Monday, August 30, 2010

High Concept

School is back! Yeah it is!

Ahem. Sorry. I just walked into a blessedly quiet house and I had to do a little jig. I am looking forward to hours –yes HOURS of not hearing the plaintive wail of “Mooommmieeee!” Sigh. Enjoy the silence, indeed. ;)

High concept. It’s a story line/idea that is easily understood by the general public in just a few sentences. It started with movies but now, high concept rules publishing as well.

Here are a few high concept stories:

Indiana Jones meets Marvel comics

War of the Roses meets The Assassin

Alice and Wonderland meets Blade Runner

A young man meets his destiny while fighting a rebel war.

An unwanted boy forced to live under the stairs finds out he is a famous wizard and the catalyst to ridding the wizarding world of a great evil.

Do you know those movies, books?*

High concept sounds exciting, edgy, fresh and yet by its very nature it is NOT fresh because we immediately get an idea of what the story will be. High concept takes old tropes and spins it on its head.

Big business, ie publishers and movie makers love, LOVE high concept. Because a high concept is understood by the public it is not as hard to sell to the public. Easy sale –easy dollars. Right?


Here is the thing. A story can sound as cool as all get out, we’ll lap it up, buy that book. But without emotion it falls flat on its ass.

Let’s take that unwanted boy out from under the stairs, shall we?

Harry Potter is a world-wide phenomenon. What kid or grown-up hasn’t felt alienated, unwanted, alone at some point in their lives? And feeling that way, how cool would it be to find out, hey, you can do magic! You are rich and famous! Of course that story is going to sell. It taps into a very base need and desire.

But that isn’t why Harry Potter is the beloved story that it is. It is because J.K. Rowling makes these people real. Her characters have emotions, beautiful, ugly and every thing in between. And because they live and breath on the page, their whole world is real and we the reader are sucked in and vested in their lives.

High concept sells. There is no doubt about that. In truth, publishers are going to want to know what your story is about, want to be able to say “ah” when they hear it, and they are going to want this all in a matter of a few sentences. But readers?

Readers might pick up that high concept book in a heart beat, but if it is simply smoke and mirrors they are putting right back down.

NOTHING. NOTHING beats emotion in a story. If you are writing a thriller, your reader better catch their breath, squirm in their seats; if you are writing a romance, your readers better sigh at some point, they better feel a flush of heat and think “whooo!”; if you are writing a coming of age, epic saga, we had better tear up at some point.

Readers need to care. Thus your characters need to care as well.

Gimmicks come and go. Heck, I can name at least a dozen books where the hero and/or heroine have the same powers, same name, same obstacles to overcome. Doesn’t matter. Some of those stories have sucked me in and made me care, and some of those stories have just plain sucked.

So by all means, embrace the high-concept. It can be your best friend. But remember that it is simply that –a concept. It is not the true story. The true story is your character’s emotional journey.

And now I will leave you with this bit of fun. I fear I might have acted this way yesterday when I was shopping for school supplies. *cough*

*Laura Croft, Tomb Raider, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Matrix, Star Wars, and of course, Harry Potter. :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Scrivener love

When I was studying at uni a whole decade ago, the computers on campus were all Macs. I really don't believe it could have been possible for me to hate the accursed things more than I did. Oh, how I despised those bloody Macs. You'd be halfway through an assignment, and then you'd get that little spinning rainbow circle of death, and the whole thing would lock up. And unlike normal PCs, I knew none of the tricks to fix them, and I felt utterly powerless.

Fast forward a decade, and I couldn't live without my Mac. I certainly couldn't write without it.

I know, I know- that's quite the rash statement to make, isn't it? But it would be difficult for me to measure the amount of difference my Mac has made to my writing output in the last couple of years. I just know it's been huge.

The biggest factor in that has been the fabulous, wonderful, magical writing program that is only available on Mac- Scrivener.

What Scrivener can't do for your writing pretty much hasn't been invented. I went through it this afternoon, taking screenshots to include in this post, and when I was done taking pictures of all my favourite features, I had... I had... 49 shots.

Oops. 49 favourite features is probably a few too many to include in one little blog post, but it certainly gives you a hint at why I love this program so.

Let me try to scrunch down my reasons into a few words, and then I'll show you the specifics. The simplest way I can put it is this: this software is designed to organise words in the way that writers think. Not the way academics or office workers or software developers think- the way writers think. Anything your mind wants to do while you're writing- it's one click of a button or a swish of the touchpad away.

And now I shall demonstrate. You can view any of these tiny pics in bigger detail by clicking on them.

1. Multiple ways of viewing and organising what you've got

Unlike your standard word processor, Scrivener allows you first to arrange your words any way you like, and then to view them in different ways depending on what you're using them for, and also rearrange them as much as you want to, all without having to do any of this cut-and-paste business.

My basic unit of organisation at the moment is the scene. I'm not calling my scenes chapters yet, because I think some will be squashed together and some will be split up in the final draft. So, my Scrivener project file comes with an overarching DRAFT file in place. And after that, I just add a new subfile for every single scene I write, and title it by the basics of what happens in said scene.

Last week, I had all my scenes in date order under the DRAFT file. This week? I decided I wanted to approach it differently, so I created some new subfiles and shuffled the scenes around. Now I have a nice fat COMPLETED file, full of all the scenes that don't need any more work, and all the ones that still need to be finished are sitting in their own separate space, divided by character- Bill's scenes, Len's scenes, Kit's scenes, Jared's.

The nitty gritty of what I'm doing doesn't matter- what *does* matter is that next week, if I so choose, I can shuffle all those files back to exactly where they were last time, and at no point will I have had to cut, paste, delete, or physically move a single word of text.

Why is this so important? Because the way I view the story shifts and changes with time. I started out grouping scenes by the point of view characters; then I moved onto chronological order; then onto story order; and now into completed and not. It's all about what works best for my fickle mind at the time, and it's excellent.

You don't have to open each scene when you want to look at it. You just click on the file, and it's right there. It even opens up in exactly the same place it was when you last closed it off, and every word you type is automatically saved without you needing to have a heart attack if your toddler (just for example) sneaks up and turns off your computer mid scene.

Here's a view of one scene with all of its little scene-babies- older drafts, thoughts on plot, various things I want connected to that chapter but don't want to see. I can drop them all down when I want them, and hide them when I don't. You can see the other files and the way they're organised here, and you'll get a better view in the next bit.

2. Visual management of information

Not only are the viewing options cool- the corkboard and the outliner are both great- but the ability to make a Scrivener link within your text to a piece of research (or even another scene) is sheer brilliance.

Here's the corkboard of my draft, showing one card for each section. You can see that the ones with sub-files (pretty much all of them) are shown as stacks of cards.

Here's the corkboard of my Picture folder in the research section. If that's not cool, I don't know what is.

And here's the outliner view of my draft, in which each file is colour coded to a category of my choice. It's all very pink for a war novel, isn't it? Oh dear. But anyway- the dark pink tells me it's a section, not a chapter, and the light pink is a chapter. The green is plot thoughts, and the light blue is an alternate point of view on the same scene. You can see that there's a lot more information contained across this view- it tells me what stage my draft is at (to do, first draft, revised draft, final etc), how many words are currently in each scene, and so on.

