Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Writing Goals: 2011

I got hit with some sort of flu bug yesterday that left me exhausted, achy, and headachy. I slept most of the day, but by last evening, I was feeling somewhat better. I decided to open the laptop and look at the novel largely because 1) my daughter told me it was strange that I hadn't worked on my novel in awhile and if she notices I'm not writing, then it really has been too long and 2) my brain finally felt ready to tackle something other than Christmas gifts, travel plans, and family get-togethers.

I'm back in the writing saddle again, so what better time to make some goals for 2011?

So here they are, for all the world to see:

2011 Writing Goals

1) Finish novel by end of January. Completely do-able since I have about 15,000 words left to write.

2) Edit novel by end of February or March. That's a flexible enough goal (I love flexible goals!).

3) Start querying agents.

4) Begin work on next novel in April.

5) Start stretching myself with my writing projects. Instead of just my freelance work and my novels, I need to write some articles (which I jotted down ideas for yesterday) and maybe even try some short stories. Haven't done either of those in awhile.

Of course, I'm not going to beat myself up if I don't make these goals by a specific date. I've been tough on myself in the past and it just backfires. Besides, I also have some other, non-writing related goals that need to take top priority in my life related to my health. When my health isn't good, the writing suffers, so this is a win-win situation.

Your turn! Do you have any writing goals for 2011? Do you give yourself flexibility with your goals, or are your deadlines hard and fast?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Home

Wow. What a weekend.

Christmas is always fun when you have a billion different places to go in only two days. We went home to western Nebraska again and had a grand time, but this morning, I am just exhausted.

Still, I am very thankful for the time I had spending with my family. We played games, ate lots of yummy food (remind me to get on the treadmill every night this week!), talked, laughed, and enjoyed each other's company.

I received some lovely Christmas presents, including a very special one from my grandmother: a pair of earrings that my grandfather gave her years and years ago. I'm wearing them now. :-)

How was your Christmas?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Edition

While browsing through my archives, I came across this meme and thought it would be fun to see how things have changed in five years! Feel free to use it on your blog (with your answers of course! lol)if you're like me and can't think of a good blog post. ;-)

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?

Hot chocolate, though strangely enough, I have not yet had a cup this season!

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
Santa has been unmasked, therefore, we will not be getting any presents specifically from Santa. It was a rather sad moment for me this year.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
I always use white lights on the tree and they must not blink. I don't know...just a thing with me, I guess. I think blinking lights is one more symbol of commercialism. (Wow, maybe that's going too far, but I had to think of something more profound than simply that they annoy me!)

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
Nope.

5. When do you put your decorations up?
I always make myself wait until after Thanksgiving. After that, it depends on when the spirit strikes!

6. What is your favorite holiday dish?
Homemade raviolis and butterball soup (the first dish is Italian, the second is German-from Russia). If anyone doesn't know what a butterball is, click here. I blogged about it a few years ago and I'm still getting hits on that particular post.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:
We had a set of vinyl records from Reader's Digest - "An Old-Fashioned Christmas." I used to listen to them over and over again. One song in particular captured my imagination and I created an entire dance complete with characters and a story. I can still do that dance today (though probably not as well) and I can tell you exactly what the story is. And yes, I still have those records. :-)

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
Hmm...y'know, I don't think I ever truly believed in him. How sad is that?

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
Yes - at Grandma Lucy's house. Every. Single. Year. Part of our holiday tradition. We also always eat butterball soup on Christmas Eve!

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?
This year, I went with a new theme - gold, red, and green with gold beads and ribbon. I also include all of my ornaments from my childhood and those my children have made.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
Love to look at it- hate to drive in it.

12. Can you ice skate?
Barely. I tried it once when I was in junior high. I remember falling a lot.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
I don't think I had one in particular. I do remember getting a very cool pink cassette player from my parents that I loved.

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you?
I love celebrating Jesus' birth, spending time with my family, the decorations, the Christmas carols, and the spirit of giving!

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
Either my grandmother's homemade cherry cheesecake or frosted sugar cookies.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
I'm starting a new one. I have a book of Christmas stories by Nebraska author Bess Streeter Aldrich that I want to read every year. This is my second year to read them and they really put me in the Christmas spirit.

17. What tops your tree?
An angel!

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving?
I love to give! Nothing better than seeing their eyes light up when they open their gifts!

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman
Carol of the Bells
O Holy Night
Santa Claus Came in the Spring

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?
Yuck!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Resistance

It's been a few days since I've looked at the work-in-progress. I'm nearing the finish line and have a lot of loose ends to tie up. But I'm encountering some resistance.

I've blogged about resistance before, but this time, it's a bit different.

You see, my character has to do something that is going to significantly impact his life - and the lives of those around him - and not in a good way. I am having a hard time writing this stuff simply because I don't want to put him - and everyone else - through the misery that is about to come their way.

So I have resisted writing this next part, even though I know it is needed to push the story forward. But our characters can't have shiny, happy, perfect lives, now can they? The real world doesn't work that way - and neither should our fiction.

Have you ever encountered this type of resistance in your own writing?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bittersweet

I finally got the question last night from my daughter.

"Mom, is Santa real?"

I was wondering if this would be the year she asked. She's ten years old and it's probably natural that she would put two and two together by now. Besides, she and her friends talk about this stuff at school. The catalyst for this conversation was her telling me that one of her friends saw her mom putting presents under the tree.

Instead of coming out with a straight, "No, Santa is not real," I decided to take a different approach. I told her about St. Nicolas and how the legend had sort of evolved over the years into its present-day belief.

But I wanted to make sure that she understood one thing. "The spirit of Santa Claus is very real," I told her. "The man himself might not be, but the spirit of giving is."

