Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Pulling Words Out of the Air
Do you ever sit staring desperately at the blank screen while the cursor blinks in mockery of what you are, wondering if the words will ever come to you to write this darn thing? Do you ever start to wonder why you keep doing this to yourself and wonder if you should just give it all up - just before the words fall into your lap like so many snowflakes, each one unique and beautiful alone, but a magnificent thing to behold once they're gathered all together in one place. That's what this wonderful, frustrating thing we call writing is really like. Forget all the stereotypes you've read about, this is the real deal.
I think when people who don't write think about writers and the art or act of writing, they immediately call to mind images of JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Stephen King, James Patterson and the like, and immediately believe that the life of a writer is so glamorous. Books being sold by the millions, world-wide fervor from eager fans, film rights and red carpet premieres, rubbing elbows with stars. Yeah. Okay. Stop. Rewind. Back to the actual writing end of it.
For most of us, the act of writing is that moment when you are sitting at your desk, staring at a blank screen and convincing yourself that the cursor is laughing at you because the words won't come. It's the wonderful time when the idea first comes and you think, "This is it! This is the idea that's going to become my best book yet!" Followed by a mad period of brainstorming, researching (wow, who knew there was so much to discover about mermaids? Aren't they just mythical creatures - can't we just make this stuff up? Oh, wait, too much research, got to write now), outlining (well, okay, so I'll just sketch out the idea and go from there - wow, look at all those details! Okay, so technically, this can be my first draft), sitting down to write the first chapter - Hooray! I'm going to write the first chapter now. Chapter One. The first. Numero Uno. Why the heck can't I come up with a first line?
Because it has to be perfect, that's why. It has to pack a punch, hook the reader. If your story doesn't hook the reader with the first line, chances are it won't with the next one or the one after that, either. Readers want to be reeled in right away, immediate payoff. I blame the Internet, where everything comes to you the moment you want it - maybe they should call it the Instantnet because that's basically what it is, an instrument that brings things to people in an instant. Damn instant gratification anyway! Whatever happened to the slow build where the writer was really able to establish a sense of place and time before getting into the meat of the story? That's getting such a bad reputation these days. Nobody has time for the slow build. They want to be dropped into the action on the first page and pulled through with nonstop action to the last one. Do they know how exhausting that is to write that?
Especially when the words won't come. When that all important first line dangles just out of reach and you really begin to question the sanity of this path you've chosen. Why did I want to do this? you might wonder. What was the attraction in the first place? I'm a relatively sane person, so why would I want to put myself through this craziness every time a moderately interesting idea for a story presents itself to me?
And just as you are about to pack it all in and find something else to occupy what little time you have between work, family and life, you pull the words of the air - somehow - and that all important first line stares back at you from the no-longer blank page and this time, the cursor winks at you in approval. That-a girl, you can do it. Thank you, cursor, I think I will. So you type another line. Hmm, that's not half bad. Then another. Oh, I like that one. And another. Wow, I've really got something here! And before you know it, your fingers are flying along the keyboard in a mad dance of letters and punctuation marks that represent everything you have ever dreamed of - a novel. Before you know it, you are typing the final words of your masterpiece and you are just starting to feel a sense of accomplishment when you realize that it isn't finished. You have to go back and edit the thing, over and over, until it is Just Right, and edit it some more when you finally sell it to a publisher, which is okay because this is what you wanted. This is the realization of your dream, the true nuts and bolts of this thing we call writing. And hey, someone really likes your story and wants to put it between two fancy covers and sell it to the world, so the least you can do is revise it one more time, right?
If only that new idea wasn't kicking around in your head, demanding attention...
