Chaos in a Teacup – Part 10

dellani photo dark redSometimes, I ask my author guests where they are from, and how their background, or location has influenced their writing. Quite a lot, as you can imagine. I’ve noticed it in myself. The old adage, Write What You Know, is at least partially true. I would change it though, to Write Where You Know. I’m about as likely to write a story set in New York City, as a fish is to ride a bicycle. I’ve never been there, I know very little about it, and it doesn’t inspire me to create. Other authors would never even consider writing a story set in Florida, Kansas, Mississippi, or Nebraska, though I have used all these locations for my books. Why? Because I’ve lived there, or visited frequently.

My family moved quite a bit when I was young. Before the age of 9, I had lived in Tennessee, Ohio, Massachusetts, Texas, and finally, Nebraska. After high school, I moved to Mississippi, and lived there for 11 years, before moving to Florida. Of those locations, I remember Nebraska and Mississippi well. The others are a bit vague, because I was so young. Since those are places I know, I don’t have to do a lot of research in order to use them as locations. Since I’m basically lazy, I’d rather write about a place I’m passing familiar with, instead of one I have to look up.

You’ll notice in the locations list, I mentioned Kansas. This one puzzles people (myself included) Why write a book set in a small city in Southeast Kansas? Because, that’s where I was when I thought of it. I was in Pittsburg, Kansas, visiting my mother and sister, who live nearby, when I got the idea for a story. It was a small thing—the room number on the door of the motel owner’s apartment—Room103. It struck me as odd that their apartment needed a number. In fact, I had to wonder where Room 101 and 102 were.

I had also been toying with a story pairing up a police officer with a motel owner. My original thought was for a male cop with a female owner, when it clicked. Flip that, and make her a federal officer. Since I’d been speaking to a man who was back for his 40th high school reunion, I made the decision to have the woman back for her college reunion. She was a Deputy Federal Marshal, and her name was Marice Houston. And thus, Room 103 came to be, a fast paced romantic suspense set in Pittsburg, Kansas.

Iroom 103 front cover headed up to the office. There was a line at the coffee pot, so I got my waffle cooking and poured myself some juice. I saw Todd coming in to replenish the coffee. He threw a smile my way. I saluted him. One of the men in the line helped him set it up.

“Sorry about that. We had construction workers stay here last night and they all had huge thermal mugs with them,” Todd explained as the guests grumbled. “I got busy with checkout. It will be ready in about five.”

My waffle done, I buttered it and put on copious amounts of syrup. It’s true, I can’t be trusted with it, because I love it. If I could simply sit down and drink maple syrup, I probably would. It’s fun to lick off someone else…. Pushing that thought aside, I concentrated on my meal preparation.

“I hope you slept well,” a warm, friendly voice said behind me.

I jumped, pointing the syrup bottle at him like a weapon. Squeezing involuntarily, I squirted Todd with a long line of the golden brown liquid. Of course, it was right on the zipper. I wanted to hide, but there was nowhere to go. I was trapped between his lean, hard body and the waffle iron.

Laughing, he grabbed a handful of napkins. “Well, that wasn’t the greeting I’d anticipated. Sorry I startled you, Miss Houston. Glad you weren’t armed.”

I blushed as all eyes turned on me. Taking a step back, I lost my balance, and nearly hit my arm on the waffle iron. Even with it in its protective plastic square, I could feel the heat at my elbow. Strong hands pulled me forward, against that rock hard chest.

“You okay?” His blue eyes held concern.

“Yeah. Fine. Embarrassed as hell….”

“Sorry about that.” He set me on my feet.

Everyone else chose that moment to look away, pointedly viewing the TV or the coffee urn. I gathered my food and found the corner of a table to perch with my meal. There were three other people, apparently together, but they didn’t mind sharing. The room was quite full for so early in the morning. I found out that some of the folks worked and lived there, down the end near the construction workers. Others were, like me, here for the reunion. I recognized a few of the faces, but couldn’t put names to any of them.

The room finally cleared out. I had another cup of coffee and a muffin as I watched the news. An escaped fugitive was on the loose, close to my home in Kansas City, Missouri. That was close enough to here to be unsettling. My coworkers were on high alert and everyone would be out in full force looking for him. They flashed a picture up and I stared at him, memorizing the face as I always do.

“D.W. Scrivener, thirty-four, escaped federal custody during a prisoner transfer from Mississippi. Be on the lookout for this man. If you see him, please notify the police. He is believed to be armed and is extremely dangerous. Do not approach or attempt to apprehend.” The bulletin went on from there. Soon, it cut over to a video of my boss, Alvin Ripley, talking to the head of the St. Louis field office. They were coordinating the search. I’d worked with Reggie Danvers when I did WITSEC. He was a good man, as was Ripley. I knew with the two of them in charge, things would flow quickly and as smoothly as possible.

Catching movement in the doorway, I looked over. Todd Englund stood there with two mugs in his hands, smiling. The room was empty except for the two of us. I noticed it was a little after 9:00. Breakfast was technically over.

“Want another cup? This is my own blend of lethal brew.” He walked over and I noticed he was wearing a different pair of jeans, not decorated with syrup.

“Super, thanks. This is okay….”

“But it’s motel breakfast coffee.” He shrugged, nodding. “This isn’t. I have a buddy who flies to South America on business. He brings it in for me. Black, right?”

I chuckled. “Every cop I know drinks black coffee. It’s faster.” I noticed his was dosed with cream and probably sugar.

“I used to, but it’s too hard on my stomach. Of course, if I didn’t drink six cups before noon, that would probably ease up.” He chuckled, handing me my mug.

Taking a tentative sip, I let the dark aroma waft over me. Closing my eyes, I inhaled deeply. This was a cup of coffee fit for a queen! I rolled it over my tongue like a fine wine. Sighing contentedly, I heard him chuckle.

