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What We're Working On Now

Elisabeth: Marked

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33,126 / 95,000

Joan: Buried Secrets

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Linda: Facing It

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:~: Wednesday, August 30, 2006 :~:

Motivation when you need it

Today's post was going to be about the August time warp in the NY publishing industry. I've been waiting about 6 weeks now to hear on my manuscript which currently sits on three editors desks (2 weeks of July + the entire month of August when the publishing houses disappear into a worm hole and reappear in September).

I have to admit, I'm edgy. Feeling a little blue.

Just before I sit down to write this, I check my email. I subscribe to two different writing article loops, so I get a lot of emails with links to (mostly) great information.

This one's titled: Staying Motivated in the Face of Rejection? by Anna DeStefano.

Oh, wow! Is that timing or what? I SO need some serious motivation at the moment. I click on the link...

And nothing.

No "This page could not be displayed", no wrong link, nothing funky.

Just...nothing. A completely blank web page.

It was like...PSYCHE! There is no staying motivated for rejection you dimwit!

I must be punchy for something like that to strike me so funny, but it did.

Anyway...I decided I really needed the spirit mojo, so I went in search of the article...once again hoping.

And I'm so glad I did. This is one of the best, most matter-of-fact articles on the subject I've ever read, and I won't even attempt to paraphrase it here. But take a minute and read this even if you're not feeling like you need that motivation at the moment, because sometime in the future you will and then you'll hopefully either have this article bookmarked for that moment or have the words in your head.

It's a short, quick read and worth a couple minutes of your time.

The REAL link: http://annawrites.com/articles/pdf%20files/Keep%20your%20eye%20the%20finish%20line.pdf

:~: Monday, August 28, 2006 :~:

Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down

It's not raining. Yet. That's supposed to happen here tomorrow. But it is Monday. And as such, it's hit me in the face, just as it always does.

I got up this morning and, after feeding the Gremlins, grabbed a cup of coffee and sat to check my email. When that was done, I popped over to a couple of blogs I occasionally read, then hit RWKF to see if Joan had posted yet today. Since she hadn't, I smiled and thought, "Gee, she's slow. Wonder what she'll post about today?"

Duh, Elisabeth. Today is your day!

To say I've been distracted is an understatement. My critique partners are tired of hearing me grumble about this, but I've been immersed in the WIP - not necessarily making forward progress - but writing and rewriting that dreaded first chapter.

Dreaded, you ask? Yes. Dreaded.

I don't know why I have such trouble with this concept of story beginnings. I think maybe it's because - for me - knowing where to start a book is the hardest part of writing. It's really a skill that takes time to learn. How much info is too much? How much is not enough? Once I get about three chapters in, everything clicks and away I go. But that initial set-up, that hook that draws the reader in is the hardest thing for me to master. And I'm still mastering it.

My current WIP (and source of long hours of agony) starts with a bang - literally - in the prologue. But in chapter one I have my protagonists meeting. No bang here. Not really. There's a glimpse of the "ordinary world" as Vogler puts it, and then a hint of the initial conflict, there's also a little suspense at the end of the chapter. But it's not action-packed, and for someone who likes lots of action, I think that's what I'm having trouble with.

For some of you, first chapters might be no-brainers. But when I talk about that story start, I'm not talking about those first lines or even the first few pages. That initial hook is all about word choice and voice, and initially I think you're either drawn in by a writer's voice and style or you aren't. What I'm stressing over here is the entire first chapter, the meat of the set-up, the situation that keeps the reader reading past those first few pages.

What hooks you? Is it action? Do you like to be dropped right into the middle of a situation and hit the ground running? Do you prefer a slower build - where you meet the characters, maybe get a glimpse of who they are and what they think before that big bang? Do you like first chapters full of introspection and descriptions? Or ones where the protagonist is immediately running for her life?

I once had a critique partner - ahem, still have that wonderful CP - who, upon reading the beginning of one of my manuscripts, asked me, "Are you sure this is where your story starts?" I didn't like the question, not because she was necessarily wrong to ask it, but because she made me think long and hard about where the beginning should really be. Since then, I've asked myself that question on every manuscript I've started. And sometimes, like now, I over-ask it.

Regardless of the answer, instinctively I know that as long as I'm still asking myself that same question, it means something I'm doing isn't right. And until I figure it out, I won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

So excuse me while I go think about chapter one . . . again.

