Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Happy New Year - 5769

Or.... L'Shana Tovah.







(Thanks to Jess for the challah picture -- and more power to her for baking it herself.)

Monday, September 29, 2008

On Voice

What I'm reading: Kiss and Dwell, by Kelley St. John

What I'm writing: Chapter 27

If you can't read the panels, click on the image and it should open an enlarged version. Or, you can try this link. It's the Sept. 28th comic.

Voice is something a reader recognizes instinctively. It's what makes bestselling authors. Sure skill comes into the picture, too. You have to know how to plot, pace, create settings and characters, etc. But voice is what readers really fall in love with when they're reading. It's 'HOW' you tell your stories. ~Jordan Summers

When I discovered fan fiction, I was attracted to the stories of one author. Not only did the stories interest me, but as I read them, I thought "If I could write, that's what I would write like." I didn't realize it at the time, but it was her voice that attracted me.

But voice is more than making a character sound like a Texan, or making sure a cop doesn't sound like a princess. Just as you can recognize an artist by his or her work, you can indentify an author by his or her voice. Nobody would confuse Janet Evanovich with Sue Grafton. Or Nora Roberts with Suzanne Brockmann.


Developing you own voice takes time. We all use the same tools. Words, strung together following the basic rules of grammar and punctuation, into sentences as paragraphs. But the choice of our words, and the order in which we use them, comprises our voice. I think when we start writing, we try to sound "writerly." But it's not until we put ourselves on the page that we can develop our own voices.

Our experiences, both positive and negative, play a part in our voices. So do the story and the characters. One exercise we've done in workshops is to choose a picture from many provided by the instructor. Based on the picture, each person writes a brief paragraph or two based on what they "see". Then, everyone swaps pictures with someone next to them and repeats the exercise. As participants share what they've written, the different voices become clear. One will find something humorous, one will see the same picture as dark and ominous. This is one reason we shouldn't worry too much about sharing story ideas. Even given the same plot, no two writers will write the same story. This was pointed out in another workshop where the assignment was simply to write a short paragraph or two about a wife wanting a divorce. Same situation, but no two stories came out the same.

As I continue to write, finding my voice gets easier. When I sit at the keyboard and the words pour out, that's my voice. When I struggle to find the right way to say something, I'm hoping that I'm searching for "my" voice, but until the words feel right, I'm not confident I've nailed it. And when I read an author whose voice resonates with me, I have to make sure I'm not using that voice instead of my own when I write. For that reason, there are several authors I don't read while I'm writing. I could always tell when my husband spoke to his parents on the phone, because his 'voice' changed into that of a central New Yorker. In Los Angeles, I never heard him say "Hey-Yup", but put his father on the phone, and he used the expression all the time. I don't want to start letting their voices (fantastic as they are) get confused with mine.

Of course, the flip side, as with everything, is that one reader may love a writer's voice, while it can be a turn-off to another. But that's why there are so many books out there.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fall? How about picking apples?

Central Florida isn't much on seasons--at least not the ones on the calendar. Ours are more like Summer, and February 3rd. But, the faintest teasings of fall are there if you look for them. The first indicator for me is a different quality to the light as I drive to the Y in the early morning. Trees shine with a golden glow, and things look crisper, somehow. Probably because the humidity is a few points lower.

This morning, it was actually below seventy degrees when we got up. I opened the windows. Since the highs are still predicted to be in the upper 80's, they won't stay open long, but it's nice to get some fresh air into the hermetically sealed box for a change. It will be some time yet before the weather is this pleasant for more than a couple of hours a day.

Of course, that fresh air brings in a new set of problems as I hear my husband's allergies kicking in. And speaking of my husband, he sent this link yesterday. It's probably the only way anyone around here can pick apples. Beware -- it might keep you from doing what you should be.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What's on your cell phone?

What I'm reading: Contest entry 5/5

What I'm writing: Chapter 26, scene 2

I write for three different publishers. One targets the library market with hard cover books. One has a fixed schedule for books coming out digitally and then in print. Another is primarily electronic, although they do put books in print, but there's no predicting if or when any particular book will make the jump. And, because I wrote for a couple of e-publishers, I learned a lot about e-books and e-publishing.


I've become a moderate e-book convert. If there's a choice, I'll often opt to buy the digital version which saves trees and space. But my reader doesn't allow me to download just any e-books. The formatting wars are the hot topic, and one I'm not going to get into here. But, my sister-in-law sent me this link this morning, and it about blew my mind.

I've barely cracked the surface of what my cell phone can do. Mostly, I want it to call AAA if I get stuck, but it's got a 175 page owners manual, so I think it can do a lot more.

OK, I can see someone who might be willing to read a book on a cell phone sized display window. I can see taking a file and uploading it somewhere that people could access it if they were so inclined to read on their cell phones. But to text a book?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Just Do It

What I'm reading: Contest entries: 4/5

What I'm writing: Chapter 26

Get off your ass and write something. I hear you whining and kvetching out there, "I don't want to... I can't... I don't have time... I'll do it tomorrow." Ha! You don't have the time... you make the time, if you want this badly enough. If you burn you will write because you can't live without it, because you'd surely go mad if you couldn't write. Everyone gets just 24 precious hours every day, and no one is going to give you any more than that because you're a suffering artist. Quit whining and write.
~Molly J. Anderson-Childers

I've spent the last two weeks trying to be a "full time" writer. I don't really know what that means. I know that many days, aside from my begrudging trips to the Y, I didn't leave the house. I know when I had a full time, get in the car and go to the office day job, there were schedules and routines. Arrive, check my inbox, get a feel for the day's workload. Do the work. A break for lunch. Do more work, then go home.

