Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking Back

Yes, I'm blatantly copying Jenny.  But it's that time of year. 

How did 2010 measure up?

All in all, pretty well.  Not if I look at total words written.  That number is way down for the year.  I did get MMG one revision closer to being ready to submit, though. 

I think I accomplished something better than a lot of words.  Or at least as good as.  I finally realized what works and what doesn't for me when it comes to feedback on my writing.  And I managed to articulate that to my critique group.  The thing that still makes me smile is that they immediately got it.  A couple other members also spoke up at that point to say what is and isn't working for them. 

I read a lot of books this year.  Just look at the list on the right.  And I learned so much from having read them.  As I do with just about every book I read.  Not just about writing either, but that sure helps.

PPW asked me to do a regular blog post for them.  It's my What I Learned About Writing series.  I publish here first, then PPW picks it up.  Pretty shiny.

My first blog post on Red Room was picked up as a featured blog.  I supposed to get a bunch of books, but haven't seen any yet.  Not like I don't have enough to read.

I took a banjo class and am still practicing regularly.  Performed three dance numbers and a couple "specialties" with my dance class as the Pikes Peak Center--and loved it.  Took an additional tap class over the summer that really helped with technique. 

A pretty dang good year. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

6 Favorite Books of 2010

Disclaimer:  I realize that not all of these books debuted in 2010.  However, I read them all this year, so that is why they are my favorites of the year.  And there are 6 instead of 10, not because I didn't read 10 books I liked, but because I'm busy and don't have time to write about why I like 10 books.

In no particular order:

Room by Emma Donoghue

I used this book for What I Learned about Writing From this month.  But there is more that I like about it than what I learned from it as a writer.  The premise sounds depressing: a five-year-old boy has spent his entire life in an 11'x11' room; the same room his mother's been imprisoned in for seven years.  Yet, it's not depressing.  Jack has fun in Room.  He adores Ma and thinks life is pretty great.  I know that life in Room must be harder on Ma--how could it not be--but she makes it home for Jack, and I adored her for that.

They both have to face a lot in the second two thirds of the book, each in different ways.  Viewing everything through Jack's eyes makes it at once easier to read and more difficult.  Donoghue has a way of letting us see Ma's struggles filtered through her son's innocence without dampening what she's going through.

I've recommended this book to more than a few people, but always add that it might be a more difficult book to experience if you have children of your own.

Postcards From a Dead Girl by Kirk Farber

I knew about this book long before it was published.  Kirk is a member of Pikes Peak Writers, and I'd heard about his reading at one of their American Icon Contests.  The title already had be interested, then Jenny told me how much she liked his reading--even if they were in competition with each other.  So I knew I'd have to buy it as soon as it came out.

The book does not disappoint. Sid Higgins is the ultimate unreliable narrator, because Sid just may be losing his mind.  He's getting postcards from his ex-girlfriend Zoe, who disappeared on trip to Europe she started about a year before.  All of the postcards are dated from not long after she left, and Sid is trying to find out why they were delayed.  In addition to Sid's weird postcard dilemma, he's being haunted by his mother, whose ghost is stuck in a wine bottle in the cellar, he thinks he has a brain tumor, and his sister is pretty fed up with him.

At first I was nervous about the fact that the book has very short chapters, but it works.  A lot about this book works.  And while I sometimes found myself being frustrated with Sid, I believe it was the author's intent.  I'll ask him the next time I run into him.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. 

I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive about finally reading this one.  So many people have raved about it for so long that I just knew it couldn't live up to expectations.  Boy howdy, was I wrong.

From the description of the cast of characters, I was hooked.  How can you resist an angel who "didn't so much fall as saunter vaguely downwards?" 

Aziraphale and Crowley have been the earthly reps for Good and Evil for a very, very long time.  And they like it here.  There's one little problem: the Apocalypse is going to happen, on Saturday.  Which means they'll have to go back to their respective homes.  Can they stop it? 

There's an Anti-Christ, witch hunters, a witch, various demons, a handful of "horsemen," a bunch of kids and Dog.

Gaiman and Pratchett each have strong, funny voices.  The combination of the two could have been overwhelming.  But styles blended seamlessly.  They claim that they can't tell who wrote what.  I tend to believe them. 

It kept me laughing--sometimes until I had to set the book down and wipe my eyes--and turning pages right up to the end. 

Hurricane Punch by Tim Dorsey

I received this book from a friend.  "It's about a serial killer in Florida."  Ah, a Dexter knock off, I thought.  Wrong again.

Serge Storms and his buddy Coleman are traveling around the state, just ahead or just behind the hurricanes that are pounding it, wreaking almost as much havoc as the storms.  Especially once a rival killer starts taunting Serge.

There are some pretty graphic descriptions of what happens to the victims, which I probably could have done without.  But these are tempered by some of the funniest writing I've seen. 

After finishing Hurricane Punch, I went out and bought the first two books in the series.  I'm looking forward to spending some more time with Serge--just on paper of course.

The Spellman's Strike Back by Lisa Lutz

The Spellmans are back in all their wacky glory.  Izzy is prepping to take over the family's detective agency, still going to therapy and dating the hunky Irish owner of her favorite bar.  Mom's none too happy and finds a way to bribe Izzy to date other men.  David's still unemployed and dating Maggie, Henry's ex.  Rae's acting weird. 

All in all, life as usual for the family. 

This fourth installment is the best of the bunch, and that's saying a lot.  All the family intrigue, actual cases, romance and laughter are here.  Izzy may be evolving, slowly, but she's every bit as much fun as ever.

The Passage by Justin Cronen

A Government experiment goes wrong.  Not only that, it is set loose on the population.  The world as we know it ends and another one begins.

Sounds like King's The Stand.  And the set up to The Passage definitely reminded me of it.  But the disaster is different.  It may still be a kind of virus, but one that turns people into vampires.  With all the vampire hype recently, I was skeptical.  But Jenny recommended it, so I gave it a try.

Many reviewers have talked about the first third of the book being brilliant and the rest bogging down.  I didn't feel that.  The second second slowed it's pace, but it's the aftermath.  I thought there was plenty of excitement, and also how things can become mundane after ninety years--even fighting vampires.

My main disappointment was the abrupt end.  At least I had been warned that the book is the first in a trilogy.  While he did wrap up one part of the story line, Cronen left the reader hanging over a big old cliff.  I'll pick up the second one, for sure.

Juliet by Anne Fortier

This doesn't count in the 6, because I haven't finished it yet.  But it could be another one that I finish before the end of the year that would make the list--Juliet by Anne Fortier.  I'm about 3/4 of the way through, and I'm still loving it. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Favorite Christmas Books

It's the time of year when everyone puts together lists.  Best TV Shows, Worst Movies, Top-Selling Books, etc.

While I might still do that, I wanted to put together a list of my favorite Christmas books.  Then I tried to think of books with memorable Christmases.  None of the usual books came to mind.  I didn't read How The Grinch Stole Christmas, I only remember the television show.  A Visit From Saint Nicholas aka The Night Before Christmas was always recited in my home, not read--so much so that at 5 I was the one who recited it in front of the fireplace.

There are two scenes from books that I always think of this time of year.  They seemed to define for me what Christmas is all about.

-Little House on the Prairie.  I remember being amazed and humbled when Mr. Cameron, my third grade teacher, read to us about the little girls who were thrilled to get one penny, warm gloves and a piece of candy each for Christmas.  Our Christmases growing up weren't extravagant by any means, but there always seemed to be lots of gifts for everyone.  I wondered if I could ever be that thankful for so little.

