Monthly Archives: January 2015

Writing Tuesday: So That’s Why Everyone Says It’s So Important

32459205-businessman-looking-through-a-magnifying-glass-to-contractSince I’ve started writing, I’ve attended conferences and workshops, read writing blogs, and read craft books. One consistent theme is the importance of writing on a regular basis. While some stress the importance of writing every day and others as often as your schedule allows, all emphasize the need to carve out a regular niche of time to write. For the past couple of years, I’ve always bitten my lip and felt guilty when I was editing instead of putting new words on a page. After all, writing means putting words on a screen or paper, right? WRONG. As I was editing today, I finally put two and two together to get four. Editing is as much a part of writing as the first draft itself. That’s why every writer says editing is so important. I breathed a sigh of relief and edited without feeling guilty that I’m taking time to edit instead of putting fresh words on the paper. Based on what I’ve read, here are my three helpful hints for editing.

Put your book in a drawer for four to six weeks. That’s right. Others have said it and I’ll repeat it. Put your book in a drawer for four to six weeks and then go back and edit the final draft. I remember my first completed book. I was so gung-ho in my belief that it was perfect that I sent it to agents and editors (and for that, here is my heartfelt apology) without editing it. Sighs and groans can be collectively sent up for me and for the poor agents who, if they read page one, reached for their stack of form rejection letters. With a lot of words between me and that first book, I know there is a reason this is a favored piece of advice from so many other authors.

Four to six weeks gives you enough time to go back and reread your book with a fresh set of eyes. When I put one book aside for six weeks, I had enough time behind me to catch a mistake where the heroine looking down at her jeans and shorts rather than her jeans and apron. With the book I’m presently editing, I looked over a passage today and deleted three-quarters of a page because it didn’t advance the romance or conflict at all. After my second draft, I was still too close to the story to catch that needed edit.

With a fresh pair of eyes, you can pay closer attention to character development, heightened conflict, and word repetition.

Weasel words. When I edit, I have a typewritten page next to me, full of what I call weasel words. Different authors call this concept something else. Some simply call it a list of words to avoid. Regardless, I look through my manuscript and check to see if I have any of these words: really, you, feel, think, as, a lot, sort of, just, like, used to, could, feel, have, had, hear, heard, knew, know, look, -ly adverbs, see, taste, that, was, watch, and notice. Why these particular words is a whole other blog in and of itself, but here’s the gist of the matter as it relates to romance writing. Romance writing tries to convey the emotional relevance of a story in a manner that delves into the deep point of view of the hero, heroine or both. If I simply write X felt happy, that only tells an emotion rather shows it. Needless to say, if I spot one of these words, I start editing and try to go deeper to show details of the scene through expressions of another character or some other way.

Print it out. How do you like to read books? Do you prefer a paper version in your hand or an e-reader? If you prefer the former, print out your book chapter by chapter with your book formatted like a book (horizontal with one page on the left and another in the right column). Read it to yourself. You can even read it out loud. This is a great way to catch word repetition or places where it might drag a little. If you prefer an e-reader, send it to your Kindle or Nook and read it page by page. It’s another way to make sure what was in your mind is what was translated into the written word.

These are three editing hints that I’ve found useful among many others. But the important thing is to give yourself the time and the freedom to acknowledge the value of editing. Editing is as much a part of writing daily as getting new words on the paper. It’s refining those words to make sure that the words you’ve written pack the punch your story deserves.

If you’re a writer, are you an editing fiend or is it something you work on in order to get to your next story? If you’re a reader, do you overlook errors in a book or does a glaring error impact your enjoyment of a story? Let me know.

Reading Sunday: A Book for All Seasons

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My grandmother used to love to start jigsaw puzzles in winter. A huge football fan, she’d wait for college bowl games to end. The second they did out came the 1000 piece puzzles and we’d sort through the pieces to find the edged ones to put those together first. She’d finish one, carefully put the pieces back in the box, and start a new one. Come spring and summer, we’d go for a walk to Flamingo’s, the local ice cream parlor, and leave the puzzle assembling behind for next winter. For some people, puzzles occupy the winter doldrums. Others love quilting (or knitting or crocheting) while still others head to the library and stock up on new releases. With winter upon us, it brought up the question to my mind: in what season do you read the most?