Now, lemme get to the best thing I've ever seen in my life, ever, and that's the Scrivener link. Contained in my research folder, I have all kinds of cool things that Scrivener lets me import. Check some of 'em out:

Whole web pages:

PDF documents, in this case actual WWI records:

Other kinds of information:

But it's not so much the stuff you can bring into your project, cool as that is- it's what you can do with it.

I'm typing away at this scene with Len, climbing the Great Pyramid at Giza. It's based on a true story- a true photograph, in fact, which is also in my research folder. But before I get as far as the photograph, I'm wondering what it'd take to climb that pyramid, and high the blocks are compared to your average man. Archaeologists, contrary to popular opinion, don't just know all this stuff. Egyptologists probably do though :) Anyway! I find myself a suitable photo and import it into my research file, and then as I type the scene, I write about Len climbing the pyramid. I highlight it, click on Scrivener link, and then I pick the photo. The words turn blue. You can see them here:

And when I'm reading back over it, all I have to do is click the blue words, and this happens:

Argh! So freaking cool. I can make either the writing or the picture fill the whole page, then flip back to the other one.

Let me show you a couple more examples. Fellow writers, I'm sure you can imagine how awesome this is. You wonder about a fact or a picture, and you don't have to shuffle off to the Internet to find it, nor go to another program and open up a picture. You just click on the very words in question, and there it is.

The 11th Battalion at Giza:

Len's wooden leg:

All right. Next awesome feature.

3. Magically detailed word counts

Scrivener lets me set word count targets for each of my scenes, and shows me a little red target until I hit that count- and when I do, it magically turns green, telling me I've reached my aim.

But it really shines when it comes to taking word counts for the whole project, and for individual scenes. I can take a word count that shows me the total number of words contained in the whole book (as defined by each scene/ chapter I've ticked "include in draft" for). The count tells me not only how many words and characters I have, but also how many pages- including how many "novel" pages, and I can set my own number of words per page for that, depending on whether I'm dreaming of trade paperback or A-format, or anything in between. It gives me the same information for the current scene/ chapter.

My favourite feature, though, is the word frequency table- it tells you how many times each word you've used appears. In the example I've posted, you can see that some words have a very high count- pronouns, for example- and that's to be expected. But the word "gone" appears 12 times in this one chapter, and that raises a bit of a flag for me. I'll re-read that chapter while I'm editing and see why, and if it's excessive, I'll trim/ replace a few of those.

4. Full screen typing

Self-explanatory- you can blow up your window to fill the whole screen, blocking out everything but the writing. Love it. It feels almost like you're not using a computer at all when you use this function.

5. Highlighting and ghost notes

So, when I'm reviewing chapters, I come across plenty of stuff I need to change. I'm not yet at the stage where I want to do the rewriting on that, so what I can do instead is either highlight the piece so it'll catch my attention next time, or add a note with my immediate thoughts.

Highlighting is pretty obvious- Scrivener lets you use pretty much any colour you want.

For the notes, though, there are plenty of options. You can have them in the text, or as footnotes, or in the little window to the side. You can make an annotated note, which pops up in a box.

Here's an annotated note in the making:

Here's one in the side box:

And here are all the highlight options:

Along the same lines, you can also incorporate references into your work, so that you can keep track of where your information is coming from:

6. Other cool stuff

Ever read your story out loud to yourself? It's a very worthwhile thing to do- it certainly helps you get a better sense of your own words. But it also makes you feel like an utter tool, I'm afraid. If you want to hear your story in your own words and you're a Mac user, GarageBand lets you record podcasts, which is the way to go. If not, though, good news- Scrivener will read it to you! In a computerised American voice that calls, blokes, just for example, "blocks". Nonetheless- it's a pretty awesome feature.

If you write screenplays, Scrivener also has automatic formatting into screenplay structure. I don't have an example to show you, but I have played around with it, and it's very cool.

Lastly, you can create as many new Scrivener projects as you want, and it's easy as anything to keep track of them, update them, back them up, do anything you like. They're very easy to export, in any written format you like (Word, .rtf, .pdf, etc). And you can also export the lot as a .zip file and open it on another computer- you can install Scrivener on more than one with the same code, which I've done to have it on my laptop and desktop, so I can use either.

7. Compile draft function

I'm not quite to this stage of my work yet, but to me it's one of the biggest advantages of the software. Once you're done and ready to print out your work, the Compile Draft function will do it all for you. You pick which chapters you want in the draft, whether you want a page break between each, you choose the font and style, whether to set italics and underlines in classic typesetting fashion, whether to include chapter titles- you can create a document that fits all of the industry standards, without breaking a sweat.

Here's the Compile Draft window, with options:

Here's a piece of draft, with italics presented to industry standard (underlined):

I'm sure your eyes are probably crossed by now, so I'll leave it at that. But hopefully it gives you an idea of how great this software is. If you're in interested Mac user and you don't have it yet, you can download a free demo or buy the whole shebang at Literature and Latte.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wednesday Wipe-Out

Much busyness has ensued this week. Again. No time to write, so far. Suckage all round. Plus a monster headache. So unfortunately, all I have to offer are the random marbles rattling round my head …

It’s Book Week here in Australia. For 65 years, we’ve been celebrating children’s books with a different theme each year (this year it’s “Across the Story Bridge” - erm, whatever that means.) To celebrate, my kids’ school is having a huge book sale in the library all week, and on Tuesday they got to go to school dressed as their favourite book characters.

Child #1, the nearly 12 year old, went as a character from THE ENEMY by Charlie Higson. He informs me that it’s a post apocalyptic YA horror novel set in London, in a world where all the adults have been infected by a disease that basically turns them into zombies (“like you’re not already” he added, with a pre-teen roll of the eyes. Lord, help me.) He had great fun creating his costume, ripping holes in an old pair of jeans, smearing dirt on his face and constructing a faux sling shot out of a coat hanger (yeah, keep up that sass, boy, and that’s what your life will be reduced to …)

Child # 2, my nearly ten year old, went as … Sir David Attenborough. Yep. That's right. The octogenarian broadcaster, author and naturalist. Child #2 is the child who cannot make it through a work of fiction without yawning at least fifty times (how is he my child? HOW??? Oh, right, he’s also his father’s) but who devours books on black holes, lizards, quantum physics, dinosaurs, the Hadron Collider and giant squid like there’s no tomorrow. So no fictional characters for him, no siree. And as Sir David, he wore his father’s old scout khakis, a pair of binoculars, stuffed his pockets with his plastic lizard collection and plastered down his hair in his best imitation of an old man comb-over. (The binoculars came home in three pieces, I might add. Ahem.)

And child # 3 went as Sleeping Beauty. She got a princess costume from her grandparents for her birthday and none of her friends had been impressed by it - I mean, seen it - yet. Nuff said.

What else? Oh, I'm reading a fabulous book right now, CASANOVA by Andrew Miller. Such evocative writing ... ah, I'm loving it. If only I could write half as well ...

