Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Soft, Protected Place

I'm sitting here in a Christmas fog. Or a kind of sugary, candy-cane kind of stupor. I'm okay, but not quite right.

I know I miss communicating with everyone, but I'm at a loss. Where is Jimmy Stewart and It's a Wonderful Life when you're in need? He (and that movie) can always set me straight, somehow. Thank goodness for the annual refresher. But I haven't seen it yet.

So here are some odds and ends instead . . .

First, I just enjoyed a thoroughly wonderful interview with Jenny Milchman on Murder, She Writes. Look for he 12/21 interview with an Emerging Author. Jenny, your clarity punched holes through my Christmas fog. You were brilliant. And I loved hearing my name on air. What can I say? I'm an easy schmooze.

It's been kind of a rough week.

First, I'm missing my mom. She always gave me a way to both take a hard look at myself and give me a soft place to land. That's what moms do. Christmas was one of those times when Mom would just pull out all of the stops to show us how much she loved us. Her love language was service. I will always remember her cleaning my bedroom when I was sick. And man, no one could put the presents under the tree better than my mom.

I love you, Shirley Jean.

I found out last week that my dad might have something ooky going on with one of his lungs. He needs an MRI. It's scheduled for Thursday. The magic day. Christmas Eve. All I can say is it better be good news. Because I sort of think Christmas Eve and I have had an agreement for the last 55 years. Best not to blow it now.

The past couple of days also brought some difficult news for my sister. What I know about her is that she has the strength to come out of it. She's that kind of strong. But that doesn't stop me for wishing I could wave a magic wand and make everything right.

So here. This is it. This is what's important for all of us to remember.

Let yourself fall into that soft place. The place that only a few people (and God) have access to. Feel it. Love it. Recognize how precious it is. Not too many people on this planet share the luxury of even acknowledging such a vulnerable state of mind.

Because it's who you are. It's the Real Deal. And it's what makes you special.

Without empathy, our world is meaningless. Without creativity, it becomes gray. Use that soft place that is uniquely you to create words on a page no one else could write.

Your spirit is unique among all others. Let it shine. Don't worry about whether or not it's perfect (there are plenty of folks out there who can help you get it there). Strive for authenticity. Let the thing that makes you different from anyone else emerge. It's okay. It really is.

It's you. And that's what makes what you write, or create, or sell, or manage, or teach, or whatever you do every day, special.

CR: I was trying to read a true crime book, but it got to the point where I was forcing myself to read it. So, I'm now reading Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais and so excited to be involved in a story again.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Interior Monologue

We've reached the end of this series of posts by my good friend and debut novelist, Kelly Irvin. I'm hoping it's not the last.

Kelly's novel, A Deadly Wilderness, is available now for preorder, and will be widely available next month for immediate delivery through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your library.

If you're planning on ordering this book, it can mean a lot to an author to get some preorders.

Just in case you're hestitating . . .

I'm proud to point out again that Publisher's Weekly gave her a wonderful review, and within the last few days two more fabulous reviews have surfaced. Check them out at Bruce Judisch and Genre Go Round Reviews.

Interior Monologue—the tool writers love to hate

I used to think I hated doing interior monologue. I mean all that stumbling around inside a character’s head. It’s hard enough figuring out what the people you know and love think. Now they want us to know what cold-blooded assassins are thinking or the guy who cheated on his wife (I think we’ve pretty much got that one figured out) or the mother who just lost a child.

With more than a half-dozen manuscripts under my belt, I’ve come to realize that interior monologue is a writer’s goldmine. We are fortunate as novelists to have at our disposal a weapon that filmmakers and TV script writers can’t use. We can usher our readers into the minds of our characters and let them eavesdrop.

Why is that so important? Because it develops our characters. We can show their motivations and their internal conflict. We want our characters to be realistic and people don’t go around baring their souls aloud to just anyone—especially men. I’ve been guilty of making my guys do a lot of talking. Wishful thinking, I guess. Just because they don’t say it, however, doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking it. Being able to show their angst is a gift for a writer trying to make readers understand and care about their characters.

