Saturday, March 31, 2007

A writer is what I am

Do you ever get hit with those big moments when you know, you just know that what you want is going to happen? In those moments, something inside gets tight and butterflies flutter in anticipation – even if that thing is down the road, site unseen as of yet.

I had one of those days today. I think it goes along with what Alyson said about the excavation of a story. I’ve really been digging up the good stuff.

However, I think I’ve been on a journey of excavating myself, as well. It’s a journey that clearly started in November 2005 at a work related conference when I penned page after page of ideas for a story rather than taking notes on whatever boring topic was being discussed. I came home that day and started looking for writing classes. That story is now shelved, unfinished, along with a slew of children’s fiction that I attempted years ago.

I’d been rolling around the idea of being a writer for a long time, playing with it, trying it on for size like a child trying on the pretty prom dresses from her older cousin’s closet. It doesn’t quite fit at that point. You don’t fill it out in all the right places, but you can see that you might…maybe…someday.

I’m filling it out better now. It’s no longer too long. The straps stay on my shoulders. I have a little something to fill out the bust. When I model it now, it’s a better fit.

When I think of stories now, I think in terms of goals and conflict and motivation. What would a person in that situation want? How would he come to be in such dire straights? Why would she need this or that? What would make her desperate to have it? What gets in his way? What would a nemesis do to prevent the hero from getting what he wants?

I used to see glimpses of a scene or character in my head, and think, “Wow, I’ll turn that into a story.” Now when I see those characters or scenes, I think, “How did he get there? How badly does he want to get out of it? What would he do in this circumstance?”

I guess the difference is that I used to approach it like a kid with a plastic shovel in the back yard. I’d just dig and see if bones turned up. Now, I dig like a trained archeologist. I have better tools. I know where the bones are more likely to be found. I know a phalange doesn’t tell me everything. I have to find the skull and the vertebrae to give it form.

So back to the moment thing….

I realized today that I’ve collected many of the tools I need to excavate my stories. I recognize situations in which I might need a new tool and have the knowledge to find out what will work.

I know where to look. And I know I’ll find it – maybe not with this story, but the next one or the one after that perhaps. I know I’m a writer. I’m not just pretending to try it out any more. I look at the world through writer eyes, storing up experiences upon which I can draw.

It hit me today that I will be published. I will see my books on shelves at bookstores and in women’s beach totes and next to their coffee cups. I know it like I know the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. I feel the anticipation like a child knowing Santa will put just the right toy under the tree. Like waiting through the night for the sunrise and like watching the days slowly being marked off the December calendar, I know I have to wait a bit longer. But the butterflies are telling me to wrap my arms around it and embrace it and write like the wind. And they’re telling me to call myself a writer because it’s what I am, not what I will be.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

I’m Cooking

I’m cooking – both literally and figuratively.

First, let’s take figurative.

We’ve been back in our still-not-quite-finished house for over a month now. I’ve finished a big -- no -- HUGE project at work. I also had the toughest part of the job's annual review, so now I’m just waiting on my new contract. I have a meeting from hell this week, but things are falling into place for it. I can take deep breaths without suffocating, finally. In relief mode (and still not over stress mode), my body shut down this past week. I think it knew it was that or get sick, which would have pissed me off. So, I caught up on sleep – getting 7, 8, even 9 hours of sleep per night – a feat I haven’t managed in a long time.

Yesterday, my frustration at being 30 pages behind on my goal of 35 for the week had me ready to kick and throw the computer. But, really, it wasn’t its fault, so I sat back, looked my three main characters square in the eye, and asked them (metaphorically speaking) what the hell they wanted and if they’d tell me their story. Just f&*$#ng tell me!!!!

And, they did.

My villain was pissed at first, but he’s a pissy kind of guy. He was mad that I’d changed him simply based on comments from an early reading by a friend. He said to go back to his story, beef him up. He told me who he was, which wasn’t at all who I’d thought. But, damn, if it doesn’t work. So, ok. Ray (villain), I’m sorry. I get you now.

