Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays

I haven't blogged in a bit here. I can blame it on the rain, or the lethargy after finishing NanoWriMo, but mostly it's because I haven't had anything to say regarding the craft. However, today, I do, and I present to you:

Social networking and the Writer.

I like going to the zoo. Who doesn't? The zoo has many critters behind fences, nets, and glass, and sometimes I come away from a zoo visit wondering really, who is being protected from whom. It's an interesting anthropological exercise also, going to the zoo. I watch the critters, and I watch the people who watch the critters, and I'm pretty sure that someone watches me but I can't catch them out of the corner of my eye when I spin around.

In a way, writing is like going to the zoo. I watch and then write from my experiences. But not my experiences really, more like the experiences that I imagine that the meerkats imagine that I have.

It's the holiday season now. There are office parties to go to. What that means is dressing up to go to the zoo. Only now the viewers and the viewees are separated by cocktail dresses and punchbowls. We eat, drink, and then try to leave before the dividing line gets too blurred and we end up howling with the rest.

And then, once the alcohol- and food-induced haze has faded, and I can once again remember my name and address, I will sit down and I will write.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

If Life Were A Romance Novel….

Reality stinks. It really stinks. You wake up in the morning and think about how much you don’t want to go to work. Then, you look at the ceiling and realize that if you want to keep the ceiling over your head, you have to go. Sigh. Next, you arrive at work and sit in a boring meeting or listen to your boss talk about things that give you heartburn for eight hours, working between interruptions. If you’re single, you go home to an empty house or a houseful of roommates that you would really like to avoid. If you’re married, you go home to a husband and his dirty socks or to your kids and their litany of complaints. See reality stinks. Ok, ok….this might not be an everyday experience, but it is one that happens way too often for most people’s comfort.

Life would be better if it were a romance novel.

Every girl would have a hero and a happily ever after. Money wouldn’t be an issue. Small business owners wouldn’t have to worry about payroll or health insurance for their employees. Good looking, protective, honorable, single CEOs would be all over the place like autumn leaves. Ranchers and farmers would always have plenty of money. Women would always look like a million bucks and if they didn’t, the good looking CEO wouldn’t care. Love and marriage means forever.

Life would be better if it were a romance novel….or would it?

Every girl would have a major problem. A malicious stalker. A kidnapped child. A business about to be taken over. A fiancĂ© who isn’t what he seems. An evil mother or sister that wants to cause problems. The world would be in constant peril from unseen forces, sometimes supernatural unseen forces. Every hero would have had a troubled childhood or been scarred forever by a woman. Yes, he has a successful career, but he doesn’t have anything that matters. He’s sworn off marriage, but he doesn’t really mean it. He’s just waiting for the right woman. Doesn’t that sound like a barrel of laughs for the poor unsuspecting heroine to deal with? Doesn’t she have enough problems with the malicious stalker, kidnapped child, failing business, and evil mother?

Suddenly, reality doesn’t seem to be quite that bad….

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Redecorating Your Brain

With the successful completion of yet another NaNoWriMo by all the members of the TriMu, I thought this entry would be appropriate. Someone recently asked me "How do you go about writing a story?" and you know if you ask a novelist a question like that, you get . . . well, you get a novel.


The idea flies into my brain. It's shiny and cool to the touch. It glows with an inner light that fascinates me. I find myself staring blankly at it while I should be doing real-world things like working or sleeping or driving.

The idea begins to redecorate my brain. It asks to be taken on a tour of my mind, so it can steal furniture from other rooms. It also likes to travel with me and steal from the rest of my life. Feeling insecure at work? Great! Let's put that in the character portraits. Listening to an interesting accent? That will go well in the conversation nook. Reading the story of Jacob's ladder to heaven? Fantastic! Let's make that into a lovely metaphor for the coffee table.

Soon the idea has filled its room in my brain so full we can't see each other through all the stuff. The idea suddenly discovers something. It is claustrophobic.

There is a frenzy to organize. We go through all the idea's junk, trying to find patterns in the piles and piles of objects it has collected. I try to take notes, to categorize, to plot out a diagram of the room as it should look. I write on post-its, 3x5 cards, spreadsheets, but the lists are just as messy as the room itself.

"That's it!" I say. "Let's just start working and see what happens."

The process moves slowly, and my friendly idea refuses to help. All it does is sit there looking sulky. It doesn't shine. It doesn't glow. Every day it begins to look more and more like the proverbial pebble in the proverbial shoe. I match feats with Psyche's mythic moving of the sand pile one grain at a time.

Finally I make the room appear a bit more like a room, and less like an overflowing storage unit. There are picture frames on the wall, empty, but on the wall. I place two mismatched chairs in the corner for a conversation nook. I find the coffee table--no metaphor, though. Where is that blasted metaphor?

Giving up seems like the best option. My brain's a disaster. That stupid idea stole all the best parts of me and jumbled them all up. The idea itself has lost all its luster. I wonder if it was ever shiny at all. The story room is worse than ever. At least the piles of junk held more potential than this. What a waste of time.

I leave the room. Pulling the door shut behind me, I say a soft goodbye to my idea. Then I see it. On the floor, by my shoe. My idea, all dull and tarnished, is carrying the metaphor. The idea holds the metaphor up to the light of the blinking fluorescent bulb. They melt together. They merge. The hallway fills with light as my idea shines again--brighter than before.

Smiling, I pick it up and go back into the room. We have work to do.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Trailing Off . . .

I usually try to post craft topics to the Tri Mu blog, but I finished copy edits not too terribly long ago, so I’m in a technical mood—humor me.

This is probably something everyone already knows, but I didn’t until the copy edits came in, so I’ll share. Did you know that Microsoft Words default treatment of ellipses is incorrect?

For those unsure what an ellipsis is, Wikipedia defines it as “series of marks that usually indicate an intentional omission of a word or a phrase from the original text.” Fiction writers use it most commonly to indicate a character trailing off.

When writing in Word, the autocorrect option automatically shrinks an ellipsis into three tight little dots, so I always assumed that was correct. Apparently not. Once I received my copyedits, I learned an ellipsis has space between the dots . . .

For me, space period space period space period space is not a very natural thing to type, not to mention the spaces create the possibility the ellipsis can be broken over lines. These two issues make for a frustrated author. The good news for me (and hopefully soon for you,) is that fellow Tri Mu Darlene taught me a trick to make non-breaking spaces. (Yes, non-breaking spaces, isn’t that cool?) Then, to make things even easier, I figured out how to change the autocorrect feature to add these non-breaking spaces every time I type an ellipsis.

Yes, I’m going to share.

Non-breaking spaces: If you are using a PC and hold down SHIFT and CONTROL then hit SPACE you will create a non-breaking space. (You will probably have to turn on the formatting marks to see the difference.)

Correcting AutoCorrect: Select AutoCorrect Options from the menu. Under “Replace” type in your three periods like you would when writing and then under “With” use your non-breaking spaces to put in the correct . . . . Save. Now when you type an ellipsis it should automatically change to include the proper spaces. Easy stuff!

Well, I hope that helps! Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Building Mystery

Since this is my first week of Nano and I must conserve precious words for my driveling novel, I wrote this blog entry a while ago and saved it. Enjoy! It's time for me to get back to my friendly chickens, flash flooding and spontaneous combustion. Oh my!

Building Mystery

I've been reading through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the fifth time, trying to pick up cues for how to write a great children's fantasy novel. The craft skill I admire most in the Potter books is J.K. Rowling's ability to build a mystery that I cannot figure out that (usually) feels completely right at the end of the novel. This is the desire of all mystery writers, and Rowling has a gift for it. I would like to be able to set up a story just as effectively, so I decided to reread the book with an eye for technique and craft (I just enjoyed the ride the first four times I read it). Here are some observations I have made so far during this critical reading:

POV: With a few minor exceptions (such as the first chapter and Harry's first Quidditch match), Rowling uses an effective close third. We stick with Harry throughout the book. We watch events unfold as Harry does, and his reactions filter our understandings of them. His vision is the lense through which we see the world. This would also be possible with a first person POV, but I think third gives Rowling a little more flexibility for laying the groundwork of the plot. She has greater ability to misdirect, and drop hints that Harry may not notice. This has the added benefit of giving the reader a "special knowledge" Harry doesn't have but never the full picture that a Omniscient view would provide. It also gives the reader the opportunity to side against Harry if we chose to agree with other characters who think Harry is being an idiot about something (this was especially helpful in Order of the Phoenix).

