Monday, April 30, 2007

Life in the Fast Lane

Vroom, vroom...

Seems like many of us have gotten run over by life lately. I know things have gotten busy for me since I started working with WOW!. I must admit though, it really isn't work. I love doing the proofing, working with other writers to make thier piece it's best and even the chance to write with them, whether it be on their blog or for the site. keeps my inner editor happy so she doesn't nag when I write my fiction.

But, this leads me to the realization I have to set some priorities. I've been pondering this since returning from the convention not long ago and have decided, undecided, and decided again. Right now, I'm in an undecided phase. I need to make a decision soon and stick with it.

So, my question for y'all... What is your priority? Has life grabbed you and doesn't want to go? Do you feel like you are spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere?

I know for myself, it's time I make some hard decisions and set some priorities, especially with summer coming and all the things that brings.

Now...I'm off to decide again:--)


Hey!!! Watch where you're driving...this is my lane!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Stepping outside my comfort zone

I had an interesting experience last week and it was too good not to share. As you know, I am using my blog to connect authors with potential readers. When I submitted my last article to Writer2Writer, I mentioned to the editor, Cheryl Wright that I would love to interview her for my blog. She has a new release coming out in November. She agreed and went one step further by sending my contact information along to her publisher, telling her I was looking to interview authors.

Imagine my surprise when I received an email from Laurie Sanders, editor of Black Velvet Seductions. Their "erotic romance is so hot, you'll need a fan"...or so their tagline says.

Now, I'm not opposed to erotica. It's not a genre I've written, but I don't purposely avoid it. Like all genres, it has a market and loyal readers, and who am I to say what another person should write about. Yet, it took me three days to get back to Sanders.

My original instinct was--cool! I've never interviewed an author of this genre before and the closest thing I've probably read to it was out of a 1980's issue of Hustler. Then thoughts started drifting in about possible repercussions. What if someone from my church checked out my blog that week? Would I feel comfortable with the questions they might ask me? How about my family, would they start an intervention and suggest I seek professional help to heal my addiction to sex? Would my neighbors start pulling their children back towards the house as I drive by?

I stewed on it a couple days before I contacted two very wise writing chums. The first one told me it would be " opportunity to show that a writer and their stories can be separated. That we write characters, not ourselves onto the pages." The other reminded me that "they are on the same 'journey' as all writers. They still deal with rejection, doubts, etc."

It was enough to send my own doubts flying out of my mind and return me to my gut instinct which said, "Cool!"

No matter what genre we focus on--we are all writers. We are real people who spend their lives entertaining others with our storytelling abilities. We share a special connection to each other because no one else in the world but another writer knows exactly what it's like. Yeah, your sister in Toledo might humor your attempt at becoming a published author, but only another writer can appreciate how damn hard it is to make it happen.

So, I am pleased to announce that you can look forward to interviews with four authors who have been published by Black Velvet Seductions, starting in July. And, if Laurie Sanders and I can settle on a date, she will provide writers with an idea of what it's like to sit on the other side of the desk.

I really can't wait!


Saturday, April 21, 2007

What I learned at the conference or...

Gee, it's important to have great readers and a variety of them

As many of you know, I attended a writer's conference last Saturday. One of the main reasons I wanted to go was the free critique of your writing. Up to 1,500 words, critiqued by a professional in the writing business. How cool is that!!! I sent the first 1,500 words of my novel course novel. Now, yes it is a rough draft but my instructor said it was polished enough to send. Let me share my experience.

My critiquer was an local editor/English major. Very nice person. She caught me on my comma misuse. She explained why my two comma splices were wrong and showed where I needed to use commas or not to use them. She also pointed out a couple places that needed to be clarified. Very cool..and very helpful. All in all, I was very pleased with the critique. Nothing that struck me as major...little things that could be fixed.

With that good critique under my belt, I gave the first page in for the last workshop of the day. That would be a "dry" read of the page and then Kate Duffy, editor from Kensington and Molly Bolden, indy bookstore owner would give their opinions on that page. Scary sorta but not anything to worry about I thought.

During the day, I was chatting with a StoryCrafters member about my critique. She asked to read the pages between sessions. Sure, no problem. After she read them, we discussed comma usage, disagreed with my critiquer on a couple comma issues and talked about the items that could use clarification. She liked the pages, didn't have any issues with it. Again, I felt good about them and the upcoming dry read critique.

Finally, the long awaited last workshop. I had high hopes I'll admit. I knew Kate wasn't going to ask for pages right then and there but I expected a good comment or two. Boy was I in for a shock.

Not only don't I have a very good hook, I have started in the wrong place. Neither Molly or Kate was nasty or mean in their comments but I'm so glad they didn't know it was my piece...or anyone else.

