Archive for 'Annette McCleave'



Diving Into Other Worlds
by Annette McCleave on June 30th, 2009

As a writer, the bulk of my daydreams are about the worlds I weave for my books. Some of my most relaxing moments are just sitting in my La-Z-Boy, immersing myself completely in the sights and sound and smells of that magical place, where ever it might be. Even if the real world is ratcheting up the tension, I can de-stress in an instant simply by closing my eyes and following my characters into their adventures.

As a reader, all it takes is a skilled wordsmith with a flair for storytelling and I’m off visiting far-off lands and ancient times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen into a great book only emerge hours later wondering how much time has passed. Unless I then discover I’m late for something, LOL, that’s a blissful moment. To be transported. Sigh. That’s what my book budget is really for.

I don’t do much spontaneous daydreaming. To be honest, I feel like I’m living my dream. But I do tend to surround myself with paintings and pictures of peaceful places I’d love to dive into.

painting

Calendars of Scottish castles, paintings of houses in the autumn, pictures of winding country roads. A few images of the stars… And yes, some clear blue water and white sand scenes. They have the power to make me forget, just for a second, the phone bill and the laundry pile. Some days, that’s exactly what I need.

Do you have a favorite place to daydream? Inside? Outside? At the office, LOL?

The Art of Short
by Annette McCleave on June 23rd, 2009

Right from the beginning, I’ve written novel-length stories. Perhaps because I grew up reading books and not magazines, I never attempted to write shorter tales. Or perhaps it was a snobbery of sorts—being a novelist has a certain cache that I’m not sure can be said of essayist or short story author. Either way, I hopped right to the 400 page gorilla.

In hindsight, I’m not sure that was the wisest course.

As Jessa so aptly described in her article yesterday, it doesn’t take a lot of words to tell a story. The advantage to learning the art of the short tale first is that you develop an infinite respect for the value of each and every word. When you only have a few to work with, each one must truly pull its weight.

I also believe a shorter medium forces the author to focus on the critical elements of the story: character, plot, conflict, resolution. You don’t have room to wander into convoluted subplots or lecture the reader on the world you’ve built to house your characters.

If you’ve ever tried to distill a novel-length book into a log line, you know how big and complicated a story of that length can be. Yet, I find the most memorable books are those that never lose sight of their core story, that never forget the true nature of the main character, and that tie up the trailing story threads—not neatly in a bow, but satisfactorily, with a reader’s sigh.

Learning the art of the short tale must surely help in honing those talents. Or so it seems to me.

I’ve since tried my hand a few shorter pieces. I wrote a 40 page Christmas story and 120 page medieval novella (which made it to the finals of the Brava Novella contest). I still have miles to go in perfecting the shorter story, but the experience was great. As you can see from my response to Jessa’s challenge yesterday, I find the concept of short-story-telling very intriguing, and I suspect I’ll make other forays into the genre. If for no other reason than to round out my skills.

Have you read short stories you fell in love with and found were delightfully complete and whole? Have you read others you wished were longer? Or (laughing) novels you wished were shorter? Feel free to share.

p.s. In the spirit of proving short can be good, I’ll offer up my brand new book trailer for DRAWN INTO DARKNESS, which is a mere 1 minute long. Enjoy.

Leaping Tall Buildings … Or Not
by Annette McCleave on June 2nd, 2009

When I was a kid, I dreamed of at least a million superpowers I’d love to have. Flying. Invisibility. Leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Traveling through time at will. Moving objects with my mind. All of those and more. Anything that would help me escape my chores, bring the pages of my favorite books to life, or prove to the school bullies that they couldn’t mess with me was fair game.

Naturally, I thought choosing a favorite superpower today with be a snap—I’d just run though my old list and pick the best one.

Flying. Nice, but now that I have a car and can afford an airline ticket, not at the top of my list.

Invisibility. Hmmm. Sometimes I feel invisible already. Not nearly as much fun as I imagined.

Leaping tall buildings. I still watch that scene from Underworld where Selene leaps off a skyscraper and lands on the ground in a comfortable crouch and think, yeah that would be cool. But really, cool factor aside, it only saves me an elevator ride.

selene

Time Travel. Let’s put it this way: I’ve read The Time Machine and seen The Butterfly Effect. This one comes with consequences I’m not sure I could handle.

