Friday, December 23, 2011

Methods to Madness

I’ve read how authors keep track of details as they write their novels. They use spiral notebooks. Poster boards. Colorful note cards. Highlighters. File folders. Databases.
          Seriously? Sounds like an awful lot of work to me—I want to write, be a panster, just let it all gush out. We don’t need no stinking note cards!
In hindsight it turns out that yes, we do need stinking note cards. Lots of them. While we were writing Book 1 in our series, we discovered some major time wasters that a bit of recordkeeping could have saved: 

·       Trying to figure out where something happened in the book. We couldn’t insert certain changes without messing up a timeline.
·       Frequent discussion of character personality traits which would impact future behaviors and overall plot. Is he really a cold-blooded murder or is it a crime of passion? A crime of opportunity? An accident?
·       Research scenes before they’re written. Not researching beforehand worked out okay for us because we were lucky guessers. Although we did have to change a few things (smell at the treatment plant, for instance), none affected the plot.
·       Wait, what kind of car did he drive? I thought it was a Buick. Hang on, let me find it. Will a Buick handle that way, or do we need to change the car? 

To stave off brain atrophy while we finish the painful and dull task of final reviews and edits of Book 1, Larry and I have begun Book 2. It’s important that I begin keeping track of details now. Already I’ve had to backtrack a few times, and we’re only on chapter three!
Having learned a few things the first time through this time is going to be different. I’ll need note cards for character traits, a notebook for the outline, a dozen highlighters for character tracking, and let’s see, what else…
So maybe all those authors weren’t mad after all. They had their method. It’s time for us to find ours—one that doesn’t include spending half our time trying to figure out what came before.
We need to find a method to our own madness.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Characters and Real People

My mom. Smart. Funny. Full of ornery. She would make a great character in a book. For those of you who know her, enough said.
For those of you who don’t, here’s a story: I baked banana bread and took her up two slices, one for her and one for my uncle who lives there with her. A freshly baked snack with afternoon coffee. That’s what I was thinking. Also, I was thinking a few other things.
1)    She told me they needed to cut calories. Now that winter is here, they’re sitting around instead of working outside and don’t want to gain weight. So I didn’t want to tempt them with a giant plate of goodies.
2)    After Thanksgiving she said, “Take the leftover cake. I don’t want it around. I’ll eat it.”
3)    Does she even like banana bread? I know she wouldn’t tell me if she didn’t like it. Another time I took her chocolate cookies for her birthday, and she made yummy noises when she took a bite. But a week later they lay uneaten on the counter. I asked her if she liked them. “Yeah, I like them.” On a scale of 1 to 10, Mom. (I could see the wheels turning behind the scrunched concentration.) “A four.” Seriously? A FOUR? “Well,” she said, “they’re not a zero.” 

So back to the banana bread. I handed her the cellophane-covered plate with the two slices of warm yumminess. She looked at the plate a bit too long and said, “Thank you. You’re so generous!”
I got it, and we started laughing. “But you said you wanted to cut calories!”
“I did, didn’t I?”
*Forehead slap*
So I explained the other reasons there were only two pieces and reminded her of the chocolate cookie incident. “Well, if I didn’t like the bread, I’d put it in the freezer for Christmas.” See? I knew you wouldn’t tell me if you didn’t like it!
Now, for this book, I’ve been thinking about a character who is always literal—that could be a lot of fun for characters who enjoy poking fun. I had a literal professor once who couldn’t get a joke. But maybe what we need is the antithesis of that. A character like Mom. I’ve tried to write some of her antics into stories before, but they haven’t worked—they always feel forced.
Maybe I’m too close to the subject. Maybe I need to look at specific traits as opposed to behaviors. I’m not sure what I need to do, but she is a gold mine just waiting to be struck, and I haven’t been able to find the right vein.
And if I do find a vein, will it be gold or something else? Maybe THAT’s why I can’t capture her character, because it’s…
…complex, that’s what it is. Nice enough not to tell me she doesn’t like something, but forward enough to tell me to my face that I’m being chincy.
Now I just have to figure out how to write “complex.” That’s gotta be pretty easy to do. Right?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fuzzy pajamas and snowflakes

