Wednesday, December 30, 2009
However, sometimes we land on that perfect story, with that perfect hero and heroine and we have the beginnings of the perfect plot. Until...it goes to hell in a hand
basket and we are in that dreaded place, the eighth level of hell from which no number of Hail Marys and Our Fathers can set you free - PLOTTING HELL !! If you heard really loud music, the kind that announces a horrible thing on an old soap opera, then you understand what I mean.
My question is, what do you do when you find yourself in this most horrible of places? What do you when your fabulous imagination and your hubris land you in this most terrible of purgatories? You know that hubris that says "This story is so GOOD! I just KNOW it is going to write itself!" Yeah, right. That's when the Writing Gods say "Everyone who knows their plot is rock solid, step forward. Hold on there, Louisa. Not you!"
Have pity on a poor sinner. I didn't decide to do something sensible like become a call girl or a Bible salesman in Baghdad. I had to become a writer. I must have been a REALLY bad person in a former life. Can I get an amen? Can I get a way out? Does anyone know the appropriate number of novenas to get a romance novel plot out of hell?
So tell me, ladies? It's just us talking here. Ever land in plotting hell? What did you do to get there? And MUCH more important, how did you get out? Is it getting warm in here, or is it just me?
Monday, December 28, 2009
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FaceBook (Group: Southern Magic, Birmingham Chapter of RWA)
Be our friend and follow us. You never know what we might announce next.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Year end is also a time for new beginnings. Diets, resolutions and promises I make to myself, all come front and center as the New Year approaches. I can't promise I will be as slim as Marie Osmond next year, or that I will be less sarcastic in the future (I'll try, but come on--it's me), but I can say with certainty I will be more productive as a writer in 2010.
I am looking forward to writing now that the holidays are almost over. There is a direct correlation between my productivity as a writer and the weather outside. There's more when it is awful outside. This year I should be even more prolific since Santa surprised me with a new chair for my office. The old one was given to us for free and, you know what they say about you get what you pay for? Let's just say that it was priced fairly.
I never get tired of new beginnings. The new year is a time to reflect, resolve and re-dedicate. I am spending the last days of 2009 doing just that.
I wish all of my friends success with their writing during the coming year. I hope you are pressed by deadlines and scurrying to juggle your home life, while wondering how you are going to keep everything on an even keel. That would mean you are going somewhere in this crazy business we have elected to enter. Happy writing, everyone!
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Stories are gifts. The idea as you create the story is shiny and intriguing. The characters decorate it, and the story itself has odd shapes. It invites you to peek inside, to read it. I have never been disappointed by reading a story of my choice.
The most difficult part, is creating that story, or finding it. Stories are everywhere. There are true stories, ones of faith, others of fiction. We see a story all around us, in the actions of others and in our conversation.
Since it is Christmas, there are familiar stories that we hear. We re-read them, re-tell them yearly. Instead of being boring these gifts add to the flavor of the season.
What is your favorite gift of story for Christmas? Is it Fiction? Faith? Truth? Tell me, I’d like to hear.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
At the same time, names that are too exotic, hard-to-pronounce or just plain weird can be off-putting to the reader. And you want to avoid naming too many characters with similar sounding names, or it can be confusing.
I approach this very important business in different ways. Sometimes, a character’s name pops into my head simultaneously with the birth of the character. Those are the easy ones. Sometimes, I consult a baby name book. Other character’s names are borrowed from family, friends . . . or even people I dislike. For example, the town bitch in the book I recently finished is named after the girl that made my daughter’s life miserable in high school. (One of the cool things about being a writer is this particular bit of evil creative license!) Sometimes when it comes to names I simply make them up out of whole cloth. However I do it, finding the perfect name for my characters is crucial to the story.
What about you? How do you go about selecting the perfect name for your literary children? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Would your characters BE your characters if you named them something else?
How about when you read a book? How important is it to your enjoyment of a story that you like the names of the main characters? I LOVE romance novels, gobble them up like potato chips, but I have noticed a certain penchant among romance writers for names that sound . . . . well, ROMANTIC. Alastair, Lucien, Damian, Sebastian, Sylvester, Gabriel, Rhys . . . Not a Wilber or Herbert in the bunch. Heroines, too. Penelope, Poppy, Olivia, Emma, Francesca. Mildreds and Ethels need not apply.
Similarly, what process do you go through to name your work of art when it’s finished? If naming a character is tough, coming up with the perfect name for your manuscript is even tougher. I have a pattern of naming a book one thing when I start writing it, only to change it when it’s finished, because the work has morphed into something I did not originally envision. For example, DEMONS IN DIXIE started out as DARK ENCOUNTER, a decent enough name for a paranormal romance, but not funny enough. Who knew when I started writing the darn thing that it would turn out to be funny? Not I, said the little pig. So, a name change was called for, because DARK ENCOUNTER no longer fit.
