Juggling the genres

Last week I was at the beach, enjoying sunny warm afternoons, splashing through the waves in my bare feet.

This week, I dug out my sweatshirts and warm coat, going outside only when necessary.

Yes, this is North Carolina weather. Rather than complaining, however, I used the time to hunker down at my computer. The stories were written, but  it was time for the next step.

The novel I polished at the beach during the writers retreat needed one last-minute check. Then I had to write the synopsis, which I just finished.

I wrote a synopsis before I started, as I may have noted before. This was my guide, my lifeline that made certain I didn’t stray too far afield. But it isn’t the same synopsis that one submits to a publisher. This time, I had to be more careful of my grammar and punctuation while still, hopefully, retaining my original enthusiasm for the project. This I will send off, fingers crossed.

My other novel? I decided to self-publish, so I spent some hours working on the cover design, then formatting the Word document. Luckily, by this time around I know the pitfalls and most of it went smoothly, with only a few corrections to be made. I’m fine-tuning it now, having looked at the first proof copy and deciding the margins were too wide and the indents too deep. Saved about 50 pages there, which allows me to lower the price.

They are wildly different books. One is a contemporary romance and the other is historical fiction with a bit of mystery and of course, a love interest because what is any story without some romance?

It’s kind of an experiment. Which will fare better? Should I stick with light stories, meant for a few hours’ entertainment, or should I continue to tackle the research a historical requires?

If you’ve been following my path, I’ve done women’s fiction, romance, paranormal, and now historical. That may not be the best way to build a firm platform, but I’m not trying to make a name or career for myself. I write what I love to write, and if the genre’s differ from one book to the next, it’s because it expresses my interests at the time.

If I were younger, it’d be different. I’d choose a genre and stay with it, book after (yawn) book. Most authors do well this way. We know what to expect from them and aren’t disappointed.

But I’m not young and so I give myself permission to write what I please. If the book sells, I’m delighted. If not, I write another. So far, the reviews have been positive, so I must be doing something right.

My contention is, if someone picks up one of my books they have only to turn it over and read the blurb to decide if they want to buy it (or borrow it from the library). Who knows, they may decide to try a new story, even if it wasn’t what they expected, and like it.

I love to read and at any one time I may have a stack of books consisting of a biography, a historical romance, an action drama, and a mystery.

So if I like reading different genres, it follows that I like writing them.

I’m not sure what comes next. I have a few ideas …

We’ll see where they lead me.

 

 

 

 

Writers retreat and beach memories

Home again!

I’m home after a week away. It was a fantastic week: sunrise over the ocean, the sky tinted pink and baby blue with whitecaps rolling against the shore.  Coffee, drifting to our self-appointed stations, everyone working on her project from a published writer meeting deadline to a novice working on her first draft. Ice cream breaks, walking along the beach, feet crunching over  broken shells or seeking balance on softly shifting sand, claiming the reward of sweet, cold strawberry or salty caramel. Silent afternoons, then laughter as eight women work together to prepare an evening meal.

It was a fantastic week in the company of women who got me, who understood what it is to create a story from nothing but our imaginations, what it means to select the right word, to bring a character to life.

They say writing is a lonely life. It is. It is the nature of the profession. Oh, we have critique partners, beta readers, editors, and hopefully, publishers, who help us along the way.  But the essential work is done inside our heads.

That’s why writer’s retreats, such as the one I just completed, are important. We remember we are not alone on our journey, that others are traveling the road with us. Some are a little ahead, and they look back and hold out a hand to help us along. And we do the same for those behind us.

I confess I was a little reluctant to go.  Live with strangers for a week? How did this work?

But I’m glad I did.  Within 24 hours, the doubts had fled. The strangers became friends. When the week was over we hugged goodbye with real emotion and pledged to meet again next year.

Did I accomplish the goal I had set? Yes, I did. I finished my edits. Others finished their drafts or met their deadlines. We all did what we came for, but for me, it was more than that.

It was realizing I was in good company. That I was not alone. That I was a part of a sisterhood of writers.

Of course I was glad to get home and accept the welcome meows of Spooky, Jack and Frenchie. There was mail, telephone messages, and the inevitable dirt to be swept up because my cats love to dig in the houseplants. Bags had to be unpacked, laundry done. Every vacation — even working vacations —  end.

But the memories remain.

 

 

 

Claiming your title

I attended a library event last week and a woman came up to me and asked “Is your new book out? I can’t wait to read it.”

Pretty heady stuff! I’d like to say I ran home and finished the book, but alas, I am not one who can write 40,000 words in one day. Not even in a month with my 1,000 words a day schedule.

The important thing I took from this encounter was that someone recognized me as an author. When I first started writing, I didn’t admit to anyone that I was writing a book. I didn’t even talk about it with my family. Oh sure, my husband knew because I had to explain why I was huddled over the typewriter for hours at a time.

