Friday, March 30, 2007

It's crunch time, baby

Upon making the decision (and purchasing airfare) to attend RWA Nationals in Dallas this July, I felt a ton of pressure. I liken it to what I imagine a freight train or semi truck would feel like. Last year at nationals, I made a goal to complete two books, well a fully revised and at least first draft of a second, and obtain PRO status.

Guess what I accomplished of that? Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. And here it is, time for another convention and I'm no further than the last one. The way I figured, my first nationals was to get used to the whole thing and see how it works and the second one would be game time.

I want to have a completed book I can talk up and pitch, rather than a WIP. I'd also like to get that PRO status so I have the option of attending the PRO events. And to be honest, I felt a bit naked without the PRO ribbon. In the minority for sure.

So I'm trying to get back into the groove after some of those lovely curveballs that life throws us all (sensing my sarcasm? I hope so). And some of you may recall that I had dropped my WIP for an idea that wouldn't leave me alone. It kept tugging and pulling at me. So with the help of you all and this blog I made the decision to divert my attention to the new idea. For a few days it was flowing like mad. Then hell broke loose and I stopped writing.

Well, it's time to get back in and I went through and read my notes and about 10 measely pages and the light is off. No flow. No ideas. My muse is on vacation. Let's hope it's not retirement... But I can't afford to waste time, I need to get cracking. To me, I have a deadline and I'm hoping to meet it.

How do you all deal with your personal crunch times and/or deadlines? Be it an upcoming conference or convention you want to have a book ready for, or a visiting agent/editor to your chapter meeting, or even just a time of the year where writing is easier for you like summertime for teachers - what do you do to get yourself going? Or are you still looking for the answer to this question? Something tells me the answer to this is like knowing the meaning of life.

Oh, and I'm sure it doesn't help my case that I spend time repetitively watching videos like this. I mean over, and over, and over, and over. But it's so cute?!? How can you not watch it?!?

P.S. I've missed you all like crazy!!!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ideas and the Scattered Brain

"Brutus! Give me back the baby's diaper! That's disgusting!" I said sternly to my 7 year-old Boxer. Brutus, as usual, ignored my command and pranced off into the living room, carrying the soiled, soggy diaper like a prized toy.

"Brutus! Damn it, dog, if you don't give me back that diaper, I'm selling you to the glue factory! I mean it this time."

"Honey," my husband, Wally, said, from his elected position on the couch (front and center of the hi-def TV), "they don't take dogs at the glue factory. It's horses." He ripped his eyes away from drag racing long enough to glance at me. "Besides, I don't think they do that anymore."

"Whatever," I muttered, my mind going off onto one of its "tangents," while I simultaneously chased the 60 lb. fawn colored dog (who was definitely going to glue factory--no question) around the house.

As I stalked the dog, I imagined a puppy mill where the owners, looking to create the next "it" breed of dog, accidentally mix monkey DNA with a Boxer puppy and end up with a "Moxer" or a "Bonkey." They'll call him "X," short for X29752 and he'll possess the ability bark and chase birds while swinging from limb to limb (scratching its butt, of course). Hmmm, is there a story there?

"To the victor go the spoils!" I shouted, snagging the diaper from Brutus' jowls.

After disposing of said disgusting diaper, I looked at Wally, who (big surprise) was still parked on the couch. "Are you ready? We've got to drop the kids off at my mom's in twenty minutes."

Wally held out a hand, "Just five more minutes, honey. I want to see (insert name of random drag racer here) finish this round."

I rolled my eyes. The Just Five More Minutes Honey clause is one I'm familiar with. After all, I created it in my house.

TEN minutes later....

"Why don't you calm down?" Wally asked, loading our son into his car seat. "You're so high-strung all the time."

Oh, I'll give you high-strung. "The reason I'm so tense, is because we're supposed to be at Mom's in fifteen minutes and it's a thirty minute drive."

Wally smirked as he slid in the driver's seat. "Did you take your crazy pills today?"

I socked him lightly in the arm. "Not funny the first time you said it. Not funny the gagillion other times."

Backing out of the driveway, he grinned. "Hey, now when I ask you if you're on drugs, you can say yes and mean it." He laughed at his ingenuity.

Folding my arms across my chest, I leaned back into the seat and thought of a GREAT idea for a story. A woman with a newly diagnosed mood disorder murders her husband and buries his remains on the 10 acre property she shares with him (this may come back to bite me in the butt should I ever decide to "method act" out this idea).

As we drove along the highway, I gazed out along the gently rolling hills and large expanses of farmland. Tuning out NASCAR on AM 1360, I imagined a farm that had been in a certain family for decades that was being threatened by torrential rains and a sudden invasion of ants.

As I looked at the car driving alongside us, I wondered, "Where are they going? What are they doing?"

In my mind, they were a couple on an awkward blind date. The woman has just gotten out of a nasty marriage, and after a year of solitude, has decided to dip her foot in the dating pool again. The man has trust issues of his own and only went on the date because his older sister guilted him into it. Little do they know, this first date was going to take them into a whirlwind love affair filled with tension, inner conflict, great sex, emotional black moments for each of them, and finally, a Happily Ever After.

"Honey? We're here."

I looked out at my parents' familiar blue ranch and blinked. Wow, that'd gone quick, I thought. My mind, of course, was still back on that lonely stretch of highway, with the couple I'd named Harry and Grace.


Note:

Ironically, I had a difficult time finding an idea for my blog today. This is a little on the different side, but I thought if I wrote it in story format, you might enjoy it more. Anyway, that's often how I get my ideas. Where do y'all get yours?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Rewrites. Heaven or Hell?