Red Herrings: Red Herrings (or white if you prefer, I hear they have a different flavor) are the diversionary tactics that writers insert into their novels to distract the readers from what is actually going on. Severus Snape was a brilliant red herring for Rowling. That boy put red herrings on top of red herrings as the series progressed. In the first book, Snape was Rowling's diversion from Quirrell. As Quirrell said at the black moment scene, "He looks the type, doesn't he?" Harry assumes Snape is bad because Snape looks bad, and that clouds his vision regarding everything Snape does. Because readers are travelling this road through Harry's POV, we assume that Harry must be right, so we look for hints that prove Smape's guilt. And Rowling obliges us liberally. The three major ways Rowling weaves red herrings into her story are through rumors that Harry hears from other people (i.e. "everyone said that about him"), through emphasizing Harry's own suspicions (i.e. "Harry was sure he didn't look him in the eye"), and through including the herring in the midst of a list of real information, thereby giving it equal weight as the actual facts.

The facts of the story cannot come to light until the very end, but a writer must hint at them before then. Readers need to have seen the truth long before they realize it. It's a satisfying feeling for a reader to say at the end of a book, "I knew it! I just didn't know I knew it." Rowling drops hints throughout Sorcerer's Stone but she uses several techniques to shroud them from view. First, she hides them in the midst of action. If a lot of crazy stuff is going on all around Harry, then the reader will gloss over a strategically placed mention of, say, Professor Quirrell. Second, as mentioned, she uses red herrings to divert attention. If she gives a red herring the same emotional and story weight as a fact, the reader will either not know which fact to believe, or he or she may miss the truth entirely while hunting Snape. A third way Rowling masks her facts is through hiding them, dare we say it, in plain view. If she treats the information that Quirrell has been seen at the entrance to the third floor corridor like he is haunting the halls, but no one knows why, then the reader is primed to think this is important. However, when she mentions off hand that Quirrell rescued Ron and Harry from an angry Filch outside the entrance to the corridor, then the reader skims right over the information without paying it much attention.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Nanoween!

I'm not ready for November. The noveling is careening into my world and all I want to do is take a breather. Not a good sign....

Anyway, I'm all dressed up in my bard queen outfit. I'm fighting the reality at work today! And His Highness, the King of High Maintenance is showering all the Office Slaves with chocolates. Yum yum yummy.

What costume are you wearing for Nanoween (or Halloween for the rest of the country)?

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Needle in the Haystack: Research

From the title, you probably think I'm going talk about searching out elusive information. Maybe even where I like to look or my favorite resources. Well, I hate to disappoint, but I'm not talking about finding the needle in the haystack. I'm talking about hiding the needle.

Okay, just to be clear, in this instance, the haystack is a manuscript, and the research is the needle. Why in the world would we hide our research?

Well, quite simply, writers learn everything they possibly can about a subject (especially if they have a tendency to get hooked on research--and it is a great procrastination tool if you are not careful) but the reader does not want the story to stop as the writer informs them of all the cool stuff learned during research. They want to absorb the necessary bits and move on.

So why the needle metaphor? Surely the reader needs to know more than that?

Sometimes, yes. Many times, no.

For instance, in Once Bitten the main character can pick locks. When I started writing this book I knew only the obvious about locks: that the ridges on the keys matched up with something inside the lock. Not so helpful. I spent many, many hours online reading wikis and "how to" guides about locks and lock picking. I learned about the pins inside locks (the average house lock has a double row of 6.) I learned about different picks, the obligatory tension wrench, and different methods for manipulating pins. I've never held lock picks, but, in theory, I have a pretty firm idea how to go about picking a lock. (I'm obviously hitting only general points here because well...this is not a paper on lockpicking. ^_^)

What happened to the information I gathered from my hours of research? I used it in about three lines of the manuscript. That's it. Just enough to establish credibility and be clear to the reader.

How much is too much, too little? That is a tough one, and one of the values of critique partners. If they get confused, you need more. If the scene drags, it's time to cut. After all, you don't want to throw an anvil in your haystack--an info dump will blend in about that well. So, dig in and do your research. Then refine it to the finest, sharpest needle, and hide it nice and deep in your manuscript. Your reader will thank you.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tick tock, tick tock

Ahh the joys of October, that last month of sanity before the delightful madness of NaNoWriMo!

Today I shall report on one particular joy of October: realizing that you have no coherent plot to expand, that what you actually have is a collage of mental images and proto-characters floating around in a virtual cauldron, and that November is getting closer much faster than the rules of physics should allow.

This particular joy results in a high pitched, in concert, keening from the winged taloned ferrets who kicked the penguins out of your creativity center at the end of September. This keening makes it difficult to remember 1) how to tie your shoes and 2) what exact actions allow a banana to be eaten sans peel. Happily, banana peels are supposed to be good for you.

H'mmm... on reflection, perhaps that isn't quite what you thought of when you first read the word "joy." But consider the other option: a perfect plot appears in your head, complete with beginning, middle, and end. You have the main characters fully fleshed out; the rising action, the black moment, the revelation, the redemptive moment, the climax and the denouement. You even have sub-characters and sub-plots galore. And you CAN'T write until November begins. Now that really doesn't sound like joy, does it?

That's what I thought too.

Enjoy the keening. Let it form the backdrop of relaxing with in front of the fire over which the cauldron is hung. Stir your plot soup a bit more, take a sample out every couple of days, add a pinch of desperation and a smidgen of world destruction/ninjas/unrequited love/insert your choice here. You have 14 or so days left, and something is bound to coalesce by then.

I promise.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Bard Queen - Part 3

The doors opened to a dank hallway that smelled strongly of moldy socks. One of the dingy yellow florescent lights flickered from a bad connection. A tilted direction sign in front of the elevator showed a faded left arrow and the words "Incantation Technology."

Office Wench raced through the halls. The air seemed lighter in the dungeons, but she was still panting when she reached the Helpdesk. Reception Witch didn't look up when Office Wench gripped the edge of the desk and asked, "I need to see the Sage."

"The who?"

"The Sage. He's from Truth. I need his help to..." Office Wench stopped when Reception Witch glared at her over purple-rimmed reading glasses. "To look at my Mail Merge Magic. It's not working right."

"The Sage, huh?" She tapped a button on her phone, "Brown Noser, you know of any IT Guy called the Sage?"

"That's the crack pot in D875. He's a real piece of work! Always got his head in the clouds!"

Office Wench didn't stop to listen to the platitudes Brown Noser was venting. She knocked an IT Guy and his stack of laptops into the wall as she passed. Finally she reached the door to D875. She pushed open the door.

Office Wench expected the Sage's office to be filled with a glowing green haze and flashes of purple light. But instead, she found a clean, well-lit room with the lightest scent of vanilla latte.

"Hello." The Sage sat upright in his chair. "May I help you?"

Office Wench stared at her shoes. "Um, I need some help getting my Mail Merge right."

He backed away from his desk and stood."Sure, what's the problem?"

Office Wench looked up as he walked toward her. His deep brown eyes held her gaze firmly.

"I want to go to Truth."

He smiled. "You already in it."

Office Wench glanced around the room. It was true that the air felt a little fresher, a little lighter, in the room, but she couldn't see how this could be Truth.

"Not just here. We are all in Truth." Office Wench furrowed her brow and he continued, "Reality is only a country, Truth is the world. You need to get your head out of the clouds."

Office Wench moved for the door. "I should have known."

He grabbed her arm. "Wait. Listen to me. The clouds in Reality are what keep you here. The air is thick with enchantments. Wicked spells that keep you trapped inside your slavery, trapped inside your own head. Getting your head out of the clouds is exactly what you need to do. Then you will see Truth all around you."

Office Wench stared at his hand gripping her elbow. "How?"

"You have to remember." He looked wildly around the room. "You have to remember who you are. Let me see..." He walked over to a wall of bookshelves. "Have a seat. I need to find the right spell."

Office Wench positioned herself on the edge of the Sage's vinyl couch. He rifled through several books before carrying one as thick as a dictionary back to the couch. He sat next to her, their knees almost touching.

"All right. Close your eyes."

Office Wench obeyed. But as soon as she did a feeling came over her that Brown Noser or Reception Witch would burst through the open door at any moment and send her back to her cube. Why was she here? Why humiliate herself in front of this crazy dude with the deep eyes? She should go back.

"Repeat after me, 'Once upon a time...'"

Office Wench stood and moved toward the door. Her heart pulsed rapidly against her lungs.

"You have to fight it!" The Sage stood with her. "Reality is still in your lungs. You have to resist it."

"I'm not like you. I'm not strong!"

"Do you think that I don't feel it? That I don't gasp as my lungs close with the heaviness and despair. I'm as much a slave to Reality as you are. But I fight with everything that is in me to remember who I am."

Office Wench stood very still, her head hung low.

"You have to fight it, or you will never find freedom."