:~: Friday, August 25, 2006 :~:

The Hidden Link: Theme and Symbolism

One of the best things about starting school again is that I have new students (it's similar to the rush of having a new WIP to work on). Because I re-teach the basics of good writing every year, those first few days of school serve as a refresher course for me, too.

This week, my ninth graders have been focused on Stephen King's short story, "The Last Rung on the Ladder." Our essential questions have revolved around imagery, diction, symbolism and the link betweeen these literary elements and theme.

What does that have to do with this writing blog, you ask?

Well . . .

Breaking down these links for my fledgling high schoolers reinforces for me how we as authors use the shorthand of imagery and symbolism to guide our readers to our theme -- our universal statement, our intended message.

But I write commercial fiction, to entertain people. I don't need a theme, you say?

I bet you have one.

I used to think the same thing. I was writing a romance novel with a mystery intertwined. Sure, I used descriptive details, sensory words, and that created imagery.

But theme?

Then I learned a new way to write a short synopsis. It involved beginning with your premise.

And a premise is . . .

An author's universal statement about her subject.

Yep, a theme.

Lo and behold, I had a subject. Actually, I had several.

And when I started looking closer, I had themes on those subjects.

So in later manuscripts, I started playing with the concept of linking symbols to my themes. Sometimes, it was simple allusions -- one hero has a thing for Johnny Cash tunes, but the titles I mention within the manuscript underscore the theme and even the overall idea of the book. Another time, it was the hero and heroine's tattoos -- his standing in for the past he carries around with him, much as Hawthorne's Hester Prynne carries her scarlet A, hers representing the secret self she keeps away from the world and how she has been made stronger by her own past. The theme? Only by facing one's past can one find true healing.

Do you play with theme and symbolism in your work? If so, how do you link your images and symbols to your premise?

:~: Wednesday, August 23, 2006 :~:

Mystery vs. Suspense

There's been some discussion about mystery vs. suspense lately. I noticed a thread on the RWC list after one of my crit partners and I discussed the same phenomenon.

Here's my ground-breaking realization: suspense is one hell of a lot harder to write than mystery.

Yes, I see you rolling your eyes. Jeez, how long has she been writing? Why did it take her so long to figure that out? Where the hell has she been?

I've been writing romantic mystery...evidently. Because now I'm writing romantic suspense, and--crap--it's really hard!

HIDING (my third ms and my first submitted to publishers) is clearly a mystery. There is a serial murder out there (yawn, I know, not particularly original, but give me a break, I wrote it two years ago) and the reader has to figure out who the killer is and why he's killing. Even when a reader *thinks* they know, a good mystery keeps them reading so they can prove to themselves they were right.

But, SAFE (my forth ms and the next slotted to be submitted to publishers) is a whole different animal. In this manuscript, the reader knows who the bad guy is up front. They know his tendencies, his weaknesses, his strengths, how he's related to the hero and heroine. If you include the villain's POV, as I do, the reader even knows the villain's thoughts and plans.

Now, where the heck is the suspense in that?

Good question.

If you're not hiding the identity of your villain or your victim or someone else vitally important to the plot, if you don't have murders or clues or red herrings to create an intrisic sense of tension and suspense, how do you do it?

In SAFE, I've given my villain a psychopathic personality with impulse control issues. That way, his personality disorder escalates with the plot events. The reader (I hope) is left wondering--What's he gonna try next? When's he gonna blow? How's it going to happen? How are the hero and heroine going to handle it?

I've also given my hero a solid goal with motivation attached securely to his identity, which keeps him from grabbing the heroine and booking it out of town when things start to crumble. How is he going to keep this mission from falling apart? What's he going do to protect the heroine? How's he going to defeat this villain? Will he end up sacrificing his mission and/or his own life to maintain professional integrity and/or prove personal devotion?

And I've thrown in a heroine who's got scads of personal issues including a need for control, a long-standing hatred for the villain, a lot to gain by the villain's defeat. She also has personality traits that directly clash with the villain, and uses them to get under his skin, making the situation worse.

I suppose my theory for creating the same page-turning suspense you would typically get in a mystery from the **lack of information**, is to offer **lots of information** that purposely creates conflict between the characters and within the plot. Hopefully this results in a continuous flow of story questions and keeps the reader reading.

