Monday, December 31, 2007

Out With the Old

Hopefully, I am not stepping on Lisa's blogging toes. For heaven's sake, Lisa, if you are ready to post something after this goes up, please do so and accept my apologies!

I just packaged up my book and raced to the post office (which closed early!) Nevermind, in my head, this book is finally out of here and I am happy to see it go. I will toast it tonight, and wish it a safe journey, but meanwhile, starting tomorrow, it's on with the new, goodbye to the old.

How fitting, huh?

A few years ago, some friends had a really miserable year. Come to think of it, so did we. So on New Year's Eve, these friends came over and we all wrote the things that were troubling us on pieces of paper. Then we carefully, one at a time, put the papers into the fire and watched them go up in smoke.

I don't know why, exactly, but this little ritual worked and it's something my husband and I still do on occasion.

Now, since the things you stick on a piece of paper to destroy are sometimes very personal, I'm not asking you to write them down here on this blog (if you even happen to tiptoe --or stagger-- this way on New Years...) Remember, we're not talking about resolutions or things we want to strive for. We're talking about negative things that we want to let go. And the negative things that destroy writing opportunities are often seemingly unrelated to writing. Family trouble, health concerns, anger, disappointment, fear ... all of these things negatively impact creativity.

Try it, if not on a paper, then metaphorically, in your head. Write the words, fold the paper, hold it above the flame and drop it. Watch the paper blacken and curl, watch it catch fire. And let it go.

Happy New Years Everyone

Happy New Years

I think Lisa may have started celebrating early! Or maybe she's getting ready to post right this moment

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Few More Words of Zen

The Chinese are a wise people. We're not talking the government control-freak Chinese people here, those folks have some mental issues, but simple words put into complex thought make wise the everyday Joes. Or, in this case the everyday Lings, Pings and Taos.

Look at the examples below and you’ll see what I mean:

Enough shovels of earth -- a mountain.
Enough pails of water -- a river.

I love this. And, I think it easily translates not only to everyday life, but to writing as well:

Enough letters -- a paragraph.
Enough paragraphs -- a manuscript.

Although some of the beauty of the original passage is lost in my pathetic translation, you get my drift.

Here's another:

Before Zen -- cut wood, carry water.
After Zen -- cut wood, carry water.

I take this to mean keep on keeping on with life's everyday tasks. So, how does this relate to writing you ask? I'm so happy you asked! Let's replace the word Zen with the word publication, and make some other slight modifications. Ready? Okay.

Before publication -- sit butt in chair and write.
After publication -- sit butt in chair and write.

You could also replace the word Zen with the words fame or fortune.

Ah yes, such a wise race the Chinese people. And man do they make good dumplings too.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Rushing toward the finish line

I think it's my turn to blog, or it was yesterday. Anyway, since it's already after 1:00, I thought I'd post something since nothing has appeared here since Christmas Eve.

I have two more chapters to go before finishing this book. Yay! So I'm kind of savoring it, really putting a lot of thought into these last forty or fifty pages. And since it's the first book in a series, not everything will be wrapped up in the end except for the main story question. And yet it needs to be a standalone book. Very challenging. But fun. 8^) I hope to type "the end" by the first of the year. In other words, by next Tuesday or Wednesday.

So when you get closer to the end of a book, do you write slower, or faster? I know a lot of writers who pick up speed at the end because they're eager to be finished, or because the ending has played out in their mind for so long that they're excited to actually get the words down. So do you rush to get the end down? Do you plan to flesh it out more later so that it doesn't read so hurried, or are you confident it can stand as is? Or do you like to savor the last few pages, letting them slowly pour from your finger tips?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Believe



Last night I realized I blog today. Well, I soaked in the tub to get inspiration and nothing came, so I worked on gathering information about Prostitution in the 1800's in the West for a workshop I'm giving, and still nothing came to me. I was sure as soon as my head hit the pillow all kinds of things would start popping into my head. Nope, drifted off to dreamland without a hitch.

So, here it is morning and I'm still trying to figure out what to write. I don't want anything deep or anything people fill obligated to respond to, because heck, it's Christmas Eve and most probably won't even look at this.

I thought about doing one on respect, but that is too close to an unsolved issue at the moment to comment on. I'll wait. I thought about doing one about a writer's Christmas Wish list, but I think that was kind of hit on earlier. I could just write you all a poem, but Alice is far better at that than I am.

So my blog today is simply, a pep talk. Believe in your abilities as a writer and don't let rejection letters or nay-sayers sway you from your desire to write. If you can entertain, touch emotions, and coherently write about a subject- you are a writer and don't let anyone tell you any different! Believe in yourself and Believe in Dreams! They do come true if you believe and surround yourself with others who believe.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Online Workshops

I'm taking a non-scientific poll. Do you take online workshops? Find them helpful? A waste of time or money? Would you be more inclined to take one based on the speaker, the fee or the subject matter?

I've taken a few. One was from Lisa Gardner on her plotting method. This was during a phase when I thought I needed to plot my stories out in detail like other writers to be sure I was "doing it right". It was an interesting class, and I did learn a lot about my process by taking it - what works for me and what doesn't - but I'm more of a plantster than a plotter, so by the end I had notecards all over my living room and couldn't figure out what to do next. (That method got tossed.)

I took another one on writing synopses. Each week we added new info to our one page synopsis based on exercises designed by the speaker. Then we'd send them to the loop for critique. I hated this class. The speaker hated my synopsis (actually, she hated all of them), and I eventually stopped sending stuff in.

I took another one on PI's. At the time, I was planning to write a book about a PI. I skimmed all the lectures, didn't do the work, and saved all the emails in a file in my email account. I'd signed up for the class two months before it started, paid my fees, and by the time the class rolled around, my hero had gone from a PI to a thief and legal procedure was the last thing on my mind. But, that class was very interesting and who knows, someday I may just write about a PI and need all that info I've got saved.

My CP is big on online classes. She takes one nearly every month. It can get spendy, with 2 wk classes running $15/$20 (member vs. nonmember price) and month-long classes in the $20/$25 range. I'm not at a stage in my career where I want to take craft classes anymore, but there are a bunch of research classes I've seen lately (esp. on the KOD site) that sound interesting. I've also heard great things about Margie Lawson's classes, so I'm interested in possibly signing up for one of hers in '08.

Do online classes interest you? Have you taken them before or are there any that you'd like to take?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

WHAT WILL YOU GIVE YOURSELF FOR CHRISTMAS?

Around the holidays last year, I wrote a blog about gifts for yourself. Not physical gifts, but gifts of the spirit. These were actually gifts that I started thinking about around Christmas that turned into New Year's resolutions. I guess they could be called giftolutions. Here are some of my giftolutions from last year: the gift of time to write, the gift of saying no to tasks that don't help me reach my goals, the gift of doing nothing for an afternoon instead of juggling a dozen different errands.

So how did I do? So-so.

I finished another manuscript, though taking much longer than I wanted to. I did pretty good at saying no to tasks that didn't help me reach my goals, although there were plenty of tasks connected to my goals that kept me busy. That meant my goal of doing nothing rarely happened.

However, I like the idea of giftolutions enough to do it again. So what's on my list this year?

-- The gift of dreams; ones that are a bit scary and a lot exciting.
-- The gift of time AND focused energy to pursue those dreams, writing-related and others.
-- That gift of saying no to tasks that don't help me reach my goals is a keeper for this year also.
-- The gift of a regular artist's date (as Julia Cameron would say) to refill the creative well.
-- New socks. (Hey, I need to have one practical gift!)

So my giftolutions are very similar to last year's, but refined a bit. How about you? What's the best gift you could give yourself?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

TAP, TAP, TAP....PUNCH

A few weeks ago, I wrote a scene where the hero stands in a living room populated by pictures of a teenager he was forced to shoot a year before. He is talking to the boy's mother and the guilt and remorse he feels is overwhelming. He's responsible for the grief he sees in her eyes, for the droop of her shoulders. It's a painful scene.

Just before that came a scene where a house goes up in flames. The hero has to rescue his wife and infant son and isn't sure he can.

Then there's a scene where the hero comes across a room filled with pornographic pictures taken of youngsters and he is sickened by what he sees.

What these three scenes have in common is emotional impact. I remember being very bothered by the first one because it also occurred to me that the villain behind all this misery, who has touched all these life's, caused all this disruption and death and mayhem, is still out there causing trouble. I was really struck by the ripple effect of evil and it permeated my consciousness as I wrote.

