Tuesday, September 30, 2008

CAN VOICE TRUMP PLAGIARISM?

In the dictionary plagiarize is defined as a verb: to take (the work or idea of someone else) and pass if off as one’s own. I’ve been in a debate with myself over voice and plagiarism and built a scenario around an image to offer a foundation for my belief structure.

In simple terms, in the world of writing fiction my thoughts lean into the opinion that the same ideas are constantly used over and over again. If all stories come from one of seven story ideas, all writer’s are guilty of plagiarism.

I’m eager to hear what others believe. I’d like to apply a proper definition to the mortar, fit it in place and reconstruct and redefine the details of the current confusing facade. I’d also like to argue our individual and unique voices can trump plagiarism. Give ten writers the same cast of characters, occupations, settings, hurdles and pets. Have them each write their first chapter and read them aloud. No two chapters will read or sound the same. Voice will set them apart.

How many times have you read a book quite similar to another book? Does this mean one plagiarized from the other? No. I don’t believe it’s plagiarism even though they’re each writing from the same idea format. It’s impossible to come up with a story idea that doesn’t have elements already done before. No matter how you mix and stir them together they’ve all been written before. We gather our ideas from every corner of our world, books read, movies watched, stories told, music sung, poems spun, and dreams shared. What makes these ideas uniquely yours is your voice.

I agree lifting a sentence/s or paragraph/s from another work of fiction under copyright is plagiarism without the consent of the author or owner of the copyright. But honestly, I’ll bet I’ve written a sentence or two and it matches word for word another author’s work. He/she who copyrights first, wins?

Where do you stand? How fine have you drawn the line of plagiarism? Do you write in fear your words are already written and in print? Where is your proof and guarantee you haven’t robbed or been robbed of ideas?

Monday, September 29, 2008

The One and Only

Everyone has had such great posts lately, I’m feeling lame. At the moment, I’m gathering info and pushing to get things done. I haven’t come up against anything that has me stuck/scratching my head other than the phrase from Michael Hauge via Alice – “Remember the Michael Hague comment when he said that he wants a love story where it's impossible to imagine the two lovers EVER finding happiness with anyone else?”

It made me look at the hero and heroine in my contemporary. Yes, it would take this hero to have seen through the heroine’s ice armor and into her depths because of his past. But, does my heroine really understand his guilt and need for self-vindication? Is she the only one for him? Hmmm… I’ll be thinking about this as I wrap up the last chapters.

Is this something that should have been upper most in my mind as I plotted these characters? Yeah, I think so now and will make it the first thing I think about in upcoming books. But when I read, I don’t think about those things. I’m reading a Super Romance now to see if my contemporary fits that line. I’m thinking it does. Anyway, I can see how the hero is the best thing for the heroine, but again, like with my story, I could see him happy with someone else with less baggage. The past- hers- is what has bound them even though he didn’t know it until 2/3 of the way into the book. He just had a thing for her. And now wants to save her from herself, something he hasn’t been able to do for his father.

Okay, since writing this, I finished the book. It appears that the heroine being in the hero's life did make a difference in his father and ultimately made him want to change things- so I guess in a way the heroine is the best woman for the hero. But I must say the ending of the book fell kind of flat for me.

So does your current story have a hero and heroine who can’t find happiness with anyone else?Why?

The One and Only


Everyone has had such great posts lately, I’m feeling lame. At the moment, I’m gathering info and pushing to get things done. I haven’t come up against anything that has me stuck/scratching my head other than the phrase from Michael Hauge via Alice – “Remember the Michael Hague comment when he said that he wants a love story where it's impossible to imagine the two lovers EVER finding happiness with anyone else?”


It made me look at the hero and heroine in my contemporary. Yes, it would take this hero to have seen through the heroine’s ice armor and into her depths because of his past. But, does my heroine really understand his guilt and need for self-vindication? Is she the only one for him? Hmmm… I’ll be thinking about this as I wrap up the last chapters.


Is this something that should have been upper most in my mind as I plotted these characters? Yeah, I think so now and will make it the first thing I think about in upcoming books. But when I read, I don’t think about those things. I’m reading a Super Romance now to see if my contemporary fits that line. I’m thinking it does. Anyway, I can see how the hero is the best thing for the heroine, but again, like with my story, I could see him happy with someone else with less baggage. The past- hers- is what has bound them even though he didn’t know it until 2/3 of the way into the book. He just had a thing for her. And now wants to save her from herself, something he hasn’t been able to do for his father.


Okay, since writing this, I finished the book. It appears that the heroine being in the hero's life did make a difference in his father and ultimately made him want to change things- so I guess in a way the heroine is the best woman for the hero. But I must say the ending of the book fell kind of flat for me.


So does your current story have a hero and heroine who can’t find happiness with anyone else?Why?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

SATURDAY CHECK-IN

Since Lisa is obviously busy, I decided to post a weekend check-in. I know some of us are addicted!

Nothing to report about myself. I am waiting for some vague ideas about the next book to burst into flames, nursing an ailing elderly dog (please cross fingers for her -- and me) and getting ready to take a small camping trip to the coast right around the time the weather turns into rain. Thpt!

I know the rest of you have way more interesting things happening. Are you pleased with your progress or gearing up to get started? Do tell...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lessons For Every Hero - Don't Tick Off Your Writer

(I can blog about this because my editor is gallivanting through Italy as I type and isn't paying one iota of attention to little ol' me.)

My book is nearing deadline. I have the rest of the pages worked out in my head, know each scene left to write, am roughly 5K words from finishing, and am in the midst of the tense climax. My problem? I've been having these thoughts. These little niggling thoughts in the back of my mind that go something like this...

"No one will really miss him. He's just one little hero. If he were to get shot and killed during the big scene, well, that could be a unique twist, right?"

or...

