Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Job Well Done

I spent a lot of this past weekend cleaning out our shed. A little noticed, neglected building in the backyard whose doors only get opened to take Drama Queen's play Jeep in and out. The shelves were half-empty while old bottles, tools, leaves, and loose change cluttered the floor. I'm hoping the extra space can house some overflow from our garage.

I say I spent a lot of the weekend, but it was probably only about 4.5 hours cumulative. Of course, it seemed a lot longer what with having to stop and make sure the kids were okay, answer the phone, fix lunch, stop Little Man from eating sand in the sand box, give baths after the trip to the sand box, put everyone down for a nap.....ad nauseum. You get the picture. But by Sunday afternoon I could look around the new organized and swept space with pride.

Unfortunately, there was no one else to really care. All that hard work and no one would really see the results. Only little old me. And, to tell you the truth, that took a little of the satisfaction out of the job.

This past week, I was disappointed to receive a rejection from an editor. Disappointed because I felt like this story was really good. Frustrated because it left me unsure whether to target that line again. But everyone assured me it was a "good" rejection. It doesn't always soothe the ego to hear that, even though it is true. Instead of a bad photocopy saying "Thank you for submitting," this lovely letter detailing the editor's take on my story's strengths and weaknesses graced nice beige stationery. Having received the former, I definitely appreciate the latter.

What does this have to do with my weekend endeavors? As pre-published writers, we often work long hours with many interruptions to produce those prized manuscripts. And as proud as we are of that stack of pristine pages, there isn't always someone there waiting to appreciate our work. A simple "Job well done" can fuel our writing journey for miles and miles.

So to the editor that rejected my proposal this past week: Thank You. I appreciate your words of advice and will certainly take them to heart. Even more, I appreciate your expressed pleasure in my writing style. It helps to know my hard work has not gone unnoticed.


Monday, January 30, 2006


Angel and I were having one of our marathon phone conversations the other day where we cover everything from our books and plans for our RWA chapter to kids and life in general. I mentioned something off-hand, and when Angel didn’t call me on it, telling me how selfish and self-absorbed I was, I felt better and like I wasn’t the only one with a weird selfish streak.

We were talking about our chapter and the Saturday meetings. We both expressed the feeling that the second Saturday of the month was sacred and our family had better not expect us to do something else that day. That is HOD Saturday; we spend the mornings with the Playfriends (and invited guests) plotting, chatting, planning, and bonding, and the afternoons with the rest of the chapter at the meeting. Woe be to the hubby who thinks he can plan an event of his own and think he can expect me to watch AC that day. Uh-uh, ain’t gonna happen.

Not only is the day sacrosanct, the group is as well. I love my mom, but even if she wanted to write a book, I would feel infringed upon if she wanted to join. I love Shelley, and I’ve brought her to meetings to do a program (and last month she had a pre-meeting lunch with the Playfriends before she headed back to Louisiana), but she can’t join my chapter either. (And DG better not get some silly idea about joining either.) HOD is MINE.

Come to the Luncheon; come to a workshop. Meet my friends in other situations. But, no, you can’t join my chapter. I’m downright territorial about this.

Why? Because when I’m with these women, I’m Kimberly. Not DG’s wife. Not AC’s mom. Not my mom’s child. Not “Miss K” the teacher. I have deep friendships there, but none of them are based on anything other than my personality and my drive to be a writer. None of these people knew me in high school. None of them know my ex-boyfriend or witnessed first-hand some of my more tragic 80’s hair moments. We aren’t friends simply because our kids attend the same school or because our husbands work in the same office. The Playfriends may have dirt on me, but it’s fresh dirt—not the dirt that goes back into the mists of history and gets trotted out at inopportune moments. And I know the Playfriends are my friends because they like ME, not because they have to because of other circumstances tossing us together.

And you know what? I really like it. And I never really thought about how much it meant to me until after I got off the phone with Angel and pondered it a bit more. “A room of one’s own” may be important, but so is an identity of one’s own. I need this.

So, pardon me if I cordon off this part of my life and only let you look in over the rope. But it’s my space, and I’m going to guard it with everything I’ve got.

I’ll be a much better wife, mom, daughter, and teacher because of it.

Now, if I could just convince my baby brother-in-law to move his wedding from the second Saturday in June… Doesn’t he know I have a meeting that day?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

EXTREME OFFICE MAKEOVER-- The Adventure Continues

The Closet

It has sewing and ironing things, off-season clothes, my red hats and a box containing mine and my husband's high school and college yearbooks. Those could probably go in the attic.

Any color is going to have to come from an external source -- window treatments, chair cushions, art work. As it turns out, the decorator who did my greatroom is coming on Tuesday to help me with the master bedroom and I'm going to ask her for some tips too.

Instigator, I like the idea of putting the beading supply cabinet in the closet. It's not attractive at all but I didn't want to spend a fortune on it. If I move out those yearbooks, that cabinet would probably fit in that spot (I'll have to smoosh those clothes together a little more but what's a few more wrinkles? And I probably should get rid of the ski suits since they don't fit and I can't ski any more anyway).

PC -- footrest. Check. I've seen those cube ottomans that open up for storage. I could keep an afghan in there since I'm terribly cold natured and usually need to wrap up if I get still for any length of time.

The tall bookcase might work on the wall with my desk -- on either side of it -- or between the doors. It would be close enough to get my writing books and it also holds some office supplies.

I see a serious search and destroy mission in store for this room to declutter.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


I should not complain. Nope, shouldn't complain a bit because I have what every writers wants: an office all my own. Part of the agreement for buying a new house last year was that I got an office, so the third bedroom is mine. It houses not only my computer desk, but a small desk that I use for doing beadwork, a small filing cabinet that holds beading supplies, and two bookcases. You can't see the ironing board because it's stored away in the closet, but this is my ironing room too.

I stood in the four corners of the room and took photographs. Pardon the window view. The light wasn't kind to my digital camera.

The blob on the floor under the window is my kitty, Spook.

And here's the floorplan for reference, with the furniture drawn in. The room is just a little shy of 13 feet square.

This room needs HELP!

I've thought about putting the computer desk and tall bookcase side by side. The computer desk can't be moved to another wall; that wall is where the phone connection is for the DSL and if I put it against the opposite wall, I'd be working with my back to the door and I hate that.

Or I thought about putting the tall bookcase in that little space between the door and the closet doors. The space is wide enough.

I need something on the window just to soften it up.

I need a bulletin board somewhere handy to post notes, pictures, schedules, doctor appointment reminder cards, etc.

See those two bags of books on the floor between the bookcases? I need to take them to the used book store.

I need something on the walls. They're so BARE!

I need a comfy chair where I can sit to read or write longhand.

Help! Your suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Help make this office inviting and a place to foster creativity.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Guilty as Charged

Guilt. We’ve all felt it. My great-grandmother had a black belt in dishing it out. It hovers over you like a cloud, like Eeyore, wandering around the 100 Acre Wood getting a personal rain shower. I’ve tried to avoid guilt. I’ve always made the best decisions I could and not beat myself up over them. Lately, though, it seems hard to avoid.