So, what I really wanted to share with you is this. Readers are important. But we have to consider just who our readers are. We need a variety of reader, not just writers. If you can't get several readers...look at different areas of your piece.

Check for grammar, punctuation and such on one pass. Check for story flow and plot on another read through. Concentrate on your dialogue and tags on another pass. Don't try to take care of all the different story elements in one revision.

I had a 6 hour drive home. I sulked for at least 5 of them. Then I started to figure out where I could improve my start and improve my hook. They were right, it needs work. However, I'd not recommend this kind of "shock therapy" for everyone. It was darn tough...but it was exactly what I needed and wanted to hear.

So...when you have someone read and critique one of your pieces, thank them. Tell them how much you appreciate the great job they did. And critiquers...remember writers are counting on you. We need more than just a "this is great" or "I really like your story" comments. We need to know what works, what doesn't and if something just doesn't seem "right".


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Remembering Your First Love

Back in my sophomore year I had an unusual English Teacher. If you’re anywhere near my age, you’ll remember the kind I’m referring to. They were the almost hippies types. With their hair hanging just over their collars, no tie, and yes, they actually wore those corduroy jackets with elbow patches. They got a kick out of ruffling the feathers of administration just enough to annoy them, but not enough to get fired. But it wasn't the way he dressed or picked on adminstration that made him unusual. It was the way he made writing come to life.

On the first day of class, this teacher set the tone for what would be he most exciting English class I had ever taken. He told us to open our books to a certain page. We did. Then he instructed us to place our right hands on that page. Again, we did. Then he said, “We have now met the state’s requirement for touching on the subject of grammar and punctuation. Please close your books and let’s learn something fun.”

That year, I learned what writing from the heart with creativity was. We had our choice of several novels to read. After reading the novel, the assignment was to get into a minor character head and rewrite it from their POV. I chose “One Flew Over The Cuckoo Nest.” It took the entire year to finish that assignment. We soon discovered how much work goes into writing a novel. What a great year it was. That teacher sparked something in me that has never faded. I love writing. It's as much a necessity to me as breathing.

Now before I get clunked over the head by the Grammar Gestapo let me clarify, I do believe grammar and punctuation are important. So important, that I’m taking a refresher course. Picture this, you're an editor with a slush pile a mile high. You come across two manuscripts both with equally great story lines but one is pristine while the other is riddle with grammar flaws. Which one would you choose? We may not like it, but editors will choose the one that shines every time.

Write from your heart and make it exciting. But if you are lacking the tools needed to deliver a clean package then go out and get them. There are plenty of refresher courses or if you are an ace at self learning pick up a book and learn the tools of the trade. After all, just as carpenter wouldn’t think of building a house with only a hammer and few nails. A writer mustn't construct a manuscript with only a pencil.

Happy Writings,

Monday, April 16, 2007

Conference Anyone?

There are often times in a busy life that we desire nothing more that to escape, to do something totally for ourselves. This weekend, I did just as I desired - I escaped to a sort of writer’s utopia. Where authors get to chat about writing, scene difficulties, book promotion, and favorite publishing markets.

Amidst the Terrebonne Parish Library rooms, I found a day of inspiration. There were many break out sessions on different aspects. I chose to attend one on strong dialogue. While the session was geared to screenplay or theater, the subject of improvisation proved to be invigorating. The presenter gave a few tips on how to do improvisation. I offer these for you to use in your fiction writing.

Do: take cues from your partner; play your scene from moment to moment; allow your intuition to be your guide; and be spontaneous in your actions. Don’t: deny anything your scene partner says about you or the situation; ask questions; or explain situations and feelings.

While these may not seem to fit to writing, think of it as guidelines for creating believable dialogue. Play out the conversations in your mind. I think the last Don’t is a major clue. When we are explaining situations and feelings in dialogue, we can most likely show it with actions or expressions.

Also at the conference, an editor from Harcourt really made an impression on me. Jenna Johnson presented some ideas on how to become a publisher’s dream so to speak. She shared tips on steps you can be taking now to make yourself more publishable. Several items caught my attention. Here’s a short list of those:

1. Be a member of associations (i.e., if your book is concerning psychology, what groups are you a member of? Show why you should be an expert in that field).
2. Create a readership platform and keep a list of potential readers (In other words, any place you have published, keep a record).
3. Be reading in the genre you write. You should know your genre extremely well and be versed in it.
4. You should be writing nonfiction articles on the research material that you have been using for your fiction.
5. Have a webpage, blog, myspace or any other means to market yourself and begin BEFORE are you are published.

