Wednesday, November 30, 2011


(Article first appeared today in’s Drama Newsletter, of which I am a contributing editor.)

2011-11-30 09.40.12

NaNoWriMo will come to a close tonight for another year. Though I won't have a badge to display, saying I "won" by reaching the contest benchmark of 50,000 words in the month of November, I DO have a 25,000-word start to a brand-new novel that I'm very excited about. What's more important, I learned a lot about penning a first draft by taking part during the NaNo insanity.

NaNo is good for a writer like me. Typically, I brood over and revise each sentence before moving on to the next. My over-enthusiastic inner editor would argue that that approach is fine. And I tend to agree, when we're talking about writing short fiction. But when staring down the dark tunnel of novel writing, when only a pinprick of light is visible at its end, I'm the first to recognize that my painstaking approach to writing won't work. NaNo promotes writing fast drafts that force your focus forward. To win NaNo, you have to embrace the absolute separation between writing and revising.

There are a couple strategies I learned during NaNo to help a writer silence her inner editor and just write -- fast and furious -- with the intention of getting the first draft, in all its messy and creative glory, down on paper. And these ideas are not necessary for barfing out a first draft in one month. I will use these strategies throughout the year, no matter how long it takes me to write a draft.

*Leafr* Get outside your regular writing routine. If you write at a desk, try sitting on the floor. If you have a laptop, go outdoors to a park or a coffee house - someplace where you've never written before. I usually need quiet to write, but I tried playing Christmas music softly in the background one day. It made me feel instantly happy and relaxed, and I eked out an extra 700 words during that writing session.

*Leafbr* Have your writing totem with you for every writing session. A writing toten is an object which inspires you or imbues you with inspired energy. It can be a figurine, a stuffed animal, a hat you wear, a picture or photo - anything! My writing totem is a small, solid brass figurine that looks a lot like Pumba from The Lion King. I bought him at a copper and brass artisan shop in France about ten years ago. It just looks happy and reminds me of good times. "Pumba" is small enough to sit on my laptop keyboard near where the top and bottom hinges together. When I feel stumped and want to stop writing, I look at him and remember my goals for the writing session. And his jolly belly and goofy stance remind me to have fun while I'm at it!

*LeafO* Challenge yourself to writing sprints. A writing sprint is a set short amount of time during which you refuse to let your fingers stop tapping those keys or your pen to lift from the paper. My favorite sprints are fifteen minutes long. (I find these are great practice for
Leger~ 's "15 for 15 Contest " *Wink*) I am also a big fan of 1K-in-1Hr sprints (1000 words in an hour).

*Leafg* Find friends with which to stage write-ins. I did my first write-in a week and a half ago, and it was fabulous! Summer Frey lives a half hour from my house, and we get together every few weeks to hang out and talk writing-and-blogging shop. Since we were both doing NaNo this year, we decided to meet in a funky local coffee house for a five-hour write-in. We'd wish each other luck and hit the keys, for a while. At some point, one of us would need another cup of coffee or a bathroom break, and we'd stop for ten or fifteen minutes. We tweeted from our couches and updated our Facebook statuses, and laughed a lot. And I wrote 5000 words that day. 5000!

My inner editor feels like she's back from the spa, relaxed and muscle-knot-free. I may not have won NaNoWriMo, but the benefits I reaped from playing along this November made every minute of the crazy chaos worth it. I'll use these and other strategies while I finish my WiP, and for future drafts too.

What's your favorite strategy for powering through the first draft? Maybe you wear a certain shirt or pair of socks? Do you dangle reward-carrots in front of yourself for motivation? Something else?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Deja Vu Blogfest Sign-ups!

Announcement, everyone!  *clears throat*   DL Hammons, Lydia Kang, Katie Mills and I are hosting the upcoming Deja Vu Blogfest!  The fest is DL's creation, so below are the deets as presented today on Cruising Altitude 2.0.  Mr. Linky sign-ups right below:


The Déjà vu Blogfest

You know one of the things that bugs me the most about the way our blogosphere operates?  It’s the way you can miss some really awesome posts if you have to be away for a while and are unable to keep up with your favorite blogs.  Face it, if you take just a week’s vacation from the blogosphere, you could have missed (depending on the number of blogs you’re following and their frequency of posting) hundreds of quality posts.  It’s really hard to catch up when things get like that, so what I do is read a blogger’s latest post.  You know what that could mean?  The signing of an agent…missed….a book contract finalized…missed…a cry for help...missed...a birth announcement…missed…some other special event in a blogger’s life…gone.  I just shake my head when I think of all of the special posts I’ve missed over time.  And then there are the informative posts about the topics I’m dying to know more about, yep I probably missed some of those as well.