Writing doesn't quite work that way. I'm home, so there are all the distractions and chores. When I worked the office jobs, I had to take care of 'real life' either on weekends or after hours. Now, I can hit the grocery store and do all my other errands any time I want. To date, I've been unable to say, "today I will write from 10 until 2, and then again from 7 until 9." Instead, I try to think that everything I do is "writing" whether it's doing promotion --like last night's fight with Access to create mailing labels from an Excel spreadsheet that someone else formatted -- or wandering the house listening to my characters, or surfing the 'Net to find Australian sheep station terminology. Some days, the words on the page seem to be gravy. But without any self-imposed "have to get this done NOW because it's my "writing time," I've been cranking out at least a scene a day. Yes, if I sat and simply typed it, it would probably take an hour, tops. But one can't wait for the muse. I've taken several story detours, but my process is "write it and see." So, I don't necessarily mind spending four hours thinking about a scene, writing it, and then deciding it's not really going to work. Because once I know why it didn't work, the road congestion clears, and I can speed forward.

Another quote:

Don't loaf and invite inspiration. Light after it with a club, and if you don't get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.
~Jack London

Tuesday night, I finished a scene and had what I thought was a pretty good page-turner of an ending. This was reinforced by my daughter's comment that even though she knew where the story was going, she wanted more. NOW.

So, yesterday, I re-read that scene to get a running start, and began to move my hero and heroine that much closer to uncovering the vital clue to the mystery. But, somehow, they ended up in bed. I re-read it last night, and will look at it again this morning. Was I just trying to get something on the page, or was this a logical, significant to the story bedroom scene?

I'll read it again this morning and see how it looks in the clearer light of day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How Real Should It Be?

What I'm reading: Contest Entry 3/5

What I'm writing: Chapter 25

I hit a snag in my plot a few days ago. My heroine and her savvy hero had escaped their captors, and were on the run. Now, too many of us get our information from watching television, or maybe from reading novels written by authors who get their information watching television. We've grown to believe that DNA and fingerprint records come back in minutes, complete with pictures of the suspects, their entire life history, and what they ate for breakfast. In reality, that doesn't happen.

Can you be found by using your credit card or ATM? Calling someone on your cell phone? Maybe--but be honest. Do YOU know how to do that? In reality, most of this information goes only to law enforcement, and only with a lot of paperwork. John Q. Public can't simply call up the AmEx office and ask where Joe Hero last used his credit card.

But -- if a reader thinks something is real, then is writing it right going to make them stop reading because they think it's wrong? One RWA speaker, Julia Hunter with the FBI said that even she writes things wrong if it's reader perception.

I've tried to have my savvy hero explain to my heroine why he feels safe using his credit card--because he knows the system, and he's sure the guys who found them earlier are penny-ante thugs who could never get the requisite warrants, since they're not law enforcement by any means. However I also created a special perk for his account which would alert him if anyone tried to trace his charges. Is that real? Maybe. I know you can get alerts if someone tries to access your credit rating. And I know that AmEx called me once when someone was trying to charge a plane ticket from Japan to Ireland. And, I created a fictional company that my hero works for, which allows some more of the fudge factor.

So--my hero and heroine managed to elude the bad guys, and are on the road again. I followed all the normal precautions for them, and was convinced they could get away clean. Only problem--I need the bad guys to find them for another action-high tension scene. I decided that the heroine will send a couple of emails to someone she's unaware is working with the bad guys, and he'd use the header information in the emails to trace where the messages came from.

But--I wasn't 100% sure it would work. I tried plugging my own ISP into WHOIS and it took me to my Internet Provider's corporate office. I questioned my crimescenewriters Yahoo group and my fears were confirmed. Without a subpoena, the ISPs won't reveal exactly where the emails come from. So... do I fudge here and hope readers think that every time they log onto their computers, anyone can find them? Or do I try to keep it real.

I've always opted for real. So...back to the plotting board for another way to get that hero/heroine confrontation with the bad guy.

Does it bother you when an author bases an important plot point on something you know can't really happen?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Crimes Against Seniors, TRIAD, and more

This concludes my sharing of workshop notes.

What's being done?

In Orange County, they have a system called TRIAD. The following is from their brochure.

History of TRIAD

In 1988, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and the National Sheriffs Association (NSA), signed a cooperative agreement to work together to reduce both criminal victimization and unwarranted fear of crime affecting older citizens. The three organizations agreed that sheriffs, police chiefs, prominent and involved senior citizens, and TRIAD, working together, could devise improved methods for reducing crimes against the elderly and enhance the delivery of law enforcement and social services to elders. This, they agreed, is true community policing for the aging population – a group that appreciates, respects and supports law enforcement.

Why is TRIAD needed? Older Americans comprise the most rapidly growing segment of the population. One in every eight citizens is already age 65 or older, and 25% of them live alone! These are our most vulnerable citizens! It is expected that by the year 2025, one out of four Orange County residents will have reached the age of 60. Increased life expectancy is leading to new issues and problems for the criminal justice system as most communities experience a dramatic increase in the number of older persons. Since Florida continues to be one of the three leading retirement destinations in the country, local numbers will far surpass those of most other states. The anticipated increase in crimes committed against seniors and the need to provide social services to victims, demands that Orange County take steps now, to create a network addressing those issues before the number of elders reaches its peak.

One Florida county has created a 'senior friendly' courtroom. They're told what to expect in the hopes that if they're not intimidated, they'll follow through with the process.

Some features: Ramps create easy access for anyone using walkers or wheelchairs. The walls are painted a calming green. Big screen tv's let them see what's going on.

