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Elisabeth: Marked

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:~: Monday, April 30, 2007 :~:


I'm posting for Elisabeth today. She's off body surfing in Maui. No Internet access, she says.


I’ve been reading a lot lately – a combination of contest entries and books I have won in contests. And while that may sound fun...I'm not having much of that.

I freely admit I am a finicky reader. I need something really interesting to pull me in, and one heck of a lot of substance to keep me there through the first three chapters. If there's no twist or impossible situation before the end of chapter three, no quippy, humorous voice to keep me entertained, it's simply a matter of time before I put it down. The minute h/h/v does something out of character or a plot twist makes me say, “What the hell?” you can pretty much guarantee I won’t reach the end of the book.

It’s disappointing, really. I love to read. Love to get lost in a good story. Love to reminisce about great characters after I’ve closed the book on The End. But since I’ve started writing, I rarely get to do that. Even before I started writing, I had grown increasingly restless with the stories I was reading.

During this recent bout of reading, I’ve noticed a familiar thread that causes my interest to wane: Lack of consistency. Character consistency, to be more specific. And because plot typically stems from character and GMC is dependent on character, without consistent characters, everything in the story goes wonky.

But I'm going to save that discussion for my post Wednesday. Come back and discuss that topic with me.

For now, tell me...are your reading habits before writing and after writing different? How often do you find a really, really good book that you think about for a long time after you've read it?


:~: Friday, April 27, 2007 :~:

Syntax Musings

It's a weird day at school (region baseball playoffs -- whoo-hoo!) and I'm a little all over the place. I've spent the morning trying to come up with a topic, but between two sets of edits for my editor, student governemnt stuff, poetry anthologies, and finally an email from my editor offering me a contract for one of my submissions to her . . . well, I'm scattered.

However, I've been thinking about syntax (sentence structure; the arrangement of words into sentences) a lot lately, simply because of those poetry anthologies my students are working on. I adore poetry -- I like how a great poet can condense a theme into the fewest possible words, how each word carries its own weight, how the arrangement of those words can change everything.

For example, look at "since feeling is first" by e. e. cummings, a Modern/contemporary American poet:

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady I swear by all flowers. Don't cry
-- the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

I love this poem, first because cummings mentions syntax -- I like the play upon the phrase "to the syntax of things" in the first stanza because the arrangement of words there allows the stanza to be read in more than one way. Eliot does much of the same arranging in many of his poems (I'm explicating "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" for my juniors as they learn how to explicate -- this is down-and-dirty-in-the-trenches analysis of craft, LOL).

But . . . since poetry explication is not why you visit us, I thought I'd share something I do teach about syntax in my classes that romance writers can use -- a list of suggested sentence beginnings. (I did not create this handout -- I stole it from another teacher so long ago, I don't even remember who to credit. The examples are mostly mine, however.) Here goes:

1) Two adjectives
Tall, handsome deputies flirt . . .

2) An appositive
Troy Lee, the tall, handsome deputy, flirts . . .

3) A parallel structure
Tall and handsome, Troy Lee flirts

4) A question
Who could that tall, handsome deputy be?

5) A prepositional phrase
Against the patrol car hood the tall handsome deputy lounges.

6) An infinitive
To ride around back roads all day is part of a rural deputy's job.

7) A gerund
Serving and protecting is a deputy's duty.

8) A perfect infinitive
To have killed someone was beyond her comprehension.

9) A perfect participle (past participle)
Having killed him, she smiled.

10) A present participle
Smiling at the speeding driver, Troy Lee pulled out his ticket book.

11) A perfect gerund
Having killed him was her dream come true . . . and her worst nightmare.

12) A predicate adjective
Tall and strong was the prison guard.

13) A predicate noun
A tall, strong man was the guard.

14) Parallel structure, more complex
A tall man and a handsome one, Troy Lee loved law enforcement.

15) An adverbial clause
While he was on patrol, Troy Lee gathered much female attention.

16) A noun clause
That she had killed him had never been proven.

17) An exclamation! (which my editor would hate!)
Wow! He certainly seems powerful.

18) A mild interjection
Well, that was that.

Next Friday (and over the weekend, if it's all right with my blog partners!), I'll be hosting a minilesson here on analyzing syntax -- in your own writing as well as a favorite author's. If you're interested in participating, drop me an email with "Syntax Workshop" in the subject line to linda_winfree at yahoo dot com so I can send you the syntax forms and directions.

Have a great weekend!


:~: Thursday, April 26, 2007 :~:

original premises

I'm a huge fan of apocalyptic books. (and movies)

I'm not sure why. I'm actually a very grounded, happy, stable person. So I've no clue why I relish end of the world--or at least civilization as we know it--books and movies. But I do.

So I've read and watched a ton of them. The problem is, I've read so many the premises are all similar. The Apocalypse falls into one of three categories. Some kind of plague, the earth being hit by a comet or asteroid, or a nuclear Holocaust. I still buy them of course, and read them-- no matter how similar they all sound after awhile. But I haven't been impressed by a apocalyptic books since Stephen King's The Stand-- or Robert MacCameron's Swan Song.