What got me thinking about this (again) was a post I made a couple weeks ago.  It was actually a repost from very early in my blogging career when my followers totaled maybe a dozen.  I felt the post deserved a second chance in front of what is now a broader follower base, and I was right.  It garnered plenty of praise and many commenters thanked me for pushing it back into the light.

Some of my longtime followers (any of you still out there) know that I’ve broached this before.  I even came up with the BLOG RECYCLE STATION where I encouraged fellow bloggers to leave a link to one of their favorite blog posts in the comments of that post.  Innovative, maybe, but now I’m ready to do one better.  Thus I've teamed up with Nicole Ducleroir, Lydia Kang, and Katie Mills to bring you….


How will this work?  First, sign-up to participate with Mr. Linky below (or at any of the ladies blogs above), then shout out to all of your blogging friends and encourage them to sign up as well.  Take the badge above and plaster it everywhere, blogging graffiti gone wild.  Then on December 16th all of those taking part will re-post their favorite blog offering, or one that never received the exposure it should have.  Then as the day unfolds and everyone hops from one blog to another, what they will be reading is the best of the best (as determined by you).  That day the blogosphere will be chock full of past writing brilliance!  Encouragement, enlightenment, knowledge, bared souls, stimulation, hilarity, insecurities, success stories!  All on display…the very same day…like no other time before.  Some of them will no doubt be familiar, well-deserving a second read, but a good many will be the first time you’ve seen them.  And it couldn't be any easier to take writing necessary!

Want to make a little blogging history?  Sign up below and start looking through those old posts!  J



Monday, November 14, 2011

How to Create a Custom Twitter Background

I needed a different creative outlet yesterday, after writing 10,000 words on my NaNoWriMo novel between Wednesday and Saturday. So I decided to create my own custom Twitter background.  It was easy and a lot of fun, so I thought I’d share with you how I achieved it.

I created my background using Paint Shop Pro X2, but you can use Adobe Photoshop or any other similar software, as long as it supports both vector and raster layers.

Before I began, I thought about what kind of look I wanted to go for.  Personally, I like color; I like my web sites to exude a cheerful, playful vibe.  But I didn’t want to overwhelm with bright hues and busy prints, because I didn’t want the background to compete with the profile.  I prefer light backgrounds with black print, as I find those the easiest to read.

I looked for a picture of me that was similar to my profile picture.  (It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek that all my profile avatars are me, in profile. Flirt male

Here is the finished product, and below are the steps I followed to create it:


Step 1:  Layer One – The first layer in your PSP (or Photoshop, etc.) should measure 1440x800 pixels, which will be big enough to fill the screen of viewers with any size computer screen.  (Note: I didn’t need to fill the entire 800 pixels in length, because on my computer screen the bottom section was lost off the bottom.  Also as you design, keep in mind that about 760 pixels in the center of your plane will be covered up with your twitter profile columns.  This means you will only be designing about 225 pixels wide on the left margin and about 300 pixels on the right margin.  I realize that my math doesn’t add up – math sucks!  But the original 1440x800 are just the dimensions you need to ensure you’ll fill the space on twitter.  Based on your own computer screen, you’ll have to play around with spacing until it looks right, on your screen.)
I used a resolution of only 72 pixels/inch because it will be sharp but won’t slow down page uploads for people visiting your page who have slower processors or Internet connections.  This first layer should be set as transparent.

Step 2: Layer Two --  I pulled up the photo I’d chosen and resized it to 215x230 pixels.  I added a slim black border and then copied it.  I pasted the photo as a new layer, atop Layer 1.  I positioned the photo against the left margin, about an inch down from the top left corner. I double clicked the layer to pull up the Properties menu and clicked Layers, then added a drop shadow to the picture. 

