Monday, January 26, 2015

Playing Pinball--Where Do Story Ideas Come From?

“Where do you get your ideas” is a question all writers get asked fairly frequently, and it’s a hard one to answer—for me, anyway. It’s like there are all these pinballs pinging around in the back of my brain while I go about my daily routine and, at some point, they synchronize in some strange way and coalesce into a book or series idea.

And you can’t force those suckers to synchronize when you want them to in the way you want them to. The more you try to force them, the more they zing away from you.

I recently turned in the last contracted book in one of my series and, for the first time in a couple of years, I found myself sitting around and wondering what to write. Well, okay, for about a week I celebrated not having anything to write, especially on deadline, but once that wore off and I sort of caught up on sleep, I started shuffling my feet and looking for pinballs.

I’d been trying to force a couple of ideas—two particular sets of pinballs—into book ideas for quite a while and they just weren’t working. I’d even tried writing a few chapters of one of them, thinking that would get me in rhythm and make the pieces fall into place. Nope. Didn’t work.

That one was a good idea. There were wacky titles and spoiled animals and sassy veterinarians and crazy Southern relations. It was going to be such fun…in theory. I still might pursue it one day, but not now. You just can’t force these things.

The other one hasn’t quite died. There might be aliens in it. Or we might be the aliens. Or…well, those pinballs are still pinging around and haven’t come to rest in any pattern recognizable as a coherent story.

Then, what to my wondering eyes should appear but some pinballs I hadn’t consciously acknowledged were even in play. They hit me between the eyes and demanded attention. I swear I hadn’t thought about these characters or their jobs before, and yet there they were. They had names. They had backgrounds. They had stories that wanted to be told in books that needed to be written.

So, where do book ideas come from?

I don’t have a freaking clue. But in the meantime, I thought I’d offer up a little musical salute to those pinballs.



Friday, January 23, 2015

Christi Caldwell - Writer, Wife, Mother, Friend - My Writing Hero





 Excerpt from : More Than a Duke

Lord Stanhope reached down between them and through the ivory fabric of her satin skirts, wrapped his hard hand about the upper portion of her leg, effectively stilling her moments.
Anne’s breath froze and she looked at him.

Be still, he mouthed.

Her throat convulsed. Odd, they were just fingers on just a hand, so very uninteresting, something possessed by everyone. And yet, her skin thrummed with awareness of his touch. She swallowed again. There was nothing uninteresting about his fingers upon her person.

“Stop tapping your foot,” he whispered against her temple. His words had the same affect of a bucket of water being tossed over her foolish head.

“She’s not going to hear my foot,” she shot back. “It is more likely she’ll hear your constant haranguing.”

He closed his eyes and his lips moved as if he were uttering a silent prayer. Which was peculiar, because she’d not ever taken him as the religious sort.

“Lord Stanhope?” the woman called again, impatience coating her words.

Anne sighed. She’d had this all planned out. She’d speak to the earl. Enlist his help and be gone before his trysting partner had arrived. That had been the plan. Then again, a lifetime of scrapes that had gone awry should have prepared her for how this evening would likely turn out. “Oh, for goodness sake, will she not go already?” she muttered. “Whyever is she so insistent on seeing y—”
The earl cursed under his breath. “For the love of all that is holy.” And then, he kissed her. Hard.


Buy Link
  
  ******
 
 My heroes have always been writers. Actually, my very first hero was my Dad and then John Wayne, but from the time I read Pride and Prejudice I've always seen writers as heroes. The written word is a living, breathing thing with amazing power, mystical forms and endless twists and turns. Wrestling it into submission, let alone into a book people want to read, is like riding a bull on PCP in five o' clock traffic in Atlanta.  Anyone who can conquer that is a hero to me.

Over seven years ago, when I took up my pen again, so to speak, and decided I wanted to be a writer; I found out exactly how daunting this journey can be. It was scary then and it has grown increasingly scary every year. Agents can help or hurt you. Publishers want to sign you, but only if you can make them lots of money. Editors can crush you with a single e-mail. Indie publishing means you do everything AND deal with all the aforementioned craziness as well. Your career can become road kill before you ever even realize you've the left the side of the road. It's like being a character in Game of Thrones. Tick off George R.R. Martin and you are either axe fodder or dragon meat. Well. Done. Dragon meat. So anyone who hangs in there and keeps at it through all of that is definitely hero material.