As for the second scene, the fire, I wrote that scene very fast. When I went back to reread it, my typing was terrible. Half words and spaces and all sorts of mistakes I generally don't make. It was like that because I was so caught up in the terror and the need for haste that it moved into my hands and I raced, just like he raced, fingers flying, words falling to the side like dead soldiers.

The third scene is a nightmare for the hero. It's been rewritten so many times because it's pivotal. The first time through, it was very graphic. Since then it's been modified to get me where I need to go, but once again, it was my emotional response that shaped the scene and it stands out in my mind very clearly.

What I don't know, what I wonder about, is if that intensity I felt writing these scenes actually exists on paper so that the reader feels it, too. How can I know, because in rereading it a dozen or more times, the horror is diffused and domesticated to a certain extent, so that now I don't know if the scenes carry a punch or if the punch is in my memory bank from when I originally created the scene.

I've had writers tell me how touched they were when writing something and yet when I read what they wrote, I wasn't as touched. I thought maybe I was a bad reader. Now I wonder if the fantasy is so much more real for the writer. Afterall, only a portion of what a writer "sees" makes it into a scene, the rest of the picture is left in limbo.

Do you have tricks for handling this? Words of wisdom? Have you ever experienced what I'm talking about?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fill In

Okay, it doesn't look like Bethany's going to post, so I'm going to slide in and take over.

There's a huge debate taking place on the RWA officer's loop about kids attending RWA meetings and conventions. Several chapters are reworking their bylaws, and the question has come up about whether a line should be put into the bylaws regarding children and meetings. While I'm not entirely sure it needs to be put into the bylaws, several chapters have a "...guests must be at least 18 years of age" written into their Policy & Procedures Manuals. (Paty, do we even have a P&M Manual?)

There are opinions on all sides of the issue, but the majority of officers responding are of the "kids don't belong at meetings and conferences" mindset. One officer responded with,

"It really is something best handled by policy and discussed frankly with members who wish to bring children to a meeting. That violates the professional spirit and learning atmosphere we strive to maintain as RWA chapters. It is important for members to recognize we are a professional organization and the presence of children (other than, perhaps, a nursing infant though that is a judgment call) is not appropriate."

Now, I know this may raise feathers with some, especially in our group, but I can see the point. We're a professional organization, with the goal of promoting writing. We have guest speakers who come in and we want to present a professional atmosphere not only to our speakers, but to our current members and potential new members. Kids - as much as I love them - tend to disrupt that atmosphere, even when they're being little angels.

There are some who may say I'm being hypocritical, and you're probably right. I brought my 4 wk old to a meeting once because I desperately missed the group and couldn't leave him because I was nursing. I took him to Paty's house at our first retreat when he was about five weeks. The difference here though is my bringing my son to the retreat was cleared with the members attending before I went, and Paty arranged for a babysitter to watch him while we all worked. I snuck out now and then to feed him and came back so he wouldn't be a disruption to the others. And, after that, when he was two months old and able to sit two hours without eating, I never took him to another meeting again. I know my kids (hellions that they are), and I know their antics. Even if they were the most angelic children on the planet, I would not take them to another meeting or to a conference. Not only for my sanity, but for the sanity of those around me.

I think we can all agree that nursing newborns are a different boat from toddlers and children and that babysitters are NOT always an option for newborns. We also happen to be a very small chapter and in Bethany's case at the November meeting, we all wanted to see that adorable bundle. But I was very proud of Bethany in that she not only asked if it was okay to bring the baby, but that she didn't plan to stay long and as soon as Tavy got upset, she left. That shows maturity and understanding of others' feelings and opinions, and it's extremely important in an organization like ours.

This is an issue that needs to be discussed not only among the officers, but among the members as well. While I understand the babysitting struggle (boy, do I), bringing kids with you to the meeting just because you don't have another option isn't something we want to encourage. One because it's disruptive to others, and two because we often discuss things (like sex), joke and make comments about things that aren't appropriate for little ears. I don't want to have to censure our discussions, and I don't want others to feel they have to censure anything either. In the same vein, I wouldn't feel comfortable allowing a teenager to attend our meetings either.

So...thoughts on this? Opinions either way? I'm not trying to ruffle feathers here. Honestly, this isn't even something I'd thought of discussing before, but as it's been a big brouhaha on the loop, I decided to see what you all think. I've missed meetings because I didn't have a babysitter, and it's not fun, but the alternative isn't something I'd willingly subject the rest of you to. ;) And just so you don't think I'm trying to be a naysayer here (or a shit-stirrer, as Alice would say), several officers on the chaplink loop have been coming up with solutions, like creating a babysitting chair in their group who organizes a babysitter on the night of the meetings for those members who don't have other options. So there are other options out there, we just have to think outside the box if it's a problem for certain members.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Writing reference books

Sorry I'm late! Still no computer at work (grrrr) and the work network/internet won't work on my personal laptop. Getting to the internet is a bit tough at the moment. I miss it!

I've been thinking a lot about nonfiction books lately. I'm on a bit of a book-buying kick. Used books (amazon.com and half.com specifically - GREAT prices). I've bought a number of archaeology, anthropology, human osteology, etc books. They make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Anyhoo - it got me thinking about the writing nonfiction and reference books I have. I've read bits and pieces of a number of them, and a couple of them have been read through once. One of those is Deb Dixon's "Goal, Motivation and Conflict."

She's giving a workshop in Portland next month, sponsored by our sister chapter to the north - Rose City RWA. I'm going to that workshop, which means I really should give Deb's book another read. It made sense the first time through, but it didn't quite sink in. I don't think I was in the right mindset and place in my writing for it to be as beneficial as it could for me.

But I know that book is a popular one for many writers. I've also heard great things about "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers." I haven't read it all myself, I suppose I need to finish a book to edit first :)

What are some writing books that have helped you out a lot? What are some that you thought looked great, but didn't turn out as helpful as you had hoped?

Well my time is up - coworker is back from lunch and wants her computer back :) Time to go back to studying the bones of the human body. Hopefully I'll get a computer today or tomorrow (I haven't had one for A WEEK!!!) so I can return e-mail, I'm sure I have a few unanswered. Sorry!

Friday, December 14, 2007

100 Day Challenge

It came. It went. The 100 days are done.

How did we do? I checked my total this morning. I ended up with 92,784 words in the 100 days. 7,216 words short of my goal. I'd hoped to get there as of last night, but I had too much going on this week to sit and pound out those last few words. I'm hoping to make it up before the end of the year though. How did everyone else do?

And out of curiosity...anyone interested in doing the 100 day challenge again? I was thinking we could start after New Year's...maybe Jan 2nd? If you're interested, let me know. Oh! And I got this great new daily "quote" calendar which I'm thinking of posting daily to inspire those of you who join in. ;) Maybe I can even talk the officers into springing for some kind of nice (read, not cheesy) gift for each person who makes the 100,000 word goal at the end of the thing. Like a gift card or restaurant certificate or something?

Thoughts?

Blogging Day, Blogging Day, Blogging All the Way

It's Christmas season. We're all busy. I still have my cards to get out and I need to squeeze in a workout today and get ready for another Christmas party tonight blah-blah-blah. We all know how it is, so I figured I'd do everyone a favor and keep this post, if not so sweet, at least short and simple.

As I was cleaning off my desk yesterday -- translation: As I was moving stacks of paper and notebooks from one side of the desk to the other -- I came across a slip of paper on which I'd scribbled the following words:

Every character is on their own journey. Where those journeys intersect is your story.

It's seems a wise two sentences. I'd happily take credit for writing it, but that wouldn't be right, since I didn't. I don't know who wrote it. I don't even remember where I copied it from. But no matter. I pinned the scrap of paper up on my bulletin board, where chances are good it will stay for at least several months, until I decide to rearrange piles of paper in my office again.

In the meantime, I think I'll reflect on the zen of these words, and hope for today they have strong enough meaning to some of the rest of you to open up a discussion.
Feel free to start. You. Yes you. Go ahead and open the discussion...ha!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I'm sifting through the fog that is my brain to see what I can possibly blog about today. Usually I'm struck by too many ideas, but a nasty head cold has inhibited my ability to think.

Since the WIP is forever on my mind, I'll pull something from that. I'll just take a sip of my hot cocoa and… Oh, oh! I know! Let's talk about stakes and when to up them, huh? Conflict is always good to blog about.

I write urban fantasy, but what I really write is action adventure stories with a paranormal twist. Therefore I come up against the same challenges as any genre writer, such as keeping the stakes high, or just throwing substantial obstacles at the characters to keep the story moving.