-Little Women.  I read this for the first time in fifth grade.  I had seen the movie with June Allison and Peter Lawford several times by then, but the book is what stuck.  Their father is away serving in the Union Army during the Civil War.  Money is tight.  Marmee and the older girls work to keep food on the table.  Christmas morning, they awake to a feast for breakfast, but Marmee isn't there.  She's gone to help the Hummel family, a family in even more desperate circumstances than the Marshes.  So the girls pack up their breakfast and take it to share with the Hummels.  I could understand the resistance of Jo and Amy-I wouldn't want to give up my special breakfast either-but loved that they finally agreed.

I like to remember at this time of year that Christmas isn't about how much you get or how much you spend--regardless of what all the adds say--but how grateful, kind and generous of spirit you are.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 20, 2010

And Another Thing

I learned about writing from Room.

4.  Inspiration only gets you so far.

Emma Donoghue has said that Josef Fritzl case was the original inspiration for the book.  He is the man who imprisoned his own daughter in the basement as a sex slave.

Now I would understand how a crime writer would use a case like that for inspiration, as a psychological thriller, a case study of the man.

But Donoghue turned this inspiration on it's head and, of course, changed it.  It is not the woman's father who abducts her.  It's not a crime story.  It is a psychological study, but of the boy and his mother.

Her website explains the extensive research it took to get everything right.  Some of that research was, as you can imagine, harrowing.  Then there was the mundane, like looking at decorating sites to get the room just right.

I'm going to look at headlines a bit differently from now on.  Instead of dismissing certain stories with "that wouldn't fit my genre," I'll look at how it could if I took it from a new angle.  This could open up a whole new world for my writing.

How about you?  Where do you find inspiration?  How much research do you do for each book?

Monday, December 13, 2010

What I Learned About Writing From

Room by Emma Donoghue.

Since the book is showing up on so many Best of 2010 lists, including my own, it seems like a good time to talk about what I learned from it.

First, the blurb:  Jack has lived his entire five years in an eleven foot by eleven foot room with Ma.  Ma has been there for seven years, ever since she was abducted and imprisoned there.  On his fifth birthday, Jack starts asking questions, and learns about "Outside." 

The book is told in first person from Jack's point of view.

1. Kids can be resilient, which some writers forget.

Yes, Jack has been a prisoner his whole life.  BUT it's the only life he's known.  And Ma makes that life as pleasant as she can.  They exercise, read, play games, watch TV--but no too much, dance and laugh.  Jack loves Room and his life there.  The only exception is Old Nick, who sometimes visits at night, while Jack is supposed to be asleep in Closet.

I think, too often, when we write about people in dire situations, the tendency is to write them as always down and depressed.  People often rise above their situations.  Most of us have experienced a time when everything has gone wrong, and everyone involved ends up laughing.  Not after the fact, but during it.  Adding a scene like that can make the story seem more true to life.

2.  Anticipate the readers' questions/realizations

It seemed that every time I had a question about why Ma was doing what she was or wondered what would happen if . . . , Donoghue let me wonder just long enough and then answered the question or set that event I wondered about in motion.  That makes for a satisfying read.

I've been in group critique situations where people wrote things like "Where is this?  When is it happening? Who is Jack?  What does he want?" on the very first paragraph of the story.  Maybe I needed to attach what I thought the back of book copy would say.  But critiques like that lead the writer to want to dump all the back story in the first chapter. 

Resist this.  If I know everything I need to know on the first page, why should I read the next 250?

3.  Staying in character is key.

Donoghue does slip a few times--at least I thought so--especially toward the end of the book.  Jack's narration seemed too emotionally and relationally savvy for a character with his history.  Jack can do math and read better than most third graders.  So there are times he sounds older than five, but that is with good reason. 

I'm working on a novel with an eleven-year-old boy as the narrator.  Not an easy task.  Donoghue has set the bar pretty high for writing a realistic child of the opposite sex.  I will do my best to write up to her level.

I highly recommend Room to all writers.  It's not always an easy read emotionally, but it is a quick one.  The pages just kept turning, because I wanted to know what would happen to Jack and Ma next.  I think you'll want to know, too.

Monday, December 6, 2010

And Another Thing. . .

I learned about writing from my critique group.

5. Listen to all the feedback.

Even if you disagree. Violently.

This can be a hard one--it is for me. But even if you don't agree with the feedback, you should listen. Because something didn't work for that person. It may be a style thing, which you don't want to change. But the thing is, what they may have given as the reason in the critique may not be the real cause of their discontent with your story.

I'm not saying that anyone is lying to you or purposely obfuscating. But sometimes a piece of a story doesn't gel for us, and we can't quite say why. So we might look at the things we can identify: sentence structure, pronouns, adverbs--anything to try and help the author.

So do yourself a favor and try to figure out what really went wrong. Remember that one reader in your group represents a lot more potential readers for your finished work. Do you really want to lose that many people for something that you could have fixed, without giving up your personal style?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December Goals

I've been pretty wishy-washy about my goals lately. But it's felt like I needed that in order to figure out my next steps. Which story to work on. That sort of thing. I've definitely decided to work on MMG, since it's the one that's been in the queue the longest (it hates being called "the oldest").

So, without further ado:

--Finish CWC critique(s) (1/1)
--1,250 words a day on MMG

Okay, maybe a little more ado. Since critiques are now due the 1st Sunday instead of the last Monday, I'm counting the December critique. Which is Jenny's for this month.

Where did 1,250 come from? That's about 5 pages. When things are percolating, I can get 5 pages in about an hour. Doable. AND that should get me to Done about the end of January, which is what I was shooting for. All good.

Easy peasy.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What I Learned About Writing From

Critique Groups

I have been a member of two different critique groups over the past 10 years. Which, I hear, makes me pretty lucky. Some writers bounce around a lot more than that. I met all the members of my current group, Creek Writers Council, at the first one, Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group. Many lessons were picked up along the way. Here are some of them.

1. If you have to explain it . . .

I've been on both sides of this one. A reader will say, "I don't understand how George went from standing on a hill in Italy to hanging from a flagpole in Quebec." Once the writer starts explaining that, "Well, you see, he boarded a blimp in Tuscany, then he flew to Madrid where he hopped a train for Calais . . ." Yeah. But if it's not on the page, the reader doesn't know this. And you, as the writer, don't get to sit down with every reader to explain that. At least you hope not.

My friend, Jenny, calls it "getting it on the page." What I see left off the page most often is setting. Where am I? What's it like there? How's the weather? All things that the writer has in his head when he's writing, but that he needs to show me as the reader.

I'm trying my best right now to overwrite my submissions. Most of my critique group find it easier to show where to cut than trying to figure out what was left out.

2. Don't assume everyone knows what you do.

I stand by my previous lesson of "Don't underestimate the intelligence of your readers." However, not everyone has the same specialized knowledge. And the terms from that specialized area may not be easy to decode for someone not in the club.

Dancers, musicians, computer programmers, accountants, teachers, doctors, etc. all use terms that people outside of those realms may or may not know. Or it may mean something different to other specialties. A paradiddle in dance sounds like a paradiddle in drumming, but one is executed with the feet and the other with the hands.

This is a hard one, because once you learn something, it can be hard to remember that you didn't always know it. This is where critique groups from diverse backgrounds are essential.

3. No two people read exactly alike.

Everyone approaches submissions in his own way. Some read straight through the first time, then go back and dissect. Some mark as they go and only read once. And each person has his own focus for critiques.

