Villians. Hate them, love them, need them

There is something eerily appealing about the villain.  They serve so many purposes. Yet, are always true to themselves.  They’re the thorn in a happy ending.  The catalyst for revenge. The scapegoat for things gone awry. The wrench in well-laid plans.

They’re the characters we hate, but ones we need.  Without them the story would be just plain boring.

As with your heroine or hero, much care has to be taken in the villain’s development.  After all, they’re not stupid people.  In fact, most villains are educated and clever.  I don’t want to hate a dumb villain!  They wouldn’t give me the pleasure of hating them because they wouldn’t have the capacity to figure things out or be manipulative where they need to be.

One of the best reference books on writing villains is titled, “Bullies, Bastards & Bitches” by Jessica Page Morrell.  The book breaks down the layers of an antagonist and demonstrates how to develop the best one for your story.

The antagonist or villain appears in all shapes and levels of wickedness.  You may run across The Betrayer, the Gossip or the Liar or met The Power Hungry or Narcissist. And let us not forget the classic Cad or Femme Fatale.

The tactics of a villain are specific. As the book points out, “they don’t walk the walk, or talk the talk, they dare to perform the worst acts in order to make the most gains.” Some of their tactics include: taking extreme risks, controlling others by using guilt and loyalty or obsessing about details and a plan of attack.”

This describes a villain in one of my books to a tee.  She’s a wicked, wicked woman–educated, business savvy, self-serving, manipulative, and vengeful. And get this, people love her!  They marvel at how wicked she is, but look forward to everything she does throughout the book.

Villains are fun to write. And let’s face it, we all at one time or another enjoy reading about a dastardly deed and hoping that the villain gets their just deserts.   For the most part, the antagonist gives readers a chance to walk on the dark side or get a glimpse of how evil truly lurks …lol

Just think of some of your favorite books or movies where you just couldn’t believe how evil they were. Yet, you couldn’t help but wonder what they’d do next.  Here are a few of mine!Hans-Looking-Die-Hard-hans-gruber-18648743-1280-720 (1)

1. Hans Gruber, Die Hard

2. Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds

3. Jack Torrence, The Shining

4. Annie Wilkes, Misery

5. Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs

6. Norman Bates, Psycho

What I enjoy most about developing the villain is that you have license to decide their fate and whether or not they can be redeemed. Some are beyond redemption, yet others can see the errors of their ways. Who knows they may even earn their own book! Although that may be a challenging undertaking, it can be done.

If you’re struggling with the development of your antagonist, I highly recommend, “Bullies, Bastards & Bitches.”  It will provide great insight and direction on how to create a well-rounded villain your readers will love to hate.


Throwback Thursday: All-Star Converses

When I’m so inclined, I will catch a rerun or two of “That ’70s Show” to relive my youth and see how close they come to getting it right.

Yes, I grew up with hot pants, tie-dye shirts and platform shoes, which by the way I should have kept. Who knew they’d be back in this millennium?

I grew up watching the Knicks (when they were worth watching) and stars like Walt Frazier, Earl “the Pearl” Monroe, Bill Bradley (now Senator Bill) and Dave DeBusschere.

But when I really want to relive my ’70s days, all I need is a pair or two of All-Star Converses. Oh yes, I’m a Converse girl!

Back in the day, I wore them until the soles were hole ridden, the color faded or until my mother found them and threw them away! And, I am–along with countless others–dedicated to carrying on the genius and comfort of salesman and basketball player Chuck Taylor’s mega endorsement.

So, I’m starting to rebuild my collection with the four pair pictured above. And my eyes are focused on three more pairs: the pink, purple and brand-new all black leopard pattern.  There’s even the Wonder Woman pattern!

A while back my daughter and I saw the movie, “The Judge,” and afterwards wouldn’t you know–a showdown ensued–in the middle of the parking lot–between Converse or Vans!

Who won you might ask? I’ll let you decide. 🙂


N’oreaster and all …it’s STILL a good day to be Friday

nor'easterI’m not going to be the grim reaper with news of doom and gloom. I’m just going to say that the northeast, which includes New Jersey, New York, (particularly Long Island) and Connecticut is bracing for a massive blizzard.  And for those who have yet to rebuild their lives after Hurricane Sandy, this is not a good thing. Between the three states, we’re expecting between 6-24 inches of snow, 60 mph winds, blustery conditions where you can’t see in front of you.

Yeah. Welcome to winter.

Although we’re used to it, you do get tired of preparing, and the urge to scream “Enough of this #$@@#!” is high.   (But I have to admit the need for people to run to the grocery store and buy food like we’re on lockdown for the next month is still a mystery to me.)

