Showing posts with label WIP. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WIP. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What's Up With Me (?)

I'm a Libra, and for me, life is all about balance. I'm in constant pursuit of it, off-kilter when I don't achieve it, and of the mind that true success comes with it. So, here's how elusive balance has affected me lately.

I have two passions, both which require enormous amounts of time and energy. One is writing. The other is running.

When I am fully engaged with one, there is not enough time or energy for the other. No matter how I've tried to rectify this, it continues to be true.

In January, I began training for a half-marathon. So, in January I stopped working on my WiP. I didn't mean to. I had full intention to continue writing. But it didn't happen.

The race was a little over a week ago, on March 18th.

Here's me corralled at the start line, waiting for the race to start.

My husband and kids took this shot as I ran past near the mile 9 marker.

And here I am with my kids, after completing the 13.1 miles in 2 hrs. 23 mins.

Now that the intensity of my training has eased up for the next couple months (my next half is October 21), I'm turning my attention back to my writing. All time and energy is swinging in the creative direction as I pull up my manuscript off its dusty cyber shelf. 

To fully facilitate my first draft success, I'm laying low and staying off the Internet as much as possible. Once a week I'll post a short blog here to talk about my week's work, if only to keep myself on track and accountable. I'll visit around the blogosphere, but if you don't hear from me you'll know it's not 'cause I don't love what you've said, it's just because I'm confining my written words to my book.

And of course, I'll be cheering on all you A-Zers from my quiet corner of cyberspace!

See you on the other side! 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Spark it up!

Yesterday, I sat in front of the dreaded blank screen. There's a scene I want to write. I have the scene mapped out on paper. I know its goals, its tone. But I can't "see" it yet. So, every sentence I typed, I backspaced over. (Shush! I know I shouldn't rewrite/delete/go back. First drafts should be forward, forward, forward motion. Duh.) And yet, I did it. Over. And over. And over...

I'd check Facebook and Twitter and my other cyberspaces of choice, then go back to the WiP. When I was tired of the blank screen, roughly every seven or eight minutes, the urge to check in again hit me. (Hey, someone may have posted an hilarious photo or thought-provoking link in the past five minutes.) Rinse and repeat. That was my Monday.

Today will be different.

I've packed my bags. Once I hit the publish button here, I'm off to the gym for some cross training. I'll change out of my damp clothes afterwards and into a pair of yoga pants and hoodie. Then I'm driving to an undisclosed location with no WiFi access, that resembles the setting of the scene I want to write. I'll record sounds, smells, feelings I get from the space. I'll take photographs. And, I'll write. I may not write the actual scene, unless that's the direction my inspiration takes me. 

At any rate, the screen will not be blank today.  

What are your writing plans? Doing anything proactive to spark new inspirations?


Monday, January 16, 2012

Scrivener ~ Perfect For Me

After the horror subsided of realizing I'd lost 75% of my current WiP, I faced the daunting task of trudging back to point zero and starting over. Since the work I lost was first draft drivel, I felt optimistic that this disaster would work in my favor. I'd write a better draft the second time around. I also decided it was time to try Scrivener, the writer's software about which I'd heard a lot of buzz.
Scrivener is a complete writer's studio for your computer. It's described on the company's website this way: "Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft."  I love Scrivener because it caters to my personal writing habits and offers solutions to process pitfalls I've stumbled over in the past.
As I'm sketching characters and imagining the main plot line of a new story, I think in terms of scenes. I like to have a loose outline of the major introductory scenes, the inciting incident, transitory scenes, and the climactic scene(s). As a scene idea comes to me, I scribble a few sentences on an index card. The cards go in sequential order, but I can rearrange them as new ideas come to me and the story's structure evolves. As I write my draft, I take the next card off the stack (or one from the middle, should I work out of order one day). Based on the notes on the card I know, going into the writing session, what my goals are for that scene. 

Luckily, after my WiP was lost, I still had all my scene cards. Scrivener has a Cork Board feature which I absolutely love. Here's how it works.

Every document you open in Scrivener is a page in a virtual binder. You imagine that each document also has an index card attached to it. The document is where you write the scene, chapter, dialog, significant moment, (or however you choose to construct your draft). The index card is where you write a short synopsis of the document's contents. This allows you to view the entire manuscript in synopsis form, via the Cork Board.

You can rearrange the scenes/chapters from the Cork Board, which will move them in the main binder at the same time. You can navigate through the manuscript from here, or view the Cork Board instead as a traditional outline. Your choice!

No more dropping the stack of index cards on the floor. And, you can add keywords to each card which allows you to search the growing manuscript for whatever you need: flashback scenes, scenes with a specific POV, scenes that take place in a certain year or setting, etc., etc. My favorite Cork Board feature though is the ability to add notes to each card. As I'm writing, an idea will come to me about a previous scene or a character trait I need to weave in at an earlier point in time. Scrivener allows you to move to the Cork Board and add notes to other cards with the click of one button. So much better for me than scribbled sticky notes cluttering up the edge of my computer screen, or comments to myself in random margins of a notebook I'll later have to furiously leaf through.

