Sunday, November 24, 2013

Interview with Melanie Ting

Today I'm very happy to plug a fellow writer—and friend—Melanie Ting. She's authored some of my favorite hockey stories, including Fresh Air and How the Cookie Crumbles. Mel's climbing up the Amazon sales charts; if you haven't read her work yet, do yourself a favor and check her out!

Mel took the time to talk to me about her writing and latest novel, her love of hockey, and of course, cats:

What motivates you as a writer? What inspires you?

I would say that real life inspires me. I love hearing the stories behind the athletes. When you read about a hockey player who struggled for years, undrafted and unwanted, before he made it to the NHL, that’s inspiring. Or if he’s just hot, well that’s inspiring in a different way. I also use things that happen to me in real life, as well as real people. In fact, if some of my friends read my novels, they’d probably kill me … slowly. But luckily, nobody I know likes hockey romances. Maybe it makes me a nicer person though, I don’t complain when people do or say ridiculous things, I go home and write them up.

Frankie Taylor, the heroine of How the Cookie Crumbles, leaves Vancouver to get over a broken heart. Have you ever picked up and started new somewhere?

Well, when I went to grad school, it was a pretty big move for me. I quit my job and moved to a new city. When I got there, I didn’t know anyone and I was really lonely. I remember I tried to chat with a wrong number call. But then when I told some of my new classmates that wrong number story, one of them decided she wanted to befriend me since I was so pitiful. And you know how it goes, once you have one friend you find many more. So it all worked out.

Frankie's also a great cook. Is that a trait you share with your character? If so, any helpful advice some of us who are less culinary inclined?

I am actually a good cook, but I don’t enjoy cooking the way that Frankie does. I like cooking for dinner parties, and weekend dinners, but I don’t like the day-in-day-out drudgery of producing meals every night. I’ve read about people who eat out every night, that would be my secret fantasy.

As for cooking advice, I would suggest that you develop a few specialties, perhaps dishes you enjoy eating, and serve those when you entertain or go to potlucks. Like my friend, Daisy, she makes cupcakes (from a mix) and decorates them fabulously. Everyone knows that’s what she’s going to bring to parties and looks forward to it. The other advice I would give is to eyeball a recipe, if it has more than 10 ingredients and 10 steps, forget it. In fact, 5 + 5 = perfect.

Jake Cookson's a great character; he feels so authentic, like someone you could meet on the street. Do you find it difficult to write male characters?

Ha ha, I think you know as well as I that Jake was originally based on a real life character. However, since I don’t personally know any NHL players, I usually take characteristics from people in my own life. I am sadly unimaginative for a writer! I like Jake because he’s funny and and easy-going, but he definitely has his flaws. I prefer a hero with flaws since I like a little realism.

I don’t usually have trouble writing male characters because I don’t think they’re that different from women. However, I have trouble imaging what guys say to each other when they’re alone. Maybe they talk sensitively about their emotions, but more probably they burp and say nothing. I run my male characters/dialogue by the guys in my life, to get their feedback. They like to check my hockey facts, but they hate hearing about the romance part. That’s too bad since I think that most guys could learn a ton about women by reading romances.

We know you're a hockey fan, namely the Canucks and Hawks. How do you feel about your teams this season? Any predictions?

Wait! You forgot the Kings, I cheer for the Kings too. While some hockey fans might think I’m not a true fan, I have to say that supporting my hometown Canucks is a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows. So I started supporting a second team to cheer myself up. And lo and behold, both my second teams have won cups! Why doesn’t my magic work for the Canucks?

I’m too emotionally involved to make predictions or bets, so it’s better if I pass on that. I have my secret hopes though.

Favorite hockey movie?

Slapshot, definitely. It’s crazy how often “Who ooowns the Chiefs?” comes up in regular conversation around here.

Besides writing about hot hockey players, your stories also feature cats. I know you're a cat lover. So, the question that everyone really wants to know the answer to: did you dress your cats up for Halloween?

Funnily enough, on Halloween I was Googling cat costumes and laughing my head off. This one is my fav. But I like my arms un-shredded, so dressing my two cats is out of the question. I usually stick a bow or ribbon on them at Christmas, but that only lasts about 30 seconds. They prefer fur coats. Who wouldn’t, really?

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Game On Chronicles: The Plot Thickens

I know I haven't said much about this new story that I'm working on. I'm afraid to reveal too much in case I change my mind and have to play with the details. But I've told you about Audrey and Nate. You've probably inferred that Nate plays on the Columbus Blue Jackets once I mentioned the setting.

The first few chapters of any of my stories are usually spent introducing the characters. To me, my characters are the most important part of my stories. That's just part of who I am; I love people's stories, so naturally I love imagining up people and giving them stories. When I write, that it what I want to convey: the characters, and their stories.

The plot is important because characters reveals their traits and personality through their reactions to what happens around them or, maybe more truthfully, their actions and deeds.

