Are You Still Writing Your Book? by Dellani

ABC ChallengeI’m starting the ABC Challenge today and I will continue until I run out. Some posts will be articles, others will be quotes from books. Who knows where this will take me? I think this is going to be a lot of fun. Look for it the next 26 Fridays….

There are a variety of ways to answer this. Some of them are actually polite. I have to remind myself that most people don’t know what is necessary to write a book. They have no concept of how long it takes, but have some nebulous feeling that it should take a while. For some books, this is true. For others, not to much.

Non-writers (and some authors) have no idea that I work on anywhere from two to ten novels at once, bouncing back and forth like a March Hare on speed—400 words here, 1,000 there, until a book is complete. If the mood strikes and the muse cooperates, I can finish a book in as little as four days. Yes, I have done it—twice!

While it’s lovely that they remember that I write, it’s hard to explain that I have no idea what book I was working on the last time I spoke to them, especially if it’s been a few weeks.

I try to be polite and say, “What was I working on when we last spoke?” If they remember, I can tell them the progress I’ve made. Other times, I don’t bother, I just say, “Yes.” Then there are the times I feel like being snarky (usually depends on the person asking me) and I come up with a variety of snotty comments.

Are you still writing your book?”

No, I gave that up for Lent.”

Are you still writing your book?”

I was, but I was attacked by pirates and they stole it.”

Are you still writing your book?”

Yes.”

I suppose that the last isn’t so much snarky as it is definitive. Whatever book I’m working on, I’m still writing it. (Unless I just finished it, they I will say so.)

Not even my family knows how many books I’ve written. I used to try to talk over plots with my husband. He, kindly, asked more than once, “What are you working on?” He quit doing that after I gave him a twenty minute discourse on the plot of some book he had no idea I was even working on. It was complicated and his poor, tired brain couldn’t handle my high speed dissertation. Poor darling.

He does laugh when I tell him I have a new idea for a book. He’s even asked me, “How many is it this time?” Laughter increases when he hears the staggering number has increased by one.

I am proud to day that I managed to reduce the number last year and I am still two behind on the unfinished vs. finished. I had set myself a goal in 2015 of finishing a book a month. So far, I haven’t done that. Instead, I started three new ones. I attribute that to being somewhat tired of my other books. I needed greener pastures. However, the goal of finishing a book a month is still in my mind. We’ll see!

In the meantime, I’ll stop babbling on about this and let you go about your day in peace. Please come back next Friday for Letter B.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 12

dellani photo dark redI realize this is the third post I’ve written about setting, but you know the old adage Location, Location, Location. Setting can be very important to a story. I’m not very likely to set a story during a hurricane, if my location is the middle of Nebraska. Nor am I going to use a snowstorm if I’m in Central Florida. If these elements are important to the story, I have to have the proper backdrop.

Anyone who has read my books, knows that not only do I have stories set in Florida, Kansas, Nebraska and Mississippi, I also have an unnamed city, somewhere Up North. I don’t specify a state, or an exact location. I allude to it being near the Canadian border, but I don’t say what province is across from it. I do this, because it isn’t important for the story to be in Manhattan, Chicago, or Indianapolis. The important feature is that it’s a large metropolis.

I first introduced my readers to my city when I published my novel, It Takes a Thief. Though the original story written there hasn’t been published yet, this tale provides the reader with their first glimpse of my metropolis. I also introduce FBI agents and an eccentric, but fair, judge. (The judge, Honoria Walker, appears in several other novels – not yet published.)

Another book set in my city, is So Much It Hurts. Several of the characters in this novel are in other (as yet unpublished) novels. However, anyone following my blog has read some of their stories in my serialized piece: Something New and Undercover Lover 

Below is an excerpt from So Much It Hurts, which came out November 1, 2017. Pia Donovan is a small town Nebraska girl. She’s new to the big city, and has just met Flynn Chancellor. Flynn invites her to dinner, and brings along his roommate, Yancy Fredrick.

“Do you cook?” Yancy asked.SoMuchItHurtsbyDellaniOakes500

“I do. Why?”

“Because we get tired of eating out. If we pitch in on ingredients and assist in the kitchen, will you cook?”

“I’d love to.”

“Sweet. You don’t mind cooking for a crowd, do you?”

“No. Dad runs a restaurant back home. I’ve worked there since I was ten. I can make a vat of chili that will put hair on your chest.”

“As long as it doesn’t put hair on my ass,” Flynn said, shoving the elevator open. “I don’t like waxing.”

Pia snorted. Yancy leaned over, speaking in a stage whisper. “Flynn hasn’t reached puberty yet. His ass is hairless as a baby’s butt.”

Flynn reached around and rapped him on top of the head. “At least I don’t have back hair.”

“I don’t have back hair.”

“Seriously, you should see him at the full moon,” Flynn remarked as they walked out the front door. “Werewolves howl and try to hump his leg.”

Pia looped her arms through theirs, laughing loudly as they crossed the yard. “I’m going to love it here. You guys remind me of my brothers.”

The men smirked, sharing a glance over her head.

“Thai Garden, here we come!” Flynn yelled, waving his cap in the air.

“Is it far?”

“You’ll learn that everything you need is within walking distance. There’s a grocery store two blocks that way,” Flynn pointed south. “A variety of restaurants in every direction. A movie theatre that shows the classics. A bookstore, an art supply, a music store, pharmacy….”

“And a Dollar Tree three blocks west,” Yancy added.

“We’ll be happy to show you around. Do you know how to get to campus from here?”

“No. I don’t have a car and I don’t know the bus schedule. So much to learn.”

“Lucky for you, my friend and I grew up in this city and if we don’t know where to find it, it’s not worth finding,” Flynn bragged.

“You grew up together?”

