A Slice of Orange


Caption This! October 2, 2006

October 2, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

To celebrate OCC’s 25th Anniversary, we are bringing you photos from OCC’s scrapbook. Each week day we will post a photo from the last 25 years (if Blogger cooperates) and ask that you all try and identify people in the photos, and/or write captions for the photos.

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Barbara McCauley – Candid Talk With A Rita Winner

September 2, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

To win a RITA, you have to have it all…timing, talent, tenacity…and a heart-wrenchingly good book no reader can resist.

Barbara McCauley has all that and the statuette to prove it. Her MISS PRUITT’S PRIVATE LIFE won her the RITA for Best Short Contemporary in 2005.

In September’s Orange Blossom she candidly talks about what it was like to pass the torch, the reality of the after glow and how her friends are the best part of writing.

Here in our extended interview on A Slice Of Orange she bravely talks about fear and how she gets past it.

Q – After over 30 books, do you ever learn something new about writing or yourself as a writer?

A – I’m always learning something new, about my writing and myself. My last book I let fear paralyze me and it was truly painful. I’m determined not to let that happen again.

Q – What paralyzed you? What were you afraid of?

A – Listening to the negativity, especially surrounding the “new guidelines” for the line I write for. There was a lot of “buzz” regarding the changes taking place and I began to question whether I was able to “fit” into the new parameters.

Once I let that fear in the door, it simply took over and consumed me. Doesn’t matter I’ve been doing this 15 years and I’ve published over 30 books, my confidence took a nosedive. For a writer and the creative process, this is a dangerous road.

Q – You said you are determined not to let that happen again. What are you doing to not let that happen again?

A – I do a lot of things to hold fear at bay. Just a few are: reminding myself to be my own best friend, picking up an older book and re-reading a passage or scene I enjoyed writing, taking a hard look at the book I’m writing and holding onto the initial spark that made me want to write that story, taking care of myself physically and emotionally (this would be a long list itself) re-reading “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Susan Jeffers.

Most important–it’s cliche, but true, BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.

Q – How is it working?

A – Depends on which hour you ask me. (Smiling)

If you need a suspenseful beach read for this last gasp of summer, be sure to pick up Barbara’s latest, NIGHTFIRE. And for another surefire good read, her next in the SECRETS! series, BLACKHAWK’S BETRAYAL, comes out in October.

Dana Diamond is the OCC/RWA Secretary, a columnist for OCC’s award-winning newsletter Orange Blossom, a contributor to A Slice of Orange, and hard at work on her next book.

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Alyson Noël: Why I Write

August 31, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

Recently I attended a birthday bash (and I mean BASH!) for a very good friend of mine. And somewhere in the midst of all the laughter, small talk, and fun, someone asked if I chose to write teen fiction because I have such fond memories of high school.

To which I instinctively balked. “God no. It was horrible! I mean, you couldn’t pay me to go back!” This was followed by vehement head shaking and possibly even a dramatic shudder or two.

And then my husband looked at me, nudged me in the arm, and said, “Um, honey, but are being paid to go back.”


So maybe he’s right. In fact, I guess it’s pretty obvious he is. And now that it was out there, spoken like a fact, it got me wondering just exactly what I was thinking when I chose to make my living writing about a time in my life which I didn’t particularly enjoy, and at times, actually found quite painful. I mean, since graduation I’d done so many other things, lived in so many other places, so what could be the reason for all this? Am I a masochist?

Luckily, no.

Because now that I find myself smack dab in the middle of the inevitable piling up of years between then and now, I can finally look back on those times and view certain events with far more clarity, and much more objectivity than I ever could’ve mustered up before. And the simple truth is, that those years shape and inform you in more ways than you think, and that the adult you later become owes a huge debt to the person you were back then.

Whether you hated high school (like me) and tend to use that time as a catalyst to get the heck out and carve a more suitable place for yourself somewhere else, or you look back at it fondly, (hard for me to believe but these people do exist) and strive to recreate that feeling wherever you go from there, there’s simply no denying that those years make an impact, and are not easily forgotten.

