Sunday, May 29, 2011

Energy, Passion, and Debate

"Nothing keeps a relationship on its toes so much as lively debate.” I saw this quote here, and I fully agree. What’s different about me now from a decade ago is the desire for debate—debates take energy and passion, and I'm too old to drum up much of either.
But that’s what keeps my writing partnership with Larry on its toes. Our novel is one of only a few things (including my husband of course J) that I have the energy to be truly passionate about, and we have a great degree of lively debate. It’s lessened a bit now that we’re down to the fine tuning, yet debates still crop up.
There was a scene where the surfer cop dressed as a woman and hitchhiked to his destination. Somebody was supposed to leave him clothes to change into but forgot to leave shoes, so the cop—wearing jeans, flannel, and hooker heels—raced through the hilly woods to the hideout.
Then there was the porch-swing scene where a transient shows up at the hideout. It really was one of my favorite scenes, but it had to be sacrificed for word count. My description was so spot on you could smell him!
I didn’t want to take either of them out, and I spat a bit while defending them. But in the bigger picture, they really didn’t contribute. We had to get the cop to the destination faster and hitchhiking wouldn’t work. We had to get to the end scene faster, and the transient slowed plot development.
Larry and I are now coming up on some of the more problematic chapters, and I’m sure there’s plenty of debate left. We both know changes have to be made, and we just need to agree on them.
That’s what keeps our writing partnership fresh!


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Camouflaged Commas

            An egg lay frying merrily in my skillet as I frantically raced around the kitchen looking for the salt. “Where the heck’s the salt? Maybe the living room.” I dash in there. Nope. “Dining room?” I dash back. Nope.
The egg crackled loudly, overcooking my yolk. “Why can’t I keep track of the flipping salt?!”
            Stepping back into the kitchen I see a rotund figure crouched beside the white KitchenAid mixer, the shaker’s clear glass body half full of salt. White salt. White mixer. Camouflage!
            That’s what’s happened to our story as well, but the subject being camouflaged is the endlessly debatable comma, about which debates always begin, “Which style are you using?”
            We have apparently made up our own style. I want a pause, I put in a comma. (Wait. Wasn’t that a run-on sentence? Should I use a comma? Where’s my damned book?!”)
            Going through our group’s revisions, including those from a professional editor who can quote usage rules, I apparently don’t know how to use a comma properly. When in doubt, put it in. See what I did there? No idea if it’s accurate, but it felt right.
            I comma by feel.
            It didn’t used to be that way. When I was working on my degree, just a few years ago, I was never charged with dodgy punctuation. Now commas hide themselves in the mosaic tapestry of unforgettable prose, well camouflaged, and undetectable by all but the most seasoned grammarist.
            I also used to be able to keep track of my salt shaker. It was always on the back of the stove. Sometimes there were two, each begging to be the one chosen.
            Maybe it’s age—or laziness—making me less than organized and accurate.  Or maybe commas cleverly camouflage themselves as pauses, and I’m overlooking them, because they sound right when I read the sentence out loud. Therefore, many commas have met their demise during this revision process, thanks to our resident editor.
            On the upside, at least I don’t have to race around the house looking for them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Coke ain't small stuff

Small stuff.
            This weekend Justin and I were out shopping, and we had worked up a thirst. He disappeared while I waited in line, and he brought back a real Coke—sugar and caffeine and cold and bubbly and own personal happy juice!
            He knows I love Coke Classic. So with me in mind, he selected it instead of his usual Pepsi. I’m telling you folks, it’s all about the small stuff.

I’m reading Elmore Leonard, and that man has a way with the small stuff. Although we don’t get a great deal of detail and description, what he does include is impactful. A well bred woman on the run with a bank robber carries the gun he gave her in a crocheted purse that her mother made. The bad guy steals an ice cream cone from a young man, takes a few licks, leaving ice-cream clinging to his mustache.
Those details help define the characters.