I’m a person of many interests. I’ve never been one for physical activities or sports, but I can spend hours reading, drawing, painting, writing, cooking…that sort of thing. Lately I’ve started doing some scrapbooking and I dabble in a little home cosmetics sales. This is, of course, on top of my writing, my day job, being head chef and deck swabber.

Really, until about a year and a half ago, writing has been in the hobby category, the same as gardening or scrapbooking. I did whichever I felt like at the time, enjoying my diverse interests. If I didn’t write for three months, that was okay. I wasn’t in the mood. It was just a hobby. I would probably never get published anyway.

Fast forward to now. Writing has become as real a job as my day work. I try to do it every day. If I have free time, I dedicate it to my writing, the playground, Heart of Dixie, or reading and reviewing books for one of those. My life has become my writing with the pesky hours I’m forced to dedicate to my job and sleep carved out. I should feel blessed, I guess, since so many others struggle to find the precious moments to write.

The problem, I guess, is that I miss my hobbies. I haven’t scrapbooked in months. I keep getting invitations for all day or weekend crops. Who has time for that? Spring is coming and the garden catalogs are flowing into my mailbox. I suck at gardening, but I try. It’s time consuming as well, something else I want to do, but don’t really have the space to fit it in. I have a copy of the latest Diana Gabaldon book in my bedroom that was loaned to me by Instigator like 3 months ago. If you’re familiar with these books, you know they’re like 1300 pages. I haven’t even read past the dustcover yet.

It really isn’t about time, I guess, but guilt. I feel guilty if I do something other than work on my writing. I used to feel guilty about reading even, but now I allow myself the chance to do that for book reviews, etc. I feel guilty scrapbooking when I know I should be writing. I feel guilty watching Project Runway or falling asleep on the couch watching Law & Order when I should be writing. I know I should have a life outside of my writing, but I feel I’m at such a pivotal career point, I need to focus on it entirely.

So this makes me wonder…until I get to the point that my writing is my sole career and I’m not wasting 9-10 hours a day on something I don’t care for, how am I going to strike this balance? When I AM a full time writer, will the guilt go away? Or when I have un-shifting deadlines and bills depending on my writing, will it be even worse? Does being serious about my writing mean I can’t be frivolous about other things?

Just a question thrown out into cyberspace. Maybe I'm just whining. I'm sure the playfriends will point it out if so.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Here Comes The Bride

Well, I'm going to cheat a bit this week. I'm in the midst of wedding mania. My brother is getting married tomorrow so I'm a bit on the frazzled side. I won't bore you with the details but suffice it to say there's mayhem and bedlam at my house (not to mention my parent's).

It isn't even my wedding and I'm stressed. I'm having serious flashbacks of my own blessed day almost 8 years ago. But despite all the details, conflicting schedules and appointments, the one thing that remains constant is the happiness my family feels. That's one reason we're trying so hard to make this day perfect. My brother and his wife deserve that. We love my SIL. My girls call her Aunt R and have for years. She's an amazing woman and she loves my brother. There's no question in my mind about that. They had their share of struggles in the beginning. But they worked through them and their relationship is now stronger for them.

As writers it's often easy to get caught up in the itty bitty details. And I know only a few weeks ago I was warning everyone to remember those details. But there's something else that is even more important. It's the heart of the story. The struggle through conflict to achieve the heart's desire - love.

Attending weddings always makes me happy to be a romance writer. There isn't anything more symbolic of the happily ever after than the moment two people stand up and vow to love each other. And even if the end result isn't what either of them hoped for, at that moment they're both eternally happy and optimistic.

I know I've found my own happily ever after with my husband. Certainly, we have our issues but anything worth having is worth working for. I hope each of you find that in your lives.

To My Brother and new Sister. May their lives be blessed with happiness and only the struggles necessary for them to appreciate each other all the more.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Glass Houses Redux

When you hear that "great minds think alike," believe it. Problem Child and I had the same topic on the brain this week. And we're "great minds" aren't we? *

I recently judged a contest too, and as always, I anguished over the scores I awarded each entry. The scoring guidelines are clearly defined but as PC said, this is someone's book that you are scoring. Someone's hopes and dreams. That is a big responsibility.

I've entered one contest with a book that's now languishing in that proverbial box under the bed, and I know how difficult it is to print off those pages, find the proper binder clips, put it in the correct type of envelope, enclose enough postage for them to return your score sheets and hear the thunk when it hits the bottom of the mail chute. Your blood pressure rises, your stomach ties up in knots and all you can think is “Please give it back, Mr. Postman! I need to change one teensy, weensy little thing to make it better.”

I liken the whole experience to stripping buck naked and standing on a busy street corner. These are your thoughts, your ideas, your words, and you've just laid them bare for some stranger to judge.

In the course of reading these contest entries, I learned a lot of things about writing in general and am working to apply this knowledge to my writing in particular. I've divided them into six topics and in no particular order they are:

(1) Quantum Physics 101. Just because you have a Ph.D. in quantum physics and your hero is a quantum physicist, you shouldn't fill the first thirty pages of your story with the minutiae of quantum physics. Likewise, I shouldn't find out your physics hero's entire life story in those same thirty pages. Spread that out in the book. In most cases, a majority of the backstory can be left out altogether. You want to focus on your hero and heroine's relationship and their journey toward happy-ever-after. My early writings were a veritable landfill of information. I’m getting better.

(2) Pea Seas. I'm sure Problem Child can rattle off numerous tales of students who've told her "It can't have misspelled words! I ran the spell checker." The following poem was run through the spell checker on my word processing program and not a single item was flagged.

Eye halve a spelling checker
It came with my pea sea.
It plainly marks four my revue miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a quay and type a word and weight for it to say
Weather eye yam wrong oar write.
It shows me strait a weigh as soon as a mist ache is maid.
It nose bee fore two long and eye can put the error rite.
Its rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it,
I am shore your pleased to no.
Its letter perfect awl the way.
My checker told me sew.

Why was nothing flagged? Because nothing is misspelled but rather used in the wrong context or in violation of the rules of proper grammar.

Do not rely on the spelling and grammar checker in your word processing program to proof your work. They cannot replace the power of the human mind. Have someone check it for you before you submit the entry for a contest or for final submission.

We won’t comment on how many times I’ve depended on spell check and later spotted a humongous gaffe.

(3) Whose Head Is It Anyway? It took me a long time (and I mean a LONG time) to understand about point of view (POV). I would be writing from the hero's POV when suddenly a thought from the heroine would invade the paragraph, and I couldn't understand why my critique partner was bleeding the letters "POV" all over my work. Several people tried to explain it. I read a couple articles on it. And one day, WHAMMO! It was like a light bulb turning on, and I've been a POV purist from that day on.

Granted there are famous authors who jump from one POV to another (this is known as head-hopping) but they are famous authors and they can (a) often simply get away with stuff we newbies can't or (b) they can get away with it because they do it well. Find some books on writing and/or search writing sites for articles on POV and learn all about it. You won't regret mastering this very crucial part of writing.

