Sunday, August 26, 2012

Excerpt - Scandal, Secrets and Seduction by Michelle Monkou

Excerpt from upcoming novel -- Scandal, Secrets and Seduction
(formerly Open Your Heart) (c) Michelle Monkou
Warning: explicit language
ONE
October 30

Happy Halloween! Party tonight at the Frat House. Going as Halle Berry ‘Storm’ from X-Men. Planning to get my groove on. Can’t wait for the girls to come over. We’re going to dress, put on our make -up, and get ready for the party in my dorm.

So many hot ass sexy men to meet, so little time LOL.
 
October 31

That punk bitch. Motherfucker.

November 1

My body hurts. I still can’t sleep. Can’t eat. Can’t stop crying.

 How could I be so stupid to trust him? To trust them?

To them it was all a big joke. Club initiation, my ass. I was the joke. He never wanted to talk to me. He had a plan. I was the bait.

November 7

Now they want me to become a sweetheart of their damned fraternity.  Like hell. Warning me to keep my mouth shut. Girls who I thought were friends will not have my back if I tell. Rumor has it that there are photos or video taken for insurance.

Don’t want to end up on any web site.

November 9

I can’t go home for Thanksgiving. Can’t face my parents. No one can ever know. Bruising on my arms and thighs are almost gone, though. Not crying as much. I’m not going to shed another tear over that bastard.  Well, let’s just say I’m trying hard not to.

November 13

Had another nightmare. Same shit. Different day. That bastard creeps into my dreams. I keep replaying how he reeled me in. He‘d talked like a snake, charming me, complimenting me, showing me off to his friends. Meanwhile they all had their laugh over the dumbass college freshman who got played by a senior. Here come the stupid tears again. I can’t help it. When I close my eyes, I can feel his body on top of mine. Pressing down. I shouldn’t have had all that wine and beer and god knows what else they put in that cup. I shouldn’t have gone to the Halloween party. I wish that fraternity house would burn down. I wish HE would disappear into hell. Punk bitch.

November 29

Mom hovers like a worried, nervous hen. Always asking how I’m doing.  No matter how many times she asks, or suggests what could be wrong, she never gets close to guessing. But I’ve managed to make it through Thanksgiving without them knowing anything. Dad would be disappointed in me. His warnings before I headed off to college went out the window. God help me! Patrick can’t know either. My brother would kill HIM. That might not be a bad idea, though.

The jackass threatened me again to stay quiet. Lawyered up over the holiday break. Like a typical rich snot. I don’t want a dime from him. Why does he have to live in the same damn city of Hopetown, population 3,000.

December 5

Reconnected with Leesa Grantley. We both know that I screwed up that friendship. Got on campus and wanted to be in with the party girls. Left quiet, dependable Leesa hanging. Now the party bitches have left me hanging.

December 31

New Year resolution - Finish getting my nursing degree. Move out of this town. Never fucking look back!!!!Hopetown population 2,999.


Shelly Bishop closed the well-worn journal on her lap. Her hand rested on its frayed cover, fingers gripping its fragile edge. She’d stopped writing in her journals years ago.  Reading her own pain on paper didn’t lessen the intense ache or temper her seething anger that staked its claim over her heart. The only lessons that the past ten years had taught was to keep her feelings tucked away out of sight and not to fall for outside trappings. The few, who knew of her pain, only had pity for her. They sure as hell didn’t stand up for her. Their knowing, silent judgment fueled her guilt and powered her own self-condemnation that this was a battle that she clearly had lost. One thing was certain she’d never offer her heart or body up on a platter like a fool, again.

Returning home to Hopetown, Maryland, after college, to stay beyond a holiday weekend wasn’t ever supposed to happen. Although Shelly had booked a roundtrip airline ticket, the date to return to her life had come and gone about a month ago. Priorities had shifted. Her family still needed her. It was the only excuse she was comfortable making for her return to the surroundings where her naiveté was snatched and where vengeance swelled.

Moving boxes, which had recently arrived, covered the apartment’s living area. Rental furniture filled the remaining space. Shelly refused to think that she’d never leave, that she’d be trapped here, indefinitely. Making a permanent home had no place on her personal agenda. With her journals clutched to her breast, she walked into the bedroom to find a new place for her secrets.

One day she’d stop re-reading her entries and gladly destroy the books.  After nudging the drawer shut with her hip, she turned the key and dropped it into the second drawer of her night stand. One day. But, not yet. Reading about her pain in real time fed the desire for revenge.


Open Your Heart was my first book published under BET's Arabesque imprint. I have significantly revised the story to include additional characters for a series, hence, the title change to Scandal, Secrets and Seduction. Stay tuned for further details on the release. 


