Monday, June 30, 2008

O.J.T.

On the Job Training.

As a writer this is a constant thing, you’re learning about the subject your writing about, the different techniques in writing, what markets are open to your ideas, and the best way to capture an editor’s interest.

I remember when I decided to write; I bought a book that said it would tell me the best way to write.

Then I shelved that book.

So, I entered a couple of short story contests; that’s when it occurred to me “Geez, there are rules…” So, I took a class or two.

I’ve been doing this for ten years; seriously now for the last 2-3 years. I don’t think there is ANY book out there that teaches you exactly how to write, what to write, and then what you do about it. Each editor, agent, and publisher has different expectations. Contests have their own rules.

The best thing I did; was to join a writers group (or two). Now it doesn’t guarantee you success, but it does give you access to information and support. Did you know if you write alone it just takes all that much longer? At least for me it did. Now, I have done more in the last few months then in the last year because I have signed up for things that required deadlines and expectations.

OJT has also taught me how to learn things by osmosis. You may roll your eyes at me, but it’s true! There are things that I heard, like “Passive voice is very bad”. But it wasn’t really INGRAINED in my head; until one day I looked at something I wrote and realized—it was boring and needed to be jazzed up…made active. (See, osmosis!)

OJT never ends as writer. Heck, I’m still realizing I am one step behind the power curve. I am in the process of trying to get my synopsis done. You know the thing; the one item that makes you pull out every tiny hair on your head-- If it doesn’t you’re either blessed or cursed…:)

So as a writer what OJT things have you learned and what are you still learning?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Rose by Any Other Name...But Would You Still Want to Kiss it?

I started a new book a week or so ago. Though the plot is still quite mushy and I've only written about six pages, I'm feeling pretty good about the story. But there's something that's been driving me crazy and it wasn't until yesterday that I settled the problem in my mind. What was I going to name my characters?

I already had my hero's name, since he was introduced in a previous story, but I had to figure out who my heroine, secondary characters and villain would be. Until I knew their names, I couldn't know them...if you know what I mean.

So now that I have my character's names, I'll soon know who they are.

How about you? How difficult is it for you to name your characters? Do you put a lot of thought into it or do you just call them any old name that comes to mind?

When you're reading a book, does the character's name matter to you? If you're not sure of the pronunciation, do you care? What if it's an unusual name or one that seems off or just too common? I've had a couple of books where I ended up changing the character's name in my head so I could enjoy the book. Have you ever done that? I remember one hero's name was Harlan. I couldn't get the image of Harlan Sanders out of my mind. Another hero's name was Hal Linden and I kept seeing the TV cop Barney Miller.

What about you? Are names important to you? Or can a sigh worthy hero be named Homer, Jethro or Frankensnickel and you'll love them anyway?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Are You a Snob?

The other day someone asked me, “How many writers’ conferences have you attended?” My first was in 1996(?) and the Heart of Dixie chapter held it in Birmingham. Then the list goes as such:

Southern Magic (Birmingham) – 2 times
Shreveport, LA – 3 times
Atlanta, GA – 2 times
Melbourne, FL – 1 time
Jacksonville, FL – 1 time
Fort Lauderdale, FL – 1 time
Iselin, NJ – 1 time
Pensacola, FL – 1 time
National Conference in Atlanta

I met quite a few editors and agents and attended quite a few workshops. There’s been a mixture of good and bad in all of those, but lately I’ve been hearing more and more people making statements about workshop presenters who are not published. They say they refuse to go to a workshop presented by a pre-published author. In essence, they believe if the author isn’t published they don’t know what they’re talking about. So wrong!

Of course, the first people I think of who are not usually published in the way we wish to be are teachers and professors of creative writing. Sure they’re probably published with the college press and some might be by one of the big New York publishers, but most I would guess are not. You and I would agree we could learn a lot from them.

I’m talking about the everyday blue/white collar or stay-at-home mom or dad who is working toward publication. I’ve been to several workshops presented by pre-published authors and come away with new ideas for stories and how to present those stories to publishers. One of my favorite pre-published authors was Kelley St. John. A couple years before she became published, she passed on some tips on how to pitch to an editor. They’re most useful and get me requests all the time.

There may be several reasons an author isn’t published yet, but her/his ideas could save you a lot of heartache and could even be the one bit of information needed to get your manuscript sold.

So next time you go to an conference, don’t just go to published authors’ workshops (I’ve been to several boring ones), go to the workshop presenting the information you need no matter where the author is in her/his career.

What workshop has been your favorite and who presented it?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Most Romantic Thing

Aah, weddings! Can’t beat them for love, fun, and stress!