(4) The Cecil B. DeMille Syndrome. Lois is the heroine and Clark is the hero and then there's Perry White and Jimmy Olsen. Oh and don't forget Clark's mom and dad and Lois's parents and her sister Lucy. Then there's Lana Lang from back in Smallville, not to mention that dastardly Lex Luthor. And how could I forget Superman, the Man of Steel himself? Next we have Perry White's wife Alice and his kids and their spouses. Jimmy has a girlfriend du jour. Cat Grant writes the society column and is a thorn in Lois's side. Oh, I forgot about Maisie who runs the diner in Smallville and Mr. Trezewski, Lois's landlord, and Rahalia who is the Daily Planet's cleaning lady. Then there are all the villains: Jason Trask, the Press brothers, Metallo, Mr. Mxyzptlk, the Toy Maker, Mr. Gadget, Spencer Spenser, Diana Stride, and... well, you get the picture.

Imagine reading ten pages where all those people were introduced. It's enough to make your head spin. Be careful with a large cast of characters. You don't want your hero and heroine to get lost in the crowd.

(5) Be a Hooker. My mother used to tell me that I had one chance to make a good impression. It’s the same with a book. You have one chance to hook the reader (or an editor or agent) with a great opening. It can be a bit of snappy dialogue, a leap into the middle of the action or a description that leaves the reader feeling like she’s floating down the Nile or high atop an Alpine peak. Just make sure it snags the reader’s attention and holds him or her by the throat.

I don’t suppose I should say that I want to be a good hooker, should I? :-/

(6) Men Are From Mars. I am married and have two grown sons. For way too many years I’ve been the minority in a fraternity, and trust me when I say that men talk differently than women. They speak a language all their own (but then, so do we). For the most part, they don’t use diminutives; things are either big or small. They don’t describe things in many more colors than red, blue, green, yellow, brown, black and white. They spit and scratch and adjust themselves in public. They don’t know a shitake mushroom from shine-ola. Make your hero sound like a man. I once had a hero contemplating the smell of viburnum wafting in the springtime air. Gack!

Go to a sports bar and listen to men talk while you nurse a Flirtini (which, by the way, no self-respecting man would order). Take in a baseball game and eavesdrop on the conversation between the men sitting behind you. Or if you’re in the minority like me, just listen to your husband and sons talk while you’re picking their boxer shorts off the bathroom floor or watching them eat day-old pizza for breakfast.

(6a) Men from Mars and Women from Venus Really Do Talk. After you’ve figured out how real men talk, make sure your hero actually talks to the heroine. And have her talk back. Forty-five pages of story with very little dialogue isn’t very entertaining. Dialogue is how you really get inside your characters’ heads. It shows emotion. It advances the plot, defines a character and/or provides valuable information. Dialogue tags and character attributions are a whole 'nuther topic. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking. Talking heads are distracting, especially during a particularly steamy love scene.

All this being said, I’m going to go back to the story I’m writing and remove the info dump, manually check the spelling, make sure my POV is consistent, kill off a couple of secondary characters and re-write that opening sentence. Then I'm going to go suffer through a Hugh Jackman movie and make sure my hero walks and talks like him. It's a rough job, but somebody's gotta do it.

* By the by, the correct answer to this question is "Yes." ;-)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Imperfect Life

"Don't let an imperfect situation be an excuse to do nothing. Interruptions will never go away, so don't wait for them to disappear before you start something." Deniece Schofield

I've been a little stalled on my writing lately, because there have been many things going on at my house. We're trying to start a major decluttering project in order to put our house up for sale. Also, I'm helping plan my Mom's wedding and shower. Then there's homework, laundry, and the daily interruptions that come along with having small children. My To Do list seems to grow exponentially. Did I mention the 40 emails that were waiting in my inbox last night? :)

Some days I dream of running away to a little bed and breakfast where I can write, sleep, and take long, uninterrupted baths. Where other people cook the meals and I don't have to do dishes. I actually did this last year. My husband gave me a weekend away for Mother's Day. Isn't he sweet?

Unfortunately, I can't go away all the time. Nor do I want to. I live in an "imperfect situation," one not always conducive to prolific writing. But neither do I want to wait until my children are grown or the house is quiet. Because then it may be too quiet and I'll be desperate for one of my children to call.

So I'll make the best of this stage of my life and carve out time when I can. The Playfriends and my CPs will remind me to get my rear in gear when I haven't produced a chapter in a while. Which gives me an excuse to leave the housework until the nooks and crannies become borderline toxic. Because housework is definitely at the bottom of my ToDo list! :)

I'm always on the lookout for good ideas. How do y'all carve time out of your imperfect situation?


Monday, January 23, 2006

Glass Houses, Stones, and Contest Entries

I’ve been reading contest entries almost non-stop for the past week or so. Since I enter contests occasionally, I feel it’s only right I judge a few as well. After all, I know how much work it is for those judges to read and comment on my entries, so the least I can do is the same for others.

Karma, you know.

But I’m really not comfortable doing this. Each entry takes me ages to read, and I stress over each and every comment I make. (The exception is the Golden Heart; I still stress, but at least I don’t have to provide feedback.) I want to provide helpful, truthful comments, but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings either. It bugs me when I receive a judge's comment like “Where are they? You haven’t mentioned the setting,” when I can see where I mentioned it on pages 2, 4, and 7. Did the judge actually read the entry? I’ve also had judges make some pretty nasty comments as well. It makes me wonder if the judge gets some kick from saying hurtful things on a score sheet.

I don’t EVER want to be THAT judge. It takes guts to show your work to anyone, and no one deserves to be stomped on for trying. So I stress.

But part of the stress comes from the fact I don’t really feel qualified to be judging anyone. What the heck do I know? If I had a stinkin’ clue as to what was “good” or “sellable,” do you think I’d still be unpublished? There are several published books I’ve read that I think should still be under the author’s bed—not taking up space on the bookshelf. I wouldn’t have scored that entry very high at all—but an editor liked it enough to buy it. So what makes me think my opinion will do a writer any good at all in her quest to be published?

But there are some entries… The ones with unlikable or Too Stupid To Live heroines or overbearing jerks for heroes (even worse are the wimpy heroes). Entries with serious writing problems. Entries that make your head hurt trying to figure out what is going on. (Not that I had any of those in my batch this time.) How do I tactfully tell this writer she needs to start back at the beginning and review the basics or rethink her plot and characters? I don’t want to be the one who breaks her spirit.

“But Kimberly,” you say, “you’re a teacher. You “judge” stuff all the time. How is this any different?” This is very different. No student has even turned in 1000 words on Othello because she had some driving need inside her to discuss Iago’s motivation. Othello’s jealousy doesn’t keep her up nights wanting to be heard. Instead, she only did it because I MADE her do it. I’m holding her GPA hostage. Susie Student may be angry at a less-than-stellar grade, but it’s not going to crush her soul or keep her from writing the next paper.

I also have no problem assigning a grade because I made it very clear long before Susie Student started on that paper what I expected of her. She knows going in that I expect A, B and C, and if she doesn’t deliver it, she’ll get a D for sure. Also, I’m available by email or phone to help her along the way. The writer of the entry doesn’t know I’m a big stickler when it comes to dialogue or comma usage or whatever. Susie Student got a handout clearly explaining it.

