Saturday, February 28, 2009

What I learned from over 100 Rejections

When it comes to publishing a romance, I know a thing or two about rejection. In fact, in my ten years of pursuing publication, I’ve received every kind of rejection known to the writing community—the good kind, the bad kind, the almost-there kind, the “Dear, Loser” kind and the “Dear, Author You Don’t Rate a Salutation” kind.

I received these wonderful letters not only before I sold my first book, but after as well. You see, I sold my first manuscript in 2001. Unfortunately, EXTREME MEASURES, a 2002 Leisure Books release, was my first and last book with that particular publisher. For five years after that initial success, I couldn’t buy attention for any of my manuscripts, and there were many! No editor was interested. No agent wanted to represent me. Bottom line, I had sold a book only to fizzle out as a one-book-wonder.

I knew it was time to rethink my career path. The rejection letters were pouring in and I couldn’t seem to stop the onslaught. I realized I had to stop chasing the all-elusive second sale and decide what I wanted to write and why I wanted to write it.

Long story short, I decided to reconcile my faith with my writing. I focused on my God, my family and my craft as a writer (in that order). As I type this I am finishing my fifth contracted manuscript for the Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical line. I can safely say the dry spell is over. At least for now, but I know my success could vanish at anytime. There isn’t a single day that I take my return to publishing for granted. I know how quickly it can fade.

So, what did I learn from all the rejection letters? I learned to focus on what I could control and leave the rest to the Lord. I started taking positive action steps that I could control. Here are my top ten steps for “staying the course” in the face of rejection.

STEP ONE: Persist. Sounds simple, I know. But the only way to guarantee success is to keep writing. The only way to guarantee failure is to stop writing. Never, never give up. That sale could be just around the corner. It may take seven, ten, twenty years and 100 or more rejections, but so what? It’s all about the journey anyway. Trust me on this.

STEP TWO: Focus on what you’re doing right, not what you’re doing wrong. Do not go to the negative. Ever. Stay positive. Write down every success you have, no matter how small. Did you read a good craft book? You’re one step closer. Did you attend a book signing? Again, you’re on your way. Did you meet a multi-published author who gave you great advice? There you go! Remember, every step counts.

STEP THREE: Redefine those rejections. Try thinking of those nasty little letters as correspondence with editors. You just received important feedback from an industry professional, and all it cost you was the postage. Besides, that rejection is just one person’s opinion. Nothing more, nothing less. You have not been rejected. That particular editor did not like that particular story at that particular time. Never say, “I was rejected.” You weren’t. Your manuscript was rejected. Reframe your thinking right now!

STEP FOUR: Compare yourself only to yourself. If you try to keep up with your friends and/or your rivals you will only make yourself crazy. Let’s face it; there will always be someone more successful than you in this business. Their success is not an indicator of your potential. Focus on your career and your success. Period.

STEP FIVE: Read and learn from other genres. This is hard for many writers. But if you only study your sub-genre, you risk becoming a one-note writer. Not good. Want to learn how to write great action scenes? Study thrillers. Want to learn how to plot better? Read a good mystery. Want to know how to use language well? Read a literary novel. You can learn a lot about craft by studying other published novels. Like I said before, don’t stick to one genre. Your writing will benefit.

STEP SIX: Turn off the internal editor. Make this your new motto: DON’T GET IT right GET IT written. You can always go back and revise, but you can’t fix a blank page.

STEP SEVEN: Live your life. Turn off that television and get out of the house. I know this seems like a basic step, but it’s so important. How can you write about people if you aren’t interacting with, well, people? Study mannerisms, study speech patterns, study how strangers interact with one another. Airports are a great place for this. You’ll be surprised what you can learn by mingling with the real world.

STEP EIGHT: SUBMIT, SUBMIT, SUBMIT. You can’t get feedback if you aren’t submitting. You can’t make a sale if you aren’t submitting. Need I say more?

STEP NINE: Hone your craft! My personal favorite and the one step we writers can completely control on our own. Successful authors share one common trait: they never adopt the attitude that “they have arrived”. Each book is an open challenge to take their writing to the next level. They are constantly learning new techniques. Are you? Make a commitment to find out where your writing is out of balance (and, yes, everyone’s writing has areas that need honing). Commit to improving the weakest part of your writing.

STEP TEN: Finish manuscripts. You can’t sell a blank page. You can’t hone your craft by merely attending a workshop. You must practice, practice, practice. When that editor comes knocking don’t you want more than one manuscript available for sale?

There you have it. Ten steps you can control, whether you’re a published author or an aspiring one or suffering somewhere in between.

~Renee~

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Renee Ryan writes for the Steeple Hill line Love Inspired Historical. Her fabulous editor is Melissa Endlich of Steeple Hill. Her first book in the Charity House series, The Marshall Takes a Bride is a current February 2009 release. Her next book in the Charity House series, Hannah’s Beau hits the shelves July 2009. For further information check out: http://www.reneeryan.com/

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Bevy of Links (or 3)...


