Thursday, July 28, 2011
Process? We don't need no stinking process!
Oh, wait, maybe we, or at least I do.
It goes kind of like this . . . my own 12-Step Process
1.) Ohmygawd this is the best idea ever! I can knock this baby out in no time. My agent is gonna love me. Oh, man, I am so excited.
2.) What was that idea again? Crap. (Twiddle thumbs. Play solitaire on line.)
3.) Okay, Judy (you know it's bad when I start referring to myself in 3rd person), this is serious. You need to write that book. Or ANY book. Sheesh. Oh, but wait. Isn't there laundry to do? And when did you last refill all the soap dispensers. DO THAT NOW!
4.) Whine to husband. Pour another glass of wine. Repeat as necessary.
5.) Trudge up to 3rd floor office. Go back downstairs to refill coffee mug. Look at headline from yesterday's NYT. Start to reach for the crossword puzzle. Slap own hand.
6.) Sigh. Loudly.
7.) Actually sit down in writing chair (amazingly novel idea!). Open laptop. Take a deep breath. Type: Chapter One.
8.) Keep typing. Ignore sound of dryer buzzing. Do NOT look at Facebook. Okay, turn airport OFF. Good girl (pat self on the back).
9.) Reread the 867 words you just wrote. Tweak them. Rewrite first paragraph again. Keep writing. Read over everything from the beginning. Smile.
10.) Glance at clock and realize you still have all those errands to run. Keep writing because you want to. Then write some more when it gets a little hard. Allow yourself to write in all caps--THESE SENTENCES SUCK. You'll fix them later.
11.) Stop for the day even though you can't wait for what's going to happen next to your characters. Spend evening thinking about your characters while appearing as though you're listening to your husband (he knows and you know he knows, but it's all good).
12.) Wake up with a great new plot idea for your characters. Ignore steps 1-6 and dive in to step 7.
Repeat as necessary until you've got a complete draft.
There. You've done it. Now you just have to revise. But that's okay. You wrote a novel! 1500 or so words at a time. Hot damn. Cool beans.
So, what's your process like?
(As I post this, I'm a teensy bit more than halfway through my latest novel. I promised my agent she'd have it by Sept. 1. Wish me luck, okay?)
I live in St. Louis, MO with my husband, am the mom/stepmom to five kids (ages 17-25), and taught high school English for 15 years. I'm over on Facebook and Twitter . My first novel, ALL THE NUMBERS was published in 2006.
A few days ago, I read a lovely piece about the author Ann Patchett and the bookstore she’s opening in Nashville. Ann Patchett doesn’t tweet. Or have a Facebook page. She’s never Googled herself, let alone Google +ed herself. When I read this, my first thought was: Dreamy. Both the bookstore and the utter lack of social media.
I do love Twitter. And Facebook. I haven’t yet joined Google+ because I’m on deadline, have a lot of freelance work and very little childcare this summer (in other words, no energy to learn something new right now), but come fall, I’ll be there. Thanks to social media, I rarely feel like I’m home alone at my desk in Maine. I feel connected—to the world of publishing, to authors, to editors and agents. To readers. To ideas. To news and entertainment. To old friends and relatives who live hundreds of miles away. I’ve gotten to know so many authors who now feel like can’t-wait-to-chat-with-them friends at the water cooler. I have a daily (okay, many times daily) check in with my universe. Because of Twitter, I know that Beverly Cleary is Judy Blume’s idol (and this is something that warmed my heart to know.) Because of Facebook, I discovered that Amy Winehouse died and that many of my Facebook friends are very compassionate. Social media is more than just typing something into a little box and hitting send; it’s a world of connection, in every sense of the world. It’s a wonderful thing and I love it.
There’s often a but, and the but with social media is that sometimes it can feel like it’s squeezing the lifeblood out of you. Like you’re not a part of anything at all. Like you’re very much all alone at your desk in Maine. For all the times I unplug, though, I happily come right back, refreshed and ready to rejoin the social mediaverse.
Another but, which came to me this past weekend after a particular tweet made me gasp, is this: If you’re not on social media, your work, like Ann Patchett's, speaks for itself, speaks for you. That’s a good thing. Social media, on the other hand, does a lot of our speaking for us. Every now and then, I read tweets by authors that make me raise an eyebrow, but I move on down the feed, enjoying the various personalities and sensibilities and breakfasts of those I follow.
Until this past weekend and that gasp. A New York Times bestselling author tweeted something that turned me off to the point that I’d never read a blog post this author wrote, let alone buy another book. And I’m not easy to offend, I swear! I have a sense of humor. I know some things are just stupid-funny. But this tweet, this mean-spirited (albeit maybe very funny to some) bad-taste tweet, all the more wrong especially in light of what the tweet was about, actually managed to offend me. It was a tweet written in the aren’t I clever, aren’t I snarky vein. And all I could think was: Is this who you really are?
That I was turned off to ever reading this author again seems to me a #twitterfail. One of the main points of social media for an author, in my opinion, is for readers and potential readers to discover a face/voice/heart/soul behind the pages. Turning off readers with bad-taste snark (and trust me, I very much appreciate brilliant snark), can’t be good tweeting.
Says me. A thousand others may not have been offended in the slightest. Might have found that tweet very funny. Should authors be mindful of others on social media so that they don’t turn off readers? Everyone has his/her own point of view, sense of humor, way of looking at the world, way of communicating. I follow over a thousand people on Twitter and can’t remember ever reacting so negatively to a tweet.
