Sunday, August 20, 2017

Making Headway

We authors know not every manuscript is created equal. Sometimes the big Aha moment hits you like a ton of bricks and your fingers itch for paper and pen before you forget your brilliance. Sometimes you create an outline and follow it in a linear fashion from start to finish, rarely getting sidetracked. And sometimes the great idea comes out all squishy.

The latter scenario is what happened to me with my most recent one. It took me five painful months to pound this squishy little idea into some kind of story line. I discussed the plot with friends and fellow authors, listened to their ideas for how to make it a better story, and pounded some more. I wrote 20,000 words before I realized it wouldn't work the way I had it laid out, so I ripped off the head and began a painful cut and paste. I revised, added, deleted, revised, added and revised some more. And what did I end up with?

I ended up with a logical story. I ended up with characters I could fall in love with and a plot full of surprises. My heroine is probably the strongest one I've ever written and my tortured hero has every right to turn his back on a relationship until he finds the one right woman for him.

So what came of the story? After torturing my every waking moment for the past five months, and taking the advice of my three loyal beta readers, I am pleased to say the manuscript was accepted for publication yesterday! It probably won't see daylight until early 2018, but that's okay. At least I know this one did its best to beat me down but I survived the mess and came out on the other end a better writer.

After being published for five years now, and having seventeen books to my credit, I still learn something new every single day about the craft of writing. To those who have been working on the same manuscript for years, trying for perfection, I can tell you it will never happen. The best thing to do is to send it out to agents and publishers to get their feedback, enter contest after contest and listen to the advice of the judges, continue to hone your craft, but let your work be seen. Every step is a milestone, every published book is a learning experience and every squishy little germ of an idea needs to be explored.

So what kind of headway will you make this week?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Some Down Time

I'm well aware that on one hand, I have the most fortunate of circumstances for being an author. I don't have a partner who pops his head into my office just when the words start flowing really well. Nor do I have children to chauffeur around to various activities. And I don't need to get up each morning and head out to a job where I spend my time and most of my mental faculties for the day.

But on the other hand, there is a down side to having this wide expanse of writing time. I never run out of ideas for stories, and usually have three or four projects in various stages of development going at all times. I can stay in my office for six hours at a stretch before coming out of the cave and blinking at the sunlight. I forget there is a world outside of what's in my head. Sometimes (gasp!) I even forget to eat.

Last week, I spoke about the projects I had going on simultaneously. The editing got done first and sent back. The ghostwriting job got shipped off yesterday and now I must wait for payment before starting the next part. And the manuscript I've been working on is in the hands of my beta readers, so I want to wait for their input before I get back to it. So now what?

How about some down time?

There are movies to see, road trips to take, long walks with Mary, books to read. It seems I can't do just one thing at a time. So I'll check the movie times, check the weather and check on what nearby attractions I can get to, what book I want to delve into and decide what to do first, second, third and fourth.

Then, I'll get back to work. How about you? What do you do when you get some free time?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

What Comes First

I constantly marvel at how authors who have day jobs, or children, manage to get any writing done. I've retired from the 9 to 5 scene, and now that Sis has moved out, I only have my dog depending on me, so it should be a piece of cake for me to get my work done, right?


I'm currently juggling three jobs at the same time–my current WIP, edits for the contemporary, and my ghostwriting job. So which do I tackle first? The one that's bothering me most? The one that's the most pleasant? The one that will pay me? Work on all three simultaneously? 

My method used to be quite simple. When I lay in bed at night, which project is it that I think about? If the project is keeping me from getting to sleep, that's the one that needs taken care of first. But, of course, that's not the case with my current situation. I'm constantly thinking about each of the projects, but from different perspectives. So the best approach for me right now is to work on them all at the same time. Since they are totally different in terms of era, genre and tone, I won't be mixing story lines, so I should be okay there. But I won't get a good night's sleep until at least one of these is off my plate and onto someone else's. 

