Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Biorhythms and the effects on plotting/pantsing

Remember when I told you I'm always working ahead of the class?

This book has been a completely different experience for me. That isn't to say every book isn't different, but my method is generally pretty much the same. I'm a pantser for the most part, and when things get away from me, I step back and plot. I tend to throw everything out there and sort out the mess afterward, but I generally work in a fairly straight line with a few diversions along the way. It can be messy, but its linear.

When I started the research phase of this book, I met with a friend to get background, and to my surprise and delight, she got very excited about my initial visions for the book, asking me questions like "and then what?" And then she said "what about if they do this?" Reference back to where I tell you I make this up as I go along. I learn things when my characters learn them, or when they reveal their secrets to me. So plotting ahead threw me off balance. A lot.

Two weeks ago I told you how I threw at least two chapters worth (and definitely more than two) into the first chapter. This story is gushing out and I can't control the flow! Some stories are like that, I get into the groove and write for hours and hours, and then other stories I have to grunt through every word, struggling to find my way. The problem this time? The scenes are popping up at me out of order. All of them! WAIT! I can't keep up!

Part of this is due to my heroine. She's that sort of person. Leaps before she looks, enthusiastic, gung-ho, full speed ahead. Her boss calls her wreckless and unpredictable - and talented.

I'm not sure if its the phase of the moon (maybe its the effect of the eclipse! or maybe the Perseids) or biorhythms or what. I've been writing scenes like a mad woman, but they're helter skelter. In the wrong order. All over the place. Then I stop and say "but what about this plot point?" or "that plot point?" And then I write another scene that I'll have to tuck in somewhere. This is exhausting! But also exhilarating.

I'm sticking with pushing the blame on my heroine. She's that kind of an "all over the place" kind of person who doesn't want to miss a minute of her life. As an author, my process is completely up-ended, but I'm enjoying the ride.

Just when I thought I had this gig figured out, a character shows up to show me there's more than one way to craft a story!


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Are you a pack rat?

Are you a collector? A hoarder? or do you resist the temptation to buy tchotchkes and collectibles? Me? I am not a fan of what I arbitrarily call "junk." When I go on vacation and want to bring home a souvenir, I more often than not talk myself out of it because I don't want to worry about storing things I might never look at again. My recent trend in souvenirs is Christmas ornaments, because at least they're useful. But I do have some collections.

As we contemplate relocating, I've been dreading the thought of hauling along some of my collections that I haven't looked at it in ages, things that I value, but no longer hold any tangible value and are "taking up space." I happened on a store the other day, Rediscover Records. This is where I tell you that for 40 years, I have amassed a fairly large collection of vinyl, most of it rock and roll, everything from Carly Simon and James Taylor to AC/DC and Black Sabbath. I have eclectic tastes. As I talked to the proprietor, we discussed Supertramp and how nobody knows who they are anymore. I have a real connection to most of those records, and while I hate to part ways with them, realistically, I haven't put one on a turntable for probably at least ten years. I'm telling myself I'm supporting local business by donating my collection (or collecting a small consignment fee - thank you, Rich).

I went through a phase where I was trying to digitize my collection so I would have all those records that you can't find anymore. Anyone ever hear of the New Seekers? Not to mention Rick Springfield's first two albums which I'd bet he wishes no one still had copies of. I don't think even the record store would be interested in those albums. Transferring vinyl to digital was a time intensive project, and when the digital phonograph broke, I decided it probably wasn't worth the effort. How many of those songs did I really HAVE to have? And the rest? I could get on digital. No physical storage woes.

This collection represents 40 years of my life. No, this isn't an easy process, but did I mention I am NOT a pack rat? And my desire to not store "stuff" is outweighing my sense of nostalgia. With that being said, I did find some records I don't think I can bear to part with. There must be some way to salvage them, to play them. Maybe I need to try digitizing one more time.

One collection that will follow me wherever I go, one I am NOT parting ways with - my books. Sorry, but every book on my bookshelf has a permanent home. They have earned that spot as "a book worth re-reading" and as such, are a functional part of my life. They are doing more than just taking up space.

So I wave nostalgically at my record collection as I support +RediscoverRecords. I hope the vinyl finds a new home with someone who will love it as much as I did. If you're looking for vintage rock and roll, Rich has a great collection, and now he has most of my old favorites, too.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I can't "write" 55

I've been toying around with the new novel, getting my facts, doing my research, and trying to get it all down on the page.

I have a "rush forward" personality. From the time I was in kindergarten, I was always the kid in school who worked ahead and got scolded by the teachers to wait for the rest of the class (until one teacher in high school actual let me work at my own pace). Once I understand something, I want to learn more, so I blaze ahead.

When you're writing a first draft, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Following Stephen King's method of writing, get it down. You can clean it up later.

