The Art of Keena

Please welcome one of my favorite people, Keena Kincaid, with a little Guest Blog. She has a new book out — her third! — maybe too late for Hanukkah, but there’s several December gift-giving occasions left!

If you write Romance inevitably you hear: “Why do you write that fluff? It’s all happy endings. You could do better.”

I always laugh it off and say, “Well, I started out writing a murder mystery, but then my hero met the heroine.”

Despite my cheerful reply, though, the implication that writing happy endings somehow requires less effort or less talent grates on me like stop-and-go traffic. I can’t speak for every author, but sometimes finding a HEA that is believable and true to the characters is a huge, exciting challenge.

For example, my current book TIES THAT BIND could just as easily been a tragedy.

The hero, AEDAN ap OWEN, idles at angry, tends to act-out rather than think through his actions, and misuses his magical abilities for his own gain. Each time he fails to think through his actions, the reactions pull him deeper into a quagmire of treason and murder. I wasn’t sure that even I—the author—had the ability to save him.

My heroine, TESS, LADY of BRIDSWELL, also makes choices that put her on the divide between gain and loss, happiness and heartache.

And it’s this divide—the knowledge that the story could go either way—that makes writing romance such a challenge and so much fun. Because the Happy Ever After has to make sense, it must come from the characters and the plot in a natural, logical way. Otherwise, readers hurl the book against the wall.

The happy ever after in TIES THAT BIND happened because my characters managed to grow and change. The story’s tension is created by mistakes, thoughtless actions and genuine personality differences. It’s not obvious how the conflict will be resolved—and it shouldn’t be.

The tension, conflict and unknown are what make a good book good.

So with each book, I set myself a challenge. Make the conflict deeper, the stakes higher, the HEA more impossible—and then find a way to get my characters there in a natural, logical way that makes everyone happy.

Back of book blurb:
A druid who denies himself nothing desires the only woman who believes magic and love don’t mix.

Out of place in the Plantagenet court, minstrel AEDAN ap OWEN misuses his Sidhe gifts for the king’s dark business. Sent north to investigate rumors of treason and dispatch the troublemakers, Aedan discovers someone is murdering monks and stealing saints’ relics. And all clues point to Carlisle.

TESS, LADY of BRIDSWELL, refuses to rekindle her relationship with Aedan. She knows his reputation as a secret stealer—and she has a secret that must be kept. But her resolve falters when her uncle promises her hand to a man she despises and Aedan hounds her steps.

A would-be king uses the stolen relics to amplify his power, wielding it like a weapon. Meeting the traitor’s magic with magic will prevent war, but it will also destroy Aedan’s chance to show Tess he has at last mastered the temptation of the ancient wisdom. Can Aedan renounce his magic to win Tess’ heart anew or will he choose magic over love?

Excerpt:

“Tess.”
It was a single word, four letters, yet Aedan somehow imbued her name with the importance of a royal decree. He knows words, she reminded herself, quickening her steps. Life in the king’s court had no doubt honed to perfection his raw talent for finding the phrase to start a quarrel or arouse passion. By now, he could likely start a war — or stop one — with a single syllable.
Chilled by the thought, she turned into a niche in the wall and discovered escape ended at an oak door as wide as she was tall. She fumbled for a latch. Finding only smooth boards beneath her hand, she pressed her palm against the door, prayed it would miraculously open. The steps behind her stopped. She closed her eyes. He had bathed. He smelled of Saracen soap, spicy and exotic, mixed with the brisk, earthy scent of old trees that had clung to her for days after he’d left.
“Tess.”
A tremor ran down her spine. Saints, she still loved the way he said her name. Rather than giving it a shortened, clipped feel like everyone else, he elongated it, adding depth and weight as if it were her true name.
“Tess, look at me.”
Unable to move forward or backward, she pressed her forehead against the door. Go away. Just go away, she prayed, and then hands, warm and steady, settled on her shoulders.

Deck the Halls With… What Exactly?


You know, I’m such a creature of habit.

Perhaps, a believer in ritual. Which sounds ever so much better.

But, I’ve discovered, just tonight, that part of my blockage on Christmas decoration stems from not knowing where stuff GOES. My friend, amazing author Keena Kincaid, who will be guest blogging here tomorrow, is a gypsy. She forever moves from place to place, so getting out her Christmas decorations becomes a common thread.

