Thursday, September 30, 2010

Link Thursday: His 9 Reasons for Being Single

Ever wondered why this seemingly perfect guy is unclaimed yet? It could be because he's putting lots of reasons/excuses out there to continue with his commitment-phobe existence.

Here, a bloke, Rich Santos, tells all, and mind you, this is fabulous insight indeed into the mind of that elusive creature called the 'man'! Humorous too - I burst out laughing even when re-reading this piece!

As usual, the article is from my links bible, MSN lifestyle webpage, Love & Relationships section. I grabbed that link around April 21, 2010, if ever you're inclined to go there and find the original article.

Pay heed, authors - this is great material to start/beef up your modern hero's GMC (Mr. Santos' explanations should be taken with a grain of salt though, *grin*).

******

His 9 Reasons for Being Single

Why are you still single? Marie Claire's male dating blogger lists nine possible reasons for his own single status.

By Rich Santos

No matter who you are, dating and meeting interesting people is a challenge. Maybe this is why dating is so intriguing. There are legitimate reasons for not dating (for example, you've been hurt physically or mentally and you need to learn to trust again) or excuses such as "I'm working on my career," even though you're not really working on your career.

I recently pondered why I'm still single and wondered: "Am I clinging to these reasons as excuses to keep me from taking on the challenge of dating, or to avoid my fear of rejection?" Here are some of the reasons I give myself when thinking about why I am still single:

1. I'm "Unique" and Tough to Get Along With
Maybe I have strange interests and I'm not a "mainstream" kind of guy, so the number of women that connect with me is limited. I'm not always eager to compromise. I fear I'm turning into the reclusive artist type, enjoying solitude and reveling in bitterness.

2. I Value My Independence
I enjoy being able to do what I want, whenever I want. I'm bad enough budgeting my own time, so being aware of someone else's time in addition to mine seems daunting.

3. My Last Relationship Scared Me
I'm assuming that every other girl I meet will be like my ex-girlfriend, who got too serious too quickly.

4. My Parents' Split Scared Me
When my parents split up when I was 8, it took a big piece out of me. Every year I wonder if I'm over it, or if I'm still damaged from the trauma.

5. I've Got Issues with Sex
In fact, I was told by a professional to see a sex therapist. I have never enjoyed sex; I'm worried that I'm not satisfying my partner, or that I'll do something wrong.

6. I Haven't Met the Right Girl
I'm like Simon on American Idol: always finding something in someone to annoy me. I am rarely intrigued by a girl these days. But perhaps I'm too picky, and I'm judging too quickly. My one female friend tells me that she thinks I'm staying out of the game because I don't want drama in my life. Trust me, I'm capable of creating enough drama on my own so perhaps she's right that I can't handle more. She says the "drama-free" girl is out there, and that's when I'm going to give things a shot.

7. Kids Scare Me
I've learned about child-rearing after my nieces were born. Right now, I have it great: I'm the cool uncle and I don't have to do any serious parenting stuff. And sometimes I look around the world, and I wonder why I should bring a child into it in light of all of the bad things that happen.

8. I Don't Want to Grow Up
I've always been on the slow track with growing up. I feel like there's so much to learn out there, and I don't want the responsibility of a serious relationship.

9. It Rarely Works Out Anyway
I'm embellishing a bit, but I've gotten addicted to that Discovery ID Channel and its true crime documentaries. The last few weeks, I've seen murder, adultery, and deceit all over these shows. And if I switch to my other favorite channel, ESPN, I see similar stories like Tiger Woods. So what's the point?

Some of these reasons may be legitimate, but even I can admit that they should not prevent me from dating. Dating is about overcoming fears. We are putting ourselves out there: like going on a job interview, or auditioning for a gig. I'm also assuming the worst — not every girl will get too serious, maybe I'll learn to enjoy sex, my close-minded approach might be letting great girls get away, and just because I go on a few dates doesn't mean I'm going to end up with a kid.

My life is littered with challenges I avoided: academics, college soccer, etc. I may have had the talent to take on the those challenges, but there was always some excuse or excuses that I identified for not giving it a shot, along with a fear of rejection. If we can differentiate excuses from legitimate reasons, we might take on more challenges, and we might even be able to get out there and do some healthy dating.

******

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Writing Wednesday: The Story Behind A Story

AKA Backstory - that hated, much-maligned part of writing and story creation.

Personally I like backstory. Not exactly reading it as an info-dump in the story, but as a prequel, as a character sheet on the protagonists, as my own foray into my characters and what makes them who they are.

Backstory makes your characters and your story what they are. Doesn't make sense? Let me try to explain.

We are all shaped by the experiences in our life up to where we are at any given time. We don't exist in a vacuum, and there's something inherent to everyone called a frame of reference. This is brought about by our lifestyle, culture, beliefs, experiences. All of these shape us into what we become, what we are, and what we are to become too.

At any point in our lives, the experiences we've had thus far and the life we've lived thus far will have contributed to shape us into the person we are that moment, about to embark on whatever adventure life is gonna throw at us. For example, at 17, I would've told you love is a many-splendid thing! I'd give everyone a fair chance, make concessions and turn a blind eye on some things. At 18, I would've told you that love is indeed a many-splendid thing, but with the right person, and then too, there are always shades of grey and definite areas of darkness. I was way more distrustful, I double-checked everything, I never took anything for granted. What happened between 17 and 18? I married the man I loved back then and our marriage hit the rocks in a storm of infidelity and emotional abuse. Then *poof*, I was divorced, single, grown-up and too mature for my age. Me at 17 and me at 18 were two very different people, even if I was still, basically, me.

The same applies to your character, and to your story. Past and present will have shaped and moulded for the future. And this, is the importance of backstory!

Definition out of the way, let's see how backstory really is the story behind a story. As usual for me, I'll use pop culture/movies references to get my explanations across.

Backstory as a story in itself - the prequel
Who hasn't watched Star Wars? Uhm, up until 2010, I hadn't... It took my two boys going into a Star Wars addiction to get me to sit down and really try to grasp what the whole hoopla was about. Yes, I know Harrison Ford is Han Solo, and I also know Darth Vader is the bad guy. And yeah too, Princess Leia has probably the most awful hairstyle of all movies. Other than that, I would have pleaded ignorance before this year.
Now when we went to get the DVDs for this saga, there were Episodes I-VI. Huh? Star Wars is a trilogy, innit? Actually, no - bring in the 3 Episodes recently brought forward by one George Lucas. (hunks galore - Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christiansen-- I digress, sorry).
So over the course of these 3 Episodes - The Phantom Menace, The Clone Wars, The Revenge of the Sith - we are introduced to the Empire, how it came to the point at where the original Star Wars starts, and how a little boy with tremendous powers called Anakin Skywalker is recruited to become a Jedi but ends up falling to the Dark Side and becomes the biggest villain of all time, Darth Vador.

So if you watch Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi, you have an idea what has happened to bring the universe into the state of chaos in which it is.
Now watch the 6 Episodes (as they're now dubbed!) back to back and see how the whole integrates into a logical, fluid plot. Everything is planted, every detail has its place in the big scheme of things.
When the creators of Star Wars wrote the story back in the 1970s, there had to have been a basis why the universe was the way it was when Luke and Leia meet in the first movie. There had to have been an explanation for their being twins separated at birth, for being kept away from their father, Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vador. All this had needed to be thought through.
And this, gives you the backstory behind the the Star Wars trilogy! Episodes 1-3 became movies and stories in their own right, albeit with a continuing thread running along them all - yet, at the start, they were simply backstory for the trilogy.
This gives you backstory as the story behind a story.
Sometimes this can be dubbed a prequel - telling you what happened before [insert whatever plot/story here].

Another good example of backstory turning prequel turning as explanation as the story behind a story - Rise of the Lycans, in the Underworld trilogy. Rise of the Lycans goes to the origin of the war between vampires and lycans, yet in Underworld, the first movie, this story is already told through explanations of who Lucian, leader of the lycans, is. Was Rise of the Lycans overkill? Maybe. You don't need it to understand the first 2 Underworld movies, but as the story behind a story, it had its weight and this was given a spotlight.

Backstory as the story behind something - the legend
Every legend has a story behind the myth. Think of King Arthur and his Round Table. Think of Robin Hood, prince of thieves.
I recently caught the new Robin Hood by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe (hence the pic above, and its relevance to this post). Aesthetically, the movie was a visual feat. I couldn't help compare it to the other Robin Hood movie, the one starring Kevin Costner. But there's a huge difference between the two movies.
In the Costner version, Robin is already an outlaw who steals from the rich to distribute the wealth to the poor, a man committed to bringing down the tyranny held in place by King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Come on - this is the legend as we know it!
The Scott/Crowe one shows how Robin is moral-duty-bound to go back to England after fighting in the Crusades and King Richard the Lionheart's death. It shows a rather dilly-dallying Prince John acceding to the throne. It shows a conspiracy by an English lord to topple the new king, with the help of the French king. It shows Robin bringing a bill-of-rights sort of deal to the table, making peasants and noblemen alike rally behind their king to battle the invaders.
Then when the French have been defeated, it shows how King John balks at having to relinquish his 'God-given' power over all mortals and turning against the man who brought him victory - Robin Longstride.