One good thing about this storm is that it’s happening over the weekend and should end on Saturday. This, at least, gives you a day to dig out. It also gives you a chance to enjoy some of your weekend.  Speaking of digging out, shoveling is my least favorite sport, so I’ve learned over the years to keep a little cash handy for anyone feeling ambitious enough to earn a little money, and help dig this tired soul out of the snow!

Poe and I had plans to attend the 13th Annual Super Pet Expo, and we still may go. I definitely want to check out the latest gifts and gadgets for our animal friends. There’s shopping and shopping and did I say, shopping? Oh, and you can even adopt a pet, which is very cool.

If the power keeps flowing, I’m going to catch up on my writing and reading.  First up is J.K. Rowlings’ grown up book, “The Casual Vacancy.”   I’ve heard mixed reviews and now it’s time to dive in and see for myself. Besides, I’m in the mood for a little dark humor.

Oh, and on Sunday, I might take in The Grammys. It depends. I think out of all the awards show, I’ve outgrown the Grammys the most.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a few performers who I enjoy watching like Alicia Keys and Adele.   But there’s no one who makes me want to sit through the whole thing, at least not on this year’s roster.

I hope the snow melts fast because on February 14, I have a date—with John McClane and his son.  “A Good Day to Die Hard” hits the theater and I’ll be there. It looks action-packed and filled with classic John McClane, and a side of all grown up Junior McClane. Take a peek at the trailer.  That alone gets my heart fluttering. Bruce Willis is still at the top of his game!  Yippee Kai Yay!

Well, I’m off to the store to buy gummy bears and a bottle of wine.  In my humble opinion, THAT’s all you need for a blizzard!

Have a great weekend and wherever you are, be safe.

Do we write what we know or play favorites?

Sound of MusicRaindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things!

From “My Favorite Things,” The Sound of Music–

Everyone knows you’re supposed to write what you know. But I often wonder how much of what we know, involves what we like. How much of our favorite things go into our writing?

A great deal I would imagine.

Out of curiosity, I scanned through some of my story lines/themes and was amazed to find how many of my favorite things appear in my work or become my character’s favorite things.

For example, I love traveling to Puerto Rico. One of my short stories takes place, where? You guessed it. Puerto Rico. I vividly remember the rich, lush scenery of the island, and it helps when seeing through the eyes of my heroine.

In another one of my stories, the main character is a lawyer. Once upon a time long ago, I wanted to be a lawyer. I was always fascinated with the legal system and the idea of “arguing” for a living appealed to me! The lawyer’s love interest just happens to be a police officer/detective.  There’s only one explanation for that: men in uniform. Hot damn! 🙂

I collect pieces of art and sculpture. And to my surprise (or not) one of my heroines is an artist/sculptor. Her love interest is a journalist. (Go figure!) At one point, I majored in journalism, but then quickly changed to English Literature. I figured my imagination could run rampant with the latter.

Hmmm ….This self-analysis stuff can be scary.

Okay, so it seems quite a bit of my favorite things or “likes” wind up in my stories! And because they do, at times, I make a conscious effort to write the opposite.

For example, Octavia Middleton, my heroine in the “Heat Between Us,” is a shoe fiend. She  goes absolutely bonkers over them. She will spend her last dime on a pair of Louboutins. I’m the same way …but only about purses and handbags.

Writing the opposite “like” works well. After all, the book isn’t autobiographical and I don’t want the character to sound like me. One neurotic writer in the house in enough!

On the flip side, when we include some of our favorite things, as we are bound to do, the reader actually gets a glimpse into our personality through our work. Or they’ll at least wonder about certain aspects of the book.

Romance author Rochelle Alers is a favorite of mine and at the top of her game. I’ve read just about every book she’s written. In one of her books, her character is relaxing to the jazz sounds of my favorite saxophone player, David Sanborn.

OMG! Talk about being thrilled to read that! I was happy because 1) His name was in the book and 2) someone else was a big fan (or so I immediately wondered).

I’ve met Ms. Alers and on one occasion I told her how thrilled I was to see that she’d written about him in her book. We chatted about it for a bit and then went on to talk about writing.

Hmm …now that I think about it, I never did ask her if she liked David Sanborn. I guess if an author counsels you on pitching your story to her editor, you shut up, and do what she’s advising, right? David who?

What about you? Have some of your favorite things made their way into your characters’ thoughts, ideas and motivation?

Living through Sandy: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

New Jersey rarely has a devastating hurricane.  Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had our share of Nor’easters, tropical storms, blizzards, blackouts, heat waves and even an earthquake or two.  However, next to  Hurricane Sandy, which caused billions in property damage, and took out power for more than 2.5 million people, those incidents seem to pale in comparison. (My power was just restored this morning at 5:19 am.) Although the entire east coast was affected, New Jersey took the hardest hit.