It’s a busy weekend here. No, I’m not in some warm, southern State sipping beer and enjoying a well deserved holiday (waves to Jana). I’m heading into the city to pick up my new glasses, overnight with my mom, then drive to another city to participate in the monthly meeting of the SRW. I won’t be able to chat with you until Saturday night, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to give you some links.

First up – Plotters versus Pantsers. I am a pantser. The story usually plays like a movie in my head and my job is to get it down on paper. Sometimes, Muse gets ahead of me and creates a wonderful scene that I then have to write toward. It resembles playing those maze puzzles. Your pen traces the path that you know will get you to the little opening on the other side of the page that’s marked "The End". Then, you make a turn and WHAM you’re stuck. No way out. So you back up, or worse, start over again. This time you won’t make the same mistake, you just weren’t concentrating. But suddenly, you’re in another dead end. If you do this more than twice, well, let’s just say there’s no way in hell you’re going to finish that maze. Pen down; find something else to do (ooh, Suduko).

So, I was very happy to see one of my favorite blogs dedicating the month of February to plotting. Writer Unboxed has a ton of information about getting from Point A (Once upon a time…) to Point B (and they lived happily ever after). Go check it out – I’m sure you’ll come away with something new whether you’re a pantser or a plotter.

Next up – everyone knows that I’ve been editing (revising) Lady Bells. I stripped a huge chunk from the manuscript including adjectives, adverbs, and back-story. Last week I did some critiquing for writing friends. Then, in chat on RWA Online, I had a very in-depth discussion about MS Word’s comment/tracking feature. A couple of years ago I had never even heard of the feature, now it’s my best friend when I critique or when I need to make notes on my own WIP while I’m working (I never have to go looking for paper notes). So, I was thrilled to find a blog called The Blood-Red Pencil. Not only do they discuss editing, but they also have a great archive with MS Word hints and suggestions, including a ‘how to’ post on using the comments/tracking feature. (Hint: Type in MS Word or Word Processing Shortcuts in the search box)

And last, but not least, I want to talk about synopsis – the dreaded 1, 2, 5, or 10-page summary of a 100,000 word novel. Every agent has a suggested length, which is why I’ve included 4 versions in the previous sentence. I have struggled with this almost as much as the query letter. When you read about authors or writers railing against synopsis you get the impression they don’t like writing them. And now that I’ve tried to write one, I agree whole-heartedly. Synopsis writing is not fun. But it must be done. Most agents when requesting a partial will request a synopsis. There are no options.

My synopsis stinks. But it’s a lot better than the first four I wrote and if it’s anything like the query letter, it will take another dozen or so re-writes for me to feel completely satisfied with it. But unlike the query letter where there is a ton of information on the net about how to write queries, examples of queries that have garnered agents’ attention, and sites where you can send in your query for comments and suggestions, synopsis’ help is a little harder to come by. Until now. Query Tracker (the blog) has information on how to write a fabulous synopsis. You’ll have to search for the postings, but it will be well worth the time digging through their archives. And while you’re there, I suggest you read some of the other posts (including yesterday’s fabulous post on manuscript formatting). A wealth of information for writers at all stages of their careers.

So, People of Blogland, I hope you get a chance to check out these sites. Please feel free to suggest other great sites that help you in your writing (I’m always open to new websites). Or maybe share with us your views on MS Word’s features – do you use them, are they helpful? And I would love to hear about your synopsis woes/triumphs. Go ahead – talk amongst yourselves. I’ll check in tomorrow night.

Janet (Did you know that bevy also refers to a group of roe deer? Check out this link.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Big Prairie Welcome to Renee Ryan


Join us this Sat, Feb 28 as we give a big prairie welcome to Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical author Renee Ryan.

Read Renee's fascinating story of rejection, publication and more rejection.

And then watch as she lists 10 positive action steps for “staying the course” in the face of rejection.

Renee will be joining us from sunny Nebraska to encourage you and answer your questions.

You can check out Renee's blog at http://www.reneeryan.com/ and if you like games, she even has a jigsaw puzzle of the book cover featured here.

Writing Tool: Google Earth

This post started out to be about finding a suitable location for your current work in progress (wip) but I wanted to impart so much information, I realized I had to make it into 2 posts. And so, I’ll start with the more exciting one. You probably know about the Google Earth program but just maybe someone out there in blogland doesn’t. Normally I wouldn’t advertise software however, this program is available as a free download to anyone with a computer therefore I feel it’s too valuable a writing too to be ignored.

I discovered Google Earth by listening to my kids discuss what they learned in school. When I expressed my ignorance, my youngest sent me to the site and after only a few mins, I accepted the free download. Check it out here: http://earth.google.com

So what is Google Earth? First off, it gives you a bird’s eye view of the earth. Anywhere on earth. (I see the new version covers the ocean floor, too) When you first initialize the program, the first thing you see is outer space with the globe in the centre. When you input an address, the globe turns to the geographical position and zooms into the location until you’re looking down at it from a few thousand feet above. It was a thrill to look down at my own farm. I even added a virtual push pin so it would be easy to find again. The more populated an area, the closer you can zoom in.

I inputted my mother’s home address and watched the globe zip east a couple provinces to Ontario. It zeroed right down on her apartment building so that I could see her van parked in her spot in the parking lot. The next time I visited Mom, I showed her the program. She says when she goes outside now, her first thought after the weather is whether someone’s looking down at her.

