Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Precious Moments


My daughter loves it when I pick her up from school. It's rare that I actually get to do that since I'm at work all day. Her daycare usually picks her up and then I go get her after I'm done with the day job.


Yesterday, though, her school let out at 1 p.m. for a teacher work day. I told her the previous day that I'd come pick her up and her eyes just lit up. So I was a little frantic when I got there a few minutes late. Of course, there were cars everywhere, kids everywhere, and I'm trying to find a parking space. When I finally did, I thank God I've been working out since I had to do a bit of a jog to get there.


I saw my daughter standing in front of the school, all warm in her hat and mittens, and she was looking for me, her eyes scanning the multitude of parents coming to pick up their kids. When I finally got close enough for her to see me, I waved and she broke out into the biggest grin I've ever seen. She actually started running and I think I did, too. And then she launched into my arms for the biggest hug in the world.


I don't mind saying that I shed a few happy tears. What precious moments. And there will be a day when she's a teenager and she'll roll her eyes when she sees that I'm late and get into the car ready to reprimand me.


But for now, I'm going to treasure these moments when I have a first grader eager to see her mom. :-)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

New Web Site



Since I changed my internet service provider (upgraded to fast, cable-based internet instead of dial-up!), I had to move my Web site. I've often wondered why I have a Web site in the first place. I'm not a published author as far as novel-length fiction goes, but I do want to establish a presence with my nonfiction history articles, so decided to go ahead and keep it. With this new "upgrade", I figured I'd simplify things. The result is here: Official Web Site of Melissa A. Marsh.

Nothing fancy, and it was all done using Earthlink's free software, etc. But I hope to add a few features in the future, specifically focusing on World War II. And I'd also like to have a series of articles that go deeper into the writing craft.

One particular feature that I wasn't really planning on (but had the inspiration for last night) is my Writing Challenge. I found some great copyright-free photos from the online FDR library and wanted to post them, but I felt I needed something a little more. So, if you're ever in the mood to write a story set in World War II, take a look at the pictures and see if they spark your muse. I'm willing to post the stories on my Web site or blog (but I reserve the right not to post them if they're inflammatory, etc., etc., etc.).

While working out last night, I had a brilliant idea for a particular snag in my novel and couldn't wait to go home nad work on it. Unfortunately, this also made me work out a bit harder than normal and I came home sore. Ah well. The things we sacrifice for our art. ;-)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Successful Weekend


I spent a lot of time doing exactly what Snoopy is doing on the cover of this book - I'd write a few words, get up and pace, sit down and write a few more. Guess that's how I work when I edit. I need to get everything straightened out in my head and can't lose myself in "flow" at this stage of the game. I'm thinking it shouldn't take me too much longer to finish editing the manuscript - the first half is the part that needed the most work, but I'm pretty pleased with the second half.
I also didn't leave the house all weekend. I know that sounds a bit strange, but when you're gone every single day for work, the weekend is the perfect time to just kick back and relax. I worked on my novel both Saturday and Sunday and got quite a bit accomplished.
Saturday we got hit with the snow storm. First it was a thunderstorm - yes, a thunderstorm with lots of rain and thunder. It rained all day long and then about 6 p.m., the rain turned to snow. Thick, wet flakes, and lots of 'em. But the absolute strangest thing happened about an hour after it had started snowing. I was watching the snow fall outside and then there was this huge lightning flash and then a giant clap of thunder. I have lived in Nebraska my entire life and I'm used to weird weather. But this was just bizarre. Lightning while it's snowing outside?
I'm continuing my own personal study of the writing craft with a book called Creating Character Emotions. Can't wait to dive into it.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The First Line: Part II

Last time we looked at some examples of narrative hooks and why it's so important to have a good opening line. Now let's take a closer look at exactly how to accomplish it.


In Stein on Writing, Sol Stein says, "A novel is like a car—it won't go anywhere until you turn on the engine. The "engine" of both fiction and nonfiction is the point at which the reader makes the decision not to put the book down. The engine should start in the first three pages, the closer to the top of page one the better."