I whine about working at Walmart and trying to pursue a career as a writer. I hate my job. I have filmed various episodes of SNAPPED in my head featuring me, our store manager, a walk in freezer and large knives. He does NOT fare well. (Insert maniacal laughter here.) It would be easy for me to simply lay down and quit. But I can't. You see, I have some pretty damned heroic writers in my life. They make my day job look like a cake walk. They've overcome incredible odds in pursuit of their writing dreams. And they've dragged me along with them, because I'm too damned ashamed to quit when I look at the example they've set.

I'd like to introduce you to one of my heroes. Meet Christi Caldwell. This is her official bio.

  Christi Caldwell is the USA Today Bestselling author of historical romance novels set in the Regency era. Christi blames Judith McNaught’s “Whitney, My Love,” for luring her into the world of historical romance. While sitting in her graduate school apartment at the University of Connecticut, Christi decided to set aside her notes and try her hand at writing romance. She believes the most perfect heroes and heroines have imperfections and rather enjoys tormenting them before crafting a well-deserved happily ever after!
 
When she isn’t writing the stories of flawed heroes and heroines, she can be found in her Southern Connecticut home chasing around her feisty six-year-old son, and caring for twin princesses-in-training!
 
Sounds pretty standard, right? She's a mom. She writes Regency romance- funny, sexy books with characters that make you root for them even when they make you laugh at loud. She's done pretty well - a USA Today Bestselling Author, right? Let me tell you what this bio doesn't tell you. 
 
Christi is one of the bravest, most determined people I know. After writing and submitting a number of manuscripts and trying the traditional publishing route, Christi decided to indie publish her books. Eight books and three novellas. In the last four or so years. Wonderful books that have done really well. Prolific, yes, but heroic? There's more to the story.
 
More, because during those four or so years, Christi and her husband have fought one of the toughest and bravest fights it has ever been my privilege to witness. All to give their son, Rory, a very special young man, a sibling. Those of you who have struggled with infertility know exactly how hard and how heartbreaking that fight can be. Our critique group has lived that fight with Christi, and her strength and refusal to give up has been an inspiration to all of us. And through it all, she wrote. 
 
Through failure after failure and loss after loss, she wrote. She wrote about love and trust and faith and two people finding 'happily ever after.' She wrote. When all of her dreams came down to one last try, she wrote. When that dream took root with twins, no less, she wrote. When the experts told her she would never bring the pregnancy to term, she wrote. When they sent her to bed in what they all thought was a futile effort to save those babies she wrote. And when they told her time after time not to expect a miracle, she wrote. She was in bed for the entire pregnancy, hanging onto those babies with all her might and she wrote. Christi had two dreams - a sibling for Rory, because she knew he would be an amazing big brother, and a career as a Regency romance writer for herself because she understood exactly what the romance genre is all about - love and hope.
 
In the past couple of weeks Christi has celebrated two milestones - the publication of her eighth Regency romance novel MORE THAN A DUKE  and the first birthday of her twin daughters - Regan and Riley. Doctors don't know everything. Don't you love it when that happens?

People come into our lives for a reason. And if we pay attention and are very lucky, they teach us something. About ourselves. About life. About what we're really put here to do. And sometimes they show us how to get up each and every time life or our own insecurities makes us want to turn back because that dream just beyond our reach is simply too hard to keep pursuing. Each of my writing heroes has taught me a lesson I badly needed in order to keep at this. Christi Caldwell has taught me one of the fundamental elements of the romance genre - Hope. And we have to learn to live it, if we want to write it. Thanks, Christi. 
 
 
 
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
 
 
 

 


 
 
 
 
I invite you to check out Christi's website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. Her posts are as much fun as her books. Life with a lively six-year-old boy and one-year-old twins is not for the faint of heart. Fortunately she has a very supportive husband! And access to chocolate, wine and coffee !
 

 
Twitter :  @ChristiCaldwell
 
Facebook   


How about you? Do you have writing heroes? Are there people in your life who have taught you things that have helped you on your writing journey? Give 'em a shout out. Even heroes appreciate a mention now and then!
 
 

 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Culture or Clutter?