Do you ever get turned off by what you read on social media? Facebook status updates that make you hit hide or unfriend? Tweets that make you hit unfollow? P.S. If the answer is yes, remember not to be specific! I VERY PURPOSEFULLY didn’t reveal any details about the tweet that bugged me so much. I’m not all that comfortable posting this bit of negativity in the first place. For all I know, I've tweeted a thing or two that has turned someone off.
Again, what’s vicious to me might be hilarious to someome else. What’s “Yeah! Sing-it, sister!” to me might make someone else hit unfollow. Should authors be careful on social media? Does the author who snark-tweeted care that a reader or two might have been lost? Should that author care? That is the question, I suppose.Bio: Melissa Senate is the author of 10 novels, including her latest, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School. She lives on the coast of Maine. P.S. She'd love you to friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Someone once told me that it’s harder to STAY published than it is to GET published. At the time, I thought, “Oh, pish-posh, what drivel. That’s not going to happen to MEEEE!”
(If this were an episode of The Office, I’d look straight at the camera and give one of those knowing, deadpan smiles perfected by Jim Halpert.)
Right now, at this very moment, an editorial team is deciding the fate of my work-in-progress. The sophomore novel-to-be. Because the proposal is with the editor I worked with on Driving Sideways, I only wrote 110 pages before handing it over. If this novel is given the green light, I will be finishing it with the keen insights of my editor. If this novel is NOT given the green light, I will still be finishing it, but first I will need to spend several days completely prone on the couch, eating Funyuns in my pajamas.
(Which reminds me of one of the best Onion headlines ever: “Funyuns Still Outselling Responsibilityuns.” Gets me every time.)
So, while I wait, the plan is to continue working on it. Trouble is, I’m incredibly anxious. Jumpy, even. It would now be easier to thread a needle with a garden hose than it would be to actually meet a daily page goal. Unless that daily page goal includes grocery lists, birthday cards to relatives, and insecure emails to friends.
(Oh! I just got a text. Hang on.)
I may be developing adult-onset attention deficit disorder, or perhaps I’m just turning into my mother. She called me recently while driving home from work to discuss an upcoming family reunion when she suddenly blurted, “Oh, there’s a dead deer! Poor thing. Which reminds me. I should tell you I got my hair cut.”
While I wait for the verdict and gnaw my fingernails to shreds, my writing process has completely disintegrated. But I only have one more month of golden writing time before heading back to my day job, so I need to focus. Butt, meet chair. You’re not leaving until you give me at least four good pages a day.
It always comes back to discipline. (I know. How fun is that?) You have to find a way to introduce your muse to your inner drill sergeant and just get to it. Right now, my inner drill sergeant is shouting, “You think you’re anxious? You should be so lucky! Try waking up in the Sudan or Afghanistan. Get your fingers on that keyboard and give me twenty! Good sentences!” And my muse is clearing her throat. “Okay now, you can do this. You convinced your husband to see Midnight in Paris with you last Friday, didn’t you? And he hates Woody Allen! Just close your eyes and pretend you’re falling asleep. You get your best ideas then. No! You’re driving! When you get even better ideas! Okay, wait--I have it: you’re falling asleep while driving. There. Go! Go write, now!”
Speaking of which, it’s nearly two-thirty. After I figure out why my dog is making this strange wheezing sound, and I get an ice cream sandwich and see what the squirrels are up to in the backyard, and check my e-mail, I’m totally going to get started writing.
When Jess Riley isn't blogging with the Girlfriends, she can be found blowing small things way out of proportion here.
The BookSisters are coming for dinner this week. Nothing pretentious like a Gertrude Stein gathering (although if Hemingway wants to drop by he is most welcome)- just a fun girls night in to catch up on family news, works-in-progress and the state of the book biz (sigh- we will kiss our Borders Rewards cards goodbye).
There was so much to share over lunch, it spilled over into phone calls, emails, extra lunches and the occasional Red Mango.. Aside from motherhood our other common connection was that we lived on Long Island. An hour from the heart of Manhattan's publishing scene but akin to Siberia in terms of respect. "Oh... You live in the suburbs?"
Every few months we'd meet to talk shop and lend support. "Another rejection? Don't worry. You'll get this published." "Agent issues? Here's what I did..." "Anyone want to be my gentle reader? YES!!!!"
We have shared good times, scary times, challenging times and victorious times. We have laughed and cried, pushed and encouraged, and mostly proved that life and careers are so much sweeter when kinship keeps you afloat.
Now our little group has expanded to include other dynamic, talented women who bring new and different experiences to the party. Book publicity, feature films, lecture circuits... Welcome Susannah Greenberg, Susan Henderson, Debra Markowitz, Alix Strauss and Vivian Swift. Can one room take all this heat and talent?
We're about to find out. Everyone has offered to bring wine tonight and only good can from that! So like the brilliant authors who gathered in parlors of the past, we will talk craft while toasting the sweet life (Brenda we will miss you and will raise our glasses to your fabulous book deal and growing family!!).
I never pledged a sorority in college, but so appreciate being surrounded by a family of sisters who care, share and never fail to bring me back to center.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
The area where I live is rural, so there's no sidewalks, just the road with all the dirt and detritus that's the result of cars and trucks speeding past. The road is the main route to the Coast Guard base and to the beach. The cold and treacherous Pacific Ocean is about a 45 minute drive from my house. I wondered if maybe he was using the ski-poles to pick up trash.
Mostly I thought it was great he was out there getting exercise. I'd wave from time to time if I saw him when I was slowing down to make the left turn to the dirt road that leads to our house. Sometimes I'd see a younger woman walking along with him. It's nice to have company, I thought.