This technology was just what I needed to find a location for the wip I was targeting for the Harlequin American line. Like the name entails, the setting had to be in America. I spent about a week crisscrossing Montana looking for the perfect location for a remote ranch since my hero is a rancher and inaccessibility plays a role in the story. I found the perfect setting on a gravel road about 20 miles north of Ryegate. Because of the physical geography, it takes almost 50 mins to drive the distance. How do I know that? Because with Google Earth, if you say you want the driving instructions from here to there, it will give you precise directions where to turn and how long it will take to get there. So, even with a fictional ranch, once the virtual push pin was in place, Google Earth used the longitude and latitude to do its figuring.

One of the best features of Google Earth is that I can zoom down so that I’m standing right in front on the ranch house, and the camera angle will change so and I can do a complete 360 rotation. Because my ranch is in a sparsely populated area, these photos are from 4000 ft above ground level so it’s clearly not as detailed as I’d like, but it’s the best I’ve got at this point.

The best location, of course, is one the writer knows or at least has visited but, that's not always possible. I found Google Earth to be a powerful tool in my writing kit for those locations I wasn't able to physically reach. I might not have gotten to know the people in the area, but I can always email the local Chamber of Commerce for the human aspect.

The photos I've used here are all screen shots of Montana I emailed myself from the Google Earth program.

Have you ever used Google Earth? Have you set your wip in a location you've never visited? Have you ever read a book and knew the author had never been there? What do you think of this new technology?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

K.I.S.S.

There is an adage pertaining to the writing of fiction, or any writing for that matter, which suggests an author would be wise to reduce his verbiage and lower his word count for the sake of brevity. In other words, keep it short and sweet. Keep it short and simple. Keep it stupid, simple. Keep it super simple. Keep it simple simon. You get the idea. Kiss excess words goodbye.

Legend goes in the 1920’s someone bet Ernest Hemingway ten bucks he couldn’t write a story in six words. He came up with:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

He won the bet. He even went so far as to declare his six-word story his best work. That’s saying something since he went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for The Old Man and the Sea followed by the Noble Prize for Literature in 1954. Wikipedia states “Hemingway's distinctive writing style is characterized by economy and understatement, and had a significant influence on the development of twentieth-century fiction writing.” No doubt about it. Understated and economizing. I’d say so.

I’m no Hemingway expert, I’ve only read the one short story, but even I get the point. Less can be more. No unnecessary backstory. No convoluted, lengthy explanations. Zero research. Only possibilities.

Here’s an example of a six-word story by Margaret Attwood, our Canadian goddess of the written word.

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.

Here are my efforts:
Seeking sanity. Missed by a mile.
Widow tosses gun in river. Amen.
Here, he won’t be needing it.
He arrived late. She left early.
(And no, I’m not going to admit how much time I spent on these sub par examples. Suffice to say, I had fun.)

Enter flash fiction or postcard fiction. These are short stories known for their extreme brevity (1000 words or less). They contain the usual: a protagonist, conflict, complications and an outcome, some of which are hinted at or implied. Nanofictions involve at least one character and a plot and are exactly fifty-five words in length. 69er’s have an exact word count of sixty-nine not including title. Drabble – one hundred words. Who knew? Not me, but I live in a bubble.

I think trying one’s hand at flash fiction might be an effective writing exercise. Take an out of control scene and reduce it to flash fiction size. I recently did something similar after a friend included a KISS comment as part of her critique on my wip. The scene is no longer passive but shorter, action driven and not bogged down by backstory. I think.

Have you ever tried your hand at flash fiction or postcard fiction? Do you want to have some fun today? Give the six-word story a try and post your efforts in the comments.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

WHAT’S IN A TITLE?

Hayley has been blogging about book covers on Eventide Unmasked for the past couple of weeks. She has given us a lot to think about, both as readers and as writers. As readers we are drawn to certain books by their covers. As writers we dream about the cover we would like for our novels.

After covers (or maybe before for some people) titles draw a reader to a book. I’ve noticed a lot of recent titles follow a series pattern that suggests to the reader a certain storyline. I find these titles less than creative. For example, if you check out Harlequin Romances titles for March, you will find such titles as Brady: The Rebel Rancher, Italian Groom, Princess Bride, Falling for Her Convenient Husband, Cinderella’s Wedding Wish, Her Cattleman Boss, and The Aristocrat and the Single Mom.

Now I don’t want to get into trouble with Harlequin, but these titles are not to my liking. (Is that safe enough to say?) As a reader, I get an idea what the story is about, but what happened to the more creative titles like Gone With the Wind, Above Suspicion, The Snare of the Hunter, Hot Ice, Jewels of the Sun, Lord of the High Lonesome?

When I’m writing, I prefer a title that reflects the story yet also shows creativity and cleverness. Following are some titles that I have already used or am considering using:

Boyfriend in a Box – the idea came from an actual product created for women who wanted a non demanding relationship with a man. In my story, the heroine, Georgia, invents a boyfriend so that her grandmother will stop nagging her about finding a man. In a fancy box, she keeps photos of Donovan, an old friend of her brother, to show her grandmother whenever she’s in a nagging mood. Donovan, conveniently for Georgia, lives outside of the country. Things heat up, however, when Donovan returns to her island.

