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Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Friday, December 2, 2011
Until next time,
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Look for a special Halloween-themed blog next week, then exciting changes in the new year!
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Several years ago, I left a job that was emotionally draining and making me utterly miserable. Everyone was shocked, but the moment I left the place behind, I felt free.
After a few months, I decided it was time to look for another job. I quickly discovered that my old job had given me a skill I couldn’t put on my resume – I was an expert at identifying potentially unhealthy work environments.
Here’s just one example:
After being screamed at by the boss for putting someone into his voicemail when he was on his three-hour lunch, I was told by a female secretary: “Don’t worry. He yells at all of us all the time. You’ll get used to it. You’re new here. If you like your job, you won’t make waves. This is how we do things here. You have to obey him."
Excuse me? Did she say obey him? When did I go back in time to the 1800s? I really wanted to ask her what the punishment was for not obeying. Beatings? More screaming? Did he have a whip? Did her husband know that her boss verbally abused her on a daily basis? Was he fine with it? Because I sure as hell wasn’t.
I couldn’t leave the building fast enough. But I really shouldn’t have taken it to heart (at least that’s what they told me). After talking to a few of the salesmen in the office (women weren’t allowed to be salespeople) I was told that the boss: “…yells at everyone and treats everyone like crap, but the women get it worse. He doesn’t pull that kind of crap with the guys because he knows we won’t take it.” Lovely! And here I was hoping for Equal Opportunity Misery.
If you like your new job except for a few minor things, great! Stick it out and see how it goes for a few months. But if the boss threatened you (“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay past six and type this letter, or else.”), or insulted you (“What are you, stupid?”), then it’s probably time to go.
And go. Don’t be afraid to leave. Leave for lunch, then call them and tell them to stick it if you have to, but go. Leaving doesn’t hurt. Being out of a bad environment is much better than staying somewhere filled with worry, anxiety, stress, and fear every day.
Give two week’s notice if you feel you won’t be further abused once word gets out that you’ve resigned. Otherwise, quitting on the spot after a public humiliation (or other inexcusable affront) will work just fine. It won’t matter what they say about you once you’re gone, and if you’ve only been there a week or two, you’re not listing the job on your resume anyway.
When I questioned things at my job, I was accused of “putting ideas in people’s heads” and “starting trouble” in the office. Was I advocating a revolution? Only a personal one. Everyone has different boundaries. Ask yourself: What will you stand for? What is your limit? How much is too much? And when do you know when you’ve had enough?
We all have different tolerance levels. Some people are afraid to leave or stand up for themselves. Granted, leaving is easier if you have someplace else to go, but if you find yourself trapped in a bad job, don’t feel like you’re bound by indentured servitude to stay there.
Once, I started a new job right out of college. When I walked in the door on my first day I saw the owner screaming at a female employee. His exact words have stuck with me all these years: “Are you so stupid you can’t remember to empty my garbage can when you vacuum my office?” The grown woman was in tears.
Later, when I asked about the incident, I was told: “He does that all the time. She’s been here three years, she’s used to it.” At that moment, I swore I’d never end up that way. After three days of endless shouting, I left – unemployed, but wiser.
Oddly, it was always the women who told me to “accept it” for “the way it was” and not to “make trouble” and “get used to it.” A few times I asked them why. Why should we blindly accept bad behavior and tolerate abuse just because we work there? The men aren’t yelled at and they certainly aren’t forced to vacuum.
They looked at me like I had just landed a spaceship on the front lawn.
Over the years I’ve learned a valuable lesson: When it comes to difficult interviewers and/or employers, you have two choices: rise up and be respected, or leave. There’s no harm in utilizing self-preservation and demonstrating self-respect.
If anything, it’s a liberating, empowering feeling to know that you’re doing what’s right foryou, regardless of what anyone else tells you. Everyone has to decide what’s best for themselves in their own time and in their own way. You may not get others to follow your lead, but in the end, you’ll be on a much better path.
Until next time,
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Part 2 – Always Trust Your Instincts
What’s a woman to do when she discovers that she’s on the Interview From Hell? Run? Laugh? Lament? No, just be aware and beware. Some interview questions should tip you off that something is seriously wrong.
Two questions on the top of my “beware” list: “How do you react to being yelled at?” and “Are you okay with cursing and swearing in the office?” (I didn’t tell the woman interviewing me that I generally react by leaving, because the person is obviously irrational and might be better suited to working in the monkey house at the zoo – he’d blend right in.)