Kat (my heroine) told me some more – things about which I had no idea. Oh, my! I hope she finds love, and comfort, and trust, and a shoulder that will provide honesty and hope. (Cris. Are you listening? She’s really a wounded soul that needs lots of care.)

And then there’s Cris. He’s the most true to my original vision. He’s wounded, but he’ll get more so during the story before he’s healed. (Kat. You listen, too. He’s not so different from you. He took a different path to get where you are, but he’ll end up there during the story – so far from love, comfort, trust, honesty, and hope. It will be your job to recognize that for what it is – for where you also are – and help him. Grow. You’ll have to.)

After putting away the MIP and opening a new document and letting their stories flow out, I have a better grasp on my own. I really think it works now. Finally. Before, it was okay, but it felt forced. Now – ah.

Of course, I’m back to the plot board again, but only for little snippets – one short sentence or two about each scene with room to play. Burdens be gone. I think the muses are cooking up a feast for a big party!


There’s the other type of cooking. Literal cooking.

First, I’m not a baker. I hate to bake. I’ll do it because I have to. Today, I have to make cookies for something. Can anyone say “slice and bake?”

What I like is cooking. I have 5 burners on my new cook top. I have a new convection oven. I have some new pots and pans and cool little cooking utensils. It’s fun. It’s creative. And the muses like when I make new dishes, so we’re all happy.

I have new cooking toys – a la Pampered Chef. (Yes, I broke down and had one of “those” parties. Not really my cup of tea, but I had it to help out my sister-in-law’s friend, whose family has had a hard time of it lately. I told my friends not to feel obligated, but to just help me christen my kitchen. The guys played Texas Hold’em and ate all the food. The girls brushed off my whispers that they didn’t have to buy anything, saying they wanted to. My sister-in-law’s friend sold more stuff at my party than ever before. And, did you know, I got free stuff? What a cool perk! All my friends are asking when I’m going to do it again. Go figure.)

Anyway, cool new cooking toys. Cool new ideas – and back to a lot of the original ones for my MIP. Rested.

Oh, yeah, I’m cooking.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Writing Goals -- A Review and Some Changes

I'm working my way back through my MIP, layering, editing, trashing, rewriting, adding new stuff. I'm determined to get it pretty and polished and neat and worthy to send to Harlequin as requested.

I posted recently on perfectionism and not being able to tell when it's good enough. And, yep, that's still a problem. However, I'm going to plug through anyway.

I started at the beginning last week, getting contest submissions ready. I sent off two. I have a couple more I'd like to get off this month, but I'm working forward. At the end of last week, I hit about page 35, thinking, "Yeah, not bad." By next Sunday night, I'd like to be at page 70, thinking, "Yeah, not bad."

At that rate, I should hit "done" in about 6 to 7 weeks. Sounds good, huh?

In talking to a local friend today, I came up with a new idea. I've been getting up this past week at 5ish to write. (Well, today I got up at 5ish to meet a work deadline, but that's the last big one for awhile.) I'm going to keep doing that. From 5ish til 6ish, I'll work on layering, trashing, and adding new stuff. When I get home from work I'll edit, which will also probably result in some more new stuff.

This week will be a trial run -- starting tomorrow since I blew today already --to see how the just write, edit later idea works. AM = Just write. PM = edit. (Repeat as necessary. It's my new mantra.)

Well, I better get writing. I need to get ahead. Those RITA nominations will be posted on the 26th and I'm bound to lose some writing time that day as I read reviews and traipse up to Books-a-Million to buy a few of the nominees' books.

Just write.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cris's Photo Shoot for the Six

Over at the Sunday Six (the Six this week, since none of us blogged Sunday) we posted interviews with the heroes of our current MIPs. Alyson included a photo shoot of visual images that inspired her hero. She inspired me. Here is Cris's photo shoot -- the visual inspiration for Cris.


