Celebrating 100!

July 29, 2011

After years of setting aside my dreams of writing fiction, in January I started to think seriously about writing again. Actually, I started thinking about getting a “real job,” and my husband pushed me to pick up my pen and start a fresh page. I began lurking around different writing sites, and in February I met Elley on the eHarlequin.com forums. It was Elley’s idea to create a new blog, former non-fiction writers on the journey to becoming fiction writers, and by the end of February, From Fact to Fiction was launched.

This is our 100th blog post, and I’d like to raise a glass and toast. Thank you, Elley for starting this! In these 100 posts, we’ve talked about brainstorming, organization, plotting…or not plotting, love and romance, writer’s groups, Stuart Smalley, heroines who are TSTL, technology, more love and romance, the dreaded synopsis, our inspiration and more love and romance, of course. We’ve met other aspiring romance writers—a wave to Nicole Helm, Joanne Robinson, Helen Bennett, Doris O’Connor, Cherie Nicholls, and Karin Blaine. And when we managed to write something that struck a chord we heard from more of you: KimberlyFDR, Kiru Taye, Liz Black, Julia Broadbooks, and so many others who have left comments supporting, empathizing, and giving new points of view.

During this short time (Has it only been five months?) we’ve also shared a lot of life. We’ve talked about our real romances, our kids, experienced tragedies and celebrations. Those are the things that make us who we are and form bonds between us and shape our writing.

Blogging at From Fact to Fiction reminded me how much I loved to write. It got me back in the habit of writing regularly, and by the time I finished my blog post, I didn’t want to stop writing. I wanted to write more…and I did.

So a toast to our first 100 posts and to Elley. A toast to all of the new friends we’ve made. I hope we continue to hear from you. Let us know where you are in your writing journey…and in your life. (Doris, we’re waiting patiently for news about baby Markus!) A toast to those of you who have taken the time to read what we write, and if you haven’t commented yet, we hope to hear from you as well. We’d love to post your story on a Writer’s Wednesday, so send Elley a message if you are also an aspiring writer.

Thanks to all of you, and a special thanks to Elley! I’m so glad we met and look forward to many more posts.

Tari

***Elley’s response:

I couldn’t agree more with the things Tari has written in this post. Thank you all for enriching our lives and our writing. Going forward, we have some new ideas. First, we’re going to alternate Writer Wednesday with Write Tip Wednesday, so if you feel like jotting down a few lines about what works for you when it come to writing, please send them our way. We’ll post and give you credit. Also, Friday will become Fan Friday, where Tari and I will take turns gushing about the books and authors that we adore.

Thanks from the bottom of my heart. I hope you’ll stick around for the next hundred.

Elley

Yes, you read the title right. Yes, I’m sometimes afraid of writing. There are lots of reasons why. What if I don’t know what to write? What if what I write sucks? What if what I write is good but in an entirely different direction than what I’d planned and now I’m faced with intensive rewrites or scrapping the WIP and starting anew? What if it hurts too much to write this scene? What if it doesn’t hurt enough? What if these words take me nowhere? Worse yet, what if these words take the reader nowhere? What if they take me somewhere I never wanted to be?

For me, writer’s block isn’t about not knowing what to write—it’s about being scared. When I’m away from writing for longer than a couple days, doubt creeps in. I lose my rhythm. I no longer hear the story in my head. And I start to procrastinate writing sessions, filling my day with gardening, shopping, decorating, shopping, reading, shopping, eating, shopping…

Yesterday was the first day since the first week of July that I wrote anything substantial. Of course, it took me to the last possible second to force myself into my desk chair. By then I’d already weeded, spread mulch and even planted four plants (a first for me), showered, took a trip to Lowes, stopped by CVS, dropped by the violin shop with my daughter’s violin, and shuttled my kids to McDonalds for snack-sized McFlurries. Tired and ready to pass on writing again, a little voice whispered, “But you promised.”

I looked at my son sitting beside me and then to my daughter in the backseat, but it wasn’t one of them. (Their mouths were full of McFlurry.) It was me—pathetic, neglected, little old me—and I didn’t have the heart to say no this time.

So I gripped the steering wheel, nodded proudly and announced to my kids, “I’m going to write a thousand words when we get home.”

