Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Group, You?

The act of writing is by its very nature a one-person process. When the words are flowing from our thoughts, through our fingers and onto that page, we are in our own world. A sort of fugue state. Sometimes it's populated by people we've created, other times we're alone there too. I love that place.

But one of my great joys as a writer is to sit around with other writers and talk the language of our passion. There's nothing like breaking bread with people who understand the angst and the joy we live with every day. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen very often.

Here are some groups that feed me in between. Check them out, see what you think. And let me know if there are some I should take a look at for myself.


DorothyL is a wonderful group of writers and readers. As in any family, there are all kinds of different personalities that make up the whole, and sometimes there are squabbles. But as in any family, there are those members who are the glue. The ones that have the ability to gently smooth ruffled feathers and remind everyone we are indeed a family. What this group has provided me is the knowledge that a book one person can't stand, someone else will rave about. I hope to keep that in mind when the time comes for people to be talking about my work. And going beyond that, I've learned some things to both avoid and strive for as a writer.

For Mystery Addicts is a dedicated group of readers. No BSP (Blatant Self-Promotion) is allowed. As with DorothyL, this group is scary-good. They are some of the most serious readers in the world. It's worth your time to learn from their discussions and reviews. Plus, they have a Christmas card program, and own a little pub called The Moldy Cockroach where things other than mysteries can be topics of conversation.

Crime Scene Writer is a terrific resource place to begin to get the feel and facts right. It is populated by experts in police procedure, forensics, etc. It has grown exponentially over the years, and now I mostly lurk. They have extensive archives, and with a couple of key words, you can dig up all kinds of information.

Murder Must Advertise is a place where writers share marketing ideas. What's working and what's not. Strange things that happen at booksignings, and ideas regarding trailers and social networking.


American Christian Fiction Writers is a place to go to learn and grow as a writer. Members include the newest of new writers, multi-published authors, agents and editors.

Sisters In Crime (which also includes brothers) is a great group to interact with and see how other writers are coping, growing and working toward their goals. Mentor Mondays are special days in which a guest expert is invited to answer questions on the loop. From FBI agents to psychologists to private detectives, you will be provided good information and ideas.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers is a local group I joined primarily because I crave those breaking bread moments. Plus they have some really good workshops. When I learned that Chris Roerden was putting on a workshop, that did it. I sent in my dues. Through them, I've also rubbed elbows with members of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. Look for a local writers group where you live.

Just finished: Vanished by Joseph Finder. A winner!

Not sure what I'll read next. White? Sandford?

It's all better with friends.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Introducing . . . PD Koontz

I've mentioned here several times that I want to be Dean Koontz when I grow up.

After reading the following quote from The Private Patient by PD James, I'm kinda leaning toward being PD Koontz:

"The world is a beautiful and terrible place. Deeds of horror are committed every minute and in the end those we love die. If the screams of all earth's living creatures were one scream of pain, surely it would shake the stars. But we have love. It may seem a frail defence against the horrors of the world but we must hold fast and believe in it, for it is all that we have."

It doesn't get much better than that.

CR: Vanished by Joseph Finder, and thoroughly enjoying every page.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Endings are Only the Beginning

As writers, we know that killer beginnings are important.

Opening lines get the attention of an agent, and hopefully, a publisher.

Beginning words can make the difference of whether or not a buyer decides they're willing to take a risk on an unknown author, and plunk down their hard-earned cash.

Beginnings set the stage for something juicy ahead. Enticing. Mysterious. Worth further exploration.

The beginning in my manuscript has changed three times. I went from what I thought was a clever beginning (something I don't recall seeing before but surely must have), to a murder scene (Chris Roerden's Don't Murder Your Mystery talked me out of that one) to what it is today.

I worked it and reworked it, then worked it again.

And now I'm worried because although it focuses on one of my protagonists, weather is involved. And people will tell you weather is a horrible thing to open with.


So maybe it's good that it's not beginnings I'm talking about today, but endings.

We've all heard (and I believe it to be true), while the beginning will sell your book, endings will sell your next one. (Note: the little girl in the picture is at the end of her book, cash in hand.)

I can think of one book in particular whose beginning grabbed me. The entire plot was fascinating and well done. There was no sagging middle. It was a "wow" read.

Until I got to the ending.

