Monthly Archives: August 2014

Writing Thursday: Exercising

     stock-photo-side-view-of-treadmill-isolated-on-white-background-158944256When I attended college, the university required a physical education class prior to graduation. I chose walking. A friend of mine who attended my college’s major rival asked me if Crawling 101 was the prerequisite. I laughed off the joke but didn’t laugh off the class. My college takes its physical education classes seriously and this class required a bit of exertion. Each week, three days a week, the teacher led the class around three different routes with varying degrees of hills and straightaways. No matter the day, I always had a story in my mind. At the time, I dismissed any idea of becoming a writer. 

     For a long time, I continued to fight my desire to write. But I love walking, whether on a track, through a neighborhood or on a treadmill. No matter where I walked I always would think about what it would be like to write books: what would my characters say to each other, what plot devices would I utilize, and where would the characters live. It finally hit me that I needed to write.

     So for me, walking and writing have always gone hand in hand. Walking allows me the freedom to consider the paths my characters will travel, the traits they will have, and the next scenes they will occupy. For a little over a year, I’ve worked out many a plot detail on a treadmill or on an exercise bike. 

     Today was different. Or at least I told myself it was going to be different. After another rejection letter, I was going to just exercise. Just walk on the treadmill without plotting my next book. Without thinking about the characters in my next book. Without thinking about writing.

     That’s what I told myself. That’s not what happened. Instead, I thought about my opening. I even moved over one important scene to a different part of the book. And I planned out more details of the scene. At one point, I caught myself thinking about the book and increased the speed on the treadmill. Didn’t matter. I still thought about my next book. That’s when I hit me. Walking is a part of my writing routine. Exercise is a part of my writing routine. I use walking and exercise to figure out what I need to work on in my book. Because I’m a writer and that’s part of how I plan my books.

     What about you? What helps you write? Do you come up with your ideas while waiting in traffic, while exercising, while making dinner? Let me know. 



Family Friday: Roller Coasters

stock-photo-silhouette-of-wooden-roller-coaster-70910776This past summer, my family and I traveled up north and visited Hershey Park in Hershey, Pennsylvania during our vacation. In addition to Hershey Park, we also visited Washington D.C., Mount Vernon, Amish Country, and Wheatland in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Now, a couple of months later, my four year old twins still talk about the day at Hershey the most. I’d like to hope some of those glorious historical sites planted some seeds of love of history and stories, but that will remain to be seen down the road. They want to go back to Pennsylvania, stay in the hotel, and go back to Hershey. The day at Hershey, though, showed me some insight into the members of my family.

     Wonderful hubby. Let’s start with my wonderful hubby. I like to think we balance each other. He’s my rock, and I remind him to buy deodorant with antiperspirant instead of just deodorant. This day reminded me why he’s great at strategy games and planning. He wisely chose to purchase the add-on fee to park next to the park entrance. With twin four-year olds, it was the best spent money on the trip. By the end of the day, Cupcake was tuckered out, and wonderful hubby and I were each carrying a twin out to the minivan. I was so thankful he indulged with that nearby parking spot.

     Kath. It’s hard to believe that the little girl who twirled on the fireplace hearth is now in high school. Her boyfriend lives in Pennsylvania, and he accompanied us to Hershey. They toured Zoo America on their own and also went on some of the roller coasters while touring the park on their own. Kath still talks about her reaction to the dips and turns of one of the coasters, but she participated in the rides without us. In two years, she’ll head off to college, and she’ll live in a dorm away from home. Hershey Park drove that concept into me, but we all still ate meals together and we all laughed together. But she’s now grown up enough to take that first step into her own life by riding the roller coasters with someone other than her parents.