These were just a few things that stuck out to me. I had to leave for my critique session before her workshop was finished. However, I still hear her words. READ in the genre you write. If you are writing a story that is set on a steamboat, then you should be a steamboat expert. It made me realize how little of an expert I am concerning my research and how much more I needed to perform. Also, it helped me to see that my association with StoryCrafters and its blog, plus any other writer’s associations or sites may not be wasted time.

Now, I have to add a few tasks to my platter to build my marketability.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hitting a Strike

It didn't matter to me that the bowling ball I used in junior high school only weighed eleven pounds, or that I didn't throw it hard. What mattered to me, to my score, to my team, was where the ball hit the pins, and how many of them fell. Sometimes they fell very slowly. But a lot of times, most of them fell. When I would make one of those agonizingly slow strikes, I would turn and take a bow and say, "I'm not a power bowler -- I'm a finesse bowler."

Because I didn't have the strength to use the ball to overpower the pins, I worked on control. I could get the ball to go where I wanted it, with just enough speed and spin to knock things down.

Bowling was my only athletic effort in junior high and high school, and I did end up with a couple of trophies. Maybe my choice of sports shaped the way I approach work, and the kind of work I like to do, or maybe I chose my sport because it was a way to use a natural inclination. Either way, here I am some thirty years later still wanting to finesse whatever I do.

Webster's New World Dictionary gives this as the first definition of finesse: "adroitness; skill." And adroit is defined as skillful and clever, from a French word meaning "lay straight." Adroitly is how I tried to bowl.

So, you're wondering where the connection is between bowling and writing. Think about it. There are power writers, and there are finesse writers. From those I'm familiar with, I would use Stephen Jay Gould as an example of a power writer. He overwhelms a subject with a flood of words, but they are magnificent words and he uses them well. When I started reading Gould I had to keep a dictionary handy. The boundaries of my vocabulary have been expanded enormously as a result.

On the other hand, my personal favorite finesse writer has to be C. J. Cherryh. She uses an absolute minimum of words, with tremendous effect. But I'm sure neither of these writers started out with all that power, or all that finesse. When I started bowling, a lot of balls went in the gutters. And a lot of my writing still goes in the trash. But if I keep practicing, my score is bound to improve.

crazybasenji aka Grammar Gestapo

Monday, April 09, 2007

Back in the saddle again

I'm back
I'm back in the saddle again
I'm back
I'm back in the saddle again

Didn't Aerosmith have some great lyrics back then?

I just experienced the longest dry spell of my short-lived writing career. Sure wasn't any fun. But this week I started my next article for Writer2Writer--the monthly ezine that made me a staff member a couple months ago. I also began focusing on how to revise my short story set in Mexico so that I can work on it in earnest next week.

I reviewed my goals yesterday too. I can't tell you how great it feels to be setting goals and working towards completing items on my to-do list. Of course, if you've ever gone through a dry spell of your own, I'm sure I don't need to explain to you what it's like when the creative rains bless the dusty, parched soil of your brain and allow words to flow from your fingers onto the river of paper laying beside your nightstand.

Writers are such a diverse group of individuals. Some say they never go through periods of not being able to write. I am insanely jealous. It stinks to know you have so many ideas rattling around in your head but you have no will or desire to put them to paper--even knowing they could help you pay the bills. And then there are others who go through this kind of inability to write and manage to find a way around it. They force themselves to write, even when they don't want to. I wish I were that kind of writer. But, I'm one of those who has to wait out the dry spell and happily greet the replenishing rains when they come.

So, I am officially back in the saddle again. Setting goals and writing my way towards completing my to-do list. If I really had to tell you what it feels like, I would have to borrow more words from Aerosmith.

I'm calling all the shots tonight
I'm like a loaded gun...
I'm back in the saddle again
I'm back


Thursday, April 05, 2007

On a personal note...

As writer's we are often thought to be sensitive to the world around us. To ourselves. Taking our experiences and mirroring them on paper. Using them to create works of art. Knowledge building articles to help others. Sometimes it's cathartic for us. Sometimes it brings more pain. It causes depression, it relieves depression.

Strangely enough, we're often introverts. We keep our pain to ourselves (meaning we don't publicize...we use it in our writing instead). We keep our lives to ourselves. We're the "shy" of the artists. We like having our work noticed, our abilities recognized, but we can be innately shy. Granted, this is a broad generalization, but it's also viewed as true by outsiders. It's very true for me.

Very recently I've gone through one personal turmoil after another. To look at the laundry list of events it would seem impossible to many to even be factual. Health, marriage and financial crises abounded, and continue to flaunt themselves in front of me.

