Monday, September 24, 2012

Close Encounter with a Cliche

As the words left her lips, his meaning hit her like a bolt of lightning. - Once a Duchess, by Me

The above is a line from my novel. Over the course of this particular sentence, my heroine, Isabelle, arrives at a stunning realization. I chose to couch the experience in a simile with which you may be acquainted, the bolt of lightning.

I'm certainly not the first to utilize lightning imagery to illustrate something sudden, huge, and -- dare I? -- shocking.  As figures of speech go, lightning used as part of a simile or metaphor effectively conveys the idea of the unexpected and portentous.

Here is our hero, quietly breaching a secure government facility, minding his own business, when a gorgeous security guard arrives on the scene. Their eyes lock, and KABLOOIE! Metaphorical lightning strikes. Obviously, something is going to happen between these two. Because lightning.

Recently, I had an up close encounter with actual, from-the-sky lightning which has me rethinking the use of this particular linguistic device.

A fistful of hyperbole.
It was a typical Southern summer evening. The sky was overcast with high clouds. Rain fell gently to make sure the morrow would be plenty humid, and thunder rumbled gently in the distance. I was sitting at my desk (which is right next to a window), quietly surfing the webs, minding my own business, when KABLOOIE! There was a searing white flash, instantly followed by a bright orange ball of fire (which was more of an impression than a clear image, as the white flash had rendered me temporarily mole-blind) right outside my window, accompanied by a deafening blast. I felt a physical punch in my chest. My ears rang. For the rest of the evening, the tip of my tongue was numb and my chest ached.

The lightning hit a tree, peeled its bark, then obliterated a cable box (thus the fireball). It traveled up the wires to scorch the siding on our house and ruin a few more electrical devices, both outside and inside our home. There was smoke. There was confusion. There were curious and helpful neighbors. The fire department came with an infrared scanner to make sure there were no hot spots lurking inside our walls which might burst into flame. It was Very Scary.

Fortunately, the damage was all easily repaired, and neither I nor my family suffered any lasting harm from the event.

But, in its wake, I wonder about the wisdom of using lightning as a figurative image in my writing from here on. On the one hand, the strike carried all the markers we associate with literary lightning. It was sudden, unexpected, huge, and left me decidedly rattled for some hours. And yet... it feels rather overstated now to describe a mental realization as "like a bolt of lightning." Certainly, we can become appraised of information which takes us off guard and leaves us numb and reeling. But I'm not sure lightning is the right turn of phrase. Perhaps in some extreme situations.

For now, for myself, I think I'll have to put lightning out to pasture.

What do you think, readers? Is lightning too extreme for casual literary use? A boring cliche? Perfect for holidays and other special occasions? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Interview with Author Synithia Williams

Today, it is my very great pleasure to have Synithia Williams here at the Ball. She is the author of You Can't Plan Love (Crimson Romance, 2012), a contemporary romance. Synithia graciously agreed to an interview, and I'm thrilled to share it with you!

First, a blurb about You Can't Plan Love:

After several bad relationships, Kenyatta Copeland decides to control her love life with the same discernment she uses in her professional life. 
Knowing firsthand the heartbreak that comes when desire and emotion rule a relationship, Kenyatta assumes marrying Brad Johnson will lead to a stable life. But as much as she believes she can plan her future, it’s hard to ignore the way her boss, Malcolm Patterson, ignites her passions with just one look. After Malcolm learns of her engagement, he makes a play for her heart and reminds her that passion between a man and a woman has its perks … but also its costs. When Brad suspects there’s more than work between Kenyatta and Malcolm, he works harder to keep Kenyatta by his side. Torn between her promise to marry Brad and her irrepressible longing for Malcolm, Kenyatta must decide if she can live her life in a passionless marriage of convenience or once again trust her heart. Yet Brad isn’t as perfect as he seems, and by the time Kenyatta realizes this it may be too late.

EB: Thanks so much for joining me here today, Synithia! How long did it take you to complete your novel manuscript?
SW: I worked on this novel for years—writing a chapter here and there. In 2010 when I decided to take my writing dreams seriously, I made a goal to finish it by the end of the year. I completed the first draft in October 2010.

EB: When you are developing an idea for a novel, what comes to your first? Concept / theme, characters, or something else?
SW: The concept comes first. I’ll think about a situation I want to write about and just start (I have a bunch of first chapters lingering around because of this). Then, I flesh out the rest of the story. I work out character profiles as I write, and often the character at the start of the book isn’t the one at the end. I correct those inconsistencies during revisions.

EB: Do you rely on a dictionary or thesaurus while you write?
SW: Yes! I don’t own a dictionary—please don’t take my author card—so I use the Merriam-Webster website.

EB: is my internet crutch, so no judgment here. 
Your novel is set in modern-day Columbia, South Carolina. How does your writing reflect this setting?
SW: Recently, a reviewer said the dialogue in my novel fit with its southern setting without drawing someone out of the story. I appreciated that because I live in Columbia and tried to make my characters talk, act and interact in the same manner as the people I interact with. I mention places I’ve frequented, matched the lively conversation style I’m used to, and brought up topics that are interesting to people in Columbia (Gamecock football for example!)