“But what about your CP? You comment on her stuff all the time.” Yes I do. But my CP knows me; she knows that I’m a nice person with her best interests at heart. She knows I don’t make myself feel bigger by cutting down what she’s written. She knows the “Whoa! Huh? Where did this come from?” note only means I didn’t follow where she went—not that I think she is going in the wrong direction. She can also email me back for clarification of that “Huh?” And if she doesn’t agree, she can email me back and argue. And if I get too snippy with my comments, she has my home address and phone number and can tell me to get my head out of my butt to my face.

None of those options are open to the writer who entered a contest not knowing who would be judging her entry.

Trust me, my CP has made me thoroughly aware of my own weaknesses in my writing. I love her for it, but it means I’m standing in the middle of my glass house with a handful of stones marked MOTIVATION, SHOW DON’T TELL, EXCESSIVE WORDINESS, RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN, and POV.

So contest entrants, know the judge who made the hateful comment on your entry or hurt your feelings was not me. EVER.

Karma, remember?

Side note: My CP is fabulous. Both as a writer and a critter. I removed several unnecessary thats from this blog entry in her honor.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Wait is Over, Part 2

As of Thursday, January 19, 2006, the Darling Geek is a U.S. Citizen with all voting rights therein.

Of course, now that he's one of those "Bloody Americans," what will he call my family when they get out of hand? And how quickly will he kill his brothers when they call him a "Bloody American" for the first time? And now that I can't threaten him with calling the INS and getting his stubborn butt deported, how will the lawn work ever get done?

Repeat after me, Darling Geek: U-S-A! U-S-A!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The wait is over

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to Gorgeous Granddaughter (hereafter referred to as GG). Isn't she beautiful? I believe she's trying to suck her finger. Her daddy did that. He sucked the index and middle finger of his right hand after abandoning his Nuk when he was about six months old.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Bite Your Tongue

I just finished writing an article for my chapter's newsletter on how to break up with your critique partner. When it was done, I felt like a cross between a Cosmo editor and Ann Landers. It seems such a delicate balance - trying to think of yourself and get out of a situation that isn't helping you or your writing versus not ticking people off. Sometimes it is difficult to have both, especially if your CP is an unreasonable sort, but it is something that must be done. The romance writing community is VERY small, even though it seems we're competing against the masses for those coveted contracts. The CP you make angry could talk to a friend, who can talk to her published friend, who could mention it to her editor or agent over lunch. That editor or agent could very well recall that incident when your MS is on her desk at some point in the future.

As a Maven once said, "grudges aren't heavy, you can carry them forever."

At my last RWA meeting, the fabulous Kelley St. John (check out her interview in the Sandbox) did a talk on self promotion. She even mentioned the Playground and our Blog as fine examples - thank you, Kelley. She also pointed out some important notes about misuse of various promotion tools, like blogs. I may think that I'm just throwing my thoughts out into cyberspace and that no one will ever read them. No one really cares about what I have to say, anyway. WRONG. Lots of people read blogs. Editors. Agents. Important people. It is a fabulous, but also frightening concept. It might work in your favor or it might go horribly awry.

In 5th grade, a note I passed to another girl got picked up by the teacher. In it, I had verbally battered another girl in the class that had told a boy that I thought he was cute. She didn't read it aloud, thank goodness, but I had to stay after class for a "talking to." What she told me has stuck with me for life - don't ever put it in writing. Yes, the girl had betrayed my trust. Yes, she had embrassed me. Yes, she might very well be all the horrible things I said she was. But - never put it in writing. Words are just words, but once you put them down on paper, they turn into evidence to be used against you in a court of law - or in my case - the court of 5th grade drama queens.

The same applies to blogs. I think this is especially true because some people think a blog is their own 1st Amendment megaphone for complaining about the world that has done them wrong. Is that really the image you want to project of yourself to others? That you're a whiny baby with a mouth like a sailor? If you're a 14 year old boy with hormonal aggression, that's one thing, but if you're trying to become a professional in a business like this - it's not just inappropriate, it's tacky.

It is one of the reasons the Playground has strict rules about mentioning specifics in Time Out or any rants that might surface on the blog. Yes, that editor might have blown us off. Yes, that judge might have raked our entry over the coals. Yes, the CP might have taken our dreams and stomped them into a fine powder. But don't put it in writing. At least with a journal you can hide it under your bed and the odds of it showing up on a Senior Editor's desk are pretty slim unless you mix up your packages at the Post Office. With a blog, anyone with an interest and an internet connection can access it. Not just access it - read it. And remember it. Share it. Pass it on.

I don't really have a question to pose to the group or a profound truth to share, it was just on my mind today as I worked on that article and thought about what Kelley said. So, fabulous editors and agents - if you're reading this - I love you. I love your work. I love your line. You are artistry with an editor's pen. (Was that too much??) :) If you're not an editor - what the heck - I love you too. I'd much rather share good vibes across cyberspace than bad ones.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Aha Moments

Well, I had an aha moment tonight. Not just about writing but specifically about the book that I've been working on. I generally have at least one, if not more, of these moments in any of my WIPs. Since I'm a panster I think these flashes of insight are more about finally getting a grasp on my characters - what they want, why they can't have it, and how they're going to overcome the obstacles in their path - than about unlocking a key to the puzzle of writing. I won't share specifics - because they'd bore you :-) - but also because it isn't important.

Not important? Okay, so it is for me and my characters but I'm sure no one but me cares about that at the moment :-) The most important thing is HOW I came to this moment.

Through an online writing group Ask An Author Pro. We're in the middle of an online class with Laurie Schnebly (www.booklaurie.com) about goal and motivation for our characters. The wisdom she's imparting, while very important, isn't something new to me. I've heard it before. But for some reason the information clicked this time. Or rather I needed to hear it at this moment in order for these characters to click.

So what's your point Instigator? My point is that no matter where in the writing spectrum you fall, you can never stop learning. Even if you've heard something repeatedly you might gain another layer of knowledge from the fifteenth time you hear it again.

Participate in RWA at a local and national level. Attend workshops, seminars, and conferences. Listen to tapes. Read newsletters. Buy craft books. Study. And then study some more. You never know when that one piece of information will come scrolling across your computer screen and make the entire book fall into place.


Oh, and join Pro. It's the best most supportive group of people (next to the playmates of course). The perks and resources don't hurt either.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I Write Because

I've read lots of author bios online and almost every one has a comment about why they write.

Some write because they read something and thought "I can do better."

Others write because they've always had voices in their heads.

Still others write not because they think "I can do better," but because they think "I can do this too."

I started writing many years ago and stopped. Marriage and motherhood and jobs just got in the way. Or rather, I let them get in the way. Then a few years ago I discovered an online group that revolved around an old television show from the 90's, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Aside from message board posts about the actors who portrayed Lois Lane and Clark Kent, there was a section called fanfiction. What the heck was fanfiction?

I soon learned that it is stories penned by fans of the show and that revolve around the show's characters. People take the universe that's been created and the show's characters and write their own scenarios.

I read some that were very good. I read some that were very bad. And I thought "I can do that too." My first fanfic was a Valentine story. I also wrote one about Christmas and one where Clark Kent posed for a beefcake calendar. Another story was written in the form of diary entries by Clark Kent's mother. This fandom has its own yearly awards with nominations and voting and an online awards ceremony.