So tell me–what's your method of dealing with multiple projects?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

I attended a workshop at the Medina library yesterday morning. After publishing sixteen books, having one more in the editing stage which has gone on way too long, two completed and under consideration by various publishers and another which I'm still working on, I really didn't think I'd learn anything new. I only went to help fill up the room, since so many of my romance writing chapter mates were out of town.

The workshop was on plotting, and presented by Mary Ellis.

Mary's a local talent, but she writes Amish books and mystery books, neither of which are my chosen genre. She also writes romances, but they're inspirational and don't contain any sex scenes or vulgar language. Also not my type of writing. Over the years I've tried various types of plotting software and have kind of developed my own method, but my first drafts are always short on word count. I can usually rectify this by the second or third draft, but I'll never be a JK Rowling type of writer.

So here I was, warm body in a chair in the room, Mary giving insight about the way she plots (by chapter and word count)  and how she lays out sub-plots and secondary characters and it hit me. The lightbulb truly went off over my head and I glanced around the room to see if anyone else witnessed the flash of light.
In this current work of mine, I have two brothers returning home from the Civil War. They are so desperate for money they steal from my heroine's father and the heroine goes after them. But I've never explained WHY they are desperate. What a great sub-plot! What a great way to add to my word count! What a great idea to turn these cardboard cut-outs into somewhat sympathetic characters!
Not exactly the bad guys in my book, but you get the drift.
My advice to every writer who reads this is go to every workshop you can, because you never know when inspiration will strike. The library is a great resource, since the workshops are free, but there are events scheduled in northern Ohio throughout the year for whatever genre you write, or want to write, in–children's lit, cozy mystery, romance, you name it. All you need is an open mind and the willingness to listen and then apply what you've learned. And it's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Type A or Type B?

We've all heard about the different personality types, A and B. And we probably get asked which camp we fall into at least once in a while. So, I've taken the time to delve into this, especially this week. Here are my findings: 

According to Wikipedia, Type A individuals are outgoing, ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, sensitive, impatient, anxious, proactive, and concerned with time management. People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving "workaholics." They push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence.

Type B individuals are sometimes attracted to careers of creativity: writer, counselor, therapist, actor or actress. However, network and computer systems managers, professors, and judges are more likely to be Type B individuals as well. Their personal character may enjoy exploring ideas and concepts. They are often reflective, and think of the "outer and inner world. 

When asked the question, especially since retiring from a 'real' job, I always answered that I was a Type B personality. After all, I'm now a full-time writer, creative and reflective, so it seemed to fit. And this year, with no publishing commitments other than a manuscript that's been in edits since January, I was rolling blithely along, working on a story that I will finish before the end of the year. 

Then, this week, all hell broke loose. I accepted a ghostwriting job where I need to crank out 30,000 words in a month's time. I'm still trying to finish the story I'm working on before I lose the thread of it. I got an email from a publisher I'd contacted nearly a year ago asking if the manuscript I queried them about was still available. It is, and if it's accepted, it's the first of a trilogy and of course, books 2 and 3 have not been written. I'm still waiting to hear about another manuscript, a Regency. If that one is accepted by my publisher of choice, it's the first of 4 books, none of which have had more than a paragraph of my time. I should be panicking at this stage of the game, but instead I'm kind of jazzed by the looming deadlines and all the work exploding around me. Maybe I am a Type A after all. 

What about you? Type A or Type B? 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Settling The Dust

My poor house is strewn from one end to the other with dust and dirt, none of which was my doing. I'm laying the blame entirely on the state of Ohio and Mother Nature. The land in my part of Ohio is mostly clay, and when you pour ten more inches of water on clay than it's able to take, you get a flood.
So, for the past week I've had jackhammers going from 9 to 5. The men who did the very filthy job of putting in the French drain and sump pump did a great job, and the dust is beginning to settle.

I'll let the dust continue to settle over the weekend before I begin trying to sop it all up and make my house show-worthy again. Instead of cleaning, I'm using the weekend to work on a couple of writing projects. Settling the dust of another kind.

