Sunday, December 27, 2009

And in the meantime...

Ever ready to take the advice of members of my critique group, I have started novel number three. I know, I haven't finished the first one yet, but I've been working on two at once all year, so why not start a third?

I'll tell you why this makes sense to me: I've had a lot of jobs that required me to switch gears from one type of writing to another. If I tired of working on one project, I'd pick up another for a change of pace, then go back to the first one later. I nearly always had at least three projects in some stage of construction at any given time. So why not three novels? Number one is a light romantic comedy, number two a slightly more serious coming-of-age book, and number three is a sort of a spoof of the Dashiell Hammett-style hero (heroine in this case--a hard-boiled lawyer/sleuth). I'm finding that a little work on number three gets out a lot of hostility and stress so I can focus better on number one and two. BTW, there is a direct connection between books number one and number three: the spoof is included, partially, in the romantic comedy--it's excerpted as the book that my main character is writing. :) Fun!

We'll see how this shapes up. If it goes well, maybe I'll get all three done before my daughter goes to college (about six years from now). If it goes REALLY well, I may get all of them done within the next year or two. If it does NOT go well...I'll know by February.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why isn't everyone reading Rett MacPherson?

Rett is one of those "least known, best writers," to quote Liz Duckworth (another one of them) who write really good books, but who doesn't have a lot of name recognition. Add Marion Duckworth (Liz's mother-in-law), Nancy Kennedy, Donna Andrews (well, Donna has a bit more attention, maybe), and a whole slew of other writers who labor in heart-felt anguish (I may be a bit melodramatic here) to produce great reading across a multitude of genres.

Those of us who write for publication risk never being read. Our books have to pass through agents, editors, publishers, and bookstore owners to get to "street-level" readers. If they do sell, we make about 50 cents off every book. So, obviously, we're not in this for the money, and judging by the writers I've named above, we don't get much fame either. So, accepting there's really no money or fame in the game, we obviously write for our own pleasure. There, I admit it. It's all about me, after all. :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Great ideas come from other people

Because of my background in journalism, and since this is my first foray into fiction, I'm always hunting around

the world for ideas and information that will help my writing process. Becky Levine, an author I've mentioned here before, has a great blog about her writing . ( Why is this stupid thing indenting? I wish I were more techy.)

It gives me lots of great info. This list came just in time, since I'm hung up about where to go next in my novel.

I've revised it by leaving out the name of Becky's heroine, but otherwise, these questions are straight from her.

Questions to ask about my heroine:

What did she do in the previous scene or few scenes?

What were the consequences of those recent actions?

How does she feel about what she did and about what happened?

Who did she set up a conflict with?

What other character has a strong goal at this time?

What story element have I not dealt with in, perhaps, too long?

Can you see how brilliant these questions are? Thanks to Becky for putting them in her blog so I can use them, too! Please check out her blog at

It is a myth that writers work alone. Most of us need a team, whether we know them or not! Yes, the writing time requires being alone with our stories, but I am not one of those writers who enjoys creating without input from others. Which is why I'm always talking about my critique group. BTW, Becky has just released a book on critique groups, through Writers Digest Books.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A little more here, and a lot more there

Thanksgiving is past and now that I have finally finished the clean up (it took two days to cook, why not another two days to clean up?) I am freer to sit down and look through my last "entry" in my novel, then go from there. Right now, she's in a good place, but it may be more like the frog in the warm water--there's trouble brewing just ahead. It has to be that way. The poor girl will end up fairly happy at the end (we have to have a few unmet desires), but the story wouldn't be very interesting if it were all smooth sailing!

My critique group includes a few of us who are well along in our books--and one who is done with the manuscript, but doing a bit of finessing--and we have laid on the table the idea of meeting weekly to encourage faster progress. I'm not sure how I feel about this. If I were the average woman my age, my child would be grown and married, and I'd have the time for it. Now, I'm not sure that it wouldn't just create more pressure in my already pressurized world. I have to be aware of my limits all the time. If I blow past them, everything melts down until I can get back in balance. I may be interested in creating calamities for my heroine, but not for myself.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Of time and rewrites.

Time. It runs out, it races, it stops at the worst possible moments, it's "on" or "behind" or "over." For me, it's just too short. Every day it's a challenge to control it and make time for BIC (butt in chair) work.

This is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated), when writers sit frantic and frenzied, writing a whole novel! The goal is to write about 50,000 words in the month of November--about the equivalent of a first draft. The idea is not to produce a publishable novel, but a draft from which you can sculpt a decent work of art later on.

I have to admit I like the idea a lot, but I never get there. Being mom takes over most of my time (as I truly believe it should), so there are only little puddles of time that I have for writing. When I worked in radio copywriting and later in news, I found that when you write on deadline, you can't sit around waiting for some muse to waft in and dump great prose on you. You just put your BIC and write. That myth busted, there was another I DID succumb to: I thought I needed a block of time to write. You know, like a couple of hours to get into the zone, live out my characters, really inhabit that fictional space. Let's bust that myth, too.