"At this point let's be honest. He's never really going to get it. Maybe the heroine should just push him off the cliff herself and save them both more angst down the line."

or my favorite...

"How can I get him back in the swamp and let that alligator take a second swipe at him??? Oooh! That way there would be no evidence!"

*sigh*

This poor guy has major issues. Not the least of which is a neurotic author who has decided he is the root of all evil. Yeah, yeah, I know. You can't kill the hero. Alice has been trying to brand that little fact into my brain, but...but...but what if it's all you can think about?

My CP (laughingly) suggested I write the scene where he dies. And I may just do that to satisfy my own morbid fantasies. But in all honesty, this is the most challenging hero I've written to date. Not in action but in thoughts and feelings and understanding who he is and where he comes from. Every time I sit at the computer, I think, "Okay, what is he going to push me on today?" And every day it's something different. He's controlling, he's obnoxious, he's moody and sarcastic, and though I want to kill him 90% of the time, yes, I do love him. I love him in spite of all those things and because of all those things. And I guess all of that is probably a good thing in the end, because it means he's three dimensional already - before rewrites. It means he's definitely different from my other heroes and not a cookie cutter variation of what I've already written. And it means he's challenging me to be a better writer.

So here's my new mantra...

I will not let him get shot!

Or pushed off the cliff!

Or eaten by the alligator!! (Although that one's still reeeeeeaaaaaaaaaally tempting.)

And finally...

Somehow, whether he thanks me or not, I will give him his HEA (though I'm not entirely convinced he deserves it. Looooots of grovelling still needed on his part...mostly to me).

What's the most challenging character you've ever written?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

WHAT'S ON YOUR LIST?

What interesting blog posts we've had recently! Perhaps the cooler weather has pushed creative minds to even higher pinnacles! OK, that wording may be hokey, but I really have enjoyed the posts even though I've just zoomed by to offer brief comments.

In the last few years I've noticed I get an extra jolt of "get it done" adrenaline in the fall. Maybe because the end of the year is looming or because my birthday month of September is a good time for me to take stock and adjust my goals. A time to look at what I have accomplished and what I still want to finish before 2009 rolls around. This year, my "yet to do" list is pretty long.

Writing and promotion will claim a good chunk of the next three months. On the accomplishment side, I just finished line edits for my February release. Hooray! Yet to do are:
--Finish the first book in my nine-book series and do more in-depth plotting of the series.
--Step up promotion of my December release, finish planning promotion for my February release and then promote those first three connected books into 2009. That promotion includes contests, setting up MySpace and Facebook pages, targeting readers who don't traditionally read romances, finishing videos of each book, and more!
--I also have exciting promotion opportunities for the Valentine's Day 2010 anthology I'll be part of and am very much looking forward to working with two fellow authors in these efforts.

I'm also still getting to exercise my visual creativity with Web and graphic design projects. What great delight I find in pouring color and images and words onto a page or a Web site to elicit a wow reaction!

Doggies continue to be a big part of my life as my son and I push to prepare my current house to sell to buy property for a dog rescue and sanctuary.

And, of course, the holidays with family and friends will add sparkle to the next few months. (I've actually done a big chunk of holiday shopping for my grandkids--thanks to a fortunate stop at Toys R Us when they were running fantastic sales!)

There are lots of other things to look forward to on the easel pad posted in my office. (Yes, it's grown from a list to a sheet!)

How about you? We've talked about goal setting before, but do you feel a big push at certain times of the year to get things finished? Are the upcoming holidays a much anticipated time of joy or just more stress?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dry Runs


A week or so ago, my husband was away for the night. When I went to bed, I had a moment. You've had them, too, right? Those moments when reason flies out the door? Those moments when imagination creeps in and all is lost?

Sure you have. I used to have them when the kids when were small. We lived rurally. I walked them to and from the bus stop. Some days as I walked up to meet their afternoon bus, I would "see" the accident I had just missed. The bus overturned, the offending truck spinning wheels, my child bleeding, me running to get to them….

Okay, so none of that happened. Nor did I ever arrive just in time to see my babies being driven off by a stranger. Nor did I get a call that my husband had been knifed. However, if any of those things had happened, I would have been ready. I'd been practicing.

So, the other night, as I turned off my lamp, alone except for a deaf dog with no rear-end motor strength, I "heard" someone in the house. I "felt" him creep up the stairs. My heart started beating faster, I wondered what I should do? Would the phone lines be cut? Was he standing out in the hall? Did he have a gun? I ran through the gamut of emotions, caught between fight and flight. And all the while this was happening, I was totally aware that it WASN'T happening. It was all in my head. The fear was tempered by this knowledge. It was like a rehearsal for a nightmare and I stopped to consider the emotions flitting through my head and the physical responses that occur in your body when fear (ever imaginary) sets in. It's so easy to stick a poor hapless character into this kind of situation and orchestrate her triumph or perhaps her demise, but another matter entirely if it were truly to happen to you. I began working on dialogue...

It made me wonder… not being a particularly scatty person, not one to live in fear or prone to craziness, is this a writer trait? Are these occasional dry runs part of the "what if " aspect a fiction writer has to develop?

Like everyone else, I have lived through true heartaches. The loss of a father, of a brother. The dementia of my mother. The infrequent anguish of my grown children or close friends. Illness, fear -- you can't get to my age without experiencing all of these things. In those instances, however, it's not usually the depth of emotions I recall, it's the physical details. The color of a blanket, the sound of opera playing in a hospital room, the smell of too many cut flowers going rancid. Apparently, I save the emotional response memories for fictional situations I create in my head.

But I tell you this. It was very hard to turn off the light that night and crawl into bed and I did check the phone -- just in case.

