Friday, July 31, 2009

Why Not Wednesday?

On Monday I promised both a Wednesday and a Friday post. Why didn't I post Wednesday? Because I have a schedule I prioritize over blogging. I have a weekly page count for Warrior's Hilt, my paranormal romance in progress. I weighed my commitment to blogging against my writing schedule and I chose to write my novel.

Writing a whole book - 95,000 words, 300 plus pages - is that simple. You choose writing over other things. That might be instead of sleeping in or replying to email or cleaning a closet. Maybe you send the husband to the zoo with the kids and decide to skip it this time because after all you went to the playground yesterday and hey you can write three more pages while they're all out. I'm by no means a motivation or planning expert, but after fourteen years tinkering with Shooting Stars, I started writing Warrior's Hilt in January 2009 and today, July 31, I have 290 pages. I am on track to be finished September 1 and polished in time to enter the Golden Heart. Here's what I've learned.
  • Plan your writing realistically in weekly chunks. I use a 3-column Word document with three months of Wednesday and Saturday dates on the left. The middle column contains blank lines for pages achieved each date and a pre-printed weekly page goal. On the right I note expected events (my week to blog, vacation, camping) that add or subtract writing time. I vary my page goals based on the week. On the road for vacation, 5 pages. A so-called regular week, 15 pages. Both kids at camp 9 am to noon for a whole week, 30 pages (didn't quite make that but it was a great goal).

  • Print the plan and put it on the fridge. Forget weight loss, I want to write. I track pages achieved on the fridge instead of wasting computer time opening the chart. Not only does seeing my goals all the time keep me aware, I'm accountable to anyone who looks at the fridge.
    I've had failures. The week my laptop died I wrote nothing and I'm still catching up. I grew distracted the whole month of May and let my writing priorities drift. They slipped so far I had to revise my accountability chart from an August 1 deadline to September 1, and that's why I ended up with a 30 page goal one week and waaay too many 20 page weeks. But now I'm past the hump (see Monday's entry for the rhino). That's how normal slow people run marathons and that's how you raise kids and that's how you mow the grass. You keep going.

  • Write anything, even crap. This is Cherry Adair's view of writing and I believe in it. You can edit the crap out of anything but a blank page. If I can't figure out a transition from a chunk of dialog to the next action sequence, I [add transition here] and move forward. Brackets and speed are my friends.

In this system, do not under any circumstances agonize over phrasing. Maybe spend time choosing one word, but you can put a [boring word] in brackets and come back later to jazz it up. When I write what I know to be a cliche, I add [cl] after it to remind me to freshen during editing.
Two months ago I described three scenes in Warrior's Hilt as [go to his tuscan castle - dinner - bad guys invade]. I wanted to move to the morning after the fight scene, which I could see clearly at that moment, but I think moving linearly is important to character development and manuscript integrity.
By this week I was one hundred pages past that point, stuck at the final part of a snow mobile chase. I couldn't tackle that frigid mess in Seattle's hundred degree heat, so I flipped back to my Tuscan castle brackets and it all flowed, the fight scene with tipped over candles lighting a tapestry on fire, the dining room's historic weapon collection, the hero's anger that the heroine didn't follow his commands.
In sum: make a realistic accountability calendar, print and post it visibly, write fast and sloppy to move forward. You will have a rough draft faster than you imagine and you will be able to edit, polish, tweak and fiddle as necessary - with a new calendar or you'll be at it fourteen years like I was.
Do you have a different system that works for you to get your writing done? I'm always interested in tips and tricks to squeeze more writing out of a day, so please post here. And I promise to post my dialog editing comments when I get my page count back to green-light status.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Shelli's Great Contest

Since I hope most of our readers believe in HEAs (it took me six months to realize that stood for Happily Ever After on blogs), please humor my announcement that today is my eighth wedding anniversary. I forgot to buy a card for my Favorite Canadian, but that's okay. At least this year I know how many years it is. Hey, I'm a romance writer, not a romantic. I did make him a fancy dessert one night last week when it wasn't raging hot and suggested he count it as an early deposit on today.

It's over 90 here in Seattle and no one has A/C, so I can't possibly think of anything witty or interesting and I have to get moving with the kids to the Mariners' game. Luckily Shelli Stevens, the amazing chapter president of Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America, is running a fabulous contest to celebrate her new Aphrodisia book. Go to her website and do it. In the heat.