As a mom, I don't have two- or three-hour blocks of time. The "zone" is like the muse--not there. I have to write anyway. When my head is doing laundry I still have to write about a journalism professor conflicted over identity and love. When I'm in the middle of chaos, I still have to write about my heroine's peaceful home. When my characters seem stupid and alien, I still have to love them and make them lovable to others. And that all has to be done in very short bits of time, wherever I can find it. At least at the moment I can rest in the saving knowledge that it's just a first draft. NaNoWriMo'ers may produce 50,000 words this month, but my goal will be closer to 1,000.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

All right, all ready!

Just when I get a new chapter done on my book, half the critique group comes down with the flu and we cancel for this round. Rats! Now I have to wait until Nov. 4 (we meet twice a month). I guess that gives me time to re-write the chapter (again, and maybe a fourth time). I know we're supposed to (according to all the "experts" at writers conferences) write the whole stinking book first, then go back and rework it--and I will, sort of--but first, I have to reread the section leading into where I want to start, so I can get the rhythm. And that makes me want to reword stuff here and there, drop a sentence, improve a description...I can't help myself.

I did have some minor satisfaction this week, besides the writing. My 12-year-old daughter asked me something like "do you have any presidential autographs?" (only the Lord knows why) so I dug out a photo from my news days. I was standing with Gerald Ford, and the photo was signed "best wishes" to me. The usual photo op that news people get with any president, especially one campaigning, as Ford was at that moment. My kiddo was muy impressed. She wanted to borrow the photo to show her friends, but I suggested it was really not for handing around the neighborhood, and besides, nobody would really give a rip. It's not like it was REAGAN, for pete's sake!

Well, back to the novel. At this rate, it may actually be done in time to pay for a couple of her college textbooks.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Playing make believe

Let's face it, sometimes writing fiction is simply a heck of a lot of fun because it's an extension of playing make believe. I create people, a place for them, and all the action. That is an awful lot of fun.

I always liked playing the bad guy when we kids were cowboys. The bad guy didn't have to play by the rules. If someone accused me of not being fair when I ambushed them, my response could be, "What's fair? I don't care, I'm the bad guy!" At least it was fun until my sister got mad and threw a broken toy gun at me. The ragged edge caught my cheek and left a nifty triangular scar that lasted a good many years.

I still find the bad guys more fun, and easier to "play." Am I warped? I have a character in my current novel who is full of herself and bad tempered. A lot of what she says is mean spirited and sarcastic. I love her! She says a lot of things I have thought of saying to people, but am too nice to say. And my niece said something really horrible recently that was so funny I'll probably put it in my character's mouth, too. A good line is a good line, if it's in character and advances the story, and I have the perfect spot for that line.

My heroine has to be a better person than that, but not completely good, or she'd be a total drag. Nobody would relate to her. So I also get to enjoy "playing" her bad side. And when she's good, she's so conflicted that I'm beginning to find that fun, too.

Playing make believe is a truly wonderful pastime for kids or adults.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The source of what you write

A lot of my writing stems from my daughter's struggles. A second novel (yes, I know I need to finish the first one) deals with a young girl as she grows from 12 to about 18 years old. She has been abandoned by her mother, doesn't even know who her father is, and is raised by her maternal grandmother. Is she what her mother said by abandoning her, or what her precious grandmother tells her she is, through the gifts of love and grace? It's about identity, in a different way then my current book is.

I'm finding that nearly everything I've written since my daughter's birth has been about identity. It's plagued me before, but took on a different perspective when I became a mother. As a military kid without roots or many real ties to extended family, I always felt somewhat adrift. I think now that this was a gift from God to give me more empathy with my daughter.

The identity of an adopted child affected with attachment disturbance is in constant flux, which causes upheaval. During the rough times, my life is all about her. During the calmer times, as I evaluate the situation, I also tap this rich source of angst and stress in our lives for my writing. I won't go into any detail about what our lives are like. Suffice it to say it's tough and it's precious--and every minute of grace counts. I will say I believe I can use those emotions to help me create real and relatable characters without exposing my husband's or daughter's personal secrets (I am pretty transparent about my own issues); and perhaps I can help bring healing to someone who reads and identifies with my characters. While I am sometimes a bit uneasy about how much of myself will be revealed in my work whether I intend it nor not, I think that is part of the healing process. And I do hope that as we heal in our household, some of my readers will come along with us. I don't write my books specifically to bring healing, but I do hope what I write will be more than just a fun ride.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

After the big hooray

I find very few moments of peace to use for writing, let alone time for thinking these days. My daughter has some special issues and that sometimes makes for a difficult week (or month, depending). When it all hits the fan, writing is NOT my top priority, and even if it were, it simply is not possible.

You may have a child like this, too. One who needs special attention, and a lot of it, and often for extended periods of time. A child is a greater calling than a book or article, a richer reward in every way than a million-selling book, or a NY Times best seller (does that even count these days?), and a much more wonderful "product" at the end of our lives. To feed into the life of another can be difficult--and sometimes for great lengths of time, unrewarding. But in the end, I fully believe it is the most important endeavor of my life, and that keeps me plugging away.

So, right now I don't have a lot to say about my book, and my book is not gaining many words. This is a season of working through, hanging on, and wrestling with difficulties. But it is also a season of great laughter, because my daughter is one of the funniest people I know. And humor helps the whole family get through the windy spots.

