Friday, September 30, 2011

Happiness Is...

  • A crisp fall day
  • Gorgeous autumn leaves
  • My husband's kiss
  • My daughter's beautiful smile
  • Pleasant dreams
  • Dark chocolate
  • My kitties' soft fur
  • Friday
  • Writing the perfect phrase

What's on your list today?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Don't Edit Out Your Voice

I'm deep in the editing zone and lovin' it. Yes, I'm one of those crazy writers who would rather edit than write. Why? Because I get to play! I love coming up with new imagery, or using symbols in a particular passage, or adding just the right sentence that makes the whole scene work.

But I've also had to remind myself not to edit so much that I get rid of my unique voice. I blogged about this a few years ago and here's what I had to say:

You can over-analyze and try and spit-polish every.single.word until you edit the very life and breath right out of your story. Your voice fades into the background and your characters have been wrestled into doing what you think they need to do to make the story work instead of letting them decide their direction. But in the end, it doesn't work. At all.

Lesson learned. This time around, I'm not going to be so ruthless. I'm not going to edit my voice out of the story. I'm not going to agonize over every single word despite what some other writers might advise.

I tried it that way once, and in the end, I realized that my story wasn't mine anymore. I'd edited the heart out of it.

Solution? When the head (editor) gets too zealous, the heart must gently whisper in its ear. And the editor must listen and consider, then proceed to the best of its ability.

Only then will the true story be told.


Another lesson I've learned in this writing life: you have to constantly remind yourself of certain lessons learned in the past. Thank goodness for blog archives! ;-)

Monday, September 26, 2011

To Coin a New Phrase...

After working on the synopsis and resisting the urge to throw my laptop across the room more than once, I have coined a new phrase that accurately describes this frustrating experience.

"Writing a synopsis is like trying to herd cats."


'Nuff said.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

This Is Not Logical

Since we don't have cable, we watch DVDs for entertainment. We're fortunate that our excellent library system has plenty of titles available.

We have a thing for '60s television shoes, apparently, as all three of us - me, hubby, and our 11-year-old daughter really enjoy Hogan's Heroes. And naturally, as I'm a World War II historian and novelist, that works nicely with my interests.

But how is it that now I like Star Trek? I did terrible in science classes at school, and I don't ever read science fiction. Ever. So why do I now look forward to relaxing in front of the t.v. to watch Spock say, "Fascinating" or see Captain Kirk seduce a green woman or hear Scotty's cool accent or watch Bones (aka Dr. McCoy) use his little analyzer thingamabob to see if the creature is a humanoid or not?

And it's not just me. My daughter loves it, too. We're currently in the second season. Of course, one of my favorite episodes of all time, "A Piece of the Action", set on a planet whose people live like the gangsters of the 1920s, is included in this set. Hilarious.

It's interesting to note that not all the episodes were written by the same person. This gives the series quite a range of diversity. Some episodes are downright funny ("The Trouble with Tribbles") while others are quite serious in nature ("Obsession.)

As a writer, I've also noticed how they continually raise the stakes. For the majority of the episodes, the problem keeps getting worse and worse, and no matter what they try, it doesn't work. That keeps you glued to the screen.

Unfortunately, this is also a flaw, as it feels like in the last five minutes, they come up with a rather convenient solution. I saw this most noticeably in the episode "The Deadly Years" where the crew is exposed to radiation sickness that rapidly ages them. With literally hours left to live, they figure out that the only reason one of the crew members was immune from the radiation was because he had an adrenaline reaction - i.e. he was scared at the time of infection. So they came up with some kind of antidote based on this theory. I really wanted to roll my eyes at that one.

Fortunately, the good usually outweighs the bad in this series, and I really enjoy the banter between Spock and McCoy, Scotty's affection for scotch (naturally), and Captain Kirk's dedication to duty. The characters are well-rounded and fun to watch as they react to different situations.