So, what’s in a name?
Sunday, December 20, 2009
But it's Christmas week and I refuse to be a Scrooge.
I searched for inspiration this morning and think I found it in a very cool video. This 4+ minute walk through romance reminded me exactly why I decided to write the genre over twenty years ago. Just about every hunk that ever graced the big screen is in this thing, and I have to say, this totally put me in the mood to write. (Warning, the video has sound and an annoying pop-up you need to close.)
I'm dedicating this video to my husband--a man who really knows how to deliver a big-screen kiss. Merry Christmas, Honeybunny.
POP QUIZ for the true romantic: How many movies from the video can you name?
Friday, December 18, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
This is my first time participating, and though I have to run out later today for an appointment, I'll be back chatting all day long. Visit your favorite authors, ask questions, talk about books! It's a fun time.
Because today is my blog day over here, I should give a little more effort than just to talk about the Holiday Open House, right?
December has been a busy month for me! I had a mid-October deadline, which I met, and then I got revisions 3 weeks later. Took 2 weeks to do them, but happily the book was accepted (THE DEVIL'S HEART, due out in July 2010 in the UK - US date TBA). In the meantime, however, I had a novella due on Dec 11. By the time I turned in revisions on TDH, I had two weeks left to write the story. And since my editor didn't quite like the 25 pages I'd given her previously, I had to start over.
Amazingly, I did it, and I turned the story in with 3 days to spare (no idea if I'll be revising yet or not!). I wrote 21k in 10 days, which surpasses any speed record I previously had. I stunned myself by getting it done, truly.
Which leads me to say to you: what do you think you could do if you really had to? The next time you think you can't write 50k in a month (NaNo) or can't get 10k done in a week, shove those doubts aside and give it a try. You honestly don't know until your back is against the wall.
Hope to see some of you at the open house today! And I hope to hear about great feats of writing that amazed you once you finished!
Monday, December 14, 2009
That discussion and shopping for stocking stuffers has triggered my own thoughts about reading. It is a family tradition that each person gets at least one book in their Christmas stocking. Over the years my "stocking book" has reflected my current taste in reading and has included multiple genres but always romance - always fiction. I haven't picked out my stocking book for this year and actually I'm considering a craft book that was referenced in the reading discussion - "Reading Like A Writer" by Francine Prose.
Studying the craft of writing has definitely affected my ability to read for pleasure. In the past I would force myself to finish a book I didn't like in the hopes that it would get better in the end. Quite often I would realize something was wrong with the writing but couldn't quite put my finger on the problem. Now I find myself looking for the hero and heroine's GMC or analyzing the "black moment" and story resolution. I'm no longer satisfied with a shallow story and I've given myself permission to put a book in the give away box without finishing it.
On the up side, when I do find a book that hooks me I revel in the pleasure of reading. Now that I'm agonizing over word choices and plot points I'm less tolerant of sloppy writing. And more appreciative of well written books.
What about you? Do you still read?
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The story has so many aspects from entertainment to the psychological boundaries placed on men and women. I could go on about how men have problems with growing up and taking on responsibilities and how many romance novels contend with that. You know, the hero finally meets his Wendy and grows up and takes on responsibility, though in the story tonight he flew away.
Plus the story is a bit of romance. “I remember kisses, let me see. Aye, that is a kiss. A powerful thing.”
I loved the movie HOOK too. The colors, photography, and play of words between the 40 plus Peter and the young Lost Boys were wonderful. To me, the theme of the movie is to take time out of life and enjoy it.
For myself, the story PETER PAN is one of my favorites for a couple reasons. Wanting to stay young is obvious, but flying...the adventure and the freedom...I close my eyes and I can twirl and swoop along the currents above the treetops. The flying would be great. I understand the desire to go where you want and when you want.
So since I can’t fly and can’t stay young forever, I dream. I write. In my writing I can stay young and fly.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
In my non-writing life, I'm not a pack rat, I'm a purger. I have a Goodwill donations bag going at all times, and I relentlessly thin the morass on a regular basis.
I will admit that moving frequently helps. No place for that thingamabob in the new house? Toss it. ;-)
However, in my writing, I horde and reuse scenes as if they were precious heirlooms. On my current WIP, I took out 20,000 words, and nearly started over, but I didn't toss those scenes. Instead, I moved them into my unused scenes folder (Scrivener makes this super easy), and raided them (the pirate part
Heck, I poured hours of effort into those words. Why not repurpose them, if possible?
Even though my plot went in a different direction, there were perfectly good elements buried in those deleted scenes. With a few tweaks, the sex scene in the bedroom could be brought back wholesale. A part where I described the scenery as they drove north fit perfectly into a later scene. (The reason they were traveling changed, but the scenery didn't.)