For me, I find myself paralyzed that I can’t hang the stockings on the kiva. What do I do?? Perhaps if I had less OTHER stuff to do, I’d feel more creative.

What it comes to is, I can’t do the decorating by rote.

I can’t simply recreate what I’ve done before and have done. Some of the things just flat out don’t match. At least I’ve made piles now, of what does match and what doesn’t.

I know, I know — it sounds nuts and you wonder why I care.

I can’t explain why I care. It has to do with blending. With art. With being part of the landscape and the season and the feeling. I have something in me that wants to become part of a place. That longs to be in harmony, perhaps.

Speaking of which, I’ve learned that “luminarias” are little bonfires and the candles in bags are “farolitas.” If you have the fake-y farolitas, with electricity like we do, they’re “electrolitas.” Which I feel certain is not a traditional word.

I’m getting there. The poinsettia lights look lovely over the kiva mantle. I’ve a pile of outside lights in amber and gold, to match the farolitas.

I have an idea for hanging the stockings, too.

Hmm. Is that the stirrings of creativity I feel? Welcome! Welcome and, dare I say, gods bless us, every one.

The Kennedy Lending Library


Did I mention?

I spent the last couple of weekends finishing going through the moving boxes and bins. Oh yes, I totally mentioned this, in light of my darling man’s bin o’bullets.

So, it was really last Sunday, this Saturday and part of this Sunday. That I spent dealing with the garage and all in it. But I’ve now been through every box and bin, extracted what I wanted, bookshelved the books that need to be out in the world and re-stored the rest.

Thus I restored the deserving to the shelves and re-stored the rest.

Hey, at least I amuse myself.

Why, you ask, was this so important, what with Christmas shopping, decorating, tree-trimming, menu-planning and baking to conduct?

I was tired of empty bookshelves.

It’s a whole-house thing. People are coming to stay for Christmas and my house wasn’t yet totally together. Right: because my bookshelves were empty.

So I got them all out. Sorted all my books into piles. By priority of love. By author. And I decided who I needed to have out, readily available and who could live in boxes in the garage. Yes, for those of you who like to give me grief about my lists, I’m making a database, with box numbers, for the books in storage. Just a few short, sweet steps away.

See, in the old house, I had a full wall of built-in bookshelves. Plus a bookshelf in my office, one in David’s office and one in the basement. The Annex, doncha know. I also kept a literal wooden chest in the dressing room that was my TBR pile. It was my TBR treasure chest.

Did I mention the new house has no storage?

No basement. No attic. Just an oversized two-car garage with shelves. We have one “small” built-in bookshelf and three portable bookshelves we moved, including the annex bookshelf. They absorbed more than I thought.

At a guesstimate, two-thirds of our books are “out.” Which isn’t bad.

How I chose ended up being like love. Oh yes, I first I tried to be methodical: which books do I regularly reference? Which topics will I be writing about, mulling over, nostagically wanting to revisit in the near future?

And what about the vistor/vanity aspect? I found myself evaluating which books might be on the shelves that would say something about me. Which led to which books might I mention, over dinner, say, that someone would want to borrow?

In the end, as love always does, it came down to what I like having near. I don’t care what anyone else might think. Even though I might not re-read Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight series in the near future (make no mistake: I’m now seriously contemplating it), I have it on the shelf. As I have had since I was, oh, twelve, thirteen, something like that. And because I couldn’t let any of her other books feel bad, they’re all out, too.

Yes, I have everything she’s ever written.

Which is also true of my other great loves. A.S. Byatt, Ann Patchett. Orson Scott Card, Mercedes Lackey, Jacqueline Carey, Diana Gabaldon, Margaret Atwood. They all have their space on my limited shelves.

It’s a kind of homage, really.

And maybe that’s what I realized, in doing this. That the likelihood of my opening and referencing the book has nothing to do with it. I like seeing them there. Just like I like to see the art on the walls, hear the music on the cd player and watch the sun set outside.

It’s enough to set my juices humming.

Magic Bunny Ears of Fire


When I saw the contrails light up with sunset fire the other night, I knew then what I would call the blog post for it.

Various things (read: deadlines, phone calls and meetings) conspired to keep me from posting this for a couple of days. But I’d been turning the phrase over in my head. Magic bunny ears of fire. I don’t know why. I liked the cadence of it and the image. The whimsy. It entertained me to wind the words around.

