Saturday, March 1, 2014

Review: Come To Me Quietly by A.L. Jackson

I've been reading a lot of New Adult lately and if you have been, too, you're going to agree that there are a lot of bad boys in this genre—the brooding, tatted-up, tortured kind. So at first I thought, okay, why not another one? I didn't regret that decision at all. I picked this book up yesterday and kept reading.

Starting on a slightly technical note, I think that first person POV works really well with New Adult and has in fact been the popular choice. I'm not a big fan of alternating POVs but it was successfully deployed in this book. Actually, other than Aly's and Jared's POV, the flashbacks are done in third-person. In a way, that tweak serves the purpose of the flashback well because it changes the tone and you know that you're reading something detached from the current timeline. The POV shifts felt natural and flowed well which is a huge accomplishment. It's a big risk but it paid off for Jackson.

Aleena Moore or Aly for short, is a well-developed character because we've seen flashes of her as a child growing up and trying to carve a place for herself in the company of her brother Christopher and his best friend Jared. She's very likeable and level-headed actually (except when she fell and dived deep, holding nothing back). I especially liked that unlike many of today's heroines, she's not hung up with her family. It was nice to see her have that kind of happy, healthy relationship with her folks and her siblings. She wasn't full of that teeth-gritting angst we see a lot in heroines nowadays. It definitely went along with the soundness of her character, that steadfastness that was going to finally ground Jared back to the very place he'd been long running from.

Jared Holt is scarred and still suffering, and it's not until well into the two-thirds of the story that it's revealed why although you get lots of glimpses at the ghosts that haunt him. He looks like a bad boy, acts tough like a bad boy but he's actually quite a nice guy despite all his baggage. Sure, he tortures himself with guilt and the determination to remain unworthy of any good thing in life but he's not a jerk. His pain hurts Aly but his heart is in the right place. It's not far-fetched I guess, considering what a nice, good-natured boy he was growing up, his home happy and his future bright. I adored the boy that he was in those flashbacks and I could totally see why Aly had loved him for as long as she had.

While the plot isn't totally unique in a world full of romances about a girl and her brother's best friend, or of good girl taming the bad boy, the twists in the past gave it a different angle. But what really lured me in and held me captive was the music of Jackson's writing. It's eloquent, distinct and layered with emotions and beautifully strung words. It's still very appropriate, especially for Jared's POV, tough guy that he is, but the writing really shines. It reaches deep and grabs on to you tight.

I would strongly recommend this to anyone with a soft spot for bad boys and an-almost-puppy love, actually. I'm looking forward to the next book 'Come To Me Softly' in this Closer To You series,  coming out summer 2014.

New Covers: The Mischievous Mrs. Maxfield and Virtue and Vice

Since The Mischievous Mrs. Maxfield just wrapped up, I felt it was time to give it and Virtue and Vice a new and permanent look.

I created new covers for them which I can actually legally use.

Hope you like them!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Mischievous Mrs. Maxfield—It's a wrap!

It feels like forever since I started writing The Mischievous Mrs. Maxfield.

It's been almost a full year, actually.

It seems like a long time but looking at the length of the manuscript, 300,000+ words, I'm not surprised.

It's an epic book. And as much as I'd love to just leave it like that and be done, I can't.

I think, with the amount of story I've written for TMMM, it will be good for two books. But I'm somehow fond of numerical patterns—threes, sevens, forties—so two feels—ironically—odd. 

So just when I thought it was over, I think, "Sequel?"

I'm not going to write a book for the sake of writing a book. It's a lot of work to do for something you don't quite believe in, and maybe I'm still much of an amateur that way. 

I'll think about it but for now, TMMM is done. 

I've never been so relieved to finish a story. I never really felt the pressure before because I was always writing offline. TMMM is the first story I've posted serially and that has really changed the way I write. 

You have people watching every scene unfold, waiting with baited breath for the next chapter. While it's exciting, it can be nerve-wracking and frustrating too. You start to find yourself in a bind, wondering if you're writing for the story, for yourself, or for the audience.

I have no regrets though. Writing TMMM has been a real journey for me and I've met many inspiring people who reached out to me with their feedback, showing me exactly how powerful a pen can really be.

For now, I'm putting the pen down for a break—until I have to pick it up again to undertake the monumental task of editing this beast. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

It Starts With A Plan

The Ultimate Guide to Writing Your Manifesto by Helping Writers Become Authors

People message me all the time asking how they should write their story and finish it.