Sure, most of my hard-earned prose is destined to stay in the dustbin, but there's no reason not to recycle when it works. And for the rest of those words? Writing is never a waste of time. It's part of the learning process. Every word gets us closer to the one million mark.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Sorry! But I have a good excuse.... I am knee deep in Christmas wrapping paper, ordering cards, trying to make calendars, shopping at COSTCO and hunting for presents while still trying to eek out a little personal writing time.
The writers on other blogs are calling this the "haze of Christmas." I call it the DAZE. Man, oh man, I remember when I enjoyed making pretty cards on line and writing a funny letter filled stories about our family. I remember when making photo calendars was a blast. I remember when I actually took time to do all of these things and I anticipated them with great joy.
Boy, have things changed since I became a writer (albeit unpublished, I am treating as a full time profession). Last night I grumped about the time I needed to put into making the calendars (meh--it's a lot of work). My DH said, you're just mad cause you'd rather write (mind you he isn't taking over the job--cause he gets paid to do his argh). This morning I cursed (well not loudly, but in my head) the iPhoto program that allowed me to make my cute little picture card on-line and put in a little letter. I didn't write much. I put in bullet points for our entire year--easier that way.
But that's better than what I sent last year: I said we moved, that's it. Everyone was asking about the letter and said they missed it, but my creative juices are drained by the time Christmas rolls around.
I'm still stuck making calendars. I also have to make photo books for a relative in Canada. And I haven't even begun wrapping yet. AACK. I love Christmas, but all the chores wear me out. I am in a DAZE. I went to COSTCO--haven't been there in months--haven't missed it. I had no idea they sold jumbo sized vitamins for half the cost I was paying at my local apothecary (easier to get to). Will I go there in the New Year, when all this hoopla settles down? Not likely. It takes too long to get there and I want to write.
Now don't get me wrong. I love the holiday season and all the good family times. The lunches with friends. The food. Don't forget the food. The presents. The joy of getting up at, oh, 4AM--never mind, that I could do without--and seeing our Christmas movie. Sigh. It's just that it is draining, it is like a one woman job (seriously? who invented all this work for us?) and all I want for Christmas is a nice glass of chardonnay, a good book, and a little time to myself to do nothing.
I always start off the month thinking, I'll try to write a half an hour a day. Some days I manage. Other days, I get way more done. Today? Nope. Ain't going to happen. All my creative juice is pouring into calendars, photo books and blogging.
I think I've forgotten what it is like to do nothing.
So, what did you used to LOVE about Christmas (or the holiday season as you celebrate it) that you dread doing now or feel takes too much time away from your writing obsession? Is it a one woman show where you live? And how do you manage to squeeze time in to write?
Saturday, December 05, 2009
Friday, December 04, 2009
At what point is it time to throw in the towel and what reason is good enough to give up on something you've worked so hard to attain?
How many of you enjoy every minute of writing, every minute of the process? For how many of you is it fun every day and you jump up ready to get at it and don't want to get out of the chair, even to go to the bathroom?
When I was in high school I was in the marching band. Fortunately I played the clarinet. Not a particularly heavy instrument to carry around in 100 degree heat in Alabama in August. I felt really badly for the tuba players. All that weight on their shoulders and standing at attention for hours on end. As we stood in formation in the boiling heat, sweat dripping while our director stepped off the next formation we used to ask each other in sneaky whispers "Are we having fun yet?" The answer was always "Not yet, but it's coming." Until we heard a resounding thud and the sound of a big bell tolling. One of the tuba players had hit the dirt, bell first, and the baritone sax player would say "NOW, we're having fun."
Writing is kind of like that. You write and write and write. You suffer the tortures of hell. It's fun if you and your fellow writers can commiserate. Sometimes you get to perform and everyone applauds. Sometimes you have to stand there and boil and let a master step off what you do next. And sometimes it gets so bad you feel like a tuba player in full gear going down for the count. Is any of it fun? All of it? Why do you keep doing it?
How about our published authors? You've got the contract. You have made it! Does it get any better? Any worse? Are deadlines killing you? Are there times you are ready to throw in the towel because it isn't fun or you think you'll never top what you did in your first book or you can't finish books as quickly as Nora Roberts? I mean Harper Lee wrote ONE book. One! It won a Pulitzer Prize. Talk about pressure. Was she having fun? Did she enjoy the process. How long did it take her to write the book and why didn't she write anything else? Ever wonder? I have.
I take about 8 months to a year to write a book. Eight months to a year of every minute of my free time and I produce ONE BOOK. I've produced three since I started this writing thing almost four years ago. That is SLOW. I hear about other people writing books in three months and I am amazed. And scared. And slightly ticked off at their ability to do so, but I'll get over that. One day. And how many books do you write without getting one published before you finally say "I'm not cut out for this."? By the way, what's the longest you've taken to finish a book? The shortest? Be truthful, even if the rest of us might throw rocks at you.
