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Elisabeth: Marked

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:~: Thursday, April 27, 2006 :~:

Thoughts on Plot and The Dreaded Writer's Block

Two weeks ago, in my fly-by posting, I asked what topics you'd like to see here at RWKF. Paty left this in the comments section:

"How do you know you have a plot that isn't contrived or unbelievable? How do you know it is a tight plot, something that doesn't require a bunch of subplots to get the word mileage you need?"

I wish I knew. I have to admit, when I first opened the comments section and read that question, I laughed at the irony. In the past, I thought I had a handle on plot -- conflict drives the plot, and every plot point serves to either heighten or resolve conflict. Easy enough, right?

Well, if you look at my little file of rejection letters, you'll see that I'm not as knowledgeable about plot as I should be. That's pretty pathetic, if you think about it. I'm an English teacher, for gosh's sake! I talk conflict (not to mention a plethora of other literary items) daily. I've gotten a rejection based on erratic plotting and others saying that the romance overshadowed the suspense in another plot. Wondering if I really knew anything about plotting, I stopped working on the WIP from hell and stepped back.

I needed to think about plotting.

I thought and thought and thought.

Unfortunately, I became more and more confused.

So I read.

I read romantic suspense novels. I read literary novels. I read short stories.

I thought about plotting. I thought about how the authors in the works I'd read plotted.

And I watched.

Movies. Television shows.

I grew more confused. Actually, I really felt like Robert Langdon, trying to decipher a code with too many clues.

Did I know anything about plotting? What did these other authors know that I didn't?

Desperate, I turned to reading about plot. On my desk rest three books -- Strunk and White's Elements of Style, Stephen King's On Writing, and Raymond Obstfeld's Fiction First Aid. I like Obstfeld's book -- it's straighforward and he includes not only great examples, but concrete answers to a writer's often abstract issues. The first chapter is on . . . you guessed it . . . plot!

As I read, mired in my own self-doubt, I came across this quote:

"Questioning oneself is a crucial part of the writing process. Having doubt is merely the residue of that questioning process. In fact, the Picky Critic who resides in the back of your mind is a writer's best friend and should be nurtured and honed, not ignored" (Obstfeld 3).

Obstfeld goes on to say that Picky Critic tries to tell us when a plot isn't right, when it's contrived or loose or just plain wrong.

That's the little voice that won't let me move beyond chapter seven or so of the aforementioned WIP from hell. Something simply isn't right, and at this point, I can't put my finger on it yet. So the question I'm pondering now is . . . am I truly blocked or am I merely in a holding pattern while my brain sorts through all I've taken in on plotting lately?

I wish I knew the answer to Paty's questions. Somehow, I think once I get a handle on the finer art of plotting, my rejection folder might have fewer new additions.

What do you think is the most important thing to know about plotting?

:~: Tuesday, April 25, 2006 :~:

Writing Tip...Backloading

I was introduced to this concept by Margie Lawson in her course Empowering Characters Emotions, which I mentioned in a previous post. And I've been having some fun playing with it in my revisions.

Yes, I'm still revising.

So, the overall principal of backloading is rather simple. Removing your strongest words from where they are embedded at the center of your sentence structure and putting them at the end to add emphasis, to provide more psychological weight. This technique is particularly powerful at the end of paragraphs, scenes and, of course, chapters.

But beware of backloading at the expense of either your voice or a smooth read.

Here are a few examples I took from my own work so you could get an idea of how the concept works.

1) Original: This was the first time she saw her own death looming, a grim reaper lurking in the corner shadows of this cellar.

Empowered: But this was the first time she saw her own death looming in the shadowed corners of this cellar like the grim reaper.

I love this revision. Ending with 'grim reaper' is much more powerful than 'this cellar'.

2) Original: Somewhere deep inside, she knew she was inching closer to death, to the last minutes of her life.

Empowered: Somewhere deep inside, she knew she was inching closer to the last minutes of her life, to death.