Winter, spring, summer or fall? In the winter, I love to snuggle up with a good book. Maybe you’ve seen the meme on Facebook or somewhere else: Keep Calm and Snuggle with a Good Book. In the spring, I love to get a bowl of jellybeans and curl up on the patio with a book. In the summer, I love to read while traveling somewhere on vacation. And in the fall, I love to pull out the blankets, send the kids to school, and well, you fill in the next three words (read a book). I’m an equal opportunity reader who loves to read regardless of the season. I don’t need an excuse to read although sometimes I need extra time to read.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. Little by little, I’m absorbing the information and knowledge imparted by this book. From setting to characters, the author weaves his observations about writing to convey craft information about forming more memorable novels. How to up the conflict. How to create more compelling characters. How to take the ordinary and up the ante so the reader feels a bond, feels the urgency of the conflict. I’d definitely recommend this book to writers of all levels. It’s extremely readable, and the information makes you think about getting into the minds of your characters more and coming up with even more conflict.

Four Weddings and a Kiss by Margaret Brownley, Mary Connealy, Robin Lee Hatcher, and Debra Clopton. (A note: I received a free copy of this book at RWA 2014.) I think I’m going to stay away from anthology novellas for a couple of months. While it’s great to read new authors, the past couple of anthology novella books I’ve read have left me conflicted. I enjoy reading different authors, observing their writing styles and getting involved in the story. But in this book like the others I read this year, I’ve enjoyed two of the stories much more than the others. For some reason, I liked Spitfire Sweetheart and Courting Trouble the most out of the four. Maizy’s tomboy ways in Spitfire Sweetheart endeared me to her. Grace’s conflict with death hanging over compelled me to read to find out what happened to her. I just finished the book last night, and it’s worth checking out of the library, especially for the first and last stories.

The Rancher’s Reunion by Tina Radcliffe. Oooh, Kath had to borrow my Kindle to read Jane Eyre for school, and I didn’t get much further, but the next ten pages had me wanting to curl up in an armchair with my new dog and read, read, read this book. I am so enjoying this book whenever I have a few minutes here and there. I so want to find out why Will has never noticed Annie before and how they get together.

No matter the season, I love to read. For some people, winter means more reading, for others, less.

Do you read more in one season than the others or do you read the same amount year round? Let me know.

Writing Tuesday: No More Sagging Settings

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Think about the book you’re reading. If you’re on the first ten pages, think about the last book you read. Where did your favorite scene take place? Did it take place in a living room or a kitchen? Probably not. Did it take place during dinner or breakfast? Probably not. When you’re plotting or writing a scene, how do you decide the setting? How do you figure out how to increase the likelihood of writing a scene that will get your book to stand out from the rest?

Get out of the living room. Chances are you’ve heard this at some point in your life: Turn off the television, get out of the living room, and go somewhere. Live life. In Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel, he gives this advice, and I sat there reading his work, nodding and wincing at all the times I’ve written a scene in a familiar setting rather than stretching to find a more unique setting for the scene.

I felt the light going off in my head. Get the characters out of the ordinary settings and stretch to think of places to layer in all those senses: sight, touch, taste, smell and sound. Can your characters go outside? Can they visit a place that would open up new vistas of description?

Think of that book you’re reading. Where are your characters? I’m listening to an audiobook (thank you to Stephen King and his advice about listening to audiobooks in On Writing), reading a paperback, and reading a book on Kindle. As I’m driving, I’m listening to Kate and Jake’s story in Jennifer Crusie’s Manhunting. Talk about great settings. The lake where Kate and Jake spend their mornings is practically its own character. Nancy’s bar where Kate learns to play pool and tend bar is a country bar with a heart. By setting her scenes on golf courses, hiking trails, and small town shops, Crusie weaves a memorable story, full of humor and exciting settings. I’m reading a book of four novellas entitled Four Weddings and a Kiss. I just finished the first novella, Spitfire Sweetheart by Mary Connealy. The inciting incident of the novella takes place outside with the hero, heroine, a bear, a bull, a calf, a cow, a horse, and a herd of Angus. I bet that description of the setting alone got your attention, didn’t it? No cozy living room setting to get this book in high gear. Instead Connealy goes all out and grabs the reader’s attention by setting the scene in the great outdoors.

Leave out the food. Tina Radcliffe, a wonderful inspirational romance writer, taught one of the best writing classes I’ve taken. She advises to make a timeline and on the timeline include a little knife and fork symbol every time the characters are eating. She advised her students, including me, to take a good look at how many of our scenes involve food. As I started writing the first draft of my latest novel, I received an e-mail from my critique partner that said she now eats before she reads my chapters because I tend to write scenes involving food. I’ve taken that into heart with my latest work, and I’ve tried to reduce the number of scenes with a meal in them. I still have scenes involving dinner, but I’ve tried to eliminate constant references to food. I tried to figure out different settings where food doesn’t come into play.

