Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2011

I should be writing something meaningful today, but I’m running behind on everything. My 9-year-old has a school Halloween parade and party, so I’m scrambling. Can you believe I don’t even decorate? Not a single pumpkin has been purchased. Lame. But there will be chocolate, and I will be eating it without guilt.

Happy Halloween! If you’re starting NaNoWriMo tomorrow, enjoy your last day of sanity. 😉 I’m going to abstain. Maybe next year…

I hadn’t been to a pajama party in, well…a very long time, even if you count the one an 8-year-old writing student invited me to a few years back. For a mother of three sons, that party was a lot of fun by the way! However, at the OCCRWA Thirtieth Birthday Bash this month, after the daytime workshops were over, those who chose to stay could attend themed pajama parties…pajamas optional.

There were two sessions and a number of workshops you could choose from at each session presented by some very talented authors. My first session was titled “Passion in Pajamas” hosted by author Louisa Bacio. There was no holding back in this steamy session. Naughty writing prompts enticed a roomful of women and one lucky man to reach somewhere out of our comfort zone to the dark—and maybe candlelit—places we might not usually explore. Luckily there was wine involved.

Louisa had some creative writing prompts that required a release of inhibitions and willingness to openly express sensual ideas, especially when it came to reading them out loud. In fact, I’m looking forward to reading more of the exploits of Lord Smutville, a character that emerged during one of the exercises in this workshop. I would tell you who the author is (one of my favorites), but I believe these sessions fall under RWA (Romance Writer’s Anonymous). Did I mention wine was involved?

The second session I attended, “Brainstorming in Pajamas,” was less steamy but equally stimulating. Author Kara Lennox presented this hands-on workshop, where individual writers shared their current writing challenges with the group while we talked out ideas that would hopefully inspire a new direction or breakthrough in the writer’s story. My hunky husband, Paul, and I do this with my work (See my Oct. 20th post Epiphany at The Fantastic Cafe). It was fun and exciting to work through someone else’s story in this way and fascinating to see how this would work in a room filled with talented writers. Keep in mind the writers in this room ranged from aspiring to very successful.

Pajamas or not, I left the workshops both inspired and stimulated with new ideas and new tools for approaching my own writing.

So when is the last time you went to a pajama party? Maybe it’s time to attend one…pajamas optional.

I recently read an email from someone who stated she rereads everything she’s written up to the point where she stopped writing before she starts writing again. (Did you get that? Does it make sense?) When I first read her comment it is was like, “Dang, how do you get any writing done?” Early on in the manuscript it wouldn’t be such a big deal. Heck, I reread the last chapter I wrote before writing fresh from the stopping point, but reading the entire manuscript? And then it hit me: I did exactly that for four manuscripts when I was “starting out.”

Some of the rereading was necessary, because life rarely left me with a consistent writing schedule, and since I wasn’t committed yet, I wasn’t pushing myself to write any more than when I felt like it. Let’s just say while writing the first manuscript I didn’t feel like it often—that’s why it took TEN YEARS to write. Seriously, when months passed between writing sessions, I needed the refresher of a complete reread.

Even when I committed to fiction writing (aka quit my fulltime job) and developed a consistent writing schedule I reread the ENTIRE manuscript in progress before proceeding. Honestly, I did it because I was so in love with my characters and my stories that the rereads infused me with excitement to write more. And still, I managed to complete first drafts of category-length novels in three months.

So much excitement surrounded my writing in those early days. Ignore is bliss you know? Before rejections, workshops and critique partners to tell me I still needed work, I lived in a state of constant celebration of my talent. *GAG* I’m a crotchety snail now, judging everything I write with a scale that is inconsistent and maybe even marred by too many critiques and teachers. I don’t reread, because it’s a miracle to feel productive about anything I write.

Damn! I wish I could get the euphoria back. Would rereading every time I write make a difference?

Living in Los Angeles has some perks. Last night, our family went to see a live taping of the CBS sitcom Rules of Engagement. We love the cast, Patrick Warburton, Megyn Price, David Spade, Oliver Hudson, Bianca Kajlich and Adhir Kalyan, and we’ve been fans of the show since the first episode.

If you’ve never been to a live taping of a sitcom, the taping takes much longer than the thirty minutes you see on television, and there are no commercials. Some scenes are taped ahead and shown to the live audience on television screens, and others are taped live in front of you…sometimes several times. Most of the time the actors stick with the script, but every now and then they will adlib, and sometimes the writers will change a line here and there as they tape…what works on paper doesn’t always work on the set.