For one, I'm not expert so I'm probably not the best person to ask. Two, we all go about it a different way because we are different people. How I do it might not necessarily work for you.

There is one thing that I think we can all agree on—we need a plan.

Yes, writing is an art and requires that perfect flow of creative juices.

I completely agree, but it's also a bigger than just your story or your book. Writing, for me anyway, always comes with the goal to put all those creative ideas in one neat precious package which will hopefully be multiplied by a large number and distributed to people who would read the story and delight in it. While I'm usually a happy audience of one, I do want to share the story.

With the digital age, publishing isn't always so traditional anymore. There are tons of successful self-publishing stories out there. Whichever route you want to take, this very helpful article from Helping Writers Become Authors will give you a simple breakdown of how to make the idea in your head into a story and then a book which will hopefully be on its quick way to getting published.

I believe in plans and the way they put things in perspective.

I like directions when I'm going somewhere so I have an idea of how long it'll take to get there, what will be required to make the journey, and hopefully don't get lost along the way.

Planning out your writing is no different. :)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Fan Mail: Who Is Your Favorite Male Lead?

I've been getting lots of emails and messages asking me all kinds of questions. A lot of times, they're the same questions so I thought I'd post one here or there so that I can share it with anyone else interested to know. =)

Fan Question: Who is your favorite male lead out of the ones you've written?

Me: They really share a lot of similarities (you can pretty much figure out the kind of male lead I write if you've read one or two of my stories) but I must say that as much as I adore Brandon Maxfield (like any girl who wants a near-perfect guy), I'm still very drawn to Sebastian Vice.

Sebastian to me, is a perfect mix of a tortured soul, a domineering male, and an inner romantic. The guy quotes poetry by heart, for God's sakes.

Anyway, having written the prologue when he was just a boy, the meat of the story when he was a man at the crosspoint of his life where he could choose light over darkness, and the epilogue where we see the road he's gone down after making that leap, I feel like I know him better. He was really in a very dark place (dark enough that it turned what was supposed to be a sultry, summer read to an almost gothic romance) and I felt every bit of that pain, even as I was writing the story from Cassandra's point of view.

A lot of readers have mentioned he's quite flawed and he is and I don't apologize for any of that. He was supposed to make you fall in love but drive you up the wall (ahem, literally in our imagination, perhaps) and make you jump back and forth between rooting for him and swearing him off for good. I think I was able to feel all of that for Sebastian which really makes him a very full, very real character to me.

But who knows? There will be other characters in the future and you just never know who's going to walk out of those pages (or computer screens).

Hope that works!

(Send me a question through a message here in FB or Twitter or Wattpad and I'll do my best to give you a candid answer.)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Writing Class: Fatal Flaw in Your Characters

My husband once looked up from a Stephen King book with a horrified expression and said, "He spent the last ten pages telling me about this character, who she is, where she's from, what her life is like—and then he killed her."

I recalled that memory not precisely because of the character getting literally killed in the story. It's the fact that my husband had cared enough about the character to be affected by her sudden demise. What kind of character would you care enough about that if something horrible happens to them, you have to somehow take a moment to cope?

I haven't taken formal writing classes but I've read enough books to know that the characters who stick with you long after you've read the book are characters with rich layers to them—their history, their strengths, their vulnerabilities, their secret thoughts, their struggles.

It's easy to create a character who hits all the marks but perfection is so one-dimensional.

Characters need to be relatable so you need them to be human and to be human is to flawed.

I attached a link to a great article in Romance University on How Fatal Should Flaws Be from a writing class with Laurie Schnebly Campbell.

It talks about making your character suffer.

Give him/her something to struggle with—a vulnerability that is ingrained, and that manifests in various parts of the story, something that has a sway on their decisions and actions.

Merely giving your character the fear of china dolls that would somehow never come up in the story is interesting but pointless.

If your character can't handle clutter or disorder, for example, she would have issues with people in her life who just drop in or call our out of the blue—may it be a parent who walks in and out of her life through revolving doors, or a close friend who keeps pushing her to throw caution to the wind and live a little, or a love interest who likes to live day by day, with no plans or prohibitions.

This flaw may have a small impact on the grand plot, or may be the very leg it stands on—it's really up to you—but the point is that it gives your character more dimension and in turn, provides you with more meat for sub-plots and character development.

To be perfectly honest, I don't start out writing by building up a character. It's very rare for me to do that.

