Welcome to my blog!

I'm so excited that my lifelong dream of becoming a published author has come true. If you'd like to go straight to excerpts, descriptions, and buy links for my books, click on the covers below on the right.

I love to hear from my readers! If you have a comment for me or if you'd like to submit a character for published character interview or unpublished character analysis, please use the form below or email me at cecilia (at) ceciliadominic (dot) com.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How Wine Can Help Fiction: Post-Wine Bloggers' Conference Thoughts

If you read my Random Oenophile Blog, you know that Hubby and I had the privilege of attending the 2010 Wine Bloggers' Conference in Walla Walla, Washington this past weekend. If not, well, now you do.

One of the panels, "More Effective Wine Writing," coalesced something that I had noticed during the entire conference: there are certain writing principles that cut across genre and publishing platform. Meg Houston, writer and editor of Palate Press, gave a list of Twenty-four Theses for wine writing, but they could easily apply to fiction as well.

Following are the principles I distilled from her and others' talks. I'll call them my Five Reminders:

1. Find your voice. How? Write, and let others edit your writing. Good editors will help you clarify your voice, which will then allow it to mature.

2. Don't forget that you've got more than just sight to work with when it comes to description. Sensorial detail helps to draw people into your writing.

3. Atmosphere and setting affect experience. No one acts in a vacuum. One or two details can make or break a piece.

4. Revision. Gotta do it. If you think it's brilliant, you should probably sit on it for a day (or longer).

5. Writing can be lonely. Having a community, whether of other writers or bloggers, is important, but don't forget that they're not the audience you're writing for.

In the end, I'm glad to have a hobby that takes me to some of the most beautiful places on Earth. It's a bonus that it connects me with a supportive community and great resources for my fiction writing as well.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Random Thoughts: Weird News, Zombie Cover-Up?

This one is for BabySis, whose alter ego Ivy Star is having a birthday today. Have I mentioned my whole family is weird? This post will not disprove that perception.

Yesterday, Hubby and I were sitting at The Marlay having a post-Mass drink -- Bloody Mary for him, Mimosa for me -- when I saw the following story referenced by Twitter friend Odella Wilson:

Ghoulish Cargo of 60 Severed Heads Found at Airport

If you don't have time to read through it, here's a summary* (my comments in parenthesis):

Airport workers found human heads, whole and parts, in cargo at the Little Rock, Arkansas, airport. They hadn't been packed in ice, only in plastic containers with duct tape (because, really, it holds anything together! Seriously, how were they going to hide that in the summer heat?). The authorities suspect illicit body part trade (zombies are nervous because it's well-known they don't care that much about freshness), but others think it could be cargo headed for medical continuing education courses (I've been to industry dinners -- some doctors and pharma reps are zombie-like) for new equipment demonstration purposes (zombie crockpots cook human bits to perfection while you hide during the day). Although human parts are in high-demand for research and education, the industry is not well-regulated (zombies have good lobbyists).

Some of my favorite quotes from the article:

The coroner now has possession of the heads.

When I lived in Little Rock, I'd frequently see the coroner's van parked at my apartment complex. This made me a little nervous, so I asked at the front office about it. Apparently the coroner at the time lived there. I never knew what was in that van. Guess where my imagination went? A new meaning for "taking your work home with you."

"These were human body parts. They were medical specimens," Garland said. "There is a real demand for these body parts all over America. There is an underground market for this stuff and we are determining if we stumbled on an underground human body parts market."

I now believe in the zombie-pocalypse. Everyone thinks it's going to be violent. Nope, it's just commerce. Who'd've thought they could be so subtle?

She said human specimens are used in the educational courses she prepares.

Typically educational courses don't have names like "Appetizers 101 -- Finger Food" or "Entrees -- Head Cheese."

The trade in human body parts for continuing education is a multimillion dollar industry with virtually no federal oversight, experts told ABC News.com.

This just gets better and better...

And, finally:

A 2008 investigation into the Bodies exhibit, a travelling museum show featuring preserved cadavers in artful poses, revealed it was stocked with the illegally obtained corpses of Chinese prisoners.

Uh, like there was any doubt??? That's why I refuse to see it.

Okay, zombie-lovers and horror fans, tell me you didn't get any story ideas from this. If you did and you post it on your blog, please let me know. I'm pondering a contest that I'll run if I get at least ten comments that express interest. Why ten? Because it's silly to run a contest with three entries.

