerator slam shut behind me.  This was an old refrigerator, with one of those pull handles, and it was not easy to open or shut. I usually had to put my whole weight into it to do so.


And then one evening, I was at the bottom of the grand staircase, ready to carry a tray upstairs, and on the landing, for about two seconds, materialized a small woman with her hair pulled back in a bun and a long skirt, the very portrait of a Victorian lady. We looked at each other, and I may have taken a step forward, because I was not scared at all; strangely, I was too fascinated, electrified, somehow, to be at all freaked out. But she was gone. I stood there for a few seconds, then went upstairs and delivered the food to my table, and when I came back down I must have looked stunned or shaken because one of the waiters, whose family owned the place, just smiled at me and said, “You saw one, didn’t you?”  I told him what I saw, heart pounding and expecting him to think I was out of my mind, but he just said that the older lady often comes out when there were kids among our dining guests because she likes to see them.

I’ve replayed that moment, brief as it was, many times in my head since then, but I haven’t told many people about it. If I describe her as I saw her, as kind of shadow-y, like the white outline of a person, yet three-dimensional, like a hologram, then I just sound like someone who was raised on Disney World’s Haunted Mansion ride and Princess Leia’s image shorting out as she begged Obi-wan Kenobi for help in the recording stored in R2D2.


And I get that, because now, twenty-plus years later, I don’t quite believe it myself. But I swear it happened, and I am glad that it did. I am glad to have the idea that there is more to this corporeal world than we can see, and that fact seems logical to me (why wouldn’t there be more?)

Feel free to post your scientific or psychological explanations of what I’ve just divulged to you, my dear readers, and I’ll probably agree with you. But if you send me your own true-life ghost stories, I’ll read them with great interest and empathy. Please tell me if something like this has ever happened to you.  That way my husband can smirk at someone else for once :). And he has one of the best smirks going.

Happy Halloween and thanks for following! (The image at the top of the post is a photo of a wall in the Spanish Casa de las Caras, the House of Faces, which supposedly contains ghostly images.

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Writing by the Numbers

Like a lot of writers, I suspect, I have always been averse to numbers. When I was a little kid, I loved Grover and and when my daughter was little she loved Elmo, but I never ever liked the Count.

images-3I can appreciate obsessive compulsive behavior as much as the next person, but I had a visceral reaction, as if someone had run a cheese grater across my skin, to his particular compulsion, counting everything in sight. As I grew older, I became more and more hopeless at math tasks, and when I got to eighth grade and was introduced to imaginary numbers I was truly perplexed. Aren’t all numbers imaginary? I spent the whole class period pondering this and forever missed what I was supposed to have learned about the concept (expect that for some reason the imaginary number as actually a letter, “i”, and it was italicized, which was kind of cool).

As a grownup writer, numbers play a far greater role in my life than I would like. So here are the three (Count them! Three! Ah ah ah!) sets of numbers that could give me fits if I let them:

1. Book sales

My publisher doesn’t share this with me often, and while that can be frustrating, it’s probably a good thing.  I know people who go to daily – even several times a day – or to to watch that sales rank rise and fall the way some people tune in to their televisions everyday to watch that lady drop the ping pong balls and choose the lottery number.  In each case, the number seems, in some way, to determine their fate, and that’s a truly angst-inducing process. I’m not being glib here – book sales determine a writer’s fate in real ways. I just prefer to live in denial, to assume that everything is fine enough and, ideally, spend the time writing instead. I never had the goal of being a bestseller. I just want to be able to keep writing and not feel like I am indulging myself, taking valuable time away from other things I am supposed to be doing (like counting cereal Box Tops collected by the students at my son’s elementary school).


2. Word Counts

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month– is almost here, and it’s a good thing. Every November it motivates countless people to attempt to write one novel in one month, and if even a tenth of those novels are decent first drafts, that’s pretty wonderful. My problem with NaNoWriMo is personal. I hate the way it ratchets up the numbers game, the way writers post in between word sprints their word counts on social media (it’s something some writers do almost daily even outside NaNoWriMo). “210k! Woohoo! Almost at my goal!” I understand that this motivates you and I applaud your progress but I am just petty enough to think, when one of these gazillion word counts taunts me from my Twitter feed, that this person should heed my mom’s advice that no one likes a show off. I know many writers that set a daily word count for themselves and I admire the way it keeps them honest and productive. Word counts just make me want to flagellate myself with a stick as I sit in my kids’ schools’ carlines or at my actual day job thinking “I am not writing.” If I had to attach a number to my (lack of) productivity I would look like this


3. Twitter followers

I never thought that this would be part of my writing life, and not just when I was a kid dreaming of being a writer and Twitter had not been invented yet. I never thought about it until a year ago when my publisher told me I had to get on Twitter. I was uncomfortable at first because what exactly do you tweet twenty times a day anyway? “Drank a cup of tea”? who cares. Lie and say “Drank a cup of tea. Johnny Depp poured the milk”?


That would be the only possible version of that tweet that would interest anybody. But now, a year later, I am tweeting away, though my follower count is miniscule compared to others, some of whom sign up for services to glean followers and swell their numbers. Following the number of followers has become a new unappealing numbers game. The follower count can rise and fall literally second to second, and I have to admit that when I lose five followers in one day I am insecure enough to wonder what I did wrong (possibly nothing – apparently Twitter has limits on how many people you can follow and I don’t always make the cut. Which is okay, because I suspect many of you are robots anyway). So Twitter becomes a site of anxiety or, worse, perhaps, a closed loop of commerce in which we all Tweet posts to our book rankings and reviews and book sales and giveaways in the hopes of raising all the numbers (sales, rankings, word counts, and followers).

Enough already. I’m going to Tweet the link to this post and then get back to clipping Box Tops.

And for all participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck! May the words be with you.


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