           I’m wearing my blue fleece pajamas and sitting beside our big picture window in the kitchen using the table as a footstool.
Blessed contentment.
Birds are frolicking in the snow, digging for the seeds I threw out, and I’m spending more time watching them than I am writing.  Which is okay. It doesn’t snow here every day, especially on windless days where the the big fat lazy flakes float gently to the ground.
I love to watch the snow. It’s romantic. One of my favorite memories is walking with my husband at night across a mall parking lot while it was snowing, the giant flakes illuminated in the lamplight. I made him hold my hand.
Snow is relaxing. Quiet. Soft.
For our second book, I chose to set it in November (and because I wrote the first scene, I got to do that!). Our last book was dead of summer, lots of heat and a thunderstorm but provided little opportunity to use the weather as a character for conflict.
Winter, I thought, is more complex, at least here in the Midwest--more possibilities for complications. Slick roads, ice storms, whiteouts. When I was in my 20s and drove a white Honda, I got lost on the interstate during a whiteout and took a wrong exit—didn’t recognize anything, signs were all coated. It was terrifying in that tiny, well camouflaged car.  I was sure a snow plow would cover me up and never know I was there.
Terrible things can happen in the snow which could add complications to our characters lives and even up the ante in already difficult situations.
And then there is the balance of that. The romance of the snow where characters can cuddle in front of a fireplace, frolic around bonfires and double up on a sled, or just take a walk along a country road.
Holding hands.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I’ve really gone to seed since I moved to the country. For example:
·       Why get dressed? Where am I going?
·       Why spruce up? Who is going to see me?
·       Why bathe? Who is going to…never mind. 

I’m kidding about that last one. Mostly. A couple of other things have suffered along with my appearance—housekeeping and writing. So what AM I doing all day if I’m not grooming, scrubbing windows, or authoring the next best seller? I wish I knew, because I’m busy all day and go to bed tired. Maybe I’m being abducted by aliens for testing. That would explain…never mind.
I’ve told myself repeatedly that I’d get back on a schedule and write. That I’d get on a schedule and run the sweeper.  That I’d comb my hair at least once a day.
The fact that I’m not working a “real” job makes me think that I have all the time in the world, so instead of  wisely budgeting said commodity, I’m doing what I want to do when I want to do it while suffering a bad case of bed-head and wearing kitty cat pajamas.
This has got to stop.
Starting next week, I will dedicate a portion of every day to writing.
I know, I’ve said that before, but this time it’s really going to happen. And I really mean that. Mostly.
First, though, I’m going to take out the trash because it’s starting to smell. Wait a minute. Is that me?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Whatta Doll!

            I just got my first pair of real glasses, prescription, no-line bifocals, and I can’t see a damn thing! Everything’s blurry. I feel like a bobble-head doll trying to find the right position.
My mind’s eye is blurry too. I wrote a scene where a boss and his employee were sitting together in front of the boss’s desk. I tried to see the scene, but it was blurry. I could see the arc of the top of his chair barely higher than the desk. There was a fuzzy picture frame on one side of the desk and a tall glass or vase on the other side. A pile of papers sat near the center, with a thick book beside it on the left. Small items crowed the vase. I was searching for something to tell the readers what this boss was like. The fact that there was no computer may say something. A small table sat in the corner of the room littered with nondescript mechanical parts. Leaning in the other corner was something tall: a pole, a board, a pipe? Beside it was a bucket of metal parts and a cardboard box, half full of something.
That’s probably enough for me to work with, if only I could position these damn glasses so I can see the computer screen and keyboard well enough to write it.
So until next time, this is Bobblehead Larry, over and out.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

You want me to tour WHAT?

          I finally got a chance to meet Becky’s mother who Becky talks about all the time. So long before I ever met her mom, I referred to her as Mom, even though she is only a few years older than me. Most of Becky’s stories of home revolve around her mom and her brother, Eric. Becky seems to think Eric is the funny one, and she describes Mom as a “hoot.” And her mom truly is funny and fun to be around.
Becky and Mom drove the two hours to get here to tour, with me, the Decatur Sewage Treatment Plant. The fact that Mom would make the trip says a lot about her. Branson, Disney World, even the Lincoln Library are typical tourist destinations, but the Decatur treatment plant? Not so much.
It’s my experience that humor and intelligence go hand-in-hand—not always, but the funniest people are usually intelligent. A lot of funny people play the fool and being stupid isn’t easy. Trust me, I know. Mom took to the technical aspects of sewage treatment well; she asked impressive questions and took interest in almost all of it.
Mom would make a great character. She is a great character. She reminds me so much of a hilarious sitcom star, one which I choose not to name for fear she will take offence. (I’m afraid of Becky so I’m doubly afraid of Mom.) I’m pretty sure she’s a better shot than Becky, and she’s probably always packin.’ (I say all these positive things not only to stay on her good side but because they are true.)
With Mom being a hoot, Eric being the funny one (I have to take Becky’s word for that), and Becky’s droll humor, holidays at her house are probably a rousing good time. I wonder if they need someone to play the fool…

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Creativity? Not even after chocolate...