When the winds calm a bit more, then I can turn back to my book, but in the meantime, we will batten down the hatches and weather the storms.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

the big hooray

There is just nothing like a really productive day at the keyboard--one that produces hundreds of words that are actually useable and advance the story. It's the satisfaction of getting moving after a string of very slow writing days. Some days the story just bursts out and heads on down the road; other days, it drags its feet and keeps backtracking, zigzagging, then squatting in the middle of that road. Those days I search for ways to kick it in the behind. "I do not have writer's block," as my heroine tells her publisher, "I have too many choices."

Today, my MC (main character--an abbreviation I'm stealing from Becky Levine--do check out her blog wraps up a meeting with the hero, and gets a phone call including devious plans from her best friend, as well as one from her irritating stepmother, who is the intended victim of the devious plans.

We move onward with hope. A character who had no name now has one, a question about what to do with a certain plot element becomes clearer, and my heroine is left smiling, "an evil smile, filled with victorious malice." She's not an evil character, but it's fun for her to enjoy the thought of getting her stepmother wrapped up in confusion and situations that will discourage Stepmom's current intentions. How does one write an evil laugh here? Nya-ah-ah. Let the fun begin.

Now, if I could just solve the mystery of why my typeface sometimes changes font and size on its own, although it looks fine in the composing window! I've no idea how to get an answer from blogspot, although I've filed a question in the discussions. AAAUGH!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I'm writing my wish

I moved to the Silicon Valley of California in 1983 after grad school in Oregon, the state I consider my home state. Military brats get to choose their home states, since they often don't feel they really belong in any particular spot. There were no jobs in Oregon, so...I ended up in Calif. That said, my heart belongs to a tiny town in the Willamette Valley that has only 800 people. It's boomed up from about 700 when my family settled there after my dad retired from the Air Force. I never really lived in Scio--just sort of camped there between terms at OSU and U of O, so my idea of what the town is, is probably rather romanticized. I remember the six-party phone line when we first moved there in 1968, and the friendly people at the two grocery stores, the P.O. (we were general delivery at the time), and the bank.

Scio is the model for Baxter, Oregon in my book. But I needed a private college, so I selected Linfield College in McMinnville--just for its looks. In my mind, Linfield is the perfect Preston College for Anna's journalism department. I love the brick buildings, the white pillars, the grassy lawns. I even took photos to use as inspiration when I write about Preston. As far as I know, Linfield is nothing like Preston. I am taking abundant liberties with both Scio and the college to mold them into Baxter, Oregon and its Preston College. In actuality, I have only stolen my *impressions* of these places, since I never spent a lot of time in either, and certainly was never involved in the town politics or the newspaper in Scio--and I have only driven through Linfield. Nothing about Baxter is really Scio. Baxter is bigger, has more shops and, of course, the college. But I hope that Baxter will feel to readers the way Scio feels to me. Small, cozy, friendly, full of pickups and normal people. It is a place where you have to slow down on back roads because there's a tractor in your lane. It's a place where just outside of town, you can drive up on a hill that gives you a view across a beautiful green valley, and where there used to be several covered bridges scattered like little jewels over wide streams. I love Scio and its environs, and I'm working to make Baxter the kind of small town my readers will love. It's the place I wish I could live.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Of plants and bridges and research

What plants will win a spot in my book? I have a landscaper (or IS he?) hero, advising my heroine on plants in her yard. Granted, this does not further the plot, except as an excuse for the two of them to meet, and meet again, and talk, and wander around the backyard together, and for her to notice his green eyes and other attractions. But I can't just stick any old plant in the ground!

My story takes place in Oregon--the Willamette Valley, specifically. I live in California--in the South Bay area--Silicon Valley. Plants grow better one place than another, so talking to a landscaper here can only give me input on how he approaches his business, not on any plantings. As for my personal gardening expertise: I seem to be able to kill plants in two different states with equal skill (or lack thereof). So, ages ago, I contacted a Master Gardener in Oregon. Neil was very helpful, but I really wasn't ready to ask too specific a question. Now I am, and hope to be able to reach him again, or find someone equally cooperative. Ahhh, research.

My favorite research email was from a city engineer in Portland, OR who gave me the rundown on the bridges in that city. He was a godsend, although I originally worried that he might interpret my email as being from a terrorist who wanted to clog up the city commute. Luckily, nothing untoward happened shortly after he sent his answer to cause him to notify Homeland Security. Sometimes writers ask weird questions. I'll bet if someone were really paranoid, mystery writers would show up on all sorts of alert lists for some of the stuff they research.

Friday, July 31, 2009

down time

I find it fascinating what comes to you when you sit and stare at the wall for a while.