Once the characters are established, that's when the plot starts to develop.

All that being said, the plot is what dictates how the story itself is categorized. Sure, my characters have romantic interests and relationships, but that does mean I write romance stories? I don't like to think so. In fact, I don't like to get pigeon-holed at all. As I've stated, I like to write character-based stories. People are constantly falling in and out of love as they navigate through life and figure out the best course of action to obtain happiness.

I'm still not sure exactly where I want this story to go. What's in store for Nate and Audrey, individually and/or together? What obstacles will come their way, and can they clear the hurdles? I haven't quite figured that out yet, but the deeper that I delve into their characters and their mettles, the closer I am to finding out.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Game On Chronicles: Distractions

I'm usually pretty good at time management. When I have a lot on my plate, I have to buckle down and stay focused, which I can do. If the pressure's on, that helps me stay motivated.

But sometimes, no matter what I seem to want to do, I keep getting pulled away from the task at hand.

My social schedule varies a lot. Sometimes, it feels like I have all the time in the world; yet other times, I'm so busy I'm lucky to get a decent night's sleep.

I'm pretty busy right now. Work is pretty crazy, and I'm stage managing for the local theatre, which takes up 2-3 nights during the week. I captain a trivia team, which is how I spend my Tuesday nights. On top of that, I have Christmas projects to work on, and I'm trying to make new curtains to help block the cold from coming in as winter descends on Pittsburgh. And my apartment desperately needs to be cleaned. Oh, and I can't forget that my typically antisocial cats, for some reason, are following me around like little ducklings and crying for attention.

So when I have time away from all those responsibilities, that's when I sit down in front of my laptop and work on the story I have in my head. Currently, I'm on chapter 16, and I'm 43,000+ words for Game On. Things, for the moment, are going swimmingly.

The problem is all the distractions! Between all the stresses and obligations, it's nice to relax for a few moments. Those few moments then turn into hours. So, what's holding my attention away from my writing?

1.) Dexter
So I'm way behind the times. I finally started to watch the show Dexter, starting from the beginning. I've seen bits and pieces here and there, and of course I know the premise. But I never really sat down and watched it. Stupid Netflix. I just finished season two, and I'm dying to see what's next. Why can't I just divide my attention between the two and write while I watch? Well, I don't have Netflix streaming on my TV and only on my laptop, which prevents me from using Word to type. Damn.

2.) Sporcle
Have you ever heard of Sporcle? My God, it's one of the best sites I've ever come across. You can play all kinds of games for free. You name it, there's a quiz for it. My current favorite is the 1-100 clickable mines. Seems simple enough, but you only have four minutes! My best time is 3:20, although I'm obviously trying to break that. Phew.

3.) Knitting
Okay, so I'm an old lady. But I love to knit, and I just found this pattern for a slouchy hat. I have a scarf that I never finished too, so I seem to be taking turns between the two projects.

4.) Nothing
Good, old-fashioned nothing. Just lying on the couch, listening to the rain, trying to convince myself not to go and grab another piece of leftover Halloween candy. Telling myself that I have so many things to do, but enjoying just being lazy for a little while before Monday rolls around and I have to start another workweek.

5.) Blogging?
Okay, so maybe this isn't a major distraction, but I'm typing here rather than in Word, where it matters. I'd like to promise you that I'll close out of Blogger and get back to work, but I can't guarantee it.

Those mines aren't going to click themselves.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Game On Chronicles: Setting and Perspective

When a plot line is universal and the characters are true to human nature, a story can take place anywhere on Earth and it will still ring true to its readers.

One of the reasons that Shakespeare is still relative today is because his characters are timeless. His plays are adapted to take place in current or modern settings, and they still make just as much as sense as they do to Elizabethan audiences.

The place and time of a story doesn't usually affect much about a plot. In fact, I think the plot dictates the setting, and not the other way around. That being said, however, the setting can affect how the story is told.

I'm no Shakespeare, but I understand that much.

As I've mentioned in a previous blog entry, I had originally started writing Game On in 2011. Since picking it back up, I decided to update the story. It's amazing how many things have changed in the past two years that affect the story. Realignment, the lockout, technology, and the presence of social media in everyday life. All these factors have played into the telling of the story.

Where the majority of the plot takes places is also important to how the story gets told. There's always the choice of creating my own world and making up a fictional town and team, or I could base the story around an actual location and real-life team. Having done one of each, I thought I'd go back to using a real franchise. I decided to center the story around an NHL team that's, shall we say, not as popular: the Columbus Blue Jackets. Picking a team that doesn't get a lot of attention gives me a bit more flexibility and leeway than a team that's always in the spotlight. And of course, a not-so-popular team also factors into the plot.

One more factor that affects the story is picking a perspective. First person? Third-person limited? Omniscient observer? Well, after using third person for the last two stories, I decided to mix it up and tell the story from a single first-person perspective: Audrey's.

