Memorable Spy Gadgets: What Would You Want?

My fabulous friends and authors Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes have just published a terrific novella called The Spy Bride, which is part of a Risky Brides collection.

In honor of their release, I got to thinking about some of the memorable spy gadgets from TV and film. Here are some of my faves:

Maxwell Smart’s Shoe Phone

Maxwell Smart holding shoe phone, from Get Smart

Sure, in the days of cell phones, transmitting messages over a shoe might seem silly. Plus, this baby would be caught in two seconds in a TSA security line. But when Get Smart aired in 1965, a portable phone was a swank idea. And hiding it in your shoe seemed pretty spy-cool. These days, I’d probably be happier if the bottom of my shoe had a different gadget, like maybe a Roomba so I could clean my floor just by walking around.

Men in Black Neuralyzer.

Men In Black, Agent J holding neuralyzer

This handy-dandy device erases memories with a flash, which can then be replaced by a different version of events. While useful for hiding the existence of aliens from the common citizenry, I think a lot of people would love to have this gadget to erase the memories of others in their lives who might not have seen their best side and could use a new perspective.

John Steed’s Umbrella.

John Steed & umbrella from The Avengers

John Steed, of the British spy series The Avengers, was known for carrying an umbrella which he used as a weapon. If needed, the umbrella contained a saber he could pull out in a pinch. Currently, my umbrella only protects me from rain, but I could come up with a few handy tools I’d love to tuck into an umbrella.

Mission Impossible Self-Destructing Tape.

Mission Impossible -- smoking tape player

Who can forget the way missions were delivered in the Mission Impossible series, and films following? An agent picks up the recorded message, listens to the instructions, and then hears, “This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck…” Yes, I know we don’t have tapes or players like this anymore, but the notion of self-destructing gadgetry is an appealing one. As a parent, some days I’d like to have a “should you not get off this video game and do your homework in the next ten seconds, your cell phone will self-destruct.” (Yeah, I’m fun like that! ;))

Chuck’s Intersect.

Intersect computer from Chuck

The Intersect from Chuck stores all the intelligence data the United States government possesses and recognizes patterns that help catch the bad guys. Unfortunately, this big pile of data gets shoved into the brain of one unsuspecting geek named Chuck. But this would be very handy for an agent, don’t you think? Or even for your daily life, to be able to shove everything you know or should know onto a drive, stick it in your brain, and access it at will? That sounds like a gadget I could use.

James Bond’s Aston Martin.

Aston Martin in Q's lab

The first car to be equipped with gadgets in a James Bond film was this beauty, the Aston Martin from Goldfinger. It had GPS, machine guns, smoke screen, tire slashers, and more — all the things I need to get around in my Houston traffic. (Kidding…just kidding!) But hey, a bunch of cool spy stuff in your car? And not just any car, but an Aston Martin? Yes, please.

So there are a few of my favorites. Hope you’ll share some of yours in the comments!

And now for a quick ROW80 Update! A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80) is the writing challenge that knows you have a life:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I did some editing this week and worked on blurbs as well.

2. Read 12 books. Read The Best Medicine by Tracy Brogan. That brings me up to three.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. Attended a couple of weeks back and just got back comments from a valuable critique partner.

Also, I recently learned that I placed 2nd in the YA category for the New Jersey Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book contest! Congratulations to the other winners, Jessica Ruddick and Ann LaBar.

Now what are your favorite fictional spy gadgets? And how was your week?

Risky Brides book coverEight novellas.

Great authors.

Wonderful price.

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

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Immersion Master Class…Or What 5 Days at the Top of a Mountain in Colorado Did for My Manuscript

From October 9 through 13, I attended an Immersion Master Class hosted by Margie Lawson. Immersion is an intensive workshop during which you receive general writing coaching and specific help with your manuscript.

So what did I get out of my trip to the Rocky Mountains for this writing workshop? Here are five takeaways:

1. Receiving terrific writing instruction. Writing coach Margie Lawson offers some wonderful craft classes online and through her lecture packets. However, some teaching is specific to Immersion.