Monday, August 13, 2012

Work In Progress--The Journey, Part 1

Normally, I don't post about the intricate details on how I begin a book to the final product. No special reason. 1) I don't think anyone really cares. 2) I switch what I do depending on how close the deadline. 3) I'd have to be organized enough to tell my story. 4) What if I did explain in great detail and the final product still sucked?

Obviously by sharing all of this, I'm disregarding #4 because there is always someone or lots of someone who will not like what I write; will wish that I return to my day job; will wonder how on earth did I get published. For #3, since I am going backward with ruling out the objections, being somewhat organized does help cut down with inefficiencies while writing and as I'm desperately trying to find out a detail or description buried in stacks of research material. For #2, this goes along with #3, where I should have an organized method to approaching a book. I do believe there can be a happy medium between plotting and writing by the seat of your pants. Only I can determine my measurement for a happy writing experience. If you are taking notes or attempting to follow my map, make the necessary adjustments. For #1, I have no comeback for "no one may care."  That's how I feel about all my social media blitz, but I still tweet, post, and blog. 

Several months ago, I was up for a new contract. Just because you've written lots of books for a publisher, does not mean that you have a guaranteed in when it's time for a new contract.  At least, I don't approach the publishers with that mentality. A new contract also gives me time for a renewed perspective on what I want to write--will it be a new series, stand alone books, or continuation of ongoing series? This time around, I wanted to commit to a new series.  Series and linked stories are still the in-thing. I don't tend to like writing series because it tests my organizational skills with a grade of D+ in keeping track of details.  But with 15 or so books later, I think it's time to fix that problem and join the bandwagon with a new family series.

Off I went to write the outline of a sweeping family saga with three generations. The matriarch will celebrate her 80th birthday and wants to have the bickering family in attendance. Only bedridden and death can be the excuses to avoid the family drama. The grandchildren are tasked with the duty to get their parents, siblings and cousins there, while navigating their romantic minefield. I'd submitted four story outlines, the background to the family, and a bio of each of the major players. My publisher offered a four-book contract with deadline information and release dates.

First deadline is approaching like a freight train. I'm standing at the station with nothing in my hand. Time to kick my own butt. The first book (I don't have a title, yet.  We'll call it Book A.) starts the series and will have a lot of the background information interwoven throughout the story.  Here's the thing, the time between writing the outline and when I actually start writing the book may be several months. In that space, I may tweak the story, not to the point that it's a completely different story, but some of the details of the romantic journey may be amended, in my opinion, for a stronger conflict.

I started with Caroline Myss' Archetype Cards. I bought these at Books-A-Million. I think any bookstore may have them.  There is a small guidebook with the cards that are like oversized playing cards with pictures of the archetype like SEEKER.  Then there is a "light" attribute at the top of the picture and a "shadow" attribute at the bottom--basically the plus and minus to a personality type (in layman's language).  I used these cards for my character sketches from the childhood, young adult, and adult phases of the character.  I also may use an archetype for their romantic relationships which is different from their everyday persona. In the current story, the hero is a WOUNDED & ORPHANED CHILD - this doesn't mean that he's literally an orphan, but he has feelings of not belonging to the tribe because his mother has remarried; SPIRITUAL STUDENT; GOD/KING complex; NETWORKER; in romantic reltionships, he's a REBEL going against preconceived trappings, constant war with commitment vs. serving inner "selfish" needs. The heroine is an ORPHANED & MAGICAL CHILD with an "anything is possible" mentality; SCRIBE for documenting the family history; PRINCE as the heir apparent to the family's business; ENGINEER; and in her romantic relationships, she's a SEEKER pursuing out of curiosity and seeking truth in her conquests with inability to commit even when she's on the right path.  All the major players have archetype cards, but the hero and heroine have a more detailed one. The more in conflict they are with each other, the better and richer the story.

Then I pulled out Michael Hauge's Key Component of Story and Six Stage Plot Structure handouts. I made a copy of the Key Component of Story handout for the hero and heroine.  There are crucial notes to go with these handouts. On this handout, I worked on the outer journey column talking about the outer trappings (job, goal, conflicts that would prevent that goal) of the hero and heroine. On the other column, I focused on the inner journey like the character's longing or need, wounds, beliefs, what would be their inner arc to be courageous.  At this point, I pulled in Barbara Samuel's lecture on the Heroine's Journey. During her lecture, she focused on how our identities are formed through critical phases of life. As these identities form, so do our insecurities and maybe even our decision making pattern.  I needed characters with whom the reader can empathize even if they are not a business mogul or live in a mansion.