Writing is easy. Changing a password is hard.
Creativity is inhibited by stress—so blogging right now? A challenge. I just spent ten fuming minutes changing a password for which the process included deciphering contorted green wording and retrieving a secretly coded text message from my phone like I’m a hot Russian spy with my own talk show.
Isn’t technology supposed to make things easier?
Although I did manage to change the password, I’ve fallen in to a dark, non-creative abyss. Even after helping myself to a Hershey bar, I’m still surrounded by darkness. Wait a minute…hang on…
Had chocolate in my eye.
Writing is easy, but good writing takes lots of practice, lots of study, and apparently lots meditation and yoga to keep the creativity flowing. So it’s back to the mat for me.
Hey, before you go, can anyone show me how to do the one-legged king pigeon? Never mind. Today I think I’ll just be happier with corpse pose.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Come again?

“Steady by jerks”
I always thought that phrase was pretty well known - until I moved to the city and had to explain what it meant pretty much every time I used it. Maybe it’s a local colloquialism or maybe I transplanted myself into the one pocket of humanity that had never heard it.
So I Googled the phrase and although I found others who used it, I was unable to find a definition. So here’s an example:
Consider landscaping—you work like crazy in the yard until weather runs you indoors, and a week later you go back out and work on it until the weather changes again. You’re making steady progress but in jerky rhythm. Like Elaine dancing on Seinfeld.
I kept thinking I’d get into a routine after I moved to the country. I’d sit down every day and work on it, even if it was only 10 minutes at a time, I’d chip away and get it done. (Larry and I agreed from the beginning that I would do the revising, so I can’t even share the blame!)
          Instead, it’s been accomplished steady by jerks. I’d have a chunk of time and work like crazy for three hours then put it away for a couple weeks. Then I’d work like crazy for a couple hours and put it away for a week.
          Yesterday I had a block of time and put in the last few hours of revising (woo hoo!) and sent it out to our next wave of readers. I’m feeling really good about the manuscript, and considering what it’s been through, we really should. Here’s how our steady-by-jerking has gone so far (with a few steps to go):

1)         Write the book
2)         Discuss the book, agree on what to change
3)         Revise the book
4)         Take it to critique group
5)         Discuss critique group comments, agree on what to change
6)         Revise it again
7)         Send it to beta readers
8)         Discuss beta reader comments, agree on what to change
9)         Revise it again
10)      Send it to next set of readers
11)      Discuss next set of reader comments, agree on what to change
12)      Revise it again
13)      Begin submission process

Ending with 13 didn’t thrill me, but it is what it is. We are now on step 10 and awaiting the verdict.
I don’t know how other people write their novels, whether their process is as broken up as ours, but what I do know is that it works for us. It’s in the down time that our subconscious does its thing and we go back to the manuscript with fresh eyes.
Steady by jerks.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

An Inconvenient Convenience

My laptop. An amazing convenience.

·       When in college, I didn’t have to skip vacation because I would have homework due. I sat with my laptop completing assignments in our down time.
·       When writing/editing our book, I took the laptop to wherever Larry and I were meeting.
·       This year I took my laptop camping and used it for both an entertainment center and a night light.

Now, when it comes to editing our manuscript, when it should be MOST convenient, I find myself longing for the days of a dedicated location for the family computer. Back then, there was room to spread out whatever papers I was working on. There was always power. There was quiet place that when I went there my brain knew that it’d be working and kick itself into concentration mode. Like Pavlov’s dog. Sort of. 
In my last blog, I promised that by this week’s blog I would have a dedicated location for my laptop—even had the spot all picked out. But it didn’t happen for a few reasons:
1)    My planned spot was the dinner table, so I still have to pick stuff up when we sit down to eat because the table’s so tiny.
2)    Either the table is too tall or the chairs are too short, because within half an hour, muscles were spasming in my shoulders and neck. I kept trying to sit up taller, but there’s only so far I can stretch.
3)    Way too much light, and there’s no way to angle the computer to get the glare from the windows off the screen.

          I have not given up on the plan to find/create a dedicated location, but it’s apparently going to take longer than a week to do.
I’ve tried the bed where I can spread things out, but it makes my hips ache and kinks my neck.
The recliner is an option for researching and writing (as I am doing now). But I can’t spread the manuscript out to edit. Even in the binder, it’s too unwieldy to balance on the chair arm.
The next place to consider will be the sofa, when it comes available. Right now our sofa is a bed until we finish decorating the bedroom. 
So the convenience of a laptop has turned out to be a bit less than convenient in this particular instance. Certainly the benefits outweigh any negatives, but there are times that I do miss a desk and a den and the room to spread my notes out far and wide, take a break for an hour or a day, then come back, and everything is where I left it, ready to continue with the next page.
When I think about writers who banged out entire manuscripts on manual typewriters, I know I’m wildly blessed to have a computer at all.
I’m so spoiled by my convenience that it’s become inconvenient.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Opportunity. Skill. Motivation. Habit.