“My coffee’s good, but I believe that’s the most enthusiastic response either of us ever got.”

Looking back, I’m still surprised that such a quick moment of curiosity inspired an entire book. I’ve since written two others with Marice at the helm. I’m hoping to publish Room 203 this year. It’s set both in Kansas City, Missouri, and Daytona Beach, Florida. You’ll have to read it to find out why.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 9

dellani photo dark redThe last couple weeks, I’ve been talking about inspiration, because it’s an important aspect of an author’s life. I mentioned actual incidents, as well as music. Sometimes, the inspiration for a story comes from another story.

When I wrote a story called New at Love, I introduced a character named Jasper Waters. Jasper is a police officer, and an all around really nice guy. Since his introduction, he’s been in 14 other books. (Not all of them are published yet) He really wanted to take over New at Love and I had a tough time reining him in. I finally had to speak to him, much in the manner I did Sailfish, and explain to him that I would happily give him his own book, if he would be patient. He had to wait through a couple more, but I finally got an idea for his story.

The Ninja Tattoo focuses on Teague, who has been in the military, and done some dodgy things. Obviously, he wasn’t doing that on his own, he had friends and battle buddies who were with him. When my friend, Aileen Aroma, asked to be in my next Teague book, I made her his former commanding officer. One day, she calls him, very upset, to tell him that their friend, Nadeya, has dropped off the radar.

Considering that Nadeya isn’t exactly stable, Aileen is terribly worried about her, and asks Teague to track her down. When a dead body is found at the inlet in New Smyrna, matching the description of a man Nadeya was tracking, Teague has to get there quickly. Since he’s in Daytona, he calls his friend, Jasper, for transportation. Jasper’s boat is docked in Harbor Oaks, and he’s happy to shuttle Teague across. Thus began Conduct Unbecoming, a romantic suspense which stars Jasper.

I love this guy. He’s larger than life, friendly, kind, outgoing, fun loving and, in his own words, hits on anything with tits. Yes, he’s a player, but he dreams of being a one woman man. Of course, he’ll never admit this to anyone. I couldn’t have him settle down with an average, normal, boring woman. He needed someone interesting, adventurous, and a little frightening. Nothing quite as exciting as a woman who can kill you in a variety of ways, huh? At least, that’s how Jasper thinks. Taking his life, quite literally, into his own hands, he decides to meet Nadeya. After all, she had hitched a ride on his boat. She’s staying in a tiny cabin in a small park near the river.

As he approached the door, Jasper prayed for inspiration. It was going to conduct front covertake some fast talking for Nadeya not to freak out and kill him. He raised his hand to knock. Rethinking his position, he moved so he wasn’t standing directly in front of the door, but slightly to the side so the thick, log wall protected him. He tapped lightly and waited for a response. The curtain over the tiny window moved aside imperceptibly. Only someone trained to be observant would have seen it.

Jasper faced the window and smiled. “I’m Jasper Waters,” he said quietly. “I’m a friend of Teague’s. You hid on my boat.”

The door opened a crack and one dark, wary eye peered at him. “I remember you. What?”

“May I come in? The skeeters are pretty nasty and they’re feasting on me.”

Nadeya took a step back, leaving barely enough room for Jasper to squeeze through. She shut the door with her foot and slammed him against the wall, one hand pulled up at an uncomfortable angle behind him. She did a thorough frisking of him, leaving no areas untouched, before letting him go. She stepped out of easy reach, eyeing him with a neutral expression.

“I just want to talk,” Jasper said, holding his hands slightly from his sides.

“You’re a cop. Why should I talk to you?”

“Because I don’t think you killed that man on the beach. We’re both friends of Teague’s, maybe we could build on that.”

“Teague has lots of friends….”

“No, Teague knows every damn body, but there are only a few of us he calls friends. You’re one of them—He told me what happened to your fiancé.”

She tightened up. Jasper took a step back, raising his hands.

“Would he share that with just anyone?”

Nadeya’s lower lip trembled slightly and she blinked hard. Jasper caught the hint of a tear in her eyes.

“He wouldn’t unless he knew I would help. You think I drop what I’m doing and run everyone out to a crime scene just cause I’m nice? Teague and I trust each other and I’d like to extend that courtesy to you, if you’ll let me.”

She stared at him several minutes, sizing him up. She gestured to one of the two chairs near the window. “Want some water or instant coffee? It’s all I’ve got.”

“Water would be good, thanks.” Jasper sat.

Nadeya got two bottles of water out of the mini-fridge and tossed him one. Jasper caught it with a grin. His left hand gripped it as he twisted it open.

“Nicely done. Now you know I’m a lefty.”

Nadeya smirked. “And you’re not armed. I could have taken your head off.”

“Yup, but I trusted you wouldn’t. And I thank you for that.”

She nodded as she opened her own bottle. “So, you’re here, talk.”

Jasper told her what he and Teague had figured out about the man on the beach. He even told her about C.L.A.D.

“What do you know about that?” Nadeya leaned closer, whispering.

“Bits and pieces, nothing concrete. What do you know?”

Nadeya looked furtive. “I shouldn’t tell you. We could get in a lot of trouble.”

Jasper held his hands out, palms up. “Who am I gonna tell? Except maybe Teague. Look, the more we know about this, the better. What do you say?”

She looked away, biting her lip. “I don’t know much more than you do. They intended it as a new interrogation technique. It’s supposed to be a way to reprogram people’s minds.”

“Like brain washing?”

“Kind of. More sophisticated, but still a way to break them. I know that someone else got ahold of it though. They were using it on us!” Anger flared in her eyes.

“Us—as in you personally?”