Monday, July 27, 2009

An Editing Exercise

How many of our readers are also writers, published or trying? I hope my posts this week offer inspiration and advice for those who are writing and insight into how it works for the rest of you. Here's my plan for the week - a short exercise, a medium-long insight and final tips about dialog. Stick with me.

To use one of the tips from Margie Lawson's Deep Edits class, print a scene you want to improve. Before you begin other edits, highlight the last word in every paragraph. Is it a powerful word that drags you to the start of the next paragraph? A word with emotion, force, strength, meaning or imagery? Or is it a be-verb, a pronoun, an -ing ending (Kate would call that a gerund), a downbeat that drops the reader? If you're focusing on a paragraph, do the same with the last word of every sentence (that also catches repetition).

Darn. Look at my first paragraph. I used trying, you, dialog, me. Two pronouns and a gerund out of four words. Not compelling.

I'd love it if someone tried this on random pages of a book you couldn't put down and one you never finished, and posted a list for us to compare. If you have a tough hide, be brave and do it to your own work - a scene you think is strong and also one that you doubt. Tell us how it works. And come back for my other tips Wednesday and at the end of the week. Now go read, write and drink coffee. (FYI I took this photo at The Wilds, a conservation park near Zanesville, Ohio. If you're traveling I-70, it's a great stop.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I'd Love to Taste You. No, Really.

I'm going to continue my line of thought for this week.

Enjoy the video! And feel free to post your thoughts on Twilight. Edward Cullen: sweet, or stalker?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Courting vs. Stalking

"Would you forgive me, love, if I boiled your rabbit?"

Yes, I had a friend in high school who once modified some Alanis Morissette lyrics. It was all part of a general conversation regarding the difference between courting and stalking.

It started after a viewing of Say Anything. There was a heated debate about Lloyd Dobler's boom-box move: sketchy, or sexy?

This seems like an easy question to answer, but we never actually reached a conclusion. Let's be honest. Pet death and property destruction aside, it can sometimes be a tough call. After all, one woman's deranged psycho is another woman's hot emo vampire.

My own perspective: I admire a certain amount of persistence in the pursuit of romance. This should be obvious, given my choice of reading/writing material. If there's not an obstacle, it's not interesting! Imbalance of interest/commitment makes for good conflict.

And yet sometimes, I get a little whiplash from my beloved romance novels. The "persistent" hero seems like a stalker. Or the "over-protective" hero seems controlling and emotionally abusive. But I've yet to come up with a good list of tricks/traits that definitively tip the scales.

I put it to you, dear reader: what squicks you out in a hero? I'm looking for the stuff that makes you say, "Wow. If that happened in real life, I'd probably call the cops." All the better if you can give us examples from novels, TV, and/or movies!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Our Own Vivi Wins Big!

Whee! Congratulations! Last night Vivi won the Golden Heart award for best unpublished contemporary single title romance at the 2009 Romance Writers of America Convention. The winners are listed at the RWA National website. You can go to Vivi's blog and read her thoughts on winning and the conference. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Armchair Traveller

Thanks to Marg at Reading Adventures, I found this cool map feature that let's you plot all the countries you've "visited"-- in real life or through the pages of a book. I like seeing where my reading has taken me (and where I need to read more), as I take off on another real-life trip. Looks like South America could be next up for me--in life and literature! Why don't you do your own?

create your own visited country map

Thursday, July 16, 2009

London is for Lovers!

As July slips away into August (and takes with it my hopes for a productive summer), I'm doing the only sensible thing-- getting out of this NYC heat and heading to the UK with my beloved.

My first visit back to England in a decade (after spending a year living in the Midlands) is doing triple duty. I'll be presenting a paper on one of my research interests at an academic conference. I'll be celebrating two years of marriage with a nice vacation. And I'll be jotting down notes on Regency architecture and style and London street layouts for my novel-writing.

Of course, a London trip calls for some London-centric reading. I've got David Copperfield and Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies on hand to provide some nineteenth- and twentieth-century London flavor. But what about the twenty-first? Any of our readers up for a possibly impossible task?

Which London-set romance novel should I bring with me on this decidedly lit-geeky trip? The novel should be set primarily or exclusively in London. And ideally the city would feature prominently as an essential element of the book--a few references to Almacks here and Covent Garden there won't cut it. (This, clearly, negates most of Julia Quinn's Bridgerton books from the running. Sadly, my own London-set Then Comes Marriage doesn't fit the bill either).

Expect some lovely London shots after I get back.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Super Special Travel Plans!