Very small change, but this example ends both more powerfully with 'death' and I think power is added when I go from the softer description 'last minutes of her life' and echo it with 'death' than visa versa.

3) Original: His eyes lowered and focused on his hands, the pleasure glinting there unmistakable.

Empowered: His eyes lowered and focused on his hands with an unmistakable glint of pleasure.

This one is subtle. One could argue it's so subtle, it's ambiguous. But I believe every little positive change, no matter how subtle, add up to a killer book. (Take that with a grain of salt...Considering I have yet to be published.)

4) Original: The insult stung and stole her breath for a second.

Empowered: The insult stung and stole her breath.

Another minor, subtle change.

5) Original: She couldn't help but smile back at him, but her pleasure dimmed when he took hold of her upper arm and turned her toward Geoff.

Empowered: She couldn't help but smile back at him, but when he took hold of her upper arm and turned her toward Geoff, her pleasure morphed into dread.

This sentence ends a chapter, and I think it not only adds power to the passage, but gives the reader more of a reason to turn the page.

That's it. My little lesson for the day.

Sometimes, while I'm cramming information into my head, struggling to take that next step in bettering my craft skills, I get bogged down with all the techniques, suggestions, even conflicting suggestions, and end up feeling overwhelmed, which often leads to paralysis.

I found this technique both powerful and simple to apply.

Tell us about some of your favorite techniques. Give us examples so we can apply it to our work. We can all grow together.

:~: Sunday, April 23, 2006 :~:

Mommy? What is that man DOING to you????

I was reading an article recently that talked about having children in romance novels. Basically, the author of said article (and I can't remember who it was or where I read it, go figure) was lamenting that readers want to escape reality when they pick up a romance, hence they don't want to read about things like mouthy children and frazzled parents.

Now, because I have three mouthy children (okay, two and one who babbles nonstop) and I'm usually classified as a frazzled parent (um...reality check: I'm always a frazzled parent), I can sort of see the validity in that statement. I read to escape. And escaping into a world I live day after day isn't escaping for me. For the most part, I would say the books I choose to read do not have kids in them. It's not a conscious decision on my part though, because I have read (and written) books with kids. I just don't think my favorite authors write plots that include kids all that often.


Well, kids throw in a whole other dynamic in a romance, especially a romantic suspense where the hero and heroine are running for their lives. (And I tend to read primarily romantic suspense.)

Heroine: "Wait, honey. I have to buckle the three-year old in his carseat before we speed away from the bad guy."

Hero: "What? He's waving a gun at us, and you're worried about carseats at a time like this?"

Heroine: "You think I'd endanger my child by not strapping him into a government approved safety device? What happens if we crash? Are you completely insane or just clueless? Don't you know me at all?"

Three-year old: "I'm hungry. I want McDonalds!"

Hero: "Holy shit. What did I get myself into???"

Kinda hard to do. But you know if you don't strap that three-year-old into his carseat before you send your hero and heroine darting off into traffic with a killer on their tale, every mother who reads your book is going to toss it at the wall.

Aside from the logistics of adding kids into a romance novel, you have the added struggle of getting your characters from mutual attraction to hot and heavy to true love all while little eyes are watching. When you add kids to the mix of suspense and romance, it ups that how the hell are we going to make this work? factor to the nth degree.

The other day I was editing chapters for J, and in one scene - a really great scene by the way - the hero is playing mud baseball with the heroine and her two daughters. One is eight. One is four. The scene was funny and cute, and very enjoyable to read, esp. when the heroine threw her muddy body at the hero and the two rolled through the muck like greased pigs. But reading, I was blushing because I knew those two girls were watching, and I could actually picture my kids in that situation. My seven-year-old misses nothing. She has radar ears that hear everything, and I already know she knows way more about sex than I did at her age. I honestly can't imagine trying to go through that whole meet someone-fall in love in front of my kids' watchful eyes.