A new program called "Senior Fit" is designed to make sure seniors are safer behind the wheel. They're checked out to make sure they're using their seatbelts and they're adjusted correctly. That they're not too close to the airbag. That their seats are high enough to see over the wheel, since many seniors drive larger cars thinking they're safer. The program doesn't sell any adaptive equipment, but it does let the seniors know where they can obtain it if they need it.

Another program that's not really targeted at seniors, but I found very interesting, is "Combat Auto Theft." Most car thefts take place between 1 and 5 AM. If you aren't normally on the road at that hour, you can sign up for a special decal, and if the cops see your car on the road, they've got your permission to pull it over for an investigative stop. If you do happen to be driving, you merely prove who you are, but it someone's taken your car, with this program, it's more likely to be recovered.

I hope some of my posts over the last week have been useful and informative.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Crimes Against Seniors - Part 3

What I'm reading: Contest entries

What I'm writing: More chapter 24 -- found out my foolproof scheme to keep my hero and heroine under the radar was too foolproof. Time to do more research.

More about Crimes Against Seniors:

Why seniors are attractive targets for con artists

Many have a nest egg
Less likely to report a fraud because they don't know where to go, or they're too embarrassed at being conned. They fear they will lose their independence.
Sometimes it's hard to remember precise details
Products and services used in the cons designed to appeal to that age group: health care products, health care services, and retirement investments.

Common scams - and these are not just for seniors. Anyone can be a victim.

Identity theft
Health Insurance fraud
Home repair schemes
Foreign lottery/sweepstakes fraud
Advance fee/credit card frauds
Investment fraud
Charity schemes

Avoid being victimized:

Shred credit card receipts and old bank statements
Close unused credit card or bank accounts
Don't give out personal information via the phone, mail, or Internet unless YOU initiated the contact
Never respond to an offer you don't understand
Talk over investments with a trusted friend, family member or financial advisor
(but lets not forget that 86% of senior abuse comes from family, so 'trusted' is the operative word here)
Require everything in writing
Don't pay in advance for services.

Another trend: Criminals targeting seniors are increasingly located outside the US, making it difficult for American law enforcement to track them down.

More details, with descriptions of how each of the scams work, and specific advice for avoiding being taken are given at the FBI's website I posted last week. I'll repeat the link here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Just for Fun Quiz

What I'm reading: The Mercedes Coffin, by Faye Kellerman

What I'm writing: Chapter 24

Tomorrow it'll be back to Crimes Against Seniors. I've been writing an Aussie character, and my other books have included characters from Texas, Boston, Montana, and New Orleans. I'm not one to use much 'creative spelling' to convey dialects and accents, but this quiz for American accents caught my eye.

My results were spot on. Anyone else?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Civilian Police Academy - Seniors 2

Yesterday I mentioned that 86% of abuse comes from family members. It appalled me to learn how many seniors are impoverished by their own children who explain the importance of being able to help with finances, etc., and once they have access to the accounts, go on to take the money for themselves. Or… child #1 is a responsible caregiver and aide. But he has a sibling who sees him as 'favored' by the parent. Child #2 fears that child #1 will be the one to inherit. So, child #2 calls the authorities and tips them that child #1 is exploiting the poor, unsuspecting parents. Often, it works.

Today, more of a focus on scams.

Again, people's trusting natures are at the root of why most of these scams work. We heard the story of one woman who was self-sufficient, active, and volunteered 30 hours a week in her community. As I said yesterday, not a stereotypical addle-brained elderly woman. However, because she trusted three young ladies who approached her in the supermarket, she ended up being in fear for her life. Initially, after winning her confidence with 'icebreaking' chatter, they told her they had a lot of money in foreign currency, and they wanted to count it before taking it to the bank. She agreed to let one of them sit in the backseat of her car and count the cash. From there, she agreed to write them a check for some advance money. Her bank knew her and wouldn't cash the check for her, knowing she didn't have a lot of money in her account. (She had $4000). By now, these women had convinced her to try another bank. As things went downhill, our victim now found herself being driven all over town. Two men had joined the entourage. She ended up someplace where they did cash her check, which was for $6000. She lost everything.

Another consideration: in addition to losing money, when she couldn't pay her bills, her electricity was shut off and all the rest of the nightmares that go along with not having any money. She developed "curable dementia" which is a dementia triggered by things such as dehydration, improper medications, poor nutrition, stress, etc. So now, she's got competency issues as well.

Side note—personal experience on the dementia: my 90 year-old mother-in-law recently fell and broke her wrist. The fall was due to breaks in her spine, which meant her back wasn't supporting her properly. This woman lived in a 3rd floor walkup, did crossword puzzles in ink, and was very much in charge of her faculties. However, she ended up in a rehab center, on strong pain meds, with bladder and bowel infections, and although nobody was exploiting her, the hospital staff insisted that because she was 90, her deteriorating mental state wasn't unusual. It took a lot of insisting, and a lot of patience, but about 4 months later, she's living in an assisted living center, back to her old self, and complaining about the 103 year old woman at her lunch table who's 'deaf as a post'.

Another popular scam right now: Jury Duty. You get a phone call from someone identifying herself as the clerk of the courts. You've missed jury duty and there's a severe penalty for that. You claim you never got a notice. The "clerk" says, "Let's clear this up, because if there's an error, we certainly don't want to bother you. Give me your Social Security Number so I can verify we have the right Mary Jones." After the victim does that, the clerk then offers to take care of the fine right then and now over the phone. "All I need is your credit card number, and it'll all be fine." Good-bye identity.