Here are a few ways to achieve that opening hook:


1) Surprise - if the reader lifts his or her eyebrows the instant he/she reads your opening line, they'll keep reading. A surprising opening from the examples I referred to in the first post could be the sentence about the character wanting to strangle his mother, but knowing he'd have to touch her to do it.


2) Action - we're taught that you should always start a novel/short story in the midst of action because today's readers just don't have time to wander through a lot of backstory. The first line is the perfect place to do that.


A good example of a line that starts with action: One minute before the explosion, the square at Sainte-Cecile was at peace. (Ken Follett - Jackdaws)


But be careful not to let your opening hook be so unique that the rest of the paragraph that follows falls completely short of your promise. Noah Lukeman looks at this problem in his book, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.


"The most common problem is a hook that stands on its own, in the worse sense. In this case, the text that follows seems to be of a whole different work, and in retrospect the hook seems more of a one-liner, a gimmick to catch attention. The reason this is so is because the hook really is not part of the text. The solution therefore is to bridge the gap, to make the hook and text integral to each other." (pg. 155).


Perhaps the best way to really understand the power of an opening line is to take a look at the books in your library. Read the first sentence or paragraph. What makes it work? What makes you want to keep reading? Does it work at all?


Thanks to everyone who posted examples of their opening hooks. I loved reading them.


I hope this mini workshop has been helpful! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Slight Delay and a Little Fun



Apologies for not posting the second part of my two-part look at first sentences. Life got a little in the way today and I didn't have time to devote myself to the project the way I wanted to. I hope to have it done either tomorrow or over the weekend.

Meretta had a point in the comments on yesterday's post, though. It's important that we have good first lines at the beginning of every scene and every new chapter. This keeps the reader turning the pages. And what about the end of a scene or chapter? I'd say it's important to have good lines here, too, for the same reason of keeping the reader turning the pages.

In the interest of fun, I'd love to read some of your first lines, whether from the beginning or end of your novel, scene, or chapter.

Here's some of mine:

From my very first novel, Possession, a Regency historical (a manuscript that will undoubtedly never see a publisher's desk because, let's face it - it's my first novel and riddled with errors).

The Comtesse d’Rouget lived in a perpetual state of cold.

and

“My dear Lady d’Rouget,” he murmured, allowing his gaze to slowly travel the length of her, “I have nothing but time for you.”

Here's one more:

By the middle of the first act, Nicolas felt as though his senses might explode.

And some from my current novel, Love Thine Enemy, an inspirational WW2 story.

For the first time since George’s death, she felt peace.

and

By the middle of the afternoon, Bess felt as wound up as a piece of barbed wire.

and one more:

In the age-old practice of men everywhere who are haunted by a woman’s face, Erich immersed himself in his work.

Your turn!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The First Line: Part One

The first line of fiction or nonfiction is important for a variety of reasons. But it must, above all, capture the reader's attention.

In Sol Stein's book, Stein on Writing, he explores this concept through a mixture of examples, his experiences as an editor, and his teaching methods.

Stein says, "It is astonishing how much the first words of a novel or story affect editors, reviewers, and readers. They are the trigger of curiosity, what writers have long called the "narrative hook." (Stein, pg. 17)

Let's take a closer look at the narrative hook.


Take a look at these sentences, examples that Stein himself uses to teach us the importance of the first line.

Yank Lucas fell asleep late one night and left the gas burning on the kitchen range. (John O'Hara, The Instrument).

Are you immediately intrigued by this sentence? Do you want to know what's going to happen next? Then the author has done his job.

Let's look at the next one.

"What's the matter?" she asked. (James Baldwin, "Going to Meet the Man")

We're immediately drawn into a situation where there's conflict and tension.

And here's an opening line from one of Stein's students.

I wanted to strangle mother but I'd have to touch her to do it.