Also lodged in my brain is a hilarious cartoon from Hyperbole and a Half, about adding caveats to the wish you make upon a star. It cracked me up. And strangely, the lawyer in me can see the sense in it …

And because I’ve been spending nearly all my time with my head in the nineteenth century, this Youtube clip has stuck with me all week - a montage of Victorian blokes who are very easy on the eye (and pinched mainly from Jane Austen films) running around smouldering in their top hats and tight breeches and cravats, and set to that well known, nineteenth century ditty, “It’s Raining Men.”

About the only snip missing is Colin Firth emerging from the water in THAT white shirt.

Hang on, here he is ...


Over and out.

Monday, August 23, 2010

You'll Think I'm Crazy But...

Yeah, I think I'm heading out at midnight to pick up MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins. It's the third and final book in The Hunger Games series and I can't tell you how excited I am to get it.

That said, in lieu of a post tonight/this morning, I'm going to post a review as soon as I finish. Deal? It may be tomorrow... It may be in a day or two, but I will definitely post one this week. I have a feeling I'm going to DEVOUR this book the minute I have it in my grubby lil' paws. :)

Until then...happy writing/reading!

ETA: Slight snag in my plans. No one...NO ONE...was selling it tonight. !!!!!! WTF?


Hey All. I'm running around this week getting my kids ready for school. Did anyone else hear *hallelujah* just now??? :) Anyway, I'm no good for any sort of discussion so I thought I'd put up an old (but still apropos) post from my ancient blog, The Petal Falls.

Magic. That's right, magic. Specifically, the magic that turns a story into a Story.

I'm sure other writers will testify to this, we agonize over the characters -are they realistic, likable; plot -does it make any sense? does it flow? is it exciting?; would this word work better than that one?

In the course of writing Molly and John's story, I've probably written near 500k words and I can recall every scene perfectly. We obsess! No doubt about it. Every writer I know cares deeply about their work. And yet, some stories fail, fall flat. But why? Well, as they say, if I truly knew, I'd be rich.

But as I'm sitting here, my daughter is watching
Enchanted -a movie that ought to suck, mean really, a movie about a nitwit storybook princess plopped down in NYC? But it doesn't! There is something about the movie that transcends the goofy plot, over the top acting, and general unbelievability of it. There is something that comes through that makes me enjoy it. Frankly, I think the actors and crew enjoyed themselves. Joy, passion, love, these things are infectious.

But back to books. How many times have we as writers been hacking away at a story and just not feeling it? And consequently, our stories suffer. Any time I view writing my story as a job -and I'm not talking about editing because that IS a job, the scene falls flat. It is amazing to me, but when I sent out my wip for the first beta read, my readers found fault with all the 'work horse' scenes, the ones I labored over instead of letting flow and enjoying when I wrote them. Reader know. They always do. Writing is more than putting down words, it is feeling. A story isn't just about having something to say; it is a communication of

Think of
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I loved that book, couldn't put it down. But in truth, half the time I was thinking, why am I reading this? Nothing is happening. But the passion that lived in those characters, the passion that Meyer's had for the world she created grabbed hold of me and refused to let go. To me, that is the magic of Twilight.

If you don't' feel that passion, magic, whatever you want to call it, when crafting your story, if you don't feel that giddy high, akin to falling in love (even if you're writing a terrorizing thriller), then I'd take a step back and think hard if what you're writing is the story you really want to write.

I'm not saying that a writer can't create a great story without feeling that passion, but I believe that without passion, that story isn't going to be Magic. Passion = magic.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Meeting Your Muse

Hesiod and the Muse, by Gustave Moreau

"Sing to me of the man, Muse,
the man of twists and turns,
driven time and again off course,
once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy."
- Homer, The Odyssey

Homer’s plea to his Muse could be mine. I meet my Muse and wait for her to whisper the story of Nathan Rivers, a man of twists and turns, a man driven from his course time and again.

In Homer’s day the Nine Muses -- sister-goddesses and the daughters of Zeus -- were believed to inspire artists, musicians, writers, and scientists. To be blessed with the attentions of a Muse was to be inspired to create. They held the keys to inspiration and knowledge.
Dante pleads, “O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!”

Shakespeare wrote, “O for a Muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention…”
This could be the plea of every writer, everywhere, although nowadays most of us believe the Muse comes from within ourselves rather than from a Greek goddess in a flowing toga. Still, it’s reassuring to know that even the great Masters of storytelling cried out for inspiration.

Is it any wonder that we all cry out for inspiration, for that ethereal, fragile-as-smoke essence that moves us to write? Where does it come from? The Greeks had their answer. If I had an answer today I could market it and retire wealthy.

In reality, the answer is probably different for every one of us - as it should be. What a boring world this would be if we were all inspired by the same things! So what’s a writer to do to nurture her Muse?

My answer is boringly simple: meet your Muse at an appointed hour. Make an appointment with her. And keep it.

Will she show up? Muses, as you might already know, are fickle. Yours may not show up right away, or she may show up with an attitude. Can you blame her? You’ve summoned her expecting great things from her, but you’ve barely given her the time of day. You’ve stood her up, been a no-show, pushed her aside for something else.

After a groveling apology to your Muse, agree on a time to meet and stick to it. Eventually she’ll begin to talk to you. (Maybe she’s been talking all along, you’ve just not been around to hear it.) If you show up at your writing spot on a regular schedule, your Muse will too.

The most successfully prolific writers will tell you that writing is a commitment. It’s an act of will, something they do whether or not they feel like writing that day. Most agree that having a schedule, a closed door, and a word-count or page-count goal is the driving force behind their success.

What does this have to do with Muses, you muse? Just this: your Muse will love you for your commitment, your closed door, your page-count goals. She’ll arrive at the appointed time ready to work. Don’t disappoint her.

The Muses, by Eustache Le Sueur

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Slow And Steady Wins ... The Race?

It’s been a little quiet round here this week! “Life” is keeping all of us busy, and/or distracted, or, as in my case, both …

See, once the holidays end and the kids head back to school, I’m usually back in my writing routine in a flash. This time round, though, something’s gone awry. The kids have been at school four weeks now, but I am yet to get my rhythm.

Sure, I’ve been crazy-busy with matters other than writing – organizing Child #3’s sixth birthday party; recovering from said birthday party (who knew thirteen, six-year-old girls could wreak such havoc on the house?); then the scads of August birthdays in our immediate families – eight of them! – and the attendant present buying and socializing … throw in a few school assemblies, hearing reading at school, and having kids home sick, and I’ve been flat out.

But that’s really not the problem.

See, I’ve discovered just how shitty my SFD really is.

With my first go-through in revising my manuscript, I got through 53K … and concluded it sucked.

Second time round I hit 31K and pulled the pin. And again with my third go-through …

That’s when I opened up Scrivener. I needed to get a handle on the shape of my book, the flow of scenes, and as it’s too long to print out (cough, I know, that’s another problem), I turned to Scrivener. It’s brilliant. Scrivener allows you to “see” the whole book, by outline, or index cards, and you can shove notes here there and everywhere to be picked up when you come back to write or revise a scene … well, I won’t bore you with the details, but trust me, it is a brilliant piece of writing software.

