- A Kitty in the Henhouse
- Chicken Scratches and Other Writing Tips
- Eye Candy
- Happenings at the Henhouse
- Music of the Coop
- Pop Culture
- Squawk Authors: Latest and Greatest Books
- Squawk Friends
- Squawk Interactive: Captions, polls, etc
- Squawk's Favorite Books
- Stranger Than Fiction (Real Life)
- Teresa Reveals the CONFESSIONS OF A TRUE ROMANTIC
- CHRISTINA DODD HAS A TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY
- Christina Dodd Exposes the Glamour of Booktour
- Christina Dodd Treats You to an Extra Excerpt of IN BED WITH THE DUKE!
- GIRLFRIENDS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN Contest!
- Connie Brockway Posts Incriminating New Video
- SPOIL ME! BY CELEBRATING THE GOLDEN SEASON’S PUB DATE, TODAY!
- Teresa Says It Loud and Says It Proud: I WRITE ROMANCE NOVELS!!!
- CHRISTINA DODD SAYS “IT’S CHRISTMAS! DUCK!”
- Teresa Needs Your Help to Choose the SEXIEST MAN DEAD!
Okay, I have a confession to make. My name is Teresa Medeiros and I’m too stupid to live. The first day we moved into our new house, I ran the car into the garage, effectively wrecking both of them. After listening to the song LIFE IN THE FAST LANE by the Eagles at least 10 million times since the 70’s, I just figured out the line that says, “There were lines on the mirror” is talking about cocaine, not wrinkles. I once risked life and limb (and my beloved Jag) to drive to Starbuck’s during a terrible thunderstorm/tornado watch because I couldn’t bear to live another moment without a Mocha Lite Frapuccino. So I consider it a personal affront when readers say that they can’t stand heroines who are too stupid to live. Just go ahead and kill me now, why don’t you? (For other examples of my stupidity, you may contact me and a comprehensive list will be provided to you.)
But seriously, I hate almost any black and white rules that put limits on my fiction, either writing it or reading it. I want to write about all sorts of characters and my very favorites are characters who make mistakes and learn from them. One of my favorite themes is to follow a girl as she makes the journey toward womanhood. And you know what--girls often do foolish, impulsive things, especially in pursuit of love. Things like trying to abduct a highwayman like Pamela in SOME LIKE IT WILD or climbing out of a window in a ballgown like Lottie in ONE NIGHT OF SCANDAL. Fellow romance author Jill Barnett once said to me, “I love to write about people who make grand and glorious mistakes and who suffer terribly for those mistakes and who are better people for it by the end of the book.” Isn’t character growth the very definition of well-written fiction? So many things that we used to simply call “a plot” are now dissected mercilessly on the internet as “characters that are TSTL” or “Big Misunderstandings” or “Mary Jane heroines”. If we avoid all of these things, then eventually we won’t have anything to write about except perfect (and boring) characters and the romance genre will grow even narrower in scope as a consequence.
Every one of us has suffered through that moment in the horror movie when the heroine decides to creep down into the cellar all by herself with only a flashlight for a weapon to investigate the mysterious noise. I may shout, “Don’t do that, you idiot!” but it doesn’t usually make me stop watching the movie. (And while we’re on the subject of flashlights, how come those people on CSI don’t ever just turn on the freaking lights?!?!?!)
I would also like to argue that there are all different kinds of smarts in this world. In my book SHADOWS AND LACE, when Gareth asks Rowena how long it’s been since she’s eaten, she says, “Four days” and holds up three fingers. Is she stupid? No, just uneducated. I once had a fascinating conversation with another writer about Jed Clampett of THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES. Was he stupid? Nope, he was innocent. There’s a distinct difference. Was Lucy Ricardo stupid because she managed to get herself into all of those messes? Nope, she was funny.
I’m a very open-minded reader. Give me characters I can care about and I’ll let them get away with murder (sometimes literally). I only have one hard and fast rule--the hero must never, EVER kick a kitten.
This blog was first published on Sunday, March 19, 2006. Since then, I’ve published another three books, but I’m still pretty pleased with this list.
