Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What a Character

“You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.” Paul Sweeney

Keeping the reader in the story. Obviously as writers, that’s a goal we all seek to accomplish. We want the reader to empathize with our characters, to be drawn in deep enough to experience what the protagonists are experiencing. We want the reader to be engaged.

Think of those books written with such mastery you didn’t want to put them down or say goodbye when you came to The End. You were so invested in the characters and the plot you didn’t want to say goodbye. Novels that show verses tell so effectively the characters’ personalities and emotions jumped off the page. Unforgettable characters and a fast moving plot had you reading with bated breath until the last page. We relished the internal conflict forcing the characters apart and external conflict shoving them back together. As readers, we were along for the whole emotionally motivated, conflicted ride.

It got me thinking about the books I’ve read that kept me up far into the night and which character I would most liked to have been?

For me it started the day I opened a book and discovered Anne Shirley, an eleven-year-old orphan who is mistakenly sent to live with a lonely middle-aged brother and sister in Prince Edward Island. I wanted to be able to come up with names like the White Way of Delight, I wanted to go for a row on the Lake of Shining Waters. I wanted a best friend like Dinah Berry.

Anne, who desperately wants a family, pulled me right in and didn’t let go. She begins the story believing she’s finally going to get her heart’s desire, then she finds out there’s been a mistake and that Matthew and Marilla, for practical reasons, really wanted a boy. They agree to give her chance but Anne’s vivacious and bubbly personality constantly lands her in trouble, leaving her future in doubt. She engaged me completely then and still does, I’ve read this book many times as a child and an adult. It never gets old.

I’ve also wanted to be a Malory, any Malory. I wanted to sail on the Maiden Anne, live on Grosvenor Square and attend the Shepford Ball. I wanted to be Georgina Anderson, Roslynn Chadwick and Regina Ashton. For that matter I’d have traded places with James Malory, Anthony Malory or Nicholas Eden.

The Malory’s were created by author, Johanna Lindsey. To me they were engaging, sympathetic, a little bit crazy and imperfect. They possessed strong individual voices that made them seem larger than life but still believable. I enjoyed being along for the ride.

There are countless other characters I’ve ridden the novel roller coaster with, too many to mention, characters to which I’ve rued saying farewell. I’ve been to Troubleshooters Inc, Steele Street, the Chesapeake Bay area, and the alleys of Caldwell, New York with some of the most engaging characters you’ll ever meet.

Stories that I think have been written as Donald Maass suggests in his book Writing the Breakout Novel: “Push your characters to the edge, and you will pull your readers close. In short, escalate the stakes and bring them home with a practical demonstration of how they might hurt, and you will add dimensions to your novel that will lift it about the crowd.”

What are some of the most memorable characters you can remember spending time with?

The words of Ernest Hemingway: “All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Few More Pips on Punctuation

Over the course of the summer my writing has taken a back seat to assorted distractions (thankfully, though, it’s still in the vehicle, just snoozing in the back for a while). However, my faithful Eats, Shoots & Leaves calendar has continued to enhance my understanding of several punctuation marks that I expect to need when writing gets back into the driver's seat, including the colon (:), semicolon (;), dash (--), and exclamation mark (!). And with her usual dry humour, Lynne Truss has added interest to an otherwise less than uproarious subject. Thus I will use today’s blog to bring you up to date, too-–or at least up to the end of August on that calendar. And read fast, please. Given what is happening in modern communication, the subtleties of punctuation, she says, are threatened with being wiped out entirely.

July started with the note that the colon and semicolon have been used in English well before 1700, and that confusion has reigned over which to use when ever since. Sound familiar? Do you know when to use one and not the other? Well, here’s the scoop: the colon and semicolon propel you forward in a sentence towards more information; however, while “the semicolon lightly propels you in any direction related to the foregoing (“Whee! Surprise me!”), the colon nudges you along lines subtly laid down.” Now, as far as I’m concerned, there’s a perfect example of those pesky subtleties that have caused so much confusion.

Apparently confusion did not hold sway with Mr. George Bernard Shaw (you know, the Pygmalion fellow?). Ms. Truss gave several examples of his opinions on this topic, including a reference to a letter he wrote to T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia, that is?) in 1924 “ticking him off for his over-use of colons in the manuscript of Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” He accused Lawrence of ‘throwing colons about “with an unhinged mind”.’ Obviously Mr. Shaw felt strongly about the subject. He noted that when two statements are “placed badly in dramatic apposition”, use a colon; and when you desire an abrupt “pull-up”, or when the second statement reaffirms, explains or illustrates the first, use a colon. Fortunately for me, Ms. Truss provided examples. She noted that a colon is nearly always preceded by a complete sentence, and in its simplest usage it rather theatrically announces what is to come. To illustrate dramatic apposition, she gave “Man proposes: God disposes.”, and referred to the colon in this example as a kind of fulcrum between two antithetical or oppositional statements. For the pull-up with a nice surprise she quoted: “I find fault with only three things in this story of yours, Jenkins: the beginning, the middle and the end.” (I thought you might really appreciate that last one.)

Further information on colons indicate that they introduce the part of a sentence that exemplifies, restates, elaborates, undermines, explains or balances the preceding part. (Whew!) They also have formal introductory roles: they start lists (especially lists using semicolons–like this one); they set off book and film sub-titles from the main titles; and conventionally, colons separate dramatic characters from dialogue.

The semicolon wasn’t nearly so interesting in comparison, but I was reminded that its main place is between two related sentences where there is no conjunction, such as “and” or “but”. It seems that “the tendency of contemporary writers” is to use a dash instead of a semicolon because, apparently, you can’t use it wrongly, a trait Ms. Truss calls “an uncommon virtue” for a punctuation mark. I’m not convinced of that, but... At any rate she notes that you should reserve the dash for occasions when the connection is a lot less direct so it “can act as a bridge between bits of fractured sense.” (And, although she doesn’t cover it, another occasion for the dash is in dialogue when the spoken word itself is fractured, i.e. interrupted before the speaker finishes enunciating.) In her words, the sub-text of a semicolon is, “Now this is a hint. The elements of this sentence, although grammatically distinct, are actually elements of a single notion....” She also indicates that linking words, such as “however”, “nevertheless”, “also”, “consequently” and “hence” require a semicolon, and gave the example of “He woke up in his own bed; nevertheless, he was OK”.

In the discussion of the exclamation mark, Ms. Truss says Victor Hugo, when he wanted to know how Les Miserables was selling, reportedly telegraphed his publisher with the simple inquiry “?” and received the expressive reply “!” (I wish!), which is an excellent illustration of how that symbol changes the tone of voice of a communication. She notes that the exclamation mark is known as the exclamation point in America (a subtle difference that, but not really a confusing one, hmm?), and that it’s “known in the newspaper world as a screamer, a gasper, a startler or (sorry) a dog’s cock” (that’s a new one for me!). She also reminisced about the standard keyboard of a manual typewriter in the 1970s: there was no exclamation mark (or point, for that matter) so you had to type a full stop (a period, to me) then back-space and type an apostrophe on top of it. (Anyone else besides me remember that? Anyone?)

Exclamation marks are used in involuntary ejaculations, used to salute or invoke, used to exclaim or admire, used for drama, used to deflect potential misunderstanding of irony, used to make a commonplace sentence more emphatic, and, if a writer is not careful, can be overused to the point where the effect is like shouting (or putting an email in all caps). In that case, less is more. ‘Nuff said!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Getting Ready for Conference - Part Two - What to Bring?

Last week I talked about formulating goals and expectations for your conference experience. This week I want to talk about some essentials to bring with you.

Business Cards – It’s fun to bring a business card that you can exchange with fellow writers and pass to editors and agents. Your business card should include your email address, your website address (if you have one), and the addresses of any blogs you participate in.

I purchased reasonably priced cards from Vista print online. You can get a variety of finishes and designs. Whatever design you go with make sure the cards look professional. A tip I picked up from a publicist: try to use some of the same design elements in your business cards as you do in your website, MySpace, blog, etc. I use pink as one of my main colors along with a cherry blossom motif.

Local printers and office supply companies also do business cards. A word of advice: you might not want to purchase 500 business cards like I did, although the per card price is usually cheaper the more you order. But information can change significantly, making cards obsolete.