This, more than anything else, is the way in which writers are crazy.

When a writer has that far-off fuzzy look? Never ask what she’s thinking, because she’ll say something like: I’m thinking about the phrase “magic bunny ears of fire.” Which I suspect would be a conversation-killer.

Of course, if we’re in a sensible frame of mind, we won’t answer that way. My standard is something like: oh, I’m just noodling over what I’m going to write on my blog.

Magic bunny ears of fire!

And, in another way that I suspect most writers do, this phrase matched up in my head with a song lyric from They Might Be Giants: Sapphire bullets of pure love.

I’m thinking of a story now, surreal and whimsical, where sapphire bullets of pure love rain through the magic bunny ears of fire.

And THIS, my friends, is why so many of us are incapable of writing to market. Can you imagine pitching this image to an agent or editor?

No no no.

But I might write it anyway.

Otherwise the Magic Bunny Ears of Fire will never leave me alone…

Every Quail Is Sacred


I’ve been trying to explain social media to people lately.

Yeah, you laugh.

And you should, because I am more often the luddite than the gal in the know. And I’m so not the generation of social media — though I notice that mine, the Generation Jones, if you will, has cheerfully glommed onto the concept. Perhaps because we’re all so determined not to become technologically obsolete before we absolutely CANNOT keep up any more. After all, we learned computers when you had to do everything in DOS, dammit. The younger people don’t know what it was like, creating graphics designating the color for each pixel, uphill, through six feet of snow.

Okay, I’m over it now.

I do, however, go to writing conferences where they talk about online marketing. And I go to those sessions, because I’m hopeful of one day having a new book to market. And do a better job of it this time. Though, granted, I used the tools I had at the time.

So, folks in the generations before mine, the Boomers and the Silents, (They all want to be Silent Generation now, have you noticed? No one wants to be a Boomer.) ask me to explain what social media is.

I tell them, it’s about creating networks of people, primarily online, and you share information about the things you like and use. And they say, oh, advertising and I say, no, because this isn’t controlled and it isn’t full of tricks. It’s about honest communication. Stuff you happen to buy is just one part of that.

They don’t get it.

I’m probably not explaining it well.

Penelope Trunk, one of my favorite bloggers (for the record, she does not pay me to say that; she barely knows I exist), does a better job of explaining it, though I can’t find the exact post I’m thinking of. She says the younger folks, the Ys, don’t even think about this. It’s just how they are.

What I suspect is, everyone heard in the early days of social marketing how people were paid to talk to their friends about products. Doing the Oh! I’ll have a Beerweiser! I lurv the Beerweiser, don’t you? Maybe this still goes on and I just don’t know about it.

Of course, we all thought this was really icky. Like stealth advertising.

But the thing is, we all do this all the time anyway; we’re just not paid to do it. Which makes it honest. My aunt says she wants to pick my brain on MP3 players — I’ll tell what kind I bought and why. My mom asks which brand of vitamins is the most trustworthy; David has researched it and we can tell her. They don’t know it, but it’s social media.

All of this comes to mind because on yesterday’s post, I mentioned that my internet was slow and carelessly cast blame on either Qwest or Google. (Relax Qwest social media team — you already contacted me!) And, as you can see from my parenthetical comment, someone from the Qwest social media team commented on my blog post offering to check my internet line for problems.

Totally cracked me up.

And then I thought, very cool of them, that they have a team that picks up on mentions of their services and responds. How smart of them to pay attention to honest, if flip, assessments of their service.

I took them up on the offer, too. The ‘net has been slow at our abode lately. I would love for them to fix it. I like Qwest’s service either way and I don’t mind saying so. No, they don’t pay me either.

What’s more interesting to me? Both my mom and aunt reacted to the comment from Qwest as a corporate intrusion. A Big Brotherish “they’re watching you” kind of thing. My mom even said to me (on Yahoo IM, if we’re quoting brands) “Now even I have to watch what I tell you. God only knows who is listening!”

I say, hey, I threw myself, my words and opinions out there. I made my thoughts accessible to the web crawlers. They’re smart to listen. In fact, I think they’d be fools not to.

The best part of social media is it’s FUN. It’s like a big party. Those Gen Y kids knew what they were doing when they started MySpacing and Chatting and FaceBooking and we, the grown-ups, all thought they were nuts.