To warm up the audience and keep the energy going through scene changes and whatever “technical things” are being handled on stage, they have a live stand-up comedian. The very talented and somewhat irreverent Ron Pearson was the comedian last night. So we watched a great episode and enjoyed Ron Pearson’s comedy and amazing juggling talent. (Have I mentioned that my hunky husband is a talented juggler in his own right and of course loves a good juggler?)

What does any of this have to do with writing? We were sitting in the second row when I overheard a comment from the group of important looking people on the set. I won’t repeat it word for word, but basically the comment was that this was the guy’s “first time.” Later the receiver of the comment was introduced as a writer. Now I may not have gotten the story exactly right, but it made me wonder what it would feel like to be a writer on a sitcom…to be sitting on the set while talented actors played out the scenes that you had written.

My husband always says he’s waiting for my book to be made into a screenplay. I’m just waiting for one to be published as a book! But wouldn’t it be fun to write a script and see it played out on film? Maybe I will sign up for a script class.

In the meantime, I’ll look forward to watching my favorite sitcoms on television and maybe seeing more live tapings. What do you think? Any screenplays in your future?

I’ve written before about how music and writing go together. I rarely write without my iPhone plugged into my Bose speakers. If I sit down in silence, I’m off the chair in a matter of seconds because it’s too darn quiet (when the kids aren’t around). Occasionally the words or the speed of the song doesn’t match what I’m writing, so I grab the remote and jump to the next track, but I hate the interruption.

Some writers create playlists for their works in progress (WIP). I tried this a couple times, but it overwhelms me. I have thousands of songs to weed through. I don’t know all of the tunes by looking at the titles. Once I start sampling the songs, the little project turns out to be a giant undertaking, and I’m puttering with my phone instead of writing.

Is there an easier way? What am I missing? If you write with a “soundtrack,” I’d love to hear how you gather the songs for each WIP without wasting writing time.

Motherhood and My Pen

October 24, 2011

Today my youngest son turns twenty. It’s hard for me to believe that twenty years have gone by since the doctor laid him on my chest with his thick blond hair and amazing blue eyes. Joey is the youngest of three boys. Each of them is incredible in their own right.

What does this have to do with writing? Probably more than anything else in my life. I started writing my first newspaper column at the age of twenty-two for The Butterfield Express in Sunnymead, California. It was a parenting column, my oldest son, Gerrod was less than a year old, and I of course knew all there was to know about parenting and wanted to share it with parents everywhere. A lot has changed since then. The Butterfield Express no longer exists, nor does Sunnymead, which is now part of Moreno Valley. My oldest son is twenty-nine with two younger brothers. And although at twenty-two with one small child I thought I was an expert parent, years later with three grown children whom I absolutely adore, I am astounded that they turned out to be such wonderful young men despite my lack of parenting skills. Nearly thirty years of parenting has taught me that this is a learn-as-you-go job.

My kids have been part of my writing in some way for many years. When I wrote “The Penny Pincher” for The Antelope Valley Press and cooked for the newspaper’s photo shoots, one or more of my boys—or just various body parts—often ended up in newspaper photo shots. There was the very first photo the Press took. It was supposed to be a picture of me at my dining table next to a pot of Flemish Beef Stew. The table was set, and one plate was served at an empty seat. The picture that they used included my two-year-old middle son, who had climbed up into the chair next to the plate that had been served and was eating. I didn’t even know he was there; I was so busy looking at the camera. My oldest son Gerrod’s hand appears in a photo of a super bowl spread, and Joey the Birthday Boy’s belly appears in a photo of Upside Down foods. The photographers thought it would be fun to hang him upside down (he was about two years old) over a plate of sticky buns—just out of reach of course. Boy did he want those sticky buns…

The boys have made appearances in much of my writing. They are after all, along with my hunky husband, the center of my life. Sometimes they wish I had other things to distract me, but they have been my primary focus. They show up in blogs, articles, short stories and even a children’s book that I wrote and need to shop, “The Case of the Missing Belly Button.” (I had a third-degree sprain to my right ankle and was on crutches and in bed for six weeks…with a three-year-old Joey at home. We sat in bed and wrote the belly button story with Joey as the main character and his brothers helping to solve the mystery.)

