Wednesday, October 29, 2008


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


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.