Then I kissed her goodnight, turned on her CD of music from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and quickly left before she could see my tears.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried. Part of her childhood is forever gone. But that is how it must be. I will miss preparing the elaborate notes from Santa on Christmas Eve and seeing her excitement at the presents he brought her on Christmas morning. But I will always have the memories.

Monday, December 13, 2010

So I Was In My Pajamas...

My Christmas Decorations This Year
Every year, I like to have a little Christmas gathering at my place for some relaxing music, hot tea, yummy treats, and good conversation. This year I decided to invite my two wonderful critique partners. I sent out the invitation and suggested we meet at my place for this month's critique and have a nice Victorian-themed tea party. The only difference was that we would meet in the afternoon instead of the morning. My two friends thought it was a wonderful idea.

I was quite excited. I have some beautiful china that my mother gave to me and I couldn't wait to use it. I went and picked up some treats (all the sugar cookies we made last weekend were gone!) and went to bed Friday night mentally preparing what I had to do in the morning.

I woke up earlier than usual on Saturday. Outside, it was bitterly cold with snow falling and the wind blowing. But I knew my comfy, warm abode would be the perfect respite. Besides, we would be talking about writing and eating scrumptious food at the same time. What could be better?

Around 10 a.m., I was still in my pajamas and my husband had just finished cleaning (he even mopped the kitchen floor!). My phone rang. The ID said, "Building." (Our apartment's intercom system is linked to our cell phone). I answered it and two chirpy voices said, "We're here!" To which I responded, "Who is we?", thinking someone had buzzed the wrong apartment.

But no. It was my two critique partners. They had forgotten that we changed the time to 2 p.m. and were instead meeting at our regular time - 10 a.m.

All my intentions of preparing my home - candles lit, music playing, tasteful spread of tea and goodies on the table - went down the drain. Instead, I rushed to throw on some clothes, pulled my hair in a ponytail, put some water in my kettle to boil, and tore open my cookie packages and threw cookies on some plates.

But you know what? It was completely ok. We had a wonderful time. We laughed and joked, had a great critique session, and thoroughly enjoyed each other's company.

"Now you have material for a new blog post!" they told me when they left.

Yep. And we also made a great memory!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Ode to Stubborness

My daughter and I started a Christmas puzzle Sunday evening. It's a scene from the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer movie, and we've been working on it a little each night.

Last night, though, I really was on a roll in putting it together and reached a point where I knew I could finish it that evening. My reasons for wanting to finish it were twofold:

1) I'm having company on Saturday and didn't want the puzzle mess spread out all over the coffee table

2) I love the challenge of puzzles and was having fun

After watching me work on it most of the evening, my hubby said, "You're so stubborn." Then he helped me put every last piece in place. By 9:30 p.m., the puzzle was complete.

Yes, I am stubborn. Sometimes too much so. But I don't necessarily consider stubborness a bad thing. It keeps me from quitting when things get tough. And in the writing business, things can get really tough.

The huge onslaught of recent rejections for my last WW2 novel left me disillusioned, yes. But instead of refusing to write another word, the rejections spurred me to keep writing. I'm now nearly finished with my next novel and I think this particular work has come from a deeper place than my last novel. I'm really enjoying the process this time around, and even though it's had its share of pitfalls, I've taken a slightly different approach. I've just let God guide me. And it's working.

If you're going to succeed at this writing game and be a published novelist, you have to be stubborn. You must not quit. You must work in the face of rejection, of your own evil inner editor, of potential bad reviews and bad sales. You must clench your jaw, put up your fists, and fight the forces of doubt and fear. You must be stubborn.

So I raise my glass in a toast to my stubborness. Without it, I wouldn't be the writer I am today.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Blog Tour: Diane Parkin's Night Crawler

I'm giving the blog over today to my good friend and fellow writer, Diane Parkin. I "met" Diane through blogging some five years ago and when I went to England in October of 2008, I had the privilege of meeting her in real life! I had a lovely time with her at her home in South Yorkshire (along with her two cats!).


Diane recently released her first book, Night Crawler. It's an amateur detective murder-mystery set in Birmingham, England, and features a unique female protagonist: Marcie Craig, a rock DJ who makes a living from her love of music, rides a Harley Davidson, and lives in a trailer park in Meriden, England.

A short synopsis:
Easter, 1996: /Rock DJ Marcie Craig sets out to solve the murder of a young junkie whose boyfriend is the prime suspect in his death. Marcie doesn't believe he did it, and she's determined to find the real culprit. It's a dangerous road, though, and she winds up putting her own life at risk to find the truth.

What gave you the idea to write this story?
“I knew I wanted to write a mystery novel set in Birmingham but I didn’t know where to start. Everyone told me to write what I know but I didn’t think I knew enough about anything interesting. The only thing I did was work or go out to rock pubs and clubs, so I settled on the local music scene. I needed a protagonist and came up with an amalgamation of all the rock DJs I had ever known, then I made her a female and put her on a motorbike. Marcella was a favourite name and Craig was the professional surname of one of my DJ friends.


“The milieu gave me my scene of crime and it was easy enough to place a victim there, but I needed a reason for Marcie Craig to get involved, I needed her to care. So I had an old friend of hers falsely arrested and charged."


What was your writing process like?
“I wrote copious character notes for all of the main players, I wrote a detailed chapter-by-chapter breakdown, I made timeline notes as I went along. I drew a map of the murder scene and I made a detailed timeline for the actual murder so I knew where everybody was.


“I wrote the first draft by hand, every day, making notes of things I didn’t know, and then I carried out my research interviews. The second draft was also in longhand but this took into account what I had learned. The first typo-free typed draft went out to my “experts” for checking, and all of my factual errors were corrected, most of the feedback was also incorporated. Then the second type-written draft was produced and the polishing process begun.

“I did two more handwritten drafts before the final print-ready version. Then years of submissions began.”