Until I found DUST. A phenomenally original apocalyptic book written by Robert Pellegrino. This isn't a new book. In fact, it was published by Avon in 1998. But its new to me, since I just picked it up at a garage sale. For a apocalyptic fan like myself--this book is a gold mine. Without doubt the most interesting one I've ever read.

Because of the premise. Which is so original. In Dust, the earth itself is dying (along with all the creatures inhabiting it) because the insects have all died. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, 99% of the insects on earth just up and died. The few species of insects that survived what ever happened to the others, are running amok
Before long the grasses, trees and such begin dying because the insects, which are natures gardeners, are no longer around to keep the plants healthy. Or because the fungus, which used to be kept under control by various insects, are infecting almost every living plant on the planet. Which means that everything that lives on the plants begins to starve as well. By mid way through the book it is obvious that almost every plant and animal on earth is facing extinction. Without the insects, everything dies.

The books goes into a lot of science, and alot of explanation for what various insects do, so the entire premise is not only plausible, but scary as hell. I'm enjoying the book immensely and wondering how they are going to turn this disaster around-- or if they even can.

But something dawned on me while I was reading it. It's the whole "we want something new/original cry that we keep hearing from the editors/agents. Yet 9 times out of 10, when you do send them something new/ or that's never been done they seem hesitant to take a chance on it. I've lost count of how many times I've been told that Yesterday's Child was not a first sale book. That it was the kind of book you sold once you had a few books and an audience under your belt. Which goes back to the whole new/original premise point. Yes, they want something new and original-- but within limits. They want an overall premise that has a track record for selling, but they don't want a cookie-cutter of that premise.

Dust-- brought this home to me. The book is set solidly in the traditional apocalyptic theme. But the actual events within this theme have never been done before. So while it is within a sub genre that has had alot of success, the immediate premise is fresh and original and new.

Not only has this book been a riveting read, but its managed to really bring home to me what editors/agents mean when they come at us with their "we want something new/original" cries. They want a book like DUST.

What about the rest of you. Any book you've read that had the same effect on you?

:~: Wednesday, April 25, 2007 :~:

The Lonely Writing Life

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. ~Ernest Hemmingway

Or not. Many writers live in metropolitan areas allowing them plenty of access to fellow writers, writing associations, writing-oriented activities and classes.

But I'm not one of them, so Hemmingway's sentiments resonate with me.

Thankfully, I've got Internet. I've got my email/IM crit partners and my loops and my online courses. I've also got supportive family, interested friends and a flexible schedule which allows me time to devote to my writing.

For a brief moment in time, I had a writing group of women who focused on fiction. Shortly after I joined, the group disbanded (you think that was a sign?) and I was, once again, left adrift.

I'm a pretty introverted person. I generally like my own company, prefer a couple good friends to a crowd, rather stay in than go out, choose email over talking on the phone. But lately, the loneliness that comes from being my own number one fan, critic, reviewer, editor, brainstormer and supporter, has crept in. I miss the touchy-feelyness of personal contact with other writers, writers who have walked the same path and seek the same expression -- specifically other romance writers.

So, I did it. I got my list from RWA and I sent out my letters with a questionnaire to see what level of interest I could garner from 2 hrs in three directions--north, south and east.

I was surprised when I got several immediate positive responses from those who live so far away. Evidently, I'm not the only one who feels lonely now and then. The women who replied stated similar feelings of isolation and showed a contagious enthusiasm for the opportunity to interact with other romance writers.

I'm encouraged. The anticipation of cultivating a supportive writers group has my mind spinning in new ways. The thought of writing and writing related discussions and classes and seminars once again appear as opportunities instead of their recent relegation to the category of chores.

And in spite of the challenges, I agree with Gustave Flaubert who said, "Writing is a lonely life, but the only life worth living."

Do you get writer's loneliness? If no, why not? If yes, what do you do about it? Have you found that the loneliness can affect your writing--motivation, production, love of the craft?


:~: Tuesday, April 24, 2007 :~:

Writing rituals

I think I have spring fever this week. It was 90 degrees yesterday and it's probably about 70 today, so I'd rather be outside than sitting in front of the computer. The kids are back in school after a very long, rainy and cold vacation last week, and yard work is calling my name.

As I sit here wasting time, I've been thinking about writing rituals. Mine are pretty basic. During the school year, once the kids get on the bus I work out, take a quick shower, and then plant myself in my computer chair for most of the day--in between dishes and loads of laundry. I work for part of the day on Saturdays but take Sundays off. During the summer, my schedule is a little different. I work for a few hours early in the morning, and then for another few after they go to bed at night.

I always have a water bottle on my desk, but to avoid excess snacking--which I'm really prone to--I've had to make a rule. No food by the computer. I wish I could listen to music while I write, but I can't. It's too big of a distraction for me. Not that I have to have complete silence (I usually write with a talkative bird on my shoulder who pretty much spends the day chatting in my ear) but I can't have anything going that makes me want to get up and move around. Because I will. :grin: I tend to have a pretty short attention span.

What are your writing rituals? Is there anything you can't deal with when you're writing?