     MJ. My tween son talked nonstop of the roller coasters prior to the trip, but then the moment came when he actually saw the roller coasters. Up close. He had no problem with the bumper cars or the Screamer. The Tilt-a-Whirl and the Pirate were right up his alley. But he discovered he’s not keen on roller coasters. I still don’t know what to make out of this. On the one hand, I want all of my children to live life to its fullest and face any fears they have. On the other hand, maybe this is a sign that my tween son is starting to develop some common sense that will guide him through his teen years and beyond. If something doesn’t feel right and some little worm of doubt grows within him, that might help him later in life. So as hard as it was to watch him not to get on the roller coaster, we had to go along with what he felt was the best choice for him.

     Cupcake. The most fearless of the bunch. She went on every roller coaster the park allowed her to ride. The Super Dooper Looper. No problem. If it was a roller coaster and she was permitted to ride it, she was there. She not only rode every one she could ride, she rode some of them twice. (We were very fortunate to go to Hershey the first week after school ended in our neck of the woods while school was still in session in Pennsylvania. As a result, the park wasn’t crowded and we literally walked onto many of the rides, especially toward the end of the day.) She loved the roller coasters. She came back and reported every wonderful second of the ride to her twin brother and her older brother. She might look sweet and she might cuddle up to you, but this Southern belle has a spine of steel. 

     Chunk. Cupcake’s twin brother didn’t cotton to roller coasters like Cupcake. He allowed his sister to go with Daddy on the roller coasters while he went off to another ride with MJ and Mommy. But the roller coasters were always in view. And by the end of the day, he wanted to try riding one. And then, he loved roller coasters. In the last hour, we rode two roller coaster before ending the day with a Tilt-a-Whiril ride and a final twirl on the Screamer. That’s Chunk. A little cautious at first, but then full steam ahead. 

     The whole day was fun. From the wonderful ice cream dipped cone to ramming into Kath, Kath’s boyfriend and MJ in the bumper cars, it was a great day. 

     What are some of your favorite family vacation moments? Let me know.

Reading Wednesday: What I’m Reading

      On the car ride home, my oldest daughter and I discussed her high school literature class. She doesn’t like the book she’s reading for her class. I thought how fortunate I am that I’m reading three good books right now. Yes, I am reading three books at one time and enjoying all of them.

     Technique of a Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. I’m a romance writer, and I try to read books about the craft of writing to help me become a better writer. I ordered Dwight Swain’s Technique of a Selling Writer because it is highly recommended by other writers, other craft books and various writing websites. When it arrived, I gulped because it is a 316 page volume on writing. I wondered how I would ever finish it. Then it dawned on me that I didn’t have to read it all at once. By reading a little bit each day, I am slowly making my way through the whole book. And I’m enjoying the book.

     Dwight Swain shares his insights about how to construct a novel. He encourages the author to think about the words he or she chooses. Instead of an adverb to modify the verb, describe the action. Make the words create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. He breaks down the different parts of a book into scenes and sequels and challenges the aspiring author to think about causation and effect on the characters. By setting up a situation and putting your character in the situation with an objective and a villain that spells disaster for the character’s objective, you create scenes which lead to sequels which lead to your book. He also details the different elements integral to a beginning, middle and an end to help the author think about the different acts of a book. 

     Presently I am reading about habits of the author. The author needs to plan out when and where to write. The author not only needs to research the publications that interests him or her, but do enough research for your background while not go overboard so you never write the book. 

     So by reading five to six pages a day, I’m learning more about word choice, scene choice and conflict. A little can go a long way.

     The Lawyer’s Luck by Piper G. Huguley. If you haven’t heard of Piper, you will. She’s an immensely talented writer who has reached the quarterfinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Contest and is a two-time Golden Heart finalist. Two of her works are presently available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other book seller sites. The first work is this novella, The Lawyer’s Luck. This is a prequel to her full-length novel, The Preacher’s Promise (the book that was the Golden Heart finalist and the quarterfinalists in the ABNAs. Piper is a fellow Georgia Romance Writer member (and for the record, I purchased my copy of The Lawyer’s Luck and am giving this recommendation of this book on my own).