Recently, I have been occupied with an upcoming confrontation between the sisters and their stepmother, wondering about dialog, letting my mind wander. Then I checked my email and got an absolutely hysterical note from my niece about some problems they had with their realtor's lack of communication. Her statement to the realtor was sooo rude, it's perfect for what Yvonne would say! As I've mentioned before: writers are thieves of other people's words and actions, so...I'm stealing my niece's comment. It's just too funny, being just the sort of thing most of us would long to say, but wouldn't unless the gloves really came off. When you let your mind wander, sometimes God delivers the best stuff right to your inbox! For it is by grace that we are saved, and by grace we write our novels. (Apologies to the Apostle Paul.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

editing, rewriting, and reconstruction

Any writer who's accomplished anything tells us they rewrite and rewrite and sometimes throw the whole thing out and start over after all that work. I figure by the time anyone is published, they must make about 25 cents an hour on the deal--if that. Evan Marshall in The Marshall Plan Workbook, a book about structuring not just your novel, but your writing career, has a great first section that brings home the financial reality of most writers' lives: "Any of us can name writers with healthy six-figure incomes who have no need to undertake any additional work to support themselves. And as an agent I can tell you that many writers who are patient eventually work their way up to advances and royalties large enough to live on. But to expect this kind of monetary reward from your novels one, two or even five books into your career can be a big mistake."

FIVE books in? Heck, I'm only a half a book in and I already know there's no money here unless someone buys it for a film. I'm not writing the kind of book that is going to be a crazy, trendsetting novel. I'm writing a romantic comedy, a mostly light, sometimes thoughtful expose of a looney woman who has to write fiction, deal with her relationship with her father, and juggle a day job. In that sense, it's mostly biographical. Except that she's nothing like me in personality--or is she? I've discussed that before. I never know how much I'm revealing about myself, but I do know that I have to finish the book before I can start the real work on it--editing, rewriting and reconstructing in part. I already did the part of throwing most of it out, so I hope I can skip that this round.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The value of friends

The critique group met again this morning. I read my latest few pages and it was pretty quiet. When that happens, I usually assume they are all struggling for the most creative way to tell me it sucked. This morning, however, they really liked it. They pointed out a couple of things that needed tweaking, but I felt quite gratified by their accolades. There are so many times I think, man, I just don't want it to be mediocre--if it's going to be mediocre I want to skip it. Thank God for a critique group whose motto is "Friends don't let friends write mediocre books." And friends give friends the encouragement to carry on with a process that requires continual persistence.

Friday, June 26, 2009

the novel that ought to be???

It's pretty rough when I find the best parts of my novel are the excerpts from my heroine's novel. There's more energy and conflict in those brief paragraphs than in pages and pages of the rest of my book, mostly because fo the brevity required. But I need to light a fire under my girl so she gets irked. (There's another great word, Steph.) I just had the first kiss of my heroine's two main characters and, believe me, it's a lot hotter than Anna and Tip (my heroine and her sweetie). Maybe because the heroine I've created for Anna's book is a pretty prickly sort of creature, so the guy she's getting involved with is equally irascible. My book is getting to be more fun as I go along, and I'm about to kick Anna and Tip into a faceoff over his true identity. Sister Yvonne will be giving her two cents worth, you can bet, but Daddy will still be in the dark. Oh, what a tangled web we weave--all of us--when we write a novel.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

and then she said...

I love writing dialog. I like hearing my characters' voices in my head and putting them down on paper, along with action. I see the scene happening as I write. I find I rarely use "he said" or "she said"--I tend to use an action. For example:
“Why don’t you just kill her off?” Yvonne grimaced and slurped her tea at my kitchen table. “She’s such a burden.” My precious older sister fingered the flowered saucer rim as if it were in Braille and might give her some further insight. The light in my kitchen flamed her short, auburn hair.
I like using the dialog and tags to reveal something about the character, instead of just "she said." I want my readers to see Yvonne with her short auburn hair, making a face and running her finger around the saucer rim. I want them to see action, not just hear her voice--which is pretty matter-of-fact. Yvonne sees life very simply. What works, works. What doesn't ought to get dumped. And she feels that having an alter-ego author of best-selling books (Claire) is making her sister Anna (the heroine) crazy. Or maybe just crazier.

Of course, there's more dialog to this picture of Yvonne, which reveals Anna's confusion and insecurities. I mean, that's what the whole book is about: insecurities, overcoming, giving up hiding, finding Anna's own identity. I'm finding that almost everything I write these days has something to do with identity. I've probably said that before.

Rats. Now I'm distracted by the fact that I can's figure out how to get this back to single space. I'll never cut and paste into this again. :)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

There will be peace at the keyboard

Just back from a trip back east to see the family--my husband's side. Some planned adventures fell through because I was staggering through the visit with a cold and sinus infection. Nothing like a clear brain--nope, I was foggy throughout.

But the change did give me a different focus. I encountered some interesting people both on the planes and on the ground. If I get a chance to actually talk to those sitting near us, I consider that a great blessing. Some interesting insights can come of it, and did this trip. I know I'll eventually find a place to use them.

My heroine, harried as she is, has a focused core. Deep down, she knows what she wants, but is sort of slogging her way to it at this moment in the story. Knowing that and communicating that is important because I want my readers to know that, tossed by many winds as she is, she will continue on toward the goal. I need to know that's true of me, too. And I do.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Just finish the book!