First, there's my ghostwriting job. I turned in the first 1000 words, and have to get to work on the next 10,000. It's in outline form and shouldn't be too hard to write, but I need time to do it. Then, there's the edits for my next contemporary. I waded through what has been edited today, and will wend my way through the last 1/3 of the book, trying to catch the things that drive this editor crazy before I send them back. Finally, there's my next historical, 2/3 of which got tossed overboard when the plot wasn't working. It's working now, just fine, but I need to think about how the next scene will play out. Letting the dust settle on that story line for a day or so.

And if I reach a point during the weekend when my three projects are at the point where I need to think about them, I'll pick up my dust mop and clear a path through the house. Already, the front door and book shelf in the living room are looking better. If I can get the floor clean by Monday, I'll consider it a good weekend, dust and all.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Lines Of Demarcation

A long time ago in my writing experience, I attended a workshop hosted by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. She's a very funny, very busy lady who revealed her secret to finding time to write. She bought herself a kitchen timer and every time her creativity was interrupted she stopped the timer.
She'd set herself a number of hours to devote to her writing every day and measured it out with the timer. Sometimes she got done before noon, sometimes it took her until midnight. I tried her timer method for a while, but found it didn't work for me as well as it did for Susan Elizabeth.

I also for a time latched onto a bit of advice to steal minutes of time wherever and whenever you can. I so admire my friends who are able to write while watching their children play soccer or hockey, who can grab fifteen minutes before the baby wakes up to jot down the beginnings of a scene. I wish I had the persistence to do that.

It's taken years for me to figure out what works best for me. And I've determined I can't write in bits and pieces. The first 500 words are a struggle for me. I stare at the screen, lay down sentences and then erase them, glance out the window, grit my teeth and keep plugging away. Then, as if by magic, after 500 words, my eyes glaze over, my fingers begin to fly over the keyboard, and before I know it, my characters have taken over and polished off the scene for me. I come out of my stupor, read the scene and begin to think about what comes next.

Like I said, it's taken years for me to realize that's my approach to writing.

Now, when it comes to walking, it's a different story. As many of you know, I had a problem with my hip replacement surgery that pretty well put me out of commission for 1-1/2 years. I was held together by an awkward brace, so after my final surgery, I had to build my stamina back up. Factor in the Taylor Swift fall from the treadmill, and it's only been within the past six months that I've actually started working on getting fit again. My dog Mary and I head out every day it's pretty and start walking toward town. In the beginning, I measured my progress by getting to the next driveway. Then, my line of demarcation was where the new sidewalk met the old.
Then it was to the stop light. Now it's beyond. One driveway further each day. I figure we'll get to uptown by fall at this rate. Mary likes to lay down in the middle of the street, and there have been times I've been tempted to join her. But. one step at a time, we make it back home.

And, one scene at a time, my next manuscript gets written.

How about you? Do you need a dedicated chunk of time to write, or do you grab a few minutes wherever you can?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Winging It

Last week I wrote about how things that look good on paper don't always cut the mustard when it comes to putting it all together. That's what's happening with my current work in progress (WIP. ) I followed my usual formula for when I get an idea–pull out the Blake Snyder beat sheet and fill it in. I mapped out a set up, an inciting incident, a midpoint, dark night of the soul moment, and a satisfying ending. It looked really good on paper.

Then I began to write the story. The basic story line took place on a riverboat leisurely strolling down the Mississippi toward New Orleans. And that's where the wheels, or paddles, in this case, began to come off the story. The boat was too confining for the story line. So I took a deep breath and tossed hero and heroine overboard. And while I was at it, I tossed the beat sheet overboard as well.

So where does that put me? Up the creek without a paddle, so to speak. I'm totally flying by the seat of my pants this time. No beat sheet allowed. And I'm finding something about this new approach that I really like. Many of you know I'm an obsessive jigsaw player. I've given up on the real ones, but the Magic Jigsaw Puzzle app and I spend a lot of time together. I am becoming quite adept at piecing things together quickly. The same is happening with my story. I've got my damp hero and heroine walking now instead of being on board, and they come upon a fort. It happens to be a Union fort, constructed in 1862. My hero was a Union spy who used to deliver intelligence to the fort, so they're granted access without question. I've got entire scenes from when they were aboard ship that I've abandoned, but there are bits and pieces of those scenes that, with a little tweaking, work well in the new story line. Just like my jigsaw puzzles, it's becoming less and less individual pieces with sharp edges, and is morphing into a discernible picture.

