Saturday, December 31, 2011

Writing Resolutions

Happy New Year! Last year I spent New Year’s Eve on the Westminster Bridge in London waiting for and then finally watching the giant fireworks display. This year we are at home here in Oregon REMEMBERING our Christmas and New Years in England. Well, we knew it was a once in a lifetime experience that we would fondly remember forever.

Time for the fledgling writer to make a few New Year’s Resolutions for her new writing avocation.
1.     Write every day. Yes, even on work days. Yes, even when I’m so tired I can barely make it through the door. Yes, even if it is only 100 words. Something. Every. Day.

2.      Re-read Jerry Cleaver’s Immediate Fiction.

3.      Finish the last rewrite of The Vampire Gabriel.

4.      Decide what I’m going to do with The Vampire Gabriel.

5.      Find one or two critique partners. Love having a best friend read my writing, but, well, she’s a best friend.

6.      Join the local chapter of the national writing organization that I’ve been considering joining for months now. Perhaps I will find my critique partners there.

7.      Finish the first draft of my Civil War novel.
While that seems like a lot to accomplish, I must remember that a year ago whilst standing on the Westminster Bridge I hadn’t even begun to think about writing. Since then I have written the first draft of an 80,000 word novel, researched an historical novel, written about 15,000 words of the historical novel, attended workshops, attended the fabulous two-day Wordstock, started two blogs, and started a third novel whose main character wouldn’t leave me alone until I started putting her story down on paper. Whew. I’ve never put all of that down in one place. I’m excited by what I was able to accomplish during 2011.

But I’m even more excited by what 2012 will bring for this new writing adventure! Happy New Year! Let’s keep writing!


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Meeting Lemony Snicket

Tears ran down my face, I was laughing so hard at last night’s taping of the public radio show “Live Wire!” (Live Wire! is taped here in Portland, Oregon, but can be heard in markets around the country.) The reason for the tears: the uproariously funny Lemony Snicket, aka Daniel Handler. I had been looking forward to seeing the man behind the mysterious Lemony Snicket, but I had no idea just how funny the man actually is. So entertaining was he, they let him run long over his allotted time, so sadly when the show airs I’m sure a lot of it will have been edited out. After entertaining the audience during his interview with humorous story after hilarious story, he closed by playing the accordion and singing such a rousing song that most of the audience was gasping for breath, they were laughing so hard. After the show I saw him standing near me and, acting like a babbling idiot fan, I asked for a picture. He was gracious and still extremely amusing while he struck a goofy pose with me. Thank you Lemony! (The show is scheduled to be broadcast Christmas Eve, and will be available on their website as a podcast.)

At each Live Wire! taping, they have a Flash Fiction competition, with six entries chosen for reading at the end of the taping of the second show. (Two shows are taped at each live show.) Last night we had to write six words describing our New Year’s resolution and mine was read! It was silly and random, just what they look for. For a terrifying moment when they read my name and were about to read my six words I worried what would happen if the audience didn’t laugh. How horrifying would that be?! Six words just hanging in the air. But thankfully the audience responded and gave it a good laugh. Whew! This Fledgling Writer wrote six whole words that made an audience laugh! Hear my magnificent six words on New Year’s Eve. I’m sure they will change your life.
Daniel Handler’s new book,  Why We Broke Up , is available December 27th.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Vampire Gabriel

I have a new blog that went live Friday night! The blog for my novel about the enigmatic, sexy vampire Gabriel Augustine is up and running. Though I have intended to add a blog specific to one of my novels, I was not planning on starting it so soon. I was getting over a fever, was playing around on Blogger, looking at designs and such, and without being anywhere NEAR ready, I accidently went live. Ever since that fateful click I’ve been racing to make it presentable. At least a little presentable.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, this past summer, while researching my Civil War book, I practiced my craft by writing the first draft of this paranormal romance. I have always referred to this novel as my “practice” novel. Since that no longer seems sufficient I will now refer to it as THE VAMPIRE GABRIEL, and you can check out the teaser I have posted on its dedicated website at:  

I’m currently working on the rewrite of Gabriel. After a spell of struggling with the rewrite, and feeling rather stagnant, I set it aside for six weeks, as I’d read that this can help when a writer hits a wall. A couple of weeks ago I looked at it with fresh eyes, and the rewrite is now coming right along. Most recently I’ve been reworking the beginning, with the goal being to up the pace and get the reader into the action more quickly.