Last year brought the untimely death of my husband’s twin brother, who’d battled pancreatic cancer for a year and a half, (and to whom I’ve also dedicated my third novel, Laguna Cove, as well as to the son and daughter he so sadly left behind). And while I won’t even attempt to find the words to describe this completely devastating time, I will say that when news of his passing reached a group of their former junior high school friends, they sprang into action, organizing an impromptu memorial in Richard’s memory.

I held my husband’s hand as we walked into the house where several of his old friends waited, where we flipped through old photos, skimmed over yearbooks, ate hot pizza, drank red wine, laughed at fond memories, and eventually released a stream of red balloons, watching as they drifted off into the evening sky, bidding a silent farewell.

Some of these people drove a long distance, some even boarded an airplane just so they could be there. For us, the trip was a mere hour and forty-five minutes up the 405. And as I sat beside my husband, leaning into his shoulder, listening to old stories, told by a diverse group of junior high school friends who hadn’t seen each other in the thirty years that had passed, I thought about my own old circle of friends, and how even though we may not speak all that often, I’m happy to say that quite a few of them are still in my life.

I guess I write teen fiction because it’s the last time you feel so protected yet yearn to be free, you want to fit in but long to find your true self, you hate waking up for school but fear the day when you’ll no longer have to, and you are truly on the verge of so many exciting new “firsts” that you’re in such a hurry to check off, yet you’re also aware that once you do, it’s hard to go back.

But I also write teen fiction to honor the memory of the person I was then, as well as the friends who stood beside me, and who were far more important than I realized at the time.

A few days ago, my husband received a phone call from an old summer camp buddy he hadn’t heard from in years. Apparently this guy had been reminiscing about his old group of tight knit friends, and was planning a reunion so they can all get together again.

By the time my husband hung up, he’d already RSVP’d.

Alyson Noël
“Laguna Cove” a new novel by Alyson Noel

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Kathleen Beaver – Golden Heart Winner!

August 3, 2006 by in category Interviews tagged as , ,

Triple threat Golden Heart finalist Kathleen Beaver (w/a Kate Carlisle) has talent. How else do you explain 3 Golden Heart nominations in 3 different categories?

Color me impressed.

What’s even more impressive is how incredibly warm, kind and intelligent she is. She also has a great sense of humor…which is probably what helped her manuscript SNOOPING IN STILETTOS win the Golden Heart for Best Novel With Strong Romantic Elements.

Here she talks about her Golden Heart winning manuscript, SNOOPING IN STILETTOS, the real-life mystery that inspired it, what has changed since her win, and who she forgot to thank in her acceptance speech.

Q – What can you tell us about your winning Golden Heart manuscript, SNOOPING IN STILETTOS?

A – SNOOPING IN STILETTOS is a chick lit mystery and here’s the pitch: Suicide by BMW? Or murder? When L.A. attorney Berry McKenna finds her best friend, Deanna Coburn, dead in the driver’s seat, she knows it was murder. After all, Deanna had just gone on a fabulous shopping spree, and what woman in the known universe would kill herself after buying a gorgeous pair of boots? Now Berry’s got to convince delectable detective Ethan O’Reilly to start looking for a killer, but Ethan’s a hard sell, so Berry must search for truth and justice on her own—even if it kills her.

Q – What do you love about the story? Or what do you think makes this manuscript stand out as an exceptional story?

A – My heroine, Berry, has a great attitude and stands up for what she believes in. She loves her friends, she loves her mom, she actually believes in the system and she’s determined to find justice for her girlfriend. And of course, there’s a really cute hero that I truly love.

Q – Did it surprise you that SNOOPING IN STILETTOS won? Why or why not?

A – Surprise me? How about SHOCKED the HELL out of me! Honestly, I knew it wouldn’t win. First, because it was up against so many other great books in the category, and second, because it’s a fairly straightforward first-person mystery and I just figured a book like that didn’t stand a chance. I’m incredibly happy I was wrong!

Q – What do you think it is about SNOOPING IN STILETTOS that readers love?