If you’re on an interview and anything sets off warning bells in your head, don’t second guess yourself. Always trust your instincts. Take heed if you see people complaining loudly, bosses screaming at employees, managers throwing things, or the interviewer says (while you’re waiting outside her office): “Let me just get rid of this person and I can go to lunch.” (Yes, that's a real quote!)
Take these signs to heart. You won’t be happy there.
And always, always take a tour of the building on an interview. If they don’t offer one, ask and see what happens, but don’t accept any job without one. If the interview went well and you like the place, ask to use the bathroom before you leave and nose around.
I know, it sounds silly, but the state of the office will tell you volumes about the employer. Maybe you should be concerned if the bathroom has overflowing toilets and they tell you: “Oh that happens all the time.” And if there is one bathroom the size of a closet for both men and women that reeks to high heaven – run don’t walk – to the nearest exit.
While you’re investigating, try to check out the kitchen area. A refrigerator, a microwave, and a sink with hot and cold running water are not unheard of office luxuries.
If there’s no place to sit and eat your lunch (if you bring it every day instead of going out) what will you do? I once was told: “Everyone sits at their desks and eats – but you still have to answer the phones.”
Thanks! Did I tell you I’m on the raw carrots and celery diet? Crunch, crunch, crunch!
Remember, every interview is a two-way street. You’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be wary if they balk at answering a “normal question” or seem uncomfortable with you asking any questions. Watch out for seemingly innocent phrases sprinkled into the interview, like: “It’ll be nice to have a pretty young woman at the front desk.” (Yes, it’s a real quote again!) “How old are you? You don’t look old enough to be…”
Ask yourself if the place is somewhere you want to be every day for eight hours. What perks (if any) apply? If the best (or only) good thing you can say about them is that “They’re close to home.” or “It’s a paycheck.” – it might not be a good move.
Of course, if you want the job, by all means do your best to get it. But don’t settle. You don’t want to trade your peace of mind (or your whole mind) for a paycheck. You can afford to be at least a little bit choosy. After all, it’s your life and you decide how and where to spend your time. Do you want to be in a positive environment where you’ll be happy, or suffering in a hell-hole because you were afraid to say no?
So what happens if you take the job from hell like I did (Actually, I took three, but they were short-lived and gave me these great stories to tell!), and after three days find yourself crying at your desk wondering what the heck happened? Do you blame yourself for making a bad choice?
The answer is complicated. Sometimes the job is not what it seems. Maybe you didn’t realize it would be this bad, or they outright lied to get you to work there because nobody else wanted to. (That happened at all 3 of those jobs from hell - another sign that the inmates are running the office!)
In my case, the truth started to leak out after a few days. I found out from the office gossip that the position I took wasn’t open for two weeks because a woman left to have her baby and never came back. The real story was that six people were in the position over the last six months. They all left after three or four weeks because they couldn’t stand it.
All-too-soon I found out first-hand why people left. After being screamed at by the boss for putting someone into his voicemail when he was on his three-hour lunch, I was told by a female secretary: “Don’t worry. He yells at all of us all the time. You’ll get used to it. You’re new here. If you like your job, you won’t make waves. This is how we do things here. You have to obey him.”
Oh really? That was all I needed to hear.
I have more to say on this topic - and I know you won’t want to miss the conclusion of this blog next week!
Until next time!
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Part 1 – Still No Kids, But Thanks For Asking
Several years ago, I left a job that was emotionally draining and making me utterly miserable. Everyone was shocked that I made such a bold leap, but the moment I left the place behind, I felt free. I took the summer “off” and devoted my time to writing.
After a few months, I decided it was time to look for another job. I quickly discovered that my old job had given me a skill I couldn’t put on my resume – I was an expert at identifying potentially unhealthy work environments.
It seemed that every time I went on an interview, something strange happened or the interviewer asked a bizarre question. I started paying attention to this new “trend” and wondered if it was just me. Did I have the ability to draw out insane questions from hiring managers? Or did I just apply to “weird” places where nobody else wanted to work? Some of the questions I was asked surprised me, some amused me, and some made me wonder what the heck I was doing there.