And ok, ok, I have to admit it - I also enjoy watching William Shatner's acting abilities. According to IMDB:  "His clipped, dramatic narration, peppered with dramatic pauses, is often referred to as "Shatnerian."" Imagine, coming up with your own style of acting!

I don't think I'm anywhere close to being a Trekkie (I don't even know if that's spelled right!), but I admit it:  I'm hooked.

And that's just not logical.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Digging Into Character

I attended Robin Perini's Layering and Complexity workshop at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Conference last weekend. She gave lots of great advice about flaws, villains, characters, themes, subplots, and more.

Here's one of the exercises we had to do, and if you're feeling spry this Friday morning, you might want to try it, too. Choose the most powerful single event in your life and write it from your perspective (first-person). Then, choose a popular villain - I chose the Wicked Witch of the West - and write the same event from their point-of-view.

For fun, I'm going to share what I wrote. Keep in mind, this is unedited and raw.

My powerful event: giving birth to my daughter

The labor pains began early in the morning, intense and cramping. I realized the time I'd both dreaded and wanted was here now. In the delivery room, I drifted between delirious pain and increments of sleep. My husband held my hand, told me the pain would be over when the baby came. The mauve paint and pastoral picture on the opposite wall were not calming, but enemies. There was peace depicted, yet I didn't feel it, and it wasn't fair. I cycled through intense pain, then brief hiatuses, until finally, I pushed and she was born. A girl, the doctor announced. Thank the Lord for a girl, an ally in my testosterone-filled household. I didn't hold her, the cord wrapped around her neck. But the relief at having the pain gone overshadowed my fears of being a new parent, of caring for a new life when I felt ill-equipped. Yet when I held her, finally, the peace I had so craved earlier flooded through me and filled the lingering pockets of fear. I was now a mother and my life would never be the same.

Now, this is what I wrote from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West:

I hated this thing inside me and the unbearable pain it caused. I wanted to reach inside and rip it out, but I couldn't. So I conjured up spells to make the pain stop, but nothing worked. Finally, when the thing emerged, I felt such relief. But the moment it cried, my heart denied it. How dare it cry when I was the one who had undergone torment to bring it into this cruel world. Blackness flooded through every single pore, wiping out any small vestiges of light that might have survived my wickedness.


I have to admit, writing the villain's perspective was challenging, but it was also a lot of fun. Climbing into their skin, trying to figure out how they would view the same event that held so much meaning for me, made me stretch my writing muscle and think differently. I admit, I never thought of the Wicked Witch as being a mother, but doing this exercise offered some interesting possibilities on how she would react. I loved diving into her pscyhe, and I ultimately saw her selfishness and wickedness emerge.

This is a great tool for creating well-rounded characters and will add another layer of complexity to your story.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Not-So-Fun Tradition

I used to like to travel.

Did you notice I said "used to"?

Let me 'splain.

My trip out to Denver to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Conference was fine. No problems. In fact, on my flight, I had four search and rescue dogs (two golden retrievers and two black labs) en route to some part of the country to help out (I never did learn where they were going), and their presence seemed to relax everyone on the flight.

I made it to my hotel without incident. The conference was good. My room was fantastic. The food was superb.

And then I woke up on Sunday morning and thought I was going to die.

No! I thought. This cannot be happening again!

Dear readers, if you've been following my blog for awhile, you'll know that I was the victim of food poisoning when I was in London in October of 2008.

I think the same thing happened to me on Sunday, though not as bad as London, and I cannot be sure if it was food poisoning or a virus. Either way, I was sick, could not attend the last day of the conference, and had to wait until 9:30 p.m. to go home.

Yes, you read that right. My flight was at 9:30 p.m.

Originally, I had planned to spend the afternoon hanging out with my dad and his girlfriend, who came to Denver to spend time with me. Since I am originally from the western part of Nebraska, Denver is only a few hours from home. So I was looking forward to doing some shopping, visiting the Tattered Cover Bookstore in downtown Denver, and enjoying the sights.