I'm up to my elbows right now in rewrites. I'm on the home stretch of this book. I can see the light, smell the finish line, all that.

But I have a love/hate relationship with rewrites. It's the place where the book takes solid form, all the parts come together. It gets prettier. You know. But it's also the place where my weaknesses slap me on the forehead. "Doh!" And the idea and passages -- you know the ones -- which seemed so clever the first or second time through now seem stupid and must be slashed. It's also the place where errors like timeline mistakes rear their ugly heads.

Plus I'm ploddingly slow at this part. And while life has a penchant for getting in the way, it seems to doubly gets in the way during the revision process. The baby is created, birthed, now who wants to painstakingly force it to grow?

Who can relate with me? How many of you are in the revisions? How many rewrites do you generally do per book? What do you love/hate about this process?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Belly Up To The Table

By the power of attrition, I am the fill-in blogger for today. I'm going to keep this short and simple.

The other day I was writing a scene where my hero, pretending to be a body guard, is watching the bad guy eat breakfast. I couldn't believe how much of the bad guy's personality and the hero's disdain came through with the scene. Unfortunately, by the end, it finally occurred to me that the bad guy's arm was in a sling and there went all that careful dissecting of the egg, the bits of yolk stained white pierced by the tines of the fork, carefully perched on a toast point and almost daintily popped into the waiting mouth. Much of it had to go because a one handed eater does not perform surgery on their food, fork in one hand, knife in the other. They have to settle for the sawing and gnawing thing.

But that fastidious angle of the character gave me a glimpse into his personality. The man is evil and yet he's careful, he's a killer, and yet he never gets his hands dirty, not even with a bit of breakfast. And the hero--he knows how destructive this man is. While the hero smiles on the outside, inside he's rooting for cholesterol to do the guy in, right then and there, clogging his arteries like a LA freeway at rush hour.

My point--a lot can happen during a scene where someone or many people are eating. Have you ever used this ordinary and universal activity to showcase feelings? Or traits? Or to foreshadow a character's cruelty or lovability or what have you?

If you have time, write a little scene where one person watches another eat, or where two people share a bite or two. Use a WIP and see if you don't learn a little about the people just by the way they take a bite of that apple, or by their culinary choices, or what they feel as they chew or the conclusions someone else reaches as they watch. I'd love to read what you all come up with.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fill In

Becky's under the weather today so I'm filling in. Thing is, I don't really have a topic. So...let's do a little, fun get-to-know-your-chapter-mates post. In the comment section, answer these questions:

1. How long have you been writing?
2. What made you sit down and write that first book?
3. How many manuscripts have you finished (Alice, you can just shout out how many you've published. LOL)
4. What genre do you write?
5. What genres do you want to write in (if different)?
6. What are you working on now?
7. What's the one book you haven't written yet but want to?
8. Which authors have inspired you - either to write in the first place, or to keep writing?

Looking forward to reading everyone's answers!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Duct tape, a sock...


I was writing along splendidly on the WIP and BAM, my heroine said something that stopped me cold. Could that have happened? She said she remembered riding a train as a child. Why did she say this? I don't know. But now that she did, I have to pull out my over-sized book on the history of North American trains to see where trains ran when she was a child. And then do these dates and areas work with the time line I had already set up?

Do your characters do that? Say something that completely sets you back and makes you wonder where the heck it came from? My first reaction was to hit the delete key - then I thought, no let's see where this is going. What can I do with this information? Other than have to do more research. If I find through the research it isn’t possible, then I'll take the sentence out. But it could be something that will make her backstory more intriguing. And make the reader wonder how much she is keeping from the hero. Hmm… is she also keeping something from me?

How often do your characters take over the story, or do they really? Are you molding them like Claymation figures? Making them do your bidding or are you following along cleaning up after them to make the story work?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Likeability Factor - Is It An Age Thing?

I didn't get a chance to respond to Wavy's post yesterday, but I did read it and I have to say, shoot girls, you're all making me teary-eyed! I nearly cried after reading Jen's post about her brother, then after reading Wavy's I-love-my-RWA-group post yesterday as well. If I didn't know any better I'd say I'm hormonal. So if any of you are like me, fear not, I'm sparing you the tears today. However, I am going to post a little about something that's been on my mind since Tuesday's meeting.

For those of you who missed the crit meeting, you missed some great pages being read aloud. And like I commented on Alice's post on fear a few days ago, I'm really in awe of those of you who bring your pages and read them out loud. I wanna be you when I grow up! We had some really wonderful discussions about writing/characters/plot, etc., but one thing that stuck with me after the meeting was this concept of likeable characters. What makes a character likeable? How is that measured when we all like different things? And does age play a role in what characters you or I find likeable?

I think Chris Young was the one who brought up this idea of likeability being related to age. Someone - and forgive me, I can't remember who - read pages that had a playboy-ish character in the scene. I thought it was funny, light and very "guy-ish". The guy was a little sarcastic, aloof and, like a guy, checking out the women around him. A discussion evolved around making the character more "likeable", and to be honest, I was a little dumbstruck. I thought he was likeable. Of course, three pages is really hard to judge a character's likeability factor, but are my opinions of characters swayed because of my age?

I don't expect the hero to be ultra-likeable in the very first chapter. If he is, then there's no real character arc for him to follow. In fact, some of my favorite books have characters that were pretty unlikeable from the get-go, but that little fact made their transformation so much more dramatic and fun to read. Sure, I would agree that there has to be something redeeming about the character to make you keep reading, but redeemability and likeability are two very different things in my mind. I can dislike a character at the beginning of a book and still want to find out what happens to him as long as I see a hint of something redeemable in him.

