Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On the . . . Bunch of Other Days Before Christmas

Writing is a solitary way to spend my time. For the most part, any collaboration is between the disciplined Peg and the goof-off Peg. The grown-up Peg has had to settle some nasty disputes.

So this gift is for gentleness. Feel the excitement of the trip and let the ride happen. Gentleness helps to keep eye twinkles twinkling.

It's also for companionship. If you don't belong to a writers group, find one. Find more than one if you can. For me, these groups are my little trips to the water cooler. A place to retreat to talk to others who are on the same path and willing to share.

Wrap it all up with someone who believes in me. Someone outside of me who thinks I can do this. Someone who encourages and affirms me. That's a hard job because I need it daily and the words need to be sincere.

I hope that each of us can create some writing gifts for ourselves this season. Gifts that will carry-over and not wear out.

Remember, when you drop a dream, it breaks.

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas.




Finished reading: Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron
Starting: The Good Guy by Dean Koontz

It's all better with friends.

Friday, December 19, 2008

On the Eighth Day, Seventh Day . . .

What is one of the most ethereal qualities for a writer to grasp?

Sheesh! The candle on my desk almost blew out with the collective shout-out. Or maybe it was just me.

Voice.

It's that thing about writing that makes what I write different than what John Sandford, or Karin Slaughter, or (heaven forbid) Dean Koontz writes.

A couple of unoriginal thoughts on voice that have come across my desk in the last year or so:

Style and voice are virtually the same.

Each innovation in style must be intentional.

The goal of finding your voice is better expressed as shedding the Novice Writers Voice.

And then shed all the false voices that take the place of the Novice Writers Voice.

And then these were added from The Sisters in Crime Newsletter in an article written by John Morgan Wilson:

Voice is your fictional prose persona, and it may differ with each non-series book you write. and

Developing our voice is like raising children—we need to accept natural predilections. - Naomi Hirahara

It's like a muscle: The more you write, the stronger it gets. The less you write, the weaker it gets. - John Morgan Wilson

So, with the gift of voice, we're back to . . . what else? Writing.

And that brings me to the next gift . . . a quiet place to write.

It might be at a kitchen table (where Mary Higgins Clark got her start) with some earplugs from at Wal-Mart. Or parked on the side of a street in a quiet neighborhood. Or maybe a cozy chair in front of a roaring fire.

A moment with no distractions, no errands or chores to do. Just the words and a vehicle to transport them.



Just finished reading A Whole New Life by Betsy Thornton.


It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On the Ninth Day of Christmas . . .

Okay, so this is gonna sound weird . . . the gift of goal setting?

Blick.

I have to remember not to confuse goal setting with New Year's Resolutions. The latter are the things I break, the former the things I don't achieve.

Oops. Time for a mindset change, don't you think?

Actually, as I look back on my goals for 2008, I didn't do too bad. Definitely not great, but considering I'd hidden them out of sight sometime during the course of the year, I accidentally accomplished the spirit of a couple of them.

Does that count?

I went back and read what I'd posted last year about goal setting. Maybe I was smarter then, but I think it's possible I'm wiser now.

I think one of the purposes of goals is to inspire. Framed positively, they lift me up and help me believe things are possible.

Goals are dreams that are written down.

The trick comes with planning the action steps to realize those dreams. And you know what they say about getting a laugh out of God . . . tell Him your plans.

When I put my goals together last year, they were inspirational and even seemed reasonable. Then my mother went into the hospital on January 2nd and died on April 5th. What would have worked at one point in my life needed serious tweaking to work for the next point in my life.

I will set goals again. But I also plan on putting a reminder on my calendar every three months or so, to pull them out and review. I'll gauge my progress and see if any tweaking needs to be done. I want to keep me working toward my goals as long as my goals are working for me, and we're not going in disparate directions.



Still reading the Betsy Thornton.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Eleventh and Tenth Day's of Christmas: A Gift for Writers

Okay, so I think maybe I was a day behind when I started. What else is new?

These two gifts go hand-in-hand anyway.

Read.

There is a school of thought that writers should not read in the genre in which they write, because they'll start sounding like the book they're reading.

Huh?

Somewhere in Stephen King's On Writing he talks about new writers kind of copying the styles of other writers. (If I had this book in Kindle, I could find it, but I don't, so phooey. Trust me, it's in there.) And King says that's just fine. The more we write (see the first gift), the more we develop our own voice. Our own style. He also says somewhere to beware the tag line "In the manner of so-and-so" or something to that effect. As a writer or a reader, it can only lead to disappointment. I guess, being Stephen King, he can afford to take that position. (I almost wrote "stand" but that would've been a bit much, don't you think?)

Read fiction. What a wonderful gift.

I may not always dissect what I'm reading, but I know subconsciously good stuff is seeping in through the cracks in my brain, of which there are plenty. There's no danger of my head getting plugged up with too much knowledge.

Here's the Tenth Day gift: Be a student.

I love online groups of writers who share information. I love critique partners who are honest and tough and loving all at the same time. I love reading books on craft. I love reading magazine articles about writing.

I remember (it wasn't too long ago) when a certain aspect of writing came up in one of my groups, and I smugly thought it didn't apply to me. Two months later, I realized it did. Always be a student.

I'm not looking for a profession where I can know everything at some point, and perfect my skills. If I were, it would not be writing. There is no such thing as knowing it all.




CR: A Whole New Life by Betsy Thornton.

Working on: I need a good winter picture for my blog banner. Any ideas?



It's all better with friends.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Twelfth Day of Christmas: A Gift for Writers

Okay. So don't come knocking on my door if I don't get all twelve days done. Deal?

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, the knowledge I must Write Every Day.

My writing, my own words, my own mistakes, are how I learn. Usually it takes the eyes of someone I trust (a critique partner; an editor) to see the mistakes I make that I catch easily in someone else's work, but never my own.

But first, I must write.

Write my heart out. Write my guts out. Don't take my normal route and say, "Well, I need to clean this, or I need to cook dinner, or I need to run errands." Just don't.

Just Do It. Just Write.

Let's make this a battle cry for 2009.

WRITE!

Every single day, I will string some words together. (Emails and thank-you notes don't count any more than my grocery list.) Every single day, I will pour some of my poor, sad soul into words I can edit and use as a base for something better.

Every single day, I will write.

It doesn't matter where I am in the learning curve. Writing will make me a better writer. Stringing words together will show me how to apply what I've been shown. (Show vs. Tell works in more than one way.)

I will listen to the guidance from those I trust and I will apply it to my WRITING. If it feels right, it stays. If not, it's outtahere.

But regardless, I will write every day.



CR: Picking something new tonight . . . but I totally enjoyed the Robert Crais, The Two Minute Rule. The plot was tight, the characterization developed, and the writing, next to brilliant.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Deep POV

Writers who are learning craft figure out fairly early the meaning of "POV."

When my friend, Lauren, told me the letters stood for Point of View, my initial reaction was, "Yeah, so? Of course it's all in my point of view. I'm writing the silly thing."

Oy.

For those just beginning to peel the onion, POV represents the eyes through which you're framing your scene, or your entire story. You choose a character (ideally the one who has the most to lose at the moment) and let events unfold through their viewpoint; their emotions; their eyes.

It can be harder than it sounds. Most of us want to turn "omniscient" from time to time.

Then, there's Deep POV.

Deep POV, truth be told, is at once the hardest place for me to get, and the easiest place to write from once I'm there.

Deep POV requires me to gird my psyche. I need to prepare myself for what's to come, because what's to come is likely to blow a few emotional gaskets I may have been subconsciously working on maintaining for quite a while. My protective barriers have to fall open to write in Deep POV. I must be vulnerable. I must cut open an artery and let my blood flow.

From The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner, describing what he calls "psychic distance":

1. It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
2. Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
3. Henry hated snowstorms.
4. God, how he hated these damn snowstorms.
5. Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul.


Deep POV should be used to intensify and highlight. A story with nothing but this kind of depth would exhaust a reader before it got going. "Moderation in all things." Although attributed (probably correctly) to Andria Terence, a Roman dramatist, my frame of reference says Julia Child. But whoever, it's a truism worth noting.