My daughter said something like, “Wow! That will take you forever.”

My son replied, “No, it won’t. Mom types like a speed demon.”

And so I thought about writing 1000 words and typing “like a speed demon” the whole way home. By the time I sat at the laptop I’d done the math a few times. One thousand words five days a week times four weeks times three months equals sixty thousand words. I can do that. (When I’m in the zone, 5,000 words a day is no problem.)

But slow and steady wins the race, right? Yes, I know that’s a cliche. And yes, I know there’s not an actual race, but there is a finish line (submission, publication), and I’m not getting any closer staring at a screen hoping for sparkling dustings of fearless inspiration.

One thousand words a day isn’t much for a speed demon. 😉 And that’s exactly what I intend to be, because when I type fast and let the words pour out of me without thought, that’s when I’m the happiest. I forget this when life weighs me down and slows my writing enough to allow my internal editor to stand in a corner of my mind with my internal critic where they taunt every word I write. It’s hard to be happy when you’re under attack from your own psyche.

But guess what? The internal editor and internal critic are afraid of the speed demon. They must be, because when I’m typing like an SOB, those two are nowhere to be found. *Blows on the barrel of an Old West pistol*

In the end, I wrote over two thousand words yesterday. I wrote fast and furious, and I loved every minute of it. Today I’m going to do the same.

Who’s scared? Not me.

How about you? I hope you’re pounding those keys with a vengeance.

Yoo hoo! It’s Writer Wednesday. Where are all the unpublished romance writers?

If you write romance and are pursuing publication, we’d like to feature you right here. It’s easy. We don’t bite. Pen names are fine. You don’t have to be particularly interesting. You don’t have to submit a picture. We ask a few easy questions by email, and then publish your profile, giving you the chance to promote your site, blog, Twitter or Facebook. Better yet, you’ll be introduced to some wonderful ladies who read the blog regularly and are writers just like you. Come on. You know you want to. Email Elley, because she’s starting to develop a complex here.

I’m working on the rewrites of Randi, my WIP, (I call my manuscripts by the heroine’s name until they have a title) and learning monumental amounts as I work. I’ve always loved rewrites. In fact, I’ve always said that the real writing happens in the rewrites. (I’m sure I’m not the first to say that.) Up until now, however, I’ve never finished the first draft of a fiction manuscript.

I have one draft that is nearly complete. It’s over five hundred handwritten pages. Okay, there are more like two thousand pages to Angela, but that’s because as I wrote that draft, I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote, and at this point have not finished the manuscript.

I have several other stories that have made it to ten or fifteen thousand words. Again, there are thousands of words—and pages of rewrites—but no finished drafts. There is Emily, Ashley, Katie…and two where the heroines don’t have names. (I hadn’t gotten to the point where I knew their names.) They’re all in the bottom drawer of my desk. That’s where I hide my shame, my unfinished manuscripts.

So what is different about Randi? Why did I finish the first draft, and why do I believe I’ll finish my rewrites?

Two things: I finally believe I can do this, and I’m approaching this more like I did my non-fiction. In some ways approaching this project like my non-fiction has given me the confidence to believe I can do this.

Now, when I say that I’m approaching this project like I did my non-fiction writing, I don’t mean voice or even organization. As I’ve said before, in my non-fiction I outline and I know exactly where I’m going, and in my fiction I’m a total “panster.” I let the characte’s tell the story. No, what I did this time—differently from previous fiction projects and more like my non-fiction work—is give myself deadlines, and I didn’t begin my rewrites until I’d finished my draft.

I can’t tell you how difficult it was to make my pen move forward without going back. Oh, I allowed myself a little post it pad that I made notes on and could stick to previous pages, but I didn’t allow myself to do any rewriting. I kept that deadline in front of me (even though self-imposed) and as many of you know, I actually beat my own deadline…twice.

As I work on my second draft, I’m doing much the same. I’ve given myself deadlines and I’m forcing myself to finish rewrites for each chapter on time. I know my writing still isn’t perfect, but I know I’ll finish the project. Randi will not end up in my drawer of shame.

One more thing that has gotten me further this time, and I can’t say this enough…I’m taking this seriously. Because I believe I can do this I no longer feel guilty about spending my time writing and not dropping my work when someone else wants me to do something. Other people are beginning to take my writing seriously as well.

