Monday, August 31, 2009

OT - Duck Tales

A quick update on my friend Deborah, who happens to be a mallard duck.

I called the rehab center (where she's been taken care of for almost three weeks) this afternoon to check on her status.

They told me she's fine, she's eating, but they won't be releasing her back to the wild because of her jaw. One of the people who either works or volunteers at the center (who's name, coincidentally, is Debbie) will continue in a guardian role.

I'm still trying to determine the level of my sadness.

All I've been able to figure out for sure is that spring will never be the same at the Brantley Duck B&B.

Back to rewrites.

Just finished Deception by Randy Alcorn. I'll begin Hank Phillippi Ryan's Prime Time sometime after prime time.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Behind the Mask

Even suspense novelists understand it's not all about the plot. Me included.

The question is how can I create memorable characters who are multi-dimensional right out of the box. Characters who respond and act in a consistent manner based on who they are at their core—behind their masks.

On the recommendation of some multi-published suspense novelists, I purchased a DVD series by Michael Hauge (author of Writing Screenplays That Sell) and Christopher Vogler (author of The Writer's Journey).

The Hero's 2 Journeys is available directly from the makers, and right now the DVD version is on sale. I'm a visual learner (even though we're talking a static camera in a classroom setting), so that was important to me. The course is also available on CD.

Let's pretend I'm developing a central figure in a walloping good story. To make my protagonist an interesting character, someone worthy of a reader investing their time and hopes in, that character must have experienced a wound.

And the wound needs to have been inflicted prior to the opening sentence of the story.

A wound can be one catastrophic event (death, rape, loss) or it can be something endured over time (bad foster homes, belittling, incest).

For protection, my character will create an identity for themselves that keeps them safe. An identity that they hold on to up until the Point of No Return. A mask that must be ripped off in order for them to be fully realized. An exterior facade that must be killed in order for them to go from Identity to Essence.

This process goes hand-in-hand with the outer journey of your hero.

If you're feeling the need to take your character awareness to the next step, this is a series you want to check into.

CR: Deception by Randy Alcorn.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, August 24, 2009


If you're not already using Google Alerts to let you know whenever your name shows up on the Internet, now would be a good time to start. I get kind of a kick out of it, and set up an alert for my husband's name as well. Unfortunately, there's another guy out there who shares his name, and I need to weed things out from time to time.

Recently, I learned some other good uses for Google Alerts and wanted to share them with you.

Although the town in my manuscript is fictional, it's very near Aspen, Colorado. As a native, I've been to Aspen a number of times, but I don't live there. Setting up an alert to receive links whenever Aspen is mentioned helps keep me on top of current community issues I wouldn't otherwise know about.

A major element in my story involves black market organ procurement, so I have an alert set up to send me anything related to organ donation. I can use this information to make sure I have current angles woven into my story, as well as developing news sources to refer to in my query.

In addition to Google Alerts, I follow associated agencies on Twitter.

As a suspense novelist, research is imperative and my ability to be accurate about important issues is almost as important as telling a good story.

CR: Deception by Randy Alcorn.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cut and Fluff

Rachelle Gardner recently wrote a blog post that I am going to blatantly steal from today. (Rachelle's blog is listed in my favorite blogs section in the lower right. It's called "Rants & Ramblings" and is well worth following.)

I've gotten pretty good at the cutting part during my rewrite process, but here is a list of things to look for when you decide to do some cleanup (a/k/a cutting):

  • Adverbs. Especially those with "ly" endings. I heard once that it helps if you imagine you have to fork over some money for every adverb you leave in your manuscript. My advice? Make sure it's enough money to force you to pay attention.
  • Adjectives. I just read that using two or three when one or none is better is a red flag to an agent or editor. Flush as many of these as possible.
  • Gerunds. These are words that end in "ing." I used to start gazillions of sentences with "ing" words. To me, it felt like I was getting right to the action. One is okay. Forty is a bit much.
  • Passive voice. Get rid of as many of these as possible: was, were, that.
  • Narrative detail (including interior monologue). Deadly to the story.
  • Passages that tell the reader what they already know. This is a close relative of R.U.E. (Resist the Urge to Explain.)
  • Unnecessary backstory. Trust me, most backstory is unnecessary.
  • Weasel words. These cover a lot of sins: this, that, these, those, it, to try, somehow, appeared, seemed, about, actually, almost, like, approximately, basically, close to, even, eventually, exactly, finally, just, just then, kind of, nearly, practically, really, simply, somewhat, sort of, suddenly, truly, utterly, were.

CR: Deception by Randy Alcorn. (I'm loving this protagonist. So funny . . . )

It's all better with friends.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Moving Forward

I love learning.

My hope and intent is to be a life-long learner.

But one of the things I've discovered I need to learn is . . . how to apply what it is I've learned.

Every pianist wants to become a better pianist. When a pianist learns something new about fingering, or expression, or interpretation, they want to apply it to their work. But it's impossible for them to go back in time and play something differently than they played it a week ago. The "play" is finished. They must take what they've learned and apply it moving forward.

