Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Writers Conferences

This weekend is the Chicago Spring Fling Writer's Conference.  Am I excited? Ya, you betcha!

People will often ask why go to a writer's conference, and there are bunches of reasons. First, you get to meet some well-known authors, often people you've read and like. Second, you get to hang out with a bunch of people just like you! It's a good chance to compare notes, learn new things, get re-energized. Third, if you love to read (and most authors DO love to read), you have the opportunity to find new books - and usually you come home with a bunch of free books.

This year, in addition to all of these things, they are also setting up head shots for those of us who need a new photo to add to social networking or back covers or whatever. There is a yoga class bright and early Saturday morning to refresh the body and the spirit. And there is the opportunity to talk to industry insiders about how to get "in." Pitch sessions, where you can promote your writing to an agent or a publisher.

The very first time I went to a writer's conference, I was nervous and shy. Writers as a whole tend to be an introverted lot, and I'm no exception. So I lurked around my first day, tried to follow the advice to meet new people. And I did. I met some very nice people, but at the end of the day, I felt SOOOO out of my element. What was I doing there, pretending to be an author? But you know what? I stuck around for day two and they had some awesome workshops, one of which was "what makes you think you're an author?" (Talk about fortuitous!) It was a session on author psychology 101. Suddenly I felt included. I had a reason to be there and I was surrounded by hundreds of people just like me. What an insight.

I've learned a lot since that first conference. I've written four more books since then, and I've pitched a dozen different agents and publishers. I have the confidence to walk up to a stranger and ask them if they are interested in the genre I write. I have done book signings with Julia Quinn and Jennifer Cruisie and Simone Elkeles and Eloisa James. This year I'm doing one with Mary Balogh! If you're in the Chicago area, stop in! You can click on the link for a list of authors who will be at the book signing . . .Chicago Spring Fling Book Signing. It is hosted at the Marriott near the Sears Center.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Justified Antagonism?

Jumping back into my writing routine, although I have one more deadline at the day job to meet. I've made it to the end of Cinda's story (YAY!) although the last chapter is outlined, not written (does that sound like it should be coming from James Bond?). Anyway, as I'm revisiting the story line after mostly completing that first draft, I'm looking at where I have to fill in the blanks. Today's blog post is about characterization and humanizing your antagonist.

Bad guys are bad. But why are they bad? And what makes them so bad? Sometimes they are people who've lost their way after a run of bad luck. Sometimes a physical or mental disability pushes them the wrong direction. It's okay to hate the bad guy, but sometimes it helps to understand what makes him or her that way. Are they a driven personality? Downtrodden?

In Cinda's story, the antagonist wasn't always a bad person, although they displayed those tendencies. As I go back over my first draft to clean up the messy bits and make sure I've left the appropriate bread crumbs, I've had to pay more attention to said antagonist to show all sides of the personality. Does the antagonist have reason to be the "bad guy?" Is it a personality defect or are they pushed to the edge of sanity to get there?

Making all the characters in a novel "people" (rather than caricatures) adds dimension to writing. My antagonist is the one character I have to "fluff up" more as I go back for a second draft. But that's the way I write. I get the story down first, then I go back through to fill in the blanks, those parts that I see perfectly in my head that didn't make it to the page. While some authors have to go back through and cut out all the extra, I work opposite. There is definitely extra, overused words, filler words, etc., but I tend to be very spare on details the first time through.

So, without further ado, time to add those details.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Returning to Normal

I am so excited to be able to write again, I can't begin to tell you.

For those of you who ask, "how do you know you're a writer?" Today is one of those days I can tell you very enthusiastically that you "just know."

The past month I've had very few thoughts I could call my own. As they relate to the day job, they have been organized and clear and focused. Then the deadline ends and you feel like someone pulled the plug. Suddenly your brain goes blank and the simplest of things feels overcomplicated. Answers you know readily have traveled to a different planet. Grasping for a life preserver, I started over with Cinda's story, which has been waiting patiently for me, and discovered my creative side jumping up and down screaming "yay!"

"Yay." Not, "Oh gee, another job to do."

And the ideas are coming through fast and furious. Granted, the story has a direction and I left it at least 2/3 done, but the chapters still have to be written. Don't get me wrong, it is absolutely a job, work. The difference is in the way I feel about it.

The fatigue of the recently completed deadline lingers, but the excitement of doing something I love buoys me up. Something that brings so much joy, something I've worked hard to do well, something others have rewarded me for doing well (did I mention I won an award from Writer's Digest? Did I? Did you know I won an award from Writer's Digest?), this is something you "know" you were meant to do.

I'm looking forward to the Chicago Spring Fling Writer's Conference in a couple of weeks. If you're in the Chicago area, stop in on Saturday for the book signing. I'll be there, along with Mary Balogh (one of my faves! I'm so excited to meet her!), Simone Elkeles, Kristan Higgins, Joelle Charbonneau and more than I can name here (but if you want to know who else, you can visit this link for the full list -Spring Fling Book Signing). It starts at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, April 26 at the Marriott by the Sears Center (Hoffman Estates).