This movie is all about Robin and how he becomes Robin Hood. See anything pertinent here? Yes - this story/movie is all about Robin Hood, the legend's, backstory!
While I admit that historically speaking, there might've been some manipulation, and the story doesn't stick exactly to the merry-meanderings-in-lush-forest scenes everyone associates with Robin Hood, the story did serve, imo, as a good springboard to answer the how, why, and who behind the character of Robin Hood.

Backstory as a means to understand - a starting point
This often happens when a concept/idea needs to be reinvented, or you're about to present 'old' material to a fresh audience. Case in point - Star Trek starring Chris Pine as Kirk & Zachary Quinto as Spock.
Everyone knows the starship Enterprise is run by Captain Kirk and his fellow Vulcan comrade, Mr. Spock. This is taken for granted.
But what they did in this new movie was take us to the first meeting between Kirk and Spock - how they rubbed each other the wrong way, how Kirk barged his way into the Enterprise's fleet, how something happening at the time of Kirk's birth set forth a series of happenings. Spock too is shown growing up as a Vulcan but with something different - a human mother. Both characters are introduced to us almost from birth and all the way into adulthood, taking them to this point where they will become the strong team everyone knows them to be.
Again, need I point it out? The movie used... Backstory!

Another example here would be the Wolverine movie. Pretty much as with Underworld and Rise of the Lycans, this one takes us to the origins of Wolverine. Aka - Logan's backstory, of which we get a pretty good feel in the second X-Men movie. Wolverine goes a little deeper into his childhood and his relationship with his brother, Viktor.
This movie uses a backstory tangent on a specific character to present the story behind a story.

Casino Royale, (of course being the first James Bond book) was the Bond series going back to its roots. With Bond as we know him (distrustful of women, a player and allergic to commitment), this movie goes into the reason why Bond is this way - namely his love for Vesper Lynd and how she betrayed him, and ultimately, saved his life too. Based on the techie-gadgets and suave shaken-not-stirred-martini Bond we've known as Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig's Bond was the portrayal of Bond at the time of his backstory.

In all these examples, the first story stands already on its own without the prequel/new beginning. Why so - strong backstory. This should be the case for your story too.

Your backstory is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal! Make use of it. No, I don't mean you have to have every single element of the backstory dumped throughout your book. I'm saying - this story behind your current WIP is well worth its weight to get you to see the big picture and know where you stand while you are writing. Yes too - it's sad to invent such an amazing story only to not use it. But that's the price of a good story - proper dosage of the utterly good lands you a strong, potent book that is well on its way to become a winner (when you write it well, of course!)

Next week - The biggest dilemma: weaving backstory in without an info dump (I can hear many run screaming... wait, I'm screaming too!)

I'm eager to hear your take on backstory and its necessity. Drop me a comment!

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tidbit Tuesday: WIP's Music Love Theme

Hello everyone. My name is Zee and I write romance.

Lol, this is pretty much how I could sum myself up. Yes, romance, but that doesn't mean it's your wham-bam, boy-meets-girl-meets-difficulties-finds-resolution formula. It's a bit more complicated than that. For example, in my current WIP, boy has a heavy backstory that makes him distrustful, and girl is looking for her roots in a globalized and topsy-turvy world.

What characterises this couple I'm currently writing about is the sometimes soft, sometimes harsh, tug and pull between them. Not just attraction, not just chemistry, not just love - theirs is much more realistic than that.

Now last week on this same spot I talked about music and how I have used it in my previous novels. I promised that this week, I'd bring forward the song that is sticking as the love theme for this WIP.

Have you ever listened to a song and it just haunts you? I got this album many years back - Savage Garden Greatest Hits. I love that group, and Darren Hayes, the lead singer, has a gorgeous voice (they've split now, and Hayes is pursuing a solo career). Their style was also very eclectic - yes, the same 'voice' (and I don't just mean the vocals here - you writers should know what I'm talking about!), but the 'genres' were very varied. From love ballads such as Truly, Madly, Deeply and I Knew I Loved You, to electro sounds such as To The Moon & Back and I Want You, to hard beats like in Crash & Burn and Break Me Shake Me - I always elected to have this album with me as the one music disk I'd take if I'm to be stranded on a desert island.
On the CD then I come across this song - Hold Me. Powerful lyrics - it always moves me and leaves me shaking to hear this strong man stepping down and confiding how much he needs this special woman to make him whole, just for a moment, even if everything around and between them was tearing itself apart. It struck me as something a real romance hero would say - not flowery, not ornate, just straight to the point. This man reckons he needs this woman, but he doesn't beg and grovel, just puts out the truth and lays it at her feet. The power is in her hands, too take him and make him whole again.

Who can resist that?

I filed that song away, as something poignant and strong. But while it was shelved, I paid it no heed. I started writing this WIP, and then by chance I stumbled on this track again... leaving me totally blown away. Because you see, I couldn't have spelt my H/h's dilemma any clearer than the lyrics to this track. Here's how:

If we can't find a way out of these problems,
then maybe we don't need this...
...more than angry words,
I hate the silence - it's getting so loud...
...tell me, is unhappiness worth more
than a gold-and-diamond ring...
...I'm willing to do anything,
to calm the storm in my heart...
...I never been the praying kind,
but lately I been down upon my knees,
not looking for a miracle,
just a reason to believe...
...might need you to hold me tonight...
...might need you to make the first step,
'coz tonight I'm finding it hard to be your man...

The mention of the ring - that's a big part of my romantic conflict!

I'll leave you now to enjoy this video, and listen to this amazing song. (Warning - slightly risque images. You might wanna watch this when you're not at work)





I'm eager to hear what you think of the song! And those of you checking out the WIP so far, what do you make of the theme in relation to the story?

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Monday, September 27, 2010

Random Thoughts' Monday: Another Day in Bedlam

Whenever you hear 'hospital' in a sentence, you know you're gonna be losing more than a few hours while your butt flattens on the real-hard wood benches. Lost the whole morning to a routine appointment at the government hospital. Free healthcare, but the price comes in the form of your time and sanity. Wanna people-watch? Go to a Mauritian hospital. Everything and anything there - you're bound to come out inspired - if any notion makes it past your ringing, frying-on-the-spot brain.
Positive of the experience - shut yourself out of the crowd like a snobby biatch while you clutch your qwerty phone and will inspiration to come. Result of the 2-hours of waiting while sitting in the waiting room (not counting the additional 30-45 minutes of standing outside the doctor's office) = some 1,500 words clocked down in really awkward typo-filled and missing-punctuation Word document.



Another good-flip side of a hospital appointment - hubby takes the day off to come with me. I know, sweet of him. I'm keeping him, yeah! :)
That being said, we don't often get a day/half-day together, alone without the nutty kids. A fave pastime of ours is to hit little known eateries. Went to one today, and it was simply di-vin-ne!!
The place is SubExpress located at Phoenix Les Halles, an upscale shopping mall located pretty much in the middle of the island. I must've eaten the best merguez lamb and steak-and-cheese sub ever. Fresh bread, crisp salad on the meat, a really generous hand with the sauces and cheese, and all for about a hundred bucks (that's $4 for you Americans!). Not what we'd call cheap here, but definitely value for money coz the stuff was delicious! Not to mention that it's got this swanky chic cafe atmosphere, and it serves a heavenly iced latte that's to die for! Any Mauritians reading this, go there ASAP! You won't be disappointed! The eatery is located right next to Bella Donna on the mall's ground level.



Grocery shopping on a Monday - bliss! You can zip around the aisles at ease, no one blocking the way, and there's a dearth of check-out counters waiting for you when you're done! Parking too is a breeze.
Note to self - try to coincide shopping on weekdays, morning or midday.



Shopping 'fiasco' - 2 weeks ago, I got kiddo a pair of sandals. Ergonomic shape, health soles that have a chamois-type fabric on them, soft and malleable fabric on the top to secure the foot in place, with velcro to adjust the hold. The best part - kiddo wore it to a birthday outing where he must've run around and played ball nonstop for over 2 hours. The result was, not a single blister on his soles! I knew I had a keeper in those shoes.
When I tell this to hubby, he goes, "any chance there's the grown-up version of these sandals?" Actually, there is. He gets himself a pair too.
Now these sandals look great! And they feel awesome too. Needless to say, I'm jealous by now. I want my own pair too! Today we head back to this shop (Mr Price at Phoenix Les Halles, in case the Mauritians wanna know). The sandals are actually in the menswear section, but some models are unisex. Found a really cool and swanky pair - lavender-coloured soles and white criss-cross straps. The bummer - it's a size 7 (at which, apparently, adult sizes start). There's at least 2 inches gaping behind my heel when I try it on.
You know what I had to do? Find a pair of sandals in the children's section! Sheesh! Goodness, I know I'm short and of petite stature, but to 'rub it in' like this? Did manage to land a pair of black straps with a one-inch platform wedge heel, looks really good too.
Exiting the store, I take a quick peek to the ladies' section... and would you believe it? The size of clothes I can wear is in the 7-14 years old section... enough said, innit... *bwahaha*



Hope you've had a less nutty start of the week. Oh yes, I'm writing again!

