Saturday, February 26, 2011

Great Expectations

Two lessons I took to heart from my parents: never do anything halfway and never give up. As a result, I'm an "all-or-nothing" and "never-give-up" kind of gal. Normally, this works for me. But, I have to admit, it almost killed the writer in me.

If you don't already know, I struggle to make chair time. I believe there is always an opportunity to write, but my expectations regarding how much I could get done during an opportunity have been unrealistic, to say the least. When I didn't meet these expectations, the "all-or-nothing" part of me began to question whether I was really committed to writing. Because, in my mind, if I really wanted it, I'd make those unrealistic expectations (let's say completing a book in three or four months) a reality.

I was bummed when I didn't make it a reality and wondered if I was on the right track. I went long stretches without writing a word, which, of course, only made me question my committment more and made me feel guilty because it felt like I was giving up on something I truly loved. I rode this ride for longer than I care to admit.

Then, last month I read Ken Scholes's post on genreality.net: Expectations Versus Reality, Part Deux. In it, he discussed the fact that his expectations of work product were not realistic to the reality of his life. It made me realize that neither were mine.

Like so many, my life is full. And I have finally accepted that my day-to-day life only has so much room in it. If I manage ten pages a week, it really has been a productive writing week (for me). Finally, I've shaken the cycle and hopefully I will actually accomplish my goal to finish a book (this calendar year) - guilt free.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why Aren’t You Published Yet ? (How Clint Eastwood Taught Me How to Answer That Question and Avoid Committing Justifiable Homicide.)

Everyone who has ever had a family member, coworker, friend or just a really annoying person ask them that question, raise your hand. Okay, now unclench your teeth (or your fist) and relax, grab a cold beverage (adult beverage if necessary) and a handful of chocolate. You’re among friends here. I think I can safely assume we have all heard, at some point on our writing journey, one or more of the following :

“Weren’t you writing a book? What ever happened with that?

“Man, how long does it take to get a book published?”

“I thought you were writing a book. Why are you still working here?”

“I can’t believe it takes this long to get published. Maybe you should try something else.”

“Are you STILL working on that book? Why don’t you try to get it published or something?” (No idea what ‘or something’ is. Probably don’t want to know.)

“You’ve been working on that book so long I thought you’d be rich and famous by now.”


I am sure we have all come up with some really snappy answers to the question AFTER the well-meaning (we’ll call them well-meaning – want to keep the blog PG) person has shaken their head and walked away mumbling “She must be a lousy writer if she ain’t published by now.” And if you HAVE come up with some snappy answers, please feel free to share with the group. I’d love to have five or six gems written on index cards so I can whip them out faster than Dirty Harry in pursuit of a scumbag.

BANG! BANG BANG!!

Take that you well-meaning scumbag, I mean person.

Ask again. Go ahead. I dare you.

You gotta’ ask yourself – Did she just whip out five snappy comebacks or six?

Do you feel lucky?

Sorry. Where were we? Oh, yes. Snappy comebacks. I have arrived at a solution to the anger, confusion, exasperation and sometimes barely contained urged to kill (or at least pummel mercilessly) that often overwhelm me when the twentieth person that day sees me working away on my manuscript during my lunch hour and asks one of those really irritating questions. How? By remembering that all possible answers to these questions fall into three categories :

The Good

The Bad

and

The Ugly


Question : Why aren’t you published yet ?

Good Answers :

Well, you know, it is a business of hurry up and wait.

The right editor just hasn’t read my book yet.

I expect to hear good news any day now. Thanks for asking.

Note : Answers like this are much more convincing if they aren’t delivered through ground teeth accompanied by bulging eyes with your nose inches from the
other person’s face.

Bad Answers :

Because all of the editors in New York are idiots and wouldn’t know a best seller if it walked into their office and bit them.

Because all people want to read about now are stupid vampires and I don’t write sex scenes with dead people in them. Nobody should read that crap.

Because the only way to get published these days is to know somebody in the business, the romance writing business is all one big hoity toity clique. (Actually heard this one at a conference!)

Ugly Answers :

They’re all just jealous because I’m such a great writer and they’re not.

Because Nora Roberts is hogging all the shelf space in the stores and editors won’t buy anyone new until she dies! (Actually heard this one too. Wasn’t pretty. Alcohol was involved.)