Some authors put a label on the back of their business cards containing the blurb of the book they wish to pitch. All the information is contained on this one little card: the author’s name and contact information, the name of her book and the blurb. It’s all there for easy reference for the editor/agent.

One Sheets – While the technique using the business card above may be effective, the one-sheet is a more professional representation of the author and the author’s work. This is one sheet of paper containing all the information about you, and the manuscript you are pitching. The one-sheet includes your contact information, a professional photograph if you have one, a 25 word blurb about your book, and then a 500-600 word synopsis. Tracey Ruckman
recommends using a graphic design program like Publisher to create your one sheet. More on one-sheets in future blogs as I attempt to design one myself.

Pitches – An essential tool in your writer’s kit is an effective pitch. This short blurb should entice an editor or agent to ask you more about your book, and perhaps even request a full manuscript. Several articles I’ve read about pitches emphasize the need to cover three bases – problem, complication, solution, or as Nikki Duncan, (www.nikkiduncan.com) who gave us a pitching clinic a short while ago puts it -- “him, her, plot”. Whatever you do, remember to include a hint of the conflict in your pitch, since it is the beating heart of your story. More on pitching in future blogs.

Works in Progress – Normally, I would tell you not take your two hundred page manuscript with you to a conference and try to slip it under the bathroom door to an editor. Okay, I’m still going to tell you not to do that. But there are special circumstances in which bringing at least a part of your WIP with you is necessary.

I will be participating in a Blue Pencil Session with Susan Wiggs at the Surrey International Writers Conference. For this 15 minute one-on-one session, I need to provide 3 pages of my current WIP for her perusal, from which she will give me some feedback. Also, there are some workshops being offered that are very hands-on and require attendees to bring a current work in progress. My advice is to carefully study the schedule of workshops (which are usually listed on the conference’s website) before leaving home. That way you can be prepared if you need to bring material with you.

Before leaving home, think about which workshops you would like to attend. On the website, you can read about the person leading the workshop and what topics will be covered. This could help you save time and frustration on the day. Pick a second choice for each time slot in case the workshop fills up. Remember, you can always change your mind once you get to the conference.

One thing I have to take into consideration when picking the workshops are the times of my editor and agent appointments. I have to remember what those times are, and check if they conflict with any workshops I really want to attend.

What to Wear – Most blogs and articles suggest that conference attendees wear business casual to the workshops. Nikki Duncan reminds female writers to make sure nail polish is chip free and that jewellery is simple, rather than clunky and noisy. I would also recommend staying away from strong perfumes or after shaves, and suggest dressing on the conservative side, ie: no really short skirts or plunging necklines. It’s going to be a long couple of days so comfortable shoes are a must. You might want to bring a light sweater as air conditioning can sometimes be overpowering.

The Surrey Conference is going to have a banquet on the Saturday night. Some conference banquets can be very formal affairs. At the 2008 EPIC Conference, many women wore full length gowns. I felt somewhat underdressed in my pant suit. Find out what attire is proper for your conference banquet so you don’t feel out of place.

So conference goers, what are you bringing to conference? If you have attended a conference in the past, what was the most valuable thing you brought with you? What did you not bring with you that you wish you had?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Welcome Stephanie Bond

How to Refill Your Creative Well

I’m coming off a crazy-hard writing year where I wrote 3 manuscripts for my BODY MOVERS humorous mystery series so they could be released back to back. I also wrote 3 manuscripts for Harlequin Blaze, (romantic comedies), also for back to back release. And I wrote 2 manuscripts for novellas. The schedule tested me physically and mentally, and afterward, I confess, I was zapped. My brain was mush—I could barely remember the names of the characters I’d written, much less come up with something new. But I had more projects on the horizon (after a short break), so I knew I had to do something to recharge my batteries. Here are some tips to regain your creativity if you’re in a slump:

Adjust your Zzzzzzzs. Physically, you need to adjust your sleep patterns up or down to get 7-8 hours sleep. I got way too little sleep most of last year, so now I’m making an effort to go to bed an hour earlier. Conversely, though, too much sleep can leave you feeling lethargic, so if you’ve gotten into the habit of sleeping in, you might want to set your alarm to get up a little earlier and get a jump on the day.

Get moving. Exercise truly is a panacea for the mind and body. Try to break a sweat at least every other day and keep moving for 30 minutes. Cardio exercise delivers oxygen to the brain and makes you more alert. I jump rope for 5 minutes shortly after getting out of bed. For a quick pick-me-up during the day, I do jumping jacks.

Eat well. Don’t put garbage in your body. I’m not the most disciplined eater around, but I do avoid the drive-through and opt for salad occasionally. Be good to your body—feed it well if you expect it to deliver on command.

Be a kid. To jumpstart your creativity, turn to something you used to do to have fun, like color in a coloring book. Or put together a puzzle. Or get out the Play-Do and make funny shapes. Board games are also good to get your creative juices flowing, as are card games.

Get together with friends. Nothing refills your well like getting together with friends and having a good time. Let your friends buoy you with affection.

Try something new. Jar yourself out of a creative rut by trying something new. For me, that means taking a break from writing novels to write, say, a screenplay.

Set a deadline. Wow, if you’re burnt out, a deadline can sound ominous. But sometimes, you need a goal in order to get you moving again. Maybe it’s a self-imposed deadline, or maybe it’s simply making a to-do list for the next day before you go to bed.

Collaborate. Getting out of a rut is easier if you have a partner to pull/push you along. Working on a project with someone else will help motivate you to get moving, but allow you to share responsibility.

Working writers don’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike—sometimes we have to give our muse a nudge. Recognizing burnout and being proactive about refilling the creative well are crucial to maintaining your artistic edge!



____________________________
Stephanie Bond left a corporate computer programming job to write fiction full-time. To date, she’s sold over 50 romance and mystery novels. Stephanie currently writes the BODY MOVERS humorous mystery series. Books 1-6 are available new at Internet bookstores. For more information, go to www.stephaniebond.com.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Zen, Monkey Mind, and Writing...

A while back I began to do a lot of reading about Zen. I wanted to be present in the moment, enjoy the events of my day as they unfolded, and put the worry and anxiety which is my natural born heritage (thanks, Mom) to rest. Worry and anxiety were blocking my energies (Chi). The more I read, the more I realised that ‘enlightenment’ was an obtainable goal and one I really wanted to work toward. I even started to meditate and continued with the practice for quite a few years.

One of the obstacles to meditation and the attainment of enlightenment is "Monkey Mind". Basically, an alliterative name for worry and anxiety plaguing your waking (and sleeping) hours. It took me a long time to learn to control my Monkey Mind during meditation. Some days I did very well, acknowledging my wayward thoughts and bringing my focus back to my breath. Some days I was all over the place and my 15 minutes would pass in a blur of activity, even though I was sitting on a cushion on the floor with my eyes closed and surrounded by silence. Over the years it became much easier to focus and the practice spilled over into my daily life. I was calmer, more centered, lighter.

Then one day I didn’t meditate. Another day came and went and I discovered that I didn’t have time in my busy day to meditate again – I’d find the time later in the week when things weren’t so rushed and crazy. Days changed into weeks, weeks into months, and my daily practice of being in the moment vanished. I still thought of Zen. I still worked to control my breathing if I found my anxiety level increasing. And I continued to read my daily Zen calendar. Then, even that simple act dwindled down to nothing in the hustle and bustle of work and writing and, argh, Internet.

I haven’t thought about Zen or meditating for a long time, probably for as long as I have been focused on a writing career. And I haven’t given any thought to Monkey Mind for just as long.

Until now.

Over the past week, since my last blog post, I’ve sat at my newly organized desk ready to write. This is just a glimpse into what’s happening:

Me: OK, let’s get started. Only allowed 15 minutes to check blogs and e-mails while coffee’s on.

Monkey Mind: Coffee’s ready.

Me: Right. Let’s open a word document.

Which one?

I don’t know. Maybe we should focus on Gillian and Mac.

Great.

I start to read.

Are you sure? I think you were more excited about Grayce and Droyen. That whole branding thing, I think you should really focus on a medieval genre.

You’re right. Where’s my notebook for them?

But you’ve written the end of Gillian and Mac. You’re right, let’s look at that one.

Fine.

I think you should move your computer over more to the right. There’s better light on that side of your new desk.