A problem I often have is coming up with an obstacle my character can believably overcome. I can think of the obstacles just fine, but I end up creating a problem so heinous that the real challenge is resolving it so the story can move on. That's the fun of writing fiction. I may lay awake at night trying to come up with the best way for my character to fix things, but I know that if I'm worried, the reader will be worried to. Which is the ultimate goal of writing a compelling story.

Just the other day I had a scene all planned out in my mind. The bad guys were holding a minor but important character against his will. In fact, he was being tortured into cooperating with the villain who needed him to perform a type of ritual magic that will summon a fallen angel that the villain wants to bargain with. Well, my heroine would really like to free this poor guy, especially since she feels partially responsible for his capture (which she is), so she lies to the villain and tells him she can perform the ritual herself. Let the innocent guy go.

There, on the page, right before my eyes, the villain says, "He's already dead." What the--? Oh, great. He can't be dead! I need him to help the heroine in a future scene! Yet as resistant as I am to this problematic outcome, it makes sense for it to happen. Elements of the story came together this way for a reason. And somehow I'll make it work. My heroine needs me to, or she's a goner. The fallen angel is, after all, her father.

I know we've blogged recently about how our characters take us by surprise, but it's never a boring subject. At least not to me. Has this happened to you recently? I'm guessing yes. 8^) Want to share?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

In Honor Of Ditty Day

How about a warm up exercise to get us in the mood for cranking out those ditties? Remember, the white elephant ditty is optional, but c'mon...we're writers. I'm sure you can come up with something.

Just for fun, let's do a practice one here. I'll start it, you add to it in the comments. Let's see where this baby goes...

************

A MWV Writer's Christmas Ditty

'Twas the night before the big
Mid-Willamette Valley bash,
When all through the Internet
Writers were tossing words out like trash.

The white-elephant gifts were chosen
And wrapped like big gems,
In the hopes that no one would notice,
What crappy gifts lay within.

(your turn)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tis the Season . . .

For diddies and newsletters! My mailbox is full with offerings of good cheer and tidings of joy, plus our RWA holiday party is Thursday, so I'm beginning to feel the season a little. Our chapter tradition of writing little poem/story/limerick/etc diddies to accompany white elephant gifts is always fun. Many families have similar traditions, and of course, many send out the annual newsletter. Tis the season for little bursts of writing for our most demanding audience--family and friends!

As we engage in these purely social acts of writing, how can what we've learned as romance writers help us? Should we try to elevate our writing beyond the bare minimum we need to slap that sucker in the mail? Of course we should! To ignore the challenge is to succumb to mediocrity--and that has lasting effects on the rest of our lives. Plus, just because they love us anyway, why subject your family and friends to another boring newsletter?

I now read these newsletters through the eyes of a writer and teacher. Misspellings jump out at me, as do run-on sentences, and misplaced modifers, but the real problem here is a lack of direction. The narrative is missing from most holiday writing.

What narrative you ask? You just have to report the family news. All you need to do is assemble, inflate, and invent and let these puffs of fluff land on the page as they will. To the contrary my friend! You won't need to resort to truth-stretching to hold the reader's interest if you follow some of the basics of good story telling:

Have a direction and a goal. Do you want to be funny? Touching? Sentimental? Pick the tone for your holiday communication and stick to it. What form will best accomplish your goal? A poem? A story? What type of story or poem? A silly format? What plays to your strengths? If you can't write rhyming poems to save your life, and hate even trying, don't feel obligated to attempt it.

Last year, I had a blast with my holiday letter and ditty because I played to my strength of narrative and dialogue. I challenged myself to use correct form, and to have a cohesive story that framed the necessary information. Think outside the box.

Who is the hero of your letter? Don't say all of us. So what if you have eight people to write about? There is still a hero of your story--you just have to find him/her and use them to frame your communication. "This year Grandma turned 75. We were so happy to have her with us to celebrate . . . " Keep returning to this person and use him/her as a touchstone for your communication.

Limit the backstory and information dumps. We all know that action keeps our WIPs moving, and the same is true for holiday writing. Keep things moving, and keep them clean. Don't overburden your holiday writing with flowery prose. It may be a season of reverence, but that's no reason to resort to Old English without good reason.

What writing do you have this season? Do you do a newsletter? Scrapbook? Other family traditions? Do you find your fiction writing influencing the social writing you do? Does your family expect more of you as you get more success with your writing? Do you feel obligated to show off your skills?

_________________________________________________________________
To-Do Tuesday: Once the season is past, it's time to move onto the season of New Year's resolutions. Let one of yours be to register for the amazing Shirley Jump's online seminar with the Kiss of Death Mystery and Suspense RWA chapter. Click here for more information.

How do you know…

Sorry this is late this morning! My wireless at home wasn't working. I put in several calls but the technician was unavailable, so I loaded the laptop and Tink into the car and headed to the coffee shop in town with wireless.

How do you know when your writing is boring? I mean if a writer writes a story and they are committed to the story and the characters, how do they know the story isn’t boring to someone else? They are living the story with the characters, going through what the characters are going through, but- maybe that life is more interesting than their own, but hardly something to write home about.

I read a story this weekend, that, while I enjoyed the historical information, the characters and story line were normal. Nothing that jumped out and grabbed me and made me want to continue reading the book other than to glean more historical information. I doubt the author of this story believes it is boring. So when does a writer know if they are boring their audience?

A book doesn’t have to have murder and mayhem all the way through to keep my attention, but the characters need to come to life. They can’t go about their day to day lives and keep me enthralled. Not unless there is a lot of emotional turmoil going on while they go about their daily routines.

A friend gave me Nora Robert’s “Angels Fall”. I’ve been reading it. It isn’t one I can’t put down, the characters have flaws, the secondary characters are characters, the setting is rural. She is doing less head hopping than in earlier books. But I’m not drawn to the characters as I’ve been in past books. And I’ve found myself skipping the brief paragraphs of setting. Which, I realize I don’t write much of in my own books. I don’t like to read sections of setting/scenery so I don’t write them. So, going back to my original question- since I also don’t like boring books, does that mean I don’t write boring books- or does it just mean I write what doesn’t bore me?

Thoughts on this?

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Right Stuff?

Take a look at these groups of words:

Word Group Choice Number One:
aptitude, faculty, feeling, funny feeling, gift, gut reaction, hang, hunch, idea, impulse, inclination, intuition, knack, know how, nose, predisposition, proclivity, savvy, sense, sentiment, sixth sense, talent, tendency, urge

Word Group Choice Number Two:
ability, accomplishment, acquirement, aptitude, aptness, attainment, attribute, bent, capability, capacity, endowment, faculty, flair, forte, genius, head, instinct, knack, leaning, nose, numen, power, propensity, set, specialty, turn

Word Group Choice Number Three:
adroitness, aptitude, aptness, bent, capability, capacity, cleverness, dexterity, facility, flair, forte, genius, gift, instinct, intelligence, knack, leaning, nose*, peculiarity, penchant, pistol, power, predilection, proclivity, propensity, property, quality, readiness, reason, right stuff, sense, skill, strength, talent, turn, wits

Which one of these three word groups describes you and your writing?

Now look at these definitions:

Choice One: a natural aptitude or gift

Choice Two: a capacity for achievement or success

Choice Three: competence in an activity or occupation because of one's skill, training, or other qualification

Does any one definition describe you as a writer? Now look back at the word groupings above and see if you can pick out which definition goes with which group of words. (Yes, there's a reason for this, don't worry.)

The other night I sat down to work on the wip after the kids went to bed like I always do. I'd thought about the scene I needed to write all day long. I knew the players, how it would start, where it would go and what would happen at the end. Usually, spending my day working through the scene makes it easier for me to write it in the evening because I don't waste a lot of time wondering, well, what should happen next? But this night, something strange happened.

The scene that started coming out of my fingers when I typed was not the scene I'd set out to write all day. It was in a different location, with different characters. In fact, the hero and heroine weren't even in this scene. It was a scene composed entirely of secondary characters, and as I was writing I had no clue what was happening, why or where it would go, but for some reason, the scene spilled out almost as quickly as if I'd spent the entire day pondering it.

Weird, right? I thought so, too.

When I was done, I read back over what I'd written. It wasn't bad, but I couldn't figure out why it was important or why it had to be written now. Instead of frustrating myself over it though, and because it was already so late, I closed the laptop and went to bed.

My brain had turned off by that point. I was exhausted from the day. So I pulled the covers up, snuggled down, closed my eyes and thought of nothing. And not more than twenty minutes later sat up and smacked my head when it all hit me like a mack truck barrelling at 90 mph toward me out of the dark. "Of course!"