Wow. Look at the wealth of information in that one line. Are you intrigued? Do you want to know more? Again, another successful opening line.

Here are two questions that Stein suggests you ask yourself about your opening sentence:

"1) Does it convey an interesting personality or an action that we want to know more about?

2) Can you make your first sentence more intriguing by introducing something unusual, something shocking perhaps, or something that will surprise the reader?" (Stein, p. 20)

Look at the first sentence of your work. Does it grab your attention? If it doesn't, go back and think about revising it until it does.

Tomorrow, I'll dig deeper into the importance of the first line and the first paragraph and explain a few other ways to achieve an intriguing opening.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Quick Note...



Quick post today - yesterday was a very nice day. I think the secret to working at home (at least for me) is getting out of the house at least once during the day and interacting with people. I went into the office after dropping off my stepson at school to send myself files to work on and that seemed to set a nice tone for the rest of the day. I didn't have the afternoon blah's that I usually get (although there was a moment of panic when the sound didn't work on my computer. Had to reboot it to make it work!).

For all you James Bond fans, Rene kindly told me this news: Casino Royale has a DVD release date of March 12, 2007. That's less than a month away.

But I haven't marked it on my calendar or anything. (Yeah, right.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Ahh...The Good Life


These are our two St. Bernard's, Tiny (left) and Missy. Tiny is only half-St. Bernard, but Missy is full-bred. She's about a year old and I don't think she's done growing yet.
I'm at home today since my daughter doesn't have school (although my stepson, who is in middle school, does - go figure) . I'm officially still "at work" since I'm just working from home today. I caught my dogs napping earlier this afternoon and had to take a picture. The temperatures are climbing into the 40's, breaking us out of the cold snap we've been in. As a result, the ice and snow are melting, creating a rather soupy mess in the backyard. These two don't seem to mind, though.
I sent my partial off on Saturday and was quite pleased with the small changes I made. I read Sol Stein's chapter on first sentences and how invaluable they are. It made me look at my opening again. I figured out a way to edit it and now it holds much more meaning. I'll blog more about Stein's advice later this week.
I'm always intrigued at what craft books writers find helpful. I've always enjoyed Deb Dixon's GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict and just recently discovered Jessica Morrell's Between the Lines. Do you have any favorites?

Friday, February 16, 2007

New Eyes


When a German POW at Fort Robinson looked through the barbed wire fence of the POW camp in 1943, this is what he saw: a long stretch of barren grassland and tall buttes rising in the distance.
Granted, this picture was taken in the bitter cold of January while I was on a research trip, but it still conveys the wide open spaces of Nebraska - and the desolation. I can't imagine what these German POWs thought when they arrived in Nebraska. To a city boy from Berlin or someone from the Black Forest region, Nebraska had to look like the end of the world.
But there's something special about this place. I don't know that I realized it when I worked as a waitress at Fort Robinson during the tourist season back in college. I think I was too young, too caught up in the thrill of being on my own, to realize the power of this military post on the plains.
During the summer, it's beautiful. Thick, dark green pine trees grow on the buttes that surround the fort. There's cottonwood trees and lush, green grass. But there's also dirt and dust that whips into your eyes when the wind blows. You can smell the horses (I should know - I lived right next to them in the stable guard), but you can also smell sweet, pine-scented air. Majestic brick buildings, small cottages, sweeping verandas, horses, and buggies - all convey the sounds and sights of history.
My current novel is set at Fort Robinson at the end of World War II. It's been a true delight to be able to go back to this place on research trips and look at it through completely different eyes. To see it through the eyes of a German POW...or a war widow from the big "metropolis" of Lincoln, Nebraska... that is the challenge I face.
There's something to be said for looking at a place you've seen a hundred times before and seeing it with new eyes. It's times like this when I thank God I'm a writer.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Random Thoughts

I took hubby out to lunch yesterday for his Valentine's Day present, and of course, I had to look at all my daughter's valentines when we got home. (And snuck a bit of candy...hehe). My daughter loves Valentine's Day. I guess I did when I was that age, too, before the whole relationship angst kicked in.

