Monday, June 6, 2011

June Blog Chain: Setting the Scene

I'm near the beginning of the AW blog chain this month. I'm smacked for time right now so will steal from my work in progress instead of writing something new. This story is still in first draft so not sure where this bit will be used, or even if it will make it through to the second draft. 

This month's prompt: Setting the Scene
Write a location description, and make us feel as if we are there. No dialogue, no introductory comments, just a location. We're the tourists, you're the guide.
     Lindsay stepped out of the Jeep, looking around the clearing. A circular drive surrounded by tall pines framed the lodge. She’d seen a few pictures of it online, from the official website and some random photos posted by visitors, but being here in person was almost overwhelming.
     She thought this must be what Swiss chalets looked like, two stories tall, about 100 feet long, built of rough-textured whole cedar logs. The main entrance, a tall wooden double-door archway framed in colorful square tiles, was up a few steps in the middle of a wide porch that seemed to wrap around the left side.
     To the right she could see the driveway branched off to a portico, the pillars stretching up to the roof at the second story. Large plate glass windows punctuated the porch at regular intervals. The peaked roof was cedar shake, with deep eaves hanging over the second floor windows fitted with balconies. 
     The first-floor tour revealed more of what she had envisioned from the outside, refined opulence masquerading as a rugged adventurer’s lodge. Three different sitting rooms, a library, dining room, media room -- she followed Braden from place to place, thinking there should be a map. The impression was of a Ralph Lauren home furnishings catalog: log furniture with oiled burgundy leather seats, thick wool rugs with bright geometric patterns placed just so on the gleaming wide plank floors, fireplaces in nearly every room, and paintings that would merit a closer look later all worked together to form the perfect image.
     In the foyer, the staircase rose elegantly to the second floor, spreading wider as they ascended the carpeted treads. Lindsay felt her mouth gaping open, agog at her new surroundings, and firmly pressed her lips together. What a rube. I haven’t been anywhere like this since Stacia’s wedding at that Beverly Hills hotel.
Reading this passage after posting it here makes my eyes glaze over. Too many details. I want to show how Lindsay is awed by the rustic grandeur of the lodge, and convey how much money was spent on it, but I don't think I accomplished those goals here. Good thing this is just a rough draft! I'll have time to clean it up later. Your suggestions welcome. 

And please visit the other players in this month's blog chain. They should all have their posts up by the end of June. 
orion_mk3 - (link to this month's post)
juniper - you are here now!
LadyMage - (link to this month's post)
dolores haze - (link to this month's post)
jkellerford - (link to this month's post)
Ralph Pines - (link to this month's post)
TheMindKiller - (link to this month's post)
AuburnAssassin - (link to this month's post)
pezie - (link to this month's post)
WildScribe - (link to this month's post)
Inkstrokes - (link to this month's post)
Irissel - (link to this month's post)
Guardian - (link to this month's post)
Lyra Jean - (link to this month's post)
egoodlett - (link to this month's post)
cwachob - (link to this month's post)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

May Blog Chain - Relationships

It's been quite a while since I updated here so it's good I joined a blog chain at Absolute Write for May. Just squeaking in the last days of the month.

Here are the instructions:
This month's prompt: Relationships
Show a character's approach to relationships in a short scene. A harmless exchange between mother and daughter? A submissive character overwhelmed by a dominant partner? A passionate lover's quarrel? A forlorn, unrequited letter?

Use your characters' interaction to show the dynamics of their relationship, show how they're growing together or growing apart, or just have silly fun.
Character descriptions at the beginning are forbidden this time around--let them speak or act for themselves!

This is a short part of a scene from my WIP that I think is going to end up deleted from the next draft. So I'll post it here. The names have been changed to protect my characters' privacy! Many of the other blog chain participants have chosen romantic relationships to highlight, but I went in a different direction.