She lifted her eyes to his. "Once..." The haze before her seemed to melt in curling wisps before her breath. "Upon a time." She could see his clear, bright smile before her. No fog separated them now. "I was royalty. I was a story-weaver. My life was lived to speak counter-spells into the haze. My life was lived to free the slaves of Reality. I am a Bard Queen. "


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Clustering, Collaging, and storyboarding! Oh My!

Last weekend, I attended Moonlight and Magnolias. For more details on what I did there, visit my post on the Columbia Writers Workshop blog.

The most exciting part of my weekend was the Friday night workshop on plotting. You see, I'm in the process of plotting my NaNo (Yea! I love NaNoWriMo!) and I haven't completed the process yet. At the workshop, we learned three different methods that could be used for plotting our novels.

  1. Collaging - Collaging is easy and simple. Anyone with a stack of magazines, a pair of scissors, a bottle of Elmer's glue, and a piece of poster board can collage. I think this would be an excellent method to use when the idea well went dry. Basically, you look through the magazines and when you see something that interests you, you rip it out. Then when you're done mutilating the magazines, you create your collage. You put the pictures, the words, or whatever you're using (you can use three dimensional or other items not found in magazines as well) on the board in a way that makes sense to you. You use it to write your story.
  2. Clustering - Clustering uses even fewer materials than collaging. A large size piece of paper and a pen is all that you need to start clustering. You take your idea and you circle it in the middle of your page. From there, you web out, writing down whatever comes to your mind. NO EDITING!!! Just let your mind go and don't pick up the pen from the page. If you get stuck, keep making a circle around your words. The idea is that if your hand is still moving, your mind is still thinking. Eventually, you'll start thinking in a pattern and will be able to group like ideas together. I LOVE this method. I've been working on my current project using it since I got home from the conference. My book is being mapped out on a very large piece of butcher block paper. I have always used clustering (I called it spiderwebbing) when I created my characters. I never thought thought to use it when plotting. I've gotten so much done in less than a week. It is amazing.
  3. Storyboarding- Storyboarding is what filmmakers use when they're making a movie. They draw out key scenes (maybe even all the scenes) and then write a short blurb about what is happening underneath the scenes. I think this would be a method you would want to use when you're almost done plotting. It is a great visual for a writer to have. The writer can look at the picture and see if they've written the scene or not. I was intrigued by this method.
I loved this workshop and got so much out of it! I loved all of the workshops at the conference. I plan on using all of them when I'm writing and then editing my NaNo.

Here are a few pictures from the Moonlight and Magnolias conference

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Bard Queen - Part 2

Office Wench stopped by Keyer of Edits's cube on her way to her own. "It was just like you said. She didn't leave the office."

He squinted at her. "Huh?"

"Data Entry. She never made it to Truth."

"What's all this about?" A booming voice called through the haze behind her.

Office Wench stiffened. She hadn't noticed Boss Man coming their way.

"So, how is everything?" He put strong emphasis on the last word and made a half wink with his left eye. Boss Man positioned himself well within Office Wench's personal space. The scent of his pastrami sandwich hung in the air, staining the haze with a tinge of puce. "Is everything all right?"

Office Wench held up her mug. "I was just getting coffee before I..."

"Good, good, good." Boss man slapped his left hand with a thick stack of papers. "You know, our office brings out the best in its slaves. All our employees are loyal and dedicated to the company. They may have discontented slaves in other divisions, but I know for a fact, there aren't any here. Slaves here take their jobs seriously because the company takes their jobs seriously." He glared at her through another half-wink. "I know you're going to be with us for a long time."

Office Wench nodded. " Sir, I was just going to..."

"Good, good, good. I want you to type this." He slapped her full mug with a stack of yellow legal paper, spilling scalding coffee down her leg. "And when you're done with that I want you to find the addresses for all these slaves." He slapped it again with a stack of white computer paper, pouring the rest on her chest. "And when you're done with that I want you to mix it all together," He swirled the air in front of her nose with a stubby forefinger. "And do that Mail Merge Magic you're so well known for." He winked for real this time and stalked off, leaving the soggy papers on Keyer of Edits desk.

Office Wench turned on the spot and walked the other direction.

Keyer of Edits called after her, "Hey, I'm not going to do the Mail Merge for you! That's not my magic!"

Office Wench almost ran to the bank of elevators. Her lungs burned with the effort just to drag the semi-solid oxygen into her lungs.

She slapped the down button. Several slaves trudged past while she waited, but no one looked up. Finally, the elevator halted on her floor and opened. Data Entry Maiden stood in the doorway.

"Where is the Sage?" Office Wench asked.

"What?" She blinked several times as if to clear the fog from her eyes. "Oh, he's in the dungeons. That's all I know."

"Where in the dungeons?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"I thought you talked to him about Truth."

"Get your head out of the clouds."

Office Wench pushed her way into the elevator. She remembered hearing that the IT guys were kept in one of the lowest levels of the dungeon, so she slapped D8 with her palm and watched the doors close.

Data Entry Maiden still spouted platitudes. "Reality is all there is. Suck it up and deal."


To be continued....

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Bard Queen - Part 1

"Reality hates me"
- Kalayna Price

Once upon a time, a young slavegirl lived in a faraway land called Reality. This slavegirl, like all the slaves of Reality was known only by her function - Office Wench. If she had a name, she did not know it. Office Wench lived a normal life in Reality. She picked at her Real food, slept fitfully in her Real bed, and trudged to her Real job every morning.

One day, while Office Wench crouched over her keyboard, she overheard an argument in the next cubicle.

"You should come with me," said a voice Office Wench recognized as Data Entry Maiden. "We'll all suffocate here if we stay any longer."

"Stop talking like a baby," said Office Wench's neighbor, the Keyer of Edits. "There is nowhere else to go."

"I can't take another day in this place." Data Entry Maiden lowered her voice to a whisper, forcing Office Wench to press her ear against the padded wall to hear. "I leave tomorrow morning, meet me at the water cooler at 9 a.m."

The Keyer of Edits laughed. "You won't make it out of the office. Get your head out of the clouds."

This last statement was a favorite phrase of the slaves of Reality, for there were lots of clouds to get one's head stuck in. Reality was an odd country. The people walked with their gazes fixed to the ground straight in front of them. Therefore, they could see only what was right there, in full view.

If their gaze ever crept upward, they saw nothing, for the entire land was covered in a haze that floated just above the ground. The fog was thick and still and windless. Walking through Reality felt like walking through vaporous rock. Nothing stirred Real air.

The well acclimated often bragged about how "Real air is heavy. Only the strong truly appreciate it's full weight." Then they would throw out their chests and swallow huge gulps of the stuff, choking all the while.

Office Wench went to fetch water at 9 the next morning, as she did every morning. Data Entry Maiden stood in front of the water cooler rocking back and forth on her heels, a rucksack over her arm.

"Where are you going?" asked Office Wench.

Data Entry Maiden glanced back and forth down the halls before answering, "To find Truth."

"But everyone knows that Reality is all there is."

"That's not what the Sage says." Data Entry Maiden turned her back on Office Wench.

"The what?"

"The Sage who lives in the dungeons. He is from Truth, and he says there is a way to get there."

"Did he tell you the way?"

"Like I need some crazy IT Guy telling me what to do!" She muscled her rucksack higher on her shoulder and walked past Office Wench. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have somewhere to be."

Office Wench could not focus on her keyboard that day. She kept imagining Data Entry Maiden walking out of the fog, finding Truth. But the next morning, Office Wench was disappointed. For there, in her padded cell, sat Data Entry Maiden curled over her keyboard.

"What happened to Truth?" asked Office Wench.

"Get your head out of the clouds!" Data Entry Maiden said without lifting her eyes.


Continued in Part 2

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

About the Cover

I’ve had a lot of emails and several questions over on facebook about my cover. Did I design it? Do I know the girl on the cover? Does she look like my main character?

The simple answer to all the questions: No.

Here is the story about the cover.

Several weeks ago I opened my inbox to discover an email from my publisher titled “Cover Rough Draft”. Attached was a .jpg image that looked very similar to what you see now. I was invited to tell them if I loved it or hated it, and luckily I love it because that was the extent of my influence on the cover.
The girl doesn’t look like Kita, and the really cool iron lamp isn’t in the book, but I think the cover as a whole has a dark-edgy feel that I hope permeates the book.

So, that’s the story. Probably not the most illuminating tale, and I’ll be honest, just for curiosity’s sake, I’d love to see what other designs were thrown around, but I’m very happy with the cover, and I can’t wait to have a copy in my hands.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I was supposed to blog last week, but I did not for I was technically on vacation. Five days off of work did wonders for my mental health. It's just over 24 hrs back on the job and I can feel the onset of panic attacks the drugs are supposed to fix.

But how does that relate to the world of writing? It relates because it is an example of how life can be overwhelming, and if we let it life can even overwhelm the creative urge/process.