It’s also a very cool plot tool. The readers gets to drop in just as a character realizes something new, puts clues together, reacts to a situation, all of which could lead to the character doing something different, altering his strategy.

That doesn’t mean you want pages and pages of oozing emotion to the detriment of moving the story along. That’s the part readers skip. And readers are smart. They get it the first time, so don’t repeat four-hundred-fifty times the fact that your heroine loves the hero but she can never be with him because she thinks he loves someone else. We get it and I’ll be very tempted to put the book down or throw it against a wall.

My other pet peeve is when writers use their characters to espouse their real world personal opinions. If your character is a Texan who drives a monster truck, hunts deer, and has a gun collection that fills his living room, then yeah, he can argue in favor of concealed guns being allowed on college campuses while drinking a beer from a mason jar in a bar where you throw the peanut shells on the floor. The former cheerleader soccer mom from Massachusetts—not so much.

If you want to experience great use of interior monologue, read Julia Spencer-Fleming’s I Shall Not Want. (It’s also a great study in multiple points of view). Another good one is Earlene Fowler’s Steps to the Altar.

One more thing. I hate to state the obvious, but just in case: Don’t put interior monologue in quote marks. It’s thought, not spoken.

Bottom line on interior monologue, if it doesn’t contribute to the plot or your character’s development, hit the delete key. Done right, it gives the reader a deeper, richer experience that makes them remember characters long after they shut the book. And they’ll be much more likely to pick up the next one they see with your name on it. Happy emoting!

Did I mention you could pre-order your very own copy of A Deadly Wilderness? Did you read those reviews?

CR: I finished Breathless by Dean Koontz this afternoon. It was not a disappointment.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Delight is in the Details

An author who has recently caught my eye is Joseph Finder. I've only read two of his so far, but I sit back and think . . . this guy knows a lot about a lot.

I'm currently reading the new Dean Koontz. If you've read my blog very much, you know I find much to like about Koontz. Even to the point that I want to be him when I grow up. That's not to say he doesn't disappoint, but so far, Breathless is amazing.

He's using a sentence structure from time to time that makes me stumble a bit, but I like to give an artist the opportunity to try a different brush stroke before I decide I don't like the painting. I might blog about that later.

But what I've noticed, yet again, is the detail he imbues his stories with. Joe Finder does the same thing. I'm reading the words, learning (because I often learn through fiction) and thinking that this guy is the ultimate Renaissance Man.

How does he choose where to release the detail and how much can he release before it becomes an Information Dump?

I've learned in previous Koontz novels (and this one as well) that rats make nests in certain palm trees. Is that creepy, or what?

In Breathless I learned that thoroughbreds do better with their own companion animals; about choosing a base color in weaving, and a whole lot more about veterinary medicine than the average guy knows. Even a little about carving furniture and inlaying the wood with metal.

It's the tiny detail that underlines a moment. A scene. A thought. It's the tiniest bit of information that stamps it with the "reality" stamp.

As a reader, how does it effect you? As a writer, do you think you've found the balance?

CR: Breathless by Dean Koontz. Almost to the end, I've thoroughly enjoyed this tale. Hoping I don't get disappointed by the ending.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Voice Voce Expressar Vocale

Interesting. The Afrikaans translation for "voice" is "stem."

Where do your words stem from?

Kelly Irvin tackles the difficult subject of voice in this post.

Kelly's debut novel, A Deadly Wilderness will be on the shelves next month, but is available through preorders right now at Amazon.

Voice: Just listen. You’ll know it when you read it.

At the last meeting of my local writing group, we talked about voice. One of the members looked around, her face puzzled, and said, “Can I ask a stupid question?” Being assured that there are no stupid questions among friends, she asked, “What’s the difference between voice and point of view. Character, in other words.”