Are details small stuff?
Details are enormous. I may forget which book it’s written in, but I can tell you the detail that made it real and dragged me into the story. Last summer I read a book in which a man was naked and walking around on a sail boat. That’s when I was introduced to the term “hanging hog.”
I couldn’t tell you the name of the book or the author either one, but that detail has stayed with me.

Sweating the details is exhausting.
It’s because details are so important that we have—and will continue to spend—
so much time and energy rewriting and re-rewriting. Larry and I had written our story, and then revised it before we ever took it to the critique group. It’s been through group, and we’re revising again. Then there’ll be Beta readers, we’ll revise, then there’ll be more Beta readers and more revision. Then it has to pass through both of us again before we hawk our wares to agents and editors who will most assuredly ask for…you got it, more revision.
Yes, the small stuff is enormous
Yes, we’re sweating the small stuff.
Yes, I need to start keeping Coke in the fridge instead of Pepsi.

It’s all about the details.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Focus on the rabbit

I have a couple of different ideas for blogs rolling around in my head today, both just observational. Generally I’m able to focus a bit better, but it is what it is.
            First, I’d like to say we’re on target with our revision, which was three chapters a week for three months, then it’ll be ready for readers. I’ve hit a bit of a rough patch energy wise and Larry has been carrying me pretty well. Last week, instead of the regular three chapters, he did seven—that’s 70 pages! So now we’re actually ahead.
            Go Larry!
            And with his spending so much time on the manuscript, his contribution to our blog will be patchier, but he’ll pop in occasionally to give us an update how it’s going for him.

            The other thing rolling around in my head is the amount of time that disappears, like some sort of Star Treky time warp, when I sit down at the computer to work on the novel.  I’m off work this week, and yesterday I sat down and did fine edits on the chapters Larry went through this week. I looked at the clock, it said 10:00. I looked a little while later, it said 2:00.
            I love that kind of absorption, not only the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time, but also the desire, something that I enjoy doing that much. I hate to see time disappear so quickly, but I love to see the story coming together.

            Today, since all play and no work makes Becky a happy girl, I have housework to catch up on, laundry to do, and meals to cook, so I can go back to being my regular sullen self.
            Maybe next week’s blogs will be more focused.
            Hey, was that a rabbit?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Old coot, technology, and change

My husband and I saw Thor over the weekend. I hesitated because 3D movies tend to give me migraines, but I wanted to go because Kenneth Branagh directed, not because Thor is hot.
And you know what? I didn’t come out with a headache. Maybe it’s because the 3D wasn’t all up in your face like others have been, stuff flying off the screen at you. Possibly my attitude toward movie technology is changing. Right up until the next 3D-induced migraine.
            The same thing goes for books. It used to be that I’d covet the big hardcover books, partly because I couldn’t afford them and partly because they seemed so permanent. I’d open a big, heavy book from my grandmother’s shelf, and I felt comforted.
            Then somewhere along the way, my preference turned to paperbacks. Lighter, easier to carry around, you drop them off the boat, and it wasn’t as big a deal. They’re also easier to read in bed—you don’t have to worry about dozing off and konking yourself in the face.
            Enter the Kindle. It is light, fits in my purse, and it doesn’t matter what mood I’m in, there’s an entire library of reading material at my fingertips from comedy to horror to literary. I never thought I’d turn from paperbacks, but I have.
            I also thought I’d never turn from drafting stories on paper to drafting on a computer. It seemed so foreign to be typing my ideas instead of holding a pen and feeling the satisfying scratch against the paper. I’d stare at a blank screen, and my mind went blank. I’d pull out a legal pad and my favorite pen, and the ideas would flow.
            I transitioned in college. I sometimes had four papers due a week—I took the kind of classes that everything was essay. I needed to figure out how to get the words down faster than writing them first and then retyping.
             So now I sit drafting this blog on my computer, the words flying onto the page. I love that part. Will I ever miss drafting on paper? I don’t think so. Sitting at a keyboard is so much more efficient—there’s spell check, Google if I need to research, the thesaurus when I’m looking for just the right word—everything compact and easily accessed.
            The thought of technology fills me with mixed emotion. I lament the movies going to 3D. I miss the unwieldy hardbacks and stiff-spined paperbacks, but the Kindle is now my first choice.
However, I am in NO way sorry to be sitting here pounding out a blog in under half an hour.
Maybe I’m turning into an old coot, resisting technology rather than embracing it. Maybe I long for the simpler times when movies were about the story.
            And maybe Thor is hot. I’ll have to ask around.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Series Characters - Who makes the cut?

