Sunday, January 31, 2010

You Can Find Me Today on Romance Magicians

I'm blogging on Southern Magic's Romance Magicians' blog. Come visit me and tell me what you think writing a book is like...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What Not to ... Say, Wear, Do, Be... Mirrors of Ourselves

Today I went shopping with my darling daughter, her two friends and a mom friend. Now this isn't about writing. It's about girls and women becoming and being and seeing themselves reflected.

REFLECTED. In mirrors, in their own minds, against societal standards, against their own standards.

We all bring different tableaus to the mirrors we perceive. Teen girls? One says she is too short, too thin, too tall, too heavy, too whatever. The clothes don't fit. They aren't perfect. They criticize themselves. These beautiful, young women see the mirrors in their dressing rooms, the too long too small too tight too short too iffy clothes and evaluate their bodies against themselves, each other, the media pictures.

Fast forward 30 years. Moms. Talking. We bring to the table our wrinkles. Not just facial. Nope. We bring our life wrinkles, too. Are we too old to start again? Are we late? Are we on the right track? What kind of moms are we? Have we set the right? Wrong? Examples?

Me. A mom. Knowing my daughter is beautiful, flawed, not a Miss America contestant, but smart and funny and motivated. Me. A mom. Forcing her daughter to view the mirror. Tears. Oh the body isn't Miss America. But oh, me knowing she is smart, witty, motivated and strong. Me. A mom. Sad. Proud. INCREDIBLY BLESSED.

Later, me and a mom talking about our doubts, our fears, our futures, our daughters.

Life. This is Life. Writing is just an offshoot of this life.

Friday, January 29, 2010

My Writing Quilting Bee

I am slogging away at my revision three chapters at a time per my CP in VA's suggestion. Poof. Hard work. And I'm not hitting a timer or listening for the sand to drop through the hourglass as I work. Nope. Instead, I've found the revision is working out much like one might put together a quilt (my apologies to real quilters as all I know about quilting is the fabrics and what I read about them).

I have a huge bunch of fabric of work that I've carved into small scenes. I've bundled sets of scenes into chapters. I've color-coded the scenes according to hero (blue), heroine (pink), villain (yellow), chapters (pale cream) and unknown scenes/unwritten (white). What is super cool is that I have the MAC Scrivener program and it makes it very easy to see these things on the computer screen, shift them around and not lose a bit of my work in the process. 

Confession: I have an amazing CP (Gwen) who is a super guru tech whiz and she has tons of advice about Scrivener on her blog. Click the link and check out her Tech Tuesdays.

I print out my batches of scenes, edit them hard copy, make notes on them based on what I've read in Maass's books or had the muse send to me (by giving myself time to breath, I actually have found more inspiration and motivation to plow through the dreaded middle) and then I hit the computer and work till my brain fizzles out.

Confession: My brain seems to fizzle out after about 2 hours and then I jump start it with a wee dram of wine.

Today was cool because I could see the whole picture begin to emerge. Scrivener allows me to play and move whole scenes while on a cork board background. Ideas are starting to form. Strange directions are opening up. Now I didn't pound the keys endlessly. I stopped to email and ask questions about certain gun types as well as talk to my CPs in AL and VA. 

But it is coming together. My fabric bits are starting to make sense. I can see where I need to add more fabric or snip some away. I see where the stitching is too loose or too tight. I know the threads I need to pull out and I am picking out new threads to insert into the pattern.

The pattern is there, it's not all put together, but the pattern is starting to create a picture. Now I am excited about the revision.

Confession: I usually need to whine for about 6 chapters and joke around for about 2 of them before excitement kicks in.

*Warning: Whining does resume as I reach the Black Moment/Climax*

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Go Vols! Orange You a Volunteer?

When I lived in Knoxville, TN, the college football team, Tennessee Volunteers for UT, ruled during football season. The locals had sayings like "Orange You a Volunteer?" and Rocky Top Tennessee was a song they sang with gusto and pride.

Tennessee Vols came by their name honestly: history shows them helping out at the Alamo. And future generations have always stepped up to the plate to give aid and assistance in various capacities.

Actually, I find the USA itself to be a country filled with the volunteer spirit. Our rescue teams were the first to show up in Greece, Turkey and now Haiti. Individually, we are a nation of spirited "givers" in churches, schools and organizations. Even our beloved writing organization, the RWA and its sister chapters can't run without its volunteers.

I know. I'm one of them. But not in a big way. How I help is small compared to the help so many others give and to the time others give to RWA and my local chapters, Southern Magic and Heart of Dixie.

So before I go on, let me say THANK YOU. You all rock.

That being said, I want to say, before one volunteers to do a task, know how much time it will take and how it will interfere with your goals; especially your WRITING goals. I evaluate every volunteer duty I agree to do, within the RWA and in my community, in terms of the impact it will have on these things:

1) My family
2) My health
3) My writing time

I also evaluate anything I am asked to do in terms of how they fit into my TOP FIVE PRIORITIES. They are:

1) Family's emotional and physical  health, including my own.
2) Pursuit of a professional writing career
3) Household maintenance-clean, shop, run child here and there
4) Preparing my DD for college; traveling to visit colleges
5) Positive social interactions

If the volunteer activity doesn't enhance or fit into my top five priorities and/or the volunteer activity INTERFERES with these priorities, I say no. No explanations necessary. Period.