Of course, some consider fanfiction to be the little red-haired bastard stepchild of writing. After all, you've let someone else create the universe and characters, complete with goal, motivation and conflict. But I know of two published authors (one by Zebra and the other by Avon) who used to write stories for the same message boards that I did.

Then the unthinkable happened. Someone began posting a serialized story that was REALLY good. Almost TOO good. And it wasn't long before someone recognized it as a book from Harlequin/Silhouette with just the character names changed. When we looked into this person's backlist of fanfictions, we discovered more plagiarized work and she was banned from the message boards.

Another unthinkable thing happened. I read my first romance novel after I was asked to track down the plagiarized book and verify that indeed this wasn't the fanfic author's original work. After I read the first one, I wanted to read more. I discovered author websites and author chats and found out that my own area was home to several very famous romance authors. I read their books and more and pretty soon fanfiction lost its luster and I began to believe "I can do that too."

I found out about Romance Writers of America and joined my local chapter. I've attended two national conferences and the workshops that go along with them. I've read books on writing. I've done writing exercises. And I've started two novels -- started being the objective word.

The one thing I have not done is give up. A friend told me recently that when she went off to college, her father told her "Rock, as you go through life and attack your goals, keep your eye upon the donut and not upon the hole."

Great advice, huh? I need to start focusing on that donut and not what's missing from the middle.

Why do YOU write?

On a completely unrelated note, today's my mother's birthday.

Your gift is on the way, Mom. I was late mailing it because I was in another town eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts and staying next door to a meth lab. ;-)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

But Not That Wild!

Problem Child mentioned that we went on our first field trip yesterday. We had a wonderful time-interesting, stimulating conversations, new experiences, and bonding galore. We also had an adventure that will remain a group memory until we are old and gray!

As we are all struggling writers (i.e. not a lot of money to spare), we opted for cheap but clean accomodations for our overnight excursion. We chose a chain hotel that had good prices and looked relatively nice when we arrived. It wasn't until the next morning that we found out a drug bust went down the night before. No, not just a simple drug bust. The police raided a meth lab! A meth lab in actual operation!

How exciting. Doesn't your heart just flutter when you realize your building could have exploded during the night? Even more unbelievable was the news that the room where all this went down was adjacent to ours. The rooms shared a back wall. Yet no one, hotel management or police, saw fit to evacuate us or even inform us of potential danger. Luckily we got to hear it on the news rather than being driven from our beds by a fire or exploding walls. That is, if we'd lived through the heat and toxic fumes.

But in true creative fashion (after getting over the shock), we began to brainstorm how this could work in a book. We entertained ourselves throwing together a hokey plot with a single female alone in her hotel room, the undercover DEA agent next door whose scraggly appearance weirds her out when she meets him, and the meth lab that explodes one night, taking out the wall of her room and forcing them on the run.

I'd say we're writers, all right. Everything is fodder for the story.

And this is one trip we'll never forget.


Monday, January 16, 2006

Playfriends Gone Wild! Volume 1

I’m blogging from the Playground’s first ever official road trip. All five Playfriends in a hotel room—we’ll see how this goes when we all try to get dressed in the morning. We’re doing a plotting and planning getaway. Angel has a book to be plotted; we’ve planned all kinds of fun things for the next few months on the Playground. We’re also away from our hubbies and children and just being grownups.

Or maybe not too grownup.

I think we may have made a scene at dinner. We certainly made a scene at the Krispy Kreme. See, Instigator had never had a Krispy Kreme doughnut fresh off the doughnut machine. The “Hot Doughnut Sign” was lit, and we had to take Instigator in and show her where they come from. The nice lady gave us a free sample.

If you’ve never had a Krispy Kreme fresh off the machine, you’ve missed a beautiful thing. Warm, sugary goodness melts on your tongue. Heaven with a zillion calories. No one who has ever tasted a fresh, hot Krispy Kreme doughnut could ever do the Atkins low-carb diet. It’s that good. Instigator didn’t know what she’d been missing, but she’s a true believer now. We took a dozen to go.

Not that Krispy Kremes are on any of our diets. But does it matter? Sometimes you just have to let go of all the “should-have-dones” and go with it.

I’ve decided the same thing goes with my writing. I’ve been around long enough to learn a whole bunch of “rules” about the way books should be written. And now I’ve learned that rules sometimes need to be broken in order to write the book the way it needs to be written.

Do what feels right. Do what makes you feel good about your book. Even if everyone says you shouldn’t do it that way.

If the book makes you smile the way a hot Krispy Kreme does when it melts on your tongue, you’ve written it the right way. Even if it is against all the rules.


Saturday, January 14, 2006

And the winner is...

In my Wednesday post I proposed a little contest whereby someone who posted at any given point during this week would win an autographed copy of Rhonda Nelson's Getting It!

All the names were put into a hat -- a RED hat -- and our winner is Anne Lum from Palo Alto, California.

Congratulations and enjoy the book! Rhonda is a terrific writer with an absolutely wicked sense of humor.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hold Thy Judgement

Since Instigator has already swung us from the touchy-feely friend subject, I don't feel at all bad about making an even further departure. I'm not even going to mention friendship here (not that I don't love ya'll - really!).

Two things recently happened to me. One, I volunteered as a judge in the Southern Magic contest, Maven Linda Howard's Award of Excellence. I am a judging virgin, so the information being provided to me pre-contest via the loop has been interesting and informative. I don't want to be one of those judges that nitpicks without any positive feedback, doesn't look at the whole picture, or stomps on someone's writing dreams.

I'm not vindictive like that. At least, not without provocation. :)

Coinciding with this was the arrival in the mail of my judging comments from a contest I recently finaled and placed 3rd in. Four people read it - looks like the first three were the preliminary judges who scored it high enough to final, then the final judging by the editor of the category. This was the first contest I have entered that provided feedback like this.

There wasn't a horrible disparity between them - I've heard of people getting a perfect score, two decent scores and one judge who practically spit on their entry. I did get one perfect score - the only comment outside the occasional grammar change was - "What else can I say? Bravo!" The other two were not as enthusiastic, but not bad - mostly 4s and 5s. One gave me a 1 out of 5 for romantic tension between the hero and heroine. Just so happens the scene I entered had the heroine unconscious, but whatever. I was a little disappointed about my final judge - the editor. She didn't write a single thing on the MS. She gave me mostly 4's with the occasional 3, but nothing else to help. She didn't make a request for anyone in my category either. Maybe we all stunk or maybe she was just too busy to put the effort into it. Who knows, maybe all final round editor judges do that. This is my first official RWA contest, so it's possible I expect more than is the norm.

I wonder sometimes why people volunteer to do things when they really don't have time or just don't want to do it. Maybe it's the "girl who can't say no" syndrome. Maybe it's guilt or they think they can manage their schedule to allocate the proper time and attention to it, then fail. My schedule is pretty full, so I try not to take on too much, but when I do, I make sure that it's done to the best of my ability. I hope I do well as a judge in this upcoming contest.

