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Elisabeth: Marked

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:~: Friday, March 30, 2007 :~:

It's All In What They Say

First, let me apologize for being late. I forgot it was Friday. Yes, yes, I know, kind of hard to forget, but I had fifty-six panicked teenagers trying to turn in research papers, so . . .

I'm sorry for being late. :-)

Earlier this week, I had the chance to read a colleague's latest written work, a one-act play. Wayne is pursuing both a doctoral degree in education and a second master's degree, this one from Oxford in creative writing. I've had the opportunity to read some of Wayne' s pieces for his Oxford class over the last few months -- a short story, an essay on his readings, etc.

{He has an idea for a novel I'm dying to read; therefore, I'm nagging him at every possible chance to get to work on the darn thing!}

Anyway, earlier this week, he handed me a copy of his play and asked for my opinion. The first thing I noted was the lack of stage directions. It was all dialogue. Wayne told me later that the professor's instructions included "no stage directions." However, as I read, I found that the directions weren't needed. The situation, the conflict, the characters, were painted so clearly through his dialogue that I could "see" the play unfolding in my head.

I've written about the importance of subtext in dialogue before, but Wayne's play intrigued me. There is some subtext, but mainly the action is unfolding directly before the reader in the context of the conversations between the characters. I'm incredily intrigued by the idea and challenged at the same time. Of course, now I'm wanting to see if I can do the same thing. Of course, I'd have to layer in setting, internals, narrative, etc. later, but I'm playing with scenes in the WIP, writing out the dialogue to see if it can direct the scene on its own. Will have to see how that plays out.

So, what's challenged you lately to try something new in your writing?


:~: Thursday, March 29, 2007 :~:


I've been suffering from a serious lack of concentration lately.

Take this blog for example-- for the life of me, I couldn't think of anything to write about. Or maybe I should clarify, I couldn't think of anything writing related to blog about. Plenty of other subjects came to mind, like decorating, or gardening or even cooking. (God Help me, since I don't/can't cook) But a topic on writing simple wouldn't come to mind.

I'm sure it doesn't help that I've haven't written a word in over six weeks. I've been moving instead. Packing and cleaning and unpacking and more cleaning. My new office space was the first thing I put together, not that I've used it. I'm sure it doesn't help that I've been working a ton of overtime to pay for some home improvements to my new house. I haven't had a day off in over six weeks and I'm averaging 60 hours a week. Which is 60 hours too much, to my mind at the moment. Trying to work the moving around the working, has been hectic. . . well more than hectic--but I can't think of a strong enough adverb at the moment to describe how crazy the last few weeks have been.

So yeah, I can understand why I don't have the energy left over to fit some writing in-- honestly, I never expected to accomplish much on that end, at least not during the move. But my schedule has eased up some. The packing, hauling, and unpacking is mostly done. Just a few boxes left to empty and I'll be fully moved in. I've still got a ton of cleaning left to do on the old place, but that isn't as wearing as lifting and hauling the heavy furniture and boxes. And I've eased back on my work schedule too. Dropped back to four hours on Saturday and Sunday instead of the eight I'd been working. Plus, no more back to back shifts during the middle of the week.

So, with my load lightening, last night I decided to print off the first few chapters of the WIP and read them in preparation for upcoming revisions. You'll notice i didn't say I was going to try to write. Nope-- I was just going to read what I've already written. Except, I couldn't even accomplish that.

I'd sit down and start reading and my mind would wonder. I needed to do this, or I needed to do that. And wouldn't a framed quilt make a gorgeous headboard. And that little sliver of ground beneath the living room window would make a perfect flower bed. But hmmmmm....what should I plant there.

Okay-- now see--here's the problem. I've never been interested in decorating or gardening, yet lately, since the move, that's all I seem to think about. Instead of daydreaming about characters and love stories, I'm day dreaming about furniture and flowers. It's unsettling.

My crit partner calls it nesting. And she should know since she's been going through it too, after moving into her new house.

My question is how do you make it stop? How do you turn your attention and concentration back to more important matters-- like plots and characters? Anyone have any advice, because nothing I've tried seems to be working.

:~: Wednesday, March 28, 2007 :~:

I'm In Trouble Again

Periodically, I wander off on some tangent, like a child who's playing in the garden and catches sight of a pretty flower in the distance and wanders into the woods.

It all started when I got stuck in my WIP, Dead Man's Hand. My characters decided to take hold of the story and next thing I know, the three of us are sitting at Cold Stone having ice cream.

How could that possibly move the story forward, add conflict, deepen character? For God's sake, give me something to work with here guys!

Evidently, I can hear them, but they can't hear me.

So I used the situation as a little sequel to a prior tense moment and then added sexual tension--we are...er, I mean they are...eating ice cream after all, right?

