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Archive for January, 2008

Character Traits of a Writer

Thirteen Writer Traits

This week fellow author Christine d’Abo mentioned The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein. It contains all sorts of neat information and inspired by Christine’s post, I dragged it out of my bookcase.

In her book the author mentions traits of writers. Here are some of them:

1. Creates in order to heal old wounds in themselves.

2. Creative thinkers.

3. Sensitive.

4. Often drink alcohol, especially after forty.

5. Depression in younger writers.

6. Problems with anxiety and drug use.

7. Has to tolerate aloneness.

8. Has to let go of work.

9. Families with mental illness and creativity.

10. Higher rates of bisexuality or homosexuality. (there’s a note about a study done for this one)

11. Abstract thinkers.

12. Fear mediocrity.

13. Disregard routine problems.

As a writer I plain disagree with some of these, although it’s good to know I don’t need to feel guilty about drinking wine anymore. I think writers are articulate, imaginative, driven, fear rejection, respond well to chocolate, have great imaginations, are determined, hardworking, good procrastinators (at times) and can suffer from bottom spread.

I’m sure I’ve missed quite a few. What qualities do you think writers have?

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Building a Villain

Playing to Win, the very first book I wrote is a romantic suspense. I’ve written many different genres since then, but one thing remains true. I love to add a suspense element and if I can sprinkle the odd body or two between the pages, so much the better.

Although a villain is essentially a secondary character in a romance, he or she needs just as much work during the creation process as the hero and heroine. There’s a trick or two I’ve learned to make a credible villain. I thought I’d share:

1. A villain doesn’t have to be really evil and horrid. The villain in a romance might be an old girlfriend, a brother or sister, a mother-in-law or the man living next-door. They can be a meddling friend who is trying to match make. You don’t need a high body count to make a villain. Villainy comes in many forms such as the ex-girlfriend intent on regaining the hero’s interest.

2. When you’re thinking about your villain, give him good points as well as bad ones. Make him three dimensional. If he’s a well-rounded character then he’s actually scarier because we, the reader, come to like him or we might see part of our own character in his makeup and empathize.

3. Think about having your villain mirror your hero or heroine actions. Give them a similar conflict but have them behave in a different way to solve the conflict.

4. Give your villains a good reason for behaving in the manner they are—in other words, good motivation for their actions.

5. Make use of the setting to enhance the villain i.e. cold or stormy weather or late at night. Every bit counts!

6. Take as much care when choosing your villain’s name as you do when picking a name for your hero and heroine. A good name can help make a villain.

How do you like your villains? Subtle or in-your-face? Who is your favorite villain in fiction? Are there any characteristics you like to see in a villain?

2008: The Year of the Potato

Thirteen Things about Potatoes

Last weekend when I visited the Botanic Gardens I discovered 2008 is the year of the potato. You learn something every day. :grin: So, in honor of the humble potato:

1. Potatoes were first “domesticated” or cultivated in the Andes thousands of years ago. They had hundreds of varieties including a frost-resistant one.

2. The potato derived its name from the American Indian word “Batata”. It was introduced to Europeans by Spanish conquerors in the late 16th Century.

3. Potatoes were not initially accepted in Europe. Some people thought they caused disease.

4. In 1845 and 1846 the potato crop in Ireland was devastated by fungus. The potato had become a major food to the Irish causing the “Irish Potato Famine” which caused many Irish to immigrate. The population of Ireland decreased by nearly two million between 1847 and 1851.

5. The potato is the second most popular food in America, beaten only by milk products.

6. The average American eats over 120 pounds of potato a year.

7. One Medium Potato (150 grams or about 1/3 pound) contains 110 Calories, 3 grams of protein, 23 grams of carbohydrate, 0 grams of fat, 2710 mg of fibre, 10 mg of sodium and 750 mg of potassium.

8. A potato contains 80% water.

9. Potatoes are related to the tobacco and tomato families.

10. Antoine-Auguste Parmentier was a 18th century agronomist who convinced the common French people to accept the potato as a safe food. (They thought it caused leprosy.) He used reverse psychology by posting guards around potato fields during the day to prevent people from stealing them. He left them unguarded at night. So, every night, the thieves would sneak into the fields to steal potatoes.