Saturday, March 3, 2007

Pissing off Editors

I had the opportunity to attend a great workshop today at my local RWA. It was given by Rita winner Linnea Sinclair. She presented information she discovered by interviewing several editors and agents about how to make sure your manuscript never sees the light of day. (Not something we want, eh?)

She also shared with us the typical day for a slush pile reader. I want my manuscripts to stay out of there at all costs! One slush pile reader shared that she worked in a room lined wall to wall, floor to ceiling with manuscripts. She was expected to go through a five foot stack everyday. If the submission held her interest all the way through (first few chapters), then it went to the next step on the chain. If not, that was the end of the road for it. Very often, the slush pile reader didn't have to read beyond the first page. As this reader moved up in the publishing house, she got to take the manuscripts that made it through the screening process home (whole books now) to read and make comments. Frequently, she only read the first, middle, and last chapter, deciding afterwards to end that particular manuscript's trip towards becoming a published book. In a year of working these two jobs, she never sent more than a handful to the next phase.

That was downright depressing.

...until Linnea read us a few "typical" submissions the editors she'd interviewed shared with her. Most were all tell, no show. Many head-hopped within single sentences, and more had severe dialogue problems.

I felt much better after listening to these examples, and I was shocked that anyone would think writing like that should even cross an editor's desk.

Linnea compiled a list of the top reasons manuscripts never make it out of a slush pile. Time after time, interview after interview, these reasons were given.
In no particular order, they are:
1. Too much backstory too early.
2. Unnatural dialogue.
3. Telling your story, not showing it.
4. Problems with grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, general writing mechanics.
5. POV problems -- random and unclear POV changes, headhopping within a scene.
6. Too many unnecessary characters.
7. Format problems; not following submission guidelines.
8. Ineffectual characterization -- everybody seems the same and the reader confuses who is who.
9. Lack of conflict. Plot holes. Illogical plot.
10. Boring opening. No hook.

The good news for me was that I'm aware of all these problems. I make a conscious effort to avoid all of these errors. As a matter of fact, I've been writing long enough now that avoiding most of these errors are non-issues for me. I just don't do them. Neither does anyone in my crit group.

I felt inspired and more at ease after realizing that. I know now that many manuscripts that get submitted to editors are of poor quality. They aren't the carefully nutured works written by my group or me.

So, take heart, ladies. We're already better than much of the field.


PS. Check out Linnea's blog where she goes more in depth on this topic.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

I believe

I believe….
…in sunrises & getting up early to see them.
…in staying in your pj’s until noon when you want.
…in starting the day with steaming hot coffee.
…in personal space.
…in alone time.
…in forgiveness – forgiving both myself and others.
…in doing something with my life that leaves a lasting positive effect.
…that knowing oneself is one of the most important things in this life.
…that black and white are overrated, and the world is full of shades of gray.
…in an imperfect world full of imperfect people living imperfect lives perfectly.
…the heart is a better decision maker than the head.
…in being authentic.
…that being creative is what God had in mind when he said he created us in his image – how else could we be more like him?
…in telling the people you love that you love them.
…in dogs.
…that dogs have souls.
…in the healing and restorative power of rain and thunder and lightning.
…that calling in sick, even if you’re not, on a stormy day so that you can stay home and enjoy it, is a good use of a sick day.
…autumn is the best time of year.
…all children need a good dose of “no”, and an equally good dose of “yes”.
…we ought to pay our teachers, soldiers, and public protectors like police and firefighters more.
…in hearing your calling and answering it.
…in mercy.
…that with God, we are far greater than the sum of our molecules.
…in creation and evolution.
…in good red wine, alone or shared with friends.
…that bookstores are sacred places.
…in words and their power.
…that everybody has a pack, but that sometimes you have to run alone and over long distances to find them.
...that mountains hold magic.
…I get better with age.
…the only person I can change is me, but that my influence can spark change in others.
…in me.