Telekinesis. Now that I’m older and I have occasional bouts of back pain, being able to move objects with my mind has plenty of appeal. But my mind is already fully occupied trying to force words onto a blank page, so I’m not sure I have the bandwidth.

Wow. This choosing a superpower thing is not as easy as I thought. Let’s see if I can come up with some new ones:

Split into several alternate selves. If I could do this, I’d be able to get the grocery shopping done, clean the house, and write. What’s the downside? Oh yeah, one of the selves is always your evil side, which then runs off and creates chaos.

Super speed. A variation on the above theme. If I could move super fast, I could do all those chores and be back at my computer in a millisecond, leaving more time to write. Oh, wait. The rest of the world doesn’t have the same power, so I’d still get stuck at the grocery checkout for twenty minutes. Scratch this one.

Stop time. Every time I get behind on my To Do list, I could just stop time, catch up, and then put the world back in motion. Hmmm. I’m sensing a trend here. Hold on, if time stands still for the rest of the world, but I’m able to keep moving, does that mean I’d age faster than everyone else?

Magic. I can think of a few spells that would come in handy: presto, a home-cooked meal; abracadabra, a shiny new computer. But, drat, my early childhood lessons have had an impact on me—these feel like cheating.

See into the future. Um, no. I saw Terminator Salvation in the theater last week. On the off-chance the future looks like that, I’d prefer to go in blind.

Sigh.

So, what incredible power would I want? Willpower. Boatloads of willpower. Highly underestimated superpower, but genuinely useful. The deities blessed me some, but not as much as I’d like. I have a secret lab in my basement where I’m developing more willpower, and I have high hopes that my experiments will produce results. But if you run across a bottle and you don’t need it, could you send it my way?

superpowers

I’m curious. What superpower(s) did you dream of having as a kid? Would you still want it (them) today?

Different, but Good
by Annette McCleave on May 12th, 2009

Like Jessa, I’m still pretty new to the agent/editor working relationship. This time last year, I had neither. I was still in the thick of the query process, having recently finaled in the RWA’s Golden Heart contest.

I think the most significant discoveries I’ve made since signing with my agent and then subsequently with NAL have been 1) the cheerleader effect, 2) real deadlines, and 3) new expectations.

1. The Cheerleader Effect
For years and years, I wrote just for myself. Yes, I had critique partners and chapter-mates who encouraged me and educated me, but like most writers 99% of my writing time was spent alone and that meant the only person cheering me on was myself. I don’t say that to generate pity; I actually believe this is a critical skill for a writer—developing the unshakable need to succeed. Without it, I’m not sure you can finish a book, let alone make it out of the trenches and into the publishing world.

But when I got a very enthusiastic response from my soon-to-be-agent last spring, my world flipped upside down. Suddenly, someone else besides me thought I had talent. Not those few nice paragraphs that I had received from agents before, but a WOOHOO, I WANT TO SIGN YOU excitement. A few months later, I got another enthusiastic response from my new editor. Wow. The world sure looks different from this point of view. Very pretty, very sparkly.

The high didn’t last, of course. My usual raft of self-doubt has returned, but at least now it’s tempered by little whispers of ‘yeah, but your agent really likes it’ and ‘yeah, but your editor thought your book was worth buying’.

2. Real Deadlines
After I signed my contracts, I had new deadlines to meet—some short, some long, none of them moveable. I actually didn’t have any problem with this part until I hit number 3.

3. New Expectations
My agent is very interested in my work. So interested, in fact, that she wants to know how things are going and wants to read the chapters of my new book when they’re polished. Of course she does. She’s wonderful. Problem is, she now represents an expectation I didn’t have to meet before. I used to be able to write whatever the heck I wanted—in fact, before starting a new manuscript, I frequently gave myself permission to write crap, so that I didn’t have my internal editor sitting on my shoulder saying: not good enough, do it again. But now I had my agent, sitting quietly in the background, waiting for my manuscript.

I also had my editor, who loved my first book, waiting with eagerness to read the second. Plus, the second book now had to satisfy any readers (no matter how few they might be) of my first book. Worst of all, I wanted to write a better book than the one I wrote the first time. I wanted to develop as a writer.

Dear me. Expectations. Lots and lots of expectations—where before there were none.