So forget the stereotypes you see in the movies and the examples of writers who've become megastars and get just as much attention on the red carpet as the actors who bring their characters to life. You can dream about that being your destiny, yes, but the truth of the matter is, it probably won't. If you want to be a writer, a true writer, you must prepare yourself to do a lot of it. Writing. Word after word after word. So make sure it's an idea that you really like and want to spend a lot of time with because you will, and be prepared for the reality that only a small portion of the population will ever read it. But don't despair. Remember, always, the true reason why you are writing. For me, it's because I couldn't imagine doing anything else, I'm obsessed with the idea/act of putting words down on paper, and it's the only time in my life that I can totally make things up, tell the biggest lie, kill someone without going to jail for it, give the Mean Girl her due, be the ultimate mother/kickass heroine/daredevil - and all without ever leaving my house! Ah, what a life! Remember, if you write for the right reasons - i.e., because you're driven to it and you truly, madly love it, as I do - then your writing will always be right. It's when you write with the idea that you want to make millions that your writing doesn't ring true. Sure it would be nice to make a tidy profit from it, but for me, the true payoff is the satisfaction I get when a total stranger says to me, "I really like your book." All I can say to that is, "Thank you."
Now, where should I go off to today? I wonder what's happening in Paris...or maybe Vienna. Oh, Scotland! Ireland...
(Incidentally, this post is a good example of Pulling Words Out of the Air. When I sat down to write it this morning, I had a blank screen, a sarcastic cursor - and no idea of what I was going to write today! But it came to me.)
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Thursday, July 21, 2011
by Alayna Williams
I tend to hang on to a lot of things. Pictures. Jeans that I swear that I'll be able to get back into once I lose ten pounds. A prairie skirt that I'm convinced is going to come back in fashion.
But mostly, I hoard words. And word-related things. As a writer, I'm constantly doing research, filing ideas and images in the back of my mind. Sometimes, that manifests in the physical world. And an odd collection of things begins to grow at my desk.
First are project notebooks. I keep an old-fashioned paper notebook for each book I write. They're largely illegible, containing scribbled notes and outlines, pasted scraps of articles, and bent photos. But I know where everything is. It gives me a sense of accomplishment to see how I've progressed through the project - all my finds are marked with a date. They are, in their ways, journals.
Next is the inspiring artwork. My desk is made of an old six-panel door placed across a couple of file cabinets. I've covered the top with glass to give me a smooth writing surface and to allow me to slip treasures underneath. When I start on a new project, I change the artwork. Nearly anything can find its way into that collection: Tarot cards, calendar pictures, magazine clippings. They may be silent, but they help inspire words in some way or other.
Finally, there's the tactile debris of the project, strewn across my desk...well, until a cat finds it and absconds with it. This collection is ever-changing. It can include anything from coins to feathers, and bits of sea glass. I now have a cluster of clear quartz perched beside my keyboard. I picked it because it reminds me of a setting in my work in progress. I find myself absently stroking it when I edit, like a spiny worry stone.
I know that I'm finishing a story when the desk is full. When I can visualize the world and characters in all their detail, just by flipping through pages or letting my fingers roam over the space.
There's a certain amount of sadness when a project is finished. I clear out the knickknacks. I take the pictures out from under the glass. I file my tattered notebook on the shelf, take out a crisp new one with unmarked pages and place it on the desk.
It's a blank slate. A new beginning. A little scary.
But then something new catches my eye.
It's an oddly-speckled rock. It looks like an egg.
I place it at the center of my desk. It's the beginning of a new hoard of words.
Alayna Williams (a.k.a. Laura Bickle) has worked in the unholy trinity of politics, criminology, and technology for several years. She lives in the Midwestern U.S. with her chief muse, owned by four mostly-reformed feral cats. Writing as Laura Bickle, she's the author of EMBERS and SPARKS for Pocket - Juno Books. Writing as Alayna Williams, she's the author of DARK ORACLE and ROGUE ORACLE. More info on her urban fantasy and general nerdiness is here: www.salamanderstales.com
Blurb for ROGUE ORACLE:
The more you know about the future, the more there may be to fear.
Tara Sheridan is the best criminal profiler around - and the most unconventional. Trained as a forensic psychologist, Tara also specializes in Tarot card reading. But she doesn't need her divination skills to realize that the new assignment from her friend and sometime lover, Agent Harry Li, is a dangerous proposition in every way.