So I know I’ve asked before, but how do you keep yourself moving forward? And do you have a “drawer of shame”? More importantly are you taking your writing seriously and expecting those around you to do the same?

I make no secret about my love of digital publishing. The fact that I can buy a book from the comfort of my own couch at 2 a.m. if I please amazes me. So you might not be surprised to know I’m not feeling the loss of Borders. But you might be surprised to know it’s because I’m hoping the end of this big-box bookstore will lead to a resurgence of independent bookstores.

swamped bookI don’t ever want print books to go away. Sure, there are lots of amazing things I can do with my iPad and e-readers, but I can’t read a book on an electronic device while I float on a raft in the middle of a pool. (Well, I could, but that would be a mistake, because this is what happens to my reading material poolside.) And while I purchased this doomed book at a grocery store, there’s nothing like book shopping in an intimate, eclectic, romantic, whimsical, haunting, relaxing place.

My ideal bookstore is one where every sense is engaged. (Hopefully you know such a place, but over the years big-box book joints ran many of these utopias out of town.) The one I’m thinking about was decorated in rich colors (purple and royal blue) and fabrics (velvet and silk), offering oversized tapestry furniture with tufting and fringe. Roses (or Gerbera daisies) bloomed in a vase on the counter. Incense burned in a brass plate. Calssical floated down from the ceiling. Books lined shelves and even dresser drawers left open a crack, urging visitors to explore every nook and cranny. Nobody stopped in a rush for a Starbucks on their way to work. Entire sections of books and spots to read weren’t usurped by massive displays of board games and puzzles. The focus was on books and the transformative experience of reading.

Don’t get me wrong. I know places like this have their downsides too. For one, stock is limited. But I’d like to think there’s a time and place for both types of bookstore. I’d like to think that with a little less of one a few more of the other can survive. Balance, you know?

I’m no business expert, so it may be wishful thinking that independent bookstores will have a better chance with Borders gone. I guess I’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I’d like to know where you buy most of your books. Electronically? Big-box store like Barnes & Noble? Wal-Mart/Target? Grocery store? Independent bookstore?

Okay, so we’ve opened up about writer fetishes, but what about your writer fantasies? I know you have them. After all, you wouldn’t have fetishes without fantasies.

I’ll go first, and then I hope you’ll join in…

The most obvious fantasy is getting “The Call,” the one where the agent calls and says, “I love your book. I have to represent you. You’re going to be the next Great American Author!” or something to that affect. That call, of course will be followed by another call from your new and now harried agent who tells you, “Can’t talk now, just wanted to let you know we’re in a bidding war with several publishers for print (and digital) rights to your book.” Finally, your book has been sold for an exorbitant amount of money, and your agent calls again to congratulate you for being on the NYT best sellers list. Did I say on the list? I meant number one!

This last call, of course, happens while you’re on your whirlwind book tour, which is a whole other fantasy…talk shows, signing autographs. Oprah Winfrey does a special program just to interview you about your book, and you sign more autographs.

Over the top? Well if you’re going to dream, dream BIG right?

So aren’t there days when you’re in your favorite bookstore browsing titles, looking for something new by your favorite author and suddenly you land in the “J” section between Miranda Jarrett and Catherine Jones. (Well, maybe you don’t, but I do because my last name is Jewett.) You push the books aside to make a spot for your next title. Yep, right there, that’s where it goes.

Have you planned your book party yet? You know the big celebration that you’ll be throwing when that first book is released. Something swanky, black tie and champagne. You’ll need a fabulous dress by a great designer…hmmm, how about Sarah Burton the designer who created Kate Middleton’s wedding gown? You’ll need to have stacks of books on hand for signing…

Your book is made into a movie, nominated for numerous academy awards. You walk the red carpet. Of course you’ll need another fabulous designer dress…ahhh, success.

What? Have I gone too far? What are your fantasies? I’d really like to know.

Sixteen years ago today I married my high school sweetheart. I still laugh to think we ended up together, because through three and a half years of high school I pegged him as an arrogant jock. It’s funny how things changed during one car ride home from school.