A few months ago, I was buying my son's bus pass for school, and I got into a pleasant conversation with the lady at the school district office. She had cute puppy pictures at her desk and we talked about puppies and dogs and exchanged a few stories. She mentioned she lived in the country and, it turns out, only a few hundreds yards (as the crow flies) from my house. We live up a hill and, as I learned, we can see her house from our deck.
Then she mentioned her father, who lives with her and has Parkinson's disease. It was her father I'd been seeing on the road, walking with ski-poles because his balance was precarious. And from time to time, that was her, walking with her father who was trying his best to stave off the effects of his disease.
She was a lovely, cheerful woman, but concerned about her father and his health, though you'd never know it just talking to her in the normal course of things.
It got me to thinking about how we see only a slice of the world. I'd see her father, walking alongside the road with his ski-poles and think it was such a strange thing to be doing. Ski-poles? They'd be ruined by all the dirt and rocks and bits of glass. And he must have been thinking about how important it was for him to move a body he could not really trust. A body and mind that needed ski-poles for balance.
I'm bounded by what I know and by the fact that I cannot know everything. What looks odd and even amusing to me, in my ignorance, is someone else's private struggle.
In real life, and in my writing, I hold on to the lesson that we are, all of us, always partially blind. My characters, whether they are Regency era ladies or contemporary demons and mages, inhabit a world in which what they see and experience is only a slice of the real world of the novel. As the story progresses, they will always learn something that changes their perceptions. For them, the world changes and that change might well be a humbling experience.
I haven't seen the gentleman with the ski-poles in a while. If I hadn't met his daughter and chatted with her, I'd think nothing of it. If I even thought about not seeing him, I'd think he must have changed his schedule or, like so many of us, given up the exercise. Instead, I'm sorry because I suspect it means his disease has progressed to the point where not even red-orange ski-poles are enough.
My encounter with his daughter changed me and changed the meaning of seeing, and then no longer seeing, a man walking briskly along the side of the road.
About Carolyn JewelCarolyn Jewel writes emotional historical romance for Berkley books and sexy paranormal romance for Grand Central Forever. Her historical Scandal was a 2010 RITA finalist and has been ranked as one of the best 100 romances written. Her Regency-set Indiscreet won the 2101 Bookseller's Best award for best short historical. My Forbidden Desire (Book 2 of the paranormal My Immortals series) was a 2010 RITA finalist for best paranormal romance. Book 4 in the series, My Dangerous Pleasure, released June 2011. Not Wicked Enough is her next historical for Berkley (March 2012). She has released her backlist titles and some short original stories as eBooks. You can find her on the web at carolynjewel.com, on twitter at @cjewel and on facebook at CarolynJewelAuthor.
Friday, July 22, 2011
- At first, my goal was a number of hours to spend each day. Because I had to do a lot of research to create my outline, and a lot of re-ordering as I added new information, I knew I might not have very many net words to show for it at the end of the day.
- After I had a detailed outline, I switched to word count goals for every week. If I got stuck on one chapter, I allowed myself to jump forward and work on later chapters - just as long as the manuscript as a whole grew by the number of words I had set myself.
- Chapter goals. Now that I am so close to the finish line, I’ve divvied up the last few chapters and given myself one, two, or three days to finish each one. Some chapters only take a day because I already wrote big chunks when I skipped forward. Some chapters are taking thee days because they need to pull together many threads and answer questions that have accumulated along the way.
- Read it once on screen.
- Read the whole book aloud.
- Print it out as manuscript pages and proof.
- Print it out so that it looks like a book and proof.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Process? Yeah, I'm still searching for the perfect one....
by Sarah Pekkanen
I love, love, love that our current topic is process (did I mention I'm happy about it?) because it's a subject that has been consuming me lately. I've taken on a free-lance assignment that has allowed me to interview some big-name authors, and you can bet I've asked them to detail their workdays. I'm scrutinizing their schedules like a stalker. How do they fit in writing around teacher work days, book tours, sick kids and Facebooking? Do they write in the mornings, evenings, or carpool lines? What's their secret?
I think I'm fascinated by the topic because I'm still searching for the perfect process. If only I could stumble upon the key, imagine how much easier writing would be! Knocking out a novel would finally resemble my old fantasies, the ones in which I sat down at a table and let my fingers dance across the keyboard while I nodded in delight at my own cleverness. Sure, I'd get a little frustrated sometimes, but a quick walk in the woods or sip of cappuccino would steer me straight. (Just for the record? That never happens. Never. I don't even like cappuccino.)
But I know, deep down, it isn't simply a matter of happening upon the perfect coffeeshop or setting aside the hours from 1 to 4 pm to write. I don't think anything can really make writing a book easy. Some books come easier than others - I learned that firsthand, having just today turned in the final revisions on my third and quickest manuscript - but none of them are truly easy (and if you have experience to the contrary, please don't let anyone know. That's like casually mentioning that you fit into your size 4 jeans a week after giving birth. We may act happy for you, but we hate you a little bit inside).
So, here's my process: I'm a new fan of outlining. I didn't outline much at all for my first book, The Opposite of Me, but I had a pretty general outline for Skipping a Beat. I outlined much more extensively for my third book, These Girls, which will be out in April 2012. And I have a fourth book due April 1 (which I haven't even started) so you can bet I'll outline like crazy. I don't have time to get off track and write 50 pages that I have to delete once I figure out where the book is going. I need to get it right the first time to make my deadline. The books I love for helping to form outlines are Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I re-read them before writing every book, and I recommend them to everyone I know.