"I don't think my stepfather much minded dying. That he almost took me with him wasn't really his fault." So starts Dick Francis's "To The Hilt," and clearly shows you why once you open one of his books, it's awfully hard to put it down. I picked this one up recently and planned to use it during a trip that starts in a couple of days, but I made the mistake of actually opening it up. Oops. Now I need to find another book to take on the trip. Maybe I'll grab one of my Rett MacPherson mysteries--she's always fun. 

I tend to collect great openings and descriptions. Maybe I hope I'll pick up good style by osmosis. But certainly reading good stuff helps improve our writing. I still remember a description by Ngaio Marsh of a lawyer's musty office. So good you could smell the place and practically taste the dusty air. 

I'm trying not to go back and rewrite my opening (again) until I finish the whole book. Charlotte Cook of Komenar Publishing says that the ending of a book  "informs" the beginning--it tells you what pieces need to be in the beginning of the book. So I really do need to finish the piece before I start poking around it again, and again. I am prone to do that, and everyone advises against it--at least everyone I've ever heard talk about writing a novel.  I once had about 5 minutes with a famous agent who, when I asked a question about whether a book I had in mind was adult or young adult fiction, asked me,  "Why are you asking that question? Just finish the book!"

Monday, June 1, 2009

life intervenes

Just when I begin to pick up some more momentum in my writing, a family emergency arises, a health scare pops up...well, you've been there. We are wrapping up the homeschooling year, sort of. Since we homeschool year round, we only wrap up the regular school-year schedule of field trips and co-op classes in science, etc.  Math, history and writing continue for both my daughter and me. I don't know how long I can stay ahead of her in math. The history and writing I think I've got sorted. 

In a couple of weeks we drop everything and head for the Philadelphia area to see family and take a little historical tour of the city. I plan to take a lot of notes, in case I ever want to send a heroine there. Never waste a good city. 

Meanwhile, back in fictional Baxter, Oregon my characters are happily bumping into one another, yielding romance, humor, and some chagrin, if I can get it right. My critique group awaits the next chapter. 

When life interrupts art, I think it's time to see what art can make of it. So I'm evaluating all the emergencies and pitfalls of my month and wondering what Anna Branson would do. One hopes the daily bruising yields something for the page.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hooray for critique!

My critique group met yesterday and proved, once again, that they are worth more than the pennies it costs to make them tea and put out a few goodies. My latest pages were praised and criticized (in the most helpful way), so now I have rewrites to do, notes to put aside for later consideration, and I shall move onward toward the end of my novel. Which is miles away, it seems.

Still, we march forward with the story and I hope I can finish the thing by the end of the year. It's been too many years....

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Any tiny step forward

Things have been tough here on the old homestead, as my dad used to say. But I managed to churn out three pages--a whole scene worthy of the first part of my novel. Sure it needs work--it's just a draft. Sometimes I think we writers get bogged down in our writing because we want every page to be amazing, but until the book is done and you start the re-write, the mantra has to be "it's just a draft."

BTW, I sent my mom the pages of my novel she didn't get to read while she was visiting in March. I made her promise not to give me any feedback unless it was good.  I have my critique group to give me the bad news.  :)

So, if you're writing a novel right now, remember: It's just a draft. 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

From whence cometh inspiration?

Inspiration comes from the most wonderful places. As I'm struggling with the romance scenes (being a bit shy and private, and wanting to write a book my mother will happily read), I came across a wonderful blog by Pioneer Woman. Ree Drummond tells the best story of how she and her husband met, courted, and married. So far, her blogs take you up to the wedding day. It's funny, it's a little hot, and it's a lot just plain romantic. 

It was just what I needed to be reading to get in the mood. God sends inspiration by odd and amazing means.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pen name or real name?

Okay, you know the writing is not going well when you consider using a name other than your own on the book cover. I've been struggling away and seem to get nowhere. Maybe I shouldn't have my real name on the book, so I won't be embarrassed.

If it really stinks, no one knows it's you. If your romance scenes turn a little hotter than you'd like to discuss in public, no one knows it's you. On the other hand, if it turns into a best seller and is made into a movie, no one knows it's you! 

So I am sustaining myself by reading and re-reading wonderful, encouraging emails from folks in my critique group who tell me my book is marvelous and who want me to finish so they can read the rest of the story. "Brilliant," said one of my more generous friends. "Just finish the thing" is the usual following comment. So maybe I will.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I really suck at romance

Okay, the hero and heroine are together, close, sparks fly--uh...well, maybe not too many sparks. I don't want a sex scene in my book, but I do want these two people to experience some definite, very warm interest. My daughter has been playing Taylor Swift's new CD over and over and over and.... The title song, "Fearless" really sums up what I want my couple to experience. So I'm listening as it plays and thinking about what makes people connect and then I think, "Doggone it, Tip (my hero), just kiss the girl!" But a lot has to happen before we get there.