I don’t know, but you just wait. Once I’m dead they’re going to find my manuscripts and fall so in love with my writing that they’ll want to publish them all, but I’m leaving instructions in my will that they all be BURNED on the courthouse square.


Note :
If you hear this one back slowly toward the nearest exit and make a run for it. There is nothing more dangerous than a writer who has finally crossed the line from “She’s that woman who writes all the time. I think she’s writing a book.” to “You’re not going to believe who is on the six o’ clock news barricaded in the Starbucks demanding Hugh Jackman play the hero in the film version of her book.”

The truth is, questions like these very often hurt our feelings, tick us off, or worst of all – make us doubt the possibility of our dreams. There are even fellow writers who will tell you that with the economy and the increase in e-publishing and self publishing your chances of getting an editor to buy your book are shrinking by the nanosecond.

The most important question is the one you ask yourself. As hard as this is, why do I keep writing? Why do I keep trying, submitting, querying? What’s the point? Only you can answer that question. And sometimes we have to answer it every day. I know I do. And every day I come up with the same answer.

This is what I was born to do. This is my dream of dreams. And I have the right to try for it, to strive for it and with hard work to achieve it no matter what the circumstances. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. It’s what I am. And yeah, Clint, every time my agent sends one of my books out on submission I DO feel lucky. Think of all the people who thought they wanted this and never got this far.

Why aren’t I published yet? My answer is the same today as it was yesterday and as it will be every day until I get The Call.

I expect to hear good news any day now. Thanks for asking.


What about you? What are some Good, Bad or Ugly responses you’ve used or thought about using in the inevitable event you are asked?

And do you think murdering the person who keeps asking day after day after day is justifiable homicide? (Remember a friend will help you move. A great friend will help you move a body!)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

1000 and Counting

A chapter mate was nice enough to point out that this blog is number one thousand in the series. If that was not enough to contemplate, she also pointed out it would be debuting on 2/22/11.

Now, with those facts weighing heavily on my mind, I sat down at the computer prepared to tackle this momentous occasion. Surely, the magical qualities of the date will instill me with inspiration. The cosmos are in alignment--I can feel it.

So I sit. And, I sit. And, I look at what I have written, longing for further inspiration. So far, nothing. Then it dawns on me. This post is a beginning and a continuation. A beginning of the next 1000 posts where writers talk about their craft.

We are at different stages of our careers but we have one thing in common. We're dedicated to storytelling and take comfort in the association with others who do the same. Along the way we share our achievements, our disappointments and rejoice when a chaptermate reaches a goal. I know I can depend on this no matter what.

That is where the continuation comes in to play. If I have learned anything in the past four years, it is that I can rely on the support of my fellow Romance Magicians no matter what happens. This having been said, I am honored to have been able to write the 1000th post on this blog.

Now, as to the magical properties of the 2/22/11 date--it will either mean success in my writing this year or my lottery numbers will come up this evening. Either way, I'm up for it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sensing Your Story

Back in April 2006, Paula Graves wrote this wonderful post and I wanted to share it with you again. Be sure to pick up Paula's newest Intrigue coming out in April 2011, HITCHED AND HUNTED.

The five senses are vital to how we as humans experience the world around us. Sight and sound get the most attention because they're more vital to our physical well-being (sight allows us to maneuver through our obstacle-filled world, sound gives us warnings and helps us communicate). It's no surprise, therefore, that they're the senses that we instinctively try to describe in our books. However, the other three senses can be vital to drawing your reader fully into the world you're creating in your story.

SMELL

Did you know that your sense of smell is extremely important to recalling memories? The sense of smell evokes memories in a way that no other senses do. The sense of smell is also key to how we process our environment--we can actually smell fear, though we don't necessarily process it consciously. The sense of smell can play an important role in your story, whether it's the scent of a lover evoking a memory, the acrid odor of smoke giving warning of danger, or the smell of home cooking whetting an appetite--and your description of those smells will bring about a similar reaction in the reader, drawing her deeper into your story.

For more information about the sense of smell, this article is chock full of scientific information that could provide fodder for ways you could use the sense of smell in your stories.


