Sunday, June 27, 2010

SUMMER CHECK-IN/ CHALLENGE


Current Project:WYOMING RANCH BOOKS
Status: BOOK ONE, pg. 142

A week ago, I set into motion the beginning of our summer blog hiatus. I was burned out when it came to presenting monthly ideas that didn't sound recirculated. It turned out almost all the contributors felt the same way so for the past week, our blog has, to paraphrase Debbie's comment, had tumbleweeds blowing down the deserted streets.

But a funny thing happened: I was writing every single day without any buddies to share the joy (and the pain). LONELY. Hey, if I have to write and meet deadlines, I don't see why you shouldn't either, so here is my challenge -- WRITE EVERY DAY THIS SUMMER. If you've written five days in a row, than spend a few minutes on the two down days to catch up on writing related projects.

Many of us have external deadlines. The right to have these comes when we've pushed ourselves into that professional space. If you are still on your way to that point, the habits and attitudes you acquire now will be fundamental in helping you with your career.

WRITE EVERY DAY. Write on your book, write on your ideas, write a sentence, write a chapter. Act like a writer and you will be a writer. It takes guts and determination to push for something you want when sometimes the carrot seems to be a mile in front of you. Every journey begins with a step. I dare you to keep taking those steps. If you're under an external deadline, than challenge yourself to try something different as you write. A technique. A style. Switch something up that pushes you and keeps you engaged. Even the act of reformatting my chapters into smaller units has changed the way this current book is unfolding and that's interesting to me and makes the challenge all the more fulfilling.

WRITE EVERY DAY THIS SUMMER. I think if you do you may find that the process is far more stimulating to your creativity than not writing ever can be.

Besides, I need company!

Check back here every weekend and we'll keep each other motivated, keep each other up to date, keep each other honest. We can each do it. Rah-rah-rah!!!

SUMMER CHECK-IN/CHALLENGE


Current Project:Wyoming Ranch Books, Book One
Status:

Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days Of Summer



You may have noticed the virtual tumbleweeds blowing through the blog last week. It seems that even writers need a break now and again from talking about our favorite subject. Summer has finally arrived in the Mid-Willamette Valley and after the long cold wet spring, we're all enjoying the weather while we can. It's time to go outside, have some fun, and recharge our creative batteries.

This blog is officially on summer hiatus. Be sure and check out our individual blogs to find out what we're up to and check back here every now and then—you never know when one of us might pop in for an update.

Have a great summer, everyone! Catch you on the flip side!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

SATURDAY CHECK-IN


Current Project: Unnamed Fantasy
Status: See Below :-)

I have to admit I've been feeling a bit underwhelmed by my progress lately. However, this morning as I was trying to figure out what to put down for the status of my current project, I realized I'm further along than I'd been giving myself credit. The world I've been building is fleshed out enough to allow me to start writing—I'll fill in details as I need them. I've got the main characters thought out enough that I'm ready to get to know them better by seeing how they handle the trials and tribulations I throw at them. I've thought about and discarded several plot points, paring down to just a couple of seemingly unrelated ideas. And yet I've been kicking myself because there's still a big fat ZERO when it comes to words written.

Except...I realized that's wrong. I have been writing, just not typing on the keyboard in an "official" document. As ideas have simmered and I've been building the world, I've also been writing snippets of dialogue and small scenes in my notebook as they occurred to me. Some I've discarded for this project (though I've saved them for possible use in another story). In fact, two of the larger scenes have become the basis for the beginning of the plot. It's weird, too, because as I wrote each of them, I firmly believed that I was writing something that would go in a different story, but that I wanted to get down while the idea was fresh. It wasn't until later that I realized the scenes were connected, not just to each other, but also to the current story.

So, it looks like I'm further along than I'd let myself believe. I've written about 800 words, all told, and still have two more scenes already planned out that I just need to get down on paper. I think it's probably time to start that "official" document and begin writing on a schedule again. I'm ready. Who knew?

How about you? Any surprises this week, good or bad? Are you feeling stalled or are you racing through your story, eager to get to the end? Inquiring minds are dying to know!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Storytelling At It's Finest

Current Project: Unnamed Fantasy
Status: Still Worldbuilding

My husband and I went to see Gone With The Wind last night at the Elsinore Theatre. The Elsinore has an amazing classic film series they present in conjunction with a local community college—other films we've seen include The Maltese Falcon and Forbidden Planet. This is the third time I've seen Gone With The Wind in a theater and each time I've come away with something different.