My precious niece Jennifer married her Prince Charming this past weekend, and it was a true fairy tale wedding. I spent most of the weekend in an emotional turmoil-- thrilled because this is a match made in heaven; sad for my brother and sister-in-law who were placing the care of their 28-year-old baby girl in the hands of her new husband, Andrew; thrilled that my sister-in-law’s mother was healthy enough to make the trip; sad because the occasion made me grieve anew for my late father. He was so proud of his granddaughter, who became a passionate civil engineer because of him.

There were many romantic moments throughout the weekend, as you would expect at such a time. But the most romantic thing to me was what Andrew chose for the groom’s cake. He wanted to be in charge of his own cake and refused to tell anyone anything about it.

We were floored when we saw it. The cake was a rolling landscape, with a river running across the center. A two-lane blacktop road angled from one corner to the other and crossed the river on a well-built bridge. Nearby a construction crane rose, the finishing touch to the scene.

My neice designs bridges.

What a loving tribute to her. Jennifer is breathtakingly beautiful, has a tender and generous heart, is sweet and polite--in short, she is easy to love. Any single one of those qualities would be enough to make someone fall in love with her. But Andrew loves her completely, wholly, and deeply. He loves everything about her. I get weepy thinking about it.

It’s like when my husband filled my stocking with binder clips one Christmas. He knew I was about to enter my manuscript in a lot of contests, and that was his way of saying “I support you wholly and completely.”

Bridges and binder clips. Not exactly roses and chocolates, but, to me, they say “I love you” much more eloquently.

Whats the most unusually romantic gift you’ve given or received?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Vacations

Last week I took a vacation from writing. I was totally wiped out for no reason that I could find. Normal tasks seemed overwhelming and it was all that I could do to get through the day doing what minimally had to be done to keep the business and our house running. I do not know how I arrived at this place, but I decided to give myself the luxury of a vacation for one week. I would not feel guilty about the goals that I had set for myself, nor the embarrassment I would expect to feel on Monday at check-in when I hadn't written a single word.

For the first day or so I just enjoyed doing what I had to do and reveled in the creative stress free zone that I had placed myself in. Soon I found that my spirits were lifting and life looked much better. Without realizing it, I soon began to want to write but I reminded myself that I was on vacation.

I am happy to report that my holiday worked! Now, I can't wait to get back from vacation and start writing. I think that my little hiatus was healthy. Even though I didn't go anywhere, the little "break" was like a mental health day from what had begun to be toil instead of a creative outlet. I found it rejuvenating and I am raring to hit the computer with a renewed enthusiasm for my work in progress. Taking a step back made me realize how much writing is a part of me. Without it there was a void that nothing else filled. Now I know that a good "vacation" is priceless.

Friday, June 20, 2008

New Kids...Same Block

When I was thirteen, I just knew I would marry Donnie Wahlberg from New Kids on the Block. And no one could tell me differently. See, my sister, best friend and I had formed this girl version of NKOTB and we were going to be their opening act. Of course, after spending so much time together on tour, love would eventually bloom. My sister was in love with Joe McIntyre (she's going to kill me for blabbing that, but it's the truth!), but Donnie--outgoing, sexy, crazy Donnie Wahlberg was all mine. The exact antithesis of me, his brashness was a perfect foil to my shyness. My dry wit charmed him while his outspoken nature encouraged me to let that inner-wild child loose. Yup, opposites attract, and we were going to be the fairy-tale romance that would live happily ever after...

Then the boy band fervor died down and I fell in desperate love with the guy in my homeroom with the bea-u-ti-ful hazel eyes.

But, the point is not how fickle I was, but that even then--at thirteen--I was writing. When I put pen to paper, the young, awkward pre-teen from Plainfield, NJ, became the girl who Donnie Wahlberg had chosen from tens of millions of adoring fans. But, only when I put pen to paper. When I wrote. Even then I knew the joy of taking a nebulous idea and weaving together characters, emotions and circumstances until I had a story that spoke, breathed and lived.

It's important that as writers we don't forget this joy. Sometimes we can get so frustrated with not winning the contest or rejections from publishers that we forget the delight that comes from just creating. Don't get me wrong, if I received "The Call", the news would be flashing on the backside of the Vulcan by now! But, if we never get the call, if we never win a contest, would we still write? Yes, a thousand times, yes. Because it's a must, a need and a joy.

So, in twenty years, things have come full circle. New Kids on the Block have reunited, and though Donnie doesn't play such a prominent role in my stories, I'm still writing. And in another twenty, published or not, I'll still be writing...and writing...And, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

You Choose it But Can You Lose it?

The Internet is a fabulous tool. Finding information with a couple of clicks, visiting all sorts of foreign locales without leaving the security of your chair and buying an assortment of items you once had to drive all over the city to get. It's amazing, I love it and I'm on it much more than I should be. It can become addictive, but that's a blog for another day.

