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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Know thy characters

Okay, I was in a store, shopping with a friend and started obsessing (not like that ever happens...) about a scene in the second book in my series.  Problem was, it was a sex scene.  Nothing to do but get my notebook and pen out of my purse and jot those ideas down to get them out of my head. 

It happens all the time.  I'm writing all the time.  I know who has Will's Naval Academy class ring (and why he joined the Marines after graduating).  I know that Lizzy/Elizabeth, who is an Indiana State trooper at the beginning of the first book and fearlessly chases down a criminal barefoot, is scared of spiders.  I know what Mary Margaret buried in her "hopeless" box in the back yard on her thirtieth birthday.  I know how Rob felt, as he comforted a small girl who'd been raped in Africa, where he was serving in The Peace Corps.  I know when Ethan comes out of the closet.  I know Reney's favorite Christmas present ever.  I know why I don't like Grace, but I'll still give her voice.  I know how several of my characters die. 

These scenes all came to me while I was doing other things.  A character demands I write down their words, their story and it needs to be right now.  It might be at 5 am, where I knew I had to get out of bed, go into the bathroom (where I keep one of my journals) and write down a critical scene.  When I was working as an instructor, I'd be in the middle of teaching and a scene would come to me full blown.  I'd call a break, try to frantically write down the main thoughts, answer class questions and still make a trip to the bathroom.  Many times, I'll hear a song or see a video and start crying, because that's how a character would react. 

So, if you're talking to me and suddenly, I get a faraway look in my eyes and start digging in my purse, please don't take it personally.  Let me get my thought down, then I'll be able to reclaim my life.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Creature of the night

I've always been a night owl.  Maybe, it's because Dad worked for the railroad and got calls all hours of the day and night.  I remember many times, Mom and Dad would bring someone home from the Elks Club and feed them.  When I was working outside the house, I'd immediately revert to staying up late and sleeping in on vacations and holidays.  It doesn't help that my husband works second shift and I want to be up when he gets home at 11pm.  When my previous job went to a four day workweek, I saw the blessing of a three day weekend, but oh lordy, was it hard to get into work at 7am!

But, when I started writing again, I found myself actually being more productive at 3am.  I'd plug in my flash drive loaded with music, turn off the TV and edit or write until the sun came up or I got too tired to focus on the screen of my laptop.  I'd sleep a couple of hours, fix lunch to eat with my husband, then doze in the afternoon. 

My problem with keeping an irregular schedule is that I tend not to get enough sleep.  Not only do I get cranky (a situation I gave my heroine in Seven Days), I am not really taking care of myself.  Often, I'll end up with a sinus infection.  Of course, I blame not getting enough sleep and the sedentary nature of writing for the tonnage I've gained over the past year. 

So, not only am I making a commitment to writing, with the longer days of spring fast approaching (and my semi-annual doctor's appointment where I know he'll yell at me!), I am making a commitment to taking better care of myself.  I'm going to try to get a regular sleep schedule going and be more conscious of keeping a regular eating schedule too, so I won't get famished and eat a couple of servings at a time, instead of several small meals through the day.  I can't guarantee, but I'm going to try. 

Can't you just hear Master Yoda saying, "There is no try.  There is only do or do not"?  What will you do for your spring resolutions?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

taking notes

So, I've been journaling in various notebooks and blank books since I met the characters in my novel Seven Days, in August of 2006.  I love to find pretty journals on sale and have quite a collection.  While I started on index cards, the journals work better for me.  I label my entry as to which book the scene would go in or which character it involves with a circled number at the top.  I record information from magazine articles, quotes, interesting blog or Facebook posts or overheard scraps of conversation.  I've recorded passages of novels or dialog I loved and the titles of interesting songs or books I "need" to look for.

When I was finishing Seven Days, I went through the journals and flagged the bits I needed to include.  At first, I color coded, with different markers for each of the four books.  As there were almost thirty journals to go through, it was getting stupid, so I focused on entries I wanted to use for the first book.  I rediscovered many wonderful things I'd forgotten about Will and Elizabeth and their flock of secondary characters.  I also discovered some repetitious dreck!  As I inserted some things and cut others, I was careful to keep a file of the good stuff I'd cut, Just In Case it could be used later on in another area/book.

But, I have almost a whole shelf of the cherry wood bookcase from Mom and Dad's house filled with these notebooks and journals.  I keep one in my purse, one by where I sit in the living room and one in the upstairs bathroom to capture those late night and early morning thoughts.  I save my drafts and notes that I've gotten on the computer on flash (thumb) drives and keep at least one current one locked in a fire safe.  Paranoia is my middle name.  I still have a lot of work to do, but it's a system that works for me.  What works for you?

Welcome to my new adventure!

I began writing fiction in earnest when I was first unemployed, back in 1991.  I think the title of the first novel was Best for Last, because the Vanessa Williams song was stuck in my head.  So, I joined Romance Writers of America and the Indiana chapter, out of Indianapolis and sent the thing out to enter the Golden Heart competition for unpublished authors. 

The result was some interesting evaluation sheets.  Two judges loved my excerpt and one even gave me the phone number for her agent.  Another two marked it as fine, but not outstanding.  To be fair, the judges were pretty overwhelmed with entries that year.  But, two absolutely hated it.  One said something to the effect that she was so very tired of "damaged" heroines.  My heroine had been raped in high school and called the hero, her overweight friend, to help take her to the hospital.  They meet again several years later and truly fall in love.  The other judge said (and I can quote this), "People don't talk like that."  I found it particularly humorous, as I had lifted an actual conversation with a male friend for that particular excerpt.  Also, I later read one of her books (a Harlequin Presents) and thought it was poorly written dreck, with absolutely no romance or compelling features.  But, I digress.

I continued to submit excerpts to various writers' contests and workshops, some in conjunction with RWA and some with the local writers' guild, of which I served as president and board member for a good dozen years.  Each time, I got good reviews and encouraging words.  After I read my scene at a writers' retreat, a fellow author chided me for having the heroine call a male friend.  I felt justification and gratitude when another participant said she'd been raped and her male friend was the first person she called.  Even got a chance to pitch to Melissa Senate, then of Silhouette books, who asked for a partial and synopsis.  I never did anything with that, because I could not for the life of me write the synopsis.  I'd written the whole book, but couldn't write the synopsis! 

Twenty plus years later, I know I wasn't ready.  "Fate and faith puts us where we need to be," I have one of my characters say in my second completed novel, Seven Days and I know it's true.  This one is a kazillion times better and I have several synopses, in different lengths.  I have three other novels in various stages of completion, involving the same family and I've used the time of my second unemployment to work on my craft.  I know we'll see the hero and heroine from my first novel again in the third book in my series.  They are not ready yet, either. 

So, now I am ready.  I'd like to thank all those who have shown faith in me and my writing.  I'd also like to thank those who knowingly or unknowingly gave me what I needed to help round out my characters or stories.  A friend gave me a canvas bag for Christmas that says, "Careful, you might show up in my novel."  It's true.  I'd especially like to thank God for sending what I needed across my path, for encouraging me along this journey when it seemed too hard or too frustrating. 

Come along and join the fun!