As much as I love Deep POV, it can leave me drained, for obvious reasons. It's often the best of what I have to offer and because it can be intensely personal, the risk is that much greater. Deep POV means I have to dig into Peg. I have to feel what my character is feeling.

And it has to be real.

Real, fictionally speaking. But guess what? If I try to evade or side-step? To soften the impact or protect my own emotions? It shows. Rather than a natural diamond, it slides straight past Zircon to plastic. An ugly thing no one wants to waste their time reading.

Deep POV connects both me and my reader to our core's. It's a God-thing, a human thing, an In-The-Moment event that is rare and wonderful and powerful. Not something to fear, but to embrace.

Even when it's the scariest (especially when it's the scariest) moment in your character's life.



CR: The Two Minute Rule by Robert Crais.

Working on: Our part in a neighborhood progressive dinner party tomorrow night (we're the appetizers) and finishing up my Christmas shopping. I'm woefully behind.

And, important to me, finishing a new scene in my story.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Books as Gifts

Have you bought some books for gifts this year? Please say you have!

I'm the Book Giving Grandma in our family, and I'm thrilled when the Wish Lists I get are titles and not brands. I've wrapped, in one form or another, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (gotta support the local authors, plus it sounds like it might be good), The Snowball (a Warren Buffett biography for my brother-in-law), two Stephanie Meyers books for a granddaughter (actually three, but that was a mistake), several Delta Sigma Theta books for another granddaughter, a couple more non-fiction business oriented books for my brother-in-law, another "legal" book by Jerry Spence for the DST granddaughter, two signed (and personalized) Robert Liparulo books for the Stephanie Meyers reader, The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing for a new family addition, and Lost Futures (out of print so I got it used from Powell's) for his sister who has an interest in child advocacy. Plus I've managed to sneak in a book or two on craft for me.

I hope there are books on your Christmas giving list. And if you're like me, one or two just for yourself.



CR: Making a choice tonight. I'm thinking about trying out my first Robert Crais.

It's all better with friends.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Fraudulent Thoughts

Sometimes I think I'm nothing but a phony. A fraud. I'm sure everyone can see right through me and immediately know I'm fooling myself thinking I'm a writer. Especially if I'm sitting around with real writers somewhere. They've got It. I'm just a wannabe.

Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland is my current non-fiction read. I liked this:

Fears about artmaking fall into two families: fears about yourself, and fears about your reception by others. In a general way, fears about yourself prevent you from doing your BEST work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your OWN work.

Under the caption of Pretending is this:

It's easy to imagine that REAL [writers] know what they're doing and that they—unlike you—are entitled to feel good about themselves and their [writing].

These concepts go to the fact that when the Story is in charge, and not Peg, things fly. Characters become individuals, not just people I've created on paper. When my ego steps out of the way, good things happen. Or rather, as a suspense novelist, bad things happen.

Press through self-doubts, ego, and the needs both those imposters create. Press through the fear until the story is all there is and ride the wave.

I'm only a fraud if that's what I believe myself to be. And I'm not.

I'm a writer.



Still reading Fractured. It's well done (Slaughter is a REAL writer), but I must say, I like shorter chapters.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Echoes

It's funny how one element in my life can echo another. I think it's God's way of hitting me over the head with a brick. And let me tell ya, I really try to pay attention, because the bricks only get heavier. He loves me that much. {sigh}

The 2008 NaNoWriMo is over. I failed miserably—depending on how you look at it. I did not come close to 50,000 words. But I learned a few things about me and my writing along the way.

First, I love to just sit down and write free-style. I haven't looked yet, but I bet I have some decent, salvageable stuff. There's a freedom in letting the story rule. Allowing art to flow with its agenda, not mine. Very Steven King-ish.

Second, if I do this again (and I'm seriously considering it because the coaches were so incredible), I know I need to make every attempt to crank out my 50,000 words by November 19th. That's my husband's birthday and the unofficial start to our family holidays and commitments. That means that rather than 1,667 words a day, I'll need to focus on . . . 2,778 a day. It's easy to say this now, but I think I could do that. It would be a huge stretch for me, but hey, it wouldn't be special otherwise.

One of the gurus with Nano wrote about the aftermath. What do we have now? Just a bunch of first draft drivel? Well, yeah. But that drivel could be the start of something great.

Which brings me to the echo.

In Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, I read a few corresponding ideas today:

Quitting is fundamentally different from STOPPING. The latter happens all the time. Quitting happens once. Quitting means not starting again—and art is all about starting again.

This means that the only way you can fail is if you quit. Whether it's your novel or your sales goals or your marriage. Keep showing up.

Vision is always ahead of execution—and it SHOULD be.

My first draft is not my final draft. My vision of the words and the story will get closer with each rewrite I complete.

Most artists don't daydream about making great art—they daydream about HAVING MADE great art.

Hello. Forget the pain, the beautiful words I had to delete, the days I sat here and knew deep within my soul that I was an imposter. Write? Me?

My daydream is about my fabulous breakout novel that amazes my family and makes my worst critics say, "I always knew she had it in her."

And here, more than any other place came the echoes for Nano:

I've had the wonderful opportunity of wandering through Leo Tolstoy's house in Moscow. I'll save the details for another post, but Tolstoy, before Word, re-wrote War & Peace not once, not twice, but eight times. As it was finally rolling to press he was still frantically revising. Before Word? Before an IBM Selectric even? He didn't quit. He didn't quit. Oy.

Bayles and Orland tells me: The truth is that the piece of art which seems so profoundly right in its finished state may earlier have been only inches or seconds away from total collapse.

So I've come full circle.

I will not quit.



Still reading: Fractured

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Book Review: FIELD OF BLOOD by Eric Wilson

Gina Lazarescu had a difficult childhood in Romania. A childhood that left her with more than scars on her body, but on her soul as well.

On her twelfth birthday, a mark appeared on her forehead. A mark not everyone could see, but one that labeled her as special—part of the Nistarim: a select group who walk the earth, immortal, protecting mankind. A mark that also made her a target.

A group of undead, known as Collectors, who feed on human blood while infecting souls, are motivated to eliminate all who have the mark. It’s an ancient battle between good and evil.

Wilson imbues Field of Blood with rich symbolism and creative, skilled storytelling that winds through both biblical and archaeological history. Although there were sections I skimmed because they seemed repetitious, the story of Gina and her destiny kept me turning the pages.

This is book one in The Jerusalem’s Undead Trilogy, and it is not a stand-alone, so don’t expect any kind of wrap-up at the end. Instead, start planning for the next installment.

I know I am.

(Special Note: This title is also available as a fast download to your Kindle.



CR: Fractured by Karin Slaughter

It's all better with friends.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Art and Fear

New Make-Me-a-Better-Writer book creates New Thoughts. Part I of this interesting contribution to the Education of Peg, Art and fear, Observations On The Perils (And Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bales and Ted Orland begins with this:

"Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead." - Gene Fowler

Since this quote is actually on my screensaver, I felt an immediate kinship with the authors.

Most of us, who live in the United States, celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday. And we did this as most of the world tried to stay up to speed on the horror unfolding in India. The outside Real World ran head-on into our safe kitchens and dining rooms and traditions. It ran head-on into our ability to cut off everything around us and write.

Blood poured from more than my forehead. It poured from my heart.

Bales and Orland want me to believe that talent isn't necessarily randomly gifted to those the world labels as "genius"—that if I don't possess the real-deal, I may as well hang it up because fate is against me. Instead, they say: Personally, we'll side with Conrad's view of fatalism: namely, that it is a species of fear—the fear that your fate IS in your own hands, but that your hands are weak.

So, what do we do when the world inflicts itself?

Right or wrong, this past week has been devoted to my family, my life, my imperfect world. It was a time for me to be thankful for the fact that I love a man of honor and integrity, and am loved by him in return. That my quality of life isn't threatened by poor health. That we have made our nest in a little slice of the world where there are no gunmen fighting for a cause I haven't yet heard about to even begin to comprehend.