TOUCH

Touch is especially important in romances because touch is vital to intimacy. The obvious use of touch is in love scenes, where touch is key to building sexual closeness and giving pleasure. But touch has other uses in fiction. Where, when, how and how often characters touch each other helps convey to a reader whether or not the relationship is advancing or retreating. People in harmony touch each other almost without thinking. For people in conflict, however, touch is like a loaded weapon. They weigh the consequences of touch--will he read the wrong message into it? Will it bring us closer? Will I be able to stop touching him even though I don't trust him? Will my touch make him as vulnerable to me as I am to him?

Characters who have been in harmony--and therefore touching each other often--may stop touching when they are hiding things from each other, out of fear that they may convey by touch the secrets they're trying to keep from one another. Use the sense of touch to give your readers cues to the emotional state of the characters and their relationship with one another.


TASTE

Sometimes I think taste is the hardest sense to write, for a couple of reasons. First, people usually can't choose what they see, hear or smell, and sometimes they can't help what they feel with their sense of touch. But generally, people can choose what they taste, and they can be very picky about it! For instance, I love salsa, mushrooms and sweet red peppers. My best friend Jenn won't eat any of those, and no matter how beautifully I describe the way those things taste to me, she's not going to be impressed. So I can find it intimidating to write about tastes. Taste is so subjective.

Second, taste is the sense that is most intricately intertwined with other senses. For instance, have you ever eaten a food that you didn't like because you didn't like the texture of it in your mouth? My friend Jenn doesn't like mushrooms because of how they feel on her tongue. And how many people won't eat a crawfish because of how it looks on the plate? Plus, taste is particularly bound to smell; scientists believe that 75% of what we call taste is actually smell. (Have you ever noticed that when you have a bad head cold, and your nose is stuffed up, your food doesn't taste as good? That's why).

However, taste can bring a lot of texture to your story. When I describe the "chalky, fake-orange" taste of antacids my character is chewing, you can imagine it. You can understand his grimace of distaste, get a sense of just how churned up his stomach must be for him to be eating antacids like candy. If I have my heroine becoming nearly orgasmic over the rich, sweet-tart taste of a chocolate-covered strawberry, you can imagine why the hero's eyes glaze over and his jeans feel a little too tight as he watches her eat it.


So remember, when you're writing your story, try to engage all of your reader's senses. It's the best way to suck her into the world of your story and the lives of your characters.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Is Writing a Solitary Pursuit?

Friendship makes prosperity more shining and lessons adversity by dividing and sharing it.
--Cicero 106BC-43 BC)


Writing is a solitary pursuit.

I disagree.

I've always written. I scrawled down short stories, scenes, and plots. It wasn't until a friend of mine challenged me to enter a contest that I became serious. Together we worked on our stories, bouncing off ideas, supporting each other when we felt it was an impossible task. I finished my story and so did she--we entered that contest.

Neither of us won.

I learned a few things:
  1. Writing is a craft and I had a LOT to learn.
  2. My friend was a valued resource as I wrote.

I've continued to write--and the my circle of writing friends and critique partners have grown. They bring with them their own set of skills. I find that these relationships have enriched my writing and personal life.

Below I've listed some of the gifts/skills my friends bring to me. I just hope that I give the same to them:

  • Cheer leaders: They encourage, harass, and push so I get my stories done
  • Plotters/Brainstorm: I bounce ideas with them--it motivates me.
  • Detail: They point out flaws in my story, or help me clarify what I've missed.
  • Grammar: One whom I am eternally grateful for--helps me dig me out of grammar hell.
  • Challenge: There are a few of us who challenge each other--one chapter a week. No matter how bad and send it. (no-one reads it...its the fact you finished it that counts)
  • Beta Readers. That they want to read it, thrills me.
  • Laughter: Friends who make you laugh are worth their weight in gold.
  • Support: I have a friend who will always have a pot of tea (or a glass of wine) when I need it--and a good meal to celebrate.
  • Venting: Yes, we all need at times to vent. It is the good friend who listens and commiserates in your misery. It is the great friend that doesn't allow you to wallow in it.
  • Misc: You know, there is always a friend that is exactly what you need when you need it.

Many of these friends I have not met in person, but it doesn't lesson their value to me. I try to give to them as much as they give to me. Its amazing how one sentence of support can make your day after you've re-written that chapter five times.