At seven forty-five Lindsay was ready and had that nervous feeling in her stomach universal to party hosts. She wandered through the lodge, straightening a cushion here, tweaking the napkins there, and bringing in pencils and notepads to keep score.
By eight fifteen she was pacing the empty rooms. She opened one of the bottles of Merlot and poured herself a glass.
She'd almost finished the bottle when she heard someone rap at the side door. She glanced at the clock - after nine. Late, but at least someone had come. She rushed over to greet her guest.
Emma's smile seemed genuine. "Hi, Lindsay, I was hoping you’d be here. I was wondering if you had any extra printer paper. I just need about thirty sheets."
     "Printer paper?" Lindsay looked out into the fading light. "Is that all you came for?"
"Yes, unless you . . . are there any peppermint tea bags? I ran out. Do you know when you'll be going shopping for us?"
Lindsay felt her shoulders sag. She motioned Emma inside and murmured, "I'll look for some." I'm just a servant here. Not one of them. They don't want to be friends. Game Night was a stupid idea. Why did I ever think they'd want to do anything like that with me?
She went to the office for the paper, then to the pantry to search for tea. Grabbing a box from the cabinet, she turned and saw Emma behind her, one of the invitations in her hand.
"What's this? I found it in the dining room. I went to look for some napkins . . . you invited us to come over tonight?"
"Yes, I left the note on your cabin door. You didn't see it?"
"No, I didn't. When did you leave it?"
"Yesterday afternoon. I stuck them on all of the cabins."
Emma reached out and took the box of tea, her fingers grasping Lindsay’s hand. "I'm sorry. I didn't get one. I don’t know if it blew away or what. I don't know about the others." She squeezed gently. "I would have loved to come and play games. I hope you'll ask us again."
Lindsay blinked away tears. "Thank you. Maybe I will."

Here are the other posts so far in this month's blog chain. Please click on them and see what a diverse group we are.

orion_mk3 - (link to this month’s post)
Proach - (link to this month’s post)
Yoghurtelf - (link to this month’s post)
AuburnAssassin - (link to this month’s post)
aimeelaine - (link to this month’s post)
Della Odell - (link to this month’s post)
jkellerford - (link to this month’s post)
LadyMage - (link to this month’s post)
pezie - (link to this month’s post)
xcomplex - (link to this month’s post)
Inkstrokes - (link to this month’s post)
Ralph Pines - (link to this month’s post) 
juniper - you are here now!
Steam&Ink - post coming soon

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Learning the Craft of Writing

I've met some people who want to write fiction but don't want to spend time learning how to do it. Or more precisely, they think they already know how -- they usually graduated from high school, at least, and many have gone to college, perhaps on to advanced degrees.

We learn to read the written word early, maybe even at age 4 or 5. Reading is magical in a way that no other activity is, opening the door to worlds not even imagined. And then we're taught the physical mechanics of writing, penmanship. I don't know how old I was when I first learned to spell my name. Or how to put letters together to represent the concept of my cat, or hat, dog or log, or boat or coat or any other simple words. But most of us learn to read, and write, well before we hit double digits in age.

And then we use those skills the rest of our lives, every day probably, in small and large ways. We write out numbers on a check, we make out a grocery list, we read the newspaper or a magazine or the instructions on a new gadget or even just the television programming notes.

So when a person is told if she wants to be a fiction writer, she needs to learn how to write, it may not register at first. "I know how to write! I just need to come up with an idea and then get it down on paper." And she may, indeed, get it written down and expect everyone to be impressed.

I don't think that's true of most of other artistic pursuits. No one expects to just sit down and be able to play the piano without lessons, or paint a canvas without knowing how to use the tools, or dance in the local ballet without undergoing years of rigorous training.

So why do we think we can just sit down and write a good story? A story that resonates with others, entertains, is put together in such a way that the reader gets caught up with the characters and wants to keep reading, keep reading, keep reading - and then hopes the writer has written another story to read. Especially with the novel format, the long form of fiction writing.

Perhaps some novelists are inherently good - their first offering out of the gate is a smash with both readers and critics and they go on to have a long, successful career. I imagine the truth is that 99% of professional novelists work hard on their craft, learning from their own efforts and the efforts of others, getting instruction from books and workshops and online groups and always reading, reading, reading to see what works for them.

Yesterday I went to a one-day writers' event, Terroir Creative Writing Festival,  about an hour away. I attended three classes by local novelists and two talks by other local writers, one of them Jean Auel, who just released her sixth, and final, book in the Earth's Children series.