Anyone got any judging horror stories? Let's leave the contest, chapter and any names out of it so we don't get any hate mail, but feel free to share any weird, quirky or downright irritating judge responses or comments!

SP (Happy Friday the 13th!)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Together at The Wal-Mart

Well, I'm going to ruin the theme the Playground's had for the last several days. Although this post isn't about friendship is is most definitely about appreciating the ones you love. So I suppose it could be loosely tied in.

The other night DH and I decided we wanted to have some together time with our girls doing something fun. It was Friday night - no school, no work, and no alarm clocks to worry about in the morning. Did we decide to take our girls to the zoo, the park, even the newly opened Chuck E. Cheese at our mall? Heck no! We took them to Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart? You might ask. Yep, we needed eggs and a new frying pan (the last one bit the dust when we tried to cook eggs the last time, ruining both our dinner and the pan - don't ask :-) But let me tell you my oldest (Sweet Pea) was skipping through the parking lot on our way inside. She was so excited to be going shopping with mommy, daddy, and baby girl. We all had fun (until she pitched a fit on the way out again but she is four so can be forgiven a few temper tantrums here and there).

It was such a small thing but it meant so much to her. It isn't that we don't do things together as a family on a regular basis. We do all the time - although shopping isn't usually one of them becuase of the hassels involved with taking two small children inside a store.

So what might you ask does this have to do with the price of tea in China? It's a reminder that the little things do count - in our life and in our writing.

In fact, the little things are often more important than the big things. Because we plan and obcess over the big things - the major turning points. That first kiss. The first love scene. The black moment. But adding in those little things enriches the major moments within the story.

It's the touch of your hero's hand on your heroine's shoulder as he walks by her in the office hallway. It's the smile they share across a crowded room. It's the fact that your heroine's mind wanders to the hero during the boring morning conference call. Or that your hero mentions this new woman he's met to his mother. All of these moments would take no more than a mention, a sentence, in your story but I think you can see how much they might enrich the experience for your reader. Whatever the small details are, they're significant for your characters and helpt make those people real to the reader. The things I mentioned are all moments we remember our husbands/boyfriends/signifant others doing for us over the years (or in those first dating years) and wish they would do again.

They're also things, details, layers that make our characters real and 3 dimensional.

Remember the little things in your writing and in your regular life. They can make all the difference in the world.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

That's What Friends Are For

Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same. – Anonymous

Problem Child is spending the week with a friend who is visiting from out-of-town. Come summer, Angel will celebrate a milestone anniversary of a great friendship. And last Thursday I said auf Wiedersehen to a good friend.

Not long after I turned fifty (I can hear the gasps through cyberspace because I know that you’re stunned that I’ve hit that half-century mark) a woman I used to work with invited me to join a group called The Red Hat Society.

RHS was formed in 1997 and is loosely based around the poem “Warning” by Jenny Joseph. The first two lines of that poem read When I am an old woman I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me. Therefore, the de rigueur dress for Red Hatters is a purple outfit and a red hat. Since I’m not much of a hat person, I tend to wear as simple a hat as possible. However, Suzy, the fearless leader of the local chapter that I joined, doesn’t share the same fear of hats that I do. Her chapeaus rival anything ever seen as Ascot and are often accompanied by a red feather boa and articles of clothing with glitter or sequins.

Suzy welcomed me into the group with open arms. She made sure I knew when we were meeting and where. Since RHS is an un-organization, we don’t have a lot of rules or schedules. Most of us have spent half a century abiding by rules and schedules and darn if we aren’t going to just have a little fun. We have had a few field trips, but generally we are the “ladies who lunch.” And we’ve lunched all over north Alabama.

In November of 2004, Suzy’s husband passed away unexpectedly. We all mourned with her and celebrated his home-going in a lovely service atop Green Mountain. With his passing, Suzy had lost her best friend. But she mustered on, often hiding her pain and sorrow from all of us.

Back in the fall, she decided to make an extended visit to her daughter’s home in Seattle. Once there, she fell in love with the area, re-connected with her small grandchildren and quite by accident stumbled upon a home in a retirement community that was for sale. Next thing we knew, our leader was moving cross-country.

This is the point in time when you regret the time you didn’t spend together, the lunches you missed, the secrets you didn’t share and everything else you could possibly regret about a friendship. But this is also the time when you become excited about a friend’s new adventure in life, especially when you see the spark return to her eyes and hear the lilt in her voice again.

Suzy wrote me a note in her Christmas card and told about meeting Karolyn Grimes. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, she’s the actress who played little ZuZu Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” She’s become the movie’s unofficial ambassador and when she met Suzy, she gave her a small stained-glass angel. In case you don’t remember, ZuZu was the one who said “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”

That angel means a lot to Suzy and I know for sure that angels are watching over my friend as she starts a new life across the country. Huntsville wasn’t her home; her husband’s job had brought them here. But now she’s close to family and can enjoy seeing her grandchildren grow up.

Last Thursday I hosted a “Bon Voyage” party for Suzy in my home. I’m sure my neighbors wondered about the procession of purple-and-red-clad women. My husband holed away in his office and allowed us to laugh and joke and tell jokes for several hours while we ate chocolate cake decorated with – yep, purple and red icing.

I have a very special set of footprints on my heart and they're followed by a trail of red feathers and glitter. You’ll notice that I didn’t say “good-bye” to Suzy. I said “auf Wiedersehen,” which is German for “until I see you again.” And when we see each other again, it will be as if we never parted and we’ll start laughing right where we left off.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” Be a good friend and cherish your friendships because they are more valuable than gold.

If you’ve let a friendship slide, call or email or write an old-fashioned letter today. You won’t regret it.

Tell me about your best friend and you might win a prize. I’ll randomly chose from one of the comments posted to all the Playground blog entries this week and send the winner an autographed copy of Getting It! by Rhonda Nelson. This is the debut book in her Chicks in Charge series.

P.S. I’ll hit the "double nickels" in a few months. Go ahead. Gasp again. *g*

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

True Friends

It's very interesting that PC chose to blog about Shelley yesterday, because I'd planned to talk about friends as well. Only mine has absolutely nothing to do with writing. :)

Last week, I attended the birthday party of a close true friend. This birthday was even more special because this summer will mark the 20th anniversary of our friendship. Memories of all the fun and touching moments we've had together overwhelmed me as I watched her enjoy her evening. This woman has been not just present, but an integral part of the most meaningful moments of my life, both good and bad. She's become a sister to me, and in doing so she changed the course of my life for the better.

As women, not to mention romance writers, we are relational to our very core. In Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul, John and Stasi Eldredge write, "Most women define themselves in terms of their relationships and the quality they deem those relationships to have. I am a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend. Or, I am alone. I'm not seeing anyone right now, or my children aren't calling, or my friends seem distant. This is not a weakness in women-it is a glory. A glory that reflects the heart of God."

This is why I have a hard time calling a day "good" if I've been struggling with my children a lot. This is why I feel sad and lonely if I haven't had a "real" conversation with my husband in several days. I could sell a book tomorrow, but it wouldn't mean nearly as much without any Playfriends to jump and scream with me. Our relationships, or lack thereof, bring depth and color to an otherwise basic existence.