Does this ever happen to you?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Seaching for the Perfect Ten



I did a quick count and figured I've read 35 books since Nationals. That was less than two months ago. There's probably more books. I think I went to the library a few times with the kids and picked up about six or eight more. I have stacks of finished books on my desk waiting to be organized. The books that sucked get packed in shopping bags and sent to the used book store. The ones I want to keep, I shelve in bookcases in the attic area off my closet. A year ago I counted about 450 books on my shelves. Most of them I've read several times. (Anne McCaffrey books about ten times each) I've probably added between 50 to 100 more.

I'm debating keeping a log. I'd like to know how much I read in a year. I think. Actually I'm terrified to know how much I read in a year. The Oregonian has a columnist that runs a yearly contest to see who reads the most in a year. He uses the honor system and people count the number of pages and books they read. I like to review the yearly results and wonder where I'd fall in the finals. Something tells me I'd be near the top. I know I read more since I've started writing, and I was a heavy reader before.

I'm judging a contest for pubbed authors this fall. I'm expecting about 30 books that need to be judged before Dec. 1st. No problem. In fact I'm pumped. Free books! And in a genre I love and read religiously. To judge, I assign a number between one and ten to the book. Easy enough. I already do that for most my books. On the first page I pencil in a number to reflect what I thought of the book. Hmmm. Maybe I should reorganize my shelves by number instead of by author and genre...keep those perfect 10s together. Funny thing. Several authors would still have most of their books grouped together in my attic.

I again post in two weeks. Starting today I'm going to keep a log of the number of pages, titles, and authors of books I read. Anyone else want to join me? Doesn't matter if you read something you've already read. This isn't a contest. I'm just curious. I'm going to do it longer; I don't think two weeks will be an accurate picture of how much I read especially since my TBR pile is empty. (I need those contest books to start rolling in.) I plan to keep a log until the end of the year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Igniting change, a-ha!

I've had several a-ha moments in this Story Magic workshop I'm taking. I'm sure it would be many more, but I'm having a hard time reading through the dozens of posts a day...I'll try to do that and print off the good stuff (that the instructors said about other people's posts) before the workshop ends.

Anyway, one of the best a-ha moments (and can I just say how much I love saying a-ha - my all time favorite song is "Take on Me" by A-Ha) I had was when they talked to me about which character ignites the change in the other.

The way I had written my WIP so far just wasn't working. I've talked on here about how I was hitting sort of a brick wall and felt I had to go back and change tons about the story before I could make it over that last hurdle to finish the book. In this workshop, I submitted info about my book including backstory of the hero and heroine, main points of the plot, and part of their character grids (inciting incident, character flaw, long range goal, short range goal, etc).

I hadn't really noticed this before, but the instructor pointed out that the motivations of the hero and heroine are somewhat similar, when they should be more opposing. The way I was viewing it, they were opposing. But that's because I had this whole web of things in my mind - it took an outside person looking at it with fresh eyes to help me see my book properly.

The hero and heroine did have somewhat similar backgrounds and motivations, as far as their family history and what it is doing to them as adults. She told me that one of the characters has to ignite change in the other, so they can both reach their arcs. And if they are too similar, how is one going to ignite the change?

Wow. Yes! Exactly! It's one of those things that feels like common sense, but you just have to hear it another way for it to sink in. At least that's how it frequently goes with me. So I've been reworking my hero. It's tough because I had it all lined up in my mind how he was, why he was that way. But it's going to make the story stronger by changing it.

I had another big a-ha moment a year (or two?) ago when Elizabeth Boyle came down to talk to our chapter. But for the life of me I can't remember what it was now! I remember she explained something that set off a roomful of a-ha moments. Anyone else remember?

What are some big a-ha moments you've had? And have you thought about who ignites the change in your book, between your hero and heroine?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday check-in

I can't believe it's already this late in September. Personally, I'm definitely starting to feel the pressure. Wanting to finish my WIP, classes starting in a week, work gearing up now that school is almost in session. But it's also my favorite time of year. I enjoy being busy and I love the fall weather. Leaves changing color and falling, a crisp bite to the air. It's usually when I get most of my inspiration. So I better make it count!

Not to mention that I don't want to be the one to break the chapter-president-gets-first-sale-while-prez tradition. Yikes! I better get crack-a-lackin. I'm still enjoying Story Magic, working on my next post now. But they gave me so much to think about that I'm still wading through it all. I'm trying to rework my hero and his motivations. His and my heroine's were too similar for one of them to ignite change in the other.

How are you doing on your goals? It's almost the end of September, let's do one big push for the next 10 days! Rah rah! Off to a duck game....wooooot!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Drum Roll Please....

And the 2008 blog awards go to...

Hey, if new car models can come out about now, and our chapter's election month is October, then we can dang well have our first annual blog awards in September, don't you agree?

So, as I was saying, before I so rudely interrupted myself, the awards go to...

Everyone!

For Alice -- The first and most faithful blog reader award. And most published books under tightest deadlines award.

Bethany -- Most books read per month, year, and decade award. Read on!

Paty -- Most marketing, most involvement in chat rooms, loops, and giving workshops and presentations award. Also the most-company-in-one-month award.

Eli -- New book contract award.

Kendra -- Most writing with kids underfoot award (shared with Eli).

Genene -- Most writing, marketing, design work, Danita's website updates, and remodel work on house completed with most dogs underfoot award.

Karen -- New great agent award.

Lori -- The best cookies and truffles award.

Barbara Cooley -- The-stepping-up-to-the-plate award.

Flo -- New editor award (shared with Eli).

Barbara Ray -- The stone award.

Piper -- Most fresh-voiced popper-inner award.

Jen -- Ebook publishing award.