Back then, few kids had access to cars during the day, so if you knew somebody who had wheels, you treated the vehicle like a clown car and piled full, riding all the way home in discomfort. (At least it saved you the discomfort of riding the bus.) Packed in the backseat of a Geo Tracker, I was forced to listen to this arrogant jock tell jokes and, heaven help me, I had an up-close view of his beautiful smile.

When it was my turn to be dropped off, I remember pushing through the back screen door feeling like I’d been punched in the gut. It hurt to breath. My eyes burned and my head pounded right along with the heart in my chest. (My journal stands as proof.)

You see, the game had changed. And my life has never been the same.

I’m not sure what this point is called in a plot. (As a pantser turned plotter, I’m still learning the lingo.) What I do know is that in many romance novels the heroine has a similar experience. From Page One, for or one reason or another, she thinks the hero is a jerk, and she tries to ignore him religiously. If she can’t ignore him, she treats him with disdain and even humiliates him. But then in what seems like a single moment of clarity, everything changes. He’s smarter than she thought. Funnier. He’s better looking too. Or if she thought he was good looking to begin with, she notices something endearing like a dimple or his high-voltage smile.

I asked my husband if he had a similar moment with me, and he says he can’t remember. Maybe guys don’t think like that. Heck, maybe non-romance writers don’t think like that either. But the more I think about it, the more I see how life imitates art.

We’re living our happily ever after now, but our romance had its “rug pull”—when I overheard him talking to a friend about a girl he met over the summer, causing us to have our first real fight and question how serious we wanted to be—and “catastrophe”—when he accepted a scholarship to play baseball far away from me, causing us to choose between the doomed long-distance relationship or the pain of breaking up before he left.

I’ve heard people trash romance novels as unrealistic and as irresponsible because they set women up for lives filled with disappointment—real romances aren’t like the romances in fiction books. I disagree. Unless you’re reading a pirate, bodice-ripper from the 1970s, today’s romance novels can be downright autobiographical—all the better if you’re a showgirl or you’re married to a sheik or you’re the wedding planner to the stars. *grin*

Seriously, though, romance is a gift. On my sixteenth anniversary, I’d like to thank my husband for twenty years of heart palpitations and mind-numbing kisses, and I’d like to thank the authors of romance novels around the world who taught me a love like this was possible.

Writer Wednesday

July 20, 2011

Yoo hoo! It’s Writer Wednesday. Where are all the unpublished romance writers?

If you write romance and are pursuing publication, we’d like to feature you right here. It’s easy. We don’t bite. Pen names are fine. You don’t have to be particularly interesting. You don’t have to submit a picture. We ask a few easy questions by email, and then publish your profile, giving you the chance to promote your site, blog, Twitter or Facebook. Better yet, you’ll be introduced to some wonderful ladies who read the blog regularly and are writers just like you. Come on. You know you want to. Email Elley, because she’s starting to develop a complex here.

It’s true, I have some writer fetishes. Oh…words of course and the dictionary. I love the dictionary. Books. I love the feel of a book in my hands, although I admit that I’m cheating now. I also love my new Kindle. Yes, I do love my computer, but as you must know by now—if you don’t, you’re new around here so welcome—I love to write by hand. Pens, paper and journals…I LOVE them. (Have I mentioned I’m the Queen of Run-on Sentences?)

I love nice pens. I like the weight of the pen to rest right in the curve between my thumb and index finger. Blue ink is my favorite. I’ll use black, red or any other color if I have to because I just love to write, but blue is my first choice. And although I love a nice pen, the truth is most of my writing has been done
with ten-cent Bic pens, the clear ones. (Forgive me. I don’t know how to do the registered trademark symbol, but you all need to know that Bic is a registered trademark…and my favorite everyday pen!)

Then there is paper. A blank piece of paper and a pen offer up so many possibilities. Lined notebook paper or spiral notebooks are my first choice for writing my manuscripts, although computer paper will work…even if I’m not typing. My husband is in awe of the fact that I can write nearly perfectly straight with nice penmanship even on unlined paper. (I’m not trying to brag. You need to see it.) Thank you to Mr. Richard Hayman, my 5th grade teacher who would accept nothing but perfect penmanship (and was really cute so all of the fifth grade girls had a crush on him…and I think the mother’s did too!). Nice paper or stationary inspires personal notes to friends and family, love notes to my husband and sometimes notes to or from my characters in my manuscripts. I know that sounds schizophrenic, but if you’re a fiction writer
you probably understand. Megan Hart’s book Switched was a steamy story, but if you love paper it will make your pulse race. I only wish that I could visit Miriam Levy’s shop The Speckled Toad. I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect paper shop since I read the book.