I started training to be an opera singer at the age of sixteen. I began auditioning for roles with opera companies at the age of twenty. I was invited to audition at the Met in New York at the age of twenty-five. I sang beautifully. Didn't get the part or the contract. I auditioned for years. Got some nice compliments. Got some raves. Got some "Don't call us, we'll call you's." What I didn't get was a contract or a role. I was twenty-nine when I sang my debut role as the Queen of the Night in Mozart's Die Zauberflote in Austria. For those of you who don't know, twenty-nine is OLD for a soprano to debut.
And all of those hokey movies are true. When you are a singer you spend hours singing scales over and over again. You do vocal exercises. You spend hours listening to recordings of operas. You spend hours alone in a practice studio, just you and a piano and teach yourself the entire score of a 3 to 5 hour opera all by yourself. You rehearse with a pianist. You rehearse with a vocal coach. You eat, sleep and drink opera. You drag yourself (and sometimes your husband or your parents) all over the country to audition for bored opera directors who act like they are doing you a favor by listening to you. It is NOT fun. It is lonely, hard, sometimes depressing work. And many of my fellow aspiring singers fell by the wayside. Some of them were far more talented than I. Better looking too. (In the States that matters. In Europe all they want to know is can you sing and you can you sing over a 250 piece orchestra without a mike.)
Why did I stick with it? I have no idea. Can't decide if I was stupid, naive, stubborn, ambitious, masochistic or just didn't know when to quit. Or maybe, just maybe I knew in spite of all of the work and insults and pain and all of the hours spent slaving over a role alone with no hope in hell anyone would ever hear me sing it I kept going because sometimes you have to see it through no matter what. Sometimes what you are creating isn't about deadlines, or money, or fame or receiving some sort of praise from someone. Sometimes it's about doing it for yourself, as a sort of legacy, to say "I was here. I created something from myself. And when I'm gone, somehow it will still be here forever." Somewhere on the wind are the notes I sang in my debut role twenty-two years ago. They will always be part of the wind.
Why do I write with no idea if I'll be published or not? Cause I ain't done yet!
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
For me, the experience of judging entries, has been both educational and illuminating.
When judging an entry I can easily look at the manuscript and see the strengths and weakness of the author's work. Why can't I see the same deficiencies in my own creations? I suspect that I am too close to the material. Errors in plot, change of point of view and providing too much telling instead of showing, might just as well be highlighted in neon in another author's manuscript. I am blind to similar mistakes of my own.
Recently, I came close to placing in the finals in a writing contest. I attribute that to more experience, patient critique partners and my experience as a judge of the Linda Howard Award of Excellence Contest. Following a checklist and dissecting a manuscript written by someone else has helped me to be able to look at my own writing more objectively.
If you are a Pro or Pan writer, and you haven't already volunteered to be a judge this year, give some thought to doing so now. Trust me, you will get more out of it than you give. Contact Carla Swafford at CarlaSwafford@charter.net for more details.
For those of you who have judged a contest, what was the best or most surprising thing you got out of doing it?
Monday, November 30, 2009
Yeah, I was nine..
My freshmen year of college, I wrote a paper on the Loch Ness Monster for my English class. While I still insist I presented a valid argument for its existence, I didn't quite manage to make a believer out of my professor.
I still think I should have received an A for creativity, not that B...
Mermaids. Big Foot. The Jersey Devil. The Loch Ness Monster. They have all fascinated me. They're beautiful, mysterious, wondrous, even dangerous. And as varied as they are in their locations, appearances and histories, they all have one thing in common.
They take me away.
Staring at pictures of the Loch Ness Monster, I'm transported to a land of mystery and lore. I visit a time when fairies danced beneath hills and spirits whispered in the Highland mists. As I read about the Jersey Devil I'm carried to a dark, unpaved road, the bare denuded trees like skeletons as their bony branches stretch upward. Out of the eerie quiet echoes a heavy flap of wings and a gargoyle-like creature casts its shadow across the gleam of the full moon.
In those worlds I am a part of the magic. I can pet the sloped head of the Loch Ness Monster. Dive beneath the waves into the depths of the sea as a mermaid. Become another person. Escape.
Isn't that why we read?
Whether it's to walk in the shadow of Big Foot or delve into the world of vampires...Whether it's to crash land in the fairy kingdom of Oberon or fall in love and hungry passion with the man harboring a dark secret...We read to discover different worlds, and for a couple of hours, become part of those worlds. We're heroines, lovers, warriors, immortal...we're readers.