Or, people want to get into your house. A couple of scams for that. Nice woman rings the doorbell with a 3 year old in tow. She's been looking for an address for the last half hour, and can't find it, and her daughter really needs to use the bathroom. The victim escorts the pair to the bathroom. The child knows to stay in the bathroom until Mom comes back. Meanwhile, Mom has gone through enough of the house and taken valuables.

Another: Official looking people say they have to spray the yard for bugs, or to mark utility lines, etc. They don't want to simply show up in the yard, even though they're permitted to do so, so why don't you escort us. The victim does, and the scammers are busy spraying liquid back and forth. "Ooops. We got some on you. We're so sorry. Quick, let's go inside and wash this off, because it's dangerous." They're in your house. One offers the first aid, and while you're worrying about what the chemical might be doing to you, the other is helping himself to your stuff. Often, these folks have backup in the car who help them collect their booty.

Do yourself and those you care about a favor and check the FBI website.

Other "facts" from Wednesday's class. It takes 3 full time employees to process all the paperwork involved in one person's Social Security benefits. What happens as the segment of our population eligible for SS outnumbers those in the workforce by about 3 to 1? The nation is getting older. Who's going to run it?

If someone throws a spark plug at your car window, the glass goes both inward and outward. Didn't know that. Watch out for people kicking tires in parking lots. They're testing for car alarms.

In our area, the patrol deputies, who are usually in their 20's, are being trained on how to recognize typical behavior pattens of seniors who may have wandered off, and to spot senior abuse. At the moment, those who investigate child abuse also investigate senior abuse.

On Monday, I'll share some ways to protect yourself.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Civilian Police Academy Notes - Seniors

What I'm reading: Smoke Screen, by Sandra Brown

What I'm writing: Chapter 23

First -- There's a new contest on my website. I have some chapter booklets with the first chapter of my December release, WHEN DANGER CALLS. I'll be giving away three of them -- these are the ARC version, unedited with the ARC cover. For details and how to enter, go to my website

Last night, our Civilian Police Academy Alumni meeting featured Laura Lang, who's responsible for running programs to protect our seniors. She shared some fascinating (and often scary and depressing) information about what's going on in our country. I'll be recapping what she discussed over the next few days -- or as long as it takes.

Some of the boring statistics:
Each day, for the next 30 years, 9000 people will cross into the "senior" category.
In Florida, the fastest growing segment of the population is the 100+ set.

There are 6 basic categories of Abuse:
Mental, Physical, Sexual, Exploitation, Neglect and Self-Neglect.
86% of all abuse is performed by family members.

Beware the stereotype of seniors as old and infirm. Ms. Lang told us that she speaks to senior groups all over the area. One of her recent visits was to a group where the requirements to be admitted were: Over 86 years old. Male. Own a Harley.

Another side note: In the last 6 months, there has been a 40% increase in crimes committed by seniors.

In addition to abuse, there are scams and frauds. While not limited to seniors, these people are especially vulnerable because they grew up in a more trusting time.

Florida has the second highest senior population in the country, and this doesn't count transients (we call them snowbirds) who maintain their legal residence up north somewhere.
There are efforts to follow Texas' Silver Alert legislation. This would be the senior equivalent of an Amber Alert.

Interesting tidbit on safety:
Women are told to carry their purses with the strap going not just over the shoulder, but around the neck, and in front of their bodies, so they can't be stolen. However, those who are serious about grabbing a purse will grab the strap and pull backward, dragging the victim down. They often do this from their moving vehicles. There's not much one can do about that if the purse straps don't break. Ms. Lang sees countless seniors with broken ankles, hips and arms, not to mention 'road rash' from such attacks. Thieves are looking for credit cards and SSNs. She said the cops know if cash is taken, the perpetrator was probably 13 or younger. In fact, she recommended not carrying a purse at all, but to take only what you need for a specific excursion and to carry it in a deep front pocket. Not sure I could manage that -- first, I'd need a whole new wardrobe. Most of my clothes don't have pockets like that.

More tomorrow. And into next week, I think.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Writing is WORK

If you like to sample new authors, Romance Excerpts Only has a straightforward blog where authors post excerpts of their work. During the month of September (okay, I'm a little late with the news), they're going to be giving books away. All you have to do is drop by their blog and leave a comment. No limit.

Yesterday's work seemed to fit another one of my quotes of the day:

You have to fight the stuff you work with, in addition to trying to build with it. Wood resists saw. Nails the hammer. Stone the chisel. Words the writer.
~James C. G. Conniff

Although my end of the day word count was well over my minimum goal, I think my delete key worked harder than it has in weeks. For some reason, my heroine started whining (unacceptable) and I realized she'd done what I absolutely hate to read in romance--repetition of inner thoughts. I know she was confused about her feelings for the hero, but it took a long, drawn out talking to before she'd listen to reason. I'll have to see what my crit buddies think of the pacing in that chapter. All I see is this dead horse, and me with a stick. I knew what I needed to happen, but we couldn't seem to get there, and I think my heroine was trying to help me kill time while I figured out which road to take.

Then I read this quote this morning:

Keep in mind that an outline isn't a blueprint; it's merely a rough guide. You can change directions at any point. In fact, you most likely will. As you get to know your characters, they'll develop minds of their own. Plots, too, are organic and will often shift course as they take shape. If you're not sure about something, sleep on it. If it still makes sense in the morning, it's probably the way to go.
~Eileen Goudge
The Writer, June 2007

Well, I wrote it yesterday. Let's see if it makes sense when I re-read it this morning.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What Kind of Writer are You?