My hands may have been weak where my writing life is concerned this past week, but they've been strong maintaining the structure that holds me up.

More next week.




Just finished Field of Blood. I'll work on my review tomorrow.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Inspirational Cannibalism

Last night I wrote 903 words. Wahoo! I was inspired by memories of a little white dog named McKenzie. He was a part of our lives for sixteen years, and although he's been gone now for almost six, he remains strong and healthy in the part of my heart he holds. (This is one of the last pictures taken of McKenzie.)

The things in my life that strike a chord, evoke strong emotion, link me to other people, places and situations, make up the well that as I writer, I draw from. Using pieces of my experience, and utilizing craft, are what helps me paint stronger word pictures.

McKenzie is McKenzie in the story I'm writing. Well, mostly. In real life, he was my dog and did not have another family. But my characters are composites and situations are based on "what if." I try to work with one foot firmly planted in reality, and the other one, "foot-loose and fancy-free."

In the scene I wrote last night, McKenzie is cruelly hurt as a warning. My fingers flew over the keyboard, because the bucket I'd pulled up from my well was overflowing. To be honest, there's a possibility a lot of this will be cut when I start doing a bit of editing. As riveting as it was for me to write, if it doesn't add to the story, it'll get the boot.

I heard Dean Koontz say this the other day (okay, not in person . . . in a video he'd made for Barnes & Noble): "Everything you learn about or know about in your life, you cannibalize."

Cannibalize is such a Koontz word, isn't it?

I have a tee-shirt that says, "Careful, or you'll end up in my novel." I think it's funny. Apparently the humor doesn't extend to other people, because when I wear it, no one laughs. And I get pretty much avoided. What's that about?

So, my advice is to keep a notepad handy, but out of sight. If you need to jot down an overheard phrase that tickles your fancy, slip away for a moment. Taking notes is not a good thing in settings where the chairs aren't lined up.




Still reading: Field of Blood.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Nano No-No

I have to say I don't know what I'll get accomplished today. November is a nutty month in my family. Aside from Thanksgiving, this month holds my sister's birthday (the 25th) my brother-in-law's birthday (the 28th) and my husband's birthday (today, the 19th). To increase the excitement (?), it's my husband's 70th birthday. Not only is it no small potatoes, but it doesn't even seem real. And you just know, there are some special things planned that won't be mentioned here in case he pops in to see what I've been up to. Sheeshkabobalino.

Yesterday was also only quasi-good. We live in Colorado. Normally this time of year, we are looking at high temperatures in the 50's. Yesterday? 80's. I didn't get crazy and spend hours outside, but I did take advantage and read on our deck for a while. I would've been a fool not to.

Dang . . . and here's another time waster. Some of you know I'm a major dog-lover, and this is a live web-cam of some Shiba-Inu puppies that are to die for. I'd never heard of the breed until my cousin sent me this link. A neighbor tells me they're incredibly smart.

But I digress.

I'd set my minimum acceptable word creation at 500. Guess what I did yesterday? 503. Hint, hint. After these next few days (giving myself a break here), I'm going to have to bump it to at least 700.

Anyone for a Nano in March?




Still reading Field of Blood. If you go back a couple of posts (and the comments), you will see that the author, Eric Wilson, actually knows I'm reading his book. Gotta give the guy credit for staying on top of things, that's all I can say.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Word Wealth

This struck me yesterday while I sat and bichoked my way to 718 words. (I need thousands, but 718 is what I got.)

Writers mine words like those words were gold. Sometimes I hit a rich vein, sometimes it's hardscrabble, and sometimes it's fool's gold. But every day, I don my helmet and tie on a toolbelt. Some days, at the end, I look like I've moved mountains—with a smudged face and wild hair—and maybe only have 200 new words in my backpack to show for my work. Other days, I walk out of my writing space and look like I haven't broken a sweat, and that day I may have mined 718 words or 1,718 words, or more. Like buttah.

My talent for this business lies in my ability to mine everyday. To up my required load. Or is that lode?

Nanowrimo has at least gotten me to the point where I'm less than satisfied with anything under 500. That doesn't mean I don't have 200 word days, I do. I'm just not satisfied.

In On Writing, Stephen King tells us that he doesn't stop until he hits 2000 words. What he doesn't exactly spell out, but what I think is probably the case, he has plenty of days when his word count is double or triple or even quadruple his target. 2000 becomes a benchmark. A flag gets raised and a silent hallelujah is sung.

The coolest thing? Just because King and Koontz and Connelly are mining a gazillion words every day, we're in no danger of running out. (Oh shoot . . . there's that fear thing again.)

Well, I'm off to the mines.




Still reading: Field of Blood (which is a paranormal thriller and pretty darned interesting.)

It's all better with friends.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Weirdness Loves Company

On one hand, I'm a dismal failure at Nanowrimo. I try and console myself with the fact that it's my first time making this effort, and I broke one of the rules from the very beginning. . . . I didn't start from scratch, but rather from a piece of writing that already meant something to me. I was invested. My fantasy of freewheeling wordplay was riddled with fallacy.

On the other hand, I am putting more words down on a daily basis than I have for a long time, and that feels good. This is the hand I try to keep in front of me when I'm frustrated . . . by me.

Writing is a solitary thing—something I both seek out and rebel against.

That's kind of weird, but it's not The Weird Thing. Ready?

I imagine that as I sit here stringing words together in an effort to decorate the pages with the pictures in my head, I'm clacking away at my keyboard at the same time as Stephen King and Dean Koontz and Michael Connelly and Elizabeth George are clacking away at theirs. What amazing company I'm part of!



CR: Field of Blood by Eric Wilson. I just started this book, but look for the review here when I'm finished.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My Nano Puddle

At this point, I have four buddies writing their hearts out to get to 50,000 words for the month of November. (If you're involved, I'm listed under Peg Brantley . . . I know that's not very innovative. I'm saving innovative for when I really need it.)

For those on-track, the total word count for the month should be about 20,000. I am shooting for the moon with 6,813. I have one buddy really close at 18,456, and I couldn't be more proud. My other two are both in the 12,000 range and I think they are rockin'.

One of my buddies, a pubbed author, is sitting at 1,777. Have you heard of a sandbagger? This person is gonna come out at the eleventh hour with a full 100,000 word novel. I just know it.




Still reading Orbit.

Not very happy with my word count, but hey . . . maybe they're all keepers. Yeah, right.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Snap! Crackle! Pop! Poof!

Friday's post has an interesting element about the fear of going like gangbusters as a writer, and then emptying the pot. Okay, that sounds like a mixed metaphor, but you get my drift.

There's nothing left. What had been simmering and boiling away (smelling divine, by the way), is gone and all that's left is gunk burned on the bottom of the pan.

It stinks and it's stuck.

There's an old saying that goes, "Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real." Sounds good, right? But novelists work very hard at making false things real. It's hard to get my mind around this one.

So, let's see . . . we have:

1. Fear of failure.

2. Fear of success.

3. Fear of not living up to our expectations.

4. Fear of being exposed as a fraud.

5. Fear the words will stop.

6. Fear of [fill in the blank].

There are, of course, an unlimited amount of sub-fears that fall under each of the primary fears.

Depressed?

Don't be. I think I know the cure.

Ready? . . .




Write. Then write some more. Write your head off.

I'm counting on this as the solution.


"First you're an unknown, then you write one book and move up to obscurity." -Martin Myers


CR: Orbit by John Nance

Getting ready to open up my work and exercise the cure.


It's all better with friends.

Friday, November 7, 2008

On Writing—A Few More Things

For some reason, God has me reading Stephen King's On Writing at the same time He has me doing Nano. There's a message there somewhere, but I have absolutely no time to look for it.

In case you're interested, yesterday was a lousy Nano day. Zero words. Chalk it up to Techno Treachery. Writing longhand may sound glamorous and more "in touch", but like King, frustration mounts when my hand doesn't produce at a speed that anywhere near matches my thoughts.