:~: Monday, April 23, 2007 :~:

Friendly Reminder - Back Up Your Work

First of all, a bit of housekeeping. Big apologies for not posting last Monday. To say I had an minor technical issue is an understatement.

Now on to my post. Directly related to my computer issues.

Back up your work. All you writers out there, let me say that again so you understand it clearly: BACK UP YOUR WORK. Right now. Stop reading and go do it.

My laptop, which is less than a year old, decided to die last Sunday night. After a week at the shop, the problem couldn't be diagnosted because the machine kept rebooting. The solution? To send it out for service. I'm looking at minimum two weeks without my computer, possibly longer. And if the problem is serious, they'll have to wipe my hard drive. The worst words a writer can hear...wipe your hard drive.

I'm horrid about backing up my work. Now and then I'll email it to myself, or upload finished work to my yahoo briefcase, but I don't do it routinely. Luckily, this time, I'd saved my WIP on a zip drive just the day before the crash, so that wasn't lost. But all the other files on my computer are possibly lost - including the opening chapters of several books I'd started but hadn't gotten very far in. Thanks to a few choice CPs, I was able to track down a recently revised ms I hadn't saved (thank God for CPs!!!), but my GH finaling ms??? I hadn't saved it since my agent and I made some minor revisions last September. If worse comes to worse and the laptop has to be cleared, I'm hoping she has a final copy saved somewhere.

Let this be a lesson to you...back up your work. Do it routinely. Like once a week. Open a yahoo briefcase or email your books to yourself and save them in a special folder. Keep a zip drive in the top drawer of your desk. And most of all...remember to use it. You hear people say this all the time, but it never hits home until it happens to you. Don't let it happen to you.

Oh, and just so you know this isn't a random incident that can't happen to you...check out Kristen Painter's blog. Considering I was able to find most of my work, I'm feeling really lucky. Kristen's situation is much, much worse.


:~: Friday, April 20, 2007 :~:

Character Snapshots

I always know far more about my characters than what ends up in my books. I remember reading an article about young adult author S.E. Hinton once in which she made the same kind of statement. As an example, she gave facts about her character Ponyboy that didn't make it into the book The Outsiders.

In order to write fully-formed characters, to know what makes them tick, what makes them act or react the way they do, I believe they have to become real. You have to know them inside and out. One of the ways I do this is to play with what I call "character snapshots." Back when I was teaching creative writing, I would have my students do this as well, and they always loved it.

What are character snapshots? Short snippets of scenes involving the character I'm developing. Usually, they are in first person, which I normally don't use when I'm writing. Many times, the snippets will reveal something about the character which I will use in the book; if not, they serve to give me a better feel for the character.

I thought I'd share with you a character snapshot I wrote a few years ago, for the hero of my June release Truth and Consequences.


Each morning I ride the #37 bus to school. The bus stop is a dump made out of weather-beaten plywood and pieces of old advertising boards. Sarah Taylor’s daddy put it together so we wouldn’t get wet, but the water blows in anyway through the cracks between the boards. So every morning, rain or shine, I stand in this gray little shack with “For Lease, 1-800-OUTDOOR” over my head and wait with the other people who ride my bus.

They’re rejects like me – kids who don’t wear designer clothes, kids who have uneven kitchen haircuts, kids who bring a lunch in a blue Walmart bag because Mama or Daddy doesn’t have the two dollars for lunch and they’re too proud to apply for free lunch. This morning, I hunched lower against the wind and hoped that when the bus pulled up, Kathleen Palmer wouldn’t notice the new hole I’d worn in my shoes or that I hadn’t been able to get the grass stain out of the white sweatshirt I’d already worn to school twice that week. Don’t know why I was worried – she’s a senior and a cheerleader and her daddy’s a rich lawyer who just got elected to the state house of representatives.. I’m just a freshman who lives in what has to be the most run-down singlewide trailer ever. She doesn’t even know I’m alive.

The bus was running late again. My cousins Jim Ed and Billy griped about the wind. I don’t know why they bother riding the bus anyway. Their mama ain’t poor. When Uncle Jimmy died of a heart attack last year, he left her plenty of life insurance, and they have a new car. But Jim Ed has a crush on Staci Harris, and Lord forbid he doesn’t get to ride to school with her.

Billy was in one of his mean moods, and he was giving Bruce Taylor a hard time. His teeth bared in a fake smile, he nudged Bruce’s shoulder. “Hey, Taylor, what’s in the bag, man?”

“Just lunch.” Bruce mumbled the words so low I barely heard them.

“Just lunch,” Billy mimicked, his voice high-pitched and just plain ugly. He poked at the blue plastic bag and set it swinging against Bruce’s arm. His eyes held the same look he’d worn when he beat ol’ Mrs. McCauley’s little dog to death – mean and blank but full of a weird kind of excitement gave me the willies. “Whatcha got for lunch?”

“Just a sandwich.” Bruce backed up against the wall, and I sighed. Didn’t he know you couldn’t show weakness with Billy? All it did was make him meaner. You had to act like nothing he did bothered you. I’d learned that lesson a long time ago.