During this time, I wanted to write—maybe a scene or a chapter if I was really adventurous. But I couldn’t. My only thoughts–during the first 12 to 24 hours of the storm–were of my daughters, who were in their homes without electricity, my sister and dad (who live 60 miles away) and my friends and colleagues. I thought about the strength of the 80 mph winds as they beat against my front awning, my roof and if my rooms would start to flood.

My fur baby, Poe and I braved the storms when it was time to go out for his walk. My head against the wind, I clutched him to my chest and carried him to his favorite spot. And as I did so, I didn’t care how foolish I looked. I just prayed that we both would make it back inside before I was knocked over by the wind.

Two of my daughters made it to my house during the storm.  Deep down, I knew they would find their way to “Moms.” I heard from my other daughter and knew she and my grandson were safe in their house.

Without power, our lives were simple—not that I would want to live like this all the time—but we managed. We ate (thank goodness I had a gas stove and running water), slept and weathered the storm together. I’d charged my appliances (DVD player, iPad, Nook) beforehand, so for a couple of days, we watched movies. By candlelight, we played cards and told funny stories.

Disasters or crisis moments always bring out the good and bad.  During my four days without power I saw quite a bit of both.  To coin a popular Clint Eastwood movie, during Hurricane Sandy, I saw “the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good

First responders: Fire department, police department, EMT’s, nurses, doctors and utilities working around the clock to restore a sense of normal as quickly as humanly possible. Utility companies from Texas, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois,  Wisconsin, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, and even as far as Canada came to help restore power to our state.

News team braving the elements to report up to the minute facts on the storm.

Neighbors helping neighbors by sharing their generators so that a few others could have power.

Pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreen opening their doors to allow people to charge dead cell phones.

New Jersey’s largest utility PSE&G  handing out free ice and water to residents.

NJ Governor Christie’s  call to evacuate low-lying areas that would definitely get the brunt of Sandy’s wrath.

At intersections without traffic lights, people (for the most part) were courteous and alternating as they drove through to allow others to pass.

The mayor of the largest city in New Jersey, Newark Mayor Cory Booker inviting his neighbors in to charge their cell phones. (He had power.)

Jersey natives, Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi will headline a benefit concert for the hardest hit areas in the state.

The Bad

Price gouging by local markets and gas stations.  Before the storm, gas prices were between $3.35 and $3.50, after the hurricane: $4.45, $5, and even $7.

Long lines for gasoline for cars and generators.  People lined up by the hundreds, waiting hours for gas.

The roads without traffic lights and  people who weren’t so courteous. Bumper to bumper traffic.

The Mayor of Atlantic City ignoring the Governor’s warning to evacuate and telling residents it’s safe to stay in their homes.

Mass Transit stopped dead in its tracks, no buses, no trains, no subways.

The Ugly

Looting and stealing generators off front lawns, and gasoline from parked cars.

People shoving and fighting to get gas. Law enforcement being called in to keep the peace.

The devastation of Seaside Heights, its beaches and the roller coaster and rides we all rode on as children destroyed.

Atlantic City residents climbing onto their roofs to avoid the rising ocean waters and to seek help.

Parts of the famous Atlantic City boardwalk ripped to shreds by the tide and winds.

A death toll of more than 40 people along the east coast as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Yes, it could have been worse. But those 40 who lost their lives, were someone’s loved ones.

New York, our neighbor, had its share of woes as well. The Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, as well as the PATH train systems that join our two states were flooded, and unusable.  Lower Manhattan had significant loss in power as well.

Through all the good, bad and ugly, there’s one thing about New Jerseyans (and the east coast for that matter)–we’re resilient.  We will bounce back.

I’m happy to be back and blogging.  For how long, I’m not sure.  They’re predicting another storm next week. But we’ll be ready.  We’ve had a lot of practice.

How would Scarlett O’Hara pitch her novel?

The New Jersey Romance Writers Conference is fast approaching and I’m very excited. Although I’m not pitching a book this year, I hope to do so next year. In every one of my pitches so far, I’ve been fortunate enough to get a request for a partial or full manuscript. But lately, I’ve been wondering about different approaches, and how others make their pitch.

Since I’m a movie nut, I even wondered how some of the most memorable characters in film might have pitched their work. The first character that came to mind is none other than Scarlett O’Hara from “Gone With the Wind” brilliantly played by Vivien Leigh.

How would Scarlett O’Hara pitch her novel?

The editor averted his eyes from the loosely tied manuscript to the green-clad woman sitting across from him. He watched the velvet purse of the same hue–the one she swung back and forth like a pendulum–collect streams of dust that now covered the sparse, makeshift office.

“Miss O’Hara, no one in any of the 11 confederate states would publish this rubbish,” the editor said, his tone stern, yet somehow appeasing. He seemed uncomfortable sitting behind a desk, and it appeared to Scarlett that he’d be more suitable on horseback, or escorting her to the latest ball. She wondered how he taken on this position.