Why did you decide to self-publish? 
"The book was completed by the end of 1996 and in 1997 it started to do the rounds. I hawked the manuscript to publishers and agents for more than ten years, building in many of the suggestions they made. While many were genuinely interested, the only company that offered to publish it ran out of money. Spurred on by mostly positive feedback, I decided to have a go myself and 'get it out there'."

Why did you go with Lulu?
"Lulu is a print-on-demand self-publishing organisation that offers authors various levels of support. With so much editing experience, however, I decided to do everything myself. I did all of the editorial and technical work and even sourced my own artist for the cover. Lulu is available to anyone with internet access and offers various distribution services and packages. Every book gets an ISBN."


Visit Lulu.com and purchase Night Crawler in hardback or digital format.

Learn more about Diane by visiting her blog. I, by the way, am jealous of all the snow she's getting in her little corner of England!

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Stress-Free Guide to Christmas

First, start with your grandmother's rolling pin. It's full of love and lots of memories.

Make sure you have lots of flour on hand since you used the 1/2 fat margarine in the cookies and they're really, really sticky.

Make lots of different shapes and bake until done.

Enlist the help of your incredibly creative, funny, and adorable daughter.

Make sure you have more than one project going at a time.

Watch the roof of the gingerbread house slowly slide apart and frantically try to fix while still baking cookies.

Wait too long to fix roof, realize frosting has hardened, and decide whether or not to abandon project.


Decide to decorate gingerbread house anyway because you might as well.

Be very satisfied with the finished product, even if it looks nothing like the model on the box.

Thank hubby for coming up with the ingenious "patching" for the gingerbread roof.

Display the finished product with pride!
And, of course, laugh and laugh and laugh some more during the entire process. Make memories, forget about the rush of shopping, listen to old Christmas carols, and enjoy spending time with someone you love!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Friday Fun: Your Favorite Christmas Song

I am a sucker for Christmas carols. I love listening to them all through the month of December. When I was a child, we had a Reader's Digest set of Christmas records and my mom graciously gave them to me a few years ago. It's simply not Christmas without those songs. I even bought a record player expressly for the purpose of listening to those old vinyl records!

Recently I've really been into the Christmas songs from the 1940s. I'm a traditionalist, so these songs fit me perfectly. I'd have to say Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole top my list of favorite Christmas singers.

Narrowing it down to one favorite Christmas song is hard, but I've always been a huge fan of Bing's God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. A close second is Nat King Cole's Christmas Song. And Burl Ives and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? A classic!

I've tried to listen to the "updated" versions of Christmas songs by current pop artists, and I just can't do it. Give me Bing, Nat, and Burl anyday.

What is your favorite Christmas carol?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kansas City Adventures!

We did something a little different for Thanksgiving this year. Instead of heading home to western Nebraska, we decided to travel to Kansas City and take in some sights. It's only a two and a half hour drive (compared to the six hour drive to western Nebraska!) and since we had four days of vacation, we decided to take the plunge!

Now we did get lost and made several illegal traffic maneuvers (heh), but the hubby and I managed not to kill each other and our first stop was the Toy and Miniature Museum. (I don't have any pictures of it since photos were not allowed.) My daughter absolutely LOVES miniature stuff and this place had thousands upon thousands of items in dollhouses and displays. Absolutely amazing how people can make things so small!

The next day I had to stop at the Victorian Trading Company's retail store. I drool over their magazine every month, so I had to go and see all this great Victorian stuff in person! I wasn't disappointed, either, and browsed to my heart's content and made a few purchases, of course.

Then we headed out to Cedar Cove Feline Conservation Park and Education Center located in Louisburg, Kansas, about 20 miles from Kansas City. As my daughter wants to save the tigers when she grows up and is a HUGE big cat lover, she absolutely loved this place.

Look at this gorgeous Siberian tiger:

Most of the animals here are rescues. It still amazes me that some people in this world think they can have exotic animals as pets and expect them to behave like domestic animals. One woman bought a leopard as a companion for her Rottweiler dog. Are you kidding me??? So I'm very thankful that they have places like this that will take these animals and give them a forever home. And even though the pictures show them all in cages, rest assured, they get out and play!


Once back in town, we headed down to Crown Center and saw the ice skating rink, a huge Christmas tree, and visited Chip's Chocolate Factory. Ohhh. Good, good stuff to be found there!

Sunday we met my best friend and her husband for breakfast - it was great to catch up with her. She is like me in so many ways...down-to-earth, realistic, and sensible. We both have our master's degree in history and we both married men that like to cook. Thank goodness, since neither of us is too great in the kitchen!

It was a great trip overall, and we'll be making the drive down there again in the not-too-distant future. There's some other great museums I want to visit next time like the World War I Museum and the Jazz Museum, not to mention all the great shopping.

How was your Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

To Make You Laugh

This morning went just like every other morning. My daughter and I both got up and got ready - she for school, me for work.

It was cold this morning and I made sure she wore her heavy coat, and I grabbed my gloves. Autumn has definitely come to Nebraska. We trudged to the car, neither of us very happy about having to leave our cozy apartment.

At the school, I dropped her off, wished her a good day as I always do, then started driving away. A lady in a jeep flagged me and I rolled down my window.

"You know they don't have school today, right?"

"What?!? No, I didn't!"

So I drove back to the school. My daughter was still in sight and I honked the horn, then got out of the car and beckoned her over.

"You don't have school today!" I called.

She started grinning and ran over to me. Once in the car, she said, "I looked in the window and didn't see any backpacks hanging on the hooks. The school looked haunted!"

Oh me, oh my. Thank you, Lord, for sending a good samaritan! If that lady hadn't stopped me, my poor child would have been at the school all by herself and I don't know what she would have done!