Why? Has anyone met that volunteer who says YES to everything any one asks of her/him who then drops the ball because they are TOO BUSY and they use work, life etc as the excuse? I know people like that. I've also made that mistake. I thought I'd stopped making the mistake, but I did say yes to a few things last year that interfered with my writing and my enjoyment of my family because I was so caught up in the moment. I fulfilled my obligations in one instance. In another, I quit citing family reasons. And the next time someone asked me if I would do something, I asked "what is entailed?" And I asked "if life hijacks me, are you okay with me quitting?" After I received my answers, I said yes to both requests.

Face it. One feels a bit "important" and "special" when one is asked to help. One wants to "belong" and volunteering is a way of making friends and becoming part of a group.  People are vulnerable to this compulsion. I was. Especially after a move where I had to make new friends and wanted to fit in.

Lesson learned. I had forgotten my priorities. And before I started this new year, I made sure I had them listed and TAPED to the the cabinet door next to the fridge and my calendar, also next to my writing area, and IN MY PURSE.

I'm not saying don't volunteer, I'm saying volunteer wisely. This is super important for writers, published and unpublished, to remember before they say yes. Many of us have jobs and families taking time away from our writing. If we say yes to everything, when do we write?

Ultimately, if something is going to happen, more than one person should run the show. Many hands make light work. If there aren't enough people saying "yes" then we need to stop and evaluate the production of the show.

So volunteer. Be part of the team. But remember your top priorities and understand how saying yes will impact them. Ask a lot of questions. Evaluate your time commitments first. Say you'll get back to them after you check your calendar. And remember this too, it's okay to say no without explanation.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tea Anyone? A Maass Illumination

I'm currently in revision hell and whenever I come up for air, I try to read a chapter in my WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL book, by DONALD MAASS. Yesterday I plowed through his chapter about plotting the contemporary novel. I'm guilty of committing a lot of the mistakes he writes about: car drives, eating in restaurants, introspection, the too long sequel to the scene. I usually weed out the worst of my writing offenses with each pass through of my WIPS and this current POS is undergoing a similar surgery. But oh man, is it tough!!

*confession: I wrote in the last pages of my GH entry where I knew no one would read the words the following nonsense:

And then they went for a really long car drive to go and eat at a restaurant because my characters get hungry and do things like eating, driving and taking breaks from the action. 

*confession: I needed to reach my word count and I knew I'd cut this almost immediately after I sent of the drek... and it is drek... no doubt about it.

Maass gives a lot of wonderful insight into the writing industry and about how writers need to elevate their writing to the next level. Obviously, if the scene is only a "driving" scene to get the character to and from work, then by all means slash it out. If it's integral to a chase scene and the car careens over a cliff, keep it. The action is great.

Apparently eating isn't all that well received either. Nor is drinking tea... another Maass Illumination:

Certain types of scenes are so reliably low in tension that when reading a manuscript, I count them in my notes with hatch marks ... mulling things over while driving from one place to another, relaxing in the shower, fixing a cup of tea or coffee. Category Romance writers are especially prone to these time wasters. When they complain to me ... that they cannot seem to break "out of category," it is a pretty good bet that their heroines are tea addicts."

My friend, Ellen, in Ireland who keeps a nice blog about writing might laugh at the tea addiction comment. I did. But I also paused because my heroines don't really guzzle a lot of tea. They enjoy the following: chardonnay, cabernet, champagne along with a nice helping of Brie cheese, gourmet crackers and fruit.

Dear Lord! My heroines are lushes! They don't go to restaurants. Mine are hanging out in bars, swank gourmet bistros and at wineries. Oh dear. Now they don't get drunk (tipsy for humorous moments), but they do prefer wine over tea.

Confession: I enjoy drinking the aforementioned alcoholic beverages and have been known to tipple back a martini or two as well.

To combat my heroines' affection for wine and champagne, I often make them very health conscious in other ways. They go to the gym, they jog and they eat very healthy food. My girls do not eat deep fried food unless forced to and they drink the requisite 8 bottles of water per day.

So basically, my heroines are healthy lushes.

Confession: I enjoy hitting the gym, working out with weights, power walking and Wii Sports EA. And I drink at least 8, 8oz glasses of water per day.

My revision work today consisted of doing the following:

*cutting out driving to and from work (aack)
*eliminating my hero's breakfast gourmet java
*no jog for my heroine today
*mulling over things that happened

I did not cut out the scene where my heroine and her BF snuck out to the radio station's engineering room with leftover Rose wine, brie cheese and leftover Valentine's chocolates for their secret meeting.

After all, a girl's got to have her vices.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Write Stuff: Process and Perseverance

As I've had to revise my goals for the year to reflect the new direction of my WIP--transforming a category length romance into a single title length romance with suspense elements--I've battled back a lot of doubt in order to focus on fixing the story. Again.

I've whined. I've had angst. I've been frustrated. I've moaned.

Part of my angst is born out of knowing how much time I will lose when my DH goes into the hospital for his hip replacement. Instead of hours to wrestle my manuscript into shape, I am faced with snatching moments here and there where I can work on a paragraph, a scene, a line, a thought or an idea.

