Friday, April 13, 2012

Shall I pull the covers over my head?

This is the season for me to be completely nonproductive. The weird weather in CA is calling me to pile up the pillows, pull up the blankets, grab some good books and stay out of real life.

My reading has included Fred Vargas (love her characters, hate the messiness of her crimes), Alan Bradley--about whom I cannot say too much good, since no praise is high enough for his wacky Flavia and beautiful writing--a bit of Welty and Flannery O'Connor, and a book by P.D. James discussing mystery writing, which is a joy. And a few other mysteries by writers who've let me down and caused me to despair for the whole profession. However, the poor writers also give me hope. If they can find an agent and publisher, then surely I....

My writing lately has been poetry. Piles of it. It's a place for me to vent and entertain myself--and sometimes others--while continuing to prime the pump of creativity. The novels are not being written, but they languish not. The creativity flows, so they shall be finished anon. Whenever that is.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

research and poetry

Sometimes it seems it takes forever to do the research for one small detail. In my case, that small detail is key to a domino reaction that moves my novel along, so it's essential to get it right. I went back over the first part of my novel and realized I need to find a new "key" because the one I have now is just not enough to propel my characters into the nest of vipers. :) I'm mulling over options and waiting for something to bob to the top.

Meanwhile, I'm keeping the creative juices flowing by writing poetry. It may not be great stuff, but it causes me to visualize a snapshot of life, and try to bring it to my readers--much like photographers capture a moment in which emotions live on faces and gestures emphasize the intensity of that second in time when the shutter clicked.

My critique group seems to have been most fond of a poem about coming upon a hummingbird suddenly and how that few seconds of awareness struck me at the time. I love hummingbirds. I always feel like God gave me a special gift when I get to see one. Silly, but they have that effect on me, even when they're attacking the PG&E guys trimming our backyard trees.

One poem I wrote for my daughter when she was about three has been designated "a children's book" by my group, so now I have to work up the introduction to the action, and give it a proper ending. Thus, that snapshot has to turn into a panorama of sorts, spread out to give more of the picture. So, another thing on my writer's to-do list.

When you find your writing slowing down, try a bit of poetry. Most of mine don't rhyme--that's just my preference--and when they do, it's pretty much a sign I'm being facetious. I don't know that I can write a serious rhyming poem to save my life. But if you like rhyming, rhyme; if not, don't. But give it a try and see if it jumpstarts some of your other writing.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

It's been a long, long time

I've been away from the blog for a while. Actually, I've been going crazy writing poetry, since I discovered that I can write stuff people like. Now, if I could only sell some.
The novel languishes, not because the story isn't there, but because I need to sort out some very basic and important procedural elements that have to be dealt with before the story can continue. In the very near future, I hope to meet with a San Jose Police Officer to talk about criminal activity and hope I can get a lead on what I need. He is a very obliging officer and I'm already thankful just that he said he'd sit down and talk to me!
So, in a week or two, I expect some more pieces of my puzzle to come together and continue the novel. Meanwhile, I'll keep the creative juices flowing with poetry.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The generosity of the famous (or sort of famous).

This past month, I've talked with a few of my favorite authors, thanks to technology. Facebook, blogs, email--what glorious options we have for "talking" to people.

I subscribe to Earlene Fowler's blogs, which are down-to-earth and warm letters about what's happening on the home front and the struggles she's facing with her latest book. She also posts where she'll be doing book signings and which book is coming out soon. I responded to one of her posts by asking her if she outlined her books or not (not), and received encouragement that there's no right or wrong way to write a novel--just YOUR way. Earlene writes cozy mysteries set along the Central Calif. coast.

Similar encouragement came from Rett MacPherson (see previous post) and Evelyn Sherry, who is part of my writers critique group. Evelyn hasn't published her first novel yet, but she's our most prolific member and we expect to see her in print soon.

Finding encouragement for your writing is truly wonderful. I know, I know, I've raved about my critique group before. A lot. But the support is priceless. And getting encouragement from my favorite writers (whose work lines my shelves) is just fudge frosting!

Write your favorite authors, or Tweet them, or check out their Facebook pages and see what you can learn about their writing disciplines, style, organization, and maybe you'll pick up the name of an agent on the way.

How Rett MacPherson writes her books.

Rett MacPherson wrote: "For me, almost always, always, always, my books start with characters, not plot. (Including the ones that never see publication.) Usually, a character just springs forth and I'll start thinking about what she does for a living or where she lives, or maybe she's at a particularly crazy point in her life, in which the story will then unfold. I'll use Torie as an example, since it's the only examples of my writing that you've read. I knew I wanted to write a cozy-mystery series, and I had just seen Stephen King on a tour and he'd said, "Write what you know, write what you're comfortable with."

