Wednesday, November 23, 2022

That doesn’t make any sense

After finishing the first draft, I started in on making HORNED OWL HOLLOW readable. And ran into something startling.

They say when you don’t know what to write, just write. The words will come to you. I agree with that sentiment for the most part, and oftentimes that means I’m writing “notes” such as “…and then this happens, and then that happens.” Get the ideas down even if they aren’t proper prose. The theory is that even if you write garbage, you can always clean it up later.

As I was reviewing and “cleaning  the mess” that is the second draft, I confused myself. Wait. That doesn’t make sense. How can “that” happen before “this” happens? And here’s the thing. I know what needs to happen in the story, but I got it in the wrong sequence. The good news? The story is there, it just needs to be fixed. 

Write. Even when you don’t know what to write. You can clean it up later.

This week, I’m cleaning up. This is the first time I’ve made such a tangle of threads in a book, but hey, I like a puzzle. I’m moving chapters around, identifying which threads got lost in the tangle, and cutting those threads that don’t belong in the mess. 

Happy Thanksgiving! I’m thankful to all of you who have been on this writing journey with me. Without you, there would be no road to travel. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Why authors should read

There's a sense of satisfaction that comes with writing "the end," and I'm once again at that stage with the new book. I should note this is "The End" of the first draft. I have a lot of work yet to do to make this book readable. 

So here I sit, with my fractured ankle elevated. My "out and about" is going to physical therapy, and while I took a jaunt to the grocery store in my fancy boot, I quickly discovered that my chair is the best place to be for another week or two. Plenty of time to address my notes for what's still missing in the book and work through the second draft, and plenty of time to catch up on my reading.

This last week I received a book in the mail from a friend. One piece of advice commonly shared among authors is to make sure you read other people's work. While I am an avid reader, I tend to be streaky, and in my race to the finish line, I've been streaking in the "not reading" category. This gift changed that. I'm reminded why the advice to read other books is so critical.

First, the book I got was Patience Griffin's To Scotland With Love. I've been following her career, because I'm a big fan of Scottish literature, even as written by an American. I was hesitant to pick this one up because the hero is a big, famous, dashingly handsome movie star. I don't go for the movie star/average Joe trope, generally speaking. Don't like the billionaire heroes. They tend to be the same personality types and the same "wound," and I was afraid of being disappointed by "just another fabulous rich person falling for the plain Jane." So a big thank you to my friend, Jennifer, for picking this up at the quilt show and sending it along. 

Second, the reason to read other books is because they highlight either a) how not to write your story (if the book is "subpar"), or b) what your book is lacking. Let me tell you, Patience Griffin's writing was amazing. It is a romance, and it is women's fiction, but it's also much more. It's an ode to a small village in Scotland and a lesson in how to (or how not to) deal with disappointment. It's a family drama (which I generally touch on in my books). The woman put me to shame. She also makes me want to be a better writer.

THIS is where reading other authors comes into play. I've finished my first draft, and its "okay." Yep. That's all. It's okay. There are details missing. Information that shows up late in the book (surprise! Didn't see that coming!) that needs to be foreshadowed. Sensory cues that I know in my head that didn't make it to the page. I know all this, and even in the excitement of finishing the first draft, there is the funk of knowing the book could be better. (Of course, it can be better. It's a first draft, for heaven's sake!) So as I begin work on the second draft, I now have an example of what's missing in my work, not just an intellectual exercise, but something to strive for. Depth that needs to be added. I want something that will grab my readers the way Ms. Griffin's book grabbed me. Hers and mine are two completely different stories, but the essence of storytelling is the same. Don't leave the details out. Don't rush to answer the questions as they arise. Life takes time. 

I'm reminded of another author who doesn't believe in revising and editing. He subscribes to a theory called Writing Into The Dark which suggests your subconscious knows what should be on the page. I agree with that, but only as far as a first draft goes. It would be easy for me to say "the end - and done," but I'm striving for a more connective reading experience. That means going back and making this story better than "okay." I want people to connect to my words. To have a response to my words (other than "egads, that was awful!"). I want people to feel the same way reading my books as I felt writing them. Too much gets passed over in the first draft. For me, the first draft is getting ideas on paper. It isn't until the second draft that those ideas make sense.

So on to the second draft with a renewed sense of purpose. I hope you're going to love Horned Owl Hollow - and the inspiration that led me to write it!

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Research and pacing

I'm in the final stages of writing with the new book--and finding more research that needs to be done. I've done a family tree for my characters since the story references family from 100 years prior. Which generation is who? How are they all related? (Do you like seeing family trees in the front of your books?) I've also referenced historical events from 100 years ago, but some of them don't line up exactly, so I have to build bridges to fill the gaps. More research from "the roaring '20s" and before.