Magic, mythical creatures and legends do exist in this world of science, technology and explanations. And they're found between the pages of a book.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
I remember the overwhelming iciness of fear flowing over me as I heard this. There was no time to write notes and this was a few years before cell phones were the norm. I looked sideways at the woman sitting next to me. We’d taken our seats two hours ago and never spoken. I was in my early twenties, she was in her forties. Her face mirrored my own, nervousness and something close to panic. I blurted out, my first words to her. “I have to pee.” She laughed and for a split second our fear broke. She said she did too, than as the plane descended and the stewardesses yelled out the warnings, she grabbed my hand.
We hit the tarmac with a gentle thump. The landing gear had worked. Everyone on the plane cheered, and true enough the brightly colored emergency vehicles were there waiting.
We made it safely to our destination. I never saw that woman again.
I won’t ever forget that panic.
This brings me to the point of the story-fear.
I am hearing rumors, and reading about the realignments of publishing houses. Writers are nervous, old and new. Things are changing. Those of us who are unpublished writers are afraid. We wonder will we ever get published? Is it even possible? Are we pursuing a fools dream? Even seasoned authors are uneasy.
We all are on that plane, and we are not sure if the landing gear is going to come down. The possibility that all you are working for will come to nothing is very real. It inspires in us the dark iciness of panic. We could pretend things are not going to change and ignore it, or we could duck our heads down, and brace for impact.
I suggest we meet our fear head on, we acknowledge it, then clasp each other’s hands and forge ahead, keeping our eyes and ears wide open. Things are changing whether we like it or not, but we can meet it without being crippled by our fear. We can help each other. Stories are waiting to be told, and to be read. There is a place for all of us, although it may be far different than we expected.
Just wait and see. We’ll land safely on the other side.
What do you think? Do you think upheaval and possible changes coming in the publishing world is to be feared, or should we embrace it and make it work for us? What are your thoughts?
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
But working today while so many people are off, I feel inspired. Why is working the day before a holiday so cool? Am I the only one who likes being at work when only the skeleton crews remain? It’s difficult to describe, but somehow I feel special. Like we’re all in this together. It reminds me of being in a school play, going to the school after-hours when the majority of kids are gone, and the school suddenly seems … smaller, doesn’t it?
I’ve been feeling pretty small in the work place lately, and I won’t bore you with the reasons. With the economy the way it is, I’m sure you can fill in the gory details with simple deduction. But today has a different feel to it. This place feels smaller, and for the first time in the last few weeks of hard-hitting depression, I feel like writing again.
How odd to find writing inspiration in such a strange place.
Where are you finding inspiration this holiday week?
Sunday, November 22, 2009
To paraphrase Prince Hamlet, the story’s the thing.
I agree that an engaging voice is critical to a writer. Yours can be the most wonderful story in the world, but if you can’t tell it in a way that will draw the reader in, your story remains trapped between the covers of your book, languishes in the dark recesses of a desk drawer or floats lonely and unread in cyber space. As writers, we are storytellers. We want to share our stories with others. I’m sure there are writers out there who write for the sheer joy of putting pen to paper without a care for being published. I am not of them. To me, having a story that remains unread is like an actor performing on stage to an empty theater. Not my idea of fulfilling.
So, we sweat and strive and agonize to achieve that elusive (and, hopefully!) great voice, the perfect conduit that will deliver our precious baby to the reader . . . and then what? Where do we go from there? How do you achieve the right voice for the NEXT story you want to tell, especially if the voice in the book you just finished is a strong one?
That’s where I am right now. I just finished writing a book where the main character’s voice feels natural and organic, so much so that I am having trouble and some real anxiety about how to move on to the next book. Basically, I’m starting from scratch with the whole find-your-voice thing. Arggh! The main character in the next book is NOTHING like the heroine in the previous one, but I have to find her voice!
What tricks do you use to discover a character’s voice, especially if you and your character have little in common? How to imbue them with tricks and quirks and character traits of their own, not to mention that elusive voice, that will draw the reader in, make them appealing, likeable and totally distinguishable from the character you just wrote?
Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.
Friday, November 20, 2009
And it was fabulous. Ricky Skaggs has won 14 Grammy Awards. There's a reason for it. Even if you don't care for bluegrass, it's an incredibly complex music to play. And it takes practice. Tons and tons of practice.
Yet this man, and his band Kentucky Thunder, made it look so easy. Their fingers flew on those instruments, making things happen that was just incredible to hear and brought the audience to cheers more than once. Incredible stuff.
We left the theater amazed at how fast their fingers moved, and how smooth the music was. And since I knew I had a blog post to write, I started thinking about practice, hard work, and dedication. (And, in the case of those fingers, muscle memory.)