I never thought I'd be one to work by the seat of my pants. I know plenty of great writers who are pantsers, but writing historicals demands that research be done to make the story accurate. But this seems to be working for me for this story, anyway.
I recall what an early mentor told me when I was doing research for a story that's yet to be written. I asked her when I should stop doing the research, which was overwhelming me. She asked if I had a story to write or not. When I nodded, she said, "Write the damn story then. You'll know what research you'll need to add to the story once the story's on paper."

Sage advice. And that's what I'm doing. I'm writing the damn story.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Looking Good On Paper

Most writers have experienced this at one time or another–you get an idea, do your research, plot the major points that make this a sound book idea and get to work, only to realize that what looked really good on paper won't fly when the nuts and bolts of the story start coming together and something's not right.

That's what happened to me last week. The house contract looked sound so I made a quick trip to North Carolina in search of my next adventure. I'd done my homework and had narrowed my choices to two potential cities, one of which I'd been to numerous times, the other a new to me city. I had decided renting was the best option, giving me time to settle in, and to fit in. However, two things were getting in my way–rents were more expensive than I thought they'd be, and the town I'd picked as my first choice didn't feel right. No warm fuzzy. I even asked total strangers what they liked about this particular town and they seemed puzzled, couldn't come up with an answer. I liked how they decorated the sides of the downtown building with images from the past. The historian in me appreciated the nod to the way things used to be. But it was not a good enough reason to consider relocating there.

So I moved on, a bit further south, to the town I'd visited many times over the years. Sliding into this little town felt like I was coming home. However, since it's close to a military base, rents are really high, even more so than the first town I was in. And housing prices are up there too, since it's a desirable location. I spent a couple of hours with a realtor, inspecting various houses, but my pickings were slim.

When I returned home, I got the news that the potential buyers backed out of the contract, since the home inspection turned up too many things that needed fixing. Even though I'd disclosed all the problems beforehand, it didn't seem to sink in until the home inspector laid it out to them. Back to square one.

So, what to do?

I threw away the paper on which I'd laid out my plans, realizing what looked good on paper wouldn't work in reality. But it's still a good idea. So, I'll rework the plan, come up with some different plot points, do some more research, and put my nose to the grindstone to get it done. After having seventeen books published, I know how to do this.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Gypsy's On The Move

I don't know why I have this personality quirk, but every seven years or so, I like to upend my life. Since I've never married, it's not men, but locations that suffer from my seven year itch syndrome. It must be my gypsy blood. I wish the Tiny Home concept happened years ago. Then I could have taken the house with me as I tour the country, always eager to explore what's over the next hill.

I met a wonderfully supportive group of writer friends in Ohio and launched my career here, with my first book in 2012.
An agent told me recently I have an amazing publishing history and my writing is top-notch. Not something I could have accomplished without the love and support from this group. I will truly miss them.

My sister lived with me for the first time in our adult lives. We spent four years together, nursing each other through major surgeries, but she's now returning to Phoenix, where she spent so much of her life. Since I don't do deserts, she's going to be on her own. I'll miss her, but I also realize she needs her own space.

So where will I end up? This is where it gets exciting. I don't know. I explored some of North Carolina years ago when I first contemplated retirement, but couldn't find anything I cared much for. I've had gobs of time to research cities in the state now, and have sort of narrowed in on a choice, but I have yet to get there, boots on the ground, and check out the city I have in mind. As soon as my house passes inspection and I can be assured the potential buyers don't back out of the deal, I'll be on my way, scouting out a new location. Just as I did when I made the move to Austin years ago, I'll know when I pass the city limits sign that this city is the right one for me. At least that's my hope.