Ultimately, I have to write the book or the story-by myself. I have to sit down and put it on the page, but I am not alone. At any time I can pick up the phone or send a panicked email to one of my friends and help is on the way.

So, what do you think? Is writing a solitary pursuit? Or do you have a circle of friends/critique partners that help?

Like the quote above, my friendships make everything brighter--even writing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Call



It was a Wednesday morning and I was sitting at my computer when the phone rang. I grumbled to myself and got up to answer it, quite sure it was another attempt to sell me something. Caller ID said Harlequin Enterprises. Not an attempt to sell me something. I immediately went into shock. Six days before, my full manuscript had arrived at their office. And no one at Harlequin has time to call to personally reject you. Somehow I managed to answer the phone before voicemail beat me to it.

It was Tina James, Senior Editor for the Love Inspired Historical line and she sounded excited. She said wonderful things about my African missionary romance and offered me a contract. I did think clearly enough to write down the details of what she was telling me and told her I would get back with her no later than Friday.

I spent the rest of the day in a complete daze. I know that I was supposed to shout, cry, and dance, but instead I just felt like I needed to go lie down.

I was just that overwhelmed.

I called my husband. I called my critique partner. I called family and friends. I Facebooked it. And still it just didn’t seem real. Six days? Really?

Oh, and it was coming out in November of 2011. Yes, this year. That fast. Can you see why I felt the need to lie down?

After a good night’s sleep I got up with this little grin on my face. I’d moved from shock to happy, happy land. I kept the grin for the next four days while I acquired an agent, formalized contract details, took notes on some minor revisions needed, and moved into high gear about getting a website up and running.

Since then I’ve completed revisions, written a bio, a dedication, a Dear Reader letter, and twelve discussion questions. I’ve almost finished my Art Fact Sheet for the cover, and am about to tackle writing the content for the new website. There’s still the new Facebook page, the retailer bio, planning promotions, and finishing the rest of the research for book two.

I feel like I grabbed the shirttail of a whirlwind and got sucked up into the ride.

Fun ride.


I hear the next big thrill comes when I get my author copies. I can’t wait to see them.

The Doctor’s Mission releases November 2011. Here’s a short blurb:


William Mayweather is a dedicated missionary determined to reach the remote Kru and Pahn tribal groups in 1918 Liberia, Africa. William is following in the footsteps of the beloved uncle who raised him, a man who was martyred at the hands of a hostile Pahn tribe. William never expected his initial efforts would cost the life of his young wife to malaria. He returns to the mission field after a mandatory compassionate leave, but this time he’s adamant his mission will not involve putting any of the fairer sex in harm’s way.
Mary O’Hara is an unconventional woman who defies expectations for women in the 1900’s. She makes a bold choice by responding to the Red Cross efforts recruiting female physicians for the WWI troops in France. Only it’s a choice that ends in heartache when her brother dies on her operating table at the battle of Argonne, and she’s disowned by her grieving family. Wanting to atone for her brother’s death, Mary answers a recruiting call from the Liberian Mission Board in post-Armistice France. She’s prepared to go head-to-head with the handsome, opinionated missionary to achieve her goal. But is she prepared to have feelings for the handsome pastor, who wants nothing more than for her to leave the dangerous jungle interior?

Have you ever gotten “The Call” or something like it? Maybe you won a contest, were elected to something you really wanted, or were chosen for some honor? What was that special moment for you?

Monday, February 14, 2011

What’s a romance writer thinking about on Valentine’s Day?

Not romance. At least not today.

I read a great blog the other day and just had to share (“The Smartest Writing Advice I Ever Got,” found over at the Seekerville blog). I love blogs like this, with tidbits from various authors about the secrets to their success and/or what they’ve learned from years in the trenches.

The blog made me think quite a bit. I’ve been lucky to know so many writers who have shared their ups and downs in this tough profession. It’s difficult to choose one piece of advice that stands out from the rest. But after much contemplation, I have to say the best advice I’ve received on writing is to take readers’ opinions (whether contest judges, CPs, book reviewers, family, or friends) as exactly that—just opinions, good or bad. I’m not including agents and editors here because that’s a different scenario.

