My Top 5 Biggest Pet Peeves in Books

*Rubs hands together in a maniacal manner* This week’s blog challenge is going to be fun. Anyone who knows me knows I have pet peeves about a lot of things, and given that I read 70-100 books a year, I have several that relate to books. Here are my top 5:

  1. “If I only knew…” – I don’t see this one as much as I used to, but it’s when the writer takes the easy lazy way out instead of actually working to put foreshadowing into their story. “If I’d only known then how wrong I was.” Really? Why don’t you try showing us both scenes and letting us, as readers who have brains, draw that conclusion? It’s just a sign that the writer either doesn’t know any other way to build suspense/a sense of dread or that he/she is too lazy to bother to put in the work. It immediately knocks at least one star off the final rating for me and raises my blood pressure. If it happens multiple times in a book, I’ll stop reading.
  2. Characters that are too stupid to live (TSTL) – Most common in romance and YA books, this is a thing that really should be allowed to die out. Please, please, please give your characters common sense. Even if they are vapid – some people just are – give them a sense of self-preservation. I mean, hasn’t everyone seen enough movies/TV by now to know not to reveal to the killer that you’re going to go to the police, especially before you do it? Sadly, the majority of TSTL characters I’ve encountered have been women. Really, we face enough discrimination without the help of this type of character. Usually the TSTL reveal happens because the author needs the character to do something, rather than it being something they would naturally do, so it hits a false note with readers. I think this is lazy character development. It’s fine in a first draft, but before the book is published, the author should take the time to go in and make the action make sense in the context of the world he/she has built.
  3. Second book syndrome – You know this one. It’s when a series, usually a trilogy, has a pretty much pointless second book that serves only as a bridge to the third book. I read one recently that could have been summed up in at most a chapter or two at the beginning of the next book. I won’t name it because I love the author and was shocked to see she’d produced such a waste of time book. “Lady of Avalon” is the classic example for me, which I will cite only because they author is dead. Both “The Forrest House” and “The Mists of Avalon” were fantastic. “Lady of Avalon” felt like an excuse to get the Forest House characters (or their descendants) to where she wanted them to be in Mists.
  4. Weak third books in trilogies – I say this as I’m working on the third book of my Guinevere trilogy, praying I don’t fall victim to this myself. It’s when the first two books in a trilogy are great and you can’t wait to read the last one, only to find yourself thinking “WTF? Did you just not know what to do with the book?” I think some of it can be blamed on the deadline pressures traditionally published authors are under, but some of it likely comes from a lack of clear vision/planning for the whole series. There are some cases in which traditionally published authors have contracts extended and are surprised by having to come up with material for another book, but that doesn’t explain most instances. Either way, there’s no call for a weak final book.
  5. Books that don’t seem to have a point –  There are whole books that I’ve read where I’ve finished it said, “And the point of this was…?” I feel like every story should at least impart to you an idea, an inkling of why the story was told or at least what story was being told. I have read several (sadly, most are literary fiction – it and I do not get along) where I couldn’t tell you what the story was about. It was just a bunch of talking. Or a series of visits between two people. What were they talking about? I have no idea. Nothing of consequence. Think of Waiting for Godot. I’d love someone to tell me what that play was about. Same idea.

*Steps down off of soapbox with a muttered prayer she is never guilty of any of these offenses*

What are your biggest pet peeves in books?

5 Favorite Movies Inspired by Books

So I’m a few days late with the weekly blog challenge post. Whoops.

Last week’s topic was Favorite Movies Inspired by Books. I had to think about this one for a while because the book really is usually better than the movie. But there are the rare occasions where the movie is better, or is at least good. These are five I like:

  1. The Adjustment Bureau – This is hands down one of my favorite movies of all time! I liked it so much, I wanted more, which is how I found it is loosely based on a Phillip K. Dick story called “The Adjustment Team.” If I ever did the Kindle Worlds thing were I wrote in someone else’s copyrighted world, this would be on the top of my list (the movie world, not the short story)! I loved the intersection of reality and spirituality in this movie, the tug between free will and fate/God’s plan. I’ve had plenty of experiences in life that feel like “someone” has intervened, so I can totally relate to this storyline. Plus, Emily Blunt. She’s one of my favorite actresses.
  2. Queen of the Damned – Maybe it’s because Lestat is my ideal fantasy man in this movie – a rockstar vampire – or maybe it’s because he ends up with a pretty redhead, but damn do I like the movie better than the book! The two are really so different that they may as well be unrelated stories. The heroine of the movie, Jessie, is actually only in the book for like two seconds and then she dies. So that makes the movie seem like fan fiction if you compare the storylines. But I can never see that movie enough.
  3. The Haunting (1999) – I feel like such a bad fangirl admitting I’ve never read the source material by Shirley Jackson (whose writing I love) for this movie. But I have seen the original movie, which is actually much, much better. But I have a soft spot in my heart for the overly CGI’ed 1999 version because I stayed in the castle it was filmed in (Harlaxton Manor, in Grantham, England – which is also where Alex in Been Searching for You gets his last name) about a month after they filmed. They still had set pieces and the security guard told us all about the filming. I was obsessed with Catherine Zeta Jones at the time, so I was in heaven. We even got to take home a set souvenir. I have a wardrobe tag that says “photo double – Nell” with the woman’s name (I’ve checked the credits; it’s legit) and my friend got the padlock they used to chain the gates shut, which features very prominently in a few shots of the film. I really think the movie could have been great had they not felt the need to show you the ghost at the end. Up until then, the movie scared the crap out of me. Oh – and Harlaxton really IS haunted. We didn’t know it until after we were there, but several of us had experiences. BTW – if you like The Haunting, be sure to check out Scary Movie 2, which is a spoof of it (and oddly enough, Kathleen Robertson, my ideal Mia from Been Searching for You, plays the Catherine Zeta Jones role in this movie – this is where I got the inspiration for how Mia physically looks). Another one of my favorite movies!
  4. PS I Love You – I admit, I’ve never read the book, and I’ve been told not to, since I am in love with the movie. It’s got all the essential elements of an amazing love story to me. I mean, how can you not love a guy who cared enough to help his widow grieve his own death and eventually move on with her life? Subconsciously, I think this was a bit of inspiration for Annabeth’s letters in Been Searching for You. And he’s played by Gerard Butler. Yummy!
  5. The Princess Bride – I HATED the book, but the movie is one of my favorites. I can pretty much recite it from beginning to end. What did I not like about the book? Well, without giving anything away, it’s much more gritty and realistic than the fairy tale nature of the movie. It also has a “Lady or the Tiger” type ending which leaves the Happily Ever After (HEA) open to interpretation. No, no, no, and no! Wesley and Buttercup live HEA and that is all there is to it! No ruining my childhood romantic fantasies with your intellectualism, William Goldman!

What are some of your favorite movies that are based on books? Have you seen any of the ones I listed? What do you think of them?


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My Biggest Dream in Life – Being a UNWOMEN Goodwill Ambassador

The blog challenge topic few weeks ago was “your biggest dream in life.” I know you know I want to be a New York Times Bestseller and a full-time author, so I’m going to talk about something closer to my heart that I haven’t been very public about. It is my dream to be a goodwill ambassador for UNWOMEN, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

As many of you know – and I doubt no one is surprised about, given the nature of my books – I’m a feminist, which I trace back to my parents for always assuring me I can do anything, and to attending a Catholic all-girls high school. I’ve been supporting women-based charities since I was in college, including Women for Women International (where I’ve sponsored more than a dozen women survivors of war), UNIFEM (which is what UNWOMEN used to be called) and local all-girls schools for women of various ages.

I’ve wanted to work at the UN for years, ever since I heard about Angelina Jolie becoming a goodwill ambassador (I hadn’t heard of them before that, but they date to the 1950s). The UN was the first place I visited on my first trip to NYC.  What has kept me from applying for a job there is 1) I can’t afford to live in Manhattan, and 2) I don’t speak any other languages (sadly my high school French is all but gone). But I figure when my books take off, they might be interested in having me as a spokesperson. When I look at the women who are ambassadors now, Emma Watson, Nicole Kidman and Anne Hathaway, I think, “yeah, that’s company I want to join.”