But then found myself stuck again. What next? Nothing seemed to flow. I felt like I needed something significant to happen at that point in the story, yet not sure what that something was, which sparked a random thought in my brain--maybe I'm missing a step in the journey.

That's when I pulled out Christopher Vogler's book, The Writer's Journey.

I attempted to read this book twice before, but I couldn't get through it. In fact, I couldn't even wrap my mind around what Vogler was trying to say enough to give me a slippery grasp. In hindsight, I believe I had preconceived ideas about what the book would cover and when I found it was something different, my mind rejected it.

This time, I absorbed the lessons and messages with ease and relative clarity. Seriously, this book was in my To-Give-Away pile. But there are some powerful messages in there that resounded with me, and I believe its a book I'll refer back to often in the future.

Now I realize that while my story isn't missing a pivotal point, I am at a stage where I'm building toward the step of crossing of the First Threshold, which is why I'm sensitive to the depth of tension and strength of conflict. We need all that in place in order to justify/motivate the characters to step over that threshold.

And as I read deeper into the archetypes and their roles and the three act structure and the way the journey blends with that structure and how that structure builds a stronger story...I get taken away. My brain floats off to previous chapters and later chapters that I can now see need so much more depth and plot shifts and twists and...jeez, everything.

I've found a shiny shell, and now I'm going to stay at the beach all day long looking for more.

Do you find yourself following tangents? Are they craft-related? Do you revise when you've found a way to deepen your work, or do you just move on to the next project and apply the new technique there? Have you read or used the Writer's (Hero's) Journey? If yes, what do you think of it?


:~: Tuesday, March 27, 2007 :~:

Settling into a pattern

I subscribe to a couple of daily horoscopes, and I got this one in my inbox this morning:

It's a big world out there, and it's time to get out and start living a little. Really, do you have any idea what a major bore you've become lately? You need to shake things up a little!

This is an AstroSlam, which is supposed to be a joke horoscope, but even while I was laughing at it I realized it's probably true. Not necessarily relating to my personal life (though I do admit I'm a pretty boring person *grin*) but I definitely can see it relating to my writing.

I was working on the first draft of a WIP yesterday and noticed a lot of the scenes and character traits sounded way too similar to the last book I wrote. When I get to the second draft, both the story and the characters are in for some big changes. In my recent WIPs, my characters haven't had any real problems. The conflict has been superficial, and in those instances had made for some pretty predictable stories. It's definitely time to start shaking things up a bit, and to give those characters some real issues to work through.

Do you ever find your plots or your characters getting boring? If so, what do you do to liven them up?

:~: Monday, March 26, 2007 :~:

Thrown For A Loop

Last week Edie had a great post on her personal blog about being torn between two books. That's where I am. Torn between the proposal my agent read and thinks I'm working on, and the book I picked up while I was waiting for her feedback on said proposal.

Both are stories I'm destined to write. The second is much darker and more controversial subject matter though, and it's a book I thought for sure I wouldn't write for awhile...down the line, when I was a better writer. For some reason though, it's the one calling to me most strongly now and I can't seem to stop writing it.

We've covered plotting in-depth here before, so I won't bore you with that topic. While I consider myself more a panster than a plotter, I do recognize that I'm a mixture of the two - I plot a lot in my head. I always know where I'm going with a story though I might not know exactly which path will take me to my final destination. With this story, because I'd been thinking about it for so long, I thought I knew my characters front and back - their goals, motivation, what drives them, how they live and breathe. Yet, in the past few weeks, they've thrown me for a complete loop.

This is the first true reunion story I've written. There's a lot of backstory to weave into the book, and because of that, I had to know my characters well before I started writing. All this time I thought my hero was emotionally closed off. The tough guy. The one who wouldn't share his emotions. I thought my heroine was the glue that had kept them together in the past. But the more I write, the more I'm realizing they're opposite what I'd assumed. She's the one who's closed off emotionally. She's the one who can't talk about how she feels. She's the one with the relationship hangups. He's got his own demons, but they aren't what I'd originally planned either.

Each book I write is different from the last. What worked for one - plotting in depth, panstering the whole way - doesn't work for the next. Sometimes surprises pop up as you're writing and you learn things about your characters you didn't know before. That's definitely happening for me this go around.

Have you ever had characters surprise you when you're writing?


:~: Friday, March 23, 2007 :~:

Edits and Revisions and Commas, oh, my!

I love my new editor. When I was first reassigned, I was afraid, simply becuase I was afraid she wouldn't "love" my work or that we wouldn't be on the same page or . . . well, let's just say I always have lots of fears.

Anyway, this morning, I received my edits for my June release, Truth and Consequences. I'm thrilled to have them since that means I will be able to work on them over spring break and won't feel rushed to get them finished.

Once my skin finished crawling over having to take out the commas in my compound sentences (hey, I'm an English teacher -- I'm all about the comma rules!), my mind started turning over the main issue my editor wants me to address.