Now, I don't know if J meant for this scene to be so funny, but it was because the hero (who doesn't have kids) is so totally clueless that little eyes are watching all the time, and this isn't the first time he's been oblivious, which makes it even funnier. So in this instance, adding kids to the plot added depth to the main characters. Did they get all hot and heavy in the mud? No, damn it, of course not. But you want them to. However, when two little kids are underfoot the whole time, it makes a person wonder when the heck that will happen.

Good authors can work kids into a novel and make it believable. Usually there's a place the hero or heroine can dump the children for a few hours so they can get down to business. Because, let's face it, intimacy is important in a romance novel, and as all of us with kids know, it's darn hard to find in a chaotic household. I don't mind reading plots with kids as long as the author doesn't sacrifice the relationship between the hero and heroine in an attempt to give the kids realistic screen time. I don't want their love scenes interrupted every time by little voices saying, "what's going on in there?", or "Mommy? What is that man doing to you???" I think a lot of times authors add kids to try to keep the main characters apart. If that's the reason, then it doesn't work for me. There should be other factors keeping the hero and heroine apart, not just the fact kids are beating on the door or sticking their fingers beneath the crack until the heroine (or hero) relents and comes out.

So let me ask you . . . do you like novels with kids in them? Does it make you want to put a book down or pick it up or does it not matter? And if you are a writer, are you drawn to writing plots that include kids? Inquiring minds want to know . . .

:~: Friday, April 21, 2006 :~:

The Right Thing

My best friend and I both took long-awaited vacations this week. We discussed the separate trips, giggling with anticipation and sighing over photos of our destinations. We shopped together and planned outfits. Basically, we had a blast together getting ready to go.

Our trips couldn't have been more different, though.

Pam and her husband chose a cruise for their trip. It suited them perfectly. They both like to be in the middle of things, they like trendy and cool, and Pam's all about action and people.

I wanted something different. The DH and I took the Monsters over to the Alabama coast, where we found a small island (and when I say small, I mean small) that offered peace and quiet and a short drive into Mobile where we could experience battleships, mummies, science and history.

If Pam had been on that island, she'd have been pulling her cute blonde hair out by day 2. And if I had to take my kids on a cruise . . . whoo-boy.

The key was finding the right thing for both of our families.

The writing path can be the same way. If you've been on any writers' loop for any time at all, or for that matter, hung out with any writer for any length of time, you know what I'm talking about. Advice on the right way to write or the right way to get an agent or the right way to get published is rampant.

And contradictory.

"My multi-pubbed friend says to revise and resub to H/S."

"I saw where Editor X said a rejection means just that -- no. Don't revise and resub, ever."

"You have to go to conferences and mingle."

"You have to plot first."

"Plotting kills the creativity. Even Stephen King says so."

"Your hero can't do that!"

"I always write a first draft all the way through, then polish."

"Polishing as you write is the way to go."

"You shouldn't query unless you've finished the book."

"I always query before I finish the MS."

"If you're not published by your third book, you're doing something wrong."

"It took me ten years and twenty manuscripts to get an editor to say yes."

See what I mean? It's enough to give someone a headache. Not to mention an identity crisis! But this is the thing -- for every person who made it to her destination of publication by following one set of steps, there's another who made it to her own destination following a completely different path.

The only right thing is the one that works for you.

Like choosing a small town island over a trendy cruise.

What steps have worked along your personal path?

:~: Wednesday, April 19, 2006 :~:

I have a confession...

I avoid the book aisle at every supermarket, Walmart, Target and Longs. I rarely go into bookstores unless I need a comfy sofa to write on or have to pick up the occasional non-fiction, research book.

I have...issues. Fears that I'll never bridge the gap between where I am now and seeing my work on that Barnes and Noble shelf.

Since I started writing, I stopped reading. Okay, that's an overstatement. I do read...sometimes.