Another bump I'm finding is the pacing of this novel. As I uncover information while writing, I weave it into the story. That's good, right? Not necessarily. I'm letting stream of consciousness guide my writing, but as I ruminate on it overnight, I've been going back the next day to "fix" it. Sometimes, it's better to withhold information rather than dump it all in one place. When Jessica Fletcher goes out looking for clues, she doesn't stumble on them all at once. She has to find pieces and then fit them all together. Same principle. For instance, yesterday I discovered something important about one of my characters--a revelation, you might say. Later, as I was thinking about it, I realized that was something that might better be left for later. He doesn't know about it, and while it explains why he's reaching for one of his goals, it comes together too easily as written. With an adjustment to the pacing, the "when" he discovers the information might hold more impact later in the story. As one of my critique partners pointed out, why would anyone work in a job they were overqualified for? My character has his reasons, but what I uncovered yesterday in research puts an exclamation point on it. Or does he know sooner and that's his vested interest? Conflict for my narrator, because she doesn't know. Either way, it's too soon for "the big reveal."

Pacing is the gradual introduction of major plot points and teasing what's to come throughout the story. Foreshadowing. Backstory. When to include information and how much without slowing or rushing the flow of the story. Uncovering the clues one at a time to be assembled later. Half the fun of reading a story is the journey, which means following the trail of breadcrumbs and not being given the whole loaf of bread all at once.

I have an update on a release date! HORNED OWL HOLLOW is on my editor's calendar for the end of January, which means it should be ready for a February release date - I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Always look on the bright side of life ♫♬🎜

For those of you who aren't familiar with the reference - here you go.  For those of you who are, you can skip ahead (or watch the video for a bit of fun).

September and October have been challenging months. I dived back into the work in progress in October after many distractions filed under the heading of "life gets in the way." In a twist of fate, life has now decided to guarantee I have time to sit still and finish the upcoming book, tentatively titled Horned Owl Hollow. How? So glad you asked.

After a very busy week last week, my sister invited DH and myself to dinner to discuss an upcoming trip for a family wedding. We were happy to go, and after some chatting beforehand, we headed out to the restaurant. It was a busy Friday night, so we gave the host our phone number and went outside to walk around the block while we waited for our table to be ready. It was a pleasant night, with darkness just settling in. Halfway around the block, yours truly stepped off the edge of the sidewalk (because I'm clumsy that way) and did a faceplant on the cement. I never really believed I was going down - certain I'd catch my balance. Too much faith in myself. I got back up with an abrasion on my lip where I hit the ground, dusted off my hands and aside from hurting my pride, considered myself no worse for the wear. Yes, I had some sore spots, but nothing to prevent finishing our walk. We went to the restaurant, ate our dinner, and before we left, the abrasion on my lip had eased so that it was barely noticeable. No harm done, right?

We went on to my sister's home, where we talked more about the trip, and an hour or so later, got up to leave. My sister asked about my injuries, making sure I hadn't knocked any teeth out when my face had connected with terra firma, and I assured her my mouth was fine. My ankle, however, was beginning to throb. We exchanged a few thoughts about a sprain or a break and I determined I was fine, although I did find some swelling around the pain. DH drove us home, and as it was late at night, I wasn't inclined to make a stop at the ER to have it checked. An ER? On a Friday night? LATE at night? No thank you. The ER is never a quick trip in the best of circumstances. I decided to sleep on it, sure my offended body would feel better in the morning.

Nope. The pain increased during the night, and in the morning, I asked DH to drive me to the Urgent Care. Still didn't want to spend all day in the ER, and on a Saturday? Not much better than late night Friday. Good call, as it turned out. I got into the urgent care quickly, they did an x-ray, and... guess what? The PA showed me a fracture at my ankle. Shout out to Emily and Sharon at the Urgent Care - they were fantastic. They checked me thoroughly and treated me well before they sent me home in a boot with instructions to stay off my feet and make a follow-up appointment. 

Bad news, right? Or, if you look on the bright side, as Eric Idle sings, I've just eliminated a bunch of distractions in my path to finishing Horned Owl Hollow. Considering the book is more than halfway complete, 4-6 weeks off my feet should give me more than enough time to finish writing it. 

I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Excuses, excuses

Years ago, I tried out a different editor at the behest of one of my writing buddies. It wasn't an unpleasant experience, but I have to say I prefer the professionalism of the editor I've been working with for almost all my books (Thank you, Kelly!).

Why am I telling you this today? One of the things the other editor did/didn't do: She didn't give me a written contract and she built in a sliding schedule in case "life got in the way." I understand that. We all understand that. Sometimes events happen that move your schedule. In fact, that's the very reason I'm blogging about this today. I've had a month worth of "life events" that have interrupted my regular writing schedule, but more on that in a minute. So this other editor. She offered more passes on the book than my regular editor, which seemed like added value to me. Her price was slightly higher, but again, she offered other extra value to the process - or so it seemed. She offered marketing suggestions, too. When it came down to it, she did a good job, but it wasn't "I will get this to you by Friday." There was no definite "finish" date. And the extra passes? I didn't get the last promised review, and when I asked her about it, she tried to tell me my initial questions counted as a pass. To me, that isn't a pass, that's "I don't understand your comments." Again, I was pleased with the work she did, but I didn't feel the same level of professionalism, the set schedule, the promised extras that accounted for a higher fee. The book did reasonably well, and at her prompting, I did market it a little differently than other books. I would still recommend her, but she wasn't a good fit for me.

