It's been a wild week.

For Christmas, the husband and I were in Indiana, slated to fly out on the 26th and return to our home near Boston, Massachusetts.  For several days, all my extended (and immediate) family had been able to talk about was the impending snow, and how it might affect our travel, and whether we would be stuck with no way back home.

Well, for all that we wanted to ignore them, our flight was canceled (airports delayed and canceling in Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, and Atlanta, aka every single hub we could fly into) and our options had dwindled to something approaching "We can maybe get you home Saturday?"  So we rented a car and drove more than 1,000 miles in a day and a half.  (Kudos to us; there was no yelling, fighting, anger or threats of physical harm during this time.  I think, in the confines of a tiny car hurtling across the country in foul weather, that constitutes a good marriage.)

When we arrived home, we discovered that my car battery was dead.  Not "We can jump this" dead, but "You have to replace this posthaste and can't get it to a garage without towing it" dead.  So in the second major test of marital bliss in less than a week, my husband and I sought to change my car battery this morning... in 18-degree weather, in 8-9 inches of snow surrounding my car.  We succeeded, and it was unpleasant, but kudos for no fights or threats (I didn't say no tears, notice), and ultimately, it reminded me of something else... how I met my co-author, Jenn.  I talked a little about this in our Liebster blog entry, but now it's time to find out how co-authors are forged.

One weekend years ago, a number of friends decided to get together for a weekend to read the newest Harry Potter book, gossip, spend time together, and traverse the wilds of Louisville, Kentucky.  I wasn't able to come down until Saturday, but I headed out bright and early and trekked the few hours to the big Lou, ready to reconvene with some friends, and meet others in person for the first time. 

Since you're here, reading this, you likely know how it is to meet people online, have plenty of conversations with them, but not meet them in person.  Jennifer and I had talked quite a bit online, but hadn't met in person, a similar situation with several of the ladies who were to be there that weekend.  I was comfortable and confident and less than a block from the hotel... when the downpour started.  The rain was falling hard, and as I drove along the access road to the hotel, someone drifted over the center line around a curve, forcing me to jerk the wheel... and forcing my tires right up against a curb.  It was all that was needed to tear a fist-sized hole in the side of my tire, and there I was: flat tire, pouring rain, hours from home.  I called my dad, I called my brother (who was stationed at Ft. Knox and ready to head on his way to help).  I called a friend who I thought was at the hotel, but she was shopping.

Finally, I tried to call Jenn and another friend.  No answer. 

So I limped my poor car to the hotel, gingerly driving into the lot so as not to wreck my wheel, and when I walked into the lobby, I was soggy, dirty (from inspecting my tire) and near tears.  And there sat Jenn and our friend Karen, waiting to greet me with smiles and hugs.

Minutes later, we were back in the parking lot, reading the manual and operating a jack that looked like it could barely prop up a bicycle.  (Thanks for holding my nuts, ladies!) But we changed the tire and rewarded ourselves with high fives and hot showers, and when it was time to take the car to Sears the next morning to replace the tire, Jenn was the one who followed me there and took me to breakfast after.

Fast friends.  A few years later, frustrated by our inability to kick our own butts enough to finish our NaNoWriMo projects, we decided to kick each others' butts.  And the rest, though not quite history, has led us where we are today, with Second Summer and a whole host of works in progress demanding (lovingly) our attention. 

So while sometimes, car trouble is just car trouble (and a cigar is just a cigar), you never know when you're being handed an opportunity... to bond with your spouse, to learn a new skill, or to bond with a new friend and inspiration.

That having been said, my car had darn well better behave for a while.
 
 
Welcome back to reality!  Reality being, of course, that time window where you're no longer shopping, wrapping, traveling, and spending time with family.  The window where you're reading and writing and blogging and feeding on creativity... and hopefully spinning a little creativity of your own.

I take a lot of inspiration on blog posts not just from my writing, but from what's in front of me in terms of life and entertainment.  It's easy to be a reader when you're a writer (though not always easy to juggle that, timewise), and I don't know a single writer who's not an avid reader.  But other stories and other art forms have their place and time and inspiring power, as well.

