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!

 

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!

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!

 

More Homework


Since my story is coming along slowly (and I’m a slow writer to begin with), these last few weeks have been spent doing homework.  When we last talked, I was making my way through Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon.  Since finishing that, I’ve been playing around with a GMC chart for each of the four characters in the book.  Using post-it notes and a white board seems to be the best way to do this, for now.  I can move the post-its around as I figure out what is internal and what is external GMC.  This has helped solidify what I already knew about the characters, but there is much more room to grow here.

William Bernhardt, Creating Character (part of the Red Sneaker series)To that end, I picked up William Bernhardt’s Creating Characters.  This book was recommended by a fellow author.  This book is part of a series of six books called the “Red Sneaker Books.”  Each is a short hit with good, concise information and exercises that can be done to help firm up your stories.  It covers things like plot, story structure, dialogue, style, and premise, along with the character book.  The appendices are loaded with examples, worksheets, and exercise you can do.  Halfway through Creating Character, I am finding that I need to give my characters more to do.  Every story, Bernhardt says, is “character driven.”  He points out some ways of adding detail that I hadn’t thought of yet.  Rolling this into my work with GMC is natural and enhances my ability to problem-solve through the difficulties I’m having right now getting my story written.

Of course, if I’m doing homework, I’m not writing, and that makes me feel bad.  Both Dixon and Bernhardt insist that you need to write every day.  This is so hard for me to do, with all of real life taking much of my energy and time.  There are nights I barely have time to get a shower before bed, with a school-age daughter and plenty of other things I need to do.  Last night I was up until midnight, taking care of laundry so someone would have work clothes, putting some more time in on a baby quilt that I need to make for someone, cleaning up the kitchen from dinner, waiting up for my daughter to get done with her event at school, etc..  And it’s spring.  My workload vastly increases during this time as the gardens need to be worked and planted, there is outside house maintenance to start working on, oh, and yes, my older daughter is getting married in June.  I have a junior bridesmaid’s dress to make for the younger daughter, and decorations to create for the wedding, not to mention scheduling all of the little details for the ceremony and reception.  And I get to run away to a conference for work at the end of March.

So yes, finding daily time to write is hard, but when so many tell me I need to be doing it, then I need to be doing it.  I’m going to take a real hard look at my schedule and see where I can put that time.  Even if it is a half hour, it will be better than no writing at all.  And I need to keep myself from doing things related to writing and calling it writing (like reading Berhnardt’s book and doing the exercises).

Have you read any of the Red Sneakers books?  Have you found them to be helpful?  Do you have book recommendations to help me get my story moving?  Leave your suggestions in the comments!

 

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)

Doing My Homework


Goal, Motivation, & Conflict by Debra DixonAs I continue to flounder through my current Work In Progress (WIP), I am looking for ways to make the process come together more quickly.  Another author with my publishing house, Peggy Jaeger, recommended Goal, Motivation, and Conflict By Debra Dixon.  I’ve read through it quickly once, but now I am going back through and doing what the book told me to do.  That means I am doing homework! It’s been many years since I’ve been in school, so homework is a bit of a foreign concept to me at the moment.  There’s also that whole “old dogs, new tricks” thing that plagues many of us over the age of 50.  I am no exception.

I originally checked the book out from the library, because I wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to spend money on or not.  That first read showed potential, so I found a used copy online and bought it.  It’s been a few years since the book was published (1996), and although it’s still in print, used copies are going for almost the same price as brand new.  Still, if it helps me get to my goal (writing a second novel) it will be money well-spent.

And so far, the homework seems manageable, and sort of fun.  Today, I will be watching the The Wizard of Oz, which was assigned in the first chapter.  So, before I can move on (I just finished chapter 2), I need to watch that movie.  There are others on the list, but it is well-known that I am not a movie/television person, so I’m not sure I’ll get through the rest of the list.  I hate losing an evening or sunny afternoon to a movie, even an entertaining one.  My German, semi-rural upbringing makes it virtually impossible for me to sit still doing “nothing” unless it is productive.  If I’m sitting and writing, that’s productive.  But sitting and watching a 2 hour movie is not productive. I cannot fathom how people can spend an afternoon or day or weekend binge-watching some popular television series, unless they are bedridden with illness or injury. It is a foreign concept to me. I do watch sports mostly football and baseball), but it’s always while I’m doing something else – working on a craft project or quilt, cleaning house, folding laundry, etc.   I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

Anyway, back to the homework.  I have seen The Wizard of Oz many times.  Probably at least ten times.  But it has been at least a dozen years since I’ve seen it, and I’m sure there are parts I have forgotten, and will need to know in order to do the homework in GMC.  So I will sacrifice part of a sunny afternoon today to watch a movie, instead of doing something outdoors, or finishing the weekend chores.

Have you read Goal, Motivation, and Conflict?  What do you think of the process, and have you used some of the process (or all of it?) to write any of your novels?  I would love to hear your thoughts!

 

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)

The Cooking Heroine


Green beans

Some of my home-grown green and royal purple string beans.

My heroines are sometimes so much like me.  Or maybe, I just feel compelled to insert some of myself into them.  After all, who do I know better than myself?  But one thread running through all of my heroines is that they cook.  Every work-in-progress, my published novel, all have a heroine who cooks.  In Fairest of the Faire, Connie makes a mean buckwheat pancake.  In Second Chances, my terrible self-published novel, Genevieve runs a bed and breakfast.  The entire story is sprinkled with her cooking.  In my current WIP, my heroine cooks some plum-braised pork chops, and uses her own canned peaches to flavor her fresh-simmered steel-cut oats.  The historical novel I’ve been piddling with for the last ten years has a heroine who spend all of her time in the kitchen on an Italian estate.  Another WIP that I drag out and work on once in a while woos the hero with a home-cooked Italian meal, even though she has spent much of her adult life traveling the country in an RV as a freelance photographer.

It’s all about the food.

Maybe it’s because I’m fluffy.  Maybe it’s because I like to cook.  Maybe it’s because I like food.  Maybe it’s a result of my generation, where women did cook, and cooked a lot.  Or more likely, it’s how I bring my heroine back to earth.  It’s a way of making her “real” in a way.  I often refer to my heroines as “sweet,” and my stories are sweet as well.  So having a cooking heroine seems natural to me.  Her appeal to most men would be pretty assured.  At least in my mind.

I have read books that were sprinkled with recipes, or where the heroine was a caterer or baker, and there would be recipes at the back of the book that I could try myself.  I always like these types of books.  It’s like getting a bit more for your money.  “Look!  Free recipe!”

I know I don’t think about it consciously.  It is just something that sort of happens.  I am fascinated by recipes, never pass a facebook post with a recipe without clicking, and pick up used magazines from the free table at the library if they have a recipe on the cover.  I love to cook, and spend a lot of time in my kitchen working with delicious ingredients.  Maybe I missed my calling somehow.  Maybe I should have become a television chef.  The thought amuses me.

What down-to-earth things do you have your heroine do?  Is the purpose to make her more “real,” more like a woman you would actually meet in real life?  Do you talk about cooking in your novels?  Let me know in the comments!