When I moved out here to the farm a month ago today, I thought, “I won’t  be working. I’ll have the time to devote to our novel EVERY DAY.” Turns out, boxes that are stacked three high and covering 90 percent of the spare-bedroom floor scream for attention like toddlers for Happy Meals. You just have to give in, so I unpacked until I ran out of room to put things, at which time I changed gears to making space, and my husband and I emptied another bedroom, which I’m now painting (including the floor) so we can move some stuff in there.


I think Larry and I have that as writers, if not in spades, at least in Old Maid. Our male beta reader turned in his critique and compared our novel to the movie "Snatch" which is VERY cool, because it’s one of my favorite movies.


I’m highly motivated to get our boxes unpacked and organized, but there just isn’t space for it until we create some. Creating space means emptying attics and outbuildings that are still full of stuff from when my husband’s mom and dad lived here. That’s all extremely time consuming and exhausting, so motivation for working on our book has taken not the backseat, but the trunk.


That’s what I need to develop. At the other house, I had a dedicated spot for my laptop and plenty of workspace to spread our manuscript out for revision, so it was always ready for attention, and I was driven by habit to attend to it. Here, my poor laptop has lived in a bag and the manuscript waits patiently in a binder on the kitchen table, stacked precariously atop a filing box surrounded by the KitchenAid mixer, Cuisinart food processor, and miscellaneous bags of carbohydrates: sliced bread, an Italian loaf, and English muffins.

Apparently, if I needed a laptop to prepare a meal, it’d have a dedicated spot. So by next blog, I promise myself I’ll create a space for my laptop, and it can behave as badly as the stacks of unpacked boxes do, screaming until it gets attention.

One Transformers Happy Meal to go, please!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Methods to Madness

My writing methods are changing, and it’s been a bit of a challenge. The primary challenge is research. Our book is entirely fiction, but we are trying to get the details right, which requires occasional Googling.

I was working on our book the other night, and there are questions that could easily be answered in about 30 seconds with Google and a cable modem.

Now that I’ve moved to the farm, we have dialup, as I’m sure I’ve said before. To look something up, I have to set my laptop aside, go to the computer with a modem, dial up, log on, type in what I want, then wait five minutes for it to load. And that’s only for the text. Heaven forbid if I want to look at pictures.

Yes, I could just work on that computer, and that would eliminate the trip across the house. Buy it doesn’t speed up the dial-up connection. Could I look it up in a dictionary or encyclopedia? Probably, but only if they were current, and only if I owned them. Why purchase those dinosaurs when you’ve got Google?

Well, now I know.

So our novel--which has been produced steady by jerks anyway--is going to get even jerkier on my end. Larry is already accustomed to the limitations and unreliability of dial-up, and I’m learning, but it’s a really painful curve.

My plan right now is to make a note of all of my research questions as I have them and when I drive to town for groceries, I’ll stop at McDonald’s, log on, and do my research there. It’s a pain, and I do that only about once a week, but considering how long research takes on dial-up, it’s gentler on my patience.

And regardless what you may have heard about my charming personality from Larry, I am not a patient person.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Make it stop!


Bad country music. Kids fighting over the pop dispenser. Women discussing burying a man in the right pair of socks.

People come here to eat and visit, not to concentrate and not to use their computers. Even though the place is wired, in all the times I’ve been here, I’ve seen only one other person with a laptop.


Glare on my screen keeps me continually fiddling with the angle, and the BIG kick in the pants is that I either 1) can’t open my thumb drive to retrieve my prewritten blog to post because of computer problems, 2) can’t open my blog because of brain problems, or 3) I am a doofus and only thought I’d saved it on my thumb drive.

Now which seems more likely?


I knew there’d be a period of warming up to my new process of computing – posting blogs, doing research and paying bills. The trick is to be properly prepared when I leave home with my laptop bag.

I can’t do anything about the French fry alarms, clinking ice, or nonstop chatter. What I can do on go-to-town-computer-day is make sure my blog post is on my laptop, not an external drive, make sure that I choose a seat with the least glare, and most importantly

pack ear plugs.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Character Fracture

As you all probably know by now, Larry and I have very different methods for writing, and in this case, VASTLY different methods in creating characters.
           All of my characters are based on me. And from the reactions we’re receiving from readers, I’m pretty sure they’re not boring.
I don’t pattern characters after people anymore. I did that once with dreadful results. What I considered interesting and quirky personality traits turned out be highly insulting to the aforementioned quirky individual. So, to save hurt feelings if people identify themselves, I make my characters up from scratch, creating people I could have been under different circumstances.
I ask myself—what if I didn’t care about repercussions? How might I act? That was how I created Vic. What would I do if I were a really hot woman, full of confidence and highly intelligent? That was how I created Bella.
For this book, it also depended greatly upon my mood which character I choose to work on when it was my turn. If I had a bad day at work and wanted to take somebody out, I could work on Vic. If I had a good hair day and felt dangerously feminine, I went with Bella. This gives me an opportunity to live many lives, however vulgar or charming or dastardly. I can do all sorts of things I’d never consider in real life.
I like creating brand new personalities. It’s fun. And even though Larry might think he would create boring characters using his own personality, I disagree. It’s because of his creativity that he can pick up my characters without knowing people like them, and they remain consistent.
Either that or Larry’s personality is as fractured as mine, and he just doesn’t want to admit it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Real" Characters