So, I’ve spent the last two weeks using Scrivener to basically re-outline my book. I’ve discarded a lot, tried to increase the stakes, tried to weave plots together as tightly as I can, with the result that I’m now fairly happy with Act One, Act Two still needs pruning, and the rest is looking OK but much has to be re-written …

The bottom line is I still have a crapton of work ahead of me. But I’m not daunted.

Should I be? Am I being pig-headed? Am I blinkered to the fact that this book is broken, and nothing I can do will fix it? Or, worse, am I stuck in some endless, psychological rut with this book and can’t let it go, can’t admit defeat?

No. See, learning to write is as much about learning how you tick as it is about learning the craft. And what the last years have taught me is that I’m the slow and steady type of writer … because that’s just me.

When I started my law degree, I wasn’t daunted by the fact that I’d have to study full-time for six years before I got the pay-off of being a lawyer. I could delay that gratification (such as it was, in the end. Ahem.) and plug away until I got there. And earlier this year, after indulging a little too much over the Christmas holidays, I decided I had to shed the excess kilos I was carrying around. Again, I just couldn’t face the quick-fix, the lemon detox, no wine or chocolate ever again type of diet (God, I would have gone INSANE! ) So I concocted my own, slow and steady, but doable, regime – half-arsed sticking to Weight Watchers for 4 or 5 days a week, exercising for a measly half hour, 4-5 days a week … and though it’s taken 6 months, I’ve lost 5 kilos (11 pounds, for you imperial measurement-types.) And maybe, before the end of the year, I’ll be back to the weight I was before I had kids.

So that’s me. The tortoise. Slow, but I get there in the end. And I’m glad I’m far enough into my writing journey that I can see it, acknowledge it, and make it work for me. I might not ever be the “bang out a novel in six months” writer (though I hope having written one book means the next book comes out just a wee bit quicker) ... but that’s just fine.

Friday, August 13, 2010

When Writing is Hard

Jeff Daniels, actor and author of fourteen plays, said, “Writing is hard. Writing well is very, very hard.”

Raise your hand if you agree. Ah, you… and you, and you. I’ll raise my hand too because sometimes I find writing is terribly hard business. Not all the time, no, but occasionally.

Are we whiners? Author Garrison Keillor thinks so. He says of writers who tell others how agonizing it is for them to get words on paper, “It's the purest form of arrogance…” He goes on to state that writers don’t have a monopoly on hard work. Writing is no harder, and probably a lot less difficult, than any other occupation. Writers, he says, should quit our “self-involved moaning over the agonies” of our art.

Feeling chagrined yet? I was, but then I found another view on why writing is hard work, this one from author Gerald Weinberg. He argues that writing is hard if you don’t want to write. He’s referring to those things we put off writing time after time. Chances are it probably doesn’t need writing in the first place, specifically, the pointless, boring, superfluous writing that should never see the light of day. That kind of writing is the result of writers not wanting to write. He says. “If it's that hard, drop it and get on with something fun.”

This all hits home with me today because I’m struggling with a scene for my novel. I’m not talking about writer’s block. I’m talking about knowing exactly what I want to write and not being able to do it. Yes, I want to whine about it, I want pats on the back, and encouragement from fellow writers. Why else would I “moan over the agonies of my art”? (If the convenience store clerk can complain about his feet hurting after standing all day at the register, why can’t I complain too?)

Weinberg’s words worry me somewhat. I’m beginning to wonder if the reason I whine is because I want confirmation that what I’m doing needs to see the light of day. Maybe it doesn’t. Is this scene resisting me because it doesn’t need writing? Niggling doubts wedge themselves into my thoughts as I sit stymied at the computer.

Even so, I’m not ready to give up on the scene because I believe in it, and because I believe in myself. I’m not adrift with an aimless goal nor am I’m floundering because I don’t know what needs to be done. I’ve reached a place in my writing where I’m going places I haven’t dared go both creatively and technically. I’m experiencing growing pains, if that makes sense.

So writing well is very, very hard at times and I do grumble and grouse about it, if only to be encouraged by my friends and fellow writers.

Do you find writing difficult, or is it your playground, a perpetually carefree place to play with your characters? If it is hard, why not pull a Weinberg and find something else to write about, or hey, take up a new interest like watching goldfish swim in a bowl? Personally, I’ll endure the “agonies of my art” and leave the goldfish-watching to fainter hearts.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Rafting Tale

Yes, I am back! Your girl Tuesday is a little late again, tho. It's Thursday (early Thursday at that), and I'm just now sitting down to blog for the week. Sorry 'bout that!

So, how was Colorado?



Don't believe me? Check out these pics:

A view from Sapphire Point -- overlooking Lake Dillon, CO, just between Breckenridge and Frisco. Oh man, look at that view!!

Another shot from Sapphire Point. Sigh!

A shot of my aunt and her husband on the path up to Dyersville. Let me tell you... that looks like a fairly easy incline, but when you're a flatlander like me, it feels like you're scaling the side of Mt. Everest. I was sucking up the oxygen like they wouldn't make any more. I call this photo, "The Stragglers." Just glad I wasn't one of them.

The final destination. The big city of Dyersville! Umm, yeah, so it amounted to one partially erect cabin and a few ruins, but whatever! It was a miracle we got there, a miracle that we got across that small stream completely dry, skin intact (tho the uncle didn't fair so well on the return trip), and we had a great time! The pups were especially excited to go tromping through the stream.

Wish I had more pics to share, but half the time I forgot all about my camera in favor of soaking up the scenery. If you haven't been out that way, You Need To Go.

Breckenridge, Colorado, people. Go forth and enjoy!

Now... being as this is a writer's blog, I thought I would share a little tale. It's one of adventure...danger...and...Texans?


A Rafting Tale by Jen Hendren

I've been rafting before--once. I had a great time, but I'll admit the thought of doing it again was a bit nerve-wracking. The first time, I rafted down Brown's Canyon, which is rated at a level 3. A basic beginner course. This time, we decided to do The Royal Gorge, which is a level 4/5, depending on the water levels, etc. Let's just say that a level 6 is considered off limits, and a level 4/5 requires you to wear a helmet, whereas a level 3 does not.

In short, my chances of taking a plunge into the drink increased expontentially with the decision to "bump it up a level."

Yeah, I'm kind of an idiot.

Anyway, I was very relieved to find out that the river (the Arkansas, for those of you who are curious) was running at a level 4. Whooo...TWO levels SCARY. ONE Not So Bad. I could do this. I'm a pro after all...with many, many experiences under my belt. (Snrk)

So, we get to the rafting location, which was a two hour drive from Breck. As we got closer, btw, the knots in my stomach started getting tighter and tighter. Will this be the day I die?? Will I fall out and drown? Get sucked under some rocks...hit my head...get smashed against a boulder and lose the use of an important appendage?? (They're ALL important to me, by the way. Just sayin'.)