I'm going to use an example from JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood Series. (Yeah, thanks to Lisa.) My favorite character in that series is not likeable in any way shape or form. He's mean, he's nasty, he's not nice to those around him, and he has an ultra-bad reputation, which he earned by doing very bad things. Not likeable at all. But from the very beginning he's been my favorite character because there's a sense - and maybe it was just a flash in his eyes in one very minor scene - that he was redeemable.

What do you think? Do you have to like a character to keep reading or is the hint of redeemability enough to make you keep reading? And do you think that has anything to do with your age and what you expect from the characters you read about?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Writer's Anonymous

Sometimes, on the days when my demons are licking at my heels, I'll wonder why I keep up with RWA--especially when I'm struggling just to work through the umpteenth block and questioning my sanity. But, then, on nights like last night, it hits me with the force of a hurricane: THIS is why.

Last night, as we were going around doing our usual goals and milestones, it seemed that nearly everyone had had a bad month(s). Suddenly my own complaints seemed trivial--and indeed, surmountable, especially in the company of women I admire so greatly, all struggling with the same thing. It felt so good to affirm our need to get back on track, to keep going.

Now, I've been to other support groups of the diet variety, and this sort of commiserating often leads to a group Cold Stone Creamery run. Or mass expulsion from the program as dreams of triple-chocolate-cake overtake the discussion. All kidding aside, programs work because of this ability to share, to acknowledge our human frailty, and to receive the bolstering of a squad of cheerleaders. This is why certain big-name weight loss programs have such a high success rate--no matter how good the book or program, we're limited by our own blinders. The reason why certain programs go on to have "lifetime members" is not because they have the magic bullet for skinniness, but because they understand that failure doesn't happen because of one bad week, or bad month--it happens when you stop coming.

Of course, they'd RATHER that you come and be the cheerleader, regaling everyone with tales of your restraint and shrinking wardrobe. It's better for their marketing. But, you can't be the cheerleader every time, and that's an important lesson. Many people, myself included, drop out when they feel that they've gone too long without a success, occupied the "problem child" role too long, and that they're bringing the group down.

What if everyone did that? We wouldn't have a meeting. There would have two, maybe three people. And you can be sure, that if Ms. One and Ms. Two shared their latest contracts and completed manuscripts, that poor Ms. Three isn't going to feel like talking about the dust collecting on her keyboard. Plus, Ms. One and Ms. Two would miss the opportunity to be bolstered by a crowd of envious sisters.

The milestones would loose some of their meaning. The raindrop ceremony in Feb. was so meaningful precisely because so many of us are in the trenches, struggling, and we were touched by the privilege of witnessing others who have wrestled their demons to the ground and met their goals. When you know how long someone struggled with a block, what personal tragedy they had to overcome, it makes your own success feel more tangible, more possible.

If this was the brag-and-share club, I would have stopped coming a long time ago. But, I come because this is the only place where I am with others who understand the angst of not writing and how hard it is to live the writing life. We all need that in our lives--in good times and bad. Especially the bad.

I am so grateful for everyone who showed up last night, who shared where they were on their journey, for being honest and real about their struggles. They made my own blank pages feel less daunting, and made me feel supported and uplifted. This is also why critique meetings are so important. Great speakers uplift us in other ways, energize us to go forth and tackle a particular problem. Critique gets us talking about writing, thinking about writing, occupying that head space where our characters live and stories are born.

This is vital. I found I got more out of what other's were sharing than out of my own selection--a potent message that the mere act of participating in critique can be therapeutic, even when one doesn't have a selection to share. This is why we come. Because for an hour or two, we get to be writers, to do the work of writers, to believe that we are writers. No magic bullet, no self-help book, no writing coach can do that work for us. It is through each other that our struggles get transformed from self-depreciation to a part of the writing life. We become writers, not just by tackling the blank page, but by sharing that process with others.



[ Writers Anonymous logo ]

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fear

Have you noticed when you are around a very small child and you are both drawing, that the child doesn't care that you can draw a superior cat? A more life-like horse? A person with a single nose and two hands with fingers? Your average three year old just keeps drawing their own stick figure or colors over yours with a purple crayon.

And have you noticed that when a child is playing (loudly) a tune on the piano, say, he or she doesn't care that you can actually make a recognizable tune, a tune that doesn't make people gnash their teeth? They wait impatiently for you to stop, and then go right on with a minor chord extravaganza that will cause most adults to knock back a slug of something high octane.

Two examples that I thought about this weekend while I was with four year old Carmen. And because I've been thinking lately about fear, it all kind of coalesced in my brain.

Why is it that creation--for most adults--is so fraught with fear?

Pretend you are drawing and a better artist sits down with you. They pick up a pen and while you draw a flower, they draw a flower and theirs is good enough to frame and not just because you love them and want to encourage them. I mean frame and hang on a wall, not on the refrigerator door.

Do you ignore their efforts and keep on drawing your own little spindly flower-thing? Do you take a purple crayon and scribble over theirs? Or do you self consciously stop drawing and murmur words of praise and feeling inferior, put your hand casually over your flower to hide it?

Pretend you are playing chop-sticks on the piano and someone comes in, waits until you are finished, sits down beside you and plays flawless Beethoven. Do you nudge them out of the way? Do you play chop-sticks way up on the treble section and bang louder to drown them out? Or do you sit with your hands in your lap?

When do we begin to bow to superior creative ability? When is the joy of creating surpassed by the feeling we don't measure up?

I think fear plays a bigger part in writing than most of us think it does. And I think there are two major kinds of fear that come into play:
Fear of Failing
Fear of Succeeding

I don't think children, young children, worry about failing. They haven't yet learned the definition. Creating is individual and has merit of its own. And why would their creation have to compete with some else's? Who would think of such a thing?