And at first I thought this loss would suck. Yes. It would suck big time. Why? Because I am a Time Queen. I see time as domino blocks. One block neatly lined up with another block until a long line is formed. And I am setting the blocks down. But one false move and the blocks tumble into each other and crash down. Oh, I've been seeing my blocks of time crashing into each other and falling away with each new interruption and distraction I see hovering in my future horizon.

Sigh. Not good.

That's why I was desperate to FINISH the revision by the 31st. Now I realize that was a monumental boulder to place on my shoulders and I have removed the burden by giving myself permission to take my time and let the story evolve.

I admit I've whined about it to my CPs. My CP in VA was firm with me when I said this didn't happen with the third MS. It was so much easier. She gave me a talking to and said I moaned just as much with the third book and wanted to move on as well.

She's right.

But her words also reminded me about how that book was revised. Where and when, too. I revised (for the third/fourth times) my third MS during a HUGE move. I literally snatched time to write and revise for almost six months. I was forced by circumstances to write in short amounts of time and be away from my MS for large amounts of time.

That book went on to become a MAGGE FINALIST. Hmmmm. Brain Jolt.

Hmmm indeed. Once again, due to circumstances, during my 3rd/4th revision, I am forced to write in short amounts of time and be away from my MS for long amounts. Hmmmm. And the truth is, whenever I do sit down to work, I can see the problems more clearly. I am more amenable to *gasp* cutting them out and shifting them to other spots. I see the big picture more clearly.

Hmmm. LIGHT BULB MOMENT. Apparently, when I am in this part of my revision, my right brain needs a lot of time out so my left brain can take a scalpel to the material in short, straight and deliberate cuts. Meanwhile, during time out, my creative right side of the brain sends me inspiration and ideas and gives me scenes to work on.

Wow. I am beginning to surrender to the process. I know I will solve the issues I'm facing in this WIP.

This is where my personal religious views come into play. Whenever I beat my wings in my cage, I get NOWHERE. But when I pause, surrender to my surroundings, I see the door is open and I am free to fly.

*Please remind me of this illumination when I start to whine during my next book's revision*
*Oh, I hope I don't need to endure a major life hijacking to get to this point*

Thursday, January 21, 2010

To Write Well is to Revise a Lot!

Writing is not easy. It is not for sissies. It is not for the weak of heart. A lot of would-be writers never finish their first drafts. They start many novels, but get mired in the middle never to escape the bog of doubt and fear that they've lost sight of their vision. A few struggle past and pull themselves out of the soul sucking middle ground and race happily to THE END.

Yay! First draft! The writer is officially DONE.

But not so. No. Unfortunately, after a breath of air and a break from reaching the story's resolution. One learns if one is a writer with the guts to go the distance again. Not just once. Not just twice. But often times three, four, five and six times. Maybe more. Each time issues with the story, the characters and the plot are ironed.

Someone once asked, when is it finished? I say not until it's sitting on a shelf in a bookstore or on-line with an e-publisher ready for someone to buy, read and yearn for more of the author's writing.

However, as a writer, I must say that for me the end comes when I've polished it to the point where the only way I'd rip into a plot again is if an editor and/or agent said, "Love your voice, but we want you to do X to make it better." In other words, I want to be under contract before I revisit the book for a billionth time.

And at a certain point, it's time for me, the writer, to take what I've learned and move onto the next project. Hopefully, all will happen faster. There will be less revisions to the overall plot and characters as I grow as a writer honing her craft.

For now I slog on. I have beaten back this story a lot. I've rescued my characters three times. I've reinvented the plot three times. I'm back in for more work. Deep work. Hard work. Unrewarding work (no pay here). One pat on the back I will receive will come from other writers who know all to well the pain of revising (cutting our beautiful words, letting go of the original ideas and moving on--HARD).

The other pat will come from me. To myself for having endured again. And for trying.

That's all I can do. That's all any of us can do.

How do we do this?

At times, for me, it's the mere fact that I refuse to give up on my characters. This is their story. Other times, I refuse to give up on myself. I started this journey. I want to finish it.

And you know what? The craziest part about being an unpublished writer wrestling with words is the greatest reward after multiple revisions is that I get to start a brand new book.

I get to do it all over again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wine, Woman & Write

It's my birthday this week. I officially celebrated another year yesterday. Woot! I didn't plan a thing, but somehow wonderful things happened. First, a neighbor came by with a balloon, flowers and a card. We had coffee together and chatted. Then there were the phone calls from friends and family far away. And finally, very spontaneously, I went to a neighbor's house to get a document signed. When they heard it was my birthday, they brought out leftover cake and a great bottle of wine to celebrate.

I love that!

I've been celebrating a lot. Today I went out for lunch with a friend, had a bit of wine and then home again to write.

I made a new year's resolution this year, privately, to increase my connections with other women (writers and non-writers). And this was the first week I had the time to really pursue this goal. I don't know about anyone else, but without social time, I cannot function or write well at all.

This blog isn't really inspirational or well-thought out, but it's from the heart. I love my good times with my female friends as we drink wine and write, talk and LIVE.