We get geared up. If you've never been, they use some serious equipment when you hit level 4. The life jacket they put you in is like a noodle on a poodle. You can forget about taking a deep breath with one of those suckers on, which is so comforting given you might need to take a deep breath should you fall out of the dang raft. (Again, just sayin'.)

With boots, helmet, jacket, and paddle in hand, I was ready to go!

Nothing about rafting is particularly easy. If you do many outdoor activities, you'll know you don't just arrive at a nice, clean location and do your thing. No, outdoor activities are dirty and difficult endeavors. Once we were geared up, they loaded us up on an old yellow school bus -- hey, it has free AC, i.e. those lovely slide down windows that always got stuck open/closed when you needed them to be the exact opposite when you were a kid riding home from school -- and two-by-two we filed in and took our seats.

This... this is when the "safety" talk takes place. In that short 10-15 minute ride, they pump your lil' noggin full of every rafting 'do' and 'don't' imaginable. (Not really -- it's only 10-15 minutes, after all.) But if you aren't scared when you climb aboard that bus, you're scared when you step off of it.

Whooooo boy. They tell you all about how your legs can get sucked under the rocks by the fast-moving current...and how no amount of effort will save you in most cases. (Kick your feet up, people, and point them down river!) They tell you every worst-case scenario -- all the while chuckling amongst themselves. Oh, those devils! My poor little nerves were shot by the time we arrived at the departure point, and those yodels were having a good laugh over it all.

So, you get to the departure point. There, you meet your guide. Some super tan boy scout who doesn't want to get a "real job" because that would mean...yanno, having to put on clothes (Not that I completely object. Some of them were quite easy on the eye.)...and whose ego practically takes up the entire state of Colorado.

We all climbed into our boat -- our guide for this trip was named Billy. He's been guiding rafting trips for something like 22 years. (!!!) Nice enough guy...big ego.

My uncle and I are the only people daring enough to go on this trip, so we were put in a boat with a trio from Texas. When Billy asks for the more experienced rafters to sit up front, my uncle and the male in the trio volunteer. (Henceforth, he shall be known as The Texan.) Their job is to guide the group. They watch each other's timing and the rest of us follow their lead.

Now, this gave me pause. HUGE pause. I'm not experienced by any means, but my uncle in front scared the BLEEP out of me. He's super experienced at this stuff, but he's a bit hard of hearing, and like any male (pardon the gross generalization), he doesn't particularly like to listen to and/or follow directions. Even with my limited time in a raft, I kind of thought I should've been up front. Yeah, yeah, yeah... I know the drill. Me. Woman. Me. Go. In. Back. Me. Be. Quiet.

So... the first few minutes of any rafting trip are REALLY tame. You start at a calm point in the river so the guide can walk you through different paddle strokes that you then spend time practicing. (All the while, the muted roar of the rapids can be heard in the distance. Gulp. Double GULP.)

Billy doesn't hold back the harsh. After our first few strokes, he tells us we all suck. He makes us do the drills over and over until we "get it." In reality, I don't think we got any better. Yeah, I'm bringing the harsh now.

But whether we were ready or not, by golly, the rapids were approachin'.

The heart of this story takes place at what I think was the second rapid. The first biggie... named, of all things, Sunshine. (insert big grin) (For the record, it was previously known as The Caretaker, but they wanted something a little more cheerful. Hence the switch.)

Billy tells us that there's going to be a slight bump when we dip into the rapids. That we all need to lean in to take the brunt of this slight bump and then get right back to the edge of the raft so that we can paddle our patooshes off.

We're in a group of three boats, and the last in line. Boat one goes without a hitch... Boat two goes without a hitch...

We... yeah, things don't go so smoothly for us.

I swear, when we hit that "slight bump", it looked like the front of the raft buckled inward. In reality, it was just a HUGE wave of water flooding the front. My uncle, who was seated directly in front of me, went flying forward, and I thought for sure he was a goner.

Now... a brief reenactment:


Uncle goes flying forward onto this hands and knees at the front of the raft.

Billy: All forward, two!

Jen paddles for all she's worth, freaking out as she watches her uncle struggle to get back to his seat.

Billy: UNCLE! We need you to get back in place and paddle! Come on, Uncle! You can do it! All forward, two!

Jen paddles and watches her uncle scrambling back to his seat.

Billy: All forward!! All forward!!!

*Many waves crashing, water everywhere, large boulders looming*

Texan, paddling away. No clue what the other people were doing at this time.

Billy: Stop!!!!

Jen yanks her paddle out of the water and watches with relief as Uncle gets back in his seat. She then sees uncle take a glance at The Texan, who... is...still...paddling...

Billy: STOP!!!!!

Uncle, seeing Texan paddling, and probably not hearing a word of what Billy is saying, plunges his paddle into the water and starts rowing us towards large, looming boulders.

*Boulders everywhere. Water spraying, much screaming*


Texan hears this and jerks his head around. "You said all forward!"

Billy -- Mouth gaping in a wide O.

Jen -- Mouth gaping in a wide O.

The rest of the boat was probably feeling an equal amount of fear...and well, dumb shock, by now.

Uncle turns around, clearly confused.

(Btw, right about then, my inner monologue was going something like this:

I kid you not. Billy and The Texan start arguing about what command Billy had issued.

In. The. Middle. Of. The. Rapids.

We're not clear yet, people, and these two yodels are getting into a screaming match that amounted to an "I'm right, and you're wrong" squabble you would see in any schoolyard.


Needless to say.... we survived. We survived so I could tell you this tale.

The rest of the trip was SO much fun (once Billy and The Texan cooled their heels and made up)...and thankfully, no one went into the drink. More importantly, -I- didn't go into the drink.

Would I do it again? Heck yeah, I would! (Idiot, remember?)

The great part was that Sunshine was the rapids they took pictures at. There's a REALLY great shot of Billy and The Texan screaming at each other. Should've bought it. Should've.

Needless to was a good time, people. Maybe next time I'll try a level five.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

First Act Blues

I am fed up with writing this week. Right up to my back teeth. So I’m recycling a post from my old blog, Paris Empire. It kinda sums up the hole I’ve fallen into with my revisions. Sigh. Why, oh why, do I never learn?!

My dear, perpetually half-finished, First Act,

This has been on my mind a while now, so I'm just going to come right out and say it ...

We have a toxic relationship, a sick co-dependency, you and I. Like that of enabler/enablee, or drug addict/dealer ... yes, yes, I can hear you tutting beneath your breath; but whatever psycho-babble label might apply, it is clear that you are my addiction and my vice and that for the sake of the manuscript, not to mention my sanity, I must break free of your seductive clutches.

Oh, but you're a hard habit to break. The intoxication of finishing you for the first time is still such a sweet memory. You were complete, you were just as I had envisioned you would be ...

You were perfect.

Thus it was time for us to part. I felt a pang at letting you go, but you were strong, and I had every confidence you could stand on your own two feet without me.

But you would not let me go. You hounded me, day and night, with frantic whispers … you'd fallen apart, your meticulously woven tapestry of elegant prose now resembled a moth-eaten dish rag, your plot, once water-tight in its logic, now leaked credibility like a sieve. You would be so, so much better if only I'd come back, you sobbed. If only I'd re-write you. Again.