Joan will love this one.

I have to clarify my villain's motivations for killing.

Okay, I'm better now. I actually have ideas for making those motivations clearer. I have to show that he's amoral, cares only for himself, has a thing for power and obedience, etc. So is it cheating if I break out the villain's POV? I have a scene that's been percolating since I originally wrote the book, but I've avoided writing it because, more than removing commas from run-on sentences, it makes my skin creep and crawl. I'm thinking that using his POV and showing his level of evil as well as his thoughts and perceptions of events should give the reader insight into his motivations -- both political and personal. This should work, as he has two types of killings -- murders that serve his political ambitions and loyalties and murders that satisfy his need to control and punish those who defy that control.
Can you tell what I'll spend my spring break doing?


:~: Thursday, March 22, 2007 :~:

Rant On

I hate Google blogger.
Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.

This isn't what I blogged about earlier this morning, when I got up at 4:30 am to get my post up before I left for work. In that blog I waxed enthusiastically about my new office. And how I loved being surrounded by all my keeper books, and how I already felt so at home in there, even though I've only been settled in less than a week.

And then Google ate my post. I'd saved it in the drafts folder too, just in case Google did something nasty to me again. (which its been doing repeatedly) Only apparently, once you hit the publish tab it steals the one from the drafts folder too. So once I got out of the big computer freeze and went to look for the blog in my drafts file it was gone. Gone!! A good forty minutes of freaking work, completely gone.

I never had any problems with the old Blogger setup. But this new Google Blogger--it's been nothing but a pain in the butt since I started using it. Half the time it won't recognize my user name or password and won't allow me access to the site. The rest of the time it won't let me open the comments window. Case in point-- Monday and Tuesday I managed to get into the comments section with no problems. The window popped right up. Then Wednesday rolls around and every time I'd try my computer would freeze up on me. Wednesday night I try to access the dashboard to start my blog for the following morning, and the site won't recognise my username or password. Thursday morning I'm suddenly good to go on my username and password, but when I hit publish Google freezes my computer and sneaks off with my post.

Obviously Google Blogger hates me as much as I hate it.

Anyone have any suggestions on how we can get along better? Because I've seriously had it with this new version of blogger.

:~: Wednesday, March 21, 2007 :~:

Personality Masks

I've been fighting off the blues lately. For about three weeks. Maybe it's just spring malaise, maybe it's PMS, maybe it's an overload of stress. But it's here and it's clinging to me as if the air were charged with static.

Although I hate to admit it, I think it's simply part of my personality. I tend to be a half-glass-empty type of person. I was raised in a very half-glass-empty household. The roots were laid long, long ago and try as I might, I haven't been able to completely shake free of them.

I'm not a downer--I'm actually very positive and supportive to friends and family and coworkers. I'm not a slug--I've always got more irons in the fire than anyone else I know. And I've been rather successful in spite of my constant self-doubt. I'm just...rather Eeyore-like.

Which got me to thinking that I can't be completely Eeyore-like if I've accomplished so much and others find me such an upbeat, positive influence. So, I thought about the other characters in Pooh's world: Pooh, of course, Rabbit, Tigger, Piglet, Owl, Kanga...

And I've decided I'm a blend of Eeyore and Christopher Robin.

The Eeyore part of me drifts around like a cloud--What's the use? Why am I wasting my time? What made me think I could do this? Another rejection--this will never go anywhere.

But the Christopher Robin part of me is constantly combating my old Eeyoreish tendencies. You've come a long way. Keep it up, it'll pay off. Your writing is as good as anything you've read in the past few months. Perseverance is everything in this business. You can do it!

It's my experience that most people try to hide their negative sides. Bad moods, impatience, pessimism...while not all that appealing, are very real everyday issues for most of us. Yet, I feel as if I’m constantly trying to stay perky for the benefit of others, to look the part of the inspired writer--pretending I never have an off day, that I never think about quitting, that I'm always thrilled and inspired when I sit down at the computer, that I don't let rejections throw me off and just get right back to work.

And I decided recently, fatigued from the constant struggle to maintain a "mask", to embrace my Eeyorish self. Celebrate my natural tendency toward glass-half-empty, and use it for what it's worth. I feel lighter and funnier and more comfortable in my own skin. I've also found that there's more depth and variation to that darker side than I thought.

So, tell me--which member of the Hundred Acre Wood most resembles your true personality? And do you find yourself putting on a face for others--in writing or in life?

Pooh himself would tell you he is a "bear of little brain," but he also has an uncommon, clear-eyed wisdom. His friends, their happiness and feelings are Pooh's chief concern, and there is no better friend than Winnie the Pooh.

Tigger acts on every impulse, and his boisterous manner often leads him to leap before he looks. Tigger's bouncing is a pure expression of his utter zest for life -- a joy he's always eager to share with his friends, even when sometimes (especially with Rabbit), they don't want him to share it!