What are your thoughts and theories on writing mystery vs. suspense?

:~: Monday, August 21, 2006 :~:


I believe very strongly in instinct. Internally, I think we all have little triggers that tell us when to do something and when to not do something. When we're doing something right and when we're doing something wrong. Whether it's something as simple as not wanting my kids to go somewhere because I have a bad feeling, or feeling like I need to be somewhere at some point for an unknown reason. Trusting my instincts has always worked to my advantage. When I don't, that's usually when I get in trouble.

Most of us who are writers have those same gut instincts when it comes to our work. The more I learn about craft and this business though, the more I realize I'm questioning those instincts that have never (really) failed me. As I sit here working through the first few chapters of my new WIP, I find I'm questioning everything - plot, characterization, turning points, what the hell is going to happen next.


I'm not sure. I think deep down it's fear. Fear that I don't know half as much as I should. Fear that someone else knows more. Fear that I'm kidding myself and I'm doing everything wrong.

Allison Brennan blogged about midpoints a couple weeks ago. The idea was basically that in a three-act structure, with the second act being your longest act, there's a natural midpoint that falls (generally) close to the halfway point of your book. That this midpoint is a natural shift in the story - where, from that point on, you can see the book building toward that ultimate climax. Did I know about this midpoint idea before I'd written five books? Nope. Didn't have a clue. But I immediately went back and looked at my most recent manuscript, and bam, there it was. There's a clear midpoint right smack dab in the middle of the second act, and surprisingly, it falls almost exactly at the halfway point of my book. I wouldn't call it a major turning point, but it's a point where the heroine decides instead of working against the hero, she has to resign herself to working with him to accomplish their goal. It's more of an internal shift from not trusting him, to trusting him, but from that point on, you can see where the climax and black moment are going to come crashing down on her. When I started that manuscript, instinctively I was building toward that midpoint, although I didn't realize it. Then when it happened, everything shifted toward the climax.

But what if I'd known about midpoints before writing that book? Would it have affected what I was writing and how? I'm not sure. But I do know now as I look at this new manuscript, I'm constantly asking myself, what's the midpoint? How are you going to build toward it? And how is it going to change everything?

Luckily, I have an answer, but it's taken me a while to work it out, whereas before I would have simply started writing and let my natural instincts guide me along. I feel like I've lost a good month stressing about midpoints and turning points and 3 (or 4) act structures. My early manuscripts were pure crap, but even when I look at what I wrote back then - bad as they were - there were some things I was instinctively doing right even before I knew about all this other stuff. I just wrote. And I didn't worry about all that craft knowledge that's thrown at us right and left. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying studying your craft is a bad thing, I'm just saying sometimes - for me - knowing too much tends to bog me down and hinder my forward progress rather than help it.

Joan is a huge proponent of taking classes, learning her craft. She knows a lot, and she passes a lot of that on to the rest of us here at RWKF. And to be honest, a lot of my craft lessons come from her when she shares them with me. She's a wealth of really good information, and I always read her Wednesday craft posts with bated breath. And they always, always, always make me think, hmm, am I doing that? Or, I wonder if I could do that better? But we're all wired differently, and what works great for her, tends to simply overwhelm me. If I took as many classes as Joan my eyes would cross and I'd be asking so many questions, second-guessing my instincts, I'd never write a single word. But I am glad I have her around to remind me of things now and then.

Where do you fall in this continuum? Are you the kind of person who's constantly taking classes, learning as much as you can, or are you more like me, where too much knowledge tends to slow you down?

:~: Friday, August 18, 2006 :~:

Just When You Least Expect It . . .

It's been a long week -- first full week of school for both me and the Monsters. I've been focused, focused, focused on teaching rituals and routines, helping my mentee, tackling department head stuff. Writing has been the last thing on my mind.

Thus, I spent the last two days desperately trying to come up with an idea for my blog entry here. I don't know what I was thinking when I put myself down for the Friday spot. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to follow the brilliance that is my critique partners, Elisabeth and Joan? I end the week feeling like the red-headed stepchild. And this week? No ideas. None. No matter where I looked, what I thought about, I had nothing.


Until I came home tonight and checked my email. Seventy-nine unread messages. I skim.

One from my editor, Jessica Bimberg. She's been swamped and I haven't heard from her lately. So getting this email was nice.