I need to stop here to thank my very special Aunt Gloria for the beautiful notecards she made for me for my 50th birthday. She says she’s not crafty, but it’s not true! She’s also a writer…

So, journals. When I was young most of my journals were sporadic and most were kept in spiral notebooks…I still do this. I love a beautiful journal. My middle son, Jayson, gave me a beautiful journal with an engraved silver plated cover and my husband gave me one with an embossed leather cover with handmade paper. I have yet to write in them because I’m afraid to wreck them…I know…but I have decided how to use each. In the silver journal that my son gave me I plan on writing down stories about Jayson as he was growing up. There are so many and I think this will be the perfect place for them. In the leather journal that my
husband gave me I plan on writing stories about us and our grand romance.

I’ve started more sentences in this blog with the word “I” than I have since my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Pontius, told us never to start sentences with the word “I.” I apologize to Mrs. Pontius and promise to limit the number of “I’s” in subsequent pieces or at least to try.

Now let me switch gears. YOU. What about you? Do you love the smell of fresh ink and paper? Is it the feel of your computer keypad when you’re tapping along that gets you excited? What are your writer fetishes?

Or maybe second…

It happens in the movies and in books…and often to teenagers, but does love at first sight really happen? I hear people say that it takes time for love to develop, that the instant attraction is just infatuation.

What does this have to do with writing? Saturday’s Orange County Chapter RWA meeting was a recap of the events and workshops of the Romance Writers of America National Convention last month. I wasn’t lucky enough to attend, but many of the writers in our chapter did, and one of the discussions at our meeting Saturday was of Michael Hauge’s presentation on Six Stage Plot Structure.

The big question was: “Why are your two characters together?” Why are the hero and heroine together?

The answer: They see each other’s essence.

I love this answer, and as I’ve worked on rewrites of my manuscript this week, I’ve had this on my mind. At what point do the hero and heroine “see” each other’s essence?

In my real life it happened on our first date, our second meeting. Our story is much like a romance novel. The day we met I wanted nothing to do with him. He was rough, a little out of control and not at all what I was looking for in a man. So why did I give him my phone number? Then on our first date there was magic, and somehow I knew we were meant to be together. Two weeks after we met, he told me he was going to marry me. Nearly twenty-four years later we are still together and still very much in love.

In my manuscript it happens on the first page. Although of course the heroine denies it, the hero knows immediately—although there are times in the story when he also has doubts.

I didn’t get to attend the convention (although I will be there next year when it’s in Anaheim) so I didn’t get to here Hauge’s presentation. I don’t know exactly how he defined “essence.” My definition of a person’s essence would be the core of who the individual really is. I might go as far as saying that their soul is their essence. Hmm…maybe that’s why we look for our “soul mate.”

That could explain why people who are seemingly opposites attract or people who on the surface should be attracted to each other aren’t. When we see a person’s soul or their essence we see something much deeper than whether they like sports or sewing, whether they work in a trade or wear a suit and tie, whether they love classic rock or hip hop. Those things often don’t matter when you can see beyond to their very essence and two souls connect.

This week as I’ve worked on my manuscript I’ve had several questions on my mind. When do my hero and heroine connect? Can the reader see each character’s essence? Have I developed each character’s essence enough to show their motivation and intent?

Of course this has made me think about my real life romance. So many people thought Paul and I didn’t have a chance. He’s spontaneous, a little rough around the edges, loves Levi’s, t-shirts and fast cars. I am a planner, more conservative, somewhat sensitive, love dresses, shoes and all things girly, kind of on the nervous side (i.e. fast cars…not my favorite). Yet, underneath his rough, out-of-control exterior and my need for order and stability we connect. I believe we see each other’s essence.

So maybe love at first sight—or second—isn’t just for movies and books. Maybe it’s part of real life and that’s why we love it in a good story. Don’t we all want to meet someone and recognize our soul mate? Of course, we still need plenty of conflict to make a good story and eventually get to…

And they lived happily ever after.