She spoke about her writing, how she just wrote it all down in one big manuscript and then had to go back and make sense of it all. It was her first novel, and she sold it, and that set the stage for the next 30 years. Everyone would call her a successful author. But she took the time to learn to write. She had a story, and then she set out to learn how to write it. She took classes, she read books on writing, she knew she had a lot to learn.

My next couple of posts will, I think, be about the classes I took and what I gathered from them. I hope to put down some actual information rather than rambling thoughts like today.

And other resources I like are posted under the tab above labeled "links for writers." I've started amassing them as an easy reference spot for myself, but maybe you'll find something helpful there, too.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Interviewed by My Character

I joined the April blog chain at Absolute Write, and now it's my turn. It's hard to be clever or even competent on cue. Improv is not something I aspire to.

The rules of the road:
This month's prompt: The Character Interview
Part one is optional: describe one of your characters in 50 words or less. 
Part two is where things get fun: have that character interview you! 
(oops, did it backwards!)


Oh gee. Since I'm writing a murder mystery, I could be interviewed by a murderer, but then everyone would know whodunnit, so that's not a good idea. Hmm ...

Hey, what about me?

Hi there, Tasmin, do you need your ears scratched? Jump on up here.

No, I mean, I can interview you.

Ha ha, that's cute, Sweetie. But I don't think you know how to conduct an interview.

Why not? I watch those news shows that Mom and Peter have on the TV. And I'm smart. I keep my eyes open, when I'm not sleeping that is. I know the score. And I don't see anyone else willing to give up their Saturday night to spend time with you.

Ok, then, Tasmin, what would you like to know about me, your creator?

First off, I want to know where you got my name. It's a little odd for a Chihuahua, don't you think?

I've always liked the name, and when you made an appearance in the novel, I knew you were the reincarnation of my own little blond dog, who'd recently gone to the Rainbow Bridge. Her name began with a T, so yours did too. And it fits you, don't you think?

I guess so. It's unusual and memorable. That sounds like me. Ok, second question. Why do I live on an island that doesn't really exist? Why couldn't I live on Martha's Vineyard, or Cape Cod? I hear those are nice. 

Well, I think your island should exist, in real life. I like seeing islands just off a coast. Yours is modeled after an island in Maine, and you should be glad I designed it the way I did. It's a beautiful place, don't you think? People seem happy there.

Not everyone. Someone was unhappy enough to bash in that guy's head. 

That kind of goes with the territory, in a cozy mystery. A nice place with some nice people, and also some who do not-nice things. 

You could have written an urban fantasy. Then I could have magic powers. I'd like to fly. And be able to knock the litter out of that big Maine Coon cat who lives in Marcie's barn. Maybe I could scorch off his fir with my laser vision. You wouldn't be hissing at me then, Nekkid Boy! Oh no, you'd be running from the SuperTaz! Heh heh heh. 

Tasmin, I didn't know you could wring your paws together like that! You look rather vindictive, so full of piss and vinegar. You seem pretty meek, usually. I didn't know you could be such a bit--

What's that you're calling me? What's that!

Uh, nevermind. Let's get back to the interview. Do you have another question for me?

Yep. When do I get a boyfriend?

Not anytime soon, I don't think. Isn't Brogan good enough as a playmate?

He's my stepbrother! 

Ok, then, how about Jack?

That old mutt? Although he was pretty cute as a pup, I gotta tell you. I had my eyes on him from the moment Marcie brought him over, but then when he hooked up with Old Rocky, and starting doing the hermit sidekick schtick, I knew he might be good for a night or two but nothing longterm. 

Why not just enjoy being a pampered gal? Dr. Meg takes really good care of you, and she loves you dearly. You don't need a man-dog to be fulfilled.

That's right! I'm a grrrrl. Don't need no hound. Ok, then how about letting me solve the murder?

Well, I think you might play a role. What do you have in mind?

I could fly over the spruce trees and use my laser vision to see through the underbrush, what's hidden there. And then I could see through the walls of that rental cabin,  find out what's really going on behind those logs. I've been sniffing around - I think you'd be surprised. 