11. Mr. Potato Head was born in 1952 and was also the first toy to be advertised on television.

12. Instant mashed potatoes (dehydrated potatoes) were introduced commercially in 1955.

13. Marie Antoinette wife of Louis XV was known to wear potato blossoms as a hair decoration.

And a final one – my favorite way to eat a potato is baked in its jacket, served with Greek yogurt and ground black pepper. Hey, I’m on a cutback so I will fit my clothes for Nationals, otherwise I might have said sour cream and butter!! What is your favorite way to eat potatoes?

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A Potager Garden

When we first moved to our current house the section was bare, and the soil consisted mostly of clay. After throwing around some ideas we decided to design a potager garden.

A potager is French and it’s a raised bed garden, normally for vegetables and herbs. Hubby built three box squares out of timber and filled them with good quality soil. We made a decorative path between them so it’s easy to plant, water and harvest and not long ago, Mr. Munro planted a hedge of shelter trees because it seems to be windy where we live.

Mr. Munro spends hours out in the garden and periodically, I have to go out an inspect his latest improvements and crops. This year we’ve had fresh potatoes, lettuce, zucchini, red onions, leeks, green beans, basil, radishes, beetroot and the tomatoes are starting to ripen. It’s so handy just wandering out to the garden to pick whatever vegetables we’ve decided to have for dinner.

Here are some photos of Mr. Munro’s garden:

Mr. Munro's garden

Mr. Munro's garden

Mr. Munro's garden

I have to confess I’m a bit tired of zucchini but I’m really enjoying the green beans and can’t wait for the tomatoes to ripen so I can make fresh tomato sauce to have with pasta. Do you grow your own vegetables? What do you grow? And if you don’t have a garden, what is your favorite vegetable to eat?

Dinosaur of the Insect World

The weta – it’s a large and primitive insect, native to New Zealand. The reason I chose to write about wetas today is so more people know what they are. When I used a weta reference in my book Talking Dogs, Aliens and Purple People Eaters my editor didn’t know what I was talking about and I had to rewrite slightly to describe a weta as a prehistoric cricket-like insect.

Photobucket

There are five broad groups of weta:

1. Tree weta
2. Ground weta
3. Cave weta
4. Giant weta
5. Tusked weta

Wetas are nocturnal and live in a variety of habitats including grassland, scrub land, forests and caves. They live under stones and in rotten logs or in pre-formed burrows in trees.

They are mainly herbivores in the wild but are known to eat other insects. They can bite but are not poisonous. Species of weta are still being discovered and several are endangered. In the wild they were traditionally eaten by the tuatara (a prehistoric reptile native to NZ) but these days many are destroyed by rats, cats and dogs and of course, humans encroaching on their habitat.

The weta sheds its exoskeleton when moulting.

At 18 months the male weta selects a female and they spend time together in the male’s territory. (Romance in the insect world!)

At around two years old the female will lay 100 – 300 eggs. The parents die before the weta eggs hatch 3 – 5 months later.

The Department of Conservation in New Zealand is currently involved in weta breeding programs and translocation to safe sites such as protected islands like Tiritiri Matangi and Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf. The weta respond well to a captive breeding program.

The following photo is of a giant weta.

Photobucket

I’ve never seen a giant weta but have personal experience with both tree and cave wetas. We often find tree wetas in our garden and will return them to live in peace. They can nip and look creepy but I don’t mind them. My experience with cave wetas is a bit more spooky. When I was a kid my girlfriend lived on a farm with limestone caves. It was a favorite pastime to visit the caves and wander through them with a candle and maybe a torch to search for stalactites, stalagmites and glow worms. When I think about our cave visits now I can see how dangerous it was but for us it was an adventure – an hour or two of wandering through pristine caves. One day we discovered a new tunnel and were all set to charge into it to explore. I happened to shine the torch over the ceiling and it was covered with huge cave wetas! Really covered. I think I let out a screech and dropped the torch and we all decided to explore another part of the cave. I also took to checking my gumboots carefully and shaking vigorously before I put my feet in them. This lasted for a few weeks until the initial horror passed. I’ve never been bitten by a weta but I’m always careful not to get too close either. I can appreciate them from a distance.

How are you with insects? Do you like them or hate them with a passion? Do you have any insect stories to tell? What do you think of New Zealand’s weta?