Billy batted at the bag again. This time he hit it hard enough that his fingers left an impression in the tinfoil-wrapped packet inside the bag. I’d known Bruce Taylor long enough to know he wouldn’t touch that sandwich again. He’d go hungry through lunch and probably supper tonight too, because his daddy wouldn’t get paid again until Friday and who knew what was in their cupboards until then? I knew what that was like, when Mama had had to choose between the light bill and groceries, and we stretched a jar of peanut butter and a box of store brand Rice Krispies for three or four days.

Man, I’d know when I wasn’t poor anymore. Once I could buy real Kraft mayonnaise instead of the nasty store stuff, I’d have it made.

The bus rumbled to the top of the hill, puffing the red dust into clouds behind it. I glanced at Bruce, who was stuffing his ruined lunch into his jacket pocket. The bus stopped, brakes whining, and Jim Ed and Billy were the first to move to the door. No one else moved for a long moment. Quiet descended, broken only by the whistle of the wind through the cracks in the walls.

Billy looked at me over his shoulder. “You coming, cousin?”

I didn’t look at Bruce as I followed him. “Yeah.”

What techniques do you use for delving into your characters and making them real?


:~: Thursday, April 19, 2007 :~:

A Plethora of Titles

I'm terribly unimaginative when it comes to titles.

Which anyone who has tried to brainstorm titles with me, will attest to. For the life of me, I can't seem to think up anything interesting, or intriguing, or even halfway decent. It's humiliating, but when it comes to titles my mind draws a complete blank. So, when I run across something I think sounds like it would make a great title, I tend to write it down and hoard it....you know, just in case by some miracle it might happen to fit one of my books someday. (which hasn't happened to date)

A couple of years ago I came across this absolutely killer list. A list full of names that would make killer titles. So I copied my favorites from the list down and kept them all this time, hoping. . . .


Nope, haven't used one of them.

Anyway-- the list is full of the different nouns that are used to describe a multitude of different animals. Of course some of them are used so often we don't even think about them. Like a Pride of Lions. Or a Pod of Whales. But there are dozens that I'd never heard of. And the imagination that went into these names. . .(yes, its an elipses day)

Some of my favorites

A shrewdness of Apes
A battery of Barracudas
A cloud of bats
A sleuth of bears
A clash of bucks
A kaleidoscope of butterflies
A wake of buzzards
A coalition of cheetahs
A quiver of cobras
A congregation of crocodiles
A murder of crows
A business of ferrets
A charm of finchs
A flamboyance of flamigoes
A skulk of foxes
A bloat of hippopattamuses
A cackle of hyenas
A scold of jays
An exaltation of larks
A leap of leapards
A labour of moles
A wisdom of owls
A pandemonium of parrots
An ostentation of peacocks
A prickle of porcupine
A rhumba of rattlesnakes
An unkindness of ravens
A shiver of sharks
An ambush of tigers
A blessing of unicorns

Are these cool or what?

:~: Wednesday, April 18, 2007 :~:

Plotting My Way Through Life

My "nephew" (not a blood relative, but he's my nephew at heart) had his Bar Mitzvah last weekend.

For those of you not of the Jewish faith (like myself), the Bar Mitzvah is a huge deal. There was Friday night service and a reception at the synagogue. There was the actual Bar Mitzvah on Saturday morning and a bigger reception at the synagogue afterward. There was the Saturday night reception—the only catered portion of the weekend. And on Sunday there was a brunch following a golf tournament.

I baked. And baked. And baked some more.

But before I baked, I planned. It started with menu plans in diagram form. I had eight sheets of paper spread out across the dining room table. I made notes, crossed them out, drew arrows, calculated.

At the end of the planning session, I had an outline of the items I was baking, how many I was baking, and for what day. Then I broke it all down another level. I needed a shopping list. I had to figure out trays and packaging for transport. I had to consider ingredient limitations and timing and refrigeration.

When I was finished, and I looked at my baking itinerary, I realized I had just plotted my portion of the Bar Mitzvah menu.

I’m a big plotter. Not the nitty-gritty details, but right up to the edge of them. And the way I worked those lists and schedules for cooking made me wonder if I was a born plotter or if I evolved into one. I suppose that level of planning goes into most things in my life. I see the big picture. I like to be prepared. I feel…safer…when I know where I’m headed.

Do you notice that your pantster or plotting methods extend to other areas of your life?


:~: Tuesday, April 17, 2007 :~:


Last week was an interesting week for me, since my Internet service was out--save for the occasional blip of access--from last Monday until this past weekend. I thought, without the distractions of email and surfing the web, I would have increased my productivity when it came to writing. Um...not even close. I wrote 600 words last week. Total. :grin:

I spent most of the week parked on the couch catching up on my reading instead of sitting in front of the computer getting any work done. I don't feel too guilty about it, though--I don't often take vacations and I probably needed a little time away from it all to recharge.

It's odd, but this has happened before, too. I seem to have a block against writing when I can't be online at the same time. Even though I knew I had a lot to get done, I couldn't seem to find the motivation to do any of it. Now that I'm back online, I'm not having any problems putting the focus back on my writing.