Just let me say, I'm so thankful to her. She handed me my blog entry idea.

And contract offers for three more books!

:~: Wednesday, August 16, 2006 :~:


I've hit a serious plateau--in writing and in life.

It's one of those things you can feel coming on, battle against it like swimming upstream. Sometimes you break through and move forward. Sometimes you fatigue and flow with the current.

And sometimes--like me, now--you just sit here. And wait.

Work is...well, work. I keep dreaming of that sale that allows me to quit. My beads are more a chore than a joy, but working part-time forces me to continue making and selling them on ebay for a fraction of their value (and my time) because, well, some money pays some bills, right?

Unfortunately, I have no inspiration in either area.

Writing...sigh. I'm revising Safe In Enemy Arms, and I'm less than thrilled about it. I mean, I like the changes. I'm refining a stronger voice, digging deeper into character, twisting and reshaping the plot. But as anyone who has gone through umpteenth deep revision knows...it's not fun.

On the personal front, my weight loss for the summer has also stalled. The good news is that I'm toggling between the 11 and 12 pound weight loss mark...the bad news is that I'm STUCK there.

My solution to these plateaus varies. If I'm energetic, I push past the boulder blocking the flow of water and upstream where an oasis waits. If I'm not, I put my head down, my blinders on and one foot in front of the other.

That's where I'm at now. Every once in a while, I take a peak in the direction of that oasis, then put my head down and keep going.

September's got to be better, right? Kids are in school which means more time for writing, beading, excercise, less stress, more focus. The publishing industry should be back up and running from their August vacations...and maybe I'll get some answers back on Hiding In Plain Sight, the ms that's still sitting in three editors' agent-slush piles.

We won't discuss the troll hovering in the dark corner of my brain telling me that September means getting up early every morning to get the kids to school, taxying them around town to their various sports activities, helping with homework and reports and tests, shorter days... No. We won't go there at all.

What do you do when you hit that plateau?

:~: Tuesday, August 15, 2006 :~:

Putting Yourself Out There

I apologize for not posting yesterday. I've already been flogged with a wet noodle because someone says I disappeared and shouldn't do that. (I love you, J. I love that you worry about me. You're a sweetie.)

For the record, I was on vacation with the fam and the house we rented didn't have internet access (GASP! Can you imagine???? I was going through serious withdrawls.) Five days in sunny Central Oregon playing and having fun. And I'm pooped. A vacation with the kids is a lot of work. I feel like I need a vacation to recoup from my vacation.

Anyway, while I was there, something interesting happened. I let my DH read the first few chapters of my recent book. And I cringed.

The. Whole. Time.


Because...it's HIM reading MY work. Now he's gonna know what goes on in my twisted little brain. What if I shock him? (BTW, he read it and loved it - and why wouldn't he? It's wonderful. ROFL. Actually, he said that WHEN it's pubbed, he gets all the credit for making me think like a guy. And he's totally right.)

So back to the topic.

I cringed when DH read my stuff. Then tonight I went to my writer's meeting - which was a critique meeting - and purposely didn't take anything to have critiqued. But, lo and behold, this evil Nationals roommate of mine printed my new prologue and brought it for everyone to read. Grrr....

And I cringed some more.


Because I hate hate HATE having people read my stuff. No, that's not true. I think I hate being in the same room when they're reading it. I'm so self conscious. Strangers reading it is fine, but I'm forever worrying about what the people I know are going to think of me and my abilities when they read what I've written.

Does this ever change? The more you write, the more you pub? Do you ever stop worrying about what friends and family will say and think? Putting myself out there to agents and editors is a snap compared to putting myself out there to friends and family.

Tell me how you get past this fear - if you have it at all.

:~: Friday, August 11, 2006 :~:

First Lines

Today was the first day of school. In honor of that (and with Karin Tabke's first line contest rapidly destroying all of my fingernails), I thought I'd share with you some first lines from various books around my house. Some are mine, but all are cross-genre. I'm not giving you the book title (not yet, anyway) or whether the lines are mine.

Which lines would have you reading further?

What genre would you guess the book is?

1) I should of been in school that April day.

2) Ariadne, my given name, the one that's on my driver's license, is the sort of name that you're supposed to grow into.

3) The poets had come before.

4) She wasn't going to die.