Today’s book alert: As a fan of Jane Austen, (she is even an off stage, unseen character in THE VAMPIRE GABRIEL) my eye is always caught by the mash-ups that are so popular right now. I’ve only read a few, and have mostly been disappointed. But a new one by a very well respected author has just been published: Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. I plan to give this one a try.
Happy Reading and Writing! And check out Gabriel!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Adverbs, Filter Words, and Query Letters, Oh My!

Between the Thanksgiving holiday entertaining, and preparing report cards I have had very little time available for writing recently. What little free time I’ve had, however, I’ve spent finding and reading blogs on writing. With each new blog I read I become a little more overwhelmed and find myself asking “Why did I ever think I could do this?!” After one particular blog surfing session I looked at my writing and despaired at the many ‘filter words’ I had peppered throughout. And adverbs-- the great mortal sin of writing! [I’m even looking for these two horrors of bad writing in the books I read--and finding them!] As I clicked on one blog it would lead me to another and another, and before long I found myself reading up on how to write a good query letter, which is something I am far from ready for. Take note fledgling writers: a good query letter will take at least two months to write according to one writer. Despite the daunting discoveries I’ve made lately, I am not one to give up and I plan to continue to accept the challenge. (Some of the more helpful blogs I’ve read are linked at the bottom of this post.)

I’ve also searched Amazon for highly recommended books on writing, two of which arrived in the mail yesterday! I look forward to delving into Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark, and The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House, by a plethora of excellent writers.

I would love to hear from other fledgling writers out there. If you are new to writing please click that COMMENT button and share your experiences. The teacher in me knows we learn from one another. And next time I plan to post a little about what I’m working on.

Thought for the day: “The first draft of anything is always s**t.” Ernest Hemingway 
I take solace knowing that even Hemingway had his struggles.

Blogs on Writing:
Write It Sideways: Includes many excellent articles on writing; this is where I found the information on ‘filter words’, as well as very helpful information on query letters.
Writer’s Digest: This long respected resource is practically a one stop shopping site for writers.
Fiction Factor: This link will take you to their article on “The Reason Editors Reject Manuscripts” by Vicki Hinze.
Happy Reading and Writing!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Did You Notice the Word ‘Random’ in my Title?

Being a writer, by definition, means being a reader as well. You can’t write, without reading. Today’s post is more about reading than writing.

I just returned from the airport after taking my son out for his flight home following the Thanksgiving festivities. And this morning I had another mission on my mind besides the obvious airport farewell scene. Despite many opportunities to purchase Colin Meloy’s book Wildwood, (including at Wordstock where he read from the book), I finally decided that today was the day: I had to get that book into my hands! So I said my goodbyes, gave hugs, and hurried over to the tiny airport Powell’s Books store (you gotta love Portland!) to make my purchase. Now, Colin, best known as the lead singer of the Decemberists, is a Portland boy, and the book is set here, but I was still surprised that they had only ONE copy left. I snatched it up, like a forlorn puppy at the pound, and it now awaits that moment when I finally get to open its beautiful cover and delve into the world of the Impassable Wilderness!     My book as it waits patiently for its reader:

Three years ago my good friend Chris convinced me that I should try listening to audiobooks. Not in place of my regular reading of course, but in addition to. I had argued with him for months that I am not an auditory person, and could never follow a book I listened to. But I’m always trying to find ways to grow new dendrites in my brain to offset any possible onset of the Alzheimer’s disease that took my father, so I finally gave in, thinking it would at the very least be good for my brain, and at best be entertaining. Now, three years later I have plenty of new dendrites, and have been greatly entertained. My ipod goes on trips, accompanies me while gardening, and is always there while cleaning or cooking. But there is always this feeling of “not really reading a book” when I listen to one. Like I’m cheating. This morning’s New York Times Book Review has two articles that address this issue. One poses the thesis that audiobooks are more true to the literary spirit, in that literature began as oral storytelling. The other could have been written by me: the author has experienced that feeling of being a fraud for listening to books. Both are excellent and if you do ‘read’ audiobooks, or have thought of doing so, check them out. “The Mind’s Ear” by James Parker, and “Wired for Sound” by John Schwartz in today’s NYTimes Book Review.

Happy Reading!