Today however, even with going to a movie and dinner with my husband, having a wonderful walk and visit with a friend, taking a shower, getting on "public clothes", putting on a face, and seeing to all of the societal things one should see to, I still managed to crank out 1,277 words.

Personally, I think it was because I didn't have to make dinner.

I was in The Zone. It was almost a shame to stop. But this scary-fear thing set in and I dunno . . . I was either going to become a lunatic and type until smoke came out of my computer, or (and this was my greatest fear) I'd write away until the flame became a sizzle, and the sizzle became a spatter, and the spatter became a pop, and then I'd be left wrung out and dry, never to write again. No more words.

But I digress. That's a topic for another post.

A thought from On Writing that has given me freedom . . . it sits right next to Anne Lamott (whom I love) telling me I could write a "Shitty First Draft" (her words, not mine—but they do create a clear picture). King talks about writing the first draft behind closed doors. In other words, it's just you and the story. No one else is peeking. In fact, he doesn't even do any research at this point. If he doesn't know squat about a particular subject, he just makes it up and waits until the second draft/rewrite to get the details right, if he actually needs them.

The first draft is produced behind closed doors (do you get that I love the closed door concept?). He writes for an audience of one. Not him, but his wife—the Ideal Reader. He imagines her reading the words he writes as he writes them. How cool is that? But he says ". . . my mental version of Tabby is rarely as prickly as my real-life wife can be; in my daydreams she usually applauds and urges me ever onward with shining eyes . . . " Still, he writes for her behind those fabulous closed doors. It's not until the first draft is done that he actually shares it with her.




I'm still nowhere near on target with Nano, but I do have a warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment. Next month (or whenever) when I start to edit, I may decide this was a tremendous waste of time . . . but tonight? I don't think so. It feels too good.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

So, A Little More on On Writing and Not Plotting

I'm beginning to think the really great writers are confident enough (insane/wonky/free enough) to just sit down, with as King says, a "situation", and let the story rumble.

I remember describing King years and years ago to others. I said that the amazing thing about his books is how he took a normal, everyday event/occurance/place and twisted it.

King talks about not plotting: "I'd suggest that what works for me may work equally well for you. If you are enslaved to (or intimidated by) the tiresome tyranny of the outline and the notebook filled with "Character Notes," it may liberate you. At the very least, it will turn your mind to something more interesting than Developing the Plot."

And: "Plot is, I think, the good writer's last resort and the dullard's first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored."

And: "Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest."

My friend and critique partner, Susan Lohrer, sent this quote today from Dean Koontz: "I give my characters free will. The story is never outlined. They go where they want — and surprise me. When they speak, I don't force them to feed information to the reader and advance the story. If they want to digress, I let them. If each is a vivid individual, his or her dialogue will be unique. And often in the digressions, we learn about them and discover new dimensions in the story. When a character says something funny, I laugh out loud because it’s as if I'm hearing it, not writing it."

King's exhortations to be honest and truthful (and it seems Koontz would agree with him) are keys, I think, to allowing a situation to grow into a full-fledged, nail-biting story filled with people we can, on some level, identify with. I'm willing to give this situational writing a try and see what happens.

It's that basic "don't write for the Legion of Decency" hurdle that's a little scary to jump over. At least it is if you've always been the Good Girl.

I loved what he said about description: "Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's."

Writers, readers and movie-goers were all saddened today to learn of the death of Michael Crichton. Our loss of his imagination and energy will leave a hole on earth.




Still plugging (albeit slowly) along in Nano. Trying to swing a little looser ala King and Koontz.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On Writing

I'm working my way through Stephen King's On Writing.

The first portion had me laughing out loud.

About half-way through the book (and I'm only slightly farther than that now) some ideas about writing began to sift through to my brain. Not all of them were stunners. I mean, I've heard them before. But the fact that Stephen King said them gives them some kind of ethereal glow.

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."

Since lunacy grabbed be by the neck a few days ago, I've been fighting with my ├╝ber-ugly writing progress with Nanowrimo. It isn't pretty, but I am writing more than before.

Reading is the easy one for me. Plain and simple, if I don't have something I'm currently reading, and at least a few things waiting to be read . . . well, thankfully that's never happened. I'm afraid I would be sent away for a very, very long time. But hey, as long as they had books. . . .

Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day. Every day. I know of writers who write far more than that, and I'm sitting here watching the words appear on screen of a writer who writes far less than that. (Which would explain why I'm woefully behind with the Nano project.) ". . . but only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words."

And here is one of my favorite quotes, and one that I'm struggling with learning now, because as King explains it, it pretty much goes against plotting.

The question is, once a writer sets a goal and creates the space to write, what do they write about? King's answer? "Anything at all . . . AS LONG AS YOU TELL THE TRUTH."

Regarding plotting? ". . . I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible." King tells me that my job as the writer is to give the story the opportunity to grow and reach its full potential. I merely record what I see.

Where can I get some of that magic dust?




You know what I'm reading. You know what I'm working on. That felt like I was writing something along the lines of "I know who you are and I saw what you did."
Ruh-roh.


It's all better with friends.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Nano pooh-pooh

Criminy. Yes, that's a word I remember from women who have preceeded me in my clan. Somehow, it fits.

Today is the first day of the National Novel Writing Month and I'm posting a pathetic 434 words. Well, it could be 433 for some odd reason because when I encode the crazy thing, something gets lost in the translation. That's 25% of what I needed for the day to stay on pace.

Or, it could actually be nothing, a big fat zero, because I can't figure out how to upload the bugger. (Another ancient familial nounish thing.) I've encrypted it so I don't release the next great Nobel Prize to the world before its time, but can't figure out how to upload it to Nano. Sheeshkabobalino.

Today was spent (after my morning walk and quick sit-down with writing) running errands and getting dinner ready for guests who were due to arrive at 5. The dinner and evening with our friends was lovely, but I lost on the other end. Know what I mean?

I'm not a night owl. My mind has slowed to the pace of a slug on sleeping pills and I just can't go there.

Tomorrow will prove to be almost as interesting. We are leaving by noonish to be hot diggedy-dogs in a box suite for the Bronco game. I admit to loving the attention and catered aspects of a private box (along with the almost private potties), but will likely lament the additional loss of writing time.

Just so you know, I took 50,000 and divided it by 30 and came up with the dastardly number of 1667 words. Per day. Every day. Which means that tomorrow I need to find time to write about 1900 words.

What have I gotten myself into?

Is a competitive nature enough?

Stay tuned.



Still reading Steve's On Writing. At least he made me turn off the TV.

Working on: Not completely doing the freak-azoid and urping all over my desk every time I think of Nanowrimo.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I'M OUT-NANOED!!!

I usually try and hide this time of year, and to tell you the truth, that still sounds like a pretty good idea. All of this eagerness and excitement for the month of November causes me to break out in a sweat and curdle things sloshing in the bottom of my stomach.

If only I had a rabbit hole handy.

November is National Novel Writing Month. I've been unable to decide if it was shortened to NaNoWriMo out of affection or derision.

The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. It just happens that one of my busiest months of the year was chosen for the event. I'm pretty sure it was a man who selected November. Why not March?

People from all over the world sign up to encourage each other in this quest. There's competition and tracking.

And Good Golly, Miss Molly . . . I just signed up. What was I thinking?

Here's the thing . . . I need to learn how to control my Inner Editor. I need to learn to get the bones down without worrying about what they look like, or even if they're connected. I think adding 50,000 words to my current work-in-process can only be positive—even if I end up taking half of them out when I edit in December.

And here's a smart thing . . . I just got an email from NaNoWriMo with the subject: NaNoWriMo Loves Peg Brantley.

And this from the email: Do not edit as you go. Editing is for December. Think of November as an experiment in pure output. Even if it's hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn't. Every book you've ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft. In November, embrace imperfection and see where it takes you.


So maybe it is with affection.

I'll let you know.




CR: On Writing by Stephen King.

Working on: Adding words every day . . . not waiting for November.


It's all better with friends.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Book Review: DARK SUMMER by Iris Johansen

Dr. Devon Brady is a veterinarian who has pieced her life together after an abusive marriage. In addition to the animals in her care, her passion includes international search and rescue missions.