It’s a tough question. I know voice exists because I know it when I see it. I would know Janet Evanovich’s work even if her name wasn’t on it. Same with James Lee Burke with his rich rolling thunderous passages of narrative that pick me up and slap me down right in the middle of New Iberia, Louisiana, or the filthy, ugly back streets of New Orleans. No one writes alcoholic binges or criminal intent like he does. Each one of his characters is distinct and gorgeously drawn. Every time I read one of his books I say to myself, I want to write like that.

Those of us at the table who have written published novels all agreed that we have distinctive, if still developing, voices. One author says she has a rather masculine voice, and her editor is always asking her what her characters are thinking and feeling because it rarely shows up on the page. I’m the opposite. My characters emote all over the place. But that’s really not my voice. My voice is in the words I choose to use. For example, in A Deadly Wilderness, there’s a time when a hung-over alcoholic cop takes a drink from a water bottle “like there isn’t enough water in the great state of Texas to slake her thirst.” Now others wouldn’t have said it quite like that. Some might have said she sucked it down greedily or gulped it like she couldn’t get enough. Or any number of other ways. Yes, I had to think about whether my POV character, the protagonist, would think like that. Now Ray is a vociferous reader, a theologian, and a bit of philosopher. So, yeah, I can get away with having him think the word slake.

The important thing to note here, is I didn’t sit down and try to come up with this particular phrase. It just came in the throes of the writing, as do the metaphors, like Ray watching Deborah work as a cop and thinking she was like a ballerina driving a bulldozer. You would’ve said it differently. Because your voice is different.

The bottom line, I think, is that you cannot teach voice. A writer’s voice is her own. In Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Rennie Brown and Dave King conceded that a strong, distinctive, authoritative writing voice is something most fiction writers want—and something no editor or teacher can impart. It is . . . something any writer can bring out in himself or herself. But oddly enough, you can’t bring out your writer’s voice by concentrating on it.”

Members of our group struggled with that. They wanted to make lists of phrases used by other authors and use them in their WIPs. They wanted exercises they could do that would bring out their voice. The best way, Brown and King agree, to bring out your voice, is to write. And listen. Listen to your words, the rhythm of your sentences, the vividness of your verbs, the colorful way you bring that fictional word to life. Without impeding the story, mind you. The story is paramount. If you’re really pleased with a particular turn of phrase but it brings the reader out of the story, strike the phrase. And remember, when you’re in a particular character’s head, whatever he’s saying or thinking has to be in character. Stay in character. Don’t worry about your voice, it will come.

CR: The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass. For some reason, since I'm on the stretch just before the home stretch of my novel, and the books in my TBR pile beg for hours curled up with them and only them, I can't get my head around reading a novel. Weird, but true.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Beyond Kindle

I love my Kindle. I use it as a supplement to traditionally printed books. As much as I love it, I also recognize it isn't perfect.

Here are things I would like the next generation of e-readers to have:

1. I can make notes and clip and save phrases on the Kindle, but it's not easy enough. Make it simple. I'm thinking maybe a stylus (do they still call those little pen/wands a stylus?) and touch-screen.

2. Let me loan my books to other e-readers, including Kindle. I'm thinking for up to 30 days, then they're magically transported back to me. It's next to impossible for me to follow up on loaned books and get them returned. And when people look at me with blank expressions? I'm totally not into twisting arms and threatening broken legs. My first Harry Potter is gone forever, as well as the first Left Behind. I admit it. I'm a wuss.

3. Color. Okay, not so necessary when everything I read is a novel, but I still like to look at covers, don't you?

4. Wouldn't it be cool to be able to correspond directly with the author of the book you're reading? "You are a fabulous author and I particularly loved . . . " Or even, "What were you thinking? Was that you or your editor?"

5. While you're at it . . . Wouldn't it be cool to see that episode of Lie to Me you missed on your Kindle?

6. This is something that could happen right now. Currently on Amazon, the cost for Kindle editions does not apply toward free shipping for traditionally published books. Some books I want on Kindle, some I want with spines. Picky, I know. But still.

