Thursday, October 28, 2010

Outline (Shudder)

            To quote Hannibal from the A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together!”
Our plan: finish Chapter 24, and get deeply into 25. We did even better—after hammering 24 into place and getting into 25, we were out of novel to revise, and had to switch gears back to production. We’re nearing the end, and the big question that remains is this: How do we pull together all the loose ends?
As previously indicated, we’re not fans of outlining—it totally inhibits spontaneity. The book has been a joy ride up until now, precisely because we didn’t know what was going to happen to the characters next—just like it will be for readers of our finished novel. Each chapter unfolded to us organically with a sense of humor and calculated orneriness.
            So, most of our meeting turned into a brainstorming session full of “What if?” “Where is (insert character name) when this is going on?” and “That has to happen during the day, and currently it’s night, so we have to move or rewrite it.”
            Larry squirmed, paced, and muttered, while I pecked on the computer and jotted notes on a legal pad. We both had our heads in the game, and were determined to plan our ending (dare I use the word outline?), so we’d know which scenes we needed to work on, and in which order, so we can wrap up 25 with a sense of direction, and with momentum, move on to 26.
            As much as I cringe to say it, outlining at this point is a MUST. There are too many ends to tie up, too many characters doing too many things, and we do want it to end certain way, which both of us agreed on a long time ago. So have had the end game in sight for months—getting there with all the players in the place at the right time is our current challenge.
            And we think it’s whipped. I typed up my notes and shot them off in an e-mail to Larry, so each of us, with an outline (shudder) in hand, can jump in and pick a scene to write as it moves us.
            Okay, now somebody move me…

Monday, October 25, 2010

Building a Novel

            I’ve been a carpenter for over 41 years, and I don’t know how many times people—really intelligent people—have said to me, “I could never do what you do, build buildings. I wouldn’t know where to start.”
            Really, it’s pretty simple. You take one thing and attach another thing to it, then another to that, and another to that, until you’ve put enough things together to have a house, or whatever it is you’re building. Simple! The only secret is that you have to know where to put what, and that’s just a matter of research. When you find out what attaches next and how to attach it, you’re set.
            But, if you don’t know the where and how of it, you’ll be tearing down doors, knocking down walls, and jackhammering out foundations until you get it right.
            That’s just how writing is for me—I can’t get the research right. I’m constantly remodeling chapters, demolishing scenes, moving paragraphs, busting away sentences and selecting different words. I might have a pink carpet and orange walled sentence, but I can’t see it. My rafters might be in upside down, and I know it doesn’t look right but can’t figure out what’s wrong. The mortar of my paragraph might be too watered down, but I have no clue.
            When I run a scene with a faulty foundation by Becky, she sees the problem so I can put in the needed reinforcement. So, this team writing is working out for me. I’m feeling more confident that our novel will survive an editor storm with replacing only a few shingles and pieces of siding.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


            “Water for me please,” I said to the waitress as I organized our printouts for the meeting.
She turned to Larry, “Sir?”
“I’ll have coffee.”
I looked up to see if he was joking. Larry never drinks coffee. We had an extended conversation once where he told me that not only did he not like the taste of coffee, he didn’t really care for the smell of it, either.
“Wow, you must’ve had a hard day if you’re ordering coffee,” I said as the waitress scribbled on her pad.            
“What? No. Wait. Did I order coffee? I don’t even like coffee.”
The waitress looked up.
“Coke. Regular Coke.”
Oh, great, I thought. His head’s not in the game, and mine has been pounding all day, so I planned to rely on his mental prowess—my plan spiraled downward, crashing into flames, scattering little charred bodies and rubble. On the upside, at least I didn’t have to cook my own supper.
            The waitress walked away shaking her head, and he said, “You know, I haven’t had a Coke all day. Maybe that’s what’s the matter with me.”
            “Well, I hope that fixes it. We can’t leave here until Chapter 24 is done.”
            “What did you just send to the critique group?”
            “Chapter 23.”
            “So we’re not ahead at all?”
            You know what, folks—this whole idea of getting ahead was a good one. And we both really, truly meant it. It’s just been a tough month for both of us in different ways—maybe him worse than me, what with the whole coffee incident and all.
            Knowing the work we needed to accomplish, we didn’t even bother with small talk. We had four newly written scenes, some previously written scenes, and we had to shuffle the mess together into some kind of logical order.
The challenge for us at this point is that so much happens to so many people in these last few chapters of the book, that some of the scenes could be—and are—happening at the same time, which is challenging to write. Chronological is the comfortable way to go, but we’re fighting the chicken/egg question in a few places. So, what order do we put them in?
Finally, after an enormous amount of discussion, we decided, in places that order is less important than pacing, we'd intersperse lighter scenes among murder and mayhem to allow readers to breathe. We also deleted some of the older scenes that didn’t really forward the story.
After making another big X across a page, Larry said, “Wow. Un-writing is easy!”
Agreed. A little too easy, considering how difficult it was to come up with those scenes in the first place.
We broke up the meeting with a plan—we need to write two more scenes before the chapter will be complete. I deleted about 5 pages worth of old, useless scenes, and added a new scene, about ¾ of a page, back in. We're not getting very far very fast.
Larry, maybe you better take up coffee.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Communication in Spades