Does this ever happen to you? Do you need to be online while you write? What do you do when you have downtime?

:~: Monday, April 16, 2007 :~:

Testing the Water

Hey, y'all . . . I'm hijacking Elisabeth's day (since she's offline due to computer issues) to ask a quick question. In the comments for my Friday post, Joan and I were talking about my English major background as a shortcut to the study of craft. Anyway, I got to thinking . . .

If I put together a mini-workshop on the study of syntax and diction in other authors' work (maybe in late May or early June), would anyone be interested?


:~: Friday, April 13, 2007 :~:

Digging Deeper

On her personal blog last week, Joan asked about the study of craft. My reply was that I study the craft of other writers (I'm an English teacher -- studying the craft is my job), but not by taking online courses, reading craft books (okay, I have a couple -- Stephen King's On Writing and one called Fiction First Aid; Strunk and White's Elements sits on my desk at all times), and attending workshops.

So how do I study craft?

I read.

I know that sounds simplistic, but as an English major, I learned that I'd never be able to approach a text simply as a reader. I learned to dig, to search for "hidden" meaning, to look at overall meaning by studying the author's style. Hence, when I read, I take everything apart -- poetry, short stories, novels, nonfiction -- everything.

Take for example, my current teaching unit: poetry. I'm teaching kids to write poetry, we're talking about poetic devices, and we're reading a wide array of poetry as well as The Odyssey. We're using Robert Fitzgerald's translation of Homer's epic, and the diction is interesting. In one book of the epic poem, Odysseus goes to "Circe's flawless bed of love." Think about that word choice. No paragraphs telling us or showing us what happened there . . . just the idea that her bed is flawless. Fitzgerald's translation includes many examples of such resonant word choices.

One idea I keep coming back to this week with my juniors is the concept that in the Modern period (which some critics still maintain we're writing in -- others refer to our period as the post-Modern, post-post-Modern, or even the contemporary period) what the the poets and authors didn't say was as important as what they did. It's an interesting idea, one I'm still trying to master through the use of subtext and layers.

So, the gist is that my study of craft comes from, well, the study of individual authors' craft. I'm always reading; therefore, I'm always learning.

What's the most important concept you've learned from reading another author's work?


:~: Thursday, April 12, 2007 :~:

Finding The Balance

Three years ago, my mother was diagnoised with an aggressive, terminal case
of cancer. They gave us only months with her, even said she'd be gone by
Christmas. Turns out, the doctors were wrong. She did have cancer, only not
the deadly one they'd diagnoised. She had breast cancer, and one of the
more treatable strains.

We didn't know this for six long weeks, though. Instead, we lived with the
knowledge we were going to lose her. And soon. It was a huge eye opener,
and made me reevaluate what was important in my life. Up until then, my family
(and by that I mean my mother/father/grandmother/siblings and nieces and nephews)
took a back seat to my writing. I missed countless family dinners, potlucks,
picnics--or what not, simply because I needed to get those pages in. The writing
always came first. I was under the mistaken assumption that my family would always
be there, patiently waiting for the moment when I had time for them.

And then suddenly, out of the blue--that time was limited. Four months,
that's all the time I had left with her.

And suddenly I regretted every single one of those dinners I had missed,
the movie nights I'd brushed off, every hour spent writing when I could
have been building memories with my mother.

I got a second chance. We took her over to the Seattle Cancer Care
Alliance and during a thirty minute consulation our world swung on it's axis
again. She didn't have the rare, aggressive cancer we'd been told. She had a
treatable form of breast cancer. Not only would she celebrate this Christmas
with us--but she'd be with us for many more.


But it wasn't something I was willing to take on faith.

I rearranged my priorites that day. I put my family first. My writing second.
I don't miss dinners anymore, or movie nights, or spur of the moment get-togethers.
My writing can wait. But a human life is much more fragile. fleeting--there
beside you one moment and then gone the next. There is only one gaurantee
when it comes to our families--they won't be around forever.

That isn't to say the writing goes unwritten. There is time for both. I just
needed to find a balance. The words still get written, I just don't give up
family time to get them down on paper. Instead, I give up less important time --like
television time.

Ten years from now, when I look back-- I don't want to regret the sacrifices
I made to feed my need to write. I don't want to regret the hours spent silent
and dreaming infront of my computer screen.

Instead, I want to cherish the memories I've built.
And the books I've written.

:~: Wednesday, April 11, 2007 :~:

Writing Tips

On a board recently, someone asked for writing tips from the members. Not too many people responded, but I thought it was a worthwhile topic.

Here are a few of mine...please share at least one or two of yours.

  • Never—ever—stop learning the craft. There is always some way tobetter or deepen your writing. Search out more advanced informationvia author blogs and articles.

  • Always strive to make your next book better than your last. Trysomething you've never tried before, attempt twists you think arebeyond your capability to write, tackle subjects you believed wereoutside your ability to handle.

  • Work on something writing related everyday, even if it's justthinking about your characters and your plot before you fall asleep.Become an expert on human nature--eavesdrop, people-watch, askothers' life story (people love to talk about themselves and you'llbe surprise how interesting they are!).