Debbie -- Most active newcomer award. (You may have to guard this award carefully, Debbie. I think Thea may be in the running for this in 2009).

Danita -- Most absences in one year award.

Interaction time: Do you agree with these awards? Can you think of any you'd like to add or change? Have fun with it. I did.

Crit or crap?


I've been a total goof-off this morning. My apologies! I meant to have this done yesterday, but...

Catchy title, huh? But you know what I'm talking about. Sometimes the crits you get back on the work you submit are really helpful, and other times they're, uh, you know... crap. So how can you tell the difference?

It's not always easy to differentiate between the two, especially if tender feelings get in the way. "What? You think the villain's page-long speech kills the pacing for this scene? Well, that's just crap. I think it's brilliant."

Ahem. Take good advice where you can get it. This silly example is definitely one for the books. There are writers out there who are resistant to sound, logical advice. I know of many who chose not to take good advice and then wonder why they can't get an agent or publisher interested in their work. I recall a recent discussion on one of the forums I take part in where a writer couldn't figure out the problem of having a first novel that's 270,000 words long. Though others had explained the reasons to him ad nauseum. Some people just don't get it. Or refuse to get it, as the case may be.

We can flip the coin and look at the other side, too. Crit or crap?

When subjectivity interferes with objectivity, the crap-meter's needle wags to the right. A comment like: "Blond men are fags. Give your hero dark hair." Helpful? I think not. "I don't know what a scrying mirror is. You need to explain it." If you read fantasy, you'd know what it is. Explaining a common trope to readers of the genre is not a good idea. It only marks you as an amateur.

I'm lucky to be in a great critique group that I've had for ten years, but I don't use them exclusively. Because it's a mixed genre group, crap tends to creep in sometimes, so I use critters familiar with my genre to make sure that area is covered by good critique. It means more work, but it's worth it.

Do you have a critique partner, or are you a member of a group? How do you tell the difference between a good crit and a comment that's crap? Can you share some examples of both?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How to Hook Me

I'm almost loathe to type over Lori's faboo piece b/c I haven't had a chance to play yet, and I think some of you missed it with yesterday being meeting day. Go play!

This blog is late courtesy of contest brain. Somehow, the pod-me signed up to judge TWO categories for a contest, and that turned out to equal 10 entries. My brain is fried. I actually dreamed of score sheets the other day. However, I have learned a ton by doing this, and I feel I have a better grasp of what agents go through when they have TEN times this to sift through EVERYDAY. It's all about the hook, baby.

Here's some of what I've learned from this super-duper round of judging (and prior judging experience as well):
  • The synopsis matters. It really does. I read the synopsis first, because I try to think like an editor or agent, and I start with the synopsis since that is what most agents and editors get first. A poor synopsis sets me up to dislike the sample chapters, while a great synopsis sets me up to enjoy the sample chapters.
  • I need an emotional investment in the characters to keep reading. This applies to both the synopsis and the sample chapters. I need a reason to root for the main characters, and it always comes back to GMC. The entries that I scored the highest made the GMC explict on page one of their synopsis and within the opening pages of the sample. They gave me a reason to like the main character from the get-go--not just an appealing backstory, but a present reason to care about what happens to them. If you have this, a whole multitude of other sins can be forgiven.
  • Backstory = back pedaling on the score. You've got mere paragraphs to hook your reader/judge/agent/editor, and you have to make it count. When your synopsis spends the opening 2 pages on the backstory, you've already lost the opportunity to sell the meat of your story, and when your opening chapter is 80% backstory, you've lost the chance to emotionally invest your reader and establish momentum. Open with action, dialogue, and a reason to care about the characters, and I'll keep reading. Open with backstory and my skimming radar goes on.
  • Make each scene and each bit of dialogue count. I intrinstically know this when I'm reading hard copy books, but reading the contest entries really hammered this home. I read several samples with great voices, and a good grasp of the basics, but the opening scenes didn't go anywhere--too much mundanity, too much standing around and chatting, too much backstory masquerading as action. If you don't have a real purpose for the dialogue or the scene that directly relates to the GMC, you need to consider cutting. This was a total AHA! AHA! moment for me.
  • Don't overwhelm your reader. Too many characters, too many subplots, too many details, and too much wordiness all slow down the reader. I saw a huge trend towards introducing ALL the subplots in the opening two chapters, and introducing ALL the secondary characters and subplots in the synopsis. You want to sell the main story arc and the main characters, and it helps to not distract the reader with too many names and side trips.
  • Make active, motivated characters. This was another aha moment for me. Passive characters who just let the action come to them and let the story unfold around them simply aren't interesting. Characters who aren't taking charge of their lives don't give many reasons to care about what happens to them. I've seen many, many doormat heroines in this round of judging, and many heroes who don't seem to have a purpose for their actions.
  • In the end, it all comes down to voice. The two entries that scored the highest from me broke a number of the "rules" I mention above, but the voices were totally captivating, and I was willing to give the writer the benefit of the doubt that revising and rewriting could cure those flaws. Sell your voice and your characters, and the plot will follow. Focusing all your energy on selling your reader on your plot means nothing if the characters and the voice aren't there.
What have you learned from judging or from feedback? After this monster slog, I'm so excited to get back to my WIPs, and really do the editing neccessary to make them winners. I see the relevance and importance of the editing in a new light, and I'm so grateful for the chance to read each entry and learn something from each author.

P.S. It's not fiction, but I got a political op ed piece picked up by a big media outlet. I'm really proud of it, and excited to get a wider readership for one of my pieces. If you want to take a look, it's here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS?

HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS?