When Larry and I started our story, it was for fun. We made up the oddest, grossest, most colorful characters we could envision. We didn’t think ahead to character development or plot. And completing a novel certainly hadn’t entered our minds.
So now that we have finished and are discussing the next book, I’m thinking about serial characters. Which ones should we use? The most likable, of course, but likable to who? At the critique group, one of the members said, “I hope Tony is in the next one.”  Tony’s a bad guy, but apparently an entertaining one. And I agree—he should go in. He’s fun to write.
Certainly we should choose characters likable to our readers, but we have a very limited number of those at this point. What if a broader audience feels differently?
            Is that what happened to my reading relationship with Tess Gerritsen when she went from stand alone novels to the Rizzoli and Isles series with a character that just grates on my nerves? A series with a character that I have difficulty liking and everybody else thinks is great? So great, in fact, that there’s a TV series?
            Does my taste suck?
            Maybe, but I hope to learn from authors I admire, such as Robert Lynn Aspirin and Tim Dorsey.
Aspirin wrote the Myth Books back in the 80s. I bought every single one, and I wanted to write just like him. The characters where a riot, the situations they found themselves in made me laugh out loud, and the humor remained consistent to the end of the book.
            Dorsey is another author who is consistently hilarious. Last night while reading Stingray Shuffle, I had to put down my Kindle until I stopped laughing. I’m never disappointed in his slapsticky stories or his characters, particularly Serge A. Storms, who is the funniest serial killer to hit a novel, EVER.
            I would very much like to emulate those authors, not necessarily in their style, but in their consistency. It would make sense to me that what brought a reader to you in the first place should be status quo. Don’t experiment or get all literary or chick flicky. Entertain me. Make me laugh. Make me want to save your books on my shelf for rereading. In the last two decades I’ve read every one of Aspirin’s Myth Books at least ten times—if not more.
            Why do I keep going back to those old, tattered, yellowed gemstones? Characters I love and super-fun stories. I read to be entertained, and I want to do the same for our readers. I firmly believe that characters make the story, therefore, we have to choose the best characters for our next book if we want to hold our readers and give them the best possible experience.
            So yes, Tony will definitely make an appearance. That just leaves picking a protagonist.
            Or creating a new one.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Does practice make adequate?

Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and a lot of how it feels depends on perspective. I think my writing has changed for the better, because practice makes perfect, right? Or at the very least, practice should make adequate.
Cleaning out our spare bedroom of cumulated clutter, I ran across a box of stories from my college creative writing classes from back in the early 90s. I loved Dr. Guillory—he let me write about any topic I wanted, even scatological and politically incorrect ones. Reading over his notes, I felt good about my skill, and my grades were always high. His most frequent comment indicated that I shouldn’t have so many short paragraphs.
            I suppose he had a point…
            I’ve evolved, though, right? I can put together a full paragraph.
There are writers out there who I loved, but then their writing evolved, and I moved on. Dean Koontz is one of them. After Odd Thomas, I started having my mom screen his books for me. And the book Harvest by Tess Gerritsen gave me nightmares because it was—
Just. That. Good.
After that, I picked up everything with her name on it, because I knew it’d be great. Then she moved on to the Rizzoli and Isles series with a main character that, even though I tried, I couldn’t make myself like. So I moved on as well.
            Yes, I want to become a better writer. But do I really want to flop out on land and grow legs? I think so. And how many appendages are too many before a writer evolves so much that they begin to disappoint loyal readers? As a reader myself, it doesn’t take but a couple dissatisfying novels before I start shopping around. Does that make me disloyal? Probably, but I know what I like.
            I know that my writing has changed. After reading a few of the stories I’d written in Dr. G’s classes, I can see that I have improved. My style and voice have changed, and I’ve moved from broad to more subtle humor—and if you don’t consider me subtle, you should have seen my earlier work.