A – SNOOPING is told from a first-person point of view, so it was important that readers find Berry’s attitude appealing. I’d like to think she comes across as funny and maybe a little snarky and self-deprecating. She’s also a good friend and willing to fight for what she believes in. It was also important that readers could relate to the victim, Deanna, so I had to sneak in a few flashbacks to introduce her and make her seem real and likeable. And did I mention the cute hero? Love him!

Q – Was there any one thing you remember a critique partner, family member or friend did or said that helped you make SNOOPING IN STILETTOS into a Golden Heart winner? If so, what?

A – The best advice I got was from Maureen Child who told me to trust my voice and don’t get bogged down wondering what an editor will like or hate. Just be true to myself and write the damn book.

Q – If you could dedicate SNOOPING IN STILETTOS to anyone who would it be? Why?

A – I’d dedicate this book to my wonderful husband Don who has more faith in me and my writing than I sometimes have in myself.

Q – Did you do any research for SNOOPING IN STILETTOS? If so, what kind of fascinating and/or surprising facts did you learn while researching the book?

A – It’s not exactly research but I have a story about how I got the idea to write this book. I used to work in a Family Law firm and our client’s soon-to-be-ex-wife had made at least 10 half-hearted attempts to commit suicide throughout the divorce proceedings. Of course, one day she finally succeeded, but it wasn’t clear whether she actually meant to do it, because when she turned on the gas in the Bentley, somehow a spark ignited in the engine and the car caught on fire and she was burned to death. There were signs that she struggled to escape but the carbon monoxide apparently had slowed her down and she didn’t make it. It was very creepy. My boss went with our client to the wife’s house and her attorney was there, running the show, bossing the police around and generally being a pain in the butt. Turns out, the wife had re-written her Last Will and Testament and made her attorney one of the main beneficiaries. So…suicide? Or murder?? I prefer to think it was murder, of course!

Q – Your acceptance speech was short, sweet and heartwarming. How were you feeling up there? Is there anything you forgot to say or anything you’d like to add?

A – Well, thank you for the compliment on my speech, but I must admit I was in complete shock and had absolutely nothing prepared. I remember thinking, “Talk slowly. Don’t forget anyone. Don’t cry.” So naturally, I burst into tears! (laughing) Then I woke up at three o’clock the next morning and starting re-writing the speech in my head…over and over and over…sigh. And yes, I really wish I’d remembered to thank my fellow Golden Heart finalists for their support and friendship. I know they’re all going to sell because they are all so talented. It’s a great group and we’re all on an e-mail loop together, so I hope we’ll be able to continue to keep in touch and get together at future conferences.

Q – Has anything changed for you since your win?

A – No, and I’m so annoyed! I’m waiting by the phone for all those agents and editors to call, dammit! (laughing) No, nothing’s really changed so far, but I now have something wonderful to tell those agents and editors who have my manuscripts in their To-Be-Read piles, so that’s something. And I have a lovely new piece of jewelry. It’s a Golden Heart. I love it!

Q – Who was the first person you called? What did you say?

A – I literally ran out in the middle of the awards ceremony and called my husband. I just said, “I won.” And he was so excited, it was great!

Q – Does the win seem real yet? If so, when did it feel real? When and what hit you that made it finally feel real?

A – After I won, I really had to pinch myself. A few times during the rest of the ceremony, I’d suddenly get tears in my eyes when I remembered that I’d won. The thing is, I know that winning the Golden Heart is no guarantee that I’ll sell my books, but at that moment when they called my name, it felt so good to be recognized and validated for all the years I’ve been writing and working toward publication. It was a sweet moment for me.

Dana Diamond is the OCC/RWA Secretary, a columnist for OCC’s award winning newsletter, Orange Blossom, a contributor to The Writers Vibe and hard at work on her next book. For more on Dana and her interview with Kathleen Beaver, be sure to visit Dana’s blog at: www.danadiamond.blogspot.com

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Chris Vogler – Legendary Writing Coach

August 2, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

“You’ve got to pick up Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey!” That’s what I tell any newbie who asks me for writing advice.