Years ago, an Emmy-winning sitcom writer tried to encourage me to get an agent and write for sitcoms. Which sounded great at first. I thought I could just send the scripts in, but I soon learned it doesn’t work that way. There are constant readings with the actors, rewrites, more meetings, more read-throughs, and rehearsals that you have to attend.
That’s not for me. I couldn’t leave my family. I’d rather bend nails for a living.
I’m not too bad at dialogue because I listen to others. We each have different personalities, so if a writer instills his own personality in every character they would all be the same and boring. It wouldn’t work.
The sitcom writer gave me some advice on dialogue for TV. He said to record the show you want to write for and sit with your back to the screen and listen to the dialogue: what was said, how each character verbally reacted to the circumstances, how the character react differently, what their emotions should be, and if their words effectively relaying that.
I don’t know how Becky does it but I try to pattern characters after people and personalities I know, usually with a little exaggeration. I have characters I write, and she has characters she writes. What’s interesting is that I can write her characters when they’re in my scene and somehow they all stay pretty consistent.
That’s how I do it. So Becky? How do you create your characters?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

How do I look?

While watching an episode of Undatable, Speedos were up for discussion, and I agree that they’re not a good idea unless you’re David Hasselhoff on Baywatch.
This made me wonder how much a character’s appearance affects their likability. One of our readers was particularly irked because we didn’t spend much time describing our protagonist, and she felt she would feel more sympathetic toward him if she knew what he looked like.
What makes us sympathetic to characters? Would I be sympathetic to a man in Speedos with a big belly and vast amounts of chest hair? Not so much. On the other hand, Tom Selleck as Magnum PI can run around in all the tiny clothes he wants, and I’m painfully sympathetic.
Which brings me back to description and sympathy—should our protagonist be unfortunate looking to bring out reader sympathy? Or should it depend on his brutal life experiences, which are well documented in the story?
I’m thinking again it must depend. And I do agree that more description couldn’t hurt, but how much, where to slip it in, and how to do it without it feeling deliberately inserted after the fact will be the trick.
Obviously, (if we’re using the David Hasselhoff/Tom Selleck measuring stick) looks matter, and I don’t have any solid answers for the questions right now. All I have are gut feelings influenced by Americanized stereotypes. For now the need for additional description of our protagonist is in the discussion stage. Larry and I will hash it out and let you know.
But in the mean time I feel the need for some 1980s drama and poofy mounds of chest hair.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hearing Voices

           People often ask me, “Larry, where do you get your ideas?” and I addressed that topic in a previous blog. But I recently discovered a brand new resource. Drugs.
Legal, of course, administered at the hospital.
Hospital, you ask? Why yes. 
I don’t know where a gall bladder is, what it does or what it’s supposed to do, but I do know that when one goes bad, you just want the damn thing out. I was scheduled for surgery the morning after I saw the doctor.
Once admitted and once the nurses were done collecting blood and hooking me up to hoses, it was time to sleep—or so I thought, but the bed creaked and groaned, and the IV pump made its annoying racket, and then I moved my arm and set off the alarm for the IV pump. The nurses came back, always cheerful, poked, prodded, fluffed. They made me wear booties that fit around my calves and pumped up and down like a blood pressure cup to keep me from getting blood clots.
Oh, I felt emasculated in those booties. At least my gown wasn’t breezy. I’d fought valiantly to keep my underwear until surgery.
Again alone, which is all I’d been wanting, I began to doze. At one point in my sleepy haze I clearly heard the word “God.” Suddenly wide awake and listening intently, I heard the growling voice speak again. “God.”
Was I nuts? The strange voice came from the IV pump! After throwing up all night and facing surgery the next day, it’s a little alarming when your IV pump wants to talk to you about God. So I listened. And listened. And listened. The pump whirred, clicked and growled in a rhythm, in which the growl sounded like words.
I recalled a Ghost Hunter show in which the ghost used a box to somehow speak through.  The hospital is said to be haunted—this would make a great story, I thought. I listened and plotted and created characters. I tested scenarios from horror to romance, to comedy. There were so many interesting ways to create the story that I was a little surprised to see my doctor pop his head through the door. I’d been so busy with characters and story that I had missed another opportunity to sleep. Oh well, I’d sleep during the operation.
That evening I had company. I’m not complaining—it’s nice they care. But by the time they left and the nurses got done assaulting me and fitted me in those damn booties, it was after 11:00. I slept like a log until 2:30 when I was awakened by another growling voice. This time it was a three word phrase, “Don’t wait under.”
What the hell?
“Don’t wait under,” the IV pump repeated. I was awake and not likely to go back to sleep until I figured out what not to wait under.
It was a different night and a different drug induced haze. This time the pump relayed messages from ET wanting to come back to earth. I had to decipher the code and help him return safely. ET was more talkative than last night’s ghost. He said “Five” “All try” “Forego,” and many more words my now sober mind can’t recall.
Great stories floated through my mind, filled with adventure and suspense. FBI, CIA, men in black all trampled across my bed searching for information only I had. All too soon it was morning and my regular nurse’s visits interrupted my stories and my brain became occupied by other matters.
Now, we all know that to be a writer you have to be at least a little loopy but combine that loopiness with prescription drugs and you have a treasure trove of ideas, plots and characters.
Hmmm. Where to begin…

