D is for Dreams

May 25, 2015
Clouds in the evening by Marlis Börger via Flickr

Clouds in the evening by Marlis Börger via Flickr

Every time I hear someone talk about how they don’t remember their dreams, it baffles me. I dream and remember my dreams all the time. And believe me, I have some wild ones! As a writer, some of the best ideas for stories I’ve had and some of the most effective fixes for trouble spots in other stories have been inspired by dreams.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that our subconscious is full of brilliant (and not so brilliant) ideas. There are things up there in the untapped realm of our minds that are essential to helping us live. I am reasonably certain that one of the reasons I’m not more insane than I am is because I’ve dealt with a lot of the crap that’s happened in my life through dreams. I’ve had some incredibly insightful dreams full of imagery that has helped me to make sense of my state of mind at any given point.

Ah, dream imagery! You can find a thousand different interpretations about what certain things in dreams mean: a fear of falling, losing your teeth, being caught naked in public. There are experts out there who will rush to tell you the meaning of it all based on the things you dream about.

For me, trains are always good Steam Train at Weybourne in Motion by Roger Blackwell via Flickr

For me, trains are always good
Steam Train at Weybourne in Motion by Roger Blackwell via Flickr

Don’t listen to them. I am reasonably certain that dream imagery is personal. What means something to you probably doesn’t mean the same thing to someone else. Like me and trains. I know that when I dream about trains, my life is about to change in a positive direction. I used to dream about plane crashes all the time in my childhood and adolescent years, but those dreams were always about not being in control of my life, especially my messed up family situation. I stopped having plane crash dreams suddenly one night after a dream in which my mom told me I didn’t have to get on the plane. Hmm. Strangely enough, I’ve had train dreams ever since then. Funny how the difference between a life that is out of control and heading for a disaster and one that is going someplace positive is simply choosing not to “get on board” with those forces that hurt you.

That’s all very deep and esoteric, but I have dreamed ideas for stories too. In fact, some of my best ideas started out as those peaceful, visual whispers in the predawn hours. I dream more vividly right before waking up in the morning than I do deeper into the night. I don’t know if everyone is that way or just me, but it sure does make it that much easier to remember the important details later.

Remembering the details of dreams is one of the hardest parts of using those dreams as creative fuel or personal therapy. At the same time, I confess that I don’t keep a notebook by my bed to write those things down or anything like that. It might be effective, I’m not sure. Mostly, I wake up thinking about them, and if those dreams are something that can inform or be of use in my writing, I connect those dots right away and run with it.

If you’re a writer and want to see if your dreams can provide the kind of inspiration you’re looking for, I do recommend writing those dream ideas down when it’s most convenient for you. I’m pretty sure that dreams come from the same place as the imagination that makes us writers in the first place. Listening to those whispers is just the beginning of a world of stories.

 

One Night with a Star – Release Day!

May 22, 2015

Ah ha! So you noticed that I didn’t put anything up for Excerpt Wednesday. That’s because I was saving it all up for today. Yes, today is Release Day for One Night with a Star! Come and join me with Simon and Jenny as they rediscover their passion and decide if love can recover after one beautiful, fateful night….

OneNightwithaStar_3D

Chapter One

Jenny Young was not the sort of woman to be held down by a challenge. And few things were more challenging than pulling off a celebrity wedding.

Not that she was actually in charge of the wedding, even though the bride was her best friend, Tasha Pike. The fact that the groom was superstar Spencer Ellis put this wedding way out of Jenny’s organizational league. Sand Dollar Point—the stately Victorian house built on a cliff that overlooked Summerbury Beach in Maine—was crawling with catering staff and assistants to the wedding planners. Plural. The planning staff scrambled to set up the ceremony on the beach below the house, while the caterers handled the reception, which would be on the lawn around the house. Jenny’s job, as she saw it, was to make sure the whole lot of them talked to each other and got things done.

Not an easy task when balancing a six-month old baby on your hip.

“Okay, Daniel, what do we do next?” she cooed to her son, bouncing him to make him laugh. “Do we check on the flowers? Do we? All right, let’s check on the flowers.”