It’s on a mission to a Caribbean island that she meets Jude Marrock when his black Lab, Ned, is shot and wounded.

Her heart for Ned and his medical care lands her in the middle of a world she never would have chosen. A world involving secrets and greed, a challenging man and an old Indian shaman. But through it all, Devon finds her strength, her passion and her purpose.

Johansen has gifted us with an incredible story filled with strong characters and a compelling plot. As ephemeral as a perfect summer day, we see the storm clouds in our peripheral vision and begin to believe that nothing is as it seems.

If you love dogs, action, suspense, romance, and a bit of the supernatural, you will love Dark Summer. It's as fast paced as you can get. I read it . . . mostly yesterday.

Do not miss this book.

Highly recommended.



CR: I haven't decided what's next. But I'm thoroughly enjoying (and chuckling through) King's On Writing. Reminds me of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird which I loved.

It's all better with friends.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Five Things

There's been some interesting discussion on a couple of writers loops in which I lurk.

What are the top five things you'd like to see less of in novels? Particularly suspense novels?

Editing is a given. As a writer, it drives me nuts to see gaffes that should've been caught.

But I knew I had other things. So I thought and I thought.

Here are my top five issues. Understanding the five things I'd like to see LESS of automatically helps me see the things I'd like to see MORE of in novels.

1. Plot Development - The absurd discovery/solution that appears out of nowhere. In a mystery, this is akin to getting the proverbial phone call from someone who provides all the evidence necessary to identify the killer. That's a bunch of hooey.

2. Character Development - or lack thereof. Just because I'm writing a suspense novel doesn't mean my characters can be flat.

3. Character Development - The equally absurd act of tagging a character with traits or goals or skills that might work for the absurd plot (see #1) but which have no basis in reality. Er . . . fictional reality. You know what I mean.

4. Scene Design - Repetitious scenes that don't add anything more to either the characters or the plot. The first time, maybe yeah. But the third or fifth? Not so much. The story stalls each time there's a similar scene, no matter how much action it contains. A nice summation is all that's necessary. How many barroom brawls does a protag have to get into before the reader gets it? How many love scenes (I admit, they can be nice) are necessary before the reader also gets that?

5. Tertiary Characters - Because Malcolm is mentioned on page 17 doesn't mean I'm going to remember who he is on page 135. I hate going back and trying to find earlier mention of someone who I thought wasn't important, but golly . . . he must be. (OT - did you know you an do this easily with Kindle?)




CR: Just started Dark Summer by Iris Johansen.

Working On: My next scene. Still working my way through GMC, and have pulled Stephen King's On Writing from my shelves to peruse.


It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Show vs. Tell, Revisited by Request

One way to describe telling is to think of a voice-over announcer, someone off-camera who is providing information. Another is to consider a news broadcast where talking heads identify what's going on and provide a bottom line. Both of these situations give you the picture in a succinct manner.

Example of Telling: The cemetery was old and overgrown.

There is nothing wrong with telling when telling is what your story calls for.

Showing takes a little more thought and a lot more words (unless you're Dean Koontz). Showing is the drama of the scene. Drama rarely happens during an unbiased accounting of a news event, or through the voice of a professional announcer.

Drama is visual. Using drama gives readers a chance to come to their own conclusions.

The heavy air smelled of the crumbling decay of carved headstones and rotting foliage. A rusted gate, dangling from one hinge, mingled its plaintive cry with the wind. Ferrel cats stalked their domain in search of smaller, still living, creatures.

I hope there's a difference my reader can feel.

The emotions surrounding people are much easier to flesh out and show.

Example of Telling: The angry man stood in the doorway, threatening to act on his emotions.

Again, if the story calls for succinct in this particular spot, telling works.

He stood in the doorway, breath coming in forced stabs while he grabbed both sides of the jamb. Muscles radiated in a ripping motion through his arms when his hands loosened then tightened their grips. Wild eyes searched for his next target.

Telling is an announcer. Showing is drama. All drama and no telling is like all icing and no cake. It's a little too much.

But cake wihout icing? Boring.




Currently reading: Salvation in Death.

Working on: I have a new great word. Lacuna. From M-W: a blank space or a missing part: gap. Somehow this fits the current scene I'm struggling with. Only the lacuna is in my bichoking more than in my work. {sigh}

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: dark pursuit BY BRANDILYN COLLINS

Suspense novelist Darrell Brooke has spent most of his life living for his career at the expense of his family. Now he’s alone and bitter following an auto accident that left him unable to concentrate enough to write. The King of Suspense is losing his throne and the only way he can get it back is to plot a new best-selling novel.

Kaitlan Sering once idolized her grandfather, the famous Darrell Brooke, but when she found herself needing money for a drug habit, she stole from him, severing whatever relationship they had. Kaitlan hit bottom, but worked hard to clean herself up and build a new life—holding a distant hope of reconciliation.

There have been two women murdered in town, and Kaitlan is about to come face to face with the third. Even more horrible, she realizes her boyfriend, the son of the police chief, is behind them.

Desperate, she turns to the only person she believes can help her. Surely the King of Suspense, above all others, will be able to devise a trap for the murderer and save the life of his granddaughter.

The question remains, however, will the old man be able to come out of his fog long enough to focus and plan? And if he does, will his motivation be to help her, or will it be to find that plot he so desperately needs?

Brandilyn Collins has written a tight, fast reading novel in dark pursuit. It will tear you away from the rest of your life until you finish the last satisfying word.

The characters are well drawn and the plot shoots a current of electric suspense with every turn of the page.

Highly recommended.



CR: Salvation in Death by J.D. Robb

It's all better with friends.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

Euphony: (From Merriam-Webster) pleasing or sweet sound . . . produced by words so formed or combined as to please the ear . . . a harmonious succession of words having a pleasing sound.

What's one of the best ways to breathe life into our words? Breathe sound into them.

Not to mention a fine opportunity to discover what isn't working. Which happens a lot of I pay attention.

Sol Stein, in Stein on Writing recommends a "phone book read." This is where you emote as much as you would if you were reading a list of names. In other words, flat. Without intonation. The idea is that it will help you chose the very best words (verbs) to create emotion.

What can happen to me when I do that is an incredible disengage. I'm reading the words by rote while thinking about what I'm going to make for dinner. It's not that the words are bad, it's just that I've moved on.

As a writer, I know the very best way for me to check my work is to read it aloud. Does it sing? As a suspense novelist, I want to make sure the tension is like an electrical current running through the pages. Occasionally, it needs to be like a downed line, arcing near a water source. But always, I want to make sure it's sizzling in the background.

I have some bookends on my desk (with my M-W and Synonym Finder lodged between them) and on one of them is this quote from Maya Angelou: Do read to someone. When words are infused by the human voice, they come alive.



CR: Dark Pursuit by Brandilyn Collins. I'm not finished reading this yet, but I'm here to tell ya . . . PRE-ORDER IT NOW. The publication date is December 1st—but you just don't want to run the risk of forgetting it in the holiday rush. I'll be posting a review shortly.

Working on: Bringing plants in for the duration and switching summer clothes for winter. Ready to work on that next scene as well.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Same Five Words

Yesterday I read the winning entry and the other two honorable mentions for the short story contest sponsored by Armchair Interviews. The rules of the contest were simple. Along with word count and writing skill, each entry had to contain the words campfire, summer, hotdogs, Kumbaya and blues.

Each one of the stories posted are so different, I was both gratified and amazed.

Check them out for yourself.

As a suspense novelist, I guess my head is just a bit more twisted than normal. But what else is new?



CR: Consigned to Death by Jane K. Cleland.

Working on: posturing my next scene.


It's all better with friends.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Time Tells

I have found the best way for me to have a productive day is to plan to have a productive day.

Sure, I enjoy being a panster when it comes to creating memories. Spontaneity is fun—that sense of freedom and flexibility. But at the end of way too many of those days, I look back and am in awe . . . of how much I didn't accomplish.

My inner tension climbs to new heights, and coils, ready to heap all kinds of negative affirmations in my direction.