I truly believe that the author was forced to rewrite whatever ending he had originally written. Or maybe the editor wrote it. Or the __________(fill in the blank). It was so out of left-field, I read parts of it twice to make sure I wasn't missing something.

Unfortunately, I wasn't.

This could be why this author's debut novel was published in 1997. I can't find evidence that he's had a second.

Have you ever been hugely disappointed in an ending?

Almost as bad as a wrong ending, is one that simply isn't memorable. That happens to me a lot. I'm sure it's partly my memory, but it's also that the endings are blah. And they kind of drag on way past where they should have stopped.

So I'm slogging through multiple rewrites of my ending. All for the better. They include: actually writing the confrontational scene rather than just alluding to it (whodathunk?); getting the medical details right (I have a great medical resource who is a detail-oriented Tom Clancy type, but with a sweet smile); and then s-l-o-w-i-n-g down the confrontation scene by writing it again (I remind myself I want to be Dean Koontz when I grow up so I should practice now).

The trick with an ending is to know when to stop.

When you've finished the story, don't blather on for another umpteen pages (or even paragraphs) because, um . . . you've finished the story.


Say, "Goodnight, Gracie."

Just finished: Dark of the Moon by John Sandford. Since I've concluded that his scene/not-scene scene structure is his style, I'm much happier (see the previous posts).

Just began: Vansihed by Joseph Finder.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

John Sandford

I'm humbled.

I wrote about my flux over the John Sandford novel I'm reading (previous post) and his son responded. (If only we could all have such courage and commitment following us wherever we went in life.) Sort of reminds me of the movie Avatar, though I couldn't quite tell you why.

Could be that right now I'm listening to Etta James telling me that "You Don't Know What Love Is."

At any rate, our exchange was honest and true. Here is the warrior's (Avatar hangover) response to my request to reprint his clarification:

Oh, feel free to print it. I just fear it's going to sound really defensive, because... it's kind of defensive. That's the problem with defending things, I guess.
I also have a problem I picked up in academia: lecturing someone is evidently considered "rude" in real life, whereas in academia it's generally acknowledged as a reasonable and very efficient method of rapidly communicating information. Maybe I'm just too sensitive to maybe possibly insulting people unintentionally, but that's only because I've done so many times before. Alas.

So, you get the drift that this kid is cool.

So, when you read his response, it will mean even more:

Just a comment (or, rather, an explanation) here, but let me give you the context first, since that's actually relevant.
I'm the son of John Sandford, as well as his webmaster. Every day (or every other day) I scan the blogs to see who's been saying things about him, and what, and why. It's not for any real reason other than a desire on my part to see what the current "feeling" is about him. Or something like that.
One of the more prevalent things I've encountered, with regard to the Virgil books, is that they were co-authored by someone who's barely credited at all. Some go as far as saying that they were totally written by this "co-author" and just stamped with the JS seal of approval (or somesuch). You didn't do either of those things - you just speculated - but I figured I'd write in and explain what's going on.
If you look at it, the dedication doesn't actually say "coauthor". It says "written with" and that's a lot more ambiguous. "Dark of the Moon" was "written with" Larry Millett, and the next two books in the series were also "written with" people: Chuck Logan for "Heat Lightning" and Bill Gardner for "Rough Country". They didn't actually do any of the actual writing (although Logan TRIED, to his credit, producing a far-too-long and too-detailed outline which got mostly scrapped). They were, in essence, glorified research assistants, doing much the same job I did from 1997 to 2004, when my dad and I shared an office in St.Paul. If the author needs to know about such-and-such a town, the R.A. can go there and check it out and report back. And research aside, there's the sit-around-and-brainstorm bull sessions that really help the book along. Again, the kind of stuff that I did when we shared the same office. But Millett, Logan, and Gardner didn't actually do any of the WRITING.
For the third book of the Kidd series, I was credited in the author's note with helping the book. For the fourth in the series, my sister and I were both credited. I can tell you that we did not do any of the actual writing - that was 100% John Sandford - and it was the exact same kind of work that Millett, Logan, and Gardner did for their respective "co-authorships".
This doesn't stop people from writing in and complaining about it. Or, worse, writing to each other and complaining in a kind of self-verifying echo chamber where there's no chance of The Truth Of The Matter getting out. When you have six people mutually bitching about how the author's sold out and doesn't even write his own books any more, without contacting ANYone to even ask if that's what's going on, you get a perfect environment for rumors to become "fact". Yes, that makes me sad too. There's nothing I can do about it, and a long time afterwards I'll get email from someone saying that they've been on the outs with Sandford ever since he stopped writing his own books.
Anyway... I just wanted to say that the weird scene transitions you've seen in the recent Sandford books ARE all-Sandford, and not "inspired" by the mysterious and un-credited "co-author" so many people have accused him of using as a ghost-writer. Not that you said that they were, but I kind of felt that implication. So... yeah. Now you know.
Also... I'm sorry if this email comes off as sounding really arrogant or mean or whatever. It's not at all intended to be that. I'm just trying to correct a (possibly) mistaken impression out of a (probably) misplaced case of "Someone Is Wrong On The Internet" syndrome. Just so you know.