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Homework

After a productive two days of writing at the beach (alright, it was because I had been an idiot and sprained my knee necessitating elevating and icing said knee all weekend) and another productive afternoon off of work, (again due to knee) I have managed to add about 7,000 words to my Civil War novel. This allowed me some time this week to investigate other writing blogs, including blogs on how to write blogs. I learned I’m doing everything wrong, so today I’ve set myself some homework.

“Keep it short.” “Leave plenty of white space.” “Add images to give the eyes a rest.” These are among the many tips I’ve read this week, many of which come from the excellent blog,"Confident Writing." Throughout my life I have always been one to take few risks; I’ve preferred to know everything possible before undertaking something new. But for some reason, with writing, I’ve just jumped right in, both feet first, straight into the deep end. My blogging is a perfect example. I just decided one day that I would blog, picked a title for it, and posted that first post. I had never even read very many blogs, so had little idea of what one should look like.

Beyond the mechanics of blogging, the greater challenge for me has been trying to figure out all the ins and outs of Blogger. I’m going to attempt to make a change or two today in the look of my blog, but that may have to wait for another day. This I because I’m heading out soon to a taping of Live Wire, a local public radio show which purports itself to be: Variety for the Ears; Vaudeville for the Mind. They always include interesting authors. Can’t wait!

Keep it short: B-  Leave plenty of white space: B     Add images to give the eyes a rest: C+
Not too bad. As with my fiction writing, I'll continue to try to improve.
Happy Reading!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sprains and Inspiration

I am the world’s biggest klutz! My husband and I are down at the Oregon coast for a relaxing three day weekend, a much needed respite. Along with the requisite rain gear, I packed the laptop and Civil War notes for writing, and books for recreational reading, anticipating uber relaxation. We had been in the room for no more than 5 minutes, when I took a step backwards, stepping on a shoe I had just removed, and my knee went in a direction I wasn’t planning on. Ended up on the floor in some considerable pain. Long and short of it is I’m spending the weekend doing the old R.I.C.E. cure for sprains: rest, ice, compression, and elevation, which, it turns out, are quite conducive for writing. Yesterday was the best writing day I’ve had in several weeks! Knee raised, iced, compressed, while sitting in front of a fire, with a spectacular view of the ocean. Could have done without the sprain, but all in all not a lot to complain about.
I’m excited because I wrote a pivotal scene yesterday and I’m very pleased with how it came out. As soon as I’m finished here I’m back to 1862, where Elizabeth is about to use her fingers to dig into a wounded soldier’s shoulder in order to remove the bullet lodged there. She’s quite conflicted about this, as he is the enemy!

A couple of weeks ago I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to hear David Guterson read from his latest novel Ed King. The man is brilliant (best known for his magnificent Snow Falling on Cedars), and he spent nearly 45 minutes, beyond the reading, discussing his inspiration for the book, the writing process, and general thoughts about today’s society. I have the book with me this weekend, and I highly recommend it. As he will tell you, each of his books is very unique—he has no one style, so if you have only read Snow, you will be surprised by how different this book is. When I take breaks from the miseries of the Civil War I’m spending time with Ed King.
Looks like a storm is moving in; should be perfect for writing about Elizabeth’s adventures with that bullet. Just need to get the ice pack!

