Sunday, May 30, 2010

The iPhone Cure

After my house guest left last night, and I couldn't bring myself to end my recent streak with writers block, I read most of "The Education of Madeline," a western historical romance thanks to the daily book snippets emailed to me via Suzanne at "Dear Reader" book clubs.

I enjoyed it, and it had a bit of unsuspected intrigue. By the end, I was tired of all the attempts to have "different" sex. The premise was a spinster asks someone to educate her in intimate matters, and they fall in love. (My problem was that nothing her tutor suggested ended up making her uncomfortable. In any way, physical or emotional. But anyway...)

So after finishing that and enjoying the rain storm, I found myself inspired but I was away from all the computers and didn't feel like searching out a pen/paper. I used my iPhone to write a few random paragraphs, and although they didn't fit any of my projects, they felt good.

Now I want to write more, but what?

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I have allowed myself to suuccumb to writers block. I don't believe in writers block. But I cannot deny that this has happened.
I would love to blame it on my health or the stress of not having a job and not making ends meet.
But excuses don't fix problems. I am wallowing and I hate myself for it.
The only cure for what ails me is a couple hundred or thousand words.

Has my quest to write a marketable manuscript destroyed the love?

Now wait--
all my stories are marketable. So, WHAT story would be inspirational AND fun AND hot?

And who's buying?

Some quality time with the iPod and something that makes writing a crazy game. That's the ticket!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Return to writing

So, I haven't written since Monday. I had pledged to let my synopsis rest, and start revisions (especially with the change from a military presence to a terrorist one) but it didn't happen.

To make matters worse, I didn't write anything.

This morning I've already revised a few lines of my synopsis.

But it's hard "to get moving again" when you've already "let the ball drop."

How do you get motivated?

Any way you have to.
Set deadlines.
Bribe yourself.
Make incremental goals.
Try a different project if the old one has you burnt out.
Write messier than usual/don't be so strict with yourself.

But write.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Major Plot Revision

Any writer who's approaching a deadline, whether imposed by someone or yourself, should know that it's always best to let a work rest for as long as you can, then review it, then revise it and send it.

In daily newspapers, you're lucky if you get 15 minutes to walk away from it.

In weeklies, you can build a day or two into a story's timeline to give it time to breath.

A synopsis is no different.

In this case, a friend asked to read mine. He's sent me the suggestions and I haven't opened the email yet because even though we had lunch and I know some of what it says, my fragile ego can't bring myself to open it.

(That is a BIG run-on, consider it reflective of my nervousness in this project.)

We're talking about Allegheny Beast. Over laughs and pizza, my friend Bill, my husband and I brainstormed changing the "villain" from the oh-so-cliché evil military compound to a paramilitary operation outside the government, or an evil pharmaceutical company, or a terrorist cell plotting biological weapons.

This is what is must feel like to work with a team of writers on a TV show. The ideas get bigger and better.

Now, why on Earth would I take a finished manuscript I had planned to submit to a major romance publisher's paranormal imprint and decide at the last minute to change the villain?

This isn't "let's make a few edits" or "tweak a character," this is major overhaul.

Yep, I'm crazy that way.

Like it wasn't enough to flip-flop genre, let's change characters too.

Such is the artists' life: You can't run from the impulse when your gut and your heart agree you'll have a stronger, more marketable manuscript.

For the record, this is not the same as the perfectionism I feel when I try to get Étienne's "frenchness" right in the Fashion and Fiends series. This is a change that improves the marketability of manuscript, not just me trying to be authentic.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Clues to building a synopsis

Somewhere around Tuesday, I finally found my voice for my latest synopsis.

Having complete these pesky detailed outlines for three other manuscripts, you'd think it'd be easy.

It's not.

Writing never is.

The trick to writing a decent synopsis is to remember you're proving your storytelling abilities, not merely outlining your novel. If you proceed in a "this happens" "and then" format, it sounds like a middle school book report.

But unless you have a gift for these things, finding the right voice for a synopsis can be tricky. It needs to evoke the mood of the genre, capture your craft skills and reveal what happens in the book, in a way that makes agents and editors want to read the book.

I don't have the answer for how to achieve this, but a synopsis is a detailed pitch followed through to the end of the book. So, I like to think about how the words sound when I'm typing them focus on flow, clarity and brevity.

Since this latest project is a paranormal romance, I have to focus on not only the murder mystery, not only the supernatural elements, but also the love story. And, being me, I need to find a way to write it so it doesn't seem sappy.

In my case, for the Allegheny Beast project, I've constructed a reverse outline to guide me with the synopsis. I've taken the manuscript and made an outline of what's actually in the story. Now from there (and yes this is time consuming and that part of it makes me crazy) I'm creating a detailed synopsis that has everything in it that I think might need to be there.

It's currently 924 words, and I expect another 500 before I finish. I'm not going to submit something that huge with my first three chapters. This will be my starting point to edit. Those of us who hail from the newspaper industry prefer to start with too much and whittle down than risk putting a story in the news hole and have blank inches staring back at us.

And we're not afraid to delete words. It's part of the process.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The conversion continues

A week and two days ago, on May 8 to cite the precise date, I came home from LA Banks' Fire Up Your Fiction workshop energized and convinced I could transform my paranormal suspense manuscript into a paranormal romance in about a week.

I have a tendency to make lofty goals.

The scary thing is: I usually achieve them. This time I did not, and the "failure" was intentional. I could very easily transform this manuscript if I lock myself in my office and write 24/7 until it's done. Author Molly Cochran might even encourage me and say that's a good thing, if it gets the job done and moves me further toward publication.

But selfishness is not a problem for me. In most areas of my life, I can be selfish. I also can be altruistic, but it's not natural for me. Blame it on my Taurean side.

I want to be a productive writer and a good mom. This is no different than dilemmas other people face. Some people balance a "real-world" career and writing. Some people balance jobs and hobbies. Some people struggle with the right blend of family vs. community/volunteer commitments. I think a politician faces this dualism daily. A politician (or a celebrity?) has a private and a public life.

So while I have undertaken this project because I think the market is right for it, I also need to NOT make myself crazy. If I strive to hit a self-imposed deadline and succeed, have I put forth my best effort? Will a week or a month make that much difference in the long run?

You could argue that markets change rapidly. Well, if that's the case maybe I've already missed the boat. Or maybe, if I get my manuscript mailed on Friday, it arrives in X place on the manuscript pile and gets on the desk of editorial assistant Ms. I-Hate-Werewolves, whereas maybe if I send it on Monday, it ends up in Y place, and Ms. I-Live-For-Shapeshifters reads it. You never know. Luck factors in greatly in this game.

I joined PLRW (the Pocono-Lehigh Romance Writers, our local chapter of Romance Writers of America) because my stories have always been relationship-driven and I know I can do this. I resisted because most of my stories have realistic (unhappy) endings. But if I can still tell the same story, make the main characters overcome with a happy ending AND sell it, who cares?

It's about hope. A good story gives up hope for humanity.

I had meant this entry to be an entry of what I've done on the manuscript lately. Yesterday I listened to some of the editor podcasts from Harlequin. I'm interested in their Silhouette Nocturne imprint. I'm having trouble with the synopsis. I can't decide how much detail to put in.

My friend Tiffani encourages me to write it as detailed as possible before I decide.

To that end, I'm revamping my manuscript outline to have a paragraph for each chapter. This is something way more organized than I usually do.

I also have concerns that my heroine doesn't have "good enough" supernatural powers. So I beefed them up, which in turn heated the conflict. Of course, I'm starting to worry I've tread into the area of major rewrite as opposed to edits, but comes with the territory I guess. Though I also must remember part of this exercise is to practice "production writing," the kind where I expend my energy selling the text and not tweaking every last word for literary perfection.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


I finished a solid draft of Allegheny Beast yesterday, rewriting portions to make it a romance instead of a suspense book. I sent it to a friend to read, and he so kindly pointed out all the obvious errors.

Whenever you're working on a project, trying to change the essence of what it is-- in this case changing a manuscript from suspense to romance-- leaves you open to intimate errors. An intimate error is an error made not because you've failed to do the research or build a compelling character. It's an error that you overlook because you have grown too intimate with the subject matter.

In my case, I wrote a new chapter one and moved the old chapter one to chapter three. I forgot to move the exposition from that original chapter one to the new chapter one.

This is a key reminder of one of the prime editing rules for any type of project. Always read what's on the page and track where it is and where it belongs.

After you read something 1,000 times, you start to see words that aren't there.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Multiple projects

Thanks to inspiration from Saturday's workshops, I have decided to convert my paranormal suspense manuscript into a paranormal romance. The story was already a love story, but it had a rather heartbreaking ending so switching the genre is more or less a matter of changing it to a happy ending.

Then I can submit.

So, I was in the middle of changes based on the input from my critique group on Chapter Seven of Courting Apparitions. And in my head, I'm still working on Chapter 17 of Courting Apparitions (it's a sexy chapter and I'm in the mood). Plus while walking to school, I decided to edit the beginning of the manuscript of Courting Apparitions to edit out Adelaide's parents.


So, with just that, I have two projects underway and seriously something I'm actively working on:
1. Courting Apparitions, the second volume of my Fashion and Fiends paranormal chick lit series
2. Allegheny Beast, my former paranormal suspense about to become a paranormal romance

But I still want to work on the historical paranormal YA set in 17th century Ireland. And the post WWII werewolf short story.

I think this is a time to devote energy to whatever project feels like I'd be most productive on... and make sure I devote extra effort to the project that I think I can sell.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Inspiration L.A. Banks style

Every writer will tell you that a writing conference or workshop with a serious full-time author will inspire all of us who are struggling to move from unpublished to published, and energize those who are published but perhaps "only" ebook writers or writers who haven't even hit mid-list. Yeah, it can be a brutal business.

So, to spend the day with the gracious and humorous L.A. Banks (and have a fantastic dinner with her last night) can indeed inspire.

She, like her friend Jonathan Maberry, has an incredible energy about her. They share a philosophy which feels so right for anyone in any field: Stay true to yourself and stay positive. Whatever energy you expend into this universe, send positive vibes. Never jinx a project with your own negative thoughts.

Some highlights of the day:
  • Ask yourself questions about your work. How is it different? What are the hot trends of the marketplace and how does my book fit? Can my project fill a void in an underserved market? What current movies are similar to my project?
  • Find new communities to expose to your work. Have your writing group and/or critique group help you brainstorm marketing opportunities? How can multimedia trends serve you?
  • Work conferences to find new communities and to have face time with agents and editors.
  • If you're not sure what regional dialogue sounds like, call the local Wal*Mart.
  • Don't underestimate the sense of smell.
  • What is not said is as important as what is said.
  • All classic stories follow the model laid out in Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Managing projects

My work on the werewolf short story was stalled by the 18-page essay I did for my take-home final in my French history class. Last night our critique group met, and it was only four of us, with three of us presenting chapters. I presented Chapter Seven of Courting Apparitions.

The beauty and agony of working with other writers in a critique format is when other people are right.

I leave these critique meetings feeling energized about my craft, but when they articulate problems that either I didn't notice or I thought I had fixed, it can be demoralizing. That is part of the process. And once you establish a relationship with your critique group, you learn to lean on certain members to find certain things.

You can rely on me to nitpick about tight sentence structure. One member of our group is what I like to call a visual reader, because she seems to visualize every detail in her mind and will let you know if anything seems out of place or confusing with the logistic flow especially with moving people from place to place. Another member seems very into verbs.

They also have opposite tastes when it comes to some things, which is good, because it shows how some readers will like what another reader doesn't.

But mostly, they start poking around in a chapter talking about the tension and the action and sometimes I realize, I've missed the boat as the author. That my text, which so clearly has a mission in my mind, has fallen completely flat on the page. Other writers will know what I mean when I say that sometimes you write something beautiful, with no particular flaws except one: it doesn't move the story forward as you intended. Then, the reader might ask, "Did I miss the point?"

As an author, I've had several experiences where people said this about a scene. So, I look at it and I read it. Removed from the creative impetus that spurred it, I no longer remember why it seemed so perfect. I cannot say why I wrote it.

And so it must go. The scene gets deleted. Or, as might happen with this manuscript, characters get deleted.

Yes, I am starting chapter 14 of Courting Apparitions, my second serious full draft, and my critique group has pointed out that some characters aren't adding anything.

So, they are between Chapters 7 & 8, and I have made the decision to remove Helen. But I'm not going backwards now. She will no longer exist from this point forward and I'll fully remove her in the next draft.

Hopefully we fix Pierre and Jules. There's been some rustling that they don't belong, they feel extraneous. They shouldn't be. They earn the right to be salvaged. But poor Helen, she's gone.

No matter what your project, you have to be willing to dismantle something that's not working, no matter how beautiful it looks.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

No verbs?

My cousin contacted me last night looking for information on a French novel.

In 2004, a French author under the pseudonym (or shall I say nom de plume) Michel Thaler published a 233-page novel called "The Train to Nowhere" in which he used no verbs. For the Francophiles, the French title is "Le Train de Nulle Part."

Wikipedia cites it as an example of a "constrained novel." Apparently this movement has other authors with other self-imposed restrictions, including a book called "Void." "Void" does not use the letter E.

So my thought for today is this... How creative are you? Can you write under restrictions? Do you need freedom or can you handle rules? In my view, we all think we have total freedom as artists, but as soon as we hear "tips" or "rules" that might help us get published, we adapt the ones that make sense to us.

Too many prepositions.
Too many adverbs.
Too many independent clauses linked with a conjunction.
Too many run-on sentences.
Sentence structure that does not vary.
Too much passive voice...

Sample from the text of the Train to Nowhere:

Quelle aubaine ! Une place de libre, ou presque, dans ce compartiment. Une escale provisoire, pourquoi pas ! Donc, ma nouvelle adresse dans ce train de nulle part : voiture 12, 3ème compartiment dans le sens de la marche. Encore une fois, pourquoi pas ?

Fool's luck! A vacant seat, almost, in that compartment. A provisional stop, why not? So, my new address in this train from nowhere: car 12, 3rd compartment, from the front. Once again, why not?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The werewolf short story

I have begun my werewolf short story (and my final essay for my French class, so when one bores me I can work on the other).

I wrote 300 works on it yesterday, got some positive feedback from several friends, but my husband was the first to point out I have no "hook."

So I started the next stretch of the story keeping an eye out for that potential hook, and I got an additional 125 words before my daughter woke up.

The reality is, especially as a mom, first drafts stink because you never get a chance to sit, write and focus. Writing becomes disjointed and grabbed in brief minutes when you can, where you can.

Like this blog: some days I write long, well-thought out entries and some days I present a few scattered sentences. Today is a scattered sentence day, because my mommy obligations are at the forefront.

It's really no different for writers who work for time or have other commitments (like those deep in the process of marketing their first or current book while writing the next). The reality is you keep writing and you can't make excuses.

The werewolf story proceeds, even if 100 words at a time. I will fix it later, once I have a first draft to fix. It's easier to fix a first draft than to create a story out of nothing. The author with a bad first draft has already surpassed the writer intimidated by a blank page.