Former Cold War operatives, all linked to a top-secret operation tracking the disposal of nuclear weapons in Russia, are disappearing. There are no bodies, and no clues to their whereabouts. Harry suspects a conspiracy to sell arms to the highest bidder. The cards - and Tara's increasingly ominous dreams - suggest something darker. Even as Tara sorts through her feelings for Harry and her fractured relationships with the mysterious order known as Delphi's Daughters, a killer is growing more ruthless by the day. And a nightmare that began decades ago in Chernobyl will reach a terrifying endgame that not even Tara could have foreseen…
ROGUE ORACLE is available now from Amazon.com - http://www.amazon.com/Rogue-Oracle-Alayna-Williams/dp/1439182817/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1289449573&sr=8-1
and Barnes & Noble - http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Rogue-Oracle/Alayna-Williams/e/9781439182819/?itm=1&USRI=rogue+oracle
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Today, I have a special guest on the blog. Please help me welcome Kate Dolan as she tells about her new book, Deceptive Behavior!
I wanted the hero of my new book, Deceptive Behavior, to be considered a bit strange by “society,” and so one of the ways I did that was to give him a tremendous aversion to London. For those of you not familiar with Regency romances, it would be like making a movie star allergic to Hollywood. It’s the center of the universe and everyone who’s anyone has to spend at least part of their time there.
But my hero is a bit odd.
He has his own reasons for disliking the city, but I thought today I’d share a Regency tourist’s impression of London – I think in many respects the tourist concurs with my hero.
“London does not strike with admiration,” he begins. While he admits the best parts of town are clean and convenient, he adds that “the site is flat; the plan monotonous; the predominant color of objects dingy and poor.”
Until I read this, I did not realize “dingy” was a color. Someone should notify the Crayola people.
My “tourist” is Louis Simond, a French émigré to America who titled his observations “An American in Regency England.” Since he could compare London to Paris in great detail, he was not a typical American, starting with the fact that most Americans did not have the time or money to tour England from December of 1809 to September of 1811. He is certainly not a Jed Clampett and he is not awed by being in one of the biggest cities in the western world as a more provincial American would be. For example, he complains that “[a]t night, you have eternal rows of lamps, making the straightness of the streets still more conspicuous and tiresome. This palpable immensity has something in it very heavy and stupifying.”
Most American towns had almost no streets, let alone streetlamps. So where most Americans might have said “wow!” at the sight of so many long rows of flickering lamps, Simond says “ho hum.”
He finds the Tower of London similarly unimpressive – “an irregular collection of buildings” which included a strong room with the crown jewels and menagerie that was “small, ill-contrived, and dirty.”
So what did he like about London? Well he liked shopping, but he mostly liked the jewelry stores because he was glad he had no urge to buy anything in them. (His wife’s feeling about this issue are not recorded.) The only thing he mentions buying is a snack. The pastry shops were a big hit with Simond. The other thing he liked? Let’s get another quote. “The breweries of London may justly be ranked among its greatest curiosities,” he notes, and then he goes on to describe the enormous tanks in great detail.
So here we have it, a guy’s view of sightseeing: the scenery is boring, I’m hungry and hey, did you see all that beer?
Fashions may change, but people apparently don’t.
Thanks for reading!
Kate Dolan writes historical fiction and romance under her own name and contemporary mysteries and children’s stories under the name K.D. Hays. Her latest book, Deceptive Behavior is part of a “Love and Lunacy” series about people who makes lots of bad choices. She blogs about history, fitness and other topics on her website at http://www.katedolan.com.
Geni Bayles has made some pretty poor choices when it comes to men. So she finally agrees to meet the suitor her mother has chosen, a painfully shy baronet from the country. When she encounters Sir Richard Latimer, however, she finds him witty, considerate and charming—but only because he thinks she’s a maid. She decides to continue the deception just long enough to learn his true personality.
Richard knows he has a duty to marry a rich woman to restore the estates on which so many people depend. But he would give anything to marry a fun, clever girl like the maid he’s just met. And just kissed.
He’s fallen for the right girl for the wrong reason. She’s made the wrong move for the right reason. They just might be perfect together—if it weren’t for the complete lack of trust.
Excerpt, if you have room:
“Goodnight, Lady Latimer,” Richard whispered as he slipped away from her.
He nodded. “You have said you do not trust me.”
“What if I changed my mind?” her voice sounded unusually deep and husky.
“You would need a solicitor and three witnesses.”