“Met during our undergrads,” Yancy explained. “We were roommates then, too. So when we transferred here and started our PhDs, it seemed like a good system.”

“Yeah, I don’t want to break in a new one. He’s a putz, but I’m used to him.”

“My roommate got married and moved out. I’ve mostly lived on my own. Except…never mind.”

“Except for Bill,” Flynn said.

“Jerald,” Yancy added.

“Huh?”

“Dwight.”

“Clark.”

“Steven,” she finished her sentence.

“The love of your life who absconded with your virginity, wooed you, then broke your heart, and left you” Flynn stated with certainty.

“Yeah. Something like that. Only I left him. But the rest is right.”

“What did the bastard do?”

“Married my roommate.”

“Dumb ass,” Yancy commented.

“I was gonna say douche bag,” Flynn contributed.

“Yes, to both. How did you guess?”

“We’ve both been in the receiving end of that, too,” Flynn said quietly. “Marsha and Jan. Not Brady.” He smirked down at her. “Yes, they were sisters.”

“Well, they were a couple of dumb ass douche bags to dump you,” she concluded.

They arrived at the restaurant and Flynn opened the door. Yancy held out her chair, helping her sit. Both men were very attentive, charming and friendly. Dinner was full of laughs. The men joked and poked fun at one another. They asked her lots of questions about herself, but were just as forthcoming with their own details. By the time dinner was over, Pia felt as if she’d known them for years.

“I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun,” she said as they were walking home. “I’m so glad I met you guys. It makes it easier being away from home. The big city is sort of intimidating.”

Yancy put his arm around her waist, Flynn around her shoulders. Pia’s arms went around their waists and she gave them each a hug.

“Thank you for such a great time tonight. I can’t tell you how scared I was on the bus, getting lost….”

“We’ll equip you with a GPS,” Flynn suggested.

Pia snorted.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

This passage not only illustrates how close they are to everything they could possibly need, but it gives some geography for the city. I’ve used several of the locations in this story, in other, as yet unpublished, novels. I feel like I say that a lot. I guess I’ll need to get my butt in gear and get a few more of these out!

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Chaos in a Teacup – Part 11

dellani photo dark red

Last week, I started talking about unusual locations for stories, pulled from the author’s own background. I used my visit to Kansas as an example. I guess I just like off the beaten track spots for my stories.

Another unlikely location is the town I grew up in, in Western Nebraska. If you look at a map of Nebraska, you’ll see Scottsbluff. It’s the biggest city in the panhandle –which isn’t saying much, really, because it’s under 15,000 people. The city I live in, here in Florida, is a little over 20,000. It seems like a vast metropolis in comparison.

However, since I’m familiar with the city, or I was mumble mumble years ago, I feel comfortable setting stories there. One such story is my novel, Under the Western Sky. I call it a retro-romance, because it’s set in 1976. Can’t really call that historical, can you?

Libby Marshall has just started dating Bobby Menendez. They couldn’t have chosen a more inopportune time to get together, because racial tensions are at an all time high. Unbeknownst to them, a white supremacists organization has a strong presence in their small city. Their relationship inadvertently sets off an avalanche of hate-induced violence, threatening to overwhelm them and their families.

I chose the location for two reasons. One, I grew up there, and it was familiar. Two, the underlying racial hatred was real. I didn’t notice it as a teen, or a child, but looking back on it with an adult’s eye, I could see it. Bobby and Libby are from different cultural backgrounds, but they are very similar, as well. I didn’t realize at the time I was writing it, it has a very deep message about tolerance vs. hate, but I’m really proud of it. It’s another of my Tirgearr Publishing novels.

This is the first scene from the book. Like many others, it’s (very loosely) based on something that actually happened with me and one of my friends.

Libby Marshal leaned over the pool table, slender hips twitching to KC and Under the Western Sky by Dellani Oakes - 200the Sunshine Band. She hummed distractedly as she lined up her shot.

Bobby Menendez stood behind her, enjoying the view; his hands tingling to touch her.

“Touch me and die, Roberto Hermida Menendez.”

“Man! How did you know?”

She made her shot, long distance across the felt top, nearly nailing him in the balls with her pool cue when her arm drew back.

“Shouldn’t stand so close,” Danny said, across the table from her.

“Oh, man, the view!”

Bobby held his hands the width of her hips apart. He bit his lip as she faced him, a frown on her face. Her green eyes flashed at him. With a toss of her short, blonde, curly hair, she moved away from him with a glare. His dark brown eyes followed her, longing in his well-tanned face.

“View’s damn good over here, and safer,” Danny grinned.

He’d been looking down her top as she bent over to shoot. He loved the fact that it was 1976 and even in this small, conservative, western Nebraska town, girls were liberated, freeing them from the confines of establishment undergarments. The no-bra look was great! And Libby had such perky tits. Bobby could have his dangerous ass view, Danny went for tits every time.

“Boys, behave,” Toni’s father said from his office behind them.

Funny thing how Toni’s old man always had work to do when the boys came over. He would casually follow the four of them down to the pool room in the basement and sit in his workroom fiddling with some electrical components while they played pool and listened to music. He didn’t mind them coming over, but they weren’t going to be unchaperoned either.

“Yes, sir,” they chorused.

They stepped back, snapping to attention, not quite saluting. Each with military fathers, it was hard not to when he talked in that tone. He’d been fifteen years as a Marine before a shell shattered his right leg. Everyone in town called him Captain Cristo. Only the very brave called him Grant.

I always liked this scene, because it introduces the main characters, and gives a little bit of background to them, and the times when they live. It also reminds me of many long hours playing pool with my friend, in her basement. Her father, too, was watchful, and always had something mysterious to do in his workroom when we had boys over.

© 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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