A Girl, A Key, And A CD

It’s been a real rough couple of weeks for me. Those who follow my blog may be wondering why I haven’t been regular with my posts. I apologize for the dearth of written material, but I was simply pulled into the dark vortex of a few hellish weeks. Nothing much has changed other than I seem to have found the time and inspiration to write again (translation: I’m totally ignoring the mess and chaos around my house to focus on writing).

Last Thursday, and to crown an emotionally and physically draining week, I experienced a weird and (later) hilarious event involving my car. That day, I had a car-full of things I needed to bring into my school for the evening multicultural event as I drove my way to work. I parked the car in my usual spot and turned off the engine. Except I couldn’t.

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The engine went off, but the electric part of the car wouldn’t turn off, and I couldn’t get the key out of the ignition. I moved the steering wheel thinking that maybe it had locked. Nothing. I turned the car on and circled around the parking lot before parking again. Nothing. I jiggled the key, changed gears several times. Couldn’t take the key off.

Needless to say I ended up hugging the wheel and crying my eyes out. I love my pumpkin (my car) but I may have called it a few ugly names. I called the insurance people who told me they were going to send a tow truck. I also called a friend in the building and asked her to come and help me take the stuff out of the car.

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My school is not in the nicest neighborhood. I didn’t want to leave all that stuff inside an opened car. So me and my friend moved all my crap into her car and then she tried her hand at the key. Nothing. Another coworker came to help, but he couldn’t figure it out either. The consensus was, “This is really weird.”

When the tow truck showed up, the driver also tried his hand at the damn key with the same results. Giving up, he backed out of the parking lot and drove the car into the tow truck. I’m watching from the side and I see the driver’s window suddenly open and a hand stick out of it with the car key.

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“How did you manage to take the key off?” That was the question of the day.

“I moved your CDs.” Strange answer, I thought. But he explained, “The CDs were sticking out just far out enough that they were pressing the button on the gear shift and making the system think the car was not in park.” Whaaa…?

We had a good laugh, he moved my car back to its parking spot, and left. I stood in the parking lot in the freezing temperature feeling stupid but amused at the same time. Who would have thought you could lock a car’s system and make a grownup woman cry with a simple CD?

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Emotion in Writing

I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I attended Donald Maas‘s workshop and I’m just now writing about it. I almost didn’t sign up for it. The workshop was being hosted by the Richmond branch of the Romance Writers of America (VRW) and held in Richmond, Virginia–an almost two hour drive from my house. Driving far from home and to places I’ve never been to stresses me out to panic levels and I normally avoid it like the plague. But I really wanted to go to this one, so I signed up. Luckily one of my local writer friends signed up too and I was able to drive with her. I’m a much better copilot than a pilot in situations like this.

This workshop was everything I expected it to be and so much more. A huge kudos for the Virginia Romance Writers  who set up an amazing event in a great venue and for providing us all with a magical supply of food (especially the donuts which seemed to be forever reproducing themselves in the kitchen) and the awesome speaker.

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I’ve been to many workshops. Some were writing-related and others not. Some were excellent, others left me regretting the money and time invested. This one was inspirational. I came out of the full-day event revitalized, inspired, and motivated to write more and better. I also left vindicated somehow.  I’m an emotional writer. I have a tendency to neglect certain details (which in my mind seem superfluous) and focus on feelings. I thought that maybe I was writing romance the wrong way, but after this workshop I feel I’ve been doing the right thing. But I need to get better at it.

During the session I wrote a couple of the best scenes in my current project, not to mention I came up with the missing pieces of my plot. Pretty wonderful, don’t you agree?

Mr. Maas was a pleasure to listen and talk to. Nothing like being able to immediately apply what you’re learning to give you a sense of accomplishment. He took us on a journey through his last writing book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction, and had us apply it directly to our current projects. It was truly magical.

I don’t normally recommend writing books, no matter how great they are, because we all write differently and what I’ve found is that one “technique” may be amazing for some and absolutely not work for others. However, this one is different. This one works with what you already have and helps you–through some pretty simple exercises–to make it better, to make it resonate in readers’ s minds and hearts. So I am totally recommending it. Further more I am suggesting that you buy it and read it as you edit your work. You’ll be amazed with the results.