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Friday, September 24, 2010

Progress Friday

Still in percolating mode. Brain was last seen being used as a squeegee mop by SpongeBob SquarePants. Consequently, there's a protection and restraining order issued out against that yellow sponge, but guess my boys (11 and 7, and who to the world appear like those brawny lads not afraid of anything, yet 'melt' before that darn cartoon!) never got a whiff of that order. I'm preparing for a weekend of Sponge-y and the whole crew from Mario Kart on GameBoy.

Sadly, nothing much going on except trying to study and cram the knowledge inside a 245-page media ethics textbook and a 360-page Marketing/Distribution Management textbook into that AWOL pink thing called a brain.
Side note - a friend mentioned brain is supposed to be 'grey matter'. Doesn't really stand with me since grey brain went into Supernatural (Sam, Sam, Sam!!) and Gossip Girl overdose. So pink it is after all.

In case you thought this post made no sense, you're right. I'm not making any sense any longer. Guess my WIP is much better off without me having touched it this week.

Oh, look - weekend!! *scuttles off...*

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Link Thursday: When Your BFF Makes You Crazy

I'll admit it - I'm hooked to Gossip Girl lately. The drama, the over-the-top BFF relationships, the frenemies, and, uhm, the cool fashion and style sense... Yup... Hello everyone, my name is Zee and I'm a GG addict...

Who doesn't love the ongoing feud/war/love going on between S & B in there, and when super-biatch Georgina waltzes in to create more havoc, or even when goody-girl-next-door Jenny Humphrey turns out to be a worthy opponent for the reigning biatch queen, B?
As for fashion sense - headbands anyone?

That being said, there's something about GG that appeals to every girl out there (and no, it's not Chace Crawford!). The 'friendship', in particular, the BFF issue.

I'm lucky to say I have the best BFFs any girl can want. Yeah - more than one. I dunno what I've done right but I'm blessed with these amazing women in my life. One's my high school BFF - after 3 years of physical separation, when we met again, it was as if I'd just let her go an hour earlier on the phone so much time and distance has no bearing on our relationship. A couple of them gals are my CPs and writing partners-in-crime/writing-&-madness sorority sisters - when we get together it's GG meets SaTC (yeah, that bad! *grin*). 3 others are my 'wise' gals - the ones who know how to rope me in when I'm off-kilter, because they are wise and caring. Another one is the woman who is my die-hard supporter and who would drop everything to be at my call-and-listen, and for whom I'd do none less.

In some instances, I may have driven them nuts, this I'm pretty sure of *grin*. In some instances, some have done none less either. But we're here for each other through thick and thin, and this is what matters.

So what then happens when your BFF is really driving you crazy, the kind that pushes you on the edge of a nervous breakdown or which becomes the catalyst for the most awful episode of your life? And sadly too, what to do when a BFF turns toxic? (Been there, done that, been singed, and lived just barely to remember the hurt and bear the scars)

Try checking out the advice in this piece. As usual, it's from my Links Bible - MSN Lifestyle, Love & Relationships page. The article is by Molly Triffin.

******

When Your BFF Makes You Crazy

You're so close that you share clothes and spill relationship details, but she also drives you up the wall. Here's how to feel the love for your bestie again.

By Molly Triffin

What would you do without your closest friends? No, seriously — they're more than just fun to hang out with; they're also crucial to your well-being. A host of recent studies found that people who have good friends are healthier and happier, live longer, and feel like the challenges they face are more manageable.

But if really tight friends are so good for you, why do they often annoy the heck out of you? Surprise, surprise: Your closeness is actually the root of the drama. "It's easy for casual relationships to be placid," says Michael P. Nichols, Ph.D., author of The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships. "When you start opening up, the potential for conflict inevitably increases."

Once both of you let your guard down, you can see what the other person is like when she's not on her best behavior ... and some of it is not so pretty. You know: She'll call you at work to dissect her latest dating drama even though you told her you have a crazy day or she'll get seriously offended by a minor thing, like your not being able to hang out for a week. But there are ways to untangle those tricky love/hate dynamics.

Why the Bond Gets Frayed

Of all the relationships you have in your life (with acquaintances, best friends, family, and your significant other), close friendships can be the toughest to navigate — at least when it comes to dealing with those little annoyances that work your last nerve. That's because your good friends occupy an in-between spot on the intimacy spectrum. Your connection is way deeper than it is with casual contacts, yet it's not as solid as the ties you have to relatives and your partner.

If an acquaintance acts immaturely occasionally, Nichols says, it's relatively easy to write it off because you're not very invested in the relationship. A close friend's downsides and occasional flip-outs, on the other hand, have a greater effect on your life. You actually care what happens to her and to the relationship between you.

So you care, you're invested ... and yet, there's nothing tangible that binds you to friends. "You have blood ties to your siblings and parents — no matter what happens, they will always be your family," explains Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., a psychologist in New York specializing in relationships and self-esteem. "And with a romantic partner, your physical intimacy and the promise you've made to be together make you more likely to either work out or put up with traits that irk you." While you're loyal to your closest friends, you're also not inclined to be as tolerant or forgiving.

Taming the Friendly Fire

Okay, she's doing it again: her super-needy phone calls or her last-minute canceling. You may find yourself venting to other friends about her or even feel tempted to pull the plug altogether. But there's a reason you became close to begin with, so before doing something you might later regret, take these steps toward making your relationship better.

Start by assessing whether there's anything you should do differently. "People often fail to recognize how they might be contributing to the problem," Nichols notes. For example, before blaming a friend for being bossy, ask yourself whether you really speak up enough. Then make an effort to express your desires more firmly for a couple of weeks and see if things between you improve.

No change? In that case, you have to confront her. And we have a plan for doing it in an easy, totally relaxed way. First of all, timing is key. "Bring up the issue the very next time she does whatever it is that annoys you," Thomas suggests. "It's possible that she's not even aware of her behavior, so you want to catch her in the act." By pointing it out in the moment, she will be less likely to deny it or react defensively.

It's also a smart idea to sandwich your complaint between two positive statements, Thomas recommends. Say you have a friend who tends to ramble on and on about herself and you can never get a word in edgewise. Tell her, "I'm really glad that you confide in me so much, but sometimes I feel like I don't get a chance to talk about what's going on with me. I care what you think and would love to get some feedback from you." Then make changing the situation seem like a team effort you are both in on by adding, "Let's try to have more of a back-and-forth between us when we talk."

Another option is to take your relationship down a notch. If a close friend has a big mouth but is a ton of fun to be around, consider making your connection with her more casual — a B-level friend instead of A-level. You would still go out together to parties and bars, but she's not someone you would turn to for confidential advice.

Where to Draw the Line

If things still don't get better after you have approached her about what's bothering you, then it's time to consider whether you still want her as a friend. Ask yourself if the positive parts of your relationship outweigh the negative. She may be moody, but are you willing to live with that in return for her other great qualities, like her generosity and trustworthiness? Ultimately, it's up to you to decide: Can you put your annoyances aside or has the friendship run its course?

There's one absolute deal breaker though. "A friend who wishes you ill is toxic, and you must drop her," Thomas warns. For instance, if she's uncontrollably jealous of you or isn't happy when good things happen to you, chances are slim that she'll be able to move past such malicious emotions. And having someone in your life who's not on your side will only make you feel crappy. Better to lose the baggage and focus on friends who do really have your back.

Seven Friend Offenses You Shouldn't Put Up With

1. When you and your boyfriend broke up, she stopped by his apartment with fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies and a shoulder to cry on.

2. She loves your taste in fashion so much that she's constantly borrowing your clothes...and "forgetting" to give them back.

3. Once while drunk, she admitted that she likes to hang with you because she feels skinny in comparison.

4. When the lunch check arrives, she says, "Can you get it? I just bought a new Coach purse, so I'm low on cash today."

6. You never make plans with her without having a solid backup option, because you know there is a very good chance that she won't even show.

7. She returns your calls only when she has less than a minute to talk, like she's about to walk into the bank.

******

Hope your BFF doesn't fall in any of those 7 categories, and that you never have to apply this advice to your own life.

However - isn't this great fodder for this 'special' relationship between your heroine and her BFF...?

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Writing Wednesday: Hiatus Alert!

Problems with the ISP/Internet connection again - sorry peeps. It's Thursday morning (9 AM) and I'm finally able to log in again.

Since I wasn't able to post the usual Writing Wednesday slot, I'm gonna let it go for this week. I had a post planned about backstory, but now it seems it wouldn't be fair to put that post up, backdate, and ask everyone to come see it after the date. I'll keep it in store for next week.