In my defense:

1) Yes, I checked the calendar to make sure she had school today. I obviously looked at it wrong.

2) I don't drop her off directly in front of the school, but in a little cul-de-sac behind the school. Thus, I avoid the barrage of cars that congregate every morning in front of the school. But this morning, my drop-off spot didn't show me that there were NO cars in the parking lot!

Thankfully, my daughter has a great sense of humor and she wasn't upset with me at all.

One thing she said on the way home, though, made me laugh out loud:

"I have to write about this, Mom!"

Like mother, like daughter!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Be Thankful

This week, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. Usually it consists of lots of food, football, and family!

So tell me. What is one thing you're thankful for this year?

I'm thankful for my wonderful, awesome family!

You?

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's the Little Things


I'm one of those people that really enjoys the little things in life. I don't need a fancy car or a fancy house, designer clothes, lots of money, or lots of stuff. Besides, you can't take all that with you when you go to the pearly gates. :-)

For me, it's the little things in life that make me giddy. For example, yesterday I saw a post on my Facebook page for a CD compilation of old Christmas radio shows/programs that were aired during World War II. The price? $5! Needless to say, I had to spread the word to my fellow World War II-enthusiasts! And yes, I've already ordered it. :-) (If you're interested, here is the link).

I'm also a sucker for finding incredible resources in researching my novels. Yesterday I found a book written in 1938 by the Federal Writers' Project (started during FDR's campaign to get the country employed again during the Great Depression) and it is the perfect, and I do mean perfect, source for the novel I'm currently working on. Best of all? I found it at my local library - no cost involved!

Other little things I love...

1) My cat curled up at the foot of the bed. Something very cozy and calming about that.

2) Candles lit in the living room. I love the atmosphere!

3) My dark chocolate!

4) The perfect writing day equals a gray, cool, cloudy day outside and me inside next to the fireplace. It's amazing how content and utterly happy I am on such days.

5) My daughter's incredible sense of humor and imagination.

6) A yummy snack on Friday afternoons.

I could go on and on. Sometimes I feel a bit silly for getting so much joy out of simple things, but really, that's what truly matters in this life, isn't it?  And in this season of thankfulness, we need to take a moment and savor those things that mean the most to us.

What are some of the little things in your life that you love?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reading Tastes

I am curious.

Am I the only one who will start reading a book, put it aside, then pick it up weeks, or maybe even months later?

After leaving the library today with another armload full of books, including one I'd previously tried to read, I wondered about this. The only conclusion I came to was that it wasn't the right time for me to read the book in question.

I've done this several times, so it's not just weird blip on my reading radar.

Granted, there are some books that I read for a bit, then toss aside never to pick up again. Others, though, beckon me again and I usually pick them up and thoroughly enjoy them.

What about you?

Monday, November 15, 2010

News: A Catch-22

I am a political news junkie.

Lately, though, I find that I'm in a much better mood when I don't surf the political blogs (both conservative and liberal - I like to read both sides of the story), check out the comment boards, or peruse the mainstream media websites.

Man, that stuff can really get my blood boiling. Which makes me question why I do it in the first place. I can only think that I am a passionate person with passionate beliefs and very firmly held views of right and wrong.

But when it starts wearing on me, leaving me physically and emotionally exhausted, that's when I need to step back and re-evaluate why I'm reading the news at all. Is it because I like the conflict (thinly disguised as opposing ideas) or because I want to become more enlightened? A little of both, I'm afraid.

So I take breaks. Sometimes they're long ones. I can go for a week or more without checking out the latest political scandal, and my blood pressure thanks me for it. Then something will happen and I'll get sucked right back in.

Right now, I'm declaring the news (at least the political news) off limits for awhile. Time to sink into my story and lose myself in my characters' world for awhile.

What about you? Are you a news junkie or a news phobic?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bliss

Yesterday, I spontaneously decided to take Friday off. We've been involved in a massive project at work and I was just worn out. Plus, my brain has been too full of "work-related" junk to focus on the novel. It was the right decision.

Today was absolutely lovely.

I slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, wrote a bit, then met my brother (who is visiting here with his family) for lunch, then came home, turned on the fireplace, lit the candles, turned on the classical music, and got to work on the novel.

Glorious.

It's been a nice, low-key day, exactly what I needed.

And I even have a bonus to end the day on: it's snowing! :-)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day 2010


To all the veterans, past and present, who have served the United States of America, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
God Bless You All.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

UPDATE: An Important Message

You would think it would be common sense: If you're a print magazine (or even an online magazine), and you see a photo you would like to use, contact the person who owns the photo.

Suzanne McMinn runs an amazing blog, Chickens in the Road. I have featured her here before as an intelligent, thoughtful, and altogether inspiring woman.

She is the victim of theft. Suzanne had one of her photos stolen and used in a magazine without her permission or knowledge. She has contacted the magazine and not only have they not recognized the photo as hers, but have refused to do anything about it.

This is unacceptable.

Suzanne is fighting this blatant theft, and if you'd like to lend her your support (because as artists, whether we are writers, photographers, or painters, we need to protect our work), you can visit her website to find out all the details, including information on where to email the publisher of the magazine.

And if you've never been to Suzanne's website, you're missing out! She is a former romance writer who moved to the wilds of West Virginia to start her own farm. She is funny, witty, and just plain awesome. And I'm standing behind her on this blatant disregard for her creativity and urge you to do the same!

UPDATE:

Victory! The publisher of the magazine called to apologize, and is sending her a check to cover the use of her photo (plus a bit more). Read here. Thanks to anyone who helped spread the word! That is the power of the internet!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Stubborn or Stupid?

Books set during World War II  - especially those that involve a love story and are not thrillers - are a hard sell.

I know this because I've got the agent rejections to prove it.