No matter where my journey takes me as a writer, I know I don't travel the road alone. That's a great way to start the new year of my life.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Making Rejection Pretty & Fun

I've decided to make a rejection box. Not just any box, but a beautiful box decorated and snazzy--like a Christmas package. I'll put all my rejections in it and twice a year, I will treat myself to a Big R Party.

Now how on earth will I pay for this party? Here's the plan:

*Query letter rejection = $5
*Partial with Synopsis rejection = $10
*Full Rejection = $20

Why am I doing this? Because I need motivation to get some more queries out there regardless of the icky taste in my mouth whenever I receive a big fat NO. And if I reward myself for sticking my neck out into the slush pile and for swimming with the sharks, I know I will be more inclined to face the inevitable rejections that come from querying.

Anyone want to join me? Make your own R Box. And let me know how you reward yourself for pursuing your dreams!

First party or shopping spree or whatever? June 2010!!

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Lovely Bones: Movie or Book?

Yesterday, after a very productive writing morning, I spent the day with my DD. DH is in Texas visiting his father, who is doing much better this week, and DD had requested to go to the movies.

After hashing out my plot and looking at all the restructuring and work remaining, I was all to eager to be her movie date. Oh, but she chose such a sad movie. THE LOVELY BONES. For those of you who may not know about this movie based on the book with the same title, it's about a 14 year old girl who is murdered and it's told from her point of view after she dies.

For any parent. this is a HARD movie to watch. For a writer, this is a story I wish I had written. Amazing first lines: My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973. 

I can't do the story justice. Buy the book by Alice Sebold, read it and go to the movie. To be honest, I haven't read the book (too painful and sad), but my daughter did. And she said the book was so much better only because the book could explore the complexity of the story, the people's lives, the girl's perspective more intensely and vividly than a movie.

I have raised a true reader. And I love discussing the differences between the books and movies based on them with her. Why directors and screenwriters make decisions to cut or compress stories so they can fit on the big screen. They are going for the overall theme and mood of the story, but they have to cut a lot to bring the story to life. On the other hand, they have the benefit of the visual, music scores and acting to bring the characters and the story to life.

Sometimes I wish I could add visual, real visual components and musical scores to my stories. But as an author, all I have is words. And the words I use must give the reader the sensation of being in the story and living in each scene.

How? I keep going back to the words of Maass: create sympathy and empathy for your characters. Bring them to life with strong conflict and let them face the conflict and win (if you're a commercial writer) by the end. Do it well. Hone your craft. After you get it plotted and polished to the best of your ability, read it with the mind of a movie director. Share the story with trusted CPs and beta readers. Make sure you have created a story that creates depth of feeling and emotion within the reader because the reader cares about the characters and what happens to them.

Some people might come away from the movie, THE LOVELY BONES, saying the movie didn't meet their expectations because they read the book. But I think Peter Jackson succeeded in meeting mine. Even better, his vision on the screen convinced me to face the pages in the book because he proved the beauty of the story outweighs the horror.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Techno Break

I didn't blog yesterday. Why? Because I needed a break from the screen time. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our cyber world, we forget about the wonderful real world that exists. This is very true during the winter when cold and nasty weather forces us indoors. We're cooped up, bored, not moving forward and suddenly the Internet, emails, LOOPS, blogs, FB, Twitter become very important.

But there comes a point where the deluge of information, future contest forwards, loops, chats, blogging, reading about writing, catching up on every FB comment becomes unsatisfactory. And the spirit sags. And the mind goes into hyperdrive and is unable to relax.

Besides my writing world, I also have another world where I am a neighbor who helps, a mom with a kid in school and a wife with a husband who needs surgery. As one of my CPs says about the characters in novels, the outside world was pressing in and creating mega stress.

My solution? Turn off the computer. Go outside and sit in the sun, facing it in the western sky, and pick up a book to read. No phone, no Internet, no TV, no worries. Ah, it was lovely. I even napped (a rarity for me).

Afterward, I felt refreshed. I had the psychic energy to face the computer long enough to print out my Linda Howard Award of Excellence finalist entries and get them ready to mail out to the finalist judge. I printed out all my critiques and pages for my own revision and began to feel excited about the new direction.

I took time to honor my own writing style, which includes intuitive and emotional writing more than just facing the structure and formality of writing. Thus, I knew I needed a breath of real air and the warmth of the sun on my cheeks in order to feed my soul and renew myself for the tasks that lay ahead.

Now I am ready. Now I can move forward.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tip Toe into the New Writing Structure

I am scrapping a quest to crank out 3 category books a year to focus on redefining the current WIP as I learn how to create a Single Title length book. Wow. I'm looking at the entire MS in a new light, and if it weren't for my CPs giving me their support, I think my head would pop off with all the changes I must implement as I *grow my book* and learn.

After meeting with one of my CPs in Birmingham, we agreed to give ourselves until the end of February to send each other our drafts for critique. She's working on a super cool book and I can't wait to read it. The few paragraphs I read already hooked me. Ooh, she's got more than one RS *romantic suspense* in her writing brain. I know it.

As for me? I'm not sure. I think I've more than one RS in me, but I'm leaning toward lighter, ST contemporary romances with suspenseful elements. I'll know more about where I'm heading after I finish this book. What will I miss writing? What will I love writing? What will I reveal about my own writing voice to myself? Oh, it's exciting!