Please forgive me. Between my crappy connection and me running like a headless chicken between Distribution Management and Media Ethics textbooks and notes, I'm really having a hell of a week. I don't usually write and schedule posts - all stuff is written and goes live - welcome turbulence in this current week of September.

Stay tuned, and stay around. :) XOXO

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tidbit Tuesday: Music & playlists

I really thought my ISP wouldn't let me post again. Arghh! But thank goodness it went through. So what did i do so as not to blow my top off? I listened to some music. That's my usual go-to solution to get me to move along when the going is tedious (such as, when I'm cooking!).

I don't own a music player/MP3 player/Ipod/whatever music gadget. Mine is just my trusty Nokia E63 phone that carries all my music and ebooks and sometimes-WIP on its memory card. I can say - my phone is my lifeline. Whenever/wherever I'm stuck, there's always something to do on there.

That being said, I have about 200 songs on there (I know, not much, but it takes me through) and the music player is set to Shuffle. So I never really know what playlist I'll land when I start.

Yesterday looked something like that - Linkin Park, ABBA, Gabrielle, Bonnie Tyler, Roxette, 50 Cents, Britney Spears, Wham!, Michael Jackson, Tiesto, David Guetta, Akon... among others. Eclectic mix - yeah, I know. I don't have set tastes for music, though I have a pronounced slant towards 80s/90s music.

Getting to the point - there was  a sequence when the following songs played one after the other:

You've Got A Way - Shania Twain
Somewhere I belong - Linkin Park
Sometimes - Gabrielle
Total Eclipse of the Heart - Bonnie Tyler


I couldn't help but think each one of these songs could inspire a story.

You've Got A Way ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cytj0nrLaCs )was on the soundtrack for Notting Hill, one of the movie's love themes. Perfect song for a love scene/relationship arc culmination.

Somewhere I Belong ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsCD5XCu6CM )screamed rebellion and identity crisis, trying to find your place. Just think of these lyrics "Crawling in my skin, these wounds they will not heal..." Powerful character arc indeed!

Sometimes ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reL3IHlPcjQ ) was on the soundtrack for Love Actually. A song reminiscent of a couple who've been together for a long time but there are still ups and downs in their life - "sometimes I love you, sometimes I don't. But I never, ever, never want to let you go..."

Total Eclipse of the Heart ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6gaaUMvyJs )... Well, I'll admit there were times I've bawled aloud to that song (okay, run screaming, people!). Absolute perfection for a chick-lit story! "...every now and then I get a little bit tired just listening to the sound of my tears... Once upon a time I was falling in love, now I'm only falling apart..."

Are you inspired by songs?

Many writers use songs as a story's soundtrack, the music supplementing the creative process by putting you in the 'right mood'. I'm no different.

When I was writing The Other Side, the song that kept much of the story going was "If there's any justice" by Lemar ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0K3QXZDmk-s ) - the potent lyrics being "...if there's any justice in the world, I would be your man, you would be my girl." That's what Lara and Eric, the couple in that story, were about - lost love who finds itself again after a decade.

Light My World found its own perfect song - "If you're not the one" by Daniel Bedingfield ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYeiyp3x8pQ ). That whole song was pertinent to the love story. 2 halves of a same whole find each other but have trouble coming to grips with this startling realisation, yet their hearts knew what was happening all the way.

Storms in a Shot Glass found its music theme too, the day I listened to "Bleeding Love" by Leona Lewis ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4W5dYw1eQuM). At first that it fitted Jane, the closed-off heroine, to a T, but then I realized that in his own way, Michael, the wary and cold tycoon hero, echoed these lyrics too. "Closed off from love, I didn't need the pain... Time starts to pass before you know it you're frozen..." That's how both start this story, and when they fall, hard, in love, this line couldn't have spelt it better - "...And it's draining all of me, though they find it hard to believe, I'll be wearing these scars for all to see..."

For my current WIP, I've come across a song that so showcases their romance's arc I was taken aback. Which one is it? Join me next week, same slot, to find out! I'll also put up some other songs I'm using as the soundtrack for this story.

Have you ever been inspired by songs and their lyrics, found a character's turmoil echoed in the words put down on music?

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Disclaimer: All songs' and lyrics' copyright held by their respective record companies and author/songwriters/composers. Lyrics used for illustrative purposes on this post.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Random Thoughts' Monday: Catch Up

Sorry if you came by yesterday and saw no new post up. I'm having to back-date this one so it reads as the Monday rambles but my ISP was having a serious case of connect?-connect-not? throughout the whole day and evening, which needless to say, drove me quite nuts. As if my sanity ain't already drowning somewhere in the pile of to-dos lately.

Would you believe me if I tell you I'm so mind-preoccupied I don't even seem to have time for random thoughts? Oh yeah - I forgot, again, that I'm a uni student for the next 2 months. Bleh!

Nothing much going on except studying. Some good out of this semester's modules is that one of them subjects is quite glamourous indeed. I'm doing Retail Distribution Management (slant on Economic and Management Sciences) and the focus is how the distribution division of big stores such as Harvey Nichols and Neiman Marcus operates.
Now I always remember this was something that fascinated me when I watched The Bold and The Beautiful (the 'old' days, when Sally Spectra was still in full force on there). Allright - what man Brooke is gonna hook next before she grovels again at Ridge's feet grew quite tedious and boring after a while. But the war of the fashion world between the Forresters and Spectra? Now we're talking!

So looks as if maybe watching B&B might come in handy during this module's studying. Who knew, eh, that a soapie would help your studies?

Not really expecting to get any writing done, sadly. Yes, my focus is passing my exams next month - I figure the writing brain (the one whose cells and neurons won't have fried up) will still be here along the way and after November 5.

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Friday, September 17, 2010

Progress Friday

Sometimes taking a break is a good thing. Almost like coffee left to percolate, a break for the mind is just what the writing doctor might prescribe.

Why am I saying this? Well, I haven't added much in terms of words to my current WIP. Let me help you recall - it's a women's fiction that, to me, is screaming 'soap opera/telenovella meets Zee Network series' on paper. Complicated? You dunno the half of it!

Taken by studies, personal life, a slightly sick man who thinks he'll die from a small stomach cramp, and my own brush and nearly-lost battle against a cold bug and a stomach bug - percolating is the best thing my mind has been allowed to do.

But all good things have flip sides. Case in point - I already have my outline down for the supposed-90K of this ms. I know what is supposed to happen, and how. Guess my brain didn't get the memo that the outline was done, because over the past week, it's come up with a totally novel and un-thought-of scene that hadn't driven by when I was outlining. This one happens at Chapter 5, 2 chapters from where I stand right now, and it kinda moves Chapter 5 a bit on its axis because the original Chapter 5 has an element that is supposed to play a big part in the love story later on. Right now, I've got a disgruntled potential boyfriend and love interest needing to apologize, a stepmother who, in the heroine's mind, is hovering between wicked stepmom from fairy tales and socialite who couldn't care any less, an overwhelming stepbrother, a biatchy stepsister, a liver pate, and a sexy motorbike screaming to be squeezed into that one additional scene.

Crazy? You bet! The wackiest is that it doesn't seem that far-fetched once you 'see' the scene playing out. I've even got the dialogue down and can so see it all clock in and fit in the bigger scheme of things!

So what should I do - curse my percolating brain, or celebrate its inventiveness?

Jury's still out on whether my sanity is around or AWOL, btw...

Looking forward to a weekend that will hopefully help me make sense of it all. Got a treat in the sidelines - Mixed Doubles by Jill Mansell waiting to be devoured!

Have a nice one!

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Link Thursday: 10 Things He's Thinking About Your Clothes

Whenever I go shopping, I tell myself I'm buying stuff to make me feel and look good. To the hubby (and the prime money supplier!), I usually say, "so I'll look great for you". His reply is usually around the lines of "clothes are clothes, woman. As long as you're wearing something, I don't care if it's a potato sack or a designer label!"

Well, yeah - I married a Caveman. If I didn't take him shopping for his clothes, I'm sure he'd end up in a potato sack or something!

Clothes are just clothes... Yeah, right! The day I gobble that up without a fight you know I've had a serious nervous breakdown!

That being said, not all men are Cavemen - and hint here - your hero usually isn't one too. He does need to notice what the heroine is wearing (even if his plan is to get her out of said clothes. Be realistic - we write romance with heat too!).

So what do the 'normal' blokes out there think of clothes on a woman? What impresses them, and what makes them go "eek!"?

I didn't know yet what to post as Link today but when I opened my inbox, the Windows Live Homepage had this little link buried alongside my Inbox notifications. One look and I knew I just had to share (especially considering I just bought a dress last Saturday and had been treated to the eye-roll at the shop, and said eyes did pop out the next morning when I wore the dress to go out. Nothing like some girly validation for satisfaction!).

So, the article comes from my article bible - by now you know that's the MSN Lifestyle pages! The stuff is written by a bloke, Michael Reilly, and features quips from real live blokes from around the world.