I realize I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. But as I danced under the disco ball and watched my friend laugh in delight, one thought sang through my mind: "Cherish this friendship. The people we love make life worth living."

I love you, Jan. Happy Birthday!


Monday, January 09, 2006

We interrupt our regular schedule...

The dust hasn’t even had a chance to settle on my list of goals for January and they’re already out the window. At least for the next five days. Why, you ask? Because the Playground’s resident therapist is coming to town! She lives in Louisiana and I live in Alabama, so while I talk to her on the phone twice a week, we don’t get to see each other all that often. Don’t tell my CP, but that chapter she’s expecting doesn’t look like it’s gonna get finished this week after all.

Shelley and I go waaaaay back. Back more years than I’m willing to admit, but we were freshmen in high school when the fun began. (If my mom is reading this, she just spewed her drink all over the keyboard at the word “fun.” Hey, it was fun for us. Sorry, Mom.) At this point, we have no choice but to remain friends, because we have too much dirt on each other to be enemies. We mastered teen-age angst, lived through some really bad fashion decisions, did some unbelievably stupid stuff in our college years, and are now upstanding members of society. Who’d of thunk it?

So, the next five days will be all about us. There will be manicures, some homemade facials, discussions over the current color of my hair, and much junk-food eating. There’ll be therapy of the retail kind and commiserations over the craziness of our respective families. Shelley will spoil my child with gifts, and I’ll go over the proper usage of a semicolon with her (again!). Then she’ll have to go home, and it’ll be six months before I get to see her again.

So, my goals for this week are toast. I might as well just pack up the laptop now, ‘cause I’m not going to get anything done on my WIP. But I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it. Writing is important to me, but no book is more important than the people I love. If being behind on my page goal for this month is the price I have to pay to spend time with my best friend, then so be it.

Goals, resolutions, schedules—we’re always told how important it is for writers (especially newbie writers) to make them and stick to them like glue if we ever hope to hit that dream of being published. I think the trick is knowing when to stick to the resolution and when to let the schedule slide. Weeding the flower beds? Nah, I really need to get my page goal done today. Cleaning house? As long as Child Services doesn’t threaten to take AC away, I figure it’s clean enough. I’ve got a synopsis to write.

The time to enjoy the people I love? Sorry, but the book will have to wait. Shelley, AC and I are going to do crafts and paint our toenails instead. I’ll take people over pages any day.

I hope I never get so caught up in the drive to be published that I forget that.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

News from the Playground

Congratulations are in order for Instigator who has just learned that her story "The Dark Side of Desire" has finaled in the Hudson Valley Romance Writers' Hook, Line & Sinker Contest.

This calls for a toast!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Envelope, Please

The winners of the Happy Holidays Scavenger Hunt sponsored by SingleTitles.com have been announced. The grand prize included our contribution of an autographed copy of OPEN SEASON by Linda Howard and a handmade beaded book thong.

The grand prize winner is Jennifer Yates of Stone Mountain, Georgia.

Congratulations, Jennifer! And we hope you enjoy your prize. I personally loved OPEN SEASON, especially since part of it took place right here where I live. I could take you to the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop that's mentioned in the book. I've been there often. As a matter of fact I still have half-a-dozen glazed in my freezer; they're left over from a pre-Christmas Krispy Kreme run. But I digress. **gg**

The Writing Playground also has its very first contest running right now. The prize package on this is faboo -- two books by debut authors, a DVD, a journal and a trial package of some wonderful skin care items that come from Scotland.

Check it out, enter and tell all your friends!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Speak Up!

Darn. When I thought about my blog a couple hours ago, I had a topic in mind. Now, sitting at the computer staring at the blog screen...completely blank. Just a good ol case of scatter brain compounded by the start of a sinus headache. By the time I'm old enough to be really forgetful, I'll be a wreck.

Now lets have my blog evolve a topic - we had a discussion about voice yesterday that struck me as interesting. With my partial going out, the playground has been in a flurry of editing activity helping me prepare. One playfriend said after reading the first couple chapters - "I don't hear Alex's voice here." I guess my reputation for dry, sarcastic wit is such that people expect it to be there. So, my task, if I choose to accept it, is to find a way to pump up my voice without being inappropriate. How do I work my funny outlook on life into a story that isn't really funny?? My heroines and other female characters usually have a touch of "smarty pants" in them that gives words to my attitude and the cadence of my dialog is usually a little different - bantering at times. I've been building up their internal dialog and going through the crazy and sometimes silly thoughts that can creep into a characters mind (I don't like peas!). It's proving a challenge, but later critiques have not mentioned this problem, so hopefully I've figured out the balance.

When I went to Reno this summer, I don't know how many editors or agents said they were looking for a "fresh, new voice." A writer didn't need to reinvent the wheel - they could tell the good ol' secret baby or mistaken identity story - they just had to tell it with the mysterious "fresh, new voice." It seemed to be the theme of every session I attended. So yesterday when the subject of voice came up, it made me wonder. I had sat in sessions in Reno pondering my "voice" at several opportunities. What exactly WAS my voice? Is my voice fresh? Is it new? Am I doing my own thing or trying to mimic the tone of published books before me?

I guess I really wasn't able to put a finger on it until yesterday when Angel pointed it out. My voice is sassy, funny, dry, witty. It was what she expected to come out of me because that's constantly coming out of me when I'm not writing. Maybe now that I can more readily identify "my" voice, it will flow easier, with me not forcing my dog to walk when it wants to sniff. I will never write flowing romantic prose with phrases like "glowing tuminescence" and "her secret molten core." I cannot force my dog down that road. It will, however, trot easily beside me as we jog down Sarcastic Trail.

Is my voice fresh and new? That remains to be seen. Now that the world of voice seems to be opening up to me, I'm anxious to learn more about what makes everyone's writing different. How about you? What kind of voice do you project with your writing? What about your style is uniquely "you?" Have you ever had someone comment on your voice?


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Me time 101

My playmates and I are fresh from a fieldtrip yesterday. One I desperately needed after the stress of my Christmas festivities. Where might you ask did we go? To visit one of our very own Mavens (Thanks LJ!). But the better question to ask is what did we do?

We meditated. Now I realize not everyone might believe in the powers and benefits of meditation, but let me tell you I do! If for nothing more than stress relief and relaxation. There are many reasons to meditate - If you're interested in learning more I'll let you visit your local liabrary or bookstore as there are plenty of people more qualified to discuss that subject than I am.

So why might you ask am I bringing this topic up on the blog if I'm not going to get technical? To remind everyone to take time for themselves! It's something we tend to forget when our lives get hectic, we're trying to cram too much into our days, and we have more obligations than energy to fill them. Simply taking 5 or 10 minutes to concentrate on relaxation, to focus your mind and body, to rejuvenate your spirit will go a long way in providing you what you need to fulfill those obligations.

As a writer, it can help focus your mind, increase your concentration, and free your creative processes - at least that's what I've found meditation does for me. I came home from our session feeling more relaxed than I have in weeks and ready to begin work again. I picked up my current WIP - a book I haven't touched for weeks.

To me, the benefits of meditation are well worth the small amount of time it takes. If you haven't tried it you should.