In terms of writing time, I squeeze it in when and wherever I can. Yesterday I took my oldest son to see "Transformers 3" and I snuck in a flashlight and hard copy of my manuscript, to proofread before turning it in. I bring my laptop everywhere - and I've taught myself to type in a moving car without getting carsick (when my husband is driving, just in case you're wondering). It's pretty easy, if you keep your head low enough so you don't see the scenery whipping by in your peripheral vision. Here are some of the places where I've written: In the waiting room of my kids' dentists office, in the waiting room of my own doctor's office, in the carpool line, on my back porch, at Chuck E. Cheese, in movie theaters, on the Amtrak train between Washington DC and New York, in hotel rooms, in my bedroom, in coffeeshops, on my living room couch, in bookstores, and in the hairstylist's chair while my single process color is setting (what, you thought my color was natural? Why thank you!)
So I think my process is that I don't really have one. I just try to write, almost every single day, and aim for at least 1,000 words. But some days I write much more than that - there was one, glorious night when pages poured out of me like water - and some days I write less.
Now I'd love to hear from you. What's your process? Because if you've found the key to writing books without pain, I'd love to hear it.
Sarah Pekkanen is the internationally bestselling author of The Opposite of Me and Skipping a Beat, and the upcoming These Girls, which will be published in April 2012. Please visit her website at www.sarahpekkanen.com
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I thought of writing about my “process,” but I’m right in the midst of using that process to muddle through the last bit of a manuscript…and I’m realizing more and more that I don’t understand at all what my process is. It’s kind of a mystery, or maybe an enigma. Or possibly a great Black Hole full of galaxies that no one has glimpsed.
So instead, I figured I’d write about why I love books. You know, the old-fashioned kind with covers and pages that flap in the breeze. I’ll do it like David Letterman’s Top Ten countdown, just to create a little suspense (a very little).
Okay (ahem!), here are my Top Ten Things I Love About Print Books:
10. They are user friendly, and I’m too old to learn about new-fangled gadgets when I can barely operate my antiquated cell phone that doesn’t even take pictures or text.
9. They make great coasters in a pinch. I highly doubt that e-readers come equipped with an optional “coaster cover.”
8. Have you ever swatted a fly with an e-reader? I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t hold up.
7. They fit so well into bookshelves, and I love to see all the colors of the spines lined up (like height together with like height, of course—my husband doesn’t call me “Monk” for nothing).
6. I grew up with them. They are like dear old friends. I still have a copy of JOHNNY TREMAIN, which was one of my favorite books in grade school. I have such fond memories of ordering from the Scholastic Book Club and doing reading contests at school, like the one where every kid got a paper kite with his/her name on it stuck to the library walls and a bow was added on the tail for each book read in a certain time frame—I still have that kite!
5. It gives me something to stick bookmarks in, and I have a lovely collection. My favorite has this line on it: “I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.” It’s got a pink tail that my cats have chewed to smithereens. You can’t stick bookmarks in e-readers so far as I’m aware. With the economy the way it is, I’d really like to keep the bookmark makers in business, too.
4. The smell of a brand-new book. It’s like Christmas everyday. I used to stick my nose between the pages and take a big sniff. I don’t do that anymore (well, not often). But there’s just something about that crisp scent. It makes me happy.
3. People can see what I’m reading, and I can see what they’re reading. Like, when I’m in a doctor’s office waiting room or on an airplane. It starts conversations. It’s a great way of judging whether you’d even want to converse with someone. Plus I can show off books by friends that I’d love more readers to discover.
2. It gives me an excuse to hang out at bookstores. OMG. What bibliophile doesn't get a tingle up her spine walking through the door of a store that sports shelf after glorious shelf crammed with books? I've found some amazing titles on impulse buys (like, GARDEN SPELLS by Sarah Addison Allen while I was at Main Street Books in St. Charles, which got me hooked on all SAA's novels, and THE FRENCH GARDENER by Santa Montefiore, which I picked up at Puddn' Head Books because of its gorgeous cover and adored so I've since bought another).
And the Number One Thing I Love About Print Books….
1. I still get a HUGE thrill when I’ve got a new book coming out, and a box of them arrives in the mail via my friendly UPS man. I do a happy dance. I stack them up. I look at the front cover then at the back then at the front cover again. I don’t think I’d ever feel the same way about getting a copy on an e-reader.
So what about you guys? Are you a print book fan or an e-reader aficionado?
Susan McBride is the author of LITTLE BLACK DRESS (William Morrow Paperbacks, August 23, 2011) called "a lovely and entertaining journey into the magical side of things" by NYT bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen. Susan's other books include THE COUGAR CLUB, named a Target Bookmarked Breakout Title and a Midwest Booksellers' "Midwest Connections Pick," as well as the award-winning Debutante Dropout Mysteries (HC/Avon) and The Debs young adult books (Random House/Delacorte). For more scoop, visit SusanMcBride.com.
Monday, July 18, 2011
I’ve written six books (seven if you count the one that is in draft stage right now) and with each book my process has been a bit different.
I’m not a seat-of-my-pants writer, but not a compulsive outliner either. Thinking about making a neat outline with Roman numerals and indents makes me break out in a cold sweat. I need something much more flexible. I take a large sheet of white paper and write down what I know about the story. In the beginning, that usually involves the victim (I write mysteries, to there has to be a victim), the murderer (ditto), and the murder method (also ditto).