Here's the link if you want to see the slideshow with pics of the celebrities wearing the clothes:

http://lifestyle.msn.com/your-look/everyday-style/staticslideshowglamour.aspx?cp-documentid=25499276>1=32002

******

10 Things He’s Thinking About Your Clothes

Think catty girls are the only ones who size up a woman’s outfit? Wrong. Turns out the guys have plenty to say about what you’re wearing–and what they’d love to see you in. Here, what he’s thinking about your clothes, according to 10 very honest dudes.

by Michael Reilly

1. Seriously, what is up with the leggings?
First, girls were wearing black tights or leggings only under shorts or skirts. Then, the shorts and skirts disappeared. Now tights are the new pants. Not even just for nightlife. It’s so common, it’s confusing. —Geoff, 37

2. If you skip the girly dress thing for a night, I won’t mind.
I like it when girls wear little leather jackets with the sleeves rolled up. That’s hot in cool way. I like styles that don’t make the woman look fragile. Cowboy boots work too. —Raffa, 29

3. That buttoned-up shirt is like a big red stop sign.
I’m all about the neckline. I find that women with tight collars are stuck-up and closed-off, just like women wearing sweaters are cold—and not in the temperature way. —Chris, 35

4. Lacy bras are nice and all, but going braless ain’t too shabby either.
This morning I was going down the stairs to the subway when this girl was coming up. She wore a T-shirt three times too big. I saw that the collar was cut out and her shoulder was sticking out: no bra. I turned at the bottom of the stairs and watched her all the way out of sight. I was running late today; I’m planning on running late again tomorrow. —Daniel, 28

5. Are you a Jackie or a Marilyn?
I love a woman in a bathing suit. Specifically, I like the bottoms that have a thicker waist and show enough of the butt, but not the whole butt. A lady gets points for being a lady. —Alexander, 34

6. If only that LBD of yours were a little more R-rated.
There’s nothing sexier than a woman in a long black dress with a low-cut back and a slit from high up all the way down the leg. Heels of course. —Ben, 32

7. Is that silk?
During a summer like this, I’ve noticed a lot of women wearing thin, delicate fabrics. I like it when you get the impression of a woman’s silhouette through a garment. It makes movement seem languid. —AndrĂ©, 42 (Editor’s note: This romantic comment comes from a Frenchman, natch.)

8. Are you ever going to let go of that bag?
I appreciate it when a girl’s outfit “breaks down” over the night—her jacket comes off, a button comes undone, then her hair comes down. It’s nice when a date lets you know she’s comfortable and is having a good time. I just don’t know why they never let go of their purse, even on the dance floor. —Alan, 34

9. Dressing like your friends is a definite DON’T. Ditto for strapless tops.
I can’t stand it when groups of girls go out together all wearing the same thing but slightly different. Everyone has on a black skirt and high heels, but different-color tube tops. Tube tops are ugly, by the way. —Paul, 22

10. There’s a fine line between tempting and tacky—walk it if you dare.
Lots of women play it safe with their clothes. So you have to give her credit if she stands out with something like fishnet tights, a really short skirt or parts of her bra showing. (Just not all at once.) —Steven, 22

******

Eye-opening, innit?

So let's recap:

1. Leggings are a no-no. Especially with no skirt.
2. Dress a little tough - the girly-girl is not a hit every single time!
3. Buttoned collar = frigid vibe (???) What do you do if your clothes' style, like a chinese dress, has a buttoned collar?
4. Ditch the bra (we knew this one, didn't we? Sigh...)
5. Don't go Brazilian-thong-beach-babe on the beach. Some coverup is sexier!
6. Glamorous dress = Jessica Rabbit but in black, not red!
7. Wear flowy - make him guess your shape (it's all in the conquest with guys, it seems!)
8. Don't strike up a simultaneous love affair with your purse/handbag. Choose - man or bag (and that choice is difficult, I know. I'm tempted to say... bag wins...)
9. Strike for individuality - don't get lost in the posse visually. And tube tops are bad, apparently.
10. Some sexy is good - a little too much is overkill.

What'd'ya think, ladies? Or guys (since some guys drive by this blog too, apparently!)?

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Writing Wednesday: Finding YOUR Balance in Writing

When I was younger, I was a chubby girl. Well, not exactly Roseanne Bar but more Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones. It didn't really hurt but it was there, and sometimes, it did sting. I carried like 10 pounds too much, and believe me, on a just-above-five-feet frame, ten pounds can look like a lot!

So here I was at 15 - I wanted to lose that weight, tired of needing to have my clothes tailor-made because everything in the stores was too small or else I swam in them. That's when I looked into diets. At that time, Atkins and South Beach and whatever else popular stuff wasn't even known. We had Weight Watchers, but I didn't have the money needed to become a member. I had friends who were members, and they gave me the pointers of their every meeting. Like, weigh all your food. Drink water. 30g of cereal every morning. Chew slowly.

I did that, but lo and behold, I wasn't a gram lighter! (I know now that diets are customized, but we'll come to this later). Then I went like, to hell with it. Let's try another tactic - healthy living. Out went the junk food I lived on. Out went the colas and sodas. Out went the cookies, the crisps, the puff corn snacks. You may be wondering - she stopped eating! No, she didn't. She just didn't indulge so much any longer. I stopped taking sugar in my tea, coffee and milk; drank water at every opp (on some days I think I drank 5 litres). Cut the daily rice portion to half of what it was. Started taking the stairs. Walked a lot. Took the bus that I knew stopped 2 bus stops before my regular stop, and there was a steep uphill climb on that journey.

And 7 months later, I was 12 pounds lighter. Happier. Healthier. And I felt better.

To this day, I still apply those principles. And no, I really hadn't stopped eating, nor have I done so now. Everyone who values his/her life knows never to come between me and my twice-weekly slice of chocolate cake. I crave Pepsi or Mountain Dew at times, and I drink equal measures of water and no-sugar-added 100% juice. I cook with oil and I love my Pringles, Lays & Doritos.

What am I getting at then, talking about diets on a writing craft blog? Well, writing is just like dieting:

Find what works for you!!

In the Weight Watchers example above, I was doing what others were doing. And that didn't work for me. Why? It wasn't customized to me and my needs and lifestyle, and I actually put on weight this way.

The same applies to your writing. If others are doing great writing for HQ or Ellora's Cave, you take tips and pointers from them to make your own writing better, and then you tailor your work to have a better chance of scoring a contract with those pubs. But HQ or Ellora's Cave may not be your writing voice's cup of tea, so you struggle, writer's block and discouragement hitting you just like the weight could pile on with an inappropriate diet.

Like the diet too, find what works for you, and this is what'll make you lose weight. In your writing, this applies to, find what you enjoy writing and you will inherently find that your writing will be stronger when you write something you are passionate about. This is akin to doing something/adding a change you can do and live with, and you thus find your voice and your writing tone. This in turn, makes your work stronger and allows it to stand out amongst the crowd.
Finding your voice ( see last week's post) is an added bonus to help you get to cruising speed here.

We all know that a diet doesn't work for everyone. It is recognized now that lifestyle changes have more impact over weight loss and keeping the weight off, preventing the yo-yo effect. Same goes for writing - a pub's style/guidelines may not gel with every writer, and you need to find your own voice and what you're passionate about to keep the flame of writing alive and to prevent the dreaded discouragement and block away.

Hope this made sense! I'd love to hear what you think.

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tidbit Tuesday: A recipe again - Ras Malai

Last Friday I promised the recipe of the dessert I was making and taking to my mom's place for dinner. Well, here it is today! The recipe I use for Ras Malai.

Now Ras Malai is traditionally a Bengali sweet dish (originally from Bengal, South-East India. Coincidentally, my dad's family hails from there, the city of Kolkata - Calcutta in the past). But ras malai is also very popular all over India and Pakistan, a favourite sweet dish and dessert of all the Indian Diaspora around the world too.

I got this recipe from my aunt, who is a Pakistani native. The one she makes is the complicated one using curdled milk, but I use a milk powder paste which is easier. I'll add the curd version too. So here it is:

Ras Malai

Ingredients (makes about a 5-liter casserole dish of dessert)

For the 'malai koftas' (those small floating islands!)
1 cup milk powder
1 large egg
a pinch of baking powder

For the 'ras' (thick cream in which the little islands will float)
4 cups water
2 cups milk powder
2 Tablespoons sugar
A pinch of cardamon powder/ground cardamom
A few drops vanilla essence
1/2 cup sliced almonds/pistachios (optional. I don't add these in mine coz I'm allergic to nuts)

1 can/300 ml evaporated milk
2 Tablespoons custard powder (or any other thickener such as cornstarch or tapioca powder. Custard is best though)
1 small can/125 g thick dairy cream
100 grams sugar

Method:

- Place water, milk powder, sugar, cardamon powder, vanilla essence and almonds/pistachios in a deep pan. Bring to a boil, lower heat until the mixture barely simmers.

- Mix milk powder with baking powder and the egg until it forms a thick, cloying ball.