But that is what I write. Since I want to be traditionally published and at this point, am not considering e-publishers, I've had to deal with some emotional turmoil at the constant stream of, "Hard period to sell" that I'm hearing.

And yet...no one said this writing-for-publication gig would be easy.

My next novel-in-progress, which I should have completed by the end of the year, is also set during World War II. Since I'm planning this as a three-book series, I've got two more novels to write, and already have a rough outline in my mind as to the storylines.

Since World War II is a "hard time period to sell," I could chuck the whole lot of them and write something that does sell.

But I'm not going to.

I would not be true to myself if I did that. I don't want to lose my soul in this publishing business, and if that means I have to hold on a little longer to see my dream come true, than that is what will have to happen.

I've prayed an awful lot lately, asking God what He wants me to do. I get frustrated with the whole thing, but then I realize that these are the books I was meant to write. These are the stories I'm in love with. And I don't want to be published so badly that I will cave and write a story I'm not in love with.

Maybe this is a harder path. Maybe I should do myself a favor and write something that will get my foot in the door, and then roll out my World War II novels. But I can't fathom taking this route. Why? Because as we all know, you can't just write one book and then write a second book that is completely different from the first. You don't gain a following that way and you don't create the all important brand that way, either.

Is this stubborness or stupidity?

I'm not sure. But at this point, I'm sticking to my guns.

What about you?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Nerves of Steel

Admit it.

To write, you must have nerves of steel.

Even when you feel like you have nerves of wet noodles.

You need even more steel running through your veins when you start submitting to agents and publishers. Obsessive email checking, anxiously awaiting the postman's arrival, and checking Publisher's Marketplace for the latest new agent alert can be daunting. Yet if you want to be traditionally published, you have to go through it.

When I started querying agents for my first novel, those rejection letters hurt. As I've progressed to querying my second and third novels, those rejection letters still make me wince. But they don't hurt as bad as they once did.

That's a good thing. It's a sign of growth, of my thin skin being toughened up and growing thicker.

In a way, I'm grateful that my first novel didn't sell. Not only wasn't it up to snuff, but it gave me the chance to start developing those nerves of steel. I don't know that I would have been able to handle negative reviews or poor sales at that point in my writing career.

Now, I'm ready. They will still sting. They will still hurt. But I will be ready for them.

How are your nerves doing in this writing game?

Don't forget to enter the Christmas Short Story contest! Deadline is November 1. You can find all the details here!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Announcing: 1st Annual Christmas Short Story Contest

Sharpen those pencils, get those fingers limbered up, and grab a little (early) Christmas spirit! Writing with Style is hosting the First Annual Christmas Short Story contest!


Here's the rules!

Rules

1) The theme of the fiction story must center around the Christmas season.

2) Word count: No more than 3,000 words long.

3) One entry per person.

4) Keep it clean!

5) Deadline is December 1, 2010.

6) Grand prize winner will win a hodgepodge of fun Christmas items featured below, in addition to the book, The Little Red Writing Book! PLUS, the winning short story will appear on the blog December 20, 2010. 

Entry Information
1) Send your short story in an attachment (Word is preferred) to melissaamateis at earthlink dot net by midnight of December 1, 2010.
2) You will receive a confirmation email.
3) NO ENTRY FEE!

Winner Info
Winner and runner up will be notified by December 15, 2010. Short story will appear on the blog December 20, 2010.

Questions? Email me! melissaamateis at earthlink dot net

Spread the news!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Yes.

2200 words written tonight.

Yes, I have a big, silly grin on my face.

How I love this writing gig...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I'm Still Here!

Ooof! It's been a week since I blogged? I promise I have a good excuse. :-) I went home to visit my family and had a great time! Unfortunately, I also picked up a bit of a bug going around in that part of the state and was out of commission yesterday.

I actually got some writing done over the weekend, and I wasn't even planning on it. I woke up early Saturday morning at my mom's house before everyone else was up. It was a gray, rainy morning (my favorite!) and since my mom lives in the country, it was incredibly peaceful. So I thought, "Why not do some writing?" And I did.

Unfortunately when I came back, I had two rejections waiting for me in the post. Ah well. Must keep going!

Now I'm off to see what you've all been up to!

Have a great Wednesday. :-)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Blog Carnival: Where I Write

Welcome to the 2010 edition of Where I Write! We're featuring the writing spaces of some of the blogosphere's most awesome writers, published and unpublished alike!

Whether it's on the couch with the laptop or a cozy nook of the living room, writers have a special place to call their own. So without further ado, here's some links to a terrific collection of creativity portals!

I'll start things off. This is where I write most of the time: my living room. Since I sit at a desk all day at work, I like to take my laptop (which doesn't have an internet connection) and lounge on the couch. Besides, I love this room! It's so relaxing and peaceful.

But I  do most of my "business" writing - sending queries and emails, internet research, and printing out manuscript pages here:

On to the rest!

Lawyer, economist, and finance, food, books, and travel writer (whew! This is one busy gal!), Jasmina Boulanger of the blog East of Paris has an amazing writing spot. Oh, I am envious! I need a comfortable, easy chair like Jasmine's that I can put close to my desk so I can nap, er, write. 

Christine Fletcher, published author of two wonderful young adult novels, lives in the Pacific Northwest. A veterinarian, She shares her various writing spaces  with her fellow furry writing companions over at her blog, Piccallili. How could you not be creative with such loveable creatures helping out?

Historical novelist and soon-to-be full-fledged librarian, Tess Eckford, lives in a Canadian log cabin with her husband and two adorable kitties. Tess and I have been blog buddies since I started blogging over 5 years ago, and you couldn't find a more wonderful, thoughtful person! Check out her cozy writing spot.

Soon-to-be published Carina Press author Kelly Boyce recently revamped her writing spot. She has a rambunctious (and adorable) Golden Retriever pup who helps out around the place. Too cute!