It took me a long time to leap the hurdle of those expectations and settle into my writing routine. I began my second book at least fifty times, never satisfied that it was right. But eventually, I was able to stop obsessing and move on. All I had to do was let my characters speak through my keyboard and let their lives take over mine; all I had to do was fall in love with my new hero (sigh) and cheer on my new heroine. All I had to do was remember why I write.

My overall conclusion? Being a writer with an agent and an editor is different, but good.

That’s about as philosophical as I get. :smile:

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has let someone else’s expectations tie them in knots. Am I? Reassure me. Tell me your story.

The Writer’s Life
by Annette McCleave on May 5th, 2009

My real life is boring. Honestly. My day is filled with many of the same activities anyone else’s life entails: Cleaning out litter boxes, doing laundry, cooking dinner, and providing taxi service to my daughter. I see you yawning, so I’ll stop there.

Authors—okay I can’t speak for all authors, just me—are not glamorous. In fact, because my writing is done primarily at home, my lifestyle revolves around cotton pajamas, an ultra-comfortable but horrendously ugly housecoat, and a sublime pair of slippers. Occasionally, I rise to jeans and a t-shirt. And make-up? Hah! Who is going to see me besides the dog and my computer screen?

That’s why I write. Because I can imagine all sorts of lives way more interesting than my own.

In my writing life, the heroes always take out the trash and never wail because supper isn’t ready. The heroines never leave their bank card at home when they go to the grocery store and never realize just as they’re getting on the highway that they forgot to put gas in the car. The heroes never leave their wet towels on the bathroom floor and they love to cook—every night if necessary. The heroines slay villains left, right, and center, and still manage to keep the house clean and smelling like vanilla.

Truth is, I love my life, unglamorous as it may be. Being a writer is the second best job in the whole world (for me, being a mom comes first). Each and every day, I visit strange and wonderful places, meet interesting people, beat down bad guys, and reward my hero and heroine with their ultimate desire. It doesn’t get much better than that, right?

cat-in-dryer2

Okay, blog readers, time to fess up.

How many of you have gotten so wrapped up in a book (whether writing or reading) that you forgot to do something important? I once go so lost in my writing I forgot to go watch my sister’s kids while she and her husband went to an appointment—one of them ended up staying home. I apologized profusely for a week. Thankfully, they know what I’m like and they forgave me. Anyone else?

A Well-Placed Word
by Annette McCleave on April 28th, 2009

Major congrats to our own Allison Chase for winning the 2008 Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Historic Romantic Gothic at the Romantic Times Convention this past weekend!

* * *

As a ‘not-quite’ published author, I don’t have a lot of reader feedback on my books yet. Still, feedback was instrumental in smoothing out the many bumps in my road to publication.

In the beginning, when I first started writing seriously, most feedback took the form of responses from judges in contests that I entered. For a writer flexing her wings for the first time, wondering if she had the talent to turn her dreams into reality, those initial comments were precious gems chipped out of the gloomy rockface of self-doubt. I once got these words back on an entry:

“You have a lot of talent! Never, never quit! You will be published.”

Can you imagine the power of receiving that feedback on the same day the mailman delivers a flurry of rejection letters from agents? Yes, I’m sure you can.

I used to pull all the positive comments off my contest entries and store them together in a file. Never any negative comments—they had their place, but not in this document. Then, whenever the world felt particularly heavily and I considered giving up, I’d open up that file and read all the lovely things people said.

“You are a wonderful, talented writer with a magnificent voice. I’ll be looking for you in print.”

Bolstered by a few very kind words, I’d find the strength to send my newest manuscript out into the cold, cruel world.

The closest I’ve come to a reader comment was an email I got over a year ago, after I finaled in the Brava Novella Contest, where the top 20 entries are posted online. Mine was a medieval historical, set in France. Out of the blue I received this:

“I would like to purchase the book title: A Righteous Seduction, but I have been unable to find the seller. Would you by any chance be able to supply me with a name? This book sounds interesting.”

I practically danced on the ceiling. Someone wanted to buy my book. Okay, it was only a novella, and it wasn’t actually published yet, but someone wanted to BUY my book. Responding to that reader to let her know the story was not in print—and might never be—was soooo hard.

I’m looking forward—yes, with nervous anticipation—to getting reader feedback on DRAWN INTO DARKNESS in my mailbox. The good and the not-so-good. I’ll read the not-so-good ones, look for lessons to be learned, then put them away. But the good ones? You guessed it—I’ll be storing those in a special file I can open up every now and then and savor.

