Bootcamp!


bootcampI’ve been having a lot of moments of “I don’t wanna.”  This isn’t good for a writer who needs to get a novel written.  I find all kinds of things to do EXCEPT for writing.  And I know I am struggling with my current Work In Progress.

So, I signed up for an online Plotting Boot Camp.  The class was cheap, because I’m cheap, but the instructor is well-known and many of my writer friends seem to vouch for her.  And two weeks in, I do feel like I’m learning a few things.

I am one of those people who learns best by doing, by experiencing, by hands-on.  I can read every wonderful book about plotting and writing conflict and determining goals and motivations for my characters, but if I don’t have some sort of exercise to do to go along with it, with feedback, then I’m just not going to grasp the concept.  I was that learner in college that did way better, and had more fun, in labs than in lectures. That hands-on thing is important.  It is the same if I’m learning a new craft, so why not with writing, too?  After all, it’s a craft as well.

I am, of course behind on my homework, but the course is somewhat self-paced, so I have some leeway.  I have a busy life, with a full time job plus side work, being a virtual single mom to a troubled 14 year old (my husband is working out of town for the foreseeable future), and dealing with a death in the family and my mother’s roller coaster of grief.  But despite all of that I feel really compelled to do this homework and get the feedback I so desperately need.  Each week contains two lessons, and two sets of homework.  I will be finishing this week’s set either today or tomorrow.  The agenda for the class is:

  • Trope, themes, loglines, and premise
  • Character roles
  • Character descriptions
  • Character conflicts
  • Setting
  • Story arc
  • Plotline

Have you taken a writing class lately?  What did you like about it?  Was it useful to you?  Tell me about it in the comments!

Writing With the Group


writing at the coffee shopI found a new writing group.  I’ve gone three times, and with the exception of the last time, when there was entirely too much talking from one of the members, it has been a good thing.  As I struggle and struggle with trying to get that second book written, I am using anything and everything to try to push my writing forward.  That’s the way most of us do it, right?  When the first thing doesn’t work, you try the second thing, the third thing, the millionth thing. This is one of those things.

I like writing groups, for the most part.  Getting out of the house to write does make a difference in how my brain works.  I have a lovely home office with a lovely view of my shade garden in the back yard, and a happy cat who is more than willing to sit nearby and offer me her silent judgment moral support. The problem is the home office is in the home.  There is wash to be washed, dishes to make their way into the dishwasher or dish drainer (yes, I live with people that are not so fastidious), weeds to be pulled from the garden beds or water to be put on garden beds, a basket of peaches on the counter ready to turn into jam, a baby quilt needing to be stitched, or that Ted Talk I want to listen to.

The coffee shop has terrible wi-fi but great coffee.  And in a group, there are other people trying to make their goals.  Listening to what they are working on is inspiring sometimes.  “The first thing I noticed was the blood,” one of the writers tells me.  That is his opening line.  He is his mother’s sole caregiver – she has dementia.  Getting out to write helps him to not go insane.  “Let me tell you about the iron bird,” another writer tells me. She’s 70-ish, retired, and hand-writes in the most beautiful handwriting.  She reads a short passage from her WIP, about a wadi in the dessert, that is surrounded by surreal and amazing creatures, including the iron bird.  She describes the sound of the iron bird’s movements in wonderful, lyrical language.

And me?  I’m writing a scene about a car crash and redemption.  My words are not as beautiful, but I’m getting thee story down, and I will go back and make it more beautiful.  At least, I hope so.

But sitting with writers with such talent makes me want to go back to my back-burner project, the story about Bernice.  She is on the Spectrum, and she is amazing. Bernice has a story to tell, if I ever have time to devote to her.  I have a kind of long bit of her story, if you’re wanting something different to read.  You can read it here.

Do you like writing groups?  Are you part of one or do you have a group of people you regularly write with?  Tell me about it in the comments!

The Sidekick


Best FriendsThe sidekick.  The best friend.  The partner in crime.  The Conscience.  The angel and devil on the other end of your phone call.

Whatever you call it, everyone needs one of those friends you can say anything to, and get an honest opinion from.  Someone you can hang out with, someone who will support you even when you are being stupid, someone who will tell you when you are being ridiculous.  I have a couple.

So why is it so hard for me to put those characters in my books?  I am very bad at being focused on my main two characters, who are busy falling in love and moving toward that happily-ever-after.  If there are other characters, they are ancillary at best, simply characters who appear because some plot twist needs to be advances.  There might be a villain (there is always a villain in my stories) but that’s not what I’m talking about.

