Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Praying Your Way Out of Plotting Hell

My CP and I have heated plotting sessions. We pick each others plots apart to the point they look like something from an autopsy table on CSI. We aren't being mean or vindictive. We simply refuse to let each other write stories with weak, implausible or overdone plots. Or at least that is what we strive for when we pick up our carving knives and go at it.

However, sometimes we land on that perfect story, with that perfect hero and heroine and we have the beginnings of the perfect plot. 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

And Your Little Dog Too!

Where else can you find Southern Magic - the Birmingham chapter of the Romance Writers of America?

Southern Magic's MySpace
Twitter (SouthernMagicRW)
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

New Beginnings

You know you are getting older when you hear yourself saying to anyone who will listen, "I can't believe it's already the end of the year." It really is true; time seems to go faster as you get older. Not that I will admit to being old, just older.

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!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Gift of Story

The shiny paper, the glossy ribbons, and odd shapes of gifts intrigue me. I want to shake it, peek inside, and open them. I imagine what it could be, sometimes I am pleasantly surprised (that IPOD touch was very nice), or not pleasantly surprised (Socks).

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


When I sit down to write a new story, one of the most important decisions I make is to name my characters. A character’s name says a lot about them. It paints a mental picture in the reader’s mind. It must fit the character and embody that certain ‘something’ you want to get across. Should your heroine’s name be cute, feisty or dramatic? Whimsical or unusual? What do you want your hero’s name to say about him? Is he macho, mysterious, sexy, dangerous or misunderstood? Names have a power and magic of their own, and the names you choose for your characters can enhance or detract from the story.

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

Finding Inspiration on You Tube

I've had a terrible month. So much, in fact, that every time I sat to write this blog, it ended negative and depressing. Several humbugs at the office zapped the hope and good cheer right out of me last week.

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?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday Open House today! (And some inspirational chatter)

Hey, y'all! Today is the Holiday Open House over at eHarlequin! Pop over and chat with the authors -- there are prizes too! There will be live chats, and also just chatting all day long in the Open House threads.

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

Do You Still Read?

I have been following the discussion on the RWACraft loop about reading. Apparently it was triggered by comments at the conference this past summer - Linda Howard rarely reads anymore, Nora Roberts believes reading is extremely important - or at least that's what has been quoted. Some people have given up reading for pleasure. Others read but not in the genre they write. And others believe they can't possibly write well unless they also read.

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

A Classic Tale

This evening I watched the 2003 version of PETER PAN. I have to say PETER PAN is up there with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST as one of my favorite classic stories.

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

The pirate and the pack rat

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) later for usable material.

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.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Calendars, Christmas and Cards--The Daze has Set In

Okay, this was going to be my personal blog post, but I completely forgot to post on the RM blog this morning. It wasn't until my good CP emailed me to remind me of my duties, that I figured out I had to do the blog today.

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?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Are We Having Fun Yet ?

This post is a product of a conversation I had with a friend who has decided to give up writing. Bummed me out. She's really talented - great insight, quirky humor, sense of the dramatic and adventurous is spot on. She'd set a goal in January of finishing her second book by October and entering it in the Golden Heart. Didn't make it so now she's done. Makes me sad and also makes me wonder.

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

Let Me Be The Judge Of That

As many of you know, we are in the middle of judging the entries for the Linda Howard Award of Excellence Contest. Like the marines, we are still looking for a few good men--oops, I should say, men or women--to judge the remaining entries.

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 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?