5) This is a story about a man named Eddie, and it begins at the end, with Eddie dying in the sun.

6) Darkness was a different thing in the north woods than it was in the city.

7) A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over: "Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en!"

8) From the beginning, the child growing inside her seemed aware of the need for secrecy.

9) "My life sucks."

If you don't want to make guesses on these, what are your favorite first lines?

:~: Wednesday, August 09, 2006 :~:

Deepening Character Tri-fecta: Internals, POV Filters & Props.

Part III.

Last week I blogged about POV filters. The week before about internals. By combining your character internals with their history via their personal filter, you've already gone deep into your character.

Props take you one step further.

I was first introduced to this concept by Carolyn Greene, author of The Plot Doctor. If you're a plotter I recommend the "kit". If you're a pantster, you will go insane in 3.2 seconds.

The following is my interpretation of props, my applications, etc., not Carolyn's.

Props, in my opinion, can be split into three categories: tangible, mannerisms, and crutches. When combined with internals and POV filters, these elements take your nicely-polished character to a high shine.

From your character's strongest two or three traits, choose several possible props to refine their persona.

Let's take a restless modern cowboy, living life through the POV filter of LOSS, as an example.

Some tangible props for this type of man might be:

  • Cigarettes--make the brand distinctive, personal. Make the habit purposeful (smokes when confined or to relax or when preparing to lie.)

  • A unique pair of boots (that hold meaning or memories for him)...there's a country song whose lyrics have the line "the scars on my knuckles match the scuffs on my cowboy boots" illustrating how he lives the life, not just dresses for it.

  • Saddlebags that he carries in his truck instead of on his horse; ones which hold unusual items (that further define him) like:

    • photos of the family he lost

    • a book of poetry--a gift from his late wife
      a digital camera--to document his travels and relive them when he's stationary; moving helps him forget his pain.
    • his palm pilot--to check email, his only contact with family and friends since he lost his family.
    • A truck that has two hundred thousand miles on it--from all his travels, his restless attempts to either remember his family or forget their absence.

Restless modern cowboy mannerisms might include:

  • Pinching his cigarettes between the tips of his fingers (the *manly* hold of a cigarette).

  • Not finishing one before he disposes of it and lights another.

  • Shifting on his feet.

  • A nervous tick (maybe a result of nerve damage from the accident in which he lost his family), a quark such as wiping his brow or upper lip with the back of his hand, lifting and repositioning his cowboy hat (guys with baseball caps do this all the time, too).

  • Squinting into the distance instead of looking someone in the eye while they talk, giving others the feeling hedd rather be somewhere else.

A restless modern cowboy's crutches--elements of his personality he leans on in crisis--might include:

  • Feigning preoccupation with his electronic toys as avoidance.

  • Using his duties on the ranch to get away when he feels closed in or the memories are too strong (ride the fence line, take a trip to the feed store).

  • Maintaining a gruff exterior to keep other's at a distance.

I did this whole restless cowboy thing on the fly, so they may not be an exact fit, but I think it gets my point across.

Now I'm going to provide some examples of how I utilized these props with Cassie (heroine) and how I weaved them into the story.

Remember: she's a professionally independent, personally insecure physician living through the POV filters of SUSPICION and FEAR.

Example 1 (tangible props): On a deep breath, she sank deeper into the comforting leather driver's seat and forced her mind clear. But that only lasted a moment before the uneasy sense of forgetting something, of needing to be somewhere she wasn't crept in. Her hand drifted to her waist, but found the cool casing of the pager she usually wore absent. The anxiety pushing its way up her chest attested to the turn her life had taken over the years. When a pager and a cell phone became security blankets, when being needed and in control at all times reshaped a life, big changes were needed.

Notes: This sense of pagers and cell phones creating a lifeline is very real to medical professionals, and a perfect tangible prop for Cassie.

Example 2 (tangible props): To keep her focus, she mentally reviewed the contents of her bag for possible weapons: scalpel, scissors, needles, flashlight.

Example 3 (tangible props): The cop ambled over to the men and entered into a low-volume discussion. With their attention diverted, Cassie pulled a digital camera from her medical bag. Multiple professors had advocated the importance of documenting interesting cases for teaching files, evidence for court cases or simply covering one's own ass against liable or administrative quandaries. It fit in her palm, and she cupped it tightly, edging toward the rear of the truck.