Even when the boys aren’t subjects of my writing, they influence it. They’ve changed who I am and by doing so made my life and my writing richer. They’ve challenged my ideals, strengthened my values and made my life more fulfilled…and more important.

So Happy Birthday, Joey…I really can’t believe you are twenty years old, especially when I’m only 28 (okay, at heart). Thank you and your brothers for being amazing and making my life so much richer.

All my love, Mom

So last night my hunky husband and I were sitting in The Fantastic Café near the point, eating chicken souvlaki and talking about my book. I am busy rewriting and although I love the story, I keep feeling like something is missing. The story is a little too sweet and I’ve wanted to add a slightly dark subplot somewhere. So we’re talking about various minor characters and there is a female dancer, who hasn’t had much of a part, but I like her character a lot and I’ve played with developing her story a little more. As I dipped warm pita bread into Tzatziki, I realized that the subplot was already set up.

The dancer wasn’t the dark character; there was someone else. Someone who although minor already had the potential to be an antagonist, someone I hadn’t even considered, and yet through out the story he had opportunities to create conflict, to add something sinister.

On the way home from The Fantastic Café (yes, that really is the name) we stopped and picked up a couple of reams of paper. Before I went to bed last night I printed off a complete fresh copy of my manuscript, sat down with sticky tabs and a pen and made notes all through the manuscript.

Today I am ready to work. What I needed was there all along. I was just looking too hard to see it. Of course this means that I have to go back again through early chapters, have to make sure that I make all changes necessary so that there are no inconsistencies, AND of course I have to write a new synopsis…I don’t care. I’m so happy with these new developments.

Has this ever happened to you? You thought your story was finished, but maybe something nagged at you and suddenly…possibly while bouncing ideas off of your hunky man it came to you, and you realized it was there all along? No really there was no alcohol involved…just arm pitas and chicken souvlaki.

We’ve featured some amazing women on the blog since we started Writer Wednesday, so it’s no surprise that some of these ladies are no longer “unpublished” writers. Here’s a rundown on the good news:

Nicole Helm

Back in May I was featured in the I am a Writer post here at From Fact to Fiction. That same week I queried one of my novels to the Wild Rose Press. A partial, full and revision request later, and in September I was offered a contract for the novel. I am so excited to be published. Right now, I’m in the first round of edits. I don’t have a release date yet, and I’m not sure my title, All’s Fair in Love and Politics, will remain, but it’s definitely been exciting to be able to tell friends and family who have supported me as a writer for a very long time. It’s also exciting because though All’s Fair in Love and Politics isn’t the first novel I ever wrote, it does feature characters from the first novel I ever finished. It’s a nice kind of symmetry.

Admittedly, it doesn’t quite feel real yet. I won’t have a release date or cover or anything concrete until I get my edits done. I’ve made myself a Facebook author page, taken “aspiring” out of my blog and Twitter bios, but still I’m not sure it’s going to feel real until I see that book cover with my name on it. Even without feeling real, I’m extremely excited and can’t wait to learn the next steps in the process.

Raven McAllan

[You can read Raven’s release-week blog post, which is full of good news, here.]

Cherie Nicholls

Being profiled on Writers Wednesday was exciting! I sent the link to everyone I could think of! But since then things have gone from better to better. I have now received a contract for my very first story, Leashed by a Wolf, which will be out soon from Liquid Silver Books. I am also working on an anthology with some of the ladies from my crit group…writing has almost taken over!

Doris O’Connor

I loved being profiled on Writer Wednesday and lots of exciting things have happened to me since then. I am going to be a published author.

My debut novel, Scandinavian Scandal, is due to be released on 21st November by Noble Publishing. Awakening, an erotic novella, will be released through Breathless Press on 30th December. And last but by no means least, my paranormal romance, Lure of the Blood, is scheduled for release in December through Evernight Publishing.

Who’s next?

If you’ve been featured and have good news to share, let us know. If you’re interested in keeping the tradition alive by being featured on Writer Wednesday, it’s easy. We ask a bunch of prying questions under the heat of a scorching desk lamp and only require one gift of homage in the form of designer shoes (kidding!). Seriously, it’s quick and painless, and it just might bring you good luck…

The morning speaker at the October 8th Orange County Chapter of RWA was Mary-Theresa Hussey, executive editor at Harlequin. She gave lots of great advice, talked about exciting industry trends and shared some of the exciting things that Harlequin is doing right now. I took pages of notes.