Daniel burbled and waved his arm with the same sort of energy that kept her going, even when she didn’t think she could. She swung him around to her other hip to keep her right arm free, and marched across the lawn and up the stairs to Sand Dollar Point’s south porch to see how the flower arrangements were coming along. As large as it was, there was barely enough space in the house for everyone who needed a workspace to be accommodated, but at least Nancy, the florist, had been happy to work on the wicker table outside.

“How are things going here?” Jenny asked as she and Daniel approached. For Daniel, she added, “Look at all the pretty flowers. Pink and purple and white.”

Nancy paused in her work to smile at Daniel, reaching out to let him grasp her finger with his little pudgy ones.

“He’s such a sweetheart,” Nancy said. “And he looks just like you. Same blond hair, same blue eyes.”

“Say thank you,” Jenny cooed to Daniel, doing her best to keep her smile intact.

Yes, Daniel looked like her. He was her son, surprising though it was. Everyone noted the resemblance when they held or played with Daniel. None of them saw what she saw—that Daniel was actually a carbon copy of his father. He had the same nose, the same shape to his eyes, the same irresistible charm that could draw you in and leave you helpless. Damn Simon Mercer and his empty promises. One night of fun, one night of letting herself be bad, and her life had been changed forever. She’d been a fool to think a movie star like Simon could actually care about her.

If she could, she would push him right back out of her thoughts, like she had for the past year. The problem was, Simon would be there any minute. He was Spencer’s best man, and she was the maid of honor.

“It looks like you have things under control here,” she told Nancy. “Just let me know if you need help carrying those to the tables.”

“You’ve got enough to carry on your own,” Nancy said, making a face at Daniel then patting his head. “Besides, shouldn’t you be changing for the photos?”

“Oh, I’ve got plenty of time for that.” She brushed the suggestion off with a wave of her hand. “I want to make sure everything is perfect down here first.”

She turned to head around the porch to the north side, ponytail swinging, kissing Daniel’s head. There had to be something else that needed her attention. The food? No, Blue Elephant was the best caterer in southern Maine, and they had everything under control. Music? Taken care of. Guests? Not there yet. Security? Ha! The place was crawling with gigantic men in black suits.

Jenny sighed. “Looks like you’re mommy’s not going to be able to avoid this for much longer, is she?” she told Daniel in a sing-song voice. “Aunt Tasha is getting married and everything is going to be beautiful and perfect, and Mommy will suck it up and face your daddy with a smile. It’s all going to be okay, isn’t it?”

“Are you expecting him to give you an answer?”

Jenny gasped and twisted to see Tasha poking her head out of the screen door. Her short hair was already done in a dazzling style with jeweled accents that looked like she was crowned with dewdrops, but she wore a robe instead of her dress.

“What are you doing downstairs?” Jenny did her best to distract Tasha from what she’d overheard. “Aren’t the photographers going to be here any minute?”

“That’s why I came down to find you.” Tasha stepped fully out onto the porch. Like everyone else, she was drawn straight to Daniel, her smile wide and excited, arms stretched out to him.

Grateful for a quick rest, Jenny handed Daniel over. “I’m just trying to make sure that everything is perfect for you,” she said. “I’ve got to feel useful somehow.”

“Don’t be silly,” Tasha said in the kind of voice that grown women only used around babies. “You’re the most useful person I know.”

“Am I?” Jenny crossed her arms. “These days it seems like every time I start to get something going, this little angel calls me away, and whatever I’m doing falls apart.”

“Maybe.” Tasha held Daniel closer. He was tired and getting fussy, but some days Aunt Tasha was as good as Mommy. Tasha peeked up at Jenny. “Work still getting you down?”

Jenny sighed and leaned against the porch railing. “It’s kinda hard to be the Closer of the Kennebunks when you have to cancel showings and bail on signings.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Not that I’m complaining.” Jenny held up her hands. “Not with Mom pitching in like a pro to help out. I wouldn’t trade Daniel for the world. God, Tasha, I never knew it was possible to love so much.” Her words caught in her throat as a sudden burst of emotion threatened to make her weepy. Better now than after she put mascara on.

Tasha stepped to Jenny’s side and hugged her. Daniel’s face scrunched into pre-cry tension, so Jenny took him back and cradled him against her shoulder so he could, hopefully, go to sleep.

“You’ve done an amazing job of switching into mom-mode,” Tasha told her.