This isn't good.

I spent years in Corporate America. My schedule was filled with appointments and meetings and Must-Get-It-Done-Now paperwork. Even though for the most part, my day was mine to plan, it definitely required planning.

No time for panster behavior in the business world.

And no time for panster behavior in the writing world—at least as far as organization is concerned.

My day is scheduled. Even if the schedule falls apart for whatever reason, I stand a much better chance of looking back on my day with satisfaction if I have it planned out.

Here's today's schedule: 6:30-7:30 Check emails/Personal Reading; 7:30-8:00 Walk; 8:00-9:00 Shower/Breakfast; 9:00-11:00 Blog post/emails/Spanish Lesson/telephone calls; 11:00-12:00 Study; 12:00-2:30 Slush Time/Lunch/Errands; 2:30-3:30 Review RW (what I've previously written in Rough Waters)and current critiques; 3:30-5:00 Finish Scene.

A couple of notes . . . by scheduling email time, I'm not as tempted to hang out there more than I should. Slush Time is important to me. It allows me freedom without guilt. I can read a book for pleasure, or study. I can watch a silly movie or clean out the pantry. I can write. Whatever I want to do during Slush Time is fair.

Time for my Spanish lesson.



CR: Life Expectancy. (Will I EVER finish this?)

Working on: Well, you've got my schedule.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Knock Me Over With a Feather

My short story has been selected for honorable mention and will be posted on the website of the contest sponsor.

Who knew?

On one hand, I'm quite surprised because I've read some amazing short stories, and this one isn't quite there. Which is probably why it didn't actually win. LOL.

That leads me to my other hand . . . I'd written a women's fiction manuscript a few years ago that came in second in a writing contest.

Always the bridesmaid.

I'm not complaining. I am acknowledging the amount of study this craft demands. That demand for ability and skill, as well as talent, makes me proud to sit where I sit on a daily basis. And excited about the prospect of doing something where learning becomes as much of the job as doing as long as I live.

Check out Armchair Interviews. I think you'll enjoy the entire site.




CR: Life Expectancy.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Emperor of Literature

Well, this got me going today.

I'm in the kitchen, studiously ignoring as much of the financial and political news as I safely can, when my eyes land on this article in The Denver Post.

Horace Engdahl, the Swedish Academy's permanent secretary, and the top member of the award jury for the Nobel Prize, believes that Americans are too insular and ignorant to produce great writing.

Excuse me?

I'm not stupid. I know there are great literary minds on every continent, not just the U.S. But it does include the U.S.

I'm developing a mental picture of dear Mr. Engdahl, and it isn't pretty.

"The U.S. is too isolated, too insular." Did he miss 9/11?

" . . . you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world . . . not the United States."

To their credit (and I confess I certainly could not have come up with this list) some notable American literary folk would like to send Emperor Engdahl a reading list. One that includes Roth, Oates, Proust, Joyce, Nabokov, Updike and DeLillo, and many younger writers.

I guess no one on these shores (or even inland to Colorado) should be waiting for a call next week from Horace.



CR: Life Expectancy.


It's all better with friends.

Mission Accomplished

I hit the "Send" key yesterday afternoon and sent my short story in to the contest. I honestly don't give it much chance of winning (there are far more talented short story writers than I who leave me in awe at their skill), but it was a good exercise in vulnerability.

Now the trick is to honor the check mark indicating the task is done, and move on.

I hope to sneak some writing time in late this afternoon. I have a feeling of desperation to get back to work on something big and important to me. It's been too long and I miss it.

I'll start with a quick read-through of my newer additions. I've read my prologue so many times I about have it memorized, but the new stuff should feel fresh and be a springboard to a great bit of writing.



CR: Life Expectancy.

Working on: Getting back on track with my ms.


It's all better with friends.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Just Do It—Get Vulnerable

Creative Procrastination only takes me so far. At some point, I need to take action, or the decision will be made for me. And then it's a decision made in weakness, not strength.

These moments come into the lives of writers on a regular basis.

One of those moments occurred the first time I sat down to write and transfer the brilliant, fascinating story in my head to paper. It looked wonderful—because I still had it in my head. Not the paper. My moment of truth came when, after learning a bit more about the craft of writing, I re-read the thing. Ouch.

Do you remember the first time you submitted your prose to a critique partner to read? Did you do it with confidence or trepidation?

The first time I entered a writing contest, I was so green I was still sticky. I knew I had a winner and some lucky duck was about to discover me. In the two short months after I entered, my learning curve shot to the moon and I recognized my dewy-faced (if not snot-nosed) entry for what it was. I would have been supremely disappointed if I had won. My faith in the organization sponsoring the contest, and what it could teach me, would have plummeted.

I needn't have worried.

The next writing contest I entered, I placed second and felt validated. (I take my victories where I can find them.)

So. Now. There's this little short story contest. The deadline is tomorrow. They've asked for people not to wait until the last minute.

And here I sit.

I'm waiting for this blast of brilliance. For the words to plow into my head that will weave a stronger character arc and maximize the danger. It probably isn't gonna happen.

But I also know this. I must enter that little contest. I need to exercise my vulnerability muscle or I'll lose it.

Such is the life of a writer.



CR: Still reading Life Expectancy.

Working on: Moving back to normal after two weeks worth of company and four days worth of flu.


It's all better with friends.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Writers Vs. Normals

It's true that unless you live the life of a writer, the life of a writer is difficult to understand. Especially, I think, the life of a suspense novelist.

The story goes, as best I can remember, that my novelist sister's husband had a client of his in the passenger seat of their SUV. He pushed the button expecting music to fill the air. Instead, a discourse with the title "101 Ways to Kill Your Spouse" began playing.

My wonderful husband, who loves me more than he understands me, was a bit disconcerted when my nightstand held both The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker and Serial Killers, The Method and Madness of Monsters by Peter Vronsky. He became more concerned when I began highlighting and making notes in the margins.

An aunt from Utah and a cousin from Texas are visiting me for a while. They are sweet innocents who don't have an inkling of the mind of a novelist. Watching me read a research piece I'd printed to review, one of them asked what it was about. I told them I was confirming that anthrax was the biological threat agent I wanted to use. I should have added it was for my short story, and that by naming the "worst germs known to man", I cut my word count down by four words.

Oops.



What I'm reading: Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz

What I'm working on: That short story.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Under 1,000 Words

Eek! I've been working on a short story to enter in a contest. One of the rules is that the story must be under 1,000 words—without pictures to help. In addition, the contest requires my entry to contain five specific words.

Which sort of leaves me with only 994 to call my own.

Have you ever tried to write a story . . . an interesting story . . . with 994 words? I have a basic one completed that I don't think is too bad, but one of my cps (critique partners) thinks I need to put my protag in greater imminent danger. Which means I need to punch it around a little more.

And the contest deadline is looming.

A couple of points I've discovered that are helpful in writing a short story:

• Write tight. Every word must be needed. Look for those strong verbs whenever possible.

• You still need a character arc. Between the first word and the last word, your character needs to have been changed.

• For suspense, that character needs to be in imminent danger, not just perceived or possible danger. Aargh.




Just finished reading Kill Me.


Yesterday worked on installing a badly needed new modem. Oy.

Currently working on trying to find a few moments between visiting with company to write . . . anything.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Phobias, Hobbies & Quirks

Part of character development has to include eccentricities and things on which my characters enjoy spending both time and money.

I have trouble with heights. Strike that. I have a lot of trouble with heights. That's one reason why our upper deck is pretty much the domain of my husband. I'm okay as long as I'm looking out at the mountains, but looking down? Three stories? It's like a magnetic spiral with deadly appeal.

If my character has this same phobia, giving her a hobby of rock climbing would not be a very smart move on my part. But I definitely want to consider the possibility of having her out on a girder of a high rise under construction with a menacing something, or someone, right behind her. Wowzer. Terrific conflict.

Same thing if my character is afraid of closed-in places. I will want to have him stuck in a tiny cave at some point.