Whether your characters live in a small town, a big city or outer space, you can explore where they interact to try to make more of your scenes pop out and become memorable. Think about your favorite books, and I’ll bet some of your favorite scenes take place outside or in a different room of the house than the living room. So before you sit down to write your next scene, think about whether you can make that scene pop by changing up the setting and giving a unique twist to your story.

Where have some of your favorite scenes in novels taken place? Let me know.

Family Sunday: Alice, Pink Floyd, or Cheers?

10933977_784399518321326_6225667641145147991_nWhat do Alice, Pink Floyd, and Cheers have in common? Vera. On Alice, there was a ditzy but lovable waitress named Vera. There is a Pink Floyd song entitled Vera. And, of course, on Cheers, Norm’s much-discussed but never-seen long-suffering wife was named Vera. There are other famous Veras: Vera Bradley, Vera Wang, and for tennis aficionados like myself, Vera Zvonereva. And now, in my life, there is our family’s new dog, Vera.

Last Saturday, we went to a Basset Hound Rescue Adoption event. The Bassets were hidden in the back, but these extroverted dogs don’t hide. They come over to you, sniff you, and ask you where you’ve been all their lives. After all, you have hands, and hands are meant to pet them.

The six of us arrived in their corner. That group included myself, my WH, teenaged Kath, tween MJ, and preschool twins, Cupcake and Chunk. Chunk was a particular sight to behold, so full of excitement, he bounced all around the store. He was lit up more brightly than he had been on Christmas morning when Santa brought him a watermelon. One dog did take a look at us and decide his life would be better without us. He found his foster family and situated himself far away from us. Three of the Bassets came over to sniff us. One of them rolled on her tummy and begged for attention. She wagged her tail and licked the kids. She had made up her mind that we were the family for her.

I had my reservations. This Basset who kept my kids entertained was a senior Basset Hound, at least 8 years old. I went to the event looking for a younger dog. She started running circles around my preschoolers who were delighted with her. But did I mention she was eight? She lay down at the feet of my tween son and wagged her tail on his shoe. MJ was delighted with her. I kept paying attention to a younger Basset who licked my face. In the meantime, she rolled on her stomach for my husband and Kath who were now delighted with her. When my husband came over and asked if I’d made a decision, the younger Basset left and Vera followed my WH over and licked my face. She had made her decision, and we made ours. This sweet girl wanted a home, and our home wanted her. Vera came home with us.

So Vera adopted us, and we listened to her. Just as I had to finally listen to my heart and take the plunge into writing. Just as this time of year so many people listen to themselves and resolve to do something to make this year different and special.

Vera will sit in my lap and let me read if I use one hand to pet her while I read. I enjoyed reading some of Writing the Breakout Novel while Vera dozed on my lap. Even though she’s 38 pounds, she thinks she’s a lap dog, and I don’t have the heart to tell her otherwise. I don’t know how I’m going to write with her on my lap. I’ll be figuring that out in the weeks to come.

Do you have a pet? How has he or she enriched your life? Let me know.

Reading Wednesday: When Do You Read?

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As a parent of an inquisitive five-year-old, I often get asked about time. How many seconds are in two hours? How many minutes are in a day? How many hours are in a week? And to sound like a cliché, it’s times like that I realize I need six or seven clones or thirty hours in a day to get everything done. This week was one of those weeks that went by in a blink of an eye. Doctor visits, dentist visits, and writing occupied much of my time. And with many of my minutes occupied driving from one place to another or bouncing like a yo-yo between different rooms in a doctor’s office, something had to give this week. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to read as often as I like. That brought a question to my mind: when you are busy, what is the first thing that gets eliminated on your schedule? I hate to admit that reading got pushed back to mere minutes instead of hours. When you get busy, do you seek more time to read to try or do you set your book aside for a couple of days until your schedule evens out?

For me, I always try to read my craft book before I read my fun books. I think that was one of the reasons I loved Stephen King’s On Writing so much. It was the guilty pleasure book that read more like a pleasure book than a book about the craft of writing. So there were days this week I read part of Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel and nothing else.

Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel. Now that the introduction by Anne Perry and the first chapter are out of the way, I’m reading more about his pointers for writers. I’m enjoying his insights into a well constructed and breakout novel. For instance, he asks writers to stop at think not only about their character’s stakes in the book but what is the writer’s personal stake in the book? His point is writing a novel to meet a deadline isn’t the greatest personal stake in the world. Chances are if you’re no longer having fun, your characters may reflect your disinterest in writing. As I read through the section, I considered his questions. Thought-provoking questions for a thought-provoking book. So far I recommend this writing book. It helps you think about the character’s stakes in the outcome, it sprinkles in ideas to help with crafting different genres, and it addresses the premise of the book. And all of that in the first eighty-plus pages. This book is worth the time and money.