“Yeah,” Jenny admitted. “I just wish that it wasn’t one mode or the other, Mom or real estate maven.”

“I still think you’re in the wrong career,” Tasha said. “There are plenty of jobs out there where you could kick ass and still take care of Daniel.”

“I should be able to do it where I am,” Jenny mumbled. “If not for….”

Tasha reached out and rubbed her arm. “I know. Extenuating circumstances. At least you didn’t date Simon for thirteen years before getting dumped.”

“I didn’t date him at all. I shouldn’t be so broke up about it,” Jenny insisted. “It’s just that for one minute there, for one awesome minute, I thought I was Cinderella meeting the prince.”

Tasha didn’t say anything. She only hugged Jenny as best she could with Daniel in the way, and kissed Daniel’s head. Then she rocked back and fixed Jenny with a worried look.

“Spence texted me to tell me that he just got off the phone with Simon. Simon will be here any minute.”

Jenny gave her a half-hearted grin. “You two texting each other from across the hall?”

“The groom can’t see the bride before the dress reveal,” Tasha said, unable to hold back her giddy joy. And why should she? Tasha was the one living the fairy tale. She was the one about to marry a smoking hot movie star who had bought her Sand Dollar Point as a wedding present. “The old traditions don’t say anything about texting though.”

“No, they wouldn’t.” Although they might say something about the bride and groom getting ready at the same house. It was a precautionary measure to avoid unwanted paparazzi. That and the upwards of a dozen security personnel stationed around the house and the beach.

Tasha’s expression shifted back to concern for her friend. “So you think you’re gonna be okay?”

Was she? She hadn’t heard a word from Simon Mercer, not even a peep, for fifteen months and three days. Not when she discovered she was pregnant with his baby, not when she made the surprisingly difficult decision to keep it, and not when Daniel was born. She’d avoided every pre-wedding event she could just so that she wouldn’t have to see him. If she’d had her way, she would go on not seeing him, but that was all about to end.

“Yeah, I’m gonna be okay,” she lied. “Let’s go upstairs and get ready.”

They headed into the house. Even though Spence and Tasha had closed on Sand Dollar Point nine months ago—the last really significant closing Jenny had had—they hadn’t done much redecorating. The old couple who sold them the house had taken a few items of furniture and some of the artwork that had sentimental value, but they were in the process of downsizing. Spence especially had been eager to keep the house as much like it was as possible. In her heart, Jenny was glad about that, but it did feel a lot like she was reliving the most world-changing few days of her life. Only it was October now and had been July then.

“There’s my grandbaby,” Jenny’s mom greeted them when they were halfway down the hall. “Hello there, tiger.”

“Mom. You’re here early.” Jenny managed a genuine smile for her mom. That was another thing she had to be grateful for where Daniel was concerned. After the initial shock of finding out their daughter was pregnant—and who could blame them for that—her mom and dad had stepped up and taken care of her when she really needed it.

“I came to see if they needed a hand setting up,” she said.

Jenny grinned. For years people had been telling her the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. Now that she was getting older, she believed them.

“Would you mind taking Daniel while I go upstairs and get changed?” she asked.

“Sure, sweetheart. Although I need to run down to the beach to give this tape to Tasha’s mom.” She lifted her wrist where she wore a role of duct tape like a bracelet. “Do you mind if I let him sleep in his carrier up here for a second?”

“No problem.” Daniel had fallen hard asleep in a matter of seconds. She felt the wonderful, familiar twang in her heart as she stepped into the dining room and transferred him from her shoulder to his carrier on the table. “There are so many people running around here that someone will call me if he wakes up. Seeing as he just fell asleep, I think it’ll be at least half an hour until he moves.”

“I swear I won’t be but three minutes,” her mom said.

“Cara can keep an eye on him,” Tasha said, turning toward the kitchen. “Cara?”

“I can keep an eye on him,” the helper from Blue Elephant piped in. “Go. Get ready.”

Jenny leaned over to give her son one last kiss on his precious little head. True, Simon had turned her inside out in the worst possible way, but she wouldn’t change a moment of it if it meant losing Daniel. As crazy as her life had become, he was the best thing that had ever happened to her.

“Now,” she said, stepping back. “Let’s go upstairs and get gorgeous.”