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Craft

WRITING IS A CRAFT. This was news to me several months ago when I first attempted to write. Craft. I first encountered that alien idea in the excellent book by Jerry Cleaver, Immediate Fiction. It was both a daunting idea and a very reassuring one. Daunting because I had no idea what was meant by it, and if I didn’t know what was meant by it I obviously had no business trying to write. Reassuring because the word craft implies something which can be learned and mastered. You practice a craft, make mistakes, learn from your mistakes, improve upon your product, and continually become better at it. That, I could do. I was already excellent at making mistakes. Now I just needed to learn from those mistakes and improve at the craft. But how?
Immediate Fiction was an excellent place to start, and I highly recommend it to any fledgling writer. Then, not long into this new journey I was given the opportunity to attend a two day writing workshop. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the first day I was utterly and completely overwhelmed and quickly came to the conclusion that I had no business being there. I was obviously a fraud, an imposter. I attended with a dear friend, who had also just started writing in earnest, and she too wanted to run from the room on that first day. Terms and ideas that we had never heard of were thrown around, bewildering and paralyzing us. However, on the second day, the instructor changed tactics a bit, and everything she presented seemed much more accessible. I was no longer paralyzed, but was now inspired. I went home and practiced my craft.
I am a very fortunate reader and writer in that I live in a city which embraces and nourishes those who love the written word. Last month Portland enjoyed the seventh (I think!!) Wordstock Festival. This feast for anyone who loves books, whether as a reader or a writer or both, was two days of inspiration and education. I listened to many wonderful writers share their work and knowledge of the craft. Among these I heard Michael Ondaatje read from and discuss his new book The Cat’s Table, listened to Steve Almond who spoke as a member of a panel on sex in books, heard Johnny Shaw speak on structure in novels, and attended four writing workshops, the best of which was presented by David Rocklin, the debut author of The Luminist. His topic was on using setting as character, and I found everything he shared to be very helpful for my Civil War novel. David is adorable, and kept joking about being a “sparkly vampire.” At one point he and I had a little Twilight Zone moment, when he seemed to have read my mind, and I kidded him that he really WAS a sparkly vampire (who of course can read minds…all except for that one!) I couldn’t wait to get home and continue practicing my craft.
I have a stack of books on the craft of writing that I’m slowly making my way through, and I’m always on the lookout for the next inspiring workshop to attend!
Happy Reading!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Musings or The Haunted Character

As we celebrate All Hallow’s Eve it seems appropriate to share the story of my character who insisted her name was NOT Elizabeth but Sarah. Elizabeth is the protagonist in my Civil War novel, and like everyone else in Elizabeth’s family, she has been given a first name of an ancestor of mine who lived in the area of Tennessee where my novel takes place. But for the first few weeks that I was imagining my story, every time that I thought about Elizabeth’s character the name Sarah came to mind, as in “Oh, Sarah will do this, or say this, or encounter this problem.” I would have to stop and remind myself that there was NO Sarah in my story, but after days of this I started to have a very hard time thinking of Elizabeth as Elizabeth. The name began to seem unwieldy; it just didn’t feel right anymore. By the third week Elizabeth thankfully reemerged, and all was right with the world. Or so I thought.
While imagining the plot, setting, and characters I was feverishly researching my book. A stack of books began to grow, websites were being bookmarked, and Civil War reenactments were attended. My stack of books included, among many others,  Mary Chestnut’s Diary and Sarah Morgan: The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman. While the Mary Chestnut diary is a classic, and often quoted in Civil War books, the Sarah Morgan was more useful for me, as she was a young woman about the age of my Elizabeth. One evening, weeks after the Sarah debacle, I was casually flipping through the Sarah Morgan book, and came upon photographs taken of her later in life. These pictures were taken after she was married. Morgan had been her maiden name. When I saw her married name on the picture captions my spine tingled, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. After marriage Sarah Morgan became Sarah Dawson. Elizabeth’s family is the Dawson family, and had been since the day I began to envision my story. (Dawson is also a family name, though from a few more generations back.) Had I listened to the Sarah who had the audacity to insist I name my protagonist after her, her name would have been Sarah Dawson. And there was already a Sarah Dawson,  one who had actually lived and breathed. Cue Twilight Zone theme music.
Though Sarah was quite audacious, and the discovery of the real Sarah Dawson rather unsettling, I have since heard stories from two other writers who have written Civil War books and both of them had strange coincidences occur while writing their books as well. The best story comes from a writer who had written a character and had the character die on a particular day. Some time later she was visiting a graveyard near the setting of her novel only to discover a tombstone with her character’s name. This tombstone listed the day of death as the same day her fictional character died. The third author, upon hearing both of these stories, and who had a story of her own, mused that perhaps there is something about the spirits of those who lived during the Civil War, an unrest perhaps, that makes them want to reach out to those of us writing their stories. I don’t know. That isn’t an area I know much about. But…who knows?
 Now cue Halloween music.
Happy Haunted Halloween!!