     The Lawyer’s Luck is an inspirational, historical romance novella. I downloaded it on my Kindle last week, having already read the first chapter of The Preacher’s Promise when it was made available for free on Amazon through the ABNA contest. Yesterday I began reading The Lawyer’s Luck at lunch and was immediately carried away to Ohio in the days before the Civil War. The hero, Lawrence, has lost his horse at the worst possible time. He needs him to ride the legal circuit. He knows people already judge him because he’s black (his heritage is 1/2 black, 1/4 Miami Nation Indian tribe, and 1/4 white). He goes in search of his horse who is tied up in the woods. He pulls his gun and is confronted by a woman. The gun discharges, and she is shot. Lawrence feels awful for having shot a woman and carries her back to town to receive help. He discovers she’s a runaway slave named Realie who is attempting to get to Canada, far away from the heinous conditions she endured as a slave.  

     I’m 20% of the way done with the novella, and I love this quiet yet compelling story. I look forward to finishing it in the days to come.

     Somewhere Along the Way by Jodi Thomas. Last year I attended my first RWA Conference in Atlanta. Before the conference, Ms. Thomas recorded a welcome video intended for first-timers. I watched it and was touched by her caring and strong words intending to welcome, encourage and affirm the reasons for attending. 

     At each of the last two RWA Conferences, there has been a Literacy Autograph signing where 400-500 authors sign copies of their books for readers and fellow writers. The money raised goes to help charities which endeavor to end literacy. At last year’s RWA Conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Thomas who was very gracious to me even though I obviously had never read any of her books. I purchased one of her books in the Harmony series and smiled at her, basking in her encouraging presence.

     I’ll let you in on a little secret. I hate to begin reading series out of order. I crave the first copy, even for stand alone books that can be read regardless of order.

     Having admitted that, I browsed my library’s shelves to find the first Harmony book. Before I attended this year’s RWA, I read the first Harmony book and loved it. I checked and found that I did not purchase the second in the series. Instead I checked out book two, Somewhere Along the Way, and am now about forty percent of the way done with the book.

     The sequel takes place two years after the first ended. Reagan Truman, a former foster child, is now settled in Harmony and lives with Jeremiah Truman, her uncle. She has stumbled onto a job on Wednesday nights taking the place of Edith whenever Edith calls her and asks her to sub for her. Edith tells her that she’s been selling leftover food to a man for two dollars per meal. The man collects the meal at the end of her shift and has always paid her the same amount. 

     Reagan goes along with the deal and delivers the bag of food to the stranger who gives her the two dollars. The stranger is Gabriel Leary who lives on the outskirts of Harmony keeping as much to himself as possible. He makes a living by writing graphic novels and keeps an office in town. All his mail is delivered there to a G. L. Smith. Across the hall is new attorney Liz Matheson. Hers was one of the three founding families of Harmony: the Mathesons, the MacAllens, and the Trumans. Book one covered the story of Reagan finding a home in Harmony as well as the story of Hank Matheson and Alex MacAllen, the town’s voluntary fire chief and town’s sheriff respectively. My favorite character in the first book is the funeral director Tyler who is Hank’s best friend and Saralynn’s protector. 

     Ms. Thomas’ books have a way of slowly drawing me into the lives of the quirky characters who inhabit Harmony. Tyler is still one of my favorite characters and his story is tugging at my heartstrings.

     And so, I am fortunate to be reading three interesting books at the moment: one book about craft, one novella on my Kindle, and one novel from the library. 

     What are you reading? Do you like series? If so, do you like to start with the first in the series or will you pick up the latest release? Let me know. 

Writing Monday: What Character Am I?