This time, part of the experience for me was my awareness of the responses of the audience around me. I heard more than one person say they'd never seen Gone With The Wind before, even on DVD, before the movie started, and only a few said they'd read the novel. I was surprised at the first statement, but not at the latter. I'd imagine that at a little over 1000 pages, Gone With The Wind appears daunting to most people, and how many people out there assume a Pulitzer Prize winner must, by definition, be dry and/or difficult to read? It's a shame, because Gone With The Wind is pure entertainment. And while the movie trims and focuses in on only certain aspects of the novel, the entertainment value loses nothing in the translation to the big screen.

The first time I saw the movie was shortly after I'd read the novel (in the early '70s). What I remember most about that viewing was that while I loved the movie, I was a bit distracted by the differences—the things they edited or cut. Still, it was one of the most memorable movie going experiences I've ever had, the others being seeing revivals of Lawrence of Arabia and Ben-Hur. The second time I saw Gone With The Wind was in the mid-'80s. I was far enough removed from the novel to just sit back and let the story on the screen flow over me. Wonderful.

This time I found myself analyzing the story, the characters and the audience reaction. Times are different—our lives have been irrevocably changed by the ubiquitousness of the internet and instant access to information and entertainment. I was amused by how many people immediately turned on their cellphones as soon as the last scene faded from the screen at 11 o'clock at night, because, my God, what they must have missed by having to be disconnected for 4 hours! (Yeah. Right.)

So what struck me most this time around? The incredible story-telling, for one thing. How about how GWTW managed to convey the utter devastation of the Civil War without ever once showing a battle (i.e. a movie can be thoroughly entertaining without resorting to an "action scene")? And then there's character development. Vivien Leigh had the part of a lifetime and she makes Scarlet O'Hara come to life; she is Scarlet O'Hara. At the beginning of the movie, Scarlet is only 16 years old, a pampered, spoiled child who expects the rest of her life to be just the way she wants it to be. Watching Scarlet meet the tragedies and challenges that life throws at her while still clinging to her self-centered ways, and yet oh-so-subtly changing as well, even though the most important realizations only come when it's too late. Gah! There's too much to try to describe in this post. Suffice it to say, it's a tour de force performance and an incredible character arc.

The other thing that struck me was the audience reaction. So many people had never seen the original, but everyone has seen the parodies ad nauseam. So, when certain scenes—such as the "curtains into dress" scene—first arrive on screen, there were unexpected titters of amusement as if people thought they were watching yet another parody. By the second half of the movie, though, these unexpected outbursts had disappeared as the audience became completely engrossed in the story. Pretty amazing, really.

And finally, there's Clark Gable. There have been a lot of good looking actors over the years and a lot of actors who can really, well, act. But very few have had the sheer presence on screen that Clark Gable had. I'd take Mr. Gable, shirt sleeves rolled up and devilish glint in his eyes, over just about any actor around today. He was the perfect Rhett Butler to Leigh's Scarlet O'Hara.

Margaret Mitchell refused to write a sequel to Gone With The Wind, and I, for one, am content to leave Scarlet as I last saw her—alone on that staircase, vowing to return to Tara and figure out a way to get Rhett back. I believe she'll somehow manage to do just that.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Life Interruptus


Current Project:Secrets of a Mayan Moon
Status: 28,000 words

Life Interruptus has been my affliction this year. I can't keep up with all the things I have in the past.

Grandkids, trips to graduations, watering in Princeton, farming, promoting. It's a wonder I get any writing done!

Actually, the trips to Princeton I get my most writing done. There are few interruptions. I just change the pipes morning and evening and the rest of the day I can write to my heart's content. I've been thinking about staying there a day longer than I need just to get more done.

Poor timing on my part. I've scheduled a huge blogging promotion blitz that starts next week and runs through the Fourth of July weekend. I'll have thirty-five people here from Friday until Monday for a family reunion, and I'll need to hop on the computer a couple times a day, every day. What was I thinking!!!