My second article is up at Suite101. I'm having a blast with this new gig. I love being able to pick and choose what I want to write instead of having it assigned to me. Makes the whole process a lot more fun!

But because of this new freelance opportunity, I haven't looked at my novel for a few days. And really, that's ok. I think I needed a slight break from it. I don't feel too badly about it because hey, I've still been writing. Writing nonfiction for awhile offers a nice balance. Hopefully tonight I can crack open the laptop and look at it again. Or maybe I'll just wait until the weekend when I have nice long slices of uninterrupted time. Wait a minute...I have kids. There's no such thing as long slices of uninterrupted time! I've learned to adapt, though, and if I get pulled out of my story for some emergency, I can usually pop right back into the flow once I sit down again.

Short post today - nothing too pressing or illuminating in my brain on this Thursday morning. I attribute the below zero temperatures!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My Absolutely Wonderful Husband


Yes, I'm gushing. Why? Because when I showed up to work this morning, I had a wonderful surprise. A huge Snoopy-Lucy ballooon, a musical card, and a dozen roses!


Hubby completely surprised me. He'd said that he would try to take me to lunch today if he could get away from work, so I wasn't expecting anything. But he left early this morning to take the kids to school and hand-delivered my presents to work before I got here. What a sweetheart! I was completely blown away.


Yeah, I really love that guy. And he's not just romantic on Valentine's Day. When I received two rejections on Friday, I called him and was upset. I know rejection is part of the game, but I just needed a moment to vent. And what does he do? He shows up with a bouquet of flowers and a paperback novel. Wow.


Despite our problems in the past, we've stayed together, worked through them, and are now stronger than ever. And why? Because we honestly and truly love each other - we love to spend time together, we love to laugh and talk, and be with each other. And more importantly, we celebrate Valentine's Day every day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

In My Free Time...


I'm a little...ok, a lot excited about my new freelance gig. I just joined the team of contributing writers over at Suite101. The best part? Well, besides earning a little extra cash, I get to write history articles on the topic of my choosing. If I want to write an article about the OSS (the precursor to the CIA), then by jove, I'm going to do it. In fact, it's on my list of upcoming topics. I just published my first one tonight on German POWs in America during World War II and I can't wait to get started on some more.
So what if I don't get paid a lot? For me, the thrill of seeing my name up there next to my article(s) is enough. This will only increase my experience and it will look great on my resume. And who knows where it will lead?
If you get a chance, pop by Suite101 and look for me in the history section!

Monday, February 12, 2007

My Music


My taste in music is all over the place. I like just about everything. I used to like country music, but hardly listen to it anymore. My latest love is music from the 40's and 50's. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Dean Martin, and Rosemarky Clooney are just some of my favorites. I also love all the big band stuff - Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw, just to name a few.
But I'm also enjoying American Idol alumni Chris Daughtry, and I love listening to Top 40 hits on Sirius radio. I'm also delighted that Sirius is turning their standards station into "Siriusly" Sinatra and Nancy Sinatra will host a few programs.
For me, music is integral to writing. If I put on a collection of World War II-era songs, it helps me truly capture the mood of my World War II novel. When I wrote my Regency historical, I listened to a lot of Mozart and Bach. When I was deep into my Northern Ireland novel, I listened to The Devil's Own soundtrack and a lot of Celtic music.
What about you? Can you write with music or does it distract you? And if you do write while listening to music, is there any particular artist or song that really puts you in the creative mood?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Saturday Musings