I've seen puns be a pet peeve for one reader and a delight for another. Some will add a comma to your sentence and others are just as likely to mark one out. I once had a woman tell me that I had a male character describe a room as only a woman would. The scene didn't bother the man in our group at all.

All of this can be really frustrating. But it is good practice for when your work goes out into the wider world. Get used to people misreading your work, your intention.

I'm learning to weed through the feedback so I can determine what to act on and what to leave as is. Notice I didn't say "ignore." I do listen to and read all feedback. I just don't always agree with all of it.

4. It's your work.

That's the biggest lesson from working with critique groups. Your work has to reflect you. Your voice. Your story. Your style.

We recently shook up how we run our critique group, because the original format was no longer worker for some of us. It's not that it was wrong, just that we are at a different place in our writing. The strength of the group was tested and held. We discussed the issues and made a change that everyone could work with.

I've learned that I need to speak up when something isn't working. Because of Lesson #3. It's my work, and I'm the one who needs to take responsibility for making the best it can be. With the help of my friends.

Monday, November 22, 2010

And Another Thing

I learned about writing from Sandman:

4. Break Those Stereotypes

Death is one of Dream's siblings. What is the picture that just popped into your head? A hooded figure? Perhaps skeletal? Definitely male though. Not in Sandman. Death, in Neil Gaiman's universe, is a cute Goth teen. And it works.

Gaiman shakes things up in other ways as well, taking what we think of as fact and flipping it upside down and backwards. In The Sound of Her Wings, my favorite story from Preludes and Nocturnes, Dream is in our world. He is sitting on a park bench, feeding the pigeons, and he sees Death. They discuss humans. Death says, "Mostly they aren't too keen to see me. They fear the sunless lands but they enter your realm each night without fear." Dream replies, "And I am far more terrible than you, my sister."

I've been called out by my critique group on stereotypes and cliches in my work. Never intentional, but that doesn't really matter. one of the things I'm working on is really shaking up expectations with my characters.

What do you think? Can dreams be more terrible than death? Are there ways you can surprise your readers by not living up to their expectations?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Who Am I?

Last night in dance class, the teacher referred to us as dancers. And that immediately set off the little voice in my head. "I'm taking dance classes, but I'm not a dancer," it said.

This is my second year of classes. We are not limited to beginner moves at all. I have performed on stage at the Pike's Peak Center. The same stage that "real" dancers grace all the time. So why don't I think of myself as a dancer?

Most of the writers I know have gone through a similar experience. "I'm working on a book, but I wouldn't exactly call myself a writer." It's a big deal the first time one of says, aloud to another person, "I'm a writer."

Why is it so hard? Where is the line that makes us self-identify as something--writer, dancer, artist, musician, athlete?

Time? Do we feel we have to practice for years before we magically become that which we so obviously already are? I can say I'm a writer without flinching. Not so with dancer or musician. But I've played music most of my life. So it's not just time.

Payment? I've received a sum total of $55.00 for my writing over the last ten years. Not money.

Recognition? I took a couple bows, as part of a group, at the Pikes Peak Center, and a few other students have told me how fast I'm progressing. I had a couple solos on the clarinet back in school, and quite a few atta-girls in banjo class. So it's not the approval of others.

Self-perceived skill level? I think this may be the one for me. Not that I feel I'm all that as a writer, but I have built a certain confidence in my writing. Although I've played music a long time, I'm relatively new to my current instrument, the banjo. I struggle with a couple chords and still do not play fast. I seem to be a pretty quick study in dance, but I'm not confident as a dancer. Again, I struggle with some of the moves, especially the faster ones.

What is the trigger for you? When is it okay for you to identify yourself as [fill in your own blank]? Is it one of these things or something else?

Monday, November 15, 2010

What I Learned About Writing From

The Sandman Comics

I know. I know. There are those of you who are screaming, “Graphic Novels!” If the author of “The Sandman” series, Neil Gaiman, refers to them as comic books, who am I to quibble?

Neil Gaiman has been one of my favorite authors for a while now. I’ve read his novels, children’s books, YA books and short story collections. But I avoided the comic book collections. My experience with comics was limited to “Archie and Jughead,” “Little Lulu” and “Casper.” And those when my age was still in single digits.

Curiosity got the better of me, especially after reading reviews and hearing interviews with Mr. Gaiman about “The Sandman.” I tried to hide the first collection “Preludes and Nocturnes" under a stack of magazines and other books when I bought it at a local bookstore. After all, I was a woman of a certain age buying a comic book. I didn’t want anyone to see. The clerk, however, picked it up and announced, “This is a great series. You’re going to love it.” Red-faced, I snatched the bag from him and left in a hurry.

He was right. The next time I picked up a Sandman book, I didn’t hide it. Not only did I enjoy the series, but I learned a few things about story-telling.

1. How you draw things changes the tone of the story.

Mr. Gaiman collaborated with many different artists over the course of the series. Depending on the style of the drawing, the feel of the story changed. Some were very stylized and the story seemed more sophisticated. In the few that were more whimsically drawn, the stories were lighter in feel even with the same dark subject matter. Although the characters retained the same basic size, shape and coloring, the artistic style of the drawings gave the characters’ personalities a slightly different twist.

The settings changed as well. Again, Dream (our Sandman), lives in The Dreaming. But what we see of his land or other magical realms, or our own world for that matter, effects the story being told. Is the setting dark and shadowy? Or is bright and sunny?

I love a well-defined setting in fiction. I may or may not be successful at drawing my own worlds with words. But I’m working on playing with setting more. What does it do when a happy occasion takes place during a thunderstorm? Can a change in background give a scene more kick?

2. Your protagonist doesn’t have to be a nice guy.

Dream isn’t even technically a guy. He’s one of seven siblings, known collectively as The Endless. At the beginning of the series, Dream has been imprisoned by a wizard. After his escape, he sets about atoning for some of the wrongs he’s committed. However, he’s still often thoughtless, stubborn and cruel. When you’ve existed for billions of years, you get used to doing things a certain way.
It’s in the contrasts between Dream and the other characters—some human, many not—that brings out the brilliance of Gaiman’s universe. Dream is often kinder than those around him, even if it’s by accident. Sometimes helping out can be the worst thing you could do for another person.

Could exploring my characters’ dark sides, especially my “good guys”, make them more well-rounded? How could a well-intentioned action create havoc for another character?

3. Mythology is your friend.

Gaiman uses myth a lot in all of his writing but particularly in “The Sandman.” The Greco-Roman pantheon is present, but so are Egyptian, Norse and Asian gods. I suspect that he also makes up myths—or I’m just not as well-versed, which is a distinct possibility. He uses them head on in the comics. Sometimes with a lesser known name applied to a god and always with his own twist, but still addressing the actual myth as it’s come down the ages.

Writers are often told to go to myths for ideas for their stories. Too often, I think, we just take a myth and set it in the here and now with very little change. And we have a lot of books on the shelves, including “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman, that take the gods and plunk them down in modern times.

Can I come up with a new way to use mythology in my writing? I don’t know. But I’m sure going to try.

I'm sure I'll come back to Neil Gaiman in the future. He's an amazing writer, who I've learned many lessons from.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Veterans Day

Thank you to all those who have served, are serving, or who have waited at home for someone serving in the armed forces.

Monday, November 8, 2010

And Another Thing

that "Lost" did so well.

10. Make every character vulnerable, and not just the Nikkis and Paolos.

Nothing kills suspense in a scene like knowing that a character is bullet-proof. If a series is built around a few core characters, we're pretty sure that those characters are going to survive. Back when the Cartwrights road the range, we weren't all that concerned when Little Joe was shot.