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bored Brain

As much as I crave getting away and unplugging while on vacation (I never checked Facebook, and turned on my phone only twice during the whole trip), I really missed the intellectual stimulation. Sitting on the boat with a fishing pole staring at the horizon is wonderfully, amazingly relaxing (until something bites and people jump and cheer), but even I can take only so much down time.

My mom brings puzzles on the trip with her--Sudoku and word games from the newspaper. She tears them out and saves up a pile of them for her trips. That’s a great idea, very low tech, and she doesn’t need anything but a pencil.

I, on the other hand, for my intellectual stimulation, I have my laptop, something I’d NEVER take on the boat, and ditto the Kindle. They both stay safely locked up back at camp. I have a couple word games on the Kindle, but I’d never forgive myself if I leapt up to set the hook on a catfish and knocked it overboard. So mostly on the boat I fish and doze.

So one day near the end of the trip, I stayed in and did some intellectual stuff. Went through a Beta Reader’s notes and typed them up for Larry. I wrote a couple blogs. I played games on my Kindle, finished a novel and began another one.

But I really wanted to write a story. Be creative. Use my brain. Unfortunately, although I felt the urge, topics eluded me. I could have typed up a beginning scene for Book 2 to send to Larry. Instead, I downloaded the Planet of the Apes novel on my Kindle. (That turned out to be sort of like I AM LEGEND. The movie makers used the title, names, setting, and little else. But still a good read.)

Vacation was good, but I’m ready to be home for a while. Either that, or plan time to stay at camp and do brain things. Two weeks on the water six hours a day is just too much for me. Yes, we caught a LOT of fish, and will fill up a corner of the freezer nicely, but as my freezer fills, my brain empties.

Next time, I will have a plan, a schedule, and a creative outlet. Unless the fish are biting.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fishing for Committment

There are two ways of fishing--the man way and the woman way. The woman wants the fish to not only nibble and play, but to also commit to the hook. Men are interested only in the nibble and play, constantly yanking the rod to set the hook, whether the fish has committed or not.

As I sat in the boat (my pole bobbing and Justin muttering, “Set the hook, already!”) I was not only considering the different ways men and women catch fish, but also how they write. I’ve always preferred male authors to female, likely because of subject matter, but I’m sure style figures in as well.   

Which brought me around to what men want to read. Our male beta reader keeps making the same comment in our manuscript: TMI. He asked, “Who wrote this section?” and each time it has been me over indulging in description. He doesn’t speak for all male readers, of course, but he may have a point. Anything that slows our pacing, however cleverly inspired by female wit, will need to be hacked.

Our novel--written by a man and a woman--is written for those who like fast pacing and interesting characters. When the readers open our book we want them to nibble, play, AND to commit.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Me sentimental? Never!

A few things you won’t hear about our book:

·         “unforgettable journey of the heart”
·         “heartbreaking, mysterious, and soulfully funny”
·         “tonight, on a very special Blossom”

Does that mean I’m not sentimental? Probably. Or maybe I’ve already had enough drama for a lifetime and I don’t need anybody else’s.
           Even so, after sorting through some boxes from my attic this week, I grew a bit melancholy. I e-mailed Larry and told him about finding old prom pictures, letters from track (in another life I was actually athletic), and notes passed to me in class when I should have been studying.
He said he was surprised that I was waxing sentimental.      
I have noticed that as I age the more sentimental I become, and maybe that’s typical. I don’t like it, though, all that touchy feely crap.
The non-sentimental side of me is what you’ll see in our novel. That’s how I am in everyday life, which is why Larry was so surprise by this secret part of my personality.
Give it another 30 years, and I’ll be packing up to go to the nursing home or a smaller town house, I’ll run across these things I’d forgotten, and it’ll bring back all the feelings that I have again boxed away.