The lovely Synithia Williams
EB: What hiccups did you encounter while writing You Can't Plan Love?
SW: After writing my first draft, I read a book on romance writing and realized I didn’t have my hero and heroine interact enough in my story. Meaning, there were a lot of scenes when they weren’t together. In romance, you have to show the couple falling in love and that requires a lot of interaction. My second draft was nearly an entire re-write of the story to put Malcolm and Kenyatta together more.

EB: Did you experience any surprises in the publication process?
SW: The biggest surprise was finding a publisher so quickly. I was prepared to spend years receiving rejections and crying into my pillow nightly while clenching a glass of wine. I still can’t believe I am published.

EB: I went the years of crying into my wine route, so it just goes to show everyone's road to publication is different! 
Who would enjoy your novel?
SW: Most women will enjoy my novel. It touches on the ideas of finding love, following your dreams, the choice between staying at home with kids or working, dealing with someone close to you who’s controlling, and learning to trust your instincts. These are things that many women face at least once in life.

EB: Are you interested in publishing in a different genre, or do you plan to stick with romance?
SW: I have an idea for a paranormal romance, but right now I’m too lazy to do the research required. Maybe one day.

EB: What's next for you?
I’m happy to say that my second novel, Worth the Wait, is tentatively scheduled to release January 7, 2013 from Crimson Romance! Here’s a sneak peak: When a virgin frustrated by her nonexistent dating life, asks a playboy for a one-night stand, can they really ignore their attraction after the affair?

EB: Awesome! Congratulations! Tell us where we can find You Can't Plan Love.

EB: Anything else you'd like to share?
SW: Thank you so much for interviewing me on your blog today! You’re as much fun online as you are in person :)
* * *
Many thanks to Synithia Williams for visiting with me today!
Readers, be sure to visit Synithia's website and blog, and definitely give You Can't Plan Love a go! It's a fun, sexy read with a surprising degree of action. I couldn't put it down once I hit the second half of the novel. I'm looking forward to Worth the Wait.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Art of Listening

This weekend, Mr. Boyce and I got together with a group of friends for dinner and a show. The dinner was expensive, tasty, left me with a stomachache from overindulging, and was a thing of the past as soon as my discomfort faded.

The show was much less expensive, just as fulfilling, and has stayed with me constantly since Friday night.

We were fortunate to nab tickets to the kickoff stop of The Unchained Tour, a traveling troupe of raconteurs peddling stories to rapt audiences across the Southeast. It's the brainchild of Georgia native George Dawes Green, who also founded The Moth, another storytelling organization. Our plucky Unchained Tour performers are presently wending their way around a heart-shaped course of nine events.

The Unchained event was just like this, plus booze.
Here is where I offer a confession. The current roster of The Unchained Tour includes Neil Gaiman, whose tales I have long admired in graphic novels, paperbacks, an on the screen. The opportunity to see and hear him in person was absolutely the draw for me, as I suspect it was for many of Friday night's attendees. Frankly, I'd not heard of the other performers (For shame!). That was ignorance on my part, which I'm happy to have amended.

And while I came for Neil and enjoyed his story, I also left with Rachel Kate's folksy melodies looping through my head. I hunted videos of Edgar Oliver's performances, so I could hear his indescribable voice again. I have fretted about Peter Aguero's struggle to care for his ailing wife. I have admired Dawn Fraser's willingness to reinvent and rediscover herself when confronted by a life crisis.

If you've never attended a storytelling event, it's an incredible experience. The art hearkens back to our ancestors gathering around fires, fending off the unknown darkness by communally partaking in the spell cast by the storyteller. Fittingly enough, the Unchained Tour performance was held in the atrium of The Columbia Museum of Art, beneath a Chihuly chandelier which resembles an inverted flame.

I'm convinced there is something inside us, some genetic memory, that storytelling taps into. It is a group endeavor. There is the racanteur, of course, the performer weaving a tale with words and voice and gestures. But there is also the audience. The booming silence of 300 people holding their breath, waiting for the next phrase, the next word, the next inflection. There is the relief of laughing at light moments, of applauding the end of a tale that has transported us into the storyteller's world for a few brilliant moments. We all must do our part to make the storytelling successful, but the magic is that everyone in that audience performed flawlessly. We instinctively knew our part.

As a writer, my focus is on the written word. It was wonderful to take part in a literary exercise centered instead around the spoken word. Should you have the opportunity to take in a storytelling event, I heartily encourage you to do so.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Today, and every day like it for the last eleven years, we remember. Indelible images from that horrific morning are branded into our personal and collective consciousness. We see the planes. The fire. The smoke. The rubble. We replay the clips, over and over.

Over and over.

Over and over.

For eleven years.

This morning, I saw the inevitable tributes. The Never Forgets. The photos. The clips.

Something inside me snapped.