Yes, it’s true. In March 1991, my first book, CANDLE IN THE WINDOW, was published. CANDLE IN THE WINDOW won Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart and RITA awards and has never been out of print. Around my house, we call it THE BOOK THAT WILL NOT DIE. I have Some Thoughts About Publishing I wish to share. Warning — this is Serious. (Christina waits for the dust from the stampede to settle, looks around at the empty room, and shows the qualities that have helped her survive so long —an immense ego and a willingness to talk into a vacuum.)
MY TOP TEN POINTS OF WISDOM
10. After ten years in the business, an author has A Well Established Career. After fifteen, an author is an Expert, a Venerable Institution … a Crone. Pardon me while I go to pluck the stiff white hairs off the chin of my current manuscript.
9. From my vantage point, everyone in publishing is doing better than I am. From everyone else’s vantage point, I’m doing better than they are. The truth is somewhere in between — and an author who’s published is not going to get any sympathy at all from an unpublished author who’s written for ten years, finished three manuscripts and has twenty-five rejection letters. Believe me. I know. I was that author.
8. Editors are sometimes right.
7. How well an autographing goes is not an indicator of how well your career is going. Thank God.
6. I’ve published twenty-nine full-length novels and contributed six stories to anthologies. Some books are hard to write. Some books are easy. Some books are beloved by many. Some books are reviled by the vile. And as the author I never have an idea which books will be my most popular. Never. I have to give up trying. Soon.
5. Some people write mean reviews. I don’t read them.
4. Some readers just don’t like my writing. That’s okay, everyone has their right to their own taste. As long as they don’t write mean reviews about my books.
3. Some readers love my books. Some of them write good reviews. Some of them write me heartfelt letters of appreciation. Some of them come to meet me and say wonderful things, sometimes with tears in their eyes. Some of them buy my books and never let me know. God bless them every one.
2. I can’t remember my characters’ names, and I live with them day and night for months while I write their books. So I apologize in advance, but I’m hopeless and I’m never going to remember your name, either.
1. I am never going to understand what people mean when they say I write funny books. I write serious, meaningful, emotional, sexy books that somehow get translated into funny.
AND THE NUMBER ONE POINT OF WISDOM CHRISTINA DODD HAS TO SHARE IS:
1. When a Writer/Crone lies about having ten points to make but there are actually more, it’s not a lie. It’s, “Fiction.”
MORE NUMBER ONE POINTS:
1. Nine out of ten people in the U. S. want to write a book. One out of that nine thinks s/he’ll do it “when s/he has a free weekend.” In many states, it’s a misdemeanor to kill this person.
1. Publishing is divided into two distinct occupations — Writing Books and Being an Author. Writing Books consists of being alone for months on end, creating imaginary people who converse, face challenges, and make love. Being an Author consists of introducing yourself to sometimes incredulous booksellers, talking to total strangers as they enter Wal-mart in the hopes of selling them a book, and interacting with publishers and editors in a manner that will convince them you’re sane enough to write twenty-nine more books. This is why all authors are schizophrenic.
1. It’s well worth pondering that most people don’t have a cool job that consists of being alone for months on end while creating imaginary people who converse, face challenges, and make love. It’s worth the schizophrenia.
1. The more you write, the faster you write, the more skilled you become.
1. Spend every last dime of your first advance taking your family to Disneyworld. Especially if you’re poor. It’s an event worth celebrating.
1. The best thing a writer can have if she wants to be successful is a mother who believes she’s wonderful. A husband who believes she’s wonderful and supports her for ten years while she tries to get published helps, too. Failing those things, the most important thing an author can have is an absolutely brutish belief in herself and her talent, and she can never ever allow the facts to change that faith.
THE NUMBER ONE NUMBER ONE POINT:
1. The Girl Scouts have a song with the lyrics that go, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” The Girl Scouts know a lot about publishing. And people. And my friends.
Thank you for a great fifteen years.