Eeyore is every one's favorite delightfully dismal donkey. But Eeyore doesn't see himself as gloomy -- he just has low expectations. He expects nothing from anybody, so whenever his friends do come to his aid his expectations of the worst are overthrown, and he is sincerely grateful. Eeyore's tiny bright pink bow on his tail, the one hint of color against his gray, is a perfect symbol of the kernel of joy that occasionally surfaces in Eeyore. Though he may pretend he's helping because there's nothing better to do -- make no mistake, Eeyore is always there for his friends.

Rabbit is perhaps the smartest of the Hundred Acre Wood friends (at least he thinks so), and often the self-appointed leader of the group. Rabbit can be stubborn about his viewpoints. Although Rabbit often quickly overreacts, his friends know that underneath his sometimes bristly exterior is a good heart, and his know-it-all attitude is tempered by his ability to admit when he's wrong.

Piglet is a soft-spoken and skittish little fellow whose generosity and humility far outweigh his meager size. Still, he considers himself just "a very small animal." His fastidious movements, anxious wringing of hands, and occasionally stuttering voice ("Oh d-d-d-dear"), convey his nervousness and fear of the unknown. But inside Piglet's small frame is a big heart.


:~: Tuesday, March 20, 2007 :~:

Writers' Block

I've been sitting at the computer for an hour, staring at the blank cursor, trying to think of something to blog about today. It was a long weekend (big snowstorm on Friday, unhappy shovel accident on Saturday morning :grin:) and I find when I'm stressed, the ideas seem to be harder to come by, whether it's in blogging or in writing. Some people work well under pressure. Usually, I'm not one of them. The harder I try to force something, the harder it is to get it done.

I read on an agent's blog a while back that writers' block doesn't exist. I find that interesting. Even if it is all in our heads :lol:, to me, that's still real. It's not always that I don't want to write, it's that I don't know what to write about. I have the motivation, but not the ideas for the story...or the idea of where a story is going next so I can take it where it needs to go.

What do you guys think? Does writers' block exist? Have you experienced it? If so, how do you get past it? I usually read in a genre that isn't what I'm writing at the moment, or I deep-clean the house from top to bottom and hope the exercise shakes something loose.

:~: Monday, March 19, 2007 :~:

Deja Vu....sorta

I had this dream last night. Normally, I don't pay much attention to dreams, and usually I can't remember them anyway, but this one stuck with me when I woke up.

In the dream I had entered a writing contest. A big one. I knew what day the finalists were going to be announced, and I sat around waiting (though I'm really not big on contests in the first place, which is why this dream is so odd.) Anyway, the finalists all get telephone call notification, and after a full day goes by, I realize that ain't me. No biggie. Like I said, I don't really give a flip about contests anyway. Later that evening though, lo and behold, I get a phone call. I'm pumped. Until I realize it isn't from the contest coordinator. No, it's from a NY editor who's reading all the entries. And she hasn't called to tell me I'm with the big dogs. Oh, no, she's called to laugh at my entry. You see, in my haste to get my entry in on time, I didn't proofread my pages. And the ones I sent in had big purple pen marks all over them - slash marks, circled words, missing pages, scenes out of order, unreadable prose...on and on. You can probably imagine...a writer's worst nightmare come true....a submission that looks like doggie doo. And this editor's laughing, telling me no way in hell will I ever win a contest let alone sell a darn book.

For someone like me - yeah, obsessive compulsive comes to mind - this is about as bad as it gets. I'm one of those people who checks and double checks and triple checks my submissions - even if it's just a chapter going to my CPs. I'm insanely cautious of what I put on the loops or how I respond to blogs or comment anywhere on the web. I'm real careful in email to make sure my snarkiness doesn't come across wrong (although I'm sure it does nine times out of ten). Basically, I work to make sure any contact I have with other writers (and the public) is professional. So why did this darn dream bug me so much? Don't know. But it's still bugging me.

I'm not clairvoyant (Lord, I hope I'm not clairvoyant), but we've all had those deja vu moments...where you feel like you've been somewhere before, done something before. Where you recognize someone you don't know but are sure, deep inside, you should. That's sorta this feeling. Very strange.

I'm always interested in people's dreams and how the subconscious exerts itself during sleep. So share with me here: Have you ever dreamt something and had it come true? Or had the opposite happen?


:~: Friday, March 16, 2007 :~:

The Hard Ones

"I went from wanting to knock John down and kicking him…repeatedly, to whimpering for Lanie to give him another chance." -- Melissa, Joyfully Reviewed

Wednesday, Joan posted about pushing the boundaries. My favorite place to do this has always been in my characters. John, the hero from What Mattered Most, isn't the nicest guy at the beginning of the book. He's lost, misguided, somewhat of a jerk.

Tom, from my unpublished romantic suspense Memories of Us, takes the concept of "alpha jerk" to the next level.