Why is it so hard to write in that best friend?  In writing terms, that extra character can really provide some conflict and movement in a story.  No one lives in a vacuum that includes only themselves.  There is interaction everywhere.  Why do we only see occasional entrances with very quick exits from these ancillary characters?  I often have to remind myself to go back in and add some more people, and to build a “best friend” or at least a sister or family member that is going to show up regularly in the story.  The lack of doing so is what I feel is one of my major flaws as a story-teller.

How do you handle the side-kick in your novels?  Do you feel that character is important, and if so, what role do you see them playing?  Do you have any tips for me to get these people in my stories regularly?  It is definitely something I struggle with!

 

Wildfires, Monsoons, and Mojitos


This blog post is part of the Authors of Wild Rose Press Summer Treats and Reads Blog Hop! There is a Kindle Fire giveaway (see end of post!).

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Wildfires, Monsoons, and Mojitos

I work, live, and create in Colorado.  Most people think that means I must live on the top of a mountain somewhere, and it snows year-round.

But Colorado is a diverse place.  I live at “altitude,” but not in the mountains.  Most of Colorado is higher than 3500 feet above sea level.  My town sits at 4,987 feet above sea level.  But the mountains, or at least the start of the foothills, are some 10 miles west of my town, and the highest peaks are 50 miles away or more.  I live in what is considered the “high plains,” but the mountains are pretty much in my back yard.  And I have been here five years, and have yet to see snow earlier than the first weekend of October, or later than Memorial Day.

Okay, so yeah, it can snow here into near-summer.  But like many areas of the country, our climate has its extremes.  When summer finally comes, we bake under a merciless sun.  And that whole thing about thin air and being closer to the sun?  That is all true.  Sunburns can happen in January.  I know, I’ve gotten a sunburn in January.

We’ve had several over-100-degree-days this summer, and I don’t care where you live, whether the air is dry or not, 100 is hot.  HOT. And with hot, dry air, and a blazing sun, and crazy pop-up high-based thunderstorms with lightning, we get fires.  Hot, scorching, mountain-burning fires that go for days.  This year, we have had several fires, and two are still burning madly, gobbling up thousands of acres of pine trees and brush.  Many of us are hoping desperately for an early monsoon season.  Monsoon here is when we get Pacific moisture moving up from the south, mixing with wind from the mountains, which creates intense bursts of rain that raise the humidity but also keep the ground wet.  Wet ground = no more fires.

But in the meantime, we are all looking for ways to stay cool.  Many Coloradans head uphill, into the moutains, where temperatures are 30-40 degrees cooler. That cool air comes with a nice breeze, but a warm sun.  It’s as close to heaven as one can come!  But if I can’t go uphill, then I look for shade.  In a dry climate such as ours, finding a nice tree to lounge under can make all the difference.  Add in a cool, refreshing drink, and suddenly that 100 degrees doesn’t feel so bad. I am blessed to have a shady yard, and pretty flower gardens, so hanging out in my favorite wicker chair in the back yard with a tasty drink in one hand and a great summer read in the other is one of the most relaxing things I can do.  And my favorite drink?  My own personal take on a mojito!

Susabelle’s Perfectly Cool Mojito

  • 10-12 mint leaves
  • 1/2 lime, cut in wedges
  • 4 slices cucumber (about 1/4 inch thick)
  • 1/2 cup club soda
  • 1 1/2 ounces rum (I only use Bacardi Gold)
  • Ice

In a bowl or deep glass, place the mint, limes, and cucumber.  Mash vigorously with the end of a knife handle or wooden spoon to macerate and remove the juices.  Strain this mixture into a glass, being sure to press all those juices into your glass. Add the rum, club soda, and as much ice as you’d like.  Stir well.  Garnish with a lime wedge, cucumber slice, and mint sprig.  Enjoy!

(Mojitos are versatile and can be made with any number of cool summer ingredients. The only requirement is mint, lime, and rum. I’ve used melon – honeydew or watermelon – and berries as well! Experiment!)


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Bookiversary and a Kick in the Pants


In all the hubbub of the Wedding That Never Was and having a house full of guests for the last four weeks, I missed my Bookiversary!  June 5, 2015, Fairest of the Faire was released to an unsuspecting public by my publisher, The Wild Rose Press.  Millions, er hundreds, er, dozens were sold.  Well, not that many dozens.  Like two dozen.