Professional Husband – someone who helps out widowed women (I saw this in an old career book). My heroine had been widowed young. When her husband died, she didn’t know how to take care of the finances, etc., so she was unprepared to take care of these things. Once she learned how to manage her finances, she decided to open a professional husband business whereby she helps widows who find themselves in similar situations. The hero’s grandmother is one of the heroine’s clients. The hero doesn’t trust her with his grandmother’s finances.

Woman in the Well – a catch phrase in a news article. I like the possibilities behind this cold case story of a woman found in a barrel down a well in the Sutherland area of Saskatoon. The woman had supposedly died in the early 1920s. I’m intrigued by how she died. What was her story? Or maybe I can create a contemporary story connected to this cold case. I’m still working on this.

Best Before Date – we’re all familiar with this saying. I think this title has lots of potential – I just haven’t found the right characters yet to populate this story.

Delicious by Nature – the tagline for Over the Hill Orchards, a Saskatchewan based company. I haven’t thought of a storyline for this yet, but I think this would be an intriguing title for a romance.

Heroine Addiction – my husband’s suggestion for a romance title. I like the play on words. Again, I don’t have a storyline for this, but it has possibilities.

I like to have a title before I begin writing. I actually have trouble writing a story when I have no working title. In fact, the title quite often sparks my storylines.

Where do your titles come from? When do you title your work? Before? After? During?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Loving What You Do

In my day job I work for a veterinary association. Recently, I interviewed five recently retired vets who were about to receive recognition from the association for their long service. Between the five of them they have worked more than 165 years in their chosen profession, with one of vets practicing an outstanding 56 years.

As I talked to these truly wonderful people, I was struck by a couple of things. Many of the veterinarians knew from an early age that looking after animals was what they wanted to do with their lives. A couple of them mentioned they had been mentored by country vets they had known in their childhoods. One said that as an eight year old he tagged along with the vet as he made his rounds, and by the age of twelve announced to his parents that he was going to be a vet too.

They didn’t let anything stop them from pursuing their dreams. One of the veterinarians, a woman, applied 17 times to 5 different veterinary schools in the US before she was accepted. At her first interview for vet school in 1968, she was told she had nice credentials but that she should marry a vet instead of being one. When she finally did complete veterinary college she couldn’t find work. She applied for 92 positions before she finally got a job.

All of the vets loved their work. One of the vets, who must be in his seventies, said he’d still be working today if problems with his knees hadn’t slowed him down. The vet who worked for 56 years told me he got up every single morning looking forward to the day. He couldn’t understand how people who didn’t feel that way about their work survived, and he couldn’t imagine doing anything else with his life.

It dawned on me that these veterinarians are very much like many writers I know. Many of us knew from an early age that we were writers. If like me, you never thought of yourself as a writer when you were a kid, you certainly thought of yourself as a reader. You loved language and words and storytelling. You still do.

Most writers face adversity. Not only do we face self-doubt and demons of our own making, our dreams are often blocked by the publishing industry itself. Sometimes critiques and reviews can be harsh. Only those who persevere will make their dreams come true.

And many of us cannot imagine doing anything else. No matter how difficult writing can be, nothing else gives us the satisfaction that writing the perfect description, or capturing an essence of an emotion can give us. And nothing is more satisfying than writing “The End” on a finished product.

I have to admit I have a love/hate relationship with my work. When the words flow, I love what I do, but when I’m stuck for the right phrase, or in the middle of never-ending edits, not so much. But I keep coming back to it.

Another of my goals for 2009 is to love the process more. I love the finished product but I want to love the journey of getting there a lot more. I want to be like the vet who woke up every morning eager to see what the day’s work would bring. But changing from a lifelong “the glass is half empty” person to a “the glass is half full” person will not an easy task for me.

Do you love what you do? What suggestions can you give me to help me love the journey to “The End” a little more?

Cheers,
Jana

Sunday, February 22, 2009

We Have a Winner!

Honorary Prairie Chick Charlene Sands has drawn a name from all those who left a comment yesterday and posted this comment:

...the autographed book goes to Sheandeen! Congratulations!

Just email me privately at charlenesands@hotmail.com
with Prairie Chicks Winner in your subject and I'll send you a book of choice from this list:

Western-
Taming the Texan
Bodine's Bounty
Western Weddings

Desire-
Five Star Cowboy
Do Not Disturb Until Christmas
The Corporate Raider's Revenge
Fortune's Vengeful Groom
Bunking Down with the Boss

Hope to hear from you soon!!


Woo hoo, Sheandeen!!!

A big thank you to everyone who joined us yesterday for Charlene's story and a wide prairie wave to all the ladies of Petticoats and Pistols.