I also don't think young children worry about getting things right. If they do, and someone says, "Wow," they smile. They don't immediately project future expectations they can't meet and ultimate failure upon themselves.

I told Carmen a story I made up awhile back. It was a nice story with a beginning, a middle and an end. It had pathos, tension, dark moments and an uplifting ending. And it made sense.

She politely listened to it. Then it was her turn to tell a story. Hers involved the My Little Pony characters, a tea party on a cloud, something about a rainbow and a crocodile. It went on and on and on and on…It made no sense. The ending left many unanswered questions: how did the crocodile get up on the clouds with the unicorns? Stuff like that. She was pleased to death with her story. She beamed.

I think we may all need to nurture the child inside of us. Remember that our inner child isn’t a naive imbecile--she is our pure spirit, without the wear and tear of adult expectation and disappointment.

Give her a break.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Just For Fun

Okay, so it's 4:31 pm and I'm bored. No new post. I could be writing. I could be making dinner (Ha!), I could be answering my screaming two-year-old. Instead, I'm here. So let's have some fun.

Add a paragraph and lets see where this goes. Just for kicks and giggles.

Marilyn Monroe Polschneider would never live up to her name. And wasn't that a hoot considering she was currently standing on stage under a series of hot lights with her right hand wrapped around a stripper pole, staring out at a full room of gaping-mouthed men? Ah, yeah, especially considering the fact she was flat as a board with dark hair and eyes and stood at a whopping five-feet even. Of course, that little shocker aside, the reality she wasn't every man's fantasy was the fact she actually had a brain rolling around in that skull of hers. And like the idiot she was, she'd just opened her mouth and let that little gem be known. Oh, man. She was in way over her head here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

My Saving Grace

I received some upsetting news yesterday. My brother is being sent to prison. This is no ordinary trip to county for a few months. No, this is full-on, “Hi, my name’s Bubba,” don’t-drop-the-soap State Prison. The hows and whys are immaterial at this point. Let’s just say it’s been a long time coming. In fact, I’m surprised that at the ripe ol’ age of twenty-five, he hasn’t been sent down river sooner. Trust me on this.

The news in and of itself was devastating, but not at all surprising. After all, we had been awaiting this day since last July, when he was caught evading the police in a stolen car during rush hour traffic. But, when my mom told me over the phone yesterday, it hit me hard nonetheless.

This is my baby brother.

This is the little baby my mother held in her arms in the hospital, while I peered over the bed and asked if I could “pet” him. This is the child I fiercely protected against the slaps and punches of those who were sworn to protect us. This is the child who I cared for like my own when there were none to care for us.

Where was I? And how did this happen?

Yes, I was a child, too. But, it rips at me in a way that is so intrinsically primal that I want to rip my hair out and scream at the heavens and demand WHY!

After the storm of tears had waned, I was overcome with the crippling urge to write. Needed to write. Had to write. Where in the damn hell is my laptop?

Afterward, I felt better. Which brought to mind the countless other times in my life, particularly those black, bleak moments of my childhood when my only ally was a pen and a piece of paper, a book that I could escape into, if only for a few precious moments.

Writing is my saving grace, I realized. It has been the one true thing that has stuck with me through thick and thin. It got me through the tears, the pain, the loneliness, the drug habits, the depression, the wonder and terrifying brilliance of becoming a mother. It’s what’s kept me sane. It’s what’s kept me strong. A strong beam of light in an endless sea of chaos that is life. My life.

So, I realize that this is probably a little dark, a little deep. But, I’m feeling a little dark and a little deep lately. And I want to know if writing has helped any of you the way it has for me.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

More Word Play

Wow, Karen's right. This blog slot seemed to charge right up.

I've been up to my elbows in the final push to get this ms. finished and out the door, which is the reason for my absence the past couple days. I am so close, but the deadline for this contest I'd wanted to enter (top prize is publication with Touchstone and $5,000)is midnight tonight. So my chances of getting finished and entered don't look too hot. I'm goign to keep trying until it's too late...

But enough about me. Let's talk about you and your skills at word play, 'cause I know you all have skills, and that's what today's blog is all about -- more having fun with words:


The Washington Post's Style Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are this year's winners:

1. Bozone (n.) The substance surrounding stupid people that
stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

2. Cashtration (n.) The act of buying a house, which renders
the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

3. Giraffiti (n) Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

4. Sarchasm (n) The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

5. Inoculatte (v) To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

6. Hipatitis (n) Terminal coolness.

7. Osteopornosis (n) A degenerate disease. (This one got
extra credit).

8. Karmageddon (n) It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.


9. Decafalon (n.) The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

10. Glibido (v) All talk and no action.

11. Dopeler effect (n) The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.


12. Arachnoleptic fit (n.) The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

13. Beelzebug (n.) Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

14. Caterpallor (n.) The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.

And the pick of the literature:

Ignoranus (n): A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Turning Lemons into Lemonade


Bloggedy-blog blog blog. Wow, this came up fast. Totally unprepared and busier than I've ever been, I'm gonna have to write a slam-dunk blog. Please forgive the typos and meandering thoughts as I throw this together.

Uhm... Lemons. Well, that would be rejections, but you already guessed that. We all get 'em and they can be very discouraging. Sometimes demeaning. Always disappointing. A triple D threat.

However, I want this to be a positive blog, which is why I'm using the lemonade analogy. I could also use the get-back-up-on-that-horse analogy, but lemonade makes me think of summer. And it's tastier.