But even if you find meditation isn't for you, do take time from your busy schedule to relax and de-stress. Your muse, your body and probably your family will thank you for it!


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Know Thy Characters

When I was working on an article about writer’s block a few months ago, I got a wonderful tidbit of information that I only touched on briefly in the article. I felt it was worth holding out and using as a topic all its own.

When I asked Pocket and Silhouette author Roxanne St. Claire about writer’s block, she sent me an email full of great advice. The part I’m expounding on today is “Know Thy Characters.” This is a timely topic for me because I’ve realized that one of the reasons my novel isn’t progressing is that I don’t really know my characters. And with the new guidelines for Silhouette Desire, the line this story is targeted to, I’ve had to tweak my hero and now I know him even less.

Here’s what Roxanne wrote:

Generally, when the story has gone awry, it's because these people I've invented have done something they shouldn't have...or wouldn't have if they were real. Being a plot driven person, I sometimes want to drag them and force them to go my way to expedite the plot. Not unlike what I do to my puppy when we are walking and I want to move and burn a calorie or two and she wants to sniff a dead frog in the middle of the road. I yank a little (not too much, please don't report me) and she will eventually do what I want...but she's not happy. And neither am I. That frog was there to be sniffed, damn it, and a good terrier stops, sniffs, licks and perhaps takes it to her secret hiding place regardless of what I want her to do. When I'm blocked, it's usually because I am forcing the story in an unnatural direction. My gut is screaming, but my fingers fly...until they stop. And then I have to back track and go sniff that dead frog after all.

So… how do you get to know thy characters?

Some writers use character charts. I’ve seen everything from simple one-page questionnaires to a system that contains twenty-seven separate Word documents, including examples from a popular romantic comedy movie. I've tried the simple questionnaire.

I’ve heard other writers say they use the hero and heroine archetypes found in Tami Cowden’s book The Writers Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes. My hero is a bad boy with a streak of conscience and a promise he made to a dying friend.

Still others use horoscopes or Enneagrams. Haven't tried this yet.

Visually oriented writers will search magazines or websites to find a picture of what they imagine their hero and heroine to look like. I admit to surfing countless modeling websites in search of Max Cameron and Maddie Prescott. And I’ve tried some of the questionnaires to try and uncover what makes them tick.

I also hit the motherload on Charlotte Dillon’s website with her page on “Building Fictional Characters.” This site has a list of helpful books, links to other sites and even has tips on naming your characters.

But Monday I learned something very valuable about my hero. And you know how I did it? I sniffed a frog, that’s how. Well, proverbially. I let my mind wander while I was riding on the back of my husband’s motorcycle. There’s not a lot I can do BUT think while on the back of that bike. So when we went for a ride on Monday I decided I was going to ponder on Max and see what might develop. Turns out he isn’t originally from Atlanta like I’d tried to make him. He’s from another state and grew up with a mother and grandparents who were textile mill workers. He spent one summer working in that mill and decided as soon as he graduated from high school, he was getting the heck outta Dodge so they wouldn't make him work there any more.

In the course of sniffing Max *g* I’ll probably discover lots of little things about him that will never make it into the story, but they are integral parts of him and have shaped him into the man who DOES make it into the story.

Have you sniffed a frog today? How do you develop your characters? Feel free to share.

I’ll start by sharing Max with you. Isn’t he handsome?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Waiting for the Crack of the Whip

I just realized 5 minutes ago that I didn't post my blog today. Not only that, I didn't have a blog to post. I could blame it on the last minute work project that came up yesterday afternoon. I could blame it on the brain drain that occurs every day with 2 small children. I could blame it on my tendency to have tunnel vision when I start writing. I could blame it on a lot of things.

But the fact is I made a mistake! For most people, this realization would be met with an "Oh well, I'll do better next time." Not me. Especially not with my perfectionist tendencies (Okay, extremes!). Instead I go into total meltdown about what a terrible person I am, wondering how I could possibly do this and why am I like this. I'm my own worst critic. It's a wonder I even like me anymore, I'm so hard on myself. :)

But that's what I have friends for. Wonderful ones like my Playfriends who didn't even get the whip out for me, even though the emails have flown fast and furious this morning. Did any of you even notice I hadn't blogged? They'll tell me it is okay, not the end of the world, and all that stuff. At least I hope so. And I'll try to eventually move on. Again, the joys of an obsessive personality.

The same is true for rejections. (See how I tied this all into writing? Brilliant spur of the moment thinking, huh?) I'll take one glance at the rejection letter and tell myself how horrible my writing is, how I'll never be published, and so on. Then my wonderful writing friends will step in to combat all that negativity and I'll reread my letter with more of an open mind, learning what it is I need to from the editor's comments. But I'll still be waiting for the whip! My friends and my own inner being insist that I continue to write, that I try one more time. Then another and another.

I guess mistakes have their place.

Angel (who hates to be late for anything!)

Monday, January 02, 2006

Call the comma cops!

We’ve just updated the Playground website and one Playfriend has a partial going out, so the emails have been flying fast and furious with the subject line “Look at this, please.” One of the best things about this group is that five sets of eyes can look over something before you release it to the world, thereby saving you the embarrassment of sending out query letters with your name misspelled.

Since Danniele has a BA in English and I teach the stuff, we spend a lot of time chasing down errant commas and dangling participles to ease the grammar fears of the Playfriends (who don’t really need to be worrying all that much.). Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind doing it. I think it’s important. (Just don’t ask me to look at something after I’ve been grading papers. Freshman writing is enough to drive anyone over the edge of grammar sanity, and I may just nit-pick your query letter to death.)

I think because I teach English, folks seem to think I read every email with my teacher hat on, looking for misplaced modifiers and tsking your comma usage. Sorry, life’s too short for that. I wouldn’t want anyone going after my emails with the red teacher pen. Now, this only applies to emails sent to friends and family. That email query you’re sending in should be perfect. But that’s business; you want to put your best semicolon forward.

Of course I notice stuff. But it’s probably the same stuff you non-English teachers notice. Typos like ‘is’ instead of ‘it’; ‘form’ for ‘from.’ But the only reason I see it is because this is the first time I’ve read it. You know what you’re saying—your eyes will see what you meant to say. My eyes see what you actually typed.

(I'll even let you slide on a 'your' instead of 'you're'--at least once or twice. After that, I'm coming after you!)

This is why I’m a huge supporter of cold reads as part of your proofreading. It’s great if you can find someone else to read your stuff as they’ll find a lot of the typos. Just be careful of who you ask. Folks who know you well will also see what you meant to say. I had a manuscript read by half a dozen people—none of whom noticed that I had typed ‘imaging’ instead of ‘imagining.’ Put your pages away for a while—cold eyes will catch a lot. Find a friendly English major to take a look. :-)

So if you notice a typo on one of my blog posts, just ignore it. (But if you see one over on the Playground, send me an email immediately!) Not even English teachers get it right every time. And our embarrassment when we do mess it up is far more acute than you can imagine. Just know, though, that I rarely take out my red teacher pen unless asked.

Otherwise, I really would be the Problem Child.

PS: Be sure to check out the updates over on the Writing Playground and enter our first contest!