I'm sitting here right now to tell you that if I was a John Sandford fan before, I'm an even bigger one now. A jerk simply doesn't get this kind of intelligent, committed support.

Think I might even start reviewing some of his books online. Who knows?

All I can say is . . .

Truth is the heart. And when the heart is good, we're all better for it.

Thank you, Ros. I'm in your debt.

CR: Dark of the Moon John Sanford (and Ros, just so you know, I'm a slow reader . . . nothing wrong with the story here).

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rules vs. Artistic Style

I'm reading a novel now that seems like it's a good story, even though there are craft issues that are leaving me a bit perplexed. Even maybe a little headachey.

John Sandford is a favorite of mine, even though it's been awhile since I've read something of his. Could it be that he's always written this way and I just didn't notice?

I don't think so.

The novel is Dark of the Moon. Here was my first clue that there might be something different ahead. Inside the covers of the book there is an acknowledgment page that reads "This book was written in cooperation with my friend Larry Millet . . . "

There are odd POV shifts (even though they're generally done well), and strange scene breaks that really aren't scene breaks at all (those are the headachey things).

I'm not talking about "breaking the rules." I think, rather, this is an attempt to do something different. To take artistic liberty. But I'm not sure I like it.

Does that make me a curmudgeon?

And I guess the one thing I really don't like is the fact that it sort of looks like this book had a co-author. A co-author whose name does not appear on the cover.

What about you? Is there anything that gives you reader angst?

You know what I'm reading. I have another Sandford in my TBR pile, so that'll be interesting.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Personal Favorite

A post to a loop on which I mostly lurk, DorothyL (for Dorothy L. Sayers) recently posed the question of published authors, "Which of your books is your personal favorite?"

Good marketing and craft development led a lot of authors to view their most recent as their favorite, but author Tim Hallinan's response caught my eye.

He gave me permission to share it here:

Mine is the worst book I ever wrote, but it was also the first I ever finished.

It's called The Wrong End of the Rainbow, and except for the title, it's awful. Not a likable character in it—they're like rejects who were turned away because they weren't cheerful enough to appear in a Patricia Cornwell novel. I did everything wrong: wrote a long (really long) prologue and put it in italics; started the book halfway through the action and then told the bulk of the story in flashback; cheated the reader regarding the murderer's identity. And did I mention the characters?

But I finished it, and at that point my life changed. I was someone who had finished writing a novel. It was a terrible novel, but it was a novel, and at least I didn't have to worry about sophomore slump, because the second one couldn't possibly be worse.

And it wasn't, and the third got me my first three-book deal.

I no longer have a copy of The Wrong End of the Rainbow, which is probably just as well. Some day, though, I'm going to use the title.

The key words for me are "at that point my life changed." I love it!

You can get Tim's newest, Breathing Water at Amazon or your local Independent bookstore. Or a chain bookstore. Pretty much anywhere. The thing is, Breathing Water, as well as the other's in the series have received amazing reviews.

CR: Dark of the Moon by John Sandford.

BTW, my rhythm is back. I'm rewriting my rewrites. Pretending to be professional. I only want to hurl every other day now.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Finding My Rhythm

I'm having a difficult time finding my rhythm. Holidays, my birthday, service people in my home, silly bits that need researching, various levels of anxiety . . .

None of which are very professional. None of which count for a hill of beans as far as excuses go.