Like most writers, I'm sincere in keeping an open mind to suggestions that could make my writing better. Still, there’s a tendency to cling to my original ideas, style, and delivery, because my work is, after all, MY work. I've tried to develop a good filter when receiving feedback—to know what to listen to and what to discard—but some days walking that fine line can be tedious ...to considering others’ ideas without compromising my original vision. Tweaking paragraphs here or there is no problem. Anyone who has written long enough can do this with relative ease. But those major revisions? The suggestions that could potentially change the entire story? Yeah, gives you a knot in your stomach just to think about, doesn’t it?

After editing my work and others' for so many years, I would think I should have more of a gut instinct about revisions. I don't. Not yet. I still torture myself for days, even weeks, when contemplating revision suggestions. When to let go or when to hold on. Ugh. It's enough to make a writer crazy.

So tell me, how do YOU know whether to use or dump a big revision suggestion? What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Writing even when you don't feel like it

Hey, fellow SMers! Hope your Saturday is going well. I'm off in a few moments to our sister chapter's meeting, and I'm on a crazy deadline at the moment as well, so naturally I flaked when it came to preparing a post for today.

But I want to share a post with you that I put on my blog just this week. I had a lot of comments, and one person who disagreed with me. I'm pasting the blog here, but also including the link if you want to read comments (where we argued a bit, ha).

What do you think?

***

WRITING EVEN WHEN YOU DON'T FEEL LIKE IT

That’s what being a professional writer is all about. Did you know that? It’s not about waking up each morning with birds singing, wonderful emails from fans the world over, and breakfast in bed prepared by the household staff and served on real china with real silver and a real teapot, etc.

No, being a professional writer is about dragging your sorry butt out of the bed even though your dreams seem more interesting than the book you’re working on. It’s about brushing your teeth, wrapping your hair in a scrunchie, and turning on the coffee or the kettle. It’s about getting that hot cup of motivation (mine happens to be decaf these days) and going to your writing place. Mine is an office upstairs in my house.

It’s about opening the document and staring at the words, thinking they are probably the worst words ever written and that your career is most certainly over, and then clicking over to email, Facebook, and Twitter to waste time rather than face the task.

And then you might get the lovely surprise of a nasty review, or the news that your book is the only one not in the top whatever of Amazon while all the rest of the books in your line that month are. You might want to go back to bed and cry, or turn off the computer and swear you’re giving up because this is too hard.

But you can’t. Because you’re a professional and you signed on the dotted line and someone is expecting delivery of this monstrous piece of junk in a few weeks (if you’re lucky) or a few days (if you aren’t). You. Must. Deliver.

And because you are a professional, you will. You will tackle that manuscript like it’s you or it (which it is) and you will somehow, eventually, win the battle. You may even like it when you’re done. You may be pleasantly surprised, and you may cry and laugh and tell the cat what a genius you are. (The cat doesn’t care, but say it anyway.)

And then, if your editor thinks it’s not as good as you think it is, you may get it back with a letter that tells you what you need to do. The process of crying and foot dragging will start all over again, but you’ll wrestle the beast once more and you will, eventually, win.

If you really are a professional, you will do this even if you didn’t sign on the dotted line. Because you want to sign on that line and you better get used to the pain now. You have to write even when you don’t really feel like it. Some days, you won’t feel like it. Other days, you can imagine nothing more fun in this world that sitting at the computer in your jammies and making stuff up.

But the truth, dear friends, that I’ve learned after nearly 3 years in the published trenches is this: it doesn’t get easier. It usually gets harder. Better prepare for it now.

And with that piece of hard fought wisdom, I’m back to the trenches to battle these revisions. I will definitely win–but I’ll probably get a bit bloodied in the process.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Getting the Most Out of RWA Nationals

Whoo hoo!  I am registered for RWA Nationals in New York.  I cannot wait.  It is a wonderful, shiny treat waiting on my calendar.  This will be the first time I've attended.

I've checked the schedule on the RWA's website several times.  I've started packing (mentally).  But I have no idea of what to really expect.  While I've been to other conferences, I haven't attended anything of this scale/magnitude. I want to make sure I get as much as I possibly can out of this wonderful experience.

For those who've attended RWA Nationals in the past, I would love your advice on how to maximize the benefit of the conference.  All suggestions are welcome!