“You are not in a proper state to know your own mind at the moment, let alone to change it.”
“Are you saying I’m…that I am…” Damn, what was the word she was looking for?
“That wasn’t the word. I meant incompetent.” That was the word that frequently came up in conversations about members of the Wright family.
“That too, if you prefer.”
“I resent your implication.”
“I would so much rather you resent my words than resent me.”
She turned away from him, crossing her arms against her chest. “Well I resent you both.”
“I’m sorry to hear it.”
“I am too.” Now she had to fight back tears. Her advances were rejected by her husband on her wedding night. What could possibly be more degrading?
Warm arms wrapped around her from behind. “You cannot possibly regret this any more than I do,” he said in a low voice.
“Then stay.” Her voice cracked.
He sighed, a deep sound full of longing. “You will understand tomorrow.” His breath made the back of her neck tingle.
She leaned back against him, but he gently pushed her away. “I must go.”
“But it’s our wedding night.”
“Which means nothing if you do not trust me.”
“But I said I do trust you now.”
“Goodnight, my love.”
“You cannot call me your love and then leave.”
The door closed.
Geni flung herself on the bed and hurled her nightrail and dressing gown to the floor. She didn’t need a husband to help her undress. She didn’t need a maid to help her. She could…
She pulled the coverlet over her. She could sleep in her clothes.
“If You Leave Me, Can I Come To?”
Sort of fits the desperation of a romance novel, IMHO!
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
If you're a writer, one of the key elements to getting your writing out there is called The Pitch. It can come in various forms. There's the elevator pitch - that quickie that can be told on a ride between floors on an elevator - which probably equals out to the three-line pitch. There are the Twitter pitches, which consist of 140 characters. Or 25 word pitches. 100 Word pitches. 250 word pitches. You get the idea. Some pitches are frighteningly short (seriously, 25 words to describe an 80,000-word novel?), some a little bit longer, but all amount to the same thing: The necessity of condensing a vast amount of words to a bare minimum. How does one do that, you might ask. I'll let you in on a little secret: There's no definitive answer.
Pitching is very much like writing itself in that the style and method is unique to the person who employs it. What works for one might not work for another. Writer A may have to outline every bit that goes into the book and/or the pitch, sweating over each and every word choice, whereas Writer B might just sit down at the computer and wing it. And Writer C might fall somewhere in between. Whatever the case, the ultimate goal is the words and when it comes to pitches, the more concise and succinct one is, the more powerful the pitch.
Now I don't profess to be an expert on this issue, so you can accept or deny my findings at your discretion. This is just a bit of knowledge I've culled together from years of honing my craft. Does it mean I'm totally skilled in the art of pitching? Probably not. But that doesn't stop me from giving it the old college try and taking advantage of opportunities to get my writing out there. What about you? I'd love to hear you're take on this necessary evil of writing. Show me your pitch!
Incidentally, there are some great pitching opportunities coming up this week at Savvy U, starting today with a chance to pitch to Leah Hultenschmidt of Sourcebooks. You must be a member to pitch, but Basic Membership is free. Here's a link to more information: http://www.savvyauthors.com/vb/showevent.php?eventid=1040
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
There's a lot of noise circling around us, distracting us from our purpose. Have you noticed? And the main source of that noise is the evening news. On a daily basis, we are assaulted with "big headlines," "breaking news," and images of conflict that sometimes seem too bizarre to be true. The death of bin Laden, the capture of Whitey Bulger, the Casey Anthony trial, and more natural disasters than the world has ever seen before. It all builds up to so much noise in the head that there is a true danger of implosion.
So how do you stop the noise? How do you watch the news and remain compassionate? How can you avoid becoming de-sensitized while simultaneously distancing yourself from it? I don't know about you, but I have always been an empathetic person. I really feel for other people and I mean that in a literal sense, in some cases. You know that expression, "worried sick'? Yeah, I do that. So sometimes, watching the nightly news can be a real strain on my psyche and my body. Yet, as a writer, I don't want to stop watching because some of the best ideas come from this source.
What about you? How do you react to the big news stories that are constantly assaulting us? And do you have any advice for me on how I can distance myself without de-sensitizing myself? Would love some input!