Another published novelist, Cathie Dunn, lives in the U.K. and writes historical romantic mysteries. Sounds intriguing! She also shares her writing spot with a few furry friends (am I sensing a pattern?) and also has lots of books to keep her company.

Published author LoRee Peery has a cozy office which I have personally seen! Since she doesn't have a blog yet, she generously shared this "Where I Write" post and gave me the perfect description of her writing space:

Where I Write


Where haven’t I written is the greater question. And I kind of miss those places I frequented before I had a room of my own. My room came about after son Clark moved away from home—the third time. He’s an adult and needed his own place. I had outgrown my corner of the master bedroom. I needed a room of my own. So I made an upstairs bedroom into my study. Before I think about what clutters my room (until I need it ), I want to remember the places I used to write.

The first place I remember writing is a century-old, scarred wooden desk, including ink well, at District 56. That one-room country school with the oil heater in the middle of the room is where the world opened up to me. After that, I wrote in my diary on my twin-size bed on the Neligh farm.

Fast forward through all the classrooms to keeping a journal, where I took notes at the kitchen table or curled up in the corner of a couch. When the desire to write-for-real hit, I started at the kitchen table, progressed to a desk with one narrow, antique bookcase in the corner of our bedroom, where my first purchased-in-1990 computer sat.

I’ve written most nature-related nonfiction outside. What places I’ve settled into! I have camped in the ash grove on my family farm (no longer ours; a cornfield now). I’ve sat on fallen logs, leaned against tree trunks, even rested a tablet on a fence post. An iron bench, table, and chairs wait for me on my front porch. In my gardens are an iron patio chair, a glider, and a bench.

When I begin a new project, or ideas come 24/7, I take notes wherever I am. I’ve dripped out of the shower for pen and paper. Toothpaste has escaped my mouth while I jot down something I would forget otherwise. I’ve scribbled phrases on the church bulletin instead of taking notes from the pulpit (and said, “Sorry, Lord,” as I wrote). Aside from that craziness, I need pen and pad to outline, brainstorm, create.

Once I know where I’m going with a novel or essay, I go to my room. My room houses eight oak bookcases. My husband built two, and six came from Contemporary Woods. They hold mostly hardcovers, well over 1,000. On top are special collections of books and Gone with the Wind collectibles. Sprinkled throughout the shelves are other special items from former coworkers, family, friends, and writing events.

File cabinets are tucked in the closet, along with crates of filled journals and paperback “keepers.” My TBR stack and a tote I’ll pass on to my daughter, wait on the floor. Novels are stored in decorative rectangle boxes in the center of the room.


My desk is an antique I refinished. It features a drawer almost as big as the desktop, with deep secrets going back to 1990. The stained glass Tiffany lamp is a retirement gift from coworkers in Modern Languages at UNL. I hadn’t realized I needed a lamp until they gave it to me.

I edit and revise with paper and pen in hand, anywhere: In the car, in motels, on retreat, coffee shops and/or book stores; at the kitchen table, outside, or in my recliner. Then I take the scribbled pages to my computer, where it waits for me, in a room of my own.

Hope you've enjoyed this glimpse into these writers' creative spaces. Thanks to everyone who participated!

P.S. I think we need to do another blog carnival on writers' pets. What do you think?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Waiting Room Diary

At the doctor's office the other day, I was tired of waiting, so I whipped out my notebook and started writing. This is what I wrote:

At one point in the waiting room, you think you might have to wait forever. The ticking clock further solidifies this feeling, and the nerves you felt upon first entering the room begin to abate. Noises outside in the hall confirm the presence of life. But you are insulated from it, stuck.

The sense of anticipation of the welcoming knock on the door becomes almost unbearable until you're sure it won't come at all. And still the clock moves. First ten minutes. Now fifteen. Latest count, 21 minutes. You realize you wouldn't last an hour in solitary confinement except that in solitary confinement, you have the small comfort of knowing relief is at bay for a day, a week. You can relax somehow. Here, you can't.

So the tension builds. You've looked at the picture on the calendar hanging across the room 17 times now but you don't take the time to study it. You only give it a quick glance because the knock might interrupt your artistic perusal of the piece. Yet, that knock hasn't come for 27 minutes.

Maybe they really did forget about you. Maybe you should open the door a crack and see if anyone would notice. But no, that wouldn't be proper or at all the thing to do. After all, you were raised to be polite and respectful and rushing said doctor might result in a less than desirable outcome to your appointment.

So you sit. And wait. Thirty minutes. Really? A half hour? This would not be tolerated at a fast food chain. Of course, the doctor doesn't have 'fast' in her title --

KNOCK, KNOCK.

To be fair, the doctor more than made up for her running late by spending lots of time with me to listen to my concerns about my health. I still haven't made a decision on said health yet, but I'm getting a second opinion this week.

What will that waiting room diary look like, I wonder?

Reminder: Where I Write

I've had a few submissions for the "Where I Write" post that I'm going to feature on Wednesday. It's not too late for you to get yours in! I'll accept submissions until Tuesday at 5 p.m. Oh, ok. 6 p.m.

Info on the project here: Where I Write.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Are You Ready?

If you're an unpublished writer, are you ready to be published?

And if you are a published writer, were you ready to be published when the call came?

I've done a lot of soul searching over the past few months over whether or not I'm "ready" for this to happen. Honestly, I don't know how anyone can be completely, 100% ready for everything that is thrown their way when the publishing contract finally arrives. There are edits to make, marketing decisions to pour over, angst over reviews, publicity rounds, and of course, the whole writing the next book.

For me, I know at one point I wasn't ready. At all.

But now I think I am.

 Let me modify that.

I am as ready as I'll ever be.

You?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dreaming of...