Quirks, used well, can be tools of endearment. The trick is to not stretch them to the point they seem contrived. A quirk for the sake of a quirk doesn't come off well.

Let's take lipstick for example. (Yes, the current news is bombarding my brain.) It's not whack-o to have my character have a need to reapply lipstick whenever she feels anxious. It would be whack-o for her to break out her entire makeup bag and do the same thing. Not only whack-o, but action stopping.

One of my favorite television programs is Monk. Here is a character who is filled with phobias and quirks and yet remains lovable. But Monk falls more under the label of "cozy" as opposed to suspense.

As a suspense novelist, I need to be selective. It may even be the I have the information (with my background character studies) and these personality traits never meet the light of day. Nothing wrong with that.

Phobias, hobbies and quirks can help to round out a character. And provide fodder for conflict, the spice of life. Well, the spice of fiction.




Still reading Kill Me. It's a good book, I've just been busy with anniversaries and entertaining and getting ready for special company.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Secrets

In the Writer's Digest book, Writing Mysteries, edited by Sue Grafton, with Jan Burke and Barry Zeman, Phyllis Whitney talks about pacing and suspense. (Anything attributed to Phyllis Whitney gets my attention.)

. . . give every character a secret. As a writer you need to know about the hidden goals, the past guilts of every character. Such secrets can be used to make your story people behave in mysterious and suspense-building ways. As we think about and develop these secrets, the characters become more real to us, as writers, and thus to our readers. Conflict is likely to grow out of these concealed matters, and of course, this is a main weapon in our suspense arsenal.


I'm an old snoop from way back. My desire to know usually outranks my desire for decorum. I want to know the secrets of all of my characters. Even the secrets they've forgotten about. I want to know what they've got locked away in a trunk somewhere.

Heck, I want to know your secrets. I consider this desire a result of being a student of the human condition. My husband considers it a sickness. I'm counting on more than one reader being similarly afflicted.

Secrets are tantalizing. They can drive characters to do amazing things. If those amazing things create conflict? Well, then . . .


Still reading Kill Me.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Conflict

From Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Edition: Con•flict: the opposition of persons or forces that gives rise to the dramatic action in a drama or fiction.

I'm getting ready to start a new scene. I have some general ideas but what I need to nail down before I get started is the conflict.

In Debra Dixon's GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict she has a couple of warnings regarding conflict:

Unrelenting conflict or throwing "everything but the kitchen sink" at the character can numb the reader.

Okay, I need to be selective. I need to pick the worst thing, not every thing. Got it.

We've all seen movies that we thought would never end. By the time the hero kills/arrests the bad guy, we don't care anymore.

Get in and get out. Make my point (maybe I'll build it up a little) then let go. Also, don't resolve this conflict, then hit my character over the head with another one. Ad infinitum. Got it.

Another pitfall, which stems from fuzzy conflict, is erratic or slow pacing because you wander through scene after scene trying to get a handle on what the real battle is, what the character's real problem is.

Thus this little period of time for me to focus and identify and know for sure this is what my character doesn't want the most, even if they don't know it yet. Hope to get it.

Dixon also makes this very good point: Let me warn you . . . if conflict makes you uncomfortable or you have difficulty wrecking the lives of your characters, you need to consider another line of work.

Donald Maass reminds us in Writing the Breakout Novel to pick a story world that isn't safe. It's hard to write a great novel about the suburbs. Try and pick a place steeped in conflict. Where there is conflict, there is rich soil in which to plant a story.

Continuing later in Breakout: . . . the conflict must matter to us; equally, our interest level will decline in ratio to how removed we feel from those involved in a conflict.

In other words, I need to make sure my character is likable and that the conflict is more than an in-grown toenail. It has to matter. It has to be big. It has to hold my reader's interest.

I think there's one more thing to add about conflict. It has to be relevant. It needs to be believable. No one is going to believe my bookstore owner in Aspen Falls is conflicted by an automobile accident in Amsterdam involving people he doesn't know. Okay, that's a little far-fetched. I'm just saying. . . .




Still reading: Kill Me. I really like this book.

Working on: Off to do a bit of brainstorming about the conflict in my scene and . . . how it moves the story forward.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

New Beginnings

I love this time of year. The process of change is more exciting than the results of change. Seasons slipping from one into another and I'm right there to experience it all.

Anticipation.

Right now, nights are cool, almost cold, and mornings are crisp. The sky has taken on a different quality of blue and the light has shifted to an almost magical luminescence. Fall is in the air in Colorado. We'll begin getting teased into autumn and winter very soon.

Sure, I have a little nostalgia for summer. I remember those long, languid days of summer vacation as a kid. Fresh green grass and twilight hours that stretched on and on. Playing outdoors until I heard my dad's whistle—he made his sound different so there could be no excuses.

Then there are my memories of starting school. Fresh. A whole new slate in front of me. New clothes. New shoes. New attitude. I loved the first day of school.

New Year's Day is nice, but there are those pesky goals to feel guilty about.

My preference is the first day of school. And oh yeah, my favorite day of the week is Monday.

Fresh starts. New beginnings. Clear, uncluttered goals.

Now is also a good time for me to dust off those goals I set for the year. Revamp and revise so I can end up strong and confident.

Starting fresh. I love it.



What I'm reading: Kill Me by Stephen White.

What I'm working on: GMC and Breakout and some brand new scenes in my oft-rewritten manuscript.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Book Clubs

We used to have a little neighborhood book club. I enjoyed it for the most part. Heck, I started it. Got a good friend to pull it together with me and it lasted until people moved or lost interest. It's fun to have several people read the same book and then get together to talk about it.

I'm curious about something, though. Those discussion questions some books have at the end, designed to facilitate book club discussions . . . know the ones I mean?

Reading a book is intense (if it's good) and personal (if it's very good), and discussion questions often leave me cold. The ones I've seen seem to be either shallow ("Duh" comes to mind) or so esoteric that I have to wonder how long it took them to come up with a question to make me feel dumb.

I've learned to pretty much ignore the discussion questions, if I want to continue to enjoy the book weeks after I've finished reading.

There are discussion questions however, and then there are Discussion Questions. As a novelist, the questions and answers I've seen online are remarkable and each one can teach a writer something. I encourage everyone to get involved in a quality, online book discussion. Even if I haven't read the book they're talking about (I never have), I learn about triumphs and tragedies. Things that work for readers and things best avoided.

I haven't been able to find an online group for suspense. If you know of one, please share. But for mystery, there are several. I belong to a couple of yahoo groups (you can find some that fit the bill for you at their website). My favorite (for reader input) is 4 Mystery Addicts. Another wonderful loop (independent of yahoo) is DorothyL, named for Dorothy L. Sayers.

I'm frantically trying to read a book for the DorothyL book club I'd like to get involved with. I just picked up the book today. The discussion starts, um . . . today. Somehow I need to plan better.

The book the group is reading . . . has read . . . is The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler. Last month they read a Christie. That one I probably read. This one is new to me so far, but the title rings vaguely familiar.

We often talk about authors from days gone by never making it in today's market. For the most part, that's true. American readers (not so much European in my experience) require a fast-pace. Get to the story. Draw me in.

And Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), at least so far in this book, is doing a bang-up job. His handling of dialogue is superb and worthy of study.

If I forsake a few other things tomorrow, maybe I can get close to being ready for the Big Discussion.



Just finished The Bookman's Wake by John Dunning. You know what I'm currently reading.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sidekicks

I'm kicking around ideas for important secondary characters right now. I've pretty much schmoozed two, but that's mostly because I really liked them in my first draft, and I know them.

Why are sidekicks important? Where would Andy be without Barney? Where would Matt Dillon be without Festus? Holmes without Watson? Snoopy without Charlie Brown, or in this case, Woodstock? Pancakes without syrup? French fries without ketchup? (I need to start dinner.)

Sidekicks, or "heroes helpers", add a bit of sparkle to the story. They have the ability to be interesting without lording their importance—making it unnecessary for my reader to know them as intimately as they know my protags. And sidekicks can shed a little more light on . . . well, just about anything I want them shed it on.