Meanwhile, the task awaits. I'm committed to making the change. I'm committed to working hard. But this is new, and I'm tip toeing shyly into this writing sea. First, I started a new draft in WORD and renamed it TFC SINGLE TITLE 1 (third time through the plot--and I'm sure not the last time I'll rework it). Then I created a file in my trusty Scrivener program.

Back to basics. Import the doc. Thanks to my Southern CP, I learned short cut to making new scenes in the binder (whew). Then I made color coded the scene cards with MC's initials on them. I accidentally discovered a way to add notes to the doc and retrieve them in the scenes (this is how I learn a lot of new things when it comes to technology). I think this tool will be very helpful as I revise the MS.

I know this doesn't seem like a lot of writing, but it was good to see it all laid out. I know where there are gaps already. Now my Northern CP's critique will come into play as I forge ahead. I have a lot of decisions to make as I rewrite. Some of them will lead to major cutting. I loathe the idea, but I know I have to do it in order to make space for the new words.

I'll be honest. Reading this draft in bits and pieces, the part that's still more rough than polished, I wonder what the heck? But I refuse to wallow in the "I suck as a writer" mud. I refuse. I am learning. I am growing and I am taking on a challenge.

I am excited!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ah Ha! The Goals Must Reflect the Task

Well, I have had a major breakthrough today. At first, I slogged through negative emotions about outside world pressing in on my inner world of writing. Then I cleaned bathrooms. The dirty work didn't jar any new thoughts. Neither did banishing the outside forces.

I cleaned up myself, planned to go to B&N and then the phone rang: hmmm my DH's surgery center with more estimates for his surgery costs... great conversation with the lady in charge. A bit of laughter... needed it. Then I got a call from a friend in DC... and I needed friend time so I took it. We talked for an hour. By the time I hung up, I had an hour till DD came home from school.... see the distractions? Mounting up? Oh, what a big shovel I'd need ...

But there is a reason for everything. My CP in DC called me regarding my first 30 pages. And she solved the problem for me: I am trying to stretch a category length book from page 50 when I need to stretch it from page 1. I need to relearn how to write according to ST length.

AACK! I need to not worry about word counts. I need to worry about the structure. Redo on the goal list. Good thing I factored in the whole FLEXIBILITY goal LOL.

So here is the plan: slog away through first three chapters... first 9 scenes, light revision. Then move forward again. Oh. And painful cutting and repositioning of exposition, emotion. Oh. And layer in action etc. Oh. And. Oh.

Redo my thinking. No more worries about word count. Now I worry about true revision. Numbers don't count.

The good news is she loves my writing. And my characters. And my voice. Whew.

Sometimes it really is like one step forward and two steps back. But she reiterated a MAASS illumination: unpublished writers have time to learn.

Hmmmm... still learning and growing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Stuck in the Middle

Every writer reaches a point in their manuscript where they are stuck, wondering why they can't move forward faster and seriously questioning their writing ambitions. Most will agree this usually occurs around the mid-point of the WIP.

Ah. The dreaded sagging middle. No. Not my belly (tho it is in need of a workout). I'm edging closer to the midpoint of my novel and the pace is slowing to near snail like movement. Oh, I'm progressing forward. But there are so many plot issues to iron out: POV, pacing and why the heck are they in this setting? And who was I to even attempt RS? I have NO IDEA what I am doing.

Yes, today was the "my book sucks" day. I've been trying to avoid it by taking down Christmas decorations, doing laundry, setting up Valentine's decor, contemplating lint... seriously... I solved a problem yesterday, dashed down the idea, edged forward a bit, but I KNOW I must really examine the sexual tension, the location, the dance scene (being a puppeteer with fictional characters and not marionettes is tough). How do I get them from point A to point B, keep the tension high (plot and relationship and sexually) and layer in the scenery, sights, sounds, smells and touches?

Uh, and do it seamlessly?


So in honor of my dilemma: I post this homage to an old song:

Stuck in the Middle

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fictional People

Developing people who pop off the pages and live in a reader's mind isn't an easy task. There are dozens of ways to build characters and give them depth. I've employed many methods, but I am by no means an expert. If I were, maybe I'd already be published.

But I am learning and growing as a writer and this is becoming easier with each new book I write. Hmmm, maybe not "easier," but I'm recognizing my mistakes more quickly and rectifying them either as I write my current WIP, or as I plan for the next MS.

My Character Illumination from Donald Maass's book WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL:

Developing fictional people is mainly a matter of opening oneself to real people, mostly ourselves.

Writers are often portrayed as reclusive personalities. In years past, the writer was also portrayed as cynical, bitter and anti-social.

Do I fit the mold? Nope. And I think most of the writers I know aren't anti-social and reclusive. Oh, we have to work many solitary hours and God forbid anyone bang on my office door when I am in the middle of a hammering out a solution to a difficult scene, but most of us enjoy our peeps in the real world, too.

We're certainly not all quiet and shy beings, either. I am a talker, social and flitting around the social scene. I do thrive on people and interactions with them. I chat a lot, but I also ask questions. I listen. I hear the nuances. I bet most writers do listen. Where else do we get "voice?"