Step 3: Layer Three -- I added a new vector layer and opened a text box.  I added my name in fancy font and beveled it with a blue overlay I pulled from the shirt in the photo.  I added a drop shadow.

Step 4: Layer Four – I added another vector layer and opened a second text box.  In it I added my original quote: “I write stories so I can live more lives than my reality would otherwise allow.”  (Love that!)

Step 5: Layers Five thru Eleven – I used raster layers to add individual colored marbles over my photo and down the right margin.  The marbles are simply picture tubes I sized the way I wanted.  Placing each marble so that they appear in a straight vertical line was not easy on my laptop, since I don’t have a mouse yet and was working on the integrated mouse pad thing.  Not easy!

Step 6: Based on the color scheme that had emerged in Steps 1-5, I clicked down to Layer 1 and used Flood Fill to wash the background with a soft, barely-there, dusty blue.

Step 7:  (It’s a great idea to “Save Copy As…” at this point.  This will save your image with all your layers maintained.  DO NOT save the image and merge the layers!  You won’t be able to edit individual layers once you’ve merged down and saved.)  I exported a copy of the image and uploaded it to twitter.
(Never changed your twitter background?  Here’s how:  Go to your twitter feed. Click your name on the far right of the menu at the top.  Click Settings.  Click Design.  Scroll down, and below the twitter themes, click Change Background Image.  Click Choose File, and select your exported custom background image.  Do not check Tile Background.  Click Save Changes.)

Step 8:  This step took me the longest.  Adjusting your background to get the spacing of all the elements right takes a while.  I had to move around elements from each layer, re-exporting and re-uploading to twitter over and over until I had the look I was aiming for. 

Step 9:  I used the Change Design Colors option on twitter’s design page to choose the colors for the profile background (where your tweets appear), text, links, sidebar, and sidebar border.  Save Changes.

And that’s it!  Now I have a twitter page that truly reflects me (at this moment in time…I’ll probably change it in the future!) better than any of the preinstalled themes available.

If we don’t follow each other on twitter, please friend me! I’m NicoleDwrites

See you over there!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Testing, testing

So, I’m trying out the Windows Live Writer software on my new laptop. Apparently I can create blog post here and upload them to Blogger.  Pretty cool, if I can get it to work.

If it works, I can use all kinds of funky fonts while writing my posts.

This would be a good thing, since I’m one of those crazy creatives who hates a constricted list of choices why she’s feeling, well, creative.  Open-mouthed smile  <—What?? Emoticons, too?  Yay! Thumbs up

Okay, going to see what this looks like on my blog.  No need to comment, should you happen across this.  Unless you use Windows Live Writer for your blog posts.  In which case I’d love to hear what you think of it.


Friday, November 11, 2011

String Bridge Chart Rush!

Today's the big day! Huge congrats to my friend Jessica Bell, whose debut novel String Bridge is available for sale as of today at Way to go, Jess!

I have read String Bridge and I highly recommend it. The writing is lush and poetically descriptive in this powerful, character-driven book.  It will stir your emotions and, if you're like me, have you at different times in tears of sorrow and tears of joy.  I say, it's a must-read for all.

Today, we're flooding the blogosphere with requests for your help.  Let's see how high we can get Jessica's debut on the Amazon chart.  If you're looking for your next great read, look no further. Pick up your copy of String Bridge today.

And remember that the holidays are right around the corner.  Maybe you have a sister, mother, or friend who would appreciate String Bridge.  I'm crossing names off my Christmas shopping list today!

Here are the links to get you on your ordering way :D

eBook:Amazon US:
Amazon UK:

Amazon US:

And, don't forget that there is a companion CD to String Bridge.  The music and lyrics are by Jessica, and she performs the songs as well.  How cool is that??  And it gets better:   If you purchase String Bridge on Amazon today and email Jessica the receipt, she will send the soundtrack for free!  [jessica(dot)carmen(dot)bell(at)gmail(dot)com]

If you're interested in ordering "Melody Hill, The Other Side," after today, here are the ordering links:

Thanks so much for supporting debut authors, in particular the talented Jessica Bell!