Tasmin, you can't fly and you don't have laser vision, remember? This is not urban fantasy! I know that genre's really hot, and I know you'd love to see your muzzle on the cover of a hardback bestseller at Barnes and Noble, but you're going to have to be content as a minor character in a cozy. 

Can I at least have a new squeaky toy?

I think Mack's bringing you one this week. I saw him go to the pet store.

Ah, Mack. Now there's a fine fellow. Why he's playing it so cool with Shasta?

Shasta's gun shy, and Mack can see that. She just went through that nasty divorce with her cheating husband and had to sell her condo, she lost her job -- now she's nervous about commitment and also nervous about losing this job, too, because of the murder. She thinks Bradley will blame her for not keeping the artists safe. She's attracted to Mack, but she's also attracted to Caleb. So give them some time to work it out. 

A threesome! 

No, that would be a different genre, called erotica - hey, what would you know about that, anyway, Missy?

That poodle who comes over on the weekends - she lives in the city. And she kisses and tells.

I see. I think there's some editing I need to do tonight. A certain Fi-Fi is heading toward delete. Is there anything else you want to know?

Am I in the next book? I'm assuming this is at least a 7-book series. 

Tasmin, you are always in my heart, and I'll always find a place for you in my novels. 

Case closed, then! 

Tasmin is a blond Chihuahua mix who spends much of her day snuggled in the arms of her caretaker, Dr. Meg. She lives on a small, isolated island off the west coast of the United States and although often she may appear to be asleep, she's actually keeping her keen dark brown eyes trained on the community and her velvety black nose to the wind. At night, after Dr. Meg goes to bed, Tasmin sneaks out the doggie door to meet up with her canine cohorts in plotting the eradication of the cats from the island. Her inspiration is St. Patrick, who drove the snakes out of Ireland.


Thanks to orion_mk3 for starting the blog chain. Here are the other participants - please check out their blogs!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why Blog?

Why do people blog? All kinds of people blog these days - geeks, stay-at-home-moms, artists, critics, agents, writers, especially writers - and why?

Is it mostly for themselves? A way to kill time? A way to work out their emotional baggage? To put into words the ideas jumbling up their brains? To promote those ideas?

I've been thinking about this lately. I have several blogs, most of them abandoned along the way, on a variety of topics under a variety of names. I've tried different host companies: started with LiveJournal (quit them when the ads appeared), went to WordPress, which I still use for a couple, and now on Blogspot.

Why so many blogs? Why some that started strong and then faded? Why some that started out with an idea and a name but never evolved from there? Am I such a complex person? Or just too scattered? Trying to do too many things in my limited time?

Why this new writing blog? What do I hope to accomplish here? So far I've just been working out some of my questions and concerns about my own writing. Nothing important, really, to anyone else. Maybe tangentially helpful to those few who've stumbled upon me here.

Why the recent push for writers to have blogs? This article in Salon was rather depressing for someone who'd rather be home in sweatpants, reading, than going on the road, or the Internet, to self promote. But it's the way of the New World of Publishing.

I try to keep up with blogs I like, but it's time consuming. Amanda Hocking wrote how "... the hours spent in self-promotion are hours spent not writing." On the flip side of that, the hours spent reading other people's self-promotion are hours spent not writing, too. 

I'm sorry if I'm not the best at following all the blogs on my "to read" list and making comments and playing along with blogging games. Sometimes I read blog postings I like but just have nothing to add, so I don't comment. Do I wish people would comment on mine? Well, yeah, so I have to make the effort too. 

Do I feel as if I'm just talking to myself here? Most of the time. Do page views matter? I'm not sure. Do page views, the stats that show how many people have clicked on my blog,  translate into anything useful or important? Perhaps it will when I have books or stories I want people to buy. When I have something to promote. 

For now, I'm just writing out my thoughts. And that's ok with me. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On Pruning, and Editing

A few days ago I spent a couple of hours pruning the deadwood out of a Japanese laceleaf maple tree. It's a beautiful tree, but hasn't been well groomed for at least the four years we've lived here. Not sure about its previous history.