Years ago, when I was mainlining Battlestar Galactica at an insane speed (watching the first season for the first time on DVD while watching season 4 as it aired, or something along those lines), I would come across the last few minutes of Dr. Who.  And while many of my friends with similar tastes loved Dr. Who, I couldn't buy into it.  It looked campy to me, and held no interest.  I'm not usually into sci-fi, and campy sci-fi, especially.  So I settled into BSG, where I was enjoying what I would eventually learn makes Dr. Who a star-- amazing characters.

The husband and I have started watching Who on Netflix, and I'm amazed at how, while the basic plot is only of marginal interest to me and the effects are absolutely horrific, it pulls you in.  And it pulls you in because, as in BSG, the characters are extraordinarily captivating.  They are ordinary and extraordinary; you can understand and connect with them while envying them, admiring them, and laughing at/with them.  It's something I don't see often with half-hour sitcom shows-- partly because of lack of time to invest in character building, and partly because of lack of imagination.

It's an amazing reminder of what to keep in mind when we're creating-- not just the audience we're writing for, but the characters we're writing.  I have the luxury (HA!) of hearing and feeling my characters loud and clear in my mind most of the time (and sometimes when it's inconvenient), but my readers do not have that luxury.  It's not on the readers to make themselves care-- it's on the writer to make the readers care.

A show with laughable effects and sometimes downright silly bad guys has the power to draw out tears from even a skeptical viewer... it's a great reminder of what we should aspire to.
 
 
Years ago, when we started shopping around Second Summer for traditional publishing to a variety of agents, we received feedback here and there.  One of the pieces of feedback that had the greatest impact on us, at the time, was an agent who expressed she had some issues with the realism of the piece.  Not in so many words, of course, but the timeline bothered her, the way the events unfolded. 

We took it to heart, and hadn't yet learned when a story wants to be told in its own way.  We started to tear the story apart and rebuild it, to try to make it more realistic. 

We forgot that romance is actually part of what elevates people above realism.

Love isn't necessarily realistic; if you look at the number of people in the world, it just seems unlikely that you can ever really click with any one of the tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of people you come into contact with over the course of your life.  If love were realistic, it wouldn't be exciting.  It wouldn't be exhilarating or attractive or worthwhile.  It wouldn't be love.

I wasn't sure what to blog about this evening, but as I glanced up at the television and saw an episode of CSI:NY playing, I had to laugh.  (After I ogled this guy.)  A character was using all this outlandish technology to rebuild a photo or zoom in or do something ridiculous like they do, and I considered all the other shows and movies and media we love and enjoy that have nothing to do with realism.  Most of the entertainment I love doesn't even nod to realism when they pass on the street. 

But entertainment should be entertaining.  (Hello, tautology!)  It should be escapist.  It should never be bound by realism, because our imagination is not just something we lost when we were kids-- it's where we thrive.  It's where we grow.

It's where we build and eventually attain our future.

So if you need me, I'll be sitting over here, reveling in my refusal to be realistic.
 
 
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The other day, we got a sweet surprise when the amazing Emma Kaufmann (author of Her Ten Year Itch) nominated us for the Liebster-- a fun little award for up-and-coming bloggers. 

Unlike prescription drug commercials, where they put all the rules, side effect and tiny print at the very end, we'll give the particulars first:

Nominees need to do the following:

  • When one receives the award, one posts 11 random facts about oneself and answers the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  • Pass the award onto 11 other blogs (while making sure one notifies the blogger that one nominated them!)
  • One writes up 11 NEW questions directed towards YOUR nominees
  • One is not allowed to nominate the blog who nominated one’s own blog!
  • One pastes the award picture into ones blog. (You can Google the image, there are plenty of them!)

So now for the fun part!

11 Random Facts About Salem Patterson
(There are some combo answers, and some marked J for Jenn and A for Amanda.  To give infamy where infamy is due!)
1. In case you’ve not heard the story - Second Summer was entirely written by us via Yahoo chat. We were the cut and paste queens who nearly drove ourselves insane when it was over and we had to make sure we both had the same version. For those of you wondering, we did not the word count was off way too much for that to be possible. A rousing game of - “What sentence do you have at the top of page ___?” ensued until we were through all 300 odd pages and within a few words in word count.

