Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Distractions, Distractions Everywhere...

(and not a drop to drink)

I'd like to blame my lack of writing progress on the last two weeks' worth of distractions - I really, really would, because it has been a humdinger of a time for distractions. Really. My reading has fallen off, my writing has fallen off and other things have taken precedence in my life. Sometimes that's just how the world works.

But I can't blame it all on outside forces. The biggest reason for my lack of progress has been a massive internal block. It's not writer's block. I refuse to succumb to that. I think of it more as character block.

I've said time and again that I am a pantser and thus rely on my characters to help me move my story forward. I have also mentioned, more than once, that the closer I get to the end of the book, the more difficult it is for me to finish. (I'm using the data from my vast experience of writing two books.) But this book is killing me.

You see, I'm also a fairly linear writer. I start at the beginning and write until the end. This time I started with what I thought was a prologue, but 120 pages in, I realized I could fit the same information into the story and inform both the reader and the hero about that awful night at the same time, so I moved that chunk of story back. Technically though, it still took place at the beginning of the story, and I did write it first, so no big deal.

But ending this book is kicking my ass. I hit the minor black moment and moved forward from that, thinking I knew where H&H were going to end up and how they were going to get there. But as I wrote the resolution from that minor moment, my hero was so distraught and so sincere that I realized, crap, he's writing the ending. I still have more things to work through and this sap is writing the ending!

So, I found a point a few hours before that, and took them on a detour, keeping my unplanned ending as is, but adding in other resolutions before that place in time. I thought I had it all planned out--a completely wrong epiphany, a big reveal, a shot of ugly jealousy and BAM, I'd get my major black moment.

But as I'm writing in the big reveal, I realize that H&H need another love scene to bring their commitment and intimacy to a head. Crap. That was unplanned. Not that I really plan anything, but in my head, I know the high and low points they're going to hit on their way to the final destination. At no point did I foresee them making whoopee in her mom's house. Regardless of my plans, that's what the story needed, so I started writing it.

*sigh* Wouldn't you know it? It's my hero AGAIN. Jesus, he's a shit. I'm writing the love scene and he's just not in it. He's already consumed with jealousy before I've written the part where the true jealousy starts. He's not performing, he's just showing up. So now, this unplanned love scene gets pushed back to add in the completely planned moment of jealousy... that wasn't supposed to happen until the next day.

What ever happened to nice, orderly pantser writing? Whatever happened to starting a story and just finishing it? Noooo, these lot are killing me. It's supposed to be category length and by the time these two fools are done messing around in my brain it'll have another 50 pages added on because he can't get his shit together long enough to tell me what he needs until AFTER he needs it.

I'd love to blame my lack of progress on the world outside of me, but it's the world inside of me that's to blame. And that's the world I'm in charge of. Damnit.

Currently reading: The Watson Brothers
Currently reading: Gone With the Nerd
Currently reading: Nauti Dreams
Currently reading: A Hunger Like No Other
Currently reading: Family Blessings

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Milk The Moment

An agent visited our RWA last year. It was my first agent talk and I soaked up everything she said, then promptly forgot about 75% of it. That's the way my brain works. One of the things that stuck though was the notion of letting your reader suffer along with your character.

Now, as romance readers, most of us don't like too much nasty graphic violence, but we love our angst. Sure we want to revel in the love felt between our H&H, but, as readers, we really don't like it when we get too much happy. No one wants to read perfect and no one wants to read happy. We want to read angst. That's what keeps us turning the pages.

For those of us struggling to get published, there's a worry about overwriting. A worry about repeating yourself. And sometimes this manifests in writing such "spare & precise" prose that the reader doesn't get the chance to truly sink into the depths of the feeling with the characters. Instead the author hits on the moment, shows the action and reaction and then moves straight into the next bit of plot that officially "advances the story."

Now I'm definitely not the one to sit here and advocate boring your reader, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I read three books recently that took my emotions and wrung them dry by hovering on the edge of hyperawareness without repeating themselves. Lucky you, I'm gonna tell you about them.

*WARNING - to talk about these moments I will have to reveal spoilers. Sorry.*

1. The first one, the one that inspired this post, was Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer.
In this book the hero gets called off to war - WWII to be specific. He does his duty, heads off to Marine bootcamp and then writes his heroine about what life is like there.

Ms Spencer spends eight (hardback) pages writing letters back and forth between our hero and heroine while he's in boot camp. They had just discovered their love for each other before he left, and we already ache that they've been pulled apart at this delicate stage of their relationship. So the letters start. The real brilliance in these letters is how self-sacrificing each is in regards to the others' feelings. They both pretend to be happy and adjusting to their separation. And as a reader, we see right through it and know they're suffering.

He ends almost every letter to her with some variation of don't worry about me at all, I'm doing just fine. A sure sign of how much he's missing her, and how bad it is there.

Then, Ms Spencer gets them together for a full chapter. And the reader rejoices along with them. But he's changed because he's a Marine now, and they have to readjust to each other all over again for the minute they have. Then it's back to the letters. Another ten pages, but this time he's headed off to war.

The reader is on a precipice. There's no male or female POV. It's just their fear and hesitation and hope and awkwardness laid out on the page in their falsely happy letters to one another. Brilliant.

2. The second one was C is For Corpse by Sue Grafton. This was so well done, I could barely stand to read it. But it's also something that maybe only works with a Dead Tree (as opposed to e) book.

In this instance, the book was nearing the end. There physically weren't many pages left to turn. But we don't know who the murderer is yet. And our heroine is going about life and exploration at the same pace as she always does, the same pace she's kept throughout the rest of the book. There's no hurrying up to the big finish.
Instead she checks something out, explores it, explains it to herself... spends some time wandering around, figuring things out... and this whole time the reader is on tenterhooks because we KNOW the Bad Guy is gonna get her.

She doesn't know. There's barely a hint of foreshadowing, but the book is ending, and he's gonna get her, and she's not paying attention. For pages and pages she did her thing, and as a reader it was the most mundane, tension-filled writing I've ever killed myself over. (I had a teacher once call this Dramatic Irony, but that was a screenwriting class and I don't know if it applies to novels.) By the time the Bad Guy attacked, it was a relief, but I can't fault the author for even a sentence of that mundane moseying the heroine did. I've never been so riveted to a scene.

3. The third book to milk the moment was Fire & Ice by Anne Stuart.
In this book, the heroine kills a bad guy, violently. She's never killed before, she sees the aftermath of her actions and shuts down. But the trick is, she doesn't just shut down for a paragraph or two.

We're taken into the hero's POV and we watch her walking catatonia as he experiences it. She becomes completely docile, does everything she's told without question or argument. But she doesn't connect and she doesn't speak. She goes inside herself to a place the hero can't reach and stays there all day. A day that we spend with her.

We see him go through sympathy, and worry and fear on her behalf. We watch him take care of her, protect her, feed her and finally get angry with her until the end of the day when things come to a head in an explosive love scene.

The love scene wouldn't have had nearly the same effect if she had killed, gone silent for a paragraph or two, then cried, and accepted it. Instead we had to suffer through it along with her and as a result rejoiced with her when it ended.

There are so many ways to let your reader experience it, and sometimes we edit ourselves right out of the good stuff. We can't be afraid to dig deep, and then maybe a bit deeper. Rushing the story is NOT the same as advancing the story.

I can only hope when I hit the emotional lows in my writing that I spend enough time wallowing in the mud.

Currently reading: The Watson Brothers
Just finished: Rescued by the Sheik

Just finished: Fire & Ice

[ETA, I felt free to name names in this post, because all the comments were complimentary. I would not have done so if I were structurally criticizing an author's work.]

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Consider the source

I went to boarding school in Canada for two years. I learned a lot about myself. It could just be cause I was at the age to learn things about me (17-19) but I'm sure the atmosphere of boarding school had a lot to do with it as well.

I made a few good friends while I was there. One of whom, miraculously, has continued to speak to me all these years later. I came to boarding school with a widely misplaced sense of esteem. There are some things people just grow up knowing about themselves, and I was one of those rare kids who knew that I had a right to my own thoughts and choices, and didn't need to be ashamed of myself.

I'm not saying I was preternaturally confident, I had plenty angst to keep me crying in my teenage pillows, it's just that almost all of my self-hatred and lack of confidence came directly from within and wasn't delivered to me on the tongues of Mean Girl nemeses.

This means a few things when you're a teenager. Basically it means that nothing anyone says can hurt me more than I can hurt myself, and it also means that nothing anyone says can make me feel better about myself, because I wasn't really factoring in their opinion in the first place. My friend was not so lucky.

My friend lived on the edge of public opinion. "She hates me. You should have heard what she said about me. She's awful."
"What do you care?" I'd ask. "She's awful and you don't like her anyway. Why do you care if she hates you?"
This sort of reasoning was as clear to my teenage mind as it is to my adult one. I talked her off the ledge of Other People's Opinionitis more times than I can recall. It's probably because we grew up in different cultures, but also because I was a "sensible young woman" long before I was a woman at all. After all, I had many years of romance reading under my belt by the time boarding school hit.