As many of you know, I’m working on rewrites of my first complete manuscript, so during the question and answer session when one of the audience members asked Mary-Theresa, “What are the most common errors writers make?” I wrote them down and as I read through my manuscript, I’m looking for these things:

  1. Pace in the opening chapter—make sure your story doesn’t start out too slowly. I’m thinking of chapters I’ve read that start out with lots of description or back story.
  2. Start with a dynamic line and end with a dynamic line every scene, every chapter.
  3. Challenge your characters.

I gave these notes to my husband, Paul, who as I’ve said reads every word I write and a couple of friends who are reading for me as well. Since Paul sits next to me in bed reading while I write, I get instant feedback. I think the pace of the first chapter is good. I mean there are no chase scenes that end in a fiery crash, but the hero and heroine meet in the first few lines, and there is conflict in the first few pages. There is a passionate and not entirely appropriate kiss…yes, things are happening in chapter one.

After reading chapter one for pace, I started on dynamic starting and ending lines. My hunky hubby (Okay, he’s sitting in bed, no shirt on reading my romance novel. What could be more hunky…and a little distracting?) anyway, he suggested I drop the last line in Chapter One, and he was right. The second to the last line had much more impact. Last line was unnecessary, and although I felt good about the openings and closings of most of my chapters, I did do a little tightening up here and there.

Now I’m looking at the challenges my characters face. As I do my rewrites I can see places that I could challenge them more, make them dig deeper. In doing this I see more of their strengths and also more of their flaws. I feel like they are becoming more real, stronger and more relatable. Obviously, for the story to have conflict characters have challenges, but I’m looking harder. We all have challenges every day (Writing novels is definitely a challenge.) How we deal with them makes us who we are and will make our characters who they are as well.

I have to get back to work on my rewrites, still keeping all of Mary-Theresa Hussey’s advice in mind. I’m definitely looking at my work with a new eye for these details. How is the pace in your first chapter? Do your first and last lines have impact in every scene? Every chapter? What are your POV characters challenges?

I forgot something that I know I knew not too long ago: Story building is constant. There can be no “off” switch. When a writer is in the throes of a story, the details come fast and furious or slow and sporadic, but they come at any time in anyplace, and a writer has to be ready.

Being ready means keeping notebooks nearby or tapping random sentences into a cell phone. Ideas can be jotted on the back of receipts or even on hands and arms. When the words come, they have to come out. But what happens when the words stop coming?

It seems crazy, doesn’t it? I mean I’ve been known to leap from the shower and rush the hall soaking wet for something to write with and on (lipstick and a mirror will do), so the idea of the words stopping seems farfetched. But stop they did, and I’m pretty sure it had something to do with my penchant for schedules.

Recently, I took on a non-fiction writing job that has required a consistent amount of my time. I wasn’t looking for work, but the opportunity is with someone I respect immensely and wish to remain engaged with. I also thought the job would help me achieve balance, because I was sliding off into Writer’s Solitary Confinement. By blocking off time for non-fiction, fiction, errands and chores, and finally my family, I figured to find harmony. What I found was the story building “off” switch.

In the beginning, I pushed the fiction ideas out of my head. “Not now. Wait a couple hours, and I’ll get to you.” Before long, the ideas stopped coming. I’d sit at the computer during fiction writing time, wasting an hour or two trying to get “back on track,” because I couldn’t get the story, the rhythm or the flow. “Where is this going? What comes next?” My progress was abysmal.

Thursday and Friday of last week, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I had to know what happened to my easy, joyous fiction writing. I spent those days BIC (butt in chair) and made amazing progress. The ideas flowed, and when they did—even away from the computer—I didn’t stop them. I didn’t ask them to wait or come back later, because I was terrified they might leave again.

I’m going to do my best to prevent another departure, declaring daydreaming and living inside my head critical to my health, happiness and the stories I am building. With society’s romantic notion of poets and novelists, it’s easy to forget that writing isn’t pretty. It’s filled with doubt, loneliness, manic moments of extreme joy and confidence, jealousy, quiet, frustration, anger, obsession and love. But we shouldn’t try to stop ourselves from feeling those things, because the emotion makes us better writers. And we can’t contain our imaginings or shield them from the “normal” parts of our life, because our creativity is what makes us beautiful and brilliant.

Shine on. Write on. There are stories to be told.