Don't forget, Charlene and her books can be found at:

http://www.charlenesands.com/ and http://www.petticoatsandpistols.com/

Saturday, February 21, 2009

From Texans to Tycoons


I guess you could say I was always meant to write. I never had trouble in school when it came to preparing an essay, writing a story or poem. As an adult, I found it easy to make my point by the written word. Friends and family members would seek me out when they needed a complaint letter to some business or enterprise that had aggravated them. I’ve been asked to write eulogies for people in my heart who have passed on.

I’ve always been an avid reader and as a young girl in my twenties, I discovered the world of romance. Reading these stories touched me in ways that I couldn’t possibly have known. I read three or four books a week. I loved all forms of traditional romance. What I mean is, no paranormal or vampires … you couldn’t find those stories readily in those days anyway. But I loved Regency, medieval and western stories. I especially enjoyed those cowboy romances that reminded of so many of my favorite television series, like Bonanza, Cheyenne and Rawhide. I was a huge fan of The Lone Ranger and Roy Rogers too! With the added factor of a hero and heroine falling for each other in those great historical books, I fell in love with the entire romance genre. I couldn’t read fast enough love stories that ended happily.

I’m an optimist at heart. I think the glass is half full. Yes, even with these troubling times in America, I am still cautiously hopeful and I believe in the power of love.

As I read those romances, something inside me emerged and I felt that I too, might be able to write something that would pull at heartstrings and give inspiration. At the time, my children were in junior high and I had time on my hands. Mind you, I worked part-time teaching childbirth and baby-care classes in a local hospital and still enjoy that work today … it’s very rewarding. But something inside me shifted at one point. I felt I needed to do something more with my life. I felt I was meant for something else and the feeling wouldn’t go away. It constantly nagged at me and made me search my soul.

Bravely, I took an all-day workshop about writing romances given by a very successful author and she said something to me that stuck with me to this day. She said she’d been rejected four times, before she sold her first book. A light went on in my head … you mean if you don’t sell your first story, you have more chances? You can keep going? You’re not labeled an unsellable author for all eternity? Well, this was news to me. Remember, the romance industry was younger then. It was 1995 and I knew little about the business end of writing. I only knew, I had to try.

So try I did. I sent my first story off and thank goodness it didn’t sell. It was all wrong and so bad. Yet, I was thrilled with the standard rejection letter. It meant I’d made a start, a dent in a long journey, and I’d heard back from a real, honest-to-goodness editor!

Then I joined RWA and the absolute second I walked into the Orange County Chapter of RWA and saw all those published authors, I knew that I would do this … I knew I’d really found what I’d been searching for all those years. I needed to be published almost as much as I needed my next breath. I’d think, aside from anything tragic happening to my loved ones, NOT getting published would be the worst thing to happen to me, in my life. I wanted it that badly … after all, it’s what I was meant to do.

Well, after three years, and countless rejections (at one time I had 11 manuscripts out to various houses), I finally got the call from Hilary Sares at Kensington. I sold my first book. Not a western, but a contemporary about a rancher in modern times. I called the book, Chance in a Million, because his name was Chance, but this really had been MY chance in a million. I wrote three books for Precious Gems, all contemporary stories, but my heart’s desire was to write westerns. I still had that hurdle to overcome. In 2000, after waiting nearly a year to hear back, I sold my first western called Lily Gets Her Man. I was thrilled. I’d always wanted to write for Harlequin. It’s a great forward-thinking company. From there, I began writing contempories too, and my debut Silhouette Desire was a Romantic Times Magazine’s Top Pick. Since then I’ve written twenty-five books, eight of them being westerns. Presently, I’m writing a Desire Trilogy set in Napa Valley and I hope to get back to writing westerns again.

Everyone’s writing journey is different and unique, but if I could give you one piece of advice, it’s to enjoy the process while trying to get published or reach your goals. After all, you’re doing what you love to do!

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Charlene Sands is a bestselling author of 25 books writing Silhouette Desires and Harlequin Historicals. She’s the recipient of the National Readers’ Choice Award and the Booksellers’ Best Award. Her November Desire has been nominated for the Best Silhouette Desire of 2008 by Romantic Times Magazine. Married to her high school sweetheart, she’s a mother of two grown children and lives in Southern California. Her February Desire, Reserved for the Tycoon is on the bookshelves now and is available at Amazon and Eharlequin as well as other online sites. She invites you to visit her at
http://www.charlenesands.com/ or http://www.petticoatsandpistols.com/

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One lucky commentator will win a free book from Charlene's backlist. The winner will be posted on Sunday afternoon.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I Am A Weaver...


I learned to weave when we lived in Nova Scotia. A wonderful neighbor lady showed me her loom, demonstrated the technique, and I was sold. Take simple yarn; get it onto the huge contraption; sit on the bench; use your feet to press the pedals creating an opening between the wool strands (called a shed); throw a wooden shuttle, containing more wool, through the shed; change pedals; throw again.* Repeat zillions of times (number depends on length of project) and wa-la – you’ve woven fabric! Whenever I explain it to anyone, I use the word magic. Every item that I make (table runners, scarves, tea towels, blankets) give me a thrill I can not describe. It amazes me every time – and I spend a great deal of time touching, stroking, and admiring the finished product. Magic!