Of course, my DH thought something bad had happened, and in his sleep-induced state bolted up with a, "What? What? What's wrong?" I'm sure he was envisioning a fire or screaming kids...or maybe just a scantily clad Heidi Klum from the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show - who knows how a guy's brain works. But at that moment, I didn't care. All I cared about was the AHA! moment I'd just had.

I'll admit, this isn't the first time this has happened to me - where I feel compelled to write a scene that doesn't seem to have anything to do with anything in my book and then later find out it's oh-so important. Almost like my subconscious knows where the story's going before my brain has time to catch up. I like to think it's some natural writers instinct coming out, leading me to the place I would have eventually gotten to on my own, but I'm not sure that's what it really is. Organic writing? An innate ability? How about good old fashioned magic?

I don't know. All I know is this scene - this one I wrote and couldn't see the importance of - is laying the groundwork for a character who is extremely important to the plot of the book. In a way I hadn't seen before. I knew he was an integral secondary character when I started writing, but I didn't know HOW much of an impact he would have until this scene was done. And maybe that's why this scene had to be written - to show me what I was missing.

I have friends who are intense plotters and I have friends who are complete pantsters. We all have different ways of getting from chapter one to the end. But no matter how you get there, there is an element of magic in the writing process that takes over when you least expect it. I've learned to stop fighting it. When these moments come, when these strange scenes pop out that make me scratch my head and want to hit the delete key, I wait and give my brain time to catch up. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't, but if there's one thing I've learned about "my" process along the way, it's that I will never be wrong if I let the story go where it needs to go. And in this case, it hasn't changed the path of my synopsis, it's simply made it better.

So I'll give you a hint. The definitions above are from the words ability, instinct and talent, and each group of words describes one of those. See if you can pick out which is which. And then tell me...what kind of writer are you? One with a strong ability, a natural instinct, or a well-developed talent? Or maybe you are a combination of several?

Also...just so I don't think I'm a total freak...have any of you ever had something like this happen to you...where you write a scene with no idea how it fits only to realize later it was extremely important?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

WORDS OF WISDOM?

Chuckle of the day: I went out to the blog to see what words of wisdom awaited and saw no Thursday post yet. Then it clicked: it's my turn to blog today! Yikes! Well, I thought I was getting my little corner of the world under control. Obviously, I need to work on that some more.

OK, now for those words of wisdom. Wait, they'll be arriving any moment. While we're waiting for those wise words to arrive, I'm going to venture into Alice's area of expertise. (And, no, I'm not being facetious -- I love listening to Alice and always learn so much. So thank you, Alice, for sharing your wisdom and experiences with us. I very much appreciate it!) How about everyone else: what is the best advice you ever received?

I like these:

"If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with B.S." Or, "Fake it until you make it."

Is it working yet?

On the more serious side, I've tried to take these pieces of advice to heart:

"If you resist changing something about yourself, that's the thing you need to change the most."

"There's a lesson in every situation if we are open to it."

"Fake it until you make it," which was actually said in a different context than the same advice above by someone who was advocating visualization. She suggested seeing yourself as who you want to be and feeling the emotions of achieving your goals until you actually get there.

As for writing advice, I think my all-time favorite goes something like this: "This is MY way of writing. Use what works for you and don't worry about the rest..." followed by writing strategies, suggestions, and those golden gems of wisdom that bring aha moments.

And perhaps I should close with an appropriate bit of wisdom: "Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow!"

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

SPINNING WHEELS

My husband saved my life today.

Okay, maybe not technically, but it sure feels like he drug me out of the pounding surf or right out from under the clutches of a raging blizzard.

I am at the last of my WIP and for several days, have been spinning my wheels as I tried to put the events of the last two chapters in their proper place. I knew something was wrong. I knew I had too many people in too many places with too few pages to wrap things up the way I wanted. The false conclusion wasn't leading to the real conclusion in the way in which I wanted.

Forgive me here for two diversions:
#1.) I still, STILL, do not know the right way to phrase things. I am not sure if the black moment comes before the something else or after it or what it means -- I am hereby announcing my independence from this stuff. I know what is right for my books even if I can't remember what to call it. So, please, I'm tired of feeling inferior. I know how to do it, and that is going to have to be enough.
#2.) For those of you still waving the banner of "No Synopsis, Never Surrender!" I laugh. Ha, ha, ha. To think a synopsis is going to ruin things for you as a writer (as in suck your creativity) is so silly I must pause just for a second to laugh again. Ha, ha, ha. I have the most beautiful synopsis you can ever want and it made sense enough to sell the book with nary a change and yet the ending in the synopsis makes no real sense in the execution. It just sounded good. It hit the right emotional buttons and perhaps, by now, my editor has faith in me. (She doesn't read this blog, does she???) Repeat after me: The synopsis is a selling tool. And most of us are going to need to know how to do one if we are going to sell books without writing them first. Some of you may be so brilliant you will not need to acquire this skill. Good for you. The rest of us have to get real.

Back to the husband saving me. There I was, drowning in words, too much plot, too many people, not enough pages. My head was too full. I couldn't even articulate to myself (and I am a dandy listener) what was wrong.

Then, I remembered an old trick I taught myself a couple of years ago. I remembered to look at the whole thing from the villain's POV. In my book, I am not in the villain's POV, I am in the hero's and heroine's. So, I tend to see things as they unfold and reveal themselves to those two characters. But my little villain has his own goals and motivations and within his character arc, he is going to act with logic.

Diversion #3.) Okay, we're all on the same page when it comes to logic, right? It matters. Even if you have a twisted plot involving murder and kidnapped babies and foundering sailboats and trips halfway around the world and castles and kings, even if that sounds goofy, the people within this story are going to act with logic. You can't make something exciting happen for the pure pleasure of something exciting happening unless it fits. This is a depressing but true fact.

So, now I knew how to approach my problem but I was missing a vital element that I have discussed here before but which I believe deserves revisiting: I needed a sounding board. So the dh got home from his trip and almost immediately allowed me to sit him down and tell him the set up and the chain of events and how everyone within my story got to the boiling point. He offered a suggestion. I shot it down like a hunter after a duck in a November sky. I told him something else. He made another observation. This one wasn't so bad. I recalled my earlier commitment to think of things through the villain's POV and it all kind of started to make sense.

So, no more spinning. I know where I am going.

You need someone who will listen to you, someone you respect, someone who respects you. Someone not afraid to offer suggestions, even if he does include corny dialogue (sorry, honey). Someone who understands who's boss of this pretend world or otherwise they will pout when you shoot them down. And lastly, you need to LISTEN to them because they very well might see something you missed or give what you have a turn or twist. Spinning wheels can sling a lot of dust into the air and sometimes it's hard to see through it.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Time Flies . . .

This is going to have to be short. Tiny dictator seems to be going through some sort of growth spurt (Yes, rumors are true, I've become one of those photo happy mamas. If you would like to see her in the awesome x-mas outfit that our own Lisa Pulliam sent her, just click here, and if you missed the November RWA meeting, here she is in her going-to-RWA meeting outfit), and I've got back to back meetings in preparation for teaching next semester. AND . . . it's my 29th birthday.

Ye gods! When did I get to be 29? My mother and I were talking last night, and she said that it took her a very long time to realize that she wasn't 38 anymore. In her mind, she'll always be 38 and the mother of three school age children. This is the age she seems to identify with most, and her writing tends to reflect that. In my mind, I think I'll always be around 18--researching colleges, starting college, being away from home for the first time, falling in love with the totality only an 18 year old can demonstrate. In fact, if I'm honest, sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm not the babysitter or the nanny anymore--this is MY kid. I'm the MAMA. And even though it may feel like I'm a teen mother, I'm actually on the old side for having my first kid.

When did I get old? I think my "mental age" drives me to write YA. It's reflected in my voice, and it's why I struggle with writing characters in their 30's and 40's (I seem to have no problem with older people, surprisingly). I suppose I'd better get better at that in hurry--seeing as how I'm going to be in my 30's next year. Jesus Jumping Jellybeans, I never pictured 30. I was always thinking ahead to the next stage of my life--high school, then college, then graduate school, then work, then . . . I'm still not sure how to define this next stage in my life. I've got a year left in my twenties. What do I want to accomplish by 30? What's realistic?

A few years ago, I thought I'd be a failure with a capital F if I wasn't published by 30. But, that doesn't sting the way I thought it would. I know the drive will come back--I can feel it creeping in with every night of better sleep. (And yes, Eli, I mailed that request off!) However, right now, my main focus seems to be less on major life goals and more on enjoying each day. For someone who's spent her whole life living in the future, that's a major accomplishment. Living in the moment by 30? Check, check, check.