That's what it takes to play damn good bluegrass, and that's what it takes to write a damn good book. Those men made it look easy, and I think that's what a good writer does too. But it's not easy. The work, the sweat, the blood, the tears -- it's all in there. You don't see it on the stage, but it's there.
So when you're feeling the despair of rewriting a scene or chapter or book for the fifth time, remember that you're working on that muscle memory, that the more you write and revise, the better you'll get. Writing is a muscle and it must be exercised. No words are wasted, even when you're crying and wailing and thinking you suck worse than any writer has ever sucked before (believe me, I feel that at least once in every book!).
Because one day it's going to be you on that stage and you'll be thankful you practiced so hard and long, that your muscles are ready for the experience. You gotta pay your dues to make it look easy. Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder were a beautiful example of that.
So keep writing. Don't give up. Me, I've got revisions to finish. It's the practice I need to make it seem effortless when the reader is reading.
Are you working that muscle memory today?
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Years ago, when I first heard about people blogging, I confess I didn’t understand the appeal. Why would someone want to write their thoughts for the world to read? And why would I want to read what someone else wrote? I’m sure much of that reaction was because I’m essentially a very private person. I’ve known people who, when you ask their name, you get their life story. That’s not me. There are people who have known me for years that probably couldn’t tell you one personal thing about me.
But I’m making the effort to change. I work with the recovery ministry in the church I attend and last month I gave my testimony. Speaking in front of a group isn’t difficult for me. I am, after all, an ordained minister. (See? You didn’t know that, did you?) But telling “my story”, those unflattering aspects of my life, not to strangers but to people I see week after week was hard.
And then I asked to be added to this blog group. I’m exposing myself.
Why? Because I realized one of my biggest problems in writing was this tendency not to share. I write inspirational romances. The struggle with faith is as important to the story as the romance. And the struggle in my current WIP is something I’ve experienced. It wasn’t pretty. I can either use all the emotions, even the ones I’m not so proud of, and make my heroine’s story “real” or I can withhold myself and let the writing stay flat. This isn’t easy. Nothing worth while is.
I don’t think it matters which genre you write. I think all of us expose ourselves one way or another in our stories. What about you? How do you expose yourself in your writing?
Monday, November 16, 2009
Today's word I mistakenly thought meant new was noir. For those like me, didn't know it or have it right, it means "Of or relating to a genre of crime literature featuring tough, cynical characters and bleak settings."
Maybe I was thinking of the word neo. No. Not of the Matrix. It means "recent or new."
Now after that lesson, why do I believe it's time for little muppets to come dancing out of the shadows?
Saturday, November 14, 2009
I was watching So You Think You Can Dance last night (yes, I can't live without my DVR--I never watch live TV anymore), and something the judges kept saying caught my attention.
The gist was that if the dancers got "into character" and put the appropriate emotion in the performance, they could get away with a few technical errors. But, the opposite was not true. A flawless technical performance lacking emotion or story was not enough to cut it.
I think the same could be applied to writing. Grammatical problems or minor plot issues can be overcome with a great voice and style. It's more about the execution of the story, than its mechanics.
As I was flipping through The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman at BAM today, I was happy to see that he agreed. He basically said that execution was more important than plot for catching an editor's or agent's eye. If they don't get past the execution, they'll never read enough to get the plot anyway.
Not that we can afford to discount grammar or other technical issues--after all, we need to put our best foot forward--but we shouldn't forget that in the end, the story and how we tell it is what will grab the reader.
I guess I'd say, "Always improve your craft, but don't forget your voice."
The Daily Squirrel: soap (what's this?)
The scent of gardenias filled the steamy shower as she worked up a lather on the bar of soap. A familiar peace settled over her as her slick hands washed away the sweat and the lingering odor of cigarettes. Some day soon, she'd finish her degree, and she'd never have to work in a smoky bar again.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Again, the simple goal of writing screams for my attention.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Sunday, November 08, 2009
We all have relatives we'd rather not talk about or at least rather not have at the family reunion. I've noticed that in many romance stories the hero and heroine either have no family at all or have a family that makes the Addams family look normal. It got me thinking.
Some secondary characters are a necessary part of the story, to keep it moving. We can write them in and out of the story at will. When it comes to relatives it's a little bit harder. Have you ever made a hero or heroine an orphan only child because you just don't want to fool with the relatives? Have you ever added and eccentric relative only to have them take over the story and run with it? Do you ever think your writing about relatives is born of your own familial experience or do you try to keep your family out of it? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Inquiring minds want to know.
Those of us who were born and raised in the South or at least by a Southern Mama (that would be me) know that in the South you don't ask if there is insanity in the family. You just ask which side it's on. I love Jeff Foxworthy's take on it when he says you get into the car after the family reunion, look at each other and say "What is wrong with those people?" In my family we invite "those people" to the reunion just for the entertainment factor. (Don't tell my Mom. She thinks we're being nice.) And don't even get me started on my Yankee cousins.