 

Keep reading by buying One Night with a Star now! Available exclusively at Amazon (click here) … at least for now. *wiggles eyebrows*

C is for Crush

May 18, 2015

Ready? I’m going to admit something really embarrassing here.

I get crushes on guys SUPER easily.

Petyr Baelish/Aiden Gillen? Yep, serious crush

Petyr Baelish/Aiden Gillen? Yep, serious crush

Yep. I always have, and likely I always will. But in my defense, now that I’m older and wiser, I think that my crushes are a brilliant and satisfying way to roll around ideas about character, attraction, and desirability in my mind. A way to pre-form engaging and likable heroes for my novels, if you will. Really concentrating on the things that attracts me to these guys hones my writer’s sense for what makes a great hero.

At least that’s how things are now. It wasn’t always that way, though.

Yeah, I’ll confess. I’ve been a total goober about the way I approach men in the past. I have had crushes, and they haven’t been pretty at all. I remember way, WAY back in third grade—right about the time I started writing, actually—when I had a mega-crush on a boy in my class, Michael G. I tell you, I had stars in my eyes for this boy. Believe it or not, he was my first kiss—at the ripe old age of eight. And it didn’t matter that he kissed me with closed, puckered lips for about a millisecond on a dare, I was hooked. So hooked, in fact, that I wrote a story for a creative writing assignment about a girl who befriended and fell in love with a wasp named Michael G. Okay, now, let’s just set aside the glaring psychological confusion about falling in love with a WASP, especially when I was and am more afraid of wasps than any other creature that walks the earth. The important thing to note here was that that was, in essence, my first romance novel.

The crushes continued all the way through elementary school and into high school and beyond. Of course they did. But I have had the world’s worst luck with men throughout my life. No, you don’t understand, it’s BAD. Real men either leave me or never give me the time of day in the first place. (Or take gross advantage of me, but let’s not go there) Yeah, it’s back to that wasp again, I’m afraid. But celebrity crushes? Ah! They’re perfect in every way.

Real life crush, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, who I admire the heck out of for his vision, drive, and all-around nice guy-ness

Real life crush, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, who I admire the heck out of for his vision, drive, and all-around nice guy-ness. And, like Petyr Baelish, he might just be pulling all the strings behind the scenes to take over the world!

Here’s the thing about Hollywood boyfriends. They’re perfect. They’re the ideal men. They’re usually handsome and charismatic, and since the odds of actually meeting them are less than the odds of being struck by lightning while being eaten by a shark, they’re safe. I can’t tell you how many celebrities I’ve had taped to my walls or clipped out of magazines to serve as bookmarks. Actually, I almost can, because several years ago, my friend-now-sister-in-law made “Merry’s Book of Men” for me as a Christmas gift. It’s a complete chronicle of all the men I had adored up until that point.

It’s also the seedbed for where I’ve come up with some of my most delicious and compelling characters. Because I don’t generally fall for the typical A-list Hollywood flavor of the day. Oh no. No Chris Hemsworth or Brad Pitt or Bradley Cooper for me (although I do think they’re all attractive). No, I fall hard for Aiden Gillen and Michael Emerson. I love the nerdy guys, the brilliant but shifty characters, the guys who have been wounded and choose to take that pain and do something about it. Vengeance, usually, but not always.

And yes, these are the guys who form the fabric of the heroes I love to write. I love me some flawed heroes who are capable of great darkness but are brought around by great light. Maybe it’s those wasps transformed into eagles by the power of love. Those are the men I love, the characters I write, and the end result of my crushes.

Sure, I’ve been crushed by crushes as much as the next girl (don’t get me started about Dan or Brent, and I could write a LOT about a certain Bill), but at the end of the day, each crush has produced far more good than harm. That’s what crushes are all about, after all. They’re fantasies, larks, daydreams. They are the stuff that dreams are made of.

Excerpt Wednesday – One Night with a Star – First Look

May 13, 2015

It’s Wednesday, and even though I’m down in Dallas for the RT Booklovers Conference, here’s a sneak peek at the next book in the Second Chances series, coming May 22nd!

OneNightwithaStar_3D
“Take a deep breath, mate,” Simon murmured to himself as he followed Jenny’s car along winding coastal roads to her parent’s house. “Don’t screw this up.”