"Lost" shook up that sense of security. Near the end of Season One, a major character is injured and dies. This adds fuel to the rivalry between Jack, the leader who is a man of science, and John, the leader who is a man of faith. It also means that everyone is in jeopardy. Now when one of the group is in harm's way, we get nervous for them.

Throughout the series, other major characters died. Each was wrenching and, I think, each was necessary to move the story forward. A few times newer characters that weren't working out were also killed, but those didn't have the impact of the others.

I'm often told I'm too nice to my characters. Why not? I like these people. But I'm learning to beat up on them for the sake of the story. Will I kill off any of my main characters? Don't know. It would certainly shake things up.

How about you? Have you every killed off a major character? What was the reason?

Monday, November 1, 2010

What I Learned About Writing From

Welcome to a new, regular blog feature. I was asked to contribute a regular blog post to the Pikes Peak Writers blog. They allow reprints so it's okay for me to post here as well. My idea for a fortnightly post is to talk about what writing lessons I take from a variety of sources. It could be a book, movie, television show or something one wouldn't immediately equate with writing. I hope it's fun and informative. We'll see.

The first entry has been percolating since last April. It's What I Learned About Writing From "Lost."

1. It’s a good thing to raise questions from the start.

The opening shot of the series is a close up of a man’s eye. He stares up through a bamboo forest. He’s flat on his back, obviously hurt, and he’s wearing a suit and tie. A yellow Labrador runs by. After the man struggles to his feet, he finds a tiny bottle of vodka in his pocket.

Okay, I’ve got a bunch of questions already. Who is this guy? Why is he in what looks like a jungle? Was that his dog? How’d he get hurt? Why does he have booze in his pocket? Is he an alcoholic? Was he on a plane? Because it looks like what you get on a plane. What’s up the suit and tie in a jungle?

Get the idea? If this had been a book, I’d be punchy from lack of sleep, because I’d be turning pages all night to find out answers to those questions.

2. BUT it’s a good thing to reward your readers with a few answers along the way.

The man hears a loud noise, people calling for help, and he runs toward the sound. When he stumbles onto an expanse of beach, he finds chaos. A crashed jetliner—that’s where the booze is from—and people in a panic, many injured. He takes charge of the situation, performs medical procedures, introduces himself as Jack to someone, and so on. We find out his last name is Shepherd.

Now I have some answers, but I have more questions. Is he a doctor? Is that last name significant? Which of these characters are going to be important? Etc.

The creative minds behind the show—J.J. Abrams, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof—took some heat for raising more and more questions as the series went on without giving any answers—at least as far as many fans were concerned.

This can be a fine line to walk when you have a long story to tell. There should be some surprises later in the story, but it can be dangerous to keep too much too close to the vest. Let the reader in on some of the secrets along the way.

Which leads me to:

3. Know the end before you start.

Abrams and Cuse created a series ‘bible’ at the beginning which outlined the major plot points for an ideal 5-6 season run.

This is a good rule for stand-alone books, although you can always change things as you go. It’s really important for a series so that a character’s eye color doesn’t change or her house doesn’t inexplicable move from one side of town to the other between books 3 and 4. The writer may forget, but the reader won’t.

4. Knowing the end doesn’t always help the middle.

When the show became a bona fide hit, there was the possibility that it could go on for years beyond what Abrams and Darlton (the moniker fans gave Cuse and Lindelof) had dreamed. The middle got bogged down with more possibilities for what was happening on the island and a growing cast of characters.

A problem that’s easier to deal with when writing a book, because we can go back and fix the middle before anyone else gets to see it. Woo hoo! One for us.

5. It’s okay to have a large cast of characters, but you have to handle it right.

For most of it’s run, “Lost” listed around fifteen main characters with another dozen or so supporting players. Focusing on a few key people each episode helped fans keep things straight. That didn’t mean the others weren’t around, but they would fade to a supporting role. It helped the viewer get to know them all.

Introduce characters slowly—something I’m learning—and let each one have their own spotlight. It can be tricky to give each one enough time to complete the scene but not so much that the reader forgets some of the others.

Tread carefully. And—something I’m still struggling with—give each one a distinct personality. If Fred can stand in for Frank, maybe I don’t need Frank.

6. The Nikki/Paolo Rule.

Two new characters were abruptly introduced at the beginning of the third season. That wouldn’t have been unusual—new people showed up every season—except the regulars acted like these two had been around all along. And the couple seemed to add nothing to show. Darlton admitted the pair were brought in to answer the fan question of what the other survivors were up to. Since they were “universally despised” by the fans, they were killed off.

In a book, unless it’s part of a series, you can’t do that in response to reader feedback. So make sure any new additions are there for a good reason. Since I tend to overpopulate my books—one reason I love the previous rule—I am ever vigilant about this one.

7. Trust that your audience/readers are as smart as you are.

“Lost” did this beautifully. The writers never talked down to viewers. They gave characters names, often of philosophers, to help fans figure out what role that character was going to play. Aspects of different religions and mythologies were introduced without explanation. Either you got it or you didn’t. If you didn’t, you could still follow what was happening, but there was an extra layer of fun and meaning if you did.

This is another fine line I have to walk in my own writing. I’m trying to just write whatever reference feels right. If I get a lot of questions from my critique group, then I’ll go back and explain.

8. Playing with timelines can heighten suspense.

Another thing “Lost” did with great success. They used flashbacks from the first to help give background on the characters. But in Season 3 the creators introduced the flash forward. A glimpse of Jack and Kate in the future. Intriguing. What did it mean? Others followed in subsequent episodes.

Then in the final season, there were what Darlton called flash sideways. Was it a parallel timeline or universe? Could it be the future? We didn’t find out until the final episode.

Think about how altering the way you tell your story could up the tension. Does it need to be told in a chronological order, or would mixing it up be better? I have one story that it works with, but another would just be frustrating to the reader. How about multiple POV characters. Play a little with it.

9. Ultimately, you can’t please everyone.

The resolution of the flash sideways was controversial among fans. I loved it. Others? Not so much. The same with the answers to the big questions. And there were those who were disappointed that not every single little question was answered at the end.

This can happen with books as well. Do you spend time tying up every single loose end? Or do you let a few dangle so the reader can come to her own conclusion? I tend to prefer the latter, as long as there aren't too many major questions unanswered.

Monday, October 4, 2010

More Of The Same

My October Goals are a rehash of my September Goals. Bad month for writing. And it sounds like it was that way all around.

DB had her first feedback from CWC last night. I'll let her tell you about it herself. But it was interesting that she said every single member of the group was blocked in one way or another. Either this one just wasn't feeling the story, or the stress of everyday stuff was taking up all that one's brain power. Weird. I wonder if all critique groups have that happen. That everyone seems to get into a mental/emotional sync.

Maybe I'm missing the group and the deadlines. Don't know. All I can do right now is get everything ready to go. And then maybe play a bit. See if there are any short stories that want to be told--although that's not very likely. Ali suggested poetry to DB. Maybe I'll give that a shot. Nobody else needs to see it, right?

Here's to everybody breaking through the wall this month!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I have a new definition of the word. It's when all of the things you need/want to do spin around in your head so that none of the ideas in there can fully form. A few of the ones spinning in my head right now?