When the reader only gets to hear one person's side and see through only one character's eyes, then we only get a feel for the other characters through his or her experiences. That makes it more difficult to portray the other characters in a way that is true to them; but that also makes the story a little more interesting. Everything becomes subjective. This is a fun new dynamic to play with as I shape this new world. And I can't wait until it's all said and done, and I get to share it with you!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Game On Chronicles: What's in a Name?

Hands down, one of the most difficult parts of writing for me is picking out character names. It's like naming a child: the kid has to live with this name, and I have to call the kid by this name for the rest of my life. So I don't want to pick a name that I'm going to get sick of.

That's happened before. I've changed some characters' names umpteen times before finally settling on something that satisfies me. And it can't be a name of someone I know, either, because the character can't resemble someone who already exists.

I like to pick first names that are somewhere in the middle between common and unique.
For example, in Play the Man, I picked Jenna, Ryan, and Nick.
In Shots on Net, I picked Shannon/Shay and Kevin.

Last names can be just as difficult. If a character is a hockey player from a particular foreign country, say Russia or Sweden, then it's easy to pick a last name. But American and Canadian names are tougher, because so many last names have foreign bases, or spellings were changed when families immigrated here. But again, I like names that are relatively common. Really, I feel like it gives the characters a realistic feel.

For Game On, the selection process was just as difficult, but I've settled on the following first names for my main characters: Audrey Hunt and Nathan/Nate Fox.

Of course, there are plenty of other names that get picked out: friends and family, other players on the team, coaches and staff, co-workers, etc. But nothing's as difficult as those leading characters' names.

As always, feel free to tell me what you think. Are you excited to meet Audrey and Nate?

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Game On Chronicles: Cover Design

Creative people tend to steer toward other creative people. A few years ago, there were a bunch of us, some relatively fresh out of college and some still taking classes, who hung out about twice a week. Well, you might as well call it coexisting in the same room. See, we used the time to pursue our relative interests, whatever they may be. I, of course, was writing fiction. But there was a person who wrote poetry, another crocheted, sometimes someone was playing the guitar or banjo. There was also a budding graphic designer. We said that I'd write a book and he'd create the cover.

It took three years, but when I made up my mind to e-publish, I turned to Casey to help me with the cover. I tell him what I'm thinking, and he makes it even better. We talk about what I'm looking for or anything I'd like to incorporate into the cover, and he expounds on that. In Play the Man, I wanted Jenna's ring to play some kind of part, and it was Casey's idea to have the men "face off" for it. It was such a genius idea; I wished I had thought of it! And for Shots on Net, I wanted to graduate to a more neutral image. The story, for me, was less about romance and relationships and more about dreams and doing whatever it takes to make them come true. So when I decided to plunge right into Game On, I messaged Casey and we talked on Skype to discuss the third cover.

We've all heard the proverb Don't judge a book by its cover, but let's be honest: we judge. A cover can reveal a lot about the pages' content or link it to a specific writer. At the very least, a good cover can attract a reader to a book or turn someone away. So, what do I want the cover for Game On to look like?

I don't know.

Usually, I have an idea, but I don't this time.

Actually, I just got an idea. And I kind of like it.

I'm off to e-mail Casey!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Game On Chronicles: The Early Chapters

I decided to chronicle my process for working on publishing my third book.

As much as I wanted to take a break after publishing Shots on Net, I was feeling, well, empty. I had been spending so much time writing, editing, deleting, rewriting, etc., that I didn't know what to do with myself when I wasn't writing anymore. Even though I swore I needed a break from writing, I needed to get right back on track with the next story.

I had started a manuscript back in 2011 for a story I called Game On. I remember the premise for it, but I can't tell you where I left off. So I decided to start reading through it, reacquaint myself with the characters and the plot, and then figure out where to go from there. When I left off years ago, the story had twenty-six chapters, which is pretty long for my novels.

As soon as I started to reread it, I got pulled right back into that world. On Monday, I read through and edited the first six chapters. Yesterday, I went through chapters seven through nine. There is a bit of rewriting that needed to be done because the story is over two years old. There have been a lot of changes in the NHL since then! The lockout last season, the realignment.... There are lots of little details that now have to get updated in this old story.

The beginning of a story is always very tricky. I want to make sure I give the reader a good feel for the characters without giving too much away too soon. To me, characters are like real people—and you don't learn everything there is about a person when you first meet them. That only happens over time.

And, of course, there has to be enough action at the beginning to suck the reader in. If the beginning isn't good, then there's no incentive to keep reading.

What do you think makes a good beginning?

Monday, November 4, 2013

In the Top 100!

Thanks to everyone who's purchased a copy of Shots on Net during this first week of publication.

As of today, Shots on Net broke into the Top 100 of sports genre fiction on Amazon. I'm mixed in with the likes of Stephen King and James Patterson, which is pretty awesome if you ask me!