Monday, June 29, 2009

Speed Bumps in The Zone

Saturday was a 'Wahoo!' writing day for me. Over 2,000 words. (2, 047 to be exact.) Followed by Sunday with a thrilling er, well not-so-thrilling, 366 words. Followed by today with . . . well, it's not over. Right?

What happened? I quit Saturday night because my eyes were getting tired. My new reading eye (LASIK was about nine days old on Saturday) yelled "Uncle!" and I gave in and closed down.

But that's such a lying stretch of foolishness. I've had good writing days in the past with lousy writing days following shortly thereafter. And I can only blame a pooped eye on one of them.

Part of it is fear. The 'zone' puts me on such a high, I'm afraid a) I'll get there and never come down, or b) I'll never find it again.

Time for a Reality Check.

James Scott Bell has a wonderful remedy for any kind of writing reluctance. He does the Nifty 350, or the Furious 500. It's bichoking (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keys) with a short-term target. When he first sits down to write, he goes for his Nifty 350 (or 250 or 450) and then has something very positive already done to kind of jump start his next bichok moment. Which comes easier because, well, look at what he's already accomplished for the day.

Giving yourself a good reason to pat yourself on the back is always effective. Just make sure it's a pat you believe in.

The zone comes and goes. Some days it's elusive, other days it threatens to devour me (how cool are those days?), but I can always tuck myself in for a Nifty 350.


JF: Die For You by Lisa Unger who I discovered thanks to Jenny Milchman.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Not Yet Seamless

I went on a search the other day for an earlier mention of something in the book I'm writing. Scrivener was a great help, because all I could remember were the basics of the scene and in whose POV I'd written. So I went looking for the lilac colored scenes roughly in the place I thought my search would take me.

I found it. But, sorry to say, I found so much more. I'm now a little terrified to finish my SFD and begin the rewrite.

Here's what I'm sure is just the tip of the iceberg:

~ Names of characters who I only used once. They were probably meant to play some small role at some time, otherwise, why did I give them names?

~ Threads that should've gone somewhere, but are just blowing in the wind. And when I saw them, I thought, "Oh yeah, that was good."

~ Threads that should've gone somewhere, but are just blowing in the wind. And when I saw them, I thought, "What in the world was I thinking?"

~ Threads that should've gone somewhere, but are just blowing in the wind. And when I saw them, I thought, "Watching cement dry would be more exciting."

The closer I get to the end of my SFD, the more little bubbles of acid blurp up my throat.


CR: Still working on the Lisa Unger. I'm trying to reconfigure how I read books and my Kindle now that I've had LASIK.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, June 22, 2009


The question begs, who doesn't like Sara Lee?

Someone doesn't, that's for sure. The aspiring actress was strangled with her own Daffy Duck necktie—and tossed in a Dumpster. Community theater will never be the same.

Ellie Bernstein's inquiring mind is now engaged, and she's on the case. The Weight Winners diet club leader sees herself as an amateur sleuth—much to the chagrin of her significant other, homicide detective Peter Miller.

And then of course, that that thing Ellie's doing to her black Persian cat, Jackie Robinson. What was she thinking agreeing to doggie sit for a border collie? The nerve.

Old friend's of Ellie's will delight in her newest adventure in Strangle a Loaf of Italian Bread.

Dietz has such a command of characterization that I feel like I've made a new friend. If my phone were to ring right now, and the caller say, "Hi, this is Ellie", I'd smile and ask her "What's up?"

If you're looking for a fun, light, energizing read (or a new friend), get your hands on a copy of Strangle a Loaf of Italian Bread. I promise, it won't blow your diet.

CR: Die for You: A Novel by Lisa Unger on my Kindle, and . . .

CL: The Night Watcher by John Lutz.

It's all better with friends.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Collaberation of Writing

If book jackets were truthful, every one would show more than one name as the author. It takes a village to write a novel.

Do you read the acknowledgements? That's where all of the villagers, or "assistant writers" are named. I read them every time.

The actual writing of a novel is lonely. Just me and my keyboard. It's satisfying to see lists of real people who've encouraged, provided information, or otherwise worked as a team to provide support for authors.

There are writers who don't have critique partners and never have, but I'm pretty sure they all have at least one reader at some point.

I'm fortunate to have two fabulous cps. Kelly Irvin is a former journalist and current PR person with her first novel coming out through Five Star in January. Susan Lohrer is a top-notch editor who has worked with several award winning authors. Anything worthwhile that I produce, those two women will have had input on.

Then there are readers and agents and publishers.

Award-winning author Colleen Coble gets downright giddy when she anticipates receiving her edits. She fully understands the "it takes a village" concept and embraces it with enthusiasm.

Then there are all of those resources used for research. Those people are invaluable in putting a book together.

See the number growing? It isn't just the one name on the cover.

And don't forget the family who has to deal with dust bunnies and either frozen pizza or slow cooker meals, and the friends who feel a bit abandoned from time to time.

Maybe the primary author's name is the only one that shows because they don't make book jackets large enough.

CR: Strangle a Loaf of Italian Bread by Denise Dietz. I had LASIK yesterday or I may have finished it. Instead, I finished listening to Just One Look by Harlan Coben.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Book Review: THE NOTICER by Andy Andrews

Several residents of the small coastal town of Orange Beach, Alabama had reached dead ends. They’d given up. On success. On marriage. On life.