“No. But some of our soldiers. There was a captain I heard of, they tried to kill him off in a raid, but he took out everyone who attacked his convoy. They stole his memories and gave him a fucking medal.”

“Shit! How do you know about that?”

“The subject came up as they tortured my fiancé,” she mumbled.

“Oh, Nadeya, I’m sorry.”

“I know that. Next to Teague, you’re the only man I trust.”

Jasper exhaled sharply. “That’s quite a compliment. Thank you. I know you can’t possibly feel safe here. Would you like to come to my house?”

Her eyes grew hard. Jasper pressed his lips together, shaking his head.

“I’ve got a hell of a security system. Even you would have trouble sneaking through. I’ve got a couple acres around my place so I can see trouble coming and I’m armed better than Fort Knox. I’ve got a guest room with your name on it.”

Nadeya relaxed. “And leave this luxury accommodation?”

“I’ve got more to drink than water and instant coffee. I’ll even throw in breakfast.”

Nadeya’s smile was shaky. Taking a deep breath, she tried to smile again. Tears welled before she could stop them. She didn’t trust her voice, so she nodded.

“Good. Get your stuff and we can go. My car’s outside the gate.”

“My car?”

“It’s a rental, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Anything in it?”

She rolled her eyes at him. Jasper chuckled.

“I had to ask. I know it’s dumb. Get your gear.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 8

dellani photo dark redAs I mentioned last week, inspiration can come from anywhere at any time. Sometimes, an author is woken from a deep sleep, having to fumble around in the dark for a pen and paper to record the idea. If we don’t do so, we’ll very likely lose it. Inspiration is ephemeral, emerging from the ether, only to recede just as suddenly. If the author doesn’t capture it, chances are good, it won’t come back. To a non-author, this idea is ridiculous.

Ideas don’t just pop out of thin air!” the non-author will exclaim.

Wanna bet?” the author will reply, rather tartly, to be sure.

I imagine that artists and musicians understand this feeling. The ideas for paintings, photographs, sculptures and songs come from the same well of inspiration as stories and poems. Not much is more frustrating than having a wonderful idea, only to lose it because I didn’t have a chance to write it down. This happens quite often when I’m driving. I can’t stop in traffic to dig a pen and paper from my purse, so I have to go over and over it in my mind until I get home. Best thing to do under those circumstances, is to find a place to stop, so that the words can take over for a little while.

A song can inspire a story. Whether I be something in the lyrics, or the memory attached to it. I had decided to write a story for the City Nights Series from Tirgearr, and settled on Daytona Beach as the venue. I may live here, and find it somewhat mundane, but to others, Florida is exotic. I had absolutely no idea when it would take place, but after chatting with my amazing publisher, I decided on Daytona Bike Week as the backdrop. People come from around the world to participate in this annual event, and the area is crawling with more bikers, than there are residents, in Volusia County. It seemed the perfect way to bring my characters together for a night of excitement.

Draven Wick grew up in Daytona Beach, and still has family there. Now a famous TV star, he heads to Bike Week. While enjoying the beachside events, he sees his first love, Jamie Humphrey, modeling at a bike auction. Below is an excerpt from when he sees her again fo the first time in ten years.

One_Night_in_Daytona_Beach_by_Dellani_Oakes - 200Long, dangerous legs, an ass that wouldn’t quit, lush curves clad in skimpy black leather, flaming red hair wafted on the breeze while the rumble of a thousand Harleys filled the air. He couldn’t draw his eyes from the gorgeous redhead, whose hair reminded him of the flames on the side of his bike. Heavy metal music thrummed from gigantic speakers, banging and echoing from the sides of the nearby condos. Cameras snapped, his included, as she draped herself over the motorcycles being raffled off for charity. The line to register wound around the parking lot.

“I’d like to rev her engine,” one man said as he stuffed his tickets into his wallet.

“Full throttle,” the man next to him laughed loudly at their joke.

Every man there was thinking the same thing, which was the entire point of having a sexy, long legged woman straddling the chrome studded leather seat. Leaning on the handle bars, she rocked back, her chest to the sky as she arched her spine. With a quick swing of her legs, she did a shoulder stand on the seat, then lowered her feet with agonizing slowness so that the toes of her high heeled boots pointed directly at the patch of stretched black leather between her thighs.

Draven nearly dropped his phone. The man next to him let his cup of beer slide from his numb fingers. Every man in the line eyed her with fascination. Though disgusted with the behavior of the men, the women couldn’t help but stare too. They were amazed that anyone could do such antics on a motorcycle. The music continued to thrum and pound at them as they watched her routine. In a fleeting moment of coherence, Draven recognized it as Killing Strangers by Marilyn Manson. She was certainly slaying every man in the place with her sexy routine.

“Hey, buddy, your turn!” the man at the cash register called, snapping his fingers.

Draven stumbled forward, his legs having lost the ability to move without conscious thought. He fumbled with his wallet and phone, trying to slide one out and the other into the pockets of suddenly too-tight jeans.

“How many?” the man asked, all business.

“Um, how much are they?”

“Hundred a piece.”

“You take plastic?”

“Everything but American Express.”

“I’ll take five.”

“You got it.” He filled out Draven’s details, rang up the cost and scanned his plastic.

“Does the girl come with it?” the man behind Draven asked. He was old and fat, not the kind of man a girl like her would even look at once. His words might have been said in jest, but coming from his slobby, heavy jowled mouth, it was seriously pervy. The men behind the table and near him in line, gaped at him, horrified.

“That young lady is my daughter,” the man who handled Draven’s transaction growled. “So you watch what you say.”

“How’s a man let his daughter act like a hoor in public,” the fat man yelled, slamming a meaty fist down on the table.