I learned the hard way that when you make an error when you're painting a watercolor, the error isn't going to disappear. You can't go back and fix it. You have to move ahead with what you've learned and work with what you've got. (My first-ever watercolor (above) is a wonderful beach scene with waves and colorful sky and that beachy-grass . . . and a pine tree on the left-hand side. A bird that was oh-so-bad turned into a pine cone turned into a tree branch. But it's framed and in our bedroom.)

How about what I learn regarding writing? It can be paralyzing. Rather than moving forward with what I've learned, I stop the presses, literally, go back full of angst, and attempt to redo everything. In a way, it's terrible that the option to rewrite even exists.

In the last week I've learned more about scenes than I knew the week before. My heart loves the new knowledge, even though there's this enormous chain that is tugging it under water with the perfectionist's need to go back and fix everything—even if it doesn't need fixing. As much as a heart requires blood (knowledge and excitement) pumping through it, it also requires air—the freedom to move forward. (Okay, so I don't know biology . . . but you know what I mean.)

I've decided to be the pianist for at least a day or two. To move forward with new learning. To not let it paralyze me. To let the new knowledge settle and attach itself to the way I work, becoming a fully formed, natural place from which to operate.

We'll see how far I get.

CR: Deception by Randy Alcorn.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Writing ER

Yesterday I sat down to read the next few scenes for my rewrite.

They stunk.

To be honest, the scenes weren't as stinky as the writing. I must have been ten when I wrote them.

To be even more honest, amateur writing aside, the scenes were still pretty horrible. {heavy sigh}

Enter Grand Intervention in the form of The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass. I'm reading a little bit every day while I eat lunch. Feeding two needs at once. Yesterday, I was a wee bit unhappy as I sat at the table and opened Fire at my bookmark. I read:

Authors, as they plow through the middle portion of their manuscripts, tend to write what they think ought to come next; furthermore, they write it in the first way it occurs to them to do so. In successive drafts such scenes tend to stay in place, little altered. Unsure what to do, an author may leave a scene in place because . . . well, just because.

And then:

To re-envision a scene, look away from the page and look toward what is really happening. What change takes place? When does that change occur (at what precise second in the scene)? In that moment, how is the point-of-view character changed? The point of those questions is to find the scenes' turning points (note the plural).

And I'll leave you with:

To put it plainly, scenes work best when they have both outer and inner turning points.

Thanks to a bit of direction by Donald Maass, I was able to fix one scene yesterday. Today, I plan on writing a new scene for a sub-plot and then move on to perform additional surgery on the next couple of seriously ill sections.

The Doctor is in.

CR: Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Julie & Julia . . . and oh yeah, Peg

I can talk about it now.

When I went back to my rewrites today, I realized why I'd stopped a few days ago.

During the writing of my first draft, I needed to come up with a tiny little plot point that would make sense and enhance the story. But did I do it then? Nope. I just inserted the little red letters for me to come up with something later. Well, to be fair, I'd also given myself a bit of a clue. The rest of it however, was for me to figure out at some point Down the Road.

Well, I have arrived at Down the Road. And it ain't easy. I think there was some part of me that didn't think I'd really get here, so what would be the harm?

But after a bit of stepping away and pretending I was brainstorming for someone else, I came up with a plan.

The success made me feel like either one of the characters in Julie & Julia. Have you seen that movie yet? I adored it. Two women who feel they have something more to do. Something to contribute.

And they never finish anything.

Life has plot points, too. I get that. But when something you supposedly have control over, like a scene you've written (duh), is just sitting there sneering at you, it hurts. I felt stupid and uncreative. A total fraud.

And believe it or not, so did Julia Child. Whose cookbook, by the way, is now on my list of things I want.

Julie and Julia, each in their own way, just slogged through life's little bad patches and disappointments. Each finally finding a way to finish something.

And, oh yeah. Two pretty cool love stories to boot.

Go see the movie. You'll see what I'm talking about.

CR: Love & Respect.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Last Friday, I was walking down our staircase and glanced out to see the flowers in our courtyard, and the little fountain we have that bubbles away. The birds love the flowing water. It's their favorite source. And I love watching them.

I saw a finch who should have been either on high alert, like birds always are, or madly flapping away getting a wonderful bath. She was doing neither.

She was dead.

Somehow, she must have plowed into one of our windows (which they do all too often) and wound up smack in the top of this tiny fountain. It's no more than six inches in diameter. The little finch pretty much took up the entire space, and there was no way I wouldn't notice her body floating there.

I checked to make sure she was not alive (sometimes they're just stunned), then buried her in our berm. Truth be told, I'm kind of leery about burying too many more birds there. I'm always afraid I'll dig up an old friend. That just wouldn't be right. Makes me understand the concept of grave markers.

Also on Friday, the amazing writing instructor, Margie Lawson, announced that her cousin had just been diagnosed with ALS. Although he knew it was too late for him, he wanted to raise money to combat that horrible disease. Margie said that in order to help her cousin reach his $100,000 goal, she was offering that with any $50 donation, the person's name would go into a drawing for one of her big-time ($450) classes. Sounded good to me. But I didn't get around to it right away, and I think she had Sunday as the deadline.