So, I'm curious. What age are YOU mentally? 18? 25? 40? 60? Is this reflected in your writing? Has this changed over time? And, where were you in your writing journey at 29? Was 30 a turning point for you or did that come later (or earlier)?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Challenge Check-In

No, I'm not stealing Lisa's post day, I'm sure she'll come up with something pithy shortly. In the meantime though, since Alice is in last-chapter mode and slowing to wrap it all up, I thought I'd post her usual weekend check-in and see how you all made out this week.

I totaled up my week - 7K words - which is pretty good considering I only wrote 3.5 days. I write in fits and starts - 2500 words one day, nothing the next depending on my schedule - I suppose so long as it all evens out, that's all the matters, huh? I still wish I could force myself to write every day though. Such is life, I suppose, when things like the Civil War game interfere (OMG...did you see the Beavs kick butt?????) *grin*

So I checked my running total...for the 100 day challenge I'm at 86,880 words. Eleven days left and I have 13,120 words to go to meet my goal. I think it's going to come right down to the wire. Alice and I were talking about deadlines last night, specifically how even with editor deadlines the author has a say in when they think they can get the work done. I suppose since this was MY self-imposed deadline, I should really bust my but and see if I can make it.

How's the challenge going for you? Make any progress this weekend?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Write On ... or Not to Write On

How do you choose?

After an earlier blog -- whose was that? -- and the discussion following about the number of books and short stories each of us have written, I've given it a lot of thought. Not a lot of thought about the numbers, but thought about writers such as Genene, who rework the same work until they come up with something saleable. Or at least something pleasing or satisfying.

I've thought about Shirley Karr (Man, I hope I spelled her name right). She labored away for more than 10 years on the same book, endlessly writing and rewriting until she finally sold it to Avon in a two-book deal.

It seems reworking the same book is more the exception than the rule. As someone said, take a look at the First Sales column in the RWA mag and count how many books most authors write before they finally sell. Usually many. Does that mean they write a book, try to interest an agent of editor with it, and if that doesn't work, the author moves on to another manuscript? Do you think a writer learns more by starting a new novel, fresh at the drawing board, or going back through an existing work, applying the tools they've learned since they first began writing the manuscript?

Shirley Jump thinks you learn more by starting fresh. When she was the guest author for Askanauthor, I wrote and mentioned my first ms. and rewrites I'd like to do. Her advice was to move on. She wrote six or seven books, I believe, before she sold. Her theory is that when I do sell, I will have a backlist to offer an editor.

But see, I'm not always so good at taking advice. I like to think for myself. Oh, I know, you find that hard to believe, but just ask my family. Ha! Anyway, I cannot let my first book go. Some of the characters in it won't leave me alone. I'm dying to go back, do major rewrites, and turn it into something saleable, like Genene and Shirley did with the books they believed in.

So, I'm curious. How many of you have gone back to an old manuscript or story and done major rewrites? Was it worth it? Did you learn a lot in the process? Or do you just leave finished, unsold work to gather dust in your computer files, chalk it up to experience, and move on to the exciting, fresh voices in your head of brand new characters?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Two chairs, a vase and a flat screen TV

I was going to blog about something deep and soulful, but the more I thought about it the more bored I got. Craft is always exciting so let's go there, shall we? 8^)

Description. I was recently involved in a discussion on another blog about description. One of the authors was saying how much she loathes writing it, and I thought, What? How can that be possible? Writing fiction is almost a hundred percent writing description.

I'm sure she was mostly talking about setting, but even that is integral to storytelling. You can't tell a good story without describing everything from place to dialogue to the emotions of the characters. And that's really my point for this blog about description: It's all about the characters.

We don't describe stuff just for the sake of giving the reader a visual aid. Description utilizes most all of the senses, this is true, but what it really does… its main purpose, as far as I'm concerned… is elicit an emotional response from your viewpoint character. And since story is all about the characters, well, you know where I'm going with this.

Description that doesn't serve to develop characters or move the plot forward does not belong in fiction. If all it says is there's a room with two chairs, a vase and a flat screen TV, who the hell cares? Even if those chairs are red and the vase is holding a bouquet of spring flowers, and there's a newscast on the TV, who the hell cares? It has to do more than that. It has to get an emotional reaction from the character whose viewpoint is used to describe the room, which should result in an emotional response from the reader.

Let's take our boring room with the two chairs in it. Red chairs, whatever. Word choice is important, too, but that's not what I'm talking about here. It's a scene where something will happen, yes. But what kind of emotions will it draw from… Susan, who just walked in after a hard day's work as a receptionist for her brother-in-law, who's a dentist. What does she feel when she's in this room? What does she see? And then what does her sister Marcia, the nurse just getting off a graveyard shift at the hospital, experience when in this room?

I want you to use one of these two characters to write a description of our lovely room with two chairs, a vase and a flat screen TV. What kind of emotion can you drag out of them here? How can you do more than set the stage for the action to come? Can you foreshadow with description? Can you create tension? Absolutely. Now have at it.

Susan dropped her purse on one of the two red chairs shoved so close together they nearly hid the tiny table sandwiched between them. Damn, this room was small. Either that or the chairs were too big. No, it was definitely the room, as evidenced by the growing stack of newspapers on the other chair. She should toss them, but she hadn't read them yet. Like she hadn't looked for a bigger apartment. Like she hadn't changed the long-ago-wilted flowers drooping in her grandmother's vintage vase on the table. The TV, however, was brand spanking new, and quite a space-saver. She should get points for that, right? Wrong. Her priorities were totally out of whack.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

I have been very good this year. I barely yelled when my two-year old spilled red candle wax all over my beige carpet. I only screamed once when he took a marker to our fireplace stones. Each time the five-year old plugged up the toilet I bit my tongue and didn't mention Power Rangers aren't scuba divers. When the eight-year old tormented her brothers just to hear them scream, I may have yelled a little, but not nearly as loud as I could have. And I certainly didn't follow through on the threat to murder the DH in his sleep if he bothered me one more time while I was working.

In exchange for my year of angelic behavior, I'm requesting the following on my Christmas List:

1. For peace and prosperity and all that other crap.

2. For family harmony (I can request it. I know there's not a snowball's chance in hell of this actually happening.)

3. For the skinny aerobics instructors at the gym to each gain 5o lbs.

4. For my RWA chapter members to volunteer willingly for things without rolling their eyes and looking away (you know who you are).

5. For my computer to do what I want when I want it.

6. For days of peace and quiet where I can actually get some work done without hearing, "MOOOOOM!!!!" every five minutes.

7. For the death of my procrastination gene.

8. For an editor to love my writing enough to actually BUY something.

9. For a six figure deal (another pie-in-the-sky wish, but hey, why not add it to the list?)

10. And finally, for the start of a prosperous career (which, in case you can't read between the lines, Santa, means not just one sale, but many more as well).

That's it. Ten measly things. I think I've been good enough to get these. And seriously, none are things your little elves actually have to make up in your workshop, so it should be a piece of cake.

Happy Holidays,

Eli

***

What's on your Christmas List this year?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Before They Were Stars . . .

I'm at the dregs of my TBR pile. The long pregnancy wait, nonexistent library time, and a mother who'd much rather send cute baby clothes than books right now have dried up my incoming sources and sent me scourging my shelves. But, I'd still rather read (now that I have one free hand) than fry my brain with more HGTV, so I've found myself breaking into a stash I had of books written by my favorite authors, but from when they wrote category or before they broke out into the big time.

I found them at garage sales and library sales for a song (and a quarter or two). But, I tend not to read anything more than 10 years out of date if I can help it. But, I decided to put my bias aside and give some of these a shot. And what do you know, the 80's details didn't set me off.

Instead, poor writing has me tossing books aside right and left. If you're a longtime blog reader, you know that I can't STAND to not finish books. Even bad books. But, apparently all this RWA learnin' has paid off in an unexpected way: my standards have raised.

I can't stand backstory. Head hopping makes my stomach hurt. Dragging narrative makes me sleepy. Falling in love too soon makes me yawn. Nonexistent conflict makes 3 a.m. feedings physically painful and sends me wandering the halls with a baby attached for new reading materials.

But, back to my original point. These were written by NYT best-sellers. These aren't some random category or dated books. These are by the best of the best.

Only . . .

They weren't the best yet. They were still developing their voice, learning POV, honing their plot skills, suffering from poor editing, and limited by narrative gaffes. In short, they were making newbie mistakes.