Jessica's links:
String Bridge Website:

Jessica Bell is a literary women's fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the '80s and early '90s. She spent much of her childhood travelling to and from Australia to Europe, experiencing two entirely different worlds, yet feeling equally at home in both environments. She currently lives in Athens, Greece and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide, such as HarperCollins, Pearson Education and Macmillan Education. In addition to String Bridge, Jessica has published a book of poetry called Twisted Velvet Chains. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website. From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus.



Wednesday, November 9, 2011

...a VLOG? Oh no, no, no, no!

Yesterday I interviewed the multi-talented Jessica Bell right here on the blog.  If you missed it, I urge you to skip the nonsense to follow, and click this link to go directly to it, instead.  

Seriously, if you read on from this point, you won't come away nearly as educated and enlightened as you would had you read about Jessica.

You still here?  Okay, but just remember, you've been warned.

The thing is, yesterday was a terrible writing day.  I blame it on my dentist.  Honestly, after a 9 a.m. teeth-cleaning, who can relax and settle into to a productive 3k+ writing session?  Yeah, you probably could.  But me?  I'm a big baby when it comes to sitting in that dentist's chair.  That's why I couldn't concentrate on my WiP, and why I ended up doing THIS, instead:


Yep, hopefully today will go better than yesterday.  'Cause seriously, the last thing the world needs is more of this in it!

Thanks for indulging me, lol!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jessica Bell, Interviewed

It was at this time last year that Jessica Bell and I were working together in an effort to finish the first drafts of our novels-in-progress.  I was re-writing my NaNo novel and having trouble restructuring the plot with the new cast of characters I’d swapped for the less vibrant players in the NaNo version.  Jessica was drafting Bitter Like Orange Peel, her second novel which was underway but moving slower than she would have liked.  We swapped chapters every Friday, spent the weekends reading and critiquing, and then met on Skype for a live chat when we discussed our notes.  It was a wonderful time of honest collaboration during which I learned a lot about my own writing style and the art of penning the novel.  And I owe much of that to working with the genius mind of Jessica Bell. She is THE best!

About two and a half months into our writing schedule, Jessica caught the attention of Janice Phelps Williams, founding publisher for Lucky Press, LLC. Janice had requested the full manuscript of Jessica’s first novel, then titled Dead in the Corner of My Bedroom.   It was an exciting time, a hope-filled time when our fingers were crossed so tightly we lost feeling in our hands.  And finally, after Jessica worked her butt off to make changes in her MS that reflected the suggestions Janice sent her, her newly renamed novel String Bridge was contracted for publication through Lucky Press.

I’m so happy for Jessica’s success and it is with love and pride in my heart that I bring you the following interview with my dear friend, Jessica Bell.

1.       How did the idea for String Bridge first come to you?  Did it begin with a character, a theme, a story line, or something else?

I don’t think there is one thing from the first draft that is in the final version, so regarding ‘getting the idea,’ it wasn’t like an idea just hit me and I started writing about it. It was gradual, and developed more and more with each revision. The thing with this book is that I never really ‘focused’ on plot. It was more about the characters and their emotions and their interactions with each other. This book is very much centered on the ‘effect’ rather than the ‘cause.’ Even though music doesn’t define me as much as writing does, it is still a big part of my life. The inspiration for the book came about when I was thinking about a time in my life when music was all I ever wanted to breathe. Even though my priorities had changed then, I still wanted to write about the power music has over someone who is so passionate about it. But I think music could be replaced by any sort of passion in String Bridge, because basically the story is about needing something more than you need yourself.

2.       String Bridge is a triumph in character-driven storytelling.  And the accompanying soundtrack to the book is an absolutely brilliant idea, both as a way to heighten, for readers, the emotional impact of Melody’s conflicts, and as a marketing tool.  How did that project come to be?

The songs that appear in the book started off as poems. Then it occurred to me that I could create and produce an album for Melody. That’s when the idea for my book trailer came about after listening to a few of my mother’s songs on YouTube. The poems then turned into lyrics. When I finished the final revisions I sat down and wrote music to the four songs that appear in the book. Once those were done, I wrote six more songs to create Melody’s album. I’m hoping this album will create a little more interest in the book, than the book itself is capable of, as I can actually market the music to an audience that probably wouldn’t look twice at the book without the album existing.

3.       Such a brilliant idea!  Let’s talk more about the book, now.  So many times, an author slips a slice of her soul into her main character, shaping the character by drawing from her own perceptions and life experiences.  How much of your soul does Melody carry inside her?