Years ago when I was single (back in the dark ages of the 80s), an older friend asked me, "Why do you young people make it so hard? Don't you think if it was meant to happen, you wouldn't have to work so hard?" But that's REAL life, and this is fiction, and it has to be hard or the story will be over by page 60. She has hangups, he's torn because...well, the reader has to find that out later. At some point, do they have to really dislike each other or is that a cliche? My heroine only dislikes him when she feels betrayed because she finds out he's...well, the reader has to find that out later. How will this resolve? Will her sister stick her nose in? What about her mother and best friend? I want them all in it, stirring the thing up so that it seems impossible for Anna, my heroine to either go for the guy, or get to the truth about what she really wants. And what that is, the reader will have to find out later.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Is my heroine messed up because I am?

I've been working on a scene which is the first time the hero and heroine meet up for any length of time. I have based her reaction to him on something I used to go through in college. For some reason I have only sort of figured out, I used to be really rude to extraordinarily good-looking guys. If they flirted with me, my reaction was  really dismissive.  "Yeah, whatever." I always liked ordinary looking guys and even sort of ugly ones. So, drawing on that feeling, my heroine, Anna, is rather stressed about having to deal with Tip, the attractive hero. BTW, I've described him as having a "lived-in" face--not plastic model handsome, so he ought to be approachable by the average female.

If I want to use that feeling for my heroine, I need to figure out why she feels this way and how she overcomes (or doesn't) the tendency to flee any attractive male.  She is not me, so her reason has more to do with her father, whom one of my most precious friends has called "the Adonis of Academia." I told her I was going to steal that phrase and use it in my book. (See my previous post about writers being thieves.) Her relationship with her father is problematic.

But another question for me, because I am who I am, is how much of my heroine is me? How much of myself is being revealed on the pages I blithely hand around at my critique group? My readers may end up knowing me better than I know myself...whether or not my heroine is me.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Quick, hand me a shovel

Sometimes when I listen to writers talk to large groups about their writing processes and publishing experiences, I am acutely aware of the hype involved. I mean, if I am ever speaking somewhere about my book (should I ever get the thing published), I am POSITIVE I would always tell the absolute truth about how hard to write, and how fun it is at the same time. But I think after a while, some writers begin to think the process was always easy for them. I'm sure after the 10th book it is, but.... They make it sound as if it all just "happens" and that makes me feel like a complete failure. "Writers MUST write," they proclaim. And I think, well, sometimes I must do other things besides writing--like parenting my child.

I firmly believe, being a parent of 12 years, that writing and parenting have a lot in common. There are things no one tells you about, and things everyone tells you about. Unfortunately, some of the most important things are the ones you aren't told about, or which are glossed over, or which they couldn't tell you about it they wanted to.

For writers, it seems that no one can really tell you about the process of writing--how many hours a day you'll need, how much energy, how many rewrites, how many letters or conference meetings with agents and publishers it will take. Those things are so individual, and some so serendipitous that only God knows what your process will be. After that 10th book, you may have a better idea.

Both parents and writers face the question of whether what we are doing is the best thing. We grapple with insecurities about the depth of our commitment, and we spend a lot of time in the middle of the night dealing with issues. Well, I say "we" and I mean "I" do.  If I awaken in the night and my thoughts turn to my novel, I start reworking scenes, or creating new ones, or asking myself if I can make the book deeper and more meaningful, instead of just entertaining. As a parent, I ask myself many of the same questions about the way I'm relating to my daughter--am I paying enough attention? Am I giving her enough depth, instead of just entertaining her?

Writing and parenting--two worlds of insecurity. So when someone goes on and on about how the book just "flowed" out of them, maybe you need to pick up a mental shovel.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Somedays, it's all beyond me!

There are days I can sit and write, focused on where the book is going and aware that I am blessed by being "in the zone." But today...ffft...nothing. I need a certain amount of energy to be able to write. I'll never know how people who struggle with chronic pain or debilitating illness can write. I just don't have the steam to keep my characters going if I'm not rested (or partly) and fairly healthy. And today, I'm pooped!

I just put my mom on a plane back home to Portland, and now I'm in the "getting back to the normal schedule" mode. It was so nice to have her here, but traveling upsets everyone's usual routine--isn't that at least partly why we do it? So now I have to rearrange the room we used as a guest room, launder sheets and towels, and see what's left in the refrigerator. Then, maybe, I can get excited about what's happening in  Anna Branson's (my main character) world.  Funny how the details of life can slow down the creative process.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Time flies

Holy cow! What's happening to March? I feel as if I haven't written anything meaningful since December. I think having a co-writer would be handy about now. I'd get to the point where I've got the book moving along and then stalled out. "Here," I say to my blessed partner in crime, " take the next 50 pages." How generous of me. And she  would write us out of the problem situation, then I would pick up again, refreshed by her ingenious creation and buoyed by her cheerleading:  "Now, take it back and give me drama, pathos, comedy." I will praise her work, and then I will give her all that and more.

But for now, I have to write my own book, all by myself, sitting by the sunny window where my tomato seedlings interest me more than my plot. Why is it I have all sorts of suggestions for everyone else, but when it comes to myself, I have no clue what to do?  That's why I need my critique group, which I will have to miss this week due to a visit from my mom.  Maybe I'll make Mom read my draft and see what she has to say. But first I have to tell her she must cheer me on when she's done reading, even if she hates the book. That's the rule. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The doldrums.