Yes, you read that right. Typewriter. Later on, a word processor, and finally a clunky takes-all-the-room-on-your-desk computer. But I still didn’t tell anyone. And when the book was published I announced the news to my family and close friends. I didn’t know a thing about marketing, blog tours, reviewers, or any of that. I did do a book signing at the local arts council and thought that was the height of public relations.

I got a little more aware of how things worked with my next book. But still, when asked what I did, I’d say “I’m retired” or “volunteer work.” I did not say,”I write books.”

When friends called and asked if I were busy, I’d answer “no” even though I was deep in edits. “Just puttering,” I’d say.

Why is it so many of us are hesitant to admit we are writers? How many of you say “I am an author” with confidence?

It was only this past summer that I had the courage to walk up to complete strangers and hand them a bookmark and say, “I’m a writer and I’d love you to take a look at my books.” Some looked a little taken aback, but all were friendly and a few promised to check out my website. I don’t know if it made me any new fans, but what it did was validate, at least in my own mind, that I am an author.

acac_08-12-12

Me at a book signing for my second published book. I still didn’t think of myself as an “author.”

I wish I had thought of myself as a professional from the minute I wrote “Chapter One.” Or after my first sale. But I didn’t. It took me a long time for my inner self to claim that title.

I think it comes from fear. Fear that the announcement will be met with looks of incredulity from our friends, snickers from our relatives, disbelief from acquaintances. Fear that when you mention your book title they’ll say, “How many books have you sold?” Or worse, “Never heard of it.”

I don’t think selling million books or having your name on the New York Times Best Sellers list is the benchmark. Does a baseball player get to say he’s a professional only after he’s made so many home runs? Or a lawyer after he’s won X number of cases?

I haven’t yet come to the point where I will let the phone ring when I am working. But when I’m asked if I am busy, I will say, “Hey, I’m writing right now and I’ll call you back.” Or, when people ask me what I’ve been up to, I can answer, “Working on my book” without fearing ridicule.

It doesn’t sound like a big step, but to me it’s enormous.

If you have written a book–actually sat down and typed 80,000 or so words–you are an author. It doesn’t matter if it is published or not. From the moment you wrote “The End” you can claim your worth.

Yes, you need to have it edited, proofed, find a few beta readers to give you some feedback. This is because you are a professional.

You may never get it published. Or you may decide to self-publish. That doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you wrote a book and you are an author.

 

 

 

 

 

How deep is enough?

For the second day in a row I woke before 5 a.m.

I try to fall back asleep, but it’s useless and I know it. This phenomenon happens every time I am halfway though a story. After dutifully plodding through the opening chapters, setting up the plot and characters, the book suddenly comes alive.  My mind goes into overdrive. Ideas flow like lava, igniting my imagination.

My main character, Greg, is an actor on a popular nighttime drama. As such, he has to dig deep into himself in order to bring the character he portrays to life, to make him believable. When his lover on the series “dies” he draws on  his grief he felt after his father’s suicide, and the subsman-cryingequent scene catapults him from mediocrity to fame. And that fame makes him a target…but no more about the plot. That’s not the point.

What I’m saying is that we, as writers, also have to dig deep within ourselves to find the emotions we want to portray. I’ve been in love and I think, old as I am, I can still remember what first love felt like.

I’ve been betrayed, and I can draw on that anger and denial.

I’ve felt deep and devastating loss. And I can draw on that.

It’s hard to bring these emotions to the surface and relive the grief, anger, loss. It’s hard to remember that first love, because now I know how  it ends. But in order to write about these emotions honestly, I have to remember and relive those experiences. It isn’t easy. And sometimes it doesn’t work because I am afraid to go too deeply.

So it isn’t just the overflow of ideas that keeps me awake. It’s the surge of empathy I feel toward these cardboard people, an empathy that will breath life into them. Is Greg afraid his career,  now that he’s achieved success, will end? How does that feel? How does he feel? How did I feel?

I lost a job I loved because I had to make the choice to walk away or be sucked into a pit I didn’t think I could climb out of. So I know a little about his fear and anger.

My job now is to translate that into his actions and words.

And that is what writers do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best laid plans,,,

I have to say, I stuck to my plan pretty well: write a minimum of 1,000 words every day. I can say I wrote 100 pages of my work in progress, chugging ahead like the little engine that could.

Then…oh then, a virus struck. Not my computer, but me. I won’t go into the dreadful details but suffice it to say you have to be pretty sick to lose 10 pounds in two days. I took a week to recuperate, lying on the couch, petting the kitties and sipping ginger ale. sick

By the time I felt better, it was the holidays and I drove 6 hours to St. Simons Island to spend Christmas with family.

Because I am the Grandma, I got to be waited on, which was nice. I didn’t bake the cookies I was supposed to bring, or make the fudge, but I bought some goodies that were probably better than any I could have made and was forgiven.