Then I begin to think about how my protagonist is connected to the murder (is it through a friendship with the victim? With a suspect?). I draw lines and jot down ideas as I consider who would be on the suspect list and how characters are linked—are they friends, neighbors, coworkers? The story begins to take shape in my mind and I sort out when events will take place. Sometimes I make a rough timeline on the paper.
By the time I get to this stage, I’m pretty sure where the first third of the book is going and I know how it will end (I already know who did it and why), but for that middle part…well, I have to write my way there. Once I get the first part of the book written, I’ve usually sorted out what happens in the middle.
For the first few books, after I completed my messy brainstorming schematic thingy, I wrote extensive character studies. I knew the character’s childhood, her favorite perfume, the color of her comforter, her hopes, dreams, and fears. I drew floor plans of homes, neighborhoods, and towns. I research absolutely everything. While writing Moving is Murder (the first book in the series), I learned obscure details about bee stings, wasp stings, off-shore bank accounts, and county record-keeping. I probably could have won a round of Jeopardy if those were the categories. After I knew every tiny detail about my characters, I used index cards to break out scenes.
But by the time I wrote Book #3, I realized that I was writing these loooong character studies, but when I was in the midst of writing the actual book the characters turned out differently than I’d planned. I thought one character was from Minnesota and had five brothers, but in the book it turned out he grew up in Georgia was an only child. I stopped doing the character studies after that.
Now I still use my crazy schematic, but I skip the endless pages of character background and index cards. I have no idea what I’ll be doing in a few years…whatever works, I guess.
That’s what I recommend to people who ask me how to get started on their book idea: do whatever works for you. There’s no set formula, no “right” way to do it.
Just sit down and do it. You’ll figure it out.
Rosett is the author of the Ellie Avery mystery series, an adult “whodunit” mystery series in the tradition of Agatha Christie. Publishers Weekly has called Sara’s books, “satisfying,” “well-executed,” and “sparkling.” Library Journal says, “...Rosett’s Ellie Avery titles are among the best, using timely topics to move her plots and good old-fashioned motives to make everything believable.”
Sunday, July 17, 2011
- Dashboard Story Development. The car is my summer office, driving across country each year, immobilized in the driver’s seat with hours to think en route to my vacation destinations. Before firing the ignition, I review notes to guide my thoughts. Fresh morning, coffee to go, and the stimulation of an entire country flying past my window create a fertile work space where imagination can rack up as many miles as the car. One such day I drove remembering an editor’s disparaging comment that there wasn’t enough tension in my story. I drove from Nashville to Amarillo generating a list of conflict for my protagonist, a rich resource when I later sat down at my computer. Names, places, and details suggest themselves from the road and a reader could track me from Texas to the Midwest noting proper nouns incorporated into my work. The tricky part is jotting down ideas while driving, which must be why they invented dictation apps. Don't turn on the radio.
- Road Trip Reading. My husband is a captive audience in the driver’s seat, and a long road trip allows time to read an entire manuscript aloud, breaking only to buy gas or get lunch. Problems tend to be more apparent when read aloud and immediate feedback from the captive audience is a plus. Most notable was the time I read a manuscript aloud to see what it lacked and discovered it was nearer completion than I’d thought. Backseat drivers tend to remove headsets and provide feedback, too. Your manuscript can be their audio book.
- Summer School with Famous Authors. Without the regular evening routine of homework, school meetings and sports, summer frees up more time to read. And summer reading can improve your writing if you consider each book a course on the technique of a skilled author. When my agent suggested bringing subplots forward into the first chapter of my novel-in-progress, I worried the interruptions would create speed bumps in my narrative. But reading the first chapter of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, I saw how seamlessly she introduced various threads, and realized I could do the same. Like taking writing classes with Ian MacEwan, Jennifer Egan, and Balzac, summer reading can turbo charge your writing.
- Embracing Isolation. One of my summer destinations is so remote cell phones must be driven a mile to the nearest hilltop to achieve connectivity, and none of the places I go provide easy Internet access. Good news: writing time is not squandered checking stats, commenting on social networks, or indulging Internet distractions. I have no choice but to focus. And I have learned that it is possible to write 5,000 words a day in the wilderness. Leave your browser at home.
- Exotic Places to Write. Being away from home means finding new places to work. When driving my son to a distant university-sponsored basketball camp, I found a study carrel on the sixth floor of their campus library and worked at my laptop for three days solid. I thought I was in heaven, surrounded by stacks of musty books. But most vacations don't provide three days of uninterrupted writing time, especially family vacations. In that case, let growing teenagers and tired traveling companions sleep in. An early riser, packing a journal and pen, can find a seat in an English garden, urban café, or hotel lobby and write an essay before breakfast.
Summer Writing Strategies can become so invigorating, encouraging such high levels of production, that returning to one’s ordinary writing routine can be a buzz kill. Remember: summer passes quickly, but so does the rest of the year. By the time August is over, only nine months remain until school is out next year.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
I awaken to the view of a fantastic sunrise over the ocean, from my tempurpedic bed, with freshly-washed sheet (dried on a clothesline). I sing as I wander through the perfectly clean house, accompanied by cartoon birds and chipmunks, ending up in the kitchen where an extra-sharp cheddar and bacon omelet awaits. After a five-minute workout that burns 2,000 calories, I shower and dress in a cashmere t-shirt and shorts and sit down in my Stressless easy chair to write.
Do I even need to mention that the words flow from my fingertips and I weep at my cleverness? After two hours, I've produced 50 pages of work an editor would not dare to change. For the rest of the day, I sit on the beach with my new best friends - Libba Bray and Tina Fey - while George Clooney serves us cocktails...shirtless.