The Book That Shall Not Be Named. It’s been great to hear from people about why you stop reading books. If I were going to start putting a book down in the middle, this book would be the book. As a writer, I understand how hard it is to write a book. As a person, I try not to give bad reviews (except for the Holiday Inn I stayed at with my WH in Charleston-13 years later and I’m still willing to give that hotel a bad review). But as a reader, I cringe at not finishing a story, always hoping for a little nugget somewhere in the book. I’m still waiting with this book for that nugget.

The Rancher’s Reunion by Tina Radcliffe. This is the book I’m reading on my Kindle. It’s a category inspirational romance. So far I’ve only read the first twenty pages, but I’ve loved these twenty pages more than any of the pages in the book that shall not be named. Will has picked up Annie at the airport as she has just returned from Kenya. Over the next week, I look forward to finding out more about these two: why did Annie leave his ranch the day she realized she loved him, why is she returning to the ranch? So far it’s a great story, and it makes me want to finish the other book so I can spend some enjoyable time engrossed in this story.

This week promises to bring less doctor’s appointments and less deadlines. Family Friday’s blog will introduce a new member of our family, creating another reason I haven’t had as much time to read. But hopefully things are settling down because Donald Maass’ book is becoming interesting and thought-provoking, Tina Radcliffe’s book is promising a relaxing few hours of fun, and well, the other book has a finite number of pages.

Is there anything in your life that reduces the amount of time you read or do you try to stay consistent with the amount of time you devote to reading? Let me know.

Family Friday: Hello, January; Goodbye, Christmas Carols

14881390-old-turntable-with-vinyl-record-having-blank-label            I grew up with music all around me. My official job when I was seven years old was the record flipper. Whenever the record finished with Side A, my job was to flip it over to Side B and be careful with the needle not to scratch the record. My parents loved music. My mom loved what would be termed as pop or light adult contemporary. When it was her turn to choose the record, it would be Roberta Flack or Barbra Streisand or the Beatles. My dad liked rock and roll. When it was his turn to choose, the songs would be from The Eagles, The Rolling Stones or Cream. The first song I ever sang was Moonshadow by Cat Stevens. I remember vividly one Christmas when I was about seven asking for the 45s of We Don’t Need No Education and The Rose. My parents gave me full albums Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Bette Midler’s The Rose. At an early age, I was exposed to a lot of different rock songs and ballads and knew the words to quite a few songs other than Christmas carols. I always thought that if I had kids, I’d play a lot of music for them. But even though I have iPod playlists, the Pandora app, and tons of CDs, I haven’t surrounded them with as much music as there was in the house when I grew up. Today Cupcake started to sing Jingle Bells and asked me if she was singing it correctly. I told her that now it is January, maybe we should sing some other songs. She looked up at me with her big blue eyes and asked me to teach her a song. While she knows the childhood standards of Twinkle, Twinkle and Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, I wanted something a little more advanced for her age. Goodbye, Christmas Carols. But what song should I teach her?

Songs started flooding my mind. I listen to a lot of alternative music. From classic alternative bands like REM and U2 to the modern sounds of Mumford and Sons, this is usually the type of music I turn on first. I took a deep breath and started going through my catalog of songs. Sunday, Bloody Sunday, while a great song that I love, might not be the best song to teach a five-year-old. I dismissed that one. Little Lion Man, a newer song that I also love, might not be the right fit. Images of my getting a phone call from the preschool director when Cupcake sang the song to her teachers floated through my head. I dismissed that one. It’s The End of the World As We Know It? The Freshman? Time to think outside the alternative genre.

I started to think about songs from the record player. The Beatles’ Yesterday. I know the lyrics to that one. A little sad for my Cupcake who is a sprite at heart. So I traveled a little further back in the annals of music. I smiled and remembered the times my Gram would pull out copies of sheet music to sing to my first cousin and myself. She would sing Swingin’ on a Star and Oh, Yes, We Have No Bananas. I sang the refrain of Swingin’ on a Star to Cupcake followed by Accentuate the Positive. Then I told her about the Bananas song. She didn’t quite understand the title and told me we don’t have any bananas because she and Chunk ate the remaining two last night. We headed over to the laptop and I found the lyrics and sang them to her.