Why do we do this? Why do we flagellate ourselves with these violent pictures? What are we doing? What purpose does this serve, this annual resurrection of horror and grief and pain?

I've had my fill of it.

No more.

I can mourn the dead without watching them die. I can remember the horror without witnessing the terror. I can honor the heroes without hearing their final words.

I've done those things for eleven years.

No more.

Today, I choose to remember the Towers conquered not by hatred, but by art. I choose to focus not on their collapse, but on their erection.

They were born as they died, looming large on the global stage. They captured attention and stirred the imagination. Their dizzying height inspired one of the greatest feats of performance art ever attempted.

Philippe Petit's 1974 high wire walk was a testament to the ingenuity of human engineering and creativity. Between those monoliths of modern architecture, he danced with his own mortality in a stunning exhibition of bravado and grace. He struck a perfect balance of thrilling danger and zen-like meditation.

Today, I choose to remember the soaring heights of human ingenuity. I remember the audacious. The ambitious. Art for the sake of art. I remember the artist's capacity to thrill, to enrapture, to provoke. I honor the past, but choose not to wound my heart yet again with images of destruction and death. Today, I leave you with a memory of the Towers as co-conspirators in a defiant act of art.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Parents of school-age children will understand where I'm coming from when I say Happy New Year! The rhythm of my life is dictated by the schedule determined by the state Board of Education and our local school district. The young Boyces have just embarked on a new school year. For the first time, all of my children are in school.

I am very fortunate to be able to focus on my writing during the day. I'm still sorting out my own routines, trying to strike a balance between work and home obligations. As this new school year begins, I happily find myself launching my professional career, with one novel coming out in October, and contracts just signed for two more.

When I think about everything I need to do, I start to feel overwhelmed. Publicity for the first book, editing for the second, writing for the third. What have I gotten myself into? How will I ever do this? I need a plan. I need... goals.

Believe it or not, this whole overlong introduction was to get around to the point of the post, which is the word goal.

What is a goal? You know the concept. You know the sound:

But what does it mean? Is a life goal the same as a football goal? Well... yes. Yes, it is.

Goal first appeared in the English language in the 1500's. Its initial use referred to the endpoint of a race. Soon after, at about the same time (mid-1500's), goal came to refer to both the place to sink the ball, and the more figurative sense of an ambition toward which effort is made.

You see, a goal is all about hitting the end. It's a destination. It's the light at the end of the tunnel. It's measurable -- and you have to work to get there.

Think about the ways in which we phrase the concept of goal: "My goal is to work out three times a week for a year." "She has met her sales goal for the quarter." "He failed to achieve his goal of marrying by the age of thirty."

All of these things are quantifiable. They either happen or they don't. You worked out three times this week, or you didn't. Goals are very simple, black and white.

Thank goodness some dreams don't come true. Knife wielding
wraith-cherubs I can do without, thankyouverymuch.
Mister needs to get off whatever's smoking in that pipe.
I think we're often held back by our fear of failure. We might not reach our goals, so why even try? If you have a goal of losing 20 pounds this year, and you only lose 15, have you failed? Well, maybe you didn't hit your goal, but you're still better off than you were at the beginning of the year. Goals are worth having. They're worth striving for. Even if you miss them, your efforts have brought you further than you'd have been without that goal.

Instead of goals, many of us take refuge in dreams. We dream of losing weight. We dream of having lots of money. We dream of being a famous singer. We close our eyes and picture a life we wish we had. How much better things would be if only we were rich, if only we weren't stuck in this job we hate, if only Prince Harry would visit this dinky town.

Isn't this nice? Who doesn't love to dream about a future of luxury? Or of having that dream job?

Well, dears, mean Auntie Elizabeth is here to burst your dream bubble with some cold, hard etymology. The use of dream to encapsulate the sense of "an ideal or aspiration" didn't come around until 1931. Nineteen thirty-one. Eighty-one years ago. You might know someone older than this usage of the word. I do.

Before this, for centuries, dream referred to your nighttime visions, at the kindest. In the older Germanic we have draugmas, meaning "deception, illusion, phantasm." Ouch. Even in the current accepted usage, a dream can't be pinned down.

A dream is all in your head. It's insubstantial. It's false. A dream is nothing.

Now, this is not to say you cannot make your dreams come true. You can -- if you are willing to work. If you'll turn your dream into a goal.

A goal requires a plan. A schedule. A number. An end point. Some means of determining whether or not you've gotten there. Do you want to be an architect? Maybe you have to go back to school. Do you want to be a singer? Audition for a local band. You have to do something to reach your goals. They don't happen on their own.

Here, at the start of the other New Year, I'm setting some goals for myself. I will turn in my manuscript for book three on or before November 30th. I will make a publicity plan for Once a Duchess, with items I can check off ("Cross my fingers and hope people buy it" doesn't count.). I need to get into a solid daily routine, to make sure I meet these and other goals.

What about you? Is it time to set some September New Year's goals? Have you met a goal you'd like to tell us about? Leave a comment!