If you’re a reader (which most of us are, LOL) and you love an author’s books, I heartily encourage you to visit her website and drop her a quick note telling her so. We writers are a strange bunch—chock full of prose-induced confidence one minute, lost in the depths of uncertainty the next. Trust me, your words will be incredibly, marvelously appreciated. Even by the big names.

How about you? Did you ever receive a compliment or a pat on the back at just the right moment? Something that kept you slogging forward, despite the challenges you were facing? Willing to share?

Perish the Thought
by Annette McCleave on March 17th, 2009

I don’t have a favorite pen or an aversion to black cats, but I am superstitious. Not to the point of mania, or anything. But if I have a negative thought, especially something tragic, I must immediately touch wood to banish the thought and make sure it doesn’t come true. Yeah, I know. The rule is actually knock on wood. But I just touch it–that seems to be enough to rid me of the bad mojo.

Of course, living in a city, there isn’t always a tree around when you need one … so, I’ve conveniently extended the definition of wood to include anything made from wood. Like paper. Let’s face it, the odds of me being with paper at any given moment is extremely slim.

touching-wood

I’m not exactly sure where my superstitious nature came from–my parents weren’t superstitious, as far as I know. Although, now that I think about it, my dad probably had some routine he always followed before he flew. He was a fighter pilot, and as much as jet jockeys depend on technology, they tend to leave nothing to chance. They cover all the bases, even superstition. Maybe he had a rabbit’s foot I never knew about.

I write historicals as well as contemporary paranormal romance, so I suppose it’s possible my superstitions date back to my enthrallment with medieval society. Superstition was rampant in the middle ages. And why not? It explained everything that the dearth of science and the local friar did not. Superstition wasn’t all bad–it helped medieval people feel more secure in a world where they had little or no control. Plus, the basis of many of our current paranormal tales (vampires, pixies, werewolves, etc.) is deeply rooted in those same superstitions.

Does anyone know the history of various superstitions? I think knock on wood dates back to the time of druids and their connection to the powers of nature. What about some of the others? How did they get started?

Scenes and scenery
by Annette McCleave on March 10th, 2009

Sigh. Jessa shouldn’t have mentioned Viggo/Aragorn in her post yesterday … I fought an almost unbearable urge all day to sneak away from my writing to watch my LOR movies.

It was actually therapeutic to revisit scenes from my first novel, trying to find the right one to share.

My upcoming release, DRAWN INTO DARKNESS, involves angels, demons and and the battle for human souls. My hero, an immortal Soul Gatherer, lives among the human race disguised as a priest. My heroine, Rachel, doesn’t know the outfit is a disguise, nor does she know her daughter is mixed up with something far worse than a bunch of teenage hoodlums, but she does know Lachlan MacGregor isn’t like any other priest she’s ever met…

***

Hackles up, Rachel stepped around the tree trunk, only to have her path blocked by a very big and very formidable . . . Lachlan MacGregor.

“Don’t,” he said quietly.

His sudden appearance in the dark should have frightened her. Instead, the sight of his handsome face, etched with obvious resolve, filled her with a feeling of deliverance so intense she was tempted to throw her arms around his neck and kiss him. Of course, she didn’t. Despite the ease flooding her chest, she huffed her disagreement and attempted to dodge around him. Someone had to stop that creep from kissing Em.

He blocked her advance. “He knows you’re here. He’s just doing it to goad you.”

“How do you know that? She’s only fourteen.”

“Trust me.”

He took a firm step toward her, forcing her to back up, but also conveniently occluding her view with his large body, protecting her from a sight he knew would upset her. Constrained by darkness, with only a few visual elements to focus on, her senses clung to other things such as his scent, subtle and free of cologne. It was a breathtaking swirl of warm wool and spice—very sexy . . . and damned inappropriate for a priest.

“He looked right at you,” Lachlan pointed out. “And it’s pretty obvious he’s never kissed her before. It’s just a show.”

“How can you be sure?”

“I can’t,” he admitted. He took another step, again encouraging her to retreat. “But I’ve learned to trust my gut.”