*I have to thank my sophomore English teacher Mrs. Colby for insisting that we learn to write summaries. She would likely appreciate this story, as she had a black ceramic skull on her desk and liked to wear dark colors.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On Process and Progress (or lack thereof): That Procrastination Post I've Been Putting Off

A couple of weeks ago, I posted the Four P's of Procrastination with a promise (not one of the P's) to talk about how I'm working on overcoming it. I was on vacation and then conferencing in Texas, so the post kept getting put off. Yeah, irony. I did take notes and then lost them, but while unpacking, I found them again, so here goes...

If you'll think back (or look back), the Four P's of Procrastination were Personality, Perception of Time, Process Issues, and Perfectionism. I tried to distill the solutions into words or phrases that start with D:

1. Doing It

In working with depressed clients, I've heard so many times, "I didn't really feel like doing [some pleasurable activity], but when I did, I actually enjoyed myself." I sometimes forget that, at the end of a busy day when I'm emotionally and physically drained from work, writing is something I enjoy. Once I get into it, that is.

2. Deadlines

Before I left on vacation, I had a ton of stuff to do at work. You may have read about my realization that the need to do paperwork is actually gaseous -- it expands to fill all the time allowed. I only had so much time at work and so many things to do, so that whole time perception problem, the one where ten minutes doesn't seem like enough to get anything done, went out the window. I used every one of those minutes and was very productive.

Now I just need to figure out how to get the deadline thing going with my writing, which brings me to...

3. Death Threats

Okay, not literally. I'm thinking more about external accountability.

When I was in graduate school, I took an Adult Continuing Education creative writing class with Harriette Austin. I had to produce something, if not weekly, then every other week. It was one of the most productive writing times I've ever had. Harriette's encouragement didn't hurt, either.

Now my deadlines are mostly self-imposed, and I've found great encouragement from the #amwriting, #Writers_Life, and #writechat communities on Twitter.

4. Doucement

My mother is Belgian, and when I was eleven-ish, her oldest sister as well as my late uncle came to visit. They lived in the French-speaking part of Belgium, and my very active toddler sister's antics were greeted with concerned, "Doucement, doucement!" or "Easy, easy!"

When I'm setting goals, I tend to think big but not realistically. It's good to remind myself every once in a while that I'm only one person with 24 hours in my day, and sometimes I need to give myself a break.

The writing process is supposed to go the literal translation of Doucement, which means "sweetly." So, may all your writing go sweetly and smoothly. Thanks for stopping by! Enjoy the cake and wine!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

On the patio: open house delayed

Sometimes I think the party gnomes are out to get me. When Anne Tyler Lord offered to include an announcement about my new blog at her Writer's Life coffee klatch, I jumped at the chance even though I'm traveling this week. I didn't plan on the vagaries of hotel internet, so I'm like the hostess caught with a dirty or unfinished house.

So, this week will be an open patio. I'm in San Antonio, Texas, where it's really hard to find a good beer or decent glass of wine, so I'm serving cocktails. There are, of course, margaritas, regular:

Or top shelf:

Blood Orange Mojitos:


And, for munchies, chips, salsa and queso:

Or waffles (because I'm still random):

Yes, these are all pictures from my trip. I love it that Anne has all kinds of pictures of birds or coffee. Me? It's all about the food and alcoholic beverages, apparently.

Seriously, by next week, I hope to have more done. I always think I can accomplish more than I do while conferencing. I'm also going to do the second half on that procrastination post. Once I find my notes. The messy desk gnomes are stalking me, too.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Random Fiction: The Emancipation of Thomas Forrest

My mind works in random ways. I didn't mean for The Agency to kick off a mini-serial, but it appears to have. Since others requested more about Thomas/Forrest and Raven, and it's fascinating to have a character with enough independence to try and change his own name, I felt they deserved a little more air time. I'm posting it on Tuesday since it's a little long for a Friday Flash. You can find other serials by searching the #TuesdaySerial hashtag on Twitter.

The Emancipation of Thomas Forrest

Forrest hated the smell of stale coffee. No matter how many times he made a fresh pot for the waiting room during the day, the smell still lingered, and he could almost see the brown fog gathered in the corner. If he had even just a little bit of magic, he could dissipate it or change it – maybe to the smell of pancakes, which he loved – but as it was, he just had to live with the odor and the fact that he'd never rise above his status of clerical minion. He held his breath, extracted the pot and basket, and took them to the break room to be washed.

