Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Goodbye, Tony Geary

Last week, the media was ablaze with news about Tony Geary’s last day of taping at General Hospital. This week, it was announced that his last air date would be July 27th. I’m a well-known GH fan, so a lot of people posted these articles to my Facebook page, expecting that I’d be sad. I’m not. Truthfully, I think Tony should have left a long time ago. His character did a lot to destroy soaps as we knew them, and the daytime soap industry all together.

Ah, the golden age of soaps. It was the late 70s/early 80s; there were a ton of them on TV and they all featured wonderful stories. Just a few: As the World Turns and that dynamic Lisa Hughes. Another World’s Rachel. All My Children’s Erica, of course. One Life to Live had Viki and a few of her personalities. Remember Edge of Night’s Raven? What about Kate and Siobhan Ryan from Ryan’s Hope? The Young and the Restless had the Brooks sisters. Guiding Light featured the Bauer family and that crazy love story with Holly and Roger. And General Hospital was built around the women at the hospital, like Jessie Brewer, Dr. Lesley Webber and her wild daughter Laura, and Lesley’s romantic rival, Monica.

(A quick digression: Is it any surprise that girls hooked on these shows grew up to be women with trailblazing careers? Erica showed us you could be anything you wanted to be, even a model when you were five feet tall and from Pine Valley. Viki ran a newspaper. Kate Ryan was a reporter. And Lesley and Monica were doctors – Monica was a cardiac surgeon! I didn’t know until years after I’d started watching how unusual it was for a woman to specialize in heart surgery. About the sexism that kept them down. Yeah, Lesley accused Monica of going into that specialty so she could follow Rick around all day long, but there was never a hint that she wasn’t good enough because she was a woman.)

Soap operas were shows by women, about women, and for women.

And then came along Luke Spencer. Does anyone remember this scene? (sorry, it’s not the greatest copy and the sound track doesn’t match up with the video, but pay attention Luke’s dialogue!) Incredibly controversial, yes, but an amazing portrayal of a man obsessed with a woman he can’t have. So amazing that the audience rooted for Luke and Laura to be together, and producer Gloria Monty scrapped plans to kill off Luke and eventually had the couple run off together. It turned General Hospital from the number one daytime soap to a national phenomenon.

But, it was still a story soap viewers had seen and loved before. A wounded man – a smalltime hood – is changed by the love of a good woman. When Luke first left the show in 1983, he was the hero of the city. In fact, they elected him mayor.

And then Luke and Laura returned in 1995. And it was the biggest mistake General Hospital could have made. It’s the mistake that began the downfall of the entire industry.

As every soap fan knows, no soap couple can stay together. Either one of them leaves the show (which is what broke up Luke and Laura in early 1982, when Genie Francis left), or the writers need something for them to do. Soap couples exist to break up. Sometimes it’s through no fault of their own – amnesia, kidnapping, an evil vixen who drugs the man and forces him to impregnate her. But for Luke and Laura, their problems were intrinsic. The man who wanted nothing more than to be good enough for Laura Webber Baldwin was suddenly bored at their home life (like running a diner in Canada was so incredibly stimulating). And it turned out Laura had had a child with Stavros Cassadine when she was imprisoned on Cassadine Island, and never told Luke. But the worst was when Tony Geary casually told the soap press that Luke cheated on Laura with prostitutes. It was nothing personal, he assured us. But Luke had grown up in a brothel and he was comfortable around those women so naturally he had to sleep with them. And then Luke teamed up with Sonny Corinthos to break Frank Smith out of jail, and General Hospital went on a downward spiral that it never recovered from. Rather than a show about women, it became about men – dark, angry, criminal men. And it destroyed the biggest soap opera supercouple of all time because it didn’t know what to do with them.

As the years passed, Laura came and went, and Luke became darker and darker. Although I stopped watching the show a long time ago and don’t know all the details, I believe it recently changed one of the foundations of Luke’s back story. He had had a lousy childhood that got even worse when his mother died of a burst appendix, and his father took one look at her body, grabbed a beer bottle and left. That was changed into Luke killing at least one if not both of his parents. And maybe a split personality and other stuff. Meanwhile, Sonny and his boy wonder Jason became the dark princes of Port Charles, turning the show into a starring vehicle about mobsters and the women they abuse.