For a minute there, it had looked as though he and Jenny might actually be getting somewhere. Seeing her so upset, and for no reason that he could figure, had been harder than he would have thought. It had made him realize that he hated seeing Jenny in a fit. She was a goddess, and goddesses should never have to feel bad. But getting to the bottom of what had upset her was trickier than it looked, especially since he probably had more than a little to do with it. Telling her about Newfoundland and his journey over the last year was just the beginning of things he could think of to make it all better.

When Jenny pulled into the long driveway in front of her parent’s house, Simon involuntarily caught his breath. The verbal castration that he’d gotten from her dad was still fresh in his mind, enough so that he was tempted to cup his hands over his balls as he approached the house. He took another deep breath, cut his car’s engine, and got out.

Jenny looked much better than she had at the house as she climbed out of her car. The drive wasn’t a long one, but it had been enough for the frustrated flush to leave her face, and for her eyes to lose their redness.

“Everything okay?” he asked, approaching her with his hands in his pockets.

“Yeah.” She smiled. A valiant smile, but one that tried to mask obviously frazzled nerves. She didn’t look at him directly. “Thanks for keeping an eye on me. I’m fine now. You can go home.”

Simon shrugged. “Let me walk you to the door at least.”

She bit her lip and raised a hand to her neck in uncertainty. The combination of gestures sent a bolt of heat straight to Simon’s groin. On second thought, maybe this vulnerable Jenny was just as hot as the bold and brave one. His heart pumped faster, sending blood to places that probably weren’t in his best interest right then.

He walked up to her side, then the two of them continued along the flagstone path to the covered entryway by the front door.

“You sure you don’t want to tell me more about what had you so upset earlier?” he asked, working to keep his voice as gentle and approachable as he could.

“I’m sure,” she said, though she stared at her feet as she did.

He hated seeing her so distressed. Hated it, and he wasn’t going to stand for it. It was a gamble, but he slid his fingers along Jenny’s jaw and under her chin to tip it up so she would look at him.

“I may have been an utter waste of space in the past,” he began, “and I make have completely cocked things up between us last year, but I swear to you, I will not do anything to hurt you going forward if I can possibly help it.”

“Simon.” She sucked in a breath as her brow furrowed with a rush of emotions.

“I mean it,” he stopped her from saying anything else. “And I won’t try to push in or bully you into any sort of a relationship that you’re not ready for this time.” Well, it was a tiny lie, but one he figured would be forgiven. “I’m here for you if you need me. I’m here for Daniel if he needs me. End of story.”

She stared at him. He couldn’t read what was going on behind those beautiful blue eyes of hers, but whatever it was, it was intense. The early autumn breeze swirled in the leaves around them, and the twilight hues of gold through those leaves gave Jenny a luminescence that took his breath away. A man could stake his life on a woman like Jenny, rush off to war, and die happy knowing he was fighting for her.

No sooner had the thought crossed his mind when Jenny swayed toward him. She grabbed hold of his arms, and without giving him the chance to think, she surged into him, slanting her mouth over his in a kiss that left him stunned. The petal-softness of her lips short-circuited every part of his brain, the sweep of her tongue across the line of his lips floored him. He couldn’t even kiss her back or respond with more than an avalanche of lust that sent his body into primal need.

Sense began to return to him, but only barely, when she slipped her arms further around his neck, pressing herself into him to deepen their kiss. Something clicked inside of him, and he responded with powerful longing, closing his arms around her and drawing her in. He kissed her back from the bottom of his soul, sliding his tongue against hers and nipping at her bottom lip. Memories of the way they’d been together last summer, how hot and intense and perfect they had been, slammed into him. He was hard before he knew what hit him and ground that hardness against her hip. She hummed in the back of her throat, a heady, desperate cry that made him want to take her to the backseat of his car and put them both out of their misery. Nothing had ever been as right as kissing Jenny like this.

The light came on in the entryway, giving them a two second warning before the front door cracked. It was barely enough time for the two of them to jump apart before Jenny’s dad yanked the door fully open and stood glaring at Simon.

“What the hell is going on here?” her dad barked.