Notes: Her medical background (experience and supplies) are a constant prop--because it's a huge part of who she is.

Example 4 (mannerisms): Her hand drifted to her waist, but the cool casing of the pager she usually wore was absent.

Notes: This is an example where a tangible prop can pull double-duty. The action of her hand drifting to her waist constantly searching for what grounds her is also a mannerism.

Example 5 (mannerisms): She stretched her neck, forcing the morbid, agonizing thought away. Her cervical spine popped and stress relief flowed over her shoulders.

Notes: This is one of her little quirks; she does it when under extreme stress. I actually do it quite often when I'm writing.

Example 6 (crutch): She swept his immaculate light blue jeans and polo shirt with one look. Her fear dissolved into fury. He hadn't been harmed in the accident, nor had he lifted a finger to help any of these women.

Notes: She often uses anger to control her fear.

Example 7 (crutch): Heat crawled up Cassie's neck and burned her face, but she restrained a blowout. She needed to strike a balance here--authoritative but not confrontational, professional but not condescending. She knew this type of man much too well.

Notes: She constantly falls back on the control she learned in medical school to maintain composure.

Example 8 (crutch): When she was sure no one had followed, she passed through the security gate and started down the long, palm-lined driveway until she could no longer see the main road. Cassie stopped the car and let it idle, taking comfort in the soft glow highlighting the trees' rough trunks and illuminating the undersides of the fanned leaves, the soothing ocean waves on the shore yards away. With all her fear and anger shoved to the background, Cassie focused on her body, on regulating her chaotic heartbeat and shaking limbs. But no matter what she did, memories of her own past seeped in.

Notes: Another of her 'crutch patterns' is to present a strong front to others and break down when she's alone.


Well, I hope this information has given you some ideas of how to deepen your characters. Other tips and techniques, suggestions and advice, always welcome.

:~: Monday, August 07, 2006 :~:

The Little Things Get You Going

So Nationals is over and everyone's come home totally charged to write, right?

Um. No. Not me.

Gosh, I wish that were true. In my case, at least, it hasn't been.

Last year I came home from Reno pumped up and ready to write. But last year I had a 6-mo. old who basically slept, laid on the floor, and didn't demand too much attention. This year I have an 18-mo. old who likes to pull on my leg, whine in my ear, empty EVERY single cupboard and drawer I have, then scream at the top of his lungs. And he really really REALLY likes to bug his older siblings who (also) like to scream at the top of their lungs. As you can imagine, not much concentrating going on here during the day.

This summer has been a lot more challenging for me writing-wise. The last time I actually "wrote" something new was in May when I finished my then-current manuscript. Then school ended, our routine went out the window, and I haven't been able to bleed out so much as a paragraph. Add to that crazy vacations, interrupted naps, and heat that makes me dog-tired, and by the time everyone's in bed and I actually have a few moments of peace, the last thing I feel like doing is writing.

In one of Nora's speeches at Nationals, she said that writing is a habit. You write because it keeps you writing. When you stop, you get out of the habit and it makes jumping back into it that much harder. Truer words were never spoken. I've made thousands of excuses about why I'm not writing, tell myself it's okay because I'm constantly plotting my new book in my head and researching whenever I have time, but all of that is still not the same as sitting down at the computer and putting words on paper (or screen, as the case may be.)

So what's the deal?

I don't know. Allison Brennan blogged about fear last week over at Murder She Writes. The post stuck with me because while I'm not in the same situation, I do have to admit there's a little fear going on inside me. Fear that the new book won't be as good as the last. Fear that I'll pick the wrong direction - dark vs. lighter, snarky vs. serious. Fear that I'm wasting my time. Fear that in the long run I don't really have what it takes. Facing those fears was a big step in the right direction, and while it didn't exactly get me writing, it did get me thinking about just what's holding me back.

So Friday I was chatting via IM with good friend and fellow writer, Lisa Pulliam, wasting time as I'm known to do. Poor Lisa was trying to plot out her new book, and I was taking the opportunity to distract her because I'm so not a plotter. (Hey, we were going through separation anxiety since Nationals.) We ended up chatting about nothing in particular and the conversation shifted toward superheroes. Now, being girls, we didn't really care about what type of power we'd have as superheroes, we only cared about what outfit we'd wear (yes, shallow, I know, but this is how I waste time). Lisa came up with her pink outfit (she's obsessed with pink), and I said no, and gave her a better one. And then POOF. I had a vision. The beginning of a scene if you will. So I opened a word doc and jotted it down. Then I sent it to her (laughing like a hyena) and waited while she added to it and sent it back.

