Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My Film Debut!

I have to start bragging on myself, so just indulge me. Last weekend, our team (okay, bunch of goofy friends who like to hang out together) participated in the Alamo Drafthouse’s Bloodshots competition. It’s part of the Fantastic Fest, the annual horror/ sci-fi/ anime film festival that the Drafthouse puts on every year.

Bloodshots is a 48 Hour Filmmaking contest, and the Drafthouse swears that every film will be screened on their screens during Fantastic Fest. Each team is given a horror subgenre (we had “haunted house”), a prop (corn) and a weapon (a Ninja star). Each movie has to be between two and eight minutes. We had from 7pm Friday to 7pm Sunday to write, shoot, edit and deliver the film

We went round and round with our brainstorming session, and finally decided to go with a simple idea- a lonely guy moves into a new house and that’s haunted by the ghost of a former occupant. The former occupant just happens to be a “hot chick.” Our regular female lead had to cancel out on being in the movie, so that left us with two options—our female director, Susie and myself.

Susie’s pretty smart- she managed to finagle out of doing the role, and our producer decided that since I’m currently dating the homeowner/ lead actor/ “best actor,” we wanted to “keep that sense of intimacy” and I’d play the ghost/ hot chick. I’ve got to confess that I REALLY wanted the role but since I have a history of freezing up in front of a camera, I was worried I’d ruin the movie.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry. We used very little dialogue (since as a group we’re notorious for not writing scripts) and basically all I needed to do was look creepy and menacing. The “creepy” part was really hard for me because I don’t know how on earth to be creepy. The advice I got was to be emotionless, which I hoped looked good onscreen. Shawn, the victim, just had to look pathetic, and we did that by having him eat corn out of a can (hey- we got the prop in), drinking by himself, and watching Salma Hayek in a bikini.

My favorite part of the movie is the scene where my character decides she has to kill Shawn because he’s on to her. We did a tribute to a Tarantino movie (according to the guys who set up the props- I’ve only seen one Tarantino movie so I’ll just have to believe them). I had to go across the kitchen and pick up several potential weapons, discard them and finally pick the Ninja star as “the weapon.” I got some wonderful direction on how to do it, and I loved doing something so physical. I also made some bloopers when I kept trying to put the large steak knife back in its place and it kept getting stuck in the holder and slowing me down. Shawn finally told me to just put it down and give up on putting it back in its place.

We shot until about 4pm on Saturday, and then we watched the raw footage. We shot about an hour’s worth of stuff, and they worked on Sunday to edit it in iMovie. Shawn watched it Sunday afternoon and called to say it looked really great. He also told me I “stole the show” and “you played menacing really well.”

I get to see it tonight, since he got the camera man/ assistant editor’s copy. I’m really excited about seeing my film debut, so my fingers are crossed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The wonderful world of outlining

My relationship with outlining is a pretty strange one. One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from my high school English teacher when she said that my outlines were really tight and logical.

I remember how shocked she was when I told her that they were so methodical because an outline is completely contrary to my normal inclination.

You see- I’m a closet “Seat of the Pants Writer.”

If I don’t start off with a pretty good road map of where I’m going then I get all flighty and have a mess of verbal hiccups going on all over the place.

The outlines served me well in college and all through graduate school. I’d insert my ideas for my research papers and figure out where I’d put in my citations for my primary and secondary resources. That way, if I had a really “cool” idea, I’d be able to slap it in there without my anal retentive tendencies freaking out.

For some unknown reason, when I turned to writing fiction, I tossed out all the hard won experience of the past thirty years out of the window and decided to write freestyle. Oh, I know why I did that, all right. I was convinced that “creative writers” just opened up a new Word document and all the words flowed exactly where they were supposed to go. It was like magic sprinkled with fairy dust. And none of that dry academic stuff that I had been doing for the previous decade, oh no! I was a “real writer” now.

When I started to write my very first (insert squeal here) manuscript, a historical romance set during the Norman Conquest, I tried the seat of the pants method and failed miserably. Now, I know that for most authors, the first manuscript smells like rabbit poo, but mine was particularly fragrant. I realized about three chapters into the mess that I was in trouble and I needed to switch tactics.

Lucky for me, I got into screenwriting about that time, and I learned the value of storyboarding and note cards, at least for screenplays. Being a smart girl, I realized that the basic methods for story telling applied for novel writing as well, so I wised up and went back to outlining.