  • Take every critique with a grain of salt. Search the crit for validadvice that works with your story your style or your voice and applyit. Then search it again for valid advice that doesn't work withyour story or your style or your voice and see if there's a way to take the essence of the suggestion and make it fit your work.

  • Only make changes to your work that better it in some way. Neverchange because someone you admire told you it needs changing. Neverchange because the market warrants it (unless you've sold and youreditor suggests it)—because by the time your work gets to market, themarket will have changed.

  • Conflict, conflict, conflict.

    1) In the planning stages, ask yourself, "What is thischaracter's greatest fear?" Then make it come true.

    2) Take a situation, ask yourself, "What's the worst possiblething that can happen to my character here?" Then make it happen.

    3) Make your conflict develop organically from the character andher fears, flaws, wants, needs, and you'll never be accused ofwriting contrived plots.

  • Make sure all your scenes pull double, triple, quadruple duty—revealcharacter, deepen theme, take the plot one step further, exploreromance, add conflict.

  • Always leave the reader wanting. Don't ever give them enoughinformation to enable them to feel satisfied in their knowledge ofthe plot or the characters until the very last page. Constantly raise story questions so they have to read on—like a trail of breadcrumbs to THE END.

  • Let rejections and discouragement spur you further along your writingpath. Prove those idiots wrong!

  • Have at least three sources of inspiration sitting on your nightstand. I have Dojo Wisdom for Writers by Jennifer Lawler, Bird byBird by Anne Lamott and my rosary.


:~: Monday, April 09, 2007 :~:

It's All A Matter Of Perspective

The DH and I are going on vacation in a couple of weeks sans kiddlets (...two weeks and six days, but who's counting?). For the last year and a half I've been working out consistently to get my body back in shape after having Gremlin #3. (and let me tell you, it's been tough.) The workouts have helped, but I've recently hit a plateau. When we decided to get serious about booking our trip nearly a month ago, I also decided to get serious about my workouts. No more taking it easy, no more slacking off, no more telling myself fifteen minutes on the treadmill is really the same as twenty or twenty five. (I know I'm not the only one who does this). Most days I can't really see a difference in my body from all the workout changes I've been making. Is the increased exertion and sweat really working? Are my workout changes making any noticeable difference? Is cutting out sugar really helping me get back in shape? It's very hard to tell.

Today as I was standing in the weight room doing lunges, surrounded by mirrors (because, yes, every weight room on the planet has ten thousand mirrors so you can see every jiggly angle), I stopped and looked at myself with an objective eye. Not easy to do for most women - trust me, I know. What did I see? My shoulders are slowly changing shape. There's muscle tone there that wasn't there before. My clothes really do look like they fit differently. I actually DO have muscles in my biceps and triceps and what do you know, my butt's not as saggy as it once was. But all of these changes aren't things I see on a daily basis because I see myself in the mirror every morning when I wake up and get dressed. Because of that, the dramatic differences happening are easy to overlook. And when I don't fit into a size smaller in two-weeks time of getting serious about workouts and eating "healthy", it's very easy to consider throwing in the towel and just giving up.

A dear friend of mine recently mentioned she's had nine months to get herself in shape for a vacation she and her DH are taking at the end of the month. Yet she hasn't. As someone who's always interested in cause and effect (yes, that's my science background coming out...let's all make a hypothesis...), my question becomes, why? What stopped her from reaching her goal? Was it an outside force? A hurricane? Food sabotaging her in the form of a candy bar every time she turned around? Or was it...her personal level of perseverance?

I picked up a book this weekend by an up-and-coming author. I'm a couple of chapters into it (actually took it to the gym this morning and read a little while I was on the elliptical forcing myself to go PAST the thirty minute mark), and I have to say, this whole writing gig isn't rocket science like we sometimes make it out to be. This story is entertaining, but it's not knock-you-on-your-ass stellar. The writing is good, but not drool-worthy. In the end, the plot is well-thought out, but not so incredible another writer smacks her hand against her head and thinks, why the hell can't I come up with plots like this? Simply put, this is an easy-to-read, entertaining book. And this author is making a career out of writing easy-to-read, entertaining books. She's not a better writer than I am. Her plots aren't more unique or captivating. And if I were a writer prone to throwing in the towel, I might find myself asking, why is she published and I am not?

Perseverance. It's the same thing with the workouts. Having talked with this particular author in person and having read a few of her online articles, I know she has an enormous level of perseverance. When others would have given up, she went on. When she was told she wouldn't ever make it, she didn't listen. When she got rejection after rejection, she didn't let it ruin her determination to one day make a career out of doing something she loves. That's a matter of perspective. Looking at yourself with a critical eye and knowing if you keep working and improving and are dedicated enough, you will eventually reach whatever goal you set for yourself.

I have two weeks, six days (correction, two weeks, five days and . . . eight hours) to reach my workout goal in time for vacation. Will I? I don't know. If I don't, I'll be close. But the cool thing about workout goals is even if I don't make the vacation deadline, I still have summer to be in shape for, and Nationals in Dallas, and a whole multitude of things happening in my future. I will get there. The same is true for my writing. I can't see the daily strides I'm making by continually writing and honing my craft, but they're happening just the same. Things might not be moving along career-wise as fast as I'd like them to, but that's not a reason to give up.