2. A: Jennifer and I first met in person when we were meeting up with mutual friends and I blew out a tire in a downpour.  I was prepared to call family for help changing my tire, but Jennifer was very “can do” and we tackled the problem together.  Nothing like holding a girl’s lug nuts to make lifelong friends.

3. J:I would sneak into my mom’s closet at the tender age of 13 and ‘borrow’ her romance books. I think this is why I read so quickly - I had to have it back in place by the next day.

4. A: My bookshelf is so eclectic that whenever friends would first see it, they would be unnerved that Nora Roberts was sitting next to Stephen King that was sitting next to John Steinbeck.

5. J: I will always have a dog. Tried to live without one but as I told my husband, “I want someone who is always happy to see me when I get home.”

6. On a writing mini-vacation/girls’ getaway/writing retreat, we managed to destroy two bottles of wine before even getting into the hotel room (by dropping them in the parking lot on accident) and then realized we had no corkscrew for our poor, lonely, sole remaining bottle of wine.  We dug most of the cork out with a pocketknife and pushed the rest into the wine bottle.  Desperate times, desperate measures.

7. J: I would get up 30 minutes early on weekdays so I could watch ‘Jem’ before going to school.

8. A:  I have no idea what we would have used as a pen name if I hadn’t gotten married and taken my husband’s last name (Salem). Though MY husband still insists we should have used his name “James Patterson”.

9. J:One of my proudest moments came when I realized my 22 year old daughter knows every line to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. My 15 year old is nearly there. I realize this should make me sad - yet it does not.

10. We sometimes make our characters “karaoke” for us and discuss what they’d sing.

11. J:I used to write articles for a NASCAR website where I would have to explain the track they were at, how the cars would run on it and eventually pick the winner. There was also a podcast. Please do not try to find it.

11 Questions from Emma Kaufmann... answered!
1. Have you ever Googled yourself and been surprised at what you’ve found?  We’ve definitely both Googled ourselves, but the only “surprise” was one of those fun moments when you realize there’s someone out there with your name and an extensive rap sheet... as well as an unflattering portfolio of mugshots.  Yikes!

2. Who would play you in a movie of your life? J: I’ve always pictured Renée Zellweger because of her role in Jerry Maguire. That character seemed to share a few of my own foibles and traits. Though I am not sure I’d have the tenacity to walk out of my job with a hot crazy guy and a fish.

A: Tina Fey is older than me, so I’m not sure how helpful it is to choose her, but the sarcastic, speak-before-you-think personality, the haplessness, the glasses... they all fit far too well for me to ignore.  Can we cryogenically halt her aging so in a few years she’ll be ready to play me in a movie?

3. Have you ever been naked in public? J: Does birth count?  A: Does a bikini wax count?

4. If you could travel in time...where in time would you go? Why?  A: We have this work-in-progress kicking around that takes place in ancient Egypt.  A tragic love story that spans through time-- I’d love to visit that time and place and know more.  (Also, Wild West-- very fascinating!)

J: Well, at first I was going to say that I’ve never thought about traveling around in time then someone had to mention the Wild West. As a person who grew up on a farm - cattle herds and all - I think that would appeal to me. I could see myself enjoying it and fitting in.

5. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? J: I don’t go to the cinema too often and as a matter of fact I am struggling to recall the last movie I did see. I checked with my daughter and it was indeed The Avengers. What’s not to love about comic book action heroes who are hot and snarky and a woman who can kick ass?

A: I took my parents to see Lincoln.  Phenomenal cast, phenomenal acting.  Slow-paced, though, and hell on the bladder. I hit hour 2 and thought I was going to float away.  When did Joseph Gordon Levitt get so hot, you guys?  (He’s no Robert Downey, Jr., but hey...)

6. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be? J: I would choose somewhere in the mountains near a stream/lake. It would not matter where in the world that place is - of course internet access is needed in order to keep in touch with my co-writer. Unless of course she wants her own place down the road?  (A: That sounds just peachy, actually!)