And when I do, the result is invariably the same. I either A) get depressed that the author is so much better than I am (their voice, their vocabulary, their suspense, their storytelling, their humor, etc.), and do the woe-is-me thing...I'll never get there from here, or B) I get depressed because the author is so much worse than I am (a cliche every paragraph, a heroine who's TSTL, more telling than showing, slow suspense, dragging pace, etc.), and I think it's all about luck, which I'm, evidently, not high on at the moment.


That was E, forcing me toward the glass-half-full side of life.

So, with my cherry-red cheek, I head out to run errands, determined to pick up Allison's books while I'm out, which I fully intended to buy hot off the shelf...and didn't.

Well, it was Easter Sunday and the bookstores weren't open. (I'm sure the subconscious daemon made me pick THAT day to decide to buy books...but that's another post.)

I was disappointed when I couldn't find Allison's books but was determined to buy something and read the dang thing. I searched the shelves, browsing every last blurb on every last book. (Of course my selection was extremely limited since the only places open in my vicinity were Longs and Kmart. )

And you know what I found?

There's a lot of killers running around out there.

Like...in every book.

I must have picked up two dozen, and all the jacket copy started to sound the same...someone's been killed, the heroine is now threatened and the hero is going to save her. Of course the hero is some version of law enforcement--sheriff, cop, FBI, ex-military.

That familiar slink of self-doubt started crawling through my belly again; they all sound too familiar to MY work.

I think: this is why I don't read!

Book 1:
heroine--physician conducting research whose safety threatened by villain

Book 3:
heroine--famous author stalked by psychologically damaged villain

Book 4:
hero--undercover cop
heroine--physician on quest to find the truth behind her family's deaths, threatened by villain

Book 6:
heroine--artist threatened by the Russian mob after putting a member away with her sketches

Book 7:
heroine--dancer first thought to be a murderer turns out to be the intended target

Do you see the emerging theme here? My stuff is like every other author out there. Same set-up, same characters, same conclusion.

So, what do you do?

I suppose you could go on forever rationalizing the prevalence of the theme: that's what readers like to read; there are only so many themes; that's the make-up of both human nature (men as protectors) and reality (women are often targeted for violence and victims of crime).

Or you could tip the scales, change the rules and risk even more rejections by editors putting out the same pattern of material which your attempt at freshness doesn't fit.

Talk to me...

:~: Sunday, April 16, 2006 :~:

Can the muse come out and play?

I'm often fascinated by the schedules writers keep. When they get their main writing done, when they research, when they brainstorm. I'll admit, I'm not one for schedules. I think it comes from my years of teaching - nine years of having every moment of every day mapped out in detail because if you don't, all hell breaks loose. Nine years of peeing only when the bell says you can (because trust me, no matter how loud nature's calling, you don't leave a roomful of thirteen year olds alone for even a minute!).

I find schedules really stifling in my everyday life. My son's preschool schedule is about as structured as I like to be. There are benefits to being carefree - while I might have a series of things I need to get done in any given day, I don't feel any pressure to have them done at a certain time. However, there are also drawbacks - most notably that I'm terrible about checking my calendar and invariably forget important things like, oh say, a good friend's BRIDAL shower. (We won't go there.) Luckily, I have great friends who keep me on my toes - for example, in December I had a contest deadline I couldn't miss and Linda was nice enough to nag me about it every week. (And yeah, I waited until the very last possible moment to send in my revisions because not only am I terrible about schedules, I'm also a procrastinator.)

Where was I? Oh, right. Writing schedules.

I'm generally an evening writer - mostly because my daily life is way too chaotic with screaming kids to focus on anything for more than fifteen minutes without being distracted to no end. I can brainstorm and research and blog and blog-hop and web-surf and email during the day (I'm really good at email), but usually not write. Last Thursday something strange happened. Both of my boys took naps at the same time - practically unheard of around here - and I found myself with two solid QUIET hours by myself during the middle of the day. The house was silent. The coffee was strong. And I was ECSTATIC. I figured I'd get lots and lots of writing done, especially since the WIP had been brewing all morning. Did I?