Margie Lawson and Me (oh, and Calypso)

Margie Lawson and Me (oh, and Calypso)

This was my second Immersion class, and this round reinforced what I’d learned before and added new craft knowledge. Margie not only explains principles of good prose, but provides examples so you can see how other excellent authors wield these useful tools.

2. Spending time with fabulous writers. Our writing group came from here, there, and yonder. With writers from Colorado, Texas, California, D.C., and Montreal, it was an eclectic group. Yet we bonded like a trial-by-fire sisterhood. Those who’ve attended workshops and conferences know the benefit of hanging out with other writers who share their experiences and wisdom, not to mention their laughter and chocolate.

My Lovely Fellow Immersioners

My Lovely Fellow Immersioners

Oh, and I roomed with the marvelous Jenny Hansen. That was an extra punch of fabulousness.

Jenny Hansen and Me

Jenny Hansen and Me

3. Seeing my progress. The commentary from Margie and fellow Immersioners made it clear I’ve improved my writing skills. Having Immersion experiences one and a half years apart made it easier to see how far I’ve come. It’s a bit like the kid who grows bit-by-bit, but you only recognize just how tall they’ve gotten when you scratch that pencil-mark onto the growth chart and compare it to last year’s mark below.

Sometimes it’s worth stopping and celebrating how much further down the road you are. Especially since it can be easy to get frustrated that you’re not yet writing like your novelist hero or hitting the bestseller lists or even waving your three-book contract around to your family (“See? It’s not just a hobby!”). I had the pleasure of feeling I really have “come a long way, baby!”

4. Learning my weaknesses. Before we get too worked up about my progress, this workshop also highlighted where I still need work. I’ve come a long way, but I haven’t arrived.

An edited ("Margie-ized") page from Immersion

An edited (“Margie-ized”) page from Immersion

Of course, no author arrives entirely, since there’s always something one can improve. But I know where my focus needs to turn, which writing skills require more of my attention and effort. As I edit, I’ll be looking for those problem areas and applying new skills to fixing them. If I struggle with an issue, I also know to request specific feedback from a critique partner (e.g., “Did anything in this chapter sound stilted to you?”).

5. Falling in love (again) with my story. There’s nothing quite like reading a chapter you wrote and getting all tingly-excited about your story. As I worked on scenes in the Immersion class and polished them up, I read passages I loved, reintroduced myself to characters who engage me, and stoked my desire to share this story with a young adult audience. I fell in love…again.

Ultimately, every word, every scene, every character needs to be something the author really, truly likes — such that she’s bouncing in her boots to share it with readers. And with a few more tweaks to this book, I’ll be raring to go.

While I’m partial to Margie’s excellent writing coaching, I know there are other wonderful workshops available, both in person and online. Writers can look for workshops, retreats, “boot camps,” and intensives that meet their needs. I believe such endeavors are a good investment for a writing career.

ROW80

Speaking of good endeavors, I’m back on track with A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Given my trip to the Colorado and the hard drive crash I experienced on my last night there, I haven’t made as much progress as I’d hoped. Unfortunately, I spent much of last week getting a new hard drive, reloading programs, and working with my tech guy to get back my files. Fortunately, all my data seems to be there. But here’s the scoop for last week:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I met a wonderful writer at Immersion who also likes a bit of snark on the page, and she will be taking a look at one of my shorts to give feedback before I publish. I know this isn’t exactly progress on my part, but I feel good about her being able to help me edit well.

2. Read 12 books. I read The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig and Nothing Sweeter by Laura Drake. Two down, ten to go.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. During the workshop, I made some great changes to my young adult novel and got a much better sense of where my weaknesses still are. I’m ready to tackle the edits head-on this week and look forward to having a pretty, polished manuscript very soon.

So what workshops, retreats, or online courses do you recommend? And how was your week?

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Critiquing vs. Brainstorming

As soon as I connected to other writers, I started hearing about the importance of having your writing critiqued. Whether it’s critique partners or a critique group or a professional editor, quality feedback can lift your writing to another level. Since authors want their books read by others, we should welcome helpful comments that hone our writing skills and push us to pen better novels.