As I get my thoughts in order, I went ahead and sent my first chapter to 1) the person I'm asking for help with research, making sure I get the occupational aspect for my characters right, 2) my critique group to see if I have a viable story. These are the days that make authors want to crumple it up and throw everything away! First, I need to thank Sarah for providing me with the research. I think she was surprised at the vomit that I'd written as a first chapter (it'll get better, I promise!). Second, my crit group took on the role my teachers always had. "Slow down, wait for the rest of the class."

Many times, a first draft is for the author. What do I need to know about my characters? About the setting? About their lives? In my rush to start writing, I threw EVERYTHING into the first chapter. The main characters, the supporting characters (there were ten of them right off the bat), where they are, where they're going, every subplot and conflict. Best description for this? Traffic jam. All of this information is critical to me as an author, but as a reader, it's confusing. I don't need everything all at once.

With the story unfolding in my head and my facts documented, I can now slow down, spoon feed my readers. Let them meet the main characters and what drives them, then peel back the rest of the information as it becomes relevant. Enforce a speed limit.

This is still a first draft, and I'm 10,000 words into it. Yes, I expect a large chunk of those words to disappear upon rewrite, and the first Chapter 2 has already been rolled into Chapter 1, with much of Chapter 1 relegated to the "you can bring this back later" territory.

Chapter 1 is the most important chapter in any book. This is where you draw your reader in, tease them with what lies ahead, but make them want to keep reading to find out. With the ruler to the knuckles from my initial feedback, I can move forward at a more realistic pace and use much of what I pulled out as plot points for subsequent chapters. Yes, I will likely continue to rush forward -- that's what I do, after all. But that's what first drafts are for, and I know I have a support group that will keep me in check so I don't get too far ahead of the rest of the class.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

In Defense of Romance Novels

I write romance. It’s more than romance, there is suspense, there is mystery, and in many cases, there’s a touch of the supernatural to give my stories a little bit of extra flavor. I’ve had people I work the day job with snicker when they find out what I write {wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more}.  I’ve had people be shocked and horrified. “I keep imagining this is you in the story.” For the record, it isn’t. My characters are made up. Fiction. The things they’re going through are made up. Fiction. This is not an autobiography. That isn’t to say I don’t include one small piece of my life experience into each of my books. Like walking in a French market in Aix-en-Provence (Heart for Rent, with an Option).

Part of any author’s journey is using those life experiences. How can we write about pain if we’ve never felt it? The loss of a loved one if we haven’t lost someone? We have to draw on our very human emotions.

Another thing that often makes me uncomfortable is talking with people and admitting that I’m on husband number two. I was raised to believe divorce was never an option. Until I got divorced.  I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will tell you I didn’t want to fall into the same trap a second time. For the people who thought my first husband was a good choice, he never was. For those people who didn’t understand what I saw in my second husband, maybe you don’t understand me. He does. I’m living my happily ever after. Is he perfect? A story book hero? Heck, no. But then, I’m not a Disney princess, either. Or maybe I am. Maybe we’re more like Shrek and Fiona.

via GIPHY

A romance novel does not give you unrealistic expectations, as much as people would have you believe that. Women might want a Prince Charming, but along those same lines, men are also looking for their perfect Barbie doll. It’s an ideal that doesn’t exist, and I think everybody knows that. Romance novels empower women to grow, to be who they are, and if a handsome hero happens to show up, all the better, as long as he gives the heroine room to be herself and to grow. A healthy relationship. Romance novels provide strong female main characters. Wonder women, even if they are only a wonder in their own small world.

When I write, my goal is to remind women we don’t have to be afraid of who we are, and not to settle for less than we deserve. Prince Charming isn’t always wearing a crown. Sometimes he’s a big, green ogre who is waiting for someone who can see there’s more to him than Fe-Fi-Fo-Fumming. That’s the realistic side of romance.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Creating a Hero in Six Easy Steps

I've started work on my next in series!

One of the first things I do is to create a "picture" of my characters. What do they look like? Since this is Kathleen's book, I already know what she looks like from her appearance in EPITAPH. And the hero? I'd originally given her one in EPITAPH, but turns out that relationship didn't work out, so I had to create a new man in her life.

How to create a hero in six easy steps.

1. What does he look like? I had an image in my mind, and as I started to describe him on the page, I wanted to check what people would "see" when I described his skin tone, so I Googled it. As a reader, I can see an olive complexion, or a creamy complexion or even bronze. When I Googled the color I chose, it returned pictures of skin abnormalities. Macules or signs of a disease. NOT the results I'd expected. First correction in the new book!

2. What does he do for a living? Many men are defined by their career choice. Are they ambitious? Driven? Biding their time doing what they have to do until they can do what they want to do? Do things come easy to them and, therefore, they don't have to put much effort into it? Did they get where they are due to nepotism or some other relationship and never had to prove themselves? These all help to define his personality traits - who he is.