The thing is, this newly morphed book of mine (we've gone from Broken Bones as a working title to Rough Waters) has co-protagonists. A husband and wife. No, this is not a cozy, (wink-wink). I felt the need to make Bond at least as strong as her husband, Chase. So now that she is, she needs her own amazing sidekick. It's a good thing I enjoy developing new characters, isn't it?

This explains my current writer's block (along with an incredibly busy week filled with a lot of "have tos"). Thanks to writing this post today, I have a pretty good idea where I need to spend the next few hours.

You guys are amazing!




Still reading Booked to Die.

And you know what I'll be working on.


It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Reading Spots

This is a light question. But when I thought about it, it brought things to light.

I love getting little glimpses into other peoples homes. Especially those people who've become my friends online. I don't know what my pictures might tell you, but I'll bet you'll see a thing or two that will add to your impression of Peg Brantley.

I just hope you don't barf.

I meandered around my house this afternoon taking pictures of places where I read. The sofa near my desk (fiction), the chaise outside my work area (fiction and non-fiction), the sectional in front of the television in my work area (non-fiction), family room sofa (fiction and non-fiction), and on and on.


The kitchen table can host fiction and non-fiction. Isn't it kind of weird that I read certain things in certain places? I will also review important documents here, and the holidays usually find me addressing Christmas cards on a catch-as-catch-can basis at this table.



George and I sit on these chaise lounges and read. Okay, not year-round (we live in Colorado), but from April (with an afghan) until October (with an afghan). If I'm eating lunch out on this deck, I'm at the table with a book propped open while the fork is going from plate to mouth. Both of these places are predominantly fiction, but the table has encountered non-fiction at other times of the day. Non-fiction for lunch? Not me.



Our courtyard area in the front of our home hosts fiction, non-fiction, and newspapers (for George). My favorite time of day in this reading spot during the hot summer months is afternoon when the shade outdoes the sun.




The living room sofa gets used by each of us at different times. For me, it's definitely a spot for fiction. George has been known to curl up with pillows in the corner window (he's part cat) and the love seat (just off camera to the right) sort of works, but isn't something either one of us can stretch out on. The great thing about this long sofa is that it is also a sweet place for a little slumber.



Speaking of slumber. Everything fiction. Not sure if you can make things out at all on my nightstand, but there's a journal with my next three books to read under it. Right next to my side of the bed is the "current" book. On the opposite wall is a small bookcase loaded with books in my TBR pile. Some of them have been there for years. {sigh}



And finally, the designated Reading Room (fiction and non-fiction). Before we created this room, if one of us became restless during the night, our best option was the guest room. Now, this little getaway is just down the hall. No television, no computer (although my laptop has made an appearance), no telephone, and at one time, no radio (George snuck in that bit of contraband when I wasn't looking and I don't have the heart to make him take it out. It's hidden.) There is a little clock so we can continue to be fairly responsible, but that's the only concession to anything other than the joy of reading.

Here's something weird . . . no fiction at my desk. Very little non-fiction. My desk is mostly work. My writing and perhaps some critiquing. Emails . . .

Oh yeah, and blogging.




Still reading (in fiction spots) Booked to Die.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Death Gifts

The biggest gift we can leave a loved one is our belief in an afterlife. The belief in God settles to our core and makes it easier to go on. It's precious and nothing else comes close.

There's more, though. In the last few months, my sister and I have had to second-guess, and investigate, and dig through papers and . . . well, it's not been anywhere near clear—especially when we're doing it through tears.

We thought our mom was organized. And in comparison, she may have been.

But, oy.

This brief post is to bring your attention to a little book that could make the difference between anguish over your loss for a loved one (or their's for you), and a devastating search that with a few words could have been avoided.

Consider purchasing, for yourself and your loved ones, a book called In the Checklist of Life by Lynn McPhelimy.

And then, most importantly, take the time to fill it out. It could make the world of difference for those who are left to pick up the pieces, and pick up their lives.



Currently reading: Booked to Die by John Dunning.


It's all better with friends.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Weaving 101

In Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, Donald Maass has an exercise called Weaving Plot Layers Together.

His exercise tells you to get a single sheet of paper and make three columns. The first one lists all of your characters, the second are all of the things that happen to them, the "narrative threads." This would include their problems, plot layers, subplots, questions that need to be answered, that kind of thing. The third column is a list of your major scene settings.

The exercise, using simple circles and lines randomly drawn on the paper, is designed to help me see more connections between characters and story lines and scenes. I confess the first time I attempted this exercise I lacked any kind of random flare. I didn't let myself go. I was being Data when I should've been Obi-Wan Kenobi.

There is, however, something I want to try. I think all of the circles and lines might make my head hurt, so I want to use 3 x 5 cards. Maybe even shuffle them and see what happens.

Debra Dixon makes a similar comment in her book, GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict when she points out "Each motivation impacts the other. Each goal impacts the other. Whether you paint the relationship between multiple goals with a broad stroke or with subtlety, the result is worth the effort. You'll have a more complex book and a more satisfying read."

Of course, she's talking about an individual character's GMC elements. But I can see where those also play into the subplots and other narrative lines, cross-connecting my characters to create an intriguing tapestry.



Currently reading: The Sign of the Book by John Dunning. My first of his, and I'm liking it quite well.

Obviously, still working my way through Breakout and GMC.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Book Review: THE FAITH OF BARACK OBAMA by Stephen Mansfield

Without a doubt, this election stands far and above any presidential election I've witnessed. Beyond politics, it's galvanized discussions in our country about race and religion.

I thought about waiting to post this review until my husband had a chance to read the book as well. Not that his perspective will be different from mine, but it's sure to be deeper.

However, I'm not reviewing perspective, or politics, or religion. I'm reviewing a book. Since, like most people, I bring my emotions and views with me wherever I go, trying to look at this book objectively was difficult at times.

Faith in American politics has seldom taken the stage like it's taking now. Rumors and misconceptions abound about Obama and his faith, and Stephen Mansfield works hard to get as close to the truth as possible given that he isn't, from what I can tell, a confidante of the man.

For the most part, Mansfield succeeds in his goal to present a balanced, insightful view of this Senator from Illinois who has become a household name in a few short years. Unfortunately, I sensed some subtle but decided shading in the portrayal of some of the differences between Obama and McCain.

If you're interested in getting some glimpses into the experiences that may have helped form Barack Obama and his Christian faith, from someone who I believe is really trying to provide an honest portrayal, you need to read The Faith of Barack Obama.

Discussion and discourse about the future of our country, particularly as faith propels the dynamics of change, are welcome and healthy in our society. This book will be a wonderful starting place for those discussions because it's thoughtful and
as balanced as any I've ever read on the subject.

Recommended.




About to start reading: The Sign of the Book by John Dunning.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cliff Hangers

I'm so excited. I just left my male protag hanging on a cliff. Literally. In the middle of a storm.

Ya gotta love it.

What I'm floundering with right now is how to pick up the simultaneous scene at the key moment—and well, what is that key moment. One of the best pieces of advice any author can follow is to come into a scene late and leave early. It keeps the action taut and the pace strong. Obviously this is a key to a suspense novelist.

I'm tempted to just go ahead and write the thing, and then go on a word-whacking expedition. But I'd really rather not. I've whacked enough lately. I believe that if I put enough thought into it (with my internal editor whacking away) I can come upon the most amazing entry spot. Better than tears. Better than anger.

I'm thinking fear. Gut-wrenching and visceral. The core.

Then the question is . . . whose point of view? The rule of thumb is that the POV belongs to the person who, for that scene, has the most to lose. My nature is to test "rules of thumb" so my mental Olympics have popped into high gear. And the medal goes to . . . the Rule of Thumb. It means initiating yet another POV, but it will create such an intensity that the scene will practically write itself.

Leave the scene early (Chase is in trouble).

Come into a scene late (Angela isn't wondering if she's being stalked . . . she knows it).

Who has the most to lose? (While Bond, as the mother, could be justified as the POV character, it is, after all, Angela's life that's being threatened—so Angela it is.)



Currently reading: The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield.

It's all better with friends.