While I don’t have a specific critique group, I have relied on critique partners. It can take some time to find the right fit, but once you do, the results are wonderful! I can’t speak highly enough about those who have helped me better craft my stories and my words.

But I’ve recently had the pleasure of an activity that has possibly helped me even more: brainstorming.

Three people brainstorming, light bulb overhead

Hey, let’s brainstorm!

First, a multi-published author friend of mine put together a monthly brainstorming group. Rather than reading scenes or chapters aloud and critiquing one another, we each have an opportunity to share a plot or characterization issue, a draft query or synopsis we need help with, or even a passage that’s got us stumped. You can even throw out a novel premise to see if it has legs or wings, and thus counts as worth the trouble to write. Whatever your issue, you present it to the group, and then for maybe 15 minutes the rest of the group brainstorms ideas to deal with the problem.

With several people in the group, and the synergy of the discussion, many suggestions fly around. Even if some of them aren’t usable in the end, I’ve had some incredible gems come from this process. The brainstormers also tend to ask hard questions that lead me to obvious solutions or even the discovery of other problems (which I need to know about now, before I publish). I’ve quickly become very attached to attending this group, because it’s so helpful and, quite honestly, fun. What’s more fun for a bunch of writers than getting around a table and talking about our stories?

Another avenue for brainstorming has been one-on-one chats with friends. I’ve recently had the pleasure of tapping the brilliant minds of fellow authors Melinda VanLone and Diana Beebe when I got stuck on a scene or contemplating a story premise. Their what if… comments have been illuminating. Even if I end up figuring out a solution myself, the conversation gets my mind focused and flowing.

Face-to-face, I’ve also been writing with a couple of groups at cafés and coffee shops. I love pausing in a frustrating place in a scene, looking up at another writer and asking a question, and voilà! problem solved. Even a minute or two of brainstorming has sometimes cracked a puzzle better than me ruminating over the issue for half an hour. That’s time well-spent.

Brainstorming has been a big boon to my writing lately. I highly recommend it.

ROW80

And speaking of time well-spent, A Round of Words in 80 Days begins this week. Very quickly, here are my goals for Round 4:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I’m planning to release A Little Fairy Dust and Living with Ghosts before the end of the year.

2. Read 12 books. This is a good number for me to aim for, and I enjoy sharing what I’ve read here.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. Starting at the end of this week, I’ll be hanging out for a few days with a few fellow writers and coach extraordinaire, Margie Lawson. I’m taking my Sharing Hunter manuscript to see what more I can do to make it sparkle.

I wonder how many other authors are using brainstorming rather than, or in addition to, critiquing. Do others have formalized brainstorming groups? Do you have brainstorming partners? Does your critique group use brainstorming in some way?

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All About That Book (Not the Movie)

Today’s Wednesday Word Tip features books, music, and humor — three of my favorite things. I’ve written before about why the book is almost always better than the movie, but here I sing about why you should prioritize the written word over the screen version.

Hope you enjoy!

Here are the revamped lyrics:

Because you know
I’m all about that book
‘Bout that book, not the movie
I’m all about that book
‘Bout that book, not the movie
I’m all about that book
‘Bout that book, not the movie
I’m all about that book
‘Bout that book

Yeah, it’s pretty clear that I’m a bookworm
I like to read it, read it
Back in my bedroom
My heart goes boom boom when the novel’s really aces
With all the right words in all the right places

I see a bookstore and I start to drool
The library too, even the one at school
My tablet’s full of books that I’ve amassed
‘Cause every page of you is worth it from the first word to the last

Yeah, my mama she told me the novel’s the best place to start
If you want to engage your imagination and your heart
Sometimes the movie leaves out your favorite character or part
So if you want the whole story, girl, get your library card

Because you know I’m
All about that book
‘Bout that book, not the movie
I’m all about that book
‘Bout that book, not the movie
I’m all about that book
‘Bout that book, not the movie
I’m all about that book
‘Bout that book
Hey!