So, I've usually pushed the envelope with my male characters. In my WIP, tentatively entitled Afterburn, my heroine is anything but the nice girl-next-door. In fact, she goes beyond the idea of the town bad girl. She's been the town's whore, has supported herself by stripping, and even though she's attempting to change her life, no one -- not the town, not even herself -- believes she can pull it off. I think she's the reason I'm having difficulty really making progress on the manuscript. She scares me somewhat because I know she is not only deserving of a HEA but will fight tooth and nail against reaching it because opening herself up to believe will be so difficult for her . . . and me. I'm looking forward to this book at the same time because I know this will be a character and a story that really pushes the boundaries . . . and mine.

If I could just write more than eleven lines of it!

So, to me, the most memorable characters are those outside the norm, those who push the limits in some way. Do you agree?


:~: Wednesday, March 14, 2007 :~:

Pushing the Boundries

I'm working on Dead Man's Hand. More than revision, but less than writing from scratch. I guess I'd call it rewriting.

And I'm noticing that this manuscript is different than my others. Not drastically different--it's still romantic suspense, still my typical 125k, there's still cops and murderers and crime scenes and forensics and red herrings.

But the other day I wrote an entire chapter--20 pages--in the hero's pov. The next chapter--another 20 pages--is entirely in the heroine's pov.

As a younger writer, I wouldn't have done that. I'd have broken the chapters up, added povs to keep up the pace. Now, I'm using other techniques to keep the tension high which automatically speeds the pace up. Neither technique is right or wrong, good or bad, just different.

I'm also using a lot more dialogue in this ms. Dialogue that is bursting with conflict, characterization, clues, quips, sarcasm and emotion. That automatically picks up the pace.

And I'm holding a lot back--both plot and character history--letting things unfold, not necisarily slower, but little by little and later in the story.

Of course, I won't know if it really works until I reread it, revise it and pass it by my CPs, my agent and ultimately sell. But I'm excited to have reached a maturity level as a writer to be able to look at my work, nudge the rules aside and try something new with confidence.

What new things have you tried with your writing that has worked...or not worked? When did you find confidence to take that risk and push your boundries in writing?


:~: Tuesday, March 13, 2007 :~:

Where Ideas Come From

This is probably the number one thing writers get asked about, and for me at least, it's the hardest one to answer. Ideas can come from anywhere--a line in a TV show or song, something someone says to you in conversation, dreams, or even other books. Most of the time, though, I find the ideas are just there. They don't come from anywhere specific. (I'd say the characters whisper them in my ear, but to anyone who isn't a writer, telling them that is going to make me sound like a nut case :grin: )

A recent idea from a fortune cookie. The fortune said "someone is watching you from afar". A little stalker-ish and once I was finished being creeped out :grin: I started thinking about how I could incoporate that into a story.

When I took the kids to visit my parents on Sunday, my mom asked me why I don't use some of the crazy things the kids have done in one of my books. I told her I don't use them often since I don't usually write children in my books, but I do keep a file. There are a few things my middle son has done that I just have to use. A couple of examples--he glued the dog's collar to her fur a while back because he thought it irritated her when it spun around her neck, and he clogged the toilet one time when he was trying to hide a pair of socks in the bowl. These two things, I've used. I just couldn't resist.

Other than that, I don't usually use real life experiences in my writing. Exciting things generally don't happen around here, so I have to rely on my imagination.

Where do you get your ideas? Do you incorporate real life events into your writing?

:~: Monday, March 12, 2007 :~:

In The Words Of Ray's Dad . . . Holy Crap!

Ever watch Everybody Loves Raymond? I never did in primetime, but I love watching the reruns. By and far my favorite character is Ray's dad, Frank. Gotta love Frank. Especially when he starts off on Holy crap! Oh yeah, that's how I feel lately. Like I walk around thinking (okay, saying), Holy Crap! all the time.

So I got up this morning with the grand intention of blogging something wonderful and enlightening for you, the readers, but when I sat down and stared at the screen, my mind went blank. Like, wipe-the-slate clean blank. I stared at the screen, I tapped my skull, I blog hopped, I drank more coffee. Still nothing. My brain-function registered zero. All the gray matter somehow sucked out of my skull. No matter what I tried, a white page stared back at me, eerily similar to what was going on in my head. Weirdest thing.

Maybe there's a correlation. My brain has been on overload lately. I have about four stories firing off in my head at one time or another. Whole scenes popping into place, some out of order, some in order, some not even in books I'm planning to write. I finally settled down and picked one story to go with and I'm really making progress. Like, In The Zone progress where nothing else matters but getting words down on paper as fast as I can type. And as I move, secondary characters come to life - their backstories, their issues, things I wouldn't in a hundred years need or want to know about them.