It’s quite hard to say, to be honest. I could try and give you a percentage of how much of myself is in Melody, but I think I would always change my mind. I think every writer puts themselves into every character, but the similarities come through in waves which depend on various factors, such as mood, while writing. For example, I’m as emotional and passionate as Melody is. I’m as cheeky as Tessa is. Depending on the circumstances, I can get as cold and aggressive as Betty and Alex, and as passive and timid and obedient as James. I can sometimes be as boisterous as Heather and as caring and generous as Serena. I can even be quite selfish at times, which I think each and every character in String Bridge is as some point or another, and so is each and every person on this planet at some point in their lives. There is always going to be a piece of the author in every single book they write. And that cannot be avoided.

4.       We meet Melody when she’s in a very dark, low place in her emotional life.  How were you able to channel those emotions each time you sat down to work on the project?

Though touched by a few very dark moments in my life, it was mostly instinctual. There were times though, when I was writing, where I felt my instincts might be wrong. There were so many times I wondered whether what I was writing was too melodramatic. I didn’t want the book to become a soap opera. I really had to sit back during those moments and close my eyes and put myself in Melody’s shoes, and ask myself, “How would you react if your husband did this to you? How would it make you feel? Does this reaction suit Melody’s character?” Sometimes my possible reactions didn’t suit her character and I had to alter them accordingly, but trying to live it in my mind certainly helped. Personally, if I were in Melody’s situation, I wouldn’t have put up with as much as she did. I also probably would have slapped myself in the face and told myself to snap out of it and take a look at all the blessings I have in life.
Mind you, I can’t deny how many times I bawled my eyes out after writing this book. It certainly was taxing on my mental state. Sometimes I even felt myself slipping into her depression. I usually had to take a few days break to feel ‘normal’ again between rewrite sessions.

5.       I’m not surprised; there were scenes when I was bawling my eyes out too!  As much as an author can invent feelings and reactions for their characters, you wrote String Bridge at a time in your life before parenthood.  Life with children is a reality often difficult to imagine without direct experience.  What was it like creating four-year-old Tessa?  From where did you draw inspiration for her personality, mannerisms and word choices? 

I think I created her to be the daughter I hope to have. I’ve worked with kids her age before in a few English schools here in Athens, so I drew a few observations from that experience. But mostly it was guess work.  There were also a few times as I was writing when I thought about a home video my grandmother took of me singing in her garden when I was four or five. I guess you could say Tessa is a bit like I was as a kid.

6.       Mother-daughter relationships play important roles in this story.  Did the exploration of the dynamics between Melody and Tessa, and between Melody and Betty, become a cathartic experience for you?  Did their story lines reflect your own hopes or fears about parenthood?
Yes, it certainly did. I love and adore kids. I can’t imagine never having the chance to bring a child into this world. But ever since discovering I wanted to write, and doing so consistently, I haven’t thought about children so often. I’m always asking myself, do I really want to bring a child into the world if I can’t see myself sacrificing time for it? I haven’t answered that question yet. I know women think they can have it all. And I’m sure we can to some degree if we really put our minds to it. But there are only a certain amount of hours in a day and there’s always going to be something that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. I’m not sure I’m willing to struggle with that. Not yet anyway. Let’s hope my biological clock keeps ticking until I can finally take the plunge.

7.       Speaking of the time you consecrate to your craft, how long did it take you to write String Bridge, from beginning the first draft to completing the finished manuscript?

I spent about five years writing it because it went through about seven different revisions. Although it wasn’t the first thing I’d ever written. I was still learning along the way. And you know what? It still doesn’t feel finished to me. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas on how to improve it. That can be a bit annoying actually, because now it’s impossible. Ha!

8.       I can relate to that!  Is a story ever, truly, finished?? *shakes her head no* Everyone’s story about how they landed their book contract is different, but a common thread that connects everyone seems to be the emotional roller coaster ride of the journey.  What was your path to publication like, for you?

Full of tears and low self-esteem and realizations about my strengths and weaknesses, eureka moments, rejections, more tears, doubts, high self-expectations, not being sure if I could cope with all the let downs, but pushing through anyway. But one thing I’m very proud to say is that I never ever had one thought of giving up. It just wasn’t an option for me. It was the first thing I have ever ever ever wanted so much in my entire life. I wasn’t going to let it go over a few years of pressure.