I’m bringing reading back
Didn’t go anywhere, and you know that’s a fact
Some of us like to get lost in the stacks
And I’m here to tell ya
Every page of you is worth it from the first word to the last

My mama she told me the novel’s the best place to start
If you want to engage your imagination and your heart
Sometimes the movie leaves out your favorite character or part
So if you want the whole story, girl, get your library card

Because you know I’m
All about that book
‘Bout that book, not the movie
I’m all about that book
‘Bout that book, not the movie
I’m all about that book
‘Bout that book, not the movie
I’m all about that book
‘Bout that book

Do you enjoy the book better than the movie? What are some examples?

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The Pajama Writers Club…or What Do Writers Wear?

Last Wednesday, I was sitting at my computer and editing my novel when I suddenly realized it was past 10 a.m. and I was still in my jammies. Not that I was surprised. Since I work from home, it’s easier to let everyone else in my family get ready and out the door. Then I can get ready on my own without interruption or battling for hot water from the shower.

Fairly often, however, I go way past waiting for the family to leave…and all the way to, “How long can I stay in these pajamas?” I’ve even had noon creep up on me, and I’m still in my PJ’s with my hair in a ponytail. Oops.

So back to last Wednesday, I popped over and wrote this status update on Facebook:

Facebook status update

The overwhelming response seemed to be that writing in your pajamas was not sad and pathetic. Rather, it was a delightful idea plenty of others would love to do!

Which made me wonder: What do writers wear to write?

My own writer wardrobe consists of everything from jammies to yoga pants to jeans to business casual. It all depends on what else I have going that day.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one who has wondered. Quite a few have written on this topic. Successful writers wear everything from plain clothes to special hats to underwear to nothing at all while they work. Some months ago, Elle magazine even had a suggested wardrobe for “Novelist,” which literary agent Sharon Pelletier pointed out on Twitter. Her tweet was passed along to many writers, who got a good laugh from this idea:

Elle Novelist

I can’t believe I was missing the long-sleeve silk blouse. As if that‘s what we wear!

But one of the best posts I stumbled upon came from Lynne Kelly, who asked fellow authors what they wore…and posted their photos! Hey, I’m game. So here are a few photos of what I might wear while writing:

Yoga Pants & a T-Shirt

Yoga Pants & a T-Shirt

Still casual, but a dress!

Still casual, but a dress!

The Pajamas Look

The Pajamas Look

It doesn’t seem to matter what I wear. As long as I show up and write, I get things done!

Speaking of which…

ROW80 Update

Round 3 ended last Thursday, and the final round for 2014 begins on October 6. However, I wanted to go ahead and do a wrap-up and look-ahead for my writing goals.

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel. I really need one more week to be all done, completely finished, super-happy with the result. Because I realized I need to add 2-3 scenes. Yet I’m still pleased with my progress this round.

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. Moved this goal to next round.

3. Read 12 books. Read 13 books total.

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. Goal completed.

Next round, I’ve got three straightforward goals. I’d like to be more ambitious, but looking at my calendar and upcoming holidays, I’ll simply start with these:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. A Little Fairy Dust and Living with Ghosts are slated to come out before the end of the year.

2. Read 12 books. Yet again, this is a good number for me to achieve each round, and I like tracking what I’ve read here.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. In October, I’ll be immersed in writing with several fellow authors and writing coach extraordinaire, Margie Lawson. I’m taking my Sharing Hunter manuscript for one more make-it-shine edit.

I’d love to hear what others wear while working at home. What’s your get-things-done wardrobe? And how was your week?

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Introducing Wednesday Word Tip

So a week and a half ago, I wrote a post on Blogging: What’s the Point? And then I skipped a post on Sunday. Which might have looked like I was backing away from blogging, but honestly, I just flat-out missed it.

Yet I have been thinking more and more about my blog and what I want to offer. So without further adieu, I’m giving this a shot!