Here's a link to a cool tablet coming out next year via Wonderfactory and Time Inc.

What are some of your dream elements of the next generation of e-reader? Are you as excited as I am about the rumors of the upcoming Apple iTablet?

CR: Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Writing Winner

This is the second in a series of guest posts by novelist Kelly Irvin. Kelly's first novel will hit the stands next month.

A Deadly Wilderness garnered a review by Publishers Weekly who called it a "solid romantic suspense debut" with an antagonist who is "all too chillingly real."

Today she shares a little of the process.

Writing—What I Learned Along the Way

The closer I get to having a published copy of A Deadly Wilderness in my hands, the more I seem to reflect on how it happened. One minute, like the refrain goes, I’m wishing and hoping and dreaming, the next I’m looking at an advance review copy that has my name on it and my words in it. An overnight success? Hardly. So I’m looking back at the circuitous road that brought me here and sharing with those of you who are still jogging out there some thoughts on how to get across the finish line.

It started with six years of butt-in-chair in front of a laptop, tears, rejections, rewrites of rewrites, and more than one attempt to quit. I discovered I couldn’t quit. No matter how low I got, I still kept writing. And that’s where I start my advice to other writers still looking to be published. Don’t quit. Unless you can. If you can, stop torturing yourself. If you keep writing, allow yourself the joy of writing for itself. Yes, most of us want to get published, but we shouldn’t let that rob us of the sheer joy of getting the story on paper.

The next stumbling block in the road for many of us is time—the time to write. Not many of us can quit our day jobs. I’m a public relations professional which means I work 40-plus hours a week. I also do contract proofreading for two district court reporters. And I have a husband, two teenage children, two cats and a tank full of gold fish. When do I write? At six in the morning before work, for an hour at lunch (as I’m doing now), and whenever I can on nights and weekends. I’ve learned to sit down at the laptop, put fingers on the keys and simply go. Take advantage of whatever time you have. Do this every day until you have a finished manuscript.

I thought once I finished my first manuscript, I was ready to hit the big time. After a few rejections, reality set in. Just because I could put words on paper, didn’t mean they were good. I had to learn to embrace the rewriting process and seek ways to improve my work. A critique group is an absolute necessity. Without Peg and Susan and Angela, I would still be waiting for a contract. Writing conferences are helpful. Contests can be helpful. Anything you can do to improve your writing, do it. Finish the book and then polish it. Lovingly and thoughtfully and carefully.

The next step is to seek an agent. Today few publishers are accepting unsolicited manuscripts. I found my agent through on-line research. I queried her, she asked for fifty pages and a synopsis (have one ready to go), then she asked for a full manuscript. A few months later I had a contract. An agent gets your work in front of publishers. That’s the bottom line. The only time you can do that is at conferences when you get a fifteen minute pitching slot. Agents can do it year around.

Now I have a publisher. All done? Nope. It’s a one-book deal. Yes, I’m thrilled that A Deadly Wilderness has been reviewed favorably by Publisher’s Weekly. That bodes well for sales and has even resulted in film rights being sought in some cases. It’s all very exciting, but in the meantime, I’m still sitting down at my laptop everyday and writing. Because that’s where the real joy is. So enjoy the journey. See you at the finish line!

* * *

In September, Kelly and I attended a conference together. While we were there, Kelly learned that another of her manuscripts had been turned down by a publisher.

We stood in a bathroom in the Marriott and the tears rolled. The tears expressed her passion for the story she'd written, and the vulnerability we all have in this business.

When the tears dried, they'd left her skin a little thicker and her determination a little deeper.

When I asked Kelly if it was okay to share this with you, she replied:

Feel free. I’ve spilled a lot of tears over the last six years over rejections and I know it won’t be the last time. Lot of other writers probably experienced the same heartbreak at the conference. We’re all in it together.

Kelly Irvin

www (dot) kellyirvin (dot) com

A Deadly Wilderness, January 2010

from Five Star / Gale / Cengage

CR: Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger

It's all better with friends.