It's easy to be intimidated when we pick up the latest best seller. "My work will never be this good," the green-eyed devil whispers. "They have some gift I lack." "They have the secret." But, they don't. What they have is a lot of hard work, and a pile of manuscripts that led them the to the one that catapulted them to the big time. And after that magical point, they had a backlist worthy of devouring. But, except in rare cases, it wasn't their first book. It wasn't the third. It was years into their journey.

What can we take away from this other than the usual lesson of perseverance?

Finishing a MS isn't enough. Publishing isn't enough. In fact, publishing your way to better writing might not be an option anymore unless we're talking about very small presses. There is a reason why the RWA first sale column bursts with writers selling their fifth manuscript. Their tenth. Their twentieth.

You don't get good right out of the gate. You don't get good when you let early success go to your head. So you won that contest, landed that first sale, got a good critique. It's not enough. You have to keep pushing, keep growing, and most importantly keep writing. You have to finish. One MS isn't enough. But your magic number is out there waiting.

Are you ready to go find it?

Best of luck to those of you finishing NaNoWriMo, Eli's challenge, and other challenges out there. Each MS you finish is one closer to the promised land.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Looking For Guidance


I'm hoping you can help me as we did Genene a few months back when she was looking for help for an upcoming talk she was giving.
Myself and another writer are going to give a talk to the local writer's group about critiquing. I have felt so bad for the people who come to the meetings, read their work, and then get so many differences of opinions about their work. Especially the writers who are just coming out, so to speak, and looking for guidance. They have some great stuff, but no one ever tells them it's great they just hammer on the bad. We want to talk about asking for the specific advice they want-i.e. tone, does it flow, I'm looking for grammar help, is the character sounding too ___ .

And to teach those critiquing not to harp on a word, when it is the writers voice. Not to nitpick the grammar unless it is asked. Some of the people who come to these meetings have little writing experience and some of the people are just writing these stories to be passed down to their children and grandchildren. I can't believe some of the things that others tell them when the story should be in their words and sound like them. I guess in a way you would have to be at one of these to understand where I'm coming from.

But from you today, I'd like you to tell me when has a critique thrown you totally off and why. Also what was something valuable you learned from a critique (if you did).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Eli's Challenge

Weekend Warrior here. I,607 and a bit of tweaking today. How is everyone else doing on this challenge , their self imposed challenge or any other writing schedule? Or just with a day of writing. It's fun to check in.

Honest.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Drunken War of the Sexes

I'm filling in for Eli's Friday spot. I have some time now, while squirt is sleeping and DH is at work. Forgive me if I'm stepping on your blog toes, Genene.

I may have forwarded this email on to a couple of you -- if so, sorry for the redundancy. This list cracked me up, but that's not the only reason I'm sharing it. I thought it offered a lot of insight into women with alcohol altered minds (besides bringing back a lot of college memories. Ha!) And who hasn't, or won’t at one time or another, write about an alcohol impaired character?

So, read the list, chuckle if you will, then check out the exercise at the bottom of the page.


WHEN GIRLS DRINK TOO MUCH.

1) WE HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHERE OUR PURSE IS.

2) WE BELIEVE THAT DANCING WITH OUR ARMS OVERHEAD AND WIGGLING OUR BUTT WHILE YELLING "WOO-HOO!" IS TRULY THE SEXIEST DANCE MOVE AROUND.

3) WE'VE SUDDENLY DECIDED THAT WE WANT TO KICK SOMEONE'S BUTT AND HONESTLY BELIEVE WE CAN DO IT TOO.

4) IN OUR LAST TRIP TO PEE, WE REALIZE THAT WE NOW LOOK MORE LIKE HOMELESS HOOKERS THAN THE GODDESSES WE LOOKED LIKE JUST FOUR SHORT HOURS AGO.

5) WE START CRYING AND TELLING EVERYONE WE SEE THAT WE LOVE THEM SOOOOO MUCH.

6) WE GET EXTREMELY EXCITED AND JUMP UP AND DOWN EVERY TIME A NEW SONG PLAYS BECAUSE "OH MY GOD! I LOVE THIS SONG!"

7) WE'VE FOUND A DEEPER/SPIRITUAL SIDE TO THE GEEK SITTING NEXT TO US. AND THOSE HORN-RIMMED GLASSES AND OILY HAIR PARTED ON THE SIDE ACTUALLY SORT OF LOOK GOOD ON HIM.

8) WE'VE SUDDENLY TAKEN UP SMOKING, AND BECOME REALLY GOOD AT IT.

9) WE YELL AT THE BARTENDER, WHO WE BELIEVE CHEATED US BY GIVING US PLAIN LEMONADE, BUT THAT'S ONLY BECAUSE WE CAN NO LONGER TASTE THE VODKA.

10) WE THINK WE ARE IN BED, BUT OUR PILLOW FEELS STRANGELY LIKE THE KITCHEN FLOOR (or the mop?)

11) WE FAIL TO NOTICE THAT THE TOILET LID'S DOWN WHEN WE SIT ON IT.

12) WE TAKE OUR SHOES OFF BECAUSE WE BELIEVE IT'S ALL THEIR FAULT THAT WE'RE HAVING PROBLEMS WALKING STRAIGHT.


I think that pretty well sums up drunken women, especially young, drunken women. However, men don't do these same things when they've had too much to drink, do they? (Except for number three). And as certain as we'll someday write about a drunken woman or two, we may also find ourselves someday in need of some drunken male material. So, let's sit down with a nice toddy or hot-buttered rum and compile our own list of

WHEN GUYS DRINK TOO MUCH:

I'll go first:

1) Guys grow increasingly invincible with each alcoholic beverage they down. As the country song goes, men grow "ten feet tall and bullet proof."

2) Their pickup lines become more and more cliché: "How yoo doin'?" "What's a girl like you doing in a place like this?" Or, my fave, "Hey baby, what's your sign?"

Thursday, November 22, 2007

GIVE THANKS!

To those who celebrate the day -- HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

I'm starting with an easy blog entry: what do you have to be thankful for? List the first five things that pop into your head. Here are mine and why:
1) Heat in my house -- because, man, it's cold tonight!
2) Neighbors -- because they rounded up my dogs when they escaped.
3) Doggies -- because I don't need so many blankets on cold nights!
4) Good food -- because I like to eat. (Thank goodness for Thanksgiving!)
5) Computers -- for instant communication with any number of people from around the entire world.

Now, to take a page from Donald Maass' book, toss out those five things and list five more things that you have to dig deeper for. (We are so blessed in this country that we may have to toss out the first ten or twenty before we get deeply into gratitude.)

OR, dig deeper into the reasons why you are grateful for those first five, which I did below.
1) Heat in my house -- because I actually have a house and, as the temperatures get colder, many homeless people must find shelter or risk frostbite, serious illness or even death from the cold weather.
2) Neighbors -- my dogs could have been lost or injured, or caused injury to someone rather than being safe back inside my house.
3) Doggies -- have been some of my wisest teachers in the lessons I have learned in this life. Each of my dogs reflects an aspect of my personality that I want to change.
4) Good food -- many people don't have food at all, yet I get to choose what I want for each meal.
5) Computers -- that instant communication allows me to stay in touch with friends who have moved out of town (or out of state), lets me research or find an opinion on pretty much any topic I'm interested in, gives me a chuckle or a warm fuzzy, helps me expand my perspective, lets me share my thoughts on this blog -- and much more!

How about you?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

IN THE BEGINNING

The number one question I am asked: "Where do you get your ideas?"

Every book has to start somewhere. Even if that somewhere never makes it into the end product, it's the catalyst, the spark. Can you trace back where your latest idea came from?

For instance, Danita's red-eyed demon dogs. Danita has said she often gets her ideas from dreams. I am curious to know in what form that particular dream appeared. Was it just the dogs? Was it also the demon aspect? How much came with the initial birth of the idea?

And Karen with her urban fantasy and that whole world she's creating with gargoyle masters and all the rest I am afraid to write down because I know I'll get it wrong. Where did that idea originate? What was the beginning thought?

Paty and historicals. Did she read about a stamp mill or grow interested in a geographic place, did the characters come first or did the plot?

Eli's writing a paranormal. Did she read about gods and goddesses, or did an idea pop into her head, or did the concept seem interesting and she built the rest?

And everyone else, of course. I have no idea how Genene originates a book. And Lisa, where did yours start? Did Wavy think of the YA characters first or their situation? I know I am leaving people out, please forgive me.