Startled by the noise, the girl lost her balance as she rolled out of the shoulder stand. Toppling, she fell. Draven leaped toward her, covering the ten feet to the cycles, in a superhuman rush. He steadied her, helping her sit up slowly. Getting a good look at her face, he felt a spark of recognition.

“Jamie Humphrey?” He touched her cheek, brushing her hair from the corner of her full, red lips.

“Draven Wick? Oh, my God! Is it really you?” She clung to him, hugging him tightly. “How many years has it been? Ten?”

“About that. God, you look fantastic!”

Clasping his face, she gazed into his golden hazel eyes. “Thank you for catching me.”

“You’re welcome. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Thanks.”

Others had gathered around, watching the scene unfold. When it became apparent that the woman wasn’t hurt, the men at the desk went back to selling tickets.

“That’s not really your dad,” Draven murmured.

“Of course not. He just says that so that men will leave me alone.”

“How about fair time for the women?” a heavyset woman called from the line. “Let’s see the hunk take his shirt off!” she whooped.

Women all over the parking lot cheered and whistled. Draven cast a saucy look at Jamie. The music had changed once more, pounding out Closer by Nine Inch Nails—the unedited version, he noted with a grin. Grabbing the bottom of his shirt, he raised it with agonizing slowness as his hips gyrated to the sexy music. Jamie played it up, running her hands under the shirt, rubbing his abs and tugging on the cloth with her teeth.

More cameras snapped and the women yelled loudly, screaming at him to take it all off. As he did a lecherous bump and grind, Draven strutted around the bike. Between the two cycles, he twirled his shirt, straddling it. Riding it like a hot woman, he continued to dance. Jamie hopped up, standing behind him, she ran her hands up and down his tight abs and hard thighs. Spinning to face her, Draven roped Jamie with his shirt, pulling her close to dirty dance with him. The song ended and he spun her under his arm, dropping her into a low dip, her back arched, breasts high. Red hair tickled the pavement as he raised her with one arm. Faces mere inches apart, they tried to catch their breath. It took some time before they realized that the line was now three times what it had been. Women ringed around them, waving money at Draven.

“You grew up nice, Wick,” Jamie said, taking a step back. Her hand drifted down his chest to the top of his jeans. Eyes wide with delight, she dangled her fingers by his zipper. With tantalizing deliberateness, she touched the fabric that strained across his throbbing member.

“You keep that up, I can’t be responsible,” he whispered.

“You keep that up, I can’t be either,” she replied.

In case you missed it, there were two songs in the beginning of that excerpt. Why I thought of having Draven do a modified strip-tease to Closer, I don’t know. It seemed to fit. Also, if you’ve ever listened to the song, it’s got some interesting lyrics.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 7

dellani photo dark redA favorite question asked by chat show hosts, like me, is “Where does your inspiration come from?” Or, we might ask, more specifically, where the inspiration for a specific book came from. Why do we do this? Well, because it’s a good question, and it drives authors crazy.

Inspiration can come from anything, anywhere. Quite often, we can’t pinpoint it to a specific moment. The idea wasn’t there, then it was. It can be a word in conversation, something we see on TV, a traffic snarl, a mud puddle. (This last one is mine, I confess.)

It was a wonderful idea for a short story, back when I was in college. I was walking from the Fine Arts building, across a narrow driveway to he McDonald’s, and a car splashed through a mud puddle. It swirled in a dreamy, hypnotic fashion, making me think of cream swirling in a cup of coffee. I can’t remember the starting line, nor the entire story, now. However, I started writing it on paper napkins while I ate my meal. (I’m sure this is why they switched to those ineffective, half napkins.)

Sometimes, we think of putting two people, from completely different backgrounds, together. I don’t mean just rich vs. poor, but that works. Often, my couples are people who wouldn’t have met, save for a peculiar twist of fate which brought them together.

When I wrote The Ninja Tattoo, I found inspiration in something bizarre and unsettling which happened to me. Though I dramatized it somewhat for my story, it was alarming enough to remember and chronicle. Below is an excerpt from the story, to illustrate what I mean. 

The Ninja Tattoo by Dellani Oakes - 200The road was empty as he drove south toward his job site in Oak Hill. He had an estimate to do down there and had to be in New Smyrna by 10:00, leaving him a couple hours in between. By the time he got to the police station in Edgewater, only a few blocks from his home, he’d joined a convoy of sorts. In the lead was a bronze Ford F150. Directly in front of Teague was a guy on a motorcycle. Behind him was another motorcycle, a red Jeep and, he thought, a third bike behind the Jeep. It seemed odd since the road had been so empty before. He couldn’t quite remember when he came upon these others, but figured they all had the same idea, keeping out of stop and go school zone traffic on US-1.

The pickup was going the speed limit, which was a little frustrating. In fact, the driver went 25, then 20, 30 and 15. Teague wanted to lay on his horn, but didn’t want to startle the biker, so he kept his frustration to himself. The biker didn’t look any happier with the truck than he was. From time to time, he glanced behind him, trying to see around Teague’s white Dodge Ram. Apparently, the motorcycles were traveling together and somehow Teague had gotten in between them.

At the turnoff for 442, the guy ahead of Teague gestured with his left arm, motioning as if he were turning. Teague slowed, anticipating the right turn, but the biker sped up, his black Ninja following the truck as it continued past the intersection. Instead, the red Jeep, followed by another biker, turned right and headed up 442. This left the Ford truck, Teague and two bikers. He wondered what was going on. His overactive imagination clicked into high gear and he started imagining scenarios.

Maybe the guy in the truck is with them and he’s giving directions to the guy on the white Ninja?

He thought that over, wondering how they were communicating. The guy ahead of him was probably about his age with short, sandy brown hair. He had on a T-shirt, baggies, skater shoes and sunglasses.