--Big Project at work looks huge close up
--It's progressing nicely, though
--What's going to blow up since it cant possibly be that easy?
--Need to follow up on loose ends from last project
--Dance class tonight
--Did I pack everything?
--Did I practice enough?
--No, I didn't practice enough and must practice more this week
--Banjo class may be canceled
--Am I sad or relieved about that?
--Would like to go to banjo camp in January
--How much is banjo camp?
--Do I want to waste vacation days on something called banjo camp?
--Maybe I should work on the "other" parts of MMG first
--But it would be better to start at the beginning and write all the way through for continuity's sake
--Wouldn't it?
--Maybe I should work on Vesta instead
--Or TKoS, I've got some really good ideas for that one
--I said I wanted to clean up some of my short stories and submit them-I could do that
--Speaking of cleaning, I need to clean out and organize the kitchen cabinets
--And finish clearing out stuff from the basement
--Do I have time to maybe make some Christmas gifts?
--If they cancel the banjo class, should I try to contact the woman I took lessons from before to see if she's still teaching?
--No, I definitely need to start at the very beginning of MMG. That's why there's an outline.
--I said I was going to use the whiteboard and corkboard. I need to hang those up
--Man, I'm hungry, but I told Giovanna she could go to lunch first.
--Do I have snacks here?

You get the idea. I'm going to try lists. Lists are our friends. I just happen to have a notebook here at work. On my lunch break--which is still way too far away--I'll make lists for home, work, classes, writing, etc. Then the stuff won't have to be in my head.

Will that leave enough room for the writing ideas to get out?

I'll keep you posted.

What do you do when The Swirlies attack?

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Plantser Becomes a Planner

There is a belief that writers fall into one of two camps: either they plan out every detail of a story before they start writing (Planner) or they completely wing it (Pantser). The reality is there's a spectrum that we all fall on. Some plan a lot, but then let the story lead them once they start writing. Others wing it until they feel like they're getting lost, then sit down and figure out how to proceed. Jenny plots a few chapters ahead. I like to have an idea of how the main plot starts and ends with a few of the emotional beats I want to hit along the way.

That changed after our brainstorming session. I already took a lot away from the feedback I got from CWC in May. Then Jenny let me bounce ideas off her so I know where I need to be to continue. The discussion straightened out some things, curved some others. I have a better feel for exactly where I want to go with this revision.

One of the main things that came from it is that I need a detailed outline now. I have to plan out the main story arc and the secondary arcs step by bloody step. I also have to make sure the "other" methods of storytelling that I'm using support those arcs. Hence, a plan. A real plan. Not a loosey goosey plan (see previous post). Charts, graphs, maybe even the white board and cork board I bought a while back.

At first I was afraid that it would stifle any creativity. That the writing would seem--I don't know--dry. But I'm seeing now that the plan is actually liberating. I can play with it, because I'm not worrying about where to take the plot next. The plot's there. The characters are fully formed so I know how they will act.

It will probably be a while before I start something brand new. Vesta and TKoS both need rewrites. But I might have a more solid plan in place before I start whatever that new thing is. So I can play more.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

September Goals

Once again, a month got away from me.

However, I did set down a loosey goosey outline of what I want to do with MMG going forward. The big thing that will get me moving in the right direction is having a brainstorming session this weekend with Jenny.

Some writers can't talk out a book before they work on it--especially first drafts. They say that it feels as if the book has already been written so it's boring to work on it after that. I'm not one of those writers. I want to talk and play with the plot and characters before I get too far into a project.

I know this isn't a new project. But some of the changes I need to make will, in some respects, make it brand new. So I need to have a session with someone who knows the work. Not only the latest version, but what it was on day one. Jenny's really the only one who has seen all the iterations of MMG. Besides, she loves brainstorming as much as I do.

Other goals for the month?

Reading some books on the craft of writing. I'll revisit some old favorites and check out a few I haven't read. The nice thing about craft books--whatever the craft--is that once you are past the beginner stage, you can skim for what you need.

I'm feeling optimistic about getting some words down this month. Besides, it's cooling off. Fall is when my energy spikes. The stars may be aligning for this revision to move forward.

Monday, August 2, 2010

August Goals

Well, I was a big old slacker in July. No revisions done. Nothing new started--which was on purpose, but still.

So, my goal for August? Get more done than I did in July. Now it's not that I sat around all month. I was cleaning and organizing like a mad woman. I spent a week at some friends' house taking care of their dogs. I danced. I worked--a lot. Just nothing to do with writing.

Well . . . .

That's not exactly true. I was turning things over. Looking at things from all angles. Sniffing them, tasting them. Does this ring true? Would changing that do what I want it to or will it just throw everything else? And would that necessarily be a bad thing? So working on things, just not actually writing.

In August, I hope to actually write. And if it's not on MMG, then something. Pages. Actual proof of writing. New note cards would be good. That would show I know where it's going.

So, goal for August:

--New note cards.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Write Like . . .

Copying both Fleur and Jenny this morning. [Update: Taking a cue from both Jenny and Mary, I decided to check out multiple manuscripts] For MMG: I don't agree with it, but I'll take it.

I write like
Chuck Palahniuk

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

For Vesta:

I write like
Edgar Allan Poe

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

For TKoS:

I write like
Chuck Palahniuk

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I would have thought that TKoS would be more likely to get Poe.

And would it have made a difference if I entered the whole manuscript?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Job Sharing

Summer is supposed to be a leisurely time. Or so we believe. It comes from our school days. Three months off to do with as we please--at least within the parameters of what our parents will allow. But I still can't shake the feeling that I should be able to kick back, read, ride my bike and generally goof off.

But that's not really the way the adult world works. No three month break from the day job. Grass needs cutting, and houses need cleaning. Life--and the responsibility that go along with it--marches on.

Which means that I can't drop everything to work on MMG revisions. As much as I'd like to. But there is one thing I can set aside for a while. Or, rather, put in good hands until I can give it more of my attention. Creek Writers Council. As I work on the revisions, I have nothing to submit to the group. Some of them have read the book two or three times now, in different iterations. Instead of trying to put it through piecemeal, I've asked for a couple volunteers to read the whole thing when it's done. Some will be new to it, and others will have seen it before.

I'm letting D.B. deClerq, a good friend and fellow writer, take my spot for a while. She's working on a second draft of HM, her cozy mystery, and would like the opportunity to submit it to the group in chunks, while she works on another mystery series.

Once again, CWC shows what an amazing group of people they are. Within our rather strict rules, there is room to do what's best for each member's process. The rules are there to keep everyone working. But when they get in the way, they can be nudged a little to fit.

I'll still be reading the submissions--can't quite give that up--but won't have to worry about having something to put before the group myself until D.B.'s received the final feedback on HM. It should give me time to get MMG in shape and out into the world AND rework TKoS so I can submit it again. While that's going through, I can maybe get Vesta ready to submit as a full. But if I don't get it ready in time, D.B. could have her second mystery ready. I foresee us leapfrogging like that for a while.

Win/win. Gotta love that.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Where Does The Time Go?

I had hoped to be at least halfway through revising one of my novels this month. I haven't started yet. Where did that month go?

Well, let's see.

Forty hours of every week go to work. Can't really do much about that right now. Must eat, pay mortgage and buy writing supplies so must work.

Some goes to housework and yard work. Although, I certainly don't spend a lot of time on either. Don't want to end up on one of those hoarder shows. Don't want to get run out of the neighborhood. So must do housework and yard work.

Some goes to dance class and working out. Dance class seems to help keep me sane (right up there with writing) and is great exercise. Working out good for mind, body and spirit. Must do these things.