The idea for my WIP came from a newspaper article about an event. My strongest thought upon reading the article was the "what if?" we all know so well. The book after this one is trickier as it morphed from an idea that came at a NY conference in a blinding moment during someone's workshop. The book itself no longer resembles much of the original idea. The one before this book came from a concept -- revenge. And before that, the general idea of not knowing who you are, where you are, or how you got there. What would happen next?

I haven't been specific with my examples because you've heard them before. Please, be as specific as you like so we can see how your spark ignited and created a book.

Happy Thanksgiving. Gobble, gobble.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Decisions, Decisions

Reminder: Join us for our November meeting, tonight at 6:00 p.m. (social hour with brown bag dinner) with the meeting starting at 7:00 p.m. Our speaker is our very own Jim who will be speaking about swords and sword fighting. No stranger to swashbuckling romance, Jim writes with his wife Barbara Ray. Please join us!

I promise to return to reviewing RWA news soon, but today I actually had fodder for a blog-like post, so I decided to go with that.

I was thinking the other day about all the decisions that have gotten me to this point in my life--some big (which college, which boy, which job ), others small (which club, which book, which dinner). They all add up to the person I am now. I tend to revisit certain decisions in my head and wonder what would be different if I had chosen Y instead of X. It's not that I'm unhappy with my life (far from it). I'm just really curious about who I'd be if I'd chosen the other path. More importantly, who would I have needed to be to choose that path? I often wish for a time machine or a movie that would show me the other path but still let me return to my current life.

Then, last night I slapped myself upside the head! Duh! I'm a WRITER. The other path is ALWAYS open to me in my fiction, and I have a front row seat to the movies in my head. Realizing this gave me new insight on character development. A character is the sum of his/her choices. Each choice both reflects and reveals character.

Why did your character order eggs and pancakes instead of oatmeal?
Why did your character drive from Chicago to St. Louis instead of taking the train or flying?
Would your character really show up at that party?
Who would your character be if they worked at a different job, had said yes to that boy in college, went to graduate school?
What type of person would your character have to be to have met her best friend in kindergarten versus last year at a playgroup or five years ago in college?

Let's say you think it would be interesting if your heroine was a chef. You research cooking techinques, maybe interview a chef, and watch several hours of Food Network to ensure that she comes across authentic. This is all good, but if you really want to get inside her head consider her choices:

Who was she before she was a chef? What choices did she make along the way?
What sort of person chooses to go to culinary school versus college?
Why did she choose (or not) to stay at a small bistro versus moving up to an exclusive eatery?
What things has she had to give up to continue being a chef: night-time socializing? holidays? weekends? dieting? friends?

Each choice reveals something about the background of your character, who she is, how she thinks, what her values are. When you get an inconsistent answer, a red flag should go up: she wouldn't choose that. Back up, and reconsider the answer. Are you inserting your own preferences? Are you being true to her previous choices? Is there a reason for her acting outside of her pattern?

Let's say you decide to give your heroine a house in the suburbs while she works at a downtown eatery. Would a chef working 80+ hours a week really choose to commute that far, plus take on the upkeep of a house? If your chef would, why? Is she happy with her choice? Who would she be if you stuck her in a downtown loft instead?

Consider the smaller choices your characters make as well. Are you in a rut? Do all your heroines crave chocolate, hate their mothers, and love Audrey Hepburn. Would this character really make those choices?

Since as writers, the path not taken is always an option, don't fence your characters (or yourself!) in with the first choice that comes to mind. Consider what might happen if your character chose a different option. What if our fictional chef chose to go to college before leaving to become a chef? Who would she be then? What if instead of getting on a plane to go to St. Louis, you stick her on a train instead?

Are you taking advantage of places to reveal character through the motivation for choices. In John Grisham's The Summons, the main character, Ray, ends up eating in a lot of diners. Instead of just having his character order the pancakes, he reflects that he'd rather order cereal and grapefruit, but doesn't feel free to do so. He also notes in conversation why his father wouldn't eat breakfast at an establishment like that. These little details about the choices of Ray and his father reveal a lot about who they are.

As you write today, I challenge you to examine all of the choices your character has to make to bring them to that place in the story. Dig deeper into your back story and learn more about each character. Look for places to reveal motivation for choices.

Any thoughts? Examples?

Pumping out those words

We've got 25 days left in our challenge, folks. The stress of the holidays is upon us. Family coming to visit, kids out of school, food to cook, houses to clean, gifts to buy, people to kick in the shin at the Fred Meyer half-off sock sale on Friday, etc. All in all it's a super busy time of the year and writing is likely not at the top of your list of things to do.

Alas, don't let it slip to the bottom! It may be stressful to try and find time to write, but trust me, you'll thank yourself. Imagine that it's early January and the holidays are over, kids in school, and you sit down to write. It's been over a month since you've really worked on your book. You're not "feeling it" anymore, lost track of where you were going. You are down on yourself because you haven't added any words to it since the middle of November. The stress is overwhelming so you close up the document and don't open it again for a couple of weeks.

I've done this before, a couple of times. It's so hard to get back into the swing of things.

Rather than let this frustration get the best of you, take a few minutes once a day or a few times a week to just read over the last part you wrote - to keep it fresh in your mind. Or add in a few bullet points of what you want to happen next, or things you want to make sure to include. Just something to keep your book brewing in your mind during the holidays.

I'm going to try and practice what I preach. 25 days left people, push through it! You can do it! And remember, if you know you won't meet your 100-day goal, that's ok! Just try and get as close as you can. Don't stop now.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Eli's Challenge

Hi guys. Well, I got my 1,000 words today but goodness, it was like pulling teeth. I hate that kind of writing day and my only hope is that it sets up a better day tomorrow. I am way behind where I wanted to be at this point.

How about everyone else?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Do You Write Funny?

I love to laugh. And I love to make others laugh, often at the risk of embarrassing myself, which I do quite often in the sake of humor. If the cause behind my flaming red cheeks brings on a hearty guffaw from a friend, then, hey, it was worth it, right?

But what about incorporating humor into our writing? Here's what Gloria Kempton, has to say about it in her book, "Dialogue:

"Since humor seems to emerge out of the way certain writers view their worlds, if you're not one of them, you'll probably never write comedic fiction, creating the kind of story that is funny all the way through. But to throw in a funny line of dialogue once in a while goes a long way in holding your reader's attention. Humor hooks readers. They know if a character says something funny once, he most likely will again, and so they're watching for that, waiting for you to surprise them and make them laugh again."

So, to recap: Humor is surprise. I also like the sentence 'humor hooks readers' but then you all know what a sucker I am for a good hook. And, oops, now I have stepped away from the thrust of this blog, so let's step back onto the beaten path of humor shall we?

Okay. That's better. Surprise. Humor is surprise. Let's practice utilizing this theory with a fun little exercise that Ms. Kempton devised and I adjusted a teeny bit to suit our purpose here:

Just For Fun

Your female character is walking late at night on a downtown street of a big city. Suddenly she is accosted by three teenage boys who grab her purse. She yells something at them as they run away. What does she yell? Write one line of dialogue for one (or more) of the types of character below. Try to be as original as you can. The goal is to surprise your reader.

*a mom from the suburbs
*a prostitute
*a businesswoman
*an undercover cop
*Queen Latifah
*a grandmother
*Alice Sharpe
*a drag queen

Okay, I'll go first in the comments section. Thanks for playing along. (And thanks for letting me turn your cheeks red in the sake of making others chuckle, Alice. See, surprise! Bet none of you were expecting to see a member's name on the list -- ha!)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Taking stock

I recently took stock of all my writing projects, which would be the novels I've finished, published, started, been thinking of starting, and of course the work in progress, and let's not forget the short stories. I've been writing fiction for what seems like forever and I have a stockpile to show for it.

Completed novels: 5
Published novels: 3 (one is a novella)
Started novels: 4 (about 100 pages into each, but I plan to finish only 2)
Novel concepts waiting to start: 4
Works in progress: 1
Short Stories: 5

You'd think with all the pages I've wracked up that I'd be making a living at this by now. Ha! I've earned about $1500 total, which comes to around 63 cents a page. That's enough to mail a 2 ounce letter first class! Cool! But that doesn't take into account all my expenses, which would include scads of writers conferences and organization dues, so that puts me in the hole a few thousand bucks. Eh, so what. That's not the point.