The biker behind Teague was also on a Ninja, this one bright blue, He wore a white helmet with a dark visor. He was wearing clothing similar to the man ahead of him. What characterized them both was the fact they were heavily tattooed. Teague had first mistaken their coloring as a tan or sunburn. Closer inspection revealed elaborate tattoos on neck, arms and legs.

The road turned right, coming to an end at US-1. Stopping for the light, the man ahead of Teague leaned back on his bike, glancing at the man behind Teague, he pointed left. The other fellow nodded, giving the lead biker a thumbs up. The light changed and the white Ninja followed the truck while the blue one followed Teague.

Feeling a bit paranoid, he moved over to the right lane, anticipating that the biker would go around him. It didn’t even occur to him that the other man would stay behind him, but he did. He didn’t ride Teague’s bumper, rather stayed at least two car lengths back, shadowing him. If Teague changed lanes, so did the biker.

The hairs on his neck stood at attention. Something was decidedly weird. This man’s behavior negated everything Teague had ever seen bikers do. They generally crowded until they could pass, then buzzed around the other vehicles way too fast, disappearing suddenly as they sped up.

Approaching the gated subdivision near Oak Hill, Teague signaled his turn. The biker looked ready to follow, but continued down the highway. As Teague checked in at the security gate, the biker slowed, making a U turn at the next intersection, then he continued back up US-1. Once he was cleared, Teague drove to the house whose yard he was landscaping. He tried to put the bikers out of his mind, but their odd behavior was so out of the ordinary, he couldn’t.

Though dramatized for story purposes, this incident is true. I found it so disturbing, I used it as inspiration for my 2009 NaNo novel. It was so compelling, I submitted it to Tirgearr Publishing, and it became my first novel published with them.

An author can never predict what will inspire them to write, but it’s fun asking them, just to see what they will say.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 6

dellani photo dark redAs was mentioned in Part 5, characters occasionally go on a rampage, or at least run wild. They don’t heel and they sure as hell aren’t going to apply their own brakes. The first time they do this (or the second, or the twentieth) it can be disconcerting, if not terrifying.

My historical romance, Indian Summer, is a prime example of this. I had, in my foolish naivete, expected the characters to do what I wanted. My intention, when I began the story, was to have Gabriella unhappily married to Manuel, who was to be a drunken gambler who beat her. She would run away, meet Sailfish, and live happily ever after.

Well. That didn’t happen. For starters, Gabriella refused to fall in love with anyone but Manuel. Although he was a bit of a bad boy, he reined himself in, stopped drinking, quit gambling, and became a model citizen! Instead of fighting and causing her to leave, he did everything in his power to protect her. She met Sailfish, who fell for her, but she refused his advances, steadfastly holding onto her love for Manuel.

Sailfish was determined to take over the story, but I convinced him (after a long, in depth chat) to behave. I had to promise his own book, where he fell in love with a woman who would fall for him. Thus, Savage Heart was born.

All this to say – sometimes, characters go mad. It’s true! If you’ve captured their personalities accurately, they will go off the rails. As an author, you shouldn’t be surprised by this. In fact, you should embrace it, because it means you did your job right. Ray Bradbury said it best, “First, find out what your hero wants. Then just follow him.” This is the single best advice I ever gleaned as an author.

Another really good piece of advice, from actor, director, writer, producer, author Ken Farmer. “Just write the damn story.” To elaborate a little: don’t worry about voice, plot, outline, characters, or your approach. Worry about telling the story from start to finish. Problems can be fixed, errors made in editing. Just write the damn story.

I adhere to both of these pieces of advice. I have found them useful more than once, especially if, like now, I’m working on a story that doesn’t want to end. If I try to force an ending, it will become stilted, awkward. Yet, I begin to feel as if it’s never going to finish, and no one (including me) will want to read it. I have to remind myself that there is more for the characters to say, so just write the damn story. Good or bad, get it done.

I’ve managed to get off topic, a little – sorta – kinda. Oh well, when you’re working with a Pantser, that happens.

The point of this article – listen to your characters. They have really good ideas. In fact, they know how to tell the story better than we do. I figured out a long time ago, I’m merely the conduit for the story to be told – by the characters. I don’t govern the tale any more than I can stem the tide, or leash the wind. Rather than trying to bend things to your will, allow yourself to listen. The results will surprise you, often in a really good way.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 5

dellani photo dark redIdeas are like opinions. Everyone has one. Some are good, some aren’t. It’s really up to the individual to judge that for him/herself. With authors, this is reflected in our approaches to writing our stories.

How-to-Write authors frequently advocate only one style of writing – The Planner Style. To wit, authors must have a plot outline from start to finish. They must know beginning, middle, climax and ending before putting one word on paper.

If they’re really going to do it up right, they have their characters named, described and have backstories for them all. Their setting is fixed in stone, the timeline, story arc, et cetera….

These books will also espouse that this is THE ONLY WAY to write. (Laughably untrue, but we allow these folks to have this delusion) Since I have several author friends who adhere to this way of writing, I applaud it, but I’m here to tell you, it’s not THE ONLY WAY to write. It is ONE WAY to write.

These folks, often called Planners, are the organized end of the spectrum. Many of them have science and mathematical backgrounds. Their minds are more analytical, and the orderliness of an outline makes them comfortable. Again, I don’t disrespect this approach, I just know it’s not for me.

There are a few who take this a step, or two, further. They plot on a big white board. I know of one who has devoted a wall of her office to plotting with color coded index cards or post-it notes. (Mind officially boggled) I’m glad it works for her. That idea makes me flee in panic. Again, not for me.

I fall into the next category, the Pantser. Derived from the term: …by the seat of my pants… it’s a very accurate (or perhaps slightly inaccurate) way to describe this far less organized approach.