What I'm reading: Silks, by Dick Francis and Felix Francis

What I'm writing: Chapter 22

Before I forget: I'm interviewed at Joan Reeves' blog, Sling Words.

The writing process continues....

The idea is to stay with it. The idea is that writing is a life-long learning process. Remember that: process. The thing you write, the essay, article, book, is the product. What gets you there is the process.
~Lauren Kessler
The Writer, Aug 2008

Another quote:

Character is the leading element in a story. It's what you're revealing. And the purpose of the story, the event of a story, usually shines light on and reveals character, which is what you're really delivering, I think.
~Ron Carlson
The Writer, July 2007

and what about this one?
The most important thing to keep in mind is that no plot, however "suspenseful," will hold the reader's interest for very long unless the characters themselves are compelling. _They_ create the suspense; without them the novel is like a car without an engine. For if you don't care about them, it's of little consequence whether they get kidnapped or lose their job, fall in love or suffer a painful breakup. Construct them as carefully as Frankenstein did his monster, and you may be rewarded with a monster hit!
~Eileen Goudge
The Writer, July 2007

I totally agree. I LOVE characters. I need to know my characters. When I'm stuck, I put my characters into a room and let them talk. And I love dialog. My characters babble as much as I do sometimes. So my writing process should be based on characters, right?

MAYBE NOT

In yet another instance of synchronicity, while I was over at Murder She Writes yesterday, Jennifer Apodaca posted a "What Kind of Writer Are You?" quiz. It was short and didn't ask questions about genres I'd never heard of, or make me feel old and clueless, so I played along. After all my explaining about how characters are so important for me, and how I never really get into plotting, the quiz results said I was a PLOT WRITER. HUH? I felt like I'd flunked a quiz about ME. But, judging from the comments, a lot of people thought they got the "wrong" answer. Why don't you pop over and try it. Let me know if you got the results you expected. Here's the link:
Meanwhile, I think I'll take it again and see if I get a different result.

And although the quiz results threw me for a loop, it's just a fun quiz and I'm definitely not worried that I'm writing "wrong."

On another note: I did get a couple of those wonderful emails yesterday--the ones that keep you carrying out the process.

Terry, your earlier books were so well-written and enjoyable that my family has been eager to learn when you would publish another. This is great news! Your release date makes this book the PERFECT holiday gift for my family and friends!

*****
My girlfriend has been reading your books up in Tallahassee. She loves em.

Monday, September 15, 2008

More on Process

What I'm reading: Into the Fire by Suzanne Brockmann

What I'm writing: Chapter 21

First -- a bit of Happy Dance News: When Danger Calls is available for pre-order on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. I was unaware of this until one very nice commenter pointed it out to me. And, at the moment, it's discounted at Barnes and Noble. You can read a little more about the book on my website.

My writing quotes of the day have been dealing with the process of writing lately. One common question is 'do you plot the book in advance?' I don't, not really, which is why this quote makes perfect sense to me:

Not only do I not do an outline, I can't understand how anybody possibly could. Because, at least if you're writing character-based fiction, you have to know a lot about your character before you can begin. So I write to discover my characters and, in doing so, feel my way through the story.

~Tom Perrotta

However, just because I can't understand how others can outline doesn't mean I think they're 'wrong.' Everyone finds his or her own way to get the story on the page. But knowing the characters is vital. If you don't know enough about them, how will you know how they'll react in any given situation?

Right now, my hero needs to keep someone out of the way for a few hours, while he goes in search of the heroine (of course – he's the hero.) My crit partners have suggested that he should allow himself a lot more time than he originally estimates he'll need, to show that he's sensible and a good planner. However, he won't let me do that.

First, because he's dealing with a two-bit thug, and not someone who's going to be blowing up buildings or wreaking other major havoc, he's not going to do anything drastic (Not to mention he doesn't need the cops involved). Although my hero is entirely capable of killing people if he has to, it's not something he does unless he's on an assigned mission.

Second, because his only course of action in this situation is to leave the guy locked in the covered bed of a pickup truck, and for personal reasons, that's something my hero considers a 'bad place'. At first, that's what I was going to do, just leave him there, but my hero wouldn't let me write it that way. He insisted on having someone else let the thug out after a 'reasonable' amount of time.

I have to hope that readers will see that my hero's character qualities would prohibit him from doing anything too inhumane to the thug, while still giving him what time he needs to find the heroine.

Right now, the solution is that other 'stuff' happens that delays him. Finding the right 'stuff' so it doesn't feel contrived becomes the challenge.

Which brings me to another quote:

Figuring out how all of it will fit together is always the biggest challenge, but I don't make that happen beforehand--I just start writing and see what happens on the page.
~Jennifer Egan

In the scene above, I found I needed a new character to do what my hero asked, and it turned out he was exactly that – a character. Sometimes these strangers who show up on the page turn out to be more fun than the ones you've invited.

That's still my process. I write it. Sleep on it. Look at it the next day.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Goals, Word Counts, and The Writing Process

What I'm reading: Hit Man by Lawrence Block

What I'm writing: Chapter 20

From my Quote of the Day file:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
~William Strunk

This makes me feel a little better. I've been working conscientiously to finish my manuscript. I'm over halfway through the first draft, and I know where it's going, so it's a matter of finding the best route to get it there. Without a deadline, it's important to find the right motivation to keep going, especially when there seems to be a huge mud puddle and a fallen tree along the path you thought your characters were going. You can see the goal on the other side, but you have to pick your way through the underbrush, careful not to trip on rocks or step on snakes in order to get there.

I set daily minimum goals for the writing, and try to do other 'writing' stuff if I'm not actually at the keyboard. I've got a book signing on the 20th (Winter Park Borders if anyone's around—details on my website), so I have some giveaways to put together. That counts as "writing" but it doesn't get words on the page.