While stuck in my office cubicle yesterday, I dreamed about having the entire month of November off from work (paid time off, of course). What, exactly, would I do during that month?

On my list were three very important things:

1) Write
2) Read
3) Visit my family

It all sounds quite utterly blissful.

If you had a month off from the daily grind, what would you do?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Paying Attention

Squirrel munching on an acorn - he let me take his picture!

Since I've started making it a point to live a quieter life (i.e. no cable t.v., no endless activities, etc.), I have noticed a dramatic change in how I look at the world. Time moves slower. I listen to my daughter more and spend more time with her. I take naps. I read my Bible. I light candles and sit and write.

I've really noticed this new quietness when I take my walks. I go on a trail that passes two lakes full of ducks and geese (and I've noticed a Blue Heron hanging around, too), and gorgeous trees and bushes with squirrels scampering around and bunnies hopping amidst the low branches.

The best part about this time of the year, though, is that I have literally looked at the trees every day and watched their somewhat astoundingly fast progress from summer to fall. The leaves really don't take their time in turning gorgeous colors. Blink and you might miss it. Within the space of a week, I've seen green leaves turn to dark golds, reds, and even peach. If you take the time to pick up one of the fallen leaves and study it, you will see a pattern of color that no man or computer could ever reproduce.

Whenever my quietness slips away and worry starts to nag at my brain (mostly over recent health issues), I go out for a walk to reconnect to God and to quiet my mind again. I pay attention to to the beauty around me: the changing leaves; the cool breeze rustling through the trees; clusters of bright red berries on the bush; acorns smashed on the sidewalk; fluffy-tailed squirrels darting up trees; fallen leaves crunching underfoot; and the scent of pine trees and sun-baked leaves.

This has all contributed enormously to my writing. I "see" things differently - character motivations, descriptive passages, dialogue, themes, etc. I feel like I have a vast amount of material to mine just from opening my mind to the simpler, smaller things in life.

Because in the end, that's what it's really all about.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Where I Write

While browsing through an old issue of The Writer magazine, I happened upon a very cool link that shows the offices/writing places of science fiction/fantasy writers. You can visit the link here: http://www.whereiwrite.org/

So I thought, wouldn't it be fun to ask all my blogging buddies where they write? And even better, wouldn't it be great to actually see where they write? And best of all, wouldn't it be awesome to showcase them all in one blog post and have a Blog Carnival?

Let's do it then! If you'd like to participate, here's the rules (such as they are): simply choose a day before or on October 18 to blog about where you write - and include a photo. Then send me an email with your link and I'll write a post on October 20 about all of our creative spaces and include every link I receive.

Send emails to melissaamateis at earthlink dot net.

Spread the word and join in the fun!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Weekend Update

Glorious weekend! Went shopping and found some incredible deals, enjoyed the cool weather, did some writing, slept in (glorious!) and also did some reading. I just started C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia" right now -  finished The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and am now on Prince Caspian. I love both the movies and the third one is coming out in December.

On the writing front, I ran into a bit of a snag, and by last evening, I was in a funk because of it. It's a rather pivotal point in the novel, and I couldn't settle for just any solution. So I decided to just say a quick prayer, leave it alone, and see what happened.

Just before I fell asleep, a possible, very workable solution hit me, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. That means more writing tonight!

How was your weekend?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's a Woman Thing

With apologies to any men who read my blog, you'll probably want to skip this particular post as it is about the "female condition."

So, ladies, I'm about to get very personal - and I need some advice.

Earlier this year, I underwent exploratory laparoscopic surgery to determine why I was still in pain after a cyst burst on my ovary. It turned out that the cyst was still bleeding and it had severely damaged my right ovary. Thus, out came the ovary, and now I'm operating on just the left ovary. But they also found endometriosis and uterine fibroids which will only continue to grow.

Last month, I had another cyst form on the remaining ovary, which led to pain and more problems. The ultrasound showed that it was not the kind of cyst as the one that burst, so we took a wait and see approach. But my doctor asked me a rather scary question: "Are you done having children?"

I am only 35, yet I have been fighting my "female condition" for the past 10 years - literally since about three months after I gave birth to my daughter. I've been diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) which has a whole slew of problems associated with it. I've been to see numerous doctors - internists, gynocologists, endocrinologists, chiropractors (who also did acupuncture on me) and even a natural health doctor. Still, my problems persist. This month, I had to take a day off work (yesterday) because of the pain I'm experiencing. These are not normal cramps, but something more serious.

Sometimes, a hysterectomy seems like the way to go. But then again...that means I'll have to be on hormones, and truth be told, I don't do well on birth control, so I'm not at all sure how I would do on hormone therapy.

I feel like there is not a good answer to my problem: either keep living with this pain and endless trips to the doctor until I am forced to have a hysterectomy because my female parts start to decline dramatically, or take care of it now and hopefully get rid of the pain and improve my quality of life. However, then I will have the additional side effects from being on hormones.

But a hysterectomy also brings up emotional issues. It's part of what makes me a woman. And even knowing that I don't want anymore children, having that option completely removed is somewhat scary and rather sad, too. Does that make sense? Thing is, I'm not even sure I'd be able to get pregnant if I wanted to with the way my health is.

I've thought of going radical - doing everything from a "natural" standpoint - looking at acupuncture (which worked well last time for the problem I was having) and radically altering my diet to try and fix things on my own. But at this point, I have to be realistic about who I am as a person - and going radical isn't me.

So here is my question to all the wonderful women that read my blog: what would you do?

Monday, September 27, 2010

What I Was Missing

I met with my two writing pals on Saturday morning. For almost two hours, we talked and laughed, shared encouragement and ideas, and came away with renewed vigor for our manuscripts. We'll meet again in a month and I anticipate we'll have the same good time.