So what do you do to work around Life Interruptus?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

SATURDAY CHECK-IN



Current Project: Unnamed Fantasy
Status: Working on Plot

Welcome to the all-new SaturdaySunday Check-in!

Ahem.

I could blame the permanent time-warp that seems to have descended on my head. Or, I could say that I was stuck in an iron suit while a TDESPHTL* replayed Friday. Or, I could claim I got caught up in the first beautifully sunny day we've had in oh so long. Or...I could just admit that I lost track of the days and didn't realize yesterday was Saturday until this morning. Yikes.

I am, once again, struggling with Plot Creep. My initial idea has grown from a tiny sapling "Save the Prince!" scenario into a giant "Save the World!" sequoia. And while it's a very attractive tree, I'm not sure I'm ready to tackle the forest that goes along with it. (I could struggle along with more forestry analogies, but let's just say I did and skip it, okay?)

You know what I mean though, right? It's never just saving the world. Oh, no. There's political intrigue and spying, strategy and battles. Good vs. Evil. *sigh*

The question is, would I be biting off more than I can write? Is it too ambitious to attempt a Big Book when you, technically, haven't finished any book yet? Should I pare it down and write a simpler story? I don't mean "simple" in a negative way, but as in "fewer intertwining threads."

I do recognize that this is one of the things I've been battling in my ideas--my tendency to want to throw every plot idea I've ever had into the mix. I know I can't do that. Well, not and have a story that makes any kind of sense. But can I handle a story that's complex (rather than just...complicated)? I don't know. I guess there's only one way to find out. Wish me luck, Ma, I'm going in!

Yeah, I'm in one of those moods.

So, how did your week go? You had an extra day--did it come in handy? (oooh, I shoulda used that as my excuse!)


* Gratuitous Tin Man reference—that's a Tri-Dimensional Energy Stored Projected Holographic Time Loop.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

DESIGN YOUR OWN AVATAR

Posted by: Amber Angel (Genene's alter-ego/avatar)
Current Project: St. Patrick's novella

Status: Needs work!

Amber Angel here, pinch-blogging for Christine Young, who is on the way to California for her niece's graduation.

Most of you know me as Genene, but my online name for the books I'm doing for Rogue Phoenix Press (Christine's e-publishing company) is Amber Angel. It's a tongue-in-cheek PR idea that was the brainchild of Chris Kraemer. Some of you may have previously visited our Rogue's Angels' blog (And since "Genene" just blogged on Tuesday, who wants to hear from her again already?)

I'm not usually on the cutting edge of technology, but I just realized tonight that "Amber Angel" sounds like an avatar for me as defined by Wikipedia: "An avatar is a computer user's representation of himself/herself or alter ego whether in the form of a three-dimensional model used in computer games, a two-dimensional icon (picture) or a one-dimensional username used on Internet forums and other communities..."

I have not seen the movie, AVATAR, so my apologies in advance for any gaffes I may commit in this blog post. However, it's not the movie I intend to discuss, but avatars.

Let's have fun with this if you want to play along. Choose an avatar--and not necessarily a blue one--for yourself. What would that avatar look like? What personality traits would your avatar have? Or perhaps you already use a different personality online. If so, why? And how is that personality different from the "real" you?

My alter-ego, "Amber Angel," is younger and thinner than me, and always has a winning smile. She also wears wings and hangs out with the other Rogue's Angels most of the time. The "real" me is determined not to age, is losing weight, and is sometimes grumpy. I rarely wear wings and am usually surrounded by dogs--the furry, four-legged kind. Hmm...I think Amber Angel should acquire a dog.

Please introduce your own avatar--I'm looking forward to meeting them!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

ADDING TO MY EDITING ARSENAL

Posted by: Genene Valleau
Current Project:
Nine-book series
Status: Working through the timeline, adding scenes and drafting stories

Many thanks to Courtney Milan, the guest speaker at our writers' meeting last Thursday, whose presentation triggered the idea for this blog post. Courtney's presentation was "Editing for Voice." It could have been titled, "Editing Deeper to Take Your Story from Good to Great Using Examples and Exercises from Some of My Favorite Books."

