Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When a Story Takes on a Life of its Own

When I sit down to write a story, generally I have an impression, a direction. Something inspires me and I run with it. Sometimes the conflict is obvious, sometimes not so much. Sometimes I have to take time out to map the story to make sure I don't run off into nowhere, writing something boring.

For the sequel to Mist on the Meadow, I have my map. I know where I want to take it, what questions I need to answer from the first in the series. This series is a continuing saga--a trilogy--from the first book, where Marissa finds out she's "special," to what that means, to what she can do with it. Each book will take us to the ultimate conclusion, which is basically "what does she need her special skills for?" And each book will focus on a different character in their circle.

I've made good progress in the second installment, and thought I had the story headed the right direction, when suddenly Wolf and Marissa hijacked it. This isn't their story (although they are critical to the plot). And I found out something about the characters that I didn't know before. The story has taken on a life of its own and the characters are showing me things I didn't expect.

Plot twist!

First thing I have to do is wrestle control back from Wolf and Marissa. This isn't their story, but they did show me what I needed to know to move forward. So now I have to go back and pick up the broken parts, where they kicked this story's main character to the side, and have her assert her control. And it makes for better conflict.

This is the point when I'm writing that I'm frustrated and thrilled, both at the same time. Frustrated, because things aren't turning out the way I planned, thrilled, because the characters have taken on a life of their own. Looking back, I see a trend. I'm about a quarter of the way into the story. This same thing happened with Heart for Rent, where something I planned took on a whole new meaning. I planned the stranger in the park, but by the time I wrote him, he turned into someone else. It threw me for a loop, and in that book, it complicated my process.

As I write this book, I'm excited by the turn of events. Sometimes the best things are the things you least expect. If the characters can surprise me, the author, hopefully they can surprise the reader, as well. And that makes the book more interesting to read! Mist on the Meadow has been a fun series to write - combining my love of romance with my love of the supernatural and creating my own German Fairy Tale.

Back to it. Time to politely tell Wolf and Marissa to step back and let the other character have her book, while at the same time thanking them for showing me something I didn't know before.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

In case you thought I was slacking off on the writing stuff

My editor has finished her first pass on Rekindling and I am busily working out the kinks. And in case you think I've been doing NOTHING during the editor's perusal, NOT SO.

I'm putting down the sequel to Mist on the Meadow, which I am tentatively calling "Gathering Mist." For those of you who have read MOTM, you'll know that it includes that paranormal element along with suspense, not to mention the German folklore piece. Now that you've met Marissa and know about her special talents, you're going to find out what she's going to use them for, along with answering the question, "what's up with Wolf?" The suspense will escalate as they move through this second book in the series, resolving the crisis at hand only to be staring at an event bigger crisis in the third installment (but I'm getting ahead of myself).

In spite of taking some time away from my computer, as you've seen in my recent posts, I continue to hone my craft, mostly because there's always a story buzzing around inside my head. The "down time" is essential to focus -- Rekindling is taking a little longer because I haven't had the "refresh and restore" time. Now that I've given myself that time, I'm ready to tackle my edits and take what I believe is a good story and make it much better (giving a nod to my patient editor who probably thinks I write like a schmo). Even with a straight line while I was writing, even with defined characters, I second-guessed myself too often (lack of down time results in angst and indecision) and the story suffered for it. I'm ready with the lemon Pledge now.

Gathering Mist is spilling onto the page like a broken water main, so after I've switched focus to address the final edits to Rekindling, the long-awaited sequel to Mist on the Meadow shouldn't be far behind.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

(Vintage) Book Stores

Nestled down along the river in the city where I live there is a bookstore where they sell used and vintage books. Very simply named. Tucked back on a street people have to use intentionally. I stopped in for a visit the other day.

Appleton's Fourth Reader
The front of the store is mainly a children's section, and ducking into the first room (it is divided into rooms) the first thing that caught my eye (at my eye level, anyway) was a series of Tarzan, the Ape Man books. In hard covers. To which I found myself whispering, "Cool!" Each room was a new discovery, not only of current books (they had an impressive Lee Child selection) but of old, out of print books. With hard covers. Do they even make books with hard covers anymore? And I started to think. Nostalgia set in. I have a collection of hard cover books, not nearly of the same vintage, but I also have my grandmother's primer - Now that's a vintage book. What are we leaving for our children?

My kids read Goosebumps and Bailey Street School Kids (which they had in this bookstore), all of which were released in paperback. A large portion of my bookshelves holds paperback copies, some of which are not withstanding the ravages of time as well as others. I just can't imagine my kids walking up to that bookshelf one day and saying, "Wow, remember when books were made like this?" About paperbacks.

Running off on a tangent for a moment (to make a point, of course). I used to watch Night Gallery, and One Step Beyond, and The Sixth Sense, and The Twilight Zone. There was an episode where Burgess Meredith (an old actor, for those of you too young to recognize the name) was a very myopic man living with a henpecking wife. All he wanted to do was read his books, but his wife kept nagging him to take out the garbage or do everyday life kind of things. And then (remember that many of these shows were set in the 50's, which I'll take a second to note predates me) someone drops a bomb. Literally. The earth is destroyed and Old Burge finds he's the only one who survived the cataclysm. So as he stumbles through the rubble that was once his town, he finds the library. And a mountain of books. All alone in a world with nothing but books to keep him company. And he's ecstatic! Until . . . (this is the Twilight Zone after all), he drops his glasses and inadvertently steps on them. Blind without them, he's now stuck in a world where he can't see, surrounded by the things he loves most and unable to read. Utopia turns into hell with one careless step.

Bringing this all together folks. Walking into that bookstore, I thought about that TV show. About the comforting feeling of finding an old book that I might have read once upon a time. What a cool bookstore! And now? If the bomb drops? With our book collections becoming more and more electronic, we will become like Burgess Meredith. Kindle or Nook in hand, but after a cataclysm and potentially without electricity, that book collection will be rendered unreadable.

Yeah, that's just the way my mind works sometimes. Kinda scary, isn't it? And that's why I continue to buy "real" books from time to time. Generally only the ones I really loved and would read again and again (and yes, my bookshelves are full). Even as paperbacks instead of hard covers, sometimes there's nothing like the feel of a real book in your hand.

"Blessings on thee little man . . " - John G. Whittier

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Time to Unwind - Wisconsin

Last week, the Big Guy and I did a tour of Wisconsin. Well, half of Wisconsin (it's a big state, after all). Because of our proximity, Wisconsin tends to be a "go-to." We both have family there and the scenery can be spectacular.

Dopey quote of the day: when I visited the Scottish Highlands, I took a walk through the Birks of Aberfeldy. The first thing out of my mouth? "This is just like Wisconsin!" And in many ways it was. The Birks. Not the country.

So without further ado, I leave you with a pictorial post today. We started in Green Bay (do I really need to post a picture of Lambeau Field?) . . .

To Peninsula State Park, Fish Creek (Door County) with views of Green Bay

To a lighthouse tour that took us to Cana Island

To Cove Point County Park (on the Lake Michigan side)

West to visit family before we took a frivolous ride on the Merrimac Ferry across Lake Wisconsin, the water portion of Highway 113 (because we could).

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.

Recently, I had to remind someone of this at the day job. 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?