It’s true! My prize today is an advanced reading copy of SCENT OF DARKNESS, the first book in my new paranormal series Darkness Chosen. Read an excerpt on my website. Then stay tuned for another classic blog containing more Christina Dodd wisdom … wait. What am I saying? I pretty much blurted out all the wisdom I know with this blog. Okay … stay tuned for another classic blog recounting one of the most dreadful experiences in my life as an author … The Barefoot Booktour.
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The most common question asked an author has got to be, “What is your process? How do you *work*?” Every time I’ve been asked this question I’ve come up with a different answer because I don’t have a process. And ugly as I know it to be, sometimes I just say stuff ‘cause it sounds good. Oh, don’t look at me like that. I’m not this way by choice.
I go to workshops by famous authors, I listen, I nod, I agree and I leave convinced that if I were to just follow the pearl strewn path to success the famous author has kindly dropped to lead me and others like me to the promised land of authorial efficiency, I would be a happier and, more importantly, more productive. Everything makes sense in a workshop or an interview or, hopefully, a blog. There’s a beginning, middle and end. There’s a problem and a solution, there’s a question and an answer. But writing isn’t like that. At least not for me. It’s a mess. An ugly Petri dish experiment run amuck where a damp and fetid imagination (mine) is seeded with a few kernels of inspiration (sometimes mine) which I then spend months attempting to colonize into a good Roquefort blue. See what I mean? Even simple analogies run away screaming.
I have friends who actually do have a process. They do not understand me and I do not understand them. They have been known to call me up and when apprised of how I have spent my day, hang up in disgust. You know who you are. I think this is unfair. Do you think I want to be process-less? Do you think I want a Petri dish imagination? Do you think it’s pleasant to anticipate Roquefort and end up with penicillin? It’s not. It’s frustrating, inefficient and downright embarrassing. But it’s also the truth and in the future if you should ever hear me expound upon my process in an interview or article, be advised that that I am without a doubt a> talking about the process that worked for that single book b> talking about someone else’s process that sounded really good c> outright lying d> expressing a hope because I, Connie Brockway, have no reliable, recognizable, habitual process (but neither does, Terri, so there! And Christina had one but she packed it up when she moved and hasn’t unloaded yet. And Liz’s process is on hiatus and Eloisa’s process is Italian and hasn’t learned to speak English yet and Lisa’s is still catching up on its sleep after being on tour.)
How about the rest of you? Whether in writing or some other area of your life, do you have a fall back stance? Do you have a routine you can count on to get you from point a to b? Tell me what it is, or isn’t.
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So who else is watching “Dancing with the Stars” this go-round? I confess I’ve been a ballroom dance geek since I was a kid (my mom and dad used to go dancing at the American Legion Post twice a month), and for those of us who have always considered it hip and happenin’, it’s nice to see the art form becoming more appreciated by the mainstream. This season is looking to be nicely competitive, with a handful of couples already showing enormous talent. (Laila Ali, anyone? Apolo Ohno?)
But as I was watching it last night, I realized there are a number of things we writers can learn from watching ballroom dancers:
1) Technique isn’t enough. Even if you master the steps perfectly (and even if you master writing mechanics perfectly), you still have to put passion and personality into your performance. Watching technically perfect but passionless dancing is like watching traffic go by.
2) Passion and personality aren’t enough. On the other hand, even if you have a lot of enthusiasm for what you’re doing, and even if you’re adorable, if you can’t learn the basic steps, your performance is going to make people wince.
3) Dancing is HARD WORK. So is writing. And both take a lot of out of you, often to the point where you’re exhausted. The trick is to make it look easy and effortless, even when you’re in pain from trying to perfect your performance.
4) You have to have fun, or else what’s the point? The best dancers last night were the ones who smiled and laughed as they were dancing, the ones who were obviously enjoying themselves. If you love what you’re doing, the aforementioned passion and enthusiasm come naturally. Not to mention, it balances the hard work nicely.
5) A lot can be overcome by looking good. And by that, I don’t mean you have to be thin and tan, with calves like a goddess and breasts that defy gravity. What I mean is, looking and acting polished and professional might make the difference between your score and the score of a competitor.