9.      What’s next for Author Jessica Bell?  Any new projects you can tell us about?

My second novel, Bitter Like Orange Peel, is about a twenty-five year old Australian archaeology undergraduate named Kit, who doesn’t like to get her hands dirty. She feels misplaced and comes to the conclusion that meeting her father, Roger, will make some sense of her life, despite him being worth the rotting orange rind in her backyard. Well, at least that’s what she’s been conditioned to think of him by the three women in her life: Ailish, her mother—an English literature professor who communicates in quotes and clichés, and who still hasn’t learned how to express emotion on her face; Ivy, her half-sister—a depressed professional archaeologist, with a slight case of nymphomania, who fled to America after a divorce to become a waitress; and Eleanor, Ivy’s mother—a pediatric surgeon who embellishes her feelings with medical jargon, and who named her daughter after intravenous. Against all three women’s wishes, Kit decides to find Roger, but in doing so, discovers he is not the only rotten fruit.

My third novel, Muted, is set in Arles, France, in a totalitarian society where it is illegal to wear clothes. In some streets, it's also illegal to sing without accompanying instruments. Concetta, a famous Italian a cappella singer from before “the change,” breaks these laws. As punishment, her vocal chords are brutally slashed and her eardrums surgically perforated. Unable to cope with living a life without song, she resolves to drown herself in the river, clothed in a dress stained with performance memories from her hometown, Milan. But Concetta's suicide attempt is cut short as someone grabs her by the throat and pulls her to the surface. Is it the busking harpist, who encouraged her to feel music through vibration, acting as saviour? Or a street warden on the prowl for another offender to detain? From this moment, the reader will discover how Concetta came to be in this position, and what will happen to her after the suicide attempt.

Muted will explore a variety of themes such as overcoming loss, coping with mental illness and disability, dealing with discrimination, loss of freedom, inhibited self-expression, motivation to succeed, escaping oppression, expression through art and music, self-sacrifice, channelling the thoughts of the deceased, and challenging moral views and values.

So many projects in the works!  Best of luck with all of them, and everything the future holds for you.  Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and your stories with us!

Thank you so much for having me, Nicole!

Purchase links:


Amazon UK: (Coming soon)


Jessica's links:
String Bridge Website:

Jessica Bell is a literary women's fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the '80s and early '90s. She spent much of her childhood travelling to and from Australia to Europe, experiencing two entirely different worlds, yet feeling equally at home in both environments. She currently lives in Athens, Greece and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide, such as HarperCollins, Pearson Education and Macmillan Education. In addition to String Bridge, Jessica has published a book of poetry called Twisted Velvet Chains. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website. From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Beginning is aMAZE-ing

After three days of NaNoWriMo, I'm happy to say that at 5400+ words, I'm on track with my word count. (Of course, today I have a long run planned and I have to grocery I know I'll slip behind again before Monday. I'm not worried; you shouldn't be either. haha)

I'll tell you this:  Writing the beginning of a novel is ridiculously difficult for me.

Thank God for NaNo writing buddies, a group of whom I've been emailing with during the past couple days.  (*waves to Summer, Lola, Portia, JP, and Tara*)  I mentioned in an email how much I struggle getting the opening scenes down, and I was surprised to learn that many other writers battle the same thing.

The root of the problem, for me, is the evolution of my writer's journey, to date.  My path thus far has been paved with the short story.  Since 2007, I've been honing the skills necessary to write successful short fiction.  A short story focuses on one significant moment in time.  Due to the constrained space in which you're writing, you don't indulge in a great deal of exposition.  What the reader learns about the character is only what is necessary to understand his motivations and conflicts in that moment.  And the majority of expositional information comes to the reader through clever characterization clues you drop here and there, meant not only to enlighten the reader but also to encourage her connect-the-dots participation intended to heighten her reading experience.

Backstory info-dumping is a cardinal sin, in short fiction.

When I write the opening scenes of a longer work, I'm overwhelmed by the space I'm afforded.  The room I have to develop characters freaks me out.  I feel like Little Red Dude in front of that maze, up there.