Until then, here are a few things that actaully have been said about our novel:

·         Great pace and character development
·         WOW!!! I love how we’re learning about this - I can picture it.
·         This section is the appropriate level of gross, I think

Monday, July 25, 2011

I'm not addicted, really I'm not!

I never considered myself particularly “wired”. I don’t glance at my cell phone every fifteen seconds, I don’t live with my IPod strapped to my arm, nor do I spend more than an hour a day on the computer—well, unless I’m writing. Maybe I’ll turn on the TV during the day, maybe I won’t. Social networking, blogging and e-mailing take up only a fraction of my time.
But take it away from me and I’m rampaging around the house flipping switches every half hour just in case it’s spontaneously fixed itself. Got home from a weekend at the farm and cable was out—my call to the cable company was met by an automated greeting which I’m paraphrasing: “Yes, we know, your cable is out. Did you hear the storms? We’re working on it”.
I couldn’t watch TV. Couldn’t cruise the web. I don’t even own a radio anymore because I always listen to streaming stations.
So I finished one novel and started another, listened to some CDs in the DVD player, and made a nuisance of myself with Comcast. They were fast, though. Twenty-nine hours after my first call (I won’t admit to how many I made) someone was on my pole.
This brings me to the challenge of my pending move—remaining a member of the critique group and starting Book 2 with Larry. I’ll be too far away to meet with them in person, so we’ll have to do it all electronically.
On dial-up.
Of course it can be managed. It’s not like I’m losing access to internet completely. I mean, people used to write books on typewriters, right?
We’ll do what we have to, but I’m telling you right now, I may become one of those weird people in the corner of a wi-fi restaurant, drinking coffee and pounding on my laptop because it’s actually faster to drive to town than wait for the computer to get online with dial-up.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hello. My name is Larry, and I’m confused…

I got a real education at our critique group a few weeks ago. Another man in the group wrote a scene where one of his male characters made a phone call to two women (late 20s, early 30s) and said, “Are you girls about ready to go yet?”
It was suggested by woman in the group that female readers might be offended by the word “girls.”
It was explained that a grown man would be offended by being called “boy,” so it follows that a grown woman would be offended by being called “girl”.
Now, I understand that a black man might be upset by being called “boy,” but I specifically remember one instance where I said to a group of men, “Come on, boys, let’s do this thing.” No fists were thrown, no threats were made, no objections were voiced about the wording of the statement. I tried to think of a time when I got pissed by being called “boy” and came up empty. 
I’m not saying she’s wrong about using the word “girl.” Maybe the use of that word is a man thing, and if so, I accept that. After all a woman would know more about what offends her than I would.
I admitted that I got a waitress’s attention by saying, “Excuse me, ma’am,” and the women in the group agreed this was acceptable although Becky, in particular, did not like being called “ma’am.” I think it was unanimous that “madam” was out and “lady” may or may not be acceptable depending how lady-like the person considers herself. Gal wasn’t high on the list, either. Although I didn’t ask, I’m pretty sure that “honey, sweetie, sugar, babe, and sweet cheeks” are out too.
So, how would a woman like to be referred to? If any women are reading this, I would really truly like to know what would be generally acceptable, because ways to refer to female characters is kinda limited.
Whaddya say, girls?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gratification? When?

If you decide to write a novel, it’s important to enjoy the process—if you want instant gratification, go for the milkshake and fries.
Right now, our manuscript is out to the first wave of beta readers. Even after you’ve typed THE END at the bottom of page 350, you’re really not done working on it. There’s the rewriting, and re-rewriting that makes the process time consuming, arduous, and in the long run, extremely rewarding.
            Lucky for us, we enjoy the process which is its own reward. We love making up nonsense. We don’t write to change somebody’s life, to touch their hearts, there’s nothing Oprah in it. Our goal is to make people laugh, lighten a day, and if we’re lucky, discover a plot somewhere along the way.
            So until we hear back from our beta readers, we’re on a bit of a break. Larry’s doing some plumbing and carpentry, and I’m packing for my move.
            Now that we’re in a holding pattern, I don’t feel quite the sense of urgency I expected to have at this stage to hunt down agents and editors. Maybe that’ll come after our beta readers are done with it.
In the mean time, patience is a virtue and process is its own reward. Also, I would like a Tropical Blizzard and large fries to go.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Time Travel and Land Lines