But Sunday morning changed that.

I have to give kudos to the hotel. They treated me with the utmost kindness, sending up toast and tea (and not charging me for it) and making sure I was ok. By early afternoon, I was feeling somewhat better, and since I had to check out of the hotel, my dad picked me up and we spent the afternoon together. But I still didn't feel good.

I got to the airport around 7:30, figuring I would only have to kill a few hours before my flight at 9:30. But as soon as I got through security and made it to my gate, I saw that my flight had been delayed until 11:30 p.m.

My head throbbed, my stomach ached, and I had to sit in an uncomfortable airport seat for FOUR HOURS.

I just wanted to go home.

By the time the plane arrived and we boarded, I was never so relieved. (Though I admit the steward's message of, "Sorry we were late, but our plane was having mechanical trouble. But we fixed it and she's been flying fine ever since!" did NOT make me feel better...)

I arrived home at 2:30 a.m. on Monday. I clung to my husband when he picked me up, and when we got to our cozy Cape Cod house, I almost cried in relief. I spent most of Monday sleeping, and was still recuperating yesterday.

I've decided I'm done traveling for awhile. This getting-sick-at-the-end-of-vacation tradition is NOT a good one!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How to Give a Successful Agent Pitch in 20 Easy Steps

You, too, can give a successful agent pitch by following these twenty easy steps!

1) Watch tension-filled U.S. Open tennis match between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

2) Eat two Dark Dove Chocolates.

3) Continue watching tension-filled tennis match, scream, "Yes!" when Federer makes a good shot, fall back on bed in jubilation, and almost choke on piece of Dove Dark Chocolate.

4) Realize death by chocolate is not as becoming as it sounds.

5) Floss teeth to make sure there is nothing to distract agent from billiance of your book.

6) Clutch your stomach when it starts rolling one hour before agent appointment.

7) Walk around hotel room "pitching" to thin air and realize you will never remember it all.

8) Decide to wing it.

9) Arrive ten minutes before appointment and wait with group of other agent-pitching writers.

10) Smell fear in air and determine to overcome by rocking back in chair and hoping it doesn't tip

11) Walk into room with agent, shake hand, introduce self

12) Realize with horror that agent is not asking any questions, but expects polished pitch

13) Mind goes blank

14) Frantically search for something to say, babble

15) Relieved when agent asks me a question

16) Spirits lift when agent is very interested in my writing-related freelance work

17) Forget about terrible novel pitch

18) Shocked when agent requests first two chapters of forgotten novel and wonders if it is out of pity

19) Stumble out of room, realize have done it

20) Buy diet Pepsi and pack of trail mix to celebrate

See? Easy!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Anticipation

I've got Carly Simon's "Anticipation" song going through my head (and now you do, too!). Why? Because I have a pitch appointment with an agent at the writing conference this weekend. It will be my first ever, and I admit, I'm feeling a bit intimidated.

I've been AWOL from Blogland for awhile. I have a good excuse - promise. :-) I'm preparing for my conference, editing, trying to wrap up freelance projects before I leave tomorrow, and...being nervous. In fact, I've felt out of sorts for the past three days with too much going on in my brain.

I think I need to stop by Lucy's booth and pay five cents to get some pointers. Or a swift kick in the tush. She's good at that, too.



Did you know there is a ton of advice out there about how to pitch an agent? Of course, there is a ton of advice about everything nowadays with the mighty Internet. There's lots of do's and don'ts for the agent pitch, and weeding through it all and finding what is best for me has been the tough part.

But I've also realized something. This is one agent, one conference, one pitch. If it doesn't work out, all is not lost.

In the end, I figure I have to do three things: be professional, communicate to the agent how much I love my novel, and be myself.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Three, Glorious Days

Here in the U.S., we're having a three-day weekend thanks to Labor Day on Monday.

That's three, glorious days of editing.

Oh, and shopping.

Because you can't go to a writing conference without a new outfit, right?

Have a terrific weekend!