Donald Maass warns in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook that one of the most common ways writers lose their readers is to bog them down with unnecessary backstory.  I'm quoting him here from page 141:

"Again and again in manuscripts I find my eyes skimming over backstory passages in chapters one, two, and even three.  Backstory doesn't engage me, because it doesn't tell a story.  It does not have tension to it, usually, or complicate problems.  However, once problems have been introduced, backstory can be artfully deployed to deepen them.  It can be particularly useful in developing inner conflicts."

This makes me feel much better, because it gives me permission to handle the opening chapters like short stories, sort of.  Also, part of my NaNo strategy included preparing scene cards on which I've written one summarizing sentence to guide my writing, so that I know what storytelling goals I want to achieve in each scene.  All good, all good.

Still, the first three scenes were slow going and, frankly, suck.  But, as my sweet friend Lola said in an email yesterday:

"Beginnings are hard...trying to get settled in to a new story is the hardest part. It's like working out or first you just don't wanna, muscles are cold, can't get a rhythm going...then you hit a zone.

You can't edit a blank page, so don't worry about your first scenes sucking.  Give yourself permission to suck and fix it later. I really believe we have to write ourselves into the story, to even find the REAL story. So ease on in and   let go of perfectionism for your first draft. Save that angst for a later pass. :)"

Thanks, Lola!!  What would I do without all the awesome support from my writing peeps??  And, I'm reminded of another thing:  I have a ten-mile training run planned for this morning.  Time to warm up those cold muscles and get into that zone.

Plus, that will give me an hour and a half to mull over the next scene and get ready for today's NaNo writing session!

Do you stuggle with the beginning too?  Any support, suggestions, or offers to send me presents are greatly appreciated.  (J/K about the presents!  Unless, you want to send something... :p) 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

String Bridge -- A Review

Jessica Bell’s debut novel String Bridge is the story of Melody, an Australian musician who put down her guitar to raise a family with her Greek husband. Four years later and living on his native soil, Melody realizes she’s become the empty, passionless shell of the person she once was. A return to music is the key to her salvation. But her struggle to decipher her dark feelings, to understand when they are surging from a place of honesty and when they are the result of her own fears or selfishness, threatens to turn all their lives upside-down. And when fate flings tragedy her way, she learns some bridges are easier to cross than others.

 I was mesmerized by this book. The narration is raw and unapologetic, from deep inside Melody’s complicated heart and psyche. Her fragileness and her egocentricity were exposed in a way that felt naked and truthful. I loved the way each scene peeled away another of Melody’s layers, allowing me to eventually understand her as well as she could understand herself.

 Melody’s relationships with the people in her life were as important to the story as her relationship with her music. The genius in Bell’s writing lies in her ability to show each character in authentic light and to therefore demonstrate one of life’s truths: no one is 100% right or 100% wrong in his/her convictions. Responsibility and culpability spin in cycles of blame and redemption in String Bridge, which left me with a healthy dose of pathos for every character, by the book’s end.

Bell writes with poetic flourish, her descriptions lush, poignant and intense. At the same time, her main character is quirky, oftentimes ungraceful and unpolished. The combination creates a style that is fresh, unique, and wholly intoxicating. This character-driven story that dives into the abyss of the human condition is a must-read!

I would be horribly remiss if I didn't mention how Jessica Bell set her first published book apart from this year's debut novels.  An incredibly creative and multi-talented woman, Jessica created and recorded a soundtrack of songs she composed and performed, available now through iTunes and Amazon.  I talked with Jessica about both String Bridge projects in an interview I conducted with her, which I will post here next week, on November 8th.  I hope you'll stop in for that!

Until then, here are several links where you can order your own copy of String Bridge and its soundtrack, Melody Hill, On the Other Side, sold separately.

Purchase links:


Amazon UK: (Coming soon)


Jessica's links:
String Bridge Website:

Jessica Bell is a literary women's fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the '80s and early '90s. She spent much of her childhood travelling to and from Australia to Europe, experiencing two entirely different worlds, yet feeling equally at home in both environments. She currently lives in Athens, Greece and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide, such as HarperCollins, Pearson Education and Macmillan Education. In addition to String Bridge, Jessica has published a book of poetry called Twisted Velvet Chains. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website. From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus.