Saturday, January 30, 2010

Too hard on myself?

Today, I ran errands with my daughter, took her to dance class, picked up lunch for my family (they were painting in the children's dept at my local public library), typed the minutes for the non-profit board where I serve as secretary, printed my history journal, read a GQ, showered, waxed my legs, helped a friend with a query letter, reminded my daughter how to play jacks, answered three phone calls from my mother regarding me doing her taxes tomorrow, and got a rejection letter, a form rejection letter at that.

The rejection didn't even sting, which I suppose is a good thing, but it's only my second form rejection. I tell my writer friends to expect 100 rejections before they can call themselves a writer, and who knows how many it will take before success. But form rejections create a sense of complacency in me.

First and foremost, I write for me. The more seriously I try to play the publication game, and the more published writers I meet who still work at their full-time jobs and/or have to deal with the same waiting/rejection process from their own editors, the less I want to deal with the game. That doesn't mean I plan to stop writing, it just means I am losing my drive to 'get it published.' It will return, it always does.

Meanwhile, I beat myself mercilessly for not meeting my writing goals. I feel like I'm not writing enough. What's enough? I don't know. Did I sit down and make myself quotas? No. Did I make a milkshake? Yes.

I think I'm still recovering from a stressful week and the constant demands don't help that, but such is life. It's 6:30. My husband is putting our daughter to bed, and while I should be writing or prewriting, I'm counting the minutes until I can go to bed.

I also did some plotting regarding Basilie and her parish priest. I realized the obvious parallelism/symbolism between her pregnancy and that of Elizabeth in the Bible. Plus, Basilie attends Saint Jean Baptiste... Yup, John the Baptist.

Friday, January 29, 2010


Most writers will tell you to write everyday. I've heard it often recently and it's good advice. It promotes consistency in a manuscript and allows you to maintain a certain flow and ease of writing, at least until you hit a troubled spot.

In my former career as a journalist, at least post-baby, I did not write every day. It was not a question of time. It was a question of energy. I expended every word I had in me on that newspaper. I averaged 2-3 stories a day.

Was I writing? Technically, yes. Do school board stories and business features count? I doubt it.

The first semester I returned to school (this is my third), I had an intense history class that required a ridiculous amount of reading (I loved every minute) and an even more consuming paper (which I loved even more) and a 100-level politics class which required minimal effort.

No brain cells left for writing, yet I spent my spring break cleaning up my novel for pitch at GLVWG's The Write Stuff conference. I get requests for pages every year from agents.

I try to write during the summer, and last summer I revised almost eight chapters. Unfortunately, they didn't work.

Last semester, I had an economics course and a French class. I loved the French class, and it helped me fine-tune my characters. The economics class destroyed me. I ended up with a B+ in both classes but it was not easy. And I did not write.

This holiday break, I wrote a lot. I revised 7+ chapters. I like them. My critique group seems to like them. Those are the same chapters I revised during the summer. Now, I think they work.

My classes this semester, as mentioned last time, are Modern French Identities and Body Politics. Both require reading and writing, but I have already devoured two of the textbooks, one for each class. Both classes have inspired book lust in me, and have subject matter that relates to my novel.

And my academic endeavors have already planned the seed to alter the infamous "book four." That's the book that actually deals with the children of my characters in my current stories... So will I write? Probably.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What does our writing convey?

I almost forgot to write today's entry. School started yesterday for me, and usually, when the schoolwork starts, my time to write disappears. I have two classes this semester. Both are very interesting to me...

This will relate to writing, stay with me.

Last night I had my history colloquium, Modern French Identities. This afternoon, I had my special seminar in Values in Science and Technology on Body Politics. Having a French family in my novel and a fashion house... Well, it should be a fun semester.

My identity is full of contradictions. I'm an educated, bilingual feminist addicted to fashion. I'm not a naturally patient maternal-type, but I wish I could have been a stay-at-home mom. I have trouble, psychologically, how parents can leave their kids in daycare for eight hours a day. If they sleep ten, go to daycare eight, spend one in the car, another eating, another getting dressed/ready for bed, when do you get to enjoy your kid?

But that's another argument.

I also don't believe it's the mother's job to stay home with the babies.

Again, wrong argument.

But we talked a bit about women, self-esteem, body-image and cultural expectations today in class. We each had to draw a picture of our bodies and show it to the class, and rate our comfort with our bodies on a scale of 1 to 1o.

The one male in the class said 10.

The highest woman's score was 8.5. Mine was 8.

The teacher pointed out that in the years she's taught the class, no woman has EVER given herself a 9, and when the classes had a better gender ratio, the men never went LOWER than a 9.

We talked a lot about how society makes gender myths into reality, how we train women to be graceful, more petite. How men are strong. How a woman always needs to lose weight but a man always wants to be "bigger."

And we talked about the era of Photoshop and how the people in the pictures don't even look like the people in the pictures, not in real life.

And this made me think: What societal biases/ideals do we convey in our writing?

I write about a fashion house, and my fashion designer Étienne loves women, loves curves, and complains how thin the modern models are. His supermodel Adelaide is a Cindy Crawford body shape, and she has self-esteem issues. Throughout the first novel, she keeps comparing herself to the girl in the photos and thinking that she will never be that girl. And she's the top model! So, am I writing a satire? a commentary?

In book two, she accuses Étienne of hiring her only for her beauty, and he tries to deny it, but she does screw things up and he forgives her probably because she's pretty. ]

Next week's class will look at intersexuals, or what used to be called hermaphrodites. For instance, girls (as in genetic XX) born with enlarged genitalia that resembles a phallus. Many doctors will cut it off and not consult the parents. In some cases, this removes the infant's clitoris or disconnects the nerves. Now those who know me know I tend to go ballistic at the practice of circumcising the penis of a boy child, and I certainly wouldn't want them hacking body parts off my child without my permission. I don't care if my little girl had a full-blown penis.


The magic word was hermaphrodite. I read of one intersexual disorder: Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome I believe. With this disorder, a traditionally male fetus (XY genetically) cannot process testosterone and will exit the womb looking like a girl. In many cases with labia and a vagina. And potentially with an enlarged clitoris of like an inch. At puberty, the child will develop hips and other apparently female characteristics because of the estrogen produced even though the child does not have ovaries or a uterus. Despite the fact that the body DOES have testes and produce testosterone, the body cannot use any of it. In some cases, the person may be oddly hairless in the armpits and pubic areas.

Based on genetics, this person is male. He/she would appear and act female. The sex is male. The gender is female. Roll that around your mind.

The supernatural forces in my novel are based on masculine and feminine elemental magic. Sex rituals have profound power because of the interaction of masculine with feminine. Air and fire are masculine elements, and earth and water feminine. Your sex does not dictate your ability to do magic, but the magic itself has a gender. So regardless of your physical sex, your gender has to be balanced in order to master all four elements.

Wouldn't one of these women with AIS, then have the capacity to be the perfect witch? It's a woman with a Y chromosome. That's a unique form of balance.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I did it

Last night, I stayed up until midnight and entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel competition. Probably a thousand people had the same idea, because the server was bogged down and it took an hour to do what should have taken 10 minutes.

I am both thrilled that I did this and unbelievably paranoid.

The contest is free to enter. The prize is a $15,000 advance and contract with Penquin. (Keep in mind, I made $10,000 at my job this year.) They accept the first 5,000 entries in YA and another 5,000 in adult. Contest closes Feb. 7 or when they receive the number of entries they want.

The sponsors are's self-publishing division and Penguin. That's part of what makes me uncomfortable. The other part is their demand that you provide a .doc, .docx, or .rtf of your entire manuscript. I would have preferred to provide a .pdf with password-protected copy function.

But that was not an option.

The only friends who have offered an opinion on this have said to do it. And technically I did copyright a previous book with these characters with the Library of Congress about seven years ago. With my blog, my facebook page(s) and my friend who's archived ever draft of every chapter I have written in the last six years... This story is mine.

But it makes me uncomfortable.

On the other hand, uploading my materials like my description, pitch and author photo looked really cool. I used one of Tracy Chafin's photos of me (and made sure her watermark was visible so all the world could see if there's ever reason to use it).

This is my book description I entered:
Manhattan, August 2002. H. Galen Sorbach has manipulated magick for four hundred years. Until Adelaide. The supermodel exudes mystical feminine healing powers that Galen wants, but he can’t touch the all-American girl who sacrificed her adolescent to launch ready-to-wear for French designer Étienne d’Amille. Adelaide stayed in fashion for the easy money, glamorous clothes, celebrity and, mostly, her undying adoration of Étienne, the only man who does not treat her like sex object. A senior citizen on the runway, Adelaide struggles to survive as a fashion executive in Étienne’s company. Étienne considers himself a humble tailor but his ambitious wife, Basilie, propelled him onto the world stage and divorced him when she could not breathe in his shadow. Yet, she never left. Now, at nearly 45, Basilie conceives a child, a feat the doctors claimed impossible. Meanwhile, Étienne hopes Adelaide might lose herself in a romance with Galen. Instead, fist fights and magickal brawls ensue leaving Adelaide bruised and desperate to master her own powers to end Galen’s perilous manipulations of the universe before she inadvertently hurts the one she truly loves—or worse, in her jealousy, would Adelaide harm his wife?

But the first round is judged solely on pitch. They get rid of 4,000 entries in each category, just on the pitch. So I wrote this:
Adelaide Pitney, fashion executive and supermodel, cannot escape her attraction to “aspiring photographer” and elemental witch H. Galen Sorbach, launching her into a destructive spiral. Four hundred-year-old Galen exploits Adelaide’s untapped healing powers to temper his lack of feminine power. Adelaide wants her magick gone, before it irreparably alters the life of her best friend, designer Etienne d’Amille. Adelaide must master her power to end Galen’s perilous manipulations of the universe before she destroys the relationship most dear to her. Fashion meets paranormal forces, as if Stephen King rewrote The Devil Wears Prada. There’s more at stake than the right outfit, the story challenges our definition of normal relationships and how people love. A supermodel with self-esteem issues has more power than she realizes, if she'd stop giving herself away and assert her magick. She must defeat blood-sucking witches and their violent rituals, but first she has to stop fighting herself.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tomorrow... Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest

Do I even have to mention that feeling when you challenge yourself to meet a goal that seems outside your comfort zone? In my case, my ears ring and I get queasy.

I'm preparing materials to enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Contest begins at 12:01 a.m. January 25 and continues until they reach 5,000 manuscripts or Feb. 7 or something. Whatever happens first. Being more neurotic than I care to admit, this means I will be staying up late tonight.

I have all sorts of fears about my work ending up in the wrong hands, or getting stolen, because you have to provide the ENTIRE manuscript in a .doc or .rtf. I would be more comfortable if I could submit in a .pdf that allowed me to block copying the words.

But it's a chance at a contract with Penquin.

It literally makes me want to vomit from worry and fear.

The contest has specific needs. Like the 300-word pitch and a 300-word description. Most writers have problems reducing their words. Not me. I seem to max out at 200. Even with my bio.

My bio:
Angel Ackerman—francophile, aspiring fashionista, and journalist (in that order)—has used most of her words on the Lehigh Valley (Pennsylvania) newspaper scene,with 15 years in weekly and daily journalism.

Her professional career includes developing and running a technology literacy program for urban pre-teen girls and public relations.

She also serves on three non-profit boards: president ex-officio of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, trustee of the Mary Meuser Public Library, and board member and former executive committee officer of the Advisory Board for the Penn State Cooperative Extension of Northampton County.

She recently joined Romance Writers of America and its local affiliate, Pocono-Lehigh Romance Writers.

She holds a BA in English Language and Literature from Moravian College and attends Lafayette College studying International Affairs.

Her favorite authors range classic greats Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Alèxandre Dumas to modern writers Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates.

She spends her free time writing, watching French television, and spending time with her crazy family: one husband, one five-year-old daughter, two cats and one tortoise.

My blurb (still working on pitch/description):

In Manipulations (93,000 words), Adelaide Pitney, fashion executive and supermodel, cannot escape her attraction to “aspiring photographer” and elemental witch H. Galen Sorbach, launching her into a destructive spiral.

Four hundred-year-old Galen exploits Adelaide’s untapped healing powers to temper his lack of feminine power. Adelaide wants her magick gone, before it irreparably alters the life of her best friend, designer Etienne d’Amille.

Adelaide must master her power to end Galen’s perilous manipulations of the universe before she destroys the relationship most dear to her.

Something I'm working on:
Fashion meets paranormal forces, as if Stephen King rewrote The Devil Wears Prada. There’s more at stake than the right outfit, Manipulations challenges our definition of normal relationships and how people love.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The nightmare progresses...

My last post focused on revising a nightmare for one of my main characters. I would feel remiss if I didn't post my latest draft to show you the changes. This is still not final...

She stood at the conference room table of her former employer, Minerva Pollux. She gazed to the window, Lower Manhattan pierced by her bold and surprisingly thin reflection in a cranberry red suit. She turned, as if in slow-motion, the faces around the table coming into focus one by one. Twelve people surrounded the table, twelve old American men with gray hair and pinstripe suits, the type of men who smoked cigars and drank Scotch, each one a client. She could match these men in business smarts, in ruthlessness, even with imbibing alcohol and net worth, but she would never smoke a cigar. Galen sat at the foot of the table, striking a metallic blade against his palm over and over.
They waited for something. What? Basilie retrieved her BlackBerry from her pocket, splitting her attention between that and the television on the wall. The market remained steady. The name of the company on the stock ticker triggered her memory. They had gathered for a hostile takeover. Basilie had orchestrated it, leveraging her investors’ cash, Minerva Pollux’s reputation, and her own ability to carve the company into profitable pieces for the highest bidders. Oh, yes, Basilie did this all the time. Creeping tender offers from new shareholders taking advantage of a proxy fight...
Basilie stepped closer to the table, a crunch stopping her. Her rosary laid on the floor. As she knelt to retrieve it, her reflection caught her eye again, except this time, she wore simple robes instead of her suit. Her body glowed. A baby cried in the distance. Her breasts ached as she heard it. The BlackBerry rumbled. She read the number and answered her ‘mole.’
“They spun it off. Your department. Your crown jewel. They saw you coming.”
The ribbon on the screen announced the news. The value of her stock had plummeted when the corporation had spun off its core department.
“Damn it,” Basilie snapped.
Millions lost. Basilie turned to the table. She opened her mouth to relay the news and the clients transformed into... family. Her father sat to her right, then her grandfather and grandmother Saint-Ebène. The couple beside them might have been her great-grandparents on her father’s side. Others next to them bore a strong resemblance. The man closest to Galen rose from the table. A woman neighboring him wept. He had the sword. He extended it as he approached Galen, the ornate gold hilt fitting perfectly in his hand. She recognized the crest on the sword, and peered closer at the man with it. She could have been looking in the mirror. She saw her face, in the masculine.
“He has it,” her doppelgänger told her in middle French. “Matris Virginis—”
Galen punched him in the face, interrupting his statement.

Without knowing the exact plot, how much symbolism can you decipher? If she were your friend and she asked for help deciphering this dream, what would you say?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A nightmare

I am 'ahead' of schedule on chapter seven of my revisions on Courting Apparitions. This pleases me, even though I'm losing hope of how 'worthwhile' this all is. I listen to published writers struggle with selling their second and third books, editors from 'dream publishers' that publish a book and then take a year to say no to the next, not to mention the hundreds of rejections we, the unpublished, receive.

But I push those thoughts from my mind. Right now I'm writing for me. So I have more than one book 'done' to the level I like. To prove my ability and professionalism to myself in order to sell it confidently to others.

I'm working on a nightmare.


This was the early draft(s):
She stood at the head of the conference room table, gazing halfheartedly at the view of Lower Manhattan as she noticed her own reflection in the glass. She wore a cranberry red suit. She looked meticulous, bold and surprisingly thin. Twelve people surrounded the table, with Galen opposite her. Galen struck a metallic blade against his palm, over and over. She turned to a television. The red ribbon, the same color as her suit, flashed a message across the bottom of the screen. The market remained steady.
Basilie had orchestrated this hostile corporate takeover with financing from some of the Minerva Pollux’s major investors, leveraging her ability to carve the company into profitable pieces for the highest bidders.
She looked at the men around the table, all men, all men except for her, all gray-haired men with severity in their faces. Each of these men, clients of the firm, had purchased enough stock to join in her creeping tender offer. Between their new influence as shareholders and the proxy fight Basilie’s operatives had stumbled upon, the deal should happen quickly and ruthlessly. While a good, old-fashioned corporate raid didn’t make sense these days, this one did, because Basilie had a client who wanted the core of the business. He just wasn’t willing to pay for the entire corporation. So, Basilie would deliver the piece he wanted. The BlackBerry in Basilie’s pocket rumbled.
She answered it. Her ‘mole’ was on the other end.
“They spun it off.”
“What do you mean?” Basilie replied.
“Your department. Your crown jewel. They saw you coming. They spun it off. We... I mean the board... no longer control it. They set up their own board and IPO.”
The ribbon on the TV screen announced the news. The value of her stock, the stock she bought for the men now gathered around the table, had plummeted as soon as the corporation had spun off its core department.
“God dammit,” Basilie snapped.
Millions lost. The gray-haired men in their navy blue suits rose from the table. They swarmed her, grabbed her, some holding her while others bit her and drank her blood. She pulled, but she couldn’t go anywhere. Everywhere she looked she saw arms. She shivered. She looked at Galen, sitting sentinel at the end of the table. The blade continued swinging up and down, until Basilie wondered: Was that her family sword? Then the heads of the gray-haired men moved away from her, and each of them had eyes like opals.

The writing is far from an example of my best. But that's why it's an early draft.

Now that I have this draft, I'm working on refining what it needs to do:
  • The premise of a failed corporate raid is exactly how this character's psyche would process what's been happening in her life. BUT I've changed the intensity of what has happened before this dream, so the content of the dream must clearly foreshadow struggles to come.
  • The 'crown jewel' needs to represent the feminine magic Galen has stolen from women over the generations
  • The sword must be described
  • Should Basilie's family members slowly replace the clients? What about Adelaide? How does she fit?
  • Should the baby Basilie is carrying factor into this dream. I think so.
  • Finally, I scribbled this note on a piece of paper today: "What does the magic say to Z? (Basilie)
Hopefully, by the end of the day, I will have the answers.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hurtful memories

I'm not 'scheduled' to have a blog entry here until tomorrow. But I had to write.

This is my current facebook status: Angel Ackerman knows her writer friends can sympathize. A song popped on while the music was on shuffle, and it hit me it the gut, because I'd never heard the lyrics before and it reminded me of a tender moment between characters before one of them 'died.'

My daughter asked to listen to some music. When she requests this, I put iTunes on my laptop on shuffle. A song popped on that I hadn't ever really listened to the lyrics. "Small Favors" by Fountains of Wayne.

The song begins:
I have to sit you down
Let me tell you what it's all about
'Cause I've been carrying a torch around
And I've forgotten how to snuff it out

And you have been unkind
And that’s a matter I cannot ignore
You have to skirt around the truth sometimes
But it’s time I told you what I came here for

To thank you for all the small favors
I’m thinkin’ now I hope it doesn’t change us
And take us to a time when we were strangers
In a two-station town
You can’t get the train to slow down

Small favors
Oh to you as sure as she was honest
And now do you remember when you promised
To forgive me someday
The debts that I can’t repay

And this song, that I've known for years, suddenly hit my in the gut with an overwhelming sadness. Because one of my characters has an unrequited love for another character, and he does do more 'small favors' for her than she can ever repay. And she dies. So, it's some heavy thinking...

I can't shake this emotional upheaval.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Troublesome Chapter Six

My self-imposed goal for this year is to revise a chapter a week of my second novel, Courting Apparitions. I needed chapter six complete last night, and spent an hour an a half trying to find the write transition between the two halves of the chapter.

I was merging elements from the revised chapters five and six, plus an older version of chapter eight, AND parts of the original chapter twelve.

It was painful.

I finished it a few minutes ago. I got the job done last night but reread and smoothed this morning.

Sometimes, the hardest goals/deadlines to meet are those that are self-imposed. At the same token, missing these goals cause the most disappointment because you made them yourself and you should know your own capabilities. On the opposite side, when you greet them, there is enormous relief and satisfaction... but it is fleeting, after all, no one will pat you on the back for meeting your own goal.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A tale of two brothers

I wonder if two brothers on the phone to talk about their mother's experiences with a "ghost" would taunt each other about the circumstances at the time of their father's death. They were due for mandatory conscription when Pop died, the older already in the service counting bananas in Guadeloupe and the younger got a deferment. The question becomes...

Is it pointless to include it in the scene, or does it strengthen their relationship as brothers OR does it also show, indirectly, the younger brother's capacity to accept responsibility since he got the deferment to care for his mother and grandmother after his father's death (which of course he already had a student deferment when he dropped out of school to care for his mother and grandmother after his father's death).

The scene intersperses some humor, and I would think some realism to an otherwise emotional time. I don't want to ruin the pace of the novel...

Edmond is the older brother, Étienne the younger (remember him? I promise, I will write something that doesn't involve him). Edmond has recently graduated from university and has opted for a volunteer assignment rather than the shorter traditional military service. Étienne, to this day, never served his country. Ironically, his wife has. But in a capacity similar to Edmond. She actually nationalized some banks for the Mitterrand administration... but anyway...

So, Étienne has seen a ghost, talked to the ghost and interacted with the ghost. He does not believe in ghosts but he knows his mother insisted their father haunted the workshop after he died. Étienne and his brother thought their mother a tad touched with grief, and attributed the ghost to that. And now Étienne calls his brother to find out what he should do.

"Hello?" Edmond answered.

"Edmond, it's your brother. I have a problem. Adelaide," Étienne paced. "She's haunting my bathroom. I have a ghost."

"Étienne… There's no such thing as ghosts. Maybe you should call Mom."

"I know, it sounds crazy. Do you remember Mom insisting Dad was there, in the workshop?"

"No, Étienne. I was in Guadeloupe, sacrificing for the motherland."

"Sacrifice. Two years in the accounting office of a banana plantation in the Caribbean. Only you could land—"

So do I allow them to tease each other? or do I stick to business?

The emotional side of writing

My husband always says I'm happiest when I'm writing. My husband's happy when I'm writing the naughty scenes. On Wednesday, I was having one of those days where I was in a good mood (a very good, excitable mood) and I was still working on my outline and I got to a scene that recalled one of the male POV character's pivotal experiences in his youth that helped construct his sexual identity.

Doesn't that sound way more academic than I meant it to.

It was a scene that signaled the beginning of the end, the denouement if you will. The bad guys and the good guys get tangled a bit. Étienne and the female witch Flidais end up... well, having a special sort of battle. Flidais enters Étienne's mind and reads his memories and discovers that he harbors a bit of an interest in his mother-in-law. Nothing serious, nothing he'd act on, merely the impressions of a 12-year-old boy.


"Circa 1971, the 12-year-old boy sewed with his father, waiting for the coveted moments when Marthe-Georgine came into the shop. Her Chanel purse quickly opened to offer expensive bittersweet chocolates. Her bosom pert and her body an hourglass unlike the soft and undefined shape of his mother or the budding promise of the girls at school. She would step behind the screen to try her garments and he would hope for a stray glimpse of her silk and lace undergarments, so unlike the white cotton things his mother hung in the bathroom. Young Etienne loved the camisoles, the slips, and the seamed stockings of a lady who remained a lady even beneath her clothes."

I also have a line in there about him realizing years later that the smell that seemed attached to her skin was actually Chanel No. 5 (which his wife also wears).

This passage, which I merely reread and refined that day, had me on edge ALL day. I came home still excitable, and while my husband put my daughter to bed I continued the outlining project. That was my mistake. Because the chapter after the one that excerpt comes from has Étienne and Basilie getting into the worst fight of their relationship, followed by a life-threatening tragedy and a kidnapping. So, I was a tad depressed after reading that.

And for some reason, the next day, I realized I could make a small edit to the first volume of the manuscript and have a cameo from a very important character. Étienne's first love. I have a scene where all the guys go out drinking and end up at a jazz club and I thought, wow, since Arlette is a singer, they could go hear her sing, and her brief (800 words) appearance could cement Étienne's typical behavior (I've billed him as a flirt with a rich history with the girls) and serve as a link for later volumes in the series.

But I didn't have time to write. My job needed my attention, as did my family, but I managed to carve 15 minutes out before my daughter went to school and another 15 while she was in school. The results thrilled me. Because it also helped Étienne's relationship with his brother. Here's the culminating end of the scene.

“As soon as that girl opens her mouth,” J.P. said to Edmond, “he’s drooling like a teenager.”

“Our relationship ended thirty years ago,” Étienne replied. “Why can’t I appreciate her?”

“Appreciate?” Edmond responded. “Is that what it’s called? Where are your hands? Keep them on the table where I can see them. My first love won’t speak to me. Étienne’s sits on his lap. I hate my brother.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Project obsession

So, I'm in the middle of Chapter 23 with my new outline. As mentioned Monday, I'm outlining the original draft of my second draft to see what happened. I'm selecting the passages that I think are absolute gems and compiling a spreadsheet of those. Then, I also outlined the changes on the current draft on a chart that includes various characters, subplots and magical/symbolic objects. I had to add another chart: a timeline of who was sleeping with whom when, and I may need another one of these for the third book.

This book has been my 'problem child.' I have worked very hard to improve the pacing, tighten the plot and make sure the level of realism remains consistent. I have struggled with the balance of these items and the story's basic plot of a haunting, coupled with the underlying theme of emotional and physical impotence.

In completing this outlining exercise, which is not exciting but allows an intimacy with my manuscript, I have realized that the book is more solid than my brain has perceived. The problems are not insurmountable.

This is great news. I start school again in less than two weeks, and while I have completed all of the technical chores that keep my family going, I must admit I have been obsessed and mentally absent since I began this project Saturday. But, less than seven chapters to go! Wish me luck!

Monday, January 11, 2010


I hate outlines.

When I work on a first draft, I hastily scrawl something that could pass for an outline as I go. It's more of a "I can't forget to do this later" list.

When I progress to a second draft, I outline the first one and what happened and rearrange the events as needed.

But sometimes that's hard and not as clear cut as I'd like.

I received iWork version 9 for Christmas. I purchased the original version of this software when Mac Minis came out about five years ago. The Mac Mini has since died, but iWork keeps going strong. With my latest MacBook, I didn't want to sully it with any Microsoft products. Just a goal of mine. And since Pages, the Apple version of Word, imports and exports as Word docs and PDFs, there's no reason I can't use it. Plus we have Word on our old iBook, so I can check the formatting of the file before I send it off to anything official.

My hatred of Microsoft is fodder for another day.

iWork includes three elements: Pages (Word), Keynote (PowerPoint) and Numbers (Excel). My original version (1.0.2) did not have Numbers. So I decided to play with it, partially because I keep hearing how other writers plot in spreadsheets. I prefer random scraps of paper, but I lose those pieces of paper, so I thought a computer document might be good.

I started with a simple chart of the old manuscript:
Chapter -- Character -- Item done really well that I'd forgotten about -- How to use

On my second worksheet:
Chapter -- POV -- Summary

On my third worksheet for the current revisions:
Chapter -- POV -- Summary -- then tabs for each character and plot theme and what happens in those various items in the chapter as I get the revisions done

My four worksheet:
An exact replica of page 3 except this one is for chapters I haven't revised yet and what I want to put in them

I'll keep you posted how it works.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

My constitution

I know my next blog entry isn't due until Monday, but I'm inspired. I attended my first quasi-official PLRW (The Pocono Lehigh Romance Writers), the local chapter of the Romance Writers of America. In the previous meeting of this group I attended, I found them amiable, nurturing and very serious about their writing. While they may not all be published, they all work toward something, which I don't always feel is the case with some other writers I know.

So, they set goals every month. And announce them. The newsletter editor publishes them and then she asks the following month whether or not you met your own goal. I am competitive. I am deadline oriented. This is a good thing for me.

I said I'd finish revisions to chapters five through eight of my second novel.

The speaker today was member Nisha Sharma. She spoke about applying Asian time management techniques to your writing. I had to leave earlier because of my daughter's dance class, but she really got my applying the same skills I normally use it my own life to my writing. I won't go in depth about her talk, because its her talk. But here's her web site:

Now the first couple steps of her system involve writing a letter to cheer yourself toward your goals for the new year. Here's mine:

We’ve had a great few years with the wonderful support of family. I think you’ve managed to make positive steps toward reinventing yourself when many of your colleagues from the journalism industry are still bitching about not having a job.

I think you’re a tad crazy for going back to school, but you’re setting a good example for your daughter and stimulating your own intelligence, which will come through in your writing. So with all of this going on, keep with the writing. I know you keep wondering if realistically writing is an endeavor that makes sense, but it makes you happy, as your husband says, and your husband likes when you’re happy. It will come together.

Then she said to set goals and list them in priority order. Here are mine:
Finish revisions to book two
Finish the "prequel"
Begin revisions on book three

Next she instructed us to make a plan of how to do these things and assign a reasonable time frame. So...

Finish revisions to book two
HOW: revise at least a chapter a week
have daily uninterrupted writing time, no Facebook, email, or iPod, or drinks
TIME: the book should be finished around 25 weeks, or six months. Get the book cleaned up by July-- though Spring Break should be the time to REALLY move it forward

Continue/ramp up trying to ‘sell’ book one/agent/ Web?
HOW: network with folks, read more, internet research
TIME: -- submit a query a week, minimum two a month

Prequel/market as paranormal romance
HOW: chapter outline, then revise beginning to get in swing, write synopsis and use this piece as the center of your membership in PLRW/RWA
TIME: before the PLRW may workshop, have a synopsis and a chapter outline for that manuscript, and July is devoted to the prequel, writing

Begin revisions to 3
HOW: read in August, not before. Outline the third manuscript as succinctly as possible by the end of August.
TIME: August and fall 2010

This almost seems doable, doesn't it?

Friday, January 8, 2010


Our critique group took a break from the normal 'story edits' stuff and we looked at each others' synopsis. We've been critiquing together for about six months, and in some cases, the manuscripts created confusion about what we're trying to do. We thought a synopsis, and 'revealing' the end, might help us as critiquers.

This brought up the question of what really is a synopsis. I thought, based on my experiences, that a synopsis summarized the main events and characters of the novel and told the ending. You can't hide the surprises. It's not a type of publicity blurb that might go on the back cover or the inside jacket. It's something the editor or publisher wants to read to know your concept, test your writing skills and judge how original your whole treatment is without actually taking the time to read the book. They want to judge how good your book is, without reading it.

As writers, we're also told to have a concise, ten to thirty second long elevator pitch. My elevator speech/pitch is easy. The first book is Stephen King rewriting The Devil Wears Prada. The sequel is less flashy, but is something like "Fashion designer must defeat supernatural villains to heal the fractured soul of a dead friend in order to save her, and himself."

The trick of the synopsis is to maintain your writing voice and not to write a ninth-grade book report. Sometimes, it helps to read as you type. There seems to be something conversational about this endeavor...

This is an excerpt from mine synopsis for Book Two of the Fashion and Fiends series, Courting Apparitions:

Mount Bethel, Pa., February 2003. Etienne d’Amille hasn’t felt much like himself lately—not since he suffered a heart attack after finding his surrogate daughter Adelaide Pitney dead of suicide in his bathtub. He’d always worried about the prospect of dying young like his father, but the reality of it hadn’t sunk in until that day. Five months later, the frenetic French fashion designer and his 32-week pregnant ex-wife, Basilie, return to the United States to sell the house where she killed herself.

It’s only a matter of days before they discover Adelaide left something behind—her ghost.
So, while heart medication and depression have stifled Etienne’s joie de vivre, creativity, and legendary capacity to reduce any woman to putty, he now must deal with voices in the night, eerie dreams, premonitions, and visions of Adelaide. The d’Amilles quickly learn that Adelaide did not clumsily end her own life. Instead, mysterious photographer Galen Sorbach murdered her for her magickal powers. Etienne doesn’t believe in ghosts, and he sure as Hell doesn’t believe in magick.

Etienne isn’t the only one freaked out by Adelaide’s earthly return. When Galen coerced Adelaide into surrendering her water-based elemental powers, he thought he’d gained the final segment to master his magick. But, Galen noticed his aptitude in fire magick didn’t return as it should have with Imbolc and its promise of spring. Then, Etienne saw something that had disturbed Galen for months: Adelaide’s traits surfacing through Galen’s body.

Now I'm going to skip ahead to the very end:
Each member of the d’Amille family must offer Adelaide what they carry of her, and Etienne must place the final kiss on Adelaide’s unembalmed year-plus-old corpse to give her rest. Adelaide has one last act before she goes, she reaches into Etienne’s chest and heals his troubled heart.

This particular synopsis is three pages.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On Conflict

A good friend of mine said to me last night, "sounds like a great conflict."

Another good friend several year's ago reminded me that each character needs an external and an internal conflict.

As writers, we must torture our characters.

I never intended to write a series. I hate series. Typically, stories that run in series read like one great big story with very slow pacing. Or perhaps, more so, pacing that feels the same in all the books. And after several books the rhythm becomes predictable.

The friend who reminded me about internal and external conflict wanted a sequel to my manuscript, the one I'm marketing to agents now. I knew in my head what happened next, and in telling her, she became captivated and asked me to write it. So I did. The third volume came purely as therapy when I lost a job and needed to distract my own brain from my troubles.

At that time I had a two-year-old and I wrote 180,000 words in 31 days (July 2007). Whenever my daughter slept, I was at the keyboard.

This is what my experience with a series taught me:
  • Each book needs to "up the ante." In other words, the bad things that happen to the characters/ their struggles need to increase significantly with each volume. To keep the reader interested, to keep them guessing, and to make sure they can't predict your writing.
  • If the characters change, their internal conflicts must change with them.
  • One character should be struggling with a conflict across the entire series. The end of this conflict should signal the end of the story.
If I look at my first book, the following items happen:
  • One person dies, one person almost dies
  • There is a car accident
  • There is a medical emergency (not related to the person who dies or the person who almost dies)
  • The reader witnesses two murders.
If I look at my favorite character, he experiences the following in the first book:
  • Relationship issues (who doesn't?)
  • He *gains* something he never expected he would
  • He loses a friend
  • He has health issues
In the second book, he:
  • copes with losing his importance in his own company
  • becomes impotent
  • has a bad leg AND a bad heart
  • hangs out with the wrong woman
  • must rescue his wife and newborn son from a bad situation he caused
  • survives a serious house fire
And in the third book, he:
  • corrects #1,2 & 3 on the list above
  • has an affair
  • almost loses his wife
  • ends up tortured (literally)
In the end, his wife is the hero(ine), and there is a "happily ever after" ending, but see what they must endure first? Oh, I am so evil.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Deadlines and expectations

I have impressed myself with my ability to get my second novel edited over the holidays. I shouldn't be, as I know myself and how obsessed I become when I'm in the midst of a project (plus how exhilarated I get when writing).

In a discussion last week with novelist Molly Cochran she mentioned the importance of writing everyday. When you don't write everyday, she said, you lose track of where you are and where you are going.

Oh, yeah, I agree with that. On the same token, I don't believe a writer has to write everyday, but a serious writer should. Treat it like a job. An amateur writer who wishes to improve himself/herself must follow this advice, because it takes a certain amount of focus and craft to work on a project without continuity.

I know. I know because I am a mom, a college student, a community volunteer and an employee of a local non-profit. I started these revisions over the summer and submitted them to my critique group. In early December, right before finals, I ditched the first chapter and wrote a new one. I started changes to chapter two.

After Christmas, I thought I could finish them one evening. More than three weeks had passed, and when I opened the chapter, I had no idea where I was or where I was going. I spent the entire evening reading my most recent revisions. And then I realized I didn't like the new chapter two, so I started outlining another chapter two.

Now, over the last four or so days I have fixed that chapter, cleaned up and added some stuff to chapter three and edited chapter four. But most of that success is because I have been working on it every day. Yes, inconsistently for an hour or two here or there as my family life allows.

But every day.

And it makes a huge difference in the quality.

This brings me to my blog. In talking to other writers, most are setting goals to update their blogs weekly or twice a week. I guess I'm a little nuts for doing this daily. In order to give myself some breathing room, I'm going to post entries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Writers, Readers and Friends

A friend of mine asked if she could read one of my stories some day... every time she mentions it, I had brushed the thought aside. She's a "new" friend who works at the local library and has a European background and a literary taste similar to mine.

As writers, we gather friends around us who are other writers, readers, or "bookless" folk. When one of the more "bookless" friends asks to read something, I always worry it's just a polite offer to show interest in something I do. I avoid dealing with these offers. Until they get wrapped up in my literary pursuits some other way.

Now, writer friends fall into two camps: the anxious and the reluctant. Both are dangerous. The anxious writer friend wants to read you as soon as possible, as if to judge you and base your friendship on what your words do. These writers can be dangerous. They're the ones that can sometimes push too far in "helping" and try to influence your work in ways you don't want and then you're stuck telling them their ideas suck.

The reluctant reader is the writer friend whose voice you respect, and you want to read their stuff because you like them so much (becoming the anxious reader from above) and you want to know if they like your stuff. Almost like seeking compatibility as much as moral support. But you don't want to ask or be pushy.

My new friend is a reader, and readers are the best friends writers can have. They read the work and react to it without trying to influence it. They are honest without looking for things to fix and they can read the work without pushing their own style on it.

But as a friend, considerate writers need to remember not to overwhelm their reader friends with too many requests. That's why I'm often reluctant to take advantage of a new reader friend, because that level of intimacy changes the relationship. As the author, you have certain questions you want to ask, but you don't want to become a pest or desperate.

So, if you ask to read my stuff, remember this.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Sequel Chapter two done (hopefully)

So, a few weeks ago I was thrilled to revise the first chapter of my second book in my series. I finally came up with a concept that worked. A concept that conveyed all the items and tensions I needed, with action and compassion and characterization.

Chapter three is strong. Chapter four is even stronger.

But chapter two... well, with a new chapter one, I had to toss chapter two to the dogs. It didn't make sense. For days, I have puttered around the house trying to come up with what I needed to do in chapter two. Oh, the mundane realities of what came next were easy, but as I sat down to write, I realized, 12 pages in... I had pertinent information, but nothing that advanced the plot.

I had too many new characters introduced, random conversations in the kitchen, detailed getting ready for bed rituals, even 800 words on how to cover a bruise with make-up.

So I needed to consider my objectives for the chapter and list my housekeeping items:
  • acclimate the reader to the layout of Étienne's house
  • foreshadow some of Étienne's relationship struggles
  • develop a secondary character, but not ALL of them, not in the same chapter
  • construct more of an identity for the deceased character
  • have the characters find the secret sketchbook
Now, in addition, I tend to write my chapters almost like short stories, with a central action. So I needed something to fuse these ideas.

At it's simplest, chapter one breaks down to this:
The main character heads to a bar, meets an old acquaintance who dated the now deceased character, has a hallucination and gets into a fight.

Chapter two now goes something like this:
Character goes home, has heart-to-heart with old friend/employee and in the morning, they pack deceased characters clothes until her parents arrive.

How can such simple things cause such pain?