7. What did you have for breakfast? J: Cup of coffee and Kashi Cinnamon Harvest Cereal.

A: Oh, you had to ask.  Not feeling too hot today, so I stuck to a PopTart (the breakfast of adults everywhere) and ginger ale.

8. Who or what has made you believe in yourself as a writer? J: First and foremost my family who has always pushed me to do it because they knew I loved it and I’d have to say my co-writer who I think is a phenomenal writer and the fact that I can hang with her...makes me believe.

A: I have had the best luck in my friends and family being supportive and asking questions and keeping me going.  My husband never ceases to cheer me on and ask me how the writing is going.  And I wouldn’t be writing at all if it weren’t for my cowriter-- she was a cheerleader when I needed one badly, and she’s always ready to shoot straight with me, good or bad.  We’ve been through a lot together, and that forges quite a bond.

9. What habit or habits do you need to stop? This is one we can answer in unison... Worrying about everything!

10. Do you have tattoos? Is so what motifs are they?  One of us does, but we’ll leave it a mystery as to which one that is... a little mystique is always fun.  Apropos to our love of writing, the tattoo is an orange quill pen and an inkwell, and was at the top of mind for ten years before finally committing it to skin.

11. Have you started Christmas shopping yet? J: I have children. (yes)
A: Kinda.  Thank God for online shopping.  I have several things bought, but I am definitely NOT finished yet.

And now for our 11 questions of doom, for our victims... nominees
1. What's your biggest challenge when you're writing?
2. Have you ever used a real life person as character inspiration?
3. Do you listen to music when writing and if so do you make a playlist?
4. What is the first book you remember reading?
5. Would you like to take my 15 year old daughter to raise until she goes to college?
6. What would your last meal be?
7.What is your favorite snack or drink to have on hand while writing?
8. What’s your least favorite household chore?
9. If you could peek into anyone’s closet in the world, whose would it be?
10. What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
11. What famous guy would be your leading man (or gal/woman) in your alternate universe?

Our nominees are (if you haven't done it before/don't mind doing it again/etc.!) MJ Reed, Jackie Bouchard, Cindy Roesel, Addison Westlake, Kim Jewell... and we're still securing the rest!


 
 
With some recent... frustrating... life events and people in mind, we had a brief chat via phone the other day about the Bad Guys.  The villains.  The people who push our protagonists to do the things they do. 

The thing is, I'm a big, fluffy marshmallow.  And so is my cowriter.  So how do you write bad guys when you're so far away from that level of bad?

Well, we thankfully don't write anyone too bad... usually.  (We do have a piece floating around out there somewhere that features a true blue, comic book level villain.  Someday...)  But still, bad's bad, and how do you get into that mindset?  It's a good question.  For myself, I think I usually delve into the photonegative.  What am I? Flip it around, see what you get.  Of course, whether we like to admit it or not, we all have darker imaginations.  We're writers, so the realm of the imagination is right at the heart of things for us.  Who among us hasn't imagined saying exactly what's on our minds in a tense moment?  Who hasn't imagined doing the worst in a stressful situation?

Villains are just the exponential version of those things, I suppose.  The very deepest, darkest parts of our subconscious, and often the very most lovable (or most interesting) parts of a book or a movie or a show.  (Anyone remember Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  He was kind of a crappy villain, but man, was he great.)

But we run across villains in our real life, too.  It's cheesy to say those "bad guys" are good fodder for fiction-- and therefore that fiction can be good catharsis-- but it's also true.  Writing can't fix everything, but it's a stellar start.  It's why journals, diaries, (heck, even blogs) are popular.  Writing is what gets the bile out.  I mean, we don't use leeches anymore, right?

My boss would make one heck of a boring villain, but hey, I can take bits and pieces and work on it, right?  It's a start. 

For now, I think I'll watch some Buffy and study Spike.  For, uh... research.


 

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    Salem Patterson is the pseudonym of co-writers Jennifer Patterson and Amanda Salem. The two live, work and write in North Carolina.

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