Like dancing, writing is an art form, and it ain’t easy. Some have a natural gift, while others have to work harder to achieve the same results. And some, unfortunately, will just never get it. But those who love it, and work for it, can often achieve MAGIC. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a mambo...I mean, manuscript..that I need to work on.
Who else is loving “Dancing with the Stars?” Who are your favorite couples? What do you think it’s worth working hard for to achieve?
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THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF WRITING SEX. Heh, heh. See? You already know the first difficulty in writing a sex scene. When you’re writing sex, the chances that you’re going to say something inadvertently funny are huge. Every time I write a sentence like, He slid his woody into her hoo-haw, I realize some words and combinations of words are out. Because we read romance, not porn, romance writers are balancing on a very thin tightrope. Writers have to write a scene that makes the reader fall in love and lust without grossing her out or making her giggle.
That’s not easy. A lot of words for body parts are crude — just ask any guy what he calls his penis and without drawing a breath, he’ll come up with a dozen different terms, including his pet name for his favorite pet. Ask a woman what she calls her body parts and she’ll faint or stammer or mumble. Think about it. Write a love scene from a man’s point of view, and the scene can be blunter, more direct, more physical, more concerned with how the body parts react and how they fit together. Write a love scene from a woman’s point of view, and it must be softer, more romantic, with sweet scents and faint moans — and we can never, ever use the word “probe” because it reminds all women of the gynecologist.
Romance writers write the same thing over and over and over, the same old motions, the same old positions, the same old man and woman doing the same old dance since the beginning of time. What keeps us — me — going at it? (So to speak.)
You already know.
I write fantasies.
I take a rich, powerful man who wants one woman and one woman only — forever. And I give him a heroine who is everything I would like to be.
Then I give those people a conflict that is impossible to overcome.
Those characters are the two most important elements of a great sex scene. Without two people who are irresistibly drawn to each other, yet can never be together, there’s no sexual tension, and without sexual tension — who cares if they get together?
Once I’ve got sexual tension, it’s not a question of how soon should I write the sex scene. It’s how do I keep them out of bed?
In TONGUE IN CHIC, I truly did write Romeo and Juliet as played by Dharma and Greg. Meadow and Devlin’s families have been feuding for centuries. She’s the daughter of hippie artists. He’s the son of Southern aristocrats. When he catches her breaking into his house, she falls and hits her head, then tells him she can’t remember why she’s there because she has amnesia. So he says, “Darling, I know you don’t remember, but you’re my wife.”
I’ve got two people lying to each other. They each know the other is lying. Neither one knows the other’s ulterior motives. But the reader knows — Meadow desperately needs to steal something of great value from Devlin, and Devlin wants to use Meadow for revenge against … well, never mind, I’ve already said too much. There’s no way these two can possibly get together, and at the same time, he gives her the stability she needs while she rescues a serious, dangerous man from the darkness that threatens to envelope him.
They’re made for each other. They can’t have each other.
So now what to do with the love scenes? Preplanned or spontaneous? Where? Long or short? (Scenes — geeze.) And what’s the point of all this thrashing around?
When I started TONGUE IN CHIC, I had a good synopsis and the book was blocked out, which means I had a pretty good idea where the sex scenes would be. But good sex is like, um, good sex. Sometimes it’s planned and sometimes it’s spontaneous, like when Meadow seized the moment and I was typing, His purple-headed love warrior met her clinging velvet tunnel, and thinking, “Wow, I didn’t intend this!” Over the years what I’ve learned that if I’m in the mood to write a love scene, I should seize the moment and write love scenes as they come to me. (More inadvertant humor.)
I always use the setting of the book — in TONGUE IN CHIC, Devlin is developing an old Southern mansion into a boutique hotel (HGTV.) Think big storage closets. Attics! Stairways! And — original thought — there are beds in hotels. Lots of them. Not to mention extensive gardens. Meadow loves to dance naked in the moonlight. What do you think is going to happen?