My ultimate dream is to create a book that captures women’s stories and struggles around the world. I’d love to base it on people I meet on those goodwill trips, and partner with a photographer to bring their faces and voices to greater light in nations like the US and in the UK/mainland Europe, where we don’t pay nearly as much attention to women in Syria, Sudan, Congo, Afghanistan and other war-torn countries as we should.

That, I feel, is an expansion of the mission I have started by telling the stories of women in danger of being lost to history. I may only be able to do little things toward my dream right now, but each one gets me a step closer.

What is your biggest dream in life?

My Ideal Romance Hero (or Alphas, Betas and Gammas, Oh My!)

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

This week’s blog challenge is one I can’t believe I’ve never covered here before: My Ideal Romance Hero. I AM a romance writer, after all.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I am so NOT into alpha males. (Oddly enough I just talked about this during my romance cliche presentation last weekend at the Missouri Writer’s Guild Conference.) If you don’t know what that is, an alpha male is your typical romance hero. He’s usually ripped (think Fabio) and is very masculine, confident and bold. He takes charge to take care of his woman. *shivers* I can fend for myself, thank you. All that testosterone is just not for me.

Give me a beta male any day. A beta male is more vulnerable and sensitive than an alpha. He’s shy, sweet, reliable, trustworthy, easygoing but not a pushover, quick to offer comfort, feels deeply, and avoids confrontation. As author Cynthia Eden says: “The beta, well, he’s the guy you hope to marry in real life. Dependable. Steady. You know, a nice guy. The kind you looked for after you were done playing with the bad boy.”

I wrote Alex in Been Searching for You as a beta male. He’s highly educated, works as a professor (as opposed to alpha male careers like military, cop, fire fighter, construction worker, etc.), and he even cries while reading The Fault in Their Stars. He’s got a thing for theatre and the fine things in life. He’s basically my ideal fantasy man. My Lancelot is also more beta (although he may be a gamma), whereas King Arthur is certainly an alpha, which I did on purpose. Aggrivane is all beta. So is Miles from Been Searching for You. Nick? He’s an alpha-hole. (A subcategory of asshole alphas – this is a real thing in the romance community!)

Actually, the ideal man is probably what is coming to be known in romance circles as a gamma male, a combination of alpha and beta traits. There are shy betas who morph into aggressive, take-change alphas when the heroine is threatened, and alphas who hide a softer, beta side. If I had to pick, give me the former. I’d rather have the sensitive guy who will kick ass if I need him to than the one who kicks ass, but occasionally cries. When I think gamma male, I think Ben Pearl from Interred with Their Bones, who is totally my book boyfriend. he’s an internationally security expert and he protects the hell out of Kate Stanley, but he’s also highly intelligent and is able to keep up with her PhD-level Shakespearean knowledge. *swoon*

Ladies (and men who are so inclined) what does your ideal romance hero look like, physically and in all other ways? I want to know!

Top 5 Places I’d Like to Visit

I’ve been really behind on blogging lately, especially the 52-week blog challenge. So you’ll be getting two a week from me until I can catch up. Then the challenge blog will resume its usual Friday posting date. I skipped two weeks because the questions (greatest strength and greatest weakness) sounded like a job interview and ain’t no one got time for that! Plus, a few of the weeks are things I’ve already talked about here ad nauseam (my story inspirations, where you can find me on social media, etc.).

I’ve been very fortunate to be an international traveler since I was 11. I’ve been to six countries besides my own: England (3 times), Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. I’ve also been in a fair number of places in my own country – from the Pacific Northwest to LA to Sendona and Phoenix to Florida and New York – and of course, all over the Midwest because I live here!

But there are still MANY places I want to visit. Here are my top 5:

The Mediterranean – The French Riviera, Greece, the Amalfi Coast. Yes, yes and yes! If you want a series of books to really make you want to visit the area, read Nora Roberts’ Stars of Fortune trilogy. Ugh, I’m drooling over the landscape!

The Amalfi Coast

Tuscany – Ever since I read Juliet by Anne Fortier, I have been obsessed with getting to Tuscany, specifically Sienna, which is also the birthplace of one of my favorite saints. But my desire to go there was really initiated by the movie Stealing Beauty when I was a teenager.