Later that day, as I went through my first chapter and read the comments from my critique partners, I realized what I'd been missing from my writing life. Blogging and online communities are all well and good, and I wouldn't be the writer that I am today without them.

But for me, there's one thing I can't get online: the energy.

There's nothing like being face-to-face with other writers. We bounced ideas off each other, offered comfort and encouragement, and above all, support. I left feeling energized and ready to get back into the submission game for my last novel, and ready to keep working on the current novel.

The three of us work well together, and I'm so glad we decided to form this group. It was definitely something I needed both personally and professionally.

Are you in a face-to-face critique group? What's the best thing about it?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Aftermath of Creativity

Chatsworth, England, in autumn
How do you feel after a writing session? Do you feel like you have all the energy of a two-year-old hyped up on Skittles? Or do you feel like you've just run a marathon and want to collapse in a heap on the couch?

I took advantage of a recent lunch break at work to get some writing done on the novel. I was very pleased with the results - I wrote 1,500 words during that time: good, solid words. I loved the scene and how it moved the story forward.

But afterwards, I felt drained. Sitting at my desk became a chore and I longed to take a nap. Not possible, of course, when you have the rest of the work day to get through.

Yet there are days when I write and after I'm finished, I feel the opposite. Perhaps not bursting with energy, exactly, but at least not in the mood for a nap.

Maybe it all depends on what I'm writing. For example, the scene I wrote was an emotional one between my two main characters. I think I feel more drained than usual because it took more mental energy to compose.

What about you? How do you feel after a writing session? Does it depend on what you wrote?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Writing Growth


I'm editing the first chapter of the novel for my critique group. We're meeting this weekend and I'm really looking forward to it.

Editing is always the best part of writing for me. That's when I get to play - with words, ideas, themes, etc. It's where I expand on those kernels of ideas I wrote down to begin with and flesh 'em all out to create a cohesive work of art.

In this particular novel, I find I'm digging deeper into my characters' lives, the themes of the work overall, and even how the setting plays an important role in the story. This is a growth moment for me. When I look back at my other novels, I don't see that same depth - which is probably why they will never be published. And really, that's ok. Growing in the writing craft is paramount to becoming a better writer. It's all part of the process.

Have you noticed any growth in your writing lately?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Triumph!

This weekend, with two wonderful days stretched out in front of me with nothing much to do, I determined I would not let the time get away from me.

And so, I set to work.

I wrote 3,200 words on Saturday and 1,500 words on Sunday.

Not as much as I had hoped, but I did make room for a walk, grocery shopping, church and a church BBQ, my daughter's play date, time with the hubby, and of course, a nap.

All in all, a success.

Have you had any recent writing successes?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Time Trap

Over Labor Day weekend, I had hours and hours of time to write. Yet I only managed 2,000 words - and I did all that on Monday. In true Melissa-fashion, I waited until the last minute to get the writing done.

Sometimes, I get really frustrated with myself. Yes, there's a time to relax and spend time with your family, and it's crucial to our overall well-being. But there's also a time to write. And I didn't nearly do enough of it.

When I was a stay-at-home mom ten years ago after my daughter was born, I thought I would have oodles of time to write. And I did have oodles of time. Yet I didn't finish the novel. I procrastinated and put it off, thinking, "Oh, I'll do it tomorrow. I have all the time in the world!"

I did the same thing this last weekend. Instead of writing, I thought about writing, but instead, I took naps, read my book, played on the Internet, spent time with my family, went to church, exercised, etc. All of this is fine, of course. But I kept saying to myself, "Oh, I'll write later. I have all weekend!"

As it transpired, later turned into Monday morning. I wrote a bit in the a.m., then stopped and took a nap, then piddled around for another few hours before getting back to the keyboard. The result? A measly (to me) 2,000 words.

Why do we this to ourselves? Why do we waste hours and hours of free time putting off doing something we love? When I am in the midst of my writing, I love it (most of the time). So why should I take great steps to avoid it?

I guess it comes back to the whole concept of resistance that Steven Pressfield talks about in his book, The War of Art. I'm glad I'm not alone in this struggle, but boy, sometimes I wish it were easier to overcome.

How about you? Do you find yourself falling in this time trap?

Monday, September 06, 2010

A Day to Write

Here in the U.S., it's Labor Day. And it's also the first day off work I've had in months! (well, not counting that whole surgery thing...)

How do I plan to spend my day? Writing, of course!

You?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

When Did You Start Writing?

I'm curious.

When did you start writing?

Was it in elementary school (like me) where you scribbled stories and illustrated them with colors or markers? Or was it in junior high when you filled pages and pages with angst-filled poetry? (guilty again). College? After your first job?

You can read about my writing journey here.

I've been writing seriously since the 6th grade. Wow. That's a long time.

I love this writing life. Love, love, love it. Wouldn't have it any other way!

So when did the writing bug bite you?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Accountability: Do You Need It?

Photo found via my good friend, Diane
I was very pleased over the weekend to write around 4,000 words on my novel. In fact, I had to force myself to quit at 11:30 last evening so I could go to bed and not be a zombie at work today.

I've been having trouble motivating myself, so I decided to ask a few of my writing friends if they wouldn't mind doing a little bit of a challenge over the weekend. Mine was fairly simple: finish chapter six. Well, I did that and continued on, loving that I was actually writing again instead of just talking about it. Too often I go in fits and starts with my writing, and if I could just get my writing brain on an even keel, why, I'd be a happy gal (I suspect if I ever find the secret formula to this, I will be rich).

I'm also happy to report that I will be part of a three-person, face-to-face critique group starting in September, and that will give me additional accountability.

Maybe I'm just one of those people who needs the accountability from other people in order to get myself to work.

What about you? Do you need to be held accountable to other people or just yourself where your writing is concerned?

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...