I'll be sure to let you know.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A New Set Of Eyes

After the big garage sale weekend, I still have a house to sell. Admittedly, it's got a lot less stuff in it, but still. I worked upstairs today, moving things around to make the spare room look not so spare. Pat's stuff is all packed up in the basement, but she's now going through the kitchen and separating out her things there. We've been living together for four years now, so a lot of our stuff has co-mingled. But now I'm starting to look at the house with a new set of eyes, as if I were seeing it for the first time. I'm trying to remember what about the house appealed to me in the first place and play that up. Which I can now do, since the clutter is gone.

So the basement has been cleared out, and by today, when the next potential buyers come through, Pat may have enough stuff packed so her room will look organized. It's been a challenge to trim the fat from the house, but it feels really good to know that now everything I am left with has a purpose and a reason for me transporting it hundreds of miles.

Which, of course, got me to thinking about my editing process. Clearing the house has been so similar to what I go through in my writing, it's almost eerie. In the months it takes me to write a first draft, I add things in along the way, some good, some brilliant, some really bad. I leave it all in, carting it around with me, until it's time to clean things up, to edit my messy first draft. Just as I've gone room by room through the house, paring things down, I do so with my draft. Sentence by sentence, scene by scene, chapter by chapter, I start cleaning, tightening, and making certain everything I keep has a purpose, a reason for being in the book. Then I'll let my beta readers take a look at it with their fresh eyes.

My rule of thumb for deciding whether to keep something or dispose of it in the house has been if I had touched it in the past eight years or not, the length of time I've lived here. It amazed me to see the moving stickers from my previous move still on way too much stuff. Which means, it hadn't been used since I've been here. As I work through my draft, I try to apply the same logic. I cut out the things that don't work, that aren't needed. Lines that sound wonky either need to be kicked to the curb or cleaned up.

Look out, wonky wordage. I'm here to take you down.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Character Studies

This weekend was our big garage sale. Initially, I opposed the idea of a three-day event, thinking it was too much time away from my writing and I was getting to a really good part of the WIP. But by the end of the first day, I realized it was a great opportunity for studying characters. Who knows? Maybe one or two of them will make their way into an upcoming novel.

There was the mother/daughter tag team who looked so much alike it was eerie.

They finished each other's sentences, acted as a team to load the heavy objects into their cars, kept the two little boys with them under control, even though they were escape artists, and were very sweet together.

Then there were the two men, one black, one white, who kidded each other the entire time they were here. They were middle-aged, and acted like they'd known each other for years. They came back three times to see if there was anything they missed. Gives me hope that someday we can all get along as well as those two did.

Next came the Blonde family. Mother and her three kids. The two little girls sported thick blond braids to their waists. The boy wore a t-shirt proclaiming "Kindergarten--2017." All had the exact same shade of blond hair and the mother spoke to her well-behaved children in a foreign tongue. Swedish? German? Pennsylvania Dutch? We couldn't tell.

The very sweet woman who lives up the road spent 1/2 hour or so here, not buying anything, but talking our ears off and helping herself to our free books.
Anyone who loves to read is okay in my book, so to speak.

The man from across the street who never fails to say hello when we walk past the apartments dropped by. His mother lives in the unit, but he drives over every morning to check on her. He's retired, and I think he hangs out at Mom's just to have something to do. But he's nice and friendly and obviously a loving son. He'll be a welcome addition to a future manuscript.

All in all, it turned out to be a good way to pass the time. We made a few dollars, got rid of a lot of stuff we didn't need or want, and met some real characters, who may someday be fictionalized. This weekend was proof that you never know where inspiration will come from.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ready for the Garage Sale

My sister and I have moved our cars to the driveway and have been loading up the garage in preparation for our mega garage sale.
I liked the way we were going about this–leisurely picking up things from each room as we wander around the house and depositing them into the garage. Saturday, we had to kick it into a higher gear, since we have two young men scheduled to arrive this afternoon to move some furniture to the garage, so drawers had to be emptied and table tops cleared.