"Forrest!" Jeanine's voice was like… He paused to come up with the right analogy. It changed daily. Today, her screeching reminded him of tires on pavement in the Concrete Realm, the sound of desperate braking just before the crunch of collision.

"Yes, Mistress?"

"Where are you?"

"Break room."

The break room of the Minion Placement Agency had a dimensional fault in the center. He could walk through it with no difficulty except his hair literally stood on end from the energy for a few minutes. It zapped people and creatures with magical abilities to random places, so Jeanine made him cross it to get to the sink. Several times a day. Sometimes he thought he would be able to zap her, but the energy never stuck around long. It made the rent on the place cheap, but damned inconvenient for him. As a minion himself, though, he couldn't complain.

She smiled when she saw his hair on end.

"Time to trim your eyebrows. You look like a Marx Brother."

"Yes, Mistress."

"I'm going back to the castle. Lock up here after you clean up. Pick up a pizza from Gargoyli's on the way home, pepperoni and pineapple with extra cheese."

He bowed, and she disappeared. He made sure the waiting room was neat and completed the janitorial tasks for the evening. The doorknob shocked him when he went to lock the door to the back alley, and he sighed. He bet she left that little present for him.

"Mr. Forrest?"

He jumped and whirled around, the key held out like a wand. Not like he had any magic to defend himself, but he'd bluff for as long as he could. Then he recognized the black feather cloak, somber face, and black hair and lipstick of one of the day's earlier clients.

"Mr. Raven, you startled me."

"I apologize." The tall man fell into step with Forrest. "I have a proposition for you."

"Thanks, but I'm not that kind of minion. I can direct you to Elvira's Pet Store if you're looking for—"

Mr. Raven shook his head. "Not that type of proposition. I sense in you a great talent, and I would like to take you on as my minion."

Forrest studied the man more closely. That black lipstick and nail polish really needed to go, but otherwise, he could pass for a villain that others would take seriously.

"I don't have any talent worth mentioning other than super-organization," Forrest said. "And Jeanine got me cheap and doesn't let her bargains go easily. You should've seen the ratty recliner she kept for decades in the waiting room!"

Before he could give any other examples, his skin tingled, and his lower abdomen spasmed. He doubled over, and Raven bent to help him. A lightning bolt flashed over their heads.

"There you are, Raven!"

Forrest couldn't see much from his kneeling position, but he saw glittery boots approach from the end of the alley.

"Sinestra!" Raven stood and held his hands out in front of him. "What are you doing here?"

"Coming after you, my love! I knew I smelled your magic when I stopped by this pathetic little agency this afternoon."

Forrest raised his head to see the 3:00 client he'd placed a nice little pixie with earlier that day. Scratch the pixie, he thought. This lady needed something with more oomph!

"I got a restraining order against you," Raven said. "By order of, ah…"

"Magic Judiciary five-oh-one-three," Forrest gasped, remembering the clerical reference number of the magical restraining orders from his minion continuing education course the previous spring. He could feel the energy gathering around them.

"Right, that." Raven crossed his arms. "I hereby banish you by order of the Magic Judiciary 5013 to the Far Reaches of Beyond!"

Forrest raised his eyebrows when she actually disappeared. His stomach stopped dancing, and he staggered to his feet.

"Sorry about that," he said.

"Nonsense!" Raven gave his shoulder a hearty squeeze. "If you hadn't sensed her magic before she appeared, she would have knocked my head off with that lightning bolt! See? I knew you had talent! Not everyone can sense power like the gathering clouds of a storm."

"Is that what those stomach cramps and skin tingles were?"

"Exactly! Come, now. Let's get some dinner and figure out how to emancipate you."

They picked up the pizza and took the Express Path to Jeanine's castle.

She frowned when they walked into the Great Room. She sat in her favorite red velvet chair by the fire, her feet up on a matching ottoman, and a glass of wine in her hand. "Forrest! How many times have I told you not to bring work back with you?"

"I'm here for a different purpose, Madam." Mr. Raven bowed. "I would like to take your minion."

Jeanine looked more surprised than angry. Her red lips formed a perfect oval for a moment, and then she said, "Whatever for? He has no magical talent, and he's useless in a laboratory."

"I am opening a restaurant and need a general manager."

Forrest noticed that he didn't say anything about that other talent.

"No dice." She waved him away. "I need him for the business."

"What if I were to make you a generous offer for him, say, five bars of gold?"