At any rate, at the end of the day, I have numbers in my spreadsheet. I click the word count tool in my manuscript, plug it into my spreadsheet, and the program tells me how many more words there are since the last entry. Admittedly, I find that I click that dozens of times a day, sometimes seeing my count go up by 25 words, others by 250, and the really good ones where I've written 500+ words without stopping to think. If I hit 1000 on a day, my minimum, I feel that the rest will be gravy. I hit that point at noon yesterday, so I treated myself to some reading time and even watched an episode of The Closers I'd taped way back when.

The next morning, however, is another matter. My routine most mornings is to get up, deal with email, then go to the Y. This morning I added a phone call to Universal Studios complaining that they'd started testing their roller coasters at 06:20 and that's NOT the way I like to be awakened. The darn things sound like Dorothy and Toto ought to be flying by, and we're 2 miles away. But I (as always) digress.

Once I get back, have my coffee, go visit a few blogs, I'll look at the scenes I wrote the day before. When I finish, before I move forward, I'll check my word count again. All too often, it's less than the night before. Most of the time, I find that I've put in way too many unnecessary details, had my characters babble on about nonsense (dialog in fiction isn't the same as listening to 2 people talk and transcribing it word for word). But, as Mr. Strunk has pointed out above, less is more.

And so, with that said, I'm off to look at what I wrote yesterday. My count was 1987 words. We'll see what it is in an hour.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Trends?

Nothing New Under the Sun?

Are we losing our creativity? One television hit begets countless clones. Most don't match the quality of the original. Maybe because the originality is gone.

The same seems to hold true for the publishing industry.

Lately, going into a bookstore seems to be "Variations on a Theme." One author strikes it big, and everyone starts writing the same book. Right now, it seems to be paranormals. Everyone's jumping onto that bandwagon. (Except me, because I don't like vampires, shapeshifters, werewolves or their ilk. Maybe it's because I have a strong background in science, and can't suspend my disbelief that far.)

It's a bit strange, because I 'learned' to write by writing Highlander FanFiction, and that's definitely outside the science box. But as Dr. McCoy explained to Capt. Kirk in "Requiem for Methuselah", the immortality could be explained by 'spontaneous cell regeneration.' I could accept that. I'll also accept a teeny bit of psychic ability.

So, what's a writer to do about these trends?

Nora Roberts says:
I never try to forecast. I don't much care. What's important to me--as a reader and as a writer--is a good story well told. Trying to predict trends is as dangerous, [in my opinion], as opting to follow one. They're trends for a reason, and they come and they go.

The publishing industry moves too slowly to jump on a trend. It's likely to be a year, maybe two, before your book hits the shelves. Joan Johnston said she reads the entertainment media to see what movie deals are being made, because the movies aren't going to show up in theaters for a year or two. But if you can't write that genre, don't bother, because you've still got to write a great book.

Debbie Macomber, in this month's Writer's Digest, has an article on Trend Spotting. She gives 7 sources:

1. What's Happening in England
2. Television
3. Movies
4. Catalogs
5. Magazines
6. The News
7. The Internet.

You can read the complete article here:

So, are you sick of reality shows? How many variations of CSI do you watch? Do you see anything really 'new' or different in the new season promos? Or will you be doing what I do, which is reading a good book instead. As long as it doesn't contain those pesky werewolves.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Writing a Trilogy - More RWA workshop notes

What I'm reading: The Dark of the Day, by Barbara Parker

What I'm writing: Chapter 18, scene 2

The last of my workshop notes covers Susan Mallery's workshop on The Arc of the Trilogy. It seems that the hot thing right now is a rapid release of three connected books. I'm writing connected books, but they definitely don't fit the definition of a trilogy, so I thought I'd attend the workshop to see if this might be a direction I'd like to take. (Or, so I'd be ready if my agent called and said she found someone who wants three books!)

Of course, her opening statement that writing a trilogy isn't three times harder than writing a single book—it's at least ten times harder—did give me pause.

First, you have to have enough story for three complete books. Think of a 1200 page book. And you have to plot. That's scary enough for me. And since publishers don't wait a year between releases, that's a LOT of writing time. If you can crank out 10 pages a day, 5 days a week, that's 6 months just for the writing. I'm more of a 5 page a day person.

So, things to consider when you're starting out on the quest for the trilogy.

Do you have enough story? Although the books are connected, each has to be distinctively different. You'll need three separate story arcs, plus one overlying story arc that connects all three books. The midpoint of Book 2 would be the midpoint of the trilogy arc. AND – you need a THEME.

Susan Mallery urged anyone who wants to write a trilogy to have their single-sentence pitch ready from the get-go, in order to help keep all things in focus as you write.

She did have a few encouraging words for those 'pantsers' among us. If you don't have the whole arc plotted, you need to know:

What kind of a trilogy is it?
Where it's going.
What will be resolved.
What Book 1 is about.

Next: Characters

They can't be too much alike, or too different. If you're writing a romance, that means you've got 6 major players, plus more who will be secondary characters throughout the trilogy. It's important to keep track of all the details, including the walk ons, because they might be back! I've only started doing this for my current books. When I was writing When Danger Calls, I didn't really know I'd be back with the same group of guys, but now I try to keep character notes. I'm still doing them as I write, though—as I discover facts about each character, I write them down. But I don't do back story digging if I don't need to for that particular book. However, Mallery says a one word descriptor might be all you need.