But boarding school is also the place where I understood fully, for the first time, the phrase: Consider the source.

"Consider the source" got us through a lot of those teenaged chats, and has gotten me into a lot of trouble as an adult. I painstakingly took the time, every week, twice a week, daily if necessary, to remind her to consider the source.

.Mary is a spoiled rich kid who has hated you for years, and you've hated her too. If she is the one saying that Dan thinks you're ugly, do you really think her opinion can be trusted? Consider the source here.
.Mrs Hollister is a new teacher who has only seen you get bad grades because you hate calculus and calculus hates you. Her suggestion that you take tutoring doesn't mean she thinks you're a moron, it just means that she hasn't seen you shine in different arenas. Consider the source.
.Liz picked you last for the softball team. But you hate softball, and Liz loves it. Plus she tried to steal your boyfriend last month. Why would you care if she doesn't want you on her team? Consider the source.

As an adult, "Consider the source" gets me into trouble with employers. Once the respect is gone, I have a hard time believing a word you say, much less wanting to work hard for you. But that's not the point of this post.

The actual point of this post is Writing Workshops. My local RWA forwards about twenty opportunities for workshops to my e-mail per week. I have never signed up for one. I'm often curious, and sometimes I'm all the way over into intrigued . . . but I never sign up. You know why? Because I consider the source.

There are so many How to Write workshops and books and seminars and opportunities to separate you from your money. I've read a few of the books, I'm sure I'll read a few more (I have one in my library TBR right now) but as I age, I am much more conscious of who is providing this material.

Do I want to read the How Tos of someone who never actually has? Sparkling Dialogue in Ten Easy Steps written by someone who's never published and whose writing bores me. How To Write a Kick Ass Query presented by someone who published one book ten years ago. Marketing for Writers sold to me by someone I've never heard of.

Since entering the blogosphere I have come across fantastic gems on writing by sources that actually hold credence for me. Published authors, the ones who are making a living at it, will share what they have learned. They usually just don't have time to sit down and organize seminars and take in and grade the unfocused meanderings of twenty students every month while working on their own craft. They also, usually, don't have time to sit down, deconstruct their own brains and put together a book on how to write. But they'll still share what they can when they can. I appreciate those table scraps more than they'll ever know.

In the meantime, I pick up most of my tips on writing from reading. Reading published books, reading what authors have to say about their process, reading what reactions other readers have to good and bad books alike and reading how reviewers approach both praise and criticism. But no matter what, I always, ALWAYS consider the source.

Currently reading: The Watson Brothers
Currently reading: Wild Rain
Just finished: Club Dead

Friday, June 5, 2009

What an unexpectedly crazy busy week!

I haven't kept up with any of my usual things.

My Google Reader is overflowing with unread posts. My blog has dust and leaves blowing through it, and all of my good house-cleaning intentions have gone the way of the Dodo. Most telling of all is that fact that for two days there, I wasn't reading anything! I usually read a few books at a time, and suddenly didn't have the space in my life to even pick up one.

On the other hand, I have been having fun and being productive in other parts of my life. I really am not designed to do it all. Something always gets the short shrift.

This week I met up with an old friend who was in town for an evening, and made new friends with his buddies as well as five dogs and six horses, one of which tried to eat my boob. I have been sick, again, but only mildly. The amateur diagnoses range from Kennel Cough to Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis. It got to the point where I even pulled out my immunization card ... but I knew if the conversation stayed on me any longer, I'd be diagnosed with SARS or swine-flu in a heartbeat. (really, it's just a cough)

I also made considerable time in my schedule to go to one of the worst job fairs ever. There were somewhere between 15 and 20 booths in a conference room. Half the attendees weren't accepting resumes. I mean, really? At a job fair? And half the attendees who were accepting resumes, but you could tell they were going to be filed under G, because they told you to go to the web site and apply there.

Then there was a strong showing my Army, Naval Reserves, Fire Department and the Dept of Corrections. Great if you're a strapping 18 year old wondering what to do with your brains and brawn. Not so great for a 36 year old "well-padded" woman who has limited tolerance for being told what to do.

It was not a good job fair.

I did get complimented by my husband on how good I looked in my monkey suit. I think he's just shocked whenever I wear make-up and clothes that have been tailored.

And the book thing resolved itself too - last night at 4:00am - I couldn't get to sleep and finally picked up a book and read until 5, when the sun started to come up and my lashes started to go down.

Today was a bust. I spent almost 6 hours trying to get to sleep last night so I could be up and attentive for a 9am meeting. A meeting I wasn't even sure I wanted to attend because I wasn't being paid for my time and the company sounds like a sham. But I made it to the meeting, and after half an hour I knew this wasn't the place for me to be. A few polite exchanges later I was "excused" from the event and rushed back home to reclaim that sleep, but by then, the caffeine that I'd ingested to make it through said meeting had already hit my system.