The last few weeks have been crazy at home. My pre-teen daughter is going through the usual pre-teen stuff that requires a lot of my attention and sympathy--and discipline. My main character has gone to sleep on me and the hero is waiting patiently for her to wake up. So what do I write?  The blog, the book, the article on attachment disorder that I want to send to women's magazines? I hate those query letters that must precede the article writing. I am not a great query letter writer. I think for this week's critique group, I should get feedback on my cruddy query letters. I need to get some money coming in with my writing, but I'm sitting here on my ship, sails ready, but no wind.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Oh, the dailiness!

"Writing a book is an endurance contest, and a war fought against yourself, because writing is beastly hard work which one would just as soon not do. It's also a job, however, and if you want to get paid, you have to work. Life is cruel that way."  Tom Clancy in Writers Digest Magazine, January 2001

I love that quote which, while a bit depressing, pretty much sums up the "glamorous" life of the writer. It is a lonely, persevering, sometimes heart-breaking job. It is occasionally transcendent--there's just nothing like being in the zone with your work, forgetting the world around you and seeing a world you're creating unwrapping itself like the gift from God it is. But most often it's just discipline, application of craft, nitpicking, and analyzing what is good vs. what is best. Some days, I'd rather do some ironing, dusting, nearly anything but write, but I am forced by fate to write.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What stops a writer from writing on weekends.

I sit at my computer, with a scene in mind--completely acted out like a movie, ready to go. As I begin to type it in, my daughter charges up the stairs and wants to know if she can go visit the neighborhood cat. This animal hangs out on our street and is fed by at least three families, so she is as fat and sleek as a pet pig. Yes, please, go visit the cat, but don't plague the neighbors while you're out.

Then my husband wants me to know he's heading for the gym. Then the phone rings and it's my 90-year-old mother in Oregon.  After we hang up, I remember I have dishes in the drainer and more to wash, plus emptying the dishwasher of the things in there.

The scene continues to run through my mind as I sort out all the dishes and wipe down counters. But I see the plant from the nursery, sitting in its plastic pot, right next to the clay pot I need to put it into (all right, into which I need to put it). Now my scene is fading rapidly.

This is probably the story of nearly every day of my life, but on weekends it seems like the traffic up and down the stairs, through my brain, over the kitchen counters and out the back door increases to Grand Central Station. I am constantly distracted. I finally have to run upstairs and type in a few lines to remind me where I'm going with this scene, then run back down to join my daughter visiting the cat. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Living with your characters

I find the characters I have (supposedly) created for my novel really do seem to have lives of their own. Sometimes they yell at me about not getting enough page time, or they tell me they are NOT going to do what I planned for them to do. As soon as I start writing that particular scene, they balk. They will not speak, they move like heavy, poorly strung puppets. Other times, their stories come pouring out, vining together with other characters, showing me their relationships, their affections, and their biases. It's pretty amazing to be writing along and have a character holding a pad and pencil and as I see him in my mind, there he stands, pencil in his left hand. "By golly,"  I say, "That guy is left-handed. I wonder if that means anything in my story. Why is he left-handed?" At this point I do not know.

My heroine is neurotic, for sure. Conflicted, as any honest person living a lie would be. Can I even call her an honest person? Does she know how to be honest any more after ages of living a double life? What "tangled web" will catch her, forcing an explosion in my plot? I rub my hands in glee. Conflict, at least on the page, makes me joyful. Conflict means there's something interesting going on she's going to have to deal with. 

Tonight, as I lay my head on my pillow and just begin to cuddle down under the comforter, someone will probably yell at me, "I don't like the flowers you put in my garden, I can't stand my sister, I want a horse," and other such crazy details. But tonight I'm jotting down a few notes, then telling them to shut up. It's been a long day.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


If I can't be honest about the fact that I am not one of those people who can write alone in a garrett (or back bedroom in my case), I'd better drop the blog. The whole idea for me was to evaluate honestly the process as it happens. A diary of the (mostly weekly) successes and failures. And like most writers I know, there are more days of failure than of success. Pretty much like the rest of life. 

Saturday, February 7, 2009

critique members save me again

This Friday was our bi-weekly critique group, so I brought what I have from my last chapter and read it. Then we talked about what needed to be in that section, and how I could insert those elements into the text I have now. The brainstorming may make it seem to some that I am writing my book by committee--but I think of it more as the team of support folks with the water and first aid that are there for the marathon runner. Iron Man assistants, so to speak, since a book really requires a variety of skills from a writer: creative writing, self-editing, rewriting, and imagining a scene with its feelings, smells, and sounds. Those assists along the way--whether in a regular critique or just a passing comment from a friend that lights the bulb of an idea--are essential to me.

I may not be physically capable of an Iron Man competition, but I am sure giving it a try in the world of publication.

Friday, January 30, 2009

bummer scene

I  just get stuff down on the page so that the ideas and general gist of the scene is there. But it's pathetic when I read it. It waits for the "telling detail" about the setting, a character's gesture, the smell of the place, sounds, other movement--all that stuff that makes a reader really enter the story. The last scene I wrote was especially  superficial. Funny how all the stuff about the senses changes the way the whole thing flows. Dialog without any action or expression of feeling just lies there. Once the gesture is there, the whole line makes sense. It's in my head when I first write it, but I don't always get it all down until I read back through and visualize the scene happening--like watching a play. Once I step back into that scene as a reader, not as the writer, it's easy for me to put in the things that color and animate my story. 