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My only regret after such a great workshop is not having anything to send to Mr. Maas’ agency after he so kindly extended an invitation to all of the attendees to query him. Maybe one day, Mr.Maas, maybe one day…

An Author’s Betrayal

It’s no secret I’ve always been a bookworm. I used to gulp down books like water. My library–even as a child–has always been large. Many of my books are now electronic but the library, virtual or not, just keeps growing. Authors have always been my friends. They’ve given me such joy, I often think of them as family even though nine times of ten I have never met them. I could never understand how some people treat writers as celebrities and keep tabs on all the dirt they manage to dig up on them. I prefer to think of them as ethereal beings, not quite fictional but not quite real either. I don’t want to know the dirt and the skeletons they keep in their closets–because let’s face it, they are humans like everyone else. I want to focus on their writing and the characters and worlds they create. So you can imagine how I feel when a writer betrays their own writing, their own creation.

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I used to read a lot of fantasy and years ago I picked up a book in the store which would become one of my favorite fantasy series ever. I fell in love with the characters, the world she built, the story than unfolded. Maybe because the two main characters were gay, the author developed a specialized following. LGBT characters were not common at the time. These wonderfully three-dimensional characters develop a romantic relationship which was both sweet and realistic with ups and downs, doubts and moments of insane happiness. All while partnering in some seriously dangerous adventures. I fell in love with the characters, the way the author told their story, and the intricate world she created.

A few years later, maybe pressured by her publisher or the fans, she wrote and published an anthology of short stories about the characters. According to her, the fans had requested more details about the characters’ relationships, a sort of behind the scenes glimpse at their romantic lives. It seemed intriguing to this romantic fool, so I bought the book. To date, this was the only book I have ever thrown away. I was utterly disgusted by it. It was hard to believe these sordid, crude stories had been written by the same hand who had written such lovely prose before. Filthy language, terribly graphic sex scenes, well-loved heroic characters that were now being portrayed as bottom-of-the-barrel creatures concerned only with bodily pleasures. She effectively destroyed the beautiful images I had created in my mind of these wonderful, rich, multi-layered characters. I was mad! I felt betrayed. I felt the author had somehow betrayed her own characters.

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When the last book in the series came out shortly after, I bought it but I couldn’t read it. I couldn’t erase the images her short stories had placed in my head and couldn’t face the characters I had once loved so fiercely. The book is still on my bookshelf waiting to be read.

We all have different levels of tolerance for different things. I stopped reading The Outlander series midway through the first book because of something Jamie did to his wife. I just couldn’t “face” him after that so I never finished the book and have no intentions of reading the rest of the series. What’s your threshold of tolerance? Have you ever been betrayed by a favorite author or favorite character? What would–in your opinion–make you stop reading a series you loved?

Happy Birthday, Desert Jewel

This time last year I was celebrating the release of my second book, Desert Jewel. This book is very important to me for different reasons.

One of the reasons is that I absolutely poured my heart out building the world of Desert Jewel and its characters. In a way, Desert Jewel is my humble homage to Africa and its people. I spent a lot of my childhood and teen years in different places in Africa and I wanted to somehow honor the magic of a world where the modern mixes with the ancient and science mingles with myths and superstition. Princess Milenda and her ex-slave, Jaali will always hold a special place in my heart. I recently finished writing the second in the series and will be starting the third and last one very soon.

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The other reason–and likely the most important–is that the publishing of this book in particular saved me from a very dark place. I have struggled with bouts of mild depression off and on all my life, but last year I went through one of the worst ever. I had to literally drag myself out of bed every morning and couldn’t take pleasure in anything at all. In fact, the morning I received the email from my publisher offering me a contract for this book, I had done just that–dragged myself out of bed, already in tears for no apparent reason and sat down to look through my emails just for something to do. I was on vacation in the mountains with my husband, but my mood was so low I hadn’t been able to enjoy any of it.

That email changed my life that morning. I’ve never told this to anyone, not even my family, but the kind words in that message just brought joy back to my life, the life I was beginning to believe to be worthless. Which goes to show you never know when a kind word may make all the difference in someone’s life.