Nope. I sat, opened the laptop, and proceeded to stare at the screen for the entire two hours.

Can you sense the frustration? I wasn't sure why that happened at the time, but now, looking back, I think my muse knew it wasn't the right time. That anything I would have written there would have been wrong. She wasn't ready to come out and play, and nothing I said or did would get her to come out. Apparently, my muse works between the hours of seven and midnight (news to me). And as Joan will attest, a lot of times she doesn't even get going until after eight o'clock. (Joan knows because numerous times I've IM'd her ear off distracting her to no end because my muse isn't ready to write. Then as soon as J ditches me, the muse pumps out fifteen to twenty pages . . . Go figure.)

So as much as I hate it, I guess you could say I have a writing schedule. It's not exactly the schedule I'd like to have, but it's the one that works for me. Try as I might, the muse doesn't listen when I want to change this little schedule, and it's obvious she doesn't care about things like unexpected naps and quiet houses. Let me tell you, for someone like me who prefers to be carefree and fancy free, it's a struggle to deal with.

What's your writing schedule like? When do you write and plot and brainstorm and research? Is your muse easily adaptable? (Don't worry, if you're the kind of writer who easily adapts to changes in your schedule I'll try not to hate you. ;) ) And most importantly . . . does anyone have tips for bribing the muse to come out and play during non-scheduled hours?????

:~: Friday, April 14, 2006 :~:

You Ever Notice How . . .

Life gets in the way?

Well, this week has been one of those week. Hence my pitifully short blog here, which I'm hoping my cohorts will understand.

(We won't talk about the 100+ unread emails in my inbox. I'm telling you . . . it's been one of those weeks.)

So this is a lazy post. But! Hopefully, it's beneficial.

What I want to know is this . . . what are the writer/reader topics you're interested in? What would you like to see us blog about here? Don't be shy! Join in! Leave your suggestions in the comments section.

And I'll see you next week. :-)

:~: Wednesday, April 12, 2006 :~:

Nature or Nurture?

My nephew, Ryan, is eight and in the second grade. Ever since he was about four, he blew things up. Not literally, but in his imagination. He would run about the house with a constant barrage of explosions echoing off the walls. "Phwoo--phwoo--phwoo." Then he'd sputter out gunfire. Mutter, "Gotcha, take that." But mostly just the sound affects.

He lives three hours north of us and when I'd visit, I was always talking with my family and the kids played together, so I didn't really notice how pervasive his battles were.

At some point, after listening to him do this...for hours...I ask, "Ryan, what are you doing?"

(Can you tell I have daughters?)

"The aliens are battling the pirates," he says, his sweet little face with the freckles dotting his nose and cheeks completely serious. "They're storming the palace and there's a fire breathing dragon (is there any other kind, I wanted to ask, but didn't) behind the wall."


"Does he do this all the time?" I ask my sister.

She rolls her eyes. "All the time. This is nothing. You should here him when he gets the Lava Guys involved."

"Lava Guys," I echo. "Uh-huh."

I know what you're thinking--too much violent TV. But, no. This is not a child who's left unattended in front of the television to watch Forensic Files, Cold Case Files or COPS like mine are.

(Did I say that out loud?)

When he came to stay with me for a week over the summer, I set down immediate rules. "Ryan," I said, "if you're going to blow things up, you have to do it outside."

He complained and pouted, but he went outside to fight his imaginary battles.

** Skip to the present... **

Two weeks ago he calls me. "Aunt Joan, I'm writing a story."

I'm thinking it's something for school, right? My sister had him call me--the best-seller-in-waiting--ahem--for help.


Turns out he's writing a story for fun. He says it's going to be a hundred pages long. Twenty chapters, because there are twenty battles in the story, a chapter for each battle.

I fight the urge to ask, "How old are you, again?" and tell him how cool that is and ask him more about it. He says, "My dad draws the pictures and my mom helps me spell the words."

He's eight years old and he's got an illustrator and an editor.