Our job is to preclude that from happening. Just as we guard those tender feelings towards a loved one and shelter them against the stultification of the banal, in the same way we need to guard our creativity; protect it against the daily grinding down of our selves.

Even if it is merely telling ourselves stories of what we are going to do one day, when the clouds finally break and we can see the blue sky of freedom.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Kalayna's book is Listed on Publisher's Website....

Kalayna's book is now listed on the publisher's website as an upcoming release! Yea!!!

Check out the link!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Do you really want to be in my novel? Really?

I have a sticker that I got during Nano last year hanging in my cube (yes, I’m a cube farm dweller) at my day job. It says “Be nice to me or I’ll put you in my novel.” I like the sticker, but let me tell you that I have never put a single real person in my novel. Not once. There have been some people that I have been tempted to put in my novel and then have them die a horrible, horrible death, but I’ve never actually done it.

Its not even that I wouldn’t put real people in my novel or that I don’t want to put real people in my novel. It is that I can’t put them in my novel. I can start off with real people, but the characters tend to take on a life of their own and become unique in my head.

True story. About 10 years ago now, my father’s mother told me that my grandfather used to write her letters during World War II. One of them was on a roll of butcher paper. They weren’t really “dating” before the war, but when he came home they got married almost immediately. My father was born September 21, 1946, if that tells you anything.

I thought this was a great story so I resolved to write it as fiction. I planned on using my grandparents as characters. Almost immediately, my mind started twisting the story and the characters, supposedly based on my grandparents, in my head. My main female character is now pregnant by my main male character’s deceased cousin and my main male character is going to suffer a horrible wound in Africa. None of that actually happened. My grandmother joined the WAVES and served as a weapons inspector in Washington. My grandfather served until the end of the war, fighting in Africa, Italy, and France. He was a sergeant in the 2nd Armored Division and served under Patton. Even more than what happened to my characters is that my characters don’t act or think like my grandparents thought. This may be a good thing because who wants their grandparents or parents living in their heads like my characters do.

I haven’t written this book yet, but I still intend to. The novel that I wrote last year during Nano set up the world in which I’m going to put these characters. Maybe I’ll write in 2009 and dedicate it to my grandparents and their great stories, but then again maybe not.

My advice to anyone that asks an author to put them in their novel is…..Be afraid….Be very afraid. Because writers like to torture their characters and you might wind up pregnant, alone, poor, and trapped on an alien planet with only a dog that shifts into man form during full moons for a companion.

Friday, September 5, 2008

ONCE BITTEN is available for pre-order!

Once Bitten is now available for pre-order at . You should go ahead and order your copies now!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

ONCE BITTEN: Cover and Blurb

My publisher bounced around a lot of ideas for a title, and I’m super pleased with the final outcome of ONCE BITTEN . Because good news is plentiful today, I have been given permission to share the cover image. (I saw it right before leaving for Dragon*Con, but I couldn’t share it yet.)

Without further ado, the cover and blurb for Once Bitten:

For the past five years, Kita Nekai has faded into the background of the human world, but when a rogue shifter begins littering the city of Haven with bodies, Kita's illegal status lands her on the suspect list. During a confrontation with hunters that she can't win, rescue arrives in the form of the mysterious Nathanial Deaton. Kita soon wishes it hadn't when his method of saving her leaves her undead. With only three nights to prove her innocence and a new liquid diet to worry about, Kita doesn't want to deal with her infuriating rescuer or the ghost from her past who is determined to drag her back home. But, she needs help if she's going to stand any chance of survival.

So, what do you think?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Inspirations and Secondary Characters

This will be a short entry because it's late. I have been at a loss creatively for about six months now. And after that long hiatus, I have begun writing and creating again in the last few weeks. I understand it may just be time for my creative dry spell to end (for now), so I'm not going to give sole credit to one writing technque or force of will or anything that pretends to be useful to others in the same situation. I do, however, want to share a craft tool I have been playing with during this spurt of inspiration.

As I mentioned last month, I am going through the Snowflake method for plotting my new Nano. Over the past few days, I have been writing one-paragraph story summaries from the POV of each character. This task has helped me immensely with uncovering the overall plot of the novel. I have always struggled with thinking up plot events (Vikki, by the way, is very good at that). But this process of learning from the characters, what happens and how they all respond, has breathed life back into my novel. With every character, even minor ones (in some ways, especially minor ones), I learn something new about the story, the characters, and the large-scale structure of the novel. I can see the parallel stories occuring simultaneously and interweaving with each other. Minor characters have forced their way into important roles. I have subplots emerging, which is a first for me as well. The story has begun pulling itself together in ways I did not expect. For the first time, I feel like this novel might just work after three years of fiddling with it. I'll keep you posted.

When was the last time you had a creative dry spell end?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Dragon*Con is approaching quickly, and I’m excited and nervous (a common state for me recently.). This is not my first big convention, but this is one of the very biggest fantasy conventions in the states, and it will be my first time attending. The con will be full of stars, writers, artists, and fans. There will be pirates, klingons, fairies, anime kids, and dozens of other fans stretching across the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Several writers I adore will be attending—which means I need to pack books to be signed (I must remember that this time, unlike when I went to concarolinas.) My editors will also be there.

I’m left unsure what roll I play—which will make packing a neat trick. I’m typically the type to dress up at cons. After all, any excuse to go in costume is a good excuse, right? But, I’ll be following the writers track, and I’m told most don’t dress up.

Do I dress up anyways?

I’m really not sure yet. I might not decide until I get there. The only thing I know for sure I’ll be bringing is my work—my revision letter came in and I have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it in.

Well, it is time to start packing. I’ll take pictures and actually post them this time. If you are going to be at Dragon*con, look me up.

Have a good Hump Day everyone.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Help me pick an author photo

I've been asked to provide an author photo which will first go on my publisher's website, and then will end up in the back of my book. I have the options I've narrowed it down to posted on my blogspot blog. Please vote!


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Joy of... Research?

I met a guy named Joy actually... but that is probably a story for another time entirely.

Today my topic is research; that idea of going through mounds of general, sometimes random, information for that one piece of knowledge that will make your story come together, or so you hope. Or so I hope, to be perfectly honest.

Although I like the idea of making up my own world and my own society completely from scratch, I realize that there is no real point in re-creating the wheel unless I have tons of time on my hands. Which I do not. I have a story to tell, and it involves things that I really don't know much about.

So I am doing research. Reading books that, in my opinion shouldn't have been published, and reading books that are so old that the grammar rules aren't the same as they are today. I'm wading through history, with my net at the ready.

I already have two fish in a cooler; good color, firm flesh, no parasites in the gills. But the morning is still cool, and I'm not tired yet, so I'm continuing on.

Feel free to join me. The bugs aren't bad at all.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Call

Unpublished writers are always waiting with baited breath for THE CALL. Which call would that be? The call from an editor, of course. The call telling them someone wants to buy that doorstop they wrote.

My call finally came.

More details soon...^_^

Friday, August 8, 2008

The countdown begins

Less than three months lie between now and the world's biggest writing frenzy - National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as Nano (or "the month I stop existing in a conscious state"). The question is, since you can't officially write until the fated first day of November, what are you going to do for these remaining months of sanity?

Tie up loose ends: Several of the Tri Mus are working to finish up writing projects they started long ago. Kalayna has been working through a full rewrite of last year's Nano manuscript. Vikki is, as she announced in her recent post, trying to finish her work in progress before the Olympics are over in two weeks. Also, someone really ought to tie up the old Pass the Plot we had going...

Plot: I'm going to work on this one. I have several tools in my arsenal, including the fantastic tools from
Advanced Fiction Writing. The "Snowflake Method" has helped me in the past and I am definitely going to utilize the principles in "Writing the Perfect Scene" for plotting this Nano. I have never plotted a novel before - I usually fly by the seat of my pants (it's called being a pantser in Nano terminology). After pantsing my way through two Nanos only to realize I have no plot whatsoever, I think it's time to graduate tothe world of preplotting.

Develop Characters: This goes well beyond the basic physical characteristics for me. I have spreadsheets that list things like mental ability, character arc, motivation, worst fear, etc. I personally love personality tests. I like to get in my character's head and answer the questions for him or her. Not only do I discover what my character's Myer-Briggs code is, but I also learn something about how he or she react to circumstances by paying attention to the questions themselves. For online (free) tests,
Similar Minds is my favorite site. They have a bunch of different types of tests. Aslo, to determine your character's Hogwarts House (which could be interesting even if you're not writing fan fiction) go to Personality Lab's House Sorting Test for a very detailed exam.