What I've become more and more aware of are the dangers. Not just for hooking up to meet people and finding out they're nothing like they claimed to be or worse, they're looking to harm you, but also the information that you put out there. It seems everyday or almost everyday, some person, usually a teen or young adult, has posted something on one of the many social networking sites that to most people would be appalling. Nude or risque photos, odd, bizarre or vulgar things that will someday come back and bite them. Some may not care and will never regret it. Others will.

In this day of information sharing and technology at the speed of light, sometimes it seems our brains haven't caught up with the technology. What someone puts something out there for faceless strangers to see or read can seem innocent and innocuous. After all, you'll never meet most of these people, so why should you care? But if it stays with you for life and can be brought up at a moment's notice, how careful do you need to be?

What about you? Have you ever put something out there you wished you hadn't? Are you careful about what information you share or what you say? How do you know when you've gone too far?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hello, Daddy!

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of hearing Rhonda Nelson, fabulous Blaze author, and her senior editor, Brenda Chin, talk about characterization. Great presentation, but that’s not what I want to blog. Maybe some other time. Instead, I wanted to talk about something Rhonda mentioned, Dead Parent Syndrome.

That is where your character doesn’t have a parent. Usually, they’re out of the picture because they’d died of [insert your demise]. In turn, allows the author to have their characters free to act anyway they want without interference or explanation to their parents.

I’ve read many books like that. While in historicals it is more common as many mothers died in childbirth and fathers in war. But in contemporaries the parents really shouldn’t be dead unless it is part of the plot [heir of unexpected fortune, survivor syndrome, revenge, etc.].

For myself, I enjoy having family for my hero and heroine. They love stirring up trouble. They’re sometimes comedy relief, confidante, sidekick, red herring, a murderer, or even better, the next book.

So I say, next time you’re about to write in a friend, use a sister or brother. Next time you’re about to include an advisor, make it a mom or dad. Viva parents!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Love you, your daughter.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What doesn't kill you...

Several years ago, I was almost "there.” You know where I'm talking about. With Manuscript Number Five, I knew I had a winner. I had submitted plenty, learned with each manuscript I wrote, and the rejection letters I had received had all been encouraging--personal letters that let me down easy while buoying my spirits.

On Number Five, I researched the line, the market, and the editor. I queried and received an enthusiastic response for a partial. The friends at the pub where I wrote rejoiced with me and made me promise to give them "autographed first editions."

I polished. I edited. I polished again. I edited. And sent it off.

I knew this was the one. I knew it.

And then, a few months later, I received the rejection. A form rejection, no less.

Devastation engulfed me. Humiliation swamped me. Hurt, well, hurt me. I shook my fist at the sky and yelled “As God as my witness, I’ll never write another word again.”

And I didn’t.

For about six months. Then one day, I overheard two women gossiping in the grocery line and thought "Stupid women. What if that were my best friend they were talking about?" Before I could stop it, a scene started playing out in my head. I shook my head to clear it, and said to myself “I’m NOT doing that again.” But when I got home, I wandered to my computer and opened up a new Word document. I stared at the blank page for awhile. Finally I made a deal with myself. “Just because I write down that scene, doesn’t mean I’m writing again. I'll just delete it.”

But I didn’t delete it. There was something about writing those words that sent a fresh breeze stirring the tired, depressed writing genes in my body.

I took a deep breath and started. Writing. Again.

I am a stronger writer now. I am a realistic writer now. I know the road to publication is rocky, full of potholes, and filled with blind allies.

I have a new respect for all authors. Some come by success easily. Some struggle for years. Some never achieve the success they deserve.

But not a single one ever stops writing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ode to the Hubby

In my last blog, I wrote about going to Gatlinburg for a couple's retreat. Well, I'm proud to announce that it was awesome! I had a great time and discovered friendships I may not have had the opportunity to find if I hadn't opened myself up to the experience. But, I also uncovered something else. Something very profound. I detailed this discovery below in my version of a Top 10 (Okay, Top 5) I fondly call:

The Reasons I Love My Husband (Previously entitled, I Love Him, Ya'll!)

5. I adore his strength: While I admittedly go a tad bit squeamish over insects of the many-legged variety, he is my beetle-basher...my spider-smasher...my cricket-crusher...I ask you, who needs Raid??

4. He thinks my "jiggle" is sexy: He sees me naked and still believes I'm the same tight-bodied co-ed he fell in love with ten years ago.

3. He's my reality-check: While I often place pressure on myself to be the perfect employee, friend and mother, he assures me that it's quite all right to be imperfect. After all, I fall short in performing my wifely duties all the time...I was talking about cooking and cleaning!! Geesh, people!

2. He prays for me: He asks God to bless me with my dream of becoming a published writer...of course the fact that he wants to be a stay-at-home-dad has nothing to do with it! He always has my best interests at heart!

And, the Number One reason I love my husband...