So, how about it. Would your relatives recognize themselves if they read your novel? Do you use relatives to spice up your story or as comic relief or are they just too much trouble? What's the best use of relatives in a story you've ever read? or written?
Friday, November 06, 2009
I have handled the registration for the last two years and I am happy to report that many of the people registered this year attended last year's event. Obviously they enjoyed themselves last time.
What's not to like? For the cost of admission you will get a great lunch, sit with an author at a table they host, where you will find a goodie bag awaiting you filled with several books and promotional material from well-known authors. Top that off with our keynote speaker, Anne Stuart, and you have a day guaranteed to please. Did I mention that there will also be a book signing by the authors in attendance?
You're out of luck this year if you don't already have a ticket. This year's event is sold out. Start watching for next year's event on our website during the summer of 2010. You wouldn't want to miss it again.
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Ouch. The reader didn’t like my characters and isn’t sure she will read anything else by me. After wondering if maybe I had stolen her lunchbox on the playground when we were younger, I quickly did what any person would do…I became defensive. And then I started doubting my writing ability and questioning how I could have made the characters and the story better. Regardless that three other people had reviewed and really liked the book, I allowed the one negative comment to kick my confidence and joy of writing out from under me.
Now this self-doubt only lasted a few moments, but I was reminded of something that stayed with me much longer. Count it all joy. Everything—the good, the bad and the ugly—has purpose. The positive and the negative comments make me a stronger and more prolific writer. Both sharpen me—one just feels better than the other! But the negative accomplishes something the positive cannot. It reveals where I am. The bible cautions beware if all men speak well of you. I’ve always viewed that verse in a certain way. Now, as I’m experiencing these “firsts”, my eyes are opened to another aspect of it. If men only spoke good of us, how would we know we are strong enough to handle criticism? Would we be shipwrecked on the shores of self-doubt never able to find the courage or esteem to set sail once more? How would we discover whether our identity and joy is based on something more than our jobs? How would we find out that in the face of adversity we have the fortitude and strength to press forward? Yes, accolades uplift us, but it’s the disappointments that challenge us to rise in the first place.
Monday, November 02, 2009
“Why?” I was aghast, I write paranormals and YA.
She gave a sniff of disdain, “because in the last book I read, it was obvious that the writer doesn’t have children.”
Curious, I asked “really? Give me more specifics.”
She proceeded to tell me about a book she’d read, where the heroine was in her very early teens having the freedom to go out late at night (My mother didn’t allow me, did yours?). Then came the worst thing in her opinion, the characters “had no reaction when they killed others.”
I pondered on what she said, and found it made sense.
As writers, we create worlds, light and dark, which we have to make relevant to the reader. We also have to justify the actions of all of our characters in this world. For example, if the heroine from the story my mother read had a severely dysfunctional family life, than most readers would have accepted the late night wanderings. As for killing, if there had been a reason that those who killed had no reaction, whether it was compartmentalization, revenge, sociopathic tendencies, etc, than the reader could understand (maybe not accept, but they’d go with it).
Imagine if you will, writing about a police officer. Perhaps he comes upon a deadly motor vehicle accident, what do you think he would do? Is this is first one? Or twentieth? Do you think he’d joke around, act nonchalant? Would you? If he does, how would you, as a writer, justify his behavior? This applies to every character and situation. I know when I give my manuscripts to my critique partners; I request that they tell me where the story stops them or where it doesn’t make sense. My greatest fear is to lose the reader, or to turn them away because they don’t believe my reality that I have created.
What do you think? Have you found a story where you could not identify nor believe what was going on? Did it ruin the story for you?
As for me, I am going to continue to write my genres, but now, I wonder, will my mother read it?
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I’m in the moooood again to generate a bit of momentum among the Southern Magic Bloggers. Consider this another shout-out asking all of you to share what you’re doing with your writing career. This is the time of year the publishing houses and agencies get into full swing. Let’s jump in and take advantage. Get that book done. Get those submissions out.
Me? I’m writing and waiting. My two favorite things. Obviously writing is something I love, but you may be questioning my sanity on the waiting. Simply put, I think of waiting the same as I do rejection letters. I’m putting myself out there and I’m submitting. Which is better than doing nothing.
I’m writing at least 5,000 words a week (and will be finished with this current book by Thanksgiving). I’m waiting to hear results on two contests (maybe you’ve heard of The Linda Howard AoE? Of course you have). I still have to send two entries into the Golden Heart. I have full manuscripts with two agents and two editors. I have a partial with another. So when I’m not writing, I’m waiting. And waiting.
Waiting is a good thing.
BUUUUUT, on days like today when waiting feels like slogging through life in slow motion, I need a little help from my writing friends. So I’m counting on my writing peeps today to give me updates. Fuel the blog fire! Let me know what you’re doing!