General Hospital evolved from being a show about women, by women and for women, to a show by men about men. Is it still for women? Judging from the ratings, which go up and down depending on the storylines featuring female characters, I’d say no. Although as one of only four soaps still on the air, GH has received ratings bumps when others have been canceled, rumors still swirl about its imminent demise.

And can the cancellation of other soaps be blamed on the darkness that has infected General Hospital? I don’t know. I stopped following them closely years ago. But One Life to Live became the Todd Manning story (Todd was best known for raping Marty), and All My Children featured a chilling storyline around the rape of its beloved heroine, Bianca. While neither of these shows glorified the criminals as General Hospital did, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that viewers just got tired of all the darkness.

An early 80s promo for ABC soaps once sang: “Love, love, hurray for love! Who was ever too blasé for love?” In those years, ABC knew that love was the backbone of its soaps, and that people tuned in for strong women and satisfying love stories. Where do they go now? Primetime. Yes, primetime couples face the same dangers as daytime couples do: namely, contracts that require the killing off of half of a rooting couple. (RIP, Will and Alicia; Derek and Meredith.) But these serialized shows have made a name for themselves (Shondaland, anyone?) by featuring strong working women, complicated love stories and tangled plot lines. They are soaps, only requiring a weekly commitment rather than a daily one. No wonder the daytime shows are down to their last few viewers.

So goodbye, Tony Geary. As much as I enjoyed Luke in the early 1980s, I am not sorry to see this character go. I wish his departure would bring back the halcyon days of love stories by, about, and for women, but I’m afraid those days in daytime are gone for good. In the meantime, what does everyone think about Meredith’s new love interest on Grey’s Anatomy?

Monday, June 22, 2015


I am incredibly proud and enormously relieved to announce that today, Evernight Publishing has released my urban fantasy novel THE TIES THAT BLEED. The Amazon link for the ebook is here: (the paperback will be out in a month or so.)

Diana Rowan has more kills than any other vampire assassin in the FBI. Except she hasn't staked a vamp in ten years. Now Diana's married to a doctor and mom to eight-year-old Katie. And while she's still with the Bureau, she spends her time in the classroom, teaching the next generation of vampire assassins how to track, stake, and decapitate bloodsuckers. Then Ian, the fang who nearly killed her, returns from the grave. To keep her family safe, Diana has to go on the hunt once more. With time running out, she is forced to turn to another vampire for help: Gerard, who created Ian. Who was once Diana's lover. And who’ll do anything to get her back.

Dear reader, I’ve been working on this project for thirteen years!

In 2002, before anyone had ever heard of Twilight, Buffy was all the rage, and I was also a fan of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, as well as the Geena Davis movie The Long Kiss Goodnight. I was writing screenplays at the time, and I found myself obsessed with the idea of a character – a mom with a dark past, someone who was at war with the darkness inside herself. The script that finally emerged from these elements was BLOODLINES, which took me about a year and a half to write and got me some attention. It was a semi-finalist at Austin and won a contest called Screamfest. I got plenty of reads from producers and managers, but while many people loved the script, everyone seemed to think the vampire craze was over.

And then Twilight hit, and the vampire craze really was over!

I put Bloodlines on a metaphorical shelf and wrote a few more horror scripts. Then a few years ago I turned to novels. After I wrote KEEPING SCORE, and while I was still trying to get an agent for it, I decided that I’d self-publish a novelized version of Bloodlines. I inputted my screenplay into Word and did the first draft of turning it into a novel.

It was 32,000 words, or about 120 pages. About half of what it needed to be to be considered novel-length. So while I was marketing KEEPING SCORE, which I eventually ended up self-publishing, I was also doing the painstaking work of making a story twice as long as it had been. I lengthened scenes, added characters and flashbacks, and explained things I’d only hinted at. (Of course the irony is I selfpubbed the book I wanted to publish traditionally, and I found a popular indie publisher for the book I was going to self-publish.)

What did that entail? Here’s the first scene from the screenplay. In the book, it’s the start of chapter two.

A full moon bathes DIANA ROWAN in white light. Diana's in
her mid-30s, with a strong, exotic beauty that can't be
placed. She drives the shovel into the earth again and again.

KATIE, 8, her face streaked with dirt and tears, sits on the
muddy ground next to Diana. She strokes the fur of a dead

Diana kneels next to Katie.

Why did Brownie have to die?

Diana hesitates. Gazes up at the moon like she sees things
no one else can.

Brownie lived a good life. It was
his time.