Ego stroked, I dumped poor Act Two without even a farewell kiss and back I went to you. I could not ignore you - you are, after all, my first love.

So I tinkered once more with your opening chapters. Started in medias res, started with dialogue, started on a train, started with a fight, started in Paris, started in London, started with my villain doing his evil worst ... Every time I'd come close to finishing, convinced that this time I'd got you exactly right, you'd lay on the guilt - "Don't leave me! I'm a much better First Act when you're around. Stay, and make me perfect."

I re-wrote you, again and again and again, adding and subtracting scenes like a woman possessed. And maybe I was. Possessed with the notion that I must write the perfect first act before I could move on.

But now, after weeks of chasing after you, round and round and round, I ... I ... I just can’t do it any more. The scales have fallen from my eyes, and I see you for what you are - my needy, whining, sanity-destroying, writing-crutch.

I will never move forward, into Act Two, if I keep working on you.

I will never finish this manuscript if I keep working on you.

I will never, ever, discover whether I can actually finish - properly finish - a whole damn novel, if I keep working on you.

So I'm breaking up with you until the book is done.

Aw, don't cry. It's not you - it's me.

You'll be fine, my brilliantly flawed First Act. You're stronger than you think. And I'll be back when it's time for the next round of revisions.

But for now, it's a definite "adieu".


[ETA: Well, it’s not all bad news. I spent today making myself learn Scrivener (I did so two months ago, then did nothing with it and forgot everything), and all I can say is that it is AWESOME. With it, I’m confident I’ll be busting out of Act One, and out of this slump, by the end of the week. Of course, sorting out a few little issues, such as finally deciding I have to change POV – from first to limited third – has also helped with the slump-busting, but that’s a post for another day ... :-)]

Monday, August 9, 2010

It's All In the Interpretation

During a recent and *ahem* much needed cleaning of my house, I came across a CD from my teenage years –Sinead O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.

Hoo-boy, I wore this one out in my senior year. Giddy, I took it to the car and proceeded to sing along until my voice gave out. I still had the CD in when picking my sister, Karina, up from work one day. We blissed out in nostalgia while listening to Nothing Compares to You until during the caterwauling, Karina turns to me and says, “You know our neighbor Bert* thought this song was about her singing to her mama.”

Hold the phone.


Me: “Hold the phone. Whaa?”

Karina: “Yup. He thought she was singing to her mama.”

Me: swerving to avoid hitting the curb. “Is he insane? Why the fuck would he think that? And more importantly, is he insane?”

Karina: “It’s that line, ‘All the flowers that you planted mama.’”

Me: “Yeah it’s, ‘all the flowers that you planted mama!’ Not, ‘all the flowers that you planted, mama.’”

Karina: “Well, I know that! I’m just telling you what HE thought.”

Me: “So the ‘I could put my arms around every boy I see; they’d only remind me of you' is what? Some Oedipus complex??”

Karina: “He got stuck on the Mama line.”

Me: “So when he was signing along (cuz EVERYONE sings along to Nothing Compares to You) he was thinking, “Nothing compares to you, MAMA!!! Bert, I never knew...” Commence with evil sister cackling.

ACK!!! Aside from my childhood neighbor’s very disturbing views on acceptable mama lamentations, one has to wonder over the power of a comma. Slip one in and you have a Greek tragedy on your hands.

And then there is the notion of interpretation. Clearly, not everyone is going to interpret your words the way you want them to. Yes, this example is…extreme, but even so interpretation is an open thing.

What does this mean to us as writers?

Well, this isn’t the deepest post in the world. But I do think that it highlights an important truth: the story, how it is interpreted, what people think of it, is completely out of our control. We may get good reviews, bad reviews, people may think we’re devil worshipers if we use “God damn” or think our love song is an ode to mama. It is out of our control. There is power in that. Because at the end of the day, if you did your best, that is all you can do. A bad review or criticism of your work sucks but once you're done with the writing, it’s done. That’s all she wrote. Literally.

So try not to worry about what other people think. Focus on your job; writing the best story you can.

I’ll leave you with a bit of Sinead. I’d forgotten how powerful this video is. And could the girl rock a shaved head or what?

*Names have been changed to protect the ignorant.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The F-Word, Among Others

My boys, ages 8 and 10, are sure they’ve got the F-word figured out. They didn’t know the F-word existed until the eight year-old neighbor boy and the authority on all things forbidden, informed them that this word was the worst word in the world. A Very Bad Word.

“Oh?” I asked casually, calmly, not giving the F-word any weight, or importance, when they informed me that they knew about its existence.

Yup, they had it figured out -- I could tell by the sniggering and giggles. They waited for the prompt. I finally gave it to them.

“So, what’s the F-word?” I asked, genuinely curious. The neighbor-kid has four older siblings and they’re all Navy brats. I was positively sure he’d heard every swear word in the book and had now taught them all to my children. Turns out even he was mislead for my boys beamed at me as they announced the F-word:


Aren’t words wonderful things? Right then I thought Frankenstein was a beautiful word.

I don’t remember when I first fell in love with words, but I can’t imagine them not being an intimate part of my life now. There’s a gathering of words in my head, old friends, and new friends too, who serve me well, keep me company and give me the power to inform others, amuse them, make them soar or plummet with emotion.

Sounds loony. If you’re not a writer I can’t hope to make you understand. But if you are a writer, you probably have the same affection for words, the same predilection for collecting them and employing them for hard work or fanciful fun.

I read recently that 90% of everything we write is accomplished with a mere 7,000 words. In contrast, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) contains 171,476 words in current use and another whopping 47,156 words that have fallen from favor and are no longer used. Such a wealth of words and most of us piddle around with the same 7,000 words over and over.

I’m as guilty of this as the next writer. Don’t we all have our darlings? Our favorite words? Is it laziness, or fondness, that keeps me going back for the same words? I know there are times when I stop mid-thought in the writing process, dead in the water, searching for just the right word. The right one for me has certain criteria - it has to sound like me, my voice or the voice within my work-in-progress. I don’t want my writing to sound like a walking, talking thesaurus so I search for the elusive word within my own comfort zone.

This week I’ve resolved to expand that comfort zone. I’m determined to add new words to my stable. With over 200,000 words in the OED this shouldn’t be difficult. Especially since I’ve signed up for their Word-A-Day to be sent to my email. If a word-a-day isn’t enough, I’ll challenge myself with OED’s Oxford Word Challenge, a plethora of word games bound to challenge even the most erudite.

On the other hand, I could just read the dictionary. I’d start with the F-words.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Party like it's 2008

The eighth-odd CompuServe Books and Writers Forum House Party is currently winding down into its last day, and since I've been occupied with exactly nothing but that for six days, I thought I'd talk about it today- particularly since it ties in perfectly with what Rachel talked about yesterday.

[NB: As flagged last week, I probably won't be getting into my Ricki debate until the two of us have time to set our thoughts down on paper coherently, which hasn't happened yet].