How about you? How high is your level of persistence and perseverance? And what keeps you going, be it workouts or writing?


:~: Friday, April 06, 2007 :~:

The First Blush

Of love, that is. I've been struggling with a WIP for weeks, well, months, now. And while I'm in the middle of edits on Truth and Consequences, BAM! -- a new story pops up and just totally takes over my brain, effectively pushing the recalcitrant WIP to the side.

Go figure.

I've fought to get the bare bones down on the WIP, and the new story? The movie's in my head. The hero and heroine decided to show up, fully formed, like Athena springing forth from Zeus's skull.

Sat down last night to fiddle with the handwritten scenes I'd sketched out earlier in the week (yes, while I was supposed to be immersing myself in the evilness of the villain in Truth and Consequences but that's another story).

Wrote almost 2000 words in one sitting. Could have gone farther if the DH hadn't required attention (I did tell him not to get used to that -- when the Muse shows up, one must take advantage of her Cheeto-less state).

I have to admit I love the rush of loving a WIP, when I can't wait to get to the keyboard, when the ideas zing around in my head, the words ready to spew forth.

And because I'm dying to share the love, I'll leave you with a snippet for Angie and Fish's story. Remember this is a rough draft!


“Well, actually . . .” Bull rubbed a hand over his chin. “I hear you have some leave coming to you.”

Adam nodded. “Yeah, I’m due to start a couple weeks in two days and a wake-up.” A grin crept over his face. “What did you have in mind? I was thinking of doing some parachuting, maybe even head out to Cali for some surfing-”

“Actually, I’ve been talking with Harding.”

Bull’s quiet revelation sent foreboding shivering down Adam’s spine. Fear normally didn’t reside in his vocabulary, but he was actually scared of where Bull might be going with that line of thought. He shook his head. “You’re not-”

“Angie’s birthday is this weekend.”

Like he didn’t know that. Like he hadn’t planned his leave, looked for the craziest, wildest activities he could find, just to help keep the date and all its memories off his mind. Kuwait, when she’d turned nineteen and laughed with glee over the sandcastle cake he’d fashioned for her. Her twenty-fifth birthday, when he and Harding had flown all the way to Germany to surprise her, and those big brown eyes had lit with pleasure once she’d seen him. And her twenty-eighth, when they’d slipped from San Diego into Mexico, and he’d ended up kissing her against a rough stone wall in a dark alley.

Like he’d ever forget any of that.

“She’s officially finished with all the teacher training stuff, has her full certification, too. Harding was thinking it would nice to surprise her, get all of us together again.”

“No.” He shook his head. “No way, Bull. Forget it.”

“Man, what is your problem? You should be over this bullshit by now.”

“There’s no problem. No bullshit to be over. I have other plans, and I’m not changing them to go down to BumFuckingEgypt, Georgia to see a woman who-” He swallowed the words and their tinge of pained anger. Maybe he wouldn’t forget the memories, but she’d sure as hell forgotten him. “She wouldn’t want to see me, Bull. You? Hell, yeah. But not me.”

“You don’t know that.”

Two years without a word? Not a card or a phone call, not even a freakin’ email. How many times during the first six months she’d been gone had he seen envelopes addressed to Bull in her neat handwriting show up at the big house they’d all shared? How many phone calls had Bull taken from her, when he’d had to listen to Bull chuckle over what she’d said, and he’d had to grit his teeth to keep from asking how she was?

“I do.” He shoved to his feet and strode to the window. Across the parking lot, he could see the groups of recruits drilling on the green under the mild spring sun. He blew out a long breath, wishing Bull hadn’t shown up. In the last eighteen months or so, he’d found being alone was easier when he wasn’t reminded constantly that he was.

“Fish, listen.” Bull joined him at the window. Adam didn’t look at him. “I know you put in for another tour in Iraq. We both know what it’s like over there, that there’s the chance you won’t come back. Do you really want to leave with this crap still between you and Angie?”

Damn Bull’s huge hide. He never played fair.

“Maybe you weren’t listening. There is no crap between me and Angie.” He clenched his teeth so hard his jaw ached. “There is nothing between me and Angie Francesco.”


So what do you think?

Y'all have a great weekend!


:~: Tuesday, April 03, 2007 :~:

Stranger Than Fiction

I was looking through the mail today and one of the titles on the recent RWR caught my eye: Truth Really is Stranger Than Fiction.

The article spoke on how other authors used their real-life experiences to weave their own ficitional stories as a cathartic way to work through the fallout of those experiences. But it got me to thinking a whole different way.

I often hear stories, or experience things, and think--I could never write about that without the stories looking unrealistic or contrived. That may have happened in real life, but it would never fly in fiction.