Some--way too little, actually--is spent with friends. Extremely good for mind and spirit. Will not give this up.

But a disproportionate amount of time goes to--wait for it--television and Facebook. Summer used to be the wasteland time of TV. Nothing but reruns and game shows. Easily ignored. But now? I have more shows scheduled for the DVR than ever. Burn Notice, True Blood, In Plain Sight, Leverage are all great storytelling. And they're well acted. More are due to start. Facebook is a way to stay in touch with friends. But there's a lot of useless distraction as well. Games are a biggie. But the "updates" from artists and organizations that you "like" can overwhelm, too. And there are friends who seem to want me to know way more about their day than I need to. The bigger problem is that many of these superposter friends are entertaining about it.

In any case, I won't be on Facebook much this summer. If we're neighbors or friends in games, don't expect me to send you any gifts. I won't be poking you back. It's not that I don't want to be friends. Please email or call me and we can get together. But I'm not going to check in to see what anyone had for breakfast. Even if it sounds fabulous and you've included the recipe which I would love to try.

The DVR will serve its purpose and record the shows I just can't bear to miss so I can watch them at a time I wouldn't be writing anyway. Or as a treat for making a particular goal.

I'll keep you posted on how it works out. But probably not as a FB status update.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Do It Now!

You've probably read elsewhere that instead of being nervous about dancing on stage, I had a blast. Loved being onstage, backstage, the whole experience of being in the theater. The thing is, I've dreamed about performing in some capacity since I was three years old and saw my first Shirley Temple movie. Subsequent movies, television variety shows and live theater only enforced those dreams. But, with the exception of my high school senior class play, I never did anything about it.


Well, there was school to finish, money to earn, weight to lose--you name it. Writing, which often took a back seat if not the trunk, also nudged any kind of performance out of the way.

Shame that. Here was something I thought I might enjoy that I didn't pursue. At all. For decades.

So what have you always wanted to try? That secret wish you never told anyone about? Maybe you never even fully admitted it to yourself.

Whatever it is, do it. Do it now. Don't wait. Why would you postpone what might be a great joy in your life?

Don't wait.

Not until the kids get older.
Not until things "settle down" in your life.
Not until you lose that 10 pounds.
Not until you have more money.
Not because you think you might embarrass yourself.
Not for anything.

Do it now.

You don't have to take a $200.00 art class if you want to paint. Pick up some supplies at Michael's or Hobby Lobby or even Walmart and get a book or a video.

You don't have to buy a $500.00 laptop if you want to write. A 10 cent notebook and a pen do just fine.

You can get used shoes if you want to learn to dance.

Same with learning an instrument. Check for used items online or at your local music shop.

There are free or cheap classes online for almost anything you want to learn. There may be a Parks & Rec program or community outreach classes from a local college.

But don't wait. Do it now.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Loving/Hating CWC

The group gave me their feedback on MMG last night.

The comments were fabulous. Really good suggestions all the way around. I was told to leave several scenes as is--which is always nice to hear. Love that.

There is quite a bit that needs work. Maybe not a lot of work, but work nonetheless. One of the suggestions--that I agree with, btw--is that the main narrative needs to change from 1st to 3rd person. And other sections that are in 3rd person need to switch to 1st. Again, I agree. But hate that. Lots of work to get it right.

I don't want to wait a long time to start this next revision. And the gang agreed. "Jump in" seemed to be the consensus. Love that.

But that means I'll have to shelve what I'd planned to do next. Only mildly dislike that, truth be told.

AND they gave me a pass on having to submit anything new this month, which I was supposed to do. See item above about shelving the planned next project. Love, love, love that.

So that's 5 loves to 1.25 hates.

Guess it's still love.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Choreographer or Dancer?

We are now a little less than three weeks away from my dance recital. Our group is now going to be in four different numbers: 1) Billion Dollar Baby (jazz), 2) Happy Feet (tap--not penguins), 3) Hold Your Dream (singing! as a gospel choir) and 4) Sing Sing Sing (jazz for a small part of the finale). That's a lot of time on stage.

A group of us are getting together as often as possible outside of class to go over the routines. "How many times do we do the Suzy Qs?" "Should the arms be up or down on that move?" OF course, the more times we do it, the better. As Reggie says, "Repetition is my friend." I'm feeling pretty good about understanding the routines. I know what step follows what and how they fit in with the music. Once we get started, I'm pretty okay at getting through to the end. So far so good.

However, I'm not happy with my execution of the individual steps. My feet feel sloppy. Part of that is being on heels, especially with the tap numbers. Most of the dancing should be on the balls of the feet, but my heels are dragging. It muffles the sounds so that you don't have that nice crisp tap sound.

On my own, I'm getting back to basics. Flaps, shuffles, time steps, paradiddles. That's what I really need to work on.

It's funny, because I feel that it's just the opposite with writing. I feel okay about the basics. It's how it all fits together. What follows what and how does that build on what comes before? Part of the issue is that the writer is both the dancer and the choreographer. I don't just have to learn the routine, I have create it.

So, where do you feel most confident? Choreography (plotting, putting it all together) or Dancing (characterization, dialog, action, grammar)? Or are you Bob Fosse, Merce Cunningham, or Suzanne--our teacher? Are you confident with all of it?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Good Enough?

Saturday I spent a good part of the day organizing the basement. I found a lot of old writing. Some were from critique groups past that somehow never found their way back home. Some were submissions to Apollo's Lyre or the PPW NewsMag. Those hit the new, heavy-duty shredder. Many were short stories or early versions of MMG.

It was amazing how many different iterations it's been through. There's the yellow one, the blue one, the pink one, the gray one and now the green one. That's a lot of writing and rewriting. And a lot of trees sacrificed.

My protagonist is nineteen-year-old Kitty Stuart. She wants her mother to haunt her, but in Kitty's attempt to piss her mother off enough to do it, Kitty falls in love with a twice-divorced, alcoholic twelve years her senior. That's what will end up haunting her, or worse.

In the earliest version, I started the book when Kitty's mother was ten years old. Okay a bit of a running start. Second version was going to be alternating chapters of Kitty and her mother as a girl to compare/contrast their lives. Again, way too early. The third one starts with Kitty as a senior in high school to show her life before and then after her mother's death.

The fourth one starts at the mother's funeral, and while it can be argued that that is where the story starts, it was confusing to throw the reader into a huge extended family scene. They don't know this girl yet so there's no connection to what she's feeling. This one was read by a few people and I consistently got that comment.

So, now we're on number five. We start with Kitty "running away" with her beau. I'll find out in two weeks if it's the right place.

It was good to note that each version improved on the one before it. There are a lot of years of writing represented there. One would hope that reading and attending workshops and conferences and getting feedback would help. And I do believe it has.

Now I'm trying to not anticipate what the CWC+ will say about this latest incarnation. But of course I am. Throw it under the bed? Major changes or just minor ones? How many more times through? And the biggest one of all, which they can't answer: Do I have it in me to do another major rewrite of this one?

And the big existential writing question: When is it good enough?

I don't expect anyone to answer those here. That's what the group is for. Except maybe that very last one. When do you know it's good enough?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Feminine Ink Revisited, This Time With A Guy

It's been years since I was involved with Feminine Ink. I don't even know if they're still going. I started the group so I like to think that somewhere in a coffee shop in Colorado Springs, Mickey and company are going strong.