I’ve had a lot on my mind since the beginning of the new year. Specifically, clutter. I feel surrounded by it! As my hubby and I get older, I’m nagged by the idea that if something happened to us, our adult children would end up having to go through all the “stuff” in the house that’s just taking up space. So I want to do something about it this year. I don't want my house to end looking something like this:


 
Why? First, maybe because I don’t want to end up featured on the Hoarders show. Most every horizontal surface has a pile (or more) of “stuff” on it: papers; books; newspapers; Christmas cards received; Christmas cards to send next year; papers to file; etc. We have a “junk room” upstairs crammed with old technology (fax machine, adding machine, monitors, motherboards, ad infinitum) and media of all kinds (“floppy disk” anyone?). Among other stuff! Out back we have a 30 foot x 60 foot building which I have not and will not even peek into unless forced because it’s where my loving, supportive hubby stashes things when I say “we should get rid of that.” Don’t get me started on the two attics or, gasp, the garage…


Those spaces I can’t do anything about because they contain my hubby’s stuff, by and large. But there are areas where I do have control (cue the “bwahaha” laughter)!

Yesterday I decided to do something about the stashed clothing I’ve ignored for years. After all, not only have I (sadly) put on weight but I’ve also stopped working full time in a professional environment, now that I’m an author. Thus, my closet was crammed with clothes, maybe half of which actually fit or would ever be worn by me again.

Sorting through my walk-in closet, and then a separate closet upstairs, took about two hours total over two days (I had to write, after all!) and the entire time I was choosing what to keep, what to donate, what to sell based on several factors: age; wear; fit; and taste. I sold two items to a consignment store, but most of my clothes were of a style “too old” for the store. So, the vast majority ended up at Goodwill this afternoon. As I drove home, about thirty pounds lighter in clothing, it occurred to me that I never really needed most of those clothes. Some, sure. The suits for work, come to mind. But the dresses? I rarely wear a dress. Not that I don’t ever, but it’s seldom. Yet, I donated not just one fancy dress, but eight. Obviously I need to make wiser choices with my wallet.

I even include a stuffed attic in my debut novel, Traces (Ghosts of Roseville Book 1). Meredith Reed inherits the old plantation house complete with a junked up attic filled with boxes and toys and bags and what-not that she ends up having to sort through to make sense of.


All this got me thinking about material culture. I love research so spent some time reading up on the status of the study of material culture and what it means. (If you’re interested you can visit Cliffs Notes: Culture and Societies or the American Folklife Center: Material Culture to learn more about what this term means.) In short, I think of it as the American penchant for consumerism. For things. Stuff. And how it reflects our culture. Who we are and what our stuff says about us.

(Disclaimer: I like to ponder causes and effects in culture, though I am by no means a historian or archeologist so take what I have to say with several large grains of salt. I ponder the changes in desires, in how much we each crave to surround ourselves with items important or whimsical or necessary, and in how much we’re willing to spend on things for ourselves or others.)

When I visited Mount Vernon last year, I remembered that they didn’t even build in closets in the typical 18th century or earlier houses. (Note: The Washingtons did set aside a small room as a literal “china closet”, but then they had dozens of place settings and serving pieces to store.) Without closets, folks used a piece of furniture called a wardrobe to put their clothes in, or a row of hooks/posts on the wall to hang them on. In fact, in the 1900s farmhouse I grew up in, my parents’ bedroom had two small closets with a window in between. My dad actually mounted a pole between the closets so my mother could hang more clothes. Such a visual reminder of the differences in expectations of the extent and purpose of a wardrobe of clothes even during my life time, let alone over centuries.

Of course, in the western world, we’re bombarded with requests and demands to spend money on stuff. Just think of how many ads you’ve seen for gadgets for the kitchen, when most Americans apparently eat out more than in. (I’m not among that number; I love to cook!) Why do you need a special gadget to chop an onion? A knife works really well, and has for centuries. And it takes little space. What does all the stuff surrounding us say about who we are and what's important in our lives? (I ask this I see the R2-D2 robot my hubby got for Christmas...)

The average size of a house has steadily grown over the decades as well, as we need more closets and attic space to store all of our goodies. Run out? No problem. You can rent a storage unit, or a POD, for only dollars a month. All so you can make more room for new stuff.