I didn’t really expect more than that, though.  First books are a hard sell.  It takes a few books to build a solid readership.  It can be the best book in the world, that first one, but there are a lot of books out there, and a lot of choices, and that’s just the way it is.  There are a whole lot of Susabelle Kelmers out there, and not that many Stephen Kings and Neil Gaimans.  Not that I’d EVER put myself in that second category!

I’m badly in need of a kick in the pants to get going and finish that second book.  I can blame my lack of production on a lot of things, starting with work, family obligations, taking care of a house and a garden, etc.  And those things do get in the way, but there are still moments that I could use more effectively.  I never seem to be able to find the time to write, or the time to read.  A woefully tall stack of novels sits in my closet waiting to be read, while their smaller stack on my nightstand whine pitifully at me when I try to sleep.  Just last night, I finally picked up the Mary Jane’s Farm magazine I bought before Easter and read the first 30 pages or so.  They are talking about naturally dying Easter eggs, and the best chicks to buy for your newly-built henhouse.  Chick season is long gone, and I won’t be coloring any boiled eggs for quite some time.

Today is July 2nd, and yesterday started Camp Nano, an offshoot of NaNoWriMo, and I’m going to be punching that keyboard and trying to get my novel finished.  I’ve set a modest 20K-word goal for the month, but it sure would be nice to end up with a finished rough draft.  So I’m going to be pushing myself, and hoping that some of my writer friends can poke me and prod me and remind me of my priorities.  I need to get back on the writing train, focus my energies better, and write that story I know I have inside me.

Feel free to hit me with your nagging, ideas for keeping on track, and anything else you think might help me. 🙂

 

 

“What if…” The Role of Conflict in Your Novel


The other day, I was washing dishes, a tedious chore that requires very little thought, when my mind wandered off to my WIP.  As a writer, that often happens, especially during mundane moments like my morning commute, folding laundry, pulling weeds in the garden, or taking my bike ride.

My best musing happens during these times, and once in a while, a breakthrough occurs.  Most of my breakthroughs are revelations of potential conflict.  “What if [Villain] shows up just as [Hero] and [Heroine] are suddenly figuring out their attraction and are locked in an embrace.”  It is usually a bit of an “ah-ha!” moment, that solves some problems and creates others.

But that is the nature of conflict.  If the conflict isn’t messing something up, then it’s not a good conflict.  That mess is what the characters in the novel need to fix, in order to make the story interesting enough to read.  “Timing is everything,” they sometimes say, but it isn’t just the timing (placement) of the conflict that needs to be right.  The conflict itself needs to be deep enough, and just this side of impossible to solve, in order to work. Our characters need to work for those solutions in order to keep the reader interested and wanting to find out more.

So how do you make that all work?  Fortunately, as a romance writer, there are plenty of tropes out there to give inspiration, and almost every romance novel follows a particular pattern.  Whether that is “girl meets boy, hates boy, boy convinces her otherwise” or “girl meets boy, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back,” those standards of storytelling can help you focus your conflict in the right places.

These conflicts can be small, but are better when they are larger.  You don’t want to frustrate your reader with a whole bunch of little conflicts that are easily resolved or are just simple misunderstandings.  This is not exciting for the reader.  The conflicts need to be all-consuming – whether it is a physical danger or an emotional one.  I am fond of both.  I like to see my characters grow and learn, and by working through the conflicts, they are able to do that.

My current WIP features an external conflict – the “villain” is her father, who wants to take the land she was raised on.  It also features an internal conflict – the hero seems out of her league (the hero also thinks she is out of his league).  Intersecting both of these conflicts at the 2/3 or 3/4 mark in the book is my goal.  The excitement of reading up to these conflicts, and seeing how the characters deal with them, will be great for my reader.

There are still many miles to go in this story, of course.  But now that my life is settling back into some sort of summer normal, I should have time to get more deeply involved in the conflicts I’ve managed to work out in my head over the sink full of dirty dishes.

Where do you get your ideas for conflict?  Are you like me and your mundane life gives you plenty of “thinking time,” or do you use another method?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

What Never Was


Wedding DressesI know I’ve been MIA for the last two months or so.  I’ve been on a runaway train.  At least, that is what it has felt like.  You see, my daughter was getting married.  There were halls to book, ministers to talk to, rental chairs to acquire, caterers to visit, cakes to taste, and wedding dresses to alter.  There were bridesmaids dresses to sew and decorations to buy and discussions about colors.  Once we were all on the train, it only sped up, and we didn’t even have time to breathe.