It's great. I'm thrilled. I'm not complaining. After struggling the last few months to find my focus, this surge of writing energy is da bomb. But. There's a downside. Obviously. My brain's so busy churning through plot and characters and what come next, it's fried for anything else. This blog? Case in point.

It's also happening at home. My daughter will tell me something, and I'll stare at her for what seems like five minutes before what she's saying registers. It's like I can see her lips flapping, but there's a disconnect between my ears and brain. I'm perpetually walking around with that damn deer in the headlights look on my face. Again, weirdest thing.

So no real topic here today, just me rambling about how strange I am these days. Anyone else ever experience this? Like there's just too much going on in your head and your brain can't process it all? (And, man, I seem to have a fixation on the word like today...)


:~: Friday, March 09, 2007 :~:

THE #1 Rule

I have discovered that being the last person to weigh in on a topic requires a lot of thought, basically because everyone else gets to the best ideas first! I'd read through the posts on dis-information here at and at Romance Unleashed, with whom we're cross-blogging this week. Last night, I'd been thinking of talking about the plethora of dis-information that comes from contests, then found that Theresa got there first.

No problem, I thought. I can talk about the flipside, the information we get that works for us.

Except that's over on the Romance Unleashed blog today. Whoops! Great minds think alike and all that.

So I needed a topic.

So I went back and read our posts and the Romance Unleashed posts again. I read the comments. I thought and I thought and I thought.

Not sure if I've come up with a real topic, but I think I've discovered THE #1 Rule of Writing -- "There Are No Rules."

Oh, sure, there are comma rules and subject-verb agreement rules and other such grammar, mechanics and usage rules . . .

But there are no hard-and-set rules for writing, except you do what works for you. What works for me may not work for Elisabeth. Or Joan. Or Elisa. Or Theresa.

So keep the #1 Rule in mind at all times. Remember: There are no rules.


:~: Thursday, March 08, 2007 :~:

The Contest Quandry


I'm trying this again. For the third time, I might add. The previous two times I posted, the site only uploaded the first two lines of my blogposts. The site didn't have any of the icons available for spell check, or linking or italics either. Me thinks the blogger gremlins were playing with me again.

But the icons are back-- so, lets try this again-- third times a charm, right? But if it doesn't post this time, I'm throwing in the towel.

As most of you know by now, we're doing a cross blog with the fabulous authors of Romance Unleased. We are chatting about misinformation-- or bad advice, if you will. I've been thinking about this topic since we signed up for the challenge. Like most of us, I've been on the receiving end of bad advice (no doubt, good intentions aside, I've passed along my fair share of bad advice as well) but the worst advice I've been given came courtesy of the Contest Circuit.

Yes, I'll admit it, I was a contest slut. For about a year I entered practically every contest offered. Each contest cames complete with at least two, but more often three judges. As you'd expect when receiving critiques from basically your anonymous peers, the range of comments often went from one extreme to another. Add subjectivity and various craftsmanship levels into the mix-- and you're sitting on a smorgasbord of advice.

Some of this advice was right on the money. The judge got what I was trying to do and offered up additional ways to make the work stronger. But some of the advice. . . eweeyeee. . . some of the advice was so bad it became a running joke with my crit partner.

Like the judge who told me to turn my paranormal romantic suspense into a first person Gothic-- because well she didn't like paranormal, but loved Gothic.

Some of the advice came to me because the judges had read the so-called rules to romance writing, and were insistently imparting their knowledge. My hero and heroine had to get together by the end of the second scene, even earlier if possible. Others told me you couldn't introduce another male to the heroine before she met the hero.

And then there were the elements in the story that pushed personal buttoms. Like swearing. I had several judges go through and count all the swear words, and insist that the work would never find a home with a foul-mouthed hero or villain. I had one judge add the word rape to her list of swear words, and tell me I needed to remove all instances of that ugly word because it was an immediate turn off. Ummm-- the hero is investigating a series of connected rapes. . .

I had other judges tell me that my villain was too dark, too ugly, too twisted-- and that I needed to scale back in his POV because romance writers wouldn't want to read such upfront ugliness.

But my favorite, absolute favorite piece of bad advice came vie three unpublished judges in the same contest. All three told me I should submit my 120 k paranormal suspense, with a swearing hero, and an dark/twisted villain to Harlequin Intrigue.

Harlequin Intrigue!!

They told me it would be perfect for Intrigue since the editors were looking for manuscripts with paranormal content. Keep in mind that this contest required a cover letter, and asked to have the word count along with targeted publishers listed on both the opening cover page, as well as the manuscript pages themselves. So they had to know the word count exceeded H&I's count by at least double.

I could see one judge not knowing the word count and offering this advice, but three of them? All from the same contest? Certainly makes you wonder, doesn't it?

:~: Wednesday, March 07, 2007 :~:

The Big Picture

Honestly, I haven't had much trouble with bad advice...but that's probably only because I rarely listen to it--good or bad.