I usually write names first because then I start to think of them that way.

Then I write down dialogs they somehow manage to have in my head and then I get to know my character's personality that way. When I start hearing their voice (not literally, hehe) and what they say and how they say it, I start to detect their character make-up and from there it occurs to me what they're strong at and what makes them vulnerable.

It's an odd way to build a character but I've found that it works with me.

There's no perfect formula—writing is an art form, after all—and creativity is tapped differently with every individual.

The point is, when you've gotten started, think about your characters as people. And because they're people, they're not going to perfect.

Poke away at them, leave them with some scars, turn their world upside down—the list is endless.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Something: Chicken, Vegetable and Rice Casserole

I decided to start a Sunday Something series.

It used to be Sunday Poetry but since there are a lot of other interesting things I find myself wanting to post on Sunday, I decided it could be anything—including food.

I have a pretty busy life. I want to get as much time to write when I'm not working so even though I love good food, I want to be smart about making sure I'm getting as many meals as I could out of the couple hours I put in in the kitchen.

My husband and I like to go out spontaneously—whether it's for a nice drive or just to go shopping, and lately, I've been finding myself scrambling to put dinner together at eight on a Sunday evening. By the time it's done, I've got no time for anything else before hitting the sack so I've come up with a solution.

I've decided to spend a couple of my early Sunday morning hours making a big batch of something that we could have for dinner and lunch for a few days. It's quite nice actually because I get to feel good about letting my husband sleep in (he's not a morning person but then neither am I) while I get to enjoy the solitude of a still-darkened kitchen, sipping my coffee and getting things together for the big meal I'm doing. It frees up the rest of my day and saves me from having to make dinners and lunches for a good couple of days.

Last week, I made a pretty amazing meatloaf (for the first time ever) but I haven't been back to blogging then so I don't even think I have photos for that. We'll skip that until I make it again.

Today, I went with a healthy and relatively simple casserole from a recipe I've found online and tweaked a bit.

It's got chunks of chicken, lots of veggies, and earthy wild rice to add to the texture and taste.

The original recipe is from (submitted by Campbell's Kitchen) called One-Dish Chicken, Vegetable and Rice Bake but the recipe I'm posting is one I've changed up slightly and taste-tested myself.

Prep Time: 15 minutes (including chopping, browning and putting casserole together)
Cook Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Servings: 6
Price Range: $ (max being $$$) Most of the ingredients are kitchen staples and can also be easily swapped.

  • 1 (10 oz) can of condensed Cream of Broccoli and Cheese Soup (can be substituted by Mushroom or Chicken variety)
  • 1 and 1/8 cup of chicken broth (without the added salt if possible)
  • 6 ounces chopped, fresh vegetable mix (carrots, white mushrooms, broccoli crowns) (may substitute with frozen version—don't thaw)
  • 1 cup mix of wild rice and white long grain rice (such as basmati or even jasmine)
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided in half
  • 2 large or 3 medium boneless chicken breasts, cut in bite-sized pieces
  • pinch of paprika
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • Heat up oven to 375 degrees F; set rack in the middle.
  • Heat oil in a large skillet and cook chicken until no longer pink and meat starts to brown. Set aside.
  • While chicken cooks, chop up vegetables. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, mix soup, chicken broth, rice, vegetables and half the cheese. Season with paprika, salt and pepper. 
  • Spread mixture over a 3-quart shallow baking dish. Top with chicken and the rest of the cheese.
  • Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
  • Bake for an hour. If there's still a lot of liquid, lift one corner of the foil open and bake for another 5 minutes. Take out and let it sit for another five minutes before taking cover off completely.
  • Add more cheese if your heart desires it! 

Make-Ahead Tips:
  • Cook the chicken ahead of time and keep in fridge until ready to use for the next couple of days. Make sure to cook the chicken thoroughly. I don't bother to temp-check when I'm just throwing it into the casserole right away but if you're storing it in your fridge, make sure it's fully cooked.
  • Chop the vegetables ahead of time and seal in a bowl with plastic wrap to keep them fresh.
  • If you find the casserole too liquidy after you take it out of the oven, take a turkey baster and pump some of the liquid out. This lets you suck some of the fluid out without compromising the flavor or the entire casserole itself in case you have the crazy idea of tilting it slightly over the sink to get rid of the extra liquid. Giving it time to sit allows the moisture to settle and be absorbed by the other ingredients.