- Taking two teaspoons, form small balls of milk powder/egg mixture and place in the boiling milk. Allow the balls to puff up until they resemble fluffy little clouds (usually 8-10 minutes). Remove 'clouds' with a strainer, place in a deep bowl.
Tip to make the balls - take a teaspoon, scoop half-teaspoon size of the paste, using the other teaspoon scrape and roll until the little ball is formed (exacly like what you do with spoons and ice cream).
This amount of paste should give you about 20-25 small balls or more. Boil only 10 or less at one time so they all have space to expand in the pan.

-  Once all the balls have been turned into clouds, pour a third of the boiling milk mixture into the bowl holding the 'clouds'.

- Return remaining milk in pan to the boil. Add evaporated milk and remaining sugar (you can use less or more sugar if you want). Stir and cook over low, simmering heat until the mixture starts to thicken.

- Dilute custard powder (or other starch) with a few Tablespoons of water and add to the milk. The cream should thicken more now.

- Remove from heat. Stir in the dairy cream.

- You can already mix the 'ras' (cream) with the 'koftas' (clouds) and place in the refrigerator. Or you can place both dishes in the fridge and mix/assemble just before serving.

- This dish should be served chilled. Place a few slices of almond/pistachio on each 'cloud' for garnish. You can also add a few strands of fragrant saffron.

My aunt makes the traditional Ras Malai using curdled milk. She boils milk, when it's boiling, she adds lemon juice to it. Once the milk curdles, she strains in into a thin cloth and lets the curd hang for at least 4 hours. She then makes little balls using the curd which she uses in place of the milk powder/egg mixture I use.

Another good tip for this recipe is it makes delicious ice cream! I often make this dish in summer and freeze the 'ras' (cream) in small tubs or in popsicle moulds. My kids love this treat!

There you are - Ras Malai as we have it at my place! Enjoy!

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Monday, September 13, 2010

Random Thoughts' Monday: Washed up on the shore...

... of my life is this sad thing resembling a corpse and something no cat would drag in. Wondering what it is? Okay - put you out of your misery - it's.... Me!

Lol, that's exactly how I'm feeling today. Washed out and washed up somewhere out there. Please remember I am currently living life as a distance-learning university student, and like I mentioned before, our lecturers seem to believe we have no life outside of books.

So this post will be brief, because when I'm looking at my to-be-done list for the week, I'm close to fainting with the exhaustion (did I mention we spent a weekend where we were barely at home the past couple of days?). Today my back is killing me (I grew up too quickly - reached my full height at 10 and had to sit down at too small tables in school - consequently my spine is slightly curved and gives me hell. Not to mention that I was in a car accident a decade ago that permanently crushed a vertebrae) - we travelled to Grand Baie (which is a 1-hour car trip from my place) yesterday and any car ride longer than 20 minutes gives pain. Not to mention too that a remnant on chemotherapy drugs means you tire out about 3 times faster than normal people. Sadly, I'm no Energizer bunny!

That being said, here's what my list looks like this week:

- Study
Get on with the textbooks and the material.

- Writing
Add to the Wips word tally.

- Critiques
That completely backlogged.

- Reading
My TBR pile is threatening to overwhelm me.

Not out of the woods by far...

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Friday, September 10, 2010

Progress Friday

Hello beautiful people

No Progress report today because a) there hasn't been much progress (count a few hundred words on both WIPs - so yeah, doesn't count!) and b) today's a special day for me.

It's a public holiday in Mauritius, and a religious festival for Muslims the world over. Today is Eid, and yes, I'm a Muslim. Surprised? :) Don't be! I'm still a loon.

I'll have more for you next week - really have something to show for my progress, promise. Life goes back to relatively normal after one month of fasting and prayers.

Hope you all have a fab weekend! I'm off to make ras malai for dessert (dinner at my mom's tonight!)

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

PS I'll have that Ras Malai recipe up for you all soon! XOXO

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Link Thursday: 5 Annoying Things Guys Do on Facebook

Lol, I'm feeling a little in that mood when I'm hovering on the point where going to the right means I'll hug the testosterone-carriers in my life, and on the left, I'll kill them!

Looking for links for today, I came upon this one - shows my exhausted mindset perfectly! Read on for a laugh (or, if you're like me, for nodding and going, yes, that's what they do!!).

The article, as almost always *grin*, comes from the MSN Lifestyle & Relationships page. I grabbed that link around March 15, 2010, and the author is Christie Griffin.

******

Five Annoying Things Guys Do on Facebook

Sure, women can be guilty of incessant status updates, but men have their own annoying Facebook quirks. Read on to see five of the most egregious man-habits.

By Christie Griffin

Recently, our buddies over at AskMen.com listed the "Crazy Things Women Do on Facebook". They made some valid points — okay, okay, we can be a little passive-aggressive with our status updates — but some men are guilty of bad FB behavior too. Here, five habits that leave us frowning at the computer screen.

1. They Hide Their Relationship Status
The beauty of Facebook is that we can instantly find out if a guy is available or off-limits. No 30-minute talk in a bar, trying to suss out if he has a girlfriend waiting for him at home. But if that info is kept a secret, we're forced to look through and analyze his photos and wall posts to figure it out — which makes us feel like stalkers. Guys: If you're single, do us both a favor and make that info public knowledge. And if you're part of a twosome, own up to it. Especially when we're one of the two.

2. They Block Their Photos
We can understand a guy wanting to keep certain people from viewing his pictures. But seeing as how we're not his mom, boss, or pastor, it bugs us when we can't see his photos. Here's the thing: We always imagine the worst. So when we're kept in the dark and can't click through a guy's albums, we imagine he's partying like a rockstar, hooking up with two girls at once, or running around naked at a party. Unfair, but true. He's not saving his reputation by blocking his photos. In fact, not being able to click on them makes us think a little less of him.

3. They Ask Us Out ... in Front of All Our Friends
Next time a guy gets tempted to leave us a wall post that reads, "Let me know if you want to hang out sometime," he should imagine standing up in front of a room full of our family, friends, ex-boyfriends, and coworkers and then asking us out. Because that's essentially what he's doing. We don't want all 889 of our friends to be a part of the courting. Oh and P.S., we'd appreciate a little more effort. You know, maybe an old-fashioned e-mail or text like we see in those historic romantic comedies.

4. They Detag Themselves in Our Photos
This is the online equivalent of a guy pretending he's just asking for directions when his friends catch him talking to us. There is something strangely offensive about scrolling through your recently uploaded albums and discovering that a guy you tagged has detagged himself. If a photo of the BBQ he ate last Saturday is profile-worthy, we can't help but wonder why the nice shots with us get shunned.

5. They Let Their Stupidity Show
What is it about Facebook that makes even cool, down-to-earth guys post quotes like "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog," write status updates that read, "Matt is giving out free mammograms," and upload shirtless photos of themselves with wannabe-model gazes that they obviously took in the bathroom mirror? Maybe they think it's funny or impressive, but the behavior only makes us roll our eyes.

******

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Writing Wednesday: What is Voice?

First off, let me start by saying I'm no expert in this field. I am just passing across what I have gathered and processed about this industry and the craft of writing over my career.

So, with that out of the way (before someone comes claiming I'm no expert and 'stealing' their lessons) - what is voice?

One of the first comments I heard in critiques I received was that I had a distinctive voice that flowed well. Could you have painted ?!?!?!?!? in the quip bubble above my head right that instant? Yeah, you could. :) I had no idea what they meant. That's how I went looking for articles about voice. One of the best I found was on Holly Lisle's website (btw, she's got tons of amazing writing advice! She was a forming cornerstone of my writing persona when I started this journey). I won't get into her article here (again, so no one can say I'm 'stealing' from Ms. Lisle now *grin* - just go to her site and read her stuff. Warning - you may lose more than a few hours because her resources are addictive reading!).

Instead I'll try to tell you what I have gathered about voice.

Basically, it's the way you speak on paper. Voice is at the heart of it (be it in writing and any other creative medium) the specific manner and way and style, all combined, that YOU use to put across your material.

Let's try to use some examples.

Sophie Kinsella - chick-lit author, very funny tone, irreverent, hilarious, tongue-in-cheek, modern-sounding prose, in the head of modern-day heroines.
That's how I would describe her voice. She's a chick-lit author, and this light, airy and freedom feel of chick-lit carries through her words and on each page of her writing. She is escapist, laugh-out-loud and be afraid you'll pee in your pants humor and feel-good reading.
Marian Keyes - another chick-lit author. Funny and modern too, but Ms. Keyes has a deeper emotional thread in her stories. Hers are women fiction (young women in their twenties or so) with an irreverent and funny slant. Her novels, while funny, are not the hilarious, laugh-out-loud (and everyone looks at you on the bus like you're an alien!) feel of Ms. Kinsella' books. Ms. Keyes draws more on the internals of the character, on the quirky entourage and backstory. Both authors write in 1st person, but Ms. Kinsella's words are more surface - she recounts what is happening from the main heroine's perspective. Ms. Keyes, however, is the character with all facets and recesses of the mind and heart and soul exposed as if you, the reader, were this heroine. Not just the one experiencing it all via the 5 senses as in Ms. Kinsella's words.