Enter Jones—a mysterious old guy who has drifted in and out of town for decades. He’s a peddler. Of perspective. And to each hopeless denizen of Orange Beach, Jones offers his friendship and advice. He has a gift of seeing through problems, a way to look into desperation and find fertile ground—find a different perspective.

Andrews conveys deep philosophies and simple wisdom in a story that reads like lighthearted play. The Noticer is a quick read, but one you’ll want to open over and over, each time finding the perfect tidbit to redirect your struggling thoughts to something positive. Something on which to build.

Don't expect this book to change your life. It won't. Instead, expect it to give you some things to think about.

After all, “whatever you focus upon, increases.” (pg. 13)

Get this one on your shelf. You’ll want to keep it handy. You may even want to pick up a couple of extra copies for gifts. That’s my plan.

The Noticer is also available on Kindle or audio.


CL: JUST ONE LOOK by Harlan Coben.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

RULE ME OUT— Who says there are writing rules?

While on our road trip to the Zion area, we went on a hike that included, among other hikers, a group I called the Obnoxious Family.

Dad was the worst. His entire demeanor was loud and controlling. The purpose of the trip was apparently not to have any wonderful bonding time with his family through the creation of shared memories. The purpose of the trip was to take fabulous photos to show other people what a photogenic family he presided over (he kept demanding that one of his daughters remove her glasses), as well as how much fun this good looking team of his had together. The photos would become the proof.

There are no rules governing how a family should spend their time together. I was just one of many observers. What wouldn't work for one family might be the glue that keeps another one together.

Same with writing.

There are no rules governing how a writer should string words together.


If, as a writer, I hear someone talking about rules, I cringe. I want to throw something. Writing is the creation of an idea through words.

There are, however, expectations and preferences.

I may have a problem with a domineering so-and-so, and that's my bias. He still gets to create the image of his family in his own way. There are no rules.

But I sort of think others may feel the same way I do, and if I'm an agent deciding whether or not I want to represent this family, I will decline in a nanosecond.

Every writer still gets to create their own story in their own way. (I am Boss, Hear me Roar.) The creative process, by its very nature, is free of restriction. Otherwise, it's just a rather dull cookie-cutter. Don't you agree?

But understand that every agent, every editor, will have expectations of the work I present. Expectations involve certain standards of craft on one level, their own pet-peeves on another.

It can get tricky.

The best idea I've heard that seems to work for me (and most recently it came from Chris Roerden), is to not edit my first draft. Get it down with a sense of freedom, then go back and revise. Begin with plot, then characters, dialogue, conflict and motivation. The last thing to edit should be typos and grammar. It's during the revision process that you can examine your work to see if it meets expectations.

JF: BLACK WATER RISING by Attica Locke (about murder and greed and racism); THE NOTICER by Andy Andrews (about defining your perspective); and SPY (audio) by Ted Bell (about greed and revenge and international politics).

CR: STRANGLE A LOAF OF ITALIAN BREAD by Denise Dietz (about a diet leader who solves a murder) and JUST ONE LOOK (audio) by Harlan Coben (about a man with a secret past and his wife's desparate search to save him).

It's all better with friends.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Writing The Bad Guy

As a suspense novelist, my favorite characters to write have been the antagonists. There's something intriguing about writing evil. And writing evil that has depth? Even more so.

But guess what occurred to me last night while I was working in the kitchen? (Other than that we were running low on the pasta I thought we'd be leaving to family members in our will.)

As a reader, in most books, I don't much like reading the chapters/scenes in the antagonist's POV.

I can think of several that have been flat and predictable. They're boring and other than the fact they they're doing something nefarious to the good guys, they don't add anything to the story.

Just as readers need to connect with my protagonists, they also need to find something—some kernel—of similarity or empathy or something in the bad guy they can relate to, as weird as that sounds. This is especially important if I'm going to give them a POV role.

Or I need to write the character so twisted that their story is as intriguing as the protagonist's story. (Think Silence of the Lambs.)

Of course, I'm trying to do both. Because there's a side of me that's pretty scary, and I've learned not to be afraid to go there.

CR: Black Water Rising by Attica Locke.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Refracted Reference

Confession time. Could be everyone already knows this (I know for sure my critique partners are savvy) but my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style is in pretty pristine condition. It's true I take care of my books, but this one requires regular dusting.

CMS is a wealth of information for every novelist. It's probably one of the most expensive reference books I own. Filled with treasures I don't know how to mine.

I understand how it's laid out, and it's very cleverly done. Kudos to the developers of this tool.

What I can't understand is how to determine the question I need to know before I go in search of the answer.

For example, 5.187 deals with something called Subordinating Conjunctions. If I didn't know what a subordinating conjunction was (and I didn't) how would I know I needed to know?

Maybe I'll have to wait for an editor to tell me what my questions should be. Like maybe someday mine will say, "Peg, you've really got to get a handle on your illative conjunctions." Then I would either look for it in my CMS, or make a doctor's appointment.

I've decided that editors are the engineers of the writing world.

"Why use a modifier to set straight a not-quite-right noun when the right noun is available?"

CR: Black Water Rising by Attica Locke.

It's all better with friends.