I'm not sure why. Must just be part of my personality because I've been like this since I was a kid--didn't heed my parents' warnings, didn't learn from my siblings' mistakes, didn't follow my friends' paths. I'm a pretty mainstream type of gal. I just do things my own way, in my own time.

This is the typical pattern I follow with advice: Listen to it, cull the bullshit, research the rest, take the bits and pieces that fit me under consideration.

Most of the time, the dis-information in our industry is so glaring, it doesn't even glance off my brain, just blows right by. But I did hear something recently that isn't as much dis-information as it is shortsighted--focusing in on the trees and ignoring the forest.

I can't remember the exact wording, but it went something like: Promotion is the last thing an unpublished author should be thinking about. The tone said that promotion is a waste of time for the unpublished.

That gave me pause. I actually thought about this. I even considered it. But the reason I considered it wasn't so much the merit of the idea, but the source--a well-known, successful author (who does little individual promotion, btw).

After the thought flowed through my brain synapses a few hundred times, it was culled.

That's like opening your own business without doing any market research.

That's like buying a car and then taking driving lessons.

That’s like jumping on a plane to India without studying the culture.

IMHUO, a writer needs to know about that next step, so that when they sell, they're ready to take it without hesitation. Imagine all the wrong moves a newly published author could make in promotion if they hadn't done their research and tested the waters beforehand.

Planning for the big picture is not only solid common sense, but good business--no matter what industry.

We're cross blogging this week with Romance Unleashed on the topic of "dis-information", so pop over and see what Lori Devoti has to say about The Inside Scoop.


:~: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 :~:

A Little Help From My Friends...

Over the course of the years I’ve been writing, I’ve gotten a lot of advice. Some of it good, some of it bad. Some of it didn’t work for me, but may have worked for other writers. I had a hard time picking one bit of advice to blog about today, but after a little bit of thought I finally settled on a topic—critique partners. Or, more specifically, some advice I got regarding them when I first started writing and was still trying to figure it all out. This well-meaning person told me critique partners should be avoided at all costs.

She went on to say that revising a manuscript based on critiques changes the writer’s voice, and the book becomes a group effort rather than the book the author intended to write. Writing is a solitary effort, and revisions and changes should be up to the editor or agent.

I can understand her reasoning as far as voice goes, to a point, but at the same time I can’t say I really agree with it. It’s a matter of finding the right crit partners. Ones whose writing styles mesh with your own. It’s also a matter of weeding through the critiques you get to find what needs to be changed and what suggestions work for you and your story. Editors and agents want to see a manuscript that’s as clean as possible, and as writers, we’re too close to our own work to pick up on some of the mistakes.

I’m not a big fan of large critique groups (IMO, too many people critting sporadically and no one really gets to know everyone else’s writing styles) but I’ll never give up my crit partners. I’ve had great ones, I’ve had not so great ones, and I’ve had some really bad experiences with others. The ones I have now—the three of us have been working together for a while—are invaluable. They’ve helped me with not only grammar mistakes and spelling issues, but also characterization and plot holes (and given me the occasional kick in the butt when the book I’m writing doesn’t seem to have a plot at all. :grin: )

My crit buddies are also always up for a brainstorming session whenever it’s needed, and they’ve helped me with titles, too (so not my strong suit). One of them read Affliction before I submitted it to Red Sage, and the changes she suggested are things the editor told me she loved when she called to let me know she was buying the story. If I hadn’t incorporated the suggestions, I probably wouldn’t have sold the novella at all.

Don’t forget we’re cross blogging with Romance Unleashed this week, so be sure to stop by and visit over there, too.

:~: Monday, March 05, 2007 :~:

The Miracle Pill

We've all seen it. Hell, we've probably all fallen prey to at it one point or another. The miracle pill/diet/book/plan/whatever you want to call it. Overweight? Try the next-great diet drug. Having relationship problems? Read this life-changing book. Dying to make a million dollars? Follow this step-by-step plan. Want to be a published author? Then do what I did.

More often times than not, for writers, especially unpublished writers, that little miracle pill comes in a very large and real human body. She could be a member of your local RWA group. She could be an author you listened to at a workshop, one you met online, one who participates in several author loops you participate in. She could be published or unpublished, young or mature, but odds are no matter who she is, she has a commanding voice or presence that makes you sit up and listen. She's probably just trying to help and doesn't mean to give you bad information, but is her advice really relevant to you? And most importantly, is it helping or hurting your career?

When I first started writing, I jumped into several writer loops. I was green and needed to learn. Consequently, I was overwhelmed with information from all different angles. My favorite, and the one I struggled most with though, related to manuscript length.