Skive off: Another great way to spend the three months until Nano is to ignore it completely! There are plenty of things to do if you plan to wait until October 31 to start thinking about your novel. Here are a few suggestions: blog, knit a sweater, bake a pie, go skydiving, rope cattle, find the cure for cancer, learn Mandarin Chinese, scale Everest, etc. Be creative with your procrastination. I mean, come on, Nano is three months away!

So, how are you going to spend your countdown?

Olympic-sized Writing Challenge

I love the Olympics….The pageantry, the fanfare, the competition, the winners, the losers, and most importantly, the stories. There are some great stories this year. Dara Torres, a 41-year old mother, will be competing in her 5th Olympics (they weren’t even consecutive Olympics) as the world-record holder in the 50 meter freestyle swimming. Lopez Lomong, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, is carrying the American flag in the opening ceremony and is competing in track and field for his adopted country, the United States of America. I can’t wait to here more!!

For weeks now, I’ve been watching the Visa commercials. Olympians overcoming overwhelming odds to do extraordinary things. I have two favorites. In the Kerri Strugg commercial, Morgan Freeman’s voice talks about the vault and its difficulty and then ends with “and she did it all on one foot.” The other is about a track and field runner from Great Britain that tore his hamstring on the track and with his father’s help finished the race. I’m really not sure how these commercials relate to Visa, but I love them. They are soooo inspiring.

The commercials tell me…you’re going to stumble, you’re going to fall. Get up and keep going. Writing is like that. You’re going to face rejection. You’re going to face writer’s block. You just have to keep moving forward and improving and eventually, you’re going to cross that finish line and maybe if you’re lucky, stand on that gold medal podium of success.

With that in mind, I am challenging anyone who wants to join me to stretch your limits for the next 18 days. My "event" is to finish a skeletal first draft of my current WIP. Writing THE END will be my gold medal!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

TotW: The Aha Moment -- Tori

Like Kalayna, I don't remember what book made me go "Aha, I can do that." I wrote my first official story at seven although I'd been creating stories long before that. I had a long running saga that resembled a soap opera with my Barbies. I say soap opera because I only had two Ken dolls and like 20 Barbies. Let's just say Ken got around and leave it at that.

If I had to say, I would say the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I remember my elementary school librarian reading an excerpt from Little House in the Big Woods. I was fascinated by the vivid description. I started reading her books almost instantly. Then, I started reading about her and how she started writing. I was instantly fascinated because here was this ordinary person that just decided to start writing.

My tastes have changed of course since I was seven or eight years old, but I still love to read. I still love to write and create.

TotW: The Aha moment--Kalayna

What book gave me the biggest 'Aha' moment?

That is a tough one because I've been writing for as long as I can remember, but if I had to pick, I'd say the early Anita Blake books by Hamilton.


Because before I found these books when I was about 14, I only read high fantasy, and in turn, I only wrote high fantasy. I continued writing high fantasy for many years after discovering the Anita Blake books, but if I had to track my initial draw to the (then emerging) genre of urban fantasy, Hamilton would be it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

TotW: The AHA moment - Darlene

Two books, two AHAs

These two books illustrated writing concepts I already knew in my head, but had not taken to heart. They may be common ideas – i.e. books need suspense, every scene has to do something – but I needed these books to bring the concepts out of the abstract world of ideas and into vivid reality.

Jane Eyre: I was not forced to read this in high school. I don’t know if I would have appreciated it as much as I did if I had picked it up before I was in my 20s. I listened to the book on cassette tapes in my “beater” car while driving back and forth to Charlotte for work. The story enthralled me. I didn’t read the back cover copy or look for a synopsis online, so I experienced all the twists and turns of Jane’s experiences in a fresh, unaffected way. The mystery of the in the attic was really a mystery, Jane’s love affair with Rochester really seemed hopeless when he told the truth of his past. The book’s level of suspense and growing conflict drove me through the chapters while I drove to Charlotte. I had to take the tapes out of my car and keep listening in my room when I got home at night. It gave me a taste of the pleasure of a good on-the-edge-of-your-seat mystery. I felt inspired to write, so I started playing with ideas for a first person novel that eventually became my NaNo novel and thereby my first complete manuscript draft.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: One of the most fantastic summers of my reading life was when I worked through the first six books of the Harry Potter series. I confess I started with book six. I had listened to the audio book in the car with a friend and got hooked. I read book six until right before the black moment, stopped, and read the whole series in order from book one. I have since read the series three times at least (mostly on audio book, I do love being able to hang out with Harry while I’m waiting in traffic). I can actually place my “aha” moment for this book in space and time. I can see in my mind the parking lot where I walked through the rain thinking about what I had just heard in the car. I was reading Prisoner of Azkaban, and I suddenly realized how everything in a book works together to complete the plot – how J.K. Rowling masterfully used each and every scene to do something for the story. I knew this conceptually, but suddenly I could see it in beautiful detail.

As an aside, yes, I listen to a lot of books on audio. The mental and emotional experience for me is the same, if not better in some cases, than reading a book off the page. It does depend on personal style though, because there are a lot of people (like my mom) who cannot follow a book if it is presented in an audio format. I must be a little kid at heart - I like being read to.

Topic of the Week

We’re introducing a new feature this week on the Modern Mythmakers blog called The Topic of the Week Each of member of the Modern Mythmakers will post a response to the same question.

Drumroll please……

The question: What book gave you your biggest “AHA, I want to do that” moment?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Finding the Time

Time is arguably one of the most valuable and scarce resources each of us have. We can only count the time that has past, never the time still to come, and while it could be argued that time is a renewable resource, as one minute continues to follow the last, we never truly know when the final minute will come, or what will pop up in the next moment and demand our attention. Everything in life vies for time: family, jobs, sleep, shopping, hobbies, ect. We each must value and balance the activities that consume our time.

If you are a writer, you have probably heard someone say something to the extent of “Yeah, I plan to write a book one day, when I get time.” If you haven’t heard a line like that before, walk around and tell people you are writing a book, I almost guarantee you will eventually hear it. This line is one of my personal pet-peeves. After all, when is there really ample time just sitting around to write a book? Retirement? Who wants to wait their entire life before trying something they think they want to do?

When I first got serious about my writing, I knew one of the keys to improvement was to write a lot, and write constantly. I found advice (I forget where) which recommended establishing a ‘writing ritual’—a dedicated time I set aside every day to write.

Okay. I could do that. Right?

I made it maybe a week. Then life got in the way. Work swallowed me whole, a family event was scheduled during my time, or maybe I was just too tired when I got home. Writers always say “You wouldn’t let life get in the way of showing up to work. If you were serious, you wouldn’t let it get in the way of writing either.” Which, is true enough—but so not helpful.

I tried to be flexible about my dedicated time; it didn’t have to be the same time everyday, just an unbroken hour or two, alone, without distractions. Still I wasn’t consistently making it to the computer. I was frustrated. Some days I might get four miraculous hours, but then days would go by where I barely had a break all day. What was I supposed to do? Were people right about that waiting for retirement thing?

Of course not.

Here is what I finally figured out: sometimes time has to be stolen. There are lots of lost minutes during the day. Waiting after work to meet up with the husband or the kids? Hey, it might only be a couple minutes, but add those up with the twenty minutes dinner is in the oven, and the half hour before bed, and suddenly you have a full hour of writing. It’s not all together, and it’s not necessarily quiet, but carry a notebook, and you might be surprised how many words you have at the end of the day. Realizing my time didn’t have to be all together helped me immensely, and my word count grew on that first book.

Over the last two years, I think I’ve forgotten what I learned way back when with that first book. Oh I still steal time, in my own way. I now pack my lunch and devote my lunch hour to writing every workday. Most of the time, I can write at least 500 words during lunch, on good days I hit around 1k in that hour. After work, if I have the time and energy, I try to devote a little more time to my writing, but if life gets in the way, at least I know I had that hour. For deadlines (even if they are self-imposed), that isn’t always enough. I’ve been frustrated recently with my lack of time, so I think I need to start looking for those wasted minutes once again.

When do you write? (or practice any other hobby/prospective career?) Do you steal time? Where do you find it? Or do you have a dedicated time? How do you protect it? I’d love to hear from you, so chime in.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

On being haunted

Welcome to another edition of Weekly Post! I'm your host, Vert, and I'll be talking about... Umm yeah. Enough of that nonsense. Today my subject is one I'd rather avoid. So I'm airing it here, hoping I'm not alone. :)

I have a story that has been stalking me. I think about it often, and even when I don't think about it, it will surprise me from time to time by suddenly taking over my entire attention.

The characters don't speak to me much at all. They just wait, and stare; eerily and patiently.

It's not that I don't want to write the story. I do! It's an interesting plot, and I bet it could even sell.