“Fiddle Dee Dee, Rhett Butler. I had Mammy …I mean I spent all day making sure my story had a hook. I even missed Ashley’s barbecue at Twin Oaks to revise it and now that ole mealy mouth Mellie …”

Butler drew a long puff from his cigar and then placed it in the crystal ashtray in front of him. Squinting through the opaque swirls of burnt cedar, he watched the aspiring writer’s reaction with more than a casual interest. “From what I hear, Miss Mellie is a very talented writer.”

Scarlett flung herself against the high back chair, sending a mass of fringe twisting about like a pile of unruly worms. The salon’s curtains used to fashion the gown didn’t leave much for modesty, and her breasts rose and fell with each pout, giving an unapologetic editor a full, unwavering view.

“You’re a beast, Rhett Butler,” she declared, snatching the bodice of her gown together, “And a cad, which is why you simply must publish my memoirs. You’ve insulted my womanly sensibilities. I am a better writer than Mellie. I’ve led a full life with juicy details that could make lots of money.”

“Scarlett, we’re in the middle of a war. People aren’t spending money to read. They’re trying to survive. Besides, your characters are one-dimensional. There isn’t enough conflict. Your heroine has had too easy a life. She sounds like a flirt, a trollop.” His bluish-grey eyes darkened with a mischievous twinkle. “She sounds like you.”

Scarlett stood and then sashayed toward the open window, the slight rustle of her worn petticoat and the boom of distance cannons, fought for the right to be heard. “Why I could be famous and save Tara with all my new wealth. And I wouldn’t have to marry that old man, Frank Kennedy.”

Rhett checked his pocket watch before standing to stretch his well portioned frame. “Scarlett, I’m not in the habit of throwing away money. But if I had an investment, a promise of sort, I’d see what I can do.”

“Keep your proposal and your offer, Rhett Butler. They matter nothing to me. I’ll find another editor or agent. There are plenty you know.”

Then she turned from the window, her eyes gleaming with determination. “Why …why I’ll stay on the other side of Atlanta where it’s still just humming with literary activity. I’ll stay at my Aunt Piddypat’s. She’s knows everyone in Atlanta society and can certainly find one of her editor friends to publish my book.”If that Beecher-Stowe woman can do it, so can I.”

Okay, so if you plan to pitch your book to an agent or editor, I don’t recommend following Scarlett’s approach. The guidelines in the article, “How to Pitch Your Book at a Conference,” will be safer and smarter. The list below gives you a quick overview. The article gets into the nitty-gritty and what you need to know.

1. Do Your Homework
2. Prepare a Pitch
3. Be Professional
4. Break the Ice
5. Conduct Your Own Interview
6. Get a Business Card
7. Make Lemonade from Lemons
8. End the Right Way
9. Pretend You’re From Missouri
10. Breathe

I’d still like to know how Scarlett would have done. 😉

TGIF: Etymology is sexy

I’m off to the NJ Governor’s Conference on Volunteerism, (over 550 people are expected to attend) so my blog will be quick and concise, using one rather than two words, whenever possible. 🙂

I’m an etymology nut. Discovering the root of a word and how it came to be, is so sexy! I know, I need to get out more.

Take, TGIF (Thank God it’s Friday) for example. It is a popular saying. But where did it first catch fire? Probably around 1978 and the catalyst was a movie, by the same name.

Donna Summer, (may she RIP) burst on the scene in a minor role, but with a big song, “Last Dance.”

Now mind you, I was a disco baby!

When Saturday Night Fever, came out with John Travolta strutting down the street, I was too through! I loved the music of the Bee Gees, (RIP Robin and Maurice) Kool and the Gang,the Commodores, (although not really considered a part of the disco era, they had great songs during that time) and Tavares.




Here’s the origin of Friday, according to Wikipedia:

“The name Friday comes from the Old English Frīġedæġ, meaning the “day of Frigg”, a result of an old convention equivocating the Old English goddess Frige with the Roman goddess Venus, with whom the day is associated in many different cultures.”

Hmmm …I wonder if the euphemism. “friggin’ …., has any affiliation to the “day of Frigg.” (Note to self, research that. Could be useful in the next book.)

Anyway, there’s much more that talks about the origin of the word Friday in the Greek, Romance languages, Arabic and Indian. (Thank goodness for Wikipedia or else I’d have to thumb through the encyclopedia.) Very interesting read.

Since it’s Friday, I thought I would end with Donna Summer’s 1978 performance of “Last Dance.” (The things you can find on YouTube! Love it!)

Have a great weekend, everyone. Keep writing, revising, painting, pushing the shutter, sculpting and doing whatever is your passion. See you Monday.