It's no secret I'm not fond of short books. I tend to read fast, and short books are over way before I'm ready to let go of them - especially if they're good. I love meaty books that keep me up late reading and waking early to find out what happens next. And, as I'm sure it's no surprise to you, I write lengthy books. I will never forget asking a question about manuscript length on a loop and getting the response, "You will never ever EVER land an agent or publish a book longer than 95K words. Stop what you're doing and cut, cut, cut."

I write between 100-110K words consistently. Try as I might, I've never come in below 100K, not that I don't think it'll ever happen, it just hasn't yet (though, I've been very close). I remember reading that particular piece of advice and thinking, "Well. I'm screwed. Might as well toss the towel in right now." As a new writer, that advice stuck with me a long time. Then I wised up and realized the woman who'd offered this gem of wisdom was yet unpublished by the big dogs herself. And the more I saw of her on the loops, the more I realized she had advice on everything from what font was "the only acceptable font" to plot points that will garner you an automatic rejection.

My agent never said a word about manuscript length before, during or after my revisions. None of the other agents who were interested in my book ever mentioned the length. Neither have any editors who have read it (except for one, but we knew that particular house liked slightly shorter books going in). Bottom line here isn't that manuscript length is the make-or-break clincher for a sale, but that if someone loves your writing and your voice, length is something minor that can be changed later.

I have tons of other examples of writer-friendly advice I've been given, most recently at my RWA chapter meeting regarding synopses - but I'll spare you. Nearly-there authors are probably more apt at weeding the crab grass from the fertile lawn, but whenever I hear an "I did it this way" story, I still pause to listen and think...what if I did it that way?

It's tempting. Probably more tempting for new authors who are looking for the magical pill to get them from unpublished to published in the blink of an eye. Whenever I talk with a new author and tell them what I've done in my career and they say, "Oh, I'll do it that way," I immediately wave my hands and say, "No, no, no. Do it YOUR way." Those of you who are seasoned writers and are reading this blog know there is no such think as a miracle pill to publication. Although sometimes I really wish there were.

What's the worst piece of writing advice you've ever gotten? And how did it change your career - good or bad? And before I forget, we're cross-blogging with the girls at Romance Unleashed this week. So once you finish commenting here, be sure to stop by over there and read the NY published author's take on the same topic.


:~: Sunday, March 04, 2007 :~:


The winner of my What Mattered Most giveaway is . . .


Judy, if you'll email me at linda_winfree at yahoo dot com and let me know what ebook format you'd like, I'll get it right out to you!

Thanks to everyone who commented!


:~: Friday, March 02, 2007 :~:

What Really Matters Most

I spent yesterday playing with ideas, trying to figure out what I'd do for my post today. I thought about Elisa's post on rejections, on Joan's post on voice, toyed with the idea of context or expectations versus reality.

I was still thinking about it when I went to bed around eleven, figuring I'd write while I had my coffee before heading to school.

At eleven fifteen, I switched off the weather radio, because the batteries were dying and the resulting beeping was making me nuts.

At eleven forty-four, the phone rang. I stumbled sleepily to the office, ready to fuss at whatever student was calling me for help on their assignment that late at night.

It was my mom, wanting to know if I had the local news on. I didn't, but I grabbed the weather radio and turned it back on while the DH fiddled with the television.

The alarm was already running -- a tornado on the ground in neighboring Baker County, estimated arrival in my town at 11:50.

Six minutes.

We live in a doublewide mobile home in the middle of a pecan grove. Staying wasn't an option.

While I was pulling on clothes and getting the boys dressed, images flashed in my head of the devastation from the last two tornadoes to come through our rural county in the middle of the night. Homes destroyed. Lives lost. People devastated.

We ran for safety, my mother's home a few miles outside of town (I didn't realize until we returned that we didn't bother to close the front door). Watching the lightning flash, listening to the weather alerts, peering into the rain for a funnel cloud highlighted against the clouds, clinging to my terrified nine-year-old's hand, I don't think I've ever been that frightened in my life.

Want to know what I grabbed as we left? Not my laptop with my manuscripts loaded on it, not my rejection file, not even photos or jewelry or extra clothing.

I grabbed what truly matters most.

One is twelve, almost as tall as I am.

One is nine, gangly and brilliant.

{I did grab my purse (I needed my car keys and all the insurance info I keep in there).}

The other what-matters-most was home by chance, due to an injury, and he drove us through the storm, intent on keeping his family safe. I told him later this was the kind of night that really shows you that the all the crap just doesn't matter.

Earlier this morning, I stood in front of our school, my knees weak with relief that none of our families suffered injuries or fatalities (other communities around us weren't so blessed).

I know we're normally all-writing, all-the-time here at Romance Worth Killing For, but I can't get my mind wrapped around a writing topic this morning. I promise next week I'll be back in the writing game.

I do have a copy of my debut release What Mattered Most to give away today, as I'd planned to do earlier in the week. All you have to do is leave a comment telling me what is your "matters-most."

I'm going to spend some time with mine. I'll see you later.

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