However the time isn't right to write it. Finally I recognize this. As much as I want to push it and force through the writing of that all important first draft, this story's time hasn't come yet. As much as it bothers me and itches the creases in my brain, I am not ready to write this story; this story is not ready to be written.

But it tantalizes me. It teases me. It coyly lifts its skirts, showing me its sexy, delicate, bare ankles.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What inspires you?

X-posted over at my blog.
I know, I know; I talked about what inspires ideas in my last post. I promise, I’m not repeating the topic. No, this time I wanted to address what inspires a writer to write. Not what makes her drag her butt to the chair everyday—that’s a different topic—but what makes her need to write. What inspires her to get up early, stay up late, or miss returning to work on time because the words are pouring out of her? How does she go from scrapping the bottom of the creative well to being muse-touched?

Over the past couple years, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to many different writers. A question I always find interesting to ask (whether the writer is multi-published or still struggling to finish that first manuscript) is ‘What gets your creative juices flowing?’. I’ve received a lot of answers, so I thought I’d hit on a couple.

-Reading a Good Book This is something that works for me. There is nothing like reading a great book, and after the last page, thinking, “I want to write something that good.” If I’m in a slump, reading a book can often energize me and make me want to write even if I don’t know what to say. Possible Negative: once in a blue moon this backfires and I close the book thinking, “I’ll never be this good.”

-Reading a Bad Book This is one a fellow writer told me about. Not that she goes out looking for bad books, but anytime she reads one, she closes it thinking “I can do better than this” and it drives her to her computer. Possible Negative: thinking something along the line of “If this is published and it’s terrible, how bad must my stuff be?”

-A Writing Related Class/Lecture/Conversation This is a great one. I love learning something knew that pumps me up to go and write—and write better. Possible Negative: thinking everything you’ve already done is wrong and possibly unsalvageable.

-Pressure I know a couple of writers who absolutely thrive under pressure. Is a near impossible deadline looming? They are pumped and ready. Possible Negative: Stress.

-Reading Blogs This is one of mine. I lurk on several writers’ blogs. Not only because I want to know the current news on what they are releasing next, but because I want to silently celebrate with them when they accomplish things, and, I admit it, I want to read about their bad days. The days the characters stop talking or they have to cut entire scenes. The days nothing goes right. I want to read about how they overcome these things, but even more than that, the fact they struggle with the same things I do makes me think maybe I’m not doing everything wrong. It also reminds me that good writers are not demi-gods who magically churn out pages but real people. Possible Negative: time consumption. Reading blogs can quickly suck away writing time.

Well, those are just a couple I found interesting and/or use myself. I’ve also heard responses such as watching movies, going to concerts, and/or people watching. So what works for you? What inspires you? Recharges you? Locks you to your chair? Does it sometimes have the opposite effect?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My One Real Skill….Procrastination

I love to write.

I do.

Really, I do, but sometimes, the words just aren't there.

Here are some things that I do when the words aren't coming all that freely.

Blogging. To the untrained ear, this actually sounds like writing. I mean blog is a shortened form of web log. Sort of an electronic equivalent of a sailor's log book. A place to record (i.e. write) the day's occurrences. Ummm….Not the way I do it. See when I blog, I like to play around with the design of my template or someone else's template. Unless, you consider writing code, writing, this is an excellent tool for avoidance.

Knitting. Knitting is the newest way for me to avoid writing. Yarn is becoming an addiction. I'm now a regular attendee of a "Sit and Knit" at the local yarn store. I'm now making knitting friends so I can have more people to help me avoid writing.

Reading. I would venture to say that most writers love to read. I've decided to call my reading, research. Do you think that will work?

Making a Living. Unfortunately, this is the main culprit behind my recent lack of productivity on the "novella." My work has fallen on me and I'm trying to dig my way out. That being said. I like my job best when I have a lot to do so my hope is that in a couple of weeks, I will figure out how to balance the need to pay my bills and the desire to write competent fiction.

What do you do to procrastinate?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Surviving the Day Job

There is no money in the arts. I discovered that fact a long time ago. Knowing such truth though -- like being an artist -- does nothing to pay the bills. Therefore, creative souls usually end up indenturing themselves to a day job of some form. The lucky few will find jobs that feed their creativity, but most of us spend our 40 something hours a week cultivating a cube farm. Others find themselves hunched up in front of a cramped desk in a closed room, whose windows give a grand view of the hallway. We live our lives surrounded by dirty-grey walls and lumpy, commercial-grade Berber carpet. The day job begins to overtake our personalities and sap our creativity. We feel trapped. Here are a few simple suggestions to help you remind yourself that yes, you are a human, not a secretary (or a business analyst).

Say it with a smile
You can get away with venting a lot spleen if you make a joke out of it. Emotional outbursts that might frighten the calmest cube dweller can be fully vented if accompanied by a grin. In fact, the more severe the outburst, the more willing your audience will be to allow it, because they will think you are exaggerating for their amusement. For example, you can tell your coworkers that the light from your monitor is burning a hole in your corneas. This may be true, but no one will notice if you laugh while you say it. Or, you can inform your boss that you will not live through the project she has assigned you (to make your complaint even more acceptable, describe the mode of your impending death in all it's gory detail), and if you season your woes with a pleasant lilt to your voice, she will not feel it necessary to fire you.

Embrace your gremlins

For the past three months, I have been working on three massive data entry projects for my boss. Two of the projects are copying books of data in order to save my boss's boss money by not buying the electronic copies from the people who compiled the books in the first place. I have learned through this process of time-altering boredom to enjoy the database gremlins who visit me every day. Don't get me wrong, I don't enjoy the databases themselves. That would be creative suicide. No, I enjoy the gremlins. They have such interesting personalities. There's Fred, Ned, Gred, Jed, and Alphonso. At first, I was kind of weirded out by the giant vacuum cleaners with which they suck my soul, but now I have come to appreciate the grems for their great senses of humor. Gred likes to stick the vacuum hose up his fat nostril and suck his head inside out. It makes a great party trick. Playing with the gremlins in your head makes the day just fly by.

Take notes
Office workers are amusing creatures. They have intense emotional connections to the strangest objects. I have witnessed the extremes during my time haunting offices -- It varies from wild cursing over a paper jammed in the copier to wild elation over the arrival of purple highlighters. I understand that no one likes a paper jam and purple highlighters are admittedly very cool, but the often violent reactions they engender can be food for survival of the creative soul. You get that many people trying to work together on mostly mundane and meaningless tasks and exciting stuff is bound to happen. When it does, write it down. You'll be able to look back and laugh about it when you finally quit your day job.

Got any more ideas for day job survival?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

From Everywhere and Plot Soup

Every time I’ve attended a session where an author opens the floor to questions from the public, someone inevitably raises there hand and asks “Where do you get your ideas?” These few words almost always produce a pained look on the author’s face, and even I have learned to cringe. Sometimes the author laughs it off, but when pressed to answer, she typically says, “Everywhere.” This answer rarely satisfies, despite its validity, and the author knows this, but how else can she answer and still have time to address other questions?

Defining an author as someone who has at least one published book and a writer as someone who has completed a manuscript but has not been published, I can only attest to the truth of the statement of ‘everywhere’ as a writer. Everything a writer/author sees, reads, and hears and everyone she meets gets thrown into the plot soup in the back of her head. Since that is such an unsatisfying answer, I’ll give you some examples of ‘everything/everywhere’ from the last couple days.

--My office was broken into over the weekend. While this is a distressing event, the writer part of me noted several things in an almost detached way throughout the cops arriving and doing their thing. Two big details that stuck with me: the CSI wearing bright purple gloves and the fact we had to clean up the fingerprint dust after they left. I tossed these details into the plot soup.

--Last night, when my family gathered for our weekly dinner, we were talking and my brother jokingly said, “You mean there were girls before highschool?” Definite plot soup material.

--Yesterday one of the grad students was in the hospital. Today he is out, smiling and exuberant. When asked about it, he says he has a prominent ‘dumb gene’. I think it’s more an excessive sense of adventure, but boy is he interesting—into the plot soup he goes.

--I was recently introduced to the music of Kerli, a young singer about to release her debut album. Her voice it dark and haunting, and the video for Walking on Air is very shiny. The emotions her music evokes in me? Tossed right into the plot soup.

--Sunday morning my Labrador chased off a coyote, and I dashed after him, trying to call him back. Oh yeah, and I was barefoot in a cloud robe. Plot soup.

--A friend sent me an article the other day about feet washing up on a Canadian shore. No other body parts, just feet. Weird. Plot soup.

I could go on, but these are a good sampling of the random tidbits from the last three days. They are all just little bits of this and that collected and stored away for later use. Everyday writers collect things that are tossed into the plot soup. There they simmer, mix, and change. When she needs an idea, a scene, a plot, a detail, or a character trait, she calls on that plot soup, dips in her ladle and pulls out what she needs. It probably no longer resembles what it went in as, and she shapes it to her needs, so the idea really is a product of everything encountered.