The Fem Ink (as it became known) rules were as follows:
1) I did all the prompts. Yes, I can be a control freak, but with good reason in the case of a couple regulars.
2) We wrote for about 7 minutes without stopping. If you didn't know what to write next, you wrote "I don't know what to write," or "la la la," or "Deb's a big old jerk for picking this stupid prompt." It helped thicken my skin.
3) Then everyone read what they'd written.
4) No critiquing or really commenting on the writing was allowed. This was to protect feelings and to avoid discouraging those who were just starting their writer's journey.
5) And the last rule of Fem Ink Club was no talking about Fem Ink Club. That way no one would feel they couldn't write what they wanted.

At our CWC meeting on April 26, we did something similar. I had submitted the first 300 pages of MMG at the end of March and the rest of it at the April meeting. This meant we had nothing to critique since I didn't want a partial critique--I know, picky picky picky. This experiment differed from Fem Ink in that:

1) Everyone brought in 2 prompts (although we only used 1 each)
2) Feedback on the writing was encouraged

It was fabulous. The write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants muscles were stiff. It felt good to exercise them a bit. With 4 of the 5 prompts being complete surprises, I didn't have to worry about subconsciously pre-writing anything. The feedback we got, although all positive, was very helpful. We know each other so well that what was left unsaid was just as useful as what was voiced.

Jenny threw in a twist, as she is wont to do, and said we should all expand on one of our responses and submit it this month. Which to do? Should I use one of the ones with a strong restriction? One allowed no visual descriptions and another was written without adjectives or adverbs. Or take one that will allow me to go off in any direction?

I'll read through them later and decide. Whatever I pick, I know I'm going to learn something and have fun doing it. What more can you ask for?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Blind Rewrites

Jenny and Ali talk about a method of rewriting short stories called "The Blind Rewrite." I don't know that it warrants capitalization and quotation marks, but that's the way they always say it. What you do, as I understand it, is rewrite without looking at the first draft. Hence, blind. The theory behind that is that you will remember what it important and forget what isn't. Not sure that I completely agree, but it's a method.

However, how does one manage that with a novel? Yeah, I didn't even want to think about going there. But I came up with something that worked.

Step 1) Print out a clean copy of manuscript.
Step 2) Read and mark up.
Step 3) Add in any pertinent comments from critique group.
Step 4) Using the now not-so-clean copy, retype the whole thing.

Oooh, you say, no wonder it took you so frikkin' long to get that rewrite done. Well, yeah. But I think it was worth it. We'll find out at the end of the month if the CWC agrees.

There were areas in the original where I'd started telling instead of showing. There were missing scenes needed for tying others together, for clarifying certain things, for heightening tension. I had dreaded having to write those new scenes, but by retyping the whole thing, those scenes just kind of organically appeared.

Another benefit was noticing a lot of continuity issues and many other missing scenes. I was also more aware of repetitions--words, phrases, ideas, actions. I know I didn't catch or fix all of them--that's what critique groups are for--but I caught a lot more than I did in the read-through.

One of my fears going into the rewrite was that I wouldn't have enough when I finished. I started with just shy of 200 pages, maybe 50,000 words. Way too short for a mainstream novel. What if there wasn't enough 'there' there for a full novel? Well, not to worry. The finished product was 603 pages and a little over 104,000 words. Which gives me a nice buffer for the things CWC will cut.

Cutting and pasting would not have solved nearly so many of the problems. Especially not the problems I didn't realize I had. This may be a time-consuming method, but it's one I'm going to keep using. At least for the 1st rewrite after receiving feedback from the gang.

There will be other things to fix, but I hope that this version is in good enough shape that those won't be major.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, May 3, 2010

May Goals

Not many blog posts last month. It may have had something to do with working on those April goals. I felt that if I had time to write anything, I should be working on MMG. So I did. Although I missed the deadline for getting everything to CWC, I did finish the rewrites at 9:45 p.m. on 4/30/10. So I did complete them in April. The final pages went to Ali, Jenny & Shane on Saturday (after I took the full manuscript to Carrie so she could be first). I will deliver Mary's to her today on my lunch break. Phew!

I hope to blog more this month on the experience of revising something so big. It came in at a little over 104,000 words. I'm sure I'll be told to cut many of them, but it definitely needed more than the first drafts had.

So, May goals. I'm taking it easy this month, gang.

--Expand on one of the prompt responses for CWC.
--Work on short stories.
--Work on poetry.

Just playing with words for a while. Soon enough I'll have to get serious with either Vesta or TKoS.

Friday, April 2, 2010

April Goals

I didn't make it all the way through the revisions of MMG last month, but I'm pretty happy with the way it's going. I gave 300 pages to CWC on Monday night. They'll get the rest at the end of the month. Feedback is set for the May meeting. Can't wait to find out if it's worth saving or not.

April goals are easy. No critiques to do. Just one thing to finish. So here we go:

--Retype marked up pages. (300/? pages)
--Read through.
--Make any quick fixes found in read-through.
--Print out for CWC and Carrie. And any other takers. (300/?)

Monday, March 22, 2010


I realized early last week that I would not have a full, revised manuscript to give to CWC on the 28th if I didn't do something drastic. Even with working on it during lunch hours, stealing time at work and using every unbooked evening wasn't going to get me there. So I took Friday off and left it open to take this Friday off if I need to.

At first, I had a little trouble settling down. But it was nice to have a table to spread out my marked up pages, notebook, index cards, coffee, etc. Soon I was typing away, not only fixing old stuff but adding new stuff. There were interruptions, though. I was doing laundry at the same time--that old multi-tasking gene just wouldn't shut up. But I had 30 new pages at the end of the day.

Saturday I settled in much more easily. No laundry. No housework (which I'll pay for later). Just me and my story. I was so into it, there didn't seem to be anything else. I've never experienced that with revisions. First drafts, yes, but not rewrites. Before I knew it, I had 50 more pages knocked out. Pages that I was happy with.

Yesterday, I had to deal with some other obligations. And, man, was that tough. I felt like I had to fight my way up from the bottom of the ocean. The real world looked odd, off, foreign. I just wanted to go back into MY world, the one I had created. I was a bit snappish early on. Spent some time in the writing room, reading some of my friends' stuff. Not exactly my world, but not this one either. By the time I met a friend for a play at Theatreworks, I was back here.

It's probably a good thing I did that yesterday. I'm not sure my boss or coworkers would be very understanding about it. Snapping at the boss or customers is not a good idea. Especially if you need the job.

I'll still need to take this Friday off. Possibly Thursday, depending on how much I can get done during lunch breaks and after work. But now, instead of feeling like I'm wasting vacation time, I'm looking forward to getting back to that world.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Two Unexpected Hours

Monday night was our regularly scheduled Pirates' Night. We gather, eat pizza, drink whatever and talk. About books read and movies watched and life lived, but mostly about writing. It's informal. No critiques, although pages are swapped once in a while. A night I look forward to all month.

I arrived at 5:30, ordered my slice of pizza, found a seat and pulled out my manuscript to mark up. I ate the slice while I continued to mark up pages. I wrote missing scenes. Every so often I glanced at the door. Ali had said she'd be + 1, but late. Fleur couldn't make it. But no one else showed up either.

About 7:10, I texted Ali. She was about 15 minutes away. Then I ordered a decaf latte. And I marked up more.

At 7:30 Ali + 1 arrived. I put my marked up pages away, and the usual talking commenced. No one else made it. Life managed to interfere with more than one Pirate this month. Emails had been sent after I'd left work for the day. But the talk was interesting, and the next two hours flew by.