1. He loves me: He allows me to blast Celtic Woman and Chicago in the car with only a minimal amount of eye rolling, asks me how my day went and actually listens to the response, plays Taboo wih me, watches the kids while I take a twelve-hour nap, AND knows who Nora Roberts, Linda Howard and Christine Feehan are!

IS THERE ANY WONDER WHY I LOVE THIS MAN??

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Model Man

The other day I read a blog from one of our other members who mentioned a list of movies that she wanted to see this summer. In the paragraph she mentioned Brendan Frasier in a way that left no doubt in my mind that she wouldn't mind spending some vacation time with him if she were single. I wonder if she envisions him when she writes about her hero?

I mold my hero's looks on people that I find attractive or who appeal to me in some way. I may have seen him in a movie or in real life but they all speak to me in some elemental manner, which is a classier way of saying that they make my toes curl. They are traditionally dark haired, tall, and they all seem to share the same roguish smile that has me biting my bottom lip as it lights up his face.

The best thing about my heroes are that they are a conglomeration of everything I find attractive in a man; think Pierce Brosnan for his sophisticated good looks, Matthew McConaughey's voice, Robert Downey, Jr's eyes, and George Clooney's smile. Their character attributes are a little harder to pin down. They tend to run more to people that I have met. The gentleness of my first boyfriend, the strength of character and worth ethic of my father and the intelligence and strength of will of my husband. These are the type of men that help make up my heroes. They are part fantasy, part reality and I hope, interesting for those who read about them.

Who do you visualize when you model your heroes?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Rambling panic

I have about a third of my rough draft done.

Now I have to get the pitch ready.

I was going to write a pithy little blog full of humor, but really, I 'am panicked. Why? Honestly; I'm a afraid of looking like a fool and of rejection.

Really; its not like I've had haven't had rejection. My first story was sent back with a "It has predictable ending." *sigh*

My first acceptance was an article for a Self Defense magazine...! And now; I've gotten two articles in The Pulse, a magazine put out by the Heart Center and I help edit (and get credit for it!).

Now its time to pitch a book. (For those of you who read my earlier post--I'm drinking a lot of tea...but lately I've added wine a time or two...)

For some reason, my normal fairly creative self has gone on vacation AT THE WRONG TIME. I keep writing and re-writing my pitch and what do I get.

Schlock.

In spite of schlock; I'll pitch. I'll let you know what happens; if I don't have a heart attack before then.

So; to help myself; I've let myself just express my anxiety on the screen. Tell me how you dealt with your anxiety and the good and the bad....

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Rewards

Until I started writing about seven years ago, I never really thought about rewarding myself. With my corporate job, I relied on others to reward me with raises and bonuses. After I quit my job, it never occurred to me that if I was going to be rewarded for an achievement, other than the satisfaction of meeting a goal, I would have to take care of that myself.

I finished my first manuscript in May, 2002. That's been a while, but I don't believe I rewarded myself with anything other than telling everybody and their brother, cousin and everyone I could make eye contact with that I'd finished a book. However, the day I sent out my first two queries, I rewarded myself with Chinese food at the mall and a trip to the bookstore. Yes, I'm a simple girl at heart, but it made me happy.

I don't really remember all the rewards I've given myself over the years. I had to stop the rewards for sending out queries. I'd be in bankruptcy if I had continued to do that. However, every time I finish another manuscript, I do a little something just for me. Chinese food is still one of my most frequent rewards, but I've branched out to allowing myself a few days of reading and not writing. Usually after about two days, I can't take the voices in my head anymore and have to start writing again, but I do look forward and treasure those rewards. Since I only write about two books a year, they don't happen that often.

What about you? When you complete a manuscript, send off a query letter, enter a contest or even get a rejection, how do you reward yourself for your accomplishments? Share all of them because I'm looking for some new, more exciting rewards.

Oh and yes, I admit. The day I sold, we had Chinese takeout. What can I say? I love cashew chicken and I'm still a simple girl at heart.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Summer is around the corner!

I love summertime. And one of my favorite things about summer is MOVIES! I saw Indiana Jones and The Crystal Skull. Enjoyed it. Just a fun movie. But it's time for Harrison to find a new gig. LOL!

Hopefully I'll have a chance to see more movies. Like The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), Sex and the City (Mr. Big - Chris Noth), The Incredible Hulk (Edward Norton - this one is to have romance in it), Get Smart (Steve Carell), Hancock (Will Smith), Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Journey to the Center of the Earth (with Brendan Fraser!!!!!) in 3D!! And The Dark Knight (Christian Bale), The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Brendan Fraser again!!! with Jet Li!!!), Death Race (with Jason Statham in a remake of a cult favorite that had a very young Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine), Bangkok Dangerous (Nicolas Cage as a hit man), Babylon A.D. (Vin Diesel).

Being in a dark air-conditioned room should be a way to keep cool during the summer but with all this testosterone....whew!