Then I’d have to move the file box to the other side. And the pencil holder.

Do it then.

I spend half an hour relocating my stuff. OK, Gillian and Mac.

You know that idea you were kicking around just before you left the Prairies, the wanna-be Private Eye. Maybe if you get your butt in gear, you could have that almost done in case the editor you’ve signed up with asks what else you have. They asked Silver for more than just what she was pitching.

It is more main stream, isn’t it?

Speaking of editors, did you think about your one page?

I took some notes; they’re in a file over here. Argh, this file box can’t stay here, I can’t access anything.

Then you should move it. But you should go have coffee first, we’ve been at this for an hour and I’m thirsty.

SEE! See what I have to put up with. Monkey Mind. Even Muse is not amused. She’s left me totally on my own, gone off with EE in a huff because every time I call on her, Monkey Mind interrupts us and I have to switch gears.

I believe I have two excuses for this problem. One is the fact that I have tons of time right now to dedicate to my writing. No job = no rushing off to work and rushing back to covet the evening hours for my writing. Two, I’m writing or have ideas for more than one story, with a full story still demanding to be reworked and sent out to agents and editors.

So now that I’ve acknowledged the problem and narrowed down the reasons why this problem exists, I believe I’ve come up with a solution. I’ve gone back to my teaching days and have pulled out an old, unused Teacher’s Day Book. I loved those books when I taught. Everything was in there and there was tons of room to plan and organize. Zen practice says that to control Monkey Mind you must acknowledge the thought, then let it go. My ‘thought’ gets written down in my planner and then I let it go. I’ve also listed three items to be on my daily agenda – my focus for the day, just as my breath is the focus of my meditation. Those must get done before I can move on to the other thoughts I’ve listed.

I’ve been at it for two days and so far it’s working. But, as with Zen practice, it will take many attempts before I can tame Monkey Mind. And one day I will close up my computer and realize that I lived in the moment (story) for a full day with no Monkey Mind to block my progress. Without Monkey Mind, my energies will be more open to accomplishing my goals.

So, People of Blogland, do you have Monkey Mind? I know most of us are working on more than one idea at a time – how do you handle multiple stories, multiple characters? Have you found a system that works for you? Is there anyone out there who meditates?

Janet (Namaste)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Stephanie Bond to Visit this Sat


This Saturday, join us for a visit from Stephanie Bond.

Stephanie Bond has written over fifty novels for publishers such as Bantam, St. Martin's Press, and Avon/HarperCollins. She currently writes a sexy mystery series for Mira Books and romantic comedies for Harlequin Books. She is best known for writing steamy books that make readers laugh out loud.

Her current series is the BODY MOVERS. Books 1-6 are available new at Internet bookstores. For more information, go to www.stephaniebond.com.

Emma's Outlaw: Wyoming Recon

Last week I attended the American Christian Fiction Writer's Conference down in Denver, Colorado. Many people were surprised that I would drive that distance but I found it the perfect opportunity to do a recon for my Outlaw story. It worked out especially well because an editor from one of the big Christian fiction publication houses is interested in the story. I'm fortunate that the same agent who requested it last year is still interested. So the timing was perfect to see for myself what I could only see with Google Earth before. And while some things were confirmed, others took me by surprise. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start where Emma's story starts.

Emma's Outlaw (yes, I renamed it) starts in Casper, Wyoming with Emma walking down the boardwalk where she first encounters her outlaw. Here's the modern photo of Center Street, Casper which I've confirmed was the main street back in 1879. It ran north/south with the Laramie Mtns in the background however in my story, I have it east/west so I'll have to change that.


When Emma is kidnapped, the outlaws head north. At first the terrain is gentle with a few bumpy spots like this:



After riding a couple hours, the outlaws take the covering off Emma. She looks back at Casper and sees the Laramie Mtns in the distance.


The ground isn't too rough at this point although it takes time to ride around the small hills and piles of rocks.

The first chance Emma has of a landmark is the sight below. It's called Teapot Rock and although it's stood since before Emma's time, erosion has taken it's toll.


This is what it looks like today, but back in Emma's time, it had the shape of an actual teapot.


So Emma's outlaws are going to ride between Teapot Rock and this huge land formation you see in the background. If you look close, you'll see some dark caves close to each side of the photo. Emma's outlaws will make camp near the one on the right that first night.



The next day, they'll keep the land mass on their right and head northeast around it. The farther they go, the more uneven the ground becomes.




The 2nd day is slower going because they're either going down into coulees and draws or riding around them.



This is where they'll make camp the 2nd night because there's plenty of fresh grass:



Now here's where one of the surprises came in... On the map and on Google Earth, it said there were 2 buttes named Castle Rock. Well, here's the eastern half of Castle Rock in real life measuring 750 ft across:


And here's the western one measuring 400 ft across the front (north side). Can you believe it? I did a double take when I first saw them sitting there.


As the riders top a rise, they see the Pumpkin Buttes to the north. Now these were a complete surprise to me as well because I thought them to be just flat topped hills. Well, they are, but they're about 20 times wider than they are tall. I didn't envision this by looking at Google Earth. It took me awhile to find them on GE as well because the highway map calls them the 'Pumpkin' Buttes but GE calls them by their geographical location. There are actually about 6 of them but these 3 are the biggest. These measurements are approx. From left to right, they are:
- North Middle Butte (1260 ft X 3000 ft)
- South Middle Butte (2000 ft x 1680 ft)
- South Butte (1890 ft x 1650 ft)


Emma ingrains these spectacular landmarks into her brain in case the chance arises to escape. No, I'm not going to tell you any more of the story.

This recon proved 2 things:

First, the need to do a recon if you're going to refer to actual places.

And second, the wonderful resource of Google Earth because that's where I saw the first spectacular land mass and Teapot Rock which helped me choose this area in the first place.

Have you ever see a butte, either in pictures or real life? Have you ever seen land formations like Castle Rock and Teapot Rock before? Have you ever been to Wyoming?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What If ...


"The suspense of a novel is not only in the reader, but in the novelist, who is intensely curious about what will happen to the hero." Mary McCarthy

I’m in the midst of revisions for my work-in-progress, Common Ground and I’ve been trying to remember to ask myself a lot of ‘what if’ questions or ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen’ kind of questions. I’m trying to increase the conflict and the suspense.

Take Lily’s boss and the high school Principal as an example. In the first draft she’s kind, supportive and a mentor to Lily. But what if she wasn’t kind or supportive? What if she feels Lily is blowing things out of proportion? What if she brushes off her concerns? What if she resents Lily for adding yet another problem to her already full day? This is just a small example. Just a little something I dreamed up to torture Lily and increase the conflict. To up the ante, so to speak.

I find myself becoming sadistic, in a writerly way. And I like it!

To delve a little deeper into what makes a romantic suspense, well … suspenseful, I did a little surfing on my favorite search engine.

What better place to start then with author, Lisa Gardner? She’s a master at murder, mystery and suspense. There is some very useful information to be found in her Tricks of the Trade section at her website. Here you can find writing articles, such as Seven Secrets of Romantic Suspense, and two lecture series. Check out her Secrets of Romantic Suspense: A Series of Eight Lectures.

I found an article written by Nora Roberts titled Crafting Romantic Suspense. She talks about taking a relationship based story and blending it with an unknown (a suspicion, a mystery, a danger).

"You must give the reader these two levels of entertainment so they are satisfied with the romance and its outcome, satisfied with the mystery and its outcome. And there should probably be a connection between the two." Nora Roberts, Crafting Romantic Suspense

Then there’s Allison Brennan. Check out her site and check out her About Allison section and scroll down to the Why Romantic Suspense section. You can also find information at Allison Brennan’s blog posts at her group blogs, Murder She Writes and Murderati.

I also checked out Fiction Factor and found an article by Cheryl Wright called Basic Ingredients for Writing Romantic Suspense in which she lists some interesting links and places to go to get information on weapons, police procedure and the FBI. She also mentions a resource book I found very intriguing called The Crime Writer’s Handbook by Douglas Wynn. It’s an alphabetical listing on how to commit literary murder, with sixty plus ways from contrived accidents to throat-cutting. It also describes what the victim and murder scene will look like. Another resource book to add to my list!