Other examples:

Martina Cole - her speciality is London's East End gangland and the gritty world of these gangs. Main protagonist is always a woman in the heart of this gang and crime story.
Women's fiction too most of the time, with a 20-30 years old heroine too. But her voice is dark, deep, emotionally profound. She deals with tough issues (in Dangerous Lady, the heroine Maura comes from an Irish Mafia family, is forced to have a backstreet abortion at 16, and her uterus is butchered so much she is barely saved and can never have children again. That's her catalyst to become the Queen of the East End underworld. In Goodnight Lady, the heroine Briony is 'sold' as a child mistress to a wealthy man. She never even gets her first period, because she falls pregnant and gives birth to a child at barely 10).
Consequently, Ms. Cole's works always have this edge of darkness, this hint that at any moment, you might fall into the abyss of desperation at your feet. Her words paint a dreadful, realistic, striking picture full of hardships and drudgery, yet there is always emotion and a certain hope carrying through. You won't find soap-opera worthy glamour and decors in her work - she is gritty and simple to the basics.

In my own work (whether my novels or my blog), I am heavy on description. I love to string words to paint a picture in such a way that the people reading my words see the very picture (or as close as it can get given people's different frames of reference) I am seeing in my head.

For example, the first time my characters meet, whoever's POV I'm in will describe the other character physically so the reader can form this visual of the person in their mind. From there on, I'll give hints that refer to this initial description.
I'll show you this using a description and subsequent referring coming from Jane, my heroine in Storms in a Shot Glass (written as Nolwynn Ardennes, a contemporary romantic comedy), about how she literally sees Michael, the hero.

"... The metal doors slid open and a man stepped into the room as soon as the opening was wide enough for him to pass through. Her pen slipped from her grasp as she contemplated him.
He was dressed in an expertly tailored dark grey suit, the slacks hinting at long legs while the coat hugged his massive chest. He had broad shoulders and was tall, around six-three she’d bet.
Her gaze travelled to his face and she sucked in a breath. He was very handsome, his skin a light golden tone and hair dark as the mahogany wood in the room. His wide jaw was clamped shut, reducing his mouth to a thin slash.
He was also very angry; she could almost sense the heated vibes radiating off him, and this impression was confirmed when she saw his eyes. Deep set and dark, the fire in them was emphasized by the way his thick eyebrows met due to his frown.
He wasn’t someone to cross; this she knew as her mouth opened and she exhaled a small puff of air.
In a few strides, he crossed the room and came to stand before her desk. Jane had to crane her neck to gaze at his face. The walls seemed to close in on her as she took in the powerful shape of him, reducing her world to an airtight bubble where only she and this man existed.
“May I help you?” she croaked, running the tip of her tongue over her dry lips.
He watched her for long seconds. His eyes darted to the nameplate on her desk before he trained the full force of his midnight gaze on her face again.
“You sure will, Jane.”
His voice was low and the husky sound strummed in her whole body. ..."

This bit comes up a couple chapters later:

"... Reaching the end of the passage, she encountered a gaping doorway. Peeking in, she came across a well-appointed sitting room. It appeared to connect to a bedroom on the other side.
Michael’s chambers. Of course he occupied the main suite. Her legs tingled, desperate to go in and discover this very private sanctum of his. The place where he slept could shed so much light on the man he was. The image of Michael in bed, his big body sprawled on a crisp white sheet, buck naked, assailed her mind.
Jane gasped and jumped back. All her blood went to her knees and she propped a hand against the wall to steady herself, closing her eyes to regain her balance.
The image in her head refused to disappear, becoming even sharper. She saw him move his legs, languid, sensual strokes crumpling the sheet underneath him. Jane suddenly wished she could trade places with the bed linen. What would it be like to experience his hair-roughened limbs caressing her thighs as he threw one leg over her from behind and pulled her back to his chest...?
Stop it!
Her libido failed to hear the rebuke, instead making her think of his strong arms closing around her while he dipped his head and the tip of his tongue traced the contours of her collarbone. ..."

Now this is how Michael sees Jane:

"... Jane Smithers wasn’t what most people would call beautiful. Her features were too sharp and angular for that. The cheekbones slashed across her face and her chin was pointed, her nose aquiline. She was also an unusually tall woman and had a big-boned frame. The long, straight black hair softened her features a little, but she wore a no-nonsense expression on her face that would deter anyone who didn’t have serious business to undertake with her.
Still, she was... different. There was something about her he couldn’t quite shrug off. ..."

I'm also big on giving physical description where my scene location is concerned - I like to plant my setting, ground my reader into the place too, so she/he has a sense of place and location.
This is the description of the office of Jane's boss:

"... After fishing her keys from her purse, she dropped the leather tote next to her chair and opened the drawer containing the suede folder with all the confidential requests neatly arranged in it.
With the file clutched tightly in her hand, she closed the drawer with her hip and walked to the large, double-paneled doors leading to the most private sanctum of the bank after the vaults.
Her gaze scanned the wide, richly appointed room as she stepped in after a sharp knock. Tiny dust motes drifted in lethargic motions where the rays of the March sun slanted through the windows edged in heavy, tied-back red velvet curtains. Heavy books bound in green and gold were displayed on mahogany library shelves that ran along one whole wall, and dark wood furniture was strategically displayed around the office, making one think of the posh setting of a elegant country club.
Amidst all this Old World splendor, Jane couldn’t find a living soul. She groaned. He wasn’t here. Again. How many times would she have to tell him he was expected to physically be in the office during working hours?
A small sound caught her attention then, a little beep, followed by the swish of fabric moving against leather. Jane’s gaze landed on the executive chair. It was turned so that the back faced the door.
The sod. With quick but silent steps, she went around the chair and faced the distinguished-looking gentleman who sat there. ..."

I also describe emotion deeply and try as much as possible to get into my character's head an psyche - the same descriptive, almost lyrical angle, gets applied to the emotional thread too.

My voice goes deep. Yes, I'm long-winded too *grins* but in my stories, I turn this into a strength, using it to my advantage, to make my characters stand out as 3D and not cardboard cutouts.

I'm also gonna use a visual to explain voice - this one pertains to the movies but you might get the drift of what I'm trying to show here.
Imagine Quentin Tarantino v/s Ridley Scott. 2 very different directors with very different and unique ways and methods of presenting you with a movie.

Tarantino is more in-your-face. A movie I was watching recently, can't recall the title as I only caught a bit in between channel-surfing on the TV, had this line that made me chuckle - people were being killed faster than in a Tarantino movie!
Yes - lots of killing and violence in his movies (Kill Bill, Grindhouse). Lots of blood and gore too. He also has a certain way of panning the camera onto a still shot, with a crazy, quirky, anachronistic sound in the background (he does that a lot in Inglorious Basterds, esp when presenting the basterds and the Nazis these guys go after). Tarantino, in his 'dark atmosphere' films, also loves to play with a monochrome palette and having one single element stand out with a burst of colour (usually a blood red).

Now take Ridley Scott. Epic is what comes to my mind when I think of his movies. I'm thinking GladiatorRobin Hood, and Kingdom of Heaven here. Lots and lots of detail, accurate reconstruction, battles with hundreds of soldiers, realism and grittiness pertinent to the age in question. Violence too, but it's not as blood-and-gore-in-your-face as Tarantino. Tarantino is visual, while Scott is visual in details but lets emotion and plot carry the movie through.
Yet, in his contemporaries too (think Body of Lies and A Good Year), he has this attention to detail and the plot has this characteristic feature that you don't know what's gonna happen - Ridley Scott's movies are never predictable.

So in the end, what is voice? It is that special something that makes you unique, that special spark that belongs only to you and that makes you float above the rest of works that might have similarities with yours.

How do you find it? It takes practice. When I first started writing, I knew what and how I wrote but I could not analyze my voice. It took 2-3 more mss to figure out that there was a singular, unique pattern to my words and the way I put them on the page/screen. In my non-fiction, aka my blogging, I discovered I'm big on pop culture references, especially when I'm trying to explain a concept or get a point across.
Whether you pick up my work as Aasiyah Qamar, Nolwynn Ardennes, and in the future Zee Monodee (hopefully *Smile*), you'll find my voice in there. You may have to take out the culture stuff in some works, but otherwise - that's definitely me writing an 'talking' to you on the page/screen.

I hope my insight helped.

What do you think of voice? And how would you describe yours?

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Tidbit Tuesday: This author's start

Hey beautiful people
Today I thought I'd share with you how I got started and sucked into this whole maddening world of writing and publishing.

You know those childhood dreams - one day when I grow up I want to be... I wanted to write, create stories, invent people. I never thought I'd get to do it though. Frankly, in Mauritius, nobody I knew personally wrote. I'd heard of the big names of Mauritian literature like Lindsey Collen, Marie Therese Humbert, Ananda Devi, Jean-Marie Leclezio (yes, the very same who won the Nobel Prize a little while ago!) - but these were people akin to celebrities, the ones you'd never get to see let alone meet! So the dream went on the backburner for that 'one day when I retire maybe'. A life in corporate sounded much more like what Mauritian women are used to.

