Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Life's Too Short

Well you knew I was overdue for a soap box day, so here it is.

As you know, I work a day job. It pays the bills. It's a necessary evil. My son says it best when he says, "you do what you have to do so you can do what you want to do." (smart kid, that son of mine.) So I work the day job, and it allows me to do what I want to do - write books. Sure, sometimes it encroaches on my writing time, but overall, I've learned to work with the ebbs and flows.

I have a very strong sense of order. It's a curse, and it's a blessing. It helps me to prioritize and while there were many years that I went into "tilt" mode because things weren't ordered to my satisfaction, I've learned to let go of a lot of those disorderly details, to understand which of those details is essential and which aren't. Which I could control, and which I couldn't. And folks, if it ain't yours to control, there's no point getting worked up about it.

There is someone I interact with on an almost daily basis. And if I have a strong sense of order, magnify that, or imagine that trait without the insight to see it in yourself and the ability to adjust your expectations. I'm going to pull out one random example to make my point.

The work comes in. First time, never been seen before. Someone picks it up and creates a template based on a company standard. The life cycle for this work means that after this point, it will go through numerous revisions and alterations before a final product is presented. For most of our work, we are able to begin with last year's edition and carry it forward, updating for this year's presentation. My experience tells me that this first cut at the template will be revised numerous times, rewritten, reorganized. So if the first cut isn't perfect, well that isn't a big deal to me, because it's going to be revamped to a point where it might not be recognizable by the second round of updates. There are some things I'm just not going to get my undies in a bunch about, and this is one of them. It's going to be horribly "unorderly" the next time we see it, so why waste the energy obsessing over it at the preliminary cut? The first time we put hands on a new project, the best we can do is offer the team something to work with. A starting point. We want to make it good, but perfect is a waste of time at the beginning stages.

Life is too short to obsess over things that will change. Dramatically. Some things you can fix, some things you can't. Know when it's important and when it isn't. Making a perfect first draft is an unreasonable expectation. There's no such animal.

Certainly I obsess over every word I write. Does it belong. Is the usage correct. Does it move the story forward. One of the secrets I've learned is knowing when the story is over. The first book I wrote I didn't know how to end. I wanted the story to go on forever. When do you know its done? (The simple answer to that is when you've resolved the plot. KNOW YOUR THEME.) Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end, all of which tie together. Every word, every paragraph, every chapter needs to move the story forward. If you stop and get stuck obsessing with minor details, it can completely derail you. Been there, done that. Writer's block? The key is to move forward. Don't let it get in your way. Write something. Anything. Move past it. You can always go back and cut out the icky parts later. When I get lost along the way, I stop. Take a step back. Look at the big picture. Does it really matter? Is it important to anyone but me? In a story, if the answer is no, you cut the offensive piece. In life, the same principle applies. If the answer is no, let it go and move on. Save your energy for where it really matters.

Life is too short to get stuck in unnecessary sub plots. Make a difference where it counts and don't beat people up (or yourself) for making a mistake on the first draft. You'll almost always get a second chance, and if you waste your time trying to swim in a puddle, you won't have any energy left when you get to the ocean.

{stepping off my soapbox now}

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

So what does one do when they've finished writing a novel?

Rekindling is off to the editor! I'd like to tell you that it's in perfect shape and will come back quickly with minimal comments, but that's a post for another day. I will say that I expect it to be in halfway decent shape and it is reasonable to believe it will not be further delayed - still expecting an October release.

That being said, the next question is "what do I do now?"

1.  Clean my house! Mundane things can suffer when you are in the throes of writing and editing.
2.  Take a vacation. Relax. Writing a book is often compared to childbirth and requires a recovery period. Even the men will tell you that. I just read an article by Stephen King where he didn't compare it to childbirth, but he DID say you need at least six weeks of recovery upon finishing the first draft to go back at it with a critical eye. The second benefit to vacation time is inspiration. Get new inspiration in a new environment.
3.  Learn new things that you can use in your next book.
4.  Catch up on your reading. (I just read four new books!)
5.  Start writing/outlining the next book.
6.  Book "housekeeping" things. Prepare marketing efforts, blurbs, elevator pitches.
7.  Bake some cookies! What better way to celebrate!

I plan to do all of the above, not necessarily in that order. Some I've already done, some are on my schedule to do.

The work isn't over until Rekindling is "on the shelves," but I'm at the end of the process. A toast, then, to another happily ever after!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What romance novel would you recommend?

Romance novels continue to sell well - and in today's society, the trends change as rapidly as movies in a theater. From vampires to zombies to homecomings to Cinderella stories. There's something for everyone and thousands upon thousands of choices to pick from. With the influx of indie authors, it's hard to know where to find a good book. As always, word of mouth is the strongest influence.