And this is where you, dear reader, remind me that I am, in fact, a writer of fiction...aka - a liar. Here is the real story:
I awaken to an alarm clock that gets lourder each time I hit the snooze button - which means it is now shattering the windows. I step in a hairball coughed up by the cat. Then I twist an ankle, stepping on one of the many shoes I am too lazy to pick up off the floor. Real animals - in the form of pets - follow me around the house, nagging me to feed them. I work out on the treadmill for half an hour and sweat like a fat man in Death Valley at noon - only to discover I've only burned 10 calories. I take a shower and put on whatever is clean. The dogs now want to go outside, just as I start writing, and once out - want back in. If I don't comply, they bark loudly at any person, squirrel or leaf stupid enough to walk within a mile of our house. I try to wake the kids - which is as much fun as shaving my legs with broken glass. I check my email. I check my Facebook. I begin, at last, to write. Eight hours later, I have ten pages of pure crap. I open a bottle of wine and watch Leverage. I go to bed. Then I wake up because I forgot to make the kids go to bed, and go back to bed.
Okay, it isn't like that ALL the time. And if I had a perfect day all the time - my writing probably wouldn't be funny. Right? Yes. That's it. I'm sure of it.
George Clooney, shirtless and serving me cocktails would be nice though...
Last night I locked myself in my office after a very long and frazzling day of a thousand errands that had to be done right that very minute and settled in to get some writing done. And I did. I am nothing if not capable of forcing myself to do things I find unpleasant which, I must tell you, was certainly how I would describe sitting down to start the day's writing at 9pm.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Well let's see the above title would imply that there is work going on or that my work is in fact a habit. And as of this moment (okay the last two weeks) there has been little work and not much that's been habitual aside from long sunny days and much family. The habits I've cultivated the last two weeks have me a bit (as always) worried. You see...I've been on vacation. By vacation I mean vacation. I've spent the last two weeks visiting family in the heartland. My in laws live seven miles from a town of 4,000. Yes, you read that right...I didn't forget a zero. I went from LA to rural (by way of a writer's conference in NYC.)
Every year me and mine head homeward to the farm where my husband was raised and an area in which a large number of my extended family still reside. My family manages to pack a year's worth of 'family time' into fourteen days. These are lazy summer days filled with pools, horseback riding, firefly catching, pick up trucks, acres of corn, giant skies, brilliant sunsets (did I mention the pick up trucks?!) and late humid filled evenings with the droning of frogs and cicadas. My in laws have no internet and I can't get a cell phone signal for 7 miles. The pace slows to a dull sort of plodding, my brain turns to slow running sap, and well...I don't write...much.
In fact, warning, these are the first words I've cranked out of my mind in nearly twenty days... All this family and summer fun arrived at a good time for me this year as I am waiting on an editorial letter for a manuscript which is the first in a three book deal. So while I re-read the manuscript and think about the problems I know must be addressed (and I am sure my editor will confirm my suspicions) I haven't actually written in weeks.
Is not writing a good thing? Well I don't slow my pace to an output of zero words unless I am ill or the kids or ill or we go on vacation so while the Midwestern work ethic part of my brain screams that I am being L-A-Z-Y unless I work from sun up to sun down the creative part of my brain is resting. I know from experience that this vacation from words will in fact create a huge output upon my return to LA LA land. Thank goodness that this slow time creates productivity because upon my return to LA I must hit the ground at full speed as not only will my editorial letter greet me but I must finish up the outline for the second book in this three book deal.
So this yearly habit of winding down in the summer time sun is one that I have to believe helps my mind, increases my output and strengthens my roots. Besides, there is little else that can ground you like getting your toes into some warm wet mud on the side of a crick while your daughters skip stones... LA it's not, but lovely it is.
Maggie Marr lives in LA with her husband and children. She writes for film and tv. She also writes books. You can find her on facebook and twitter. She also writes a blog.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
The first is no revelation: Plant butt in chair and write. Remain there until I hit my predetermined word count. Lately I've been trying for around a thousand words a day. If it takes two hours to write those words, then YAY!, I have time to do other things that all sounded more appealing as I fended them off while writing. On the more painful days, especially when I don't know where I'm headed with the story, it might take seven or eight hours because I've checked my gmail inbox every five minutes. And then remembered there must be some urgent laundry to do or the dog needs walking or I can't go one more minute without organizing that messy kitchen drawer. But I try to stick with it and to ignore the voices in my head telling me this is the worst dreck I've ever written. Because I know I can always (almost) fix it later.
The second important part of my process is visiting the scene of the crime, either before or while developing the story. (And I'd be the first to admit, this is no hardship when it comes to Key West.)
A research outing might go like this: As I'm wandering through the crowds at the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square on the Key West harbor, I spot a tarot card reader set up at a card table, wearing a deep blue turban with an enormous teardrop rhinestone bisecting his forehead. My mind begins to spin. What if my protagonist, Hayley Snow, is addicted to having her cards read because she's insecure about making her own decisions? And what if her tarot reader sees a card scary enough that even he gets rattled? And what if Hayley uses what she thinks she sees in his reactions to dig herself into deeper trouble? And so Marvin the card reader is born as a character. Only then one of my pals says 'who'd go to a psychic named Marvin?' So I change his name to Lorenzo, but later he admits that he grew up as Marvin but who'd want their cards read by a guy with that name?