A much longer title, but that's what Courtney did in this hands-on presentation. Her suggestions got me thinking about editing, and how changing one word or phrase in key places can give a story that illusive "voice" that entices editors and readers to buy our books.

I'm going to paraphrase a couple of her suggestions here, so my apologies to Courtney if I don't convey the full meaning of the edits she suggested.

One example she gave was to replace a literal word with an emotionally significant one. Instead of saying "John's green eyes..." watched her, say "John's reptilian eye..." While "green" is a fine and functional word, "reptilian" will generate an emotional reaction from the reader. Getting a reader emotionally involved with our characters is a good thing!

Using an example from her upcoming novel, TRIAL BY DESIRE, Courtney used several paragraphs of before-and-after editing to show how to give scenes give a consistent message. In the draft, most of the wording set a chilly scene: "a blast of cold air," "a pale and unforgiving light." However, the phrase "...painted his skin golden" snuck into this scene. The edited version made the tone of the scene consistent by replacing those warm words with "...as if he were a cold, hard statue of a god...instead of a man made of warm flesh and blood."

Courtney also offered examples of effectively using an unexpected phrase or an unusual reaction from a character to surprise readers. She led us through other exercises and examples, but I'm not going to give away all of her presentation. :)

I've added Courtney's suggestions to my editing arsenal--along with the other processes I use, such as highlighting point-of-view characters in different colors, checking for overused words, balancing dialogue and description, and making sure the hero's eye color doesn't change in mid-story. This is in addition to reading my stories out loud, and reading through several times to check that all subplots and/or story threads are resolved, and character arcs are complete.

Can you tell that I like doing edits? How about you? Do you have a favorite editing process or a suggestion for deepening the emotion in your stories and offering insights into your characters?

P.S. to Becky: thanks for the warning to expect to stay up late into the night to read Courtney's debut release, PROOF BY SEDUCTION. If anyone wants to know more about Courtney, her Web site is www.courtneymilan.com.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

SATURDAY CHECK-IN



Current Project: Unnamed Fantasy
Status: Creating Maps

I had a hard time with this post. Not because I don't have anything to say. Nope, quite the opposite—for once I have too many topics rambling around in my head. Since that's sort of my problem with my current project, I thought I'd stick to talking about where I am right now. And where's that, you ask?

I'm stuck in Worldbuilding 101*.

I'm currently doing the Fluctuating Fox-trot with my story's setting. Here are the things I know. The story is a fantasy; Magic exists, but so does Science. I have a good idea of the inciting incident, though I'm leaving myself some wiggle room on the details, some of which will depend on, you know, the setting.

In some ways, the traditional High Fantasy genre would fit, but I really don't want to write yet another story in a world stuck in Medieval Stasis. Nor do I want to create kingdoms/societies that are really just a bunch of Planets of Hats. Okay, I thought, do a paradigm shift and set it in a more recent time frame, like the Victorian era (though I actually prefer the US period name of the Gilded Age), but then I realized to my chagrine that I'd be careening perilously close to writing Steam Punk. Don't get me wrong, I adore that genre—I just have no interest in writing it at the moment. So Victorian times, it seems, are out.

I (very) briefly toyed with using a contemporary setting, or even the near future, but the story that seems to be gelling in my head really doesn't work in those settings. I'm also not sure I want to write a story where the Real World(tm) is oblivious to the magical stuff happening right under it's nose.

I know, there are still a lot of possibilities I haven't explored. One setting I'm toying with is the Edwardian era, either at the start of or just before WWI. Another is the late 1920s-early 1930s—I've wanted to try my hand at Decopunk for awhile, though I think I may hold off on that for now.

Ah, well, at least it's a nice day, with clear skies and no rain. I think I'll go take a drive and mull things over. Maybe some fresh air and sunshine will air out my brain.

How was your week? Inquiring minds want to know. And if you have any suggestions on setting, they'll be cheerfully accepted!

* Why yes, I have been spending a lot of time lately reading TV Tropes. Why do you ask?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

SHARING


Current Project:Wyoming BooksStatus: Chapter Five

As I reviewed the past few blogs, both mine and those of other people, a few things occurred to me. We are all at such different places in our careers and in our lives. There isn't a single one of us doing exactly the same thing with exactly the same goals and ambitions. That makes creating universally appealing blogs especially difficult.