My main goal is to get the book finished, then go back and add a lot to the detail stuff, but when the first read-back of a scene is so boring, I really have to fix SOMETHING then. I can't just leave it there, crying for a life. And that's what makes reading other writers so valuable. Not that I want to spend too much time reading other people's stuff and not writing my own, but reading good writers reminds me where I want to go, and where I want to take my readers. And sometimes it even shows me how to get there.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Other great writing books

I've discovered another favorite writing book: Writing Away by Elizabeth George. I find each chapter makes me stop and take notes for the scenes in my books--character development, dialog, setting, landscape--she's very challenging to read and I am stirred to respond by making my own writing more alive and evocative.  

Just for fun, read Stephen King's  book, On Writing. It is a superb look at the way he approaches his writing, and is very encouraging. As he talks about his own writing journey, he vividly brings to life his past jobs and scenes from his personal life that make me glad I don't read his writing. He is very good at making things real and in-the- moment. I can't handle horror books, and I can tell from his writing in this book that his novels would scare me for decades!

And so I labor on, with George and King as part of my team of guides.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Progress is daily on the road to glory

I was recently reminded about one of the best books I ever read/acted on: The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.  I'm  planning to re-read it in the near future--even got it down and put it in the stack of books by my bed--but I've lived by it for more than a decade. Cameron's book is about nurturing our creativity--making room for it in our lives, balancing input and output, reaching for our goals, finding our way.  You read one chapter a week, write three pages a day of anything (when I first read it in the 90s, I wrote a journal, now I use the idea for my book) first thing in the morning, and have a date with yourself once a week to go someplace that nourishes your spirit and gives your creativity a boost. 

As I finished another scene in my book today, I felt again how important it is to write every day--to keep the momentum going, the story line straight in my mind, and my characters awake in my consciousness. Right now they are clattering around all over the place, anxious to break out and tell their stories. So I guess Cameron's method is working.

Monday, January 19, 2009

sorting it all out

It's amazing how stepping back to take a look at my manuscript helps build excitement about what I'm going to write next. I have gone through all the chapters, listing the people and key action that occurs in each and noting what needs to come up next. One of my critique group (ever vigilant) commented on something I'd said about computer cabling and classroom bells. She reminded me how long it's been since I've been in a college setting. Around 25 years! So, I need to do a bit of research with the local colleges about how they handle class changes and computer installation. All these little details, if not taken care of, may distract a reader and kill their interest in your story. 

In one section, I commented on a certain bridge in downtown Portland, Oregon. It's one phrase, but if I'd gotten it wrong, anyone familiar with Portland would immediately distrust other things I have to say. The research for that particular remark wasn't laborious, but I did sweat it a bit. In these times, when you ask a city engineer about which bridge in the downtown freeway system would really botch up the afternoon commute if it were closed for any reason. . .well, I'm just glad nothing happened to that bridge after I asked the question.

Ahh,the  fun and games of research.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Critique groups

Today my critique group met to present our latest manuscript pages, poems, etc.  If I had not had these women to turn to over the last several years, my book would long ago have been put into a drawer and left to rot. With grace, wit and great wisdom, they edit and comment on what I bring to them. They laugh and admire a paragraph or two, then point out what is slowing the story down, what is unclear or downright stupid (although they never use that word).  

They are helping me with two novels: one I've described in this blog, and another that is a coming of age story about a young girl whose mother has rejected her and left her to be raised by her grandmother. Both books will eventually be finished because of these faithful and diligent friends. I count on them to counteract my nearsightedness  about my own work. 

Some writers choose not to join a group, some have joined one and found it unhelpful. I've been in several, some better than others. Things just work in my current group. If you have not been fortunate in critique groups, keep trying. Find one with people that share your particular values and outlook, or maybe your genre. Fantasy  and sci-fi writers may need to find a group that sticks to their genre. Some of the rest of us have no idea how to advise you.  But for most of us, a general group can work very well. However, all groups need to follow some simple rules.

Come prepared to share your work, and prepared for it to be criticized. This is the purpose, after all.  I've been in critiques where certain members wanted to read their material and be praised. Any suggestion that changes needed to be made was rejected and they eventually left the group. Get real, people.

Come prepared to offer your most gracious help to the other readers. Give kindly critique, helpful direction, gentle guidance--honesty with grace, please.

Come prepared to share the time.  If any one person dominates, someone else loses the chance to present their labors.

Come to triumph over all the things that keep you from finishing and marketing your work.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

planning the book

Whew! The holidays took their toll on my writing schedule. Now, I'm back  at work, but doing a bit of evaluating, rather than writing at the moment. I need to get a grip on all the details, where I am, where I'm going, and I'm checking out what's missing that needs to be added to the manuscript as it currently stands. THEN, off I go again, moving things along. 

My hope is to wrap up the first full draft by late spring so I have summer to edit and rewrite. And rewrite and ....