After that, I turned on the Bing Crosby radio station on Pandora and she listened to San Fernando Valley and proclaimed it just “all right.” When Pandora switched to Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon, Chunk asked if he could play a game on my iPad which made me remember why I don’t play Pandora for them more often (inevitably, one child always asks to play a game on my iPad if I turn on music). Then Cupcake asked if I would teach her more songs this afternoon.

While I was getting them ready for their dentist’s appointment, I started thinking of more songs to sing. Of course, Disney songs came to mind this time, but I think I’ll try to think of more standards. I wonder what Cupcake will think of Blueberry Hill and What a Wonderful World (IMHO, one of the few songs ever written which gets the rating of perfect). It’s time to start playing more music in our house. There are too many wonderful songs waiting out there to be heard and sung.

When no one’s around and you sing to yourself, what songs are your favorite and most likely to come out of your mouth? If you have children, what songs have you taught them?

Reading Wednesday: Do you finish what you start?

stack-of-books-10022022There’s a trend going around that I’m not on board with. A lot of people who like to read are discussing how they’re more than willing to give up on a book early on if they don’t immediately fall in love with the story. I’ve talked to more than one person who has told me that life’s too short to read books that don’t interest them. Overall, that’s not my nature. I try to finish stories once I start them. It took me three tries to finish A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, but I finally made it all the way through the classic. I’ll admit something. Right after MJ was born, I tried to read Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. While a classic, it’s not the best book to read two weeks after having a baby. I couldn’t get past the realistic violence. Instead, my WH had started reading the Harry Potter books and convinced me to give them a try. I never picked up For Whom the Bell Tolls again. But the fact that I remember quite vividly the one book I couldn’t finish in the past twelve years does show that I do believe in reading a book all the way through.

Before I write about the books I’m reading now, I have another little story. My WH kids that I’m a high maintenance person masquerading as a low maintenance person (I love When Harry Met Sally). But my WH is pretty lucky in one respect. I love to get books for Christmas. Now that I’ve attended three writing conferences, my bookshelf is heavy laden with books acquired at them. I still ask for the occasional book, but it has to be one that I don’t have on my shelf. More often than not, I either ask for a book about the craft of writing or the next in a series I absolutely love. So I was excited to receive Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel at Christmas from my WH. Yeah, I actually enjoy reading books about how to become a better writer. So, without further ado, here’s what I’m reading.

Craft book. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. So far, I’m only on the second chapter. I enjoyed the foreword by Anne Perry. She posited one very interesting premise. People choose books more on word of mouth and previous author experience than the cover. In the past couple of years, cover reveals have taken front and center on many authors’ blogs, but I still give credence to what Ms. Perry proposed. Even though I acquired many books at the RWA 2014 Conference, the minute I came home I headed to my laptop and ordered Sarah MacLean’s Nine Rules to Break when Romancing a Rake. Why? Because I heard so many great things about this book at the conference. And I wasn’t disappointed. It really is a wonderful read. I highly recommend Nine Rules. To me, it illustrated the truth of what Ms. Perry wrote. Even though I had shelves filled with books, I put this book at the top of my must-read pile because so many people recommended it.

To me, the first chapter boiled down to the following. No matter what, the craft of writing is the foundation for writing a book. It’s not creating and maintaining a website. It’s not about an advance received from a publisher. It all comes down to dedicating time to learning the craft and putting what you learn to work. The breakout novel comes from finding the story within you, taking time to properly write it, learning the craft, and weaving a complex tale that people will want to read and tell their friends about.

I’m continuing to read the book, little by little. It has some interesting points and I look forward to finishing it.

Romance Novel. I’m not going to name the romance novel because while I like it and it’s getting more interesting as it’s going along, it’s not my favorite and I try not to give a bad review. It’s not that I would give the book a bad review. After all, I do like it, but I wouldn’t tell someone to rush out and buy it either.

Kindle book. I just finished reading three anthologies of Christmas novellas on my Kindle as well as Tiny Treats, small snippets of 1000 word tidbit stories designed for a reader to become acquainted with different romance authors so the reader could then explore new authors in the upcoming year (I read it in 2014). The great thing about novellas and anthologies is getting introduced to new authors when you’re reading new stories by authors you’re already acquainted with. With me, I really liked 9 of the 13 stories in the three volumes, liked 1 of the 13, was so-so on 2, and really didn’t like 1 of the 13 (but I did finish it, much to the dismay of my WH who got an earful on why I didn’t like it). The great thing about reading nine really good stories is getting introduced to some new authors. And to my delight, I have one of the author’s stories already downloaded on my Kindle from a time when it was offered for free. So I’ll get to read it in the near future.

Do you finish every book you start or do you put some aside? Let me know.