It's been a quiet day around the house. We slept in this morning (well, hubby had to go to work, but the two kids and I indulged), watched a movie, and then I decided it was time to tackle the laundry. My stepson did the dishes, took out the trash, swept the kitchen, and fed the dogs (all without being told! - Yeah, he's a good kid) while I worked on vacuuming, folding laundry, and stuffing more laundry into the washing machine.
This afternoon I've been working on query letters, bills, and putting away all those clothes I folded. Ella Fitzgerald has been keeping me company with some great music, and the basement office isn't too cold.
The kids and I have also been playing a Snoopy the Red Baron Playstation game. It's adorable. Since I collect Snoopy, hubby rented the game for me just so I could see what it's like. I love it when he does spontaneous things like that. :-)
On tap for tonight...I just put some supper in the oven and I plan to work on my novel. I also might crack open Sol Stein's Stein on Writing. It's been quite a few years since I looked at this book and I know I've grown as a writer since I last read it. I'm eager to jump into it and see what words of wisdom I can taken away from it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday Fun



As anyone who has read my blog knows, I love Fridays. Love them. Why?

1. The work week is over!

2. Two full days of no work are around the corner.

3. Saturday morning is tomorrow - and I can forget about setting the alarm clock.

Your turn. What is your favorite thing about Fridays?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Vandalism!

Around 9:55 p.m. last night, we heard a car spinning its wheels. My first thought was that someone was stuck, even though we only got about an inch of snow yesterday. But as hubby went outside to investigate, we found something quite astonishing.

There was a truck on our lawn spinning his wheels and doing cookies. When hubby yelled at the driver, the truck then proceeded to knock over our mailbox. Now we've had our mailbox knocked over before, and our intrepid neighbor rigged it up so that our mailboxes would be on a concrete stand and thus inflict a bit of damage on any vehicle that decided to run into it. We haven't had any problems with it - until last night.

Of course, the culprits drove off before we could get a license plate. Hubby went after them to see if he could at least find the vehicle and get the license plate. It turns out that ours wasn't the only lawn they were messing with in the neighborhood. Hubby never did see them again, but he's keeping his eyes open.

It just floors me how idiotic people can be. I'm pretty sure the driver was probably drunk or high on something. It takes a lot of guts - I call it liquid courage - to do that kind of stuff while the homeowner is standing there watching.

On the writing front, I took the night off. I finished reading my book and my daughter asked me if I wanted to do a "fun activity." LOL! I said of course and so we started coloring and drawing. She was a tired girl last night, though, and sort of mixed her metaphors when she said, "I'm so tired I could eat a whole elephant!" Ha!

Have a good Thursday...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Am I Crazy?



Lots of people I know come home from their day jobs, have supper, help the kids with the homework, then kick back and watch a couple favorite t.v. shows, read a book, or indulge in a good board game.

Then there's me.

I work the day job, go home, have supper, fire up the laptop, help the kiddies with the homework, write a little, throw in a load of laundry, go back and write some more, get the kids ready for bed, and sneak in a few extra minutes of writing. After all, I only have four hours to work with from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. And while four hours might crawl at work, they fly by in the evenings.

Last night, sitting on the couch with my laptop, I thought, "Am I crazy?" I don't come home and relax in front of the t.v. or crack open a book or sit in my chair and do some knitting. And you know what? I sort of envy the people that get to do that. I work an eight-hour job, come home and do all the normal routines (kids, supper, housework) and then get right back to work with my writing.

I know I'm not alone. A lot of writers do this - work the day job, come home and take care of the family, and squeeze in some writing time, either in the morning before work or after the kids are in bed.

There are times, though, that I wish I could come home and just relax - do all the normal routines, but then know that I have a few hours to kick back and read a book, play a game, watch a t.v. show, etc. But the writing is always there, hovering at the back of my mind. You should be writing. You want to be writing. Go write!

So I write. And hope that one day, this crazy routine will stop and the day job will be my novel writing so that I can have those few hours in the evening to spend with my family without worrying about the writing. Idealistic? Probably. I'm sure there will be many times when I'm on deadline that I have to ignore the evening activities and plant myself in front of the computer.