A few of the other wonderful features include:

Collections are arbitrary lists you create to pull sections of your manuscript together for viewing. For instance, you could create a collection of your main character's scenes. The collection will put only those scenes together, one after the other, allowing you to evaluate the strength of that character's arc, without altering their placements within the original manuscript.

Scrivener has a section in the "binder" for your research. You can import media files of all types, link web pages, and build your research files all in one, easily accessible place. You can split the screen and have research documents open side-by-side with the scene as you type, eliminating the need to bounce back and forth to reference dates, images, maps, sound bites, etc.

And perhaps most significant for me, Scrivener allows you to export your work in seconds as any file type you choose: .doc, .docx, .rtf, .xhtml, etc. There is also an auto-backup feature, and options to backup your work in multiple formats, as often as you like.

Some people may look at Scrivener and decide at first glance that it's too technical, too complicated to use. It isn't! If you can figure out Word, navigate through the toolbar tabs, and use many of those features, you can figure out Scrivener. Plus, there are useful video tutorials available for free.

Scrivener only costs $40 (for Microsoft users). In my view, that's money well spent! And there's a free 30-day trial.

If you're on the fence about trying Scrivener or you have questions, feel free to ask away. I'm no expert, but I've been using the software for several weeks and would be happy to share more of what I've learned about it!


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It's Gone; (almost) all gone...

I opened my WiP today and faced the ultimate, authorial nightmare:

Most of my novel-in-progress is GONE.Of the 25,000+ word manuscript, only 5,000 words remain.

How can this be? Where did it go?? So many thoughts coursed through my brain as I searched every folder. I looked everywhere from the Recycle Bin to Auto-Recovery files to files where it couldn't possibly be. It's nowhere. I'm still reeling from the shock.

I didn't actually have my MS saved on my hard drive. Some of you may remember a post about digital storage options I did a while ago in which I wanted to choose a back-up site for my computer files in case of a crash or fire, or whatever. I now use

My MS draft, as well as documents containing research, character sketches, timelines, etc., is stored in my Dropbox. But I'm a careful little girl, so I also save a copy of my files on a USB flash drive.

When I opened my draft today and realized only the first 5k words were there, I had three seconds of panic. And get this: Not only was 75% of the MS missing, but the scene headings were no longer properly formatted. Something scary had gone wrong. But then I remembered the flash drive. Breathe. Everything's going to be okay.

Nope. The copy on the flash drive was exactly the same, mal-formatted and with only the first 5,000 words. What the...?

Here's the only theory I can come up with that makes sense. I had to have accidentally highlighted a giant portion of my MS and unwittingly hit the backspace, then saved the damn thing. Then saved a copy of the damn thing to my flash drive. What are the odds?

So, the only attitude I can take is that it was meant to be. I have to accept that it happened with open arms, welcoming this chance to do it better -- write a more dynamic draft -- take what I know about the story and weave stronger vibes into it.

And review old lessons learned, and take in a few new ones:

Saving your work often during writing sessions is vital -- you never know when an unexpected power outage or system glitch will shut you down. 

Saving your work in more than one place is advisable -- if one copy is compromised, you'll still have others on which to go forward.

Check your whole manuscript over before you hit 'Save.' (If I'd noticed, using the Thumbnail option, that only 22 pages were there -- instead of 108 -- I wouldn't have clicked save!)

I will no longer keep all of my chapters in one long Word document. (I don't care how cool the Document Map feature is!) If I use Word, I will save each individual scene or chapter as its own document. That way, if I lose one document I won't be back at point zero (again).

I guess this is a perfect opportunity to consider downloading Scrivener. Anyone use that program? I'd love to hear what you like and don't like about it. Is it worth the money? Your thoughts are greatly appreciated!


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Up For Air

I'm popping my head through the surface of the writing pool to gulp some fresh air and say hello.  I've missed my blogging friends so much!  But the energy coursing through me for my newest writing project is high, high, HIGH and I am loving it.  Here's what I've been up to:

*  I'm deep in the planning stages of "Untitled WiP."  *note to self: Figure out a working title, at least!*

*  The characters have all shown up and are clamoring for my attention.  Some days, the greatest challenge is hushing one character so I can listen to what the other one is screaming at me.  Every new detail sends me in a scribble frenzy, trying to make bullet points of all the new ideas I'll need to expand upon, that have streamed out of that moment of inspiration.

*  One day, I stopped writing to massage my cramped hand when I heard the school bus outside.  My kids were home from school -- and I realized I'd been writing for FIVE hours straight!  That, my friends, has never happened to me before!