I'm so, so, so close to putting the final touches on this last-before-last final draft. I have the next idea kicking and ready to get started. It's not fear of letting go. Whatever It is doesn't matter.

There is no good reason for this enormous wall that has mysteriously been erected in front of me.

My rhythm is on stall.

So tomorrow I will begin with a single note. A single beat in 4/4 time because that's the easiest. I will allow myself to fumble and stumble and be off-key.

I'll focus on the process of creation and pan the creation of the process.

CR: The Linda Fairstein. Hoping the last bit will match the first and redeem the middle.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Writer Wrejection

The Resilient Writer from Catherine Wald is a terrific book for seeing how the guys who've made it, er . . . made it. She interviewed 23 top authors and compiled their stories in one volume for the rest of us to both heed and take heart.

Her interview with Chris Bohjalian (Midwives) garnered this nugget: "At some point, you go from taking pride that you're sending your material out, to fear. At around number two hundred fifty, I began to stop taking pride in this wall of rejections that I had built, and I began to wonder if I was ever going to sell anything."

And this one: "Every novelist's first or second, or even third novel is an apprentice work that should probably never be published. It's the same way that a concert pianist never goes directly to Carnegie Hall; you've got years and years of practice first."

I'm also reading James Scott Bell's new book for those of us who are trying to figure out the pieces of this endeavor, The Art of War for Writers.

Bell's chapter 8 has more highlights than any other chapter I've read so far. It's about the kinds of fear we face as writers.

" . . . Fear of not being good enough; of not getting published; of getting published and not selling; of getting published once and never again; of getting stomped by critics (even those within your own family)."

He closes the chapter out with some concrete things we can do:

"1. Determine that you will act as if you have no fear. Act as if you are a successful writer. Don't do this with arrogance, but with determination.

2. Don't wait for your feelings to change; turn fear into energy for writing. . . .

3. Set writing goals that challenge you. . . . "

Neither of these are books on craft, but they are filled with the kind of details and inspiration we all can use on a daily basis.

OT: I'm sitting at my nearby Border's Cafe, trying to get some work done. There are a few quiet people here, intent either on their own laptops, or reading. But there is a group in the corner who are talking in Spanish. Quietly, but it's still kind of weird. This is when I wish I'd kept up with my Spanish lessons last year rather than making it a resolution for this year.

I'm such a snoop.

CR: Lethal Legacy by Linda Fairstein. At the moment I'm bogged down in one of the biggest information dumps I've ever seen. Although it's interesting, I'm wondering how much of it is going to actually be meaningful to the story.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

OT: How Was Your Day?

A good friend stopped by yesterday and we shared some wine.

She asked me to rank the day. Was it okay? Pretty dreadful? Kind of exciting?

This isn't our normal conversation. We're usually all over the map, literally—she just returned from an excursion to Antarctica—or we're deep into politics, relationships, or something else to stir our gray cells.

Yesterday was different. Yesterday was my 55th birthday. She knows me pretty well, and probably already had a handle on what my answer would be. But that didn't stop her from asking the question.

In essence, it went kind of like this: Pretty much okay. Definitely not dreadful. And what I hadn't quite figured out yet, exciting once I finished my reflection.

We talked about there being different measurements/levels of awareness at the different ages in our lives. From blissful ignorance, to professional ambition, to personal focus, to a place where we leave behind our old careers and choose to pay attention to those desires of our hearts.

For me, it's writing. For Kel, it's protecting and building the real estate investments her mom has made over the years, and continuing her educational endeavors which have never ceased.

I've been trying to walk down the writer's path for a few years now. Kel is just taking her first few steps without the crutch of a "title." I have no doubt she'll do well.

LOML took me to dinner at a wonderful restaurant known for its steaks. But I have to tell ya, the lobster bisque was to die for. I've gotta figure out how to do this at home.

As often happens when we're celebrating "days", we talked a bit about where we were in our lives.

LOML has accomplished a lot in his life, has left—and continues to leave—lasting marks on our society. Committed to excellence, equality, relevance and education, his input and value only increases with time.

Mine, except for special days when it's unleashed, continues to be tied up with my writing efforts.

So . . . how was your day? Okay, dreadful, or exciting? And what would it take to get tomorrow to move squarely into the exciting camp?