Was there fear? Nope. I wasn't working on the new book, I was just goofing around, so it didn't matter if I wrote total crap or not. It was just for fun. But guess what happened? While I was waiting for Lisa to write her part, I actually opened the new book and DID write something. Before I knew it, I had almost 12 pgs written.

OMG! 12 pages? I haven't written 12 pages in longer than I can remember. And definitely not in less than an hour.

Since then I've added to the first chapter, I've even added to the writing exercise Lisa and I started. I wasn't planning on writing, but now I am. And damn, it feels good. I'd almost forgotten how good it feels to have words flow from my fingertips. Writing is a habit, and once you get out of that habit, it's so hard to get back into it. I've tried all the exercises people chat about to get you writing again - watching movies, blogging, brainstorming, dancing naked in my living room hoping to get the creative juices flowing (try this only if your drapes are closed, by the way), and none of them worked. For me, it was the littlest tiniest thing that got me going again - something I totally didn't plan on.

So I can officially say I am now excited about the new book. Fearful still - there will always be fear - but excited and ready to go. That's a cool place to be. Did I write last night? Yep. Will I write tonight? Yes. Even if it's crap. When I finally get that "call" and the person on the other end of the line asks, "what else do you have?", I want to be able to say, "'Currently I'm working on..."

Share your fears. What holds you back, and how do you get past them? I'd love to hear what works for you.

:~: Friday, August 04, 2006 :~:

Winding Down

There are only two days left in my summer. Hard to believe, but yes, pre-planning starts Monday. So I'm going back to that beautiful Carribean blue notebook I started the summer with (it's a little tattered now), to check in on my summer, er, goals.

The goals were . . .

1) Kickstart my exercise program.

Check. Monster #1 and I have taken up running together.

2) Be a better CP.

Well, I haven't had a ton to crit, but I did finally get E's chapters back to her, and I critted a partial for Carol -- the same MS she got a full request on at Nationals.

3) Get promo for What Mattered Most underway.

Survived my first author chat. Held two contests. Does that count?

4) Write a short online serial for promotional purposes.

Well . . . no. Not yet.

5) Prewrite/outline a new novel (or rework MOU and finish it).

I have almost three chapters on a new novel. I've made revision notes on MOU.

6) Get living room/kitchen renovations 90% done by first of August.

Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! I said what?! Yeah. Right. I did declutter the house, so all the extraneous junk is gone. And my laundry room is nearly finished. But I'm still living in renovation hell.

7) Outline 9th Lit/Comp, tweak 11th American Lit units.

Did it.

8) Maintain the pool.

Um . . . let's not go there.

How about you? How have you done with your summer goals?

:~: Wednesday, August 02, 2006 :~:

Deepening Character with a Powerful Tri-fecta: Internals, POV Filters & Props

Part II

Welcome back from Nationals--you lucky bums you!

I want to congratulate all the Golden Heart and Rita Winners for 2006, and if I could find a list of everyone who won, I would name you all here with personal kudos, but since I can't seem to locate said list online, I'm giving one contratulatory WHOOP for everyone!!

And a BIG thank you to Elisabeth for standing in for me at the ceremony.

To help you get into the routine of everyday life again, join in our discussion of deepening characters. Check out last week's post: The Tri-fecta of getting deeper into your character: Internals, POV Filters & Props, Part I. I blogged about internals: how getting inside your character's head allows the reader to do the same, giving them the experience of living vicariously through the character you've oh-so-beautifully created (or something to that affect).

This week--POV filters (and how you can use them to make your characters distinctive. Unique, memorable characters--that's what we're all striving for.)

Each of us sees our world differently based on our personality, our past, our peers...the reasons for our unique perspectives are endless. When developing your characters, knowing where they've been and how it has shaped them into individuals is imperative to creating a unique and believable cast.

To start with a simplified example, let's say Cassie (heroine) sees her world through a RED filter; Rio (hero) sees his world through a YELLOW filter. When Cassie looks at the sky, she sees purple. When Rio looks at the sky, he sees orange.