So, can you guess how Lady Bells occupies her time (you know, when she’s not being seduced by Hugh or trying to solve a six year old murder mystery)? Yep, she weaves. Characters need to be well rounded. Suse’s blog this week talked about getting to know our characters, the more we know them the better chance we’ll have them signed up for the right story. Or when we get them into a situation, we’ll be able to get them out of it because we know them, intimately. And hobbies allow readers the opportunity to associate with those characters.

There are a lot of books out there where the author uses a hobby to help ground the characters. I just finished Victoria Dahl’s contemporary romance Talk Me Down (excellent book, BTW). The hero, chief of police Ben Lawson, indulges in photography. The heroine, Molly, wants him to take risqué pictures of her (it’s a hot book, people). But Ms. Dahl uses Ben’s hobby to show his love of Molly, well before he realizes it himself. The scene where Molly wakes to find the photos Ben has taken of her is truly sensual and romantic.

Some authors use the hobby to move the plot along. Heidi Betts’ series Chicks with Sticks is tied (oh, bad pun) together by yarn. Charlotte (an aunt of one of the heroines) raises Alpacas and spins her own wool. The spinning wheel has been handed down from generation to generation so there just may be a little magic in that instrument. The three books in the series center on knitting, more precisely knitting with Charlotte’s wool. The first book, Tangled Up In Love, was released this month.

Debbie Macomber’s Blossom Street Series takes the concept a step further. She created a heroine, Lydia, who learned to knit while undergoing treatment for cancer. Now, Lydia is turning that hobby into a business. There’s not much to say about Ms. Macomber except if you haven’t read her, I suggest you run out this very instant and pick up a copy of one of her books. May I suggest the first in the series – A Shop on Blossom Street? Beautiful!

My other works-in-progress have characters with hobbies as well. One of them (East Coast smuggling) has a heroine who wants to take her hobby of painting to the next level. She wants to make a living at it. Do I know anything about painting? Nope. But I’m learning. In that story, the hero needs to find something to do (he’s got a lot of issues, not the least he’s a workaholic). My heroine’s father is going to introduce him to woodworking. Do I know anything about woodworking? Nope, but it was my father’s hobby and The Husband is pretty good at it too. Another of my heroine’s (a story of a woman trying to re-create herself) loves to cross-stitch. And guess what? So do I. Unfortunately, the hero in that one loves to cook – already a conflict with a heroine trying to lose weight. The Tudor romance I’ve started has a heroine addicted to chess and a hero that needs to win.

Hobbies are important to people. They keep you sane when your work life makes you crazy. They occupy your time in an enjoyable manner. They usually produce something that you take pride in. And there are a plethora of hobbies you can research to give your characters well-rounded personalities: flower arranging, model cars, pottery (can anyone forget Ghost and that pottery wheel scene?), golf, scrapbooking, antiquing, beading, quilting (one of my favorite Carol Shields’ books – Happenstance – had a main character who quilts), stamp collecting, etc.

So, People of Blogland, what hobbies do you indulge in? What about your characters, what hobbies occupy their time? Are there any hobbies I failed to mention? Do you know of any other romance novels where a hobby is important to the story?

Janet
* The process of weaving has been simplified due to word count constraints!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

This Sat We Welcome Charlene Sands

Please join us this Sat, Feb 21st as we welcome our newest Honorary Prairie Chick: Charlene Sands.

Charlene Sands is the bestselling author of 25 books writing Silhouette Desires and Harlequin Historicals.

She’s the recipient of the National Readers’ Choice Award and the Booksellers’ Best Award. Her November Desire has been nominated for the Best Silhouette Desire of 2008 by Romantic Times Magazine. Married to her high school sweetheart, she’s a mother of two grown children and lives in Southern California.

Her February Desire, Reserved for the Tycoon is on the bookshelves now and is available at Amazon and Eharlequin as well as other online sites. She invites you to visit her at
http://www.charlenesands.com/ or http://www.petticoatsandpistols.com/

Charlene will be giving away a book from her backlist to one lucky commentator so if you've ever wondered what it's like to become a Silhouette Desire or Harlequin Historical author, or if you have any questions about her fabulous books, join us this Sat and ask Charlene yourself.

Striving for Perfection

Over the past few months, I’ve kept an eye on Love Inspired author Missy Tippens. No, I wasn’t lurking on her Facebook status updates, she was fully aware of my interest and in fact encouraged it. You see, Missy was on a deadline to complete another book and I volunteered to nag—um—encourage her along the way. Not that she needed it, but I was curious how a real author, mother of 3, pastor's wife, teacher and small business owner allotted her time to ensure she made her deadline.

Back in Nov, Missy stated that she needed to write so many words per day to have her mss complete by the deadline of Feb 14th. As the weeks progressed, especially with the holidays, Missy adjusted her daily word count to ensure she still made the deadline. A few weeks ago, Missy announced she had finished the book which left time for revisions. Then, on Feb 9th, she posted, ‘I'm reading through it right now for about the 3rd time. Next, I'm going to go through my critique partner's feedback, and then one last run-though for consistency. It's due Friday. I had wanted to mail it tomorrow but will probably end up overnighting it. It's so hard to let it go, because I want to change something every time I read it.’