This is on my mind because I recently had a short story rejected by an anthology that was near and dear to my heart. This is the story I worked on at the coast last fall at our retreat. I had so much fun writing it and was really pleased with the results, but alas, the anthology's editorial board said "it didn't meet the anthology's criteria." Bummer. I suppose the story was a bit out there (Zombies, but not the flesh-eating kind, I promise) and I shouldn't be suprised, but still. A rejection is a rejection and my first impulse was to take it personally.

So I took that shiny yellow lemon and got a lemonade thing going by submitting it elsewhere. I knew Echelon Press was having a contest and the deadline was the same day I learned my story wasn't accepted. Serendipity. So I submitted it. The very next morning I heard from the publisher, and though I didn't win the contest, she liked my story so much that she asked if she could publish it in their regular fantasy line of short story downloads (50% royalty... nice). So my tasty lemonade will soon be available to short story readers everywhere.

The lemonade theory works for novels, too. My Wild Rose Press release, Desert Guardian, was originally intended for Silhouette Intimate Moments. And even though they sent me a 5-page revision letter and the revised manuscript was bounced around in consideration-land for over 15 months, they ultimately rejected it. But my new publisher picked it up in less than 2 months and I've been quite pleased with the results. Nice lemonade.

So do you have any lemons in your fruit basket? Are you willing to sweeten them up for a refreshing beverage ready to serve to your eagerly awaiting readers? Or have you already done it? If so, what were your results?

Speaking of anthology, I can't resist (this is just for you, Danita):

anthology (n) -- the study of ants that lisp.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Time Flies! Or, Oh Crap! It's My Turn To Blog Already?

I've not been reading the blogs lately because I'm working pretty much full-time, which was supposed to be part-time; plus, I'm still a mommy and wife, so yeah, I'm sorta outta the loop, and if Eli hadn't sent out the reminder, well, I'd not have blogged today. That being said, by the time this blog is over you'll all be wondering why I bothered at all. LOL

So the topic of connected books is an interesting one, and then Paty brought up the fact that she wants to write a new series she's been pondering. Well, In keeping with the last two blogs by Eli and Paty, I'm going to let you all in on a few things I've come across lately.

First, writing connected books with a "sorta" HEA is what a best-selling author named Suzanne Enoch has been doing the last couple of years. She has the same two main characters and just continues to put them through different situations while keeping them together, but apart. (ACK! And I call myself a writer. What sort of explanation was that?) Anyway, the series is about a thief extraordinaire Samantha Jellicoe and a British playboy millonaire Richard (Rick) Addison. This is a series that may be a helpful example of what you're trying to accomplish Paty because I think this is exactly what you were talking about. Book one is called, "Flirting With Danger". Book two is called, "Don't Look Down"; and I believe there's another one coming out soon, but don't quote me.

Suzanne Enoch's website is here

Okay, on to a different topic...

The other day I found this cool place on the net for checking out favorite authors. It's called Romance Novel TV so if you have something faster than a dial up connection, go check it out! They have JR Ward, Nora Roberts, Christina Dodd, Eloisa James, Shirley Hailstock, Cathy Maxwell, Caridad Pineiro, Mary Jo Putney, Julieanne MacLean, Rebecca York.

The authors talk about writing, selling, life of a writer or best-selling author experiences, etc...

Well, there you have it. My boring blog post. I don't have a question of the day. Sorry. I'm quite boring. ;)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Speaking of Connected Books


As some of you know, I came up with an idea for a series a while back. It will be a western historical series. With a female protagonist who is a Pinkerton Agent.

I was thinking if I write it along the lines of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, there is never really a HEA. Which is most likely why her books are not in the Romance line up at stores. So... My thought was, though I have an on again off again relationship between my protagonist and a U.S. Marshal, I would still need a HEA ending in all my books to keep it on the romance shelves- right?

My thought was to incorporate a romance between two secondary characters in each book which would end happily ever after. What do you think? Would this be too distracting from the main protagonist or just the right fuel for the romance audience (besides the protag and her marshal) to keep romance faithfuls reading the next book?

Have you ever read any books like this? With the secondary characters falling in love, but the main story is about the main protagonist. If so, could you give me the titles and authors so I can read a few and see if I can really pull this off.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Those Darn Connected Books

That's me over there, smacking my hand against my head with a, what were you thinking expression. (Although I hope I'm not as ugly-looking as ol' Homer.)

Actually, I do this a lot. In the privacy of my home. Give myself a whack when I realize what I've done is the stupidest thing on the planet. Okay, maybe not stupid. More like...uninformed.

I've hit the zone. You know, the one, when you're writing, when nothing else matters. Kids can scream, food can burn, the TV can blare in the background and you hardly notice it. You don't care that you've just given the baby a cupcake at . . . 9:31 in the morning to shut him up. You don't care that the older Gremlins have turned on some kick-fighting, blood-letting cartoon you wouldn't in your right mind ever let them watch. You simply tune everything out and write. I liken it to the high a runner gets when they hit the groove (the one I rarely get to because I give up way too soon) - legs lengthen, breathing regulates, you pass that Mt. Rushmore wall of stone and you feel like you could go . . . forever. Man, it's a great feeling. The words literally fall right out of my fingers, move across the keys themselves and miraculously appear on the page as if my brain wasn't connected at all.