I corral my envy (not really--kidding...no, really, I'm kidding) and listen as he reads it to me.

My first thought? Oh, my God, he's good.

I suppose there is something to the simplicity of a child's skills. His sentences are short and to the point, packed with enough description to get your imagination working and verbs that give you the action with straight-forward punch. And of course with Lava Guys, Pirates and Aliens fighting twenty battles, there's a lot of action.

After I'm done praising him, offering every accolade I can pull from under the thought, 'He's going to get published before I am', I talk to my sister. She says this is just something he wanted to do. He elicited their help and just...started.

Last weekend I went to visit my family for Ryan's First Communion.

He and I had made the plan two weeks before that we would work on his next chapter together (or whatever portion of that chapter his attention span would allow).

I sat down with him at one of those kid-sized tables in his room, and we read over his story together. We looked over the pictures his father drew in accordance with the Ryan's story, and I asked him, "Okay, what happens next."

He looked perplexed for a minute. His lips pressed tight together, and his little jaw shifted to the side as he thought. God, he was so friggin' cute!

I was busy studying those darn freckles that just kill me when he turned toward his toy bins. "I've got these guys..." He starts jabbering about his toys, and I'm disappointed, thinking I'd lost him already--he was going to play with his toys.

But, no. He diligently searches through the myriad of action figures and pulls out the Lava Guys, sets them on the table top, and proceeds to show me all their fine fighting attributes, and how those will defeat the pirates attempting to storm the palace.

And I'm thinking...where the heck can I get toys like this related to my writing? What a visual aid! I could use some cops, some bad guys, guns, a few sexy men and women, a couple villains...

"Aunt Joan?"

Oh, right. Ryan. His story.

We hammered out a few sentences. I show him how to use the dictionary (because his parents didn't have a thesaurus...OMG, who doesn't have a thesaurus?? Okay, their kids are only eight and two) to find stronger, more varied verbs (since his other writing techniques didn't need much work) like the catapult 'rocketed' through the courtyard gate instead of 'smashed', which he'd used a few times already.

Then he wandered into his parent's room where his sister and my two daughters were watching cartoons, crawled over them on the bed and settled right in the big middle of all the girls.

I have a feeling that will be a constant in his life...amid a bunch of girls all fighting for his attentions.

So...this got me to thinking. Are writers born or made?

I've always believed that anyone could do anything if they set their minds to it. I do agree that some people have propensities to certain talents, but I don't believe that precludes them from achieving outside those God-given abilities if they have the desire.

I've read articles written on both sides of this issue. One camp says that writing is a craft that can be learned. Honed. The other says that while they agree that writing is a craft that can be learned, they believe there has to be some inherent, underlying talent there to begin with, an ability that can be polished and brought out. They don't believe talent can be taught...an interesting thought.

I still lean toward my steadfast belief. While I think that people like my nephew Ryan may have a talent, may reach success sooner if he chose to follow that path, I also believe people like...er, me...can work at learning the craft, developing storytelling skills and ultimately be successful, talented writers.

What do you think? Nature or nurture?

:~: Sunday, April 09, 2006 :~:

So . . . What do you do?

I get this question a lot. My husband works for a big pharmaceutical company and whenever we go to one of his company functions the topic of what I do invariably comes up. When I was teaching this question was an easy one to field. Teacher. Plain and simple. Most people have kids, everyone's been through school. I always had something to talk to people about. Schmoozing was a piece of cake.

Not so anymore.

A large part of my identity was tied to my career in education. When I quit working to stay home with the Gremlins, I went through a small identity crisis. Writing filled the gap. I thought when the Gremlins were older I'd go back to teaching. I'm not so sure anymore. I feel like I've finally found the one thing I'm meant to do. (Or maybe I just hope.) I never felt passionately about teaching the way I do about writing.