Can I ever relate! I have a tendency to tweak my writing until the deadline looms then rush to get it out.

On Feb 12, Missy posted, ‘I finished my manuscript and mailed it off today!!!! What a relief. It'll be released from Steeple Hill Love Inspired in November 2009 and titled A Forever Christmas. I'm so excited to have typed The End! (Of course, I actually typed The End a couple of weeks ago but have been revising and adding to it.)’

That got me wondering so I said to Missy, ‘I usually cut it close because I'm too busy tweaking and don't want to send it until I absolutely have to. Out of curiosity, are you the same? Was this a normal progression for you?’

To which she answered, ‘My goal in life is to turn in something early. So far, I haven't met it! I'm the same as you. I just can't seem to get to the point where I feel comfortable stopping on a manuscript. There's always something else I want to change. So I seem to work up til the deadline...’

When I was in the military, I won a coffee mug with these words emblazoned on the side, ‘Parkinson’s Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’. We all laughed at it once we figured out what it meant. Our Sgt didn’t laugh but that’s another story.

C. Northcote Parkinson first published his article ‘Parkinson's Law’ in The Economist in Nov 1955 and then went on to write an entire book on the subject. The subject, of course, is time management which is exactly why I was keeping my eye on Missy. Well, that's not exactly true because I started watching as a friend who was ready to step in and offer encouragement if she seemed to be lagging. But, I was very interested to see how she managed her time. And she did it very effectively by getting her manuscript in on time under the deadline even with all the other life issues she had to deal with. She also proved Parkinson’s Law by taking almost all of her alloted time to complete her mss.

Like I told Missy, I do the same thing. There have even been a couple instances where I finished my writing weeks ahead of time and yet I set it aside and waited for the final few days before checking, tweaking and submitting it.

Why? I know we should put our writing aside for a few days and then look at it ‘with fresh eyes’. But, why do I have this need to wait until the very last minute to actually send it out? I watched my adult daughter pack up and move far away from home without feeling the need to change her hair or clothes before she moved into the adult world. She was ready to go and she went. Why can’t I let my words go with the same aplomb?

Is it because there are so many words out there I'm striving for perfection? Can writing ever be perfect? Or does this show a lack of self-confidence in my craft?

How about you? Do you use all the time you’ve been given for a task? If you finish early, do you still wait until the last minute to submit it? Or do you send it out and then move on to the next task?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reading Aloud

“Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.”
Marilyn Jager Adams

Reading Aloud

Does your writing pass the read aloud test? I don’t pretend to know much about the craft of writing. I do know if I read a paragraph of my work out loud and it sounds confusing, boring or awkward to me, it’s going to sound exactly the same to someone else. If I’m gasping for air at the end of a sentence or stumbling over word combinations, it needs to be reworked. Hard to argue with yourself over a sentence that doesn’t flow or sounds cliché to your own ears.

I’m not suggesting reading aloud replace workshops, reference books, fellow writers and practice. That would be silly. Its one tool in the toolbox. I’m saying I need to take the time to listen to my own voice or how will I know what other people will be hearing? It can help establish the need for a pause or a break. Reading aloud offers the writer a chance to hear the rhythm of her/his words. If you are used to reading from the computer switch it up by printing off the pages and reading aloud from them. Costly but worth it if you’re struggling with a difficult passage. It allows you to hear the words you see.

I started out whispering even when home alone. I’m getting braver and louder but only with the door shut. I believe some critique groups encourage members to read their work aloud to the rest of the group. I’m sure it’s a valuable exercise - intimidating, but valuable.

And yes, I did read (whisper) this blog aloud while wrapped up in a blanket, nodding off and wondering when I can take my next dose of headache numbing, sinus draining medicine. I’m blaming any errors on my plugged ears. Maybe next week I’ll blog on procrastinating.

How comfortable are you reading your work out loud? Do you read your writing aloud to a critique group, a friend, your husband or the Jonathon Rhys Meyers picture taped to your wall? He’s very supportive (oops, possibly too much information).

“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”
Jorge Luis Borges

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In the Corner

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” – Unknown

The other night I had trouble sleeping. I’m not sure why, but it’s not the first night I’ve spent tossing and turning. It’s also not the first night I didn’t do anything about it. I just lay there hoping to eventually fall asleep. Like most of those nights, sleep took a long time coming. However, this particular night, because I had been thinking about what to blog about and afraid that I would forget in the morning, I finally got up and wrote the idea down. Surprisingly or not surprisingly, I fell asleep when I went back to bed. I just needed to do something different. Coincidentally my blog reflects what I had been going through that night while trying to fall asleep – if something doesn’t work, I need to try something different.

How many times in our writing do we follow the same pattern of writing ourselves into a corner? How many times do we try to get out of that corner by backing up but then find ourselves in the corner again because we didn’t change our plan? We need to back away and keep backing away until we can look more closely at why we continue to end up where we didn’t want to go with our stories.