Moving on to the Six Stage Plot Structure, Michael Hauge broke down the story plot into three Acts, Six Stages, with Five turning points, along with the helpful tips of what percentage of the book all these elements should be taking place.  Again, you tweak to your satisfactory point.  I stayed on the map and followed the rules.  This particular process took over 24 hours. My outline that  went to the publisher didn't fit into this grid. I knew right away why. I didn't have enough conflict and I threw in scenes to get from one point to the other.  But Hauge says if you can interchange scenes from one place to another, then there isn't enough conflict.  Things should be building, getting harder, getting tougher. The first conflict shouldn't be able to work as the last conflict or vice versa. Authors Barbara Samuel and Sherry Lewis drive home this point in their lectures. Lewis warns that we shouldn't build a scene to put the heroine in the tree and then in the next scene present the magical ladder for her to come down. Let her work to get down. Let her dig deep, overcome those childhood traumas to figure a way down. And definitely don't let the hero be the one to present that ladder or to lift her down.  We like our independent women. They are sexier, by far.

Sitting butt in chair, I knew that I need to write approximately 220 pages. I like my chapters to be around 12-15 pages, dividing the book into 20 chapters. I estimate shorter on page count for the rewriting stage when more details are added and possible massive deletions take place.  Once I figured the number of chapters and where those page numbers would fall, I then figured out where my turning points need to hit.  I took six blank lined pages and started from Chapter 1 and wrote through to Chapter 20 a detailed chapter outline.  Again, some may prefer a light chapter sketch and let the creative juices take over.  I'm short on time and I'm trying to discipline myself to write efficiently.  My major pitfall is always the middle of the book because I've thought up this powerful opening, I know how I'm closing, but the middle gets soggy and wimpy.  A lot of my time was working on Stage 3 where you're building to the point of no return for either character and then Stage Four's Complications and Higher Stakes.  And they had better be really high stakes and not fake conflicts that are just fillers. Barbara Samuel to the rescue with her Heroine's Journey that talks about the Descent, the Eye of the Storm and the All is Lost moment.  Using that perspective, I was able to nail the heroine to the wall. That inner journey and her arc would come to fruition.  By the time I got to Chapter 20--the final chapter, the close, the aftermath, I was exhausted.

I took a day off from the project, watched TV, breathed.  Next phase is the speed draft where I write without re-reading, without editing, without looking back.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Back In The Saddle--Writing, Dieting, Exercising

The big writing conference is over. I'm back home and settled into a daily routine.  Can't really say that I've returned to MY daily routine, though, because four days of being "on" during conference was just long enough to shake up my regular programming.  Not only did the break affect my writing schedule, but it also did a number on the eating and exercising gig that, incidentally, I must do for the rest of my life. But this isn't a complaint, just an acknowledgement of how I'm hardwired. Breaks in routine = falling off the horse.

Eating healthy away from home is possible, but wasn't probable for me. And I wasn't going to feel guilty over the realization, either. I ate my way through the breakfast buffets -- filled up so I didn't have to buy a big lunch; industry receptions -- filled up so I didn't have to buy dinner; and late night feedings with  my buddies -- eating and chatting go hand-in-hand. Oversized portions and desserts were my friends, traitorous ones, but friends, nevertheless.

When I returned home, I still couldn't get back into my routine while another seven days zipped past me. The writing schedule kicked in first because I have to produce on lots of promised projects. However, the eating and exercising gig took its own sweet time until I was motivated by how sluggish I'd felt and how my clothes were now fitting me.

Limited caloric intake and calories burned are the necessary evils for weight loss. I had no desire to embark on an extreme diet plan that stripped me of necessary vitamins and proteins.  So I went for guaranteed success. When I'd tested to be a fitness teacher last year, I needed to lose weight relatively quick to save my joints from the impact of the aerobic workouts. But I couldn't afford to feel fatigued or suffer muscle loss.

At that time, the 17-day diet was recommended to me. Using a cycle approach, the diet has four cycles that are 17 days each. Some cycles can be repeated until the desired weight loss has been achieved. The other major point of this exercise is eliminating the pesky carbs, sugars, and fat. However, the diet does provide for lots of lean protein, appropriate servings of fruits and vegetables. Water intake is also pushed for the obvious reasons of hydration, but because of the volume of fiber that I will consume.

Exercising isn't a problem once I've made up my mind. When body shape is shifting out rather than in, that's nature's way of saying - "Get your butt up and move."  I have a 45 -50 min attention span for exercising. One minute more and I'd start thinking that I'm a tortured victim that needs to be rescued.  I will walk, jog, raise the incline - whatever it takes to get the calorie burned number to settle in between 400-500 calories. Music is important. Slow songs are skipped. If my heart is going to pump, and if sweat is going to drench, then music had better be a huge motivator.  iPod contains my various playlist and I blast it.  Why wear headphones. I want the world and the cat to know that I'm working out.