I write long scenes to build desire slowly. With Meadow and Devlin, and with most of my heroes and heroines, they need those long moments the first time they explore each other. My main goal for the reader is to share in their wonder at each tender touch and each indrawn breath, to make the reader feel and breathe with them. It’s that sense of first-time magic I want to impart.
I write short scenes that are so intense they burn as quickly as flash fire — for me, those usually come later in the book, and usually are fueled by great emotions — fear that they’re going to die or anger at each other or an imminent and permanent separation.
The things Meadow and Devlin say or don’t say during the sex scenes reveals so much about them — the love they feel for each other, the reasons they’re afraid to admit it, even to themselves, and the dark depths hidden in their souls. I work to build into their scenes all their desperation and yearning because, after all, sex is love made tangible.
A lot of the commenters under my Tuesday blog said they don’t read sex scenes. They skim them or skip them. But some of us still read them, and some of us still write them with a great deal of pleasure. What single book have you read that has the best love scenes? (No squawk authors, please.) Tell us about the ones that made you fan yourself or wake up your bedmate or go out and buy every single one of an author’s backlist. And, for bonus points ... can you put your finger on (stop that giggling right now!) on why those particular scenes worked for you?
Christina’s website and another peek at Meadow and Devlin
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“Do you smoke after sex?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never looked.”
An old joke, but one that pretty much sums it up for most of us. Sex is fun. Reading about sex is fun. Therefore, writing sex is fun. Right?
Well … not always, and not for everybody. When a new writer sidles up to me to ask a question in a low tone, I can almost tell you what it’s going to be. “How did you write your first sex scene? I tried and I didn’t know what words to use, and it was embarrassing, and I kept thinking, ‘What if my mother reads this?’ Help me.”
I do remember the first time I wrote sex. I was struggling my way through the opening chapters of my very first manuscript, a hundred chapter, overblown, throw-everything-in-the-plot, I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-historical. In between having a smallpox epidemic, an earthquake which devastated an entire city, and oppressed native Americans struggling to be free, my hero (a guilt-ridden Spanish landowning Guatemalan aristocrat) catches the heroine (an innocent Irish American pretending to be a man so she could be a doctor) bathing under a waterfall. (I know what you’re thinking — you’re thinking: Christina Dodd will never get published, or — I feel better about my own manuscript already, or — hey, I’d read that story! My replies: That shows what you know — I live to make you feel better about your manuscript, and — no way, I’m never letting anyone read it.)
What was I talking about?
Oh, the first time I wrote sex. I was struggling through the opening chapters of my first book, my baby daughter went down for a nap, and so did I. I was thinking about my hero, who was hot, and my heroine, who was innocent, and I started planning her deflowering.
What can I say? It was a lot more fun than the smallpox epidemic.
So I’m thinking, he’s mad because he’s discovered she’s a girl and she’s defiant because she’s a fiery beauty, and pretty soon they’re rolling around on the ground, and he’s baring her virgin breast and she’s struggling and saying stuff like, “Don’t! Stop! Don’t! Stop! Don’t stop!” And all of a sudden I sit up, grab a tablet and a pen, and I’m off and running. So to speak. I wrote that sex scene in a frenzy, and I want to assure you right now, never once did my mother and her reaction enter my mind.
(Actually, my mother lived a long life, and she grew older, she looked more and more like a little old lady, which is why people were always shocked when she displayed a lively and bawdy sense of humor. So I never had a reason to be concerned about my mom and her reaction to my sex scenes. She thought they were great.)
My daughters … that was a whole different ballgame. These were kids who were in grade school when I was published. At the time, they were overjoyed (“We’re going to DisneyWorld!”) But later, they had to attend middle school and high school … and their mother was a romance writer. Their mother was occasionally profiled in the paper. The other obnoxious adolescents read their mother’s sex scenes aloud in school. Once when I was in the living room being interviewed by the Houston Chronicle, a teenage daughter wandered in, and when asked by the reporter if she read my books, she said, “Would you like to know what your mother knows about sex?”
The reporter looked horrified at the idea. As far as I know, she’s still hiding somewhere curled in the fetal position.