I am a recently retired carpenter. In my everyday world for the last 40 years, I’ve dealt with a wide array of colorful characters, most on the rough side. And our way of communicating with each other might seem to be a little blunt to an outsider. “Hey, get your ass over here and grab that rope.” “No need to be an ass hole about it.” “Just shut up and do it.” At the end of the day everyone goes home tired but happy. Tempers do flair occasionally, things get heated, but we are all big boys and can deal with it. 
Now, in my writing world and dealing with my critique group, I try to smooth out my rough edges. I stutter and stammer around when giving a negative critique while searching for the right word or phrase to replace, “Piece of crap” “Makes no sense at all” or “This is totally stupid.” Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not. I never know how sensitive these people, mostly women, might be. They could already be having a bad day, and my comments might set them off.
I also recognize that they pussy-foot around giving me a critique. Sometimes I have a little trouble deciphering what they’re saying. “A little wordy” might mean “Cut the whole damn thing and start all over.” We are all trying to play nice.
But! With Becky and me, we can pretty much call a spade a spade—although she might call it “That card with those little black shovel looking thingys on it.” Sometimes we measure our words, but usually we can just say what we’re thinking. She isn’t shy about blasting me for something stupid I’ve written, and I feel free to be honest with her.
Maybe that’s why we work together so well. We don’t waste our time saying how, “This didn’t move me” or “It didn’t hold my interest” when “This is a piece of crap” says it more clearly.
After all, as writers, aren’t we supposed to communicate clearly?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Life, Responsibility, and Stinky Pits

October has been difficult for me. If I’m not careful, Larry will be the one telling me to get off my butt.
Yes, we knew that the going would be getting rougher. Yes, we planned to write like crazy people and forge a few chapters ahead. Yes, we agreed to produce, produce, produce.
Has that happened? Heck, no. Why not?
My lack of production isn’t because I’ve been doing anything constructive or fun instead. My house looks like somebody hosted a Super Bowl party then abandoned the place. My yard and gardens have run totally amok and are in appropriate disarray for Halloween. Even my grooming has suffered. I plug in the flatiron and ask myself, “Does my hair really look that bad?” and unplug it.  “Concealer? I know it’s in my bag somewhere…” Screw it. “Do these greens match?” I put them on anyway. And don’t even ask me how many times I’ve forgotten to apply deodorant.
Truth is, I’ve felt like CRAP for about two weeks and have no idea why. I can barely drag myself out of bed to go to work—the bags under my eyes are enormous. All I want to do is sleep—I fantasize about sleeping, nap when I can, and plan my day around bedtime.  Even now I’m thinking about smooth, cool, freshly laundered sheets.
And when I do try to push through and write anyway, it’s garbage.
Yeah, okay, so I pushed a little yesterday, because I knew that I needed to e-mail a final chapter revision to Larry for his approval before I could send it to the critique group. Knowing that I’m the one holding up progress has been my ONLY motivation.
True, I’ve had a couple of bursts of creativity and produced three new scenes, but that’s not enough to get us ahead. We’re still just maintaining.
So what’s the answer? Quit working, and live in my mom’s basement like a parasite? My  husband probably wouldn’t care for that. Quit working and leech off my husband? Hmmm. That sounds compelling…        
Life. Family. Responsibility.
I don’t know what the answer is. I suppose that I’ll push when I have to and sleep when I can. Maybe I can dream the next scene, perfectly executed in my subconscious—
—but then I’d actually have to get out of bed and write it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Baby-Doll Conductor