Tuscany, Italy

The Languedoc region of France – MJ Rose’s latest book, The Library of Light and Shadow, which I reviewed for the Historical Novel Society, really sealed the deal on this one. But I’ve read a few others set there and it’s a wine producing region. I’m also fascinated by the Cathars, who called that region home.

Colliour on the Côte Vermeille

The Hudson River Valley – This is all Carol Goodman’s fault. She sets all of her books here and I want to see if it really has the haunted, gothic atmosphere she evokes. And if so, I’m not coming back!

The Hudson River Valley

Nassau, Bahamas – I’m not exactly sure where I first was exposed to this place – probably a movie, part of me wants to say one with Pierce Brosnan – but by God does it look like heaven!

Atlantis in Nassau

What places top your travel list? I could probably name 50 more!

What Makes Me Laugh Out Loud

I admit it. I’m an easy audience. I laugh easily and LOT. But I don’t have the traditional sense of humor that present society seems to dictate. I can’t stand Will Farrell most of the time (okay, I do love Pearl the Landlord, but that’s more about the little girl) and I hate the gross out immature humor of Judd Apatow and his crew. I have a very dry sense of humor. Maybe it comes from being raised on Mel Brooks movies.

Some things that make me LOL:

  • Snark – which should be obvious if you’ve read Been Searching for You. I blame Clueless.
  • Those memes where people rename animals or ordinary objects. I laugh so hard, I cry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Anything Jeff Dunham does with Peanut. Peanut is my hero.
  • This ridiculously stupid video that has become a running joke at my day job:
  • And this stupid one as well. I love all of Bad Lip Reading, but this one is classic.
  • The minions. I am eternally a 12 year old.

What makes YOU laugh out loud?

Words: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

I’m happy to have found the weekly blog challenge this year because so much of what I would normally share here during my research process is going into my non-fiction book. But I will have some fun tidbits and teasers in a few weeks when the book is in first draft stage.

This week’s theme is “words that make me go ick.” I’m not really sensitive to words like a lot of people are. I have no issues with most of them.

What I don’t like is made-up words/phrases. I couldn’t handle Harry Potter for the longest time because of terms like muggle. (Thank God I got over that one!) I especially despise ones used by the kids nowadays like: totes adorbs, on fleek, jelly (as in jealous), all the feels, I knows, miss your face, squad (when used to refer to friends – um, you only have a squad if you are a cheerleader or maybe a fighter pilot). *shudders* Ugh. I know this is how language evolves (I can still hear my History of the English Language professor explaining this to us), but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I don’t things that make people sound unintelligent.

Words that are fun to say:

  • Berber (my boss and I have a whole running joke around this one)
  • Yert
  • Lugubrious
  • Ishkabibble (I’m trying to bring that one back from the 1920s)

Words I say far too much:

  • Dude (now I’m dating myself)
  • Like (I was like, no, I’m not a Valley Girl. Why do you ask?)
  • Bugger (I watch a lot of British TV, okay?)
  • Oh my god (or OMG, but I don’t say the letters, I use it as an abbreviation in texts and such)
  • F*ck (I try not to curse online, but in real life, I curse like a sailor)
  • Goober (that is my “meant as a compliment” pet name for a lot of people, as well as one of my cats)

Words I love:

I like the $25 words that most people don’t use daily. I think that makes me a word snob. These are few I do use:

  • Oblique
  • Obtuse
  • Ubiquitous

Words I overuse in my books (and try to edit out)

  • That
  • Seemed
  • Smiled
  • Was
  • Just
  • Always

What are some of your favorite words? What about the icky ones? Which ones are just plain fun for you?

Titles – Often the Hardest Part of the Whole Book

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

If you’ve ever tried your hand at writing advertising copy or even had to come up with a title for a paper in school, you’ll understand how difficult today’s blog challenge topic is.

“How I Choose a Book Title”

It’s such a seemingly innocent, easy answer. But that’s like calling a crocodile gentle.