3. What is his fatal flaw? His Achilles Heel? And/or what secrets does he keep? Nobody's perfect. Maybe blind ambition means he runs over other people in his goal to reach the top. Maybe he has a hidden secret in his past that could ruin his future. Does he rush to judgment, or act before he considers the repercussions of his actions? On the other side of this coin, what makes him Heroic? And maybe he has to overcome his fatal flaw to get to that point (all stories should show how your characters have evolved). Heck, maybe he has a hero complex which makes him both heroic and flawed at the same time.

4. What makes him stand out in a crowd? Why do you notice him? Is it a physical attribute? The way he dresses? The way he speaks? The way he walks? What draws you to him rather than every other man in the same crowd?

5. What is his "go to" gesture? People tend to have tics, or tells. Do not overuse the gesture. I had one early reader of THE MIRROR who said she was starting to worry about Garth's neck. He massages the back of his neck when he's nervous or tense or anxious - Thanks to her input, I fixed the overuse. In TOUCHED BY THE SUN, Dominic had a tendency to tick his fingers off against his thumb. This gesture shows us their frame of mind without telling your audience. It's the old "I can see something is bothering you."

6. Don't forget his backstory. It doesn't have to be dumped on the page, but you need to know how he grew up. Was his family close? Was one or both of his parents neglectful or abusive? Does he have siblings that might shape how he interacts with people? Does he have a role model outside his family who has influenced his life? And just as a random added extra, I read an article once that said you can judge a lot about a man by the way he treats his mother. That isn't always a two-way street, so be mindful of the psychology behind what shapes his personality. Much of this backstory will never make it onto the page, but it is essential for how he responds based on how he is programmed, and as the author, I need to know that.

Catch up with the EPITAPH series. Book 3, THE MIRROR went live yesterday and is now available at all your favorite booksellers!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Starting Over

In case you didn't know, Epitaph 3: THE MIRROR, releases next Tuesday. I got the blessing from my editor, did my final passes, and its now officially done! You can pre-order it anywhere you would normally buy a book and it will automatically show up on your device or ship to you on Tuesday. (TODAY, July 12, You can get $5 off the paperback version at Amazon during their prime days! Details are at the link.)

Normally I've already started the next book, but because this is the third release this year, I decided to wait until this one was done. I was running close to my deadline and didn't want the distraction of "which characters are these, again?" Now that it's "put to bed," its time to move ahead. I have done some preliminary outlining, a starting point, an idea to run with, but since I'm still parked in the starting gate, I thought I'd reach out to my readers for what they want to see.

I envision the next in the Epitaph series as Kathleen's story, but I've also been thinking about the Northwest Suburbs series, a book to follow COOKIE THERAPY. Remember Yolanda from the bakery? What do you think? Do you want to read more ghosts, or do you want to revisit the family of friends in Hoffman Grove? Leave me a comment - I'd love to hear your opinions.

In the meantime, here's a teaser from THE MIRROR


Pre-order your copy of THE MIRROR (e-book or paperback) at:







Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Who said writing is easy?

Can't tell you how many people think being an author is an easy job. You make stuff up, you write it down, easy peasy. Right?

Wrong.

I've been working on comments from my editor for THE MIRROR and I'm exhausted! And I'm still not sure I got it right. We'll have to see after I get the next round of edits back.

The word for today is characterization.

When I wrote RETURN TO HOFFMAN GROVE, I challenged myself to make an unlikeable secondary character likeable by turning her into the main character. That took a lot of work, and I spent a lot of time studying personality traits and psychology and emotional history. And then, when I wrote COOKIE THERAPY, I challenged myself to do the same thing with a hero. Those were some of the most fun books to write. I was stretching myself and I created three-dimensional characters with character flaws along with endearing traits. So I should know what I'm doing by now, right?

When I started THE MIRROR, I envisioned secrets and flaws and all kinds of things, and then I got caught up at the day job and had to set it aside. That was probably the best thing that could have happened, because when I came back to writing, I realized what I'd written wasn't very good. So I started over, and I thought I'd done a much better job the second time around. Unfortunately, some of the first draft problems carried through into the second draft, and most of what's wrong is that the unlikeable heroine I sought to redeem is still unlikeable. She has plenty of psychology and background to justify her personality, but I didn't bring that forward soon enough. Basically, she's a hot mess.

Rule #1. Main characters need to be likeable. If they do something UNlikeable, they need to have a reason. Maybe its something from their past that shaped the way they see the world today. Experience. Maybe its family history. Whatever the reason is, a good author needs to build sympathy for that unlikeable character early on. Consider the movie REAR WINDOW. Jimmy Stewart is a peeping tom. He spends his days with binoculars watching his neighbors. Not very neighborly. Even his girlfriend thinks he's a bit off. But we can excuse him a little because of his ennui, sitting alone recovering from a broken leg. And then we can excuse him later when he uncovers a murderer. He brings his little apartment community together at the end of the movie where all the neighbors watch out for one another. Who knew happiness was waiting right outside their courtyard windows?

And so I'm busily addressing editor comments so that the book will be ready for publication on time.

Fingers crossed!