So, house parties. I've mentioned them in passing before. I created the first one in 2007 after realising that the participants in the Writers Exercises had come to know each other's writing so well that they could just about write for each other. Month in, month out, our little community of writers posts snippets of their work and completes various exercises designed to stimulate and inspire, and when the work is posted it inspires everyone else, too.

Myself and a couple of other participants (Deniz and Maggie) decided that hey, it might be fun to actually try to write each other's characters, just for something completely different. We figured that sticking our people in a completely different place and time would bring out all kinds of interesting aspects of their personalities- take an Australian farmer/ soldier from conservative 1914 and stick him in the decadent court of King Charles II, and you can be guaranteed all his prejudices will be showing within a page. That is, assuming you're writing your character with enough verve and vigour...

The house parties have grown and grown since that first one, and have now evolved from a simple post-by-post thread in which one person wrote a bit, then the next wrote a bit that lead on, and so on, to monumental extravaganzas with weeks of scene setting and development, character introductions, and a contiguous commentary thread in which the writers talk through their nefarious plans and hatch plot point after plot point before going back and writing some more.

The parties have now been held in:

The Australian outback, 1914
A Scottish ceilidh in the 17th century
A Halloween party in the present day in Nebraska
As a series of therapy sessions in the present day- this one was unique and amazing :)
At the Washing of the Lions in the court of King Charles II (17th C)
In contemporary New Zealand, in a party that fondly became known as Skiing in Armageddon
In Blitz London, 1940
And now celebrating July 4th weekend in Georgia, 2008

I'll probably dig up the links. Probably. But at the moment I'm a little exhausted. In the last six days, I've written around 20,000 words. Sounds like plenty, but not when you hear that between the dozen participants this time, we've cracked 143,000 words all told, still with one day to go.

No other exercise I've ever done has been as helpful to my writing as these house parties. I'll tell you why.

1. Community. There's absolutely nothing like writing with people who are not only fabulous writers themselves, but who actually get your characters so well that they can write whole scenes with them, and when you read them you think, "Did that come out of my head? Or his/ hers?". You will never, ever feel more understood as a writer than you will at a house party.

2. Freedom. There are no rules at a house party. No required scenes. No ramifications for your story, no matter what happens. Heck, both of my major male characters have had long-term house party affairs with other women, which have extended over several parties. This doesn't impact the story in any way, shape or form. It's just another way to explore those characters, and it works wonders. The ability to write off the cuff, anything at all, at the warp speed required to keep up, brings out amazing things.

3. Enthusiasm. House parties will make you laugh, cry and shout out loud in the space of one page. They are full of energetic, high stakes writing. No boring bits. It's impossible not to feel the enthusiasm.

4. Deep understanding of your characters. Like I mentioned earlier, sticking your characters in a different context is a surefire way to learn about them in unprecedented detail. I always come to a house party with a particular problem in mind, and I aim to explore it in every possible way.

I shall elaborate on that last, by telling you how to get the best from your house parties.

The purpose of the exercise is not just to have fun and practice writing. It's to get to know your characters better, and to untangle fundamental issues that may be causing you problems. So, the best way to learn from the party is to pick a point in your story where there's unresolved conflict or confusing plot issues, and take your characters from that point.

Have them start the house party in that frame of mind. Make all their responses come back to what they're feeling at that time. Get them interacting with characters who are dealing with similar issues- or polar opposite ones. Trust the other writers to pick up your cues and go with the flow. They always do.

In my case, this time I wanted to explore the post-war relationship with Bill and his brother Len. So complicated. And I also needed to decide how Len was going to die- fighting with his brother, or fighting against him. I had to take them to the party in this mode, and just go for it.

And 20,000 words later, I not only have a whole lot of amazing revelations, but I also have around 4000 words that are suitable for transplanting directly into the story, including two very tough scenes that I'd been struggling to write before now.

That's probably enough from me on that topic- but if you've never been involved in a house party before now, I urge you to give it a shot. First you need to get to know your collaborators, preferably by coming over and doing some exercises with us. But we've had brave souls lob in before with no prior experience, and it's worked perfectly, too. All comers are welcome.

Go here and check it out if you haven't seen it yet :) It's a rollicking good read, full of action, adventure, romance, loss and love, and featuring characters ranging from Australian WWI soldiers to contemporary FBI agents to King Charles II himself, and everything in between.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Da Plan

Hey All,

Your girl Tuesday here... Only it's Wednesday, and I'm super late with this week's post. :)

Sorry 'bout that.

Even now I don't have much time to blog... I'm off to Colorado tomorrow for a little vaca. SO excited. I plan to hike... soak in the outdoors... and perhaps do a little white water rafting and other adventuresome things. (Seriously, keep your fingers crossed that I stay IN the raft.) And per my usual, I'm not packed yet...and I'm leaving in.. *checks watch* nine hours. Holy mackerel. I do love to cut things close.

Anyway -- wanted to let you know that I've planned another vacation that kicks off about four days from when I get back. I.E. next Friday PM at 530 on the nose.

Wait for it...

I am taking _2_ glorious weeks off from work. TWO WEEKS...counting weekends, that's _sixteen_ days. And the best part? I have only one goal in mind. WORK ON FAKING IT. Yup. You read that correctly. I'm taking some much needed time off to spend a whole heckuvalotta face time with my book.

I Can Not Wait.

I'm not going to make a grand goal to *cough* FTDB *cough* but I'm going to do my darnedest to get back into the sucker and really make a huge step towards end game. much neglected blog over at Random Thoughts will also be kicked back into gear. That's right. Hold me to this -- I hear by vow to blog EVERY one of those sixteen days. I need some accountability, and I'm going to count on all of you to boo and hiss if I slack off.

So yes... after slaving away and not taking a single day off since last September (!!!!), I'm cutting myself off from the day job and hitting that dang book.

Whoo...wish I could start today. :)

Anyway -- off to pack. I'll post some pics if I manage to remember to pack my camera... :)

Don't Fly Solo

I went to a wedding last month, the marriage of the daughter of family friends and her long-time love. It was a great day, and it also turned into a reunion of sorts for me, my brothers and our family friends' other children, who we grew up with but hadn't seen in years. Inevitably, the conversation quickly turned to what we were doing with our lives ... and when I answered, "apart from wrangling the kids, I'm writing a novel", well, the responses I received really hit home that if you don't write, you really don't get it.

There were the usual questions:–

What’s your book about?


Is there any sex in it? (Seriously! I’m asked this question ALL the time, for reasons unknown to me. The last person who did was my mother, of all people, which is a bit odd because she really doesn’t get why I write, hardly ever asks me about it … but that’s another whole post in itself …)

Then came the other questions, many of which are asked out of genuine interest but are hard to answer without making your audience’s eyes glaze over:-

Is it based on a true story? (Um, noooo, I’ve not come across a female physician doing battle with a serial killing nobleman in 19th century Paris in my research. Yet.)

Wasn’t all that research boring? (No, and yes, I am a geek.)

Where on earth do you get your ideas? (Nowhere special, just my dark, scary, subconscious.)

