Thursday, May 30, 2013

Wisteria Lane

I owe my writing career to a lot of hard work.  I also owe it to Desperate Housewives.

Some background, before you think I’ve gone completely around the bend.  As a nine-year-old kid, my first celebrity crush was formed by watching Teri Hatcher on “Lois & Clark:  The New Adventures of Superman.”  I also still think of Dean Cain as Superman, but I digress.  Anyway, I loved that show and kinda missed Teri after it ended.  Obviously she went through some lean years career-wise but was also raising her daughter.  She had a brief role in my least-favorite James Bond movie—go figure.  Fast forward to 2004 when I’m a red-blooded college male who’s just learned Teri is coming back to TV in a brand-new show, Desperate Housewives.  The show quickly became one of my favorites, a brilliant mixture of comedy and high drama, a soap opera for the modern world.  It was also populated with other beautiful women, including Eva Longoria, who quickly became another celebrity crush.  Teri’s character reminded me of myself—hapless, accident prone, and well-meaning.  For a man, I’m kind of a klutz.  Anyway, I remained a faithful viewer of the show, which was a beacon of light in sometimes difficult college years.  Anyone who has been to graduate school can surely relate to this fact; you need at least one escape from life.

My friend Josie became my friend because of our shared love for the show Dallas (even though we “shipped” different couples).  Over time we bonded over similar interests, buoyed each other through some of life’s challenges.   Even as we drifted away from Dallas (though we always come back to it) we’d still chat about anything and everything.  Late in 2010 she told me about some movie that was going to be on, “Ricochet”, and how I should watch it because Julie Benz would be in it.  I didn’t recognize the name but I had seen her before—more on that later—and a check of IMDB let me know that John Corbett would play the male lead, and he’s one of my favorite actors.  In spite of our differing time zones we watched the movie together, well past my usual bedtime, and it was excellent.  After that we each read the book, and somehow I fell in love with both Julie Benz and the works of Sandra Brown.  It was while reading “Ricochet” that the seeds were planted for my first novel.  It’s hilarious when you consider the obvious—my novels are nothing like hers.  She has an excellent grasp of sexual tension, thrilling mystery, and sheer terror.  I write straightforward romances with happy endings (then again, so did she at the beginning of her career).  Anyway, that is how I became a writer:  Julie Benz and Ricochet.  Oh, and Josie.  But the story doesn’t end there.  Josie asked me about Julie’s role on Desperate Housewives (light bulb!) and I told her it was an amazing show and that she should watch.  Six episodes of Julie on DH was enough for Josie to fall in love with the rest of the main characters on the series and buy the seasons on DVD.  I got to reminisce as she went along, because I remembered a lot of the storylines years after viewing them.  Other stories I had forgotten, although I had a good excuse—college brain!  When the series concluded, Josie and I once again watched across time zones as the ladies completed their stories.   Now we watch at different points in the series on DVDs, reminiscing and enjoying and observing and laughing.  Now I’m a Julie Benz fan, too, and we’re always thinking of new things to try to get the other into (she’s Bones, I’m Castle).  I’m sure I’ll tackle Melrose Place next since I made her a Marcia Cross superfan.  And while this blog entry may have seemingly veered into non-writing territory, I bring you full-circle:  my coming of age crush on Lois Lane made me the writer I am today, twenty years later.

Thanks, Jo.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Power of the Song

I can freely admit to having never experienced some of the events that occur in my novels, and for that I am thankful.  Most of the time—and I know this method doesn’t work for those who need quiet—I utilize music as the background inspiration to my writing.  I’ve mentioned this before, but much of my first novel, Windswept, was soundtracked to Miranda Lambert, as this was in the months following “Four the Record” being released.  I listened to the song “Safe” in particular a fair number of times, and that seemed to be the running theme of the book—the power and the safety of lasting love.  The first half of “Kentucky Summer” is Celine Dion; the latter half is Rascal Flatts.  Go figure.  And George Strait has stuck by my side through pretty much every book; it helps that he has about a thousand songs to choose from, and that “Pure Country” is a romance at its core.  Chris Young’s “Neon” is also good for writing inspiration—every song on that album is like a novel itself.  “She’s Got This Thing About Her”?  Fantastic.