“There was a time when people used a dictionary the way it was intended—for looking up dirty words.” George Waters, The Wa Blog
            I’ll be moving in a couple of months and have been going through the house sorting, tossing, donating, and packing. And one of the things that I studied carefully before deciding which pile to stack it in was a dictionary, the one I used in college back in the early 90s. Paperback, tattered, and yellowed, just holding it brought back fond memories of a companion that never left my side.
            When did I stop using it? Years and years ago. Once Google came into my life it was much easier to find the definitions I wanted online, and handier, because I was already sitting at a computer.
            Now that I have a Kindle with the built-in dictionary, when I’m reading and don’t recognize a word, I just scroll to it and a bubble pops up telling me. I don’t even have to leave my reclined position!
            Maybe I should hang onto the paper dictionary, though. When I move, I’ll be going back to where I was raised, a farm in the middle of nowhere, and I won’t be able to Google things on whim (dial-up takes FOREVER), and my Kindle doesn’t receive a signal out there. Neither does my cell phone.
            It’s like time travel to the past. Land lines. Paper dictionaries. Colloquial sayings that make no sense: “I wouldn’t have that up my butt if there was room for a threshing machine!”
Maybe I should hang on to my dear old tattered friend. It may not help with colloquialisms, but it is nice and fat and should have most of what I need. And if it doesn’t, I guess I can turn on the computer and take a nap while waiting for dial-up to connect.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ego controlled, mission accomplished

A COMPROMISE HAS BEEN REACHED! In Becky’s last blog she talked about a scene we were viewing a little differently. I made a suggestion she wasn’t wild about but after digesting it a while, she reworded my suggestion to satisfy us both. Here’s the final clip:

Svinster heard what sounded like car doors slamming—five of them. Distant whoomps that he knew were gunshots in the tunnel, not car doors.
Dante looked out the window for only a second, and Svinster saw Kelly shift her position on the floor. Instead of settling in for more book sorting, she lunged for Dante’s legs.
She hit him below the knees, but it was like hitting a tree. He shook a leg loose, and off balance, kicked her over onto her back, and fired his weapon.

            So, did I win or did Becky win? The answer could be neither or both, but the real winner is the story. There are a lot of good things about writing with Becky and her ability to set her ego aside may be the best part. She’s able to step back and look at things objectively, without the threat of physical violence, and make a determination from that. 
I try to follow her lead, I try not to be picky or too stubborn but sometimes it might seem like it. When we have a difference we each allow the other to make their point without dismissing it as stupid, which is hard because I can come up with some really stupid crap. More than once, I’ve come up with something idiotic and to my amazement, she saw some merit in it. Thanks to her open-mindedness our story is a little richer.
I know it must sound like we are always praising each other, but we really DO work well together. In our situation ego is a killer. We all have them, but if we can keep the monsters in check, writing partnerships can work. If not, it’ll be a tough row to hoe.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Do logical and realistic coincide?

Final chapters are being edited. Final nerves are being frayed. Final decisions—yet to be made.
Larry sent me an e-mail with his changes for chapters 29 through the end of our book, and this is one of the changes he suggested:

As text currently appears in our story:

She hit him below the knees, but it was like hitting a tree. He shook a leg loose, kicked her over onto her back, and fired his weapon.

As he wants it:

Suddenly there was a faraway rumbling that almost sounded like underground gun shots. “What the…” Dante instinctively turned to the direction of the sound. Kelly lunged for his legs. She hit him below the knees, but it was like hitting a tree. He shook a leg loose, kicked her over onto her back, and fired his weapon.

This prompted an e-mail discussion.

ME: Kelly was going to do this anyway. The shots wouldn’t trigger her into action even if she recognized the muffled sounds as gunshots. I know you’re not satisfied with it, and I have disagreed with this change all three times you’ve tried to make it. Since you refuse to give up and I refuse to give in, I’ll look and see if the group bought it (because you know they don’t buy anything). They can be our tie breaker. That’s what they’re for.

LARRY: Dante might recognize them as gun shots which would distract him, giving Kelly a better chance to catch him off guard. I think someone would hear something and that would be worth including. Why is it important to you that they DON'T hear the shots? I think of this as a minor change and a logical one.

ME: I don’t think it’s important that they don’t hear the shots, what I think is important is that it’s at least 100 yards from the house AND underground, why WOULD they hear them? It seems unrealistic to me rather than logical.

Although I think I’ve figured out a way to satisfy us both in this particular case, there are other changes in what he sent that will warrant additional, perhaps lively, discussion.
Some chapters are easier than others. The epilogue for instance—it’s clean and very easily edited. Larry made only a few suggestions.
This is not to say that Larry is being difficult. He’s including in the changes suggestions from the group as well as his own. So sometimes it comes down to him and me—if the group didn’t have an opinion one way or the other, then we have to hash out what is best for the story.
The benefit of having a partner far outweighs working alone. We’ve turned out a much stronger piece of work because of our creative differences, not in spite of them. Those differences have led to better product because we have to stop, address, and convince each other of what we’ve done and why it’s important.
I’ll be working on the chapters he sent in the next few days, and our story will turn out stronger for the additional torment. I’ll just have to remember to be reasonable, and he’ll just have to remember to give in.