Thursday, April 30, 2009

Research Field Trip

Took the weasels up Grouse Mountain yesterday to research a scene in my current WIP, Relentless, to make sure I had all the details right before I do the final round of edits. They were thrilled, and loved the gondola ride to the top of the mountain almost as much as they did the Starbucks hot chocolates when we came back down.

The view was amazing, even though black clouds rolled in as we were leaving and it started to snow on the summit. Halfway down it was raining, and over Vancouver and the rest of the lower mainland, it was clear.

I haven't been up to Grouse for years since I was there on a date with my ex-boyfriend, so it was good to see it through fresh eyes again. I flew over it during the Christmas holidays in my dad's chopper, but it's different to stand up on the summit and overlook the city. What spectacular scenery we have here. We're so spoiled! You can visit beaches and forests and mountains all in the same day.

Next trip will be a picnic to Stanley Park and Queen Elizabeth Park to get the exact lay of the land for my characters. What I don't do for them, huh?

Feels so good to almost be done! One more book to go, then I'm off and running on my Night Stalkers series.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

First drafts and plotting techniques

Over the weekend I was away from the kids and hubby (two whole days and nights!), and finally finished the first draft of my current work in progress. It feels incredible to have that behind me. Now for the fun part! I've sweated and struggled to get the basic story hammered out, and now comes the polishing and fine tuning.

With the help of my awesome critique partner (hi Katie!), I'll get this one ready for submission in the next few weeks. It's the fourth romantic suspense in my series with TWRP, and I can't believe I've almost finished my fifth book. This one features Rhys and Neveah, and is tentatively titled Relentless. I'm already thinking about Luke and Emily's story. I kind of like Absolution for the title on that one.

This all would have happened a lot sooner had my brand new computer not crashed. I had to send it back to HP to get a new hard drive put in. Ah, the joys of the electronic age. What a weird feeling to be cut off from the world like that. But I digress.

At my RWA chapter meeting last week, we discussed plotting techniques and the responses from our published authors were varied. Some plotted to the nth degree so that every single scene was laid out before they sat down to write the first draft. Others didn't plot at all, just started with a basic idea where they knew the start and maybe the ending (I had to cover my shudder of horror). Others liked the snowflake technique or pearls of wisdom snatched from Save the Cat.

Every writer has their own system, but I wanted to share some other ideas with those of you out there struggling with your story in case they might be of help. Maybe you're at a dead end in your plot, or maybe you can't figure out your characters. Personally, I always write the high plot points first, then the love scenes. After that, I go back and fill in the holes with the subplots and smooth the whole thing out. In my final pass, I add in all the five senses I can. But that's just me. I'm a plotter, but I've also been known to do a bit of pantsing from time to time. The trick is to find what works for you.

I still get stuck, however. Like last week I had no idea how I was going to bridge a major gap between plot points, and I was getting really frustrated. While I was out power washing the fence, I had my Ipod playing on my hero's playlist. This is one technique that really helps me get focused when I sit down to write. I give each major character a playlist so that I have some music ready for writing time. As soon as I hear the music, I'm popped into their headspace. Anyway, out power washing the fence, this one song came on and whammo! I could see Rhys so clearly, his body language and the way he carries himself, and I got to wondering what he was thinking. My brain started whirring and as soon as I'd finished up outside, I came in and went straight to my computer.

Then I did a mock interview for both my hero and heroine, asking them all kinds of deep and meaningful questions like what their worst fear was, what their most crippling insecurity was...stuff like that. Once I was finished, I suddenly knew how to bridge that gap I'd been struggling with. If you've never interviewed your characters before, I highly recommend it. Not only do you get deeper into their heads, but you might learn something about them that you never knew before.

What techniques do you use to get you out of a writing slump?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter recipe

It's Easter weekend, and on this Good Friday I received two phone calls from people wanting my candied ham recipe. This thing is so popular, people who I've served it to request it when they come over for dinner the next time. The prep is easy, but it takes a few hours to cook, so plan accordingly. I promise you the results are worth it.

Kaylea's Candied Ham (serves six to eight adults)

one honey smoked ham (from your supermarket, size and shape of a football)
one two liter bottle of ginger ale
one jar of ginger preserves
handful of brown sugar
3-4 tablespoons of yellow mustard

Cut all the rind off the ham as thinly as possible, and place in a large pot. Cover with the ginger ale and simmer over medium-low heat for three hours. Yes, it's a long time, but just do it. Trust me.

