Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mel Published Elsewhere

Here's my breast reduction story on The Toast.

(Here's my author web site, just as an aside.)

(I do so love writing.)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Blog Hop: Writing Process

So y'all know I usually write about reading. Well, today I'm going to write about writing. I've been tagged in a writing process blog hop by Megan LaFollett, a friend at West Houston Romance Writers of America, whose desk setup, now that I've seen it on her own site, totally makes me jealous. 

But I'll stick with my own desk (an antique roll-top from my parents, which I love.) (This photo isn't current, so add a layer of paperwork and some more candles in your imagination.) 

Here are the blog hop questions and my responses:

1) What are you currently working on?

I'm revising my novel Rocket Man, which has been through the wringer with me over the past couple of years. I am even more in love with it than ever, though, and can't believe how well I know the main characters, Serena and Dillon, at this point. Go on, ask me anything about them. Their quirks, their bank account balances, the first foods they'll grab from the brunch buffet. (Serena stands patiently in line at the omelet bar, while Dillon's first plate overflows with bacon, scrambled eggs, potatoes, and a couple slices of meat.) 

It's a contemporary romance set in my hometown of Houston, and is the first in my Roll of the Dice series. I'm also working on another contemporary romance set in the fictional small town of Honey Wine, Texas. (I try not to bounce around too much from manuscript to manuscript, but sometimes a scene pops into my head so I just have to write it down.)

2) How does your work differ from others in the genre? 

With the Roll of the Dice series, I've created a small-town feel in a large city - it's a strongly interconnected, fun group of people and places that resonate with readers in the same way that small-town contemporaries do, although it takes place in the middle of the 4th largest city in the nation! I love how Serena, especially, seeks out meaningful connections and builds herself a community. I love bringing office friendships and career aspirations to my love story.

3) Why do you write what you write?

Well, first of all, I love the genre of contemporary romance. Ever since I picked up my first Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel, contemporary stories have truly spoken to me as a reader and as a writer. Still, I can't say that I put a lot of thought into it - these are just the stories that come to me. Strong, interesting women who have to fight a battle or two to get what they want - even if they don't end up wanting what they thought they did! These are the characters of my heart, and bringing them to the page is (usually) a challenge and a pleasure. 

4) How does your process work?

As I said, the kernel for my stories just... comes to me. (It may be mystical, or maybe it's just the result of a complex interaction between imagination and outside influences and something I overheard and that dream that niggles at my consciousness.) (Probably the mystical thing, though.) So when I'm starting a novel, I begin with that kernel, and sit down and write the first several pages to see where it's taking me. After the initial burst, I sit back and reread and figure out the overall themes and narrative arc, listen to the characters reveal a couple of their secrets, and make notes. I use all of that to shape the kernel into an actual plot outline. 

I've become, over the years, a big fan of scene plotting. Given that I'm working a full-time job, plus all that mom and wife and home and pet owner stuff, it's not always easy to just sit in front of the computer and come up with whatever words should be next in my WIP. But if I have scene notes, say, "Valentine's Day, something dumb with Joey, landlady issues" (to steal from my current outline), I can grab hold of the thread of my plot easily and get a few hundred words written without first rereading (which always turns into revising) what I'd written the day before. 

I have great, smart critique partners who give me feedback on chapters as I go, which helps enormously to keep me on track with my pacing, character development, and conflict. I also have friends willing to read completed drafts and give me feedback from the reader's perspective. (If necessary, I tell them which pages to skip so they don't have to read my steamier scenes!) And my husband is a fantastic early reader and editor, as well as an enormously supportive cheerleader. So that's my 'village' and I really appreciate them all.

So, that's it for this blog hop. I was meant, I think, to tag four people to continue it, but I have failed in that. :) However, two wonderful writer friends of mine, Sandra and Cristina, have both agreed to hop along with me, so please take some time to check out their responses!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Narration by Authors

Shirley Jones by Shirley Jones (Narrated by Shirley Jones; Tantor Media, 2013)
I, Rhoda by Valerie Harper (Narrated by Valerie Harper; Simon & Schuster Audio, 2013)
Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington (Narrated by Grace Coddington; Random House Audio/Books on Tape, 2013)
(all audio CDs via library)

These are three of the six titles nominated in the Narration by Author category of the Audies, which is one of the categories I'm covering for the Armchair Audies project. There's a lot of compare & contrast I'm going to do with them, plus, although I have positives to pass along, celebrity memoir is not a category I seek out, well, ever except for during the Audies. (I do realize that means I'm weird for going back to this category, since it always includes celebrity autobiographies, but it also tends to include fiction I love, and after so many trips to the 'narration by author' well, I'm more than familiar with the format. And more than capable of judging the narration regardless of genre, as well.)

So, first up, we have Shirley Jones, written and read by Shirley Jones. Jones is the mom from The Partridge Family, and she got her start being Rodgers and Hammerstein's golden girl - eventually playing the lead in the movies of Oklahoma! and Carousel. She was also Marian the Librarian in The Music Man, so although I was never a Partridge Family fan (or a fan of Jones's stepson David Cassidy, despite my being the right age to have fallen for his teeny-bopper charms), I spent a lot of my childhood watching Jones's performances. 

Anyway, the story is of her life, obviously. She basically had early success with her career, a transformation from 'good girl' to 'rampant sex fiend' with her marriage to Jack Cassidy, various temptations she rejected (mostly) because of her 'good girl'ness, a few escapades that suited her 70s Hollywood lifestyle (though more often she was watching her husband's escapades and forgiving him over and over again), eventually a dwindling career and the sadness of mothering her sons through their father's suicide, and a marriage to someone less likely to cheat or ask her to participate in a threesome. It's all about what you'd expect, as long as you don't think that someone who plays prim sweethearts is actually a prim sweetheart in her personal life. It's not super compelling, with too much name-dropping from an era I didn't really know or care about terribly, and a narrative arc that kind of fizzles into nothingness. 

Jones is a grand narrator. She enjoys telling her story, has a fine, articulate voice, and a touch of humor when called for. I don't think I'd have finished the book if I was reading it, but listening was effortless.

And next up, I, Rhoda, written and read by Valerie Harper. Harper is Rhoda Morgenstern from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda. (Also shows I didn't really follow, though I did watch Valerie sometimes.) She delves a little more into her childhood (parents unhappy with each other but very supportive of her love of dancing and performing) before her acting journey takes off. Harper is a little more self-deprecating and humble than Jones, and her story is more inwardly focused. I had a lot more fun with this story - not as many salacious stories and more stories about work and loss and love and strife. It's not full of all the drama in the world, but Harper is nice to get to know.

She's also a grand narrator. She speaks with a lot of compassion and humor and a little too much nose for my taste, but hey, she's got the New York thing going on. She kept me interested in every step of her story.

And finally today, Grace: A Memoir, written and read by Grace Coddington. Coddington was a model who parlayed her experience into a strong, successful career at Vogue, where she is now creative director. And there's a hell of a lot going on in her back story: sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, fashion icons, power plays, stories of the rich and famous before they'd quite achieved either. It's juicy and would probably have been a certain amount of fun (though I'm the furthest thing from a fashionista, I like behind-the-scenes looks at other worlds like this.)

Unfortunately, Coddington's voice literally put me to sleep every time I tried to listen. She just marches ceaselessly on, word after word, and I never found a hook to grab me and pull me along. I gave it my best shot, but life is short, and the audiobook was too long. I might have stuck with this book in print, but as an audio production, I'm left just wondering why it was ever nominated.