Rachel dug her heels in, refusing to let him herd her any farther away from Em. He closed the gap in one decisive stride, his broad shoulders towering over her, crowding her. But if his intent was to intimidate, he failed. Despite his size, she felt no fear. “I can’t leave her here. Not with them.”

“I suspect they won’t hang about much longer, but just to be certain, I’ll go back and watch them.” He stared into her eyes with an oddly intimate look, as if they shared more than just a common goal to protect Emily. It made Rachel’s heart pound. “I need you to go home, Rachel.”

“But—”

“You’ll want to be home when she gets back.”

Or face the consequences of Em finding out she’d followed her out here. Valid point. Still, she squirmed. “If he—”

“If he goes further than a kiss, I’ll take care of it.” He brushed a lock of hair back from her face, tucking it behind her ear. “I promise.”

Before she could point out there were seven of them and only one of him, he was gone.

When Fear gets behind the wheel…
by Annette McCleave on March 3rd, 2009

As I sat down to write this blog, I had a realization: the fears that used to plague me as a writer have changed. Before I sold my book, my biggest fear was that I would never sell. That one day I’d have to face all my family & friends and admit I didn’t have what it took to go the distance.

Uhm. I sold. Ixnay that fear.

But the funny thing about my fears is that the overall number seems to remain constant. When I lost the fear of never selling, I acquired a brand new one. What is it, you ask? Well, I have a niggling worry that no one will like my book. But that’s not my new fear.

Most of my writing fears are actually motivators. They spur me to do everything in my power to prevent what I fear from coming true. My fear of never selling pushed me to keep writing and to keep learning how to write better. I decided my new fear can’t be of people hating my book—because I’ve already written that book, it’s out of my hands. There’s no spur.

closet-fears

After some pondering, I concluded my new fear is that no one will find my book, let alone have a chance to like or dislike it. Did you know there’s over 8000 romance novels published every year? That’s a lot of books.

I can see it now: I catch my sister coming out of the bookstore on my launch date, a big bag of books in hand.

Giddy with excitement, I ask her, “Did you buy my book?”

She stares at me for a moment, blinking.

“Uh…” Her gaze drops, and her hands wring the plastic handle of the shopping bag. She laughs self-consciously. “There were twenty-two romance books released today, Sis. The economy is bad. I wanted to, but I couldn’t buy them all….”

The problem with this new fear is that it’s tightly wrapped around my other neuroses—I’m an introvert of major proportions and the thought of promoting my book makes my pulse weak and my skin clammy.

I doubt the fear of getting lost in the crowd will go away, though, so as my release date approaches I’ll force myself to get out and about. Come September, if you spot me on the street corner of your town dancing a jig and waving a giant image of my book cover, take pity on me. Stop by and say hello. Pat me on the hand and swear I don’t look ridiculous. Or, if you’re afraid to get too close, just email me the reassuring news you saw my book on the shelf.

Fears aren’t always motivating, but sometimes they can push you to do good things—like get out of the house and meet some new people. :grin: Do you have a fear that drives you forward?

Lying around
by Annette McCleave on February 24th, 2009

I once planned to write a book about a woman who could tell when people were lying. Of course, that, in and of itself, is not a paranormal story; if you happen to catch the new Fox series, LIE TO ME, you’ll know that a few unique human beings already possess that skill.

The heroine of my story lived in a world where everyone was born with obvious gifts. These gifts fell into certain categories: natural, technological, artistic, etc. Within the categories, the depth of the gift varied–some had the ability to shift fully into animals, others simply had a supremely enhanced sense of smell. My heroine’s gift was called Lie Divining and only one percent of the population was blessed with that gift.

But my heroine also possessed a second gift, called Truth Seeing, which was extremely rare and very highly prized. With a handshake and a couple of quick questions, a truth seer could ‘feel’ a person’s inner thoughts and motivations. It’s the kind of gift some leaders might kill to control, and that was the crux of my story.

I wrote fifty pages or so, then put the manuscript aside. I don’t remember why. My research notes and that rough start are still lying around somewhere, so I could have another go at it some day, but I doubt it. Some stories come alive for me, and some don’t. This one didn’t.

lie_to_me

Fox clearly found the lie divining concept fascinating enough to create a series based on it, and I must say I’m really enjoying LIE TO ME so far. Anyone else liking it?

p.s. If you visit the Fox site, they have some neat info about the scientist who inspired the show and the curious places where lying shows up in real life.