What follows is my unusual (yet practical) advice to anyone going on an interview. There are hundreds of books and websites offering interview tips (bring a resume, wear a suit, etc.) but here are a few things I’ve learned first-hand from wallowing in the trenches. For obvious reasons, I won’t give out company names, but all of the quotes and situations are real.
Let’s start with the biggie:
As a woman in the 30-something age bracket, I’m often asked (mostly by other women) if I have children. Now we all know this isn’t a politically correct question, but how does one handle it? Several ideas came to mind, with: “I’m not answering questions you’re not allowed to ask” being the most polite. (I figured “None of your business” might be considered rude.) Interviewers decided to sneak around the issue by giving the “forbidden” question a preamble: “I know I’m not supposed to ask this but…” Well then, why are you asking?
I generally ended up following the old “just say No” advice. But many times, after hearing that I didn’t have children, the interviewers seemed overly concerned about a population decrease and followed up with: “Why not?” or “Are you planning to have any?”
Part of me wanted to answer: “Yeah, as soon as I get home and take off my pantyhose, I’ll start working on that.” Once I asked: “What does that have to do with this job?” The woman didn’t know how to respond.
After numerous rounds of defending my childless state, a friend suggested that I stop wearing my wedding ring to interviews. After all, if they didn’t see the ring, they wouldn’t be curious, right?
Wrong. The question changed to: “Are you married?” If I confessed that I was, then I got the usual “Do you have children?” as a follow up. My friend suggested I try a new answer: “I’m in a committed relationship with my life-partner.” And let them wonder.
Some of the jobs I applied for wanted a salary requirement. Almost everyone knows this is a warning sign. I played it safe and included a minimum salary requirement, thinking that employers knew the definition of the word minimum. Oops, wrong again!
After sitting through a dull interview (Nope, still no kids, but thanks for asking!), the woman interviewing me said: “You indicated your minimum salary requirement in your cover letter, but that’s not in our range. Is that the lowest you can go?”
I wanted to ask her if she knew what minimum meant, but instead I replied, “Yes, actually it is. I need to pay the bills.” (What if I had kids? I wondered. Would they pay more?)
Her response: “And what do you hope is included with that salary?” (I thought money would be nice…)
Since I was on a roll, I decided to ask what benefits were available. I was told: “We have benefits for employees only and it costs $730 a month. You pay for it yourself. We don’t provide anything.”
Wait! My mind shouted. Where’s the benefit in taking their benefits? With that extra-low salary that’s beneath my minimum, I won’t earn anything!
The woman followed up with: “Since you’re married, you can use your husband’s benefits.” Thanks! We’ve come a long way, baby!
(Horror and romance author Kelli Wilkins has more to share about her experiences – check back next week to read Part 2 of her article!)
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Whenever I do an interview, I’m usually asked if I have any advice or tips for aspiring writers. Well, I sure do! Today, I decided to share five writing tips. Writers will (hopefully) find them helpful, and readers will get an inside look at some “secrets” that go in to making interesting and sexy stories. These writing tips are based on advice I received in my writing classes and discoveries I made as I wrote. I included brief examples from some of my Amber Quill Press romances to illustrate a few points.
So, let’s started…
1. Lights, Camera, Action!: Always start your story with an interesting hook to capture the reader’s attention. Begin either 5 minutes before, during, or 5 minutes after “the big moment” that gives the character a problem and draws the reader into the character’s world. Keep the action going in the first few paragraphs. Don’t waste the first page describing the weather or how a character got dressed in the morning. (You can add supporting details into the back-story later.) Jump into the story and take your readers with you.
For example, in my paranormal-comedy, Beauty & the Bigfoot, (http://www.amberquill.com/AmberHeat/BeautyBigfoot.html) I started the story about 5 minutes before
In my fantasy romance novel, The Pauper Prince, (http://www.amberquill.com/AmberHeat/PauperPrince.html) I started the story just after Prince Allan learns that he’s been banished from the kingdom and must live as a pauper. It sets the stage for what’s to come and gives Allan a big problem from the outset of the story.
2. What’s Your Sign?: One of the keys to writing a good story is creating a believable cast of characters. But before your characters can step onto the page and come alive for readers, you have to create them. As the author, it’s your job to know your characters better than anyone. (After all, they’re your inventions.) Before you write your story, spend some time with your characters and learn everything you can about them so they come off well-rounded and “real” to readers. (And no, it’s not “cheating” if you write down the physical descriptions of your characters and keep them near your keyboard. It saves you from going back through the manuscript and hunting down a detail.) Some of the details you should know are:
· Hair and eye color, general build/body shape
· Left or right handed (great detail to know if there’s a gun involved in the story!)