*  I've been researching on the Internet:  The first major turning point thrusts main character Piper Crow out of her regular life and jettisons her across the globe to the Central African Republic (CAR).  I lived in that country between 1994 and 1996, but a lot has changed there in the past fifteen years.  Also, the story will deal with characters who entered the CAR in 1960, fifty-one years before Piper was born.  I've needed to refresh my memory about the country's history, which I learned in preparation for my Peace Corps service but have since forgotten the specific details.  I want to weave CAR's historical past, with regard to the political and social climate at the time the country gained its independence from France, into those characters' backstories, as that storyline heavily impacts Piper's present-day life.

*  On the reading front, I'm mid-way through Jessica Bell's String Bridge!  Stunning book, so far!

*  Finally, I stumbled upon a wonderful YouTube series by Martha Alderson called How to Plot a Novel, Memoir or Screenplay.  I watched all 27 Steps and was guided and motivated by Martha's advice.  The series does not promote plotting in a strict sense, but rather provides a wealth of tips to help organize your thoughts and establish the rhythm of energy your book should have for the greatest emotional impact on the reading audience.  I especially liked Martha's down-to-earth, organic vibe in this entirely unscripted series.  If you are interested, here is the first Step.  If you enjoy it, you'll be able to follow the rest of the series from there:

And for anyone who'd like to see more photos from our extraordinary vacation on the Mediterranean Sea between Italy and Malta, I'd like to link my Facebook photo albums.  These links are for public viewership, but if you have any trouble viewing them and we aren't FB friends already, just send me a friend request!

Until next time, happy writing!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Consequences Tend to Snowball

I've learned a lot the past two weeks.  Holding on to ideas that I once thought were brilliant can be counter-productive.   But in facing the fact that they weren't working in the project, I had to embrace all the consequences that come with story-altering decisions -- and consequences tend to snowball.

First, there was the extensive outline I'd prepared for my WiP "Overcome."  Some of you may remember the posts I wrote about the SnowFlake Method of outlining.  (Way down on the right sidebar are the labels, if you're interested in reading past posts.)  I still think it's a wonderful way to flesh out your characters and plot, but I now see the flip-side:  If you decide a major change is necessary, such as changing an important character (her personality, her inner conflicts, and her occupation), then the plot must also change to accompany the new character arc.  In my case, 80% of my outline is now in the "cut" folder.

Thankfully, Shannon Whitney Messenger was inspired (there are no coincidences...) to write a blog post yesterday about her outlining process, which was for me the answer I was seeking.  Her approach is just detailed enough to guide her, while allowing the creative magic to flow.  It's the perfect blend of plotting and pantsing.  If you missed it, here's the link:  Outlining: Shannon Style

As I reworked my skeletal outline and wove what I have already written about the antagonist with what I was learning about the new protagonist, I noticed a theme emerging that had me and my muse holding hands and jumping up and down.  How exciting!  And in the days that followed, I realized the working title "Overcome" was no longer the right name for the story.

I have a new working title for the novel.  And during a writing break last night, I played around with it and mocked up a (silly) book cover.  Just for fun.  Here it is:

And here is the new protagonist of "Safe in Captivity":

Samantha Stiles is a high energy, athletic and ambitious woman who is passionate about her work with large cats at a prestigious zoo.  Exotic animals are easier to "save" than people, in her opinion, though her instincts push her to try.  She has her sights set on a permanent Curator position...

Enter Adriane Conrad, the thorn in Sam's side:

Adriane is the daughter of the zoo's Board of Directors President and heiress to his shipping and transportation fortune.  She's used to the jet-set lifestyle and operates under the assumption that she's entitled to whatever life has to offer.  Daddy doesn't think so.  He thinks she needs a job...

I haven't decided what "Safe in Captivity" antagonist, Ray Manners looks like.  He's a tough one.  I see him clearly on the inside, but his appearance continues to evade me.  I can't even decide on his age.  The search is on, though.  When I have met him face-to-face, I'll introduce you to him :))

And one more thing I've learned this week; well, been reminded of, at least.  In an exchange with Wendy Ramer she reiterated something I've lost sight of lately:  Writing is fun.  Sure, putting together a logical, exciting, conflicted and resolvable plot is hard and even mind-boggling at times.  But it's fun.  Right?  Yes.

Hope you're enjoying it too!  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kill Your Darlings

William Faulkner's famous quote, "In writing, you must kill your darlings," is widely interpreted to mean an author has to be willing to cut out the brilliant, wise or lushly descriptive passages that aren't working for the paragraph (or manuscript) in which they appear.  But last week, this interpretation broadened for me.

Anyone who remembers visiting my blog during Jen Daiker's Guess That Character Blogfest may remember the girl in the above photo. It's Julie Knotts, the original main character and protagonist of my current WiP.  One of my darlings.

I had to let her go.  She just wasn't coming to life.  As a character-driven author, I've been increasingly frustrated by the disconnect between Julie's character arc and the plot.  I couldn't bridge the two together.  And after months and months of failed re-starts, I've come to the conclusion that Julie is the problem.