However, that's not something I can easily tell people when I'm stuck in an uncomfortable "meet and greet" situation, especially when it's a room full of professional men and women who know nothing about writing fiction. It's one of the reasons I dread doing anything work-related with the DH. So when the what do you do? question comes up, I usually smile and use the old fall back, I was a teacher. Right now I'm staying home with my kids.

Why not be honest? Am I embarrassed?

No. Not at all. I just don't want to deal with the inevitable questions that come from telling people I'm a writer. You are? What do you write? Are you published? Why aren't you published yet? And my favorite, Any news? If I had news I'd be shouting it from the rooftops. As it is, every time someone asks me that it feels like a slam because no, nothing's happened yet. People think writing's easy. Just like they think teaching's easy. For me it's just simpler not to even bring it up.

I won't get into the whole SAHM debate, about how it's the hardest job in the world, because most fortune-500 executives could care less. Even though people might outwardly agree with that statement, whenever I say I'm staying home with my kids, there's always an uncomfortable lull in conversation. The emotional writer in me wants to scream I'm more than just a mom (even though there's absolutely nothing wrong with being just a mom - it's the most rewarding job a woman will ever have). The rational writer in me says keep it quiet until you're ready to deal with the plethora of questions. It's an ongoing internal struggle I'm still waging and will probably continue to wage until the day I'm published.

So how do you answer this question? If you're an unpublished struggling writer, what's your first response? I'd love to hear your take on this age-old question.

:~: Thursday, April 06, 2006 :~:


You know how you write your first book and start fantasizing? Come on. You know what I'm talking about . . . until you're aware of the realities of publishing, you write the book, write your query, send it off, while visions of editors calling and the mailman delivering advance checks dance in your head.

Some part of you expects to sell that first book. Sure, you know it doesn't happen to lots of people, but you're different. Your book is different. Of course it will sell.

For most of us, it doesn't take long for the reality check to arrive in the place of that advance check.

My first reality check showed up on December 16, 2003. I'd written a book, polished it, polished some more, declared it ready for the world, sent a partial off to a publishing house in October 2003. Sure I'd be offered a multi-book contract (oh, for the joys of naivete!), I happily started on book #2. I mean, I'd need something else when that editor called, wanting everything I'd written, right?

Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we dabble in grand delusions . . .

Well, it's 2006. And believe it or not, I'm still wrapped up in that book. I've written other books, but that first book, despite the editor rejection from December and many more agent rejections, still gets my hopes up. It's the book I landed my first agent with. It's the book still sitting somewhere at four publishing houses. It's the book I'm currently working on in the lower realms of Revision Hell.

It's the book that hasn't sold. It's the book that I know needs further work (hence my time in Revision Hell before I send it to another publisher -- yes, sans agent. We parted amicably this week as she's no longer repping romance works.) It's the book that still raises my expectations.

Might I get yet another reality check? Well, sure. At this point, I've opened myself up for five of the suckers. But what's five more? Somehow, the expectation lingers, realistic or not. And the expectations aren't limited to selling that first book. We have expectations when we sign with an agent. We have expectations when we sell a first book or a fifth or a tenth. The expectations never go away.

And I imagine the reality checks don't either, not really.

So what do you do to keep your reality checks from overdrawing your expectations account?

:~: Tuesday, April 04, 2006 :~:

The Wicked World of Revisions

I've decided that the better your writing gets, the harder it is to revise.

I wrote Hiding In Plain Sight about a year and a half ago. It was a Golden Heart finalist this year. Whoo-hoo! But it's also been rejected by 7 different houses. Boo-hoo!

I've rewritten and revised the ms about ten times (no, I'm not exaggerating). The last big rewrite happened just before I sent it to my agent, who then sent it out to publishers. Hence, the 7 rejections.

Are we having fun yet?

Before we send it out to the other 7 or so houses that take romantic suspense, we gathered up the rejections and took their comments to heart. After my agent and I covered all the comments and strategized modifications, I started on the revision trail. Yet again.

Whose idea was this whole WRITING thing anyway?

