Monday, June 25, 2012

Where the writing leads. . .

I've learned so much in the world of writing, and I am eternally grateful to the blogging world for that. I have to confess that I had a most illogical, preconceived notion that I overcame, thanks to other bloggers. The idea was that I shouldn't have to read a book on how to write. If it didn't come naturally, I shouldn't be doing it. Little did I know that it was a skill that needs refining, just like a surgeon must be taught how to operate, and there's nothing wrong with learning to write from a book. In fact, it's a very good way to learn. The books out there are written by proven authors with success stories. I'm getting the words straight from people who I would love to meet and talk to, but probably never will.

One book I had heard of several times was Bird by Bird. I starting reading it, and have had more than one epiphany along the way. First of all, that getting published, while a worthy goal, is not the ultimate guarantee of writer happiness that I believed it to be. It almost felt like a weight being lifted off of me to hear someone say that. I write because I feel I must. It shouldn't matter if it achieves the ultimate success or not. Next, I'm not the only one who writes crappy first drafts. Not everyone is a Hemingway with the first penned words except me. It's okay to start out bad and get better.

One thing I regret is not starting sooner. For so many years I put it off because I was having babies, working, and finishing my degree at the same time. I wouldn't allow myself to do it until I had my degree finished. It's been two and half years now, and my youngest will be in school full time this fall, so I'm finally satisfying my lifelong desire to write.

Whatever comes of it, I won't regret the journey.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Gratuitous cute kitty pics! (This is my foster kitten from my previous post. Nice, fat, and healthy. He'll be getting his shots next week and going up for adoption.)

I found this quote on a bumper sticker at a dollar store, and it made me laugh.

"Money talks, it's just mine always says goodbye."

Funny but true. That's for sure what my money has been saying, and I'm one of the fortunate. My husband makes good money, and I work part-time as a nurse, also making good money, but we still can't seem to save anything. We are not big spenders. My walk-in closet is moderately filled with our combined clothes, and I rarely spend more than $20 for a pair of shoes. I hunt out my heels at TJ Maxx or check the sales racks.

I think our biggest money goes to vacations. We have a small camper and we go a couple of weeks a year on vacations with it. Even so, camping is not an expensive way to vacation.

I just returned to buying my animals generic food, which makes me feel guilty that I'm not getting them the best, but it's all in perspective. When I was in Ecuador I got my first dog a week after I was married. We traveled maybe once a month to buy groceries and visit my husband's family, and I would buy dog food for her. Dogfood for your dog is a luxury down there. Most dogs are fed scraps left over from people, if there are any.

Anyway, the whole point of the story is that I will be working more come fall when both my girls will be in school full time. I will still write. Now that I've started I'm addicted, but I'll have to find a balance for it. That being said, I'm ending my pitiful attempt at a Writers Workshop. It crashed and burned anyway, so before I completely fall off of the blogger radar, it was time to pull the plug. Thank you to the people who supported the idea.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Peer Review Writing Workshop- Building Believable Characters Part 2

So it's Thursday again, and I've renamed the workshop, but it's the same idea. I've stayed on the same subject because having good characters is essential to having a good book.

Last week we did a character sketch. It's an exercise in getting to know the characters in order to portray the personality in a realistic way.

I've rewritten my character sketch from last week after looking at Hemingway's example again.

Kate Wilson viewed her good looks as a source of annoyance rather than an asset. It was far more important to her to be the smartest in the room, or the most talented, and she pushed herself to be seen in other ways than just the prettiest. When she decided to go to South America, it was her compulsion to do something different that inspired her to not only go, but to return again to live. While there, she discovered that she had been missing real meaning in life and began to fill the void by opening herself to the local people. She loved and let herself be loved.

So that's my second attempt!

This week I've copied part of the link I had in my last blog. The full article's website is found below the quote.

"Place the Fully-Developed Character into a Setting

Once the writer has fully developed one or more characters using the above techniques, it is time to place the character or characters into a setting. Rather than going for something dramatic like a car accident or 1920s murder scene, it is often best to place the character in a common setting the reader knows well like a coffee shop or a classroom. Because the writer knows the characters so well by this point, the writing is a matter of observing and recording what the characters do based on their experiences and the biographical details the writer has already “learned about” the character.

Look to Authors of Character-Driven Fiction Like Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver

While it is not important to have anything “happen” in the scene, some writers may become uneasy with how little appears to be going on. It may be helpful here to read some Ernest Hemmingway or Raymond Carver stories to see how much can happen when nothing appears to be happening. Furthermore, the scene being written probably won’t ever see another reader, so the writer needn’t worry if the prose is not “exciting enough.”"

The example they give of Hemingway, and how little is "going on" but a lot being said made me think of his book For Whom the Bell Tolls. I think it spans about a week's time period and that's it.

This week's exercise is to take your character and put them in a setting. Mine will be from the suggestion of a coffee shop.

Kate took her laptop to the local coffeeshop with free internet to check out the latest news from Ecuador. On her income as a waitress, she couldn't afford internet at home, so once a week she would go and buy herself a latte and spend an hour or two surfing the web. Her dream of returning to the rainforest was a long way off, but she hung onto it with tenacity, determined to not lose sight of it.