I would LOVE to take Margie's class. Plus, I'm good at getting drawn to win something (knock wood). I figured it was almost a shoe-in for me to plunk down a charitable contribution, feel good about it, and win a coveted prize. Selfish? Probably.

(Bear with me. There's a connection.)

Saturday morning, my plans were to check overnight emails, write a couple of them, take an early shower and head off on my errands. We were having friends for dinner and I needed to get to the grocery store. And the liquor store for champagne. We make mimosas for our Sunday Brunch.

My work area is in the lower part of our walkout. There are French doors right by my desk, and when the weather is nice, they're open (as they are now). On Saturday morning, I'm writing an early email to my sister in Tucson, when out of the corner of my eye, a duck starts to walk into my house!

It was Deborah.

Ray and Deborah (a pair of mallards) come every spring to our yard, eat whole wheat bread, enjoy private duck baths (plant saucers) and proceed to make babies. Deborah has a favorite nesting place in our backyard, and we have duckling parades every May or June. I think of those few months as our time to host a B&B. For ducks.

Except this year. I lost my cool when I saw a fox belligerently standing over her nest. He'd eaten the eggs. It was sad, days later, to see Deborah sit and gaze at what had been her nest—and her babies—for hours at a time. I thought of her as sitting Shiva.

Ray and Deborah hung around a little longer than usual this year because they didn't have anything better to do. The No-Family thing.

But, they'd been gone for quite a while by Saturday. I jumped up, closed the door (duck poop is horrible to clean up, and I didn't want it on my carpet) and ran upstairs to get some bread and water for my visitor.

She had looked like she was panting. And I know now where the term "ruffled feathers" came from.

Back down with the bread and the water. Laid it outside for her to get to. She was ravenous. But she couldn't close her bill. The bread was a carrot that just kept dangling; the gold ring just out of her reach.

A few phone calls later, including one to the Audobon Society of Greater Denver, I reached Wild B.I.R.D. A rehab center. They told me how to capture Deborah and where to bring her.

My husband and I used an old flannel sheet for the capture (I felt horrible, but determined), and a Lladro box for transport. Driving Deborah to the center, it occurred to me that maybe I was suffocating her with the sheet, inside of the box, and the poor thing would wind up dead by the time I got her to her rescuers. Thank goodness it was just my normal worry gene that got kicked into high gear.

The first thing I saw when I got to Wild B.I.R.D. was a sign that said how badly they needed donations. That $30 would go a long way in helping them care for these wild birds people insisted on dropping off for them to fix.

We made it past the "West Nile" and "botulism" epidemic concerns. Turns out, Deborah had a fractured jaw. She most likely had been hit by a car. They were going to reset her jaw and tube-feed her in the interim.

I happily wrote them a check for the $50 I was going to selfishly contribute earlier to a cause, that although just, would have been a donation made by me with an expectation of personal gain.

I plan on picking Deborah up in about three weeks, bringing her to her own backyard, and releasing her to the wild. I just hope Raymond is alive and hasn't given up hope.

It's been a really tough year for Deborah, but her timing worked. I buried a finch on Friday, didn't get around to making a planned (if selfish) donation, saved a duck on Saturday and had the funds available to make a difference.

And yeah, that's Deborah with her babies from last year in the picture.

CR: Love & Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Is Writing a Gift?

I have a one word answer for that question. No way. (See? Writing is tricky.)

It takes hard work and commitment to become a concert pianist, or a professional athlete, or a successful trial lawyer—or a writer. There must be determination to learn and grow, and then learn some more.

A person may have a natural inclination for persuasive argument, or to toss a football, but having a natural inclination does not equate to having a gift.

If there is a gift associated with writing (or any of those other things), it's called Desire. The desire to want to accomplish something. To improve. To get better and better and better until someday, someone might even think you're the "best."

I want to learn how to weave a story with such amazing skill that readers forget they're looking at words on a page. I want the words to surround them, flow over them, become so much a part of them that their lives are transported to the world I've created.

I want my writing to be a gift to them.

CR: Fear the Worst by Linwood Barclay.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Procrastination Assassination

Yesterday I made the decision to gift myself with a full day of writing—today. My husband has a recipe he wants to try (PTL) and how long could my little chores actually take? Especially if I did my planned cleaning a day ahead of time. Which I did.

So here it is, going on eleven. I've put bird seed in the feeders, made, cooled and refilled nectar feeders, fussed around writing some erudite emails, critiqued a piece of my granddaughters (which I did a terrible job with—another story), prepared to critique some chapters from a critique partner (who I can hammer away at with abandon), and well, that's about it.

Story? What story?

This post is short because I'm assassinating Procrastination at this very moment. Anyone got a bullet?

CR: Fear the Worst by Linwood Barclay. Available as a pre-order now from Amazon.

It's all better with friends.