     Admit it. You’ve taken at least one of the “What Character Are You?” quizzes that are all the rage on Facebook. Am I right? I’ll admit that I’ve taken my fair share of those quizzes. OK, I’ll venture as far as to say I’ve taken way too many of them. According to the different quizzes, I am Westley from “The Princess Bride,” Elsa from “Frozen,” Roger O. Thornhill from “North by Northwest,” and Lady Edith on “Downton Abbey.” According to the same quizzes, I should live in Wyoming, I should have been born in the 1920s, and Cary Grant is my classic movie star match. But these personality quizzes are useful in other ways besides an amusing distraction during the day. If you think about it, they can help you with your writing.

     Plotter, pantser or a combination of the two? There seem to be three general types of writers. Plotters are writers that begin their novel with a detailed outline (or synopsis or timeline) and follow the outline while they write the book. Pantsers tend to know their characters, the beginning and the end, and write on the seat of their pants in between. Plotsers are a combination of the two; they might have an outline, but they will go with the flow and deviate from the outline if they feel the characters lead them elsewhere. No matter whether you’re a plotter, pantser or a plotser, most writers know about their protagonists when they begin the book. Whether they conduct character interviews or have a clear idea and get to know the character more as they start writing, writers forge books through the scenes and sequels of their characters. No matter the label attached to a writer, a writer can take personality quizzes from the POV (point of view) from one of their characters to get to know the background of that character better. For the purposes of this blog, I just took a quiz on one of the sites from my work-in-progress heroine’s POV. The quiz finished and revealed that ohana means family. For my heroine, she has adopted a hometown and helps everyone to form a family around her. But for me as a writer, it meant that I had to think like my character. (I promise I’m not crazy and I don’t have multiple personalities!). It meant that I had to delve into what qualities of life meant the most to her. But it was one more way for me to get to know my heroine and capture some of what makes her unique so that I can try to capture those qualities on paper.

     The power of observation. In one of the writing classes I have taken to try to improve my craft, the teacher gave me free rein to observe people in public. She wrote that writers should look at people. Look at how they walk, note their accents, check out their facial features. She also said to note what you notice about a person. Instead of the color of people’s eyes, most people tend to notice body type, hair color, distinguishing features and clothing more than eye color. But what is the first thing that heroes and heroines sometimes do? Gaze into the liquid brown depths of the other person. 

     She also told her students to eavesdrop (within reason-i.e., don’t go up to people on a dock having a private conversation and stick your nose into their business, but instead if someone is yelling across a restaurant, it may be safe to say that they are broadcasting their conversation to the world). Listen to people’s stories. Note their gestures, their tone of voice. 

     In the same way, observe the other answers in these quizzes. While you, as a person, might not want to travel to Budapest, perhaps your character has traveled there. While you, as a person, might not light up the room when you enter it, maybe your hero is the life of the party. When you take the quizzes, look at the other answers and create a character in your next story based on some characteristic that interests you.

     Work comes first. But no matter whether you take personality quizzes or like Candy Crush or scroll down your Twitter feed, the most important piece of advice in this post is to not get sidetracked by these distractions until you’ve met your “A” priority for the day. Is the most important writing goal for the day to get 2000 words of your story written? Is your A-1 priority to revise your first chapter based on your critique partner’s advice? Wait until you accomplish your writing goals for the day before you take time for fun quizzes, perusing the latest cute dog videos or catching up on your favorite blogs. Reward yourself with a personality quiz or a visit to your favorite website or a scroll down your Facebook page once you reach your word count or your revision goal. I know this is easier said than done, but part of being a writer is being a professional and reaching the point where you want this to be a career and not a hobby. So yes, you can find out which dinosaur you’re like or what Outlander character you’re like, but only after you’re hands have been on the keyboard and you’re happy with the progress of your manuscript for the day.

     To me, those are three ways personality quizzes can implement your writing: getting to know your character, observing the traits of others, and rewarding yourself for a good day’s work. 

     After you finish your daily work, do you reward yourself? A good book? An episode of your favorite TV show? Visiting your favorite social media sites? Taking a walk outside? Hitting the gym? Let me know.