“You’re so funny!”
“Where do you come up with your ideas?”
“That was brilliant!”
I hear these comments all the time. Okay, maybe not all of them all the time, but some of them some of the time.
Yesterday my wife Pammy and our 14-year-old grandson, Blake, were shopping for my granddaughter’s present for her second birthday.
Blake, mortified at the thought of his friends seeing him in the doll aisle, grouched and grumbled all the way until “Peek-a-boo!” sounded from the shelf beside them.
He stopped dead in his tracks. “They’re motion sensored!” That familiar feisty smile came across his face, and before Pammy could say, “Don’t you dare!” Blake ran down the aisle,  flailed his arms in front of the displays, and roused a chorus of peek-a-boos from the baby doll choir.
Blake was delighted with his performance. Pammy was embarrassed. An elderly couple at the end of the aisle chuckled at Blake’s antics
And I had another gem I can use in a story someday.
Some people seem to think I’m so creative and so imaginative, but it’s really only a matter of keeping your eyes and ears open, and keeping track of the little gems people give you in your everyday life.
But, if someone wants to peg me as brilliant for retrieving something like this from my memory for the sake of one of my stories, I’ll just have to learn to live with the praise.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Perfectionism omelet, with a side of frustration


I thought that outburst would make me feel better, but it didn’t. Odd.

Larry and I were going over the next chapter to hand out to the critique group, and I just really don’t feel good about it. It feels rough. There isn’t much humor. Typos, scene order, points of view, WILL THE ERRORS NEVER END?!

Finally, after vehemently lamenting the quality of our work for the gazillionth time, Larry said, “I don’t think it’s that bad,” grinding my verbal stampede to a halt.

Yes, it’s true that I’m a perfectionist. A nitpicker. Impossible to please. I know these things about myself, and although I try to suppress the tendencies, they occasionally ooze out like cheese from an omelet.

But could he be right? Really? I decided I should open my mind to the possibility.

After Larry corrected a five-line paragraph in which I’d started four of the sentences with the word “He”, he continued, “I think we should just let the group have it and see what they say.”

Giving it to the critique group before I’ve massaged, hammered it, and coerced it into submission makes me uncomfortable, and it’s because I don’t take criticism well. Oh, sure, I sit at group and smile and nod, but my stomach churns when I hear, “I don’t buy that,” or “Not your best chapter,” or “I’m lost.”

So what’s a girl to do?


Didn’t help that time either.  Darn it. Maybe I can learn from Larry’s laid-back wisdom and just see what the group says. Maybe their critiques won’t be bad—maybe it’s just me.

But that doesn’t mean that I won’t ooze cheese.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What she was trying not to say...

A writer should have good communication skills…right? Their communications are crystal clear, precise, and easy for anyone to understand.

I have a confession to make. The other day in our bi-monthly revision meeting, Becky and I both realized that rather than revising one chapter every two weeks to turn in to our critique group, we need to get several chapters ahead so we can start up writing again.

And we each said so. But not in the same words. I didn’t know what the hell she was trying to say and she didn’t understand what I was saying. Until it clicked in both of us. Then we both felt stupid for being so stupid. We agreed that we need to meet more often and produce more. The problem is that I haven’t been carrying my share of the load lately. I know it. Becky knows it.

She was trying to extract from me a commitment to put in the time it takes. But she was trying to do so in a way that wouldn’t make me mad, and I don’t know why—she’s usually pretty blunt. I thought she might break an ankle dancing around her words, trying not to piss me off. She was so cute at it that I chose not to understand. So she tried again, being very diplomatic, even political about it. Same result. She looked tormented, trying to regroup and find, yet another way, to say it.

So I let her off the hook. “What you’re trying not to say is that I need to get off my ass.”

Her relief spilled into a flood of laughter as she agreed that that was exactly what she was trying to say—or not to say.
This communication thing is tricky.