Some other words of wisdom:

Vary locations. (see yesterday's post about that topic).
Put two favorite characters in the second book.
Combine secondary characters to avoid a cast of thousands
Keep track of back story. It's got to be the same for character A if he appears in all 3 books.
Keep track of time. Make sure you don't create a character in one book who's the wrong age in the next, especially if there's a leap of 'book time' between books.
Plant hints for reveals in future books. Keep a master list.

For me, the hardest part about writing books that pick up recurring characters is always how much to reveal and when. As a reader, I'm not a 'look at the end' person. I like to follow things through, step-by-step, minute-by-minute with the characters I'm reading about. Goes back to my love of whodunit type mysteries. So, if I'm reading and I meet characters and the author starts showing me they've already been introduced and resolved their own conflicts in an earlier book, my first reaction is to STOP reading that book and go find the first. I hate coming into the middle of a series. I read a best-selling thriller, and it was an excellent book, but there were so many references to what had happened to the main character before this book started that I have no desire to go back and read that book. So I agonize over this one as I write.

Mallery suggests that the author can recap the external issues, but not the romance. Let the readers find that in the previous books if they come in late.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Location, Location, Location

What I'm reading: Their Greek Island Reunion, by Carol Grace

What I'm writing: Chapter 18.

My sister-in-law sent a gorgeous picture of a weekend hike to Mt. Jefferson. It reminded me that I've still got a couple of sets of workshop notes from RWA.

Today, it's Anne Solomon's workshop: Location, Location, Location: Setting as Character. I chose this one because first, I absolutely detest writing description, and second, because with one exception, I keep writing books set in places I've visited, but don't live. But whether your book takes place in a real or made-up place, it takes place somewhere.

What is setting? Pure and simple, it's the physical place in which your story unfolds. This includes the time period as well.

Setting can be large, such as city vs. country. Think about how a movie might have a broad establishing shot, then move closer

and closer still, until you can see individual details clearly. You can use all in your writing.


About 20 years ago, a new job led us to a new setting. So, given the parameters of the city, and some limits on how far away from the job we were willing to live, we narrowed it down to neighborhoods. Having 3 kids at the time, schools were high on our priority list, as were enough bedrooms to keep them from killing each other. From there, we began to change the details of our setting. New landscaping, new furniture, new decorative details. This house had a fireplace with a wooden mantel. Up went my husband's skull collection (not human, I assure you.) One daughter said, "What do normal people put on their mantels?" The answer: "Animal skulls. Some really weird people put bric-a-brac and mementos or pictures, but skulls are the norm." (She didn't buy it, but it wasn't her mantel to decorate.)

You probably have the luxury of choosing your setting when you write. But did your characters also have that luxury? Use setting to deepen and enrich your characters. Force them into a new environment, see how they react.

What details to you choose to reveal when you're writing? How does your character see and react to the setting you've created. Think of a room. Furnish it. Then have an artist walk through the door. What does he see? What about a construction worker? A soccer mom? Then flip it. Choose a character and describe a setting that character would inhabit.

Setting is not neutral. The words you choose matter. Make sure you're setting the right mood, tone, and point of view.

Friday, September 05, 2008

His Brain, Her Brain #4

Our topic today is Problem Solving.

Men are linear thinkers.
Women think in clusters.

Men compartmentalize.
Women churn things over until the problem is solved

Men are emotionally divorced from problem solving.
Women are emotionally involved in the process.

Men are solitary.
Women are communal.

Men give space.
Women wants a hug.

Men want answers.
Women want support.

For men, help means failure.
Women want to help.

This will be the last installment. I hope you've found the posts interesting, and perhaps useful.

And, now that we've explored some of the differences, here's someone else's take on His Brain, Her Brain. It might be a comedy routine, but now that we've looked at the evolutionary reasons for these differences, you might see how much is grounded in fact. That is, assuming I've managed to figure out how to upload it to this post. If it doesn't work, here's the link.


video

Thursday, September 04, 2008

His Brain, Her Brain #3

What I'm reading: Three in Death, by J.D. Robb

What I'm writing: Chapter 16

Today, we'll look at some of the social differences between men and women. Again, these differences are based on physiological differences in the brain, but there are always going to be individual differences. There's a basic framework, but there are also individual modifications to the finished product. Think all those housing developments with virtually identical houses. Eventually, the owners put their own touches into their homes giving them some individuality. However, some of the broad, sweeping generalizations we make about men and women does have a basis in the differences in the way their brains work. If you haven't read posts 1 and 2, I suggest you scroll down and read them in chronological order.

In Social Situations:

Men are goal oriented.
Women are community builders.

Men are the lone hunters.
Women are communal.

Men are problem solvers.
Women are problem sharers.

A woman will come home from a day at work and complain about something that happened. To a women, sharing troubles is a friendship ritual. To a man, talking about a problem is asking for advice. Thus, the man will offer suggestions as to how to fix it. The woman really doesn't want his help, she just wants to vent. Men consider talking about a problem a step down in the hierarchy.

Men are likely to explore an idea through argument. Women will shut down, because they want to keep connections open.

Men define themselves by achievements.
Woman define themselves by relationships.

In the workplace, our hard-wired brains still see the differences between male and female behaviors. Perhaps the reason men don't see women as "equals" in the workplace is because they simply can't. They're perceived as too emotional to be authority figures. Their wiring does make them emotional. But that doesn't mean they can't make the necessary decisions. But a woman is more likely to say, "We're going to talk about "the" rules," which is ingrained in the nurturing wiring, whereas a man would say, "We're going to talk about "my" rules," which fits his hierarchical wiring. Women soften statements, men give orders.