· Birthday and astrological sign. (You can develop character traits based on the sign. An astrology reference book is an excellent tool for this.)
· Distinguishing marks (scars, missing limb, tattoos – and the back-story behind each)
· Family life (brothers, sisters, adopted, parents together or divorced, raised by uncle, etc.) Have children? Wants children or never even considered it?
· Pets (cat or dog person? reptiles? raises bees? or no pets at all?)
· Foods they like, dislike, any food allergies?
· How much of a dark side does he/she have and how does it show?
· Recreation (likes sports on TV, hates all sports, plays hockey, hikes, swims, surfs)
· Fears and phobias (water, dolls, monkeys, wasps, falling, fire – and why!)
· Wears glasses/contacts/braces, any medical conditions?
· Where and how did they live/grow up? Poor, middle class, member of royal family?
· What kind of car and house do they have? What are the furniture/decorations like?
· Religion and general opinions about social issues/politics
· What secrets do your characters have? What would happen if people found out about them?
· Dreams, aspirations, goals, and regrets. Are they happy with their lives or do they wish they had done things differently?
· Sexual history (straight, gay, experiments, virgin, non-virgin with regrets, loose, never been in love, had heart broken, etc.) Knowing this is VERY important for romances!
The more you know about the characters in your story, the more you can make the reader (and other characters) identify with them through details. You can also build on these details and/or use them to move the plot along, add conflict, build dramatic tension, or liven up a love scene.
In my contemporary romance, Trust with Hearts, (http://www.amberquill.com/AmberHeat/TrustWithHearts.html) Sherrie has recently left her abusive finance. Curtis notices her odd behavior and immediately identifies with her based on his own experiences with an abusive parent. Knowing these details about the characters helps them bond and adds to the plot. (Curtis is also keeping a whopper of a secret from Sherrie, but I won’t spoil the surprise!)
You don’t have to use everything in the story, but knowing that your character has to overcome her fear of water to save a child trapped during a flood will bring her to life.
3. Do Your Homework: I once tossed a book across the room because the author had tulips blooming in October. (Nope, sorry. Didn’t work for me. On my planet, they bloom in spring.) Maybe it’s a small detail that a non-gardener wouldn’t notice (or care about) but a little research could have fixed that problem.
Whatever you’re writing, it pays to do your homework and research a topic. This is especially true if you’re writing historical fiction, and it’s essential if you’re writing non-fiction. Research provides interesting details the reader might need to know for a part of the story, but in the very least, it lends itself to the believability of the setting, characters, and plot.
If you write historical fiction, find out about the time period you’ve set your story. What did people eat, where did they work, and what did money look like? How did they live? What did they have around the house? (Wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, butter churns, cast iron skillets?) What was invented then? If you’re writing about a character living in the 1800s, you have to know everything about the time period and “live” through the character to show the reader what that person’s life was like. (For example, don’t surround your Revolutionary War-era fort with barbed wire – it wasn’t invented until the late 1800s.)
Sometimes you have to do research for contemporary stories. If you live in the Northeast and set your story in the springtime in Arizona, you should find out what the weather is like during that time of year, what flowers are blooming, etc. (It’ll be different from where you are.) Ditto if you’ve set a story in another country – find out all you can about the food, culture, housing, what time the sun sets, what kind of trees, flowers, they have, etc. The Internet’s a great place to do some quick detail-related research. Personally, I like to wander through the library and check out books on the different states, or read some travel books/brochures to give me a good idea of setting and culture.
When I wrote my contemporary romance, Four Days with Jack, (http://amberquill.com/AmberAllure/FourDaysWithJack.html) I ordered several vacation brochures from all-inclusive resorts to get a feel for the setting, types of activities offered, layout of the resort, etc. You never know what will inspire you!
4. Gotta Have a Goal: No matter how grand or simple, everyone has a goal. When you’re writing a story, you have to know what your characters want most – at least for right now. Different characters will have different goals, and along the course of your story, goals may change or a character will develop secondary goals.