David asked me how the photo of our Christmas quail figured into my theme tonight and I said it hadn’t come together yet. But you know, if the quail had a way to post “found a great feeder tonight — they’ve got the BEST seed!” — wouldn’t they do it, too?

Hell, maybe they do!

Puny, Inexhaustible Voices


I have a thing about acceptance speeches from the literature laureates.

Okay, granted, I have a thing about a lot of things. Sue me.

And don’t blame me for fantasizing about what my own laureate speech would be. We all have our little daydreams, right? Never mind that genre isn’t the way to go, if one wants enduring awards.

In fact, I have a little faux-scroll in my writing studio of William Faulkner’s acceptance speech. (Okay, I used to have it up, then, when we moved, it seemed to garpy to put up again, but now I’m reconsidering. Not the least of which because I’ve now had to Google it, so I can share it with you, and the interwebs are running slow and cobwebby just now.Google is apparently afflicted by blizzards. Or Qwest is. We’ll never know.)

Minutes and minutes later — oh, the lack of instant gratification! — here is the bit I wanted to share:

It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

I know, it’s ironic this means so much to me. Words from a man who would undoubtedly not include womens fiction, speculative fiction or sex/magic fiction as emblematic of compassion, sacrifice and endurance.

And yet, aren’t these the traditional female qualities?

Faulkner is all about the man. That was his era. We can forgive him and understand that women were meant to be included in this umbrella term.

We were. Meant to be. Right?

Okay, well, this really started with the speech from 2009’s Nobel Prize Winner for Litachur: Herta Mueller. What she said that struck me:

Can we say that it is precisely the smallest objects—be they trumpets,
accordions, or handkerchiefs—which connect the most disparate things in life?
That the objects are in orbit and that their deviations reveal a pattern of
repetition—a vicious circle, or what we call in German a devil’s circle. We can
believe this, but not say it. Still, what can’t be said can be written. Because
writing is a silent act, a labor from the head to the hand.

I feel like she’s speaking to me. To my small objects.

There’s this long, old debate about the things men write about versus what women write about. You can see it here, though you can blame it on era, if you like. The last worthless rock on the last red and dying evening compared to the handkerchief one’s mother mentions.

I would argue it’s not a matter of scale so much as a matter of perspective.

In the end, writing is, indeed, a silent act. That’s a profound thing, since it’s an echo of speech. It’s interesting to me that both laureates, sixty years removed, with gulfs of gender and culture between them, focus on voice.

Which, for those paying attention at home, is a spoken thing.

Sometimes I wonder.

Maybe it’s not what we have to say, so much as how we say it.

Simple Pleasures

I think it was Alexandra Sokoloff who said in a writing workshop “if you’re not writing down your dreams, you’re working way too hard.”

If someone knows this to be true or untrue, please let me know. That she’s the one who said it, not whether writing down your dreams saves work. Or, actually, you can tell me that, too. At any rate, it seems I heard this third- or fourth-hand, but I liked it, so it stuck.

Many of my dreams have been written down, in various fragments, waiting to be stories. Obsidian started from a dream. From a series of dreams, really. I had another good one the other night and wrote several pages about it. Could be fun to see where it goes.

I have disturbing dreams from time to time, also. Rarely full-fledged nightmares, but things that prey on me.

I dreamed one the other night. That David’s mother told me I was a bad influence. She asked me to leave their house in the middle of the night. I was heartbroken, but I wasn’t surprised. I knew how she felt already.

Isabel goes outside, despite the snow.

She loves to crouch behind the plants and watch the quail feed. Once they collect, she springs into their feathery cluster, sending shooting stars of birds in all directions. It’s her favorite thing to do, even though she never catches any.

Frankly, I think she doesn’t try very hard. They’re big birds, after all. She just loves the game. Snow collecting on her fur isn’t enough to ruin her fun.

When she gets cold and damp enough, she comes back in and curls up near where I’m working to snooze. If I get up, she takes possession of my desk chair, the best place to be.

And when she sleeps, she dreams of catching quail.

True Love


“Well, Sundance, at least we have enough ammo to hold off the Bolivian Army.”

This is what I was planning to say to David when I came back into the house after organizing the garage. I had the words all picked out, amused myself terribly as I worked, but then I couldn’t quite tease him about it.