I'm currently in a class with Margie Lawson through KOD called Empowering Characters Emotions. I've only been in the class a week, and I can already tell it's going to be so much more than simply addressing character emotions in my writing. In fact, the amount of information I've already gotten, and will continue to get according to the schedule of topics she posted in the beginning of the class, is mind-boggling. Even overwhelming.

And because I'm so compulsive (a.k.a. driven) to improve my writing skills, I typically participate in an average of 2 classes/courses/seminars per month. This month I happen to be in 3. Calculate that out over the last six months, during which time I didn't even look at Hiding In Plain Sight, and you'll see the chore I'm up against with revisions.

So, I've got these new skills in my head, and I find myself looking at all my work differently. Are those mannerisms and that dialogue consistent with the character? How can I make this one and that one different? Did I put enough emotion in that passage? Too much? Is the wording fresh? What exactly is fresh, anyway? Fresh to me or fresh to someone else? And if I change this plot point or shift that action, how many places throughout the story does it touch and change? Did I get them all? Am I creating new holes? Filling old ones?


See, now if I didn't know all this new ... stuff ... I wouldn't be twisting my brains, and I'd be MUCH happier about revisions. Changes? Sure! No problem! I'll have the whole thing done in a couple days.

Now it takes me a couple days to get through a couple pages. And I can't even see the changes for all the blood I've spilt. Isn't there some famous quote regarding blood and writing? Didn't it have something to do with gushing from your eyeballs and dripping from the hair follicles? Because that's about how much fun I'm having right now.

I've got to do them. Usually I don't even mind them. Sometimes I even look forward to a chance to deepen my work. But as God as my witness if this manuscript doesn't sell after I've put my blood down on paper...

Okay, so everyone share their revision stories. And don't even THINK about commenting if you breeze through them! Okay, you can comment, but only if you share your secrets!!

:~: Sunday, April 02, 2006 :~:

There's Much Here To Love, But . . .

Story of my life.

In case you haven't guessed from the title, I'm currently embarking on the great agent search. And wow. It's so . . . fun. (Can you taste the sarcasm?) All snarkiness aside, trying to find an agent is just about the most humbling experience I've ever encountered. Anyone who's been there knows what I'm talking about.

My partners in crime here are agented, and while I try not to let the green-eyed monster rear it's ugly head, I have to admit sometimes it does. It's not that I'm not happy for their success - I am, more than I can say - it's just that sometimes I feel left out in the cold, still trudging through the thick snow, falling farther and farther behind as they move steadily forward.

I have this little analogy J laughs at all the time. I picture myself standing out on the sidewalk with my face pressed to the glass looking in the lobby at all my friends who are agented, standing around with their glasses of champagne, drinking and laughing. And there I am banging on the glass trying to get in, only no one's listening. Other friends are waiting at the base of the elevator for their ride up to stardom. Still others are already inside those sparkling glass cubes, jetting up to the sky, looking down at the rest of us like little ants.

The really funny part about all this is I know getting an agent isn't the end all of this whole process, that it's only the beginning. Almost everyone I know who has signed with an agent says it put more pressure on them than they expected. And while I do have those moments of "I want that now," I recognize that watching my agented friends has been a valuable learning experience for me. I've gotten to see how different agents work and interact, how they manage their clients. I've heard feedback and been able to narrow my list based on my friends' experiences. A year ago I was querying anyone I could find. Now I have a narrow list of agents I know I want to work with, and that's all thanks to sitting on the sidelines watching the action.

Lin talked about the right time in one of her posts. I think she's right. I certainly wouldn't have been ready for an agent last year. Now? I think I am, but I guess I won't know until it happens. In the meantime all I can do is keep trudging along, writing the best book I can, sending out queries, waiting for that one person to click with my voice and take a chance on me. I'll still tease J about pressing my face to the glass, only maybe now I'll add some silly faces and see if that gets me any attention.

Wish me luck.

For anyone else on the great agent search, J has a fabulous agent list on her website. Check it out.