It wasn't my time! I want him back!

He can't come back. It's over.

Diana kisses the top of Katie's head.

When we're at church tomorrow, you
can ask God to take care of him.

She straightens up.

Why don't you go inside. Have Daddy
give you some ice cream.

Katie nods. She gives the dog a final hug, then hurries off.

Diana waits a moment. Then breaks the shovel handle in two.
Diana kneels next to the dog.

I know this isn't fair... and probably
not even necessary... but I can't
take any chances where my family is

She drives the jagged end of the wooden shovel handle into
the dog's chest.

And here’s the novelization:

My daughter is too young to have to learn about death.

Yet here we are. It’s nearly 8:30 on a Saturday night, and we are burying her dog in our backyard.
Her father should be doing this. He’s a doctor. He deals with life and death every day. But he’s at the hospital. As usual.
I bury the shovel into the hard earth. It’s October in Virginia, and we haven’t had a freeze yet, but the ground is solid and compact. Still, it’s not really an issue for me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watch Katie stroke Brownie’s fur. Her tears fall on his muzzle.
I want to kill the person who made my daughter cry.
“I don’t understand,” she says. “He wasn’t old. He didn’t get hit by a car. Why did he have to die?”
I take a deep breath. One of these days, my daughter will realize that I always breathe deeply before I lie to her.
“He was sick, sweetie. He was sick, and we didn’t know it until it was too late.”
She looks at me, brown eyes full of accusations. You didn’t know, Mom. It’s your fault. But she doesn’t say it.
“Did Brownie go to heaven?”
The Catholic Church says that animals don’t have souls. But the Catholic Church lies to its followers as much as I lie to my family.
I nod. “At mass tomorrow, you can ask God to take care of him.”
My cell phone beeps with a text from Robert. He’s almost home.

“Daddy will be here any minute,” I tell Katie. “Why don’t you make some ice cream sundaes? You know Daddy loves eating ice cream with you.”
“I want to see it. I want to see you put Brownie in the ground.”
I drop the shovel and put both hands on my daughter’s shoulders. “No, you don’t.”
She glares at me again. Eight years old and more like a teenager every day. I wonder if she’ll be like I was as a teen. She’s already more stubborn and cynical than I was then. It will probably be worse.
Finally, she shakes me off and stomps into the house.
I wait until I know she’s in the kitchen. The kitchen is at the front of our house.
I break the shovel handle over my knee. It splinters, nice and sharp.
I was the one who found Brownie. At first I thought he was asleep. The back yard isn’t the most comfortable spot, but dogs can sleep anywhere. He looked so peaceful. But when I nudged him with my foot, his head fell back at a strange angle and his tongue lolled out.
Robert was supposed to let him in that night, but he’d forgotten. I wanted a necropsy, but my husband said no. He didn’t see the point. Said that Brownie must have been sick. Brushed off my concerns about a deliberate poisoning. Maybe he just felt guilty.
It could mean nothing. Or could it mean trouble. Trouble that could come in any form. I can’t afford to brush it aside.
I kneel next to Brownie. Even though I know he can’t hear me, it makes me feel better to whisper in his ear. “I know this isn’t fair… and probably not even necessary… but I can’t take any chances where my family is concerned.”
I drive the shovel’s jagged edge deep into my dog’s chest.
Nothing happens.
Whoever killed him didn’t do anything else. But the thought isn’t comforting.
I avoid the sight of Brownie’s ruined chest as I claw out the rest of the hole with the broken shovel. Training tells me at least six feet down, but I stop at three. Whatever else is down there, I don’t want to see it. It’s been a while, but I’ve seen enough.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you love the book. And who knows, if I sell enough copies, maybe I write a sequel!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Don’t Stay Tuned! Episodic Writing is Good for TV Shows but Not Your Novel

I’ve been a reader for a literary agency for over two years, and I go through about six manuscripts a month. I’m closing in on 150 reports, and sadly very few of them recommend the project. Most are passes; a small percentage advise sending the writer a “revise and resubmit” letter, and maybe five have been “offer representation.” (I write at least five pages describing the manuscript so that the agent I read for can draw her own conclusions.) “Revise and resubmit” usually means the story doesn’t work, but the writing was so good, I’d want to see another draft. I often give notes about specific changes the writer can make to tighten the story.