I thought it would be fun to share some of our "stranger than fiction" moments. I know we all have them. Here are just a few of mine:

  • When I was working at Washoe Medical Center, I was called in to perform a testicular ultrasound. When I got the patient, he told me the real story: he was a wanna-be transvestite on welfare. Medicaid wouldn't pay for a sex change operation, so he and his lover got shit-faced drunk and cut his testicles out. I scanned a scrotum swollen with blood because the vessels hadn't clotted off and continued to bleed. He was a very sweet guy. He was just born the wrong sex (his opinion, not mine).

  • Same location, I was called to perform a penile ultrasound. After spending 30 minutes trying to get out of the exam with every excuse I could think of, I scanned this patient's penis to evaluate blood flow. Evidently, a penis can be "broken"--it's a break of tissue--and blood flow can be interrupted. Another nice guy. He held his member still for me while I scanned and told me the story of how he and his girlfriend got a little carried away.

  • One of the previous officials at my husband's union was investigated for improper use of funds. To make an incredibly long and convoluted story short and straight, he was having more than one affair and using union money to make trips to see his lovers. He was married for over 20 years with 4 grown kids. He had one lover locally, and he had another lover eight hours south--one he has a 3 year old child with. Needless to say, he was prosecuted within an inch of his career. I don't know what ever happened to the lovers or the 3yo child, but he is still married. (And, yes, his wife knew all about the affairs.)

  • I worked with a radiology fellow at UCSF who was model material--gorgeous, blonde, perfect. Her husband was a plastic surgeon, and we always used to half-joke that she must have had work done because she was so damned beautiful. She was also incredibly smart and funny and sweet, had two great kids with her husband, big home in the suburbs, and family money. You know--the type you want to strangle for having everything. She found out her DH was having an affair, left him and took the kids, limiting his access because of his erratic behavior. The husband's lover started stalking the wife and her kids--phone calls, notes, emails, following. The wife had to get a restraining order against the lover.

So, share! Tell us some of your stranger than fiction stories!!


Reading Habits

I'm on a break from writing for the next day or two, and I've been catching up on some reading. There are a few books I've been dying to read, but haven't had the time until now. Like a lot of writers, I'm also a big reader. My bookshelves are overflowing, and my TBR pile is generally huge, no matter how many books I read every month, because I'm usually (and a bit compulsively) buying more.

When I first started writing, I remember hearing that writers should read in the genre they're writing in, to get a feel for the market and to see what's selling at the moment. I do this, to a point, but usually I seek out books that are different from what I'm writing at the moment. I like a change of pace sometimes. If I'm writing something really dark, I usually pick up a comedy to read. If I'm writing a romantic comedy, I tend to grab a Greg Isles or Nelson DeMille book off my shelf.

I don't usually go by book reviews when I buy since taste is so subjective (and I tend to read some pretty oddball books), but I find if there's a lot of online controversy about a book, I'm more compelled to pick it up and see what the fuss is all about.

Do you read what you're writing, or look for something else? Do you read reviews before purchasing? How big is your TBR pile?

:~: Monday, April 02, 2007 :~:

Giving Back

Yesterday a writer contacted me and asked if she could pick my brain about my agent. She has a full request sitting at the same agency and was in the process of doing some research in anticipation of an offer of representation. My immediate answer was, "Yes. What would you like to know?"

Afterwards, I thought back to where I was just six months ago. Doing the same thing. I'd contacted several writers who are repped by my now agent and asked very similar questions. Each of them gave the same answer I did, "Sure. What do you want to know?" Some volunteered information I didn't even ask, and all were helpful and eager to answer any questions I posed. Today, being on the other side of the Q&A, I'm struck with the same feeling I had then. What is it about writers that makes them so generous with their time and experiences?

At my first RWA National Conference in Reno, I was so star struck I could barely see straight. I remember running into Nora Roberts in the hall and feeling like I'd just met the Pope. I felt much the same way last year in Atlanta, especially at the Literacy signing (which I missed in Reno), seeing all the big-name authors together in one room, talking and autographing books. And time and again I've been struck with the same question - why are they here? Why do they bother to come to the conferences over and over again? I know why I go - as an unpublished author - but what keeps the big-wigs coming back year after year?

I think it's the same feeling I get when a new writer asks me a craft question or a colleague expresses interest in an agent or asks for my opinion. Others helped me get where I am now, and I feel the need to share what I know in the same way. Writers - but especially those in RWA - are more than generous with their time and experiences and this philosophy of giving back to other writers. It explains why there are published authors responding on the loops when they could be writing, why multi-published authors run for RWA offices both on the national and local levels, why so many big names make appearances even at small chapter meetings and conferences when asked. Allison Brennan does it by speaking at conferences, answering questions on loops, and responding to emails. Karin Tabke does it by running her first line contest and as president of the San Francisco RWA chapter. Alice Sharpe does it by staying active in the MWVRWA chapter and blog even when she's on deadline.

A friend and chapter mate said to me the other day when we were talking about our dear friend, Alice, and how much she gives back to our group: "I hope when you sell you still come to the chapter meetings and are as involved as much as you are now." My response was, "That's a no brainer. Of course I will be." I've learned way too much from other writers not to feel the pull to give back a little of what I know - even if right now it's not all that much. ;)

How about you? Do you feel the need to give back to other writers? How do you share what you've learned in this industry?