Contrary to some opinion, I do hold my tongue now and then.

However, I did tell David that I thought he was the worst packer on the face of the Earth. This is after I suggested throwing his old suitcase into the BB/BS donation pile for tomorrow morning, and he said there was stuff in it and I said, no, I checked and PUT AWAY the collection of BULLETS, CARTRIDGES, NAILS and SCREWS.

I kid you not. The suitcase was full of this stuff.

He says, “I had no choice about that.”

Which makes me laugh, because he totally means it. He means that, faced with drawers of random hardware condiments and ammunition, on a short timeline — and, oh my god, our timeline was short — that throwing a chunk of it into his broken old suitcase would seem inevitable.

In a month, we’ll have been together for 19 years. So, this is all stuff I know about him. One of my first published essays was called “Bullets,” and was about dating a man who had shotgun cartridges rolling around in his truck.

Of course, even though he doesn’t hunt anymore, we have plenty of ammo.

Which I packed away, in my organized fashion, into the plastic bin labelled “hunting supplies.” If/when he asks me where it all is, I can tell him. Because, you know, he will ask. Though I must grant that he remembered which broken suitcase he’d stowed it in. And I’m pretty sure that was late on the last Thursday, just before we closed the truck and left the house forever. Right after I asked him if he’d packed the stuff in his drawers in the basement. An ingenuous question on my part, because I knew perfectly well he hadn’t.

Which is why he had no choice and why I shouldn’t be surprised to find it.

All I can say is, if we move to Bolivia?

We’re taking nothing and starting fresh.

A Salute to Healthy Living!

I made chocolate-chip cookies tonight.

Which is totally out of character.

Were I a character in a novel, some reader would tag me immediately and say, no, she’s into into low-fat diet, exercise and healthy living — it’s totally unrealistic for her to suddenly bake chocolate-chip cookies. Even if it was just a half-recipe, from the one her friend read her over the phone in 9th grade, because they liked the Nestle recipe best and she didn’t have Nestle-brand chips.

They’d put it down to sloppy writing. Bad characterization.

Because, in many ways, characters in books are trimmed down to a few facets. So there’s no room for change that’s not relevant to the plot. My 9th-grade sweet-tooth self can’t play into healthy-living modern-day character. Not without complex layers.

Including layers of fat.

Which is why I no longer do things like baking cookies. But, one friend, who shall remain nameless but who David has named an evil influence, baked chocolate-chip cookies last night and I’ve been jonesing for them ever since. I’ma slave to peer pressure. Except most of the time. More of those layers.

So I set out the butter to soften, just in case. Sometimes it helps, to see the stick of butter and imagine that much more on my ass. Which is a direct proportion for the over-40 woman, if you didn’t know.

(As an aside, I recently learned that the woman in her 40s should have an orgasm at least every 16 days to be healthy and the 6os woman every 30 days — I don’t know about you, but I have that aspect of healthy living So, SO handled!)

I digress. To continue the story, David spotted the butter, I used to bake all the time, he knows what it means. I say I was thinking of making… but we don’t need … and he interrupts me with the mmmmmm noise.

Made it a done deal.

After all, who loves living with Healthy Living Woman? (Except for the orgasm part, natch.)

So, it’s cold tonight. There’s a fire in the fireplace and wine in my glass.

And warm chocolate-chip cookies.

Moonset at Sunrise


The moon has been so bright the last few nights that it shines in our west-facing bedroom like a spotlight.

Every night, the moon rises one hour later. So the time the moon shines in our window has gotten progressively later. The last few nights, we’ve awakened when the moon hit the window at just after midnight, then 1:30 and so on. Last night I woke up at 3:45 and got up to pee, which is fairly usual for me. When I came back to bed, David was sitting on the side of the bed, which is very unusual. He gave me a bright-eyed look and said “time to get up?”

Um no, I told him. I realized the room was so bright from the moon it could look like sunrise. It’s not even four o’clock yet.

Oh good, he says, lays down and promptly goes back to sleep. If he was ever really awake at all.

I was awake for a while, watching the mooon shine in. I inherited the family gene for fretting in the middle of the night. Fortunately I don’t do it often, or for very long.

Having the moon there comforted me.

When we got up to the alarm call at six, the moon still hung there, just setting as the sun rose.

Soon it was gone and the day belonged entirely to the sun.