So when I found out I could see him at OCC’s Autumn Affaire, I was beyond thrilled. But excited as I was, I wondered what more could I possibly learn that I didn’t already learn in his book? His answers will surprise and fascinate you. You’ve got to go to Autumn Affaire!

Q – A long-time fan of The Writer’s Journey, I’m thrilled to have the chance to attend your workshop. What kind of information will we see in your workshop that we won’t find in your book?

A – These days I am interested in polarities, the way people tend to become polarized in relationships and stories tend to be split between poles of good and evil, young and old, idealistic and cynical, depressed and hopeful, etc. I’ve been working out for myself a theory of how story-telling evolved and what purpose it serves. Since the book was written I’ve continued to develop my thinking about how the story actually impacts the organs of the body, and I’ll be talking about how we can use that knowledge to tell better stories.

Q – That reminds me of something I saw on your website. You say that when you evaluate a story, your criterion is that they have to affect you “in at least two organs of the body.” What two organs? Can you explain?

A – He’s got a brilliant answer to this one, but you’ll have to see it in Orange Blossom. You can receive it by e-mail. Sign up for Orange Blossom today!

Q – When evaluating projects, you seem to rely more heavily on gut reactions than story paradigms and trends you’ve studied. Is that true? Why?

A – Actually, I use it all. An axiom of mine is “Nothing is wasted.” Every single script or project is different, requiring different language and tools. I’m working for Paramount now and I’m using everything I ever learned. One day I’m quoting Robert McKee or Michael Hauge to make a point, the next day I’m using a principle from Aristotle or Shakespeare. I dipped into the history of vaudeville recently and found a whole new set of principles for arranging an evening’s entertainment, an area of knowledge I call “Showmanship”. The Hero’s Journey language is certainly useful, especially when I’m dealing with someone who is already versed in it.

Q – The Hero’s Journey began as a legendary seven-page memo that you wrote for your own amusement while working at Disney in the 80’s. It soon became required reading for young executives in Hollywood. In what capacity were you working at Disney when you wrote that memo?

A – I was a story analyst, reading and reporting on eight to ten scripts a week and occasionally doing story notes and research projects. I was in the process of carving a niche for myself as a consultant by showing interest in certain genres, like comic books, science fiction, historical fiction, horror, and fantasy.

Q – What was the catalyst that made you write it?

A – I had discovered Joseph Campbell’s work in mythology while in film school and had written a paper about it, an essay which I carried with me when I became a story analyst. I showed it to various people, writers, executives, other story analysts, when we got to talking about the principles of story-telling. It was the foundation of the memo. I could see that at Disney, memos were a way of getting into the corporate mind, a way of transmitting ideas and expressing a vision, for a specific project or for the entire industry. I had the feeling that in Campbell’s work I had discovered something very useful for the movie industry, and I needed to go through the formal exercise of correlating Campbell’s stages of the hero’s journey with what I perceived happening in movies. So I wrote the memo and started circulating it around the studio.

Q – Whatever happened to the memo that started it all?

A – It spread all over town by fax and xerox like a virus. It was plagiarized a number of times, once by a young Disney executive who threw away my cover page and put his own name to it. So I knew I had something worth stealing. I added to the original seven-page version eventually, doubling and tripling its length, but there was something magical about the starkness of the earliest version. People place an almost superstitious value on finding a copy of the seven-pager. I don’t know if I even have one.

Q – How did you originally intend for writers to use The Writer’s Journey?

A – I hoped people would use it as a rough guide to structure, a framework against which they could compare their own stories. I never wanted it to be a cookbook or a book of rules, but rather something to inspire people and invite them to think more deeply about the purpose and design of stories. You can use it to outline a story in the early stages of development, or you can use it as a diagnostic tool once the story is written, checking each part to see that it is doing its job.

Q – How do you feel when you see students rigidly adhering to The Writer’s Journey as a “story cookbook”?

A – It disappoints me and makes me uncomfortable, that’s how! If you only look at the map, you’ll never see the sights or experience the wonderful lucky mistakes and wrong turns that sometimes lead you to totally new worlds.