So when life gets in the way... From the end of September and through a good part of October, DH and I have been dealing with major life events and the aftermath. There are times it doesn't make sense to try to work through it. Too many distractions. When I worked the day job, we were given time off to deal with these sorts of things, but comparing to the day job, we had a limit to how much time we could take off, and then we had to show up for the job again. I'm well past that allotment.

I need to show up for the writing job again. I've been away from it, dealing with these life events. For a month. Yes, I've dipped back into the book in progress when I've had time, but the longer you get away from a regular routine, the harder it is to get back into it - and this week isn't going to be any better. The difference? I'm making more of an effort this week. I have a book that's more than halfway finished, and I want to get to the end. The only way to do that is to show up to the job and do it. Commit to it and be professional. The fact that it's a job I love should make it easier. 

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

It's October, after all

I'm in the mood for spooky movies/books. 

A million years ago, I watched a movie called The House That Would Not Die that stuck with me all these years. It was based on a Barbara Michaels book called Ammie Come Home. I tracked the made-for-tv movie down a few years back while I was writing Epitaph as reference for the seance Amy and Kevin sit through. Recently, as I work on my next series devoted more to haunted houses than ghosts, I've been thinking about it again, this time from the angle of the angle of the ghosts rather than the seance. Like I said in my post last week, they don't make scary movies the way they used to anymore. They're all about killers rather than tickling your imagination with the things beyond our five senses-- that sixth sense (anyone remember a show starring Gary Collins by that name?)

After watching the movie above, I tracked down the book to read, and have to say the movie was fairly true to the book. I went on to read several Barbara Michaels books, but they didn't all have that same punch. I went on to read other scary books - Bram Stoker's Dracula was one of my favorites, and of course no one does horror quite like Stephen King. Do you know, when I read 'Salem's Lot he had me guessing for half the book about what was going on? And this, from a devoted horror fan. I love the way he can keep you guessing. And then, of course, I read The Amityville Horror. That is the one book I couldn't have in the same room with me when I'd finished it! 

Do you have a favorite horror movie or book that sticks with you?

If you want a spooky book to read, try one of my first-in-series-free books.

Click here to find out more
Click here to find out more

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

More on haunted houses

It is October, after all.

As someone who grew up fascinated by ghost stories and “Creature Features” I think haunted houses have always been at the top of my list. From the old black and white movies - The Haunting, The Uninvited - to the next generation - The House That Would Not Die, The Amityville Horror - it wasn’t a huge leap for me to want to write about haunted houses, starting with LIVING CANVAS. I’m a little sad that more modern interpretations turn into slasher flicks, as if the only thing that can scare us now is being sliced and diced. I prefer to stick with the fear of the unknown.

As I write my next haunted house book, I’m trying to stick to “the rules” that I have established for my ghosts, which is often colored by the rules of other authors and screen writers over the years. Ultimately, I come back to my own limited (and probably questionable) experiences, and the experiences of “sensitive” people I’ve met. Those seem to be supported by the ghost hunter shows I’ve also been watching to get the mood. At a recent author event, a reader asked me if I’d had any encounters in the cemetery where I started the EPITAPH series. The simple answer is no, although I walked the cemetery in the middle of a crisp September afternoon. 

Which asks the question, why do ghosts only show up at night? And why do the ghost hunters only work in the dark? I suppose the easy answer is because it’s easier to see a “manifestation” in the dark. The hazy, misty, amorphous shapes that make up a ghost. However, the sensitive person I spoke with in my recent research saw her manifestations in broad daylight. So what are the rules?

1. The dead can’t speak. This is supported in the Bible when a dead man wants to go back to warn his family to straighten up. Similar to what Dickens references in A Christmas Carol. The Lord tells the dead man those he wants to warn have the information they need, the same as he did. The result is in what we do with that information.

2. In order to see a ghost, you need to be open to the possibility. As much as they need to expend energy and intent to be seen, we need to expend energy and intent to see them.

3. When a person passes, their energy remains. Sometimes only for a moment, and sometimes as residue, like seasoning in an iron skillet. 

Finally- do ghosts really exist? The answer is very subjective. For me, its a matter of entertainment. When my parents talked about dying, I asked jokingly if they would come back and be my guardian angels, which earned me a resounding “no.” I read a book not long ago about a woman whose little sister died, and she was so overwhelmed with grief that she wouldn’t let the spirit go. As a result, the dead sister’s ghost couldn’t move on and grew more grisly as time went on. When we keep the people we lose dear in our hearts, they always walk with us, whether we see them or not. More memory than ghost.

For more about spirits and haunted houses, I stumbled on this blog that you might enjoy.