You’ve done your first draft? So, it’ll be on the shelves by the end of the year, right? (Um, no. Loooong way to go before that’s even a shadow of reality.)

Who is your publisher? And your agent? (Um, no one. See above.)

Where can I buy it? (*cries* I love you for asking, but nowhere. Again, see above.)

And those who already knew about my work in progress asked the question I most dread:-

Aren’t you finished yet?”

Like they can’t quite believe how long it’s taking me (me too, baby, me too …)

Of course, I answered nicely, filling in the gaps in their knowledge of writing and the road to publication, trying not to bore them to death in the process - but in answering those questions with “no”, and “not yet”, and “I’ve got lots of revising to do”, and “it’s an ongoing learning curve for me”, I began to feel like a bit of a … well, a loser. By the end of the night, the questions of my very well meaning and loving family and friends left me a wee bit demoralized.

It’s not their fault. They were only being supportive. It’s just that if you haven’t gone through the trials and tribulations of writing yourself, if you’re not au fait with the world of publishing, then you really don’t get it.

(And I’m not being all high-brow and elitist, either; I know when I ask my brothers about their work – one’s an electronics engineer, the other, a physiotherapist – they roll their eyes at my utter lack of knowledge about designing radar for the Australian air force and how to fix up bad backs!)

But the day after the wedding, when my ego had bounced back, I was very clear on one thing – if you’re a writer, you absolutely need to have friends who write.

With friends who write, you don’t have to explain a thing when you need to chew over whether a scene works best in first person or third. You don’t have to explain “point of view”, or “character arcs”, or what the heck a query letter is. You can talk about "beats" and "plot points" and they know exactly what you mean ... and friends who write understand, completely, how damn hard writing can be, and how mighty fine it is, too.

So, if you’re out there on your own, flying solo, get out of your cave and find yourself some writing buddies. You will not regret it.

Compuserve’s Books and Writers Community is a fabulous online writer’s support group (hello to all our loyal readers from over there!), as is Backspace Writer's Forum. Or track down a local writing group - I joined one here in Adelaide, and although I don't attend regular meetings, I do go to and thoroughly enjoy a few of their workshops each year. And if you’re not one for regular contact, then perhaps try attending a conference every now and then. Kristen’s Monday post is an excellent run down of why they are so good for your writing soul. I’m off to one myself, in a couple of weeks, and can’t wait to mingle with people who’ve also been bitten by the writing bug.

And if, like me, you already have writing partners, then treasure them and keep them close. I’m lucky enough to have four, and I know that I do, very much. :-)

Monday, August 2, 2010

RWA National Round-Up

Hey all,

Last week I attended the RWA National conference in Disney World, Fl. I had intended to post from the conference but wifi was spotty at best. So I’ll attempt to do a round up now. Attempt -lol.

This conference was a first in many ways for me. First RWA, first time meeting my agent in person, first time meeting many, many, MANY of my favorite romance authors. To tell the truth, it was overwhelming. My agent dubbed it conference brain. Half of the time I walked about in a fog, just listening to the cacophony of chatter that was 2300 women writers.

There were writers in every stage of the game, newbies who hadn’t yet finished a manuscript, writers on the prowl for agents, agented writers on the prowl for editors, and published writers who were doing their part to keep the momentum up for their careers. What impressed me the most is that no matter what stage a writer was in they all welcomed you with open arms. There was a line down the length of a ballroom waiting to meet Kresley Cole yet it didn’t stop her from asking what sort of books I wrote. That happened a lot. Published authors wanted to know. Wanted to encourage you as well.

Can I talk about the book signings for a minute?? Crazy! I had no idea what to expect, or why all these women were toting around rolling suitcases. Uhm, yeah, because the publishing houses were giving away hundreds of books. Literally. I went to barely half of the signing booths and came away with a whopping 66 free books. Some of which haven’t hit the shelves. OMG, it was like Christmas. Especially when I could read a book a day if I let myself. My sister (another self professed romance junky) and I did a little gig at the end of the day. And with over a hundred books available for free, it more than makes up for the cost of the conference. I’m telling you, I’ve never seen anything like it!

And while this was a romance writer’s conference, you needn’t be a romance writer to get a lot out of the experience. Workshops ranged from Donald Maass’s Fire in Fiction (can’t tell you how miffed I was to miss that one!) to a workshop on CSI criminal investigations…and of course, hot and heavy heroes –how to craft them. Lol.

Agents galore were in attendance. While sitting in the lobby for a quick rest, I spied Holly Root, Barbara Poelle, Jessica Faust, and Melissa Jeglinski all at the same time. Talk about a dream scenario to practice your elevator pitch. :)

As for what editors are looking for/buying, the consensus is books that will easily fit with what is already on the shelves. If your book is not comparable to well-selling books, you’ve got a problem. These are cautious times. Editors are not going out on the limb as much as finding a sure thing. Or as close as they can get.

For instance, I attended a workshop entitled, Buy This Book. Basically, one brave soul volunteers to go up and pitch their work to a mock editorial board. They ask the writer questions such as, does the writer have a platform? Where will the book fit on the shelves? What is comparable? Can we expect film and or TV rights? How big a print run? Paper, trade, or hardcover and why? Can we get media coverage for this book?

Ack! It was enough to give me heartburn. Worse, one woman went up and had a stellar hook. So much so that agent Barbara Poelle asked for the full on the spot. This writer had a good answer for every question, she had a very decent platform and a great hook that would tie in with media coverage. The audience was pea green with envy *g*. This book _had_ to sell. Right?


The editor passed. Why? Because she said the romantic suspense market was so saturated that she wasn’t interested in acquiring anything that she couldn’t get a guaranteed 250k print run AND in hardcover. This woman’s book just didn’t sound big enough to do that. So no. A big no based on nothing more than this particular house’s current line-up and needs. Shudder.

The short of it is this: writing is a craft, an art. We writers write because we need to. It feeds our souls. Publishing is a business. Millions of dollars are at stake. Thus it is a cutthroat, impersonal business. A published writer needs to be someone who knows that while they may be practicing a craft, it is their business sensibility that will get them published. No one –except those rare, RARE few writers at the top of the NY Times list- is immune to the needs and expectations of the publishing houses.

I strongly encourage you all to write what you love but consider your stories before you get into them. Will it fit in the market? Is it too out there?

I know, I know. I sound mercenary, and pandering. I don’t like it anymore than you all do. But it is a reality we need to face. There are thousands and thousands of writers out there and only a relative handful of slots in publishing. Honestly, getting an agent is the easy part. Getting published and staying published is the struggle. Help yourself get there by learning the rules of the game.

And if you can afford it, go to a conference. Not to score and agent, or an editor. But because there really is nothing better than being immersed in a room full of people who love the same thing as you. Gabbing about writing is utterly awesome. My agent asked me if I had any “wow” moments during the conference. I can say now that my best moments were when I got to sit and talk to people who had been where I’d been and who totally understood what I was feeling, who understood the passion. For that alone, it was worth it!

All and all, it was a great conference. I would totally go to it again. Only the next time, I hope to get even more out of it.