Since I fired her, I've been brainstorming replacement characters.  I think I've found one.  Her name is Samantha Stiles.  She's vibrant, strong, beautiful, successful, and INTERESTING.  I like her.

Of course, the entire plot is changing  to accommodate this new cast member.  But there's new energy in my writing with the project metamorphosis.  It almost feels like a new book, which is a good thing.  When too much time goes by between when the story idea comes to you and when you finish the draft, you risk losing precious energy-driven momentum.  The story becomes lackluster.  Getting back that energy is difficult and sometimes impossible.

When I get to know Samantha a little better, I'll post a picture of her.  Until then, happy writing and best of luck to you and all your darlings!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tuesday Teaser

Work on my WiP is progressing. It's time to be brave and share an excerpt.

I'm interested in hearing how the pacing feels to a first-time reader. As a short story writer, I've worked hard in perfecting the craft of concise exposition, of only giving readers background information essential to the story's one significant moment in time. The voice of a novel, however, is entwined in the POV's internal perceptions, often stemming from his/her background and experiences. I don't have the experience yet in novel writing to know how much background information and internal perception is important and relevant in any given moment, without slowing down the pace. I pay a great deal of attention to this as I read other author's work. But when I sit down to write, ugh! Doubt seeps in. Your feedback on this point is greatly appreciated!

This is one page from Chapter One. As this is an excerpt from my WiP, it will only be posted two days :)


[Excerpt deleted.  Thanks everyone for your feedback!!]

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Genre Headache

As I work through the first draft of my WiP, I realize identifying a genre to describe my work will be an ongoing process. My style tends toward literary fiction, in that I explore the human condition through character-driven storytelling. I'm a fan of lush descriptions, a poetic voice. On the other hand, the plot I've devised is riddled with suspense. The stakes are high, life-threatening. Each character is plagued with conflict borne from psychological tensions. Oh yes, and there's romance in there too. Is there a blanket genre that covers all those characteristics?

Perhaps there is. Perhaps, I'm writing a work of commercial fiction. says, "Commercial fiction uses high-concept hooks and compelling plots to give it a wide, mainstream appeal...Like literary fiction, the writing style in commercial fiction is elevated beyond generic mainstream fiction. But unlike literary fiction, commercial fiction maintains a strong narrative storyline as its central goal, rather than the development of enviable prose or internal character conflicts." (Read all their genre definitions HERE.)

The verdict's still out. Hopefully, my beta readers (*waves to DL!*) will help me categorize my work before researching agents. And that, my dear friends, is still in the (near?) future.

Does your WiP fall gracefully under one genre heading? Have you found an umbrella genre that pretty much covers your work's characteristics? Do you wish there was a genre called "Other?"

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What Time Is It?

The chosen setting of a novel presents to the author hundreds of little description decisions that must be made throughout the plot in order to sell the authenticity of the story. A novel that takes place in 1998, for example, will be very different in many ways than one that takes place in 2008.

Take a look at developments in technology over the past ten years. Since the end of the '90s we've seen Internet usage demographics go from 'just tech-savvy urbanites' to 'everyone and her grandparents.' DVD players have all but replaced VHS. In 1999, most of my music was still on cassette tape. I didn't have time to buy all the CDs I wanted before MP3 music files became the rage. Televisions were still bulky boxes with 32-inch screens sitting atop consoles, and although the technology to stop, rewind, and digitally record live TV has been around for twenty-five years, TiVo didn't become a household word until the middle of the first decade after the Millennium.

I still haven't made a firm decision about the setting of my WIP. The original premise hinges on a random, computer-generated phone call by a telemarketer selling long distance telephone service. I could stick with that premise and set the novel in the early 2000s. If I do, then when the antagonist sets out to hunt down the protagonist with only her first and last name and an area code, I'll have to decide what devices he uses to locate her. The Internet? In 2001 and 2002, a "Google" search wouldn't pull up very much on an ordinary person in her early 20s. Even if you were Feeling Lucky. MySpace? Would my reclusive, thirty-something bad guy even have a computer at his house? And on the road, would he know how to find or use an Internet café? I'd have to figure out what other options he would have at his disposal.

Option number two is to move the setting to modern day. To do so, I'd have to tweak the premise. Do we even have telemarketers anymore? I get calls from credit card company affiliates wanting to sell me protection packages against identity theft. Maybe old Ray works for one of those? Does he have a laptop computer to take on the road with him? Does Julie have a FaceBook profile? (I tried to find a "Julie Knotts" on FaceBook, just for the fun of it. There were literally thousands of people who came up.)

At this point, the logic problems to work through seem endless. Clearly, depending on the setting I choose, I have more research ahead of me.

How does technology impact your current story? Do you have to think about it, or is it irrelevant? Do you have to create any technology of your own?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I commit...