Then it was New Year’s which I spent with family a little closer to home and brought back with me a nice chest cold. So I have spent the last week lying on the couch, petting kitties and sipping hot tea with ginger and lemon.

And my 100 pages did not increase by so much as a paragraph.

Life has to get back to normal. I have meetings coming up that I must attend, and a program to prepare for my writing group.  I need to get back to my exercise schedule. I need to get back to my writing.

The last two weengineeks have shown me that we can plot and plan all we want, but life kinda kicks you in the head every once in awhile. The important thing, I tell myself as I look longingly at the couch and the afghan crumpled in the corner, is to get back up and keep going.

I need to get my little engine back on track and start chugging again.

 

The cat ate my homework

I don’t have a dog. I’d like to have one, but I travel too much. You can leave a cat alone for a few days, but not a dog.  And cats don’t demand to be taken for a walk when you are deep into your story and your head is in another world and the words are coming together…

Your cat may try to tromp across your keyboard while you are working, but after being put down firmly ten or fifteen times they will give up and go off to do what cats do best: take a nap. And you can get back to your story.

I have been sticking to my plan and doing my daily word count, modest as it is. The story is coming together according the my “beat sheet.” I even politely told a caller during my work time that this was my writing time and I couldn’t do whatever it was they wanted me to do. First time ever I drew a boundary line.

Then came the cat. Or rather, cats. I volunteer at the animal shelter one morning a week. A friend and I clean the cat cages. It’s a  nasty and paradoxically rewarding job. We pet and talk to the cats and reassure them. Someone once asked if we got paid and I said, “In purrs.”

Last week I talked with the director, complaining that my two cats don’t get along. Both are rescues, but they are equally ungrateful. Then came Sydney, a cat I  fostered until I could take her to her forever home. Jack played with Sydney and seemed to miss her after she was gone. He tries to play with Spooky, who will have none of it. Huge fights involving spitting and growling ensue (no one actually gets hurt).

She suggested I replace Sydney with another cat. I demurred, but then she said I could take one home on a trial basis. If it didn’t work out, I could bring it back. So I chose a kitten that was playful and friendly.

I thought I would have it back in a few days. Both Jack and Spooky were terrified of the little gray ball of fluff. I don’t think she weighs a pound, but she might have been a lion for the terror she instilled.

Now for a backstory. The  week before, I got a call from a friend who had adopted one of Spooky’s kittens (she was pregnant when we adopted her, unknown to us). The woman was moving to a senior facility and couldn’t take the cat. Did I want him back?

I had to say no. But I did, with the help of my son and daughter-in-law, find him a home. It came time to transport him to his new owner and I had to leave my three cats alone.

I drove the two and a half hours, stayed overnight, and set out the next morning, all the while worrying about what I might find when I got home.

I needn’t have fretted a minute. I was entertained that afternoon by watching Jack and Frenchy play together. ( I didn’t name her, but if you don’t recognize the name it is from a character in Grease.) Jack, three times her size, was so gentle and sweet that I almost cried.

Spooky, of course, was hiding under the bed. But at least Jack wasn’t tormenting her. I really think she needs a little Xanax.

So no writing got done for three days. I will get back on schedule. These things happen and we learn to roll with them.

Oh, and I guess Frenchy isn’t going back to the shelter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other side of the story

We talk a lot about the nuts and bolts of writing — goal, motivation and conflict; dialogue; scene setting and world building and even the use of the Oxford comma.

But there’s another side we don’t talk about so much. It’s the thing inside us that spurs us to put words on a page. You can call it a muse or even complain that the story (or characters) won’t let you alone until you write it.

What if that elusive “thing” sputters out and comes to a halt?

I experienced that this year. It started when Jim fell and I was spending all my time with him, trying to get him to eat, to walk.  No time to write. After he passed on, it seemed as if I had all the time in the world, but I couldn’t get my mind to that place where I could let go of the immediate world and enter my make-believe one.

Yes, I edited and re-wrote my work in progress, which took most of the summer. But that was like tuning an engine. The basics were there.

Then I got an idea for a story. Not a deep, thought-provoking story, but a light read, something fun for me to write and I hoped fun for someone to read. I wrote an outline so I’d know where I was going and even scheduled events to occur according to a beat sheet. Yep, I was ready to go. I set a daily word count.

You know how that goes. Sometimes whole days slip away without your noticing and the words don’t get written. But I can say t

Jack, one of my rescue cats

Jack, one of my rescue cats

hat most days I did write my 1,000 words and some days double that. On a roll. I am now up to 13,000 words.

But now family problems are coming at me. Again. And again, I feel helpless to do anything but hope and pray.

I find writing now is an escape. While I can’t control what is going on in my life, I can control what is going on with my story. I can’t convince anyone in real life to do what I think they should do, but my characters happily oblige me. Instead of circumstances stifling my creativity, I am using my creativity to avoid, for a little while, my circumstances.

So that’s the other side of the story. People read to escape into a different world.

Sometimes we write for the same reason.

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