Yes, change is good, and practice makes _____________.
I’ve left the blank for you to fill in, because only YOU know YOU and what belongs there.
For me, I would use the word “perfect.” Now the challenge is living up to my own expectations.
Holy crap! What is that bump on my arm?

Friday, May 6, 2011

That evil, dirty word!

Writer’s block.
That’s an evil, dirty word—okay, two words—that writers shouldn’t even read (unless they’re ambushed like you just were), much less ponder.
I’m sure writer’s block must happen to everybody—well, except to me. At least until now. I’m sure I probably just jinxed myself.
I don’t have any trouble coming up with blogs. Seriously, you can make a writing metaphor of about anything—they’re sort of like sexual euphemisms. The right waggle of the brows, and anything can be twisted to have a sexual context. Trust me, I know people who have made that an art.
Same thing goes for writing. Did you see Larry’s blog last week? Coke drinkers as writers? Brilliant of course, as he always is, but I think I’ve made my point.
So why don’t I have Blogging Writer’s Block? I think for a few reasons:

·         I don’t wait until the day the blog is due to think about writing it.
·         When I have a blog idea any time of the week, day or night, I sit down and draft it out, which often takes me several blogs ahead, so I’m not sweating it at the last minute.
·         I read other people’s blogs for ideas, look for things I agree/disagree with, and take their thoughts a few steps further.
·         And most importantly, I can twist anything into a metaphor.

But seriously, the very best thing you can do is write down ideas and stuff them in your pocket. Pile them up in a wad on the corner of your desk each night, and when it comes time to write a blog (and I don’t mean the day that it’s due, but a few days before) sit down and grab something at random. Make it a game or a contest. See how you can relate what you have on that piece of paper to an aspect of writing.
Larry has always been very good at challenges. That’s how we wrote this novel. He never complained of writer’s block or not having ideas—because they’re EVERYWHERE! So pick one out of the pile and start writing.
Plus the good thing about that is, if you start early and produce garbage, you still have time to work on something else, and turn out a work of genius…
…or at least not rubbish.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ring Around the Revision Rosie

Larry and I devised plan to complete the novel’s revision in three months—we will go through three chapters a week, which I didn’t think that sounded too bad, until I realized that’s about 30 pages. Thirty pages looks like a lot!
Haven’t we already been revising, you ask? Why yes, but now we’re in the final, longest stage.

Stage 1) Larry read through the printed manuscript and made notes.
Stage 2) I read through the manuscript and made notes.
Stage 3) Together we went through the critique group’s comments and made notes.
Stage 4) Incorporate the comments and changes into the manuscript.

Part of the challenge is that the three sets of comment notes (mine, his, and the group’s) don’t always agree on what we should do. That’s when Larry and I have to discuss pros and cons of each change, what we are trying to accomplish with that scene, and how/if it will affect later scenes in the novel. That’s what eats up the time at our weekly meetings.
Although we’re only in our second week of Stage 4, the pattern that looks to be forming is this:
·         Larry reads through that week’s chapters and makes/denotes changes we’ve discussed, and e-mails them to me.
·         I go through and make the grammar and line by line changes recommended by the seasoned editor in our critique group.
·         Then I run it back past Larry one more time to make sure we caught everything.
·         Once I get his approval, it goes into our revision folder and we move on to the next set of chapters.

Yes, we knew this would be difficult. Yes, it is possible we may have to rethink our aggressive timetable—three chapters a week may be too much. Our goal is to have the revisions made and out to Beta readers in three months, and I really don’t want to stretch it out any longer than that.
Then when we get the comments back from Beta readers, we’ll get to revise.