How do Pantsers begin their stories? Well, it varies, but mostly we pluck an idea from the ether, sit at the keyboard (or with a notebook, or perhaps narrating software) and we go for it.

There is no outline. There is usually no idea where the story will go, how it will end, or even who our characters are. Sometimes, we have a loose notion of where we might, possibly, like the story to go. That usually gets swept away the second a character walks onto the page. Those guys have a mind of their own, and they take off running. I just grab on and struggle to keep up.

Pantsers don’t do a story arc. We don’t know who our characters are. Outline? Pfft! We don’t need no stinking outline! Of the authors I’ve interviewed, it seems the more of them use this approach than the more organized Planner method. We might not be as neat and tidy, but we’re still cranking out books, so this method must be viable, at least for some of us.

The final category is an interesting blend of both. Dubbed Plantsers, this style blends the organization of Planners with the more organic Pantser approach. These authors take a bit from here, a smidgen from there, and make it their own. (I, very occasionally, fall into this category.) My planning may be in the form of post-it notes stuck to character sheet, but it works for me.

Plantsers usually have a loose outline, but respect the fact that it will change during the story. They often have a general idea of plot climax, story arc and all those things that Planners love. Once in awhile, they know their characters going in. If it’s a sunny day, they also know their names, descriptions and other basic facts. This may, or may not, include a character sketch.

All those organizational bits aside, Plantsers recognize that characters are like loose canons, and they will occasionally misfire, or go on a rampage (of sorts), throwing off the reins of the author’s control, to tangle themselves in something else. They understand that outlines are written in the sand, not in stone, and are, therefore, variable. Once in awhile, they may gain the anticipated ending, but they are willing to allow their characters to take the lead.

However an author approaches the craft, there are a few things that ALL AUTHORS MUST ADHERE TO. These aren’t variable or negotiable, so pay attention:

Write well.

Edit well.

Don’t ramble.

Have your characters sound as different as they are.

Give a satisfying ending.

Edit again.

Use good grammar.

Tell a good story.

Edit another time.

Edit some more.

Edit.

Whether you outline or not, a good story is the goal.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 4

dellani photo dark redIf there’s one thing I’ve discovered, after interviewing dozens of authors, it’s that we don’t all write the same way. Our methods are as individual as we are. What works for me, won’t work for others. What this friend, or that, uses to organize, won’t mean anything to me. That’s okay. Take what works for you, and run with it.

That being said, allow me to list a few author types:

Those who type. As the name implies, these are the folks who sit down at the computer (or possibly the typewriter) and compose at the keyboard.

Those who write by hand. Some of us like the feel of pen (or pencil) and paper. Many use the typing process as an initial editing phase.

Those who narrate. I’ve tried the Digital Dragon software. While I liked it, it didn’t like me, much. I used names it didn’t understand, and apparently I don’t enunciate as well as I thought. However, it’s a handy tool.

There are, of course, combinations and variations, but these are the basic categories I’ve most often encountered.

For those who type or narrate, this isn’t as important. However, for those who write by hand, stay tuned.

On occasion, like when I have a doctor’s appointment, I don’t want to lose that time – particularly if I’m in the middle of a story. I’m old school, in some respects. I will take a notebook and pen with me to the appointment, and write while I wait. Since some of my doctors make me wait quite awhile, I have plenty of time to work on different stories.

However, when I’ve taken the story home and typed it out, I want to do something else with those pages. I used to keep the notebooks all stacked up, but the spirals tangle, and they’re bulky. If I tear out the pages, they can get lost, mixed up, or thrown out. That’s where an accordion file comes in handy. I take the loose pages, and drop them in one of the pockets.

Don’t for one second think that’s the only step in the process – wrong, wrong, wrong! I might have to go back and reference something that I cut out of the typed manuscript. Usually, I do this on purpose, but other times, I miss a line or so when I’m transcribing. If I had to dig through all the handwritten pages, with no hints or clues, I’d be at it all day.

Instead, I write the page number, date and story title at the top of each page. If it’s a long title, I scribble enough to give me a clue. Sometimes, that’s just the main character’s name. As I transcribe, I put a big check mark on the right hand side of the page, so I can see it easily when I flip through. I take all the pages and either staple, or clip, the pages together. Then, I drop them into the accordion file.

This sounds so simple and logical, but it took me a long time to think of it. I have a very steep learning curve, and I’m kinda slow on the uptake. Once I figure a system out, I just have to stick to it. That’s the key to it all. Make your system, and use it. What good is a method of approach, if you don’t implement it?

This doesn’t mean that I don’t still lose things. I’ve got a story that I’ve been working on for over a year, mostly written by hand. I only seem to work on it when I go to the doctor. Unfortunately, I think I filed it before I finished typing it. I have a memory of tearing it out of the spiral (since it had only a couple pages left in it) and trimming the tattered edge off. (I only buy the perforated page notebooks) After that, I’m not sure where it went. I must have gotten interrupted, and moved it off the desk before it was done. This will mean a file dive, but I’m not afraid, because I have a system – ish. I won’t say it’s foolproof, for I don’t label the pockets of the files. I tried doing this, but since things change around a lot, it becomes tiresome to keep fixing labels. Since the pages are marked, it’s just a matter of taking the time to look. I think I have a loose leaf notebook with the untyped stuff in it, but can’t confirm that with any accuracy, so we’ll table that…. I have, on occasion, tried that, only I manage to lose the notebooks under other stuff. (If you saw my office, you would understand. No, I shall not be posting pictures.)

As you can see from the picture, below, this is how my handwritten pages look. The date and title in the upper right corner, the big check mark further down. This is the story I work on at the doctor’s office. The full title is Tree Line Avengers, but the abbreviated title works just fine. If I’m writing a lot, I simply call it Tree. (Please excuse my penmanship.)