For instance, I spent a good deal of time chatting with my DH's Aunt B when we went to TX to see his father. Aunt B was a true character. Funny, opinionated, loving, caring and addicted to QVC. She heralded me with her stories about her shopping online for her Christmas gifts. And how she explained to her husband about them. And she showed me all her jewelry acquired through her shopping efforts.

But underlying her cute stories was a deeper story. One of loss. First her grown son to cancer, suddenly and inexplicably. Then her other son's escapades with marriage. And her own darling husband's sudden battle with cancer (hey, that's when the QVC shopping began). Now her brothers, my DH's dad and uncle are ill, and they are dying. And she is eager for connection with us, with anyone.

And that's the depth. Her humor, her character and her love all shine.

If I only talked, never listened, really really listened, I'd not know the depth of her stories.

That's what being in the real world is for me. Real people, their voices, their stories, their hurts, their outrages, their pain, their betrayals, their judgments and their histories. And I listen. And I bring to the table of my writing my own set of pain and betrayal and joy and history.

During the 2009 RWA National Conference, keynote speaker Eloisa James said, MINE YOURSELF,YOUR EMOTIONS. Pour yourself into the characters you are creating. They are born of you. (Paraphrased)

Learn craft, practice writing everyday, but most of all be in the world. Be in the world. Pour yourself into people, learn their worlds and share of yourself.

Be real in the world and your people will be real in your fictional world.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Writing Serendipity

Today I went to Barnes and Noble to meet with two writing friends. Our regularly schedule RWA Chapter was canceled due to weather (snow and ice everywhere). But we ventured out to share our goals.

At 2:30PM we met... shared our goals and chatted. Another person was edging closer and closer till she finally asked if we were a book club or ???? We explained our status as unpublished writers and she admitted she was a new writer. Oh joy! We jumped to share... and so we quickly whipped out our business cards, shared information about our writing chapters and gave her book titles.

Then more writers we knew showed up unexpectedly. They needed a "writing friend session" as well. And then the entire back half of the coffee shop in B&N was filled with chattering romance/paranormal/historical/quirky writers. Oh fun!

Writing score today? Not so great.
Kismet score today? Pretty dang great!

And I have to say it was awesome meeting a new writer who is only starting to learn what the journey is about. She asked about goals and I, being me, said keep it simple and stick to three goals: write, read craft books, find a group. Don't worry about publishing industry. Just worry about the writing.

And that is advice I need to continue to give myself.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Little Less Written, but a Little More Cut

Sometimes the idea of writing toward the word count goal must move aside for bigger issues facing the story.

Today was that day. Despite family underfoot and tearing down Christmas crud, I managed to squeak out almost a thousand words. But I also cut over 900 and shifted them to another file. I put in a lot of time writing, but I didn't make my lofty goal of 2000 words.

Technically, if I want to be kind to myself, I did work with almost 2000 words, but not in the way I wanted to: moving forward and adding words. Nope. Not today. But the truth is, I can't move forward in a clean manner unless I rip out useless roadblocks to my creativity. 

This is where the flexibility of my overall writing goals comes into play. If I had beat my head up against the goal and forced the words, chances are I'd be cutting them at some point in the future. Rather than waste valuable time writing crud, I chose to fine tune a scene, layer in elements regarding scene and settings and build my Villain's persona in a vignette. He's emerging for me and I must pay heed to him.

Now I've never written a true villain before with his own viewpoint. It's interesting to crawl inside his head and try to give him a three dimensional, conflicted personality. He isn't all bad. He's very flawed and needs help, but he's motivated by a need to be seen as good and valuable. Who isn't? I have no idea if I'm getting it right, but I'm trying.

That's all this writer can do...

No time to read today. Brain is dead. Stay tuned... I believe Maass's book is giving me a lot to chomp on and it's nourishing my writing efforts. 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Setting and Details

Today I made my word count again. I struggled as I had to cut a few words, but I added a scene and I am pleased with it as it is from the Villain's POV. I also spent some time filling in my GMC chart for the villain before I started writing this morning. I think that extra time clarified my Villain's direction and did build a little sympathy for him as well. We'll see.

My issue right now is getting the story down, cutting out goop and making sure I am not too repetitive. That's hard not to do when I am desperate to add words. So I know some of the words will be revised/chopped/tightened later and then I'll have more room to explore Donald Maass's  illumination regarding setting.

The breakout novelist does not merely set a scene; she unveils a unique place, one resonant with a sense of time, woven through social threads and full of the destinies the universe has in store for us all. She does not merely describe a setting, she builds a world. She then sets her characters free in that world to experience all it has to offer.

Confession time: I want to do this, but I am weak in this area because of one reason. I am lazy. I hate researching and try to make it as easy on myself as possible. If I loved researching, I'd write historical novels. If I was not lazy, I'd build fantasy worlds and write Fantasy Paranormals teaming with wonderful vampires and interesting sexual alpha beasts.

I love reading the historical novels, paranormal novels, great women's fiction, crazy literary fiction written by classic authors like Wilkie Collins and Graham Greene, thrillers and spy stories, mysteries and Young Adult books of the same ilk. I'm swept away by the attention many of these authors pay to the details of the worlds they are writing about. I admire their patience and tenacity. I wish I could be like them, but I am not.