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Coming up for Air

There are times I question my sanity for working the type of day job I do. The stress is tremendous and even crippling at times. The satisfaction for a job well done is always rewarding. However, being inside a pressure cooker does mean that once they take the lid off you can have unpredictable results. Generally speaking, people come exploding out.

And so today I have a day of quiet. Decompression. There's one deadline left to go at the end of April before life returns to something close to normal again. But with the worst deadline in the rearview mirror, baby steps can be taken back toward resuming some of the other aspects of life that necessarily take a back seat.

Today is my designated day to recapture some semblance of sanity, and I spent part of it reading a book. I'm now officially a fan of Tessa Dare. Curled up on the sofa with a cat who demanded that I "sit" and rest in just that spot, I'm already feeling rejuvenated. Battle weary, but no longer explosive. I have a fresh desire to write and recruit new fans of my own. At the end of April I will be attending the Chicago Spring Fling Writer's Conference where I will meet and mingle with others just like me -- and I get to meet another of my favorite authors!

Spring has been a long time coming this year (in fact, it hasn't yet arrived) and yet the sun is coming out. With the worst of the day job behind me, I have a fresh perspective once again. The grass will turn green, the trees will bud, and I will finish Cinda's story!


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On deadline

Back next week. If you're looking for something to read in the meantime, feel free to pick up one of the books you see at the right :-)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Strangers on a Train

I had a fascinating conversation on the train home from the Big City yesterday.

As a regular commuter, there are friends you make along the way, compatriots of a sort. And then there are times when you ride with a car filled with people you've not seen or met before. Sometimes it's nice to chat, sometimes I spend the time catching up on reading and sometimes it's nice to listen to my iPod.

Last night, I didn't see one person I normally encounter on my ride home, and proceeded to play games on my iPad to kill the long ride home. As I neared my stop, I moved from the upper berth to the lower (my stop is near the end of the line, and by the time I'm close, the lower berth has cleared considerably). Sitting closer to the doors, a man came and sat near me and started to talk. He told me he was training for a marathon and showed me his "necklace," a medal which was somewhat battered. My impression of the man was that he wasn't quite on the same path as the rest of us. A man of color who was blind in one eye and wearing tattered clothes, he went on to tell me his training ritual and told me I should run a marathon.

Something about me - I don't run. I DO participate in 5K races and normally walk (very fast). I did one 5K with my son during which I ran part of the way, but I still wasn't going to break any speed records. I can't get the breathing down and I'm not as young as I used to be (there are physical limitations I didn't have when I was younger).

Anyway, I shared with this man that I participated in 5Ks and he asked if I'd won.  Ha Ha!  Nope. And then he told me how I should be training. How I should train for a marathon. That I should lose some weight! Imagine a complete stranger telling me how to live my life! No, I wasn't offended. He doesn't know me any better than I know him. I don't know his life's journey any more than he knows mine. It was a pleasant, ten minute conversation at the end of the run.

Most people hide behind their iPod or their computers or some other means of personal entertainment while they ride the train. I'm guilty of that some of the time as well. As a "not highly social" sort, I'm not always comfortable talking to strangers, and yet there are days I enjoy a little conversation to make the ride go by faster. It's an interesting insight into different personalities, some of them very like your own and some of them very different.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Work Life Balance

Or maybe the title should actually be work/work balance. With a little life thrown in.

No, I'm not going to whine. I'm grateful to have a day job. Some day I would love for this author gig to be the day job, but that isn't the way it works. At least not yet.

The downside to the day job is that there are a few months each year where it gears up, requiring significantly more hours. That would be now. March Madness (as you may have seen in prior year posts). It isn't just for basketball. While that's excellent for the business for which I work, it is difficult for those of us employed there. We go from a 40-hour work week to 60+. Just this morning, when I signed on at {yawn} 6:00 a.m., I had an email from someone that was sent last night after midnight. I replied to the email and was stunned to get a response almost immediately. To which I replied (again), "you haven't been up all night, have you?" He assured me that he had managed to get some sleep between those emails, but it isn't unusual for these guys to work well past midnight. What is unusual is seeing them back in the office before 9:00 a.m.

These hours tend to block the creative process a bit. Focus has to remain sharp on the work at hand, and with the day job demanding more attention, that leaves less room for independent thought and creativity.

At this time I would like to give a shout out to Beverly Long. I sat with her for lunch at the last Chicago Spring Fling Writer's Conference and we commiserated over long hours at the day job, but let me tell you about Beverly. She was under contract to deliver three books that year. Count them. Three. I asked her how she managed to accomplish that in addition to working a 9-5 (and often longer than 9-5) day job. Her answer? she had two of them essentially completed, so it amounted to finishing editing on #2, and working on #3. And, she added, she didn't watch much television. She's my hero! Last year I managed to complete two books, and I thought that was a challenge!

So what does one do during peak periods like this? First, I have to manage my stress levels. That means eliminating things that are not absolutely essential. As much as my writing is an essential part of who I am, for the month of March in particular, I have to devote my attention to the day job. Until you guys make me a best-selling author, there is no alternative to this.

Will try to keep blogging. In the meantime - Back to work.