You will notice that I said she “was” getting married.  On Friday, two weeks before the wedding, everything came to a screeching halt. It was more than cold feet.  My daughter and her intended not only called off the wedding.  They called off the whole relationship.  There is a wedding dress in my closet with pins where the hem should be.  There are three enormous plastic bins of decorations, paper products, etched glasses for the head table, and bags of bubbles cluttering up our guest suite.  There are five cases of water, six cases of Capri Sun, and 500 plastic drink cups taking up residence in a corner of the living room.  There are checks written to be mailed to the caterer, the minister, the hall, and the DJ.

And we sit, somewhat stunned by the sudden stop, and the overwhelming nature of what needs to be done next.  Notifying guests, canceling reservations, figuring out what to do with all the “stuff” that fills the house.

All of this, I suppose, will make a good story some day.  Or perhaps I’ll be able to use some of this experience in one of my novels.  But after two months of not even thinking about writing, I’m feeling pretty danged rusty.  And I will probably not have a lot of time to write until the end of June, as we deal with the fallout from this major life change, and also while there are still family in town.  Most of the family has decided to come anyway, and have a vacation instead.  And since we live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, I say, “why not?”  Come on out.  I already have the vacation time scheduled.  I’m happy to show you around, ad happy to spend time with you, even if the circumstances aren’t what we had originally planned for.

June 2016 will always be, in my mind, “What Never Was.”  As a planner, as a Type-A personality, when things go wrong or change drastically, it is a difficult adjustment.  But I can do this.  And bottom line, this breakup was for the best, and my daughter is a very strong, very brave young woman who knew she couldn’t go through with the marriage, and knew that to cancel was the right thing to do.  I’m very proud to have raised such a girl.

The Blessing and the Curse of Reviews


I am a debut author.  I have one book out, with a smattering of reviews, most good.  In fact, I’ve not gotten anything less than a four star review for my novel, both on Goodreads and Amazon.  Many of those reviews came as part of a review tour, rather than people stumbling upon my book by accident.  And I am grateful for those reviews, for sure.

But I also have come to understand that having a handful of reviews means nothing in today’s publishing world.  Amazon doesn’t notice until you have fifty or so.  Until then, I’m just invisible.  Which is probably as it should be for a new author.  I am no J.K. Rowling.

Reviews, I think, can be a blessing and a curse.  The struggle to get them is a curse – it is hard to do, and can become an obsession.  When you get a less-than-stellar review, that can wound.  But if you get several less-than-stellar reviews, it might actually mean that your work is not up to par.  That can really set you back, because it can indicate that you need to make some changes in how you write.  Some low reviews can, of course, just be from someone who wasn’t into your genre or didn’t like your cover or didn’t like your main character.  That is always going to happen, and you can probably move on from those and not worry about the larger impact of a string of poor reviews.

But how much stock, really, should we put into reviews we get on our books?  It is fairly well known that I am not a fan of Nora Roberts, who writes in my genre.  I’m not alone, as I’ve read some really low reviews of her work.  Does anyone think that Nora Roberts really cares about the negative reviews all that much?  Does she read them and sob into her cup of tea over them, the way a lesser-known or thinner-skinned author might?  Somehow, I think she doesn’t really care about reviews, and probably rarely reads them or follows them.  After all, she is a prolific writer, and if she was wasting her time reading all the reviews and agonizing over the negative ones, she wouldn’t have the time or energy to write.

So I believe she keeps chugging along writing her novels, because it doesn’t really matter if they are good or not, or people buy them or not, because she’s still going to make money from the people that are her fans.  The only difference between her and I is that she has millions of fans.  I have like, three, and two of those are family.  It’s all relative, right?

I’ve purposely stopped looking at my reviews.  If I get one, and it’s good, that’s great, but I am not going to put all my emotional energy into worrying about the reviews.  I’d rather be writing my next book.  I don’t feel like the good outweighs the bad when it comes to reviews.  And I think it’s wasted energy to spend time on them.

As an author, what do you think?  How important are reviews to you and why?  Leave me your thoughts in a comment!

 

Fairest of the Faire – available now!

Fairest of the Faire book coverBlurb:

Schoolteacher Connie Meyers is suddenly a young widow, her husband killed in a horrific car accident. Heartbroken to find out he had gambled away everything they had, she moves to her sister-in-law’s Midwest home to rebuild her life. A trip to the local Renaissance Faire with her nieces leads to a summer job as a costumed storyteller.

