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?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

the reason to write

I have analyzed my struggle with the book. I began it rather naively--writing whatever scenes popped into my head after a brief outline. I'm sitting back now and re-planning the whole thing. I apparently need a strong outline, and my rather nebulous notes about what's coming in the book do not sustain my momentum. I know what makes my main character tick, for the most part, but I'm not sure why she cares about the secondary character, whose murder sets everything in motion.

And I am fragmented. I'm working on a quilt, keeping the homeschooling stuff going through summer and preparing for our classes in the fall, and we've had a death in the family this summer. That leaves a gap, and an emotional hole to dig out of to reach the surface again. Add travel plans to see my side of the family, keeping the household going, and arranging times for my daughter to hang out with friends. I'm a taxi service. So a lot of my notes are on little pieces of paper that I have to translate when I get home. Some of those notes require their own Rosetta Stone. I wish I had better handwriting.

What I have to do is to keep plugging away-and to remember that I'm telling a story because I want someone to read it, laugh, escape, and maybe pick up a couple of ideas of their own on coping with life.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

To want, to need, to just do it

I have been coveting a Kindle. I, who have always lusted after the smell and feel of paper pages turning, leading me onward in knowledge, or suspense, or...whatever. But it has occurred to me that electronics have their downsides, too. Can you order a book, used, for a Kindle? And I would miss the particular feel of a book.... Anyway, it's all a moot point because I cannot afford a tricked-out Kindle, I don't need one, and so, my desire ebbs and flows. No necessity usually means, for me, no product. But I do hope my book ends up on one. :)

The book has been a huge struggle lately. I write and I toss out, I delete and switch paragraphs around like cards in a deck. I have a troublesome character who seems to be refusing to enter the pages. I recently noted to a friend that while sitting one's backside in the chair in front of the computer is a necessary discipline, writing from a sense of duty seems to be a losing effort. The drudgery of dutifulness seems to cause my creativity to dry up like water on a hot skillet.

While we write from a desire (indeed, a need) to write, we still have to exercise discipline to keep focus, and keep the page count rising. The difference between discipline and writing out of duty seems to be, for me, like the difference between guiding someone to a focused end versus chasing them there with a broom. Like wanting a Kindle, the desire to write is not enough to get there. On the other hand, how many of us like it when we are MADE to do something--shoved there by outside forces and held with our noses to the grindstones? But if we feel the need intrinsically, discipline is what keeps us moving when we become discouraged or distracted.

The Kindle, I can do without (for now)--but I can't really do without finishing the book. I think I'd regret that forever.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Have you been taken in?

My book continues at a snail's pace. I'm in a section I really can't rush because I'm introducing together the villain of the piece to the reader, but my heroine sees him only as her long-time mentor. So the description and dialog here need to imply a lot to the reader without making them think the heroine is excruciatingly dumb because she doesn't notice his evil, manipulative nature.

This struggle of course leads me to self-analysis--which is where nearly all my struggles, whether real or fictional, seem to lead me. I began thinking about people who've pulled the stocking cap down over my mascara and I have to admit there are too many. Well, one is really too many, because we'd all like to be wise students of human nature and spot the bad pennies. But we don't. In a way I think it testifies to basic goodness. Those who are pretty decent folks tend to expect the same of others, so they occasionally get surprised by the dastardly.

I'm asking you, and I'd really like to know, if you've been manipulated by anyone, how, and how did you "escape" their influence?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Larceny and violence in the writer's soul.

I'd forgotten how long it had been since I posted, until I got an email from Peggy from high school saying she'd been reading this blog. I figured I'd better get on with it so there's something new here to read.

April was an amazing, filled-full month, complete with a writers conference up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I was part of an intermediate fiction mentoring group, and they were very helpful with their critique of my first 20 pages. That's all they got to see. They missed the good parts with the body in the warehouse, another body in the heroine's car (unless I change that), and blood dripping from the ceiling. Fun, huh?

Actually, going to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference is always wonderful. Lots of big trees, woodpeckers, squirrels, mountain air--and Christians, which I like. But because I'm not writing for Christians, there were times when I felt like a back slider. People talked about their projects, such as devotionals, Christian novels, etc. Then they'd ask, "What do YOU write."

"Right now, a murder mystery for the secular market. The heroine is a recovering alcoholic attorney whose clients keep getting killed off." But the folks at my tables during meals had lots of great encouragement for me. We quiet Christians--we understand larceny and violence. The sin nature is a great source for novels.

There are deep pools of hatred and murder, envy and irritability, and tons of sloth in me. Lots of good material to work with.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hello, dark world

I have been lost in the throes of my manuscript world. It's a darker and dirtier place than I'm used to, so I've been doing a bit of research to flesh it out, since I don't tend to hang out on the mean streets. I've been researching permit laws for carrying concealed weapons, Alcoholics Anonymous (lovely people there), some courtroom procedures, and I am about to visit my first pawn shop . I've learned enough that when a friend sent out an email about old ads we'd never see nowadays, I emailed him back and told him that a Colt .45 cost ten times as much now as it did in that ad.

I am a rather easily overlooked type of person. Nothing extravagant or amazing about me on the surface. A small, domestic looking person, in fact, with my gray hair and baby face. So when I start talking about concealed carries and the cost of a nice little matte black Colt, it doesn't quite fit. And that's one of the things that makes research so darned much fun.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

manuscripts are like children

I've concluded (nearly just this second) that working on a manuscript is much like parenting. You love the kid, you laugh a lot, you cry here and there, and you'll be dang glad when they are safely out there. I know I always like sending something off to an editor (articles at this point). It's unsure if they'll buy it, but it's so nice to get it out the door, or in the usual case, into the email. I recently got a very nice, personal rejection on a piece. The editor took a brief moment to tell me why the piece didn't quite fit them, although they liked it.

(For those of you who haven't been sending things to editors, the fact is, most editors don't bother to respond at all. So it's truly lovely when someone gives you a personal word.)

To stick with the parenting metaphor, it was sort of like sending your child to camp and getting them back after a week. You aren't done yet and you need to send them out again and again as they grow. And after a while, they only come back to say hello, with a smile (and, in the case of the manuscripts, with checks in hand).

My book is a perennial teenager--causing much angst, as well as fun. It's a lot of work and frustration, it is energizing and at times depressing. And I will be SO glad when it's finally out there, in print, where somebody can buy it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Affirmed--I AM a writer

There's just nothing like a check to affirm that you're really a writer. I recently received payment for an article that was published a few months ago. You know you are a writer when you sit down and write, or when someone reads your stuff and "gets it," or when you see the pages mounting up, and you know you've worked hard on them and they actually are worth reading. (Granted, some people are deluded about this last detail.) But when someone actually pays you for it, it's bliss.

Being paid stirred me up so much that I went back through my files to see what else might be worth sending out. I took a couple to my critique group (faithful ladies, what would I do without you guys?), and was told one was perfect and the other needed a new ending.

Back to the Writers Market Guide--only to be reminded once more how few publications handle short humor. But I found one in Canada that was perfect for this article--at least I hope so, because I sent it off to them. Now we wait. Waiting is the worst part of being a writer.