Her lip circle returned and stretched into an oval. "Five bars?"

Raven nodded. Forrest noted the man was full of surprises.

"Fine." Jeanine jumped to her feet and shook Raven's hand. Before Forrest could register what had happened, he and Raven stood outside. He felt like he had just been released from a tight vest and could breathe fully.

"What just happened?"

"I emancipated you."

Forrest went to bow to Raven, but the other man stopped him.

"I work from loyalty, not fear. This is not a Concrete Realm corporation, so you're an employee, not a minion."

"Thank you."

"What do you choose for your name?"

"I've always liked Thomas." Forrest grinned. "It's what I call myself in my head. Seems more normal."

"Then let us be on our way, Thomas Forrest. We have work to do, and you will find I have many enemies. I need a talent such as yours to know when a threat is real."

"What kind of restaurant are we opening?"

"A public house, also known as a pub. I was going to open a coffee shop, but for one small detail: I cannot stand the smell."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

On Process and Progress (or lack thereof): The 4 P's of Procrastination

I sat down at the beginning of May and mapped out short- and long-term writing goals. They were brilliant! They were ambitious! They were doable if I had a parallel life, a twenty-nine hour day, or lots more organizational skill than I actually possess.

Yeah, I'm one who favorites tweets pointing to articles on finding time to write and has even bookmarked Mari Blaser's blog post on it. Have I actually read any of them? No. I haven't had the time. I feel guilty about reading things on finding the time to write when I should actually be writing.

Of course, the question isn't really how to find time to write, but on how to stop procrastinating about writing. Over the past month and during Lent, when my project was to achieve balance (at which I failed miserably), I've come to realize that there are four things standing in my way, and they feed into each other. I call them the four P's of Procrastination:

1. Personality

I'm a Myers-Briggs INFJ, which means I'm introverted, see things in a big-picture, possibilities-oriented way, make decisions according to values (although I split that one), and like for things to be predictable and to go according to plan. You can probably see how this personality type works for and against me, especially since the introverted part directs the energy inward. In essence, I get stuck because I prefer conceptualization and planning, e.g., "the fun stuff" to execution, or the nuts-and-bolts getting to whatever it is. So, I'm great at setting goals, but not so great on the follow-through.

2. Time Perception

Basically, I like to finish what I start, and I want big chunks of time to do it. Fifteen minutes of free time to write? Ha, that's barely enough for me to get started with my pre-writing ritual. I feel like I need two hours to really get something done. That brings me to…

3. Process Issues

My pre-writing ritual typically goes like this:

10 minutes looking at comics online to "relax my mind"

10 minutes checking Twitter and following Favorites to blog posts by other people, but not the time-management ones that make me feel guilty

5 minutes convincing the gray cat not to sit on the laptop keyboard and randomly open windows

5 minutes trying to convince the black and white cat not to jump on my lap, an action that will lead to a fight with the gray cat. Usually black and white cat ends up on the back of my chair.

5 minutes to make tea, get a glass of wine, or other refreshment

10 minutes to remember where the hell I was in my work-in-progress and review most recent entry…

You get the idea. By then, it's been 45 minutes, and it's time to move on to something else. It drives me crazy when someone says, "Oh, I must be ADD" because I think that's an excuse for the whatever percent of us who don't have ADD, so I'm not going to say it, but I realize that I have a problem with distractions. What are they distracting me from?

4. Feelings of overwhelm that come from Perfectionism.

I just asked Hubby if he thinks I'm a perfectionist. He gave me that, "Oh, crap, there's no right answer to this question!" look, which likely means, "Uh, yeah. Duh." That's one of the things I realized during my Lenten project: I procrastinate because I don't like for things not to come out perfectly the first try. This has been a lifelong struggle for me, a sort-of Type A personality. Hubby calls me a "Type A and a half," or not quite Type A, but also not laid-back enough to be Type B.

The problem is that I see what things could be – remember that N part of the personality type? – but they don't start out that way, and I lack patience. This causes me to set goals that are too high, which leads me to be overwhelmed and procrastinate (see: pre-writing routine). I think this is why I like writing #fridayflash stories. I can knock one of those out in 30-60 minutes, revise it in the same amount of time, and be done with it. Longer works take more effort.

Now that I've recognized these things, what am I going to do about them? That will be the subject of my next blog post on writing. Meanwhile, I'm going to knock out a travel blog post so I continue to feel good about myself.