So what's so stupid about that? Here it is. The book I'm working on now is a book that's been churning in my head for eons. I'm not sure why it has to come out now, but I'm not questioning the zone. Go with the flow, let the characters guide you. That's my motto. The problem is, it's connected to a book I wrote a while back, one my agent is reading at this moment. Whether or not she likes the first book, and whether or not it sells is irrelevant to me at this point. I'm writing this book. This story has to be told and my characters have such a noose around my neck, I couldn't stop now even if I tried. The issue I have is when I wrote the first book way back when, there were secondary characters that were included in that book - that play a bigger role in this book - that weren't fully formed. Yeah, I know. I can hear Karen and Genene yelling, character charts! character charts! But they don't work for me. This character wasn't formed yet because he didn't have to be. At the time, he was a very minor secondary characters, lurking in the shadows who I knew one day would step out into the light, it just wasn't his time. In this book, though he's still a secondary character, he's suddenly twisting and turning and becoming something I hadn't seen before. That's the "doh" moment. I knew he had issues in book one - but I couldn't see them clearly. Now I do.

Of course, I'm lucky. The first book hasn't sold, hasn't been edited by my agent. It's very easy to go back and make the very minor changes to darken this particular character to the degree that needs darkening. An easy fix for me as an unpublished, but I can't stop thinking about how published authors handle this sort of thing.

I love connected books. Feed off them, really. That anticipation of yearning for the next release is a high I, though I grumble about it, love to experience. The book I'm working on now is part of a series, sort of. Connected characters in what could be 4-5 books if I ever got around to doing them all, although each book would be stand alone and could be read out of order. That's my goal, really. Not simply to sell, but to be able to sustain a series like that. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. I just can't help but wonder how published authors do it. I mean, the desire to go back and change this character in the first book to match what I've discovered in book 2 is overwhelming, to say the least. What do you do when it's already printed and done and can't be changed?

Last fall when we were all at the beach, you might remember I was banging my head against a wall working on a proposal to send my agent. That, too, was a connected book idea - to the book my agent is still shopping around. My problem - as Lisa finally made me see - was that I was already working with a semi-formed character - one who'd had a very large secondary roll in the first book. I couldn't seem to twist him around to what I needed to go with the idea I'd come up with for the new book, and no matter what I did, he screamed, "No way!" I finally gave up and decided it wasn't time for him. Maybe he needed more time to fully form. Maybe the plot I thought was brilliant was really a POS. Maybe I just wasn't ready to write that book. I don't really know, but I do know working with semi-formed characters is much harder than starting fresh with someone new or even working with fully-formed characters.

This book, the one I'm working on now, isn't like that because the hero in this book - while a secondary character in the other one - has been fully formed in my mind for a long, long time. Probably long enough that I know him so well, I know what he has to do. As Alice told me yesterday when I mentioned this to her, "Some books almost write themselves. I think that's especially true when it's been simmering on a back burner for awhile."

I think I took a strange tangent here and got off topic, so I'll try to veer back. Do any of you write connected books? And if so, how do you keep your characters consistent from one book to the other, especially very minor ones who don't necessarily need to be fully formed from one book to the next?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

HAVE YOU KEPT YOUR NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS?

I read recently that people rarely stick with their New Year's resolutions past mid-February or so. All that determination to lose weight and eat healthier melted with a half-gallon of HaƄgen Das (spelling?) ice cream and a movie marathon from which you've only stirred to get up and call in sick to work.

Can you find the piece of paper you wrote your resolutions on? Did you resolve not to even make resolutions?

Well, I do remember my resolutions sounded pretty "high falutin'." More of a life's mission statement that was the result of brainstorming what was important to me and the things I wanted to accomplish. But I had to dig to find the easel-sized sheet of paper with all my brainstorming -- now folded and buried under my lists of things to do!

Yep, that mission statement still sounds pretty noble: Do work I love that will provide more money than I ever dreamed possible, that will allow me to play and refill my creative well, and will keep me healthy in body, mind and spirit while nurturing my relationships.

Am I still on track or have I fallen back into old habits? Well ... a little of both. I am doing work I love, and making progress on meeting the challenge of not overbooking my time. I haven't finished the manuscript I wanted to complete in January, but I'm pleased with how the characters and plot are deepening. And I haven't made my fortune yet, though I got a call about a graphics job that should pay for my trip to the San Juan Islands this fall. This trip will be a combination of work, play and learning that fits perfectly with that noble mission statement.

I've also seen mixed progress in other things I wanted to accomplish. Maybe I expected too much. Maybe I'm not working as quickly or efficiently as I could be. However, it's been good for me to revisit the brainstorming that went into my mission statement. I don't have all the specific goals mapped out on my calendar yet, but I'm going to do that to help keep me on track. Maybe this goes hand-in-hand with anal-retentive plotting of stories!

How about you? Do you set goals? Do you keep those goals? Or are you a goal pantster and just leap off the abyss and trust that a net will catch you? Is that how you write too? Is there any correlation?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

B-L-O-C-K-E-D

This post is brought to you by the fine folks at benadryl. Apologies for my bloggy absence this week---I've been fighting a horrid case of hives and thanks to the miracle of antihistamines, setting world records for sleep.

But, onto writing, of which I have been doing precious little of late. I am b-l-o-c-k-e-d, a state I hoped never to return to again. After all, I battled through a 6+ month block in 2006. I figured that should earn me some block insurance. But, no, a combo of new job and new pregnancy gave me a double whammy, and now, I have to find my way back.

Having resolved to do so, I've been trying different strategies many of which I've gleaned from all of you:
  • Brainstorm through the plot issues by talking to someone
  • Staying connected to other writers
  • Playing solitaire (Thanks Alice!) instead of using the internet to get my mind in the zone
  • setting reasonable goals
  • getting to know my characters again
The last one is the one I've been having the most fun with. The other night, I could not make a word appear in my WIP to save my life, so I just said, "Okay, characters, you don't have to finish the chapter, but you do have to TALK, darn it." So, I had them write letters to each other.