Do you enjoy putting your characters through the wringer, making them suffer? Are you in the habit of asking yourself ‘What If’ or “What’s the worst thing that can happen at this point in time?’ Do you have a favorite website or resource book to go to for all things criminal?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Things That Get in the Way ...

Most writers experience some periods of time when they face a multitude of these pesky critters that I have just loosely described as ‘things that get in the way’ – of writing. The things that we perversely put ahead of whatever writing project is staring us in the face can range from true crisis-type events to the imagined obstacles that have become like the elephant in the room. The first type we have no real control over, and the second is usually something of our own making that we can’t, or don't want to, see past. In both cases, it seems impossible to get on with the project that we most want or need to work on. It could be our current work-in-progress, a new story that we are actually dying to start but can’t seem to get the first words down, or a post for a blog (or some other assignment with a deadline).

Recently, I have experienced enough of these ‘things’ to cause me to stop and reflect on how I should be dealing with them. Here is my list of occasional, chronic, and unexpected things that get in the way of my writing:

1. Occasional distractions are those that happen when my writing routine becomes skewed by a change in circumstances. Even a change in the season can cause a break in routine when some new factor has to be taken into account. I found my writing took a back seat when the demands of garden work in spring and summer left me without enough energy to put equal attention to weeding, mowing, and writing. And not enough hours in the day! Writing wasn’t all that suffered. I also dropped out of my exercise program. Temporarily, at least. It is hard to get the balance back.

Months ago I agreed to spend a few weeks with my granddaughter while her parents were away in early September. She is in her final year of high school, and is becoming a very capable, responsible young woman. Some of my friends commented, and I agreed, that this could be like going on a writing retreat because I would have quite a lot of time to myself. Well, it didn’t quite work that way. Because I was away from my familiar surroundings, including my writing gable, I found it difficult to get into a regular writing routine. I soon found myself in more of a holiday mode, than a writing retreat frame of mind. Although I did some preparation for a conference I will be attending later this fall, I did very little writing. However, I did start exercising again!

Other occasional distractions, such as summer vacations, moving to a new location, or starting a job, can also cause disruptions to writing routines, or prevent us from starting one in the first place. If we don’t allow them to become chronic, these occurrences can provide a much needed break. Then we should be able to get back on track with a new routine that takes the changed circumstances into account, or the seasonal events end so that everything can revert to normal.

2. Chronic things that get in my way are usually of the self-made variety. I allow myself to sample new television programs (sometimes even in the guise of doing ‘research’). Sometimes, it is tempting to spend too much time reading or watching movies. Presto, writing time goes down the drain. I’m not saying any of these activities should be verboten, but if they prevent me from spending sufficient time on my writing, then I must change my priorities. If I don’t spend my allotted time on writing, then I shouldn't get to do the other ‘things’ I like to do. (If, like a child, I don’t eat my dinner, then I don’t get dessert!)

3. Then there are the unexpected crises, such as illness or a death in the family, that simply have to take precedence in our lives. They leave us exhausted and unable to cope with normal routines for a time. Frustrating tho this can be, with time and patience healing will happen. Although it may be difficult to see ahead to a day when our strength will be back, or that it will become possible to cope with debilitating grief, the writing we manage to do may very well be part of the healing process if we allow it to be.

To pull another example from my own experience: when I had a brief brush with an infection that affected my sense of balance earlier in the summer, I had to curtail most activities and didn’t have the energy to do much of anything. This was a strange and frightening experience for someone who is never ill (never say never). During that time, I had to suspend all my regular routines of walking, working in the yard, and writing. Fortunately, with the help of friends who drove me everywhere I needed to go, I was able to participate in some writing workshops for which I had already registered. I did the writing assignments that were required, but that was all I could manage to do for several weeks.

With my writing goals in shambles, I became discouraged. However, when Karyn blogged last week on Prairie Chicks about Fall being a good time of year to set new goals, I realised that it is possible to make a new beginning. Now I am ready to set up a schedule that I'm sure I can maintain in the weeks ahead. My health is good, I’m home again, and the sky’s the limit.

What do you find gets in the way of your writing goals? How do you deal with the occasional setbacks? Do you have any chronic obstacles of your own creation? What advice do you have for those who may be dealing with unexpected crises that affect their writing routine?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Getting Ready for Conference - Part One

Several of the Chicks, along with some friends from the Saskatchewan Romance Writers are heading to Surrey, British Columbia in October for the Surrey International Writers Conference. I want to get the best experience from this conference and the most bang for my buck. What should I do to get ready?

Tiffany Colter of Examiner.com says that a writer should have some goals in mind when heading to a writer's conference. These goals should be something easily measurable, perhaps something that can be put into practice as soon as the writer get home. If my goal is to learn all I can about the craft of writing dialogue, I’ll participate in the workshop on writing dialogue at the conference and then try to use my new found knowledge later as I write the dialogue on my novel. Sometimes you get lucky and a goal will find you. I attended the 2008 EPIC conference in Portland, Oregon. I had been nominated for an EPPIE award for my romantic suspense “Seeing Things” and really hadn’t gone to the conference with any goals in mind other than meeting in person my editor from Uncial Press, Jude Glad. But I was lucky. Many of the workshops had a wealth of information about promoting ebooks, and promoting myself as an author. I was able to take much of the information home with me and put it to work.

Perhaps your goal is to meet other writers, especially big-name writers attending the conference. Or you have a book you want to pitch to an editor or agent. Just remember to act in a considerate, professional way when dealing with these people. There is nothing so un-cool as a writer who stalks an editor into the bathroom to pitch her story. More on the nuts and bolts of pitching in future blogs.

Several articles I read regarding conferences warn the writer to keep her expectations in check. If you go to a conference expecting to sell your novel that weekend, you’ll likely be disappointed. I can attest as to the perils of overblown expectations. I attended a conference in 2004 with a friend. I had lined up a one-on-one editor appointment with a prominent Harlequin editor, and after checking out the websites of the agents attending the conference, I made an appointment with one I thought would be a good fit for me. I had other things I was looking forward to. At the time I belonged to the Outreach Chapter of RWA and had volunteered to write an article about one of the big name authors attending the conference. I contacted her in advance asking if I could have a few minutes of her time to do a quick interview and she agreed. Also, I entered two manuscripts in the contest connected to the conference, feeling I had a really good chance of finaling. Lastly, I was looking forward to seeing some writers I had met previously at another writing conference. All three of them had sold since the last time we’d met.

By the end of the weekend, every one of my expectations had been dashed. The Harlequin editor did not ask for a full manuscript, the agent did not sign me up (in fact she didn’t even represent category romance authors), the big name author was too busy to meet with me for an interview, neither of my manuscripts finaled in the contest, and the writers I had met previously said hello but that was about it.

I was devastated, and I can honestly say it was the lowest point in my writing career. I nearly stopped writing. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. Later, when I’d had some time to think about it, I realized that I had brought all this misery on myself by placing so many expectations on this conference. (BTW, when I got home, big-name author, who is really a very lovely and gracious lady, emailed to apologize for not meeting me and offered to do the interview by email. And the other writers? They probably sensed my awkwardness and jealousy.) My friend, who had never attended a conference before and had no expectations, had a fabulous time. It wasn’t the conference. It was me.

So the moral of my story is to go to a conference with the goal of learning some new things, either about craft or the business. Expect to meet new people and make some contacts, participate, connect with old friends, and have fun, but realize that you likely won't sell your manuscript or land an agent that weekend. Relax. This conference will neither make nor break your career.

Next week I’ll talk about some of the finer details of getting ready for a conference, like what should I wear?

To those who are planning to attend a conference in the near future, what are your goals and expectations for the conference? Does anyone have a horror story about a conference they care to share? What about a fabulous experience?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pitching Pointers



Nikki’s first romantic suspense, SOUNDS TO DIE BY, releases from Samhain Publishing on October 13th. She’s currently working on the second book in the Samhain series and has a project on deck that she will submit to agents as soon as it’s polished. Learn more about Nikki by visiting her website at www.NikkiDuncan.com.

Thanks, Prairie Chicks for asking me to be here today to talk about pitching. Since joining RWA with the goal of publication in mind, I’ve pitched at every conference I’ve attended. I’ve had all sorts of experiences, good and bad, over the years, but I’ve learned something from every experience. I couldn’t have learned my lessons if I hadn’t been prepared with the basics from the start.