So today I celebrate the one year anniversary of Desert Jewel’s release and a professional relationship that has enriched my life and given me great joy (and a LOT of work, lol). So let’s hear it for Hot Tree Publishing (hoot and holler)!!!

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I’m running a celebratory giveaway in my Facebook page. Go check it out for a chance to win an autographed copy of the book.

P.S.- Depression isolates. When you’re depressed you feel all alone, which in turn prevent those suffering from depression from seeking help. Keep an eye on those you love for signs of depression–withdrawing, frequent tears, lack of energy, indecision…my family thought I was just being difficult, couldn’t read the signs, an all too-common reaction. Don’t just assume they are being a pain. Dig deeper.

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Random Thoughts

The complete title for this post is actually Random Thoughts of a Romance Writer at a Book Festival and I collected them during my latest stint at a local Indie Book Festival. Not my first rodeo but same outcome, lol. The only thing that has changed is my attitude. I no longer feel depressed after an event, deciding to laugh about it instead.

Note to self: bring a fan next time. This is fall in the South. Holy crap, it’s hot!

Did I bring enough books? Did I bring too many books? OMG, am I going to sell ANY books?

My banner is crooked. I am not going to look at it. I am not going to look at it.

My table display looks too cheesy. My table display doesn’t look cheesy enough.

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The porta-potties smell like crap. Can’t wait to see how they smell after a couple hours in the sun.

This dragon pen I’m writing with is so freaking cool. OMG, I’m such a geek!

Forgot the sunscreen. Where in heaven’s name if fall weather?

Coffee! Yes, yes, yes. God is good, there is a coffee stand.

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No, it was not this big! Just a table with thermos.

Please, stop by my table, please, please…shit! Walked right on by.

One hour in, zero interaction… Do I smell bad?

Will I get to use my new Square? I want to play with it.

Look at it from the bright side: I’m getting a lot of vitamin d today.

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No, it’snot me!

OMG, I’m so hot. And not in a good way.

Yes, someone has actually signed up for my newsletter. Score!

Great informal romance panel. Made me feel better.

Awesome meeting other authors. Lots of romance writers. Represent!

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Yes, they were all there!

What a cute little guy. I wonder if he would like one of my books when he grows up? Oh,no, he’s trying to eat my book.

I sold two books. I sold two books.

I was told my display looks very professional. Proud little moment.

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Yes, it’s me.

Why are my book earrings always a lot more popular than my books?

I have no moisture left in my body. I think I may be slowly mummifying.

Aahhh…air conditioning. Another rodeo done!

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Also not me.

Hooray For The Characters

I recently had to write the acknowledgment page for my latest book and I realized that I have never thanked my characters. “What?” you may say. “Have you totally lost your mind?” Possibly, but in this case I mean it. I owe my characters a serious token of my undying gratitude.

Characters are more than made up people in a story, figments of an author’s fertile and often feverish imagination. Once created and developed into the pages of a book, they become real–real to the author who made them up and real to the readers who love them. Most of my friends growing up were fictional characters in books.

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Likewise, the characters I created in my romances are very real to me. I feel toward them with the same intensity that I feel toward flesh and bone people. Some I love, some I hate, and some may even leave me a little indifferent.

Marcy, the witch, from Blind Magic has carved a very special place in my heart. I’ve written about her before, about how she started as just a funny side kick on Loved You Always and developed such a big personality I had to write her story. Well, it is written. Blind Magic, which will be released in November, tells Marcy’s story.

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Marcy is at first glance very different from me, but if you dig deeper you’ll find that there is a lot of Natalina in the quirky witch. Like her, I was always the oddball growing up, even within my own family. I never wore the same type of clothes my school mates were wearing, admired artists who everybody thought were weird, and was always the one people came to with their problems. I was a good listener, a problem solver, and yes, I even liked polka dots just like Marcy. Believe it or not I even had strawberry blond hair when I was younger–and not from a bottle.

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Me aged eighteen.

Her man in the book, the dashing Oliver Dawson, reflects–without going into details so I don’t give up any spoilers–a deep, irrational fear of mine. One I still often have nightmares about. Writing it into the swoon-worthy and oh-so-brave detective helped me face and fight that fear.