I've always heard to take your experiences and use them for your art. I stare at the past few months and I still can't imagine how. I've only written about 3000 words in 4 months time. I have a novel that's already laid out before me and yet I can't seem to write. I certainly haven't written anything new based on anything that's happened.

So I'm giving it time. Perhaps I'll find a humor piece in it all when things are calmed down. I'm sure that there are several great non-fic pieces in there considering all the health woes. But for now I'm too deep into it. While I always used to write through the pain I haven't been able to do that this time.

One day the writing will come. I'm learning to give it time. I'm also learning to deal with the hardships life can throw at you.

One thing I can assure everyone of...they say bad things come in 3's...they lied...Right now I'm on about #7 in a 5 month period. But, I also know that this is helping me appreciate the good moments more my girls 2nd and 1st bdays that are coming up in 2 weeks! A moment of celebration, a break from the craziness. Enjoy your good moments. Enjoy your children (even those of the furry variety). Enjoy your between all the crap.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Balance Is The Key

Finding balance is a challenge for me. I’m an obsessive type and when I start something new, I go at like a monkey with a banana. Nothing stands in my way.

That worked well when I wanted to loose 50 pounds but I drove everyone else in my life nuts. It was a tremendous help when I walked the 3-day 60-mile walk for breast cancer. I spent every waking moment preparing for that walk and drove my loved ones nuts helping me to raise money for it.

Now with writing I find myself obsessing again. I cannot hold a normal conversation that doesn’t involve writing. While the other person is talking, I’m thinking of ways I can turn the topic to my current project. My brain screams stop; don’t say another word, but my mouth takes over and gabbers away. I see their eyes glaze over but I'm helpless to stop.

Just as good writing requires balance there needs to be balance in my life too. Writing is my work and I take it very serious but to continue to love it, I cannot work at it with my old obsessive ways. There is a whole world out there that I’m missing because I keep myself glued to this computer.

To find that balance I’m forcing myself to shut off the computer at a certain hour every evening to spend time with my husband, going for a walk, or watching a movie together. We’ve been married a long time so he knows it’s a struggle for me not to obsess but that doesn’t mean I want to take him for granted.

Someday, I hope writing is so natural that I don’t feel the need obsess, but I cannot count on that so I’m making strives to find balance now. Yesterday, I almost succeeded. I went to lunch with my sister and I listened to her talk about her family and other things going on in her life, I even responded with true interest. Sigh…I only brought up writing at the very end. Nobody gives up obsessing without a few setbacks.

If you’re obsessive like me, try to make time for the world around you and in the end I think we’ll find our writing is better for it. How can we write about the world and its characters if we never take the time to observe it?


Monday, April 02, 2007

Suffering for your art..

I wrote my first novel in 1997. It is still on the shelf in my office, yellowed with age, pages torn. I wrote it on a word processor. I was so proud of that machine and its thirteen-inch screen.

The novel was a sort of Max Lucado attempt. I was deeply involved in church back then and I wanted to write about the wisdom, knowledge and understanding I gained from studying the Bible. It was a joy to write. I dove deep into my subject matter, spending hours at the library and attending various churches. It was a very nice story for a nice Christian girl to write.

The writing of my current novel has not been much fun. Oh, the story is fun and the characters are written honestly. Which means of course, they do not always talk nice and they do all sorts of immoral things. Consequently, my church, and others in this town will want to stone me once this novel hits bookstore shelves. It is not a story a good Christian girl ought to write. Knowing all of this rather takes the fun out of writing it.

With every cuss word and love scene I create, I hear another rock whizzing by. I will be used by pastors around here as an example to the congregation of what is wrong with the world today. I will be a contributor to corruption. And I will be asked to leave my church. Yep, heartbreak ahead.

Steven King, of all people, is the proprietor of the words that are empowering me, helping me come to terms with the choice I had to make. He said in his book, “On Writing”, that polite society and what it thinks should be the “least of a writers concerns”. He says that “if we intend to write truthfully our days as members of polite society are numbered”.

There is a heaviness in my heart as I write the new novel, because I know that along with the joy of having a book published will come the pain of losing so many of the things I love. I know that my days in polite society are numbered.

Are you struggling with this? Playing tug of war with God, and/ or society on one end and your dream on the other? Talk it over with someone you love and get your fears out. You need someone to stand by you if you find yourself faced with retribution for your work. Also, take comfort in knowing that you are only one in a very long and distinguished line of writers who have paid a dear price for their art.

I think I now understand the dynamics behind the term ‘suffering for your art’. I can see the road ahead with clarity. I know that when I succeed I will also go through a time of heartbreak. So be it. I have made my choice.

Oh, and it helps me when I remind myself that Jesus wasn’t too fond of polite society either.