(I may be slow in responding to everyone's comments today, but I'm not ignoring you. Work is holding me hostage, so it may be this evening before I can check in)

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A Modest Dream

On the rollercoaster ride of everyday life, I sublimate passion in favor of calm reason. I don’t scream or cry or tear out my hair or snatch a handgun from my purse. My life is not novel-worthy.

So when was my last passionate moment? (Oh, stop. I’m not telling about THAT!) I’m talking about an uncontrolled show of emotion. A don’t-get-in-my-way kind of passion.

I have to reach way, way back for this. And I find myself thinking about the way I read as a child. And what did reading deliver to excite this kind of passion? Escape!

A few years ago (I stopped counting how many) I started setting aside serious chunks of time to learn to write something that matters. Skeptics may say that romantic comedy doesn’t matter.

But look at it this way. Nothing is more important to a grim world than allowing people a chance to escape, to dream big dreams, to reach beyond the communities they’re living in to catch a glimpse of a bigger world where people take risks to triumph over small or great evils. In practicing and visualizing heroic action in fiction, they begin to grow, to understand themselves, to try harder, to love better, to live honestly, to become heroic in real life.

Fiction ennobles character. So that’s my passion. I want to give the world hope, couched in story.

Modest dream, eh? What’s yours?

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Getting Beyond Voice

Since I've started writing fiction and paying attention to writing about writing, I've read a lot about this magical, mystical thing that people call "voice."  You have to develop/stay true to/find your unique voice.  This strikes me as about as meaningful as my freshman students when they used to talk about writing that "flows."  Both terms have essential importance to good writing, but very few people know how to define either much less explain how to accomplish them.

So I'd like to make a suggestion to anyone out there worrying about their "voice."

Forget about it.

Back sometime around when time began, Edgar Allen Poe wrote a review of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice Told Tales.  (I know, I know.  Boring Dead White Guys.)  Here's what he wrote:


A skillful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents- he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect. . . . In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction. 

So what can these BSWGs teach us about our own craft?  Actually, quite a bit.

You see, when Hawthorne sat down to write his stories, he wasn't only thinking about being a Great Writer that students would someday be forced to trudge through.  He wasn't that much different from any of us as he sat in the Custom House, compelled to write even as he had to work to put food on his table.  He was thinking about making a sale, reaching a public.  That's not to say that he didn't have literary merit in mind.  We who write commercial fiction know that the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Poe saw something in Hawthorne's writing that I think we who worry about this mysterious thing called voice can learn from: it's not about you--it's about the story.  Everything that goes into the story has to be selected purposefully, but more than that, it has to do more than just fit a plot that's already been predetermined. To put it simply, writing, literature is best when it's about more than getting from point A to point B.

Here's an example:

Death, with all its cruel beauty, lived in the bayou.  It's shadows ran deep.  Cloaked by them, a whisper in the marsh grass or rushes, in the tangled trap of the kudzy, meant life, or fresh death.  It's breath was thick and green, and its eyes gleamed yellow in the dark.  Silent as a snake, its river swam a sinuous line--black water under a fat white moon where the cypress knees broke the surface like bones piercing skin.

This passage gives me chills.  It did the first time I read it; it still does now.  It's the opening lines from the prologue of Nora Roberts' Midnight Bayou, and it's about as perfect as a passage can get.  Every detail, every adjective works to create an overall sense of unease and danger.  Even the rhythm of the sentences--long, complex sentences that build detail upon detail--works to give the effect of something mounting, building.  And that something isn't going to be good.  Not even 100 words into the novel, and the reader already knows that danger is ahead, but that it will be a danger wrapped in the lushness of its setting.

It's why Roberts is an absolute master of her craft--every bit as good as any of the BDQGs that we study in school.  It's also why a Nora Roberts book sounds like a Nora Roberts Book.  The details she selects, the words she crafts, the way that setting and atmosphere are always interwoven into the fabric of her characters and their journey--those are her signatures.  Even in her early Silhouette series work, you can see her learning how to manipulate language so that every word is there for a reason. 

But I doubt she ever worried about voice.  Her books sound like her because she has a unique approach to what she finds important, moving, and essential to her stories.  Her works tend to be heavy on atmosphere and her writing tends to have that same cumulative, building rhythm that the above quote has.  Because of her unique perspective, her unique relationship to language, her works stand out as hers.  It's the same with any author, from Faulkner's long sonorous sentences (he really talked like that) to Julia Quinn's brilliantly funny and wickedly sharp dialogs. 