However, as with all things, this too shall pass. Somewhere about the time my daughters became seniors, I suddenly (very very suddenly) became cool again. They do read my books; they don’t read my sex scenes (see above — “Would you like to know what your mother knows about sex?”) My daughters have become used to getting my emails asking questions like, “What slang words do you use for penis? Vagina? Having sex? Do all the girls these days remove all their pubic hair?” As I understand it, they read these messages to their friends, laugh uproariously, and answer me. Thank God, because doing the research online results in the kind of spam I don’t want.
So you’re wondering — what are the technicalities of writing sex? What problems do romance writers encounter while writing sex? Do I like writing sex? Do other romance writers enjoy writing sex? How do we do it over and over and over, the same old motions, the same old positions, the same old man and woman doing the same old dance since the beginning of time, and keep it fresh?
Unfortunately, this blog is already too long, so ask your questions, then check in Thursday (when I blog again) for the answers to your throbbing questions.
And really, what are you doing reading my blog? Today TONGUE IN CHIC (“Romeo and Juliet as performed by Dharma and Greg”) hits the bookshelves! You should be at the bookstore, buying your copy, settling down to read, enjoying the sex scenes. And don’t forget to report in — do you smoke after sex?
Visit Christina’s website to read a TONGUE IN CHIC excerpt!
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When new acquaintances hear that I write romances, a lot of them say the same thing. “I want to write something...I’m just waiting for the right moment. I need to finish X.” That X might include raising a two-month-old to college age, getting tenure at their job, getting a new job, getting a husband, getting a life...whatever. They’re not going to write until that perfect moment comes along. A fair share of these people go on to tell me that they’d love to write a romance and they really mean to...someday.
So yesterday I was at the university (my second job) and I went to a fascinating lecture about Sir Walter Scott. He’s the guy who wrote Ivanhoe and whom I—before yesterday—basically knew as one of the people in the Author Card game, though it’s shameful to say so. I once made a valiant attempt to read one of his novels and gave up. At any rate, Scott was a huge success in his day. He was the romance blockbuster of the age, writing adventuresome, romantic wild stories about heroines disguising themselves in breeches, disowned heros running off to Scotland and turning into millionaires, evil villains, beautiful maids and murderous mothers. All the stuff that romance writers deal with these days—in fact the only reason why Scott isn’t ripping up the Bestseller Lists right now is the pesky fact that his language is a bit outdated, and his novels are absurdly long.
What really fascinated me in the lecture was the story of how Sir Walter Scott wrote one of his most famous novels, Rob Roy. One day he was struck by an incredible pain in his abdomen. It was a cramp so awful that he fell to the floor. In the next few months, things got worse and worse, to the point where he couldn’t get out of bed for the pain, he couldn’t think due to the “jangling” of his thoughts, he couldn’t read because his vision blurred, and he couldn’t hear because of the buzzing in his ears. The doctors couldn’t figure out what to do—so they gave him copious amounts of morphine, which may have helped with the pain, but didn’t exactly get him moving and back in the office.
But Walter had a book due: Rob Roy, the dashing story of a bad boy hero who is exiled to Scotland and ends up taking over the family’s ancestral estate and making a ton of money. Walter can’t walk, can’t read, can’t hear, and is in excruciating pain. What does Walter do?
He writes the book.
Our lecturer pointed out that at several points there’s a kind of sourness in the story that she puts up to the author’s physical distress. What I found more interesting was the fact that he kept going. Being an author is the kind of job where no one is standing over you with a whip. No one logs you into work (except maybe if you’re a Squawker, in which case you might get mean emails enquiring how much you’ve written that day). But my point is that you’re on your own.
What drives you has to come from inside. There has to be an inner voice saying: it’s more important that I write this book than I take the next dose of morphine, than I spent the next five hours having quality time with my two-year-old, than I find a partner.
What about you? Are you a writer—and do you keep the fire as fiercely as Sir Walter Scott? If you’re not a writer, what do you feel that fiercely about? What would you keep doing, no matter what stood in your way? Another way to put it: what were you born to do?
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