Sometimes the manuscript is so close and the fixes are so obvious and easy, I wish the writer somehow could have contacted me so I could have worked with her (it is usually a her) to make it as strong as possible before querying. (And I do offer affordable developmental editing services! Contact me for details!) Usually, though, there’s something fundamentally wrong with how the story is designed that the writer needs to do a complete page one rewrite for the book to succeed. And often that “something” is the writer’s failure to tell one complete, cohesive story. In other words, it’s episodic.

“Episodic” doesn’t sound bad, but it will doom the book. It violates the three act structure requirement and leaves readers wondering what the story is about. Readers end up muddling through, as the story lacks the tension and pacing that are created when a protagonist has a specific goal and is taking concrete steps to reach it. A pace that’s appropriate to the story and tension in scenes keep readers turning pages.
How do you know if the story you’re working on episodic? Usually after the first few chapters, the reader should have a general sense of the story’s ending. It’s either yes or no. Yes, Dorothy will get home to Kansas. No, Scarlet will not end up with Ashley.

It’s the difference between “A woman goes on a series of dates with inappropriate men” and “A woman goes on a series of dates with inappropriate men in order to find the perfect escort to her sister’s wedding.”

Sometimes in women’s fiction, the protagonist has a goal that isn’t necessarily specified or under her direct control. Examples of these types of stories would be a woman whose husband leaves her, or her daughter gets cancer, or her father develops Alzheimer’s. These novels do not suffer from episodic disease. Rather, the protagonist’s goal is to get life back to the way it used to be before the crisis, or to work out a new normal. The reader intrinsically understands this, even if the protagonist doesn’t spell out her wishes.

Having an episodic novel is usually the kiss of death when it comes to traditional publishing. If you’re not sure whether your book is episodic or not, post a few sentences about it in the comments and I’ll let you know what I think.

Monday, June 1, 2015

10 Truths for College Baseball Parents

Last October, I wrote a post about ten truths for travel baseball parents as a tie-in with my novel, KEEPING SCORE. (Available here through Amazon! ) KEEPING SCORE is about a mother of a 9-year-old boy playing travel baseball for the first summer, and she gets completely caught up in it. Near the end of the book, her son Sam meets a pitcher for the University of Virginia and begins dreaming of playing there one day himself. While most boys his age dream of playing in the major leagues, by the time they are serious players in high school, the dream is about college ball. Since the NCAA regionals were this past weekend, leading to the Super Regionals this upcoming weekend and then the College World Series, I thought now would be a good time to impart some of the lessons my family and I have learned during our son’s experience showcasing, being recruited, and playing college ball.

High school baseball isn’t the deciding factor for playing college baseball. Of course it matters to your son, and your community, and your family. Playing high school baseball, being with the same cohort of kids for four years, is one of the most worthwhile experiences a teenager can have. For most players, their baseball dreams end here, so it’s the pinnacle of their childhood. But for players good enough to play at the next level, their high school records and experiences don’t count. College coaches rarely come to high school games anymore. Rather, it’s all about the summer showcase team. Thanks to Perfect Game, college coaches expect to see their prospects in July in Atlanta, Georgia rather than in their hometowns in the spring. This makes sense – the coaches have their own teams to worry about in the spring. Prospects need to get on the best, most well-organized showcase team, attend those tournaments every summer they’re in high school, and make sure the coaches they want to see them know their schedule.

Verbal commitments don’t mean anything. Even though players can’t officially commit until November of their senior year, the trend has been going for verbal commitments at younger and younger ages. For parents, it can feel like a merry-go-round, especially when your son’s teammates have all committed and your son hasn’t yet. But this verbal commitment is worth the paper it’s printed on. The school can rescind its offer at any time. Your son could change his mind, true, but it’s more likely that a player who commits his sophomore year and then has a bad junior could find himself without a school.

Schools have an unlimited number of walk-ons. With (fully funded D1 programs) 27 scholarships and 35 players, only eight players should be walk-ons. (A walk on is a player who does not receive any scholarship money. The NCAA requires that scholarships be at least 25% of tuition, along with books. Since D1 baseball only offers 11.7 scholarships per team, most kids receive a fraction of a full scholarship. Walk-ons can be recruited just as hard as scholarship players, or show up at an open try-out.) But since coaches can allow any number of kids to walk on, some schools have over 40 players showing up in the fall hoping to make the team. Do they let the other walk-ons know about this competition? Of course not. In the spring, teams are only allowed to carry 35 players. Everyone else will be redshirted or cut.