Which is not to say that voice isn't important.  It it. But I don't think it's something that you can consciously craft.  That feels a bit like putting the cart before the horse, to me.  I think that it's something that comes out of learning the craft of writing, and as Poe suggests, one of the essential elements of the craft is creating an overall effect.

We can't control voice, but we can control the effect we want our words to have.  We can ruthlessly pare down our prose so that only what's absolutely essential remains.  We can become more conscious of our own bad habits, whether they be grammatical or structural.  We can work diligently to make sure that every sentence of the text builds towards a certain effect.  We can try to work toward an effect rather than just working toward The End.  Those are the things that we as writers can control, and ultimately, those are the techniques that will help us build, shape, and refine our Voice.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Mark Your Calendar: November 5, 2011

Southern Magic (Birmingham RWA Chapter) is proud to present the talented, funny, and USA Today Best Selling VICTORIA DAHL as the keynote speaker at their 2011 Romance Readers Luncheon on November 5, 2011.

Plus their own best selling teen author JENNIFER ECHOLS as the welcome speaker.

Plan to attend and meet these wonderful authors along with a dozen more at our readers luncheon. Location to be determined soon.

Victoria Dahl's bio from her website (http://www.victoriadahl.com/): Victoria Dahl lives with her family in a small town high in the mountains. During the summer she hikes and drinks margaritas (usually not at the same time). During the winter she likes to curl up with a book and a cup of hot cocoa and think about all those poor, freezing skiers working so hard out in the snow.

She’s been reading romance since the age of twelve and started her first manuscript at the age of twenty. Occasionally, on dark and stormy nights, she bravely posts excerpts of that original story on her blog for the entertainment of her readers.

Her first published novel, the winner of the coveted Golden Heart for best long historical romance, debuted in 2007. That same year, Victoria decided to try her hand at writing a contemporary romance. It turned out to be the most fun she’s ever had (while writing). Now she’s fully committed to bouncing between the sexy, dramatic world of historical romance and the sizzling fun of contemporaries.


Jennifer's bio from her website (http://www.jennifer-echols.com/): Jennifer Echols grew up in a small town on a beautiful lake in Alabama--a setting that has inspired many of her books. Always interested in creative writing, she finished her first (and still unpublished) novel soon after graduating with a degree in English from Auburn University at age 20. She worked as an editor for newspapers, a writer for business publications, and a writing instructor for three major universities, completed a master's degree in English, and finished the coursework for a PhD in genre studies before selling a book. Since then, she has written six young adult novels for Simon & Schuster, including Major Crush, which won the National Reader's Choice Award, and Going Too Far, which was a finalist in the RITA, the National Reader's Choice Award, and the Book Buyer's Best, and was nominated by the American Library Association as a Best Book for Young Adults. Her seventh novel for Simon & Schuster, Love Story, will be published on July 19. Currently she works as a freelance copyeditor and lives in Birmingham with her husband and her son.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Top 10 Reasons You Know You're A Writer When...

You know you’re a writer when….

10. You have a reputation at your day job of being a work-aholic. What other reason would you grumble and talk to yourself as you type on your computer during lunch?

9. You write your child’s excuse for an absence and the teacher begs for the last three chapters. She wants to know how it ends.

8. You stir up trouble wherever you go. A story is only as good as the conflict.

7.You get pulled over for a ticket and the officer finally tells you no more questions.

6. You hear some good juicy gossip and then start thinking of a way to use it in a story. “I swear, your honor, I changed their names.”

5. You keep paper and pen on the nightstand. Did you know your relatives think you have a kinky sex life because of it?

4. You eavesdrop in conversations, swearing it’s research. It has nothing to do with the deep spine-tingling voice or his five-foot wide shoulders.

3. You have problems handling small talk. You’re always looking for motivation in the dialogue.

2. You catch yourself wanting to takes notes while someone chews you out. “She bobbed her head as one hand waved in the air.…”

1.You critique your spouse…in bed. “But, baby, there has to be better reason for us to do it now.”

So tell me what you would add to this list?