Non-writers would think it crazy to want to continue this career quest, saying it isn't worth it. But I can't think of anything more worthwhile. I may not have made much income, but the rewards have been phenomenal. I've made amazing friends, learned about a fascinating business, and stretched my creativity and imagination farther than I'd ever dreamed possible. Through my stories I've visited enchanted islands and vast deserts, I've battled a serial killer and traveled to the astral plane, I've talked to mummies, turned into a gargoyle, suffered a dozen scorpion stings and jelly fish stings, I've killed people, made love to people, and given birth to people. How many non-writers can say that about their jobs?

So have you taken stock of your writing inventory? What have you experienced through the stories you've told?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fill In Wednesday

These are just for fun...

*****

You Might Be A Writer If . . .
from www.SharonHink.coms

1. You stop random strangers to tell them about your plot ideas.
2. You believe that jail time is an appropriate punishment for misuse of the apostrophe.
3. You participate in four different online critique groups simultaneously
4. You wake in the middle of the night with a brilliant line of dialogue and get up to write it down.
5. People change tables in a restaurant because they notice you writing down their conversations word for word.
6. When you go grocery shopping, you notice things one of your characters would like – and put them in your cart.
7. You write a post-it note to one of your characters and leave it on the kitchen table to remind her of something she needs to do in her next chapter.
8. There is no such thing as a “quick trip” to a bookstore.
9. You wish Channel made a perfume with the scent of printer ink.
10. One minute you’re convinced that every word you write is dreck and the next minute you’re sure your manuscript has the makings of a best seller.
11. Your car is rear-ended and your first thought is what metaphor you would use to describe the sound.
12. You bring a notebook to your child’s piano recital and jot a scene while the other kids are playing.
13. You walk by the book aisle in Target and burst into tears because your heart has such a powerful yearning to see your stories on a book shelf one day.
14. A police car with sirens blaring drives into a scene you’re writing – and you didn't see it coming.
15. You get paid for telling people what the voices in your head are saying.


*****

You Know You're a Professional Writer If...
by Donna M. Chavez, © 2003
Excerpted from The Professional Writer's Starter Kit

1. You know your words have value.
2. You have the grit to pit your work against someone else’s in a fierce marketplace.
3. You have enough self-discipline to write on a regular basis, not just when you feel like it.
4. You have the initiative to shamelessly promote your work and yourself as a writer.
5. You can be thick skinned when it comes to rejection.
6. You believe you can pay the rent by plying your craft.
7. Editors can rely on you to meet deadlines.
8. You simply can’t imagine any other way to make a living…except, of course, maybe flipping burgers on those inevitable bad days.
9. You are as much a businessperson as you are a writer (like it or not).
10. You get paid to write.

*****

How many of these are true for you? Any that aren't?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

To-Do Tuesday: Writing Raffle

At least I remembered it was Tuesday before 10 p.m. That's got to count for something. As no one has emailed me with "NEWS" in the subject header (hint, hint, hint), I'm not going to feel too guilty for having less news and more exercise yet again. The tiny dictator doesn't value computer time as much as bouncing and dancing time.

Paty just posted a neat raffle sponsored by the Valley Forge chapter on our loop--they are offering expenses paid trip to Nationals 2008. How totally awesome! This got me thinking about why we gamble and enter raffles--you have to really want the prize. The more you want the prize, the more tickets you'll buy. In fact, sometimes we'll spend more on tickets than the dollar value of the item. Is it because we want to "win" something rather than make it happen ourselves? I'm not sure, but I'm sure we all daydream about winning certain raffles.

The truly interesting question is which raffles do you daydream about? Imagine for second that I've handed you $50 that you can spend on any writing related raffle you choose. Publication and NYT bestseller status aren't on the table, but anything else is. What do you want to win? Your dream critique group? An hour with Deb Dixon? Synopsis help? Conference? New laptop?What writing related thing do YOU want to win? Dig deep into your heart here, and share your surprising answers with us.

Now let's take this one step further. The main character from your WIP also has $50 to spend in any raffle. What does he/she most want to win?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Two Wolves

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two "wolves" inside us all.
One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It i s joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grand son thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."


I believe this is true not only of "good" and "evil" but also of what you can accomplish in other ways. If you "feed" your writing and your muse you will end up with a better written book. To feed is to learn all you can about the writing process, listen to advice with an open mind, and be willing to take chances when writing. Don't always play it save with scenes and characters.

You will hinder the writing process if you feed the doubts and insecurities. Always feed the positive thoughts and let the negative ones starve. It isn't always easy to stay positive in a world where rejection is more the norm, but if you want to succeed as a writer, you have to grow a tough skin and remember to feed the right wolf.

Which are you, a cup is half empty or a cup is half full kind of person? And how does that affect your writing?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Eli's Challenge

At the risk of irritating everyone, I'm posting again. It's Sunday. I just finished chapter three of the second book so this proposal is ready to go. 1471 words today. I'll read it through tomorrow just to make sure it makes sense and send it on Tuesday. Now it's time to try to get a thousand words back in the first book.

Is anyone out there keeping me company or are you all, once again, having an actual life?

Still have company, Paty? Are they leaving tomorrow?

Hi, Genene.

Yoo Hoo, she whose name graces our word count banner, what are you up to?

Anyone???

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Eli's Challenge

Hey everyone, hope the weekend is going well. Genene asked how my word count was doing, so I will share the question with the rest of you. How are you coming?

As for me, I have just waved off my mid week company and am settling down to write. Had to stop the WIP to write half a chapter and change a few details in a synopsis for the second book in the contract I signed a few weeks ago. It's due in about five days which means I need to write 10-15 pages between today and tomorrow to finish chapter three and send it on.

Then it's back to the other book.

So for today, nothing so far, though by tonight, there should be something. I'll check back in but meanwhile, Genene, how are you doing? And Danita and Paty and Karen and Eli -- who I have a feeling is suffering from another cold -- and Lisa and Lori and anyone else who has been toying around with word counts of one kind or another. It doesn't have to be Eli's 1,000 words a day, we're all interested in and draw inspiration from those people working away at a goal.

So, share!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Thinking Cap Time

Okay, girlies. This is all in fun. To get your brains working and your fingers flying. Consider this your warm-up exercise for the day.

Directions are simple: Read what I've posted, read each of the comments before yours (if any) and add to the story. Sort of a "choose your own adventure" exercise. LOL. Can't wait to see how this turns out. If you feel the desire to add again during the day, go for it!!

***************

Antoinette stared down at the package in her hands and choked back the urge to hurl the whole thing at the hunky UPS man on her doorstep. She had a whole list of things brown could do for her today but none included the mystery box she was currently holding.

"You'll have to sign for that, ma'am." Mr. Hunk-and-a-half flashed her a sparkling grin as he handed over the electronic contraption and stylus.

Ma'am. Holy crap. He'd just called her ma'am! Sure, she'd answered the door with a towel wrapped around her head and the rest of her hidden behind her biggest, pinkest, fluffiest bathrobe but that didn't grant her ma'am status. She was thirty-three for crying out loud, not eighty!

With a frown she didn't try to hide, she took the stylus and scribbled her signature across the screen, hopefully in the wrong spot. Okay, the hunk-o-meter arrow had just dropped significantly into the mildly attractive category, bordering on jackass. There went all those late night delivery fantasies. How much crappier could her day get?

"Thanks." He winked then turned and headed off for his ugly truck like he hadn't just committed the most heinous sin of all.

Antoinette shot him one last withering glare, stepped back into the house and flicked the door shut with her bare foot. Her black cat, Hades, slinked around her feet as she moved. Only when she was alone in her foyer did she remember the package in her hand. She looked down and glowered. No return address but she knew exactly who it was from.

She'd been wrong. Her day could definitely get crappier.

"Meeeowwrr??"

"My thoughts exactly, Hades. I'm going to kill him for this." Jaw clenched, she stalked into the kitchen with Hades tight on her heels. The tiny bell around his neck tinkled as he moved. He jumped from floor to chair to tabletop with barely a sound as she set the package on the wooden surface. With both eyes closed she took one deep breath and ripped the package open. She fumbled with the cardboard ends and only when she had the box open did she pry one eyelid free so she could peer inside.

Then frowned.

"Oh, he's definitely going to pay for this," she muttered.

Fishnet stockings, four-inch stilettos, pink fuzz-covered handcuffs and a tiny tube of lipstick which was anything but what it resembled. Just once she'd like to see him dress up in all this garbage while she sat back and watched from the shadows. Why did having boobs automatically volunteer her for every lousy assignment on the planet?

"I'm not doing it. No way, no how. He can't make me."

She slammed the cardboard lid closed and was just about to toss the whole thing into the garbage pail when a harsh knock sounded at her back kitchen door.