Coaches can switch schools and immediately begin coaching. Players cannot switch D1 schools and immediately begin playing. The NCAA, which exists to protect its member universities and not its student-athletes, has a rule that says a player who wants to switch D1 to D1 has to sit out a year, even if that player has been redshirted by his school and will not be playing. In other words, if Ray is a recruited walk on at D1 Texas State University and receives a redshirt (which means he won’t be playing at all, but won’t lose a year of athletic eligibility), he can’t transfer next year to D1 Texas State College and play. The NCAA will make him sit out a year, which would mean two years on the bench for Ray. If Ray wants to play next year, he’ll have to find a D2 or D3 school, or attend a junior college and graduate from it before playing D1 again.

No one cares what you did in high school. You may have been All-Met, All-State, Gatorade Player of the Year, drafted in the 15th round. No one cares. The clock starts all over again when you step foot on campus. And you’re competing with kids who were just as successful in high school as you were. When you were recruited, coaches may have made promises about being a starting shortstop or the first guy out of the bullpen. Those promises mean nothing.

No one cares how you did it in high school. It’s not unheard of for a college coach to try to completely change a player’s hitting stance, pitching mechanics, pitch selection, or even to ask a position player to play a completely different position or even try pitching. Starting pitchers become relievers or closers. It’s the coach’s team, and what he says goes.

Winning is everything. Coaches aren’t there to be nice or play fair. There’s no guarantee of playing time for anyone. There’s no guarantee that your scholarship will be there next year, or even your roster spot. The coach was hired to win and his job is on the line if he doesn’t. If you can’t help him win, don’t whine that you’re on the bench.

Kids do not go to junior college because they aren’t good enough to play at a four-year school. Rather, they go because they didn’t like the four-year-old school they chose when they were a sophomore in high school and then hated their freshman year, and are now at junior college because they wanted to play rather than sit out a year. Or their grades weren’t good enough to go directly to the four-year school they planned to attend. These kids are good players and shouldn’t be underestimated, which leads to this next point:

College freshman compete with junior college transfers without knowing about them. Perfect Game doesn’t track these commitments, and many of them happen late. So Ray and his parents might have been happy that Texas State had graduated its shortstop and Ray was the only freshman shortstop listed, but they didn’t know Texas State had three shortstops lined up from various Texas community colleges. And that also leads to this point:

If you’re not committed by November your senior year, it’s not too late. If you’re willing to take a chance, many D1 schools with very strong programs find themselves shorthanded in June, when more juniors than they had expected get drafted and leave, while at the same time more of their high school commits do the same thing. That means scholarship money unexpectedly opens up. There are kids who commit to big programs only weeks before stepping on campus all the time.

That was 10, but here’s an additional point that is true at every level:

It is better to get a lot of playing time on a mediocre team than to sit on the bench of a championship team. Bragging rights do not trump time on the field.

Best of luck to you and your son as you continue along his baseball journey! Please read my book, KEEPING SCORE, available as a paperback, on Kindle, or as an audiobook!

Here’s the blurb:
When her 9-year-old son wanted to play summer travel baseball, Shannon had no idea the toughest competition was off the field….

When her son Sam asks to try out for a travel baseball team, divorced mom Shannon Stevens thinks it’ll be a fun and active way to spend the summer. Boy, is she wrong! From the very first practice, Shannon and Sam get sucked into a mad world of rigged try-outs, professional coaches, and personal hitting instructors. But it’s the crazy, competitive parents who really make Shannon’s life miserable. Their sons are all the second coming of Babe Ruth, and Sam isn’t fit to fetch their foul balls. Even worse, Shannon’s best friend Jennifer catches the baseball fever. She schemes behind the scenes to get her son Matthew on the town’s best baseball team, the Saints. As for Sam? Sorry, there’s no room for him! Sam winds up on the worst team in town, and every week they find new and humiliating ways to lose to the Saints.

And the action off the field is just as hot. Shannon finds herself falling for the Saints’ coach, Kevin. But how can she date a man who didn’t think her son was good enough for his team … especially when the whole baseball world is gossiping about them? Even Shannon’s ex-husband David gets pulled into the mess when a randy baseball mom goes after him. As Sam works to make friends, win games and become a better baseball player, Shannon struggles not to become one of those crazy baseball parents herself. In this world, it’s not about whether you win, lose, or how you play the game… it’s all about KEEPING SCORE.