Recently, I grabbed a box of cereal from the shelf in the grocery store and my character pressed next to me insisting I buy Grapenuts. It didn’t matter that I don’t like Grapenuts. She does and decided to impart this tidbit in the middle of the isle. I ignored her as best I could, tossed my favorite cereal in my basket, and plastered on a weak smile. If I’d questioned my characters outburst, the gentleman inching past me and the woman panting and pushing her loaded cart at me would have declared me nuts.

Have you thought about the reality of the character/s in your WIP following you everywhere you go? When you’re engaged in the responsibilities of your real world do you hear their insistent voice rattling off their personal preferences, tastes and opinions? Do your characters willing share information about themselves with you or do they dole it out in dribbles; sometimes at inopportune moments?

How well do you really know your main hero or heroine? Just for fun fill out this quiz.

1. How much money do they have in their wallet or purse right now?
2. What’s their most vivid childhood memory?
3. Are they left or right handed?
4. Can they swim?
5. How many times do they brush their teeth each day?
6. What makes them break into uncontrollable laughter?
7. Do they part their hair? Left or right?
8. What’s in their glove compartment box/saddlebag/backpack?
9. Have they shared a secret vain quality? If so what?
10. Name their favorite piece of clothing?
11. Tell us their least favorite month of the year? Why?
12. Are they closer to their mother or father or neither?
13. Do they bite or tear their fingernails or toenails?
14. What was their favorite subject in school?
15. Did they crawl or walk first?
16. What’s their favorite color?
17. Do they prefer toast, muffin or biscuit?
18. What’s their shoe size. Narrow, medium or wide feet?
19. The first job they held?
20. Any food or animal allergies?
21. How do they feel about going to the dentist?
22. How many siblings do they have?
23. Do they prefer baths or showers?
24. What’s under their bed?
25. Do they have an Inny or outy belly button?

How many of your answers reflect or parallel you?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Music-can't write without it




Man is it ever good to be getting back into the swing of e-mail, blogging, and writing!

I've stated this before, but listening to the same music every time I work on a project draws me into the project faster. I pick music that works for the characters and tone I want to set in the story. I try to get music without lyrics, but I've found that if I use the same music over and over the words tend to fade into the background and don't bother me. Right now, working on the contemporary western that has a rodeo cowboy as the hero, I listen to Chris Ledoux cd's. For those who don't know, he was a rodeo cowboy who became a songwriter and singer. Until he died a few years ago from complications from drinking too much alcohol. But- his songs really let you know how a cowboy feels. His thoughts when riding and his thoughts on women and life. His songs have been my background music as I write.

Another song that takes me straight to writing thoughts when I hear it and it doesn't have anything to do with any one story- to me it is what a writer has to ask the characters in their stories and the characters have to show the reader. It's Rascal Flatt's song- "Take me There".
You can hear it here.

And songs give me inspiration for stories. Last week while I was trudging along on the tractor discing, I had my mp3 player on, and a song I've heard many times before played and a story started forming in my head. I wrote it down (I always keep a pad and pen in the tractors when I'm driving) and kept what iffing until I had a story idea that excited me. It may be the next contemporary- who knows.

For me music and writing seem to go hand in hand. Could it be that though I lack the talent of my brothers who write songs and sing way better than me, I still have that gene that makes me have to create with music? Or do I just hear the beat of a different drummer?

Does music inspire you? To write? To see a story? Or slip you away into the other world you write about? Or are you a silence is golden writer?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

SATURDAY CHECK IN

Hey there, everyone. Looks as though Lisa forgot to blog or something happened that prevented it, so I am pinch hitting. I just looked at the 2nd quarter Duck/Perdue score, so she may be moping about for awhile...

I finished!!!!!! I sent it to New York!!!!!!! It's gone!!!!!! I made my deadline despite dh surgery, Mom's (and my) visits to the emergency room, birthdays, a sore knee and summer and I am pretty damn proud of myself. Plus I rediscovered the absolute joy of writing a book from beginning to end without stopping for approval. The next deadline is Nov. 30th for a proposal and then March 15th for the book but I am going to attempt to write it straight through.

How are you doing with your goals?

Friday, September 12, 2008

TSTL

Dear Know-It-All Writer,

I think I have a problem. You see, I'm afraid I've become the heroine in a bad B-rated horror movie. You know the ones...those women who are Too Stupid To Live. Notice I didn't say one of my heroines, because, well, duh, the heroines in my books are always smart. No, Know-It-All Writer, I'm concerned I've slid into that den of disparity punctuated by blood curdling screams and brainless bimbos who don't think before they act. And I'm in desperate need of your help.

It seems to have started some months ago. Possibly with the acceptance of my deadline. Now that deadline is upon me, and I'm working late into the night...when the house is quiet and all things creepy lay in wait. Last night I realized how severe my situation has become. I'd worked until midnight, in the zone, typing away, not noticing the house creaking or the children snoring or even the dim sound of the TV floating down from upstairs. Exhausted, I put my laptop on my desk, shut off all the lights and went upstairs. Minutes later I was tucked in bed, the TV off, the fan running, providing that calming white noise, the DH sound asleep on his side, oblivious to the world. I closed my eyes and breathed deep, thinking through the next scene in my book. And that's when I heard a thud, followed by a clank, and a creeeeeeeeeeeeek coming from somewhere below.

My eyes flew open. I lay where I was, barely breathing, listening for what had awoken me. Nothing in the room moved. The husband was snoring softly on his side. The dog was out like a light on the floor next to my side of the bed. The room seemed exactly as it had moments before. Then I heard it again. Thud. Clank. Creeeeeeeeeeeeek.

My mind spun. Had I locked the door downstairs? Had I thought to check the garage? I'd just seen video on the news that night about a random attack on the subway in Philadelphia. Crazy people were everywhere. Though I live in a relatively safe neighborhood, bad things happen all over.