Ugh. So I was exhausted, irritated, caffeinated, and grudgingly awake.
My minor illness came to my rescue (the swine flu I don't have) and I took a small hit off a bottle of generic Nyquil while I finished the novella I started last night. 7 blissful hours later I'm awake and functioning again - but the day? It was a total bust.

Oh, and another reason I've fallen behind? So You Think You Can Dance has started for 2009. I am a total and unapologetic addict. So a lot of my time has been devoted to that as well.

Currently reading: The Watson Brothers
Just finished: Talk Me Down

Monday, June 1, 2009

My house is filled with toxic waste sludge

Ok, not really. But some days it seems like it.

I'm not a cleaner. I never have been. It's not something I grew up doing, it's not something I aspire to and it's not something I ever really practiced as a kid. Instead my mother took the reins of cleaning the house and then yelled at us in inconsistent spurts when it wasn't clean. We didn't do maintenance in my house. We didn't have a regular Saturday Morning Clean-up, instead the family waited until my mother blew her top, then we all grudgingly pitched in until she stopped spewing. Afterwards we relaxed back into our messy inertia until Mt Vesuvius threatened to kill us again.

Let me reiterate. I am not a cleaner.

As a result, my adult house is not so much filled with toxic sludge as it is with dust and cat hair and corners that haven't seen a dishrag for years. I truly need to hire a maid because the things that other people notice are messy in a house, I don't even see. I can't afford a maid though, and even if I could, he or she wouldn't know where to start and I wouldn't let her touch the thousands of papers that perch on any horizontal surface because some need to be shredded and some need to be kept and some need to be filed and no, I don't know which ones are which until I sit down and actually look at them.

I also have asthma, which means the dust and cat hair really do act like toxic sludge to me. They compromise my ability to breathe, they get in my eyes and make them itch while my nose starts leaking in sympathy. So whenever I get a brilliant flash of thinking I really should tackle this place the good intentions last about 10 minutes until the dust bunnies lay me out flat and wheezing on the bed for a couple of hours.

Seriously. It's not just an allergy attack--though that factors in as well--it's a flat out respiratory assault that usually lasts until I crawl into bed doped with medicine or deluding myself into thinking if I just go to sleep it'll all go away. You can see how this might interfere with my willingness to clean.

Now, the dust bunnies cannot be blamed for the dirty dishes in the sink, nor the mounds of laundry mockingly waiting to be folded. Nor can they be blamed for the soap scum in my bathtub, but they are a contributing factor, I swear. [Here come the excuses] You see, I'm the sort of person who likes to get the worst of it over with first, deal with it, get it done and walk away. It's not enough for me to spend the day picking up if I can't vacuum at the end of it. I don't like to clean twice (or even once).

Just let me do it, get it done and not have to look at again. (Come to think of it, this might be how I approach writing too. What do you mean I have to edit? I already wrote it, isn't that good enough?) So I find myself hesitant to start what I know I won't be able to finish.

Things they are a changin' though. Not too long ago, my husband, after a vacuuming incident that shall not be mentioned, bought me face masks. You know those kinds you see construction workers and people afraid of swine flu wearing? For the longest time I resisted. Some mental part of me was resistent to re-breathing my own expired air. It just sounds kind of gross. Then one day I knew I needed to tackle something in the house guaranteed to stir up the peacefully settled hair and dust, so I dragged out the face masks, strapped one on and get down to business.

Much to my amazement, I was able to work for a full 30 mins to an hour before succumbing to the usual asthma attack. There might be something to this face mask thing after all! Who knew? Then, I caught myself some piddling little cough that messed with my throat's ability to stay nice and moist. In Arizona a dry throat is not easily conquered by a bedroom humidifier or a hot shower. It sticks around being aggravated by every 8% humidity breath you take. So guess what I did? I strapped on that mask again and took advantage of all that damp air I was expelling. Heaven. Symptoms last half the time when you're smart about combating them.

Last night I combined the cough and cleaning and face mask together. It's funny to whip off a face mask to sneeze into a tissue, then settle it snuggly against your face while you go back to aggravating the very thing that made you sneeze in the first place. When I was done another 2 square feet of the carpet were free of debris and I had sucked down three cough drops, two puffs of the inhaler and a zyrtec.

Slowly but surely I'm winning the war against the toxic sludge. Next thing you know I'll be scrubbing the tub!

Currently reading: Wolf Tales IV
Currently reading: C is for Corpse