I made a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight and get fit. Again. But also, this year I’m going to strive to help my house get fit. I'm going to try to not buy things unless I’m replacing a broken or worn out item. I’m going to strive to reduce the weight of my house by lessening the amount of dusty, unused items sitting within its walls. I have a feeling this will end up applying to my book collection, but more on the “replacing” than “reducing” side of things. At least books are easily exchanged and shared, unlike that bread machine in hiding under the cabinet…

How about you? What items in your house reflect who you are most closely? Do you have stuff that others might put to better use? What would you like to donate or sell this year?

Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Traces (digital so as to avoid clutter)! Be sure to also leave your email. I’ll post the winner here on Monday, January 26. Good luck!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Scary Part

So my awesome Southern Magic mentor recently gave me advice that totally changed my outlook on submitting for publication:
The scary part is putting it out there. I don't care how many you write, that's always the unnerving part. And the goal isn't perfection--no book is ever turned in with no errors at all. Of course you want to send in your best, cleanest work. That's taking pride in your work and there's nothing wrong with it. But your goal should be to get as close to the story that's in your head and heart as possible. Don't worry about the editor seeing your imperfections. Just do everything in your power to get her to see the heart of the story and hear your unique voice telling it. The rest is fixed in edits.
-- Naima Simone
This was said in response to my valiant effort to procrastinate via proofreading. And her words made a tremendous impact on me. I submitted within the week a story I'd been "editing" for the last four months. (Should be hearing back soon--cross your fingers for me!)

Submitting is hard.

Putting your work in front of other people is hard each and every time.

Neil Gaiman likens it to shoving a message in a bottle and throwing it into the sea. Then you hope someone reads it  and sends back another message in a bottle, expressing appreciation for what you've written.

Some writers cram as many messages into bottles as they can, flinging them far from shore, confident in the the odds that one will reach a reader.

Other writers pen one short message and send it floating, trusting destiny or fate that one day someone will find it washed up in the surf.

Still other writers, cork their bottled messages and bury them in the sand, thinking one day to dig them up again, polish that message, and throw it out to sea.

I've been that last kind of writer my entire life, writing in secret, hiding my prose, polishing a piece until it falls apart in my hands, unusable. I worry that a scene doesn't conform to this stylistic idea, this editor said to use these kinds of tags, or this subgenre isn't hot right now. But really, it's just another way of procrastinating.

My words will never be perfect enough.

My words will never be so pristine an editor or agent will be blinded by them and fall at my feet begging to charter a private yacht which will take my message from one end of the ocean to the other.

But, Naima's right--editors and agents aren't looking for something perfect. They're looking for a sandy bottle that can be brushed off--the one that's not quite corked, the words on the message faded, but with the kernel of a great story inside.

So I'm writing. Look for my message bottles. They're out there and I'm working on more. It wasn't as hard to throw the bottle as I thought it would be.

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AIDEE LADNIER is a writer who loves quirky characters. You can visit her website at http://www.aideeladnier.com or meet her at some of her favorite social media sites:
Twitter  |  Tumblr  |  Pinterest  |  Facebook



Friday, January 16, 2015

Blocking Writer's Block

The blank page taunts you like Scott Farkus from A Christmas Story. You want to write. You need to write. But you have nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. The big zero. What do you do?

We have all been there. I don't claim to be an expert by an stretch of the imagination, but I have found three things really help me block writer's block before it can claim my valuable writing time:


  • Leaving a writing prompt:  When I finish writing for the day, I leave myself a short writing prompt for the next day about the scene I want to write. It isn't anything elaborate, just a short sentence or two summarizing the scene that should come next, including the goal, motivation and conflict for the scene. This works for me because inertia takes over, and once I start writing the scene the next day, the forward progress plows over any weeds of writer's block.
  • Write or Die:  The Write or Die application forces you to keep your fingers moving with a little operant conditioning. You can set how aggressively you want the program to punish you, but if you don't accomplish a certain word count in a certain amount of time, you will pay the price (anything from annoying sounds to the program eating words). I love this program because it scares you into writing. Fear is a powerful motivator.
  • Playlists: I know what you are saying - Heather, making a play list is a way to procrastinate and not write. There is some truth in what you are saying, but my brain makes a connection between the songs I am listening to and what I am experiencing at the time. If I keep the play list lean and mean, it minimizes the writing time I lose putting it together and provides me with quick mental triggers to get back to the place I was when I was last writing.
What do you do to fight off writer's block?