My next thought should have been the safety of my sleeping children. Or my dear beloved husband. Or even my loyal dog. But no, Know-It-All Writer, I'm ashamed to admit my only concern at that moment was the fact I hadn't backed up my wip before going to bed.

I threw back the covers and jumped from bed. With no regard for the fact I was dressed in only a tank top and underwear, I tip-toed down the stairs. My mind rationalized there could be a murderer or a rapist in the house, or...egad!...a thief!!!! I mean, I write about thieves. I know they're real! Thinking about my precious book, the last sounded a thousand times worse than enduring bodily harm. (Unless, of course, it was bodily harm doled out by a sexy treasure-hunting thief like in one of my books...No! Wait! I won't let myself go there!!)

I know this sounds bad, Know-It-All Writer, but do you realize how many hours I've put into that manuscript????? I mean, it doesn't make me a horrible person for thinking of my book first, does it?

Heart pounding, I reached the bottom of the stairs. Peered around the corner. Nothing moved. The only light was the blue-hue from my laptop screen.

I breathed a sigh of relief. My laptop was still there. No one had taken it. My brain had been playing tricks on me. All was well...

Until I heard the Thud. Clank. Creeeeeeeeeeeeeek again.

At that moment, I knew I had three choices: 1) Run back upstairs and get the DH, 2) Race to my desk and save my precious laptop, or 3) Wander around like a bad B-horror movie heroine and check out the creepy noises on my own.

You guessed it, Know-It-All Writer. Considering I was already wearing the requisite skimpy outfit, and being the TSTL woman I am, I chose option number three.

I'm happy to report, in this case, the Thud. Clank. Creeeeeeeeeeeeeek was nothing more than the teenaged boy next door coming home from a date, running back out to his car because he forgot something, then returning to his house. In my silent, dark search through the downstairs level, I DID find the garage door unlocked, so there was one moment of heroics in my blond-bimbo stupidity. But I fear this pattern of behavior is one I am destined to repeat. I do not want to be a bad B-movie heroine. Therefore I throw myself into your wellspring of advice. What, prey tell, is a TSTL writer on deadline to do??? And am I the only writer out there in this blasted predicament?

Signed,
TSTL Writer

Thursday, September 11, 2008

GETTING WHAT YOU WANT

Yesterday Alice blogged about habits--how to get rid of "bad" habits and how to cultivate "good" ones. How fortuitous that my blog topic speaks to that--well, kinda.

I've been reading a book called, "Money, and the Law of Attraction: Learning to Attract Wealth, Health, and Happiness." Written by Esther and Jerry Hicks, this book is part of the "Teachings of Abraham®," which were the basis for the movie, "The Secret."

Put very simply, the Teachings of Abraham bring the message that our life experiences are the result of our thoughts and emotions. Through the Law of Attraction, the Universe brings us what we focus our thoughts and emotions on.

Does that mean we can think and emote our way from bad habits to good ones? From blank page to finished novel? From debut writer to New York Times bestseller? According to The Teachings of Abraham, yes we can--and we don't have to work ourselves ragged to accomplish what we want.

Writers use a number of creative ways to get what they want. I've heard of writers who print out their stories and put a cover on them so they resemble a published book. Eli has a sign that says, "believe." Alice plays computer games to get into creative mode, and it must work, because she meets incredibly tight deadlines. For me, it feels right to use the methods explained by Abraham.

Like Alice's question about writing rituals, I'm curious about your methods for accomplishing writing goals. (And I'll bet Eli and Alice have other suggestions, since they are so productive.) Do you visualize your goal as already met? Use storyboards? Chart how much you need to write on a calendar? Coordinate your writing time with the phases of the moon? Or do you just jump in and write?

Thanks in advance for sharing!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

HABITS


Every morning before I write, I play a couple games of something called Inlay Safari. I ignore the easy sections -- no challenge there -- and concentrate on three or four harder sections which I can usually beat the first or second time I try. Total time expenditure: 20 minutes.

There are a couple of sections, however, that are really difficult and beating them can take an hour. Nevertheless, plucky writer that I am, I will sally forth and give it a try and if an hour passes and my hand is numb and I am still struggling, well, that's not so bad because that's part of my before writing ritual.

Okay, sometimes I add in another game called Fairy Treasure and that one is deceptive in that each level takes very little time but moving between levels is a mere click of the mouse. Oops, now two hours have passed.

So, the other day I thought of this: playing these games before I write has become part of my writing experience. Think of it like undressing and brushing your teeth before bed. Think of it as washing your hands before a meal or adjusting a mirror before you back the car out of the garage. But these rituals don't safeguard me, they distract me and if I can create the need for them, can't I then dismiss that need and start a new ritual that may include writing first and playing games later, kind of like rewarding a child for eating a healthy meal with a taste of desert? In other words, can I replace a bad habit with a good one? Why not? Am I not in control of my own destiny!!!

And yet, there's something inside me that says I'm not ready to write when I first sit down, that I need a certain amount of time in a zone of some kind before I can leap into creative mode. Does that mean my bad habits are actually good habits? Ack!!!

I read somewhere it takes 30 days to break a bad habit. In other words, if the dh leaves his underwear on the floor, it will take thirty days of picking it up before it becomes a habit to always pick it up. Of course, what is needed here is motivation and discipline.

I know Genene keeps no games on her writing computer so she isn't tempted, but I'm willing to bet most of us have some kind of time dump we enter into round about writing time. I'm curious to know what yours are, if you have ever tried to break them or replace them with something constructive. Did it work? Or, like me, are you still caught up in a flow of bad habits that include everything but getting to work without playing around first.