Avowed bad boy and fair performer Gage Youngblood is infatuated with Connie at first sight. Despite his deliberately commitment-free life, and Connie’s don’t-touch-me attitude, he soon has her in his arms, realizing quickly she is also in his heart.

When she is threatened by her late husband’s bookie, he steps into the role of protector, his fate forever sealed with hers.

Available NOW!

Buy at Wild Rose Press:  (eBook and paperback)

Buy at Amazon (Kindle and paperback)

Buy at Barnes and Noble (Nook)

A Clear Head


Trees in Seaport Village, San DiegoI apologize for the lack of a post last week, but I was visiting beautiful San Diego, California.  It was a work thing for my day J.O.B., which means I was stuck inside most of the day.  But since Daylight Savings Time was in effect, I had two hours of sunshine to enjoy after each day’s activities.  I’m not one of those that goes to the after-conference gatherings to drink and socialize.  I’m much happier going out and taking a walk, sitting and enjoying the scenery or people-watching (doesn’t every author engage in people watching?), and decompressing for the day with a good book.

Something about traveling for my job, not only do I get to learn new things and network with colleagues from all over the country, but I get a lot of “thinking” time.  And thinking time can usually mean working on my novel in my head.

And I did a lot of that last week.  As I struggle with making my characters real, and building a story that gives those characters something to do, that thinking time is exactly what I need.  When I’m home, there is laundry, meals to be cooked, the television is blaring in the other room, my daughter may be (badly) practicing her flute.  There are phone calls to make, bills to pay, floors to mop, gardens to weed… One would think I could do some thinking while folding a load of warm towels fresh from the dryer, but apparently not.  I’m usually thinking about the next chore that needs to be done.

Away from home, my only concern is where I’m going to have dinner that night, and what time I should go to bed in order to be up at a reasonable hour the next morning for my next session.  No cleaning, no bed-making, no meal preparation.  Easy-peasy.

So my brain wanders off a lot.  What if the purposely distanced father decides he wants to have more to do with the daughter he abandoned all those years ago?  What if my artist heroine shows her obsession with the hero, the guy she has known most of her life, by putting his face in every mural she paints around town?  And that hero, a butcher, but also a musician, what would happen if he could hear the ghost that the heroine hears?  How would he react, and what would he do about it?  And could he give up his learned career to make music instead?

Plenty of puzzle pieces there to work with.  But with thinking time, those puzzle pieces are slowly falling into place.  Not forced, but by shaking everything out and seeing where it lands.  The puzzle pieces that don’t fit are slowly being discarded into the bag of Ideas For Another Novel.  As the puzzle pieces fall into place, a path becomes clear for me to write that story.

If you’re a working mom, how do you find your “thinking time?”  Do you fight with your puzzle pieces the way I do?  Tell me about it in the comments!

Oh, and just for your amusement…apparently this week one of the boats on the San Diego Pier lost control and crashed. I’m posting a video of it below.  This is the same place I was last week, and one of the boats in the background of the video (the Cabrille that you can see just to the right as the Hornblower is coming in fast) is the ferry boat I would take between the mainland and Coronado Island during the week.  Kinda scary stuff!

Witty Comebacks


Yeah, You and what army?I am the queen of snappy comebacks.  Witty repartee.  Having just the right response for every insult or witty remark

As long as you ask me later, after I’ve had time to think about it, to come up with the best zinger I can.  These things take planning. And there’s that whole “Hindsight is 20/20” thing.

What’s that you say?  You too?  Well, I’ll be…

Being full of words means that I have quite the arsenal to work with.  But it doesn’t mean I’m particularly fast at it.  But as a writer, I can often use those little snippets of responses (and perhaps the insult or witty remark that started it) in my stories.  My heroines are quite amusing, usually ready with a quick, witty response in any situation.  They can crack a joke like a seasoned stand-up professional.  After all, they have access to many years’ worth of witty responses I’ve carefully collected and cataloged over the years.  It might as well be put to good use.

And I like sharp-tongued, quick-witted characters.  Not the mean, painful kind, but those with a quick, amusing response that makes me smile or outright laugh.  Quick comebacks and humor-filled answers can break up an intense scene, relieving tension and stress on the reader.  An intense thriller can be great, but you need a break here and there to allow the reader to catch their breath.

I just wish I could come up with these zingers when I need them in real life.  Seems such a shame to be able to come up with them later, when they do much less good!

Do you use humor, witty one-liners, and comebacks in your novels?  Why?  Do your own humorous scenes sometimes make you laugh out loud? Tell me about it in the comments!