I may just begin adding my characters to the list of people I often thank for their support because they so deserve it. They fill my world with friendly faces, something to look for, and they are the best therapists a girl could ever wish for.

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What do you think? Do you ever feel strangely attached to a fictional character and find yourself thinking of her/him as if a real person?

The Closet Scientist

My favorite part of ordering from Amazon Fresh is the dry ice packs.  I immediately open those little packs, pour them into my sink with water so I can turn my kitchen into a mad scientist lab.

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I love science. It’s a rather recent passion maybe because I barely had any exposure to it growing up. Back then (in the time of the dinosaurs) in my native country there was no science in elementary or middle school. And you only learned it in high school if you were following a science degree–which I was not.

When my kids started school here in the US, I found that I loved studying it along with them, and when I decided to go back to school the first classes I enrolled  for in college were in literature and science.

Ever since becoming an elementary school teacher I have grown in my love for science and found that just like language and technology I have a natural knack for it.

Crazy scientist. Young boy performing experiments

Unfortunately I’m an ESOL teacher, a teacher for English as a Second Language. I say unfortunately because the system still believes that language can only be learned through language arts and I am–more often than not–prevented from teaching science, one of the richest subjects in terms of academic language. Science has it all: language, problem solving, methodology, reading, writing… you could even add art in there for good measure. And get this–it’s also fun!

I absolutely love teaching language through other content areas and I’ve done it even through art. For children, learning language through content that is highly visual and hands-on really works. Yet, I often hear things like, “ELs (English Learners) have to have more guided reading, not science classes or art.” Don’t get me wrong. Guided reading has its merits, but I’m here to tell you that if my elementary school teachers had taught me how to read with guided reading I probably would hate reading now. Guided reading is abstract and most second language learners do not connect with it at all. Put a bottle of vinegar, drop a teaspoon of baking soda in it and you have an explosion of dialogue, observations, vocabulary exchange, true wonder that leads to new language and new love for discovery and problem solving.

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So, when I turn my kitchen into a mad scientist lab for a few minutes I think of all my little students who would love to see it, talk about it, come up with hypothesis- will hot water create more fog than cold? How long will it take for the ice to vanish totally?

So rich! So exciting! So underused in schools today.

The Mystery Blogger Award

I was surprised and excited to be nominated for The Mystery Blogger Award! What an honor. Thank you to  Tamara Rokicki for nominating my blog.

The Mystery Blogger Award was created by Okoto Enigma. According to the creator “this award is for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging, and they do it with so much love and passion.”

Mystery Blog Award

I was asked to share 3 things about myself. I hate when I’m asked to do that, lol.

A – I always say I’m a late bloomer because I seem to do everything much later than everyone else. I became a teacher late in life, a writer even later, and who knows if I will finally learn how to ride a bike in my golden years. Now you know why I picked the name of this blog.

B – I speak, read, and write in five languages in various degrees of fluency. In order of the most fluent to the least (mostly for lack of use throughout the years): Portuguese, English, French, Spanish, and German.

C – My first degree is in foreign languages and tourism and I started my adult life as a tour guide in my native Portugal. Challenging for an introvert like me, but I loved it.

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Tamara Rokicki

Now for Tamara’s questions.

 1. At what age did you realize you were a creative person?

Hard to say. I was dancing by the time I was three and writing by ten. I don’t thing I “realized” it as much as I was shocked to find out that not everyone was like me, lol.

2. What is the strangest food combination you’ve ever eaten?

When I first moved to the US I thought peanut butter and chocolate was a weird combination but I learned to love it. I would have to say it was the crunchy big butt ant I ate a few years ago as a dare (Colombian delicacy). It was not bad.

3. What is your favorite book genre?

Hard to say. I love paranormal, fantasy, realistic fiction, chicklit…but it has to have some kind of romance in it. I read YA, adult and sometimes even middle grade and children’s picture books. I just love a great story with awesome characters.

4. Who is your most memorable school teacher?

Her name was Gravata (which translated into Tie in English) and she was one of my highschool Portuguese teachers. She was very strict, hardly ever smiled, but somehow managed to make me love Portuguese lit. She also was amazingly cool under pressure as she proved it by staying super calm during an earthquake during class.