I'm in the midst of revising one book and editing another, which is probably why this purge of the house reminds me of the writing process. After I write my first draft, I start cutting out superfluous words, flowery phrases, redundancy. My house is being decluttered a bit at a time, just as is my manuscript. If my house is anything like my writing, I'll need about twenty passes through a room before it's clear of clutter.

The beauty of all this is what I'm finding hidden away in those drawers and closets. Items long since forgotten are emerging. Little nuggets of beauty or nostalgia are literally coming out of the closet. And, since the house is being purged, these little things are being seen in a brand new, uncluttered light. Same goes with my writing. A little gem of a phrase suddenly comes to light once all the clutter leading up to it is removed.

I hope by doing all this, I can make a few bucks on the sale. And, I hope my decluttered and polished manuscript will attract the attention of an agent or publisher, and make me a few bucks, too.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Finding The Lemonade

As most of you who follow this blog are aware, I'm trying to sell my house in order to downsize to a two-bedroom place rather than the four I now have. The home has been on the market for three months now, with several nibbles but no bites.

Rather than panic at the delay, I've decided to look on the bright side. To make lemonade from the lemons. This delay gives me time to leisurely go through all my books, clothing and pictures and determine which I'll keep and which Goodwill will get. Second, I'm taking the time to research places to move to, weighing the options of not only the city and state, but rather to rent first, do I want a ranch or will one set of stairs be okay, will Mary still have a yard to play in, etc. And because I never know when someone will want to see the house, it stays clean.

I'm also trying to find the lemonade in my writing. The edits for my next book seem to be taking forever. As I looked over the latest round, I decided rather than complain about it, I'd accept the fact the book was to the halfway point in the editor's comments. So I'm half done with it. I'll go through the remaining pages and try to circumvent any other problems and send it back. Instead of having half the book to go, I'm halfway done. Glass half full rather than half empty.

So, the house is being gradually decluttered, the process of finding a new place is being winnowed down, my book is halfway through the editing process, and my new WIP is taking shape, 1000 words at a time. Summer's on its way, so it's a perfect time for lemonade.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Forever Friends

In our busy and portable lives, we meet a lot of people who become acquaintances. You know, the kind you send a Christmas card to each year. Then, there are the people who you might hear from via phone a couple of times each year. But there is no better friend than a forever friend. Like my friend, Linda. In the many decades of our friendship, we've been through a lot with each other, regardless of which state I happened to be living in. She knows me better than my sisters do. And she's the only person I wanted to visit after three years of medical issues.

My trip began with another trip–down memory lane. Shortly after we had moved to DC back in the day, Linda and I rented a house together. Or part of a house, anyway. We had the English basement and first floor of a townhouse on Capitol Hill. Two men shared the top two floors. We were very close to our old stomping grounds after visiting the National Arboretum, so we took a slight detour to see what the place looked like today. We loved living on the Hill. Our house was only a block from our favorite bar and the neighborhood was safe for those nights when we staggered home.

But, as an author of romance, and historical romance at that, I couldn't get this close without paying homage to the great Nora Roberts and touring a battlefield. We made a trip to Boonsboro, MD to her Turn The Page bookstore, where I spent way too much on books, of course. We saw but couldn't gain admittance to  the historic Boonsboro Inn featured in one of her trilogies, and had lunch at Dan's, the restaurant owned by one of her sons. The other restaurant in town, Vesta, is owned by her other son, Jason. 

And then, we were off to the Antietam battlefield. Bearing the distinction of being the bloodiest single day in the history of any American war, our ranger told us that bodies were falling at the rate of one per second during the height of the battle.

The battle ended in a draw and was the turning point of the war, since France and England were about to help fund the Confederates had they succeeded in trouncing the Union Army. Such a huge price to pay. We walked around the quiet fields that afternoon, walked on the Burnside Bridge, one of the major battle sites, and tried to imagine the horror and chaos that faced the men that day.

Having made the move from this part of the country back to Ohio, I realized this trip that, while I don't miss the congestion and traffic, I do miss the vibrancy and history of Virginia. That may be why I write historical romances today. 

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. And to everyone's forever friends, give them a special hug today.