Embarrassing things will happen. You may fall out of the chair or trip on your way in. Shake it off and do your best to recover your confidence. Clumsiness isn’t going to be held against you.
Frustrating things will happen. You may be in the middle of your pitch when the agent/editor interrupts you to ask about a local art exhibit or attraction. If this happens to you, and I sincerely hope it never does, maintain your cool. Answer their question as best you can, give your thirty-second elevator pitch and be done. Chances are good that you don’t really want someone to represent you who blatantly disrespects you and possibly other writers that way. And it’s tough to take, but if they’re using pitch time to ask about local attractions, they either aren’t interested in new clients or they aren’t interested in the material being pitched. Whatever the case may be, don’t take it personally. Accept that they are not the right match for you.


You can control one thing in these pitch appointments. You.


Relax.

· Listen to an iPod while you’re waiting (but keep the volume turned down so you can hear when they call your name.)


· Take your notebook and do a writing exercise for a book you are not pitching.


· Talk to the person beside you if they look open to it. Where are you from? Is this your first conference? Etc.


Find something to make you memorable. Show respect.

· Ask them how their conference is going? What’s been their favorite part?


· Research this person and their list. Find an author they work with that you know, respect, or enjoy reading. Tell an editor how much you love a book on their list and their eyes will light up. If they don’t, well I’d be wondering if they’d be the best person to champion my work.


The Pitch

· Fine tune your story summary. Get it short and concise. This should be easy to remember and hit the high points of the story. If it’s really good, it’ll also make the sub-genre evident.


· Next, lengthen that short blurb some. Come up with a short paragraph for the hero, the heroine, and the plot. The character paragraphs should hit the high points of what that person wants, why they want it, and why they can’t have it. The plot paragraph should expand into an explanation of why it’s so crucial that these two solve it. Why are they the only ones who can? What happens if they don’t?


· Practice.


Appearance
· Dress in comfortable, business casual.


· Paint your nails or at least clean off chipped nail polish.


· Avoid noisy, clangy jewelry. It’s distracting and can get caught on tables and chairs.


The Appointment
· Check in early.


· Have a notebook and pen handy.
· Breathe.


· Shake hands firmly before sitting.


· Smile.


· Breathe.


· Stop talking. Give the agent/editor a chance to ask you questions.


· Breathe. (Can you tell this is important?)


· If they request more, ask questions and write the information down! Their name, partial of ? pages, synopsis (preferred length), full, email, snail mail, estimated turn around time.
· Thank them for their time. Shake hands.


SEND THEM THE REQUESTED MATERIAL!


There’s a lot more to pitching, so if you have any questions let me know and I’ll answer them as best I can. If you have an upcoming pitch and would like to post your short pitch for ideas on improvement, shoot. If you aren’t sure how to shorten your blurb into a 30 second one-liner, post it. I’m better at summarizing other people’s stories than my own.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Prairie Chicks Welcome Nikki Duncan




Nikki Duncan will be with us on Saturday, September 19 to talk about pitching at conferences. She has graciously offered to give us a critique on our pitches if we're brave enough to post them in the comments.
Nikki’s first romantic suspense, SOUNDS TO DIE BY, releases from Samhain Publishing on October 13th. She’s currently working on the second book in the Samhain series and has a project on deck that she will submit to agents as soon as it’s polished. Learn more about Nikki by visiting her website at http://www.nikkiduncan.com/.

Writing Exercises...


It came to my attention – well, it was said in the comment section of Karyn’s last post – that I am due to post a writing exercise on the Saskatchewan Romance Writers’ private blog. I believe there was mention of being held at knifepoint, but I’ll ignore that. And it’s true, it is high time I got my butt back in the chair and focused on my writing. That includes keeping the private blog up to date with exercises; catching up, commenting, and posting on another private writers’ blog I belong to; and preparing for the Surrey International Writers Conference in October. But today, let's focus on writing exercises.

I must admit, I don't do a lot of writing exercises. Many 'how to' books on fiction writing suggest that practice makes perfect. It works for runners, swimmers, skaters, so why not writers? I do try and keep up with my journal writing, but that's only one kind of practice. To really stretch my writing skills, I need to do a variety of exercises. Here's what we've been doing on the SRW blog.

The first writing exercise was character interviews. What a hoot! I posted a list of questions and then the members could (this was voluntary) choose one of the characters in a WIP and answer. I had no idea what to expect, but was blown away by the creativity and discussion that simple exercise generated. The comment section was used to ask more questions inspired by the interview itself. Once the comments dwindled, I posted another set of questions – the author could choose to continue the interview with the same character or switch characters.

I chose to have Mac answer the questions the first round. Just by letting my fingers skim across the keyboard, no worries about revisions/editing or how it related to the WIP gave me a freedom to really explore his psyche. I went into the exercise confident and came out wondering if I really knew my hero at all thanks to the ladies asking more detailed questions. Here’s a portion of that exercise:




Why don’t you start by telling us your name and if you go by any nicknames.

"My name is Mackenzie Griffin. My friends call me Mac." Mac waited for
Janet to leave the room before plunking down in the office chair and glancing
around the room. Soft colored walls, a beautiful writing desk, comfortable
chair, perhaps this interview wouldn’t be as bad as he thought. When she had
told him what he would be doing this weekend, he had flatly refused. Sit around
and answer questions about his life! He had never voluntarily answered questions
about himself, nor involuntarily. He fingered the deep scar over his right eye.

He repositioned the chair, stretching his legs out, crossing them at the
ankle. He hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans. Yet, here he was in a
room most definitely feminine, answering questions from a group of women he
didn’t know. All because Janet had blackmailed him into it. He read the next
question.

Then, if you could tell us, do you have a birthmark and if so, where?

His lips curled into a smile at the thought of birthmarks. Gillian had a
birthmark. A blotch she called it when he had rolled her over and discovered it
high on her inner thigh. Mac twisted in the chair, searching the ceiling for
security cameras. Then he leaned forward and inspected the computer for a
webcam. It would be just like Janet to stick him in this room and then position
herself in another room to study his reactions. He straightened and crossed his
arms over his chest.

"No, no birthmarks."



Then Karyn asked Mac what superpower he most wanted. Mac answered quickly, too quickly, "Invisible!" Well, that gave me pause.

Another exercise I posted on the blog dealt with titles. I wrote out blurbs for some romantic movies and those who played along created a title. This was a lot more difficult than it seemed and I have new reverence for those who can chose a title for their novel on the first go. Then we moved one step beyond and posted the titles of our WIPs with a brief explanation as to our decision. The comment section was left for questions and other suggestions.

My favorite exercise on the blog so far has been writing loglines/taglines. If you’ve been following The Chicks since our inception, you know my dilemma with a tagline for The Seduction of Lady Bells. I think I’ve written a hundred or more taglines with none of them really standing out. The exercise gave us a chance to show our taglines and then comments/discussion ensued. This is where I discovered that Karyn is brilliant at taglines. Really!

So now the fall/autumn has arrived and I must get back to posting writing exercises. I’m also going to try and complete a writing exercise every week – to step away from the WIP and stretch my writing in a new and different way. Here are some great links if you, too, are thinking of dabbling in writing exercises:

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2006/5/4wiencek.html Hilarious (but I warn you of language and content – read with that caveat in mind)

http://www.buriedtreasureswriting.blogspot.com/ Weekly-writing prompts combined with a blog. Read the blurb at the top – it’s great.

http://www.6ftferrets.com/exercise-content.html Great exercises for going solo or using in a group setting. And be sure to click on the link to the 6 foot ferrets to discover how the group got their name.

http://www.dmoz.org/Arts/Writers_Resources/Writing_Exercises An extensive listing of other websites that offer daily/weekly writing exercises.

So, People of Blogland, how many of you exercise your writing? Do you do them occasionally or everyday? Do you think writing exercises would be useful? You can answer my questions and/or try your hand at this writing exercise. We have a varied group of writers that visit us and I would love to read your take on this. I’ve included mine.

Write a short scene from the point of view of a tree as summer changes to fall/autumn and winter slowly (God, I hope it’s slowly) approaches.


"What’s the date? What’s the date?" Tree asked the first two birds that flew past his branches that morning. They either didn’t hear him or were ignoring him.

