Flower to Genre Matching Game!

The word blossom brings to mind a rosebud slowly unfurling, one tender petal at a time, until it turns to face the sun as a glorious, fragrant bloom. Of course, not all blooms are roses. The top ten ugly plants, according to the Daily Telegraph, include “the stinky squid” (first discovered in Pittsburgh), the corpse flower, the climbing onion (it looks like an elongated asparagus), plus a lot of things I’ve planted.

There is a place in the world for each of these blooms, maybe not an equal number of fans, but they nevertheless belong somewhere. Books are the same. Not every manuscript blooms into a lush pink flower, nor is it meant to. Because I feel like it, I’m going to match each genre to a kind of flower. Feel free to dispute my choices in the comments. I expect a lively debate. Without further adieu, here is my list…

Romance: A rose, planted on the property line between a scatter-brained interior designer and a Navy SEAL.

Women’s fiction: The lily, less obvious than the rose, and better for classy book covers.

Historical: Any dried arrangement.

Young adult: A prom corsage (any kind of flower), blood spattered, if it a mystery.

Paranormal: I don’t know, do vampires have gardens?

Horror: A corpse flower, up to fifty-four feet tall and stinking of death.

Hard boiled mystery: Self-seeding anything in the ditch outside the home of a divorced, alcoholic investigator.

Cozy Mystery: Anything on the garden tour. Caveat: the blooms must be fertilized by a recently planted corpse. I imagine the flowers will eventually end up in an evidence locker where a botany-minded investigator will test the petals for traces of poison.

Thriller: A vase of something that has been knocked on the floor by a stray bullet. Think exploded glass and scattered flowers. No one has time to pick them up.

Literary Fiction: Any type of flower can be literary, but unlike genre flowers, they are not available for purchase at the grocery store and you should probably use Latin names.

The unpublished: As writers, we all have our little menegaries of stray manuscripts, the ones we haven’t finished, the ones that never find a home. These are my favorite blooms. I’m a collector. If I had to represent these manuscripts in flower form, I’d say they are the ones in Morticia Addams’s conservatory. I love the scene when she lovingly mists all of her dead flowers. That’s me and all of my homeless manuscripts.  If I were savvier I could probably find a gif.

On that note, here’s a picture of me revising my latest manuscript. I’ve been busy snipping away for the last month.

morticia

On bad days, it looks more like this:

little shop

I always wear tulle while writing.

Before I go back to deleting the life out of my manuscript, I have a book recommendation for flower lovers: Lauren Willig’s The Secret History of the Pink Carnation series. It has mystery (the secret identity of a famous spy), history, and lots of highbrow flirtation. For the purposes of this month’s discussion, it has some very pretty flowers on the cover.

Until next time,

Sam

An ill-timed bloom

Not gonna lie — I’ve been struggling with my work/life balance in that the scales are decidedly tipped toward child-rearing and less so toward writing. I know I’ve mentioned this many times, and I apologize for the repetition, but I have three kids. My youngest just turned two years old. She’s too young for preschool but too old to sleep all day. And she still sleeps in my bed, making for weak REM sleep. She’s also active, as most toddlers are, and is no longer content with hanging out in the house while Mommy writes. She wants to be outside with her big brothers and since she can’t do that alone, I must go with. Fair enough. Except, I’ve become resentful.

That’s right. I’m resentful of my kids zapping, not just my writing time, but my ability to focus. I used to be able to squeeze in adequate writing in during a nap. But naps lately are not consistent. And God forbid she falls asleep in the car on an errand — that ill-timed snooze means she won’t be sleepy later.

But I’m getting away from the point, which is I’ve been melancholy about my author role lately. In order to finish something, I’ve been drafting like a mad woman, racking up a 1,000 to 2,000 words a session in order to slap something on the friggin’ page. It’s garbage and nothing I would show anyone. I know I can always fix it in revisions. That’s just how I work. But I miss the joy of drafting and discovering the story.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading and re-reading a beloved series. And then I got inspired. I had an idea to write a mystery set in an all-boys boarding school. This inspiration bloomed into excitement and a sudden desire to get back to work. Except, my mind is humming with this new idea and not focusing on the current work-in-progress, a sequel to my recent release. That sequel is half-drafted and due to my editor in July. It really has to take priority. But *whine* I really want to work on this new book idea. Me and shiny objects. Anyway, I’ve decided to strike while I’m hyper focused (a rarity) and work on the story until my self-esteem, and my mood, improves. Then I’ll get back to working on my other book in time to submit it to my editor. In theory. Summer is around the corner and my boys will be out of school soon.

Or I can just cut myself, and my kids, some slack. I don’t know who I’m in a race against.

Guest Post: Nancy Cole Silverman

The Fairer Sex … who are we kidding?

Throughout history, women have often been referred to as the fairer sex. Perhaps because, more often than not, they were physically smaller and more delicate than their male counterpart. But fairer? At least, as it applies to the fairness of actions between the sexes and particularly women – I think not. If anything, I believe women are far more mysterious than their male counterparts and definitely more duplicitous, which is why I find writing about a female protagonist so much fun.