If someone could photograph the workings of my brain, this is what it would look like. My thoughts are like the concentric paths of each ring. If I don't concentrate my efforts, force organization into my methods, the effect is the same as letting your eyes drift to the side of this image. My rings start spinning independent of the others and before I realize what's happened, I've lost two productive hours of my day.

In support of my natural and near-nonexistent left-brain talents, I'm devising a writing schedule for my WIP. I work best with looming deadlines, so here's my plan of action:

I have until I leave for France to complete and print out the Snowflake Method outline for Overcome. I leave on June 18, so:

By April 3: Step Six -- One week to expand one page story synopsis into a four-page synopsis.

By April 10: Step Seven -- One week to expand character synopsis into detailed character charts.

By May 1: Step Eight -- From four-page story synopsis, create scenes. [Plot scenes on spreadsheet and decide chapter breaks...(*right side of brain begins weeping*)]

By May 29: Step Nine -- Back to word processor, sketch each chapter by expanding each spreadsheet line into multi-paragraph description of that scene. Decide essential conflict of each chapter.

By June 5 (leaving me a week to pack): Revisions and chapter drafts. Each chapter draft/sketch will go on new page(s). I'll print them out and put them in a three-ring binder where I can resort chapter order and make revisions. This is the hardcopy I'll take to France.

There are several motivators built into this plan. For example, my in-laws don't have a computer or Internet connection. Any work I do on the project will have to be handwritten. I'll be on vacation so clearly writing won't be my first priority; however, taking into consideration the ten-hour roundtrip plane rides and la sieste -- two hour "quiet time" strictly observed in France between the noon-day meal and late afternoon -- I'll have opportunities to write.

Disclaimer: I know in my heart that I won't need this kind of strict planning for future novels. I may never sell this one. My objective is to get it written, to learn the process so next time my organizational skills can truly support my creative voice.

Do writing schedules work for you? How important are deadlines for your productivity?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Life is a Subway

A subway car is a microcosm of life. Its riders are a random sampling of society, the characters in that scene from life's novel. Look at this picture. Who are these people? What would happen if a disaster struck, if the train jumped its tracks the moment after this picture was snapped? The answer depends on the personalities of the people thrown together and what they carry with them in terms of priorities and their life experiences.

I'm a virgin novelist, as many of you know. I may be approaching this project backwards, but it's occurred to me that assembling my first cast of characters is a little like walking onto a subway train and picking a handful of people. As I get to know the strangers I've invited into my project, I'm reminded of a great truth in life: We're all struggling down our life paths.

Nobody has it easy in life. You can take five people, for example, and in the group have:

  • A successful Marketing Rep
  • A gorgeous fitness model
  • A creative storyteller
  • A well-known entertainer
  • A Martha Stewart-style homemaker

But within that same group and in shuffled order, you also have:

  • A person paralyzed by fear of failure
  • A woman who kicked her cheating husband out but is afraid to divorce him and truly be on her own
  • A drug addict, in and out of rehap
  • A blind person
  • A first-time mother transitioning to the new life of parenthood

If you were sitting on a subway train with these five people, you probably couldn't guess which description from each list went with what person (unless New Mom had Baby with her!).

As I flesh out the characters for my novel, I appreciate the importance of acknowledging all the successes and failures with which a character is dealing, within the timeframe of the novel. How a person acts and reacts in a scene is dependent on the combination of their conflicts and what they've experienced in life. I'm enjoying exploring what those things are and deciding how they will impact the plot of the novel.

What about you? When you start a project, are you more apt to know the personalities you need and build characters around them? Or are you like me and create characters who then reveal themselves in ways you didn't anticipate, so that you have to adapt the plot to accomodate them?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

No More Mumbling!

I'm deep in Step Five of the Snowflake Method, and I've had a revelation. Before I say what that revelation was, let me start by saying this: Even though the Snowflake Method is a very structured process for plotting my novel, there is a very real and necessary requirement for writing by-the-seat-of-my-pants.

Step Five asks me to "Take a day or two and write up a one-page description of each major character and a half-page description of the other important characters. These 'character synopses' should tell the story from the point of view of each character."

Here's my revelation: One reason my project stalled was I didn't know what was going on with my minor characters. I have two major players, Julie the protagonist and Ray the antagonist. The complete cast of major and minor characters includes nine personalities, five of which up to this point have been (patiently?) waiting in the wings to be called out on stage for the first time.

All this time, I've mulled over Julie and Ray's stories, what they want abstractly and concretely, their goals and the conflicts standing in their way. The ideas I have for the other characters were partially fleshed out, at best. I realized today how much this has contributed to my standstill.

Today, I was a full-fledged "pantser." I started with Providence Maiday, a character whose role in the plot I've vaguely known, though recognized for its importance. With no expectations I let my fingers fly. I wrote in her voice, explaining her part in the story as she sees it. I learned so much about her! An hour later, I had channeled four paragraphs about her life before her entrance in my novel, and found out what makes her tick. Then I moved on to the next character...