While it's boiling, you'll have plenty of time to make the rest of the dinner. I like to serve it with steamed broccoli and cheese sauce, cheesy scalloped potatoes and some creme caramel for dessert.

To make the glaze, combine the preserves, brown sugar and mustard until it's reasonably smooth. Once the ham has finished simmering, place it in a roasting pan and pour the glaze over the top to coat. Bake at 375 for about an hour, making sure to keep an eye on the glaze so it doesn't burn. After an hour, it should be a burnished brown color. Remove from the oven and spoon the hot glaze over the ham for a minute or two to coat. Let meat rest for 15 minutes.

Slice ham into quarter inch thick slices and arrange on a platter, then pour the remaining glaze from the pan over the top. This is the best ham you or your guests will ever eat--promise!

My family is having Easter dinner at my in laws this weekend so I don't have to cook, but if you are hosting, give this recipe a try. By the way, any leftovers are yummy the next morning served with blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs. Just a thought!

Happy Easter!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Those of you that know me are aware of the fact that I'm terrified of flying. As in panic attack, hyperventillating, heart palpitating terror that even Ativan can't control.
Yes, yes, I know the stats--you're more likely to die in a car crash on the way to the airport than to ever be involved in a plane crash, blah, blah. This doesn't sway me at all. At least in a car crash I have a better chance of surviving than if I'm in a plane crash, and emergency personnel would have an easier time getting to me on a road than if I was lying amongst the wreckage of an aircraft on a mountaintop someplace. Ever since one of my high school classmates was in a crash that killed her family, leaving the ground is a major problem for me.
So when my father bought himself a helicopter (if you knew him you'd understand) and asked me to go up with him and his pilot, of course my gut reaction was "no way!". I mean, I've passed up trips all over the world because I can't bring myself to get on a plane. But strangely enough, as I started to research helos for my next couple of books, I realized that being closer to the ground and able to land pretty much anywhere were major pluses about being in a helo. Military personnel do it all the time, right? And all of my heroes are big bad special ops soldiers, so they would be disgusted to know their inventor was too chicken to go up in a chopper.
I couldn't have my characters disrespecting me (I've told you before, it's normal for authors to hear voices in their heads), so that settled it. I went with my almost five-year-old son (who loved it, by the way) on a glorious sunny clear day just before New Years last year. Over the steady hum of the engine the pilot kept in contact with the control towers in the area over the headset, and we toured over the beautiful city of Vancouver, then out over the sparkling blue water into the suburbs near the US border and hovered above our house. My son couldn't see over the windowframe, so the pilot suddenly tilted us sideways until I was staring directly at the ground. After swallowing my heart back down my esophagus and uncurling my fingers from the seat, I stared down at my yard and the skiff of snow from a recent storm covering the roof. After he righted us, the pilot just grinned at me.
I have to admit I enjoyed myslef once I was reasonably sure we were going to stay in the air. After all, I'd put my son in the thing with me, so if anything happened it would be my fault he was on board. That didn't help the initial nerves any, but I was up front with the pilot and made sure to appear like I was ecstatic about being airborne so the little guy wouldn't inherit his mom's phobia of flying. These things can be contagious, you know. My husband, who wasn't a great flyer before we started dating, is almost as bad as me now. It's not something we want our kids to be crippled by.
The pilot and I chatted for over an hour about types of choppers and some technical things about flight, specifically how high altitudes and thin air would affect lift of the rotors so I could get it right when I wrote No Turning Back, which is set in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan. See? There's a method to my madness, and watching the pilot was fascinating. Now there's somebody who can pat his head, rub his stomach and chew gum at the same time. His feet and hands were never still throughout the entire flight, and he maneuvered the controls effortlessly.
After more than ninety minutes we landed without incident, and my little guy's eyes were sparkling with excitement, so it was well worth the effort it took me to go up. I felt safer in that helo than I have in a commercial jet in over fifteen years, simply because I felt we could put down easily if we needed to. I'm so glad I went, and will definitely go up again. I may even get my own license someday if time permits. My hope is that I'll be able to better portray how pilots operate choppers in my books, especially when I tackle my next series for which I'm researching the famous Night Stalkers of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Moral of the story: I felt the fear and did it anyway, and lived to tell about it!