But there are a few things we all share and that is the process itself although there are obviously dozens of differences in those, too. Through trial and error, we each develop the tricks of the trade that help us be creative. I accidentally rediscovered one last Tuesday and I thought I would remind you of it, too. My hope is that you have similar advice you can share, things that you have found work for you, that help you get to your goals, that put you in the mind to write, that inspire or reassure you.

The background: It's Tuesday. The dh is gone which means I have all sorts of time to really get back into the this book. However, Plants vs Zombies is proving a great big hairy distraction. I am tthhiisss close to getting the Tree of Wisdom to 1000 feet where I can then type in "Pinata." It's the last goal I have with this game that has been my steadfast companion for the past several months. It's been a whole lot more comforting and entertaining than waiting, waiting, waiting, that's for sure.

The instigating factor: Around 3:30, things finally begin to gel with the book and I am off, writing like a speed demon, inching close to Writer Nirvana, and then the dog barks and I look at the clock. It's ten to five and I have to be in the park at five o'clock for puppy/owner obedience training. I have to quit writing RIGHT NOW. But I am so close to the end of the chapter!!! Agonizing, I accept the inevitable and leave.

The pay off: Guess who knows exactly where to start again the next morning? Guess who can't wait to get to work? Guess why? Well, you know why.

The conclusion: I USED to know to leave a scene unfinished at the end of the day, specially as I was getting back into a project and my work ethic (cough, cough) smelled like a string of dead fish left out in the blazing sun. I had forgotten it. Now I know it again.

Your Turn: Share some trick or method with me that I may have forgotten to use or one that just tickles you or amuses you or maybe even something you find yourself doing and have no idea why but it works. Pat your tummy three times and turn a cartwheel? Line up pencils? Make coffee? Beat solitaire?

And by the way, last night I grew my tree the last hundred feet and typed "Pinata"!! I am thrilled to say my zombies now spurt wrapped candies when their heads fall off.

Life is good.
Current Project:Wyoming BooksStatus: Chapter Five

Random thoughts today as I sit in the hospital awaiting the dh's return to wakefulness. Yes, btw, he's okay, it was an outpatient procedure and he sailed through it, but he's groggy now. That gives me a few moments ...

As I reviewed the past few blogs, both mine and those of other people, a few things occurred to me. We are all at such different places in our careers and in our lives. There isn't a single one of us doing exactly the same thing with exactly the same goals and ambitions. That makes creating universally appealing blogs especially difficult.

But there are a few things we all share and that is the process itself although there are obviously dozens of differences in those, too. Through trial and error, we each develop the tricks of the trade that help us be creative. One I had completely forgotten

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Making that judgement call


Current Project: Derby book
Status: meh

There's one question on my mind in regards to writing as of late - how do we make the judgment call that our project is worth writing and has enough substance to contain a book? Last winter I began working on a roller derby book. I had the major points fairly well plotted (or at least known in my brain somewhat). I felt I knew my characters well. But it got to a point where it felt too convoluted, just didn't seem to work well.

In February I went to the Michael Hauge workshop by RCRW and thought it may work better to make that one the second book and do a different first book. A librarian derby girl. Seemed to have a better hook and I could lay the groundwork for the second. But recently a couple of friends pointed out a few great things: 1) a first book shouldn't be written to set up the next; 2) the derby wasn't as integral to the librarian book idea as the original idea, and that's what makes it extra catchy; 3) the original idea is just more fun.

Sometimes it takes hearing that from someone else to justify the idea, you know? It didn't seem like a good idea to me, felt a bit contrived somehow. But I guess we all think that about our own ideas from time to time?

That got me thinking that writing just can't be a solitary profession. Just because at the end of the day we have to sit by ourselves and write, doesn't mean we should reach out to others and ask questions, brainstorm, or just chat. For me, I often don't reach out to brainstorm because I know how busy people are and it feels like I'm inconveniencing them. On the other hand, if someone wants to brainstorm with me I'm thrilled to do it. So logically...if I'm happy to brainstorm with others maybe they would be happy to do so with me.

Sometimes I wish I were as logical as Temperance Brennan! (Yes, I finally started watching Bones and I LOVE it!)