She sat engrossed in the headlines when she became aware of a young man hovering near her.

"Mind if I join you?" he asked, smiling.

Kate cringed inwardly but looked up with a welcoming smile. "Not at all."

That's it for today! Be sure and leave a comment indicating you would like to participate and everyone can stop by your blog to see your post.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Reading through the library

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with books. I could sit in my room and read for hours. My mom would ground me by taking my books away, or sometimes she would take them to make me go play outside. My middle school was next to the city's public library, so on certain days I would go there for a couple of hours and she would pick me up from there.
When I looked at the rows of books it had been my goal to read all of them. Didn't happen of course, but one day when I was struggling to find a good book to read, I remembered that goal and went to the first shelf, first book, and started reading.
The first book I'm guessing to be in the "cozy" category, a subcategory of mystery. It was awful. I won't post the book titles for my negative reviews, but I honestly don't know how this got published. The writing was mediocre at best, and the plot had holes in it. I stopped reading when someone was murdered in broad daylight on the street in front of a shop holding its grand opening, and no one saw a thing. Worse yet, the main suspect was an old, fragile lady and the victim a big, strapping man, killed by stabbing.
When I read it, it gave me hope. If something this awful can get published, so can mine, however difficult it might be to go traditional these days. It was published recently too.

The second book I started came out in 1989. It's kind of a flashback for me because that's the year I graduated from high school. I'm about halfway through the 400 pages and the title is Agent of Influence. It's REALLY good. Talk about character sketches- the characters are very appealing. What I keep thinking is how a good book can fall into obscurity. After you've made it to publication, there is no guarantee of success.

That's it for today- I'm off to the zoo with the kids!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Writers Workshop- building believable characters

I'm launching my first workshop for anyone interested in participating. Since it's rather small, I'll just have you leave a comment that you want to join in and others can follow over to your blog to comment on your post.

On a previous post, I had linked over to site that I had found from a literary agent on twitter. The full link is on my restoration of self post, and it is from the story writer at Pixar, Emma Coats. The first point she made for writing a great story is this:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

The point is that if your reader/audience doesn't care about your characters, they won't keep reading the book. We've all heard the advice- you don't want flat characters, they need to be believable. So how do you do that?

Follow the masters. I read my first Hemingway book about two years ago, and I found myself actually attracted to the main character, Robert. I developed such strong feelings about him that I continued to think of him when I wasn't even reading the book. As a writer, that's exactly what you want your reader to do.

Take this excerpt from the short story by Hemingway, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.

"Francis Macomber was very tall, very well built if you did not mind that length of bone, dark, his hair cropped like an oarsman, rather thin-lipped, and was considered handsome. He was dressed in the same sort of safari clothes that Wilson wore except that his were new, he was thirty-five years old, kept himself very fit, was good at court games, had a number of big-game fishing records, and had just shown himself, very publicly, to be a coward."

With each word, a clearer picture of this character forms, and that last part just adds a further opinion. Brilliant.

Exercise: Do a character sketch. I found this website, click on the word here, with some great suggestions for building characters.

Here's mine: (She's my main character from my WIP- and as always, feedback welcome)

Kate Wilson is a pretty American with curly blond hair and a thrill-seeking lifestyle. She loves to downhill ski and travel. She follows her friend and coworker from the restaurant they work at to South America and finds her calling in life, to become a nurse and return as a volunteer. Kate has a big heart and opens it to the local people in the rainforest where she has been assigned to work. She is a little naive to the dangers of her environment however, as the drug cartel is active in the area.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Insecure Writers

Just not good enough.

That's my insecurity as a writer. I have no special training as a writer other than being a voracious reader all my life. I know what's good reading, but I'm not there yet. I wish I had all kinds of money to take college courses or webinars that Writer's Digest offers, but I don't. I could work more to have extra money, but then when would I write?

I finished my novel at 62,000 words after chipping away at it for a year. When I looked at it again, it started out as a YA and ended up in suspense. So I edited it, completely changing the beginning. It got better, but still not good enough. I sent off my first query and got rejected in half an hour by a form letter. Ouch!

Now I'm on my third revision. I've changed the beginning yet again, changed the POV, and am focusing on suspense. I know this will not be the last revision either.

I'm thinking of starting a workshop of sorts on my Thursday post to work on writing, open to all. That way we could all build our skills and get group feedback. It's just an experiment- but I've truly been helped by the feedback I've gotten from others in the past.

Anyway- back to writing I go.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Restoration of self

This past weekend we went camping at the beach with a group of friends. I was half dreading it because it could have been disastrous. Two families were going for the first time camping, two other families it was only their second time, so I was expecting whining, grumpy people. But I was wrong. It was amazing! We had so much fun! No drama, great weather except for rain one night, great food, and to top it off, dolphins. After a dinner of steaks, rice, and salad we went for a walk on the beach. The moon was full, the sky pinkish blue as the sun set behind us, and the surf was crashing on the sandy shore. As if that wasn't enough, a pod of dolphins swam by close to shore. My soul has been fully restored, and we all pledged to go again together. Nothing like time in nature to recharge!

I wanted to share this fantastic link I found from a literary agent on twitter. It's a link on how to write a great story. Check it out here.

Hope you all had a great weekend too!