The information in these posts comes from workshops by Eileen Dreyer from the RWA conference, and Tracy Montoya's presentation at the Southern Lights Conference.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

His Brain, Her Brain #2

First – yesterday was a 'bust' as far as productivity – back to dealing with customer service. My new cell phone arrived. Nothing like spending about 4 hours and fighting with computer interfaces, misleading menus and trying to download my 'free' ringtone (and having the call dropped right when you get to the, "oh, let me transfer you to the person who can help you" stage). Then, my phone bill came – the one that last month's customer service rep SWORE would be perfect. HA! Took 40 minutes to get through, and to get the rep to agree that I deserved a credit for a service I canceled in March. I wouldn't have minded if I could have worked while on hold, but they interrupted the very nice classical music every 10 seconds with another wonderful reason to be a customer (including their outstanding customer service).

Back to His Brain – Her Brain.
Today, let's look at Speech and Language

The male uses his left brain, frontal lobe. Deals with about 8000 signals.
The female uses multiple sites, bilaterally. Deals with about 20,000 signals.
Male speech is direct and literal.
Female language is more indirect. There's more negotiation, emotive involvement.
Female speech is more facile, more integrated.
There are more male than female. Stutterers.
Men use language to compete.
Women use speech as a reward, as a bonding tool.
Men have emotionless listening postures.
Women show 6 different listening postures.
Men don't need to express pleasure with words.
Women talk. And talk.

60-80% of communication is non-verbal.
20-30% of communication is via voice sounds
7-10% of communication is via words
Men only hear the words
Women hear and use 6 tones
Men hear and use 4 tones

For a male, silence is not punishment.

Yesterday I mentioned Tracy Montoya's workshop. She discussed Robin Lakoff's power theory and Deborah Tannen's connection theory. Given the insights of the difference in brain structure and hard-wiring, everything makes sense. Bear in mind, Tracy's workshop focused on American men and women, and holds about 60% of the time. (The following is taken from my April 1st post, to save you having to dig for it.)

The hard wiring is evidenced at a very early age. Little girls want to fit in. Little boys like to be the boss. As women, we grow up wanting to be part of the group and don't like to make waves, whereas for men, it's about the hierarchy. Girls share secrets, like to connect. Boys want to be higher up the ladder and use language to one-up each other. If that doesn't work, they may resort to physical means.

Which is why men don't ask for directions -- it puts them 'one step under' the person they're asking for help. And it helps explain why men don't apologize. That also puts them in a subservient role. Or if they do, it's more like, "I'm sorry if you feel that way..."

These observations are built around our culture and our language, and are broad generalizations. Patterns, not rules. Regional background, age, and birth order also play a part.

But I loved her example of how little boys play the game. Three little boys in a car. One says, "We're going to Disneyland for four days." Boy #2 says, "We're going to Disneyland for FIVE days." Boy #3 says, "We're MOVING to Disneyland." The driver was the father of Boy #3. Deborah Tannen was in the car as well. He was about to step in and admonish his son for lying, but she stopped him. She explained that they'd just established the pecking order, and his son came out on top. The boys all knew it was a verbal battle, and they knew nobody was moving to Disneyland.

Fascinating subject, and it's a great tool if you're trying to make your characters sound real.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

His Brain, Her Brain #1


After being sidetracked far too long, I'm back to sharing some notes from the RWA conference. As someone with a degree in Psychology (or so my diploma says), with a minor in Biology, and being married to a biologist, the "His Brain/Her Brain" program listing sucked me in. And once our speaker, Eileen Dreyer put up her first slide, which subtitled the presentation: "Or Why it too Moses 40 Years to Find His Way Out of the Desert," I figured there would be some worthwhile nuggets of wisdom. I've got a lot of notes, so I'm not going to be able to post everything in one day. Please come back.

One fascinating point she shared was that although we all know that someone with the XX chromosome set is female, and the males are XY, it's not 'either-or'. During gestation, at about the 6-8 week point, the fetus undergoes a 'hormone wash', which may be highly loaded with estrogen or testosterone. This overlays brain development and influences brain function. So, there's really a continuum of sexuality.

And – all of these points are generalizations. There will always be exceptions. Don't shoot the messenger. I'm sharing my notes here.

There are definite differences in brain structure in males and females. Differences are noted at 26 weeks of pregnancy. The brain develops differently in males before sex hormones are produced, so part of the sex differences in the brain is genetic.

Now, cutting to the chase: Humans started out a long, long time ago. Changes in the brain are nowhere near catching up. So, we're basically hard-wired to survive, but not in this century. Traveling back to the days of early man…

Males are hard-wired as hunters. They have better long range directional skills. They've got a better spatial sense. They focus on single tasks, on procreation, they focus on things.

Females are hard-wired as protectors of the nest. They're communal, have more finely tuned sensory skills, are multi-taskers. They're non-verbal communicators. They can process and integrate input faster.

Some differences (and remember, these are generalizations)

The male resting brain is 30% active.
The female resting brain is 90% active. (So, yeah, it's hard for us to 'shut down')
The male brain is logical.
The female brain is emotive.
The male brain is left hemisphere dominant, with the exception of the spatial area.
The female brain is more multi-hemisphere, with a thicker Corpus Callosum.
When men speak, only one site is active. (Right—they talk OR listen.)
When women speak, both the hearing and speech centers are active.

On the topic of lying:

Women lie to make others feel better
Men lie to make themselves look good.
Men don't lie more than women, they just get caught.
Women lie for self-deception
If a man and a woman are in a close relationship, it's harder to lie.

Remember to check back!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Safe Holiday, Everyone


For those of you in Gustav's path, be safe.

For the rest of you, celebrate sensibly.