Treeline Avengers sample page 001

I used to number pages per writing date, for example: this page started a 15 page session. The next time I sat down to write, it was only 3. I numbered the pages with the date, numbering per writing session 1 – 15 and 1 – 3.

However, after I started a novel at my daughter’s in July, and continued hand writing until it was finished, I stopped doing that, and numbered consecutively. I’ve kept up with this practice. Overall, easier than the other method. That particular book, I wrote out longhand and transcribed. It took a really long time to type it all up, since it was over 200 pages hand written! Normally, I won’t do that, but the story seemed to pour forth, and I was afraid to stop the flow of narrative by typing out what I’d already written. Instead, I finished the story, then went back and typed it.

Since I type quickly, and can finish a novel in a matter of days, I rarely employ this method. It’s much slower, and transcribing plays hell with my vertigo. For this particular book, it worked, so I’m not complaining.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, because that’s so untrue. However, I have a few simple, inexpensive things, which I do to keep myself a little better organized. As I have more ideas, I shall add articles to my Chaos in a Teacup series.

Feel free to leave messages and tell me how you organize yourself. If my ideas work for you, please let me know!

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 3

dellani photo dark redThis series of articles were inspired by several author friends who have expressed awe at my organization (rude snort) or have complained about blogging. Since I’m not one to tell the truth, when fabrication will do, I thought I would throw off the veil of misconception, and reveal my less than stellar organization methods, as well as give a few blogging tips.

One major complaint my author friends have is that blogging is tedious and they don’t have the time. Time is a factor, yes, but with a little imagination, you can work out those issues. You need not do it on the day it’s due. Blog Spot and Word Press allow you to post things well in advance. When you have a few minutes, instead of watching Netflix, or chatting on Facebook or Twitter, go to the blog and cut and paste a few quotes. If you have them all set up with the copyright, links and any tags you want, you can do it very quickly. Get a system, streamline it, and go for it. Do what you can, come back to it later, do more.

CUT AND PASTE ARE YOUR FRIENDS! Learn to use them to your advantage.

Is it tedious? Yes. Boring? You bet. But I put on good music, open my files and can hammer out a full month in a couple hours. You needn’t do daily posts, unless you wish to. You can do every other day, a two days a week, or have one specific day each week that you post. Whatever you choose, be consistent. Don’t promise to post something new every Sunday, and fail to do it. And for goodness sake, don’t keep saying “I’ll write something soon!” No one has time for that.

A lot of my author friends have said that they didn’t get a steady following, so why bother to blog? The problem isn’t blogging, or the readers, it’s you. You must give your audience something new, or they’ll quit coming by. Give them a fun quote, a snarky comment, a deleted scene that you pulled from the book, an interview with one of the quirky characters – anything to keep their interest. I gave a lot of ideas in part 2 of this series.

By the way, it’s okay to post the same stuff in separate locations. Not all readers follow my Blog Spot, or Word Press Blogs. A select few follow both, but mostly they’re separate. I also have a separate following on Cereal Authors, though there are a few who have drifted over to Dellani Oakes. I make sure to link my Character Quotes and other excerpts, to that main blog.

Find friends who blog, ask them to share your snippets and articles on their pages, share theirs, help others with book launches. Their fans will visit your page, and they can look to see what you have as well. Each new hit is a feather in your cap.

It takes a lot time to build a platform. This doesn’t happen overnight. You can Tweet, Instagram, flood Facebook, tangle yourself up on Good Reads, and still not reach the people you’re after – readers. They want something to read. Readers are far less likely to want an article on How to Write. They don’t care about author resources. They aren’t in the writing business. Instead of making yourself crazy with a bunch of posts on grammar and story building, select bits of your stories and share them.

Feed the need and blog like ya mean it.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 2

dellani photo dark redThis series of articles were inspired by several author friends who have expressed awe at my organization (rude snort) or have complained about blogging. Since I’m not one to tell the truth, when fabrication will do, I thought I would throw off the veil of misconception, and reveal my less than stellar organization methods, as well as give a few blogging tips.

Because publicizing is an all important job for an author, I blog a lot. I try to have things posted daily on the Cereal Authors Blog, with two days a week on the Dellani Oakes Blog and another two days a week at Writer’s Sanctuary. This is a lot of work! Since each blog gets a slightly different audience, it’s also important.

Many authors tell me that blogging is confusing, time consuming, boring, frustrating, etc. They forget, can’t be bothered, don’t have time…. You name it, they have an excuse. No, it’s not fun. Yes, it’s tedious and frustrating, all those things, but it does get you more visible as an author. Someone can Google my name and get nearly a dozen pages of hits. I’ve watched that number grow over the years, and I’m very proud of it.

I decided to address these complaints about blogging, hoping to help my author friends with their own exposure. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really not that hard. Each of these tips took me a long time to come up with, because I’m fucking slow on the uptake (Yes, I cursed. Ooops…)

What to Blog:

Many of my friends seem to think they have to blog an article. They don’t have enough ideas, don’t have time to write, blah-blah-blah (You get the idea) Unless they’ve written only one book, there is an easy fix for this – blog excerpts, quotes and snippets from your books. Whether they are finished or not, you can use the quotes daily. My dear friend, JD Holiday, gave me the idea of posting daily Character Quotes, which I do at Cereal Authors. Grant you, I’ve got 162 books both finished and unfinished, so I have a lot of material. Not everyone has that, but it’s a starting place.

Write short stories and share them in serial form. That’s where the idea of Cereal Authors came from, sharing our stories a bit at a time. I also do it on my Dellani Oakes Blog. I’ve shared close to a dozen full length books, a couple of typed pages at a time, over a year or so. It gives people a feel for my books and, with luck, they will go buy some of the others.