I'm plot and character driven as a writer. I love people. I can mimic just about everyone I know: how they sound, move and act. I can read a story or meet a person who talks about his/her life and create an entire story for them that's fictional or plan to weave them, their interesting quirks, into my writing. That ability comes easy to me. It's my strength as a writer. And I believe my writing voice is strong because I have an ear for people.

I write a lot of dialogue in first draft. Then I layer in the details. And I do admit, I slack in this area of my writing. I used to think I didn't have to build worlds if I wrote contemporary novels, but after reading Maass's book, especially his chapter about setting, I realize that I must build my novel's contemporary world, too. I don't think it has to happen first for me. I have to pay homage to my strengths first and then build around them, but I have to do it.

I have to, but I cringe at the work involved. The time away from my lovely writing. And I know part of the reason I cringe is because I've never been totally steeped in a place with history and connection to people over a long period of time. My background is like a gypsy who moves constantly. Born in the Netherlands, immigrated to Canada when I was four, grew up in a horrible northern mining town, lived in three provinces, many homes, moved to the states when I got married, lived in Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and now Alabama. And I'm already planning my next move.

How can I really reflect an area's time and place when I treat each area I personally live in or visit much like a hummingbird treats flowers? I sip, I fly away, I sip again. I never stay long enough to steep myself in the traditions. I glean surface details quickly, pick up accents (my DH knows exactly who I've talked to long distance by the change in my accent--I even have a DUTCH accent overlaying my slight southern accent on occasion), live fully where I am, but I don't know all the idiosyncratic unique details of any one area I live.

I try to set my stories where I am currently residing. That's helped a bit. And I know of authors who write contemporary romances set all over the world, yet they have never been to those places and they do it well. I hope I can weave a stronger setting as I refocus my direction in my writing to incorporate more details, lacing them through what is a largely a commercial novel, and create a depth to my CR that makes people miss my places when they set down the book.

I know my characters are most important to the development of my story lines, but it's time to up the ante. As I move forward, I will try to glean more than a few sips, but I am hoping that my sips can be sifted throughout the novel in bits and pieces and flashes through dialogue, internalizations and reactions to events. I don't think I'm literary enough to weave a long, descriptive passage as well as many of the wonderful authors Maass quoted in his book, WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Goals and Affirmations

First, I managed to whack out some words on the computer today. Whew. Writing goal met. Personal life goal of going to the gym? Nope. Too busy catching up on errands after I finished writing.

As I write, I am reading Maass's book, WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL. Much of what I read challenged me, forced me to think in many directions regarding this book, my life (hey, I can apply the principles to real life battles), and my future writing.

First illumination from Maass:

How can you catch the mood of our times? ... be sure that your breakout novel will speak to contemporary readers? By being awake to life as it is around us. By living in our times... How can you engage your readers in your fictional world if you, the author, are not engaged in your own world?

Oh, how true these words are to me. I cannot draw from a wellspring of NOTHING. I am committed to the world at large, I fight my battles, I read the newspaper, I have opinions (many I keep secret here, but they crop up in my writing on a regular basis). I LIVE.

This knowledge gives me hope. Writing in a vacuum is not for me. I must engage in the world around me as I am one who needs the interaction. I love to hear people's stories, their histories, their reasons for their choices. I love to talk, but only to disarm others. I want to hear their stories. I care about humanity. I believe in justice. I fight for it in my community as a parent and a citizen.

Every once in a while, I wish I could just turn off this need to make a difference, however small or large, in people's lives. I can't do it. This drives me. Gives me purpose. I believe this drives my writing and gives me purpose in my writing, too.

Yes, I am new. I only have four books... the first one is badly written, the second one is not so bad, the third one is affirming my efforts as a writer, and current WIP is a constant surprise to me. But this current WIP, while difficult and painful to write, is exciting me because I'm attempting to push past the boundaries and build my writing muscles.

... the moral underpinning ... comes from within (me).

I remember struggling for this story to emerge again after a bad critique. And I went back to the basics. At the bottom, underpinning it all, I knew why I had to write the story. And it boiled down to my characters and the depth of their emotions wells up from mine. I'm in love with my characters. The rest of the book, the plot and the setting, is building around them.

In 2009 I learned a lot, and I experienced a lot of firsts. I loved getting so close to the idea of being published and finding an agent. Oh, the heady joy of it all. But the greatest lesson I learned was to push the envelope as a writer. To find that well within me. To patiently mine my heart and emotions and history for a greater story.

And this learning will continue.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Personal Writing Challenge for January till the 31st

My personal challenge starting January 6 is 2000 words a day every day till the 31st, minus the 13th when I go meet my CP in Birmingham. That's about a chapter every 2 days. I need to make this a bigger book even though it is entered as a category in the Golden Heart. I can cut words and make a category cut if an editor requests it from me. But my goal is 90,000 words.

I'm not sure if I can do it. I can easily make this a category book. I only need 10-15,000 more words. The good news is that I almost have that length. I just went through the scenes and synopses each one into a few sentences and made notes for scenes I still have to write. Now I am ready to clean up what I have and tighten the writing grammatically.  

Next I will import some scene ideas and dialogue from my old classic -- the scenes are there and written and all I have to do is make them sing for my characters in this current WIP. Then the hard part of cobbling together more scenes and making the book complete will begin.