I wasn't familiar with these trees until I moved to the Pacific Northwest a few years ago. They're quite marvelous, little fantasy trees with soft, fine foliage that turns a brilliant dark red in the fall before they drop their leaves for the winter. And twisting, winding, gnarly branches that define their shape.

When not pruned, they have a tendency to look like Cousin It from the Addams Family. (If that's before your time, sorry!) The beauty of their structure is lost behind all of the fluff. Here's what it's looked like in a previous summer, the mauve one behind the lime green:

And here's what it looks like almost naked, in the late fall:

When trimmed, you can see the architecture, the truth of the tree itself. The tree reveals itself to you, becomes accessible, understandable, the character of the tree ...

Oops - what did I just say there? Character. That brings me back into the realm of writing.

While I was pruning this tree, I thought about how I also needed to prune my work in progress, my mystery  novel that has just gotten way too bushy. It started out as just a seed of my imagination, a tiny little kernel that had promise but no substance. I watered it with my daydreaming, and gave it sunshine when I pondered it walking to work, and gradually it began to sprout. The leaves appeared, and then more, and some branches started poking out to the sides at odd angles, and twisting back on themselves, and now I need to do some good editing on it.

And as with pruning my maple, different parts need different levels of edit. In some areas, there's just some deadwood that can be trimmed away easily, without much thought at all. Clip it off and toss aside. And some small branches that haven't gotten too out of sync can be gently trimmed, guiding them back into the structure. But some places, well, they're bigger and need more consideration in the pruning. It's tempting to just cut them way back, to the trunk even, to the place where they started to have a life of their own. But maybe that's not the best way. After all, those big branches, or subplots, have a lot of little twigs, or character or action sequences, of their own. Just hacking them off will destroy all of those twigs as well. 

In some ways it's easier to prune a tree than to edit a novel. It's visible, right there in front of me. I can see the shape, the twisting branches are clearly visible, and it's easy to tell how the twigs are attached to the branches. I can physically touch them, my fingers following them from tip to trunk, feeling how any pruning would affect the whole tree.

On the other hand, editing a novel is easier, because the whole structure can be saved as a "first draft" file and reinstated if I decide the edits were too extensive. Just copy/paste and bingo! Those clipped twigs and sawn off branches are magically restored.

But then the issue becomes when to stop. When to stop second-guessing the edits and just let the novel be itself. With pruning, you get one chance. You make a decision, lop off the chosen piece and it's done. Over. No waffling. No super-glueing it back together.

Thinking, and pruning, and editing.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Jump Right In or Tiptoe Into the Water?

I'm writing a mystery novel and have read so much advice along the lines of, "Get to the action right away! The body needs to be there asap, maybe even on the first page! Don't waste time 'setting the scene' - we want blood now!"

Sigh. That's not how my novel starts. And I know it's the first draft and all, and I might trash the first several thousand words, in second draft, but still ... setting is important to me. I like to know where the characters are in the world, Earth or whatever world they're inhabiting. I can't help it -- I like geography. I think where people live affects their lives.

And I like knowing about the characters. I want to know a bit about their psychology, what their unique thought patterns are.

So my WIP starts with a bit of characterization and a bit of place setting. Yes, I talk about the trees, and the ocean, and some quirks of the local people, as seen through the eyes of my main character, who is new to the area. I show it as she experiences it. Maybe too much, but as I said, it's first draft and can be edited down later.

Anyway -- I was glad to read the opposite viewpoint from another mystery writer, on the blog The Kill Zone . Here's a couple of paragraphs from writer John Gilstrap:

The point of all this is for the author 
to take her time developing the characters. 
Make me care for them before you put them in harm’s way. 
If we know what the normal normal is, we can start the 
scene where the author originally started it, and from 
Amy’s point of view, the change to the new normal 
will be genuinely frightening.

I fear sometimes that we here in The Killzone 

violate my overarching rule for creative writing: 
there are no rules. We tell people to get right 
to the action. Sometimes, that’s not what the 
story really needs. Maybe we should tell people 
to get right to the interesting stuff.

I guess then the question becomes what he considers "the interesting stuff" because that's subjective. I think the stuff about the setting interesting while others may not care at all. So then it's a matter of moderation, perhaps. Put in enough to keep me happy, but not enough to bore the pants off someone else. 