Now, let's put that into practice with their character.

Backstory: You'll need a bit of your character's history to decide what filter your character views life through. Here's my heroine's...

Cassie had a perfect childhood with her mother, surrounded by love, money, friends and security. Her stepfather (selfish and manipulative) came into the picture when she was sixteen, tilting everything off kilter and setting off a string of troubled situations. In his attempts to control her, her stepfather bugged her room, had her followed and interfered in every aspect of her life through manipulation and bribery.

After she left home for college, her relationships with her beloved mother and stepbrother suffered because her stepfather's psychosis worsened and started to affect their behavior as well.

While in the early years of medical school, she dated a man who attempted to rape her on their third date--her first brush with true violence. She was emotionally and physically scared. A strong personality to begin with, her vulnerability has shamed her. Self-disgust over her naivety kept her from turning to others for help and she retreated into herself, regaining "control" over her life by drowning herself in her medical studies and residency.

During the last year of her residency, three years after the attempted rape, her mother and brother are killed in a boating accident. The trauma of losing the last of her family sets back any recovery she'd attempted, and her return to a more normal and balanced life is thwarted.

This is where my story begins.

In Cassie's case, her filter is SUSPICION and FEAR. To add conflict, her strong independent personality combined with the sudden changes in her past and experience from medical school has developed an almost severe need to control her environment. Lingering beneath that, her happy childhood with a doting, loving mother has ingrained a deep inner need to love and be loved. Not only do these traits clash with each other, they war against the filter that has become as much a part of her as her eye color.

Here are some examples from Safe in Enemy Arms I hope will illustrate that explanation.

Example 1: The sea to her right spread like ink into the distance. The coal-black mountains to her left loomed against a plum sky. Behind her--nothing. Ahead, only the asphalt beneath her high beams. The only sign of life came every fifteen or twenty minutes in the form of headlights on the opposite side of the road. With each mile, the isolation sank a little deeper into her bones. Anxiety had already taken hold with pressure in her chest, tingling in her fingers. Her heart thumped a little too quickly against her throat.

Result: She sees the landscape through her filter of SUSPICION and FEAR. Another person in her situation--exhausted from residency, taking three months off to go to Baja and tie up personal business--might feel relaxed, relieved. They might even be looking forward to closing one chapter of their life and starting anew. They could see the landscape as peaceful and soothing, not ominous and desolate and threatening.

Example 2: Cassie caught sight of a large man silhouetted against the truck, blocking her view of the back and making her rethink the decision to stop. "Make sure you send the policia, por favor."

Result: Cassie immediately sees the man as a threat. Many women would see a man as a source of security; someone uninjured as someone who could help. But Cassie's filter of SUSPICION and FEAR automatically make her distrustful.

Example 3: When the first police car arrived, she considered unloading all her suspicions. An elemental part of her wanted to insist, no order, the cops to arrest these men. But with the rampant corruption of Mexican officials, she knew a few hundred pesos would render this officer blind to anything but an unfortunate accident. Instead of labeling herself a suspicious outsider with local authorities, she gave a concise report of the incident and went back to work.

Result: The internals within this passage make her thoughts, and the filter through which she views life, clear. Mexican cops are dishonest. Not only won't they help her or these poor women, the cop could also be a threat to Cassie's safety. Her filter, created from past experiences, affect her opinions and her decisions.

Example 4: (This passage is taken later in the story, chapter 2. She's seen Rio in town and believes he's following her.) Of all the nerve. Saul had put his watchdog on her ass, just one of many controlling techniques he'd used on her as a teen. A grown woman, a doctor, sole owner of everything Saul now had, and he still treated her like a naive, ignorant child.

Results: She hasn't confronted Rio yet, so she doesn't know for a fact that he is following her. But with the SUSPICION and FEAR filter in place, along with the knowledge (shown through internals and interaction between them in chapter one) of her past relationship with her stepfather (Saul), the reader can accept the fact that Cassie was on alert and when she spots Rio, her natural instinct is to believe she'd been followed.

Is this stuff making sense? I'm trying to make it clear, but my mind is often gets swampy when I try to explain something that is more of an intuitive "sense" of a concept than a concrete application.

Questions? Comments?

Next week: Props -- my favorite of the tri-fecta.