Story threads are emerging. Sub-plots are forming in my brain. Logic problems are working themselves out. It's exhilarating!

It was a lot like learning the real lyrics to La Bamba. I always sing that song when it comes on the radio. Its infectious melody and catchy tune suck me in every time. I sing the first two lines and then mumble the rest. And that's exactly what I've been doing with my novel!

I've been singing the two main characters and mumbling over the rest of the cast.

And that is why the Snowflake Method is working for me. It's given me the structure I need to focus my thinking, in a way I haven't been able to do on my own. My creative flow hasn't been dammed up -- just the opposite! Things are flowing again, filling up the dried creek beds and rushing toward the next bigger body of water. And, it's a lot of fun!

In honor of singing the whole song of my novel, I'll leave you with the actual words to La Bamba!

Para bailar La Bamba
Para bailar La Bamba
Se necessita una poca de gracia
Una poca de gracia
Para mi, para ti, ay arriba, ay arriba
Ay, arriba arriba
Por ti sere, por ti sere, por ti sere
Yo no soy marinero
Yo no soy marinero, soy capitan
Soy capitan, soy capitan
Bamba, bamba
Bamba, bamba
Bamba, bamba, bam
(repeat whole thing twice and toss in a guitar solo)

Have a Wonderful Weekend!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Big Fat Patchwork Novel

We've heard a quilt is a metaphor for life so many times that it's become cliché. And I try to avoid using cliché I'll put on it my own twist and use it anyways to explain why I'm struggling so much with my WIP.

This quilt was the first I'd ever attempted, my debut textile project. As you can see, I didn't start out sewing a small, crib-size quilt with a simple four-block pattern. Instead, I chose a complicated nine-patch block, of which five patches were constructed from tiny triangles. I never considered a crib quilt -- I skipped right to queen size. And, I added to the original pattern, creating two additional borders (the skinny yellow border and the border that's a single row of stars were my ideas). As I struggled with my WIP outline this week, I realized that my creative methods are the same, regardless of the medium I'm working with. It's surely a mild form of arrogance, or perhaps an inability to know my own boundaries, but I've never been able to accept myself as a novice.

Short stories are easier for me to write. I'm comfortable dealing with one significant moment in time. Transitioning to the format of a novel is brand new territory for me. But like my big fat first quilt project, I've thrown myself into the deep end of the creative pool.

Rather than construct a linear plot that fits into a basic three act formula, I'm working with two distinct storylines. Two strangers, dealing with the conflicts in their lives, are fated to cross paths after a computer-generated phone call puts them on a collision course. Their lives don't intersect until midway through the book. Until then, chapters go back and forth, sometimes narrated by one character in one part of the country, and other times narrated by the other in a different city, so that the reader understands and sympathizes with both by the time they arrive at their crossroad.

I've struggled with tying their two separate experiences together. I'm worried the book will come across fractual, with odd patchwork pieces that don't fit together. My answer to this quandary is theme. Both characters, as different as their circumstances and as polar opposite as they are on the morality scale, are connected by the theme(s) I'm exploring throughout the book.

A novice novelist? Me? (*chuckles condescendingly, as if to herself*) You must have me confused with someone who doesn't know what she's doing.

Do you ever feel like your creative ideas exceed your skills? Do you think big and then scale down? Or does your confidence grow as you write, so that your end result is more successful than you imagined it'd be?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cool Contest @ Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe!

Shannon Messenger at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe has surpassed the 400 follower mark! To celebrate, she's running a cool contest that you are going to want in on!!

Listen to the prize...a SIGNED copy of Becca Fitzpatrick's New York Times bestseller Hush, Hush

The drawing will be on March 26th -- SIGN UP TODAY BY CLICKING HERE

And now, because I'm so happy to have made progress on my WIP, after weeks of agonizing writer's block, I want to share this goofy-ass pic with you! Anne at Piedmont Writer was my inspiration, after writing a post yesterday about the tremendous creative gush she enjoyed while working on her new WIP. Something about what she shared struck a chord with me, doors in my head swung open, the fear was dispelled, and IT FELT GREAT!!

[Update: Anne let me know that Sarah over at Falen Formulates Fiction inspired her with the idea to spread out scene cards across her table and plot out some of her novel. I've been reading Sarah's awesome blog for months, and I love her quick wit and creative voice. Especially fun are her Friday posts, when she makes up words and defines them for us. Hilarious! If you don't follow Sarah yet, shoot over there and say hello!]

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tuesday Teaser

It's Tuesday, the day I share an excerpt from my WIP, Overcome. Below is from an early chapter. Enjoy!
Julie heard a metallic screech from below as she gained the landing, of another train pulling into the station. A steady stream of chill October wind blew down from the street above and whipped Julie’s straight blonde hair away from her face. With nowhere to go, the gale slammed into a cold concrete corner, trapping the dead leaves gathered there in its blustering eddy. Julie headed for the last stretch of escalators, checking her wrist watch, as had become her habit, to time the long ride up the mechanical staircase to the top. It was a silly little game, but it gave her sleep-deprived mind something else to concentrate on and forced her memories of last night’s horrors into temporary retreat.