Growing up I was a tomboy. I loved to ride bikes, climb trees and play whatever games the boys were playing. And when I was a very little girl, WITHOUT A DOUBT front SMno more than three or four, I once got punched in the chin because I tried to take a toy gun from a little boy. I doubt I deserved it, but that’s how arguments between toddlers are often solved. He ended up going home and I ended up going to the emergency room for stitches.

I remember when my father came home, my mother told him what happened and he had one piece of advice for me. If I’d been a boy, I suspect he would have told me to duck. But, being as I was a girl, he said, “Nancy, girls shouldn’t fight with boys. They need to out-smart them.”

Out-smart them?

Somehow that statement stuck with me all my life, and while I have to admit that I like reading about strong female protagonists, I find those that try to flatten their opponents in hand-to-hand combat a bit disturbing, unbelievable and not the best role model for young women. For the most part, I think physical combat, for women anyway, is a last-ditch effort. And based upon the advice dear old dad gave me, something I try never to do.

So when I sat down to write the Carol Childs Mysteries, I chose to write about a glib female reporter who believed brains beats brawn and that a microphone was more powerful than a forty-five.

Perhaps it is because of my former career in news talk radio that I saw firsthand exactly how valuable those particular traits could be.

Back 1985, serial murderer and rapist, Richard Ramirez, was terrorizing southern California neighborhoods with a spree of attacks, that earned him the name The Night Stalker. For months, the news had been carrying stories about a twenty-year-old college student who would later be convicted of killing eleven people. But when neighbors caught the serial killer, as he tried to steal two cars and assault a woman, it was because they knew who he was and banded together, like an avenging posse, overpowering him until the police could come and arrest him. I remember being in the newsroom at the time when someone called in with news of his apprehension and we carried live.

I’ve tried to use situations like this in my books. In my latest book, Without A Doubt, Carol Childs finds herself in the middle of jewelry store heist while on assignment to cover another totally unrelated story. Her coverage of the robbery attracts the attention of the perpetrator who befriends her on the air, calling in to discuss the crime and praise her for her coverage. It’s a spooky situation that leads to a string of burglaries, murder and an intensive investigation that pits Carol against those she works with and the ties of her trusted companion and boyfriend, FBI agent, Eric Langdon.

Stay Tuned for more.

What situations in your life have influenced your decisions in creating characters for the page?

***

Nancy Cole Silverman credits her twenty-five years in news and talk radio for helping her to develop an ear for storytelling. But it wasn’t until after she retired that she was able to write fiction full-time. Much of what Silverman writes about is pulled from events that were reported on from inside some of Los Angeles’ busiest newsrooms where she spent the bulk of her career. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Bruce, and two standard poodles.

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The blossoming of a career

I’m writing this post on Tuesday, because most of Thursday will find me on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, on my way to the Pennwriter’s conference in Lancaster. I had hoped to be able to share some news. And by the time this post goes live, who knows – I might be able to. But rather than try and come up with something totally different (cue Monty Python), I will try and fit what I was going to write to what I can do today.

Update: I can share. I’m thrilled that my story, “Three Rivers Voodoo,” will be part of this year’s Bouchercon anthology!

We’ve talked about stories as seeds. But a writing career is like a seed, too. we start with this idea of “Hey, maybe I’ll write a book. I’ve always wanted to. How hard can it be?”

I’ll wait while all the writers out there laugh hysterically.

Okay, moving on.

Those first stories can be rather haphazard. We throw things – words – around hoping one of them will stick and our career will shoot up like a sunflower: tall, proud, and bold.

Except, it doesn’t usually happen that way.

Instead, we find that there is a ton of stuff we don’t know: about writing, submitting, agents, publishing, marketing, etc., etc., etc. And just as that career looks like it’s going to blossom, it…doesn’t.

But if we are serious, we try again. Write more stories. Novels, short fiction, whatever. Maybe we try sending short fiction to magazines. Anthologies. We rack up more rejections. We feel that the career will never bloom. We eat chocolate, drink wine, moan with our writer friends.

And then we try again. And one day – one day – there’s bud. A definite bud. And it opens. It might be small. But it’s the first, a hint that maybe there are more to come. Immature buds, the promise of good things. Maybe they’ll open. Maybe they won’t. But it turns out that a “career” isn’t a bud – it’s a bush. And like most bushes, it takes time to get a whole crop of mature blossoms.

It takes time. It takes patience. And it takes courage – courage to keep on writing, keep on nurturing, hoping that bud will burst forth. Peg Brantley shared this quote yesterday. I think it’s just as appropriate today.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

Yes.

Mary Sutton | @mary_sutton73

On Being Vulnerable

Have you ever had the dream where you’re naked in a public place? You’re lost and late and don’t have a stitch of clothing on?

Maybe it’s just me.

If you’re still reading, someone once said when your book is finally published, and strangers are reading your words, it’s like standing on a busy street corner butt naked (or buck naked, if you prefer). I couldn’t agree more. Whether it’s your first book or your fiftieth, you make yourself vulnerable.

Not everyone is going to like your story. Not everyone is going to like your style. There are people out there who don’t like chocolate or bacon. Those are the people who don’t like my stories. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Thinking about EXPOSURE and VULNERABILITY is enough to make anyone want to hold onto the bud-stage as long as possible. One more edit. One more read-through. One more month.

Finally there’s the moment when you know it’s time to let go. It’s time to publicly agree with your editor and/or publisher that everything that can be done has been done. Secretly, you know there’s more to do, that if you tweak it here in this chapter or there in that scene, it’ll be more “perfect.”

Your breathing is labored. Your heartbeat is like a kettle drum. You have a flash of Sally Field saying “You like me! You really like me!” juxtaposed with Marlon Brando declining his Oscar on some weird principle which I’ve forgotten. (Thank goodness authors are much more unknown, ya know?)

Suddenly your book is “out there.” You can’t hold the bud back any longer, it’s blossomed. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Except breathe.

And hope there are a lot of chocolate-lovers and bacon-lovers in the world.

 

It’s all better with friends.

 

 

Flower Gardens

Spring is my favorite time of the year. As a gardener, I relish removing the dead debris from the previous year and making room for new growth. It’s inspiring to see those tiny yet determined sprouts force their way into the world. In fact, that bright, fresh green of new blossoms is probably my favorite color.

Whenever I work in my backyard—weeding (aka, reestablishing battle lines), pruning, watering, fertilizing—I think of writing. There are so many analogies, but the one that sticks with me has to do with flower gardens.

Alliums in the rain.
Alliums in the rain.

I so admire flower gardens!

You know a truly special one when you see it: flowers purposefully planted by increasing height and shape in complementary hues, every single one thriving, and something interesting blooming throughout the entire season.

These gardens are a lifetime pursuit. They take decades to grow, nurture, and turn into splendid colorful scenes that are reminiscent of a Monet painting. They require patience, trying different flower types, careful care, and inevitably trial and error (irises are my Achilles’ heel, despite supposedly being one of the easiest flowers to grow).

alyssum
Highlighter-yellow alyssum.

I’ve been working on establishing a flower garden in my backyard ever since my husband and I moved into our first home 5 years ago, and there’s always something new to learn.

Along the way there are beautiful blossoms to admire—the golden yellow of alyssum, sweet fragrance of lilacs, cool spherical shape of alliums, and tight-knit community of grape hyacinths. But it’s bringing them all together that’s the hard part.

Likewise, writing is a craft that takes a lifetime. It’s only with patience, hard work, continual learning, and perseverance that we can thrive. We must foster new skills while not forgetting old ones, branch out, plant something different where experimental flowers didn’t take, and never lose sight of our vision.

And you know that amazing book you recently read that flowed so seamlessly? It didn’t burst forth into the world as is. It took years of hard work behind the scenes to get to that point.

Do you have a flower garden? What does it make you think of?

A Blossoming Teenager = Inspiration

May is a busy month in our family, as we celebrate Mother’s Day, as well as many birthdays. It’s also close to the end of the school year for our daughter (school usually ends the first week of June, mid-week), so the chaos of final school projects/field trips/recitals/etc. hits with full force.

Saturday our daughter turned 13. Yes, she’s officially a teenager (although she’s been practicing for a while). My parent joke for the last six months has been “Who will I wake up this morning–sweet angel girl or spawn of Satan?” In all seriousness, this kid rocks (I’m a little biased, perhaps). She tough and sweet and vibrant and smart.

But, she’s tween just turned teen. For those who haven’t experienced this joy, let me explain. You see, this is when the hormones begin their journey through that growing brain and body in earnest. The hormones have teased, peeked, hidden, and generally been lurking for a while, but all of sudden you realize that the hormone flood gates have opened, and we’d all best hold on tight to survive the ride.

There’s a lot of fun that comes with this age. Some days, daughter and I have these conversations that are just deeper, richer, and more satisfying then I can describe. Some days she bellows from the second floor because she can’t find her sock. (I’m not kidding.) She’ll come to snuggle, and I realize just how much her physical self is changing, how far from the little girl she’s grown. She’ll stand beside me, stretching to be taller (I’ve got a last 32nd of an inch advantage that I’m clinging to by good posture alone, I think), or she’ll give me this look, and I feel like there’s a 1,000 year old soul staring out from her eyes.

Then she stomps out of the room when we have the audacity to ask her to feed the dog, she can’t remember where she left her homework assignment, and she questions the importance of actually wearing a different shirt each day of the weekend. It’s a wild ride, for sure.

While I’m (mostly) enjoying this journey as a parent, I’m definitely enjoying it as a writer. Daughter’s growing maturity, constant change, and breadth of emotion remind me that my characters have to experience these things, too. If they’re flat, one-dimensional, and unchanging, they’ll be very, very boring. That would be bad for readers, and it’s not much fun for the writer either. So, when I’m at my wit’s end, I find myself jotting notes in my notebook, trying to capture the ebbs and flows, the peaks and valleys of her experience as a tween to teenager. Remembering, capturing the breadth of emotions, responses, and frustrations adds to much to my writing (and my writing keeps me sane, see how it all comes together!?). My characters will be fuller and more interesting, thanks in large part to our blossoming teenager.

But, let’s not tell her that just yet, okay?