So, once I realized that my mystery character would be a genealogist/historian, little things started to come, like she lived in a river tourist town, she had children, etc etc. Then the character starts to "talk" to me. I get little snippets of dialogue floating around in my head. (Take a notebook with you, write it down. You may or may not use that dialogue, but you'd rather have saved it and not use it than the opposite.) Then others start to talk to me, Sylvia, Colin, Rudy. Somewhere in there, the book sort of starts to take shape. Like, I know how I want it to begin, how I want it to end, and I usually have two or three major scenes (like how she'll find the body, strawberry festival etc) that come to mind. Or maybe it'll be two or three confrontations that come to mind. It all swirls and swirls and swirls and then I sit down with pen and paper and start scribbling and it might be something like this: --A shop owner asks Torie for help. Her father never came home after the war. Torie agrees to trace her family tree, only to find her dead a few days later.-- I'll add (since it's a mystery) suspects, major players, and I just hand write no more than a page.

Then I sit down to the computer and write Page One, Chapter One and start writing. So, to answer your question, I do NOT do extensive outlines. I do know writers who do. In fact, one is a fairly well-known sci-fi writer and he told me that he does a chapter by chapter outline, which is basically a rough draft. Each chapter in his "outline" is about one typed paged. He asked me, "If you don't do an extensive outline, how do you know what happens?" Clearly, if he didn't do an outline, he'd feel lost. For me, if I did a major outline like that, then I feel like I've already told the story, and it loses some of the punch for me. The actual writing then becomes more of a chore than an adventure. So, I do about a one page outline, but not until after the characters are really developed in my head and talking to me. The rest is more organic. And one of the beautiful things about NOT doing an extensive outline, is if a brand new idea springs to mind right in the middle of chapter 14 and I go with it, it won't mess up my extensive outline. The book is more free to take on a life of its own and be guided by its characters. I'm a combo-writer, I suppose. (One other thing I do is as I'm writing, I keep a notebook and each time I write some new tidbit of info about a recurring character or place, I'll jot it down. Like, under Rudy, I might write,' brown eyes, plumbing salesman, has a sister named Amy.' So that when I go back to write them in the next book, those facts are there so that I don't have to hunt through my old manuscripts etc. And believe me, if people are reading your books back to back, they will catch those inconsistencies.) I'm afraid, even with my trusty notebook, I still made errors.

Now, with some of my fantasy fiction that I've written, where I've created entire worlds, I do a lot more planning on how the world works, but still, not a major outline. Anyway, I hope this helps. Just remember, don't force anything. If extensive outline is what you need, do it. If no outline is what you need, do it. The process should feel organic and natural, even if it isn't. There really are no rights or wrongs. If that makes sense. -- All in my humble opinion, of course. :-)"

(Rett is the author of a series of cozy mysteries starring genealogist Torie O'Shea, and may be starting a new series--or at least thinking of it. She is one of my favorite writers. I suggest you check her books out at your local bookstore or library.) This information is printed here with permission from Rett, who answered my question on her FaceBook page. Ain't technology amazing?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

How does a novel start? With organiziation. Or not.

I've been doing a precise scientific survey of writers to find out how they write their books. (okay, I've asked three other writers.)

Do they organize, outline, use sticky notes, or just start writing? Inquiring minds want to know. At least this one does. I'm not naming names here, but one very successful cozy mystery writer who uses quilt patterns in her titles (that's all I'm giving you) says she doesn't outline a thing. She says she just writes. And that, she says, is why she does a lot of rewriting. :) I love a writer with a sense of humor.

Another says she knows the beginning and the end, and maybe a couple of things she wants in the middle, but that's it.

I feel the need to have major events laid out--like fence posts, as I've mentioned in the past. Then I can write from point to point, linking up the key events. Maybe it's because I'm less experienced and I need that safety net of knowing where I'm going. I do detour here and there, but having the next "post" on the horizon keeps my writing on target. Not set in cement. Just on target.

I've asked another of my favorite writers to comment and will put her input in the next post.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Poetry called me, and I had to answer

I had a great time at Poetry Center San Jose this past week. I had a horrible poetry teacher in college who seemed bent on picking his favorites, then destroying all other students so they never wrote poetry again. I was destroyed. I hadn't written any poetry (save a funny rhyme for my daughter when she was three) since about 1970. Baby, that's a long time! But Poetry Center let me come back, like John Donne's compass, to the point where I began.

My critique group (yes, I am extolling their virtues again) includes a poet, and one day she brought a piece about a tiny place in Texas which led us all to reminisce about small towns in our past. Evelyn C. challenged us each to bring a poem about a small town for our next meeting. One week to produce a poem after 40 years! Holy iambic pentameter! But I don't write poetry,which I kept telling them, but they wouldn't let me off the hook. So I wrote something about a little town in Oregon that keeps a pretty low profile.

The next week, I informed them I still didn't write poetry, I write short paragraphs. I read my piece and was informed it was "narrative poetry," and they liked it. Shock! I was so emboldened that I took it to Poetry Center, where Nils Peterson was reading form his recently published book--and his stuff is a lot like mine (similar style, but better, of course). At the open mic part at the end of their meeting, I read my poem about Scio, Oregon. I liked the feedback I got from this very warm and encouraging group. So, I guess now I'm a poet. Who woulda guessed?