Today, I'm offering up five of my all-time favorite romance novels.

1.  On the Night of the Seventh Moon - Victoria Holt
For me, no list would be complete without at least one Victoria Holt book. While her style is formulaic, I loved each and every one that I read.

According to ancient Black Forest legend, on the Night of the Seventh Moon, Loke, the God of Mischief, is at large in the world. It is a night for festivity and joyful celebration. It is a night for singing and dancing. And it is a night for love.

Helena Trant was enchanted by everything she found in the Black Forest -- especially its legends. But then, on the Night of the Seventh Moon, she started to live one of them, and the enchantment turned suddenly into a terrifying nightmare . .
. Buy it at Amazon

2.  Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
A brilliant character study that sent me to Scotland in search of standing stones and roguish Highlanders wearing kilts. The second in the series, A Dragonfly in Amber, is equally as compelling (and I actually read that one first). 

Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another...In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon—when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an "outlander"—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord...1743But it at Amazon

3.  A Knight in Shining Armor - Jude Deveraux
One of the things I liked best about this novel was the attitude toward raising children. Well, that and the romance, of course. Jude does a great job of showing the differences between this century and times past. 

Abandoned by her lover, thoroughly modern Dougless Montgomery finds herself alone and brokenhearted in an old English church. She never dreamed that a love more powerful than time awaited her there...until Nicholas Stafford, Earl of Thornwyck, a sixteenth-century knight, appeared. Drawn to him by a bond so sudden and compelling that it defied reason, Dougless knew that Nicholas was nothing less than a miracle: a man who would not seek to change her, who found her perfect just as she was. But she could not know how strong were the chains that tied them to the past -- or the grand adventure that lay before themBuy it at Amazon

4.  A Promise of Spring - Mary Balogh
Mary Balogh writes characters seeking redemption from their sins of the past. I particularly liked this one because it dealt with "the one that got away."

Grace Howard has every reason to be devoted to Sir Peregrine Lampman. After all, the gallant gentleman rescued her from poverty by making her his bride. Even more nobly, he did not withdraw his affection after she confessed to a youthful folly that had compromised her virtue. But Grace did not tell the whole truth about the handsome lord who betrayed her—and now the one thing she’s kept from Perry threatens to destroy her last chance at true loveBuy it at Amazon

Geez. How do I round out the top five? With a dash of humor, I think.

5.  Anyone but You - Jennifer Crusie
Jennifer Crusie is fun. She writes quirky characters that make you laugh, and Nina definitely qualifies. 

Part basset, part beagle, all Cupid…

For Nina Askew, turning forty means freedom—from the ex-husband, freedom from their stuffy suburban home, freedom to focus on what she wants for a change. And what she wants is something her ex always vetoed—a puppy. A bouncy, adorable puppy.
Instead she gets…Fred.
Overweight, middle-aged, a bit smelly and obviously depressed, Fred is light-years from perky. But he does manage to put Nina in the path of Alex Moore, her gorgeous, younger-by-a-decade neighbor.
Alex seems perfect—he's a sexy, seemingly sane, surprisingly single E.R. doctor—but the age gap convinces Nina that anyone but Alex would be better relationship material. But with every silver-haired stiff she dates, the more she suspects it's the young, dog-loving doc she wants to sit and stay! Buy it at Amazon

This is only a small dent, but they are ones that I would read over and over. What books would you recommend?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

High School Reunion/Glory Days

Permit me some personal meandering today.

This year is my xxth high school reunion, and there is one person from my class who has devotedly embarked on the task of tracking down as many of our classmates as possible (kudos, Pam!). In this era of social media, finding people is slightly easier, although my experience is that there are still a large number of people who haven't embraced technology (or consciously avoid it).

High school. What kind of memories does that bring back for you? For most of us, that was an awkward stage. Some of us had the benefit of good friends to carry us through, whether they were carried over from a close-knit grade school/middle school class, or new friends we made at a new and bigger school. Some of us stumbled our way through, not quite fitting in. And some of us were primo athletes and found a way to stand out that way. Which category do I fit in? {wagging my finger} No, I'm not throwing everyone into categories, and like everyone else, I am not that easily defined.

In the years since I've graduated, I've only been to one reunion. I planned to go to the first one, but I had just had a baby and wasn't in good enough shape to attend. The second came at a very tumultuous time in my life. By the time I finally went to one, the turnout wasn't very good, although I did see several people that I actually knew.  My graduating class was something like 300 people, I think (the people who know can correct me if I'm wrong).

