Thursday, July 31, 2008

Positively Green

Does anyone else feel green with envy that they're not at the RWA conference????

On a side note, today's my oldest's birthday. Four years old. Boy, time flies. He's so precious!

Anyways, maybe I'll go to the conference next year. This year I'll just read people's juicy tidbits.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Plotting Vs Pantsing Part 2

Plotters seem to have it made.
If they plan things right, which they probably will based on their wonderfully organized personalities, they'll have fewer revisions than a pantser. Plus, they have this great road map to follow.
Sometimes I get stuck and don't know what to write next, or I'll write myself into a hole. People who plot ahead most likely won't encounter this problem during the writing stage. Plus, plotters tend to do a synopsis first so that gets rid of one nasty chore right away.
I'm taking a synopsis class right now and as painful as it was, now that I've got one for my wip I'm actually feeling giddy.

If this is how being a plotter feels, then WOW.

Plotting, however, can have it's dark side. The characters may try to escape the beautiful plan you've made for them. Or you might get bored with your story, but now that you've sweated and plotted you may feel that you have to follow your own guidelines.

Ha, the only people who think writing a book is easy are the ones who've never done it.

By the way, apparently I'm not the only one with plotting on the mind. Check out this post. It's much more informative than mine!

So how about you? What's your style?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Plotting Vs Pantsing Part I

Plotting and Pantsing.
As soon as I discovered these two styles of writing, I knew what I was.
A fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer. (pantser)
No plotting ahead, no charts. And now I'm discovering- no external goals. (yes, I know my punctuation is off but have no clue the right way to do it, lol)
So today I want to talk about Pantsing. Not that there's much to say. You pretty much sit down and write. For example, in my current wip it started because of a first line. Actually, the protagonist was already in a previous manuscript as a friend, but when I tried to think up her story the first thing that popped into my head was the first line.

"If there was one thing Rachel McCormick hated more than breaking into a client's house, it was getting caught."

And then I wrote.
Another manuscript started when I saw that Love Inspired had created a historical line. Immediately I saw a young woman on a train, heading to an uncle's house, when a dark stranger sits down beside her.
Pantsing is great because it's so flexible. I may have a future scene in my head, a vague idea about the character's pasts, and perhaps a rough idea of the last scene of the story, but that's about it. I'm not tied down to any specific storyline or characterization. Stuff morphs as I write.
But there's a dark side to being a pantser. REVISIONS.
Due to my lack of planning, there are several problems by the end of the manuscript that need to be resolved. Inconsistent characterization, plot holes, and lack of motivation. Or, as I mentioned above, no external goals. So I have to go back and do a lot of fixing.
If you check Tina Gray's blog earlier this month, you'll see she's a plotter. I'll talk about that in part 2.

The funny thing is that I wish I were a plotter. As fun as sitting down to write is, there's so many problems when I'm done. But the thought of plotting everything out gives me a brain hemorrhage. I'm happiest snapping out words and having no clue where I'm going until a character says or does something to get my fingers moving.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I've been watching my inbox for weeks now, waiting for agents' replies. I have about eight queries out. Yesterday one came back.


At first there was the sinking of my hopes, but then it was followed by relief. An answer at last. Time to target my next unsuspecting agent. Hehehehe, I actually like this part of the game. The thrill of the hunt, I guess.

The rejection letter confused me. I'm pretty sure it's a form one because I addressed a particular agent and received a Sincerely, The Agency reply. But then the letter said the plot didn't resound with them. I like to do Thank Yous on personalized rejections but can't figure out if this is one or not.

Oh, well. Time to send out another query.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Emotion in our Writing

Yesterday a wonderful author and beautiful woman passed away. I did not know her, have not read her stories, and yet when I heard I felt grief.
Not for her. She's in heaven, dancing on streets of gold, as her husband wrote. I feel for her family and actually cried for them.
When my husband heard me blubbering, I felt embarrassed and reined it in. But sorrow shared is healthy. Many cultures encourage the verbal expression of grief. Remember Dancing With Wolves? When the heroine's husband died, she cut herself.
Of course, I'm not recommending that. I'm just saying that grief should be expressed. Which leads me to my topic.
Sometimes new writers, including myself, think we have to spell every emotion out. But while in real life deep expression is good, in writing it can actually weaken the readers' empathy for the character.
While reading Sushi For One by Camy Tang, the reader realizes something horrible happened to Lex, the heroine. The author never spells it out or goes into deep "telling" mode. Instead, Lex's actions and reactions create this sadness in the reader (me, to be exact). Tang did a great job and I'm willing to bet in other novels where traumatic things happen, emotions are not always described.
Emotion should be in our writing. But we never want to tell the reader how to feel. Tricky stuff. Tom Morrissey did an excellent fiction class and this was one of the things he mentioned.