"Stupid birds! I hope you’re late and some other proverbial bird beat you to it!" Tree’s leaves rustled loudly as he shook his longest branch.

He looked down again annoyed at the crisper sound this morning. Yesterday, it had been a whoosh as he had attempted to flick a woodpecker off the very same branch. He twisted around to check his backside, always the first to discolor and wrinkle.

"What’s the date?" He inquired of the squirrel sprinting past his nether roots.

"September 18th. Gotta go!"

Fall! Oh, how he hated fall. A season by any other name, well some called it Autumn. Summer had come and gone and within weeks he would be naked. 150 years of continuously shedding his protection at the absolutely wrong time. Who came up with that brilliant idea?

Janet (not sure of the formatting, so I apologize ahead of time - I know Hayley gave us a lesson on how to use the quote thingy. Sigh :)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Anita's Pictorical Adventure to Denver

Hello, Prairie Chicks! I'm down in Denver at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. I left Monday afternoon and arrived here this afternoon. I wanted to drive down to get a good visual representation for my books, otherwise known as a recon. It was late when I crossed the border so I didn't get a good look until I left Sidney, Montana Tues morning. This is dinosaur country and reminded me of the Alberta badlands.

Known as 'Big Sky Country', Montana is a land of contrasts from the badlands above to the river valley below.



From earth tones the likes of which I've never seen . . . probably even ones that inspired Charlie Russell himself . . . so vivid in real life I'll be hard pressed to portray an accurate, believable description in my books.



. . . to hills so pointy it looks like they've been trickled from the fist of God.


From pheasants who stand by the side of the road . . .



To antelope so numberous in Wyoming they're a dangerous nuisance on the highways, even with a high fence to keep them off.



Wyoming's landscape is right out of the old western movies. For my book, I can see Emma with her outlaw captors riding across this land . . .


Or like this . . . can't you just see a horses and riders climbing up and over these hills . . .




And then today driving down the interstate and seeing this land formation as if someone had built a fortress at the top of the butte:



Here are the Laramie Mountains to the west of the interstate I drove south on toward Denver. Unfortunately, the closer I got to Denver, the more haze and smog appeared so this was the best 'mountain' shot I got.


Also, the closer I got to Denver, the more lanes opened for the influx of traffic. In fact, from Fort Collins to Denver, it seemed like one community blended with the next.



My GPS is so accurate, it took me right downtown to the Merriot City Center. But it was the wrong Merriot. Back in the van, I punched in the address for Merriot South. The GPS took me to the vicinity, but for some reason, put me on the wrong side so I had to drive around and around through numerous streets and parking lots looking for the entrance. I finally got inside and the first person I saw was Cheryl Wyatt and then the rest of the Seekers. It was so nice after the long drive to see friendly faces.

I registered and received the editor and agent appointments I requested. One is on Friday and the other on Sat. I received my meal tickets and a very nice tote bag with a portfolio and other stuff inside. And I'm wearing my name tag with the 'Beyond the Borders' sticker to show my zone and I've attached my new Inkwell Inspirations pin. The name tag is in a pouch with a zipper at the back to hold your room key and meal tickets. Hanging from the bottom are horizontal ribbons you stick on to show what your job or designation. This year, my ribbons say, 'Registration', 'Volunteer', and 'Press'. The Press is because I'm a workshop reporter and have to write an article for the ACFW e-zine.

I helped at the registration desk tonight and I'm back on tomorrow morning at 7 am so I think I'll close off this post. I'll check in a couple times tomorrow though so ask any questions and I'll try to answer them. If you wish to follow me, I'll be blogging on my own blog as time permits.


Here's my questions to you: How far would you go to research a book? Have you ever been to Denver? Have you gone on an 'adventure'?

A Little Bit of Everything


Welcome to a mishmash of ‘stuff’.

While we’re finally getting our ‘summer’ here on the Canadian prairies, September seems like the perfect month to set some writing goals. Also a recent email from my writing group has requested that those of us not going on retreat this weekend send in our writing goals. So I’m going to record them here for everyone to see. Perhaps I’ll even keep you appraised on how I’m doing, if I can find a way to make it at least somewhat interesting. Anyhoo, here we go:

Order GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon because that’s the one I picked after last week’s post. Oh yeah, and actually read it!

Enter The Emily writing contest. Deadline: October 7, 2009. Already terrified!!!

Participate in this November’s NaNoWriMo. Always been intrigued by this concept!

Finish this revision of Common Ground by the end of October. Going quite well, but slowly. Only on Chapter Three. Must. Speed. Things. Up.

And lastly, I will work on curbing my use of exclamation points! (oops)

Wish me luck! (darn it)

And because I’m so caught up in revising and critiquing, I’m coming up a little short for a blog post so I’m leaving you with a list of some of my new fall favorites.

New Fav Show: Glee. Love this show. Love it.

New Fav Blog: dooce dot com. Laugh Out Loud Funny

New Fav Song: Dance With Me by Johnny Reid. It makes my heart sigh.

New Fav Quote: Believe that you have it, and you have it. Latin Proverb

What I’m reading: The Chile Queen by Sandra Dallas

Favorite dialogue written this week comes from Lily: “Are you kidding? I’ve got all kinds of tricks stashed in my ‘ridiculous carpetbag’ and I happen to be very good with an umbrella.”

A writing exercise that caught my eye: Write a For and Against article for the same issue. This helps stretch your thinking.

That’s it for this week, folks. Feel free to drop a comment on some of your new favorite things. Your writing goals for the fall. What you use instead of exclamation marks. Or anything else.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The End

In a previous post, I asked your advice about creating a non-fiction story for a Surrey contest. I finally finished it and mailed it in.
I am posting it here for two reasons: a family crisis has stolen all my time for researching and writing a useful posting, so I am cheating. As well, I am curious to know what you think of it. (I dreamed about your responses last night! That bad?)
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story.