Is it because we haven’t gotten to know our characters well enough? Maybe we don’t really know how they will react in the situations we place them in because we don’t know or understand what brought them to the point where they enter our story. Again most writers know a lot of what happened in a character’s past won’t necessarily make it on to the written page, but we need to spend the time educating ourselves about our characters. We can do this in several ways:

An interview with a character quite often reveals something about him we didn’t know before. I’ve learned some very interesting things about some of my characters that I would never have known if I hadn’t conducted the interview. The characters almost leapt off the page with this method. When this happens they come alive and we can finally understand why we couldn’t make the characters do what we thought they should do in our stories.

Another way to get to know our characters is to create a profile where we list their likes, dislikes, physical appearances, age, number of siblings, marriages, divorces, children, and anything else that will help us understand our character. Even a shoe size may be important because the heroine is self-conscious about her size 9 feet on her 5’3” frame. Keep this information in a file that is easily accessible.

Another interesting way to learn about your character is to create a collage – choose pictures and words that reflect your characters and their conflicts. Keep it close for when you run into problems with your characters.

When characters misbehave, we have to re-evaluate a few things. Have we chosen the correct heroine for the story? Perhaps she should be in a different story. Or maybe we should change the conflict we’ve created for her in the story. Perhaps we have the wrong heroine for the right hero or vice versa.

If it’s the plot that doesn’t work, we need to go back and rethink why it doesn’t work. Is it because we haven’t planned it fully? Maybe the conflict is not strong enough to carry the story to novel length. Or maybe it’s too complex and we need to change the focus and word count to adequately (no – magnificently) tell the story that needs to be told.

When we write romance, are the conflicts of the hero and heroine at odds with each other? If they’re not related in some way, what will keep the two characters apart for most of the book despite their attraction to each other?

Now I’ve written this from the pov of a plotter rather than a pantser. For those writers who plot, how do you get yourself out of the corner you’ve written yourself into? If you’re a pantser, what do you do?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Imagineering

I’ve written several times about the class in motivation I took. A lot of my instructor’s writings (Tanya Hertel at www.tanyaslifecoaching.com) have been eye opening. But none have resonated with me quite as strongly as her lecture on increasing creativity. And I have Walt Disney to thank for that.

Why Walt? Because Tanya introduced me to Walt’s concept of ‘Imagineering’.

Imagineering is the term Walt Disney used to describe how he took his ideas and dreams and turned them into reality. Imagineering is made up of three phases: the Dreamer phase, the Realist phase, and the Critic phase.

Disney believed the Dreamer phase is where the future comes from and hope is born. Ideas burst from nothingness, and imagination runs free, unhindered by the inner critic or any practical concerns. No idea is allowed to be criticized here. There are no bad ideas in the Dreamer phase.

In the Realist phase a plan is created to reach goals. This is the doing phase. Dreams are given timelines, and plans of action, and each aspect of the dream is examined to determine what is possible. Feedback is often necessary.

The third phase is the Critic phase. Disney didn’t use this phase to tear down and undo the work of the first two phases. He used it to anticipate problems and to ask ‘Is this interesting?’ The Critic phase is all about avoiding negatives.

Tanya Hertel writes: “Disney believed that each of these phases were critically important to the creative process. For a Dreamer without a Realist and Critic is just that, a dreamer. A Realist without a Dreamer and a Critic is a robot. A Critic without a Dreamer and a Realist is a spoiler.”

Imagineering worked pretty well for Walt. Why not for us? I believe that Disney’s Imagineering process can be applied to writing to increase our creativity and bring our dreams to life.

For example, I want to write a new romantic suspense. In the Dreamer phase, I toss around a lot of ideas, and play ‘what if’ games. I brainstorm on paper by myself, and I may bounce ideas off writing friends. No idea is thrown out at this point.

When I reach the Realist phase, I start creating a specific plan for my novel. I may do character sketches, and perhaps an outline, developing plot points and conflict for the novel. As I actually begin the writing (the ‘doing phase’) I look for what works and what doesn’t. Perhaps some of my original ideas from the Dreamer phase need to be adjusted or abandoned completely. I may seek critiques from writing friends at this time. This is where the work gets done.

When the first draft is completed I reach the Critic phase. This is where I edit the novel, looking for problems, and anticipating reader and editor questions. Perhaps I identify an area where I need to do more research or maybe I need my characters to show more emotion. It is at this point I challenge myself to make the book the best it can be – to answer the question “Is it interesting?” I’m not trying to kill my book in the Critic phase; I’m trying to make it better.

The point is, when you write you need to be a Dreamer, a Realist and a Critic or your story simply won’t fly.

The problem often is that we get stuck in one of the phases. My problem is getting stuck in the Critic phase. Instead of saying “Is this interesting?” or “How can I make this better?” I end up beating up on my work, telling myself it’s no good. No matter how imaginative my Dreamer phase, or how much planning I’ve done in the Realist phase, if my Inner Critic only wants to tear down my writing, my creativity is stifled, my manuscript remains a half-finished project, and I become frustrated. Worst of all, my confidence takes a beating. My challenge is going to be turning my Inner Critic from my Foe to my Friend.

Are the three parts of your creativity balanced between Dreamer, Realist and Critic? Do you find yourself strong in one part but weak in others? Do you have any suggestions for me and other writers to help us from being “stuck” in the Critic phase?