Fess up!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I'm a Horrible Mother

Sunday my youngest tripped and fell at the playground. I didn't see it because I was sitting in my truck playing Brickbreaker on my phone. Her sister was right there to help her up, about 20 feet from the truck so I didn't move. I saw tears, but tears happen pretty easily with this kid. I announced it was time to leave, but she said it hurt to walk. I rolled my eyes, got out, and told her to walk. She limped over and showed me a shallow inch long scrap on her ankle. I wasn't impressed. This is the same kid who has to show me every owie the size of a pinprick and demand a bandaid.

Later, in front of our house, she convinced the neighbor girl to push her around in a stroller while they played. As the youngest, she's always liked to be babied so I didn't think much of it. Several hours later I made her get out of the stroller. She sat in a chair and didn't move for an hour. Okay. Now I'm thinking something might be wrong.

"How bad does it hurt?"

"Pretty bad."

"A lot or a little?"

"Medium."

"Can you walk on it?"

"No. Unless I have to."

This is getting nowhere. Her ankle looks a little swollen if I stare hard enough at it. I finally brush it off. She's not crying. I've seen her walk. I don't think she'd be walking if something was broken. And she's obviously enjoying all the attention from the other kids.

Later we're watching TV after dinner while she sits by me on the couch. I glance at her ankle and it looks like she's got a walnut under her skin. Acck!

The guilt starts. She was really hurt! I didn't take her seriously! Had I been making her walk on a broken ankle all day? I call the doctor but since it is after eight, they're closed. Do I want to spend the evening in the emergency room? Heck, no. My last three visits to the emergency room averaged three hours each. I iced her ankle, elevated it, and decided to check it in the morning.

Monday morning the swelling is down, and she's moving pretty good, much better than I'd expected, but I decide to keep her home from school. My writing day. As I write this Monday AM, she's sitting beside me talking nonstop. Questions about everything. (Do you die with your eyes open?) Continuous commentary on everything she sees. I let her talk.

I'll take her to Starbucks later and try to redeem myself with a strawberry frappachino.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Favorite workshops

I know we've discussed this before, but I'm sort of on a workshop kick right now. I'm signed up for an online Story Magic workshop (although I haven't posted yet, still working my way through the nearly 200 messages in the past week getting a better feel for it all). I also spent a lot of time yesterday cleaning my office, which included triple-hole punching printouts from the online workshops I've taken in the past. I also went as far as to put in dividers to split up the lessons. That's enough organization to last me a week. (It was also a great way to avoid my real goal in cleaning my office, which was to get stuff together to finally do my taxes).

I flipped through some workshops I've taken, including deep POV, editing, plotting, and more. This Story Magic workshop came at a good time for me because I'm trying to rework my story into something better, stronger and more emotional. I think the Story Magic method will help me pin that down a bit more.

One of my other favorite workshops is Margie Lawson's deep editing system. It's great for someone who loves colors and loves to be freakishly organized (well, in certain things anyway...). It has you going through your writing and highlighting various things - like yellow for dialogue, or blue for setting, etc. Gives you a visual representation of the balance in your work and what may be lacking. I think I'm going to purchase her packet of lectures on empowering character emotions. It seems to have some great strategies for getting across emotion in a written form.

I recall a lot of you said you haven't taken online workshops before. But if you were to, what topic would you be interested in? For those of you who have taken online workshops, what are some of your favorites? Help me feed my obsession! I bought a bunch of pink binders a year or two ago with the intention of filling them with articles, lectures and workshops related to writing. I finally filled most of them, but there's still a few empty ones. I don't like empty binders...help me! ;)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Saturday check-in

I can't believe it's been a week! Another Saturday, another Duck game. Wooo! So let's see how we did this week.

Alice, nearing the finish line?

Kendra, how is Story Magic going? Any progress on revisions?

Wavy, how is editing?

Genene, how was the read-through of your anthology story?

Eli, making progress to finish by the end of the month?

Paty, where are you at on draft completion and queries?

I made some progress this week. As with Kendra, I'm taking the Story Magic class online too. Trying to tweak the plot of my book and do revisions on what I have. Hoping to do more tonight.

Who else is up for the challenge? Basically, work hard the next three weeks and finish the project you're working on by the end of the month. Let's do this!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

When your opinion actually counts

Opinions. Everybody has one. Who would think such things have much value? But they do. There are companies out there willing to pay you for what you think. I'm down with that.

Ever since I was a young mom, I've always been one to participate in marketing surveys. You know, the folks in the mall who approach you, clipboard in hand, and ask you a series of questions, then offer you money or free products if you watch a video or taste test some new snack food. I've done it all. And I'm not sure, but I think I may have gained a reputation for my willingness to participate in this silliness.

I was even contacted by the Nielsen folks, the people who determine television show ratings. They want to know what I think about the shows I watch, and I have to say I don't think much. I've cut my viewing back by about 80%, yet they still want my help. Moi? Seriously? So the last weeklong survey I did for them had only one night of television viewing and it was So You Think You Can Dance. I must be one of their oddball stats. Every stat needs at least one oddball, I guess.

Now I have an audience studies compamy knocking at my door, uh, I mean television. They called a couple of weeks ago and asked a bunch of questions, like do I watch sitcoms? Rarely. How rarely? Maybe once every couple of weeks, and usually by accident. Great! Would I like to participate in the study of a new sitcom coming to network TV? Uh, sure. What's in it for me? Coupons for free products! Hey, I'm in! I love getting free stuff.