What tidbits have you added to your plot soup recently?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Is it rebellion? Or innovation?

Writing. Is a way of communication when it comes down to it. I write because I want to make a link between the reader and myself. And there are rules to writing, I've found. Rules of punctuation and paragraph formation; rules of capitalization of sequence. Even rules of conflict type and progression.

I find the rules invasive. They invade my creative space and force me to live in a tiny box. They take away my breath.

And then I remember those crazy, 20th century, modern literature authors. Julio Cortázar, Edward Albee; the Dadaists, the Absurdists. Those folks broke rules right and left. Punctuation? Who needs it! Formal structure? Bah!

They pushed the envelope, and explored the strange vistas far beyond the norm. They innovated. They demonstrated the sometimes ignored aspect of writing that is art, and they made a visceral connection to their readers.

I'm not saying that writers don't need to learn the rules of their trade. But. Sometimes you need to put the rules in the closet, ignore their plaintive cries, and see what curious fruit can be cultivated in their absence.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tie It Up, Duct Tape It's Mouth, and Toss It In the Corner

Let’s sit down and be honest about this. Writing is hard and sometimes the people around you can make it even harder. When people you love and trust are negative, doubt can seep into your soul and you speculate about your abilities. “Am I good enough?” you ask and you hear the answer in your head. It comes in the form of your loved one’s voice and it says that you’re not.

You can’t let this stop you from writing. Trust me I know this to be true.

I have one relative that turns me into a flaming pillar of doubt. Unfortunately, this ability is not a newly acquired talent nor is it limited to my writing ability. Suffice it to say, I have never been nor will I ever be good enough. AT. ANYTHING.

In most situations, I can blow off a little negativity, but when it comes to writing, it is harder for me to do that.

Here are some tips that I have found to be especially helpful.

Surround yourself with other creative people. Join a writers group or find a critique partner. It is easier to believe in yourself when you see other people experiencing the same things you are. Other people’s unbiased opinions can take the sting out of your loved one’s negative views.

Learn to separate a personal attack from constructive criticism. It has taken me years to learn how to do this. The critiques that I get from my writers groups are offering opinions and advice on my work would be considered constructive criticism. These words provide you with an opportunity to improve your story. A loved one saying “I thought you could write” is a personal attack. Learning the difference has helped me focus on improvement rather than self-doubt.

Write what you love. Passion is the engine that powers you past the self-doubt generated by the negativity. If you want to write children’s fiction, you probably won’t be happy writing adult literary fiction. Loving what you write will keep you going even in the tough times.

Write for yourself. All of us dream of being published. I want to go to a bookstore and see my work in print, but even if that never happens, I will keep writing because when my writing is going well, it makes me happy. I’m not me without writing.

The most important tip is to keep writing. When the voice in your head tells you that you’re not good enough, tie it up, duct tape its mouth, and toss it in the corner. It can stay there until you’re published.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pass the Plot 2, Scene 3

Once in the shelter of the heavy limbed trees, all three dwarves breathed deeper. Inside the forest they were a lot safer than outside of the forest. The queen had a horrible allergy to all deciduous pollens and so avoided trees in specific and forests in general. Even her huntsmen were forbidden to enter on pain of having half of their heads shaved. Many of them abandoned the hunting, rather than be forced to wait on the edges of the trees for deer to come out; they felt it was unmanly, so they took up the cultivation of bonsai trees instead.

The dwarves arrived in safety to the entrance of the mines. It was the end of the day shift, and the evening shift had yet to begin, so they felt sure that they could move their burden without being noticed by anything other than the curious squirrels and birds. Doc led the way with a lantern, and Sleepy and Sneezy carried the box, trying not to stumble on the rock covered path.

When they reached their destination, an abandoned tunnel that had yielded much less ore than expected, they put the box, unopened, into one of the dark corners.

"I'll make sure that the tunnel leading here gets blocked off as soon as possible," said Doc. "I think they're scheduled to put in reinforcement pillars and then fill in the neck passage in the next couple of days, but the foreman owes me a favor. Maybe I can even get it done tonight."

"I've never seen the mirror." Sleepy cast a longing glance at the box.

"It's nothing to see. Just a big mirror with a big mouth." Doc waved his torch around. "Come on, let's get out of here before someone sees us."

"I haven't seen the mirror either, Sleepy. But I don't want to." Sneezy's allergies had cleared up once they got into the mine proper. Something about being in the tunnels did wonders for his histamine levels, and it certainly didn't hurt that cats were never in the mine tunnels. Ever.

"Come on, the both of you." Doc headed towards the main tunnel and the other two followed him. Sleepy was the last to exit the dusty tunnel, and he gave the box one more long look before following the light.

The three waited with the wagon until the night shift began to trickle in, and then Doc pulled the foreman aside and made his request, trying to be nonchalant.

"Look, I'd like to help you out, Doc, I really would. But I need all the hands I can get to make sure the new tunnel is stable and safe to work. No one goes back into that old tunnel anymore, so unless you want to get more specific on the potential danger of leaving it until the morning, that'll be the earliest I can get to it. And even then it'll shave off production."

Sneezy and Sleepy could tell that Doc was having trouble deciding which way to go. The less people who knew about the mirror was the better, and who could tell which dwarf belonged to the queen and which didn't.

"Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it," mumbled Sneezy under his breath.

"You sound like a broken record." But the way that Sleepy said it took any possible sting out. 7 dwarves in one 3 bedroom house made for either a large amount of tolerance, or a large amount of violence, and in the 12 years the 7 had been together, no one had yet to go to the hospital. "I really wish I could see the mirror. Just a quick..."

"It should be alright. It's not as if I could have told him the entire story. Shoot, I really don't like all this prophecy business." Doc swung himself back onto the driver's seat and clucked to the horse. "I'll be glad when all this is done."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Finding Purpose

Cliches drive me nuts. I've been in what seems a constant struggle since I entered highschool to find my "place" in the world and the response I heard most often is "You can be whatever you want to be!" When I was young, I wanted to be a gymnast, but I'm 5'9" and not athletic, so that's shot. Having a modicum of brain power didn't help because then it became "You can be somebody great!" I'm a secretary and a gradschool washout. Then I hit the workforce after college and it was "I don't care who you are, tell me what you can do." I never tell them I can do data entry but I still end up with it. The problem with all these sentiments is that they offer only a drop or two of truth and even less help. None is true enough to base a life on.

Writers face the same kinds of aphorisms from well meaning friends, family members, and even fellow writers. We hear "Write whatever you want to." Well, what if I don't know what that is? Or then there's the statement, well-beloved of highschool English teachers, "Write what you know." What I know is pretty dull, actually. Both of these statements do the same thing as the career goal cliches, they offer little help in discovering a writer's focus. We have a lot to do to discover our writing identity -- developing style and craft, determining whether we are pantsers or plotters, when/where/how we write best, who our audience is, etc. The most important question a writer needs to answer is "Why do I write at all?"

We can find the answer to the latter in some of the same ways that we discover life purpose -- by asking more of the right questions. An Aussie pastor I listen to gave a list of questions we should ask ourselves to help us see purpose in our lives. I found the list helpful in discovering some of my motivations to write and some directions to take my characters and plots.

1. What is my deepest desire? The obvious answer for a writer is to write best-selling books, right? That isn't helpful, though. Separate the act or career of writing from your desires and see what's left. Do you want justice? True love? Hope in the face of despair? All of these are traits to give your characters. If they want what you want, you can infuse their story with your own heart and make them real (Just don't give them what they want too early or you'll lose your audience).

2. What makes me angry or what makes me cry? This question helped me, because producing conflict in my stories is difficult for me. I don't want to go there in real life, so why would I want to put my characters through it? But harnessing my emotions will help me write better conflict. I can let my characters can get just as angry as I get at social injustice or when someone shames a friend or when they feel betrayed.

3. What flows naturally out of me? I think the cliche of "write what you know" came out of this idea that we should write what comes naturally. If short stories come easily for you and you could never consider writing anything longer than 15,000 words, then don't feel bad if you don't write a novel. If horror doesn't come easily, then don't write it.

5. What thoughts, visions or dreams do I find impossible to shake off? This is the big question for a writer, because we deal in the currency of visions. If you find yourself living in a story, a character, even a single image, write it.

6. To what can I give 100% of myself? If you're not going to give your whole self to a written work, then you'll never finish. It's just that simple.