In fairness, all music does not work for all projects.  You have to get in a certain place, and some songs just won’t take you there.  Adele is amazing, but usually works better for the conflict portion of the book.  By that same token, I haven’t listened to George Strait much at all for my current book which is set within the confines of a city.  I guess my conclusion is that inspiration comes in many forms, but sometimes the best place to push it along is a three-and-a-half-minute song.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Inspiration on the Small Screen

When I was a kid I didn’t really understand Westerns, but I watched plenty of them—John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper, Audie Murphy, Robert Mitchum—the list is endless.  And then there were the TV ones—Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Virginian.  I even categorize the original Dallas as a kind of Western; the ranch played an important role in the mythology of the show, and Ray & Donna, the cowboy and the lady, had the love story that most captured my attention. Little wonder, then, that as a grown-up I’d write a bunch of novels featuring cowboys and not think twice about it.

If you can name a soap opera that aired in the past thirty years, I probably watched it.  My favorites were The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, Days of our Lives—and I hold a soft spot for Guiding Light and As the World Turns, which I watched alongside my beloved Mamaw Bell.  Anyway, those things, which I still watch, gave me a good background in story structure, romance, and continuing dramas.  And I’m also pretty sure they made me more empathetic and understanding of problems and circumstances I have (thankfully) never encountered.  Empathy, more than anything else, may be the writer’s greatest tool.  You have to walk in your characters’ shoes, endure their pain, and experience their joy.  Entertainment value can only carry you so far.  If you don’t “feel” anything for the characters in a book, TV show, or movie, what’s the point? 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Nature’s Inspiration

Aside from two of my books—one of which I am currently writing—my novels stick to rural settings.  Cattle ranches and farms are familiar settings, including all of the Windswept Saga and my upcoming novel.  This should surprise no one—aside from the eight years (give or take a few months) I lived in Lexington, my entire life has been rural, pastoral, a quiet setting where nature drives most aspects of your life.  My ancestors were farmers; I grew up surrounded on three sides by a cattle-grazing pasture.  I haven’t always been a great helper, but I am increasingly trying to help my dad in the garden; when I plant the vegetables myself, I know exactly where they came from.  I guess with that background information, it should be little surprise that I’ve written several books where mountains feature prominently, where characters break out the fishing poles or ride across an entire ranch on horseback.  I live in Kentucky, so little wonder that horses feature in nearly every book in some shape or form; this is also a big state for farming of every kind, but it cattle, poultry, pork, or vegetables.  Sometimes I think that I will break from the mold and write about urban settings—and maybe I will—but there’s an ease that comes from describing the green grass of home, and the mountains that so lovingly envelope their residents.  After all, who doesn’t want to be able to look up into the night air and see a sky full of stars?

Friday, May 17, 2013


So I’m going through another period of weirdness where I am writing a book and continually asking myself, “Is this any good?”  Truthfully, I have no idea.  I usually don’t deem any of my work satisfactory until I’ve put the final period on the final page—which is to say, I am a lethal perfectionist and hopelessly self-critical.  Maybe that’s why I have long been adverse to criticism—because I am my own worst critic.  Anyway, despite my dogged self-criticism—or is that dogged determination—I keep writing.  For as much as I wring my hands over it, it makes me happy at day’s end.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A New Day

I’m not quite ready to share the details yet, but a recent event in my career as an author has given me hope for the future.  It’s the culmination of a lifetime of work, or maybe just a few really tough years.  I look forward to a day—maybe it’s here now—where I can look back upon my adversity and see it as a building block to a better life.   Perhaps that’s how it should be.  I’ll keep you updated—the whole thing is pretty darned exciting.