5. What is the one piece of technology you absolutely hate?

I don’t think I hate any technology. In fact I love it and always seem to have an easy time learning new gadgets. We live in an amazing time when our lives are simplified by all kinds of tools straight from an old episode of Star Trek. It’s more hating the way some people use the technology.

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Okoto Enigma

And now for some nominations and questions:

  1. Ailish Sinclair
  2. Books, Vertigo, and Tea
  3. Selma P. Verde
  4. Raine Balkera
  5. PerfectlyTolerable
  6. Unwrapping Romance
  7. Voinks
  8. Love Books Group
  9. Paula Harmon
  10. Austen Prose

Questions:

1.What made you start a blog?

2. Where would you travel to if money was not an issue? Why?

3. What is your biggest fear?

4. If someone was writing your biography what would be its title?

5. What is one thing you’ve never done but would love to to do?

My Best Posts (or those I liked the best, lol):

Romance Is Dead

The Angel

The Life and Tribulations of a Pantser

An Introvert in the Crowd

 

Again, than you Tamara for nominating me. Ciao!

A Shout-Out to Editors

Editors. Some writers love them, others dread them, some love AND dread them. I’ve been so fortunate to work with a few of the good ones. Yes, I’ve had the odd bad experience–like the time this second language learner knew more about sentence structure and grammar than the editor–but mostly it has been wonderful.

Not only do editors save a writer’s metaphorical butt by finding all those pesky little typos and grammatical mistakes the writer can’t see anymore because she is too close to the story, but they are also her pep-squad, and in some cases, the voice of common sense.

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I’ve learned so much from my editors, I’ll never be able to thank them enough. I find myself trying to remember all the mistakes they’ve pointed out, so I don’t make the same mistakes again. After all, writing a book is a team effort. Without the keen eyes of my editors, my books would be riddled with preposition mistakes (the bane of my existence) and too many useless words. Their encouraging words always make my day and are often my “gauge” to readers’ reactions.

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To those behind-the-curtain heroes, I salute you and thank you!

What have your experiences with editors been?  Do you love or dread them? I would love to hear about your opinion and experiences.

The Life and Tribulations of a Pantser

Hi. My name is Natalina Reis and I’m a pantser.

Most of the time this does not bother me in the least. I just ride the wave of creativity and see where it takes me. But there are moments when I wish I was more of a planner so I could avoid those instances of staring into the screen of my laptop wondering what the hell to write.

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I just started a new WIP. A while back I had written a flash fiction piece for my publisher and I immediately fell in love with the characters and knew I had to write their story. The problem is that beyond the fact that they would fall in love and have their HEA, I had nothing else. Okay, maybe I did have the sketchy beginnings of two hopefully awesome characters and their personalities, but that was it. Not unusual for me. My expertise in pantsing often repeats this pattern of starting from a big chunk of nothing and turn it into something.

I had to wait since I was still finishing my last WIP. Big mistake. A friend happened to suggest in passing that I ride the modest success I had with my last paranormal romance and write another. Cai and Sam’s story was lined up to be a contemporary m/m romance. However my freakishly hyperactive imagination immediately set those two into the background of a shifter romance.

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Fast forward to yesterday when I finally was able to start writing it. After a long stretch of time researching hawks, I was ready. Right! I sat, staring at the laptop for over an hour. My mind refused to make the jump from contemporary to paranormal, no matter how much I wanted it. After a while I gave up and went back to editing my other novel.

Later that day my brain lit up and the words came to me. I was ready to make the transition–kind of like my main character transitioning from human to hawk, I was able to begin the spin into paranormal. The words began to flow.

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This doesn’t mean that I won’t be staring at the laptop again tomorrow or the next day searching for words to push the story forward because in my mind, my story plans are still as clear as mud. I would describe my process as when you are walking or driving through a very thick fog–what’s in front of  you reveals itself one thing at a time and always when you are almost upon it. There’s a certain beauty to it, like unwrapping a unexpected gift. Like everything else in life there is a good and a bad side to being a pantser. When it’s bad, it is very bad. But when it’s good, it’s amazing.

What does your writing process look like? I’d love to hear about it.