The End

As a boy, he was fascinated with Hitler. Swastikas appeared on sidewalks and mail boxes in Prince Albert. He even made himself an SS uniform and insisted on wearing it to school. Carney was an unpopular bully. Jewish and aboriginal students quickly learned to stay out of his way. He went so far as to push some students down a staircase because he didn’t like what they had said. He was becoming a handful for teachers, manipulative and sly and unpredictable. He was almost frightening in his pose as a neo-Nazi. Surely it was just a bid for attention.
When Carney was finished with school, he joined his father, a sometimes biker, in Vancouver. Together, they started an import business, bringing in fresh flowers from Chile. His involvement with white supremacy became real when he became an active member of the Ku Klux Klan. Soon after, he quit his father’s import business and moved to the Aryan Nations stronghold at Hayden Lake, Idaho. His leanings were no longer a joke. He learned how to terrorize and how to kill. Carney was a full-fledged white supremacist.
Karl Hand, head of the most violent branch of the Aryan Nations, invited Carney to join his group in Louisiana as captain of the vicious Street Action branch. Carney loved the uniform and he loved beating up Jews and blacks. He became reckless, cruel and uncontrolled. He was a very dangerous loose cannon.
Abruptly, he moved back to Prince Albert. He promptly announced he was the leader of the white supremacists and head of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian Aryan Nations in Saskatchewan. His Northern Pawn and Gun Shop opened on River Street and was more noted for its grime than pawn items, but he did sell guns. As a white supremacist in Prince Albert, he seemed like a joke. His most daring act was to dress up in his Ku Klux Klan outfit one Hallowe’en and cause a minor disturbance in a bar. Most patrons didn’t notice.
But then Carney did seize attention. He appeared on national television news as an Aryan Nations thug providing security for an Aryan Nations meeting in Provost, Alberta. He was seen in full uniform leaning on a farm gate, armed with his favorite weapon - a pistol-handled shotgun. He was insolent and offensive toward protestors, including a survivor of Auschwitz. Worse, he had armed all of the Aryan Nations delegates.
An Alberta Human Rights Commission hearing into the Provost Aryan Nations Fest followed. Its report emphasized the hatred Carney Nerland, and Terry Long, founder of the Brotherhood for Racial Purity, held toward non-whites. The commission stated its alarming finding: there was no doubt about the lengths the two white supremacist leaders would be prepared to go, given the opportunity, to implement their evil plans. Carney the white supremacist had become a nationally known Aryan Nations threat, but, as yesterday’s news the incident quickly sank back into oblivion. That was deceiving because he was still quietly active.
Leo LaChance was as uncomplicated as Carney was complex. He was a middle-aged Cree man, living on a reserve. In his youth, he had picked stones from fields for farmers and he had picked corn and harvested sugar beets near Tabor, Alberta, but now there were machines for all that. There were no jobs for men like himself on or off reserve so he stayed where he was, living in poverty like nearly everyone else on the reserve. Occasionally he trapped a few squirrels and sold the pelts to Mr. Katz the elderly owner of Katz Bros. Fur, Hide and Metal in Prince Albert. With those few dollars, he and his friends bought Lysol or hair spray to drink and ‘partied’.
The evening of January 28, 1991 was a frigid 30 degrees below zero. Snow was falling as Leo walked across the Diefenbaker Bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. He climbed down the stairs from the bridge to River Street and walked the few yards east to the building housing Katz Bros. Fur, Hide and Metal, and Carney’s Northern Pawn and Gun Shop. Leo’s footprints in the fresh snow showed that he went to Katz Bros. first. It was locked up for the night. The footprints led into and out of Carney’s shop.
Leo had entered the gun shop although no one knows why. Two of Carney’s friends, Young and Brown were standing in front of the counter. Carney had just gone behind the counter to pour them a drink. He was still standing there when he saw Leo walk in. He yelled at him to get out. Without warning, Carney picked up an M-16 and fired two shots into the floor. Leo took the hint and quickly let himself out of the shop. As the door closed a third shot was fired. The bullet tore through the old wooden door at a bit below shoulder height.
Brown was angry. “You stupid bugger! You could of hit my car!” but no one went to look. Carney wasn’t particularly upset. He had shot at ‘mud people’ before and scared them good!
Leo walked about 50 yards and then pitched face first into the fresh snow. Three men stopped to help him. Leo had been drinking but obviously something else was very wrong with him. One man, Turner, noticed the gun shop was still open so he sprinted down the street and burst in asking to use the phone to call 911. Carney chuckled and said it was broken. Turner was incredulous. He didn’t believe Carney but what was the point of arguing?
As Turner ran from the shop, Carney exclaimed, “If I killed that Indian, I’m fucked.! My business is fucked!”.
What happened next was both confusing and disgusting. Young looked up the street but he couldn’t see anything. Carney grabbed three weapons and then Brown calmly drove them to the Canadian Tire Store to pick up a video. Carney was home in time for supper with his family. He wasn’t concerned. Who cared?
There was something seriously wrong with Leo. He had been shot and badly wounded. Local doctors sent him to Saskatoon and detectives there continued questioning Leo, going right into the operating room with him. All Leo had been able to tell anyone that night was the word ‘gates’. Sometimes he muttered about a tall guy who must have shot him. He didn’t add any more for detectives in Saskatoon. Leo died minutes after midnight of the internal injuries Carney’s bullet had caused. Now Carney, was a bully, a white supremacist and a murderer.
The native community was outraged. The public was appalled. Carney was scared. Things moved very quickly then but they weren’t going well. To charge Carney with murder, the Crown Prosecutor had to prove intent to kill. He knew Carney had murdered Leo but he couldn’t prove it. He was forced to allow Carney to plead guilty to manslaughter and be sentenced to only four years in a penitentiary . It didn’t suit anyone.
That should have been the end of the story. It wasn’t. Public demand for an inquiry into the ‘case that wouldn’t go away’ was granted and soon two years of sporadic hearings plodded forward. Anyone who was in any way involved in the case was questioned by seven lawyers and three commissioners in turn.
Few recognized Carney when he first entered the hearing room. The overweight, bombastic Carney Nerland had lived in fear even though he had been sent to a penitentiary in Manitoba for his safety. He had spent the whole time in solitary and he had eaten very little. He told the commission he was afraid to eat because native inmate cooks might have spit or put ground glass in his food. He looked so small, so charming, so different.
Without warning, the inquiry was jolted out of its doldrums. The leading detective was recalled to the stand. He was told not to answer the question which followed. “Had the RCMP contacted him, for any reason, during his investigation?” The lawyers and commissioners rose and left without a word. Minutes later, they returned. The commissioner looked very grave. Unable to say it specifically because such people must never be named, he hinted as strongly as possible that Carney Nerland was an RCMP informant on Aryan Nations activities. He was to be released immediately and hidden in the witness protection plan.
The audience was stunned into silence. That was all there was to be said. His story was finished.
Or was it?

Monday, September 14, 2009

What's Holding You Back?

A short time ago, former Prairie Chick Suse sent me an article called “What running the Sahara Means to Writers”. It was about three men who walked from one end of the Sahara to the other, a truly remarkable feat. When interviewed, one of the men said that for the first time he realized that most people’s limitations are self-imposed . We can only do what we think we can do. But if we think we can walk across the Sahara, we can.

The writer of the article said the story about the Sahara walkers made her think of writers. We can only write what we think we can write. So much of what we feel about our writing and our writing abilities is self-imposed. If we don’t think we can finish a novel, we probably never will. If we don’t think we have time to write we don’t make the time. Or maybe we think that everything we’ve written sucks big time so what’s the use in trying?

Do we hold ourselves back as writers because of self-imposed ideas about ourselves and our writing abilities?

Speaking from experience, I’d say yes. I’ve overcome a fair bit of insecurity as a writer. At one point I almost quit, but somewhere down deep the writer inside me demanded to be heard, and told me that no, everything I wrote didn’t completely suck, and yes, I did have something to say. Like many writers, I think I’m a weird combination of confidence and insecurities. If I didn’t have a certain amount of confidence in myself and my writing, I wouldn’t be here now writing this. Yet, I have days when I think that everything I’ve written is drivel, and I’ll never finish another novel again.

On those days I have to rely on that deep down confidence to just keep going. It helps to know that I’m not alone. Just do a Google search on “writers and insecurity” to find out what I mean. In her blog Maggie Stiefvater talks about her insecurities. She says that something that helps her is surrounding herself with people and things that make her feel confident. She claims that she started acting like she was self-confident and eventually she truly became confident. I suppose if lack of self-confidence is a self-inflicted wound, we could just as easily decide to become confident in our writing abilities. Allan Rinzler has some great tips for writers to keep up their confidence, including staying connected with friends, family and other writers, and continuing to write, even if you think it’s all dreck.

Carrie Jones even argues that a certain amount of insecurity is necessary to a writer. It’s what motivates us to try harder, to write more and better. Not wanting to look like a schmuck and letting down the rest of the Prairie Chicks certainly motivates me to work hard on my blogs!
Sometimes other circumstances hold writers back. We all know how much time and hard work are needed to craft a novel. Not everyone (actually hardly anyone) can afford to write full time. Add to a full time job the responsibilities of a family, and you’ve got very limited writing time. This scenario holds back many writers. But are they using their jobs and their families as excuses?

Everyone knows of writers who have all sorts of other commitments and still manage to produce. I’m currently taking a class from Mary Buckham (http://www.breakintofiction.com) who says “I didn't start seriously writing until I had 5 children under the age of 8 and two part-time jobs that became one full time plus job. There were days on end that I couldn't think much less plot, but having absolutely no time taught me that I had to create the time I needed to reach my goals. Early morning, late at night, whenever. I once broke down at the side of the road and kept waving Good Samaritans on who wanted to help because, by Jove, I had quiet to myself and I wasn't going to waste it.”

It’s not easy but it can be done. In a recent post, Prairie Chick Anita talked about “writing chunks”. Those writers who have trained themselves to write in small chunks of time (before work, when the kids are in bed, waiting in the doctor’s office) don’t wait until they have an uninterrupted day to write. They write as much as they can in the time they have. One word at a time.

One of the things that has held me back in the past is my self-imposed belief that I can’t write a “bigger” book. To this point, most of the books I’ve written have been in familiar settings, or have featured characters with occupations I could easily understand or research. But now, I’m trying to stretch myself to write a book in totally unfamiliar territory, and even in another time period. It’s terrifying because I’m afraid I won’t do justice to the story I’ve got in my head. Maybe I’ll fail. Again, I have to rely on that deep down confidence and the knowledge that I’ve written things before I didn’t think I could complete, or do justice to. Wish me luck.