It's a heavy task, but I have my index card ready to roll with my word count goal, the days' numbers written and my mind set on working every day. I don't care if there is snow, ice, days off, weekends, or meetings. I must do this and be ready to send something off to my critique partners and readers by the 1st of February.

This is why I set goals. Now I have a mini map to reach my destination.

Onward ho!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Brain Freeze

It's cold outside. And for this part of the country that's unusual. Man, I didn't even venture out to the curb to get a newspaper. I must confess, my creative juices were thick, ice cold blocks that failed to melt today. No way. In addition to the cold, frigid, nasty, wind and future predictions of snow freezing my brain cells, I also had DD home all day.

Rather than fight the ennui and the lack of motivation, I focused on calling a dear friend before the hustle and bustle truly kicks in. Then I organized my writing space, and then I picked up Donald Maass's book WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL and read through the foreword by Anne Perry, the introduction by Maass and the first chapter. 

I'm determined to read the book and just absorb the info as I work on the 3rd revision. One thing that was nice to read was Anne Perry runs through her books at least 4-5 times. And it's as painful for her to do it as it is for me. But she said she knew her story's heart and that remained the same. That also inspired me. Does this mean that I believe I have a breakout novel in my house right now? Heck no. I have what's seriously a break my brain novel in my house right now. But what I love is that true writing, real to the guts writing, the kind that sells boils down to TELLING A STORY and telling it well.

I have a story. I want to tell it well. I want to make it sing. And I'm encouraged that to get the heart of my story out there into the world, I'll have to break my own heart to write it. Cutting scenes and pasting them and dumping them and rewriting scenes and creating deeper plot points and weaving all the elements into the story will take time. 

I will commit the time. I will write my peeps' story. I will write it to the best of my ability as I grow and learn the craft. 

Is this THE BOOK? *shoulder shrug* I don't know. But I know it is MY STORY, and I will write it for my peeps. 

The rest is up to the Gods... and truthfully, Maass reiterated the one thing I already knew: I have control over ONE THING. And that is writing the story.

In a way that gives me hope that I have control over my destiny.

You know, I did say one has to be a bit delusional to write. I guess I will hang onto my delusions.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Squeezing the Last Drops Out of Our Break

Today I piddled around and did a whole lot of nothing. It felt wonderful after my busy New Year's Day.
Yesterday I had clarified my goals, made sure all my Linda Howard Finalists got their calls, and I had friends over for my annual New Year's Day Chili (which is totally amazing and awesome if I do say so myself *grin*). We all stayed up and chatted till about 11PM. Much vino was consumed, my girlfriend and I chatted about our writing while the men discussed guns and ammo (seriously), and the three girls played tons of Wii games upstairs.

Hard to say goodnight.

Harder to wake up this morning.

But my DH and I had a lovely drive to see some stuff in Tennessee, we returned to chill with our DD and now DH and I are hunkered in for the night while DD is off to a final holiday sleepover at a friend's.

I treasure this do-nothing day. I am enjoying fiddling with puzzles (yeah, the 1500 piece puzzle is COMPLETED), answering emails, watching mindless TV and reading one of my favorite author's books. I have cat on lap, wine poured and a good feeling of general happiness cloaked around my heart.

For this year starts off so well despite many of the hurdles we'll jump through as a family and as individuals. We have good friends, we have a roof over our  heads, we live in a wonderful country where we are free, and we are all allowed to dream.

I hope and wish for all of you that you have a wonderful and prosperous new year filled with more blessings than sorrows, more victories than failures and more friends than enemies.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 -- A New Year and A New Set of Lists

My Focus Statement:
I enjoy being courageous, flexible and focused as I pursue my professional writing and personal family goals.

My Top 5 Priority List for 2010/First Quarter (January - March)

1) Entire family's health improvement through diet, exercise, and medical follow-ups especially for Darling Husband as he undergoes Hip Replacement Surgery in February.
2) Writing and professional development.
3) Household errands and chores organized and streamlined for maximum efficiency.
4) Positive social connections established and built through church, school, gym, neighborhood and writing chapters/friends.
5) Darling Daughter's college tours arranged and driving lessons established (yikes!)

My Writing Goals for 2010

*finish 4th book revision, possibly make it a single title
*enter 4 contests at a minimum with 4th MS, including the MAGGIES and GH
*start fifth first draft of story plotted loosely during a writing workshop
*work on fifth first draft during TOUR DE FORCE in February
*write every day except for high days
*continue querying agents and editors with 3rd MS
*send partial request and synopsis to agent for 4th MS
*maintain daily blog
*continue guest blogging on Romance Magicians
*judge writing contests
*attend Moonlight and Magnolias Writing Conference
*attend RWA National Conference
*pitch 4th book at both conferences
*help with PRO Retreat
*continue learning and growing in my craft with online courses and craft books
*read for fun
*get a domain name
*coordinate online workshops for the Heart of Dixie
*find a co-chair for the online workshop coordination
*work on YA idea over the summer
*realize that life happens and enjoy the detours
*set top 5 priority list and review it regularly to maintain my focus
*be courageous, strong and focused on my dreams and goals

Looks like I heading into 2010 with my eyes focused forward and my feet ready to dash!
Best to all my writing friends as we forge ahead and dream new dreams.