We've all moved past that awkward phase in our lives, discovered who we are and who we are meant to be. It's fun to look back on some of those times, and some days its heartbreaking. I remember a friend who was killed shortly after graduation, a young man with a bright future and a likeable disposition whose future was cut short. I remember going to the movie theater with a friend and seeing one of the toughest boys on the football team in a row ahead of me visibly frightened by the end of a horror movie with a shock ending.

Over the course of time, I've noticed changes in society. I had a teacher/coach who used a terribly offensive phrase when she referred to the team I was on, and none of us were offended by it. It was a joke, and taken as such. For one of the reunions, I employed that phrase (it was a fond memory!) and yet I was censored (and rightly so, I should add) because in today's world, using those words is taboo. Archie Bunker would be shunned today. We may have become more sensitive to other people's feelings, but at the same time, perhaps other people's feelings have become too sensitive. One group of people will vilify others for the way they act, while they employ the same actions without consequence. It gets confusing for me some days, what's right and what's wrong. But that's another topic.

High school. Okay, I'm going out on a limb here and baring my soul. I was the quiet type. Yes, I made friends, and I even made a name for myself on the tennis team. But I had some experiences (don't we all?) that made me a bit more reserved. So going back to the reunion? It's not a priority for me. I loved reconnecting with some old friends (a special hi to Scott who made me feel comfortable at the last reunion - the first friendly face in a sea of strangers), but I also re-experienced some of that "outsider" feeling when I said hello to people I considered friends and they had no recollection of me whatsoever. The "remember me? we had math class together with Mr. Byers." and you get a blank stare, or the "I remember Mr. Byers..."

Someone told me once that our thirty-year-old selves would never recognize our eighteen-year-old selves. So true. Back to that social media thing - I had a best friend in grade school, and she and I drifted apart around middle school. Years later, we reconnected on FaceBook. Who knew she liked horses? At this stage of our lives, high school is a shared experience. The friends we made we have likely kept through the years. A class reunion is the chance to reconnect with people, or a chance to make new friends who have lived through the same things you have. We have all grown beyond who we were, developed new interests, become "real" people. Maybe we don't remember each other, and that's okay. We are all different people than we were then. A reunion is an opportunity to make new friends who have lived through what you have, who know some of the people you do, who grew up where you did. For some people, it's better to look at it as a new experience instead of an old one.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

When is it safe to start writing the next book?

It's inevitable that when you finish up one book, you begin looking forward to the next. I'm doing the hard work to finish Rekindling, but my thoughts are inching ahead to the sequel to Mist on the Meadow. I've got a good idea where I'm going with it and for those of you who read it, the answers to Wolf's gift will be forthcoming.

One of the stumbling blocks I continue to hit is the foreign language piece. I thought I'd done a pretty good job explaining the German terms as I used them, although I didn't translate the folk song directly. I did hit the highlights in English, but a consistent reviewer comment is wishing they understood the German words. I guess I didn't do a good enough job because the reviews are still coming back with the same comment (here's a link to the post I did on Writing with International Flair that explains the miscellaneous phrases I used).

As I prepare to embark on the new journey with Wolf and Marissa, I'm going over other works that use foreign phrases. Diana Gabaldon comes to mind. She uses many Gaelic phrases. My DH also likes to watch Grimm, which incorporates many German words, except on television you get a visual. Victoria Holt wrote a book that takes place in the Black Forest, but memory only calls to mind the one word she used - Lenchen (a term of endearment). Ultimately, it's the story that matters, and if the story is strong enough, the occasional foreign word/phrase probably won't jump out. Then again, readers are much more sophisticated these days. They expect much more from a book than we did when I was growing up.

First things first - final edits on Rekindling.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

In every novel I write, there is one sentence of reality, a snippet of those odd events that happen in real life that no one believes. Often, during the critique process, one of my partners will say something like "that would never happen." But it did.

Let me say for the record that my novels are NOT representations of real life, nor do they portray actual people, alive or dead. That doesn't mean real people don't inspire them. Most recently, I had a conversation with my crit partners telling me that "real men don't have those kinds of conversations." And they're right. But then a funny thing happened.

I was sitting in Panera with my DH, eating breakfast right before we went to the fresh market, and we overheard a group of four young men having a conversation. A very "girlie" conversation. I looked at my husband, and he looked at me, and I said "men don't talk like that."  He laughed and he agreed. The conversation was about one young man trying to decide if he should ask his girlfriend to marry him, if he was leading her on by asking her not to move away when he wasn't sure he wanted to take the next step. That might be something one man would ask another man (or more likely a woman friend) in a dark corner of a bar in a voice where no one could overhear, but not something you air to three of your friends for the rest of the world to overhear and solicit opinions.  That's something women do. One of the men did say something several minutes later which cleared it all up in my mind. (For the record, they were all hetero - or at least I assume so based on the conversation.)