Yes, letters. Stop laughing now. Letter writing is a fine art form. Fictional letters have even been the basis for entire books. So, I made my characters write letters to each other about where they are *right now* (otherwise known as the plot-stuck-in-hades-place) and I'm slowly seeing my way through the plot haze to the other side. I'm going to keep with the letters a little longer, and I'm trying not to see it as busy work. Instead, I see it as critical insight into my characters, which will hopefully enable me to finish this book within this millennium.

I think one of the greatest challenges of writing is figuring out how to capture "the zone" and how to keep your brain there. The zone is more than a space to write--it's HEAD SPACE--and it's a very fragile thing.

So your turn. What unblocks you? What ways back to your characters have you found? Have you tried having conversations with them that aren't part of the book? Other ideas, tips suggestions?

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Choosing Your Battles

You get me two days in a row …

The other day I was writing a car chase scene with shots fired.

Now, I cannot begin to tell you how many times this very thing has happened to my husband and myself. There we are minding our own business when suddenly someone starts trying to run us off the road or fires bullets at us. I, of course, take the fully loaded revolver from the glove box and shoot back as the DH steers. Or I unlock the shotgun under the seat, rest it against the door frame and BLAST.

Okay, so it's never happened and yet here I am writing about it. Since it has never happened to me or anyone else I know (except, perhaps, Becky--maybe this is where she gets her loathing of all things icky, scary or violent!) where am I supposed to get the images that feed my eager little fingers? Yep, movies and television.

So, after I write the scene--which feels a little light weight to me--I make my way downstairs to cook dinner and actually stand for awhile (Yay!) and while puttering around, I turn on the television. They are running M*A*S*H reruns right now and I like them. The one that happened to be on that night was one where some of the characters make their way to the front. The FRONT, as in the line where the good guys and the bad guys do their best to blow each other up.

On the way back from the FRONT, bombs start falling around their Jeep. They dodge this explosion and that one until they leave the Jeep and take cover in a handy bunker.

A light bulb came on in my pea sized brain. I HAD AN EPIPHANY!

I turned to my husband and said, "So, which film better depicts the accuracy of a battle, Saving Private Ryan or MASH." He looks at me like I'm nuts and says, "Saving Private Ryan, of course." And I said, "Exactly. And it just dawned on me that I am writing MASH."

I know I'm not really writing MASH. What I'm trying to say is that I am depicting a gunfight or battle my characters are engaged in a sort of short-hand type manner. I am appealing to my audience who have grown up in the same culture I have grown up in, to call upon the images they have unwittingly stowed in their minds (just as I have) to follow my car chase and fill in some of the blanks because I am writing romance, i.e., I am writing about the characters, not the step by step dynamics of a car chase.

Currently, I am reading a police procedural series. The characters in this series investigate crime in a very methodical manner I imagine my police officer son would recognize. I like it, but I am more interested in why this character did this, why that characters said that, and are those two every going to realize they are meant for each other than I am the trajectory of every bullet.

There are many decisions to be made while writing and making poor choices throws the reader out of the book. If you are writing about horses and mention them chewing their cuds, almost any reader is going to throw your book against a wall and shout, "That's a cow, you moron!" You need to get the details right, but you also need to advance your story in a compelling way. That's one of many balancing acts we perform.

I think some of writing these kinds of scenes is instinct. We "see" the battle, for instance, in our head. We press down on the accelerator pedal. We hear the tires spinning. We see jouncing headlights as the car in pursuit hits a bumpy spot. We feel the heavy gun in our hand and the anxiety and fear that pushes its way up our throat. We imagine all this and report it as well as we can.

Or we come across a body. How many bodies have my characters found during the course of the past umpteen books? Many. How many have I found? Zip. I've seen dead people, but only those than died peacefully or once, in a bizarre visit to the morgue with my soon to be newspaper reporter daughter-in-law, those that died less peacefully but had already been cleaned up and sanitized. Of course, like millions of Americans, I am no stranger to violent death courtesy of film. So, again, I have images. And again, I choose which images to use with each incident.

And it changes from time to time depending on how important the character is to the plot, how important the means of death is, from whose perspective I use (a former cop is going to see things differently than a small child or an old lady and that goes back to individual perspective, a subject that fascinates me.)

Whether you write romantic suspense, mystery or straight romance, historicals, paranormal or YA, you are making heavy-weight decisions about what you show a dozen times a book, maybe a dozen times a page. And you are deciding at what level you are going to take realism. I guess I'm finally growing a little more comfortable with the fact that it's okay to use your imagination and depart from literal truth or from reporting every detail in order to make your action scenes come to life, trusting that your reader will travel with you and maybe even fill in a few of the blanks.

What decisions do you struggle with? Is it always instinct that guides your choices about how to best "shoot" a scene (like a film director might set up camera angles, wait for the right light, call in hair and make-up to make sure everyone in the scene is just right?) Any hints? Any troubles? And like me, do some of you who have been doing this for awhile find that it gets more complicated as time passes? And is that because we are willing to entertain more options or because we're getting (saying it ain't so) dumber?

I'm on the fence with that last one!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Misery

Has everyone seen the movie MISERY by Stephen King?

I shied away from it for years but a couple of weeks ago, I checked it out of the library and watched it.

This is a summation of the plot: SPOILER ALERT: A writer is holed up in the snow, finishing a manuscript. Through a phone conversation with his agent, we learn he's been writing about a character named MISERY for many years. The public so loves this character that's she's all he writes about now and he's sick of her. In this book, he claims independence by killing her off.

He starts home in the snow and ends up in an awful accident. He's rescued from sure death by a woman who's a nurse and for awhile, it seems, he's one lucky guy even if he can't walk because his legs are broken. The rescuer recognizes him from the picture on his book covers (she's read them all over and over again) and claims she is his "number one fan. " As she managed to rescue his latest manuscript as well, she asks if she can read it. He says yes.