It wasn't until the next morning that I pulled out those marked up pages to see how many there were. Surely I'd made my 30 page goal for the day. Goal + 67! 97 pages in two hours. Two hours I didn't expect to have. Two hours that prove how much can be accomplished if the butt is planted in a chair and a pen is kept in the hand.

And I'd managed to get past the worm hole without being sucked in. You know the point. The place where I'd decide I needed to go back to the beginning and start over. But I just scribbled right past it. I'm now in "new" territory.

This means I'll have revisions done well before the CWC meeting this month. I may even get a second pass (quick though it will have to be) to do more clean up. All because of two hours.

I'm keeping a look out for two more.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What A Rush

And that's actually a double rush. One from being on a new blood pressure medication. The second from getting so much accomplished last month. I definitely like the latter one better.

Just look at all I did (and it doesn't even cover the non-writing related stuff):

--Finish reading MMG with plot questions in mind (300/300 pages)
--Look at all characters and determine if they stay or go (Done)
--Fill out character surveys on remaining characters (Done)
--Review each scene for what it adds (or doesn't) to the story (Done)
--Plot map entire manuscript (Done)
--Revise 1st third of manuscript (Done)
--Complete CWC critiques (2/2)

Yay, me! Everything with a check mark. I like this breaking things down, um, thing. Let's do it again for March, shall we?

--Mark up all of the printout of previous version.
--Write missing scenes.
--Retype marked up pages.
--Read through.
--Make any quick fixes found in read-through.
--Print out for CWC and Carrie. And any other takers.
--Do CWC critiques. (0/2)

I'm really glad there are five Mondays this month.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Eating The Elephant

Revising almost 400 pages feels impossible. Never mind that I'm the one who wrote them in the first place, pulling each word out of thin air. That part seems so easy compared with making those words better. To deleting some of those hard fought for words and adding (praise the goddess, is it possible?) more words. How does anyone ever get through all this?

One word at a time, of course. One page. One scene. One chapter. One book. Easy peasy.

Of course, it's not quite that linear. What in writing really is? But it is still possible to break it down into steps. [See goals at left.] As I read through the manuscript, I realized that not only are there things that need to go or be expanded or contracted, but that I have a few missing scenes as well. One small bite of the elephant is going to be roughing those out and setting them in place so they can be polished with their respective chapters.

Then put the extras (journal entries, etc) where they belong throughout the main narrative.

I plan to use the hard copy to mark up. After about 100 pages, I'll transcribe into the computer. Then the next 100 and so on. This will actually give me 2 revisions for the price of 1. Once on the hard copy and then again when I type it in. Because I always find something when I'm transcribing.

When I lay it out like that, it doesn't seem like such a big deal. And I need it to not feel like a big deal.

Any other tricks you've discovered to help tackle "impossible" jobs?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Unexpected Reactions

I had an early, early appointment with the fabulous Carrie Saturday morning. Afterward, I went across the street to Montague's coffee shop. They weren't officially open yet, but said I was welcome to sit until they were.

Montague's is the coffee shop I'd open if I opened a coffee shop. Almost all the chairs are big comfy wing backs. Or overstuffed couches. I picked out a nice table by the front window and set about writing my morning pages.

After they opened, I got a cup of coffee and a pastry and returned to my table. I started in on character sketches using the list of questions compiled from several different online sources. About halfway through the first one, emotions threatened to overwhelm me. The deep motivations of my protagonist hit pretty close to home. Okay, I thought. Understandable.

But what knocked me sideways was my reaction to the antagonist's character sketch. My "bad guy" was suddenly a vulnerable, damaged man instead of a purely evil cad. He still does bad things. I wouldn't want to be married to him. But his motivations and past do make a difference.

These reactions are going to significantly change the tone of the book. And it will be closer to what I wanted when I first started writing MMG all those years ago. Weird. I thought I really knew these characters before. I needed to ask myself the right questions to finally get to their true selves.

Have you ever had a reaction to your own writing (or planning for writing) that surprised you?

Monday, February 1, 2010

February Goals

This is a scarily short month. More so than usual since CWC meeting is on the22nd. Must get critiques done this week because I'm out of town one of the three weekends before the meeting.

What else can I get done this month?

--Finish reading MMG with plot questions in mind (98/300 pages)
--Look at all characters and determine if they stay or go (started)
--Fill out character surveys on remaining characters (started)
--Review each scene for what it adds (or doesn't) to the story
--Plot map entire manuscript
--Revise 1st third of manuscript
--Complete CWC critiques (0/2)

Hmmm, busy month, but doable. Will have to be since I only have 55 days to get MMG in shape to print out and give to CWC. You're not going to mention how many days it would have been had I really started back in October are you? Didn't think so.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

You've Got To Be Carefully Taught

My sister is watching South Pacific in the other room as I work, can you tell?

Sometimes one does have to be carefully taught. Other times it's the casual lesson that works best.

As you all know, I've attended conferences and workshops on craft. I have dozens of writing books on my shelves. An embarrassing amount, really. And they've all helped shape my writing to a greater or lesser degree.

Then last Monday night, we critiqued Ali's full manuscript that had gone through a first revision. What a lesson there was in that. So many of the questions and comments struck home for me.

"What does this scene accomplish?"
"You need more tension here."
"Why is she doing this?"
and a biggie for me "Where is the emotion?"

Ali has done an amazing job with her story. The amount of improvement from first draft to this version is truly impressive, especially given that she accomplished it in less than two weeks. There is more for her to do (isn't there always?), but it's really really good.

I'm using what I've learned--both the more formal lessons and those important ones I've picked up giving and listening to critiques--as I read through MMG. I'm 98 pages into a 300 page manuscript. I should be done reading by mid-week. Then the dissecting begins.

Is it salvageable? Only a lot of work and a bit of time will tell.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Baby Steps

Using Ali's methodology, I've broken up my monthly goals into smaller, bite-size chunks. So instead of just a blanket "Work on revisions," I've got small, concrete steps. Each one looks a lot easier to tackle than just "Revise." And I'll get more tick marks.

Thanks, Ali.

Monday, January 11, 2010

And So It Begins - Again

Just got back from a lunch break at B&N. Instead of just browsing the racks (which I did, too), I wrote Morning Pages. It was the first time since November 24th. Pretty bad, huh? What's even worse is that the notebook was started June 16th. It is your basic spiral bound, single subject, generic notebook with 70 sheets of paper in it. And I'm only about halfway through it.

There isn't always a one-t0-one correlation between doing Morning Pages and being productive in my other "real" writing. But it's kinda close. I'm amazed I banged out anything in the last half of the year.

I took a bit of time off from any kind of writing, revision, or what have you from October through the end of the year. Since the New Year I've been playing. Watching DVDs (my favorite was Season One of Robin Hood), reading, going to the movies, working out, doing some organizing. Sort of a little bit of everything and not much of anything. It may have worked. I woke up this morning feeling renewed. Ready to tackle whatever I need to.

Hence, Morning Pages today. The netbook is charged up and ready to go. I have a new list of questions to keep in mind as I revise, revise, revise. And the thought of revising makes me smile. That hasn't happened since . . . maybe ever.

I think I'm gonna like this year.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Jenny Wins!

Nathan Bransford, super rock star agent, just announced the winner in his Secret Year journal contest. And it's Jenny! Nathan picked the top 5 finalists from over 650 entries. Huge accomplishment to be part of that select group. But then the blog readers voted, and they picked our Jenny.

How freakin' cool is that? I mean, we all knew she was good. Now it's been verified by a huge number of people.

Check out the rules, the winning entry and the also-rans at

Yay, Jenny! Update your bio, hon.