Truth is stranger than fiction.  Things happen in real life that don't translate to stories. People read them and roll their eyes and say "That would never happen." And yet these things do happen.

Here are a couple of "real life" moments that I snuck into my stories (and again, there's usually only one sentence in each book).
  • A guy "stuck" on a date that he can't get out of - "Some other guy would be really lucky to have you."
  • Upon being introduced to your boyfriend's mother - "It was nice to have known you, dear."
  • A tennis player who throws his racket into a chain link fence in a fit of rage. 
As for the "girlie boys" conversation, no I won't be including that in a book, because it does strain belief. I couldn't believe it when I heard it! 

So you want to know how the new book is coming? I'm still working on editing, vetting it through my crit group. I'm in that "I suck as a writer" mode (that happens when you're editing - you realize that you aren't perfect and take it to the extreme opposite direction). I have some comments this morning that I have to look at a second time because in this mood, a simple comment like "this doesn't work for me" is like a poison dart in the neck. That's what it's supposed to say. I don't care if it doesn't work for you! {deep breaths} Those comments are often spot on (although not always). So I need to consider if the comments are valid or someone else's interpretation. You've probably heard that writing/reading is a very subjective thing. I'm very lucky to have excellent critique partners, and even if I choose not to incorporate their suggestions, their input is extremely valuable. They make me a better writer. So time to suck it up and get back to those edits.  Rekindling goes to the editor July 20. I had a ton of fun writing it, and even though I'm struggling to fine-tune it, I'm still enjoying the story.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nose to the Grindstone - Getting a book ready for the editor

Just my luck. The weather is turning into summer finally and I'm still finishing up Rekindling.

I took a week off of this book to do some copyediting. The funny part of that story is that I'd only expected the copyediting to take a couple of days. It was much more in-depth than I'd expected. I took this detour, however, to give myself some distance from the current work in progress so that I could come back to it with a fresh eye. That part of the plan worked.

I'm doing my final story edits for Rekindling. Working with my critique group. Making sure it all follows (which raises my point du jour - I thought everyone knew what a one-inch punch was. Clearly, I'm mistaken! Funny how we take certain phrases and idioms for granted . . .  but I digress). The next step, once the story edits are done, is copyediting. Again.  This is what I'm good at, but editing your own work is tough, folks.

You may have seen some of those memes where a phrase is upside down, or backward, or the vowels are missing or some letters are misplaced. The purpose of the meme is to see if you can read what it says anyway. Yep. I can. And that is the reason it's too hard to edit your own work.  You know what its supposed to say. Nevertheless, I have to take the first cut. What does that mean? Here are the top three things I look for during this phase.

1.  Cut overused words.  One of my big offenders is the word "back." Another popular one is "just." I have a list that I work my way through. There is software out there that will help with this process, but for me, it's like working a crossword puzzle. You do it for the mental exercise.

2.  Check for passive voice. This sneaks in when you least expect it, and there are several different checks for this. One is by looking for verbs ending with "ing." They don't all indicate passive voice, but it's worth the second look. Another is by adding in extra words that distance you from what the character is feeling. "Felt. Wondered. Thought." Most times, you can show those things in a more active voice.

3.  Cliches. They're so much a part of our language that sometimes you forget how overused they are. Again, there are usually better ways to describe something. Something more original.

Typos fall into this part of the editing, too. Anything that slips through this process is caught in the final proofreading stage. You may think you've made all the corrections, that you've corrected everything that's wrong, but until you've read through the thing one last time, you haven't finished the job. I ALWAYS find mistakes in the final proofreading stage. Double words when I thought I'd deleted one. Deleted words when I got overzealous. And those pesky typos. Hey. We're human. It happens.

After I've gone through all of this, then I send it to my editor, and she starts the process all over again. Everything I missed/forgot/overlooked/pushed through anyway, she ferrets out. The end result is usually a much stronger, more readable story.

Between work and editing, I spent most of last week with my butt glued to the chair in front of my computer. Nose to the grindstone. I finished my editing project, and then I took a couple of days to catch up on "life." Played with babies. Cleaned the house. Did some gardening and even made some homemade strawberry jam.

This week I'm back to work on Rekindling. It's "oh, so close" but still requires lots of fine-tuning and copyediting. And so I'm back to work at it.