Then, as I'm walking and biking around Key West, I notice that homeless people are everywhere, including perched on the stone walls around Mallory Square watching the performers and the tourists. After all, if you had to spend your nights outdoors, you might choose the tropics too. And I think about how they blend into the scenery, but probably notice all kinds of things that visitors wouldn't see. And so Turtle, the homeless guy, is born into the story. One rainy night he takes shelter in a party sailboat moored on the Navy Mole and inadvertently sees the killer coming and going. He would never voluntarily go to the police with this information, but Hayley might worm it out of him.
So with those ideas and story fragments, I go back to my desk and apply seat to chair again. All I can say is: Isn't it a miracle that books get written as often as they do?
Lucy Burdette is the author of the forthcoming Key West food critic mysteries, launching in January with AN APPETITE FOR MURDER (NAL). Please please follow her on twitter or facebook or check out her website, where the artwork is gorgeous and the recipes to die for.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
What's the backstory behind "The Things We Cherished" ?
The inspiration for The Things We Cherished came from a unique timepiece, known as an anniversary clock, which my husband gave me for our first wedding anniversary. I was captivated by the question of where the hundred year-old clock had been and the lives it had touched. As I imagined its history a tale unfolded of a couple at the turn of the century in Bavaria yearning for a better life, two brothers in Weimar Berlin wrestling issues of with Zionism and assimilation, the desperate quest of a young girl trapped behind the Iron Curtain, and of course Roger’s own story of love and sacrifice during the war.
What attracts you to historical fiction?
I lived and worked as a diplomat in Krakow, Poland, focusing on issues related to the Holocaust and Polish-Jewish relations and I met many survivors who became like grandparents to me. I wanted to write about those experiences which affected me so profoundly and which inspired my first novel The Kommandant’s Girl. This is such a compelling time period for me, not only because of the experiences working on these issues as a diplomat in Poland which affected me so profoundly, but also because the events of the era provide such fertile ground for exploring complex themes such guilt, redemption and sacrifice, the gray areas in our lives and the consequences of the choices we make. I consider my books to be, first and foremost, elegies, love poems and tributes to those who lived through those tumultuous times. The Things We Cherished also returns me to this important era, but also allows me to explore more globally the European Jewish experience in the 20th century.
You've had a varied work background. You've been employed with the State Department, the Secretary of the Army and now you're an attorney. What made you decide to write?
I always wanted to be a novelist. As a child, I was forever scribbling stories and showing them to anyone willing to look. But all through my years in school and abroad, I could never quite get off the ground. I became an attorney and one week later 9/11 happened and for me it was this huge life epiphany that I didn’t necessarily have forever so if I wanted to realize my dream of being a novelist, I needed to get started right away. I took a night course called “Write Your Novel This Year” and I did just that, writing from 5-7am in the morning then going off to my day job as an associate in a big law firm.
Who are some of your literary influences? What are you reading right now?
With three kids ages two and younger, I’m pretty much just reading picture books! But I did just read The Postmistress by Sarah Blake, which I loved. I read a lot of historical fiction growing up: Leon Uris, Herman Wouk, Isaac Bashevis Singer. And for lessons on the writing craft, Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg, was huge.
What is the hardest part of writing a novel? The easiest?
It’s all hard! Seriously. But I think the toughest part is taking the leap of faith that allows me to spend all of this time writing something in hopes that people will want to read it down the line. Also the discipline to sit down, come hell or high water or sick kids or work demands or sleepless nights, and write. The greatest parts (I wouldn’t call it them the easiest) are getting to connect with readers and work with the best folks in the business.
The Things We Carried is available July 12.
Pam is the author of The Kommandant's Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Diplomat's Wife, Almost Home, A Hidden Affair and The Things We Cherished. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children. Visit her at http://www.pamjenoff.com/
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Memoirist, teacher, blogger and advice columnist Patricia V. Davis is the author of the new, fun, funny and practical self-help book, The Diva Doctrine: 16 Universal Principles Every Woman Needs to Know, published by Bonneville Books. One of the many things that makes this book stand out from just another women’s self-help guide is how Davis brings in her own life experiences in a strong, engaging voice that makes you feel like you’ve spent quality time with a warm, compassionate friend. And I also love how she’s bringing back the true meaning of the word “diva,” which means a clever, classy, confident and powerful woman—not a self-absorbed prima donna!
Patricia took some time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions for The Girlfriends Book Blog.
How did The Diva Doctrine (TDD) come to be? The Diva Doctrine came out of a blog post, From an Older Woman to a Younger One, which I’d written to a 21-year-old reader who was experiencing some pretty severe self-doubt. I wrote the post with genuine affection because she was a wonderful girl and because I so identified with all the insecurities she expressed, remembering how I felt when I was her age. I wanted her to know that once she got older and felt more powerful, she would realize that these things that concerned her now were things she shouldn’t have worried about. I really hoped it would give her some reassurance and save her some time. Well, that post hit a nerve for some reason, and suddenly started showing up on quite a number of blogs and websites. Some changed the name to “Ten Things I’d Tell My Younger Self,” a title I dislike, by the way. Then people began contacting me, asking if they could translate it into other languages, etc. I was pretty surprised that it was such a hit.
Your previous book, Harlot’s Sauce, is a memoir. How was your writing experience different from this when writing TDD? Any similarities? The differences were that although both are non-fiction, Harlot’s Sauce was a book that I felt I had to write. The Diva Doctrine was a book I was asked to write, and sold even before it was completed. It was a whole different feeling while writing, as you can imagine. The similarities were that in both I had to write about personal feelings and experiences—really baring my soul—because otherwise they both would have come across as lectures or treatises.