So they send me a DVD of this half-hour sitcom, complete with commercials. I watched it last night. They're going to call me tonight to ask me questions. The show really, really sucked. At first I thought it was a joke, but no way would someone put that kind of money and effort into a joke, would they? So I have to assume it's the real deal. It was laughably mundane, and not in a good way. The plotline was trite and predictable. It featured a middle-income family, mom and dad in their late 30s/early 40s with a young teenage snarky daughter and brainiac pre-pubescent son. The storyline was what to get the wife for her anniversary, and of course he screws it up, and of course he redeems himself at the end. Yawn. The worst part was the lead character playing the dad. I think he's a stand-up comedian, but his acting is pretty painful to watch. All the lines were delivered dead-pan with a laugh-track guffawing in the background.

When I told my husband what I thought of this lame show, he said to be careful what I said because it could cost someone their job. Huh? You mean lie and be nice so that the show can be ripped to shreds by folks who will probably hate it, and the actors get a bad rep for making a bad choice? I say put the thing out of its misery now before the rest of the viewing public is subjected to having its IQ points sucked into the ionosphere.

However, my opinion could be exactly what they need to prove the opposite. That people like me hate this kind of show, and therefore it will be the sitcom darling of the TV viewing masses and make MILLIONS. You think? Nah.

There's no real point to my rant other than to express my distaste for drivel, but did you know there are market groups for books, too? There's a full-page ad in the October issue of RT with the headline: Have Your Voice Heard. It's from Harlequin asking readers to participate in a reader panel. Hey, Wavy, are you reading this? You'll love it! Go to www.TellHarlequin.com to join up, get free books, and win great prizes.

Back to the worst sitcom not yet on TV, it will be interesting to see how the follow-up interview phone call goes tonight with these audience study folks. I'll post the results in comments when it's over.

Do you participate in market studies? Why or why not?

Here's a piece of the show I watched:

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Ken & Barbie

There's certain aspects of our characters daily lives that seldom make it onto the written page. In fact, despite their bad childhoods, orphan status, dead/evil exes, and nefarious stalkers, they seem to live in a Barbe & Ken world that seems rather . . . plastic. They're flawed, yet they escape the mundane realities f everyday life.

Characters don't use the bathroom. Shocking, I know. But, you don't often see a heroine with a small bladder or a hero who has to stop mid-rescue. You won't catch many main characters cleaning. Eating is a three-times a book affair rather than three-times a day. Despite the proliferation of baby stories littering shelves, you'll be hard pressed to find a nursing heroine. Diapers, colic, and night feedings are footnotes drowned by cute anecdotes. Gas magically appears in cars. And, when was the last time you saw a heroine sit down to pay bills? Further, it's still very rare to find a character with a long-term medical condition.

Recently, I discovered the marvelous works of Catherine Andersen. She goes against the grain and peppers her works with the everyday realities that usually end up on the editing room floor. She's had characters with long-term disabilities, and yes, characters paying the bills. Her characters manage to find conflict even in everyday tasks. I just finished Baby Love, where to my surprise and delight, heroine's desire to nurse her baby is a major plot point and source of conflict and tension. She masterfully uses the "taboo" topic of nursing to show us who heroine really is.

But, Andersen's a bit of an aberration. I've seen many other writers try to incorporate more realism and everyday living into their works, only to fall short on conflict and tension and have their plots stagnate. Analyzing Andersen, the key to successfully incorporating mundane realities appears to be making it a source of conflict rather than trying to use it as background noise. In addition, you need to surround the mundane task with action. I've noticed that many writers falter when they keep daily living for the sequel scenes--it slows the pace even further. Rather, interrupting daily chores with action or adding an unexpected hiccup keeps the story moving. Use daily tasks as a chance to throw hero and heroine together. Lori Foster and Jennifer Crusie are masters of this strategy. Finally, you need to show motivation--why this seemingly mundane task is so important to hero/heroine.

I think incorporating more realism into stories is vital when you are seeking to bridge the gap between romance & women's fiction. Women's fiction is usually littered with the very realism missing from romance, yet it often lacks the powerful emotional punch and magic of a HEA romance. Of course, you get too bogged down in daily realities and you meander over into literary fiction land where very few get to live happily after.

Which authors' realism do you admire? Who goes too far? How much realism do you incorporate into your stories? Which bits of daily living do you like to see, and which do you like to escape from? Share!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

BEYOND THE GATES OF FRUSTRATION

Contest annex liaison mentor (Calm) line #1: “What’s the nature of your call?”

Golden rose recruit (Grr) judge #666: “I’m running out of chocolate and sanity and I’m only on the second of four submission entrants.”

Calm: “You still have more than two weeks to complete your assignment. Take a deep breath and relax.”

Grr: “Relax! This is my first judging gig and my days are already infused with lots of deep breathing and accelerated hair pulling. A necessary trip to town for a haircut has already plagued one day.”

Calm: (Deep sigh.) “What a pity. Are you ingesting lots of dark chocolate. You know milk chocolate inhibits calm.” (Fierce finger licking and lip smacking.)

Grr: “Did I mention this gig arrived and ends during our vacation?”

Calm: “Didn’t you consider this before you generously volunteered?”

Grr: “How would you like a swift kick in the...”

Calm: “Excuse me?”

Grr: “How swiftly time kicks by without thought to future plans.”

Calm: “It’s all about planning, plotting and pacing.”

Grr: (Deep breathing amid short gasps.) “But we can’t write on the manuscripts!”

Calm: “That’s correct. One must follow the rules.”

Grr: “Don’t you realize it’s more work for myself and the contestants?”

Calm: “One shouldn’t put self first.”

Grr: (Labored breathing in a paper bag.) “Thank you for the reminder.”

Calm: “Absolutely. Don’t hesitate to call again.” (Irritating dial tone.)

Who else is running low on chocolate and stuck in heavy breathing mode working on their Golden Rose submissions? Is there a secret to speed up the process? Please tell, I’m one ink blot shy of commitment.

We’re going to the coast for a few days and won’t be back until Friday. My replies will follow our return.