As I read through and edit my books, I collect character quotes. I take a few lines of dialogue and post them daily. To make this easier, I have (finally) learned to set them up ahead of time. I keep files of Character Quotes, marking each book with its title, so it can be found. At the end of each piece, I put the copyright date, a buy link and a link back to my Dellani Oakes Blog. Once they go live, I share them on a variety of social sites.

Sample Character Quote Post from Savage Heart – Historical Romance:

Smirking, Sailfish kindly averted his eyes, still holding out his hand. “You should have checked the brush before squatting,” he told her as he lifted her to her feet.

“Sorry. We had dogs at home. Snakes weren’t often a problem, and certainly not by the latrine.”

“Next time, check.”

“Next time I’ll know to.” She smiled her thanks, blushing.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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For longer scenes, I share things like I Love Dialogue, Sexy Without the Sex, Vile Villains, Notable Narrative and First Meetings.

Most of these are fairly straight forward, but with Notable Narrative, I pick descriptive passages that appeal to me. Sexy Without the Sex is exactly what it sounds like. I take titillating scenes, which don’t contain the actual act, but are still kinda hot.Vile Villains is fun. I pick a bad guy, any bad guy, from one of my stories, and share a scene.

excerpt category banners.jpg

I’ve done character interviews with my leads, and posted them. I’ve interviewed myself about this or that book, and used them. I pull songs from the books and do Music Behind articles, with links to the music videos on You Tube. Sometimes, I put up Quite a Character posts. These are about characters in the books, who aren’t necessarily the main one, but add a lot to the flavor. I like bizarre, outspoken, opinionated, quirky characters. Why? Because, if you look at your life hard enough, you know a guy like that, or a girl like her. Some of my favorite people aren’t the main leads, but are these interesting secondary people. These are the guys who would win the best supporting actor or actress award.

Another thing I’ve done, is copy sad scenes from my stories. No matter how much I like upbeat tales, they aren’t interesting, or realistic, without problems and tragedy. I call these Tear Jerkers, and I have a good few saved up to share.

When you get right down to it, just about anything can be used as a blog posting. It doesn’t have to be an educating article, or something relevant that’s jerked from headlines. People get enough of an information dump just sitting down the web surf. What I try to do is give them a couple of minutes to take them away from that. It might be a snippet of dialogue, a hot scene, or a touching moment – whatever it may be, for that space of time, they are in my little world with me.

Blogging is only as hard as we make it for ourselves. Keep It Simple Stupid.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 1

dellani photo dark redThis series of articles were inspired by several author friends who have expressed awe at my organization (rude snort) or have complained about blogging. Since I’m not one to tell the truth, when fabrication will do, I thought I would throw off the veil of misconception, and reveal my less than stellar organization methods, as well as give a few blogging tips.

I’m not the most organized writer around. I describe my writing style as Chaos in a Teacup. It’s contained, but whirling around like a hurricane. I don’t outline, I don’t plan. I begin with a sentence that hops into my head, and run with it until the voices take a break. Sometimes, that’s a day, a week, or a month. Once in a while, the story is finished. Other times, it stalls and I have to wait for inspiration once more.

I am slightly better on organization, but I’m still standing on shaky ground. I have some friends who use Scrivener to organize themselves, but I can’t be bothered to figure it out, so I just use my freebie Open Office. It works for me. I don’t do spreadsheets, fancy files, or anything elaborate. I’m far more Old School. On my desk are four 3-ring binders. These are the small ones, which hold an 8 ½ by 11 inch piece of paper, folded in half.

Chaos in a Teacup photos notebooks cropped

Old School Organization Works for Me

In these notebooks, I keep the all important cast sheets for my many novels. The one for the finished stories is bigger than the unfinished. It wasn’t always like that, but I’ve made a lot of progress in the last four years. I set a New Year’s goal of finishing a book a month. I don’t always do it, but I usually get at least 10 books a year that way.

But I digress. One notebook for finished, another, smaller one, for unfinished. The two others hold notes and spare paper. Next to them, there are two index card files.

Chaos in a Teacup photos 003.JPG

Black is Finished, Gray is Unfinished

These hold the finished and unfinished protagonists. Since I write predominantly romance and romantic suspense, these are in pairs. I list each by name, book, who their significant other is, sibling and parent names, any children, and what other books they’re in, among other things. These are color coded with a pink line at the top for girls, a blue one for boys. Like I said, Old School. Not a fancy system, but an easy one to keep up with.

Front side of character index card Teacup 001

Character Index Card Sample

I’ve always held to the KISS principle (No, not the rock band) Keep It Simple Stupid, or as I learned in Mary Kay, Keep It Simple Sweetie. Since I’m much more the former, and a lot less of the latter, I use Stupid. This little system of mine, low tech as it is, has taken me a long time to perfect. Many of my early books don’t even have cast lists, chapter and page numbers, or the exact date I started and finished them. There’s this Oh, I’ll Remember feeling, which is a bald faced lie.

You Won’t Remember. Write It Down! I’m here to tell you, with 110 finished novels and novellas and 52 unfinished YOU WILL NOT REMEMBER!

I keep lists of characters, even minor ones, because I have this habit of bringing in a character to do a job, only to find him or her important later. In fact, I recently was writing a romantic suspense, and I introduced a character, whom I thought would be the male lead. To my surprise, he took a back seat, and another guy, a minor character (I thought) became the lead. I hadn’t even given him a name, and had to go back and do that. That’s happened more times than I can count. I had one character, in another book, who was merely called The Hungry Actor. When he took on a bit more of a role, I had to name him, too.

My point in all this: Keep a List! You’ll need it. Don’t rely on your memory. When you’re deeply embroiled in chasing down plot bunnies, you won’t remember your own name, let alone some girl you brought in on page 3.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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