I don’t have a set process for picking my titles, but I’m going to try to break the basic idea into steps:

  1. Working title – I usually start out with some idea of what the book is going to be called, even if it’s really rough. Been Searching for You was called Romance all the way through the end of the first draft because I couldn’t think of anything better. Morgan’s Story and Isolde’s Story are called just that right now. However, when I’m lucky, like with Madame Presidentess, the book idea comes with its title and it doesn’t change. But that doesn’t happen often. When I don’t know, I go with instinct or anything that makes sense. At that point, I’m the only one who sees it and only a handful of people hear it, anyway.
  2. Research – I always look on Amazon to see if a book with my title already exists, and if it does, if it is in the same genre. If not, I go with it. If it does, I look to see if I think readers will get it confused with others. (Have you ever tried to search for a book called Hide without knowing the author? There are like a million. That’s the situation I’m trying to avoid.) Been Searching for You got its title after someone else beat me to publishing a book called He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (which was its second working title). But that turned out to be a good thing because its current title fits the book better.
  3. Marketability Polling – Once I come up with a solid idea that isn’t already taken, I ask a few reader friends what they think. They have a pretty good barometer for what resonates with readers and what is pretty snooze-worthy. I’m going for something that will grab you and tell you something about the book. One of my pet peeves is titles that don’t have anything to do with anything. Like Twilight. What the hell does that have to do with vampires? Nothing frustrates me more than finishing a book and not understanding the title.
  4. Cover Art – I’m usually certain of the title by the time I get to this point, but seeing it on the cover is the clincher for me.
  5. Series – Series are difficult because you want all the book titles to tie together somehow. That makes it easier for readers to know the books are all connected. For example, I knew way back when I started my Guinevere books I wanted the titles to be in the format of “x of y.” Book 1 was originally called Guinevere of Northgallis. When I decided that was too boring, I held a poll of blog readers and also consulted my best friend. Somehow, all of that resulted in Daughter of Destiny. I wanted Book 2 to be called Queen of Camelot, but there’s already a book with that title, so I settled for the very similar Camelot’s Queen. Book 3 has always been called Mistress of Legend. I just liked it because it evokes something we all know about Guinevere (that she was unfaithful to Arthur) and ties in the idea of an enduring legend. Similarly, I’m hoping to have all of the Chicago Soulmates books have titles that tie in the idea of searching/finding/looking, etc. that started with Been Searching for You.

I know some people take a line from the book as the title, but I haven’t had any yet that sound like they’d make good titles. I’m sure traditional publishing houses have their own scientific methods to make book titles attractive. If anyone ever finds out what they are, please let me know!

Authors, how do you choose your book titles? Readers, what makes a book title appealing to you? If you had to rename any of my books, what would you call them? Ideas for Isolde and/or Morgan’s book titles?

Music as Muse

untitled-1Appropriate timing for this week’s blog challenge: Music to Write By, as I was just a guest on Roz Morris’ Undercover Soundtrack earlier this week, talking about songs that inspire my books.

I’m also participating in the #authorlifemonth challenge on Instagram, where a few days ago the topic was writing music.

Each of my books has a playlist, which you can listen to on Youtube:

But when a scene doesn’t have a specific song, I fall back on about a dozen or so movie scores that always work for me (see picture on the right). I love listening to movie scores for a few reasons: 1) I can’t listen to music with lyrics when I write; it’s too many words in my brain at once, 2) they have built in moments of emotion and drama due to the storylines they go along with, and 3) I see stories in my head when I hear classical music. Even if I know what scene a song goes with, often my mind gives the music a totally different story. In this way, the music acts as inspiration.

A few others not pictured that I love:

  • The Last of the Mohicans
  • Becoming Jane
  • The Dutchess
  • North & South (BBC 2004)
  • Mansfield Park (1999)
  • Jane Eyre (2011)
  • Northanger Abbey
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Cider House Rules
  • Chocolat
  • Pretty much anything scored by Alexandre Desplat, Rachel Portman or Nico Muhly

What is your favorite music to listen to? Do you like film scores? If so, which ones? Do you imagine songs to go with your favorite books? If so, what’s on your list?

PS – Yes, I skipped last week’s blog challenge. I was busy and it was about hobbies – I don’t really have any outside of reading, writing book reviews, and research, which are related to my writing. 🙂