And as for the writing, every day for most of the day, I'm writing, revising, or plotting. Work hard now, play hard later.

Here's to Cycle 1, Day 1.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

RWA Conference Recap…Of Sorts


Romance Writers of America (RWA) hosts an annual conference for its members, although the public can also register to attend. The event is always well-attended by its members and industry professionals, such as agents, editors, librarians, to name a few. Approximately 1,700-2,000 attendees descend on a city to get the latest industry news, pitch proposals, attend workshops, and catch up with fellow writers, who also just happen to be avid romance readers.

I arrived on Tuesday to beat the rush of registrants. It also provided the opportunity to volunteer set up labor for the literacy autographing session. That chore included placing the authors’ books on the table where they would sign in a room that had Brazilian Amazon humidity and temperatures. This annual bonanza launches the conference where 400 authors autograph and sell their books with monies donated to literacy foundations. Unsold books are donated to state libraries. To date RWA has donated over $770,000 to literacy efforts, an impressive milestone.

Now before I made the trek across country to Anaheim, I came up with a few goals. Armed with a focus, along with my multi-conference experience, I selectively picked which workshops I would attend to avoid being overwhelmed by information overload. Easy to do when there are over 100 workshops. However, this strategy didn’t mean that I’d actually make it to the workshops. Jet lag, daily increasing conference fatigue, and catching up with friends and colleagues affected the final decisions. Lots of times the lobby or the bar served as the meeting place of choice.

Thursday morning I rose early to get to the Published Author Network (PAN) retreat. The committee did a fantastic job putting this program together. With digital anything being a main topic of conversation these days, the lineup had my full attention.

Carolyn Pittis, senior vice president, global marketing, strategy and operations, from HarperCollins provided the Keynote address. Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, discussed the changing industry and shift in publishing dynamics with authors uprising against big publishers.

Data flew at us—fast and furious. Equations and algorithms summed up the digital trends, customer demographics, and e-reading forecasts for world domination. Class was definitely in session with all eyes on the screen of data. Everything made sense, although to summarize it days later in a logical manner is near to impossible. Maybe another colleague has done a better job on her blog.

Here are few things that stuck in my feeble memory: If you could pick the best of both publishing worlds, it is best to publish with traditional publishing for the frontlist and distribution benefits AND with the e-platform for its ease of entry and low cost to be published.  

Traditional publishing removes the burden of key administrative tasks for publishing, meanwhile the e-platform promises a rosy future with fiction books being the most favored product of e-readers. While Amazon is certainly the elephant in the room, many other players will enter the pool with tablets taking over as the preferred e-reading device.

Pricing for e-books has caused heartburn because of the downward spike in the price of books. However, there is a threshold range from $2.99 to $5.99 that seems to be the optimal pricepoint for the average customer (this depends on product size and quality/reviews/ author’s reputation).

Another important point that is more about author promotion and less about the book format is that customers are more influenced by authors recommending other authors, than by authors’ self-promotion. Basically let someone toot YOUR horn.

The U.S. market is saturated and there are growing markets overseas and also on the verge on opening. A global map of Facebook connections shows how connected we are, but you can clearly see where there are still frontiers to be embraced. Once the e-platforms have stabilized, e-books will cross borders. Current book success stories can credit their achievements to these foreign markets (in addition to the U.S. Market). Making the books available for as many e-readers is key and drives down the desire for illegal downloads.
Carolyn Pittis invites those interested to follow her on Twitter--@carolynpittis. Likewise, Mark Coker invites those to his Twitter account--@markcoker and he also has a blog.

Thursday evening I got sexy for another memorable conference shindig. One of the notable receptions that I attended was Passionate Ink’s BDSM Workshop where the history of BDSM in literature and romance was presented. An author and an academician shared their experiences and provided an orientation on the tools and toys for the lovestyle. BTW, Passionate Ink is an RWA chapter that is always ready to roll out the welcome mat.

The last workshop that I attended before heading back home on Saturday was Michael Hauge’s Using Inner Conflict To Create Powerful Love Stories. Hauge is a story consultant, author and lecturer. One of his impressive stints is working, as a retained consultant, with Will Smith’s company and working on many of the actor’s blockbuster hits.

Hauge had a 2-hour information packed lecture that spelled out the key components of a story, key questions to ask of your hero/heroine and the six stage plot structure. Head over to his website for further information.

This conference is pricey (fee, hotel, travel, general expenses) on the average broke-a$$ writer’s budget. HOWEVER, when you take a look at what you’re getting for the money, it is a bargain. I recommend those interested in attending next year (in Atlanta) to start a savings fund now.

If you have questions about the conference or writing in general, I will be happy to answer or find/direct you to the answer.