Wednesday Word Tip

For a long time on my blog, I had Wednesday Words and then Amazing Word Wednesdays in which I gave grammar tips, explored words and phrases, and tried to make the hodgepodge language of American English semi-understandable. I’ve had a few people wistfully refer to those posts, with almost a nudge-nudge in their comments. And I appreciate that! I guess it means I was doing something right.

In the interest of time and to reach more people, I’ve decided to try out a Wednesday Word Tip — which will be a quick video with a vocabulary word, a phrase, or a grammar usage highlighted and explained. It could also be a book-related video. We’ll just see how this goes…

And I’m still working on A Round of Words in 80 Days! Here’s my weekly update.

ROW80 Update

We’re supposed to be all wrapped up by tomorrow, but I will probably need until the end of the week to feel really good about things.

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novelSo. Very. Close. My read-through showed a few issues, but nothing that stopped me cold. I’m tweaking now and super-excited about this story!

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. So let’s just move this goal to the next round, shall we? ;)

3. Read 12 books. Read Sass and Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler and Unleashed by Rachel Lacey. That makes 13 books for the round!

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. Just about done. A thread or two still dangling, but I can tie it all up pretty easily.

What do you think of videos and vlogging? What word tips would you like me to cover? And how was your week?

Posted in Amazing Words Wednesday, ROW80, Words and Grammar | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Blogging: What’s the Point?

I’ve been blogging for about 3 1/2 years. In that time, my site has experienced quite a bit of evolution. But for a few months now, I’ve been posting once a week on whatever comes to mind, plus a regular update for A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80).

Lately, I’ve been asking myself: What’s the point? Why am I blogging? What’s the purpose, the goal, the focus of my blog?

Some answers are fairly clear, and others more elusive.

Blogging Word Cloud

Blogging: What’s the point?

Better writing. I strongly believe that regularly writing blog posts hones your writing skills. All these blog posts have tightened my writing and helped me develop consistent output. The more I’ve written here, the better my writing overall has become.

Building community. Through blogging and commenting on others’ blogs, I have increased my involvement with the writer community. Many of those who read my blog are also writers, and I read their posts as well. (Although one frustration is not having enough time to read all the blogs I’d like.) Not surprisingly, online communication builds online interaction.

Accountability. Maybe this one is less clear, but it’s been a good one for me. There’s something about having a blog, and posting updates for ROW80, that has kept me on track. Preparing for blog posts has increased my desire to learn new things, share what I know, report progress, and publish my stories. If I zone out here, it could reflect me zoning out with my writing in general.

Outreach. This is the main goal most authors have with websites — ultimately, we’re trying to reach potential readers. And this is where I think I’ve struggled. I currently write for teens. But how many teens are reading blogs? The teens I know are on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, etc. They aren’t usually combing the web for 800-word posts on this, that, or the other. So how much outreach is happening on my blog? It’s a question I’ve been asking lately.

Fun. I don’t want to discount the enjoyment I get from writing blog posts, reading others’ posts, and the interaction we have. I love to write, love to laugh, love to engage. So yeah, this whole blogging thing is truly fun at times — most times. If I had no other reason, I might blog simply for the fun of it.

I’m still ruminating about the focus of my blog, the brand I want to convey, and the methods I can use to engage with others. But I don’t have hard-and-fast answers just yet. I hope you’ll share with me below why you do or don’t blog.

In the meantime, it’s time for that accountability thing — with my weekly report for A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life.

ROW80 Update

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel. My novel has sat for a full week so that I can have fresh eyes for the next edit — which begins tomorrow. Anyone want to join me beach side, where I hope to go through my novel in one sitting with the viewpoint of Jane Reader?

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I worked on one short story this past week, with good progress.

3. Read 12 books. Finished Promise of Magic by Melinda VanLone and started Sass and Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler. I’m at 11 books for the round.

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. Finalizing my query, polishing the novel, then following through with those who requested the manuscript. I think I’ll make it before the end of the round.

Now, why do you blog or not blog? What are the benefits to you of blogging or reading blogs? How do you engage with your community and potential audience?

Posted in ROW80, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 32 Comments