CR: Lethal Legacy by Linda Fairstein. (Which, btw, is my first Linda Fairstein. I've gotta say . . . WOW!)

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Getting in the Game

There's a stretch on busy Parker Road where people wait—and wait—to try to get into traffic from parking lots. Maybe they're waiting for some kind of miracle causing three lanes of drivers to come to a complete halt for them to carefully pull out and move to the farthest lane to make their turn. In the meantime, cars file past them as they sit. And sit.

Every time I happen to be there when this happens, I think, "You've got to get in the game to take your turn."

They might not be able to get to the farthest lane fast enough for their personal agenda to work, but they sure as heck weren't going anywhere sitting on the sidelines.

I've added a tenth goal to my 2010 list. To get ten rejections.

That means I'll be in the game.

CR: Lethal Legacy by Linda Fairstein.

It's all better with friends.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Goals for 2010

I learn more about goals every year. Here are some of the highlights. I'll also share a few of my goals with you, including what seems to be missing—and why.

If my goals are vague, it makes the end of the year review easy if I haven't really accomplished much; frustrating if I have.

  • Employ the SMART goal methodology. Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic (but not too easy), Time accountable.

If I have fifty goals, there's a good chance I'll not accomplish all of them. And because there are so many, the ones that are really important to me are likely to get buried in the fluff.

  • Limit the number of goals you establish for the year. Make sure they're important and not just something you'd do anyway. Anything over 15 is really pushing your luck.

My goals have to be in sync with my value system and each other. If I want to write five full-length manuscripts this year (gag me) AND have time with my husband, I'm setting myself up for conflict. And failure.

  • Understand your personal value system. Prioritize using those God-led, gut feelings. Make sure your goals are yours and not those of someone you usually try to please. Take time to dig deep.

Pick a couple and make them public. There's nothing like accountability. I actually print mine out and put them in a frame. This year I have 9 goals. That's all. Just 9.

I also include a few key words to make my heart perk up and my intent clear—to me, if no one else.

In the interest of making things public, here's a bit:

  • My words for 2010 . . . Confidence. Commitment. Sparkle.

  • 5000 words/week on projects.
  • Treadmill six days/week when home.
  • Weekly dates with husband.
  • Spanish Lessons three times/week when home.

What isn't included in my goals for this year are my study of craft. That's something I do on a regular basis. I'm drawn to craft books and magazines and courses like a magnet. There's no need to waste my goal agenda for something I will do without any nudging. If I say I'll read The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell, then why don't I include The Resilient Writer from Catherine Wald (both of which are on my desk at the moment)? And what about The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass, or . . . you get the idea. These are things I will do without prompting.

The other thing that isn't a direct goal is my spiritual direction. The truth is I couldn't possibly take up more of God's time than I already do. We're in constant communication all day long, from the mundane to the intense. I couldn't have a better friend. There's no way I'm not gonna take care of that relationship.

So, there you have it. The only thing I could possibly add would be a goal for a certain number of rejections. Rejections mean I'm in the game, stepped off the curb, up to the top of my hip boots in a river. Hmmm . . . maybe I'll have an even 10 goals for 2010. Sounds right, doesn't it?

What are one or two of your goals for this year? I'd love to hear what they are.

CR: The Robert Crais.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Rating Books

Happy New Year!

It's said that whatever you do on New Year's Day, you do the whole year through. I'm trying to choose wisely and do those things well.

What are you doing today?

On one of the online loops where I lurk, they are currently listing their top and bottom reads for 2009.

First, I'm impressed that people actually keep lists (I'm lucky to make a list for the grocery store), and second, the sheer volume of books people read astounds me.

I've learned through readers on these loops that tastes vary widely. A book one person treasures may be a DNF (Did Not Finish) for someone else. Even among people who generally enjoy the same authors.

When I look at their list of favorites for the year, I'm interested and engaged. If I see the same book mentioned on a few posts, I'll make a mental note. If I hear it mentioned somewhere else, it goes on a list I keep of books I'm interested in checking into.

But when I look at the lists of the worst-received books for the year, something inside of me clinches up and I feel a bit like someone picking through dirty laundry. How awful for those writers. And even worse, what if one day my name is on that list? Ugh.

My skin has gotten more thick when it comes to critiques and rejections. But readers? That will require a whole new buildup.

CR: Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais.

It's all better with friends.