Q – Many writer’s keep your book in mind while writing their projects. What is something you keep in mind when you are writing your personal projects?

A – I am always trying to make complex subjects and time periods accessible and interesting to the reader and viewer. I like densely interwoven stories from history and mythology. I am like a traveler who has spent a lot of time in these distant places in my imagination, and now I have to bring some of it back in a form that people can handle and enjoy, without having to spend years there themselves.

Q – You studied film at the USC School of Cinema, ended up at Disney and then went on to write one of the most influential guides on writing for our time. What were your original career plans?

A – I was trained as a journalist at the University of Missouri and had thought I would be some kind of foreign correspondent. I caught the film bug there and it got worse when I joined the Air Force and became a documentary filmmaker for them. While at USC I imagined I would be a screenwriter or director and didn’t anticipate quite the way things have turned out, although I did foresee that Campbell’s ideas were useful and would have a big impact on the industry.

Q – Though your company, Storytech, offers services to writers of all mediums, it seems geared towards helping screen-writers. How are the challenges of guiding screenplays different or similar to guiding novels?

A – It’s no different except that novels can afford to have a different, more sprawling structure than a screenplay. A screenplay has to be like a simple bridge with two or three sets of piers and arches, while a novel can connect the basic elements into almost infinite spans with more levels and offshoots. In scripts a great deal of material that can be easily described in a novel has to be artfully crammed into nothing but the words and pictures, what people are doing and saying. Of course there are special skills in novel-writing – how to describe things, how to handle dialogue, how to end chapters, etc.

Q – What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A – Joseph Campbell told me “You go with this stuff, young man, it’ll take you a long way.”

Q – What is the worst?

A – When I applied for a job with a TV producer very early in my career, he told me I needed to go to a bar, get drunk, and get into a fight with some sailors.

Q – Are there any words of inspiration on your computer, in your office or in your mind when you write or guide another writer?

A – On the bulletin board by the computer: “There must be a beginning to any great matter but the continuing on to the end until it is thoroughly finished yields the true glory.” Sir Francis Drake

Q – What do you attribute your success and longevity in the industry to?

A – One thing seems to have served me well and that’s enthusiasm. I really, really like my genres – science fiction, fantasy, children’s lit, myth, etc. – and I let my employers know it. I claim territory and they seem happy to let me work on projects in my areas. Fortunately my genres make good special effects movies and are popular right now so there is a lot of work.

I also have a Germanic strain of thoroughness and I will attack a subject with more detail and depth than most people would bother with.

Q – Have you ever suffered writer’s block? If so, how did/do you get past it?

A – Aggh! Terrible writer’s block. One of the great things to deal with that is Julia Cameron’s idea of “morning pages” from THE ARTIST’S WAY, bless her heart. That got me writing something every day and made it habitual and much, much easier. I also learned from Natalie Goldberg who teaches that it is truly and simply making words flow through your fingers into the pencil or into the keyboard. The other key is having somebody else setting deadlines for me since I can’t do that for myself. A deadline is a great blessing.

Q – What are you dying to try next?

A – I want to write something very personal about the wonderful experience of moving to a farm with my family when I was twelve years old. In another book I want to set down the story of how story-telling came to be and some of the principles I believe in.

Q – Can you give me a statement that defines you or your career or where you are at in your life/career right now?

A – I am still a seeker of meaning and purpose. My major work is trying to understand how stories came to be and how they can be used to heal and transform.

Q – What is the one thing you’ve never been asked, but you wish someone would?

A – How did stories come to be? I could talk your arm off on that one.

For more with Chris Vogler join me at OCC’s Autumn Affaire. I’m hoping to get him to talk our arms off about how stories came to be, but I have a feeling that whatever he discusses will surprise and inspire us.

Dana Diamond is the OCC/RWA Secretary, a columnist for OCC’s award winning newsletter, Orange Blossom, a contributor to The Writers Vibe and hard at work on her next book. For more on Dana and her interview with Chris Vogler, be sure to visit Dana’s blog at: www.danadiamond.blogspot.com

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