Near the top of the escalator, she twisted to look down toward the fare card machines, shrunken now by distance. Her eyes fell on the man riding at the escalator’s halfway point. From his upturned face, piercing eyes peered from under the brim of his fedora, locked on her. Julie faced forward, and a sudden gust stole the air from under her nose. He was the man who’d been seated next to her, who’d spoken to her on the train. With a sharp inhalation of icy air, she thought back. She’d stood as the train pulled alongside the platform. The man had remained in his seat, as if he weren’t detraining. Julie had had to step over him. Unease was prickling the hairs on her neck. She was still new to the city, but she told herself she should trust her instincts. Something just felt wrong about seeing the man on the escalator when he clearly hadn’t intended to get off at her stop…or did he? Her weary mind sought to excuse her questions. Maybe he was unfamiliar with this part of the city and didn’t realize until the last minute that this was his stop? Perhaps his plans had suddenly changed? She glanced at her watch as she stepped off the escalator and onto the concrete sidewalk. Ten minutes, ten seconds. Not bad, by D.C. Metro standards, she thought. But the echo of another thought reverberated in her mind. Perhaps his plans had suddenly changed.

With a brisker pace than her fatigued legs preferred, Julie turned and headed north up Connecticut Avenue. Her apartment was four blocks from the Metro Station. Even if she could maintain this speed it’d take her seven or eight minutes to get there. And she wanted to get there as soon as possible.

Thirty feet from the escalator entrance the traffic light turned red, forcing Julie to halt at the intersection. She glanced over her shoulder and dread spread through her chest and squeezed her heart. The man in the fedora had arrived at street level. He scanned the south side of Connecticut Ave., and then turned his sweeping gaze north. His survey stopped cold when his eyes fell on Julie, and without looking away, he began to walk toward her. Julie’s head snapped forward, feeling a balloon of panic burst in her gut. Just across the intersection, her darting eyes spied the pastry shop with its glowing sign lit by wavy orange heat lines rising from a garish neon blue muffin. A shrill ringtone shattered the air next to Julie and a startled yelp escaped her lips. The woman to Julie’s right didn’t notice. She glanced at her phone, smiled, and flipped it open. “Stephanie! Great to hear from you…”

Julie stared at the woman’s smiling profile as a momentary sense of calm washed over her. Stephanie. A sign from Stephanie. I should go to the bakery; I’ll be safe there, thought Julie. Maybe it was silly to think her sister was sending her messages from beyond, but so what? The man had to be just feet from her now, only the crowd of pedestrians preventing him from reaching out and grabbing her. Her heart pounded at the thought as the light changed. She bounded off the curb and dashed across the street. Moments later, she slipped into the bakery to the welcoming chimes of little bells hung above the door.

“Good morning,” a robust woman behind the counter called out.

Blindly, Julie moved in the direction of the woman’s voice, watching the whole time over her shoulder and out the storefront windows. The man in the fedora appeared, walking slowly, peering inside. Julie reached the counter but didn’t turn when the woman addressed her again.

“Miss, is everything okay?”

The man with the fedora slowed his pace, looked in with the pinched expression of a game show contestant who's blurted the wrong answer. Or was that the strained look of someone tempted by the rich smell of coffee but running too late to stop? The moment was too fleeting to sort through. She thought she saw one side of his lip curl up into a smile, (or was it a sneer?) before he walked on and out of view. Only then did Julie release her held breath.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Why Fact Is Important In Fiction

Yesterday, I learned a great deal about my WIP's protagonist, JK. More specifically, I realized her occupation -- which is important to her central conflicts -- won't work. I have to scrap most of her scenes and go back to revise her character arc outline.

You see, JK is deeply affected by a death that occurred in her early childhood, and her sub-conscious obsession leads her to ignore her true passions and pursue a career as an end-of-life caregiver.

At least, that was the plan until yesterday. I'd scheduled a meeting with a hospice nurse whose daughter and mine are in the same class. She in turn invited her collegue, and the three of us sat down at the private care facility they operate. I'd arrived prepared with fifteen or so questions to guide me through the interview.

I needed to understand how patients come to be under their personal care, and what exactly their jobs entailed. But those things weren't what I was most interested in learning. The questions I couldn't wait to ask were: What was it like the first time you witnessed a patient die? Do you become emotional when some patients pass? What's the worse death you've ever witnessed? Morbid, right? As I'd anticipated, the direct experiences they shared with me shed light on how I can craft JK into the character I envision her to be.