When I was an undergrad, I completed a Group Independent Study Project (GISP) on children's literature. What does this mean?

(a) I got college credit for reading Harry Potter
(b) I wrote literary analysis on Mary Anne Spier and Logan Bruno
(c) At age 20, I had a sleepover party and played the Sweet Valley High board game
(d) I made some excellent lifelong friends
(e) All of the above, and then some!

It was one of my best college experiences, mostly because I've stayed in touch with the other women in the GISP. After graduation, we continued to have semi-regular reunions. But then people started moving away from the Providence area. Now, we are spread throughout Boston, New York, Washington, and Alaska. So when we want to get together, we have to have a Super Special.

How many of you read Ann M. Martin's Baby-sitter's Club books? If you've got any sort of familiarity with the BSC, then you must know the term "Super Special." They were the thick white books chronicling the club's group vacations.

The GISP had our first Super Special last year, when everyone flew out for my wedding. Starting tomorrow, we're on our next Super Special: GISP Alaskan Adventure! I can't wait. Everyone's been joking that, if our vacation runs true to the BSC model, we will care for adorable toddlers (and meet equally adorable men with accents) on our trip.

I am more than happy to do without both kinds of adorable. I am just excited to hang out with my friends and see Alaska!

I'm sure I'll have all kinds of pictures and stories when I return. For now, though, I'd love to hear about the best gal-pal vacation you ever took. (And former BSC readers: who was your favorite/least favorite baby-sitter, and why?)

Monday, July 06, 2009

A-Number-One, Top of the Heap

For the last two weeks I have been obsessed (and I do not use that word lightly) with top ten lists. My latest ebook release, Serengeti Heat, a sexy shape-shifter novella, released just thirteen short days ago. And ever since that fateful Tuesday, I have been haunting my publisher's sales site (and a handful of other ebook retailers) looking for any clues as to how my little shifter story might be doing.

Were people reading it? Were they liking it? The agony of not knowing had me in a frenzy. I latched onto anything that might give me some hint how my baby was being received.

And then it happened. The Top Ten List Obsession. Serengeti Heat hit number one on the My Bookstore & More Best Sellers List. Then (gasp!) it crawled up to be the number two bestselling shape-shifter ebook on the All Romance eBooks site. When it became the All Romance eBooks top reader rated shape-shapeshifter story... well, that's when the obsession really spiraled out of control.

I web-stalked those sites, visiting them constantly (even though I knew they didn't update their information more than once a day), waiting with dread in my poor lil heart for the time when my sales would plummet and Serengeti Heat would fall from its precarious perch atop those lists. (Which it did, of course, in epubbing that first week phenomenon is quickly replaced by next week's first week phenomenon.)

Do these lists mean anything? Honestly? It just means that I sold at least one book more than the person at number two over a rolling seven day period. It's all relative. That could mean I only sold a half dozen books, or it could mean a thousand. Who knows? But one thing's for sure: the New York Times list it ain't. Buying my own private island will have to wait a couple more years. Still, in my little minnow pond, it's pretty fun to be the big fish for a week or two.

And now that I'm done bragging... I give you the result of my Top Ten List obsession:

The Top Ten Coolest Things About Being a Writer (according to me).

10. Going to writing conferences, meeting your favorite authors, basking in their genius and being given free books. LOTS of free books.
9. Meeting other people who use phrases like "fully-actualized character arc" and "jarring POV shift" in everyday conversation.
8. Visiting blogs, social networking sites & yahoo loops all count as "name-building" and "promo time".
7. Reading is research.
6. Movies, TV shows, plays, anything with a plot, or just sitting in a park people-watching - ALL RESEARCH.
5. Taking vengeance on people who annoy you by putting them in your books. The obnoxious girl who gets murdered in the second act? Total authorial catharsis, baby.
4. Talking in public about ways to murder people, blow things up or perform battlefield triage after the undead apocalypse = totally acceptable. (Though no guarantees that the civilians around you won't give you very strange looks while you're discussing the relative symptoms of arsenic vs. cyanide.)
3. You are God (or at the very least a god) of your own stories. You control the universe and everything always turns out exactly as you wanted it to.
2. Working in your pajamas.
1. Getting an email from someone you've never met, totally out of the blue, telling you that they loved your story and thanking you for writing it. (Yep, I cried. I'm just a big ole softie.)

That's my list. So what are the top ten most kick-ass things about your job? What's on your Top Ten List?