P.S. Still Halloween-ish: Check out the new show Grimm on NBC Fridays. Imaginative new mix of detective and fairy tale genres, and filmed here in beautiful Portland, Oregon.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Audacious Characters and Coups

So, here I am with a blog, and a new writing obsession, but how did I get here? And most importantly, why now? What happened after all those years of saying I would write to make me actually attempt to do it?
Last March as I was going about life, teaching my little second graders, and being wife and mom, a plot, a full cast of characters, and a setting all took up residence in my imagination and wouldn’t leave me alone. To be honest, some of them had been niggling at the recesses of my imagination for years, but they obviously weren’t ready for their coup until March. But in early March they had me by the throat and were not going to let go. One character even had the audacity to let me know that the name I had chosen for her wasn’t actually her name, but more of that story in a later post. It ends up being right out of the Twilight Zone.
I made the decision. I had to let these characters free to roam the pages of a book. But, this book was going to require some research—quite a bit of research, as it is set during the Civil War. During those years that bits and pieces of it had been teasing me, I had first thought it would be a children’s book, then it seemed it needed to be an adult book. But during the intervening years a phenomenon in publishing took off: the young adult novel. Once those characters moved in I quickly realized that the book was a young adult, or YA novel. An historical YA, which isn’t as prevalent as contemporary YA.
So I set off to do my research, and I knew almost immediately that I wasn’t going to be able to wait until I had all my research ducks in a row before started to practice the craft of writing. Research was going to take months. And I wanted to write something NOW. I had never written anything more than a college paper, and I had no idea how to write a full length novel. I had to try my wings. This practice run book needed to be something fun, light, and enjoyable to write. The story had to be very, very different from my Civil War book. It couldn’t require research, obviously. An idea came to me straightaway.
Taking places and topics I enjoy, and mixing them with themes from popular culture I came up with my story. It was only supposed to be a writing exercise, but I ended up having so much fun with it that I became obsessed. Of course I fell in love with my hero, but to be honest, who wouldn’t. He is gorgeous, brilliant, aristocratic, and over two hundred years old. He is a Jane Austen (my favorite author!) professor at an Oxford college, and the fact that he’s a vampire isn’t his only secret, as my heroine soon finds out. So, I spent my summer with Gabriel Augustine, vampire. It was great fun.
Now, I’m writing the Civil War first draft, working on the rewrite of Gabriel, and have just been taken over again by a rogue character who insists on having a book written about her. And she is very, very persistent. So, and I know this is not the way a real writer works, I’m involved with three novels, at varying stages. And each as different from the other as it could possibly be. Each requires a unique voice and style. Is there such a thing as writer ADHD?
While this is an overview of what I’ve been trying to do for the past several months, much has happened along the way. In future posts I’ll write about meeting the fantastic authors who were at Portland’s Wordstock earlier this month. And the writing workshops I attended there. And the writing workshop I attended in September that made me feel like a gigantic imposter, before finally inspiring me to continue. This new writing gig has led me to meet some fascinating people, and to experience things I would never have experienced otherwise.
I don’t see the obsession ending anytime soon.
Happy reading!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

With this first blog post I have officially stepped so far out of my comfort zone that I am now in a new zip code--and it's not even a west coast zip code. Anyone who has ever tried something new, something daunting, something that once they started they wondered “What the hell was I thinking?” will understand with what trepidation I undertake this. This is but the latest of many steps I have taken in a new journey that I embarked upon this past spring.  I decided to try my hand at something I’d dreamed of doing all my life, but never had the courage to actually attempt. I’m writing. I’m writing books! Story ideas have filled my mind for as long as I can remember, but I have never done anything with them. It was always, “Someday, I’ll have to write that book.” Someday. But somedays have a way of coming and going and before you realize it, years have gone by. When one particular story idea took up residence in my imagination and wouldn’t leave I had to admit the day had come; it was time to try my hand at writing. Finally putting pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, I had no idea how obsessive I would become about this new venture. Characters are now stalking me, plot twists wake me from my sleep, and time tends to get away from me as I furiously try to get words down before they slip away from me. And the learning curve has been nothing less than the wildest of roller coasters.
My hope is that this blog will be a way of chronicling my experiences as a fledging writer. Emphasis on fledgling. As I learn the craft, (six months ago I didn’t even know it was a ‘craft’), try new things, meet mentors, scream that I don’t know what I’m doing and what was I thinking, I will share it here. Already, so much has happened that I wish I could have shared in a blog. I’ll try to use the first few blogs to catch up, with all the good, the bad, and the ugly. And the surprising, and inspiring as well.
Whew! I did it! A first blog post! Next time I’ll write a little about the books I’m working on, and some fantastic experiences I’ve had since embarking on this new journey.