Could you have written TDD before Harlot’s Sauce or did you need to process certain events in your life through your memoir (e.g. your expertise in failed relationships) before coming up with the idea of writing a self-help book? You know, I never thought about this until you asked! I think Harlot’s Sauce had to be written first, because as I said in that book, it took going through that experience to make me who I am today. There’s a certain sense of shame we carry around for a while after we fail at something, and failing at relationships is probably the worse feeling of shame for most women. It took years of self-growth and evaluation, and then finding a loving partner and good supportive friends (“true” divas) before I could finally feel some pride in my failures and mistakes and understand that because I came through them and learned from them, that they actually helped rather than hindered me. It’s hard to look at failure like that, because we’re taught that “failure” is the opposite of “success.” It’s not.
There are 16 Universal Principles in TDD. Did the ideas for all of them come quickly to you? Did you need to cut some out? Add more? In the original blog post there were ten, as the title states. But when my agent and I decided to propose a book, we realized that there were some areas missing from that original ten. We went from ten to 18 and finally settled on 16, but I still think there are one or two things I missed.
Unlike a lot of self-help books, TDD includes many of your personal experiences as examples. Did you have any trepidation about including so much of your personal life? I was a teacher for many years and because of that experience, I developed a way of speaking that can be interpreted as sermonizing. My husband and sons will sometimes say, “Don’t get all ‘teacher’ on me.” And they’re right—it can be annoying. It works well in a classroom, where you have only 40 minutes to convince 30 savvy teenagers that you know what you’re doing even when you don’t. But in personal relationships you shouldn’t talk that way to loved ones—as though you’re in charge, and as though you and only you are infallible. In fact, even in the classroom you need to do this usually only at the beginning of the term when you have to set an atmosphere that’s conducive to learning.
In general, you’ll have more success when you talk to people rather than down to them. And if you’ve learned something and want to pass it on, and you truly hope that whoever you pass it on to will seriously consider it, you need to be honest about what happened and say, “Look, I was just as much of an idiot as you’re about to be, and look what happened as a result. Now it’s up to you: do you want to be an idiot as well and make the same mistake, or can you take away from my experience and make it your own?” The feedback I’ve gotten so far about The Diva Doctrine is that reading it is like talking to a friend. Or, as one reviewer put it, I’m comfortable in my “role as a horrible warning rather than a good example.” I really loved that.
What would you say is the overall message you most want to get through to women in TDD? I want women to live their lives as fully as possible, and not make decisions based on a belief that they lack something. And I don’t want them to make a choice based on fear—a fear that triggers fight-or-flight reactions. I want women to support one another, and to recognize that the success of one woman is the success of all women.
Do you have a favorite DD principle? What is it? Yes I do. It’s Principle Number Two: “The only thing you should be faking is confidence. If you don’t have it yet, pretend that you do. In every new situation, pretend you’re not nervous, pretend you’re not scared, and after a while, the ‘pretend’ part disappears.” [This is my favorite too!]
Some women say to themselves, “I’ll just wait to do that until I feel more confident—until I believe I can do it.” But if you don’t put yourself out there and try new things, go new places and meet new people, you’ll never develop self-confidence. It’s a Catch 22. That’s why you have to fake it and remember that no one but you knows what you’re thinking and feeling in any given situation. If you come across as confident, chances are people will buy it. And if you make a mistake, well, a confident person knows that the best of us make mistakes and they don’t curl up into a ball and cry when they do. They learn from it and go on. That’s the essence of the book— live, learn, and go on.
What was your research process like for TDD? I spent lots of time on the Internet, interviewing people, reading books and verifying information. At least half of it you don’t use, and the other half you try your darnedest to double and triple check. Even so there’s a disclaimer on my website and on my advice column saying that I have no actual degree in psychology. In fact, the whole first chapter is essentially a disclaimer that states in a nutshell that I only learned the things I put in the book because I screwed up on every one of them.
What has been your family’s reaction to TDD? Apart from the fact that they’re really proud of me and make that very clear, they’re having a lot of fun calling me “The Diva.” I suspect they might be mocking me. What do you think? ; D
Describe your writing schedule and the place(s) you like to write. I work eight to ten hours a day: backside in the chair, fingers on the keyboard. Period. Some of that time is on actual writing projects and some of it is promoting my work and letting potential readers know it’s out there. I write at home, but we have more than one spot we call home, so when I need a change of scenery I just go to one of our other spots. I’m extremely disciplined when it comes to what I do. It’s the only way to get anything done.
What’s coming up next for you? What are you working on? I was working on a paranormal murder mystery before I was contracted to write The Diva Doctrine. It was a totally different experience from non-fiction and I was loving it. Now I’m working on it again when I can, but at the moment most of my time is being spent promoting TDD.
What and where is your favorite restaurant and why is it your favorite? I only get one? Well, if that’s the case, I would have to pick my cousin’s Italian restaurant, Panificio e Ristorante Solunto in San Diego’s Little Italy on India Street They’ve been in business for over 40 years and bake the most delicious bread on site. The smell of that bread brings back so many memories. If you visit, please tell them Patricia sent you.
Best of luck with the book, Patricia! Visit Patricia at her website www.patriciaVdavis.com
Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels, “Love in Translation” and “Midori by Moonlight,” both published by St. Martin’s Press, and the non-fiction e-book, “Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband.” Wendy holds an MFA in Creative Writing from University of San Francisco. She teaches writing classes for Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio and University of San Francisco. She also offers private manuscript consultation services. Visit her at: www.WendyTokunaga.com