Throwing myself into outlining with the fervor of a new convert (can you really call yourself a “convert” if you’re returning to an earlier practice? I don’t think so), I started by organizing the files on my thumb drive into logical folders. That set the tone so I could get the outline of each project going.

Now I can’t even think of starting a project without an outline. I won’t let myself do any “serious typing” without one. After the outline is finished, I pull out the note cards and start playing with expanding the elements on the short outline and fiddling with the order of chapters or scenes (particularly if this is for a subplot). Then I start getting character sketches and making sure I have a strategy before I start the actual writing. No more wandering around for me. I mean business.

That trusty jump drive served me well for months. Any time I had a copy of MS Word or Open Office on a computer, I could add to my word count. Since I had all of the research handy in those folders, I could pull them out and keep going.

Then something happened—I decided that I wanted to go beyond Word and get some software with more bells and whistles deisgned specifically for a writer.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, this idea came about while I was shopping around for a good screenwriting software. I finally decided on
Final Draft. And, oh, it didn’t take long for me to start poking around for something for novelists as well.

After asking around, I settled on Write Way Pro. Christmas came early this weekend when I found both of the boxes in my mailbox. Sunday afternoon, I installed both of them on my computer and started playing around with them.

I’ll be posting some initial reviews of each program later, but I will say now that Write Way has already helped me organize my ideas and get my plotting going even more than I expected. Yes, I’m pleased.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Right back in the saddle

And she’s back in business, folks!

I have finally gotten off of my toosh and back into writing in a big way. The day job (AKA “The Old Ball and Chain”) has been killing me almost nonstop since April.
This past month, I’ve been working on a short (15 pages or less) script for the Reel Women screenwriting competition here in Austin that closes at the end of August.

That script was the first one I'd written, ever. I had so much fun writing it that I caught the bug and ended up ordering Final Draft.

The funny thing is that I got interested in screenwriting as a way to tune up my flat and cliched dialogue that was weighing down my historical. And as it turned out, I like this format as much as (and sometimes more than) novel writing.

Submitting my script got me into a frenzy of writing. Now I have two contemporary stories that I'm working on. My local RWA chapter is holding a retreat in September and I'll be submitting one of those for critique.

On the erotica side, I have a project I'm working on for Ellora's Cave's Quickie Series. This next one (for 2008) will be Jewels of the Nile, and when doing research for my story, I stumbed upon some info that I think will make a great basis for my second screenplay.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Review: Master of Darkness by Susan Sizemore

I have no idea where I picked up my nasty habit of starting a series right in the midst of things, but my back luck struck again with Susan Sizemore’s Master of Darkness. This book is the fourth in her “The Primes” series, centering on vampires but with a bit of shape- shifters thrown in to deepen the universe.

Sometimes, jumping into an establish series isn’t that bad of a deal, as with Maggie Shayne’s “Wings of the Night” series. This time, however, I missed out on some basic bits of world building that Sizemore laid down in the previous three novels. Specifically speaking, her take on the role of tribes and clans. It was easy to figure out that a “Prime” headed a clan, but without having the background, knowing exactly how the tribes and clans differ (and what makes the tribes to undesirable) proved to be a stumbling block.

The mortals in the novel, represented by Eden, are probably the least developed characters in the novel. We get a brief glimpse into her family and work life, but compared to Laurent's family it is a little thin. Several reviewers criticize Sizemore for flat characters, and I think that it's the human characters they're referring to.

The vampires, on the other hand, are better developed, and the subplot concerning Laurent’s parentage contains some of the most emotionally charged portions of the book. Sizemore begins to explore the family dynamic of vampire families and her take on the status of female vampires is an intriguing twist. Hopefully, she will explore the female vampires more in depth in a future addition to the series.
Sizemore has been criticized for having too much sexual elements at the expense of developing other aspects of emotional attraction between her leads. Readers of erotica will find the writing a little tame, and given the mythos of vampires places them as sensual above all else, I don’t think Sizemore made a mistake in emphasizing their sensual qualities about their other emotions.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tackling the backlog

I'm going to try and fight the temptation to re-read the Julie Garwood novels I have on my bookshelf. I've read so many of her novels that I could probably quote some scenes from her books. Besides, I need to start exposing myself to some other voices.

Right now I have Hannah Lowell's Highland Warrior, which is another historical. I grabbed it off of the bookshelf at Barnes and Noble on the recommendation of the woman standing next to me. I'd never done that before but I figured what the heck and went ahead and bought it. As the title suggests, it's set in Scotland, which always scores points for me as a reader.