But the real reason I'm writing today is because of Kristy Dykes. Like I said, I never knew her, but her blog touched me. Her husband's posts moved me.

She is a lovely woman who will be missed by many people.

My prayers are with her family.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Guest Blogger Tina Gray

Today Tina Gray (A. G. Howard) has graciously accepted my invitation to be a guest blogger! I'm so excited. This is a really nice lady that I met through reading an agent's blog. You can check out her website and read an excerpt of her novel. It's wonderful!

So . . . here she is!

When Jessica asked me to do a guest blog, I was so excited … and flattered! Then I realized, Oh, that means I have to come up with something to write about. Hmmm. I have a hard enough time doing that on my own blog. Pretty sad, considering that I am a writer. But for me, it’s a lot easier to conjure up new characters in unique settings than it is to write about the everyday mundane world I live in.

That’s why I write, to escape the ordinary. Interesting, as that’s the same reason most readers read. In fact, honestly, I think we’re all in this to be entertained. But from an author’s perspective, the writing side of entertainment—although fun and rewarding—doesn’t come without its share of work.

Which leads me to the subject of my blog. Authors have to come up with a fresh story idea, research it, plot it out, then take that final leap and keep their muse alive while they write that sucker (not to mention the grueling revisions that follow). Just for kicks, I’m going to lay out how I get started with a new book, from the idea’s conception to choosing the characters.

First, how do I come up with an idea? Well, I’m a very visual person. So naturally, my spark is most likely going to be lit by something I see. I’ll use my ghost novel for an example.

The idea came to me a couple of years ago while I was on vacation in Kansas. My husband and I four-wheeled from the lake house over to an old graveyard surrounded by a forest—one of those lushly macabre numbers with crumbling tombstones and intricately carved statues dating back to the 16 and 1700’s—and while walking among the debris we stumbled upon a locked fence. An isolated headstone sat inside the enclosure in the far right corner, covered with ivy to the point the epitaph couldn’t be read aside from two words: beloved son.

Maybe it’s the writer in me, or maybe it’s human nature, but seeing something like that … a tomb set off by itself in an enclosure that’s now overrun with weeds and vines … already the questions are stirring my imagination. Why the fence? Who was this person, this beloved son? And why did he merit such isolation?

Then, as I’m scanning the scene trying to memorize every delicious detail, I see something that spurs even deeper introspections. What is the significance of the other gate in back? The overgrown path that opens into the woods … where does it lead? Who once kept a vigil here, and why are they no longer keeping it?

And therein, my idea: A young lady (let’s say a grieving hat-maker in the Victorian era, because naturally, the setting lends itself to something gothic), comes upon a wrought iron enclosure in a cemetery and sees not only a tomb, but a lone flower unfurling it’s immaculate petals, proud and thriving in the midst of the decomposing wilderness. The young lady cannot resist the unusual blossom, having a love for colors and textures due to her hat-making skills. So, being resourceful and impetuous as all good heroines must be, she breaks off the padlock, digs up the flower, and takes it home, little realizing that within the petals resides a man’s spirit—a ghost that happens to have no memory of ever dying. To help solve this dashing (this is a romance, so of course he HAS to be a hottie) ghost’s death, my young heroine must return to the cemetery and follow the trail that leads into the woods to meet the keeper of the grave, her first step in unraveling the mystery.

Voila! From a scene rich with a history that I will never know is born a story that I can mold and shape into something of my very own.

I so love being a writer.

So there’s my skeleton plot, no pun intended. Now, before I can move onto the research which is where I get most of my scene ideas and where the story beefs up to a full meaty plot, I have to motivate and get to know my characters.

Remember, I’m a visual person. So when I first start fleshing out my characters, I want to have a sense of what they look like. I go online, look at sketches or headshots of people, be they models, actors/actresses, or just regular Joes like me. I look for faces that hold some sort of aura, some expression or aspect that brings to mind characteristics of my character. Then I print them off and tack them to a corkboard in my office to help me visualize these people in the beginning when I’m first getting to know their voice. I know, weird. But that’s what works for me. It makes them come alive.

Okay, now I have to give them personality and motivation. First we have a ghost. And he’s already an interesting fellow, considering:

A. Duh … he’s a ghost. *snort*

B. He sings beautiful arias in a foreign language yet speaks in English.

C. He has amnesia; not only is he unaware of his death, but he has no memory at all of his life. So naturally, he’s going to want to remember = his motivation to reach out to this woman.

So, I need to give my heroine something unique to her. Something that will be a challenge to her everyday life, but will bond her instantaneously to this spectral stranger. What say we make her deaf? She lost her hearing at age eight and hasn’t heard a sound for eleven years. Now suddenly, she can hear this ghostly man. And ONLY him. No doubt, they are going to become fast friends, despite the fact that they can’t touch (sexual tension—it’s a great tool—USE IT). Her affection for him will motivate her to act against her usual cautious nature and try to find answers to his past.