In high school, flashes of the dream made it to the fore, when I took every opportunity to pen short stories for my languages essays. I remember in my O-level class, one story-writing prompt was 'The Traitor'. I actually wrote a 1,300 words piece on that. The setting -  a small fishing village in Italy. The story in a nutshell - heroine was from a Mafia family, but she was the one who pulled the strings behind her Mafia-boss father and fiance's works - putting to good use the saying "behind every great man stands a woman".
I think my mom still has a copy of that story in all the memorabilia she stored about my growing up!

That aside - here I was at 21. Married, mom to a toddler, first-level university student, avid dreamer, relentless reader. December of 2004 - in between two uni semesters, I grabbed the epic novel A Suitable Boy by author Vikram Seth. Set in India at the time of independence and Partition (1947), it follows the life of a few families and a heroine, Lata, against the backdrop of the emergence of the Indian nation in a world dominated by politics. Paperback-sized novel, 1200+ pages, TNR 8 font. I must've read it in less than 2 weeks!
In my currently-reading pile there was also a book called See Jane Date by Melissa Senate (Red Dress Ink). At the back of the book was a page with something like - think you can write a similar book? Give it a try, with a link to the eHarlequin website.

I started thinking of a story about a divorcee who faces Mauritian society and all its double standards for non-conforming women at that time (my first marriage to a British national had ended in divorce, and I too had faced this double-standard first-hand). I thought - I want to do for Mauritian society what Vikram Seth did for India and Indians; I want to do for other readers the kind of fun, light story of the RDI line; I want to do for modern Mauritian women what Gurinder Chadha did for modern Indian girls in Bend It Like Beckham.

Tall order - I know! :)

I started to pen this story. Longhand, on an old school copybook I still kept. The start back then saw the heroine, who I decided to name Lara (one of my favourite names!), getting a call in England from her Mauritian neighbour Salim, because Salim's mom and Lara's mom and every other auntie in the area have decided it's high time he be taken off the eleigible bachelors' list. Lara puts him in touch with her best friend Sameera, a career gal who has sworn off marriage, to get them to pose as a couple for a while so the old biddies will let off. When Lara puts the phone down, her husband of 9 years, Roy, comes in and the scene shows how mundane and humdrum their life is. Theirs was an arranged marriage, btw.

Fast forward 2 months. March, 3, 2005, I celebrate my 22nd birthday. No one knows I'm writing (badly at that, but lol, there was hope!). Nothing could be better in my world. Until March 13, 2005 - 11 AM. I'm taking a shower, and feel a golf-ball sized lump in my left breast. Run to the doctor. March 16, I have surgery to remove the lump. I'm told it's probably benign.
March 22, and my world totally collapses - the results of the standard biopsy come in. It's cancer. Malignant, and very aggressive.
That's the day I tell my husband I've started a book. I think we both grabbed onto this story-writing bit like a safety raft, because he told me, if you want to write, go for it. One day that might never come, starts today if you decide so.
On March 24, I have extensive surgery. Two weeks later, my surgery wound has barely healed but I've already been through a barrage of tests for potential treatment and I start chemo somewhere in April. 6 cycles, 3 weeks apart. The doctor gives me the biggest amount of medicine I can physically take on because I'm still young and my cancer was extremely aggressive (non-hormonal and genetic - the worse you can get!). In the early cycles, I can still eat some dry rice with some ground meat or chicken. By mid-term of the treatment, I can't even hold down one sip of water without throwing it up. This lasts 72 hours after each cycle.
Chemo is done, but I'm not out of the woods yet. I still need radiotherapy, which is basically radiation therapy to 'burn' every cell of the affected area. 5 weeks of this, every workday. By 3 weeks, my left side is looking like what a nuclear-bomb immediate survivor must've looked like. I had to always have 2 inches of a special cream on my burnt left side to be able to function normally.

That was 5 years ago, and thank goodness that's a nightmare time I have put behind me.

So back to writing - when did you think I wrote? Did I mention right after my diagnosis I had joined the eHarlequin boards where I met a writer who had her own critique group? (later that year she'd open the group into different genres and in 2006 I'd meet Lee Morris aka TJ Killian on the paranormal loop - see post of last Thursday for more info). I was honing my craft, and before that, I had found the link to Charlotte Dillon's site on the eHarlequin board. I must've read each and every link posted on Charlotte's site! I wrote, rewrote, and rewrote, since I knew the beginning I had penned in longhand was actually backstory and not the starting point of my story per se.

Yes - I wrote on the 2-3 days prior to a chemo cycle. The dread had me in knots, and I couldn't sleep. So I sat at the PC and I just wrote. Chemo was my propeller to get this story told.

I posted my first draft for critique around May 2005. Biggest revelation - I wrote in omniscient! No wonder, because that was the way Vikram Seth had penned his. Researched 3rd person since most romance books are in 3rd person (tried 1st person but we didn't click). Streamlined the opening - Lara is now already divorced, and what pushes her to leave London for Mauritius, via accepting a prestigious job, is the sight of her ex-husband of barely a year with his already-pregnant new wife. Oh yes - they broke up because Lara didn't want children.

So with my critique partners, I wrote. Reached about halfway (she meets her former love, whom she left because he was White and she Indian, the cultural clash, the fear of what their families would say) and the romance is burning strong between them. We are now in September.

In the papers, I come across an article on Editions de l'Ocean Indien, one of the biggest and most prestigious publishing houses in Mauritius. Known mostly for their non-fiction and school textbooks, they were issuing a call to local authors because they wanted to take their fiction line to a new dawn.
However, no submission guidelines, not even what they're looking for, word count, and all the lovely hoopla (can you tell I was seriously immersed in the publishing world information by then?). So I think, what would it hurt to call and ask? Which is what I do.

A man answers, and when I ask him those details, he tells me that it's the acqusitions manager who could better inform me, but the lady was busy in a meeting and to leave my name and number. Yeah, right, I thought. I know that 'excuse', having worked as a secretary myself. Still, I give him my details.

Would you believe it - the next day, the lady calls! I'm floored. I ask for the information, and she asks what I have in mind. I tell her I'm writing a novel. What's it about, she asks? (and here I think, pitch, pitch, pitch!). I go, it's the story of a 29-year old divorcee who comes back to Mauritius after 10 years and finds she's a second-grade citizen now because she is 'used goods. In the midst of it all, she comes across her first love, a White man, who now wants to win her back. Will she have the guts to go against this society that has already cast away to answer the call of love?

The lady goes, that's interesting. I want to see it.

Phone nearly slips. I go, you want the partial?

"No. The full."

This time, I do fall from my chair! I gather my departed wits and reply that I'd get it to her ASAP.

Cut the call, and I'm hyperventilating. Log onto the Net, go to critique loop, and bawl out - editor wants full and I haven't even finished the thing!

Manage to calm myself down. Panic in check. It can't be worse than studying for an exam and starting the course work just 3 days before said exam (which I did have to do, in the semester right after my son was born). Tell myself - you have to make this work, girl. First order of the day - plot the rest of the book. Figure out everything that happens till the end (I'm in radiotherapy at this time, btw). Write the story, get it critted, cleaned, and polished.

End of November - I go to the publisher's office in a town about 25 kms away, the thick, printed ms in an envelope under my arm. Ask the guy on reception to drop this parcel to the editor. He asks for my name, which I give...

...and he goes, that's your ms, right? I remember you, you'd called a few weeks back asking for publishing guidelines.

Side note here - always treat everyone with deference and respect! I'd only spoken once with that guy on the phone - 3 months later he still remembered me and my purpose.

I sit back and wait. January - a new uni semester starts. I hadn't signed up for the second semester of 2005 because of my cancer treatments. I also start work on my second story, which followed Lara's younger sister Diya and her plight to find Mr. Right in a world full of frogs (novel which would become Light My World, my second published book).

March 2006 - 5 months after I had dropped the ms, the acquisitions' editor calls. The verdict - we're gonna put the book out; will you please come in to sign the papers and meet your editor?

The book, The Other Side (under the pen name of Aasiyah Qamar) was finally released on its first print run in April 2007 in a book launch ceremony that commemorated World Book Day and saw the book being launched by the Minister of Arts and Culture of Mauritius.

I haven't looked back ever since! The book has been favourably reviewed by every major paper on the island. Mauritius' version of Cosmopolitan, a magazine called Essentielle, featured it as a Must-read book accompanied by an interview of me. Last year, a school friend of mine who is now a literature tutor at the University of Nottingham attended a conference in Europe and found that The Other Side was listed as modern Indian Ocean literature in the library of the University of Barcelona.
To this day, 3 years later, the book enjoys steady sales and keeps being referred to readers among romance-loving circles.

This, peeps, has been my start and debut in the writing world. I know, it's tough to beat that now in everything else I do, but you know what? I just want to write, and have people reading my books and enjoying them.

That's the real tall order!

From Mauritius with love,

Zee
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