Bad mistake. This woman is nuts and when she reads that he kills off MISERY, she goes ballistic. In the scene that prompted this blog, she brings a small BBQ into his sickroom, a can of lighter fluid and a match. She opens the lid of the BBQ and there is his book. She tells him he can't do this to MISERY and demands he burn this terrible manuscript. As the demand is made by a crazy woman, he is forced to comply and destroys the book he has just written.

What a scene this is. Her offering his latest work, the culmination of a series of books and months of agony, like a sacrificial lamb because it doesn't fit her idea of his character's destiny.

She then claims God came to her and explained His purpose in having the writer under her roof. The writer must write a new book for the Misery character and this time, make it happy. The crazy woman eagerly reads the pages as the writer feverishly creates the new book. During this time, he is also escaping his room when she leaves the house, and now knows what a homicidal maniac she really is. He has to get out there.

Eventually, he's got the new book all the way to the last chapter where MISERY is going to make the choice of which man she will marry. The maniac is agog with lust to find out the answer as this character is more real to her than the man she has tortured and confined. In a brilliant turn around, he presents her with the last chapter only to destroy it before she can read it. She comes unglued, they battle, THE END.

As a writer the two most poignant scenes for me was him being forced to destroy his manuscript on the eve of delivering it to his agent, and him taking back the power by thwarting his "public" and denying them the happy ever after he'd been forced to create. (This would seem to be more a problem for the Stephen Kings of the world than the Alice Sharpes, but there you go.)

Have you seen this movie? I talked to my family about it the next day. I mentioned the two scenes I just described and the unexpected murder of a third character that broke my heart and everyone else looked at me like I was nuts. They talked about the scene where the maniac rebroke the writer's ankles to keep him chained to his bed (and his typewriter.) That was the worst scene for them and I suddenly realized that the endless parodies of that scene had been what kept me from watching this movie for so long. Yet in the end, it barely registered while the vision of that BBQ with a perfect lily white manuscript set squarely in the middle and the author's hand poised to send it up in smoke still lingers in my mind.

My point: writers are crazy, reader's are crazier.

We make stories, but once they hit the world, they belong to whomever reads them to take them into their heart and mind or trash them at will, to remember them forever and yearn for more, for it never to end, or to disown the writer because the writer has disappointed them, has spoiled things for them.

I am a reader every bit as much as I am a writer and I have felt this way. There are books in my life that are part of me, that belong to me, that speak to me, that I read and reread. Books that I seldom, if ever, think about the author or the process because it's the story that matters, the people they created are a million times more real than they are--afterall, they are just a name on the front cover or a picture on the back. The writer, in my reader's mind, is little more than the vessel through which MY story comes to me.

Annie Wilkes, move over.

What do you think?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Sacred Space: Where I Write

So, we're building a house.

And the thought occurs that I am going to have a brand new writing space. I'm not what you might call a "versatile" girl when it comes to where I write. Unfortunately. When I write in spaces other than my home desk/office, I have a hard time getting the words to flow. I have a laptop and even when I take it to my dining room table, it's difficult to "get in the zone."

I'm sure it's purely psychological, but there it is.

In all of my years of performing the written arts, I've had a special space for writing. When I first began, at the tender age of eleven, I sat in my bedroom at an old wooden desk and wrote painstakingly by hand. With the advent of computers, it moved into the spare bedroom. Through adulthood and many apartments, I have always designated one area as my "sacred writing space."

We've been in this house for less than two years. I don't have an "office." I have desk in the middle of the playroom (obviously, my priorities have changed in recent years). But, it's my space. I have some crystals set out on my desk: aventurine for creativity, clear quartz for mental clarity (I have yet to achieve this feat). In my diffuser, I have various essential oils burning for various purposes. My bulletin board sits to my right, pegged with misc. info relating to my current WIP. The children scream behind me. The dog comes up and starts his manic episode (dancing in circles, barking loudly, nudging my hand. He wants to pee).

When the kids (DH included, of course!) start bugging me for things like food, water, etc., I bare my imaginary fangs and hiss (I've discovered a yen for becoming a vampire since reading JR Ward's vampire series--thanks, Eli and Lisa!).

This doesn't work. My DD laughs and my toddler has no earthly clue what a "vampire" is.

But, I digress.

So, come summer, I will be in a new space. This one will actually have four walls all for me! The mind boggles. In my head, I've already been painting the walls. I think I will like this imaginary space when it comes into being.

So, how do you ladies feel about your own personal "sacred" writing space?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Word Play

Let's Play with Words

I am bloggless this morning, and just realized it is my day to post. ACK!

So, here's what we're gonna do...we're gonna copy Piper and use an hilarious email of word play, only this one is from my auntie, not Piper's husband. And, instead of puns, today's chuckle is this:

Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

The winners are:
1. Coffee (n.) the person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted (adj.) appalled over how much weight you have gained.

3. Abdicate (v.) to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade (v.) to attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly (v.) impotent.

6. Negligent (adj.) describes a condition in which you absent-mindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

7. Lymph (v.) to walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle (n.) olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash (n.) a rapidly receding hairline..

11. Testicle (n.) a humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude (n.) the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon (n.) a Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster (n.) a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism (n.) (back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent (n.) an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.


Funny huh? Now, let's think of our own silly meanings to words. I'll mull this over today and may come up with more. But only one pops into my groggy, didn't-get-enough-sleep-last-night-head at the moment:

1. Claustrophobic (n.) a person afraid of white-haired men wearing red.

I know, groan. But you can do better. I challenge you to come up with one or more of your own.