Really, it's so hard to know which pieces of advice to take under consideration and which to just disregard with "Pffffttt!" I'm hoping, that when I get the first draft done and am rewriting for second draft, that I'll have a clear mind and a good red pencil, and use it as necessary. And then I hope for good beta readers who will be equally strong in helping to shape the manuscript into the best it can be. 

And then I hope to find an agent who likes a bit of setting and a bit of characterization. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Location, Location, Location

New blog location! I've moved to a different area of the blogspot universe with a "new and improved" url.

Thanks to a friendly online writer who explained how to do it without losing any of the content or followers, so I think things are ok here now.

Oh Dear, How Embarrassing!

Today I accidentally stumbled upon another blog with a similar URL to this one [the previous url, which has now been changed] - except it's on Wordpress, not Blogspot. And it contains book reviews, which is close enough in subject to make me uncomfortable. And it was established several months before mine, and is active.


So now, what to do? I don't want to crowd the other blogger's space, or cause confusion. Yes, I know, all's fair in love and blogging, but that's not my style.

So, I think I'm going to have to change the URL of this blog and hope, hope, hope that my followers will follow me over there. Not sure how to accomplish that. How to let them all know about the change, I mean.

Especially since many of them came from the Crusade and may not notice the change anytime soon.

Well, I've got a new blogger URL and will be transferring the pages from here to there. Hope to see you there. And I've reserved the same name at wordpress and livejournal, so maybe I won't have this happen again.

So sorry. What a cyber mess I've made. Grrrr.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Is Writing a Priority?

What are the priorities in your life? Is it a job, your family, friends, hobbies, watching television - what? Where does writing fall into that list?

For many writers, writing is secondary to something else. For me, I have a job, with unusual hours, that helps pay the bills. I also have a family which includes humans and animals, and they all need attention. And a house which also needs attention from time to time, although housework isn't high on my list. And we have a yard which, though pretty low maintenance, could be better groomed and designed.

I've made it a priority to attend a weekly writing critique group. It keeps me somewhat accountable with my WIP, wanting to have pages to bring in to read. Plus critiquing others' writing helps improve my own. And it gives me a much-needed social experience with people who understand the writing process.

But I still haven't gotten into the "write every day" mindset that a lot of others have. It seems as if that's a mantra of many successful writers. Come hell or high water, they're writing.

I traveled to the other side of the country recently for an unexpected family event and took my laptop, but didn't get much, if any, writing done. Too many distractions. Sorrow. Planning. Family to take care of and spend time with. Or those were my excuses, anyway. Valid, I think. But maybe someone else would have found time to scratch out some lines on paper, or write some at night at the hotel, while spouse was watching tv.

Some days I have bits of downtime at my job when I could be outlining, or editing, or trying to solve plot problems. I carry a folder around with me that has my basic WIP info in, with characterizations, plot bullet points and the last few pages. I could progress, move ahead ... but I usually don't.

Why? What will it take for me to push my writing ahead, make it a priority?

I'm working through the mushy middle now of a cozy mystery. I've finally figured out Who Dun It but that's caused more problems. :-) So now I need to address those, make it all fit together.

I have a deadline in mind. I want to be finished with the first draft by mid June, so I'll have it ready to query in early August. There's a writer's conference with Open Pitch nights, with agents that listen to three-minute pitches and give suggestions on querying. Last year I went just to watch. This year I want to pitch.

I'd better get my game on.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Commitment ...

I'm debating on whether to become a Crusader.

Oh, I'm several centuries too late, you say? And of the wrong religious persuasion? Different Crusade. This one found here: Writers' Platform-Building Crusade 

I'd like to be connected to others writing about their writing. Musing about their Muses. Facing their Furies.

But - I'm a commitment-phobe. I'm afraid of letting down the rest of the pack, if I don't blog consistently. Would that keep me going? Would it keep me writing more consistently, as well, or would I blog instead of write?

I have 30 minutes to decide. Be right back.

~~~ elevator music ~~~

And ... I'm in! Sent off the form. It's official, I guess, or will be when I get accepted.