I have to answer all of these questions for myself, and I feel like I am just at the beginning. But, like most areas of life, the answers come in the process and the direction comes in the moving. I have a card on my bulletin board at work that a writer friend sent me. It says "We write to discover what we believe." I write to discover who I am.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The First Time

The first time is always memorable. No, not THAT first time (get your head out of the gutter.) I'm talking about the first manuscript. The first time a writer decides she is going write a book, and she does. Day after day she returns to the keyboard to pound out the next word, the next scene, the next chapter, until she hits those two magical words 'the end.'

For some writers, this process may take only a few weeks, but for others it takes years. Some will attempt it many times, but for various reasons, not reach those two words on a novel length project. For me, the journey took years, and during that time I acquired a graveyard full of false starts and half finished stories that never went anywhere. Some of these stories were worked on only a short amount of time before being abandoned, others were labored over for three or more years before I finally gave up on them.

After years and years, the first book I finished took only three months to write. (first draft, of course.) Since that first manuscript, three to four months is typically how long it takes for me to write 'the end' on any given novel length project.

You might be wondering what changed. Did I finally find the perfect writing guide? No, but goodness knows I looked. In fact, I searched high and low, reading all the writing books I could get my hands on from the time I was twelve on, and every time I read a new guide, I learned something new, something I'd been doing wrong. That of course, meant I had to go back and edit the 20k or so words I'd already written. After all, how could I go on when I'd made mistakes? As I only wrote when the muse struck, this led to a lot of very polished beginnings to books that never went anywhere.

This ugly cycle is why most authors I've spoken to advise new writers to "write the first book in a void". What does 'the void' mean? It means you don't join a critique group, read lots of guide books, or join writers loops before the book is finished. Why? Because all of these things make you want to edit, and editing doesn't help finish the book. (**NOTE: This is just what I've learned and may not be true for everyone.) There will be plenty of time to fix a manuscripts flaws once the first draft is done, so write it first, and then edit. (Sure wish some of the guidebooks I read would have told me that.)

The other big secret I learned, and this one is arguably even more important, is that if you want to write, you have to write. Okay, yes that seems obvious, but did you see where I said I wrote for years when the muse struck me? Meaning I wrote only when I was inspired, and when I was dry...well, lets just say I avoided the keyboard. When I finally got serious about writing and realized that sitting in front of my keyboard once a month wasn't going to get me where I wanted to go, I made a point to make writing a habit.

The first couple days were great. I had a new idea and enjoyed running with it. But inevitably, the dreaded writers block hit. Then I had to drag myself in front of the keyboard. Everyday (or at least most days out of the week) I forced myself in front of the keyboard. There were days I wondered why I was torturing myself, but you know what? It got better. The block broke, and I wrote like a madwoman, almost giddy with it. Of course, over the three months it took me to finish that first draft, I got blocked several times, and I learned I had to write my way out of it. Even if I only wrote a couple sentences, it was something, and eventually I would find my muse again. At the end of it, when I finally wrote "the end" for the very first time, I laughed out loud and then called my husband (who worked nights then) to let him know. It was a rush, and every moment I fought with words or characters--totally worth it.

Those of you who are writers with finished manuscripts, what was it like the first time you wrote 'the end'? What type of process took you to that point?

Happy hump day everyone. I hope you've enjoyed this look into my writing past!

Pass the Plot 2, Scene 2

“Hurry up, Sneezy.” Doc shifted his grip around the edge of the cardboard box. The other dwarf ran down the stairs. Wind caught his chef’s hat and whisked it away. Doc just let it go. The putrid odor of rotting garbage tickled his nose. They were coming to the bottom of the stairs now. They had to get the mirror out of the castle. Doc’s feet pounded to the ground and he slid a little on the gravel.

“What are we going to do with this when we get back to the cottage?” Sneezy sounded out of breath. The other dwarf huffed and puffed and then…”Achoo.” There must be a cat nearby. Sneezy couldn’t be near them without getting congested in an instant. “There’s doh roob for a mee roar of dis size.” There was no room in the cottage for for a mirror of this size. Sneezy was right. Doc hadn’t thought that far ahead. He only knew that they had to get the mirror out of the castle.

“…someday when my dreams come true.“ The soprano voice pierced his eardrum before trailing off. Doc didn’t bother looking over to where the young princess was singing. He redoubled his pace and headed for the East Gate. He couldn’t let the prophecy come true.

“We’re not going to take it to the cottage.” Doc took a deep breath. They would take it to the mines. The would put it deep underground where the queen and her minions would never find it. “Get the gate will you, Sleepy?” Doc gestured to the third dwarf that had crept up behind them.

Sleepy opened the gate. There was a wagon filled with hay waiting just outside the castle walls. They tossed the mirror into the bed of the wagon and climbed in the back with it. Doc watched Sneezy remove his chef’s hat and replace it with his miner’s slouchy hat. Doc put on his own hat. Together, they shifted the box that contained the magical mirror until it was hidden in the hay. The wagon lurched away from the castle walls. They had to make it to the safety of the forest or all would be for naught.

“Are they coming after us, Doc?” Sneezy whispered. The younger dwarf looked terrified. He had good reason to be. Heads would roll if they were caught.

“I don’t know, Sneezy. I just don’t know.” Doc’s eyes searched the lane behind him as the wagon pulled into the traffic on the main road.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Pass the Plot #2 - Scene 1

I'm starting a new pass the plot. Same rules as always.


"There she is again, the little witch." The queen gripped the window sill as she watched Snow White waltz across the castle gardens, carrying her basket of apples and singing to the little birds circling the black tresses piled on top of her head.

"Who does she think she is, anyway -- the fairest of them all?" The queen scratched her razor-sharp fingernails against the glass, sending a high squeal reverberating through her bedchamber. "Oh mirror!"

She spun around to face her magic mirror, the gleaming surface reflected back her own pinched expression. "Who, dear mirror, is the fairest of them all?" Her face continued to sneer back at her in the center of the glass. "That's right. That's right." She patted her cheek and chuckled.

"Lalalalala! My prince will come." A sickly-sweet voice like candy over a poison apple wafted through the castle walls. Snow White's voice. "My prince will come."

The queen ran to her window and threw it open. It crashed against the stone wall and shattered. "Would you shut up already?"

"My queen!" One of the dwarf sentries entered at the massive double doors. "The mirror! The mirror! It's been stolen, my lady!"

"What are you talking about Dufus?"

"The queen's magic mirror," Dufus said. "The cooks stole it."

"What do you call that?" She pointed at her smiling image on the wall. She had spinach in her teeth. Leaning into her reflection she picked at the green sprig.

"I beg your pardon, my lady, but look!" Dufus gestured out the window. The queen peered into the mirror's reflection of her open window. Two dwarves, wearing chef's hats, ran along the castle wall, carrying a large, flat parcel between them.

"I don't know what they are stealing, but it's not this mirror!"

"This is a fake my lady. They must have swapped it for the real one." Dufus shuffled the curled toe of his slipper. "I heard them bragging about it in the kitchens. That's when I came up to tell you. To warn you. They have your magic mirror."

"We'll see about that!" Swinging her arms wide as if to embrace her image, she faced her mirror. "Mirror, mirror on the wall! Who's the ugliest of them all?"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Drabble #16

Yea for I have claimed the Wednesday posting spot for my own this week. But I have nothing erudite or learned to say, unlike my predecessors. What I do have is an experimental drabble. Switching voices back and forth. Inside and outside voices as well.
Comment freely, just... be gentle. :)


Simon hated to do it but there was no other seat open in the shop. He cleared his throat to get the reading man's attention.

The sound slowly percolated through the haze of words and Umberto muzzily looked up. The man he saw was slender and dressed in a grayish blue suit. Corporate, he thought, and dropped back into his book. But the cough came again.

"Sorry, but is that seat taken?" Simon motioned with his latte filled hand, the other more encombered with his laptop. The book must be engrossing because as the reading man's eyes, green as ferns, came up from the page, Simon knew he had no idea where he was, much less if the seat was occupied.

"No. Feel free." Umberto moved over slightly to make room on the bench. The man in the suit had a nice voice. And he wasn't imperious, like suits usually were. The second surprise was that he didn't immediately put his laptop, leather case, nice, up on the table and power it up. Instead he rubbed his eyes and breathed in the steam from his drink.

Simon could feel the reading man looking at him, and wondered if he had spilled something on himself earlier without noticing. The steam from the coffee was full bodied with the aromas of slightly fruited beans and rich vanilla. It made some of the day's stress retreat, and he breated it in.

I shouldn't bother him; his eyes look tired, was Umberto's thought. He focused back on his book, but even so, was aware when the suit finished his drink and got up to leave, quietly.

I wonder what he's reading? But I won't bother him for the title. I've already disturbed enough. Simon took extra care in getting up form the bench, trying not to jounce the table, which wobbled a bit anyway.