Now for a twist. How about having two heroes in this tale? Or, two anti-heroes? Hmmm. Any gothic novel worth its salt has a beautiful, dark, sensuous stranger with secrets, who will either be the heroine’s redemption or her downfall. Yeah. Let’s give our ghost a rival. But this fellow needs to be flesh and blood. He needs to have some advantage to put him on equal ground with the man’s spirit who can sing and speak to the deaf heroine. So, the living man can touch her and communicate through romantic gestures. To up the stakes, I give him a link to the ghost’s life … and allude that he’s harboring a secret that might tie him to the ghost’s death.

From here, I begin my research—online, in books, in old articles if applicable. I’ve taken care of the main characters. The others will come to life as I begin to work out the plot’s details. Research, for me, is like fanning the flames of my muse. This is where my scene ideas and the story’s subplots take wing.

So that’s how I start a story and give birth to characters. I want to point out that this is merely what works for me. There are no set guidelines for writers to follow that will guarantee success. Learn not to get hung up on techniques. I plot to an extent, but some writers don’t and that’s fine. Some "writing" books tell you that you MUST outline every facet of your story, all the way down to the subplots. Not true. Some best-selling writers don’t plot at all. Instead, they are like excavators—story archeologists. They dig until they hit something then dig some more. And bit by bit, they brush off the individual bones then fit them together until they form something cohesive.

Stephen King is a prime example of the success of such a technique; he admits to using very little plotting in his biography "On writing." His is one of the best "writing" books in my opinion. He doesn’t try to tell you how to write, simply gives you the tools you need to hone your own skills. I like that approach. Find what works for you, then learn how best to incorporate it and make it your own.

Because above being authors in the making, we are individuals. And individuality is the key to unlocking your "voice". Which, ultimately, is what will one day capture the eye of an agent or publisher and get your books on the shelves of our reading public.

So how about you . . . what lights your muse's fire? And are there any tricks you use to make your characters real to you, the writer?

Tina Gray (A.G. Howard)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Vacation by Jeremy Shipp

Well, I just checked out the excerpt on Amazon.
Very catchy. Anything that has to do with the search for truth interests me.
And the dialogue in one paragraph is what really pulls me in.
Good job Mr. Shipp.
Hope you sell millions. ;-)

Bizarro Fiction

Ever heard of it before?
Neither had I, until I saw Jeremy Shipp's place on MySpace. And he's just had a book come out called Vacation. The cover is great, really makes me wonder what's going to happen. I have to head back to his site and check it out.
If you like weird/bizarro stuff, this is the place to go. I've never read other stories in the genre, but I did read his Monkey Boy story. Jeremy Shipp has a very nice style of writing. Despite my disinterest in the genre, his short story about Monkey Boy pulled me right in.

Just a warning to any romance readers I have: His stories are NOT romance.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

To Agent or Not To Agent . . . .

My husband is a realtor. People try to slim his commission all the time. A percent makes a noticeable difference in a paycheck but some customers are so obsessed with paying him less money that they don't seem to consider he's supporting a family. And that his commission is his paycheck. It's not a tip. It's what pays our bills.

Sometimes on the net I've read people saying you shouldn't begrudge agents their commission. I totally agree. And find it hard to believe that some people think an agent doesn't deserve 15%. Whoa, that's crazy to me.

The fact is an agent is a professional foot in the door. Someone who studies the market, knows the right peeps and stuff. I certainly wouldn't know how to negotiate a contract. I don't know how much of an advance is right for me.

Okay, I take that back. Something in the six digits works for moi.

lol, Just kidding.

Anyway, most agents have editing or publishing experience. So if you snag one, you've automatically got someone who knows what they're doing to get you published. Whoopee. The agent is your new crit partner who's got a personal stake in getting your story sold.

Needless to say, it's hard for me to see the cons in having an agent. Sure, if you get the wrong one you'll be in trouble. There's another saying all over the internet. Having no agent is better than having a bad agent. Which is true. Because once your manuscript is farmed out that's it. No retries. You get one chance and if a bad agent messes it up, well . . .

I'm definitely trying to get an agent. But if you're reading this and don't know much about it here are some links below to help you make a good decision.

Why An Agent Deserves His/Her Cut

Agent FAQ

The Snark

Agent Checklist

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Eating My Words

As was pointed out in the comments section, it's not always great writing that creates a successful book.

Duh, Jessie. :-) Of course I know that. There's lots of books I've read where the writing was okay but it was the plot or characters that kept me turning the pages.

Welcome to the world of imagination. A good story will always have you turning the pages. But what defines a good story? Great writing? Vibrant characters? A fresh plot?

Ahhh, the land of subjectivity. It's a beautiful place.

Check out the comment section of my last post if you're interested in why a book might become a national bestseller.

Thanks Tina!