Unfortunately, I also realized that JK is too young to be a hospice nurse. I see her nearing her mid-twenties, at that confusing time in a person's life when she must face her childhood demons or resign herself to a lifetime under their oppression. The nurses told me it's unheard of for a nurse straight out of school to be hired by a hospice organization. There must be a minimum of clinical experience in a hospital setting, they said. I learned this when they responded to this question: What personality characteristics do you possess that helps you the most in your job as a hospice nurse? They both answered, "Self-confidence." During follow-up questions, they explained the patient's family members look to the hospice nurse as the expert, the one who garners their sense of security at a time when they feel helpless and frightened. A hospice nurse calls all the shots, relying on her ability to quickly assess a situation and prescribe a course of action. Unlike a hospital nurse, who isn't allowed to change a Band-aid without a physician's order. They both agreed that a nurse fresh out of school is simply unqualified to perform the tasks thrown at a hospice nurse.

So, I have some decisions to make. Either I have to alter JK's age so that she's worked in the field long enough to be a hospice nurse (which undermines most of what I already know about her), or I have to change her career path. Perhaps she's finished undergrad work and taking a year off before nursing school? During that time, maybe she's working as a Home Health Aide in a hospice environment. No matter what, I have a lot of rewriting to do.

One thing is for sure: Yesterday, I felt like a novelist. Conducting research was exciting and enlightening. I captured sights, smells, and sounds from the facility. I talked briefly to two of the hospice patients. I've been invited by the nurse to follow her on rounds one day next week, where I'll record as many descriptions and emotions as possible.

What kinds of research do you do for your novels? What tools do you bring along: notebook and pen, audio or video recorders, laptop computer, camera? Do you have any advice for me as I continue my research?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tuesday Teaser

I've seen around Blogger other writers who post a snippet of their WIP on Tuesdays. I love reading their excerpts and I thought I'd give it a shot today. I tried to trace the origins of Teaser Tuesday, to link to the blog of whoever came up with the idea, but I didn't get far. If anyone knows who I should credit the idea with, please let me know!

In the meantime, here is a peek into the chapter that introduces the story's antagonist:

Ray Manners twitched, tossed an arm across his body where he knocked a pack of cigarettes off the nightstand. His forehead creased then relaxed as the dream unfolded.

Young Ray sat stock still in the icy water of a deep, claw foot bathtub, his stare concentrated on the closed door. Peals of laughter from downstairs rang out in waves, sound washing over itself, giving little Ray the impression that the house was full of people. But he knew he wasn’t hearing the joyful timbre of friends enjoying an amusing anecdote; it was not the noise of merriment at all. There was, in fact, only one other person in the house besides Ray, and the shrill tone of her laughter smacked of asylum clamor. Had it been where it belonged, the racket would have reverberated impotently off padded walls instead of frightening a defenseless little boy. The palpable silence of the bathroom was contracting under mounting pressure from the mad hilarity wafting up the stairwell, growing nearer every moment. The meager door was as useless at preventing the cadence of insanity from reaching his ears as it was going to be at forbidding the entry of its producer once she came for him. And she was coming for him.

Ray’s eyes shifted for an instant away from the door to the high window, but snapped back; he feared being taken by surprise when it flew open. His heart hammered in his chest and despite the chilly water he sat in, beads of perspiration formed above his lip. His instincts screamed at him to flee, but his rational mind countered that there was nowhere to run. Suddenly the laughter stopped, and the air became still as the surface of the bathwater. The vacuum of silence sucked the breath from his lungs, forcing him to take quick, shallow breaths. In the stillness he dared to hope, for a fleeting second, that his aunt had left the house. But hope was for the foolhardy. Without warning the door swung and met the wall behind it with a sickening crack.

Aunt Ethyl stood in the doorway, swaying ever so slightly as if moved by an unseen breeze. Anyone who had heard the crazed laughter moments before would never guess this woman was capable of making such sound. Her dour expression seemed out of sync with the vacant look in her eyes; as if one person was looking out but another was reacting to what she saw. Ray didn’t speak, but the water he sat in was now disturbed by tight ripples of despair. A drop of perspiration leaked from under his hair and ran down his back. Aunt Ethyl seemed to hear it hit the water, for at that moment the focus returned to her eyes and she settled them on Ray. She raised her arm and Ray followed its length to the object she held in her fingertips. Light bounced off the tip of the dressmaker’s pin.

“No, Auntie Ethyl. Please, no,” Ray whimpered softly. He knew better than to speak too loudly, experience taught him that things were worse when he raised his voice.

“I must, Ray. I must take care of you. There is bad blood in your veins, Ray. But we’ll get it out. Don’t you fret, now. Auntie will get it out.”

Ray shot bolt upright in the bed; sweat covered his six-foot frame and soaked the sheet twisted tightly around his waist. Disoriented and panicked, he drew gulps of air into his lungs, struggling to quench a thirst for calm that would not come. The nightmare had been vivid and he distrusted the muted colors of darkness as belonging to reality. The gloomy room came into focus, and the dream retreated to a safer distance. Until tomorrow night, Ray thought grimly, dragging his fingers through his thinning hair...


Thanks for reading!