“Sir,” Simon yelped, sounding and feeling like he was about fourteen. Talk about putting an instant damper on some truly delicious, carnal feelings.

“Dad,” Jenny groaned, breathless. “What are you doing?”

“I could ask you the same thing, young lady.”

Jenny sighed, covering the embarrassment and heat behind her flushed cheeks with frustration. “Come on. It’s not like I’m a kid anymore. You can’t threaten my dates anymore.”

“So this is a date?” Her dad’s eyebrows flew up. He turned his fury on Simon for a second before switching it to sharp disapproval for Jenny.

“It’s not a date.” Jenny crossed her arms.

“You’re damned right, I’s not a date,” her dad said. “Because you’re dating Neil. And I’m not having this slimy celebrity seducing you again.”

 

Boy, did I have fun writing Jenny’s dad! Keep your eyes peeled for One Night with a Star!

B is for Branding

May 11, 2015
Mine brand

© Albund | Dreamstime.com – My Metal Brand Glowing Red Hot Front Photo

I’m not too proud to say that when it comes to the whole business of writing, there are things I absolutely understand and other things that leave me scratching my head. Branding is one of those head-scratchers. It’s not that I don’t know what it is or why it’s important, it’s just that sometimes I struggle with how to effectively brand myself and then stick to that brand.

I’ll start by telling you what I know.

Branding is how you package yourself. It’s everything from the look of your book covers and website to the photo you choose to be your author pic. I had a lot of people point out way in the early days of my writing career that I have a great name. Merry Farmer is my actual name too. (Pen names confuse me, but that’s a whole other blog post!) So I took my cue for branding myself from my name. Merry is a nice, happy name full of positive energy. Okay, I can do this. So my brand is positivity and all things happy. Easy enough, right?

Well, it’s easy when it comes to interacting with people online and in the real world. I’m a pretty upbeat person to begin with, so I’ve got that covered. How do I then carry that over to the more visual aspects of my brand? For me, the answer is in light, vibrant colors and rich saturation in the images I use for books.

I have a ton of other friends who employ the same thought process in their visuals. A couple of friends who write more kick-ass sort of books have very kick-ass covers. The ones who focus on traditional romance with strong alpha heroes have lush visuals with strong men on their covers and websites. Once you figure out how you’re going to brand yourself and your writing, it’s easy to come up with visual material that supports that.

Ah, but there’s the rub and one of the things I struggled with for a long time at the beginning of my writing career. How do you know what your brand should be, and how do you go about solidifying that into something that can be tangibly represented in the first place?

It’s an important question and one that bears a lot of thinking about in the early days of a writer’s career. How do you want to be known? What do you want readers to pick up on about you and your writing. Or perhaps the more important question should be, what promises are you making to your readers before they ever pick up one of your books?

I love so many things about the covers Erin Dameron-Hill has designed for me. She really gets my brand!

I love so many things about the covers Erin Dameron-Hill has designed for me. She really gets my brand!

The best place to start this self-discovery process is with what you write. Different genres carry with them different promises to the reader. Contemporary Romance makes very different promises than Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Sci-Fi. Readers of those genres want to go on a different sort of journey. The basics of genre expectation are a good place to start when figuring out your own brand. If you write those zombie novels, you probably don’t want to include a lot of flowers and recipes for cupcakes in your branding.

In the early days, I spent a lot of time thinking about historical romance (my primary genre) and all of the reasons people read it. Hot guys was an unexpected buzzword that came into my thinking and stayed there. Cool. Easy. I can put hot guys on my covers and post pics of celebs we all love on my Facebook page. But all from a historical angle. So less of the bodybuilding guys and more of the sort who appear in costume dramas for the BBC. Already I’m able to narrow down where my image, my branding, should be headed.

That’s just one example of so many I could talk about. Instead of rehashing everything I’ve done, though, I turn it over to you. What general things define the genre you’re writing in? What specific things set your books apart from that genre? How do you want to present yourself in public, and how can you tie that into what you’re writing?

Once you answer those questions, it all comes down to finding a great designer who can put together visuals that suit your image. Trust me, they’re very good at knowing how to execute a specific style or mood that you’re going for! I personally believe in hiring other people to do this kind of stuff, but you can also do it yourself.

So what are some other branding ideas that you’ve come up with to set yourself apart?