I want EVERY morsel. Contest hopes. Agent submissions. Editor requests. Conference plans. Reeeaaders Luncheon???
(SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: Southern Magic Readers Luncheon / November 7, 2009 at the Homewood Library / Please see http://southernmagic.org/luncheon.html for further details.)
Okay, let’s have it. I want details!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Now, I know what you’re saying. But, Scrooge doesn’t repent until the end of the story, so what’s the diff? I will tell you. The difference is "A Christmas Carol" is not a romance. For a romance to work, you have to believe in the love story, and at the end of this movie I remained unconvinced. Bottom line, the hero was not sufficiently redeemed and/or redeemed too late to invest me in the love story. He was a jerk at the beginning of the movie, and he was still pretty much a jerk at the end of the movie, in my humble opinion.
In Mary Balogh’s historical romance "At Last Comes Love," you are led to believe that Duncan, the hero, is a libertine and a scoundrel of the worst order. Now, having read all of Ms. Balogh’s delightful books, I was introduced to Margaret, the heroine, in two previous romances. Having faith in one of my favorite writers, I knew all could not be as it seemed. I kept moving forward, even though Duncan lacked much to be desired as a hero. Sure enough, midway through the book, the reader learns not only is Duncan not the scoundrel he has been painted, he is a noble, self-sacrificing knight in shining armor, a hero of heroes and an-all-round-swell guy. He is totally redeemed, the love story makes you sigh with envy, both as a woman married to a mere mortal and as a writer, and you completely, absolutely and without a doubt believe in the love story.
So, do our heroes and heroines have to be Pollyanna perfect? Of course not, that would be boring. I love flawed characters. They are interesting. But, at the end of the day, I believe they have to be lovable in order for the reader to become invested in the romance, to believe in their happily-ever-after.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Some years ago, I sat on a committee that oversaw extra activities for the company’s employees. My special activity was the Toastmasters meetings. I didn’t join in the meeting itself, but mainly attended a few times, making myself available for questions or complaints from the members.
I found so much of what they did fascinating. At each meeting, two or three members would stand up and give a speech about anything. It could be about the best method of mowing their grass to the last time they went deer hunting. After the speech the others members would give critiques, such as whether the speaker used “ahs” or stared down at a sheet of paper or read from notes or slouched, etc. Of course, they also mentioned positives like speaking clearly and at the right tone, smiling (unless it’s a sad or negative subject) and using moderate hands movements.
You know me and lists. Something to keep in mind.
1) Be prepared and know the subject. Practice your speech.
2) Show enthusiasm for what you’re talking about. Smile. You will be surprised how it will relax you. The crowd will be attentive as they want to know what has gotten you so excited.
3) Stand up straight. Not scared stiff, but more of "I’m so proud to be standing in front of you."
4) Don’t play with your notes. The audience will watch your hands instead of your face. That’s not good.
5) Pretend you’re talking with a roomful of friends. They want to hear what you have to say so they can learn something.
You’re asking, why am I telling you all this? I believe as writers, there may come a time someone will ask you to stand up and talk about your book or your special way to plot or whatever strength you possess. You better be prepared. I recommend either joining the Toastmasters or purchasing a book about the subject.
To promote your books, you want to present yourself in the best light. If a speaker rambles on, tells you nothing and varies from high to low tones with lots of ahs, would you wonder about her writing? I would.
Just warning you...LOL!
Side note about practicing your speech: My lunch buddies at work have heard a few of my speeches and they probably know more about writing now than they ever dreamed of.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I used to spend a lot of time listening to other people talk (no, really). Leonard Lopate (my absolute favorite), Dr. Oz, Jean Chatzky, NPR, and BBC filled my non-reading, solitary time. I had a whole spate of podcasts on everything from lean manufacturing to grammar. I listened while I walked the dog, drove the car, mowed the lawn, painted a room, worked out, got ready in the morning…you name it.
Then one day, I decided to try writing again, and suddenly all of that listening material got in the way. If someone else was talking, I couldn’t hear myself think about my story and my characters. I dropped all of my podcasts and radio shows in favor of using that precious solitary time to think about my writing.
The downside is that I’m no longer exposed to the thoughts and ideas that actually might provide more fodder for my books. And, I miss the interviews with authors, curators, politicians, performers, lexicographers, grammarians, chefs, financial gurus, scientists, and heroes.
Maybe it’s time to stop listening only to myself and start listening to more interesting people again.
Maybe a fantastic story idea is actually lurking in the next podcast.
Maybe I can find a way to catch my favorite topics without consuming all of my spare time.
“Honey! What’s that iTunes password again?”
What have you given up for your writing, and could you find a way to get at least part of it back?