Goals can, will, and should, vary depending on the type of story you’re writing, but they generally fall into two categories: emotional, or internal goals, and physical, or external goals. An internal goal is something the character needs or wants. (This can be meeting a soul mate and falling in love or healing grief after the loss of a loved one.)
An external goal is something the main character physically must do, such as steal a magic ring from a dragon or climb down into a cave to rescue his beloved. Sometimes goals start out simple (like buying a house or getting to a wedding on time), and your job as a writer is to make it hard for your character to achieve his/her goal by throwing in conflicts and obstacles that force your character to work harder.
Vinnie Valentine’s goal in A Perfect Match (http://amberquill.com/AmberHeat/PerfectMatch.html) was pretty simple – hide his knee injury from everyone and make it through the most grueling wrestling match of his career. He had a lot at stake both personally and professionally, and needed to stay focused despite all the distractions around him. When he learns that Danni is involved in his match, his secondary goal of protecting her adds to his burden. (Remember, the worse you make things for your characters, the more they have to grow and that adds drama and tension to your story!)
But writers don’t just give their characters goals, they also have to motivate them to reach those goals. Ask yourself “what’s at stake?” for the character. What if he/she doesn’t reach the goal, then what happens? If the answer is “nothing, he just moves on” then you need to up the stakes and get your character motivated. It will increase the action and keep the plot moving.
In Dalton’s Temptation, (http://amberquill.com/AmberHeat/DaltonsTemptation.html) Princess Elara starts off with a simple goal of spying on her husband while he’s at a pleasure palace. Over the course of the book, the stakes get higher for all the characters. Spying on
5. Sex is personal – for your characters!: No AQP guest blog would be complete without talking about sex! Readers always ask me sex (or love scene) related questions. Some people want to know how to keep the sex fresh from story to story, or wonder how much graphic detail is the “right” amount, and others want to know “how hard” it is to write a love scene (pun perhaps intended!) Here’s the best advice I have:
My Amber Quill Press romances run the gamut from a Heat Level of 1 (mild) to a 3 (scorching hot). I let the characters in each story determine the sexual content, graphic details, and overall heat level. Every story is different, and so are the sexual lives of the characters.
Writing in different romance genres also influences the sexual content. In The Dark Lord, (http://amberquill.com/AmberHeat/DarkLord.html) Katarina is innocent, so I approached her character as curious, yet eager to learn. Lauren in The Sexy Stranger (http://amberquill.com/AmberHeat/SexyStranger.html) is a modern, sexually experienced woman. Writing for the different characters and their individual situations helps keep things interesting and fresh.
When I write love scenes, I stand back and let the characters do what comes natural. I generally know how far the scene will go ahead of time, but I let the characters take over and enjoy themselves. (After all, it’s their story, they deserve to have fun.) Later, when I edit/revise the story, I go back and cut anything that doesn’t work with the scene. I think love scenes have to flow naturally from the plot and the characters.
As for “how much to show” within a book or a scene, I think it depends on the book and the characters. Sometimes it’s nice to give the characters some “privacy” and imply what goes on; and yet, other times, readers want to see the passionate (fully detailed and repeatedly consummated) side of the relationship. I blend a little of each into my books.
No matter what kind of love scene I write, I try to keep most of the focus on the characters and what they’re thinking and feeling emotionally—how the experience makes them more connected to their lover—rather than focus on what their bodies are doing. In Four Days with Jack, (http://amberquill.com/AmberAllure/FourDaysWithJack.html) David and Jack discover their long-hidden attraction of each other and explore their sexual feelings while building a romantic relationship. (Want more examples? Check out all of my Amber Quill Press romances here: http://amberquill.com/AmberHeat/bio_Wilkins.html
I hope you’ve enjoyed this “inside look” at the writing process. I’ll be sharing more writing tips, advice, and writing prompts in future blogs.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
FOUR DAYS WITH JACK
Spending four days in a tropical paradise with Jack is a dream come true. For years, David lived a lie and denied his attraction to Jack. Now that they’re together in an isolated
Jack is more than willing to introduce David to the life he has always fantasized about. Their sizzling nighttime encounters confirm David’s long-hidden desires. But what will happen when they leave the resort? Will David sacrifice everything to start a new life with Jack? Or will he go back to his old ways and risk losing the best friend he ever had?
NS: Several of your romances have won writing contests. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you really enjoy writing romances and erotica. What is it about these genres that you like so much?