But given that the last novel that I read was a historical, I think I'm going to change direction even further this time. I have Susan Sizemore's Master of Darkness up next in my queue, and I'll probably start on it this weekend. I'm not even sure when or why I bought this one. I probably thought the back cover blurb sounded intriguing, and for a while I really tried to seek out authors I'd never read before.

I like paranormals, but I've really lost interest in vampires in the past decade. I devoured Maggie Shayne's Born in Twilight from her Twilight Series. Despite this being the second one in the series, I managed to follow the storyline without feeling like I'd missed anything. Reading Born in Twilight started my love of Shayne's emotional depth in creating her characters. I prefered it to her immortal witches series.

Shayne set a pretty high bar, since her take on vampire novels was my first exposure to "vamps." I tried some other authors and I couldn't get into their books as easily as I did with Shayne's. I read as many of her vampire novels as I could in the countryside where I lived at the time.

Soon I developed a preference for witches, due to the first few seasons of Charmed before Prue turned descended from a competent auction house antiques expert into a bumbling photographer. Add in the success of the movie version of Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic, and I'd found some heroines that I could relate to. I admire Hoffman's ability to mix an ethereal set of powers with a sense of impending doom for the men in the Owen sisters' lives.

Before the bad fashion and overblown silliness, Charmed had potential to really explore the sisters' feelings of helplessness when faced with a charge they couldn't help or wondering what their place in the world once they became the Charmed Ones would really be. My favorite scene in the first few seasons of the show featured an apprehensive Piper worrying that being a witch would mean that she'd no longer be welcome in a Christian church. As she sat in the car, she worried that simply walking across the threshold of a Catholic church would lead to her being struck down with the proverbial bolt of lightning. Her relief when she entered and excited the church unscathed was wonderfully touching and obviously still stays with me today.

Well, now it's time to tackle the pile of books by the couch.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why honest criticsm is good

I've decided to put my mideaval historical aside for a few weeks. I hated the language and I saw way too many cliches in my writing. Even worse, it was boring me to to read it. I'd shudder to think what an editor would think of it.

That led me to lurk on and eventually join the forum at Absolute Write. And before I knew it, I'd also joined up at Romance Divas as well. I've spent every night (and every work break I could get) soaking up every last bit of advice people were willing to give me.

The details get fuzzy at this point, but somewhere along the way I decided to start following the never- ending chain of blogs. That led me to
Miss Snark and her infamous crapometer. That alone was worth the time I took off of my manuscript. Not only have I figured out where I went wrong, now I realize how I went wrong and how to fix that drivel.

I'm not looking for an agent at this point. I haven't published my first manuscript yet, but after reading a brutally honest assessment of what works and what doesn't I'm starting to figure out how to avoid an enormous amount of mistakes commen to new writers.
I'm suddenly remembering why I left Blogger last year in favor of Live Journal. Adding hyperlinks on Blogger is an absolute nightmare. I finally gave up and decided to hand code them instead of using the link utility at the top of each post. That didn't work, either, despite the fact that I had the code exactly perfect. I lost two posts when Blogger decided not to recover either of them. Now I'm just annoyed.

I know it can be done. I've seen people do it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Aaaaannnd We're Back

Well, everyone- after an almost yearlong hiatus I'm happy to say that THE BLOG IS BACK!

It's been an incredibly busy year for me. I spent most of it job hunting for a nice steady day job. That meant moving all the way to Austin, the writers' haven of Texas. I'm very glad to be here and I'm excited about settling down for the long run and getting back to writing.

To that end, I've joined the local RWA chapter here and I'm working on a manuscript. Why romance? Well, because it's fun and the industry is very welcoming towards new writers. Truth be told, all of publishing is welcoming towards new writers, but I grew up with romance books and RWA members have a well deserved reputation for being a training ground for learning how to write solid characterization.

What am I writing now? Well, that was the challenge- settling down and choosing something to write. I am working now on an erotic romance (cover the kiddies' eyes), and I keep kicking around an idea of a paranormal romance.

When I first started writing romance, I naturally gravitated towards historical since I'm trained as a historian. But I think I'm burned out on history, so that manuscript has been put on hold so I can work on genres that interest me more.

I'm interested in writing a sci-fi fantasy novel, and given my interests there will probably be some strong romantic elements in it as well. Oh, and as if I weren't busy enough, I'm really tempted to try my hand and screenwriting. I mean, it is Austin after all....