So, do you have self-imposed issues that hold back your writing? Is there a writing project that you really want to take on that you’re too afraid to tackle? Is confidence an issue with your writing? How do you deal with confidence problems?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

And The Winner Is...


Helena!

Please e-mail Silver at silverjames at swbell dot net to make arrangements to collect your prize, Helena.

And thanks once again to Silver for guest blogging with us here on The Prairies. I know I certainly enjoyed both the blog and the comments left. Nice to see some new faces and we hope you come back and visit with us often.

Don't forget, Silver has her debut release, Faerie Fate, coming out in April 2010. Until then, check out her great blog and website at http://www.silverjames.com/.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Welcome Silver James

WRITING WORDS
Howdy, Janet, Prairie Chicks, and visitors! First, let me thank Janet and the Chicks (that could be a Sixties girls' group!) for inviting me here today. I have to admit, I have no clue why anyone is ever interested in what I have to say so when Janet asked me to guest blog, I was at a loss for words. Sh'up. Y'all know what I mean. I can talk a blue streak. I can write about nothing for days. But to say something relevant, to leave words here to make you think...that's a tall order. Janet is so much funnier. Jana, Anita, and Hayley know the craft so much better. Karyn, Molli, and Connie are much more interesting.

At a loss for a topic, Janet made suggestions. I could talk about dealing with a wayward Muse but I complain about Iffy far too much as is. When one's Muse has the temper of a two-year old, the libido of a teenager, and the attention span of a Jack Russell Terrier on speed, what can a writer do? Oh, and she runs with scissors and never listens to me. TR (The Reader), my version of Janet's Evil Editor, just shakes her head in despair. My Call came in the form of an email. I've never actually spoken to my editor but our flurry of emails burns up the internet. The first book is under our belts—FAERIE FATE comes out April 30, 2010 from The Wild Rose Press (http://www.thewildrosepress.com/). I've also sold a second book, FAERIE FIRE. Wow. I'm a multi-published author. Who would have thought!?! I always hoped and dreamed, but was never sure it would really happen. But luck or perseverance or whatever you want to label it is just something that happens. You keep writing and querying, polishing and pitching, until the right project ends up on the right desk at the right time. Over and over. You don't give up. You, like the Nike commercial, Just. Do. It.

Many authors talk about their craft and their process. I suppose I process the same way I plot—by the seat of my pants. And let me tell you, they get down-right dusty! I simply tell a story. I start at the beginning and tell the story as it happens, introducing characters as they appear, describing their actions and the settings where those actions occur. And then it occurred to me. My topic. Words. It's all about words. Putting them together to describe, to tease, to teach. It's all about finding the right words to convey a feeling, a sense of place, the emotional wraiths that inhabit our books. If I have any advice for would-be writers, it is, “Love words. Love the sound of them, the way they work together, the sense they convey. Love to read them. Love to write them. Love to discover new ones!” I keep a notebook with me at all times. When the words dance in my imagination, I want to capture them with a tender pen and record their nuances to be used in another place and time. I want to paint with words, an artist brandishing their colors on the tip of my fingers as they tango across the keyboard.

Forgive me a moment of ego. I was looking for notes on a WIP and came across something I jotted down one cold, sleepless night.

In the dead quiet of the house before dawn, sitting at a window watching wan light play across the hard, glittering crust of white ice, why do train whistles sound so mournful? A voice echoing in the harsh, crisp cold like an old wino standing on the street corner begging for a buck to buy the cold comfort of a cheap drunk.

That thought, that brief capturing of a moment in time became this in one of my books:

Miles away, the mournful cry of the west-bound freight echoed in the harsh, crisp cold. It sang the song of the lost, the lonely—the call of the winos down on the corner begging for a buck to buy the cold comfort of a cheap drunk. “Gotta buck, buddy? Hey, buddy, gimme a buck tonight!”

And with that, I've used way too many words. Even so, words never go to waste! Any time you want more, just drop by my blog, http://www.silverjames.com/. While my book isn't available yet, lots of others are. A random commenter here today will win a $10.00 gift certificate to Wild Rose Press to discover someone's words. So, questions? Comments?

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Tools of the Trade...

Or hobby - I'm still trying to decide if I can call this thing I do that has yet to pay money. But does require money leaving my wallet by means of memberships and resources - check out Karyn's blog post this week on great 'how to' books. Obviously, I will be digging my way out of a hole when/if I get my writing published. Sorry, digression ends now.

As I set up my new office with a view - no more cold basements for this Chick - I'm gathering together all the things I need in order to write. Of course, this results in a look back at how I wrote Lady Bells. Back when I didn't have a clue about GMC (goal/motivation/conflict), POV (point of view), active versus passive voice, scene and sequence, plotters and pantsers, and all those other things you discover along the way. Ah, the good old days!!

Yellow legal paper - check. Yes, I wrote the entire first draft of Lady Bells on yellow legal paper. I didn't worry about editing. I didn't worry about spelling or grammatical errors. I just wrote. I found recently that when I get stuck in a manuscript I go back to writing on paper. And as I gear up to get back to this hobby/trade, I contemplate going back to that archaic from of writing. Hey, it worked for Andre Dubus - he wrote The House of Sand and Fog on paper in his car.

Sticky Notes - check. These came in very handy when I began to revise my first draft. I would read through the story and then when a thought flitted through my head, I would scribble it on a stick note and stick it into a separate notebook. Not the first draft, because then I wouldn't see it (especially if it was a note regarding research). After I went through the entire thing, I sorted my sticky notes in the notebook in categories such as research, plot inconsistencies, character flaws (no I never had my characters' eyes change color, but I did have issues with their speech patterns).

Calendar - check. No, not to keep track of how many days it's taking to write or revise the manuscript. I discovered early on in my revisions that time meant nothing in my first draft. Oh, Mena and Hugh would be having a picnic one-day and then the next they would be strolling through the village. The next day after that they would have a fight. Then the next day they would partake in a feast. Wow - too many events all crammed into three days. I used my computer to create a blank calendar and then filled in the events as they took place. This also allowed me to keep track of the weather because you really don't want to have too many sunny days in northern England - that just doesn't happen.

Large Recipe Cards - check. I found this tip on the web when I started to really look at the process of writing - or should I say revising. I used a card for each of my characters, both main and secondary. At the top would be the character's name. Then I filled it in with important information - her quirks, her favorite phrases, her fears, her desire. This gave me a place to really solidify my characters so that when I came to a place in my manuscript where I wasn't sure how they would react, the information on the cards told me. The first set of sticky notes helped me shore up exactly what I wanted or did not want for my characters and that information was expanded upon with the cards.

More sticky Notes - check. This time it was to get my chapters coordinated. I would list the main plot points in the chapter and then post them in order. I found this extremely helpful in keeping my mystery in line. And when I needed to check a fact (as in which character dropped a clue in which chapter), it was all right there on my notes.

Computer - check. I use the computer for most of my writing now. And having been away from the Internet for a month, I believe I've weaned myself off surfing and Solitaire (fingers crossed). But I think I'll go back to copying my first draft from yellow legal paper since I get caught up in the green and red squiggly lines (poor spelling and grammar). And the story gets ahead of me - to the point where I write myself into a corner and then throw up my hands in frustration (I mean, really, how am I supposed to get Mac out of a marriage proposal when I haven't even reached the climax?) Naturally, I'll still use it for research.

So, I'm ready to go. Well, maybe not quite yet. I've been toying with the idea of using a storyboard. Me, a pantser, using a storyboard! Wow. When I taught writing to my students (elementary), I used storyboards to assist them in learning how to plot. Now, if a teacher is trying to teach children how to plot out a story, it would stand to reason that the teacher should also be plotting out her stories. The storyboards I used were not elaborate. In fact, they were as simple as my blank calendar pages. Six squares on a 8 x 11 piece of paper (remember, we're talking grade 3 and 4 students). The beginning would take up a square. The last square would be reserved for the end, of course. That left four squares to advance the story. And it worked!

Between unpacking the last of the boxes, complaining about the fact that I have too much stuff, and filling up the calendar with social events, I'm reading up on storyboards. I'll let you know what I discover. It could possibly be the next tool in my writer's toolbox.

So, People of Blogland, have you used any of the above items in your daily writing? If you could add one thing to my list, what would it be and why? Does anyone out there use storyboards or have a good website to help me with my research?

Janet