So to answer the question, yes, I am crazy. But I'm a writer. For me, the two go hand in hand.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Rule Number One

When you're trying to sleep at night and an utterly brilliant thought for a novel hits you, make sure that the pen you grab on your nightstand to write down said idea, in the dark, on your handy-dandy notebook, actually has ink in it.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Character Development


If you've ever watched Pitch Black and the Chronicles of Riddick, you'll see the perfect take on character development. Vin Diesel plays Richard Riddick in these futuristic, sci-fi movies. In Pitch Black, he's a dangerous convict feared by everyone aboard ship, but in the end, he's the hero. The interesting aspect of this is that Riddick is not a nice guy. He's a criminal. He's a hardened killer who won't blink an eye about his profession. Throughout Pitch Black, we see little chinks in his armor, small glimpses of a better man trying to seep through. But those positive aspects to his character never take over. He's still not a nice guy in the end - he just ends up saving the ship and a few members of the crew lucky enough to survive.
In Chronicles of Riddick, Vin's character is given a different task. He suddenly is the one prophesized to overtake the evil lord of a race of people bent on converting everyone in the solar system to their religion. Riddick is still that same bad guy with a heart as cold as ice. He's ruthless, hard, and viscious. But bit by bit, there are other aspects of his character that come out. His vulnerabilities. His need to avenge his people. His conflicting feelings for Kyra, a woman who has emulated him since she was a young girl (her character is Jack in Pitch Black.) And ultimately, his conflict with himself - a ruthless killer who must become a savior.
There's an interesting scene with Riddick and the evil lord. Riddick wants to destroy him once and for all and he says, "You've taken away everything I love." Talk about a line. Suddenly, we learn that Riddick isn't just a block of ice - he's a man with feelings. Layers, peeled away at the right time, all part of his character, all essential to his true nature.
In my novel, my character is an embittered widow who lost her husband at Normandy. Since I'm editing and rewriting right now, I'm really finding out that there's a lot more to her than I originally thought. At first, she was a bit immature, a bit selfish. But now that I'm starting to dig deeper, I'm finding that there's a maturity to her I wasn't aware of. It made me realize that what I saw at first glance - who she was in the first draft - isn't who she really is. That was just the surface. Just as we first think that Riddick is a heartless, ruthless killer, that's only our first impression. Yes, he is that - but he's so much more.
As I delve further into my character's motivations, into her conflicts and struggles, it's amazing to see her develop. And it's also deeply humbling to know that I've been given a gift that allows me to look into the human character and uncover and understand the intricacies of who we are.

Friday, February 02, 2007

An Original and Exciting Title Here


It's occurred to me that my posts of late have been anything but exciting. I have no new nuggets of wisdom to impart nor do I have any witty anecdotes to share.

I attribute this lack of orginality to the fact that my sinuses are still clogged. Too bad there's not a Mr. Clean you can shoot up your nostrils.

It's been a week now since I've contracted this awful stuff and while I feel tons better than I did a week ago, I still don't feel 100%. So to cheer me up, here are a few things that have happened this week that have made me smile.

1. My daughter asked me to get out my old, decrepit laptop that is just gathering dust in the closet. She saw me working on my new laptop and wanted to do the same - even to the point of sitting on the couch and putting it in her lap. She started typing a short story about a skeleton and a tiger. I can't wait to see how it ends.

2. I persuaded hubby to stop by Wally World (Wal-Mart) last night (since he works right across the street from it) and buy me the new Chris Daughtry CD. I am in love with his song, It's Not Over and thanks to the magic of Amazon.com, I heard a preview of the entire album and decided to buy it.

3. It's Friday. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Moving Right Along


Even though I'm still not 100%, I decided to ignore the sink of dirty dishes last night and opened up the laptop. And I got to write for the first time in about a week. It felt great. Oh, how I love to immerse myself in my fictional world, especially when the real world is teetering on its axis a little too much.

If you're a writer, what's your favorite part about the writing process?

One Day at a Time

I've always tried to live with this mentality: One day at a time. Unfortunately, when I implement it, I fail spectacularly. But for this...